Friday, 31 August 2012



Of all the films shown at this year's FrightFest, this one seems to have been the most divisive. While the overwhelming majority appeared to love Sinister and only a scant few appeared to love Hidden In The Woods, there's plenty of both love and hate for this hugely problematic remake of William Lustig's repugnant 1980 sleaze "classic" (which even executive producer Judd Hamilton described as "a bad piece of blood and gore" and to this day it still has nearly a minute of footage cut by the BBFC). And I'm left puzzled by it on so many levels - the reasons for making it, the camera technique employed, precisely who it's aimed at, matters of censorship and casting.

This considerably slicker new version of Maniac has Elijah Wood, of all people, as Frank, a deeply disturbed individual who works in his mother's antique mannequin repair shop in Los Angeles (the original was set in New York), but at night becomes a psychotic killer who scalps his victims (sourced from online chats) and fixes these bloody trophies on the dummies in his grotty bedroom, his cracked mind transforming them into real women. He develops a friendship, one which might develop into a proper relationship, with artist/photographer Anna (Nora Arnezeder) - or is it an increasing obsession that can only end in blood and murder?

It's certainly a more watchable film than Lustig's. Maniac starts off in arresting fashion, with a Tangerine Dream-esque score recalling the synth soundtracks of the video nasty era, and the title filling the screen in huge red capital letters. And the POV technique is carried off with flair, and some ingenuity in getting Elijah Wood reflected in the mirrors and windows but not the camera without it becoming too much of a distraction. But I'm still puzzled as to what end. There's also the small matter of the BBFC's decision when (or if) the film comes up for a UK release: one rumour is that a whopping four minutes of violence (presumably sexualised or eroticised violence, though there's no rape in the film) could be lost.

For some reason, director Franck Khalfoun (who made the enjoyable enough psycho-chases-woman-round-car-park thriller P2) has opted to shoot all but a few seconds of his Maniac as POV: this makes the whole thing look like a very expensive ultra-hi-def found footage movie, although it's really harking back to the dodgy "unseen killer's POV" trope from a hundred cheap 70s and 80s slashers, merely expanding the device to fill the entire running time. It also has the curious effect of leaving Elijah Wood, nominally the star of the film, as little more than an extra and voiceover artiste: he's only ever seen in reflections and photographs but only very briefly does the camera move away from his point of view. Possibly this device is the factor dividing audiences: is the POV technique making audiences feel complicit in the murders, is it creating greater empathy with Frank's problems, or is it just trying to do something different?

I actually wondered if it was done this way so the nice man out of the Lord Of The Rings movies could say he wasn't really the star of a full-on bloody slashfest, even though he was playing a deeply disturbed individual who scalps his victims in loving closeup. Wood's Frank is absolutely not Joe Spinell's: rather than the frustrated, burbling and intimidating character of the original, a man from whom most women would run screaming long before he started waving knives around, Frank is now a perfectly personable, approachable and "normal" guy that no-one would ever feel the need to back away from.

And I am still unsure how I feel about it. I know I didn't love it and I know I didn't hate it; I have mixed views on it and would probably need to see it again, except that I'm not sure I really want to. Is it going to open up the eternal debate about screen violence and the role of women in exploitation movies yet again? (It can't do that if it doesn't get released.) For everything that's interesting about it, it's still a nasty piece of work and I'm not sure who the target audience is. Elijah Wood fans are in for a surprise, given his fairly non-confrontational CV thus far, while admirers of the original Maniac may remain loyal to the grindhouse horrors of 1980 than the shinier subjective camera terrors of 2012. Until it comes round again, and I'm in the mood, I'm genuinely on the fence on this one.


Thursday, 30 August 2012



How long has it been since we've had a really good, genuinely frightening movie full of creepy imagery and suspense and darkness as well as jolting shock moments? In the case of this year's Frightfest the delay was actually two days: Friday saw the European Premiere of Buddy Giovinazzo's A Night Of Nightmares and we had to wait until Sunday for this corking exercise in domestic supernatural terror, on a broader canvas but no less effective for it. But as far as the multiplex circuits are concerned, you probably have to go back to Insidious last year for a properly scary horror film.

Sinister is quite possibly that film's equal, and it doesn't have a slightly less effective third act. True crime writer Ethan Hawke moves his family into a new house - the actual crime scene of a mysterious set of killings (they're initially unaware of this, which provides the basis for a hilarious scene later on) about which he's trying to put together a new book. In the attic he finds a box of 8mm home movies and - clearly having never seen a horror movie in his life - sits down to watch them only to find they're snuff films dating back decades and featuring various families being murdered. And closer investigation of the footage reveals strange pagan symbols and a mysterious demonic figure present in every reel. Courtesy of a cameo from Vincent D'Onofrio over a webcam, Hawke manages to identify the figure as an ancient deity named Bagul, the "eater of children"....

Unnerving moments of discovering something hidden in photographs and films that shouldn't be there mix with more straightforward terrors of noises in the attic, spectral children, his daughter's spooky drawings on the wall and the 8mm projector starting up by itself, though the atmosphere is scarcely made more bearable by Hawke's absurd refusal to turn the lights on, preferring instead to wander around his spooky house in the dark, as if the movie is set in an alternative future where the electricity doesn't work after nine o'clock at night.

All this is still deliciously unsettling and occasionally jumpy enough to jolt you out of your seat several times, to put you in that can't-look-must-look zone of peeking at the screen through your fingers. And isn't that what we want from a horror movie sometimes? It's directed by Scott Derrickson, who made The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (another film that unsettled me a little) as well as Hellraiser: Inferno (which emphatically didn't) - and he's also listed as the writer for a forthcoming remake of Poltergeist. That's a project unlikely to touch the original, but if it turns out a quarter as well as Sinister has, it'll still be pretty good.




If I'd written a script that was crammed chock full of rape, incest, brutality, bloody violence and a level of general misanthropy that would startle the Daily Mail, I would expect to have enormous difficulty getting it financed through state funding, and would probably have to abandon the project or obtain the money straight from people who like that sort of thing. Incredibly, however, Patricio Valladares has somehow managed to get his staggering parade of depravity and sadism part-funded by the Chilean government! (I have no idea what that says about Chile, though.) One seriously doubts our present Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, would cough up a few hundred grand of already stretched public money to produce something like this.

Hidden In The Woods is a dispiriting and tiresome piece of nastiness in which two sisters (named Anny and Anna: not just wildly unimaginative but I have no idea which was which) are repeatedly raped by their drug-dealer father (who'd already murdered their mother); one of them gives birth to a disfigured and handicapped boy who's kept chained up in the shed. Then two cops show up and the father promptly murders them; the sisters and the boy run off into the woods and the father ends up in jail (after murdering someone else at a bus station for no good reason). But the local drug kingpin wants his merchandise back - and maybe the girls know where it is....

The two sisters are only there to be beaten, raped and abused as sexual victims - one supports the unorthodox family unit by performing oral sex for money in the nearby village, at which point the film actually includes a blowjob montage, something that no film needs (although I'd kill for a similar sequence to be included in the next syrupy Hollywood romcom). The male characters don't fare any better: with the sole exception of the disfigured son, they're all brutes, drug dealers, killers, rapists and/or any combination of the aforementioned. No-one comes out of Hidden In The Woods at all well - even the cops are blundering imbeciles who fail to shoot a drug dealer approaching them with a running chainsaw and get needlessly killed as a result. Oh, and if that wasn't enough the girls are cannibals for no adequately explored reason.

Hidden In The Woods has an undeniable grubby grindhouse energy to it - Valladares puts the pedal down and keeps the hysteria going full tilt the whole time; the soundtrack has a constant clanging that I guess harks back to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the movie hardly slows down for a bit of exposition, character detail or just to catch its breath. Not only does it have absolutely no subtlety to it, it has no humour and it has no art, so it's incredibly difficult to like or even admire. There's also the question of whether it would pass the BBFC without the need for the scissors, in the event of someone deciding to distribute it in the UK (one hopes the potential audience for lethally unerotic Chilean exploitation cinema is too small to be bothered with).

Whether the film is actually based on true events as it claims doesn't bother me half as much as the news that the English language remake rights have been snapped up, apparently by Michael Biehn of all people. At least that version won't have the subtitles spelled all wrong in the way of early Hong Kong Heroic Bloodshed movies, as they are here, but it's still going to have to be radically adapted to appeal to anyone other than utter sociopaths with an apocalyptic disregard for human life and no sense of humour. Easily the least enjoyable film at this year's FrightFest.




The cinematic smackdown has always been with us: usually between two separate evils bolted together to appeal to two distinct franchise fanbases at once with scant regard for the narrative logic required: Alien Vs Predator, Freddy Vs Jason, Dracula Vs Frankenstein, Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus. Whoever wins, we lose (presumably it's easier to pick a side with Earth Vs The Spider or Wrestling Women Vs The Aztec Mummy - only a sociopath would be rooting for the away teams there). And it's an infinitely repeatable cycle because there are no end of opposing parties to fight each other: maybe one day we'll get Mummies Vs Scotsmen and Midgets Vs Saxophonists.

Cockneys Vs Zombies is basically the (East) End Of Civilisation As We Know It: a bunch of foul-mouthed idiots organise a bank job so their grandfather (Alan Ford on terrific form) and his cronies don't have to move out of their care home that's scheduled for redevelopment: unfortunately a construction crew nearby has broken the seal to a 17th century plague pit and unleashed zombies on London. Can the robbers make their way back to the care home and save Grandad and his mates?

A splattery pie-and-mashup of Carry On Danny Dyer, Minder Of The Living Dead and a BBC sitcom with Richard Briers, Honor Blackman, Georgina Hale and Dudley Sutton as lovable crumblies, but with enough unnecessary F-words to push the boundaries of the surprisingly lenient 15 certificate to snapping point, it's thoroughly amiable knockabout with lots of gore and smart, funny dialogue. Having said that, it's tough to warm very much to any of the younger characters or care that much whether they make it to the end or not. Still, if only for the irresistible sight gag of Richard Briers on his Zimmer frame pursued equally slowly by a shuffling zombie (and for the idea of Briers appearing in a sweary zombie movie in the first place), it's perfectly good Friday night sixpack entertainment.


Wednesday, 29 August 2012



As I think we've established, giallo movies are great - at least, the best of them are. They've kind of declined over the years, though, which perhaps isn't a bad thing as they do stand as a very seventies style of cinema; maybe that's why I enjoy them, with their easy lounge scores, period trappings and groovy sets, and the absence of Google, mobile phones and Justin Bieber. Bringing them into the present day somehow doesn't feel right.

Tulpa is a fair attempt at reviving the form and it has to be said that it doesn't entirely work, but for reasons that are less to do with updating the genre than frankly baffling stylistic choices that end up wrecking the film. Company executive Lisa (Claudia Gerini) spends her nights in a basement sex club, until her lovers start being murdered by a mystery killer: one of her boardroom colleagues? Her best friend Joanna, who has the most hilarious English voice dub you've ever heard? Her secretary Gerald? Or the mysterious owner of Club Tulpa himself ("Nobody knows anything about him, except they say he's a hermaphrodite", runs one of the first of numerous facepalming lines of dialogue)?

Undeniably it ticks all the boxes of sex, sadistic violence (the most memorably nasty being a woman strapped to a carousel having her face thrust repeatedly into a clump of barbed wire), and an array of dodgy individuals, any of whom could be the black-coated, black-hatted, black-gloved homicidal maniac. But for some reason, deliberate or not (and I'm inclined to believe it is deliberate), at about the halfway point it seemed to turn into a giallo parody with crunchingly unspeakable dialogue and a performance (or at least the English version of it) that caused explosions of uproarious laughter throughout the cinema.

Apparently there were some inebriated halfwits in the back of the room who'd have displayed precisely the same behaviour in a screening of A Cry In The Dark or something, but even so the Joanna character, and thus the film, was suddenly impossible to take seriously and it just lurched into Golden Turkey territory. Like the awful English version of Mother Of Tears (although that film has numerous other problems which have nothing to do with language), it's hard to believe that no-one spotted this earlier and did something about it like a simple redub with a more appropriate performance.

The thing about gialli is that they do the good things so well that you forgive them the bad; you love them despite the flaws. Many of them have shonky performances and terrible dialogue, but they were accidental while I honestly suspect that in the case of Tulpa it was a conscious decision to invoke the spirit of dodgy Italian horror movies by including these aspects on purpose. But it genuinely weakens what could have been a really decent giallo that revived and rebooted the form for a new generation; instead it feels in the second half that it's taking the piss out of itself and giallo generally. Without that, and it's not an insurmountable fix, it would certainly have played far better. Much of Tulpa I liked and actively enjoyed and it's a shame so much hilarity was gained in translation.




Hurrah! Hang out the bunting! The continuation of the Rec franchise has at last broken free of the demands of the ever more tiresome found footage format and metamorphosed into what could confidently be described as a proper film, but it has done so with a degree of wit and class, and it's all to the good because this third entry in the ongoing saga of undead infection is a beautifully shot zombie movie with lashings of blood and gore as well as a charming and timeless love story. With some laughs as well. You don't even need to have seen the first two Rec films to enjoy this one as a straight horror movie.

Rec 3: Genesis (I know, if you want to get really strict about these things, this isn't Rec 3 anyway but [●REC]³, but it looks stupid and it's a pain to keep typing) kicks off with a wedding video in which we get to meet most of the characters through wobbly POV shots - but a reel in, the infection arrives, people start to turn into flesh-eating ghouls and someone basically knocks the Handycam to the floor. Cut to glorious widescreen and we finally get editing, lighting, image composition and an abandonment of any pretense that it's real, as the newlyweds try to locate each other at the reception overrun with the living dead, and then to escape the grounds....

Honestly, the story is told so much better this way. I know I bang on endlessly about the hideous look and feel (and essential dishonesty) of found footage, but when they stop making them, I'll stop whinging about them, and Rec 3 actually squeezes in a few barbed remarks about the second-rate camera equipment before literally dashing the format to the floor. It looks fantastic and piles on the blood and a nice line in character comedy, including the bloke from the royalties department checking the music playlist for the reception and the childrens' entertainer in a Spongebob costume (except it's actually called "John Sponge" for copyright purposes). And it's got the sweet love story as well.

Director Paco Plaza co-directed the first two films in the series with Jaume Balaguero, and the only question is where Balaguero's Rec 4: Apocalypse is going to go. Back to video cameras? I'm not sure that they can after this, I don't think they need to, and anyway Balaguero has demonstrated he can make "real" movies time and again with the Nameless, Fragile, Sleep Tight and others. Found is a gimmick that's rapidly losing its cachet as an effective film-making technique and if its demise means films start to look like films again, the sooner the better. Especially if they end up as entertaining as Rec 3.




It's always a bit annoying when a movie comes along with an irresistible premise and a fascinating locale and then proceeds to do absolutely nothing with them. It's even more annoying when it's riffing on Italian horror movies and gialli - genres of which I'm a fair fan - and somehow it has none of their magic and bonkersness; crucially it has none of the tight grip on the narrative of the best giallo movies and instead goes for the breakdown of the barriers between reality, sanity, dream and fantasy. It might as well all be taking place in the fractured mind of the main character, and for all I know it probably is.

Gilderoy (Toby Jones) is a shy and retiring sound mixer who lives quietly with his Mum in Dorking, where he usually works on nature documentaries - but he's been hired to do the sound effects for a sleazy Italian horror movie at the famous Berberian Sound Studio. He doesn't speak the language, he can't stand the grotesqueries of the film he's working on, he can't fit in properly with his colleagues, the producer or the director, he can't even get paid. Fine: a man hopelessly lost in an alien environment who has no idea what's going on. But reality starts to collapse: two thirds of the way through he's suddenly able to speak Italian, he tortures one of the dubbing actresses with deafening feedback to get a suitable scream out of her, tapes are destroyed and the production process becomes ever more chaotic.

It would have probably been a less artistic decision to have actually made a giallo movie set against the making of a giallo movie (although the unseen The Equestrian Vortex doesn't sound much like a giallo, more like a revoltingly leery mixture of Witchfinder General, Suspiria and Seabiscuit), but it would certainly have been a hell of a lot more fun. Berberian Sound Studio has barely any narrative at all to the point that there is no indication where it might end - is that the last scene? Maybe this one? Maybe four more scenes down the line? And because you (and Gilderoy) have no idea what, if anything, is actually going on, it's impossible to get involved with it. All that remains is the technical side of the production, which is impeccable: the fetishistic focus on the studio controls, reel-to-reel tapes, microphones and colourful handwritten maps of the layered sound effects required.

Then, of course, there's the detail of actually creating the sound effects themselves, many of which involve stabbing cabbages, ripping apart radishes and smashing marrows on the floor. Years ago the BBC used to release LPs of "Death And Horror Sound Effects" (which were allegedly banned in Germany!) and the liner notes detailed how these noises were lovingly recreated, usually involving cruelty to fruit and vegetables. All of which would be terrific in a documentary about sound effects; I could sit and watch that kind of thing for hours. But I desperately wanted there to be some shred of a plot and Peter Strickland just isn't interested in that; for me all the background stuff became the focus of the film because there wasn't anything else there (the ever watchable Toby Jones apart).

And what ultimately happened was that I ended up wishing I was watching The Equestrian Vortex instead, despite it (apparently) consisting of an English dub full of atrocious dialogue - an aspect of giallo cinema that Berberian Sound Studio certainly gets spot on - and extended scenes of women being sadistically abused. Maybe I'm just an artless philistine, but I wanted something with a touch of the accessible about it; like recent David Lynch, it's more about creating a mood and texture (both aural and visual) than about telling some kind of a story. Whether that's a plus or minus is probably a matter of personal tastes; sadly it's not to mine.




If you've only got one egg, make a smaller cake. It's always better to make a film that suits your resources, than it is to make one that exceeds them and then bleating about how you couldn't do it properly. If you're only working with a few thousand dollars then you should create something that costs a few thousand dollars, rather than trying to do Waterworld or something and handing it in with a note explaining why it's a bit rubbish. Don't skimp on your dreams. If you can only afford a house and three actors, make a "three people in a house" movie; just so long as you do it well.

Buddy Giovinazzo's low-budget A Night Of Nightmares is a perfect example of this: one normal location, one car, two or three main characters, one voice on the phone, a couple of bit parts and minimal special effects. Mark Lighthouse (Marc Senter) drives up into the hills to a rented ranch to interview singer-songwriter Ginger (Elissa Dowling) for his website about under-the-radar musicians, and for a while everything's nice and friendly. But it's not long before they hear strange noises and receive unsettling phone calls - and that's just the start....

As a straightforward "Boo!!!" horror movie, it's terrific and it had me in that same delicious "can't look, must look" zone as Insidious did. But it's also sweetly charming with a believable and likeable central duo, so that emotional hook means the perfectly timed jumps and scares grab your mind as well as whatever that bit of the brain is that responds to sudden loud noises and shocks (the amygdala, if you believe Wikipedia). A Night Of Nightmares is a well-done, nicely crafted, unshowy horror movie in the best tradition of simply scaring the chips out of you and almost having you shouting "For God's sake, people, don't go back in the house!" at the screen.

Frustratingly, the movie doesn't yet have British distribution so it's not on the release schedules any time soon - and when it does it will probably go straight to DVD - but it's absolutely worth catching if and when it does show up. Creepy as hell, it's one of my very favourites from this year's Frightfest and highly recommended.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012



If you were the sort of person who'd watched a few mainstream Hollywood romantic comedies or soulless superhero flicks and then announced that you wanted to broaden your filmic horizons and see more challenging and unusual fare, I'd applaud. Man cannot live by Jennifer Aniston and Iron Man alone, after all. But my one bit of advice: on no account start with Takashi Miike. Build up to his films by all means, take it steady and in stages, but don't come straight off insipid romcoms and masked shenanigans into the batshit Miike freakshow. Because while you may get lucky with a glorious period piece like 13 Assassins or a solid and straightforward J-horror like One Missed Call, you're just as likely to be confronted with the incomprehensible lunacy of Gozu or the atrocity checklist of Visitor Q. For every unnerving and fiercely controlled Audition, there's a nasty Ichi The Killer. Take great care.

Yatterman is based on a Japanese TV show for kids, and boy does it show: it's like being beaten round the head with CBeebies at its most hallucinatory for two hours and you will probably come away from it thinking you've been concussed with an iron bar. Every week, a pair of clean-cut teens who work in the basement of a toyshop do battle with the Dorombo trio of villains: a hot dominatrix and two buffoonish sidekicks in animal masks, and they all flit about the world in giant mechanical animals called mechas. Here both teams are after the four pieces of the legendary Skull Stone which, if reassembled, will destroy time and all matter. Or something. The journey starts in Tokyoko, then traverses the world to Ogypt and the Southern Halps - all the place names are deliberately spelled wrong, there's nothing wrong with the subtitles - where the Yatterwoof (a giant mecha dog) destroys the Dorondo's giant robot woman with a swarm of robot ants. Eventually, as the fabric of the universe starts to fall apart and increasingly large objects disappear, it all comes to a pitched battle in a gigantic machine full of clockwork cogs and the two mechas launch armies of robot fish at each other.

The colour palette for the movie makes Speed Racer or Suspiria look like Dr Who in the William Hartnell years: dazzling pinks, yellows and oranges, literally tons of CGI, at least three nuclear explosions, a brief cartoon insert and a musical number for the villains. None of the movie makes a blind bit of sense, the heroes have a floating robot sidekick who adds the word "botty" onto the end of every line, and the villainess' rat-faced henchman brings back uncomfortable memories of the ratman in the cult hardcore favourite Cafe Flesh. But despite all the mayhem no-one gets hurt: it's generally good-natured smiley knockabout aimed at four-year-olds and sociopaths.

More in the vein of The Happiness Of The Katakuris than Dead Or Alive, Yatterman is a brightly overcoloured romp of childish nonsense that, watched by a middle-aged Westerner, is rather fun and the post-credits teaser of a sequel is more a bonus than a dire warning (sadly it has yet to materialise). For a Takashi Miike film, though, it's surprisingly good, and shows that when he's constrained by a formula or a tight story he's far more interesting, and here he's working to an established recipe here that doesn't allow for swearing, sadism and revolting sexual misbehaviour. Despite the likelihood of a pink-induced headache, it's a surprisingly enjoyable candyfloss entertainment.



Monday, 20 August 2012



My ongoing trek through the James Bond back catalogue, in preparation for Skyfall in October, has now reached Timothy Dalton's sophomore entry, his "difficult second Bond film" and, as it turned out, his swansong. It was the first to be given a particularly hard time at the censors: and the first to be rated anything other than A or PG thanks to the increased level of violence (as opposed to action), and even then it had to be cut to avoid an 18, which would be unthinkable for a Bond film. (Amusingly, Diamonds Are Forever has been retrospectively reclassified as a 12.) There's also noticeably more swearing - several uses of "shit" (which first showed up in Live And Let Die but was obviously excised for ITV's screenings) and a "piss off", which may or may not be in keeping with the spirit of Fleming's character but is still a surprise for an audience weaned on Roger Moore.

The trouble with Licence To Kill is that it doesn't really know what it wants to be: an old-fashioned Bond romp with all the familiar and comfortable elements (gadgets, Moneypenny) or a tough Hollywood action thriller to compete with the likes of Lethal Weapon, and as a result it ends up as a bit of a mess. For most of the movie Bond isn't even on a mission: he goes rogue on a personal vendetta of revenge against unimaginatively named Latin American drugs baron Sanchez (Robert Davi) who fed his best friend Felix Leiter to the sharks. His only ally is CIA pilot Pam (Carey Lowell) as he infiltrates Sanchez' operation to destroy it from within.

But while that would make for a perfectly decent action movie outside of the franchise, the film keeps remembering that it's supposed to be a Bond film as well so it has to have Q (Desmond Llewellyn) showing up out of nowhere with a bag of daft but conveniently handy gadgets, it has to have a secondary shag interest in Sanchez' mistress Lupe (Talisa Soto, useless), Moneypenny for one scene (Caroline Bliss, also useless), and another enjoyably pervy title sequence from Maurice Binder. What they should have done was diversified and produced two films: this as a non-Bond movie entirely divorced from the franchise, and then just remade You Only Live Twice again or something as a regular 007 outing with Licence To Kill as a generic title.

Technically it still feels and looks like a Bond movie - it was John Glen's fifth as director - even without the classy garnish of a John Barry soundtrack (though I do like Michael Kamen's busy orchestral score and wish it was better represented on CD). The action sequences are pretty good, particularly the chase climax with four tanker trucks full of gasoline, and a noisy barroom fight. But it's a strange beast of a Bond film with the tougher violence, swearing and crudity - Pam doing the "wanker" gesture when ordering Bond's vodka Martini "shaken not stirred" - feeling forced and unnecessary, and it doesn't have the sense of fun that a Bond movie really should have. It's not without interest, and it's not down there with Thunderball or The Spy Who Loved Me, but its attempts to redefine what a Bond movie actually is ultimately harm it rather than help it.



Sunday, 19 August 2012



Hardcore pornography is a huge business: an estimated ten to fourteen billion dollars a year spent on adult material in the US alone - $89 per second on the internet alone (and that was five years ago). Whatever the moral rights and wrongs of porn, whatever the social benefits and problems, and indeed whatever its artistic or cultural merits, for good or ill it isn't going away any time soon. Democratic rights and all that. In this country the BBFC invariably pass more videos at R18 than at 18 (I suspect the figures for PG, 12 and 15 are higher due to episodes of TV shows classified individually). My personal feeling is that what I've seen is enough to not make me want to watch any more - it's actually rather boring. I can't get that angry or excited about it; all I can do is not buy them, which isn't that difficult.

The poster tagline for Paul Schrader's 1979 Hardcore (aka The Hardcore Life) sums up the film's hook brilliantly: "Oh my God, that's my daughter". Furniture manufacturer and devout Calvinist Van Dorn (George C Scott, great) sends his teenage daughter Kristen (Ilah Davis) off to a Christian youth event, but she disappears without explanation; when a sleazy private detective (Peter Boyle) uncovers a porno loop featuring Kristen, Van Dorn heads off to find her and bring her back home....

David F Friedman's mantra was famously "Sell the sizzle, not the steak" and therein lies the difference between the naughty tease of softcore and the ugly meat of hardcore. The world of porn and sex in Hardcore is entirely empty of glamour and beauty: it's a soulless, dead-eyed cesspit of abuse, drugs, brutality and misery that transforms the naive and innocent into cynical zombies. There's no thrill of erotica here, or indeed basic humanity: the girls robotically parrot the same lines from brothel to brothel. Van Dorn is an outsider and can't get any answers as a mere customer: it's only when he penetrates the industry (hilariously posing as a porn producer with a stick-on moustache) that he finds the first clues to his child's fate, and even then he has to smack degenerate sleazeballs around in a decidedly non-religious manner.

It's a depressing world of foul and hideous people, and it's certainly a grim film but it's all the better for it. The two most affecting moments are the early scene where a horrified Scott watches his daughter's porn loop alone in a cinema (a scene recently spoofed on Youtube as "George C Scott watches the Jack And Jill trailer", amongst other edits), and the near-ending where Kristen tells her father she's happy and she doesn't want to come home. Ideally that should have been the conclusion and the slightly happier fadeout feels slightly tacked on. And you could argue about the presence of a snuff movie since we're still not sure these things exist. But mostly the film feels authentic and true and as a human drama I liked it a lot. And you'll never look at your DVD of Dirty College Threesomes #47 in the same way again.





A weird fragment of late sixties "adult" nonsense that in the cold light of the 21st century is about as erotic as a Cillit Bang advert with the sound too loud, Jack Cardiff's film has clawed its way out of obscurity probably thanks to a groovy easy listening soundtrack, flashes of skin, a far more enticing alternative title (Naked Under Leather) and Marianne Faithfull in a skin-tight black biker suit and nothing else. The end result is absolute bunk, but it's nicely shot (although the poor picture quality on the DVD doesn't really help) and if it doesn't really work as a drama or a story, it's a mildly diverting cult curiosity from more than forty years ago.

The Girl On A Motorcycle starts at dawn in France: newlywed Rebecca (Faithfull) slips away from her ineffectual schoolteacher husband Raymond (Roger Mutton) and bikes across the border into Germany and the arms of her academic lecturer lover Daniel (Alain Delon), not for the first time. As she speeds through misty rural landscapes looking fabulous, she reminisces about her relationships with both men in flashbacks within flashbacks, muses philosophically about life and love and death ("Love is a feeling", she maintains, to which Delon replies "So is toothache") before an ending that you half expect right from the start but which nevertheless comes as a slight jolt.

You also get occasional moments of psychedelic blobs of colour that look like pop videos from the very early days, with heavy solarisation and the kind of dazzling pinks and yellows you get from video camera feedback that reduces the picture to an amorphous abstract: very pretty but ultimately meaningless. And that's the movie: it's nice to look at but doesn't really add up to anything.


Thursday, 16 August 2012



If you want a brand new action movie that's got at least a smidgen of emotional meat, The Bourne Legacy has a measure of humanity about it and characters that behave more or less like recognisable human beings. But through some quirk of the summer release schedule, in the same week as the Bourne film we also have this action sequel which has a humanity rating of absolute zero. So if you're really not concerned about character or plausibility or emotional nuance, but you just want to see about eight thousand people massacred with as much gusto and verve as they can get away with under a (lenient) 15 certificate, and if you want so much testosterone dripping off the screen it's congealing in your popcorn, then this gathering of 80s and 90s action icons waving their big manly balls in the air is something of a tonic.

The Expendables 2 reunites Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Jet Li, Randy Couture and Terry Crews from the original, along with Liam Hemsworth AND Bruce Willis AND Arnold Schwarzenegger AND Chuck Norris. Following a spectacularly destructive assault on a compound in Nepal to rescue a Chinese billionaire, the team are assigned the simple-sounding task of retrieving a computer from the high-tech safe on an aircraft that's crashed in Albania. But then super-mega-ultra villain Jean-Claude Van Damme shows up: the computer contains the location of five tons - let's emphasise that: five tons - of Russian plutonium which he plans to sell for trillions on the black market....

There are no surprises and no plot twists in the movie: it's almost insultingly straightforward from start to finish. However, it is phenomenally violent in its action sequences, particularly the opening sequence which showcases a disregard for human life on the scale of the last Rambo movie. What elevates The Expendables 2 above that tediously depressing film is a sense of humour ranging from wry observations about getting old to nudge-wink movie nods (Arnie gets to say "Yippee-ki-yay" at one point, Chuck Norris is introduced with the theme music to The Good, The Bad And The Ugly), to daft slapstick with Arnie and Bruce crammed into a Smartcar during a ferocious gun battle.

There's a lot to hate about the movie - it's senseless, pointlessly violent, hilariously macho (there's only one significant female character) and relentless in the ludicrous action sequences in which extras are slaughtered by the hundred as both heroes and villains unload a range of firearms at each other. But dammit it's fun. However, as entertaining as it all is, I'm puzzled by the BBFC's decision to give the film a 15 certificate: true, there's no sex or nudity or even any strong language (rumour has it Chuck Norris wouldn't appear in the movie unless all profanity was removed from the script, which is a bizarre sense of priorities when you think about it) but there's bloody slaughter and casual death galore.

The Bourne movies will kill a bunch of people, but the deaths will have a purpose to the story and resonance with the characters; the deaths in The Expendables 2 have as much meaning and significance as the deaths in the cut-scenes on an Xbox shoot-em-up. Indeed, with much of the mayhem taking place in an airport, it's got the feeling of that airport sequence in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (which I haven't played). Still, as a straight-up action movie in which everyone's firing huge-ass guns at one another, it's not unenjoyable fare thanks to the more likeable characters and shafts of good humour, and you're left wondering firstly where the Nurofens are, and secondly who else is going to show up for The Expendables 3? Mel Gibson? Pierce Brosnan? Jeremy Clarkson? Bring it on.




Can you make a Bourne movie without Jason Bourne? Is it actually honest to do so? Matt Damon isn't in this movie except in still photographs and numerous references in the dialogue, but others have returned (even if only briefly) including Scott Glenn, Joan Allen, Albert Finney and David Strathairn, so does it actually count as a Bourne film? Certainly there is enough continuity for it to qualify as part of the franchise even though the main star and main character is absent - but I wouldn't want it to set a precedent otherwise we could end up with, say, a "James Bond Film" focussing exclusively on the exploits of "Mike Turner, 004". It's more like one of those episodes of Moonlighting or Doctor Who where the main leads are off that week and the plot is handled by second banana characters or complete unknowns.

The basic thrust of The Bourne Legacy is that Jason Bourne wasn't the only one: this time it's Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) who narrowly escapes being killed when his masters pull the plug on all their dubious projects in the wake of the potential scandal caused by Bourne. Cross is on medication to enhance his physical and cognitive abilities and without continued access to the pills he'll become a gibbering idiot - but then one of the doctors shoots up the laboratory without any warning and the only survivor is Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). Can she save Cross with a viral infusion (or something), and can he protect her against the evil CIA goons seeking to terminate everyone who knows of the operation?

Most of the movie - as indicated by the "news" of Paddy Considine's Guardian journalist being killed in Waterloo Station - appears to be running in parallel with the events of The Bourne Ultimatum, and frankly it might have helped if I'd rewatched it as for the first fifteen or twenty minutes I had absolutely no idea what the hell was going on: we're cutting back and forth between Alaska, Korea, Washington, hither and thither. Once the movie gets going it becomes a standard race against time thriller - Cross only has a short time before the last of his meds wear off - and there are a couple of noisy extended action sequences to break things up.

Sadly the action scenes are shot in the same jittery, handheld, fast-edited manner as the two Bourne movies by Paul Greengrass, but not done as well so in the case of the shootout in the farmhouse I got completely lost since all the men looked vaguely alike, none of them were clearly visible for more than a fraction of a second and for most of that sequence I genuinely had no idea which, if any, of those guys was Jeremy Renner. The big climax is an extended foot and motorbike chase which is much better, but still could have done with nailing the camera down a bit rather than rushing hundreds of shaky snippets of films past my eyes too quickly for the mind to actually take in. Presumably they want to emphasise the chaos and confusion, but not at the expense of us in the cinema losing track of the action. Maybe it's for that reason that I tend to prefer Doug Liman's first Bourne movie to the Greengrass sequels.

Still, it's okay: it's perfectly enjoyable after the first fifteen or twenty faintly baffling minutes and provides a decent amount of thumping action, particularly in the last act and James Newton Howard's score owes something to John Powell's terrific soundtracks for all the previous entries (although Powell is conspicuously not listed in the credits). But if they are going to do another one, which I'd be entirely happy with, drop Bourne from it. It's Cross' franchise now.


Monday, 13 August 2012



There are six films with this title listed on the IMDB, including a Jean-Claude Van Damme comedy currently in post-production, an anime, a cartoon, a porn video and an insultingly poor found footage retread of Cannibal Holocaust that's so lame it's only a 15 on British DVD. And then, hailing from 2003, there's this amiably dumb biff-kerpow vehicle for Dwayne Johnson (billed here as The Rock) from Peter Berg, who would later plummet to the headbanging imbecility of Battleship, one of the two or three worst movies of 2012 thus far.

Originally known as Helldorado and later retitled The Rundown, Welcome To The Jungle features the personable The Rock as Beck, a "retrievals expert" hired by a mob boss to bring back his annoying son Travis (Seann William Scott) from a mining town in the Amazon. Travis, however, is mainly concerned with locating a fabulous golden statue hidden deep in the jungle, while evil mine owner Hatcher (Christopher Walken) isn't about to let that treasure fall into the hands of the rebels...

That's pretty much it: it's not much of a film for plot and complexity. Instead it's genially amusing tosh: an aimless and harmless jungle romp with a likeable star (although I remain unconvinced about Seann William Scott; admittedly I haven't seen a lot of his comedies but he's never struck me as an engaging presence) and it's always good to see (and hear) Christopher Walken who's on rent-a-villain duty here. Twenty years ago this might have been a Schwarzenegger movie (and indeed Arnie has a one-line cameo near the start) but it's not particularly violent and it's very light and comedic in tone, with little blood and death shown and no strong language, so we're more along the lines of Chuck Norris' Firewalker. It's a passable action-adventure; no more than that, but well enough done to get by. (Note that the DVD and Blu are apparently slightly different cuts of the movie; I watched the Blu.)


Rock on:

Friday, 10 August 2012



He really should be in it by rights: he's the face of cinematic air disaster. He's the sole link between the four Airport movies (okay, he's only actually on board the stricken jet in the last one, the damp squib of Airport 80: The Concorde) as engineer/mechanic/Sky God Joe Patroni, and then years later he turned up as a priest on the hijacked plane in The Delta Force - and his IMDb listing also includes a TV movie called International Airport! If only he'd turned up in Flightplan, Turbulence, Con Air, Passenger 57, Red Eye, Die Hard 2, Panic Button, Snakes On A Plane....

Sadly, no-one gets to say "I have had it with these m*********ing ancient Chinese warrior demons on this m*********ing plane!" in Airborne, a pleasingly old-fashioned load of high altitude twaddle that's basically one third Airport 77, one third Horror At 37,000 Feet, and one third a bunch of people bellowing profanities at each other. The last flight out of the storm-lashed UK doesn't just contain the usual assortment of allegedly interesting characters - a foul-mouthed London gangster (Alan Ford) and his obnoxious minders, a couple of British squaddies who've served in Afghanistan, a pair of lovebirds with an eye on joining the Mile High Club, a suspicious last minute replacement cabin steward - but in the cargo hold there's Professor Julian Glover's absurdly valuable Shang Dynasty vase that supposedly holds the spirit of an ancient Chinese war god which will slaughter everyone if it gets loose. Or has it escaped already?

Meanwhile, Air Traffic Control (led by Mark Hamill, and boy, was Tatooine a long time ago) are tracking the jet's course deviations and the secret services are intent on shooting down the plane on the grounds of National Security, and blaming the crash on adverse weather conditions. ("You've no idea how often that works", declares Special Agent Billy Murray in the film's most chilling moment.) Whilst Airborne really isn't very good - it's poorly written tosh with too much swearing, and none of the characters are worthy of a whit of audience concern - it's not terrible either and ends up as perfectly decent if unremarkable, and despite everything that's wrong with it, I kind of enjoyed it and it's far more fun than I'd expected. Certainly I'll take this over a lot of the half-assed sludge I've waded through recently.


Don't call me Shirley:

Monday, 6 August 2012



It's very tempting and very easy to dismiss this Finnish/German/Australian fantasy comedy as a one-joke movie, but that would be doing it a disservice. Firstly, that simple one-joke premise of Moon Nazis is so utterly brilliant that it generates enough goodwill to get the film through its stickier patches - a stroke of genius up there with Snakes On A Plane or The Human Centipede as a great idea that you just can't hate even when it doesn't entirely work - and secondly there is more to the film than merely the Moon Nazis.

In 1945, the Nazis went to the moon, and in 2018 they're coming back. That's the tagline for Iron Sky and it's pretty much the plot. On the dark side of the moon there's a swastika-shaped base housing the elite of the Fourth Reich and the masters-in-waiting of the Earth: when an American lunar expedition chances upon their presence, the lead astronaut is immediately captured. Not only is he a shock to the Aryans, being black, but his mobile phone contains more than enough computing power to complete the programming of their fleet of flying saucers and warships. Can the Earth, led by America's President Sarah Palin, defeat the invasion?

The Moon Nazis stuff is the film's trump card: the Earthbound caricature of Palin as a warmongering whackjob feels lazy and more importantly isn't funny. There's also some dubious race-based material as well as our hero is turned white (this brings back memories of the unsuccessful Lenny Henry movie True Identity). But the CG effects work is perfectly decent (especially considering the budget), Udo Kier is always good value, there's a lovely nod to Chaplin's The Great Dictator and I even liked the budding romance between the once-black astronaut and a blue-eyed blonde Nazi schoolteacher.

In truth, it's roughly a 50/50 split between the things that work and the things that don't. But there's such an irresistible idea at the back of the movie that you end up feeling positive towards it even when it's gone off track, which it does for much of the middle section of the film. Hardly Earth-shattering (or even moon-shattering), but it's still actually far better than you'd expect. Hey, it's got Moon Nazis in it!


Ve haff ze technology:

Sunday, 5 August 2012



The trouble with a sequel to Death Wish is that the first movie didn't have anywhere left to go, so it ends up as exactly the same film again but in a different city. It's not enough of a sequel as it's basically just a remake - whatever we saw in the first movie, we see again, pretty much beat for beat and only the scenery is different. Except that with the familiarity comes a loss of any suspense: while the first film was about an upstanding and respectable family man who becomes a murderer to avenge himself and to wash the garbage off the streets of New York, this second one is just about a man who does it again. While Death Wish might have asked uneasy questions about the public fighting back against an ineffective police force and a justice system loaded absurdly in favour of the criminals, the followup has nothing on its mind but the vicarious thrill of seeing the worthless dregs of society getting what's coming to them.

Some years after the events of Death Wish, Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) has now relocated to Los Angeles, is dating news reporter Geri (Jill Ireland) and is looking after his still-catatonic daughter. But again a gang of street punks break into his home: they rape and kill his housekeeper and abduct his daughter. When she's found dead, Kersey doesn't even give the police a chance to capture the gang: he immediately heads downtown to the grimiest slum hotel he can find and locates the killers apparently through no clever or more ingenious method than just walking the streets until he spots them in a doorway or interrupts them in mid-assault.

Replacing Paul Kersey's character arc of regular citizen to merciless killer with a flatline, Death Wish II's appeal is all in the pandering to unthinking bloodlust (the British DVD is still cut, though apparently not by the BBFC to judge from their website; it appears they were happy with the submitted pre-cut version). It has no subtlety, no depth and no humour (it is a Michael Winner film, after all) and it doesn't even pretend to look at the other side of the vigilantism issue. What it does have going for it is the effortless charisma and screen presence of Charles Bronson in probably his most iconic role: a proper movie star from the days when movie stars were rugged and battered Real Men. That's not enough, though. Nor is an early appearance by Laurence/Larry Fishburne as one of the scumbags. And it's all got to contend with a horrible score by Jimmy Page. Bronson's great, and the movie is probably more slickly put together than the original, but that's about all.



Saturday, 4 August 2012



There are certain things I really don't want to see in movies. Obviously at the top of the list are the big nasties: sexual violence, animal cruelty, racial abuse, the Troma logo. Further down the page are the moderate annoyances: reggae, Danny Dyer, celery. Somewhere in between lie personal phobias and fears: I don't like spiders. To me they're worse than wasps. And in movies I certainly don't like scenes in which characters allow these evil demonspawns to run over their hands and up their arms. Even if they're all CGI and no real spids were actually used in the production, it still creeps me out. It's just wrong. Bugs, fine. Monsters, fine. Line dancing, fine. Spiders, no. The result is that I spent a good portion of the first act of the movie with my hands in front of my face trying to block out all sight of the giant poisonous spider from the screen. And not in the "can't look but must look" kind of way as with Insidious, but simply in the "take it away and call me when it's gone" way. (Weirdly, I had no problem with Arachnophobia twenty years ago when I kept my feet firmly on the floor of the old Portsmouth Odeon throughout.)

Cirque Du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant is the first and most likely only film from the Darren Shan series of Young Adult novels in which straight-arrow Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) and his troubled best friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson) pick up an invitation to the Cirque Du Freak, a mysterious carnival freakshow that's quickly moved on by the outraged citizenry. But not before the arachnid-obsessed Darren has stolen the owner's performing spider, Madame Octa - which promptly escapes in the school corridor and bites Steve. The only cure is held by the show's ringmaster, 200-year-old vampire Crepsley (John C Reilly) - but the price is Darren's apprenticeship as his assistant....

On its own terms, the film is perfectly decent entertainment for the older and less easily creeped out kids (it's a 12 certificate). The cast are having fun with more outlandish characters than usual (Willem Dafoe turns up for a couple of scenes, and the freaks include Salma Hayek, Ken Watanabe and Orlando Jones) and the CG effects are passable. Clearly the film was intended to be the first in a franchise which doesn't appear to have materialised, probably due to a general lack of audience interest; so plot threads, characters and potential relationships are set up for further development, but they never come to fruition as they're left hanging in the air for the Part 2 that never was. Better than Twilight, not up there with Potter and, evil spiders notwithstanding, it's still likeable and enjoyable enough. Directed by Paul Weitz, whose brother Chris' own fantasy franchise, The Golden Compass, also fizzled out after one film.


Vampires Cirque:

Thursday, 2 August 2012



Deadly? Really? Nowhere near - this DTV quickie has all the impact of a soap bubble on the side of a Chieftain tank, i.e. not very much. It's got a big-ass explosion halfway through which in a properly budgeted production would have either been done with a couple of truckloads of explosives or top-end CGI (fire never looks right when done in the computer), but in a one-star cheapie they have to be done with less convincing CG effects. The end result is pretty flat and frequently nonsensical with gaping plot holes and echoes of several other, better, mad bomber movies.

Albuquerque, New Mexico: top agent Tom Armstrong (Sean Patrick Flanery) is hot on the trail of bomber-assassin-mercenary master criminal "The Lion" (Joe Pantoliano, frankly better value), until the latter captures Armstrong's wife and traps him and his team in a basement with a ton of C4 that'll go off unless Armstrong shoots his own wife. Eight years later, Armstrong is dragged back into action when the maniac surfaces again (why has he waited so long?), setting bombs off unless he gets $100 million. Is there something more to it than that? Has "The Lion" got some incredibly complex personal reckoning going on as well?

Take a flying guess. Clearly Deadly Impact wants to be Speed and emulate the battle of wits between Dennis Hopper and Keanu Reeves or, if wet, Blown Away with Tommy Lee Jones (and his hilarious Oirish accent) and Jeff Bridges. Or, if even wetter than that, Albert Pyun's dodgy Ticker with Steven Seagal and, er, Dennis Hopper (and his hilarious Oirish accent). The plot doesn't make any sense anyway - once the villain has rung in and threatened Armstrong's new squeeze, why is she then allowed to go off and follow a suspicious lead by herself? What you're ultimately left with is a dull, drab cheapie with no flair or character about it that's hardly worth the effort.