Thursday, 31 January 2013



Well, that didn't take long. Back in October 2012 I finally threw in the towel and gave up on Jess (Jesus!) Franco after his repulsive The Sexual Story Of O, vowing never again would this artless trash corrupt my DVD player and contaminate my retinas. But then this one comes along and it's got proper actors in it: Shirley Eaton and George Sanders, who aren't just going to turn up in any old filth. And the BBFC have only given it a 15, so surely there can't be that much lesbian writhing and crash zooms in and out of ladies' bits, right? In the event: yes. Trouble is he might have downplayed the drooling lechery but he hasn't filled the void with anything interesting, while the end result isn't anywhere near as borderline offensive as his usual ugly grunting softcore, it's crushingly dull to the extent that I actually dozed off and had to rewind it by ten minutes.

Made in 1968, The Girl From Rio is apparently a followup to Lindsay Shonteff's The Million Eyes Of Sumuru (which I haven't seen), again featuring Shirley Eaton as the leader of an all-woman community plotting world domination from her secret Amazon city named Femina. This is the sort of cockeyed concept even the James Bond producers balked at (1983's Octopussy is probably the closest), but Jess Franco and writer Peter Welbeck, aka producer Harry Alan Towers, just said "oh, what the hell" and went with it. Rather than a Sean Connery or a Roger Moore, however, the case is handled by one Richard Wyler, possibly aided by Maria Rohm (Mrs Harry Alan Towers) while George Sanders lurks in the background cackling at Popeye comics when he isn't being urbane in that marvellous voice of his.

You'd think it would be impossible for a film so packed full of incident - gun battles, escapes, chases, fights, girls in uniforms - to be so cataclysmically tedious. It kicks off with one of those vaguely erotic but meaningless dance sequences Franco seems inordinately fond of, which has little if anything to do with the rest of the film, before hero Wyler jets into Rio accompanied by a cheesy theme song. Like Towers' series of Fu Manchu movies (the last two of which were also directed by Jess Franco), The Girl from Rio is nominally based on the writings of Sax Rohmer, but it's boring, it's stupid, and it's absolutely no fun from start to finish. There's no charm, no charisma, and no-one seems particularly enthusiastic about what they're doing. Franco may have been super-efficient on set - according to the featurette they finished a week ahead of schedule so they started shooting another film to fill the time while the crew were all on salary - but it hasn't translated to being any good and perhaps it might have been better if he'd taken his time over it rather than blasting through it to get the damn thing over as quickly as possible, like it's the washing up or something. Utter rubbish.


Tuesday, 29 January 2013



He always said he'd be back, and he is! The prevailing mystery is not why the film has tanked at the box office (the first lead role in ten years from the iconic star of The Terminator, Predator and Conan The Barbarian - how could it fail?) but why Arnold Schwarzenegger elected to return to the action movie with something so silly, overblown and absurd. It's throwaway stuff: certainly enjoyable, some of the action sequences are decently handled and there's fun to be had, but on the Big Arnie Stomp scale we're closer to another Raw Deal than another Total Recall. But tanked it has: my nearest nine-screener has dropped it after only a week while even the miserable Texas Chainsaw managed two. Possibly audiences stayed away because they're just no longer interested in Schwarzenegger action films: he's been away too long and a generation of young cinemagoers have come and gone without seeing him in anything except cameos and injokes. At 65, he's doesn't just look like an old man, he moves like an old man and perhaps, like both Connery and Moore with their later Bond films, there comes a point where perhaps he should have retired gracefully. He more or less gets away with it, but I wouldn't want to see him do it again in another ten years.

Essentially The Last Stand is Arnie bellowing "You shall not pass!" at a scummy Hispanic drug lord. Evil Cortez escapes from his transport to Death Row and makes a break for the Mexican border in a stolen Corvette that can do 200 mph. While Forest Whitaker's FBI agent and the SWAT teams bumble around being outwitted and/or massacred by Cortez and his goons, backwoods Arizona Sheriff Owens (formerly a top LAPD narcotics agent) and his ragtag hick deputies block off the main street of the uneventful small town, conveniently deserted as most of the civilians are away at a football game, to stop him reaching foreign and therefore safe soil.

My personal and almost certainly wrong theory as to the film's public failure doesn't have anything to do with Arnie, who does his thing perfectly well, if a little creakily (the script does acknowledge the character's advancing years). Rather it's to do with the "comedy relief" provided by Johnny Knoxville as an imbecile with a frankly unsettling love of guns. Given the ongoing debate over gun control and the intractably difficult question of whether obvious drooling halfwits should be allowed access to enough firearms to start a medium sized war (as enshrined in the Second Amendment), is it possible that audiences have decided this is maybe something that shouldn't be played for laughs?

Still, it's decent enough shooty bang bang entertainment for the most part as an undemanding, unambitious B-movie, almost a modern Western. It looks good (it's directed by Jee-Woon Kim, director of The Good The Bad The Weird and I Saw The Devil) and it's always nice to see big roles for Luis Guzman and Peter Stormare (as cowardly deputy and evil henchman respectively), and outside of Knoxville's gun obsession there are some solid laughs to be had, including some nice one-liners for Arnie. Which, oddly enough, don't include "I'll be back" (he does say "I'll be right back" at one point, which isn't the same thing at all). But he will.


Monday, 28 January 2013



We haven't seen very much of Lamberto Bava recently. According to his Wikipedia page he's generally been pretty busy with Italian TV; probably the last things to be released in the UK were a pair of absolutely terrible low-budget TV movies, The Ogre (retitled Demons 3 for purely marketing purposes) and Graveyard Disturbance, a jawdropping atrocity in which a bunch of hateful teen punks clown about in a cemetery and none of them get killed. Those were on VHS, back in the late eighties. The first two Demons movies, produced by Dario Argento, were variable: the first was entertaining enough but the second was incoherent and saddled with hilarious monster effects that looked like something out of Gremlins.

Before those, he'd knocked out A Blade In The Dark in 1982, a perfectly efficient if slightly overlong giallo which might be a long way from the high or even midpoints of Mario Bava and Dario Argento but is still enjoyable enough and occasionally surprisingly nasty. Film composer Andrea Occipinti moves into a rented villa to work on the soundtrack to a new horror film and is almost immediately besieged by various young women: his girlfriend, the film's director, two of the precious tenant's best friends. But one of them disappears almost immediately; his tapes are destroyed, there's blood on his trousers.... What about the landlord (Michele Soavi)? Or the obviously shifty perverted gardener/handyman shifting rubbish bags around at night? Or is the clue hidden in the film he's working on?

Back in the 1980s the film was cut by the BBFC by around two minutes, principally for a horrible murder sequence in which the victim's head is forced into a plastic bag and repeatedly smashed against the bathroom sink unit while her hand is skewered to the formica with a kitchen knife; happily (?) this has now been restored along with about ten minutes of additional scenes, bringing it up to 107 minutes. The result is that the film drags from time to time - these things should really be over in 90 minutes tops - with too many scenes of our hero and one or other of the ladies wandering the absurdly endless catacombs beneath the villa. Nor is it helped by at least one of the victims transforming into such an unpleasant and unsympathetic cow that it's tough to rustle up any response to her demise beyond "hurrah".

It's also notable for an unbilled cameo appearance by Giovanni Frezza, the child actor who also turned up in Fulci's The Black Cat and The House By The Cemetery as an Annoying Whiny Brat; apparently he's since obtained a degree in physics and a black belt in kungfu, and now works in marketing. A Blade In The Dark is no classic, but it's a decent enough entry in the late giallo stakes: the murderer is reasonably well hidden (I did guess their identity correctly, but then I have seen the film before, albeit more than 20 years ago so I'd forgotten most of it) and it's nice to see a film composer as a leading character. A pity his score sounds like generic Italian horror film music! Nowhere near prime giallo, but more than watchable and pleasantly grisly in spots.


Yeah, I know, it's on Vipco:

Sunday, 27 January 2013



The ten-year quest for Osama bin Laden is probably going to be the most politically, morally and emotionally difficult project any director could choose to tackle. The scars of 9/11 are still raw and the topic has to be approached with sincerity and sensitivity, maturity and responsibility. It would be easy to turn it into a gung-ho flagwaver of the "Yee-haw, let's get the bastards!" variety, but the overwhelming stench of bad taste would make the average Troma film look like Merchant Ivory. All credit then to Kathryn Bigelow for making a cool-headed, respectful yet still exciting and absorbing film, without criticising, condemning or condoning.

The central character of Zero Dark Thirty isn't Osama, who remains unseen for all but a few frames of the film, but Maya (Jessica Chastain), a CIA officer about whom we are told absolutely nothing, not even a last name, despite her being in every scene and pretty much every shot for the first two hours. Her unit is tasked with picking through every name, photograph and family connection: not tracking The Bad Guy directly but narrowing the search down via those who might have had contact with others who might have contact with him - until there's at best a soft 60% probability that he's in an unusually secure compound in Pakistan. At that point two stealth helicopters full of US Navy SEALs are sent in....and the rest we know.

Much has already been said about Zero Dark Thirty's supposed position on the use and effectiveness of torture, and the film certainly doesn't pretend these things didn't happen, with several scenes of detainees being waterboarded, confined, humiliated and strung up. This doesn't mean that the film or the makers believe it's a Good Thing, any more than the sight of Jessica Chastain recoiling in disgust from the interrogation techniques at the start is meant to suggest it's a Bad Thing. I don't think the film has a position on the use of torture beyond reporting that it happened, for good or ill, and that nothing is gained by pretending it didn't, especially when the world knows that it did (whatever it might be politically expedient for the President to deny in a TV interview). People weren't being "extraordinarily rendered" so they could go to a Kylie Minogue concert.

Such an approach might lose Bigelow the Oscar (not that it matters much): it's up against Lincoln which looks to be a much more comfortable bet both for Academy voters, who don't really want to tick the box for the film that shows America in a darker light, and audiences who want a softer, more romanticised view of their more distant history. (Disclaimer: I haven't seen Lincoln yet.) Still, Zero Dark Thirty is gripping throughout and it hardly flags despite a 157-minute running time; the acting is exemplary and the final military assault setpiece racks up tension despite the audience knowing precisely how it ends. Hugely impressive, it's probably a film more to admire, respect and think about than to just sit back and enjoy: impeccably made, it isn't a comfortable and reassuring film. It's unsettling, occasionally shocking, and leaves the easy morality for you to grapple with afterwards. Pretty terrific.


Tuesday, 22 January 2013



The one drawback with my ongoing giallo binge is that there really aren't enough of them commercially available in the UK, so I widened the net to include other Italian horror movies which don't really fit into that genre. To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what subgenre Lucio Fulci's wantonly absurd, not to say frequently ridiculous, film belongs to - straight supernatural horror? Gory deathfest? It's nice that two of the titans of Italian genre cinema, Fulci and Dario Argento, both went a bit tonto in freely adapting the Poe story for the screen (Argento's is the second half of Two Evil Eyes); there's no question that Argento's is the superior in technical film-making terms, but it's a close run race for the crazy prize. Obviously it keeps the climactic bit that everyone remembers, in which the cat is walled up with a corpse but the authorities are led to its hiding place by the animal's cries, but up to that point it's an almost irresistible melange of violent death scenes, hilarious plot devices and unspeakable dialogue. Your basic Lucio Fulci film, in other words.

Right from the start of The Black Cat, the cat is a homicidal maniac, despite it [1] not having opposable thumbs and [2] being a cat. To the accompaniment of a Pino Donaggio score it's caused a fatal car smash before the credits have even started. It kills two teenage lovers by stealing the key from their airtight, windowless loveshack and destroying the ventilator fan, and also burns a house down. The animal is owned by Patrick Magee as a medium who tries to communicate with the dead by putting microphones on gravestones (a technique which actually appears to work); he knows what's going on and poisons the cat and then hangs it. But you don't get rid of an evil murderous cat that easily....

The other big names in the film are David Warbeck as the Scotland Yard Inspector called in to investigate, and Mimsy Farmer as a photographer studying the local ruins. Dagmar Lassandar and genre veteran Al Cliver (Pier Luigi Conti) also show up. Thanks to its rural English setting it's almost got the feel of a Midsomer Murders about it, albeit the very last episode where the producers learn the show has been axed and they decide to go completely apeshit. It's got enough gore to still get it an 18, though no showstoppers like the eyeball splinter in Zombie Flesh Eaters or the entrail vomiting in City Of The Living Dead; a flagrant, proud disregard for logic and common sense, and ends up as good trashy entertainment.



Sunday, 20 January 2013



As much as I love my Argento gialli - The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Deep Red and so on - it is always worth going back a little further to the films of Mario Bava. I'm no expert on Bava, not least because so many of his films aren't available in the UK (Argento is probably the best represented of the Italian genre directors on British DVDs and Blu; there are huge gaps in the filmographies of Bava and Lucio Fulci and absolutely nothing by Riccardo Freda,for example), and the few that are available tend towards the more famous titles like Black Sunday (The Mask Of Satan) and the once-banned Bay Of Blood. But short of imports or unofficial sources you cannot get Five Dolls For An August Moon, Baron Blood, Blood And Black Lace or Rabid Dogs....

Pedantry alert: most of the killing in 1970's Hatchet For The Honeymoon is done with a meat cleaver, not a hatchet. And strictly speaking, the film isn't a giallo: there's no mystery as to the identity of the mad killer butchering brides-to-be. Wedding dress designer John Harrington (Steven Forrest) basically stands up at the start of the film and says "Hello, I'm John Harrington and I'm the mad killer." The question is why? What drives him to commit bloody serial murder and stuff the corpses in his incinerator? His shrewish wife Mildred who controls the money? Something to do with the numerous models draped all round the place in wedding gowns and lingerie? A secret from the past? Who's the pale-faced boy who appears wordlessly to him?

There are also non-giallo touches of the supernatural, as one of Harrington's victims returns to haunt him forever, and that's the really scary moment of the film even though it's happening to an unbalanced serial murderer. Other sequences play more as ghoulish Hitchcockian black comedy, such as a dying woman dripping blood on the carpet right where the maniac is chatting with the police downstairs. Hatchet For The Honeymoon isn't my favourite Mario Bava film - that's probably Blood And Black Lace - but it's still enjoyable, quite nasty for a 15 certificate, and has a cruelly satisfying payoff. Well worth seeing, as most (if not all) Bava is, but it's not the best film he made.


You may now kill the bride:

Friday, 18 January 2013



It's a pity, but the first absolutely essential film release of 2013 (Gangster Squad emphatically was never a must-see) sadly turns out to be something of a disappointment. Maybe it was too much to hope that it would be as good as Inglourious Basterds or as much fun as the first Kill Bill movie, but while it's got the usual Quentin Tarantino virtues, including the visceral violence and the effortlessly smart and quotable dialogue, the end result is, by his standards, good, very good in spots, but not great. Is it because he's tackling heavyweight subject matter (slavery and racism) for the first time rather than merely riffing on kungfu and grindhouse movies - that this is a film about something other than cinema? Like Spielberg, maybe his best films are when he's having fun rather than trying to be serious: Schindler's List may be staggeringly well made, but I'd never choose it over Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom.

Django Unchained has nothing to do with the 1967 spaghetti Western Django (despite a cameo injoke from Franco Nero) any more than it has to do with Takashi 'Batshit' Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django (which has an appearance by Tarantino). It's still got much of the spaghetti Western feel, helped by generous helpings of Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov on the soundtrack, including the latter's Django score, but it's really a racesploitation revenge movie, as freed slave turned bounty hunter Django (Jamie Foxx), accompanied by his new owner-cum-partner Schultz (Christoph Waltz), seeks his still-shackled wife, now the property of flamboyant Southern plantation owner Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio, on absolute fire). His quest is hampered by Candie's head slave Stephen (Samuel L Jackson in a genuinely shocking Uncle Tom role)....

Much has been made of the liberal use of the N-word, and it's certainly spread uncomfortably thick throughout the whole movie, but it's absolutely in context in a film about pre-Civil War slavery populated by ignorant and sadistic white racists. Obviously the same frequency of the same epithet would be out of place in a James Bond or a Lord Of The Rings, but to have deleted it from Django Unchained on the grounds of 21st century taste would be dishonest, and even more offensive. The BBFC passed it at 18 for "strong bloody violence" (amusingly ignoring the swearing and full-on racist language), and there's certainly plenty of that: shootouts result in satisfying spurts of blood rather than discreet little wounds, a man is ripped apart by dogs and two slaves fight each other in mortal, eye-gouging combat.

I've always liked Tarantino's dialogue skills, though sometimes (as with Death Proof) there's just too much of the damned stuff. Here there's not only the smart backchat and slick one-liners but some nice character material, from Schultz telling Django the German legend of Brunhilde (Django's wife is named Broomhilda) to the big shootout being triggered by Candie's demand for a handshake. One scene that doesn't really work feels like a sudden sidestep into TV sketch show territory as a lynch mob of idiot Klansmen find they can't see out of their hastily devised masks: yes, it makes the Klan look thunderously stupid (hardly difficult) but you almost expect there to be a laugh track on top of it. It's not that the scene isn't funny, rather that the obvious comedy doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the movie.

Anything by Tarantino is automatically vital for any self-respecting movie nerd/geek and there are, as usual, familiar faces in the cast to spot: Tom Savini, Zoe Bell and Robert Carradine show up in tiny roles, Bruce Dern has a brief bit, John Jarratt and Michael Parks turn up towards the end along with Tarantino himself having a go at an Australian accent! Also nice to see an old Columbia logo at the start! But despite all the geeky touches, Django Unchained is too long, and while there's some terrific stuff in there it has surprisingly little tension and in the end I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as Inglourious Basterds, which I do think is his best film. And while on one level it's a pity that the IMDb lists his next project as Kill Bill Vol 3 because he's obviously capable of so much better than pastiching trashy 70s cinema, on another level that's going to be more fun because that's where Tarantino's heart truly lies. It's certainly worth seeing, but it's unfortunately not a great film.


Monday, 14 January 2013



Much as it's always best to keep an open mind and to be receptive to new ideas and new interpretations of iconic texts, there are occasions where you know, deep down, that it's not the best of ideas. You want to like it, you hope to like it, but even before it starts you know you're going to be disappointed and it's not even going to meet your already declining expectations. 2013 starts as we desperately hope it doesn't go on: a well below average gory slasher movie that has no interest in reinventing a genre icon for a new generation, has no interest in revitalising the slasher teenkill movie, and indeed has no interest in putting together a well-crafted and frightening horror film. Instead: let's just put a bunch of teens in a big house and have the big scary bogeyman chase them around with a chainsaw. In 3D.

There's really little more to Texas Chainsaw than this: it's a sort-of alternative sequel to Tobe Hooper's original film that pretends Hooper's own gore-drenched Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2, Jeff Burr's grim Leatherface and the McConaughey-Zellweger Next Generation twaddle never happened. Following straight on from the original, Sheriff Hooper (named in the kind of dazzlingly clever never-heard-that-one-before injoke that's been around for decades) is set to arrest Leatherface when a lynch mob of whooping good-ol'-boy Texas redneck arseholes show up and turn the place into a massacre. The sole survivor is a baby girl spirited away by a childless couple: about twenty years later Heather (Alexandra Daddario) suddenly inherits the sprawling estate of her previously unknown grandmother and travels down to the house with some friends, little knowing that there's someone else there, in the basement....

One by one they're picked off and brutally murdered with extra CGI blood effects and to absolutely no effect. The problem is not that it's so thuddingly unoriginal - we've seen homicidal maniacs chasing teenagers about with big sharp objects for more than thirty years), it's not even that there is not one single frame from start to finish with the merest echo of the raw nihilistic insanity of Hooper's original. (If you don't want your film to be compared to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, don't make a sequel to it.) It's not even that the 3D is entirely superfluous and pointless, and has only been used so they can occasionally jab a chainsaw at the camera. Hell, it's not even that the film's timeline doesn't add up: if Edith/Heather is about 20, that places the film in 1993, so where did ill-fated idiot Officer Marvin get his shiny videophone thing from? And if it's set now, then Heather and her chums should be about 40 (which they clearly aren't), and why haven't any of them got mobile phones?

No, the big problem is that this is a Texas Chainsaw movie that turns Leatherface into the good guy, despite his merrily hacking people up in the cellar and stitching their faces onto his own flesh: he's persecuted and victimised for what is basically mental illness while the "normal folk" are all yee-hawing morons in stetsons. It's a Texas Chainsaw movie that, shockingly, reminds you not just how devastatingly great the Tobe Hooper original was (courtesy of splicing in scenes at the start, and giving Marilyn Burns and Gunnar Hansen cameo spots), but how much better Marcus Nispel's empty 2003 reboot was. And if a film makes you wish Marcus Nispel was directing it, something's gone very wrong indeed.


Saturday, 12 January 2013



Is there any worse reaction to a film than "hmmmm"? Is there anything worse than an absence of any response? Hobo With A Shotgun, Hidden In The Woods, Battleship and whatever found footage atrocity/giant CGI shark nonsense/Mark Wahlberg comedy they're tossing out this week at least provoke a response, albeit a negative one, rather than the viewer just passively absorbing it. (Incidentally, if anyone wants to make a found footage comedy in which Mark Wahlberg fights a CGI shark, I will find you and I will kill you.) Bad movies make you react, even if it is in anger, hate and irritation. Surely worse is merely sitting there until it's over and then just walking away.

The trouble is that Gangster Squad could have been so much better but it's fatally hampered by a number of serious flaws, and the re-edit and reshoots to replace a gun massacre in a crowded cinema (in the wake of the terrible real events in Aurora) isn't one of them: despite the reshoots the film will never escape the association. Los Angeles is run by untouchable gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), and a squad of supercops is put together by police chief Nick Nolte to shut his operations down, headed by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Robert Patrick. It helps that Gosling's character is sweet on Cohen's current girlfriend (Emma Stone)....

It looks fine, at least with regard to the hats and cars and period detail in the production design. But at points it looks absolutely terrible as far as image quality is concerned. That's because Ruben Fleischer has shot the whole thing on digital and two night-time action sequences in particular, a car chase and a fistfight, have the smooth and ungraded look of a budget camcorder to them. Once it looks like video, it looks cheap and shoddy and, more damagingly for a period film, it looks like it was shot in the last six months. Obviously it was, but film would have provided the cinematic illusion of timelessness and that electronic TV sheen destroys the illusion that the costumes and set decorators have worked so hard to set up. The climactic punch-up between Penn and Brolin doesn't look like it's from Gangster Squad, it looks like it's behind-the-scenes footage spliced in from the Making Of featurette on the DVD. Remember Michael Mann's Public Enemies? It's the same deal here.

Let's not even bother as to whether the film's claim to be "based on a true story" has the faintest shred of relevance whatsoever: suffice to say most of the movie bears absolutely no resemblance to the events detailed on Cohen's Wikipedia page. And I still remain immune to the supposed charm and charisma of Ryan Gosling. I know romantic leads tend towards the wet and uninteresting while the character actors get all the best stuff to do (Nick Nolte gets to growl more gruffly than ever, Sean Penn goes wildly over the top) but he's a blank, and although blankness was right for his loner character in Drive, it isn't right for his LAPD character here. Like Gangster Squad itself, he may (or may not) look pretty but that's all on the surface, there's not much of interest going on underneath.

It's odd that the director also made Zombieland, which was a lot better, a lot more enjoyable and had more charm about it. (Okay, he also made 30 Minutes Or Less which was pretty terrible.) Gangster Squad could have been something terrific, but in the end, when it's at its very best, it's hmmmm. And that's nothing like enough.


Wednesday, 9 January 2013



In precisely the same way that numerous idiots declared that Daniel Craig could not possibly be the new James Bond because he doesn't look like Sean Connery (or the character described in the books written more than half a century ago), so other idiots declared that Tom Cruise should not play the lead in the film adaptation of Lee Child's novels. Reacher is six foot five, Cruise is five foot seven, therefore This Must Not Be Allowed. A seemingly unavoidable piece of logic blown away by one simple fact: it's called acting. Playing someone you're not. No-one expects demonstrably Danish characters such as Hamlet to be played exclusively by Danish actors, no-one would suggest that a King should only ever be portrayed by someone no more than fifteenth in line to a throne. Maybe they'd have liked it better if they'd given Vin Diesel a wig and platform shoes (he's still too short). If you want the Reacher of the books, read the books. They're not a sacred text that cannot be adapted in the slightest detail for the screen.

How it compares to the books (specifically One Shot) I wouldn't know. But as a movie, Jack Reacher is perfectly decent: a solid mid-range action thriller directed by Christopher McQuarrie with crunchy enough violence to warrant a 15 certificate (it's been trimmed by a few seconds to get a 12A, though I personally feel it's not enough) with plenty of fighting and chasing and gunfire to make it a cheery Boxing Day release. Indeed it starts off with a public shooting in which five random people are shot by a marksman with a rifle: the suspect is quickly identified and arrested, but despite the overwhelming evidence, is he actually guilty? His former Army colleague, ex-military police investigator Jack Reacher (Cruise) shows up and delves into the case....

It all rattles along efficiently enough, though at 130 minutes it's on the long side; it looks superb (Caleb Deschanel was the DP), Joe Kraemer's score has slight hints of Jerry Goldsmith and Howard Shore, and it has a pleasingly old-fashioned feel to it, ditching the current trend for action sequences and car chases to be edited down to an incomprehensible blur, and nicely written with some smart one-liners. And it's cast with slightly unusual choices: Werner Herzog is suitably villainous, though a mass public shooting seems an odd way to go about his stated aims which actually seem fairly modest. More fun is Rosamund Pike's wide-eyed and slightly dizzy exasperation which almost seems to have carried over from Johnny English Reborn. Nice to see Robert Duvall again for a few scenes as well.

Sure, it's not as much romping fun as last year's Christmas Cruise (Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol): it's more downbeat and less of a crowd-pleaser. But as a mid-range thriller that's more about investigating and deducing than it is about blowing things up and shooting people, and more about telling a story than about ever more ludicrous stunts and special effects, it's good to see and with luck they'll make more of them. Well worth seeing.


Tuesday, 8 January 2013



It's hard to know exactly where to begin detailing exactly how thoroughly wrong this modern comedy is. One could start by pointing out the plus points - the animation effects work perfectly well, some of the one-liners are funny, Walter Murphy's pleasant score - but that's pretty much all it's got going for it. The rest is distinctly unlikable, nowhere near funny enough, needlessly vulgar and deliberately obnoxious, and does nothing for its two stars, particularly Mark Wahlberg, who I've never been a huge fan of but had gradually come to tolerate until this sent him right back down the bearability ladder again.

Essentially Ted is another manchild story, in which permanent adolescent John (Wahlberg) wants to settle down into a proper relationship with his long-term girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) but can't break away from hanging out with his irresponsible and carefree best friend Ted (Seth McFarlane). The only difference is that the best friend is his childhood teddy bear that came to life as a result of a Christmas wish when John was eight, and they're still best buddies: getting stoned together, watching Cheers box sets and Flash Gordon DVDs together and generally goofing around. Can John grow up, get his priorities sorted out and keep Lori from the clutches of her sleazy boss? Or will he revert to teenager type and habit and throw his life away partying with Ted?

The movie doesn't work as a comedy simply because it isn't funny enough and Ted isn't a particularly likable character and the tasteless antics he gets up to are not endearing or charming. 9/11 jokes, gratuitous swearing and comedy racism smack more of desperation than of genuine humour. The movie doesn't work as a relationship comedy either because there's no way Lori should be expected to put up with John or Ted, let alone the both of them. We're supposed to be rooting for John but he keeps on disappointing her and choosing Ted's drug-fuelled orgies over her. The end result isn't just that I don't care what happens to him, it's that I feel a rising sense of injustice when she keeps on forgiving him and inviting him back, and I start hating her for being so stupid. Even the secondary plot, in which Ted is kidnapped by an obsessed collector, feels like it's only there to put some excitement and chases in (and an absurd resurrection ending) to liven the thing up.

Humour is subjective, of course, so maybe it's just me. The few bits of Family Guy (only a few bits, because I didn't think it was good enough to stick with) that I've seen I didn't think were particularly funny either. But there should be something. Instead there's annoyance and irritation, and worse, there's boredom. Yes, the bear effects and interaction with the cast are brilliantly done, and there are a couple of big name cameos (one of them being the narrator), but if you honestly don't give a damn about any of the main characters, and indeed hope that one of them ends up on a bonfire, all the good work goes for very little. Depressing.




Always the way: you wait years for a movie by the unsung genius of Joe D'Amato, and then two come along in the space of a week. This one actually made the video nasties list thirty years ago and has still to be released back into civilised society, though if someone did bother to pick up the rights and submit it to the BBFC I'm not sure there'd be much of a problem, considering what gets through with a 15 these days. None of the horror is sexual, it's not remotely scary, and the gore may be enthusiastic but it's also crass and unconvincing, with the blood entirely the wrong colour and consistency.

Absurd (aka Rosso Sangue, aka Horrible, aka Anthropophagus 2) may have incurred the displeasure of the DPP, but it's considerably less revolting than Beyond The Darkness despite the senseless violence. It's a straight bogeyman slasher movie in which an unkillable Greek homicidal maniac kills everyone he encounters while priest Edmund Purdom tries to stop him. He drills through a nurse's head, shoves a janitor through a bandsaw and butchers a guy on a motorbike before heading for the house where he was last captured. In the house are two kids: one a teenage girl bedbound with a spine condition and the other a prime example of the Annoying Whiny Little Brat who turns up in far too many Italotrash movies: see City Of The Living Dead and The House By The Cemetery for other AWLBs you honestly hope get pickaxed....

None of it makes sense: the town's effectively closed down for the night because everyone's at home watching the big football game on live TV - yet the game is clearly taking place in broad daylight. Despite the presence of an indestructible mass murderer hacking people up, the cop on duty daren't alert his chief because "he's at home watching the game and it'd be my ass". And the kids' parents have quite happily left them alone with a useless babysitter so they can go to the neighbours' watch the same football game on TV, even though they spend most of the time not actually watching it. Much of it is also incredibly boring when George Eastman (real name Luigi Montefiore) isn't butchering people for no good reason, and it's not all that exhilarating when he is. And the showstopping sadistic gore moments go on too long aren't enough to make it any good.

Despite the alternative title, it's not really a sequel to Anthropophagus, which is available in the UK as The Grim Reaper in a cut version and is utter rubbish. I think I probably prefer D'Amato to Jess Franco for horror movies (I have no idea about their porn movies): while Franco's best are probably better than D'Amato's, his worst are absolutely unspeakable, and D'Amato at least doesn't have an obsession with random crashzooms into ladies' pubes. Mostly terrible, and its commercial unavailability to UK audiences is hardly surprising and frankly no great loss.


Sunday, 6 January 2013



A double bill of two of the first comedy spaghetti Westerns, which were a box-office smash after several years of dark, political and violent films like Faccia A Faccia, A Bullet For The General, the Leone Dollars trilogy and a couple of hundred others. In one sense they're little more than amiable pantomimes with an inexplicable obsession with thudding head injuries - it's amazing none of the stuntmen sustained cerebral haemorrhages and fractured craniums given the countless punches to the face and the top of the skull - but they're both far more likable and genially entertaining with some kind of humour to them. No-one gets seriously hurt, the villains are boo-hiss caricatures and the henchmen and minions are all idiots.

Probably the most famous of the numerous films partnering Terence Hill (Mario Girotti) and Bud Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli) was They Call Me Trinity, a faily silly caper in which the roguish blue-eyed superfast gunslinger Trinity (Hill) partners up with Bambino (Spencer), his huge bearded grouch of an outlaw brother in order to stop an evil landgrabber (Farley Granger) from getting rid of a community of pesky Mormons who have pitched up in a nearby valley, where everything climaxes in a gigantic brawl and the baddies are cheerfully sent packing. Much of it is harmless knockabout which, if it isn't laugh-out-loud funny, is at least reasonably amusing and came as a genuinely pleasant surprise after half a dozen grim and downbeat spaghetti Westerns such as Keoma. Although the PG certificate may give you cause to wonder at the BBFC's inconsistencies. Most of the violence in the film consists of countless crashing blows to the skull, punches to the face and hard slaps to the side of the head - if that doesn't count as imitable violence on a par with double ear claps (which the BBFC quite rightly take a very dim view of in children's films), then what the hell does? Especially as the movie makes it look as if you can take endless blunt force trauma to the cranium with ultimately no ill effects.

Trinity Is Still My Name is a barely connected sequel which further showcases Hill and Spencer's enthusiasm for smacking villains repeatedly around the head, along with the exciting new running gag of a farting baby. This time they're setting out to become legendary outlaws but are so good-natured they end up masquerading as federal agents and routing a bunch of gun-runners using a Catholic mission as a cover. Again, the movie climaxes with an extended brawling sequence in which no-one suffers anything more than a few bruises despite being comprehensively beaten to a pulp.

Neither movie is particularly hilarious; Spencer's reluctant gruffness is more amusing than Hill's laidback charm, and everyone else is pretty much a cardboard cutout: drunks, Mexican bandits, devout Mormons, sweaty and unshaven peasants. Decent enough, but perhaps a touch too long, and after a while you start to long for the Djangos and Sabatas rather than the Trinitys, and you wish for a note of seriousness to intrude on the halfwitted clowning and punches to the face.