Wednesday, 19 February 2014



First there was indignation. How could they remake Robocop? Paul Verhoeven's classic ultra-violent black satire is one of those untouchable sacred texts that simply cannot be revisited: just look at the supposed unholy botch Len Wiseman made of Total Recall (that was actually nowhere near as terrible as a lot of people made out). Then there was resignation: obviously it's going to be a shameless cash-in inevitably destined to be absolute rubbish, with delays and rumoured reshoots adding to the sense of impending disaster, but what can you do? And eventually there was anger as the BBFC finally gave the finished film a weedy 12A certificate: this shiny new reboot boasted minimal swearing, zero nudity and moderate violence in what was obviously the biggest act of shameless pandering to the idiot teen market since Golden Wonder put out bogey flavour crisps. And finally: pleasant surprise as - gosh wow shock horror - it turned out to be perfectly alright.

Comparisons with the original are inevitable: if they didn't want to be put up against the Verhoeven film they shouldn't have remade it, and if they'd wanted to come out of it with an acclaimed classic they should have changed a few names and remade Cyborg Cop or something. Robocop 2014 marches to much the same tune as Robocop 1987 (literally: the late Basil Poledouris' theme makes an occasional unnecessary reappearance): critically wounded cop is rebuilt as an unthinking cyborg for nefarious corporate purposes rather than benevolent social ones, but its/his suppressed humanity struggles to surface through the mechanical suit to do the right thing and deal with the real, personal, villains rather than the scumbags he/it was programmed to.

In the event it's nowhere near the Verhoeven: it doesn't have the depth and it doesn't have the meat. But it's still a perfectly decent big-budget spectacle with lots of guns and noise and comedy (see the tickertape running under the news broadcasts), and as an undemanding Saturday night popcorn movie it's easily better than we feared. Granted that the movie sags badly in the middle as the bad guys are ignored in favour of family mush, and the chief villain's demise lacks any kind of impact at all, but Gary Oldman, Samuel L Jackson and Michael Keaton are always good value and clearly having fun. The odd injoke references in the dialogue to the original may be a distraction (Jackie Earle Haley gets to say "I wouldn't buy that for a dollar") but I guess they'd have been equally pilloried if they hadn't included the occasional nod.

And it isn't neutered by the constraints of a family audience certificate: a PG13 in the US and a 12A here, which effectively means anyone can see it. True, it doesn't have the graphic gore or swearing, but so what? Bad language and explicit violence were never the point and the idea that you can't have Robocop without an R rating or an 18 certificate doesn't really wash as there's still a lot of mayhem and destruction to enjoy. Which I did. A lot.




Every so often, for whatever reasons, two movies come along that have much the same theme and ideas behind them. We've had competing volcano movies, competing CG insect animations, competing asteroid movies, even competing dramas about Truman Capote. And 2013 somehow brought us two competing apocalypse comedies featuring all star casts. America's offering, This Is The End, was an unadulterated disaster in which a bunch of thoroughly repulsive arseholes (Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, Jonah Hill) demonstrated they couldn't be even mildly funny under any circumstances imaginable by doing absolutely nothing but swearing and taking drugs. Our version is, happily, a lot better.

The World's End is the final stop on a legendary pub crawl that Gary (Simon Pegg) and his mates never managed to finish on the last day of school twenty years ago. He reunites the older, sadder "five musketeers" to finish what they started - only it gradually dawns on them that the town isn't quite the same. Newton Haven, like thousands of other sites around the world, has been targeted by an intergalactic federation turning everyone into smiling, eternally youthful simulations in the name of universal peace. With barely a handful of genuine humans left, can they thwart the benevolent alien menace?

Clearly it's several thousand parsecs superior to This Is The End. The casting is a lot stronger for one: you get solid character actors like Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan, reliable comedy performers like Martin Freeman and Nick Frost, good turns from ex-Bonders Rosamund Pike and Pierce Brosnan. And while Pegg's central character in particular grates in the early stages, discovering the backstory diffuses it. There is enough character detail built into them to explain why they are the way they are, with the result that you don't hate them the way I quite honestly wouldn't give a toss if Danny McBride never graced the inside of a Cineworld again. The bottom line is that our Btirish apocalypse is so much better than the Americans' because deep down we care about the people involved.

It's not a classic, granted, and it's not up there with Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz, but I generally enjoyed it, though there's perhaps too much swearing as a lazy way of getting cheap laughs. It's got a nice Doctor Who-ish feel to it in places, and obviously the effects and technical work is top notch. It's also pleasantly odd to see locations you know showing up in films: this is (at least) the second time Letchworth has been seen in a British apocalypse, as the found-footage horror The Zombie Diaries was also filmed there.


Sunday, 9 February 2014



To my left I have a letter from the DVLA telling me that my car tax is due, and to my right is a DVD of the latest Marlon Wayans spoof comedy. Which do you think is the cleverer, wittier, and more spiritually uplifting? Okay, that's probably on the lame side. But if you're wanting quality crafted jokes and slick one-liners, you've come to just as wrong a place with me as with Marlon's desperately depressing haemorrhoid of an apology for an excuse of a so-called film. The only differences are that [1] I wasn't paid thousands of dollars for quality crafted jokes and slick one-liners, and [2] I'm not exhibiting all the symptoms of blunt force trauma to the skull.

A Haunted House is unspeakable garbage: a miserable, genuinely painful turd of a comedy with absolutely nothing - not a line, not a shot, not a single damned frame - with the faintest squeak of merit whatsoever. Ostensibly it's a spoof of the ongoing Paranormal Activity series in the found footage manner: Malcolm's (Wayans) girlfriend Keisha (Essence Atkins) moves in with him and immediately the house is beset with demonic forces. One by one psychics, priests, paranormal investigators (with their own reality shows) are called in, with hilarious results....

Let's ignore the fact that the plot makes no sense, because like all these spoofs the plot itself isn't important: it's just there to hang the gags on. Let's ignore the fact that the found footage thing doesn't work any more than it does in straight movies, and is riddled with obvious inconsistencies. But please, please, let's not ignore the fact that half the jokes revolve around poo and farting and would be thought monumentally puerile by a toddler, while the other half are sex jokes that mostly revolve around predatory gays. There's a long scene of the remarkably charmless Wayans humping a succession of soft toys, repeated references to interracial group sex, and it's more than a little embarrassing when the grinding childishness and suffocating boredom isn't alleviated for a solitary second by anything in the same postcode as a smile.

What's particularly depressing isn't that this joyless abyss of misery and tedium cost two million dollars (even though it obviously looks like it cost a hundredth of that), nor is it that it made forty million back in the USA alone, which on a simple numbers basis is a two thousand per cent profit. And that's not counting theatrical releases in more than a dozen other territories from Chile to Singapore (and, shame on us, the UK) and the global DVD revenue. No, what's making me smack my head against the wall is the news that A Haunted House 2 is already in post-production. People have been carted off to The Hague for a lot less.

Okay, okay, it's obvious that Wayans is the smart one for turning such a vast profit out of such paltry fare, and I'm the dumbass for adding the damned thing to my queue in the first place. I don't get comedy, I loathe found footage and I've always thought Marlon Wayans was an arse, so renting a found footage comedy by Marlon Wayans is like eating a handful of broken glass then complaining that my gums are bleeding. Fair enough, point taken. But Marlon Wayans is still an arse and A Haunted House is pretty much as shit as film can get without actually being scat porn. Only not as funny.


Wednesday, 5 February 2014



Sorry to start off with yet another drone about the evils of post-conversion 3D, but this glum fantasy comicbook knockabout is the prime illustration of why pasting on stereo effects is a thuddingly bad idea. There is, yet again, not one single shot in the 2D print I watched that cries out for pointy things jabbing out of the screen at you: indeed, since the bulk of the movie takes place in an apparently permanent night or gloomily underlit gothic interiors, filtering it through the 3D polariser and then again through the glasses would most likely render whole sequences invisible in the murk. Even in the unfiltered 2D version it's seriously lacking in light as well as lightness.

Essentially I, Frankenstein is an Underworld movie, except that instead of vampires fighting werewolves it's demons fighting gargoyles, and instead of Kate Beckinsale in tight black rubber you get Aaron Eckhart covered in scar make-up. Diverging from the end of the original Mary Shelley novel (she's not credited but she is included in the Special Thanks crawl at the end), mad scientist Victor Frankenstein dies on the ice but his Monster survives and takes the body back home, whereupon he is set upon by demons. He sends them back to Hell, and spends the next two hundred years hiding out in the remotest parts of the world. But when he returns to the civilised world, demon prince Naberius is planning to reanimate millions of stored human corpses with demon souls and take over the world, and only Frankenstein's monster, a comely scientist, and the few remaining Gargoyles can stop him....

This is nonsense, though it is occasionally spectacular nonsense if you're in the mood for a screen full of whizzy CGI monsters flying about and exploding, which I have to confess I was. Highlights include the typically enjoyable villainy from Bill Nighy, from the Underworld movies, as the King Of The Vampires Demons, Miranda Otto introducing herself as Leonore, Sacred Queen Of The Order Of The Gargoyles (a line no actress should even be called upon to utter with a straight face), Yvonne Strahovski doing her best Rosamund Pike as the attractive scientist. But it's still no fun, it's too dark, and it makes no sense - for one, why do the Gargoyle hordes chain The Monster up in a room with an easily demolished wooden door when they've got a vast secret basement vault made of concrete?

It's not any good, and it has no sense of humour, but it's not abominable. It's only 92 minutes long and mostly rattles along quickly and painlessly enough. Yes, "not terrible" and "it doesn't hurt" are scarcely recommendations - not hurting and not being terrible should be the minimum default position - but I'll gladly take humourless CGI monster silliness over found-footage camcorder tedium or anything that starts with a bunch of teenage idiots on a road trip. Sadly "not awful" is as much as can hope for these days. Oh, and they're not even gargoyles - they're grotesques.