Monday, 22 December 2014



Back in 2006, porno veteran Gregory Dark made one of his occasional forays into the world of "proper films" with See No Evil, a generic but occasionally quite nasty teenkill slasher epic in which an indestructible homicidal maniac gouges out the eyes of a bunch of more than usually deserving young scumbags: annoyingly, the only male to make it to the end alive was the drug dealing rapey one. It was efficiently done, but that's pretty much it. Quite why this, of all Lionsgate's extensive catalogue of DTV horror movies, was deemed worthy of a sequel is only slightly less of a mystery than why they waited eight years to try and develop it into a franchise.

Supposedly dead mother-fixated religious fundamentalist serial killer and eyeball collector Jacob Goodnight (again played by wrestler Kane but this time billed as Glenn 'Kane' Jacobs) comes back to life in the morgue and goes on another rampage. That's the entire plot of See No Evil 2. At least the roster of meathook fodder and reluctant cornea donors are less odious than the juvenile delinquents of the original: here we have Danielle Harris as Amy, one of the mortuary's three staff members, and her frankly dimwitted friends who are more interested in going at it like hammers in the least romantic of settings. (At least the mortuary tables are likely to be a more hygienic humping ground than the first film's abandoned hotel full of rats and mutilated corpses.) In what is probably the silliest sequence in any slasher of the millennium so far, Goodnight's awakening is apparently triggered by insanely kinky Katharine Isabelle flirting and cavorting with his cadaver; meanwhile, will good-natured but shy Seth finally pluck up the courage to ask co-worker Amy on a date? And will her brother stop interfering with her life and get it on with his own floozie?

It's directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, which means that you should really expect something more after the far more twisted American Mary (though admittedly not so much after Dead Hooker In A Trunk). But it feels more like a gun(s)-for-hire job: an unremarkable but enjoyable enough slasher movie with characters less hateful than usual and enough grisly deaths to keep it interesting in its brisk running time. In terms of franchise horror it's the holding pattern equivalent of something like Friday The 13th Part 4: a more than watchable rehash of the existent formula, professionally enough put together (supposedly not by the Soska themselves) but containing no great surprises. Entertaining but scarcely groundbreaking.




How long has it been since Jean-Claude Camille Francois Van Varenberg made a really good movie? Some might suggest "never", and maybe they've got a point, but looking at his IMDb page I'd suggest the rot started in with Sudden Death back in 1996. It's a fun Die Hard clone (set in an ice hockey stadium) with lots of violence and top production values, but since then it's been a slow decline and his recent offerings have been mediocre at best. (The Expendables 2 was kind of meat-headed fun, but that's more of an ensemble piece.) UFO, aka Alien Uprising, was absolute garbage, he was the funniest thing in the not-funny-at-all Welcome To The Jungle, and the likes of Assassination Games and Until Death are cheap and disposable straight-to-video B-movies that don't showcase Jean-Claude's undoubted headkicking skills to any notable degree. But like Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren, he just keeps on going.

It's an even sharper decline from Sudden Death when you look at director Peter Hyams, because Enemies Closer is absolutely not the kind of thing you expect from the director of what I almost hesitate to call "proper films" like Outland and Capricorn One. Or even The Relic or End Of Days. A light aircraft crashes into the waters around an island off the coast of Maine, a squad of uniformed Mounties (led by Van Damme) show up to offer the US Customs people their assistance in finding the plane. But when they refuse, Van Damme kills everyone in the room and reveals himself as a boo-hiss evil drugs trafficker and not a Mountie after all! Meanwhile, the island's Park Ranger (who handily used to be in the military and trained as a frogman) is confronted with the vengeful brother of a young soldier who died in Afghanistan when a mission went wrong, and the two of them have to reluctantly team up against the drugs gang....

It's cheap, mostly dull and takes place almost entirely at night so the fight scenes aren't anywhere near clear enough to become exciting (and I don't think it's the TV settings at fault). Jean-Claude is now 54 and perhaps no longer able to do the leaping splits without his hip creaking, which is perhaps awkward if he's trying to sneak up on people, but he's clearly having fun overplaying as a fearsome gangster with a terrible comedy hairdo, and some of the action scenes look like they might be entertainingly painful if you could actually see what was going on. Generally pretty poor, though odd moments amuse.


Thursday, 4 December 2014



I've waited no less than thirty-five years to see this film. The first time I ever heard about it was a crushing review by "Bobby Dupea" (shamefully, it took me years to get the reference) in a very early edition of Starburst magazine. The film never played my local and I wouldn't have gone anyway, but the title has stuck with me ever since. Strangely, I never managed to catch the pre-cert VHS or the later PG-rated tape; perhaps less surprisingly it has never been granted a British DVD release (there is a Region 1 DVD available for import, but why would you?). And then suddenly, there it was, available to stream. How could I not?

The Shape Of Things To Come has absolutely nothing to do with HG Wells beyond giving him a meaningless possessory credit at the start, and retaining one character name (not even spelled the same) in an entirely different role. Otherwise they've done a Moonraker and ditched everything from the source material in favour of their own aberrant silliness. Now Things To Come is no longer a terrifying work of prophecy about the future of the human spirit, but a cheap Star Wars knockoff where the producers clearly thought they could grab themselves some Lucas dollars by tossing in spaceships, explosions, rebels, an evil Emperor and some ungainly comedy robots. After the great robot wars, Mankind has now largely abandoned a radiation-riddled Earth and has either spread out through the galaxy or holed up on a moonbase, but everyone's dependent on life-saving drug Radic-Q-2, which is only available on one planet in the entire cosmos. Trouble is, the planet (which appears to have no native population) is ruled by mad Jack Palance who wants absolute power or he'll withhold Radic supplies....

How come the moon has clouds and a sea (visible from ineffective senator John Ireland's office windows yet not visible from outer space)? How come children have been left to scavenge the empty and radioactive wastelands of Earth? Why the hell has Palance installed an explosive device capable of blasting his entire planet to smithereens? Why indeed can't Radic-Q2 be manufactured anywhere else? Why have the rebels on Delta Three - all twelve of them - decided on identical red jumpsuits as their uniforms? Were those waddling stumpy robots the best that super-engineer Palance could design? How is dying Earth scientist Barry Morse supposed to be Palance's old mentor when they're practically the same age (there's only eight months between the actors)? Why did no-one proofread the opening caption scroll and corrected the debatably bad spelling (dependant vs dependent - admittedly not a problem in America but this is Canadian) and the misplaced apostrophe (it's vs its)? And that's a problem: less than a minute in and already I'm distracted by bad grammar in the scene-setting crawl.

I waited thirty-five years to see this film and it wasn't worth the wait. To be honest, if it had been thirty-five minutes it still wouldn't have been worth the wait. It's not even as much fun as Aldo Lado's idiotic The Humanoid, which at least had Barbara Bach in it, and even Jack Palance's overacting can't even raise The Shape Of Things To Come to the level of terrible but enjoyable. Whatever you might think of Star Wars now (and I still like all three original films), it was great at the time, hugely entertaining and caught the imagination like few other films. This is just rubbish: it has no interesting ideas, and it doesn't have anywhere near the resources required to bring off the ideas it's swiped from George Lucas. It looks like TV, it's got the feel of an old episode of Star Trek. Except that Shatner would have sorted the whole thing out in half the time and with eighty per cent less silliness. Executive produced by veteran rubbishmeister Harry Alan Towers and directed by George (Frogs) McCowan.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014



If you're in the market for some serious weirdness from a major Hollywood studio with Big Stars attached, you could do a lot worse than A New York Winter's Tale, an unseasonal oddity (centred around New Year's Eve, but released to cinemas in February and DVD in November) which seems to be aiming for grown-up romantic fairytale but ends up as a bit of a mess. Yet it's a fascinating mess: too long, mostly silly, hugely implausible, occasionally almost magical, never boring. I've no idea who the target audience might be; it certainly isn't me, and yet I rather enjoyed it.

At the turn of the last century, a young couple are refused immigration into the USA because of a pulmonary condition, and sent home. To protect their baby son from whatever unspoken fate might await him back home, they abandon him to the waters around New York. He grows up to be a petty thief and crook working for Irish gangster Russell Crowe, but after a disagreement over the level of violence necessary, Farrell needs to get out of town fast. In this he is aided by a magnificent white horse, which won't actually carry him until he does one last job at William Hurt's family home. He's away at the time, but Farrell finds and falls in love with Hurt's daughter Jessica Brown Findlay, who is dying of consumption.

I forgot to mention that the horse is apparently omniscient, which is handy when Crowe turns up to take Findlay hostage for Farrell's return. Also, the horse can fly. Also, Crowe isn't just a gangster but an actual demon in human form, and has to seek permission from The Judge, aka Satan himself (Will Smith) to pursue Farrell beyond the city limits. But Farrell's destiny turns out not to be to save his beloved from her terminal condition after all, and tragedy leaves him an amnesiac drifter, apparently wandering the city in a daze for the next ninety years. And in the present day, he finds himself drawn to Grand Central Station, and the shoebox of relics he left there decades ago. A chance meeting with a small child and a journalist (Jennifer Connelly) fill in some blanks in his memory, but more importantly Russell Crowe is still on his trail....

There's a lot of absolute hogwash about everyone having a special destiny and fate and miracles, which makes no sense when you think of all the people in the world casually killed, beaten and generally mistreated - where are their miracles? What kind of miserable pre-ordained fate is that? Farrell's eventual purpose doesn't make much sense either: if The Unseen Fates have really engineered things so that he can ultimately fulfil that particular destiny, they've gone to a great deal of unnecessary trouble to achieve something that could surely have been a lot easier and simpler. Very odd, but a sweet and feelgood concoction, and I liked it far more than I'd expected, given the kind of film it is. Directed by Akiva Goldsman, scribe of various Ron Howard movies and Joel Schumacher's two Batman atrocities.