Monday, 26 January 2015



Confession: until this documentary arrived in the post I'd never seen a Weng Weng film. In the interests of completion I immediately added to my rental queue For Y'ur Height Only, the celebrated 1981 Filipino spy spoof in which Weng plays Agent 00, out to rescue a scientist from a mad gangster and his legions of easily defeated minions. Of course it's terrible even as a Z-grade Bond pastiche, but you almost see why bad movie fans took it, and its 2'9" star, to their hearts. But who exactly was Weng Weng, where did he come from, and what became of him?

The Search For Weng Weng follows director Andrew Leavold's quest to find out more about him. Surprisingly, this turns out not to be the easiest of tasks: in the Philippines there seems to be a reluctance to even acknowledge Weng's existence, let alone discuss his movies, as if they're ashamed of him and them. Given that Imelda Marcos (who is actually interviewed in the film) set up the Manila International Film Festival with a view to showcasing the cream of Filipino culture and cinema, and the only thing that sold was the freakshow exploitation knockabout of Weng Weng, this is perhaps one of the world's more understandable conspiracy theories.

Still, with the help of members of the Filipino exploitation movie community (including Height's director Eddie Nicart), Leavold does manage to unearth a lot of information about the man, from his childhood through to his later years when his brief movie career was over, It's actually a pretty sad story: not only has he been all but written out of his own country's cultural history but he never got to enjoy, or even see, any of the money his movies generated. But it's also a strangely fascinating one, not so much for the bad stuff and the novelty act obscurity into which he seems to have fallen, but that it happened at all: he's still the shortest actor to ever play a leading film role and he seems to have had a measure of fun doing it. Incidentally, if you don't know (or don't want to know) what eventually happened to Weng Weng, then don't look at the menu for Disc One's extras first. And don't check out his bio page on the IMDb which is pretty thorough.

Generously illustrated with clips and stills, The Search For Weng Weng is certainly not without interest, especially for fans of Filipino exploitation movies, though I'm not sure how much appeal it might have to someone who doesn't like trash cinema and/or has never actually heard of Weng Weng. What it never manages to do, however, is make me want to see any more of his films: I've never been a fan of so-bad-it's-good movies anyway and one viewing of For Y'ur Height Only really is enough (even though the DVD comes with comedy western D'Wild Wild Weng as an extra on Disc Two, which looks oddly squeezed from its 4:3 ratio till it's closer to 7:6). Worth a look.


Saturday, 24 January 2015



Not to boast, but most horror movies don't really scare me. Sure I'll jump at a loud noise, like pretty much any sentient lifeform that isn't looking to become extinct very quickly, but I very rarely get spooked to the extent of not turning the lights out or walking the streets alone at night. The exceptions (Insidious, The Exorcist, Lake Mungo, The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh) are worth savouring, perhaps because they come along so infrequently, but they're usually well-done exorcism movies or well-done ghost stories, and a masked slasher or monster movie never seems to actually scare me that deeply, no matter how well it's done.

So it's not illogical to assume a demon/exorcism movie that also has ghosts in it would be doubly terrifying. Yet The Appearing actually turns out not be very scary at all, perhaps because on neither front is it particularly well done. Following the accidental death of their young daughter, a big city couple move out to the sticks. Michael (Will Wallace) is the new deputy sheriff and immediately gets involved in a young woman's disappearance; meanwhile his wife Rachel (Emily Brooks) is either seeing ghosts or imagining things. No-one wants to talk about where the missing girl might have actually gone, or what happened up at the old Granville house in the woods years ago....

It's all fairly perfunctory, completely unremarkable, and if you don't see it you're really not missing out on anything. There's certainly nothing here that screams Un Film De Daric Gates or that sends you off to the IMDb to hunt down whatever other Daric Gates films are out there. Bits of it are just silly - Rachel's backstory is absurd, and this is yet another movie where the Devil reveals an Alucard-like fondness for anagrams and writing things backwards. Neither terrible nor any good at all. this is also a footnote in the annals of Movies With Brothers Of More Famous Actors In Them - in addition to Don Swayze as the grizzled sheriff, we get Joe Estevez for three scenes as a ranting loony.




The first time I ever heard of this miserable grindhouse cheapie was in an article in marvellous 80s fanzine Shock Xpress: a list of The 50 Most Boring Films Ever Made. It never troubled the BBFC (though the DPP apparently showed some interest in the pre-cert video release), I certainly don't recall ever seeing it on the shelves of any of the local VHS rental palaces of the time, and it hasn't (yet) been dug out and remastered by one of the retro specialist labels, though there is a US DVD release. The thing is, while it is available online (legitimately), its absence from British shelves may not entirely be a bad thing.

The Headless Eyes is a cheerless and shoddy slice of incompetent grot and senseless, incoherent bellowing with the occasional sight of eyeballs. Arthur Malcolm (Bo Brundin) is a homicidal maniac who goes around murdering people and gouging their eyes out for use in his artworks, following an incident where he burgled a house and a terrified woman took one of his eyes out with a spoon. He rants and shouts a lot, argues with his ex-wife, begins a tentative relationship with an art student - but every so often he has to go out and get some fresh eyes...

It's horrible, sleazy, amateurish and mostly dull; it's technically pretty ropey and generally badly put together, with terrible music, rotten acting and poor sound recording making a lot of Malcolm's ranting hard to make out sometimes, assuming you can be bothered to try. And it's no fun: it's grim, humourless and depressing. Fans of early 70s Z-grade grindhouse splatter movies might get a kick out of it but the only noteworthy aspect is that auteur Kent Bateman later turned up as the producer of Teen Wolf Too, an early vehicle for his son Jason Bateman (now of course a proper Hollywood star in proper Hollywood movies). And that is about as noteworthy as it gets. Drivel.


Sunday, 4 January 2015



Well, it's a shame to kick the New Year off with a bit of a duffer, and hopes were high given the genuine scariness of the original film (and the increase to a 15 certificate), so this really should have been the cinematic equivalent of an open goal. Sadly, bizarrely, this misses almost entirely and it's actually remarkable just how far short it falls - for all the jump shocks and Boo! moments, it's surprising in its non-scariness. Sure, there was a lot of shrieking and giggling from the youngsters in the front row when I saw it, but there was hardly a frisson for me.

The Woman In Black: Angel Of Death (there is no number 2 in title) sees a return to the forbidding, mist-shrouded Eel Marsh House. It's now 1941 and the house is opened up for children evacuated from London at the height of the Blitz. But the eponymous spectre is still in the house, targeting one particular traumatised boy in particular: can dedicated teacher Phoebe Fox (with a dark secret in her own past) figure out what The Woman In Black wants from them and protect them - not just from the ghost but also from the tightly closed mind of headmistress Helen McCrory?

Not only is this not a scary film, it's a scared film: it doesn't have the confidence to rely on its vintage Hammer setting - the archetypal Spooky Old Mansion that no-one in their right mind would ever set foot in, forever enveloped in fog and frequently cut off by the tide - or its cold, dark atmosphere of dread. Or, indeed, with the huge amount of goodwill left over from the terrific original. Instead, it lets loose with sudden jump scares every five minutes or so and loud orchestral crashes on the soundtrack. This should be the easiest scare tactic to pull off, since our brains are naturally pre-programmed to respond to loud noises as a survival instinct, and yet I barely felt a flicker of reaction from any of them.

Against that, there are a couple of effectively creepy and unsettling moments when The Woman appears in the semi-darkness (incidentally, this is a film which will lose a lot of impact if the cinema doesn't kill the house lights) or, in the film's most powerful shot, we just see her hand. Subtlety and restraint may not have the immediate popcorn-in-the-air impact of scary faces leering unexpectedly at you, but they can make for unsettling cinema which generally works a lot better than just shouting Boo! at you. And Hammer were never about simple cattleprod shocks: they were about atmosphere and character and craftsmanship, qualities which were well to the fore in the 2012 film but which are pretty much squandered here. If you only want a film to make you shout "Eek" at regular intervals and clutch your date's arm in panic, it pretty much does that job, but for anything deeper it's something of a disappointment.


Friday, 2 January 2015


This list was actually a lot easier than the Top Ten, because I deliberately avoided a lot of the films that would normally have annoyed me. (Hey, I'm not a professional critic. If you want me to see whatever incompetent drivel the likes of Adam Sandler and Seth Rogen have been up this year, give me banknotes. Otherwise: my dollar, my rules.) Still, the following managed to slip through the net:

David Cronenberg hasn't made a genuinely interesting movie for a very long time and this certainly isn't bucking the trend. Not as rubbish as Cosmopolis, but who are these people and why should I care? Might not have made the list if they'd cut the scene of Julianne Moore trying to take a dump.

Just because you have an absurd nostalgia for all those terrible Howling sequels from the 1980s is no reason to go out and make your own. Kudos for old-school practical effects work rather than shiny new digital ones, but that's it.

Yet more kaboom thud bang kaboom idiocy in which giant metal things destroy everything; matters are improved by not having Shia La Boeuf in it, but not much. Michael Bay directs with his boner, as usual.

Idiotic cop comedy full of idiots and Laurence Fishburne.

Intolerable psychological horror/drama/indie. I like Juno Temple, but this was a tiresome grind of a film.

Miserable sex drama in which everyone has a thoroughly rotten time, which is fair enough because they're all tedious whiners or obnoxious scumbags. Or both.

A bad story, badly told, this cataclysmic bore was accompanied by a critical attitude of "if you didn't like it, you're clearly not intelligent enough to understand it". Worthless, artless and pretentious drivel, but incredibly it wasn't the worst Scarlett Johansson film of the year.

An episode of Hustle with a bunch of repugnant leery scumbags trying to pull a massive con in order to pay off a gangster who I spent the entire film hoping would kill absolutely everyone, preferably with pliers. A film without a stroke of merit from start to finish and the worst British film in several years.

I thought I'd poke my head round the door and see if the found-footage subgenre had managed to achieve anything remotely interesting in the last year or so. It hasn't.

1. HER
In a good-looking future, Joaquin Phoenix (with an inexplicable comedy moustache) is surrounded by glamorous and beautiful women but falls in love with the voice of his computer operating system (an unseen Scarlett Johansson). Irritating and stupid beyond measure. I ended up swearing at my TV set so much it sounded like The Wolf Of Wall Street.

As I mentioned, I missed a lot of the obvious crud (why on Earth would I submit myself to films like Pudsey and Postman Pat which hold absolutely no appeal for me?), so there aren't even any runners up although there's a special mention for Grudge Match, a dead-on-the-screen waste of Oscar-winning talent from which neither of the major stars escapes with credibility intact.

Thursday, 1 January 2015


It's that time of the year again: my Top Ten Films Of The Year. As usual, this is for films that had a UK premier theatrical release in the calendar year, according to Launching Films' schedules, thus movies that played festivals only and/or went straight to disc aren't eligible. (American Hustle might have made it but its official release date was December 31, 2013 and is therefore disqualified.) I didn't manage to catch all of these in the cinema - some only played a couple of West End shoeboxes for a week, which is arguably no better than having no theatrical release at all. Also, for various reasons I missed a lot of A-list titles entirely - 12 Years A Slave, Belle, A Haunted House 2 - and still haven't caught up with them. But at year's end, this is how they stack up:

Nobody seemed to like this one but me, but it's my list so there. This is a film that came out of nowhere and I giggled pretty much consistently throughout.

9. '71
Which also caught me by surprise, as I went in expecting glum British social realism, and instead I got an exciting chase thriller that never let go. More of this sort of thing, please, British film industry.

Which I missed at the cinema but rented the Blu after my twitter feed buckled under the weight of everyone raving at how great it was. And they were right. Mostly enjoyed the hell out of it, and the first Will Ferrell film in ages where I haven't wanted to punch him. (Still think the song is annoying, though).

Okay, so it's Starship Troopers meets Groundhog Day, which turns out to be no bad thing. Big, loud, well put together and thoroughly entertaining.

One of the best of the big summer blockbusters: a demented romp in which anything goes, up to and including the casting of Vin Diesel as a talking tree. Loved it.

Speaking as one who has little time for the original Japanese rubbersuit stompfests, and as one who didn't loathe and detest the Roland Emmerich incarnation....this new one is great, bringing Zilla back to his original purpose and with devastation that isn't pornographically relished.

Immortality might seem like a good idea, but wouldn't you get bored after a thousand years of having to live off the grid and only mix with your own kind? Dark, very enjoyable.

Two and a half hours of Indonesian maniacs beating the tar out of each other in a series of dizzying, dazzling, utterly insane setpiece fight sequences in which quite clearly no stuntman was allowed to leave the set if he could still stand up. It's what cinema was invented for.

I waver on the subject of Christopher Nolan, but his seriousness and lack of humour is absolutely perfect here (unlike his Batman movies which are crying out for some levity). This is bold, mind-bending stuff: gripping, never dull, visually rich and tossing ideas around like confetti.

I've never been a huge fan of Wes Anderson either, but this one is easily my favourite of the ones I've seen so far: consistently funny, surprising and charming as well as marvellous to just sit and look at.

Honourable mentions to a perfectly decent set of runners-up in no particular order: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Grand Piano, The Wolf Of Wall Street, Fury, Ouija (shut up, I liked it), Locke and The Equalizer.