Wednesday, 7 December 2016

THE GREASY STRANGLER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND TO BE HONEST I'M TRYING NOT TO SWEAR

It's that time of year when I'm sort of sketching out my Top and Bottom Ten films of the year, and I've more or less picked the films that are making the lists and I'm reasonably happy with them. And then with three weeks to go a Blu plops through the post, and within about minutes of putting the thing on you absolutely know in your heart you're going to have to take one of those lists and shred it.

The Greasy Strangler is genuinely revolting. It's visually revolting, it's artistically revolting, it's musically revolting, it's tonally revolting, it's comedically revolting, it's sexually revolting, it's dramatically revolting, it's morally revolting and it's politically revolting. In a sense that this sordid, witless trash has any plot to speak of, it concerns an endlessly bickering father and son in a Godawful nowhere town who present walking tours of local buildings with (entirely fictional) links to major disco artists. They meet a woman who can't decide which of the two she's in love with; meanwhile a serial killer covered in grease is going around strangling minor characters.

There comes a point where the deliberate mining of the bottom of the grossout barrel for the cheapest of bad taste laughs just looks like desperate attention seeking, and not for one single crass frame did it capture my interest. For all the supposedly excessive and extreme material it's colossally dull: a witless parade of non-comedy swearing, farting and masturbating that's astonishingly puerile. The score is an unlistenable combination of squeaky voices and assorted Bontempi noises; the grotesque sex scenes and nudity are made even less palatable by enlarged prosthetic genitals which I assume to be there for laughs, and the performances are less those of actors than of people humiliating themselves for absolutely no reason.

Watching The Greasy Strangler is like staring at a puddle of cold vomit for an hour and a half. It's a thoroughly unrewarding way to spend your time, you start to sense it contaminating your very soul and I came away feeling soiled and dirty (and not in a good way). It's arguable that a film like Dirty Grandpa, which I abandoned after about twenty minutes, is even worse because you expect a hell of a lot better of people like Robert De Niro and Aubrey Plaza, whereas I've never even heard of this bunch of squealing clowns. Well, to wear my Daily Mail Imbecile hat for a second: it's worth pointing out that this repulsive, artless garbage opens with the logos for Picturehouse and the British Film Institute, two organisations from which one should reasonably expect some level of professional quality control (and, of course, as a taxpayer I end up tossing a few coins to the BFI anyway).

Rubbish I can cope with - hell, I've seen four Sharknado movies - but this is a new and terrifying, yet monstrously boring, dimension of rubbish: ugly, nauseating, tiresome, painstakingly crafted to be as deliberately offputting as possible. I wish I hadn't seen it; I wish I still lived in a world where Batman Vs Superman was the worst it was physically possible for a film to get.

*

Sunday, 27 November 2016

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

CONTAINS SLIGHT SPOILERS, SLIGHT SPOILERS AND SLIGHT SPOILERS

Rather than spend the entire day watching three movies back to back full of people you're really not interested in and having life crises you can't really get very excited about, here's one movie that bolts the three movies together in one unwieldy two-hour package so you can get on with watching two completely different, and probably better, films. The sad fact is that while Nocturnal Animals looks gorgeous, and sounds gorgeous (Abel Korzeniowski's score combines the lush, tremolo-strings of Herrmann and Donaggio with the repetition of someone like Philip Glass), it's impossible to get involved in the glum, sterile lives on show.

Amy Adams runs a poncey art gallery, she's unhappily married to businessman Armie Hammer in a cold and empty, but ridiculously expensive and beautifully furnished mansion. She receives an advance manuscript of ex-husband Jake Gyllenhaal's ugly, violent novel, and in between reading it she reminisces about their relationship. Past, present and fiction are intercut, with Gyllenhaal also appearing as the hero character of the dramatised novel, in which his family are run off the road by Texas lowfiles and he seeks revenge when his wife and teenage daughter are found raped and murdered. Why has he written this trash, and why has he sent it to her? Should Adams have stayed away from him, on the advice of her frankly horrible mother (Laura Linney)? Or should she now try and reconnect with her one true love?

Matters aren't helped by an opening credits sequence in which obese, elderly ladies dance nude in slow motion that has nothing to do with the film except that it's part of Adams' impossibly wanky art installations. Certainly it's beautiful: cinematography and production design are outstanding. Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough pop up briefly, and it's fun to watch Michael Shannon as the Texas sheriff taking a very unorthodox approach to police procedure in the fictional section. But it never gets us to care, it never gives us the emotional hook needed to get us involved. Disappointing overall, but wonderful on the surface.

**

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

SOUL ASSASSIN

CONTAINS SPOILERS

It's weird what goes through film-makers' minds sometimes. The decision to go for a particular mood that doesn't fit the subject, the decision to go for inappropriate or wildly anachronistic music scores, the decision to concentrate on the least interesting character. In this instance it's a curious predilection for a specific visual palette: steely blues and greys. This suits all the scenes set in modern offices: cold, shiny metal and glass with pretty much everyone in sharp power suits. But it's odd to see them maintain that look for exteriors supposedly set in broad daylight and not, despite the blue filter, at four in the morning. Fine: you've got a style you like, but as with Michael Bay's preference for contrasting unnatural teal skies with radioactive orange skin, there are times when it just doesn't fit.

Since the movie is a pretty generic action thriller in which a guy runs round a European city (in this instance Rotterdam) suspected of multiple murders and unsure which of the smartly-besuited corporate slimeballs he can trust, slapping a distracting visual style across it is pretty much of a wasted effort, like putting Dolby 7.1 Surround on the Antiques Roadshow. Skeet Ulrich, granted a fantastic promotion to Head Of Security for a clearly crooked multinational finance company, plans to propose to his hotshot investor girlfriend - but suddenly she's murdered in front of him. Meanwhile, Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy) is lurking around a factory with some activist types and there's a secret disk with incriminating evidence on it....

The DVD cover of Soul Assassin notes that the feature includes "...a short scene which contains a strobing effect..." so sufferers of photo-sensitive epilepsy should be warned. In fact the film contains numerous such sequences, because Laurence Malkin clearly doesn't have enough faith in his cast or material to carry the film without post-production gimmickry that had me looking away from the screen more than in the last two Insidious movies put together. And I don't suffer from photo-sensitive epilepsy; I just found it annoying, particularly when applied to action sequences that were already overedited. Filmed straight, and not photographed through a sheet of blue glass with the flicker effect turned on full blast, this would be a decent enough potboiler for a Friday night Netflix session. As it is, a few amusing moments apart it's really not worth the effort.

**

Sunday, 13 November 2016

I AM THE PRETTY THING THAT LIVES IN THE HOUSE

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Exclusivity bothers me. There seems something wrong with a movie being available in only one place and if you don't have access to it - tough. Maybe it's a film you really want to see that's only showing in a cinema over 300 miles away or (as in this instance) streaming only on a subscription service to which you don't subscribe. Sure you could just sign up to Netflix, just as you could get on a coach to the Runcorn Picturehouse, but why should you have to? Isn't the idea of film distribution to, you know, distribute, so that as many people as possible are actually going to be able to see the damned thing? That's the point of exclusivity, anyway: to get people to join the club because that's the only way to see these films, documentaries, TV shows. Every movie streaming service has stuff you can't get on the others, but (unlike Netflix) you don't have to join them all on a monthly direct debit, and for Google, Amazon, Blinkbox, Curzon and others you can rent individual titles for a reasonable fee as and when you like. It's not for me to question the wisdom of Netflix executives' business strategy, but I wonder whether people are going to ignore it entirely - they'd rather not sign up for yet another service, and if it means missing out on brand new Adam Sandler films and obscure American standups then they'll just live with it - or just seek out the titles on torrent sites.

The annoying thing is that I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House (a handy title for reviewers struggling to reach their word count) is worth seeking out, despite its flaws. It aims for its scares through a low-key atmosphere of suffocating stillness, with long, static takes in which nothing happens (think Paranormal Activity, but without the found footage approach), generally declining the easy popcorn toss in favour of chilly gloom. Despite the simplest back-of-a-fag-packet setup - young nurse takes job looking after elderly horror novelist in old house that might well be haunted - it's effective, creepy and occasionally look-away scary: the best, and possibly the most difficult, kind.

At least for the first half, though it has sadly burdened itself with a voiceover that's the wrong side of waffle. But the gloom is ultimately too thick and, once the apparently nonthreatening ghost has appeared, the film loses a lot of its cold mood that it conjured up early on, and you start to wonder if anyone else ever comes to the house in the eleven months covered by the story, or whether it's an intangible spectre rather than something that can actually move things (like a telephone cord).

I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House is not a movie for fans of Insidious or Friday The 13th: it's for those who want quiet thrills rather than Boo!!! and messy chainsaw attacks. It's a film veering more towards arthouse than mainstream, and maybe for domestic televisual chills instead of a rowdy Friday night multiplex. That's to be applauded, obviously, and even if it doesn't entirely work then it's still worth seeing. Whether it's worth signing up to Netflix for it is another matter entirely.

***

HEX

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Stop me if you've heard this one: the one about the two women and the abusive husband whom they kill but then it looks like he's a ghost come back for revenge except that it's all a plot and he's only pretending... Yes, it's Les Diaboliques (which I used to write phonetically as Lady Abba Leaks), Henri-George Clouzot's classic French thriller from 1955 that eventually got Hollywoodised forty years later as the bland but watchable Diabolique. (The original book has also been adapted a couple of times for American TV.) Well, there's a Hong Kong version as well, uncredited, finally getting a UK home release and surprisingly well done.

Mrs Chan, heiress to the family businesses which have failed, has a bullying, drunken and cheating husband, Yeung, whose behaviour drives their last servant from the house in terror. A family friend shows up to look after Mrs Chan - but in one of Yeung's violent tirades they end up drowning him in a water butt and dumping the body in the local pond so it looks like he fell in while drunk. But then the body disappears and it looks like Yeung's ghost is haunting the two women. Or was it all a plot? Soon Mrs Chan is terrified to death in her own bed - but her ghost in turn seems to be seeking revenge...

Made by Shaw Brothers, and probably on the same sets as their numerous martial arts pictures, Hex suffers from a final act reveal that breaks at least one of the most celebrated rules of writing crime fiction. It's also stuck with the curious, though not unusual for Hong Kong films of that vintage, practise of needle-dropping existing Hollywood soundtracks into proceedings. In this instance they've pasted parts of Jerry Goldsmith's score to Alien over any of the scary bits - a distraction for anyone who knows that soundtrack (one wonders what credited composer Eddie H Wang originally did, or would have done, with those scenes). Still, it's a good looking film, and it does boast an entirely irrelevant exorcism sequence involving a young woman gyrating naked about the room for a whole reel. Not that I'm complaining, but it feels genuinely out of place. An enjoyable, if occasionally silly, diversion.

***

Thursday, 3 November 2016

HARD TARGET 2

OUCH. CONTAINS SPOILERS

Of all the films to sequel... Hard Target? Really? I mean, it was a more than decent action movie: John Woo's typically overblown style, a fine line in villainy from Lance Henriksen, Jean-Claude in his prime, but it was over twenty years ago, for crying out loud. Who carried a boner for that movie for that long? In practise, of course, it's less a sequel than a remake, and indeed less of a remake than just another variation on the Most Dangerous Game theme: instead of New Orleans we have the Myanmar jungles, instead of Van Damme we have Scott Adkins.

Adkins is Baylor: one-time MMA champion who quit the fight game after beating his best friend to death in the ring. Reduced to streetfighting for little more than his rent money, he's tempted by the one last bout: a big money offer in Myanmar... until it turns out to be a manhunt through the jungles to the Thai border, with half a dozen very rich sociopaths chasing him with crossbows.

Hard Target 2 has numerous callbacks to the original: the crossbows, the motorbikes, occasional use of slo-mo for the action sequences, and villains Robert Knepper and Temuera Morrison behaving, and even sometimes looking, like Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo. It even has the fluttering doves that were (and for all I know still are) John Woo's signature. Sadly, Woo isn't involved; it's actually directed by Roel Reine, specialist in nominal sequels to films to which you even didn't know you wanted second and third instalments even if you could remember them (Death Race 2, Death Race 3, The Man With The Iron Fists 2, The Scorpion King 3). As a Friday night thudfest it's perfectly passable, with the fight scenes well enough staged and satisfyingly brutal (Rhona Mitra's exit is particularly pleasing). Academy voting slips will not, however, require amending.

***

TRAFIC

CONTANS SPOLERS

Well, it's November: Halloween and the season of horror is now over so maybe it's time to leave the zombies and vampires and axe-wielding psychopaths to one side and Watch Something Else. There are countless other genres out there: emotional dramas, political polemics, historical costume epics, vintage French slapstick - yeah, a bit of bumbling Hulot will do quite nicely for an evening. What could possibly go wrong, except everything?

First off: it is officially Trafic rather than Traffic (though the English subs give the latter in the opening titles), which at least makes it easier to tell it apart from the rather good Michael Douglas drugs thriller. It's not as funny as Soderbergh's Traffic, and that's a film which was scarcely a barrel of hilarity to start with. Even allowing for my natural tin eye for visual comedy AND the eternal Anglo-French cultural differences AND the post-Brexit climate in which we're patriotically obliged to hate everything from Johnny Euro on principle, Jacques Tati's uncategorisable comedic blank of a film is as short on laughs, humour, any shred of interest, any damn thing at all, as it's physically possible to be without actually ceasing to exist entirely.

You would think that a film in which a small group of people have to do nothing more than drive from A to B - a car firm transporting its revolutionary new Camper Car, designed by M Hulot himself (Tati), from the Paris factory to the Amsterdam Auto Show - would have room within that skeletal framework to drop a few jokes in somewhere. The film's vein of wry social observation peaks with the discovery that drivers tend to pick their noses while sitting in gridlock (well, at least if you film enough people and then edit together all the bogeymining shots). Spiralling chaos is limited to a dumb motorway pile-up which at that point feels completely out of place, and it runs under the DVD menu anyway so you've already seen most of it.

Whatever the hell it is, it's certainly not a comedy. If anything it's an anti-comedy: it spends most of the time setting up elaborate scenes of slapstick chaos and then deliberately refusing to trigger them. Surely there's a payoff with the lump of meat that falls into the engine compartment? Surely there's a payoff with all the string markers left over the exhibition hall floor? Surely there's a payoff with the hitchhiker and the petrol can? Surely there's a payoff with the wedding party inexplicably stuck in the police station? By the time Hulot had pulled down some trellis for absolutely no reason and then climbed a tree to try and pull it back up, I was actively wondering whether to finish the course or just take the Blu out and abandon the evening entirely.

At the risk of sounding like a pseudo-intellectual Cahiers Du Cinema-wielding twerp in a beret and a well-stroked goatee for a moment: I ended up wondering whether the ghost of Jean-Luc's tedious Weekend might be lurking somewhere in the background. It's got at least as many traffic jams as Weekend, and it's no funnier, though at least it doesn't have endless scenes of to-camera hectoring about the evils of capitalism and the decadence of the West, and Trafic only degenerates into mere pointless tedium rather than the outright gibberish of Godard's film. A peculiar enterprise: it does absolutely nothing, and contains no laughs, which was presumably the point - but why the hell would it be? Absolutely hated it like it was the worst Top Gear ever. Enough with this trying out of previously unexplored genres, let's get back to the zombies and mad axe murderers.

*

Thursday, 13 October 2016

SCORING

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND BLIMEY, LOVE, PUT YOUR CLOTHES BACK ON, I'M NOT YOUR DOCTOR

The glossy erotic thriller, the 18-rated top-shelfer that festooned video libraries in the wake of Basic Instinct.... let's be honest, they weren't that good. At their best they were enjoyable enough Friday night tosh: half a dozen prettily photographed humping scenes and ladies (usually Shannon Tweed, Shannon Whirry, Delia Sheppard and/or Tanya Roberts) parading around vast mansions in lacy lingerie, while proper recognisable actors like Jan-Michael Vincent, David Carradine, Maxwell Caulfield and Sam Jones did the daft neo-noir plot scenes that stopped Animal Instincts, Illicit Dreams and Night Rhythms from just being porn movies. Sadly, as with any sudden run on a new and exciting subgenre, it quickly petered out into utter hackwork with near-unwatchable dreck like Illegal In Blue and The Pamela Principle.

Ordinarily Scoring would have bypassed me entirely (there's no UK distribution on this one anyway, unless you count a YouTube upload) were it not for the fact that it's one of a very small number of movies about film composers. As a score and soundtrack enthusiast for many years and a fan of the likes of Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Bernard Herrmann et al, the idea of an erotic thriller about a film composer naturally seems more intriguing than an erotic thriller about an architect or a restaurant critic. Nice idea, but Scoring not only stinks as a thriller, sexy or not, but it also stinks as a glimpse into the soundtrack world, being so utterly implausible that it would have been only half as laughably absurd if it has been set on Neptune.

Our hero is one Eric Lazlo, a fabulously wealthy musician despite [1] scoring terrible erotic thrillers and [2] scoring them astonishingly badly. (No soaring melodies or tremelo minor sixths here: his approach to every single scene, be it a sex session or a tarantula attack, is tinkly electric piano and bland sax solos.) Who could be trying to kill him? Could it have anything to do with the meaninglessly titled rubbish sex thriller Scorpio Descending that he's supposed to be scoring apparently over a period of weeks, when he occasionally bothers to footle about on a keyboard? Could it have anything to do with the plagiarism lawsuit mentioned near the start? Could it have anything to do with the hooker he's taken to?

It's all very boring, it's all very stupid, it's all very low on thrills and energy. All the women take their clothes off a lot, and we don't just get the sex scenes from Scoring, we get them from Scorpio Descending as well. The trouble is, they're all indistinguishably terrible: the demonstrably stupid movie-within-a-movie is no better and no worse than the demonstrably stupid Scoring itself. It's also hugely problematic in places, not least because it includes a rape scene in which the victim calls out to her boyfriend upstairs that she's fine - while being raped by an intruder. Cretinous garbage either way: badly done, makes no sense, and even as a "yeah, but on the other hand..." the endless sex scenes aren't that impressive anyway. Director Toby Phillips, aka Paul Thomas, has 445 director credits on the IMDb, over forty of them in 2005 alone. Make of that what you will.

*

Saturday, 8 October 2016

THE MASK OF SATAN

CONTAINS POSSIBLE SPOILERS, IF I COULD ACTUALLY WORK OUT EXACTLY WHAT THE HELL I JUST WATCHED

Rule one: if your father made horror movies and you want to make horror movies as well, the bar is higher than it is for Bob across the street whose dad was a coal miner. Jennifer Chambers (Lynch) has had variable success, Brandon Cronenberg sort of managed it, and Cameron Romero wisely avoided zombies altogether but it still didn't do him any good. (I'm not sure Asia Argento's Scarlet Diva was even a horror film, but I didn't much like it anyway.) Meanwhile, Lamberto Bava has doubled down on tempting the fates here: not just remaking one of Mario's films, but his first and one of his most striking - and has ultimately made a colossal Farage of it.

Less a straight remake of Black Sunday, 1989's The Mask Of Satan (La Maschera Del Demonio) feels like more of a rehash of Lamberto's own equally nonsensical Graveyard Disturbance with only occasional nods to its supposed source material. Surprisingly, it begins in bright, crisp sunlight with a gathering of one-dimensional teenage dumbasses on a skiing trip: before long they tumble into a crevasse, but sadly they don't hurt themselves anything like enough. No sooner have they chanced upon a mysterious spiked mask impaled upon a long-dead body than [1] the one injured member of their party is mysteriously healed and [2] another of the gang is fatally impaled on a shard of rock and is thereafter barely mentioned again. Exploring the caverns they come across a church (complete with blind priest) and a hidden village which might be where a seventeenth century witch laid down a curse on everyone. And it suddenly looks as if the reborn Anibas is possessing cute virgin Sabina (oh, how these ancient forces of evil love their anagrams!): sex, wanton lechery, a lot of running around the church and everyone getting killed and then being alive again....

At some point this was retitled Demons 5: The Devil's Veil, so they could incorporate it into the Demons franchise along with similarly unconnected movies The Sect, The Church and the supreme gibberish of Luigi Cozzi's incoherent The Black Cat. Whatever you want to call it, it's still absolute rubbish: Sabina's dumb boyfriend takes ages to twig the backward lettering even when ANIBAS has been written on the window in capital letters in front of him, everyone behaves like a complete moron whose idea of a good time is to confuse a blind man by moving his furniture for a joke, the witch keeps revealing herself as a hideous bloated hag and then as Sabina again. It has a few nice visual moments with the coloured lighting and a Sergio Stivaletti deflating breast prosthetic, and it's nice to see Michele Soavi playing one of the morons, but it's dull and stupid, with no interesting characters and none of the atmosphere than Mario Bava's film possessed. Hardly surprising it's washed up on YouTube rather than any kind of regular UK distribution.

*

Sunday, 18 September 2016

MONOLITH

CONTAINS VERY MINOR SPOILERS

Sometimes it's the simplest ideas that can make for the most gripping movies, and sometimes the best variation on a familiar theme is a straightforward reversal - in this instance locked out rather than locked in. Monolith isn't any kind of gamechanger but as a lean, stripped-down thriller with a minimal cast (only one major speaking role, a toddler and a handful of walkons and Skype conversations) it's solid and entertaining with a dash of comment about terrible parenting.

Because Sandra (Katrina Bowden) is truly an awful mother: mislaying her kid at a gas station when easily distracted by a fan of her vapid popstar past, constantly giving the boy a dumb videogame to keep him amused and quiet rather than try and engage with him. She smokes in front of him (and is also willing to indulge in some soft drugs) and cheerfully admits to being a homewrecker, yet is hypocritically furious that the husband she stole might be playing away again. So it's somewhat satisfying dramatically when the kid inadvertently locks her out of her super-secure, ultra-safe SUV, the computer-controlled Monolith. With the car in Vault Mode lockdown, the desert temperatures turning it into a potential furnace and her son too young to understand how to open the car from inside, can Sandra "man up" to her maternal responsibilities and figure a way to get the doors open and rescue her steadily dehydrating child? While contending with the local feral wildlife a lack of water?

Sure there are a few holes in the logic - for one thing, the unaccountable lack of any other traffic on a satnav-directed diversion from the road to a major city. But it's a simple, economical setup, it doesn't waste any time at all (a running time of just 83 minutes), and Bowden makes for a flawed but attractive lead forced to make serious grownup decisions for probably the first time in her life. And even though I have absolutely no use for it on my daily commute to the wastelands of Milton Keynes, I kind of want a Monolith for myself. Well worth a look.

****

MOST LIKELY TO DIE

CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

A group of late-20s smugheads get together for a 10-years-later high school reunion, so they can angst over their wretched failures and bad life choices, follow through on their adolescent crushes, and reminisce nostalgically over the anonymous classmate they routinely humiliated until they wrecked his life. Meanwhile a masked killer in a graduation robe is viciously offing them one by one in the manner of their hilarious "Most Likely To...." captions from their class yearbook. Who could it possibly be? Answers on a postcard if [a] you work out who the killer is before the denouement, and [b] you actually care.

There are a few nice moments in Most Likely To Die, it's certainly violent enough, and the 10-years-later idea means the potential meat courses have a (tiny) bit of history and depth to them, rather than the usual cardboard teenagers. But it's still impossible to give that much of a hoot about them, and the film degenerates into the traditional scenes of squabbling halfwits running around a big house and screaming, the traditional ludicrous unmasking, and the traditional final twist ending that might (but probably won't) lead to a sequel. Oddly, Anthony DiBlasi's film has bypassed UK cinemas (well, maybe not that oddly) and DVD, and has simply popped up unannounced on Netflix. Cast includes Jake Busey for a couple of scenes leching over the girls, and timewasting bandwidth squanderer Perez Hilton, so annoying you'd honestly rather have Paris instead.

**

Monday, 12 September 2016

DANCE WITH DEATH

CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS

There is something irresistibly sleazy about a slasher movie centred around a strip club. It's the ideal combination of sadistic violence and tacky nudity, with impoverished young ladies gyrating half naked even as a mystery killer bloodily picks them off. That the acting, writing, plot and directing are all functioning on the lowest possible level feels kind of irrelevant so long as there is a either an extended sequence of naked jiggling about or vicious knife murders every 15 minutes or so, and the script makes a decent fist of hiding the murderer's identity.

So it's pretty obvious that Dance With Death is rubbish. Co-written by Katt Shea Ruben, the film has newspaper reporter Kelly (Barbara Alyn Woods) going undercover as an exotic/erotic dancer at a seedy club where the performers are being picked off one by one. Who could the maniac be? Charmless club owner Martin Mull? The creepy weirdo who always sits right up against the stage? What about Kelly's editor? Meanwhile, undercover cop Maxwell Caulfield is there all the time, spectacularly failing to find the killer...

Even by the standards of low rent exploitation trash, this really isn't any good at all: functional as a grubby time waster but hardly a long lost classic of the genre. Yet again this has bypassed UK distribution entirely, instead finding a home as a murky looking YouTube upload. Completists may get a few chuckles out of it, but for anyone else it's really not worth the effort. Includes a brief and fully clad supporting role for Lisa Kudrow.

*

Thursday, 1 September 2016

NIGHT SCREAMS

CONTAINS SPOILERS, WHICH IS MORE SURPRISING THAN ANYTHING IN NIGHT SCREAMS

Yet another 80s slasher obscurity crawls miserably through my YouTube connection. The spectacularly unexcitingly named Allen Plone can't be accused of making a film in which nothing happens: this one has a house full of partying teen football jocks and cheerleaders (who cumulatively could barely outthink a Jaffa Cake), two vicious criminals who have escaped from prison and hidden in the same house's wine cellar, a blatantly obvious mystery killer released from the nuthouse as they're no longer considered dangerous, four pre-credit kills (two of them in footage taken from Graduation Day) that are so badly edited together it looks like two of them are being watched on TV by the other two, and a dance routine.

Sadly, for all the incident Plone has packed in, Night Screams (an utterly generic title that could be applied to pretty much every single teenkill epic of the period) is pretty rubbish. It's impossible to care whether lunkhead quarterback David is going to cop off with this or that girl, or whether he's going to take up the scholarship or not. It's also curious that the movie's main killer takes a hell of a long time to bump off half a dozen high school cretins when there are a couple of convincts hiding in the basement who had earlier killed four people in a diner in as many minutes.

This is yet another of those movies that has no current UK distribution: like so many films, it's fallen down the back of the post-VHS, pre-DVD sofa and in all honesty there's no particular reason why this one should ever be rescued from the murky wastelands of YouTube, It's never actually boring and it's certainly not the worst teen slasher movie you've ever seen, but that is literally all it's got going for it.

*

RED CHRISTMAS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

At first glance this would appear to be a pretty standard horror comedy in which a long-buried secret resurfaces to rip apart a dysfunctional family and leave everyone bloodily killed. However, it's much more problematic than that: some frankly mysterious narrative choices take the film into Troma bad taste territory, and the film's moral/political message sits awkwardly with the cheery splatter and bickering family sitcom.

Beginning with TV news footage after an attack on an abortion clinic by pro-life extremists, Red Christmas sees kindly matriarch Dee Wallace gathering her brood together for the holiday season before she sells the house and sets off on a long-dreamed tour of Europe, to the shock of her supposedly adult offspring. They include a son with Down Syndrome, a heavily pregnant daughter and a starchy Christian married to a pervy vicar. Just as they're about to unwrap their gifts, a masked and robed stranger appears on the doorstep claiming to be previously unheard-of brother Cletus - and when they throw him out, he returns for senselessly bloody vengeance on the mother who has abandoned him twice...

The use of Down Syndrome as a cheap plot device is tasteless and ill-advised: aside from the fact that it forces the non-Down actor playing Cletus to adopt the vocal mannerisms (Jerry is played by award-winning Down Dyndrome actor Gerard Odwyer), his big unmasking reveals him as a pathetic bug-eyed grotesque that frankly looks like a John Buechler make-up job from a 1980s Empire Pictures release. The pervy vicar (peeking at a sex act in the toilet, pleasuring himself in the wardrobe) is the source of easy comedy, and the contrast between the two older sisters (one easy-going, drinking and indulging in herbal weed, the other preachy and bitter through frustration over her childlessness) could have been enjoyable, but the viciousness of the kills and the appalling bad taste turn the movie into something that doesn't seem to know what it's supposed to be. Moments amuse, but it leaves a sour taste.

**

FRANCESCA

EH? WHAT? CONTAINS SPOILERS

There are many reasons why this thing is called Film Yellow - I actually like yellow as a colour, and it kind of sounds good - but the main one is that I do like a bit of giallo. Not just the biggest hits from the major players (Bava, Argento), but relatively lesser items like The Fifth Cord or Strip Nude For Your Killer. However, much as I enjoy them, I can't help feeling that it's only weird movie obsessives like me, and connoisseurs of the cinema backwaters, who have any real interest in such things, and thus I wonder precisely who else this painstaking Eurothriller tribute act is aimed at.

Sadly Francesca, an Argentinian giallo homage set in Rome, and screened in German for no apparent reason, seems more interested in nodding at the genre's tropes than actually doing anything new or interesting: it takes a fairly average giallo plot in which various individuals are being bumped off by a mysterious killer who has themed his/her crusade around The Divine Comedy (Dante Alighieri, not Neil Hannon), and a couple of detectives investigate (with, it has to be said, a curious lack of fire and energy). What, if anything, does it have to do with the opening sequence of a little girl stabbing a baby? Or Tchaikovsky's Francesca Di Rimini?

Appropriating older styles can work brilliantly: Ti West's The House Of The Devil genuinely looks like a lost classic from the Golden Age of American TV Movies, and Anna Biller's The Love Witch is a pin-sharp recreation of 1960s Technicolour froth. On the other hand, grindhouse tribute acts can wear out their fake retro appeal very quickly with post-production effects like scratches and faded colour on what is clearly a digital "print". But loving nostalgia by itself really isn't enough and it doesn't really click here (if nothing else, The House Of The Devil and The Love Witch were fun, and Francesca is oddly glum).

Luciano Onetti has certainly gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to make his film look like it was shot in 1971: the film has the colour scheme down pat (drab and bleak, unlike Cattet and Forzani's giallo exercises Amer and The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears which pump up the vivid colour and style at the expense of everything else), shots of the peculiarly ubiquitous J&B whisky bottle, and it's overlaid with Onetti's own score that could well be one of Ennio Morricone's dissonant jazz soundtracks of the period (the early Argentos, for example). But to what end? Those unfamiliar with giallo would be better off starting with, say, Blood And Black Lace and Tenebrae and exploring from there, while those of us who've bought Death Laid An Egg and Don't Torture A Duckling on import DVDs already know the genre's peculiarities - hell, that's why we love them. It's a pity that the pacing is so slow, so even a slim 80-minute running time drags alarmingly and it never really grips. A strangely pointless but not uninteresting oddity.

**

Sunday, 14 August 2016

BOAT TRIP

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND DROPPED JAWS

Even with my colossally Cornish tin-mine-sized tin ear for comedy, I know the landscape of comedic offence changes over time. There are things you can get away with now that you couldn't then, and there are things you could get away with then that you really can't now. It's a bizarre thing that modern films can push the grossout level to ever more repulsive and puerile depths (Grimsby and The Interview being recent examples) but the depiction of black or gay characters has switched the other way: those casually negative stereotypes that were okay in the 1970s are liable to get you sued and/or fired now. That's clearly not a bad thing: we've clearly grown up to a part where we just don't go for easy laughs about sexuality or skin colour, and it's now something of a surprise when we see them in sitcoms from forty years past, even when the jokes are actually on the simple-minded bigots making them (as with Alf Garnett).

But surely, by 2002 we'd reached some position of enlightenment regarding "the gays"? Surely by that point there'd been a studio memo saying to stop doing that screaming camp queen character: it's disrespectful and demeaning and it's no longer funny (assuming of course that it ever was)? Stomping its way blindfold through the minefield of political correctness while wearing magnetic hobnail boots, Boat Trip has zero laughs, zero chuckles, and might at best rack up nearly two smiles if it was possibly to actually smile with your jaw sagging open.

Because of an altercation with the travel agent, two straight guys (Cuba Gooding Jr, who should know better, and Horatio Sanz, who is off Saturday Night Live and so probably doesn't) are maliciously booked onto an all-gay cruise. While Gooding's character has to pretend to be gay because he's fallen in love with the dance instructor (the only woman on board) and she's really looking for a Gay Best Friend, Sanz's character is a repulsive lech whose dreams suddenly come true when the ship picks up a lifeboat full of Scandinavian bikini models, because this film was clearly written by a thirteen-year-old boy. Will he ever manage to finally obtain actual congress with an actual woman? And will Gooding Jr extricate himself from his web of deceit that leads to him performing I'm Coming Out in a full-on gay cabaret sequence wearing a shiny gold vest, a thong and a headdress that's taller than he is?

Meanwhile none other than the mighty and noble Sir Roger Moore is prowling the ship, delivering his trademark eyebrow-raisers in his trademark manner (sample, at breakfast: "Would you like to...lick my sausage?") but directed at the guys this time, because it's apparently funny in an ironic post-Bond way, and it's a paid luxury holiday for the great man so what the hell. Lin Shaye is also on board as the bikini squad's fearsome coach, basically playing her as Rosa Klebb. In the midst of all this hilarity (for want of a better word, and there are several) it's a parade of cross-dressing, hysterical queens, banana fellating and assless chaps. If it hadn't already been taken they could have called it Carry On Cruising.

Is it offensive? Personally I'm not sure how much offence I should take on behalf of others, but if others did take offence at it I can certainly see why. I don't think it's being actively malicious and hateful, though; I suspect it's borne of stupidity rather than genuine hate. Midway through, the film suddenly feels the need to drop in a serious bit of character discovery as Sanz's horny imbecile realises that "hey, homosexuals are people too...", but then, having done what it thinks to be enough of the decent thing, hurriedly cuts back to references to I Will Survive and Liza With A Z and lots of buff men behaving like Richard Littlejohn's sweatiest nightmares. What's baffling isn't that Boat Trip is obviously a staggeringly bad idea that somehow got the greenlight, but that a large number of people, at least some of whom aren't halfwits, committed to spending several months refining it, rehearsing it, shooting it and putting it all together. Shocking in all the wrong ways, amusing in no way at all, and thoroughly ill-advised, but Sir James Bond suddenly dropping the second rudest of the rude words did make me reach for the rewind button.

*

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

THE NEON DEMON

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ELSE

Fittingly for a film about high-end fashion photography, the 2D image rules. Just as no glossy Summer Collection supplement is going to suggest that its models are anything other than blank, finely sculpted mannequins with perfect eyes and teeth and bottoms but the character and personality of a pebble, so Nicolas Winding Refn's arthouse horror thriller is equally unconcerned with the idea of his characters as plausible, relatable human beings. They're strategically posed in carefully composed and strikingly lit images, but you don't care about them any more than the dummies in Debenhams' windows. And if you don't care, what's the point?

Jessie (Elle Fanning) is sixteen and fresh off the bus, making unheard-of progress in the supermodel world thanks to her natural beauty, but stirring up jealousy from the plasticised Stepford dolls whose positions she's quickly usurping. Violence ensues, and the models have a terrifying fate in store for her - but first there's a giant cougar in her motel room, which is either an allegory of something or other (the horror of the Older Woman?) or more likely a non sequitur that goes nowhere. Keanu Reeves has fun as the sleazy motel manager, enthusing over the delights of the 13-year-old runaway in next door to Jessie: he's one of the few "real" people in the film but he's thoroughly despicable.

Our sympathies are more likely to sit with Ruby (Jena Malone), the make-up artist who befriends Jessie and who does manage to display some semblance of human individuality and emotion. until she has a gratuitous and revolting sex scene that has no dramatic, narrative or character purpose whatsoever and could have been cut completely at no cost to the film as a whole. [Side note: I do not subscribe to the Daily Mail's typically hysterical stance on The Neon Demon: they hadn't seen the film at that point, and my objections to That Scene are based on its lack of dramatic effect and not borne out of a combination of outdated moral hypocrisy and shrieking uncultured ignorance.]

So what's left? It looks beautiful and shiny with great use of bold, bright colour, and comparisons have been made to Dario Argento, with Cliff Martinez' tinkly electronic score supposedly echoing Goblin (though to me it sounds more like Jean-Michel Jarre). But for all that surface gloss and glitz there's very little else in there. Like Refn's heavily stylised previous films Drive and Only God Forgives, there's nothing inside the brightly wrapped packaging. You could argue it's a cautionary tale about the fashion modelling industry, and/or a Lynchian descent into Hell. Certainly it's got a finale that makes absolutely no sense and a pointless censor-baiting scene of outrageous depravity. Whatever: who cares?

**

Thursday, 14 July 2016

GHOSTBUSTERS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SURPRISE!

Yet another exception to the rule that Remakes Always Suck: granted some of them do, granted most of them do, but there are enough good ones to suggest that rule isn't as golden as it appears. A new Ghostbusters film has been on and off the cards for years, whether a reboot or a direct continuation of the two Ivan Reitman films from the 1980s. But as the years went by and the cast got older - no way could Bill Murray be even remotely credible pulling on the proton pack these days - it was increasingly unlikely that it would actually happen except as an unconnected reboot. That's pretty much what they've finally gone with and (huge sigh of relief) it's fine. It's not a masterpiece, it's not gutbustingly roll-in-the-aisles hilarious, but let's be honest: neither were the originals.

Just as the 1984 film had to assemble its team, so Paul Feig's shiny new female-led take has to bring together serious academic Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) with her old friend and former writing partner Abigail Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and brilliantly unhinged scientist/inventor Jillian Holtzman (Kate McKinnon, for me the real star of the film) when they discover that ghosts are suddenly appearing all over New York. Someone is energising ley lines across the city to bring about The Fourth Cataclysm and allow legions of the undead through the portal to torment the living.... With feisty Patty (Leslie Jones) on the team and gloriously dim but hunky secretary Kevin (Chris Hemsworth) back at the office, can they save the city from the erupting ghostpocalypse?

Of course they can. If Ghostbusters 2016 has a problem, it's the inexplicable need to constantly wink to the 1984 incarnation. So Slimer makes an appearance, Stay-Puft makes an appearance, the firehouse and familiar logo show up. Bill Murray has an enjoyable cameo, a cabbie says "I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" and the dialogue includes "mass hysteria" and "who're you gonna call?".  Even "Cats and dogs" gets reworked into a verbal comedy routine, and Ray Parker Jr's theme song is inevitably incorporated into Theodore Shapiro's romping orchestra and choir score. One or two nods to the fans can make a nice touch but it's overdone here. In addition, towards the end the film settles for ramaging citywide destruction which gets wearing and causes the laughs to dry up. Against that: it looks terrific (the colour looks to have been ramped up whereas a lot of movies seem to want to drain it out), it's largely good-natured and funny and the team dynamics work well. Plus, perhaps most importantly for a popcorn fantasy blockbuster, the numerous ghost effects are undeniably spectacular. (I saw it, as per usual, in the 2D version and yet again it didn't seem to be crying out for 3D.)

It also manages to get a few digs in about the internet saddo brigade. It's sad that Ghostbusters 2016 is going to be remembered, as much as anything, for angering a swathe of knuckle-dragging Neanderthal quarterwits whose proton-sized minds couldn't cope with the fact that women - actual female lady women - had unthinkably been cast as fictional characters doing fictional things in a reboot/remake of a good but scarcely classic comedy over thirty years old. Blasphemy! Look: if you were a kid when Ghostbusters 1984 came out and you loved it, then great - but that means you're probably around 40 years old now, so stop whining and grow up. GB2016 isn't as funny as Spy, Paul Feig's last big-screen comedy during which I did genuinely laugh out loud in the cinema a couple of times, though that was more likely due to Miranda Hart and Jason Statham rather than Melissa McCarthy, of whom I am still not a fan (and she annoyed the hell out me in The Heat). But I had more than enough fun with it and I never felt short-changed: whatever's wrong with it, it's still as enjoyable as just about any movie I've seen this year. The post-credits sting might be a setup for a sequel, or just one final extra gag.

****

SHOCKWAVE DARKSIDE

PROBABLY DOESN'T CONTAINS SPOILERS; TO BE HONEST IT'S HARD TO BE SURE

Huuhh....? Whaa....? Seldom does a movie come down the river that's so irredeemably wretched in all - ALL - departments that it robs you of the power of speech, leaving you staring at the end credits unable to form any kind of sound other than Cro-Magnon grunts. (Menahem Golan's future-disco religious musical The Apple achieved much the same effect with me, but in completely the opposite way.) Rotten movies are everywhere, but at least when they're finished you're still able to shout actual words, even if they're just swearing. Not so with this inexplicable SF mess that alternates between CGI effects The Syfy Channel would think at least twice about, incoherent action sequences and endless jabbering about the philosophy of religion, the morality of war and how to make synthetic chicken soup.

Thanks to a combination of barely legible caption screens, shoddy sound recording and a lack of basic exposition in the script, it's hard to be certain exactly what's going on, but sometime in the future there are faith colonies on the dark side of the Moon which are fighting wars against the Unlights - a breed of armoured Battlestar Galactica robots seeking out the humans. (Earth has been left in the hands of secular society and people of any faith have been banished to the moon to eke out their miserable existences.) Following an assault on one of their bases, a gang of assorted badass types have 36 hours to get themselves across unmapped Unlight territory to a rescue site. The catch is that they only have 28 hours of oxygen, so they need to conserve and ration that precious air supply....

So why the hell don't they shut the hell up and get a move on? Instead they stand around, blathering nonsensically, filling in their characters' entirely unnecessary backstories and wasting precious oxygen with their prattling, or wandering aimlessly off into the darkness. Half of it's indecipherable anyway because they're all in spacesuits and the dialogue track is not favoured in the sound mix. Eventually the drama (ha!) comes to a ludicrously contrived moral dilemma about whether to arbitrarily nuke a city full of civilians as the film lurches into head-spinning Origins Of Mankind speculation and then stops.

Occasionally reminiscent of the rubbish Starship Troopers sequel Hero Of The Federation in its cheapness, Shockwave Darkside (listed as just Darkside on the DVD box) is shockingly poor. Quite why it was originally in 3D is anyone's guess since almost the entire movie takes place in near darkness anyway, and consists mostly of walking or standing against unremarkable backgrounds, so the light loss of the 3D projector and the 3D glasses would probably render the entire image entirely invisible. (Slapping graphic displays over great chunks of it as first-person POV from within the computer-augmented space helmets doesn't make anything clearer, and mercifully the DVD is only in 2D anyway.) Very short on action and very long on babble, full of people you'd probably hate if you could ever bring yourself to care, it's as bad a way of comprehensively wasting an evening as you'll find.

*

Saturday, 9 July 2016

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WAKE ME UP WHEN IT'S OVER

Destructo-porn has surely now reached a critical mass and blown itself up. No longer is the blowing up of an office block or an airliner enough; no longer is the trampling of a major city a sufficiently jaw-dropping experience. Since the original Independence Day started the trend of increasingly convincing and photorealistic depictions of major world landmarks being merrily trashed, if you're not reducing Earth's top tourist attractions to CGI rubble you might as well be making Woody Allen movies. In the last twenty years, Roland Emmerich has smashed up various cities (Independence Day), stomped across New York (Godzilla), frozen most of the Northern Hemisphere (The Day After Tomorrow) and set the entire planet hurtling towards a Mayan-prophesied extinction (2012). It's no longer enough to have aliens flatten a major city; now you have to take that city across to the other side of what's left of the world and drop it on Central London. While Jeff Goldblum flies through it in a spaceship.

Independence Day: Resurgence boasts the very definition of a plotline that could be written on the back of a fag packet. Twenty years to the day after the aliens showed up in Independence Day, they show up again. (Quite why these aliens have stuck so rigidly to Earth's calendar, right down to the American holiday schedule, is left unexplored.) Both the aliens and the humans have spent the interim preparing for a rematch: we've come together as one humanity to build huge laser guns on the Moon and somewhere out near Saturn, while the aliens have constructed continent-sized motherships with which they can drill down to the Earth's molten core and suck it out to use as fuel. Can the heroes of yesterday overcome the even more desperate odds and win the day again?

What's really surprising is that with so much orgasmic destruction, Independence Day: Resurgence is so calamitously dull. Stupid, nonsensical, clunky, and dull. No-one should seriously expect great depth of character or narrative from a summer blockbuster sequel, but for an estimated hundred and sixty five million dollars one should expect something with slightly more substance than a Cillit Bang commercial. Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner and Jeff Goldblum show up in their old roles doing their schtick, just a bit greyer, hairier, grouchier and Goldblummier. Meanwhile, youth is represented by a bunch of shiny cardboard cutouts of absolutely no interest whatsoever, including Jessie T Usher as a young Will Smith because the old Will Smith wanted too much money.

For all the whizzy spaceships and alien monsters, for all the incident and chaos, for all the stuff that's constantly zapping around the screen, it's no fun. It's big (way bigger than the last one, as the characters never stop reminding us), it's loud, it's dumb, but there's no joy to be had. The wild thrill of seeing the White House blown up by alien space lasers was partly down to the fact that we really hadn't seen that sort of thing before. Since then, we've seen the world trashed so often by Emmerich, Michael Bay, Zack Snyder and others that it's a surprise when Independence Day: Resurgence deliberately doesn't knock the White House down again. Even using some of David Arnold's brasstastic score for the original Independence Day, it just reminds you how much more enjoyable it all was the first time around, before this sort of thing got tired. Goldblum is always worth watching, even if he's only turning up for the cheque, and it's surprisingly short (a mere 120 minutes), but actual pleasures are thin on the ground.

**

Monday, 20 June 2016

GODS OF EGYPT

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Though it looks like another entry in the school of Ancient Times fantasy that's been floating around in recent years with such CGI-laden twaddle as Clash Of The Titans (and its sequel), Immortals, Prince Of Persia and The Scorpion King, Gods Of Egypt is also an entry in the Ludicrously Expensive Blockbuster Nonsense genre alongside John Carter and Jupiter Ascending: films that are wild and wayward and full of spectacular visual whizzbang but which don't make a ton of sense. I'm actually a fan of this kind of overbudgeted folly so for all its faults (major league hamming, astonishingly clunky dialogue, some new computer-generated monster or cityscape every twelve seconds), Gods Of Egypt actually passed fairly painlessly. It's not any good but if you can get past the film's problems there is massive dumbo fun to be had.

Much has already been written about how it's another exercise in Hollywood "whiting up", in which all the main parts are played by actors from everywhere in the world except Egypt: there's no-one who is, or even looks, Middle Eastern or North African. Given that most of the characters are not actually native Egyptians but ancient Gods who can transform at will into flying metal animals and who have liquid gold for blood, they don't have to look Egyptian (whatever that even means), and could frankly be played by the Teletubbies for all the ethnic accuracy that's required. Even if the Gods are actually played by humans, an unexplained Australian or Scottish accent isn't going to be the point at which the film suddenly lurches into far-fetched idiocy, since that was its starting point.

At some point "before history", Egypt is ruled by Osiris (Bryan Brown, briefly), set to pass the crown on to his son Horus, Lord Of The Air (Nikolai Coster-Waldau). But Horus' brother Set, Lord Of The Desert (Gerard Butler) interrupts the ceremony, kills Osiris and takes power himself, leaving a blinded Horus exiled in a tomb. There is, however, a young and impetuous (and more than a little annoying) thief named Bek (Brenton Thwaites) who plans to steal the Eye Of Horus from Set's impenetrable vault so Horus will be free to end the evil reign of Set. But his love Zaya (Courtney Eaton) is struck down in the escape, so Bek and Horus have nine days to bring her back from the land of the dead before she reaches judgement and the Afterlife....

In order to defeat Set they need the waters from the Sun God Ra's boat in the sky (on which Geoffrey Rush is doing daily battle with a giant space worm) to quench the desert fire from which Set draws his power, by dropping into the fire pit inside his pyramid that's guarded by a Sphinx. And so on....Somehow it all ends with deities Set and Horus turning into flying metal animals and beating each other up like the climax to Man Of Steel or something in an incomprehensible blur of CGI thud kerpow kaboom atop an impossibly tall tower.

Yes, it's nonsense. Yes, it's big and noisy (though Marco Beltrami's score has some lovely melodies which are showcased separately over the end credits). Some of the dialogue reaches George Lucas levels of unspeakableness, Gerard Shouty McButler is doing enough acting for the whole cast, the human leads are (as usual) wet as tripe, and there are maybe twelve shots in the whole film that aren't green-screened or CGId into next week. But it's got enough humour about it and it's just about aware enough of its own silliness to get by. and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fun with it. It's not taking itself that seriously, so why should I?

***

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

SPLATTER UNIVERSITY

CONTAINS .... WHATEVER

In news that will surprise absolutely no-one who's ever sat through a Troma film before, or even merely read about one, Splatter University is absolutely, absolutely terrible. I know, it's my own fault: over the years I've seen enough of Troma's so-called product to be reasonably confident that they're never going to be any better, and that complaining that Splatter University is - gosh, crikey - an abomination unto the Earth when you've sat through Tromeo And Juliet and Terror Firmer and The Toxic Avenger and Class Of Nuke 'Em High is rather like buying a Walnut Whip and then whining that it's got walnuts in it. There's no logic or sense in watching anything by Troma and then putting your critic's hat on to sneer at the technical incompetence on show, but then there's no logic or sense in watching anything by Troma.

Still: you never know. It's theoretically possible that at some bizarre moment in Troma's history something went disastrously, inexplicably right and a halfway decent film emerged from the machine. Unlikely, but then somebody wins the EuroMillions every couple of weeks at roughly comparable odds. Splatter University isn't the same as using the same numbers week after week after month on the grounds that sooner or later they're bound to come up, it's trying to use last week's winning numbers on the grounds that they worked for someone else, but not being intelligent enough to mark those numbers off on the entry slip.

It's a bog-standard off-the-peg slasher plot: maniac escapes from asylum and hacks up a bunch of unlikeable teens, Final Girl (actually the sociology teacher) runs around chased by maniac, movie stops. Most sentient lifeforms who've plodded through a couple of second-rate teenkill epics could probably throw something like this together on a vaguely passable amateur movie level, but Richard W Haines isn't even on that level because clearly neither he nor anyone else involved could give a toss. It's technically shoddy (some shots aren't even close to being in focus), the performances are barely on the first readthrough level, every one of the victims is a hateful yob who frankly deserves it, and the maniac couldn't be more obvious if he wore a baseball cap with the word "Murderer!" printed on the front.

But it's a Troma film and such things as writing, directing, acting and basic professional competence have never bothered them. It's not that such trifles are beyond their skillset (and indeed their comprehension), although they are: they just don't believe it matters. Nowhere is this contempt more vividly demonstrated than in the opening mental hospital sequences, where the attitude towards mental health is frighteningly unenlightened, operating on a wacky comedy level of "tee-hee, let's have a giggle at the loonies". And even when the movie gets down to merely offing scumbag teens, it's no better. Utterly wretched, artistically worthless, boring (at a mere 79 minutes), insulting and miserable. Should have known.

*

Thursday, 26 May 2016

THE DARKNESS

MAYBE CONTAINS SOME MILD SPOILERS, IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN A HORROR FILM IN YOUR LIFE BEFORE

The biggest surprise of The Darkness isn't wondering whatever happened to Greg McLean: from the gruelling Wolf Creek and Rogue (an easy winner over Black Water in the battle between Australia's two mid-2000s giant crocodile movies) to an anonymous studio product that's been precision engineered and polished until the marketing executive can see his face in it. Nor is it wondering whatever happened to Kevin Bacon that he had to appear in this: at least has has genre form with the first Friday The 13th and Hollow Man. No, the real shock is just how thuddingly bland and generic it all is, starting with the baldly nondescript title that's only half a step up from Creepy or Horror Movie.

Returning from a holiday around the Grand Canyon Workaholic dad Peter (Kevin Bacon), ex-alcoholic mum Bronny (Radha Mitchell), bulimic daughter Stephanie (Lucy Fry) and autistic son Mikey (David Mamouz) start to experience increasingly frightening paranormal activity. Could it have anything to do with the five sacred rocks which Mikey found in a cave and which, according to legend, will allow five shapeshifting animal spirits from Native American folklore to gain a foothold on the Earth once more?

Given that we only had a remake of Poltergeist less than a year ago, it seems weird to be essentially watching it all over again, even when sprinkled with a dash of Insidious and Sinister (it's the young kid who's at the centre). Complete with an eccentric old lady medium who just stops short of the line "this house is clean", it's honestly a wonder that MGM haven't sicced their lawyers on to it. On a technical level the film is decently enough nailed together and it has a few nicely creepy moments, which is really the very least you should expect, but there is so little fresh meat on offer you wonder why anyone bothered. And you wonder why they thought the audience would either. Are we that dumb, or do they just believe we're that dumb?

**

YAKUZA APOCALYPSE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WHAAA...?

It's that man again! Takashi Miike is the dictionary definition of the word "variable", ricocheting between taut, involving films like Audition and wild, unrestrained mayhem like Ichi The Killer. When he's good, he's very good, but when he's bad he's Gozu: he's really at his best when controlled (there's no room for insane levels of violence in a samurai movie like Hara-Kiri or 13 Assassins, and the formulaic supernatural J-Horror of One Missed Call doesn't sit well with the Daily Mail Checklist Of Filth from Visitor Q) and it's sad to report that after last year's Over Your Dead Body that he's now back to his usual bonkersness.

Yakuza Apocalypse does at least start out looking like it might deliver what's promised by the title: there's a good and socially conscious gang boss, his minions who keep forgetting to leave the civilians alone, and the new kid in the outfit. But then a couple of killers show up and kill the boss: not just killing him but actually ripping his head off his shoulders....okay, that's unusual but it is a Takashi Miike film so we'll go with it. Then the head comes to life and bites the new kid, revealing him to be a vampire who has now taken over the new kid to raise an army of the undead and take his revenge. And then a bloke in a football team's giant frog mascot costume turns up with phenomenal martial arts skills and the ability to telepathically freeze his opponents and that's the point at which I lost interest.

It's not just the lack of control and restraint that kills it stone dead, though. Unless you're the equivalent of a Coppola or a Scorsese or a Woo at the very peak of your craft, it's very difficult to make criminal gangs into interesting people that an audience is going to give a damn about, and Takashi Miike clearly has no interest in whether anyone cares about his characters. The female characters, what few there are, are largely sidelined as well, because Takashi Miike clearly has no interest in them either. Not that it matters very much once it turns into a vampire movie with a high-kicking nine-foot candlewick frog.

*

Saturday, 30 April 2016

OFFERINGS

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Stop me if you've heard this before, but there was this mute kid who grew up in a broken, loveless home and he was bullied by the local kids until a tragic incident in the town well and he ended up in the asylum, and ten years later he snaps out of his catatonic stupor and escapes and goes back to town to get his revenge - oh, you've heard it. Of course you have. Offerings is Teenslash 101, a horror movie made by people who are desperately hoping you've never seen a horror movie in your life but is quite clearly only ever going to be seen by horror movie watchers.

Yet somehow I can't get that annoyed about Offerings. It's not that it's any good at all - it emphatically isn't - but it's not objectionable enough to get angry about and start throwing things around the room. The characters are fairly cardboard but none of them are obnoxious creeps or leery perverts: when their romantic and/or sexual attentions are turned down they accept the decision and go home. The music score is a semitone away from John Carpenter's Halloween: close enough to remind you but just different enough to placate any copyright lawyers who might sit through it for professional reasons.

Coming from the fag-end of the slasher cycle in 1988, Offerings has its odd little wrinkles: the killer leaving severed body parts on the porch of the girl who was his only childhood friend, the surprise pizza with sausages that don't taste like normal sausages, the college professor who decides to investigate the town well in the middle of the night with a torch that doesn't work properly, the obviously weirdo cemetery attendant with a hatred of earthworms. That's not enough to make it any good, but it just about scrapes a second star.

**

THE DEMON

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

As a horror title, you'd think The Demon would be pretty self-explanatory: it's about a demon, in exactly the same way that The Exorcist is about an exorcist and Earthquake is about an earthquake. Except that it isn't: it's about a serial killer who may be many things but doesn't appear to be actually demonic (if it weren't for a couple of moments where he might at least have some kind of teleporting abilities). Worse: if we're looking at truth in movie titles this wouldn't just be called The Serial Killer, it would have to be The Boring Serial Killer. Years ago The Demon was listed in the still-missed zine Shock Xpress as one of the 50 most boring films ever made and it's pretty safe to say that this one does earn its place, because in addition to being more about a serial killer than about a demon, it's even moreso a film about the love lives of a couple of hot primary school teachers while a maniac with a spiked glove occasionally mooches about abducting people for no adequately explored reason.

Far too much of the 1981 film is devoted to this tedious slop in which one of the two girls (they're also cousins) tames the casual lusts of a playboy while the other has a serious relationship with a guy you'd think would turn out to save the day as the hero but doesn't. Their soap opera blather goes on for so long you forget the mad killer is even in it; he's reduced to a walk-on extra role in what is supposedly his own movie. Meanwhile Cameron Mitchell turns up as a psychic who eventually tracks down the killer in his drawings but then gets inexplicably murdered.

It's incredibly dull and the UK DVD has lousy picture quality, though even on a remastered 4K ultra hi-def Blu sourced from the original pristine 35mm master from the vaults it would still be incredibly dull. As it is, the occasional bursts of entirely unnecessary sex and nudity are blurred and indistinct and the murders, which tend to take place is the dark anyway, are just lost in the visual murk. Made in South Africa.

*

Thursday, 14 April 2016

GRIMSBY

CONTAINS SACHA BARON COHEN, WHICH PROBABLY TELLS YOU EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW

Sacha Baron Cohen has never been one for restraint. Borat and Bruno were meticulous but unsuccessful attempts at the tightrope of dark, edgy comedy over the crevasse of puerile bad taste, while The Dictator chickened out of pointed satire and sought refuge in tedious offence. It might have lost the faux-documentary schtick but it still couldn't hammer home a weak joke hard enough.

Grimsby actively looks for the weakest possible gags and bludgeons them to a pulp with the biggest and bluntest instrument it can find, and there's none blunter than Cohen himself. Nothing is decreed off limits: poo, fat girls, semen, sweary kids, Aids, scrotums (scrota?), sticking things up bottoms, kiddies in wheelchairs... all combine to thoroughly humiliate a star cast that I refuse to believe are this hard up for work. Not the least of whom is Mark Strong, who has absolutely no excuse for this at all. For 28 years feckless and imbecilic layabout Nobby Butcher (Cohen) has been looking for his brother Sebastian (Strong) after they were separated in the foster system. Now Sebastian is a top MI6 agent on the trail of an international terrorist ring - until Nobby shows up and the two have to jet round the world (Cape Town, Chile) before movie star and tireless health charity fundraiser Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz) can unleash a lethal virus at the World Cup Final....

All of this might be at least tolerable if the film was at least faintly amusing, but, in the established Sacha Baron Cohen tradition, it's half as funny as a repeat of Moneybox Live. I didn't laugh once throughout the entire screening (and nor did anyone else, though admittedly there were only three other people there); rather I found myself increasingly annoyed and bored with the relentless lowbrow grossout humour. It's actually quite surprising how little comedic mileage Sacha Baron Cohen and associates have managed to dredge out of the normally fertile spy spoof genre. But they're not really interested in the spy genre: it's just a thread to link up setpieces where the Butcher Brothers have to hide in an elephant's uterus (don't ask) while the male unleashes gallons of spunk over Mark Strong. Or a scene in which Strong gets a dart in his scrotum and Cohen has to suck the poison out. Oh, the hilarity.

It's like watching a five-year-old repeatedly shouting "poo willy bum bum!" because he thinks it's funny, except that Cohen is now a proper grown-up but still shouting "poo willy bum bum!" because he still thinks it's as funny as it ever was. Me, I thought it was foul, repugnant and tedious: not just to the point where I wished I wasn't watching it, but I started to wish it didn't exist. It's the kind of moronic rubbish that makes you want to not watch films any more.

*

THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STUFF

The ongoing quest to restore and remaster every last bit of cheerless grot from the 1980s, to preserve any old nonsense full of bad hair and terrible music for future generations to be thoroughly appalled by, continues with this prime example of the dreaded Teen Sex Comedy from Cannon, legendary purveyors of third-rate dross through the decades. This particular example actually succeeds on two counts: namely that it has teenagers and sex scenes in it, but fails doubly on the third as not only is it mesmerisingly not funny, but it genuinely seems trying not to be. Despite the marketing ploy to bill it as a film in the fine and noble tradition of Porky's, The Last American Virgin is a sour and surprisingly unlikeable item that doesn't do what it promises but attempts something else entirely, and doesn't do it very well.

Essentially it's the same old story as a thousand other Teen Sex Comedies from the 1980s, detailing the efforts of a trio of young thickos to get their end away with pretty much anyone who'll let them. Two of our heroes are immediately attracted to hot newcomer Karen: for awkward virgin Gary it's more emotional and romantic but for his best friend, charmless stud Rick, it's purely a quest to be first up there. In between the love/lust triangle bits there are various gruesome sexual misadventures including an indefatigable Spanish nymphomaniac (which is pure Confessions Of...) and a spectacularly repulsive encounter with the most raddled hooker imaginable.

With its jukebox soundtrack (Quincy Jones, The Commodores, The Cars, Oingo Boingo and Many Many More) The Last American Virgin seems like it's trying to be a new American Graffiti, though it's actually a remake of 1978's Lemon Popsicle, the first of seven Israeli sex comedies, updated from a 1950s setting and relocated to the USA. Some kudos are due for confounding expectations by ending on a staggeringly feelbad note, but the film has absolutely nothing going for it.

*

Sunday, 3 April 2016

BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND FOR PITY'S SAKE CALM DOWN AND LIGHTEN UP

Oh, where do you start? Look, we know going on that it's not going to be fun: if you want jokes then there's a Marvel film coming soon and go and see that instead because Marvel do fun and DC don't. Marvel recognise superhero knockabout for what it is: colourful pantomime romps for kids, while DC operate under the delusion that the antics of Superman and Batman are supposed to be taken seriously as examinations of the human condition and psychological studies of mental trauma, so stop laughing at the back. The result of this has been a string of crowd-pleasing popcorn spectaculars from one camp and a series of cheerless, portentous bores from the other: the latter culminating in the head-banging destructo porn of Man Of Steel.

Sadly, Man Of Steel is a Last Of The Summer Wine rerun compared to Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice, an incoherent, incomprehensible, joyless bore that goes on for a punishing hundred and fifty minutes, approximately none of which make a blind bit of sense. It runs that long for two reasons: firstly the sheer amount of stuff that needs to be crammed into the plot. Beginning with the apocalyptic finale of Man Of Steel in which Metropolis is all but flattened, Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) develops a sense of rage against the carnage and vows to bring Superman (Henry Cavill) down while at the same time dressing up as Batman so he can track down a Russian mobster called the White Portuguese. Meanwhile political forces (led by Senator Holly Hunter) are in play to bring Superman to Justice for his role in the carnage. Meanwhile Lois Lane (Amy Adams) is investigating some kind of conspiracy wherein the US government is selling arms to terrorists after an incident in Africa in which Superman eventually saved the day, but at the cost of a famous franchise character who isn't actually named until the end credits....

Meanwhile multi-millionaire industrialist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) has located a lump of Kryptonite and is planning to weaponise it. But his price for gifting this anti-Supes technology to the government is access to General Zod's spaceship and his body so that, once he's manipulated Superman into killing Batman (by using the Russian mobsters that Batman was taking down two hours earlier to kidnap Ma Kent), he can unleash an uncontrollable seventy-foot human-Kryptonian mutant hellbeast to get rid of Superman. (What he's planning to do with the creature afterwards is not disclosed.)

As a mere sideline, Luthor also has a photograph of one Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) which she's trying to retrieve since it was taken in 1918 and she's therefore Wonder Woman, another immortal superhero even if her costume is closer to Xena Warrior Princess than Supergirl. (She needs to be set up for her own movie as well as the Justice League films which will also feature the briefly teased Aquaman and The Flash because, hey, this sort of thing works so well with Marvel.)

The second reason this has to take ten minutes longer than 2001: A Space Odyssey is that Zack Snyder simply doesn't know when to stop: the word enough is not in his vocabulary. The only time Batman V Superman isn't turned up to eleven is when Snyder turns it down to twelve. Action scenes and monster/hero smackdowns go on for ever, so laden with flashy CGI whizzbang that you literally have no idea what just happened, while Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL's score suborns you by sheer filling-loosening volume. (I saw it in a Dolby Atmos cinema; maybe local multiplexes without such systems would fare better.) Meanwhile the screen is filled with cornea-burning stuff that doesn't need to happen anyway: having put a transmitter on Lex Luthor's truck that contains the Kryptonite fragments, why does Batman need to indulge in a wildly destructive chase instead of just going home and watching the truck's progress on Google Maps? Why do we get to see Bruce Wayne's parents murdered yet again in gloating slo-mo, and Bruce falling into the cave full of bats again?

Why also do we get such a level of physical violence and intense monster horror in a film that's ostensibly for kids? How did it get away with an absurdly lenient 12A certificate from the BBFC? Unlike Man Of Steel, human casualties are largely avoided courtesy of a line of dialogue saying the area is uninhabited, but the Board's usual defence that it's fantasy violence doesn't hold: Superman may be an indestructible alien but Batman is just a human bloke in a rubber suit. It's completely inappropriate for anything lower than a 15 certificate and children really shouldn't be taken.

Disregarding the fact that the fifth (maybe sixth) act only works because of a happy coincidence involving names, the sad truth is that BVS-DOJ is a glum and senseless exercise in anger and destruction in which Batman is a miserable git, Superman is an international figure of hatred and Wonder Woman is barely in it anyway, all shot in Man Of Steel's washed-out colour palette that reduces everything to greys and browns. You can't see what's going on and you can't hear what's going on either. This has cost the studios and production companies a quarter of a billion dollars (IMDb estimate), which is a frankly obscene amount of money to spend on something so relentlessly dark and stupid. For all the entertainment value they've conjured up they might as well have fed the banknotes straight into an office shredder. Or given it to some hospitals and disaster relief funds. No film is really worth that much of corporations' cash, but some of them are at least worth a fiver of mine. This is not one of them.

*

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

LOVE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND PUT THAT THING AWAY BEFORE YOU HAVE SOMEONE'S EYE OUT WITH IT

Nudity! Explicit sex! Real hardcore action! Full-on humping! Threesomes! Group! Orgies! Boobs! Willies! Phwoooar! Get in there my son! Except that this is a serious Franco-Belgian arthouse drama about lost love and regrets, and not Miami Cheerleaders Gone Wild Vol 26, so you're expected to at least pretend to care about the relationships and to see the characters as believable human beings, and not just sit there watching it in your underwear and grunting. (Oh, to have been a fly on the wall during the national press show!) Frankly, pornography is in the wrist of the beholder, so if you want to get off on this one or 9 Songs or Nymph()maniac or some old episodes of Bergerac, fill your boots. Whatever does it for you.

In the event, however, that you want to see beyond the meat and look at the people underneath, Love tells of a three-way relationship in which alleged film student Murphy, feeling trapped and frustrated in his life with girlfriend Omi and their baby son, flashes back through his memories of a previous relationship with the more exciting, daring and passionate Electra (quite what either of these smart, intelligent young women see in this whiny little ratbag, for whom no number of smacks round the head with a chair leg would ever seem enough, is anyone's guess). This, however, was a relationship he threw away by knocking up Omi and behaving like a colossal knob when suspecting Electra of cheating on him. Now he has regrets, and wants to go back....

Curiously, given his technique of long takes from largely static cameras, Noe has filmed Love in 3D which might give the hardcore some extra oomph although there are only a couple of moments where the extra depth might have been noticeable: our hero blowing smoke rings to camera and the predictable, and inevitable, money shot, but for most of the time nothing "leapt out" from the 2D Blu as being worthy of the stereoscopy effect. The extensive needle-drop soundtrack throws up a few surprises: a sex club sequence is mysteriously backed with the theme to Assault On Precinct 13, while an early tryst plays against the off-kilter lullaby music from Deep Red, of all things.

Nothing much happens in Love beyond alternating scenes of Murphy whining and mumbling, and Murphy humping either or both of the two women. As a film it's much, much lighter and far less uncomfortable than the last two Gaspar Noe films, Enter The Void and (obviously) Irreversible. But the emphasis on nudity and copulation gets a bit wearing after a while and frankly it's a relief when they spend five minutes with their clothes on. A little more background and a little less grind and throb wouldn't have gone amiss, to be honest. Whereas a film like Blue Is The Warmest Colour spaced the sex sequences out so that you understood the characters long before they ever took their clothes off, here the leads are naked and going at each other literally from the first frame. That's not to suggest I didn't enjoy it: it's interesting enough, but don't put it on it if there's any chance of someone else wandering into the room at precisely the wrong moment.

***

Monday, 28 March 2016

URBAN MENACE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND DULLNESS

Industrial strength idiocy from Albert Pyun that's very probably the worst thing he ever did, and that's including his horrendous cheapo Captain America movie from 1990. I used to have a soft spot for Pyun based on dumb but good-looking SF thrillers like the first Nemesis (the nominal sequels were vehicles for bodybuilder Sue Price and aren't anywhere near as interesting) and dumb but good-looking action movies like Blast (basically Die Hard In An Olympic Swimming Pool), but this is a whole new and terrifying level of bloody awful filmmaking and a sad comedown from someone who started with the engaging sub-Conan twaddle of The Sword And The Sorceror. Every single facet is botched beyond salvage, either through bone-headed incompetence or (more likely) no-one giving a single wet shit about it.

Urban Menace starts off with Ice-T banging on direct to camera about how this film is going to be really offensive and full of blood and gore and swearing (well, one out of three ain't bad) before settling into the story of idiot gangsters wandering around an abandoned building and getting killed by Snoop Dogg, apparently because his entire family were murdered when an evil gangster firebombed his church. Is Dogg a ghost, an evil spirit, a demon, or did he just survive and start killing off the bad guy's halfwit goons in revenge?

Half the cast seem to be rappers who can't act (one of them has been given substantial amounts of dialogue yet can barely speak) and the other half seem to be actors who can't act either. Technically it's borderline unwatchable: the digital effects of a burning church at the start couldn't be less realistic if they'd been drawn on the back of an envelope, the picture quality looks like a fifth-generation VHS tape that's been dunked in a sewer until everything is tinged green and is in such low definition that you'll think you're undergoing a glaucoma attack. Violent splatter is notable by its absence (it's earned its 18 certificate just for the monotonous overuse of the Oedipal Expletive), and the audio includes the same dull Ice-T song at least three times. Presented on DVD in a ratio that doesn't properly fit any TV set, in a 2-for-1 set with The Wrecking Crew, another of Pyun's urban thrillers shot at the same time with most of the same cast (which I haven't seen and am not going to), Snoop Dogg's Hood Of Stupidity is only about 76 minutes long and that includes very slow credit rolls fore and aft. Utter, utter garbage.

*

Sunday, 27 March 2016

HIGH-RISE

CONTAINS SPOILERS

When this first appeared around the time of the London Film Festival I wondered whether I'd actually enjoy it when it finally came out. I've never been much of a fan of Ben Wheatley: Sightseers was okay as a dark but silly sitcom, but I wasn't overly struck on Kill List (three meh films bolted together into one) and I absolutely hated A Field In England (unwatchable first year media studies coursework): films to pretend to be impressed by rather than to actually enjoy. Given all the raves and enthusiasm, would this new one make me a Team Ben flagwaver?

As it turns out, no: set in some kind of alternative 1970s retro future, High-Rise is a tiresome and obvious screed about the social inequality, class warfare, the inevitable collapse of a too-rigidly structured society and how rich people are bastards. Architect Jeremy Irons claims he's developed his high rise as "a crucible for change" (yet merely replicates the "toffs at the top, plebs at the bottom" system we've had for centuries): he and his coterie of similarly over-moneyed scum live like Roman emperors in the luxury apartments, throwing decadent parties and hogging the amenities. Meanwhile the oiks downstairs are getting bolshy with unreasonable demands for the rights and services that they've paid for; the power goes out and everything turns into some kind of ghastly post-apocalypic nightmare.

So what are we supposed to make of High-Rise? Obviously it's not supposed to make literal, narrative sense: it's an allegory of capitalism complete with lines like Keeley Hawes' despairing "The trouble with poor people is they're obsessed with money" as she whines about having to pay her miserable housekeeper who has to clean dogshit off the carpets. Our lead (he's not a hero by any means) is neurologist Tom Hiddleston: he starts out as our way into this microcosm, but even he succumbs to the madness, shagging left and right and really leaving us no-one to side with. The other key line is Hawes' "Okay, which one of you guys wants to f*** me up the a***?", which instantly sent me back to a similar line in White Mischief, another rich-people-are-horrible exercise.

Once you've sat through the first half hour or so of this prattling nonsense, you do wish the damned place would just turn into Towering Inferno and catch fire (except the emergency services don't bother turning up: the police only appear briefly and never return). Or parasites would get into the apartments and turn everyone into slavering maniacs like the residents of Starliner Towers in David Cronenberg's classic Shivers (in which the swimming pool is also a significant location in a soulless apartment block). Instead everyone just degenerates into animalistic savagery, and it's neither entertaining, intellectually stimulating or dramatically interesting. It ends with an audio clip of Margaret Thatcher speechifying about capitalism, because hey guys, capitalism is horrible and rich people are bastards. Right?

But I guess I knew I wouldn't love it. Having emphatically not loved any other Ben Wheatley films thus far, it would be too much to hope I'd suddenly settle into his groove. What surprised me is just how much I didn't like it, just how bored I was, just how irritating I found it, just how much I didn't care about anybody or anything on screen. Yes, it looks nice. Yes, it's got A-list stars. Yes, there are a few oddly interesting music choices (a Portishead version of Abba's SOS). And yes, it's probably very heartfelt and important. Is it any good at all on any of its levels? Sadly not. It's frustrating, politically clunky and very, very dull and I liked it less than anything else I've seen in a cinema this year.

*

CARRY ON COLUMBUS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND ZERO LAUGHS

Is there much more dispiriting than a comedy that just flat out refuses to work despite the best and most strenuous efforts of everyone involved? Well, how about a comedy where no-one seems to care very much? How about a comedy where a clearly talented cast are thoroughly defeated by the dead-on-the-page material and have no real interest in anything other than getting it over with as quickly as possible? You can see it in their eyes that every last one of them would rather be doing absolutely anything even if it's just staring out of the window: they know that no-one is getting out with a shred of dignity intact and this is one of those calamities that seemed like a good idea at the time - except there's no way this ever looked like a good idea. Small wonder then that Maureen Lipman tried to put it into Room 101 when she was the show's special guest. And small wonder the film has disappeared from UK distribution entirely following its VHS release: no-one wants to touch the damned thing. What beats me is why anyone went near it in the first place.

The idea of doing a comedic take on Columbus' discovery of America on the 500th anniversary isn't necessarily a bad one - as a complement to the two serious 1492 films - but Carry On Columbus needed a script that took longer than ten days to throw together and enough of a budget to ensure the shipboard scenes were better staged than the Cockermouth Amateur Operatic Society's last production of HMS Pinafore. The end result looks cheap and tawdry and it's not funny: it meshes the production values of an ITV studio sitcom with the sparkling wit and wordplay of an ITV studio sitcom.

Given the absences of Sid James, Kenneth Williams, the peerless Charles Hawtrey and the rest of the gang, rebooting the Carry On brand makes about as much sense as bringing back Abbott And Costello or George Formby: they were of their time and that time has long gone. Only a handful of familiar Carry On faces were still around in 1992 and not all of them were keen on dancing those old steps again anyway so to fill the gaps a stellar assortment of new comedians (Alexei Sayle, Julian Clary, Rik Mayall, Peter Richardson) try and fail to make anything of the thuddingly awful script. Clary and Richard Wilson do their usual thing, while veterans of the series like Jon Pertwee, Leslie Phillips and June Whitfield are given almost nothing to do and top-billed Jim Dale and Bernard Cribbins are given lots to do, none of it worth doing.

Compensations? Redeeming features? Anything on the positive side? Well, it's fairly short, and it's arguably 0.02% less offensive than Carry On Emmanuelle. But it was still a monumentally bad idea badly executed: a long way from the glory days of Cleo, Screaming, Henry and (my personal favourite) Cowboy. Hardly worth watching, even for series fans and masochists.

*

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

LONDON HAS FALLEN

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IDIOCY

Every so often there's one of those strange coincidences which throws up two similarly-themed movies around the same time (Volcano and Dante's Peak, Antz and A Bug's Life, Deep Impact and Armageddon): in 2013 we got two knuckle-headed action movies that were basically Die Hard In The White House. Neither White House Down nor Olympus Has Fallen were great films, but they were enjoyable enough: mindless popcorn spectaculars full of gung-ho flagwaving and big explosions with a not very well hidden Author's Message of Don't Mess With America.

In London Has Fallen, presidential bodyguard Gerard Butler doesn't so much wrap himself in the Stars And Stripes as tattoo it on his knuckles and challenge the rest of the world to come and have a go. No sooner have various world leaders gathered in London for the funeral of the British PM (including a randy Italian, cavorting with his lady friend atop Westminster Abbey) than terrorists show up with grenades and guns and rocket launchers and proceed to blow everyone and everything away. Butler manages to get the Prez out of the danger zone, but the arms dealer mastermind behind the carnage has special plans for him and has recruited legions of troops to capture him....

It's thoroughly terrible, and it's objectionable on numerous levels. Let's not bother too much with the female characters, because the film certainly doesn't: Radha Mitchell gets a bit at the start and finish as Butler's pregnant wife and Angela Bassett has a few scenes as his boss, while Charlotte Riley turns up over half way through as an MI5 agent who gets to take out the secondary villain. Let's be more concerned with the film's frankly ugly political stance which would make Chuck Norris look like a bit of a softie: Butler's declaration that "everyone is a terrorist scumbag until proven otherwise" might carry a bit more weight if he (or the film) actually gave any of them a chance to prove otherwise before emptying a handgun into them at first sight: he's not so much "shoot first, ask questions later" than "shoot first, move on".

Even as blokey, sweary, aggressively right-wing macho gun fantasies go, however, London Has Fallen is rubbish: maybe you could forgive, or at least ignore, the alarming politics and the sidelining of all the female characters if the movie was big dumb fun or at least competently strung together the way this sentence isn't. For a film that actively promises to kaboom most of London it's surprisingly lacking in spectacular money shots: we don't get to see Buck House, Big Ben or the Raymond Revuebar orgasmically reduced to digital cinders. And the destruction we do see is performed with CGI so unconvincing you suspect the FX crew from Sharknado have either lowered their game or they got a bulk deal on ZX Spectrums.

It's less of a meat-and-potatoes thudfest and more of a boiled-beef-and-carrots wet slap of a film, Compensation is very thin on the ground: there are big names in the cast (Jackie Earle Haley, Melissa Leo, Colin Salmon, Robert Forster) but they're given nothing to do; Morgan Freeman does his worthy, statesmanlike Morgan Freeman act again, and the naming of one second banana character does result in a pleasing (or terrifying) mention of "Prime Minister Clarkson" towards the end. None of it makes any sense on a narrative level, it's morally questionable to anyone outside of the EDL whackjob club (Butler swearily tells one goon, who he miraculously hasn't shot yet, to go back to wherever he came from), it has absolutely no sense of humour, and it's slung together with a lack of quality control bordering on audience contempt. Everyone involved should really sit down in a darkened room for a few hours and think seriously about what they've done.

*