Tuesday, 19 July 2016



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point, and my objections to That Scene are based on its lack of dramatic effect and not borne out of a combination of outdated moral hypocrisy and shrieking uncultured ignorance.]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



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.




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



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.