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.

*

Thursday, 3 March 2016

THE FOREST

CONTAINS MILD SPOILERS AND RAW HORROR

You know that feeling when you're watching a movie and you're seduced into the atmosphere and the general vibe? You're sucked into the mood and the look of the film, you've settled into its groove when DEMON!!! suddenly and without warning something horrible appears out of nowhere to make you jump? It's an undeniably effective and GHOST!!! reliable horror film tactic, like a jab with a sharp stick, but it looks a little hackneyed now and it feels cheap and WHOA!!! SCARY FACE!!! lazy when the film is absolutely capable of MONSTER!!! EEEK!!! conjuring up a perfectly persuasive aura of dread and anxiety without resorting NIGEL FARAGE!!!! to the easiest of jack-in-the-box techniques.

It's as if the makers of The Forest don't trust the material to deliver without zazzing it up, and they really should. Schoolteacher Jess (Natalie Dormer) has gone missing in Aokigahara, a forest at the base of Mount Fuji with a history as a suicide site. Her sister Sara (also Dormer) travels over to find out what happened to her: trusting the psychic bond between the identical twins over the fears and concerns of Jess' colleagues, pupils and the locals....

As an American stab at J-Horror (though shot over five and a half thousand miles away in Serbia), it certainly has the folklore and mythology aspect we got maybe a little overfamiliar with in the immediate wake of Ringu and Ju-On (mercifully, there are no jerky-limbed girl ghosts with faces obscured by lank black hair). It has a pleasing darkness and cold dread about it. But every so often it has to yell Boo! in your ear and while that may send the popcorn flying it leaves the sense that things would have been more unsettling had they concentrated on the film as a whole rather than the isolated (and sometimes irrelevant) jump moments. The end result feels like a missed opportunity as the legends of Aokigahara - a real place with a genuine history - would have made a perfectly decent movie by themselves.

***