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.

*