Wednesday, 20 September 2017

A GHOST STORY

CONTAINS EEEEK! SPOILERS

Don't worry: this isn't a scary film at all. I mean, it's obviously a horror film, and it's a film with a ghost in it - that much is on the poster and in the title - but it's a safe bet that you absolutely won't find what's on screen scary. Funny, quirky, sad, perhaps. Behind the screen, the ideas behind the story, that's the troubling territory. A Ghost Story is a ghost story for ghosts: a ghost story from the ghost's perspective. And if this is how we come back, it's utterly terrifying.

C and M (Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara) are a young, moderately happy couple whose average, everyday domestic relationship is shattered when he's killed in a car smash (this isn't a spoiler, as it takes place in the first ten minutes of the film). Rising off the morgue trolley, he has the chance to go towards the light but instead returns as an invisible, inaudible presence in the house. Invisible to everyone else, but visible to us as the simplest and most old-fashioned ghost: hidden under a sheet with eyeholes cut out. Silently watching M go through her grief, standing unobserved next to her... until she meets someone else and eventually moves out of the house, crucially leaving a handwritten note tucked into the woodwork as she leaves. The contents of this note become the driving force in his (after)life and he ends up worrying away at the tiny crack in the paint to find this sliver of paper...

Meanwhile, real life goes on as a family move in to the house - and he's still there. Years go by and the house changes hands again - and he's still there. Alone and silent under a sheet. For how long? For ever? An apparently eternal, inescapable nonexistence. Perhaps until, as is helpfully pointed out by one of the house's later tenants, the vaporisation of the Earth in some six billion years' time. Or maybe, not even then...

It's a fantastically glum film, pared right down to the basics: a 4:3 aspect ratio (with round corners), long takes with a static camera in which very little happens, one location, very low budget. Yet it's mesmerising throughout, enjoyable without having any laughs in it at all (the only actual joke is the name of the production company), slow without ever being dull, and genuinely sad. Granted, I think I may have missed the point from which things ultimately resolve themselves, and the rules governing how much interaction C can have with the physical world aren't entirely clear, but those are minor quibbles: this is a fascinating, (literally) deadpan, non-horror horror film. I enjoyed it immensely.

****

Monday, 18 September 2017

MOTHER!

contains! some! major! spoilers?

First off, let's dispense with the supposedly lower-case title malarkey: many people are referring to Darren Aronofsky's latest as mother!, for no apparent reason than because that's how it appears on the end credits. Well, so do all the names on the title cards at the end, and we don't refer to jennifer lawrence or javier bardem, because that just looks stupid, so in the absence of any solid, unanswerable reason why it shouldn't be capitalised (auteurial affectation doesn't cut it), I'm capitalising it as Mother!. I'll give you the exclamation mark, but don't push your luck.

Secondly, just what the hell is it? Horror? Allegory? Arthouse ramblings? All of the above. I don't think there's any doubt it's a horror movie: it's pure nightmare, particularly in its later scenes, with some images and moments that easily push it into the 18 certificate bracket, and it pretty much starts at a pitch of awkwardness and discomfort and proceeds downwards from there. Perhaps wisely, the publicity has been centred around the first act, which is more an unsettling drama in which the idyllic lives of Him and Mother (no-one has a name beyond their actual function, though Mother is actually Him's partner/wife) are disrupted by two strangers. Him (Javier Bardem) is a blocked poet, Mother (Jennifer Lawrence) has restored their massive rural mansion from its burned-out original state. Suddenly Man and subsequently Woman (Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer) turn up out of (literally) nowhere and are initially welcomed by Him, to Mother's increased concern. Then Younger Brother and Oldest Son arrive...

From there both Mother and Mother! descend into a nightmare of escalating madness as strangers arrive at the house en masse and systematically wreck the place, while Mother tries vainly to cope with their needs and demands (you can see her hair getting greyer as the scene progresses) even as the house starts to collapse around them. And that's only the first act of the film - the second, madder and more extreme half concern Mother's pregnancy and the birth of her son. Specifically, it's what happens after that birth that leads to the most unpleasant and shocking scenes: suffice to say that if you're in the process of having children or have recently done so, don't see this film. The entire film is centred around Mother, with Lawrence almost never off screen and the camera frequently hovering over her shoulder.

Much has already been written in director's statements and the dreaded broadsheet think-pieces about exactly what Mother! is an allegory of: Creation, Adam And Eve, mankind's destruction of Mother Earth - everything on Earth was beautiful until People came along and destroyed it. Him is God and Mother is Mother Nature. Or maybe it's about drugs or oil or The Patriarchy or the act and cost of artistic creativity. For all I know it's actually about the Power Rangers (Him's precious crystal might as well be a reference to their Zeo Crystal from which all life is supposed to spring) - yes, I'm obviously being facetious, but is it that much MORE ridiculous than the Dan Brown-level symbolology of what the frog represents or the symbol on Ed Harris' cigarette lighter?

Look: if I'd known I was basically sitting an exam I'd have done some revision. I'm not an intellectual, I didn't go to University, but I'm not a knuckle-dragging imbecile who needs everything spoonfed in simple words. I made it through Hard To Be A God in one go, for goodness' sake. Sure, I didn't much enjoy the experience, but at least I was open to it. And I think it's great that major companies like Paramount are putting difficult, challenging and unusual films into the marketplace, and pushing them in wide releases rather than a couple of Curzons and the ICA - although if Mother! doesn't connect with audiences then this probably won't happen again and cinemas will play safe with a fourteenth week of the latest Batman instead.

But I also think there's no shame in having to look these things up afterwards to find out exactly what the hell that was all about. I had to do it with Michael Haneke's Hidden (I totally missed the supposed reveal in the final shot) and it wasn't until this year that Mulholland Dr. clicked with me courtesy of a featurette that explained how I (and others) had actually got the reality/fantasy divide backwards. Now I understand this, I find I like the film more. In the case of Mother! I think it's partly down to the publicity which completely misrepresents it: the trailer makes it look like an uneasy four-character drama and ignores the more visceral and shocking second hour when logic and reality break down into apparently random chaos, and the UK posters similarly give no hint of what watching the film is actually like. (I also think it's entirely irrelevant that this Cinemascore thing, an audience-based approval system of which I was entirely unaware until this weekend, gave it the lowest possible F rating, putting it in such shameful company as Bug and Wolf Creek.)

Look, it's clearly not rubbish. At least, it's clearly not rubbish in the way that, say, a Fred Olen Ray film is rubbish or a Don Dohler film is rubbish. You can't fault Mother!'s full-tilt committed performances or the grainy 16mm photography, or the way it builds its orgies of destruction not once, but twice, and presumably you can't fault it for doing exactly what Darren Aronofsky wanted to do. (That said, Fred Olen Ray movies always did exactly what he wanted.) But did Aronofsky want me to feel so angry and depressed by his film? Did he want me to leave the cinema feeling worse than I did leaving Fist Fight or Chips? And I've liked some of Aronofsky's films in the past: I liked Black Swan and Noah and The Fountain. Not this time, and I refuse to accept that it's entirely my fault. It's a divisive film, and the whole point of divisive films is that there are camps on both sides.

Okay, my initial response might have calmed down a bit since Friday afternoon, when I came out of the cinema absolutely hating the film with an almost tangible fury. But I can't feel that I've warmed to it over the weekend. Sure, it's demonstrably not a terrible film, but it made me feel terrible as I watched it and I still feel terrible towards it now. If that makes me an idiot, well, okay, you're entitled to that view. If that means I don't ever get to be a "proper" reviewer, so be it. It doesn't make me wrong. For me it remains a one-star film: obviously not rubbish (which is why I haven't tagged it as such) but among the most frustrating, upsetting and infuriating films of the last however many years. And not, as occasionally happens, in a good way.

*

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

PLAYGIRL KILLER

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SINGING

The trouble with Netflix (or at least the main trouble) is that there's really not much on there: certainly not enough to justify the sub, which is why I'm likely cancelling once I've seen the half-dozen titles on my watch list that aren't on DVD. If you're looking for anything odd, anything a bit strange, anything made before 1980, then you're out of luck because the murky byways of the movie swamp really isn't their territory. The trouble with Amazon Prime, on the other hand, is that there's too much: hundreds of old spaghetti Westerns, Euro obscurities, Hong Kong martial arts movies, 70s drive-in cheapies and the occasional bonkers giallo, some presented in the wrong ratio and/or with sub-third generation VHS picture quality, and little of it available anywhere else. Occasionally a gem will turn up (I'm actually having some mindless fun with Terence Hill and Bud Spencer knockabouts) but it's sometimes a chore wading through the almost daily additions of yet more junk. First world problems.

Playgirl Killer is a scarcely noteworthy thriller-type thing from 1966 in which a man kills his girlfriend with a speargun because she wouldn't sit still while he tried to sketch her. Going on the run, he eventually turns up at the home of two sisters, one of whom has just left for college with her boyfriend (Neil Sedaka in what the IMDb suggests is his first, last and only dramatic screen role). The other is a colossal tease forever wandering around in her skimpies; she hires him to help close up the house for the season, but then she won't sit still while he tries to sketch her. A woman turns up at the door in response to a job advertisement, but she won't sit still while he....

I kind of like the fact that someone's dug this twaddle out of the vaults and put it online, but I can't figure out to what end: is there that much money to be made from it? Was there a huge clamour for Playgirl Killer to be disinterred for a whole new generation to be bored senseless by? It's all very tiresome and it never comes to any kind of life: if you nodded off for half an hour you honestly wouldn't feel like you'd missed anything. There are three absolutely horrible songs (two rock numbers in the first twenty minutes, one of them performed by Sedaka, and the third one is in French) and a fantastically annoying jazz score full of sleazy sax that does nothing for what we're supposed to call the drama, none of the characters are interesting and it's not even fun as throwaway drive-in trash. Honestly not worth the effort involved in clicking the Watch Now button. (Incidentally, Amazon's artwork bears no resemblance to anything in the film.)

*

Sunday, 3 September 2017

NIGHTWORLD

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

To be honest, you're asking for trouble setting any horror movie over one of the seven gates of hell or one of the seven doors of death. Such things are the stomping ground of wonky Italian horrors of the late 70s and early 80s, particularly Lucio Fulci, whose unique blend of morbid darkness, excessive gore and plots that make no sense has always been a curiously agreeable mixture. The Beyond is even known as Seven Doors Of Death in America, and for all that's wrong with that film the bar is set pretty high.

Nightworld is too well-behaved to go down the Fulci route, save for the morbid darkness. It's mostly goreless (it would most likely get away with a 15, and not a top-end one at that) and its logic more or less hangs together except on one point. Following personal tragedies, Brett (Jason London) takes a job as a security guard at a Sofia apartment block, a shining example of a building you would never want to set foot in in the real world. There's apparently no-one else in the block except for a maid, who is only seen once: no-one appears to actually live there and underground there's a vast hangar that is kept permanently locked. So what are the occasional shadows that show up so briefly on the CCTV feed?

The point at which the logic collapses is when Brett calls it in to his superiors, who respond by sending in an elderly blind man (Robert Englund, having fun) to investigate what's on a video tape. It does also falls victim to the old trope of characters encountering people they know to be long dead but suddenly not being bothered by the fact that they're ghosts or zombies, and wanting to stay with them rather that doing the sensible thing and getting the hell away from them. But it's generally pretty decent: a nice creepy setting, dark and doom-laden, with a good sense of imminent apocalypse, and I enjoyed it enough.

***

Saturday, 2 September 2017

MAYHEM

CONTAINS SPOILERS

I used to work in offices. I still do, if and when the agencies hire me to do so, and my particular skill set is solid if admittedly a bit low-level. I've never been one for climbing the ladder, jockeying for a promotion or a better parking space or an office that doesn't overlook the dumpsters. The rat race is for rats, and if everyone else wants to drive themselves barmy for the sake of a shinier desk and access to the cappuccino machine on the fifth floor, go for it. In truth I've only ever really done the grunt work at the bottom: support jobs making sure that the people on the next pay grade up can do their jobs properly. Hell, somebody has to and I'm mostly pretty good at it. (Please contact me directly regarding any appropriate opportunities in the Milton Keynes and Bedford areas.)

There are three separate threads in Joe Lynch's Mayhem. Derek (Steven Yuen) is a middle-ranking wonk at a large law firm who's set up as the fall guy for a corporate balls-up and summarily fired. Secondly, Melanie (Samara Weaving) suddenly turns up at the office to get an extension on her imminent home foreclosure. Thirdly, and most importantly, a rage virus has suddenly infected the building: its victims lose their conscience and inhibitions, enhancing and reinforcing their existing negative traits to the point of violent, destructive and/or sexual savagery...

Structured like a computer game, in which the two wronged parties have to ascend the higher levels of the building to take on the final Boss, Mayhem is a lot of exceptionally violent fun with plenty of blood splatter and bone-crunching fight scenes. The virus' effects don't seem consistent: some people become unreasoningly aggressive, senior management become even colder and more ruthless, while Derek and Melanie seem to maintain self-control - the gag is that he created the legal precedent that sufferers of the virus are not guilty of any crimes they commit under its influence, yet they seem to be perfectly aware of what they're doing throughout.

It's blackly funny, the headpunching mayhem is well-staged and there's enough of the Author's Message - the rewards of big business are hugely tempting but it will cost you your soul - to give the carnage some depth. In the cheery but grisly manner of Lynch's Wrong Turn 2 it's very entertaining: more visceral than something like Dementamania and less grossout than My Bloody Banjo. And, particularly for those of us cubicle drones who've worked in offices for clueless managers who absolutely needed an almighty smack in the mouth, there's an extra layer of if-only glee. Enjoyed it enormously.

****

TRAGEDY GIRLS

#ContainsSpoilers

I don't really get social media. I mean, I do have a small online presence, and I occasionally get a "like" or a retweet, but mostly I use it to keep in some kind of virtual touch with people I know and pimp my bloglinks like this one (to no real effect, I should add). The idea of living and measuring your life by how many total strangers uptick and forward your contributions to the infinity of hashtags and forums and upper case bellowing, no matter how banal or ignorant or incorrectly spelled, seems to me no more logical than rating and ranking people by their shoe size or what they're allergic to.

Sadie (Brianna Hildebrand - a magnificent name in itself) and McKayla (Alexandra Shipp) are the Tragedy Girls: a couple of vapid, empty, soulless high school teenagers with a vapid, empty, soulless podcast thing about death and serial killers, even as an actual serial killer is active in the area. In a surprise opening, the girls capture and imprison him, but it's all part of a grand plan to continue his work for the benefit of higher ratings for their show and their own personal fame. But the hint of romance between Sadie and their editor/technical whizz (Jack Quaid) - who also happens to be the son of the local Sheriff - might break the team up. And then the serial killer escapes...

The two girls' surnames are Cunningham and Hooper, ticking off two slasher franchises immediately, and the serial killer's surname is Lehmann because there's a heavy dose of Heathers and high school clique movies in there as well. But yet again, yet again, there's absolutely no-one to root for or empathise with, no story arc worth following, nothing to connect with under the surface. That surface may be pretty and glossy and colourful, but yet again there's absolutely no reason why I should care. I ended up looking for interest in the supporting characters - like the bespectacled Plain Jane on the Prom Committee - because I wasn't getting anything from any of the leads.

There's an absence of morality that makes Tragedy Girls hard to stomach and harder to enjoy, and the cheery tone of its casual murders sits oddly with the idea that we're supposed to like or admire McKayla or Sadie. Granted that it's brash and slick and heavy on the splattery gore, and there is some satire in there about the social media obsessions of the millennial generation, but the film seems to want to be a celebration rather than a condemnation when there's nothing to celebrate and everything to condemn. Their final body count is ahead even of Jason's or Freddy's whole franchises, and the cheeriness of it all left me wondering what the point was, and why we're expected to want to spend the evening in the company of such appalling individuals. I didn't, and found it an increasingly uncomfortable watch with no heart. Presumably that's what it set out to be, in which case: congratulations. I really found it hard to stomach.

**

LEATHERFACE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND IS IT OVER YET?

Questions: how does a film with this level of blood, gore, murder, death, shrieking, insanity, brutality and evisceration manage to be so staggering, stunningly, spectacularly dull? How can the directors of the original Inside have come up with ninety minutes of trashy, ultraviolent, headbanging mayhem that are so thoroughly devoid of any interest or excitement whatsoever? How can anyone make an eighth trip to the Texas Chain Saw Massacre well that, believe it or not, brings forth even less than the rubbish 2013 3D version? It's remarkable how ineffective cranking everything up to eleven can be.

Leatherface is another origins story: an Early Years prequel of how the monstrous chainsaw-wielding cannibal got that way (which ignores 2006's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning). In this version of events the young Jedediah Sawyer was removed from his family home as a child and promptly locked up in an asylum, but years later his ghastly mother (Lili Taylor, probably the best thing in the film) engineers a mass escape in which four inmates and a nurse taken hostage make their way across what's supposed to be Texas towards the family homestead, killing as they go. Meanwhile an embittered Sheriff (Stephen Dorff) is on their trail, since Jed was responsible for his daughter's brutal death in the opening reel...

The first trouble is that until five minutes from the end of the movie we don't know which of the group will eventually become Leatherface (the poster artwork is not entirely honest in that regard). Hell, in these post-Jodie Whittaker days you don't know if this reboot might even switch the character's gender just for the fun of it. Secondly, the whole point of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is that there isn't any backstory or exposition for Leatherface, The Gas Man or any of the unhinged family: they were just inexplicable, maniacal forces of evil, and shining a light on them only diminishes their status as nightmare figures. Like the later entries that sought to explain Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers, the film weakens its monsters by exploring them. The whole point of horror movies is the darkness and shadow, be it Leatherface or Castle Dracula, and the more you can see the less you fear.

It's loud, it's hysterical, and a lot of people die bloodily, but it's all pointless because at no point do we care. For all the death and violence there's no emotional connection, no human contact: it's just a succession of nasty set pieces in which horrible people are horrible to each other and everyone else they meet. Sure, some of the brutality is well staged, but to what effect? I'm perfectly happy with splattery horror movies in which a bunch of people get messily killed, but usually there's someone in there to care about, someone whose story arc is worth following and whose character can generate some small empathy. Not in this case: it's bleak, nasty and senseless, without any semblance of warmth or even the darkest humour, and for all the upfront gore and yeehawing hillbilly trash it has none of the demented, genuinely terrifying impact of Tobe Hooper's original.

*

BETTER WATCH OUT

CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS AND MAJOR, MAJOR HATE

Sometimes it's almost scary how comprehensively the rest of the army seems to be marching out of step. Some years ago I was the only person in the room not to fall in love with Hobo With A Shotgun and now it's happened again: absolutely everyone else was having a great time and I grew steadily more convinced that somehow they were watching a completely different film. Where everybody else was enjoyed a dark Christmas-tinged psycho horror comedy I was glimpsing an alternate universe with a screening of a diametrically opposite movie.

Better Watch Out starts off with the expected tropes of the modern Christmas horror film: the well-heeled suburban mansion (that could comfortably accommodate a family of fifteen), lots of snow, sleigh bells and carols on the soundtrack, even though the time of year is largely irrelevant to the action. The parents are out for a pre-Christmas social get-together, leaving their twelve-year-old Luke and his geeky best friend Garret in the care of foxy babysitter Ashley. Initially there are a few hints of genial and cheery but unsettling horror, such as establishing Ashley's fear of spiders, fleshing out twelve-year-old Luke's inappropriate lust for her as he actively romances her with candlelit meals and highly inappropriate conversation, until suddenly it seems to swerve into a home invasion movie with bricks through the window and someone prowling around upstairs with a shotgun...

And then twelve-year-old Luke (sorry to keep bringing up his age, but it's important) punches Ashley down the stairs, ties her to a chair with duct tape and reveals himself as a leery, repugnant sociopath who's been manipulating events the whole time and will stop at nothing to have Ashley to himself, even to the extent of killing her current boyfriend. It's a sudden dive into what would be very uncomfortable territory even if Luke was a grown adult: an outwardly charming but inwardly callous and unfeeling (and casually murderous) sexual predator drooling over a barely legal high school girl is awkward enough; a pre-teen dancing those steps far more so.

Much is made, for some reason, of Home Alone, specifically whether Daniel Stern's character would have survived being hit in the face with a paint can (leading to Better Watch Out's alleged highlight), which is odd because the Macauley Culkin movie that springs to mind is actually the The Good Son. This comes across like a tinsel-decked version of The Good Son but played for laughs, although it's never actually funny because the film is so much in love with its pubescent villain and his brilliantly meticulous schemes that even a last-minute twist that might undo all his victories doesn't redeem it, and certainly can't redeem him. With a tired motivation for twelve-year-old Luke's moral compass (he wasn't hugged enough as a child, boo-hoo) and a genial tone that's bizarrely pitched as seasonal feelgood but wildly unsuited to the icky sexual obsession of its twelve-year-old lead, it's a film that I (apparently alone) found entirely impossible to like. Better Watch Out? Better Still, Don't.

*

Monday, 21 August 2017

ANNABELLE: CREATION

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND EEEEEK!!!

Most horror movies aren't scary. Some of them can be creepy, racking up the tension by utilising the darkness and the quiet; many of them are just happy to make you jump (even if it's the old standbys of a cat leaping into frame or a sudden loud noise) and a few can be actually revolting with a full-on splatter grossout. Very, very few are actually frightening to the extent that you want to pause the DVD for a moment to put the lights on, as with Lake Mungo and The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh. The first Insidious managed this brilliantly: I had to have lights on in the flat for a few nights afterwards. Later entries haven't had that same impact in me. Sure, the Insidious sequels were solidly crafted and satisfyingly creepy, as were the two Conjuring films and the first Annabelle. (Incidentally, I was wrong when I thought there was nowhere they could really take the Annabelle idea!)

Annabelle: Creation is a prequel, in which a group of orphaned children are taken in by a kind-hearted toymaker and his reclusive wife (Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto). Twelve years ago they'd lost their beloved daughter in a car accident but now they're opening up the house for half a dozen girls whose orphanage has closed. The only rule is never to go into that locked room. But of course some of the girls do, and inside there's a wardrobe with a mysterious doll inside... Because vintage dolls are always, always unsettling, with their glass eyes and sickly grins: there's something seemingly almost evil about them. And when they chose the prop doll for The Conjuring and Annabelle they picked what is probably the freakiest-looking monster ever to grace a toyshop's shelves.

Director David F Sandberg (who made Lights Out last year) knows how to use the darkness, directing your attention to the vague, out of focus shapes and shadows behind the characters. He also knows how to time the Boo! moments and, when the time comes, punch up the pace as the evil gets loose and, as a result, the film works terrifically well. Maybe it loses a little oomph towards the end when we see the demon thing, which is again Joseph Bishara (composer for most of these films, though curiously not this one) in the black monster suit, just as the first Insidious took its foot off the pedal for the last act, but for the most part it's effective throughout and as a bonus it ties up nicely to the start of Annabelle itself (there's also a post-credits sting leading up to the next film in the franchise). Sure it's not doing anything wildly radical or hugely innovative, but what it is doing - slow burn scares with a creepy doll in a creepy old house - it's doing extremely well and I enjoyed it enormously.

****

Friday, 11 August 2017

POWER RANGERS

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND INTERGALACTIC LEVELS OF BAFFLEMENT

The most pressing question about this isn't whether it's any good or not (it isn't), or whether it's faithful to the original source material (don't know, don't care) or whether it's worth a hundred million dollars of studio money (it isn't). I got to the end of the movie just wondering: who's it for? Who's the audience for this? Who the hell has been sitting around for nearly a quarter of a century itching for a Power Rangers film? And specifically who's been sitting around itching for this level of stupid, this level of witless, this level of utterly uninteresting... Who is this aimed at? Like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this is supposed to be for children, and you surely shouldn't be getting excited by Power Rangers once you've started wearing long trousers.

I don't know, because I never watched it: maybe this is an entirely accurate distillation of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers TV show (156 episodes from 1993 to 1999) and/or the 1995 film version. This incarnation is, as has been pointed out so often, The Breakfast Club meets Chronicle: five teenagers from detention discover some weird alien tech and immediately gain superpowers. In fact they're destined to defend Earth from the ancient alien menace of Rita Repulsa, whose body just happens to have been discovered that very day by the lead Power Ranger's dad's fishing boat. She promptly wakes up and starts her quest for the Zeo Crystal, which is the source of all life on Earth and therefore we need it; she has Goldar, a thirty-foot gold robot sidekick and several rock monsters (called "putties") to assist her in digging it out from underneath the local doughnut shop...

It's not just that it's utter rubbish (though it absolutely is), it's not just that it doesn't even make any sense (how did they get home after a massive car smash?), it's not just that the Famous Five don't get their colour-coded armour until three-quarters of the way through the film, at which point they get access to their individual Zord vehicles, four of which are big stompy dinosaur things and one of which is a fighter jet. That's also the point at which the whole thing becomes a Transformers movie with the Rangers teaming up into one giant robot thing to fight the giant gold robot sidekick while Rita demolishes her way through the town. It's that it completely and comprehensively fails to generate any excitement or engagement at any point in its two hour running time.

Maybe it's because I'm no longer eight years old, but it's really impossible to get excited by Power Rangers as a concept, let alone this incarnation. The five Rangers themselves aren't interesting enough to hold the attention, and Bryan Cranston is only in it under makeup for about two minutes at the start and then a digitised face on the spaceship wall lamenting the Rangers' inability to bond as a team. Really Elizabeth Banks' turn as the villain is the only thing worth watching: camping it up in skimpy green armour (a gift for cosplay conventions) and ordering the destruction of worlds: she's having far more fun with it than we are. But as an origins story it spends too long setting up the Rangers and then doesn't do anything with them beyond splurging on the CGI for the big climactic beat-em-up.

Mysteriously, talks are apparently ongoing for a sequel, though that may be driven by toy sales rather than the poor box-office take. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was never a massive cultural touchstone the way Doctor Who or Star Trek was, and given that the world wasn't exactly crying out for a big-screen reboot (and didn't take any notice when it showed up anyway), maybe this is a franchise that really doesn't need to go any further. Or, if it absolutely has to continue, do it for children, because (Elizabeth Banks apart) this has nothing, nothing, nothing to appeal to grown adults beyond the terrifying sight of one hundred million dollars being utterly wasted.

*

Sunday, 6 August 2017

CARNIVAL OF BLOOD

CONTAINS SPOILERS, FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, WHICH BY THE LOOK OF IT WAS CHANGE FROM A SIXPENCE

Industrial strength grot in which intergalactically horrible people are murdered at the amusement arcade. Shot on the lowest possible budget, with a level of technical competence that makes Blood Sucking Freaks look like Blade Runner and some songs that are only slightly less musical than listening to your fridge defrosting, Carnival Of Blood is a 1970 atrocity of shoddy, bone-rotting tedium that has now been released online, for reasons beyond any comprehension, instead of being chucked in a skip and ceremonially burnt. (I'm not suggesting it should be destroyed because it's absolutely terrible, merely that it wouldn't be any great loss to the civilised world if it had been.)

There's really nothing to be gained from recounting the plot, but what the hell... Aggressive, troublemaking customers are being murdered at the Coney Island amusement park: following visits to the fortune teller (who sees something horrible in their cards) and the balloon-bursting darts stand, someone follows them in the darkness and brutally kills them. Methods include decapitation, disemboweling and eye gouging, but who could it be? The audience's suspicion is directed towards hulking, scarred Gimpy (Burt Young in his debut, credited as "John Harris"), the assistant at the darts stand, but other possible suspects include the grasping fortune teller and the newly appointed Assistant D.A. who claims he wants to make a name for himself by solving the case and dragging his artist fiancee along as his cover.

That all makes it sound a hell fo a lot more interesting than it really is. It's a miserable, artless film: dreary songs and a lousy score based around dragging a key over the strings of a piano, several appearances of the microphone, and apparently endless scenes of talking that go absolutely nowhere. Credit to the cast for committing pages and pages and pages of painful, prattling dialogue to memory (much of it delivered in long takes) but no credit to them for delivering it. At the end the villain gets an extended flashback freakout sequence, revealing that it all links back to some childhood trauma, then is quickly killed off in an accident and the damnable thing stops.

There's nothing to be gained by this, no entertainment value of the so-bad-it's-great Golden Turkey variety. This isn't bad in the way of Michael Bay or Rob Zombie, this isn't bad in the way of Cannon Films, this isn't bad in the way of video nasties. It's bad in the way of Al Adamson and Ted V Mikels and Herschel Gordon Lewis: cheap, miserable, tatty and thoroughly depressing. Amazon's online version is fullscreen and taken from a scratchy cinema print (with "cigarette burn" reel-change markers and green lines throughout), but even that doesn't give it any nostalgic grindhouse charm. Utterly, hypnotically rotten in all departments.

*

SHADOWS RUN BLACK

CONTAINS SPOILERS YADDA YADDA YADDA

Yet another eighties slasher movie dug out of the vaults; the only conceivable reason this one hasn't escaped the furnace is an early appearance by Kevin Costner. He's playing a significant character and has two major scenes, but strangely he's uncredited in the final title crawl which does include far less important roles as Man Watching Television, Ambulance Attendant #2 and Baby In Crib. (Not only, incidentally, is that end titles sequence the cheapest possible short of asking a passerby to just read them out, but it reveals that the film doesn't even care enough about its victims to give them the dignity of a name, callously billing them as Girl Stabbed In Chest and Girl Killed In Kitchen.)

Hopes aren't high when the Troma logo appears at the start of the meaninglessly titled Shadows Run Black, though this appears to be for distribution rather than actual production (on the other hand, producer Eric Louzil went on to direct two Class Of Nuke 'Em High sequels for Troma). There's a maniac on the loose killing co-eds, a hardass cop with a traumatic backstory, an overprotective racist trying to protect his sister, and several extended scenes of women taking their clothes off and wandering about naked before The Black Angel gets them. Eventually there's a shocking denouement where the murderer is actually revealed as precisely who you thought it was.

It's strictly routine, VHS fodder (it doesn't seem to have been given any upgrades for the DVD era, like decent picture quality), most likely of interest to Costnerphiles than anyone else. As with Man Of Steel and probably nothing else he's ever done, I could have done with more Costner, but it's clear the film's main priority is leering over naked women than actually utilising the only person on project with any actual quality. It's all very grubby, it's not very interesting and hardly worth the effort involved in clicking Play.

*

Thursday, 3 August 2017

MR. MAGOO

CINTAINAS SPOILERS JDSIUHZKAN DJHFSBDW7682

Blindness is hilarious, isn't it? The opportunities for comedy afforded by not being able to see things properly, like oncoming traffic or the faces of your loved ones, are practically infinite. It's such a laughter goldmine that Disney actually stuck a disclaimer on the end of this nonsense stating that it's not a genuine portrait of such disabilities, probably when the relevant charitable organisations complained and the film was quickly whisked out of cinemas and straight onto video, as a terrible mistake Of Which We Shall Never Speak Again And Let's All Just Pretend It Never Happened.

Well, it did. Based on the old UPA cartoons about a bald pensioner with chronic nearsightedness that's constantly causing him to mistake pot plants for women with green hair and fall down lift shafts, Mr. Magoo is an exercise in unsophisticated slapstick for toddlers, village idiots and the very easily amused. Simplistic to the point of insulting simpletons, it stars Leslie Nielsen as the bumbling canning millionaire who gets mixed up with jewel thieves in a farcical succession of pratfalls, chases, silly disguises and hilarious misunderstandings.

Leslie Nielsen should be a dab hand at this sort of tomfoolery, but he's stuck with the tics and mannerisms of the cartoon character. Stephen Tobolowsky is the FBI man who browns up as Indian at one point for absolutely no reason, Malcolm McDowell is on villain duties and Jennifer Garner is the love interest. If there's anything of interest here, it's that director Stanley Tong and DP Jingle Ma have a long history of Hong Kong action movies and Jackie Chan films, so at least the idiocy and blundering about is competently staged. Other than that, this is really for people who got confused by Beverly Hills Ninja.

**

THE HOUSE

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND SURPRISE

Cards on the table: I have never been a Will Ferrell fan. Talladega Nights was only watchable when Sacha Baron Cohen came on doing a comedy gay Frenchman act; Anchorman had some agreeable 70s retro detail about it; Anchorman 2's only decent joke was from Harrison Ford. Bewitched... well, that happened as well. He seems to specialise in shouty blowhard characters that felt like they belonged in a TV sketch show: characters who have a natural lifespan of two minutes and are (theoretically) watchable for that period. It's a pity because I rather liked Stranger Than Fiction and the funny half of Melina And Melinda: they're the ones where Ferrell seems to be playing an actual person rather than a howling idiot who doesn't know when to stop, but they're also the ones that are comedy dramas rather than just plain comedies.

The House is one of Ferrell's overt comedies where he's playing a human being and not a sketch character: the surprising end result is that it kind of works. It's not hilarious and I don't ever need to see it again, but I'll take it over another Ron Burgundy any day. Ferrell and Amy Poehler discover they can't afford to send their daughter to college, so they set up an illegal casino in their deadbeat friend's house; ultimately attracting the attention of zealous cops, mobsters (cue cameo appearance of the "What's HE doing in this movie?" variety), and the corrupt head of the town council who withdrew the scholarship offer in the first place...

There is some fun to be had with Ferrell's transformation from ordinary Dad to hatchet-wielding enforcer in sharp suit and slicked-back hair and, given that I don't have much of a sense of humour while simultaneously being easily amused, I did laugh a couple of times. And in comparison to a film like Fist Fight it's peak Marx Brothers. But is that really enough: generating some mild to moderate amusement and being better than something utterly wretched? On the Ferrell scale this scrapes a seven, but on a more general cinematic comedy scale it's a three at very, very best.

**

Thursday, 27 July 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

CONTAINS SOME SPIDEYSPOILERS

Someone must have quietly passed a law stating that there shall at all times be a Spiderman film either on release or in production. There's no other explanation for rebooting the character yet again - the third restart and (if you count the cameo in Captain America: Civil War) the seventh appearance in just fifteen years, now shoehorning him into the Avengers universe. (It's as if the Bond films just kept remaking Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace with all new casts, and then did it yet again after 007 had a quick walk-on in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) It's hard not to conclude that they're going to keep on pressing the reset button until they get Spider-Man right, and they still haven't: while there are definitely things they're doing right there's so much wrong that on balance it ends up another failure. It's not even something I can call a disappointment since my hopes weren't that high in the first place.

The two things they've done absolutely right with Spider-Man: Homecoming are [1] not to make it an origin story so we can skip the radioactive spider bite and kindly Uncle Ben getting killed off yet again, and [2] bringing Aunt May down in age so she's not a grey-haired old biddy any more. (I understand that's how she appears in the comics but she's not his grandmother, for goodness' sake.) The villain this time is The Vulture (Michael Keaton), shafted out a contract to clean up the debris of whatever the hell happened at the end of Avengers Assemble: he smuggles out some of the mysterious alien gloop and starts making and selling his own weapons to criminals. Peter/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) wants to stop them but Tony Stark doesn't think he yet has the temperament to take on anyone but local muggers and bullies...

Much of the film is devoted to Peter Parker's high school experiences: we've got a crimefighter in a hi-tech combat suit spinning webs across the city, but we're spending half the movie watching his fantastically tiresome crush on Liz and whether he's in or out of the quiz team. Which isn't necessaily a bad thing: the film feels pitched younger than the other versions. The makers have indicated they were riffing on John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, which does at least yield the film's best moment, a terrifically tense scene with Liz's father as he drives them to the school dance. At the other end of the scale are the whizzbang action sequences, particularly the climactic fight in and around a burning, out of control aeroplane in which Spidey is practically indestructible (especially absurd since, unless my memory has been shot completely in the last few days, he's wearing his homemade suit rather than the fantastic Stark suit).

There's some enjoyment to be had elsewhere, but it's mostly the kind of sitcom fun with Jon Favreau as his handler who isn't interested in handling him, while Tony Stark is even less likeable than usual (and he's not very likeable even at the best of times). Inevitably, of course, there's a tease for a continuation which may be either the announced 2019 Spider-Man sequel or next year's Infinity War Part 1, which apparently stars absolutely everybody except Barbara Windsor and the Honey Monster. Either way, that law about keeping Spider-Man films going all the time isn't about to be broken any time soon, which is a pity because he, and I, could do with a break.

**

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

SIN

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Gary Oldman has apparently said this is the worst movie ever made. It isn't - there are about three hundred films by Jess Franco and Al Adamson that are demonstrably and incontrovertibly worse - but that's hardly a recommendation for this unedifying wallow in the cesspit of human depravity: drugs, gang rape, pornography, blackmail, sadism, revenge, corruption and mere senseless murder all get a look in. But it feels undecided about what it's trying to be: tacky, sleazy trash or something deeper and more serious: exploitation junk or Proper Drama.

Ving Rhames is a retired cop turned farmer with a busted arm who discovers that his sister (Kerry Washington) has been turned into a junkie sex slave by jaw-droppingly evil scumbag crime lord Gary Oldman. Not just that, but her gangrape has been filmed as part of an obscure vendetta against him and his former partner. Can Rhames figure out who is behind it and why?

Sin isn't much good: it's a simple slice of disposable, forgettable DTV junk of the kind Medusa Home Video were putting out on tape thirty years ago, but there's nothing to indicate why either Gary Oldman or Ving Rhames (or indeed anyone involved) decided that yes, this should be their next project. The money? I like both those actors and they're always watchable, but they're really not enough to justify watching this thing, or even making it. Despite the sordid horribleness of it all, it's somehow got away with a 15 certificate.

**


Monday, 10 July 2017

THE 25TH REICH

CONTAINS ZE SPOILERS

....though, curiously for a film calling itself The 12th Reich, setting itself in 1943 and utilising that German-looking Iron Sky font on the DVD artwork, it doesn't actually contain very much in the way of Nazis. Rather it's a (very) small-scale men-on-a-mission war movie with just five characters and a sense that it was deliberately constructed to recall war movies of the time (except for the swearing and, er, CGI spaceship).

A small platoon are on a mission to track down two escaped pumas in the Australian outback (for reasons too dull to go into here), using a huge machine to attract them. In fact it's a top-secret mission to find a flying saucer and stop it falling into the hands of the Nazis, and the machine is actually a time-travel device. But, after a ton of backstory and waffle, there might be a traitor in the ranks...

Towards the end it stops being mildly silly and opts instead for colossally silly, as our heroes are thrown forward into the far future where the Nazis are planning to spread their hideous creed across the entire universe with a fleet of spaceships, and any dissenters are chased down by loyal Nazis who have been converted into giant mechanical spiders. Sadly by that point the film has crossed the line between endearingly dumb and just plain stupid, so it doesn't fly even on the mythical so-bad-it's-good level. The giant spiders are actually pretty decent monsters, with better CGI than the retro spaceships, but it's too little and way too late.

**

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

THE CREATURE BELOW

CONTAINS GLUB GLUB SPOILERS

In terms of visual effects, we've been spoilt in recent years. The technology has moved so fast that you don't need to operate on a Jurassic Park budget to come up with impressive computer imagery or physical monster effects, and some quite startling creations can be put together on very little money. Plus, of course, we'll forgive some wobbly FX work if we're engaged with the story and characters, or even if we're not but it's the kind of goofy entertainment that's not supposed to be great anyway (see the likes of Sharknado). Still, genuinely shonky CG can take you out of a movie as easily as one cellist scraping hard at the wrong notes can take you out of the whole symphony: a pity when there's as much good stuff on offer as bad.

The Microsoft Paint-level effects aren't the only problem with The Creature Below, but they're the most noticeable because they show up first. Olive is a deep-sea research diver working with a new suit that will allow her to go further down than ever before, but on the first test dive she encounters something in the depths and blacks out. Fired by her unreasonably hateful boss (who is obviously doomed a couple of reels later), she returns to her suburban semi with an egg-like thing she discovered lodged in the ruined diving suit: under her care it begins to transform into a larger creature with a hunger for human flesh and blood....

There's a fair amount of Lovecraft and Cthulhu, the ancient god of unpromising Scrabble racks, on offer (Olive has a certificate on her basement wall from Miskatonic University); the physical effects are pretty impressive, particularly on the smaller creature, there's comfortably enough blood and gore for the 15 certificate, and the apocalyptic ending, the very definition of "well, that escalated quickly", is terrific. The three-way domestic tension between Olive, her boyfriend and her sister is entirely uninteresting, but it does give the opportunity to chuck some more bodies into the basement (the moment where Olive discovers her strange and interesting new pet's attraction to human blood is very similar to Rick Moranis and Audrey II in Little Shop Of Horrors). Agreeable fun, but the CG lets the side down.

***

SOUTHERN FURY / DOG EAT DOG

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

In this ever-changing world in which we live in, while governments and nations sway this way and that, it's important to cling on to the absolute certainties. Water is wet, the sky is blue, political types are most likely talking through their hats and Nicolas Cage continues to overact in DTV time-passer movies that are deemed worthy of the most token theatrical releases before the level playing field of the supermarket DVD racks. Time was when, like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a new Nicolas Cage movie would play at least the bigger 'plexes, but these days it's a few prints at most to garner some enthusiastic critical pullquotes for the DVD release. A tactic that can only work if the movies are any good and, in these two instances at least, they're really not.

Southern Fury was originally called Arsenal and, to paraphrase Red Dwarf's Holly, is indeed a steaming pile of Tottenham. Indeed, the only highpoint in an otherwise glum and unlikeable thriller is Mr Cage, decked out in a silly moustache and Anton Chigurh hairdo and overacting like he's being paid extra for every mile over the top. Set somewhere in a Deep South loserville, it tells of two brothers: one an ex-military drug addict, the younger a successful construction boss. Desperate for money, the elder brother teams up with the local crime boss (Cage) to fake his kidnapping for a healthy ransom...

It's not very good: as so often happens it's impossible to care what happens to a gallery of deeply unsympathetic characters and, as so often happens, it all ends in a ludicrous bullet frenzy of the kind John Woo was a master and Steven C Miller (auteur behind terrible Santa slasher Silent Night) is not. The final reel is enhanced with super slo-motion CGI bullets and blood squirts, which obviously look terrible, and the cops are noticeable by their almost total absence from the corpse-strewn proceedings except for John Cusack for no good reason, provoking an all-encompassing response of "yeah, whatever".

You'd expect Dog Eat Dog to be at least slightly better, given that Paul Schrader is a filmmaker with an impressive list of credits including Cat People and American Gigolo as well as scripts for Martin Scorsese. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he's recently directed Dying Of The Light (which was notoriously taken away from him in the edit) and The Canyons (which probably should have been): uninteresting nonsense films that don't even look good. Coming across like The Three Stooges Do Tarantino, it has a trio of staggeringly idiotic ex-cons looking for one big score and finding it in a kidnapping plot which inevitably goes horribly wrong. While Southern Fury was grim and miserable, this has bouts of what might be charitably described as jet black comedy but can be more accurately read as repulsive and tasteless knockabout. Cage is less unhinged than usual, with none of his trademark bug-eyed shouty freakouts or silly voices, though he does spend his last scenes pretending to be Humphrey Bogart.

Some startling moments of gore and what I guess is supposed to be hilarious violence (Willem Dafoe bloodily knifing an overweight woman to death in the opening sequence) aside, it's all very unedifying and - cue cut and paste from two paragraphs back - it's impossible to care what happens. The three leads are hideous scumbags and/or imbeciles, no-one deserves your sympathy, and the film doesn't even bother to wrap up its botched kidnap plot. Neither film is worth the rental fee or the ninety-odd minutes of your evening; Dog Eat Dog is the slightly more entertaining of the two but Southern Fury hasn't set the bar very high.

**
**

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD

SPOILERS OF THE LIVING DEAD

It's an immutable law of the universe that any movie with the title ....Of The Living Dead has to be a zombie film. This one isn't: there are no living dead to be seen. Rather, it's a "mad relative locked in the attic" period piece from South Africa in 1973: a bit The Ghoul (Peter Cushing version), a bit The Beat In The Cellar, and a bit And Now The Screaming Starts except without the mesmerising heaving bosom of Stephanie Beacham.

Instead, House Of The Living Dead concerns itself with Mary Anne (Shirley Anne Field), newly arrived on the Brattling Estate vineyard on the South African Cape to marry the heir Sir Michael (Mark Burns). But the local drums carry on all night, the smell of witchcraft is in the air, the family's matriarch doesn't want Sir Michael to marry, servants are disappearing, Sir Michael's tragic brother Breckinridge stays hidden away conducting experiments on trapping the souls of the newly dead. What's really going on?

Shudder's online print looks to be from the old cinema reels, complete with scratches and the magenta tinge of faded celluloid to everything (and sometimes it's just too dark), but at least it's in the right ratio and it's blessed with a nice orchestral score; Burns gives it some enjoyable overacting welly and Shirley Anne Field does some good screaming. Personally I could have done with more of the African element and landscapes that seem curiously dialled down. It's a load of old hokum, and if you can't spot the twist coming quite early on you're really not trying, but it's fair enough fun, not too grisly, and sits comfortably with those British Gothics of the time from Tigon and Amicus. I quite enjoyed it, but don't expect a masterpiece.

***

Saturday, 24 June 2017

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

YOU WANT SPOILERS? WE'VE GOT SPOILERS

You want to know how much of an absolute starscreaming mess the new Transformers movie is? You want to know how badly you can take a spectacularly dumb idea and stretch it way beyond breaking point for the fifth time? You want to know how you can take a cartoon aimed at easily distracted children and, er, transform it into a howling melange of slo-mo explosions, shouting and destructo porn? You want to know how to avoid the Does Not Compute madness? The last one's easy: just don't go. It's a Michael Bay film, after all.

You want to know how much of a mess Transformers: The Last Knight is? Guy Ritchie only claimed the trophy for Worst King Arthur Movie Of 2017 for a few weeks before Michael Bay told him to hold his beer. Kicking off in the Dark Ages with a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci) obtaining a giant robot dragon from a wrecked spaceship in order to help King Arthur in battle against someone or other (either it was never mentioned or bellowed briefly into noise). He is also given an alien superweapon which - surprise! - is being sought years later by assorted factions. In the present day, Cade (Mark Wahlberg) is still covertly looking after outlawed Autobots in an open junkyard in the desert somewhere, and ducking in and out of what's left of Chicago after the last act of Transformers 3 to collect more bits and pieces. Meanwhile Optimus Prime has arrived back on the remnants of Cybertron and is immediately possessed by the evil Quintessa who wants to revive her planet by absorbing Earth.

Meanwhile Anthony Hopkins is bumbling about as the 12th Earl of Folgan, last of a secret society of Witwiccans (those who have known about the Transformers' existence throughout history) who have awaited the arrival of Merlin's last descendant as the only one who can wield the Staff Of Cybertron, and that last descendant turns out to be uptight history and philosophy professor Laura Haddock, now thrust into a chalk-and-cheese will-they-won't-they romance with Wahlberg. There's also a kid with a friendly pop-eyed blue robot sidekick, an army squad seeking to track Wahlberg down and recover this superweapon staff at all costs, and evil Decepticon leader Megatron who wants the weapon for himself and his associates... Cue scenes of things blowing up, things erupting, thirty-foot metal things beating seven million bells out of each other over and over again.

You want to know how much of a mess this film is? Quite apart from the glaring distraction of having the film change its aspect ratio literally every other shot, from 1.85 "normalvision" to 2.35 scope and back again with every cut; quite apart from the fact that much of it is basically The Da Vinci Code (!); quite apart from the all-over-the-shop plotting (We're in a junkyard! Now we're in a ghost town! Now we're in Cuba! Now we're at Stonehenge! Now we're in a nuclear submarine! Now we're in space!); quite apart from the fact that Michael Bay's trousers are clearly throbbing with glee at every chance to do those slow-motion explosions with stuntmen and/or smashy alien robots corkscrewing balletically across the screen; quite apart from the comedy relief clunks like someone dropping a set of sledgehammers down a long staircase; quite apart from the fact that it don't make no sense (what were the Transformers transforming into before humanity invented trucks, jet fighters, sports cars and photocopiers for them to disguise themselves as?); quite apart from the fact that it's One Hundred And Forty Nine Thundering Minutes Long? This is how much: it's like a vivid but narratively impenetrable dream that you can sense draining from your mind within seconds of waking up, you can feel yourself forgetting it. By the time I'd got to the car park I already knew whole chunks of the film had faded from my mind.

On the plus side.... Anthony Hopkins is clearly entering into the spirit of proceedings and looks to be having some fun with it, and for some reason Bay has stopped pointing the camera at smokin' hot chicks the way he used to: none of those scenes of Megan Fox soaping a motorcycle or following Rosie Huntington-Whitely's bum up a staircase. There's also a bit less of the city smashing and knocking skyscrapers into one another like a set of dominoes that turned up in earlier Transformers instalments. That's about enough to save it from being actively hateful, but not enough to make it actively worth watching. I mean, if you like Michael Bay's Transformers movies anyway, and respond to the incoherent action scenes and deafening soundtrack of kabooom explosions and Steve Jablonsky scores that make Batman Vs Superman look and sound like Hannah And Her Sisters, there's certainly ten quid's worth of entertainment to be had because Bay isn't changing the formula to any significant degree. And why would he?

Transformers: The Last Knight isn't any good: it's probably on a level with the last one and frankly that's probably as good as these movies are ever going to get. It ends with a mid-credits sting that teases the inevitable sequel (it's already scheduled for 2019, though both Wahlberg and Bay have suggested they're not returning), and they've already announced a Bumblebee spinoff for next year. Oh joy.

**

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

THE MUMMY

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND THINGS

So suddenly universe-building is the new thing. Given what Marvel has achieved by throwing together a raft of established characters into each other's films and what DC is trying to due with their own superhero roster, maybe it's not that surprising that other studios are rummaging through their own back catalogue to see who they can bolt together. This is the first project in Universal's so-called Dark Universe (the logo dissolves straight out of Universal's own right at the start), which is supposedly going to lump Dracula, Frankenstein, The Invisible Man, The Creature From The Black Lagoon and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde together in an ongoing series. To an extent they used to: Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster and The Wolf Man were always turning up in each other's films in the 1940s, though they never expanded it to incorporate any of their other stock.

Tom Cruise is at his least likeable for some time as the uninterestingly named Nick Morton, a US soldier and treasure hunter who deserts his military assignment in Iraq to follow a map he's stolen from archaeologist Jenny Halsey (Annabelle Wallis), who's tracking it down for Dr Jekyll (Russell Crowe). Turns out that the map is not for a trove of shiny knick-knacks he can shift on the black market for a few dollars, but the lost Egyptian pyramid of evil princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella) who was mummified and buried alive for her treachery. Of course she comes back to life and seeks to turn our hero into the vessel for her lost love and then the two immortals will rule the world...

The Mummy is absolute nonsense, obviously, with too many things happening through writer's contrivance: the logic of the piece holds that this all takes place just as the missing jewel from a sacred dagger turns up in London when works on Crossrail (!) suddenly chance upon a Crusader burial chamber. If that hadn't happened, or the charmless Nick hadn't just happened to steal the map (or then hadn't been placed under military arrest for dereliction of duty), or the sarcophagus had been flown anywhere else in the world except directly over the church where the aforementioned dagger had been hidden hundreds of years previously.... Too much happenstance that's beyond the control of even the worst undead deities but crucially not beyond six credited screenwriters. It's also saddled with an unattractive star turn, an unmemorable score and a blatant riff on An American Werewolf In London as Nick's ill-fated sidekick keeps haunting him for presumably comedic relief.

Still, it's kind of enjoyable in a brain-off kind of a way: it's got huge production values and gosh-wow spectacle, and mercifully Universal haven't wimped out and trimmed the sometimes grisly imagery down to get a wimpy 12A (it was PG13 in the States). There are zombies, creepy bugs and spiders, apocalyptic sandstorms in London: you're not shortchanged for incident and stuff happening. As to where it's supposed to fit into this Dark Universe? It's scarcely a spoiler to state that a redeemed Nick rides off into the desert while Ahmanet is vanquished in the last reel, so any further Mummies are presumably going to be different ones that Nick (or someone else) has to take on, meaning that the only likely connection to an ongoing decades-long franchise would be Russell Crowe's Jekyll and Hyde characters, presumably the UDU equivalent of MCU's Nick Fury. He's actually quite fun, though no explanation is given as to what he's doing in the present day. But as a film it's a lot less entertaining than the Indiana Jones-flavoured romps of the last reboot (at least the first two, anyway), and it has absolutely no atmosphere of horror or proper scares. Agreeable, and occasionally pleasantly nasty, no-think fodder while it's on, but there's nothing much under the spectacle.

***

RIPPER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND OW MY HEAD

...which is mainly a result of bashing my forehead repeatedly against my living room wall in boredom, frustration and an almost successful last ditch attempt to stay awake during one of the most absolutely pitiful loads of old toot I've scratched myself through all year.

An assorted bunch of halfwits are brought together in a damp, miserable basement in East London for an extreme screenwriting workshop to put together the ultimate horror film. (Note to film-makers: if your horror film is about what makes horror films scary, your own film had better be bloody terrifying otherwise you're going to look like an idiot. It isn't, and they do.) One of them has handily brought along a box set of Jack The Ripper's actual genuine knives, another has apparently seen every horror film ever made yet is about nineteen years old, the professor is the most obvious nutjob on the planet, there's a ghost girl, a spooky doll, dream sequences, wandering about, a lot of prattle (much of which is lost in the murk of inadequate sound recording) and the occasional grisly murder that may or may not have happened. Could the dreaded Ripper somehow still be around?

There's enough blood and brutality to get the 18 certificate, but to no avail, and somewhere along the line Jack has abandoned his legendary surgical skills and just become a stabby butcher. It's hardly worth going in deep as to why Ripper is so dreadful: suffice to say that everyone's an idiot and none of it makes any sense. It doesn't even have a proper ending; the thing just stops midway through a scene and the credits roll, and it drags even at 88 minutes. The levels of performance and technical panache are not high either. So thoroughly terrible it's a wonder Spring-Heeled Jack himself hasn't risen from the grave to sue for defamation.

*

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

BAYWATCH

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

As if one knowing re-imagining of a piece of anodyne primetime fluff that took safe, network and family friendly nonsense and relocated it in sweary grossout territory wasn't enough for 2017 cinemas, after the tiresome misjudgements of Chips we now have the tiresome misjudgements of Baywatch. And astonishingly they're not a completely different set of misjudgements that fix the mistakes of Chips but make a whole load of new ones: they're the exact same misjudgements all over again.

Like Chips, this new Baywatch is a generation away from ITV on Saturday evenings: more F-words, more penis jokes, more inappropriate humour, and a boggle-eyed 13-year-old boy's fixation on hot chicks in bikinis. And whilst there might not have been much more than that to the TV show (I never watched it, but I'm aware of it through some weird and terrifying kind of cultural osmosis) it's not really enough for two hours at the Odeon. Much of the beach action centres around the odd couple friction between lifeguard legend and hunk Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) and Olympic medallist and idiot Matt (Zac Efron). Matt is only on the lifeguard squad for community service purposes, and causes more problems than he solves because he doesn't know what he's doing and doesn't care to learn.

There's a nonsense thriller plot tacked on, to do with drug trafficking, high-level corruption and murder, so the film has a big action climax, as well of a lot of scenes in which the Baywatch squad abandon their posts entirely and zoom around on jetskis, break into the morgue and get into fights that are - as the comedy police officer never tires of pointing out - well beyond their jurisdiction. But who actually cares? Back at Tower One on the beach, the horny fat guy (because horny fat guys are always funny) wants to get it on with the glamorous blonde, and Matt wants to get it on with the glamorous brunette (Alexandra Daddario). Reference is made to the running on the beach in slow-motion, about how life isn't some crappy TV show, and the unnecessarily revealing nature of the women's swimwear, and Pamela Anderson and David Hasselhoff turn up for cameos (because of course they do).

But none of it's funny, none of it's exciting, none of it's interesting, the villains are obvious and stupid, and Zac Efron in particular achieves Piers Morgan levels of slappability. The outtakes over the end credits suggest that a lot of material was edited out to get the film down to a whopping 116 minutes, and much of the comedy non sequitur banter ("you're like Stephen Hawking, only without the paralysis") was made up on the spot and someone chose the best takes, presumably by drawing straws. So why is it worse than Chips? Because Dwayne Johnson is usually better than this (not always: Central Intelligence was terrible) and I'd much rather a full-on unadorned star vehicle of Dwayne Johnson hero worship to play that relatively straight as San Andreas did, and not mix it up with riffs on the zipper scene from There's Something About Mary and comedy material Revenge Of The Nerds would have balked at. Maybe Baywatch was just a product of its time and that time has gone, but even if there is a way to revive it for a new generation, this definitely isn't it. Now if they want to bring back Baywatch Nights that's another matter entirely.

*

Saturday, 3 June 2017

SADAKO VS KAYAKO

CONTAINS VS SPOILERS

There's a strange and unaccountable tradition, as demonstrated by the likes of King Kong Vs Godzilla, Alien Vs Predator and Freddy Vs Jason, for taking two characters from different series and making them fight each other. Who would win in a fight between Robocop and The Terminator? Could Jean-Claude Van Damme beat Steven Seagal? Monster mashes have been going on for a while now (in the 1930s Universal had Dracula, The Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster turning up in each other's sequels); and within the Marvel Cinematic Universe we've had Iron Man fighting Captain America, while DC gave us Batman Vs Superman and lots of it. Rights and "intellectual property" laws fortunately mean we're unlikely to see Bond Vs Bourne or Jean-Luc Picard Vs Davros, except from the blogs of fan-fiction writers constantly churning out what-if stories where Austin Powers takes on Dumbledore for absolutely no good reason whatsoever.

This latest is a prime example of having to find two participants with broadly equivalent abilities to make it a fair fight (The Incredible Hulk Vs Bambi would not be a very long film). Sadako Vs Kayako is basically The Ring Vs The Grudge: two girls fall victim to the Ring by - duh - watching the cursed video (double duh - after they've been told about it and triple duh - one of them after her friend has already received Sadako's death call). Meanwhile another girl has just moved next door to the spooky Grudge house in which the lank-haired spiderwalking girl ghost and the small white-painted boy ghost kill anyone who enters. One more than usually ludicrous and entirely unsuccessful exorcism later, an eccentric Doctor Who-type turns up and hits upon the brilliant idea of getting the Grudge ghosts to fight the Ring ghost, hopefully destroying each other and breaking both curses.

It's all babbling nonsense, obviously, making about as much sense as a talking meerkat commercial and full of people doing the most stupid things at any opportunity: don't go in the house, don't watch the haunted video. Still, it's quite watchable, occasionally creepy and, like Hollywood's recent Rings, at least ponders the notion of uploading Sadako's (radically different and much shorter) video to the internet, even if the idea doesn't go anywhere with and it's done for absolutely no reason. But, within the confines of an obviously silly idea, it's a passable Friday night entertainment and certainly no worse than any other entries in their respective (wildly variable) sagas. Maybe that's not much of a stretch but it worked well enough for me. Sadly it's a Shudder exclusive, so if you're not a member you're out of luck.

***

Saturday, 27 May 2017

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: SALAZAR'S REVENGE

ARRRR, CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS, JIM LAD

Well, it's now fourteen years since the first Pirates Of The Caribbean hit the world's screens and after all this time it's probably an unreal expectation that they might somehow try anything new or unusual. Instead they've played it very safe: more Johnny Depp doing more of That Silly Voice and Those Silly Mannerisms with That Silly Hair, more idiotic knockabout, more wet romance between a couple of drippy new leads (at least Kaya Scodelario is more feisty than Keira ever was), more A-list star villainy, bigger and longer action sequences and battles that would have presumably been twice as exhausting in 3D, more ghoulish horror effects work that's at the very top of the 12A rating. The stuff they didn't really bother with in the earlier films - some level of coherence in the plot, actual interesting characters, decent gags - they're twice as not bothering with in this one.

As far as an actual narrative is concerned, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Salazar's Revenge (originally known as Dead Men Tell No Tales but retitled for no immediately obvious reason) basically consists of various assorted characters trying to track down the legendary Trident Of Poseidon. Henry (Brenton Thwaites) needs it to break the curse that's keeping his dad (Orlando Bloom) on the Flying Dutchman, Barbarossa (Geoffrey Rush) and whoever's representing the evil British Empire this time out both want it so they can rule the oceans, cursed captain Salazar (Javier Bardem) is after it to break the curse that's left him and his crew permanently zombified since a young Jack Sparrow (Depp) forced them through a magic portal. Sparrow is now destitute and permanently drunk, without a ship or crew, and has given up his enchanted compass, allowing Salazar through into the real world. Meanwhile Carina (Scodelario) has a secret map that will lead to another map "that no man can read", but she's been sentenced to death for witchcraft...

Why have the evil Brits condemned Carina to death for "witchcraft" when they use a genuine witch to track down genuinely supernatural objects? Why don't they believe a word of Henry's story when they already know Salazar always leaves one man alive? It makes very little sense, obviously, but then it's not supposed to. It's supposed to be summer blockbuster fun: two and a bit hours of gosh wow monsters and loud music and special effects and fighting and Johnny Depp bimbling about and babbling that sends you out of the multiplex convinced you've had a great time. But have you really? There's a pointless celebrity cameo in there that absolutely kills any goodwill you might still have towards the film: David Beckham's turn in King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword didn't set the bar particularly high for this sort of thing but boy, does Paul McCartney sail comfortably underneath it.

Is this really the best use to which Disney can put two hundred and thirty million dollars? If you're going to spend that kind of money on a movie (rather than medical research or disaster relief, say), why not push the galleon out and try for a great one? Sure, the first film in the series was pretty good fun. But the sequels never went anywhere interesting after that: Pirates 2 is particularly awful; Pirates 3 marginally better but idiotically overlong, and Pirates 4 managed to regain some ground by dropping the blathery romantics entirely and moving Depp's comedy support to the centre. And now: they've brought in new blathery romantics as well as rekindling the old ones, and Sparrow is just an annoying, slightly tiresome and frequently drunk idiot. Oh, sure, there are nice moments (so there should be, at that price), the best of which is an extended bit of business with a guillotine, but the sea battle in which Sparrow and Salazar are leaping from one ship to the other and back again feels like it goes on for ever. More, much more of the same, and more still to come: the film ends with a possible teaser for a further instalment (already listed on the IMDb). Gee thanks.

**

CRUEL INTENTIONS 2: MANCHESTER PREP

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Confession: it wasn't until after I'd watched (or, more accurately, fidgeted through in an increasingly visible state of annoyance and irritation) this and looked it up afterwards to see if there was any justification for such a colossal waste of an evening, that I found it's not actually a sequel, but a prequel, to Cruel Intentions. It's an origins story that seeks to explore how the hateful, amoral dicks and bitches from Roger Kumble's updating of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Choderlos De Laclos' original novel is uncredited this time) got that way in the first place, and thus there's no satisfying conclusion.

Douchebag Sebastian (Robin Dunne) transfers to an exclusive New York prep school, sent to live with his dirtbag father who's remarried to a phenomenally wealthy socialite (Mimi Rogers). She has groomed and moulded her daughter Kathryn (Amy Adams!) into a sociopathic ice-bitch with no empathy or feelings for anyone but herself, and events quickly spiral towards all-out war between her and her more laid-back new stepbrother, who has a romantic eye on the headmaster's daughter...

Plot twists that make absolutely no sense, characters who aren't interesting or attractive in their amorality and vicious scheming, and a sour ending in which the bad guys win (albeit one that's setting up the characters for a film that's already been made) make Cruel Intentions 2: Manchester Prep a film that's difficult to like, and the occasional softcore sex scene and the dubiously incestuous flavour to the central relationship (they're step-siblings only by marriage) don't perk things up enough. The cruelty and coldness worked in the first film, but this rehash is one instance where I spent much of the second half shouting abuse at the screen. There's a third entry in the series by other hands that's only slightly connected to these two, and is not currently on my rental queue.

*

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD

CONTAINS SOME GAS-FIRED (GAS-FIRED BOILERS, SPOILERS)

Cor blimey, guvnor, strike a light and no mistake, come and 'ave a butchers at what His Bleedin' Nibs Lord Sir Guy Of Ritchie has done now, it's a right ****in' palavar, me old china, oi-oi, apples and pears, chim chimernee... Really. It's basically a London gangster movie, only nominally relocated to the fifth century but with giant fire-breathing pachyderm things at the start, an octopus demon and cor blimey, guvnor, it's David Beckham. Acting. (Some have mocked the film for this specifically, but it's not significantly worse or more jarring than everything else that's going on throughout.)

In this version Arthur is spirited away from Camelot Castle as a toddler, following a coup by his wicked uncle Vortigern (Jude Law), and ending up as an urchin living in a London bordello. Over the years he becomes a streetwise, hard-but-fair lovable rogue (Charlie Hunnam), wheeling and dealing and ducking and diving to the extent you do honestly expect the Minder theme tune to crash in at any moment. But The Sword has been found: the legend states that only the rightful King can pull it from the stone and Vortigern is having every man of the right age brought to Camelot to give it a tug. Next thing you know he's in a cave with Djimon Hounsou and mysteriously accented mage Astrid Berges-Frisbey and reluctantly manning up to reclaim the throne....

King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword is obviously utter tosh, in modern dialogue and modern slang (with one of the most clangingly out-of-place F-bombs in years), with CGI monsters and converted 3D action sequences crammed into a scenario where they don't really belong. Nor does the snappy, blokey, geezery banter and backchat that Ritchie wasn't able to include in his two Sherlock Holmes films or The Man From UNCLE (or presumably Swept Away, the DVD of which is still sitting in my to-watch pile). Obviously any kind of music score beyond the earliest of folk songs is going to be historically anachronistic, but Daniel Pemberton's score includes thumping techno that bolts the film too firmly to this era instead of that: a pity, since other cues of a more traditional variety (both in terms of traditional-sounding period instruments and the traditions of film scoring in general) work much better.

Still, it's not awful: it's moderate fun in parts if you can get into it but I don't think "moderate fun in parts" is anywhere near enough if they're going to try and spin this out to a six-film franchise. It's too long and never finds the right tone between Lord Of The Rings magic/fantasy and battle scenes, and cheery cockernee knockabout full of people with names like Goosefat Bill and Wet Stick. Entertaining enough as a throwaway one-off but really we don't need to be doing this again in a hurry.

**

SATANIC

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

By now we're well used to the main characters of quickie teen horror movies not just being thick as an extraordinarily large number of short planks, but eye-rollingly stupid to a near-suicidal degree. The old gag about "hot teenagers get stoned and play with a ouija board in the spooky old house at midnight" isn't a joke any more, it's practically a pitch for a studio franchise. Maybe we're just getting fed up with it down here on the ground, but in a world with four Sharknado movies the anti-idiot signals just aren't getting through.

Satanic is a prime example of dimwit cinema: two couples head to Los Angeles, either to watch a sitcom taping or en route to the Coachella Arts Festival (the script doesn't seem sure) but really they're in town to check out famous crime scenes such as the Sharon Tate residence (they've also specifically booked a hotel room that was the site of a notorious suicide). For no reason beyond idiocy they decide to follow the creepy owner of an occultist bookshop, where they promptly stumble upon what looks like a Satanic ritual...

It isn't a total disaster by any means: it's got a couple of nice moments and the Final Girl's fate is suitably grim and horrifying, and there's a weird timeloop dropped in towards the end for no obvious reason. But it's as forgettable and undistinguished as any one of a hundred low-budget horrors, and it can't get past the fact that the four main leads are so facepalm stupid as to render them impossible to empathise with. Missable in the extreme.

**

Thursday, 18 May 2017

ALIEN: COVENANT

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

It's a shame, it really is. The idea of Ridley Scott going back to the Alien Universe again, with a film that ties together Alien (which everyone loves) and Prometheus (which, admittedly, only I and a few others loved), is one of those genuinely exciting events in cinema, like a new Brian De Palma thriller or a new Bond / Star Wars / [insert name of favourite auteur and/or franchise here]. Having managed to keep myself pretty much unspoiled until the first showing on the first day, I waited impatiently outside through the ads and trailers: please be good, please be good, please be good....

And it was - kind of. But the trouble was that it wasn't significantly better than good: Alien Resurrection was good. (Hell, up to a point Alien Vs Predator was solidly enjoyable, if admittedly dumb.) Alien: Covenant isn't any better than good and it damn well should have been. Certainly there were several moments when I was really enjoying it, but thinking about it afterwards on the way home I realised that few of them were to do with the film itself. Rather, it was the callbacks to Alien (and, to a lesser extent, Prometheus): familiar imagery, familiar setups, familiar music, while the new stuff suddenly felt a lot less interesting. There's a cosy pleasure in seeing the ship's crew bicker and argue the way they do on the Nostromo, in the spraying water and clanking chains that hark back to Harry Dean Stanton's big moment.

In addition to Alien, there's a lot of Blade Runner in here: the film even starts with a close-up of an eye. That's synthetic David's (Michael Fassbender) eyeball, as he discusses God, creation and what it means to be human with his own creator Weyland (Guy Pearce, unbilled). The bulk of the film concerns the colony spaceship Covenant decades later, carrying two thousand colonists and a cabinet full of embryos to a new planet seven years distant. The crew, including synthetic Walter (Fassbender again), are woken from cryosleep by a chance shockwave from a nearby star; while effecting repairs they pick up a transmission from a previously undetected planet. This might make a better colony site than their original destination, but clearly there's someone or something already here...

It looks good, and so it should because that's really what Ridley Scott does so well. The creature attacks take a while to show up but they do pack a punch, partly because they're not all facehuggers and chestbursters as we've seen before, and they don't stint on the blood and gore. I'm generally a sucker for any movie with people running around spaceships and space stations (well, almost any movie) and all that's fine. But the use of Jerry Goldsmith's and Harry Gregson-Williams' thematic material from Alien and Prometheus respectively really does show up Jed Kurzel's utterly uninteresting original score (and cueing it up afterwards on Spotify revealed it as barely listenable), and the final plot twist is so blatantly obvious it's a wonder the audience weren't yelling it at the screen. There's also a peach for connoisseurs of those clunky "hmmm, do you think THAT's going to be important later on?" moments (which also happily doubles as another nod to Blade Runner).

I really wanted to love it and I'd have been perfectly happy to have just really liked it - but the more I think about it the more it just comes across as okay and an Alien movie by its original director really needs to be more than just okay. One of the reasons I liked Prometheus so much was because it did go off in different directions to Alien and had more intellectual ambitions (even if they weren't fully realised), full of questions of humanity and the meaning of life rather than bickering about their bonus payments - bickering which fits perfectly in Alien but wouldn't have done in Prometheus. This time around Fassbender's synthetics are more annoying than before; there are still too many characters to keep track of and only about half of them (particularly captain Billy Crudup, terraformer Katherine Waterston, pilot Danny McBride) get significant moments in the light, and ultimately the monster stuff is more interesting than the philosophising, which had its place in Prometheus but really doesn't seem to fit here. More than anything else Alien: Covenant is a disappointment because hopes were so high and, unlike Prometheus (and the first three Alien movies), I find I have no desire to watch it again.

***

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

DEATH CURSE OF TARTU

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS?

In news that should surprise absolutely no-one, a film which Shock Xpress once listed as one of the fifty most boring movies of all time (and which I freely admit I only watched because Shock Xpress once listed it as one of the fifty most boring movies of all time) turns out to be one of the fifty most boring movies of all time. Cinema has been awash with lousy films throughout its history, and it's true that some of them are fun despite their terribleness (while many claim they're fun precisely because of their terribleness, an argument I've never been entirely convinced by). Many more of them, however, are just simply terrible.

Exhibit 1,568: Death Curse Of Tartu is a (literally) bog-standard horror cheapie from 1966 in which a bunch of utter fools wander around an allegedly cursed Indian burial ground. The legend states clearly that Tartu is a shapeshifting witchdoctor who can transform Manimal-style into any of the local wildlife and wreak hideous vengeance on any who disturb his eternal resting place in a miserable Florida swamp. Four of the group are cardboard teenagers who couldn't spell "archaeology", much less practise it, instead preferring to go swimming in the creek and dance about in their underwear. Eventually Tartu stops manifesting as a snake, shark or alligator, clambers out of his casket and fights the survivors: it doesn't go well for him and then the film stops.

Much of this is indeed cataclysmically boring and its loss to British audiences since the decline of the VHS market (it's never been upgraded to a DVD release in this country) is frankly nothing to get despondent about. Sole point of moderate interest is an orchestral music score which (tribal drums and chanting apart) sounds way too good for a schlocky Z-picture for the bottom half of a drive-in double-bill, and I spent way too much of a limited lifespan trying, without success, to find whether it was tracked in from somewhere else, because it sounds like it cost twice as much as the whole film. The only other note of trivia is that there's a brief shot of a Miami Beach hotel at the end which is the same hotel seen near the start of Goldfinger. Shock Xpress were right. The real curse of Tartu is actually sitting and watching the damned thing.

*

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

FANGS

CONTAINSSSS SSSSOME SSSSPOILERSSSS

Staggeringly dull seventies obscurity in which fully half the movie goes by before anything happens, most of it takes place in the dark anyway and what little you can see is half lost in the murk of a dodgy transfer to a medium-definition YouTube upload from something that wasn't exactly shot in sparking 70mm in the first place. There's really nothing to be gained from slogging through Fangs except a thorough waste of a Monday evening, and any points it might earn from its arrant silliness it loses for sheer, petrifying boredom and more John Philip Sousa than any sane person would ever sit and listen to in a lifetime.

Somewhere out in a desert small town, an assortment of halfwitted locals bully and victimise snake breeder Les Tremayne (North By Northwest, The Slime People): the smug, hypocritical preacher, the obese, redneck storekeepers, the newly-married best friend who strangely wants to spend his evenings getting it on with his hot young poledancer bride instead of sitting around listening to The Stars And Stripes Forever on repeat in the company of a rambling hillbilly lunatic, even the local schoolteacher with a secret sexual fetish for snake fondling. No, really (it's called ophidicism, apparently). Eventually, of course, he snaps and starts using his collection of snakes to torture and kill his persecutors.

It's incredibly glum, with a satisfyingly bleak ending, but it takes far too long to get going, Snakey Bender (Tremayne) is a fantastically annoying villain, the soundtrack (occasional synth tracks and endless bloody Sousa marches) actively made me want to punch someone and none of his hideous victims are worth shedding a tear over. It doesn't make much sense - the local cop is an imbecile who can't remember a six-digit licence plate for ten seconds and doesn't find it remotely suspicious that all these people mysteriously left town at the same time, and no-one notices the increasing pile of the victims' cars at the bottom of a cliff - but it doesn't really matter since it's all so indifferently put together. Also known as Snakes, and nothing to do with the (somehow) even more boring Rattlers.

*