Monday, 27 March 2017



And still they come: the zombie comedies shuffling and shambling along like the undead themselves. Haven't we reached saturation point on these things yet? Folklore, literature, and cinema itself have so many neglected and/or unexplored demons and evils to tap into, surely we could give the tired old zompocalypse a rest for a few years and try something else? This particularly wretched example isn't merely a low point in revenant cinema, but in its crossbreeding with the imbecilic teen sex comedy genre it has mutated into something truly hateful: a film that's not just an insult to zombie movies but horror movies, British movies, movies, Ibiza, Spain, Britain, humanity and the very concept of sentient life itself. Even the zombies themselves would remain unimpressed.

Three repugnant teenage simpletons head to Ibiza for a lads' paaaaartyyyyyy holiday of sex and booze, now that the island has been deemed clear of zombies. They're deeply misogynist imbeciles whose only terms of reference for women are "sluts", "bitches" and "my sister", so it's a matter of profound regret that none of them get ripped to pieces by hordes of flesh-eating undead. Inevitably (and as a direct result of the morons' own stupidity) the zombs get loose again and our three main characters, armed only with a level of intelligence that makes The Three Stooges look like The Bloomsbury Group, have to get back to the villa to rescue the sluts girls and get off the island....

Everything about Ibiza Undead grates horribly. The lads' relentlessly sexist comedy banter gets boring astonishingly quickly, to the extent that you actually want to clamber inside the screen and punch every single one of them repeatedly in the head until your fist stops bleeding. To be fair, the bitches women are scarcely portrayed any more deeply: they seem just as interested in drinking until they're sick and copping off with lads they've just met, but in the absence of anyone to care a hoot's worth about you're at best a dispassionate observer of events and at worst actively on the side of the zombies to hurry up and kill everyone.

Eventually someone who used to be in The Bill about twenty years ago turns up as a cheery barman and the wretched thing stops. There's a reasonable amount of gore (for a 15 certificate) but it's really not worth plodding through all the tedium and foulness to get there. Enough with the knockabout zombiegeddon, enough with the blokey misogyny, it's time to grow up and do something - anything - better than this worthless, witless dross.


Friday, 10 March 2017



I saw the original Kickboxer in what was then the Cannon quadplex in Panton Street sometime in 1989, and even back then I was aware that it wasn't Jean-Claude Van Damme's best work: I'd much preferred Bloodsport, purely on the grounds that it was more thuddingly violent. Pleasingly, and in the manner of Sleuth, this new remake/reboot promotes JCVD from pupil to master, leading to the hope that in thirty years' time they'll remake it again with this version's young pup taking the wise old mentor role to a kid who isn't even born yet. (Maybe they'll even get JCVD back again to cameo as the doddery old goat practising his tai chi moves in the courtyard.)

Kickboxer: Vengeance sticks fairly close to the original: following the death of his martial arts champion brother Eric (the late Darren Shahlavi) in an illegal tournament, Kurt Sloane (stunt double and bit-part player Alain Moussi) journeys to Thailand to take on Tong Po, the colossal brute responsible (recent Bond henchman Dave Bautista). After several thorough pummellings, Eric hires his brother's eccentric trainer Master Durand (Jean-Claude) to get him ready for a rematch...

It's all agreeably old-fashioned knockabout with lots of crunching body blows that would leave us frail and fragile mortals in pieces, but here it's more like Robocop fighting The Terminator as they keep going despite brushing off any number of roundhouse kicks to the head and body slams to the floor. That's all part of the fun of the genre, of course, and has been since the days of all those Shaw Brothers movies. Now 55 years old, Jean-Claude is more relaxed and seems to be having fun not doing as much of the fighty stuff as usual; it's more surprising that villainess Gina Carano doesn't get any action sequences at all given her track record in Muay Thai and MMA.

If, acting-wise and script-wise, Kickboxer: Vengeance is fairly uninteresting, it does liven up enormously every time it gets down to shirtless guys lamping each other - it's as if deep down that's really what the film wants to do, and stuff like character development and exposition are just the boring bits the makers (and we) have to stodge through in order to get to the good stuff. Happily, the good stuff is meaty and nasty enough to make it a decent enough watch. A sequel (which includes Christopher Lambert and Mike Tyson) is already in post-production.




My usual movie choices tend to be genre movies: horror, action, SF, thrillers. Not exclusively: I'll have a bash at other areas of the film landscape depending on synopsis and/or personnel involved and/or certain reviewers' recommendations. I'm happy to watch movies dating back to the late 1930s (and occasionally earlier) and I'm happy to watch movies from more or less any country on Earth. Granted, westerns have never grabbed me, big blowsy showtune musicals have never grabbed me, the less accessible reaches of impenetrable arthouse blather have never grabbed me. More often than not I watch alone, so I'd feel a bit sad and/or creepy watching romantic date movies and U-certificate childrens' films. But generally I'll give most things a stab.

The noodly indie slacker movie is one of those areas that I've not really looked into, and to be honest Cinema Six would have passed me by if [1] I hadn't been scrolling through Amazon Prime's latest additions at the time and [2] it was set anywhere other than a cinema. If it had taken place in a sardine cannery or a nuclear power plant I'd have ignored it and possibly that might still have been the wiser course. Six friends who work in various roles at a miserable-looking six-screen 'plex in Nowheresville (actually the much cheerier-looking Hometown in Lockhart, Texas) find the responsibilities of adult life creeping up on them, which they deal with in various unlikely ways....

Most of this seems to involve behaving like unreasoning idiots: one would rather stay behind the concession counter than go to college because it would mean meeting girls and he freaks out at the sight of them (he's actually been accepted at film school and he should go, because that would be really useful here). He meets a girl, behaves like an imbecile, but she's got a boyfriend who's a colossal sleaze, and then she cops off with Mr Imbecile's best mate. Another is about to have a second child so his wife is nagging him to stop goofing off at the cinema and get a proper job with her father's company but he doesn't want to do that because he's having too much fun hanging out with his buddies and rolling trailer reels down the corridors. One of the women is permanently mean and spiteful for some inexplicable reason but in a relationship with a colleague for some even more inexplicable reason. Everybody swears like they're in The Wolf Of Wall Street and their fixation on sex and women is surprisingly dull.

What Cinema Six really needs is a manager to come in and fire two of them immediately and put the rest on final written warnings; sadly, when the owners do turn up they're as hilariously unpleasant as everyone else. The film ends on the stuff of urban legend: an act of grossout grotesquerie that's beyond revolting, but it's the sign-off to what they clearly hope and assume is a cheery slacker comedy-drama about vaguely recognisable human beings. Frankly it would be hard to care about any of them if they were on fire. Odd lines and moments amuse, but nowhere near enough and interest dies away pretty early. Made in 2012 and only now surfacing here.


Monday, 6 March 2017



General question: how do we feel about futuristic action/horror fantasy movies featuring female leads in a state of undress? Does it objectify or demean? Does it empower or sexualise? One remembers films like Barbarella or Starcrash, or more recently Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Aeon Flux, in which the heroines capered about in costumes clearly designed for the more depraved fantasies of the male audience rather than any practical evil-fighting benefit to the wearer. One remembers Doctor Who's scantily-clad Leela taking over from the sensibly-dressed Sarah Jane Smith. One remembers the screaming fuss over a brief shot of Alice Eve in her undies in Star Trek: Into Darkness. I honestly have no idea if it's feminism or not.

The inexplicably-titled Chanbara Beauty is a Japanese zombie movie in which sword-wielding Aya, the unsmiling heroine, prefers to fight zombies while wearing a bikini and a ten-gallon hat. There is no explanation given for this curious strategy: it's unlikely the ambulant dead are going to be distracted from their quest by the sight of a women in her underwear, and surely in a world of flesh-eating undead it makes no sense to expose as much of your raw meat as possible. Aya is on a quest to track down her sister Saki, who dresses in school uniform. Again: no reason given for the costume choice, but it's a Japanese film so may have more relevance for the local audience. She's aided by gunslinger Reiko (who prefers skin-tight black leather) who's looking for the one-eyed mad scientist who created the zombie outbreak in the first place, and bumbling idiot Katsuji, who has neither courage nor weapons and who only manages to kill one zombie - and that's when it's busy chowing down on someone else. Eventually Saki and Aya confront each other and fight with magic swords that give them the ability to teleport and throw balls of coloured fire at each other...

I'm generally all in favour of zompocalypse movies and cool kick-ass women, and putting the two together is fine by me. But it's nonsense. If Aya has a magic sword that wipes out all the zombs in the vicinity, why doesn't she use that power all the time? Why are they walking everywhere - where are the cars or trucks that would be a lot faster and a lot better as defence against the zombie hordes? Indeed, given that set sometime in the future (the year 20XX, according to the opening captions), where's any of tomorrow's technology? Why is mad Dr Sugita working alone in apparently one room, and exactly what is he trying to achieve that requires blood from only Saki's family line?

You could perhaps ignore all that if it was at least put together with gusto, but it isn't. Much of it is dark and murky, shot cheaply and digitally, and all the blood splatter is done with CGI that couldn't look worse if it had been scribbled on with a felt-tip pen. They even put CG blood spurts onto the camera lens half a dozen times in the opening fight scene, before apparently getting bored with that idea and not using it again. And most importantly, despite that brilliant central theme of bikini-clad woman slaughtering zombies with a sword, it's surprisingly dull stuff. Those who can get on board with the lunacy and ignore all the problems might get some moderate fun out of it, but there's little if anything to be had by anyone else.


Friday, 3 March 2017



The first thing you notice about Logan, the third Wolverine movie and the ninth X-Men movie, is the big shiny 15 at the start and the BBFC's warning of "strong bloody violence, strong language". In an era where most comic-book superhero movies are fluffy 12As (even the ones that absolutely shouldn't be), it's refreshing to see one that doesn't stint on the blood and brutality, liberally tossing around F-bombs and severed heads, clearly setting it apart from the usual expectations of Captain America and Thor adventures. This is a "serious" superhero movie which does the seriousness properly: the problem with the DC movies isn't that they're taking Batman and Superman seriously, it's that they're confusing "dark" with "depressing and humourless". Man Of Steel should be fun but isn't; The Dark Knight should be fun but isn't, Deadpool is fun in its winking to the audience throughout. Logan is a proper comicbook superhero movie for grown-ups, and it manages to achieve that without the Zack Snyder techniques of washing all the colour out into a sepia smudge and smashing up cities left and right.

It's a movie FOR grown-ups because it's a movie ABOUT grown-ups: set in 2029, when John Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, for the final time), is an older recluse living and slowly dying in a rundown shack in the Mexican desert. His only fellow mutants are albino Caliban (Stephen Merchant), and a rambling, bitter Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart), tortured by his guilt over something unspecified but unspeakable in his past. These are no longer the comfortable, likeable characters of X-Men movies past: the pills are no longer working, they're snappy, tired, aggressive and sour. They're also probably incredibly lonely: there are no mutants left now and only exist in comics. Until he encounters a young girl with mysterious superpowers whose adult guardian begs him to take them to the mythical Eden. He doesn't want to bother - Caliban and Xavier are in no fit state to make that journey and he can't abandon them - until a small army turn up intent on bringing the girl back to the laboratory complex where mad scientist Richard E Grant is trying to breed a new race of mutants....

It's a pleasingly old-fashioned film: it puts the main credits at the front (like movies used to do in olden days) and in a plain white typeface, with the kind of low-key main title music you'd expect from a 70s paranoia thriller rather than the double-forte anthems of modern superhero blockbusters, and it introduces its lead as a hard-to-like badass right from the start. I was never much of an X-Men fan anyway and Wolverine always seemed to me to be a miserable git (remember the one-line gag cameo in First Class?), but he's even less pleasant company here than usual. But what James Mangold has managed to do is find the human Logan within the superhuman Wolverine and, while that human might be bitter and angry, his journey and salvation are worth following. The film is called Logan, after all, not Wolverine Returns.

A pity, perhaps, that a movie that's been consciously designed and shot for a 1970s feel should look so terrible in the night scenes, many of which just look like unfiltered digital camcorder that kills that atmosphere they've gone to so much trouble to create. Maybe it's not as bad as the same effect in Public Enemies or Gangster Squad, where it killed the period settings as well, but there's something wrong when the night scenes look no better than the Making Of featurettes on the DVD. But that and the occasional odd casting (Caliban's superpower here appears to be making you think Ricky Gervais is standing behind you) apart, Logan's pretty impressive and probably the best of the whole X-Men run. The violence is bloody and painful and, even if it veers into Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome territory in its third act, it's a solid and generally very enjoyable finale for Wolverine and the kind of comicbook superhero movie that suggests what might happen if the films, like the characters, grew up a bit.