Sunday, 25 October 2009



How difficult is to satirise the reality show? Whatever the spoofers come up with, some ratings-hungry executive has conceived something worse. This week's Have I Got News For You featured a Japanese show of the Candid Camera ilk which simulated a sniper attack erupting around a hapless stooge, to the delight of the studio audience. I've no idea what the contestants on I'm A Celebrity have to do - I don't watch it - but I'm led to believe that bits of it include eating body parts of kangaroos. (Then again, I'm led to believe that the contestants are actually famous for something or other, but let that pass.)

Live! is a mockumentary detailing a reality show in which six volunteers play Russian Roulette for real on live network television; the only difference between this and regular R.R. is that they're not allowed to spin the barrel. Following the programme's development from offhand conversational remark through to spectacular broadcast under the guiding hand of heartless genius Eva Mendes, it's quite an amusing little film even though we know that such a show could never, ever be broadcast anywhere in the civilised (or even the uncivilised) world. The format doesn't take account of all outcomes: what happens if the first shot is the killer - how do they fill the remainder of their timeslot? Or worse, given the no-spin rule, what happens if the first five are duds - do they still make the sixth guy pull the trigger knowing that it's the live bullet?

There are some effective little touches in Live!, such as the videos showcasing the contestants which veer between nice little character pieces and hideously manipulative sobfests. Sometimes, though, it doesn't really have much to say, and opts for padding about the "director" of the "documentary" instead. It's not great, but it's worth a look.


Saturday, 24 October 2009



I suppose I should be a bigger fan of British horror movies of the 70s. The 70s were, I'm increasingly convinced, a Golden Age for cinema in general; I'm British and I like my horror movies. And it's fair to say I do like them very much when they're at their best: there's little to beat Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee doing their stuff in a lightning storm while surrounded by heaving bosoms and accompanied by a doom-laden orchestral score. The movies may not be actually scary more than thirty years after they were made, but they're now strangely comfortable.

The Beast Must Die is an Amicus film from 1974 and tells one story, unlike the compendiums (compendia?) they tended to specialise in. Calvin Lockhart assembles a disparate group of shady individuals for a weekend party at his country mansion, in the knowledge that one of them is a werewolf. It's an Agatha Christie movie with hair. As befits both the Agatha Christie adaptation and the British horror compendium, there's a great cast of big names either dying off early or being revealed as the killer all along - including Charles Gray, a young Michael Gambon, Anton Diffring, and the mighty Peter Cushing who gets saddled with a hilarious accent that wanders its way across half of mainland Europe (including Sweden, Germany, and maybe a bit of Ireland). Towards the end it has the Werewolf Break where the movie pauses and the dark velvet voice of Valentine Dyall asks You The Viewer if you've figured out the identity of the killer, as if it's Britain's Got Werewolves and we're supposed to ring a premium-rate phone line to cast a vote.

Sadly, much of The Beast Must Die is incredibly dull and talky and there's just not enough going on even at just 88 minutes. Maybe if they'd used this as a wraparound for a quartet of stories about the guest stars' possible past encounters with werewolves it might have held together better but as it stands it's not a success. It's always good to see these actors, but they need more to do than they have here.


Tuesday, 13 October 2009



I'll be honest - I never really got the original Battle Royale. As an exploitation movie centred around exploding heads and young women firing machine guns at each other while in school uniforms, it's kind of interesting and entertaining and disreputable fun, but the narrative reasons behind it all didn't really make a lot of sense.

Battle Royale II: Requiem, however, makes even less sense. The movie opens, in a manner which I suppose is intended to be provocative, with the blowing up of two skyscrapers in a city centre - an act courtesy of a revolutionary/terrorist youth organisation formed by the two survivors of the first film. In response, a class of misfits is brought in and forced to become a paramilitary outfit designed to storm the organisation's island stronghold. Strangely, the class includes the daughter of the teacher from the first movie, and she's actually registered online to take part in the BR programme. And after a reprise of the lecture bit from the first movie, they're fitted out with camouflage gear, exploding collars and high-powered weaponry. At which point the directors, Kinji and Kenta Fukasaku, basically restage the opening reel of Saving Private Ryan, but with teenagers.

There's a lot of violence, a lot of death (even if some of the exploding heads are done with obvious CGI), and a lot of eye-rolling overacting and philosophical musing out loud. It's kind of interesting but it does go on too long and it basically doesn't answer the central questions: if the government forces know where these people are, why don't they just carpet bomb the island and raze every building on it to the ground? Rather than send in the Japanese equivalent of the SAS in, why is it deemed a better idea to pressgang a bunch of delinquents, outcasts and weirdos into service and then escort them to a statistically certain death on a suicide mission they've no faith in?

It's fundamentally a silly idea and it's hard to take seriously a leader whose war is against grown-ups. Not capitalism, not the West, not organised religion (of whatever stripe) - but grown-ups. When he's in a tirade against the grown-ups it sounds less like a terrifying revolutionary manifesto and more like the Molesworth books gone spectacularly wrong. The film isn't a disaster: there's plenty of action, and I like the ending. But the blatant lift from Saving Private Ryan and the silliness ultimately count against it.