Thursday, 25 March 2010



Sometimes you wonder what the results would have been if directors had been assigned to material wildly inappropriate to their strengths, styles and talents. What would Police Academy have been like if helmed by someone like Stanley Kubrick? (Answer: a bit like Police Academy: Mission To Moscow, given that it isn't half as funny as Full Metal Jacket.) What would happen if the next Harry Potter fell into the hands of Paul Verhoven or Sam Raimi? A James Bond movie by the director of Stranger Than Fiction? (Oh, wait, they did that one and it wasn't pretty.)

In this instance we have an Aardman Animations movie directed by a cool indie arthouse name: Wes Anderson, and the result is Fantastic Mr. Fox: a bizarre combination of two wildly different movies apparently spliced together at random. It's a weird affair that takes superb stop-motion animal animation sequences and overlays smart and witty intellectual dialogue over them, with a terrific voice cast (George Clooney, Meryl Streep), but every so often it gives up on that and turns into Chicken Run with a banjo soundtrack. Clooney is the urbane, civilised fox-about-town who's given up stealing chickens and settled down to write a newspaper column, but his surrender to his natural animal drives sets the three local farmers (led by Michael Gambon) against him, his family and the woodland community of his fellow talking animals.

It's generally good natured fun and I giggled throughout, but that was probably more at the incongruity of the style with the content than at any of the jokes. Though it's a PG certificate, that's not because it's a childrens' film; rather that it's simply not got any sex, violence or swearing (all the potentially rude words are replaced with "cuss" as an all-purpose profanity, just as Porridge had "naff" and Red Dwarf used "smeg"). I'm not too familiar with Wes Anderson's other films although I did see Rushmore (it was obligatory as I went to a school called Rushmoor, and it's close enough), but I may well seek out a few others. Meanwhile, I want Woody Allen to make The Fast And The Furious Part 5.


Wednesday, 24 March 2010



Funny thing, history. These days, a horror movie about a babysitter terrorised by an escaped psychopath in a spooky country house sounds unbelievably hokey as we've seen it all before, so often and not always particularly well. But as a shiny new X-rated release in 1971, it must have seemed as innovative and shockingly effective as the original King Kong's stop-motion effects work or the rubber monster suits from Patrick Troughton's tenure as Doctor Who.

Peter Collinson's Fright is now getting on for forty years old but only in the last few weeks has it received a British DVD release, and it's got a fantastic cast which not only includes George Cole AND Dennis Waterman but more importantly is headed by Susan George, turning up at the scary old house of Cole and Honor Blackman on a dark and stormy night to babysit a boy called Tara (incidentally the director's own son). There's someone prowling around outside, strange noises coming from the garden - could it be Dennis Waterman as her idiot boyfriend desperate for some action and armed with a single-minded obsessesion with divesting her of her virginity? She chucks him out (is there someone else out there?) and sits watching Hammer's Plague Of The Zombies on TV. Meanwhile, there's been an escape at the institution.....

Yes, we have now seen it all before but we hadn't back then - we wouldn't see John Carpenter's Halloween and the subsequent rash of slasher pictures for several years yet. The first half is fairly slow-burning (see last year's The House Of The Devil by Ti West) and the second half becomes a siege movie with the nutter indoors and the police (including Trigger from Only Fools And Horses!) outside. Seeing it now, almost as a historical document but in the light of a hundred other movies from When A Stranger Calls to Babysitter Wanted, it's almost quaint. Still, it's interesting and I rather enjoyed it. But I believe I'd have absolutely loved it at the time (except I wouldn't have been allowed to see it, what with it being an X and me being seven years old).


Tuesday, 23 March 2010



I've cut back on the renting of Asian thrillers and horror movies recently after a bad run of them, but I picked this one off Blockbuster's shelves on impulse and while it's no masterpiece I'm rather glad I did because it's really not bad at all.

A Hong Kong thriller derived in part from the old urban legend about someone who wakes up in a bath of ice and discovers that (at least) one of their kidneys has been swiped, Koma starts off with such a discovery in a hotel where the perpetrator might have been witnessed by our heroine (Ching) attending a wedding. But it may be that she's only identifying the suspect (Ling) because Ling's been sleeping with Ching's boyfriend. After initial hostility a kind of friendship develops between the two women - but the real kidney thief is still out there and killing, and even Ching isn't safe despite having kidney problems of her own....

Generally quite exciting and engrossing although it tried to have one plot twist too many at the end and the finale is a bit implausible, but overall it's nicely done. It's also quite short, coming in at a tight 85 minutes or so. Pleasantly nasty and I can even see a US remake being fairly effective if the right talents get assigned to it. Worth a look.




I'm sure that it's simply because I don't belong in the target demographic of 14-year-old girls that the Twilight movies don't do very much for me. The first one was just about okay but ludicrously overlong at two hours; this one is actually even longer and doesn't even work as well.

Despite the vampires, the overall themes of Twilight Saga: New Moon, perhaps even more than in the first one, are emotional girlie teenage angst and swooning whenever Robert Pattinson is on screen. Me, I'm pretty much immune to such things but it is interesting than Pattinson and the vampire clan hardly show up during the first hour, leaving drippy Bella (drippy Kristen Stewart) to blither and moan, and develop some kind of relationship with hunky Jacob (hunky Taylor Lautner) who has a big monster secret of his own and tends to wander around with his shirt off (even though he's supposed to be sixteen) with his similarly buff and shirtless mates. The evil nasty vampires from the first movie are still around but only occasionally, and even though the movie has a natural conclusion before we even get to the hilarious vampire tribunal headed by a shamelessly camping Michael Sheen (continuing his habit of alternating real historical character pieces with ludicrous fantasy movies about vampires) it's still got another half hour of wet and waffly lovey-dovey sludge to wade through.

It's got slightly more of a sense of humour than its predecessor, though that's mainly confined to a disastrous trip to a cinema for a terrible action movie called Face Punch (which I now want to see) and some self-mocking clever-clever dialogue about horror films. But most of it is treacly stodge, even more treacly and stodgy than the first hour of Titanic (and even wetter than the second hour of Titanic), and it goes on for far too long. Then again, as I said, it's not really aimed at me so it's hardly surprising it missed.


Thursday, 18 March 2010



It may be about a bunch of dolls that come to life in the absence of humans, but this digital animation piece is a thousand miles from the happy shiny Toy Story. Rather it's a slice of post-apocalyptic grimness in which a nonet of little rag dolls are the only life left on a wasteland Earth following a global conflict that wiped out humanity.

They're the creation of a scientist as an act of atonement for having built the giant machine that was hijacked by a Third Reich-style military only to have it turn against them and wreck the planet. Until the titular 9 (the number written on his back) inadvertently switches the big machine on again and it sets about its basic world domination programming once more, and 9 and his newly discovered brethren have to stop it by themselves. It's an incredibly dark, bleak, no-laughs movie whose strengths lie in the detail of this horrible world and the monstrous creations that inhabit it. Remember the bit in Toy Story where they go next door and the boy Sid has mutilated all his toys and bolted them together into new and macabre forms? Well, imagine those mash-up monsters, but completely evil and the size of a battleship. And mechanical monster spiders, mechanical monsters pterodactyls, mechanical monster dogs. The BBFC gave it a 12A (12 on video) as it really is too intense for little kiddies and I think in this instance they were right. It's NOT a children's film.

The voice cast isn't based around big star names and it didn't bother me that I couldn't place them (they include Martin Landau, Christopher Plummer, Elijah Wood and Jennifer Connelly) simply because I was involved enough with the characters and the story, and the vocal artistes' weren't doing comedy schtick. I really enjoyed it - it's short, fast and scary.


Thursday, 11 March 2010



I'm usually in two minds about Paul Greengrass films, and specifically his use of the hand-held wobblicam technique. While this technique does undeniably immerse you in the movie - you're right there, in the car or on the ground - it's advisable not to sit in the front three rows. This technique is actually one reason why I tend to like The Bourne Identity rather than the sequels Supremacy and Ultimatum: it's not going to inflict a dizzying headache on you. (It's also got Franka Potente in it, which is another plus.)

As with those two films, and United 93, you're quite definitely there in the thick of it in Green Zone, a film with a clear agenda against the WMD justifications for the Iraq invasion. That agenda suggests - and it does it very plausibly - that elements in the US government conjured up the spectre of weapons of mass destruction and then sent in the military to try and find them as a result of supposedly unarguable intelligence reports, except for the fact that the weapons weren't there, so the war could be seen as justifiable to the public. Matt Damon is the American officer tasked with investigating the supposed weapons sites, who's starting to query the reliabililty of the intel when he and his team keep coming up empty. He's not just up against Iraqi snipers and the like, but also those elements of the US embodied here by Greg Kinnear as a patently untrustworthy individual and Jason Isaacs as the more uncomfortably brutal end of the military spectrum.

It's a credit to the film editor that despite the shakycam sometimes making it difficult to keep your focus, you never lose track of what's going on; particularly in the hectic action sequences. They're accompanied by the usually reliable John Powell's score which in this instance is basically a background percussion riff and sadly not as enjoyable to listen to as his Bourne scores (or indeed most of his other work). Quite definitely a film worth seeing but don't sit too close.


Thursday, 4 March 2010



Yet another Jean Rollin production drags itself through the DVD player. This is the most recent of his works that I've seen, and in all honesty what magic there was has faded, because it's not a patch on his semi-glory days. His usual stomping ground consists of nubile lovelies wandering round castles in the nude, and the best of his will always be things like The Living Dead Girl (which I saw in Hampstead fourteen years ago, when a chunk of footage had been inexplicably transplanted from early on in the film to much later - it didn't make much difference) and Le Frisson Des Vampires.

But even when nothing much is happening beyond naked girls traipsing around beaches and ruins, it never tended to be dull. But dull is the word for Dracula's Fiancee, despite a narrative that includes several batches of mad nuns and a dwarf. In a Paris convent, a woman has been kept prisoner by the Order Of The White Virgin until the time for her marriage to Dracula, entombed somewhere on an island awaiting his bride who will set him free. He can also appear to others via a grandfather clock. The nuns have been sacrificing people (mainly other nuns, apparently) to Dracula for years. Meanwhile a Van Helsing-type professor and his assistant (who's in love with the bride) plod along the trail using telepathy. There's also a circus dwarf (complete with jester's cap) who's helping Dracula and is in love with a naked vampire woman. Oh, and another woman whose sole function is to stand around playing the violin.

All this, and even the line "Careful: those nuns have gone totally berserk!" can't liven it up: I could actually feel myself starting to nod off. Despite being fairly short (90 minutes and change) it feels a lot longer. Not Rollin's finest hour by a very long chalk.




Every so often it's probably good to step away from one's favourite genres and take a look at something you'd normally ignore. I see a lot of cheap modern horror films (many of which are at best unremarkable) but for many years I've studiously avoided the Modern American Teen Sex Comedy. I didn't even see the American Pie films because the clips and trails didn't look that sexy or, perhaps more importantly, that funny. In fact the last one I went to see was either Porky's Revenge (I subsequently caught up with the first one on video but I've never bothered to complete the trilogy) or the absolutely atrocious Screwballs II: Loose Screws which was a depressingly one-star viewing experience if ever there was one.

So now, nearly a quarter of a century on, has the Modern American Teen Sex Comedy come of age? Has it stopped leering at girls in their underwear and sniggering? Er, no. Not, at least, on the basis of Miss March. The story is that a pro-celibacy high school lad is on his way to Finally Do It with his girlfriend when he falls down the stairs and ends up in a coma. Emerging four years later he discovers that his beloved is now a Playboy model, so he and his best friend travel across America to the Playboy mansion in order to get her back, accompanied by a variety of wacky characters including a pair of sex-crazed lesbians and a hideously misogynistic rap star. Meanwhile the best friend, who is - and I'm sorry about the language at this time in the morning - an unmitigated arsehole, is being pursued across the country by his epileptic ex-girlfriend and an army of firefighters. Everyone ends up at the Playboy Anniversary Party and that's where the fun really doesn't start.

The most obvious problem with Miss March is that it isn't funny - I think I managed one tiny laugh and that was the extra bit under the end credits (which I'd seen coming anyway). Much of the humour is phenomenally crude and very broad: poo, wee, boobs, bums and willies, the sort of thing that is only funny to people too young to actually see the film. Because he's been in a coma for four years, running joke ahoy: he's lost control of his bowels! Oh, the hilarity! It's also incredibly hypocritical: a decrepit looking Hugh Hefner turns up at the end as himself talking about how Inner Beauty is what counts. Really? The movie spends an endless hour and a half banging on (literally and metaphorically) about sex, hot chicks, bitches and softcore pornography before telling us that Inner Beauty is what really counts, but in the meantime, look at the jugs on Miss September!

So the jokes are repulsive and they're not funny, it's morally dubious, it's sexist, childish and dull. Rubbish, in other words. Maybe (if humanity still exists by then) I'll give the genre another look in about 2033. I bet it won't have changed much.