Sunday, 30 May 2010



Well, it's supposed to be in 3D but in practice it just came over as a double exposure - none of my 3D glasses split the image properly so I stopped it after the opening credits and played the 2D version instead. This meant I got a nice crisp image instead of two badly overlaid ones. Sadly it didn't make the movie any better. Because - shock horror - this latest colour remake of George A Romero's gamechanger of a zombie movie is a load of pants: big stretchy ones with questionable stains all over them.

For a start, Night Of The Living Dead 3D (which is the title on screen whichever way you watch it) has been done on a very low budget with extremely cheap zombie effects, but without any of the skill, so it really looks like just another back-garden horror movie that someone's made with their mates over a weekend. Much of the basic plot shadows the original: Barbara and Johnny visit the cemetery; zombies show up out of nowhere; Barbara flees and ends up at the Cooper house where they're besieged by the flesh eating undead. But every so often it throws something new into the mix - mainly Sid Haig as the local undertaker who hasn't been doing his job properly, which doesn't really work as it tries to explain the zombie outbreak origins.

More damagingly, genius-in-charge Jeff Broadstreet has seen fit to incorporate Romero's original into his own narrative, by way of having a bunch of his characters sit around watching it on TV. Hey, it's a respectful homage, and anyway it's in Public Domain so it won't cost anything. Yet not once do any of them remark upon the similarities: the Cooper family home invaded firstly by a bloke called Ben and a woman called Barbara babbling about a zombie attack, and then by the walking dead themselves punching through the windows and doors. Then again, everyone is whacked out on drugs, which not only makes them crashingly unsympathetic but crashingly dull as well. Even hunky heroic type Ben is ultimately revealed as a dealer using his drug money to put himself through college. Once that point is reached, I'm on the side of the zombs.

It's a mess, it's not scary, it's not overly gory (it's only a 15), it doesn't make sense and it's full of imbecilic stoners or drug pushers. And the 3D doesn't work. Just watch the Romero version again, or even the Tom Savini remake from the early 90s. But this is just rubbish.


Thursday, 27 May 2010



I love movies. I've been going to cinemas on a regular basis since 1984 and renting videos since about 1985. Very very occasionally, a couple of times a year, I'll come across a movie that I wish I hadn't bothered with - a piece of irredeemable Troma garbage or a bit of Peter Greenaway poncing about - but this is the first in quite a while that made me wonder whether it was actually worth keeping up with cinema at all. Not keeping up with this particular film, but keeping up with movies in general. Whether it's time to give up filmgoing as a regular pastime and start doing something else entirely.

The frustrating thing is that Robin Hood is such a reliable old warhorse in terms of drama that it's practically impossible to muck it up. It's got action, it's got romance, it's got boo-hiss villains, it's got comedic supporting characters, it's got righteous anger, it's got Englishness and English Heritage, and it's got a genuine Star Role for a movie action hero. But not here. Here you'll come out hating the French, but that's all. This is a prequel: detailing how Robin Longstride (Russell Crowe, mate) masqueraded as Robin Of Loxley, and became a heroic figure by uniting the English barons against an invasion by the evil French led by traitor Mark Strong, before being betrayed by the equally evil King John. The whole outlaw business, with Robin (Of The) Hood, Marian and the Merrie Men being forced to hide out in Sherwood Forest, doesn't take place until thirty seconds before the closing credits, and the Sheriff Of Nottingham has three scenes, in none of which he's the bad guy. The entire plot is based on a massive dramatic coincidence - that Longstride just happens to be the one who finds the dying Loxley and takes the family sword and English crown back to England when quite literally anyone could have picked it up - on top of another massive coincidence, since Longstride just happens to recognise the sword's inscription as a link back to the father he never knew.

On a technical level it's pretty poor: the sound mixing means that a lot of the dialogue is indecipherable. More damaging is the insistence on shooting all the action sequences in that fast shutter style that originated with the opening reel of Saving Private Ryan and is not so much homaged as shamelessly stolen, with the French storming the beaches of England complete with landing craft which, incidentally, they didn't actually have, and nobody on Earth would for another 700 years, but hey, it worked for Spielberg so it's damn well going to work here. If they're going to play that fast and loose with history why didn't they have the Crusades fought with tanks or Crowe planning the defence using Google Maps?

Much has been made of Russell Crowe's alleged stab at a Northern accent - sometimes it's a bit Yorkshire, sometimes it's a bit Scouse, and yes, whatever he says in interviews about it, sometimes it is quite definitely having a Guinness with the little people, begorrah. Like Kevin Costner's vocal World Tour in the same role back in 1991, it's hard to know why he's even bothering when we don't get so much as an "Ay up" from the magnificent Max Von Sydow, who basically does Swedish.

We've already had the sadly underwhelming Centurion and the slow but aesthetically fascinating Valhalla Rising, and we've got Black Death, Season Of The Witch and The Eagle Of The Ninth still to come, so 2010 is clearly the year for Dark and Middle Ages historical cinema of the unglamorous and unromantic variety. But if you are doing something with mud and swords and medieval brutality it's got to be better than this. At times this film so obviously wants to recapture the success of Gladiator and it's just not up to the task. If the man who not only made Gladiator, but who gave us two genuine cinema greats in Alien and Blade Runner, can't make anything of Robin Hood, then maybe it's not just me who should be thinking of packing it all in and doing something else entirely.


Tuesday, 25 May 2010



Not the old noir classic with Gene Tierney, but a late 70s piece of sub-Emmanuelle erotic fluff from the lens of the faintly creepy David Hamilton. In turn, that's not the David Hamilton from Radio 1, but the photographer who specialised (and for all I know still does) in very artful and not even a little bit porny nudes.

The biggest name here is Maud Adams, most notable for being one of the few people to play two entirely unconnected characters in separate James Bond films. But the role of extensive nude posing goes to the then 17-year-old Dawn Dunlap as her daughter Laura, innocent muse to her mother's one-time lover who's currently fighting a bad case of sculptor's block. She's also studying ballet and therefore the movie is entirely justified in including a group shower sequence. While the impossibly handsome sculptor wants her to pose for his latest nudey statue, Adams attempts to keep her away from the dirty old perv. Matters come to a head with an accident involving a studio fire and a faceful of weedkiller: because he can no longer see to work from photos, Laura lets him "see her" by touch - cue the rhapsodic final reel wherein a skinny teenage girl is fondled and squeezed at needless length by a bloke in his forties. But it's all very tasteful and artistic, so that's perfectly alright, officer.

I'm actually partial to an occasional bit of mild smut. But if the movie's core was any softer it would be an Angel Delight. The whole thing is shot in dreamy soft focus like a Flake advert, through a lens covered in enough Vaseline to grease a walrus. That's fine: it gives a nice visual ambience to the movie (incidentally not helped by the murky picture quality on the DVD), and it's complemented by a lot of syrupy easy-listening piano music from the Richard Clayderman school of supposedly sophisticated lift music. But not a lot happens, the acting and dialogue is fairly awful, and despite it looking very pretty, it's pretty boring.


Monday, 24 May 2010



You don't even get so much as the word "ug" from Mads Mikkelsen, in the lead role of Nicolas Winding Refn's Dark Ages Viking picture. To say he's a monosyllabic character would be to overstate his syllabicness by a factor of one. He doesn't speak throughout the entire movie, not a single grunt even when people are coming at him with axes.

At the start of Valhalla Rising, Mads (unnamed but generally referred to as One-Eye for the most obvious of reasons) has been captured by some pagans with Scottish accents and chained up while they try and kill him. That doesn't work and One-Eye subsequently escapes with a small boy in tow: they meets up with some Christians with an urge to liberate the Holy Lands (or something), get completely lost in the fog and a lot of them end up slaughtered by an unidentified bunch of people listed in the closing credits as Indians.

The minimal dialogue, the throbbing score, the hallucinatory visual style - it adds up to an art movie rather than a commercial one. There's no wenching and pillaging and hornéd helmets, no dragon slaying or sacrifices to Odin. There's just a bunch of hairy, muddy, blood-caked men (no female elements save for one shot of some naked women huddled together in a wet field) and the bleakest landscapes imaginable. Just as Polanski's Macbeth gave us a Scotland so bleak and damp that no-one in his right mind would ever want to be king of it, so Valhalla Rising gives us cold, inhospitable mountains and acres of mud. It's a picture of a planet largely untouched by humanity, let lone any kind of civilisation; a planet on which the first vaguely semi-sentient men are just starting to explore.

And on that level, I really liked the movie. It's a pity it didn't get a cinema release (one week at the Apollo in Regent Street doesn't count as a proper theatrical outing) as I think it would have been particularly impressive on a big screen. And the violent bits, when they come, are splattery and gutsy and gleefully show no mercy. It's true that not much happens, it's true that there's no explanation for what's going on, and it's true that the entire cast really need a bath, but it's rather beautiful and I enjoyed it far more than I was expecting. Perversely, if it had been closer to what I was expecting - Mads and the boys fighting and slaughtering and laying waste to the heathens - I'd probably have been disappointed.




A bunch of British character actors get together in a shabby sitting room and swear at a hapless Frenchman with a bag on his head. A slightly better than usual pitch for a Friday night reality show on Channel 4, but not in itself much of a recipe for a film, which would probably be a decent 50-minute TV play about wounded male ego if they hadn't almost doubled its length with more "very strong language" than Danny Dyer stubbing his toe, Danny Dyer watching his team go down four nil to Kirkcaldy United, or Danny Dyer trying to put together an Ikea wardrobe in a small room. Then again, one suspects, Danny Dyer making a nice cup of tea and settling down with a well-thumbed paperback of Sense And Sensibility.

The basic thrust of the frankly inexplicably titled 44 Inch Chest is that Ray Winstone is a proper 'ard 'un, and his wife (Joanne Whalley) is 'avin' it orf wiv a French waiter. Winstone and his mates snatch the Froggie, bang 'im in the back of the van and truss 'im up like a good 'un while deciding wot to do wiv im. Said mates include Ian McShane and Tom Wilkinson, and there's a fabulously repulsive turn by John Hurt as a kind of Albert Steptoe gone completely mad, so great chunks of the movie are like the torture scene from Reservoir Dogs except with five Michael Madsens and a lot more swearing.

I bet the writers are big Derek And Clive fans. The language is the main problem here: in a 90-minute film there are apparently 162 F-words in there (according to the IMDb trivia page) and enough of the dreaded C-words for the BBFC to give the film an 18 certificate despite there being little violence and no sex. Once a couple of dozen of these little bullets of profanity have ricocheted around your living room, the swearing does get wearing and there's not much else on view. To be honest I'm not convinced of its poetic nature as alleged by the makers - there's poetry in There Was A Young Man From Nantucket but that doesn't necessarily mean it's any good - and if you want rude words set to a rhythm then there are a lot of rap albums out there with a Parental Advisory sticker on the front. This is Parental Advisory as well - don't show it to your parents.


Tuesday, 11 May 2010



I keep getting this movie confused with the other, earlier Christmas slasher/horror movie Silent Night Bloody Night, and indeed had to look it up on the IMDb to ensure that I was using the right title. It's not like I can differentiate between them on the grounds than Bloody Night was terrible, because this one, finally released in the UK after a quarter of a century, is terrible as well.

Both movies are dull, cheap and uninteresting, but while Bloody Night is just mainly dull, Silent Night, Deadly Night is terrible in a stupid, nonsensical kind of a way. A kid sees his parents murdered by a drunken Santa (just after his grandfather had explained to him that Santa was in the punishment racket); he grows up in a Catholic orphanage terrorised by the usual abusive Mother Superior and eventually leaves the orphanage to work at a local store. Where, come Christmas, they make him dress up as Santa. Inevitably, after way too much setup, he goes on a rampage of punishment....

Somewhat controversial in the US back in 1984: it suffered from walkouts, complaints, outrage, pickets, bad reviews, and TriStar dropped it from distribution fairly quickly. Many people were actually more concerned by the TV ads which didn't make it clear that the axe murderer wasn't really Santa Claus, particularly to the children watching. But ultimately, there's nothing of any great appeal to the film beyond some perfunctory death scenes, the highlight - if that's the word - being a topless Linnea Quigley being impaled on a stag's head on the wall. The plot is all so deperately contrived and engineered to put a traumatised Santaphobe (maybe they should have called the movie Claustrophobia) in a Santa suit and surround him with frankly unattractive people who do stupid things so that this Santa will deem them worthy of violent punishment. Meanwhile, the police are out in force with orders to shoot Father Christmas if necessary. Which, hilariously, they do. Although the funniest moment is when Mad Santa meets a little girl who insists she's been good so he gives her a Stanley knife for Christmas.

In all truth, either of the Black Christmas movies are more twisted and entertaining Yuletide horror offerings: this is slow, cheap, sleazy, and it's not enjoyable even on the cheapo 80s grindhouse slasher level. Inevitably, there's a sequel, which the BBFC threw out in 1987 and, on the basis of this original, I'm not massively thrilled about.


Monday, 10 May 2010



Also contains lesbians, erections, cults, panties, religious nutbags, suicide, castration, cross-dressing, elements of farce, sexual frustration, Catholics, general insanity and excessive bloodletting - your basic Saturday night. That's a lot to fit in, but fortunately it's got the time to do it as it runs for a scratch under four hours - the second longest film I've seen after Cleopatra - and, curiously, it doesn't drag. That's actually an impressive achievement in itself considering so many movies struggle to reach 90 minutes without getting dull. And it's in Japanese. Takashi Miike take note.

And yet the thing about Cleopatra, Spartacus, El Cid and all the other Long Movies is that they were epics. Love Exposure is not an epic: rather, it's primarily a simple family drama of the boy-meets-girl school in which our hero, Yu, is driven to sin by his priest dad so he something to confess. The sin he becomes most proficient at is candid upskirt softcore pornography (there are lots of scenes of Yu and his buddies taking pictures of girls' knickers without them knowing). But it's only when masquerading as a woman that Yu actually meets the girl of his dreams - Yoko, who promptly falls in love with "her" and has no time for boys. Nor does the mysterious Koike, who deknobbed her own father and now works for a brainwashing cult called the Zero Church - and who is manipulating the lives of Yu and Yoko for her own sinister ends.....

It IS too long (it's spread over two discs, and fortunately the rental company sent both of them), and it IS all over the place, switching tone wildly, sometimes randomly, from romance to violence to comedy to softcore. But I didn't mind that. Last week I was told by a fellow FrightFester "it was my favourite movie of last year - you'll hate it!". Well, I didn't hate it: far from it, it's not the endurance test I was half-expecting. I actually rather enjoyed Love Exposure although it could do with trimming in places. But it does pick absolutely the right, perfectly sweet moment to end on and doesn't keep going once its story has reached the natural conclusion. Not something you can dip in and out of - you have to sit down and watch it all - but generally worth the effort.


Saturday, 8 May 2010



Yet another in the long, long line - a line that doesn't look like it's ending any time soon - of desperate rehashes of past hits by people who don't understand what made the original a hit in the first place, and miss the whole point of the original as a result. Rob Zombie's Halloween is only vaguely interesting when restaging scenes from John Carpenter's generally bloodless original; Marcus Nispel's version of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has a filtered sheen at odds with the deranged, nightmarish action that the ragged look of Hooper's film captured, and Nispel's botched stab at Friday the 13th presented us with such a gallery of unlikeable machete fodder that the viewer was on Jason's side more or less from the start. In fact, they've just about run out of classic films to redo, and are working through the list of second-rate titles: why else do we need My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night and Sorority Row? And we've still got a remake of the despicable I Spit On Your Grave, of all things, to look forward to, reimagining gang rape and castration for the multiplex generation.

This week, though, we've got a shiny new version of A Nightmare On Elm Street, which fails not just as a telling of the Elm Street story but pretty well blows it as a horror film. Despite sticking fairly close to the original spine - Freddy kills the children of those who burned him to death in an act of vigilante justice, by stalking their dreams - and having a genuinely loathsome bogeyman in Jackie Earle Haley, it isn't even slightly scary and only by using the cheap horror tactics of crash-cut editing and having loud noises boom out of the soundtrack is it capable of making you jump. That isn't enough.

This version toys with two potentially interesting ideas but muffs both of them. The first is to run with the suggestion that Freddy Kruger was actually an innocent man who didn't do anything to the kids - but then ditches that and makes him a fully fledged paedophile rather than (just) the (mere) child murderer of Wes Craven's original. The second is to kill off the two people we've been led to believe would be the survivors (the glamourous blonde and the tough guy) - but this leaves a pair of secondary characters, a mousy brunette and a mumbling slacker, as our new leads and they're just not up to the task.

The other problem is that it wants to be a straight horror movie but it also wants to pay homage to the Craven original. So they have to restage the key moments such as the heroine in the bath with Freddy's glove coming out of the water between her knees, but the scene has been shoehorned in where it doesn't belong - at this point she deliberately goes to sleep despite knowing what could happen. They have the stretchy wall effect where the shape of Freddy looms out of the bedroom wall over the girl's bed - but why? They briefly incorporate the Charles Bernstein theme right at the start (over the studio logos), and the "one-two" nursey rhyme, but the rest of the music score is the usual ambient sound design with solo vocal wailing and thudding rock songs.

And at the end you come out of it wondering why they bothered. It's not as if they ever had a hope of topping the original (and if they didn't want to be compared to it, maybe they should have made something of their own) and they haven't actually come up with something interesting on its own terms. It's just another disposable, pointless horror movie that can only really work for people who've never seen the Wes Craven film. Largely missable.


Saturday, 1 May 2010



Because this is basically another liberal adaptation of Hamlet in the vein of Curse Of The Golden Flower, complete with outlandish costumes, elaborate rituals and full of characters willing to kill themselves and others for no good reason beyond loyalty to the Emperor. Despite the involvement of Yuen Woo Ping (or spelling variants) there's not a vast amount in the way of fight sequences, and the few that we do see tend to be over-reliant on wirework. While there's a certain grace and beauty in these sequences, it does tend to undercut the danger when the characters can actually fly, and the laws of physics will always trump the laws of aesthetics.

What The Banquet does have in abundance is stately intrigue. Following the suspicious poisoning of his Emperor father, who had married Wuwuan's childhood sweetheart, Crown Prince Wuwuan legs it into the forest to seek solace in drama and music. The now-Empress has asked Wuwuan back to the Palace as she is going to be married to the late Emperor's brother and crowned Empress again. The new Emperor - Wuwuan's uncle, if you're keeping track - doesn't want the prince back and sends assassins after him: obviously a big mistake. But who did kill the Emperor? Will the killer be revealed at the coronation through Wuwuan's theatrical presentation?

And what The Banquet also holds is astounding visual opulence, from the massive palace sets and ludicrously ornate costumes - seriously compromised by the frankly absurd decision to release a cropped 1.85 widescreen print rather than the 2.35 full widescreen and obviously panned-and-scanned. Still, the opening attack on the theatre in the forest is particularly beautiful to watch, with the actors in white robes and expressionless masks and the villainous assassins in heavy black armour. And the drama certainly does keep you watching; despite of putting it on quite late I was never in danger of nodding off even at a scratch over two hours running time. Somewhat annoyingly, however, the death of one major character is deliberately unexplained: the filmmakers don't necessarily need to join all the dots but they should at least include them. Of this decade's rush of wuxia epics, this isn't really up there with the best of them (I was never a big Crouching Tiger fan but loved Hero and House Of Flying Daggers) but, aspect ratio frustration aside, it's worth seeing.




Nothing to do with the Hugh Laurie medical series, and nothing to do with the mid-80s haunted house movie franchise, this strange, wildly over-the-top Japanese horror movie dates from 1977 but has only just surfaced on UK DVD very recently. And I think it's fair to say that it's probably the most deranged, retina-searing, full throttle batshit movies you're going to see in quite a while.

As far as the plot of House (Hausu) is concerned it's very generic stuff: a bunch of schoolgirls decide to spend their summer holiday at the home of one of their number's aunt, miles from everywhere. Gradually someone or something offs them all in sadistic and graphic - but in this case highly unusual - fashion. Is it witchcraft? Is it demons? Ghosts? The old lady's spooky cat which has flashing green eyes? One girl is eaten by a piano, another attacked by futons, there's a severed head in the well and a dancing skeleton. That it all comes to some kind of vaguely coherent conclusion is no thanks to the insane, overstylised visuals that make Evil Dead 2 look like The Remains Of The Day.

There are, in the horror sequences, more crash zooms per minute than the zoom-happy Jess Franco manages in a decade, and some of the dodgiest chromakey outside the Dr Who effects unit of the period; and several moments will have you grasping for the Nurofens to mitigate the flashing colours, superimposion effects, the constant inappropriate musical accompaniment and the general ambience of unhinged hysteria. I have to be honest and say I didn't really enjoy it, but it is certainly lively and you can't fault it for trying. It's all too much, though, and I suspect some kind of drugs may be required.