Wednesday, 30 November 2011



Probably the best of Charles Bronson's films for the Cannon Group (certainly better than the amusing but silly Murphy's Law and the thoroughly inept Assassination): this is a resolutely sleazy, cheesy and nasty-edged slasher movie-cum-cop thriller with the barest nod towards presenting an intriguing moral and ethical dilemma, but which is really far more interested in a maniac slashing up defenceless young women with plenty of blood and screaming. It's surprisingly tacky for a film that was released at proper cinemas rather than straight to video or onto the drive-in and grindhouse circuits.

And as a title, 10 To Midnight doesn't even mean anything. Bronson is a tough LA homicide cop (again) on the trail of a sadistic maniac knifing women: he and his new partner Andrew Stevens come to suspect calm, smiling Gene Davis not just for the murders but the obscene phone calls directed at the student nurses at the local hospital - and one of the nurses happens to be Bronson's daughter (Lisa Eilbacher). And she just happens to be attracted to Andrew Stevens. But adopting the ethos of "forget what's legal, do what's right" (the tagline and the "moral" of the movie) and snarling the killer line "the way the law protects these maggots, you'd think they were an endangered species", Bronson goes too far. Having decided the case against Evans isn't strong enough, and despite his apparently unbreakable alibi for two of the killings, Bronson plants traces of blood on the maniac's clothes, unaware that Evans is such a psychopath that he commits his crimes in the nude....

At least he does in the original version: releases apparently vary and the TV version loses all the swearing and nudity (and Evans keeps his underpants on every time he kills someone) but the British DVD appears to be the complete cut of the film, with some graphic murder scenes involving naked women that were taken out of the earlier VHS releases of the film by the BBFC. But any nasty edges are smoothed over slightly by the sight of a reputable action star like Charles Bronson, 61 at the time, appearing in what would most likely have been picked up as a video nasty were it not for the presence of a bona fide Hollywood Legend in the lead role. It's not very good, but for sleazy nudity and violence, 10 To Midnight does deliver.


Tuesday, 29 November 2011



If you think Charles Bronson, chances are the titles that leap to mind instantly are the Death Wish series, The Great Escape, Once Upon A Time In The West, maybe The Dirty Dozen - his A-list films. Probably less likely to come to mind immediately would be his later B-movies for the Cannon Group, films like Assassination, 10 To Midnight or this very silly cop thriller in which he spends a good chunk of the first hour handcuffed to a woman forty-three years his junior. Sadly, there isn't much in the way of development for their May-December (or more accurately, February-December) relationship: he's 65, she's 22, and frankly it would have been a far more fascinating film if either or both of them had been perfectly happy (or better still, enthusiastic) about the situation. Alternatively, if the ages had been reversed and Justin Timberlake was handcuffed to Angela Lansbury.

Murphy's Law ("if anything can go wrong, it will", a maxim that's actually included in the lyrics of the end title song) isn't to be confused with Jack Murphy's Law: "Don't **** with Jack Murphy!". Jack Murphy (Bronson) is a tough and grizzled homicide cop with a short temper and a fondness for the bottle. His wife has left him, shacked up with a sleazy bar owner and taken up dancing in a strip club; he's trying to arrest a mobster for murder. But then he's arrested for the murder of his wife - all the evidence says he did it - and the only way out is to go on the run. Trouble is, through an absurd set of circumstances he's handcuffed to Kathleen Wilhoite as a punkette car thief with an astonishing talent for creative swearing, so they both have to track the real murderer down....

It all climaxes at the Bradbury Building, probably most famous as the location for the final reels of Blade Runner and, according to GoogleMaps, it's still there. Murphy's Law is boneheaded nonsense with an interesting odd-couple on the trail of a serial killer trying to dodge the police as well as the mob, but it is rather fun with a near-geriatric Bronson paired with street trash Wilhoite snarling out insults like "you snot-licking donkey fart" and "dildo-nose": things which are simultaneously hilariously inventive and tiresomely childish. Bronson's always great, but it isn't really one of his better films (10 To Midnight is trashier, nastier and funnier). Made in 1986.


Don't "mess" with Jack Murphy:

Sunday, 27 November 2011



There are quite a few things you have to ensure when making a twisty psychological thriller with a supernatural angle. It's not just the performances and production values are up to an acceptable standard, nor that there any any great gaping holes in the narrative or moments when you cheat on your own rules. What's most important is that the audience isn't at least three reels ahead of you. In these post-Sixth Sense days, we know there's going to be a twist and you have to work damned hard to hide it or disguise it - but this new chiller barely bothers to try and as a result the Big Reveal isn't accompanied by a dropped jaw and a gasp of "Blimey!", rather a smug smirk of "Thought so" (or a shrug of "congratulations on catching up, I was here an hour ago"). Admittedly there are a couple of other reveals - one of which doesn't make any sense - but the main plot development is so dazzlingly, blindingly obvious that spotting it is the intellectual equivalent of completing a four-piece jigsaw.

At the start of Dream House, Daniel Craig is a top editor for a major publisher who quits his job to slob about in his new house with wife Rachel Weisz and their two adorable little daughters, and write a novel. But there seems to be someone lurking around outside, the neighbour across the road (Naomi Watts) is initially unfriendly, and a group of local teens are sneaking into his basement because the previous occupants were brutally murdered: apparently the husband shot his wife and two daughters, and was put into a psychiatric hospital. But what really happened that night? Might someone else have committed the crimes? And why?

If you haven't figured out the Big Reveal now (and you haven't seen the trailer, which supposedly gives away everything short of a free pizza and Daniel Craig's phone number), it's really not difficult: exactly how many people interact with Rachel Weisz's character? Figure that out and you're there, leaving the film puffing laboriously on behind. Shyamalan's hide-in-plain-sight trick disguised the character interactions quite neatly but we're wise to the concept now, and Dream House makes no attempt to camouflage the blatantly obvious. The result is a bland, competent but thoroughly uninteresting film with no surprises and no scares (apart from once nicely timed Boo! moment); not just a horror film for people who don't usually watch horror films, but a horror film apparently made by people who've never watched a horror film and don't really know how.


Friday, 25 November 2011



I'm not the world's biggest Chuck Norris fan. I've seen most of his movies from his Golden Age - the 80s and his time with Cannon Films - but I wouldn't really say that any of them were neglected classics in need of rediscovery. Some of them are a touch too flagwaving and jingoistic for my taste - Invasion USA, The Delta Force - while others are entertaining enough but entirely disposable and I've no urge to put any of them on my DVD shelves. Code Of Silence, for example, is a bog-standard cop thriller with a terrific David Michael Frank score and a great villainous turn from Henry Silva, but blows it in the final reels with a silly remote-control robot thing that looks like Robocop via Blake's Seven.

I first saw Lone Wolf McQuade on the bottom half of a double bill with The Terminator at the tiny little Star Centa four-screener in the Swiss Centre just off Leicester Square (recently bulldozed). Rediscovering it twenty-six years later, it now stands as probably Norris' best film: a tough, violent action yarn with Chuck as Jim McQuade, a legendary, no-nonsense Texas Ranger in El Paso up against an arms trafficking ring led by David Carradine, following the inadvertent injury of his daughter (Dana Kimmell, from Friday The 13th Part III) during a massive weapons heist. The only question, since it's carved in stone that the movie's going to end with Norris and Carradine kicking seven bells out of each other at Carradine's desert base, is whose side the widow Parkinson (Barbara Carrera) is on.

Lone Wolf McQuade is infused with, indeed drenched in, the Spaghetti Western spirit, thanks mainly to an overblown Francesco De Masi score that's full of twangy guitars, whistling (by Alessandro Alessandrini), organ, choir and harmonica in the best Morricone tradition, along with the barren desert setting and Norris doing the stolid, impassive hero routine (oddly enough, if you believe the IMDb, the film was originally conceived for Kris Kristofferson). Even the opening credits slide onto the screen in that instantly recognisable Spaghetti Western typeface! There's also the sight of the "Eastwood Hospital" although that's probably real since it's mentioned in the acknowledgements in the end credits (although GoogleMaps suggests there's currently no hospital of that name in El Paso).

It's generally an enjoyable, silly, violent B-movie with equal parts martial arts and gunfire and explosions and, it being former world karate champion Norris squaring off with the great David Carradine (no slouch at the fight sequences), the martial arts stuff is pretty good. In fact much of the action footage is well handled: it's an efficient piece of work that's well shot and mostly well put together (although it is perhaps absurd that McQuade leaves a vital witness in the care of his retired buddy and an inexperienced deputy to go home and suddenly start having sex with Barbara Carrera - shouldn't he really have more important things to be getting on with?). A fun couple of hours and probably Chuck Norris' best film: not a classic but definitely worth a rental.



Thursday, 24 November 2011



Funny old cove, Abel Ferrara. The director and star of one of the most notorious titles on the Video Nasties list (The Driller Killer), alternating commercial projects with personal, micro-budget, rough-edged films. In truth I'm not a big fan of his more famous films: I've never liked The Driller Killer or Bad Lieutenant, and the arty vampire number The Addiction nearly put me to sleep, but I enjoyed the more commercial King Of New York and Body Snatchers (although in both cases it's a long time since I saw them).

And I liked Fear City a lot: it's a hymn to the neon-soaked world of hookers and strip clubs and porn cinemas of New York's Times Square, while it was still a stinking cesspit of vice and degeneracy and before it was wiped clean and turned into something that GoogleMaps Streetview makes me never want to go anywhere near. (But if I had a Tardis, this is when and where I'd go.) That now-lost urban nightscape is brilliantly brought to life here: part unwavering gaze into hell, part slasher movie in which a mad killer is attacking the strippers provided by the "Starlite Talent Agency" run by former boxer Tom Berenger and old friend Jack Scalia. Who will he target next - Rae Dawn Chong, Maria Conchita (Alonso), or Melanie Griffith, who happens to be Berenger's on-off girlfriend and is trying to kick a drugs habit?

Fear City has a terrific cast - there's also Rossano Brazzi as a mafia boss and Billy Dee Williams as the cop on the case - and a sense of authenticity in its feel for the streets and the clubs, and the lowlifes who live and work there. It's a 42nd Street grindhouse movie set and shot on 42nd Street, and as a document of a bulldozed cultural phenomenon it's fascinating. As a slasher movie, though, it's less successful: the maniac is never identified (the actor isn't even credited) and he's given no reason no carve up strippers beyond being a homicidal maniac. He has no depth, he has no character, he doesn't even have any interaction with the other characters except when he's killing them.

Probably the film's trump is that there's plenty of nudity and violence - far more than on the old video release, which was a TV edit that dropped most of the contentious stuff, and was then cut further by the BBFC before being given an 18. Most if not all of that has been included in the new version, including Melanie Griffith's toplessness, lots of other striptease and lapdance nudity, and the use of chainsticks which the BBFC were perhaps unnecessarily strict on at the time. I've never seen the cut version, but I can only envisage it as a frustrating experience that failed to deliver the grubby goods. This edit is squalid, grimy, sordid and seedy entertainment and probably my favourite of Ferrara's films.

But where is he now? Despite several well-regarded movies on his CV, including King Of New York and the original Bad Lieutenant, Abel Ferrara's later work hasn't had a theatrical release in the UK since 1997's uninteresting The Blackout: the IMDb makes New Rose Hotel (a SF drama with Christopher Walken, Willem Dafoe and Asia Argento) and Mary (a religion-themed drama with Matthew Modine, Juliette Binoche and Forest Whitaker) sound fascinating, but no-one appears to want to release them in the UK. Pity.


Live Girls Here:

Sunday, 20 November 2011



Rewatching this distinctly minor Eastwood action movie for the first time since seeing it sometime in early 1991 at the now-defunct Cannon Portsmouth, it's a film that falls right in the middle. On the one hand it's a monumentally silly and implausible cop thriller that's riddled through with rotten dialogue and plot holes; but on the other hand it's a monumentally silly and implausible cop thriller that's been given a level of A-list treatment that it really doesn't deserve in terms of production values, photography and direction. It certainly isn't one of Eastwood's finest films, but as a dunderheaded action flick it is rather good fun.

Charlie Sheen is The Rookie: shiny new partner to grizzled, cynical, hardbitten veteran Eastwood in the LAPD's auto theft division; up against a gang of car thieves led by Raul Julia and Sonia Braga (he's Puerto Rican, she's Brazilian, and they've been cast as Germans for who knows what kind of reason). They specialise in trafficking stolen luxury cars, and more importantly they killed Eastwood's former partner. Sheen's inexperienced dilettante is precisely what the job doesn't require. And when Eastwood is taken hostage by the unintentionally hilarious villains, Sheen has to man up and find him....

"This isn't just a job, it's a ****ing adventure!" bellows their captain for no good reason, as idiocy piles upon idiocy. There's no two ways about it - hell, there's no one way about it: The Rookie is stupid beyond the mere confines of Earth and is genuinely stupid on a cosmic level. An example: in order to track down Eastwood's captors, Sheen sets fire to a bar, yet mysteriously he isn't prosecuted for arson! It's also notable for a frankly unaccountable sequence in which Eastwood's character, tied to a chair, is raped by Sonia Braga's character.

If it wasn't for some well-executed action sequences and car stunt action (particularly an early chase involving a transporter full of cars), the movie would be a total disaster instead of merely a mess. Certainly it's very nicely shot and put together - it has that late seventies look to it and could in places pass for Dirty Harry 6 - and Clint is obviously having fun with it, but good as he is, this is strictly routine and rather more sweary than usual. Enjoyable in parts, but very minor fare. (Watched on BluRay.)


Brrrrm brrrrm:



Although things would have been improved substantially if they'd included a few scenes of people throwing fish at Charlie Sheen. Made in the days when Sheen Jr was a decent enough action lead instead of an unemployable basket case (this came just after Clint Eastwood's The Rookie), this is another ridiculous, overly jingoistic boom-bang movie in which the brightest and best of the US military kick Middle East terrorist ass in the name of freedom and democracy, blow things up and shoot everyone in sight. Hurrah! It's incredible to think Hollywood ever made movies so idiotically simplistic.

The Navy Seals are actually the Navy SEALs: the SEa, Air and Land special operations teams of the US Navy. Michael Biehn's squad (which includes Bill Paxton and Charlie Sheen) are assigned to rescue a helicopter crew captured by terrorists: during the mission Sheen finds a hoard of weaponry including Stinger missiles but there is no real opportunity to do anything about them. Subsequent attempts to relocate the missiles, now known to be in the possession of extremists, initially prove humiliatingly fruitless but information provided by half-Lebanese journalist Joanne Whalley-Kilmer eventually leads them to Beirut....

In fairness to the film, the action sequences are perfectly well executed and put together with some decent stunt work and an impressive car chase towards the end. Lewis Teague knows how to make solid, no-nonsense B-movies (Cujo, Wedlock, Cat's Eye, Alligator), and even had a shot at the big time with The Jewel Of The Nile; it's a pity he's been absent from our cinema screens for such a long time. But Navy SEALs is thuddingly crass and predictable: as soon as one of the team is set to be married you know - you absolutely KNOW - he's not going to make it to the end of the film, just as you absolutely KNOW Charlie Sheen will eventually control his wild and crazy adrenaline rush attitude.

Backed by thumping rock ballads and a Sylvester Levay synth score that sounds exactly like Top Gun, it's efficiently made, but it is badly written, overly and overtly flagwaving and ultimately annoying. Matters aren't helped by the poor picture quality of the DVD, which looks one step up from a VHS tape and is in the wrong ratio. I don't recall caring for it very much in 1991 when it quite unaccountably got a UK theatrical release, and I still don't care for it.


Bang Bang:

Saturday, 19 November 2011



"Meh" is a modern made-up onomatopoeic word which UrbanDictionary suggests acts as a general non-response to any question or statement, signifying indifference to the point of not being bothered enough to form actual words. To be honest, in the case of this Nicolas Cage action thriller the so-called word "meh" is pushing it, as indeed is "huh", "mmmm" and "tch", but I can't find the letter combination for the sound of someone repeatedly punching themselves in the eye, which is frankly the best response.

Justice (originally known as Seeking Justice) has Cage as an ordinary English teacher at a New Orleans high school, whose musician wife (January Jones) is attacked and raped. While at the hospital he's approached by Guy Pearce who tells him that in return for a small, unspecified favour at some time in the future, he can arrange for the rapist to be dealt with - a deal which he unwisely agrees to only to find that the favour is actually to murder a man he's told is a child pornographer. But it's not long before things unravel and Cage finds himself trapped in a city-wide vigilante conspiracy that will protect itself just as efficiently as it washes the human scum off the streets....

The big mystery isn't how a reputable director like Roger Donaldson has been reduced to this morally confused and illogical twaddle; it's what on Earth it's doing in cinemas when its natural home is the £1.50 per night rental racks in corner shops and off-licences. There's a rather nifty action and foot-chase sequence in heavy traffic, but it's sadly undone by some of it being shot with cheap digital equipment with noticeably poorer picture quality, and the film's conclusion sadly degenerates into people emptying guns at each other. And Nicolas Cage can usually be relied upon to flip out and go entertainingly berserk, but he doesn't even afford us the pleasure of a "Not The Bees!!!!!" moment this time out. All in all it's not worth the effort.


Friday, 18 November 2011



Maybe it's a bit too late to still hold out hope for a franchise to radically improve once it reaches Part 4. It was always a safe bet that the Police Academy series wasn't going to suddenly turn great itself once it got to Citizens On Patrol, and if you didn't like the first three Friday The 13ths then The Final Chapter wasn't going to change your mind. So it is with The Twilight Saga: if you couldn't rack up any enthusiasm for the ludicrously overlong tale of a soulful vampire and an easily annoyed werewolf as they competed for the affections of a miserable teenage schoolgirl, it's not going to suddenly transform into gripping and compelling drama. Similarly, if you are a fan of the series, this entry probably won't disappoint.

The problem with this latest episode - the fourth of five - is not that it's more of the same, although it certainly is more of the same. The last one finished with a soap opera end of season cliffhanger as Edward (Robert Pattinson, dull) suddenly proposed to Bella (Kristen Stewart, wet), and Breaking Dawn: Part 1 kicks off with Jacob (Taylor Lautner, sculpted) ripping his shirt off and disappearing into the woods when he receives his invitation to the wedding. After the ceremony, which appears to have been performed on the forest moon of Endor, Edward and Bella jet off for an idyllic honeymoon on a private island off the Brazilian coast, where everything is perfect - the light, the weather, the ocean, the moonlight. And they finally Get Their End Away.

Such bliss, inevitably, can't last, as Bella falls pregnant. Trouble is, of course, she's human, the father's a vampire, and the embryo is some kind of inbetween thing that we're now told will kill Bella. Flown hurriedly back to the Cullen house and the extended clan, Bella is now gaunt and grey, heavily pregnant far quicker than is natural, and frankly looks like some kind of drug addict: Edward mopes around unable to help, and Jacob keeps changing his mind as to whether he wants to kill Edward, protect Bella, save the baby or return to his tribe. And there may be only one way that she can be saved....

No, it's not that Breaking Dawn Part 1 is more of the same, it's that it's far too much of the same. Even though it's the shortest of the four so far, it's still just under two hours and could really do with serious trimming. (I was actually wondering whether the first three could be hacked down and distilled into one fairly eventful 100-minute feature rather than spread over more than six hours.) I've nothing against substantial running times: the best movies find their own optimum lengths, and a three-hour Carry On Cowboy would be just as wrong as an 80-minute Apocalypse Now. The thing is, these characters simply aren't interesting enough, and don't really do enough, to warrant such a running time not just over this film but the whole of the saga so far.

Lautner gets to do his looking angry, looking sulky and looking besotted (he only takes his shirt off once this time, though); Pattinson spends the bulk of the post-honeymoon section looking miserable and helpless, and Stewart is again so drippy and miserable you can't work out why both the hunky blokes are so obsessed with her. Honestly, she is so wet you could wring her out like a chamois leather. (In addition, she's alarmingly skinny.) The only light relief comes from Michael Sheen camping it up as King Of The Vampires - and he only turns up in an extra bit (between the static credits for director, writer, producers etc, and the final end crawl) which is really a teaser for next year's Breaking Dawn: Part 2. And this movie could really use him to liven things up because it really isn't any fun.

Aside from the autumnal look - everything looks like a commercial for either Timotei shampoo or Flake bars - there's really not a lot I like about the film. Bits of it are silly, there are a lot of dreary guitar dirges on the soundtrack, and much of it is dull: far too much time is spent with what to the adult male mind is more blubbery schoolgirl mush rather than anything dramatic. Again, as with the previous three movies - Twilight, New Moon and Eclipse - I suspect a significant part of my lack of enthusiasm may lie precisely in my not being a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, and not being a member of either Team Edward or Jacob (or indeed Team Bella). If it's not aimed at me, it's hardly surprising that I don't respond to it as much as the core demographic doubtless will. But it's still annoying that I don't get very much out of it.


Thursday, 17 November 2011



With one small but significant caveat, I have absolutely no problems with spoofing James Bond. Some of the Roger Moore Bond films are Bond pastiches anyway: Moonraker is entertaining nonsense but has nothing to do with espionage, coherent plot construction, plausibility or even James Bond (and in any case no film with a pigeon doing a double-take or a comedy Thatcher impression, as in the case of For Your Eyes Only, has any right to be taken seriously). The small but significant caveat, however, is that they're funny, so this discounts the three Austin Powers movies, which ran out of steam less than one reel into the first film, and the second was so tediously vulgar I seriously considered demanding my money back (I see from the IMDb that Austin Powers 4 has been announced, in a decision which has to be financial because it sure as hell isn't creative).

Far more successful was 2003's Johnny English, a generally enjoyable Bond spoof (it was even co-written by two of the regular Bond screenwriters) in which Rowan Atkinson recreated his character from a series of Barclaycard adverts: according to the IMDb page it cost $35 million and took $129 million. Eight years on we have Johnny English Reborn and it really is a case of more of the same: English (Atkinson) has retired to seek enlightenment in a Tibetan monastery after an assignment in Mozambique went disastrously wrong. But MI7 desperately need him back as they learn that a mysterious organisation called Vortex is planning to assassinate the Chinese Premier at a forthcoming summit meeting. They have just one lead: a CIA agent in Macau. Can English unmask the members of the organisation and foil their scheme? It's clearly not giving anything away to say "yes, he can".

And like the first one, it's pretty good (in fact it's probably a shade better than the original) although it isn't great. it's Much of the movie's success is down to Rowan Atkinson's comedic abilities, both physical and verbal. In the case of the physical slapstick comedy I'm usually less taken with him - I loathe and detest Mr Bean and won't watch it, although it's the Bean character than annoys me rather than Atkinson - but there is plenty of verbal as well. The weakest sequence is probably the motorised wheelchair chase which really isn't funny or exciting enough.

But it's engagingly silly with a surprisingly strong cast including Gillian Anderson, Dominic West, Rosamund Pike (who was actually in Die Another Day and was one of the best things about that overblown mess), Richard Schiff, Tim McInnerny and Burn Gorman. None of the original cast appear to have returned although I thought I glimpsed Ben Miller as a children's entertainer - the IMDb doesn't list him or the character. Pierce Brosnan was rumoured to be in it, but isn't (possibly linked to the role played by Dominic West?), which is probably just as well as it would probably have punched up the Bond connection too much. In any case the Ilan Eshkeri score not only adapts the theme from the first Johnny English but is clearly emulating the David Arnold sound of the Brosnan and Craig eras.

While there are bits that don't entirely come off, it works perfectly well as a whole and it easily passes Mark Kermode's Six-Laugh Test Of Comedy (although six laughs in a 101-minute film is about one laugh every seventeen minutes which is an absurdly low batting average outside of the world of ITV sitcoms). I know we're all supposed to be sniffy and snobby about the Johnny English movies as though they're really not the kind of movies we should be making. But why? I can't be snobby and sniffy about it: I enjoyed it and I laughed. Stay through the end credits for a clever extra bit.


Monday, 14 November 2011



An absolute apocalypse of testosterone and rugged manliness in which two hulking great Alpha Males swagger and snarl and wave their massive manly balls at each other for breeding rights over the sole significant woman in the Tex-Mex district (there might be a secretary with a couple of lines or something, but that's pretty much all there is in the way of any other female interest), while a pride of other hairy-balled Men prepare to prepare to terminate either, both, themselves or anyone and everyone. Reeking of sweaty machismo from start to finish, it's probably one of the most masculine films ever made.

Nick Nolte is the rock hard and incorruptible Texas Ranger - Robocop but less willing to show any kind of emotion - is a small town not far from the Mexican border; just the other side is his one-time friend Powers Boothe, now a big league drugs baron and legally untouchable so long as he stays out of the USA. Between them is not just the black and white of good and evil but the affections of Maria Conchita Alonso: Nolte's current girlfriend but, significantly, Boothe's ex. Into town comes a team of ex-military Special Ops badasses led by Michael Ironside (sending the machismometer into the danger levels), with orders to rob the local bank and remove the contents of Boothe's safety deposit box along with the cash. Things don't go exactly as planned.... For the final reels everyone treks down to Mexico, armed to the eyebrows with bigass firearms: Ironside and his squad to take down Boothe and his men, and Nolte to take back Alonso....

Walter Hill's Extreme Prejudice is, in its action sequences, phenomenally violent, particularly the climactic massacre where pretty much everyone's shooting at pretty much everyone. I'm not sure whether it manages to top the final reels of The Wild Bunch but it's certainly one of the most bullet-strewn final sequences we'd seen prior to the glory days of John Woo. Seeing it again the other night for the first time in maybe 20 years, I think I enjoyed it more this time around: certainly I always liked the Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack (I have the CD: performed by the Hungarian State Opera Orchestra, augmented with synths and big echoey 80s drums) but I don't recall having so much fun with the overly macho characters or dialogue.

Maybe that's a sign of the times: we're used to action movies being a little fluffier and softer these days, restrained to a 15 or even a 12A level rather than a blood-soaked 18, and perhaps the aggressive manliness feels overblown. We could take the Rambo movies at face value at the time but now - as witness the atrocious fourth Rambo movie - such characterisation feel more like a parody. The same went for Road House which I've also rewatched recently, and that's even more macho and crunchily violent: it feels absurd now. That's not to say any of those 80s movies aren't fun, and it's certainly not to suggest that Extreme Prejudice isn't a good movie: it is, but to some extent it's a product of its time.

Still, I had more fun and more visceral thrills with it than many, many modern action movies that consistently fail to reach those standards. The action sequences are properly edited, so you exactly who's where, and not hacked into a thousand subliminal pieces that flash past your eyes like a strobe; and the blood is done properly with squibs rather than cartoonish CGI blobs painted on in post-production. Well worth watching, and well worth rewatching.


When men were men, and women were glad of it:

Sunday, 13 November 2011



I'd like to say hopes were high for this, the first Bruce Robinson film in 19 years (after the okay serial killer movie Jennifer 8) and a return to Hunter S Thompson territory for Johnny Depp. But really, hopes weren't that high. Bruce Robinson's most famous and most acclaimed film, Withnail And I, was a film that completely failed to resonate with me at all: quite inexplicably, I am absolutely unique in this and every other person on the planet adores the film to pieces. And I know I'm also pretty much alone in this but I didn't care for Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas very much either: maybe I'm just too old for that sort of thing. So putting the key ingredients of Withnail And I and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas together in the same movie was probably not a recipe that was going to work particularly well for me.

And really, it doesn't. Sozzled struggling novelist Paul Kemp (Johnny Depp) arrives in Puerto Rico in 1960, starting off writing the astrology column and reporting from the numerous bowling alleys for the San Juan Star, but it's not long before he's sucked into the orbit of "PR consultant" Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart) and his shady cabal of property developers and insane rednecks planning to desecrate the untouched island paradise with hotels - and Sanderson's free-spirited girlfriend Chenault (Amber Heard).

There's an entirely irrelevant drugs sequence where Depp sees his fellow imbiber's tongue undulate across the room towards him courtesy of some dodgy CGI, there's an even more hopelessly raddled journalist (Giovanni Ribisi) on the staff, there's a vast quantity of rum consumed. Sadly, despite (or perhaps because of) the phenomenal amount of drinking involved, The Rum Diary doesn't really amount to anything. It's not a thriller because there are no thrills; it's not a comedy because, apart from a few nice turns of phrase, it isn't funny; it's not a crime movie because there's no sense of law and order and ultimately no justice. What it is, is a character piece about a character who isn't really very interesting. It feels like they were more interested in having the lead character develop his own voice and conscience than telling a fulfilling story in its own right, by simply putting him up against utterly evil bastards that are the easiest of targets: millionaire property developers, tax dodgers, nuke-happy lunatics.

It's not without pleasures: I liked the period detail (at least, nothing leapt off the screen at me as wrong), there were several neat lines of dialogue and nicely colourful characters, Johnny Depp's quite fun and Amber Heard takes her clothes off. But it's an unsatisfying and uninvolving film: I just left wishing more had happened.


Saturday, 12 November 2011



Eh? Wasn't Clash Of The Titans enough of a stinker? Apparently not - and that's before we get the frankly unnecessary sequel in March 2012 - as this is basically treading the same territory, but far better shot and soaked in the comic-book visual flavour of Zack Snyder's 300: everything's bronze and metallic-looking, it's CGI'd to destruction and it frequently cuts to slow-motion action shots of muscular men in leather and skirts battling with swords and pikes. But while 300 got away with its oddly enjoyable mixture of Triumph Of The Will and gay fetish imagery, Clash Of The Titans was mainly dull and uninteresting (and incidentally not a patch on an already average original), and fusing the two together has produced nearly two hours of arrant nonsense, undeniably with a nice visual flair but which really doesn't work at all as either a drama or a dumb popcorn spectacular.

The Immortals aren't just the Greek gods on Mount Olympus, watching over mankind but bound not to interfere (rather in the manner of the Time Lords), but potentially any man who fights for the right things with enough passion and courage with no thought for himself. It's the 12th Century BC and evil King Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, overdoing it) seeks the legendary Epirus Bow with which he can free the Titans from underneath Mount Tartarus and bring down the Gods. Peasant Theseus (Henry Cavill), coached throughout his life by Zeus himself in human form (John Hurt), is driven to seek revenge against Hyperion for the murder of his mother and the destruction of his village. He is aided by Phaedra the Oracle (Frieda Pinto), whose visions could also reveal the location of the Epirus Bow to Hyperion.....

And so on. It's all absolute cobblers, it's too long, it's dull and it doesn't make sense. We don't find out how Zeus can repeatedly lay down the "no interference" law when he himself has been training Theseus from childhood. Nor is it satisfactorily explained why the Gods bothered to chain the Titans up for centuries in a giant box under a mountain (rather than wiping them out when they had the chance), or why they left the Ultimate Weapon lying around where pretty much anyone could find it by chance. That's because Tarsem Singh Dhandwar isn't that interested in plot or performance or character: he's only concerned with the visual look of it and pretty much every scene looks like it's meant to advertise exotic perfumes or expensive chocolates. He's very good at striking images, such as the unreal worlds of The Cell or the fantasy landscapes of The Fall, but not so hot on story and characters, so outside of the pretty visuals there's nothing interesting about Immortals at all. The look is more important that anything else.

More damagingly, it isn't any fun. It's certainly violent in its battle sequences and CGI monster fights (18 seconds was trimmed to avoid an 18 certificate) but no matter how many punches to the face and spears through the heart, it doesn't mean anything. Most of what you're looking at is just pixels on a hard-drive anyway so there's little sense of jeopardy as you never believe any of this is anywhere near real. I haven't seen the 3D version as it was shot in 2D and  converted in post-production; the 2D is dull enough, frankly. Perhaps it's an odd decision to release a movie about the imminent extermination of Ancient Greece while the economy of the real Modern Greece continues to disintegrate; as it happens, watching the news coverage of the financial meltdown in the Eurozone is far more compelling.


Thursday, 10 November 2011



When there's no more room in hell.....It's almost impossible to start even trying to describe what I love about this film: one of the very greatest films ever made and one of the few films that I never tire of watching in any of its various cuts (of which more later). Perhaps because it's not really about the zombies, it's about us, the living. Perhaps it's the idea of abandoning all personal, fiscal and social responsibilities in a playground world where everything's there for the taking - I love empty world and apocalypse movies, and Charlton Heston's The Omega Man is a personal favourite. Perhaps it's the familiarity of the location - we've all been in shopping malls. Or perhaps it's just the idea of unstoppable armies of the living dead walking the earth forever.

Everyone knows the basic setup of Dawn Of The Dead: in a world struggling to cope with the sudden and unexplained return to life of the freshly dead, four survivors flee the infested city and hole up, at least temporarily, in an out-of-town shopping mall where the mindless dead are a little more thinly spread. All they need to do is to clear the inside of the building and seal off the main entrances, and the mall provides pretty much everything that they need: the water and power is still connected, the supermarkets are full of food (including tinned and frozen) as well as clothing, weaponry and tools. Initially it's idyllic, but ultimately the walking dead bumbling around outside aren't the only problem - the remains of the living want a piece of paradise as well.

The opening, detailing the "story so far" as seen through the chaos of a TV news studio degenerating into yelling and childish squabbling, doesn't ease the viewer gently into the apocalypse; rather it starts at full throttle with the collapse of society already underway and no-one listening to the experts whose rational, logical approach goes against all our ideas of social and human dignity. And then not just maintains that pace but increases it with an action sequence as the National Guard storm a tenement block. It really is a film that doesn't let up for its first act at all. While it does eventually allow the audience to get their breath half way through, with the dead pretty much reduced to comedic relief as they fall up and down escalators and into ornamental fountains (they're still a threat, but a manageable one), it is only a brief respite before the real danger shows up in the shape of Tom Savini's anarchist biker gang.

Dawn Of The Dead was the second film I ever saw at the mighty Scala Cinema in Kings Cross: the first was Night Of The Living Dead with which it was playing one afternoon in late December 1986. At that point the VHS video version had been withdrawn as it wasn't certificated under the Video Recordings Act, and it would be another three years before it would be resubmitted to the BBFC (and was then cut, albeit by just a few seconds). At some point I'd obtained a fourth or fifth-generation copy of the full version but it wasn't until 2003 that the film was released with that gorgeous BBFC phrase "All previous cuts waived".

Much of Dawn Of The Dead is fantastically gory, thanks to Tom Savini's make-up and prosthetic effects, with liberal use of blood squibs, bites, machetes, dismemberment and one full-on disemboweling; given the sheer amount of gore it's astonishing that the BBFC didn't completely butcher the film (their site gives the final running time of the original cinema release at 125 minutes). Such moments as the "screwdriver in the ear" and "zombie walking under helicopter blades" are one-off splatter gags but the bulk of the horror is that of the siege: trapped against genuinely overwhelming odds not just by the shambling dead but by other survivors who are even more dangerous.

I tend to alternate between the different cuts of the film: the "director's cut/US theatrical version" which is the standard release version, the "Extended Version" which is 12 minutes longer, and the "European Version". This last edit was the one I watched a few nights ago and even though it's been edited by Dario Argento, it's my least preferred version. Part of the problem is, incredibly, the Goblin score. Whereas the Romero seamlessly mixes those Goblin tracks with an assortment of cues from the De Wolfe music library, the European cut simply needledrops the same pieces over and over again. Given how Argento and Goblin have performed so well together in Argento's own films, it's surprising how the soundtrack doesn't work here. The other problem, I guess, is merely familiarity with the Romero version, so you miss the bits that have been taken out and are surprised by the inclusion of the odd extra shot or line of dialogue.

As part of Romero's presumably ongoing Dead series (six to date), it's probably eclipsed by Day Of The Dead which I think is probably a better film - the writing, acting, effects and claustrophobic setting are all more powerful - yet I still enjoy Dawn a lot more. I've never been a massive fan of the original Night, although I haven't seen it in a long time now, and while the long-awaited fourth film Land Of The Dead was fun, its canvas was too wide. Night, Dawn and Day all concentrate on a small group of people in a confined space, while Land expanded its gaze to a larger cast in a city and the countryside beyond, thus losing focus.

Diary Of The Dead was an interesting entry adopting the "found footage" technique: a stylistic change which fell into the trap that most of the FF films have of keeping its characters pointlessly filming themselves rather than abandoning the cameras and running away from the flesh-eating zombies, and his most recent, Survival Of The Dead, was frankly pretty underwhelming apart from a few amusing moments. It says something, I guess, that I bought the DVD of Survival a few years ago and it's still in its shrinkwrap. Mention should also be made of the Zack Snyder remake from 2004. Which is fine. Since Romero's film is one of my all-time favourites, and the majority of modern remakes have tended to suck somewhere between massively and completely, the bar was incredibly high for Snyder but I actually ended up enjoying his take on it as a gory and entertaining popcorn zombie movie.

But it's just not in the same league as George A Romero's original: one of the highpoints of genre cinema one of my favourite films ever (along, for context, with Aliens and Blade Runner). I never get bored with Dawn and while I wouldn't go so far as to name my (nonexistent) children Peter, Steven, Roger and Fran or get tattoos of the film's logo or imagery, it's probably the only film where it will be stipulated in my will that the DVDs are cremated with me. While Goblin's remorseless "L'Alba Dei Morti Viventi" plays.


When there's no more room in hell....

Monday, 7 November 2011



It's mystifying sometimes how the universe decides which directors are particularly worthy of scorn. Uwe Boll is the obvious one, hated as if he set fire to everyone's dog when in truth he's no better or worse than a hundred other low-budget hacks, and dodgy as some of his work might be (I still refuse to acknowledge there's a single redeeming feature in Postal), he's not down there with Michael Bay, who comes up with films consistently more tedious than Boll's but at a hundred times the cost. Brett Ratner is also high on the list of Directors You Should Hate, and again for no massively good reason. Some don't see his third X-Men movie in the same blinding glory as the first two Bryan Singer films, but personally I don't see much difference: they're all bloated, overlong and humourless orgies of CGI and uninteresting characters. Yes, Ratner's Red Dragon isn't a patch on Michael Mann's Manhunter, from the same original source novel, but it's okay.

Granted, he's also given us four more Chris Tucker movies than we really needed or even wanted: Money Talks and the three Rush Hour films. In truth I rather enjoyed the Rush Hours when the peerless Jackie Chan was doing his knockabout stuff although Chris Tucker is a spectacularly irritating screen presence and you really want someone to hit him (the only time he's been correctly cast is as a jabbering idiot in The Fifth Element). Like all those movies, Tower Heist is glossy, empty, stuffed with reputable names and, possibly since Chris Tucker isn't in it, rather good fun. The staff at an exclusive luxury high-rise in the middle of New York discover their pension funds have been stolen by multi-billionaire Alan Alda, and led by building manager Ben Stiller, they decide to rob his penthouse to get their money back when it looks like Alda is going to walk free.

How they manage to achieve all this is basically Mission: Impossible (right down to the catchy score, which sounds like it's going to burst into either the M:I theme tune or The Taking Of Pelham 123 at any moment) involving messing about in lift shafts, blocking off security cameras and dangling out of top-floor windows, and once it gets going it's far more entertaining than it had any right to be. I still don't much care for Ben Stiller as a leading man, and you might raise an eyebrow at the fact that the only two roles for black actors are the large woman (Gabourey Sidibe) and the petty crook (Eddie Murphy). Elsewhere, Tea Leoni is the Federal Agent in charge, Matthew Broderick is a guy about to be evicted, and Casey Affleck is the new building manager.

It's good fun, and in an era of Occupy Wall Street and insane amounts of personal wealth held by investment bankers, rather timely. It's not a great film: it won't be troubling most Best Of 2011 lists or Academy votes, but as Friday night multiplex fare it's perfectly alright, with generally likable characters and some nicely amusing moments. Bottom line is I really enjoyed it, and it's certainly the best thing we've seen from Ratner so far.


Sunday, 6 November 2011



As far as demented cop action films go, this senseless Cannon extravaganza from 1986 goes quite a long way. It's probably not as crazy as some of the Italian or Hong Kong ones, but its relentless combination of thudding violence and ridiculous levels of destruction ensure that it's still pretty wild. Sadly, in these wishy-washy liberal times, maverick cops who don't follow the rules and mow down allcomers with submachine guns aren't anything like the box-office draw they were a mere 25 years ago - and even then there wouldn't have been a police department anywhere in the real-life civilised world that would employ Marion Cobretti, a cop who doesn't just make Dirty Harry look like a flower arranger, but makes Genghis Khan look like My Little Pony.

In Cobra, a small cabal of anarchistic nutjobs periodically gather in a disused swimming pool to clank axes above their heads prior to bringing about the New World Order or something (the specifics are never made clear); the principal nutjob is the otherwise unnamed Night Slasher, a hulking homicidal maniac murdering random women in the street. (How this is supposed to overthrow the existing democratic administration is also never explained.) One of his attacks is witnessed by model Ingrid (Brigitte Nielsen), at which point this fearsome killing machine turns into a blundering incompetent who has several golden opportunities to silence her and fails at all of them. Brought off the LAPD's "Zombie Squad", the guys who do the jobs no-one else wants, Lt Cobretti (Sylvester Stallone) gets assigned to guard Ingrid as well as effectively use her as bait to catch the maniac.

It's frankly a mystery why Ingrid continues to stick with Cobretti after an undeniably spectacular car chase in which both of them are almost killed (which wouldn't have been necessary in the first place if The Night Slasher hadn't suddenly forgotten everything he'd ever learned about being a successful serial killer). Nor is it revealed why the best way of killing a woman at a motel is to bring in a 40-strong gang of homicidal gun-toting bikers and reduce the place to a smouldering, bullet-ridden wreck, when one person could simply shoot or even poison her and the cops guarding her: job done quickly, efficiently and quietly, and there's really no need to blow anything up. For what is essentially an exercise in damage limitation for the weirdo axe-clanking cult, there's a stupendous amount of further damage being created. But that's not how things work in the Cannon Universe.

And matters aren't helped by Cobretti's persona: Stallone's voice sounds slowed down in the way that Alvin And The Chipmunks are sped up, he spends way too much time playing with his arsenal of handguns, machine pistols and grenades (I don't believe any of it is standard LAPD issue) and appears to have at least as much of an issue with cops and authority as the nutters do - he's particularly angered by the wet liberal by-the-book cop Andrew Robinson (injokingly cast from his role as maniac Scorpio in the original Dirty Harry). It's a mystery what Ingrid sees in the man, and Brigitte Nielsen frankly isn't the actress to make us understand their budding romance. And Stallone isn't the screenwriter to bring it to life.

And he isn't the right actor for the smart one-liners either (when another maniac threatens to blow up a supermarket, Cobretti's neat response is "Go ahead, I don't shop here anyway"), which need to be delivered by a more personable character. But here he's such a difficult guy to empathise with or warm to that there's little left to respond to but the violence and action sequences. Still, those action sequences are undeniably well done, particularly the car chase (in which two fuel tankers are blown up) and the motel shootout, and Cobretti is such a laughable LAPD officer the movie ends up as stupidly entertaining.

Cobra is a pretty average film, all told: it's a dumb and needlessly violent movie, and it reeks of the 80s with the tight jeans and thumpy synth/rock score. But it's still rather disreputable entertainment and I admit enjoyed revisiting it (I'd forgotten great chunks of it). Maybe nostalgia plays a part in it: I don't remember caring for it much back in 86 but it seems rather more watchable now. Stallone's done a lot better - Tango & Cash is a terrific lunkheaded 80s cop movie - but this is worth a rewatch.


Disease, cure:



Back in the 1980s, Cannon absolutely ruled. Not only did they own a chain of British cinemas (including what are now the Cineworld Haymarket and Odeon Panton Street, and what WAS my local, the magnificent Granada Bedford, which was promptly bulldozed and eventually turned into a Lidl), but they were the specialists in action movies. Sure they produced and distributed art movies and foreign smut, and occasionally had a go at A-list Oscar bait (such as Runaway Train), but they will forever be associated with dumb B-movie actioners, frequently with Charles Bronson or Chuck Norris and invariably of the might-is-right, shoot-first variety, managing to make Dirty Harry look like a social worker.

The Golan half of Cannon's Golan-Globus - Menahem Golan - wasn't just the boss but he also wrote and directed as well (much as I loathe musicals, I really want to see The Apple), including this spectacular flag-waving nonsense in which filthy terrorist scum (led by Robert Forster with a standard issue Bastard Moustache and a shirt so red it hurts to look at it) hijack an American flight and redirect it to Beirut. Before they've issued any demands or terms of negotiation, Forster and his cohorts in the New World Revolution spirit away all the Jewish passengers (bafflingly including George Kennedy as a Catholic priest named Father O'Malley) to a secret dungeon. The Americans respond by sending in The Delta Force: their top commando badass squad led by Lee Marvin (in his last film appearance) and Chuck Norris, who'd retired from the Delta Force but literally turns up at the departure briefing on the off-chance he can tag along.

The first half of the movie is basically an Airport movie (hell, it's got George Kennedy in it) with name actors including Martin Balsam and Shelley Winters among the passengers; the second half is basically Team America: World Police as Chuck Norris and the Delta Force kill all the bad guys with awesome amounts of firepower and explosives - they even blow up a school which doesn't even have anyone left alive inside it! Shamelessly, crassly manipulative - there's a little girl on the flight, a pregnant woman, a survivor of the concentration camps - it's a film whose entire ethos is Chuck "Chuckles" Norris waving the Stars And Stripes in the face of filthy foreign anti-Western scum, and then either shooting them or firing rockets at them from his motorbike.

It's loosely based on the actual hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985 (the movie came out in 1986) although the Delta Force do not appear to have been involved at any point. At over two hours the movie could do with some trimming, but there are occasional pleasures to be had, including Alan Silvestri's synth score which is full of absurdly heroic fanfares against a thumping disco beat. As an exercise in crash-bang-wallop The Delta Force is not particularly well done - it's efficient but unremarkable - and as pro-West propaganda it's so thuddingly one-sided it's almost funny. It's certainly not very well written, but fans of thicko action movies and Norris' baseball bat acting style should get a few laughs.


Bang Bang:

Friday, 4 November 2011



Huzzah! It is a joy to find, finally, a genuinely creepy and effective British horror movie: one that's entirely in line with the traditional British ghost story, with a couple of unbearably suspenseful sequences and a handful of perfectly timed leap-in-the-air jump moments. And a impeccable setting, a strong and sympathetic female lead, a total absence of idiot nerd humour, a measured pace, full orchestral score - there's very very little in this movie to take issue with. Indeed, if there is a problem it's that post-Sixth Sense, even a moderately informed multiplex audience is constantly looking for The Big Plot Twist - whether he's really dead or she's actually a ghost or it's all a dream - and consequently over-analyzing the movie rather than just sitting back and watching it. This really isn't necessary as The Awakening is quite straightforward and admirably simple without being simplistic: a good solid haunting movie told economically and efficiently and with the minimum of fuss. And scary.

It's 1921 - significantly, not long after the First World War - and Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall), fresh from assisting the police in exposing fake mediums and charlatan spiritualists rather in the manner of The X-Files' Dana Scully, is hired (rather in the manner of Philip Marlowe) to investigate the alleged haunting a remote boarding school for boys after one of the pupils died. She's a sceptic and is ultimately more interested in unmasking the prankster than discovering a real ghost - but there's clearly something in that house that shouldn't be there. What incident occurred there before the house even became a school?

The grim, humourless school is as far from Hogwarts as you can get; it's a cold, bleak, unsunny place shrouded in mist and, once the kids are off the premises (for the half-term break), it's a great spooky location. Perhaps the Big Plot Twist is a shade unlikely, and turning the school groundsman/handyman into a grunting maniac really isn't necessary, but the pluses significantly outweigh the few minuses. In the same vein as The Others, it's a solidly creepy and occasionally very scary movie, and well worth seeing. Alone.


Thursday, 3 November 2011



This would appear to be only the fourth Argentinian film I've ever seen, after the impressive thriller The Secret In Their Eyes, Apartment Zero (which is co-British and pretty dull) and something called Blood Of The Virgins which I have to confess I can't actually remember very much about beyond it being a bit rubbish. This horror-thriller-suspense number also isn't very good, although it has a wonky premise and some interesting ideas, but doesn't really work as there's really not enough reason given for the villains to do what they do.

Sometime in the 1970s twenty five crates of dynamite went missing and wound up in the hands of some political extremists; now, more than thirty years on, the two remaining nutters are imprisoning and torturing people in their ordinary Buenos Aires house: setting them incomprehensible maths questions and prowling the house in flameproof suits. One young man goes in looking for his girlfriend whose last text appears to have come from inside....

Sadly, there doesn't appear to be much reason for these two old goats to behave like Jigsaw from the Saw movies. What are they attempting to gain from all this? It really would have helped to have some - indeed, any - explanation, no matter how dodgy. I did wonder if I'd nodded off at some point and therefore missed the crucial bit of exposition, but judging by a few online reviews it looks as if I didn't miss anything because the rationale simply isn't there. Cold Sweat (Sudor Frio) is really little more than an remarkable second-tier torture movie: it doesn't go for the outrageous bloody sadism of the Saws and Hostels but with its pretty horrible idea of soaking people in nitroglycerin, it certainly ranks above the Banes and Caged and Hungers of this world. But "it's silly but kind of okayish" is really the best that can be said about it.


Wednesday, 2 November 2011



I'm always in favour of anything that's described as gialloesque. Which is a great shame as this thriller simply doesn't live up to it: rather than echoing the great Argento and Bava movies, which automatically spring to mind whenever the word "giallo" is used, the film that it most resembles is Michael Apted's Blink - not a staggeringly great film to start with. Sadly, Julien Magnat's Faces In The Crowd is pretty bland, unexciting stuff, and features a genuinely laughable plot contrivance two thirds of the way through that makes absolutely no sense.

Kindergarten teacher Milla Jovovich chances upon a serial killer (dubbed "Tearjerk Jack" because he apparently weeps over his victims), but in the ensuing chase she falls and cracks her head. Recovering, she discovers she has a condition called prosopagnosia, or "face blindness": she can no longer recognise people facially. If someone walks out of the room and walks back in, she can no longer tell if it's the same person. Cop on the case Julian McMahon keeps an eye on her, as her boyfriend can't cope with her condition, but the killer is still out there: does he know that she couldn't identify him?

It's certainly interesting in places as Jovovich doesn't even recognise herself in a mirror, and her friends appear to be different people (her boyfriend is played by twelve actors in various scenes, and even her new therapist is only sometimes played by Marianne Faithfull). Which is fine, especially as it really needed to go stylistically overboard rather than being restrained, as the film has a crunching plot development that hinges on a leading character shaving his beard off for absolutely no reason other than the demand of the plot: worse, in a film about a woman who has trouble with faces, it makes no sense whatsoever for him to remove his one distinguishing feature. Nor does it really matter who the killer is, and it should matter, but it feels like they've plumped for that guy as a random plot twist.

Like rather too many movies, Faces In The Crowd is thoroughly unremarkable. It's not that it's a bad film, it's just not a particularly good one. To have actually done a full-blown giallo would have made the odd plotting more bearable, but it doesn't work in a "proper" film, and Faces In The Crowd just doesn't go nearly mad enough to justify it. Which is a pity.