Friday, 28 December 2012



How can it fail? We all like a bit of The Raid, don't we? And we all like a bit of the old rape and sadistic misogynistic abuse, right? And of course we absolutely love a good dose of zombie contagion and undead apocalypse and "shoot 'em in the head" action, yeah? Put them together and it's gonna be a classic! Er, no. Thing is, I like cottage pie, I like jelly and I like Maltesers - but crucially not at the same time. Zombie movies, sleazy exploitation and violent cop thrillers are fine individually, but lumped together on the same plate the result is an unpalatable and frankly nauseating mess.

Zombie 108 (actually called just Z108: Abandoned City on the screen, but that's not what it says on the box - oh, for a little consistency in these matters) starts off in usual zomb fashion with a montage of shrieking headlines detailing some kind of biological experiment which goes wrong and gets loose under the opening credits, followed by a woman searching for her toddler daughter in the deserted streets of Taiwan and supermarkets and being pursued by the ravenous hordes. They're saved at the last moment by a passing motorist - but he turns out to be a drooling rapist abusing women in his basement. Meanwhile SWAT teams have been drafted in to evacuate the civilians from District 108, but come under fire from the oblivious drug gangs who prove just as dangerous as the zombies....

Either the cops vs gangsters thriller or the gory zombie movie would have been fine, and you could probably get away with mixing the two together (La Horde, anyone?), but the gratuitous rape and humiliation footage feels seriously out of place and far too much time is devoted to it, even in a film that in total only runs for 83 minutes. It's an absurd contrivance that out of the whole of the city, everyone just happens to converge on the same apartment where Pervert (that's how he's listed in the closing credits) has his squalid sex dungeon, and it's also absurd that Pervert has somehow managed to corral some zombies together to work the dynamo to keep his electricity going when it's clear the city's power hasn't been cut off.

So all the fair to good work in realising a zombie Armageddon (a CGI-enhanced one to boot) is undone by cheap torture porn sleaze and plot idiocies, including the sudden inclusion of a Japanese serial killer for absolutely no good reason. Taiwan's first zombie film ends up is a botch that's trying to be three entirely different movies bolted together, and it just doesn't work.



Thursday, 27 December 2012



After the generally dismal Don't Open Till Christmas, Christmas Evil and Silent Night, Deadly Night, here's another seasonal slasher in which a maniac in a Father Christmas costume hacks his way through a generic selection box of morons, bimbettes and ineffectual authority figures while logic, common sense and reason have not just taken the festive season off but have stolen a car, robbed a liquor store and are headed for Mexico. Not just notable for being the sole feature directing credit for David Hess, star of two despicable and genuinely nasty video nasties (Last House On The Left and The House On The Edge Of The Park) and boasting a script by Alex Rebar, The Incredible Melting Man himself, To All A Goodnight is also one of the grottiest, dullest and stupidest teen slasher movies of the subgenre's Golden Age you will ever see.

Five girls have to remain at their elite finishing school over the Christmas holidays with only the cook and the simpleton gardener to keep an eye on them - but the girls have arranged to smuggle in a few boys for a secret party. Meanwhile a mad killer has donned a Santa suit for absolutely no reason at all, and is bumping them off one by one and burying them in the grounds. Who could it be? It couldn't possibly have anything to do with the pre-credits sequence in which a young girl died at the Christmas party two years earlier, could it? The film is precisely halfway through before the first body is discovered, at which point the teens continue to behave exactly as before - sex and beer - despite the fact that half their number have mysteriously disappeared and despite knowing there's a homicidal axe-wielding psychopath outside.

There's one slight surprise at the end when a second killer Father Christmas turns up, but by that point it wouldn't have surprised me if they'd been aliens. Why don't the police just take everyone away from the scene once the first body is discovered? Did the killer(s) figure on the boys turning up, and thus have to dig several extra graves in the garden in the middle of the night (while wearing a Santa suit)? Why didn't this all happen last Christmas? Why does nobody ever turn a light on when wandering the house in the middle of the night?

And who gives a toss? Even by the standards of the cheap 1980s teenkill movie it's badly acted and boring as hell - and that's not just when set against slasher pinnacles of the period like the first few Friday The 13th and Halloween movies, that's when up against tedious drek like Unhinged and Silent Scream and Madman and Death Screams. The Europeans are the only people who've pulled off killer Santa movies with Rare Exports and Sint. You might spot Mark Shostrom (spelled wrong) listed in the end credits for special makeup effects, along with Joel Soisson, now a producer and director of numerous horror franchise sequels but back in 1980 he was just billed as Boom Operator. Small wonder that there's no UK distribution for this rubbish: this is another tatty obscurity which some kind but misguided soul has uploaded onto YouTube. Thanks so much for that, it's just what I've always wanted.


Monday, 24 December 2012



It's oddly refreshing to find a European horror movie set in a convent full of possessed nuns where there's nary a nipple and not a pube to be seen from start to finish. The only bare boobs to be seen are on one nun who's already dead and being prepared for embalming; otherwise everyone thankfully keeps their kit on at all times. Don't misunderstand: I'm in favour of naked women bouncing around the screen as much as anyone, but I usually want a bit more reason for it than "hey, guys, clock the norks on that". Even though it's directed (pseudonymously) by Bruno Mattei, auteur of Emanuelle In Prison, Violence In A Women's Prison and numerous other todger-friendly sleaze items, for some reason there's none of that sort of thing going on here.

There's still a bit of blood and gore - Mattei also directed Zombie Creeping Flesh and Rats: Night Of Terror, after all - in The Other Hell: mysterious deaths are occurring at a convent, but are they down to human or diabolical causes? Since an early scene has the Mother Superior hacking the private parts off a corpse and shrieking "The genitals are the gateway to hell!", it's natural to assume it's simply a case of insanity, but there's much more to events than that...

Further mysteries: what's with the neatly arranged piles of bones and skulls in the catacombs? And why all the mannequins, naked and suspended from the ceiling in the attic? I actually quite enjoyed The Other Hell: it's free of the tiresome nudity and lesbian gropeathons which have been a staple of this sort of filth for years, and there's a mystery in there that's worth getting interested in as well as touching lightly on the rational/demonic debate (is Satan real or just the evil bit of humanity?) - but only lightly because it soon comes down pretty firmly with the latter, probably because it makes for better horror movies. Modest entertainment anyway, and again it's a shame there's no UK distribution outside of a questionably legitimate YouTube upload. I know there's no real market for it, but it would be nice to access it properly.


Friday, 21 December 2012



It's been a while since I saw anything by the late Joe D'Amato, aka Aristide Massacessi: a man who has no less than 26 credits on the IMDb for 1998 alone - that's a film a fortnight and by the look of it all of them were porn! In fact most of his filmography appears to be adult, either soft (he was responsible for the Dirty Love and Eleven Days, Eleven Nights series of top-shelfers in the late 80s and early 90s) or hard, much of which has not been granted a UK release. Personally I've no interest in those films, but he also had a few stabs at straight genre movies, getting himself on the Video Nasties list with Absurd and the awful Anthropophagus/The Grim Reaper, and ripping off Conan The Barbarian with his brace of so-bad-they're-absolutely-bloody-awful Ator movies.

One particularly repulsive example of D'Amato's horror output is 1979's Beyond The Darkness, aka Buio Omega or Blue Holocaust: an incomprehensible story of murder, necrophilia and cannibalism. Taxidermist Frank loves Anna, and Anna loves Frank, but his housekeeper Iris loves Frank (perhaps because he's vastly rich) and kills Anna by means of a voodoo doll. Frank digs the body up and takes it home in the back of his van, picking up a stoned British tourist hitch-hiker on the way. While she's sleeping off the spliff, Frank disembowels Anna, chucking guts and organs into a bucket, and starts eating her heart; the hitcher bursts in, so he rips out all her fingernails before killing her. But then Iris turns out to be in on it as well, putting Anna's body in Frank's bed and helping to dispose of the hitcher's body in a bath of acid...

And it keeps going: a morbid black farce with corpses hidden in the wardrobes, cops looking for a missing jogger, Anna's twin sister turning up, a private detective snooping around, Iris planning her wedding to Frank....It is entirely senseless: at no point do these hideous people bear any recognisable resemblance to real people or indeed what you'd expect of people in a horror movie. In addition, it's genuinely revolting with the artless gore sequences and Cinzia Monreale spending most of the movie playing dead and being manhandled by charmless lead Kieran Canter; it's perhaps hardly surprising that this truly icky film has been lost to British audiences. It did have a VHS release back in 1989, but nearly ten minutes shorter than the version some kind but demented soul has uploaded to YouTube.

It's quite clearly not very good; in fact much of it is laughable. And yet, despite the crassness and utter disregard for logic, Beyond The Darkness is oddly fascinating and almost endearing: you rather end up wishing Joe D'Amato had made more horror films instead of endless porno. It's better shot than a lot of, say, Jess Franco movies (D'Amato was also his own DP, billed under his real name), and there's a Goblin score which has some nice moments but isn't one of their best soundtracks. Glad to have seen it, but more in the sense of ticking off another notorious gore semi-obscurity from decades past than deriving much in the way of entertainment from it.


Thursday, 20 December 2012


Having sorted out the plums from 2012's cinematic crop, we're left with the duffs. Every year brings a rich crop of utter drivel and they haven't spared us this time: once more there are plenty of terrible movies to pick from. And that's after I'd filtered the most likely candidates out by not going to see them in the first place, so there's no Jack And Jill, no Project X, no Paranormal Activity 4 on the list. Life's short enough: even if the Mayans got it all wrong and I've got another forty years to go, I'm still not going to waste 90 minutes on a dickless cretin like Keith Lemon.

Yes, really. Probably since Existenz, I've slowly stopped being a David Cronenberg fan. Like Woody Allen, I much prefer the early gloopy/funny ones (I saw Shivers again the other week and it's still great), and I was bored senseless by this impenetrable, possibly allegorical and deliberately inaccessible film of Robert Pattinson's meaningless odyssey. It makes his other 2012 release, A Dangerous Method, look like Lethal Weapon.

This wasn't the film that finally convinced me that the found footage technique has no value whatsoever - that was Evidence - but it illustrates the format's drawbacks perfectly. Never mind that it's unwatchably shot and acted and edited, it's the pathetically shoddy pretence of "reality", and the fact that it can't sustain the deception. In this insulting instance, so-called director William Brent Bell cannot even be arsed to provide an ending.

Middle Eastern whackjob despots should surely be a rich seam of satirical comedy, but Sacha Baron Cohen far seems more interested in desperate bad taste gags about wanking and abortions and child rape. Even by the standards of Borat, Bruno and amoebic dysentery, it's shamefully unfunny.

This really should have been better. I don't give a toss about fidelity to the comics: if I want the comics I'll read the comics. Plotwise it's not dissimilar to The Raid but it's not nearly as much fun, it's ludicrously overviolent, it's devoid of spectacle (much of the time it's devoid of light) and it's absolutely impossible to care. For all that was wrong with it (such as the presence of Rob Schneider), the Stallone film is immeasurably superior in every regard.

Hardly anyone saw this one: it got a tiny release back in February and I only caught it on DVD some months later. A cheap, flatly made and mostly dull romantic drama about a nerd who invents a blood-powered car (Little Chopshop Of Horrors) and then has to kill people to keep driving....and then ten minutes from the end decides to pointlessly murder some children and throw a baby into the car engine. Tacky and charmless.

Wanted to like it so much, as I liked Metropolitan all those years ago, but within half an hour there wasn't a character I didn't want to see strangled. All of you: just shut up and stop being so tiresomely self-important (like I can talk). Plus it's got dance sequences in it, for goodness' sake.

*bangs head on desk until the pain goes away* Honestly, you've got Sarah Douglas and Steven Berkoff and Robert Englund and THIS is what you came up with? Really? Go away. It's rubbish.

Originally screened at Frightfest 2011 but only given a minimal theatrical release this year for no earthly reason other than to publicise the DVD, it's a mean-spirited and artless affair with shoddy CGI gore and a roster of characters Amnesty International wouldn't give a shit about.

Dickheaded bromcom in which a pair of top CIA wankers use the colossal might of the American intelligence services to see who can hump Reese Witherspoon first. I'll defend Joseph McGinty Nichol's Terminator Salvation, but I won't defend this: it's beyond despicable.

Hell, if Michael Bay can throw away a quarter of a billion dollars on more than two hours of flagwaving and things going wallop bang thud kerpow and characters so cardboard they have to be propped up with a stick, why shouldn't Peter Berg? Working out whether it's significantly better or worse than Transformers 3 is like working out which testicle you'd prefer to have slammed in the door of a Ford Focus.

Other awful movies, whether just shoddy trash or well-intended failures, that didn't make the list include, in no particular order: 21 Jump Street, J Edgar, A Fantastic Fear Of Everything, Piranha 3DD, Ted, The Watch, Deviation, House At The End Of The Street, The Master (yes, sorry about that) and Elfie Hopkins. Let's hope (assuming the Mayans weren't talking through their hats) that 2013 is better.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


It's that time of the year again: it's Top 10 Best Films Of The Year time, and happily 2012 offered plenty of decent films to pick from. As usual, I didn't see everything and it's entirely possible (though unlikely) that the ten very best movies of the year were all the ones I decided to pass on, either on the grounds that they looked a bit rubbish, or they were made by people with an established track record in rubbish. Not naming any names, but Adam Sandler had two films out this year and unless someone is willing to put lumps of cash in my hand upfront, I'm staying at home. Another reason for missing many films was simply that they weren't given decent distribution: three afternoons at the ICA might count as a release technically, but it doesn't give us mere plebs in the provinces much of an opportunity to see them.

The sole criterion for inclusion is that the film had a UK cinema release that commenced between Jan 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012, and for reference I go by their inclusion on the Launching Films website. Thus, despite it being a genuinely wonderful film, The Artist is ineligible because the distributors actually opened the film in one West End screen in the dying days of 2011 and the rest of the country (including me) didn't get to see it until January. Festival screenings don't count.

Enough blathering. The list:

In the wake of the original Millennium trilogy (though decidedly not David Fincher's awful Dragon Tattoo tribute act) and BBC4's screenings of The Killing etc, Scandinavian crime mysteries have become something of a cultural zeitgeisty thing, and this thoroughly enjoyable Norwegian murder/crime thriller gripped throughout despite a not especially sympathetic hero and a few thoroughly icky moments, specifically that bit in the outside toilet. Great fun.

Of Mars. Possibly the year's most critically underappreciated movie, and probably the year's most undeserved financial failure. Personally I thought it was terrific: a romping old-fashioned and genuinely entertaining space epic with action, spectacle, monster attacks and a bit of romance. That it was greeted with derision and apathy saddens me.

I usually pass on the CGI digimations because I'm no great fan of celebrity-voiced cartoon animal knockabout, but Pixar's latest might well be their best yet and a new standard of excellence. A beautiful and stylishly animated "once upon a time" fable with a spirited heroine and no pop culture jokes (or talking horses): truly entrancing.

You could argue that Daniel Radcliffe is miscast as he's really too young, but I didn't have too much of a problem with it. Making audiences jump and creeping them out numerous times is phenomenally difficult, and this is a proper horror movie that really should have been left as a 15 certificate. Even in a cut version it's satisfyingly scary for grown adults, but too intense for the tots. Which is as it should be.

It's Turkish, it's 159 minutes long and almost nothing happens. Yet it's engrossing pretty much the whole time, and the landscapes (which we see a lot of, even at night) are as breathtaking as those in John Carter or The Hobbit. There are films half as long that can bore the hind legs off a Queen Anne chair. It's my favourite foreign language film of 2012.

Hands down the scariest horror movie of the year: a proper boxer-browner of the type we just don't see often enough and the most jump-boo-aaargh! frightener since Insidious. The best film on show at this year's FrightFest. Loved it.

Everything they messed up in Quantum Of Solace has been fixed here, and the result is a terrific Bond movie with action sequences you can follow, far more of a sense of humour, a colourful villain and, at last, the end of M as a caricatured mother figure. Probably the best in the series for the last 20 years.

Effortlessly gripping, immaculate period detail not just in terms of shirts and beards but film-making style, genuine thrills and true tension: that it's based on a ridiculously implausible (but true) story doesn't detract from the excitement. You won't breathe for the last twenty minutes. More mature, proper, intelligent films for grownups, please.

I love its look, I love its ambition, I love Rapace and Fassbender doing sterling work. Was it perfect? No. Could it have done with a better score and three or four underexplored characters fewer? Absolutely? Does it all make watertight logical sense? Nowhere near. Does any of that matter? No. Ridley Scott is back where he belongs. I went to see it twice; that's how bloody good it is.

The best ironic deconstruction of horror iconography and cultural genre archetype you'll see all year. A horror movie about the genre: a delicious exploration and explanation of traditional horror tropes and stock characters that morphs into a delirious monster frenzy with the best and (if you were careful with your Twitter feed) most unexpected ending of the year. A Work Of Genius.

Not quite making the cut: a second raft of films, numbers 11-20, if you will but in no particular order: The Innkeepers, The Iron Lady, Total Recall (shut up, I liked it), Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Moonrise Kingdom, Marvel Avengers Assemble, Looper, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai, Grabbers and [Rec] 3: Genesis, all of which were either perfectly decent or better. Here's hoping 2013 has a similar calibre of material.

Friday, 14 December 2012



Length should absolutely not be an issue with movies. From this year alone Skyfall, Hara-Kiri: Death Of A Samurai and Once Upon A Time In Anatolia are all hugely satisfying films, and they're all substantially over two hours long. Just because something's only 85 minutes including credits doesn't mean it's any better than another film that needs another hour to tell its tale. Equally, of course, taking 160 minutes is no automatic barometer of worth. The best films find their own ideal length. Overlength, however, is a serious matter and this overlong-awaited return to Middle Earth really doesn't need to take 169 minutes to get about a third of the way into a 350-page book. I know Peter Jackson doesn't like to skimp, and I'm happy with the insane amount of padding in King Kong simply because it's such glorious padding, but the three Lord Of The Rings movies sadly tend towards a plod because Jackson wouldn't trim them down at all (and that's just the standard versions, never mind the extended cuts). That this film is just the first part of another trilogy based on a much slimmer source novel suggests there's a lot of plod to be had here as well. And indeed there is.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey links back to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy not just by including several familiar characters (Saruman The White, Galadriel, Elrond) but framing the whole thing as a reminiscence by Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) of the time when, as a young hobbit (Martin Freeman) he was pressed into service as a burglar by Gandalf (Ian McKellen). The task: to aid a dozen dwarfs whose homeland had been left in ruins by the gold-hungry dragon Smaug: the dwarfs are on a quest to take back their treasure and their kingdom under the Lonely Mountain. The arduous trek is peppered with spectacular encounters with trolls, orcs, stone giants, goblins and Azog The Defiler, long believed dead at the hands of dwarf king Thorin Oakenshield (son of Thrain, son of Thror). But to decode the runic map showing the secret entrance to the Lonely Mountain they must consult the elves of Rivendell: the sworn enemies of King Thorin....

So far, so pointy-eared twaddle. In fact, though needlessly drawn out, some of it is surprisingly good fun, particularly when set against the humourless Rings trilogy: the most obvious example is Sylvester McCoy who turns up as comedy wizard Radagast The Brown, a sort of St Francis Of Assisi figure with bird poo dripping down his face (it's as if his Seventh Doctor went mad and became a tramp). And there's also a lot of funny fantasy names of the "Blagmir, son of Og-Dukhus from the Eastern Kingdom of Splod" variety which it's impossible for any actor to deliver without making it sound dangerously like a spoof. John Carter suffered from this syndrome as well. Matters do grind to a halt, though, when Jar Jar Binks Gollum turns up: the single most annoying character in the whole of the saga, and I readily confess to a muttered "yay" when he finally plummeted into Mount Doom in Return Of The King. Let's hope he spends the rest of the Hobbit trilogy scrabbling miserably around his cave at the bottom of the Goblin Mountain - this is no reflection on Andy Serkis, obviously: it's the character and that bloody voice that grate so much.

On the technical side, it's absolutely fine. Better than fine: the effects are flawless (whether the CGI monsters or the perspective trickery of getting Ian McKellen to look twice as tall as Martin Freeman), the scenery is breathtaking, and the big action set-pieces are as spectacular as you could expect. Howard Shore's score doesn't feel as drab as his scores for the Rings trilogy: I even rather liked the Neil Finn folk song over the end credits, though I could have done without the dwarfs bursting into song near the start. Colour me pleasantly surprised. However: I really needed some more definition of the dwarfs - only three or four have made their individual presences felt thus far, though the others may get their moments in the next two films. And it really needed to be shorter: as with Fellowship Of The Ring, this doesn't have an ending, merely a pause now they're within sight of the Lonely Mountain.

I didn't see it in the controversial new 48fps process, where the film was shot and is projected at 48 frames per second rather than the conventional 24. Advance reports suggested that for all the higher definition, it smoothed everything out and made it look like videotape from the Jon Pertwee era of Doctor Who or a 70s sitcom, and I didn't want my first impression of the film to be coloured by that kind of distraction. (Besides, my local wasn't showing it in 48fps anyway.) Nor did I see it in 3D, and yet again there was little in the 2D print that made you wish you were watching it in 3D - although I will give it a try as it is a new process. On the subject of pointless alternatives: I have no intention of trying it in IMAX or the D-Box shaky chair version: the film's flaws have nothing to do with the photographic or projection processes, and the standard 2D normalvision is perfectly acceptable.

Equally, no amount of expensive gimmickry will hide the huge overlength and portentousness, or the obvious question that plagued LOTR: if there are these huge birds that can carry our heroes away from danger whenever Gandalf summons them, why the hell don't they just ride them all the way rather than clambering over mountains and fighting trolls? Because then you wouldn't have a nine-hour trilogy spread over three years? An Unexpected Journey is a chore, especially at the start when the dwarfs turn up and the film takes a long time to get going; but there is some good stuff to be had and I wasn't nearly as bored as I'd feared. Somewhere in the 169 minutes, there's a cracking 109-minute film trying to get out.


Wednesday, 12 December 2012



You can never understand how studio executives' minds work: decisions seem to be taken on the shakiest of grounds sometimes. In this instance someone's apparently decided to make a werewolf movie on the somewhat questionable basis that 2010's The Wolfman was a huge hit. The Wolfman wasn't any good - possibly due to the studio interference that saw the score replaced and then restored - though it had a terrific Gothic look to it and Benicio Del Toro was ideal lycanthrope casting - but box-office sensation it emphatically wasn't. Either that, or someone heard that the final Twilight movie has some head-lopping gore in it. Whichever way, Universal presumably own the copyright on this hairy old tosh (having started it off with the Lon Chaney Jr version of The Wolf Man), so why not?

In the event, though, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us is pretty bland and uninteresting fare despite plenty of blood, limbs and entrails strewn merrily across the set. A 19th Century Transylvanian village is plagued by werewolf attacks, and not just at the full moon: an elite squad of hard-bitten werewolf hunters turn up to destroy the beast, aided by the village medic's young apprentice. But is the monster one of the villagers, or one of the gypsies camped out in the woods? And can he (or she) control the murderous urges?

It's tolerable enough in a TV kind of way: it feels like a cut-down version of a three-hour miniseries that might, in its longer form, have given us a little background on the eccentric hunters, but it's a long way from the recent The Wolfman (which wasn't great anyway) or Hammer's Curse Of The Werewolf. You really need someone in the lead who looks a bit wolfy to start with - which is why Benicio Del Toro or Oliver Reed were such brilliant choices - but you don't get that here. Instead you get lots of body parts and CGI monster effects, and stabs at traditional werewolf lore, including the "Even a man who is pure in heart...." rhyme, interspersed with romantic soap opera and American accents that don't belong (even though they're no more inaccurate than cut-glass English ones). Missable, despite Stephen Rea and the occasional gloop.





There's a lot wrong with this splashy, ultraviolent tribute to the period martial arts movies made by the Shaw Brothers in the 1970s, and much of it is down to Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, aka The RZA, because he wrote the story, co-wrote the screenplay, directed it, wrote much of the music for it and took the starring role in it. It's certainly terrific to look at, and some of the fight scenes are excessively crunchy, but while it's generally good sadistic fun while it's on, it's a long way from being a classic and, more seriously, it doesn't feel like a Shaw Brothers movie. Rather, it feels more like a Quentin Tarantino pastiche, and that's not just because it's got Quentin Tarantino Presents.... at the start.

The Man With The Iron Fists tells of Thaddeus the humble blacksmith (The RZA) who gets dragged into various clans' schemes to steal a shipment of the Emperor's gold. All he wants to do is leave town with his true love Lady Silk who works at the Pink Blossom brothel owned by Lucy Liu, but Silver Lion has taken over the evil Lion Clan: they want the gold but the true heir has escaped and is hiding in Jungle Village after a fierce fight with Brass Body, who's some kind of a cyborg. Also in town are the Emperor's undercover emissary Jack Knife (Russell Crowe), the Gemini warriors and the Hyena Clan; the gold is hidden under the brothel and the Emperor has sent in his elite Jackal troops to recover it....

Or something like that. It's absolute nonsense, but you don't watch The Man With The Iron Fists for its tightly constructed narrative any more than you watch Shaw Brothers movies for theirs. The action scenes are what count and generally they're pretty good and satisfyingly violent and destructive. They'd have been better if The RZA hadn't chopped them up with random and unnecessary split screen effects: you really need to be on the level of someone like Brian De Palma to pull off decent split screen and The RZA frankly isn't in that league. Nor is he a sufficiently charismatic actor for the lead role. In addition the blood spurts are done with unconvincing GCI rather than actual Kensington Gore and they look awful. Putting modern hip-hop and Wu-Tang Clan tracks over the film also detracts: a real Shaw Brothers movie would be tracked from the De Wolfe Library.

But despite all that I still enjoyed the movie. Russell Crowe's English accent doesn't wander nearly as much as the Barnsley to Dublin round trip it got stuck on in Robin Hood; the production design is fantastic and the melodrama and mayhem are suitably overplayed. And while the tribute act doesn't entirely come off, it's of a piece with Tarantino's exhumation of unfashionable genres of the past. More importantly, it's urging me to put a bunch of Shaw Brothers movies on the rentals queue. The Man With The Iron Fists is a long way from a success, but it's a stylish and honourable failure.


Monday, 10 December 2012



Too many damsels and not enough distress, frankly. This is one of those college campus movies where you're crying out for a mad axeman to leap out of the bushes and start with the headshots: probably too much of a tonal shift from the arch, talky and deeply unamusing character comedy but still not unwelcome. Of course it's not fair to hate a film for not being something it isn't trying to be, but it's perfectly fair to rag on it for what it is when it doesn't work. It's a comedy that isn't funny with a central core of characters you don't want to spend any time with at all and you wish they'd just go away and prattle somewhere else. Obviously I wanted to like it - why bother to watch it otherwise? - but with only a few moments excepted, I couldn't.

That central core of Damsels In Distress consists of three female students (led by Greta Gerwig) at a top-end American college who take a newcomer under their wing: I don't think it's ever revealed what they're studying and indeed the film's nearly an hour through before there's one brief classroom sequence. The rest of the time they run (sort of) a Suicide Prevention Centre where they attempt to dissuade the depressed from doing away with themselves with coffee, doughnuts and tap dancing lessons. Most of the time, however, they talk. Endlessly, on and on and on, about men, sex, relationships, themselves and their narrow, ill-informed, judgemental opinions, all delivered in that strange, unreal, heavily mannered manner. And then there are a couple of dance numbers thrown in out of nowhere, and it stops.

A few moments, peculiar or odd rather than recognisably amusing, break through the endless jabbering: one character is revealed as a member of a religious sect that only practises anal sex, one of the girls maintains a posh English accent for no reason besides having visited London once for four weeks. But they're not enough to make up for the dullness or the crashing self-importance of the four girls. They might be well-intentioned but they're damned annoying and once it became clear that no-one was going under a bus you just had to grit your teeth and wait for [1] someone to slap them or [2] the film to end. And I'm not, generally, in favour of slapping women.

Is it an intellectual piece? Maybe it's so intellectual I just can't grasp it. Maybe the jokes are so devastatingly clever and so subtle that they sailed straight past me. Maybe I'm just not up to the task and should watch Jackass or Latvia's Funniest Home Videos instead. Or maybe, just maybe, it's shallow and irritating. Certainly it's not as good as Metropolitan, Whit Stillman's first film, which was also dry and awkward in its comedy but seemed more likable. I really wanted to like it - I wouldn't have watched it otherwise - but I honestly couldn't.



Friday, 7 December 2012



Perhaps inevitably, there's a lot of top-end cussing in Martin McDonagh's new film: given the liberal use of F and C in the last one, In Bruges, it would probably be unreasonable to expect anything else. Oddly, it has a lower certificate than In Bruges which according to the BBFC's own notes would have received an 18 for language alone, never mind the violence and drug use; have standards changed that much in just four years? I'm not dogmatically opposed to verbal filth in movies - I love Brian De Palma's Scarface - but I can certainly be bored by it if there's too much of it and it's not well used. There is this idea of the poetry of swearing, where it forms part of the rhythm of the speech: 44 Inch Chest staked a claim to this but I'm not convinced by it.

Seven Psychopaths is a self-referential black comedy about homicidal maniacs and to some extent about movies, and it feels like something that should have come out back in the 90s in the wake of Pulp Fiction, when violent and amoral crime comedies like Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead were in cinemas and on the VHS racks. In addition to the bloody violence and flip and cynical humour, this also has a layer of clever-clever Hollywood injokery, as alcoholic screenwriter Colin Farrell struggles with his unfinished (indeed, unstarted) script, also called Seven Psychopaths. His friend, struggling actor Sam Rockwell, works for dognapper Christopher Walken: they've abducted Woody Harrelson's dog and he wants it back. Meantime there's a genuine serial killer stalking Los Angeles....

The idea is that this Seven Psychopaths script is the film we're actually watching: a scene at a party is referred to in dialogue, but never seen, because Farrell never wrote it because his character can't remember it. Lines such as "this would make a great place for a shootout" ultimately refer to the location where the big shootout occurs. Yes, very clever. In addition, it's a cheat of a title since two of the psychopaths are only in it in imagined sequences and two of the other psychopaths turn out to be the same person, so that's down to four psychopaths on the same level of reality as the film. Whatever: there are no dogs in Reservoir Dogs either, and Krakatoa is actually West of Java.

With no-one worth caring about whether they live or die (pretty much everyone's a foulmouthed and unlikeable lowlife), two lead actors I'm not a fan of in Farrell and Rockwell, and nothing roles for the women (Olga Kurylenko has one scene, Abbie Cornish is constantly referred to as "a f***ing bitch"), it's down to the ever-colourful Walken and Harrelson for any entertainment or interest, and endlessly watchable as they are, there's not a lot they can actually do with it. It's not funny, it's not exciting, it's not as clever as it makes out and it's certainly not as good as In Bruges (which I liked but wasn't crazy about).




La teoria de cordes és un marc de recerca activa en física de partícules que tracta de conciliar la mecànica quàntica i la relativitat general. Es tracta d'un contendent per a una teoria de tot (TOE), un model matemàtic independent que descriu totes les forces fonamentals i les formes de la matèria. Postula la teoria de cordes que les partícules elementals (és a dir, els electrons i els quarks) dins d'un àtom no són 0-dimensionals objectes, sinó més aviat línies oscil · lants 1-dimensionals ("cadenes"). That's the first paragraph of Wikipedia's entry on string theory shoved into Catalan through Google Translate, and it makes about as much sense as the sports gambling background of this nonromantic sort of comedy. What are these people doing? It's more than just placing bets, it's to do with manipulating the odds given by the casinos to get a better return. Or something. It makes Inland Empire look like an episode of Pingu.

That's what occasional stripper and wannabe cocktail waitress Rebecca Hall does in Lay The Favorite: she turns up in Las Vegas and immediately gets hired by Bruce Willis to work in his gambling firm, where they're always yelling on the phones and looking at numbers on the screen like they're in the New York Stock Exchange. But his jealous wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) won't let Hall stay: she moves to New York and works for shady bookie Vince Vaughn - which would be okay except that this sort of thing is illegal in New York and their big client won't pay up and he's on parole and the Feds might want to know who his bookmaker is...

I'm not so much of an imbecile that I can't usually grasp the basics of what's going on in a movie set where the laws and the rules aren't the same as in the UK. I can usually follow a movie about baseball or American football even though I'm rarely clear on exactly what's happening. But Lay The Favorite really needed to explain its scams and loopholes much more clearly than it did, if it wanted to interest anyone unfamiliar with the world of sports gambling. It barely even explains what the title means. As a result you're left with a decent cast bickering about something or other - we assume Willis is the good guy because he's against Vaughn and Vaughn is clearly a despicable sleazeball. There are no laughs, there's no real excitement, and ultimately very little point to it.



Monday, 3 December 2012



The first thing we noticed about this movie was that there were no press reviews in the Friday newspapers: it wasn't screened for the critics so if they wanted to review the movie they had to queue up at the multiplex to see it like normal people do. Why? It's usually seen as a sign that the movie stinks if the distributors decide not to let the inevitable collective thumbs down torpedo the movie's box-office chances any further: it's less a question of letting the public see it first and more a question of damage limitation, hoping to get some cash in the bag before word spreads. But all manner of unspeakable crud gets shown to the critics, crud far worse than this efficient if anonymous and thoroughly unremarkable B-movie potboiler: it doesn't make sense. (I don't really care that much: I'm not on the press circuit anyway.) But the real mystery is not why they didn't show it to the press, it's why they're showing it to us. Like the Amanda Seyfried thriller Gone, it belongs more on DVD than in cinemas: there's really no need to trek out to catch it on its almost certainly brief theatrical exposure.

Alex Cross is a Detroit homicide detective with two kids, a third on the way, and a typically nasty murder case to solve: a rich woman tortured to death. But if not for her money, then why? Happily, this is one of those murderers who likes to leave abstruse clues around the crime scene and engage in a battle of wills (if not wits) with the police: the trail leads to a billion-dollar urban renewal programme and the final target looks to be dodgy French financier Jean Reno (wearing a Panama hat that occasionally makes him look like Robert Robinson)....

Possibly the media blackout was intended to stop anyone mentioning that the star, one Tyler Perry, is actually better known (at least in America - the bulk of his work has not been released in the UK) for dressing up as an old woman named Madea on no less than sixteen occasions (if you believe the IMDb). That's not necessarily a bad thing, but this movie is rebooting a character who's been played twice by the great Morgan Freeman so there's precedent to live up to. In comparative terms that's like getting Martin Lawrence to play Shaft: even if he turns out to be brilliant, it's hard to get away from Big Momma's House. Frankly I'm not convinced that Perry is up to the demands of a leading man in an action thriller. Apparently Idris Elba was attached at one point and he would certainly have been better: he has presence and charisma and Perry really doesn't. Both of Freeman's outings in the role are far better: Along Came A Spider in particular is twaddle but every time I find it lurking on one of ITV's digital channels I usually have to watch it to the end.

This one is directed by Rob Cohen: perfectly professionally, but if you didn't know this going in there'd be nothing in the movie to tell you until his credit came up at the end. It's got a decent enough supporting cast (Cicely Tyson and John C McGinley turn up) and is mostly watchable enough in a Friday night throwaway thriller kind of way, although the climactic confrontation between Cross and the killer is shot in fast-edit wobblicam that will probably induce motion sickness if you're in the front three rows. But sadly it's never better than okay, never more than watchable. A sequel is supposedly in the works.


Saturday, 1 December 2012



There's a little bit of comedy gold in this film that, in an alternate universe, would lead to a terrific BBC sitcom, but it doesn't involve any of the nominal quintet of star names. It doesn't revolve around downtrodden art curator Colin Firth, yeehawing Texas rodeo girl Cameron Diaz or multizillionaire media bastard Alan Rickman, or gentleman forger Tom Courtenay (formerly of the King's African Rifles) or even art expert Stanley Tucci and his comedy German accent. Sadly, bafflingly, the comedic gold actually belongs to two hilariously snooty receptionists at the Savoy Hotel in London played by Julian Rhind-Tutt and Pip Torrens and they're pretty much the best things in the whole movie: the rest of it is frankly a bit mediocre and unremarkable. Amusing, certainly, but not enough.

Though it's uncredited, Gambit is supposedly a remake of the 1967 caper in which Michael Caine and Shirley Maclaine carried out a convoluted heist of Herbert Lom's art treasures; here the basic structure is vaguely the same but all the detail has been changed, and not necessarily for the better. This time Colin Firth wants to hustle his tyrannical boss Alan Rickman with a fake Monet (painted by Tom Courtenay), and inveigles Cameron Diaz in the scheme. As before, the first twenty minutes show the scheme as it should unfold; the rest of the film details how it all goes horribly wrong, with bedroom farce, Japanese stereotypes, dropped trousers, punches in the face, a random appearance of a lion, and awkward comedy swearing.

The last seems particularly misplaced: it makes the film feel like the writers have never set foot in this country, and the cast and director weren't interested in giving it any authenticity at all. In fact it feels as though it's been constructed solely for the American market who neither know nor care what the English language and the English people are really like: it comes across like one of those American sitcom episodes where the cast visit "London, England" and suddenly it might as well be set in Narnia. And that's surprising because it's credited to the Coen Brothers, who frankly you'd expect better of.

Weirdly, the opening credits play against a 60s-style cartoon version of half the plot, so you've already seen a lot of the film before it's even started: an odd decision in a movie based not just on comedy timing but unexpected plot twists. That said, it's still a reasonably amusing romp: Rickman's always fun to watch as the bullying villain of the piece, some of the comedy diversions are funny (especially at the Savoy), and it's certainly better than the unremarkable original.


Wednesday, 28 November 2012



Yet another of those movies from the 1970s that you can't get in the UK: you've either got to import a Region 1 disc (it's pricey, you're not really supposed to, and in all honesty it's hardly worth it) or resort less legitimate means. By which I mean streaming it off YouTube. It's not been uploaded by the producers or the owners, and the picture quality is pretty poor (even when compared with other YouTube presentations - maybe it was sourced from a knackered VHS tape or something), but sadly that's all there is. If I could get it off Blockbusters or there was a chance it'd turn up on BBC2 or Film4, then clearly I would.

The Devil's Rain is a fairly unremarkable horror movie with two good reasons for catching it: a better than usual cast of familiar cult faces, and a final reel of surprisingly yukky gore effects. Other than that, it's pure hokum. Immortal Corbis (Ernest Borgnine) is still leading his flock of robed Satanists, desperate to track down a book stolen from them centuries before by the distant ancestors of the Preston family. Now, after Mark Preston (William Shatner) has failed in a battle of faith inside the cult's desert church, it's ultimately down to Tom Skerritt and Eddie Albert to unleash the Devil's Rain, and thwart Corbis and the Devil's plans.

At which point the movie basically stops for a showstopping series of gruesome dissolvings, as the devil worshippers are turned into puddles of blue gloop, like they're The Incredible Melting Man or something. Even allowing for the awful image quality it's suddenly rather good fun: considering that along with the strength of the cast - which also includes Ida Lupino, Keenan Wynn and a young John Travolta - you'd have thought someone would have put it out there properly: despite the slime it would probably get away with a 15. There are some nice moments - Borgnine offering Shatner some water in the desert, all the shots of the followers' eyes - but overall The Devil's Rain is ordinary at best. It isn't terrible, it's just one of those movies that isn't particularly good.


Saturday, 24 November 2012



The title of the movie is sarcastic, of course: America is a shouty wasteland of ignorant, bellowing cretins that the Good Lord has long since abandoned. Its culture is mindless, shallow and aesthetically worthless, celebrating the talentless and the morally bankrupt; its television a repository of shrieking subhuman bullshit and its citizens heartless, mean-spirited bling-drenched morons obsessed with their own meaningless and ephemeral gratification above all else and all others. Just yesterday there was an unwatchably depressing video on YouTube showing American shoppers at the opening of the big Black Friday sale at WalMart, descending en masse on a pallet of cheap mobiles like Romero's zombies ripping apart the last human being alive. (Not that the UK can crow particularly: we've got Ant and Dec.)

That's the starting point behind Bobcat Goldthwait's God Bless America. It's an exaggeration, of course: obviously there are Americans who are intelligent and well-read and who appreciate subtitled movies and bathe once in a while, but they're drowned out by the imbeciles and the noise, the talent shows and reality shows that showcase neither talent nor reality, the bigotry, the fearmongering, the hate and the cruelty. Frank (Joel Murray, Bill's brother) is eventually pushed too far by a steady accumulation of garbage TV, inconsiderate neighbours, his own spoiled brat of a daughter, his simpleton coworkers, and ultimately his being sacked for basically trying to be a nice guy in an ocean of vileness. So he takes his gun and sets out to rid his country of its worst aspects, starting with the obnoxious teen bitch star of a TV reality show (which absolutely isn't My Super Sweet Sixteen, though it's entirely the same and quotes directly from it). He reluctantly teams up with the dead girl's classmate Roxanne (Tara Lynne Barr) and they embark on a spree against the Top Ten Greatest Nuisances Of Contemporary America.

Hate preachers picketing funerals, people who text in cinemas, ranting TV nutjobs, judges on a talent show (which absolutely isn't American Idol, though it's entirely the same)....some of those targets are certainly justified, but by adding in the trivial nuisance targets the film dilutes the venom aimed at the deserving cases. Equating the liars and fearmongers of a rightwing TV news channel (which absolutely isn't Fox News, though it's entirely the same) with selfish bastards who park over two spaces is like equating Robert Mugabe with the bloke from the Go Compare adverts or people who don't proofread their tweets: you lose perspective and proportion when you're basically gunning down anyone who isn't you. That's the point at which you become a Dalek. John Waters' Serial Mom had Kathleen Turner murdering people who didn't rewind rented videotapes or who wore white shoes after Labour Day (whatever the hell that is), but she wasn't also going after paedophiles and corrupt politicians at the same time.

With its cleanup crew of downtrodden loser and enthusiastic younger woman taking out the trash, it's more reminiscent of Super, but it's far better than that film and it's certainly funnier. Certainly it's not to be taken too seriously: there doesn't appear to be any kind of police action against them even though they've been witnessed, pictured on TV news and Frank is killing people with his own handgun and travelling in stolen cars. Still, God Bless America is funny, and there's no doubt that there's a righteous anger, bitter fury and steaming bile at work here, but unfortunately it's all spewing over pretty much everyone, and tacky karaoke shows and pseudo-documentaries showcasing inarticulate scum screeching incoherently at each other are easier comedy targets than, say, City bankers or elected representatives who lie, cheat and screw all of us over and pocket millions regardless of the cost or their actual worth. A movie about someone taking out those individuals would be worth seeing.

Meanwhile God Bless America is worth a look: it's repetitive in places with frequent glances at the head-banging awfulness of two hundred channels of bugger all, and it stops rather than comes to a natural ending, but there are laughs to be had and there's a measure of truth in it. It's a pity it only got a very limited theatrical release as it deserves a little more exposure than it received by basically being shunted off to DVD.


I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more:

Thursday, 22 November 2012



For years this was the one major Dario Argento movie I hadn't seen. Thanks to the Scala Cinema in King's Cross I'd managed to catch most of his earlier films (including the rarely shown Four Flies On Grey Velvet, probably my favourite of his "Animal Trilogy"). I'd been absolutely stunned by Terror At The Opera and Tenebrae on the big screen, and at this point I was a fan, even of the all-over-the-place Phenomena and the relatively flat Trauma. (Sadly it would all come to a screeching, shrieking halt with the ghastly The Stendhal Syndrome.)

I first saw Deep Red under its original UK title of The Hatchet Murders at the Fantasm season in 1996 at the National Film Theatre. It was a ropey old print: discoloured, scratchy and jumpy, but I didn't care: I loved it immediately. (This might have been one explanation as to why I hated Stendhal so much when it was screened the following week - it ain't Deep Red and deep down that's probably what I really wanted). Since then I've seen it several more times, in cinemas, on an atrociously pan-and-scanned VHS and now on shiny DVD, and I still loved it; and having watched it again just a few nights ago I still love it. Oh, sure there are minor annoyances every time - a language problem and a character I really want to slap every time they appear - but this is easily up there in Argento's top rank.

There's not really much point in relating the basic plot details: musician David Hemmings witnesses the murder of a psychic (Macha Meril), and he's first on the scene....but something's not quite right, something's not exactly as he remembers it, and with the aid of (frankly annoying) journalist Daria Nicolodi sets out to solve the crime, not so much in the interests of bringing a murderer to justice as simply clearing up that tiny detail that eludes him. But from this springs two other shockingly brutal murders and a fantastically chilling pair of sequences of Hemmings exploring an abandoned old mansion - not once, but twice! - on the basis of the slenderest and cleverest of clues.

With a terrific early Goblin score (credited as "The Goblins") and gorgeous photography with lots of appropriately deep reds, Deep Red is still one of the best giallos out there: demented plotting, luscious visuals, sadistic violence. It's not perfect: the comedy sequences involving Nicolodi's knackered old car just feel out of place, as does a genuinely weird little girl (Nicoletta Elmi) who sticks a hatpin through a lizard for absolutely no reason, which caused the BBFC some concern on all but its most recent release. And you could quibble about the so-so optical effects for the big fire towards the end, or the fact that the film occasionally switches from English to subtitled Italian - but I'm not going to. No film is perfect, but the best come damn close to it.

I'll admit I prefer Opera, which is so wonderfully bonkers with even more audacious set-pieces, and Tenebrae, a very close second. Those two are masterpieces with infinite rewatch value, Suspiria and Deep Red are right on their bloody heels and all four incredible films show Dario Argento at his absolute peak. That's part of the problem, of course, with more recent works such as The Card Player and the disastrous Giallo: he's done so much better and Sleepless was probably the last of his films to demonstrate just how good he can really be (though I still maintain a fondness for Do You Like Hitchcock?). Deep Red is prime Argento, prime giallo and prime cinema, and I love it.


Profondo Rosso:

Wednesday, 21 November 2012



Mea culpa: when the FrightFest 2012 lineup was announced I declared on Twitter that the scheduling of the Maniac remake against the fourth entry in the Wrong Turn franchise was not the most difficult of decisions. In the event I was ambivalent about Franck Khalfoun's thoroughly questionable first-person-scalper but felt confident that I'd still made the right choice - a choice made easier by the fact that Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead, by the same director, was a pile of old rubber pants. Well, for what it's worth, I misjudged it: it's a massive improvement on the previous instalment, though still not up there with the enjoyably nasty original or Joe Lynch's hilarious splattery romp, and delivers as a mean-spirited body count movie with plenty of simpletons being sadistically slaughtered by a trio of giggling inbred mutants.

Wrong Turn 4: Bloody Beginnings is basically One Eye, Saw Tooth And Three Finger: The Early Years, beginning with the series' trio of deformed hillbilly cannibals escaping from their cell in the basement of a remote sanatorium in 1973 and slaughtering staff and patients alike. Thirty years later (taking place before the events of the first Wrong Turn movie) a bunch of college simpletons get lost in a blizzard and hole up for the night in the abandoned building (shades of the enjoyable Norwegian slasher film Cold Prey) - but of course they are not alone and it's not long before they're picked off and turned into nibbles.

It's tough to muster up any sympathy for the nine potential meat courses: more interested in sex, weed, booze and partying than anything else. On the one hand they're smart enough to include someone who can start a hospital generator system (rather than the usual petrol engine chugging away in a shack) and another who knows how to project 35mm film, but on the other they're stupid enough to go wandering though an unfamiliar, abandoned building, in the dark, at night, without considering any of the potential dangers, and one of the group is so thick he actually tries to save a girl from hanging by pulling on her ankles. Characters abruptly change depending on what the script demands: one girl is emphatically against killing the mutants in one scene, and enthusiastically voting for it in the next.

There's also the problem of it being a prequel: we know the mutants survive because they're in the other movies. Just as we know Anakin Skywalker can't die in the Star Wars prequels (more's the pity), the idea robs the movie of any suspense as to the outcome, even though it's kind of traditional in modern horror cinema for the monsters to survive somehow, if only for the final shock coda. Happily, it doesn't matter too much since the splatter is liberally sprayed around, with severed limbs, needles through heads, frenzied knife attacks and a long scene of one of the simpletons having bits of his flesh cut off and fried in front of him. Sadly some of these kills have been augmented at best, and performed entirely at worst, with CGI effects that look slapdash and unconvincing.

Wrong Turn 4 is a mixed bag: it's immeasurably better than the misstep of Wrong Turn 3 and it has plenty of blood and gore, but all the victims are idiots and you don't care who lives or dies. It's enjoyable enough even as you realise just how stupid it is; fun enough as an evening's rental though probably not one to keep and treasure forever.


Yummy yummy:

Tuesday, 20 November 2012



The year's biggest disappointment was not, as expected, Prometheus, though that's probably because I didn't subject myself to all the hype and trailers and then realise the film had little left to discover. Nor was it The Dark Knight Rises since my expectations were only moderate after the previous movie (and again, I hadn't watched the trailers on YouTube over and over). Nor was it either of the year's Adam Sandler offerings since [1] I don't expect anything from them and [2] I didn't bother to see them. No: the year's greatest failure to satisfy my hopes for Quality Cinema was the new film from Paul Thomas Anderson. I liked There Will Be Blood a great deal, and I absolutely love Boogie Nights, but this is absolutely not even close to being in the same league. (Confession: I have not seen Magnolia yet.)

In the years immediately after the Second World War, The Master is Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), leader of a small philosophical movement known as The Cause, which promotes regression, past lives and hypnosis as part of its great Vision For Humanity. Drawn into Dodd's orbit is Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix, who I have to admit I didn't recognise at first), a naval veteran drifting aimlessly from one meaningless job and sexual encounter to another. Stowing away on a yacht, he finds himself invited to stay with Dodd's extended family and social circle, thanks partly to his facility with making powerful hooch cocktails out of whatever's to hand (including paint thinner).

In essence, The Master is really about the relationship between the two men. It's clearer what Quell sees in Dodd: he needs to belong in an organised structure and cannot function on his own, so he willingly subjects himself to Dodd's "Processing": endless question and answer sessions that are impossible to tell whether they're brilliantly clever or made-up nonsense. Somehow he at least doesn't fail these tests, even though (despite his military experience) he lacks the discipline to fit in, to behave himself, and he even physically attacks those who question The Cause. But it's not as clear what Dodd sees in Quell: it's never explained why he insists this unpredictable and violent alcoholic is so important to The Cause. Does he relish the challenge of converting him?

It's similarly difficult to work out what the ultimate point of the story is, since neither of the two is really worthy of interest. Dodd's Cause might be a flash of insight into the human condition, it might be hogwash that nevertheless attracts a circle of acolytes looking for some kind of meaning to their lives. (Any resemblance to Scientology is entirely coincidental and in your own head and not the film.) Certainly there's no hint that Dodd is an out-and-out charlatan, and I'm slightly tempted by the idea that Dodd isn't The Master at all: it's his wife (Amy Adams).

Odd moments appeal - a full-on discussion about The Cause at a swanky party where Dodd is demonstrating regression in particular, since that gave a hint as to what these people were talking about - while others, principally the guaranteed least erotic group nude sequence ever put on film, stun in entirely the wrong way. But for all the undeniably intriguing substance and exemplary performances, I can't get excited about the film and it does become a series of arguments about something unclear between two men we don't really care about. It's a cold film, hard to get into and hard to find very much meat, and the heavyweight dramatic fireworks never go off. The period detail is certainly as convincing as the evocation of the 1970s in Boogie Nights - but it isn't a fraction as enjoyable or exciting. It's a much more sombre film, heavier and glummer. I wanted to like it, honestly: I wanted to be dazzled, and in the end I just wasn't.




Hopelessly one-sided debate time: Danny Dyer is rubbish, isn't he? All those films and he's not been any good in any of them. Some of them have been okay, but not because of Danny Dyer: they've been okay in spite of Danny Dyer. For example, I didn't mind Devil's Playground as a reasonably efficient if unremarkable zombie movie, and I enjoyed Severance a lot, but in no way were either of those films enhanced by Dyer's presence in the cast. Certainly he brought nothing positive to Age Of Heroes or Doghouse; indeed his obnoxious characters made the films less enjoyable than they might otherwise have been. On the other hand, in a film as utterly worthless as Basement Danny Dyer was the least of their problems. In too many movies he's been exactly the same unlikeable and foul-mouthed yobbo: blokey, sexist, charmless, and in serious need of a smack round the head with a chair leg. I obviously have no idea how close that is to him in real life, but that's his screen persona and it's pretty deplorable.

Presumably Deviation was intended either to demonstrate Dyer's previously untapped thespian range, or to force one upon him. Here he's having a stab at a fully rounded human being: still charmless and unlikeable but a pathetic whining psychotic rather than a sweary hooligan. Frank (Dyer) is a killer who's escaped from Broadmoor and takes nurse Amber (Anna Walton) hostage in her car as he prepares to flee the country. Can she get away? Will he kill her like the others, and anyone else who gets in his way? And why doesn't Amber just lift the headrest out of its socket?

There are two sides to Frank: he's partly your basic bog-standard homicidal maniac who kills without mercy anyone who crosses him, and partly a mumbling loser blaming everyone but himself for his crimes: they teased him, they provoked him, he's a nice bloke really. Danny Dyer just isn't the actor to play someone so distant from his usual "mouthy git with a sixpack" performance, let alone someone switching between two totally different personalities. Most of the movie consists of his dialogues with Amber - not a bad idea for a film in theory, but this one doesn't make it plausible enough that she would enter into any kind of conversation with him, let alone come close to empathising with him at any point.

So it's astonishingly dull, it's unbelievable, and it's fatally miscast with a leading man who simply isn't up to the job. Might it have been a better movie with another actor in the role? Possibly. Certainly it's no good at all as it stands. Incredibly, this utter tosh got a British cinema release (albeit a limited one).


Saturday, 17 November 2012



Most horror films aren't scary. They might creep you out while they're on, they might gross you out or make you jump, but generally speaking the horror films that stay in your mind long afterwards are very few and extremely far between. Recent movies that have remained with me include Sinister and Insidious (the latter didn't fully manifest itself for several days) but usually the effect is over once the credits are running. And outside of the genuinely primal, spiritual fears conjured up by the Exorcist movies (and I'm not sure about Exorcist 2: The Heretic) and anything involving spiders (though for some reason I was perfectly okay with Arachnophobia), I can usually take anything the horror makers can throw at me. Usually.

The Night Child (aka The Cursed Medallion) is an Italian demonic possession movie by Massimo Dallamano from 1975 in which Richard Johnson makes boring documentaries about the Devil for the BBC: he takes his daughter Emily (Nicoletta Elmi, the creepy girl from Deep Red) off to Italy for his new film which centres on a huge painting in a spooky old deserted mansion. No-one knows who painted it; it supposedly appeared out of nowhere on the night a girl disappeared - and that girl had a medallion identical to the one worn by Emily, whose mother died in a mysterious fire...

It's a fairly silly European devil movie, but full credit to the props department because every time they cut to the scary painting I got chills. A massive canvas about twelve feet high, with a superbly frightening representation of the Devil, soaring above a landscape full of lynch mobs pursuing a young girl (with a medallion) - okay, it's only a painting, it's only a painting, but it's a genuinely scary one and I had to look away every time. It's decently cast as well: it's always good to see Richard Johnson (whatever else he's done, he'll always be the star of Zombie Flesh Eaters for me), Edmund Purdom has one scene as a doctor, Lila Kedrova is the Countess who knows what's going on, and Blade Runner's Joanna Cassidy is Johnson's assistant and new girlfriend.

The Night Child is a perfectly decent little horror movie which succeeded in scaring me. Maybe I made the wrong decision in putting the DVD on late at night (an elephant trap I avoided with, say, Lake Mungo) just before bedtime, though fortunately it didn't actually stop me sleeping. For that alone, the film gets its fourth star: it almost feels picky to quibble over the dodgy optical effects shots. No masterpiece, but very effective and worthy of (re)discovery.





Well, it's finally over. And at least the Twilight franchise has gone out, if not on a high, then on a moderate at the very least. The fifth in a variable series of mopey emo nonsense aimed primarily at teenage girls, it does deliver the expected in terms of almost literally unspeakable dialogue (the very final exchange almost had me falling off my seat for giggling), endless shots of autumnal forests and hunks with their shirts off. But fortunately there are two factors that liven the movie up to the point where it's actually rather fun: firstly there's a whole reel of roaring monster-on-monster action with severed heads and people flying through the air and vampires and werewolves beating each other up, and secondly Michael Sheen finally gets plenty of screen time in which to camp it up something splendid as the pantomime dame King Of The Vampires.

In the event, it's probably the best of the Twilights, though in the same way as Revenge Of The Sith is the best of the Star Wars prequels - in other words, that ain't saying a whole lot. The original was way overlong and glum, New Moon was no better and Eclipse was an improvement, but Breaking Dawn Part One went back to the angsty emotional dullness. And there's still a lot of daytime soap opera-level blither to get through here: as detailed in the last movie, Bella is not just a newborn vampire, but the mother of baby Renesmee, a human-vampire hybrid with a silly name. A hybrid who is already growing and developing at an unprecedented rate, and who is assumed by the Volturi (the Vampire High Council) to be an "immortal child" who will bring about massacre and destruction and therefore must be destroyed. The Cullens, and Jacob's werewolf pack, vow to stand against the Volturi even as the armies are assembled, to do bloody battle on the day the snow sticks to the ground...

Much of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part Two doesn't make a whole lot of sense: not the least of which is why the Volturi wait so long before assembling their troops on the side of a snowfield, and how do two of the Cullens know this so far in advance? Why don't the Volturi swoop on Day One before the enemy have a chance to marshal their own forces? Still, it's kind of forgiven once the robed legions of the Volturi do turn up and Michael Sheen gets to overact and inject some fun into the otherwise insipid proceedings. Then there's twenty minutes of spectacular head-ripping monster action in which all the cast get to show off their special powers like it's the X-Men taking on the Marvel Avengers. It's perhaps a pity that this huge battle sequence doesn't resolve itself in the best way: some might even regard it as a cheat and there were some groans from the audience I saw it with.

Still, it's lightened up from the established Twilight tradition of Kristen Stewart humourlessly moping while mournful whiny guitar ballads play on the soundtrack, Robert Pattinson being all soulful and tortured and Taylor Lautner taking his shirt off. Now that they've made the choice of Team Edward over Team Jacob, the miserable angsty stuff (best summed up by that scene where Bella apparently sulks in a chair for a whole year) has been dialled down and there are a few more laughs on offer. For that, Sheen, and the battle sequence, I didn't mind Breaking Dawn Part Two and, despite the the sense that it's finally all over, the film does leave the door open for further instalments if the money is right. Which it almost certainly will be. As Edward Cullen says at one point: "It's painful, but it's bearable."


Wednesday, 14 November 2012



How? How can this happen? How can you possibly make a film about a cross-dressing megalomaniac with a mother complex who ran the FBI for thirty seven years, including the Second World War and Nixon and Kennedy years, that's so thuddingly dull? Serious, sombre, worthy, respectful, meticulously crafted it may be, but it's also humourless, overlong and dull. What it really needed was Oliver Stone in JFK or Natural Born Killers mode to come on set and overdirect the film to pieces - or even in the style of Nixon, a terrific and much underrated film - rather than Clint Eastwood's glum and colourless approach to what should be dramatic dynamite. It would have been wild, outlandish, possibly even defamatory, but at least it wouldn't have been a cold grey stodge of a film.

J. Edgar flips backwards and forwards almost randomly across the years touching on the major points of Hoover's life and career: his relationship with his mother (Judi Dench), the early days of taking on Bolshevik revolutionaries, the gangster wars against the likes of Dillinger, Machine Gun Kelly and Pretty Boy Floyd, and the Lindbergh baby snatching, as well as his longtime relationship with his number two, Clyde Tolson (Armie Hammer) - were they gay lovers or just close work colleagues with no social life outside of the Bureau?

It's a story ripe with drama and action, but it refuses to come to life. Part of the problem is the film's structure that shuffles too frequently between the young, middle-aged and elderly Hoover and Tolson which necessitates extensive use of (not terribly good) prosthetics and hairpieces that make some of their scenes look like The Odd Couple or The Sunshine Boys. Naomi Watts is high on the billing but she's given very little to do beyond answer the phone as Hoover's executive assistant (again, sometimes in old lady makeup). And at the middle of it, in pretty much every scene, every shot, is Leonardo DiCaprio, who I don't really like as an actor but I do think is doing a perfectly decent job here as Hoover. But either he doesn't want to let rip, or Eastwood doesn't want him to let rip: it's as if they're so fascinated by Hoover the conflicted, unworldly man that they lose sight of Hoover the unreasoning monster.

It came out in January, at the height of the awards season, and certainly feels like it was made with major prizes in mind; in the event it only picked up one Golden Globe nomination (for DiCaprio), and no Oscars or Baftas. Maybe trimming would have livened it up a bit: at 137 minutes it's a definite plod. Certainly it's beautifully crafted and all the hats and cars and suits look right - though I don't doubt there's someone who spotted a 1929 wing mirror on a car supposedly in 1927 - but all the production design in the world isn't enough if the story isn't gripping and interesting. And, shockingly given the subject matter, this just isn't. If only Larry Cohen's The Private Files Of J Edgar Hoover was on UK DVD; I suspect that's a lot more fun.


Hoover sucks:



Occasionally it just happens that we get two (sometimes more - remember the three Columbus movies back in 1992?) movies on the same subject that turn up within a few months of each other. Two giant volcano movies (Volcano and Dante's Peak), two Robin Hood movies (Patrick Bergin and Kevin Costner), two meteor movies (Armageddon and Deep Impact). 2012's contribution to the coincidental cinema releases were a brace of Snow White movies - in addition to Snow White And The Huntsman (with Kristen Stewart and Chris Hemsworth, the latter playing the role as a Scotsman for no earthly reason), there's Tarsem Singh Dhandwar's visually opulent and more comedic take on the fairy tale.

Despite the subtitle "The Untold Adventures Of Snow White" (which doesn't actually appear on the film itself), Mirror Mirror is more accurately The Oft-Told Adventures: on her 18th birthday the beautiful princess Snow White (Lily Collins) is sent to her death in the scary forest by the evil queen (Julia Roberts), but the minion can't bring himself to kill her; she meets up with seven dwarfs and a handsome prince (Armie Hammer), and returns to claim the throne and restore peace and prosperity to the suffering citizens.

It may not have the depth of Snow White And The Huntsman (which is not to suggest that movie had much in the way of depth to begin with), but it has an unhinged visual richness to it. Tarsem's main strength has been fabulous imagery - see The Cell and The Fall: both pretty uninteresting as movies but totally bonkers on the sets, costumes and landscapes, and Immortals had nothing going for it but its look - and the production design, wigs and frocks are absolutely first rate. It's also more comedic: Nathan Lane getting most of the humour as the evil queen's cowardly Number 2, Michael Lerner playing a Baron as George C Scott, silly love potions and the Prince losing his clothes.

It's likeable and amusing enough, but there's really not very much going on underneath the pretty packaging and on balance Snow White And The Huntsman is probably the better of the two films, for all Kristen Stewart's sulky dampness. Young kids would probably enjoy the Tarsem film more as it lacks the more horrific content - it's a PG rather than a 12/12A - while grownups will most likely tire of the opulence fairly quickly.


On reflection:

Monday, 12 November 2012



Deep down, you know it. You know going in that it isn't going to pretty, it isn't going to be pleasant, it isn't going to be funny or scary or sexy and it sure as hell isn't going to be any good. Look at the poster. Look at the title. Do you see Judi Dench anywhere in the cast? Has there been talk of Academy nominations or a Royal Film Performance? How much lower can your expectations go? But to say that these factors don't apply with what is in essence a trashy, jokey exploitation movie is to miss the point. We're still being charged real money for this: to see it in a cinema (the UK box-office take was reportedly just £38, but then the cinema release was merely a publicity stunt for the DVD), to rent it, stream it or (insanely) to actually purchase it, yours to keep forever. It doesn't matter whether it's the RSC doing Lear at the National or the Bognor Regis Amateur Operatics Society doing The Mikado in a scout hut: if they're charging money then some semblance of professionalism is demanded.

Strippers Vs. Werewolves is a cheap and shoddy piece of unprofessional rubbish that couldn't be more blatantly moronic if it was wearing a beanie hat with a propeller on it; it's made by people who haven't the faintest idea what they're doing and who, for the good of the horror genre (and humanity in general) need to be slapped and told not to do this kind of thing again. Essentially we're back in Dead Cert territory (that wasn't a good idea then, and it sure as hell isn't now), except that it's werewolves this time: a pack led by Billy Murray and Martin Compston and their halfwitted associates (usually found wanking over naked women through the two-way mirror in the lingerie shop next door) come up against the performers at Sarah Douglas' (!!!!) strip club when one of them kills a punter (Martin Kemp for twenty seconds) with a silver pen in the eye. And one of them - Compston's girlfriend - might be turning into a werewolf herself....

Steven Berkoff and Lysette Anthony turn up for pointless cameos, Robert Englund has a bit as a convicted werewolf banged up in HM Chaney Prison. That might be an injoke on the original Wolf Man Lon Chaney, as might the music score being credited to one Neil Chaney (although he also did the music for Martin Kemp's Stalker). And apparently there are references to An American Werewolf In London and The Monster Squad (though I missed them) as well as a clumsily shoehorned mention of producer Jonathan Sothcott's Airborne, which to be fair was rather fun. But namechecking other, indisputably better movies is a risky proposition unless your own movie is pretty good in its own right and Strippers Vs. Werewolves really isn't. Rather it's one of the most depressing unlikeable and tiresome movies of the year.

Acting is terrible, writing is really terrible, and the directing (Jonathan Glendening, who'd already done a more-or-less passable werewolf movie in 13 Hrs) is all over the place, with fadeouts between scenes, pointless split screen effects, drawings instead of shots and repeated use of a "Meanwhile..." caption - in Comic Sans no less! The final confrontation in the strip club is artlessly staged, and both the horror and smut lack any kind of impact throughout. Most of all, it's boring and it's tiresome and you just want the sodding thing to end so you can get on with something more rewarding like punching yourself in the face. Strippers Vs. Werewolves genuinely gives horror cinema, British cinema, and movies in general a bad name: it's stupid, it's not funny, it's not even competent. If this sort of tedious wank fodder for the undiscriminating halfwit is the best Sothcott and his cronies can do, maybe they shouldn't bother.




It's Turkish. It's one hundred and fifty nine minutes long. It's what they call "leisurely paced" and great chunks of it takes place in long, unbroken takes from a static camera. Very little actually happens; indeed it's over an hour and twenty minutes before we even discover what the characters are looking for. It has no music. These are not qualities generally associated with a terrific night at the multiplex or a cracking Saturday night rental. So how come I wasn't bored senseless by it? How come I wasn't yelling "get on with it!" at the screen, or simply abandoning it and putting something less arcane on? After all, Strippers Vs Werewolves arrived in my postbox the same morning, it's about half as long, and it's probably got some sex and gore in it.

Watching Once Upon A Time In Anatolia is like eavesdropping on a group of people who are already in the middle of their discussion: you have to figure out for yourself what it is they're actually talking about, and no-one provides you with a handy expository recap. All we know to start with is that several men in two cars and a jeep are driving through the Turkish countryside: gradually we learn that some of them are police, one is a doctor, one a prosecutor, and two are suspects leading the police to a crime scene. In the dark, they're not sure whether they're in the right place or not. It's only the following morning, after they've spent the night in a nearby village, when they finally discover a corpse buried in a field. Who is he, why was he killed?

In some respects, it doesn't really matter: this isn't an episode of Poirot (although the clues are there: with some help from the IMDb's message boards, I am now a little clearer on what was supposed to have happened). It's more about the various individuals on the case: the increasingly angry and frustrated lead investigator losing patience with the suspect, the clearer-headed prosecutor relating a tale of a woman who died inexplicably (perhaps this is more relevant than it seems). Or the problems at the remote village, where all the young people have left, the electricity keeps dropping out and they don't even have a working morgue.

I'm not a big fan of movies where I feel the need to look them up on the IMDb afterwards to find out what happened (Michael Haneke's Hidden remains the worst offender for me), partly because the IMDb forums are awash with awe-inspiring stupidity and bad spelling, but mainly because I really should be smart enough to figure most movies out on my own. I'm not a genius, sure, but I'm not a moron either; it's not as if I look on the IMDb to understand the plot of a Chuck Norris movie but I'm not ashamed to say I needed help with something like Last Year At Marienbad. In the case of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia I did feel it justified, simply to clarify I few things I'd missed.

But its main achievement is keeping me engrossed in something that on paper couldn't be less engrossing. It's not strong on humour, though there is some agreeably ghoulish black comedy when, having dug the body up, they have to work out how to get it back to town. I liked the fact the film dispenses entirely with the use of music (I think the only music is a song briefly heard on a car radio) and I couldn't imagine where it would felt appropriate, no matter how brief or subtle - and I'm a fan of good film music. I loved the night-time photography of rural Turkey: the film looked fabulous throughout (I watched it on BluRay). And, most importantly, I didn't mind that it took its time. Some movies bore at 85 minutes full of sex and fights and things going boom. This is 159 minutes long, has none of those things, and doesn't. Which is fantastic.