Thursday, 26 April 2012



Finally, it's here. You can come out from under the bed where the marketing and hype can't get you. This film, the comicbook uberproject which Marvel and Paramount (and now distributors Disney) have been building steadily towards with Thor, Captain America and a couple of Iron Mans, is at last here - and happily the UK are getting it before the US for some reason - for you to watch in full on the big screen rather than the trailers and preview clips on YouTube. Admittedly it's not difficult to avoid that sort of marketing (all you have to do is not click on the damn things) but the Avengers has still been in the air for ages, and it's increasingly difficult trying to remain completely unsullied - the best way to see a film, regardless of what the studios' promotion departments might think.

First off, however: the monumentally stupid title. Was it really changed because some spotty marketing bod thought we'd get confused and we'd go in expecting John Steed and Emma Peel? Not only is Marvel Avengers Assemble probably the first movie to incorporate the production company and publisher into the title - like DC Superman or Penguin Lady Chatterly's Lover - but even without it, Avengers Assemble just sounds like a film in which Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and Nick Fury have to put together a flatpack wardrobe against the clock. There's absolutely nothing wrong with The Avengers as a title - that's what the film is about.

The Avengers are Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hensworth), Captain America (Chris Evans) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), along with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), a superteam brought together by one-eyed badass Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) to take down Loki (Tom Hiddleston), brother of Thor, thrown out of Asgard and planning to wreak all kinds of vengeful havoc on the Earth through the Tesseract, a source of unlimited energy as well as a portal across the universe. Frankly any kind of plot synopsis makes the film look like arrant nonsense, and to an extent that's exactly what it is: a colourful romping pantomime with bags of special effects, monsters, explosions, chases and fights and huge amounts of destruction as - yet again - the climactic battle between the Avengers and the forces of evil takes place on the streets of New York.

Sadly, the film does take a little while to get into gear because it has to Assemble the team first and that takes time - the film runs 142 minutes and change. But what ultimately saves it from being a visually spectacular bore is a sense of humour - something that Christopher Nolan's Batman films notably lacked. Neither Batman Begins nor The Dark Knight were much fun, and for all the heavyweight star thesping and psychological analysis of Bruce Wayne, they never came to exciting life (and I fear the same will hold true for the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises). To a certain extent this was how I felt about the X-Men films and Sam Raimi's Spidermans: they were trying to treat pantomime knockabout as though it was serious drama about the human condition, and it couldn't support the weight. Marvel Avengers Assemble is more along the lines of the Fantastic Four films: shiny, empty superhero nonsense that's pretty and spectacular and never once pretends to be anything else. It's superheroes: it's blokes in lycra and tights and superweapons and collapsing skyscrapers. It's not to be taken seriously and fortunately Joss Whedon hasn't.

Everyone delivers. In some ways Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye gets the worst deal because (apart from a brief appearance in the post-credits teaser at the end of Thor) we've not seen him before and the plot demands he behave out of character for half the movie. At least Scarlett Johansson's "something for the dads" Black Widow had a goodly chunk of Iron Man 2 as an introduction. Mark Ruffalo is the third screen Bruce Banner/Hulk (after Ed Norton and Eric Bana), a character I never really found very interesting but he does get the two biggest laughs in the film. Thor, whose intro film was easily the best of the Marvels thus far (Captain America was a close second), is great fun, but Downey Jr's Tony Stark is frankly as annoying as he ever was. And Samuel L Jackson is always good value in pretty much anything and especially when in badass mode.

Once past that opening half-hour of setup and exposition, as the film manoeuvres all the players into position, The Avengers (Marvel Avengers Assemble, whatever) is romping entertainment with snappy dialogue - there's one great scene with all the Avengers bickering in a lab - and thumping fight sequences. How the numerous CGI effects sequences work in 3D I wouldn't know: I only watched the film in 2D but my suspicion is that the post-conversion brings nothing to the party but dimness; there's nothing in the flat version that suggests you're missing out on pointy things jabbed into the camera lens. (Nor did I bother with the IMAX version or the D-Box shaky chair version or any combination of needless gimmicks.)

It's a lot of big noisy fun. Yes, the film doesn't have great depth, which I'm grateful for as it doesn't become po-faced and humourless. And it takes time to find its pace, but I enjoyed it and I'm not much of a fan of the superhero comicbook genre as a rule. But the frequently ridiculous action sequences, an Alan Silvestri score, and the interplay between the Avengers make it a thoroughly likable and enjoyable fantasy blockbuster. Stick to the end of the main credits because there's the now-traditional teaser suggesting a reassembly somewhere down the line.


Tuesday, 24 April 2012



Having watched and loathed both Evidence and Battleship in recent weeks, I'm starting to wonder once more: exactly what constitutes a bad movie? There's absolutely no question that those two movies are absolutely terrible, but when placed alongside something like this typically stupid and tiresome Jess Franco exercise in hooters and gibberish, do they look any better? Surprisingly enough, the answer is no, they don't. As worthless and as dull as it is, it's still preferable to both of them: Evidence is still a massively irritating and artless bore and Battleship is still a hollow and imbecilic waste of two hundred million dollars. Whatever else this seventies Franco item might be, it's an expression of a personal artistic vision, albeit a spectacularly wonky one.

There's little point in analysing the plot of Mansion Of The Living Dead: four German strippers arrive for a Mediterranean holiday only to find the hotel both completely deserted and fully booked. They have to share rooms, which is less a plot point and more an excuse to stop everything and have vast slabs of uninteresting lesbian softcore sex scenes. But then they start wandering off by themselves around the local monastery and end up being gang raped and murdered by zombie Satanist monks led by the hotel receptionist who has a naked woman chained up in his bedroom. The monks' order was cursed by a medieval witch, and the curse will only be lifted when the reincarnation of Princess Irina forgives them in the shadow of the cursed crucifix....

Or something. This isn't a plot-driven film or a logic-driven film, it's a sex-driven film. None of the girls ever wonder where all the other guests might be, nor are they that concerned when one of them goes missing and then supposedly turns up dead in the swimming pool. They're more interested in secret assignations with the receptionist - the only man in the entire resort save for an idiot gardener - or wandering about the hotel in the nude (principally the late Lina Romay, credited here as Candy Coster). It's as typically useless as pretty much any other Jess Franco movie. Yet, along with Inconfessable Orgies Of EmmanuelleEugenie: The Story Of Her Journey Into Perversion and a dozen or more other Jess Franco movies, it is at least a film and it's not been made solely to pander to a target demographic as specified on a marketing executive's pie chart.

For all the bright sunlight and widescreen photography (a world away from something like Dracula: Prisoner Of Frankenstein), Mansion Of The Living Dead is still incoherent rubbish, obsessed with naked women and rape to the exclusion of everything else, with another sex scene presumably showcasing Spanish virility by being over in less than twenty seconds. Even given that it's technically better than a film like Evidence and more personal (and cheaper) than a film like Battleship, it's still not remotely worth watching unless you just want to look at naked women, with some semblance of a plot there to prove it isn't really porn, and yes, mum, there is a perfectly valid narrative justification for her taking her clothes off yet again.


Monday, 23 April 2012



If you really want to put numbers on them, these are technically Hellraisers 6, 7 and 8 respectively, but in truth they're entirely unconnected stories which started life as non-Hellraiser spec scripts and then had five minutes of Cenobite action and Pinhead bon mots crassly and uncaringly shoehorned into them where they didn't really fit to turn them into Hellraiser sequels. The results are Hellraisers in name only, produced solely because they have the rights to, and who really cares whether they're actually any good or not? These films are not conceived by filmmakers, they're conceived by marketing people: made cheaply and quickly to sell cheaply and quickly. Indeed, Hellraiser: Revelations - the ninth in the series - was reportedly made solely to retain the rights to the franchise so they can one day produce a full reboot. (Revelations has yet to surface in the UK; to judge from the trailer it looks, unhappily, to be a predominantly found-footage movie about some dimwit teens on a road trip.)

What they've basically done is taken frankly unremarkable original scripts and shoved Pinhead and the Lament Configuration into the action every so often. Strangely, Hellraiser: Hellseeker almost qualifies as a direct sequel to the first two Hellraiser movies as it brings back Ashley Laurence to reprise her role as once-teenage heroine Kirsty: now married to Trevor, a faithless dick of a husband. But then the car plummets into the river and she drowns....or does she? The body has disappeared and Trevor's lovers are mysteriously killed off one by one. And then the lead cop on the case suddenly turns into a two-headed CGI monster, and reality is turned on its head as Trevor is locked in a morgue to face the horrible truth....

Sadly that horrible truth doesn't make a blind bit of sense and all the Hellraiser references are meaningless; this could have been an unremarkable DTV quickie but it ends up as an unremarkable DTV quickie with Pinhead occasionally photobombing the proceedings. Hellraiser: Deader is even further distant, as brilliant London-based American journalist Amy (Kari Wuhrer) follows up her scorching expose "How To Be A Crack Whore" by investigating a Bucharest suicide cult that, according to the secretly filmed but remarkably well edited video, has the power of resurrection. To crack the case she has to contact Marc Warren on a tube train full of sex and drug-crazed lunatics. And somewhere in there is that puzzle box and the three Cenobites for another frankly unfathomable ending.

By the time Hellraiser: Hellworld rolls into view (which is generally listed as the eighth film although it was apparently shot back-to-back with Deader, yet the copyright date is intriguingly two years before), Pinhead, the Cenobites and Lament Configuration are reduced to the level of icons on an online gaming site called Hellworld. Five uninteresting teenaged idiots show up at Lance Henriksen's exclusive Hellworld party full of free booze and the promise of unlimited kinky and anonymous sex with their fellow masked partygoers - but then Pinhead shows up and starts hacking them up with meat cleavers! Or is there something else, something more banal, going on? Quite possibly, but the final resolution again doesn't make a lot of sense.

Neither of the three films are in any way more than tolerable at very best, and there are only a few moments when they're any good at all. Certainly they're nowhere close to Clive Barker's original wonky but effective, surprising and intelligent horror film, or Hellbound: Hellraiser 2 which personally I slightly prefer as a totally bonkers gore fantasy. Anthony Hickox's wild and more crowd-pleasing Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth was fun in places, but the rot really set in with Hellraiser: Bloodline, messily merging the history of the puzzle box with antics on a space station (Kevin Yagher took his name off the credits) and Hellraiser: Inferno which just feels like an ordinary Bad Cop Goes Nuts movie with randomly inserted appearances of Pinhead.

Hellraisers 6, 7 and 8 are pretty much on that level of unambitious time-fillers: they're competently put together (all directed by Rick Bota) but the scripts don't work because they've been twisted to fit a template that its makers don't really understand. At least two of them also fall into the gaping trap of having great chunks of the action take place in the characters' minds, leaving you baffled as to what actually happened and what exactly is going on. That's not necessarily a bad thing in a horror film, to shift between reality and hallucination, fantasy and dream, but it's no good if it just leads to a sense of confusion. (The bulk of Christopher Nolan's Inception takes place across five or six different levels of reality simultaneously, but at no time is the audience ever lost as to which level they are in at any given moment.)

Of the three, Deader is probably the least annoying although that's absolutely no kind of recommendation. Still, there are moments which suggest they are trying recapture some of Hellraiser's grandeur, most notably the scores which are clearly attempting (unsuccessfully) to replicate the dark beauty of Christopher Young's soundtracks for the first two films. All three films actually look fairly decent, probably thanks to Rick Bota's long experience as a cinematographer for film and TV, and he stages a few moments quite nicely, such as an unnerving sequence with a corpse in an apartment bathroom in Deader. Gary Tunnicliffe's gore effects are fun as well (though the CGI gore is pretty lame). But this isn't really enough: if you're going to make a Hellraiser movie you have to embrace the darkness and the monsters, and they've failed to do that. They've just made a triptych of inconsequential, disposable horror flicks that waste their unique and fascinating iconography.

Pale shadows:

Thursday, 19 April 2012



Technically it is Zombi rather than Zombie - whatever the box says, Zombi is the word on the on-screen title card so that's officially what the film's called. This is one of those movies I first saw on the old precert video release from VTC, most of whose tapes came in those lovely big gold boxes. Nightmare City, Spasms, Superstition and Zulawski's thoroughly bonkers Possession all came from VTC and, as one who dates from around the video nasty era, I have a soft spot for the label. The British DVD is on the Dead Of Night label, which is at least uncut and widescreen (albeit non-anamorphic) but it's still little more than a knock-off of Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters with the same star on the same sets driving the same Land Rover.

Zombi Holocaust once again has Ian McCulloch, this time as a New York health inspector investigating a spate of cannibalism and grisly corpse desecrations with East Indies religious cult overtones. The trail takes him and his team of comely ladies (an anthropologist and a highly slappable journalist) and doomed idiots to the Moluccas Islands where they can traipse at length through another of the remotest jungles in the world while trying to avoid the natives. What they discover is cannibals, zombies, and a mad scientist performing brain transplant experiments in an abandoned clapboard mission hut - unsurprisingly, it's the same hut as in Zombie Flesh Eaters.

It's not brilliant. It's a very silly plot whose main function is to string the eviscerations and gratuitous nudity together but which doesn't make a lot of sense. Even granted that looking for logic and coherence in a cheap Italian grindhouse gore movie is perhaps a waste of time, there should still be something. Certainly the movie has its bursts of graphic splatter, eyeball removal and entrail ripping which, combined with the presence of the words Zombie and Holocaust in the title, make you wonder why the film never made the video nasties list when many immeasurably blander titles were proscribed (according to the IMDb, it was seized but the prosecution failed). The gore highlight is probably McCulloch merrily shoving a whirring outboard propeller into a zombie's face: a scene which is obviously and poorly faked but still far more visually disgusting than anything in Unhinged, The Burning or The Slayer.

Still, after all these years it's fun to see it again: it's harmless, amiably silly and inoffensive fluff - probably even sillier than I remember it being back in the eighties - and it isn't really very good. And sadly it will always exist in the shadow of Zombie Flesh Eaters, which I don't think is exactly a masterpiece to start with. It's not mean-spirited or actively off-putting in its violence, and the awful dialogue is good for a few cheap chuckles. But that's all. A lost or undiscovered classic it emphatically isn't.


I need your brain!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012



I've had enough and I'm not doing it any more. I give up: I am electing from this day forth, for better or for worse, to reject any more found footage "films". Unless someone can provide me with a monumentally and unanswerably good reason why I shouldn't (and that's a reason on the scale of "the world will explode" or "the universe will be destroyed", I am abandoning this worthless and tiresome subgenre once and for all. I know I've got cross about these so-called films before but I really don't care: this latest piece of garbage has finally sealed the deal. I've already gone onto my rental queue and deleted whatever "found" abominations still remain.

Censorship? More like self-preservation. These self-proclaimed filmmakers have walloped me in the balls too often now with wretched apologies for movies that don't even have the production values of scat pornography, and which boast camerawork that looks like rejected footage from You've Been Framed. Howie Askins' tedious Evidence is just the latest example of a trend that has nothing left in its bag of tricks. Four obnoxious nonentities go camping in the woods, and eventually some big scary creatures turn up and start killing them. The lead guy claims, delusionally, that he's making a documentary about his equally tiresome best friend (frankly I wouldn't hire him to point at the sky, given his shoddy camera technique); their respective girlfriends tag along to make up the numbers and moan and bicker. After half an hour of badly shot home video footage of these imbeciles, one of them suddenly disappears, there are mysterious noises in the woods, words appear carved on the trees, and their RV is trashed....

The rest of the movie is all shot on the run, complete with footage of the ground when whoever's holding the camera hasn't switched it off. The survivors make it to some kind of ranch, but they're not alone: there are creatures which look like shaggy apes and soldiers firing guns and possibly zombies or something. If you bother to freeze-frame the DVD through the end credits you'll see scrolls of wobbly computer text about recombinant DNA and biological experimentation, but by that stage you may well be in need of painkillers because for the last fifteen minutes the camera is increasingly on the fritz, rendering everything into an incoherent frenzy of subliminal high-speed gibberish, mostly accompanied by loud gunfire and screaming. And then the bloody thing stops.

Evidence is merely the latest in a string of pseudo-reality bores that have creaked past me in recent years: there's The Devil Inside, Evil Things, Paranormal Activity and its two increasingly dull sequels, Apollo 18, The Troll Hunter, The Zombie Diaries and its sequel.... Granted, one or two of them have had effective moments: I certainly liked the two [Rec] movies enough, and Chronicle had a few nice touches. And to be fair to Evidence (certainly a lot fairer than it was to me) it did make me jump once. But that's not difficult. Tinky-Winky would make me jump if he snuck up behind me and suddenly yelled "Bang!" in my ear. None of them are up to The Blair Witch Project (which worked mainly, I think, because we hadn't really seen that sort of thing before) or Cannibal Holocaust (which crucially has a non-found context for the found material).

It may well be that "director" Howie Askins, "writer/star" Ryan McKay and everyone else have actually worked very hard and gone to a lot of frankly wasted effort to make a film that looks like it was shot by clueless idiots. You know who else makes films that look like they were shot by clueless idiots? Clueless idiots. Proper filmmakers usually try and make films that look like they were shot by proper filmmakers. Here's how rubbish Evidence is: the following day I watched Children Of The Corn 5 - not the original, not the remake, but the fifth entry in the franchise - and it's a thousand times the film Evidence is. Yes, it's pretty formulaic, it's predictable, it holds little in the way of surprise or innovation, but it is at the very least a proper film, and it's leagues ahead of Evidence. That said, for cinematic technique and halfway interesting narrative, the Cillit Bang adverts are leagues ahead of Evidence. This is not a film. It's barely a video. And it's an entirely and unremittingly abominable 75 minutes adding up to the worst thing I've seen so far this year. Never again.


Tuesday, 17 April 2012



Here's a brief list of things you could do with two hundred million dollars. Build and staff some hospitals and schools. Feed the poor. Organise relief for the victims of natural disasters. Cure a few diseases. Sponsor good works left and right and generally make the world a better place. Or you could, at the very least, produce a slick and entertaining summer blockbuster with some laughs and thrills and spectacular effects. Sadly, Universal Pictures and Peter Berg have done precisely none of these things: they've decided to remake Transformers and Battle Los Angeles but with less wit and intelligence. The result is a senseless, moronic chimpanzee of a movie: bellowing and screeching incomprehensibly, flailing about all over the place and flinging its shiny wet faeces in your face for more than two deafening hours. Honestly: if Peter Berg had simply spent a year feeding that two hundred million dollars into an incinerator, it would still have been a substantially more productive use of the banknotes.

Whether Battleship is actually a worse film than Transformers 3 I'm not sure. Certainly it's on that level of brainless idiocy and a love of mass destruction that borders on the orgasmic and if you get off on the sight of toppling skyscrapers and exploding warships then this is the handjob for you. Back in 2005, we apparently found an Earth-like planet in another galaxy and promptly started sending signals out to it: in 2012 they respond by sending five giant destructorbot things to spearhead an invasion. One branches off for no immediately obvious reason and flattens most of Hong Kong, the others splashdown near Hawaii where fearsome US Navy Admiral Liam Neeson is conducting war games with a fleet of battleships and destroyers. Next thing you know: a socking great force field has appeared and the aliens are blasting the American Navy clear out of the water. To make matters worse, our hero isn't Liam Neeson but Taylor Kitsch, a tiresome slacker about to be dishonourably discharged from the Navy on a charge of being a bellend (specifically, fighting in a toilet). He's also in love with Neeson's comely daughter, a physical therapist working with Naval amputees in Hawaii - which is precisely where the aliens intend to base their invasion....

After an opening reel of dull character-based stuff (which would have been better if the leading man hadn't been a cardboard cutout of a leading man) the aliens show up and it's Transformers, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Independence Day and Battle Los Angeles all over again at full volume. Every five minutes a vast robot monster thing bursts out of the water and fires missiles into the sides of ships, and the ships fire all their missiles back at the vast robot monster thing. Meanwhile, there are huge whizzy yo-yo things that rip through metal and concrete and bring Hawaii's freeways crashing down. Somehow they do manage to shoehorn in the age-old game of Battleship complete with a numbered grid where they genuinely shout out "T19 - fire!" and then "Nope, missed."

Fair enough. It is perhaps unreasonable to expect any kind of depth from something based on a kids' game played with pencils and paper, and marketed by a toy company. Hasbro, let's face it, are not in the business of telling stories. But Universal Pictures are in the business of telling stories and they really haven't bothered here. If the aliens have come from a planet that's just like Earth, how come they can't bear Earth's sunlight? How come Kitsch hasn't been thrown out of the Navy already rather than promoted him at least once? Can you really drop anchor while at full speed ahead and force the ship into some kind of a sideways skid, like the cars in The Fast And The Furious? Isn't it just too coincidental that the aliens show up precisely during naval manoeuvres (if they'd arrived just one week later the place would have been completely undefended)? Most worryingly of all, does the post-credits teaser bit signal a Battleship 2? What other games are listed for the $200m treatment? Hangman? Noughts And Crosses? Gin Rummy?

It's more than a little depressing that of the two Taylor Kitsch movies so far this year, this is immeasurably the inferior, but will more likely be financially successful. John Carter was much underrated and ignored by the public, and I'm annoyed that it failed (though it probably will make its costs back eventually). But I'm more annoyed that Battleship, a brainless, soulless and charmless orgy of destruction and mayhem and things blowing up over and over again with a vast black chasm of endless nothingness going on underneath, is the one that's going to pull the punters in. It's one of those moments that make you despair of humanity as a species.


Sunday, 15 April 2012



One of a number of recent documentaries celebrating and cheerleading the trashier side of cinema: Going To Pieces (about slasher movies), Not Quite Hollywood (Australian exploitation films), Machete Maidens Unleashed! (which looked at the Filipino exploitation industry) among others concerning the video nasties, or individual films and franchises. Devoted to the films of Roger Corman, this perhaps has more A-list heavyweights than the other docs - interviewees include Martin Scorsese, Jack Nicholson, Jonathan Demme and Ron Howard - but also a string of lurid and ludicrous clips from everything from his early efforts such as Apache Woman and Monster From The Ocean Floor right up to modern SyFy productions like Dinoshark. (I have this last film on DVD: I won it at a quiz last Christmas but, shamefully, I have yet to open it.)

Corman's World: Exploits Of A Hollywood Rebel covers a good chunk of the man's output, though with 401 production credits on his IMDb page many of his films obviously don't even get a mention. Starting off with his cheapie quickies such as The Cry Baby Killer (which was the screen debut of Jack Nicholson), Bucket Of Blood and The Little Shop Of Horrors, it includes the gorgeous Edgar Allan Poe movies, the Filipino exploitationers and the racist-bashing The Intruder, yet unaccountably omits any mention of later offerings like Galaxy Of Terror, Forbidden World or the Deathstalker films. Almost his entire 1980s output is glossed over for some reason. And even in his mid-eighties, he's still going.

Loads of talking heads, both those he's worked with (Dick Miller, Joe Dante, Penelope Spheeris) and younger filmmakers he's supposedly influenced (Eli Roth and Quentin Tarantino) provide a wealth of anecdotes and stories. But it's the clips that give the greatest pleasures and, just as Not Quite Hollywood made me want to see all those Australian exploitation films again (and crucually Machete Maidens Unleashed! failed to instil a desire to watch rubbishy old Filipino gore movies), Corman's World makes me want to see Piranha and The Tomb Of Ligeia, Hollywood Boulevard and even Attack Of The Crab Monsters again. To be honest I'd have happily sat through another hour's worth, with more detail about specific movies and how they were made with such absurdly low budgets, but overall this is a highly enjoyable and fascinating voyage through Corman's history, and cinema's history. We shall not see his like again.


Not Of This Earth:



You know a movie's in trouble when the first thing that springs to mind is that Jean-Claude Van Damme isn't in it enough, because in all honesty Jean Claude is just about the best thing on show and he's barely in it. Despite his prominent above-the-title billing, he's only on screen in a handful of flashback sequences training the movie's real star, Vietnamese kickboxing champion Cung Le; sadly, this is a film that would have benefitted substantially from having a lot more JC and a lot less in the way of incomprehensible drugs gangsters. And maybe it's just the make-up and hair but JC's looking surprisingly elderly - he's only 51 but frankly looks ten years older.

Dragon Eyes concerns the ongoing drugs wars between the various ethnically diverse gangs - black, latino, Russian - and the corrupt cops led by Peter Weller, the only one in the movie who looks to be having any fun. Into the downtrodden, miserable and crime-ravaged neighbourhood comes Hong (Cung Le) who sets about cleaning up the town and taking out the trash by setting the gangs against each other before seeking to bring down the whole system. And that's pretty much it for content.

It's also not great on a technical level. For a start, much of the heavily accented dialogue is unfathomable and I ended up watching much of the movie with the English subtitles on. More damagingly, it's drably and darkly shot on digital in dull locations, so it doesn't just look boring, but it looks cheap as well. True, this isn't a movie that warrants a $50m budget (the IMDb gives an estimate of three million) but there's no excuse for it looking as shoddy as it does. It's surprising since director John Hyams' previous movie, Universal Soldier: Regeneration (attempting to reboot the Jean-Claude and Dolph double act from the 1990s) looked pretty good - but that movie was shot by his dad, Peter Hyams, who doubled up as cinematographer on a dozen of his own films and knows how to make these things look good. By contrast, Dragon Eyes just has an air of generic DTV blandness about it.

And Cung Le may not be much of a leading man or much of an actor (though this may have to do with the uninteresting character), but he can certainly handle the action sequences and they're actually not too bad. If they'd been better photographed, and if Jean-Claude had been on screen a bit more, this might have been a half-decent and undemanding rental. But Weller's colourful villain and the occasional thumping kick to the head aside, it's a dull and dreary plod. Incredibly, there's a Dragon Eyes 2 in the works.



Saturday, 14 April 2012



Yup, they remade the Peckinpah film. Is nothing sacred? And I say that as one who doesn't have a great love for the 1971 film: I suppose I admire it enough, it's interesting, but it doesn't grab me and I find the rape sequences, and specifically their ambiguities about the victim's response, deeply offputting. Which, obviously, they're supposed to be. Rod Lurie's version, relocated to the backwoods of the Deep South, strikes many of the same chords but in a much simpler orchestration, emerging as a simple but effective rural exploitation movie which, on that level, is nicely done, well mounted and largely enjoyable enough.

The original Straw Dogs never bothered, as far as I recall, to explain its title which is apparently from a Chinese quotation about religious sacrifices. The relevance still escapes me, frankly. Nerdy, intellectual David (James Marsden in the Dustin Hoffman role) and his young wife Amy (Kate Bosworth) relocate to her late father's house in Blackwater, Mississippi where he can work on his epic screenplay about the battle of Stalingrad. But he immediately, though inadvertently, proceeds to annoy the good ol' boy locals with his flash car, his classical music, his lack of interest in hunting or church. He's not from around here, he doesn't understand the way we do things, he's a wet Californian atheist liberal in redneck, beer and football and Bible territory. Matters are further complicated by hiring Amy's ex-boyfriend Charlie (Alexander Skarsgard) to fix the roof of the outbuildings: he and his oafish buddies are more interested in the lovely Amy....

The film hits many of the familiar beats: the couple's cat, the hunting trip that's merely a diversion to get David out of the way, the mentally handicapped local whose friendship with the football coach's underage daughter provokes the final siege and massacre, and of course the infamous rape scene. But it's nowhere near as ambiguous this time. While there are certainly suggestions throughout that Amy might be disappointed in David as a Man, when set against a physical alpha like Charlie, there's far less suggestion of consent than in the Peckinpah film - which is what made the original so disturbing and uncomfortable. Here it's much more along the black and white lines of backwoods rape/revenge movies like Death Weekend. But what's the point in remaking Straw Dogs if you're only going to simplify it? You might as well remake an empty bit of trash like Death Weekend and try and deepen it.

As a crowd-pleasing exploitation movie with bursts of graphic violence and a climax in which the nerdy guy finally fights back against the bullies and the thugs who have treated him with mocking derision throughout (and, though he doesn't know it, his wife with abuse), the shiny new Straw Dogs is entertaining enough. It has little depth but it's nicely shot, it's well put together and has a sprinkling of neat touches throughout. In ten years' time, however, when you mention Straw Dogs in conversation no-one's going to ask which version you're talking about, and they'll know it ain't this one.



Wednesday, 11 April 2012



I first saw Tinto Brass' legendary epic of sleaze, debauchery and rampant nudity sometime in the early 1990s on its 18-certificate VHS release, on the Electric Blue label. That version, according to the BBFC's website, ran for 98 minutes and, as far as I can remember, I thought it was pretty raunchy. In those pre-Google days I probably had no idea that it was a mere ghost of the unhinged original, that the whole thing would run for nearly an hour more and that yer actual hardcore had been inserted in after the real actors had gone. Back then I probably didn't even know who Tinto Brass was although I'd seen Salon Kitty and didn't much like it. I might have seen Thundercrack! and Cafe Flesh at the Scala at this point and was mainly bored by the former but not the latter.

I was always more interested in horror movies than porn anyway but this was at a time when I rented more or less anything, and one of the numerous local video libraries decided to stock it as a rental title. Now Caligula is available again, but this time it's the legendary fully uncut version that runs for 156 minutes and has all the incest, rape, orgies and indiscriminate humping spliced back in. Hurrah. Ostensibly about the brief and spectacularly aberrant reign of Emperor Caligula from AD37 to AD41, it's really less about the consequences of giving absolute power to an egomaniacal whackjob and treating him as a god and more about trying to cram in as much flesh and filth as inhumanly possible.

Thus you get a fantastically insane Caligula in Malcolm McDowell, reliable hamming from Peter O'Toole and John Gielgud (who isn't in it enough, frankly), a giggling imbecile of a Claudius who looks terrifyingly like Christopher Biggins (but isn't), Helen Mirren as the most promiscuous woman in Rome... but every so often it grinds to a halt for a long orgy scene, a long brothel scene, masturbating, sucking and shagging (both gay and straight), the occasional sadistic murder, beheading or castration. To be honest I'd rather it wasn't there in such high-definition detail as it honestly distracts from the rest of the movie. Or: don't bother with any of the character stuff and just make a porn movie. Either one suits me. It's the combination that doesn't work. It's a steak and kidney and mint choc ice cream pie.

What survives the relentless focus on blowjobs and erections is actually quite an interesting movie about total corruption, total decadence and utter insanity. I don't know that it's 156 minutes of interesting, though. It's a film with a reputation that totally overshadows its qualities: it's frequently visually striking in terms of lighting and colour, it superbly conveys its atmosphere of sheer madness, and Malcolm McDowell is mesmerising. Sadly, the old trick of making your film seem more upmarket than it really is by needle-dropping classical music by Khachaturian and Prokofiev would probably have worked better if the selections weren't instantly recognisable as the themes from The Onedin Line and The Apprentice.

Ultimately I can't get that excited about the film in any way: I rather enjoyed it in places but got bored in others. In addition, I'm unconvinced by whatever reasoning the BBFC employed to justify the 18 certificate. The fully unrestrained Caligula is absolutely R18 territory and should not have been put into the general adult category. There's no artistic defence for the hardcore sequences: whatever merits the movie boasts in the amazing production design and photography and the quartet of reputable actors are cancelled out by all the thrusting and throbbing. Still, it's probably a better representation of the film than the hacked down version I saw about 20 years ago. Caligula is still a fascinating watch, it's absolutely worth seeing, but the overly graphic sex distracts and detracts, and it ends up as a massively flawed epic of astonishing lunacy.



Friday, 6 April 2012



Franchises can die in a variety of ways. They can just die a natural death as the audiences get fed up with them, or the makers just decide to conclude the series. Or they can be suddenly terminated by a really toxic entry that doesn't just reek as a movie but discredits the franchise as a whole and contaminates it for any potential future instalments. Who'd want to either make or watch Hostel Part 4 after the lame Part 3? Or a fourth ...What You Did Last Summer or Urban Legend after the rubbish third entries? In the case of the Warlock series, this movie kills the series stone dead by being drab, dull and pathologically stupid.

Warlock III: The End Of Innocence (a meaningless subtitle) has Hellraiser's Ashley Laurence as Kris Miller, an art student who inherits a rambling old house in the middle of nowhere. It's due to be torn down for some reason so she's got one weekend to remove any family heirlooms and documents. But no sooner have she and half a dozen friends, each of whom have the IQ of spinach, settled in than the Warlock turns up at the door and persuades each of the dimwit friends to forsake Kris, so she can be sacrificed to Satan and become mother to a legion of demons that will enslave the Earth blah blah blah.

This is a movie where the recasting of the central villain role doesn't just fail, it leaves the viewer in the uncomfortable and alien position of wishing it was still Julian Sands. Mr Sands attracts a lot of criticism, and a great deal of it is perfectly fair and justified, but the role of the unnamed Warlock in Steve Miner's late 80s original and the silly but enjoyable Anthony Hickox sequel actually fitted him very well. Maybe he didn't want to do any more in the series, maybe the producers couldn't afford him, and the Warlock character isn't the same warlock anyway, but I actually missed Julian Sands. It's also a movie with a shaky grasp of genealogy as Kris's great-great-grandmother is the witch who defeated the Warlock back in the 17th century. Unless that side of the family were all Galapagos turtles, you'd need about five more greats to get back to the late 1600s (allowing for thirty years for each generation).

Merely sorting out the maths wouldn't help, though. The characters are all idiots who show not a whit of concern when people start disappearing; indeed, two of them opt to strip to their rubber pants and indulge in a little bondage and flagellation rather than actually searching for their friend. No mention is ever made of the handyman who falls unspectacularly off his ladder, and outside of one brief sequence of hellish torture and a neat moment with a mirror reflection, it's a generally dull affair and a frankly boring movie. Made in Ireland back in 1998, and no further sequels have turned up since it bludgeoned the franchise to death. Utter warlocks.




I'm not much of a one for digimation. I liked the Toy Storys well enough, I liked Finding Nemo, there were some nice bits in the first Ice Age, but generally it's just not my kind of thing. I didn't see Over The Hedge, the Madagascar movies, the Cars movies, Ratatouille, Bee Movie, Robots, Barnyard, The Wild, and a load more: it's just personal taste. More importantly, they're primarily kids' films and it's always seemed a tad off to me for a middle-aged single bloke to go and see them, though I've made some exceptions: Bolt because I wanted to try the then fairly new and exciting 3D, Wall-E and Rango because they sounded more interesting and grown-up (and they were - I thought Rango was terrific), Monsters Vs Aliens because I had two hours to fill and it was the only thing that fitted into the schedule.

So I missed Happy Feet at the cinema, which is fine since I'd have been surrounded by kids anyway and that's not really the way I want to watch movies. In a phrase, it's the dancing penguin movie. Mumble (voiced by Elijah Wood) cannot sing, unlike all the other penguins which can belt out soul ballads and R'n'B straight out of the egg. His unique talent is tap-dancing. Thrown out of the colony for being a freak, Mumble and a group of Latino penguins embark on a quest to find out what's happened to the fish stocks which are reducing the natural wildlife of Antarctica to starvation levels.

Happy Feet is fine. It's nonsense, of course, but as a couple of hours of top-end computer animation it's good fun. The trouble is that one penguin looks very much like another - you don't get anything like the variety that you get with fish in Finding Nemo or toys in Toy Story, and on more than one occasion I got a little confused as to which penguins I was actually watching (Mumble is the only one who looks more than slightly different). In addition, penguins are not great natural movers and there are limits to what they can do with flippers and very short legs, and those limits don't extend to dancing. And please - no more Robin Williams. I've always found Williams deeply annoying in pretty much everything whether cartoon voiceovers or live action films, the only exceptions being genuinely creepy roles like One Hour Photo, where he's absolutely brilliant. Here he's voicing not one but two wild and crazy penguins with Spanish accents, because....?

Still, despite the Williams factor and the (mostly) visually identical characters, it's alright. And it's perfectly well intentioned with its environmentally friendly messages: don't pollute the seas with plastic rubbish, and don't cut off the food supply for cute penguins. But there's perhaps too much in the way of detail of penguin lifecycles and not really enough exciting action and adventure, of which I could certainly have done with more. I certainly didn't hate Happy Feet: in fact I enjoyed it more than literally scores of underwhelming horror movies I've plodded through recently. And it's good to step away from your preferences once in a while and try something outside your usual territory (which is why I occasionally end up hurting myself with a Jean-Luc Godard). But ultimately it's not convinced me to watch more digimations and it hasn't even convinced me to add Happy Feet Two to the queue. I liked it, but not enough.


Tappity tappity tap tap:

Tuesday, 3 April 2012



It's been a bit of a trend for a few years now: big CGI spectaculars in which astonishingly muscled blokes in skirts and armour take on giant monsters or opposing armies with swords and spears. In the wake of Zack Snyder's nonsensical but strangely enjoyable 300, we've had Prince Of Persia (okay), a remake of Conan The Barbarian (rubbish), Immortals (mostly rubbish), assorted direct-to-DVD thudfests like the Scorpion King franchise (currently up to number 3), and a remake of 1979's Clash Of The Titans, which really wasn't any good either but obviously did well enough to spawn this sequel. It's an improvement, if scarcely any kind of an interesting or memorable achievement, but it rattles noisily along with terrific effects and enough big scary monsters to scare the hell out of the ickle kiddies who shouldn't be in there anyway. 12A should mean 12, not seven.

According to a quick poke around Wikipedia, this shouldn't even be called Wrath Of The Titans because there is only one Titan in it, admittedly a pretty wrathful one: Cronos (possibly spelled Cronus or Kronos), father of Zeus and Hades. It's ten years after the events of Clash, and as the Gods lose their power since no-one believes in them any more, Hades (Ralph Fiennes) is attempting to bring him back into existence from his imprisonment in Tartarus by draining brother Zeus (Liam Neeson) of his divine lifeforce. Or something. Heroic Perseus (Sam Worthington) has to journey into the impregnable underworld prison of Tartarus to rescue Zeus before Cronos awakens....

It is extremely silly, very loud, generally pretty humourless and impossible to care since most of what's on screen is computer generated anyway; for all the reality on show it might as well be a hand-drawn cartoon. I didn't bother with the 3D conversion that's been pasted on afterwards and opted for an ordinary 2D showing (just as I did with 2010's Clash Of The Titans) and to be honest I can't imagine the depth of headache I'd have staggered out of the cinema with if I'd seen it in 3D; probably up to the Transformers 3 level of pounding migraine. Frankly the film is loud and senseless enough when shown flat. Yet I confess I rather enjoyed it as a perfectly watchable, stupid fantasy movie: it's always nice to see Neeson and Fiennes and Rosamund Pike doing their thing in movies which are frankly unworthy of them, Sam Worthington does the he-man hero routine perfectly well, while Bill Nighy unaccountably plays the fallen God Hephaestus as a Yorkshireman.

The IMDb suggests there's going to be a third one but given the events in the last couple of reels I'm not sure that's a viable idea, since certain members of the cast don't make it to the end. Much as I had enough daft entertainment out of this one - certainly more than out of Clash - I don't think they need to keep on with them and would honestly rather they tried something else. It's enjoyable enough but the winged horse is dead now, so stop flogging it.


Monday, 2 April 2012



Au revior, mon petit Jean-Luc. Non: c'est adieu. Je suis no longer willing to plod through your (in this case literally) intergalactically tiresome old piffle. First I endured two miserable hours of incomprehensible and humourless hectoring in the impossibly boring Weekend, then the pointless A Bout De Souffle, which [1] is not as much fun as the Richard Gere remake and [2] might have been cool when viewed through a haze of Gitanes and Gauloises in early sixties Paris but which just looks stupid now. Now this, which is certainly at least a hundred times better than those two films, but only in the way that a punch to the shoulder is better than a kick in the goolies.

In fairness, Alphaville has a nicely unsettling mood to it, and terrific black and white photography which transforms the Paris of 1965 into an unfathomable and bleak city of an undated future, justifying the thesis that proper science fiction is actually about the here, now and us. Sometime in the future, trenchcoated secret agent Lemmy Caution, 003, turns up in Alphaville looking for a missing scientist but ultimately discovers that the town is run by a supercomputer named Alpha 60 which routinely sentences its citizens to death for behaving illogically....

That Alphaville looks great and has some semblance of plot and character does not, however, mitigate against it being very heavy going, full of people blathering nonsensically and full of things that just don't make sense. Indeed, I had to take two runs at the movie after initially giving up on it about thirty minutes in. For a film about a society based on pure logic on pain of death, there's a hell of a lot of nonsequiturs and illogic left unexplained. The executions are all carried out in a swimming pool: the condemned get to make a quick speech from a diving board before being shot, and then a team of synchronised swimmers leap in and collect the body while the spectators applaud. Why? Who is the bloke who attacks our hero in his bathroom at the start of the movie? An enemy agent? And why does our hero take pictures of everything? Does Not Compute.

But this is Jean-Luc Godard: it's probably not supposed to compute. That's probably the whole point of the exercise: contrasting the pure logic of this future society with basic human qualities like love and free will. Which is fine, J-L, but you really don't have to go about it such an aggressively difficult way. More bizarre than anything else is the presence of a sight gag that would later show up in The Benny Hill Show of all places: a man obeys the sign on a vending machine to insert money, and is rewarded with "merci". Roflmao, as they say. Maybe there's an open mike night coming up at the Comedy Store?

No, I'm still not going to bother with Godard any more. Granted, it's immeasurably more interesting and accessible than the intolerable Weekend, but it's still too much like hard work and I ended up with a worse headache than the one I got from watching Transformers: Dark Of The Moon in 3D. If I have to look a movie up on Wikipedia afterwards to find out what the hell was going on then either I'm thick or Jean-Luc Godard is mostly rubbish. And I don't think I'm (quite) that thick.





Maybe it's just one of the side effects of getting older that other people seem to be getting younger - policemen, newsreaders, actors playing Doctor Who. And the characters in teen slasher movies. When you're in your twenties and watching Friday The 13th movies, you can kind of relate to them because they're your own age. Once you get into your forties, your only point of connection would be as either the local police captain or the parents of one of the victims. Another ten years and there's only Crazy Ralph to relate to. (We do this already anyway, muttering "You're all doomed!" at the screen as yet another busload of idiots trundles into view at the start of yet another teen slasher movie.) The victims themselves are so radically different from us as grownups, and from us as we remember our teenage selves, that it's increasingly difficult to recognise them and understand them. It's the "tsk, young people today, what can you do?" problem, the same problem as pop lyrics not making sense any more.

Demons Never Die is a British teen slasher movie with a roster of "yoof" "street" victims so unfathomable they might as well be from Mars. After a girl kills herself in the pre-credit sequence, eight of her schoolmates get together and decide on a suicide pact in which they will all take their own lives at an upcoming birthday party because, apparently, that's the way kids think these days. But while this disparate bunch actually start to come together as friends in the face of their self-inflicted demises, a masked killer turns up and picks them off one by one. Who could it be? The alcoholic economics teacher? Perhaps the father of the girl who died at the start of the film? One of the ineffectual coppers who spend most of the time standing around doing nothing? Or perhaps it's one of the kids themselves?

It seems ridiculous that any of these kids would merrily agree to a suicide pact in the first place: apart from their decision to kill themselves in a meaningless gesture against nothing and nobody, most of them are not actively stupid. Yes, some of them have problems: the fat one is routinely bullied by a gang of thugs, the pretty one is scared she'll inherit her mother's psychological condition, the glamorous one is a secret bulimic and so on, but it still seems absurd they'll all merrily end their lives because of them. Indeed, once they've broken down their own barriers between themselves, some of them are perfectly decent people and you can almost begin to relate to them as proper human beings. These scenes of friendship when they agree to abandon their pact are actually rather nice and even approaching heartwarming.

Sadly the sequences of teen slashery are pretty perfunctory and don't make a lot of sense, and to cap it all they switch in the last reels to night-vision and found footage. And the film doesn't seem to be sure whether the demons are psychological - despair, depression, loneliness and so on - or real and physical manifestations of evil forces. Though it does have some unexpectedly interesting and effective moments, Demons Never Die doesn't really work and ends up as a silly and implausible teenslash movie that can't find the genuine horror in the idea of meaningless suicide. Most baffling aspect is that one of the executive producers is Tara Palmer-Tomkinson.


Crikey, I say, what ho, chaps:

Sunday, 1 April 2012



Even by the standards of flogging a franchise well past the point of its natural death, this sequel to a prequel to a spinoff to a sequel to a remake is boneheaded twaddle of a fairly mediocre order. The continuing adventures of former King Mathayus as no longer played by The Rock, it's shot in Thailand, which looks very nice but weren't they originally based in Egypt? The first Scorpion King movie may have been little more than backstory for a supporting character in The Mummy Returns, but it was enjoyably trashy, full-blown popcorn nonsense. The Scorpion King: Rise Of A Warrior was less interesting, and now here's a panache-free continuation that's continuing the trend of plummeting quality.

In The Scorpion King 3: Battle For Redemption, Mathayus (now played by Victor Webster) is no longer a king but a cynical mercenary hired by good king Ron Perlman to defend his trusted ally, neighbouring king Temuera Morrison from evil king (and Perlman's brother) Billy Zane. Morrison has [1] a beautiful daughter whom Zane has kidnapped, and [2] the fabled Book Of The Dead (which looks to have no more than twelve thick cardboard pages). If Zane gets hold of the Book, he can bring undead warriors back to life to do his bidding and take over the world, bwahahaha. Hilarity ensues.

Much of this is closer in tone to something like Xena: Warrior Princess than the first Scorpion King (or indeed Stephen Sommers' The Mummy, starting point for the whole franchise and a film which I admit I rather enjoyed). Perhaps surprisingly for its lenient 12 certificate, there's a goodly amount of hot scantily-armoured babe ass-kicking and a climactic babe-on-babe swordfight which probably counts as "something for the dads" while the mums can gaze in awe at the numerous immaculately sculpted manchests on display. It's also closer to the spirit of those terrible Roger Corman Sorceress films that came out in the wake of the original Conan.

Sadly this is barely on the level of Red Sonja. It's also a curiously ethnically diverse film: it's shot in Thailand by a Dutch director (Roel Reine, who also did Death Race 2 and the upcoming not-very-eagerly-anticipated Death Race 3); Mathyas is nominally Egyptian, his lumbering comedy sidekick is German, the love interest Asian, Zane is Unspecified Generic Villainy, and two of his zombie warriors are Japanese and Zulu. Oh, and there's a bunch of ninjas in it as well. I didn't catch any Portuguese, Afrikaans or Welsh in there but maybe they're in the deleted scenes.

Maybe I'm just being unduly harsh? This is plainly not a film to be taken overly seriously, and picking holes in it is like picking holes in Carry On Up The Jungle. On the other hand, you're still charging me money for the privilege of watching it and mediocrity cannot be excused on the grounds that it's just a lark. The Scorpion King 3 is another of those films that falls into the category of "not terrible, but just not much good". Watchable, but more than a little bit stupid.