Tuesday, 31 July 2012



Having flirted with the idea of making unconnected horror movies under the Halloween banner, on one level it's rather nice to see the producers deciding that Halloween III: Season Of The Witch wasn't really the direction to take the "franchise", and promptly hauled Michael Myers and Dr Loomis back from the grave for another festival of stabbing and shouting respectively. Never mind that when last seen, both Myers and Loomis were staggering around Haddonfield Hospital burning to death - if Jason Voorhees can come back every year despite being macheted to death on several occasions, so can Michael. It's the nonsensical what-the-hell lore of slasher movies.

On another level, however, it wasn't really such a good idea because the result is frankly pretty lame. Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (the subtitle is presumably there to reassure us that this is a "proper" Halloween movie) actually begins with a helpful sanitarium guard providing us with a handy chunk of exposition detailing how Loomis and Myers both miraculously survived the fire at the end of Halloween II ten years ago. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now dead and her seven-year-old daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris) is plagued by nightmares of The Shape even though he's been in the asylum since before she was even born - but on Halloween night Myers wakes up, escapes and heads back to town to kill members of his family that he doesn't even know exist. Loomis (the mighty Donald Pleasence), still wearing the same old raincoat and now boasting stick-on burn scars, limps off to Haddonfield to stop him yet again.....

It's directed by Dwight H Little, who's done a few semi-decent films: Marked For Death is probably Steven Seagal's funniest movie, Anacondas: Hunt For The Blood Orchid is engagingly stupid, and I'm one of the seven or eight people who rather like his take on The Phantom Of The Opera with Robert Englund. But Halloween 4 is weak: there's little in the way of blood and gore (it's still an 18 though) and even using the famous John Carpenter theme as the backbone to the soundtrack doesn't help. It's not as if I'm a huge fan of the original John Carpenter film, so Halloween 4 didn't exactly have mountains to climb, but it doesn't even achieve the even lesser heights of Halloween II. Certainly it's always fun to see Donald Pleasence ranting about how dangerous and inhuman Myers is ("Evil on two legs!") but it's nowhere near enough to make the movie actually worth seeing. Totally forgettable, and I'm reconsidering adding Halloween 5 to the rentals list.


Forget it:

Monday, 30 July 2012



Far be it from me to bang on yet again about the democratisation of the film-making process, but every time you sit through another cheap, shoddy piece of ill-conceived garbage it should act as a reminder as to why it should be made much harder to make movies. Talent, skill, imagination and craft will overcome any obstacles; making it easier for people to get their film made doesn't just make it easier for talented, skillful and imaginative craftsmen (and women) to get their films produced, it makes it easier for deluded imbeciles to have their irrational scribblings produced, and put on the same rental and retail racks proper films by proper filmmakers who have earned the right to be there through their talent and skill. No amount of easily downloaded editing software or budget HD camcorder equipment can make up for the gaping hole in the writing, acting and directing - the things you can't actually buy. Just because your piece of crap is sitting next to Pan's Labyrinth on the shelf at Blockbusters, it doesn't make you a filmmaker.

It's the near future and petrol is over $30 a gallon (it's about $3.50 at present in the US), so nobody can afford to drive. Well-meaning, supposedly lovable kindergarten teacher Archie is trying to create a car engine that runs on wheat grass extract, but it's only when he accidentally cuts his hand that he realises he's invented a car engine that runs on blood. Animal blood doesn't work: it has to be human blood. But the very fact that he has a car attracts the attention of the town slut Denise, which he doesn't resist, leaving behind his tentative friendship with the plainly besotted wheat grass seller Lorraine (Anna Chlumsky, probably best known as Macauley Culkin's girlfriend in the wet My Girl), despite the fact that he's a charmless idiot with the personality of a spoon. Meanwhile, the government are also interested in Archie's discovery....

Much of Blood Car is flatly done and uninteresting, it's not funny, and the occasional stabs at bad taste feel misjudged and lame. Towards the end, Archie freaks out in a diner in a scene which looks like something from Natural Born Killers, and then the film veers into full-on Troma sicko territory with children being murdered and a baby being slung into the whirring blades of Archie's death engine. Anything for a laugh, eh? Frankly by this point I was too bored to be shocked, but I was left feeling insulted that the genius behind it thinks that this sort of rubbish is acceptable. It isn't and I ended up wishing that camera equipment was far more expensive and still used costly film stock, or that someone somewhere in the production process had said "This isn't good enough". Astonishingly, this turd got a limited UK cinema release earlier this year.




Another nonsensical, uninteresting, strictly routine horror movie in which a bunch of dimwits wander round a spooky old building and bad things happen to them. There are no surprises in store and the only involvement you can muster up as a viewer is to guess which of these lamebrains is going to die next, and how. Only to discover that it really isn't worth the effort since the entire movie is based on utter implausibility and isn't even particularly well done.

Following a car smash, six friends strike out through the woods (rather than heading back to the road they've just left, for no adequately explored reason) and chance upon a derelict building. They can't get in so get onto the roof and abseil down through the skylight (except one, who runs off on her own back into the unlit, unfamiliar woods and disappears from proceedings) where they find two corpses, all the doors and windows sealed from within, and a near-naked bald man strapped to a chair, asleep, and surrounded by banks of monitors and readouts. Who is he and what was being done to him? And what will he do to them?

Not much, unfortunately. Incubus is frankly the usual glum, dark twaddle: the potential horrors of the abandoned hospital set are barely exploited, the plot demands that one of the group is a top-flight medical student who can work out exactly what's going on, and you're never made to care whether any of them survive or not. It's not offensively terrible, it's just utterly pointless. Apart from Tara Reid, the cast are mostly British actors - Casualty, The Bill etc - playing American, and it's shot in Romania, which is also pretending to be America. Apparently this was the first movie to premiere direct-to-download. Whoopee.


Thursday, 26 July 2012



I love the original Starship Troopers. I first saw it at the Odeon Camden and my hopes weren't high when I saw it had been given a 15 certificate, which was unthinkable for a Paul Verhoeven film. But that didn't last long: the BBFC did admit they'd got that one wrong, with the astonishing cavalcade of blood, gore, severed heads, dismemberment, disembowellings and thousands of freaky giant bug monsters ripping screaming humans to pieces to a roaring Basil Poledouris soundtrack. Plus oodles of political satire, hilarious fascist propaganda, nudity, ripe acting and terrific visual effects. It's great.

Starship Troopers 3: Marauder isn't in the same league, though it is significantly better than the lame second film, Hero Of The Federation. It pulls back the impossibly square-jawed Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien) from the first film, still leading the infantry against the bugs on a farming planet that's of great strategic significance to both sides. Enter singing (!) Sky Marshal Anoke, along with his arsehole aide General Dix, and Dix's fiancee Lola (Joelene Blalock). But while Rico faces a court-martial and public execution for alleged insubordination, the Sky Marshal and his entourage crashland on another desert planet and need rescuing from the bugs - because Lola is the only person who knows the location of the Earth Sanctuary base, and this information cannot fall into the claws of the enemy....

Religion also gets a pounding here, with the Earth Federation clamping down on all that peace and love hogwash as sedition and treason - until they realise they can harness the power of religion to fight the good fight: "Yes, there is a God, and Yes, He wants us to win!" Incidentally, the IMDb user reviews section showcases a fine selection of clueless halfwits having not the first idea of what they're bleating about, missing the point of the religious angle so comprehensively that it surely has to be deliberate. It's satirical, you dolts.

There's plenty of blood, gore and monster mashing on display - Van Dien's first line to a trooper after a bug attack is "Find out who this arm belongs to!". It's a pity that some of the effects work is a touch below par even for a franchise sequel shot on a low budget which the IMDb estimates at a mere $9m. The desert landscapes look great (it was shot in South Africa) and some of the "Would You Like To Know More?" propaganda inserts are hilarious. Starship Troopers 3 isn't close to Verhoeven's original, though it has some of the same spirit, probably because Ed Neumeier's written and directed it. And though some of the film doesn't hang together - the plot requires Dix to be an unthinking and unreasoning idiot in the early stages - it's generally good fun.



Wednesday, 25 July 2012



Every so often we in the UK get to grouse and whine about the BBFC's insistence on cutting this or that - either a few seconds trimmed out of the violent or scary bits in order to get a lower classification or, very occasionally, a rejection if the movie is right at the top end of unacceptability such as A Serbian Film, The Human Centipede 2 or The Bunny Game (this last still hasn't turned up here, and from what I've read and heard, I'm not surprised and I'm not overly distressed about it either). But would we better off with no ratings system at all? For all the complaints from filmmakers like Ken Loach and Stephen Woolley, who put strong language in their films and then bleat that they've been given a high certificate for strong language, and for all the complaints from parents and cinemagoers that The Dark Knight or Black Swan have been passed too leniently, it's surely a better system than an unrated free-for-all (don't forget that it was the absence of ratings on videos in the early 1980s, when children of nine or ten could walk out of video libraries with uncut tapes of The Evil Dead or The Hills Have Eyes, that ultimately led to the Video Recordings Act in the first place). Or what about a system like the MPAA?

This Film Is Not Yet Rated is a documentary attempting to expose the American film ratings board to some kind of public accountability and scrutiny: to uncover just who is it that slaps apparently random certificates on films. It's a body that operates at a level of secrecy unknown in any other sphere of American society (with the exception of the CIA): it is beholden to no-one and yet is incredibly powerful when it comes to the potential release patterns for a film - the dreaded NC-17 can kill a movie's commercial prospects, yet it's applied almost on a whim and the appeals process is so hopelessly loaded against the filmmakers that it's a worthless mockery of due process. In order to shed some light on the so-called system, filmmaker Kirby Dick employs private detectives to find out exactly who these people are.

The film also highlights the inconsistencies between the MPAA's treatment of gay sex (ugh, horrible, evil, NC-17) and straight sex (perfectly okay, nothing wrong with that, R); films from independent studios (nasty minded perverts, NC-17) and major MPAA-member studios (absolutely fine, R); graphic sex (sick filth, NC-17) and graphic violence (fun for all the family, R).Clearly, it's not there to help parents and it's not there to help filmmakers, it's there to help studios. Perhaps it would have been nice to compare and contrast with our own dear BBFC, which routinely gives out age-restrictive 15 and 18s that no-one has a problem with, rather than the Americans' nonsensical R which allows five-year-olds into films that are patently unsuitable for them, and the top category of NC-17 which is seen as the kiss of death that sends everyone into a shrieking panic when it's actually less severe than our 18.

The discussions and interviews (John Waters, Kimberley Pierce, Matt Stone, Atom Egoyan and others) are more interesting than the private investigation footage, but there are also clips from Boys Don't Cry, Eyes Wide Shut, Basic Instinct and other contentious movies that upset the MPAA but no-one else really had any issues with. It's not our business to tell the USA what to do (it certainly isn't mine), but maybe junking the MPAA entirely and replacing it with a BBFC-style organisation might give it some more credibility?


Unrated / 18:

Tuesday, 24 July 2012



Like the zombies themselves, zombie movies cannot be stopped: they'll always be there and in greater numbers. Also like the zombies themselves, most zombie movies are hollow, grunting cadavers with nothing going on outside of the blood and moaning. But occasionally there'll be one which displays some signs of intelligence or individuality - a Bub, for example - that doesn't follow the shuffling horde of a thousand other Something Of The Deads and is actually worth closer attention. Part of this may be to do with locale: there may not be much difference between a zombie movie made in Herne Hill and one made in Tooting Bec, but in recent years we've had the undead from Malaysia (Zombies From Banana Village), Burkina Faso (The Dead) and now.... Cuba.

In recent years there's also been a trend to making zombie comedies: Wasting Away, Deadheads, Fido, Shaun Of The Dead, Dance Of The Dead. Personally I prefer my zombie movies to be apocalyptic nihilism rather than amiable knockabout, but even so I really enjoyed Havana-based romzomcom Juan Of The Dead. Juan himself is a good-hearted loser who sets himself up as a zombie exterminator when a rise of the undead hits the city: while the TV news maintains that everything is fine and it's all to do with American-backed dissidents, Juan and a motley group of friends and relations will kill your loved ones for 30 pesos at a time.

It's genuinely funny in places, with sight gags, digs at Latino machismo, a bit of political satire (some of the references I had to look up on Wikipedia afterwards) and genuinely unexpected moments such as the one where Juan and a freshly zombified crossdresser are handcuffed together (for reasons too complicated to go into) and the battle between them turns into a dance routine. There's plenty of gore, including probably the greatest number of decapitations in a single scene ever, but it's inoffensive and comedic enough to get the film a 15 certificate, which it would get for language anyway.

By giving Juan Of The Dead four stars I'm not suggesting that it's a better film than, say, The Dark Knight Rises - it emphatically isn't - but as zombie comedies go it ranks higher than the ultimately disappointing Batman conclusion does on the scale of megabudget studio franchise films. Juan Of The Dead is well worth seeing: generally pretty good and a pleasant surprise.


You're Havana laugh:

Monday, 23 July 2012



Is crowdfunding the way forward for financing movies? Asking for contributions online, and you get a thanks in the end credits when the film's finally made. It's not going to be the new business model for the major studios but there's probably no reason why very low budgets can't be built up this way for shorts or small independent features. If the donations exceed the target then the end result might even be a tad better, and if the film ends up as unreleasable rubbish then at least no individual backer has lost a huge amount of investment in the process. Presumably there's some mechanism in place to ensure that some unscrupulous crook doesn't crowdfund a non-existent film and immediately jet off to Acapulco with the loot, but that aside it looks to be a nice idea.

Absentia was partly funded on the Kickstarter website and, according to the IMDb, they raised $25,000 in a month towards the production. Good for them. The end result isn't anywhere near a masterpiece but as a very low-key, naturalistic domestic chiller it does manage to rustle up some nicely creepy moments. Dropout and former addict Callie (Katie Parker) returns to her pregnant sister Tricia's (Courtney Bell) house to be there when the child arrives. Tricia's husband Daniel disappeared seven years ago and she's on the point of having him declared dead in absentia - but on that very day he suddenly shows up again. Where has he been? How has he survived? And what has it to do with the underpass tunnel just across the road?

There are no big names in the cast, no elaborate special effects except for some unsettling spectral visions early on, and no action set pieces - one long dialogue scene consists entirely of a flat two-shot from a locked-off camera - but the film certainly has tension to spare, particularly when Callie is trying to investigate Daniel's disappearance as well as numerous others from the area. Few of us have fought vampires or been chased around by zombies, but most of us have walked through a creepy underpass at some point so there's a natural recognition there, and the locale and characters all feel entirely real.

However, they're also pretty difficult to empathise with very much, so you don't really care that much about what happens. Nevertheless, Absentia has its well-placed scares and jumps, and it does a good job in conjuring up an atmosphere of quiet and plausible horror with an unusual semi-explanation at the back of it and a pleasingly bleak ending. At the micro end of the budget scale you're not going to get gloss and slickness: it's shot on raw HD and it probably wouldn't look too good blown up to a cinema screen, but on DVD (its natural home) it's nicely unnerving and spooky.



Sunday, 22 July 2012



Let's be absolutely clear about two things right from the off. Firstly, it's impossible to discuss this film in anything other than the most basic terms without revealing some of the plot material. If you don't want any plot spoilers at all, if you want to know as little as possible, then stop now, go and see it, and then read the reviews. Personally I find it's the best way. Secondly, this final part of Christopher Nolan's Bat-trilogy is emphatically not a masterpiece, nor anything close. This is not to suggest for one moment that it's a terrible film - far from it - but it is a disappointment (not so much after The Dark Knight but certainly after Batman Begins, and I did rewatch both films this week to prepare).

The Dark Knight finished on a downbeat, with Batman taking the fall for Harvey "Two-Face" Dent's crimes in order to preserve Dent's image and reputation as Gotham's White Knight. Eight years on, Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne has become a reclusive Hughes figure, closeted away in the East Wing of the rebuilt Wayne Manor and speaking to no-one. But it's not the arrival of the sinister anarchist Bane (Tom Hardy) that drags Wayne back into the real world, it's catburglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) cracking his safe - but why? The trail leads to gangsters, the Wayne Enterprises boardroom and a Third World prison pit, into which Wayne is unceremoniously flung while Bane unleashes revolution and apocalypse on the streets and the citizens of Gotham....

As with the previous movies, the technical craft of The Dark Knight Rises is absolutely flawless. It looks fantastic (Nolan's regular DP Wally Pfister and, perhaps more importantly, shooting on film rather than digital), it's not overedited into a flurry of incoherent subliminal imagery, the big name cast deliver even in smaller roles (way down the cast list you still find recognisable faces such as Aiden Gillen, Tom Conti and William Devane). And at this level of film-making the effects work and action sequences are excellent. Hans Zimmer's score does the job, I suppose, though it's a fairly dull listen on CD (I'm playing it through Spotify as I type). If there's a problem with Bane, it's his Sean-Connery-through-a-megaphone voice effect: not Tom Hardy's fault, but the sound mix loses some of his dialogue although that apparently varies from cinema to cinema with differently calibrated sound systems; the IMAX is apparently clear as daylight while my ordinary Cineworld did lose some of it, though not a lot.

You could query how much of Bane's rabble-rousing is meant to satirically reflect the Occupy movement, with its storming of the Gotham's Wall Street and revolutionary kangaroo courts of injustice set up to overthrow the rich and powerful regardless of their moral worth - but aren't Occupy supposed to be the good guys? Bane sure as hell isn't. You could ask how Wayne - not Batman - is able to get all the way back to Gotham, apparently in a matter of days, from his third world imprisonment and get into the city when all the access routes have been blown or blocked and Bane has vowed to set off a nuclear explosion if anyone breaches the city limits in either direction. You could also ask how Bruce Wayne is able to do pretty much anything beyond ordering a dry white wine in a poncey restaurant given that his knees are knackered right from the start, the cartilage having been totally worn away in the antics of the first two movies. You could even ask why in the early stages the cops are more obsessed with apprehending Batman than catching the bloke who's just trashed the Stock Exchange.

At a hundred and sixty four minutes, The Dark Knight Rises is ridiculously overlong and it does drag, particularly in the first hour when it's bringing everything together and setting the rest of the film up. It also does away with several key characters, including Batman himself, for too long. And as with the other two films, it is desperately in need of some levity and humour against the gloom and misery. But in its latter stages it unleashes a couple of dazzling plot reveals out of nowhere that completely reconfigure the villains' motivations, before supplying us with a partly happy ending that probably rules out a direct sequel but manages to leave a door ajar for some kind of spinoff, though I wonder whether that may be a sop to the studio bods rather than any indication of intended continuation.

Batman is such a dollar machine that Warners would be idiots not to reboot at the first available opportunity. But personally I'd rather they left it now, partly because I'd like something other than masked superheroes for our blockbuster movies, and partly because even if Batman hadn't been filmed enough already, it's certainly been filmed enough now. With the conclusion of this trilogy, the bar has probably been raised too high for anyone to pick up the baton with any reasonable expectation of success; for all their faults these are now the definitive Batman films. And The Dark Knight Rises is flawed: it's overlong, too grim, it isn't as enjoyable as Batman Begins (which was also a touch overlong and lacking in humour), and there's also a sense that the sheer level of epic destruction on show is overdoing it even by the standards of modern blockbusters. I didn't hate the film by any means: it has good things in it and it has superb things in it, but overall it is something of a disappointment.


Thursday, 19 July 2012



One of the problems with ongoing franchises is that you sometimes feel obligated to watch the previous instalments in order to get back up to speed with the who, why and where that you last saw three years ago. I'm not a big fan of this: for a start it feels like homework and I'm also of the belief that movies should stand alone without the need for a mass of background knowledge about who these people are. And it's certainly a daunting task if the films you're revising are ones you didn't much care for in the first place.

In 2005 I really didn't like Batman Begins at all and in 2008 I thought The Dark Knight was just about okay: I felt both films were too long and dark and had absolutely no levity or humour to them, though I preferred them to the two Tim Burton films and particularly the Joel Schumacher sequels. But with the imminent release of the third and last (?) of Christopher Nolan's epics in cinemas this very week, I rented the first two to catch up on just who or what Two-Face and the League Of Shadows were. Who's Ra's Al Ghul? What happened to Rachel? Who was The Scarecrow? It's homework. But I'm glad I did: one of the films completely confounded me by being so much better than I ever remember it, while the other confirmed exactly what I thought first time around.

The genuine surprise was Batman Begins, the 2005 origins story which puts all the pieces in place: Bruce Wayne's fear of bats (after falling down a well as a child and being attacked by them), the meaningless deaths of his charitable and endlessly kind-hearted parents, his travels to understand the criminal mentality and to find his true purpose. He's mentored in ninja skills and martial arts as well as spiritual discipline by Ducard (Liam Neeson) and invited to join the League Of Shadows, but refuses, returning to sort out the rampant crime wave in Gotham City his way, rather than participate in the League's plans to destroy the entire decadent society....

I still believe it's too long (though at 140 minutes it's the shortest of the three) and I still believe it takes itself far too seriously and desperately needs to lighten up a little. But it's a brilliantly made film. Gotham City is dazzlingly realised in sets and CGI - as instantly immersive and believable as the Los Angeles of Blade Runner. The cast are all great: it's graced by a particularly good turn from Michael Caine, though I'd submit that Katie Holmes looks too young (even though she's only four years younger than Christian Bale) for an assistant D.A. role. And Bale is also excellent in a difficult (dual) role: difficult because it has to claim Batman back from the idiocies of previous films. It's a role that's impossible to take seriously but at the same time it has to be taken seriously; maybe Bale goes a tad too far in the latter direction but surely it's indisputable that he's leagues ahead of Kilmer, Clooney and Keaton.

If overseriousness is a problem in Batman Begins, it's more of a problem in The Dark Knight, which I thought was okay but nothing special back in 2008 and, having watched it again on BluRay, I still think it's okay but nothing special. At its heart it does have a breathtaking, swaggering performance by the late Heath Ledger as The Joker, a purely anarchistic force of nature with no interest in money or power, a man who commits apparently irrational acts (though plotted in meticulous detail) with the ultimate intent of demonstrating some kind of moral philosophy of the nature of chaos and good and evil. In a sense the film isn't even about Batman: the Joker's main interest is in corrupting DA Harvey Dent, Gotham's White Knight and the public face of honesty and integrity. When he falls, so will the city.

The Dark Knight is longer, and despite all the action and effects (which are exemplary - like Batman Begins, the film-making is faultless) it feels even longer. Despite the theatrics of The Joker (a far more unfathomable sociopath than Jack Nicholson's version) and the repeated refrains of "why so serious?" it's still po-faced, it has no sense of fun and it ends in darkness with Batman rejected and unwanted. This really isn't what I want from a superhero movie - did anyone ever tell Spiderman or The Fantastic Four to get out of town and attract huge amounts of destruction somewhere else? - but it seems that's what's required when you're making a proper Epic out of something like Batman.

So while I admit I was wrong - seven years ago - about Batman Begins, my opinion of The Dark Knight hasn't changed. However, it'll still be interesting to see The Dark Knight Rises, to see where they do take the character and, more importantly, where they leave it. Further sequels or a reboot? I can't see them leaving the property to moulder in the vaults for too long. Meanwhile, Batman Begins is the best Batman movie thus far (let's ignore the two imbecilic Schumacher films) and The Dark Knight Rises is certainly brilliantly made but doesn't really come together. Fingers crossed that The Dark Knight Rises gets it finally right.


Da-na-na-na Da-na-na-na:

Tuesday, 17 July 2012



We've had quite a few wantonly excessive Japanese gore movies over the last few years: the likes of Samurai Princess, Tokyo Gore Police and Robo Geisha. Movies that quite literally make no sense and merely alternate scenes of childish splatter with more scenes of childish splatter, invariably done with cartoonish CGI that would have looked substandard ten years ago. But hey, there are severed heads, severed limbs, fistings, disembowellings, vomit eating, huge parabolas of blood splurting across the screen and body parts strewn across the landscape: what's not to like? The end result is a film that makes Saw IV look like The Care Bears Go To Fluffyland, but with less convincing carnage and the apparently random inclusion of Nazis.

Dead Ball (Deadball on the box and on the IMDb) is an imbecilic gore comedy that starts off as a variation on The Longest Yard (and/or The Mean Machine) before switching on the demented violence and leaving it running. Jubei (Tak Sakaguchi) is a troubled teen who killed his own father with his astonishing baseball pitching skills and became a sort of vigilante; in juvenile prison he's coerced into joining the baseball team. But he's more concerned with what happened to his younger brother. However, when the first league match turns out to be a massacre, in which the ill-equipped misfits are butchered by a team of unfeasibly hot chicks in skimpy black leather solely to entertain some Nazis, Jubei picks up the baseball he vowed he'd never pitch again....

It is absolute rubbish and the constant emphasis on senseless gore becomes boring very quickly. As with most of these movies, you're not expected to care; you're just expected to laugh and cheer every time someone gets hacked to pieces or decapitated. Much of the obviously fatal violence doesn't even affect its victims, almost in the manner of Wile E Coyote walking away from a high fall or an Acme gelignite explosion with no ill effects. So what's the point? With no coherent plot to speak of and no-one to root for, all that's left is the cheap rubber prosthetics and gallons of digital blood, of which there's so much it gets surprisingly dull. Balls.



Saturday, 14 July 2012



I don't usually go back to see films in the cinema for a second time; if I do want to see them again I tend to wait for the DVD release. But I did go back to see Prometheus again purely to confirm that I was right about it being a masterpiece and the naysayers were wrong. Maybe I'd overreacted? Maybe it was merely okay but I'd seen so many lousy horror and SF movies that anything that was "okay" automatically seemed like a masterpiece by comparison? Maybe the naysayers were right to point out the logical holes and the clunky dialogue? Er, no. It's still a masterpiece. That's not to say it's perfect, but what is? It's still creepy, jumpy, nasty and wildly imaginative in precisely the right measures, it still looks fantastic and sounds fantastic and I did enjoy it every bit as much the second time around. It's still one of my favourites of the year, and I don't think that's entirely due to the abundance of mediocre or indifferent (or just plain terrible) movies that have formed the backbone of 2012's release schedule so far.

So why the hate? Why did Prometheus get kicked around so badly? Obviously one can't rule out personal taste entirely - the finest celery and onion sandwich in the world is nothing if you don't like celery and onions - but I think there are two reasons for its muted reception. Firstly, it's not our beloved Alien. It's in the same universe and it shares much of its DNA, but it is a completely different beast as a film; it's not in the same genre (SF/horror rather than plain SF), it's on a much larger scale with more than double the cast, it's about humanity rather than the monster. It's not even set on the same planet (indeed, Prometheus is set on a moon). Prometheus isn't even a direct prequel to Alien; it's at least a companion piece and cousin to Alien, and at it's best a pre-pre-prequel that might - might - eventually lead, two films later, to someone or something sending out the warning signal that is ultimately picked up by the Nostromo.

Secondly, I think the hype was so relentless and extensive that it raised expectations far beyond the film's ability to come anywhere near delivering. Trailers, clips, viral promotional stuff, reviews, articles, stills, interviews.... But since I looked at as little of this as was physically possible, since I refused to be sucked into the marketing vortex, I came to the film without all that baggage of what happens, what might happen, who says what to who, where when and whatever. The promotional juggernaut for Prometheus has fuelled my personal conviction that studio marketing departments should produce a couple of posters and a couple of trailers, and that's all. Behind the scenes footage and interviews should be kept back for the DVD extras, not plastered all over the planet months in advance in a desperate campaign to sell me something that doesn't even exist yet, and which I'll certainly go and see anyway when the damned thing finally comes out. But it raises expectations. It ramps up the excitement. And ultimately it's too much: we've been promised an earth-shattering gamechanger of a masterpiece but we're given a film that's merely very good or excellent, and thus it rates as a disappointment. On the other hand I didn't click on any links, I didn't read any articles and I avoided all the trailers, so I went into the film with as open and uncontaminated a mind as possible. It really is the best way.

Yes, there are some terrible lines of dialogue. Yes, some of the characters behave like idiots (though the same holds for the blessed Alien: Harry Dean Stanton in particular behaves like an utter halfwit and dies needlessly as a result). Yes, the reveal of Weyland still being alive and on the ship is fluffed, because they're not going to give Guy Pearce prominent billing if his only appearance is the video spiel near the start - obviously he's going to show up again. And on the subject of Weyland: yes, the old man make-up job is below par and yes, the secondary reveal that he's Vickers' dad is a meaningless throwaway. You could also ask how Shaw (Noomi Rapace) even gets to the medical pod thing when it's in a sideroom to Vickers' private quarters - unless they have two of them on board which is unlikely since there are only supposed to be twelve in existence.

Certainly Prometheus could have been made a bit better by losing some of the duff moments, maybe having a better score (Marc Streitenfeld and Harry Gregson-Williams have tried, but it's merely serviceable apart from the opening titles) and polishing some of the iffy dialogue. But personally I don't care. There are minor niggles in all the great movies: Blade Runner is rife with them, Dawn Of The Dead is rife with them, Star Wars is rife with them, Carry On Matron is absolutely riddled with them. So? Nothing and nobody is perfect. But I still think Prometheus is a terrific movie and significantly underrated.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012



I had actually seen this before at the 2011 Frightfest Halloween event. Not all of it, though: I have to confess I fell asleep so I've had to wait for the DVD in order to see the film properly from start to finish. And I know I'm eight months late to the party here, but it is a monumental stinker: boring, stupid, predictable and pointless, and further proof as to why the film-making process should be made more expensive and more difficult in order to stop thundering cretins from getting their clueless amateur pisspuddles on screens.

In a so-called film strongly reminiscent of (but surprisingly not as interesting as) Shark Night 3D and Harpoon: Reykjavik Whale Watching Massacre, three bikini bimbos and three unspeakable douchebags go out on a dubious fishing trip for no immediately obvious reason beyond the fact that the lead douchebag, an odious trustfund wanker who gets his balls out on Skype and giggles like a simpleton at those funny webcam distortion effects that make you look like a Martian or a potato, wants to show off his yacht (and so that the three girls can lounge around in bikinis and flash their rubber tits around). But then the boat breaks down and they're eventually rescued by The Watermen, the local fishermen who've been working those waters for generations - but do they have something more sinister in mind?

Yet again it's a film that presents a roster of deeply uninteresting sub-human imbeciles, potheads and arseholes about whom it's impossible to give two hoots as to whether they live or die (except for the lead douchebag, for whom no amount of being smacked round the head with a chair leg is going to feel excessive). Nor do we have any interesting villains either; they're the standard horror trope of (presumably) inbred weirdos mumbling incomprehensibly, giggling like Beavis and Butthead at the chance of sexually abusing the women, and hacking their victims to pieces in a shack. Everything's absolutely predictable and the movie holds absolutely no surprises. And most of the second half consists of the survivors and the inbreds wandering endlessly around the desolate marshlands in the middle of the night.

That it's got some blood and gore and tits in it doesn't mean The Watermen is anything like anywhere near half-good enough and it sure as hell doesn't justify a rental fee. What annoys isn't so much the painful mediocrity on display - there have always been rubbish movies and there always will be - it's that it cheapens horror cinema and movies in general. Enough one-star rubbish brings down the average standard, and it makes it harder for the genre to maintain a level of respectability if this is the kind of garbage filmmakers think we'll put up with. Really, if you have a choice between making a piece of rubbish and not making anything, sometimes it's better to not make anything. And if you've a choice between watching a piece of rubbish and not watching anything, in this instance not watching anything really is the better option. If this hadn't been a FrightFest screening that I fell asleep halfway through, even I wouldn't have bothered with it.


Don't buy The Watermen. Buy one of these instead:

Saturday, 7 July 2012



Do we just not do commercial movies as well as the Americans do? We don't make big blockbusters by ourselves, unless serious studio money is involved (such as with the Harry Potter series, and even the James Bonds are basically American films now). We do make plenty of movies about inner city hooligans and/or inarticulate gangsta arseholes, which are no fun and, more importantly, keep Danny Dyer in work. Either that or we churn out costumed heritage pieces which are basically Sunday evening TV shows - The Young Victoria and The Other Boleyn Girl are very pretty and respectable, but how much better would they have been if they'd fought werewolves and Satanists? And we do make plenty of DTV exploitation movies, but for various reasons - budgetary constraints making everything cheap and ugly, the availability of inexpensive equipment allowing clueless halfwits to throw something together with their mates over a weekend - many of them are unwatchable. There are exceptions, happily.

Johannes Roberts' Storage 24 is no gamechanger, it's not going to win any awards and it's not going to dominate the box-office for the next ten weeks. But it is a perfectly decent horror movie which sets up its simple idea - monster chases bickering idiots around a confined location - quickly and efficiently, includes a smattering of crowd-pleasing gore and a nice ending. A military cargo plane crashes in Battersea and one of its reinforced metal crates bursts open, releasing a huge gribbly alien into the local storage facility. Contrivances allow a motley group of people into the building while an engineer fiddles with the shutters to override the security lockdown, among them businessman Noel Clarke, the girlfriend who just dumped him, his and her best friends and a loonie hiding from his ex-wife.

From there it's a body count movie as people wander off on their own or go back to rescue someone else, and the Predator Alien monster gets them. In places it's actually quite nasty - the 15 certificate comes after trimming some of the goriest moments, so it's only just shy of a full 18 - and in others it's a touch silly; the biggest laugh comes from our heroes exploiting the creature's inexplicable interest in squeaky toy puppies. It's just a pity that none of the characters are particularly sympathetic, so you don't really care which ones get their faces ripped off and which ones survive to the fabulous final shot. Storage 24 really isn't anything special or dazzling, granted, but it is still a lot of good gruey fun, way more entertaining than Attack The Block in the aliens-in-London stakes, and a far better bet for your Friday night £8 than yet another gritty microbudget drama about urban yob culture.


Friday, 6 July 2012



I'll admit it: I'm very iffy about David Lynch. Some of his stuff is terrific (I think Dune is one of the great underrated movies of the 1980s), but too often it's just impenetrable gibberish: Inland Empire is a film in which the reels could be shown in any order and it wouldn't make a squeak of difference, and Mulholland Drive starts as well as anything he's done but then devolves into random nonsense. Years ago I mentioned online that I'd seen Mulholland Drive and not cared much for it after the first half hour, and promptly received a thesis-sized explanation of what it was really about and what each shot, line and hairstyle actually referred to. Call me a plodding old traditionalist but I like some form of narrative of comprehensible cause-and-effect logic.

Not that the Twin Peaks TV series was ever much about logic: it wasn't so much a soap opera, more a soap opera that had been made by Martians and beamed back to us. Partly a whodunnit centring on the murder of high-schooler Laura Palmer, partly a peek through the picket fences and lace curtains of "respectable" smalltown America revealing the maggots of corruption, abuse and misery behind the smiley apple pie facade, and partly a balls-out fantasy nightmare full of mysticism, dreams, possession and inter-dimensional dwarfs talking backwards....all set to an achingly dark Angelo Badalamenti score. It was baffling, but in a good way.

And afterwards there was the film version. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is actually a prequel to the TV series, detailing the last seven days of Laura Palmer's life and showing her less as the virginal homecoming queen we thought she was (at least at the start of the series), and more as a doomed and tormented victim of sexual abuse and drugs. But what really struck me this time around, and what escaped me completely when I first saw the film on its theatrical release, was not how horrific and nightmarish it is, but how desperately sad and moving it is. You do feel for Laura Palmer. And knowing her fate in the opening scenes of the TV show, inevitable right from the start of the film, turns it into a genuine tragedy.

Apart from the overwhelming sadness, the other area in which the film works brilliantly is as a horror film. Freed from the constraints imposed by the TV networks, it's able to be more visually and verbally graphic with moderate nudity, F-words, several scenes of drug use and moments of shocking gore; bolted onto Lynch's gift for conjuring up an atmosphere of utter, skin-crawling dread from the most innocent-looking locations, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me emerges as a truly creepy and unnerving film. Perhaps the most unsettling moment is the sight of Killer Bob (Frank Silva) hunched over Laura's dressing table in her bedroom: it's a moment of such upsetting wrongness that it's genuinely scary. (Mysteriously, despite the violence, swearing, drug abuse, nudity and sexual threat, the BBFC have unaccountably downgraded the film to a 15 certificate!)

Inevitably, shifting the focus of the film onto Laura Palmer reduces many of the other aspects of the show to tiny bit parts or out of the film completely: the Log Lady (Catherine Coulson) shows up for one brief scene, Sherilyn Fenn, Piper Laurie and Jack Nance don't appear at all (although many scenes featuring the TV cast were ultimately deleted). Even Kyle MacLachlan is only the film briefly! Yet some familiarity with the series is perhaps essential as without it the Red Room and the dwarf talking backwards just feel nonsensical. (They are nonsensical, but they're all part of a larger and slightly less nonsensical nonsense, if that makes any sense.) Seeing Fire Walk With Me totally cold would probably be a chore, and in some ways that does annoy me as I've always believed a film should stand by itself and you shouldn't need to read the book or watch the TV show in order to get the most from the movie version. (Not necessarily counting sequels: Saw IV is just gibberish if you haven't seen Saws I to III, and many would say it's gibberish even if you have seen Saws I to III.)

When I'd finished with the film, I put the main title music from the film soundtrack CD on repeat for an hour with the lights dimmed, and just savoured it. Watching it again after twenty years, I loved it. I loved it more than I did twenty years ago and I liked it back then. But it's even better now and maybe it's Lynch's best film - that's possibly from a slightly wonky viewpoint as I like Dune more than I do Blue Velvet (although that's another one I probably need to rewatch). I love the darkness and horror and mysterious beauty of it. And now I want to open the box set of the TV show and run through it right from the start. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me is a terrific film: moving, creepy, puzzling and strangely funny. And hurrah for that.


Thursday, 5 July 2012



One of the downsides of online rentals is that unless you research the movies on the IMDb in advance, you're quite likely to be sent something that you wouldn't have asked for if you'd been able to read the small print in the credit block. Years ago I rented Maniac Nurses Find Ecstasy and my heart sank when the first thing I saw on screen was the dreaded Troma logo; it may only be a Troma presentation and not an actual Troma production but it's no better than their usual unwatchable junk. And had I seen the DVD box for this one in advance, I'd probably not have bothered with it as it's produced by The Asylum for the Syfy channel: two names I really don't want to see in an opening credit sequence.

Yet somehow, probably not by design but more likely as a result of making so many movies that statistically one has to click sooner or later, Zombie Apocalypse isn't that bad. The movie really isn't much good, and it has absolutely nothing going on beyond extended scenes of badasses beating up on the undead, but it just about gets by. It chronicles the cross-country wanderings of various survivors of a zombie plague (which originally took out France before the opening credits) as they try and stay alive long enough to reach the promise of safety of Catalina off the California coast....

Characters are stock (though it's always good to see Ving Rhames) and the plot is basically Zombieland without the gags and star power. Worse: much of the gore is digital rather than physical, badly daubed in afterwards on the computer. Pasted-in CGI blood spurts don't look right even in big-budget studio blockbuster fare (see the last Rambo movie) and if they can't pull it off then a disposable Syfy gore quickie certainly isn't going to manage. As a result the pseudogore looks so naff the film can't even earn itself an 18 certificate! Yet it emerges as an reasonably efficient cheapie: well enough put together not to be actively boring and as a Friday night schlock rental it just about scrapes a C minus pass, which is some kind of achievement considering the source. There's a lot worse out there, but there's a hell of a lot that's so much better.



Wednesday, 4 July 2012



One of the problems I've always had with Spiderman (or Spider Man or Spider-Man or however it's punctuated) is that fundamentally it's a primary-coloured bit of comic strip cartoon nonsense for children on Saturday mornings. It's not Ibsen or Shakespeare and, much like Batman, it's not something that can bear great emotional weight. This, I've long felt, is what made the three Sam Raimi films so dull: they're trying to treat these characters as though they're realistic human beings, but it's such a silly and flimsy idea that it doesn't convey. You can give Peter Parker and Mary-Jane as much soap opera angst as you like but it's like putting emotional weight onto the Smurfs: it's really not that interesting. Just as Bruce Wayne is a colossal bore and only comes to life when dressing up in black rubber and blowing things up, so Peter Parker is only an interesting guy when whizzing round the city in buttock-hugging spandex.

The Amazing Spider-Man isn't that amazing, but it's more fun and more exciting than any of the bloated and overlong Sam Raimi films; this is actually slightly longer than the first two Raimi films but it doesn't feel it. Trying to find out what happened to his parents after their sudden disappearance years ago, high-school kid Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield, who's actually 28) ends up snooping around the mysterious Oscorp and his father's one-time colleague Dr Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). And before you can say "Tobey Maguire" he's bitten by a genetically mutated spider and immediately starts developing weird arachno powers. As before, it's the meaningless killing of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) by an anonymous punk that pushes him into becoming a masked vigilante; meanwhile, experiments with mutant lizard serum turn Dr Connors into a giant reptile monster plotting to unleash toxins on New York....Then there's love interest Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) to contend with - will she be in danger if he follows his masked crime-fighting vigilante destiny?

The 3D is "native" rather than a conversion, but it's still entirely unnecessary and the film doesn't need it (whether the film benefits from 3D I don't know, but it doesn't suffer from being seen in 2D) so there's no need to shell out the extra 3D premium; as with Men In Black 3 and Marvel Avengers Assemble and half a dozen others, I once more forgot there was a 3D print of the same movie playing just down the hall. But while the movie's never actively boring, it's never really that exciting either despite all the CGI whizzing about and mocap lizard action. I still didn't care that much, but I did care a tad more about Garfield and Stone than I ever did about Maguire and Dunst.

Given that we've already had the Avengers spectacular already this year, and the new Batman epic later this month as well as Dredd in September and new outings for Wolverine, Superman, Thor and Iron Man lined up for 2013 - can we have a break from superheroes for a bit? The IMDb even credits Darren Aronofsky with a potential Batman reboot, before The Dark Knight Rises has even been released! Please do something else instead of the same old retreads! That said: as retreads go, this is far lighter, more likeable, and has much more humour in it than the Raimis - not necessarily gags and laughs but it's far less ponderous. The standard of CGI appears to have improved in literal leaps and bounds, there's a typically effective and enjoyable James Horner score (which unfortunately does sound very much like many of Horner's other scores in the way that a Jerry Goldsmith score, say, doesn't sound like a lot of other Goldsmith scores) and there are nice turns from Denis Leary as Gwen's police captain dad, Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Uncle Ben and Aunt May.

The Amazing Spider-Man is a perfectly acceptable superhero movie: it's entertaining enough while it's on, it's amusing in places and it doesn't take itself too seriously (the fatal flaw of the Nolan Batmans, which is why I'm slightly dreading The Dark Knight Rises) - though the best joke is probably that a Spiderman movie should be directed by Marc Webb (presumably in the same way that a film about Pearl Harbor should naturally be directed by a man called Bay). It's not perfect but it's a lot more fun than I'd expected and for a studio superhero blockbuster, fun is precisely what it should be.