Sunday, 29 December 2013


This has been a much more difficult list than the Top Ten. Not because there weren't enough bad films to compile a list - far from it - but exactly what order they should be in. I've been wrestling with whether X is worse than Y or better than Z and to be honest I'm not sure it matters that much. Oddly, none of these atrocities is a found-footage movie (there's one in the runners-up), meaning that directors have come up with ways to make their films royally stink while not making them look like they were shot by nine-year-olds. In addition, it's probably worth asking why so few of the Top Ten and so many of the Bottom Ten are horror films: how can I be a real horror fan when the genre punishes me so frequently?

Anyway, this is probably as close as I can get on a sliding scale of worthlessness, given that none of them - NONE OF THEM - are worth anything at all. Again, only films which had a theatrical release in the UK during 2013 (as listed on Launching Films) qualify, which is why Dark Tourist (aka Grief Tourist) and The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill aren't on the list.

Three idiot girls go camping on an island, three psycho douchebags turn up; rape and murder ensue. Ugly, glum, boring.

It's not funny for a single second, it has nothing interesting to say about TV news, and Will Ferrell is hateful. Hell, it's not even as good as the first one, and that was scarcely a comedic milestone.

Of course, Hollywood doesn't have a monopoly on bad comedy. Here, scores of sitcom veterans and comedy legends can't counteract the humour vacuum of Danny Dyer, and an apparently hilarious night at the theatre is transformed into a bewildering dud on the screen.

Michael Bay's idea of a satirical black comedy about true crime is like Natural Born Killers as performed by the Three Stooges. Sadly, it's still directed by Michael Bay.

Yet another comedy that isn't funny, even by the already subterranean standards of the Scary Movie sequels. This time it mostly spoofs Mama - scarcely a monster hit - and 2010's Black Swan. None of it works, obviously.

Nonsensical and uninteresting semi-sequel released in 3D, for no reason beyond screwing a few more coins out of the audience. Incredibly, it isn't even as well made as Marcus Nispel's rubbish reboot.

Near-unwatchable playlist of shorts, most of which are not just indifferently made but relying on the lamest of shock tactics (miscarriage, wanking, flatulence) to get by. Two okay segments out of twenty-six is an outrageously poor batting average.

The apocalypse stuff is fine; unfortunately it's befalling a houseful of morally repugnant and talentless stoner shitbags with the combined comedic appeal of the Graf Spee, so you're pretty much on Team Satan from the start. Despicable.

Pretty but incomprehensible load of wank that would barely scrape an E- as a first year Media Studies project. The idea that this tripe is actually the work of one of the UK's top film directors is laughable.

A disaster movie in which a trio of loathsome arseholes and some totty with low standards are caught up in an earthquake; the second half is mostly concerned with rape because the makers are idiots. Pretty much as tiresome as you can get.

More terrible movies: The Bay, Frances Ha (spent the whole time wanting someone to slap her), The Heat, Man Of Steel, The Last Exorcism Part II, Hyde Park On Hudson, Evil Dead (the remake), Simon Killer, In Fear and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Bring on 2014.


The last glints of December's fading sunshine on 2013's rooftops....time again for a Top Ten Films Of The Year. As usual, this is for films that had a UK premier theatrical release in the calendar year, according to Launching Films' schedules, thus movies that played festivals only and/or went straight to disc aren't eligible (sadly this invalidates two of my favourite FrightFest screenings, Last Days and Odd Thomas, which are headed for DVD next year). It's also worth pointing out that this differs slightly from the Top 10 I submitted to the Hey U Guys poll, as I hadn't seen one of the films at that point and I'd completely forgotten about another.

It's terrific stuff: admittedly slightly disappointing in that its not quite in the Inglourious Basterds league, but it's brilliantly made and written, and great fun if you're a film nerd. Even Tarantino's what-the-hell stab at an accent couldn't derail it.

The late entry in this year's cinemagoing, and an absolutely lovely little film concerning the genesis of Disney's film of Mary Poppins. Even though I care naught for Poppins and don't ever want to see it again, this is charming, well played, and sentimental without being icky.

Phwoooar! Frankly, if you went to this superb French relationship drama just to see the raincoat-worthy explicit sex scenes between two comely young lesbians, then [1] you were robbed because they only add up to about ten minutes of the three-hour running time, and [2] you're an idiot.

Beautifully photographed in black and white (albeit digitally), a serious character drama that's very funny in places, while not being any kind of comedy. Liked it a lot, and it's great to see Bruce Dern in anything, especially a meaty lead. Marvellous.

How could I have forgotten this one? Thrilling stuff, even if you don't give a hoot about Formula 1, with dazzling race sequences and great 1970s period detailing.

The best of the summer blockbusters, trumping the initially similar Transformers bores by (literally) putting human beings into the giant smashy robots, and having a sense of fun and a sense of humour amidst the mass destruction.

A gathering of the world's most recognisable movie stars go batshit crazy in the dressing up box and put on dozens of funny voices in this bonkers, multi-stranded Everything Is Connected baffler. Never mind the dreary awards bait, let's have more of this sort of rampant craziness.

Are we really losing Steven Soderbergh? I do hope not because this gloriously twisty thriller is the sort of solid, mid-range, mid-budget gem that's been squeezed out of the industry in recent years and frankly we could do with more of them.

Dizzying, dazzling two-hander with pixel-perfect CGI, 3D that isn't a gimmicky distraction, and an incredible 17-minute single opening shot, all supporting but not overwhelming the simplest story of all: Sandra Bullock tries to get home. Best seen on the biggest screen you can find, as it's going to look rubbish on even a 60-inch HDTV.

Absolutely adored this: even Gravity was never going to unseat it from the #1 slot. A triumph, and a revelation for Gemma Arterton, of whom I've never been a fan.

Honourable mentions to a perfectly decent set of runners-up: Zero Dark Thirty, World War Z, Hummingbird (the best Jason Statham film of the year), Fast & Furious 6, Thor: The Dark World, Much Ado About Nothing, Escape Plan (yes, I liked it), Mud, Behind The Candelabra and The Conjuring. Now bring on 2014.

Thursday, 26 December 2013



If only it had been better made. On the level of pure visual disgust and revulsion this low-budget Canadian body horror/drama is a stunning achievement with several scenes causing me to wince or to look away: the physical and makeup effects are genuinely impressive. But on a technical level it's an absolute chore to get through its mere 97 minutes or so: the filmmaking basics are of a shockingly low standard, with the image frequently out of focus, dialogue poorly recorded, and actors cut off the frame by bad camera placement as if they'd just plonked the camera on the floor themselves and performed without being able to see if they were actually visible. A deliberate aesthetic choice or just incompetence? Even the dreaded found footage doesn't usually look this ugly.

Apparently Thanatomorphose is defined as "the visible signs of an organism's decomposition caused by death". An unnamed woman (Kayden Rose) leads a joyless existence in a glum apartment: the sex with her charmless lover isn't fulfilling, her artistic drive has faded. Then she gradually starts decomposing, her hair and fingernails falling out, her skin bruising and blotching. No cause is suggested, but presumably her life is so empty and pointless there's really no reason to wait until death before falling apart. Yet rather than call a doctor or an ambulance, she continues to putrefy....

Less of a zombie film (although she is quite literally the living dead) and more of a slow-paced, grim and miserable character piece with frank nudity in the early scenes and an unnerving (and in all honestly unnecessary) focus on bodily fluids, Thanatamorphose is absolutely no fun to watch and was in retrospect probably a bad choice of DVD for Christmas Eve! I haven't been as depressed and revolted by a horror film in many years, probably since Jorg Buttgereit's Schramm or Nekromantik.  But the technical shoddiness, of the dialogue rendered indecipherable, the images more often than not out of focus (not helped by the signifcantly below-HD picture resolution anyway) and the actors frequently ending up out of the static camera's eyeline, undoes all the undeniably good fleshy FX work. There is no reason why this couldn't have been made to look like a proper film rather than a video diary or a Skype call, and it's this decision, to either settle for the low-res imagery or to deliberately employ it, that kills it. Impossible therefore to really recommend.


Sickbags on standby:

Tuesday, 24 December 2013



It's telling that the kerfuffle of the last few days, in which this sequel has been cut in order to appease the MPAA and obtain the shiny PG13 rating, whereas we get the full version with all the rudery intact, is far more interesting than the film itself. You kind of knew this anyway: it's yet another movie in which Will Ferrell plays a tedious, ignorant blowhard with absolutely no sense of humour, so, as with the first film, laughs were always going to be thin on the ground. Certainly there was little audible laughter when I saw it at the Cineworld in Fulham Road: an interesting contrast with the buttcam version that's already online (surreptitiously filmed in an American cinema on a mobile phone), where the packed audience were genuinely enjoying themselves and laughing pretty much throughout. Okay, there were only about 20 people in my screening, but even so you'd have thought some of the laughs would be audible.

In the event there's only one decent gag in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and that comes early on from Harrison Ford as the studio head who finally fires the idiotic Ron Burgundy. But it's the arrival of the first 24-hour rolling news channel that brings Burgundy and his team (including Paul Rudd and Steve Carell) back onto screens, dispensing with the notion that news should be about important stuff the public needs to hear, and invents "dumbing down" by replacing The News with the kind of soft trivia, vulgarity, cute animals and stupidity that the public wants. He gets it on with his boss (leading to a jaw-droppingly misjudged dinner sequence that even by the low standards of the rest of the film is frankly embarrassing), goes blind, reconnects with his ex-wife and son, befriends a shark and saves the day against the might of Real News....

It's not that there aren't any jokes in the movie - as evidenced by the American audience braying and cackling at every stupid line - but none of them work. Burgundy is an idiot, but unlike the great heroic failures of comedy we're never given any reason to root for him, like him, or want to spend any time with him: he's not a lovable buffoon but a racist halfwit. Meanwhile, Steve Carell's imbecilic weatherman Brick gets the bulk of the theoretical jokes by randomly blurting out non sequiturs and shouting, but rather than laughing you just wonder why he hasn't been sectioned. Strangely, thanks to the Harrison Ford connection, the newscaster comedy it reminds you of is actually Morning Glory, which is a throwaway Rachel McAdams romcom of very little substance, but it's far more likeable and funnier than Anchorman 2.

Really, it's just not worth the effort and for all the uncredited star cameos in the overblown last act (including Sacha Baron Cohen putting on another funny voice to even less effect than his gay Frenchman role in Ferrell's otherwise worthless Talladega Nights) it's just not funny, hooting Americans notwithstanding. Is it a national thing? Our idea of rolling news is the BBC's News 24 channel, and we don't appear to have the kind of American newstainment channels parodied in Anchorman 2 - at least until Gavin Esler or Sophie Raworth start smoking crack, talking frankly about genitals or swearing on camera. Let's hope not. And let's hope this is the last outing for Ron Burgundy.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013



It's odd that, just as 1997 gave us two volcano disaster movies, and 1998 gave us two asteroid disaster movies, 2013 has given us two apocalypse-based comedies. I haven't seen The World's End yet, but can state that even if it consists of nothing but Simon Pegg firing dead babies into the side of a shed with a trebuchet, it's going to be leagues better than this smug, offensive, needlessly profane, theologically confused and thoroughly unfunny parade of lowbrow smut, stoner idiocy and yelling, full of self-regarding narcissists who aren't nearly as funny as they think they are.

This Is The End basically concerns the alleged cream of Hollywood's comedy talent (Seth Rogen, Danny McBride, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel) as themselves, going to a huge party at Franco's house and behaving like obnoxious, arrogant dicks. Meanwhile God, not before time, sets off the Apocalypse: the good and saintly are magicked into Heaven while the selfish and worthless are left on a burning Earth beset by massive fire demons. Our heroes hole up in the house, shout, swear, smoke huge quantities of dope and continue to behave like obnoxious, arrogant dicks. Jonah Hill gets possessed, they sort-of spoof The Exorcist for a bit; meanwhile McBride becomes a cannibal king (and Channing Tatum is his bitch).

On one level it doesn't matter that the versions of Rogen, Franco and McBride on screen are so boring and repugnant that you simply don't give a toss what happens to them. That's part of the joke, they're sending themselves up. Halfway through the film everyone decides to ignore the Armageddon happening right outside the front window, and instead get massively stoned and make a sequel to Pineapple Express (a film that by rights should have ensured that none of these people were ever allowed on a film set ever again) on video. Oh, aren't we being clever and self-referential and hip and ironic?

Verbally it's a deeply offensive film. The "Parent's Guide" on the film's IMDb page suggests there are 330 uses of the F-word, which for a film that runs 105 minutes and 26 seconds equates to one F-bomb every 19.1697 seconds. Just to put that in perspective: that's half as sweary again as Scarface, in a film running over an hour shorter. Why? Because between them, these top-ranking A-list professional comedians cannot come up with one single joke, one well-timed sight gag, one glimmer of wit, so let's just swear a bit more. I murdered my inner Mary Whitehouse decades ago, but this movie somehow managed to reanimate her when Martyrs, A Serbian Film, I Spit On Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust and Crack Whore Gang Bang #19 couldn't raise a blink from the dead old bat.

Let's not touch too heavily on the theological confusion: God torches the planet and takes the good people to Heaven, leaving the selfish, vile and vulgar scum behind (mysteriously including poor Emma Watson, who gets to shout a few F-words because it's funny and not remotely embarrassing). They can of course redeem themselves: at which point they end up in a Heaven where everything they want is theirs for the imagining. Our freshly redeemed heroes, who've spent their Earth years getting stoned and behaving like spoiled infants, arrive in the afterlife and immediately conjure up some spliffs and start dancing along to the Backstreet Boys. That's what Heaven is like? Drugs and shitty music?

It's utter rubbish: dull, loud, crude and coarse, no jokes, no laughs, nothing and no-one worth caring about. Sure, the giant CGI demon rampaging through the fiery rubble of Los Angeles makes for a decent apocalypse, but just as the love stories of Titanic and Pearl Harbor didn't trigger an emotional connection when spectacular disaster struck (because I'm not a 14-year old schoolgirl), so the hedonistic antics of Hollywood's top douchebags didn't make me give a damn when Satan was suddenly loosed upon them (because I'm not an oafish imbecile). One of the year's, and most likely the decade's, very worst.


Saturday, 7 December 2013



I have to confess I am not massively up on French cinema. Not through a phobia of subtitles, of course: in fact I'm more than happy to watch films from France, Spain, Mexico, or Japan. It's mainly down to that age old problem of finding these films on a wide enough release. Most films that aren't in English (or more specifically, American) barely get any kind of national distribution, and for those of us whose cinematic interests stretch a little further than the latest special effects eyegasm, it can sometimes be difficult and/or expensive to seek them out. Happily, a few oddities do slip through the cracks from time to time.

Populaire is a strange but surprisingly enjoyable piece of retro French fluff in which emotionally constipated insurance agent Louis (Romain Duris) attempts to turn his clumsy new secretary Rose (Deborah Francois) into the speed typing champion of the world. Deep down, of course, he is falling in love with her but he cannot bring himself to say anything, while she is looking for something more in a man than his many ingenious techniques to improve her typing speeds. Can they sort out their emotional complications as she progresses through the local, regional, national and ultimately the world championships?

The film really is nothing but a light, empty meringue: it's a perfectly entertaining puff of romantic whimsy with a lovely feel for its 1959 setting but absolutely nothing in the way of substance. Which does not matter in the slightest. Okay, maybe it goes on a bit at 110 minutes, and it's making a sport out of something I've done professionally for years (data entry) but in the main it's a perfectly likeable, entertaining and pleasantly amusing little film. And what can possibly be wrong with that? Nothing Earth-shattering, but rather sweet and worth tracking down.



Friday, 29 November 2013



Yet another found footage horror movie in which, unsurprisingly, the gimmick yet again refuses to work. As with all the other found footage horror movies (without exception) it looks cheap and ugly, with horrible camerawork, and yet again it makes no sense in terms of who filmed it, why, and how the footage has come to be available. If you are going to make the making of the film part of the film's own narrative, it has to hold up logically - so where did the film's music score come from? Where did recordings of Skype conference calls between hospitals and government organisations, police car video, closed circuit security tapes or mobile phone footage from private citizens come from?

The film can't really answer that: it frames all this material with an introduction and narration from a former TV news reporter remembering the events of three years ago, when a combination of nuclear pollution and steroid-infected chicken excrement from the local poultry farms has contaminated The Bay, and the town's water supply, with a mutated parasitic organism that eats its victims' flesh from the inside. The local hospital is inundated with dozens of citizens covered in boils and sores, spreading through the bodies as fast as the surgeons can amputate it away; others die in the streets....

Barry Levinson - who, remember, is a "proper" film director trying, successfully, to make a film that looks like it was shot by twelve-year-olds - has marshalled all this unverite footage into some kind of traditional narrative, intercutting the horror of the day with the video diaries of a couple of ecologists studying the catastrophic effects of pollution on the bay a few weeks previously. But there is nothing here that demanded a found-footage treatment, there is nothing that's more persuasive because of the undirected style. Hey, one of the producers is Oren Peli of the tiresome Paranormal Activity series: what do you expect? Instead, you're less convinced because you're constantly wondering how the material has been obtained. I don't buy the film's "claim" that the government confiscated everyone's cameras and then three years later someone Assanged it all to a subversive website, and it's all been downloaded from there and assembled into a "documentary".

If you've seen George Romero's original The Crazies, you know this kind of story can be done brilliantly without having to go through this laborious pretence of it being genuine footage. Even the inferior remake is way better than The Bay, and that's not counting cheery popcorn films like Outbreak, which is the full Hollywood studio treatment of essentially the same idea. They're all better films than this, because they are films and this isn't. There are a couple of nice jump moments, and the physical FX of the parasites and bugs are fine, but it's a chore plodding through it all.



Thursday, 28 November 2013



I really wasn't a huge fan of the first Hunger Games: a combination of sappy teen romance, children trying to murder each other, badly shot combat sequences, tacky TV shows, wonderfully absurd production design and some stuff about the rich/poor divide. But the central ideas had too many holes and it wasn't particularly well done, so it's a thrill to report than the first sequel is a massive improvement that feels as though it is heading somewhere far more interesting. It's not perfect, sure: for one thing it's far too long at 146 minutes (the first one was 142), and the Hunger Games themselves are actually the least interesting scenes in the film, though they're far better shot this time around. 

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire kicks off with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), joint winners of last year's Games, forced by President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to continuing their fake relationship for the benefit of the cameras, as a colourful distraction from the grinding poverty and violence outside the Capitol. Of course, it's purely a ruse, to discredit Katniss' stature as a reluctant, even unknowing symbol of the growing rebellion against the fascistic State. But it's not enough and the new Games Master (Philip Seymour Hoffman) conceives a special Champion Of Champions edition of the Games, in which Katniss and Peeta are not up against randomly selected kids from impoverished villages but previous victors....

Catching Fire is way better than the original: it doesn't have that underlying problem of children killing children, it dispenses with Peeta's rather impractical special skill of laboriously painting himself into the background, and the combat and action sequences are much more impressive, as they don't have that cheap smeary video look to them any more. The film's best scenes, though, are the ones highlighting the appalling chasm between the Capitol's pampered, empty Elite and the Districts' miserable peasants toiling in the mines and scrabbling for food. Not just because of the insane costumes and hair that the likes of Stanley Tucci and Elizabeth Banks have to wear (though it's a lot of visual fun) but details such as the free emetics handed out at the lavish banquets so that guests can continue eating. Set against the poverty and bleak, cold despair of District 12, it's hardly surprising that revolution is in the offing. It's not that "it can't be a very good system if it can be threatened by a handful of berries" (the poisonous Nightlock berries from the climax to the first film), it's that a system that is threatened by a handful of berries doesn't deserve to survive.

As with all serial adaptations these days, the last book is being chopped into two so they can milk more cash out of it, so the saga isn't going to finish for another two years. I'm actually getting a little annoyed at this habit of needlessly extending these things: they did it with Harry Potter, they did it with Twilight. According to the Wikipedia pages, Mockingjay is actually a page shorter than Catching Fire so why it needs to be twice as long on film is anyone's guess (except for the studio accountants; they know why it needs to be twice as long). In the meantime, Catching Fire is fine, particularly in the Capitol scenes and anything with Donald Sutherland. Well worth seeing.


Friday, 22 November 2013



There is a very weird moment in Luc Besson's Mob comedy action thriller when Robert De Niro has to sit and watch GoodFellas. This is not just for reasons of plot contrivance, but also for reasons of a post-modern injoke: but unlike that bit in Ocean's Twelve where the character played by Julia Roberts looks like Julia Roberts, no-one seems to mention that the guest of honour at this GoodFellas screening looks exactly like Robert De Niro. This is an alternate universe where GoodFellas still exists, but presumably it stars someone else, or "their" Robert De Niro looks nothing like "ours". (Plus he gets to misquote his own Al Capone from The Untouchables!) It should almost go without saying that Besson's film isn't anywhere near as good as Scorsese's (and Martin Scorsese is one of the producers); in fact it's quite fun as a throwaway bit of sitcom knockabout - Married To The Mob meets Married With Children.

The Family is the Blakes: Fred (De Niro) and Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and their two kids, relocating to rural France so Fred can write his non-fiction book about the Normandy landings. But really they're the Manzonis: hidden in the Witness Protection Program after Fred/Giovanni snitched on his family and his organisation. All they need to do is keep quiet and out of trouble, but they're a crime family at heart and both generations revert to their old ways, whether it's beating up plumbers, sorting out the school bullies or taking revenge on the local minimarket because they won't sell peanut butter....

Minus the swearing, and the avalanche of bloodied corpses in the third act (when the tone veers suddenly from amiable comedy to brutal violence), this could function quite nicely as the pilot for a traditional half-hour TV sitcom "filmed before a live studio audience" as the family keep getting into hilarious scrapes and failing to adjust to their new identities, to the eternal consternation of their grumpy FBI handler (Tommy Lee Jones). It should run for at least three series, which is certainly more goes than it would get as a movie franchise.

As for the question of whether we should expect anything more given the level of talent involved: Robert De Niro is now 70 and frankly doesn't need to prove himself any more. He did Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, Cape Fear, Mean Streets and The King Of Comedy and has enough trophies, statuettes and baubles for two mantelpieces. If he wants to relax into retirement with chummy comedies that spoof his image of decades past, why shouldn't he? And by what right do we still expect more of him? The Family isn't stretching him, or anyone else - Tommy Lee Jones is basically doing the Tommy Lee Jones thing, which is always good fun - but it's funny enough, has a trio of watchable stars and doesn't outstay its welcome. I quite enjoyed it.


Tuesday, 19 November 2013



Maybe it's a sad state of affairs that Francis Ford Coppola has ended up making utterly generic exploitation movies. On the one hand that is where he started out: rubbishy horror movies like Dementia 13 and bits of the legendary mess of The Terror, and even a 3D sex comedy which I'm not even sure I want to see. But on the other hand how can a baffling, incoherent mess like this come from the same Oscar-winning director as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now and The Conversation and Bram Stoker's Dracula? Not that there aren't some pleasures to be had from it; it's merely that given the track record you expect something a lot better than this.

Twixt starts off pretty much as ordinary and been-there as possible: a struggling fantasy writer (Val Kilmer) pitches up in a small town and gets inveigled by the crazy old sheriff (Bruce Dern) into investigating an unsolved murder case for his next book. But then it shoots off in half a dozen different directions at once: vampires, dreams, serial killers, ghosts, grief. Kilmer communicates with the victims' ghosts through his dreams (in heightened Sin City style), talks with Edgar Allan Poe about the importance of endings, falls out of a bell tower (which, perhaps significantly has seven clock faces all set to different times) and meets up with the goth encampment on the far side of the river, all the while coming to terms with the loss of his own daughter in a boating accident....

It all plays as though Coppola suffered repeated blows to the head while watching a Twin Peaks marathon in the small hours of the morning. None of it makes sense, and the switching between different aspects of the story simply make it feel like two or more completely incompatible films have been almost randomly spliced together. That may be because Twixt was originally conceived as an interactive live event whereby each screening could be individually tailored by Coppola acting as a cinematic DJ, cutting, extending or shuffling scenes around on the fly. To add to the bafflement, some scenes were shot in 3D and you had to watch them through a facemask of Edgar Allan Poe.

None of which you get on the rental DVD, obviously. What you do get is a mess of a template DTV quickie pretty much condemned to the discount racks in Cash Converters, before disappearing into obscurity. Odd moments do appeal: it's always nice to see Bruce Dern, especially when he's doing crazy, and some of the visuals are eye-catching. But it's in the service of an experiment that didn't really work, for a story that was all over the place. Maybe doing it as a straight film might have resulted in a less chaotic film, but I'm not sure it would have been significantly better.



Monday, 18 November 2013



You'd really expect a narcotics-based thriller with a top-of-the-A-list cast and a recognised genius director with at least two balls-to-the-wall masterpieces under his belt (Blade Runner and Alien) to be an absolute cracker of a film. Five bona fide movie stars, a knighted auteur, a Pulitzer-prize winning screenwriter, and the added bonus an 18 certificate from the BBFC for "strong bloody violence".... Obviously it can't possibly fail. Yet somehow, somehow, they manage it.

The Counsellor is a ludicrous mess of a film in which a variety of unsavoury criminal types philosophise, ramble or talk a lot of nonsense. In order to provide his fiancee Penelope Cruz with a lavish lifestyle, unnamed lawyer Michael Fassbender gets himself into the lucrative drugs smuggling racket from Mexico. But when it goes awry, neither colourful dealer Javier Bardem nor enigmatic middleman Brad Pitt, the two eccentrics who helped him get into the business in the first place, can offer any help....

Much of this is swathed in vast tracts of prattle that make no sense; what does "Truth has no temperature" even mean? Everyone's blathering on, even the Amsterdam jeweller who Fassbender visits to buy a swanky diamond engagement ring won't shut up. There are moments of grand silliness, mainly centred on Cameron Diaz as Bardem's girlfriend: not least her obsession with cheetahs and a memorable flashback in which she shags the windscreen of Bardem's car. There are also bursts of the promised bloody violence, particularly a nicely suspenseful sequence that culminates in a graphic garrotting.

But what The Counsellor lacks is any reason to give a toss about any of these characters. Certainly by the time our presumed hero is reduced to a whining, sobbing mess who has lost absolutely everything, it's impossible to rustle up any sympathy for him at all. Meanwhile the uber-criminal triumphs. And it's not like Scarface where Tony Montana may be a loathsome sociopath whose very existence makes the world a more horrible place, but he has magnetism and charisma and balls, and we want to see him rise so high so that his eventual fall is more satisfying. This is a film about a greedy, ill-advised idiot who gets involved in a criminal business he doesn't understand (despite reams of advice, not to mention basic common sense) and we're supposed to feel sorry for him when it goes horribly wrong.

Yes, it looks fabulous, and it's fun to see these actors at work, but it's an overly talky film (it would have made a better and tighter thriller without all the incomprehensible and pointless speechifying) which, despite the occasional moments of violence and WTF lunacy, fails to work. It's a massive, massive comedown for Sir Ridley Scott after the overhyped but underrated joys of Prometheus, and I suspect it's not going to last for long on cinema screens, but it's certainly not boring and might end up as a minor cult curiosity. Given the talent involved, that's really not enough.


Sunday, 17 November 2013



So far, 2013 hasn't been that great, cinema-wise. Certainly there've been a bunch of good movies and a dash of absolute corkers, but there's been a lot of mediocrity, stupidity and nonsense dragging the already low average down further. Happily, once in a while we'll get a film that cancels the descent, restores your faith in modern movies, and sends you out of the cinema grinning like a simpleton. And as a bonus, you'll have been perilously close to losing your lunch in the process.

Gravity is a literally dizzying science-fiction (emphasis on the science) two-hander: a gripping spectacle with a minimal cast, a thrilling exercise in suspense running just an hour and a half, a technical effects masterpiece with the simplest story imaginable. High in orbit over the Earth, astronauts working on the outside of the Hubble telescope are suddenly hit by debris from an exploded satellite and sent flying and soaring. With no gravity to stop them drifting into the void, with dwindling oxygen reserves and with their own shuttle beyond repair or salvage, can first-timer Ryan (Sandra Bullock) and veteran Matt (George Clooney) make it to the nearby Russian space station - before meeting up again with the lethal satellite debris on its next orbit?

Alfonso Cuaron's film begins with bold captions of how life in space is impossible, before a staggering single 15-minute shot of Bullock and Clooney (and their obviously doomed third wheel who doesn't even merit a close-up) whirling around in zero-gravity that quickly establishes the insanely hostile environment and dispels your ideas of up, down and falling. Yes, it's all CGI and green-screen, but it's a monumental FX sequence which is totally convincing: you'll pretty much believe they actually shot it in space. But the balance is perfectly struck between the effects and the human drama of survival against incalculable odds: the visuals don't drown the story, while the story wouldn't work without the pin-sharp detail and (at least to me) scientifically plausible imagery.

Much has been made of Cuaron supposedly having to defend his choice of Sandra Bullock, because there are apparently Hollywood dumbasses who didn't think the film could make any money with a female lead. Frankly they should all be made to wear those little hats with propellers on the top so they can be easily identified as drooling halfwits, and pointed and sneered at in public until they realise just how thuddingly stupid they are. The fact is, the character of Ryan is neither male nor female (save for the scene in which Ryan takes off the spacesuit, which is straight out of Barbarella), but human, and Bullock does a perfectly good job with it.

I loved Gravity. It's armrest-gripping in a way that so few movies manage: I've lost count of the number of supposedly exhilarating high-octane spectaculars that induced absolutely not a smudge of vertigo or motion sickness. I don't know whether the film works as well as it does in 2D: I usually go for the flat version wherever possible but in this instance I saw it in 3D because it was on the biggest screen available, and I was pleased to find I didn't mind the 3D glasses anywhere near as much as I have done in the past. Frankly the trade-off between the slight 3D light loss and the size of the image was a deal worth making (much of the film is set against darkness anyway because it's in outer space, and it also means that sunlight tends to be bright and harsh). It really needs to be viewed on the biggest screen you can get to, because it's going to end up flat and unspectacular on a TV screen, even a large one. You need it to envelop you, to fill your field of vision. One of the very, very best films of the year demands nothing less.


Saturday, 9 November 2013



I'm not an idiot. I'm not against arty movies, difficult movies, movies where you have to work a bit to get the sense of them. I'm not against movies that don't adhere to the rules and formulae of the most simplistic Hollywood thicko fodder, that try and do something slightly different, slightly individual. Not everything has to be Police Academy 5. But.... sometimes you can go too far into incoherent arty meaninglessness.

Deux Fois is an experimental black-and-white French non-narrative art movie made in Spain in 1968, running just over an hour. It consists of some 32 almost entirely unconnected shots and sequences, some of which are duplicates (alternative takes rather than simple repeats) and in most of which absolutely nothing happens. There is almost no music, there is almost no editing. Instead the film is a series of odd, random, pointless vignettes: a woman stands in a doorway while a man stands on her left, then moves round to her right for a bit, then back to her left. The same woman ("director" Jackie Raynal) enters a pharmacy to buy soap but is unsure which brand to buy, the sweeter smell or the prettier wrapper; this scene is performed three times. A long static shot through a window while someone apparently practises the flute off screen, a 1,980-degree pan from a traffic island, a child sits on a train throwing a newspaper out of a window. In probably the film's most baffling sequence, Raynal stands half-naked in the corner of the room while music plays (someone doing an impression of a moose with its tits caught in the mangle, with rhythm guitar accompaniment), before urinating on the floor.

What does it all mean? Well, bugger all, frankly. It's conceptual avant-garde experimental underground art, it's not actually supposed to symbolise anything beyond what you think it means, which is a lazy get-out clause for any old tat: the onus is on you to explain it, and you're an uncultured, uncivilised idiot if you can't. What does the film suggest about dreams, the imagination, sex, feminism, society, relationships, gender, cinema, mirrors, society, art, politics or the price of fish? Nothing. If all interpretations are equally valid, then there's no shame in rejecting it as a bucketload of old arse rather than some kind of Great And Profound Statement about Humanity And Stuff. A binbag on a stick isn't Art just because the artist says so, it just means the artist isn't working terribly hard for his grant money.

Deux Fois certainly doesn't work as any kind of an entertainment, and it's not hugely surprising that it's mostly out of commercial circulation (the whole thing has been uploaded onto YouTube). Whether it works as some kind of "wow, man" head trip is another matter: it didn't for me, but if you buy into the kind of weirdo arthouse twaddle that starts with an unbroken, unmoving shot of Raynal eating her dinner before addressing the camera/audience with a list of the things we're going to see, then go for it. Me, I thought it was bunk.


Monday, 4 November 2013



Easily the weakest film of this year's FrightFest allnighter, this Slash-produced (and co-scored) religious horror nonsense was a subdued note on which to close. It wasn't terrible, it wasn't boring (it kept me awake even at six in the morning; it just wasn't particularly remarkable or unusual, and played like an entirely formulaic straight-to-disc B-movie with nothing to distinguish itself from the rest of the crowd on the rental shelves. Certainly it's well enough put together, and has some nicely unsettling moments, but overall it's just ordinary, anonymous and largely forgettable.

Pastor Dan Bramford, wife Wendy (James Tupper and Anne Heche, a couple in real life) and their children arrive in a small Kansas town where he's due to take over from the retiring minister (Clancy Brown). But it wouldn't be a horror movie if there wasn't something odd, something unnatural, would it? The townsfolk are too friendly (they even help the Bramfords move into their new home), their welcome cake has a tooth inside it, and an ancient evil is walking the streets....

Nothing Left To Fear might have suffered from being screened in a dawn timeslot, following the more grisly horrors of The Station and Mark Of The Devil, but even so it's still pretty lacklustre. And personally I'm as fed up with horror movies beginning with a family moving to a new town as I am with the ones that start with a van full of idiot teens: it's an opening we've seen too often already and the movie doesn't do anything new with it. It's a pity, but it just has the feel of another one of those generic horror movies, albeit with a few interesting ideas (the monster face is quite good), that you've never heard of but materialise unheralded at Blockbusters one Monday morning. Perfectly acceptably done, but it could and should have been more than that.


Saturday, 2 November 2013



One of the pleasures in devoting October largely to rewatching horror movies from decades past is suddenly realising that a film you wrote off back in 1989 was actually perfectly decent, a worthy entry in its franchise and with some genuinely good qualities. There's no suggestion that this fourth chapter of the Michael Myers saga is scary, frightening or remotely logical, but coming after the woeful Halloween 4, it's a drastic improvement, much more fun and much more interesting. (Let's pretend that the saga ends here rather than petering out with the dreadful Halloween: Resurrection, a film that actually gives Rob Zombie's brace of misbegotten reboots a stand-up fight for the position of Worst Halloween Movie.)

As shown in an opening recap from Halloween 4, Myers did indeed fall down a mine shaft at the end but manages to crawl out unharmed and hide in a hermit's shack for precisely a year. Now, in Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers, he puts his bleached William Shatner mask on again, kills the hermit and heads off to Haddonfield yet again, where his young niece Jamie (Danielle Harris) is now living in a children's hospital and watched over by crazy Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence). But Jamie has some kind of telepathic link with Michael....

Donald Pleasence and Danielle Harris are both incredibly good in this, a project which frankly doesn't deserve them (it is only Halloween 5 after all, it's not as if it's Halloween 1). Pleasence is always good value anyway, and Harris has the hurdle of her character not being able to speak for half the film; the music score quotes the iconic Carpenter theme just enough without overusing it, and there's enough of a body count to keep things moving. Against that, some of the victims are utter idiots who behave incredibly stupidly, and while I don't want to suggest they were practically asking for it, it's frankly a relief when they get pitchforked and the film doesn't suffer from their loss.

Obviously it's nonsense: it completely ignores the question of what Michael Myers does for the other 364 days of the year (indeed, it actively suggests he just lies on the floor of a riverside shack until October 31 rolls around again). Furthermore, there's a new plot idea woven in featuring an unseen character, the Man In Black, releasing Myers from custody at the end, a twist which sets up the next unnecessary sequel. Still, for all that I enjoyed the film far more than I was expecting given that I didn't really like it when I saw it at a film festival over 20 years ago; possibly it was screened late at an all-nighter and I nodded off a little. Considering the low levels of Halloween 4 and 8 (Resurrection) in particular, Halloween 5 might actually be the best of the sequels. It's certainly a long way from being the worst the Myers saga has to offer.


Evil on two legs!



This is as ropey and routine an early 80s teen slasher movie as you'll see: such a sub-par slab of stabby nonsense that one honestly starts to question the blanket ideal of film preservation. Couldn't we let this one go? It's not really worth keeping around for future generations, and they won't thank you for it. Even by the third-tier teenkill standards of films like Madman, Hell Night and Terror Train it's flat and dull, the characters mostly uninteresting and hard to care about. Expectations aren't high anyway, given the Troma distribution logo at the start, and they're not met.

A mad killer is bumping off members of the college athletics squad, following the accidental death of one of the runners who was pushed too far by the tyrannical Coach (Christopher George). As Graduation Day approaches, the girl's sister flies home from her Army posting in Guam to investigate, but who could it be? The sleazy music teacher and part-time nightclub entertainer who wears a bad wig and is humping one of his pupils (Linnea Quigley)? One of the other members of the track team? Coach? The principal (who's humping his secretary in his spare time)? The answer will not surprise you.

It's not the film's fault that the DVD quality is about videotape standard, but a pristine 35mm screening at a top West End cinema couldn't make this nonsense any less unbearable. Yes, it makes for a nice moment that the pole vaulter gets killed by landing on a mattress that's been filled with sharp metal rods, but it does rather depend [1] on the mad killer being able to swap the mattresses around without anyone noticing, [2] our victim deciding to practise on this particular morning, and [3] no-one else having a go at the vault first. And even back in 1981 we were already wearily familiar with the Final Girl scenario where she blunders around tripping over body parts and finding corpses all over the place.

Most of the movie is dull and tiresome, you've seen it all before and invariably much better. Despite the presence of Christopher George, it's no Pieces and Pieces is no masterpiece anyway. Really, Graduation Day's one claim to fame is probably as the weirdest namechecking of legendary soundtrack composers Bernard Herrmann, Alex North and Pino Donaggio: their names are written on the music room's blackboard. But if I'm more interested in what's chalked up on the wall behind the actors than in the dialogue and the characters, then the drama really isn't working, is it? Rubbish.


Friday, 1 November 2013



Though it's never been one of my favourite Ozsploitation oddities - for me it's not in the same league as Simon Wincer's Harlequin, a bonkers reimagining of the Rasputin story - I do rather like Richard Franklin's 1978 psychokinesis horror. It's not great: it's got huge flaws, including too much in the way of dry talk and an ending that rather lacks impact, but in places it's quite fun. Mark Hartley's remake comes from a deep love and knowledge of Australian horror movies, as demonstrated in the documentary Not Quite Hollywood: it's a lot faster, a lot jumpier and a hell of a lot louder. But it sticks to the basic story (some scenes are verbatim), has the always enjoyable Charles Dance as a mad scientist, a clutch of nice injokes, and a glorious Pino Donaggio score (though it could have used turning down a little), and the end result is terrific fun which makes up in incident what it loses in subtlety.

Patrick is a long-term and incurable coma patient, "a hundred and sixty pounds of limp meat hanging off a comatose brain": completely unresponsive to any stimulus and in the care of mad Dr Roget (Charles Dance) who is seeking answers to the usual eternal questions of life and death by basically using barbaric electric shock treatment on him. But he does start responding to a new nurse (Sharni Vinson): firstly spitting in a once-for-yes, twice-for-no fashion, then telekinetically typing through her computer - and causing the deaths of other people in her life...

While the 1978 film is fairly restrained and low-key in places, Mark Hartley's version doesn't let up at all: scarcely two minutes can go by without someone looming out of the edge of the frame, waking up from a violent nightmare or suddenly appearing out of nowhere, usually with a loud dischordant sting on the soundtrack. It's certainly effective but that "Boo!" technique can get wearing after a while. And the Pino Donaggio music is pretty full-on as well: as typically overdramatic and beautiful as some of his scores for Brian de Palma, though there are several points which could honestly have done without it. More enjoyable are the little injokes like naming a character Penhaligon after Susan, the original's star, or having Charles Dance listen to the original's Brian May soundtrack through his headphones. (Robert Helpmann, the mad scientist in the 1978 version, is namechecked with the name of the local hospital.)

Patrick is noisy and jumpy rather than creepy or scary or unsettling, but it's basically good fun: big, loud, and thoroughly unsubtle, which makes it a pretty enjoyable Friday night horror movie at the cinema, though I suspect it'll more likely go straight to DVD at some point. Shorter and more graphic than the original, it's not necessarily better but as a brasher, punchier variation on the same theme it's perfectly enjoyable.




It's always the way. You wait years, maybe even decades, for a low-budget grindhouse-inspired disco/splatter horror comedy mashup and then two come along at once. The Disco Exorcist was unutterably worthless; this is at least forty-three thousand times better thanks to impeccable production design, some decent acting, and more than a mere sense of basic professional competence on both sides of the camera rather than a bunch of halfwits throwing it together for a laugh. That's not to say Renaud Gauthier's Discopath is a classic: it veers too wildly in tone from daft comedy to bloody gore, but it gets closer to the grindhouse tone than many.

Duane Lewis is the Discopath: an ordinary young New Yorker who turns into a mad killer every time he hears disco music due to a traumatic incident in his childhood. Driven to kill his date at a local club (memorably leaving her dying under the transparent dance floor, unnoticed by the dancers), he flees to Canada under an assumed identity, taking a lowly handyman job at a convent school. But it's not long before he hears the music again....and both the local and New York cops on his trail....

To be honest it doesn't really matter too much about the silly plot: it's more about recreating the mood and feel of tatty 70s splatter movies and that's done superbly well with the hair, costumes, sets and period cars as well as some decent gore effects. The production design is fantastic and the film has enough of a grainy look without resorting to the fake print damage gimmick. But it is all over the place: there are funny bits and silly bits and gory bits, so it's rather got the ramshackle feel of one of Troma's wretched gore/comedy combos, though without the childish bad taste and considerably better done.


Wednesday, 30 October 2013



When I say that I never really liked Michael Armstrong's 1970 sleaze and torture romp, that's not necessarily a snipe at the film itself. In truth I don't really like any of the films in that weird witchfinding subgenre: I think Mark Of The Devil is actually better than both Jess Franco's The Bloody Judge and Michael Reeves' Witchfinder General (and I know that not admiring the latter is an act of heresy punishable by being made to watch Al Adamson films back to back for a month), but there's still so much about it that's unsettling, unpleasant and frankly just plain weird. And it's not just that the film's VHS release back in the nineties was cut by a whopping four and a half minutes by the BBFC, whereas FrightFest's screening was the fully uncut version with all the gore and depravity intact.

Supposedly the film is based on three actual documented cases of religious zealots and/or deranged perverts victimising ordinary members of the community with charges of Satanism. Herbert Lom is the chief witchfinder brought in to a small Austrian town to deal with the rash of patently ludicrous allegations of witchcraft which are entirely bogus but leading to the needless deaths of innocent women. While his apprentice and pupil Udo Kier seeks a higher burden of proof, Lom would sooner condemn the blameless than make the Church look less than infallible. But Kier's new-found love has just been arrested on a charge of devil worship by the current witchfinder Reggie Nalder...

What's the message of the movie? Impotence turns you homicidal? The Church was/is a handy cover for sadistic maniacs and clueless idiots to abuse innocent people? Torture is bad? Torture is good? Torture makes for great entertainment? Frankly I think the film is having far too good a time putting the lipsmacking horrors on cheery display, horrors from which I had to look away a few times. The most famous of the grisly moneyshots us probably a woman's tongue being ripped out, but there's whippings, sexual violence, beheadings, Chinese water torture, The Rack.... Like the first hour of I Spit On Your Grave, the film seems to be enjoying the violence a little too much for any condemnation to be entirely plausible, and any movie that issues promotional vomit bags cannot be said to be taking the subject entirely seriously.

Matters aren't helped by a music score which is dominated by a syrupy love theme of the Cannibal Holocaust school (though predating that film's underscoring of raw visceral horror with dramatically inappropriate lift musak by a decade); however it's a piece that's needledropped in several times throughout the film and will stick in the mind for days afterwards. Nothing will shift it. So it's certainly not a film I like, but it's not a genre I particularly admire anyway; still, it's probably the best of its kind (maybe I do need to revisit Witchfinder General, though I doubt I'll ever go back to The Bloody Judge). And I'm certainly in no hurry to try and track down the same producer and co-writer's Mark Of The Devil Part 2.


Friday, 25 October 2013



Another entirely functional but thoroughly unremarkable suspense thriller that echoes stuff we've seen before, adding very little new to the mix but putting it all together well enough. It spends a lot of time laboriously manoeuvring its small cast in position, but then it sadly doesn't give them very much to do once they're set up. Which is a pity.

It's coming up to Christmas and three employees of Starkweather Finance (handy marketing hint: don't give your investment company the same name as a notorious serial murderer; it sends completely the wrong message) leave the party and end up at a deserted shopping mall car park so one of them can get some cash from the ATM to buy pizzas on the way home. For reasons of plot contrivance they all end up in the cash machine booth but then they notice a mysterious hooded figure watching them from outside: scared, they decide to wait it out but then he sabotages their car, while attempting to break into the booth from behind. Who is he? What does he want? Meanwhile the three bicker, argue, huddle for warmth (the sign on the mall says it's -6 Fahrenheit, which equates to -21 Celsius and thus strikes me as way too low) and try and think of ways to escape....

So it's a bit like Phone Booth, it's a bit like Frozen, and the lack of rationale or motivation for the unknown maniac doesn't work.  (The tagline on the DVD box, "Your Money Or Your Life", bears no relation to the film whatsoever.) You can get away with a faceless, unknowable evil in a horror movie (the whole point of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is that Leatherface and the family are entirely beyond reason), but a thriller needs more. One assumes his goal is robbery of the cash machines and these bozos have just interrupted him, but he doesn't appear to have come prepared. Furthermore, all the night's terrors could have been avoided if they hadn't parked a hundred yards away from the ATM booth - why didn't they stop right outside the door? Further unconvincing plot contrivances include none of them having a mobile on them AND that the car doors don't lock properly, and none of these factors are within the killer's control.

Still, it more or less gets by: it's only 80 minutes long (not counting the 10 minutes end crawl which breaks off a couple of times for a montage of the maniac's collection of blueprints, sketches, photos, Googlemaps printouts and diagrams for what is presumably his next target) so it's fairly painless and doesn't drag too much. Miles from essential viewing, but still a fair distance from being terrible.


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Sunday, 20 October 2013



And the faux-grindhouse schtick still hobbles along: movies deliberately and styled to look utterly terrible while missing the point completely. If Machete and its sequel are films that look (and indeed are) too good to be part of the genre they're celebrating even at its best, this is merely a pin-sharp copy of the thoroughly terrible flipside: a painfully accurate reproduction of a barely watchable piece of zero-budget garbage. The only question is whether director Richard Griffin is a superbly talented filmmaker who has spent months, maybe years, toiling ceaselessly away at making his movie look shoddy, fourth-rate and amateurish, or whether he is genuinely incompetent and this is actually the best film he could ever possibly make. Frankly the jury is out on that one.

Insofar as The Disco Exorcist has any kind of a plot beyond an endless succession of ugly sex scenes, nondescript disco dances and occasional crass globs of gore, it concerns a long-haired lothario who dumps his present squeeze when a porn star arrives on the scene. But his ex is a witch and she promptly puts a hex on them which leads to several bloody deaths. Only the cleaner at the disco, a failed exorcist (and, for no reason beyond a gratuitous attempt at bad taste humour, a paedophile), can save them....

Again, it hardly seems worth the effort to point out that The Disco Exorcist is wretched rubbish: it's designed that way. The whole film has been given that scratchy effect to make it look like a knackered 16mm film print, a gimmick that even Tarantino and Rodriguez' grindhouse tributes drop after a couple of minutes because even they know that it gets annoying after a while (unless you're genuinely watching a 40-year-old print that's been regularly screened); the dialogue is terrible, the comedy isn't close to even mildly amusing, the acting is barely a step up from speaking out loud, and it has the grubby, ugly look of vintage porn loops. But what's the point of that? Why the hell would anyone deliberately set out to make a film that's visually revolting, atrociously performed and astonishingly boring? Never mind what it does for cinema or movies, what can it possibly do for your career to make a film with production values so non-existent it makes Two Thousand Maniacs look like Avatar?

It's simply not the case that making a movie in the seventies style means it has to look, or be, terrible. Ti West's House Of The Devil is an evocation of that age so immaculately detailed you'd swear it was a genuine product of the age, from the jeans and hairstyles down to the font of the credits, but it doesn't need to bother with the print damage effect or the rubbish non-acting. Quality will shine through anyway - I first saw Taxi Driver in a bleached and battered print in such terrible condition Martin Scorsese's director credit never actually appeared, but it's such a stunning film the jumps and colour imbalances simply didn't matter - and the lack of quality is dizzyingly visible underneath the post-production grain effect. The Disco Exorcist is tedious, tiresome and without any kind of merit, and the misapplied retro stylings can't disguise the pointlessness of the whole worthless enterprise. Whether the genius in charge is a hopeless idiot, or just very good at pretending to be a hopeless idiot, scarcely matters. Distressingly for humanity, there appears to be a sequel in the works.


Tuesday, 15 October 2013



Given that the world wasn't exactly crying out for a sequel to an expansion of a fake trailer stuck in the middle of an unsuccessful and largely unseen homage to a niche subgenre that's been out of vogue for several decades, it's odd to see that Robert Rodriguez's film not only continues to hammer cheerfully away at the long-defunct grindhouse concept, but to actively promise an even more ridiculous third instalment (Machete Kills Again...In Space, which is the only part of the film with the scratchy celluloid look to it), while still not getting it right. Still, it's approximately eight billion times better than the similarly derived Hobo With A Shotgun.

Machete Kills (which I personally feel should have an exclamation mark after it) once again sees Danny Trejo as ex-Federale Machete, assigned by the President (Charlie Sheen under his real name of Carlos Estevez) to prevent a Mexican revolutionary lunatic from firing a missile into Washington DC. In this he's variously helped and hindered by his CIA contact Amber Heard, his old comrades from the Mexican immigrant network (Michelle Rodriguez, Tom Savini) and a contract killer with a string of Mission Impossible masks (Cuba Gooding Jr, Antonio Banderas, Lady Gaga). But the real villain turns out to be weapons manufacturer Mel Gibson plotting nothing less than the mass extinction of humanity....

Look, I don't mind that Machete Kills is essentially a James Bond film with outlandish villains (Gibson's scheme is essentially conflating The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker), unfeasibly glamorous women, daft gadgets and big action scenes. It's enjoyably sleazy, very silly and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a good measure of fun with it. The problem is that it isn't a proper grindhouse movie: the production values are far too high, the special effects and photography are far too good. Real grindhouse movies are like Don't Go In The House or Paulie: Day Of A Rapist or Unhinged: grotty, cheap, ugly and dull, and they'd more than likely have gratuitous nudity and grubby sex scenes as well. (For the record, Machete Kills' boob count is zero.)

But while it's technically too good for the grindhouse and drive-in trash genre (just as Planet Terror and the first Machete were), at the same time it isn't anywhere near good enough to cut it as a "proper" film. The story is nonsense and the gags ludicrous (Machete kills one guy by ripping his intestines out and tossing them into the whirring blades of a helicopter), and it's too in-on-the-joke which puts it closer to the likes of the Scary Movie franchise - yes, it's rubbish, but we know it's rubbish and it's supposed to be rubbish, why would you take it seriously? It's a Machete sequel, for goodness' sake! On that level, it's fun, probably more fun than the first one (which I haven't revisited), but brilliant it ain't, and grindhouse it ain't.


Monday, 14 October 2013



You would think a movie originally called Alien Uprising and boasting Jean-Claude Van Damme in the cast would be a terrific piece of Saturday night SF hokum in which JCVD kicked aliens repeatedly in the head for ninety minutes and then everything blew up. It's the very definition of a perfect movie concept: any producer with all his pegs in the right holes would be throwing high-denomination banknotes at you after two sentences of your pitch. It Could Not Possibly Fail. Well, except it has.

What eventually emerged from the wreckage is now called UFO, and it's a cataclysmic ballsup of almost unbelievable dimensions: a stupid, tedious and cheap saga full of obnoxious, badly acted cretins, with Jean-Claude showing up over an hour into proceedings for a few scenes in a farmhouse. Our nominal heroes are a trio of loathsome ex-squaddies led by Sean Brosnan (son of), bellowing, fighting and picking up disposable chicks in nightclubs. They wake up one morning and find the electricity's gone off, and huge Emmerichian spaceships turn up apparently out of nowhere and hover silently over the city. Society immediately falls apart, huge purple alien probes peer through the windows, and everyone eventually runs off to Jean-Claude's farmhouse to have some backstory explained to them - yes, the legendary action star of Hard Target, Double Impact and Sudden Death has now been relegated to spouting the exposition before one token fight.

The aliens turn up again, one of the humans is revealed to be an alien in disguise, some of the gang get killed and one of the blokes suddenly decides to rape his dead mate's fiancee in an unnecessary plot device that achieves nothing but ugliness in a film that's already testing the patience. Pretty much everything is botched: it's visually boring, the music score is unlistenable and doesn't support the drama (what drama?), the movie grinds to a halt while Julian Glover babbles as a philosophising petrol station attendant, none of the characters are worth a wet shit, and for not one single moment is it even in the same postcode as interesting, exciting or thrilling.

There are two posters on view for Airborne, writer-director-actor-producer Dominic Burns's previous film which in all fairness was okay. But he also made the near-unwatchable one-take piece of garbage Cut, under the pseudonym of Alexander Williams for no apparent reason. (He's also in the worthless Strippers Vs Werewolves.) The spectacularly unspectacular UFO might be (slightly) more of a proper film with slightly better production values, but with characters so intolerably hateful as to have you rooting for the aliens from the start, no actual alien-punching from start to finish, the still considerable talents of Van Damme thrown away and a stupid twist ending, it's still a hell of a long way from professional enough to warrant a rental. UFO? Yes, and U can F O as well.


Wednesday, 9 October 2013



"Which is the best of the Friday The 13th series?" is a question for which I don't have a consistent response. Obviously the original has a claim, as it was the first one which came out of nowhere and set the template rather than followed it. I always used to like Part 2, though a recent rewatch proved slightly disappointing. Part 3 is probably best seen in its 3D theatrical incarnation, as the constant poking of sharp objects into the camera lens looks a little silly on home video. And though no-one else seems to like it (no doubt due to Jason not actually being in it) I have a soft spot for Part 5, though that's most likely because it was my first Friday The 13th in a cinema, and I was the only person in there, and not because it's actually a great film.

For some unaccountable reason I didn't bother to see Friday The 13th: The Final Chapter at my local cinema, when it turned up on a great double bill with My Bloody Valentine, and I eventually saw both films on their VHS releases. This is actually Part 4 in the series (though Part 4 doesn't appear on the film itself), and is certainly one of the better episodes, partly due to its slavish adherence to the recipe and partly due to its insistence on slaughtering almost everyone in the movie, even a passing hitchhiker who doesn't even get any dialogue. Jason Voorhees is now officially dead from the end of Part 3 and is carted off to the morgue, where he promptly comes back to life, kills the morgue attendant and his idiot girlfriend, then heads back to the woods where a bunch of partying teens have pitched up for the usual tedious shenanigans.

Clever, innovative and unexpected it certainly isn't, but it's perfectly well put together thanks to director Joseph Zito knowing exactly what he's doing (he also made the terrific campus slasher Rosemary's Killer), and Harry Manfredini's shrieky-stabby score is again as much of a musical signature as John Carpenter's remorseless Halloween theme but much more musically exciting. Toss in the inevitable T&A, a now-legendary Crispin Glover dance sequence, and enough of Tom Savini's splattery death effects to justify the 18 certificate (though perhaps too much for the ratings boards and not enough to keep the fanboys happy) and you've got a perfectly adequate slasher movie. It's nothing better than perfectly adequate, but it's never boring, it does its job and doesn't waste much time about it.



Friday, 27 September 2013



I first saw this mesmerising teen sex/sleaze shocker back in 1994, at an event called the Schlactfest, a one-day festival of German trash, horror and refreshingly gross mayhem. While most of the bill centred around extreme gore, ultraviolence and sundry sexual atrocities (and at least one of the films was shown without subtitles, making its alleged political satire even harder to digest), two films stayed long in the mind: Angst, a hypnotic serial killer drama, and this terrifically bleak, morally iffy and frankly legally questionable teen horror. Watching it again on DVD, it's still a chilling and absorbing film, very well made and boasting an agreeably twisted conclusion.

Der Fan (The Fan) is Simone, an ordinary 17-year-old schoolgirl utterly obsessed with a monotonous electropop star known as R. She has posters on her bedroom wall, listens exclusively to his dreary albums, and writes gushing love letters to her icon, but then gets more depressed when he never responds to them. (Why would he? He gets thousands of such letters; what would make hers any different, assuming he ever read any of them in the first place?) When she learns he's due to appear on a TV show, she runs away and hitches to Munich to see him face to face. Impossibly, he picks her to accompany him to his TV recording, and later to a friend's apartment nobody else knows about. But Simone can't understand that her love means nothing to R, while R can't understand that his love means everything to Simone, and afterwards, when he rejects her....

So far, so TV drama. But then the film kicks up a gear with Simone's revenge and literal destruction of R - it had been fairly staid and leisurely up until that point - and what was playing like a romantic teen sex drama suddenly turns to violence, blank-eyed horror and death. It's actually quite a sobering and surprising climax which still maintains the quiet tone of the film: it's not a crowd-pleaser by any stretch and there's not a huge amount of graphic gore.

Having said all that, there is one major problem. The BBFC have made a compulsory cut of fifteen seconds to the sex scene on the grounds that it contravenes the Protection Of Children Act of 1978. But they've left intact all the other extensive scenes of Desiree Nosbusch naked, despite the fact that she cannot have been more than seventeen years old at the time the film was released (assuming her IMDb and Wikipedia pages have her date of birth correct: they do tally with Terry Wogan introducing her as nineteen when she presented the Eurovision Song Contest from Luxembourg in 1984). I'm really not sure why that fifteen seconds of footage counts essentially as an indecent image of a child while all the other nudity somehow doesn't. The law and the BBFC's guidelines are surely very clear on this matter, but they have passed it with that one token cut that you probably won't notice anyway.

Otherwise, it's a terrific little movie that would actually make a good double bill with Christiane F. It's odd that the DVD offers audio in both an English dub and the original German, but doesn't include English subtitles for the latter. Still, the dub is fine: the film's strengths aren't in the dialogue, and it's perhaps best that R's droning pop songs are left untranslated anyway. I like Der Fan a great deal, it's well made and performed, and R's fate is both mercilessly cold and entirely deserved. Young nudity apart, it's well worth seeing.



Wednesday, 25 September 2013



Yet again my tin ear for comedy ruins what's obviously a perfectly hilarious laugh fest. I didn't so much as crack a smile during this crazy farce of mistaken identity, lost trousers, screaming queens, double entendres, childish slapstick, sitcom cameos and massive all-round humiliation. I mean, it must be me: it's based a long-running West End stage comedy from legendary farceur Ray Cooney that's literally crammed with more than half a century's worth of British comedy legends, from Richard Briers to Robin Askwith, Brian Murphy to Bernard Cribbins, and it's not like I've ever laughed much at anything with such comedic geniuses as Adam Sandler, Sacha Baron Cohen, Seth Rogen or Iain Duncan Smith.

No, it must be my sense of humour that's at fault, because the only other possible explanation would be that Run Your Your Wife is an unspeakable, jaw-dropping disaster with the natural comedic flair of a letter from the JobCentre telling you your benefits have been cut. Danny Dyer (hang on, I think I've spotted the flaw in the argument, the film and possibly the entire Universe) stars as a genial London cabbie with two wives: one in Stockwell, one in Finsbury. But one night he's concussed by a bag lady (not hard enough) and then has to run around frantically trying to stop his wives from finding out about each other. The press want to talk to him, two separate police officers turn up to interview him, he falls out of a window, he tells one wife the other is a transvestite, his best mate (Neil Morrissey) pretends to be him, then sits on a chocolate cake so it looks like he's soiled himself, they both have to pretend to be gay....

I am assured Run For Your Wife is a great night out at the theatre, with the split-second timing and impeccable clockwork construction of proper farce. But it's an abomination on the home screen. Opened out from two simple sets to half a dozen locations across London may give the material scope, but it robs it of focus and kills that dizzying escalation of mayhem stone dead. Central to the failure is the star casting of Danny Dyer, presumably seeking to extend his thespian range beyond "laddish yobbo" but it's torpedoed by a sense of comedy that's even more elusive than mine and his essential unlovability. Humour is difficult if you're good at it and impossible if you're not, and he isn't.

Mind you, he's not helped by the astonishing casting of Christopher Biggins and Lionel Blair as a couple of stereotypical screaming queens, the kind of dated comedy homosexuals that would have been considered dodgy in the days of Mr Humphries and Larry Grayson. I wouldn't suggest it qualifies as homophobic, as I don't think it's actively malicious, but merely tapping into the long-standing British comedy tradition of outrageous camp. That said, it's a tradition we kind of abandoned years ago, and it's startling to see it indulged so defiantly. Nor is Dyer's performance helped by surrounding him with dozens of genuine comedy giants: rather than their gifts rubbing off on him, they merely bring his inability into sharp relief even though they're not really doing anything, and half of them I didn't even notice. Frank Thornton is Man Getting Off Bus, Brian Murphy is Man On Allotment, Russ Abbot is Patient In Hospital, Su Pollard is Newsagent - and frankly you'd rather watch their hilarious misadventures than Dyer's because at least they know what to do even with a ropey script.

In the event, it's mesmerisingly awful: rather than enjoying it and laughing along, you just stare mutely at it as it flaps helplessly about like a one-winged pigeon. Robbed of the machine-like precision of a stage farce, sorely lacking a funny and charismatic lead, Run For Your Wife ends up as less fun than Carry On Cabby, less fun even than Adventures Of A Taxi Driver. Hell, it's not even as much fun as Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. The end credits promise a sequel.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013



It's perhaps appropriate that the last scene of this reimagined Western action comedy epic has the title character declaiming his catchphrase "Hi, ho Silver, away!" to which his comedy sidekick responds "Don't ever do that again." Because the likelihood is that they won't ever do it again - it's lost a ton and a half of money (from the same studio that already lost a ton and a half of money on the criminally underrated John Carter) and if the bean counters are going to learn anything from this leap into the financial quicksand, it's "don't ever do that again". In some respects that's a pity: slavish adherence to the demographic-led school of marketing horseshit can only lead to more and more "safe" projects, sequels, remakes and spinoffs but nothing new, nothing different, nothing we haven't already seen before and already indicated we're only too happy to pay again and again to see repeated in very slight variations. Originality and invention will thus play second fiddle to an audience of easily satisfied morons and a battery of journalists only to eager to gloat over the production difficulties and rampaging budget like vultures flocking round a prospective corpse.

Because this isn't part of an established franchise (and let's face it, never will be), The Lone Ranger is an origins story and has to spend a lot of time setting up who its hero is and how he came about. Worthy but dull John Reid (Armie Hammer) is left for dead in the desert by evil Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner); nursed back to health by Tonto (Johnny Depp in facepaint), he dons the famous mask, climbs onto his white horse (which has some kind of mystical significance) and sets about administering justice as The Lone Ranger. Cavendish is only the secondary problem: there's also railroad boss Latham Cole (Tom Wilkinson, easily the best thing in the movie) scheming to acquire a secret silver mine on Cherokee land by faking Indian incursions so the US Cavalry will be duped into wiping them out....

In the event, The Lone Ranger is a failure. It's ludicrously overlong at two and a half hours, it's far too reliant on the comedy relief of Johnny Depp's funny voice and funny mannerisms (which aren't all that funny anyway), and it's saddled (sorry) with a lead character who just isn't very interesting. No-one's going to make any claims for the infamous Lew Grade version from 1980, but the fact is that it's an hour shorter, it tells the Lone Ranger's origins story far more efficiently, and it doesn't make Tonto the star of the movie. As with the Pirates Of The Caribbean series, Depp is really the comedy relief from the drippy leads: in the fourth Pirates film he was promoted to the star role because Orlando and Keira had gone, but here the emphasis placed on Depp's Tonto (which even extends to the old Tonto recounting the story to a kid in a sideshow) unbalances the movie. To an extent, you can understand it because Reid/Ranger is such a bore, but it's like giving K9 top billing over Doctor Who and giving him/it all the best material.

Nor am I that bothered with complaints that Johnny Depp in facepaint as Tonto is somehow a racist, grotesquely untrue and offensive stereotype. The fact that an actor plays a role of a different ethnic stock is not that significant; no-one would suggest that Dracula only be played by Romanian actors or Hamlet only be played by Danish ones. It's called acting: playing someone you're not. The facepaint perhaps pushes it closer to "blacking up" than is comfortable, but without a major star as The Lone Ranger himself (such as Tom Cruise), there wasn't any other direction to take it. In the event Tonto isn't a negative character, an idiot or a crook, he gets most of the gags and, like Jack Sparrow, is more fun than the nominal hero.

It's only in its extended action sequences, both of which involve trains, that there's any real life and energy to the movie. But even then there's something artificial and implausible about them. The movie certainly looks terrific, Helena Bonham Carter turns up as a madam with a gun in her artificial leg, Hans Zimmer's score is better than usual (his Man Of Steel has definitely been his recent low point) and it works in the dreaded William Tell overture quite nicely, and Wilkinson gives great villainy. And I'd be lying if I said there were no laughs to be had. But for too long I was bored, probably more bored even than with the 1980 disaster, and it's not too hard to see why mass audiences have responded with something less than enthusiasm.




Further evidence that you don't need massive resources to succeed with horror movies: this movie has no gore, no sex, one character on screen for the whole time in one location, minimal special effects - and it's creepy as hell. After an hour or so I had to pause the disc and put a light on; that's how incredibly scary it is. Okay, the story is on the thin side, and there's a gaping central hole that runs against basic human nature, but with this and films like The Conjuring, the genuinely creepy, genuinely scary horror film is finally making its presence felt against the grossouts and the bland remakes. Which is wonderful.

All that happens in The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh is that Liam (Aaron Poole) returns to the family house which, as the last of the Leighs, he's just inherited in his deeply religious mother's will. He finds the place full of statues and images of angels: relics of his mother's involvement in a strange cult of angel worshippers which he'd turned his back on, along with his mother, many years ago. But is there something else in the house? Something evil which can only be stopped if he accepts that faith?

While the film cheerfully ignores the fact that anyone would spend more than about two minutes in that spooky house before leaping into the car and heading for the nearest Travelodge - and that's before the statues start moving and near invisible monsters roam the halls - it's remarkable just how much effect can be derived from one man wandering alone around a spooky house full of statues (one wonders how much it owes to recent Doctor Who episodes featuring the Weeping Angels) if the mood is set early enough, and the jumps are well enough timed. In addition there's a wonderful sadness and poignancy in Mother's voiceover (an unseen Vanessa Redgrave): she never forgot the beloved son who walked away and never called, who abandoned the faith. Creepy and unsettling, and well worth a rental.



Thursday, 19 September 2013



Enough with Russ Meyer now. Since for some unknown reason I don't suffer from the kind of unhealthy fixation with socking great hooters that Meyer did, I've always been faintly uninterested in his films. Some of them have been okay: Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is a wonderful cult movie, I loved Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, and I kind of enjoyed Black Snake (Slaves), though probably because Anouska Hempel is a better actress (and frankly better proportioned) than the usual top-heavy starlets Meyer tended to feature. Wild Gals Of The Naked West ran out of steam long before its already brief running time was halfway done, and Supervixens and Beneath The Valley Of The Ultravixens were just dull.

Up! (which has nothing to do with the Pixar animation, though I'd love to be in Blockbusters when that mistake was made) is a tiresome mix of trash, rape, smut, Nazis, murder, tits, more rape and terrible acting, in which the erotica and raunch factor definitely depends on your tolerance for sexual violence played as yee-haw knockabout. Obviously I found it tiresome and tacky and my finger hovered over the Eject button more than once. "Adolf Schwartz", an elderly Nazi and massive pervert, is murdered with a piranha in his bath - but which of the townsfolk could it be? A naked Kitten Natividad turns up every so often to remind us of the suspects: new girl in town Margot (who gets raped twice), bar-owner's husband Paul (who was Adolf's lover), local cop Homer (who gets off with Margot), simpleton and unstoppable rapist Rafe....

I know, it's my own fault because I rented the damned thing of my own free will and out of my own pocket. And I know, it was the Seventies and you can't get all prissy about a film made 37 years ago. It was a product of its time and it (probably) wouldn't happen today. Nor would Russ Meyer. That said, much of the movie as difficult to watch without wincing as archive footage of Bernard Manning or The Black And White Minstrels: time may have moved on, to the extent that you can't quite believe something like Up! was ever considered cheery entertainment. Personally I suspect that with Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Black Snake and Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls I've had the best of Meyer, and if the rest of his filmography is closer to Up! then I'd as soon pass on seeing them.