Tuesday, 30 April 2013



The bad man in question being Pearry Reginald Teo. He made futuristic dystopian SF nonsense The Gene Generation which was rubbish, but at least had Bai Ling running around in strange trousers to distract you from the misery, then he made Necromentia which was even worse: grim, grimy, incomprehensible garbage in which a bloke tries to bring his girlfriend back from Hell (represented by some kind of access tunnel on the London Underground). And fresh on the rental shelves is this insufferable piece of crap that's mostly a glum teenkill movie with a ridiculous plot twist bolted onto the end.

This was originally called Dead Inside but to judge from the packaging (bleached out black-and-white imagery with bright red lettering), it's been retitled The Evil Inside purely to cash in on confused shoppers mistakenly thinking it's that found footage exorcism thing The Devil Inside they heard something about a couple of years ago. Half a dozen instantly hateful bitches and vile douchebags attend a badly lit party thrown by a disturbed teenager: she predicts their violent and unavoidable deaths, and everyone goes shrieky insane and fulfills the prophecy. Then she wakes up in an asylum....

Pretty much everything about The Evil Inside is thoroughly insulting. It's not just that every character is loathsome, amoral and repugnant, and their justifiable deaths are nowhere near spectacular enough (a mundane selection of shootings and stabbings, but no-one gets impaled on a church spire during a lightning storm or run over by a combine harvester); it's not just that the stupid twist ending negates the previous hour plus of tedious drudgery. It's not even that the bulk of the film takes place in the half-light because Pearry Teo has again confused "dark and atmospheric" with "switching all the lights off". (Teo's IMDb bio even states that he dropped out of his college video production and cinematography courses after failing his classes! Yup, it shows!)

The bigger problem is that someone, somewhere down the line thought this was good enough to be foisted on the paying public. That's not a flaw exclusive to this film: there are increasing numbers of films which simply aren't up to a professional standard (recent examples that have clogged up my DVD player have included I Didn't Come Here To Die and Island Of The Dead, but you can toss a stick anywhere in the horror section of HMV and it'll bounce off a dozen more similarly worthless turds before it hits the ground). The democratisation of the film-making process, in which there are no studio executives who can fire these geniuses for shoddy work, and technology has drastically reduced the physical financial cost of making films to the point where any babbling halfwit can pick up a camera, has ultimately allowed people to make films when they simply aren't up to the job. The Evil Inside is directed by someone who can't direct, written by someone who can't write, shot by someone who can't light, performed by people who can't act, and ultimately watched by someone who can't take this shit any more. Seriously: the planet would be a slightly better place if these people weren't making films, because they're no bloody good at it. That's how bad it is.


Sunday, 21 April 2013



There are numerous reasons to rent a particular film. It's the next big thing, everyone's recommended it to you, it won a bunch of awards, or they shot it in your home town. Maybe it's the one film from a favourite director's filmography, maybe you've a major crush on someone in the cast. My main reason for disinterring this wacky sci-fi comedy from 1991 is simply to see the credit "Music composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith" on screen again. I've been a Goldsmith fan for many years, I saw him in concert three times; I have about 140 of his soundtrack CDs on my shelves, and he remains the only composer whose albums I would buy blind: without knowing anything about the film or the music. Sadly, Goldsmith too often ended up writing terrific scores to films which didn't deserve them and didn't deserve him: for every Alien or The Omen, there's a Sleeping With The Enemy or a Congo.

Or a Mom And Dad Save The World, a silly but colourful load of pantomime piffle which looks to be a cheerful sci-fi adventure comedy for all the family, yet it unaccountably leaves the kids at home and concentrates on Dick (Jeffrey Jones, 45 at the time) and Marge (Teri Garr, 44). At the far edge of the galaxy is the planet Spengo, where idiot Emperor Tod (Jon Lovitz) of the planet Spengo is about to unleash his Death Ray upon the planet Earth when he sees Marge exercising: he falls in love and abducts the couple (in their car) across outer space to Spengo. Dick is locked up with the rightful King (Eric Idle) while Tod plans to marry Marge; he escapes and meets up with a desert tribe of idiots in bird masks....

It's twaddle, some of the pre-CGI optical effects are pretty hokey, and the plot is mostly cribbed from the Flash Gordon movie, but it's generally good natured clowning and impossible to get too angry at. The best things about it are probably the production design and costumes, where they've obviously spent a few dollars (lots of people in dog and fish costumes), and obviously the Goldsmith score, which was an added treat as there's a fair whack of music that's not including on the soundtrack album. (That said, I doubt there would be much interest in an expanded edition.) Amiable, occasionally amusing, but hardly essential viewing.




Maybe it's time to have another clearout of the rental queue, but I'm just not getting the goods any more. To have to plod through the tiresome I Didn't Come Here To Die is depressing enough, and I'm probably due substantial damages from having watched it, but to then have this unutterable excuse for garbage in the same evening is tantamount to a war crime. I should be in line for counselling, or something in the Birthday Honours at the very least. In all seriousness: how dare you put this shoddy and incompetent bilge onto the shelves and expect me or anyone else to pay cold hard money for it? If you really want to be treated as a professional filmmaker, how about not conning your audience with this inexcusable ordeal? That the genius auteur evidently couldn't direct his own piss against the side of a barn should, in any sane world, be enough to convince him not to try and direct a film. But he has.

Island Of The Dead (also known as Immortal Island) concerns the usual boatload of photogenic cardboard dullards heading off for a Caribbean island for an extended vacation of lounging around in swimwear and taking lots of drugs. But the drugs they end up with are stolen from the local tribal village: they're a key ingredient in local witchcraft rituals and are rumoured to bestow immortality on the users. As they each indulge, they're suddenly chased by tribal assassins and hacked to pieces; the sole survivor is picked up by the cops and the FBI looking to take down a drug gang....Or something like that: half the dialogue is lost in poor sound recording and mixing as well as the non-performances. Bottom line: nearly everybody dies horribly, hooray.

It's one of those movies in which one of the characters disappears early on and none of her friends seem remotely interested in finding her, and they'd sooner have some more drugs rather then go out and look for her when she's been missing for a day and a half. It's one of those movies where casting was determined on the basis of how you fill out a bikini or how you look with your shirt off, never mind that you have the line reading skills of a Queen Anne chair (the lead investigator is no more an FBI agent than I am the President of Botswana). It's one of those movies that's structured almost entirely in flashbacks (and flashbacks within flashbacks) by characters to events they weren't a party to and couldn't have known about. It's one of those movies where most of the action is shot in near darkness, burying whatever happens in the impenetrable murk. It's one of those movies where everyone on screen is an utter scumbag or a total moron and you couldn't care less what happens to any of them. It's also one of those movies that's been retitled and packaged with blatantly deceitful artwork to misrepresent the film as a zombie movie, which it absolutely isn't.

In short, it's one of those movies that really shouldn't have been made. Someone, somewhere along the line, should have read through the script and asked whether this made a blind bit of sense. Someone should have fired the so-called director (ideally from a trebuchet) and replaced him with someone with the vaguest clue to what the hell he's doing. Someone at the distribution company should have wondered whether this slop was really good enough to go out to the public. None of this happened, and a film which is to all intents and purposes a turd is sitting there on the same shelf as real films made by people with a scratch of talent and intelligence. Blockbusters, Cash Converters, LoveFilm: wherever you see this title, don't pick it up. And if you find it used and soiled in a car boot sale for 49p, call the police. This is unacceptable.


Saturday, 20 April 2013



We've had the Die Hard formula pretty much everywhere over the years: a battleship (Under Siege), a train (Under Siege 2), an airliner (Passenger 57), an elite boys' school (Toy Soldiers), the Presidential Jet itself (Air Force One) and many other slight variations, right down to a shopping mall (Irresistible Force) and a water processing plant (Lethal Tender). And why not? It's a terrific formula. Someone should tell Bruce Willis about it because while his last Die Hard movies (which even shoehorned the words "Die Hard" into their titles) deviated wildly from the formula to the extent of barely being Die Hards at all (A Good Day To Die Hard in particular is no more a Die Hard than it is an episode of Embarrassing Bodies), this punchy, spectacularly gun-happy romp couldn't be more of a Die Hard film if they shaved Gerard Butler's head, put him in a vest and had him say "Yippee-ki-yay....". For all that his name's Mike Banning, for all practical purposes he's John McClane.

Banning was on the President's (Aaron Eckhart) security detail eighteen months ago, but quit when unable to save the First Lady (Ashley Judd) in a car accident. But he just happens to be around when the South Korean premier is in town - and a top terrorist (Rick Yune) has mounted a private army to storm The White House itself. Banning's somehow managed to avoid being killed along with everyone else in a four-mile radius, and sets about rescuing the President's son (so he can't be used as leverage to get the nuclear codes) and taking the down the bad guys. Meanwhile Morgan Freeman is the Acting President trying to keep everything together from the Pentagon....

Olympus Has Fallen - the Secret Service code message for the fall of the White House into enemy hands - is a dazzlingly stupid film with a worrying love for explosions and weaponry: machine guns, military aircraft shooting fighter jets out of the sky, helicopter gunships, carbombs, C4, RPGs, suicide bombers and a full-blown nuclear apocalypse set to go off on American soil, and only Gerard Shouty Butler can stop them. It's full of holes: first they need the President's codes, then it seems they don't; they're aware of the old tunnels leading out of the bunker but they're not aware of the air vents despite supposedly having sealed them off; the combination to the Oval Office safe hasn't been changed in at least 18 months; and the bad guys don't send anyone to get Butler's wife (Radha Mitchell).

The timing of the film, as North Korea starts getting arsey in real life, is obviously a happy coincidence, but that's the second time this year (after Red Dawn) that a movie has credited that country with military might it most likely won't have for years yet. Kudos to Lionsgate, though, for not following 20th Century Fox's shameful record of cutting back on the swearing and violence in order to get a nice cuddly 12A (A Good Day To Die Hard, Taken 2), leaving the bad language and bloody headshots intact for the 15 it rightly deserves. For its jawdropping amounts of violence, destruction, things blowing up and corpses scattered all over the White House lawn, and the occasional smart one-liner ("Why don't you and I play a game of F*** Off? You can go first") offsetting the general lack of humour and overwhelming air of America Is Wonderful cheerleading.

As a stupid Saturday night multiplex thudfest it's decent enough slambang entertainment with moments of CGI destruction presumably aimed more at the American market rather than ours, with icons like the Washington Monument and the front of the White House itself being gleefully trashed (curiously, the destruction of London's glittering West End in G.I. Joe: Retaliation didn't have much effect here). It has no subtlety, but then it's not interested in subtlety: it's interested in waving the Stars and Stripes and blowing shit up. On that popcorn level, it's headcrackingly enjoyable and perfectly well done (if a bit long, some of the CG effects are a bit dodgy, and the score occasionally feels too reminiscent of Jerry Goldsmith's Air Force One), but there's not that much else on show.


Friday, 19 April 2013



And the latest horror remake is.... Sam Raimi's literally barnstorming cabin-in-the-woods classic that kicked the horror genre mightily in the balls more than three decades ago, got banned as a video nasty and is still terrifyingly bloody and bloody terrifying after all these years. "Spam in a cabin", as Joe Bob Briggs enthusiastically described it; it led to a less terrifying sequel, a goofy but entertaining Part 3, and has now ended up on the remake pile despite the untouchably high standards of the original. Sad to report, then, that it's awfully bloody but bloody awful. It may sound unfair to keep measuring the 2013 incarnation against the 1981, but hey: it's an official remake, sanctioned by Raimi and Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell. If they didn't want to be compared to The Evil Dead they shouldn't have remade it.

Evil Dead (minus the indefinite article) basically follows the original template with five kids at the spooky woodland shack: they go down into the cellar, find weird stuff, accidentally release evil spirits, they turn into Deadites and the only way out is bodily dismemberment. The main changes to the - let's be honest - not devastatingly sophisticated original are that the main leads are brother and sister rather than romantically involved, and she's a junkie in danger of overdosing again, so needs to be kept in the cabin for her own good. From then on it's blood, goo, power tools, amputation, head squishing, nailguns, more blood, machetes, chainsaws, more blood, burial alive, fire and literally shedloads of gore.

So why is the movie borderline boring? Why is none of it scary, why does none of it work? There's enough blood and gore to drown a small South American republic, but there's no impact: I didn't wince or murmur "yuck!" once. And I didn't jump once either, no matter how loudly the door slams and Roque Banos unleashes a squealing crashing dischord on the soundtrack. None of the characters are really worth caring about, but then that's not really a problem as we didn't much care about the original's selection of meat courses (except the soon-to-be-legendary Bruce Campbell, obviously). It lacks the ramshackle charm of the Raimi's film, even though it's scarcely a huge budget film (seventeen million dollars, apparently; still a bottomless pit of cash against the sixpence and string from which Raimi worked little miracles).

Will it work for the modern multiplex crowd? Probably: it piles on the gore and screaming with undeniable enthusiasm and efficiency, and given the existence of rubbish like Texas Chainsaw and Stitches, that's obviously enough because modern cinema audiences will clearly watch absolutely anything (though they won't stick around for the obligatory post-credits stinger which frankly isn't worth the wait). But the sad fact is that just as The Fog and Halloween will always be John Carpenter's films by default (unless otherwise stated), and any mention of Dawn Of The Dead is automatically assumed to be the Romero film, so Evil Dead will always be Raimi's unless prefixed by "Fede Alvarez's" or "the remake of...". If you've seen The Evil Dead, then Evil Dead 2013 is a feeble photocopy that simply isn't up to the job. If you haven't, why the hell not?




Yet another atrocious looking piece of moronic horror rubbish in which cretins talk drivel and do jawdroppingly stupid things until you wish they'd all bugger off and leap into a ravine or something. There's little constructive response you can give to a film that seems purposely designed to make even the most laidback and liberal minded of viewers loathe and detest every single onscreen character with a Dalek-like passion, and the fact that everyone ended up bloodily dead was small consolation for having had to endure about 70 minutes of their worthless lives. Frankly, the entire cast and crew should be lined up and slapped.

The opening sequence of I Didn't Come Here To Die has that fake grindhouse effect slopped onto it: scratch lines, dirt marks, and the top of the image flickering at the bottom of the screen so it looks like it's badly projected, which obviously doesn't make any sense on a DVD and just looks stupid. The rest of the movie consists of a busload of despicable young turds who camp out in the woods and get killed, some because they're blundering imbeciles with an IQ that would shame a lemon and some because one of the group suddenly turns into a homicidal maniac for no good reason.

Most of this is shot through what appears to be a permanent haze of sickly green that makes you think your TV's settings have broken because everything looks indistinct and the wrong colour, as if it's set on a planet made of pea soup and bogeys. Presumably they were aiming for some sort of wacky bad taste comedy feel, but the characters are all such obnoxious douchebags that their deaths provoke relief rather than laughter. The final bit puts back the scratches and jumps, presumably wanting to give the movie the feel of a genuine tatty 70s grindhouse exploitation flick, but that doesn't make any sense in a film with mobile and satellite phones in it.

And even at a scant 78 minutes or so, it's boring as hell. We're not interested, we don't care, and we're not impressed. Even the gorehound money shot when a girl gets a chainsaw in her face (it's her own stupid fault, I've no sympathy) can't redeem it as it doesn't raise any more than a "hmmm" in response, as in "hmmm, that's a nice gore effect". And thanks to the colour scheme that renders most of the blood as black, even the splatter doesn't work, and that's really the last chance for a horror movie in which nothing else works. Unwatchable garbage.


Thursday, 18 April 2013



Truth in advertising. If you pick up the DVD of this double-bill of sex-themed British films, you'll see it's emblazoned with Odeon's "Slap And Tickle" logo, which has also been slapped on the likes of Ups And Downs Of A Handyman, Cool It Carol and a compilation of the best bits from the Adventures of... series. At which you might reasonably conclude that the two movies contained are the usual cheap rubbish: unappetising tit-and-bum fodder aimed at the dirty raincoat brigade who used to frequent specialist cinemas forty years ago. The British sex comedy was rarely any good: for every halfway decent Eskimo Nell there was a tawdry Emmanuelle In Soho. For some reason, only one of the films on this twofer really qualifies as a proper phwoooar smutcom; the other's actually much more interesting and an unexpected treat.

We can dispense fairly quickly with Norman J Warren's Spaced Out (aka Outer Touch) as precisely the sort of shoddy boobs-and-pubes dross that gave the BSC such a bad name. A spaceship crewed by three bickering alien babes is forced to land on Earth, a random handful of humans climb aboard and find themselves in space. There's a boring ice woman, her frustrated but besotted boyfriend, an obnoxious middle-aged stud and a stammering virgin who looks like Simon Mayo as played by Robin Askwith: the aliens decide to study them as they've never seen men before. It's not exactly Inseminoid. It's cheap and tatty, and the acting is barely of nativity play standard, but that's beside the point in a film which is mainly concerned with watching girls get their clothes off. Nor is it hilariously funny, though there are some amusingly odd moments, making it a kind of Dark Star with tits more than anything else.

Infinitely more interesting, surprisingly good given the context, is Sex Clinic, which isn't the tiresome knockabout it's marketed as: despite the presence of Windsor Davies and Allo Allo's Carmen Silvera, it's not a comedy, not even a failed one. It's easily the superior of the two films, as it's not principally concerned with shoving buttocks and nipples into the camera lens every ten minutes. Even if they're the best damned buttocks and nipples on the face of the planet (which they aren't), that gets a bit boring after a while. The striking Georgina Ward runs a massage parlour, while blackmailing and extorting from her kinkier customers (including aging lesbian Carmen Silvera); her cynical, uncaring heart is thawed by wealthy but mysterious businessman Alex Davion. But he suddenly needs money fast....

It's directed by Don Chaffey, a proper director who'd shot proper films (Jason And The Argonauts, One Million Years B.C.) and TV (episodes of The Prisoner and Danger Man), and written pseudonymously by wrestling commentator Kent Walton and Crossroads creator Hazel Adair, so there's an intriguing mix of talents involved. And it may be melodramatic tosh, but it's immensely satisfying to see the callous Ward get her just desserts; the film may have lots of nudity but it's surprisingly non-exploitative and serious given the marketing, the title on the DVD box (the actual on-screen title is With These Hands....) and the pairing with the tacky and tatty Spaced Out: it's a little like putting Stripes and Full Metal Jacket on the same DVD and calling it "Wacky Army Capers!" or something. Certainly worth a rental for Sex Clinic, the decision for Spaced Out is down to you.



Wednesday, 17 April 2013



This teen SF thriller really is Invasion Of The Body Snatchers-lite: so lite in fact that it's banging its head on the ceiling and needs to be tethered to the ground with two-inch steel hawsers otherwise it'll float away like one of its glowy alien light blobs. Originally a novel by Twilight's Stephenie Meyer, it's been adapted by Andrew Niccol who has some form with the cold and soulless future genre, having directed Gattaca and In Time as well as writing the marvellous The Truman Show. And, while it is silly and empty and humourless, and more interested in trying to replicate Twilight's angsty love triangle than doing anything with its alien invasion and human resistance plots, it's good looking and put together perfectly well, though it doesn't really need to be over two hours long.

Sometime in the future, Earth has been colonised by translucent nomadic caterpillars from outer space: they're inserted into your neck and override your existing personality. The new Utopian Earth is smiling and polite, there's no crime, violence or deceit, and indeed there's no economy as everything is free. Unaccountably, however, some pesky humans don't want to be turned into grinning drones with no sense of humour and no sense of love: they exist as a community of hippies and fugitives, and the Seekers (led by Diane Kruger) ruthlessly hunt them down and convert them. But while in most cases The Host's personality is lost in the possession, Melanie Stryder's (Saoirse Ronan) mind remains active when she's caught and taken over by Wanderer. Can she convince Wanderer to change sides, to discover humanity, to not betray her loved ones?

Loved the shiny silver cars, motorbikes and helicopters glinting in the sunlight, but it gets a bit draggy when both Melanie and Wanderer (in the same body) are in love with very slightly different cardboard hunks. Worse: you'd think either the aliens or the humans would have come up with some kind of contact lens that either disguised or faked the glowing irises that are the one visible distinguishing feature between the humans and the converted. You also wonder how William Hurt managed to get thousands of mirrors into his desert cave without anyone noticing. Plus, it's all very well for the aliens occupying bodies in nice American cities, but what about the poor sods allocated host bodies in drought-ridden Africa or the Amazon rain forests?

Still, it's more fun than the drippy Twilight series, and there's the cold horror of the idea of being trapped in your own body for years while an alien takes it over, which is far more disturbing than just dismembering it with an axe. A teen SF movie, not too dissimilar to I Am Number Four in tone but with an emphasis on a gloopy romantic triangle that's too-easily resolved at the end; and at over two hours it could have done with a substantial trim. Well enough done, no masterpiece but not awful either.


Sunday, 14 April 2013



The welcome trend for horror movies to actually be creepy rather than merely yelling Boo! in your face or flinging a bunch of CGI severed heads into the camera continues with this home invasion horror thriller with a SF twist. In a sense it's taking those genuinely pantstaining moments from Insidious in which The Big Scary Monster Is Suddenly Standing In The Room Right Next To You!!!! and throwing aliens into the mix, resulting in the most enjoyable extra-terrestrial horror since the early years of The X-Files (before it got incomprehensibly silly).

As with Insidious, Dark Skies concerns an ordinary family with ordinary problems beset by an increasingly bizarre set of events: mysterious break-ins, blackouts, memory loss, bird strikes, marks on the skin, and ultimately the inexplicable physical presence of Something In The House targeting one of the children. And for the first act it feels like a traditional haunted house movie in that tradition. But while Dad Daniel (Josh Hamilton) tries to rationalise it (he's got more important concerns, including getting another architect job after being laid off), mother Lacy (Keri Russell) looks into all the symptoms and comes up with the craziest answer: aliens. Enter JK Simmons as the eccentric expert, who knows all about it, but can't guarantee they can keep the aliens from abducting the kid....

It kind of gives away its intergalactic twist in the opening caption by Arthur C Clarke: "Either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying", so you know it's about aliens as soon as the film starts. That's perhaps not as scary as the demons from Insidious or the evil whatever from Sinister, as the aliens are envisioned as the spindly "Greys" we're already familiar with, though there's still a delicious look-away frisson when Oh God They're In The House And Standing Behind You!!!! There's a nice plot twist concerning what the aliens want and whether they can be stopped which is nicely signalled earlier in the film, if you're paying attention.

Dark Skies is the best of Scott Stewart's films so far: far better than either Legion or Priest (and I kind of enjoyed Priest, for all its silliness). With a few immaculately timed jump moments and the alien creatures generally used very sparingly, it's pleasantly unnerving in places and certainly worth a look. Old-fashioned hokum it may be, but enjoyably creepy and perfectly well done.


Saturday, 13 April 2013



Malcolm Hulke, one-time writer for Doctor Who in the Pertwee era, was once quoted by friend and Who colleague Terrance Dicks: "To write science fiction, all you really need is a great idea. But it doesn't have to be your great idea." Unoriginality is nothing new in SF cinema; it's how it's developed and how it's packaged that counts and you can get away with a hokey plot and someone else's concepts if it's done with a bit of panache and style, and if you've actually added your own cool refinements. And at its worst, it can leave you sitting in the fifth row just muttering "Yup, that's Total Recall....that's a bit out of Phantom Menace....Moon...."

There's a measure of that kind of recognition in Oblivion, the high-budget post-apocalypse epic in which a brainwashed Tom Cruise and Andrea Riseborough have to maintain the autonomous drone fleet guarding the giant hydrofusion reactor thingies converting the Earth's oceans to energy required to fuel Mankind's voyage to Titan after Earth was all but destroyed in an alien invasion and subsequent nuclear war (as well as the breakup of the moon which triggered earthquakes, tsunamis and further general calamity). But creatures on the ground, which look like the Tusken Raiders out of the first Star Wars and are known as "scavs" (scavengers), have managed to rig up a beacon into space, which attracts an escape craft containing a woman (Olga Kurylenko) who recognises Cruise just as much as he remembers her, which he shouldn't given that he's had his memory wiped....

For all that it's obviously made up of bits and pieces of other movies, though, Oblivion's a lot of fun, which is perhaps odd as it doesn't have much of a sense of humour. Plotwise it's decent enough. The truth about the Scavs and the Tet, the giant inverted pyramid supposedly storing Earth's surviving populace in advance of the great colonising voyage to Titan, is well disguised and well revealed. And it's a pretty good entry in the Cruise filmography. Barring the occasional empty smiley movie like Knight And Day, his movies have been generally solid over the last few years: Jack Reacher and Mission Impossible 4 were both enjoyable action thrillers, and I liked Valkyrie, Lions For Lambs and especially Collateral as movies where he's actively doing a bit of proper acting rather than relying on the Cruise grin. (I didn't like War Of The Worlds, though, and I haven't seen Rock Of Ages.)

It's terrific to look at in terms of the visuals and the sets: the CGI effects are mostly terrific (bar a few towards the end) and the production design for Cruise and Riseborough's sky house is gorgeous: I could quite happily live in a place like that if I win the Lottery. And to the extent that I might even buy the CD, I even liked the music score by M83, described by Wikipedia as "a French electronic/shoegaze band from Antibes". This is obviously of a piece with director Joseph Kominski hiring Daft Punk to score his previous film, Tron: Legacy (which was arranged and orchestrated by Joseph Trapanese, Oblivion's co-composer). In the end Oblivion's scarcely a visionary SF classic, and doesn't do a whole lot that's new, but it's hugely enjoyable, looks and sounds great, and thankfully doesn't pander to the idiot tweenie market. Solidly recommended.




I confess: I absolutely love the first G.I. Joe movie. Whereas Michael Bay, auteur of the increasingly dreary Transformers series, looked at his source material - a plastic Hasbro toy and a cheap Saturday morning cartoon for children - and thought he could turn it into Proper Cinema with Real Characters and Emotional Depth (he couldn't), Stephen Sommers looked at exactly the same source material and recognised it for what it was - colourful pantomime nonsense. G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra is four hundred times as mad as the maddest Bond movie, it's outlandish, ridiculous, completely implausible and outrageously enjoyable comicbook fun. Forget the angst and portentousness: G.I. Joe is an eye-boggling romp.

Not any more, though. This sequel is mostly drab, has no sense of fun, and is more concerned with badass Very Special Forces militarism rather than the gadget-laden superhero shenanigans of Sommers' film, and with Bruce Willis and Dwayne Johnson tooled up with enough firepower to shoot Neptune out of the sky, it almost feels like an Expendables offshoot. G.I. Joe: Retaliation kicks off with the unit on a mission to recover a loose nuke in Pakistan: they succeed with little difficulty, but then the whole unit is shot up by a sudden air assault, leaving just three survivors. It all harks back, of course, to the first film's substitution of maniac Zartan (Arnold Vosloo) for the President (Jonathan Pryce), who's gearing up for an arms summit with the other nuclear nations (including North Korea). Can they get back to the States and find out what's happened and foil their schemes of world domination - or destruction?

With most of the first film's cast not returning - no Marlon Wayans, Rachel Nichols, Christopher Eccleston, Dennis Quaid or Sienna Miller, and Channing Tatum isn't in it very much even after reshoots - it's mostly concerned with characters we've never seen before, including Dwayne Johnson, Adrienne Palicki and Elodie Yung, roping in veteran Bruce Willis along the way. None of the action sequences are anywhere near as exciting as the spectacularly destructive Paris chase or Cobra's assault on the Joes' desert base from the first film, and the increased emphasis on guns rather than fantastical gadgetry makes the film tend towards the dull as well as the noisy. You would have thought that director Jon M Chu's background in musicals (including two Step Up movies and the Justin Bieber movie, none of which I've seen and I'm proud of it) would have perhaps given the action a touch of grace, in the way that John Woo used to stage his gunfights like dance numbers - but no, they're no artistry about them. Maybe a director with a background in effects-heavy action movies might have done a better job.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation was originally scheduled for last year but was abruptly pulled so they could post-convert it into 3D for purely artistic reasons; frankly it wasn't worth the wait (I saw the 2D version and there's not one single frame where an artificial perspective effect would have been of any use at all). With the exception of a massed ninja fight with everyone dangling by ropes off the side of a mountain, the near-constant gung-ho cheerleading for America (Willis' entry code for his fearsome gun arsenal is 1776) means there's no room for fun, and it takes itself far too seriously for what should have been a silly piece of cardboard popcorn fluff. That's a fatal error, and let's hope the recently announced G.I. Joe 3 doesn't continue the trend.


Friday, 12 April 2013



Well, as many spoilers as you could expect in a documentary about the history of the James Bond books and films. It touches base with most of the major players (except miseryguts Connery) but to be honest it doesn't really tell you very much you didn't already know. Backed near constantly with music from the scores and illustrated with clips, neither of which necessarily come from the film under discussion at the time, it ends up as kind of fun in that Terror In The Aisles kind of way, where you're tempted to shout out the titles as three seconds of You Only Live Twice or Octopussy whizz by. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Everything Or Nothing (which is apparently what EON, the Bond production company, stands for) isn't much concerned with the making of the films themselves - that's dealt with in the Behind The Scenes documentaries in the DVD extras - as the history of Saltzman and Broccoli, their relationship and partnership over the years, and how they eventually parted company. If there's a Blofeld in the tale, it's Kevin McClory, whose favourite tactic was not as spectacular as hollowed volcanoes or lasers from space, but endless lawsuits following his collaboration with Fleming over Thunderball (which still easily ranks as the dullest of the official Bond films, even surpassed by its own messy remake, the unofficial Never Say Never Again).

Sam Mendes is the only director actually interviewed (and then only briefly, and not even about his own film); Robert Davi (in a hat) and Christopher Lee are the only villains. Lee is only there as Fleming's cousin anyway and he's not even interviewed when his own film, the underrated The Man With The Golden Gun, rolls around. With the iconic music mentioned once with no names given, and only Ken Adam on screen from the entire tech department of half a century's worth of film-making, much of the time is spent with current 007 stewards Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli - so there's little in the way of critical argument concerning issues like Bond's alleged sexism, racism or whateverism through the years, the increasing levels of screen violence, 007's fantasy relevance in a post 9/11 reality or Eric Serra's inappropriate score to Goldeneye.

Everything about Everything Or Nothing has been ruthlessly filtered through the publicity machine and it's really less of a documentary about the James Bond films as a lightly disguised corporate video. It's not uninteresting, but it tells you more about the deals struck in boardrooms than how they did the car chase on the ice in Die Another Day which, let's face it, is a hell of a lot more important. I just wish Sean Connery would chill out and join in.


Red wine with fish:

Thursday, 4 April 2013



This is one of only two of Dario Argento's horror films that I've never managed to see in a cinema (the other is Trauma; I'm not counting his latest, Dracula, which hasn't come out in the UK yet anyway). It originally hit British cinemas in 1985 in a heavily truncated version, retitled Creepers with a few BBFC snips; by the time it reached VHS it was trimmed again and didn't even make it to 80 minutes in length. It then took a whopping fourteen years to be restored to something approaching its original glory, and the latest shiny DVD release runs a full 31 minutes longer than the Palace videotape. But in either version it's certainly one of Argento's lesser films; maybe that's because it comes between what are, for me at least, his two finest films (Tenebrae and Terror At The Opera), or maybe it's just notably crazier than his films usually are.

Indeed, Phenomena is probably the maddest Argento's ever been within the confines of a movie that isn't supposed to be supernatural, and in his whole filmography is probably only second to Mother Of Tears in the whacko stakes: it's a who's-the-mad-killer giallo with paranormal overtones The X-Files would have blanched at. Someone's killing young women in the environs of an exclusive Swiss finishing school for girls, and in the absence of the police (Patrick Bauchau hovers around briefly) it's down to Jennifer Connelly as a sleepwalking schoolgirl with a telepathic connection to insects and Donald Pleasence as a wheelchair-bound Scottish entomologist to solve the mystery. In this quest they're aided Pleasence's pet chimpanzee (she's also his nurse) and The Great Sarcophagus fly, which can detect the smell of rotting corpses across great distances (handily, the maniac lives on a popular bus route).

While the insect-based plot devices may have some connection with recognisable science (I remember an episode of CSI in which the development of fly larvae was used as a tool for accurately measuring how long a murder victim had been dead), the telepathy is harder to swallow - that a firefly could lead Connelly to a vital clue or that she she could summon a swarm of blowflies dense enough to eclipse the moon is not so much a scientific phenomenon as plain old-fashioned witchcraft. That renders it too far-fetched and fanciful, and thus the tension of the straight giallo Phenomena would otherwise be (and could have been) is lost.

As a straight horror film it's better: once you get the insect nonsense out of the way it picks up quite nicely with some shocking moments of gore and violence (Argento again uses one of his daughters in a graphic death scene, which is a little unsettling, though not as much as his later use of Asia in nude sex scenes), and the grisly climax in a cold concrete basement with a pool full of rotting corpses is truly repulsive. It's also very cruel: the use of a deformed child as a plot motivator and the sadistic relish with which the villain is despatched at the end both feel unnecessarily cold. (It's this last sequence, that saw the villain's face being slashed with a straight razor, that the BBFC cut back in the 1980s.)

It's certainly better than some of Argento's more recent films (I still have a soft spot for Do You Like Hitchcock?), and it still works in places, but the 80s fashions and the Various Artists heavy metal soundtrack date it badly. But it's not a patch on his best gialli like Deep Red or Tenebrae, and it's certainly no Suspiria, the most obvious comparison point with its similar setting of a spooky girls' school in the deep woods. In fact it's strange that it's apparently one of Argento's favourites of his own films, because it's frankly a mixed bag: for every thrilling setpiece there's a terrible line of dialogue, for every shocking gore highlight there's a "Huh, what?" moment of almost surreal strangeness, such as Pleasence's bereaved chimp wandering the park and finding a cut-throat razor while searching in a bin for food. It's a mess, really. But there are great moments in there; just not enough of them to make this more than a moderate, middle-ranking Argento. (Which is still better than many directors working at full pitch.)



Monday, 1 April 2013



Saying this is the funniest movie I've seen recently is not really saying very much at all. First off, there have only been two other comedy films, The Campaign and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, and neither of them have been close to funny enough in their comedy, settling instead for overrated stars mugging and shouting to no great effect. Secondly, let's not kid ourselves: this is rubbish, and even the eight-year-old it's aimed at will probably be unimpressed with its steady stream of halfwits repeatedly gouging each others eyes out and beating each other round the head with hammers (not that they should be watching it anyway, given its 12 certificate). It might have a couple more smiles than those other films but that's no more an indication of quality than saying the Amityville Horror remake is "better" than the Friday The 13th remake.

It's less a reboot of The Three Stooges than a meticulous tribute act, right down to the crazy hair and properly timed idiot slapstick. The plot, for what it is, has Larry, Curly and Moe leaving the orphanage twenty years after being dumped there and attempting to raise $830,000 to save it from closure: they end up in the big city and get roped into an absurd murder scheme as well as Moe winding up on reality show Jersey Shore. All the while they punch each other, jab each other in the eyes and hit each other with large metal objects, and at the end two people claiming to be the directors (they're not) turn up and exhort the audience not to mimic the stunts and physical slapstick, demonstrating the rubber sledgehammers and sound effects tricks, presumably so there won't be lawsuits from parents.

That this xerox of ancient Stooges shorts manages to be measurably funnier than contemporary Hollywood comedies like The Campaign says more about current comedy cinema than it does about its own merits. It's got a decent supporting cast, including Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson and Larry David as nuns and Craig Bierko as the obvious villain (and something called "Snooki" turns up as well). And it generally avoids the bad taste you tend to expect from the Farrellys. But bringing back the idea of the Three Stooges is such a peculiar idea anyway - what's next, Old Mother Riley? Wilson, Kepple and Betty? Its mix of senseless violence, wordplay and stupidity is a style of comedy that's perhaps out of date, and it has seemingly been recreated in impeccable detail more out of nostalgia for the Stooges of half a century ago rather than the desire to produce a halfway decent comedy that'll stand on its own. It's rubbish, and probably the most moronic film you'll see all year, but bafflingly less rubbish than "real" comedies.