Monday, 22 December 2014



Back in 2006, porno veteran Gregory Dark made one of his occasional forays into the world of "proper films" with See No Evil, a generic but occasionally quite nasty teenkill slasher epic in which an indestructible homicidal maniac gouges out the eyes of a bunch of more than usually deserving young scumbags: annoyingly, the only male to make it to the end alive was the drug dealing rapey one. It was efficiently done, but that's pretty much it. Quite why this, of all Lionsgate's extensive catalogue of DTV horror movies, was deemed worthy of a sequel is only slightly less of a mystery than why they waited eight years to try and develop it into a franchise.

Supposedly dead mother-fixated religious fundamentalist serial killer and eyeball collector Jacob Goodnight (again played by wrestler Kane but this time billed as Glenn 'Kane' Jacobs) comes back to life in the morgue and goes on another rampage. That's the entire plot of See No Evil 2. At least the roster of meathook fodder and reluctant cornea donors are less odious than the juvenile delinquents of the original: here we have Danielle Harris as Amy, one of the mortuary's three staff members, and her frankly dimwitted friends who are more interested in going at it like hammers in the least romantic of settings. (At least the mortuary tables are likely to be a more hygienic humping ground than the first film's abandoned hotel full of rats and mutilated corpses.) In what is probably the silliest sequence in any slasher of the millennium so far, Goodnight's awakening is apparently triggered by insanely kinky Katharine Isabelle flirting and cavorting with his cadaver; meanwhile, will good-natured but shy Seth finally pluck up the courage to ask co-worker Amy on a date? And will her brother stop interfering with her life and get it on with his own floozie?

It's directed by Jen and Sylvia Soska, which means that you should really expect something more after the far more twisted American Mary (though admittedly not so much after Dead Hooker In A Trunk). But it feels more like a gun(s)-for-hire job: an unremarkable but enjoyable enough slasher movie with characters less hateful than usual and enough grisly deaths to keep it interesting in its brisk running time. In terms of franchise horror it's the holding pattern equivalent of something like Friday The 13th Part 4: a more than watchable rehash of the existent formula, professionally enough put together (supposedly not by the Soska themselves) but containing no great surprises. Entertaining but scarcely groundbreaking.




How long has it been since Jean-Claude Camille Francois Van Varenberg made a really good movie? Some might suggest "never", and maybe they've got a point, but looking at his IMDb page I'd suggest the rot started in with Sudden Death back in 1996. It's a fun Die Hard clone (set in an ice hockey stadium) with lots of violence and top production values, but since then it's been a slow decline and his recent offerings have been mediocre at best. (The Expendables 2 was kind of meat-headed fun, but that's more of an ensemble piece.) UFO, aka Alien Uprising, was absolute garbage, he was the funniest thing in the not-funny-at-all Welcome To The Jungle, and the likes of Assassination Games and Until Death are cheap and disposable straight-to-video B-movies that don't showcase Jean-Claude's undoubted headkicking skills to any notable degree. But like Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren, he just keeps on going.

It's an even sharper decline from Sudden Death when you look at director Peter Hyams, because Enemies Closer is absolutely not the kind of thing you expect from the director of what I almost hesitate to call "proper films" like Outland and Capricorn One. Or even The Relic or End Of Days. A light aircraft crashes into the waters around an island off the coast of Maine, a squad of uniformed Mounties (led by Van Damme) show up to offer the US Customs people their assistance in finding the plane. But when they refuse, Van Damme kills everyone in the room and reveals himself as a boo-hiss evil drugs trafficker and not a Mountie after all! Meanwhile, the island's Park Ranger (who handily used to be in the military and trained as a frogman) is confronted with the vengeful brother of a young soldier who died in Afghanistan when a mission went wrong, and the two of them have to reluctantly team up against the drugs gang....

It's cheap, mostly dull and takes place almost entirely at night so the fight scenes aren't anywhere near clear enough to become exciting (and I don't think it's the TV settings at fault). Jean-Claude is now 54 and perhaps no longer able to do the leaping splits without his hip creaking, which is perhaps awkward if he's trying to sneak up on people, but he's clearly having fun overplaying as a fearsome gangster with a terrible comedy hairdo, and some of the action scenes look like they might be entertainingly painful if you could actually see what was going on. Generally pretty poor, though odd moments amuse.


Thursday, 4 December 2014



I've waited no less than thirty-five years to see this film. The first time I ever heard about it was a crushing review by "Bobby Dupea" (shamefully, it took me years to get the reference) in a very early edition of Starburst magazine. The film never played my local and I wouldn't have gone anyway, but the title has stuck with me ever since. Strangely, I never managed to catch the pre-cert VHS or the later PG-rated tape; perhaps less surprisingly it has never been granted a British DVD release (there is a Region 1 DVD available for import, but why would you?). And then suddenly, there it was, available to stream. How could I not?

The Shape Of Things To Come has absolutely nothing to do with HG Wells beyond giving him a meaningless possessory credit at the start, and retaining one character name (not even spelled the same) in an entirely different role. Otherwise they've done a Moonraker and ditched everything from the source material in favour of their own aberrant silliness. Now Things To Come is no longer a terrifying work of prophecy about the future of the human spirit, but a cheap Star Wars knockoff where the producers clearly thought they could grab themselves some Lucas dollars by tossing in spaceships, explosions, rebels, an evil Emperor and some ungainly comedy robots. After the great robot wars, Mankind has now largely abandoned a radiation-riddled Earth and has either spread out through the galaxy or holed up on a moonbase, but everyone's dependent on life-saving drug Radic-Q-2, which is only available on one planet in the entire cosmos. Trouble is, the planet (which appears to have no native population) is ruled by mad Jack Palance who wants absolute power or he'll withhold Radic supplies....

How come the moon has clouds and a sea (visible from ineffective senator John Ireland's office windows yet not visible from outer space)? How come children have been left to scavenge the empty and radioactive wastelands of Earth? Why the hell has Palance installed an explosive device capable of blasting his entire planet to smithereens? Why indeed can't Radic-Q2 be manufactured anywhere else? Why have the rebels on Delta Three - all twelve of them - decided on identical red jumpsuits as their uniforms? Were those waddling stumpy robots the best that super-engineer Palance could design? How is dying Earth scientist Barry Morse supposed to be Palance's old mentor when they're practically the same age (there's only eight months between the actors)? Why did no-one proofread the opening caption scroll and corrected the debatably bad spelling (dependant vs dependent - admittedly not a problem in America but this is Canadian) and the misplaced apostrophe (it's vs its)? And that's a problem: less than a minute in and already I'm distracted by bad grammar in the scene-setting crawl.

I waited thirty-five years to see this film and it wasn't worth the wait. To be honest, if it had been thirty-five minutes it still wouldn't have been worth the wait. It's not even as much fun as Aldo Lado's idiotic The Humanoid, which at least had Barbara Bach in it, and even Jack Palance's overacting can't even raise The Shape Of Things To Come to the level of terrible but enjoyable. Whatever you might think of Star Wars now (and I still like all three original films), it was great at the time, hugely entertaining and caught the imagination like few other films. This is just rubbish: it has no interesting ideas, and it doesn't have anywhere near the resources required to bring off the ideas it's swiped from George Lucas. It looks like TV, it's got the feel of an old episode of Star Trek. Except that Shatner would have sorted the whole thing out in half the time and with eighty per cent less silliness. Executive produced by veteran rubbishmeister Harry Alan Towers and directed by George (Frogs) McCowan.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014



If you're in the market for some serious weirdness from a major Hollywood studio with Big Stars attached, you could do a lot worse than A New York Winter's Tale, an unseasonal oddity (centred around New Year's Eve, but released to cinemas in February and DVD in November) which seems to be aiming for grown-up romantic fairytale but ends up as a bit of a mess. Yet it's a fascinating mess: too long, mostly silly, hugely implausible, occasionally almost magical, never boring. I've no idea who the target audience might be; it certainly isn't me, and yet I rather enjoyed it.

At the turn of the last century, a young couple are refused immigration into the USA because of a pulmonary condition, and sent home. To protect their baby son from whatever unspoken fate might await him back home, they abandon him to the waters around New York. He grows up to be a petty thief and crook working for Irish gangster Russell Crowe, but after a disagreement over the level of violence necessary, Farrell needs to get out of town fast. In this he is aided by a magnificent white horse, which won't actually carry him until he does one last job at William Hurt's family home. He's away at the time, but Farrell finds and falls in love with Hurt's daughter Jessica Brown Findlay, who is dying of consumption.

I forgot to mention that the horse is apparently omniscient, which is handy when Crowe turns up to take Findlay hostage for Farrell's return. Also, the horse can fly. Also, Crowe isn't just a gangster but an actual demon in human form, and has to seek permission from The Judge, aka Satan himself (Will Smith) to pursue Farrell beyond the city limits. But Farrell's destiny turns out not to be to save his beloved from her terminal condition after all, and tragedy leaves him an amnesiac drifter, apparently wandering the city in a daze for the next ninety years. And in the present day, he finds himself drawn to Grand Central Station, and the shoebox of relics he left there decades ago. A chance meeting with a small child and a journalist (Jennifer Connelly) fill in some blanks in his memory, but more importantly Russell Crowe is still on his trail....

There's a lot of absolute hogwash about everyone having a special destiny and fate and miracles, which makes no sense when you think of all the people in the world casually killed, beaten and generally mistreated - where are their miracles? What kind of miserable pre-ordained fate is that? Farrell's eventual purpose doesn't make much sense either: if The Unseen Fates have really engineered things so that he can ultimately fulfil that particular destiny, they've gone to a great deal of unnecessary trouble to achieve something that could surely have been a lot easier and simpler. Very odd, but a sweet and feelgood concoction, and I liked it far more than I'd expected, given the kind of film it is. Directed by Akiva Goldsman, scribe of various Ron Howard movies and Joel Schumacher's two Batman atrocities.



Thursday, 20 November 2014



So I'm literally at a loss to know exactly what's wrong with this bizarre nostalgic retro pastiche (yes, another one) exercise in impeccable period detail at the expense of a plot, and by extension a film, that makes any sense at all. It's either a film from 2014 in which the human race had either developed long distance space travel back in the 1970s, or a vision of a possible future in which everyone behaves like they're in the 1970s for absolutely no reason. Rather than an imagined future that's now slipped into the past (2001: A Space Odyssey or TV's Space 1999) and got all the details wrong without the benefit of hindsight, maybe this is an imagined alternate past which gets the details right (because of hindsight) but can only make sense as a film if viewed from an even earlier past which can somehow access a pseudo-historical film from the future. Either that or it's just a massive cultural backstep into the gaudy fashions, attitudes and music of the mid-seventies. Either way, there's also the thorny subject of it not being any good at all.

Space Station 76 is less a science-fiction movie than a 70s sex comedy in the vein of Bob And Carol And Ted And Alice, except it doesn't have any jokes in it. Most of it's devoted to the sexual hangups and dysfunctions of the small group of people living and (presumably) working on a deep space refuelling station, as they go from adultery and jealousy to depression to therapy. The station's useless captain (Patrick Wilson) is wrestling with his homosexuality and frustrations after the departure of his Number 2 and the arrival of replacement Liv Tyler - making this the second Liv Tyler film with an imminent meteor attack.

The terrific production design looks back to the shiny white spacecraft of "old" SF rather than the dark, metallic ships from Alien onwards, there's a Neil Sedaka song on the soundtrack and marijuana plants grown in the biodome. But none of it's funny: it's as if they've decided the seventies ambience is enough to carry the movie and they don't actually need to do anything else. Indeed, it just leaves you wondering whether it was supposed to be a comedy in the first place (presumably it was, given the presence of a cryogenically frozen dog and an old lady in a stasis pod) or merely a fond look back at days gone by. If it's the former then there simply isn't enough humour there, and if it's the latter why bother with the space trappings? There are more than enough movies out there that don't just have the styles and fashions of the 1970s, they have the authenticity of the 1970s because that's when they were made. Why settle for a reproduction unless it's at least as good as its inspirational sources?


Monday, 17 November 2014



It's a peculiar thing to have done in 2013: to make a film that looks and sounds and feels exactly like a movie from the mid-1980s. This kind of nostalgic retro pastiche can work: I still like and defend Death Proof in its evocation of the spirit of grindhouse, even though it's thirty minutes too long and the dialogue is far too obviously Tarantino-speak, Robert Rodriguez' Machete movies are enjoyable enough nonsense though too highly-budgeted for the kind of trashy exploitation it's celebrating, and Ti West's The House Of The Devil is a marvellously detailed recreation of 70s TV-movie which works beautifully as a horror film in its own right. Against that, something like Anna Biller's Viva manages to bring the horrid fashions, decor and attitudes of the 1970s to life, but it doesn't make it as an interesting film, and something like The Disco Exorcist is not just best left unmentioned but unwatched (if not unmade).

Wolfcop look like precisely the kind of thing that you'd have found on the rental shelves from Guild or Medusa in about 1987, an old-fashioned werewolf movie with rubbery gore effects, a high level of silliness and a low level of ambition. In fact, if they'd told you it was a long-forgotten and recently discovered entry in the largely unconnected Howling franchise, it wouldn't come as much of a surprise. Lou Garou (the film's only real joke, which doesn't make sense anyway) is a small-town deputy sheriff who mysteriously hasn't been fired for drunkenness or incompetence: one night, when out actually doing his job, he's attacked and subsequently becomes a werewolf. And then people start dying bloodily.... Might it have something to do with the death of Garou's father many years ago?

Why bother? Why go to all the trouble of deliberately crafting a movie to look exactly like something you wouldn't have been overly impressed by thirty years ago? It's not like they were aiming high and missed: recreating the feel of a rubbish horror video from the last century isn't by itself enough, and consciously designed cult movies never work. I wouldn't mind the 80s ambience if, as with House Of The Devil, the end result had been a decent movie in its own right. Sure it's not completely worthless, and it's nice to see werewolf transformations and gory splatter sequences using old-fashioned prosthetic effects work instead of clean but unconvincing CGI, but if it's a spoof it's not funny (it's not that I don't get the jokes, it's that I don't think there are very many in there) and if it's a straight horror it's certainly not scary. Either way, the prospect of a Wolfcop 2 as promised at the end isn't an exciting one.




The first time I saw Gina Carano was in Steven Soderbergh's Haywire, essentially a Cynthia Rothrock movie that somehow just happened to have major A-list talent behind and in front of the camera: the likes of Michael Fassbender, Michael Douglas and Ewan McGregor did the acting and Carano punched everybody spectacularly in the head. Even more spectacularly, she also got to beat up Michelle Rodriguez in the deliriously enjoyable Fast And Furious 6. Against those films, what a contrast to this shoddy, atrociously shot cheapie that conspicuously fails to showcase former mixed martial arts champion Carano's ability to pound seven bags of soot out of people.

In The Blood has newlyweds Carano and Cam Gigandet honeymooning in the Dominican Republic (it's actually shot in Puerto Rico); with the exception of a fight in a nightclub run by Danny Trejo, they're having a pretty good time until Cam falls from a zipwire and the ambulance never brings him to any of the hospitals. Kidnap? Murder? The police even think she might have arranged it to inherit his money (he's rich, she isn't, and they both had a history of drug addiction). Obviously she has no alternative but to track her missing husband down by herself, which inevitably leads to several scenes of her inflicting pain on a succession of increasingly obnoxious villains....

It's directed by John Stockwell, who has a track record of efficient action thrillers in exotic locales: Into The Blue (the Bahamas), Paradise Lost (Brazil), Dark Tide (South Africa). By contrast, In The Blood is drab: it has a cheap digital look to it, and the numerous fight scenes are very poorly shot which is a pity because Gina Carano is very good at fighting. You wouldn't shoot elaborate dance numbers like this, so why grace an equally intricately choreographed combat sequence with the production values of the behind-the-scenes featurette on the DVD? It throws away the one thing the film had going for it, killing it stone dead.


Thursday, 13 November 2014



It's perhaps expecting too much of modern horror B-movies aimed at the multiplex trade to pull any surprises, but this one has a doozy during the end credits. For most of the time it's a perfectly decent little movie in the creepy rather than gory traditions, following the domestic scares of Insidious and The Conjuring (and their less effective followups): more than enough of those "can't look, must look" sequences in which teens poke around in the recesses of one of those improbably large American houses, to which it was all I could do to not shout out "Don't go in the attic!", "Don't go in the basement!" or "Don't wander off down that scary underpass!".

Or indeed, "Don't play with the ouija board in the house where your best friend died mysteriously after playing with the very same ouija board!" Ouija has a very simple set-up in which a group get together to summon the spirit of their recently departed friend Debbie - however, it's not her they make contact with, but a young girl known as DZ, still lingering in the house and apparently still terrorised by her mother. Were these ghosts responsible for Debbie's unlikely suicide? And can they cleanse the house of its evil past, even as they get bumped off one by one?

There aren't any real surprises in Ouija: it's a formulaic Boo! effort straight from the template and it has no interest in doing anything other than making you jump every so often, which it manages more than adequately. (Granted, it's a pity no-one in the film knows how to pronounce ouija properly, referring to it throughout as weegie.) One pleasant development is that somehow they've managed the trick of making a modern horror movie without gracing any of the characters with negative traits. No-one swears, takes drugs, starts fights, gets drunk or cheats on their partners, no-one behaves like a swaggering sexist douchebag or a hyper-sexualised bitch. They're all reasonable people, which pays dividends in terms of audience sympathies when it comes to killing some of them off because you don't actually want them to die.

But the big surprise comes at the end. Because they started the film straight away with just the Universal logo, and left off the obligatory handful of animated production company idents, it wasn't until the credits ran at the end that I realised this was a film from Platinum Dunes, the company behind the recent rash of wildly variable horror remakes including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th (not variable between good and bad, but between bad and very bad). Yes: Ouija is a film that has the sticky fingermarks of Michael Bay on it yet still manages to not stink the building out like a decomposing skunk. I enjoyed it already but hell, it gets an extra star just for achieving that.




There's a secret to con-artist crime capers, and indeed most movies designed primarily as entertainment, and it's a secret which has entirely eluded the makers of this cataclysmically witless piece of boneheaded garbage. It's a very simple idea: don't make your characters into hateful dicks. Don't write your leads as crass, amoral, laddish oafs that even the most imbecilic Nuts reader won't want to spend time with. Don't give them a leering, barely Neanderthal approach to women and a clear conscience when it comes to stealing and ripping people off. Julian Gilbey's wretched, piss-pathetic apology for a teenage episode of Hustle offers us four swaggering, despicable bellends, all of whom you'd quite happily push under a combine harvester. They're the heroes of the piece, but against their apparently hilarious antics the bloodier and more serious muscle of grown-up criminals is actually more palatable. Our principal hero is Ed Speleers, star of the atrocious Love Bite and it's honestly a tough call as to whether that's a more shameful piece of rubbish.

Plastic has our scumbag foursome running a string of credit card frauds and identity thefts, amassing a stack of cloned cards and quickly purchased goods to sell on for untraceable cash. But they fall foul of a serious gangster (Thomas Kretschmann) who gives them two weeks to pay him two million pounds or they can dig their own graves. With the aid of the sort-of-almost girlfriend of the group's leader, they all jet off to Florida to swindle some big-time millionaires - except they're so monumentally idiotic they blow their own scheme and end up constructing an entirely new con job which involves swiping a case of diamonds by pretending to be a Brunei prince. Can they get the money together, or might some of the group be plotting to take it all for themselves?

Whatever. I just spent most of the running time hoping the smug little sods would die very horribly and I hated the fact that they won in the end - it's "based on a true story" and "the diamonds were never recovered", if you believe the opening and closing captions. Justice, even movie justice, is barely served in a film in which one of the group gets clean away with the loot and two of them get absurdly lenient jail terms. Thoroughly depressing, artistically empty and full of more obnoxious and morally repugnant bastards than any film since Downfall, it's probably the worst film of 2014 and certainly the one I most regret adding to my rental list.


Wednesday, 5 November 2014



I'm usually a sucker for a serial killer movie. Whether the focus is on the cops, FBI agents or other interested parties tracking down a homicidal maniac, or said maniac's ingenious methods and twisted motivations, I'm invariably far more interested than I am in a sloppy romantic comedy or an energetic youth musical. From slashers to police procedurals to unflinching psychological examinations of twisted minds, from The Silence Of The Lambs to He Knows You're Alone - my only real bugbear would be true crime movies in which I'm expected to enjoy details reconstructions and reenactments of real murders; you might as well put a laugh track on Crimewatch.

I didn't know The Alphabet Killer was (loosely) based on a real case from the 1970s: a killer specialising in young women with matching initials and leaving the bodies in towns beginning with the same letter (the film changes the names but retains the sequence of letters). But given that the film's lead detective routinely hallucinates the zombie-like spectres of the victims, it's questionable just how close to reality it actually is. One of the lead cops on the case suffers a complete mental collapse, plagued by visions of the dead girls. Years later she's demoted to a routine filing job in the records department, but the killer returns, as do the ghosts....

It's not a very good movie, but it does at least have a strong cast headed by Eliza Dushku (star of director Rob Schmidt's enjoyably gruesome TCSM cover Wrong Turn) as the obsessed cop. Cary Elwes and the always reliable Michael Ironside. So it's watchable enough, but it doesn't hang together as it feels the need for an inconclusive ending ("the killer was never caught"), and the killer's identity and the contrivances that lead Dushku to the final realisation don't really work dramatically because it's just too much of a coincidence. A routine, competent time-passer, but nothing more than that.





I've never been a massive fan of the American teen sex comedy. Obviously the shadow of Porky's and Revenge Of The Nerds (and to a lesser extent their sequels) hangs long and gloomy over the genre, and while this particular example isn't anywhere near as wretched and grotesque as, say, Screwballs 2: Loose Screws (which incredibly got a UK cinema release: I saw it on a double bill with the unjustly neglected sleaze classic Vice Squad), it's still pretty firm evidence that gauche American teenagers desperately trying to get laid is one of the most tiresome and depressing subjects imaginable for a major motion picture,

Preppies actually has a vague sliver of social satire about the class structure and the rich-poor divide, but unfortunately it doesn't do anything interesting with it. Our heroes are an old money trio of rich college boys spending the weekend revising for a vital economics exam, while simultaneously trying to get off with a trio of local but socially inferior hotties (and in the case of two of them, their long-term but unaccommodating girlfriends). What the boys don't know, however, is that the aforementioned hotties have been hired to keep their minds off the textbooks so they'll fail the exam, flunk college entirely and thus not qualify for a $50 million inheritance....

It's all very silly, with half the cast putting on exaggerated silly voices as posh Ivy League rich kids, and if it's hard to actually like, it's also hard to hate. Essentially it's good-natured rather than mean-spirited, and it doesn't revolve exclusively around naked women, which is actually odd since Chuck Vincent is one of those directors who spent a lot of time making porn movies as well as "legit" softcore sex thrillers and comedies (Hollywood Hot Tubs is another of his, which despite it sounding utter drivel I'm now rather interested in tracking down). The humour is very broad, and it's not particularly funny, but at least it never gets actively offensive or embarrassing. That there are far worse examples of the campus smut movie out there isn't much of recommendation, though.


Monday, 27 October 2014



This 1973 movie has a personal significance for me, for reasons which have nothing to do with the film itself. The only time I ever saw it was when I was around nine, at a drive-in cinema in Malawi, and I remember not one single frame of it. In the UK it had an X for violence, language and nudity, which the Malawi censors would have lopped out with a hacksaw anyway, but it's never surfaced on British DVD (there was a VHS release, which somehow never came my way). And then, out of nowhere, it's available to stream online. How could I not?

In the event, Hit! feels to like two wildly different films bolted together: the gritty New York cop movie and the international group mission comedy, and neither really benefits from being spliced into the other. Billy Dee Williams is a tough, flashily-dressed cop who vows revenge on the heroin dealers whose lethal trade killed his young daughter - not the local street dealers, but the rich Euroscum at the top of the industry. So he recruits a motley assortment of fellow victims of the drugs trade: an addict, parents who lost their son, a man (Richard Pryor doing serious) who lost his wife, to travel to to Marseilles and murder the drug barons in cold blood....

It's a mercy that the streaming service had a subtitling option. Not because of the scenes with the French drug barons, which don't have subtitles but in the event it doesn't matter (my 34-year-old O-Level was very little help) as the dialogue has no relevance to the plot - rather, it was the scenes in English that required them. Billy Dee Williams, who obviously knew how to speak clearly when he turned up in The Empire Strikes Back, delivers every line in an indistinct mumble that makes Brando at his least comprehensible sound like the bloke who used to narrate the Pathe newsreels, and gives today's practitioners of the art of Advanced Verbal Burbling a masterclass in sounding like he's squeaking through a sock.

Language difficulties aside, Hit! is a bit of a mixed bag: the first half feels like it's going to be another French Connection, while the second is a more enjoyable series of assassinations in which people who aren't trained killers manage to bump off the criminals with little difficulty and no trauma, shock or remorse. (Hey, they're heroin dealers so they deserve it.) But I'd have liked it more if it had skewed more towards Panic In Needle Park and less towards Death Wish, where the amateurs manage to wipe out the professionals for the good of civilised society; that half is certainly more fun but sillier (Williams mysteriously gives himself the hit which involves the most speaking French to French natives, despite the fact that he can't speak French or, indeed, at all). Not a classic, then, but enjoyable in spots and it's nice to finally know what I apparently saw bits of forty years ago.




Well, it looked kind of amusing on the shelf, and what's the worst that can happen? There's nothing wrong with harmless teen frippery and silly PG-rated action movies for the younger crowd, and the kid-friendly genre movies of a generation past weren't any kind of lasting masterpiece either. So long as it's light, fun and rattles along reasonably efficiently and doesn't take too long, its failure to match up to Vertigo or Citizen Kane is hardly a strike against it.

What it doesn't say on the DVD box except in the credits block is that Mission Without Permission is an early lead appearance for Kristen Stewart some four years before the outbreak of Twilight. Little Miss Grumpyknickers stars as an obsessive climber who gets together with two friends to rob a hi-tech bank so she can pay for her dad's life-saving but experimental (and expensive) medical treatment. Her mother (Jennifer Beals) just happens to have been hired by the bank to install a foolproof and impregnable security system which cannot possibly be circumvented - unless you're very good at climbing and have a computer hacker accomplice who can also face down the attack dogs, and another who can customise a set of go-karts to slip under the security shutters...

Surprisingly it's directed by Bart Freundlich, who started out with the dreary family drama The Myth Of Fingerprints which I can still remember drifting sleepwards halfway through. Mission Without Permission is twaddle of course, but it's inoffensive twaddle, nobody gets hurt, and it's over and done in 90 minutes or so. As a disposable distraction it's adequate enough: the bank manager is an easy boo-hiss villain, Stewart is only on half-sulk rather than the Full-On Bella Mope, and the silliness of the caper makes it a generally palatable enterprise. If I'd paid more than 25p I'd probably feel I hadn't got my money's worth, but then I'm not really the target audience. Retitled from Catch That Kid, for absolutely no reason whatsoever.



Sunday, 19 October 2014



The number of horror films that have had me leaving the lights on overnight has been very small, even over the thirty years that I've been watching horror movies on a pretty regular basis. Splattery gore epics and slashers have never given me sleepless nights, and I don't even think I've ever had a nightmare stemming from a late-night rewatch of The Evil Dead or A Nightmare On Elm Street. But in recent years there have been a welcome few that have seeped back in my mind unbidden, and two of the most effective have been from the James Wan/Leigh Whannell Axis Of Creepiness. And I don't mean the Saw movies. The first Insidious pulled off the effect brilliantly, once in the film itself and then several nights later when I was alone in my flat. And to a lesser extent The Conjuring, which royally creeped me out in the cinema though I didn't suffer afterwards to the same extent.

Annabelle takes the terrifying-looking doll from the opening of The Conjuring, and makes it/her the conduit for an evil spirit looking for a soul. It's 1970 and the expectant Gordons acquire an Annabelle doll, supposedly a rare collector's item but in reality a freaky-looking porcelain nightmare than any faintly sentient person would chuck into a blast furnace before ever bringing it into their house. Then a pair of Mansonite occultists bursts in and attack them, blood gets on the doll and it seems then to be possessed. Spooky stuff starts happening: doors open, rocking chairs move, appliances come on by themselves....

It isn't in the same chilling league as The Conjuring, but it's still pretty creepy while it's on, with nice period detail and one genuinely "can't look, must look" sequence with a near-invisible demon in the basement. Because the Wan/Whannell films locate their horrors in recognisable, mundane realities rather than apocalyptic zombie wastelands or shadowy vampiric castles, they simply suggest that these hauntings, possessions and demonic infestations could as easily happen to you as to the average families in the films. And it works. But for all that, and the obvious nods to Rosemary's Baby (the couple are Mia and Jon Gordon, closely referencing the three stars of the Polanski film) it's not as downright unsettling as Insidious or The Conjuring were. It's a perfectly decent, solid multiplex horror movie, but I didn't really need the lights on afterwards and I don't think there's much further mileage in any more Annabelle movies.




Dear old Jean-Claude Van Damme. Back in the day he was great, with thoroughly enjoyable tough action movies like Sudden Death and Hard Target, or abject silliness like Tsui Hark's Knock Off. (Every Hollywood action star should make at least one film about exploding trousers.) But that was many years ago, and for quite a while now he’s been stuck in direct to video nonsense, none of which is anywhere near as much fun as his glory years. There is also the matter of age, of course: sure, he's obviously in far better shape than I am, but he was 52 when he made this and is approaching the point where he can't do those flying spinning kicks to miscreants' heads any more without the risk of putting his hip out. Still, Van Damme has always had a strange innocence about him, a peculiar charm which other DTV stars like Steven Seagal and Dolph Lundgren never possessed, and he was always oddly watchable. But in all his career, I can’t think of any Van Damme film as thoroughly tiresome as this one.

Welcome To The Jungle is for the most part a dreary and tasteless piece of knockabout comedy about office politics: the staff of an advertising agency are sent off for a team building weekend run by ex military badass Jean Claude Van Damme. But the pilot dies, JCVD is pushed off a cliff by a tiger, and the stranded office workers have to try to stay alive or risk descending into madness that is less Lord Of The Flies and more Cannibal Holocaust, except with more knob jokes. The group split into two: the handful of sane people who actually want to get off the island (including the drippy romantic leads), and everyone else drugged into submission by the Office Bastard, a lecherous scumbag who sets himself up as a tribal god....

It’s fairly obvious from about 2 minutes in that the much abused nice guy and the pretty girl will get together, because everyone else is either an idiot, an arsehole, or both. The humour is pretty basic, most of it isn’t even faintly amusing, and there is something badly wrong with a comedy when Jean Claude Van Damme is providing the (relatively) funniest moments. It’s only because the title was also used for a monumentally boring found footage cannibal movie that this isn’t the worst film ever made called Welcome To The Jungle. But it’s a close run thing. (Also not to be confused with the stupid Dwayne Johnson film that was also known as The Rundown, which was at least tolerable because it had Christopher Walken in it.)




Case for the defence: I am not, and never have been, an S Club fan. I know precisely zero of their songs and am only aware who Hannah Spearitt because she turned up in ITV's fun dinosaur show Primeval, and I honestly wouldn't know the others if I sat next to them on a bus. The only reasons I have this film on DVD are [1] the scriptwriters were Kim Fuller and Paul Alexander, who contributed to the disastrous seventh series of Red Dwarf, and [2] it was on sale for 10p in CEX. That's my story. And in fact, a mere two days after having watched the rampant intergalactic silliness of Seeing Double, I still couldn't name any of their songs because it's literally in one ear and out the other. The music does absolutely nothing for me, but that's the case for most modern pop music; it's just not my thing.

Obviously there's a comparison to be made with Spice World: The Movie, a film that again probably depends more than anything else on whether you like the band. And again, for me they're not good enough for me to go "Wow!" and not awful enough for me to go "Aaargh!"; they're just there. Seeing Double at least has more of a plot than Spice World, albeit a particularly bonkers one: a mad scientist wants to take over the world by cloning pop stars to capture the global teenage market. Bizarrely they've cloned S Club while still leaving the originals alive; they're promptly arrested and locked up because apparently pretending you're in S Club is a criminal offence. They escape, make it back to Los Angeles to find out what's going on and to confront their navel-less duplicates....

There are several songs, dance numbers involving a lot of jigging about and leaping up and down, one irresistible moment when the "real" Hannah wonders whether they are actually the clones rather than the originals, a castle full of lookalikes (apparently including Gareth Gates who [1] I didn't recognise and [2] actually plays himself) and fewer scenes of S Club interacting with their other selves than you might expect - you never really get to See Double. It's a shiny plastic diversion full of pretty people and pretty colours, 87 minutes of harmless and inoffensive silliness that does not linger in the memory. My only real problem is that CEX aren't going to buy it back if it only cost 10p, so one of the local charity shops will eventually find it in their donations box. Lucky them.


Or you could buy it here:

Sunday, 5 October 2014



These days I take a pretty dim view of the marketing of movies that are more than a month away, because I just can't stay excited about something that distant for that long, and the constant hyping of films that aren't yet finished just gets boring after a while. But in the sense that I still look forward to films at all beyond that arbitrary time limit, a new David Fincher thriller is, like a new Mann or De Palma or Tarantino (or even an Argento), something that still piques the interest. Even though Fincher has been off the boil of late, with his entirely redundant stab at The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and the tiresome The Social Network (sorry, but I'm incapable of giving a toss about smug millionaires squabbling over a website), you still hope. You hope in the way that Argento has another Tenebrae in him or De Palma another Dressed To Kill, that Fincher has another Se7en. Hell, you'll settle for another Alien 3 at this point.

Well, maybe he has, but not this time around: Gone Girl is alright, but not much more than that and it ends up as a disappointment. Has Ben Affleck murdered his wife Rosamund Pike and then made it look like an abduction, or has she genuinely been taken? Initially it does look like a simple disappearance, but gradually it seems that he may not be as innocent as he seems: the life insurance, the credit cards, the accusations of domestic violence in her diary. As Affleck's protestations grow ever less believable with every new revelation - not least his affair with one of his teenage students - and the media circus swarms around him, will the real truth ever come out?

I haven't read the book, but judging from the conversation between a couple of ladies behind me as I left the cinema, it sounds like it generally sticks fairly close. It's enjoyably twisty fare, playing with your loyalties between wifebeating, adulterous husband and treacherous, deceitful wife, and I liked spending the first chunk of the movie not sure whose side I was on. Still, mine not to spoil, but neither side of the central marital conflict comes out blameless: eventually I skewed towards Team Affleck, not because of any idiotic notion of gender solidarity but because Team Pike's crimes ultimately seem far more serious, even though she's far more interesting a character than he is. And the ending seems to punish him more than her, which felt unfair given what she'd done, and thus unsatisfying. It's difficult to detail the occasional plot niggles without revealing significant plot details, but it did leave me wondering how long it would be before certain supporting characters came forward and exposed the whole pack of lies (specifically, people who should have recognised Rosamund Pike).

Matters might have been helped if Fincher had hired one of his old composers like Howard Shore or Elliot Goldenthal to write the soundtrack: proper film composers who know the difference between a bassoon and a farting horse. Instead he's gone with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who don't. Rather than actual music, they've provided another tedious dronescape that gives the film precisely zero dramatic support, is sometimes actively distracting, and has the musical qualities of listening to some dial-up modems and old fridges. If you come out of the cinema humming the Gone Girl soundtrack people will just assume you've got some kind of bowel disorder. I've actually listened to most of the soundtrack album playing on Spotify since seeing the film and it took about 15 minutes for a genuinely recognisable musical sound to show up: a piano, and that piano line is doing nothing remarkable. A bolder and much more imaginative choice (and a choice scarcely less harmful to the drama) would have been to have no score at all.

It's smart, it looks great and it's also well played: I usually like Rosamund Pike anyway and she's got a lot to do here, and the big surprise is seeing Tyler Perry, best known for dressing up as an old woman in at least a dozen Madea movies that haven't been released in the UK and that pointless Alex Cross movie, stealing the best moments as a defence lawyer. One can understand the 18 certificate given one scene in particular, which harks back to Basic Instinct in its mix of sex and violence, and there's a sudden burst of "very strong language" (the C-word) towards the end which felt a little out of place, but much of the time it's fairly measured and serious and makes you wonder again how The Equalizer got away with a 15. The running time may look daunting, but it's well paced and I don't mind a hefty length of 149 minutes if it's from a director who knows what he's doing (a Uwe Boll film that runs for two and a half hours is not an appetising prospect). Overall I kind of liked the movie while still feeling disappointed with it: it's good but not great, worth seeing but there are annoyances in there.


Tuesday, 30 September 2014



Without wanting to sound like a broken record, but this is yet another example of the BBFC showing grotesque leniency to a distributor who's asked for a lower certificate, and who's got it after frankly insignificant trims to a couple of moments from a film that's positively awash with blood and slaughter. There is no way on Earth that this spectacularly violent action thriller, far more graphic and sweary than the still-18 rated Die Hard, should have got away with a 15 since the minimal cuts have by definition placed it right on the dividing line between 15 and 18. Distributors should grow some balls and accept the adults-only rating that comes with an adults-only film, and the BBFC should remember that their job is not to issue meaningless certificates just to make the studios richer. It's not really an issue that the cuts have neutered the film - if you can spot the edits in amidst the remaining carnage you've a better eye than mine - but there does seem to be a growing obsession with getting audiences into films which are patently unsuitable for them.

Nominally it's based on the 1980s TV show with Edward Woodward: here The Equalizer is Denzel Washington, apparently an ordinary guy working in the US equivalent of Homebase. He's friendly, helpful, but keeps to himself....until a teenage girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) he occasionally chats to in an all-night diner gets beaten up and, as a "knight in a world without knights" (his literature choices aren't the subtlest signposts of the way the film's going), he feels a growing need to intervene. This ultimately means taking on, and taking down, most of the Russian Mafia, with the final showdown in Homebase amidst its shelves of barbed wire, drills and blowtorches....

All this is good nasty fun with a healthy dose of the kind of graphic violence we don't tend to get in movies any more, and I enjoyed it immensely. Sometimes you get a Denzel Washington badass action movie that's really bloody and not very good - Man On Fire for one - but even though this one takes a while to get going, preferring to spend its time establishing character (to the extent that one of his revenge missions takes place entirely offscreen; we just see him put the hammer back on the shelf afterwards), it's well put together, and nicely shot with an old-fashioned feel about it. Sure, it's not much of an intellectual piece: the villains are all nasty evil hateful murderous boo-hiss scum with not a likable corpuscle between them, and there's no surprise twist in the plot because there's barely a plot to start with.

Perhaps, if you're a bit of a beard-stroking Guardianista, you could also take issue with the film's gender representation. Of the five female speaking roles, two are hookers for whom things go extremely badly (one is played by Chloe Grace Moretz who, let's remember, is only seventeen), two of the others are supporting non-hooker victims, and the fifth merely provides a chunk of exposition. But this isn't a film for wet liberal sensibilities: it's a film for people who want to watch Denzel Washington hurt a lot of people with DIY implements, and marking it down for its attitude to the ladies is like knocking a star off Four Weddings And A Funeral for its lack of running chainsaws. As a grim, needlessly violent exploitation movie with lots of dead people and kill shots that would have made it a video nasty a generation ago, I enjoyed it far more than I suppose I should have.


Sunday, 28 September 2014



I know this has the whiff of heresy about it, but to my mind David Cronenberg hasn't done a really interesting film in a very long time, and a genuinely great one in even longer. There are two bona fide masterpieces in his back catalogue: The Fly and Videodrome, but since then his films have been getting more cerebral and more intellectual but far less emotionally rewarding. Oh, I know a lot of people raved about A History Of Violence and Eastern Promises (neither of which I thought were the classics everyone claimed), but Cosmopolis was tedious, wilfully obtuse drivel and A Dangerous Method needed far more in the way of of Keira Knightley shrieking and pulling grotesque faces and far less in the way of middle-aged blokes talking earnestly about the human mind. So, given that I've generally lost interest in Cronenberg since he forsook his gloopy horrors (Shivers is probably my favourite of those early films) in favour of dreary conversation pieces, the arrival of a new David Cronenberg film no longer appeals. And sadly that extends even to a David Cronenberg film set in Hollywood and boasting a dreaded 18 certificate.

Maps To The Stars is really two movies conjoined. One is an uncomfortable satire of insecure and neurotic movie types, most of whom could frankly do with being hit by a bus: ageing and fading star Julianne Moore haunted by her more famous mother, repulsive child star Evan Bird just out of rehab, pushy star mom Olivia Williams, nonsense-spouting shrink John Cusack. The last three of these are parents and child; into their lives comes long-estranged Mia Wasikowska, who proceeds to exact a psychological revenge on everyone....

With a narrative that includes drugs (medical and other), incest, child abuse, frank sex scenes and murder, Maps To The Stars doesn't lack for incident. But the trouble is that Cronenberg is so cold and remote that the whole film can't come to life. If the portrait of Hollywood as a sewer full of shallow basket cases and babbling infants is supposed to be comedic (which I'm not entirely sure about), it doesn't work: either this is normal SOP for movie people or they're beyond parody anyway. And then there's stuff which I just don't want to see: specifically Julianne Moore on the lavatory straining to poo. It's not exactly a plot point or a moment of character delineation, and has no business being there unless you're really interested in fart sounds.

Some might argue, of course, that Julianne Moore doing lavatory scenes, hands-on massage therapy in her underwear or nude FFM threesome scenes is "brave" and "fearless" acting. Me, I just think these are things I really don't want to see - and it's not that Moore is 53 years old: I don't want to look at, say, Juno Temple or the Olsen twins on the toilet either. Such images are not even best left to the imagination, but blanked completely, and Cronenberg (or anyone else) taking me there makes me very uncomfortable. Maps To The Stars is a better film than Cosmopolis, on the grounds that [1] Scooby-Doo: The Movie is a better film than Cosmopolis and [2] there is at least a narrative thread to events, even if it gets absurd towards the end, with one character in particular removed from proceedings in the most ludicrous manner. Again, as with Woody Allen and the "early funny ones", Cronenberg's "early nasty ones" are much more watchable, much more interesting and - again assuming Maps To The Stars is at heart a comedy - much more enjoyable.


Friday, 26 September 2014



Well, it's not the worst thing Paul WS Anderson, aka The One Who Isn't Paul Thomas Anderson, has made (that would be Mortal Kombat, of course), but it's still a long way off his best work. It's no Event Horizon, it's certainly no Death Race, and it's not even up there with his instalments of the increasingly deranged Resident Evil series. In the silliness stakes we're more in the ballpark of The Three Musketeers: a handsomely enough done historical, but nothing more than a breathtakingly silly romp. This is piffle, tosh and tommyrot on a colossal scale that follows the dreaded template of Titanic and Pearl Harbour: an opening stretch of blubbery schoolgirl mush and boo-hiss villainy followed by an orgy of spectacular CGI carnage and destruction.

Pompeii starts somewhere in the wilds of Northern Britain, with evil boo-hiss Roman centurion Kiefer Sutherland wiping out the Celtic Horse Tribes because they're blocking his trade routes. The sole survivor grows up to be top fighter Kit Harington, known only as The Celt and possessed of a six-pack you could bounce a grapefruit off. En route from Rome to Pompeii, his horse whispering skills and rippling muscles catch the eye of landed gentry Emily Browning, but he's condemned to gladiatorial combat in the Arena, and she has already snared the unwelcome attentions of Kiefer Sutherland, now an evil boo-hiss Roman senator who may invest in Pompeii's civic refurbishments - at a price. And occasionally, Vesuvius has a bit of a rumble.

It's almost exactly an hour before she finally blows, and we get the earth tremors, the flaming boulders, the burning rocks, the tidal waves, the clouds of ash and so on that we've been hoping would turn up and stop the Mills And Boon blither, and that's the point when it kicks in to life and we get half an hour or so of burning death and pyroclastic mayhem (perfectly acceptable in 2D, and it doesn't look like 3D would have added significantly). Terrible dialogue in English accents, Sutherland clearly having fun as a monumental bastard in a toga, plenty of demented slaughter in the Arena: it's too much I'm Spartacus and not enough I'm On Fire. It's a stupid film and it's not a very good one, but it is kind of fun.





For some reason I didn't see this new thriller at this year's FrightFest. It may well have been something to do with the trailer, which gave the impression that it was heavy on the found-footage style (which of course I loathe), much of the imagery apparently coming from lo-def security cameras. In the event, of course, it was nothing of the kind: it does incorporate surveillance and camcorder material but it's all within a "regular" movie context. However, the film has arrived on the home video market with some speed, whereas the films it clashed with in the festival's Discovery screens have sadly yet to obtain any kind of UK release.

The Last Showing is a pretty generic horror movie title for a frankly pretty generic movie, but it does give the legendary Robert Englund another stab at horror movie maniachood that's as radically different from Freddy Krueger as Freddy was from harmless alien Willie from V. He's Stuart Lloyd, a buttoned-up British projectionist in a soulless multiplex facing the switchover to digital and the end of celluloid: on his last night he uses the cinema's surveillance camera network, manipulating his last couple of cinemagoers with onscreen messages, to put together a "horror film" of his own....

Sadly, the plot doesn't hang together as there are too many factors beyond the maniac's control, not the least of which is that everything hinges on the girl wanting snacks that can be easily drugged. It also hinges on the cinema manager being unable to convince the hero he isn't the villain, and the hero (who has presumably never even held a handgun in his life) managing a clean kill with one shot, More crucially, it requires that a town the size of Ellesmere Port (the film was shot in their 12-screen Vue Cheshire Oaks) can only muster up two customers interested in a midnight screening of, of all things, Wes Craven's The Hills Have Eyes Part 2; one more ticket sold and the villain's plan won't work.

I generally like movies set in cinemas - Demons, Midnight Movie, even The Majestic - and this one uses its setting well. Taking place in one location with five speaking parts (one doesn't turn up until the last reel and another two are taken out of the action for some time) it's a decent example of getting the maximum out of very limited resources. It's also nice to see a film willing to acknowledge the projection problems that come with digital, as no-one seems willing (or qualified) to fix things like incorrect aspect ratios on electronic projectors. Against that, casual mention in the dialogue of the very real tragedies on the sets of The Crow and especially Twilight Zone: The Movie as villainous motivation strikes a sour note in what is basically a disposable Saturday night rental starring that guy from A Nightmare On Elm Street. Not awful, and fun enough while it's on, but once you start thinking about it afterwards it does unfortunately fall apart.



Tuesday, 23 September 2014



Say what you like about fighty German trash auteur Uwe Boll, he likes to cast an unflinching eye on a wide range of important social issues. In Seed, for example, he looks at the darkness of the immortal and unstoppable serial killer, while in Postal he looks at 9/11, Nazi death camps and comedy dwarfs. In Rampage, he looks at shooting sprees and the laxity of the gun laws in modern America, in Darfur he looks at the African genocide phenomenon, and in Blubberella he looks at the concept of a Nazi-killing female superhero with an eating disorder. Whatever it is, Boll looks.

This time around, Boll turns his attention to the banking crisis and the rich-poor divide. Everyman security guard Jim (Dominic Purcell) suddenly sees his life falling apart as the financial collapse that not only wipes out all his investments but leaves him with impossible debts: he loses his terminally ill wife (in the most absurdly melodramatic of circumstances), his job and his house, leaving him with nothing. Except a high powered sniper rifle and a righteous fury within him...

There is obviously room for a caustic commentary on America's financial institutions: how billionaire bankers lost everybody's money but they still get to keep their yachts and expensive mansions while the small investors end up losing their life savings, their pensions, and everything they've worked for. But Assault On Wall Street isn't it. Uwe Boll is not interested in dissecting Wall Street in a coolly analytical manner, he's interested in a childish revenge fantasy of violent wish fulfilment in which all the bankers are brutally murdered at their desks.

And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that as a concept for a film. The trouble is that it takes over an hour before our hero finally starts fighting back, and the inevitable rampage of bloody violence is confined to the last reel of the film. It's a satisfying payoff, it just takes far too long to get there. However, there is a suggestion this could lead to a sequel, which means this functions more as an extended origins story for a vigilante superhero, and Assault On Wall Street 2 can start murdering investment bankers and hedge fund managers pretty much from the opening credits.

Which is no less stupid than this film, but it might be more fun. This is typical Uwe Boll: guest appearances by familiar faces slumming it (Eric Roberts, Keith David, the inevitable Michael Pare), a hardon for senseless violence, and the whole thing really not being very good. Boll isn't actually a particularly terrible film maker (go watch some Al Adamson films and then come back and tell me Uwe Boll is the worst director in the world), but he's no Oliver Stone or Martin Scorsese in the Wall Street movie stakes.


Sunday, 21 September 2014



Here is yet another example of a film distributor colluding with the BBFC in order to obtain a certificate which is grossly and grotesquely inappropriate for the content and context of the film. There is no way that an Expendables movie should be anything other than a 15 certificate at the very outside; indeed, given the sheer amount of carnage, as well as its casual throwaway nature, one really feels it should be worthy of an 18. But they want the teenie dollar and if that means artistic compromise (inasmuch as an Expendables film has any significant artistry in the first place), then what the hell? At this rate it wouldn’t surprise me if the guest star in The Expendables 4 was Buzz Lightyear.

In addition to turning the violence down to a point where unaccompanied eight year olds can watch it, Sylvester Stallone and the producers have also sought to capture the youth market by reducing the average age of the cast up to somewhere below ninety. Granted, they’ve brought in a shaky-looking 72-year-old Harrison Ford to replace Bruce Willis, who’s only 59 but apparently wanted too much money, but the other regulars (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Albert Steptoe) are sidelined for much of the time. Initially the oldsters are on what looks like a routine interception mission, but once it turns out that the chief villain is Mel Gibson, Stallone fires his crew and hires fresher, younger blood. Inevitably it doesn’t go according to plan and the oldsters have to get back together and rescue them...

All of this is perfectly enjoyable as these things go: lots of explosions, lots of anonymous, faceless henchmen cheerily thought bloodlessly mown down, elderly men beating the tar out of each other and the occasional funny line. In terms of mayhem and destruction The Expendables III is good crash bang wallop popcorn knockabout. But the issue of the 12A will not go away and the knowledge that this film is available to children sits very uncomfortably. Surely it's better that impressionable children are taught the true horrific consequences of violence, and not sold it as a family friendly entertainment in which most of the people indiscriminately murdered are not even given the courtesy of a close-up to suggest they might actually be real human beings rather than a collection of pixels from Call Of Duty? I really do feel the BBFC have their hat on backwards on this issue.




One of the things we appear to have lost in recent years, as studios apparently concentrate exclusively on massive quarter of a billion dollar superhero behemoths, is the old fashioned midrange crime thriller, the film aimed at adults (as in grown-ups rather than dirty old men) rather than clueless and easily distracted teenagers. Once upon a time of movies were principally made for mature audiences rather than families and children; now it's the other way round and in all honesty the industry is worse for the switch. Don't get me wrong: I'm all in favour of the mindless 12A blockbuster if it's done well enough; but it's nice to find that once in a while they still make films aimed slightly higher than whizzbang eye candy.

A Walk Among The Tombstones turns out to be just such a film: a grim, serious lowlife crime thriller which has no interest in easy popcorn thrills, instead of choosing to explore the seamy, grimy side of pre-millennial New York. Liam Neeson is the hard boiled world weary former cop turned unofficial private eye, called in by sleazy trafficker Dan Stevens to track down the hideous psychopaths who kidnapped, and then murdered, his wife. As he digs through the tenuous leads, he discovers that it's happened before - and will probably happen again...

It's not a great film: for one thing Neeson ends up as a reluctant mentor to a street kid (Brian 'Astro' Bradley - best known for being an X factor contestant), and for another pretty much everyone in the movie is an unsympathetic individual for whom it's difficult to raise much empathy. (The female roles are almost exclusively victims.) But I liked the downbeat feel of the film, the washed out colours, the fact that the plot is perfectly happy to place young children in mortal danger, and the sometimes vicious level of violence.

Having said that, it's a pity that the distributors elected to try and water down the film by making a few trims (for very strong language and a scene of sexualised threat) in order to obtain a 15 certificate. Quite apart from the fact that this is quite clearly an adult film for adult audiences and should be rated as such, this means it's a very strong 15: as close as possible to an 18 without actually being burdened with one. Personally I feel the released version is still worthy of an 18, just as the sanitised A Good Day To Die Hard still warranted a restrictive 15 rather than a cuddly 12A. No matter: those small excisions don't get in the way of a grim, sordid but still darkly enjoyable thriller. Worth seeing.


Monday, 15 September 2014



First off, I'm probably not the principal target audience for this. The novel appears to be classified as Young Adult, and I'm neither, and the central character is yet again a teenage girl. But on the other hand I'm a fan of apocalypse movies and "empty world" stories (The Day Of The Triffids, The Omega Man), so anything in which The Bomb goes off or 99% of the population are otherwise disposed of pretty swiftly is usually okay with me. However, in this case there's a struggle to find the right tone between the teenie romance and the horrors of post-nuke Britain, and I don't think they've entirely found it.

Essentially How I Live Now is a cross between The Famous Five and Threads: Daisy (Saoirse Ronan) has been reluctantly shipped off to cousins somewhere in Norfolk and is having a generally rotten time until she sees her strapping neighbour: sensitive, kind, good with animals. But then the endless games in the hazy summer countryside are brought rudely to a halt by unidentified extremists exploding a nuclear weapon in London. Rather than face evacuation, they decide to stay where they are, until the Army turn up and take them away to farms and military training camps. Daisy and her youngest cousin plan their escape back to the farmhouse, through the woods and the horrors of war....

It's difficult to reconcile the idyllic rural larking about (there is very little adult presence in the film) and hesitant relationship of the first half hour with scenes such as Daisy working through a courtyard full of corpses to see if her cousins are there. There's enough horrific imagery in the film to guarantee the 15 certificate that cuts out that YA/"tweenie" demographic (there's also a smattering of F-words, and a curious, very brief and entirely unnecessary nude dream sequence). It's also a very quick series of about-changes for her character: from her sullen, unsocial arrival when she's actually more interesting, through love-struck teen (a change apparently brought about by nothing more than being pushed into the river) to gritty survivalist prepared to kill.

Still, in spite of it never quite getting the tone right, I rather enjoyed How I Live Now: it conveys enough of the possible chaos and massive disruption to everyday English life to make it plausibly chilling, and frankly to keep a 50-year-old bloke like me interested when the drippy teen stuff kicks in. I can't remember why I didn't catch it on its cinema release, though, as it's generally the sort of thing I go for. I'd be surprised if I come back to it any time soon, but I liked it well enough.



Sunday, 7 September 2014



They say the essence of drama is conflict. Maybe it's a conflict of interests, a clash of loyalties, a battle of wills between opposing personalities or philosophies, or just a straight up fight between the good guys and the bad guys. Whichever, a movie in which everybody gets along quite happily and nobody gets into an argument or starts a fight is liable to be pretty boring and uninteresting. So there has to be something: a difference of opinion, rivalry, simmering secrets, long suppressed emotions.... Fine. But there are worlds between human emotional conflict and simply bellowing insults and abuse at one another.

August: Osage County is quite definitely the latter: a film in which a family get together and shout bile and vitriol across the dinner table because hatred and cruelty is the only way these people know how to communicate. Here we have Meryl Streep as an alcoholic, pill popping old bat, fast approaching senility, whose three feisty/tiresome (delete as appropriate) daughters and assorted partners and children all descend on the house when granddad Sam Shepard disappears. It then turns out he's dead, so they all have to hang around a few more days for the funeral, and it's during this period that Meryl and eldest daughter Julia Roberts go for each other and in the process rip the whole family to pieces...

None of the targets of the rancid viciousness ever do the sensible thing and simply walk away, nor did anyone think to bring a firearm which would have stopped the infantile squabbling immediately. Frankly, if this was my house the people responsible would be shown the door in zero seconds flat, quashing the atrocious behaviour the moment it starts, but not here. These are horrible, horrible people: cruel, nasty, mean-spirited, profoundly unlovable even if they're family, and no reason is given as to why an audience should be expected to pay good money to spend any time with them at all.

It is impossible to deny that the film is well written and well played, with meaty roles for the cast to work with. In addition to Roberts and Streep, you get Juliette Lewis, Benedict Cumberbatch and Chris Cooper: performers it's always good to see evening movies which aren't necessarily very good. Maybe it would have worked in the theatre where it originated: theatre has often been described as "shouting of an evening" and there is a lot of shouting at the back of the stalls going on here. There's also incest, drug addiction, broken marriages, infidelity, racism, even a soupcon of paedophilia: in short an amalgam of the kind of subjects that win Oscars. Because this is one of those films that comes along every year when the studios think they should seen as Serious Artists examining and exploring the human condition, rather than just a bunch of money grubbing charlatans putting some shiny hunks in silly superhero costumes and having them beat each other around the head in 3D for a quarter of a billion dollars a time. Frankly, give me Captain America or The Mighty Thor, because those guys are at least fun to be around and that beats a shiny statuette on the mantelpiece any day of the week.


Shut up! No, you shut up! No, YOU shut up!!!

Friday, 5 September 2014



Well, it's a horrible film. Will that do? No? Right then, deep breath: it's a crass, charmless, vile, tedious and depressing parade of cheery misogynist sleaze aimed squarely at the kind of pathetic maladjusted wanker who gets off on watching naked women being (in no particular order) tortured, slapped, starved, chained up, humiliated, dismembered, brutalised, and decapitated (or otherwise killed), pass the popcorn. It's one of the most famous grindhouse splatter titles of the 1970s: a straight tits and gore offering with absolutely no artistic or aesthetic merit whatsoever, that's somehow survived on the strength of its titles (it's also known as The Incredible Torture Show, a hilarious joke for acronym buffs) and its balls-out refusal to balk at anything on the grounds of questionable taste.

Moralistic? Censorious? Try bored to tears. In as much as Blood Sucking Freaks (yes, it is three words) has a plot, it concerns a grotty New York Grand Guignol show in which naked women are tortured and killed: third-rate MC and white slavery tycoon "The Great Sardu" takes issue with a theatre critic unimpressed with the show, so abducts him to appear in his forthcoming self-composed ballet that will climax with his onstage murder. He also kidnaps a ballerina to take the lead role, whether she wants to or not. In between all this, he and his dwarf sidekick abuse and maim some of the naked women he keeps locked up in the basement.

Look, I enjoy the occasional torture movie. I love the Saw movies and the first two Hostels. And I know that you couldn't make a grindhouse exploitation movie in the 1970s without boobs and pubes because that's what they were for. It was a different time; we don't do that sort of thing now but we did then. But that's only a historical justification: we stopped it and that's a change for the better, the way we stopped burning witches and sending children up chimneys. To see something as tiresome as Blood Sucking Freaks dug up after nearly forty years and presented to us now as an entertainment frankly feels as wrong as a DVD boxset of The Black And White Minstrel Show. It's a product of its time and that time has gone. Quentin Tarantino and Frank Henenlotter can wax nostalgic over 42nd Street fleapits and inner-city triple bills of cheap garbage as much as they like, but the sad fact is that watching these films a generation later is just not a rewarding experience: later grindhouse movies like Henenlotter's Basket Case and Abel Ferrara's Fear City are far better glimpses of that world.

Given the amount of violence dished merrily out to - let us not forget - naked women, it's surprising the film has been waved through the BBFC without so much as a trim. They're obviously going through a lenient patch right now, as the deeply upsetting Nekromantik sailed through as well. (Yet at the same time, a film as generally restrained, and substantially better, as Axelle Carolyn's Soulmate gets pulled up!) It's almost beside the point that the performances in Blood Sucking Freaks are uniformly terrible, the plot is stupid and the music score is an abomination; indeed, it wouldn't be an authentic grindhouse film without them. That's no defence: it's a thoroughly horrible, mean-spirited and technically shoddy piece of sadistic softcore with no redeeming features. Despicable.


Tuesday, 2 September 2014



Let's get the technicalities out of the way first, shall we? Firstly, and ungrammatically, this is two films. It/they has/have two separate entries on the IMDb, two separate BBFC certificates, and separate credit rolls on each of the two discs. That they come packaged together on BluRay makes no difference. Like Kill Bill, this may be two parts of a larger whole, but the only real difference is that they were made and released at the same time rather than two or three years apart.

Secondly: the onscreen title does indeed replace the letter O in Nymphomaniac with open and close brackets, because, you know, it then looks a bit like a vagina and that's pretty much what the film is all about. Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) finds Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) lying in a back alley after a savage beating: he takes her home and looks after her, in return for which she tells him her entire life story which we see in merciless gynaecological detail. From her early years seducing random men into railway lavatories through her literally countless physical relationships, her post-natal inability to be sexually satisfied and her experiments with bondage, punishment and interracial threesomes, we are spared nothing over the four hour running time.

In addition to the unflinching nudity and explicit sex sequences, we also get a surprisingly big name cast indulging in what would ordinarily be described as absolute filth were the film not from one of the major names in arthouse cinema. Though some of the actual hardcore footage is achieved by a combination of digital trickery and porn performers, we still get Shia LaBoeuf and Jamie Bell appearing in particularly graphic scenes of sexual activity, while Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe, Connie Nielsen and Christian Slater show up in non-bonking sequences.

All very well, but is it actually any good? Well, I actually quite enjoyed it, which certainly makes a change from the last two Lars Von Trier films I sat through: Melancholia was occasionally beautiful but mostly highly annoying, while Antichrist was just bunk. This is the third and final part of Von Trier's so-called Trilogy Of Depression and it's the lightest and least offputting. One particular scene has Uma Thurman's freshly spurned wife turning up at Joe's apartment to show her children around her errant husband's new love nest, which frankly feels as though it's from a different film entirely. Maybe he'll do a nice uplifting comedy or superhero epic now? Elsewhere, Seligman's intellectual responses to Joe's stories seem to be attempting to link sex to everything from Bach fugues to fly fishing, which all lead to a nice character reveal towards the end before a final payoff which I frankly didn't buy at all.

To be honest I don't think Nymphomaniac needs to be four hours long - at least 30 minutes could have been cut out of the final stretch without any great loss to the film - and whilst Stacy Martin as the young Joe certainly looks exceedingly nice naked, I can't help feeling that the line into pornography is not just been stepped over but merrily somersaulted over in zero gravity. Really, the characters should be more interesting with their clothes on than off, and if they're not then you're just watching Debbie Does Dallas or Girls Gone Wild or similar. For all that's wrong with Nymphomaniac - grotesque overlength, a needless and occasionally wearing interest in genitals, Shia LaBoeuf's dubious English accent, and one horrible moment where it looks like it's going to reprise the opening to Antichrist - I found it to be surprisingly enjoyable, and enjoyably surprising. Worth seeing, but wait till your mum's gone out for the evening.





For many years it appeared as though the secret of the genuinely scary film had been lost. Instead of subtle, understated creepiness we got sudden loud bangs; instead of a steadily building atmosphere of terror we got grossout gore. Which I don't mind at all: I'm more than happy with any combination of well timed jump scares and explicit splatter. But I'm also just as happy that in recent years there has been a trend in horror cinema for the creepy and scary rather than simply shouting Boo! and waving offal at the camera. Sinister, Insidious and The Conjuring are probably the most high profile examples in recent years, but there have been a few direct to video examples such as The Last Will And Testament Of Rosalind Leigh and Lake Mungo.

Two brand new films, not yet available in the UK (in fact, not even on the release schedules) exemplify this modern trend. The Canal (Irish, although the police are never referred to as the Garda) and the British The Sleeping Room are both low-budget films with very small casts, but there is unsettling creepiness to spare. In both films, hideous murders from the past reverberate down through the years: The Sleeping Room centres on the relationship between a young prostitute and her client who is renovating a former Brighton brothel in which unspeakable crimes were committed, while in The Canal a young family move into a house where - surprise surprise - unspeakable crimes were committed. In both cases, those crimes are set to be re-enacted....

By chance, both films also feature the use of now obsolete media: 35mm film stock in The Canal, and a What The Butler Saw mutoscope in The Sleeping Room. I'm always creeped out in a horror film when something shows up on film that wasn't there before, and it's nicely done in The Canal. Of the two, I think The Sleeping Room is the slightly better film: I enjoyed it more and found the characters deeper and more interesting. This is not to suggest The Canal isn't any good; I still found it pleasurably creepy in a way which, as mentioned, we don't tend to see very often. Both movies are worth tracking down if and when they ever turn up (I understand The Canal is scheduled for an American release), but for me The Sleeping Room has the edge.


Monday, 1 September 2014



It's been nine years since the original Sin city: the unashamedly violent and visually stunning pulp noir anthology which put comic strip imagery onto the screen in an innovative and stylish way. Directors Frank Miller (who wrote the original graphic novel) and Robert Rodriguez have now returned, though without the original's guest director Quentin Tarantino, for this more-of-the-same follow-up mixing new and returning characters in that same terrific visual palette of harsh black and white with stabs of occasional colour.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For flips between two principal stories: firstly the treacherous and frequently naked femme fatale Eva Green's plot to bump off her husband and let her hapless ex Josh Brolin take the fall, and secondly evil senator Powers Boothe's merciless retaliation after being thoroughly routed in a high stakes poker game by God Of Gamblers Joseph Gordon Levitt. Mickey Rourke, Jessica Alba and Bruce Willis all return (the last as a ghost since he died at the end of the first film, although so did Rourke, thereby completely messing up the timeline of both movies).

Whilst I certainly wouldn't want the films' signature look to become a mainstream technique every other week, I still like it enough to be more than perfectly happy to see it come around once a decade. Sin City: A Dame To Kill For isn't anything new and it isn't anything radically different from the first film; it is very much more of the same. Which is fine by me, but that's probably enough now.




Nothing to do with Marino Girolami's silly but passably entertaining Zombie Holocaust, this gory New Zealand splatter comedy plays strictly for laughs throughout, echoing early Peter Jackson and the less morally offensive output from Troma rather than serious horror films. It has a few digs at the genre movie industry, a sweetly clumsy romance, the occasional bit of genuinely gruesome bad taste horror (specifically a penis visual), and it is obviously trying. Sadly it doesn't entirely work.

Fresh out of film school, hapless but enthusiastic nerd Wesley is hired as a runner and general whipping boy on the set of a clearly terrible low-budget zombie movie. He is, of course, bullied and humiliated, falling in love with the catering girl in the process, while trying to get his own zombie movie script read by the tyrannical director. But all the low-budget movie fakery suddenly turns very real as genuine zombies turn up for unspecified reasons, surrounding the film crew with the actual walking dead....

The characters are all very broadly drawn, from the ridiculously muscular idiot lead and the ridiculously shouty director through to the ridiculously horrible prima donna actress. Except for Wesley himself, that is: his nerd-lite hero is closer to the bumbling innocent of Peter Jackson's Braindead than a frankly offensive depiction such as, say, The Toxic Avenger's Melvin (a characterisation of nerdiness that comes dangerously close to mocking the mentally handicapped).

It is intermittently amusing, and some of the gory highlights are suitably horrible. But just being intermittently amusing really isn't enough these days and making gags about horror movies is something you can only get away with in the context of a really good horror movie. Wes Craven's Scream can pull it off, while a piece of injoke laden hackwork like Hack! really cannot. Sadly, I Survived A Zombie Holocaust is a long way behind Scream: not completely at the other end of the scale, but too far away to really be able to get away with it. Not entirely terrible, but not really good enough.


Wednesday, 27 August 2014



Easily my favourite film of FrightFest 2014, Nacho Vigalondo's audacious hi-tech real-time thriller is also one of the best films of the year so far and it's a pity there doesn't seem to be a UK release on the horizon. One hopes, because for the most part it's gripping as hell, visually stylish despite being shot entirely through webcams, cellphones and security cameras, and horrifying in its suggestions of what a determined individual can do with computers. Granted, it does take its foot off the gas in the last twenty minutes or so, losing tension rather than cranking it up even more, but even so it's a treat. Oh, and it's all done in one single shot.

Not really, of course. Technically, Open Windows is one unblinking stare at the laptop display of webmaster Elijah Wood, in town to interview top movie star Sasha Grey for his fansite. He's suddenly contacted online by Neil Maskell and informed the interview is cancelled - but he can still obtain lots of juicy information by installing a few tools to hack into her cellphone and access all her conversations, such as the imminent meeting with her agent in a hotel room. But things get complicated when the agent spots him, and Wood ends up forced to take physical action...

Much of the first hour or more, with Vigalondo's camera roaming over the various displays on Wood's desktop, makes for a dazzling extended split-screen sequence that overshadows even vintage Brian De Palma, not least because the multiple viewpoints technique doesn't just last for a couple of minutes like the setpieces in Blow Out or Sisters, but just keeps going throughout the whole film. He even manages to include a car chase! It's a pity that the film feels the need to put in extra plot twists that diffuse the excitement towards the end, bringing into question who Wood and Maskell really are, and raising the stakes far above the apparently pointless harassment of a hot movie star, because for my money it was already exciting enough at that level.

Sure, the technology on display is far-fetched. Seeing through concrete walls? Where are the popups telling Wood that he can't open this link until he installs a software upgrade? Or the "Buffering: 17%" messages? How come his internet connection never goes down or his laptop battery doesn't run out at an inopportune moment? But that doesn't matter: it's all a dramatic device to tell the story, no more representative of reality than the absurd forensic technogubbins you see every week on CSI. And for at least 80% of Open Windows it works brilliantly. I want to see it again.