Wednesday, 28 May 2014



Whatever you're doing, stop it right his minute and go and watch The Apple: a 1980 hippie musical very vaguely based around the book of Genesis, from the director of The Delta Force, and which honestly deserves to be far better known. For at least twenty minutes afterwards I could barely form any coherent statement beyond "What the hell was that?"; I watched it shortly after Konga, the endearingly silly British monster movie in which mad scientist Michael Gough turns a chimpanzee into a (sub-Godzilla man-in-a-rubber-suit) gorilla to kill off his enemies, and even that didn't prepare me for the astonishing lunacy of Menahem Golan's futuristic comedy musical full of fantasy sequences, wildly extravagant disco dance routines, and costumes that make the 1980 Flash Gordon look like a particularly drab edition of Newsnight.

In the future (1994, anyway), the world is pretty much ruled by the Boogalow International Music corporation, run by Satan in the guise of music agent Mr Boogalow (Vladek Sheybal, probably best known as the evil mastermind in From Russia With Love). In contrast to his regime of slick but empty pop numbers, he encounters a duo singing simple but heartfelt love songs: Alphie (George Gilmour in his only screen appearance) wants no part of it but his partner and girlfriend Bibi (Catherine Mary Stewart!) is immediately trapped in the business and becomes the new face of BIM. In a world where it's compulsory to wear BIM stickers on your face and to stop work for BIM-approved exercise routines (even if you're halfway through open heart surgery or putting out a raging fire), can the young lovers get back together and thwart the evil record company?

Much of this is conveyed through a series of slick dance numbers choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe, now best known for rubbishy TV shows like Popstars, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, and they're really the best thing on show given that, as is usual for such things, the romantic leads are wet as cold tripe. Every ten minutes or so everyone starts leaping about in (at least to my dancephobic eyes) immaculately synchronised routines: one has BIM's principal hunk in a spangly jockstrap tempting Bibi with an apple the size of a bowling ball in a fantasy Hell. Another features Grace Kennedy (!) attempting to seduce Alphie through a song called "I'm Coming", with gyrating couples in bed behind them apparently enacting Busby Berkeley's version of Cafe Flesh. Why is this film not better known?

If it's somehow not enough that Vladek Sheybal has a reggae number "How To Be A Master" (he even has a similar goatee to Roger Delgado), Miriam Margolyes turns up out of nowhere as a stereotypical Yiddish momma who not only says the word "meshuggar" at one point but also makes chicken soup. Towards the end, Joss Ackland appears as the leader of a hippie commune hiding under a bridge and then as God, who takes all the hippies away in his flying car. And then it stops and you spend the next half hour trying to work out if your brain still works and just what the hell you just watched.

Generally, I hate musicals and if I never see South Pacific or Mamma Mia that'll be just fine with me. But boy, is this one a blinder. Don't get me wrong, The Apple is terrible: part-Phantom Of The Paradise, part-Eurovision Song Contest, all-nonsense. But I love that it exists and Menahem Golan was able to do it his way without the studio interfering all the time - he was the studio. It's a one-off and we shall not see its like again. Absolutely unbelievable. Now go and find it.




Ignore the suspiciously familiar font on the artwork: even though it came out at exactly the same time, this is not the one with Robert Downey Jr. Nor is it the one with Jeremy Brett, Basil Rathbone, Nicol Williamson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Robert Stephens or Tom Baker. Hell, you haven't even bought the one with Roger Moore. This is a mockbuster: a cheap ripoff opportunistically timed to confuse casual shoppers who've heard there's a new Sherlock film out, and by the time you get home from Tescos with the wrong one it's too late. Elementary, really.

Worse still: if you'd read the really really small print on the bottom of the Sherlock Holmes DVD box you'd have spotted The Asylum in the credit block, so not only have you not got Robert Downey Jr, you've ended up with Ben Syder. No, me neither. As far as the cast is concerned the big name is Torchwood's Gareth David-Lloyd, playing Watson. Or Dominic Keating (Star Trek: Enterprise) as the villain, Thorpe Holmes. Yes: Sherlock's other brother, who can only move in a metal suit that certainly doesn't look anything like Iron Man, is plotting revenge on London, Queen Victoria and Inspector Lestrade by means of a giant rubber dinosaur and a clockwork woman....

Because The Asylum shoot these things on a budget of about £4.95, and because they ban from the set anyone who looks like they might have the faintest clue what they're doing, you do tend to end up with films that are irredeemably terrible even on that mythical so-bad-it's-great plane. It's a pity, because if they'd actually spent some serious cash on this particular project, and if they'd cast a Holmes who had the slightest presence and personality, they might have magicked up a halfway decent oddity that had the resources to carry through on its more bonkers ideas. Don't put krakens in these things if you can't realise them properly, and if you think "yeah, that'll do", it won't. (Yes, it has a kraken in it. Don't ask.)

This Sherlock Holmes doesn't even feel like a proper movie, rather it has the air of a fan film made on weekends by enthusiasts with a decent digital camcorder and some period costumes. It looks cheap and drab, the plot makes no sense (there's a scene where Watson has to climb down a cliff for absolutely no reason), and the extensive CGI isn't even up to Mega Piranha standards, because The Asylum wouldn't give Rachel Lee Goldenberg the money to produce a halfway decent movie out of it. (Yay for female directors finally getting a crack at cultural icons!) In the end, its only success is suckering the unaware in the Sainsburys DVD aisle.


Wednesday, 21 May 2014


信じられないほどのゴジラがモンスターを攻撃 SPOILERS !

Caveats. First off, I've never been a huge fan of the original Godzilla movies. I've only seen a couple of them and they may well have been the worst of the series, but I'm honestly not convinced that the man-in-a-suit monster knocking over cardboard models and kicking other man-in-a-suit monsters in the knackers was enough to sustain a whole feature film, let alone a whole decades-spanning series. Maybe I'm wrong: maybe I missed the charm, and the importance of the character as a Japanese icon, but I've never really felt the need to go back and watch them. Secondly, I don't believe the Roland Emmerich film of 1998 was any kind of atrocity. As a Godzilla film it may well miss the point entirely (in the same way that Stallone's Judge Dredd may well miss the point of that character), but as a big dumb generic monster movie it was enjoyable enough.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I'm not a huge fan of Gareth Edwards' Monsters, which kept its titular monsters very much in the background of a mumbly indie romance between two people I wasn't interested in. If you're calling it Monsters, show me the damned monsters, and don't give me any of that business about humanity are the real monsters, like the real monster in Alien is the Weyland-Yutani corporation or the real monster in Jaws is incompetent Mayor Larry Vaughn. Happily, however, when Edwards' Godzilla reboot eventually fulfils on the tease and reveals its monsters, it does puts them front and centre and is happy to sit back and watch them stomp all over the city and beat the crap out of one another.

Crucially, it doesn't cast Godzilla as a city-stomping monster just randomly destroying things until the military or the science bods figure out a way to stop it. Godzilla's job is to beat up other monsters: in this case two creatures nicknamed MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, nothing to do with the mutated radiation victims in Genesis Of The Daleks) which feed on radioactivity and have lain dormant for centuries. In 1999 one of them attacks a Japanese nuclear power plant, and manager Bryan Cranston spends the next fifteen years trying to find out what happened and what's being kept hidden in the wreckage. Meanwhile Cranston's son Aaron Taylor-Johnson has grown up to be a US Navy bomb disposal expert; called out to Japan to bail his dad out of trouble yet again just as something is about to break out of the rubble....

It would surely have been very tempting to put Godzilla and the Mutos on screen in blazing sunlight after about ten minutes and then just have them fight and knock down buildings for the next two hours, but wisely our glimpses of the creatures are strictly rationed. As with last year's Pacific Rim, we see them mostly in the dark or in the rain: not to hide dodgy special effects (the CGI is magnificent, but so they damn well should be given the $160 million budget and the leaps in FX technology since Jurassic Park) but, at a guess, because it's going to look more impressive that way and it's far more engaging than, say, the relentless destructoporn of Man Of Steel or the Transformers films. I saw it in 2D and was perfectly happy with the visuals, but I can't help wondering whether the 3D light-loss would render some sequences indiscernible.

The main human characters don't really register against the King Of The Monsters: Taylor-Johnson is a blank, Elizabeth Olsen is criminally underused as his wife, and scientists Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins aren't given enough to do either. Frankly it's not that much of a problem: these films are conceived and sold - and consumed - on spectacle and action, not the cardboard people in them. Pacific Rim was great, and that didn't have fully rounded characters either. And given the unstoppable success of every superhero movie ever made, multidimensional and multifaceted characters are clearly not high on audience wishlists anyway.

Godzilla is pretty much exactly what I want a summer popcorn blockbuster to be: smart, spectacular and intelligent, without pandering to the dumbest hick in the room a la Michael Bay, without mercilessly targeting the clueless teen demographic. More importantly, it understands what Godzilla is - not just a giant lizard mindlessly punching skyscrapers, but a force of nature who exists to maintain a balance. It's not short of its inevitable city-smashing sequences (nice to see they're not trashing New York yet again), but it's terrifically well handled, the effects and Alexandre Desplat score are top, and even though it's a scratch over two hours long I didn't really want it to end. A hugely impressive start to the summer behemoth season.


Sunday, 11 May 2014



This is comfortably the least of Arnold Schwarzenegger's crunch-bang-kaboom filmography since 2001's Collateral Damage at the very least and possibly since Red Sonja all the way back in 1985. And I speak as one who generally enjoys Arnie's films when he's shooting and punching people and blowing things up and generally doing the Big Arnie Stomp: both Conans, the first three Terminators (yes, I know no-one really rates the third one), Commando, Predator, Total Recall, True Lies....I even liked The Last Stand and Escape Plan, both of which only came out last year, so it's not entirely down to the fact that he's now 66 and might be getting past it. In fact that may be part of why I liked them (and The Expendables 2): that he's plainly getting old and creaky but still doing the same knuckleheaded action stuff and occasionally wincing as he twists his dodgy hip.

Sabotage's problems (apart from being saddled with a completely meaningless title) include, but are not limited to, half the dialogue being indistinct, the other half being full of tedious profanity, and most of the characters being obnoxious dicks. Arnie is the head of an elite supersquad of badass DEA cops: they attempt to steal ten million dollars from the mansion they've just raided - but the cash goes missing before they can pick it up. Who took it? Then the team start getting picked off and bloodily murdered....

The only interesting character is actually Olivia Williams' power-suited homicide cop trying to work through the networks of Feds, Mexicans and Guatemalans to find the killer. Other than that, the only thing the film has going for it is a preposterous level of violence that frankly has no business being a 15 certificate. Spilled entrails, bloody gunshot wounds, one of the douchebags nailed to the ceiling and disembowelled: how did this manage to get away with the same BBFC certificate as Four Weddings And A Funeral?

Sadly, one supporting character and a ridiculous amount of wanton slaughter isn't enough to make the film more than a passably watchable mess. Yes, there's a car chase towards the end which raises the spirits a bit, but it's glum and overly serious, with little in the way of the one-liners you want from an Arnie action movie. It's all a bit depressing really.


Wednesday, 7 May 2014



Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet's previous film, Amer, was a horror/art pastiche in which the loopy mechanics of giallo plotting weren't so much secondary to the impeccable visuals as missing completely. As a mood piece, a stylistic exercise, a recreation of the genre's unique approach to lighting, colour, decor, design and composition, it was great, but it had almost no narrative to take you through the fantastic imagery. Then there was their segment of The ABCs Of Death which was one of the few that wasn't face-punchingly tedious, but still dependent exclusively on style. Sadly their new feature is more of the same: it's undeniably beautiful, with some occasionally shocking moments (and one frankly unnecessary pornographic image) but the lack of any coherent narrative reduces it to little more than a pop video for the Morricone and Nicolai scores of forty years past.

It's all the more frustrating because The Strange Colour Of Your Body's Tears does have the hint of a conventional story, at least to start with. A man returns from a business trip abroad to find his wife has gone missing: his investigations suggest she's not the first person to vanish in that apartment building, and there might be someone living in hidden, unknown rooms between the floors somewhere (shades of Argento's Inferno). But then it all breaks down into bafflement: he appears to be chasing himself around his apartment in a series of dream sequences (or just one?), someone climbs out of a hatbox, there's a naked woman on the roof, an old woman hidden in shadow explains how her husband disappeared.

So as far as a plot or a story is concerned, it's mostly utter nonsense in precisely the way that even the great bonkers Euro horrors never were: Suspiria and The Beyond are wayward to say the least but they do hang together. This is more like Lynch's Mulholland Drive: an intriguing opening setup is abandoned after a while and the film just sits there for the remaining hour or so blowing increasingly loud raspberries at you. Strange Colour's trump card, however, is just how magnificently those raspberries are put on film. Like Amer, pretty much every frame is astonishingly gorgeous: everything is lit, coloured, filtered and composed to perfection: ignore the piffling plot, just drown in the rich visual beauty.

I would have preferred to see this in a cinema, because even though it's unsatisfying and somewhat disappointing as a film it's genuinely, truly ravishing as art and cries out for the scope of a huge screen. Sadly the minimal release pattern (just a handful of prints around the country and gone in a week) made it impractical and its wider availability is now down to streaming, and eventually a DVD. I suppose it's not surprising that multiplex chains don't want to pull a few screenings of the new Captain America to make way for a non-narrative Belgian mood piece, but its a shame nonetheless.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014



It's really a pity this hasn't done a lot better at the international box-office, as then there'd be at least the possibility of more ambitious, more mature science fiction rather than the teen/YA sci-fi nonsense that might look good but makes no sense. Maybe seeing it on the same afternoon as the shiny but ridiculous Divergent made it look better by comparison, just as seeing it back-to-back with 2001: A Space Odyssey would have made it look unutterably terrible, but while this certainly isn't a great film and there is a lot wrong with it, it's nice to see something that's [a] aiming a little higher than usual and [b] at least partially succeeding.

The apocalypse of Transcendence isn't an alien invasion, a nuclear war or natural disasters: rather it's what happens when everything just gets switched off: computers, cellphones, Twitter. It all goes down because scientist Johnny Depp's ideas for artificial intelligence seem a little too close to creating a god: he's gunned down by Luddite terrorists. But devoted wife Rebecca Hall and idealistic colleague Paul Bettany manage to something something reverse the polarity of the dilithium crystals and upload his brain into the computer, and thence onto the internet....

But once up there, hovering on monitor screens like Holly from Red Dwarf, the new, supersmart Depp sets about repairing and restoring humanity and Earth thanks to his access to the entirety of online information (from social media through, presumably, to amateur pornography). Fixing the environment and healing the sick through nanotechnology but - crucially - taking over people's minds and bodies, robbing them of free will. Can this new deity of ours be stopped?

Despite being a gnat's short of two hours, it feels longer. And there's one curious moment when the Luddites announce "We must act now!" but then they apparently do nothing for several years. Plus, and this may be where the box-office disappontment originated, it's very low on popcorn spectacle as the end of civilisation as we know it pretty much happens off screen. No massive explosions or crumbling cityscapes: just the Blue Screen Of Death and the offswitch. But more important than CGI whizzbang, the film has ideas, and the imagination to see where those ideas might lead, even if it's to a decision between mankind following his destiny to an inevitable doom or a perfect but soulless future as a remote control drone of the Almighty Depp.

And of course it looks great, as directed by Wally Pfister (who started out as a cinematographer on glossy softcore Basic Instinct knockoffs like Animal Instincts and Night Rhythms back in the early 90s), and whose avowed preference for film over HD video is nicely mirrored in Transcendence's championing of clunky natural humanity over "perfect" digital simulations. Here's to more intelligent and more intellectual science fiction; it's a pity that mass audiences aren't willing to pay for it.




I used to like Cynthia Rothrock. But that was in her earlier Hong Kong movies like City Cops where they didn't really care if the stunt people got hurt, and if there was a scene in which someone got kicked through a window then they just kicked them through a window. American martial arts movies were tame and insipid by comparison and they simply didn't match up for the wanton craziness and bone-snapping violence. China O'Brien kind of got away with it as a dumb but proficient B-movie (at least Robert Clouse had experience of the Hong Kong scene, having made Enter The Dragon) but too many had no chance.

Martial Law is a mostly bland and uninteresting martial arts C-movie in which Cynthia Rothrock and the charmless Chad McQueen pair up as cops on the trail of something or other, up against crime lord David Carradine who despite being a multi-millionaire arms dealer and stolen car trader operates out of the office space above a karate school. But his operations have ensnared McQueen's idiot brother....

Most of this is incredibly dull and colourless, the fight scenes are drably staged aren't anywhere nearly as thud-crunch-wallop as they need to be, and the leads are cardboard. Back in 1991, this was cut by over a minute (most likely the nunchakus sequence) in order to get a video 18 when it really doesn't warrant it. Even with that scene, it's spectacularly ordinary. And in less than a week most of the detail has already seeped out of the memory as if it was an unremarkable dream in which not much happened.




Yet another miserable little horror flick in which a quartet of odious morons get what's coming to them and die horribly: a remarkably not dissimilar premise to director Kaare Andrew's previous film Altitude. Just as you spent most of that movie hoping the plane will smack into the side of a mountain, here you look forward to them being eaten by a Kraken or torpedoes by a passing U-boat. I've never understood why it's so difficult to create reasonably interesting, well-rounded characters you don't actually object to spending ninety minutes with.

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero also cheats with its irrelevant title: this has no more connection with either Eli Roth's original (or Ti West's unrelated "sequel") than it does with Jurassic Park or Day Of The Dead. A team of doctors on a small uninhabited island somewhere off the coast of the Dominican Republic are attempting to isolate a cure for a potential pandemic by forcible experimentation on the disease's sole carrier (Sean Astin). Meanwhile three enormous bellends and a Hot Bikini Chick arrive on the other side of the island for a stag night of beer, weed and partying. Bellend #2 and the Hot Bikini Chick immediately get contaminated by some kind of underwater chemical outflow, and start metamorphosing into decomposing pseudozombies, leaving Bellends #1 and #3 to trek through the jungle to find help....

The medical ethics arguments between the increasingly battle-weary doctors are pretty basic, but they're still more interesting than the teen soap operatics which amount to nothing deeper than bros before hoes, I humped your girlfriend and let's get thoroughly stoned. Frankly it's easier to cheer on the flesh-rotting virus that could lead to the eradication of the entire human race. Sure, the film racks up some impressively revolting make-up effects with its disintegrating zombie monsters, including a grisly catfight on the beach, and the ending is pleasantly grim. But for far too much of the time I didn't give a hoot about any of these people, I was frequently bored and couldn't wait for the misery to end. Rubbish.