Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Prime Time: Brawl In Cell Block 99 (2017)

My brain works in mysterious, and usually successful, ways. Not for the benefit of anyone but myself, but it's really only myself that I care about when it comes to the movies. I don't mean that I am a completely selfish git, although at times I am, but I mean that I am the only one I want to spend time with, initially, when considering movies, and formulating my opinions on them. Well . . . unless my wife is beside me, and then we bounce ideas off one another. More importantly, my brain SEEMS to know when I am fully settled on my opinon, and also when I need more time, and perhaps another viewing, to really nail things down.

I first watched Brawl In Cell Block 99 some time ago, and I absolutely loved it. I was ready to rave about it, I was ready to give it a very high rating, and I was ready to tell everyone that Vince Vaughn had finally realised the potential that I'd seen in him in films like Clay Pigeons and, yes, the Psycho remake. But my brain did its thing, and kept me quiet for a while (about this film, I am rarely as quiet as anyone would like me to be).

Revisiting it very recently, I am first going to say that I would not have been unhappy to share my initial thoughts. It's a superb film, with writer-director S. Craig Zahler giving viewers some of the finest exploitation fare that we've had in some time. It may have the budget and star power separating it from true grimier and grittier films but it has the sensibility of any number of low-budget gems that show someone on a bloody and violent quest for revenge. It also does it all without the need to constantly wink at viewers and overtly reference all of those other movies (a la Tarantino, not that I dislike that approach from him).

Anybody waiting for a brief plot synopsis . . . that was basically it. That's all you need to know. This is a revenge film, and it's one that has a lot of broken bones and general trauma.

The cast includes Jennifer Carpenter, who does well with her relatively small amount of screentime, Don Johnson, who continues to enjoy his recent resurgence, Udo Kier, and Marc Blucas. Dion Mucciacito is a main baddie, but he's less important than all of the obstacles in between him and our "hero". And that "hero" is the standout. I stand by the praise I wanted to heap on Vince Vaughn when I first saw this. Having coasted along in comedy roles for a number of years now, it's almost a revelation to be reminded of how good Vaughn can be, especially in a role that doesn't let him settle into his usual, quick-talking, cocky persona. Vaughn is one scary beast of a man here, believable as someone with the strength and just enough smarts to be one of the most dangerous individuals you could end up tangling with.

Having heaped all of this praise on the film, is there anything it gets wrong? Yes. Not much, but enough to drag it down a bit. It's too long, for one thing, although it never felt to me as if it dragged. I just can't help thinking that this could have been whittled down to just under the two hour mark. It also peaks a bit too soon, because once viewers have been shown just how graphic and nasty things are going to get there's something a bit anti-climactic about the rest of the scenes that continue to heap on the extreme violence.

If you have the stomach for the content, and for giving Vaughn another chance, then Brawl In Cell Block 99 is HIGHLY recommended. I really liked Bone Tomahawk, also by Zahler, but I like this one just a bit more. I'm already looking forward to what he's giving us next.

8/10

Buy the disc here.
Americans can buy it here.


Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Meg (2018)

Let's all be honest with one another, The Meg should have been advertised as "Stath vs Shark" because that is what everyone is paying to see. The shark in question may be a megalodon but that doesn't mean it has an advantage over the mighty Stath.

The plot is fairly simple, of course. Some deep sea explorers go even deeper than they expected, penetrating a cloud layer that hides a potential whole new ecosystem, and maybe even a new species or two. Unfortunately, their exploration gains the attention of a humongous killer shark (the meg of the title), and the majority of the movie is spent with the humans trying to avoid becoming fish food while they figure out how to destroy the monster.

Yet, whatever else is thrown onscreen, The Meg is all about Stath vs Shark, and it is in those pure moments that the film comes closest to being as entertaining as I wanted it to be. Stath uses his courage and smarts to outwit the killing machine, often escaping by the skin of his teeth (or, indeed, the skin on the soles of his feet as the shark bites the water just inches from him).

It is just a huge shame that the rest of the film doesn't come close, hampered by pedestrian direction from Jon Turteltaub, a lack of much-needed gore and bloodshed, and a script that makes the mistake of thinking viewers need fleeting attempts to be earnest in between scenes of a big shark out to chomp everything in its path. The novels by Steve Alten may be a lot of fun, although I haven't read them so cannot comment definitively on their quality or entertainment factor, but writers Dean Georgaris and Jon and Eric Hoeber are unable to shape and polish what should have been an easy "win".

It's hard to fault the cast, who work with a script that is constantly undermining them with poor dialogue and a wildly uneven tone, but it's also hard to forgive everyone when compared against those who pitch their performance just right. Statham does well in the lead, which is a saving grace, and he's almost matched by Rainn Wilson, playing the required douchebag of the film (although, to be fair, he isn't depicted as irredeemably bad, he's just not half as smart as he thinks he is). Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, and Page Kennedy all do quite well, as does the little girl playing young Meiying, the one child amongst the adults. Those faring much worse include poor Li Bingbing and Winston Chao, both suffering when involved in the scenes that try to be more earnest, and also Jessica McNamee and Robert Taylor.

There are fun moments throughout, and the whole movie is saved by the timing of the set-pieces, but The Meg is another big, dumb blockbuster that proves that size isn't everything. Great CGI and special effects can't make up for the laziness of the jump scares, the outright laughable dialogue, and the fact that the characters are so paper-thin that I'm amazed they don't disintegrate as soon as they come into contact with the seawater.

5/10

The Meg will be surfacing here.
Americans can give it a wave here.


Monday, 13 August 2018

Mubi Monday: Erase And Forget (2017)

People often think that I am disrespectful because I don't seem to automatically give respect to those who served in a military force, and often helped major countries defeat major enemies (to put it mildly). I have to remind people reading this that I actually DO respect many who served in the military. I just tend to believe that putting yourself into that life doesn't automatically give you that respect. No matter who you are, respect is still earned, whether by the soldier who follows orders and gets results or even by the soldier who refuses an order because he has more recent information that changes the situation. Many military personnel are great, brave people. Some aren't. As in every walk of life.

I felt the need to clarify this now, at the risk of some disagreement and potential backlash, because Erase And Forget is all about an ex-military man. He's a controversial, interesting, complex, man.  I am not sure that I would like to meet him in any situation in which he might be angry at me. I am not sure that I would ever want him to read this blog. Because I am pretty sure that he would know twenty different ways to kill me before reading to the end of this paragraph. But I am sure that I respect the man, as flawed as he is.

That man is named Bo Gritz. He was the inspiration for Rambo, "Hannibal" Smith, AND Colonel Kurtz, and if you head off now to check the list of honours that he received for his military service then it will take you a good few minutes to read through them all. After his time spent serving his country, Bo has undertaken a variety of ventures. He ran as a Presidential candidate, he has taught numerous classes on security and defence and tactics, he has been involved as a negotiator in between the police and individuals that he thought he could connect with, and he has even tried to create a community that allows people to avoid the worst of the modern world.

Filmed by Andrea Luka Zimmerman over a period of ten years, Erase And Forget uses archival footage and choice soundbites from the subject to create a detailed portrait of a man who cannot be reduced to one moral point. He's also, by turns, a frightening and sad figure. It's easy to believe that wartime was somehow easier for this individual, allowing him to push aside indecision and any chance of failure as he continually works to keep people safe and push back deadly enemies.

Ted Kotcheff appears onscreen to discuss First Blood, and the developent of the character of John Rambo, and it's a painful reminder of two things. One, First Blood was based on a very typical experience of soldiers who came back from a war they couldn't say they won to American citizens who resented them for having gone over there in the first place. Two, the character started off as a passive drifter who didn't want to be forced to fight again, before being developed into a one-man army who became the poster-boy for action movie fans and anyone who loved guns. The image, indeed the icon, was hijacked and turned into something that wasn't necessarily intended. You COULD say the same about Gritz. He's a believer in his right to bear arms, he mistrusts the government, and he is constantly reminded of the sacrifice that has been made for his country. That sacrifice has taken pieces of himself, and pieces, and lives, of those who have served. It changes hearts, minds, and bodies. Those beliefs have seen him held up as an idol by those who wish to use his methods and apply them to their own political agenda, and it would be easy to blame Gritz for giving them someone so easily admirable, but he doesn't share all of their opinions (especially when it comes to race, it would seem) and has to be given the doubt.

Which brings us back to the start. This is a man I would disagree with in so many ways, especially when it comes to the gun issue, but he is also a man I have to give no small amount of respect to, whatever may have happened to him after his military years (and this documentary only scrapes the surface, despite the time covered). Considering what he has given over his lifetime, he deserves 90 minutes from you.

8/10

I am going to make the obvious Rambo selection here.
Americans can get some Rambo here.


Sunday, 12 August 2018

Netflix And Chill: Gun Shy (2017)

Antonio Banderas is a very good actor. He's arguably too good for the daft material he has to work with here but, nevertheless, he sinks his teeth into the role with great gusto. And he's one of the few big plus points about the film.

Here's the plot. Turk Henry (Banderas) is forced to go on holiday with his wife (Olga Kurylenko). She wants to explore the local area. He wants to laze around and drink beer. Unfortunately, his wife is kidnapped, but the ransom is only $1M, which isn't a lot to Henry. He wants to pay but the American agent (Mark Valley) working on his case doesn't want him to. Paying the ransom would be tantamount to funding terrorism in his eyes. So Henry goes to another guy, an independent who gets results (Martin Dingle Wall). Meanwhile, his wife is teaching her captor (Ben Cura) into being a better leader to his men.

Simon West doesn't know what to do with this material, and he's not helped at all by the script, written by Toby Davies and Mark Haskell Smith (the latter having written the source novel, "Salty", that the film is based on). There's not nearly enough action or thrills, which wouldn't be a big deal if any of the comedy was better. Despite the performance from Banderas, the laughs are thin on the ground. The funniest moments come from snippets of Metal Assassin, the band that Banderas was in, singing their greatest hit, "Teenage Ass Patrol". Given how much I enjoyed the stupidity of that song, and at least one other played over the end credits, I wish that someone had been brave enough to turn this into something closer to a rock musical. It had the potential to go all the way up to 11.

Aside from Banderas, the other great performance comes from Wall, all gleaming white teeth, casual misogyny, intelligence hidden behind his laid-back facade, and genuine fun every time he's onscreen. Aisling Loftus is also enjoyable, playing an assistant who travels over to help Banderas. Valley is obviously supposed to be a fun character, but the comedy feels too forced, Cura is fairly bland, and poor Kurylenko isn't given enough to do, apart from be the target that Banderas keeps in his sights as he staggers and bumbles through the whole situation. You also get a small role for David Mitchell, who is even more wasted. I like Mitchell. I think he can be very funny. He's not very good here.

It's probably most telling that the end credits have numerous extra scenes that feel incongruous compared to the mess that came beforehand. One character is even returned from death, only to be killed all over again (I'm assuming that was an alternative ending that the makers decided to stick in there for fun). It sums up the entire movie.

A few people may like Gun Shy more than I did, but I am willing to bet that it won't be many of you. As hard as he tries, Banderas cannot do enough to salvage it.

3/10

Gun Shy can be streamed here in the UK.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 11 August 2018

Shudder Saturday: The Stuff (1985)

This is the second film in as many days that I have revisited with a very different "head on my shoulders". I first saw The Stuff when I was about 12 years old. It was a horror (apparently) that I'd already heard plenty about, with most people being interested in it due to one fun scene occurring during the final act, and I wasn't disappointed when I finally got to see it. It had the strangeness, it had the gloopy moments, and it had that fun scene as a highlight. AND I wasn't too scared by the time the end credits rolled. In fact, I don't think I was scared at all.

What I can see nowadays is that The Stuff is a damn fine satire, something that would be obvious to many viewers but wasn't obvious to 12-year-old me. It's a film about whatever makes the special sauce so special. The trademarked recipes of Coca Cola and those KFC flavours? The Stuff highlights the dangers of not knowing exactly what we're eating . . . especially when it is something that could also be eating us.

Things get started quite quickly, when a group of workers discover a white substance seeping out of the ground. It's sweet, it's addictive, it's soon packaged up and being sold to every consumer as The Stuff, a fine new product with no artificial ingredients and no calories. But it's not as good as it might first appear. It might even be alive, which alarms a young boy (Jason, played by Scott Bloom) when he sees it move. He's not the only one who becomes aware of the sentient nature of The Stuff. There's also David 'Mo' Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), an ex-FBI agent now working on his own, and currently hired by businessmen who want to know more about the sensation that is affecting their own businesses.

Written and directed by the talented Larry Cohen, The Stuff has just the right mix of comedy and thrills to hold up as a fun bit of entertainment. It might not be as scary or gross as it could be, with the horror coming more from the idea than the effects on display, but it has a couple of really good set-pieces (one involving Jason hiding inside a tanker) and is a lot smarter than some might expect, although fans of Cohen should always know that he likes to deliver a decent amount of subtext and thought-provocation with his thrills.

Moriarty is great in the role of Mo, especially in the times when he explains why he goes by that name (altering it slightly, depending on who he is speaking to), and Bloom is very good as the teenager lashing out at something without any idea of how to properly deal with the situation. Andrea Marcovicci is the main female, an advertising executive who sees the error of her ways, and she does equally good work, and you get Garrett Morris giving a memorable turn as 'Chocolate Chip' Charlie, as well as small roles for Danny Aiello and Paul Sorvino.

Time has been kind to The Stuff, perhaps because viewers can now approach it as the satire it is rather than the horror it was marketed as, and I think it's one well worth revisiting, or checking out for the first time. It may even become one you go back to often. Because, as the advert says, enough is never enough.

7/10

You can try to get enough of The Stuff here.
Americans can have their fill here.



Friday, 10 August 2018

Filmstruck Friday: After Hours (1985)

I didn't love After Hours when I first saw it. I think I was almost twenty, I didn't really get the tone of the film, and I loved it more for the fact that Scorsese directed it than the content of the film itself.  It's a spiralling nightmare that can make it hard to find the comedy until you are in a position to identify more with the central character, which is why I like it a lot more today.

You see, as much as I hate to say it, I have no had episodes that come close to the feeling I get while watching After Hours. I've had nights that have gone from bad to worse, as I make numerous unwise decisions to stay in the company of an attractive woman who was also a bit . . . whacky. I've had nights when I have lost my money and had a hell of a long journey home ahead of me. And I've had nights when the fun has stopped but I have somehow found myself somewhere, or in the company of someone, that feels quite dangerous. Treading carefully while drunk is always harder than doing so while sober.

But let's get to the film. Griffin Dunne plays Paul, a man who ends up out later than intended after he meets the lovely Marcy (Rosanna Arquette). One thing leads to another and Paul eventually finds himself in the company of an artist (Linda Fiorentino), a lonely and sad bar worker (Teri Garr), and, eventually, another artist (Verna Bloom). That's not to mention his temporary state of poverty, a suicide, a surprisingly helpful barman (John Heard), and a woman who seems to want to help him while simultaneously testing his last nerve at the same time (Catherine O'Hara).

Part of the pleasure of watching After Hours, and why I enjoyed it enough before identifying more with Dunne's character, is seeing this material handled by Scorsese. It has a number of his familiar directorial flourishes, a typically eclectic soundtrack, and benefits from his ability to make some of the darkest moments still seem entertaining. This is a film in which a man finds the corpse of someone who has committed suicide and then has to stick up signs pointing towards the dead body as he leaves the scene, after calling to inform the police.

The script by Joseph Minion helps a lot, bringing in plenty of memorable characters and plot elements that plague our lead more than once. Although the general feeling is one of chaos and madness, the script is very tightly put together, slotting various pieces together expertly and leading to an insane final sequence that serves as a brilliant punchline to the proceedings.

Dunne is wonderful in his role, but he's not left with the whole film on his shoulders. Everyone I have already mentioned above does great work. Many are absolutely right for their roles, but O'Hara and Garr are the real standouts. You also get fun cameos for Will Patton, Cheech Marin, and Tommy Chong.

If, like myself, you last watched After Hours before you recognised exactly how those nights can occur then I encourage you to give it a rewatch. Despite the title, this is not a film just about a late night out. It's about a state of mind.

8/10

I recommend buying this set.
Americans can get it here.


Thursday, 9 August 2018

Blockers (2018)

Blockers is a comedy that looked pretty awful from the first trailer. The rest of the advertising I saw for it didn't make it look much better. Then people went to see it and I started to hear some say that it was actually quite good. Some even said that it was very funny, with particular praise going to John Cena for his performance. I was willing to give it a go, and started to feel more optimistic about it. Well, it wasn't as bad as those trailers made it out to be, but it wasn't great either.

Cena, Leslie Mann, and Ike Barinholtz play three parents who discover that their daughters (Kathryn Newton, Geraldine Viswanathan, and Gideon Adlon) have made a pact to lose their virginity on prom night. Yes, this is a nightmare scenario for most parents. So they set out to put a stop to things. Well, Cena and Mann want to make sure nothing happens. Barinholtz is the cooler (aka less responsible) parent who tags along because he doesn't want the others embarrassing his daughter. And that's the premise.

Directed by Kay Cannon, making her feature debut in this role (although she has a number of decent credits as a producer), and written by Brian and Jim Kehoe (who have one previous feature and a couple of shorts under their belts), Blockers is handled slickly and professionally enough. The characters are sketched out quickly, although they're not the deepest, and the various elements that will cause more problems for the parental pursuit are made glaringly obvious. This is not a film that cares for subtlety.

Cena IS very good in his role, and he's the funniest of the three concerned parents. Barinholtz can be slightly irritating at times, due to his character, but also does well. Mann gets the short end of the stick, given the least of the comedic material as the writers instead focus on her stress and overprotective nature (similar to the way Cena is shown, but his ends up creating more laughs). That's a shame, because Mann can be very funny with the right material. What proves to be a pleasant surprise is that the film doesn't focus on the parents as much as you might think. It also gives plenty of time to Newton, Viswanathan, and Adlon, showing how they differ from one another and complement one another in their close friendship. All three young women do well, although it seems as if, once again, the writers had less to give the one of them (Newton, playing the daughter of Mann's character, funnily enough). You also get to find out more about their dates for the evening, and another potential love interest (Ramona Young) for one of the three, despite the fact that she is hoping to forge ahead and see if sex with a guy will change how she feels about her sexuality.

Considering the main premise, Blockers takes time to consider what the younger characters are going through, in terms of friendship, peer pressure, being on the brink of adulthood, and relations with their parents. It also manages to move deftly enough from the comedy to the sweeter moments, which come along, predictably enough, in the final act. What it doesn't do so well is provide the big laughs. You get a lot of chuckles, which are fine, but there aren't any great set-pieces here, and the script isn't smart and/or tight enough to make up for that.

Enjoyable enough, especially if you find Cena likable, but it's not one I can see anyone revisiting too many times.

6/10

You can buy the blu ray here.
American friends can buy it here.


Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Witchcraft 16: Hollywood Coven (2016)

Here we are. We made it. How are you all feeling? I am relieved, which should come as no surprise to anyone who has seen me suffer through this series (a genre-tinged selection of films that manages to be worse than any other series I have endured so far, ANY).

Most people who know me tend to know that my stubborn refusal to give up on any movie I am watching has led me to sit through lengthy, and sometimes interminable, disasters that would have broken lesser (aka more sane) viewers. That being said, the Witchcraft movies nearly broke my steely resolve on a number of occasions, especially whenever I had to count the instalments that I was yet to watch. Could the final film, at this time (god have mercy, let there be no more), manage to offer me something more than more disappointment and misery?

No.

The only new thing that this sixteenth, and final (please, please, PLEASE let it remain the final), instalment brings to the table is a meta approach to the material that somehow allows everyone involved to make it for even less money than some of the other films in the series. And, knowing how cheap this series can be, that is saying something.

Director David Palmieri returns, as do the cast members from the past two films, and it's obvious that these movies were all made within a very short space of time, perhaps even just a week or two, perhaps even less than that, and then chopped up and churned out to make some more money from . . . . I really don't know. I have no idea who was still eagerly waiting for a new Witchcraft movie at this point.

Sean Abley returns as writer, perhaps hoping to do something that would reinvigorate the series, but he has one decent idea that is then quickly wasted, leaving many scenes to play out in almost exactly the same way they did in the previous films.

Molly Dougherty, Noel VanBrocklin, and Zamra Dollskin are the same as ever, as are Berna Roberts, Leroy Castanon, and Ryan Cleary (still the worst of the Will Spanners). Ernest Pierce gets a bit more to do this time around, but doesn't make the most of the opportunity.

Look, the whole thing is dire and I am just happy that the whole experience is now one that I can put behind me, for now. I don't advise anyone else to check these films out, certainly not all sixteen of them anyway, and I can't wholeheartedly recommend any of them. I just hope that it's a long time before I have another idea quite as dumb as this one.

2/10


Buy a good dose of witchcraft here.
Americans can get their witchy woo on here.



Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Winchester (2018)

The more I have thought about Predestination, the more I can overlook the flaws. It's an interesting film that is easy to forgive mistakes in because of the story it is trying to tell. I mention it now because in my review, written after my first viewing, I claimed that it was the weakest film from the Spierig brothers. That may still be the case, but that doesn't mean it's a terrible film, by any means. Actually, I should say that it WAS the weakest directed by the Spierig brothers. That title has now been taken by Winchester, and taken fairly easily.

This horror movie is all about the famous Winchester mansion, a sprawling home that was always being developed and enlarged at the request of troubled owner, Sarah Winchester (Helen Mirren). Mrs Winchester was the widow of the man who manufactured the Winchester rifle. Believing herself to be cursed by the spirits of the many people who died at the hands of that gun, Mrs Winchester would come up with bizarre ways to confuse spirits (stairs that lead nowhere, decoy rooms, doors and windows in odd places, etc) and this film explores the house, and her character, by depicting a visit from a doctor (played by Jason Clarke) who is to determine the mental state of the widow.

There's a great story to be told about Sarah Winchester, her life, and the mansion that she wanted to keep adding more and more rooms and features to, and I encourage everyone to check out the wonderful Sarah Winchester, Phantom Opera, a short film from 2016 that mixes the story with ballet in an effective and beautiful way. This film, sadly, feels like it doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of things.

The script, written by the directors and Tom Vaughan, is decidedly . . . limp for most of the runtime, with uninteresting character moments punctuated by well-signposted and ineffective jump scares. That would be easier to overlook if the brothers were once again working with their usual cool visual style, but even that side of things proves to be disappointing. Everything is competent, which saves the film from being unwatchable, but flat and unimaginative. In fact, it's the combination of the weak script and surprisingly weak and uninspired direction that undermines the handful of decent moments you get throughout.

Cast-wise, Helen Mirren is fine in the lead role, Clarke is adequate, and Sarah Snook (playing the niece of Sarah, named Marion MArriott) does okay, I suppose, but every single member of the cast is ill-served by that script, a creation that seems to have been dashed together with no real care or thought given as to how the story could be made more interesting and more focused without having to lead viewers to a cliche-ridden and preposterous finale.

As a horror movie fan, I know not to put too much stock into the words "based on actual events". I know that it's a licence to scare people even more, allowing them to think that something really happened when the only grain of truth in a film might be, for example, that the family living in some supposedly haunted house did once have a milkman named Terry, but it's frustrating when a story as good as this one is mishandled so badly.

4/10

You can buy Winchester here.
Americans can get it here.


Monday, 6 August 2018

Mubi Monday: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)

Arguably best remembered nowadays for the beautiful music from Ryƻichi Sakamoto, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a worthy film that looks at the strained relationship between the prisoners and officers of a Japanese POW camp. It's a shame that it never feels like there's still a war raging beyond the confines of the camp but that may be more to do with the source material (it was, after all, based on a true story by Laurens van der Post) than limitations set on the film.

Tom Conti plays Col. John Lawrence, a man who finds himself favoured by the camp officers (a Sergeant played by Takeshi Kitano, billed here simply as Takeshi, and the Captain in charge of the camp, played by Sakamoto, the score composer). Col. Lawrence maintains his position by, for the most part, trying not to rock the boat as he also attempts to keep his fellow prisoners alive and well. It's a delicate balance, one that sees him frowned upon by the likes of Group Capt. Hicksley (Jack Thompson), and it's one that is upset as soon as Maj. Jack Celliers (David Bowie) arrives at the camp.

Directed by Nagisa Oshima, who also worked on the screenplay with Paul Mayersberg, Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence is a film about war that is most interested in showing viewers how every trait is heightened and warped under those conditions. Courage, cowardice, love, hate, lust, remorse, happiness, and more. The central characters deal with all of these things in a variety of ways, and we're often shown the motivation for their decisions, either in the moment or through flashbacks that explain their stubborn refusal to make life easier for themselves (in the case of Celliers).

This is a superb role for Conti, giving a fantastic performance as the typical Brit soldier who hopes to keep calm and act with a modicum of grace in the face of great brutality. The other standout turn comes from Takeshi Kitano, playing someone who at first seems irredeemable but who may be more than just your cliched sadistic camp worker. Sakamoto has more difficult material to work with, and he isn't quite up to the task (he's a better musician than actor), but Bowie does well, working effectively in some difficult scenes that benefit from the fact that the character is being played by David Bowie (and what viewers know of his established persona). Thompson does well in his small role, and there are a number of cast members who make a good impression in their limited screentime, such as Alistair Browning, James Malcolm, and Johnny Ohkura.

Those expecting something powerful and emotional may be surprised to find a coldness here. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is much more about the psychological changes and damage that can be caused by war. It spends a lot of time, both subtly and more overtly, showing how the central characters affect each other, on purpose and by accident. It's almost a case study, at times, and not all of the directorial and scripting decisions work as well as they could, but there are times when it is magnificent. And a lot of those times are accompanied by that beautiful Sakamoto score.

This wouldn't make it into any kind of top list, if I had the inclination to try and rank the war movies I have seen in my life, but I am glad to have finally seen it. Bowie was the name I remembered most being associated with it, but it's Conti and Kitano who own the film.

7/10

There's a blu ray here.
Americans can get it on Criterion here.


Sunday, 5 August 2018

Netflix And Chill: The Funhouse Massacre (2015)

A deadly clown, a cult leader and his deranged daughter, a dentist more interested in creating bloody cavities than fixing teeth, a cannibal, and a "taxidermist". That covers the main cast of villains showcased here in The Funhouse Massacre. You also get a couple of cops, one competent and one a bit of an idiot, and a mix of film geeks, a pair of oversexed lovers, and a guy pining for the lead actress.

The plot is quite simple. A bunch of friends decide to head along to a Halloween haunted house affair. They want frights and fun. Unbeknownst to them, the staff of the attraction have been removed/killed off by a number of insane killers who are set on turning the funhouse into a slaughterhouse. With all of the blood and guts already on display, it's the perfect cover.

Written by Ben Begley, who co-developed the idea with Renee Dorian (and both writers have substantial roles onscreen too), The Funhouse Massacre is pretty much a perfect example of how to do this kind of thing. I'm not going to waste my energy trying to convince you that it's some sort of modern classic, you can happily get on with your life if you don't ever manage to have this on your viewing list, but it's a fun film that keeps things moving, and bloody enough, to make it easier to forget about all of the implausibility and silliness of it all.

Director Andy Palmer does what he can to make everything look as good as it can be, considering the budget. There's some great work done by the art and design department, a few enjoyably gross death scenes, and general savvy use of limited resources. It helps that the villains all have decent gimmicks too, allowing them to turn any room that they are in into a focus for their deadly personalities.

The cast all do well enough. Scottie Thompson and Begley are the main cops, and Dorian is the nominal leading lady, but this is a film all about the baddies having a big night of fun, and they are the ones who make the strongest impressions. Jere Burns is a cult leader who controls the others, as part of his grand plan, Candice de Visser is "The Stitch Face Killer", Clint Howard is the taxidermist, E. E. Bell is a cannibal, Sebastian Siegel is a crazy dentist, and Mars Crain is a hulking psycho clown figure. Something for everyone there, I think you'll agree. There are also fun cameo roles for Robert Englund and Courtney Gains.

Unlike many other horror movies that tend to try too hard in their attempts to be knowing and hip, The Funhouse Massacre gets the balance just right. It has moments of comedy, but they come from the charcaters more than the dialogue (one or two lines/references aside), and it makes use of the killer archetypes in a way that helps to throw everyone off balance as they start to see real horrors unfold before their eyes, because they are so familiar that they cannot possibly ever be happening for real. Unfortunately, that familiarity also stops the film from becoming great, but it's an easy one to enjoy if you're after a disposable bit of fun.

6/10

You can buy it here.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 4 August 2018

Shudder Saturday: Dead Body (2017)

Dead Body is a sharp and smart horror comedy, a slasher film that takes familiar tropes and subverts expectations as the bodies start to pile up and we head to a fun-filled and surprising finale. Well, that's obviously what was intended anyway. But that's not what the final product is.

Jay Myers is Dominic, a young man who invites some friends to a cabin in the woods for some catching up before they all head off into their adult lives. Dominic actually just wanted to invite a select few people but those people end up bringing a few more people, which frustrates him to no end. They eventually decide to play a game of Dead Body, which involves one player being a murderer and other players portraying victims, but it turns out that someone wants to make the game much more realistic. Who is it, and why?

Directed by first-timer Bobbin Ramsey, Dead Body isn't half as bad as it could have been, thanks to some care being taken with the technical side of things, and some fun gore effects. It's just nowhere near as good as it could have been either. I feel like I say that a lot with horror movies that haven't been released from big studios, and maybe I do, but it's always a shame to see potential squandered by people who could have come together and sent out a calling card that would lead to more opportunities for everyone involved.

The cast all do okay. Myers is fun as the uptight host, Rachel Brun is the friend he seems to like the most, and Cooper Hopkins is fine as the older boyfriend of Rachel's character. You also get Spencer Hamp and Nic Morden making a good impression as two unlikely friends, with the latter being very much the "outcast" of the usual school cliques, and everyone else does what they need to do.

Writers Ian Bell and Ramon Isao seem to have thought that most of their work was done in creating the initial premise and having one or two fun exchanges. That's all well and good, although the film quickly becomes a bit dull when the murders start to occur (which really isn't the way these films should pan out), but when you get to the grand finale, and the motivation for the murders, it makes you realise that there was a lot more comedy to be mined here.

I am not deliberately underselling the film to people who may want to still give it their time but I'm also not covering all of the few highlights (because I don't want to spoil things for those who may enjoy it more). Suffice it to say that some of the dialogue works well when characters are starting to get more paranoid and more desperate.

Some of the hardest reviews to write are the ones that involve films that inspire neither great hate nor great love. They're just there. Kind of okay, maybe viewed slightly better or worse at times, depending on your frame of mind when you see them. Dead Body is one of those movies. It's just . . . . . . . there.

4/10

As it only seems to be streaming for now, I recommend picking up this bargain instead.
Americans may want to splash out on this set.


Friday, 3 August 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Three Kings (1999)

Three Kings remains one of the best films from director David O. Russell, helped by a great cast and a fun script that generally updates Kelly's Heroes and adds more relevant politics and modern views on warfare. It's a film infused, at least initially, with cinematic cool that manages to walk a tightrope by sprinkling cool moments here and there without ever making the environment or war itself seem cool in the slightest.

George Clooney is Archie Gates, a soldier in Iraq as the Gulf War starts to wind down. He ends up leading three men (MarkWahlberg, Ice Cube, and Spike Jonze) on a hunt for gold stolen from Kuwait. They want to steal the gold for themselves, allowing them a very comfortable life when they get back home to America. But as they set out to execute their plan they encounter a number of people who need their help. Trying to ignore them becomes more difficult after they witness what can only be desribed as a ruthless execution.

Based on a story written by John Ridley, Three Kings is almost a perfect look at machismo and how easy it can be to undercut that machismo. The biggest and strongest soldier can be caught and tortured, can be turned into a weak invalid by one bullet, and can be killed at any moment, by a landmine or a gun-wielding enemy, or even an ally making a mistake. The dialogue succinctly captures the essence of the central characters and how the war has sharpened their senses in some ways and yet also dulled them in others. There's no room for complacency, but that's not to say that complacency is something they are never guilty of.

Clooney gives one of his many winning performances, a perfect fit as the guy who comes in and takes over leadership of the three men (who only know where the gold is because they happened to find a map stuck in the posterior of a prisoner). Ice Cube is also very good, and Wahlberg and Jonze both do well, the former playing someone who can posture with the best of them and the latter playing someone wishing he could posture like his buddy. The supporting cast also features Cliff Curtis, Nora Dunn, Jamie Kennedy, Said Taghmaoui, Mykelti Williamson, Holt McCallany, and Judy Greer, and not one of them puts a foot wrong. Not even Jamie Kennedy.

Not quite all things to all people, Three Kings at least gives it a damn good try. It has enough standard soldiering to please those looking for a war movie, it has a nice line in wry humour to please those after a particular style of comedic entertainment, and it has enought thought-provoking moments regarding the politics of war, in general, and the situation in Iraq to please those who want a bit of depth to their slick entertainment.

20 years old next year, this holds up as a fantastic modern war movie, one you could nicely line up alongside Buffalo Soldiers and Jarhead for a smart and amusing triple-bill that reflects on the madness of modern life in wartime without taking anything away from the individuals affected by it.

Get it here.
Americans can buy it here.


Thursday, 2 August 2018

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018)

I was quite unimpressed when I first saw Mamma Mia! I wasn't exactly the target audience for it, I didn't think the songs were always as well worked into the plot as they could have been, and I found the antics of Meryl Streep and her friends just a little bit cringe-inducing. But it still sits on my shelf, surrounded by many better (and a few worse) movies. Why? Because it was one of the free blu rays that came with my first player, and I rarely throw out a film, especially a freebie.

You can already surmise that I wasn't keen to rush out and see the sequel, but see the sequel I did. I am a married man and that can mean compromising sometimes. My wife was going to join me for the latest Mission: Impossible movie so I could put a brave face on and accompany her to this movie. I did my duty.

The plot this time around sees Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) getting ready to open the hotel that she wants to make a success in honour of her deceased mother, Donna (Meryl Streep). Viewers also get to see the early years of Donna (played by Lily James) and how exactly she got herself in the predicament that eventually led to the events of the first film. There are some new faces, mainly in the scenes showing the younger incarnations of the men and women we already got to know as adults, another mix of ABBA hits, of course, and plenty of sea, sunshine, and sanitised -or-family-viewing sexual shenanigans.

Here's what happened when I watched Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. I had quite a good time. Not only that, I realised that I had been a BIT harsh in my judgement of the first film. I didn't enjoy it when I sat there, watching it in the comfort of my own home, even if I could singalong to the ABBA tunes. But that situation wasn't the best way to view it. It's a shared experience. It's fun for everyone, and the sequel aims for exactly the same end result.

And it achieves it. The songs may be, for the most part, lesser choices but the laughs are more frequent, and simply better. Which makes this a slight improvement over the original. That wasn't clear from the beginning. The first 15 minutes or so had me rolling my eyes on a number of occasions, thanks to the sentimental moments and the poor musical number that feels shoehorned in to the first scenes featuring Lily James (as well as Alexa Davies and Jessica Keenan Wynn, playing her friends). James is good in her role, but things start to pick up when Julie Walters and Christine Baranski come onscreen, and then it's all a surprisingly consistent crowdpleaser as we move back and forth between the past and the present, with lots more fun coming from Hugh Skinner/Colin Firth, Josh Dylan/Stellan Skarsgard, and Jeremy Irvine/Pierce Brosnan. Andy Garcia is also very good, Omid Djalili steals his all-too-brief scenes, and Cher takes the baton from Djalili and almost walks off with the entire film.

Writer-director Ol Parker, helped by Richard Curtis and Catherine Johnson, shows that he knows exactly what the audience wants, and he builds everything to a completely predictable and enjoyable finale that will have even the most cynical viewers grinning. I'm not completely converted, not quite yet, but I WILL rewatch the first film at some point, and I may even let my wife persuade me to endure/enjoy a double-bill one day in the future.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is a film that it is easy to turn your nose up at. It is a safe viewing choice, one or two risque lines of dialogue aside, and it suffers from an overabundance of sweetness in almost every character. It will also have you leaving the cinema with a big smile on your face, despite how hard you might fight against it.

6/10

This is the shiny disc version.
Americans can get it here.


Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Witchcraft 15: Blood Rose (2016)

"And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I've traveled each and every highway
But more, much more than this
I . . . . watched the Witchcraft series."

I can almost taste the bittersweet victory as I approach this self-imposed finish line. This is the penultimate entry in the Witchcraft series (so far) and if I have made it this far then you can be damn sure that I will drag myself, crying and bleeding, to the very end.

Following on from the last movie, this film sees Rose (Molly Dougherty) returning, as well as Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin), Tara (Zamra Dollskin), Will Spanner (Ryan Cleary), Lutz (Berna Roberts), and Garner (Leroy Castanon). Rose finds herself in trouble this time when her body is being used by another witch who wants to kill others and steal their souls.

Written this time by Sean Abley, this takes the logical step after the almost-bearable last instalment by creating a storyline that is nonsensical, boring, and almost completely inept. Or do I mean inane? Incompetent?

Director David Pamieri matches the script, doing absolutely nothing to freshen things up after the previous film. It's a bad sign that, despite the usual short runtime, the first 5 minutes or so consists of footage recycled from the finale of Witchcraft 14: Angel Of Death. Pamieri does nothing, he doesn't even make the smallest effort, to cover the deficiencies in the script.

Dougherty does better here than she did the last time around but she is, sadly, the only one. Perhaps both movies were filmed over a few days and this was her best. VanBrocklin and Dollskin are both quite bad, Roberts and Castanon feel like they have less time to shine (and I use the word "shine" in the loosest sense), and Cleary remains one of the worst people to have portrayed Will Spanner in the whole series, which is really saying something.

There's nothing more that can be said about this, a sub-par entry in a film series that limped far beyond what anyone could have expected of it. I doubt anything improves in the next instalment, but the fact that it is, hopefully, the last I will have to watch for some time is enough to make me think I will view it in a slightly better light.

2/10

Buy a good dose of witchcraft here.
Americans can get their witchy woo on here.


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout (2018)

You may have already seen clips of Tom Cruise in action for this latest Mission: Impossible movie. He dives out of a plane. He races through the streets of Paris. He flies a helicopter in a manner not to be found in the "Guide To Being A More Responsible Helicopter Pilot". He does all of that and more. You may have also already heard the glowing praise. A lot of people are calling this the best of the franchise. A lot of people are calling it a new action classic.

Yeah, about that. Let's take off the rose-tinted IMAX glasses and turn things down just a notch.

Mission: Impossible - Fallout is a very good film. There are times when it is great. The stuntwork is often bordering on the insane, making it insanely entertaining, but this isn't the best action movie in years. I'd say that it even falls just below the previous two entries in this series, and I'll go into just why that's the case in a little while.

Cruise is Ethan Hunt once again, of course, and he's flanked by Benji (Simon Pegg) and Luther (Ving Rhames) as they try to recover some stolen plutonium cores that they don't want falling in to the hands of The Apostles (who have remained at work despite the loss of their leader, Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris). Henry Cavill is a CIA agent, August Walker, tasked with keeping a closer eye on Hunt and his team, Rebecca Ferguson returns as the kickass Ilsa Faust, and a few other familiar faces pop up to join the fun.

Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie (now on his third film with Cruise and his second in this series, the first director to return) knows how to sketch characters, dynamics, and the potentially complex plotting of a good spy caper. It's great to see a number of threads picked up and expertly manipulated. Plot points drop in an reverberate through this movie, and even the events of the past movies, with the impact of a fly that just found itself unexpectedly caught in a spiderweb. And this all happens in between, and sometimes during, those magnificent action set-pieces.

The cast all slip back into their roles with ease. Cruise is, as well all know nowadays, either fearless or completely insane. He won't rest until one of these films allows him to escape a space-set shockwave as he glides down to Earth on the back of a toothy creature a la "Ace" Rimmer from Red Dwarf. Pegg and Rhames are great support, their characters bringing just a small amount of comedy while reinforcing the few bonds that connect IMF with individual lives instead of just faceless masses to be saved. Ferguson is slightly underserved by the script, but does very good work with what she's given. Harris remains a menacing figure, Vanessa Kirby is good fun as a "broker", and Cavill is absolutely brilliant as the sledgehammer who may break our heroes if he thinks things aren't going to plan. You also get some nice work from Alec Baldwin, again, and Angela Bassett. There's even some screentime for Michelle Monaghan.

That covers most of the fun stuff. I could mention how exhilirated I felt watching Cruise ride a motorbike the wrong way around the Arc de Triomphe. I could try to describe the sheer joy I felt while Cruise called Cavill a prick. You get the idea. There's lots and lots of fun moments. And I won't deny that some of the action beats are next-level in their scale and choreography, for a mainstram blockbuster release. The finale is especially adpet at jumping from one white-knuckle moment to the next.

The non-fun stuff is also very good. The subtitle here may be Fallout but I suspect that's because Weight just wouldn't sound as good. Believe me, however, when I say that this film is all about weight. The weight of responsibility, the weight of constantly making decisions based on murky and fluid morality, the weight of the practical effects, the weight of emotions. People may remember the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few but this film reminds us all that the choice weighs just as heavily on the person having to make the call, and also that sometimes the end games are one and the same. It also makes an interesting point about the war on terror and how the good intentions can create even more dangers and enemies. I would argue that the two moments in this film that completely sum up Ethan Hunt are a scene in which he apologises to a wounded police officer in French and a scene in which he tells the other team members that he won't let them down, even as everyone realises that they can no longer hear one another. Even with his team, Hunt alone feels the total weight of the job, especially while maintaining a moral code that others may lack.

Where the film falls down slightly, certainly in comparison to the previous missions, is in the scenes which allow it to remind us of the past. McQuarrie ties up loose ends that few people were all that bothered about. He does it well, or as well as he can, but it still feels unnecessary. The same goes for some of the details and callbacks that make the film feel like some grand sendoff rather than just a grand adventure. I'm not going to namecheck them all, and I am not saying that there are lots and lots, but fans of the series will find some moments feeling far too familiar because McQuarrie felt that he needed to include some extra little nods and winks.

The fourth film had amazing set-pieces without a memorable villain, the fifth film had the perfect mix of both. This film sits somewhere between the two. The villains are great, the action is often brilliant, but it's a bit overlong, a bit happy to scamper back and forth to the same well, and sometimes, even for this series, feels a bit too unbelievably coincidental and convenient.

But I'll be just as eager to see the next mission. And I'll be buying this one ASAP.

8/10

Your mission can be found here.


Monday, 30 July 2018

Mubi Monday: Naked Lunch (1991)

When I first saw Naked Lunch I had no idea of exactly WHAT I had just watched. It was a film full of startling imagery, a wonderful lead performance from Peter Weller, and some impressively organic special effects that often looked like genitalia. I was probably in my early twenties when I saw the film, which explains why I came away so confused.

Now, at the grand old age of *cough, cough*, I can safely say that a rewatch of the film has led me to now have a clear opinion of it. And that clear opinion is that I still have no idea of what exactly I just watched. It remains a bizarre and bewildering experience, but I now know that it is all planned out that way.

The plot concerns William Lee (Weller), an exterminator who also likes to get high on his own supply of bug powder. As does his wife (Judy Davis). Mr Lee is also a writer, although his main typewriter of choice appears to him as a insect-like creature that starts to talk to him. I could say more but you would just think I hallucinated the whole thing.

That is the big plus of Naked Lunch, yet it's also the big minus. Writer-director David Cronenberg, adapting an "unfilmable" novel by William S. Burroughs, has decided to take the bones of a standard narrative and loop it numerous times through a drug-coated mesh, pulling everything tight at either end and leaving the middle section bulging and mis-shapen. He makes a number of bold choices, but they all pay off when it comes to delivering a movie experience like few others I can think of.

As well as the druggy haze, Naked Lunch deals in the kind of paranoia, conspiracy, and twists and turns that will be familiar to Cronenberg fans who have enjoyed Videodrome (made years before this one) and eXistenZ (which came along some time after). And there are so many films from him that feature characters losing their sense of identity that you could say it is one of his main preoccupations.

Weller gives arguably his best performance here, despite the fact that he has a couple of other roles in his filmography that fans will often put ahead of this one, and he's ably supported by Davis, Ian Holm, Roy Scheider, and Julian Sands, among others. Everyone involved gives a performance that feels a little bit off. Whether it's their sense of humour, their acceptance of odd events, or something else, they feel just like characters being viewed through the eyes of a drug addict who cannot trust his own senses.

Don't ever ask me to tell you what is going on in every scene and how it all connects. I am not about to rewatch the film with the intention of taking down notes and creating venn diagrams. And I am not offering my opinion of the movie as any kind of testimony to my own insight. I just know that I love the experience of it, even during the more gross sequences, and that it is another Cronenberg work that feels like it couldn't have been made by anyone else.

8/10

There's a disc you can buy here.
Americans can get a nicer disc here.




Sunday, 29 July 2018

Netflix And Chill: Home Again (2017)

There are times when Reese Witherspoon stars in the type of movie that you don't mind sitting through for 90 minutes in between other, often better, movies. She can do "fluff". She has also starred in some genuinely great films, but most of her choices tend to be in the "fluff" section. Look through her filmography for the 21st century and you will see that every second or third movie she has done falls under this category. And I have enjoyed quite a few of them.

I didn't really enjoy Home Again though, which is a horrible rom-com that misses out both the rom and com elements, relying on the star power of Witherspoon to gain the goodwill of viewers.

Witherspoon stars as Alice, she's the daughter of a celebrated film director and the mother of two girls. She is separated from her husband (Michael Sheen) and gets through each day with the help of her own organisational skills and occasional help from her mother (Candice Bergen). After a big birthday night out, Alice wakes up alongside Harry (Pico Alexander). His friends, George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff), slept on the sofas. They are all trying to get their first feature film made and, before you can say plot contrivance, all end up staying with Alice as they try to capitalise on a big break with a hotshot movie director (Reid Scott).

There have been worse rom-coms released than this one, a lot worse, but it's hard to think of one right now, especially one with such a relatively big name in the lead role. Witherspoon, Sheen, and Bergen all deserve better, although it's only Sheen who manages to fight his way above the material, and that is despite him playing the designated asshole of the main storyline. Pico Alexander, however, doesn't seem to deserve much better, simply because he doesn't exude the kind of appeal that is required for his role. Rudnitsky and Wolff are both much more enjoyable onscreen, and I wouldn't mind seeing them in some better roles, in some better movies.

Writer-director Haillie Meyers-Shyer shows that being the daughter of someone as comfortable with this kind of material as Nancy Meyers (her mother) does not automatically qualify her as someone talented in the field. From the script, which could have been put together by a malfunctioning computer program, to the casting of ineffective lead players, to the obvious lack of warmth throughout, even during the moments most obviously designed as heartwarming highlights.

I can give you at least 50 rom-coms that are funnier and/or more romantic than this one. At least five of those star Reese Witherspoon. So there's no reason to ever make this a priority viewing.

3/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 28 July 2018

Shudder Saturday: The Bees (1978)

I love a good, fun, creature feature. And I love movies that can make your skin crawl as some of our smallest critters become some of our biggest enemies, be it in terms of attitude (this movie, the magnificent Phase IV, Arachnophobia) or in terms of size (Empire Of The Ants, The Giant Spider Invasion, ummmmmm . . . Night Of The Lepus). Many of these movies aren't actually any good, but I have a soft spot for them nonetheless. I either saw them when I was young enough to enjoy the thrills without feeling scared (okay, I was maybe a little scared the first time I saw Empire Of The Ants) or they always simply amused me, despite lacking the real thrills or scares that they were supposed to have. None of that really applies to this movie though. This movie is just bad.

The basic plot concerns a strain of more dangerous bees that are smuggled into America by corporate agents who have a plan for them that probably won't put the entire world in danger. Unfortunately, things soon get out of hand and the entire world is put in danger. Oh dear. It's up to an elderly doctor (John Carradine) to save the day. Not just him. It's also up to John Saxon, playing a character who feels like it was written in the script as "anyone as tough and cool as John Saxon", and Angel Tompkins (playing Sandra Miller). Bees buzz around, people flap their hands and fall over, and it all leads to a finale that you wouldn't believe was real if I described it to you right now.

Witten and directed by Alfredo Zacarias, it's very hard not to think that he was, well, taking the piss. The Bees starts off quite silly and then just keeps on getting sillier and sillier. Scenes that should be tense are either incompetently staged (any major moments showing the creatures attacking tend to have them as dots passing the screen and small swarms drawn on to each frame) and the plotting is childishly slapdash and careless.

Fair play to Saxon, Tompkins, and Carradine, dlivering some of the most risible dialogue that I've heard in any movie from this subgenre. Saxon, in particular, deserves some kind of award for keeping a straight face during a final act in which he tells people in power exactly what he has managed to surmise from his time trying to understand the bees. And anyone involved in a scene that has lots and lots of actual bees around them also deserves some praise. The bees may have all had their stingers removed (not sure how that affected the poor little buggers) but my instincts would still be telling me to get the hell out of that buzz-filled environment.

It's entertaining during individual moments, but for all the wrong reasons, and that is why I score it as high as I do. Even the score is so bad that it feels as if it has been created that way for comedic effect. I advise people to avoid this one. But you'll chuckle at times if you force yourself to sit through it.

3/10

There's a surprisingly decent looking disc for this here.


Friday, 27 July 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman (1958)

Barely stretching (no pun intended) to feature length, Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman is a fun sci-fi diversion that spends much more time on standard melodrama and relationship issues than it does on the more fantastical elements.

Allison Hayes plays Nancy Archer, a woman who is traumatised at the start of the movie when she sees something landing on the road in front of her and a large creature getting out of the craft. Viewers see this via the shot of a giant hand reaching out towards her. Nancy is keen to warn people of what she saw but few people are quick to believe her. She's known for her bouts of overindulgence when it comes to alcohol, and her emotions have been teased at and tested for a long time by her philandering husband, Harry (William Hudson). He would be delighted if his wife was declares insane and committed to a mental institution, which would leave him in control of the finances and able to give more treats to his girlfriend, Honey (Yvette Vickers).

Directed by Nathan Juran (billed as Nathan Hertz), Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman is a look at a woman turning her life around and fighting back at a manipulative and undeserving husband. It just happens to also have a space giant and that unexpected growth spurt for the main character.

Mark Hanna's script, the last in this vein from a run of these movies in the late '50s, has a bit more depth and intelligence than the outrageous title may suggest, although it's a shame that the film doesn't really deliver enough of the b-movie treats, even during the third act, which feels like it's over before it's even begun.

The cast all do okay. Nobody stands out (although Vickers easily shows enough appeal to make it believable that she would be able to keep a married man wrapped around her fingers, especially a married man as nefarious as the one played by Hudson) but they align well with the material.

Even if you end up hating Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman, the fact that it's just under 65 minutes means that you won't feel as if you have wasted too much of your time. But I doubt you will hate it.  It's almost impossible for this film to overstay its welcome, although I wish it had a few more scenes of destruction and panic.

6/10

You can buy the movie here, if you're over in America.


Thursday, 26 July 2018

Daphne & Velma (2018)

It isn't every grown man who would think that a film about Daphne Blake and Velma Dinkley, the female members of Mystery, Inc, could make for an easy bit of DVD entertainment. Well, I am not every grown man. Sometimes I am told that I am BARELY a grown man. Immature? Call me that again and I will blow a raspberry at you and stomp off to my room.

But enough about my maturity, or lack of it. What does this film actually do with the characters?

Well, after being friends online for such a long time online, Daphne (Sarah Jeffery) is finally going to meet Velma (Sarah Gilman) in real life. They will, in fact, be attending the same school. But something isn't right at the school. Students have been undergoing personality changes and, perhaps even stranger than that, Velma is a consistent F-grade student. Is there some scheme being masterminded by the man who helped turn the school into a tech-lovers paradise (Tobias Bloom, played by Brooks Forester)? Are aliens involved? Or is the real villain Two-Mop Maggie? (Mickie Pollock giving Scooby Doo fans an enjoyably archetypal "grouchy caretaker" persona)

Written by Kyle Mack and Caitlin Meares, Daphne & Velma may be a bit disappointing to people who want to catch lots of nods to Scooby-Doo adventures but, to be fair, it's not really being sold on that. It's exactly what it says it is. A Daphne and Velma movie. The characters may not be the same characters that you or I grew up with (assuming SOME of you reading this are the same age as me) but they're not changed beyond recognition, and the younger incarnations shown here should appeal more to the target demographic. In that regard, Mack and Meares do a good enough job. The film is a positive one, the simple comedy is amusing enough, and the mystery element is entertaining without anything that could overly worry younger viewers.

Director Suzi Yoonessi keeps everything moving along in the expected bright 'n' breezy manner, with the visual palette blending the cartoon origins of the characters with the hi-tech environment that they're exploring. It doesn't take Daphne and Velma long to find outfits that match the colours we're used to seeing them in (this isn't a long, tortuous, origin tale) and the fact that nobody here is trying to create some kind of extended "Scooby Universe" allows Yoonessi to focus on the real heart of the film, two girls who become firm friends and look out for one another as their investigative instincts take them through some dangerous territory.

Jeffery and Gilman are fine in the lead roles, Brian Stepanek is good fun as an overprotective father, Forester and Pollock do enough to remain suspicious in the third act, Vanessa Marano, Adam Faison, Evan Castelloe, and Courtney Dietz are fellow students, who may be in danger or may be causing danger for others, and Arden Myrin is a lot of fun as the head of the school.

I didn't enjoy Daphne & Velma as much as I hoped I would but that's because, as much as I'd like to fool myself into thinking otherwise, I'm a middle-aged man. This is a film created as a positive, fun, adventure for young girls. Viewed from that angle, it works. It's no classic, granted, but it works.

5/10

You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.


Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Witchcraft 14: Angel Of Death (2016)

It's the fourteenth instalment in this series. I long ago gave up on the idea of any originality, or even any level of basic technical competence, but I am going to make it through this entire series, as long as I have all of my main faculties available to me (which looks less and less likely with each film I subject myself to).

Rose (Molly Dougherty) is a young woman with supernatural powers. Viewers find this out when she destroys the lover of her partner, and then goes on to destroy him. She soon comes to the attention of Samuel (Jeremy Sykes), a man who runs a yoga studio, but who is more concerned with connecting with women that he knows have certain powers. He uses Sharon (Noel VanBrocklin) and Tara (Zamra Dollskin) to make Rose feel more comfortable, all while moving further towards his nefarious end goal.

Director David Palmieri joins the series here, and he would also direct the next two films. Palmieri is either better than his predecessors at stretching the budget or, more plausibly, the lowering prices of filmmaking equipment that can provide decent results leads to this being a minor step up from quite a few of the previous entries in the series. It's still not good when compared to actual movies that have had a bit more effort put into them, but it's not as bad in terms of the visual and audio quality.

The script from Keith Parker, however, is as ridiculous and unbelievable as any of the other Witchcraft movies. I have given a brief plot summary without revealing any of the extra details, especially one or two third act "highlights", but trust me when I say that it's just supernatural silliness from beginning to end. We get returning characters in the shape of Will Spanner (played by Ryan Cleary this time), and Lutz (Berna Roberts) and Garner (Leroy Castanon), and none of them are phased by the events that they have now dealt with numerous times before.

Should I be polite about the cast members? I guess so. Nobody is there to win an Academy Award, and they do what is asked of them, overall. Dougherty is actually one of the better females to have a Witchcraft film under her belt, VanBrocklin and Dollskin are stuck with worse parts of the script, Roberts and Castanon work reasonably well together, and Sykes tries to inject a bit of fun into his performance. The only person I can't pretend to tolerate is Cleary, who is one of the worst actors to portray the ever-changing face of Will Spanner in the entire series. Sadly, as well as the director, he also carries over to the next two films. Yayyyyyyyy.

Not as painful as many of the other instalments, this still doesn't do enough to be considered a good movie.

3/10

Buy Charmed here. You know you want to.


Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Unsane (2018)

Steven Soderbergh has a way of presenting familiar material in a way that makes it feel fresh and interesting, whether it's the more naturalistic and low-key fights in Haywire, the glossy coating that encases the trashiness of Side Effects, or the effortless cool that transforms many of the films he has done with George Clooney in the leading role.

Unsane is quite a standard psychological thriller, competently put together but not spectacular in any way. The only new thing that Soderbergh brings to the table is filming it all on a phone (and it's not the first film to be made that way, but it may be the first relatively mainstream film to utilise that approach).

Claire Foy plays Sawyer Valentini, a young woman who goes to therapy sessions in order to deal with the big problem in her life, which viewers are left wondering about. Has Sawyer been seeing a stalker everywhere, was she traumatised by a past event, or is her mind refusing to give her any peace? Things get worse for Sawyer when she signs what she thinks is a standard bit of paperwork and ends up committed to a mental institution against her will. She is determined to be released, stating that she isn't crazy, but that's also what crazy people say. And then she realises that one of the staff members is her stalker.

There's a very good central performance here from Foy, who is supported by Joshua Leonard (as the possible stalker), Juno Temple (another patient in the facility), and Jay Pharoah (also another patient), all doing good work. And you get a nice cameo role for Amy Irving, so I have no problems with the cast.

The script, written by Jonathan Bernstein and James Greer, isn't as good as the cast deserve. It's okay, especially considering that these writers previously gave us films such as, well, Just My Luck and The Spy Next Door, but it's often either not as tight as it could be or it's just too predictable. The ideas here are more important than the dialogue, this isn't a film full of quotable lines, but the fact that those ideas end up lacking a certain something is a disappointment.

Soderbergh directs with his usual level of polish, even through a phone camera, but he never feels like the best fit for the material. Imagine what De Palma could have done here, or perhaps M. Night Shyamalan. Having recently been reminded of her talent, Lynne Ramsay could have taken us further into a troubled mind. But we're stuck with Soderbergh, who does fine. He just doesn't make things as interesting or thrilling as they could be.

6/10

You can buy Unsane here.
Americans can buy it here.


Monday, 23 July 2018

The Joking Gunn



We interrupt the scheduled Mubi Monday post for this, apologies in advance. Also, BE WARNED, content coming up that may cause offence/trigger.

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past 48 hours or so then you are no doubt aware that James Gunn has been "let go" by Disney. He will no longer be attached to the third Guardians Of The Galaxy movie. A lot of Marvel fans were upset by this news. Gunn himself doesn't seem too happy, but made a diplomatic statement that took it on the chin.

And what caused this. LOADS of bad jokes he had on Twitter from 6+ years ago.

They were often deliberately crafted to shock. Gunn was trying to be that kind of guy. If there was a hashtag then he would think of the most offensive line to accompany it.

One example: "Three Men and a Baby They Had Sex With #unromanticmovies"

Another example: "The Hardy Boys and The Mystery Of What It Feels Like When Uncle Bernie Fists Me #SadChildrensBooks"

Another example: "This hotel shower is the weakest ever. Felt like a three year old was peeing on my head."

At least one had a video link URL that had a title none of us would want to see, I hope, but I was informed that the URL went to a video not really in line with the description (which would make sense, otherwise he would have surely been kicked out on his ear a long time ago). And he retweeted and mentioned sex offenders and statements (real or pretend?) from people who were members of NAMBLA. I haven't screencapped them because I am just a bit crap with that stuff, and it's late, and you can find them all very easily right now.

They're all quite bad, to put it mildly. Although I like the shower tweet, which isn't in any way connected to paedophilia but resonates with any parent who has had their kid above them just at the wrong time. We parents have all been peed on at least once. It's a strange kind of reverse baptism.

Now, here's where things get weird. Gunn already apologised for many of his comments back in 2012. You can Google that easily enough. It was mainly in response to GLAAD but he gave an apology that, in the intervening years, seems to have proven sincere. He used to be a full-time Tromaville citizen, and those guys know how to shock their viewers, but now he had moved into another league. A level of the business that wouldn't want him just for his shock tactics and attempts at edgy humour (which were, for the most part, quite shite anyway).

The other weird thing. This all came about as part of a campaign orchestrated by Mike "Pizzagate" Cernovich. A man actually charged with rape in 2003. He denied the allegations, and the charge was reduced to misdemeanour battery. This was set up by someone who wanted to stir up fake outrage and put someone out of work because they were extremely vocal against the current POTUS. You can follow the lines back and easily figure that out for yourself. Easily.

And here's the worst thing. His plan worked. Not only that, he then tried to take down more figures over the past few hours. And you cannot be opposed to this plan. Because those who want these people to shut up have started to bandy around the word "paedophile". In fact, they complain about people making jokes that include paedophilia and rape, taking the lead from a man who was actually charged with rape.

Many MANY online folks have now already labelled James Gunn as a paedophile. Call them out on it and you get a comment about how there would be no other reason for all of those tweets and jokes on the subject. I have been told that he hung around with abusers, I can't find any proof of that, and have also been accused of supporting a paedophile.

I am not allowed to babysit any more
Why? Because this is an important line. This is, make no bones about it, a battle for freedom of speech to be available to all, not just those on the right or the left, or wherever you are on the political spectrum. Many are extra-smug because Gunn was also vocal about the tweet that got Roseanne fired from her show. Was that intended as a joke? I don't think so. Roseanne eventually blamed it on meds. She now states that she didn't know the race of her target. Which is odd, as the tweet mentioned a Muslim brotherhood along with the ape reference. Also, she made this tweet while currently employed with the people who were putting out her show. The two examples are very different, but don't try to argue that with someone who wants them to be exactly the same. You'll be called a "pedo-apologist" and bitter because your freedom of speech argument has bitten you on the ass.

No Daddy Day Care plans in my future
This is a really big deal. It's worrying. I get that people don't like all jokes. People don't often like sick jokes, of course, and there are many who believe that some things should be off-limits in the field of humour. I do understand people feeling that way even if I disagree. I urge them to avoid people who make those jokes, and let others pick who they want to laugh along with. The same goes for books, movies, foods, anything where taste is a factor, basically. If Gunn was ever trying to be a stand-up comic then I don't think he would do very well.

But jokes are JOKES, and what I have seen over this weekend is a seething mob of people genuinely equating jokes with the act of doing something, and some even calling it worse. Joke about paedophilia? You're a paedophile. Joke about rape? You're probably a rapist. Joke about something disease? You're heartless scum.

That's not true. I have, at some point, joked about all of those things. I know, you can roll your eyes and feel disappointed in me. I am sorry. I am not always as good or clever as I would like to be. Yet I am good enough to have never done any of those things. And I have never actually seen a chicken cross a road. I have also never told a doctor that I felt like a pair of curtains. The times when I have walked into a pub with an Englishman and Irishman alongside me hasn't resulted in a number of jokes that keep ending with the Irishman being made to look silly (okay, sometimes it has, but we've all taken our turn to look silly and they're my friends so what makes us laugh just makes us laugh). Despite the running joke with my wife whenever she calls to tell me that she is due home soon, I have never had to hide a stash of drugs or kick out a group of hookers. Because neither have been in our house. But I joke about it. A lot. And I know many others with a dark/sick sense of humour that I trust a lot more than some who may not say boo to a goose (as the saying goes, although I have also never seen ANYONE say boo to a goose).


I couldn't give a shit if Gunn gets to return to superhero movies, or if the third Guardians movie even goes ahead. I do, however, give a shit if he is labelled as a social outcast/criminal for telling lots and lots of bad jokes (allegedly thousands of the damn things). And I give a shit about conversations being shut down so quickly by one word, whatever that word might be.

According to sources over the years, certain people have recently displayed behaviour that was quite well-known behind the scenes, be it abusive attitudes or racism. According to everyone who knows James Gunn, he is a lovely and friendly and sweet guy. I'll be as disgusted as anyone else if any evidence comes up to paint him in a different light. But, for now, I can find his jokes unfunny while also not thinking that he deserves to lose his position/goodwill for bad stuff that he already apologised for. Six years ago.

I said that it was getting more and more important lately for us to not just be silent in the face of increasingly nasty and insidious tactics to keep people in check. I am sorry to those who have maybe been bored by my many comments on this over the weekend. This concerns us all, even if you don't think it does. What will you be labelled when you say something that someone with a bit of influence finds disagreeable or unpleasant? What is in your past that you think they can use to attack you?

A lie used to be able to get halfway around the world before the truth could get its pants on. Now it can get all the way around. Twice. With photoshopped pics to back it up.

Genuine poll

Marvel fans may want to sign this petition, but I doubt it will do much good - GOTG3 petition.
And people may want to buy Cards Against Humanity here.