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.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Netflix And Chill: The Rewrite (2014)

The Rewrite is just about as predictable as a movie can be. It's not even too far removed from many other Hugh Grant movies from the last couple of decades. And I really enjoyed, I tell you, REALLY enjoyed it. Despite the predictability, I almost rated it even higher than I eventually did.

Grant stars as Keith Michaels, an Oscar-winning writer who hasn't recaptured that glory in many years. He as had numerous meetings that lead to nothing and he needs some money. So he accepts a teaching job in Binghampton, despite believing that writing cannot be taught. Instead of reading all of the script extracts that should be the deciding factor on who gets into the class, he picks attractive girls (including Karen, played by Bella Heathcote, who he has also slept with on his first night in town) and a couple of non-threatening males. There's someone else who wants to get into his class. A woman (Holly, played by Marisa Tomei) who tries to hold on to optimism, whatever life has thrown her way. Will the students learn anything? Can Keith even make it to the end of term? He has a couple of allies (played by Chris Elliott and J. K. Simmons) but quickly makes a powerful enemy (Allison Janney).

The Rewrite is written and directed by Marc Lawrence, the man who also gave us Hugh Grant vehicles such as Two Weeks Notice, Music & Lyrics, and Did You Hear About The Morgans? I haven't seen that last movie YET but this film is very much in line with the first two. Grant is someone who, throughout the course of the film, eventually learns some lessons while finding himself growing closer to someone who may become a love of his life. Hs charm and humour help people to overlook his flaws as he wades through territory that is unfamiliar to him, and there's usually a major wobble in the third act that has to be fixed for a standard, happy, rom-com ending. Lawrence does this so entertainingly, helped by his leads and the whole supporting cast, that it's easy to actually admire the formulaic nature of it, rather than resent it.

Grant is as wonderful as he usually is in this kind of role, working a fun mix of cynicism, desperation, and a small shred of hope that he can see things out long enough to get back on his feet. Tomei is equally wonderful, she has been a romantic lead in many other movies and is always believably warm and lovable in those roles. Heathcote does well, as do Andrew Keenan Bolger, Steven Kaplan, Emily Morden, Annie Q, and the other women playing the students. Simmons is a delight as a man who jokingly gripes about being the only man in a household with his wife and daughters, and who always gets emotional when he starts talking about them in earnest, Elliott is fun as a teacher who wishes that his ability yo find a Shakespeare quote for any occasion could improve his lot in life, and Janney is very welcome in a role that could have easily gone to a lesser-known performer.

The only downside I can think of is the decidely average score. Well, you also have the formula, sometimes feeling almost slavishly adhered to. This is disposable entertainment. It just happens to be disposable entertainment that made me smile, laugh, and feel satisfyingly entertained from start to finish. Others might even agree with me.

6/10

You can buy The Rewrite here.
Americans can buy it here.


Saturday, 21 July 2018

Shudder Saturday: Sequence Break (2017)

It is probably my own fault. I may have brought along some unfairly high expectations when I sat down to view Sequence Break, written and directed by the very likable Graham Skipper. I was rooting for Skipper, and I had heard people make shorthand comments comparing it to some murky hybrid of Tron and Cronenbergian horror. How could it fail?

Chase Williamson plays Oz, a young man who works on many arcade machines, getting them back in working order for his boss (Lyle Kanouse). Unfortunately, he is about to lose his job. His place of employment is no longer making money, times are hard. The good news is that he meets a young woman, Tess (Fabianne Therese), and a date looks very likely in his near future. He heads back to his work, finds an envelope with a motherboard stashed inside, and when he places that motherboard inside a game cabinet things start to get weird.

Written and directed by Skipper, Sequence Break is an odd film that deliberately blurs the lines of the onscreen reality until things are almost impenetrable, and then decides to use the very last moments to turn things back to a more traditional film style. It's quite the paradox, being both experimental and daring and yet also surprisingly safe. It's a film full of impressive small details that can never push everything together to make a satisfying big picture. The low budget is obvious in every scene but just a bit more creativity and madness could have distracted viewers from it.

Williamson is a solid lead, Therese is just as good alongside him, Kanouse does fine, and John Dinan pops up occasionally to be the mysterious man who knows about the situation well enough to provide oblique hints regarding how to resolve things. None of the main cast members are bad, which helps the film immensely because they're not given much to work with. The film is more concerned with the idea of the machine, the way it affects the mind and what else it may cause to happen, but it doesn't even explore that central stand as fully or effectively as it could. As the runtime is only 80 minutes, this is something that could have been improved upon throughout most of the second and third acts.

Skipper, perhaps tellingly, does better in the scenes that just have characters talking to one another. He clearly makes an effort to let the acting be the focus of dialogue-heavy scenes. Which makes it a shame that most of the film is taken up with characters gazing at, and being gazed back by, the machine.

But hey, I've seen a lot of people praise this, a lot of people liked it more than I did. I could be wrong in my view. It happens (rarely). So you may want to give it a go for yourself and see what you think. Just don't take any notice of anyone trying to compare it to other, better, films.

4/10

You can buy the DVD here.
Americans can stream the movie.


Friday, 20 July 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Westworld (1973)

A tale from Michael Crichton about a technologically-advanced amusement park that starts to have some major problems, resulting in the main attractions trying to kill the visitors, Westworld is a hugely influential film for a number of reasons, not least of which is the idea that Crichton would develop with even greater success in Jurassic Park (which you may have heard of, it led to a number of decent movies).

Although I've already supplied the plot summary above, I should go into a little bit more detail. James Brolin plays John Blane, and Richard Benjamin is Peter Martin. Blane and Martin are friends, with the former already having enjoyed a holiday in the amusement park that lets people live for a while in either the wild West, the age of the Romans, or the Middle Ages. Blane is keen to slip back into his cowboy role, and he encourages his hesitant friend to forget about reality and make the most of his time in the park. It's not long until they have an encounter with a bad gunslinger (played by Yul Brynner) who will end up malfunctioning and coming back to them with a loaded gun and a bit of a grudge.

Written and directed by Crichton, I always had fond memories of Westworld as an enjoyable, but fairly lightweight, sci-fi thriller. I very much thought of it as a great premise without too many other details distracting from the central pursuit of the hero by the relentless villain. But that's not really true. Crichton uses his premise to explore themes that are now much more familiar to fans of his dino-filled adventure and, of course, anyone who has been gripped by the recent TV reworking of this material (which is highly recommended). As Blane smirks and immediately adopts his cowboy swagger, viewers get to see just how quickly Martin is seduced by the options provided by the new lifestyle that he has temporarily purchased. He still has doubts, and hesitates while being talked into his first gunfight, but they are the doubts of someone wanting a friend to reassure them that it's all okay, there won't be any major consequences, just cut loose and have fun.

Benjamin is slightly weak in his leading role. He doesn't seem like the typical choice for this sort of thing but that is also what works for the role. He's not Brolin, lacking both the experience of the park and also the natural machismo that Brolin exudes. It's just a shame that his weakness applies to his acting and presence as well as his character, relatively speaking. Brolin, on the other hand, is confident and a solid co-star. Of course, the film would be a completely different beast if he was the focus. And then we get Brynner, arguably the inspiration for all of the best killer cyborgs that have come along afterwards. He is brilliantly cool and tough, constantly moving forward like a shark when he senses his prey ahead of him. And the way in which his eyes are lit up (an effect used on a couple of other robotic characters throughout) helps to remind anyone, if they needed it, that he's more than just flesh and blood.

No matter how familiar you already are with this material (be it in dino form, cowboy form, or even the perils of The Simpsons being trapped in Itchy & Scratchy Land), Westworld is a film that is well worth revisiting. Some parts have dated worse than others, particularly the early scenes showing the leads being taken to the park, but it's a film with a number of interesting and thought-provoking ideas, especially when you consider how prescient some of those ideas were when this was first released.

8/10

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


Thursday, 19 July 2018

Mom And Dad (2017)

Written and directed by Brian Taylor (THE Taylor from the Neveldine/Taylor relationship that gave us the likes of the Crank movies and Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance), Mom And Dad is a mix of horror and black comedy that allows the writer-director to creep into fresh territory while not having to move too far out of his comfort zone. You still get moments that are full of quick editing and action, you still get a film that sets up the main premise and then follows it through to a satisfying finale with pacing that seems to gather momentum through every main sequence, and you get plenty individual moments of outright madness.

Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair play Brent and Kendall Ryan, respectively. They have a teenage daughter (Anne Winters) and a younger son (Zackary Arthur). They seem like quite a decent family unit, squabbles and stresses and all. That looks unlikely to last when a mysterious force starts to cause parents to turn into raging psychos who must kill their children. Can Cage and Blair resist the force? Considering how crazy he can be at the best of times, it seems unlikely that Cage will resist for long. And Blair is just as susceptible as everyone else.

Taking every minor irritation and turning it up to 11, Mom And Dad quickly becomes a collage of seething resentment and retribution. It's almost, perhaps, a dark and extreme fantasy for every parent who has been pushed to the very edge of sanity by a foot-stamping child. It's the ultimate punchline to any of those arguments that end with parents calling for a little gratitude and for their offspring to just consider how much they have had given to them over the years. The tagline sums that up: "They brought you into this world. They can take you out."

Cage and Blair are both a hell of a lot of fun, whether trying to make sense of the situation unfolding around them or unleashing all of their rage. Even their "quieter" moments, shown at the start of the film and very occasionally throughout the film, are enjoyably off-kilter. That's not because they're acting badly. It's because viewers know what is going on and can enjoy the weight in each line of dialogue and the small inconveniences that may well help to fuel them once they start to see red. Winters and Arthur are also very good, both spending a lot of their time trying to keep themselves alive while wondering just what the hell is happening around them, and Robert Cunningham has some very good scenes. He's going out with the daughter of the Ryans, making him an even more obvious target for the anger as it starts to burst out of the adults.

But all of this talk of the comedic nature of the material and performances (and I should also mention that Lance Henriksen makes a welcome appearance, although not for too long) shouldn't make you think that this is an easy watch. It IS, for the most part, but there are some scenes here that are unrelentingly tense and brutal, including one scene that has immediately become one of the most uncomfortable things I have seen in the past decade. You might think I'm exaggerating. See how you feel once you have watched the film for yourself.

Taylor has, for better or worse (depending on your views on their work), given people a film that easily sits alongside his collaborative efforts with Mark Neveldine. If he keeps going along this path, making the best of a strong central premise while pushing at the edges of territory he is more familiar with, then he might end up with a damn fine filmography to look back on. If we all continue to overlook that second Ghost Rider movie. And maybe Jonah Hex, even if I am one of the few people who quite enjoyed it.

8/10

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


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Witchcraft 13: Blood Of The Chosen (2008)

When I was a teenager I was a lot like other teenagers. Maybe not EXACTLY the same but close enough. Not smart enough to be an A+ student, just smart enough to piss off some bullies insecure about their own IQ. Not a fighter, which somehow translates to other teenage boys as a signal for everyone to challenge you to a fight (yeah, I never understood that either). Not wearing cardboard shoes but definitely not up to date on the latest essential playground fashions either. And I was a raging whirlwind of hormones, strange thoughts, and a desire to find out more about the mysterious females around me that had started to become more and more interesting to me from approximately the time of me starting high school. It was that sudden, like an invisible teacher slapped me in the face, pointed to everyone around me, and made me open my eyes wide until I cottoned on to the fact that major changes were underway.

Sometimes it's horrible to go through puberty. There were days when I never thought I would look in the mirror without seeing my acne-ridden face keeping me even more insecure with the ever-changing selection of dot-to-dot patterns on there. Few people mention the terror you can have as a young boy when you hear your mother open your bedroom door as usual, waking you up for another horrible schoolday, and even in that state of semi-consiousness you know that you have to rotate your body as quickly as possible to hide that embarrassing morning erection. Sometimes rolling to your side would do it. Sometimes you went a full 180 degrees and thought something was going to snap. And it's not as if you knew what caused the bloody thing, not from the very start anyway.

Should I even mention the mixed emotions of the warm glow and sheer terror that came along with wet dreams? There's the immediate reaction (that was nice, wonder what that was, what's that sticky stuff, oh my god, my pyjamas are soaking, I think it's also on the duvet, I have to hide all of the evidence) and then the ensuing scheming to try and clean things without any parents noticing. Which they would always notice, surely, but never mention. I've since seen clothing that looked in a similar state to my pyjama bottoms but they were in comedy scenes that showed people using far too much starch on their laundry.

Which brings me to the thirteenth movie in the Witchcraft series. It's directed by Mel House. It's written by Jeffrey and Michael Wolinski. It stars Tim Wrobel as Will Spanner, and features hearts being ripped out of chests, and a number of females using their feminine wiles to entrap and kill dumb, horny men. Those females include Roxy Vandiver, Zoe Hunter, Jennifer Lafleur, and Failin Proffit.

The audio is terrible, the acting is . . . generally not good, the direction is . . . generally not good, and the script is . . . actually not terrible when compared to previous entries in the series. The Wolinskis actually try to bring in familiar elements for anyone who has watched the other movies and can remember anything outwith the tame erotic scenes.

I know, I know, you're wondering why this movie required a review that had me spending so much time reminiscing on my turbulent teenage years. It's simple. The blood, the boobs, the horrible plotting, the rough technical side of things, all of these things add up to a movie that I would have loved if I saw it when I was that hormonal boy. And my friends would have also loved it. In fact, I think we could have MADE this movie when we were going through all of those changes.

That's what Witchcraft 13: Blood Of The Chosen is. That's what pretty much every Witchcraft movie is. A film made by a boy with overactive hormones and not enough sense to know how to direct that energy in a more effective way. Nobody took the time to bring the series back in line, nobody had "the talk" with anyone involved. Which is why we're now stuck with a load of dirty laundry and some people who may look red-faced and a bit sheepish if ever confronted by a concerned adult.

3/10

Get this Charmed boxset instead. Go on.
Americans can get it here.


Tuesday, 17 July 2018

MTOS: Uncage The Cage


There are two things I love in the world. Well, there are way more than two things I love, but here are two of them.

The first is #MTOS - Movie Talk On Sunday. It's a Twitter conversation, every Sunday evening at 2000 (UK time), and I missed it while it went far too quiet for a while. Ten questions, as many participants as possible. Many, many potential answers. The regular host is now FilmFile.

The second is Nicolas Cage. Which is why, partly to celebrate the release (AT LAST) of Mom & Dad here in the UK, I decided to put forward a potential choice/selection of questions for the upcoming #MTOS. And they have been accepted. So here are the questions, feel free to immerse yourself in the cinematic world of Nicolas Cage, and I hope you join us on Sunday evening.

1. Cage has always tended to have a particular . . . style. Do you like or dislike his work, and why?

2. Favourite Cage role?

3. Is he the weakest member of the Coppolla family?

4. Do you think his career has been strengthened or weakened by his need to pay off some BIG bills?

5. Would you have given your money to Cage in the Superman role?

6. At what point, what movie, do you think Cage went off the deep end?

7. Do you still look forward to Cage in Bruckheimer-produced movies?

8. Do you still look forward to Nicolas Cage movies in general?

9. Who did better? Travolta playing Cage or Cage playing Travolta in Face Off?

10. What role would you like to see Nic Cage play? Any role, new or reworked.




Mortuary (1983)

Howard Avedis may only have eleven movies to his credit, as director, but I now want to see them all. Not because Mortuary is a particularly great film, it isn't, but because the quickest bit of research has shown me that the first six films from Avedis (billed then as Hikmet Avedis) had captivating and enticing titles like The Stepmother, The Teacher, and, my favourite, Dr. Minx. How have I lived for so long without yet tracking down Dr. Minx?

But let's get to Mortuary. The film starts with a sequence that shows a man being beaten around the head a couple of times, leading to him dying in his swimming pool. That man is the father of Christie Parsons (Mary Beth McDonough) and his death was ruled as a suicide. Yeah, I don't know how either. Christie, funnily enough, suspects foul play. She investigates, aided by her boyfriend, Greg (David Wysocki), and soon finds that there's something odd going on at a local mortuary. The boss (Christopher George) enjoys leading ceremonies that have him surrounded by a number of women (including Christie's mother, Eve, played by Lynda Day George) and his son is a strange and slightly creepy Bill Paxton figure (played by Bill Paxton).

Written by Avedis and Marlene Schmidt (who helped to co-write a number of his films, and acted in all of them), Mortuary is not too bad when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the slasher elements. You have necessary motivation for the young lead to be nosing around where she's not wanted, you have one or two red herrings there, a couple of the deaths are decent and bloody enough, and the killer has an eerie and distinctive look about him/her. The only thing working against the film is the fact that, by 1983, audiences had already been bombarded by so many other slasher movies all trying to outdo one another. Mortuary doesn't try to fill the screen with gore or give you a kill every ten minutes. It instead keeps viewers entertained in different ways, with quirky character moments and a sense of playfulness throughout.

McDonough and Wisocki (the latter billed here as David Wallace) do just fine in their roles, neither becoming too annoying as they start to investigate the strange goings on around them. Both of the George cast members (Christopher and Lynda) have fun with their roles, despite (or maybe because of) having to deliver some of the more amusing dialogue. And Bill Paxton is as wonderful and watchable as he usually is, even before he has fully transitioned to the Paxton that we all grew to love throughout the next few decades.

One other thing about the movie that is worthy of note is the way in which it uses the last shot to throw the audience for a loop. I won't go into detail, and in some ways it is typical of many other horror movie "sting" moments, but it's a slightly enjoyable head-scratcher that feels more in line with the poster and marketing tactics than anything in the rest of the movie.

It's doubtful that you will love Mortuary, and you're probably not even likely to enjoy it as much as I did, but some people might. If this review gets one person to check it out, and if they watch the end credits with a smile lingering on their face, then that will do for me.

6/10

There's a Spanish disc (with English audio, apparently) here.
A shiny disc is also available for Americans here.


Monday, 16 July 2018

Mubi Monday: Mud (2012)

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols, Mud is a film that takes some obvious influences and then fails to shake them up and turn them into something fresh and exciting. Not to say that it's a bad film. There's enough here to enjoy, mainly the central performances, and Nichols proves a dab hand at taking plenty of small moments and putting them together to create something that feels appropriately bigger than the sum of its parts.

Tye Sheridan is Ellis and Jacob Lofland plays Neckbone, two young boys who encounter a hiding fugitive named Mud (Matthew McConaughey). He wants to get back together with his alleged true love, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), but are his motivations pure, and does Juniper want to be with him?

Mud looks good throughout, with Nichols finding a perfect balance between the daily grime and the sun-baked freedom that the two child stars seem to have through most of their days. These kids are able to have their adventure, but it's an adventure that isn't necessarily as safe and innocent as other tales that might spring to mind. Fortunately (or maybe not), they already have enough experience to be on the look out for other dangers, even as they take a risk by befriending Mud and trying to help him out of his current predicament.

The cast are the main strength here. Sheridan and Lofland give the kind of performances that surely signal bright futures ahead for both (although it's Sheridan that seems to have more easily moved onwards and upwards). McConaughey is great, once again using his charm to soften the edges of a character who might not be as friendly and trustworthy as he tries to appear. Witherspoon does well in a smaller role, although it's hard to say that she stands out in a supporting cast that also includes talent like Bonnie Sturdivant, Joe Don Baker, Ray McKinnon, Sarah Paulson, Sam Shepard, and Michael Shannon.

The fact that this film feels more lightweight than expected isn't an unforgivable crime against cinema. It is just enough to drag the film down from great to very good. The script has a few real gems in the dialogue and exchanges but they're too few and far between, which is a real shame. Instead of having this cast deliver gold from one scene to the next we instead watch them carry a lot of the film in between the fleeting moments of greatness. But we can at least be thankful that Nichols can always spot the best talent when it comes to casting his movies.

7/10

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


Sunday, 15 July 2018

Netflix And Chill: Tau (2018)

At the start of Tau we see Maika Monroe (playing the lead character, Julia) weaving her way through a crowd and getting up to some pickpocketing mischief. Then, just moments later, she is incapacitated, her character moved to the house that is the main setting for the movie. That's a great shame. As Tau starts to become more and more tedious, it becomes apparent that we may have been better off seeing the character of Julia in some other, any other, kind of story.

But here's what we get. Julia wakes up and finds herself imprisoned, alongside some other people (let's just call them "inconsequential and interchangeable corpses-to-be"), in a house that is protected and managed by a state of the art AI system, Tau. After an escape attempt that turns the corpses-to-be into corpses, Julia is made to undergo a number of tests by the home owner (Alex, played by Ed Skrein). If she does well then the information gathered from the test results will help Alex to move ahead in his work, but she will still have to die when no longer useful.

There are a couple of half-decent ideas buried in this film. Tau itself (voiced by Gary Oldman) is an impressive creation, with a nice line in curiosity about the nature of identity and humanity. The visual FX work is generally good and the visualisations as Julia is tested or communicates with Tau offer a respite from the one main setting. Unfortunately, there aren't too many other positives I can list.

Noga Landau doesn't have the most extensive writing career (everything before this is TV, and fans of The Magicians may already be familiar with her name) and it shows here, her failings exacerbated by the fact that this is the first feature directed by Federico D'Alessandro. Neither party really knows where to go with the central idea, instead wavering between a rumination on AI and a straightforward thriller about a young woman being held captive, and what lengths she might have to go to in order to gain her freedom. The end result is a mess, and it's not even an entertaining mess.

Monroe is a saving grace, putting in yet another decent performance. She can't do much to improve the material that she has to work with, but the film benefits from having her in almost every scene. Skrein is nowhere near as good, although that is as much to do with the script as it is to do with his flat, stilted, performance. Oldman does well enough in his voice role, I suppose, but I must admit that I spent the duration of the film thinking it was Jonathan Pryce lending his tones to the AI system. A compliment or criticism? I'm not sure.

Bear McCreary provides some good music to accompany the visuals, there are a couple of moments of bloodshed that are as unintentionally amusing as they are sudden, and the overall end result is, like many other Netflix options, a harmless enough time-waster that fails to make the most of its potential.

4/10

Buy a better sci-fi film about a "smart home" here.
It's also available here.


Saturday, 14 July 2018

Shudder Saturday: Funeral Home (1980)

AKA Cries In The Night.

The only feature script written by Ida Nelson, with good reason, Funeral Home is an enjoyably crude horror film that barely manages to qualify as a slasher movie (thanks to the lack of decent murder and mayhem). And when I say crude I am referring to the acting and the technical side of things.

Lesleh Donaldson plays the young woman, Heather, who arrives in town to stay with her grandmother (Maude Chalmers, played by Kay Hawtrey, billed here as Kay Hawtry). The home that her grandmother lives in used to be a funeral home but has now been recently converted into a bed & breakfast. Because nothing says cosy b & b like an ex-funeral home.

Directed by William Fruet, who has a number of much better movies and TV shows under his belt, Funeral Home has a basic level of competence throughout, but it's easy to overlook the positives when the negatives start to pile up. There's not even the sense that this is getting things right in relation to the most basic slasher movie tropes. The infrequent deaths don't feel all that inventive, there aren't any serious red herrings, and it even omits that last possible easy bonus, gratuitous nudity.

Donaldson is no good in her role, sadly lacking a bright enough personality to fight back against the material that she's saddled with. Hawtrey doesn't fare much better, although she's given a few moments in which to wring her hands and amuse viewers with some overacting. Dean Garbett is on a par with his co-stars, playing the young man who ends up getting closer to Donaldson's character, and the rest of the cast don't really warrant a mention.

Aside from the acting, you also get the well-worn "cat scare", a poor score from Jerry Fielding (one of his last, sadly), and a final reel that clumsily puts everything together in a way that references a much, MUCH better movie, that I cannot mention here as it would spoil any surprise for first time viewers.

Yet, despite the general lack of standard slasher movie elements, I still found just enough to enjoy here. Thats more to do with my love for this particular subgenre than it is to do with the contents of the film, I know that, but even if this doesn't make it to the level of "good", I've seen far worse examples as I've mined my way through these movies throughout the past few decades.

4/10

There's A disc available here.


Friday, 13 July 2018

Filmstruck Friday: The Wrong Arm Of The Law (1963)

With a fine British cast, an enjoyable crime caper at the heart of the plot, and plenty of gentle humour throughout, you would be forgiven for assuming that this 1963 movie was one of the many small gems produced by the Ealing Studios. It wasn't. Ealing had passed it's peak by this time, leaving a gap in the British cinematic landscape that I don't think anyone has ever really filled in since (despite the wonderful filmography of Hammer, Amicus, and a few others).

Anyway, let's get back to the actual film. Peter Sellers plays Pearly Gates, a smooth criminal boss who helps to front his operations with his role as a purveyor of fine dresses for women. All seems to be going well for him and the other crime bosses, including Nervous O'Toole (Bernard Cribbins), until a trio of Australian crooks get the bright idea of impersonation police officers and taking their rewards from criminals they catch at just the right time. They seem to have a lot of inside information, causing all of the crime gangs to lose out on a good chunk of change, which puts the likes of Pearly and Nervous in the uncomfortable situation of having to work with the police, mainly Inspector "Nosey" Parker (Lionel Jeffries) and his Assistant Commissioner (John Le Mesurier).

Constantly amusing throughout, The Wrong Arm Of The Law is not a film planned around belly-laughs or big set-pieces (although the finale piles on the satisfying payoffs and breakneck chase scenes). It instead relies on a quality cast delivering great performances.

The direction from Cliff Owen pitches the material exactly how it should play out, and the script (by John Antrobus and the famous duo of Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, working from a screenplay by John Warren and Len Heath) manages to keep everything moving along speedily enough while allowing the performers to play to their strengths.

Sellers gets to put on a couple of different voices, and there's some amusement to be had when he switches between his refined persona and his more uncouth natural style, Cribbins is one of the nicest and politest criminal bosses ever to be seen onscreen, and Jeffries is excellent as the main character being taken for a fool by everyone around him, including his superior (Le Mesurier, giving one of his characteristically unflappable and calm turns - that's how I always think of him anyway).

It may not be up there with the very best of the classic British comedies but I think The Wrong Arm Of The Law is a film that deserves to be seen by more people. Will it become your new favourite? That's highly unlikely. Will you enjoy yourself while the film is on? I think so, even if you don't end up liking it as much as I did.

8/10

You can buy the DVD here.
Americans can get it here.


Thursday, 12 July 2018

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

Welcome to another pointless review of a classic film that you already know is a classic, even if you haven't yet watched it, and don't need to be reminded of by someone who can't hope to add anything new to the reams of critical appraisals that it has already received.

The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three is all about a group of robbers (Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo, and Earl Hindman) who take over a subway car. They then demand a large ransom, to be delivered within a tight timeframe, or they will start killing passengers. A lot of the police struggle to find any other solution to the situation, leaving the bulk of the communication and consideration of the options to Zachary Garber (Walter Matthau), a Police Lieutenant with the New York Transit Authority.

From the colour codenames of the crooks to the canny elements of the heist, right up to the classic final scene, this is an influential and entertaining crime thriller that holds up just as well for newcomers today (over four decades after it was originally released). Hey, I enjoyed the Tony Scott-helmed remake, despite being sad that I saw it before the original, but this easily remains the best version of the story.

Director Joseph Sargent keeps everything moving along at a great pace, working from a great script from Peter Stone (an adaptation of a novel by John Godey) that uses dialogue to build and maintain tension, as well as reveal more of each main character. There are also infrequent moments of violence punctuating the long stand-off. The violence isn't too graphic but it always serves as a sobering reminder that these criminals aren't bluffing.

Matthau gives another performance that makes great use of that hangdog expression he is so good at. Whether he's wondering just how the criminals hope to make their getaway or he's talking to the head of the group (Shaw) as he buys time and tries to glean more information, he's consistently wonderful. Shaw is a fantastic baddie, a man with a plan and a moral code. He will follow through on anything he says but he hopes to avoid unnecessary risks. Balsam is solid support for him, working through the plan while dealing with an unexpected cold, Elizondo is a bit of a hothead, and Hindman is there to make up the numbers, really, although he doesn't do bad. You also get Jerry Stiller as a colleague of Matthau, Lee Wallace as the mayor, Nathan George and Julius Harris as two determined members of the police force, and Tony Roberts as the man advising the mayor on the best way to navigate these tricky waters.

Go and see it immediately, if you have somehow avoided it until now (as I did). It's a near-perfect blend of crime and wit. You also get a wonderful score from David Shire AND one of the best final lines/shots in the history of cinema.

9/10

You can buy the film on shiny disc here.
Americans can pick it up here.


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Witchcraft XII: In The Lair Of The Serpent (2002)

There may come a time when I look back on this foolish endeavour and wonder why the hell I put myself through it. Why would I become more and more determined to work my way through a series that jumped off a cliff during the first couple of instalments and never ever made it back even to a level of acceptable average(ness).

That time comes closer every week, but each instalment also makes me grit my teeth and become more determined to make it all the way through to the end.

Witchcraft XII: In The Lair Of The Serpent is just as bad as most of the films that preceded it. It's lazily slapped together, with a level of sound and visual quality that you could better nowadays on most mobile phones. And the slim plot would barely fill an episode of The Red Shoe Diaries, yet is stretched out here to feature length.

Jeff (Bruce Blauer) is out for a night of fun and alcohol with his sister, Cindy (Janet Keijser), when he disappears. Cindy enlists the help of her friend, Will Spanner (Chip James), to find her brother. It turns out that a group of attractive women are luring men back to their homes (AKA poorly-lit sets with strategically-placed dark curtains) and sacrificing them to fulfil an ancient prophecy.

Written and directed by Brad Sykes, this is a film that just avoids being one of the very worst, just like its predecessors, because it's not overlong, it tries to distract viewers with some gratuitous nudity, and the plotting is so inept that it's easy to laugh at in a way that keeps things relatively pain-free.

None of the cast do well. Blauer, Keijser, and James are just too dull, Joe Myles doesn't have enough time or material to make a good impression as the demonic Malleus, and a number of attractive blonde women (including Monika Wild and Tricia Berdot) even struggle to portray their complex characters of . . . attractive blonde women.

Once again, I can only recommend this to fellow sadomasochists and/or completists. This is a movie series only of interest because of how long it somehow managed to limp along, despite not having enough elements left to appeal to horror fans or enough sexual content to appeal to those after simple titillation.

2/10

Witchcraft XII: In The Realm Of The Serpent is available digitally, and I am sure some overpriced DVDs are still available.

Time to once again use this pic of nice witches NOT in this movie

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Walk Like A Panther (2018)

You would think that, considering the amount of movies I watch, it would take a lot to actually make me angry and disappointed in a film. I have relatively low standards. I start watching every movie while rooting for it to do a good job. And it was the same with Walk Like A Panther, a movie reworking of an idea that writer-director Dan Cadan first used just over half a decade ago on TV.

The cast made me feel secure in my viewing choice. A lead played by Stephen Graham, a main role for Dave Johns, supporting roles for the likes of Jill Halfpenny, Robbie Gee, Julian Sands, and Michael Socha. I also knew that Lena Headey appeared at some point (it's a very brief cameo though).

The plot didn't put me off either. A group of older British wrestlers, long past their prime, have to put on the lycra once again to raise enough money to save their local pub. Lessons are learned along the way, and someone finally manages to stop living in the shadow of others and grab their moment in the spotlight. Well, that last sentence was what I assumed would happen, and it did.

You get some decent songs on the soundtrack, a selection of colourful characters, and the inevitable montage moments. What you don't get is a decent smattering of actual laughs. This is a comedy in which the comedy itself is notably absent, one or two lines aside.

The great shame is that Cadan wastes that great cast. Graham tries his best with what he's given, as does Johns (playing his father), but there's only so much that can be done with the lazy script. Sands is, admittedly, allowed to have the most fun that I've seen him have onscreen for a number of years but that's offset by the treatment of Socha, reduced to the angry idiot who wants to upset everyone around him until he sees the light. Stephen Tompkinson is the pantomime villain, and Sue Johnston and Jason Flemyng are among the many people wasted in much smaller roles.

Considering how long he has been close to this material, from the time it must have taken himi to develop the TV series to this feature, it's amazing that Cadan couldn't take the time to take the premise and spin some gold from it. Because the potential is there. But nothing is done to lift it even to the level of average. Nothing. If you can't create some decent comedy from the idea of aged character wrestlers getting back into costume for a fundraising match then that's quite an achievement. The fault seems to lie squarely with Cadan and I can only feel sorry for the people involved, who obviously thought the end result was going to be a much better film.

3/10

Walk Like A Panther is available in digital formats.