Friday, 31 August 2018

Filmstruck Friday: The Freshman (1925)

Harold Lloyd stars as Harold Lamb, a young man who is heading off to university and wants to become the most popular guy there. He plans to do this by emulating the lead character in a new movie that he has decided to take notes from. All seems to go well, but that's only on the surface. Harold doesn't realise that most of the people around him view him as a joke, which saddens the young woman (Peggy, played by Jobyna Ralston) who he seems destined to end up with.

I have championed Harold Lloyd for a number of years, and will continue to do so for a long time to come. I have fond memories of his work, having been exposed to numerous clips of his comedy when The Harold Lloyd Show (I THINK that was the name of it, but it could have been something like Harold Lloyd & Friends) was thrown into the TV schedules to fill up timeslots during the holiday periods. He may not have hit the dizzying heights of Chaplin or Keaton but Lloyd managed to market his nebbish and nerdy persona in films that remain impressively smart, and (most importantly) very funny, even today.

There are numerous credited writers here (Sam Taylor, Ted Wilde, John Grey, Tim Whelan) and two directors (Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor). I'm not familiar with other work from them, and I won't say that they stamp their mark on this, which is a Harold Lloyd movie, first and foremost, although I have to give a mention to the technical achievement of the third act, which involves a lot of camerawork and movement that was a lot harder to achieve back then than it is nowadays.

Whether he's doing a little jig as he introduces himself to everyone or socialising at a party while his suit starts to unravel, piece by piece, Lloyd is as great as ever in his role. Ralston is very sweet, playing "the kind of girl your mother must have been", according to the title card, and Pat Harmon is good fun as the football coach (the grand finale is an important football game that Lloyd wants to be part of). Elsewhere, Brooks Benedict, Hazel Keener, and James Anderson do fine in their roles, and Joseph Harrington helps the hilarity as the poor tailor trying to help Lloyd keep his suit on in the aforementioned unravelling scene.

Using a template that really hasn't changed much over the past 90 years, you could view this as the revenge of one nerd, Lloyd keeps viewers on his side as he strives to fit in with a crowd of people who probably don't deserve his company. If you're new to his work then the set-pieces make this as good a place as any to start, and a lot of the title cards add extra laughs, whether they're explaining the university as a great football ground with a college attached or telling us that football practice is where men are men and necks are nothing. Then you can also check out his other movies and eventually come to agree with me that he deserves more love.

8/10

This set is a bit pricey, but here's the link anyway.
Americans can pay even more here.


Thursday, 30 August 2018

Doom Asylum (1987)

Doom Asylum is not a very noteworthy film. It’s a cheap ‘n’ cheerful slasher that throws any sense of believability or logic out of the window early on and the death scenes range from the careless and ineffective to the impressively bloody. But there are still things to enjoy, especially for the less discerning slasher movie fan.

It starts with a man (Michael Rogen) and a woman (Patty Mullen, making her feature film debut) driving along in high spirits. And then they crash. The woman dies, the man ends up horribly disfigured and on a mortuary slab, where he scares some workers by sitting up and being decidedly not dead, despite looking very much like he should be. Fast forward a number of years and there’s a group of young(-ish) folks heading to an abandoned asylum for a good time. They include the daughter of the woman we saw die in the opening scenes (also played by Mullen), which makes our killer very interested in them. Oh, there’s also a trio of females already in the asylum, making “music” and not looking to welcome anyone else to their private practice area.

There’s a lot to laugh at here, both deliberately and accidentally, and director Richard Friedman certainly tries to keep things moving along swiftly enough to distract from the many negative aspects (such as a lot of the acting on display and the inanity of much of the script, by Rick Marx). The characters are generally quite irritating, which is more of a problem during the first third of the film than it is once the killing really gets underway, the killer is neither menacing enough to make things tense nor amusing enough to make things funny, and the audio levels are all over the place, an obvious side-effect of the superquick shooting schedule (this was a film shot in days, not weeks).

Mullen does well (although her finest hour was just ahead – Frankenhooker) but it’s also the case that she seems a lot better in contrast to the rest of the group; Kristin Davis (who tries hard but can’t overcome the lines fed to her by the script), William Hay, Kenny L. Price, and Harrison White. Rogen has fun as the baddie, no matter how good or bad his mask is looking in each scene, and Ruth Collins manages to compensate for her dialogue and delivery with a great dollop of attitude informing her every moment.

You could close your eyes and find at least 20 movies better than this, whether you're browsing online or scanning your own movie collection, or reading a book about the slasher flicks of the 1980s. But that doesn't stop this from being a fun experience, mostly for all the wrong reasons . . . but sometimes for the right ones.

6/10

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


Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Prime Time: Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes! (1978)

When I finally sat down to watch Attack Of The Killer Tomatoes! I was ready for some dumb fun. You can't read that title and not have an idea of what to expect. And I'd already seen a few episodes of the cartoon series when I was young, so I wasn't entirely unfamiliar with the world created within the film. Or so I thought.

Directed by John De Bello, who also co-wrote the script with Costa Dillon and J. Stephen Peace, this shapeless and rambling spoof  shows the devastating effects of a mass fruit attack (a tomato is still a fruit, right, or am I getting it wrong nowadays?) through a series of skits, very loose narrative scenes, and low-to-no-budget special effects.

There's not a lot to thoroughly critique when it comes to this movie, and it perhaps serves as a reminder that not every movie should, or needs, to be critically appraised and dissected. The cast are all game to go along with the material, but I doubt many have any other movies on their CV, the technical side of things is crude, which also adds to the charm, and all I can say about the tomatoes is that they generally look like tomatoes.

I'll mention David Miller, George Wilson, Sharon Taylor, Ernie Meyers, and Eric Christmas, purely because I am used to mentioning some of the cast members when discussing movies, but I wouldn't be able to pick any of them out of a line-up, sadly, and that's just after my first viewing of the film. Having said that, the main thing is that they did their part to get this silliness onscreen, and well done to them for that.

Easy to dismiss, you would be wrong to view this as nothing but a curio piece best consigned to the dustbin. It's actually one of the first films to throw around so many gags while spoofing specific types of b-movies. I am sure we'd still have the likes of Airplane! and Top Secret! coming along, especially after the fun delivered by The Groove Tube and The Kentucky Fried Movie, but this tomato-infested film holds up as a template for a number of finer comedies. If only it was funnier, this would be held in the same regard as some of the others I have just mentioned, because the many failings can be overlooked while laughs are being earned.

John De Bello has directed six features (at this time). Four of those are about killer tomatoes. You have to admire his dedication to the idea, something he has tried to improve and polish over time, and this is was the first time his ideas actually began to . . . bear fruit.

4/10

You can . . . ketchup with the movie on disc here.
Americans can get red right on Blu here.



Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Kiss The Girls (1997)

I had seen Kiss The Girls some years ago, or had at least seen enough of it to know how everything played out. And then I forgot everything that happened in it. Or so I thought. As the opening credits started to play out, I remembered one or two important plot points, making my revisit a fairly disappointing and pointless experience.

It's not that this is a bad film. It's just a textbook example of this kind of '90s thriller. They may have tried to get a bit darker and edgier after the success of Seven, almost exactly halfway through the decade, but the basic ingredients were the same. You had a smart detective who could think more steps ahead than the other officers around him (and, yes, it was more often than not a male character in the lead), you had a couple of decent players in supporting roles to provide a red herring or two, and also a main villain, and you had a female who either escaped the killer or assisted the detective, or indeed both. Most, if not all, of these tropes can be found in this film, and in films such as The Bone Collector, Color Of Night, Insomnia, Striking Distance (Willis again), and in a few others. The tropes could be subverted for erotic thrillers (e.g. the detective often being the character a couple of steps behind everyone else), and there are an equal number of movies that are notably different (mainly with female leads, such as The Silence Of The Lambs, Copycat, and Blue Steel), but you get the gist of what I am saying.

Morgan Freeman plays Detective Alex Cross, a forensic psychologist who becomes very personally involved in a major case when his niece goes missing. She is one of a number of girls taken by a criminal who goes by the name of Casanova. Helped by local law enforcement (Bill Nunn and Cary Elwes are here, Brian Cox is the Chief), the investigation doesn't seem to be moving forward until one of Casanova's most recent victims (Ashley Judd) manages to escape from his lair. She's determined to help bring her captor to justice, but can she trust her own memories of that traumatic episode?

Based on the best-seller by James Patterson, Kiss The Girls succeeds most in the casting department. The script by David Klass is servicable enough, admirably ticking all of those boxes mentioned above, but a lesser cast would, I suspect, have left this struggling to find an audience. Freeman and Judd are the leads, the former trying to piece together the puzzle while the latter uses her special position to help the investigation maintain momentum. Cox, Nunn, and Elwes all do well enough in their roles, and there's also a small, but impressive, turn from Tony Goldwyn and an even smaller role for the always-welcome Jeremy Piven.

The second theatrical feature for director Gary Fleder (who had previously done some TV work before delivering the highly enjoyable Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead), this is a safe and competent film that creeps close to darker territory at times before deciding not to wade in any further. That fault may lie with the source material, Patterson is certainly one of those prolific crime writers I can imagine does so well because he doesn't scare away all of his readers but I am sure it's easier to describe something grisly on the page than it is to show it onscreen, but it's a shame that neither Klass nor Fleder decided to push things a bit. Even the one moment that shows Alex Cross being affected by someone who gets under his skin hints at missed opportunities, considering how personal the case is for him (something all too easy to forget for most of the runtime).

I don't think I ever saw Along Came A Spider, which sees Freeman returning to the role, and I know I haven't yet seen Alex Cross. I'll be marking them off the list in the next few weeks.

6/10

You can buy a double-bill of Freeman Alex Cross movies here.
Americans can get a blu here.


Monday, 27 August 2018

Mubi Monday: The Giant (2016)

I have mentioned before, just recently, that my brain often works in my favour when it comes to movies and the time I may need to take to process them. More often than not, I may end up waiting a little while until I get to revisit a film I was wildly enthusiastic about, giving me some time to dial things down a notch and keep some perspective.

I don't want to do that with The Giant, even if I suspect that it may not move me on future rewatches as it did with this first viewing, because I just want everyone to seek it out and love it as I loved it. It's a beautiful, moving, film that takes viewers, to use a horribly overused phrase, on a rollercoaster of emotions.

The film is all about Rikard (played by Christian Andren), a young man with some mental health issues and extreme deformity. His two main loves are his mother (Anna Bjelkerud), who he was separated from many years ago, and the game petanque (similar to bowls, but you throw the balls in the air rather than roll them along the ground). He plays petanque with Roland (Johan Kylen), a man who seems to inhabit the role of both friend and carer, and the two want to make it all the way to a major final, where they can show everyone how good they really are.

With fantastic performances from everyone involved (but particularly Andren and Kylen), a constant core of characters who have a sweetness to them without seeming too saccharin, and fantastical dreams that see Rikard imagining himself as the titular titan, The Giant is an astonishing feature debut from writer-director Johannes Nyholm. The first film it brings to mind is The Elephant Man but it mixes in the traditional sports drama elements in a way that doesn't feel forced and helps the pacing and tone of the film (because I'd hate to imagine if this just focused on the sadder moments that Rikard experiences).

From a wince-inducing surprise in the opening scenes to the fantastical giant moments, to scenes showing idiots trying to make fun of Rikard for his obvious physical differences, to the moments of sheer heartbreak that are often played out with Rikard unable to fully express himself, or even understand everything as it happens, The Giant is an experience that provides both the predictable and the unexpected in equal measure. It's a wholly satisfying experience, despite it also being an incredibly sad one at times.

I may not always rate this quite as highly as I do now, but that doesn't really matter. What matters is how it affected me, and is still affecting me as I write this review. And if just one or two other people seek out the movie and end up equally moved by it then this was the right time to write up this review.

10/10

Here's an Iron Giant to pick up, if you like.
Americans can get a big friendly robot cartoon slice of joy joy here.


Sunday, 26 August 2018

Netflix And Chill: Bushwick (2017)

I've seen a lot of love in recent months for Bushwick, a film that throws together two characters (played by Brittany Snow and Dave Bautista) and shows part of America heading to civil war hell in a handbasket around them. Co-written by Nick Damici and Graham Reznick (the former having been a vital component in the filmography of Jim Mickle over the past dozen years), it's an interesting "what if?" scenario.

Snow plays Lucy, a young woman who starts the movie about to get on a train with her boyfriend. Moments, and at least one explosion, later, her boyfriend is dead and Lucy has to find shelter while wondering just what is going on. Circumstances lead her into the home of a war veteran named Stupe (Bautista) and that's when the two begin to get a clearer picture, as hard as it may be to believe. It seems that a small military force has decided to help a number of states secede from the rest of the USA, and that will be a turbulent, painful, process.

Directed by Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, Bushwick may be far removed from their previous work (Cooties) in content but it's similarly problematic when it comes to the execution of the script. This is a film that wants to be serious and sombre throughout most of the runtime, yet it very quickly piles on one wildly implausible moment after another. I'm not going to pretend to know how things would pan out if a new civil wore ever broke out in America but even I would be surprised if it led to such quick and sudden complete anarchy, and individuals so devastated by the fighting around them that they would rather commit suicide.

Snow and Bautista are both excellent in their main roles, believable as, respectively, the naive youngster quickly out of her depth and the professional ex-soldier who knows how is prepared for the worst and keeps clear aims in mind. It's easy to imagine Mickle in Bautista's role, and I wonder whether he deliberately decided to just stick to the writing this time around or whether Bautista's name helped in terms of funding and ensuring that the film was made. Angelic Zambrana and Jeremie Harris are two of the main supporting players, and do just fine, with many other faces just appearing for one or two scenes in between skirmishes.

Bushwick is not a bad film. It's just a film that doesn't ever seem to be sure of how it wants to put things across. If you want something based in a grim reality then it has moments of that, yet it also has far too moments of nonsense that feels like they've been pulled from a book entitled "101 Classic Doomsday Scenario Moments". And the ending doesn't help. It just feels like a sucker punch, and undermines a lot of what came before it.

6/10

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




Saturday, 25 August 2018

Shudder Saturday: Ruin Me (2017)

An impressive directorial feature debut from Preston DeFrancis, who also co-wrote the script with Trysta A. Bissett, Ruin Me takes an idea that has seen a sudden surge in popularity over the past few years (the faux-horror experience that may turn into something very real and deadly) and does well with it, thanks to keeping the small cast of characters engaging enough, the references all enjoyable without feeling overdone, and some great performances from the lead players.

Marcienne Dwyer plays Alex, a young woman who ends up accompanying her boyfriend, Nathan (Matt Dellapina), on an event known as Slasher Sleepout. It's basically a treasure hunt game based around a storyline about a dangerous lunatic at large in the woods that they've been taken to. The other people in their group include the ultra-moody Pitch (John Odom), his girlfriend Marina (Eva Hamilton), a knowledgeable geek named Larry (Chris Hill), and the mysterious and quiet Tim (Cameron Gordon). Each person gets a bag, each bag has one or two items that should prove useful, and then the process of "ruining" the players starts to begin.

Although it's not too heavy on the gore and bloodshed, Ruin Me does a great job of being both light and entertaining and also tense and smart. It could have easily been far too tame or far too silly, but it deftly avoids those pitfalls thanks to the script, pacing, and performances. DeFrancis, from what I could find out about him just now, hasn't done anything in the past that shows a yearning for horror, and two of his main shorts were comedies, but he's clearly someone who knows about characters, timing, and allowing layers to be built upon one another to create a satisfying final result. As does Bissett, judging by their talented writing.

Of course, not everyone will be so pleased. Part of the enjoyment factor here comes from the mystery element, part of the enjoyment comes from the genre literacy of it, and part of the enjoyment comes from the construction. But it's not a film with any memorable death scenes, nor is it a film that feels the need to keep things grim and dark, even during the third act, by which time many deaths have occurred and Alex is starting to question her sanity. Horror CAN be fun, and this is, which will prove unpopular with those who like to keep the two words as far away from one another as possible.

Dwyer is great in the lead role, given a character who appears initially to be the very epitome of a potential "final girl" until you find out more about her. Dellapina is just fine, as are Gordon and Odom, while Hill and Hamilton both steal a few scenes each, having fun with characters that are also given slightly more depth than the usual archetypes you might find in this kind of fare.

While it's not an unmissable modern classic, Ruin Me deserves to find an appreciative audience. Even if you don't like it as much as I did, it's hard to fault the various components. Which means I expect someone to come along any minute now to fault the various components.

7/10

Ruin Me is currently streaming on Shudder so here's a link to purchase Avengers Infinity War on Blu ray instead.

Americans may want this nice set of the animated series of Batman.




Friday, 24 August 2018

Filmstruck Friday: Falling Down (1993)

"I'm the Bad Guy?"
"Yeah."
"How'd that happen? I did everything they told me to. Did you know I build missiles? I helped to protect America. You should be rewarded for that. But instead they give it to the plastic surgeons, you know they lied to me."

Falling Down is a thriller/black comedy about a man who snaps. That's all it is. It shows someone who doesn't have the best temperament to begin with finally snapping on a hot day. That someone seems to be a regular guy (played by Michael Douglas, with a buzz-cut, glasses, and shirt and tie on) but he gets more and more dangerous as the film winds on, and more and more determined to reach his estranged wife (Barbara Hershey) and daughter. Robert Duvall is the desk-centred cop about to have a stressful last day, initially offering advice to his colleague (Rachel Ticotin) until he realises that nobody else will listen to them.

Written by Ebbe Roe Smith and directed by Joel Schumacher, Falling Down allows for yet another fine and unique performance in the eclectic filmography of Douglas (known for his star power, it's often easy to forget just how willing the actor is to take a gamble on roles that weren't in his typical leading man mould). It's a film that also does well to get great people who fit perfectly in their supporting roles - Duvall is the weary pro, Ticotin knows to listen to him, Hershey is worried but unable to get others to believe her, Frederic Forrest is a store owner who thinks he is the same as our main character, when he is just a horribly prejudiced piece of work, and you also get good work from Raymond J. Barry and Tuesday Weld (the former being the Police Captain, the latter being the over-anxious wife of Duvall's character).

I still like Falling Down. A lot. It's full of those great performances, and it's full of some superb set-pieces. The first scene of Douglas flipping out as he is overcharged for a cola when he just wants to get change for a phone call is brilliant, and it all becomes vicariously satisfying as he hits back at gang members, snooty golfers, harassing beggars, and road workers who are ruining the day for everyone.

Things escalate in a way that could be seen as videogame-esque. Douglas gets angry. Then he gets a baseball bat. Then he gets guns. He even gets a small rocket-launcher at one point. It's amusing, helped by the sharp script and pacing, and yet the undercurrent of darkness winds through every scene and grows bigger and bigger as we get to the finale.

My only main problem with the film nowadays is the fast food restaurant scene, a moment I used to love alongside all of the others when I first watched the film. Douglas wants breakfast, that is served up until 1130, and is told that menu is finished because it is a few minutes past that time. When he rages, and when he goes on about the customer always being right, I don't enjoy it as much this time around (although the small role for Dedee Pfeifffer is a plus). But anyone who has worked in the hospitality or service industry will know that he's wrong. The customer isn't always right, especially if they come in late for a window of service and that window has closed.

It's the set-pieces that stand out (especially the scene on the golf course) but Falling Down offers much more in between the big moments. Finding out more about the background of the character adds to the tension, seeing how his viewpoint starts from a place of reason and then turns around enough to become dangerous is fascinating, and you also have a great element of classic cat and mouse as Duvall starts to connect the dots and figure things out ahead of everyone else.

So, as odd a sentence as it may seem, Falling Down holds up well.

8/10

Get the disc here.
Americans can get it here.



Thursday, 23 August 2018

Truth Or Dare (2018)

You all know how the game of Truth Or Dare works. People take turns. You either have to tell the truth or perform a dare. The truths normally stem from embarrassing questions about who you have a crush on or what you've done in your sex life, the dares can range from attempts at limbo to making out with strangers to, well, whatever your crowd thinks is going to test your mettle.

Truth Or Dare works pretty much the same way in movie form, except it's anyone around you who can tell you when it is your turn, the truths exposed can be much more damaging, and most of the dares are deadly.

That's really all you need to know about this glossy horror film aimed squarely at the teen market (there's a bland and attractive cast, a lack of any real gore or bloodshed, and a repeated special effect that, as so many others have already pointed out, simply looks like a quirky photo messenger filter). It's not bad - says the man who remains, at times, one of the most easily pleased viewers you could hope for - but it doesn't do enough to keep most horror fans happy, aside from those who may be very new to the delights of the genre.

There's nothing inherently wrong with Lucy Hale (who plays the nominal lead character), Tyler Posey, Violette Beane, Hayden Szeto, or any of the other young cast members. They're just far too easy to forget as soon as the end credits roll. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that it took me a good 15-20 minutes to start identifying most of the individuals separately, instead treating them as one mass of potential victims without any personality until one or two had been pushed off the mortal coil.

There's also nothing majorly wrong with the direction from Jeff Wadlow. He doesn't ever present things with any style or panache, but he shows a basic level of competence, making the film a relatively painless experience (in good and bad ways), helped along by the pacing.

The biggest problem here is the script, and the essentially juvenile nature of the central premise. There have, of course, been other movies based on childish games, but there are some games that are often carried through to adulthood (even if we should know better) or that we can look back on with fond memories of the time when we could be more innocent/idiotic/delete as applicable. Truth Or Dare just isn't one of those games, and I'd be very interested to hear back from anyone who thinks otherwise. It's a game expressly designed, it would seem, to drag people out of their shells, and maybe even get them some heavy petting. Turning it into a tame teen horror means that you end up with something that just isn't all that much fun. Writers Michael Reisz, Jillian Jacobs, Christopher Roach, and Wadlow let down both the cast and the viewers, eyeing up the biggest possible audience demographic without doing enough to truly please anyone in it.

Lots of people will sneer at this, and some will absolutely hate it, but it's far from the worst example out there of the kind of horror that doesn't show off the genre at its best but does make enough money at the box office to potentially fund three or four other genre movies, and one of those may even appeal to more than just teens.

5/10

Pick up the shiny disc here.
Americans can buy it here.


Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Prime Time: Terminal (2018)

When watching Terminal, there were two things that I strongly suspected. First of all, it was written and directed by one person. Second, that person was making their feature directorial debut. But would my suspicions prove to be correct?

Written and directed by Vaughn Stein, making his directorial feature debut, Terminal is a neon-splashed neo-noir that takes a game cast (Margot Robbie, Dexter Fletcher, Max Irons, Simon Pegg, and Mike Myers) and squanders them in a muddle of horrible plotting and horribly overt references to the most famous writings of Lewis Carroll.

Robbie is a mischievous woman names Annie, who works in a diner, but also works in a number of other roles. She encounters a dying man (Bill, played by Pegg) and sets out to help him end his misery. She also encounters a couple of contract criminals (played by Fletcher and Irons), setting out to put them on a job that may end up pitting them against one another. And she's helped by a crippled train station janitor (Mike Myers). The grand finale may try to convince you that more connections abound, and that this is a film plotted with interesting clues and details, but that's not true. You can believe it if you want to, and I won't begrudge anyone trying to find something more substantial within what they've just watched, but it doesn't make it any more true. It also doesn't mean that this is a film without some entertainment value.

There are things to enjoy here, not least of them being the central performance from Robbie, who is as watchable and enjoyable as ever (despite one or two moments in which the accent wavers). Fletcher and Irons aren't on the same level, but Pegg has fun with his scenes, and Myers makes the most of his biggest onscreen role in a long time.

The visuals are also a plus. This film isn't set in a reality. It's set in a dangerous world that feels populated only by unsavoury characters, supporting players who may not realise the tale being woven around them, and a select few vibrant personalities who dominate any scene they're in. There may not be an entire world built before you, and what's there may not feel authentic, but there are a number of wonderful sets, each one resonating with a special sense of cinematic cool. This is homage-by-numbers from almost start to finish, but the films and tropes being homaged are so much better than the main feature that they drag things up a notch.

It's sad that Stein is the biggest failing that the film has. He shows that he's capable when it comes to the visuals and a handful of cinematic tricks and flourishes, but the script is never as clever, nor as witty, as it thinks it is, which is a big problem when there also isn't enough originality or substance to make up for it. This is a bowl of wax fruit, it's appealing enough on the surface but won't feed you, and therefore feels ultimately pointless whenever you need something real.

4/10

Americans can get it here.




Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Rampage (2018)

Say what you like about Dwayne Johnson, the man can do silly action spectacle with an admirably straight face (well, an arched eyebrow or pec twitch notwithstanding). He knows that he's not going to be called upon to do anything too serious, not yet anyway, and he most often stays comfortably in his wheelhouse. That might sound like I'm being a bit condescending and snooty but I'm really not. I enjoy seeing Johnson in most movies, he even tries to do his best in dross like Baywatch, but he excels at action fare, and he can sell some of the most ridiculous cinematic moments in recent years without viewers throwing their hands up in disgust and giving up on the movie. Who else could believably grab a speeding missile and turn it back towards enemies that were trying to kill him?

Rampage, loosely based on the videogame that I even managed to enjoy on my old, rubber-keyed, Spectrum 48K, is silly action spectacle. There's the main plot itself, a large albino gorilla is turned into a HUGE albino gorilla, with some anger issues, and there are also another couple of big creatures heading towards Chicago to cause massive amounts of destruction as they go on their . . . rampage. There are also the plot details, silliness wrapped in tech-speak to try and make it all sound plausible. You may think the conversations about genetic manipulation and pathogens are laughable, because they are, but they do the minimum required to kickstart the plot and explain events, as long as you don't think about what has been said as you move on to the next scene of entertaining destruction. And, if you need even more silliness, there's a moment that sees Johnson trying to use a damaged helicopter to surf/hover his way down a collapsing tower.

Johnson is very much at ease amidst all of the preposterous set-pieces, emanating his usual charisma and souped-up muscle power. He spends a lot of the runtime alongside Naomie Harris, who does well to avoid being overshadowed while she delivers most of the exposition in between the thrills, and the two human stars are overshadowed, but not literally, by some impressive CGI beasties. Jeffrey Dean Morgan gets to be amusingly charming and ambiguous as the man who is hoping to clean up the debris and capture the creatures, and Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy are the humans who need to weigh up their self-interests alongside the carnage.

Director Brad Peyton previously delivered this kind of Johnson-led spectacle with San Andreas, so we know that he CAN give audiences what they want (well, he kept me happy enough), but there's something here that's a bit lacking. I still found enough to enjoy, I was entertained enough by the scale of the destruction, but maybe having to incorporate enough little nods to the original videogame was enough to detract from a more simplistic slice of fun. Yes, I realise that I just accused Rampage of not being simplistic enough. It took four writers to make this. Four. To write a script that turns that classic videogame into a mainstream blockbuster.

Still, it's better than Battleship.

6/10

The blu can be bought here.
Americans can buy it here.


Monday, 20 August 2018

Mubi Monday: The Wedding Banquet (1993)

If you simply go by the premise of The Wedding Banquet then it would be easy to expect either a farcical comedy or a hand-wringing drama. It's all about a young man (Winston Chao) who marries a woman (May Chin) in order that she can get her green card and he can placate his parents, and divert them from the fact that he has been happy in a gay relationship with his partner (Mitchell Lichtenstein) for quite some time.

Yes, there are a couple of obvious films that you might already be thinking of. Let me assure you, The Wedding Banquet is not in line with those films. There are moments of comedy here but this is more about the tension created, and the lengths that people will go to in order to hide their true identity from their parents, especially with the extra weight placed upon individuals born into a culture that at times makes more demands of them.

Director Ang Lee, who worked on the screenplay with Neil Peng, and also James Schamus, does start things off in a very lighthanded way. It all seems quite easily doable, and the central characters seem to think that they can get the whole thing over with and then get back to their everyday lives once everyone is happy. A deceit this big, however, isn't just thrown together, carried out, and then forgotten about for the rest of your days. It takes a toll, on the deceivers and those being deceived.

The performances are perfect throughout, with Chao, Chin, and Lichtenstein all getting some great moments here and there, but it's Gua Ah-leh and Lung Sihung (playing the mother and father, respectively) who somehow ending up stealing many of the scenes. Considering how they enter the movie as the main obstacles in the way of happiness for our leading male characters, it's surprising to see how they develop through the film. The writers take care to show that these elders aren't necessarily as close-minded as some may think, but they also have even more weight on their shoulders than anything they pass on to their own children. It's a cycle, but one that may be changed slowly and surely, over time.

Despite being only the second feature from director Lee, this already has signs of his consumate skill. His deft blending of genre elements, his ability to pace things perfectly without it ever feeling too slow, and his general view on the world (able to look forward without forgetting everything that came beforehand). It may not be as beautiful as his other movies but that feels, at least partially, dictated by the content of the film.

I've probably seen just over half of Lee's filmography at this point. Not one of them has disappointed me.

8/10

This is a fine set worth picking up, for the price.
Americans may want this blu.


Sunday, 19 August 2018

Netflix And Chill: Father Of The Year (2018)

There's very little original in Father Of The Year. Even the title feels very familiar. It's another Happy Madison production, which means you get the usual crudity and silliness, and the usual selection of familiar faces (including David Spade in a main role).

Spade, stretching himself to the very limit of his acting abilities by attempting to maintain an accent (Boston, I think) throughout, plays the drunk and decrepit Wayne, a fully-fledged loser of a man who has somehow managed to have a son on the verge of great success. That son, Ben (Joey Bragg), is home to visit before he heads off for his new life in New York. He is accompanied by his friend, Larry (Matt Shively), and things start to get difficult when Ben and Larry start to discuss which of their fathers would win in a fight. Larry's father, Mardy (Nat Faxon), is quite the passive individual, but that doesn't matter to Wayne when he hears about the argument.

Am I going to tell you that I didn't laugh at Father Of The Year? No, I am not. There were some moments that amused me, but more because I am easily amused than any great crafting of comedy on display. I am sure that many more people will watch this without the shadow of a smile passing across their lips but I chuckled on a few occasions, particularly during scenes that involved Faxon.

Director Tyler Spindel, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Brandon Cournoyer, shows no interest at all in the characters or the environment in which the gags take place. The script is juvenile and careless, with an unearned turn in the final act that is based upon the ridiculous idea that Spade's character is an idiot who is also actually a good man (except, spoiler alert, he does very little to actually show that).

I've already mentioned that I enjoyed the scenes with Faxon more than others, Spade is bearable in his role (IF you can bear him in any role, and I know some people can't), Bragg and Shively are both fine in their roles, and the screen is at least brightened up whenever Bridgit Mendler is onscreen, saddled as she is with the role of the hometown crush that Bragg may try to reconnect with. Mary Gillis is the only other cast member worth mentioning, playing an elderly woman who has her sights on Shively's character (the younger character sleeping with a much older woman is a fairly common trope in the Happy Madison comedies).

Fans of this type of film will know what they're getting, to some degree, although this is worse than a lot of other, easier, films you could choose to kill time. And I don't imagine anyone ever wanting to revisit it.

4/10

This is still the best David Spade movie. Buy it here.
Americans can get a nice llama/Kronk set here.


Saturday, 18 August 2018

Shudder Saturday: Dead Of Night (1945)

This review originally featured at Flickfeast.

Although there were a number of anthology movies before it, Dead Of Night often feels like the first. That’s partly due to the fact that it came along some time before the likes of Amicus made such an impact with the format, and partly due to the fact that a few aspects of the movie (particularly the framing device and a couple of the main tales) have proven to be so influential over the years.

With four different directors involved, and numerous writers (John Baines and Angus MacPhail get most of the credit for the actual screenplay, but E. F. Benson and H. G. Wells are responsible for some of the source material), the consistency throughout is astonishing, both for the time and also for the format. The only weak spot in the film, a tale of two rival golfers, is itself not a bad little segment to enjoy. It’s just not as good as the others.

Anyway, let’s start at the beginning. Mervyn Johns plays Walter Craig, an architect who starts to get serious deja vu when he pulls up outside the Foley home. Meeting everyone inside, including a Dr. Van Straaten (Frederick Valk), he soon tells them of his feeling. While he tries to explain his unease, and also offer up one or two predictions, the people around him decide to share their own peculiar tales. Anthony Baird is a racing driver who survives a bad crash, only to then have visions of a hearse driver telling him “room for one more inside”. Sally Ann Howes is a young girl who has a spooky encounter during a game of Sardines. Googie Withers is a housewife who accidentally buys a strange mirror for her husband, one that reflects a dark moment from the past as opposed to his usual surroundings. Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne are those aforementioned golfers. And the good doctor himself has a tale to share, one of a ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who seems to be terrified of his own dummy. Meanwhile, Mr Craig seems to be spot on with his predictions.

An undeniable classic of the genre, this may suffer slightly from how dated it is, and how everything plays out in the company of some wonderfully unflappable Brits (stiff upper lips, and all), but it’s an absolute must-see for fans of the horror genre, and fans of anthology movies. The atmosphere throughout, although punctuated by many lighter moments, is one of growing unease, and even dread. Viewers become just as agitated as the central character, curious as to how things will pan out and what explanation there might be for the whole set of circumstances. The structuring is also excellent, with the best saved for last in a one-two punch of the ventriloquist tale and the final act of the framing story, and certain scenes remain powerful, nightmarish, stuff. Age may have worn away some of its effectiveness, but this is still a thoroughly deserving, and rewarding, horror classic.

8/10

Americans can get the same disc, but here (if multiregion-capable).


Friday, 17 August 2018

Normal service should resume shortly.





Filmstruck Friday: Berberian Sound Studio (2012)

NOTE: This review originally appeared over at Flickfeast.co.uk.

I came out of Berberian Sound Studio and immediately thought to myself, “I hope that others enjoy that movie as much as I did and I hope that I can get away with referring to it as almost the anti-Artist”. That movie was all about the good old days and how visuals could still carry a movie whereas Berberian Sound Studio, as you might be able to guess, reminds you of the importance and effectiveness of sound. In its own way, it’s as much a love story to the film making process as The Artist was. As an additional bonus for horror fans, the movie also comes across as a love letter to the great giallo movies of yesteryear and of the Euro-horrors that were often so feverishly sought after for their mix of style and nastiness.

Toby Jones at last gets the leading role of his career and is excellent as Gilderoy, the sound engineer who finds himself way out of his comfort zone as he tries to mix the audio for an Italian horror movie. Considering his past work, this is a very different and unusual job for him but the director seems to have faith in his abilities and needs the best people available to complete his work of art, a work of art that happens to include plenty of death and someone having a red hot poker placed where a red hot poker should never be placed.

Nothing is seen in Berberian Sound Studio, nothing really bad anyway. The nastier moments are described or played out by sounds or both (an early scene in which Toby Jones is shown some footage accompanied by the sound of men breaking up watermelons is superb, and sets the tone for the whole movie once a piece of the broken melon is then handed over to the main character).

Writer-director Peter Strickland has created something here that’s quite sublime. I, personally, found it to be a much more effective homage to the Italian horrors I have known and loved than Amer (though I’m sure a LOT of people will disagree with me on that point) and the fact that I left after the end credits rolled with some elements I couldn’t quite figure out was not a problem in the slightest. Do be warned – if you want a tidy horror movie that explains everything to you then this film is not for you. It’s a mood piece, yet it’s a mood piece that expertly blends horror with humour with a real sense of love and respect for the work it is showing.

The cast are uniformly great. Toby Jones may shine in his leading role but Tonia Sotiropoulou and Susanna Cappellaro are both superb and Cosimo Fusco and Antonio Mancino bring a mix of laughs and subtle menace playing, respectively, Francesco and Santini.

I highly recommend this to all horror fans because even if you don’t end up loving it as much as I did then I’m sure you’ll enjoy seeing something so unique.

9/10

You can buy yourself a shiny disc here.
Americans can buy it here.




Thursday, 16 August 2018

Never again.

This blog was going to have a review of A Quiet Place here today. My aim was to get it written up last night, do the weekly podcast I look forward to, and try to get enough sleep before another early shift at work.

None of those things happened.

Instead, I stayed out much later than I should have, spent too much of my pocket money, probably got a few funny looks as I staggered home, and spent most of today in bed, head pounding and eyes unable to focus quite as well as they usually do.

People were worried about me, my wife was rightly raging, and it was all because I kept thinking "yeah, one more will be okay, and I can still get home in time to get a decent amount of sleep". Right up until about one in the morning.

So it's time to say never again. I have gone through extended periods of sobriety before, but I hope to make things permanent this time. For the sake of my wallet, my marriage, and my dignity.

If you read this and think that it's maybe an overreaction then I can only assure you that it isn't. Some people try to tell me that it's okay to have everything in moderation, which is true, but the problem is that occasional time when things become unmoderated. And to ensure that those times don't happen I am making this day one of a teetotal life.

I am not going to AA, because I don't believe in their affinity to religion and the way in which they seem to somehow both encourage honesty and yet warn people to not reveal too much about themselves, so I am just going to go my own way, day by day, and hope that friends may read this and never try to get me to "just have one".


A Quiet Place (2018)

Evelyn Abbott (Emily Blunt) and Lee Abbott (John Krasinski) try to live a simple life with their children, Regan (Millicent Simmonds), Marcus (Noah Jupe), and Beau (Cade Woodward). Regan is deaf, and so the whole family spend a lot of time communicating with one another using ASL. Their method of communication isn’t really a choice though, it’s all down to the fact that they are trying to survive in a dangerous environment that also contains deadly creatures drawn to sound.

Post-apocalyptic in tone, A Quiet Place is an interesting oddity that seemed to surpass many expectations with the level of success it attained in cinemas. It’s a horror film with heart, one that will appeal to anyone seeking some thrills and emotional turbulence to view in the company of loved ones. It may not appeal as much to people wanting better scares, or a decent amount of bloodshed, or a tight plot that doesn’t fall apart under closer scrutiny, but it definitely tries to please most of the people most of the time.

Directed by Krasinski, who also worked on the screenplay alongside story creators Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, A Quiet Place benefits from some very effective lead performances and a few moments of near-unbearable tension. It's just a shame that the level of care shown in those areas wasn't also shown when it came to crafting the backstory to the world we are shown, or even explaining the motivations behind certain behaviours displayed (characters being barefoot is one of the most obvious ones that seems to make sense until you think about it for more than five seconds).

But let's get back to praising those performances. Krasinski is solid in his role, but in some ways he is the least of the leads (not due to his lack of talent, simply due to the way he keeps the focus on the other characters). Blunt is excellent, remaining tough while she becomes more and more vulnerable, due to her state of pregnancy, and Simmonds and Jupe prove to be more than a match for their adult co-stars, and Woodward doing just fine in his smaller role.

It seems obvious to say that the sound design of the film is an essential component, but it's also strange to have to admit that it doesn't always seem to get this part right. This isn't anything to do with the actual technical side of things but is, once again, to do with a lack of care taken with the rules and backstory left underdeveloped in a way that leaves some seeming lapses in logic populating the screenplay like potholes in a fairly new road.

All in all, this is almost as good as many people will have already told you it is. While it's on, and while it's building the tension and taking you through a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. It's just not one that holds up as well as it could, once you start to think about the details more.

You can be quiet here.
Americans can be quiet here.





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.