Tuesday 28 February 2012

Faces Of Death (1978)

I usually have an answer ready when people ask me "but why would you watch THAT?". It might not be an answer they agree with but it's an answer nonetheless. Film, like any art, isn't just supposed to provide people with numerous warm, fuzzy and comfortable moments. It entertains but it also holds a mirror up and forces us to look, it raises questions, it puts forward strange and exciting ideas, it can cause extreme reactions. And few reactions will be more extreme than the one you have if you're ever unfortunate enough to see Faces Of Death.

I'd heard of this infamous title many years ago, of course, and knew that it was something not necessarily to be viewed for enjoyment. It would be challenging and, perhaps, disturbing. But having been made back in the late 70s, I assumed that it would also have lost a lot of the power it once had and would have dated badly. Well, it has dated but that doesn't really lessen the impact any - because violence and death are constants, no matter what the decade.

Positioning itself as some sort of thoughtful look at mortality and the impact that man has on the planet, other animals and even himself, Faces Of Death is one of the few movies that has left me pretty disgusted. Because the fact is that this is just a cheap and easy way to cash in on death and no amount of lame narration can change that.

Some of the scenes are faked, and some of them quite obviously so, but there is also plenty here that's all too real. A dog fight involving two pitbulls, a cockerel having its head chopped off, animals going through a slaughterhouse, a suicide victim or two and plenty of footage of dead bodies being prodded and emptied and examined. You can pretty much smell the fetid stench of death emanating from the screen and it's not a nice sensation.

But maybe the point of the film is to alert us to dangers all around us and to teach us some helpful lessons about how best to get through life? No. In fact, you'd be better off watching the Final Destination series for guidelines on how to live that little bit longer. And at least those movies are entertaining. Michael Carr, as Dr. Francis B. Gross, does what he can but it's just not enough in the face of such overwhelmingly macabre and unpleasant material.

John Alan Schwartz wrote and directed this Mondo movie (and even in that particular subgenre I would place it near the bottom of the pile as many other, earlier Mondo films at least gave the appearance of being a bit more educational, even if it was all just nonsense) and it certainly remains a shocking work that many will end up disliking. Like I did.



Monday 27 February 2012

The Keeper (2009)

I was so close, SO close. I almost settled on a 7/10 for this one, a Seagal movie from 2009 that really didn't suck and really proved to be genuinely entertaining for most of the runtime. Sadly, it was still held back by a few things. Like trying to convince us once again that Steven Seagal is the greatest person to have ever lived and we should all be thankful for his presence - he is Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Buddha rolled into one. Or so he would like us to think. There was also a poor opening section to get through and the standard choppy editing during the action moments (which are, it has to be said, still very entertaining and fan-pleasing).

Seagal plays an ex-cop named Roland Sallinger who is invited to Texas by a friend to guard his daughter after an attempted kidnapping. Seagal is happy to help, also beefing up the security system around the home of his friend, upsetting some local law enforcement and generally being the embodiment of awesomeness that he always strives to be.

With a touch of humour throughout, a decent premise that deviates just enough from the 101 other Seagal movies and good pacing, The Keeper is a solid action movie that deserves to be seen by more than the handful of die-hard Seagal fans who seem to be the only ones left keeping him in any kind of career.

Written by Paul A. Birkett and directed by Keoni Waxman, the film falls into a few of the usual pitfalls that appear in ever Seagal movie but makes up for this with the energy and fun factor of many other moments. The cast are all pretty decent, compared to past efforts starring our leading man, and Liezl Carstens is also easy on the eye, which helps.

A few more movies like this, and a few less like the abominations he has foisted upon his loyal audience, and Seagal may yet prove that his career deserves the faint pulse that it, miraculously, still has.



Sunday 26 February 2012

House IV: The Repossession (1992)

If you take this as following on from the second movie in the series, the film it is actually supposed to follow on from, then it doesn't make any sense. If you take this as following on from the unrelated third movie in the series then it doesn't make any sense either. I don't care what others may try and say, the only thing really linking all of the movies in this quartet is the fact that they are all set in a house. That's it. It's never the same house, which is clear from the surroundings and the interior layout of the place. It's just a house.

Having said that, House IV: The Repossession makes a bit more effort than the others to create a continuation of events in an established movie universe. For example, William Katt is back, albeit briefly, in the role of Roger Cobb. And then there's . . . . . . . . . . . well . . . . . . . nope, there's nothing else. Apart from events being set in a house.

A woman and her wheelchair-bound daughter happen to be living in a house that someone wants to buy and destroy. As the woman continues to refuse any offers made to her, the wannabe buyer resorts to more menacing ways of persuading the tenant to sell. The house itself is also making things more than a little tense for the stressed woman, but is it perhaps trying to actually help in some strange way?

Even compared to the sequels that came beforehand (official or not), this is a poor, poor movie. When it's not being completely crazy (a singing pizza, a "vertically-challenged" villain draining excess mucus into a jug, etc) it's just pretty dull. Those crazy moments make it at least watchable, but only just.

Director Lewis Abernathy, working from the script by Geoff Miller and Deirdre Higgins, doesn't seem to know where he's going with the movie. Is it being played for laughs? Is it a supernatural drama that wants to have a cheery, loving centre? Or is it a surreal, dark thriller? Nobody knows and, as such, it ends up being a bit of all of these things and yet off-centre with them all.

Terri Treas is watchable enough in the lead role, Melissa Clayton is also pretty good, Denny Dillon is a fun presence and Scott Burkholder is suitably ruthless as he is pushed further into a corner. And William Katt is okay in his small role.

Completists may want to watch this one but I'm telling you now . . . . . . . . it's easy enough to go through your entire life without it.



Saturday 25 February 2012

House III: The Horror Show (1989)

Not really tied to the series by anything other than name, but I suppose you could really say the same thing about the second movie, House III: The Horror Show is an inferior rip-off of a number of Wes Craven movies (mainly Shocker but also anything starring a certain Freddy Krueger) that benefits from some watchable actors in the main roles.

Lance Henriksen is a cop with frayed nerves, all because of the time he spent tracking down and bringing to justice a nasty killer (played by the late, great Brion James). When the criminal is executed by electric chair he doesn't go quietly shuffling off the mortal coil. Henriksen begins to fear for his family and his sanity as he sees the killer taunting him from beyond the grave.

You know that all is not well when one of the writers (Allyn Warner) prefers to be listed under the old pseudonym Alan Smithee. Leslie Bohem doesn't hide, which shows either remarkable faith in the material, remarkable bravery or remarkable stupidity.

James Isaac directs and puts together an entertaining mess with no real scares but plenty of random, wild moments that should please fans of the surreal. Brion James pops up to do a comedy routine at one point, his face appears on a turkey and he does plenty of nasty things to Henriksen's family.

Speaking of that family. Rita Taggart plays the wife and is fine, Aron Eisenberg acts as if he was created in a lab in a test-tube tagged as "essence of 1980s teenager" but everything is made better by the presence of the effervescent Dedee Pfeiffer (who really deserved more movie roles aside from the likes of this dross and the fantastic Vamp). Fans of Lawrence Tierney may want to watch this but be warned that he gets a very small amount of screentime. Thankfully, Brion James is in almost every other scene and goes completely over the top with his performance, which is immensely entertaining, while Lance Henriksen is as watchable as usual in the lead role.

I'm sure that some people will love this movie, if only for the interactions between Lance Henriksen and Brion James, but I'm equally sure that some will absolutely hate it. Me, I land squarely in the middle.



House II: The Second Story (1987)

You see what they did there? Get the pun? If you're already groaning at the title of this movie then you're not going to enjoy the content. It's daft. The horror elements of the first movie have been pushed aside for more comedy and a strange fantasy adventure element that places the film between the likes of Labyrinth and the weaker Hammer movies that would use any excuse to send a hero into another world full of danger. To be kind, we can assume that the film is a homage to those older movies. It's just not a very good one (though I still hold on to the fond memories I have of the thing from when I was about 13 years old).

Much like the first film, events take place in a house. There ends all onscreen connection. This isn't even the same house, though some stock footage here and there tries to make it seem like it is. Arye Gross plays Jesse, a young man who finally moves back to the empty family home and finds that it's not actually as empty as everyone thought. So he and his friend (played by Jonathan Stark) decide to dig up the final resting place of his gramps and disturb the old man (played by Royal Dano), who proceeds to tell them all about the crystal skull he has guarded for many years and how it must stay safe in the house. Of course, next thing you know a load of random villains are trying to steal the crystal skull. With prehistoric creatures, a bunch of dangerous Aztecs, a handyman who is also an adventurer (John Ratzenberger, providing another link after the appearance of George Wendt in the first movie) and many decidedly 1980s moments, House II: The Second Story is still a fun watch but it's far from a great movie.

Ethan Wiley moves up from his writing position on the first film to both write and direct this outing and I suppose he does okay. The direction certainly seems pretty competent, even if the main premise is a bit ridiculous and far-fetched. It's just strange to think who he could have been aiming for when he wrote the thing. Horror fans will find it too light on any actual horror whereas fantasy adventure fans will almost certainly prefer numerous other movies with more spectacle onscreen.

The cast all seem to enjoy themselves, at least. Arye Gross and Jonathan Stark work together well, Royal Dano is very good, John Ratzenberger is a lot of fun, Dean Cleverdon is good when he pops up briefly as the real baddie of the piece and then we have support from Bill Maher, Lar Park Lincoln, Amy Yasbeck, Jayne Modean and other shiny happy people.

You might enjoy this film but if, like me, you have fond memories from seeing it when you were a lot younger then prepare for disappointment to sink in as you realise . . . . . . . . . . . . . . it's actually not half as good as you remember it being.



Thursday 23 February 2012

House (1986)

Not to be confused with the House AKA Hausu from 1977, any number of other movies called House or even the very popular TV drama show starring one Hugh Laurie as a grumpy but fiercely intelligent doctor, this House is a very enjoyable horror comedy that features some well-known horror genre names in the credits. Produced by Sean S. Cunningham, directed by Steve Miner and with a screenplay based on an initial story by the fantastic Fred Dekker, House is a lot of fun for horror fans. It even has a decent soundtrack from Harry Manfredini.

You'll be completely unsurprised to learn that House is all about a haunted house. After the death of his grandmother, a writer returns to the family home he knew (and the scene of his son's disappearance) and begins to suspect that something is wrong with the house. More worryingly, he starts to think that his son is trapped somewhere within the house. Or, at least, his spirit. Is the house determined to claim victims or is the traumatised author, who is also working on a new book based on his experiences in Vietnam, slowly but surely losing his marbles?

What it lacks in genuine atmosphere and tension, House more than makes up for in impressive rubber monsters, inventive craziness and a nice blending of the humour with the horror. William Katt does well in the lead role, though he never did fulfil the potential shown in his superb Carrie performance. Handling more of the comedic moments is George Wendt, good fun as a concerned neighbour. We also have the lovely Kay Lenz as Sandy, Katt's ex and the mother of the missing boy, and the intimidating Richard Moll as Ben, a dark and dangerous memory from Vietnam.

Steve Miner has never been a truly great director but I have always found his work enjoyable enough, for the most part, and he's capable of putting together fun, lightweight movies. The screenplay, by Ethan Wiley, works just fine. The dialogue could be sharper but the overall tone of the movie and the set-pieces will raise a smile on the face of anyone who can immediately think of dozens of influences on the material.

It didn't really, as hoped, launch another hugely successful franchise for Cunningham and co. but it did lead to three sequels of decreasing quality and remains a fine slice of 80s horror hokum.



Wednesday 22 February 2012

Driven To Kill (2009)

Having impressed everyone over the years with his astounding acting range, Steven Seagal shows that he has at least one more trick up his sleeve when he portrays a Russian ex-mobster in this enjoyable action movie. Okay, I may have my tongue wedged in my cheek just now but, in all honesty, he's not that bad with the accent. He's not that good either. But he's not THAT bad.

Seagal is Ruslan, a man who tries to chill out and play nice while he visits his ex-wife and daughter on the day that his little girl is due to get married. Sadly, all of the wedding plans are a bit messed up when some nasty guys break in and kill people. From then on, Seagal is . . . . . . . . . Driven To Kill.

Written by Mark James, and directed by Jeff King (who previously worked with Seagal on the poor Kill Switch), this is a surprisingly enjoyable Seagal movie that ended up with many others in the straight-to-DVD market. The acting isn't great but the action will keep fans happy and the dialogue, while quite horrid most of the time, actually works well enough here and there to provide a couple of decent one-liners. If you can make out just what is being said through the garbled accents.

Bizarre as it may seem, the only other person I recognised onscreen was Crystal Lowe (an actress who has appeared in a few horror movies such as Final Destination 3 and Wrong Turn 2: Dead End). Sadly, she's onscreen for about 2 minutes. I could check the credits for the names of the main people who managed to either look on in awe as Seagal kicked ass or had their ass kicked while Seagal awesomely kicked ass but it would be a waste of time. There really wasn't anyone worth mentioning.

There's nothing like a great Seagal movie and, as is so often the case nowadays, this is nothing like a great Seagal movie. But it is a good one. And that's high praise indeed, considering most of his filmography.



Tuesday 21 February 2012

Here Come The Co-eds (1945)

You'd be forgiven for thinking, from the title alone, that this was some kind of forerunner to the modern teen sex comedy but the reality is far from it. This is an Abbott & Costello vehicle and it's quite a good one. It may not be one of their best but it's certainly a welcome step back up after the dismal Lost In A Harem.

The movie begins with Bud and Lou, wouldn't you just know it, losing their jobs and coming up with a great way to get themselves located in an all-new location where they can mess things up. The duo become caretakers at an all-girl school while Bud tries to look after the best interests of his sister (Molly McCarthy, played by Martha O'Driscoll). There aren't that many laughs specifically using the location, though one great scene sees Lou getting in quite a panic while he tries to help Patty Gayle (played by Peggy Ryan) avoid being caught in his room, but there are some great set-pieces throughout this fairly enjoyable confection.

From the opening scenes, with Lou getting himself in trouble through no fault of his own, to a calamitous attempt to clean up a kitchen and then on to a joke about a whale, a stool and some apples before leading up to a grin-inducing basketball game, Here Come The Co-eds gets the balance just right for most of the runtime.

Musical interludes from Phil Spitalny And His All-Girl Orchestra and Evelyn And Her Magic Violin aren't as enjoyable as the comedy moments but they're not painful to sit through either. And the banter between Bud, Lou, O'Driscoll, Ryan and a hilariously irate Lon Chaney Jr. more than makes up for any weak patches.

John Grant returns to the writing duties, and also got a producer credit this time, and shares the load with Arthur T. Horman, building on the central concept envisaged by Edmund L. Hartmann. Jean Yarbrough has another turn at directing the boys and once again shows good judgment.

Overall, this is certainly one worth watching if you're a fan of A & C or just a fan of some fine comedy.



Monday 20 February 2012

Blood, Boobs & Beast (2007)

Don Dohler made movies for many years. I haven't seen any of them yet but they looked, from the many clips shown in this affectionate documentary, like very bad movies. So why do I now want to see them all? It's true that I have a constant yearning to seek out the bizarre and unloved movies many others go out of their way to avoid but there's something more going on here. Blood, Boobs & Beast shows some people who are making movies that try to include those three Bs in an attempt to make some money back and to keep making movies but it also shows some people who love trying to make great entertainment. They might fail spectacularly but they deserve your time and goodwill just for trying. This isn't low-budget film-making on display here, this is the NO-budget kind.

Don Dohler passed away in 2006 and this documentary, directed by John Paul Kinhart, stands as a wonderful testament to the influence that the man had. His films may not have a huge fanbase but they do have their fans. And as for his contribution to the underground comic scene and the homemade special effects fans, and also his sheer determination to finish projects, the results are quite impressive. But I'll let you find out more by seeing the documentary.

Art (though some may not wish to call it that) meets commercialism as Dohler and his long-time collaborators end up accidentally doing well enough to move beyond being "one hit wonders". The results are almost like Troma movies. With less money available. Yes, you can only begin to imagine the final product.

I've made a point of emphasising how much fun, and how bad, the movies are but I don't want to leave you with the wrong impression. Watching this documentary won me over almost from the very beginning and I'm now a fan of Don Dohler and desperate to pay money for his movies. If you want to dismiss him as some untalented hack then you can feel free to do so, but just listen to the high regard he is held in by the likes of friend and colleague Joe Ripple and, more surprisingly, people as diverse as Lloyd Kaufman, Tom Savini and J. J. Abrams. All of those people are BIG names in their respective fields so maybe you should take the time to investigate someone they think so highly of.

You might just end up becoming won over as quickly and easily as I was.



Sunday 19 February 2012

Religulous (2008)

As an ex-barman, I am used to a golden rule when it comes to harmless, time-wasting conversation. Don't talk about politics, don't talk about any sport that involves local teams/rivalries and don't talk about religion. Above all other things, never talk about religion. It's a contentious subject that only those unfettered by the restrictions of some organised belief system seem able to discuss calmly. I believe that someone once said that the worst thing to ever happen to religion was when it became organised. This doesn't mean that I'm against personal beliefs. No sir. But I am against people believing in those things as if all other beliefs are wrong, unacceptable and/or downright unworthy. And let's not get started on the levels of tolerance shown by the more extreme believers. I have many friends who are religious and believe in their own god and they are wonderful people. I am well aware that the worst examples are the extreme examples, so let's not cover everyone under the same Turin Shroud.

I guess the following exchange that I genuinely, and I swear to it, had with a young girl outside a nightclub one night may better illustrate my point.
"I'm a vegetarian," she said.
"Oh, really?" I replied. "Any religious reason or just moral ones?" *Vegetarianism is something I respect if people are doing it properly, even if I don't agree with it but there's one kind of vegetarian I hate*
"No. I'm just a vegetarian. I only eat vegetables, fruit, chicken and fish."
*The one kind of "vegetarian" I hate.
"Oh really, yeah. Those well known vegetables known as chicken and fish."
She proceeded to get quite angry and I decided to provoke her more because I am honestly annoyed every time I hear someone say "I'm a vegetarian, but I also eat chicken and fish. Well, I don't eat red meat." That's NOT being a vegetarian.
Anyway, we finally got to the crux of the matter.
"I don't eat any creature that God allowed to smile," she said. She ACTUALLY said that.
"WHAT??? Is this a joke. Chickens and fish were made by God, if you believe in him, surely."
"Yes, but he didn't make them able to smile and that's why it's okay to eat them."
I stopped even being polite at that point and openly laughed in her face, at which point her lovely boyfriend took her away from me while she shouted about how I wouldn't understand if I was a non-believer and he just kept apologising.

But I digress. Ahem. Back to Religulous.

Bill Maher has a clear agenda in this documentary looking at different organised religions and their more extreme "teachings". I like to think that he's like a lot of us, very tolerant of personal beliefs that are not being put forward as absolute truths and placed as influential factors in life. I like to think that but I'm not sure. Bill certainly doesn't pull any punches and he's admirably honest with those he interviews. The editing and cheeky comic interruptions make sure that Bill keeps the whole thing decidedly biased in his favour but there are, sadly, far too many moments when he just leads people to give answers to stupendous in their stupidity that it makes the case far better than 100 little barbed asides ever could. Just witness the senator, Mark Pryor, who somehow thinks he's defending his beliefs by saying "you don't have to pass an IQ test to be in the Senate, though".

Directed by Larry Charles, there's no doubt that this documentary really belongs to Bill Maher and his own voyage of discovery. He doesn't hide his agenda, he doesn't hide his disdain for certain practices and he doesn't hide from the fact that sometimes someone can make him pause for thought. Sadly, that happens very, very rarely (though when it does I must admit that I was as impressed and admiring of the tenacious believer as I had been by Maher himself).

But there's nothing more to Religulous. It's a very good watch but it won't change the thoughts of anyone watching it. Believers will still believe while doubters will still doubt, though perhaps both will do so with a little bit more conviction after watching this. Maybe.

People are horrible. People need anything that offers them hope, reward, peace, etc. People do things they know that other people do. Religulous reminds you of this. But it also reminds you, even if only via the unfailing cynicism of Bill Maher, that every individual can be worth so much more than any homogenous group.



Friday 17 February 2012

Lost In A Harem (1944)

While it's far from the worst movie that Abbott & Costello ever did, and far from any of the worst movies that I've ever seen, I have to say that there was something about this film that just stopped me from getting into the fun that the leads were trying to convey. It's not all that good, to be honest, although one or two minutes stand out (most notably, a man driven to enraged acts of violence by the mention of a certain place name).

Bud and Lou upset quite a few people yet again and find themselves running around in the company of singer Hazel Moon (played by Marilyn Maxwell) and a prince (played by John Conte) trying to reclaim his throne from his evil uncle (Douglass Dumbrille gets to play the villain of the piece). That's about it. A flimsy film isn't always a bad thing, if there are enough of the other elements to fill the gaps - comedy or scares or action or decent musical numbers, etc depending on the film type. But this doesn't even have that.

There are a number of mediocre and unenjoyable musical moments so instantly forgettable that I'm actually pleased with myself for even remembering to mention them here, despite having just finished watching the movie. The verbal exchanges between Abbott & Costello aren't up to par, the unfolding of the plot is even more ham-fisted than usual. I'd even go so far as to call this one pretty damn lazy.

Director Charles Reisner seems to stifle any attempts made to raise the material up slightly, either by surrounding the better material with far too much dross or taking the few good moments and overrunning them by a good few minutes.

The cast aren't all that likeable, outside of our leads, and it's no surprise after seeing this film to remember how few films Abbott & Costello did with MGM. The studio certainly didn't know how to capitalise on the talents of their comedic leads. Even writers Harry Ruskin, John Grant (the writer who worked most often with the duo) and Harry Crane fail to bring anything to the table.

A bit of a dud, especially when compared to the few preceding movies that all seemed to have reached and maintained an enviable level of quality comedy.



Thursday 16 February 2012

Against The Dark (2009)

Steven Seagal is back to doing what he does best. Scowling through a face that resembles a half-melted rubber mask based on the features of the Dalai Lama. And also fighting. But this time he's fighting vampires. And he's onscreen for a very short amount of time. Perhaps that's why Against The Dark defies the odds to be a reasonably enjoyable Seagal movie. Oh, it's still not anything great but it's at least watchable, has some decent bloodshed here and there and throws in just enough action to remind you that it's an action movie as well as just a vampire film.

Starting off how it means to go on, Against The Dark feels very much like a mix between I Am Legend and Resident Evil. With the bonus of the added Seagal factor. There's a nondescript cast of folk going about a vampire-infested area. And Seagal leads a bunch of hard-ass vampire hunters. Keith David also gets a few scenes, which doubles the watchability factor. The presence of Linden Ashby is also acceptable. As for Tanoai Reed, Jenna Harrison, Danny Midwinter, Emma Catherwood and all of the others - they turn up and do a decent job.

The script by Matthew Klickstein is pretty weak but nobody chooses to view a Seagal movie to discover the next greatest movie quote of the century. Things meander from start to finish, a few action beats are there (with plenty of unnecessary editing tricks) and there are some vampire moments that are surprisingly impressive.

Director Richard Crudo may not have made any kind of masterpiece, but he's easily made one of the more enjoyable Seagal outings in recent years. Which is enough reason, in itself, for me to be most thankful to the man.

Action fans will most probably be disappointed but undemanding fans of the horror genre may, like me, find enough here to at least merit a viewing. It's still not good enough for me to ever seriously consider watching again in the future but it was mercifully painless while playing in DVD player.



Sunday 12 February 2012

Death Wish V: The Face Of Death (1994)

The last film in the original franchise, it's a shame that Death Wish 5 is such a damp squib ending the series.

Written and directed by Allan A. Goldstein, this sequel sees Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson in his final film role) returning and getting close to some people who you just assume are going to be hurt in some way. Right enough, the inevitable happens and Kersey goes into full-on gunhappy mode.

With a cast that includes Lesley-Anne Down, Michael Parks, Saul Rubinek and Robert Joy, this movie may have a familiarity factor that the others slightly lacked but it's offset by the fact that it's slightly below average from start to finish. The film even loses the vibe of borderline exploitation nastiness that the preceding four movies had, making it nothing more than a standard revenge action movie that fails to stand up alongside many better films from the the time (ruled, essentially, by the likes of Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger defining modern machismo).

Charles Bronson is still highly watchable, and Michael Parks makes for a decent villain, but there's so little effort put in to the other aspects of the movie that it just feels lazy, tiresome and tired out. The violence isn't shocking enough compared to the previous films and the premise starts to become a bit of a joke, in many ways. Viewers most certainly considered the awful truth by the second or third movie in the series - being close to Paul Kersey is a very dangerous place to be - but it was often hidden behind the escalating violence and the quest for revenge that the central character would embark on. Sadly, there's just not enough going on this time around to detract you from thinking "actually, maybe Paul Kersey just shouldn't get into relationships".

The end of an era in many ways, and the last film role for Bronson, Death Wish 5 is just one disappointment after another. But it's not unwatchable and it doesn't take anything away from the many other great movies that gave us Bronson at his bad-ass best.



Saturday 11 February 2012

Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)

I must say that as the Death Wish movies evolved and moved away from the interesting and serious first movie it wasn't exactly the worst thing that could happen. While the sequels became more outlandish and implausible, the entertainment factor seemed to settle at a reasonable level and Charles Bronson always managed to hold your attention as vigilante Paul Kersey.

The rapists and muggers might have started to hide away but a new breed of criminal overshadows even their nefarious deeds. The drug dealer. After witnessing the effects that drugs are having on the kids of today, Paul Kersey decides to once again take the law into his own hands and start killing those who he feels most deserve it. The police close in, Paul finds his services being hired by someone with a vested interest and everything unfolds predictably enough for those who have enjoyed the previous movies.

J. Lee Thompson was the man who took over the directorial duties from Michael Winner and he does a perfectly reasonable job. Some of the continuity and editing feels rushed and clumsy but these movies are all about Bronson believable kicking ass and, once again, he does just that.

The script, this time by Gail Morgan Hickman, is quite basic but also utilises some plot points not all that dissimilar to Yojimbo, which at least makes this more than just a rehash of a rehash of a sequel to the original.

Bronson is excellent, as ever, in the main role and the other actors all do just fine with what they're given. Kay Lenz is the love interest this time, Dana Barron has a brief turn as the daughter of Lenz's character, Danny Trejo and Mitch Pileggi have what must amount to two minutes of screentime between them (but they're always great folk to see in films) and George Dickerson and Soon-Tek Oh play two very different police officers.

If you enjoyed the previous three movies then I can't think of any reasons that you would have to hate this one.



Friday 10 February 2012

Death Wish 3 (1985)

Try as I might, I just can't fully shake the feeling that I haven't actually watched Death Wish 3. As the credits rolled I had almost convinced myself that what had gone before my eyes couldn't have been anything else but a fevered dream full of crazy gunplay and heroic vigilante behaviour. My mind had somehow blended together Home Alone, *Batteries Not Included and Behind Enemy Lines. With a bit of Rambo thrown in there for good measure. Amazingly, it wasn't a dream. None of it. It was all real. Surreal yet real, all the same.

Charles Bronson returns to play, arguably, the role that defined him throughout the 1980s. He's Paul Kersey, a man pushed so far over the edge that he can no longer see where he used to hang on to any semblance of normality. Worries about going too far have been banished from his mind, he has returned to New York and is now a killing machine, secretly endorsed by police and dropped into an urban warzone like some OAP prototype of the T-101.

It's Michael Winner directing once again and Don Jakoby takes care of the writing duties (which probably just consisted of writing "punks kill people and upset Charles Bronson, who goes on a killing spree with increasingly-heavy artillery at his disposal). The essence of the movie remains similiar to that classic original film but, in oh so many ways, they are also both very, very different. America is not a country with a major crime problem that causes some upset this time, it's just one big gang-controlled area not unlike something normally seen only in the wilder movies from Troma. Old folks are hassled and hurt and even killed while eagerly awaiting a chance to draw blood and fight back. And thugs can actually call in other gangs of thugs whenever they need backup. In fact, I was quite surprised that this WASN'T a Troma movie. It certainly had the heightened lunacy throughout.

Bronson is, of course, very good in the lead role once again. Martin Balsam gets a decent bit of screentime, as does Ed Lauter. Deborah Raffin is shoehorned in there, her character almost laughable and completely unnecessary for most of her screentime. But that is more than made up for by Gavan O'Herlihy and his superb turn as the lead villain. Other folks get their chance to play scumbags but viewers of my age (mid-30s) will probably have the most fun watching another rare film outing for Alex Winter (aka the one who wasn't Keanu Reeves in the Bill & Ted movies).

For Jimmy Page fans, there is the extra enjoyment gained from the fact that he has returned to create the score after his work on the second movie.

I can't deny that I was entertained from beginning to end with this movie. I'm just not sure how much of that entertainment factor stemmed from the ridiculousness of the whole thing and the feeling of incredulity it filled me with.



Wednesday 8 February 2012

Death Wish II (1982)

Charles Bronson returns as Paul Kersey (architect by day, vigilante by night) in this popular sequel.

It may be a new city but the evil scumbags are the same all over and it's not too long before Kersey finds his life ripped asunder once more. Basically, he's not really a guy that you want to be close to. Bad things tend to happen to people that he cares about. This time, instead of just a random killing spree, specific targets are in mind. A bunch of criminal lowlife types who will rue the day that they ever decided to have some fun at the expense of Paul Kersey.

With everything raised up a notch (the death scenes, the bodycount, the implausibility), this feels almost like an entry in a slasher movie franchise with Bronson playing the baddie that audiences end up rooting for. He's the main draw and, despite the way in which this sequel feels more exploitative and generally grubbier than the first movie, makes for good company in a world full of squalor and injustice.

Michael Winner is back to direct, working from a script by David Engelbach, and does very well with the strange mix of entertainment and harsh violence. Of course, the subject matter may turn many people off but the film actually does well in walking a fine line between glorifying the violence shown and reminding people of pain and loss (one scene featuring someone jumping from a window was particularly wince-inducing). It's certainly a less complex movie than the first outing but we see Kersey affected by his own actions, even if he seems just fine with his personal choices.

Bronson is great in the role, just as he was the first time around, and Vincent Gardenia also does well when his character gets to return for a small amount of screentime. Jill Ireland (possibly best known for being the wife of Charles Bronson) does okay but I've never been her biggest fan - scenes focusing on her character always remind me of the sad moments when Paul Daniels would start to interrupt his many wonderful magic tricks to showcase an illusion performed by "the lovely Debbie McGee". The punks and scumbags are all punky and scumbaggish, and one of them is played by a certain Laurence Fishburne III, and it's fun to see them get their expected comeuppance.

Music fans will enjoy the soundtrack by one Mr. Jimmy Page, Charles Bronson fans will enjoy Charles Bronson and Michael Winner fans will enjoy remembering why they used to think he was a director with some talent years before he started selling insurance on TV and generally getting on the nerves of the nation.



Tuesday 7 February 2012

Kill Switch (2008)

It's all a joke, surely. Steven Seagal is just waiting for the day when he gets on a talk show and reveals that the past 20 years of his life have been nothing but one extended performance piece. It's the only explanation that makes sense. Kill Switch almost amounts to something watchable and entertaining. But before it can reach any level of quality, Seagal and an editor with ADD make sure that the whole thing gets spoiled.

A tough cop with his own way of doing things gets in a bit of trouble while trying to bring two different killers to justice. Can you guess who plays that tough cop? Of course, Mr. Seagal. Why he decides to play him with the worst accent he's ever attempted to date is completely beyond me. We all knew that Seagal could be "gangsta" after his searing performance in Today You Die but this time around he plays some po' distant gospel preacher cousin of Richard Pryor.

Seagal also wrote this movie, probably with all the time he has on his hands now just watching his army of stunt doubles churning out non-theatrical action flicks, and it's also unsurprising to find that the script is pretty lacking most of the time. To be fair, it has some decent moments scattered here and there but there isn't anything here worth remembering or quoting. Or even hearing for the first time. It's cliched, drawn out longer than necessary and occasionally outright laughable.

Director Jeff King just makes things worse with one stupid decision after another. That's probably the biggest, and most unusual, negative point here. Somewhere buried under the dross is a decent enough action film for undemanding fans of the star (let's be honest, any "demanding" fans left the sinking ship a long time ago). Despite the cliches and the stupidity of the plot points, the fight sequences and the action genre standards could have made for passable entertainment without the overediting and recycled footage. The scene near the beginning of the movie of someone being thrown out of a window features so many repeated shots that it starts to feel like a joke.

The supporting cast doesn't make any impression. Isaac Hayes has a small role, and it's nice to see any familiar face other than Seagal in a Seagal movie, but everyone else either plays a standard law enforcement type, an over the top killer or just someone dumb enough to pick a fight with our hero.

Overall, not a spectacular failure but there are enough bad choices to stop it becoming anything actually approximating good entertainment.



Monday 6 February 2012

In Society (1944)

It might not have been the smoothest shoot ever compared to many other Abbott & Costello movies but, regardless of that fact, In Society stands up as yet another of the better outings for our comedy duo. It mixes some standard fast-talking exchanges with a number of hilarious set-pieces and some fun stunt work in the second half.

Bud and Lou are a pair of pretty incompetent plumbers for this outing. They end up being called out to a big job during a fancy dress party and get a lift from their friend, Elsie Hammerdingle (a female cab driver, played by Marion Hutton). Elsie is spotted by rich bachelor Peter Evans (Kirby Grant), who won't believe that she is actually a cab driver, and a relationship develops. Events conspire to get everyone attending another high society party where a valuable painting catches the eye of a greedy criminal, Lou has a thrilling time taking part in a fox hunt and everyone may well be revealed for who they really are.

Directed by Jean Yarbrough (with a couple of major scenes directed by an uncredited Erle C. Kenton), In Society showcases two stars at the height of their success, in my opinion. Bud and Lou probably won't win you over if you've never liked their style but the same can be said of almost any other comic talent of the era (and, indeed, of any era). They managed to create two comic personas that they could then slip on like a tailor-made suit and their movies really became more entertaining as the performances seemed to become easier and easier.

Marion Hutton and Peter Evans are perfectly fine in their supporting roles, while Margaret Irving, Ann Gillis, Arthur Treacher, Thomas Gomez and Murray Leonard also do very good work with a variety of characters all displaying a variety of upbringings and personal goals.

The script, involving a number of folk including the constant A & C companion John Grant, has very few weak patches and more than its fair share of absolutely brilliant moments, with the best being the whole skit about "The Susquehanna Hat Company". Even the few musical numbers are enjoyable and don't overstay their welcome.

Fans will most certainly want to see this one and will, most likely, enjoy it as much as I did.



Sunday 5 February 2012

Death Wish (1974)

Everyone already knows the concept of Death Wish. Sort of. It's a Dirty Harry film with one big difference, the lead character isn't a policeman. In fact, he's an architect. But he's played by the legendary Charles Bronson so believing that he can hold and shoot a gun is very easy.

Bronson plays Paul Kersey, a man driven to dark thoughts of revenge after his world is torn apart by a trio of vicious thugs. Kersey begins to consider the state of society and what can be done when the law doesn't seem to be doing enough. Ironically, considering that Bronson has the main role, he starts to see how much better the world could be if things were still done "the cowboy way". And so he becomes a vigilante. And a damn fine one.

Directed by Michael Winner, and written by Wendell Mayes (adapting the novel by Brian Garfield), it's surprising how thought-provoking and effective Death Wish remains to this day. The issue at the core of the movie is one that pops up in almost every pub conversation you could listen in on ever. People want to feel safe, they want criminals to be too afraid to commit crimes, and they often verbally admit to the temptation of vigilante justice. Some have even, sadly, followed up their words with misguided actions.

The whole thing is lifted way above average by a sterling central performance from Charles Bronson (an actor I once stupidly failed to see the superstar status in . . . . . . I have since given myself a severe talking to). As Paul Kersey, Bronson's performance enhances the material no end and his transformation from happy architect to brooding vigilante, who still keeps his day job in the world of architecture, is shown in a fairly believable series of steps.

The rest of the cast consist of little more than people giving opinions on the mystery vigilante or scumbags waiting to be shot. Vincent Gardenia is the other standout, the cop who ends up in a very peculiar situation. And it's certainly worth watching the movie if you're a Jeff Goldblum fan, just to see his very first screen role even if it only adds up to a few minutes of screentime.

The film certainly makes a case for some of the "justice" administered onscreen but I have to say that it also, admirably, also shows Kersey as a damaged man, someone dealing with pain in a very bad way and who then finds himself in a spiral of almost addictive behaviour. If you've never seen Death Wish and only heard of it as some sensationalistic, violent, pro-gun advert then do yourself a favour and watch it for yourself before dismissing it as some others have done.



Thursday 2 February 2012

Best Worst Movie (2009)

Despite what many people think, most folks never set out to make a bad movie. Everyone involved usually wants to do the best with what they're given, no matter what the budget is or how many problems are encountered during the filming process. Yet bad movies are still made. Some movies go beyond just the simple bad label and become "so bad they're good" while a lucky few go one step further and turn into genuine cult films, beloved by fans who share the experience of the movie with friends and who somehow turn a number of negatives into one massive positive. Troll 2 is one of those movies and this documentary tries to show how it went from a risible failure to a favourite among fans of the odd and the downright silly.

Written and directed by Michael Stephenson (who starred in Troll 2 as the son, Joshua Waits), Best Worst Movie is a fascinating look at the community that can build up around the oddest objects of affection. It shows many of the fans who have seen the movie multiple times and conveys the sense of fun that everyone can take away from the experience. The documentary never struggles to explain just how this terrible movie gained such a good-humoured fanbase, as soon as you see some of the actors involved you realise that they're all generally a nice bunch of folk who did their best, even if they weren't such great actors at the time.

The star of the show is, undoubtedly, George Hardy (who played Michael Waits, the father, in Troll 2). George Hardy is a dentist and a very popular one. In fact, he seems to be the most popular man in his town and possibly one of the nicest men to ever stroll around America. Even his ex-wife doesn't have a bad word to say about him. George was, at one point, as bemused as everyone else when he first heard that Troll 2 was going down well with a new generation of fans. Then he started to find out just how those fans welcomed him and made him feel. Then he embraced the whole thing and loved it, happily re-enacting favourite moments for rooms full of appreciative audience members.

It's a great journey. There are other cast members who relate their experiences, and there is quite a lot of time given over to director Claudio Fragasso (who I initially thought was being playfully irritated by the whole thing and disparaging of the fans and cast . . . . . . . . . . then I started to realise that he might be serious), but it's George that we stick by for most of the movie and that's a huge bonus. Being in the presence of this friendly, benevolent, ever-smiling man really makes the whole project something endearing and sympathetic. The viewer ends up, despite the overwhelming odds, rooting for the strange success to continue.

In the few moments when George examines the sad flipside of the situation, and has to experience a couple of events in which the movie and himself are largely ignored, there's an unexpected poignancy and mood of reflection. Something very real in the midst of something so surreal.

I gave Troll 2 a 3/10, I didn't like it as much as those who have taken it into their hearts but I didn't think it was one of the very worst movies ever made because of the whacky entertainment factor. But Best Worst Movie gets a much better rating.



Wednesday 1 February 2012

The Onion Movie (2008)

It has Steven Seagal in it so this is the weekly Seagal. Suck it up.

Do you know what The Onion is? It's America's Finest News Source. If you didn't know that then shame on you, shame, shame, shame. Check it out here. I've read articles from The Onion occasionally and found them to be pretty funny. I've even seen people mistake their articles for real news items and that's even funnier. Yes, The Onion is a big, funny, mass of spoofery with some of the easiest targets in sight (patrotism, prejudice, capitalism, the language of news reporting) and an ability to hit them dead on. I try to avoid it, however, because I have plenty already that can suck away all of my time on the internet. Thankfully, I set out to see the movie and found it to be pretty bloody hilarious.

The story is a very slim one. The Onion remains America's Finest News Source but is in danger of being undermined by new additions from the corporation that now owns it (a corporation that is out to market, among other things, an amazing Steven Seagal movie entitled "Cock Puncher"). So, essentially, there are a series of sketches framed by a story strand that sees the fate of The Onion, and main newscaster Norm Archer (Len Cariou), hanging in the balance.

 Written by Todd Hanson and Robert D. Siegel, and directed by Tom Kuntz (I have no idea if that's his real name or not, that's the IMDb listing) and Mike Maguire, The Onion Movie is often in poor taste but stays consistently funny from start to finish. Fans of The Kentucky Fried Movie should love it, fans of comedy should love it and fans of Steven Seagal should at least give it a watch to see how good a sport he is for pretending to star in "Cock Puncher".

The cast all do fine, the punchlines are often very funny and the film never outstays its welcome, coming in at just under 80 minutes. A highly enjoyable comedy that deserves to be seen by more people.