Thursday 29 March 2012

Buck Privates Come Home (1947)

Following on from, as if you couldn't guess, Buck Privates, this Abbott & Costello vehicle sees our two leads trying to adjust to civilian life after their stint in the armed forces. This is made a bit trickier by their plan to keep and look after a young illegal immigrant named "Evie" (Beverly Simmons) and by the fact that they haven't really got any trade to fall back on besides their usual quick sales/con work.

Even more so than their other vehicles, Buck Privates Come Home has an air of comfortable familiarity about it. It's a sequel that spends the first few minutes introducing the lead characters with some footage from the earlier movie before going on to recreate the chemistry of that film. Bud and Lou are still the troublemakers with good intentions, Sgt. Collins (Nat Pendleton again) is still the authority figure trying to put a stop to their antics and there are a number of decent comedy moments that are stretched almost to breaking point. Okay, you could almost give that description to every Abbott & Costello movie ever made but the interaction between A & C and Pendleton here works as well as it did the first time around and it feels like a very smooth continuation despite the gap of over half a decade.

Director Charles Barton, working with the script by John Grant, Frederic I. Rinaldo and Robert Lees, does just fine with the material. Lou Costello may have regressed slightly with each movie, going from an innocent and all-too-trusting manchild to a dumb and incompetent  baby, but that fault (for those who view it as such) lies with the development of his comedy persona rather than the director having to shoehorn the personalities into a film. The leads all do their stuff, little Beverly Simmons is a bright young thing and Tom Brown and Joan Shawlee provide decent support.

It's a shame that there isn't more of the better A & C material in this movie but I must admit that the delivery of the standard slapstick and gentler comedy is very well done. It makes for a decent sequel to Buck Privates and an enjoyable vehicle for the comedy duo.


Wednesday 28 March 2012

Four Flies On Grey Velvet (1971)

Fans of Steve Martin, Woody Allen and Dario Argento all have one thing in common. They seem to spend a lot of their time wondering just when their favourites will return to the top form of their earlier efforts. Steve Martin has occasionally almost made audiences forget about the awful Bringing Down The House (okay, okay, I quite enjoyed that one, so sue me), Woody Allen has received apparently well-deserved praise for Midnight In Paris (which I have queued up and ready to watch at some point in the next few weeks) and Dario Argento has . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . well, let's be honest now, he's not really offered his loyal fans anything promising for quite some time. Or am I forgetting something major? If you could enjoy The Card Player, but not love it, then you're on a par with myself. I think his last excellent movie, from the few recent efforts I have seen, was Sleepless but even that one didn't please all of his fans. Not by a long shot.

Despite what some will tell you, not every earlier Argento movie was/is a bona fide classic. He certainly did his best work before the change of the century but giallo fans who have more than a passing knowledge of the subgenre will be able to provide you with a list of names of directors they feel have created a body of work superior to the Argento selection. That's not to take anything away from the man, it's just that perspective is needed when viewing and reviewing his work. I still love many of his movies and I still feel that his better films - Deep Red, Suspiria, Tenebrae, Opera etc - rank up there with the best that the genre has to offer. But that still doesn't mean that there aren't people who can do better.

Four Flies On Grey Velvet is a perfect example of the best of Argento mixed in with a few negatives.

The story, with a screenplay by Argento based on the story that he wrote with Luigi Cozzi and Mario Foglietti,  is twisted and interesting enough - a young man (Roberto, played by Michael Brandon) confronts someone that he believes has been stalking him for a few days, a scuffle ensues and then the "stalker" is accidentally killed. This whole incident has been photographed and the photographer now blackmails Roberto and becomes more and more menacing, also causing some more deaths. Things build to a tense and revelatory finale.

The direction showcases fluid and stylish camerawork that would become, arguably, Argento's main trademark throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s with some amusing camera shots from such strange positions as the inside of a guitar, etc. There are also some enjoyable set-pieces, though nothing really on a par with his best work (with the exception of the very last moments of the film).

The acting is okay. Brandon does what is required, as do the likes of Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Bud Spencer and the other cast members. But okay isn't good enough when the movie is full of too many moments that highlight the weaknesses in between the strengths. The script isn't all that great and a bit of editing could have really helped this whole film become a much more enjoyable, more streamlined thriller/horror. Just when you think things are getting better something comes along to undermine the tension, be it poor character choices or just banal dialogue exchanges.

I recommend this movie, especially to fans of Argento (of course), but it's not the best example of a movie of this type. It's not even in the top 5 Argento movies of this type, in my opinion. Nonetheless, this is a good film with an abundance of style and ingenuity. And some musical input from Ennio Morricone.


Tuesday 27 March 2012

Cinderella (1950)

I don't think there are too many people around, over the age of 5 or 6 years old, who don't know the story of Cinderella. It's a classic fairytale and has that status nowadays almost as much due to this Disney movie as to the enduring source material.

I had known of this film for many years but, as is sometimes the way, I'd never seen it. When I was young I went out of my way to seek out more boy-friendly fare. I mean, what young boy wants to see a film about a girl wanting to meet a prince when there's a chance to watch The Goonies instead? Not me, that was for sure. Which is a shame because I've now, at long last, seen this movie and fallen in love with it.

The usual number of directors and writers are involved, adapting the tale by Charles Perrault, and the usual quality shines through in every frame as we watch Cinderella look after her horrible stepmother and step-sisters and get her hopes up when the announcement is made that there's going to be a fancy ball at the palace. Things don't really look good for poor old Cinders, who at least has the friendship of many of the animals around her (the mice and a dog, anyway), but it only takes a little Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo to turn things around.

I think the best word I can use to describe Cinderella is "lovely" but then most people will just think that I'm being polite. So I'll say that it's "really lovely". Once this movie begins you are transported into the onscreen world and invited to watch a wonderful collection of characters, both human and non-human. It's an absolute delight from start to finish. The voice cast is good, if unmemorable when not singing one of the wonderful musical moments, but the real asset that the movie has is the sheer quality and care of the animation and characterisations. I actually forgot I was watching a cartoon for most of this film, which doesn't happen all that often. It's a beautiful gem, a deserving jewel in Disney's crown, and feels like an extra special treat after the numerous "package films" that Disney was forced to release during  the 1940s.

If you think you know this film because you've seen so many clips of it and you can sing along with the most memorable song then I implore you to actually watch the whole thing and get to know it properly.


Monday 26 March 2012

Sheep Impact (2011)

And here we are, at the very very last point of the journey for the time being. The career of Steven Seagal has contained a number of ups and downs but the second decade of the 21st century shows signs that he may not be ready to shuffle off and retire just yet. The movies may not, overall, have improved immensely but they HAVE improved and he's also had some small roles in some very good fare. One such goodie would be Machete. The other would be this short, an advert for beer that packs more entertainment and humour into four minutes than our martial arts hero has managed to fit into his last five starring vehicles.

I'm sure there are many people who will roll their eyes and think less of me for reviewing an advert but what the hell . . . . . . . . people have rolled their eyes out me for doing a lot worse than this. And I maintain that this is more than just an advert, this is a perfectly formed gem of a short film.

Two young men are heading to a party when they run into some trouble. That trouble revolves around a sheep that Seagal doesn't want to see die. Oh, and Seagal isn't playing Seagal. He's a typical young Australian lad. By way of Steven Seagal.

Somehow, four people all worked together to write this. That's one person for each minute of screentime. Director Brendan Gibbons was also one of the writers but I'm not going to complain about the numbers because it looks like everyone managed to work together to get the tone of the humour and the quality of the whole thing just right.

Okay, it's not essential viewing if you're the sort of Seagal fan who just fast forwards through any scenes that don't feature him cracking skulls but it's great fun for those able to enjoy the absurdity of it all. And, once again (as rare as it is), it's nice to see that Seagal actually HAS a sense of humour.


Watch Sheep Impact here.

Saturday 24 March 2012

All The Colors Of The Dark (1972)

A woman starts to, perhaps, lose her sanity after a period of time in which she is afflicted by recurring nightmares and visions of a man stabbing her to death. Her partner is supportive but also critical of her attempts to sort out the problem. Perhaps he has something to hide or maybe he is just sharing the pain that stems from the car crash they were in that led to the woman having a miscarriage. Regardless of how sane or insane the woman is, or how guilty or innocent the man is, things get stranger and more dangerous.

All The Colors Of The Dark is a decent film. It's stylish and has moments of tension in the second half, building up to a decent finale. It also has a nice mix of straightforward giallo moments and some very surreal, nightmarish sequences. The screenplay isn't bad but this is very much a movie to be watched and appreciated by fans of the director, Sergio Martino. Martino has a nice touch for the material and keeps things watchable and interesting without ever feeling the need to throw some blood all over the screen every few minutes. This sense of restraint means that the film may not please horror fans who simply like the blood and gore elements of the genre but it should certainly please anyone who enjoys stylish and offbeat thriller fare.

Then we have the cast, components of the movie I have deliberately avoided mentioning until now. George Hilton isn't bad as Richard Steele, the man trying to help his girlfriend but not really sure how to go about it, but this movie gets extra points every time the gorgeous Edwige Fenech is onscreen. In mental turmoil or not, Fenech is very possibly one of THE most beautiful women to have ever made her name within the horror genre (or, more specifically, the giallo subgenre) and her presence can elevate any movie. I'd go so far as to say that any movie featuring Fenech in a main role becomes, ultimately, an Edwige Fenech film. Hell, even her cameo in Hostel: Part II gave that film a couple of bonus brownie points. Nieves Navarro, Marina Malfatti, George Rigaud, Ivan Rassimov and many others do good work but they're all sidelined whenever Miss Fenech takes centre stage.

I am biased, obviously, with my love for Miss Fenech colouring my opinion of this movie. But show me a handful of horror fans who don't feel the same way and I'll kindly turn them away and ask them to come back when they've been on the planet for another decade or so. Putting my love for the lead actress aside (oh, if only it were that easy), I recommend this as a good film for anyone who enjoys a stylish and offbeat thriller.


Friday 23 March 2012

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011)

Time has rolled merrily along since the second Harold & Kumar movie and the two characters have gone their separate ways. Harold (John Cho) has a great job, a lovely wife (Paula Garces, reprising her role from the first two movies) and generally a life of comfort and security that always seemed to elude him while he spent his time getting high. Kumar (Kal Penn) hasn't really gone up in the world and is, funnily enough, still mostly interested in getting high. Fate brings the two together just in time to put Christmas in jeopardy and they spend the movie trying to put things right. If Harold doesn't manage to sort out a Christmas tree that will please his father-in-law then he will be in big trouble. Especially when that father-in-law is played by Danny Trejo.

With Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg back on the writing duties it's surprising to find that this Harold & Kumar movie feels the least like an actual Harold & Kumar movie. Perhaps that's due to the Christmassy nature of the whole thing or perhaps it's simply because our duo have, inevitably, grown up. Just a little bit.

Regardless of the reason, we get quite a slightly movie this time around. The one thing that stays constant throughout all three movies is just how much fun the supporting players are. Danny Trejo in a Christmas sweater, Patton Oswalt as a drug-dealing Santa, Neil Patrick Harris as "Neil Patrick Harris", Eddie Kaye Thomas and David Krumholtz as bickering friends, Thomas Lennon as the main scene-stealer this time around, Richard Riehle as another Santa Claus and Elias Koteas as a violent gangster - there's plenty to enjoy.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson doesn't do too badly in his role, and the direction and script both make some of their best little gags out of the whole 3D razzle dazzle, but you can't help feeling that this should really be the last hurrah for Harold & Kumar. The quality and quantity of the comedy has dipped since that enjoyable first outing but they've managed to stay the course through a decent enough comic trilogy.


Thursday 22 March 2012

Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay (2008)

Just like the first Harold & Kumar movie, this has grown on me since my first viewing. It just hasn't grown on me all that much. I think it's pretty funny in places, sure, but it's not as good as the first film by quite a margin.

Despite the title, the plot doesn't actually revolve around our two leads (once again played by John Cho and Kal Penn) escaping from Guantanamo Bay. Oh, that actually does happen but it happens for only a few minutes. The rest of the movie consists of the boys staying ahead of the zealous law enforcement official (Rob Corddry) who believes them to be terrorist scum. And that's really all you need to know.

Following on immediately from the events of the first movie, the direction is this time handled by writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, there's plenty here that will entertain fans of the original. It's just a shame that most of it is recycled from the first film with the whole thing having an longer runtime and lesser gag ratio.

Some moments still stand out: Neil Patrick Harris is hilarious once again, Christopher Meloni returns to play a Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan, an attempt to draw information out of Harold and Kumar's parents allows Ed Helms to have some fun and Rob Corddry is almost always funny when onscreen (something that can't be said of most of his other movie roles).

While the script isn't as sharp this time around and while the concept may feel like they've already slightly outstayed their welcome, the movie is raised up by yet another great collection of actors all joining in with the fun, even for the smallest of cameo roles. As well as our leads, NPH, Corddry, Helms and Meloni we get David Krumholtz and Eddie Kaye Thomas returning, Roger Bart is good fun, Beverly D'Angelo is always a pleasure to see onscreen (is there anyone who grew up in the 80s who didn't have a crush on her as Ellen Griswold?) and James Adomian shows a lighter side to George W. Bush.

The sad fact is that this makes some mistakes common to most sequels but, thankfully, it also still has enough to keep things watchable and amusing. Just.


Wednesday 21 March 2012

Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle (2004)

AKA Harold & Kumar Get The Munchies.

I am, as many people already know, a fan of dumb comedy. But the finest dumb comedy also has an intelligence to it that lurks behind any bad taste gags and profane language. Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle is one such movie. I may always have a soft spot for the woefully underappreciated Dude, Where's My Car? (and, no, I'm not being sarcastic) but this movie has grown a little more enjoyable with each viewing and it's one I've finally decided that I really like.

There's plenty here to love or loathe, depending on your taste, as Harold (John Cho) and Kumar (Kal Penn) head off into the night in search of the perfect treat that will satisfy their munchies. Danny Leiner, who also directed that "Dude..." movie just mentioned above, does a fine job of making the best of the script by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg and is helped immensely by the cast. Cho and Penn are likeable enough leads, even if the latter is a bit of a pain in the backside at times, and there are a lot of great little turns from David Krumholtz, Eddie Kaye Thomas, Fred Willard, Ryan Reynolds, Anthony Anderson, Christopher Meloni (almost stealing the show), Malin Akerman, Gary Anthony Williams and Neil Patrick Harris (who DOES steal the show).

So what are the main ingredients included to tickle the funny bone? Well, there are plenty of jibes at racism, a chance encounter with some bizarre hillbilly types, moments of Neil Patrick Harris being a completely brilliant and OTT "Neil Patrick Harris", some overzealous policemen and a couple of lively critters causing some stress and more.

There are plenty of great snippets of dialogue throughout and the film has a nice line in surreal lunacy that weaves throughout proceedings without ever unbalancing the whole thing. Throw in a groovy soundtrack, a small helping of gratuitous nudity and the potential satisfaction of seeing our plucky underdogs actually come out on top and you have a fun flick that will offend some people while easily entertaining others.

Is it worth your time? Well, it's not worthless.


Tuesday 20 March 2012

Born To Raise Hell (2010)

It's been a long and dark path to this point but I'm finally here. This is, until more are released (*shudder*) the last Steven Seagal film that I will have to view and review in my quest to view his complete filmography. Okay, I missed one that was really, really close to impossible to find and I am treating myself to the full 4 minutes of Sheep Impact next week but, essentially, I'm done. And what a giddying feeling it is. It's that last day of school, the time when you got to take in games and didn't have to worry about learning anything other than who had all of the best toys every year. It's that day at work when the boss tells you that there's nothing more to be done for the day and suggests an extended pub lunch. It's a small moment of sheer joy. But before I relax completely . . . . . . . the review needs written.

Actually, there's very little point in writing a review of a movie so tired and bland. It's strange, and more than a little sad, to see that Seagal has taken a step or two back after he seemed to be moving forward with his recent movie choices. He's gone from being a mystery men well versed in the ways of the East to a mystery man well versed in the ways of the Eastern Europeans and Russian mafia types. That's all we have in this film. A bunch of people shoot at each other, Seagal's partner actually goes out of his way to tell him all about how he's due to be a father soon and glimpses of female nudity are interspersed here and there.

The saving grace is the fact that the action does have some decent moments and the tone is gritty and violent even in between the set-pieces. Director Lauro Chartrand may share some of the blame but it's unsurprising to find that this is another movie also written by Seagal, full of incoherence and a lack of care unless it relates directly to something that leads to the leading man kicking and punching people. Dan Badarau is okay, if I'm feeling generous, as Dimitri but I'm not even going to waste time writing about anyone else involved - a bunch of interchangeable rent-a-bods who don't make any impression thanks to a mix of weak material and poor acting.

Just when Seagal fans may have been getting their hopes up, considering a bit of a career resurgence, along comes this movie to make their optimism vanish.


Monday 19 March 2012

The Time Of Their Lives (1946)

Abbott & Costello provide audiences with something a bit different from their usual fare in this easygoing, supernatural comedy.

Lou plays Horatio, a man wrongly shot down as a traitor and cursed to reside as a ghost alongside Melody Allen (played by Marjorie Reynolds). Horatio and Melody have to stay on the land on which they died, unless one day their innocence can be proved. As time rolls merrily on, we eventually get a group of people arriving who may well help in that endeavour. Including, of course, a character played by Bud Abbott.

The Time Of Their Lives is a pleasant enough little movie and I can't say that I disliked it. However, it really was really missing some spark of wit and vitality. The supernatural element kept things entertaining enough but didn't really compensate for the lack of the trademark fast-talking banter that fans of A & C know and love.

The first of many A & C movies directed by Charles Barton, this one benefits from a great cast (Marjorie Reynolds is a delight, Binnie Barnes and Gale Sondergaard are both very good, Ann Gillis is very sweet and John Shelton is fine) compensating for the mediocre script. Val Burton, Walter DeLeon and Bradford Ropes all had a hand in the screenplay, with some additional dialogue by John Grant (as was so often the case), but none of them capitalise on the potential of the premise. One or two set-pieces stand out as pretty amusing skits but they're still not a patch on the more typical A & C style of humour that featured in most of their other movies.

I wish this had been a better comedy but I still enjoyed it as a nice and inoffensive comedy that happens to have two lead characters who are ghosts.


Sunday 18 March 2012

Jessicka Rabid (2010)

Jessicka Rabid is a gritty, low-fi, downright unpleasant slice of nastiness. The central concept alone makes it an essential viewing for fans of the sick and twisted - a trio of family members (the ever-excellent Trent Haaga, Jeff Sisson and Cisiany Olivar) make alternately nice and nasty with Jessicka (Elske McCain), a woman they keep caged up and treat as a family pet until they get horny and want to have sex with her.

Sadly, the execution is somewhat lacking. The script and direction by Matthew Reel, based on the concept by star Elske McCain, is pretty weak and leaves viewers frustrated and wishing that they coulf jump into the screen and help with the camerawork. Making an asset out of a low-budget with the look and feel of a movie is all well and good but making the film a headache-inducing feat of endurance is just going a bit too far (unless you're aiming for something like Driller Killer, which this isn't).

Thankfully, the performances help make the movie watchable. Jeff Sisson and Cisiany Olivar are very good but I was most pleased, as a fan of everything I see him participate in, to see Trent Haaga on good form yet again. Elske McCain deserves the most praise though, her performance is genuinely impressive and at times she's almost heart-breaking in the way that she naively puts up with the treatment of her "owners".

It's just a shame that the concept wasn't given the treatment it deserved, perhaps McCain and Reel went too far in another direction to differentiate their movie from Haaga's own Deadgirl (a superior movie with a number of similarities).

If I was only rating this movie on the execution of the material and the style then I'd probably, and generously give it a 3/10 (mainly because of the inspired use of some old footage). But for the cast members I always enjoy seeing, and for the great lead performances, I'm going to double up.


Saturday 17 March 2012

Chillerama (2011)

Chillerama is an anthology movie mixing a little bit of horror with plenty of comedy and plenty of that old grindhouse/drive-in cinema style. We've seen plenty movies in this vein recently - Grindhouse seemed to lead the resurgence but I'm happy as long as we keep getting fun flicks like Black Dynamite, Machete and Hobo With A Shotgun - but for every film that takes care to emulate the style and still throw some great content onscreen we seem to get one or two that just use the trappings to excuse a low budget that could have been put to better use. Or something that just misfires like Nude Nuns With Big Guns. Chillerama really falls in between the two extremes and, like many other anthology movies, it's a mix of good and bad.

The basic wraparound premise involves a bunch of folk going along to enjoy themselves at the last night of their local drive-in cinema. But there's danger between the cars as well as on the big screen and in between each story segment we catch up with the action as a strange condition develops amongst the cinema patrons.
But what's the cinema actually showing on this final night? Well, first up we have "Wadzilla" (written and directed by Adam Rifkin), the demented tale of a man (also played by Adam Rifkin) with such a low sperm count that he only tends to produce one at a time. When he receives medication to strengthen that sperm there are unexpected side effects and it's not long before one giant monster sperm is destroying New York City. The second tale is "I Was A Teenage Werebear" (written and directed by Tim Sullivan), another demented tale but this time all about sexuality, acceptance and teenage angst. And then it's on to "The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein", the segment written and directed by Adam Green and worth bonus points for the title alone. The fact that it's about Adolf Hitler (played by Joel David Moore) trying to make a giant monster that will help him win the war guarantees fun. There's the promise of "Deathication" but it proves to be just a tease as we then get carried away into the finale of the ongoing "Zom-B-Movie" (written and directed by Joe Lynch).

With the talent involved behind the camera and a cast that includes an eclectic mix of Richard Riehle, Joel David Moore, Ray Wise, Lin Shaye, Eric Roberts, Ron Jeremy (?!?), AJ Bowen, Sean Paul Lockhart, Anton Troy, Kristina Klebe, Kane Hodder, Kaili Thorne, Briana Mackay, Corey Jones . . . . . . . . well, you can't say that those involved didn't give things a good try.

Sadly, while some of the humour works and a lot of the madness is impressively outrageous, there's a lot here that doesn't hit the mark. A lot of references are scattered throughout the movie but a lot of lines of dialogue are also spoken by cine-literate characters who rarely seem to use their own words (or, at least, that's how it feels). "Wadzilla" is a lot of fun but it's almost too over the top compared to the beginning of the movie and suffers because the tone hasn't been set for it. "I Was A Teenage Werebear", I'm very sad to say, is the weakest segment. It has some fun referencing the likes of Rebel Without A Cause and Grease but the treatment of the material is coarse and too heavy-handed in a way that ends up being off-putting. Camp material can be absolutely great entertainment, especially delivered by someone like the great John Waters (for example), but Tim Sullivan doesn't get it right. Which is a shame, as I like Tim Sullivan. Redemption comes in the second half of the movie, however, with both "The Diary Of Anne Frankenstein" and "Zom-B-Movie" making up for plenty. There are still mis-steps, and the fact that the film clocks in at about the two hour mark doesn't help at all, but the fun is in full swing and viewers are completely accustomed to the vibe of the film by the halfway point.

So it's nowhere near as good as many other movies I could mention (and, indeed, already have) but it's nowhere near as bad as the very worst you can watch either. Which makes it decidedly average.


Friday 16 March 2012

1408 (2007)

A movie based on the work of Stephen King about a writer possibly losing his mind as a haunted hotel causes him no ends of problem, it is almost inevitable that you can't watch or review 1408 without thinking of The Shining. However, it is to the credit of the author, the screenwriters who adapted his tale and director Mikael Hafstrom that 1408 manages to take fairly familiar material and make it feel fresh and interesting.

When I first saw 1408 I wasn't impressed. I'm still not completely won over by it but I have to now admit that it deserves a lot of credit for many of the little touches scattered throughout. The basic premise is simple enough, John Cusack plays a writer who visits haunted locations and writes about them. It's not great literature but it's a job. When he comes across the history of the titular room in The Dolphin Hotel, however, he views it as an essential experience and refuses to be dissuaded by the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson). But nobody has lasted more than an hour in room 1408 and there have been 56 deaths. Will there be a 57th?

The most impressive thing about this movie is how it takes the source material and expands upon it without losing the essence of the story or ever feeling padded out. This is down to a mixture of good writing, great performances and every trick in the book being used to keep things visually interesting onscreen.

John Cusack is superb in the central role as a man who starts off cynical and selfish and is pushed over the edge into an abyss of potential insanity and dread. Going through a whole range of emotions, from depression to elation to all-out rage, Cusack acquits himself very well. Samuel L. Jackson is also very good in his small, but crucial, role. Then we have support from Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub, Len Cariou, Jasmine Jessica Anthony and a number of other people who all do great work.

Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski deserve credit for their work in adapting the short story into something that holds your attention and builds up an atmosphere of real horror. There may be a few jump scares here and there, and there may not be enough here to please fans of gore and/or more standard scares, but the film develops into something very unsettling and decidedly . . . . . off-kilter as the room does all it can to affect Cusack's character.

Director Hafstrom hasn't done anything else quite as good as this since but that's okay. It's not that his other movies have been terrible, the fact is that 1408 is a rather simple, but also rather great, modern horror.

"Stay scared".


Thursday 15 March 2012

Creepies (2003)

Anyone familiar with the wonderful comic creation of Garth Marenghi will get a lot of pleasure from this film, especially if you ever saw the TV show "Man To Man With Dean Learner" and laughed your ass off at the clip displayed of "War Of The Wasps", a fictional movie that Garth Marenghi was saddened to never have finished. Creepies IS "War Of The Wasps" but with big spiders instead of wasps. I'm absolutely serious.

Normal spiders can be creepy and horrible so making them big is often an easy way to get some good horror material. Hell, I even enjoyed the laughable Spiders and The Giant Spider Invasion. Creepies is like a combination of those two movies made on a budget of $50 with an assortment of old props the crew salvaged from the set of the Thunderbirds TV show. I remember many years ago when I used to sit up, playing Resident Evil on the PSOne with all of the lights out. Infected dogs jumping through a window made me jump out of my skin but I got REALLY scared when my onscreen character wandered into a room covered in webs. When a large tarantula burst in and I had to defeat it to continue with the game I was genuinely tense. That tarantula, way back in the 32-bit games console era, was scarier than anything seen in Creepies.

But only one of the titles already mentioned features this classic line of dialogue: "Yeah, well, before you pat yourself on the back I remind you that we got a spider the size of J-Lo's ass in Hollywood". Oh yes, Creepies starts off bad and gets worse in a way that leads to comedy greatness. This was the best bad movie that I've seen in some time.

I think many people misunderstand me sometimes. I KNOW how bad this film is, I know that many people would give up on it as a lost cause and I know that it doesn't deserve to sit alongside most of the other movies that it may share shelf space with one day. But I also know that it's bloody hilarious, I know that at least some of the humour is intentional (as long with some references to other movies - also pretty amusing, especially the Jaws moment) and I know that director Jeff Leroy and writer Eric Spudic tried to make up for their lack of budget with enthusiasm and affection. Which, for me, is something deserving a bit of goodwill, even if the movie gets almost everything wrong.

The acting stinks. I apologise is anyone involved reads this (though I seriously doubt that they will) but I think everyone was picked for . . . . . . . . . . . . their cost-effectiveness as opposed to actual acting talent. Though in the case of Ron Jeremy, in the movie for all of a few minutes, it's clear that he was only picked for being Ron Jeremy. Lisa Jay, Jeff Ryan, Phoebe Dollar, Calley Edmunds and everyone else onscreen plays second fiddle to the awful special effects mixing unconvincing rubber spiders with unconvincing special effects.

What more can I say? Do I mention the moment when a couple of people think they're safe from spiders because they've used a ladder to get higher in the building? Or the scene that features a spider communicating to the other spiders and giving orders to destroy humans? If you want some giggles then watch this and enjoy it as I did. If you want realism, however, you may as well opt for A Town Called Panic.


Wednesday 14 March 2012

Episode 50 (2011)

Another week goes by and another "found footage" movie rolls past my eyes, this time it's the potentially interesting Episode 50, a film that I was hoping could work as well as Grave Encounters. It couldn't. In fact, many of the flaws in this movie highlight just how good Grave Encounters was in many ways.

Episode 50 is all about a TV crew getting the chance to investigate a notoriously haunted area that people have been kept away from for many years. Once they get there, of course, it's not long until things start happening on camera that are hard to explain. We know, from the introduction to the footage, that something went wrong as this 50th episode was being filmed but exactly what is only revealed by watching from start to finish.

Joe Smalley and Tess Smalley directed this movie, and also wrote the story that was added to by Ian Holt, so we can easily blame them for a number of the bigger mis-steps. There is some good stuff buried amongst the rubbish here, with a few separate scenes in the first half being especially impressive, but as the film heads toward a finale everything just seems to get worse and worse. Dialogue, that wasn't that great to begin with, becomes laughable. The effects become more prominent and exponentially less frightening. All tension starts to drain away. Then we have what may well be the cardinal sin for a film of this type - lazy camera set-ups and improbable shots. The footage may well have been "edited" for the TV episode it never became but that doesn't excuse the many instances that feel far too staged or well-covered when they are supposed to feature characters reacting to something that's making them afraid.

We can't blame the Smalleys for the acting, though they should have worked harder to draw better performances out of the cast, so for Josh Folan, Chris Perry, Natalie Wetta, Keithen Hergott, etc, it's a case of them being left onscreen delivering poor material in a poor fashion.

It's a shame that Episode 50 falls apart so completely by the time the end credits roll because it does have some good ideas and one or two moments of subtle, atmospheric chills. However, it's completely missable and you'd be better off watching Grave Encounters instead.


Tuesday 13 March 2012

Little Giant (1946)

AKA On The Carpet.

The door to door salesman has long been a staple of comedy so it's no surprise to see Abbott & Costello weave a movie around such a character. Having said that, it IS a surprise actually because this was the first A & C film based around situation and characters as opposed to just numerous gags. It has plenty of flaws but it's also got some good laughs here and there (one connected to a mind reading prank and another being a repeat of the superb "13 x 7 = 28" routine).

Lou is the young man who heads off to the big city to try and make his name and fortune in the world of sales. He manages to secure himself a position selling the Hercules vacuum cleaner, upsetting Bud Abbott (Mr. Morrison). Thankfully, he moves to a different location and manages to impress . . . . . . Bud Abbott (Mr. Chandler). But even as things start to go right, it becomes clear that this country boy isn't suited to city life.

William A. Seiter directs with no real flair or energy - the movie is passable entertainment but some extra work and care could have resulted in something much better. The writers involved seem to have been so preoccupied with keeping the story moving and things building to a farcical climax that they forgot to sprinkle more laughs throughout.

Lou Costello is a bit more annoying than usual this time around, somehow, and I say that as someone who always preferred his childish and goofy persona to the uptight and stern Abbott (who does very well here with his portrayal of two different characters). Elena Verdugo is very good as Martha, Brenda Joyce is great as Ruby and Jacqueline deWit has a lot of fun as Hazel. In fact, it's definitely a movie in which the women stand out and fans of the actresses involved may find more to enjoy in this film than A & C fans.

But I had fun nonetheless.


Monday 12 March 2012

Machete (2010)

Well, ummm, I actually saw and reviewed Machete ages ago for Flickfeast.

That review is here -

An easy 8/10 and great fun. But the best news, at this moment in time, is that it can now count as my weekly Seagal and saves my poor, aching eyes from any more punishment this week.

As the end of my Seagal quest approaches (and I've seen every movie that he's made so far with the exception of Clementine, a movie I couldn't get a hold of for love nor money) I have one thought looming large in my mind - the next quest subject is going to be someone or something much more enjoyable.

Does Seagal have some great movies to choose from? Yes he does. Does he have any actual star power? I'd be generous and say that there was a time when he did. Should he have made half of the movies in his filmography? Hell no!

Considering that it's supposed to be an old-school grindhouse flick, and also considering the fact that the Bluray doesn't have any extra features worth shelling out wads of cash for, I recommend picking up Machete on DVD and having a good time.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Nothing But The Best (1964)

Aahhhhh, the Swinging 60s. London. A time and a place that, if you believe the movies, easily show a Great Britain that was still GREAT. The music was groovy, the sex wasn't overshadowed by the horror of HIV and the fashions were snappy and dapper. In fact, the more I see of 60s Britain the more I tend to side with people who try their best to incorporate some retro style in their wardrobe and lifestyle choices.

But there was also a battle to move up the ranks, a struggle for class and status more pronounced than anything that happens nowadays. Oh yes, the rich are now far richer than they ever were and the poor probably far poorer. The divide is certainly greater. But that middle ground, that mixture of people and finances and attitudes, is more turbulent and eclectic than ever before. You can work your way up for years but still, ultimately, find yourself in that middle ground.

Back in the 60s you could work yourself up and find yourself way up high, gazing down at the proles you used to toil alongside. Which is what Jimmy Brewster (Alan Bates) wants to do in this enjoyable, slightly perverse, comedy. To achieve his aim he decides to learn from, and model himself upon, Charles Prince (Denholm Elliott, on wonderful form). Unfortunately, tips and advice can only get you so far towards the next rung. To really make it to the top you need to clear some space by throwing others downward. Lucky for Jimmy that he seems to have the determination to go through with it.

A number of films from this decade are, unsurprisingly, about class and the trappings of any privileged social status. Thankfully, many of them are also very good films with this one being no exception. Nothing But The Best has a fun script by Frederic Raphael, fine direction by Clive Donner and a wonderful cast that starts off well with Bates and Elliott in the lead roles and then gets better and better with the performances from Harry Andrews, Millicent Martin, Pauline Delaney, James Villiers and everyone else involved.

Add many little details that make viewing a pleasure, plus cinematography by Nicolas Roeg, and you have a delightful black comedy that deserves to be given an airing occasionally (either on TV or, even better, on DVD) and to find an appreciative audience.


Saturday 10 March 2012

All Ladies Do It (1992)

AKA Cosi Fan Tutte.

Tinto Brass is famous for his particular brand of softcore erotica that isn't always that soft but certainly keeps things erotic. Think of him as a Jess Franco figure without the over the top sleaziness and torture elements. He does what he does well and fans of his work shouldn't find much to complain about in All Ladies Do It.

I am not a fan. I'm not a detractor either, I've just not seen enough movies from Brass to form a solid opinion. In fact, I think that the only other Tinto Brass movie I have seen in my life is Caligula - a movie that a) I have no major memory of and b) tends to be regarded as far from the best of the director's movies.

All Ladies Do It revolves around Diana (Claudia Koll), a faithful wife who often turns her husband, Paolo (Paolo Lanza), on by telling him tales of flirtations and temptations. It's all fun and games while the tales are fiction but when Diana starts to allow herself some "happy banging" then things get a bit more complicated and Paolo doesn't think he can handle the situation. Is Diana wrong to get some sexual kicks elsewhere while remaining completely in love with her husband?

There are many moments in this movie that are very erotic. Let's be honest, there are a number of moments that probably count as full on pornographic. It's not a film to sit down and watch with the grandparents and it may even prove to be quite a shocking viewing for those who think that they're open-minded enough because they sat through the tastefully sexual Eyes Wide Shut. Hardly 5 minutes can pass by without viewers having an erect penis waved in their general direction or seeing a woman show off her naked ladyparts. A lot of the nudity and sexual content feels erotic. Where that feeling dissipates is in the moments showing Diana active in other ways. Take kissing for example. Kissing can be erotic and very sexy. But kissing while "happy banging" results in two people who look like they are trying to spit pink salmon at each other. Which is pretty gross. And then we have the general attitude of Diana throughout most of the first half of the movie, a sexual confidence that teeters over the edge and well into the realm of arrogance, thus becoming decidedly unsexy (in my view, anyway). A woman unintentionally showing a hint of a slip and coyly hiding it away again is 100 times sexier than a woman getting her jollies by "accidentally" grinding against men on busy public transport.

The screenplay is better than it has any right to be, thanks again to Brass, though he is helped in the writing department by a few others. The performances are okay (the cast are pretty daring, which makes up for any failings in the actual acting) and I'd pick out Ornella Marcucci as someone I particularly enjoyed watching.
And fans of movie music should enjoy the work by Pino Donnagio here. But fans of female nudity will probably get the most out of the film.


Friday 9 March 2012

A Dangerous Man (2009)

Steven Seagal plays a guy who used to be in the Special Forces. He plays a guy wrongly accused of a crime, which leads to him losing all that he holds dear to him. He plays a guy willing to help others by kicking the ass of anyone who looks at him with a slight squint. Yes, this is another Steven Seagal movie in which he falls back on the same sketched out plot that he has been rehashing, with varying degrees of success, for the last 30 years or so. To give any more time or space over to describing the plot would just insult the intelligence of both you and me (and I don't claim to be that intelligent in the first place).

Despite the fact that it's just more of the same, A Dangerous Man is yet another of the more recent Seagal movies that ends up being a big surprise - mainly due to it not being a pile of steaming dung. Oh no, this time out we once again get plenty of action and a helping of bone-crunching violence to make everything more enjoyable. And it does the job. Seagal may never reclaim the physique he once had but he has at least gone back to a place that allows him to convincingly show off some decent martial arts moves without calling upon a stunt double every 5 seconds.

Writer-director Keoni Waxman (who also directed The Keeper) puts in plenty of risible nonsense but it's all par for the course for anyone who has watched at least one Seagal movie since the start of the 21st century. The mixed nationalities of all the cast members, the fact that Seagal always seems to get a younger girlfriend with each movie (to paraphrase from City Slickers . . . . pretty soon the guy will be dating sperm), the wise ways of our leading man, etc.

Seagal is as Seagal-like as usual in the lead role but Jesse Hutch, Vitaly Kravchenko and Jerry Wasserman don't do too badly alongside the other, varied, supporting cast members.

Easy to watch and mildly enjoyable, I was about to rate this film even higher than average and then realised that I was just overcome with relief after the many other Seagal movies I have endured over the years.


Thursday 8 March 2012

Abbott And Costello In Hollywood (1945)

AKA Bud Abbott And Lou Costello In Hollywood.

Bud and Lou are a couple of inept barbers in this enjoyable comedy that would be the last the duo would do for MGM. It remains a lesser movie than many of their more memorable Universal movies but it's a lot of fun and shows that more could have been made of their dalliance with another studio (there's extra fun to be had here seeing cameos from people like Rags Ragland, Preston Foster and, best of all, Lucille Ball).

But back to the plot. Our leading men realise how much money can be made by an agent in Hollywood so they decide to act the part, in an attempt to both make extra cash and also help out a young talent by the name of Jeff Parker (Robert Stanton). All doesn't go smoothly, of course, and a number of decent set-pieces pop up onscreen during the bumpy journey towards success or failure.

S. Sylvan Simon directs the boys again and does a decent job. The big surprise here is the writing credit. The movie may be based on a story by Nat Perrin and Martin A. Gosch but Lou Breslow is the only other name listed. No long list of writers here, yet the film feels just as full of gags and smart lines as most of the other A & C flicks from this fruitful period.

The leads do their usual schtick, Robert Stanton is bland and likeable, Frances Rafferty and Jean Porter are the swell gals involved in the ongoing craziness and Carleton G. Young and Donald MacBride do well in their respective roles. Those cameos provide some chuckles and the bigger laughs come from Lou attempting to shave a customer despite his incompetence, Lou trying to beat a bout of insomnia and, yep, Lou tussling with Carleton G. Young during a finale that includes some decent effects work, for the time, that puts the men on a dangerous rollercoaster.

A fun swansong for their MGM filmography.


Wednesday 7 March 2012

Decoys 2: Alien Seduction (2007)

Making a satisfactory sequel for any decent movie can be a tricky prospect. Making a satisfactory sequel to a surprisingly enjoyable movie that went direct to the rental market can be even trickier. The fact that Decoys 2: Alien Seduction succeeds is due to the way it admirably sticks to the most well-known symptoms of sequelitis. Normally constrictive and damaging, these standard tenets (more of the same, extra nudity, a few slightly famous names to help promote the thing) actually work in the film's favour and this is a sequel that almost equals its predecessor.

Is it a great movie? No, but neither was the first film. It is, however, undemanding and entertaining fare that makes the most of a ridiculous but fun central premise (sexy alien babes freezing Earth males while they try to get jiggy with it) and zips along from start to finish with snappy pacing and good humour.

Jeffery Scott Lando directs the action this time around, with a script written by Miguel Tejada-Flores, but the change of names offscreen doesn't show onscreen at all. There are a couple of actors also returning to their roles (Corey Sevier and the gorgeous Kim Poirier), a number of new actors who all come across as likeable enough and more eye candy for the guys in the shape of ladies like Michelle Molineux (aka Heather Graham MK II) and Lindsay Maxwell. And then we have Dina Meyer and Tobin Bell being the more famous names getting involved for some limited screentime.

Effects aren't top notch, there are more than one or two gaping plot holes and there's no tension whatsoever. Pretty much like the first movie anyway. Thankfully, it focuses on the fun to be had with sexy alien women getting nekkid to seduce their prey - this time around they also reveal a talent for being able to transform into whichever kind of girl the male victim has fantasised about.

An uncomplicated sequel that will be appreciated by those who saw the greatness at the core of the rough diamond that was the first movie. Okay, okay, another good film to watch if you like sexy femaliens getting naked. And who doesn't?


Sunday 4 March 2012

Decoys (2004)

Decoys is a fun movie that's well worth checking out if you've never heard of it before. It's like a cross between The Faculty and Species. In fact, it's REALLY like a cross between those two movies. The school setting, and the fact that one of the male leads looks so much like Elijah Wood that they mention it in the script, and the aliens trying to secretly take over people will remind you of the former while the fact that the aliens are really cute girls who don't seem to have an aversion to nudity will remind all red-blooded males of the greatness of the latter.

The plot is really simplicity itself. A young man (Luke, played by Corey Sevier) wonders just what he is seeing when he spies a couple of gorgeous young women (Stefanie von Pfetten and Kim Poirier) revealing themselves to be something more than your standard human being. They are, in fact, aliens who just love to keep themselves in tip top condition by enjoying cold temperatures and warm potential mates. Luke fails to convince anyone else of this (including his good friend Roger, played by Elias Toufexis AKA the guy that looks like Elijah Wood) and just seems to get himself in trouble while he keeps trying to alert everyone to the situation. Meanwhile, young men keep disappearing and the woman look like they have new men in their sights, including Roger. Just how long can any hetero male defend himself against such obvious charms?

Decoys suffers slightly because of the unoriginality factor but it compensates for this with a sense of fun and some nicely unexpected moments that try to balance out the jump scares and more obvious plot twists. Matthew Hastings directs, and co-wrote the movie with Tom Berry, and he gets a lot of things just right. Night Of The Creeps would certainly seem to be another influence, no bad thing, and this is at the forefront when we see the friendship between Luke and Roger and also when we see Luke being treated like a murder suspect by Detective Francis Kirk (Richard Burgi). There's a mix of humour throughout that doesn't always work but improves when the film gets into the second half and picks up a gear.

The cast aren't the greatest actors ever but Corey Sevier, Elias Toufexis, Richard Burgi, Meghan Ohry, Ennis Esmer and Nicole Eggert all do well enough while Stefanie von Pfetten and Kim Poirier easily portray alien females so sexy that they could find a number of men willing to be led away to isolated locations. Krista Morin, Carrie Colak, Marc Trottier and Sarah Smyth all provide decent support.

It's no modern classic, and it doesn't measure up to any of the other titles mentioned within this review, but Decoys is enjoyable enough and actually a lot better than 1001 other titles that have been given the DTD* treatment.

(*Is it Direct To Disc now that videos aren't the standard rental format?? Or maybe Straight To Disc could let us label them all as STDs)


Thursday 1 March 2012

The Naughty Nineties (1945)

Another collaboration between Abbott & Costello and director Jean Yarbrough provides fans with another one of their better comedy outings.

The plot sees the comedy twosome working on a steamboat that's captained by the kindly Capt. Sam Jackson (Henry Travers, probably most recognised by people of all ages as Clarence the angel from It's A Wonderful Life). We get the usual knockabout first reel before the major plot development - poor Captain Jackson loses most of the rights over his boat when he's tricked by a bunch of scheming gamblers. The gamblers then go on to use the steamboat as a base of operations, fleecing crowds of people who come on board, trusting in the good name of the captain. Can the devious villains be stopped and can Bud and Lou help in any way?

It becomes clear while watching numerous A & C movies that some people just knew how to get the best out of them. Erle C. Kenton was one and Yarbrough was certainly another. The Naughty Nineties starts off amusingly enough and rattles through a number of enjoyable set-pieces en route to a fast and funny finale. The fact that it features what many people consider to be the best version of the famous "Who's On First" routine is another HUGE bonus - I could quite honestly watch that routine on a loop from now until the end of time.

Edmund L. Hartmann, John Grant, Edmund Joseph and Hal Fimberg wrote the screenplay, with some extra material from Felix Adler, and the quantity of laughs onscreen certainly benefits from the talented wordsmiths who managed to work with Abbott & Costello to add gags wherever they could. At least, that's how it seems from this perspective.

The leads are up to their usual standard (which means that if you still don't like them by now then you're never going to) while the supporting players make more of an impression than usual. Henry Travers is wonderful, Lois Collier is lovely and Alan Curtis, Rita Johnson and Joe Sawyer make a good trio of potential baddies.

This is a very enjoyable movie and the more I think about it the more I am tempted to rate it even higher. So I'll just stop now before I get carried away.