Friday 31 August 2012

The Strongest Man In The World (1975)

The third, and last, of the Disney "Dexter Riley" movies sees a lot of the same names returning to make another romp that may not be quite as good as the previous two movies but still remains relatively entertaining from start to finish.

Kurt Russell returns as Dexter, Joe Flynn is the Dean once more, Michael McGreevey is Schuyler again and the great Cesar Romero is back to play A. J. Arno. Dexter once again finds himself accidentally benefiting from a happy mistake in the science lab - this time it makes him incredibly strong. So strong that he accidentally breaks his shoe-laces, pulls off door-handles and bends lampposts and such. This amazing discovery leads to one obvious decision being made, the dean approaches a popular breakfast cereal company and agrees to represent them at a televised weight-lifting competition against their main rival.

Vincent McEveety is the director this time around, working from a script by his brother, Joseph L. McEveety, and he keeps things moving along nicely. It's just a shame that the film doesn't have as many enjoyable moments as any of its predecessors. In fact, the group of kids feel as if they're just on the sidelines for most of the time with the focus moving to Joe Flynn having fun as the dean, Phil Silvers as the head of the rival breakfast cereal company and Michael McGreevey being at risk because everyone thinks that he has the details of the formula in his head. Oh, and there is some time spent with A. J. Arno and Cookie (Richard Bakalyan, also returning). But there's very little time actually spent with Dexter, and even less time spent with Dexter AND the gang.

The performances are all well and good, completely in line with the other films featuring these characters, and things never come to a grinding halt but it's not all that exciting either, even when it gets to the big finale of the weight-lifting competition. Perhaps that's due to the knowledge of what happened in the other two movies, perhaps it's due to the knowledge that this is a Disney family movie. Whatever the reason, things wind towards the ending with little sense of excitement and fun. The whole premise feels as if it hasn't been used to its full potential.

Yet don't let the negatives stop you from giving this a watch if it's on the TV and the weather outside is dreadful. There is enough here to make it worth a watch and you almost owe it to yourself to "complete the set" if you've seen any of the other Dexter Riley movies. It's an inoffensive, okay movie. Nothing more and nothing less.


Thursday 30 August 2012

Ponyo (2008)

Ponyo is yet another slice of visually stunning, amazingly imaginative, brilliance from the beloved Studio Ghibli and even compared to many of their other movies I'd have to say that this is one of their very best.

Imagine an animated film that mixes a bit of Splash with a bit of Sphere and a bit of Cocoon, with a hint of Aquaman for good measure. That's what Ponyo is.

Things start with someone who looks like a red-heaired David Bowie looking unnaturally comfortable in the depths of the ocean while he does oceanic stuff (not to be confused with Oceanic stuff). A little fish sneaks away and then heads off to meet a little boy from dry land. The little boy (Sosuke) doesn't realise just what powers the little fish has but when Ponyo, for that is the name that the fish takes, licks a cut on the hand of the little boy she starts to change. And that change could mean a lot of trouble as Ponyo is returned to her natural environment and then endeavours to escape in order to meet up once again with Sosuke. The water becomes more and more turbulent, which could affect everyone around Sosuke, especially his seafaring father.

I used to think it was ridiculous when I heard people talking about how Studio Ghibli has put itself in a position to rival, and even overtake, Disney but a film as delightful and gorgeous and constantly inventive as Ponyo reminds me that, yes, there are indeed one of the biggest names in the world of animation today. Watching Ponyo made me think of all of the other little touches that I may not have been as receptive to in other Studio Ghibli movies (with my main concern being whether or not I had underrated the wonderful My Neighbour Totoro - not something I usually consider with a movie that I have given 8/10 to).

The vocal cast all do just fine - I listened to the original Japanese audio and read subtitles although with Studio Ghibli outings you often get an excellent American track and that's also the case here, with people such as Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Liam Neeson, Cloris Leachman, Lily Tomlin and Betty White lending their not inconsiderable talent to the project.

But, as ever with a Studio Ghibli movie, this is all about the visuals and the heart of the story. Staying on just the right side of sweetness, Ponyo has a very cute pair of lead characters in Ponyo and Sosuke as well as a nice supporting cast. The exuberance of the children, oblivious to what trouble may be brewing around them, is well portrayed and raises a number of easy smiles. Hayao Miyazaki is again both the writer and director here and he simply cements his reputation as one of the best artists working in the field today. Every frame here, just like almost every frame in every other movie that he's ever done, can be taken, framed and hung on a wall.

It's a story of the sea, a story of magic and a story of some wonderful childhood times. Ponyo is just one of the best family movies that I've seen in a long time. In fact, I may watch it again right now.


Wednesday 29 August 2012

Lady And The Tramp (1955)

It's very sweet, it has one absolutely iconic scene and it never outstays its welcome but, for some reason, Lady And The Tramp just never makes it right into the top tier of the Disney classics for me. Maybe because it's just a little bit TOO sweet.

The story is all about, of course, Lady and Tramp, two dogs leading two very different lives. Lady (voiced by Barbara Luddy) is a pampered pooch and definitely a part of the family that she lives with while Tramp (voiced by Larry Roberts) spends most of his time avoiding the dog catcher, getting meals from kindly restaurateurs and enjoying a carefree life. When the two get to spend some time together, after an incident that sees Lady removed from the comfort of her home, they soon start getting along very well despite their differences.

Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske, Lady And The Tramp is yet another Disney movie that seemed to have as much drama behind the scenes as it did up front (not that hard this time around anyway, there's not much here to compete with the better dramatic scenes that Disney can come up with).

Joe Grant was a problem, due to the fact that it was his original sketches used to develop the story (which was mainly based on "Happy Dan The Whistling Dog" by Ward Greene) without his permission. CinemaScope was a problem, due to the fact that the movie was being made for that format before Walt Disney realised that not all theatres could show movies in that form, forcing him to also have a version of the movie made in the original aspect ratio.
Peggy Lee (who voices a number of characters and sings the classic "He's A Tramp" song, among others) was a problem when she later sued Disney for breach of contract.

But fans of the movie will be happy that it turned out the way it did despite those problems. It's certainly a charming picture, even if most of the characters are somewhat bland and unmemorable (heck, even Lady and Tramp are hard for me to visualise now that the credits have rolled). One standout moment sees the introduction of Si and Am, two Siamese cats out to cause havoc, but the rest of the film is simply okay. I admit that the moment with that shared plate of spaghetti remains one of the sweetest and most romantic images from the movies, animated or live-action, but it's surrounded by a film that's not really up there with the best of the output from the House Of Mouse.

Having said that, it's adorable in the way that puppies are adorable and while it overdoes the sweetness on more than one occasion there are times when it just gets everything perfect and forces you to give in to the urge to say "awwwwww" out loud before catching sight of your own reflection in the mirror and scowling at yourself for being so easily manipulated.


Tuesday 28 August 2012

Zombies Vs. Strippers (2012)

Missing the boat by a good few years (after previous movies like Zombies! Zombies! Zombies AKA Strippers Vs. Zombies, the really rather good Zombie Strippers! and the more recent Strippers Vs. Werewolves), Zombies Vs. Strippers only has two things going for it in the shape of the gorgeous Adriana Sephora.

The gorgeous Adriana Sephora plays nursemaid.

If you're wondering what the plot is then . . . . . . . . . . . . you clearly didn't read the title in the post heading. It's zombies vs. strippers, that's all there is to it. Some other people appear to add to the number of potential victims, the owner of the strip club is having money problems and some personalities clash with each other but most of the time things manage to circle back to focus on those zombies vs. strippers.

The woman in the middle is a stripper. She has been attacked by zombies. This was all explained clearly by the title of the movie, which is also the post heading above.

The script by Kent Roudebush, Nick Francomano and Alex Nicolaou isn't that good and it's not really made any better by Nicolaou's direction. Even at just under 70 minutes - the runtime is listed on IMDb as 75 minutes but that includes the credits, the main content of the movie itself is just under 70 minutes - the film still manages to outstay its welcome. There is some blood on show and some gratuitous nudity, which helps (especially when it shows off the gorgeous Adriana Sephora . . . . . . did I happen to mention that I found her quite attractive?), but nothing that makes up for the lack of proper fun and wit. There's even a lame Michael Jackson gag in there. Good grief, isn't there a sell-by date on those?

I included this picture to show how atmospheric the movie is, of course.

I never expected the acting to be any great shakes and, unsurprisingly, it isn't. Circus-Szalewski is okay as the stressed owner of the business, Tanner Horn is slightly irritating as a DJ stuck in his own drugged haze, Adam Brooks is okay as Spike, J. Scott is okay as Marvin the doorman and Brad Potts is the best of the lot as Red Wings, an ex-biker who has done a lot in life to make up for his past sins. Amongst the ladies we have Eve Mauro as Sugar Hills, Victoria Levine as Bambi and Brittany Gael Vaughn as Vanilla. And I may have already mentioned the gorgeous Adriana Sephora as Jasmine.

Room for one last pic of Adriana Sephora? I think so.

I know that this review may sound harsh but it's not meant that way, really. Any time that someone comes up with a movie premise that pits a group of attractive and scantily-clad women against dangerous foes I am very receptive to the idea and always want them to do well. They can't all be winners though, and this is a film that can't even drag itself up to an average rating. Despite the presence of, in case I didn't emphasise it enough already, the fine and lovely Adriana Sephora.


Monday 27 August 2012

Kingpin (1996)

Directed by The Farrelly brothers (Bobby and Peter), Kingpin is yet another slice of comedy brilliance from the men who gave the world Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary, to name their two best films. This movie takes the world of ten-pin bowling and adds their usual mix of smart "dumb" gags, gross-out humour and set-pieces to make you laugh out loud.

Woody Harrelson plays Roy Munson, a young man with a great future ahead of him. He can bowl better than anyone else in the game and is on his way to greatness. Until he meets Ernie McCracken (yet another tour de force performance from the great Bill Murray). Ernie talks him into taking part in a money-making scam and things go horribly wrong when the victims demand revenge. Roy loses a hand, which is a big loss for any wannabe bowling champion. Years pass by and Roy becomes one hell of a loser. Things are so bad that his surname is synonymous with taking something potentially great and just turning it all to shit, pardon my language but that is the best way to describe it. His fortunes look up, however, when he finds himself a protege in the form of Ishmael (Randy Quaid). If Roy can convince Ishmael to go along with him on a road trip then they can get to a championship that has a first prize of one million dollars. Ishmael is reluctant to go along as he lives an Amish life and doesn't want to be outcast from the community but circumstances soon change enough to allow the two men to head off. They're soon joined by the gorgeous Claudia (Vanessa Angel) and, of course, "Big Ern" is still acting as if he's the best bowler who ever knocked down some pins. He certainly isn't worried by an Amish lad and some washed-up loser with one prosthetic hand.

Kingpin is, clearly, not for everyone but if you have a healthy sense of humour and aren't easily offended then you will probably find yourself at least having a good chuckle every few minutes. The gags keep flying around so thick and fast that only the most mirthless individuals can fail to have a good time. Even when there aren't clear jokes being made there are constantly amusing performances from the main cast members - Harrelson and Quaid are VERY funny, Vanessa Angel is gorgeous and joins in with all of the fun while Bill Murray steals almost every scene that he's in. There are also great little turns from Chris Elliott, Lin Shaye and Rob Moran.

The script is easily the best thing ever written for cinema by Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan, the soundtrack is lively and fun (gaining extra points for the inclusion of a great E.L.O track - "Showdown") and there are a couple of great montage moments. The Farrelly brothers know just how far to go and then, as usual, go one step further, which is what makes them so great in the field of comedy. The film is ridiculous, but hilariously so, and while I still think that both Dumb & Dumber and There's Something About Mary hold up as better comedies with bigger laughs, I don't argue strongly with anyone who puts this movie above those two.

In comedy terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . it's a strike!


Sunday 26 August 2012

27 Dresses (2008)

I can't help thinking whenever I see Katherine Heigl in a movie that she's somehow going out of her way to annoy as many people as possible. She's pretty but also comes over as pretty irritating and, worst of all, she has a knack for picking some of the worst projects that she could work on. Her knack for picking crap is actually uncanny.

In 27 Dresses she plays a young, successful woman named Jane who just loves being the bridesmaid and looks forward to one day when she will be the bride. She loves the joy and celebration of THE BIG DAY and, as you might have guessed, has kept all of her 27 bridesmaid dresses. She also happens to be in love with her boss (played by Edward Burns) but he takes a bit of a shine to her sister (the lovely Malin Akerman) and then there's a writer (James Marsden) who is intent on annoying Jane while also trying to find out more about her.

Directed in a completely by-the-numbers fashion by Anne Fletcher and written by Aline Brosh McKenna, 27 Dresses is the kind of movie that women can easily enjoy without giving too much thought to. But when any thought IS given to it the whole thing starts to look inept and ugly.

The cast have little to no chemistry. I don't really find Heigl that enjoyable to watch onscreen nowadays, after so many poor vehicles, and Edward Burns is inoffensive but has all the charisma of a grain of brown rice. Malin Akerman is usually someone I like but her character here is selfish and unpleasant, making her as unappealing as the others onscreen. James Marsden tries his best, and does well, but there's too much working against him. Thankfully, Judy Greer has fun playing the one decent character who is always fun to see onscreen - she's Jane's friend and gets the few decent lines that the script has.

So what's so inept and ugly about it? Well, the lack of chemistry between anyone makes the forced meetings and interactions feel even more false than usual. The motivations of the characters also, quite frankly, stink on most occasions. If those things don't bother you then take a moment to consider that the central, overriding, message is all about a successful woman with a great life feeling that nothing is complete without her marrying a man. Oh, I know that you can dig around through the layers of various romantic movies (be they comedies or serious films) and find the same, or very similiar, central idea but it's just so horribly blatant here that it's yet another aspect that makes Heigl in the lead role pretty unlikeable. She's a doormat, an easily cajoled and flighty woman who just wants to be a bride. That used to be the only thing that 10-year-old girls would spend their time thinking about back in the 1950s. Times have changed since then, maybe someone needs to tell Anne Fletcher and Aline Brosh McKenna (which is a harsh thing to say because McKenna has written a number of screenplays a LOT better than this sorry effort - but it makes my point).

Then that same person could try to save Katherine Heigl from herself, though I fear it may already be too late.


Saturday 25 August 2012

Now You See Him, Now You Don't (1972)

A fun sequel to the popular Disney film The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, this takes many of the same characters and has fun with some, yep, invisibility.

Kurt Russell is playing Dexter Riley once again and he and his friends are still getting by at school when they're not listening in on the meetings being held by the dean (Joe Flynn, also returning). There's a big science project happening, with students attempting to create something that will win a hefty cash prize for the school, and there's also the return of smooth criminal A. J. Arno (Cesar Romero).

It's a case of "the gang's all here" once again with Russell in the lead role, Robert Butler directing and Joseph L. McEveety handling the writing duties and that's not necessarily a bad film when it comes to undemanding family fare such as this. Kids getting hold of an invisibility formula makes for easy entertainment and Romero plays a great villain. The supporting cast - featuring Joe Flynn, Alan Hewitt, Jim Backus, Michael McGreevey, William Windon, Richard Bakalyan, Joyce Menges and Ed Begley, Jr - all do a good job and they're all likeable enough.

It's light, it's bright and pretty inoffensive and at first I was going to mark the movie down for being a bit . . . . . . . bland. But the more I thought about it, the more I considered what a good time I'd had watching the thing. When Kurt Russell first realises that he's managed to create an invisibility formula it leads to some varied effects and some unbelievable wholesomeness (really, as a teenage boy with an invisibilty formula I know what my first idea would be, sorry but it's true). However, things soon pick up with a great set-piece involving the dean in a game of golf, oblivious to the help that he's receiving. Then it's pretty much non-stop fun as things move towards an extended chase sequence in the third act.

Okay, if you're cynical or just not in the right mood for this film then you can easily pick it apart and sneer at the way in which it aims to just amuse and entertain the whole family but I must have been in the right, receptive, frame of mind for it because I was kept entertained throughout.


Friday 24 August 2012

And Soon The Darkness (1970)

Directed by Robert Fuest, and written by Brian Clemens and Terry Nation (familiar to fans of some classic UK TV shows), And Soon The Darkness stars Pamela Franklin and Michele Dotrice as, respectively, Jane and Cathy. The two young girls are enjoying a cycling holiday in France and taking in the sights around them, with Jane enjoying the countryside while Cathy eyes up the men. The two girls argue, however, and Jane heads off to spend some time on her own. When she returns it seems that Cathy is missing. But where is she, who is she with and is she safe? Perhaps Paul (Sandor Eles) can be of help, though he is acting slightly suspicious. Maybe the gendarme (John Nettleton) would be the better option.

Far from a perfect thriller, And Soon The Darkness will be viewed by fans of the genre more as a curio piece than a wholly satisfying piece of work. It certainly starts off feeling like many of the groovy Britflicks that came from the preceding decade but then quickly starts to build up some nice tension and a great evocation of being a stranger in a strange land.

In fact, I'd argue that few films have really nailed that feeling of utter helplessness in a foreign country as this one has. A holiday is about taking in the sights, having fun and using what little language you may know to get by. When an emergency occurs it's made ten times worse by realising just how out of your depth you may be.

The script by Clemens and Nation is okay, the performances aren't bad (Franklin does better than Dotrice while Eles and Nettleton are both very good) and the direction is solid but everything comes together somehow to lift the film from average to pretty damn good. As Pamela Franklin grows more and more panicked and vulnerable, the film really takes hold and it becomes easier and easier to empathise with someone in such a horrible situation.

Of course, the movie is quite dated nowadays (though it was given a decent update with a 2010 remake) and has lost some power but when watching it do try to remember that, even in 1970, travelling abroad was a much bigger deal and a much riskier venture than it is these days. Journeys took a lot longer, there weren't any translation or map apps to help and even just hopping over to France was a big deal and an adventure. The film captures all of that perfectly, and that makes it well worth checking out.


Thursday 23 August 2012

The Smurfs (2011)

Now, to be fair, I can't remember what The Smurfs were like in their original form. I can't recall the old comics that they appeared in or even the old cartoons. But I do recall enjoying their antics. Having just seen, and been extremely irritated by, The Smurfs, I can only assume that they appealed to me because I was younger and sitting in the target demographic. I may like to stay young at heart but that doesn't always guarantee that I'll enjoy childish things as much as I used to, especially if they're presented in such a poor way.

As well as the little blue folk there is a montage or two, an adult couple all too easily roped in to the proceedings (played by Neil Patrick Harris and Jayma Mays - two people deserving of much better), far too many words replaced by the word "smurf" (e.g. "where the smurf are we?"), an incompetent villain played by Hank Azaria, a number of life lessons and one or two musical moments that are even worse than the usual hits shoehorned into these products. There's also an opening sequence that screams out "look at what we did so that you would be forced to drag the kids to see this in 3D, this is shiny 3D stuff, shiny and 3D and in no way improves the movie in any way but DOES allow everyone to make more money by charging you extra to see it in 3D!!!!!"

The story, as slight as it is, sees the smurfs ending up in New York, pursued by the dastardly Gargamel (Hank Azaria). The little blue folk, inevitably, disrupt the lives of a couple of adults (NPH and Mays) while one half of the couple is also trying to keep his boss (Sofia Vergara) happy and become a better partner for his loved one.

The vocal cast here includes Jonathan Winters as Papa Smurf, Alan Cumming, Katy Perry as the lone Smurfette, Anton Yelchin, George Lopez and some others. They do their bit, with Cumming providing a comedy Scottish brogue that sounds horribly fake even though he IS Scottish.

The script, by a number of people (J. David Stem, David N. Weiss, Jay Scherick and David Ronn), does have one or two decent lines making it clear that it knows how ridiculous the whole thing is but then everything is undone by the by-the-numbers big moments that audiences have already seen, and seen done 10 x better, in many, many other movies.

Director Raja Gosnell does what is asked of him but it's a shame that he couldn't have done something ever so slightly better with the material. A bit more sly wit wouldn't have gone amiss and the movie feels a bit too long, even at just 103 minutes.

Of course, kids will enjoy this a lot more than I did and any children reading this (why the hell would you read this? get outside and get doing kiddie things like playing football and/or vandalising empty homes) should add two or three to my final rating.

I won't be rushing to see the sequel that's already underway and I don't ever want to see this again but it'll please some people. I'd strongly advise most parents, however, to try and distract the kids with something/anything else instead.


Wednesday 22 August 2012

The Legend Of Drunken Master (1994)

As the years have crept up on him, Jackie Chan has slowed down slightly (though he could still kick my ass in any physical competition without breaking a sweat) and has tried to get involved with different films that don't make quite so many demands on his body. Yet there are many times when you just wish that time would stop and allow Jackie Chan to jump and whirl and punch and kick forever, especially when you catch one of his many, many excellent action movies from his extensive filmography. Movies like Project A, Dragons Forever and Wheels On Meals and many, many others.

Even the earlier Drunken Master is a prime example of Jackie Chan doing what he can do best. Later movies, including those just mentioned above, pile on the stunts and physical prowess to an even greater degree but any one of his earlier films can easily stand as a testament to one of the great physical performers of the last century. Easily.

This movie sees Jackie Chan starring as Wong Fei-Hung, a young man who is skilled in the drunken style of fighting. Basically, as soon as he gets a taste of alcohol he becomes a staggering, sozzled, fighting machine. His skill increases tenfold and he's practically invincible. Unfortunately, this is something frowned upon by his father and so whenever Wong Fei-Hung drinks and kicks ass he gets himself in trouble and brings shame upon the family name. Ling, his stepmother, sees things slightly differently. She thinks that Wong Fei-Hung might just be able to save the day. Even if he has a hangover the day after.

As is usually the case with the better Jackie Chan movies, a lot of the stunts and choreographed fight work here will make your eyes pop out. They are incredible. There's an argument to be made that, before the advancement of the CGI we have today, Jackie Chan was the best special effect available onscreen and it's harder and harder to dismiss that observation as a joke when you see him go through as many acrobatic motions as he does here.

There are others who get to impress with their moves - such as Lung Ti, Anita Mui, Felix Wong, etc - but the best moments come from Jackie Chan, whether they're pure incredible action or great bits of physical comedy.

The screenplay comes from Edward Tang, Man-Ming Tong and Gai Chi Yuen and it does what it needs to do - Chan and co. are placed in peril when they accidentally find themselves in possession of something that doesn't belong to them that is wanted by other people who don't have any real right to it either. Direction comes from Chia-Liang Liu and an uncredited Jackie Chan (who directed the final fight scene after Liu left the film) and hits every beat perfectly. This comes so close to being a perfect action movie, SO close, but the fact that it falls just short of perfection, in my eyes, is a testament to how many great films there are to pick from in this genre.

If you're a fan of martial arts movies then you MUST get this, it's that simple really. Yet another essential viewing choice from the filmography of Mr. Jackie Chan.


Tuesday 21 August 2012

A Trip To The Moon (1902)

The first, chronologically, of the 1001 Movies To See Before You Die that I am going to be making my way through (well, I might stop at 1000 and then see if I gain immortality), A Trip To The Moon, or La Voyage Dans La Lune, is as entertaining and impressive now as it was 110 years ago. Okay, I suppose that audiences who had seen nothing quite like it at the time would have been even more impressed, and may have wondered just what mysterious magic was at work, but this is a short film that anyone can watch at any age in any year and still easily enjoy. The special effects hold up as something a bit special, partly because of the charming and pioneering style but also because they're genuinely very, very good (especially the matte paintings).

The story is loosely based on two popular novels of the time, one by Jules Verne and the other by H. G. Wells, and simply follows a group of astronauts who travel to the moon and find some strangeness there.

Coming from director George Melies, this is a sci-fi film, a surreal adventure and just an all-round cracking yarn. The old style and the content mix to give a dreamlike atmosphere, the technical side of things is very impressive (if you're cynical about how well any film over a century old could hold up then I implore you to watch this and tell me how they did every little trick) and this is the most sprightly 100+ year old character that you may ever see.

Referenced through the years, mainly in a great Smashing Pumpkins video for their song "Tonight, Tonight" and also in the wonderful Hugo, this is one of many classics fully deserving of the title. Watch it, even if you just watch one of the many versions available on YouTube, and love it.


Monday 20 August 2012

Children Of The Corn (1984)

Linda Hamilton and Peter Horton play a young couple who end up stranded in a small, isolated American town that has actually been taken over by the children and doesn't tolerate the presence of adults. This is largely due to the preachings of young Isaac (John Franklin - AKA the scariest kid on screen ever) and the enforcement of rules by his main henchman, Malachai (Courtney Gains - AKA second-scariest kid on screen ever). The situation goes from bad to worse for the adults and it's a tense battle of wits to see if they can save themselves from being sacrificed to the mighty corn god.

Adapted from a short story by Stephen King, this horror movie impresses more than it should thanks to its central subject matter - killer kids. You can do a lot in horror movies but you rarely show animal cruelty or child fatalities, those are just major no-nos in mainstream horrors, so having a bunch of kids out to kill adults and being retaliated against is refreshing in itself. Things are helped immensely by the fact that all of the young actors are very good (with Franklin and Gains being the most memorable) and Hamilton and Horton aren't too bad either.

Narration is provided by a youngster (played by Robby Kiger) and this is quite a big negative point, it just feels lazy and the viewpoint and speech used is now more than a little cliche when in the context of a Stephen King story.

Okay, so the short story, made into a screenplay by George Goldsmith, doesn't really provide enough decent material for director Fritz Kiersch to make a classic and there's definitely a sagging middle section but you also get a fantastically eerie opening sequence, some goosebumps raised every time Isaac preaches, decent tension throughout despite the diminutive size of the baddies and even an okay ending only really marred by the budgetary limitations that are so obvious in the special effects of the climax.

Looking slightly deeper into the material, whether it's intended or not (and I think it is), you also have an interesting look at religious dogma, how it is interpreted and preached to others in a way that can cause great harm if not questioned or kept in check. In fact, this is a cult movie in every sense.

It's a fun horror - no more, no less - and one that my nostalgic fondness for is shown in my, admittedly generous, rating.

P.S. I have yet to see ANY of the sequels but they will be viewed and the reviews appearing here very soon, for better or worse.


Saturday 18 August 2012

Drillbit Taylor (2008)

Written by Kristofor Brown and Seth Rogen and directed by Steven Brill, Drillbit Taylor is a fairly enjoyable comedy that won't become anyone's favourite but that passes the time pleasantly enough and has a few scenes that should make you grin.

Two young lads (Nate Hartley and Troy Gentile) are about to start high school and want everything to go right. But everything goes horribly wrong for them and they find themselves a) with a new friend (David Dorfman) who is also a liability and b) the main target of some insane bully boys (Josh Peck and Alex Frost, with the latter playing the more psychotic of the two). In desperation, the young lads decided to hire themselves a bodyguard. They want someone well-trained and up to the task but they can't afford the best of the best so end up thinking that they're bagged a bargain when they hire Drillbit Taylor (Owen Wilson). Drillbit Taylor, however, isn't quite the great man that he makes himself out to be. He's a homeless man who makes his money most days by begging amongst the slow-moving traffic. Maybe helping the kids out can give him a chance to help himself. Or maybe it will all end badly.

Based on a story idea by the late John Hughes, AKA king of the teen flicks, Drillbit Taylor coasts along thanks to a good, varied cast and a few highlights interspersed throughout. Owen Wilson plays the character that you've seen him play numerous times before, and it's a bit stale this time around, but the supporting cast includes some great turns from the younger cast members and fun moments for Danny McBride, Stephen Root and Leslie Mann.

Where the film falls down is the tone. It ranges from the light and funny to the twisted and the, at times, very dark. Annoyingly, both ends of the spectrum have moments that make for interesting and/or entertaining viewing but they're just not blended together well, leaving the film feeling more like an abstract and unsatisfying mosaic than a complete and satisfying work.

If you saw the trailer for this already then you'll already know if you're going to like it or not. It's exactly what you expect it to be. Fun cameo appearances from David Koechner, Frank Whaley and Adam Baldwin (wearing his jacket from My Bodyguard) help but the movie certainly never comes close to being unmissable.


Friday 17 August 2012

Larry Crowne (2011)

When I sat down to watch Larry Crowne I admit that I wasn't expecting to like it. It just seemed as if it was something a bit too safe and twee and uninteresting. And, in a way, it was all of those things. Yet it was also quite enjoyable in an old-fashioned way, a vehicle for Tom Hanks to star in, direct and also write (with Nia Vardalos). He even finds a role for his wife, Rita Wilson.

Hanks is the titular character, a man who finds himself at a bit of a loss when he is fired from his job. Times are tough but Crowne hopes for the best when he enrols in some further education classes. One of those classes is being taught by Mrs Tainot (Julia Roberts), a woman who doesn't really have much enthusiasm for her job any more. Thankfully, Larry Crowne brings out the best in everyone. His teacher starts to properly teach, his classmates start trying to actually learn what they're being taught and the lovely Alvarez (Roxana Ortega) enjoys a new pet project when she decides to help "Lance Corona" make himself a bit more socially active and cool.

Larry Crowne is actually, for almost 3/4 of the runtime, a good film. Hanks is as likeable as ever, Roberts is okay and the support from Roxana Ortega, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, George Takei, Cedric The Entertainer, Bryan Cranston and others (including a fun couple of scenes for Rob Riggle) really help to lift what is, essentially, average material. At best. From the opening titles, accompanied by a lively ELO track, to about the halfway point, I was able to overlook many of the negatives and enjoy myself. However, once it gets to the halfway point, the negatives start to become harder to overlook.

The biggest failing that the movie has, and that builds and builds up to an end credit sequence which involves characters actually waving to the audience, is a certain smugness. It's almost as if the movie makes the assumption that everyone will find the main characters so endearing that they'll be sad to see the end credits roll. Hanks does well as director, nothing flashy but he keeps everything nicely paced, though he's not as talented in the writing department, which piles up cliche after cliche.

I saw the trailer for this movie, as did many people, and thought "well, that's probably not for me". As the first half of the movie kept moving nicely along I started to change my mind. Maybe I'd been too cynical and the fact that this was just a decent movie with a bit of a sweet, soft centre wasn't all that bad. But as the sweetness started to build up to levels threatening to give me dental problems and/or put me into a diabetic coma I was able to see that my first impressions were correct.

There are many other people who will enjoy this much more than I did, people who want something that's slightly removed from every other comic book movie, zombie flick or shoot 'em up, and I can see the appeal. I've actually rated the movie as slightly above average because there were a number of little moments, even if they were covered in cheese, that I enjoyed. I laughed, I wanted the lead character to do well, I was won over. The film succeeded. For that first half, at least.


Thursday 16 August 2012

Basement (2010)

I give up, I really do. It seems that every time I waste my energy defending Danny Dyer in the face of overwhelming negativity he just comes along and shovels another load of manure on top of his increasingly implausible career. The fact that he still gets work at the moment does, I concede, beggar belief but here he is lending his standard geezer schtick to yet another awful British horror movie. This is the kind of movie that easily allows you to misspell his surname as "Dire".

The plot is all about five anti-war protestors who stop off in the middle of their journey home to allow Gary (Danny Dyer) to go and water the plants. That then leads to the group finding the entrance to some underground corridors and, of course, going in and wandering around aimlessly until they become trapped and then find themselves in danger. Never fear, there's a not-so-cunning twist that makes up for the hour or so spent watching people wander along the same bit of set shot from a number of different angles.

Asham Kamboj is the man responsible for directing this piece of rubbish and he also came up with the original idea, developed into the screenplay by Ewen Glass, so he can get most of the blame. The film may only run for about 75 minutes but it feels like it goes on for oh so much longer. Dialogue is, frankly, risible and characterisations are poor.

There's a slight chance that the material could have been lifted by a better cast but that's something that will never be proven, saddled as the film is with Dyer, Jimi Mistry (complete with an awful, exaggerated accent), Emily Beecham, Kierston Wareing and Lois Winstone. Christopher Ellison actually does a good job despite the awful dialogue that he's given but the rest of the cast range from the pretty poor to the downright awful.

There's almost absolutely nothing here to recommend this as a film to watch. One or two ideas would have been interesting if they were in a better movie, here they just crop up as unsurprising revelations after too much has already been revealed before the finale. There's no tension, no decent gore, no sign of intelligence and no real talent on display either behind or in front of the camera.


Wednesday 15 August 2012

The Barefoot Executive (1971)

Ahhhh, those innocent and happy days when fresh-faced Kurt Russell was a big star for the Disney studio and it was okay to laugh at chimpanzees dressed up and being amusingly near-human. Alright, it's easy to look at these Disney movies from the past now and dismiss them as nothing more than time capsules full of some dubious content choices but I have to admit that, putting aside the whole humanised monkey aspect of the thing, I enjoyed this film quite a bit.

Kurt Russell plays Steven Post, a young mail delivery boy (Post! Delivery boy! See what they did there?) who wants to further his career with the TV network that he works for. Nobody else thinks he's capable of this but he finds a golden opportunity landing in his lap when his girlfriend (Heather North) ends up looking after a chimpanzee and that chimpanzee shows an uncanny, and unfailing, ability to pick the top rated TV shows. Armed with this information, Steven starts to make a name for himself but everything relies on people not realising that the programming is being picked by a monkey.

It runs for just over 90 minutes, it has a chirpy song over the main titles, Kurt Russell is as likeable as ever and there's a cute monkey. Yes, this adds up to easily enjoyable Disney fare. The supporting cast also features Joe Flynn, Harry Morgan, Wally Cox and a young John Ritter and they're all entertaining in their roles.

The screenplay by Joseph L. McEveety is pretty simple stuff and the direction from Robert Butler is decidedly average but the movie doesn't suffer because of these things. It's a simple film, one that doesn't need any major flourishes to keep things moving along nicely, and it's something that remains very easy to spend some time with even in this day and age of ever-increasing channels, decreasing viewing figures (barring the major, "unmissable" events it's obvious to most people that greater and greater choice has led to a decrease in the quality of programming and a more fractured audience share for big companies) and the knowledge that at least some of the programming for TV nowadays IS being picked by monkeys, surely.


Tuesday 14 August 2012

Amityville 3D AKA Amityville III: The Demon (1983)

In this third, and disappointing, entry in the Amityville Horror franchise (and, let's face it, did the thing NEED to become a franchise anyway?) the plot revolves around a cynical reporter (Tony Roberts) who spends his time debunking supernatural phenomena and uncovering fraudsters. He thinks that living in the infamous Amityville house makes for a delicious irony but there is, of course, one big problem. The horrors of that house are all too real. This may affect his colleagues (mainly Candy Clark and Robert Joy), his ex-wife (Tess Harper) and even his daughter (Lori Loughlin).

Directed by Richard Fleischer and written by William Wales, saying that this isn't the worst of the many Amityville sequels is like saying a bout of chronic flatulence isn't the worst thing that could happen to you on a first date. It's still bad, it still stinks and at the time, not knowing what lies ahead, it doesn't seem as if anything will ever make up for it. In this case, however, there were more sequels to come.

The script isn't too bad in places, and the first half of the movie certainly has some potential as the lead characters set about explaining supernatural events and taking people to task. The direction is a bit flat and doesn't even use that imposing house to best effect. Then we have the cast, a mixed bunch but generally poor. I have enjoyed Tony Roberts in a number of roles but he doesn't make for a great leading man, in my opinion, and this movie highlights that. Candy Clark is as wonderful as ever while Robert Joy is okay in his role, despite being given some of the more ridiculous dialogue in the third act. Tess Harper and Lori Loughlin are neither great nor terrible and Meg Ryan fans may take some pleasure in seeing her act as a daring young woman before she'd settled into years of being the sweet gal audiences would love before the kooky sweet schtick got tiring.

But before you write it of as nothing more than an average horror movie that fails to live up to any of the previous two films let me remind you about the 3D element. It's shit. Yes, this was yet another movie released in the early 80s that tried to reach out to audiences, literally, with the use of the third dimension but it's probably the very worst of a very bad bunch. There are one or two moments that employ the 3D gimmick and make it fun but the rest just doesn't use the extra depth and leaves you simply wearing uncomfortable glasses and getting a bit of a headache.

Despite my criticism here, the film has grown on me over the years as a bit of a curio that I honestly can't entirely dismiss. The fact that it tries to take such a different path is admirable and the final product is one to class as an interesting failure as opposed to a complete waste of time.


Monday 13 August 2012

I Spit On Your Grave (2010)

Another remake of an infamous horror title, for some reason this movie has a few supporters and people who reluctantly accept that it's a lot better than they thought it was going to be. Well, it's a decent revenge movie with some moments of real nastiness but it's still nowhere near as brutal as the original film and it also misses the entire point of that classic film (yes, I do think it's a classic even if it's not one for the whole family to sit down and enjoy). You see, THAT film had a woman being terrorised and brutalised and horrifically violated because of her sexuality before using that same sexuality to exact her revenge. This film has a young woman being terrorised and brutalised and horribly violated because of her sexuality becoming an efficient and skilled hunter/trapper/killer and even budding Jigsaw protege.

The basic story remains the same as it was the first time around. Young Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) heads off to an isolated cabin to get some writing done but finds herself fearing for her life when some of the local boys come around to have their fun - their idea of fun being far, far removed from any normal idea of fun. It all starts, in a way, from some joking around about getting the handicapped Matthew (Chad Lindberg) a chance to be with a woman but it soon gets even worse for young Jennifer as all of the boys decide to take their turn with her and "teach her a lesson". And the local law enforcement is worse than useless. It's up to Jennifer to keep her spirit intact and find a way to fight back.

On a technical level, everything here is just right. Steven R. Monroe does just fine in the role of director while Stuart Morse has adapted the original movie into an acceptable screenplay. There are some nice moments of tension in between that hard-hitting first half and that vigilante-centric second half but there are also one or two sassy one-liners that remind you of how removed the movie is from the essence of the original.

The acting is all pretty decent. Butler is, admittedly, pretty brave to even go near such a controversial role, while Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman and Chad Lindberg all do a good job of playing characters of varying degrees of unpleasantness. And Tracey Walter is enjoyable as old Earl.

There are a few moments that will certainly impress those who want something a bit stronger in their horror movies but for me, personally, the whole thing still feels sanitised and far less interesting than the original film because of that refusal to explore the real power of the sexuality at the core of the movie. Basically, it's a decent film that misses the mark by a long way.


Sunday 12 August 2012

Dance With Me, Henry (1956)

It's a real shame to watch this Abbott & Costello movie and realise that it would be their last appearance together in a cinematic feature. The fact that it's their last movie is sad enough for fans but the fact that it's so poor, arguably one of their very weakest movies, makes it even harder to watch. The boys should have gone out with a bang but they instead deliver a damp squib, overflowing with horrible emotional manipulation and lacking enough great gags.

It's equally disappointing to see that the film is directed by Charles Barton (a man responsible for one of the best of the A & C films, when they got to meet Frankenstein). If everyone involved had just tried a bit harder then they may have been able to wring some more laughs out of the screenplay, by Devery Freeman, but most aspects of the film just seem a bit tired.

The heart of the story sees our comedy duo getting in some hot water with some gangster types. Bud is really the one causing the problems this time around while Lou does his best to run a fairground and look after the children in his care (children that may be taken away from him if he is deemed unfit for the role). It seems like only a matter of time until everything falls apart and lives are seriously endangered.

I won't say that this film is completely awful from start to finish. There are a few highlights here and there (Lou being interviewed by the police is one particularly enjoyable sequence) and the film isn't unwatchable, especially if you're a fan of the stars.

Sadly, nothing really rises above average though. A lot of the gags barely raise a smile, the farcical elements unfold in a pretty clumsy manner and the supporting cast - including Gigi Perreau, Rusty Hamer, Mary Wickes, Ted de Corsia, Ron Hargrave, Frank Wilcox and others - fail to add anything worthwhile, though Mary Wickes almost manages to steal the show despite her limited screentime.

Of course, you should watch this if you're trying to view the entire A & C filmography and if you're a fan of the two leads but everyone else can easily give this a miss.


Saturday 11 August 2012

Some of the rest of the fest (a Top 10, if you like).

This is by no means any kind of comprehensive overview of the acts appearing just now in Edinburgh but it is a small selection of shows and names that I have seen, heard and give a thumbs up to.

The place to go is HERE for a more in-depth browse and all of your ticket purchases. Oh, and your first port of call should, of course, be the three shows that I was able to review recently after loving each and every one of them. Anyway, here are 10 acts/shows that I think you should check out for a variety of reasons. This "top 10" is in no particular order, it's just 10 recommendations because 10 is a nice, round number and I don't want to overstretch myself.

1) Jim Jefferies - I managed to catch a bit of Jim Jefferies when I attended Forth On The Fringe last Friday at The Playhouse and he's as wonderfully crude and sharp as ever. If you're a fan of his then check out his latest show, Fully Functional. If you're not a fan of his yet but like comedy from someone unflinching then check out his latest show, Fully Functional.

2) Camille O'Sullivan - The darling of the Festival music scene is back for only a few nights this time around. But I've heard that any evening spent listening to Miss O'Sullivan is an evening to treasure.

3) Felicity Ward - I had never heard of this woman before last Friday evening (she was also part of the Forth On The Fringe set) but I'm now a fan.

4) Then we have THESE guys. LAN-T003. Maybe a friend of mine has been helping them, mayyyyyyyybe.

5) Michael Winslow. Yes, the man of 1001 sounds is back in Edinburgh. Best know to fans of the Police Academy movies, Winslow is a huge talent. Make a double-bill of this man and Tom Thum and you have a cacophony of sounds you'll never have thought possible from the human voicebox.

6) The Ladyboys Of Bangkok. Now, I know that you may snigger and say "yeah, yeah, right Kevin" when I tell you that I've not seen this show yet in all the years that it has been coming to Edinburgh. But it's true. What else is true is that I have been keen to see it for a long time, apparently this group of performers can put on one helluva show.

7) Fans of the written word will definitely want to take their pick from the many wonderful opportunities that arise at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

8) Jerry Sadowitz. A supremely accomplished magician and also, most probably (surely?), a diagnosed psycopath. If you're brave enough then go along and see how quickly Sadowitz can offend you.

9) Tim Vine. Okay, so I've never seen Tim Vine in an actual live show but I've seen enough of his schtick to know that he's a personal hero of mine. I love him, mainly because he'll never pass up the opportunity for a great (or even awful) pun. He returns in 2012 with The Tim Vine Chat Show. If you don't have fun then I'll cut all of my hair off, bake it in a pie and then eat it. With no added sauce.

10) Oh, there's also something going on every night that ends with fireworks going off. It's usually already sold out by now but you can test your luck here.

Friday 10 August 2012

Appointment With The Wicker Man.

With a mix of the very clever, the very stupid and the very excellent film that IS The Wicker Man, Appointment With The Wicker Man is a fantastic blend of comedic performances, occasional tension and one or two inappropriate musical numbers changing the entire mood of the piece.

The whole premise for this show is set up for you as soon as you enter the venue and are handed The Programme (The Loch Parry Players Present The Whicker Man). Along with a synopsis of the main event, you can pore over the history of The Loch Parry Players, read bios of the latest line-up and also enjoy some local adverts printed on the back page (my particular favourite one being for the Loch Parry Singles "Meet at the NCP Car Park - every Thursday midnight").

Yes, it's a play within a play structure as you get to watch a comedy about The Loch Parry Players and their attempt to put on an impressive stage version of The Wicker Man. Sadly, nobody in the main cast has actually seen the film. One cast member got bored and switched it off before the end while another claims to have seen it and loved it and then mentions how much she loves Nicolas Cage. Things do not bode well for the production, especially with the company thinking that one or two more "Glee-like" numbers always help to rouse the audience they expect to be playing to. Things also seem to be looking bleak for newcomer Rory Mulligan (played by Sean Biggerstaff), a proper actor, he's been on the telly and everything, who becomes more and more tired of the amateur errors around him and also grows more curious about the mysterious disappearance of the actor he replaced, Roger Morgan. There are times when Rory can focus on playing Sergeant Howie and perform his search for missing Rowan Morrison but there are times when the lines blur too easily and Sergeant Howie/Rory starts to ask about the missing Roger Morgan.

If the above sounds a bit complicated then, at times, it is. But it's only complicated when you start to pick it all apart and look at the parallels between this play and the play within the play and the movie that it takes inspiration from. And when you do pick it all apart while watching the story unfold it provides plenty of rewards. It's very meta at times but it also has plenty of easy laughs, a superb cast giving great physical performances and a script that I would happily purchase in paperback form. And there are a number of tracks from the soundtrack of the movie used so if you're a fan of those strange and wonderful sounds, as I am, then that's another big plus.

Vicky Featherstone directs, from a script written by star Greg Hemphill and Donald McLeary, and the cast, as well as Biggerstaff and Mr. Hemphill, includes Jimmy Chisolm, Johnny McKnight, Sally Reid, Paul Riley and Rosalind Sydney. You may recognise a few faces or you may not but the only thing that matters is how they fit into their roles in this production and I can easily say that everyone is fantastic.

There's even an actual wicker man that makes an appearance, albeit one not actually made of wicker, and there's a finale that takes a number of twists and turns before turning in to a Grade A, full-on, crowd-pleaser. It's a shame that it takes a little while to get to the better ideas, and there are a few sideroads that just keep it from being a 5-star experience, but if you ever wanted to see a stage show that mixed The Wicker Man with The League Of Gentlemen with the "Once More, With Feeling" episode of Buffy The Vampire Slayer then this is for you. I'm certainly glad that I kept my own Appointment With The Wicker Man.


Thursday 9 August 2012

Tom Thum - Beating The Habit.

He may have first come to the attention of many people as a member of Tom Tom Crew but Tom Thum easily wins over any audience and shows just how well he can hold a show on his own in this solo . . . . . . . . . extravaganza.

If you think that beatboxing is all about JUST drum noises backing up some rap lyrics or if you think that vocal effects have been taken to their very limits by someone like the excellent Michael Winslow then I urge you to check out this astoundingly talented young man.

I've heard people pretend to scratch and mix records before but I've never heard anyone who could make me REALLY hear the vinyl and the needle crossing that surface while the tune is being created. I've heard people create impressive bass before but I've never heard anyone who created a bassline that shook through my entire body. I've heard bagpipes before but never someone trying to sound like bagpipes . . . . . . . . . . and a T-Rex at the same time (a result of a moment in which Tom accepts challenges from the audience to recreate a variety of sounds).

I was really, really tempted to find another online clip of this man and put it in this review but, to be honest, that just wouldn't be fair (ohhh, okay, I couldn't resist putting a link in below because it's one of the many highlights). With an audience that seemed to range from 6 - 60, I advise you to just accept that you will have a good, albeit loud, time and to go along for something unique and feelgood from start to finish. In fact, I suspect that only good manners prevented the star from naming his show "Aural Sex" because the audience certainly emanated a rosy afterglow feeling as they left the venue.

It may be stretching it a little bit to say that this is a show to unequivocally recommend to everyone but it's certainly a show that you may even enjoy even if the thought of the musical style (all done with the vocal stylings of Tom Thum, even if it often sounds like he has a whole set of synthesisers backing him up) doesn't seem all that appealing to you.

The musical moments, which make up most of the act, will have you ready to get up and dance but there are also plenty of laughs in the show. Whether it's Tom trying to sell people his Box Of Beats or the "harrowing" look at the pain caused by a beatbox obsession, there was plenty to get even the most cynical audience member laughing along with everyone else.

Go along, have fun, LOVE the music and then make sure to stop by outside and by a CD. Because a great beatboxer is for life, not just for The Fringe.


Wednesday 8 August 2012

Re-Animator: The Musical.

Well, I review movies on this here blog and I sometimes rant about things that pop into my head but I've never really considered this space a viable option for other materials to be pored over. As far as I can recall, I've not included any book reviews here (I'd be terrible at that, just ask any of my old English teachers), no album dissections and no stage shows. Oh, I may have mentioned events going on around me and things that I have visited but I don't think I've ever gone into detail.

With the Edinburgh Fringe gathering speed I began to wonder just what good it would do me to review anything that I saw this year. Surely, these shows will have been and gone by the time that people read my li'l attempt to praise or criticise them? But then I realised that I'd been fortunate enough to see a number of shows at the very start of this busy time. Not only that, a lot of these acts go elsewhere after the material has been well-received in Edinburgh. Maybe I can help in my own little way by recommending some favourites. And it also helps me to write a little bit more about Edinburgh, in general.

Don't worry, I'm not about to start reviewing absolutely everything I do in life (meals in restaurants, drinks in clubs, etc) but I DO think that shows are something I can comment on. I'm no expert (but, then again, I am no expert on movies and that's never stopped me before now) but I'll try to mix in as much information with my opinion as possible.

Which brings us to the first review of this kind that I've ever written and, indeed, it's the main reason that I finally caved in after arguing with myself about including stage fare here. Re-Animator: The Musical. When I heard that it was showing here in Edinburgh I knew that I had to see it. In case you weren't aware of the fact, I am a huge fan of Re-Animator. Director Stuart Gordon created something I will always love. And now, in a very different way, he's done it again.

Yes, Stuart Gordon is the director once more and the music and lyrics are by Mark Nutter. Between them, these men have taken the elements that fans love about Re-Animator and crafted something that just shouldn't work but really, REALLY does. It follows the movie quite closely, albeit with many more songs in the mix, and all of the best-loved lines from the movie's script are either recreated here or made into a song lyric.

The cast are exemplary. George Wendt is the most famous name among them, as far as I'm aware, but he generously makes way for the leading men to . . . . . . . . . . lead. Graham Skipper plays Herbert West and, amazingly, captures the essence of the character as we know him from the movie while also putting his own stamp on the performance. Jesse Merlin is positively channeling the spirit of David Gale in some places and is bloody superb as Dr. Hill. Chris L. McKenna and Rachel Avery, playing Dan and Megan, respectively, were both great. I even almost forgot about Barbara Crampton while watching this new incarnation of Megan. Almost.

Everything you want is here. There's zombie action with blood spraying out over the audience, that memorable sequence with the cat is here, Dr. Hill is creepy and scheming and there's more zombie action that results in more blood spraying over the audience (if you're brave enough then try to get a seat front and centre to be located in the coveted "Splash Zone"). Then there are, of course, the many songs. They're often very silly but they're also very catchy and I'd be lying if I tried to say that I hope to purchase a CD with accompanying lyric-covered liner notes.

I still like to give my movies ratings out of 10, just for my own personal preference, but I can change things slightly for stage shows and use a 5-star system (not to be confused with the 5-Star system, which is based on the lyrics of System Addict). Yep, sometimes even I can be traditional.


And here is the website for all of your information/purchases.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Warrior (2011)

Directed by Gavin O'Connor, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Cliff Dorman and Anthony Tambakis, Warrior could just as easily be a greatest hits megamix called "Now That's What I Call 101 Cheesy Fight Movie Moments".

Tom Hardy stars as Tommy Conlon, an angry young man who returns to see his alcoholic father (played by Nick Nolte). He blames his father for a lot of things, especially driving his mother away and leaving him to watch her die slowly from a terminal disease. Tommy also blames his estranged brother, Brendan (Joel Edgerton). Brendan chose to stay close to his father because he'd just met a young woman that he'd fallen in love with. That woman would become his wife (Jennifer Morrison) and his happy family life with his wife and kids causes yet more resentment. Tommy considers himself alone. The only thing he shares with his brother is a strong dislike of his flawed father. Well, they also both happen to be pretty handy at fighting in a cage which leads them to enter a MMA tournament with a $5 Million prize. Tommy wants the money for reasons that will become clear as the movie unfolds while Brendan wants to avoid losing the family home.

So what does this all add up to in terms of the viewing experience? We have the family drama, the personal problems and the far-fetched nature of the whole thing. It's ridiculous, almost childishly simplistic in places and only ever gets into top gear when the vicious fights are taking place. Yet I still enjoyed myself and I still had a tear in my eye by the time the end credits rolled, even while I was cursing the movie for being so bloody manipulative.

Tom Hardy puts in a good performance but I remain unconvinced of his greatness. In this performance he mixes elements from Bronson with his performance in The Dark Knight Rises and it all just starts to feel a little too familiar already. Joel Edgerton is easy to root for but completely unconvincing as a potential MMA champion (though I'm sure that he could kick my ass if he ever felt the urge, along with 75% of the entire population of our planet). Nick Nolte is excellent in a role that easily gives him the opportunity to . . . . . be excellent. Jennifer Morrison, Frank Grillo, Kevin Dunn and Bryan Callen all do good enough in supporting roles and there are also a number of muscle-bound men out to hurt each other en route to the big finale.

O'Connor directs the whole thing competently enough. The soundtrack and score may be a bit underwhelming but all of the shots and scenes are generally well presented and the film overcomes the problems inherent in the unoriginal material by simply giving time over to every cliched aspect and treating each one as if it deserves inclusion. Strangely enough, this means that by the time all of the elements come together at the very end of everything they DO all deserve inclusion.

Okay, so it's easy to believe that before writing the script for the movie everyone involved simply sat down and watched all of the Rocky movies, each instalment of The Best Of The Best and a few older Jean-Claude Van Damme films for good measure. But that doesn't necessarily make for a bad blend of movie moments. In fact, on this occasion it makes for something overwrought, cheesy and, dammit all, solidly entertaining.


Monday 6 August 2012

Trancers 5: Sudden Deth (1994)

Following on immediately from the events of the last movie, and they were (unsurprisingly) filmed back to back, Trancers 5: Sudden Deth sees Jack Deth (Tim Thomerson) still stuck in an olde worlde time and place and still stuck with a bit of a trancer problem to deal with, as well as figuring out just how to get back to when and where he really belongs.

Everyone is back from the previous movie, including director David Nutter and writer Peter David, and it's not easy to see that the two movies together would have made for a decent, if slightly overlong, feature. This one barely qualifies as a feature, surely, with the runtime being about 72 minutes including a summary of the previous movie that runs for about 5 minutes. Oh well, at least it doesn't outstay its welcome.

It's the weakest of the lot, which is also something quite unsurprising by this stage in the franchise, but I can't say that I wasn't still kept entertained for the most part. Every gruff line uttered by Thomerson usually raises a smile and the adulation that his character receives is enjoyably comedic in its excess.

The cast once again includes Stacie Randall, Ty Miller, Terri Ivens, Clabe Hartley, Mark Arnold and Alan Oppenheimer and, once again, they prove to be a mixed bag, making up for in enthusiasm and energy what they lack in actual acting skills. Hartley is the best of the lot, mainly because he's a fun villain, but he's sorely underused here and the film decides instead to follow Jack Deth as he goes on a quest to find the means to go home. This means that it's just not as much fun as any of the previous movies, there are less action moments and the series goes out on a whimper instead of the bang it deserved (there IS a 6th instalment but it's not tied in with the "official" franchise for reasons that will become obvious when I get the review of it up here).

These movies were always fairly cheap and more about fun and adventure than absolute perfection and polish but this instalment is the first one in which the low budget really shows up in almost every scene and starts to feel just a bit lazy and slapdash. Hey, they already did a great job in taking Jack Deth on so many great adventures so I won't hold it against them but it's a point worth noting, and perhaps helps to explain why this outing just isn't as easily entertaining as the previous movies.