Thursday 31 January 2013

Coriolanus (2011)

Ralph Fiennes makes his directorial debut with this challenging film, an adaptation of one of Shakespeare's lesser-known plays (certainly lesser-known to those of us who only know the Bard's greatest hits, anyway). The fact that he has made such a fantastic end product just shows that he really needs to kick himself up the backside and get some more directorial credits under his belt.

Fiennes also takes on the central role of Caius Martius Coriolanus, a great soldier who doesn't care for the love or respect of the common people. He's a proud man, an honest man and someone not interested in the political game. This all becomes a bit of a problem when others try to get him to run for consul. Mainly to please his mother (Vanessa Redgrave), Caius tries to do his best, but when his disdain for the role becomes abundantly clear he becomes a hated figure, so hated, in fact, that he is banished from Rome. As the saying goes, the enemy of my enemy is my friend and so Caius ends up befriending Tullus Aufidius (Gerard Butler), his old enemy, and joining with him to march upon Rome.

There is a lot more to the story than what I've briefly outlined. The central trio may be Caius, his mother and his enemy, but there's also some meddling from Menenius (Brian Cox), serious scheming from Tribune Brutus (Paul Jesson) and Tribune Sicinius (James Nesbitt), some loving concern from the wife of Caius (Virgilia, played by Jessica Chastain) and protests from common folk such as those played by Lubna Azabal and Ashraf Barhom. John Kani plays General Cominius, yet another character more swayed by the political machine and opinion of the people than any direct action, and Jon Snow (yes, THAT Jon Snow) pops up as a TV anchorman to discuss the situation with other commentators.

Taking Shakespearean source material and giving it a bit of a modern update is nothing new, of course, but Fiennes decides here to aim for a nice middle ground that suits the text. There are guns, cars, TVs and much more signifying that this is a tale set in the modern age, but that all falls by the wayside when the camera focuses on the characters and what they have to say.

The cast are all very good, and an interesting mix. It's unsurprising to see what gravitas is brought to the table by Fiennes, Butler, Redgrave and Cox, for example, but Chastain holds her own very well indeed and Jesson and Nesbitt have fun with their roles. The dialogue that you expect to hear, adapted into screenplay form by John Logan, is a treat for the ears and the whole presentation tries to keep things fresh and dynamic, an aim in which it largely succeeds.

Sadly, I am not familiar with the source material so cannot comment on how faithful it all is to the original text, but I do think that this is a very worthy drama to be enjoyed by fans of the Bard and fans of quality acting displays. Give it a try to see how you react to it.


Wednesday 30 January 2013

Overboard (1987)

The premise for Overboard may be more than a little bit dubious, but it gets beyond that and easily proves itself to be a fantastic rom-com with two stars who spar brilliantly with each other and a great supporting cast that includes a number of mischievous, but likeable, child actors.

The plot sees a carpenter (Dean Proffitt, played by Kurt Russell) given the job of renovating the closet of a spoiled, rich woman (Joanna Stayton, played by Goldie Hawn). The closet is part of a very nice ship and so, when the two fall out over the final result, Joanna refuses to pay Dean and instead pushes him overboard, with his tools following. Dean is more than a little miffed, but his chance for a little payback comes when Joanna herself falls overboard and loses her memory. Joanna's husband (Edward Herrmann) realises that he can enjoy the bachelor lifestyle and so doesn't provide her real identity to anyone in authority so Dean, after seeing her on the news, goes along to the hospital and convinces everyone that he and Joanna are a married couple. Joanna, of course, doesn't find anything familiar as she goes "home" with Dean and her mind remains blank even as she gets used to her many chores and tries to cope with their four rambunctious boys. Of course, it's only a matter of time until she has to be told the truth, but Dean wants to be compensated for the money that he wasn't paid.

Directed by Garry Marshall, Overboard has a bright and breezy, pleasantly light, tone throughout. Everything is so easy to enjoy and go along with that, for the most part, it's easy to forget how nasty that premise really is. Think about it, convincing someone else that they've been married for years, had four kids and spend every day working hard to keep the house in order is pretty bad, even if it's a smiling Kurt Russell doing it. The script by Leslie Dixon helps keep everything just on the right side of light amusement and it's improved by the performances from Russell and Hawn. Edward Herrmann is good fun in his small role, Roddy McDowall (who also signed on as a producer) has some fun and Mike Hagerty is very entertaining as Dean's friend who goes along with the fiction. I'm not going to name all of the child actors because I find it hard to separate their individual personalities from the collective squabble, but they all did very good work.

If you like romantic comedies and you like Russell and Hawn, then you'll like this film. It holds up really well, in my opinion, and the script is full of some great one-liners as Russell's character keeps adding ridiculous detail on top of ridiculous detail to create a life that never was. There's nothing here to shock you, nothing here that pushes the very boundaries of cinema, it's just a fantastic bit of fun for fans of romantic comedies.


Overboard IS available on DVD as a standalone title but I thought I would share the love for some other '80s flicks here and recommend this pack -

Tuesday 29 January 2013

The Shrine (2010)

The Shrine is a strange one, a strange one indeed. It's the kind of dumb horror that we've all seen hundreds of times before, but it's given just enough intelligence and just enough of a twist to make it worth your while.
Cindy Sampson plays Carmen, a journalist who decides to lie to her boss and follow a story that she can't let go of, one involving a missing young man. The young man was last known to have been travelling in an area that has seen other disappearances in recent years and Carmen thinks it's more than just a coincidence. She takes along her intern Sara (Meghan Heffern) and also her boyfriend (played by Aaron Ashmore), who is handy with a camera. When they get to the location of their potential story it's not long until they find themselves feeling distinctly unwelcome.

From the opening sequence showing some strange and dangerous ritual to the scenes of an eye-rolling journalist lying to her boss while following up a "hot lead" to the moments that see some young people being treated very discourteously by angry locals, The Shrine spends an hour or so being a by-the-numbers horror movie. That's why the third act, with one or two twists on the material, ends up being such a pleasant surprise. Once again, there's nothing that hasn't been done before, but it dodges left when you think it's going to go right and vice versa. Will horror fans be amazed by these fake-outs and twists? No, probably not at all, but they do elevate the film by taking the audience to a very different final destination than the one pointed out at the beginning.

The cast all do a good enough job. Cindy Sampson is very good as Carmen, Meghan Heffern is very good as Sara and Aaron Ashmore hasn't put in a bad performance that I can think of in anything that I've seen him in. Trevor Matthews and Vieslav Krystan are also perfectly fine, if a bit nondescript, in their roles.

Jon Nautz (who both directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Trevor Matthews and Brendan Moore) does a much better job this time around than he did with Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer though I am aware that quite a few people liked that movie more than I did. He shows that he knows how to put together some standard genre moments and then goes on to show how easily things can be freshened up ever so slightly. Horror aficionados may balk and say that Nautz brings absolutely nothing new to the table, but I give the guy points for trying. Sometimes that is all you want/need to see in the flood of identikit movies that just keep being churned out nowadays.


Monday 28 January 2013

Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970)

Following on nicely from the end of Dracula Has Risen From The Grave, this film starts with a man named Weller (Roy Kinnear) stumbling across a scene in which Dracula is dying. Weller takes some souvenirs away from this grisly tableaux, as you would, and goes on his merry way. Some time later, three men (William Hargood, played by Geoffrey Keen, Samuel Paxton, played by Peter Sallis, and Jonathon Secker, played by John Carson) meet a younger man (Lord Courtley, played by Ralph Bates) who shares their particular interests. All of these men have a fondness for exploring the darker side of life and giving in to their base desires, so when Courtley brings up a plan to buy the items that belonged to Dracula and to use them in an unholy ceremony. Well, that sounds like a jolly good time so the men agree and go along, only to lose courage when it comes to actually finishing the ceremony. They attack Courtley and flee, unaware that Dracula has risen from the dead and now aims to destroy those who would treat his servant so badly.

Peter Sasdy is the director of this one, and Anthony Hinds is the writer, and both men are working a few levels below their best. In fact, it's only the presence of Lee in his most famous role that saves this from being a complete stinker. The rest of the cast aren't bad, they're just not all that memorable either. Roy Kinnear doesn't have a lot of screen-time, and neither does Ralph Bates, so viewers are stuck with Keen, Sallis and Carson as the main characters. Linda Hayden plays the daughter of Geoffrey Keen's character and is, of course, quite lovely, as is Isla Blair (playing Lucy Paxton), but the aforementioned actors, plus Anthony Higgins, all seem pretty interchangeable.

Sadly, even the death scenes aren't that entertaining, although I enjoyed them more this time around than I did during past viewings, and the grand finale is, in my opinion, the absolute worst of any Hammer Dracula film. There's a nice element of seediness running through the whole thing, with both the content that's front and centre and also a few things that are implied, but even that isn't enough to put this above average.

Of course, opinions vary with any movie and even more so with Hammer movies. I've quickly learned that every single instalment in the Dracula, Frankenstein and Mummy series of movies that the studio produced will have one person who rates it as their very best and this film is no exception. There will be one or two people reading this who will absolutely love this film and I will never understand why.


Sunday 27 January 2013

The Tall Man (2012)

The Tall Man is almost the very definition of a wasted opportunity, but it's also a selection of decent scenes wrapped up in some downright unpleasant ideas that frame everything. Infuriating as it is, I probably won't be able to go on about the worst aspects of The Tall Man because they're tied in with one or two twists that I won't spoil for anyone who has yet to see the film. You'll just have to trust me when I say that the film is fatally flawed by the ideas it uses to take it from being a drama to, apparently, being a twisty, thrilling drama.

Writer-director Pascal Laugier pleased a lot of horror fans when he gave them Martyrs. I thought it was quite good, let down by a third act that lost all momentum and put too much faith in some ideas it was bringing to the surface. Strangely enough, while The Tall Man is a very different film it suffers from the same problem, though this time it's even more damaging.

A word of warning needs to go here. Despite what SOME people may have told you, The Tall Man is NOT a horror movie. It has one or two horror elements in the first half but as everything unfolds you will start to realise just how removed from the genre it is. This is a standard thriller with surprisingly few thrills. In fact, it's maybe better described as a dark drama.

Jessica Biel plays Julia Denning, a woman who lives in a small town that seems to be held in the clutches of fear by the titular tall man. Who is this figure? Is he even real? Well, the reality is that a large number of local children have gone missing over the years and the residents at least need someone or something to put the blame on. That would be the tall man. Stephen McHattie plays a Lieutenant who is after the kidnapper, William B. Davis is a Sheriff who also wants to bring him to justice and young Jodelle Ferland wants to meet him, but for her own reasons that are more to do with getting away from her home.

I can't knock the acting here. Stephen McHattie and William B. Davis may be underused, but they're both great when on the screen. Jodelle Ferland is proving to be a consistently good young actress and does very well while Jessica Biel makes the most of a rare role that she actually gets to dig her teeth into. Actors such as Samantha Ferris and Colleen Wheeler also do a great job.

No, the acting is all fine. The major flaw that the movie can't cover up is, I guess, Laugier. Well, as he wrote the horrible script full of such a troubling and blinkered attitude to the issues of poverty and parenting he's the first person to get the blame. The fact that he didn't even dress it up well enough to make it mildly diverting and entertaining, to put his strange message across without it being so jarring and front and centre, means that he gets doubly blamed. As it should be.

The Tall Man could have been an interesting film. It becomes an interesting film about a third of the way in and then maintains that potential for about twenty to thirty minutes. Sadly, it then goes from good to bad to worse so quickly and sharply that by the time the end credits roll you will be struggling to remember anything that you liked about it.


Saturday 26 January 2013

Barely Legal (2011)

A lot of people seem to forget that The Asylum have more than one string to their bow. They may be best known for churning out numerous mockbusters, but they also produce a number of different movies, including many bawdy teen sex comedies. In fact, I've seen a few of their comedy movies and have ended up rating them generously, mainly because of the way in which they make up for the poor acting and lame gags with plenty of gratuitous nudity. I'm not always that shallow, but in a teen sex comedy that counts for a lot.

Barely Legal is another shining example of the studio getting it right, dubious title aside. The slight premise concerns three young virginal women. One (Jeneta St. Clair) is saving herself for her boyfriend (Morgan Benoit), not realising that he's a complete asshole. One (Lisa Younger) is saving herself . . . . . . . . barely. She's done plenty of fooling around in other ways, but just hasn't actually, technically, lost her virginity yet. And one (Melissa Johnston) hasn't even had an orgasm through self-pleasuring techniques. These girls all agree to lose their virginity on the same day, their 18th birthday. It's a happy coincidence that all three girls were born on the same day and an even happier coincidence that they seem to have no parents in their lives, but enough money to do what they want and live in a mansion.

If you really want me to detail the rest of the plot then I could do, but it would be wasting your time and mine. The asshole boyfriend needs to get his comeuppance, of course. There's a nice guy (Myko Olivier) who gets caught up in the bump 'n' grind plan, a blind guy (Matt Miller) who knows how to heighten other senses, and a whole lot of objects that one young woman discovers she can get pleasure from.

The script by Naomi L. Selfmann doesn't exactly sparkle, but it moves at a fair pace and sets up each set-piece as required, with most of them being fairly obvious. The direction from Jose Montesinos is much the same. No boundaries of cinema are being stretched here, no awards are being sought, it's just amusing smut for teens.

Bearing that in mind, it must be said that Jeneta St. Clair is a cute lead and Lisa Younger and Melissa Johnston are also far from unappealing (along with a few girls who just appear onscreen for some gratuitous pool activity) and I'm sure that most teenage girls will find Myko Olivier attractive enough. Of course, I have NO idea what teenage girls actually like nowadays and I didn't even have a clue when I was a teenager so don't take anything I say at face value.

There are many better comedies out there, no doubt about it, but if you're after something simple and amusing with plenty of gratuitous nudity (hey, I know it's the lowest common denominator, but sometimes films are designed that way and the final result works that way) then you might enjoy this. It even has a topless nun dominating a male submissive while offering advice about masturbation not being a sin. Which is a sentence I feel no shame in including here as a glowing recommendation for the film.


Friday 25 January 2013

War Horse (2011)

This Steven Spielberg movie, based on a popular play written by Nick Stafford which was based on the children's book by Michael Morpurgo, is an easy target for critics to take aim and fire at. There's no denying that it has many moments that exemplify the very worst of Spielberg's predilections and there will be many people for whom this is just absolute anathema. Nevertheless, I quite enjoyed it.

Peter Mullan plays Ted Narracott, a farmer who doesn't really have much luck in life. Mind you, he doesn't always help himself, like when he decides to outbid his landlord (David Thewlis) for a horse that everyone knows will be of no use to him for ploughing purposes. He gets the horse, but is also indebted to his landlord. It looks grim, grim indeed, but his son, Albert (Jeremy Irvine), has faith in the horse and sets out to prove everyone wrong by leading it around the field and getting it to pull the plough. Sadly, despite the horse showing great tenacity, there's not enough done to keep the farm safe and so Ted sells the horse to an army Captain (Tom Hiddleston). Albert is determined that they'll be reunited one day and he signs up for the army as soon as he's old enough, but there's no guarantee that he'll ever actually see his horse again or, indeed, survive the perils of war.

Yes, it's overloaded with sentiment in places (thanks to Spielberg and the music of John Williams) and yes, there are too many shots with rays of sunlight just providing an aura for the lead characters, thanks to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, but this is still an enjoyable family adventure that will take you through a range of emotions before the end credits roll.

The best thing about it is the quality of the cast. As well as those already mentioned (Mullan, Thewlis, Irvine, Hiddleston), viewers gets to see the following actors in a variety of small and large roles: Emily Watson, Niels Arestrup, Benedict Cumberbatch, Geoff Bell, Eddie Marsan, Toby Kebbell and Liam Cunningham. Even the lesser-known (and unknown) cast members do a great job, with Celine Buckens making a good impression as young Emilie, a girl who also makes a connection with the titular horse.

There are one or two moments of darker content in the movie, but they're handled with kid gloves and moved aside in plenty of time for the next uplifting sequence. People will accuse the movie of being far too sugary and heavy-handed for its own good and it is, but it's also just a nice, old-fashioned adventure story with plenty of great moments throughout.


Thursday 24 January 2013

Purple Rain (1984)

Prince, strangely enough, is one of the few well-known musical artists I've seen live. He played at Meadowbank stadium almost 20 years ago and I was hanging about outside with some friends. Some people had to leave the show and handed their tickets over to security guards who then handed them over to the pretty French ladies that my friend and I happened to be standing beside. The pretty French ladies didn't want to go in so, much to the dismay of the security guards, they kindly gave the tickets to my friend and me who then wandered in to battle through the crowd and see the Purple One do his thing. He was okay. The guy can play a mean guitar and has some absolutely brilliant songs in his repertoire, but he's not a great performer to enjoy live, especially when trying to get the audience to call out his name, despite having changed it at that point to the famous symbol (ironically, this was not too long after his hit single "My Name Is Prince"). Buy some Prince CDs and stick them on when you want to chill out or, even better, when you're having a special, indulgent evening in with a partner. He's like an inverted version of Barry White - tiny, thin and with a voice that can squeal all the way to the high notes.

Anyway, I digress slightly. That first paragraph may seem unimportant, but it does set things up for this review, which is, after all, about a film that was nothing more than a star vehicle for Prince. I think it's important to put forward my view on the entertainer, I think he's done some cool stuff, but he's never really struck me as a cool dude. He's more like a cross between David Blaine and a runaway Ribena berry, but maybe that's just me. Hopefully, you at least now know how apprehensive I was when I popped the Blu-ray of Purple Rain into my player.

Thankfully, the movie was surprisingly enjoyable. I'm being serious. A lot of the content is easy to point and laugh at, but there are a few surprises here and there (mainly concerning what a shit Prince, playing The Kid, is) and the soundtrack is as good as you'd expect.

Directed by Albert Magnoli (who also wrote the screenplay, with some material contributed by William Blinn), the story is a standard tale of a troubled rocker (guess who?) journeying towards his big moment of success. The lovely Apollonia Kotero plays Apollonia, a young woman who arrives in town and also wants to make her way up the showbiz ladder, and Morris Day plays . . . . . . . . . Morris, lead singer of The Time and the man who wants to get rid of The Kid. Meanwhile, The Kid also has problems at home as fights continue between his abusive father (Clarence Williams III) and his poor mother (Olga Karlatos), because all 26-year old wannabe rock stars still live with their parents.

In between scenes of enjoyably surprising raunchiness and moments of unexpected violence towards women (okay, it's not shocking when compared to other movies that I've seen, but it's pretty shocking when it's in a film starring bloody Prince) there are plenty of things to point and laugh at. The flirting between Prince and Apollonia is hilarious, especially in the scene which has Prince taking away Apollonia's ankle jewellery and generally being a bit of a dick about it. Any scene that features Morris Day talking to someone, anyone, else is teetering on the edge of comedy greatness - I genuinely now wish that Morris Day was in every other movie ever made. Prince getting emotional as his parents fight and his father gets abusive, Prince being cool and enigmatic, Prince treating his band members like shit. In fact, almost every scene with Prince that doesn't have him playing music is entertaining for all the wrong reasons.

However, the acting and storyline are secondary elements here. As with any movie of this type, it's the music that makes or breaks the film and this soundtrack is a beauty. You have the title track, of course, but you also get "Let's Go Crazy", "When Doves Cry", "Father's Song" and "I Would Die 4 U" to name a few (of the best). On top of those great Prince tracks just try to keep your feet from moving around while you enjoy two numbers performed by The Time ("Jungle Love" and "The Bird"). I'd only ever heard of Morris Day and The Time when they were mentioned, and appeared, in Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, but now I'm a big fan and I'll be checking out more of their music.

If you don't like Prince at all then don't check out Purple Rain. It's a star vehicle and it plays out exactly as any star vehicle should. The rest of the cast are a mixed bunch, and the leading man can't really act all that well (though he's not atrocious), but this is about throwing a bunch of great songs together and creating moments that allow them to be given centre stage. Give it a chance one day if you're feeling particularly funky.


Wednesday 23 January 2013

Ultraviolet (2006)

Apparently, writer-director Kurt Wimmer is very unhappy with this film because it was completely re-edited by the studio and reduced from a two hour movie to one that runs for 88 minutes. I know how he feels as I'm also very unhappy with this film. Whether or not an extra half hour of content would make me any happier is a risk I'm not prepared to take, even if a full director's cut is ever released. I can't see how any extra footage could make up for the bad acting, bad special effects and uninteresting characters on display here.

The movie starts off with some voice-over narration from Milla Jovovich about the state of the world that she's living in, but this isn't Resident Evil. We then get our first glimpse of Milla, clad in some tight leather clothing and ready to kick ass with some superhuman strength and skill, but this isn't Resident Evil. People are being affected by a disease of the blood and Milla is determined to fight against an evil corporation that is trying to use the whole situation to its advantage, but this isn't Resident Evil.

Milla plays Violet, a beautiful hemophage (AKA basically a vampire) and member of an underground resistance movement who boldly strides into the Archministry and intercepts the delivery of a weapon designed to destroy her and all of her kind. However, it turns out that the weapon is a small boy (played by Cameron Bright) and Violet starts to think that maybe, just maybe, he can be used to help the hemophages rather than kill them off. Nerva (Sebastien Andrieu) doesn't think so and, as he is a superior member of the same resistance movement, Violet finds herself battling with her own kind as well as the soldiers working on behalf of Vice-Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus (Nick Chinlund), the head of the Archministry.

Almost everything about this movie, with the exception of the lovely leading lady and one or two nice visuals, is horrible. Not just horrible, but horrible in a way that actually hurts your senses. You can feel your eyes start to burn as every scene has more and more bad CGI crammed into it. Your ears may try to separate from your head and crawl off into a gutter somewhere rather than listen to most of the godawful dialogue. Then there's the acting, which is so bad across the board that I thought I was watching a parody. Indeed, Nick Chinlund's turn as the villain could be replaced by Will Ferrell's performance as Mugatu (from Zoolander) and the film would be improved 10%. The only person who comes close to escaping with a shred of self-respect still intact is William Fichtner, though it's too close to call. Cameron Bright at least has the excuse of being young here. Someone like Sebastien Andrieu does not.

The action sequences could have been decent, with Wimmer again using the Gun Kata style that he'd showcased in the enjoyable Equilibrium, but yet again, excessive CGI and over-editing spoil the result. With no action to enjoy and a selection of uninteresting characters that nobody will care for, the only asset the movie has is the lovely Milla. As much as I like watching her on-screen, that's just not enough to save this from being a complete waste of your time.


Tuesday 22 January 2013

Big Trouble In Little China (1986)

"When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, and he looks you crooked in the eye and he asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol' Jack Burton always says at a time like that: "Have ya paid your dues, Jack?" "Yessir, the check is in the mail." 
As much as I try, I just can't help myself. When I visit someone at their home I end up looking at the music, movies and books on their shelves and I end up making snap judgments. If I see a shelf full of CDs by Lady Gaga, The Scissor Sisters and Jessie J, then I don't predict a friendly match made in heaven. If the only books I can see are distributed by Mills & Boon then, again, we probably don't have a lot in common. These judgments are irrational, and often incorrect, but they pop into my mind. If I look at someone's DVD collection and they have Big Trouble In Little China, well, I'd hope that we will get along just fine. It's not just me thinking this way. Kurt Russell says on the DVD commentary track (which is absolutely brilliant, by the way) that you can always tell someone's sense of humour by whether they like this movie or not. So if you're reading this review and you've already seen the movie before and didn't like it . . . . . . . . . . . . . . well, we probably wouldn't fare very well if thrown together on a blind date.

Russell plays Jack Burton, a truck driver who gets himself in the middle of some very strange business indeed when he accompanies a friend (Wang Chi, played by Dennis Dun) to pick up the love of his life (Miao Yin, played by Suzee Pai) from the airport. Miao Yin is kidnapped and Jack and Wang head off in hot pursuit to rescue her from her kidnappers. That turns out to be quite tricky when the men discover that Miao has been specifically chosen by the mysterious and powerful David Lo Pan (James Hong), all because of her beautiful green eyes. While they consider their options, another green-eyed beauty arrives, investigative reporter Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall), and helps formulate a plan that will, hopefully, lead to the rescue of Miao Yin as well as many other women being held against their will. It's just unlucky for them that they don't realise the mystical forces they will be coming up against.

I'm sure that most people who have heard of this film nowadays know a bit more than audiences who went to see it back in 1986. In fact, back when it was first released it was given very little promotion and those who stumbled upon it expecting a standard action comedy would have been understandably bemused.

Big Trouble In Little China is far from your standard action comedy. Instead, it takes great delight in taking the conventions of the action movie and turning them upside down. The most obvious, and most amusing, way in which this is done is with the hero, Jack Burton. He's not really a hero. Jack Burton goes through most of the movie either being ignorant of just what's going on or ineffective when needed most. Wang Chi is the man of action, but the film focuses on Burton, to great effect.

Russell is hilarious in the role, which is one of his best performances in a filmography chock full of great performances. Just listen to him talking on the phone after he loses his truck and tries to make an insurance claim - a lot of the dialogue is slightly faded as if it's just background noise, but almost every line is hilarious, mainly thanks to the delivery from Russell. Dennis Dun somehow keeps a straight face throughout and his character works well alongside Burton. What can I say about the Kim Cattrall of the 1980s that hasn't already been transcribed and kept forever in the legal documents that insist I stay at least two miles away from the woman? James Hong is great fun as David Lo Pan, Victor Wong adds to the entertainment as Egg Shen and Kate Burton, Suzee Pai and Donald Li all seem to enjoy themselves as they get caught up in the madness.

Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein wrote the script, but W. D. Richter is the man who extensively adapted the material into what audiences finally saw (it was originally envisioned as a western), and everyone involved in crafting the dialogue deserves praise for putting together something that makes people laugh so often, despite never going for easy gags. The movie is all about the characters, especially Burton, and that's where the humour comes from.

Despite the comedic nature of the material and the influences from Chinese culture and action movies of the past, this is still, undeniably, a John Carpenter film. The framing of each scene, the set designs, the music that he composed to accompany the visuals, the presence of Kurt Russell - this is classic Carpenter in every respect. The fact that the whole thing can be interpreted as an allegory for America and the way its foreign policy has affected so many countries over the years is just a bonus. I don't know if Carpenter ever intended that layer to be there, but there it is.

As cliched as it sounds, Big Trouble In Little China is a film that just seems to get better with age. I think if/when I rewatch it next year I may have to come back here to bump up the rating.


Monday 21 January 2013

Blood From The Mummy's Tomb (1971)

Directed, with a distinct lack of flair, by Seth Holt (who died before shooting was completed so I will say no more as I don't want a bad reputation for speaking ill of the dead - some scenes in the film were shot by producer Michael Carreras), this is a bland Hammer movie trying to pretend it's something more exciting than it actually is. No, I was not expecting a bandaged, shambling figure to be centre stage here but I WAS expecting something with a bit of mystery and suspense.

The plot is all about lovely Margaret Fuchs (the beautiful Valerie Leon, not a great actress though), the daughter of Prof. Julian Fuchs (Andrew Keir, the man who stepped in after Peter Cushing had to leave the movie). Many years ago, the professor went on an expedition to Egypt and uncovered the tomb of Queen Tera, a woman interred after the removal of one hand. It was at the exact moment that Tera's name was spoken that his daughter was born and it has become more and more apparent over the years that the two are somehow linked. When the time is right, with thanks to her dad carelessly giving her a big ring found in Egypt, Margaret is possessed by the spirit of Queen Tera (you can tell because of the thin line of blood that starts appearing at her wrist) and seeks out the expedition members. She wants to reclaim the relics that were found in her tomb and to bring herself fully back to life.

There's really not a lot to be said about this film without turning things into some written form of monotone. It's as bland as bland can be. The acting is so-so; Keir is solid, Leon is not, James Villiers is good fun as a shady figure who knows what's going on, Hugh Burden is not given much to do except a little overreaction to get people's attention and Mark Edwards is just the standard class A ineffectual boyfriend. Nobody is memorable anyway.

The story is nothing new, especially to fans of any Mummy movies, and it's development is pretty clumsy and obvious. You know from the very first scenes exactly what is going to happen here, no subtlety or attempt to raise tension is used at all. I have no idea how close the script by Christopher Wicking is to the source material (The Jewel Of Seven Stars by Bram Stoker) but I'm going to assume that it's not half as faithful as it could be. Although it does show the seven featured stars on a few occasions.

Then we have the horror and scenes of bloodletting . . . . . . which count for nothing. There IS no horror here, nothing to instill fear in even the most sensitive of viewers and the death scenes are all shot without actually showing you anything that could provide some technicoloured entertainment. It's one of those many horror movies with a trailer promising so much and delivering so little. Nothing lurid, livid or lively here and it practically defines the word "insipid".

A disappointing Hammer movie, that at least features the lovely Leon as eye candy and has some nice moments of drama dotted there and there, and a disappointing Mummy movie. There is some appeal here for less discerning viewers, like myself, but it's extremely limited.


Sunday 20 January 2013

Vampires (1998)

"Well first of all, they're not romantic. It's not like they're a bunch of fuckin' fags hoppin' around in rented formal wear and seducing everybody in sight with cheesy Euro-trash accents, all right? Forget whatever you've seen in the movies: they don't turn into bats, crosses don't work. Garlic? You wanna try garlic? You could stand there with garlic around your neck and one of these buggers will bend you fucking over and take a walk up your strada-chocolata WHILE he's suckin' the blood outta your neck, all right? And they don't sleep in coffins lined in taffata. You wanna kill one, you drive a wooden stake right through his fuckin' heart. Sunlight turns 'em into crispy critters." 

Many point to Vampires as "Evidence A" in the case against John Carpenter having any kind of film-making talent left in him (with Ghosts Of Mars, of course, being "Evidence B") and there was a time, not too long ago, when I would have agreed with that. It would have saddened me, as I'm a huge Carpenter fanboy, but it would have been impossible to argue against.

Not any more.

Vampires is a messy movie with plenty of failings, but it's far from the unwatchable mess that many people try to label it. In fact, it's actually a lot of fun in places and benefits from an enjoyable opening segment and a grand finale bookending the weaker content in the middle.

James Woods stars as Jack Crow, a tough and skilled vampire slayer who works for the Catholic Church, leading his team into dangerous places to stake bloodsuckers and rid the world of the vampire menace, one nest at a time. Unfortunately, a particularly powerful master (Valek, played by Thomas Ian Griffith) doesn't like that situation and he turns up to spoil the party, killing the vast majority of Crow's group in one sequence of entertaining carnage. Crow is even more motivated than he was before to kill off every single vampire that he can, for his own revenge and also to stop Valek in his quest for . . . . . . . . . whatever it is that he seems to be looking for. Perhaps the church knows more than it's letting on. With the help of his colleague Anthony Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and a young woman (Sheryl Lee) who was bitten by Valek, Crow sets out to destroy the biggest threat that he's yet faced.

It's got music by John Carpenter, there's a Western vibe to the whole thing and a couple of scenes feature a number of practical gore effects that work really well (including, most notably, a great kill within mere seconds of Valek crashing the party being held by Crow's group). It's far from classic Carpenter - the cinematography isn't as gorgeous, for one thing, and there's far too much crossfading - but it's a solid bit of fun.

Don Jakoby adapted the novel by John Steakly. Many who have read the source material say that it's much better, and I can't help feeling that Carpenter missed a chance to really mix things up a bit and bring a fresh spin to the vampire sub-genre, but the film has enough decent moments and good one-liners throughout (spat out by Woods, for the most part) to raise it just above average.

James Woods chews up every line and spits it out with hilarious effect and the movie is all the better for it. Daniel Baldwin may spend the entire movie reminding viewers of why he's not the A-list star that Alec is, but he does okay. Sheryl Lee isn't the best actress in the world, but she tries her best in a pretty thankless role and she's certainly easy on the eye. Tim Guinee is a lot of fun as Father Adam Guiteau, the priest who will help Crow on his quest when Crow isn't trying to beat up on him and find out just what secrets the church is keeping. People playing the bad guys often have the most fun and Thomas Ian Griffith certainly seems to be enjoying himself each time he appears to cause some death and destruction. Maximilian Schell plays Cardinal Alba and other small roles are filled by Mark Boone Junior, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Gregory Sierra and other people with names less familiar to me.

Don't expect anything like classic Carpenter, that pretty much goes without saying, but give this a watch (or a re-watch) at some point and you might be surprised to find that it's fairly enjoyable. If you think I'm mad for holding that opinion, just wait until I finally revisit Ghosts Of Mars and try to defend that.


Saturday 19 January 2013

Drive (1997)

It's a bit of a shame, really, that 2011 saw the release of such a great movie called Drive. That means that this movie will almost always be referred to from now on as "Drive, no not that one, ANOTHER one". It doesn't deserve such treatment because it happens to be one of the best little action movies that action movie fans failed to give their full support to.

Mark Dacascos stars as Toby Wong, a man who has been (here comes the science bit) enhanced with some gadget thingummybob in his chest. This means that he can punch, kick and throw down loads of people whenever he needs to. It comes in very handy because he needs to do that quite a lot, thanks to the fact that a number of folk are after him in order to retrieve their technology. In between fights, Toby does try to run away and avoid confrontation and that's how he encounters unfortunate Malik (Kadeem Hardison), the man who ends up being his temporary hostage and driver. Malik soon discovers that the bad guys don't actually want to kill Toby, because of the technology inside him, but they couldn't care less about him catching a stray bullet.

While it may not be non-stop action from start to finish, Drive is nicely paced throughout. The first half of the movie has two or three decent fight sequences while the second half has one stunning (literally!) showcase before leading viewers to a finale that piles on the pain and the stunt work for an energetic 20 minutes of superior action entertainment.

In between the fights, Dacascos and Hardison have good chemistry, riffing off each other nicely and keeping things vibrant even while more impatient viewers may simply be waiting for the next rumble. Brittany Murphy is adorable and entertaining in a small role as a kooky teenage lass who runs a motel that the guys end up stopping at and John Pyper-Ferguson and Tracey Walter make a great, quirky, pair of villains until big bad Masaya Kato comes along to well and truly kick some ass.

This may have been the first script by Scott Phillips that was made into a movie but a quick glance at his filmography shows that he may have peaked with his debut. There are no major surprises here but it does what is required of the subgenre and it does it brilliantly, even in a scene that has Mark Dacascos mugging for all he's worth while singing karaoke.

Steve Wang certainly knows how to deliver the goods and the fantastic fight scenes (as over the top and slick as they may be) are elevated by great coverage. In fact, I remain convinced to this day that one of the fights was lifted (homaged?) to be used in Blade II. Not that I have a problem with that, there were enough differences to ensure that it didn't look EXACTLY the same, but it's just another example of Drive being sadly missed when it hit the rental and retail market.

It's a shame that Dacascos was never a bigger star. He had a couple of close calls and he shows here that he has the mix of skills and likeability. Drive remains his finest hour. It certainly showcases his skills far better than Iron Chef.


Friday 18 January 2013

Triloquist (2008)

It may not actually be a film that you could call good but Triloquist is never dull and, to hell with it, I had a good time with it while it was on. It was stupid and completely implausible (even beyond the central killer dummy premise) but many people know by now just how easily pleased I can be.

The story? Didn't you see the words "killer dummy" in the small paragraph above? Paydin LoPachin plays Angelina, an attractive young woman who also happens to be seriously unbalanced. It's not entirely her fault. She suffered a lot of setbacks and abuse in her childhood, unhelped by her mute brother (Rocky Marquette), but also had the benefit of being supported by a killer dummy that would get rid of people who might hurt or cause problems for the siblings. The movie has no main plot other than a road trip for this dysfunctional family unit, one that Angelina wants to use to get a girl for her brother to have sex with and impregnate. Because the family tree needs to keep growing. They're also supposed to be aiming for Vegas but that never seems to be as important as killing anyone who has the misfortune of being nearby at the wrong time.

Writer-director Mark Jones is the man who also unleashed Leprechaun onto audiences and Rumpelstiltskin. I don't think it would be entirely unfair to say that he seems to have a penchant for crafting "uneven" horror movies around small, vicious, male figures so I'll say . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . that he seems to have a penchant for crafting "uneven" horror movies around small, vicious, male figures.

While LoPachin may not be the best actress in the world, she admirably goes along with everything and maintains an enjoyable over the top performance throughout. She may be capable of much better work but it's hard to tell from this movie, the aim for her here is simply to be attractive and batshit crazy and she does that. Rocky Marquette doesn't do too badly with his performance, expressing everything with his large, innocent eyes, but you can't help feeling that he got the best deal by bagging the mute role. Katie Chonacas isn't onscreen for all that long but she's not too bad, Brian Krause appears for a couple of minutes and there's a star cameo from Larry Manetti, AKA a guy from Magnum P. I.

I shouldn't have enjoyed Triloquist as much as I did, especially when there were a number of other, worthier movies sitting beside my TV, but there are many times when I just don't want to sit through a classic of cinema or even a potentially great new release. There are times when I just want to see that movie with a killer dummy in it that other friends have already had a good laugh at.


Thursday 17 January 2013

Re-Cut (2010)

Re-Cut has a few good ideas, it really does, but it just takes them and ruins them with poor execution and a frustrating aimlessness. To say that it ends with a whimper rather than a bang is overselling it. Oh, and be warned, it's yet another "found-footage" movie.

Meredith Phillips, a woman who used to star on a reality TV show, plays Meredith Phillips, a woman who used to star on a reality TV show. She'd now a news reporter and Adam Baumgard (Ross Kohn) would like to make a documentary about her, assisted by his friend, David Stankowitz (Austin Basis). Meredith doesn't want to take part in the documentary, despite having already agreed to it over a phone call, but things fall into place when she is sent out on assignment and must procure her own crew. Instead of just a documentary on a former reality TV star, the boys will also get to film a major news story about the murder of two twin girls.

Director Fritz Manger (who also wrote the movie with Dylan Manger) seems to have had the seed of a good idea. Sadly, he seems to have covered that seed in manure, smothering and killing it instead of letting it grow. He sets everything up nicely, with the two filmmakers readying their standard cameras as well as a bag-cam, dashboard-cam and button-cam, but it all ends up being a neat framing device for a whole lot of nothing.

The cast don't do too badly and, as well as those mentioned, there are also decent turns from Christopher Redman, Richard Trapp and Tim De Zarn (probably best known to people at the moment for his memorable turn as Mordecai in The Cabin In The Woods.

Ultimately, it would seem to be the script that lets everything down here. There are one or two moments that nearly work but the majority just falls flat. The mystery elements of the crime don't really hold any mystery, the horror movie moments aren't scary or tense and there just isn't enough intelligence on display to make any other part of the movie worthwhile.

The only thing saving this from an even lower score is the fact that it does better than most "found footage" movies in justifying the camera being on at all times, it bravely tries to have its cake and eat it with the framing of the main footage and there were a few good visuals. Even then, I only recommend this to those who can handle scrapings from the bottom of the barrel.


Wednesday 16 January 2013

Tekken (2011)

There are Street Fighter fans, there are Mortal Kombat fans, there are probably still some Virtua Fighter fans and there are Tekken fans. When I was growing up I mastered Mortal Kombat. I loved it, there were some great characters, I'd enabled the D,U,L,L,A,R,D cheat to get the blood and gore switched on and I'd mastered all of the fatalities. The fancy button combinations required for the Street Fighter games had never been to my liking. Then, during those exciting Playstations years, I discovered Tekken 2. A perfect combination, it had all the fun of Mortal Kombat and a similiar, but slightly easier, button-combo system to Street Fighter.

With so many great characters and so many different fighting styles, a movie should have been easy to get right. Well, this is here to prove us all wrong.

Tekken isn't awful - it's slick and polished and at least keeps things lively enough throughout - but it's just lacking in almost every way. The characters aren't as memorable as they should be, the fights aren't very exciting (any featuring the main character tend to follow the same pattern - he gets a beating, remembers a lesson from his mother and then is able to turn the tables and win) and it's not even as pleasing as the movie versions of Mortal Kombat (hey, I liked it) or Street Fighter (which some fans enjoyed).

Jon Foo plays the main character, Jin, who enters a fighting competition as a way to embarrass the Tekken Corporation and strike a mighty blow for the common people. He has no personality, or charisma, but viewers are stuck with him. Thankfully, Kelly Overton plays Christie Monteiro and looks lovely doing so, even if the camera shows the crack of her backside too many times, while Candice Hillebrand and Marian Zapico play the gorgeous Nina and Anna Williams, respectively. Luke Goss turns up as Steve Fox, the man who opts to guide Jin through the tournament, and Gary Daniels looks the part as big bad Bryan Fury. The main villain of the piece is Kazuya Mishima (Ian Anthony Dale), son of Heihachi Mishima (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and the man who becomes obsessed with destroying Jin at all costs.

Director Dwight H. Little, working from a screenplay by Alan B. McElroy, just fumbles what should have been an easy piece of lowbrow entertainment. Limited screen-time for the likes of Yoshimitsu and Eddy Gordo (Lateef Crowder) give a small taste of how good this could have been, with the RIGHT characters all given screen-time and one or two special moves given their due.

As it is, undemanding viewers will be able to stick this on and enjoy some fun with a couple of beers and some unhealthy snacks. It's that kind of movie, not that there's anything wrong with that (TM - Seinfeld). It just could have been that kind of movie while also being much more enjoyable. A missed opportunity.


Tuesday 15 January 2013

The Best Of Times (1986)

Robin Williams and Kurt Russell star in this sports comedy drama from the pen of Ron Shelton (who, with Tin Cup, Bull Durham and White Men Can't Jump to his credit, will always be a gold-medal winner in this particular sub-genre). Williams plays Jack Dundee, a man played by that one mistake he made as a young man during the BIG football game. Kurt Russell was Reno Hightower, the star player, and he made a beautiful pass in the last moments of the game. A pass that Jack fumbled. His whole life, from that moment on, has consisted of him berating himself as "the guy who dropped the ball and lost the game". In a desperate move, Jack stumbles upon what he thinks is a great idea - replay the game. If he changes his perceived history, then maybe he can be content in the present and make headway towards a positive future. He just needs to convince the rest of the town, the guys who made up the opposing team and, of course, Reno.

If you hate American Football, then don't worry, this does feature the sport, but it's not really ABOUT that. Like every other sports movie by Shelton, this looks at a beloved sport and uses it to look at other aspects of human nature and life. The Best Of Times is actually about a big moment in a life that someone would want to change. Can it be done? Is it worth trying? How does it affect other people when someone allows themselves to be eaten away and defined by one mistake, one youthful "transgression".

Shelton has written a number of better scripts, but this works well because of the unlikely relationship between the characters played by Williams and Russell. There's also a good little turn from Donald Moffat, who agrees with Williams' low self-opinion. Holly Palance and Pamela Reed are very good as the other halves of, respectively, Williams and Russell and it's clear that they've been neglected at times. The nice thing, however, is that when things start coming together and everyone sees the effect of re-staging the big game, the ladies don't stay stubbornly rooted against the men. They're supportive, they just don't want such an event overshadowing every moment of their lives. There's also a small role for the great M. Emmet Walsh. He's great, as usual.

Directed by Roger Spottiswoode, this is a good film and has some very funny moments. It even has a typically rousing finale that you can't help getting caught up in (well, I couldn't). Yet, it's never quite as good as it could be. An enjoyable watch, but not one I'd end up revisiting that often, if at all.


Monday 14 January 2013

Frankenstein Created Woman (1967)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you get Christopher Lee in a Hammer movie then it is often one of their more entertaining outings. If you get Peter Cushing in a Hammer movie then you are, in my opinion, guaranteed a good time.

Cushing stars here as the infamous Baron, yet again, and this time has some scheme involving transplanting the very soul of a person into a dead body so that the spark of life can be reignited. Yes, he's as brilliant/bonkers as ever and you can already figure out some of what will transpire as the movie progresses. With the help of Dr. Hertz (Thorley Walters), he ends up transforming the life of young Christina (Susan Denberg), a scarred woman surrounded by tragedy.

Strangely reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange in places (with Alex and his droogs being replaced by some posh idiots lording it over those who serve their drinks), this movie struck me much more as a black, black comedy than an outright horror but I'm not sure if that's the standard interpretation of things. It seems right, however, when you witness the details of the Baron's latest scheme and the details/results we end up seeing.

Cushing is excellent in the lead role, and he is ably supported by the likes of Robert Morris, the aforementioned Walters, Peter Blythe, Barry Warren and Derek Fowlds (now most recognisable to UK TV viewers as . . . . him from Heartbeat). Then we have the lovely Denberg, who gets to have the most fun. Her character goes through the biggest transformation and Denberg acquits herself admirably, playing both lowly and meek and then forward and confident with equal success.

Directing from Anthony Hinds' screenplay, Terence Fisher keeps most of the violence and gore offscreen, for the most part, but wrings such watchable moments from his cast throughout that you never feel shortchanged. One of the better Hammer movies though others may, like me, enjoy it more as a black comedy than outright horror.


Sunday 13 January 2013

Amphibian Man (1962)

I've seen a lot of strange films in my time yet I have to say that Amphibian Man is one of the strangest. It's not a laughably bad or puzzlingly incoherent movie, don't get me wrong, but it takes the concept that the title promises to viewer (it's called Amphibian Man and I want an amphibian man, dammit) and uses it to show a sweet love story amidst a look at exploitation of the poor workers.

The titular amphibian man is named Ichtyandr (played by Vladimir Korenev) and he's no Creature From The Black Lagoon, as you might expect. When he was a young boy he had some life-threatening problems and so his father (Prof. Salvator, played by Nikolai Simonov) successfully transplanted a set of shark gills into his body. This saved his life, but also meant that he would always have to divide his time between the land and the sea. When he is sighted by sailors they think that he is a sea devil, but when the truth comes out it's not long until some greedy men want to use Ichtyandar to collect valuable goodies from the ocean. Love is in the air when Ichtyandar spies Gutiere (Anastasiya Vertinskaya) but it soon becomes apparent that the two will not be allowed to develop their relationship further.

Based on the novel by Aleksandr Belyaev, the story was adapted for the screen by Akiba Golburt, Aleksei Kapler and Aleksandr Ksenofontov and directed by Vladimir Chebotaryov and Gennadi Kazansky. They all did a good job, which is why I just spent five minutes flicking back and forth between internet tabs, making sure that I spelled their names correctly.

Korenev and Vertinskaya make an attractive central couple and everyone else does just fine in their roles. Nikolai Simonov isn't a typical mad scientist, even though that's what viewers may expect when he first starts talking about his work, but Mikhail Kozakov IS a typical baddie who wants to get the girl and spoil everything for our amphibious hero.

The social commentary is easy enough to read, but it's also not too heavy-handed because, well, the heart of the film is about an amphibian man and a woman he falls in love with. Viewers can choose to enjoy one aspect or the other, or both. They can also enjoy some lovely music (I'm serious, I enjoyed the music) and beautiful, sun-soaked locations. I didn't love the film, and I may not revisit it any time in the near future, but I enjoyed it for the quirky delight it is.


Saturday 12 January 2013

The Guardian (1990)

Throughout the history of the horror genre, there haven't ever been too many terrifying trees. Oh, there have been some (that nasty bunch of pervy perennials in The Evil Dead movies and that twisted old thing in Poltergeist to name the only two I can think of off the top of my head), but by and large, trees don't instil a sense of fear and dread. Unless you're a huge Marc Bolan fan.

The Guardian is a story all about a deadly tree. Jenny Seagrove plays Camilla, a beautiful young woman who ends up being employed by Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell) to look after their new-born son. What the new parents don't know, however, is that Camilla is a bit of a spooky Druid witchy woooooo type and she seeks out new-born children to sacrifice to a big tree. Yes, it's a standard "wolf in sheep's clothing" thriller wearing a cloak of magic.

Just what those involved were thinking is beyond me. Based on a novel by Dan Greenburg, Stephen Volk was the poor guy who tried to turn the laughable premise (which may have worked much better in the book, I don't know) into a decent horror film. With William Friedkin in the director's chair I'm sure that there was always some hope, however slim, of it all turning out well. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

It remains an entertaining movie, but for all the wrong reasons. Viewers can laugh as someone gets decapitated by a deadly branch or ogle the attractive Jenny Seagrove in the many scenes involving her not wearing that much clothing, if any. Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell (who obviously wanted a hit after Licence To Kill to save her from the fate of being "just another Bond girl) try their best, but by the time everything starts getting out of control it's hard to believe that both didn't have any earlier suspicions about the new, perfect nanny. Brad Hall is that thriller staple - the friendly face who stumbles on to the bad secret before the leads - and he's treated pretty badly by the script. Miguel Ferrer has a small role, Xander Berkeley pops up in the last reel in a small role and Theresa Randle has, you guessed it, a small role as one of the potential nanny candidates before Seagrove ensures her own placement in that position.

It's not dull, though it's not very lively either, and none of the set-pieces have the impact that they were obviously supposed to have, but it's not without its charm and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had any right to. I recommend that others give it a try, if only to allow me to continue maintaining the fantasy that I'm not the only one who sometimes enjoys such nonsense.


Friday 11 January 2013

The Mean Season (1985)

Kurt Russell plays Michael Anderson, a reporter who works for a Miami Newspaper. He's feeling burned out, sick of reporting the doom and gloom. His editor (Richard Masur) wants to keep him on, he's a great reporter, and reminds him that they don't create the doom and gloom, they just write about it. Just as he's about to call it quits, Michael gets a phone call from a killer that changes everything. He's not just going to be writing about the story any more, he IS the story as the killer uses him to publicise his work.

Directed by Phillip Borsos, The Mean Season isn't a bad film, by any means, but it's not a particularly exciting thriller. The fact that it's partially a thriller and partially a look at journalists and the morality of their working methods doesn't make up for the fact that the movie feels slightly lethargic in places. The sunshine of Florida doesn't really help either, especially when there's no emphasis on the muggy heat that would be driving people to distraction during "the mean season" (the title refers to the common weather pattern that occurs during the late summer months in Florida).

The script by Leon Piedmont, adapting the novel by John Katzenbach, has few moments that sizzle, but does have plenty of interesting observations and comments to make. It's just a shame, once again, that the more thought-provoking elements couldn't have been blended with one or two more interesting story strands.

Thankfully, the cast help keep the whole thing just above average. Kurt Russell is great as the tired journalist who gets a shot in the arm from the most unexpected source and Mariel Hemingway doesn't do a bad job as his girlfriend, supportive of him to an extent, but worried about the effect that the big story will have on him. Richard Masur is enjoyable as the editor trying to keep the momentum going at all times, Andy Garcia and Richard Bradford are two very different cops on the case and Joe Pantoliano, well, he doesn't get to do too much, but it's always good to have him on-screen anyway. Then, there's Richard Jordan, who is excellent for every minute of his screen-time.

I am often remiss when it comes to mentioning scores and soundtracks (sorry to all the music lovers out there) so the fact that I enjoyed the music from Lalo Schifrin enough to note it down here should tell you that there were some aural pleasures throughout the movie.

The Mean Season is a decent little movie, one you can easily pass away time with if it appears on TV, but despite being a potential mix of Body Heat, All The President's Men and Seven it ends up falling a fair bit short of their levels of greatness. Worth a watch? Yes. Worth repeat viewings? I don't think so.


Thursday 10 January 2013

Unforgiven (1992)

Unforgiven is an astonishing film, truly astonishing. Taking a great script and adding the baggage of Clint Eastwood's entire Western filmography, it makes for a fitting finale to that particular aspect of his career. From start to finish, the movie fills every scene with a love for the genre and an intention to show the flip side of that lifestyle. Many movies end with a gunslinger riding off into the sunset, but this one picks things up years later and shows how men who have killed other men can hold something inside them for the rest of their days, a mixture of regret and also the knowledge that they can easily kill again if the situation calls for it.

Eastwood plays Will Munny, a man with a violent past who has tried to make a new life for himself. He has children and stays true to his deceased wife. Unfortunately, his violent past doesn't always lead to him having a quiet life and that's the case when he's approached with an offer by 'The Schofield Kid' (Jaimz Woolvett). A couple of men were responsible for cutting up a whore (played by Anna Levine) and the other working girls in town weren't too happy with the punishment they received from Little Bill Daggett (Gene Hackman). Strangely enough, Bill normally metes out far worse punishments to anyone he sees as a threat to his idyllic vision of the town. He doesn't even allow anyone to enter with guns on their person, which doesn't bode well for the likes of English Bob (Richard Harris). It also doesn't bode well for The Kid, Munny and Ned Logan (Munny's friend, played by Morgan Freeman).

Unforgiven sees Eastwood hitting it out of the park in his role as director and, when you think of how well he's done in his directorial career, that's high praise indeed. It helps that he also does great in the acting department and surrounds himself with fine talent (Freeman, Hackman and Harris do some of their best work, there's a great little role for Saul Rubinek and Woolvett, Levine and Frances Fisher, playing mother hen to her girls, all do sterling work). Then, there's the great script by David Webb Peoples. It's full of quality lines and character moments that are often mesmerising (I should rave more about Hackman and Harris, both outstanding with the former, in particular, getting his teeth into an interesting villain who is given an interesting complexity and sense of morals). And everything is turned into pure gold when the distilled essence of Eastwood's years in the Western genre is added to the mix.

The film is both a love letter to every movie that has ever feature a gunslinger on-screen and also a serious and moving study of how a man who spends his life doing bad things can ruin any future chance of happiness and contentment that he may one day hope for. It is ultimately, of course, about the deeds and the people and even the reflections in the mirror that are unforgiven.


Wednesday 9 January 2013

The Orphanage (2007)

Sometimes I look back at myself as a child and I am astounded by how dumb I was. Sometimes I don't even have to look THAT far back. Only a few years ago I was still making some stupid decisions, damaging my body and spirit and not focusing on sorting my life out. Perhaps that's why I didn't like The Orphanage the first time I saw it. Perhaps I'd killed off a few too many brain cells back then. Whatever the reason, I was wrong. As many people already know, The Orphanage is a wonderful horror movie, full of real heart while also delivering the requisite scares.

The story concerns Laura (Belen Rueda) and her loved ones (her husband Carlos, played by Fernando Cayo, and her adopted son Simon, played by Roger Princep) as they settle into their new home. Well, it's not really a new home for Laura as she used to stay there as a young girl, back when it was an orphanage. Hence, the title. All is well for a little while until Simon starts to become more troublesome and more caught up in activities with his imaginary friends. Perhaps there's more at work than just the imagination of a small boy. Things get spookier and Laura finds herself considering a number of different possibilities when Simon goes missing. Maybe those "imaginary" children can help her find him.

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, and written by Sergio G. Sanchez, The Orphanage really slots all of its pieces into place beautifully. The supernatural is mixed with everyday worries, in a way that's not entirely dissimilar to the style of producer Guillermo Del Toro, and both aspects of the movie provide equal amounts of interest and tension.

All of the performers do a great job, but the majority of the time it's Belen Rueda carrying the movie and she's more than up to the task, making Laura a sympathetic character who does become unnerved and then frightened, but knows that she will do whatever it takes to find Simon. As for Simon himself, Roger Princep is a very capable young boy and his performance feels completely natural even among the creepier moments.

A wonderful score complements the cinematography and there are also some great audio cues used to add to the atmosphere. Mind you, it's not all dark beauty and polished technical work. Horror fans will be pleased to know that The Orphanage also has one or two fantastic jump scares, all the more effective thanks to their scarcity.

All in all, this is another excellent horror movie that I hope people seek out. I also hope that they don't make the same mistake as I did after a first viewing. Soak up the atmosphere, the performances and the details and I'm sure that won't happen.


Tuesday 8 January 2013

Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968)

Dracula (played again by Christopher Lee) returns and this time he's mad at a monsignor (Rupert Davies) who has exorcised his castle and left a ruddy big crucifix on the front door. To get his revenge he plans to take the monsignor's niece (Maria, played by the lovely Veronica Carlson) away and keep her with him. This displeases both the monsignor and the young man (Paul, played by Barry Andrews) who would rather keep the monsignor's niece for himself.

Written by Anthony Hinds and directed by Freddie Francis, the majority opinion seems to be that this is one of Hammer's weaker Dracula outings (though there would be much worse to come) and I have to agree. That's mainly due to a few of the lead characters being pretty dull or even, as is the case with the monsignor, not that likeable.

The actors all do okay, and there's a decent role here for fan favourite Michael Ripper, but there's just an overall feeling of disinterest as one scene plods along into another. Barbara Ewing's character has some good moments, and makes quite an impression in her first scene, but the rest of the supporting cast don't really make much of an impression (except the aforementioned Ripper and Carlson). Ewan Hooper, playing a priest who ends up doing Dracula's bidding, is especially weak.

It's a good job we have Christopher Lee back in the cape because his presence compensates for a lot of the other shortcomings. His portrayal of the fanged fury is always watchable, at the very least, and this is what stops Dracula Has Risen From The Grave from being something you should avoid like a plague rat. There are also a few individual moments, particularly at the start of the movie, that tick the boxes for standard Hammer horror goodness.

I recommend this one to the Hammer completist as being something far from the worst that the studio would make but also way down the list when compared to the other films in the Dracula series.


Monday 7 January 2013

Heaven Help Us AKA Catholic Boys (1985)

Set in a Catholic Boys' School in Brookly in the 1960s, Heaven Help Us takes the standard elements of any "coming of age" movie and bakes it in the greenhouse effect created by teenage rebellion coming up against overly strict monks. It benefits from a nice sense of time and place, an enjoyable soundtrack and a cast of '80s favourites.

Andrew McCarthy plays Michael Dunn, the new boy at the school who quickly has to learn how to fit in. He befriends Caesar (Malcolm Danare) and that seems to be his first mistake when he sees how Caesar is treated by the bullying Rooney (Kevin Dillon). Thankfully, the boys don't stay enemies for too long because they have a common foe in the shape of the monks running the school. Brother Thaddeus (Donald Sutherland) seems a bit strict when speaking to the boys, but isn't all that bad, and Brother Timothy (John Heard) is new to the school and pretty damn cool for a monk, but Brother Constance (Jay Patterson) is a real nasty piece of work, always ready to dish out punishments far outweighing any perceived crime. When out of school, the boys try to relax and enjoy time at a local hangout, where Michael meets Dani (Mary Stuart Masterson), but the hangout is not safe from the monks, who often raid the building as they attempt to catch wrongdoers.

Michael Dinner directs this charming slice of teenage turbulence, from a script by Charles Purpura, and he takes the standard storyline and mix of characters and elevates them with a superb cast. As well as those already mentioned there are roles for Shawn Wallace, Yeardley Smith, Patrick Dempsey and Stephen Geoffreys (stealing the show as a young man addicted to onanism).

Kevin Dillon may not be the best of the leading players, but his slightly weaker performance is compensated for by the work from everyone else involved. McCarthy is in great form here, especially during the powerful and pleasing final act, and Mary Stuart Masterson is wonderful, as usual (okay, I had a crush on her in the '80s, so sue me). Malcolm Danare is fine in his role while John Heard does such good work that it's a shame he didn't get more screen-time. Indeed, it's a shame that he didn't get many more roles like this one to remind people of how good he could be.

It's a tricky film to track down on this side of the pond (but it's also on YouTube in sections for those who cannot afford, or are unable, to get the DVD) but it's one worth trying to get hold of, even for just the one viewing to see if you agree or disagree with those who really like it.