Thursday 28 February 2013

Dr. Jekyll & Mistress Hyde (2003)

Sadly, this isn't a fun and cheeky riff on the classic Robert Louis Stevenson story (unlike Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde). It's adult erotica that uses the essence of the tale to string together some scenes in which people have sexy times with each other. Usually women getting naughty with other women. There's a screenplay by Bruce G. Hallenbeck ("based on" the classic tale, of course) and I was about to dismiss his role immediately, but he does actually put some semblance of a storyline in the mix, even if it is hard to find sometimes.

A doctor (Julian Wells) is talking to an interviewer about her attempts to separate the pure from the lustful side of females. Meanwhile, her husband (Boz Tennyson) has sex with their maid (Ruby Larocca). things then move on to a scene that shows the good doctor dealing with one of her patients (played by popular adult movie starlet Misty Mundae), injecting her with a new serum and then they start to have sex. It's just all too lusty, however, and poor Misty Mundae is driven insane by her new, overworked sex drive. The doctor takes her own serum, transforming her into Heidi Hyde (not to be confused with the hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-hiiii from "Minnie The Moocher"), and then wanders the streets, quickly bumping into a young woman she wants to have sex with (Misty Mundae once more). They have sex. Andrea Davis plays someone who joins them. For sex. People start to get a bit upset at each other, but it's okay because they soon have some more sex.

That's it then. Indeed, it's probably the lengthiest plot description I've ever written for a film of this kind. Director Tony Marsiglia makes sure that everything is erotic enough for those who enjoy such things, but keeps everything far removed from anything that would be deemed hardcore. It's all very softly lit and teasingly presented.

The actors and actresses involved don't do a great job, but who watches this stuff to stumble across a future Oscar winner? Misty Mundae is the star of the show, but Julian Wells is very attractive too. As for Ruby Larocca and Andrea Davis, well there was just too much flesh on display by the time their main scenes came around and I was just waiting for the credits to roll. No I hadn't gone blind, you cheeky monkeys.

The strange thing about this stuff is that it's never really worked for me. I find some of the women attractive, of course, but seeing them in carefully edited lovemaking montages just doesn't come high on my list of priorities. I have so many other things I'd prefer to do: watch better movies, read a good book, take the dog for a walk, etc. etc. etc.

People will mock me, and often do, for this viewpoint and they'll wonder why I watch such stuff if I have no interest in it. Well, Misty Mundae AKA Erin Brown has gone on to make a bit of an impact in the horror genre so that's the first reason. The second reason? As mentioned in my review of An Erotic Werewolf In London, morbid curiosity forces me to see if any of these soft-core porn parodies ever contain enough elements showing that they care one bit about the original material.

Let's face it, I may have hated this film, but it wasn't exactly torture to sit through. As ever with these movies, anyone thinking of watching the film for their own personal happy happy joy joy will probably want to add a point or two.


Wednesday 27 February 2013

The Siege (1998)

The Siege is an interesting thriller that may seem overly familiar to viewers now, but certainly seemed quite unique and daring when first released back in 1998. I'm not going to say that it was the first film of this kind, but I will say that after the real shock of 9/11 and then the subsequent escalating war on terror it has become a movie unfairly overshadowed by many more recent releases (including, for example, the thought-provoking Unthinkable).

The basic plot of The Siege concerns retaliation against America, on American soil, by a number of terrorist cells who want one of their leaders returned to them unharmed. That would be all well and good, but nobody is admitting that they actually HAVE the leader in their custody, which makes for quite a stalemate. Caught up in the middle of this tension is staunch federal agent Denzel Washington, working alongside his partner Tony Shalhoub, and a CIA operative (Annette Bening) who keeps clashing with them as she works on her own agenda. Bruce Willis plays Major General William Devereaux, a man who may prove useful or may, in fact, prove to be the most damaging individual in the city.

With Edward Zwick in the director's chair you know that this isn't going to be a vapid and glossy action movie, though perhaps they tried to market it that way when it was first released (I really don't recall). Zwick is the guy who will take a closer look at courage and morality and will make it interesting, entertaining and invested with emotion. That blend isn't always appealing to some, and he doesn't always get it right, but I've enjoyed many of his movies BECAUSE of the mix of emotion and intellect that I'm sure provides plenty of ammunition for his detractors.

Bruce Willis isn't given too much screen-time here, so don't let his presence put you off if you're not a fan (I usually quite like him, but realise that many don't). The main focus here stays on the triangle formed by Denzel, who is on his usual good form, Shalhoub, who is given one of his better movie roles and does great with it, and Bening, who is the weak link, despite how much more interesting her character could have been. I've liked Bening in a lot of movies and tend to think that her weak turn here is more the result of some poor writing than any major failing on her part. And it's not that she's bad, it's just that she should have been better. Sami Bouajila does okay as Samir Nazhde, who might be able to help the good guys stop further attacks if they can keep him in the game long enough, and David Proval does well as another agent doggedly trying to get information that will help break the case.

The screenplay by Zwick, Lawrence Wright and Menno Meyjes is surprisingly good. While the first half of the movie seems to hit standard beats and be walking a well-worn path, the second half takes a different direction and looks at things from a completely different angle. The fact that it was a very prescient movie also adds to its interest. Protests were held by many Muslims and Arab groups when it was initially released, but the film has an ace or two up its sleeve to counter the criticism it received. One of those comes in the shape of Tony Shalhoub's character, a Lebanese-American who is undeniably a good guy through and through. The other ace? Well, I wouldn't want to give too much away. Needless to say, the film shows racial profiling and stereotyping as both a tool used by government agencies and also a mistake made by people driven to distraction while something possibly much worse transpires before their very eyes.

It's a flawed film, as most of Edward Zwick's movies are, but it's also well worth watching, especially in light of events that we've seen since the turn of the 21st century.


Tuesday 26 February 2013

Django (1966)

Django is a name that has towered over the Western genre for many years before Quentin Tarantino decided to take it and put it to the masses with the fantastic Django Unchained. I'm sure that many people will now seek out the older movies thanks to the major homage from Tarantino and that can only be a good thing, especially when the film holds up as such fine, influential, entertainment.

Django (Franco Nero), the titular hero, is a gunslinger who walks around dragging a coffin behind him. This, as you can imagine, makes for some strong imagery. In the first moments of the movie he guns down some men who are attempting to punish a woman named Maria (Loredana Nusciak). It turns out that Maria is a prostitute who has been caught in between a rock and a hard place, in the shape of Major Jackson (Eduardo Fajardo) and General Hugo Rodriguez (Jose Bodalo), two enemies who have been ruining a town caught up in the midst of their ongoing battles.

It may not have been the first of its kind, but it's hard to argue against the fact that Django is the most important and influential Western of its time. It certainly spawned enough sequels (both official and unofficial) and imitators, as did the classic Leone Westerns from the same period. Film fans can enjoy the movie, but they can also take great pleasure in spotting every moment and scene that has since been homaged in other movies (and not just by Tarantino).

Franco Nero is great in the main role, every bit as cool and mesmerising as Eastwood ever was. It's no wonder that to many people he will always be the character, despite how many others have played him, or variations of him. Loredana Nusciak is a suitably appealing damsel in distress, Angel Alvarez is great as the bartender who wants to keep his life as well as his bar and Eduardo Fajardo and Jose Bodalo are entertaining potential villains, depending on how they deal with Django.

Behind the scenes, Sergio Corbucci is the man responsible for this enduring creation. Not only did he direct the film, but he also wrote the screenplay with his brother, Bruno Corbucci, and a few other helpful scribes. Then there's Luic Bacalov, the man responsible for the superb score, who also deserves a fair bit of praise and Enzo Barboni does a good job with the cinematography. Ruggero Deodato fans will probably already know that he was an assistant director on the movie and it's certainly a worthy entry in his filmography even if he's not getting the biggest credit.

While it was never the most obscure movie, it's good to know that more and more people will discover this film after yet another cinematic love letter from Tarantino (love or hate his work, he does his best to point people towards the movies that he's always loved). Django isn't a great spaghetti Western, it's not a great movie for its time, it's not something to be viewed just as a hugely influential work of art. Django is a great movie, period.


There have been some criticisms of the Bluray release so fans may just want to opt for the DVD here until the film gets the treatment it so deserves -

Monday 25 February 2013

Countess Dracula (1971)

Okay, let's be clear about this from the start. This is not really a Dracula movie, we don't get any fangs or big bats or people who sleep in coffins. This is, however, an excellent Hammer flick loosely based on the legends woven around the life of Countess Elizabeth Bathory.

Countess Elisabeth Nadasdy (Ingrid Pitt) is much put out when she hears the reading of her deceased husband's will. It orders his fortune to be shared between his widow and his only daughter (played by Lesley-Anne Down). Rather than share the wealth the countess comes up with a plan after finding that the blood of young girls can make her look young and gorgeous again. With youth back on her side, she bags herself a handsome man (Sandor Eles) and arranges to have her daughter waylaid en route and then proceeds to take her place. But just how long can she keep finding the victims she needs to retain her youth?

Jeremy Paul wrote the screenplay, based on a story by a number of people who took inspiration from the life of lady Bathory, and Peter Sasdy directed this lusty, busty release from the studio that dripped blood and it's a good job they do too.

Once fans get over the disappointment of this not being an actual vampire movie there's much to enjoy here. It has plenty of nefarious scheming, all planned and carried out by a beautiful femme fatale. The look of the thing is up to Hammer's usual standards, the cast are all very good (the central role helped to make Pitt quite the horror icon while Nigel Green is wonderful as a co-conspirator, Sandor Eles is very good as the unwitting object of Elisabeth's affection and the rest of the cast do just fine, despite all being overshadowed by Miss Pitt's luminous beauty) and the pacing is just right.

It's the perfect blend of blood and lust, with an essence of sleaze given an outer coating of velvet finesse, that made the studio such a bankable name at its height and I recommend this movie to all of the fans.


Sunday 24 February 2013

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

An elderly Elvis Presley, his real identity SO secret that he is the only one left who actually remembers it (or does he?), and an elderly, and coloured, JFK join forces against a soul-sucking mummy in one of the finest cult movies to attain major success (in rental/DVD purchase terms, at least) in recent years, thanks to word of mouth and unflagging fan support.

Is it cult? Is it any good? Many fans would give a resounding yes as an answer to one or both of those questions. I do too. It shows writer-director Don Coscarelli ( who wrote the script based on a short story by Joe R. Lansdale) as a man with more up his sleeve than deadly metal balls (re: Phantasm, for the uninitiated). Although I, like many other Phantasm fans, want another instalment in that franchise I will be more than happy if he keeps directing movies as good as this one and John Dies At The End.

A fantastic performance from Bruce Campbell, superbly supported by Ossie Davis (R.I.P.), holds this film together. The two men have fun with their characters, but also show a real warmth and vulnerability. Considering who they are supposed, or believe themselves, to be, that's no small feat. Ella Joyce deserves a mention as a nurse looking after the men while Bob Ivy has the thankless task of playing the titular villain.

A giant, flying scarab beetle, a mummy sucking souls from an orifice that you wouldn't think fit for that purpose, the King, a black JFK, it all sounds like kooky, camp fun but what really sets this film in your memories is the emotional core.

It's about taking one last stand, it's about the fleeting moments of happiness we look back on in our old age and either regret because we made mistakes afterwards or regret because we can't have them back, it's about finding strength when you've spent so long accepting your fragility and, in a way, it's about the endurance of legends (or heroes, if you prefer). I may be reading too much into it but I think this movie DOES have all that and more. I challenge you to watch it and tell me different.

Bubba Ho-Tep is showing at The Filmhouse today as part of the run up to the 20th Dead By Dawn so get your tickets here - - and enjoy it on the big screen.


Saturday 23 February 2013

Katy Perry: Part Of Me (2012)

Oh dear.

If anyone actually believed for a moment that I was a huge film fan who sometimes knew what he was talking about then that's all about to disappear right now. Why? Because I really enjoyed Katy Perry: Part Of Me.

Mixing some concert footage with a lot of behind the scenes moments, this charts the hard work and many setbacks that Perry endured on the road to becoming "an overnight success". Set during her massive 2011 world tour, it shows her phenomenal success in the music world while also capturing the end of her marriage to Russell Brand - a situation that obviously causes her a lot of pain and tears, but is put aside when she lines herself up to get on stage. Ever the professional, Perry goes from being wracked with tears backstage to gripping the mike and making sure she has a big smile on as she prepares to entertain her latest crowd of fans.

If you don't like Katy Perry then you're unlikely to enjoy this, but I wouldn't rule it out completely. She may be a pop star who appeals to the teen demographic and she may have a cutesy, quirky style that some find offputting, but this movie shows that she also has a level head on her shoulders and a determination to succeed and give 150% in everything she does.

You might have already gathered that I'm already a big fan of the woman and you may be wondering why. I am, after all, not in her main demographic. First, she's very attractive, in my opinion, and I'll continue to hold that opinion, despite some other people who argue against it, despite the fact that she never returns my calls and despite the fact that I have to abide by that restraining order, dammit. Moving swiftly on, I actually like most of her songs. She's not the greatest songstress of her, or any other, generation, but she writes some good stuff and she writes some damn catchy stuff. She also seems to have a good sense of humour, which is another major plus point, and is always full of positive energy. Then there's the fact that she remains impressively individual in an industry known for homogenising and compartmentalising everyone and she makes it seem so effortless.

There are a million Lady Gaga fans who would read this and throw a hissy fit, wondering why I am praising Perry with comments usually attributed to their idol. I hate Lady Gaga, really can't stand her. I have a running joke with my young daughter where I pretend to be an out of touch old fart and ask her questions like "well, are you still listening to that Lady Goo Goo?" It's just a silly thing that makes me sound as old as I am, but it also allows me to not give her any recognition whatsoever. I'm not completely unaware of the positive influence that Lady Gaga has on her fans, but she makes it all seem like a daily battle against everyone else in the world whereas Katy Perry promotes the same message of individuality and positivity while also managing to smile and not just run through the bag of tricks that Madonna already used up over a decade ago.

Anyway, all of this has been a pathetic attempt to defend my enjoyment of this film. I'll watch some stuff like this with a smile and the knowledge that I'm enjoying it even while it could never be classed as something good (yep, Spiceworld: The Movie comes into that category), but watching Katy Perry move from her childhood under the parentage of two Christian pastors to her globe-spanning position as one of the queens of pop is genuinely inspiring stuff, whether what you see on-screen is 100% open and honest or just carefully managed and manipulated excerpts from one hectic year.



Friday 22 February 2013

Backdraft (1991)

As a tribute to firefighters everywhere, Backdraft works. As a piece of fluff that will appeal to any youngster who always wanted to be a firefighter, Backdraft works. As an entertaining and involving movie, Backdraft just doesn't cut it. After a decent run at the box office, this movie exploded (no pun intended) on home video. Well, I can't tell you if it was popular everywhere, but it certainly quickly became the must-see movie at my high school. I think, if my memory serves me correctly, that this may have been due in no small part to the reduction (removal?) of the rental windows that I remember being brought about by Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves. I am only going by personal recollection here so may be completely incorrect. What is definitely correct is that this particular movie was very popular on video at Liberton High School (which, ironically, still hasn't burned to the ground, despite my fervent prayers).

The plot is standard melodrama, directed by Ron Howard and written by an ex-firefighter named Gregory Widen (who witnessed someone killed by the titular occurrence). William Baldwin (one of the many lesser talents in the Baldwin brood) plays Brian McCaffrey, a young man who finally passes the test to become a firefighter and ends up stationed alongside his big brother, Stephen 'Bull' McCaffrey (Kurt Russell). Big brother wants to look after him and he does that by working him harder than anybody else. Scott Glenn is another one of the old hands while Jason Gedrick plays the other new recruit, a young man lucky enough to not have any older brother on HIS case. On top of the tension between the two brothers there are also a worrying number of fires that seem to have been engineered, possibly, to kill certain people. Robert De Niro plays the investigator trying to find out how the fires started.

Apparently, when she read the script Jennifer Jason Leigh (who plays Jennifer Vaitkus, Brian's old flame who may be reignited) said that she wished she could play the fire because it's the best part and that really tells you all that you need to know about the movie. The fire IS the best part. When the flames are billowing around the screen the movie gets interesting. At all other times it's just a messy mix of horrible, super-cheesy lines and completely uninteresting personal drama that is all underlined by a manipulative score from Hans Zimmer.

Kurt Russell is always good to watch, as far as I'm concerned, and there's also a lot of fun to be had when De Niro is onscreen. There's also a lot of fun to be had in the moments featuring Donald Sutherland, as an imprisoned arsonist, and the always-great J. T. Walsh plays a slippery politician and is . . . . . . . . . . . . great, as always. Scott Glenn is alright, Clint Howard has a tiny, but enjoyable, role and Jennifer Jason Leigh and Rebecca De Mornay both do okay with what they're given. Jason Gedrick may not be great, but the weakest link in the cast is bland, talentless William Baldwin who drags the film down with his weak "talent". A better leading man MIGHT have improved the movie ever so slightly, but it's hard to say. As the saying goes: "you can't polish a turd".

Ron Howard isn't a consistently great director, but he has made many very good movies (personally, I love Apollo 13, Parenthood and Frost/Nixon, among others) and I haven't seen a movie from him that I have completely hated. Having said that, this one is the worst I've seen from him so far.


Thursday 21 February 2013

The Horror Of Frankenstein (1970)

Frankenstein for a new generation. This movie doesn't have any of the elderly Hammer stalwarts (and they're sorely missed) but it does have an energy to it and a lot of positives thanks to a witty script and a great central performance from Ralph Bates. He may be no Cushing but he gives an enjoyable, youthful take on Victor Frankenstein and carries the film through some of its lean patches.

Directed by Jimmy Sangster (who also co-wrote the film with Jeremy Burnham), this movie may upset the purists but it's hard to see how anyone can come to hate it. Yes, it's essentially a rehash of The Curse Of Frankenstein but that's not the worst cinematic crime in the world. Young Victor upsets a number of people, from his father to his lecturers, as he grows from a boy into a man obsessed with the idea of bringing the dead back to life.

The pacing is brisk, the acting is all enjoyable (highlights = Kate O'Mara playing a great, lusty housekeeper, Dennis Price as a professional graverobber and Veronica Carlson as the fragile beauty this time around) and everything still feels lovingly crafted and unrushed, even if it is aiming for a younger audience.

I felt, as many others surely did, that I would miss many of the more seasoned Hammer stars this time but I actually managed to put them aside and enjoy almost every moment of the movie, a testament to just how many things the movie gets right. The one, big, negative point is the monster itself when it finally appears. Dave Prowse just doesn't cut it as the creature and it's in the moments featuring his lacklustre performance that the movie falters.

I'm sure that I'm not going to change the minds of any die-hard fans here but I liked this film a fair bit and think it deserves a bit more praise than it gets. It maintains a balance between nastiness and dark comedy from the first scene right up to the wonderful punchline just before the end credits roll and, personally, I think it's a much better way to push the character to modern audiences than the approach that was attempted with Dracula A.D. 1972.

Of course, I may be completely wrong (it wouldn't be the first time). Give it a look and see what you think. If you enjoy it then I can put on my smug face for a day, if you hate it then I can go back to hiding behind the false beard and dark glasses.


Yet another movie available in this bargain boxset -

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Baytown Outlaws (2012)

I went into The Baytown Outlaws expecting to enjoy it, but I was being hopeful. I didn't really know much about the plot and I certainly had no idea who the main actors were. Eva Longoria and Billy Bob Thornton were the main names being used to market the movie, but I knew that they weren't in it for all that long. Thankfully, Clayne Crawford, Daniel Cudmore and Travis Fimmel in the lead roles are pretty perfect and they help make this into one hell of an enjoyable experience.

The three men I just mentioned play the Oodie brothers, gun-toting lads who are more than happy to kill any criminals that are working in their area. They get the satisfaction of being good citizens and also pleasing the local law enforcement (well, pleasing Andre Braugher's character anyway). When they are approached by the fine-looking Celeste (Eva Longoria) with a job offer that will see them a fair bit richer for getting her godson, Rob (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), back to her. It seems like an easy job, but they have to get Rob away from the dastardly Carlod (Billy Bob Thornton) and then avoid retribution from the people who will come after them, including some dangerous women played by Zoe Bell and the gorgeous Serinda Swan, among others.

Directed by Barry Battles (who also co-wrote the movie with Griffin Hood), The Baytown Outlaws is a near-perfect slice of entertainment for fans of this particular style. But what particular style is it? Well, that's the beauty of it. You get a choice. If you want rednecks arguing with each other then you can enjoy the many moments in which the Oodie brothers get on each other's nerves (though Lincoln, played by Daniel Cudmore is mute unless talking through a speech synthesising device, but leader Brick, played by Clayne Crawford, and McQueen, played by Travis Fimmel, more than make up for his relative silence). If you want something that's more violent and confrontational then don't worry because there sure are plenty of moments that will make the grade for you there. Want something rough and rugged that also has real heart? It's got that. The movie covers all bases, really, and expertly blends thrills with comedy and some real emotion.

This is thanks in no small part to the script and direction, of course, but everything is also given a major boost by the top-notch cast. The actors playing the Oodie brothers are absolutely superb. They carry the movie effortlessly and collectively make for the best anti-hero(es) that I have seen on-screen in some time. Billy Bob Thornton has some fun, Eva Longoria does well enough and did I mention the gorgeous Serinda Swan (who I last saw in the godawful Creature)? In fact, the cast is a veritable who's who of people that you will know from other movies even if the name escapes you. Andre Braugher is best known to many people for his role in The Mist. Michael Rapaport, who has a small, but memorable, role has been in plenty, from True Romance to Deep Blue Sea. Zoe Bell, who put in many years as a hard-working stunt-woman, is perhaps best known to audiences nowadays for her role in Death Proof and even Thomas Brodie-Sangster may make people scratch their heads while they try to figure out what else he has been in - he's been in plenty, but I remembered him most clearly from Love Actually (and it's fun to see that he's grown up, but his face just hasn't changed a bit). Paul Wesley, who plays a non-local officer named Reese out to upset the status quo, was the only face I didn't recognise from other movies, but he has an extensive filmography full of stuff that just hasn't passed before my eyes yet.

Overall, I can't think of any other 2012 release that has the mix of great characters, fierce violence, hot and dangerous biker chicks, corrupt police officers and even a cracking soundtrack accompanying everything. The fact that it also has one of the best title sequences I've seen in a long time is just the icing on the cake. Rent it, see it, consider buying it.


Tuesday 19 February 2013

Truck Turner (1974)

"Who's the black bounty hunter
That's a sex machine to all the chicks?
You're damn right.

Who is the man
That would risk his neck for his brother man?
Can you dig it?"

Yes, although this is a movie all about a bounty hunter named Truck Turner (played by Isaac Hayes) it's really just a great blaxploitation flick that keeps Hayes as close to the Shaft persona (played by Richard Roundtree, but arguably made more famous thanks to that great theme sung by Hayes) as possible while throwing in everything else that will keep audiences happy: a great cast, plenty of violence, some gratuitous nudity and a script full of gems. The fact that many scenes end with a punchline or laughter akin to the end of each Police Squad episode makes it all the better.

Here's the plot. Truck Turner is an ex-football player who is now the toughest bounty hunter going. He's like Dog the bounty hunter, except for the fact that he's black, unsympathetic to anyone he catches and quick with his fists and gun. So he's not like Dog at all, I suppose, but they do at least share the same vocation. When Truck takes a big pimp out of action he ends up in a whole heap of trouble when a madam named Dorinda (Nichelle Nichols) puts a big price on his head. All guns are aimed at Truck, but perhaps the biggest threat comes from the cool and calculating Harvard Blue (Yaphet Kotto).

Oscar Williams and Michael Allin may have written the script and Jonathan Kaplan may have been sitting in the director's chair, but this movie belongs to Hayes. The man owns his central role, whether he's blasting holes in baddies or seducing women away from their fried chicken (no, I'm not being racist for the sake of a cheap gag, that ACTUALLY happens), and he's also responsible for a soundtrack so funky that it may have been playing during the conception of Prince.

Mind you, let's not dismiss everyone else so quickly. Alan Weeks is good fun as Jerry, Truck's partner and good friend, and it's always nice to see the likes of Scatman Crothers and Dick Miller, even if they don't get a lot of screentime. Annazette Chase plays Annie AKA Truck's woman and does fine with her role, but the woman turning heads is Nichelle Nichols. What would Captain Kirk say if he saw/heard Lt. Uhura looking and speaking as she does in this? It's certainly a lot better than her appearance years later in the dull horror movie, The Supernaturals. Yaphet Kotto is fantastic from the moment he appears to his very final scene, the man was at the top of his game in the '70s in my opinion.

There are one or two genuinely decent action sequences, though some moments are marred by entertainingly incongruous fashion choices, and even an impressive early use of a technique (SnorriCam) that has become quite commonplace in recent years, but those don't add enough to make it a great film. It is, however, a good one and fans of blaxploitation movies should certainly love it.


Monday 18 February 2013

Mother Night (1996)

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is a writer who, I am sad to say, I have never read. Despite hearing great things about Slaughterhouse Five I've just never managed to delve into his work. Yet. Based on the content of this movie adaptation of Mother Night (one of his works), whether it sticks rigidly to the source novel or not, that is something I will have to change soon because the man writes some thought-provoking stuff.

Nick Nolte plays Howard Campbell, an American who grew up in Germany and became a successful playwright. As an adult, he fell in love with an actress (Sheryl Lee) and somehow managed to enjoy his life while avoiding intense scrutiny from the Nazis. However, when he is asked by a mysterious stranger (John Goodman) to consider working as an American spy his whole life changes. All he has to do is work for Germany, deliver speeches over the radio (speeches that have been annotated with a code he follows even though he doesn't even know the meaning of it) and continue living his life of relative privilege. Of course, that's only all well and good until the war ends and it's really when Howard moves on throughout his adult life that the questions raised at the very beginning of the movie start to burrow into your mind and take hold.

Directed by Keith Gordon (who will always be Arnie from Christine to me), and adapted for the screen by Robert B. Weide, Mother Night is a stunning movie once the premise is fully established about ten or fifteen minutes into proceedings. It's about good and evil and how complex, and close, those two things can be, highlighted in a central character who pretends to be someone evil to do good, but may well have also been responsible for a lot of evil deeds while playing his part all too well. Does pretending to be someone evil actually make you evil?

The interesting material, and it's made all the more interesting thanks to the ambiguity always weaving through the material (I, personally, couldn't make up my own mind as to whether or not I found Howard Campbell to be evil), is made all the better thanks to a fantastic cast. I've never been the biggest fan of Nolte, but I think this may be his best performance. It's certainly the best thing that I've seen him in. Sheryl Lee plays the love of his life and she's someone else that I've never been all that impressed with. I think she got luckier than she could have ever hoped when she landed her role(s) in Twin Peaks, but here she gives a very good performance, especially in the second half of the movie. John Goodman lends his usual greatness to the film - though, on a side note, how MANY times has Goodman played someone on the sidelines who ends up greatly influencing the main events? I think it may be his specialty - and so does Alan Arkin. Arye Gross also does well with his small role, Kirsten Dunst has an even smaller role and David Strathairn has mere seconds onscreen, but is always worth looking out for.

Unjustly neglected by many people, including myself (for which I am appropriately annoyed), over the past 15 years, Mother Night is a film well worth seeking out and giving 110 minutes of your life to. It's a new favourite of mine and I hope that others enjoy it just as much.


Sunday 17 February 2013

The Victim (2011)

Based on a story by Reed Lackey, The Victim is written and directed by, and stars, Michael Biehn and provides a lot of fun for horror fans and, of course, fans of the leading man.

The movie begins with a surprising and sudden death before cutting to a young woman (Annie, played by Jennifer Blanc) running through some woods in a state of fear. Typical horror/exploitation movie fare. She then finds a cabin in the woods, knocks on the door and meets loner Kyle Limato (Biehn). He doesn't want to be bothered and he certainly doesn't want any trouble, which is what he suspects he's in for when Annie tells him about police officers chasing her through the woods after the accidental death of her friend. Kyle really doesn't want to get involved with this situation, but when the police officers (played by Ryan Honey and Denny Kirkwood) come snooping around he starts to think that Annie may be telling the truth and that he might be able to help her. It's not long until both of them are in danger as the two men in pursuit of Annie grow more and more desperate.

While it doesn't quite overcome its limitations - low budget, small scope, relatively small cast - I was pleasantly surprised by how much The Victim gets right. Biehn obviously knows his stuff and he gets it all in the movie in just the right mix. There's some violence, a bit of nudity, more violence and plenty of gruff one-liners delivered by the reluctant hero dragged into the big mess.

Ryan Honey and Denny Kirkwood are very enjoyable as the two men trying to cover up one horrible mistake, with the latter at least showing some regret as things spiral further and further out of control. Jennifer Blanc is fine as Annie and Biehn is his usual good self as Kyle. There's also a fun role for the lovely Danielle Harris, who has her most memorable "screen entrance" to date.

I can't think of anything more to say about the film, really. It doesn't want to be anything deep and meaningful and it isn't. That's not damning the thing with faint praise. On the contrary, The Victim is slightly refreshing in its approach, coming along after so many movies that have felt the need to emulate old film stock, throw in fashions and props from decades gone by and take any opportunity to nod and wink at the audience while often failing to get the basics right. This film gets the basics right and also contains a few nice references to past classics. It's not unmissable, it's not great, but it is good enough to watch and lend some support to. Do it for Biehn.


Saturday 16 February 2013

Screamtime (1983)

It's amazing what you end up revisiting in your adult life because of childhood memories. I remember somehow being allowed to watch Screamtime when my parents rented it out and I was entertained and thrilled by it. It had everything; fleeting nudity, bloodshed and tension. Of course, I was about seven or eight years old when I saw it and I didn't realise how bad the acting was and how hokey the whole framing sequence was.

Things start off in New York. Basically, there are one or two establishing shots and then we see two men robbing a video store to get themselves a few free movies for the evening. I'm not sure if such videotape "hit-and-run" robberies were commonplace in the early '80s, but I doubt it. The men then visit some woman in her flat (just after she's had a shower - gratuitous nudity about two and a half minutes into the movie = good sign) and then watch the movies. The movies all happen to be British, which means that the footage shot in America was probably filmed in the space of a few hours. The first concerns a Punch & Judy man (Robin Bailey) who is getting a very hard time from his wife and an even harder time from his stepson (played by Jonathon Morris, probably best known to most UK viewers of a certain age for his portrayal of Adrian Boswell in TV sitcom Bread). The second story is all about a couple who move into a lovely home, but it's all spoiled when the wife (Yvonne Nicholson) starts experiencing disturbing visions that start to fray her nerves. Last, but by no means least, we get a tale in which two old, twinkly-eyed ladies (Dora Bryan and Jean Anderson) hire a young man (David Van Day, best known in the '80s for being one half of Dollar and inflicting this song upon us all) to take care of their house and garden. The old ladies talk fondly about their gnomes and fairies at the bottom of the garden, but the young man takes no notice of this talk when he decides to rob the house. Silly boy.

This movie is just silly from start to finish. Thankfully, it's enjoyably silly and not silly in a way that will make you roll your eyes and go to sleep. Michael Armstrong wrote the script and he also co-directs with Stanley A. Long. Would you be unsurprised to hear that this was their last directorial feature (Long did direct a TV mini-series, but nothing else)? The acting is terrible from almost everyone involved, with the exception of Bryan and Anderson, the script is laughably bad at times and there isn't enough gore on display to make up for the low budget, bad editing and framing and strange penchant for showing people being killed by small men wearing pointy, red hats (you'll need to watch it to see what I mean). The soundtrack is also pretty bad, but if it was good it would be jarringly out of place so I don't hold that up as a major criticism.

Some people will be able to laugh at the performance from Jonathon Morris. Some people will be able to laugh at the performance from David Van Day. Some people will be interested to see the original tale that was remade and developed into the film Psychosis. Some people will enjoy seeing Kim Thomson in a small role long before she landed a plum, recurring role in Emmerdale. And then there will be the people like me, the people who either saw this movie in their youth and couldn't quite shake it out of their memory banks or have just heard about how dire it is and want to see it for themselves. Those are the people who will, hopefully, get the most enjoyment out of it. Just as I did.


Here it is for free on YouTube - - though it is marked as a 1983 release, I have had some trouble narrowing down the year. IMDb has it as 1986 but then has the US release date as 1984, many VHS copies are sold as 1985 and I've seen some others claim that it's from 1982. I think 1983 is correct or, at the very least, close enough. I'd LOVE to put a link here to purchase the movie on DVD so please let me know if it ever becomes available.

Friday 15 February 2013

Hereafter (2010)

It sometimes frustrates me when it takes so long to get to films that I knew I might be interested in. Seeing Hereafter proved to be more frustrating than usual, mainly thanks to a first act that reminded me of a major recent release with one major difference. Hereafter did everything just a bit better. It's not a great movie, by any means, but there are moments that almost reach that level and that opening sequence, featuring a devastating tsunami, is one of them. The fact that it decided to go down a fictional path in order to best tell its story is the main reason for me preferring it to The Impossible, but it's not the only one.

I'd better clarify just now that the two films then go on wildly different trajectories. I simply couldn't help commenting on the similarities during the powerful first half hour of the movie because, well, that's what will spring to mind for many viewers nowadays. Now I'd better move on to the rest of the film.

Matt Damon plays a psychic, but he's a real psychic. It's not a gift that he has, it's a curse, and he's chosen to turn his back on it all. He doesn't want the money or any fame, he just wants to feel normal. His brother (Jay Mohr) keeps trying to convince him that he should be helping people, and making plenty of money, but "a life that's all about death is no life at all."
Cecile De France plays Marie Lelay, a journalist who finds herself caught up in that aforementioned tsunami and then, understandably, deeply affected afterwards.
George and Frankie McLaren play twin brothers who muddle through life together as their heroin addicted mother often leaves them to their own devices. When one twin is suddenly taken away in a fatal accident it all becomes a bit too much for the one who is left, a young man seeking answers and maybe just another chance to communicate with his brother.
These three people have all been touched by death in some way, but perhaps something good can come out of it.

Directed by Clint Eastwood, from a script by Peter Morgan, Hereafter is a strange mix of the jaded and the optimistic helped by a solid cast. It takes ideas of spirituality and plays them out in a completely straightforward, if sometimes slightly schmaltzy, manner.

I've been a big fan of Matt Damon for a number of years now and, whatever you think of the whole film, he's superb here as someone cursed with what some see as a gift. The scenes with him and Bryce Dallas Howard, as a woman he meets and wants to spend some quality time with, may be obvious and even a bit heavy-handed, but they're also quite affecting. Cecile De France has the least interesting journey in the movie, but she does fine in her role. George and Frankie McLaren are stand outs and the movie actually peaks during the sequence in which the boy visits a number of people who claim they can contact the dead and watches blankly as they go through different nonsensical procedures to convince him that they're communicating with "the other side".

Technically proficient, with a couple of absolutely superb set-pieces (one near the beginning and one at just about the hour mark), the biggest problem with Hereafter is the way in which Eastwood takes something that needs a more delicate touch and proceeds to make everything far too obvious and emotionally moving. It DID move me, but I'm a sucker when it comes to that kind of easy manipulation so all I can really do is warn others about it as it's already too late for me.

There are too many negatives for Hereafter to be a great film, not least of which is the way in which the central subject matter is treated (a way that will put many off), but it has some great moments within it. It's just a shame that they're placed in between scenes of much lower quality.


Thursday 14 February 2013

Amuck! (1972)

AKA Alla ricerca del piacere AKA (the more appropriate) Hot Bed Of Sex.

Written and directed by Silvio Amadio, Amuck! is known by a few other names, but Hot Bed Of Sex is one of the most appropriate, considering how entertainingly titillating the whole thing is.

The strange plot sees the gorgeous Greta Franklin (played by the gorgeous Barbara Bouchet) going to work as a secretary for writer Richard Stuart (Farley Granger). The writer lives with his wife, Eleanora (Rosalba Neri), in sun-drenched Italy, but Greta isn't there to enjoy the weather, oh no. Greta wants to find out what happened to her good friend (and ex-lover), Sally. She suspects foul play and as the writer and his wife start to draw Greta into their sex games that suspicion starts to grow and grow. Did the writer kill Sally, or was it his wife? Perhaps it was the local fisherman, Rocco (Petar Martinovitch).

Amuck! is stylish and fairly well put together, considering that it already has a big enough selling point in the form of Barbara Bouchet. That it also uses Bouchet in some very erotic sequences throughout the movie should be more than enough to keep fans of this kind of film happy. Thankfully, the icing on the cake is the murder mystery plot - enjoyable stuff that tries to keep twisting and turning and keeps the heroine engaged in mindgames with most of the people around her.

Farley Granger is just fine, and the lucky bugger gets to act naughty with Bouchet. Rosalba Neri is also fine, and also lucky enough to get naughty with Bouchet. Patrizia Viotti has a lot less screentime, but guess what - she ALSO gets her naughty with Bouchet (under a waterfall, no less, in one particularly memorable scene). The eagle-eyed amongst you may already have spotted a pattern.

Silvio Amadio does a decent job here, but let's be honest, nobody is ever going to be quoting any classic lines from the script because there are none and this is unlikely to be on any favourite movie lists. However, it does what it does well and I think I may have already mentioned what a bonus the presence of Barbara Bouchet is.


Until the movie gets a decent re-release the only decent (using the word loosely) disc is this one -

Wednesday 13 February 2013

Winter People (1989)

Winter People is a film that really reminds you of just what an interesting career Kurt Russell has had. He may have been launched on to the world from the House Of Mouse and in the 1980s he may have won many fans thanks to his work with John Carpenter, but he wasn't a major draw at the box office and he, deliberately or not, seemed to choose projects based more on how interesting they were than how much money they would rake in. Winter People is an interesting film and, especially considering that I'd never heard of it before this year, it's also a very good one.

It's 1930 and Russell plays the upstanding Wayland Jackson, a young widower who moves with his daughter (and her pet pig) to a North Carolina mountain town. The move doesn't go all too smoothly and, with a car stuck in a river and left with only a few things he is able to carry, Wayland and his daughter end up meeting a young woman named Collie Wright (played by Kelly McGillis) who has a young baby, but no husband at home. Wayland and Collie get along very well, thank you kindly, and it's not long until she is helping him settle into his new life by promoting his skills as a clockmaker to her family and encouraging them to accept this new man in her life. To be accepted means more than just a few social gatherings, however, and Wayland is soon taken along on a bear hunt. Meanwhile, Collie is still being pestered by the mean father of her child (Jeffrey Meek) and things might get ugly.

Based on a book by John Ehle, Winter People would seem to be typical of his work (from the little I've read about his bibliography, having not been familiar with his work before now). Carol Sobieski easily retains the essence of the story in her screenplay and director Ted Kotcheff shoots it all competently enough. It all seems just . . . . . . . fine. Yet, by the time the end credits rolled I realised that I'd enjoyed every unsensational minute of it.

While a lot of the credit can go to Ehle, Sobieski and Kotcheff, the other big plus point for the movie is the strong cast. Russell and McGillis are both wonderful in their main roles, but great support comes from a number of people that aren't so well known. And Lloyd Bridges, who is very good here. Young Amelia Burnette is very good as Wayland's daughter Paula, Jeffrey Meek is intimidating and easy to dislike as Cole Campbell while Mitch Ryan is just as good as his fierce father. Then we have Don Michael Paul and Lanny Flaherty, both perfect as Collie's two dissimilar brothers.

It's not a well-known movie (I certainly hadn't heard it mentioned before and had never heard of it myself, anyway) and it's not all that easy to get a hold of, but if you're a fan of this kind of film or of Russell or McGillis then I encourage you to at least give it a one-time viewing if the chance ever arises.


Tuesday 12 February 2013

Livide (2011)

Following on from their SUPERB horror movie Inside, writer-directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury provide fans with yet another slice of near-perfect modern horror. Less visceral, in some ways, and more fantastical than Inside, Livide is as beautiful as it is offbeat and scary. It's a fairytale dripping with blood, something more along the lines of Cronos or Trick 'r Treat than the other French horror movies of recent years (Martyrs, Frontier(s), etc.).

The film begins with young Lucie (Chloe Coulloud) being picked up and taken along to begin her training as an at-home care nurse. Her trainer is Mrs. Wilson (Catherine Jacob). Mrs. Wilson notices that Lucie has two different coloured eyes and explains to her what some people think that means (basically, two different souls in one body). All goes pretty well until they get to the house of Mrs. Jessel (Marie-Claude Pietragalla). Mrs. Wilson orders Lucie to stay in the car and heads in on her own. After some time in the car, Lucie follows. She finds Mrs. Jessel in a comatose state and Mrs. Wilson doing the little she has to do for her. Mrs. Wilson explains that there have been rumours for a long time that Mrs. Jessel has some great treasure hidden in the house. She's searched everywhere and has been unable to find it. At the end of her day, Lucie goes to meet her boyfriend (Will, played by Felix Moati) and tells him about the Jessel house, which leads them to head out with Will's brother (Ben, played by Jeremy Kapone) to find the treasure for themselves. Of course, they end up finding more than they bargained for.

Going from the description above, you may think that Livide is very standard stuff and you'd be right, up to a point. It really starts getting more and more interesting in the second half, as the main characters investigate the house and start to discover mysterious and interesting secrets inside its walls.

The cast all do a good job, especially Chloe Coulloud in the main role, but this is a film all about atmosphere and style and macabre beauty, all of which it has in abundance. Bustillo and Maury don't deliver anything new to the table when it comes to dialogue or characterisation of the three young ones breaking and entering, but they certainly give viewers something quite unusual when it comes to the back-story that's eventually revealed and the elements that all come together during the third act and that's what you'll remember after the credits have rolled.

I can't wait to see the next movie that Bustillo and Maury deliver, they are certainly people that horror fans can rely upon to deliver something interesting, whether you love or hate the end result.


Monday 11 February 2013

Scars Of Dracula (1970)

While I admit that I was a little disappointed to see that this Hammer movie was missing my particular favourite actor known for his work with the studio, Peter Cushing, I knew that I would be in for something reasonably entertaining with Christopher Lee reprising, arguably, his most famous performance and the fact that it was directed by Roy Ward Baker and written by Anthony Hinds (two names probably familiar to fans of horror from this era).

The movie starts off with Dracula being resurrected thanks to the help of a daft, rubber bat. Then the fun really begins as the Count gets straight back to reprising his reign of terror, making some trouble for himself when he takes in a stranger (Paul, played by Christopher Matthews) and then doesn't let him leave. It's not long until Paul's brother (Simon, played by Dennis Waterman) comes looking for him with the beautiful Sarah (Jenny Hanley) by his side.

While this is not really a GREAT Hammer movie it is a damn entertaining one, despite how silly and slight it may be. Dennis Waterman makes for a decent enough leading man, Patrick Troughton is great as a servant of the fanged Count (even if he does resemble Oddbod from Carry On Screaming!), the lovely Jenny Hanley is quite lovely and everyone else does their bit portraying Hammer standards such as the scared priest (Michael Gwynn), the grouchy innkeeper (Michael Ripper), etc.

Nothing really feels too slick or polished but it doesn't ever feel like a rushed hatchet job either, falling somewhere in between the two and doing just enough to smooth over the more ludicrous moments in the movie. The ending is a bit of an anti-climax but such a slip-up is allowed when the rest of the movie is so much fun.

I actually found it more endearing than irritating whenever there was someone getting overly dramatic or whenever anyone was threatened by a distinctly rubbery bat but others may not feel the same way. That is, of course, their choice. If nobody agrees with me then I'll happily keep this treat all to myself.


Available in this super duper bargain boxset -

Sunday 10 February 2013

Killing Words (2003)

AKA Palabras Encadenadas.

An excellent psychological thriller/horror movie from Spain that plays out, for the most part, as a two-hander focusing on Dario Grandinetti and Goya Toledo, Killing Words is a fun, polished piece of entertainment similiar to classic movies such as Sleuth and Deathtrap (which needs an R2 disc release ASAP).

Grandinetti plays Ramon Diaz, the disgruntled ex-husband of Laura Galan (Toledo). When I say disgruntled I actually mean REALLY disgruntled. Ramon has held a major grudge against his wife because of the lies that she told during their divorce. He now wants payback, in a big way, and part of that will involve making her admit to the lies she told. Viewers don't know just how serious this man is, but the film veers between a present situation with Ramon helping police who are searching for Laura and the past battle of wills between the angry man and his ex-wife.

Based on a play by Jordi Galceran, Killing Words benefits from a smart script co-written by Fernando de Felipe and director Laura Mana. It also has a great cast. Fernando Guillen and Eric Bonicatto are the two policemen trying to catch their man, and do very well, but the best moments are those between Grandinetti and Toledo. Both get to take turns at spitting out the insults and both do it very well, while Toledo also has moments in which she seems genuinely afraid for her life.

It's not as smart or unpredictable as it might like to think it is, but the movie does have plenty of twists and turns that are fun and sprinkles enough intelligence throughout every scene to make it all seem a cut above the many dumb films that fill up places in the Top 20 week in and week out. I THINK, and I may be very wrong here, that there are one or two major mistakes/plot holes/illogical moments, but I'm looking forward to rewatching the movie and seeing if the movie is flawed or I am just not as observant as I'd like to be. Whatever the answer, while the film is on it's great fun and you'll only start picking it apart as the end credits roll.


Killing Words is showing today at The Filmhouse in Edinburgh (buy tickets here) as part of the run up to the 20th Dead By Dawn horror film festival.

Saturday 9 February 2013

So I Married An Axe Murderer (1993)

AKA the Mike Myers movie that many people forget about because he's not being Wayne or Austin Powers or Shrek.

So I Married An Axe Murderer seemed to come and go without much fuss back in 1993. I'm not sure if it was considered a flop at the time, but it certainly didn't set the box office alight. That's a shame because this is a very enjoyable comedy with some great characters, a decent cast and a constant supply of decent chuckles.

Myers stars as Charlie Mackenzie, a man obviously afraid of commitment. His friend, Tony (Anthony LaPaglia), can testify to this and tries to get Charlie to see the error of his ways, to no avail. Charlie comes up with all kinds of reasons to explain why his ex-girlfriends became ex-girlfriends (one was a kleptomaniac, one smelled of soup). Circumstances change for the better when he meets Harriet (Nancy Travis). As the relationship blossoms, Charlie tries to put his usual behaviour behind him, but when he reads up about a killer named "Mrs. X", a murderous bride who has been killing her husbands on their honeymoon, he starts to wonder if the lady he loves might not have a very dark and dangerous side. And as he tries to dispel his worries, more and more circumstantial evidence starts piling up.

Well, well, well, I did not realise the negativity surrounding this movie until researching how it was received before writing this review. This seems to be a mixture of people wanting to take Myers down a peg or two after the huge success of Wayne's World and the star also starting to slip into the bad habits that would develop in later years (his penchant for playing multiple characters, in particular, also known nowadays as "doing a Murphy"). Writer Robbie Fox was understandably a bit miffed when it was claimed that the script was changed so much that he should consider a "story by" and co-screenplay credit. Mind you, Neil Mullarkey ended up getting no credit, despite working on a lot of the content. Director Thomas Schlamme found the shoot difficult, but also praised Myers for his total commitment (how ironic, considering the theme of the movie).

Whatever the mood behind the scenes, all that matters to viewers is what ended up being caught on camera and I think that So I Married An Axe Murderer is a fine little comedy. The script, by whoever you want to give the credit to, is full of amusing one-liners and great exchanges and Schlamme moves everything along nicely, helped by a typically upbeat selection of pop songs.

The cast have a lot of fun. Myers isn't at his most comfortable playing someone who is so "normal" but he gets to make up for that in the scenes in which he plays his own father, Stuart, a hilariously stereotypical Scotsman who spends a lot of the movie insulting his other son (Matt Doherty) for having an oversized "heid". Brenda Fricker is also very good as May Mackenzie, Charlie's mother who often gets carried away in the company of Anthony LaPaglia. Speaking of LaPaglia, he's just fine, whether he's asking his boss (Alan Arkin) to be more like a movie police captain or whether he's trying to commandeer a vehicle from a reluctant member of the public (Charles Grodin). Nancy Travis is very good in the role of Harriet (she's a lot better here than she was in those Three Men & A Baby/Little Lady movies). The cast also includes Amanda Plummer having a lot of fun and very small roles for Phil Hartman and Debi Mazar, all are great.

I don't expect too many people to wholeheartedly agree with me on this one, but I hope that at least some people enjoy themselves with a film that, in my opinion, was given some unfairly harsh treatment upon its initial release.


Friday 8 February 2013

Tequila Sunrise (1988)

Written and directed by Robert Towne, Tequila Sunrise couldn't be any more '80s if everyone who saw it was handed a Rubik's Cube and pair of lime green leggings after the end credits rolled. Kurt Russell has very slick hair, Mel Gibson is sporting one of his more cuddly looks, Michelle Pfeiffer is Michelle Pfeiffer (perhaps the most gorgeous actress of the 1980s, though maybe a close second behind Kathleen Turner) and when there's any prospect of sex a saxophone player comes along to provide cheesy musical accompaniment.

Kurt Russell is Nick Frescia, a cop with a solid reputation and a big operation happening in his neck of the woods. That operation is being overseen by DEA Agent Hal Maguire (J. T. Walsh) and focuses on drug dealer Mac McKussick (Mel Gibson). The two big problems with this situation are that a) Mac insists that he's no longer in business and b) he and Frescia have a friendship that stretches back many years. Nick doesn't want to bust his friend, but it's all necessary to capture a man named Carlos, who seems to be quite a big deal in the drug world. Things are complicated when Nick realises that Mac is in love with a restaurant owner (Jo Ann Vallenari, played by Michelle Pfeiffer). It's easy to see why. In fact, Nick also falls for her charms. Or is he just using her to get information about Mac?

It's slick, nicely unconventional and benefits from a few great leads, but Tequila Sunrise is also surprisingly dull. In fact, with other people onscreen this wouldn't even manage to be as average as it is (I rate it just above-average due to my love of Russell and my LOVE of Pfeiffer).

The script has some good lines here and there, and some nice exchanges, but they're scattered too few and far between. Far too many scenes feel like filler material and character motivations are all over the place. It's especially disappointing coming from Towne, who at least always has Chinatown overshadowing everything else on his C.V.

The cast don't disappoint, although it's safe to say that all of the main players in front of the camera also have plenty of better vehicles in their filmographies. Russell, Gibson and Pfeiffer are as dependable as they usually are, J. T. Walsh never turned in a bad performance in his life, Arye Gross does fine in his small role and Raul Julia is a welcome injection of energy into the second half of the movie.

If, like me, you're fans of the actors involved then you will get some enjoyment from this. It's just a shame that this cast couldn't have been put together for something more deserving of their talent.


Thursday 7 February 2013

Stranger Than Fiction (2006)

Will Ferrell may not be the kind of comic actor you can imagine moving smoothly into more dramatic roles, but he does a very good job playing Harold Crick in this movie, a gentle comedy that mixes in some wonderful ideas and a few nice twists and turns.

Harold Crick works for the IRS and lives his life in numbers. He always brushes his teeth a set number of times, he can always answer any mathematical problems thrown at him by colleagues and he stays on quite a predictable, some might say boring, schedule. This all changes completely when Harold starts to hear a voice narrating his every move. Harold seeks help from Professor Jules Hilbert (Dustin Hoffman), who endeavours to help him find out what kind of story he is being made a part of and how it might end. Meanwhile, Harold also falls for a young woman (Maggie Gyllenhaal) that he's been tasked with auditing and starts to really enjoy his life for the first time ever. This doesn't register with writer Karen Eiffel (Emma Thompson), who is busy trying to get over her writer's block with the help of an optimistic assistant, Penny Escher (Queen Latifah). Karen doesn't need optimism. She often gets inspiration from sickness, from pain. From death.

Director Marc Forster uses a number of great little tricks to make the most of Zach Helm's smart and gently amusing script. Measurements and numbers appear all over the place in the first section of the movie, allowing viewers to get caught up in the details that govern the life of Harold Crick, the narration provides comedy and also tension and there are many enjoyable callbacks to little details throughout the film.

As already mentioned, Ferrell does well in the lead role, but he has the benefit of a superb supporting cast around him. That's not to sell him short though. His everyman turn here may be the best that he's ever done, in my view, and he makes for a likeable and sympathetic lead. Gyllenhaal is a lot of fun in her role, a woman who wants to choose just where her tax dollars go, and Hoffman is even more enjoyable as he gets to grips with Harold's problem and tries to tick off a variety of literary possibilities. Thompson and Latifah are, for the most part, separate from the central story strand, but they're important characters, of course, and both do very well in their roles.

Overall, Stranger Than Fiction manages to please a lot of different people; those looking for something a bit different from the norm, those looking for something clever, those looking for something with warm humour to it, those looking for something with a bit of romance and those looking for a film that will remind them, funnily enough, of the power of a good book.


Wednesday 6 February 2013

Election 2 AKA Triad Election (2006)

All of the main players return for this sequel to/continuation of Election, once again directed by Johnnie To and once again written by Nai-Hoi Yau and Tin-Shing Yip.

As if you couldn't guess from the title, it's time for the Wo Shing society (A Hong Kong Triad group) to hold another election. Lok (Simon Yam) has held his position well, but now starts to think of ways in which he can change the traditions and get himself a second term in the big chair. You know what they say about power corrupting. Lok doesn't have any major competition, at least not anyone that he can't have dealt with secretly, until smart businessman Jimmy Lee (Louis Koo) puts himself in the running. Jimmy Lee really didn't want to be dragged into the criminal world, but when he feels the pinch from the long arm of the law he realises that being chairman would allow himself to conduct his business without any such problems. Things quickly heat up as Lok and Jimmy both grow more determined to win the next election.

Election 2 can easily be viewed as a standalone movie, but it certainly benefits overall if being watched soon after the first film. However you decide to view it, this is the better of the two films anyway. Characters are given a bit more time here and a bit more to do, but they also continue on a natural path moving on from the previous movie. The script and pacing are both better this time around, To directs again with his neat and straightforward style and the occasional moments of gruesome violence are even nastier than anything in Election.

The cast, including Tian-lin Wang, Nick Cheung, Ka Tung Lam and Suet Lam, all do a fantastic job, but the scenes really crackle whenever the focus is on Simon Yam as Lok, a man now greedy and desperate to hold on to his power, or Louis Koo as Jimmy,  not really wanting the whole criminal lifestyle, but willing to do what needs done as a temporary measure. The two also have people around them that they don't want to see hurt and there's a real sense of tension while watching Lok dealing with his son or Jimmy looking after his wife.

This is a movie in which every repercussion, both emotionally and physically, can be felt. It may fit easily into the crime movie pigeonhole, but it develops into something that pushes far beyond those genre boundaries. Replace the Triads with any major organisation and replace the violence and death with the numerous other ways in which people can be hurt or betrayed and you'll see that this is, essentially, a film simply about people doing what they can to improve their lot in life and to make a prosperous and safe future for their loved ones.

Which is probably the thought process of all politicians.


Tuesday 5 February 2013

Election (2005)

People have been telling me for some time now that I really should see some movies by Johnnie To. Well, I have responded at last. Election (and its sequel) are films often recommended as a good starting point and, through a fortunate turn of events (a film club nomination), I finally got to see what all the fuss was about.

Simon Yam plays Lam Lok and Tony Leung plays Big D, two men vying for the position of Chairman of Hong Kong's Triad society. Lok is a calm man who shows foresight and patience and will look after the elders while Big D is a quick-tempered and aggressive man who, nonetheless, could make a good leader with his fearless attitude and his blunt approach that so often gets results. After some discussion, the position goes to Lok. Big D isn't happy about that, not one little bit, and he starts to cause trouble, trouble that may very well lead to widespread in-fighting and division in the society. A chase is on for the special baton that is handed over to each chairman as a symbol of the power being passed along and, in the meantime, Lok also tries to come up with a solution that will placate Big D and keep everyone else happy too.

It's all about politics and traditions, but Triad politics and traditions are a damn sight more interesting than anything that may be happening in the Houses Of Parlaiment here in the UK (or on Capitol Hill, for my American friends . . . . . . did I get that right? Forgive me if I just showed off my ignorance once more).

The script by Nai-hoi Yau and Tin-Shing Yip is good at sketching out the characters and guiding the viewer into the Triad world before moving around amongst various factions, but it falls down during a middle section that spends far too much time putting more and more individuals onscreen just to have them chasing after that coveted baton.

The direction from To is very good, despite the dip in that middle section he never really lets things slow down to a standstill and he strikes a nice balance when showing some of the more violent moments onscreen. Viewers get to see what's being done, but nothing feels as if it's overly gratuitous. The other great thing, in terms of both the writing and direction, is how natural he motivations of the characters are. Nobody does anything that seems out of character and even any plot twists and turns make complete sense when considering the bigger political game being played.

The cast all do a great job, but it's really all about Yam and Leung, two men who are almost polar opposites and create a great crackle of static electricity between them. Chung Wang, Tian-lin Wang, Bing-Man Tam, Louis Koo, Nick Cheung and Ka Tung Lam are amongst the many other great actors all doing their bit to keep the Triad political wheels in motion and all deserve a mention here, which is why I have reeled off their names. There are more I could list, of course, but I think the names mentioned provide a great representative sample of the talent.

This may not be the very best that Johnnie To has to offer, but as a starting point . . . . . . . . . it gets my vote (sorry, pun intended).