Friday 31 January 2014

The Anniversary (1968)

The wonderful thing about exploring as many of the movies released by Hammer studios as possible is realising that just when you think you've seen every type of movie they tried their hand at, something else comes along that confounds expectations.

The Anniversary is based on a stage play by Bill MacIlwraith, and there's hardly a moment that goes by that doesn't remind you of that fact. The characters, the dialogue and the plot developments all feel rooted in stage work, despite the fact that it's been adapted into movie form.

Bette Davis is the spider at the centre of the web, a cold and manipulative mother who has spent many years ruining the lives of her three sons. The sons are all in attendance for her annual party. There's Henry (James Cossins), a sensitive man who has some compulsive behaviour that he worries will get him into serious trouble one day. Then there's Terry (Jack Hedley), who is being pushed by his wife, Karen (Sheila Hancock), into emigrating. And finally, young Tom (Christian Taggart), who takes the opportunity to introduce everyone to his latest girlfriend, Shirley (Elaine Taylor).

Director Roy Ward Baker, and screenwriter Jimmy Sangster (who adapted the play), presents audiences with something very disappointing this time. It's not really their fault, as the source material seems to be far from the best that they could have worked from, but it's a shame that they couldn't figure out a way to let the cast have fun without the overwhelming feeling that they're actually having more fun than any member of the audience. It all feels so smug, as lines are delivered with relish that aren't really deserving of any added condiments whatsoever.

Bette Davis makes up for her superb, subtle turn in The Nanny by going in completely the opposite direction with her comical performance here. I know that this IS a comedy, but with everyone trying to top each other, and Miss Davis then topping the lot, it ends up unbalanced and, therefore, unfunny. Of course, comedy is as subjective as any other genre. Sheila Hancock comes closest to challenging her for the crown, but falls just short. This leaves her giving one of the best performances in the film, alongside Cossins, who plays the only son not out to overtly spite his mother. Taylor is very sweet in her role, and has one or two good moments in which she stands up to the maniacal matriarch controlling everyone, while Hedley and Taggart both do just okay, highlighting clumsy material with slightly clumsy performances.

This kind of material has been done before - family politics, scathing insults delivered with a smile, psychological issues simmering beneath every exchange - and it has been done much better. Do check this one out if you're a fan of anyone involved, but don't be surprised if you then try to erase the memory of it by watching something similarly twisted, but much better, such as The House Of Yes.


Thursday 30 January 2014

Trainspotting (1996)

I don't think it's overstating the fact to say that Trainspotting was one of the defining films of the 1990s. Slowly but surely, almost everyone involved with the film developed a pretty successful film career (with Ewan McGregor, arguably, going on to be the most successful). Danny Boyle confidently delivered on that film-savvy potential that he'd shown with Shallow Grave. The soundtrack was one of the best of the decade, and the marketing and poster design is still being utilised to this day (even if it is usually used to push lesser Irvine Welsh adaptations, see Irvine Welsh's Ecstasy - or don't, actually).

Trainspotting is a landmark film, and it holds up, easily, as one of the best British movies in modern cinema. I'd happily put it on a list of the best British movies ever. It wouldn't take the number one spot, but it would easily crack the top ten.

The central storyline, although the film is more a series of interweaving strands moving back and forth between the main characters, follows Renton (Ewan McGregor), a heroin addict who starts the movie by vowing to clean up his act. This isn't the first time that he's tried to go clean, and it may not be successful, but he's going to try really hard this time. Unfortunately, normal life is just boring. Especially when his friends include Spud (Ewen Bremner), who's sweet but a bit useless, Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller), who comes off heroin at the same time just to show him how easy he can manage it, and the slightly psychotic Begbie (Robert Carlyle), who happily looks down his nose at the addicts while downing copious amounts of alcohol and smoking like a chimney. There's also Tommy (Kevin McKidd), but Tommy doesn't really have many vices or problems, which sometimes makes him the most annoying of them all. Of course, everyone may be a bit different by the end of the movie, affected in various ways by Renton and the decisions that he makes to get his life back on track. Or, at least, back on a track deemed suitable by society.

Having STILL not read the source material, which is a situation I really must rectify (as I am a big fan of almost everything I've read by Welsh), I can't really comment on what was kept and what was lost on the way to the big screen. What I can say is that the screenplay by John Hodge is just top notch. The characters are all fully fleshed out, the humour running throughout often helps to sugar-coat a bitter pill, and the fact that viewers stay on Renton's side, despite what a selfish asshole he is, shows just what a fantastic piece of work it is.

Of course, a lot of Renton's likeability comes from the winning performance from McGregor, who puts in a performance that remains one of his very best. Boyle is a director who often seems to get the best out of his cast, and this has rarely been more obvious than it is here, with everyone else onscreen stepping up to easily hold their own alongside McGregor. Miller, McKidd, Bremner and, especially, Carlyle all create characters that you won't quickly forget. Then there's Peter Mullan as Mother Superior (because of the length of his habit) and Kelly Macdonald, who enjoys such a fantastic cinematic debut that the rest of her career seems disappointing in comparison, despite the fact that she's been working solidly for the past 15+ years.

But let me save the last bit of praise for Boyle, once more. A man who impressed me with his debut feature, blew me away with this film, and has continued to delight and entertain me ever since. He brings everything together so perfectly, and with such apparent ease, that it's often easy to forget how dark a lot of the movie is. It's about a heroin addict, it features horrific violence, a number of moments focusing on fecal matter, there are at least two disturbing death scenes, and one sublimely-filmed OD sequence.

And then Born Slippy starts to play, the end credits roll, and you want to watch it all over again.


Wednesday 29 January 2014

+1 AKA Plus One (2013)

During the opening scenes of Plus One we see David (Rhys Wakefield) royally screwing things up with his girlfriend, Jill (Ashley Hinshaw). The rest of the movie sees him trying to win her back while attending a party, accompanied by Teddy (Logan Miller) and Allison (Suzanne Dengel, or maybe Alison, played by Colleen Dengel . . . . . . . . apologies for my confusion, I'll explain shortly). The party is a typical American teen party with one or two major differences. First of all, Teddy miraculously manages to charm the gorgeous Melanie (Natalie Hall). Second, it turns out that doppelgangers, slightly delayed in time, are appearing at the party. The doubles suddenly appear, and then continue to carry on in the way that the original people were doing about fifteen minutes previously. But there are times when they disappear, only to reappear again with less time having elapsed between whatever they are up to and whatever their "originals" were just doing.

Did you follow that? If not, don't worry about it. The frustrating thing about Plus One is that it takes an interesting idea and then almost completely wastes it. David takes this strange turn of events as an opportunity to get things right with his apology to Jill, a lot of other people at the party are oblivious to what's going on, and it seems clear that the doppelgangers don't really have any sinister agenda. They just appear, and end up as bemused as the people who discover them.

Director Dennis Iliadis, who also wrote the story that was adapted into movie form by Bill Gullo, has to shoulder most of the blame here. The central idea is such a good one, something that could be developed in any number of ways, but it's completely squandered. Even during the first half hour of the movie, before things become completely clear, there are too many moments that stand out as cues to be used later in the movie. You know when things aren't just signposted, but planted right in the middle of everything else and allowed to flash in the brightest neon colours?

And that wasted opportunity is felt all the more because, well, the rest of the movie looks good and most of the cast do a good job, even while they're being ill-served by the script. Wakefield and Hinshaw may be the nominal leads, and they do well, but their characters are hard to care about. Miller and Hall, on the other hand, are much more fun to spend time with, thanks to their warm humour and the sheer gorgeousness of Hall. Left on her own during much of the movie, Miss Dengel (be it Suzanne or Colleen) does a great job as the calm centre, the one individual who feels comfortable enough to just see how everything plays out.

Plus One is worth a watch, mainly because of one or two ideas almost buried by their mishandling, but it's not one to prioritise above many other, far more interesting, sci-fi movies from the past few years.


Tuesday 28 January 2014

Vamp U (2013)

Written and directed by Matt Jespersen and Maclain Nelson (who also stars in the movie), Vamp U is an enjoyable comedy that highlights the perils of love and potential immortality in the long lifespan of a vampire.

Adam Johnson plays a vampire named Wayne Gretzky. He hasn't been able to bare his fangs since he accidentally killed his loved one (Julie Gonzalo) many years ago. Thankfully, he's been able to lead a relatively normal life, teaching history at university. But everything starts to get complicated when he spots a young woman (Julie Gonzalo) who looks just like his deceased love. It's not long until one or two people are bitten and the students look in danger of suffering some major blood loss.

There have been a number of vampire comedies over the years, some of them pretty good and some of them called Vampires Suck. Thankfully, Vamp U is a good one.

The central performances all help a lot, with Johnson and Gonzalo both having a lot of fun in their roles. Nelson also does just fine onscreen, never seeming to fall into that trap that some writer-directors fall into - creating a movie to give themselves all of the best moments. And there are fun supporting turns from Matt Mattson, Bart Johnson, Alexis Knapp and, in particular, the great Gary Cole, who has a lot of fun as a man who knows the truth about his vampiric friend.

The direction is fine, with everything nicely polished and professional despite not having a huge budget to work with (I assume). The script isn't full of one-liners to make you double over while laughing, but it creates a fun story for the central characters, develops everything well, and includes some nice running gags. This is about the characters more than the dialogue, but the balance works out nicely in terms of entertainment value.

Vamp U may not be the most enticing movie title you'll have seen recently, and it doesn't have a cast full of A-listers, but give it an hour and a half of your time and you might just end up as amused and entertained as I was. 


Monday 27 January 2014

Dumbstruck (2010)

Ventriloquists are a funny lot, aren't they. People who, basically, try to make other people laugh by talking to themselves. I like ventriloquism, and I like it for pretty much the same reason that I like magic. Despite all of the talent and skill required, and despite all of the extra props and dressing that can be added, both of these things can be practiced alone and with very little resources. I used to practice magic tricks when I was younger, with playing cards or coins or just a piece of string. And when I went through a phase of wanting to practice ventriloquism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . well, I just grabbed a sock and drew some eyes on it.

Dumbstruck looks, mainly, at five different ventriloquists making their way in the world. Kim Yeager is a woman who has been gigging as a ventriloquist for years (often in schools), but she doesn't seem to be able to catch a break. Young Dylan Burdette has some raw talent, but desperately needs to work on his confidence and delivery. Dan Horn is doing well for himself, working on cruise ships, but that affects his marriage. Wilma Swartz has a desire to make others happy. And then there's Terry Fator, a man who won America's Got Talent and landed a HUGE payday with a residency in Las Vegas.

There are no big surprises in this documentary, directed by Mark Goffman. It's just a chance to look at a community that many people are unaware of, a large family of ventriloquists who come together once a year to offer each other support and advice.

Everyone onscreen seems to take great delight in entertaining people, as you would expect, and it's not long until you're willing some of them on to greater success. Watching Dylan try to progress his career is a frustrating experience, but the boy has many years ahead of him to get it right, while seeing Fator deal with his huge success in a very humble and gracious way is enough to give you a case of the warm fuzzies.

A scene in which Wilma Swartz talks about entertaining a crowd and bringing up their levels of happiness then cuts to her audience - a number of ill, elderly people who don't always seem to realise what they're watching - and it's a sad moment. In fact, it almost goes beyond sad and turns into something truly pathetic and laughable. Yet, a mere minute or two later, you DO see some eyes light up, and you realise that Wilma, as eccentric and misguided as she is, is right to want to just brighten up the day for these people, and she's a sweet person for soldiering on and seeing the good in every situation (even as she faces losing her own home due to financial problems).

Strangely enough, Kim Yeager is the person who seems less interested in entertaining others to see them happy and more interested in entertaining others to become well-known and well-paid, and her narrative is the one that, perhaps, underlines everything shown in the other parts of the documentary. Or maybe I'm being too harsh.

Ventriloquism is a wonderful, though quite peculiar, thing. And this is a rare chance to hear the ventriloquists speak for themselves. Worth a watch.


Sunday 26 January 2014

Mausoleum (1983)

Mausoleum is completely bonkers, but in that brilliant way that so many horror movies from the '70s and '80s were. It doesn't worry about everything making sense, it makes little attempt to keep things grounded in reality, and it throws around some decent gore moments and gratuitous nudity (provided by the lovely lead actress, Bobbie Bresee).

The story begins with young Susan (Julie Christy Murray) upset by the death of her mother. She heads off into a mausoleum, where she encounters a demonic presence that will alter her for the rest of her life. Fast forward to many years later, and we meet up with the adult Susan (Bresee), a woman who doesn't realise how much darkness she has inside, waiting to take over when the time is right. Susan's aunt (Laura Hippe) is concerned for her, her husband (Marjoe Gortner) also starts to worry, and a doctor (Norman Burton) eventually decides that he needs to start doing more to look after his patient. But it might just be too late.

Written, in various degrees, by Robert Barich, Robert Madero and Katherine Rosenwink, there's nothing in the script that's going to hold up as a prime example of great dialogue. It's pretty crude and clumsy, but that's easy to forgive when the whole thing is so well paced. Viewers are never too far away from some gore, nudity or even genuine creepiness (and it IS creepy at times). Director Michael Dugan may not be a master of his craft, but he knows what will keep the more easily pleased horror fan . . . . . .  easily pleased. Yes, I count myself among that lot.

Bresee is charming in the main role, and she's not that bad in the acting department, despite the fact that she was probably chosen more for her physical appeal (she certainly does better than the hilarious LaWanda Page, who plays the maid, and has one scene that stands out as a piece of comedy gold). Gortner is very bland as the husband lucky enough to be married to such a gorgeous woman, Hippe doesn't get much time onscreen, but overacts as much as possible when she DOES appear, and Burton manages to keep an admirable straight face throughout, even as everything gets more and more far-fetched.

I really liked Mausoleum, and not in a cool and self-aware way. It has a lot of flaws, but it also delivers the goods for horror fans and comes up with at least a few moments that are effectively disconcerting. If you can get your hands on it, I recommend giving it some of your time.


Keep your eye out for a better transfer/release, but here is what we have available in the meantime -

Saturday 25 January 2014

Drinking Buddies (2013)

There's something about Drinking Buddies that I liked, despite the fact that the film just seems to be an aimless, inebriated, waste of time while it's on. Writer-director Joe Swanberg is happy, as ever, to let things play out in a way that demands patience and no small amount of empathy from viewers. He's helped by a great cast, all working well together, and one or two scenes that sneak up on you with their warmth and, yes, romance. In between the many beers being drunk.

Olivia Wilde plays Kate, a young woman who works in a brewery with Luke (Jake Johnson). She also has a decent boyfriend, Chris (Ron Livingston), while Luke has a girlfriend named Jill (Anna Kendrick), but that doesn't stop both of them enjoying a friendship that keeps them closer than most couples. They work together, they joke around, and they often go out for a few beers. And then a few more beers.

People familiar with Swanberg's work will know what to expect here, some slightly rambling tale that focuses on character interaction above anything cinematic. That can be frustrating at times, but it has to be said that his attempts to capture something that feels more naturalistic on camera results in some moments of great success.

This movie has some very sweet scenes, and numerous moments that ring true. The chemistry between Wilde and Johnson is great, with the pair really feeling like two close friends comfortable enough to joke around with one another, comfort one another, and even chastise one another when one thinks that the other is out of line. Livingston and Kendrick may be slightly sidelined, but they're allowed to affect main events without being reduced to a simple plot device. And there's a fun supporting role for Ti West, who walks a thin line between cocky and just comfortable in the company of workmates.

Drinking Buddies is worth a watch, but it's nowhere near as good as it could have been. Neither the dramatic nor comedic elements work as well as they should, and it's enough to make you want to grab Swanberg by the collar and give him a shake, forcing him to just focus on one way of telling the tale.


Friday 24 January 2014

Blast Vegas AKA Destruction: Las Vegas (2013)

Or, the alternative title that I gave it, Malcolm In The Maelstrom.

Sometimes I already know, just from the title and the stars, that I'm going to love a film. It usually happens with films that turn out to be genuinely great movies, but it also happens with films that make me laugh from start to finish because of how inept they are.

Blast Vegas falls into the latter category. It's horrible. It's full of characters that you will struggle to care about. The special effects are pretty dire. Yet I loved it (never fear, my rating reflects the reality, as opposed to the fun I had, pointing and laughing at everything).

Frankie Muniz (oh dear, oh dear, how did he slide so far so quickly?) stars as Nelson, a young man on holiday in Las Vegas with a bunch of guys who will put up with him just because he can be their designated driver. Those same guys take some Egyptian relic and fool around with it for a while, bringing about some REALLY bad weather and the beginning of the end of Las Vegas. Nelson, amidst the chaos and carnage, wants to find a girl that he's taken a shine to (Olive, played by Maggie Castle) and is helped along the way by a club singer named Sal (Barry Bostwick).

I had fun with Blast Vegas, I can't deny it, but I'd only ever recommend it to someone who could approach the film in the same way that I did, ready to point and laugh at the thing and then never want to watch it ever again. The screenplay, by Joe D'Ambrosia and Tom Teves, is suitably silly. Nobody is going to watch this and expect to hear any memorable dialogue, but it's good to watch the events unfold, with the script embracing the ludicrous premise as an excuse to get some easy laughs (yes, there's an Elvis or two in the mix).

Director Jack Perez is, of course, also responsible for promoting the fun factor of the movie, helped no end by Barry Bostwick, who seems to enjoy himself immensely in his cliched, comedic role. Muniz and Castle are appealing leads, while Michael Steger, Andrew Lawrence, Summer Bishil, Jillian Nelson and some other people should all be remembered for . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ummmm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . also taking part in the proceedings. Okay, none of the supporting cast members really stand out, but they do what's asked of them. I think.

If it sounds like I had LOTS of fun with this movie, people may be wondering why I still rate it so low. Well, none of the fun really makes up for the ridiculousness that fills almost every scene, whether it's an opening sequence that features a cameo by John Landis for no apparent reason, some typically dubious special effects, or even the same stretch of road being used - albeit shot from different angles - when people need to try driving through the extreme weather. And, for anyone else who manages to watch the entire movie, if you can explain to me why people keep running in front of the ONE VEHICLE on an otherwise empty street, while a deadly storm keeps raging on, then please send answers on a postcard. Or, y'know, just post a reply below.

I've seen much worse than Blast Vegas, but that's mainly because I watch a lot of terrible, terrible movies.


Thursday 23 January 2014

Sightseers (2012)

If there's one thing you can say about Ben Wheatley it's that he's an interesting, and pretty fearless, director. Moving between genres with ease, although most of his movies certainly have elements that comfortably sit within the realm of horror, he has established himself over the past few years as someone always worth keeping an eye on. Strangely enough, I've always seemed to slightly disagree with people over his movies, tending to enjoy them without loving them, but I would always recommend him to people seeking out something a bit different from the norm.

Sightseers is, as you might suspect, a bit different from the norm. It's a very British version of Badlands, with any ruminations on the thin line between notoriety and fame replaced by items of knitwear and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . caravans. Alice Lowe and Steve Oram are Tina and Chris, a couple who are very much in love. It's been a bit of a whirlwind romance, but Tina and Chris start off the movie secure in the knowledge that their love is strong. And Tina is very keen to get away from her manipulative mother (Eileen Davies). Once they're on the road and enjoying their holiday, it's not long until the fun is overshadowed by some unexpected death. Yes, a tragic accident looks as if it might spoil things for the holiday, but it turns out to be just the beginning. Chris has a bit of a habit of leaving corpses in his wake, and Tina isn't as shocked by it as she should be.

The best thing about Sightseers is the script, from the two main stars (with additional material by Amy Jump). It's not a consistently great piece of work, but almost every scene has at least one great one-liner, even amongst the darkest moments. The other big plus for the movie is the acting, with Oram and Lowe just delightful from start to finish. Eileen Davies also does some great work in her supporting role, and there are solid performances from Jonathan Aris, Monica Dolan, Richard Glover and Richard Lumsden AKA potential victims, one and all.

Unfortunately, and I seem to be in a minority as few others have been bothered by this, the movie is undermined by one big oversight. The fact is that Chris and Tina are rarely ever justified in their actions. Okay, okay, I get that murder is never justified, but when a movie asks you to accompany people who may end up acting a little bit psycho - understatement - then that journey is always easier when there's a teeny tiny bit of wish-fulfilment added to the mix.

The fact that there is no such moral muddying of the waters here is, most likely, a very deliberate thing, and Lowe and Oram deserve even more praise, in some ways, for still making the characters two people that viewers try to keep liking, but it's an ultimately unsatisfying journey, especially during the middle of the movie.

Sightseers is very funny, it's thought-provoking, and it's never boring, but it's also not as good as it could have been. Although there are many people who will be quick to disagree with me.


Wednesday 22 January 2014

Stay Tuned (1992)

John Ritter and Pam Dawber play Roy and Helen Knable, a married couple who end up sucked into a world of TV programmes all designed to kill them off, allowing their souls to be added to a valuable total. If they can somehow survive for 24 hours then they can return to their normal lives. But that doesn't usually happen. Running through a variety of twisted shows (with pun-tastic names such as I Love Lucifer, Golden Ghouls, Northern Overexposure and Fresh Prince Of Darkness), Roy and Helen are sometimes helped and sometimes hindered by Crowley (Eugene Levy) while the evil Spike (Jeffrey Jones) keeps an eye on the proceedings.

Directed by Peter Hyams, there are a lot of pop culture references packed into Stay Tuned that made it feel dated not too long after it was first released, in the early '90s. But for people who watched most of their TV in the late '80s and early '90s there's plenty of fun to be had. The script by Tom S. Parker and Jim Jennewein doesn't try to be too clever, concentrating instead on keeping the gags and the references flying thick and fast (and who can fail to love an advert for a movie entitled Three Men And Rosemary's Baby?) and developing the main characters into people who might just survive their experience and learn to be better people, don'tchaknow.

Ritter and Dawber are both good enough in the lead roles. The former tends to be good in almost everything that he does, while Dawber is interesting to watch in movies, purely because she's done relatively few throughout her career. Jones is enjoyably evil as Spike, and Levy puts in another enjoyable comedy turn. David Tom and Heather McComb are perfectly fine as the teenage kids, and Don Calfa gets to join in with the fun for a little while, as do . . . . . . . . . . . Salt 'n' Pepa.

There's not a lot else that needs to be said about Stay Tuned. It's fun, it tries to use the budget effectively at all times (especially considering how many gags and references are packed into the runtime), and it holds up as an enjoyably anarchic comedy. There's even a sequence that has Ritter and Dawber turned into animated characters, and that's far from the most far-fetched moment.

Many people won't recognise all of the comedic targets, but this is a blast for anyone born in the late '70s or early '80s. Give it a try if you haven't seen it already.


Tuesday 21 January 2014

The Vampire Lovers (1970)

Another Hammer horror movie that takes its cue from "Carmilla" by Sheridan Le Fanu, this contains plenty to keep fans happy, and stands up as one of the better films to be spun off from the source material.

Ingrid Pitt plays Mircalla Karnstein, a young woman who ends up staying in the house of General von Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing) and repaying his kindness by feeding off his daughter. Then, when she's had her way with the available blood, Mircalla manages to get herself placed in a household that also contains the lovely Emma (Madeline Smith) and her governess (Kate O'Mara). Twice the food supply. If she's not found out for what she really is.

Directed by Roy Ward Baker, this is a beautiful, seductive chiller that makes the most of its lead cast members to create something that consistently alternates between the erotic and repulsive. The script, ultimately credited to Tudor Gates, helped by Harry Fine and Michael Style in adapting material into movie form, isn't that good, but it doesn't have to be. This is about a beautiful woman casting a spell on those around her, and seducing other beautiful women until she can sink her teeth into them.

Pitt is just wonderful as Mircalla, beautiful and sexy and dangerous and pretending to be laughably innocent at times. She is, however, just one of many beautiful women onscreen, and Hammer really filled out this movie with gorgeousness. Smith is another beautiful actress, O'Mara has a softness to her features here that I've never seen before, and Pippa Steel, as the daughter of Cushing's character, is yet another image of loveliness in a film that is, in some ways, an embarrassment of riches. Okay, so the menfolk may not have the same allure, but Cushing is welcome in any movie, no matter how small the role (and he's only in this for about a quarter of the runtime), George Cole is decent enough as Roger, the father of Emma, and Douglas Wilmer is good fun in his role, the one man who knows the full horror of the situation, and also what is needed to resolve it.

Some may roll their eyes at the fact that this movie is aimed, first and foremost, at anyone who will be won over by the physical charms of Ingrid Pitt, but as I am one of those viewers I can only rate the film as a wonderful success.


Monday 20 January 2014

The Colony (2013)

Standard survival horror set on an Earth that has suffered through a second ice age, The Colony is an enjoyable, if unspectacular, experience that's lifted above the level of average by some decent production values and some decent actors in the lead roles.

Laurence Fishburne plays Briggs, the leader of the titular colony. He's a fair man, and young Sam (Kevin Zegers) looks up to him. Unfortunately, the colony also has Mason (Bill Paxton), a man tasked with taking those who become ill out into the cold and offering them the chance to walk away or be shot. Well, he SHOULD be offering them a choice, but he's started skipping that part and shooting anyone succumbing to illness. Briggs and Sam decide that they must travel to a neighbouring colony when a distress signal is picked up, despite the protests from Mason, and they head out, with a young man named Graydon (Atticus Dean MItchell) accompanying them. What they end up finding in the other colony is something unexpected, something dangerous, and something that could ultimately end up making it difficult for the main characters to return to their own home.

Four people wrote this screenplay. Four! It was based on a story, or story idea, by Pascal Trottier and Patrick Tarr, who then wrote the movie with input from Svet Rouskov and director Jeff Renfroe.And none of those four people could come up with one original idea to mix into the script, sadly.

Luckily, Renfroe is competent enough in the director's chair, and the main cast members all do a good job. Zegers is just fine, Charlotte Sullivan is okay as the girl he likes, and Fishburne and Paxton both easily dominate any scene that they're in, in a good way.

The effects are good, but they don't make up for the lack of any effective chills and thrills. In fact, as things develop in the second half of the movie it all becomes a bit tiresome when it should be ratcheting up the tension.

Not a terrible film to waste some time on, but you'd do much better to just rewatch Pandorum instead (which is all I kept thinking about while this was on).


Sunday 19 January 2014

Blackfish (2013)

A documentary about Tilikum, a killer whale known for a history of aggressive behaviour, Blackfish isn't an attempt to demonise the creature at the centre of events. It is, rather, a harsh look at Seaworld, the way they treat the animals in their care, and the way that they treat their employees. The film also, due to the subject matter, reminds viewers of how little distinction there is between those who do wrong and those who stand idly by and allow such wrongdoing to occur. If people, or perhaps even just one person, had been determined enough to speak up and highlight the problems at Seaworld then there's a slim chance that tragedies may have been avoided. But a slim chance is better than no chance.

The whole thing starts with a major incident, something which isn't fully revealed to viewers immediately, but it's easy to figure out that something bad happened. Then we're taken back in time, given an ever-so-brief history of Seaworld and some other water parks in America. It quickly becomes apparent that the stars of the show - the killer whales - are also the very animals that should be left to enjoy their lives in the wild.

Using the traditional approach of many other documentaries, this mixes talking head footage (people talking to the camera, NOT footage of the band Talking Heads, just to be clear) with archival footage to create a full picture, and the end result is not a pleasant one. This isn't just a documentary that will have animal rights activists up in arms, it's something that will/should upset everyone.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite (who is also credited as a writer with Eli B. Despres and Tim Zimmerman, I'm assuming they pieced together the information and made the decisions on how the narrative would unfold) does a great job of piling detail upon detail until viewers, and even many of those in front of the camera, realise just HOW awful the whole situation is, leaving everyone to wonder how things were ever allowed to get so bad.

People are placed in jeopardy, lives are lost, beautiful creatures are scarred (both mentally and physically), and the waters of Seaworld will never look the same again. Blackfish is well worth your time, and I hope that the impact it made in 2013 is not forgotten a year or two along the line.


Saturday 18 January 2014

Europa Report (2013)

Another day, another found footage movie, this one is a sci-fi horror about a manned expedition to Europa, Jupiter's fourth largest moon. Those who disliked Apollo 18 will want to avoid this one, but it has to be said that both films provide an equal end result in very different ways.

Embeth Davidtz plays the main person telling the full story to viewers, a story that is signposted from the very beginning. The crew heading to Europa - played by Anamaria Marinca, Christian Camargo, Sharlto Copley, Michael Nyqvist, Daniel Wu and Karolina Wydra - are all hoping to gather some data that could potentially change the perception of our known universe, and to show the prospect of life existing somewhere other than on our own planet.

With a number of enjoyable details throughout, Europa Report somehow manages to hold viewer attention even during the many scenes in which nothing much is actually going on. Director Sebastian Cordero presents everything in a very matter-of-fact way, and the stylistic choices certainly help, but the main strength of the film lies in the script by Philip Gelatt, building up a very complete picture of the main characters and the strange situation that they find themselves in.

All of the cast do decent enough work, with Copley and Nyqvist being the best of the bunch, and they are eventually given enough to differentiate themselves from one another, just in time for the developments in the second half of the movie to have a bit more impact.

More of a valiant effort than a truly great sci-fi horror, Europa Report is one that I'd recommend giving your time to, but it's not necessarily one that will be appreciated by many fans of the blended genres. It does, however, have enough positives subtly mixed in to make it a quality piece of work. It's just a shame that it couldn't also be a bit more entertaining throughout.


Friday 17 January 2014

Sexy Evil Genius (2013)

Sexy Evil Genius is a great title in search of a great movie. The film itself isn't bad, but it's yet another in a long line of movies that isn't quite as cool or funny or hip as its creators would have everyone believed. It's a decent distraction for 90 minutes, but nothing worth revisiting, and certainly not one that will be brought up by film fans reminiscing a few years further down the line.

Seth Green, Harold Perrineau and Michelle Trachtenberg play three people brought together by Katee Sackhoff (playing Nikki Franklyn, the sexy evil genius of the title). They have been asked to wait at a bar at a certain time, and they have all obliged. When Nikki eventually appears she is accompanied by a rude and corrupt lawyer (played by William Baldwin). But, more importantly, she also has a plan. A plan that started falling into place as soon as her friends started to arrive at the bar.

Written by Scott Lew, the premise and pacing of Sexy Evil Genius may appear achingly desperate to be cool, but the dialogue isn't actually all that bad. At least, it's not bad during the first half of the movie with the three strangers getting to know one another. Things take a bit of a dip, however, when Sackhoff appears and Lew seems to free himself from his previous self-restraint, investing the titular character with all of the attitude and soundbites stereotypical of so many other movies that have tried to score themselves lots of cool points. It's clear that Lew cares about his creation, and also clear that he cares about her a bit too much, to the detriment of the others who are simply pawns.

Director Shawn Piller doesn't do a bad job at all, considering that the movie is mainly just a group of people talking to one another around a table in a bar. He doesn't really do much to detract from that fact, but he doesn't make it into a tortuous exercise either.

The casting helps a lot, something I never thought I'd say with Trachtenberg onscreen (I'm not her biggest fan). With so few characters holding the attention of viewers for the duration of the movie, they have to be easy enough to like, and they are. Trachtenberg is just the same as she always is, but that works this time. Perrineau is one cool cat, and Green is, well, he is also the same as he's been a number of times before. Again, no problem as it works here. Baldwin is enjoyably sleazy, and the only real weak acting onscreen comes from Sackhoff, but I'm not sure whether that's her fault, as she breaks out the manic tics and tricks, or perhaps the fault of the writer.

Sexy Evil Genius isn't a complete waste of your time, but it doesn't do enough to stand out from the crowd. You may enjoy it for 90 minutes, but you won't feel as if you've missed out on some gem if you end up never seeing it.


Thursday 16 January 2014

The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1959)

This movie contains so many things that I love that I can't believe I hadn't managed to see it any sooner. Sherlock Holmes, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, a seemingly supernatural mystery, this film made me smile within the first few moments (standard upper class Hammer characters being horrendous to some standard Hammer peasants), and that smile just got bigger and bigger as the movie went on.

Cushing plays the famous Baker Street detective, and what a great performance it is. Is it Cushing's best performance? No. Is it the best version of Holmes I've ever seen? No. But, somehow, it's just wonderful enough to watch Cushing being Holmes, and it helps that he's given great support from Andre Morell in the role of Dr. Watson. Christopher Lee is Sir Henry, the man who may fall foul of the curse that has claimed others before him, death caused by a devil hound.

Director Terence Fisher does a great job here, of making both a fun Hammer movie and also a fun Sherlock Holmes movie (although, to be fair, this tale is one of the more Hammer-friendly tales that they could develop for the screen). Writer Peter Bryan takes the story (by Arthur Conan Doyle, of course) and does just enough to tailor the whole thing to the stars without changing too much of what is already a recipe for success.

In case you couldn't tell from my comments above, I think the casting is pretty much perfect. Cushing puts in yet another effortlessly graceful performance, portraying a character well suited to his personality, while Morell is actually one of the better Watsons I can think of. He's certainly in the top tier. Lee gets less to do, but acquits himself admirably, while Francis De Wolff, Marla Landi, Miles Malleson, Ewen Solon, John Le Mesurier and Helen Goss all do their bit to stand out from the other supporting players. De Wolff and Landi are the two who stand out, but nobody disappoints.

It's hard to present such a well-known tale in a way that seems fresh and completely entertaining, but this certainly tries hard, and largely succeeds, thanks to the writing, direction and the great casting of the lead roles. Get those things right and the end result is guaranteed to be enjoyable. That's elementary.


Wednesday 15 January 2014

Spartan (2004)

As enjoyable and smart as any of his other works, Spartan is another great script by David Mamet that's backed up with his solid direction. It may feel more open than many of his previous works, but it's still very much a character piece full of the cool dialogue and twisty turny mindgames that populate all Mamet movies.

Val Kilmer plays the lead character, Scott, a top military man who helps find out just who has what it takes for life in the tougher roles. He is asked to help out when the daughter of someone very important goes missing, but as the investigation uncovers a number of uncomfortable details it soon becomes clear to some people that Scott may end up causing embarrassment for some. When the case comes to an end, Scott then finds himself in a very strange situation. The mind that was so valued by the military, and his country, has now put him in a lot of danger.

There's nothing here that's really original, especially to viewers who have enjoyed the wealth of American TV detective shows in recent years (from the C.S.I to Monk, as the best examples), but what is here is given a thin coating of just enough paint to make it seem nice and new. The direction, also by Mamet, is unspectacular, but it's probably no coincidence that Mamet the director knows how best to serve the material provided by Mamet the writer.

Kilmer is great in the lead role, it's certainly one of his best performances in the past decade (which, admittedly, isn't saying much since he started to slide downhill in his career, sadly . . . . . I am still holding out for a great comeback though). The supporting cast features Clark Gregg, William H. Macy, Derek Luke, Kristen Bell, Aaron Stanford and Ed O'Neill, and all of them do good enough work, despite Bell being the weak link. Macy is particularly good fun, while the twists and turns make every performance worth closer scrutiny than usual.

It's not quite up there with some of Mamet's better movies, but this is still a very good film indeed, and one that deserves to retain a loyal fanbase through the years.


Tuesday 14 January 2014

The Frankenstein Theory (2013)

What if Frankenstein, the classic Mary Shelley story, was actually a factual piece of work at heart? That's the premise for this movie, as Jonathan Venkenhein (Kris Lemche) pays a documentary crew to follow him as he sets out to fulfil the ambition of his lifetime, to track down and meet "Frankenstein's monster". Of course, as this is a horror movie, that's easier said than done. First of all, does Jonathan have all of his faculties intact to keep hold of such a strong belief? Second, IF the creature is where Jonathan thinks it is, it doesn't necessarily welcome strangers with open arms.

Written by Vlady Pildysh and Andrew Weiner, with the latter also directing the thing, The Frankenstein Theory has some good ideas in the mix, but doesn't do enough with them. Okay, it has one good idea, but that one good idea - Frankenstein being based on a real incident - would be enough to create a much better film than we have here. Unfortunately, Pildysh and Weiner seem to have forgotten to lace their movie with atmospheric moments and scares, instead seeming content that they came up with such a good premise in the first place.

The cast all do decent work, with Lemche being someone I have enjoyed seeing onscreen since his performances in Final Destination 3 and the sorely neglected My Little Eye. Heather Stephens does well with her role, being the only female onscreen for most of the runtime, and Joe Egender, Timothy V. Murphy, Eric Zuckerman, Brian Henderson and Christine Lakin (the one other female who is in the movie for the first 5-10 minutes) all do good enough work with what they're given.

Did I mention that this was a movie in the "found footage" style? Well, it is. That may be enough to keep some people away from it, but that particular style, although somewhat overused in recent years, is a great way to tell stories in a wide range of genres. The fact that The Frankenstein Theory ends up mired in all-too-familiar moments (noises outside from an unseen horror, the "something" glimpsed by an uncertain cameraman, the obligatory night-vision mode) isn't the fault of the format, it's the fault of Pildysh and, even more so, Weiner.

It's not an unwatchable disaster, but this is one big disappointment. Ironically, it needed someone to tighten a few nuts and bolts.


Monday 13 January 2014

The Campaign (2012)

A political comedy starring Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as two very different men running against one each other to see who will become the congressman for their hometown.  Ferrell is Cam Brady, the more experienced and ruthless of the two. He's been unopposed for a long time, able to get away with pretty much anything he likes (including some obvious infidelity and lewd behaviour). Galifianakis is Marty Huggins, a simple man who doesn't realised that he has only been picked because a couple of immoral businessmen (played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) think that he will do whatever they ask of him once he's in a position of power. When Marty first steps forward it seems like some kind of joke, but thanks to some help from Tim Wattley (Dylan McDermott) and the courage of his convictions, Marty soon turns things around to make Brady and his advisors more and more concerned.

While it may lack the big laughs of Tin Men or Used Cars, this is a film very much in that ilk. It may favour dumb fun over smarter gags, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. In fact, Ferrell and Galiafanakis both get a chance to play characters close to many that they have played before, with the former being an ass, with arrogance only matched by his stupidity, and the latter being mistakenly written off as nothing more than a dim-witted schlub. They're helped by a great supporting cast, including Brian Cox, Jason Sudeikis, Sarah Baker and Katherine LaNasa, as well as those already mentioned. Baker and McDermott are the standouts, in two very different performances, but everyone does a great job, and it was especially good to see Aykroyd in a role not a million miles away from that of the two conniving businessmen in Trading Places.

The script, by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, laces all of the easy laughs with some salient points and observations, both in general terms when it comes to the world of politics and in relation to specifics that show up what uneasy bedfellows big businessmen and politicians make. It's no surprised to see that Adam McKay helped to come up with the story, considering what he and Henchy were able to come up with for The Other Guys.

Director Jay Roach has been helming comedies for a long time now. Even if he doesn't quite elevate this to comedy gold, it's clear that he knows what he's doing, and the end result is a film deserving of more fans. If you like either of the leads, or if you like comedies that remind viewers of just how childish things can get in the political arena, then this is definitely worth your time.


Sunday 12 January 2014

The Dyatlov Pass Incident AKA Devil's Pass (2013)

Perhaps it's time I parted ways with Renny Harlin, time I stopped thinking that he still has what it takes to keep me entertained with the dumb fun he presents. It's been a while since I've loved anything that he's done now, and this is coming from a guy who enjoyed The Covenant, and it's clear that the peak of his career will always be the run that he had throughout the 1990s.

In Devil's Pass (known here in the UK as The Dyatlov Pass Incident) he wanders into overcrowded found footage territory. The end result may be far from the worst film to be created in that style, but it never rises above average either.

The plot is about a team of eager youngsters who want to retrace the steps of some mountain climbers who died at the Dyatlov Pass, in mysterious circumstances, many years ago. The Dyatlov Pass incident is true, and it is one of those mysteries that has fascinated people for many years. I'm not going to cover everything in detail here but I encourage people to check out the full story, or just use this movie as a very broad launchpad for more research.

The acting from everyone onscreen is solid, I guess. Nobody will win any awards for this one, and the script doesn't help to keep everyone separate from one another (it gets better as the movie unfolds, but I kept forgetting who was Jensen, played by Matt Stokoe, and who was JP, played by Luke Albright). Holly Goss is the nominal lead, Gemma Atkinson doesn't get a hell of a lot to do, and Ryan Hawley is stuck with being one of the more irritating members of the group.

The most frustrating thing about Devil's Pass, arguably, is seeing just how easy it would be to improve. The incident being used to kick off the chain of events is a fascinating one, but writer Vikram Weet decides to use it to develop a theory that swiftly moves from the eerie and interesting to the ridiculous and annoying (although the final minute is a good "punchline"). There's also no decent atmosphere created in the movie until the last ten minutes or so, which is just lazy and wasteful.

As divisive as it was, at least YellowBrickRoad took a very similiar premise and tried to go down a different path with it, no pun intended. There's enough here to keep film fans reasonably entertained, and Harlin has never been an incompetent director (even if you don't like the material he has worked with), but horror fans may end up, rightfully, throwing this one on the "not recommended" pile.


Saturday 11 January 2014

Would You Rather (2012)

Horror films that are based around forcing people to make unpleasant choices have been increasingly popular since the Saw series became a huge hit. We've had some good ones (although I admit that there isn't a title springing to mind right now) and some not so good (Choose being a pretty lacklustre effort). Thankfully, Would You Rather is a good one, helped enormously by a typical performance from Jeffrey Combs that mixes charm with more than just a hint of lunacy.

The plot revolves around a young woman (Iris, played by Brittany Snow) who is desperate to turn her life around. She needs money, and a lot of it. Not for herself, you understand. She has a younger brother who is very ill. Combs is Shepard Lambrick, a very wealthy man who occasionally invites a number of people to dine in his home, before revealing to them the particulars of a game that he likes to play. A game that sees how much people can be bought for, and how quickly they can change the nature of their ways for a large enough reward.

There's a solid cast of supporting players onscreen here, including John Heard and Sasha Grey (not the best actress ever, but she acquits herself just fine), but there's no mistaking that Snow is the leading lady and plenty of time has been set aside for Combs to grandstand as he so easily can. The fact that the likes of Eddie Steeples, Robin Taylor, Enver Gjokaj and Jonny Coyne all still manage to make an impression is testament to the capable script (by Steffen Schlachtenhaufen) and direction (by David Guy Levy) giving everyone at least one memorable moment.

A number of moments made me really wince, so kudos to the warped minds who came up with the increasing pain meted out to everyone involved, but it's a shame that Would You Rather undermines its own premise far too early, making everyone a forced participant in the sadistic game rather than having their conscience eroded gradually by the riches on offer.

Well worth a watch, even if you look away during the harsher moments.


Friday 10 January 2014

The Invisible War (2012)

The Invisible War is a documentary about rape, and other assaults, in the military. All of the horrible attacks featured, or 99.9%, are committed against military personnel by other military personnel. And, very often, the same person who committed the crime is either let off the hook or, worst of all, part of the chain of command that the victim must go through to report the crime. It's an appalling, a real stomach-churning, situation to even begin to imagine.

Director Kirby Dick puts together a number of people willing to share their worst memories on camera - including Kori Cioca, who received a severely damaged jaw alongside her rape (neither of which have been acknowledged, or fully dealt with, by the military), and Hannah Sewell, who had her virginity stolen from her by her attacker - and intersperses their horror stories with statistics that underline the bleak inevitability of most of these attacks never being properly dealt with, alongside other interviews with people who acknowledge and want to change the situation, and people who have seem to keep blinkers on, despite being in a position that could actually allow them to help effect some positive change.

As a revelatory piece of work hoping to make a real impact on the situation that's being documented, this is a 10/10 experience that punches the viewer in the gut while building up a picture made up of truly horrendous statistics (I think we can all agree that even one rape is one too many, and the figures being dealt with here are far beyond what any civilian would expect to see). The only reason that I can't actually rate this as a perfect, or near-perfect, documentary is simply because it covers the same ground over and over again, which really hammers home the situation that many of the victims find themselves in but fails to make enough people squirm when the chance is available. That squirming does happen occasionally - most notably when Dr. Kaye Whitley is questioned about the more-than-useless Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office - but not often enough, and not with anyone of real consequence (Whitley had stepped down from her role by the time the documentary was completed, perhaps due to someone with sense realising what a stupefyingly ludicrous liability she was as a spokesperson for SAPRO).

I've always held a deep mis-trust of powerful forces that are also responsible for regulating and policing themselves, and The Invisible War highlights why it's not necessarily a bad thing to be so mistrustful. People who get a taste of power can also, all too easily, get a taste of how to let that power corrupt them. This may be about appalling assaults and rapes, but it's equally about insidious gender bias, individuals given far too much power, and deep-rooted corruption that stinks so bad that you'll notice the fumes emanating from your TV screen as the end credits roll (complete with sickening footnotes).


NB - Anyone thinking that I've used the screenshot below out of context? That's how it is put in the documentary, but in the appeal transcription it is put like this: "Defendants argued, in essence, that unpunished rape and sexual assault should be viewed as “incident to service” -- i.e. an occupational hazard-- for those who join the military services. Defendants argued that the federal courts are not permitted to adjudicate whether they violated the law because doing so would intrude upon military discipline" - full transcript here

Thursday 9 January 2014

The Beast Must Die (1974)

The film that anyone who has seen it remembers for one reason - The Werewolf Break - The Beast Must Die is a strange mix of whodunnit, lycanthropy and some funky blaxploitation from Amicus. Unfortunately, it doesn't get any of the elements right, leaving viewers with an amusing curio instead of a genuinely interesting, unique movie.

Calvin Lockhart plays a rich asshole who gathers a number of people to his home, with the express intention of revealing one of them as a werewolf. That's not WHY he's an asshole. No. That's just something that he's able to do because he has the money to set up a lot of surveillance equipment around his home, and he gets to invite some prime suspects. He's an asshole because of the way he then treats those guests (only ONE of whom should/could be a werewolf, bear in mind). Anyway, the guests (Peter Cushing, Charles Gray, Michael Gambon, Ciaran Madden, Tom Chadbon, and Marlene Clarke, as the wife of Lockhart's character) all get to know one another while waiting to see who gets hairy and howly because of a full moon.

Directed by Paul Annett, this is based on a story by James Blish, and it puts itself forward more as an interesting conceit than anything that can make for a fully satisfying movie. It all builds to that aforementioned werewolf break, a device that audiences are told about at the very beginning of the movie, and it's the mystery element that succeeds more than the werewolf side of things.

The wildly varied acting of the main cast doesn't really help, with the likes of Cushing and Gray acquitting themselves with aplomb alongside lesser performances from Chadbon, Gambon (he's not bad, but it's far from his best performance) and, crucially, Lockhart hamming it up in the lead role. Marlene Clark and Ciaran Madden don't really get a lot to do, although the former is suitably exasperated by her husband throughout.

Werewolf fans beware, there's also a big mark against the movie due to the fact that any shots of the titular beast are clearly just shots of a dog, and not even a big, scary dog. Nope, budgetary restraints meant that the closest thing to a werewolf would have to be . . . . . . . . . well, just see it for yourself. And have a chuckle.

The Beast Must Die remains worth a watch, especially for fans of Amicus or any of the cast members involved, but it's not one of the best werewolf movies ever made. Although it remains one of the most unique.


Wednesday 8 January 2014

The Old Dark House (1963)

A bizarre, and not entirely successful, collaboration between William Castle and Hammer, The Old Dark House is a remake of the 1932 movie of the same name, but with a number of changes bringing it closer to the likes of Carry On Screaming! or What A Carve Up.

Tom Poston plays Tom Penderel, an American car salesman who is invited by his room-mate (Peter Bull) to join him at his family estate, an old, dark house out in the middle of nowhere. When Tom gets there it seems that someone has raced to get there ahead of him, and that someone is death. Yes, Tom's room-mate has shuffled off the mortal coil by the time he arrives, leaving the poor man stuck amongst quite an odd selection of individuals, all of them making up the Femm family.

As endearing as it is bizarre and clumsy, The Old Dark House is certainly one of the stranger "horror" movies released by Hammer (and, yes, I know that is saying something). Unfortunately, it falls between two stools. I would have liked to see either more of the movie played straight or, at the opposite end, quirk piled upon quirk to create an even stranger atmosphere from start to finish.

Castle directs with his usual taste for the bombastic, and the script by Robert Dillon (based on the novel by J. B. Priestley) works fairly well for the tone of the piece, allowing the cast to roll their eyes and go over the top at every available opportunity while the house creaks and drips and enshrouds them.

As for the cast, Poston is just fine in the lead role, but it would have been fun to see a more talented comedic actor in the role, reacting to the strangeness around him. Robert Morley is as good as ever, but sorely underused as the head of the household, Joyce Grenfell is a delight, Janette Scott is also wonderful, and Fenella Fielding puts in yet another sultry performance. Mervyn Johns and Peter Bull also deserve a mention for their fun turns.

I'd advise most people to visit the original movie first, which is almost always the best advice anyway, but this movie is worth your time. Once.


Hidden Horror 101: A Celebration Of 101 Underrated And Overlooked Fright Flicks.

Why did I not mention this before?

It's out. Now. And I am one small cog in the great machine.

UK buyers can go here -

While US buyers can go here -

And people in other territories . . . . . . . . . well, I don't know EVERY URL but I'm sure it's available to you if you seek it out, so please do seek it out.

And remember, using a link on this blog to pop over to Amazon and browse and buy anything does end up getting me pennies so if you did happen to purchase this fine tome, and did so via one of the links above, I'd be doubly delighted.

Give it a go. You might just like it.

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Eye Of The Tiger (1986)

Gary Busey plays Buck Matthews, a man so tough that his entire character is defined by those two things. Okay, he's also just out of prison (where he didn't deserve to be, goddammit) and he was quite the champ in his years of military service. When he returns home, he finds a town that is being terrorised by a bunch of violent bikers. The local law enforcement don't seem to be doing much about it, so it's up to Buck to teach them a lesson that they won't forget in a hurry. Unfortunately, the bikers take their opportunity to exact some revenge and before you can say "did they name this movie JUST to use that Survivor song?" it's time for a bit of a one-man war.

Directed by Richard C. Sarafian, and written by Michael Thomas Montgomery, Eye Of The Tiger is a very pure film experience. It's a lean, mean tale of revenge that benefits from a great leading man (during the years when he was just the right side of sanity, apparently) and a solid supporting cast, including Yaphet Kotto in a particularly enjoyable turn, Seymour Cassel and big, bad William Smith. Denise Galik and Kimberlin Brown may have less to do, but they are actresses in a testosterone-filled '80s action flick, so whatyagonnado? Young Judith Barsi, as the daughter of our hero, doesn't have a lot to do either, but I had to mention her here after I was saddened to find out that she died (cause of death - homicide) not long after her tenth birthday, just a couple of years after this movie was released.

Busey has, quite simply, rarely been better onscreen (and let's just take a moment to remember how many great performances he's actually given, all too easy to forget as he weaves a cloak of self-parody around himself in the 21st century). He's a man who wants to stand his ground, and he's often in the right, despite what odds may be stacked against him. As things wind towards an inevitable, and satisfying, finale the whole movie delivers a well-executed dose of righteous machismo.

I'm not going to pretend that this is high art, but I will emphasise that it's all put together almost perfectly for what it aims to be. The script sketches out characters, but fleshes out enough little details to make viewers invest in every confrontation, while Sarafian's direction delivers some great moments, with the perfect pacing of the film leaving plenty of room for impressive stuntwork and set-pieces in between the more predictable beats.

And then, of course, there's THAT great song being put to good use. Enjoy.


Monday 6 January 2014

Cannibal Terror (1980)

Directed by Alain Deruelle, and a couple of uncredited helping hands, and written by a few people, you have to wonder just how it took so many people to create one big lump of useless rubbish when surely one person could have messed everything up just as well. I could have created something more worthwhile than this back in 1980, and I was only 4 years old then.

Cannibal Terror gained some notoriety when it was banned in the UK in the "video nasty" debacle of the 1980s but deserves none of it. Basically, people just thought the worst when they saw a movie with the word "cannibal" in the title and banned something that, ironically, didn't deserve one ounce of the attention it found heaped upon it.

Some people kidnap a little girl, some people try to follow the kidnappers, and then some cannibals eat lengthy innards now and again, and that's almost the summary of the entire movie. Oh yeah, it also has one of those scenes where a woman is casually raped and then acts pretty nonchalant about the whole thing afterwards. You know, those scenes that rarely appear in films for good  reason. If any of the actual cannibal stuff was nasty and entertaining for gorehounds, then this may still have been saved, but it's not. The whole movie is just horribly dull.

Full of bad acting, inept direction, a soundtrack that sounds as if someone tone deaf was given a scrambled score for a mini-synthesiser version of "La Bamba" and coma-inducing pacing make this movie an absolute chore to sit through and unworthy of your time, even if you're like me and just trying to catch up with every title that was ever labelled a "video nasty". Truly terrible.


Buyer beware -

Sunday 5 January 2014

Jennifer's Body (2009)

Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried star in this hip comedy horror directed by Karyn Kusama from a script by Diablo "writer of Juno" Cody. I think every review of this movie has to mention the fact that Diablo "writer of Juno" Cody was the writer of Juno. This fact may help people decide whether they are going to like or dislike Jennifer's Body because it certainly contains a lot of the highly stylised teenspeak that Diablo peppered throughout her most famous script (to date, anyway).

The plot sees Jennifer (Fox) and her unlikely, and slightly geeky, best friend Needy (Seyfried) attending a rock gig featuring a band with a lead singer (Adam Brody) that Jennifer would like to get to know a lot better. But when a fire burns down the venue things go speedily downhill and Needy simply looks on as Jennifer is taken away in the rock group's van to who knows where. The next day it seems that all is well, weirdly so, but something is different about Jennifer - she's now possessed and likes to terrorise and eat her fellow schoolmates. This causes some understandable friction between the two pals, and as the rift widens it's Needy who starts to uncover the truth behind the recent spate of deaths in town.

A lot of people have had the knives out already due to the lead role being played here by Megan Fox, an attractive girl most associated with the large battling robots of the Transformers movies. But it's with performances like this one and her turn in How To Lose Friends And Alienate People that she proves she's more than just a pretty face. Seyfried is a great asset as the best friend who has to face some difficult decisions and none of the other young actors let themselves down in any way. There really aren't too many older stars given much time but J.K. Simmons stands out in his small, fun role.

Stylistically, the movie reminded me very much of Heathers and also Mean Girls in its skewing of high school hierarchy and the twisting of the stereotypical teen roles. As mentioned before, those who do not like the kind of teenspeak used in Juno, etc. may find the whole thing a bit jarring to the ears but the blend of scares, tension and smart one-liners (my personal favourite being a great "Rocky Horror" gag) should please those who dig the movie's overall vibe.