Friday 28 February 2014

Oscar 2014 Predictions.

Yep, I'll be brave and put up my choices.

Best Film:
12 Years A Slave - reviewed here.

Best Actor:
Matthew Mcconaughey - for Dallas Buyers Club, which is reviewed here.

Best Actress:
Amy Adams - for American Hustle, which is reviewed here.

Best Director:
Alfonso Cuaron - for Gravity, which is reviewed here.

Best Foreign Language Film:
The Great Beauty

Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role:
Lupita Nyong'o - for 12 Years A Slave.

Best Performance By An Actor In A Supporting Role:
Michael Fassbender  - for 12 Years A Slave.

Her for best original screenplay and The Wolf Of Wall Street for best adapted screenplay (though Philomena, which I saw today, IS great). And then it's Frozen for best animated feature.

A worthy Oscar tome is available here -

The Burning (1981)

Developed by the Weinstein brothers (Harvey helped to come up with the story while Bob wrote the screenplay with Peter Lawrence), The Burning is, arguably, the most beloved of the many slashers that immediately began to flood the market in the 1980s after the success of Friday The 13th, which was itself created due to the success of Halloween.

It all starts, as so many slashers do, with a prank that goes horribly wrong. A mean caretaker, named Cropsy, is badly burned by some kids who just wanted their revenge for him spoiling their time at summer camp. Fast forward a few years and it's all fun and frolics with a bunch of horny teenagers at some other summer camp. But some musical cues and POV camerawork let viewers know that Cropsy is hanging around. And he's not happy.

With some interesting music provided by Rick Wakeman, great special effects by Tom Savini, and THAT fantastic set-piece, it's certainly easy to see why The Burning lingers in the memory long after the end credits have rolled. Of course, that doesn't mean that everyone will love it.

It's simplistic stuff, directed with little flair by Tony Maylam, but it's effective, both for what it shows onscreen and what it often implies, thanks to the famous slasher flick that it most closely resembles.

Brian Matthews and Leah Ayres are acceptable, if slightly bland, leads and Brian Backer tries his best, despite his character - the youngster who doesn't make friends easily - being just a bit too sullen to gain any sympathy. Larry Joshua plays one of the nicer bullies that this subgenre has given us, understandably smitten with Carrick Glenn, but the most fun for modern audiences is in seeing the few stars who appear here before becoming much more famous a few years down the line. Holly Hunter has a small role, Fisher Stevens is memorable and Jason Alexander is like a smaller version of the Jason Alexander that we've all come to know and love over the years. It's good to know that he was always ready and able to be a smartass when the situation needed it.

If you're looking for something fresh and complex then look elsewhere. In fact, if that's the case then most entries in the slasher subgenre probably aren't for you. But if you're looking for a film that throws together a bunch of kids and camp counselors, setting them up to be killed by a memorable madman, then this is as good a choice as any. Indeed, it's one that you kind of have to check off "the list" if you're a fan of the horror genre, in my opinion.


Thursday 27 February 2014

Side By Side (2012)

A documentary that looks at the current choice being made by film-makers to either shoot traditionally or move towards digital, Side By Side contains some nice pieces of information, but is mostly a chance to hear a variety of directors talk about their approaches to film-making and their passion for whichever format they choose.

Keanu Reeves is the constant element here, conducting interviews with directors and people who work in other areas of the film business. The list of names includes, but isn't limited to, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, David Fincher, Danny Boyle, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Rodriguez, George Lucas, David Lynch, Christopher Nolan, Greta Gerwig and Joel Schumacher.

Directed by Christopher Kenneally, who also wrote the linking narration, this isn't a documentary to win anyone over, and it's not full of surprises. If you like the feel and look of actual FILM then you'll feel that you've been proven right in your choice as the end credits roll. But so will anyone who likes the options provided by filming digitally. And if you can't already guess what side of the fence James Cameron and George Lucas fall on then you've never seen a James Cameron or George Lucas film lately. The two men end up being two of the duller subjects interviewed, funnily enough, with Lucas being almost laughable in his passion to convert everyone to the world of digital.

The greater fun here comes from people either putting up a great variety of reasons for their choices, with Rodriguez being just as passionate about digital as Cameron or Lucas but putting forward his argument in a much more practical manner, or from listening to people who can state their own personal preference while also looking at the bigger picture and the pros and cons of each method.

A film for film lovers (on any format), Side By Side is a pleasant, civilised debate that serves to remind people of just how much blood, sweat and tears went into creating the movies that are now beloved classics. When remembering all of those movie memories, the main argument becomes a lot less significant, but no less interesting. Well, that's how I felt as I smiled throughout the whole thing.


Wednesday 26 February 2014

China O'Brien (1990)

Taking an action movie standard - that of the reluctant hero who heads home after a bad time and finds that corruption has started to hurt everyone and everything, and there's some cleaning up to do - and then putting Cynthia Rothrock in the lead role, China O'Brien is obviously nothing more than a star vehicle for the kickass leading lady.

Rothrock plays the titular character, a police officer who decides that it's time to quit the force and head back home after she shoots some punk kid in the face, or somewhere else that kills him. When she gets home she finds that . . . . . . . . . . . well, didn't you JUST read that paragraph above? Yep, China decides that she wants to help her beleaguered father (played by David Blackwell) to clean up the town, and loosen the grip that dastardly businessman Sommers (Steven Kerby) has on everything. And cleaning up requires punching and kicking people, of course. She is offered some help by an old flame named Matt (Richard Norton) and a young man out for revenge (Dakota, played by Keith Cooke).

Directed by Robert Clouse, who developed the script from the premise by Sandra Weintraub (but let's not dwell on the writing side of things just now), this is competent stuff for easily pleased action fans. It's not overly concerned with great dialogue or subtle characterisations, the villains are obviously villainous as soon as they appear onscreen and any spoken words are just being thrown around to link from one fight to the next. It's not the most action-packed movie, and the fights are far from the best that you'll see, but it's fun for those who can laugh at the lamer moments and then still enjoy the choreographed punching and kicking.

Rothrock isn't the best actress, but the same can be said of a number of action stars. She does have decent presence, however, and she pulls off some great moves in the fights. Norton and Cooke give her decent support, with both proving themselves just as capable in the martial arts stakes. The actors playing the baddies, I won't name them all just in case any viewers are surprised by the "plot twists", all look suitably pissed at the lead character. Job done.

One for easygoing action movie fans, or even fans of the leading lady, China O'Brien isn't unmissable, by any means, but it manages to stay just above average from start to finish.


Both China O'Brien movies are available on YouTube, but there's this double pack, with French subtitles that you can't turn off. Feel free to comment with any better options -

Tuesday 25 February 2014

Hell Baby (2013)

A horror comedy written by, directed by, and starring Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, Hell Baby is a fairly amusing movie that could have been improved by two things. One, a better cast. Two, some sharper gags.

Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb are the couple who move into a home that has seen a lot of bad stuff, to put it mildly, within its walls. Bibb is quite heavily pregnant, and the parents-to-be hope to fill the place with good vibes and start making a rosy future. Keegan-Michael Key plays a man who keeps popping up to remind them of how unlikely that is, while two priests (Garant and Lennon) start down a trail that may well lead them to the very same house. Well, okay, it's obvious that it will. This isn't a mystery. It's obvious almost from the very beginning that the pregnancy is far from a normal one, which makes it just a matter of time until the priests get there and try to defeat any evil forces in the third act.

With a cast that also includes Riki Londhome and Michael Ian Black, this certainly has enough comic talent in front of the camera to help make the ridiculousness more palatable, but it's just a shame that there weren't a few more well-known names in the mix. The film doesn't actually have too many characters, which is a shame, because an extra cameo or two might have been enough to make this that bit more enjoyable. Bibb and Corddry are fun leads, Garant and Lennon work well together, and Key does well enough with a character that could have easily been far too grating.

But the biggest problem that the movie has is over-indulgence. I laughed quite a few times, but there were just as many occasions that started with me laughing and ended with me just wishing that everything had been wrapped up a bit quicker.

There are some easy jump "scares" here and some good gore, mixing with the easy laughs to result in something that defies the odds to become a surprisingly decent horror comedy at times. Unfortunately, it's all undone by a finale that ditches any semblance of intelligence for an overlong and unfunny riff on pass the parcel.

If you like the people involved then you'll like Hell Baby. It's fun. It's just a shame that Garant and Lennon didn't try a bit harder to tighten everything up and pack a bit more in to each act. And it's a great shame that they didn't seem to put any effort at all into thinking up a decent finale.


Monday 24 February 2014

Captain Clegg AKA Night Creatures (1962)

Captain Clegg was a notorious pirate, hunted down by the King's men (led by Patrick Allen) and killed by hanging. His body was then buried in the grounds of a church in a small coastal town. But his spirit lives on. When the King's men visit the town, looking for alcohol that has been smuggled in from France, the locals are seen to be a cunning group that Clegg would be proud of. Even the local reverend (Peter Cushing) is in on the act. In fact, he's pretty much leading the sneaky revolt. With rumours of creatures in the surrounding marshlands scaring people to death, the town soon becomes quite a claustrophobic hotbed of paranoia, fear and anger.

Written by Anthony Hinds, with some help from a tale by Russell Thorndike (and extra dialogue by Barbara S. Harper), Captain Clegg is up there with the very best Hammer movies. Mixing in some wonderful, atmospheric moments with many scenes that feature some of the best Hammer actors doing some of their best work, this may not be an outright horror movie, but it retains that quintessential Hammer feel.

Director Peter Graham Scott handles everything well, helped by the great design work, the cinematography by Arthur Grant, and that glorious cast.

Cushing is always worth watching, of course, but this role is such a delight that it's one of my new favourites from his filmography. Allen isn't a match for the master, but he holds himself with dignity as he and his men are constantly given the runaround by the locals. A handsome Oliver Reed does well, and is matched nicely to a gorgeous Yvonne Romain for one story strand. Martin Benson and Derek Francis both do fine in their smaller roles, but the undeniable highlight for fans is seeing Michael Ripper having so much fun in what may be his best role.

If, like me, you have made the mistake of not seeing this movie yet then rectify the situation immediately. You won't regret it.


Sunday 23 February 2014

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower (2012)

Written and directed by Stephen Chbosky, adapting his own novel, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower is a good film with moments of greatness, helped enormously by a winning central performance from Logan Lerman as the main character. The fact that it ends up not as good as it could be stems from some tired cliches of quirkiness being trotted out, and also from one or two complete mis-steps (like having the cool kids who love cool music not be able to recognise the song "Heroes" by David Bowie - watch the film and you'll probably have the same expression of puzzlement and disdain that I had during that moment).

Lerman plays Charlie, a sensitive young man who doesn't really fit in with those around him at school. He enjoys reading and writing, and quickly finds out that he'll at least really enjoy listening to his new English teacher (Paul Rudd). He's also had some mental health problems, but whatever caused them is obviously going to be held back for viewers to discover as the movie builds to its finale. Anyway, Charlie starts to enjoy life a LOT more when he befriends Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson). That also leads to him becoming friends with a few of their friends, and it soon gets easier for Charlie to keep the good days outnumbering the bad days. But the situation probably can't stay so stable, especially when Charlie has such strong feelings for Sam.

Chbosky does fine with the structuring and feel of the movie. There are details teased out as things build up to the climax, and there's fine line between the comedy and the dark tension always running underneath it. He's helped by a good cast, but few of the supporting actors are as good as Lerman. Watson tries hard, and I suppose does a pretty good job, but I just can't accept her as the sexy, cool, free spirit that she's portraying here because, well, I've never found her sexy or cool. She may be both of those things, and I know that she's certainly the former to some people, but she doesn't ever seem that way to me, therefore her character is bearable but unconvincing. Miller does a lot better, but his character is another cliche, alongside Watson's quirky object of desire. Miller is the exuberant gay male, spreading around enough love for everyone while hiding a lot of his personal pain deep inside. Mae Whitman is great for almost every moment that she's onscreen, Johnny Simmons adds another good turn to his CV, and Dylan McDermott and Kate Walsh play Charlie's parents, the two may not have much screentime but still do well with what they're given. And horror fans will be delighted by the small role that Tom Savini has in the movie.

There's nothing new here, and that may be the biggest problem that The Perks Of Being A Wallflower has, but a lot of what IS here is done well, and I can't praise that central turn from Lerman enough. But, honestly, the other big problem is . . . . . . . . . what kind of cool kids don't recognise a great David Bowie song when they hear one?


Saturday 22 February 2014

Savage Streets (1984)

Linda Blair gets to be tough and sexy in this wild exploitation flick that's one of the more memorable entries in the rape 'n' revenge subgenre. Well, she tries to be tough and sexy. The fact that she can't quite manage to convey any real toughness is one of the many failings that works, somewhat perversely, to make this film more endearing and enjoyable than it has any right to be.

Blair plays Brenda, the top dog in her group of gal pals. She doesn't care about anything, except for her deaf sister, Heather (Linnea Quigley). She certainly doesn't care about the local gang of tough guys who try to occasionally pester her, and she shows that lack of care by taking their car for a joyride. Understandably irked by this lack of respect, the gang decides to get revenge in the only way they see fit. Yes, they rape Heather and land her in hospital with very serious injuries. That leads Brenda to snap. If people thought she was a badass before then they'll rethink that when they see just how badass she can be. In theory.

There's some nasty stuff on display here. For an exploitation film, a gritty revenge movie, this occasionally delivers the sordid content required. The rape scene is a particularly tough sequence to watch, yet it's clumsily juxtaposed with a gratuitous fight scene in a shower room that features Blair and Rebecca Perle as the centre of attention. This highlights the fact that Blair's character wasn't there when needed most by her sister, but it's obviously not done JUST for that reason.

Director Danny Steinmann (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Norman Yonemoto) follows the standard template for this kind of movie. Characters are introduced, with the villains clearly marked out as villains, and confrontations occur, leading to acts of violence that escalate, all the way to a finale that lets everyone go way over the line to get their own bit of justice.

Unfortunately, the whole thing is let down by some horrible dialogue, and some horrible acting from Blair. To look tough and/or sexy, Linda Blair obviously thought that she could act everything out by widening and narrowing her eyes, and smoking cigarettes. Oh, she's also given some swearwords, of course. But that's her whole performance. Robert Dryer, Johnny Venocur, Sal Landi and Scott Mayer are much better as the bunch of baddies, Quigley is very good in one of her first feature roles (as opposed to roles such as "Blonde In Spa" or "Model"), the other girls onscreen don't do too badly, and John Vernon gets to play the most hilariously inappropriate Principal in the history of cinema. The fact that he tells someone to "go fuck an iceberg" is the cherry on top.

If you like this subgenre then you'll like Savage Streets. If you don't then, well, maybe you'll still find something to enjoy here. It veers between the grimy and the hilarious in a way that creates a surprisingly enjoyable end product, although you may find yourself viewing it more as a comedy than a straight thriller.


Friday 21 February 2014

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

G.I. Joe: Retaliation is the film that most people expected G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra to be. It's brainless, full of characters that it's hard to care about, and full of action sequences that are hard to watch due to the hectic over-editing. Of course, some people are already saying "but Kevin, that's exactly THE SAME as the first movie." Well, I disagree. I thought the first film was a blast. This, however, is a big disappointment.

Channing Tatum may pop up at the start of this movie, but it's not long before he's sidelined in favour of a new bunch of Joes, with the main one being Dwayne Johnson. There's been a mission to wipe out the unit, allowing the President Of The United States (Jonathan Pryce, playing a fake version of himself due to the events of the first movie) to move on with his dastardly plan, a plan that may leave a lot of countries seriously damaged by Project Zeus, which can cause all of the destruction of a nuclear blast without any of the fallout.

Leading man Johnson is accompanied on this adventure by Adrianne Palicki and D. J. Cotrona, two attractive people to appeal to any teenagers watching the movie. Unfortunately, neither of them have much screen presence. Thankfully, Byung-hun Lee returns in the role of Storm Shadow, Pryce is having a blast and Ray Stevenson gives a performance that, for all its faults, is at least fun and never dull. Walton Goggins is great in a small role, and RZA fans may enjoy his turn as Blind Master. The addition of Bruce Willis in a small role was, I guess, a big coup, but the character that he plays, and how he plays it, just ends up feeling smug, which is becoming a bigger and bigger problem with anything that Willis has been doing over the past few years.

The script by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick is disappointing, with the humour feeling a lot more forced this time around, the plot never having any real sense of urgency (the whole thing feels like viewers are killing time until the good guys blow up some more stuff and win), and everything just feeling distinctly . . . . blah.

Director Jon M. Chu does nothing to help the situation, of course. He still has some good material to work with, in the shape of main characters such as Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, Roadblock and Firefly, but he very rarely uses them well. A fight sequence involving Snake Eyes (Ray Park in the suit once again, returning from the first movie) and Jinx (Elodie Yung) against a number of soldiers on the side of a mountain looks nice enough, but is completely undone by just how far-fetched it all is. Yes, this kind of stuff IS allowed to be far-fetched, but it's still grounded in a real version of our world, even if it's a heightened reality.

I'm sure there will be some people who will like this film as much as the first movie, or maybe even more so. My advice is to give it a wide berth. It has some good moments, but doesn't make for a satisfying experience, overall.


Thursday 20 February 2014

G.I. Joe: The Rise Of Cobra (2009)

If you go into this movie and don't realise what you're going to get then you deserve everything coming to you, even if that's a real downer for you. This is a movie based on a series of toys (G.I. Joe being the original, American version of our very own Action Man action figures here in the UK) and directed by a man (Stephen Sommers) well-known for providing spectacle over substance.

I can happily admit to enjoying many Stephen Sommers movies (even the majorly drubbed Van Helsing) so I already had an idea that I was going to like the G.I. Joe film. As things began, and it hits the ground running, I was proved very much correct.

The story is pretty much summed up in the title, but I'll give the very briefest recap here. Channing Tatum and Marlon Wayans play two soldiers who are tasked with carrying some dangerous warheads from A to B. When their convoy is attacked, they meet a team from the G.I. Joe program. One thing leads to another and the two men decide that they want a piece of that action. People fight each other, backstories are dripfed throughout the movie in flashbacks, and there's a chase sequence through Paris that's up there with the very best of modern popcorn entertainment.

The cast all do their jobs. Dennis Quaid is great as a tough-talking, caring leader, Christopher Eccleston is good enough in his role (he created the warheads) and the others all do just fine at portraying . . . . action figures on screen. Tatum continues to be likable while scowling and looking tough, Wayans is a lot less annoying here than he usually is in any other movie and Arnold Vosloo does a very passable Arnold Vosloo impression (see pretty much every other Arnold Vosloo role ever . . . . . and don't think I'm demeaning him, I love his work). There are more tough men onscreen, portrayed by the likes of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Ray Park and Byung-hun Lee, and then some tough female characters portrayed by Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jonathan Pryce and some other famous faces (Brendan Fraser has a fun cameo) pop up to flesh out the cast, and everyone is good enough to almost make you forget it's going to be brainless, loud fun.

Then we get to the amazing, razzle dazzle, fireworks experience, and boy does it deliver in that department. Things are a little bit slow and generic in the first half of the movie (quick character sketches, training montage, the mission briefing, etc. all present and correct) but from the start of that aforementioned sequence in Paris things step up to another level. It's fast and furious, it's loud and proud, it's delirious fun for those who don't mind seeing some obvious computerised images amongst some great, adrenaline-pumping action moments.

Mixing the essence of the action figures (keep an eye out for all of the little details that crop up throughout) with a number of elements that wouldn't look out of place in any James Bond movie, this is one of my favourite American action movies from the past few years.


Wednesday 19 February 2014

Zombie Ass: The Toilet Of The Dead (2011)

I don't often specify the country of origin of the many movies that I review here because I don't think it makes much of a difference to those seeking out good movies. Of course, there can be major differences between films from the UK, films from the USA, films from Japan, films from Australia, and so on and so forth. But whether a film is subtitled, or black and white, or full of material harvested from the culture of its country of origin, the only thing that matters is whether or not it's any good.

Zombie Ass: The Toilet Of The Dead is from Japan, and I feel it's necessary to point that out because it's a bad movie, and a lot of what makes it bad comes from the humour, slightly fetishised moments, and that real over the top madness that features in a lot of Japanese cinema of the bizarre. Like tentacles poking at various orifices, because that happens too. And, as the word ass is in the title, there are also lots of shots that focus on female posteriors. There's also, let's not beat about the bush here, a lot of shit onscreen. Literally.

The plot concerns some parasites that invade people and make them fart a lot before turning them into zombies with dangerous backsides. Oh, believe me, I know how preposterous that sounds. I was only a few minutes into the movie before I realised that I may have made a major mistake. Such is my lot in life, however, and I soldiered on to the bitter end.

While it may only run for about 85 minutes, this feels like a much longer film. That's down to the fact that this is, basically, a one-joke sketch stretched out to feature length by director Noboru Iguchi (and you'll be unsurprised to hear that he did the "F" segment in The ABCs Of Death too). It boggles the mind that it took three or four people to come up with this story/script.

Leading lady Arisa Nakamura is quite sweet and easy to like, and she shares the screen for most of the movie with Mayu Sugano and Asana Mamoru, a trio of cute females to be splattered with stinky stuff and terrorised throughout the movie. There are also some fun performances from Kentaro Kishi and Kentaro Shimazu, but the film often sidelines the movie in favour of more time with the ladies.

There ARE a few good moments of extreme gore, for fans of splatter, but it's surrounded by too much insanity involving stomach cramps, flatulence and lots of shit. It made me gag, and I would hate to think of what this could have been like in "Odorama", but it didn't entertain me.


Tuesday 18 February 2014

The Stranglers Of Bombay (1959)

There are elements of The Stranglers Of Bombay that are easily enjoyed, but it's hard to just sit back and enjoy a movie that is such a relic from a bygone age, in many ways. One of those movies showing when the might of Great Britain stretched far overseas, into areas that had been colonised by, according to the movies, tea-drinking gentlemen who would sometimes look upon the locals with amused curiosity, and occasionally afford them the respect that they deserved.

It's the early part of the nineteenth century. Lots of people have been going missing, all of them murdered by the Thugee Cult Of Kali. Of course, nobody knows this immediately. An investigation begins, led by Captain Christopher Connaught-Smith (Allan Cuthbertson, every inch Lord Flashheart from Blackadder), hopes to get to the truth, but the man best qualified to provide answers (Captain Harry Lewis, played by Guy Rolfe) is being ignored, or even mocked. Meanwhile, the leader of the cult (George Pastell) knows that the British are creeping closer and closer to finding the truth.

Hampered by a stilted script from David Zelag Goodman and the lack of any real A-list stars, although Rolfe is good enough in the lead role and Pastell has plenty of screen presence, director Terence Fisher does his best to make something entertaining and interesting. What he ended up with, however, feels like the closest Hammer ever came to real exploitation fare. This is almost a mondo film in a number of ways, best illustrated by the scene in which we watch a mongoose and snake fighting one another (note: animal lovers may wish to turn away for that moment), and that's what actually keeps it watchable nowadays as a curio piece from the studio.

It just manages to qualify as an above average viewing experience, but I'd recommend it only to either Hammer completists or those who like their horror to have one foot dipped in any of the darker chapters in our world history.


Monday 17 February 2014

The Eye 2 (2004)

The Pang brothers (Danny Pang and Oxide Pang Chun) are very talented film-makers. In fact, there was a time when The Eye was my favourite Asian horror movie, which is why I delayed watching any of the sequels for some time. I'd heard that The Eye 2 was pretty bad. Well, The Eye 2 isn't actually that bad at all. In fact, it has some very effective moments. It's not as good as The Eye, but few sequels manage to live up to the standard set by the original.

Qi Shu plays Joey Cheng, a young, pregnant woman who finds herself in a state of despair after Sam (Jesdaporn Pholdee) ends their relationship. Sam is already in a serious relationship, with Yuen Chi-Kei (Eugenia Yuan), and he's not man enough to leave her. When Joey attempts suicide, her problems really begin. Finding out that she is pregnant is bad enough, but she starts to see spirits around her. Spirits that are drawn to pregnant women, because to be reincarnated there is a need for a newborn, of course.

Taking the same mix of scares and developing backstory as the first movie, this film stumbles for a few different reasons. The first is familiarity. Yes, it's fun to feel wary whenever someone enters an elevator because of THAT elevator scene that the Pang brothers gave us in The Eye, but it also reminds you of a scare that they either can't repeat or, if they do, will end up seeing them accused of repeating their one best trick. Then we have the problem of the main characters not being as sympathetic. All of the actors do a decent job, but they're not helped by having to portray selfish, weak characters. It's only Ren Yuan Yuan as Mrs. Chow who garners any sympathy. Last, but by no means least, it just doesn't feel believable at any point. Of course, tales of the supernatural may not seem believable to most viewers, but they work better if they seem to be grounded in an acceptable reality. From the very earliest scenes, even those showing how people deal with Joey after her suicide attempt, there just didn't seem an attempt to make anything feel real.

Having listed those criticisms, The Eye 2 is still a very competent horror movie, it must be said. The Pang brothers know how to build tension and how to execute jump scares. They are skilled craftsmen, which makes this a worthwhile watch for anyone who likes a decent ghost flick. It's just a shame that it's such a big step down from the first movie. But that's not exactly an uncommon occurrence now, is it.


Sunday 16 February 2014

Mummy Raider AKA Misty Mundae: Erotic Raider (2002)

Yep, it's time for me to review another adult movie. Why? Well, because sex sells, of course. And there was a time when Erin Brown was a relatively big star in the field of softcore adult entertainment. I don't know why, most of the films that she starred in appear to have been pretty awful (from my limited exposure to them, so far), but it happened. And I'm happy to use that as an excuse to look over her filmography from time to time.

Everything here takes place in Berlin. We know this because there's a photo of some environment shown with the word "Berlin" on it. The plot, and it pains me to use that word, of this movie is all about a nasty Nazi (played by Ruby Larocca, billed here as Esmerelda DeLarocca) trying to make a young woman (Darian Caine) give her the secret to resurrecting the dead, which will allow her to bring a mummy back to life, and will also help in creating the Fourth Reich, apparently. The Nazi tortures her captive with a cunning blend of atrocious acting and lesbianism. Thankfully, Misty Mundae: Mummy Raider (played by, duh, Misty Mundae) is about to crash the party and rescue her friend. She does this by shooting guns and often removing her top, as a way to distract the villains, you understand. Once the lame action moments are out of the way, Mundae and Caine get their lesbian groove on, before then attempting to change DeLarocca with the power of lesbianism. And that's it. Oh, and lesbian sex, lesbian sex, lesbian sex. Just thought I'd emphasise what's being put onscreen as the main draw for any male viewers thinking about giving this a watch.

I've never fully understood the lure of a lot of pornography (although some of it has obvious appeal, aesthetically), but the one thing that has always completely boggled my mind is the insistence from dumb, horny men that being anywhere near two women making out with one another is the best thing ever. It can be nice enough to look at, granted, but why can't men just shake off the delusion that they'd somehow be able to join in with the fun and have the best time of their life. First of all, if women are having that kind of fun together then why would they want some clumsy guy trying to barge in and get his rocks off? Second, how awkward would the whole situation be after those happy two minutes had come and gone?

Anyway, I digress. I apologise. Believe me, this all keeps the review on a par with the movie. Despite IMDb listing a UK version that runs for 75 minutes, the movie that I saw ran for about 46 minutes and barely qualified as a feature. Consider the fact that 2 minutes, approximately, are taken up by the opening credits and the last 8 minutes or so repeats horribly edited highlights of what YOU'VE JUST WATCHED, followed by the end credits.

Fair play, I guess, to director Brian Paulin and writer Bruce G. Hallenbeck (who also has a main role in the movie as the father of Darian Caine's character). They saw a market and they created a product for it. But anyone wanting to see some terrible actresses get naked and fool around could do a lot better than this, a film so bad that I was distracted by labels on boxes that made up the scenery because they listed the contents as chicken pies, something I didn't know was a priority in the Berlin of old.

Absolutely everything, outwith the appeal of the female stars, is awful, from the soundtrack, to the action, to the appearance of one of the worst mummies to ever appear in a movie, to the editing, to the script. Everything. It gets a generous rating for the benefit of anyone easily pleased by a couple of scenes of lesbian sex.


Never ever ever ever ever ever EVER buy this (at this price) -

Saturday 15 February 2014

Toad Road (2012)

Oh god, I just don't care. No, I don't care about this movie in the slightest. And, given how little writer-director Jason Banker seems to care for any viewers, I feel that my disdain is justified. This is, and I truly mean this, a film full of characters that it's almost impossible to care about taking part in certain events that it's almost impossible to care about. Cover that over with a coating of technical proficiency and something could have been salvaged, but there's not even that saving grace here.

People have been quick to point out how spooky it is that leading actress Sara Anne Jones died soon after the film was complete, from a drug overdose. While I'm not going to say that I don't care about her death (I'm sure those who loved her were shocked and saddened, of course), I will say that it doesn't make this awful film any better. In fact, it kinda makes it worse to realise just how little going onscreen seems to have been acting.

The plot, and I use the word in its loosest sense, concerns a bunch of people who like to do nothing more than get so wasted that they have no control over their own bodies. James Davidson plays James, and Sara Anne Jones plays Sara . . . . . . . and how I wish for the days when actors, or even people roped into acting, were able to remember the name of an actual character instead of just using their own name. James has spent a LOT of time using drugs and wasting his life. Sara wants him to help her experience something truly memorable, something psychedelic, something that may have to involve Toad Road. Local legend has it that the area known as Toad Road actually allows people, in the right frame of mind, to pass through the gates of Hell. And that's what Sara wants to experience.

I realise that Banker obviously had an interesting idea, one concerning altered states of mind and self-destruction, but he's buried it under so much unwatchable awfulness that many viewers will take nothing away from the movie once the end credits roll. There are some (perhaps even many) who will argue that it's a great work of art, and a truly great experimental bit of psychedelia, and they are entitled to their opinion, just as I am entitled to think that I consider it an amateur mess, not helped in the slightest by the cast (most of them were actually just found getting drunk and high and out of control, just like they are shown in the footage during the first half of the movie).

I recommend avoiding this one completely. In fact, cross the street if you see a store that has a copy of it for sale. Unless you're rich enough to buy all of the stock available and then burn them in a sacrificial pyre, dancing and chanting in a way that may provide us with a dozen better movies written and directed by people who can work with actors and use a camera effectively.


Friday 14 February 2014

Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (2013)

Most of the main players return for this sequel to Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief, an adventure that sees Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) and friends embark on a quest to get the golden fleece. The fleece is essential because the tree that guards Camp Half-Blood, by providing the protective barrier, is dying and needs to be rejuvenated before the camp residents are left open to attack from those who wish them harm. The group will have to work together to overcome the many obstacles that will be placed in their path, which might inadvertently teach them a thing or two about each other.

I enjoyed this movie, but I enjoyed it despite the many flaws. I enjoyed it because I liked spending time with the characters established in the first instalment (many of them return, although Anthony Head takes over the role that was played by Pierce Brosnan), I liked a number of the new characters introduced, and I loved a lot of the design work and visual effects.

Unfortunately, director Thor Freudenthal and writer Marc Guggenheim seem to think that the first movie wasn't quite goofy enough. They pile on humour during a number of comedic sequences that just aren't all that funny. Admittedly, this may be a problem that affects the source novel (by Rick Riordan), but I try to judge a movie simply as a movie. Which is easy in this case, as I've not actually read any of the Percy Jackson books, though I may give them a try one day. Not all of the humour falls flat. There's one sequence that allows Nathan Fillion to do what he does best, and that had me at least smiling throughout.

The cast all do a good enough job, with Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario easily slipping back into their main roles, Douglas Smith proving to be a surprisingly kind and sweet cyclops, and Leven Rambin does fine as a tough girl who makes the main character lose confidence in himself. Jake Abel manages to get plenty of screentime, and also manages to put in a better performance than he did in the first movie. It's perhaps telling that there aren't really any bigger names filling out the supporting roles, but Head, Fillion and Stanley Tucci have fun with their small roles, while the likes of Robert Knepper, Missi Pyle, Ron Perlman and Craig Robinson are also in the mix, even if they're either less recognisable or only lending their voices to the endeavour.

Despite being underwhelmed by Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, I enjoyed a number of the big set-pieces and I'd like to see a third movie in this series. Hell, I'd like to see a fourth. But I don't know if that will happen now. The first film wasn't exactly the box office juggernaut that I'm sure the studio wanted, and this sequel performed, as far as I can tell, at about the same level. Movie studios don't always forgive one disappointment, let alone two. It's viewers like me that do that.


Thursday 13 February 2014

Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief (2010)

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is a teenager with his share of teenage problems. His mother (Catherine Keener) is living with a douchebag (Joe Pantoliano). He seems to have dyslexia and ADD, and only finds real peace when holding his breath at the bottom of the swimming pool, being timed by his friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson). It turns out that Percy is actually a half-blood, the result of a tryst between his mother and his biological father, the god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). That's why he has dyslexia (his brain is actually designed to read writings in Ancient Greek) and ADD (he's impulsive and good in a fight). And, of course, that's why he likes the water. It's also, unfortunately, why he ends up as the main suspect when Zeus (Sean Bean) has his lightning bolt stolen. The clock starts ticking as Percy learns about himself, learns about many others like him at Camp Half-Blood (including Annabeth, played by Alexandra Daddario), and plans to somehow find, and return, the lightning bolt before the gods start fighting one another. Oh, and he also has to save his mother from Hades.

Based on a popular series of books by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief is very enjoyable family entertainment that should please fans of the Harry Potter franchise. In fact, that's obviously what everyone was thinking when Chris Columbus was hired as the director. The script from Craig Titley gets all of the information across and paces things perfectly in between some great set-pieces, but there's just something in the execution of the material that stops this from being as great as it should be. It's always entertaining, and there's a lot of fun derived from the updating of the Greek myths, but it suffers greatly, I think, from a weak finale. Especially after the fantastic characters that our plucky group have already encountered before they realise who the real lightning thief is.

Lerman, Jackson and Daddario are all good enough in the main roles, but a lot of the fun here comes from the stars having fun in the supporting roles. Okay, Bean and McKidd are as serious and weighty as they need to be, but Pierce Brosnan is memorable in his supporting turn, Uma Thurman is fantastic as Medusa, and Steve Coogan and Rosario Dawson play well off each other as Hades and Persephone, respectively. Jake Abel seems a bit bland as Luke, a fellow camp resident who provides a lot of help as Percy and his friends prepare for their quest.

All of the choices here, from special effects to music to camerawork, are predictable enough. This is safe family entertainment. It has some grandiose moments, but always works hard to get back to focusing on the teenagers and their teenage ways of working out solutions to their problems (this isn't me being sarcastic, I'm just specifying that the film constantly keeps its target demographic in mind). Unfortunately, despite trying hard, it's probably not cool enough for most teenagers to enjoy. That may explain why the box office performance was pretty disappointing, and it may explain why I like the movie more than many other film fans I know.

Because if there's one thing I know, it's that I have never, ever been cool.


Wednesday 12 February 2014

Extreme Prejudice (1987)

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Walter Hill makes movies so manly that if you were to melt them all down and form a shield then you would then have the one viable protection against any attack from Chuck Norris. The man knows how to put a bunch of great actors together and then heap on the violence with the eye of a world-famous dance choreographer. Just watch any one of his movies and try to deny it. Well, okay, most of his movies can be put into that category. Maybe not every single one.

Extreme Prejudice can certainly fall into that category. Crackerjack cast? Check. Great characters and a selection of great lines scattered throughout the script? Check. Violent set-pieces mixing some major bloodletting with moments of beautiful camerawork? Check.

The film, in the first act, feels like two completely different storylines. Nick Nolte plays Sheriff Jack Benteen, a man trying to keep drugs and drug-runners out of his local area. Unfortunately, the main drug baron is Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), a man who used to be his best friend. Elsewhere, Mighty Michael Ironside leads a team of soldiers in a plan to rob a bank that stores most of Bailey's drug money. These two storylines soon intertwine, with the soldiers affording Benteen an opportunity to hit back, and hit back hard, at Bailey's operation.

As well as Nolte, Boothe and Ironside, Extreme Prejudice has room for Rip Torn, William Forsythe, Clancy Brown and Maria Conchita Alonso in its cast. While their names may not be as recognisable, the likes of Larry B. Scott and Dan Tullis Jr. also do a very good job, easily holding their own alongside some of the heavyweights onscreen.

The script by Harry Kleiner and Deric Washburn is based on a story from John Milius and Fred Rexer, which helps to further solidify those tough credentials, if anyone still had any doubt at this point.

Hill draws great performances from everyone here, with Nolte and Boothe in especially good form, and once again mixes the visceral and strikingly cinematic amongst a varied cast of characters who don't just feel as if they've been shoved into the movie to be shot at.

Fans of the director will have seen this one already, no doubt, but if you've somehow missed it until now (as I had) then do make it a priority. And anyone new to Hill's filmography, all I can say is that you have so many treats ahead of you. Extreme Prejudice is one of them, and as good a place to start as any.


Tuesday 11 February 2014

Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde (1971)

Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde is one of my favourite Hammer horrors, and I am now kicking myself that it took me THIS long to finally see it. For some reason, I just kept putting it off and putting it off, despite the fact that I'm a fan of the two leads.

Anyway, now that I have seen it I can try to nudge other people towards giving it a watch. I think that most Hammer fans will get a kick out of it, even if you don't share my exact tastes and it doesn't become an immediate favourite (but, y'know, it really should).

The story, as if you can't guess from the title, concerns Dr. Jekyll (Ralph Bates) and a variation on the classic tale of his identity crisis, with a mixture that he creates turning him into his sister, Hyde (Martine Beswick). There's a lovely young woman named Susan (Susan Brodrick) who takes a shine to the doctor, while her brother (Howard, played by Lewis Fiander) ends up quite taken with the dangerous Hyde. As Dr. Jekyll finds that he needs more of the fresh, special ingredient for his elixir it's not long until more and more people start turning up dead.

Written by Brian Clemens, this takes the original tale by Robert Louis Stevenson and mixes in a number of other historical facts and fictions (Burke & Hare, Jack The Ripper) to create a thoroughly entertaining slice of Hammer horror, with an extra serving of delicious perversity at its core.

The direction by Roy Ward Baker is solid, but it's hard to think of anyone going too far wrong with the fun premise and the wonderful leads. I've always liked Bates, and thought him the best of the younger stars that Hammer used in a number of their horror movies, and he does his usual great work here, being effortlessly charming and easy to root for, even as the situation worsens. Beswick is one of the more memorable beautiful ladies that the studio made, deservedly, into star material, and fans will be grinning when they see her unabashed turn here. And the fact that you CAN believe that the two could spring from the same genes helps immensely.

Brodrick and Fiander aren't quite as good, but that's why they're in supporting roles, I guess. Gerald Sim is just fine as Professor Robertson, a friend of Dr. Jekyll, and Ivor Dean and Tony Calvin are suitably repellent as the opportunistic body stealers Burke and Hare.

With some wonderful set-pieces, production values in line with the top end of the Hammer range, a witty and pretty clever script, and just a whole lot of fun fun fun, this is one that I highly recommend.


Monday 10 February 2014

300 (2006)

This is review number one, for those wanting to read a decent, standard review. Review number two can be found by scrolling to nearer the bottom of the page.

Based on the source material by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, 300 is a sword & sandals epic for the MTV generation. It's full of inaccuracies, can be interpreted in a number of different ways by people looking to drag the film down a notch or two, and almost every line of dialogue borders on the snigger-inducingly ridiculous (due to either the wording or the sombre delivery). It's also a rollicking good time, visually lush and rarely dull.

Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas, a fearsome Spartan leader who stirs up some trouble when he decides to stand up to the Persian army. He's not authorised to take the army into battle so just goes for a wander instead. With 300 men (hence the title). One fight leads on to another, and that's pretty much the entire movie.

Directed by Zack Snyder, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Kurt Johnstad, 300 is the usual stylish product that you'd expect from him. Many are quick to accuse him of making movies that are nothing but style over substance, but I think that he often blends the two very well. Oh, his emphasis is very much on the style, undoubtedly, but his movies often warrant further exploration beyond whatever lies on the surface.

300 remains one of his best movies, although his very best is still his feature debut (that fantastic remake of Dawn Of The Dead), and this is due to the enjoyable source material and to the solid cast.

Butler is all that is man in the main role, with a six-pack to make even healthier specimens than myself feel slightly inferior. He is, as all the actors are, believably tough and fearless in his role. Standing by his side in battle are the likes of David Wenham, Michael Fassbender and Tom Wisdom. Lena Headey is the strong and beautiful Queen who does her best to gain support for her husband while he's at war, Stephen McHattie tries to offer her some sound advice, and Dominic West plays a character who is clearly more of a conniving politician than warrior. And then there's Rodrigo Santoro, making quite the impression as the towering Xerxes, a man who believes himself to be a god, even in the face of such strong opposition from the Spartans.

You could say that this entire movie is just a small group of men fighting a much larger group of men and you'd be right. But there's also a bit more to it. It has enough content to encourage some interesting thoughts and conversations, even if all of those thoughts and conversations call into question a number of decisions made in the creative process.

Review number two: "This . . . . . . IS . . . . . . . . . SPARTA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


Sunday 9 February 2014

The Joneses (2009)

David Duchovny and Demi Moore head up this sharp comedy drama about a seemingly perfect family who move into a new neighbourhood and start convincing all around them of just what needs purchased to be living the American dream. The truth is that the family doesn't somehow keep buying everything that becomes the next big thing, they are paid to advertise everything that makes up their lifestyle to ensure that it IS the next big thing. Including their fake teenage son (Ben Hollingsworth) and fake daughter (Amber Heard), this family is out to prove just how great they are in this particular field of stealth marketing.

Written and directed by Derrick Borte (developing the whole thing from a story by Randy T. Dinzler), The Joneses may not be quite as sharp or clever as it could be, but it certainly tries to stand out from the pack with the mixture of sly wit, intelligence and thought-provoking ideas on display.

I'm a big fan of Duchovny, so the fact that his character was really the heart of the movie (he's an ex-salesman new to this particular way of shifting products) was a big plus for me. Moore can be good in the right roles, and this is a good role for her to play with. Heard and Hollingsworth are both just fine as the teenagers who start to upset the status quo with standard teenage turbulence. In supporting roles, there are fantastic performances from Gary Cole and Glenne Headly, as the neighbours most dazzled by the Joneses, and a solid turn from Lauren Hutton, playing the area manager keeping an eye on all of those sales figures.

While there are times when The Joneses seems unsure of exactly what it wants to be, as the plot develops and things move to an impressive third act, it becomes apparent that the film has been as honest and direct as the main characters have been secretive and slippery. It does dance around tonally, but it does so with great success, moving from lighter scenes to the darker material that makes up more of the second half. It's selling a seemingly ridiculous, but undoubtedly interesting, premise, and I happily bought it.

And, yes, I fully appreciate the irony of that last sentence.


Saturday 8 February 2014

The Watch (2012)

A comedy sci-fi movie, starring Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Richard Ayoade and Jonah Hill, and directed by Akiva Schaffer, The Watch just falls short in the comedy department. Of course, there will be many people reading this review who immediately switch off once they find out that Stiller and Vaughn are involved, but I'm a fan of those guys and they have some good moments in this movie. Just not enough of them.

The plot is simple enough. There's an alien invasion happening, but nobody is aware of it. The only people who stumble on to the horrible truth are four men (those actors named above) who have recently come together in a newly-formed neighbourhood watch group. Unfortunately, they may not be the best people to deal with the situation, even if they're more up to the task than the main local law enforcement (headed up by Will Forte).

The Watch should have been a lot better than it is. I know that there are people who dislike most of the main stars, but I'm a fan of their work and looked forward to seeing them all having fun together onscreen. Unfortunately, the mix of alien invasion and comedy just doesn't work here. I laughed at a number of scenes, and I enjoyed the last few scenes, but the two main elements of the movie never feel as if they belong beside one another.

Everyone gets to have at least one chance to steal a scene, with Ayoade getting more chances than anyone else, because he's Ayoade (I'm a big fan of his work, in case you couldn't tell). Forte is very funny in his supporting role, Rosemarie DeWitt, Erin Moriarty, Billy Crudup and Jared Stern all cause some stress, in very different ways, for a few of the main characters, and R. Lee Ermey stretches his acting ability by portraying a foul-mouthed old man quick to grab his gun.

The whole movie gets by more on goodwill than anything else, but the script by Jared Stern, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg manages to set up a solid enough foundation for the main performers to have fun on, which allows for the film to be liked or loathed in equal measure, depending on your taste.

Many will view the fact that I liked it as just another example of how bad my taste can be.


Friday 7 February 2014

The Sitter (2011)

Jonah Hill plays the worst babysitter ever in this comedy that's a lot lower on laughs than it should be, and certainly pales in comparison to the '80s greatness of Adventures In Babysitting. The script, by Alessandro Tanaka and Brian Gatewood, sets things up well enough, but then derails within the first 15-20 minutes, leaving director David Gordon Green hoping that the cast can salvage something from the situation. They can't.

As a favour for his mother, Noah Griffith (Hill) agrees to babysit three youngsters for an evening. There's young Blithe (Landry Bender), a girl who keeps trying to make herself appear much older than she is. There's Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), an angry young man who lies to let out that anger by blowing things up with cherry bombs. Last, but not least, there's Slater (Max Records), who has anxiety and identity issues. As if looking after the three kids wouldn't be enough of a problem on its own, Noah is called by his selfish girlfriend, Marisa (Ari Graynor), and asked if he could kindly pick up some drugs for her and meet her at a cool party. Being the irresponsible sort that he is, Noah takes the kids along while he meets drug dealer Karl (Sam Rockwell) and his right hand man, Julio (J. B. Smoove). And things start to go wrong.

If The Sitter was a completely laugh-free zone, with no potential to be entertaining, then it would be an easier film to dislike and completely dismiss (which is, I'm sure, how some people feel about it anyway), but the irritating thing about it is the uneven tone. Things start off amusingly enough, and it all looks promising as Hill meets the kids and tries to establish his take-no-shit stance from the outset, but then it all just becomes too dark once the kids are dragged along to a "simple" drug deal. From then on, the movie moves from one confrontation to the next, with things getting progressively darker and more violent. This may have been the intention of the writers, and director, but it's not the best outcome for a film marketed as a comedy.

Hill ticks the boxes here, in terms of his comedy style, while the kids are just a bit too angst-ridden and rebellious to be likable, although Bender just about manages to stay sweet while also being a smartass. Graynor is okay, but stuck playing a loathesome character, Rockwell is wonderful as Karl, Smoove is stuck with some of the most unpleasant lines from the script, and Kylie Bunbury brightens up the screen, thanks to the fact that she's allowed to play one of the nicest characters in the movie.

Ultimately, this is a film that's too flippant to be enjoyed as a comedy thriller and too dark to be . . . . . . . . . . . . . . enjoyed as a comedy thriller. There are some moments to enjoy, but they're few and far between.