Monday 31 March 2014

The Crow (1994)

Forever enshrouded in an air of macabre, due to the death of star Brandon Lee during the filming of the movie and the whole premise, The Crow was a great success when first released, and has since maintained a loyal following over the past two decades. Some of that success, undoubtedly, stems from people who became curious about the movie after hearing of the fatal on-set accident, but I like to think that some, if not most, of it stems from the fact that it's a great movie, boosted by a charismatic lead turn from Lee, working at his very best.

Eric Draven (Lee) is a musician and a man very much in love with his fiance, Shelly (Sofia Shinas). Well, he WAS. You see, a bunch of thugs broke into their apartment, raped and assaulted Shelly and threw Eric out of a window. Eric died, while Shelly battled with pain for 30 hours before finally succumbing. A police officer (Ernie Hudson) stayed with her, in the hope of getting a statement that would help him catch the criminals, but nothing could be done. One year later, Eric is brought back from the dead. He crawls out of his grave, watched by a crow, and staggers around while he figures out just why he is back. It soon becomes clear what he has been brought back for. Revenge.

Based on a comic by James O. Barr, The Crow has a solid screenplay, by David J. Schow and John Shirley, and is directed brilliantly by Alex Proyas. From beginning to end, this is a treat for the eyes. Some (okay, quite a few) of the special effects have already dated a bit, but whether it's a view of events through the eyes of the crow or a shot showing Brandon Lee athletically swinging around on a window frame, every scene has at least one or two gorgeous moments. The ears are also well looked after, with a soundtrack that features a great score by Graeme Revell weaving in between tracks by The Cure, Stone Temple Pilots, Rage Against The Machine and many more.

Michael Wincott is a villain, accompanied by the likes of Tony Todd, David Patrick Kelly, Angel David, Laurence Mason, Michael Massee and Bai Ling. Wincott rules every scene that he is in, as you might expect, but the pleasant surprise is just how each villain gets just enough time to show their defining characteristics before death comes calling for them. Jon Polito also gets a few good moments, playing a cowardly pawnbroker profiting off the misery of others. Anna Levine is good as the drug-addicted mother of the young girl (Rochelle Davis) who soon puts two and two together to work out the identity of the avenger with the painted face. Hudson is warm and likable and brilliant in his role, and then there's Lee, who gives a performance that I like to think would have taken his career up to another level, had his life not been cut short by that terrible accident. But that's something that we'll never know.

What I do know is that The Crow has aged pretty well. Detractors can pick apart some of the FX work and the excessive rock video style of a number of moments, but there are plenty of set-pieces and electric scenes that more than make up for any failings. Fans will enjoy revisiting this one, and anyone who has yet to see it should do so whenever they get the chance.


Sunday 30 March 2014

A Little Bit Zombie (2012)

It's another zombie comedy, yes, but it's also another one that's at least mildly amusing for most of its runtime. In fact, zombie comedies have, for the most part, been pretty good over the last few years. Few have ever come close to being, as claimed, "the next Shaun Of The Dead" but a skewed premise often leads to at least half-decent results.

Kristopher Turner is Steve, a man who is trying to enjoy a little break with his fiance (Tina, played by Crystal Lowe), his sister (Sarah, played by Kristen Hager), and her fella/his mate, Craig (Shawn Roberts). Unfortunately, things are a bit stressful, mainly because Tina can never seem to switch off and just enjoy herself. She's actually made a schedule for their vacation, much to the annoyance of the others. Then things start to get worse when Steve is bitten by a mosquito. It's no ordinary mosquito. It is, in fact, a mosquito that had previously been feeding on some zombie blood. When Steve is infected by the blood he starts to turn funny, but battles against it. He is, as the title says, A Little Bit Zombie.

Written by Christopher Bond and Trevor Martin, this is a film that has some funny moments, but it's never quite as good as it could be. There are some laughs, and it's fun to see the zombie problem in the movie treated as more of an irritating obstacle by Steve and his determined bride-to-be, but the comedy is a bit too broad to prove wholly satisfying.

Director Casey Walker does a good job with the cast, the effects and the small set-pieces. The movie jumps about, trying to fit in a number of different styles and framing devices for gags, but that's the biggest mistake. Everything else is at least competent, and often quite nicely done (especially the opening sequence).

Turner is good in the main role, and provides enough amusement as he starts to crave brains more and more. Lowe is the star though, being very hard to like from the very beginning, but also being a woman so determined to do right by her fiance that she will adapt quickly to any situation. Hager and Roberts are fine in their roles, and Stephen McHattie and Emilie Ullerup raise the whole movie up a notch with their scenes, both playing zombie hunters. McHattie is particularly brilliant, and at his coolest, as a man who doesn't even think twice while destroying zombies, while Ullerup is hoping to find a cure (something that perhaps Steven might provide them with, at long last).

It's not great, and it's far from the best of the crop of zombie comedies to have come along in the last decade, but A Little Bit Zombie is decent fun while it's on. Will you remember it a year or two down the line? I don't think so.


Saturday 29 March 2014

Anatomy AKA Anatomie (2000)

Strike a pose

A dark and disturbing thriller from Germany, Anatomy (or Anatomie, the title which makes it a bit easier to find on Amazon and other DVD sites) is as entertaining as it is hugely implausible. It has some great set-pieces, and a shock, about 8 minutes in, that really hammers home the nastiness of the main premise.

Franka Potente stars as a young woman, Paula, who wins a place at the Heidelberg medical school. On the way there she befriends Gretchen (Anna Loos), a young woman who was also at her school but who never appeared to be aiming for the top tier of further education. It turns out that Gretchen is smarter than she likes to make out, but she also really, really likes to make out. When the two get to Heidelberg, and are allocated to their shared room, they soon start to realise that the challenge ahead of them is as tough as they expected. And, to make things tougher, one of the dissecting tables carries the body of a young man that the girls just bumped into on the train journey to the school. Paula starts to investigate further, wanting to find out where the body came from, and she soon upsets some of her classmates, as well as her professor (Traugott Buhre). And, eventually, she finds herself in a pretty dangerous situation.

Thanks to some solid writing and direction from Stefan Ruzowitzky, with help from Peter Engelmann, Anatomy is never less than good entertainment. The solid cast help a lot, but the fact is that this is a fantastic premise, exploited to great effect. While aiming for tension on most occasions, there are still some great moments of gore, and there's plenty of black humour to make it all more entertaining.

Potente is a likeable lead, and Loos develops into a lovely supporting character alongside her. Benno Furmann, Sebastian Blomberg, Holger Speckhahn and Oliver Wnuk also do good work, playing a variety of characters who may or may not have something to hide, and Buhre is perfectly fine as the harsh, but fair, professor.

If you think about it for more than a minute or two then Anatomy is undone by its own ridiculousness, but while the film is on it keeps you entertained and distracted enough to stop you from thinking about it. I highly recommend this one to thriller fans.


Friday 28 March 2014

The Invisible Man Returns (1940)

Time for another man to turn invisible, and possibly a bit insane, in this enjoyable movie that I guess could be class as a sequel of sorts to The Invisible Man.

Vincent Price is Geoffrey Radcliffe, a man who has been charged with the murder of his brother. Luckily, a couple of people believe that he is innocent, including the lovely Helen Mason (Nan Grey) and Frank Griffin (John Sutton). Griffin is especially useful, as he is the brother of the main character in the 1933 movie. He has recreated the formula that makes people invisible, but he also needs to find a way to reverse the procedure before madness sets in. As Geoffrey sets out to prove his innocence, he becomes more and more unbalanced, and it's not long until Helen and the doctor suspect that they may run out of time. Meanwhile, Inspector Sampson (Cecil Kellaway) goes to great lengths to capture the invisible fugitive, and he knows a trick or two to make him appear.

Directed by Joe May (with a script by Lester Cole and Curt Siodmak), this is a competent and entertaining movie. The special effects are pretty good, although they don't quite seem as impressive as they were in the original movie, and the plot unfolds with a few enjoyable twists and turns that mix in enough elements to stop everything feeling like a simple retread of the first movie.

Vincent Price has, as we all know, a great voice, which makes him a great actor to put in the central role. He's as good as ever here, although it's a shame that it's, by necessity, mostly a voice-only performance. Grey and Sutton are both fine as his main allies, and Kellaway is good as the dogged Inspector. Cedrick Hardwicke is the smooth Richard Cobb, and Alan Napier is the rough Willie Spears.

Overall, this is a good bit of fun. There are one or two enjoyable set-pieces, a good set of characters to spend time with, and the sheer fun that comes from any movie using invisibility as a main plot point.


Thursday 27 March 2014

TJs Ramshackle Movie Guide.

So I put together a book, yes I did.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Many of the reviews are from this blog, many are from Flickfeast, and some haven't appeared elsewhere yet, as they've been scheduled for the latter half of this year. I hope some people pick it up, and I hope some people even enjoy it.

Why buy it if most of the reviews are already online? Well, it brings them all together in the one place, and it helps me to spend more time and energy on more and more movie reviews, which makes for a nice, karmic, circle of life kinda deal.

Yes, it includes my recent reviews of Nymphomaniac, and much more.

Gruesome AKA Salvage (2006)

Gruesome isn't a bad film, it really isn't. It shows admirable restraint, maintains a nice, creepy vibe for a lot of the runtime, and tries to be a bit different from so many of its peers. Unfortunately, there's enough going against it to stop it being really good.

Lauren Currie Lewis plays Claire, a young woman who starts to have nightmares that involve a nasty man named Duke Desmond (Chris Ferry). The nightmares aren't always exactly the same, but the common thread running through them is Desmond wanting to kill Claire. Claire is terrified, thinking that somehow Desmond really IS out to get her. Her boyfriend (Jimmy, played by Cody Darbe) doesn't believe her, of course, and thinks that she's going a bit crazy. The local police (headed up by Dectective Miller, played by John P. Miller) think the same way. IS Lauren crazy, or is Desmond going to get her?

Written and directed by Jeff and Josh Crook, the biggest thing going against Gruseome is that it's not as clever as it thinks. The ending, while enjoyable enough, will be spotted by horror fans within moments of the movie starting. The next main thing going against it is the inane soundtrack. Sorry, I know low budget movies struggle, and they can't licence any well-known songs a lot of the time, but the tunes that are played here, often repeatedly, are distractingly irritating. Then there's the pacing. Although the film runs for just 80 minutes it feels a bit too long, mainly because the main portion of the runtime is devoted to a number of moments that simply repeat a variation on the opening scenes. Claire meets Desmond, gets scared, and tries to get away from him. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Lewis is okay in the lead role, and Ferry is suitably menacing as the man making her so scared, but nobody can shake off that low budget, amateurs trying too hard, vibe. It's a hard thing to pin down, but it's a self-conscious feeling that comes from actors. You don't know it until you watch a movie like this, and then you can't help but notice it in every scene. It's as if people aren't engaged in conversations, they're waiting for their cue to speak. People don't rant, they deliver dialogue with the level of emotion that they think is appropriate. You can see the wheels turning. The worst offender in this instance is a scene in a police station that involves two sniggering deputies. Unfortunately, one of those deputies is played by Jeff Crook, which tells me that he should stick to the writing and directing for any future projects.

Having listed the pros and cons, Gruesome still manages, just, to be watchable enough. Some people might like it more than I did. But some people might be even less forgiving. Give it a watch if you have the time, and let me know what you think.


Wednesday 26 March 2014

Dirty Deeds (2005)

Typical teen comedy fare, Dirty Deeds may not be all that well known, but it's not a terrible time-waster. Thanks to a decent cast, a fun premise that has the potential for greatness, and one or two enjoyable set-pieces, this puts itself slightly ahead of the seemingly hundreds of American Pie sequels that went straight to DVD.

Milo Ventimiglia plays Zach Harper, the young man at the centre of all of the excitement in this comedic adventure. In an attempt to help out the brother of a girl he likes (Lacey Chabert, and who can blame him for liking her) he ends up putting himself forward to do the dirty deeds. These are ten tasks so fiendishly difficult that few people rarely make it past the first two or three. And they have to be completed between dusk and dawn of one night. It's a very tough challenge, but complete all ten and you become a legend. That's definitely not the outcome that Dan Watson (Matthew Carey) and his band of jocks want. Zach has to deal with them, the police, some local tough lads, and more, as he attempts to make his way through the list. Meanwhile, some younger lads try to make the most of their luck when forced to host a party to commemorate the big event.

Written by Jon Land and Jonathan Thies, Dirty Deeds doesn't really have a sharp script or any memorable one-liners, but that's okay. The ten tasks, and the lengths that Zach has to go to in order to complete them, that's where all of the fun comes from.

David Kendall does a decent enough job as director, keeping things well paced and simple. It's only in the final 10-15 minutes where the film really stumbles, but it's a stumble so bad that it undoes a lot of the good work that came beforehand.

Ventimiglia is fine in the lead role, cool and confident at almost every turn. Carey is enjoyably unlikable, as is Tom Amandes (playing the Vice Principal who ends up . . . . . . well . . . . you'll see). Charles Durning is fun in a small role, Zoe Saldana shows a hint of the presence that would help her become a bigger star just a few years down the line, Arielle Kebbel is cute, and Lacey Chabert is always a welcome addition to any movie, in my opinion.

Not as outrageous or funny as it could/should be, Dirty Deeds is still an amusing way to spend 90 minutes. It's not unmissable, but it's not too painful either. It's just a real shame about that lame ending.


Tuesday 25 March 2014

Manborg (2011)

Manborg is, basically, every cheap action/sci-fi movie that ever went straight to videotape in the 1980s. It was made for a ridiculously small amount of money, and relies on a lot of goodwill from viewers, but if you share the affection for those halcyon days of big box VHS gems then you should enjoy Manborg as much as I did. In fact, my rating here is a baseline. I already want to rewatch the movie, and I'm sure that it's a film that just gets better on repeat viewings.

Matthew Kennedy IS Manborg. He's part man, part machine, all hero. Sort of. It's not long until he finds himself in trouble, and in a prison that's overseen by The Baron (Jeremy Gillespie). Prisoners are taken from their cells when required to compete in battles that almost always end in death, but Manborg has an edge that other prisoners never had. His very manborg-ness. Battling alongside a few other incarcerated folks (#1 Man, played by Ludwig Lee, Justice, played by Conor Sweeney, and Mina, played by Meredith Sweeney), it's not long until a plan is hatched that may lead to freedom and the downfall of a great evil.

Directed by Steve Kostanski, who also wrote the script with Gillespie (which may explain why The Baron gets so many great lines), Manborg is chock full of so many references and homages to past cinematic "gems" that to list them all would be almost impossible, by my reckoning. It may have been made on a budget that doesn't look much bigger than my monthly pay, but that doesn't stop it from packing in more cinematic reference points, heart and sheer entertainment than most movies that have millions of dollars to play around with. Necessity is the mother of invention, and despite often looking cheap it has to be said that these guys can make their budget stretch a hell of a long way.

Kennedy is good in the lead role, but the most fun is had by Lee and both Sweeneys, with Gillespie also creating a lot of laughs every time he appears as the Baron. If someone stumbles across Manborg, somehow, with no prior knowledge of it then I am sure that they will rate it as a worthless piece of trash, and also dismiss the main performances. But knowing what movies are being homaged, and knowing that the cast are all serving the material in the way that they rattle off numerous hilarious cliches, allows greater appreciation of the effort being made by everyone.

If you dig the humour running throughout Manborg then you'll be won over within the first few minutes. If you don't understand how anyone could enjoy the movie then nothing will convince you of its merits.


Monday 24 March 2014

Super (2010)

In 2009 and 2010 viewers were given not one, not two, but three movies concerning people trying to make themselves into superheroes. The biggest release of the three was the enjoyable Kick-Ass. The one that kind of got lost between the cracks was Defendor (which I highly recommend). And then we have this movie, Super.

Rainn Wilson plays a man who is driven into action when his wife (Liv Tyler) is taken away from him by a local criminal kingpin (Kevin Bacon). At a low point in his life, he receives a vision that blends the message of a character on TV named The Holy Avenger (Nathan Fillion) and the touch of god. He'll become a superhero, fighting crime on a path that will lead him to taking down the kingpin and rescuing the one he loves. It's not long until The Crimson Bolt starts to cause problems for criminals, including anyone who cuts in line at the cinema, and a girl (Ellen Page) who works in a small comic book store doesn't take long to figure out just who the new superhero REALLY is.

James Gunn is a talented guy, capable of writing scripts that blend very dark moments with great entertainment, and he shows that again with this movie, which he both wrote and directed. Super really gets its strength from clashing child-like naivete up against the harsh realities of the world around us. A world in which criminals will draw a gun and shoot a man, superhero or not. A world that replaces the "kapow" and "whammy" of comic book panels with broken bones and blood. It's no place for the main character to try out his deluded plan, but he does so anyway.

Wilson is very good in the main role, a lovable schmuck who overreaches, but does so with good intentions. He's unbalanced, but his moral compass always tends to point the right way, even if the punishment he metes out can sometimes outweigh the transgression. Page is also great, countering the dark and disturbed mental state of Wilson's character with her brighter, though equally disturbed, outlook. Liv Tyler doesn't have as much to do, mainly being the damsel in distress, but she's very good, while Bacon has a blast as the main villain, helped out by a right hand man played by the great Michael Rooker. Gregg Henry fills out the cast, playing a detective who ends up in the middle of quite a crazy situation.

Super is a good film. It's interesting and funny and dark and warped. There's just something that stops me from liking it as much as some others do. I think that may be to do with the fact that I just prefer the two other movies mentioned in the first paragraph. Kick-Ass embraced the idea to provide brilliant, bloody entertainment. Defendor used the notion to really explore perception and mental health. Super sits in between the two, which leaves it slightly less satisfying, cinematically, than either.


Sunday 23 March 2014

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi Mario (John Leguizamo) are a pair of plumbers who don't seem to be having much luck lately. After losing out on another job to a competitor they end up stopping when their van temporarily breaks down. And that's when Luigi meets Daisy (Samantha Mathis), a young woman working on an archaeological dig. Move forward a couple of scenes and, for reasons I won't go into right now, Daisy has been whisked away into an alternative dimension, and Luigi and Mario set out to rescue her in a strange land overruled by the harsh, power-hungry King Koopa (Dennis Hopper).

It's hard to pin down just where Super Mario Bros. went so wrong in the transition from videogame to big screen outing, but the main thing to point out, surely, is that the film does absolutely nothing to please fans of the game. Taken just as a film, it's an interesting failure. Taken as a film version of the Nintendo property, it's just a failure.

Leguizamo is the better of the central pairing, having some fun as the open-minded and optimistic Luigi, while Hoskins does okay, wobbly accent aside. He at least looks the part. Mathis is there to be put in peril, and she does that. Thankfully, Hopper livens up every scene that he's in. Film fans know that Hopper can be a great villain, and this is a family-friendly baddie that he portrays with gusto. Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson both provide some amusement as a couple of idiotic goons, and Fiona Shaw is just as good as she always is in the role of Lena, the woman by the side of Koopa who also has plans of her own.

Perhaps it's because this was the first major theatrically released movie based on a videogame, but it's hard to think of what writers Parker Bennett, Terry Runte and Ed Solomon were thinking when they cobbled this script together. Yes, there are videogame elements incorporated into the movie, but they're not prominent enough and at no time does this film actually feel like Super Mario Bros. It may have been difficult, admittedly, but the groundwork for more creativity was easily laid out when the premise involved throwing the characters into another dimension.

Directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel don't help. Super Mario Bros. may well be one of the drabbest, ugliest "big" movies to ever see the inside of cinemas. The design, the colour scheme, even the shot choices, almost every decision just feels wrong. It's all so wrong that it's hard to believe that Morton and Jankel weren't on some kind of mission to sabotage their own movie.

But that cast, thank goodness for that cast. There IS fun to be had here. Yes, you have to sit through a lot of rubbish to get to the good bits, but I disagree with anyone saying that this movie is entirely worthless. It's bad, no arguing with that, but it's not unwatchable. If only I'd been writing this blog back in 1993 perhaps I could have allowed them to quote me on the posters: "Bad, but not unwatchable".


Saturday 22 March 2014

Rise Of The Zombies (2012)

Another zombie movie from The Asylum, and another one directed by Nick Lyons (who also gave viewers the poor, but slightly better than this, Zombie Apocalypse), Rise Of The Zombies features the usual selection of jobbing actors trying to invest their paper-thin characters with something, anything, to make the movie more watchable as it repeats the same cycle for 90 minutes until a weak, weak ending.

Things start off promising. Survivors of the zombie outbreak are holed up in Alcatraz. There's potential here, but it's soon squandered. Zombies still get in and the main characters all make stupid decision after stupid decision, culminating in the moment when they set off from the island in search of safety elsewhere. Because that's a better decision than killing the zombies that managed to get in and reinforcing the huge stronghold that is Alcatraz. Zombies munch on folks, people bicker, zombies munch on folks, people bicker, repeat ad nauseum. Oh, there's also LeVar Burton, stuck with having to play possibly the stupidest doctor that I've ever seen in any zombie movie. Ever. He is determined to find a cure that will save the one he loves.

There are one or two decent moments here, with one scene showing how easy it is for zombies to climb up the Golden Gate bridge being as enjoyable as it is ridiculously stupid, but there's no reason to ever seek this film out beyond stumbling across it accidentally on the TV schedules. Lyons isn't the worst director, but writers Keith Allan and Delondra Williams didn't make his job any easier by churning out such a laughable and lame script.

The cast includes Mariel Hemingway, Danny Trejo (currently tied with Ving Rhames in the "pay me and I'll turn up for anything" category), Ethan Suplee, the aforementioned Burton, French Stewart, and Chad Lindberg. The rest of the cast is made up of the usual supporting players for The Asylum AKA people who can rack up a long list of credits on IMDb thanks to their portrayal of "screaming zombie victim #8". Hey, nothing against that, a job is a job, but all I'm emphasising is that the rest of the cast features nobody truly memorable. There are one or two other main characters, but the cast can't do enough to overcome the weak script. Without having any recognition factor they just blur together into one featureless crowd.

Rise Of The Zombies isn't good, in case you didn't gather that already. Some of the effects are okay, but a lot of the film just feels rushed and/or lazy. Critics of The Asylum may rush to tell me that ALL of their films feel that way, but I'd disagree. Sometimes they do appear to be trying. Just not on this occasion.


Friday 21 March 2014

Ong-bak (2003)

Action movies are great, aren't they? Okay, you can wade through a LOT of rubbish to find the gems, and I'd say that a rubbish action movie is often less entertaining than a rubbish horror movie, but when you discover an exciting new talent it's usually in an exciting new film. Which is what happened when Tony Jaa arrived on our screens in the punchy-kicky-bruise-fest known as Ong-bak. This wasn't the first movie that Jaa had starred in, but it was his first major leading role, his breakout film, and rightly so.

The head of a statue is stolen from a village and the locals are most distressed. The statue is something they look after in order for it to bless them with good fortune. It's a very important piece. Ting (Jaa) volunteers to head to the city to retrieve it, and that's when his troubles start, as he ends up unwittingly entering a building that pits fighters against one another, while spectators bet on who will still be victorious.

Ong-bak isn't really the kind of film that lends itself to standard criticism. Do I pick apart the script by Suphachai Sittiaumponpan or comment on the shot choices made by director Prachya Pinkaew? Do I weigh up the lead actor against the solid support from Petchtai Wongmalao, Pumwaree Yodkamol and everyone else onscreen?

No. I tell people that this is, once it gets going, just a brilliant, brutal action movie that showcases the skills of Jaa. He jumps through stuff, he runs, he jumps through more stuff. And when people get in his way he ends up causing some serious pain using his feet, hands, elbows and any body part that he can cause pain with.

There are only two main negatives to this movie. First of all, the first third of the movie seems a bit slow, but that's partly down to just how brilliant and action-packed the second half of the movie is. Second, once you've seen Tony Jaa in action it's hard to take any threat against him seriously. He's not invulnerable, far from it, but you can't help but feel sorry for everyone who tries to give him trouble.

Action movie fans should already be well aware of this film. If you somehow missed it, rectify that immediately.


Thursday 20 March 2014

The Last Starfighter (1984)

Another slice of '80s greatness, The Last Starfighter is yet another in the long list of films that I took far too long to watch. Thankfully, it holds up as a fun sci-fi action movie.

Lance Guest plays Alex Rogan, a young man who lives in a trailer park but dreams of the day when he can move away and start to make something of his life. He wants to take his lovely girlfriend, Maggie (Catherine Mary Stewart), with him, despite the fact that she doesn't seem quite so keen to get away. At the end of a bad day, Alex unwinds by playing the arcade game entitled The Last Starfighter. He breaks the record and defeats the game, much to the delight of the crowd gathered around him. But it turns out that The Last Starfighter is more than just an arcade game. It's a simulator/test, developed and planted in various locations by aliens who are under attack and in need of skilled fighters. When he is picked up by a man named Centauri (Robert Preston) and taken into outer space, Alex reacts as expected. He doesn't want to risk his life in a space battle if it's not in safe videogame form.

Directed by Nick Castle (a name familiar to any John Carpenter fan) and written by Jonathan R. Betuel, The Last Starfighter is a delightful mix of practical effects, very basic computer FX work (crude, but charming in this context) and sheer escapism. It's family entertainment from back when those two words didn't equate to something that had been completely neutered to appease everyone offended by the merest hint of an immoral thought.

Guest is perfectly fine in the lead role, and also has a lot of fun playing the robotic unit that replaces him while he's away in space. He's a standard teenager, imperfect but likable enough. Catherine Mary Stewart is equally fine as his girlfriend, and the two work well together. When it comes to the space bods, Preston has the most fun as Centauri, but Dan O'Herlihy is constantly entertaining onscreen, hidden under a LOT of make-up for his character, Grig. Then there are the main baddies, played by Norman Snow and Dan Mason. Both do solid work.

It's very cheesy in places, and it's often a bit ridiculous, but The Last Starfighter is also fine entertainment. It's eager to please, and the perfect pacing helps (a few different alien agents are sent to take Alex out of action when his skill becomes known). I'll be buying it ASAP, rewatching it every so often, and simply regretting the fact that I didn't get to see this when it was first released back in the 1980s.


Get your region-free Bluray here -

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Seance: The Summoning (2011)

Seance: The Summoning is the kind of horror movie that gives horror movies a bad name. It's not as if it's THAT bad, in many ways, but the good aspects of it make the bad seem all the worse. Know what I mean? Well, bear with me and I'll try to clarify.

There's a decent (I guess) young cast assembled here, and some proper production values. The movie may benefit from being, for the most part, all in one location, and writer-director Alex Wright may know where to point the camera sometimes, but the shine doesn't cover up the stale odour emanating from almost every scene.

Bobby Campo, Nazneen Contractor, Devon Ogden and Chris Olivero play four people who sneak into a morgue to hold a seance, because that's such a good idea. Anyway, the seance will be recorded, and Eva (Contractor) expects to have success in contacting the spirits. She's a gifted woman and she knows what she's doing. Unfortunately, who would've guessed, something bad butts in and sets about, ummmm, putting a serious strain on the friendships of the quartet.

Contractor and Ogden are both okay, Olivero is pretty unmemorable, and Campo has the most fun, but none of the actors can rise above the incredibly weak script that they have to work with. Ogden suffers the most, given some characterisation so horrible and clumsy that it almost seems as if Wright initially wanted to create a parody, before changing his mind at some point.

There are a few standard jump scares, but that's about all this gets right, in terms of the basics. The characters are uninteresting and hard to root for, there's pretty much no atmosphere created (despite the movie being set in a large morgue), the few gore gags are far too fleeting to make any impression, and the whole thing is littered with dialogue about faith and morality that seem to have come from the pen of a fifteen-year-old.

It just never feels, at any point, as if Seance: The Summoning is trying. Although, in a completely different way, it IS trying.


Tuesday 18 March 2014

Soldiers Of Paint (2013)

Dewayne Convirs is a bit of a special kinda guy for paintballers. He goes out of his way, once every year, to recreate D-Day. Dewayne, and numerous volunteers, work hard on recreating the environments encountered by soldiers, and the main battle sites. It's then up to thousands of paintballers, some playing as Allies and some playing as Germans, to battle it out. It's almost a historical re-enactment. With paintball. And the chance that Germany could win this time.

Directors Doug Gritzmacher and Michael DeChant have found something great here, and presented it in the best way possible to viewing audiences. While it's ultimately a disposable piece of entertainment, Soldiers Of Paint is also very hard to dislike.

The usual mix of quirky characters stand alongside Convirs in this fake war, ranging from some men who take great pleasure in their ability to intercept the conference calls of the opposing side, to a father and son who always look forward to their annual bonding experience. In fact, although the battle itself only happens for one day, some people spend a LOT of time preparing for it. It IS war, after all.

Thousands of paintballers gathering once a year to try re-enacting D-Day is, of course, something that could reek of bad taste. By plunging you into the intensity of the battle for the first couple of minutes and then stepping back to meet some of the people involved and show the preparations, Gritzmacher and DeChant ensure that the whole thing is shown for what it is, something that allows people to acknowledge those brave soldiers who endured that hellish day, while also letting them have some fun. If that doesn't sound possible, all I ask is that you watch the documentary to see if you agree or disagree with me.

Yes, there are some early scenes that provide some chuckles, but another surprise is just how viewers don't end up pointing and laughing at the people onscreen. They have a hobby that they're passionate about, and for some people it's quite an all-consuming passion, but when you see how friendly and inclusive the paintball camp is you start to want to be able to join in. Oh, there's an element of machismo and ego, especially with the officers relaying orders from the safety of their control room/tent, but everyone (man, woman, child) is there to enjoy themselves in the peacetime surrounding the big skirmish.

As for the battle itself. It makes up about half of the documentary and really does feel quite intense and physically demanding, due to the heat and sheer numbers of potential enemies. I'm not going to say that it really gets any of the participants close to feeling just like those who were fighting in 1944, but it certainly feels like more than just a game.

Unexpectedly intense, sweet and enjoyable, Soldiers Of Paint isn't necessarily anything that you'll find yourself revisiting, but it's certainly worth a watch.


So I put together a book, yes I did.

The UK version can be bought here -

And American folks can buy it here -

As much as I love the rest of the world, I can't keep up with all of the different links in different territories, but trust me when I say that it should be there on your local Amazon.

Monday 17 March 2014

Horror Hotel AKA The City Of The Dead (1960)

With atmosphere practically dripping from every frame, Horror Hotel (AKA The City Of The Dead, apparently) is yet another little gem of a movie ripe for rediscovery by horror fans.

It all starts with a witch named Elizabeth Selwyn (Patricia Jessel) being burnt at the stake. This happened a long, long time ago and is now a macabre tale being told by Alan Driscoll (Christopher Lee) to a class full of his students. Not everyone takes the tale all that seriously, but young Nan Barlow (Venetia Stevenson) does. In fact, she wants to visit the site of the alleged witch activity, a small village named Whitewood, and rack up some extra credits for a paper that she's working on. Taking the advice of Driscoll, Nan goes to Whitewood and seeks a room at the hotel run by Mrs Newless . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ignorant of the fact that Mrs Newless looks a LOT like the witchy Elizabeth Selwyn. Things don't look good for Nan.

Don't come to this film looking for logic, because you won't find it. The screenplay by George Baxt, and direction by John Llewellyn Moxey, keep focus on one thing and one thing only. Atmosphere. I don't think I'd be going too far by saying that Horror Hotel is one of the most atmospheric, low-budget movies I can think of, with the exception of Carnival Of Souls.

When Nan Barlow first arrives in Whitewood it quickly becomes clear that the film is a languid nightmare, practically overflowing with dry ice in every "outdoor" sequence. The characters around her help to reinforce that feeling, with people stopping to turn and stare at the interloper, and Jessel being wonderfully evil in her role, even though she doesn't really DO much at all in the first half of the movie.

The cast may not be at the top of their game but, with Jessel and Lee underpinning the whole thing, it's not that bad. Again, this is due to the film being all about the atmosphere. Stevenson is good enough in her role, all wide-eyed naivete and vulnerability, while Dennis Lotis, Tom Naylor and Betta St. John are all decidedly average as the people heading after her, and setting out, unwittingly, to uncover the darkness at the heart of Whitewood. Norman Macowan is a lot of fun as the reverend speaking of doom and gloom.

Available in its entirety on YouTube, I encourage viewers to at least give this a watch. If you like it then please try to seek out a decent DVD to purchase. And, if you have any shopping tips, feel free to comment below and let us all know.


Sunday 16 March 2014

Parker (2013)

Parker (played here by Jason Statham) is a bad man, but one of the good ones. Does that make sense? No. Well, he's a thief with his own set of morals. For example, he always tries to rob only from those who deserve/can afford it. He doesn't like anyone to get hurt if it can be avoided. And when he says that he'll do something he always does it. When he's double-crossed by some colleagues and left for dead, Parker sets out to make things right, even as his wounds are still healing.

Based on a novel by Donald E. Westlake, Parker has a decent enough script by John J. McLaughlin and competent direction from Taylor Hackford. Fans of the character have noted that it doesn't really feel like a Parker movie, but it's certainly an enjoyable Jason Statham movie.

Alongside the leading man, support comes from Jennifer Lopez, Bobby Cannavale, Micah A. Hauptman, Clifton Collins Jr, Emma Booth, Michael Chiklis, Wendell Pierce and Nick Nolte. Lopez has the biggest supporting role, as an estate agent who gets caught up in Parker's scheme, and she's enjoyable, if unspectacular, in the role. It's a shame that the scene in which Parker makes her disrobe to prove that she's not wearing a wire didn't feel completely, and eye-rollingly, gratuitous, but I'm sure J-Lo fans won't be complaining. Cannavale just keeps doing solid work, and is quickly becoming someone I like to look out for in movies, and his turn here as a concerned police officer is another good one. Nolte and Booth are fine, while Chiklis, Pierce, Hauptman and Collins Jr. are all suitably mean.

Action fans may be disappointed that there aren't more fights throughout the movie, but what IS onscreen is good stuff. It's gritty, brutal stuff in places, with Statham taking a lot of hits as he tries to continue on his path of vengeance. Take note, however, that it's not just the fight scenes that might make you wince. Yes, this is another movie in which The Stath attempts an accent, and it's pretty horrible.

Parker is, like many other Jason Statham movies, an easy film to enjoy. It doesn't require intense concentration, it's not trying to change the rules of the game, it's just a solid bit of action entertainment. I recommend it to viewers who probably already suspect that they're going to enjoy it anyway.


Saturday 15 March 2014

Scary Or Die (2012)

An anthology horror movie that features five tales written by Bob Badway and Michael Emanuel (who also directed various segments, with Igor Meglic taking the helm for one of the stories), Scary Or Die has just enough in each section to make it an entertaining watch. Almost.

The framework is VERY basic. Someone is on a computer and clicking on a website, because that's where the title comes from. Just as Funny Or Die has a variety of comedy clips available, Scary Or Die allows people to choose different scary tales to watch. Simple.

Story #1 - "The Crossing" - this is a tale about some mean Americans who don't take kindly to illegal immigrants sneaking over the border. They set out to do something about it, unaware that they're about to get themselves in some serious trouble. This isn't a bad way to start things, despite a strange coda, but the big plus point here is another solid performance from Bill Oberst Jr (surely one of the busiest men in the independent horror movie scene at the moment, and with good reason).
Story #2 - "Taejung's Lament" - I've seen people who REALLY disliked this one, but I have to say that I enjoyed it. It's a nice mood piece, especially enjoyably coming after the rough 'n' ready style of the first tale, about a lonely widow (Charles Rahi Chun) who ends up rescuing a woman (Alexandra Choi) from a dangerous situation. The woman asks him to visit her home the next evening so she can thank him. But all may not be as it seems.
Story #3 - "Re-Membered" - A man (Christopher Darga) has his night-time drive interrupted when he's pulled over by a traffic cop. Hearing noises coming from the trunk of the car, it seems that this driver may have something to hide in this decent riff on "The Tell-Tale Heart".
Story #4 - "Clowned" - The longest, and best, segment of the movie, this is the tale of a young man (Corbin Bleu) who is bitten by a nasty clown and then starts slowly changing. Mixing comedy and horror, this is an effective tale that surprises in just how well it incorporates all of the expected elements.
Story #5 - "Lover Come Back" - Spending time writing this one up feels like a waste of energy. It feels as if it was added at the last minute, and while some effort is made to give the wraparound structure a bit of resolution there are two big problems. One, the wraparound didn't NEED any resolution. Two, this final short is just rubbish (although it is also mercifully brief).

With the exception of that last segment, each tale featured in Scary Or Die feels as if it could make a decent "Tales From The Crypt" episode. Scripting and direction may not be up there with the very best, but everything is done competently enough. "Clowned" is the highlight of the whole endeavour, but the other stories are enjoyable enough. And the good thing about anthologies . . . . . . . if you don't like one tale then you know that there's going to be a new one coming along soon enough.

Don't rush to put Scary Or Die at the top of your "to see" list, but consider giving it a watch if you haven't got too many other viewing priorities.


Friday 14 March 2014

The Fog (2005)

A remake that nobody really wanted turns out to be a film that few people will love. The Fog has one purpose in life, and that's to make horror fans, like myself, roll our eyes when we talk about the 1980 version of The Fog and have to add "the John Carpenter one". Of course, the same could be said about The Thing and Halloween, but it's this one that rankles the most, perhaps due to the way that an atmospheric, campfire tale of a movie is turned into a horrible, clumsy, teen horror.

Tom Welling stars as Nick Castle (that reference/in-joke is about as good as it gets, folks). Nick is making a living in the small community of Antonio Island. The community is about to unveil a statue honouring its founding fathers, but it seems that they may not have been too honourable in the dealings that led to a major boost in local fortunes. As people gather to celebrate, a fog starts to roll in, and that fog seems to contain some spirits who want revenge for wrongs exacted upon them.

Cooper Layne may not have written the best script here (adapting ideas from the original material by John Carpenter and Debra Hill), but director Rupert Wainwright certainly doesn't help with any of the choices that he makes. None of the horrible CGI or jump scares are a patch on anything from the original movie. It may be unfair to compare the two, but when so many similiar elements are onscreen, and the recent version is overshadowed by a film that was made twenty five years previously, I think there's good reason to comment.

Welling tries, but he's no leading man. Maggie Grace is just . . . . . there as Elizabeth, the sorta girlfriend of Welling's character, and it's only Selma Blair who really makes this worth a watch. Taking on a role so memorably played by the gorgeous Adrienne Barbeau is no mean feat, but Blair doesn't do too badly at all, despite the script leaving her hanging out to dry in the third act. DeRay Davis, Kenneth Welsh, Adrian Hough and some other folk all play second fiddle to the the not-so-special effects.

Taking a movie and remaking it badly isn't really a major sin, despite what we fans will sometimes say. Taking a film that really crafted a perfect campfire tale, however, and then pissing on that fire and trying to serve up the wet ashes to people? Well, that's not really a major sin either, but it should be. Oh yes, it should.


Thursday 13 March 2014

Project A (1983)

Jackie Chan stars as a member of the Hong Kong Marine Police in a coastal town that has been trying to deal with a looming pirate problem, with the villains led by San-Po (Dick Wei). Unfortunately, the Marine Police seems to spend most of its time fighting with the standard Police Force, pitting our hero against the great Yuen Biao during the early moments of the film. It's not long, however, until Chan and Biao end up teaming up in their attempt to defeat the pirates, joined by Sammo Hung (playing a good-hearted thief who wants to help out while not getting himself killed).

Project A is one of those Jackie Chan movies that his fans love, mainly because it allows him to do what he does best - demonstrate some amazing moves in a number of action sequences that showcase just what a brilliant physical performer he is. Add in Sammo and Yuen and you have the dream team (Yuen Biao has been a favourite of mine since he blew me away in the finale of Dragons Forever).

It's pretty great, I can't deny that. It's just personal preference that leads to me rating this slightly lower than most people might, because I have other Jackie Chan movies that I prefer to this one (including the aforementioned Dragons Forever).

With moments that pay homage to Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd, set-pieces that will make you wince while keeping a smile on your face, a riveting grand finale, and the presence of the lovely Isabella Wong turning the heads of the male leads, Project A has plenty to recommend it. If you've seen any documentaries or TV shows that used clips from Jackie Chan movies then the chances are that you've seen some excerpts from this one, be it the wonderful bicycle chase sequence or that daredevil clock tower stunt.

Chan also wrote and directed this movie, allowing him to create the best, and most creative, sequences for himself and his co-stars. While I like some of his other movies more than this, there's no denying that Project A deserves a place on the movie shelf of any self-respecting action movie fan.


Wednesday 12 March 2014

Red Lights (2012)

Written and directed by Rodrigo Cortes (who previously stepped behind the camera to helm the excellent Buried), Red Lights may not be quite as clever as it thinks it is, but that doesn't stop it from being a fine slice of entertainment while it's on.

Cillian Murphy plays Tom Buckley, a loyal assistant to Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver). The two of them work, predominantly, on debunking paranormal activity. They also teach students about the many tricks of the trade, from table lifting to psychic readings and more. The only big name in psychic phenomena who seems to be "the real thing" is Simon Silver (Robert De Niro), a major celebrity who announces his comeback after many years out of the limelight. Buckley starts to get frustrated when Matheson refuses to pursue Silver more aggressively, but the latter warns her assistant that chasing a man who has kept his hands clean for so long could prove to be more dangerous than it's worth. But Buckley can't let it go, he knows that Silver is faking it and just needs to figure out how the scheme works.

Anyone who has read Attack Of The Unsinkable Rubber Ducks, and/or anything by Derren Brown (such as this fine work), should know where Red Lights is going. Thankfully, that doesn't make the journey any less enjoyable.

Cortes does a more than competent job in the scripting and directing department, but he's also helped enormously by the great cast. This isn't a sprawling ensemble picture, but to have Murphy, Weaver and De Niro in lead roles is a major plus, especially when the latter star is coaxed into giving one of his better performances in recent years. Toby Jones and Joely Richardson both do fantastic work in their smaller roles, and Elizabeth Olsen is just fine, although a little bit redundant (she is, essentially, just there to allow the audience to receive information).

Always interesting and entertaining, Red Lights may stumble in the last 10-15 minutes, but it does so with such gusto that it kind of gets away with its trickery. The fact that it maintains its own movie-world logic is also a major factor in sugar-coating the pill that the third act delivers.

I enjoyed this movie, as you can tell, but as I wrote this review I realised that I was growing to like it more and more. It's one that I look forward to purchasing and revisiting in the near future. I recommend giving it a go.


Tuesday 11 March 2014

Piranhaconda (2012)

Piranhaconda is another creature feature from director Jim Wynorski, and if there's one thing you can say about that man it's that he knows his audience. Produced by Roger Corman, this has beasties, bloodshed and busty ladies, and those are the key ingredients in making an enjoyable b-movie, according to some people. It's just a shame that the film doesn't quite do enough to be really good. I enjoyed watching it, but I won't be revisiting it any time soon.

The plot is right there in the title. There's a piranachonda or two loose in an exotic location, and a bunch of people do their best to avoid becoming a snack for the creatures. Those assorted characters include an egg-snatching Professor (Michael Madsen), a film crew (including the lovely Terri Ivens, Shandi Finnessey, and Rib Hillis), a couple (Cindy Lucas and Matthew Scott Townsend) trying to enjoy their holiday, and some opportunistic criminal types (including Rachel Hunter, Michael Swan and Noah Blake).

The special FX work on display is varied (although everything is slightly better after the opening sequence), the film has a lively theme song, there's no proper sense of geography, the acting isn't great (although the lovely Terri Ivens does just fine), and logic goes out of the window within the first few minutes. But you knew that already, because this is a film called Piranhaconda.

The cast are far from the worst bunch ever assembled to parade in front of cameras, the script by Mike MacLean, has some welcome humour running throughout, and I have already mentioned the lovely Terri Ivens.

It may be dumb fun, but it IS fun. That's why any b-movie such as this one will never be completely dismissed as long as it tries to keep people entertained. The worst crime that a film can commit is to be boring, and Piranhaconda isn't boring.


Monday 10 March 2014

The Shadow Of The Cat (1961)

Mixing together elements of Poe, Hammer and also classic Ealing Studios fare (I, for one, felt a bit of a Kind Hearts & Coronets vibe running through the whole thing), The Shadow Of The Cat is a real treat for fans of the macabre.

Andre Morell plays the main role, a schemer who is shown killing his wife, and then burying her, at the start of the movie. He is helped in this matter by the butler (Andrew Crawford) and maid (Freda Jackson). There are no witnesses to the crime, except the cat owned by the deceased. While everyone involved tries to feign innocence and ignorance as the police investigate the disappearance of the victim, the cat starts to cause tension, and even seems to be deliberately plotting against the dastardly trio.

Written by George Baxt, and directed by John Gilling, this is standard stuff in many ways. The house in which all of the action takes place is full of dark corners and creaking floorboards, the assembled characters are, for the most part, not very nice, and the one true innocent (played by Barbara Shelley) takes a hell of a long time to realise that all isn't quite as it seems. The only main difference is the fact that revenge is being planned by a cat. That should make the whole thing quite laughable and ridiculous, but ends up making it quite amusing and brilliant.

Morell is as wonderful as he usually is in his role, and the scenes featuring him alongside Crawford and Jackson are all pretty great. Shelley is as lovely as ever, Conrad Phillips does his best to help her as the dependable Michael Latimer, a young man helping out the police in their investigation. Richard Warner, William Lucas and Vanda Godsell all do just fine as the other family members who arrive at the house to ensure that they're going to receive some inheritance, and Catherine Lacey plays the ill-fated cat owner for a minute or two at the start of the movie.

Well worth your time, The Shadow Of The Cat is an unjustly neglected slice of macabre fun that deserves to keep delighting fans who stumble across it.


Sunday 9 March 2014

Nightmares In Red, White And Blue: The Evolution Of The American Horror Film (2009)

Based on the book by Joseph Maddrey, this documentary may not provide anything new for major horror fans, but it contextualises the genre throughout the 20th century and beyond, and serves as a nice rebuttal to those who roll their eyes and dismiss horror as something not worth their time.

I cover EVERY movie that I can when it comes to writing reviews. That's because it helps with my OCD and allows me to think that my time here, rooted to my sofa for a lot of my time, has some small sense of purpose. I'm fooling myself, of course, but I'm fooling myself while being able to enjoy lots of great movies. Horror movies, however, will always remain my favourite. And I get tired of defending my love for them to people who think "well, isn't it a bit much to watch all of those horror movies?"

No, no it isn't. It's important to remember that a lot of the independent horror movies, as well as the crime flicks and, yes, adult movies released over the years have done more to buoy the fortunes of film studios than most of the tentpole releases that we may have all enjoyed at a local multiplex. There's nothing wrong with enjoying big-budget, mainstream fare. I do it a lot. But there's also nothing wrong with enjoying any film from any genre, especially anything that delivers so many movies that have perhaps reflected, and adapted with, the culture and politics of the where and when of their conception.

Narrated by Lance Henriksen, this documentary reinforces just how horror has allowed for escapism, how it has (directly and indirectly) dealt with important issues over the years, and how it has remained a constant companion to those held in its thrall. It does this with a number of clips, and chat from luminaries such as John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Roger Corman, Mick Garris, Darren Lynn Bousman, Brian Yuzna, Joe Dante, Larry Cohen and many others.

From the world wars, to the development of nuclear power, to the repercussions of 9/11, Nightmares In Red, White And Blue: The Evolution Of The American Horror Film touches on every major event in the past century that has helped to feed into, and create, horrors of all shapes and sizes. And it serves as a great reminder of how important the horror genre is in helping to filter reality and change it into something more tangible, transforming it from an uncomfortable and unnerving mix of paranoia, facts and hypotheticals into a boogeyman that can be held at bay by a strong closet door and a reassuring night light.


Saturday 8 March 2014

Disturbing Behavior (1998)

Disturbing Behavior is a film that I have a lot of fond memories of. It came along when I was just starting to upgrade my movie collection from VHS to DVD, the trailer was a great one, and it just kept intriguing me until I could finally get my hands on a copy. Of course, almost inevitably, I was left a bit disappointed when I finally got to see it, but a recent rewatch actually shows that it holds up as one of the better teen thrillers to come along in the '90s. It may be slick, and it may Katie Holmes failing at being a bit tough and edgy, but it's also impressively subversive throughout.

James Marsden plays Steve Clark, the new kid in town (with his younger sister, played by Katharine Isabelle), a young man who stands almost at the exact halfway point between the more rebellious kids and a group of teens who are so well-behaved that it's spooky. When he's warned about events int he local area by Gavin Strick (Nick Stahl) he shrugs it off as paranoia, the kid obviously smokes too much weed, but that doesn't spoil their friendship, especially when he gets to spend time with Rachel (Holmes). Unfortunately, it turns out that Gavin is the only one who realises the horrible truth of what's going on, and before you can say "Stepford teens" things get dangerous for Steve and Rachel.

Written by Scott Rosenberg, and directed by David Nutter, this is a film that contains a surprisingly high number of really great moments, many of them jarring nicely with the rest of the teen thriller framework. Even the opening sequence, which starts out like so many other teen movie moments, takes a very dark turn, and should clue viewers in to the fact that they're about to watch something that may not be as advertised. And the scene with Lorna Longley (Crystal Cass) trying to seduce Steve is one that won't be forgotten any time soon.

Marsden is just fine in the lead role, although he's never been leading man material (sorry to say, I like the guy but it's true). Holmes is okay, I guess, but a bit laughable at times with her desperate attempt to portray someone cool and tough. Stahl is the highlight, as sweet and likable as he is jittery and helpless. The rest of the young cast, including Cass, Isabelle, A. J. Buckley and Chad Donella all do fine work.The adults, including Bruce Greenwood, Steve Railsback and William Sadler, are all good, with the latter particularly amusing in his role (a man who knows a lot more than he lets on).

You may not end up liking Disturbing Behavior as much as I do, but I recommend giving it a try, especially if you've avoided it over the years because it looks like "just a teen thriller". It IS that, but it's much better than many others that have been released in the last two decades.


Friday 7 March 2014

The Bunny Game (2010)

I'm conflicted after viewing The Bunny Game, which means that I suspect it has succeeded in its aim. Unfortunately, I can't quite pinpoint what that aim is, and I'm in no rush to revisit the film.

Shot in black and white, the film doesn't seem to have much of a narrative, except it really does. Let me describe the core of the film anyway. It's all about Bunny (Rodleen Getsic), a drug-addicted prostitute who ends up getting into a truck with a man (Jeff F. Renfro) who wants to kidnap her, break her physically and mentally, and then . . . . . . . . . break her some more. It quickly becomes apparent that the future is bleak for Bunny. And there might not be that much of it left.

Absolutely extreme in the extreme (yeah, sorry, had no idea where else to go there), The Bunny Game is a movie that's not safe to watch if you have loved ones around. They will give you funny looks. They will judge you. It's a hard film to watch. Especially in the UK, where it was outright banned by the BBFC.

Joking aside, it really IS a hard film to watch, and it has a general feeling of being unsafe. There's danger seeping from almost every frame of the movie. Director Adam Rehmeier obviously worked closely with Getsic, because there's stuff on display here that just isn't possible without a fair bit of discussion beforehand and, I'd assume, a pre-agreed safe word.

But is it just pointless nastiness for the sake of it? No, not really, although there will be many who disagree. Bunny is a woman who treats herself with little to no care, and who puts herself in numerous dangerous situations, before the worst occurs. Even before the main ordeal, viewers start to wonder if Bunny actually cares about her own life. It's when that life is truly, seriously, endangered that she digs deep within herself to find reserves of energy.

In the acting department, this is all about Getsic's fearless performance. Jeff F. Renfro is good in the role of the villain, but it's Getsic that still manages to make you care about what happens, despite the fact that the movie is a difficult one to watch from start to finish, due to both the content and filming/editing style.

Many people will think that this is an irredeemable piece of trash. I don't. Unfortunately, I think it ends up somewhere in between complete trash and interesting art. In an ideal world this could have changed a few things and turned into something better than (the surprisingly similiar) Martyrs. It doesn't manage that, but fans of extreme cinema (and I DO mean that, don't watch this if you haven't got the stomach for it) should find this one interesting.


Thursday 6 March 2014

Bad Milo! (2013)

Bad Milo! is a lot of fun, I guess, but it's also yet another movie that seems to have been embraced by fans for reasons that I can't quite fathom. It's amusing, diverting stuff that benefits from solid performances, but *whisper it* it's not THAT good. Not really. Admit it. Or is it just me? Is it? Okay, maybe it's just me.

Ken Marino stars as Duncan, a man with a severe case of tummy trouble. As he gets more anxious and stressed he ends up spending more time on the toilet. It turns out that these bathroom visits are so strenuous, and leave him (sometimes waking up the next morning from the bathroom floor) so relieved, because he has a little creature living inside his body. A creature that pops out to deal with anyone who causes Duncan too much stress. And, with the people around him including a horrible boss (Patrick Warburton), a fairly inept work colleague or two and some interfering doctors, there's plenty to motivate Milo to come out of hiding.

Directed by Jacob Vaughan, who also co-wrote the movie with Benjamin Hayes, Bad Milo! simply ends up stumbling because it doesn't ever commit to any one approach to the material. While it's pretty heavily indebted to Basket Case it never embraces the craziness of the premise in the way that Henenlotter would. Of course, few people are as brilliantly barmy as Henenlotter, so if the film isn't quite as crazy as it could be then there are other ways in which it can impress. Sadly, it doesn't. The few gore gags are okay, but the rest of the humour is neither sharp or abundant enough to make this a really enjoyable experience.

The cast all do a good job, however, and Marino is particularly good in the lead role. Peter Stormare is the kindly doctor who tries to make Duncan and Milo develop a more harmonious relationship, Warburton puts in yet another great performance (the guy never really lets me down), Gillian Jacobs is Duncan's loving partner, Sarah, and there are good little supporting turns from Mary Kay Place, Kumail Nanjiani, Toby Huss, Steve Zissis and Stephen Root. And, despite my disappointment with the film, I have to admit that everyone involved does an admirable job of keeping a straight face.

If you're a fan of offbeat comedies or warped body horror fare then, judging by the reactions of others, you're likely to enjoy Bad Milo! a bit more than I did. I enjoyed it, and I wouldn't rule out giving it a rewatch one day, but I just didn't think it was anything great.