Monday 30 June 2014

The House Bunny (2008)

Anna Faris stars in this light comedy, one that you may already be predisposed to love or hate, depending on how you feel when you see the Happy Madison logo pop up at the start. Faris is as good as ever, but it's a shame that the movie isn't better, despite a pretty great cast supporting her.

Faris is Shelley Darlingson, a Playboy bunny who ends up having to leave the Playboy mansion. She has nowhere to live, and no skills that seem relevant to any other aspect of modern life, but that doesn't matter when she chances upon a sorority house in need of a house mother. Well, they need a lot more than that. The girls are down in the dumps, they're unpopular, and can't see any way to turn things around They will lose their house if they don't get at least 30 pledges and also improve their standing in a few other ways. Shelley may not know much, but she does know how to give the girls a makeover, and may be able to help them achieve their goals.

Director Fred Wolf goes through the motions here. There's a montage or two, some lively pop tunes, and everything is light and colourful. The script by Karen McCullah and Kirsten Smith is predictable, not that funny, and often requires more suspension of disbelief than I could muster. I don't mind the ridiculous premise, but I did get irritated when a main character who wasn't supposed to have two cents to her name suddenly had enough for shopping trips, makeovers and an extravagant theme party.

I'd dismiss this as unwatchable nonsense if it wasn't for the cast, all trying to do their best with the material. Faris has been elevating weak comedies for over a decade now, but it's good to see her working with a cast all trying equally hard. Christopher McDonald and Beverly D'Angelo are the two veterans making things hard for the sorority house, Hugh Hefner has an amusing cameo, and Sarah Wright and Rachel Specter are the popular girls in a nearby sorority house who look down their noses at the main characters. Colin Hanks is fine, if a bit bland, as Oliver, a man who Shelley ends up taking a shine to, and Tyson Ritter is given the thankless role of a shallow, potential love interest for Emma Stone's character.

Oh, did I just mention Emma Stone? Yes I did. She's another big bonus here. Her comedic talent is well utilised, especially in the first half that allows her to go "full dork". Kat Dennings is another one of the main ladies, and she's also good fun, while Katharine McPhee, Rumer Willis, and Dana Goodman also stand out, for a variety of reasons.

I can't, despite the game cast, class this as a good movie. It's not. But it does just enough to make it worth a watch, especially if you're in the mood for something simple, light, and full of pretty women.


One day I hope to be a bunny. Or buy one (the pet kind). Or just pretend to be Hugh Hefner in a very nice dressing gown. So please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon and see my book there.

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.

Sunday 29 June 2014

It's A Disaster (2012)

A very small-scale disaster movie, It's A Disaster isn't all that concerned with disaster at all, at least not in the traditional sense. It's a comedy about relationship disasters, although it also happens to take place during an actual, relatively unseen, disaster.

Tracy (Julia Stiles) is taking her new boyfriend, Glen (David Cross), to a brunch that will allow him to meet a few of her friends. Also in attendance are Buck (Kevin M. Brennan) and Lexi (Rachel Boston), Shane (Jeff Grace) and Hedy (America Ferrera), and hosts Pete (Blaise Miller) and Emma (Erinn Hayes). Things start off as tense and awkward as these things normally do, but the tension rises up a notch when Pete and Emma make an announcement. And then a bunch of dirty bombs explode nearby, which really looks likely to spoil the whole day.

Written and directed by Todd Berger, this is a small film that never tries to pretend otherwise. Thankfully, one or two scenes help to remind viewers of a whole world outside the house that the characters are stuck in. The majority of the movie, however, concerns mounting pressure amongst eight people inside four walls.

The cast all do a decent job. Stiles is someone I don't usually really like, for some reason, but she's very good in this role. Cross is as enjoyable as ever, Miller, Hayes and Grace are all just fine, and Ferrera is a lot of fun (especially when deciding that her time might be better spent creating a drug concoction to help her get wasted). It's Brennan and Boston who bring the ensemble down. They're not necessarily bad, they're just stuck with the weakest characters, a couple painted in comedic brushstrokes that feel too broad compared to the rest of the film.

Aside from the treatment of those two characters, the script is a good mix of relationship stuff that we've all seen many times before, some fun character moments, and a few great lines. It's not the most original premise, that much is obvious from the opening scenes, but it does enough to win viewers over by the time it gets to the end.

I doubt most people will like it as much as I did though, and I still can't quite put my finger on why I liked it so much. Give it a go anyway, and thank or curse me when the end credits roll.


Saturday 28 June 2014

V/H/S/2 (2013)

A horror anthology sequel to V/H/S, as if you couldn't guess, V/H/S/2 follows the template set by the first movie. Some people enter a house and start checking out videotapes, only to find some very disturbing footage. This time around, however, the people investigating are actual private investigators, as opposed to the unruly louts of the first film, and there's even some added explanation given to why VHS is the preferred format (an explanation that was in place for the first movie, though never explicitly detailed, according to interviews I read at the time with some of the film-makers).

There are four tales this time, instead of five, and they are as follows:
1) Adam Wingard plays a man who receives a bionic eye implant, a small camera. When he heads home it's not long until he's seeing things that shouldn't be there. Is the eye faulty, or is it working far better than envisaged?
2) A cyclist, filming his ride with a helmet-cam, gets caught up in a zombie outbreak in the middle of some woods.
3) A number of investigative reporters are allowed in to the premises of a secretive cult. Unfortunately, they're allowed in just as the people inside are preparing for their own warped rapture.
4) A slumber party is interrupted by malevolent aliens.

The cast members here aren't as important as the directors, or even the format itself. I'm sorry to let them down so abruptly, that's just the way of it. This movie, and the one preceding it, is all about utilising the found footage form most effectively, while also allowing for modern versions of traditional horror premises to be played out. Simon Barrett, Jason Eisener and Adam Wingard return, joined this time by Gregg Hale, Eduardo Sanchez, Timo Tjahjanto and Gareth Evans.

While the movie, overall, is a slight step down from the first movie, mainly due to a lack of originality with the story ideas, there aren't any tales that stand out as being the worst of the bunch. Most people tend to find the third tale, "Safe Haven", the best, which should please Evans and Tjahjanto, and while the others may suffer slightly in comparison, they're not awful. Well, not to me anyway.

If you liked V/H/S then you should like this. Be warned, there's plenty of shaky-cam throughout. Thankfully, the pace and scares, albeit mainly jump scares, make it worth suffering through the more jittery moments.


Friday 27 June 2014

Grace (2009)

Grace is a thoroughly unpleasant horror movie, and also a very good one. I don't recommend it to any pregnant women, or new mothers, but I do recommend it to horror fans after something a bit different. It's rooted in a very real fear, and somehow manages to never feel too unbelievable, despite how things pan out.

Jordan Ladd stars as Madeline Matheson, a woman heavily pregnant with what she hopes will be her first child. She's been pregnant a number of times before, you see, and never made it to full term. This time around, she is determined to do everything her way, and her husband (Stephen Park) is willing to go along with it all, even if that means visiting a more unorthodox medical consultant (Samantha Ferris). But despite all of the precautions, things start to spin out of control. Whatever happens, Madeline is determined to look after her baby, even if her baby might not be the bundle of joy she expects.

Written and directed by Paul Solet, Grace is a smart piece of work. It may take things to extremes, but at the centre of events it's all about the lengths that a mother will go to in order to look after her child. Not only is this shown by the main character of Madeline, but also her mother-in-law (played by Gabrielle Rose), a woman who still treats her adult son like a small child, and who still thinks back on her days of breastfeeding with great fondness. Is there any time when mother and child are bonded more closely?

Ladd is fantastic as Madeline, believably desperate for what she views as her deserved shot at motherhood. She may make some dubious decisions during the movie, but they're always with good reason, in her mind. The script treats her well, and she responds with one of the best performances that I've seen her give. Park is sidelined for most of the film, but Ferris and Rose both do very well, with the former being sympathetic to Madeline's state of mind while the latter spends most of the movie subtly undermining her daughter-in-law and scheming to get everything exactly as she wants it. Malcolm Stewart, Kate Herriot, and Serge Houde also do good work in supporting roles.

Grace deserves a bit more recognition. I encourage all horror movie fans to check it out and, if they like it, recommend it to others. It's certainly more interesting and satisfying than something like Paranormal Activity 28: Ghostnado!


Thursday 26 June 2014

Leprechaun's Revenge (2012)

If you haven't seen any of Drew Daywalt's short horror movies, under the FEWDIO banner, then head to YouTube now and check them out. Bedfellows remains my favourite (Creep and Mockingbird are also brilliant), but so many of them are perfect little gems that you really can just go through them all. Drew is clearly a very talented man. And when he's not making horror movies he's creating astoundingly successful children's books. Well, one so far. The Day The Crayons Quit. Which makes viewing Leprechaun's Revenge a frustrating experience. It's not all that bad for a TV movie, but fans of Mr. Daywalt know that he's capable of something much better.

The story is quite simple, and gets moving quite quickly. Karen (Courtney Halverson) is out hunting with her grandfather (William Devane) when she spies something in the woods and also gets her hand marked with a red clover. It turns out that a vicious leprechaun has sprung to life, and Karen has a limited window of time to destroy it before she is doomed. Convincing her father, the local Sheriff (Billy Zane), isn't going to be easy, but she won't be able to do it alone.

There's a bit more to it than that, with a backstory about how the main family involved are descended from people who made their fortune by, well, not being nice to a leprechaun, but that just about sums it up. It's a creature feature, with a leprechaun that's far removed from the other main leprechaun known to cinema fans, but it also has some good jump scares interspersed randomly throughout as the main character succumbs to visions of what she knows is coming after her.

The direction is solid, and the script by Anthony C. Ferrante tries to do a decent job (especially when poking fun at itself), but it's not long until cracks start to appear and the movie crumbles to a state that it can't recover from. The potential for genuine scares soon dissipates, to be replaced by more standard jumps and moments of ridiculousness. Worst of all, the last few minutes feel really rushed and anti-climactic.

Halverson is fine in the main role, and Devane and Zane are both people I always enjoy watching onscreen. Zane deserves bonus points for his straight delivery during the moment in which he relates a personal tragedy that's one of the funniest I have heard in a movie of this kind. Thankfully, the comedic aspect of the material is always intentional, I think. Dave Davis is the young man who wants to help Halverson stay safe, understandably, and Azure Parsons makes a great impression with her few scenes, playing another officer of the law caught up in the madness.

It's a bit of fun, no more and no less. Worth watching if it comes on the TV and you can't be bothered to reach for the remote control, but I hope to see something much better whenever Daywalt is allowed to make a feature film completely on his own terms.


You can buy it here, under the title "Red Clover" -

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Freeway II: Confessions Of A Trickbaby (1999)

Just as Freeway was a twisted riff on Little Red Riding Hood, Freeway II: Confessions Of A Trickbaby is a twisted riff on Hansel & Gretel. Unfortunately, it's just not as good as the first movie, although that's not to say that it doesn't have its moments.

Natasha Lyonne has the lead role this time, as Crystal, and she ends up getting herself in enough trouble to be thrown into juvenile prison. She's not about to stay there for long, however, and soon makes good her escape with a young woman named Angela (Maria Celedonio). Unfortunately, Angela is a bit more unstable than Crystal, which can often lead to people being killed. Still, that won't matter if they can just get to the potential safe haven provided by Sister Gomez.

Once again written and directed by Matthew Bright, there may be some stylistic similarities on display here, but this shouldn't be viewed as a sequel to Freeway. Consider it more a distant cousin, a younger one that tries to act up and emulate you when it comes to visit during the holidays.

Lyonne is good in the main role, but she's not particularly easy to root for as she ends up spending more and more time averting her gaze from the obvious problems that her companion has. Celedonio gets to cut loose and embrace her freaky side as Angela, and she does just fine. Vincent Gallo appears in a small, but highly amusing, role, David Alan Grier is a very sleazy lawyer, and fans of John Landis may enjoy seeing him in his cameo.

Bright has a bizarre filmography, with Bundy being, arguably, the movie in which he comes closest to normality, but it's a shame that he has been unable, so far, to get anywhere close to the greatness of his debut feature. Everyone wants to see Tiptoes, but not necessarily for the right reasons. This movie may well prove to be the most disappointing to fans. It's not a clever reworking of the familiar material, and it's just not as much fun as it should be.

Worth a watch, but not one to revisit, and I doubt that anyone will end up choosing it as a firm favourite.


Tuesday 24 June 2014

Freeway (1996)

Written and directed by Matthew Bright, Freeway is a deliriously demented riff on Little Red Riding Hood. It's sleazy, often ridiculous, and a hell of a lot of fun.

Reese Witherspoon stars as Vanessa Lutz, a young woman travelling to stay with her grandmother after her mother and stepfather are once more carted off to jail. Vanessa accepts a lift from a pleasant man named Bob (Kiefer Sutherland), but it's not long until friction develops, and Vanessa finds herself in a whole lot of trouble.

As entertaining as it is crude and obvious, Freeway is often tasteless, occasionally tense, and darkly comedic throughout. It's also polished enough to make it all more palatable, considering just how potentially dark a number of moments are. You may forget how many boxes are checked off by the time the end credits roll, but Bright includes drug addiction, prostitution, child molestation, and much more on this winding journey to grandma's house.

Witherspoon is on top form in the lead role, alternating between unbelievable naivete and tough sassiness, depending on the situation. It's a performance on a par with her turn as Tracy Flick. Sutherland is equally enjoyable, initially charming and kind before revealing a more predatory nature within. Dan Hedaya and Wolfgang Bodison are both fun as a pair of cops trying to find a serial killer, Brooke Shields does a great job as a protective wife, and Brittany Murphy adds another slightly kooky role to her long list of slightly kooky roles. In fact, with Amanda Plummer also here in a small role, the movie could easily overbalance into twitchy lunatic mode, but it doesn't.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
Bright is smart enough to tie everything in to the fairytale that he's working from without overdoing everything. Most of them are hard to miss - the red jacket worn by Vanessa, the surname of a character clueing you in to their role in the story - but others are . . . . . . . okay, also hard to miss, but that doesn't matter. Overlaying the original tale with a layer of trashy fun allows it to feel enjoyably unique, even as it hits a lot of obvious beats.

Freeway isn't a film to recommend to everyone, but I recommend it to everyone anyway. If you dig it then you will REALLY dig it. If you don't then I'm sure it won't be the worst that you've sat through.

Monday 23 June 2014

Hansel & Gretel (2013)

Fairytales have been bringing in some big bucks over the past few years. Or they've been trying to, at least. TV shows and movies based, sometimes very loosely, on the classic stories that entertained many of us as children have been doing pretty well with teens and older viewers. Stuff like Grimm, Once Upon A Time, Snow White & The Huntsman, and Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. So it was only a matter of time until the Asylum got involved. And here is their contribution.

Be warned, some minor spoilers may follow, for those who like to view a movie without knowing ANY of the details beforehand.

Brent Lydic and Stephanie Greco play the brother and sister, with the both of them in great danger from a witch (Lilith, played by Dee Wallace) who already has a number of potential victims in her basement, ready to make into meals. Will Hansel & Gretel be able to escape?

Directed by Anthony C. Ferrante, this is pretty solid stuff. The reasons I warned of minor spoilers above is because I wasn't sure whether or not to mention that the witch was played by Dee Wallace, but it would be hard to review the movie without mentioning it, especially as she's the most recognisable name in the cast list. But I'll get back to the acting later. Anyway, Ferrante does a decent, if unspectacular, job in the director's chair. Some more spit and polish could have really made this into a little gem, but the final product is passable anyway, not exactly great but not bad either.

The script by Jose Prendes has a few good ideas sprinkled throughout, including the different effects of the magic treats created by the witch. Unfortunately, there are also many moments, especially in the first half, that just reek of cliche, and then there's a second half that suffers a bit of an identity crisis, trying to spin the fairytale plates while it also attempts to make everything feel a bit like a Wrong Turn movie.

Lydic and Greco do okay, and Sara Fletcher and Clark Perry stand out from the small selection of other people trying to avoid being put into the oven. Steve Hanks, Trish Coren and M. Steven Felty are a few of the adults who may be able to help the witch's victims, or may now. And then there's Wallace, who has some fun as Lilith. It's actually not the wild and over the top performance that viewers might expect, but that just makes the occasional outbursts all the more enjoyable.

I'd advise any fans of this kind of movie to go for any of the other recent versions of the tale ahead of this one. Although, having said that, this isn't as bad as it could have been.


Sunday 22 June 2014

Pit And The Pendulum (1961)

Another adaptation of some classic Edgar Allan Poe by Roger Corman, and once again starring the magnificent Vincent Price, Pit And The Pendulum is an atmospheric and macabre slice of entertainment, as you would expect considering the people involved.

Price plays Nicholas Medina, a man who has recently lost his wife (Barbara Steele). When her brother (John Kerr) comes to visit, in an attempt to figure out just what really happened, it soon becomes clear that Nicholas is hiding something. But is it something sinister, or is it a past tragedy that has haunted him, and also his sister (Luana Anders), for many years? Perhaps the family doctor (Antony Carbone) can help.

From the cast members (Steele and Anders, at any rate) to the set design to the colour scheme used, Pit And The Pendulum is a gorgeous film, almost as rich and satisfying as The Masque Of The Red Death, a film with many obvious similarities to this one.

The script by Richard Matheson may not stick as rigidly to the material by Poe as purists might like, but it maintains the essence of his work and leads to a finale that feels exactly as it should, in terms of potential terror and nastiness.

Corman directs with confidence, making the most out of a few set-pieces and allowing himself room for some nice artistic flourishes. It's the kind of work that may make fans regret the path that his career took, after he saw how the dollar was easier to get a hold without any qualms about artistic integrity. I'm not knocking the man for the choice that he made, and the many careers that he's helped launch, but I AM sad that only a few of his movies seem to show what he was really capable of.

Price is on his usual top form, gracious and possibly hiding madness behind that charming smile, while Kerr and Carbone pitch their performances just perfectly, playing more level-headed characters without ever being overshadowed by that magnificent central performance. Anders is a ray of loveliness in a rather dark and dire environment, and Steele is given another role that makes the most of her haunting beauty.

Superior horror entertainment from start to finish, and what a finish it is, Pit And The Pendulum is a film that every self-respecting fan of the genre should see. And then buy. And then see again and again.


The Arrow edition, however, is the way to go -

Don't forget to help me to convince my wife that movie reviews aren't a complete waste of my time and energy whenever you're visiting Amazon. My book is available there.

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.

Saturday 21 June 2014

Milius (2013)

John Milius has had his hand in more major movies than you could possibly imagine. Every inch the alpha male, he's never been a shy man, which makes him a great subject for a documentary. This particular examination of his life chooses to relate various anecdotes in between allowing other people to heap praise upon the main man.

Francis Ford Coppola, George Hamilton, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese, Michael Mann, Oliver Stone, Steven Spielberg, Sam Elliott - that's a great list of names. Each and every one of those men have plenty of compliments for the larger-than-life Milius, and every one of them does a good job of reminding viewers just why they should love the cinematic output of someone who is so often neglected by film fans. There are also quotes from his children, and various studio executives, as well as some others (too many for me to mention here).

If I listed all of the films that the man helped to craft I would be here all day, and you would get bored. Suffice to say, Milius is more than just the man who gave Conan The Barbarian a decent movie. But even if he hadn't done much more, that alone would have been enough to win him a fairly big fanbase.

As a look at the man, and his movies, this is good stuff. There are no major revelations here, and no probing insight into the life that turned Milius the boy into Milius the man he is today. Although it doesn't paint Milius as a saint, something that I'm sure he would have strenuously objected to anyway, it does serve as nothing more than an outright celebration of the man, warts and all. There's nothing wrong with that, it's a fun watch and this man deserves to have some more people appreciate his work, but it's worth noting for the benefit of anyone after anything a bit deeper.

Recommended for anyone who grew up with no small amount of affection for macho flicks from the '70s and '80s, from Apocalypse Now to Red Dawn, and from Dirty Harry to Dillinger, this is fun for fans, and anyone who might become a fan after remembering how much pleasure they have derived from the featured films over the years.


And while shopping around, don't forget my book that I won't let people forget.

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.

Friday 20 June 2014

Bachelorette (2012)

Kirsten Dunst plays Regan, a tense, controlling young woman who starts to fret when she finds out that her friend, Becky (Rebel Wilson), is about to get married. Becky wasn't supposed to be the first one of the group to get married, as Regan reminds Gena (Lizzy Caplan) and Katie (Isla Fisher). Things weren't supposed to happen that way. Regardless, the time comes around for the bachelorette party, something that Becky wants to be a quiet affair. It doesn't pan out that way, of course.

Written and directed by Leslye Headland, based on her own play, Bachelorette is saved from being completely unwatchable by Kaplan and Adam Scott (playing Clyde, the ex-boyfriend of Caplan's character). James Marsden also puts in another great performance - the more I think about it, the more I like Marsden - and Rebel Wilson is likable enough in her role. But that's where the good stuff ends.

While I watched this movie I started to suspect that it was from a first-time director. Some of the mistakes here aren't that bad, but then there are glaring flaws that unsettle the whole thing, and ultimately sink it completely.

First of all, most of the characters are loathsome. Movies can feature loathsome characters, but this lot really take the biscuit. And there's no reason to believe that they would be friends. As the old saying goes: "with friends like these, who needs enemies?"

Second, stemming from the first, everything that goes wrong and puts the characters under pressure is caused by the characters themselves. Everything onscreen here could have been easily avoided if the lead characters weren't so selfish/stupid.

None of the drama is effective, none of the comedy is funny, and you may spend most of the movie, as I did, just wishing for it to end. It doesn't help that Dunst and Fisher aren't on good form, although they may have simply been unable to overcome the weak material.

The silver lining for Leslye Headland is that she can only get better from here.


Remember, I watch a lot of films so that you don't have to. YOU can help me feel better about that by spending just a few pounds/dollars/*insert currency here* on TJ's Ramshackle Movie Guide, as every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself).

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.

Thursday 19 June 2014

Robot & Frank (2012)

An affecting drama with just a dash of sci-fi in the mix, Robot & Frank is a great little film that manages to impress viewers without the need for any unnecessary frills. Of course, Frank Langella being fantastic in the main role is a huge plus.

Langella plays Frank, a man who used to be a jewel thief but who now has to get used to the quiet life. Well, that's what his son (James Marsden) and daughter (Liv Tyler) are hoping for. His son even gives him a gift, a robot butler, to both help him around the house and keep him company. But it's not long until Frank realises that the robot may be able to give him a second shot at his favourite, though illegal, career.

Written by Christopher D. Ford, this is a beautiful little film, one that mixes in a few great characters with a small amount of humour and a story arc that viewers will genuinely care about as things play out. It's a seemingly simple drama that's freshened up slightly thanks to the small sci-fi touches throughout, and also thanks to the great cast. As well as Langella, Marsden and Tyler (who isn't onscreen for very long at all), there are also decent turns from Susan Sarandon (a real highlight in her relatively small role), Peter Sarsgaard and Jeremy Sisto, among others.

Director Jake Schreier does well by the material, never overdoing the emotional button-pushing until a final 10-15 minutes that really earns the right to tug at the heartstrings of anyone watching. There are one or two surprises, but none of them will leave viewers feeling cheated.

It's a shame that, perhaps, some people may avoid this because the word "robot" is in the title, while others may seek it out expecting something more sleek and shiny. It's a drama, first and foremost, about aspects of the human condition (growing old, becoming vulnerable, etc.), but it also uses the near-future world that it presents to highlight just how so much can stay the same while so much else changes.

Almost a dictionary definition of the word "unassuming", Robot & Frank might just end up impressing you as much as it impressed me. It's sweet without being sickly, moving without being TOO heavy-handed, and simply entertaining from beginning to end.


Wednesday 18 June 2014

Cheap Thrills (2013)

Pat Healy is Craig, a man having a very bad day. When he decides to drown his sorrows in a bar he meets up with Vince (Ethan Embry), an old friend. It's not long until the two men meet Colin (David Koechner) and Violet (Sara Paxton). Colin, as a treat for Violet on her birthday, decides to offer money in exchange for challenge accepted by Craig and/or Vince. It starts off as a bit of fun, but soon gets darker and more dangerous. Craig and Vince end up seriously competing against one another, their bonds of friendship weakening as the money on offer for each task goes up and up.

Director E. L. Katz does well here, especially considering that it's his first time in the director's chair. The movie is a small, intimate one, but also keeps reminding viewers of the wider world that's still out there, a world that Craig and Vince will have to face after humiliating themselves for cash. Whenever it seems as if the movie might need to pause and take a breath, it doesn't. Oh no, this just keeps on rolling once the nastiness gets underway.

Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo are the writers of the script, and the two deserve no small amount of credit for giving Katz such great material to work with. Haaga, in particular, has been working in this vein for a number of years, often walking a fine line in his movies between potential horror and dark, dark comedy (and fans of the Saw franchise should check out his fantastic film, Chop).

But neither the script nor the direction would be enough to make this a great movie if the cast weren't up to the job, and thank goodness that they are. Both Healy and Embry somehow manage to stay likable throughout, even as greed starts to overshadow the better aspects of their personalities, while Koechner is a fantastic mix of benevolence and manipulation. Sara Paxton may have the least to do, out of the four main characters, but she's fine in her role, and her character is just as important to the whole dynamic, whether she's an onlooker or sometimes even a part of a challenge.

The bottom line - Cheap Thrills is a great little movie. It's not entirely dissimilar to a number of other movies that have been released over the past few years, but it does have enough going for it, thanks mainly to all of the main characterisations, to make it one of the better recent ruminations on human nature being polluted by greed. Give it a go. I bet you enjoy it.


Don't forget, every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself).

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.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

Hansel & Gretel Get Baked (2013)

A fun, modern take on the classic fairytale, with more than a dabble of weed sprinkled through it, Hansel & Gretel Get Baked isn't a movie that I could ever call a great movie, but it's certainly much better than I expected it to be.

Molly Quinn is Gretel, a bit of a pothead who starts down a path towards trouble when she goes looking for her pothead boyfriend, Ashton (played by Andrew James Allen). Ashton had been going to pick up some great new weed, something being grown by a little old lady from Pasadena (yes, the song is mentioned). Unfortunately, that little old lady is a witch (Lara Flynn Boyle) who lures in her victims and uses them to help her turn back the clock. Gretel knows that something is up but doesn't realise the full situation. And neither does her brother, the non-potsmoker Hansel (Michael Welch).

Director Duane Journey uses a decent cast, a fun script (by David Tillman), and occasional decent gore effects to put together a fun movie that should please horror fans who don't need every movie to be chock full of tension and/or bloodshed. The way in which the main elements of the classic tale are adapted for the modern setting are fun, though nothing here can be described as subtle or sophisticate. What the hell, people could say the same about me. This is a film to be watched with snacks and the beverage of your choice, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Quinn is a perfectly decent Gretel, Welch does okay even though he's not onscreen that much, and Bianca Saad heats things up a bit as a girl named, well, Bianca who ends up helping Gretel after her own boyfriend also goes AWOL. Everyone else does well enough, including Lochlyn Munro and Yancy Butler as a pair of police officers reluctant to waste any time trying to find someone they simply assume is not where he should be because he's stoned. And then there is Lara Flynn Boyle. She's good, but that's mainly thanks to the script giving her most of the best lines. Other aspects of her performance show that, sadly, her best performances may be far behind her.

It's not going to win over any fans who like their horror dark and smart, but if you're an easygoing, unfussy viewer then you may just find this to be an amusing enough way to kill 90 minutes.


Monday 16 June 2014

The Masque Of The Red Death (1964)

A film that remains, arguably, the high point of Roger Corman's career, The Masque Of The Red Death is a fine adaptation of material by Edgar Allan Poe. Vincent Price gives another fantastic turn in the lead role, the supporting cast all do great work, and the whole thing has a style and mix of the fantastical with the genuinely horrifying that should please most horror fans.

Europe is plagued by the "Red Death" and nobody is safe from it. Prince Prospero (Vincent Price) is a cruel man who is determined to keep himself healthy and alive, and so decides to throw a ball for invited guests at his death-free castle. He believes that his home is a refuge from the plague, although it is not a refuge that he is willing to share with everyone. Will everyone stay safe? Even young Francesca (Jane Asher), a young woman taken by Prospero from a local village for his amusement?

Dripping with gorgeous little touches in almost every scene, and chock full of great lines of dialogue (with Charles Beaumont and R. Wright Campbell being the men responsible for the script), this is a treat from start to finish for anyone allowing themselves to relax and soak up the whole experience. It's atmospheric, often quite bizarre, and all anchored by that rich Price performance.

While the leading man is the main attraction, in terms of the cast, he's not the only one doing a sterling job. Asher does well in her scenes, a sweet and innocent individual stuck in a terrible situation, and Hazel Court is mesmerising as the wicked woman, Juliana, who wants to be by Prospero's side. Patrick Magee as the selfish Alfredo (who ends up involved in the most memorable scene in the film). David Weston is the least interesting of the main characters, as Gino, but he's easy to root for as he sets out to rescue the lovely Francesca from Prospero's castle.

Although most horror fans are aware of, and praise, the Roger Corman movies that were developed from the works of Poe, it's still quite a pleasant surprise to revisit his earlier works and see just how different that output was compared to the many b-movies and creature features he has lent his name to in recent years.

It's a great shame that Corman transformed himself over the years, from a canny artist who had great business savvy into a businessman who buried any art in the quest to provide audiences with simple pleasures, but it's hard to criticise a man too much who has provided me with movies as enjoyable as this one before also, in his capacity as producer, providing me with schlock as enjoyable as Sharktopus.


Don't forget, every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself).

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.

Sunday 15 June 2014

The Midnight Hour (1985)

A horror comedy from the mid-1980s, The Midnight Hour has maintained a small, but loyal, fanbase, and with good reason. It's a cracking little movie, and something that would fit perfectly in any Halloween schedule. If you haven't seen it yet then do give it a go. If you have seen it then do your bit to promote it to everyone else.

The plot is quite simple. A bunch of teenagers decide to pretend to raise the dead one Halloween night, and end up actually raising the dead. Of course, they don't know it at the time. The town starts to be overrun by strange ghouls and evil creatures while the teens focus on enjoying a Halloween party. They can't remain oblivious to the situation forever, but will they realise what's going on before too many people are transformed into creatures of the night?

Written by William Bleich, and directed by Jack Bender, this is an atmospheric movie that makes up for a lack of any real frights with a great sense of fun, and that Halloween spirit poured over almost every main scene. It also gets away with a musical moment that's genuinely enjoyable, despite the fact that it should be eye-rollingly cheesy. Bleich may not have written the best dialogue, but he sets everything up quickly enough and allows for a lot of satisfying character moments throughout. Bender takes the material, and boosts it with great visual style, and plenty of dry ice.

The cast is a good mix of great actors and likable folk, with my particular favourites being Dedee Pfeiffer, LeVar Burton, Kurtwood Smith and Kevin McCarthy. Lee Montgomery is the nominal lead, and does okay, while Shari Belafonte and Jonna Lee stand out as two very different young women hoping to make the most of their Halloween night. And the voice of Wolfman Jack bellowing out of the radio is a huge bonus, as is the quite wonderful soundtrack (seriously, this is a soundtrack that I would buy immediately).

If you like the horror movies of Fred Dekker and Joe Dante, and I can't think of too many people who don't, then this is for you. It has a similiar vibe, both in the way it's respectful to the genre conventions while also playing around with them slightly and also in how it shows darkness seeping into an unprepared small town in America.

A perfect film to watch while sitting in the dark, perhaps accompanied by the flickering light of a jack-o-lantern.


Saturday 14 June 2014

Odd Thomas (2013)

Based on a popular book by Dean R. Koontz, Odd Thomas is written and directed by Stephen Sommers, and shows that he's still capable of churning out some fine entertainment. Hey, I'm a fan of Sommers, but even I have to admit that some of his later blockbuster works don't hold a candle to the sheer b-movie fun of Deep Rising.

Anyway, let's get on with the review. Anton Yelchin is the titular character, his name really IS Odd Thomas (due to an error made while he was being registered), and he can see dead people. More than just dead people, he can also see creatures that flock around evil individuals when they know that death and horror could be on the horizon. Those creatures are known as bodachs, and Odd doesn't ever want them to know that he can see them, because if bodachs know that someone can see them then they tend to try to engineer the death of that individual. And, guess what, a whole load of bodachs have just swarmed into town with a man who is obviously planning something big. Odd tries to protect his girlfriend, Stormy (Addison Timlin), while also ensuring that everyone else stays safe. Stormy knows what Odd can see so she's happy to help as he tries to work out just what will be going down, and where. The local police chief (Willem Dafoe) also wants to help, and also knows about Odd's gift, but has to keep it a secret.

I've not read any of the Odd Thomas novels, but I have skimmed through some excerpts while reading some of Koontz's other works and the movie seems to get the tone just right. It's a very quirky piece of work, with a central character - Odd works as a short order cook as a way to enjoy some normality on a day to day basis - as likable as he is troubled. Sommers does a great job in both the scripting and directing departments, keeping everything light and entertaining while also building a sense of real danger as things build towards a finale that looks likely to change the lives of everyone involved.

I'm a big fan of Yelchin, and will happily watch him in anything, and he's great in the lead role here. Odd has some special talents, but he's no superhero, and Yelchin embodies a perfect mix of the main characteristics, in terms of personality, physicality and, yes, quirkiness. Timlin is very sweet and easy to like, a young woman worthy of the love that Odd has for her, and Dafoe is solid, and more reserved than usual, as the man trying to help Odd while also trying to avoid offering others an explanation that will get them all sent for brain scans.

It may fall a bit short for some people - not scary enough for horror fans, too quirky for fans of straight thrillers, not funny enough for fans of horror-tinged comedies - but I thought it managed to weave everything together nicely, creating something that uses a lot of familiar elements and turns them into a final product that's pleasingly, albeit only ever-so-slightly, different from the norm.


Friday 13 June 2014

X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

For anyone mad enough to care about such things, my reviews of the previous X-Men movies can be found here (the first), here (the second), here (The Last Stand) and HERE (First Class). I've also reviewed X-Men Origins: Wolverine and The Wolverine. Sadly, I've still not read any of the actual comics, but I've enjoyed, to varying degrees, every cinematic outing for the superhero squad.

Bryan Singer returns to the director's chair for this instalment in the X-Men movie franchise and it's not long until he reassures fans that they are back in safe hands. A lot of people enjoyed X-Men: First Class, but I was a bit disappointed by it. It was entertaining enough, sure, but really felt lacking in the action department. Five minutes into X-Men: Days Of Future Past and the action is thick and fast. Mutants are being wiped out by giant robots, called sentinels, that can absorb mutations and add them to their formidable arsenal of weaponry. Many have died, with a small group staying alive thanks to the unique gift of Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page). If an attack begins, and they can save some precious time for themselves, Kitty can send the consciousness of someone back to an earlier time, that person can then warn everyone, and the attackers arrive to find nobody around. Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) want to end the war, and they think that Kitty could be the key. Unfortunately, she would need to send someone back decades, not just hours or days, and the mind can't handle that. Unless it's a mind that can repair itself almost as quickly as it's being broken to pieces. Yes, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) ends up being the one chosen to travel back in time. He has to find the young Charles Xavier (James McAvoy), and the young Magneto (Michael Fassbender), and he has to ask them both to help him find Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence). She doesn't know it yet, but it's her blood that could lead to the death and destruction of all mutants.

Although rooted in a darker storyline regarding the planned extermination of all mutants, this remains a surprisingly light and upbeat film (something that Singer also managed with the first movie - both started with scenes featuring a holocaust). This is thanks, mainly, to the large ensemble cast all clearly enjoying themselves, and also to the pacing of the movie, with at least four fantastic set-pieces helping to make the 131-minute runtime just fly by. When the action kicks in, it's almost as if everyone involved is so relieved to not be explaining "the science part" that every set-piece is taken up a notch thanks to the additional exuberance of all involved.

Jackman is the star of the show once again, after his fleeting appearance in the previous movie, but there's plenty time to enjoy the performances of McAvoy and Fassbender. Lawrence would have benefited from more screentime, but that's more a comment on how great she is onscreen than a criticism of Simon Kinberg's script. Nicholas Hoult gets to Beast out, impressively, on a few occasions, and Peter Dinklage is enjoyable as the potential villain of the piece. As well as Stewart, McKellen and Page returning to their roles, we get Halle Berry back (stuck with her character, Storm, being as useless in the movies as she has been from the beginning), Shawn Ashmore reprising his role as Iceman, Josh Helman portraying a young Maj. Bill Stryker, Evan Peters stealing a few scenes as Quicksilver, and Bingbing Fan making a great first impression as Blink (seriously, she's probably the coolest one that I was previously unaware of). There are many, many more, old and new, but I don't want to spend more time just reeling off the names.

Because of the time travel element, there's plenty of room here for references, in-jokes, and plot holes. Having said that, I never once sat and thought about any major mistakes in the developing timelines. The movie may (in fact, probably does) have the kind of errors/paradoxes that most other time travel movies also contain, but it's so polished and consistently entertaining that it doesn't matter. You also have to admire the skill shown in ret-conning the franchise so effectively. By the time the end credits roll (and wait for the post-credit tease, of course), fans can leave the cinema happy with the way things have been set up for the cinematic future of this franchise.

It may not be the best of the series, I still think 1 and 2 are a pretty unbeatable double-bill, but this is a return to great form for the X-Men. In fact, it's almost impossible to think of any fans who will dislike this one.


Lots and lots of superhero movies are, of course, reviewed in my book of reviews. So please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon.

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.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Snitch (2013)

It's tough being a teenager, making mistakes that you don't always get away with. Sometimes, dumb stuff can get you in a LOT of trouble. Which is what happens to Jason Collins (Rafi Gavron), a young man who is set up by a friend. He receives a box full of drugs and is immediately apprehended by the DEA. He's going to jail for a very long time, unless he can provide information that can lead to more arrests. Unfortunately, Jason doesn't know of anyone else he can snitch on, which leaves him with the prospect of rotting in jail for many years. Jason's dad, however, is a man willing to do whatever it takes to help his son. And he happens to be Dwayne Johnson. He starts negotiating with someone (Susan Sarandon) who has the power to help quash his son's sentence, IF he gets the results they need.

Anyone after a standard action flick that makes the best use of Dwayne Johnson is going to end up disappointed here. This is more of a drama, with one or two fleeting moments of action used to help sell the film to a wider audience. More interestingly, it's all a bit of an indictment of America's continuing war on drugs. The increasingly drastic measures put in place to clamp down on what is viewed as the main menace to society ends up, arguably, causing more problems and creating more victims than the initial drugs themselves.

Johnson is, as always, solid in the lead role, playing down his toughness, but always looking ready for action. Let's face it, he can't NOT look ready for action, but he does a good job of portraying a "normal" man willing to risk his safety in an attempt to save his son from a terrible fate. Jon Bernthal does well enough as the man who helps him find his way into the world of drug dealers, a world populated by people such as Malik (Michael K. Williams) and 'El Topo' (Benjamin Bratt). Sarandon is very good as the woman who may be able to help out, if it benefits her politically, and Barry Pepper is on fine form (is he ever not?) as a DEA operative equally tempted by the prospect of a big bust, but also concerned about the safety of a man who may not realise quite how deep he is about to get himself.

The script, co-written by Justin Haythe and director Ric Roman Waugh, does enough to sketch out the characters and situations, but it falls down elsewhere. A lot of the dialogue is so dull, and repetitive, that it threatens to put viewers to sleep. Which isn't what anyone expects from any movie starring Dwayne Johnson.

Waugh directs competently enough, but the film lacks any real sense of energy or urgency, most notable during a finale that doesn't ever get the adrenaline pumping. It's almost as if everything that was set up with care during the preceding 60-70 minutes is just thrown aside in favour of a teeny tiny bit of action that will come as too little too late for anyone wanting such simple pleasure, and will prove dissatisfying to those who were enjoying the more straightforward drama that accounts for most of the movie.

It's not a complete waste of time, but Snitch isn't one I'd recommend to anyone. It's decidedly average.


Wednesday 11 June 2014

Drop Dead Fred (1991)

Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall) is an imaginary friend to a young girl named Elizabeth. Well, he's imaginary, but also very real. Or is he? If you want to view this movie in a nice, entertaining way then yes, yes he is. Because the other option is a bit too dark. Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself. Young Elizabeth grows up to be older Elizabeth (Phoebe Cates), and viewers get to see her having a very bad day. She loses her fella, her job, her car, and her money. And she ends up having to stay with her mother (Marsha Mason). And that's when Drop Dead Fred reappears. He claims that he's always ready to help when needed most, and a lot of his antics are good fun at the time, but he also ends up landing Elizabeth in a lot of hot water. Just like he did when she was just a kid.

Directed by Ate de Jong (who has numerous other credits, but this remains, arguably, his most popular film), Drop Dead Fred is a fun, but uneven, movie that benefits immensely from the two lead performances. Mayall can do anarchic and childish in his sleep, and he's perfect as Fred. Seeing him alongside Ashley Peldon, who portrays the young Elizabeth, shows how great his personality works with children, and also shows a sweetness at the heart of his constant mischief. Cates doesn't often get her due for her movie roles, and I'm as guilty of that as anyone, but she does well here to not be completely overshadowed by Mayall, and the moments that require more physical comedy from her allow her to display just how good she is. Mason is also great as the cold mother, Tim Matheson is enjoyably loathsome as a suave sonofabitch undeserving of Elizabeth's love, Carrie Fisher is a lot of fun as the best friend who tries to help out until her patience is stretched to breaking point, and Ron Eldard is, well, a bit bland, but harmless enough, as Mickey, a former childhood friend and now the guy who may be a better match for Elizabeth.

The script, by Carlos Davis and Anthony Fingleton, does everything that it needs to do, but it never realises the full potential of the premise (though one scene, involving a room full of kids, all with their own imaginary friends, comes close). It does, however, manage to walk a tightrope fairly effectively, always reassuring viewers that Fred is very real, which allows everyone to root for Cates instead of just worrying about her fractured state of mind. Mind you, a more ambiguous treatment of the material may have yielded more interesting results.

Although dressed up as a movie aimed at children, this is almost equally a movie aimed at adults remembering their childhood. We've all had days when we'd like to do nothing more than build a fort out of the furniture cushions and hide away inside it. We've all had moments when we'd love to just go crazy, let out all of our frustrations, and to hell with the consequences. Drop Dead Fred is made for those moments when you want to walk over a white carpet without taking your shoes off, when you want to make a mud pie, when you want to touch the wet paint. It speaks to the part of our brain that used to be more fascinated with the interior of our nostrils than the depths of the oceans or the vastness of outer space. Kids will enjoy it, but probably not as much as the adults yearning for a time when they didn't have to be so responsible.


Tuesday 10 June 2014

22 Jump Street (2014)

21 Jump Street was one of the best comedies of the last few years so I was very happy when I heard that all of the main players were returning for a sequel, imaginatively titled 22 Jump Street. Once the trailer landed I was even happier. It looked like it was going to be a lot of fun. Well, having just seen the movie, I can assure fans of the first film that they will have almost as much fun with this brilliant follow-up.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return to play Schmidt and Jenko, two undercover cops who have managed to get some good results, despite moments of staggering ineptitude. After going undercover at a high school for their first big job they end up now going to college. As Deputy Chief Hardy (Nick Offerman) goes to great lengths to point out that everyone wants them to do exactly what they did the first time around. More money has been ploughed into the project, the setting is slightly different, but the journey taken by our two leads should be a very familiar one. Nobody wants it to be different. Schmidt and Jenko may beg to differ, but they soon end up reprising a number of familiar comedy beats.

The plot isn't all that important to 22 Jump Street. What matters here is the meta brilliance of it all and the sheer exuberance in almost every scene. Sure, there may be some people who dislike seeing scenes that feel like pop video moments interrupting a standard narrative, but it's hard not to be swayed by the fun that Tatum and Hill are obviously having. The other main cast members - Ice Cube, Wyatt Russell, Amber Stevens, Peter Stormare, Jillian Bell, Jimmy Tatro - also get to have a good time, with almost everyone onscreen getting involved with at least one big laugh. Ice Cube and Offerman both steal a few scenes, and there are a good number of laughs packed into the one sequence that allows Rob Riggle and Dave Franco to show up again.

The script, written by Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman, isn't exactly a gold-plated classic, with a lot of the dialogue sounding completely unfunny out of context, but the execution of the material by directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who are now 4 for 4), and the chemistry between the two leads, more than makes up for the shortcomings. There's also that meta coating that gives a lot of the lines more than one meaning, often quite audaciously.

As a comedy, it works. As a comedy sequel, it works. As an action comedy, it . . . . . . just manages to get by, but only thanks to one or two set-pieces at the start and end of the film. As a brilliantly sly sequel that gleefully plays with expectations and spends plenty of time ridiculing itself, however, I put it on a par with Gremlins 2: The New Batch. It's a cheeky way to recycle elements from the first movie, but it works.

I don't think you'll find a better film this year that includes such a strong bromance, a pair of twins uncannily in sync with one another (played by The Lucas Brothers), Patton Oswalt, Ice Cube in an office that LOOKS like an ice cube, a nod to Benny Hill, and some slam poetry that may feel very familiar to fans of So I Married An Axe Murderer. But let me know if you do.


Pick up the first movie here if you haven't got it already -

Monday 9 June 2014

Deadbeat At Dawn (1988)

Goose (Jim Van Bebber) lives a violent life. He's the leader of a street gang, and always at war with a rival gang, and their leader (Danny, played by Paul Harper). His girlfriend (Christie, played by Megan Murphy) wants him to break free, wants them to start a fresh life together, and Goose eventually agrees. But that's easier said than done. Their happiness is rudely interrupted by thugs determined to teach Goose a lesson, which leads to things going too far. If/when Goose finds out who is responsible for his heartache then he'll be determined to exact his revenge.

Van Bebber is a fairly well-known name to fans of low-budget, exploitation fare. Watching Deadbeat At Dawn, it's easy to see why. Despite the crude way in which it's all cobbled together, it's often just impressive that it IS cobbled together. It suffers from some common flaws that low-budget exploitation movies have, such as scenes in which characters tend to ramble on about nothing of importance, but when things move up a gear this is a film on a par with many that have more money and resources available.

I don't think anyone expects the acting here to be awards-worthy, and it's not. It's not the worst that I've seen, far from it, but viewers may find themselves rolling their eyes every so often at the delivery of the dialogue. Murphy is one of the better performers, but Harper is never less than fun with his slightly unbalanced turn.

Van Bebber is, seemingly, a force to be reckoned with. Not only did he write, direct and star in the film, but he also did the editing, stuntwork and special makeup effects. And, as shown throughout the movie, he's a dab hand with a pair of nunchakus.

This isn't a film for people reared on a diet of nothing more than polished,  mainstream blockbusters. It's a film that may require viewers to have a little patience. The opening is enjoyable, but clumsy, while a middle section is home to some of the worst moments, but all of the rough patches are easy to view with fondness as things wind towards an action-packed, impressive finale.

Whether you like or dislike it, I think Deadbeat At Dawn is worth your time. It is, in a number of ways, a great achievement, even if it doesn't look like one.


Sunday 8 June 2014

Blank Cheque (1994)

A decidedly average Disney movie that, unsurprisingly, I enjoyed more when I was a bit younger, Blank Cheque (or Blank Check) is one of many movies selling its concept in the title.

Brian Bonsall plays young Preston Waters, a lad who never seems to get what he wants, and never has much pocket money. So when he's almost hit by a car backing into him he thinks he's hit the jackpot when the harried driver (Miguel Ferrer) hands him a blank cheque. Preston then makes the cheque out for one million dollars and heads to the bank the next day. Amazing as it seems, he receives the money, but that's not necessarily as good as it seems. Ferrer, you see, is a bit of a crooked type (did he play any other type in the '90s) and when he finds out that his money is missing he becomes determined to get it back. Meanwhile, Preston gets spending, telling people that he is now in the employ of a Mr. Macintosh.

It's funny how $1M doesn't seem like all that much nowadays, but it's worth noting that it wasn't actually all that much back in 1994, when this movie was released. It's a nice, round figure, and it's the type of figure that a kid would aim for, but the film does remind viewers that anyone trying to spend this kind of money like water isn't going to need too much time.

Director Rupert Wainwright keeps everything moving along at a zippy pace, and he makes sure that kids will enjoy watching the main character live his dream, but the script, by Blake Snyder and Colby Carr, never does as well as it should. The humour isn't as sharp as it could be, the tension fails to rise, even when Ferrer starts to get closer and closer to his target, there's a very clumsy story strand involving Preston and a woman (Karen Duffy) that he takes a shine to.

The young lead isn't the best to appear in a Disney film, but he may well be served short by the script so I'm not going to be overly critical. Thankfully, the adults fare slightly better. As well as Ferrer, who can do menacing in his sleep, there are enjoyable turns from Tone Loc and Michael Lerner, as two men helping him to retrieve his money. Duffy is an enjoyable presence, although she's dragged down by being the potential "love interest" for a minor, and Rick Ducommun is a lot of fun as the limo driver who befriends Preston while driving him around.

It still has enough to appeal to its target demographic, but this is by-the-numbers stuff that doesn't leave any major lasting impression. Montage moment? Check. Light and upbeat soundtrack? Check. Moral lesson learned? Check. Adults pratfalling as a kid outwits them? Check. Decidedly average and . . . . . blank? Check.


I don't get paid for blogging, and some may think that's obvious/a good thing, but every copy of my book sold gets a few pounds in my pocket, and gets you a good read (if I say so myself). So please feel free to remember me whenever you're visiting Amazon.

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.