Thursday 31 July 2014

Rolling Thunder (1977)

William Devane plays Major Charles Rane, a Vietnam veteran, in this dark thriller that mixes a tale of revenge with a look at how those accustomed to wartime conditions adjust to civilian life. He has just returned home, along with a few other men, after time spent in a POW camp. His wife (Lisa Blake Richards) is as confused as she is relieved, as he was thought dead for some time, his young son (Jordan Gerler) doesn't really recognise him, and a local policeman (Lawrason Driscoll) seems to have been filling in the space that was left vacant during his time away. While he's processing the whole situation, some bad shit goes down. It leaves the Major in a bad way, but it also gives him a new mission to embark on, something that seems to put a fire back in his belly.

Directed by John Flynn, this is a movie that sits in an area right between revenge thriller and full-on exploitation film. That's no surprise, considering that the story came from Paul Schrader (who wasn't happy with changes made to the material). He and Heywood Gould co-wrote the screenplay, which is as dark and angry as you'd expect. Yet, for all the pain and darkness on display, much of the movie focuses on the readjustment that many must struggle with after various experiences in wartime. The revenge aspect of the movie may be nicely interwoven throughout the majority of the movie, but it's also almost secondary for many scenes, with viewers being given the time and opportunity to think more about what is going through the mind of Major Rane than just how satisfying revenge could be.

Devane is fantastic in the lead role. I've always been a fan of the man, and this is one of his finest lead performances. A relatively young Tommy Lee Jones also does a great job, portraying a fellow soldier equally lost when dropped back into civilian life. Richards, Gerler and Driscoll all do decent work, but it's Luke Askew and James Best who make the best impression by exemplifying the worst in human nature. They, and a few others helping them out, provide Devane with a goal to reach. Linda Haynes brightens up the screen, playing a young girl who has a crush on the Major, and who ends up helping him in his quest.

Rolling Thunder remains a very interesting movie because of the way it manages to take the darker material, and themes explored, and still package everything in a pretty slick piece of satisfying entertainment. It's not the easiest viewing experience that you will have, but it's certainly put together in a way that allows it to reach a wider audience. It's an unrelentingly grim film that doesn't feel unrelentingly grim, which is quite an achievement. Personally, I feel that a lot of that end result is thanks to the winning performance from Devane. Others may disagree, and that's absolutely fine. I will simply stalk them and glower at every opportunity.


The Region B disc is, as far as I can tell, the best option -

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Terminal Invasion (2002)

Terminal Invasion is not the kind of movie that you'll be likely to hold in high regard. It's no great piece of film-making. Yet it's still an enjoyable enough slice of fun, thanks to the brisk pacing, a lack of pretension, and Bruce Campbell in the lead role.

Campbell plays Jack, a prisoner who ends up in a tiny airport with two officers guarding him closely. One trip to the gents later, everything gets a bit strange and dangerous. People are dead, and Jack is the one being blamed by the other people in the airport, including the security guard. It turns out that the killer was an alien, and it may not be the only one in the airport. Jack tries to convince others of the danger that they're in, but if they don't want to believe him then he'll do whatever it takes to break free and make sure that the one pilot in their midst (Chase Masterson) flies him all the way to another country.

Directed by Sean S. Cunninghman, the man perhaps best described as part horror maestro and part carnival barker, this is standard b-movie fun, trying to overcome its low budget with the charisma of Campbell and the potential fun of the premise. It's hard to believe that it took three people to write the script (Lewis Abernathy, John Jarrell and Robinson Young), but it's not as flat and lifeless as many other TV movies of this ilk.

A large part of that, however, is all down to Campbell, who has cornered the b-movie market in smartass, cool anti-heroes. Masterson makes for a decent partner, as the bizarre reality of the situation becomes clear, and Kedar Brown and Sarah Lafleur also do pretty good work. Jason Jones, one of the more recognisable faces in the supporting cast, is onscreen for a little while, and he's the only other one to make a decent impression. Andrew Tarbet, C. David Johnson, Marcia Bennett, and others populate the story without ever feeling like more than stock characters/fodder for the dangerous alien.

There are attempts made to keep viewers on their toes, each one being either too predictable or too laughably silly to work. Still, I appreciate the effort. It may be nothing more than an average film, when all of the pros and cons are weighed up, but it could have been much worse.


Tuesday 29 July 2014

All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

Co-written and co-directed by Lucky McKee and Chris Sivertson, All Cheerleaders Die is a chance for the guys to remake/rework a concept that they first delivered to audiences back in 2001. I haven't seen the original version so I can't comment on how closely this follows it, but I'm happy that this movie is here. It's a lot of fun, reminiscent of Jennifer's Body, with a little bit of The Craft and Heroes added to the mix.

The story starts with a young woman, Maddy (Caitlin Stasey), infiltrating the world of the cheerleaders as she puts together what seems to be some kind of documentary/promo piece about their lives. When tragedy strikes, and I don't think I'm spoiling anything by saying that a cheerleader dies, then Maddie ends up taking the plunge herself and applying to join the squad. It's all part of her plan to cause no small amount of upset, but her plan is scuppered when more deaths occur. Thankfully, a young witch (Leena, played by Sianoa Smit-Mcphee) is able to help out. But witchcraft isn't an exact science.

It may not have a script full of sassy one-liners, and it may not be as fast-moving as some may like, but I really had fun with this film. The humour stems from the fact that a bunch of cheerleaders end up being quite dangerous and powerful, completely by accident. They would, if it wasn't for Maddy, just get right back to their usual high school routine, which involved bitching about others, trying to get through classes with minimal effort, and fending off potential rapists.

McKee and Sivertson don't exactly twist genre conventions, but they mix things up in a way that makes everything a bit different from the norm, while also providing enough standard goodies for fans (there are some decent moments of bloodshed and, hey, the main characters are attractive cheerleaders - call me shallow, but I was happy throughout most of the movie).

Unfortunately, the main characters aren't all that strong. Stasey and Smit-McPhee both do well, setting themselves apart from the main crowd in their very first scenes, but Amanda Grace Cooper, Brooke Butler, Leigh Parker and Reanin Johannink all blur into one cheerleading mass. They're supposed to be that way, understandably, and their characters are allowed to develop slightly in the second half of the movie, but it still doesn't help viewers to fully engage with the unfolding events. Tom Williamson, playing Terry Stankus, stands out from the boys who are onscreen, mainly because he's the worst of the jocks, in ways that become clearer with each scene that he's in.

Perhaps suffering from a bit of an identity crisis (ironically enough, considering the fate of two main characters - see the film and you'll know what I mean), I still ended up enjoying All Cheerleaders Die, probably because I had no idea what to expect on the way in. I know some other people who have enjoyed it as much as I did, but I've also seen a lot of people thoroughly dislike it. I still recommend it anyway. If you hate it then it's only 90 minutes long. If you love it, well, you can thank me later.


In fact, if you end up liking the movie then you can thank me by . . . . . . . . . . buying my book. Hell yeah!

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 28 July 2014

Sin Sisters (2003)

It's always so easy to write reviews of any movie starring erotic movie star Misty Mundae (AKA Erin Brown). They all, unsurprisingly, follow a similiar pattern. Have a plot that is as slim as it is ridiculous, and then throw some sexy sexy footage onscreen every few minutes. The plot for Sin Sisters may not be quite as slim as the usual fare that Misty Mundae has starred in, but it's still nothing worth watching if you're after anything actually worthy of being called a movie. Of course, nobody watches these things for the plot and character development.

Misty and her sister, Chelsea Mundae, play the sisters of the title. They spend their time lounging by the pool, competing for the attention of men by getting nekkid and having sexy times, and then going to school/college/where they make time to have sexy times. There's a slight interruption to all of the sexy times when Misty kills a rival, Beth (Andrea Davis), and Misty and Chelsea then have to put her body in the trunk of a car and find a place to dump it. Not to fear, the sisters soon meet Juli (Julian Wells) in the middle of nowhere, and she soon forces them to have more sexy times. Some secrets are revealed, in an attempt to make the plot seem smarter than usual for this kind of movie, and more flesh is put on display. And that's it.

Okay, okay, I know that I am not the target audience for this type of thing (well, I AM a heterosexual male so I guess I AM the target audience, in some ways), but I just can't see the appeal of any Misty Mundae movie that I've seen so far, beyond the obvious. The starlet herself is kinda cute, and there are other women onscreen who aren't too unattractive either, but almost everything else is so horrible that it feels as if it's designed to drive viewers crazy while they wait for the sex scenes to start. Or do they always assume that every viewer is just going to fast forward through the movie until they see some naked flesh appear? I guess that's a distinct possibility.

Writer-director Tony Marsiglia must have laughed his ass off whenever he started to make money from these movies, because I have no doubt that he made some money. There's an annoying soundtrack throughout, camerawork that's barely competent, plenty lame lines of dialogue in the script, and, worst of all, not even that much sexiness during the moments that are supposed to be sexy.

I know that people will read this and think "Kevin, you dumbass, you can't rate softcore/erotic movies in the same way that you rate standard movies" and I completely understand that. I disliked Sin Sisters (and many films like it) because of a lack of anything that was actually sexy. It has nudity, it has women having sex with either themselves or other women, but nudity and sex aren't automatically sexy. With the way it fails to do anything else, sexy is the only thing this is supposed to have going for it. 

Only recommended for the very, very easily pleased. And teenagers who don't have the internet.


Don't forget that it's NOT actually a sin to buy my book.

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 27 July 2014

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Does Lethal Weapon NEED any introduction? I really don't think so. THE buddy cop movie by which all others ended up being measured, this was the film to put Danny Glover and Mel Gibson together with highly entertaining, and explosive, results.

I'll briefly surmise the plot. Mel plays Martin Riggs, a suicidal cop who lives for his job. Danny Glover is Roger Murtaugh, a 50-year-old cop who just wants to keep doing his job well while avoiding any of the downsides of the job, like bullet wounds or premature death. The two men are partnered up together, and it's not long until the case that they're working on places both of them in great danger.

With solid direction from Richard Donner, despite a flurried final fight sequence, and a cracking script from Shane Black, Lethal Weapon is everything that you should love about '80s action movies. All of the cliches are in place, although they weren't necessarily cliches when the movie was released, and every element is added to the movie without any hint of shame. The saxophone popping up all over the soundtrack, the troubled hero, the moment at which it all becomes personal, the mad villainous henchman played by Gary Busey. Admittedly, that last part isn't a cliche. It's just a masterstroke.

After attaining iconic status with his leading role in the Mad Max movies, Gibson finds himself in the enviable position of being able to have fun with another character quickly embraced by, and absorbed into, the pop culture of the time. Glover is in the same position, thankfully, as both men have their fair share of great moments. Lethal Weapon benefits from a central pairing so perfect that one man cannot shine without the other. But it's not JUST all about the men, oh no. It may seem that way, yet Traci Wolfe and Darlene Love also get to make a great impression as, respectively, Mrs Trish Murtaugh and daughter Rianne. Mary Ellen Trainor also pops up as a psychologist, a character she would reprise in the sequels, and she'd even gain an actual name in the third movie. Tom Atkins appears briefly, lending some Atkins greatness to the proceedings, Mitch Ryan is a bad man, and Busey is the REAL, and more entertaining, bad man. Well, he's the one who thinks himself capable of facing off against Gibson's character, which makes him highly dangerous.

Full of great moments, that are deservedly remembered with fondness, and great characters, Lethal Weapon endures, despite the fluffiness of Gibson's oh-so-eighties hair and the potential to teeter into all-out ridiculousness, because of the chemistry between everyone onscreen, be it Riggs and Murtaugh, the goodies and the baddies, or even the warmth between Murtaugh and his loving family. A classic of the genre.


Saturday 26 July 2014

Wolf Creek 2 (2013)

John Jarratt returns to the role of deadly Mick Taylor in this enjoyable sequel to Wolf Creek, but fans of the first movie should be warned ahead of time that this is quite a different beast, in some ways. The subtlety and slow burn of the first movie are gone, replaced with some grand guignol and entertaining outrageousness.

There's very little plot to speak of. Taylor is driving through the outback, looking for the opportunity to have his own particular brand of fun whenever he spots potential victims. He kills some people, and then finds things a bit more challenging when he sets his sights on a young man (Paul, played by Ryan Orr) who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Once again written and directed by Greg Mclean (with Aaron Sterns joining in as co-writer this time), it's made clear from the opening scenes that viewers are in for a very different ride. Wolf Creek was interested in the victims, and the growing horror of realising just how alone and vulnerable people can be while travelling in any foreign land, whereas the sequel is all about Mick. He's not necessarily turned into a figure of fun, but he's certainly always entertaining while he goes about his nastiness.

Jarratt is great, as anyone would expect after seeing his performance in the first movie, and Ryan Orr is likable enough as the potential victim. There are other people who come in and out of the movie, but the main thrust of the film centres on Jarratt and Orr, and it works because of the way in which the two different personalities seem to spend so much time toying with one another.

Some people have preferred this to the first movie, and it's easy to see why. It's not as slow, there's plenty of blood 'n' guts on display, and it's just a more fun experience, overall. However, I felt punched in the gut a few times while watching Wolf Creek, and that's something I'll always give it extra credit for. This sequel may be more in line with full-on slasher movies, making it easier to be entertained by, but that means that it feels more generic and "safe" than the first movie. Which is a shame.

This is certainly worth your time, and I'd be lying if I said that I wouldn't look forward to a third trip to the creek.


Friday 25 July 2014

Transformers: Age Of Extinction (2014)

Feel free to check out my overview of the other Transformers movies right here.

And so we get to the fourth live-action Transformers movie from director Michael Bay, and anyone believing that this outing will be oh-so-different from his previous outings may well find themselves angry at being suckered once again as the end credits roll. Of course, those knowing exactly what they're letting themselves in for should come out smiling. I'm not saying that anyone WILL believe that this robo-flick is going to be any different from the others. I'm just giving fair warning.

Set some years after the events of the last movie, both Autobots and Decepticons are being treated as hostile aliens by shady government types (namely Kelsey Grammer and his right hand man, played by Titus Welliver). They're also being researched by Stanley Tucci and his many workers, in an attempt to make the best use of that incredible technology, and to make lots of money. Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg is an inventor who hasn't made any breakthrough in the years that he's spent chasing his dream, leaving him with a seriously unhealthy bank balance and a seriously exasperated daughter (Nicola Peltz). All that looks set to change when he finds a run-down truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime, bringing the potential for great reward, and also great danger.

Love or hate the guy, and so many fall into the latter camp, it's hard to think of anyone who does BIG action set-pieces as well as Michael Bay. Why choreograph a fight between some robots when you can choreograph it in mid-air while the robots are transforming to overcome obstacles? Why put your main characters in some mild peril when you can put them through some physics-defying trauma that works the stunt performers and FX team to way beyond normal? Bay always thinks big, which is why these movies work well, for most of the time.

I've enjoyed all of the Transformers films, to some degree, because they all supply what I want to see, when it comes to large robots battling one another and transforming in cool ways. Ehren Kruger, back on the script-writing duties here, doesn't fix a formula that ain't broke. The human characters are still pretty thin, although Grammer, Welliver and Tucci all fare much better than John Turturro did in the previous movies, and the focus is on the spectacular set-pieces, as it should be.

Wahlberg isn't too bad in the main role, it's just a shame that the inventor side of his character is overshadowed by the single dad side. He's over-protective of Peltz, and that becomes more noticeable when they're joined by her boyfriend (Jack Reynor). Oh, and Reynor is playing an Irish lad for no discernible reason that I can think of, apart from allowing Wahlberg to then call him "Lucky Charms" throughout the movie. Seriously, either allow the guy to use his own accent or get, hmmmm, an Irish actor. T.J. Miller is good fun in a small role, Binbing Li gets to kick some ass, and Sophia Myles is underused, but always worth having in any movie, in my opinion (dear Hollywood, put Sophia Myles in more movies).

Optimus Prime is meaner than he has been previously, with good reason, and he's joined by Bumblebee, Hound, Drift, Crosshairs and Brains in his latest battle with Galvatron (essentially Megatron in a different guise), all while avoiding the attention of a robo-bounty hunter named Lockdown. Yeah, most of these names mean very little to me either, but I thought I'd mention some of the main robo-characters for fans who know much more about this universe than I do. And there are dinobots. How could I almost forget to mention the glorious dinobots? They may not get too much time on screen, about 15 minutes at most, but they're pretty damn impressive when they appear.

There are moments in which things pitch over into the ridiculous, including a high-wire sequence that proves that Wahlberg may be the most well-balanced man on the planet, literally, but this is a movie that's never too far away from another fantastic bit of eye-candy or impressive stunt work, or both. It's a bit overlong, at over two and a half hours (the longest entry in the series), but it's almost perfectly paced, meaning that it doesn't overstay its welcome. Well, not by too much.

And there are dinobots.


Thursday 24 July 2014

Almost Human (2013)

Oh well, it happens every now and again. Probably quite often, if I'm entirely honest. A movie will come along that lots of people rave about, and I just end up wondering why it managed to garner so much praise. Almost Human is a film that you may have heard about already, especially if you're a horror fan. It's a low-budget, independent, sci-fi horror that went down well at numerous festivals during the last year or so. And it just didn't do anything for me.

The plot pilfers from a great variety of titles (the filmography of John Carpenter, the superb Xtro, any "body snatchers" flick) as Mark (Josh Ethier) is rudely interrupted at his home one evening by a panicked Seth (Graham Skipper). Seth has lost one friend already that evening, and wants to find somewhere safe. He's rambling about something implausible when a loud noise causes them some discomfort. Then Mark goes outside and disappears. Two years later, Mark returns. Which doesn't bode well for Seth, Jen (who was Mark's girlfriend at the time), or anyone else in the immediate vicinity.

Written and directed by Joe Begos, I won't deny that there's some good stuff here, considering the small budget that he was working with. However, a small budget is no excuse for such a slim viewing experience, a movie that seems to overstay its welcome by a good 20 minutes or so, despite not being that long in the first place.

The script is weak, the acting is in line with the script (Vanessa Leigh, who plays Jen, and Skipper have some moments that are better than others, but they don't do enough to earn their sizable amount of screentime), and the homages start to pile up so thick and fast that viewers may, as I did, just start to wish that they're revisited one of the many classics referenced instead.

A weak script and weak acting isn't something that puts me off a horror movie though. Let's face it, we horror fans are used to such things, and they sometimes make the movies more enjoyable. If the movie had enough elsewhere to compensate then all would have been fine. Some tension can be a bonus, as can some good gore. And let's not underestimate the redemptive power of some gratuitous nudity. Almost Human can't even deliver the goods in those departments. Others have praised the practical effects, but they left me cold because a) they weren't THAT good (although, admittedly, they were good for the budget) and b) there weren't that many of them to enjoy. Of course, with so many people disagreeing on that point, you may as well be safe to assume that I'm in the wrong. But don't say you weren't warned IF you end up left as cold as I was.

It's a tough call. I'm glad that Begos made this movie, and made it in the way that he did. He shows potential, despite the many flaws that stack up during the film. Yet I still can't say that I actually liked it, and I don't think I would even be able to label it as average. Some moments bored me, some moments irritated me, and very few moments actually entertained me.


If you like this blog (yeah, if you can admit to such bad taste), or have been pointed towards a decent movie by any reviews here, then please feel free to head on over to Amazon and grab a copy of my e-book, TJ's Ramshackle Movie Guide. I assure you that it's good value and, more importantly for me, every copy purchased puts a pound or two in my pocket, and helps me to show my wife that I'm not wasting my entire life.

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.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

The Battered Bastards Of Baseball (2014)

You may know Bing Russell as a hard-working actor, arguably most famous for his recurring role in Bonanza, playing Deputy Clem Foster. Or you may know him as the father of a fine actor named Kurt. If you're a baseball fan, or hail from Portland, Oregon, then you may even know him as someone who caused a bit of a ripple, to put it mildly, through the world of baseball in the 1970s. I was, sadly, unaware of Russell, other than his connection to Kurt, but this documentary has made me into a big fan of the guy.

It's a story of a kind that has been turned into movies on more than one occasion. The story of a man (Russell) who loves his chosen sport - baseball - and continues to love it, even after injury puts an end to his potential career. Over the years he sees the sport being worn away, eroded by the quest for the almighty dollar. Independent teams start to die off, with every single one of them turning to a bigger name, a major team that will keep the smaller teams around simply to pick up the great talents that appear every so often. Russell saw an opportunity, and opportunity that everyone else sneered at, and he took it. He created an independent baseball team - The Portland Mavericks - at a time when a) no other independent teams were around, and b) Portland had fallen out of love with baseball. What's more, he created a team that started to win. It started to win and it started to remind people of how much fun could be had from a day out at the big game. Of course, this soon saw him marked out as a threat to the status quo.

Directors Chapman Way and Maclain Way take this golden story, illustrate numerous moments with archive footage and talking heads interviews (including people who played in the team, sports commentators who watched everything unfold, and Kurt, of course), and let viewers gradually warm up to the optimistic, perhaps slightly naive (though no less wonderful), fairytale that played out in the most unlikely of environments. IF this was a movie (and I think I've already heard whispers of it being turned into one) then you might roll your eyes, laugh at some of the cliches, yet still enjoy yourself. The fact that it's real allows you to revel in just how great life can be at times, and to enjoy the whole thing with the same degree of optimism, as you start to see Russell and his team defy the odds again and again, seemingly at every turn.

Trust me, even if you hate baseball, or are pretty ignorant of it (as I am, being a Brit who doesn't tend to watch many sports anyway) then you will still be able to love this documentary. It's such a fantastic tale that all but the most hard-hearted of viewers will spend most of the runtime with a large grin stuck on their face. This is well worth your time. A real . . . . . . . . wait for it . . . . . . . diamond in the rough, as it were. Thank you, I'm here all week.


The documentary is only available at Netflix just now, so enjoy some more Russell-related sports with Touchback -

Tuesday 22 July 2014

Alien Tornado AKA Tornado Warning (2012)

Why do I keep doing it to myself? Why, why, why? I saw the title, Alien Tornado, and I thought that I might end up enjoying this in the same way that I've enjoyed many other disaster movies and creature features shown on the SyFy Channel. I'm an easily pleased kind of guy, so it probably wouldn't be THAT painful. How wrong I was.

Alien Tornado is yet another made-for-TV movie that tells you exactly what it's all about in the title. Aliens invade Earth, attacking the planet while hidden in tornadoes. That's it. Which means that you get the usual style for this type of movie - a shaking camera, some poor CGI causing destruction, some strained moments between characters that it's hard to care about - with less of the fun factor than usual.

Jeff Fahey is the grizzled father who ends up losing plenty to an unexpected tornado, and Stacey Asaro is his daughter, a young woman who is desperate to get out of the small town and start her life in a big city. Kari Wuhrer is Gail Curtis, a weather expert who ends up heading to the small town where all the activity is occurring, and bumping heads with Fahey.

Director Jeff Burr does nothing to liven up the proceedings, and Paul A. Birkett seems intent on providing the worst script that he possibly can. Birkett has a number of these TV-movies under his belt, and can do better than this, so it feels very much that he (or someone else) thought up a premise that he was then unable to flesh out into a full feature. The characters are even less interesting than the usual carboard cut-outs that can populate such fare, and the tornadoes never feel like an impressive force of evil . . . . . . . . . . . because they're tornadoes, alien or not.

Fahey and Wuhrer have a number of awful movies in their filmography by now, yet this remains a low point for both of them. Asaro actually doesn't come over too badly. Hopefully, she can keep working hard until she drags herself further up the ladder. Willard E. Pugh does his best in the role of the local law enforcement, and David Jensen and Marcus Lyle Brown are a couple of shady characters working for an agency that knows a bit more about the tornadoes than it's willing to let the public know.

There's a beginning, middle, and end here, but the fact that absolutely nothing exciting happens during any section of the movie turns the whole thing into one long, boring mess. Even the poor dialogue that would usually give me a few chuckles seemed intent on putting me to sleep. The only thing saving this from being completely unwatchable is the cast, and that's me being charitable (because, let's face it, they're not working at the top of their game).

Avoid. If this appears on your TV at any point then turn off the TV immediately. If you're not quick enough, if one or two scenes pollute your brain before you can grab the remote control, then smash the screen, burn the whole thing, have a priest exorcise your living room, and then move house. Alternatively, change the channel and never speak of it again.


Monday 21 July 2014

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

After an interesting, and spooky, prologue, Insidious: Chapter 2 gets straight down to business by continuing on from the events at the end of the first movie. Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) have their son back, after rescuing him from supernatural entities, and everyone hopes that things will get back to normal. But that's just not going to happen. There's a murder to be investigated, and there are also some strange things still happening to the family. Renai is at the end of her rope, Josh doesn't want to believe that anything else will try to harm them, and granny Lambert (Lorraine, played by Barbara Hershey) eventually pieces enough together to re-enlist the paranormal investigators, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).

James Wan returns to direct, and Whannell once again multi-tasks as he acts onscreen after completing his duty as the writer of the screenplay. The two work well together, creating horrors that mix atmospheric moments with jump scares and unnerving imagery. Still, if you didn't like the first movie then you're not going to like this sequel. It's more of the same, and even reworks a few scenes in a nice wrinkle added to the standard paranormal activity.

The cast do what's asked of them, but the acting on display here isn't really the best that you'll see. Mind you, it's pretty good stuff compared to what viewers CAN be made to endure within the horror genre. Wilson has some fun, Byrne does well while not being allowed to relax for a minute (spending the entire movie with frayed nerves, bless her), and Hershey is good enough to help make the weaker moments work. Whannell and Sampson will annoy everyone who was annoyed by them the first time around, but I enjoyed the comic relief that they provided. Lin Shaye gets to return, playing Elise Rainier, albeit a changed version of her. Although she's not onscreen for that long, her character is shown to be, arguably, the most important one caught up in the whole situation. Steve Coulter is a new addition to the team, playing another paranormal investigator named Carl, and he does well with his role, particularly in a tense scene that sees him challenged over his method of divining results.

Perhaps not quite good, or intense, enough for more experienced horror fans, the Insidious movies definitely contain enough thrills and chills to scare plenty of money out of mainstream audiences. While I can see flaws in both movies, I must admit that I'm happier to see a film like this succeed than yet another remake of some '80s movie that someone erroneously thinks needs a big dollop of CGI to improve it. There are some big plot points here that will either please or turn off viewers, but you have to give the film-makers some credit for trying to twist the material into something a bit more interesting and unique. Okay, you don't HAVE to give them credit. But I do.


Sunday 20 July 2014

Homefront (2013)

Jason Statham plays, surprisingly enough, a tough guy in this standard action vehicle that allows him to do what he does best. Kick ass. This time around, he is a former DEA agent, named Phil Broker, who moves to the country for a quiet life with his daughter, Maddy (Izabela Vidovic). Things don't start off so well, however, when Maddy deals with a bully by using some of the moves that he daddy taught her. The parents of the lad are furious, and they're not the type of people to let things slide. In fact, the mother (Kate Bosworth) enlists the help of her drug-manufacturing brother (James Franco), which then leads to Phil's past being discovered, putting both him and his daughter in great danger.

Based on a novel by Chuck Logan, Homefront is simple stuff, yet it feels a lot better than many other standard action thrillers I've seen over the past few years. A part of that is down to the sparse, but effective, script by Sylvester Stallone, and a part of that is down to the solid direction from Gary Fleder, who does especially well during the vicious fight sequences that are peppered throughout the movie. He also paces the whole thing perfectly, from a prologue sequence that quickly establishes the basics, to the character introductions, to the tense and enjoyable final act. Everyone involved knows what viewers expect, and they deliver. In spades.

The cast also do their bit, of course. Statham has been doing his tough guy act for years, and he's damn good at it. I like him onscreen, even if he's trying to do an American accent, and he always brings a believable physicality to his action roles. Vidovic is great as his daughter, a winning combination of cute and tough. Bosworth feels as if she's overdoing her "white trash" act at times, but she gets better as her character is allowed to take things down a notch in the second half of the movie, and Franco has a lot of fun as a rather unlikely villain for Statham to clash with. Marcus Hester, Winona Ryder, Frank Grillo, Chuck Zito, Owen Harn and Stuart Greer play an assortment of supporting villains, and all do good work (Grillo doesn't get a lot of screentime, but he still makes one hell of an impression). On the side of good we get Clancy Brown as a local sheriff, Rachelle Lefevre as a caring teacher, and Omar Benson Miller as a young man helping Statham to fix up his homestead.

One of many movies that you will probably know beforehand whether you're likely to love or hate it, Homefront shouldn't be quickly dismissed just because it takes standard, familiar elements and puts them together for a great end result. I'd argue that it should be applauded for exceeding expectations, no matter how low some of those expectations might be.


If you like this blog (yeah, if you can admit to such bad taste), or have been pointed towards a decent movie by any reviews here, then please feel free to head on over to Amazon and grab a copy of my e-book, TJ's Ramshackle Movie Guide. I assure you that it's good value and, more importantly for me, every copy purchased puts a pound or two in my pocket, and helps me to show my wife that I'm not wasting my entire life.

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 19 July 2014

Wolf Creek (2005)

Based on true events. It's a line that has been used to market movies for a long time now, and it's hardly ever accurate. Wolf Creek is based on a couple of famous murder cases, but it could just as easily be a complete work of fiction. At least this horror movie doesn't make the same mistake that so many other "based on true events" horror movies make. It remembers to actually deliver some real horror.

Nathan Phillips, Kestie Morassi and Cassandra Magrath play, respectively, Ben, Kristy and Liz, three youngsters who head off on a long road trip to see some of the sights that Australia has to offer. Ben is a born and bred Australian, while Kristy and Liz are both from Britain. They all, however, end up as potential victims when they have car trouble in the middle of nowhere. That's when Mick Taylor (John Jarratt) turns up. He seems like a very helpful man. Of course, appearances can be deceptive.

Written and directed by Greg Mclean, showing no signs that this is his first feature, Wolf Creek is an intense horror that isn't easily forgotten once the end credits have rolled. It takes its time, allowing viewers to get to know, and warm to, Ben, Kristy and Liz in the first half of the movie before then dragging them through a hellish ordeal. Some people may find their patience stretched a bit too thin, but the second half certainly provides a big pay-off. Rewatching it today made me wince and cringe all over again, just as I did when I saw it for the first time.

Phillips is a ball of energy as Ben, but Morassi and Magrath don't slouch alongside him. All three of the young travellers feel like real people, imperfect and not quite as prepared for their adventuring as they could be. And then there's Jarratt, giving horror fans a new horror villain, with a performance equal parts entertaining and terrifying. Mick Taylor is not an unstoppable boogeyman. On the contrary, he just happens to be someone who is very good at his awful hobby, especially when compared to his prey, who are unwary and unable to get their bearings in the countryside sprawling all around them. He may not be a new horror icon, but he comes pretty close, and Jarratt is undoubtedly the star of the show.

Not one for the faint-hearted, Wolf Creek is a nerve-shredding experience that doesn't have to throw blood and guts all over the screen to get a reaction. There IS some of the red stuff flowing, don't get me wrong, but viewers will tend to react most strongly to the relatively bloodless, yet no less visceral, moments.

There are a couple of flaws, mainly with the structuring of the second half and the less plausible moments that take it into proper slasher territory, yet they're not enough to drag it down too far. This remains a superior modern horror, and I'm sure that it has put more than a few people off the idea of a backpacking holiday.


Friday 18 July 2014

Streets Of Fire (1984)

A rock and roll fable, apparently, from director Walter Hill, Streets Of Fire may seem like a bit of an anomaly when compared to the many other movies from the director, but it doesn't take long to see just how many familiar elements are in place here.

Diane Lane plays a rock star, Ellen Aim, who is kidnapped one evening by an unruly biker gang led by Willem Dafoe. The biker gang have been revving into town whenever they like, causing trouble and not coming up against anyone who can teach them to behave a bit better. Kidnapping Ellen, however, leads to a young woman named Reva (Deborah Van Valkenburgh) writing to her brother, Tom Cody (Michael Pare). Tom used to go out with Ellen, and he's the kind of guy who can stand up to the bikers and sort out the mess that's been created.

Bookended by a couple of bombastic rock tunes (think Meatloaf meets Bonnie Tyler style), Streets Of Fire isn't a full-on musical, but it has a few moments that pause the action for the sake of a song or two, and is all the better for it. In between the songs we get a number of fights, plenty of corny dialogue, and a few scenes that allow Bill Paxton to make you laugh with the best hairdo that he's ever had.

^^^^^^^^^ Seriously? Who styled his hair?? ^^^^^^^^^

The lone hero going against the baddies, and possibly helping to clean up the town. The motorbike engines tearing up the screen in a way that almost allows you to smell the exhaust fumes. The neon-lit streets that serve as the backdrops for the main action. In many ways, this often feels like a natural successor to The Warriors. There are youngsters trying to overcome some big odds, and most of the scenes could be broken down into comic book panels (but don't remind Hill of that, unless you want some ridiculous tinkering a la the director's cut of the aforementioned 1979 classic), and both movies are about gangs and territory, in a number of ways.

Cast-wise, Pare isn't the best leading man, but he grows into the role as required, and Lane is as gorgeous and cool as the character needs to be. Dafoe gives the kind of performance that you'd expect, making for an enjoyably fierce villain. Rick Moranis and Amy Madigan are two people who end up helping out our hero in very different ways, with the former portraying a businessman with little backbone and the latter a tough woman who values loyalty above potential cash. Paxton makes quite an impression, Rick Rossovich and Richard Lawson are a couple of fairly ineffective police officers, and Van Valkenburgh does well enough with her small role, even if her character does little more than kickstart the main plot.

Dafoe in full-on mad villain mode.

However, this is Hill's movie all the way. As well as directing, he also co-wrote the script with Larry Gross, and each sequence is planned out in line with his uncompromising vision. It's a fantastic achievement. Some may call it an exercise in style over substance, but I would argue that the style helps to create the substance. The motorbikes, the rockers, the love story at the heart of it all, the dialogue that eschews reality for the sake of sounding cool, the gruff (anti?) hero - all of these things are ripped straight from numerous rock ballads, and that's what this is. It's one big rock ballad turned into a movie. As it's described, and as I mentioned at the very start of this review, it IS a rock and roll fable. And it's a bloody fantastic one.


Thursday 17 July 2014

The Helpers (2012)

Written and directed by Chris Stokes, The Helpers is a slice of nastiness that forgets to provide any actual entertainment along with the gore. There's no tension, there are no interesting twists and turns, and there's certainly no character development to make you care about the people in peril.

After a sequence that details a fire at an orphanage we then get to the main part of the story, a bunch of pretty young things on a trip to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, they end up gaining two flat tyres, which then leads to the boys heading off to find help while the girls wait in the car. The boys find help, and are also offered food and drink and a place to stay. The girls are then collected and encouraged to join in with the relaxation. It's only the next again morning that things start to look different, when it becomes clear that the people offering to help are actually planning to kill them.

There are three types of movie reviews that are tough to write, in my experience. The BIG titles that you already feel have had enough written about them, movies that you love, and fear any written expression of that love may turn into something too fawning and repetitive, and bland movies that are bad without even managing to be entertainingly bad. The Helpers isn't a BIG title, and I certainly didn't love it.

It's bland in almost every way I can think of. Or, rather, can't think of. Because I have no idea what to say about it. Stokes shows a minimal level of competency, I guess, with his writing and direction. I mean that the awful script at least proves that he CAN write, and the structure and development of the slight plot at least signify SOME direction.

I'd love to say that the cast helped to make everything better, or even that they stunk to high heaven. But I can't. Truth be told, I could barely distinguish one character from the other. Cameron Diskin stood out, thanks to the fact that he sometimes looked a bit like a young Karl Urban, and the one black male of the group was played by Black Thomas (that's his real name, apparently, although he also goes by Alfred Thomas), who did okay. Denyce Lawton was okay, as the one black female, and Christopher Jones looked a bit like a young Oscar Issac, and that is all I can say about the entire cast. Honestly, I could keep track of two characters because of their race, and two other characters because of who they kind of looked like. Yes, I realise how horrible and sad that is. I defy anyone to watch this movie and then tell me what they thought, specifically, of Dustin Harnish, Kristen Quintrall, Rachel Sterling, Braxton Davis, Rebecca Burchett, Dallas Lovato, and the others. If they don't all blur into one homogenised rent-an-actor mass for you then, well done, you're much sharper than I am.

The Helpers is pretty rubbish. It does enough to avoid being among the worst movies I've seen, but there's no excuse for how unentertaining and bland it is.


Wednesday 16 July 2014

2 Guns (2013)

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg play two men who work together to rob a bank in this enjoyable action comedy. They aim to take the money, about $3M, that's been placed there by a major drug dealer (Papi, played by Edward James Olmos), but instead end up with over $40M. The money doesn't belong to Papi. It belongs to someone much more dangerous. As the situation gets worse for our two leads, they end up finding out more about each other, including the fact that both are actually undercover agents working for different organisations.

Written by Blake Masters, based on some graphic novels by Steve Grant, 2 Guns is a fun time from start to finish. It may not be as action-packed as some might like, but it has enough beats to allow itself the title of action comedy. Director Baltasay Kormakur seems to rely on the charisma of his two leads, something I have no problem with when they work together as well as they do. Stylistically, he seems to take a cue from Tony Scott, although there isn't as much hyperactive editing. It's more about the sun beating down, some slo-mo replays here and there, and plenty of little moments to constantly remind the viewer that the two leads are badass.

Washington and Wahlberg are both fantastic, turning in performances that really play to their strengths. The former is cool and tough, as usual, while the latter does his abrasive, fast-talking routine once again. Edward James Olmos is okay as Papi, but it's the other supporting players that help to make the whole thing more watchable. Namely James Marsden, as Wahlberg's commanding officer, and Bill Paxton, as an agent working for yet another American organisation. Paula Patton isn't bad either, and it's always good to see Fred Ward onscreen, even if he's only there for a minute or two.

There aren't too many surprises here, although there are one or two twists, and the fun definitely stems more from the journey than the destination. The finale isn't as good as it could/should be, yet it's still enjoyable enough because of that ongoing banter between the two leads. Thankfully, the main set-pieces that come along beforehand are all well executed, and the build-up to each sequence is nicely played out. Which all amounts to enough to make me like it. I enjoyed watching it for the first time recently, and I wouldn't mind watching it again at some point.


Tuesday 15 July 2014

The Art Of The Steal (2013)

The Art Of The Steal is a con/heist movie like a hundred others I could name. It's nowhere near the best of the bunch, but it passes the time pleasantly enough, thanks mainly to a great cast all having a lot of fun onscreen.

Kurt Russell is Crunch Calhoun, a thief/getaway driver who ends up doing a stint in a Polish prison thanks to a deal made by his brother, Nicky (Matt Dillon). Years later, Crunch is a stunt motorbike rider who provides some extra spectacle, in the form of some painful crash landings, for some extra cash. He has a young friend (Francie, played by Jay Baruchel) who hates watching it happen, but can't do anything to stop it, and a girlfriend (Lola, played by Katheryn Winnick) who keeps motivating him to do whatever it takes to make them some money. When a golden opportunity to pull off a major job comes along, Crunch ends up working with Nicky once again, as well as some other familiar faces from his past. He doesn't trust his brother, yet he needs him to make the whole plan work.

Written and directed by Jonathan Sobol, this is a movie that does just enough to coast by. It's clever, yet not too clever. It's derivative, yet not in a way that makes it feel as if it's directly lifting from any superior movie from this subgenre. And it is, despite its flaws, fun. The script does what it needs to do, in terms of the plot developments and twists, but it also throws in a handful of unnecessary moments that end up proving to be highly amusing. Just watch Jay Baruchel trying to bumble his way past a border guard and try not to laugh.

However, even with the decent script and direction, this would be an inferior film if it didn't have such a great ensemble cast involved. Russell is always a pleasure to watch onscreen. Always, and this performance is no different. Dillon is another performer I like seeing in movies, and I've been a big fan of Baruchel for years, so to see him alongside these actors was a real treat. Winnick isn't given much to do, but she does it well. Kenneth Welsh and Chris Diamantopoulos make up the rest of the main crew. Both are good fun, although the former has more great lines. And it's also worth mentioning Jason Jones and Terence Stamp, playing the two men who are trying to catch Calhoun and co. Jones is very amusing, as an agent who doesn't really have the experience to make people take him seriously, while Stamp is the exasperated old hand who also happens to genuinely love art.

If you're in two minds about whether or not to watch The Art Of The Steal then just flip a coin to decide. If, however, you like the main cast members as much as I do then you should have a good time. So flip the coin and then make the call when you can see how it has landed. Consider it a small moment of conning yourself in preparation for the film.


You know what else is a steal? My e-book of movie reviews, collated and put together in one massive package. Every copy sold helps me justify my obsessive viewing and review-writing to my understanding, but exasperated, wife.

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 14 July 2014

Cuban Fury (2014)

It's an age old story. Boy loves salsa dancing. He excels at it. He is then bullied on the way to a major competition and falls out of love with salsa dancing. He grows up to be a man without fire in his belly (Bruce, played by Nick Frost), but finds his passion reignited when he falls for a woman (Julia, played by Rashida Jones) who, yep, enjoys a bit of salsa dancing. That leads him to finding his old salsa dance instructor (Ian McShane), and also pits him against a repugnant colleague (Chris O'Dowd) who has also taken a shine to the lovely Julia.

Okay, maybe it's not quite the same old story that we've seen/heard so many times before, but the structure of this film is obvious and predictable. Yet, it's also none the worse for it. This is absolutely wonderful, crowd-pleasing stuff. The predictability of the plotting makes it as comfortable as the favourite sweater that you look forward to wearing whenever the temperature starts to drop, and the script and performances provide some big laughs.

Nick Frost is a very likable lead, Jones is an entirely believable object of affection, and O'Dowd has a lot of fun as the asshole making everything more difficult for the main character. McShane is wonderful as the gruff, grouchy dance instructor who resents Bruce for what he threw away in his youth, but the supporting cast also includes some fun turns from Rory Kinnear, Olivia Colman, and, especially, Kayvan Novak.

The script by Jon Brown is full of great lines, with one of the first comments made by O'Dowd about the loveliness of Jones actually making me howl with laughter for a good while, thanks to the unexpected crudity and inventiveness of it. And it wasn't the only bit of dialogue to make me laugh aloud. You might think that's the minimum requirement for a decent comedy, and you'd be right, but it's also increasingly rare to watch something that hits the funny bone so precisely throughout, especially a romantic comedy. James Griffiths doesn't have to work too hard in the role of director, or so it would seem, but he puts everything together well and certainly helps to make the most of the expected touchstones (the montage moment, the inevitable dance-off, the grand finale, etc.).

The other big plus point for the movie is that everyone, to a certain degree, sells it so well. I'm well aware that a mix of techniques will have been used to achieve the desired final effect, but there are plenty of moments that show how nimble on his feet Nick Frost can be. The same goes for Jones, Wilde, and O'Dowd. Considering the fact that the whole movie is focused on salsa dancing,  everyone looking as if they CAN actually salsa dance makes it easier to enjoy the whole thing as it spins and twirls you to a satisfying conclusion.

Don't rush to see Cuban Fury when you want to see something challenging and/or unique. But definitely give it a go if you fancy keeping a smile on your face for just over 90 minutes.


Sunday 13 July 2014

Beverly Hills Vamp (1989)

Directed by (the infamous?) Fred Olen Ray, Beverly Hills Vamp is simultaneously awful and pretty great. The plot is as slim as it is ridiculous, and it's the least important aspect of the movie. This is just an excuse to see some pretty women being vamps, "enjoy" some awful gags, and look on in wide-eyed wonderment at the strangely brilliant Eddie Deezen. Imagine a gangly Jerry Lewis trying to impersonate Groucho Marx while fitted with a voice-altering device that makes him sound like a high-pitched Joe Pesci and you've got the general idea.

Deezen and two of his friends, Tim Conway Jr. and Tom Shell, want to make it in the movie business. After one meeting, they then decide to go out for an evening of fun. They end up at a house overseen by Madame Cassandra (Britt Ekland), unaware that all of the alluring women are actually vampires. Deezen resists any temptation, as he's faithful to his girlfriend, Molly (Brigitte Burdine), and that's what keeps him safe. But can he keep his friends from being bitten?

Written by Ernest D. Farino, this is a scattershot film that throws everything at viewers in an attempt to fill out the skimpy premise. There are gags, characters sometimes break the fourth wall and comment on the film that they're in, minor characters (such as the one played by Caryle Waldman) are given their own little skits, beautiful women act foolish, and Eddie Deezen overshadows the whole thing with his own inimitable, hand-waving style. There's also some fairly amusing lines delivered with great camp by Ralph Lucas, who also gets an unexpected "honour" with his last scene.

Director Fred Olen Ray is no fool, however, and he knows that people aren't going to sit down and watch this movie for the plot. Oh no. Most viewers, who will mostly be male, will watch this for the female stars. Ekland is the big name, but she's often sidelined in favour of the younger talent; Debra Lamb, Jillian Kesner, and Michelle Bauer.

Ahhhhhhhh Michelle Bauer. If Bauer wasn't in the movie then I don't mind admitting that I could easily take two points off the final rating given here. But she IS in the movie, and that's enough for me to rate the film as above average. Because she'll always be one of my favourite '80s scream queens.

Anyone who doesn't share my love for her (and if not, why not?) can always adjust the rating accordingly.


No DVD release seems to be available, unfortunately, so check out the movie here, for the time being -

As I couldn't find a decent screenshot to use, this picture of the gorgeous Michelle Bauer will have to do.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Can't Buy Me Love (1987)

Ronald Miller (Patrick Dempsey) is a bit of a nerd in this typical, though enjoyable, teen movie from the '80s. He wants a shot to become popular, and his chance comes along when he spots the lovely Cindy Mancini (Amanda Peterson) in a spot of bother. Ronald can help her out, but he negotiates a deal. He will give Cindy $1000 if she will hang out with him for a month. The two will spend a lot of time at school together, making Ronald popular by association. Cindy doesn't think that the plan will work, but she agrees to the deal. It's not long until the plan DOES start to work, better than either party could have envisioned, and it's not long until Ronald starts to be changed by his experience, abandoning the lad who used to be his best friend (Courtney Gains) in favour of a crowd that feeds the ever-inflating ego he has managed to create.

Throwing in almost every cliche in the teen movie handbook (including, damn, the slow handclap moment), Can't Buy Me Love is a film you can easily choose to hate if you can't watch in the right frame of mind. The script, by Michael Swerdlick, allows everything to play out in a way that can be predicted from the very first scene, yet it's all done with a load of positive energy and just the right amount of sweetness (not the romance stuff, I'm on about the scenes between Dempsey and Gains). Director Steve Rash doesn't do anything special when it comes to the execution of the material, but he does what's needed.

Dempsey is fun in the lead role, transforming from outcast to trendsetter convincingly enough, even if he's saddled with some of those horrendous outfits from the decade that fashion forgot. Peterson is easy to like in her role, and benefits from the fact that her character isn't entirely horrible at the start of the movie anyway - she just moves in different circles to Ronald. Gains has one of his best roles, a nerd who is happy enough to stay in the social position that he's been allocated, and it's the way he is affected by the whole situation that proves to be the most effective part of the movie. Tina Caspary and Darcy DeMoss are both enjoyable enough as, respectively, Barbara and Patty, two friends of Cindy who start to view Ronald in a different light as soon as he moves from geek to chic. Dennis Dugan and Cloyce Morrow play a decent set of parents, and a teeny tiny Seth Green is the standard, irritable young brother. His scenes are all more amusing nowadays, simply because of his teeny tiny Seth Green-ness. Erik Bruskotter, Cort McCown and a bunch of others portray the jocks who end up also warming up to Ronald, and they all do just fine.

Despite the predictability of it all, and the lack of any major sequence to lift it above and beyond the pile of many other teen movies churned out over the years, the winning performances help to make this pleasant enough. It also helps that it has a pretty fantastic soundtrack. There are some bland, standard filler tracks, but then there are tunes like the titular track, of course, "Surfin' Safari", "Secret Agent Man", "Living In A Box", "French Kissing" and "Dancin' With Myself". Keep your ears open for them.

All in all, the movie may not be one to seek out, but it's an amusing diversion. You could do worse.


Friday 11 July 2014

Stash House (2012)

Briana Evigan plays Amy Nash, a young woman surprised by her partner, David (Sean Faris), when he presents her with their dream home as a birthday present. Unfortunately, the previous owner used the house to store drugs. Of course, if they remained happily oblivious then the previous use for the house wouldn't matter. But they don't. Amy and David discover a whole heap of heroin, and then they discover that two men (played by John Huertas and Dolph Lundgren) are outside their home, eager to get in and get their hands on something very valuable. Amy and David discover that they can put the house on lock down, but that may not be enough to keep them safe from the determined intruders.

I went into Stash House expecting some dumb fun. Well, it certainly was dumb, but not in a good way. The script, by Gary Spinelli, is an expansion of Panic Room, essentially, but the execution of the material, by director Eduardo Rodriguez, leaves a lot to be desired. You may watch the movie and think different, but I'll be very surprised if everyone isn't rolling their eyes as much as I did by the time the movie gets to the final ten minutes, which takes any suspension of disbelief you may have had and then craps all over it.

Faris and Evigan are perfectly fine in the main roles, although it's amusing to note that the latter seems to make a habit of being in the wrong house at the wrong time. They don't have to do much beyond looking confused and afraid, and they manage that. Huertas is fun as a villian, despite being overshadowed by the mighty Lundgren. The action star is, however, poorly treated by a script/characterisation that falls flat while it thinks it is being entertaining and slightly quirky. And the less said about the unnecessary character played by Alysia Ochse the better. The actress isn't bad, it's just that her reasons for popping up are groan-inducingly obvious.

There are one or two good moment here and there, I won't deny that, but it's hard to enjoy them in between so many scenes that end up feeling pointless. What should be a lean, mean thriller ends up feeling saggy and stretched way beyond breaking point. And I really can't overstate the case for how awful the ending is. You've been warned.


Thursday 10 July 2014

Carrie (2013)

"You will know her name" was the tagline used to advertise Carrie, which kind of highlights the whole problem with the film. Any horror fan already DOES know her name, from either the source novel (by Stephen King), or the original movie, or the belated sequel, or even the OTHER remake. Let's not mention the stage musical. Which means that Carrie is a film pushed/marketed towards younger viewers, or perhaps even non-horror fans.

It all starts off with a bit of unnecessary unpleasantness as we get to see Julianne Moore endure an unexpected home birth, welcoming Carrie White into the world. Moving forward many years, Carrie (Chloe Grace Moretz) is now in high school. She's not that popular, and it probably doesn't help that her mother is a strict religious zealot. Things come to a head when Carrie is surprised by her first period while showering. She has never been told about the changes that her body will go through. While needing help, and being terrified, the other girls simply taunt and humiliate her. As well as the usual changes that young women go through, Carrie also finds that she has a unique talent for telekinesis. Studying up on the subject, Carrie decides to develop her powers. Meanwhile, Sue Snell (Gabriella Wilde) is one of the few young women feeling bad for her part in mocking Carrie, and convinces her boyfriend, Tommy (Ansel Elgort), to take the poor lass to the prom. Mean Chris Hargensen (Portia Doubleday), however, plans to make sure that the night is memorable for all the wrong reasons.

While it felt redundant to surmise the plot in that previous paragraph, it seems most appropriate for this review. Because the main word to use in describing Carrie is redundant. Writers Lawrence D. Cohen and Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa bring nothing new to the table, because there's nothing else to be siphoned from the story. Director Kimberly Peirce then makes everything worse by throwing around a load of unnecessary, though not unexpected, CGI and by the poor choices that she makes with the direction given to the cast.

Oh, that cast. I actually feel quite sorry for most of the people involved here. One fantastic cameo from Hart Bochner aside, the cast all have the potential to be great in their roles, but are largely wasted by the script and inept direction. Doubleday wasn't great in the role of Chris, but Wilde and Elgort were both perfectly fine as the two youngsters trying to give Carrie one great night out. Greer comes out of it best, portraying a sympathetic P.E. teacher without overdoing it. The same can't be said of Moore and Moretz, unfortunately. The former pitches her performance in line with the original turn by Piper Laurie, so that's not so bad, but Moretz is asked to portray Carrie in full telekinetic mode as someone twitching their head around and making wiggly hand movements like someone overacting at a Harry Potter LARP event. She's great with the other aspects of the role, portraying the sweetness, shyness and general insecurities of the character with ease, but the last 20-30 minutes leave her flailing, literally.

Yet, as much as it angered and frustrated me, I still found enough individual moments in Carrie to stop me from completely hating it. I couldn't say that it ever even reached the level of average, but the cast helped it to stay away from the very bottom of the barrel. They just couldn't stop it from being so, and you have already guessed my next word, redundant.


Wednesday 9 July 2014

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins (1985)

AKA Remo: Unarmed And Dangerous.

Sometimes, as a youngster, your love for a movie is set in stone from the very first time you see it. There are many obvious titles I could list here as personal favourites, and many of them would have people nodding in agreement (I hope). But sometimes you love a movie that seems out of line with others that have grabbed your attention. Movies that weren't really aimed AT you, necessarily, but still managed to hit the sweet spot, even if you first saw it at an age when you didn't take in every detail or get every joke. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins is one of those movies.

It's a simple tale. Fred Ward is Remo, a man who used to be someone else. A covert company liked his profile, decided to recruit him, and then faked his death. They then gave him a new face (although it's not a million miles away from his old face), a new name (errrr . . . .  Remo Williams, obviously), and placed him under the tutelage of a martial arts master (Chiun, played by Joel Grey). Remo will be trained up to become a perfect assassin . . . . . . . . . . . . . IF he survives.

Basically, this is The Karate Kid for slightly older viewers, mixed with elements of James Bond. Based on The Destroyer series of books, by Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy, this was a movie that kicked off a franchise that never happened. While that's a bit of a shame, it's also great, in a way. No shoddy sequels were produced to tarnish the affection so many have for this film.

The cast all handle the material with the healthy sense of humour running all the way through it. Ward is consistently believable in the lead role, whether rolling his eyes and lacking self-belief in the first half of the movie or handling the physical aspect of the role in the later scenes. I don't know why Grey was picked to play the character of Chiun, but he's entertaining in every scene that he has. The great practical make up used on him doesn't cover the ever-present twinkle in his eye. J. A. Preston and Wilford Brimley both do their usual good work, playing the men in charge of CURE, the covert company waiting impatiently for Remo to fulfil his full potential, and Charles Cioffi is George Grove, the villain of the piece, although the best moments involve his henchman, Stone (Patrick Kilpatrick). Last, but by no means least, are two military personnel. George Coe is a General helping out Grove, while Kate Mulgrew has the role of Major Rayner Fleming, a military woman who starts to smell a rat when trying to check up on Grove and his projects.

Directed by Guy Hamilton (a Bond veteran, of course), the whole thing moves along at a cracking pace, ensuring that viewers never feel bored during the 120-minute runtime. The script (by Christopher Wood, although it was apparently heavily rewritten by Hamilton) has just the right tone throughout, gently self-mocking when viewers are directly alongside Remo but all about the thrills and action when watching him being seriously tested. Admittedly, the grand finale may be a little less effective than it could be, but the vertigo-inducing set-pieces that come along before hand more than make up for that. And the BIG sequence set on the Statue Of Liberty remains a high benchmark in action cinema, perfectly blending stuntwork, special effects and an almost unbearable amount of tension. Seriously, hold that up alongside any other action movie set-piece and it holds up to this day.

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, or Remo: Unarmed And Dangerous, or even just Remo. The title may have been subject to change over the years, but the movie has remained, and still remains, a real gem for action fans.


Trust me, THIS is the release that you need ASAP - - a typically lush Arrow package, with commentary, a cracking documentary on the cultural context of '80s action flicks, a booklet, and picture and sound quality that I'd argue is the best the movie has had since its cinema release.

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.