Sunday 31 August 2014

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Here's an anecdote that will make sense to nobody outwith Scotland. When I was quite young I wrote in to the letters/joke page of the Oor Wullie section of The Sunday Post. I sent in a joke and received, if I remember correctly, a £5 gift token, and my name in print. The joke wasn't great, but I still kinda like it. See what you think.

Tonto is riding through the countryside one day and sees The Lone Ranger coming towards him, with a bin bag over his shoulder.
"Where are you going?" asks Tonto.
"To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump. To the dump, to the dump, to the dump, dump, dump."

I admit, it may not work quite as well when written down. Anyway, let's move on.

There are some movies that just don't stand much chance with the critics. That can happen for a variety of reasons. The subject matter. The budget. Bad casting choices. And much more besides. The Lone Ranger was one of those movies. And I can think of two main reasons for the knives being drawn. One, the budget, which apparently went just over $200M. Two, the casting of Johnny Depp in the role of Tonto, the Native American sidekick to the main character. I don't care about the budget for blockbuster movies, personally. Once you're over $100M then everything tends to blur into one big, fat wad of cash anyway. I do agree with everyone who thought that casting Johnny Depp as Tonto was ridiculous, however, but realise that he's the only BIG name in the cast. That means that the decision is still dubious, but a bit more understandable. Yet it's still not a good enough reason to completely drub a film that actually has some moments of rollicking entertainment.

The story is, as if you couldn't guess, all about how a man (Armie Hammer) assumed the role of The Lone Ranger. With Tonto by his side, for better or worse, he eventually comes to realise that his idealistic approach to the law may not be beneficial to his health, especially if the criminals that he wants to capture are just working for more powerful, but hidden, villains.

Directed by Gore Verbinski, there's no denying that the film has a certain Pirates Of The Caribbean vibe to it. There are issues with the pacing, there are some big, entertainingly complicated, action sequences, and there's Johnny Depp being a bit kooky. The script, by Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, packs in much more than it needs to. The Lone Ranger doesn't have to be a complex character. He's a good guy, plain and simple. Yet the writers here decide to focus on his steep learning curve, as he grows into the mask, and then amuse themselves with a framing device that allows them more room to play around with the narrative. It does make for a few good moments, admittedly, but could easily have been trimmed to save the movie a good 10-15 minutes, in my estimation.

Hammer is good as the hero. I like him a lot, thanks to his ability to temper the stoic heroic qualities required with some solid comedic talent. Depp - well, we've already covered his performance. He's not terrible, although many will disagree. Ruth Wilson is a tough woman who finds herself in danger, and she's okay, but given short shrift by the script. William Fichtner fares much better, playing the dangerous criminal known as Butch Cavendish, and Tom Wilkinson repeats the kind of decent performance that is often required of British actors in American blockbusters. Barry Pepper proves to be a highlight, once again. As he does in almost every movie that he appears in. And there are also small roles for James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter, Harry Treadaway and Stephen Root, among others.

There are a number of scenes that feel a bit dull and lifeless, yet the movie really shows how great it could have been in a few extended set-pieces that raise up the energy levels and mix CGI, fantastic stunt work, and a healthy dollop of humour to provide the kind of exuberant fun that I wish more blockbusters would strive for. And the finale, accompanied by that rousing theme music (well, it's the final section of the "William Tell Overture" but many grew up with it as "the theme tune from The Lone Ranger"), is a surprisingly great piece of cinema, marred by some excessive FX work and both helped and hindered by a sense of ridiculousness.

I wouldn't be brave enough to say that this is a movie that you may be pleasantly surprised by. Okay, what the hell, I will. Give The Lone Ranger a try some time, and you might be pleasantly surprised. I certainly was.


Saturday 30 August 2014

I, Frankenstein (2014)

If there's one thing that can often be relied upon to upset horror fans it's the misappropriation of the Frankenstein name. As each and every one of them will hasten to tell you, Frankenstein was the creator. The creature was called . . . . . . . . well, he was called by a variety of names, but none of them were/should have been Frankenstein. Call me pedantic, but I guarantee that many will agree with me.

I, Frankenstein starts off by upsetting horror fans with this central point. The title is more understandable by the time the credits roll, but there are one too many occasions between the beginning and end that have people referring to the central character as Frankenstein when they really shouldn't.

The film then continues to upset horror fans by being pretty horrible from the start - a potted version of the classic tale retold in one or two minutes - and then continuing to be horrible right up until the very end. Think of Underworld, a movie with which this shares a LOT of similarities (including shared cast members in similar roles), and then remove the style, the better cast members, and the decent action sequences. I don't even need to rehash the plot here, as it's so close to Underworld that you can figure it out for yourself. I'm serious.

Although it's Stuart Beattie in the director's chair, a lot of the blame for this mess can be laid at the feet of Kevin Grevioux, who also gives himself a small role onscreen. Grevioux, funnily enough, came up with the original story idea for, yep, Underworld, and has developed a number of stories since that have seemingly sprung from the same well. The overriding thought that ran through my head as I watched a creature caught amidst a battle between good and evil was that the well has all dried up.

I don't want to spend much time on the cast because they don't make any decent impression. Not a one. It's as if they realised that they would be overshadowed by lame action and overdone CGI anyway, so decided not to bother. I guess, however, that I have to namecheck the main players. Aaron Eckhart is the creature - AKA Adam - and is stuck with one of the worst interpretations to ever be excreted on to film. I like Eckhart, but he needs to bury this film with better choices as soon as possible. Yvonne Strahovski is a female scientist, and does okay with what she's given (translation = she spouts science stuff while looking very purty). Bill Nighy is almost exactly the same as he was in Underworld, Miranda Otto tries to overcome the weak dialogue that she's given, and Jai Courtney can quit acting any time he wants without worrying about me being upset by it. Please. Seriously, Jai Courtney, please. I can already envision a sports bar that would be perfectly suited to your ownership.

There are one or two good moments, mainly in the first half of the movie when the lead character finds a way to release a lot of anger, but they don't help to make this a less painful viewing experience. Like Frankenstein's creature in his darkest moments, it's awful and soulless.


Friday 29 August 2014

Don Jon (2013)

When a film is both written, and directed, by the lead actor then I'd say that it's acceptable to have some hesitation about just what you're letting yourself in for. Thankfully, when the main man is Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who seems to exude natural cool ever since he stopped being just the little guy in comedy roles, then that hesitation is unwarranted. It may be his feature directorial debut, but you wouldn't know it from the end result.

Don Jon isn't really what you might expect if you've already seen the trailer. Gordon-Levitt plays Jon, a man who can get with a different girl every night thanks to his charm and good looks. He's also addicted to porn. That becomes a problem when he falls for the gorgeous Barbara (Scarlett Johansson). Can he change his ways and become a better man?

Okay, by describing the movie in the way I have, I've just done it the same disservice as the trailer. So many people, myself included, thought that this was a movie about a man addicted to porn. That's part of it, but it's actually not the main part, even when it seems to be.

Don Jon is about sex and love. It's actually, underneath the porn clips and excessive masturbation, a standard rom-com for guys. Every box is ticked: family tensions, class issues, personal development, good friends, a need for guidance. As well as that standard stuff, the film looks at the hypocrisy of those who view good sex (or porn) as something sinful. Whether it's the church, doling out punishments that somehow don't seem to fit "the crime", or the whole environment surrounding the main character, bombarding him with advertising images that appeal to the part of him that leads to him turning on his computer and getting his computer to turn him on.

Gordon-Levitt is great in the lead role, all about the pleasures of the flesh with little seeming to go on in his mind. Some may find his performance irritating, but I warmed to him after the first few scenes. Johansson puts in a good performance. It's far from her best, although she's entirely believable as a damn sexy woman who makes a man want to change his ways for the better. Julianne Moore is another main character, despite not appearing until almost halfway through the movie. She's pretty good, but her performance feels a lot like a medley of her previous "greatest hits". Elsewhere, Tony Danza and Glenne Headly are wonderful as Jon's parents, Brie Larson plays a character who spends most of her time texting on her phone, but makes an impact with her one main moment of clarity, and Rob Brown and Jeremy Luke are lively and fun as friends of the main character, appropriately disappointed when he takes himself off the market and stops joining them for their big nights out.

It may be far from perfect, but Gordon-Levitt shows a lot of skill while wearing a number of different hats (and, dammit, I bet he could even do that literally - the man is just THAT cool). I've always tended to enjoy his acting performances, but now I will watch with interest to see what he decides to write and/or direct next. And I hope others do the same.


You can help me to convince my loved ones that I don't spend all of my time online looking at porn by investing in my bargain movie guide. Ohhhhhhhhh yes.

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 28 August 2014

Lucky Bastard (2014)

Sex. It can make you do funny things. And sex is everywhere nowadays, especially on the internet. Don't ever make a typo that puts the word "porn" into your search bar because it's guaranteed to leave you wide-eyed and red-faced. Or, I guess, breathless and horny, of course.

Lucky Bastard is all about sex. Set in the world of porn, it's a found footage movie all about a young man, Dave (played by Jay Paulson), who finds that he's about to have his dream come true. Thanks to the titular website, Dave is going to get up close and very personal with gorgeous porn star Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue). But will he be able to perform when it comes to the main act, bearing in mind that he's being filmed for Lucky Bastard?

An interesting look at the dynamics of the porn industry, and independent movie-making in general, Lucky Bastard has a few more interesting insights than you might expect. It's just a shame that the movie, despite being good, never seems to move into top gear.

That may be due to the inevitability, and predictability, of the events as they unfold, or it may point to a need for some sharper dialogue. Either way, it's the script, co-written by Lukas Kendall and director Robert Nathan, that proves to be the biggest hurdle. It's not terrible, and none of it rings untrue, but it just needs to be a bit tighter and sharper. And the structure would have been improved, in my opinion, if the guys had just gone from A to B, without a small prologue showing C and then moving back to A.

Nathan does fine with the direction, however, and he's helped by a decent selection of performers. Paulson does well as the man who seems a bit strange, but may just be too sweet and naive for the experience lined up for him. Rue is pretty convincing as a professional porn star. No, I don't mean that as a derisory comment. She's comfortable with the nudity that has to be part of the film, and manages to show that she's been around in the industry long enough to know a lot of the tricks of the trade, as well as whatever she finds acceptable and unacceptable. Don McManus is equally convincing as the man orchestrating the action. He may be a "porn baron" but he also just tries to make the best out of any bad situation, like anyone used to working in the independent movie business. Catherine Annette is a lot of fun as someone trying to break into the business, while Chris Wylde and Lanny Joon are both fine as the two guys working to capture enough footage to make into the next popular episode of Lucky Bastard.

Small niggles aside, Lucky Bastard is a solid piece of entertainment. It has some interesting points to make, it builds to a decent climax (no pun intended), and it stars Betsy Rue. What? I can choose to deem that fact a major bonus point if I like, and I do.



Wednesday 27 August 2014

Ride Along (2014)

A mainstream comedy that lets you know what to expect from the title, and the two leads, Ride Along is the kind of movie that it's almost redundant to review. Basically, a LOT of people will already know whether they're going to like or dislike this movie.

Ice Cube is a tough cop, James Payton, obsessed with catching the biggest criminal in the city. His main problem is that nobody knows what this criminal looks like. For every bust that takes him a step closer, James seems to find himself pushed a step back, either by criminals or his own superior (Bruce McGill). Kevin Hart is Ben Barber, a young man who is working as a security guard until he hopes to join the Police Academy and get a career in the force. His girlfriend, Angela Payton (Tika Sumpter), loves him very much, but she wants him to get on a bit better with her brother (yep, it's the tough cop) as they move forward in their relationship. Ben asks James for a chance to make up for one past mistake, a chance to prove himself, and so James arranges to pick him up for a ride along. Of course, he wants to make sure that Ben has a horrible time of it. That's all well and good until real criminals start to cause them some problems.

Written by four people, which is three too many when you think of the solid gag count, and directed by Tim Story, Ride Along is absolutely in line with numerous other mainstream comedy hits from the past few years. It relies on the draw of Cube and Hart, it offers no surprises at all, and it's designed to appeal to people after nothing more than 90 minutes of fun at their local cinema. That doesn't make it a terrible film. It doesn't make it evil. It doesn't mean that everyone should roll their eyes and start moaning about the death of cinema. It just means that this is designed to be the popular fast food option at the multiplex, vying with a few other fast food options to see who can ring more money through the tills for a couple of weeks.

Cube can do comedic anger in his sleep, and he's perfectly fine in his role, while Hart does . . . . . what he does. He's not to all tastes, and I'm not his biggest fan, but he's far from the most annoying person I've ever watched onscreen. In fact, the first half of the movie does throw him one or two moments that allow him to show that his character isn't just a one-dimensional buffoon. The fact that he knows so much information about weaponry because of his constant online gaming is also a fun additional detail. Sumpter is likable, McGill is always worth a watch, John leguizamo and Bryan Callen are both okay as Cube's colleagues, and Laurence Fishburne does well with his fairly limited screentime (it's a big shame that he didn't get to do more).

If you don't like fairly safe comedies then avoid this one. If you don't like Hart then avoid this one. At least it doesn't try to convince you that it's something it's not. I admit that I expected to hate the thing, but opted to "take one for the team". I ended up, however, smiling on a couple of occasions. I don't think I ever once laughed aloud, but I didn't feel pained at any point either. Faint praise, indeed, but praise nonetheless.


Tuesday 26 August 2014

Raze (2013)

I KNOW this may not seem important to many people, but I am going to start this review with a warning. Despite being named second in the opening credits, and despite having her name on the cover of the movie, Rachel Nichols is not in this movie for long. Five minutes. Maybe ten. That's it. Nichols may not be the biggest star on the planet, but I like her. A lot. I'll seek out anything that she takes part in. Which made my viewing of Raze slightly disappointing. I was expecting her to have a central, or at least central supporting, role. Such is life, however, and I had to just suck it up and view the movie as it was intended, with very little Rachel Nichols included. But I'm starting this review with this whole paragraph so that others might avoid such disappointment.

And now to the movie itself. A bunch of women (including Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms, Rebecca Marshall, and Bailey Anne Borders) are held prisoner, paired off and forced to fight one another to the death. If they refuse to fight then their loved ones will be harmed. It's a standard exploitation movie set-up, basically, and there's even a sadistic guard (Bruce Thomas), some out-of-touch senior management (Doug Jones and Sherilyn Fenn), and some lesbian shower scenes. I'll admit it, that last part was a lie.

Despite the tame nature of so many moments, this is a WIP movie that should please fans of that particular subgenre. What it lacks in gratuitous nudity and sleaze, it more than makes up for in the scenes that show some excessive violence. When the fights take place there's no shortage of shots that show faces being mashed and broken as opponents messily scramble to stay alive.

Bell isn't bad as the nominal lead, and she's certainly someone a bit more recognisable compared to many of the other inmates (although the inclusion of Thoms makes for a nice mini-Death Proof reunion, with Rosario Dawson also making the briefest of cameos), but she struggles to carry the whole movie on her strong shoulders. Thankfully, I was easily pleased by the scenes featuring Fenn and Jones, and Thomas was solid as the nasty guard.

Director Josh C. Waller also helped to come up with the story, alongside two (?) other people, including screenwriter Robert Beaucage. It's as thin and ridiculous as a sheet of sudoku toilet paper, which isn't a problem while it rattles along at a decent pace, providing entertaining nastiness for viewers who know what they're letting themselves in for. The characters may not have much depth, but at least a few stand out from the group (with Rebecca Marshall's nutty turn being a highlight).

Ultimately forgettable, and veering between moments that seem strangely sanitised in between the gorier sequences, Raze is still good enough to give 90 minutes of your time to.


Monday 25 August 2014

Rapture-Palooza (2013)

I initially dismissed Rapture-Palooza as nothing more than a retread of material that I'd already enjoyed in This Is The End (a movie that has crept up and up in my estimation after each repeat viewing). Thankfully, I heard from others that it was worth my time so I gave it a watch. And, whaddya know, it was worth my time.

Anna Kendrick stars as Lindsey Lewis, a young woman who ends up living through the rapture. Yes, lots of people have been taken up to heaven, but Lindsey isn't one of them. She spends her days with her boyfriend, Ben (John Francis Daley), avoiding fiery rocks that fall from the sky, trying to ignore foul-mouthed crows, despairing of her parents (Ana Gasteyer and John Michael Higgins), and generally having a pretty bad time of it. Then things get worse when she catches the eye of the antichrist (Craig Robinson).

Thanks, mainly, to a great cast, Rapture-Palooza provides a decent number of chuckles for those who are willing to go along with the bonkers premise. Kendrick is always a likable presence, Robinson is often very funny (and gets to play the antichrist as an amusing asshole), Rob Corddry is a lot of fun as Ben's father, a man who wants to keep his loved ones safe by going along with whatever the antichrist wants, and Thomas Lennon is someone else I always like to see onscreen, so I thoroughly enjoyed his turn as a passive, sweet zombie. Daley may not be on a par with those mentioned, but he does a perfectly fine job with his role. As well as Gasteyer and Higgin, there are chuckles raised by the likes of Calum Worthy, Ken Jeong, Paul Scheer and Tyler Labine in small roles.

Writer Chris Matheson has a lot of fun interpreting the rapture in a way that mixes traditional aspects with twists that provide a lot of little laughs. The movie may never feel bleak, but it does enough to let you know that the characters left alive on Earth are having a pretty miserable time of things.

Paul Middleditch does well in the director's chair, setting up the lunacy without leaving any gaps for viewers to start thinking about the whole thing, and ridiculing it, before settling down to the main core of the plot - a woman with a loving boyfriend who finds herself receiving unwanted attention from an evil, powerful man. The pacing is perfect, the special effects are fun and good enough for the material, and the whole thing deserves to be viewed as more than just a trip back to the well used by This Is The End. So give it a go soon, especially if you've been (like me) avoiding it for that very reason.

It helps, of course, if you like everyone involved. If you do, I pretty much guarantee that this will entertain you for 90 minutes. If you don't, well, you may want to keep this as a very low priority.


Sunday 24 August 2014

Lucy (2014)

Luc Besson wrote and directed a movie back in 2005 called Angel-A. It was pretty damn great. As slick and visually stylish as his other work, with a kickass female character, and one or two interesting ideas embedded in the tale. Nobody watched it, as far as I can tell. Which made it completely unsurprising when Besson went back to his more comfortable stomping ground, producing a number of generic, yet also enjoyable, action movies that fit comfortably in the dumb fun section of any movie collection.

Fast forward almost a decade, ironically enough (considering certain plot elements of this film), and it seems that Besson has tried something different once again. Something that, this time, has managed to find an audience. Whether or not that audience will be there after a strong opening remains to be seen. Lucy has been marketed to many as a sci-fi action flick when it attempts to be something more interesting and thought-provoking than that. Sadly, it's also pretty bad. In fact, there are many times when it's just downright laughable.

Scarlett Johansson is the titular character, a woman who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. She ends up being put to sleep, and wakes up to discover that she's had a bag of drugs placed inside her body - making her a perfect mule. But when this bag is ruptured, the drugs enter Lucy's system and start to change her. Instead of only using 10% of her brain (yes, yes, it's that old chestnut), she starts to use more and more, becoming more aware and powerful with each stage of ultrafast evolution. Knowing what this is all leading up to, she tries to track down Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman), and also the other drug mules, all now carrying a drug that she may well need to survive. A cop (Amr Waked) tries to apprehend her, but soon realises that he doesn't stand much chance, so ends up helping her instead.

Mining similar ground to Limitless, but going off on a very different tangent, Lucy stumbles from the very beginning, then starts to fall down completely, in between fleeting moments of great entertainment. People have been getting angrier lately at the regurgitation of the whole "we only use 10-20% of our brain" myth, but it's not something I've ever been bothered by, as a plot device. Admittedly, I used to think it was true, but even nowadays I think it's a fun idea, as long as you buy into it in the name of fun fun fun. But Lucy isn't content to provide you with fun. It wants to have depth, it wants to make you think. And that's when it falls down.

Don't get me wrong. Dumb fun can be great. Smart entertainment can be great. Smart dumb hits me right in the funny bone. But when a movie really seems to think it's smart, despite throwing dumb moment after dumb moment at the audience, then it becomes difficult to like. Besson shows his hand early - clumsily editing a sequence in which Lucy is asked to meet some men with wildlife footage showing a predator chase down some prey (because she's put in the position of the prey - get it? GET IT??) - and continues to use the same tricks again and again, as he shows the evolution of Lucy once the drugs begin to work on her.

The frustrating thing here is that Lucy IS a potentially great character, with Johansson effortlessly exuding cool confidence once she's really able to kick ass and manipulate her environment. Freeman may be Mr. Exposition, but does perfectly well in his role, and Waked moves through the whole thing with an amusing expression of fear and awe. Choi Min-Sik is the main villain, the man responsible for the state in which Lucy finds herself, but he pales in significance when compared to how the woman is struggling inside her own mind and body.

All of the failings here are caused by Besson, whether it's his inane script (and, believe me, there's a reference in the final scenes that may well cause a few fans of true, classic sci-fi to cry out in disgust - Kubrick would not be impressed) or his horrible, slapdash approach to the half-baked material. The editing choices, the gaping plot holes, the groan-inducing lack of anything approaching logic (not REAL logic, obviously, but even simpler movie logic), the poor CGI, the aspects of Kabbalism mixed in. Besson, as writer and director, can take the blame for all of it.

But, hey, it's already a bit of a hit at the box office. Although, just perhaps, that may say more about our own evolution than anything in the movie itself.


The review for Lucy may not be in there YET, but it's still worth spending a few pounds to treat yourself to my book chock full of reviews you can agree with, disagree with, mock at your leisure.

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 23 August 2014

Sin City (2005)

Cool, stylish, almost perfectly cast, and with many frames that look ripped straight from the pages of Frank Miller's original work, it's hard not to consider Sin City as one of the best comic-book movies of all time.

Director Robert Rodriguez, helped by Quentin Tarantino, also wrote the screenplay, and sets out from the very beginning to immerse viewers in a stark, black and white world of anti-heroes and villains. There are splashes of colour here and there, depicting bloodshed, strong feelings, or even just a nice pair of eyes. One other bonus, this was one of the last few films made to star Bruce Willis before he decided to sleepwalk into every paycheck.

There are little extra bits interspersed throughout, but the move iss mainly made up of three tales. In one, Bruce Willis plays an old cop who wants to get his man (Nick Stahl) at any cost. His perp is a sicko, but he's a sicko with a rich, influential father (Powers Boothe). In the second tale we get to meet Marv (Mickey Rourke), a big, brute of a man moves to action when he's set up for a murder he didn't commit. The murder of a woman that he felt great affection for. Clive Owen clashes with Benicio Del Toro in the third tale, leading to a situation that could cause a lot of trouble for the deadly working girls of Sin City. And then it's back to that dogged cop, many years later but no less determined.

As well as those mentioned, Sin City also features Josh Hartnett, Jaime King, Michael Clarke Duncan, Rutger Hauer, Elijah Wood, Rosario Dawson, Brittany Murphy, Jessica Alba, Carla Gugino, Alexis Bledel, Michael Madsen, Devon Aoki, and many more. It's certainly a star-studded cast but, more than that, everyone feels perfect for the role given to them.

Featuring his usual cool soundtrack accompanying the visuals, this manages to feel both like a great Frank Miller film and also a great Rodriguez joint. It's almost a perfect marriage of material and director.

Unfortunately, it doesn't hold up quite as well on repeat viewings. It's still very enjoyable, and consistently gorgeous to look at (seriously, freeze frame it at almost any moment and you get a gorgeous comic panel), but the pacing could have been tightened up slightly to bring the movie in under two hours, with the Owen/Del Toro section of the movie dragging things down badly.

For those who like their movies steeped in traditional aspects of cinema, this is a love or hate film. Shot almost entirely on green screen, with only a few real sets utilised, it's a unique experience, but one that absolutely works, in my opinion, due to the nature of the material.

If you want nuance and realism then feel free to reach for a thousand other movies before this one. But if you want something cool, visually stunning, and with moments of painful ultra-violence, then this might just be the ticket.


And UK folks, don't forget to check out a double-bill at the cinema this weekend, while a lot of venues are showing this and Sin City: A Dame To Kill For. Such tickets can be found at sites like this one -

Friday 22 August 2014

Anguish (1987)

Anguish is an interesting, quirky horror movie that fails, but fails in a way that keeps things entertaining and interesting throughout.

First of all, there's a film within the film. A strange, nasty slasher movie starring Michael Lerner and Zelda Rubinstein, with the latter playing the mother of the former. Eventually, viewers are allowed to see that other people are viewing this film in a cinema. We start to watch the watchers, as it were. One pair of girls, Patty (Talia Paul) and Linda (Clara Pastor), seem more affected than anyone else in the audience. To be fair, Patty is more twitchy and nervous than a first-time drug mule having his crotch sniffed by a German Shepherd, while poor Linda is just doing what she can to console her irrationally terrified friend. And then a killer appears. Another killer. Not the one in the film within the film, but one simply in the film. Just watch the thing and you'll soon understand what I'm trying to say.

Written and directed by Bigas Luna, better known for the likes of Golden Balls and Jamon Jamon, this is such a curio that I heartily recommend it to all horror fans, despite the fact that the poor script and overacting combine to drag it down when considering a standard score/rating.

Lerner is the best thing onscreen, giving a wonderful performance that mixes real creepiness with occasional hints of a child-like innocence (especially in the way he is controlled by his mother). Rubinstein, on the other hand, is allowed to go over the top, and she does so with great gusto. Yet it's not too painful to watch. What is painful to watch is the hand-wringing, squirming performance from Paul, saddled with the role of "worst person to watch a horror movie in the cinema ever". Pastor fares a lot better, although that's not so hard when she's alongside Paul, and other people in the cinema who seem to have wandered in from the cinema featured in Demons (loud reactions to whatever is happening onscreen, uncharacteristic concern for fellow movie-goers, complete ignorance of major violence occurring nearby - Demons fans will know what I mean).

I know, I know, I've not done a very good job of encouraging others to see this movie. I've also yet to mention how boring it can be for many scenes. This is not a film for someone seeking out a hidden gem. Some will find it dull and horrible, I have no doubt about that, while others will find some fun, as I did, buried under the offputting surface elements. The layering of the movie alone, and the ambiguity of those layers, allows it to have more intelligence than it could otherwise be credited with.

Give it a whirl one evening when you're after something a bit different.


Thursday 21 August 2014

The Hospital (2013)

The Hospital has been called many things, including terrifying, misogynistic, brutal, and shocking. Some, if not all, of those descriptions are true. Unfortunately, it's also just not very good.

Co-directed by Daniel Emery Taylor (who also gets himself a lead role) and Tommy Golden, this is the tale of some paranormal investigators entering the titular hospital and exploring the building. Well, the two leading investigators (Jim O'Rear and Jason Crowe) may just want the chance to spend some time in a spooky building with girls who will turn to them for solace.. Either way, some ghosts might cause trouble for everyone. Even worse, the caretaker (Stanley Creech, played by Taylor) may see the opportunity to indulge in one of his favourite pastimes, the torturing and raping of women.

With a cast ranging from the good (O'Rear and Crowe do fine, as does April Burril) to the godawful (no, I won't name and shame anyone, for reasons I will go into very shortly), The Hospital could have been a standard independent horror, much like any other. Two things set it apart. First, the level of sheer nastiness on display, especially throughout the second half of the movie. This is not a movie to use as an introduction to the horror genre, this is something for veterans to soak up. Second, the wild inconsistency of the whole thing. It rarely becomes great, but it is sometimes good. When it's bad, however, it's REALLY bad.

The script, written by O'Rear and Taylor, is effective in moving the plot from A to Z, although none of the dialogue is particularly memorable, and everything falls apart in the last act, when the nastiness is accompanied by . . . . . well, I'll let you find out for yourself.

The premise isn't that bad, and there are one or two twists that actually work, which makes it even more frustrating that the technical aspects of the movie just aren't up to par. The audio never seems consistent (a common problem for independent movies), the editing seems okay until you start to notice how many scenes would have really benefited from just a second trimmed here and there, and the special effects are, sadly, atrocious. I do mean that they're the kind you assume someone created on a standard PC piece of software. A cheap one, at that.

The last criticism I'll make is that very few of the characters made much of an impact. In fact, most of them were completely interchangeable, with the exception of those mentioned (and Constance Medrano, who has a small, memorable role). That's another thing that can often happen in independent movies, due to the fact that most of the cast members will no doubt be a bit less recognisable, but The Hospital makes it worse than usual. There were main characters in the final third of the movie that I still confused with other people. Big budget or low budget, that just shouldn't happen in the final act (although, feel free to make jokes at my expense re: the senility I feel encroaching upon my mind every day).

I like a number of the people involved with this movie, but I can't bring myself to like the movie. It scores points for the main idea, and for how far it descends into fictional depravity, but I really hope that the main players behind the scenes take some extra time on future projects to really hone the script, editing, effects work, and audio. And perhaps even get some better actors involved in the supporting roles.


Wednesday 20 August 2014

Sharknado 2: The Second One (2014)

The other plus to me reviewing, or trying to review, every movie I see. I can figure out past errors. Somehow, I gave Ian Ziering a different first name in my review of Sharknado. Sorry for that mistake, it's now been fixed. And now . . . . . . let's get to The Second One.

You may not believe, or want to hear, this. Sharknado 2: The Second One is a better movie than its predecessor. In fact, the first third of the movie has some inspired moments that had me thinking this could be a film to use as a lesson, showing others how schlocky, z-grade material can transgress those roots to become something so entertaining it's no longer "so bad it's good". It just ends up being genuinely good.

Unfortunately, that opening third of the movie is followed by a middle act that starts to test your patience, and everything is capped off by a finale that just fails to find the sweet spot so tantalisingly offered up to us in the first 15-20 minutes (a real delight, mainly thanks to a great riff on "Nightmare At 20,000 Feet").

Ian Ziering and Tara Reid return to face shark-infested weather, and they're joined this time by Vivica A. Fox, Mark McGrath, Judd Hirsch, Kari Wuhrer, and a whole host of famous faces turning up for cameos (Tiffany Shepis, Kelly Osbourne, Kurt Angle, Billy Ray Cyrus, Andy Dick, Richard Kind, and many others). The acting isn't necessarily better than it was in the first movie, but the absurd humour of the premise has been heightened and played upon in such a way as to make it seem that way.

Director Anthony C. Ferrante returns to help the ridiculousness, and he does it well, taking the script, by Thunder Levin, and running with it at every opportunity. There are things that don't work, but there are a surprising number of things that do. Some one-liners made me smirk, either because they were good or they were so bad that I still found them amusing (like a gag from a Christmas cracker). And all of those cameos add a fun "I Spy" layer to the proceedings.

The CGI is still pretty awful, but such is the way of many movies from The Asylum, and logic and continuity are nowhere to be seen, of course, but all of those things are forgivable when everything else is so much fun. It's just a shame that the fun is all drained away by the last 20 minutes, which take your goodwill and grind it down to almost nothing, leaving a sour taste in your mouth as the end credits run.

If you liked the first movie then you'll find enough here to provide some amusement. If you hated the first movie then don't come anywhere near this one. Personally, I'm already anticipating the third one (if/when it happens).


Tuesday 19 August 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

For anyone with far too much time on their hands, here are reviews for the previous Turtle-tastic flicks.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret Of The Ooze.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.

Yes, it's yet another reboot for our heroes in a half-shell. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had a long, fruitful life in various guises, from their comic origins to the movies to the cartoon show to lunchboxes, toys and other merchandise, and I can't see that stopping any time soon. Having said that, things didn't look good for this movie. The very first trailer was received with a large amount of disdain, and outright hatred in some quarters. Michael Bay was producing (allowing for more people to rant, once again, about him somehow being the most evil thing to happen to movies since pan & scan). And the director was a man who can claim that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning remains his best movie. Throw Megan Fox into the mix (hey, I like her, but many don't) and you seem to have a recipe for disaster.

April O'Neil (Fox) is a reporter who seems to be stuck with the lighter items, despite working hard to pick up a serious news story. She thinks she may have something special on her hands when she sees some vigilantes taking on the violent Foot Clan, trained baddies who have been terrorising the city. Unfortunately, when she sees them up close she sees four large turtles. Nobody is going to believe her, of course, but that doesn't stop her from pursuing the story. Accompanied by a cameraman (Will Arnett), April heads along to visit local celebrity business mogul, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). And then Shredder pops up to cause even more trouble. Fights happen. There are big action moments. And viewers may roll their eyes, as I did, at a section of the film showing how the turtles developed into the teenage mutant ninjas that we now know them as.

There are one or two things that this film does get right. First of all, the human cast works well. Fox is a decent April O'Neil, and her character is pleasingly proactive throughout the movie, Arnett is always good fun (and provides some amusement here), Fichtner is great, and it was good to see Whoopi Goldberg back in a major release, albeit in nothing more than a cameo role. Tohoru Masamune doesn't do too badly as the main, famous villain, while Minae Noji somehow makes a good impression as his main henchwoman, despite being treated quite badly by the weak script.

Some of the action in the first half of the movie works well. People will undoubtedly complain about the levels of lighting and the editing, but the film IS showing characters who are ninjas. The clue is there in the title, making the flurried fighting under cover of darkness perfectly acceptable, and enjoyable.

And then we have the runtime. At about 100 minutes, approximately, this manages to distance itself slightly from the modern trend of the blockbusters that run for at least two hours. Well, it WOULD, if it didn't feel like a much longer movie, thanks to the interminable dullness of it all.

That's all I can think of. A few of the lines will raise a smirk, but just as many will raise groans from viewers (both familiar and unfamiliar with the characters). The script, by Josh Appelbaum, Evan Daugherty, and Andre Nemec, feels as if it doesn't know what it wants to be. A fun film, in line with the past movies that many enjoyed, or a serious reboot, adding a sharpness and grit to the characters. It subsequently fails to be either.

Jonathan Liebesman directs with some competence, I guess. But he seems to be just as unsure of how to handle the material as the writers. Some of the rapport between the main characters does work, but an awful lot of it just falls flat. And as for the big set-pieces in the second half of the movie. Unfortunately, I think they're some of the dullest and most irritating that I've sat through in some time (in a mainstream cinema release, anyway). Everything soon starts to become tiresome, as those making the film opt to please the audience by just throwing more and more effects and noise onscreen, and hoping that something sticks.

Symptomatic of everything that's wrong with modern, soulless, cinema at its worst, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has already been successful enough to have a sequel greenlit. Which makes me incredibly sad, despite the fact that there are a lot of other world problems I should be focusing on.


Stick with this collection instead -

Monday 18 August 2014

Dario Argento's Dracula AKA Dracula 3D (2012)

It's almost becoming too easy nowadays to criticise the recent movies directed by Dario Argento, but when the man who was such a master of his craft starts to churn out rubbish as bad as this . . . . . . . . well, I think all of that criticism is well and truly justified.

Because, make no mistake about it, Dario Argento's Dracula (AKA Dracula 3D) is a terrible movie in almost every department. It's so inept at times that you start to wonder whether or not Mr. Argento is having a laugh at our expense.

Everyone knows the story by now, and if you don't then it's up to you to quickly get up to speed, so I won't include too many details here. There are differences, such as the film taking place almost exclusively in Transylvania, but the main characters remain the same. Thomas Kretschmann plays the big man, Rutger Hauer comes along as Van Helsing just in time for the finale, Marta Gastini is a pleasant enough Mina Harker, Asia Argento is Lucy, and Maria Cristina Heller is a sexy vamp for most of the runtime. Let's not mention Unax Ugalde as Jonathan Harker because, well, it's just too painful for me to remember his performance.

The script, written by four people including Argento himself, is a muddled mess, with the recognisable central story strand, and one or two famous moments, surrounded by scenes that range from the ridiculous to the gratuitous, with the latter at least providing SOME entertainment value.

The direction makes it seem as if Argento considered not having his name in the credits at one point. There are a few nice flourishes here and there, admittedly, but from the opening sequence - in which the camera flies through a poorly rendered CGI village - to the anticlimactic finale, this is clumsy stuff, not helped in the slightest by some of the shoddiest editing I've seen in a long, long time.

I've already mentioned some of the performances, but let me just say that Hauer is great and Kretschmann looks like he could have done better with the role if it had been better written and placed in a competent movie. Asia Argento is, as usual, godawful, Gastini is okay, and Heller shows that she's very proud of her breasts. And good for her. And did I mention that I don't want to mention Unax Ugalde as Jonathan Harker?

If you want to be cruel to yourself then watch this immediately. The special effects alone will have you reaching for the nearest spoon with which to scoop out your eyeballs. A few moments featuring different insects made me think, once more, that this whole thing might just be Argento playing a joke on us. Viewed in the right frame of mind, some people may find this funnier than Dracula: Dead And Loving It.

It's not as if the source material doesn't provide some great stuff to develop, for goodness sake. In fact, the strength of that source material is the reason that the film isn't quite a COMPLETE disaster. One or two moments still manage to remain effective, despite the best efforts of Argento and co. to totally screw up everything.


See what I endure? Which is why I also pimp out my book, because 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 17 August 2014

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014)

For anyone interested, here is my review of Cabin Fever, and here is my review of Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever. And now . . . . . . we return to our main programmed event.

Let's face it, Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is a movie that shouldn't really exist. The first Cabin Fever movie is fantastic (despite me taking a while to warm to it), but it didn't exactly cry out for sequels. When Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever was released, I think there was more talk of the studio interference and problems that director Ti West had than an overwhelming love for the movie. And, on a side note, kudos to West for still visiting some screenings and pragmatically dealing with the end result.

Anyway, now we have a third movie, with the potential for more (I guess). Sean Astin plays the patient zero of the title, a man who is imprisoned, in a medical facility that's located on a fairly isolated island, and forced to try and help find a cure for the deadly disease that viewers of the previous two movies will already be familiar with. Astin doesn't want to be helpful. In fact, he wants to cause some problems. Which makes everything exceedingly dangerous when Marcus (Mitch Ryan) and friends land on the island, aiming to party and celebrate before Marcus gets married. It's not long until people start acting a bit rash.

Written by Jake Wade Wall and directed by Kaare Andrews, this is very standard sequel stuff. It's supposed to be a prequel, but I must confess my ignorance in not being able to see anything that would really pinpoint the timing of this particular instalment in comparison to the other movies. I may have missed a detail or two, but I suspect that this has been classed as a prequel due to the folk making it thinking that they're being clever. Because that's what I felt as the end credits rolled, with some other footage running throughout. This is a film with a script that is desperate to appear cool and clever, despite the fact that it isn't. Andrews tries to work with it, and at least remembers to include some great gore gags in the second half, but nothing ties together as it should.

The cast here is a real mixed bag. For the group arriving on the island, Mitch Ryan is okay, I guess, but he just feels a bit too bland to be a leading man. Thankfully, both Brando Eaton and Ryan Donowho match him in terms of just being a bit too unmemorable, although nobody is awful. Jillian Murray IS memorable, for a variety of reasons, and she gets a lot of great scenes. Elsewhere, Currie Graham is the cold doctor dealing with Astin, while Solly Duran and Lydia Hearst are the two main lab assistants also caught in the crisis zone when things start to turn sour.

There are some great special effects, courtesy of Vincent J. Guastani and his team, some fun moments in which selfishness is punished (of course), and one or two good ideas in the mix, but that undeserved sense of cockiness brings it back down a notch or two. As does the lack of any effective black humour.

Worth a watch, and even worth picking up if you can get it at a good price, but it's the weakest of the three.


Saturday 16 August 2014

The Purge: Anarchy (2014)

The Purge was an okay movie. It was a decent idea marred by poor execution. Written and directed by James DeMonaco, the central idea was all about an America which allows any crime to be committed on one night of the year. There is no police, no medical assistance, and no way that you want to be caught out of your home, unless you're out to commit crime. It's The Purge.

This sequel, with DeMonaco back at the helm, moves away from the household setting of the first film. It takes viewers on to the dangerous streets. Subsequently, thanks to a nice building of tension and craziness, and a great main role for Frank Grillo, this is a much better film. Yes, it's a sequel that greatly improves on the original film.

The plot is pretty simple. It is, once again, time for the annual purge. One man (Grillo) heads out on a specific mission, but he ends up sidetracked when he spots a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul, respectively) being manhandled by some soldier types. Allowing them to accompany him for a short while, the three soon become five when they find a young couple, Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez), who had some car trouble that left them stranded outside on a night when they really want to be hiding indoors.

Aside from the solid lead performances (and a turn from Grillo that puts me in agreement with everyone else who thinks he should get the next shot at playing The Punisher), The Purge: Anarchy really benefits from two things. First of all, there's a real sense of danger throughout. It's not just danger specifically aimed at the main characters. As DeMonaco shows snapshots of the night unfolding it soon becomes clear that, as cliched as it seems, danger really does lurk around every corner. Second, there's the madness of it all. While watching this movie you may start to feel as if you've been locked inside a lunatic asylum, despite being completely sane (okay, relatively sane,in some cases). Rather than treat the premise as something pretty standard, as the first movie did, this sequel encourages many more questions. The morality of it all was always dubious, of course, but this also mixes in much more commentary regarding the class divive, and the effective use of The Purge as a tool to maintain a balanced society. This aspect was inherent in the first movie, but here it's put to the front and centre, although it never detracts from the sheer entertainment value of the film.

Everyone does well, especially Ejogo and Soul, with a fun, small role for Justina Machado leading to a memorable sequence, but this is Grillo's movie for every moment that he's onscreen. He is, as he's so often been in other roles, a believable badass, and the journey that his character goes on takes one or two interesting turns before the end credits roll.

All credit to DeMonaco, who very possibly had a lot of this planned as he worked on the first movie. He knows that taking the action to the streets creates a huge amount of potential, and he realises a lot of it. Snipers, roving gangs, rapists, rich people arranging their own "safe" purges, family disputes that can turn deadly, boobytraps, and much more. All come together to ensure that this purge is a memorable night indeed.


Friday 15 August 2014

The Expendables 3 (2014)

Well, here we are again. I enjoyed The Expendables, as did many other people. The Expendables 2, on the other hand, fell a bit flat. It was too busy being smug and self-referential to work as well as the first movie. Thankfully, this third outing is a bit of a return to form.

The plot this time sees Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) recruiting some newcomers to help him track down a very bad man (Mel Gibson) who was once one the same team as Barney. But will the newcomers be up to the task? Or will Barney still need some help from his regular colleagues (Jason Statham, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Jet Li)?

That's all you need to know. The essence of the movie has already been made clear from the advertising campaing. If you haven't seen it then let me surmise it for you just now: STALLONE, STATHAM, LUNDGREN, CREWS, COUTURE, LI, SCHWARZENEGGER, BANDERAS, SNIPES, FORD, ROUSEY, ORTIZ, LUTZ, POWELL, GIBSON. If this is successful enough to lead to a fourth movie then they're going to need a much bigger poster, because it's all about mixing the action beats with more star power than you'd usually glean from a dozen movies of this ilk. Everyone does a good enough job, all clearly having fun, and that fun is infectious. Gibson is a bit underused, although he does his best with the role, but these movies always struggle to give everyone enough screentime (Harrison Ford only gets a few minutes, and Jet Li pops up for what amounts to a fleeting cameo).

Before opening in cinemas nationwide, The Expendables 3 was already getting a lot of attention for two main reasons. One, the content was being toned down to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Two, a torrent of DVD quality leaked online a few weeks before the big release date. For the first part, I have to say that I didn't notice this being a lighter affair. There may be less actual bloodshed, but the fights and stunts are all still top-notch stuff. As for that torrent, the conspiracy theorist in me wonders whether or not someone had the bright idea of doing that to head off any potential disappointment at the box office. I recommend seeing the movie in the cinema, with all of the action accompanied by some major, seat-rumbling, surround sound, and I hope it actually does well enough to satisfy all those involved.

Patrick Hughes may be the director this time, with Stallone on screenwriting duties once again (this time accompanied by Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt), but this is a film, and indeed a franchise, that seems designed to work no matter who is behind the scenes. It's all down to the stars, it's down to the set-pieces, and it's down to the many fantastic stunt performers who help create such memorable moments.

Highlights include an opening sequence that celebrates Wesley Snipes joining the crew, and actually features a winking gag that works well, a sequence in which Stallone is joined by Kelsey Grammer as he looks to recruit his new team, Banderas being a non-stop motormouth, and pretty much any scene starring the lovely Ronda Rousey.

It's cheesy, it's dripping with machismo, it's completely over the top. In short, it's in line with the series, and delivers exactly what fans will be hoping for.


Thursday 14 August 2014

Stitches (2012)

Scary clowns are nothing new to the horror genre. In fact, many clowns are scary just by being clowns. Many people are terrified of them, it's a very common thing. Grumpy clowns are nothing new either, with the juxtaposition of cheery exterior and dark, depressed interior often making for some great comedy. Stitches takes these things, throws in a load of practical gags and gore effects, and gives audiences a new killer clown who is both scary and grumpy.

Ross Noble is the titular character, a clown who is as unenthusiastic about his work as he is incompetent. If you hired him to entertain your kids then you'd be demanding your money back after five minutes. As he consistently fails to keep some children amused, Stitches is set up to be the victim of a prank. In true horror movie fashion, that prank goes horribly wrong. Fast forward to a number of years later. The kids who were at the last show Stitches ever performed are all ready to have a very different kind of party. They're now teenagers, interested in alcohol and sex (not necessarily in that order). But Stitches is about to put in an unexpected appearance, and he has a new twist on many of his old tricks.

Directed by Conor McMahon, who also co-wrote the movie with David O'Brien, Stitches is a comedy horror that derives most of its laughs from a mix of absurdity and excessive gore. It falters during the first 15 minutes or so, but soon gets the balance right and defies the odds to become an amusing mix of laughs and bloodletting. And it has the best use of the Cutting Crew song (I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight that I can think of.

Noble is a lot of fun as the killer clown, dealing with teenagers in a deadpan manner that makes it all the more amusing for viewers. Tommy Knight is the main young man who ends up trying to stay alive while the clown piles up the corpses, Shane Murray Corcoran is another potential victim, and Gemma-Leah Devereux is Kate, the third member of the main characters to really care about. These three do well enough, as does the entire supporting cast (with Lorna Dempsey particularly helping to brighten up proceedings, for me anyway), and whoever managed to get the kids in the opening scenes to really match the teenagers they then become deserves a pat on the back.

Stitches is one that many will find easy to dislike. It doesn't attempt to be subtle, clever or original. But it does aim to entertain, and it completely succeeds in that department.


Remember, every copy of my book sold, which includes this review and thousands of others, 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.

Wednesday 13 August 2014

The Banshee Chapter (2013)

Sorely misrepresented by a trailer that (to me, at least) made it look like yet another "found footage" movie, The Banshee Chapter is, it turns out, a smart horror movie that mixes in some nicely atmospheric moments with some great jump scares. It doesn't quite do enough to be great, especially when the biggest jump scare is one that is repeated a number of times throughout the proceedings, but it does enough to be very good, and well worth a watch.

Katia Winter plays Anne Roland, a journalist who decides to investigate what may have happened to her friend, James (Michael McMillan), a young man who disappeared after dabbling with some drugs that were used in US government experiments in the '60s and '70s. Her investigation eventually leads her to Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine), a smart, rebellious, drug-using writer cut from the same cloth as Hunter S. Thompson. As the two delve further into the events linked to the drug, and the experiments conducted by the government, things get more and more dangerous, leading to a tense finale. They might find some answers, but they might find something much worse.

Winter is good enough in the lead role, she's likable and not too stupid (although, as is the way with many characters in horror movies, she doesn't always do herself any favours), but Levine is the big bonus here, clearly having a whale of a time as Thomas Blackburn. His performance is a lot of fun, yet somehow still mixed in nicely with the scarier moments.

Written and directed by Blair Erickson (developing from a story by Daniel J. Healy), The Banshee Chapter is one hell of a feature debut. Despite using some ideas that aren't all that original, it puts everything together in a way that feels quite fresh. The script is smart enough, the acting is solid, and there are one or two set-pieces that are impressively intense.

This is well worth your time if you're a horror fan sick of zombie films or the never-ending stream of "found footage" flicks. I'll be very interested in seeing what Erickson gets up to next.


Tuesday 12 August 2014

Dark Touch (2013)

Written and directed by Marina de Van, Dark Touch is an impressive horror movie that manages to provide the goods for horror fans while also doing something a bit different from the norm. It's dark, it's pretty disturbing, and it's well worth your time.

Young Niamh (Missy Keating) is the sole survivor of a massacre that left the rest of family dead. Well, it seems to have been a massacre, but there are enough elements that don't quite fit in with the picture that the police are putting together. It certainly couldn't have been anything to do with Niamh anyway. Could it? While she is cared for by the sweet Nat (Marcella Plunkett) and Lucas (Padraic Delaney) it quickly becomes clear that this eleven-year-old girl isn't exactly like other children her age. Things seem to happen when she gets angry. And she has a lot to get angry about.

Mixing together elements of Carrie and The Children with something even more disturbing, Dark Touch may not be full of surprises, but it benefits from a nice thread of moral ambiguity running throughout and a third act that is as hard to accept as it is impressive. It also manages to sketch out a small Irish community, in broad strokes, as a place where the events depicted could actually happen.

Missy Keating is very good in the main role, maintaining a fine balance between innocent child and something much more dangerous, while Plunkett and Delaney both provide solid support as the main adults in Niamh's life. Charlotte Flyvholm and Stephen Wall will make viewers squirm, and Robert Donnelly, Susie Power, Catherine Walker and Richard Dormer all hold themselves confidently alongside the leads.

I wouldn't exactly call Dark Touch a slow burner, there's a cracking opening sequence and enough moments throughout to keep everyone interested and entertained, but it's certainly a film that veers between restraint and excess as it builds up to quite a weird and wild conclusion, and that's what makes it so memorable.


Monday 11 August 2014

Byzantium (2012)

Director Neil Jordan is no stranger to the vampire movie. He did, quite famously, bring Interview With The Vampire to the big screen, somehow managing to craft a brilliant film despite the death of one of the original cast members (River Phoenix), criticism from author Anne Rice (who eventually recanted when she saw the final result), and ridicule from everyone who thought Tom Cruise incapable of effectively portraying the vampire Lestat. Well, Byzantium may not be quite the achievement that Interview With The Vampire is/was, but it's another very good film from a director who provides viewers with consistently interesting works, barring one or two mis-steps.

Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan are the two young women being a bit vampiric. They seem to be able to walk about in daylight, and don't sleep in coffins or anything, but when it comes time to label their characters . . . . . . . . . vampire is the most suitable title. Struggling to make ends meet and avoid scrutiny from the authorities, the two seem stuck in a vicious cycle, with Arterton's character using sex to make money and help her look after the youngster. But things are complicated by a young man (Caleb Landry Jones) who takes more than a passing interest in Ronan's character. As things build up to a climax, viewers are also told more and more of the main backstory to the characters, a tale that allows Jordan to once again refresh and play with the mythology of vampirism.

Not quite as interesting or thought-provoking as it could be, Byzantium is nevertheless a solid entry into the vampire movie subgenre. Written by Moira Buffini, adapting from her own play (and, admirably, the film never feels stagey at any time), there are some very interesting ideas toyed with, including a theory about vampirism being quite a "men only" club, but not enough time given to any of them.

Jordan does his usual great work as director, but his work here is often downplaying anything that would make the story too pretty or evocative of past horror work. This is the life of a vampire shown in all of its mundanity. Sitting between the fangs-out fun of films such as The Lost Boys, and Vamp, and the grimy, downbeat likes of Martin and The Addiction, Byzantium shows just how boring eternal life can be when it means always having to move along every few years and never being able to get close to anyone.

Arterton and Ronan are both fantastic in the lead roles, with the former really making it easy to believe how men could be won over by her, and the latter doing a great job of being an old head on young shoulders. Caleb Landry Jones overdoes the strangeness of his character, and his accent/mumbling doesn't help, but there are better supporting turns from Daniel Mays, as a very sweet man who becomes smitten, Sam Riley, Uri Gavriel, Tom Hollander, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Jonny Lee Miller, having great fun as a complete bastard.

Although this is the weakest of the recent crop of vampire movies from the past few years (fans of fangs will most certainly want to check out We Are The Night and Kiss Of The Damned), it's still well worth a watch thanks to most of the main performances, a few great visual moments, and a thoughtful script.


Sunday 10 August 2014

Chained Heat (1983)

The Women In Prison movie. It's not for everyone, but certain viewers with a taste for the trashy will know that these movies often practically overflow with gratuitous nudity, sadism and sleaze. Which makes them very entertaining.

In this movie, Linda Blair plays Carol, the new girl in the prison. It doesn't take her long to get the attention of Ericka (Sybil Danning), one of the more powerful inmates. Ericka is involved in a bit of a feud with Duchess (Tamara Dobson), but the two women have mutual enemies, of course, in the shape of the warden (John Vernon) and his staff (mainly Stella Stevens). At least there's the suave Lester (Henry Silva) to help the ladies take part in a lovely care in the community scheme. Well, actually, to be completely truthful, he gives some of them nice dresses to wear and then makes them work as prostitutes.

With its great cast, hilarious lack of anything that makes sense (for example, the hot tub in the warden's office), and pleasing mix of, yes indeed, nudity, sadism and sleaze, this is a particularly fan-pleasing film that takes the recognised components of the niche sub-genre and ramps them all up for maximum entertainment value.

Blair does fine in her role, despite the fact that I don't think she's ever been that great an actress. Her fresh face, and willingness to remove clothing, stand her in good stead to play the innocent girl who may struggle to survive her spell behind bars. Danning is as mesmerising as she usually is, perfect for the queen bee role that she's cast in. It's a sin that she was never cast in a movie role opposite, or alongside, Dyanne Thorne (or am I on my own with that thought?). Dobson holds her own, admirably, whenever facing off against Danning, and makes for a worthy opponent. Robert Miano is a rapey guard, Kendal Kaldwell is a nasty guard who isn't averse to helping the rapey guard get his victims, Stevens is a decent villain, and both Vernon and Silva are enjoyably cringe-inducing in almost every scene they feature in.

Paul Nicholas cobbles everything together well enough. It's all a bit careless and loose, rough around all of the edges in a way that just makes it more endearing, and the script (co-written by Nicholas and Aaron Butler) is as crude, at times, as it is juvenile.

I had a lot of fun watching Chained Heat (hey, I didn't mean THAT . . . . . behave), and I think that anyone else with previous experience of this kind of film, as long as they know exactly what they're letting themselves in for, will find it equally enjoyable.