Wednesday 31 July 2019

Prime Time: The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)

Having explored the highs and lows of a developing and unraveling relationship in the superb Blue Valentine, director Derek Cianfrance followed it up with this exploration of parenthood, and the decisions that have repercussions for future generations. This doesn't have the weight of the preceding film, despite the best efforts of everyone involved, but it's still very good.

Ryan Gosling plays Luke, a carnival stunt bike rider who struggles to figure out the best way to move forward when he finds out that he is the father of a child after hooking up with a woman named Romina (Eva Mendes). He somehow, thanks to some none-too-indirect nudging from a man named Robin (Ben Mendelsohn), decides that he can provide best for his son by robbing banks and using the ill-gotten gains to provide for those he loves, even if Romina is now with another man (Kofi, played by Mahershala Ali). Crashing into this scenario comes relatively new cop, Avery (Bradley Cooper). Lives will be irrevocably changed, and the plot starts to writhe and wind towards a melodramatic finale.

A film about people doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, or the right thing for the wrong reasons, or just generally making mistakes that can lead to consequences more serious than they could ever have envisioned, The Place Beyond The Pines is a film that will resonate with anyone who has tried to be responsible for a loved one, whether you managed it or felt you let them down.

Written by Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, and Darius Marder, this is all as effective as it is simplistic. It could easily have become soap opera stuff, or just downright tedious by the time viewers waited over two hours to get to the expectedly convergent climax, but the cast, and the assured direction, make it very much worthy of your time.

Everyone I've already mentioned does great work, often sitting alongside their very best, but there's no small amount of pleasure to be derived from a cast of supporting players that includes Ray Liotta, Rose Byrne, Harris Yulin, Bruce Greenwood, and both Emory Cohen and Dane DeHaan, the last two playing two children who end up connecting in a way that you just know is going to bring some things to a head.

If you've seen the trailer for this movie then you may already think you know where it's going. Gosling hurtling through woods on his dirt bike. Cooper as the good cop. Clouds of tragedy hanging over the main characters. You'd probably be right with a lot of your guesses, but there are one or two interesting developments that will also keep you on your toes. And being able to stay a step ahead of the plotting, for the majority of the movie, doesn't take anything away from the impact of what's being shown.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Tuesday 30 July 2019

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Hey, I am as surprised as you might be to be saying this, but maybe more people should check out Alita: Battle Angel. It's not necessarily going to become your new favourite movie, it's certainly not going to placate you if you've been spending some time recently seeking out quality cinema with great actors delivering ear-tickling dialogue, but it's a fantastic bit of escapist fun, set in a world full of cool little details and wonderful production design.

The film starts off with Christoph Waltz, playing a Dr. Dyson Ido (and his surgical work now involves a lot of engineering or robotic parts), finding a discarded cyborg body that he then rebuilds and reactivates. The cyborg is Alita (Rosa Salazar), a young woman who strives to remember her past, and who ends up having a number of much bigger cyborgs tasked with ending her life.

Based on a manga (Gunnm AKA Battle Angel Alita) by Yukito Kishiro, Alita: Battle Angel comes to the screen courtesy of a screenplay by James Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis and direction from Robert Rodriguez. As ridiculous as it may seem, considering some of their achievements throughout their careers, none of these names are the draw they once were. People tend to actively mistrust Cameron nowadays, with good reason, considering how many times he has done his bit to sell us on Terminator sequels of ever-diminishing quality. Everyone is on good form here though, and it's refreshing to see Rodriguez back at the helm of something that is looking forward rather than trying to emulate the past (he does the latter well, but it's a well he's gone back to a few too many times throughout his career).

The cast help to sell everything, especially Salazar in a role that transforms her into the wide-eyed central character and Waltz as the fallible human who kicks things off. Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali are enjoyable as the people who are manipulating events to direct Alita towards dangerous confrontations, Keean Johnson is the pretty male/potential love interest, and a couple of the main mean cyborgs are played entertainingly enough by Ed Skrein and Jackie Earle Haley.

But don't go thinking I am praising this as a near-perfect cinematic experience. While it delivers on the eye candy, and it really does (I was relieved to see that Rodriguez could still do well with action scenes), it's also full of good quality cheese. The script is silly and clunky, especially in the few moments in which it tries to have characters showing some real emotions. It's easy to forgive, however, as we're taken from one gorgeous sequence to the next (whether it's just a crowded street scene or a violent sporting tournament).

I'm not sure if we'll ever get any other instalments after this one, it didn't seem to do as well as expected at the box office, but I do know that I'll try to catch them on the big screen if we do. For sci-fi action blockbusters that enjoy pretending they have some depth to them, this is one of the better examples we've had in recent years.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Monday 29 July 2019

Mubi Monday: The Elephant Man (1980)

The Elephant Man has always struck me as the most un-Lynchian film in the filmography of David Lynch (although someone did recently remind me of The Straight Story, which I have yet to see), and yet it is no less worthwhile, or rewarding, for fans of his work.

Based on the true life story of John Merrick (played under a load of make up by John Hurt, with a performance that I would argue remains his finest achievement), this is a fairly straightforward look at someone who was viewed as a freak for most of his life. And even those who sought to help him ended up falling into a trap of occasionally putting him on display for the benefit of others. The main person to try helping Mr. Merrick is a doctor named Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), who decides to home the man in the hospital he works at, helped in his endeavours by a matron (Mrs Mothershead, played by Wendy Hiller), and the governor of the institution (played by John Gielgud).

Describing various moments from this movie would easily make you question my opening paragraph. There are some nightmare and dream sequences that certainly wouldn't be out of place in other Lynch movies, and nor would the idea of evil making visits in the guise of various humans. But here, couched within a film that has such a strong emotional core in the plight of Mr. Merrick, it all feels a bit different. The darker, sometimes surreal, touches are just that. This is a story told respectfully and effectively by Lynch, with incidents in the script (co-written by himself, Christopher De Vore, and Eric Bergen) that show why it would appeal to him, cinematically.

The performances are brilliant across the board. Hurt gets all of the praise, and rightfully so, but he's rivalled by the beautifully restrained, for the most part, turns from Hopkins, Hiller, and Gielgud. Freddie Jones and Michael Elphick are far less restrained, playing the kind of nasty and abusive individuals who wouldn't look out of place in a classic Dickensian tale (which this very much feels like), and you have a number of familiar faces in smaller supporting roles: Anne Bancroft (who gets a few wonderful main scenes alongside Hurt), Dexter Fletcher, Hannah Gordon, Lesley Dunlop, Pauline Quirke, and Kenny Baker.

The black and white cinematography is gorgeous, whether scenes are crystal clear or murky when showing the smoke-filled and less hygienic back lanes of London, and Freddie Francis deserves no small amount of praise for his contribution as director of photography. In fact, this is a film in which I wish I could namecheck everyone, from the make up team to the costume designers and on and on. I always remember that film is a collaborative effort, and am always aware that when writing reviews I am picking and choosing the "main names" to discuss, but The Elephant Man is a classic that simply emanates care and hard work from every frame, making me feel more remiss than usual in not listing every credited contributor.

If you have seen this before then revisit it some time, when you can handle something serious, rewarding and moving. If you haven't seen it yet then get to it, and do it as soon as possible.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy a disc here.

Sunday 28 July 2019

Netflix And Chill: Girls With Balls (2018)

The main premise of Girls With Balls is a decent one. A female volleyball team ends up endangered when they are stuck in the middle of nowhere, and viewed as great sport for some dangerous locals to hunt and kill. But the killers don't count on the girls being so strong and determined. If only they can actually work together as a team then they may just get out of the situation alive.

Mix the strained friendship dynamics of The Descent with any number of films from the "hillbilly horror" movies we've had over the years and, once you've added a bit of volleyball action, you end up with this. Although not interested in any real level of suspense or scares, you do get a horror comedy that deals in a nice selection of over the top gore gags, most of them amusing enough thanks to the sheer amount of blood spilled and damage caused.

Where Girls With Balls falls down, unfortunately, is in all of the moments that aren't based around the violence and death. The characters and various relationships aren't as strongly developed as they could be, the villains (headed up by an entertaining Denis Lavant) are mostly an anonymous mass of hooded figures, and the comedy doesn't work half as well when it isn't being accompanied by sudden sprays of blood.

The cast all try to do their best, with a number of them managing to stand out, despite being given only one or two main traits. Manon Azem is the most competitive one, and also the most selfish when it comes to staying alive, so she stands out from the others. Anne-Solenne Hatte is the captain, and obviously has her moments. Camille Razat is adorably ill-prepared for fending off murderous bad guys, especially as she takes the time to confess to some big mistake to a team-mate who doesn't want to hear it, and Louise Blachère is brilliant as a nerd who turns badass in this time of crisis. Victor Artus Solaro is fine as the coach, and Margot Dufrene is the other main player worth mentioning, but she gets a bit lost in the mix, along with one or two others.

It's unsurprising to see that director Olivier Afonso, who also co-wrote the film with Jean-Luc Cano, has a background in makeup and special effects. This is his directorial debut and it's easy to see that he tried to work with material that would play to his strengths. Perhaps next time he will manage to balance things out a bit better, although this is a decent bit of fun for his first effort.


No links here, as this is not on disc yet, but feel free to use any link from my blog to do some shopping, and make today a win win for both of us.

Saturday 27 July 2019

Shudder Saturday: Strange Behavior (1981)

Filmed in New Zealand, but set in Illinois, and considered by many to be an Ozploitation flick, Strange Behavior is a very odd experience. And it's not a very satisfying one, which is a shame when you consider how well the premise could have worked.

A number of teens are turned into killers. A local police officer (John Brady, played by Michael Murphy) believes it may be the work of Dr. Le Sange (Arthur Dignam), who happens to be deceased. Perhaps his work is being continued by a loyal assistant, Gwen Parkinson (Fiona Lewis). Whatever is really going on, Brady needs to get to the bottom of it, even before he realises that his son (Pete, played by Dan Shor) has been dragged in to the plan.

Directed by Michael Laughlin, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Bill Condon, Strange Behavior is almost an entirely flat and unexciting time for the duration (and it runs at just over 100 minutes). Very few of the supporting characters are memorable, occasional set-pieces just appear and then end, without any feeling of being properly framed for maximum impact, and even the third act lacks any decent scares or tension. I suppose it is also structured in a way that is supposed to have viewers looking forward to the central mystery being solved. If anybody else watched this and cared about the resolution of the mystery then please let me know.

As well as lacking any decent thrills, Laughlin also wastes almost his entire cast. Okay, Murphy and Shor are okay as the older and younger Brady men, mainly because they get the most screentime, but Lewis doesn't have half as much fun in her role as she should have been allowed to have, Dignam is used to have a sly bit of fun that just doesn't work, and Louise Fletcher, perhaps worst of all, is just sidelined for much of the film. Louise Fletcher. If you get her to take a role in your movie then, dammit, you should make that role as good as she deserves it to be.

There may be some people reading this who think I missed the entire point of the film, which is a homage to certain films of the 1950s. Unfortunately, I don't think it works in that regard either. Those making the film had a choice to either make a straight horror, make a homage, or make something that landed somewhere between the two. This works as none of those things, and one sequence featuring a character wearing a Tor Johnson mask isn't enough to convince me otherwise.

I know there are some people out there who seem to enjoy this one. I just struggle to think of anything that would appeal to most film fans.


You can get a pack of discs here (R1).

Friday 26 July 2019

Pet Sematary (2019)

You probably already know all about Pet Sematary. You may have already seen this movie. Or you saw the trailer, that gave away one big twist that the film used to distance itself from the 1989 original. Or you saw the 1989 original (lots of people view that one with fondness). Or maybe, just maybe, you read the book before any of the movies appeared. I was in a peak Stephen King period at that point in my life, devouring many of his works, and read it as soon as I could. I was old enough to enjoy it and still young enough to somehow miss the obvious fact that it was the ultimate way for King to rework one of his favourite ever tales, "The Monkey's Paw".

Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz are Louis and Rachel, a married couple with two children, Ellie (Jeté Laurence) and Gage (played by twins Hugo and Lucas Lavoie). They have just moved in to a new home, somewhere that seems potentially idyllic for them. If it wasn't for that road nearby that sometimes has large trucks hurtling down it. There's a friendly neighbour (Jud, played by John Lithgow), at least, and he is the one with some extra information when they discover that somewhere on their land is the titular "pet sematary". Tragedy strikes. The nearby ground has powers. Sometimes dead is better. All of those three things will converge in the second half of the film.

It's a shame that Matt Greenberg helped to write the screenplay for 1408, one of the better Stephen King adaptations in the last fifteen years. A shame because that may lead you to believe that his work here, fleshed out by Jeff Buhler, will be good. It's really not. In fact, it's ridiculously lazy in places. Whether making changes to the source material that don't seem to be for the better or failing to shake off the spectre of the original film, Pet Sematary shambles from one bad decision to the next. It's telling to say that some of the better moments here feel so enjoyable because they could easily have come from any late '80s/early 90s Stephen King movie adaptation.

The casting is the best thing here. And that's working around the fact that the lead actor is Jason Clarke, a man who surely owes his career to being occasionally confused for Joel Edgerton by harried casting agents. I've seen him do decent work onscreen but he's rarely the best choice for any lead role, and doesn't have much charisma that you expect to find in most leading men. Fortunately, Seimetz is much better, and you have Lithgow doing the best he can to put his own spin on the character of Jud (no small feat when you remember how great Fred Gwynne was in the original). The children are also very good, with Laurence given more opportunity to shine than either of the Lavoie twins. And kudos to the cats involved (oh, animal lovers be warned, the death of a cat is the real turning point in the plot).

Directors Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer have done some great work together. Starry Eyes remains a film I will happily recommend to any horror fans after something different. Seeing them churn out something so ill-judged and poor is slightly depressing. It made a profit, although I am not sure if it was a good enough profit to please those who keep count or just enough to ensure people kept their jobs, so I am sure that they will get more work after this. I just hope they go back to doing something of their own creation.

The original novel or the 1989 movie, take your pick. Both of those options are much better than sitting through this. And I couldn't even be bothered to mention the new incarnation of Zelda (played this time by Alyssa Brooke Levine), all too familiar to fans of the original, but also with another pointless change that adds nothing to this empty experience.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Thursday 25 July 2019

Dragnet (1987)

Although I wasn't aware of the character of Joe Friday, or the TV show Dragnet, by the time I saw this movie, it didn't really matter to me then, nor does it matter to me now. The main characters are established quickly enough (this isn't complicated material) and it's obvious that our lead is someone who still feels rooted in a past that has a slightly different kind of police officer dealing with a slightly different landscape of crimes.

Here's the typically 1980s, buddy cop, take on the material anyway. Friday (Dan Aykroyd, playing the nephew of the famous TV show character) is given a new partner in the shape of Pep Streebek (Tom Hanks). The two of them could hardly be any more opposite in nature. Friday is meticulous, organised, and polite, Streebek is a fairly happy-go-lucky slob. While investigating a number of bizarre thefts, the two lawmen stumble on to a nefarious plan that involves ritual sacrifice, murder, chemical poisoning, and the virgin Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul).

Another film often forgotten by people who probably, and with some good reason, dismiss it as a lesser comedy outing from the decade, Dragnet is absolutely not some kind of classic that is due for rediscovery and reappraisal. It is, however, exactly what you may want when seeking out a simple and entertaining comedy, boosted by two talented leads who work well with one another.

Aykroyd does well as the fastidious and ever-polite main character, a role that restrains him in a way that works well for the laughs, and Hanks is in his peak careless manchild comedy phase. Harry Morgan makes the transition from the TV show (as Gannon, now promoted from officer to Captain) and there are fun performances from Christopher Plummer, Elizabeth Ashley, Dabney Coleman, Kathleen Freeman, as well as a number of other supporting players. Paul is appropriately demure as Connie Swail, although she's not given much to do beyond being the maiden in distress.

Director Tom Mankiewicz also co-wrote the movie with Aykroyd and Alan Zweibel, helping to get both the tone and look of the movie right. Despite the modern-day setting, it's very much a believable world in which someone like Friday could be working his beat. There are numerous nods to the show, the familiar soundbites you expect to hear are delivered, and the main theme tune is given a fun reworking by the Art Of Noise.

A perfectly valid choice for some easygoing entertainment when your work week is done, you want to enjoy some unhealthy food and beverages, put your feet up and exclaim "Thank God, it's Friday!"

And it also has this, which is absolutely a favourite '80s movie soundtrack bonus (no, I am not being sarcastic)


You can buy it here.
Americans can buy it here.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Prime Time: Imitation Girl (2017)

As I am sure others will have mentioned in reviews, Imitation Girl is an independent sci-fi drama that bears more than a slight resemblance to the magnificent Under The Skin. That's not to say that this covers exactly the same ground, or that it should be judged harshly because it doesn't manage to be on the exact same level as that film, but it's interesting to note the similarities while also recognising the little turns that take it down a different path.

Lauren Ashley Carter stars as Julianna, a young woman earning a living in the world of adult entertainment. She doesn't seem content, but also doesn't seem to know exactly what changes she wants to make in her life. Carter also stars as an alien visitor, first seen as a puddle of black sludge, who takes on the form of Julianna and starts discovering just what it means to be an Earthling.

Written and directed by Natasha Kermani, only her second feature after a number of shorts and TV work, Imitation Girl is equally impressive both for the level of care given to the technical side of things and the fact that Kermani doesn't ever take the easy option (especially when it comes to showing Julianna at work). Instead, viewers are treated to a slow-paced look at two physically identical individuals who, despite their very different origins, are both looking for a way to feel comfortable in their own skin.

It's a good job that Carter is in the lead role because she's a consistently great actress who puts in yet another fine performance here. Two fine performances, in fact. Moving through a full emotional range (including the times when she is figuring out a number of different sensations and how they make her feel), Carter conveys everything about her character in ways that are often subtle and silent. Neimah Djourabchi and Sanam Erfani both do well in main supporting roles, a couple who help the imitation girl settle herself in her new environment while they look out for her safety. Catherine Mary Stewart is also good in a small role, someone who knew Joanna some time ago and offers her an opportunity to perhaps take a different path, and both Stefanie Woodburn and Marsha Stephanie Blake do well with their small amount of screentime. Oh, there's also an appearance by Lewis Black, for one scene (inessential as it is), and that covers most of the main people involved.

Not that any of them really matter. No offence to them, it's just that I could easily have watched this film with minimal human interaction, as long as Carter was still delivering her brilliant performance at the heart of it all.

Although it makes one or two mis-steps, including that scene with Black, this is a great slice of sci-fi that explores the human experience. I'd happily rewatch it some time, and I hope that others seek it out. Kermani is definitely someone to keep an eye on in the future.


You can check out ways to see the movie here.

Tuesday 23 July 2019

The Secret Of My Success (1987)

Michael J. Fox was a huge part of developing my love for film during my formative teen years. Part of that was due to the amazingness of the Back To The Future movies, part of that was due to his charm and skill, and part of that was due to the fact that he was so prolific throughout the '80s and '90s. Not every one of those films worked, even with him trying his best in the main roles, but I can't think of any that are complete failures. I'm sure that many other people never want to revisit what may be deemed his lesser films, but I am hoping to one day see if I can still enjoy them as much as I used to (although I am doubtful).

If The Secret Of My Success is anything to go by, I might end up being pleasantly surprised.

Fox plays Brantley Foster, a small town boy who heads to New York in order to make his fortune, and a great life for himself. Unfortunately, the job he was due to have ends up falling through. It's a tough market, which leads to Brantley eventually asking for a favour from his uncle, Howard Prescott (Richard Jordan). Although not TOO close, Howard gives Brantley a job in the mail delivery department. Desperate for an opportunity to prove himself, Brantley manages to make the best possible use of some empty office space. He's focused on his path up the career ladder, apart from the times he's being distracted by his attraction to Christy Wills (Helen Slater), or when he's being seduced by an older married woman (Margaret Whitton).

The sharp script, by Jim Cash, Jack Epps Jr. and AJ Carothers, is full of energy, small digs at the wasteful nature of corporate culture (and just how easy it can be to remain in employment while coasting along), and elements that come together well for a couple of standout farcical sequences.

Director Herbert Ross isn't the sort of person to stamp his own identity over any film, instead making the most of the stars and ideas that he's working with (as shown in the likes of Play It Again, Sam, Footloose, My Blue Heaven, and many of his other projects). This is no bad thing, however, especially when working with the right stars in the right roles.

Fox is definitely right for the lead here. He's wide-eyed enough to play some moments more innocently, yet also able to convince when shown building his determination and development. Slater is acceptable in her role, although she would rarely be my first choice for any role of this type and Jordan is enjoyably callous, and enjoyably ignorant of "our hero" making his moves around him. But Whitton is the person who almost steals the film entirely, and certainly steals most of the scenes that feature her making Fox far too comfortable, and then far too uncomfortable. John Pankow and Christopher Murney are fun in their supporting roles, and there are very small, but enjoyable, turns from Fred Gwynne, Mercedes Ruehl (playing a waitress), and Bruce McGill (another company employee).

Another plus is the soundtrack, which includes songs from Yello, Katrina & The Waves, Pat Benatar, Bananarama, and some other people who aren't as well-known.

If you can overlook some of the scenes and attitudes that are undeniably . . . '80s then the rest of the film remains a fun fantasy about a young man who is chasing his dream. That dream just happens to be one that involves him becoming a major player in the business world (not exactly rock 'n' roll, but a dream is a dream is a dream).


You can buy the movie on shiny disc here.
Americans can buy it here.

Monday 22 July 2019

Mubi Monday: Half Nelson (2006)

Ryan Gosling plays Dan Dunne, a history teacher who seems to do well with the kids in his class, despite the fact that he doesn't work with the standard curriculum, and he also has a drug addiction issue. Discovered one time by young Drey (Shareeka Epps), a bond is created that may or may not lead to big changes for them. Although that depends on whether or not either of them can actually change. Dan is held fast in the grip of his addiction, Drey seems to be heading down a path alongside a dealer (Frank, played by Anthony Mackie) who considers himself a friend to the young girl.

The first fictional feature helmed by the film-making team of Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (both wrote the script, Fleck directed), after a few shorts and a documentary between them, Half Nelson is in line with a lot of their other work, and also remains one of their best. It manages to strive for realism at times without being too grim, puts the main character through the wringer while never losing a sense of optimism, and everything is anchored by some damn fine lead performances.

Gosling is his usual understated self, a likeable presence that you keep rooting for throughout (because surely he can help kids more if he can get his life back on track), and Epps holds her own alongside him, a young girl somehow defying the odds as events around her conspire to nudge her towards some potentially-damaging life choices. The fact that Mackie, the important third point in this defining relationship triangle, manages to not be the kind of character who makes your skin crawl while you boo and hiss at him until he goes offscreen again is testament to both how good his acting is and how carefully the script works to shade every character.

You can easily view Half Nelson as something we've seen many times before. At heart, it's a tale of a teacher and student who may end up learning from one another. But it becomes more complex when you add the drug addiction. And it becomes even MORE complex when you start to break down the characters and their motivations. I just mentioned Mackie doing well in his role, but Boden and Fleck use their casting to also, perhaps, distract us from the fact that Gosling, as well-intentioned as he is, could end up causing just as much harm to young minds by failing his students, in terms of classroom ethics and also how he could work as a role model.

The look and sound of the film is what you would expect from such low-budget indie fare. It all looks good, don't get me wrong, but it's a mix of scenes infused with a warm glow and the low soundtrack weaves in and out in a fairly unobtrusive manner. Most people speak in a fairly low, intimate, tone and camera focus is a low priority to show drug-induced haziness.

Highly recommended if you like the acting style of Gosling, if you appreciate Mackie as much as he should be appreciated, and/or if you are a fan of other films you have seen from Boden and Fleck.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Sunday 21 July 2019

Netflix And Chill: Look Away (2018)

India Eisley plays Maria, a quiet girl who isn't having a very good time of things at her school, mainly because of her being a bit quiet (I guess). While unhappy at school, she is equally unhappy at home, observing her unappreciated mother (Mira Sorvino) or being harshly criticised by her cold father (Jason Isaacs). Things start to change for Maria when she finds out that her reflection isn't JUST her reflection. It's a presence that has been with her throughout most of her life, calls herself Airam (of course), and is willing to switch places with Maria to put things right. So the two switch, which allows Airam to start punishing those who have spent too much time wronging Maria.

As slick and teen-centric as it is, and it really is, Look Away also has some surprising depth to it. Written and directed by Assaf Bernstein (an unexpected choice for him, considering most of his previous work), what could have easily been a supernatural revenge tale focusing on a bodycount and bloodshed instead plays out as a character study of a young woman willing to go to extreme lengths to find acceptance and love. Multi-layered scenes none too subtly reinforce the point that how others view you is a lot less important than how you view yourself.

A quote from Hollow Man comes to mind: "It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror anymore." Although that doesn't look to be the literal case here, it's essentially the same thing. Maria sees herself whenever she looks in the mirror. Until she sees Airam, who is the tougher version of herself. Airam, on the other hand, sees Maria for a while, but does her best to avoid her when she starts heading down a very different path.

Eisley does well in the lead roles, doing her best to convince as both the worn-down teen and the badass out for revenge. Isaacs and Sorvino are both superb, portraying parents who are letting their daughter down in different, but equally damaging, ways. Penelope Mitchell is a friend to Maria who may not have always been as supportive as she could have been, John C. MacDonald is a bully motivated by an underlying attraction to Maria, and Harrison Gilbertson is the nice guy caught up in between people who are hiding their agendas from him.

Solid from start to finish, and genuinely interesting and thought-provoking by the time the end credits roll around, it's just a shame that the script doesn't fully convince in the opening act. Maria doesn't seem to have it as badly as some other movie characters we've seen endure tortuous school years of bullying. That's not to say that a character can only feel miserable and bullied if x events occur but it just feels a bit light compared to how the rest of the plot unfolds.

The title may be Look Away, but this rewards viewers who look a little deeper.


You can order a R1 disc here.
Americans can order it here.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Shudder Saturday: Deadtectives (2018)

Over the past few years, there have been a number of films that show paranormal investigators getting themselves in trouble when they investigate hauntings that turn out to be real. One of the best of these films is still The Frighteners, from back in 1996, but there have been a fair few decent ones to choose from in recent years (many of them, such as the Grave Encounters movies, making use of the found footage format).

Deadtectives is another one. It's a horror comedy about, yes, a team of paranormal investigators who are used to faking supernatural activity for better results on their show. They're facing cancellation, which is why the season finale needs to be a big deal, and that's how they end up in what is allegedly the most haunted house in Mexico. They soon start to delve into their usual bag of tricks, but it's not long until the tricks aren't needed. The spirits start to come out, and they're deadly.

Co-written and directed by Tony West (David Clayton Rogers is the other main writer, although a number of people worked on the main story idea), Deadtectives is a horror comedy that manages to be entertaining throughout, just, but doesn't supply either enough scares or laughs. It has some fun ideas though, especially once it gets over the halfway mark, but it could have been greatly improved by some extra time spent working on the characters or committing to some extra bloodshed and gore throughout.

The cast do well enough. The main quartet are played by Chris Geere (not as strong as he could be in the role of Sam, the main host, but he's fine), Tina Ivlev (as Kate, the one who struggles most with the morality of what they are doing), David Newman (Lloyd, who spends a lot of time modifying equipment and being prepared for actual supernatural activity), and José María de Tavira (Javier, who becomes more interesting after a major plot development in the second half). Martha Higareda is Abril, a new figure hoping to raise the standard of the show, and there are a number of decent performances from those playing the spirits who reside in the house.

Although obviously not working with the biggest budget or selection of resources, what is on display here is done well. Production design is solid, the camerawork and cinematography is actually impressive, and CGI is used well, especially in the third act. Considering everything as a whole, West has created an impressive little film for his directorial feature. The problems lie in the script, with both the dialogue and the character interactions lacking something that could have made this much more enjoyable.

I rate it above average, it's trying to do something a little bit different and it's trying to do it well. And even while it's not succeeding . . . it consistently aims to provide viewers with a sense of fun. A lot of other films seem to forget how important that can be.


Here's a Grave Encounters boxset.
Americans can buy Grave Encounters 2 here.

Friday 19 July 2019

School Of Rock (2003)

If there was ever an award for the Jack Blackiest movie to feature Jack Black in a main role then it would surely go to School Of Rock. You get the rock music, obviously, and the general worshipping at the altar of rock. You get odd improvisational vocal riffs and ridiculous rock posturing. You get a lead character who seems to not be doing much with his life, and also proves himself to be far from the brightest bulb at times. And there's a message about being true to yourself, and not necessarily caring about what others may think as you find your inner cool.

Black plays Dewey Finn, a band member who finds himself with no band. He also has no job. And no money. He owes rent, which is becoming a problem for his friend/flatmate, Ned (played by Mike White, who also wrote the script), mainly because Ned is being told to assert himself by his girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman). When Dewey takes a message by phone for a temp teaching job position for Ned, he decides to take on the role and earn some money. He figures it will be easy, the kids will enjoy not having to actually learn, and nobody will be hurt. And then he finds out that some of the young pupils are pretty good with musical instruments. So he has an idea to create another band.

Directed by Richard Linklater, School Of Rock is an easy crowdpleaser, as long as you don't mind Jack Black (and I think it's fair to say that this was released during the time when he was at the peak of his popularity, before people started to tire of his schtick). Although it seems unlike anything Linklater would want to helm, the fact that every scene feels infused with the sweat of rock legends starts to make you realise that this is a natural pairing.

Black is as you have seen him so many other times, sometimes being lazy and unmotivated and sometimes being a whirling ball of energy as he gets fired up by the power of rock. This remains the best role that he's had for the rock-worshipping side of his personality, and he is consistently excellent. White and Silverman are the negging motivators, with Silverman taking on the thankless role of the main complainer, and both of them are good in their scenes. Joan Cusack excels as the head of the school, a woman who worries so much about the reputation of the school, and the care of the pupils, that she has developed a reputation as someone who never has any fun. But get a Stevie Nicks tune playing and she shows a different side.

Then we have the kids. They may be all painted in rather broad strokes, but they're not usually the butt of the jokes, not once Black settles more into his role and starts to see more in them than they may see themselves. The scene-stealer is Miranda Cosgrove as Summer Hathaway, a girl who prides herself on being a top student, but everyone does well. You get Robert Tsai (Lawrence, keyboard), Joey Gaydos Jr. (Zack, guitar), Kevin Clark (Freddy, drums), Rebecca Brown (Katie, bass), Brian Falduto (Billy, costumes), Zachary Infante (Gordon, lighting), and Maryam Hassan, Caitlin Hale, and Aleisha Allen as singers. Every single one of them gets at least one moment in the spotlight, either through their musical talent or an amusing line of dialogue.

The soundtrack is made up of the obvious greats, making this a treat for the ears, and that script is a perfect example of how to throw enough fun characters and situations onscreen in a way that allows viewers to suspend disbelief as things move towards a completely predictable, and satisfying, grand finale.  Silly and ridiculously implausible as it is, it's also a pretty perfect choice for whenever you are after a movie to please a group with a wide age range.


You can buy the movie here.
American readers can buy it here.

Thursday 18 July 2019

Lifechanger (2018)

Lifechanger is a very good film, a very good film indeed. Providing something a bit removed from the usual mix of ghosts, zombies, and beasties that we usually get in our horror films (not that I mind those either), my only reservation about it is the way some people may view it as not adhering strictly enough to what they expect from their genre fare. So just be warned that the horror is there, and sometimes to the fore, but this is more concerned with other matters, which I will get to in due course.

As told in voiceover, viewers quickly learn that Lifechanger is about an individual (a person? a creature?) that keeps switching bodies every so often. This isn't done in the standard "soul jumping in" way we've seen before (in the likes of Shocker and Fallen). No, it's a much more visceral process, and can be a painful one, as the "creature" holds on to someone else and drains their life from them, before resting as they reconstruct into a perfect facsimile, with all of the new knowledge, memories, etc, that come with the physical form. Oddly, there's still enough of a core in there, a sense of self, to allow this multi-bodied creation to pursue someone it has viewed as an object of love. Her name is Julia, and she is blissfully unaware that the various people who have spoken to her over a few different days are all the same person, always in love with her.

Written and directed by Justin McConnell, a man who has spent the better part of the past two decades honing his craft over a number of shorts and features (none of which I have seen . . . sorry, Justin), this is about as impressive an independent feature as you can get. A few different locations are used smartly to stop it from feeling boxed in and restricted, the wide and varied cast is made up of people who almost all give great performances, and the script wanders in and out of some very interesting thoughts on mortality and identity. It also clocks in at about 80 minutes, meaning it doesn't waste time setting up the premise, explores an interesting central strand, and then is all done before it can be accused of outstaying any welcome.

Lora Burke is fine in the role of Julia, although her character is a rare weakness in the script (a bit too consistently chatty with everyone she meets in her local bar, considering her reasons for being there and how many "different" people end up taking an interest in her, some of whom she has observed there before in different circumstances). Sam White, Elitsa Bako, Rachel VanDuzer, and Steve Kasan all do good work, but Jack Foley is the actor who has to carry viewers through the third act, so I'll single him out here. He's not quite as good as he could be, but he's convincing as he portrays his inner struggle while he feels things starting to come apart after coming so close to getting the situation exactly as he wanted it to be.

If you're reading this and wondering about the horror elements, don't worry. Apart from the general nastiness of taking someone's life, there are some impressively icky body horror effects, and also one or two scenes reminding viewers that all of those other bodies need disposed of. The end result may be neither Cronenbergian nor murder-filled for some, but it certainly keeps skimming over those touchstones on the way to an interestingly ambiguous ending.

All in all, this is a fantastic piece of work, surely positioning McConnell on the very brink of bigger things (whether through offers or opportunities that this should afford him).


This is a nice all-region blu, which you can feel free to buy me (have overspent lately, dammit).

Wednesday 17 July 2019

The Party Animal (1984)

Ahhhhhh the '80s, eh. It was a very different time. Nobody seemed to be all that woke. Filmes were made that focused on inappropriate central relationships, wolf whistles were considered foreplay, and many dates ended up as a battle of wills between the two main parties. In fact, most dates ended up looking very much like attempted date rape. Especially in something like The Party Animal.

It's a comedy from this era that has always stuck with me, mainly because this is a strangely twisted and dark creation that somehow managed to insert itself in amongst the more standard sex comedies of the decade. Largely forgotten nowadays, unless others have held on to the vivid memories of it that I had, it's one that deserves to be rescued from obscurity, as much for what it gets wrong as for what it gets right.

Matthew Causey plays Pondo Sinatra, a college student who rolls in on his first day like a walking hardon. And he spends most of his days that way, chasing after any and every woman close enough to him, emanating desperation like a particularly pungent scent of cheap cologne. His story is told by the one person who considers himself close enough to be considered a friend, Studly (played by Timothy Carhart).

There are many scenes in The Party Animal that will strike modern viewers as particularly unpleasant. Seeing how Pondo is with all women makes his "plight" all the easier to understand. He doesn't show any signs of charm or wit, and his only aim is getting into the knickers of any woman who will let him, by almost any means necessary. This will be easier to identify with if you've just managed to scrape through your teenage years, a time when you're still finding your own personality and thinking that others will like you more if you attempt to act like different, cooler, people. That's what the movie gets right. It just doesn't transfer well into a comedy. It also gets darker and darker as it runs through the brisk runtime (it's just under 80 minutes), heading towards an ending unlike any other I've seen in this kind of film.

I suspect that the film benefits from the fact that it is the first from director David Beaird, who also wrote the screenplay (working from an idea shaped by himself and Alan C. Fox). This explains the bizarre approach to the material that makes the first half so unappealing while the third act becomes a more unique and downbeat affair.

It's just a shame that Beaird didn't get himself a better cast. This is the only credited acting role for Causey, unsurprisingly, and he's a terrible leading man. It would be hard to imagine anyone doing much better with the material, to be fair, but getting someone with a better handle on the comedy could have helped. Carhart is the best person onscreen, and does well in his role. All of the women are disposable characters, there to reject the lead, and they're not given anything more to work with than various expressions of revulsion or attraction, depending on who they are working alongside.

I'm not going to say that The Party Animal is any kind of misunderstood classic, or that many other people will watch it and find it as fascinating as I do, but I do think it's a film that should be re-released today, especially if anyone could dig up some interesting information on the thinking behind it. Did it do well upon initial release? Did anyone expect it to? And how did they manage to put together such a great soundtrack? (featuring The Buzzcocks, The Fleshtones, and even a track from R.E.M.)


There's no major release for this. Please click here and shop.
Americans can shop here.

Tuesday 16 July 2019

Prime Time: Minutes Past Midnight (2016)

Remember when horror anthologies were made by a group of people wanting to deliver a shared vision allowing for more creative freedom than a feature would allow? Me too. I like those horror anthologies. But it seems more and more common nowadays to find that a horror anthology is made up of curated short films. There is a good and bad side to this approach. On the one hand, you get to enjoy an assortment of short films that you woulds most likely have otherwise missed (aside from festival programmes, it's often hard to discover short films "in the wild). On the other hand, the whole thing can feel a bit disjointed, and almost like a disservice to the better films that can be sandwiched between lesser fare.

Minutes Past Midnight is made up of the following tales; Never Tear Us Apart, Awake, Crazy For You, The Mill At Calder's End, Roid Rage, Feeder, Timothy, Ghost Train, and Horrific. Nine tales. Four of those tales are very good, one is visually gorgeous and atmospheric, but lacking a certain something, and the others range from decidedly average to absolutely awful (Roid Rage is the worst of the lot).

Having listed those titles, and mentioned there quality levels, I think it is worth mentioning that there was only the one that I really despised. That's a good ratio for any modern horror anthology movie, and especially good when it is made up of many names who may be less familiar to film fans. Lee Cronin is someone you may know by now, and Ghost Train is a nice display of his talent. James Moran has fun with his short tale, Crazy For You. But those were the only two main names I recognised, although I had seen Never Tear Us Apart before, which helped me to relax as soon as the movie began, knowing I would enjoy at least one of these tales.

The acting throughout is generally good, with Roid Rage once again being the rare exception (I am sorry to harp on about it, but it REALLY stinks), but highlights include both Hannah Tointon and an uncharacteristically murderous Arthur Darvill in Crazy For You, the impressive voice work in The Mill At Calder's End, and an entertainingly unfazed child watching some carnage unfold before him in Timothy.

Despite the fact that none of these shorts benefit from any stylish link, the smallest touch of creating closing credits for each one in a similar style as a clock hand moves forward is enough to make this feel like something that has been handled with a bit more care than some.

Just over an hour and a half, and with none of the shorts outstaying their welcome (except you, Roid Rage, except you *shakes fist in the middle of empty room), Minutes Past Midnight is a decent option if you're wanting some light horror entertainment that's a few steps removed from all of the more mainstream options.


You can buy the DVD here.
Americans can buy that same DVD, or pay a crazy amount for the blu.

Monday 15 July 2019

Mubi Monday: Border (2018)

A drama that starts to become more and more fantastical, Border is a unique and disturbing vision from director Ali Abbasi, who also worked with John Ajvide Lindqvist and Isabella Eklöf to adapt Lindqvist's short story into screenplay form. Lindqvist is still probably best known for writing Let The Right One In, this shows him once again using genre ideas in a restrained and very interesting way.

Eva Melander plays Tina, a customs officer who can smell when people have something preying on their mind. This helps her in her job, and it also leads to her helping the police with a very disturbing investigation that highlights the worst aspects of humanity. But Tina starts to change her view of the world around her, and what she is willing to accept, when she meets Vore (Eero Milonoff). Vore is very much like Tina. The two look similar, they have anatomical anomalies, and they can use heightened senses to intimidate others around them.

Although this is not a film to easily recommend to people, it is one worth trying to ensure more people check out. It's not an easy ride, with both the more upbeat and more downbeat aspects of the storyline being potentially offputting to viewers, but it's a rewarding experience for those who decide to go along for the ride.

Melander is very good in her role, one that requires her to spend a lot of her time simply looking sullen or impassive. It's when she does get to show emotion that you realise how good she is acting throughout the whole film, marking those scenes as important steps along the way to the finale. Milonoff is also very good, although his role is a more simplistic one (in many ways) he is always believable as someone who has embraced his nature and is now looking to help someone else do the same. There are a few others in the cast, enough to open up the scope slightly, but the main person worth mentioning is Jörgen Thorsson, playing Roland, a character who seems to stay with Tina out of some sense of convenience and the idea that he can usually get his own way.

The script is interesting in the way it builds one detail at a time to lead viewers towards a third act that is very much in the realms of the supernatural and fantastic. Dialogue is often sparse, due to the nature of the characters, but that doesn't stop the information being conveyed in every scene. And it doesn't stop viewers from having a LOT to ponder once the end credits have rolled.

The second feature from Abbasi, who cut his teeth on a couple of short films that seem to have established his main interests from the very beginning, this marks him out as someone to keep a close eye on. Not only does he wrangle the ideas into something that poses questions, answers them, and leaves you wanting to know more, it also has a fine selection of gorgeous images tucked in between the uglier moments.

Despite the strangeness of the central characters, there's still a lot here to identify with, in terms of how it explores how people struggle to accept themselves and how being part of the human race means learning to deal with the bad and the good.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Sunday 14 July 2019

Netflix And Chill: Mile 22 (2018)

The opening of Mile 22 is a pretty good one. A black ops team (I guess that is the best term to use) bust their way into a house full of potential terrorists, take control of the situation, and then lose control when an extra baddie starts shooting from his hiding place. That means every terrorist needs to be shot, just before the house explodes. The ending is also pretty good. Not completely unexpected, but it's nice to see just how far they take things. I won't detail it here because I try to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say, it wasn't as simplistic and jingoistic as I expected. Unfortunately, the many scenes in between the beginning and the end aren't as good.

Mark Wahlberg plays James Silva, the leader of the team (because of course he is). Their latest mission is to get some dangerous explosive powder off the streets. It's so powerful that Wahlberg compares it to Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. They end up striking a deal with one person who can help them, a police officer named Li Noor (Iko Uwais). Li just wants his transportation out of the country guaranteed. A lot of people want to stop that from happening, turning an urban area into a small war zone in the process.

Director Peter Berg seems to have found his comfort zone in the last five years or so, helming action thrillers that allow Wahlberg to continue his run of tough guy hero roles. It seems to be working for him, for both of them, and people who have enjoyed any of their films together will continue to enjoy their work. It's just a shame that Berg cannot work as well with all of his cast members, but I'll get back to that shortly.

The script, by Lea Carpenter, does enough to keep the information flowing without interrupting the flow of action sequences. At a near-perfect runtime of about 94 minutes, the pacing is excellent, and I can't imagine anyone after a fix of gunfights, martial arts, and military hardware, being too disappointed by this.

Fans of Uwais might be disappointed though, especially when they realise that Berg directs hand to hand combat sequences as if he'd been given advice from Paul W. S. Anderson. Uwais does well in his role, and he gets to show off his fighting prowess in one or two main set-pieces. It's just very unfortunate that his physical work is undermined by the horrible camerawork and editing. Although not perfect, the gunfights are filmed better, which helps the performances from Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Ronda Rousey, and Sam Medina, and the other supporting players. Cohan fares particularly well, convincing as a tough team member who can hold her own alongside Wahlberg. You also get a supporting role for John Malkovich. He's almost completely wasted, but I always like seeing Malkovich in a movie.

Mile 22 may be a bit of a mess, but at least it's an entertaining one. It would have been much better with someone other than Wahlberg in the lead role, which is something I can say about many of his movies, but all of the other people involved help to make up for that. As do those scenes that bookend the bulk of the main plot.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can get it here.

Saturday 13 July 2019

Shudder Saturday: Party Hard, Die Young (2018)

There's nothing all that wrong with Party Hard, Die Young, an Austrian slasher movie set in Croatia. Let me just start by saying that much. It may not seem that way by the time I get to the other end of this review, but I'll try to stay positive as I formulate my final thoughts.

Elisabeth Wabitsch is Julia, a young woman out for a fun time of partying with her friends in Croatia. Unfortunately, that fun isn't going to last. Friendships are strained, alcohol leads to illness, and there's a masked killer out to spoil the party. But a good party isn't easily spoiled by a killer, especially when the attendees are either too busy getting wasted or unwilling to believe that some of their friends have been assisted off the mortal coil.

For any standard slasher movie you need a killer with a decent mask, an assortment of disposable characters, some decent kills, and a backstory that reveals some tragic past incident motivating the killer. Party Hard, Die Young has all of those things. It's also well-paced, just about managing to avoid outstaying its welcome for the 90-minute runtime.

Dominik Hartl does good work in the director's chair (although I am now wondering why I have yet to see his previous movie, Attack Of The Lederhosen Zombies), trying his best with the visuals to compensate for the rather weak script, written by Robert Buchschwenter and Marin Lomot. There are some great moments here, with the second main death scene being among the very best I have seen in the subgenre. It's an energised mix of drunken teens and neon lighting, sadly setting a bar that the rest of the film never reaches again.

Wabitsch is perfectly acceptable in her role, although her character isn't all that interesting, or likeable. She's surrounded by the usual selection of attractive young men and women, with almost none of them making an impression. They're so interchangeable and uncharismatic that I can't even be bothered to namecheck them. The only exception is Chantal Pausch (playing Carmen), who benefits from the script giving her one scene-stealing moment, which is more than most of the others get.

I already mentioned what we're used to seeing in any standard slasher movie. Party Hard, Die Young checks everything off the list. Sadly, it doesn't do anything new or particularly clever with the subgenre tropes. Although there's nothing really wrong with it, script failings aside (and, hey, if horror fans were put off by bad scripts then we'd only ever have about twenty movies to enjoy), there's nothing to make it stand out. Of course, a slasher movie that doesn't stand out is still much more entertaining than a slasher movie that doesn't even try. At least this tries.


There are no links, but feel free to go and click on anything on my blog that takes you shopping, and gets me pennies/pounds.

Friday 12 July 2019

Replicas (2018)

It's a familiar tale. A scientist tries to figure out how to breathe proper life into a creation. It's just not happening. Then his loved ones die in a car accident. The scientist uses all of the resources at his disposal to bring them back to life, with the exception of one (because he doesn't have enough equipment). Everyone seems moderately happy while we wait for the inevitable trouble to start.

That's everything you need to know about this sci-fi movie starring Keanu Reeves in the main role. He plays Will Foster, a man who will go to great lengths to have more time with his family. He's helped in his secret mission by Ed (Thomas Middleditch), and the two men have to avoid piquing the curiosity of their boss, Jones (John Ortiz).

The screenplay by Chad St. John, building on a story by Stephen Hamel, sets up an interesting premise in the first half that is then wasted, with no consideration given to some of the more complex ideas that could have been the focus of a sharper and smarter movie. And that's before I start commenting on the actual dialogue, which is pretty awful.

Director Jeffrey Nachmanoff adds nothing to the material, in terms of skill or style. Looking at his filmography, which is mainly made up of a couple of movies and then intermittent TV work, it seems that this is his usual level. In fact, given his career path, I am amazed that he had a chance to helm this. Considering the many ways in which the plot could have been steered, this would seem to be an obvious fit for a director with a proven track record. I could name a dozen directors who may have made something more of this, which just makes me slightly sadder for what we ended up with.

Reeves seems to be going along on autopilot in his role, unsurprisingly, and Ortiz is the same, perhaps even slightly worse at times. Alice Eve is a bit better, but given a lot less to do, in the role of the deceased wife/mother. Middleditch is the only one doing something that livens up a few scenes, however, and it's a shame that his role couldn't be expanded.

Annoyingly, there's STILL almost enough here to allow me to enjoy this. The first act poses some interesting questions, most of which it fails to answer, but then it plods along for the middle section, and even most of the finale. Fortunately, there are one or two moments in the very last scenes that are entertaining enough to almost fool you into thinking that you've enjoyed the movie by the time the end credits roll.

Anyone not as obsessed with Keanu Reeves as I am can feel free to remove a point from my rating.


You can buy the movie here.
Americans can buy it here.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Demonic Toys (1992)

Another Full Moon Entertainment flick from yesteryear that I somehow missed, Demonic Toys was always going to get a spin in my household one day. It had everything that I could want from a Full Moon movie. Which is, basically, some plot that focuses on diminutive denizens of death. Not that EVERY Full Moon movie has that main plot element but, let's face it, most of their better outings do.

Tracy Scoggins is a cop named Judith Gray who loses her partner in a truly terrible undercover operation that goes wrong so quickly it's hard to believe that the two cop characters are really supposed to be cops. Anyway, that leads to the criminals being chased into a warehouse, which is the very place in which the titular demonic toys live. A few more characters get involved (a douchey security guard, a young fast food worker making a delivery, and a girl named Anne who . . . has been hiding in the air-condition system), the toys attack, and the second half throws in plenty of hokum that can be enjoyed by viewers in the right frame of mind.

Based on an original idea by Charles Band (hmmmm . . . I think he has been allowed that credit ever since he first said "I know, let us have small dolls or puppets, or shrunken people, attack folk"), Demonic Toys is actually written by David S. Goyer, it's one of his earlier screenplays. Not that Goyer can do too much to elevate the material, but he doesn't do too bad in his attempts to keep things moving from one bit of silliness to the next. The toys include a dangerous robot figure, a baby doll (named Oopsie Daisy), an evil "Jack In The Box", and one or two others, and Goyer gives them all a moment in the spotlight, although the lead toy seems to be Oopsie Daisy, which is unfortunate when her main trait seems to be swearing in a way that is obviously supposed to be amusing juxtaposed with her baby form.

You also get a lot of the action situated in the one location, another common feature of Full Moon Entertainment movies, but it manages to feel a bit better than most thanks to the very small amount of variety on offer (the main warehouse, the air-conditioning shafts, the fast food restaurant set which is used for one or two scenes in the opening act). Director Peter Manoogian does what is required of him, never hitting the heights of his first two features (the magnificent Eliminators and Enemy Territory) but certainly keeping the whole thing in the upper tier of the Full Moon catalogue. You get  some fun creature designs, a few decent deaths, and a grand evil plan so demented that it's laughable (which I don't say as a criticism).

The acting isn't that bad either, with Scoggins doing as well as she can in her lead role. Bentley Mitchum is the other lead, the deliverer of the fast food, and also does fine. Ellen Dunning does alright with her small role, Peter Schrum is suitably irritating as the security guard, and Dano Cerny gets to be an entertainingly evil child.

In the grand scheme of things, Demonic Toys is not a good movie. In the filmography of Full Moon Entertainment, it's a fun time for fans of their particular style of schlock.


You can buy a fairly light disc here.
Americans can get a little triple-bill here.

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Prime Time: Hooked Up (2013)

It can happen to the best of us, and I rarely label myself as one of the best of us. I saw this title, I saw some tagline that mentioned it being presented by the maker(s) of Orphan. I decided to give it a go. More fool me. The only thing that will make my viewing of this mess worthwhile will be the fact that I just might be able to dissuade someone else from wasting 80 minutes of their life on it.

I like to think that I am quite a positive person, when it comes to writing about movies. I like to try and see the best in every film, and will often either admit that things can be there that just weren't right for me, or that those involved did well just to get their movie made. I cannot be so nice and polite here, mainly because it feels as if those involved knew better, but decided to go ahead and treat viewers like idiots anyway.

Two young men go off on a trip to Barcelona. They get very drunk and head back to some house with two young women. Then things start to get wild, and not in the good way. One of the young men has a penis injury, the other is disappointed that the night is about to end just when it looked like it was going to get interesting. And then they find that the night isn't about to end. They're trapped in the house, and there's something supernatural wanting to cause them harm.

The first feature from Pablo Larcuen, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Eduard Sola, Hooked Up is just about as lazy and poorly executed as it is possible for a found footage horror movie to be. I have seen better films made with far less resources (seriously, check out something like Prankz, you may not love it but it is far better than this).

What do you want from a film like this? Let's check the list. Characters you can root for, usually. That's not a requisite, but it is always helpful if you enjoy the company of people you are forced to spend the runtime with. That is not the case here. Both Jonah Ehrenreich and Stephen Ohl play two of the most irritating leads I have seen in any film in years. You may also want to believe that someone would keep filming while the situation gets worse and worse for them. Hahahahahahahahaha. Not a chance of that happening here. Nobody cares. Larcuen and Sola obviously just assumed that everyone will accept the events onscreen without ever once asking that question. Strange, because that is often the biggest hurdle that even the best found footage movies have to deal with. It's just not dealt with here, at all. In fact, there's one scene in which someone is attacked, and then the attacker picks up the phone to keep filming for a moment, THAT'S how ridiculous this is.

Don't get me wrong, I would probably not be that bothered by these things if the film was concentrating on providing the scares. Sadly, that is not the case either. There are a couple of attempts to make you jump, none of which work, there are a couple of twists and turns, none of which work, and there are attempts to interrupt the non-scares with moments of intense drama between the two leads, you guessed it . . . none of which work.

Hooked Up is symptomatic of the absolute worst that can be found within the horror genre. I don't feel bad for being so unrelentingly negative about it because nobody felt bad about throwing it together and selling it to genre fans they figured would just lap it all up.

Avoid at all costs. I am doubling my intended rating because the presentation at times shows some level of aptitude. Not a lot, but some.


Here is a disc not to buy.
Americans can click on this link, and then buy something (anything) else.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Miss Congeniality (2000)

Once you get beyond the opening act of Miss Congeniality, with numerous scenes built around the fact that Sandra Bullock isn't viewed as a lady because she's strong, smart, doesn't take time to ensure her hair and make-up are flawless every morning, and is generally just "one of the guys", things improve considerably. Instead of just trying to hide Bullock in the wrinkled clothing of "FBI slob", she gets a chance to shine, in terms of her transformed appearance and also, more importantly, in scenes that show her talent for comedy.

The basic plot is nonsense, but nonsense that makes the whole thing easy enough to buy into. Bullock is Gracie Hart, the only agent available at short notice to help infiltrate the Miss United States beauty pageant, which the FBI believes has been targeted by a dangerous criminal who wishes to blow it up. Gracie only has a couple of days to be groomed by Victor Melling (Michael Caine), who initially suspects it's a job that even a man of his skills cannot manage, and she is a pain in the backside of all those involved, be it the hosts (played by Candice Bergen and William Shatner) or her colleagues at the bureau (Benjamin Bratt tries to offer support, Ernie Hudson is the boss none too impressed by the whole escapade).

Director Donald Petrie has a filmography with some solid comedies in there, but few real greats. This is another solid one, almost lifted higher by the performances from a couple of the main players. Although it's all put together competently enough, it suffers from a script that fails to wring as many laughs from each sequence as it could. Marc Lawrence has written a few features that Bullock has starred in, whether by coincidence or by design, but co-writers Katie Ford and Caryn Lucas are names I am less familiar with, and that makes me wonder if there were a number of conflicting voices here that tried to pull the film in too many different directions, tonally, without keeping the comedy at the front and centre of their plans. You have the thriller plotline, often sidelined aside from one or two key sequences, you have the "fish out of water" aspect of Bullock being somewhere she really doesn't want to be, and you get the moments of female bonding. None of these elements spoil the experience, but the shifts in tone are enough to make it feel inconsistent and lacking in cohesion.

The consistency comes from the main performances. Bullock is a lot of fun, making the most of this star vehicle, and Caine works very well alongside her, helped by the fact that he grabs most of the best lines from the script. Bergen and Shatner are both good, with the latter a perfect fit for the role of slick show host, and Heather Burns is very sweet as "Miss Rhode Island", a girl who brings out the protective nature of Bullock's character. Other contestants are played by Melissa De Sousa, Deirdre Quinn, and Wendy Raquel Robinson, although they often have to resign themselves to being scene-setting accessories in most of their scenes. Hudson gets to be angry in a couple of scenes, and that's his whole character (basically), and Bratt gets the thankless role of potential romantic interest, which makes a nice change from a talented actress being stuck in such a role.

There's a good selection of familiar hits in the soundtrack, some amusing lines of dialogue outwith the exchanges between Bullock and Caine (my favourite being the answer to a question about a favourite date), and it just about manages not to outstay its welcome. If you're a massive fan of Bullock then you may want to add an extra point. Everyone else can have more laughs with Drop Dead Gorgeous (a much funnier film with a similar setting, albeit very different thanks to the mock-doc style) first, and then get to this one whenever the opportunity arises.


You can buy the movie, with the sequel, here.
Americans can buy it here.

Monday 8 July 2019

Mubi Monday: Knife + Heart (2018)

AKA The Crow, The Cock & The Shiny Blade (but not really, although that could easily have been a real alternate title for this).

Knife + Heart is a proper giallo film, which should delight fans of the genre. It's not an exercise in style, although it is stylish. It's not a deconstruction of the tropes, although it flips things around by having victims that are almost entirely male. It's not playing anything for laughs, or meta moments, although it has a wonderful sense of playfulness, thanks to the setting.

It's Paris. It's 1979. Anne Parèze is a director of gay porn films. She's also struggling to deal with a separation from her partner, and editor, Loïs (Kate Moran). And things get a lot worse when a killer starts targeting a number of the men that she works with. Who is it? What is his motivation? Will anything stop Anne from making her movies?

The second feature film from director Yann Gonzalez, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Cristiano Mangione, this is a near-perfect example of how to rework a familiar checklist of genre staples within a framework that manages to be familiar and enjoyably subversive at the same time. The impressive audio and visual work helps immensely, because we all know that the better gialli were more concerned with style and set-pieces than anything pesky like plausibility or logic, but arguably the biggest plus point here is that everything is played completely straight (no pun intended).

The cast all do well in their roles. Paradis seems made for this central role, she could have stepped out of any 1970s film in this mould, but she's given strong support from Moran, Nicholas Maury (as Archibald, her main co-worker/cohort), Khaled Alouach (one of the stars of the film within a film, his character utilising that trope of being someone who strongly resembles someone else), and Pierre Pirol, who brings a surprising heart to a role that could have easily been clumsy or comedic (he's "the golden mouth" brought in to help stars . . . get ready to perform).

A heady mix of sexuality, mental health issues, and stylish and bloody deaths, Knife + Heart is the kind of movie I would love to see more of. You will know whether or not it is for you within the first 10-15 minutes, which features an absolutely stunning opening murder. It feels authentic without having to point out every little detail and act smug about everything it is getting right (a fault that we have all seen occur in some other movies), and I believe that you could show this to someone, claiming it was a previously lost film that has now been rediscovered, and they would believe you.

Remove seven points from my rating if you're a homophobe, but also then remove yourself from this page. Many thanks.


There's A disc available here, but more options should be available in a few months.