Friday, 20 April 2018

Dead By Dawn 2018: Frankenstein (1931)

I'll be reviewing most, not all, of the films shown at Dead By Dawn this year. The reviews won't be in order. Because my schedule doesn't allow for that. Deal with it. Anyway . . .

Although it was not the first of the classic Universal monster movies, and not even the first to be released in 1931 (Dracula beat it by a few months), Frankenstein, or his monster as portrayed by Boris Karloff, certainly deserves to stand as one of carved faces on any Mount Rushmore of the horror genre.

Based on the book by Mary Shelley, there seems little point in going over the plot, or any of the factors that make the film so memorable. But I will anyway, because this would be a very short review otherwise. Colin Clive plays Henry Frankenstein, a scientist obsessed with the idea of creating human life from dead flesh. He has the body all stitched together, he just needs to procure a brain, a task which he entrusts to his hunchback assistant, Fritz (Dwight Frye). It’s unfortunate that Fritz ends up dropping the healthy brain he was asked to acquire and so instead heads back to his boss with an abnormal brain. One atmospheric, lightning-filled, night later and the creature is alive, although not of the sound mind that Henry had hoped he would be. Things go from bad to worse, so Henry entrusts a friend (Dr Waldman, played by Edward Van Sloan) to take care of the creature and he heads home to busy himself with preparations for his wedding to the lovely Elizabeth (Mae Clarke). But his troubles are far from over.

A script written (by Garrett Fort and Francis Edward Faragoh) from an adaptation of a play (by Peggy Webling) from the source novel, Frankenstein is a masterpiece that stands tall today thanks to a perfect storm - no pun intended - of performances, direction, and writing (not just from those mentioned here, but also other credited and uncredited contributors). With certain moments and passages that still hold a magical power today, it's almost impossible to fathom how audiences would have felt when faced with this maelstrom of horror, blasphemy, and murky morality back in 1931.

Clive remains on of the best Frankensteins we've ever had onscreen, a man so driven by his obsession that he takes himself to a state of physical exhaustion. Frye is fun as Fritz, Van Sloan does just fine with his role, and Clarke is suitably lovely and poised to be a damsel in distress. But it is, of course, Karloff who owns the film, helped in no small part by the superb make-up work from Jack Pierce. There's a saying nowadays that goes something like this; intelligence is knowing that Frankenstein is not the monster, wisdom is knowing that Frankenstein is the monster. That idea may have been muddled by sequels and reworkings of the material, but it's clear as day here, largely because of the sweet and lumbering performance from Karloff.

Some might say that director James Whale does a great job here and then betters himself in the sequel. I am not sure about that. I think both films stand alongside one another as fantastic pieces of work, brought to the screen by a team determined to thrill and entertain, and yes even shock, audiences of the time. Deftly working within, and right to the edge, of what was allowed at the time (even going over the line, certain dialogue was excised from the film for many years when it was re-released, due to the blasphemous nature of it), everyone involved managed to craft part of Hollywood horror history. Some modern viewers may scoff at the melodrama and the tame nature of the content. That's their loss. I know many horror film fans who love this one as much as I do, and rightly so.

10/10







Thursday, 19 April 2018

Patchwork (2015)

Patchwork is a strange film, one that lives up to the title in more ways than one. Being more than slightly influenced by the great Frank Henenlotter, this is a horror comedy that just doesn’t really know how to get the ratio right when it comes to the different ingredients. Some of the comedy is amusing enough, but it’s never as funny as it could be, some of the gore gags are good, although surprisingly restrained, and the enjoyably wild premise is treated in a way that feels far too sensible for what should be an outrageous tale.

Directed and co-written by Tyler Macintyre (Chris Lee Hill is the other writer), Patchwork is all about a young woman who wakes up one morning to find out that she has been stitched together into one body that also includes two other women. This is shown with some decent practical make up and scenes that show the three female personalities presented as individual, whole females (played by Tory Stolper, Tracey Fairaway, and Maria Blasucci). The women want to find out what happened to them, and set off to retrace their tracks while viewers are shown various flashbacks that tease out the full story.

With decent performances from all three leads (particularly Stolper), and solid work from everyone else involved, and a fun structure that allows for some enjoyable reveals as things unfold, Patchwork is certainly a cut above many other low-budget films you could pick from the past few years. Everything is put together well enough, and it all feels cared for and polished.

Unfortunately, that care and polish may be a contributing factor to it never working as well as it should. This is a film that, for me, should feel a bit grimy and rough around the edges. It should have scenes practically overwhelmed by bloodshed and wallow in the potential tastelessness of the premise. There's certainly one scene that comes close to doing that, and it's a funny one, but nothing else comes close, which is a shame.

Macintyre and Hill show great potential, developing the feature from their short of the previous year (which also featured Stolper), and they managed to take a small step up with their next feature (Tragedy Girls), but this is a case of unfulfilled potential, which isn't something I expected to say about a horror comedy featuring three women stitched together into the one body. Maybe they'll do better when they come up with Patchwork 2: Battle Of The Sexes, because surely the next step is to merge a man and a woman and let gory hilarity ensue.

6/10

Americans, buy things here. Both options get me coin.


 

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Sweet Sixteen (1983)

I used to assume that if there was a slasher movie that I had yet to see then it must be one of the lesser entries in this overcrowded subgenre. Now I know that is not the case. It just so happens that a) I have still to see half of the films that I really should, as a big horror fan, and b) there are SO many "lower-tier" slasher movies that are still hugely entertaining. Which brings me to Sweet Sixteen, a film I decided to take a gamble on, having not heard of it before, and one I am now glad to have seen.

The basic plot revolves around a young girl named Melissa (Aleisa Shirley, making her film debut). Melissa is new in town and she's a couple of weeks away from her sixteenth birthday. She also gets the attention of one or two boys. So it's not too long until young boys start turning up dead. The murders perplex Sheriff Dan Burke (Bo Hopkins) and his teenage children (Dana Kimmell and Steve Antin), and they also give some of the locals an extra reason to be suspicious of, and abusive towards, some Native Americans who live nearby.

Although very tame by the standards of many other slasher movies from this time, Sweet Sixteen still manages to tick a lot of boxes for fans of the subgenre. It has the whodunnit element, it has a historic trauma that feeds into the motivation of the killer, and it spends one or two moments lingering for an uncomrfotably long time on the physical form of Melissa (Shirley may have been about 19 or so when this was made, but let's not forget that the character she is playing is supposed to be just about to turn 16).

It also has a decent cast of core characters, played well enough by the performers. Hopkins is a likable authority figure, Kimmell and Antin manage to avoid being too annoying as the kids who don't listen to their father when they really should, Don Stroud is an entertaining asshole, Don Shanks does just fine as Jason Longshadow (a Native American who becomes a main suspect), and Patrick Macnee and Susan Strasberg are fun as the parents of Melissa. Shirley isn't that great in her main role, but she's not terrible either.

The script by Erwin Goldman does well when it comes to the characters and their interactions, although it might disappoint people wanting a higher bodycount. Director Jim Sotos does a perfectly acceptable job, keeping everything restrained until we get to the inevitably busy grand finale (like so many other slasher movies, a reveal that wouldn't feel too out of place in any Scooby Doo cartoon).

I doubt this will be on any list of favourite or best slasher movies, and I am not sure why I ended up enjoying it as much as I did. But I did really enjoy it. And I'll recommend it to other horror movie fans. Even if they come back to me and tell me they were disappointed.

7/10

You can buy the blu here.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Prom Night (1980)

There's not a lot that can be said about Prom Night that hasn't been said before. It is, in many ways, a very standard slasher movie, yet it also follows the standard template so slavishly that it moves beyond the ordinary into something that is all the more enjoyable precisely because horror fans can see everything being marked off the slasher movie checklist.

The plot is almost summed up in the title. There's going to be a prom night. That's it. Which makes the timing perfect for some victimisation and killing by a mysterious figure. Jamie Lee Curtis is the main girl, Kim, but it's Jude (Joy Thompson), Kelly (Mary Beth Rubens), and Wendy (Eddie Benton) who start receiving strange phone calls and cryptic messages/threats. Oh, and all of this is happening a number of years after a tragic death that viewers are shown in the opening sequence.

Written by William Gray, from a story by Robert Guza Jr, this is an effective horror movie that relies on pilfering bits and pieces from other movies and putting them together in a well-paced narrative that delivers what most genre fans will want to see, although a bit more of the red stuff being splashed around would have been welcome.

Director Paul Lynch is fairly pedestrian in his approach, taking the material and not really doing much to elevate it. He instead relies on his cast, the tropes of the subgenre, and viewers willing to have patience as they're taken towards a decent, over the top, finale.

The first familiar face viewers will see is Leslie Nielsen, playing a grieving parent alongside his wife (played by Antoinette Bower), but he's not given too much screentime. That is reserved for the younger stars already mentioned, as well as Casey Stevens, David Mucci, Michael Tough, and Sheldon Rybowski, and one or two other young men. Everyone does just fine with what they're given, but one or two scenes highlight the fact that Curtis is the star, including a memorable disco dance interlude.

Not quite the absolute classic that some make it out to be, Prom Night is a competent slasher movie with plenty of enjoyable individual elements that never add up to more than the sum of their parts. I would call it an essential film for anyone with even a passing interest in this subgenre, and it's one that I never mind revisiting, but there are at least a couple of dozen slasher movies that I would place ahead of it, in terms of sheer entertainment value.

Also, avoid the "remake" like the plague.

7/10

There's a collection available here.
Americans can get a nice shiny edition here.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Fear, Inc (2016)

Fear, Inc is a fun and inventive little comedy horror, light on actual big scares or gore moments but easily making up for it with the sheer entertainment factor of the main premise.

There's a company that you can hire to bring your greatest fears to life. That company is called Fear, Inc. As a treat for Joe (Lucas Neff), a huge horror movie fan, his friends decide to place a call and throw themselves into a real life horror movie scenario. Then they change their minds. Or do they? Are they even able to cancel the plans that have been quicky put in place? What's real and what isn't?

The good thing about Fear, Inc is that it mentions the fact it is very similar to The Game. Paradoxically, the bad thing about Fear, Inc is that it mentions the fact it is very similar to The Game. There's no getting away from the fact that this is a horror riff on that idea, and I appreciate the film-makers being upfront about that, but there's also no getting away from the fact that this doesn't have the resources or smarts to quite match that film. It also doesn't throw in enough references and gags, unless my eyes were deceiving me. If I paid to be thrown into my favourite genre for a life experience then I'd want to be picking up on little details that keep me on edge and make me think of the many horror movies I love.

Director Vincent Masciale, making his feature debut with an expansion of his short, written by Luke Barnett (who also stays on board here), does a decent job of sketching out the plot, making the steps from unease to horror as logical and believable as need be, and allowing the characters to have some fun and appeal to viewers before the tension starts to build. Barnett doesn't excel with the actual characterisations, the cast sell this more than the dialogue, but he does well with the film-related banter.

Neff does fine in the lead role, I can't imagine many horror fans who don't enjoy seeing someone portray a big horror fan onscreen, and the other three main players - Caitlin Stasey, Chris Marquette, and Stephanie Drake - all do well as they joke around and have fun en route to being potential murder victims. There's also a fun small role for the always welcome Richard Riehle.

It gets bonus points for not being just another typical slasher film, and for not just joining the ever-growing hordes of zombie movies and found footage films, but Fear, Inc is an entertaining near-miss rather than an outright home run. Worth your time, worth your support, and probably even worth an occasional rewatch.

6/10

You can buy it here.
Americans can buy an import here.


Sunday, 15 April 2018

The Number 23 (2007)

Jim Carrey has shown a good bit of range over the past few decades. I am not going to list all of his dramatic roles but he's moved quite effortlessly between comedies and dramas for some time now, whether you end up liking the movies or not. As far as I can tell, however, The Number 23 is currently the only thriller he has starred in since becoming a household name (although he has cropped up in thrillers before that time, perhaps most notably rocking out to a Guns 'n' Roses tune in the final Dirty Harry movie, The Dead Pool).

That might be surprising, or maybe it just shows that Carrey knows how to play to his strengths. And thrillers like this one aren't what he is best suited to.

The plot sees Carrey as a man named Walter. He's married to Agatha (Virginia Madsen), he has a son named Robin (Logan Lerman), and life isn't too bad. But then he is given a book, "The Number 23", and starts to become obsessed with it. That number is everywhere, so ubiquitous throughout Walter's life that he starts to believe that the book is somehow speaking to him directly. He is either being pushed towards solving a mystery or being driven towards insanity. Maybe both.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, The Number 23 is just a drab and unexciting rehash of many better films. The script, a first main screenwriting credit for Fernley Phillips, plays things far too safe throughout, neither embracing the potential pulpy fun of the story within a story being read by Carrey's character nor making anything dark or tense enough. This leads instead to scenes of Carrey portraying the character he is reading about, sometimes doing an okay job of it and sometimes being cringe-inducingly unsuitable for the role.

When he's playing Walter in the here and now, Carrey isn't bad. He's an everyday kind of guy, believable when acting normally. The problems come whenever he's broodily playing the saxophone or starting to scribble the number 23 all over his face. Madsen and Lerman both do well in their roles, even if the former feels a bit like stunt casting, considering her most famous role on film could also be described as someone who starts to look deeper into a story until obsession consumes her. Danny Huston is ill-served by the script, although he does his best with his very limited screentime, and Lynn Collins and Rhona Mitra both help to flesh out the story within the film.

I didn't have a strong reaction to this film as the end credits rolled, and can only assume that I was previously passive when I first viewed it (although I can't remember, which shows how much of an impression this film made on me). As I began to write this review I figured that I would be polite and unflattering, and remind everyone that this is a decidely average piece of work. But it's not. The more I think about it, the more it has to be pointed out as a below average experience. Not a terrible film, although I know some who will disagree, it's just a competently made disappointment.

4/10

Buy 23 copies here.
Americans can get it here.


Saturday, 14 April 2018

Witchcraft X: Mistress Of The Craft (1998)

It's odd when you watch a film and think you recognise someone but can't remember exactly where you last saw them. And it's even odder when you realise that you haven't seen that person in any other films. It turns out that you've been friends online with them for many years. That is what happened while I was watching Witchcraft X: Mistress Of The Craft.

And that is the most interesting aspect of the movie, and also of this review. Fortunately, I don't think the person will bother reading this review but I hope they will shrug and forgive me if they do. I'm not going to single them out for criticism but I really can't think of anything here to focus on as a positive.

I really don't even want to bother explaining the horrible, laughable, slight, plot. Let me just say that it involves a lot of bad acting, people approaching others while baring plastic fangs in their mouths, random sexy times, and more bad acting.

I guess this would be classed as an erotic horror, like most of the other Witchcraft movies. Which makes it strange that I have been more aroused by leaflets posted through my door that advertise current deals at my nearest DIY store. And as for the horror side of things? Well, you get more atmosphere and chills from watching and rewatching the video to Everybody (Backstreet's Back).

Written and directed by Elisar Cabrera, I can only assume that the action was moved to the UK this time around to save money on what was already a cheap film series. Cabrera isn't even savvy enough to go out and get some easy filler shots of London, and the same can be said about the use of the bigger names in the cast.

Casual viewers won't recognise anyone in this movie but horror fans will be pleased to see Eileen Daly and Emily Booth credited. There are also roles for Wendy Cooper, Stephanie Beaton, and Lynn Michelle. Nobody is picked for award-winning skills, but at least the females can prove pleasingly attractive while the male side of the cast doesn't seem as intent on providing an equal amount of eye candy for viewers wanting some hunks.

It's interesting to continue working my way through this series, to think that I have seen the worst it can offer and then be shown that I was absolutely wrong. I would really love to figure out who used to eagerly await these titles being released, what they enjoyed most about them, and whether or not they still view them with any affection. Until that happens I will continue to be bored, annoyed, and occasionally mildly amused while I work my way through the rest of these films.

1/10

Would you like to spend far too much money on this film? Here you go. But you would be better checking out the film on Amazon Prime and just using that link to order other, better, movies.


Friday, 13 April 2018

Ready Player One (2018)

I had a lot of fun when I read the book of Ready Player One (written by Ernest Cline, who also worked on the screenplay to this movie with Zak Penn) but I didn't rate it as a GOOD piece of writing. If asked to describe it by anyone, or if I decided that I should discuss it with other people, I mentioned the style of American Psycho, but instead of lots of brand names and designer labels it was overstuffed with pop culture references, mostly from the 1980s.

When I started to hear about Steven Spielberg directing the movie version of the movie, I had an optimistic view of what we might get. Spielberg knows that world. He gave us a hell of a lot of it. And he has proven, on more than one occasion, that he can take a flawed novel and pare away the worst parts to give us a real cinematic treat.

I bought my ticket, I bought my treats, and I eagerly waited to be transported to a world full of recognisable characters, moments, and cinephile-friendly easter eggs.

Basically, I got what I wanted. Sometimes.

Sadly, the film isn't the improvement on the book that I hoped it would be. It works in some ways (the casting of the main "baddie" being a big plus point, for example) and then falls down in other ways.

The basic plot, for those still unaware, is as follows. Most people spend their days living in a virtual world called the OASIS. You can do anything you want, and also build up kudos and credit that could help you in the real world. The creator of the OASIS left a number of easter eggs in the world, revealing in a video that automatically played to everyone after his death that the person to find three hidden keys would become the owner of the OASIS, which would make them the most envied individual on the planet. Tye Sheridan is Wade, who spends his time in the OASIS as Parzival, and he thinks he has what it takes to win. He also doesn't mind helping a girl that he is quite taken with, Art3mis (AKA Samantha in the real world, played by Olivia Cooke), and his best friend, Aech. But as they start to make progress on their quest, corporate bad guy Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn) becomes more determined to put a stop to them, either in the OASIS or by dealing with them outside the relative safety of virtual reality.

Almost every aspect of Ready Player One has both good and bad aspects to it. Sheridan is a disappointingly bland lead, but that's okay when you get more of his scenes featuring Cooke. Mendehlson and T. J. Miller are both very good, but I can't say the same for Mark Rylance and Simon Pegg, which is very unusual for the former. And Lena Waithe, Philip Zhao, and Win Morasaki do fine, but aren't half as memorable as the hordes of CGI cameos worth keeping your eyes peeled for (which I understand is almost the driving force for the whole thing anyway).

The script does well at explaining ideas and plot points, it doesn't do so well at giving the characters any decent dialogue in between explaining ideas and plot points.

The visuals are impressive, as you'd expect, but most scenes are far too busy, either with the ongoing action or the multitude of easter eggs. What I expected to be fun onscreen actually ends up quickly becoming quite tiresome and irritating. I may change my mind when able to view the film at home and rewind certain moments, and it at least improves things structurally compared to the sloppiness of the source material, but this is very much a dual-layered experience. As an actual piece of cinema it's a hot mess, yet as a hot mess it's kind of easy to pick and choose various moments to enjoy.

Even the soundtrack falters. The score by Alan Silvestri isn't very memorable and the pop hits used throughout are just background noise when they could have been lined up with better moments to create some movie magic. Hell, the film starts with Van Halen's "Jump" blasting and then just fades it out as you get the initial info dump. High energy potential is just left to sizzle and dry up.

This should have been a home run for Spielberg. He's been back on excellent form over the past few years, he's comfortable working with all of the new industray toys, and movie nerdiness is in his blood. The fact that it isn't proves how hard it must have been to translate the story to screen. So perhaps we should just be glad that this project fell to him, rather than someone who could have made it so much worse.

6/10

The Blu-ray will be available here.
Americans can pick it up here.


Thursday, 12 April 2018

Michael Clayton (2007)

George Clooney plays Michael Clayton, a man who works at a law firm as a fixer. He hasn't earned that role because he's particularly amoral. He's just really good at sorting things out, trading favours around, and getting the right people into the right places. But he finds his latest job more of a challenge, pitting him against a lawyer he has admired, and even been friends with, for many years. Unfortunately, that lawyer seemed to have a breakdown during a hearing, stripping naked and declaring his love for a young girl in the room. And that isn't something easy to fix when the hearing involves one of the biggest clients at the firm Clayton works for. A huge chemical company shelling out for lots and lots of billable hours as they deal with a major class action lawsuit.

Written by the talented Tony Gilroy, here making his directorial debut (and it remains his best work in that role), Michael Clayton is a slick and nicely put together legal thriller. Whether deliberate or not, the inclusion of Sydney Pollack serves as a connection to The Firm, and subsequently a time when we had a number of equally slick films in this vein from the pen of John Grisham. The main difference is that this time around we have a main character who is flawed and not necessarily looking to make the world a better place. He just wants to do his job, wants to be paid what he believes he is worth, and wants to get enough money together to pay off the sady types that he owes a large amount of money to.

Clooney is great in the lead role, his usual cool demeanour fitting well in the suit of someone who has a few too many plates spinning than he can comfortably handle. He can still make his moves without breaking a sweat, but you can see the strain taking a toll here. He's matched by Tom Wilkinson, playing the lawyer who has the breakdown that kickstarts a dangerous chain of events, and Tilda Swinton, basically portraying Clayton's female counterpart with the chemical company. The rest of the cast is made up of solid, if mostly unfamiliar, performers. Pollack is the only other big name in among the main players (although Denis O'Hare is good to see in a small role), which doesn't matter with the focus of the film holding so tightly to the main character.

Despite a few of the main plot points relying on some major coincidences, Michael Clayton is crafted to ensure that viewers can enjoy the ride from start to finish without anything feeling far too implausible. Gilroy uses the trials and tribulations of his main character to explore a theme of loyalty, first and foremost (Clayton is loyal to his firm, he is loyal to his friend, he is loyal to the brother who ended up leaving him with his debt), and to show that people who specialise in working in areas of, shall we say, moral ambiguity cannot keep their own hands clean forever. And when that happens, big choices have to be made. Watching Clooney so effectively act out Clayton's journey to that point, and come to his final decision, makes this such an enjoyable film.

8/10

Get the Blu-ray here.
Americans can buy it here.




Wednesday, 11 April 2018

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Oh hai everyone.

First of all, you cannot watch The Disaster Artist without first "treating yourself" to a viewing of The Room, a film which has grown to become arguably THE cult movie of the past two decades. The Room is, and I think this is a decent enough analogy, a large, tacky, cruise ship being steered towards every iceberg around by the bizarre captain known as Tommy Wiseau and, unsurprisingly, a number of people were left adrift in its wake. It had terrible acting, an awful script, strange unerotic sex scenes shoehorned in, and set decor that was bizarre, to say the least.

Greg Sestero, one of the people involved in the making of The Room decided to write a book about the experience, getting everything down in one volume co-written by Tom Bissell, and titling it "The Disaster Artist: My Life Inside The Room, the Greatest Bad Movie Ever Made". And that's how we eventually get to this film.

What could have easily been full of either easy laughs or more merciless digs at the walking oddity known as Tommy Wiseau has instead turned out to be quite a joy. It's a film that celebrates the strange, almost even admiring the fact that even the most misguided singular vision is still an undeniable . . . vision, and it allows Wiseau to remain an enigmatic figure while showing how everyone else ended up giving such uniformly poor performances.

The script, by writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (who have worked together for a number of years now), blends the background of the movie and Wiseau with a number of moments that viewers will know to expect. You don't go into a Saw movie without expecting some deathtraps that also test the morals of those caught up in them, right? And nobody would go into a film about the making of The Room without expecting to see a few of the most popular/infamous moments from that movie. Everyone involved knows that, and they deliver.

James Franco, who directed the film, stars as Wiseau, and he certainly has a lot of fun in the role. It's an impression, for the most part, but it's hard to fault, especially when you think of Wiseau himself always seeming to be putting on a performance for everyone around him. Dave Franco plays Greg Sestero, and he does well in the role, and there are substantial roles for Seth Rogen, Ari Graynor, Alison Brie, Jacki Weaver, and Josh Hutcherson, among others. Everyone does their best at recreating moments from The Room, yet they also all work well together when acting in the moments that don't show the acting, if you know what I mean.

You only ever have to watch The Room once, I hope (I have ended up seeing it twice now *shudder*), but an extra reward for enduring it is that you can now follow it up with this. So we should be thankful to everyone involved.

8/10.

The Disaster Artist can be bought here.
Americans can buy it here.


Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Day Of The Dead: Bloodline (2018)

If there's one good thing that can come out of the release of Day Of The Dead: Bloodline it's the idea that I may not get constant grief from horror movie fans when I say, in hushed tones, that I really didn't mind the Day Of The Dead movie that came out in 2008. It got a lot of hate, and still does, but I enjoyed it as a simple bit of zombietastic fun, albeit one that sullies the good name of a Romero classic. But, trust me, it was a LOT better than Day Of The Dead 2: Contagium (2005). And it's a lot better than this eye-watering mess.

Talented director Hèctor Hernández Vicens (who made a great impression on me with The Corpse Of Anna Fritz) is going to have a struggle on his hands to make horror movie fans forgive and forget this. There are times when it doesn't seem like he should shoulder all of the blame, especially when you consider the weak script by Mark Tonderai and Lars Jacobson, but when poor choice follows poor choice, and is then followed by another poor choice, it's hard not to believe that Vicens is the one responsible for how ultimately awful this film is.

The plot is almost too dumb to even summarise. There's a zombie outbreak, of course, and Sophie Skelton becomes the main medical professional in a large shelter. Things happen, the safety of the shelter is placed in jeopardy, and Skelton ends up pursued by the zombiefied incarnation of the creepy man who lusted after her years ago (Max, played by Johnathon Schaech).

Where to begin here? The script that I already generously referred to as weak, when just calling it horrible would have been more appropriate? The decision to make the lead zombie threat an obsessed stalker/wannabe-rapist? The way the characters have been sketched to somehow ensure that viewers won't want to root for a single one of them? The nonsensical plotting, complete with an inserted sex scene that would have felt straight out of the European horrors of the '80s if it hadn't been so damn tame? There are a few decent moments of gore, but not enough to make up for the pain of the rest of the content of the movie.

And part of me doesn't really want to mention the cast, mainly because I try not to get personal and outright rude in any of my movie reviews (although I think it has happened once or twice). I don't have to worry, however, about singling anyone out here. Every single cast member is atrocious. Seriously. Not one person puts in a convincing, or even halfway decent, performance. It's as if Vicens asked them to forget anything they ever learned about their craft and give deliberately awful performances. I don't know why he would do that, but it's the only explanation I can come up with.

My rating for this film is incredibly generous, and I've ONLY gone as high as this because of three main factors: the gore, the fact that people were around to make sure that the equipment was all running properly, and the injuries/deaths that intermittently entertained me.

3/10

If you hate yourself then you can buy the film here.
American self-haters can buy it here.


Monday, 9 April 2018

The Last Jedi (2017)

It's the same old story when it comes to beloved film franchise instalments. Fans complain if something feels too beholden to everything that has come before it and then you also get an outcry if they think something has made too many changes to the characters or material they have grown with over a number of years.

I can just imagine writer/director Rian Johnson rubbing his hands together in glee as he clicked everything into place for this film, undoubtedly under the watchful eyes of many people with a vested interest in what is probably the most profitable moneymakers in cinema history, in terms of combined box office and merchandising. This is a film that manages to emulate the feeling of devastation and insurmountable odds that featured in The Empire Strikes Back while also still managing to do enough to stand out as something surprisingly unique.

A lot of that comes from the visual design, with a number of set-pieces making the most of the colour red, either alone or as it contrasts with the environment (in much the same way that gunfights and swordfights can be elevated when blood is spattering on to crisp, white snow). More of that unique feeling comes from the ways in which the main characters are shown to have been transformed by their experiences, be they recent or years in the past. Luke is very different from when we last saw him (something that Mark Hamill famously, initially, disagreed with Johnson on). Leia is even more of a military leader than ever before. Kylo Ren continues to try to find a way forward that will give him both notoriety and some personal satisfaction, Rey may or may not be destined to be a Jedi, and heroic pilot Poe Dameron may have to accept the fact that his rash actions are costing too many lives for him to keep careening forward without enough consideration of the risks and reward.

I guess I should mention the plot, although I feel like I already have. Sort of. The Last Jedi is a character piece, it's a war film, it's a sci-fi epic showing entertaining fights that also manages to show people starting to fully realise the consequences of their actions, be they small or huge. That's what it's all about, and the various twists and turns of the plot are largely redundant "filler", in some ways, if you consider how the whole thing begins and ends (wait and see).

Most of the main players from The Force Awakens return, and they're all still very good in their roles. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega remain two sides of a coin depicting unlikely heroes, with the former wondering if she can ever learn to use the force and the latter doing whatever he can physically to give allies time and space. Oscar Isaac continues to be a hugely likable presence as Dameron, which is more essential this time as his character makes a couple of dubious judgment calls. Hamill is very good, darker than we've ever seen him before, Fisher gets a fitting final turn as Leia, and both Adam Driver and Domnhall Gleeson are as entertaining in their evil roles as they were the first time around. Benicio Del Toro and Laura Dern are two of the main newcomers, both do well but it's Dern who is given the better character.

You also get to see BB-8 again, Kelly Marie Tan (another newcomer) is pretty great as Rose Tico, someone else willing to keep doing their part for the war even as the odds become more and more overwhelming, there's a small amount of screentime for Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), Andy Serkis portrays the mysterious Snoke, there's a near-overdose of cuteness in the shape of little creatures called porgs, a near-overdose of CGI in a completely superfluous chase sequence reminiscent of the overstuffed prequel trilogy, plenty of cameo appearances (both obvious and really not so obvious - hard to see faces under those trooper helmets), and another fantastic score from John Williams.

Some will hate it, some will love it. I love it, and I hope that eventually even those who were so up in arms about the decisions made will recognise that Johnson did what needed to be done in order to keep the franchise from fading out before this new story arc was completed.

8/10

The Last Jedi is out on shiny disc today, here in the UK.
Americans can pick it up here.


Sunday, 8 April 2018

Dark Angel AKA I Come In Peace (1990)

Although released towards the end of 1990, it's hard to think of a more brilliantly '80s action movie than Dark Angel AKA I Come In Peace. This has everything you could want from a Saturday night action film from that time, from the sharp fashions worn by our hero to the script that feels like an action movie cliche "greatest hits" mixtape.

Matthias Hues plays an evil alien, named Talec, who lands on Earth and starts leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake. He pumps his victims full of drugs and then harvests the chemicals via a large needle that is stabbed in their head, with the end result being unsurprisingly fatal. Dolph Lundgren is Detective Jack Cain, a cop who ends up crossing paths with the alien as he tries to bring to justice the drug dealers responsible for the death of his partner. Cain is now partnered up with an uptight special agent named Arwood Smith (played by Brian Benben), but he won't let that stop him doing things his way. He's unorthodox but, dammit, HE GETS RESULTS!

If you measure Dark Angel up against a selection of outright cinematic classics (e.g. Casablanca, The Godfather, etc) then it's going to come up short. The script, written by Jonathan Tydor and David Koepp (using a pseudonym), is full of dialogue and characterisation that would make many cinephiles roll their eyes and chuckle, and the direction by Craig R. Baxley is competent, if a bit more restrained in places than I wanted it to be.

But it's also those exact same qualities that make the film so much fun. The action starts up quickly enough, the stereotypical leads are put in the right places at the wrong times, and there are enough set-pieces (either action or just showing the bad alien working on his plan) to keep things perfectly paced.

Although it's the general premise of the film that makes it such a fun ride, the other major plus point is Lundgren in the lead role. He remains a great action star but there are definitely some standouts in his filmography (and this is one of them). His performance is the one that carries the material from start to finish, other than Hues with his villainous turn. Benben is decent enough, but stuck in the role of unwanted partner who tries too often to stick rigidly to the rules, Betsy Brantley is as poorly served as you might expect the lone female figure to be in this kind of film, and Sherman Howard is underused as the head human bad guy Dolph really wants to get his hands on.

If you somehow missed this when it was first released then make up for that error now. It remains a lot of fun, especially for fans of Dolph.

7/10

There's a DVD here for UK fans.
Americanos can get it here.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh (1997)

There was a moment, a clear and shining moment, while I watched this film, the ninth in a series of films that should never have gone beyond five (to be generous), that led to my eyes glazing over and me having a vision. The film in front of me faded away, to be replaced by an image of me repeatedly banging my head against the coffee table in my living room. Except the coffee table didn't stay made out of hard wood, as it is in reality. No, it turned into a mass of squishy breast implants. And the harder I tried to knock myself into unconsciousness, the more I would just feel myself pushing into the implants. And then my sofa turned into a gum-popping bimbo, asking if I was okay and if  had found the right implants that I wanted her to wear yet.

I then came back to reality, rewound a few minutes of the film, and settled back in to endure the rest of Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh.

There are a few returning names this time around (director Michael Paul Girard and actor David Byrnes) and the plot, from a script written by Stephen Downing, is as dumb as you should expect by now. Will Spanner (Byrnes) is dead. He wanders around while coming to terms with this, sometimes seeing people have sex. One of those people having sex is a hooker named Sheila (Landon Hall). It turns out that Sheila can hear Will, which means that she ends up helping him in his quest to keep his good lady safe and deal with an evil enemy.

Here's the thing about Witchcraft IX: Bitter Flesh. It's actually quite amusing at times. Hall is a good sport when it comes to everything the role asks of her. She has to keep acting as if she can't see her main co-star, she is involved in one or two sex scenes, and she even acts differently at one point while being used as a vessel for a spirit. She's a highlight, and not just because I am easily distracted by nakedness. Although I suspect it is unintentional, the general premise of this film makes it slightly more fun than so many of its predecessors, and Hall helps to convey that fun.

So it's a shame, if not at all surprising, that the rest of the film is dire. The acting is terrible from almost everyone onscreen, there's a distinct lack of sexiness to any of the sex scenes (at least two of them are rapey, obviously or in sneakier ways, and one is a guy who just paid a hooker and decides to start his time with her in a lift), and it would appear that the film-makers were given a budget of approximately £100 with the condition that the financiers receive change. There are times when it feels more like a trailer for a film than an actual film itself, yet it still manages to be a slight improvement over so many of the previous entries. And I'll happily take a slight improvement over nothing.

I know that you're all laughing at me by now. I know it. Either you're laughing or it's the voices in my head again. It doesn't matter, I WILL see this series through to the end. Although I do hope that there IS an end to this series. To paraphrase someone much more talented than myself - "either this series will end or I will".

3/10

No main links. Go to Amazon.co.uk to buy stuff.
Or got to Amazon.com to buy stuff. Win win for me.

The films are so interchangeable that I can keep reusing this Charmed pic

Friday, 6 April 2018

The First Wives Club (1996)

Diane Keaton, Goldie Hawn, and Bette Midler star in this very enjoyable comedy about three women who decide to exact revenge upon their greedy, selfish husbands by hitting them where it hurts - right in the wallet.

After the suicide of their old schoolfriend (Stockard Channing), three women reunite after too many years of no contact. Annie (Keaton) is in denial while her husband works through commitment issues, Elise (Hawn) is about to see half of her stuff handed over to her husband in an unfair divorce settlement, and Brenda (Midler) is trying to keep a brave face on things as she watches her husband (Dan Hedaya) spoiling his new, younger, girlfriend (Sarah Jessica Parker). While considering how much they have given up for their men, and how badly they have been treated, they decide to work together to create a satisfying plan to help them feel better, and also help all women who have been put in similar situations.

Based on a novel by Olivia Goldsmith, the male screenwriter (Robert Harling) and male director (Hugh Wilson) don't ever work against the material as it best complements the female leads. It may be men behind the camera but in front of the camera this is, as you'd expect, all for the women. And they're all great in their roles. Keaton does her strait-laced, uptight thing, Hawn has almost as much fun playing on the vanity of her character as she did in Death Becomes Her, and Midler just reminds everyone of how brilliant and hilarious she can be. Parker is a lot of fun playing young and shallow, Elizabeth Berkley and Marcia Gay Harden both have fun in small rolers, and Maggie Smith is on top side-eye form. A few of the main male characters are quite immediately forgettable, which is fine, but there are a number of good scenes involving Dan Hedaya, and the talented Bronson Pinchot gets to have a lot of fun as an interior designer helping the women to execute their plan.

There's nothing unpredictable here, considering the title of the film and the target audience demographic. You have one or two montage moments, you have friends singing one of their favourite songs, you have a mix of determined scheming and wistful recollections of dissipated romance. The leads lift each other up, they have insults ready to put down their enemies, and you get a typically lively, and often harmlessly bland, soundtrack.

I'm not sure how the majority of female viewers find this (judging by the reaction of my wife, I have to assume that most enjoy it) but it's hard to see how this would upset anyone too much. It's a one-two punch, basing everything on lead characters who are both female and a bit beyond their mid-20s, and that adds an interesting, positive, aspect to material that could have easily been a lot lazier, or twisted into something much more bitter.

7/10

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


Thursday, 5 April 2018

iBoy (2017)

Simple, silly, moderately entertaining for most of its runtime, iBoy is a film that somehow feels both over the top and never able to fully realise the potential of the central gimmick. It doesn't seem to know where it wants to go in terms of grit and tone, leaving it disappointing to those hoping for some kind of urban revenge tale with a twist and equally disappointing to those seeking pure escapism.

Bill Milner plays young Tom, a boy who runs into a vicious gang incident and is shot in the head while trying to call for help as he flees. When he comes out of a coma, Tom is informed that bits of his smart phone are now stuck inside his head. It soon becomes clear that this freak accident allows Tom to access the internet, and thus any other gadgetry, with the upgraded power of his mind, and he doesn't waste any time setting about to deal with the general crime problem in his neighbourhood, and the specific gang members who changed his life.

Although Milner isn't asked to do any more than wear a hoodie and look sullen for many parts of the movie, he's good enough in the lead role. Maisie Williams also does okay, as Lucy, the object of Tom's unvoiced affection, although it's an underwritten role that seems to have been offered to her in order to use her name as a selling point. Jordan Bolger is also good as Danny, a friend of Tom who starts to wonder about the changes in him, and both Miranda Richardson and Rory Kinnear do good work, with the latter coming in to steal the movie in the last few scenes. The rest of the cast consists of young rent-a-thugs who simply hang around onscreen until our hero can deal with them.

Based on a novel by Kevin Brooks, the screenplay, written by Joe Barton, Mark Denton, and Jonny Stockwood, is busy moving from one nonsensical tech-reliant set-piece to the next (seeing how Tom views the world and makes his connections to the devices around him) without any real attempt to actually flesh out the rest of the characters beyond the level of inferior teen drama (think of a cross between Grange Hill and Hollyoaks, but with some added gang presence).

Director Adam Randall doesn't do enough to make up for the script problems, although it's hard to fault him for his basic approach to the material, especially when considering the fact that the budget must have come in at the lower end of the spectrum, and the entire movie ends up playing out on one standard level of engagement when it really should have been a mix of satisfying highs and temporary setbacks for our hero.

Like a lot of the other Netflix-branded content, this is something that isn't awful and isn't great. It's just there, available to you as you lounge on your sofa and push the button for it (either accidentally or on purpose). Nobody involved will hold it up as the shining star on their CV but it's not the worst way to spend 90 minutes.

4/10

iBoy isn't on shiny disc yet, so why not buy Johnny Mnemonic instead.
Americans can get Johnny Mnemonic here.


Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Ritual (2017)

Director David Bruckner has been building up a solid body of work over the past few years. From The Signal through to V/H/S and Southbound, and now this, a fine horror film that stands alongside his last as a perfect example of how to work with familiar tropes to give viewers something that feels a bit fresh and unique.

The basic premise sounds well-worn and overdone, admittedly. Six months after the death of a close friend, a quartet of males go on a hiking trip, commemorating their missing companion before they then get lost in some woods. There's a creepy, empty cabin, there are strange symbols here and there, and tensions develop between the leads. It would be easy to dismiss this, if that is all you had to go on.

Worry not, however, as there's a lot more to get your teeth into. First of all, it's worth mentioning that there isn't one bad performance from the leads: Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. All of them work very well, both as individuals and a group of friends who find their bonds tested.

The second thing to mention is the masterful blend of supernatural elements and very real horror. The opening scenes are among the most intense, with Spall finding himself paralysed with fear as his friend is attacked by robbers, and the rest of the film is tangibly affected by the repercussions from that moment.

Buckner might deserve praise for his direction, subtle and unobtrusive throughout until the time is right to start building up the madness and horror, but Joe Barton helps out a lot with his screenplay (adapting a novel by Adam Nevill). Not only is the camaraderie between the characters all very natural and realistic, there are also seeds of unease sown throughout almost every scene, whether they are human emotional issues or something darker.

All of this would be enough to recommend The Ritual to horror fans but there's even more. You get some impressive, if infrequent, gore, you get some nice visual flourishes that help to show more than just ominous woods, and there's a fantastic bit of work in the third act that gives shape to something entirely otherworldly and unreal.

In case you hadn't realised it yet, this is a horror film that you should treat yourself to as soon as possible. I hope Bruckner keeps on this upward path as a director. He's within reach of delivering genre fans an outright classic.

8/10

The Ritual can be bought here.



Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Flowers In The Attic (1987)

Here is what I used to know about Flowers In The Attic. It was based on a very popular book, the first in a series, by V. C. Andrews (AKA Virginia C. Andrews). It had something to do with family members being a lot more familiar with one another than they should be. And it probably wasn't something I would be very interested in.

I was right on the first two points, but oh so wrong with my last assumption. Although I have never read any of the original novels, I have finally (thanks to a recent release from Arrow Video) seen the film version and it is quite the experience. Sometimes dark and twisted, sometimes unintentionally hilarious, it's an entertainingly bonkers presentation of a story that isn't exactly safe and dull to begin with.

Victoria Tennant plays a woman who moves back home with her four children (the two eldest played by Jeb Stuart Adams and Kristy Swanson) after the sudden death of her husband. It's the only way she can think of keeping everyone in line for a comfortable lifestyle, as she hopes to regain the love of her dying father just in time to get some of that nice inheritance money. Her mother (Louise Fletcher) is unimpressed, and certainly doesn't seem to have any warm and fuzzy feelings towards her grandchildren, for reasons that are soon made clear. It's not long until the kids are spending most of their time in the attic, initially happy to be left alone until it starts to feel as if they are being left up there to rot.

Directed by Jeffrey Bloom, who also adapted the source material into screenplay form, Flowers In The Attic knows exactly what it wants to be and admirably does just that. There's no pretension here, no attempts to twist the major story events into something more palatable and polished, and the fact that it isn't often very cinematic doesn't detract enough from the sheer fun of the outrageous melodrama.

And Bloom made sure that all of his cast were on the same page. Tennant gives one of her most enjoyable turns as the scheming parent, arguably even more fun here than she was while being deliberately comedic in All Of Me. Fletcher gives another fantastically cold performance, and Swanson and Adams always look suitably victimised and affected by their strange, restrictive, upbrining. Ben Ryan Ganger and Lindsay Parker play the two younger children, and do what is asked of them.

Although it's hard to watch this film with a straight face, it's also hard to disagree with how all of the ingredients are mixed into such a gothic-tinged, heady brew. Bloom knows the audience, knows to keep the characters emotionally overwrought, and knows that the dark concepts at the heart of the story are strong enough to offset any potential pacing issues in the middle section.

I am already looking forward to seeing the other filmed version of this tale, as well as the other TV movies adapted from the rest of the novels in the series. Watch this space.

7/10

The shiny new release of Flowers In The Attic can be bought here.
Americans can get this here disc . . . . here.


Monday, 2 April 2018

My Dead Boyfriend (2016)

Directed by Anthony Edwards (yes, THAT Anthony Edwards), My Dead Boyfriend is the kind of film that thinks it is being quirky and cool and fun. And it's the kind of film that fails miserably at being all of those things.

Heather Graham plays Mary, a young woman who finds her day going from bad to worse when she gets home to discover that her boyfriend is, as you may have already guessed from the title, an ex-boyfriend, in the shuffled off the mortal coil sense. This isn't the worst thing in the world really, mainly because he was a lazy loser. Or was he? As Mary tries to make arrangements for the deceased, she starts to discover that he was quite a talented and well-known figure. He just didn't seem to make the same effort for her.

Did you know that Heather Graham is now 48 years old? 48??? I was going to replace a standard review of this movie with many paragraphs of me simply verbalising my incredulity at how Ms Graham looks almost exactly the same nowadays as she did two decades ago but then I realised that people would think me a tad shallow, and maybe obsessed with Heather Graham (whom I first fell a little bit in love with when she starred in Licence To Drive). But, come on, can we all just admit that she must have spent at least the past few years bathing in the blood of virgins? No? Okay, sorry, I'll move on.

Anywayyyyy . . . Graham is always someone I like seeing in films, which isn't the same as saying she is always right for the role. Her quality of work can vary wildly, and many would say she misses more than she hits, but I will always watch a film with her involved. This performance is a miss. She doesn't exude the right appeal that the character needs to make up for her many lousy decisions, she doesn't do well with any of the potential comedy, and she doesn't handle the dramatic moments any better.

The script, by Billy Morrissette (based on a novel by Arthur Nersesian), doesn't help, and nor does the direction from Edwards. As I said in the first paragraph, this is trying to be cool and quirky and fun and ends up not being any of those things. The characters never feel like more than paper-thin figures only moving around to make things inconvenient for one another, and the visuals and soundtrack both fail to liven up the proceedings, somehow sapping the energy from every scene rather than adding to it.

Katherine Moennig is good, but not onscreen enough, as Zoe, Mary's best friend, Scott Michael Foster is okay as a decent guy who ends up in the right place at an odd time, Griffin Dunne can't do enough to make his mishandled better seem any better, Gina Gershon gets to do an accent, and Martha Millan gets to have a chip on her shoulder, which she does well.

My Dead Boyfriend is one of the least memorable films I have watched in recent years, certainly in terms of films with one or two familiar names involved. And this is coming from someone who loves Heather Graham. If you don't like her (because some people are weird like that) then feel free to detuct another point from my rating.

3/10

You can stream the film here.
Americans can buy it on disc here.


Sunday, 1 April 2018

Thelma (2017)

Having heard about Thelma for the past few months, I finally had the chance to see it recently, wary of the fact that so many people had given it some glowing praise, most often comparing it to a mix of Carrie and more straightforward films about teenagers transitioning into a more mature stage in their lives, exploring sexuality and figuring out how they want to be making their first impressions upon the world as full adults.

First of all, although I can see why the comparison has been made, Thelma has less in common with Carrie and more in common with the classic episode of The Twilight Zone called "It's A Good Life". You know the one. The boy who can make anything happen, leading to his parents and everyone else living in fear of him. It was also the segment directed by Joe Dante for the movie version.

Yes, Thelma feels more in line with that tale, not in the actual content but more to do with the feelings of the characters who live with the young woman at the centre of the story. And I guess I should summarise that story.

Elli Harboe is Thelma, a young woman who has lived quite a sheltered life. She is trying to acclimatise to student life while also figuring out the feelings she seems to be developing for another young woman (Anja, played by Kaya Wilkins). When things start to weigh too heavily on her mind, Thelma has seizures. She also inadvertently changes the location of various people around her, depending on who she is thinking of. And that's not good for the people who may find themselves, well, suddenly unable to be found by anyone else.

Written by Eskil Vogt and Joachim Trier, with the latter also directing, Thelma is a very deliberately paced film that slowly reveals some tense and horrifying moments through flashbacks that show how Thelma (played at a younger age by Grethe Eltervåg) has affected her parents (Henrik Rafaelsen and Ellen Dorrit Petersen), and why she is often treated the way she is. The style throughout is slightly removed and chilly, which suits both the way in which some view Thelma and also the way in which she seems to be observing a world around her that she suspects she may be able to completely change if she finds that's what she really wants.

The acting from all involved is excellent. Thelma (played by Harboe, or Eltervåg), is most often the focus, and both actresses play her with a wonderful mix of innocence and cool detachment, but Rafaelsen and Petersen also get to excel in scenes that show the burden they must carry throughout their lives. Wilkins does well in her role, making it easy for viewers to believe that Thelma would be drawn to the warmth and general loveliness of her character.

A rewarding viewing experience that shows general teen angst while also occasionally revealing the horrific repercussions of an unchecked supernatural power, Thelma is highly recommended for more patient fans of the horror genre, those who may enjoy something different from the norm without clamouring for a bodycount or bombastic set-pieces.

8/10

You can buy Thelma here.
Americans can watch it on Amazon here.



Saturday, 31 March 2018

Atlantic Rim (2013)

The recent cinema release of Pacific Rim 2 made me want to rush along and see it. Unfortunately, I couldn't. So I decided on the next best thing. I would finally watch the mockbuster version of the first movie, courtesy of The Asylum. How bad could it be?

There's no need to keep you in suspense here, the answer is very bad, very bad indeed.

The slight plot sees a big monster coming out of the sea to cause some major damage and death, which leads to three people (David Chokachi, Anthony 'Treach' Criss, and Jackie Moore) being placed in giant robot suits and ordered to explore the area, eventually fighting the big beastie. But that only leads to a brief reprieve. There's a bigger and tougher monster coming, and the suits need to be improved for fighting purposes.

Although running for just about 85 minutes, Atlantic Rim still overstays its welcome because the script - written by Richard Lima, Thunder Levin, and Hank Woon Jr - is so slight and undercooked. The three main characters are, essentially, defined by the colours of their robots. Chokachi is red, 'Treach' is green, and Moore is blue. Chokachi is also the wildcard who gets results, obviously, but that doesn't matter when the action scenes take place, sequences that alternate between showing the cast badly pretending to be involved while enclosed in very cheap sets and showing us some bad CGI.

Director Jared Cohn adds nothing to the material either. He relies on the cast and the pacing, neither of which work well enough for even the most undemanding sci-fi/action movie fan. You get the usual selection of recycled sets and footage, you get a lacklustre score that is supposed to be rousing at times, and you get nothing to care about at any point in the film. Despite the stakes that are spelled out for you, nothing matters. Because everything is so badly faked that it's impossible to suspend your disbelief while watching.

Graham Greene is the main familiar face onscreen, playing the general trying to do his job under difficult circumstances, and he is the only reason I don't rate this any lower, even if he's given just as many awful lines of dialogue as everyone else. At least he retains a small iota of charisma, unlike the three bland leads.

This is one to avoid, like a lot of the mockbusters from The Asylum. But I'll end up seeing the second one too, goddammit I just KNOW I will. So expect a review of that at some point.

2/10

Brave souls can pick the film up here.
The same R2 disc can be bought here.


Friday, 30 March 2018

Osmosis Jones (2001)

Osmosis Jones is a standard tale of a reckless cop (Chris Rock) paired up with someone who is a stickler for the rules (David Hyde Pierce). There's an evil villain (Laurence Fishburne) with a plan to go down in history. And lives are at stake, although it is mainly just the one life (belonging to an unhealthy Bill Murray). The big difference here is that the cop is Osmosis Jones, paired up with a medicine named Drix, and the villain is a deadly virus with symptoms that may not be fully recognised until it is too late. And all of this is taking place inside the body of Murray, in animated form.

Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, Osmosis Jones is a fun blend of animation and live action (most of the grosser moments involve Murray either helping the virus along or showing some nasty side-effects from the battles raging within him) that is helped by a great voice cast and a lot of wonderful little sight gags, even if they are all fairly obvious puns. It's also quite tame for a film that comes with their names attached, which seems more likely to be down to the script by Marc Hyman. It focuses more on transposing the tropes of a buddy cop action comedy into the setting of a human body than it does on the many potential opportunities for toilet humour.

The animation may be a bit rough around the edges but it does everything it has to do, and that includes some fun scenes that have our main characters depicted in their animated form while the background is the very live Murray (who is also joined onscreen by Molly Shannon, Chris Elliott, and Elena Franklin, who portrays his frustrated daughter).

Rock does very well in the kinda-lead role, his sharp, fast delivery working brilliantly alongside the smooth and deliberate tone of Pierce. Fishburne, voice matched by the character design, oozes threat and menace with his every line, and there are fun supporting turns from William Shatner, Brandy Norwood, and Ron Howard.

The idea of our bodies being regulated and looked after by small humanoid entites isn't a new one (and it's one that can keep delivering great entertainment when done the right way, as it was with Inside Out) and nothing here feels too original, which is probably the biggest problem that the film has. Overlook the sense of the familiar, however, and you will find an absolute little cracker of a film, one that was unjustly neglected when first released, and remains sorely overlooked nowadays. Seek it out, give it your time, and you may well find that you enjoy it almost as much as I do.

8/10

Osmosis Jones can be absorbed in exchange for cash here.
Americans can get it streaming into their homes here (but on disc, not just . . . streaming).

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Children's Film Foundation

Note, this was originally going to be one overview of the CFF, selected highlights from their filmography and a little bit about how they worked. Well, best laid plans and all that, this has now turned into the first part of something that will be finished when I have managed to dig up enough resources, and watch as many of the CFF movies as I can get my hands on. So grab a 10p mixture, sit yourself down, and let's enjoy a selection of kid-friendly British movies.

Set up in 1951, the Children's Film Foundation AKA the CFF (later to become the Children's Film & Television Foundation, the CFTF) was set up with one very specific aim in mind - to make films specifically for children to be screened at Saturday morning matinees and used in schools. The foundation was supported by the British Film Industry and an annual grant from the Eady Levy  [a small tax on all cinema tickets]. In 1950 the Foundation received 5% of the total fund, and continued to be well funded. This enabled the Foundation to make five or six low budget films a year, all of which were made by producers who had been invited to apply for funding. Costs were kept as low as possible, and any profits fed back into the system to maintain a solid, impressive business model that produced child-friendly films for over three decades. The CFF weathered some storms, mainly in the form of increased competition from TV programming and the developing home entertainment market, but it managed to keep moving along until the Eady Levy was removed in the mid-1980s, effectively ending the funding of the foundation. Not that it would disappear entirely. Instead, it focused on televison, helping to commission The Borrowers and The Queen's Nose, amongst others. It also seeked to utilise monies available from The National Lottery, setting up, in partnership with The UK Film Council and the BBC, a "script development fund" for family entertainment. [1,2]

But that was then and this is now. Seemingly no longer active in the industry, a state that I hope means it is dormant rather than completely deceased, all we have left are some of the films, although they can be hard to get a hold of, and a selection of memories. Born in 1975 myself, I didn't really get to head along to the cinema on Saturday mornings. What I did get to do was head along to the local video shop before anyone had really managed to get a handle on the videotape explosion. Kids could head in, unaccompanied, and use a membership card to pick any number of eye-catching, lurid titles. Of course, officially, this didn't happen. But we all know that it did. Funnily enough, I wasn't quite the horror obsessive as a child that I am today. Which is why I would often head home with a CFF title. I can't even remember them all, but I know that I at least rented the following: The Glitterball, The Boy Who Turned Yellow, Sky Pirates, and Friend Or Foe. Did they go down well with every family member? I doubt it, but it at least gave some people a reprise from Freaky Friday (which I'd grown obsessed with thanks to the appeal and humour of both Jodie Foster and Barbara Harris) and The Ghost Busters (a tape consisting of two episodes from the old TV show, and I seemed to forget this every time I went to the shop and thought I would finally be seeing Ghostbusters). And they always stuck in my mind, which is the main thing anyway. Perhaps even back then I knew that these films weren't on a par with the glossy, modern Hollywood outings. But that didn't stop them helping me along the road to my complete love of cinema, despite me only being exposed to four titles from the entire library that I was at that time unaware of. Think of them as stabilisers on a bike that I would eventually use to ride around the whole world. And because I spend a lot of my time refusing to put away childish things, I decided to track down as many as I could, and to cover them here in a way that may throw up some surprises, stir up a bit of nostalgia, and allow for some more time spent simply celebrating all that the CFF did for a generation of young moviegoers.


One Wish Too Many (1956) - A young boy finds a magic marble, and finds out that rubbing it while making a wish leads to his wish becoming reality. This leads to lots of fun rearranging the environments around him, dealing with bullies, and even stopping time to avoid getting into any trouble for being late back to class.

The Adventures Of Hal 5 (1958) - A little car is sold by its owner, reluctantly, and ends up being used by a sneaky garage boss to wring extra profits from future customers. The car is not happy about the circumstances, as you can tell by the expressions drawn on the front of it. It's not exactly Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but it's enough to please undemanding youngsters.

Go Kart Go (1964) - A very young Dennis Waterman plays Jimpy (because, apparently, that was actually a name, at one point). Jimpy and his pals want to put a go kart together and take on the seemingly-unbeatable Harry Haggetty (Frazer Hines, a LONG time before his Emmerdale years). Unfortunately, Harry likes to win by any means necessary. Will Jimpy and the gang be able to win out againts any planned sabotage? Steptoe And Son fans may also enjoy seeing Wilfrid Brambell in a small role that is not entirely dissimilar to his most famous TV persona.

Cup Fever (1965) - What do young boys enjoy more than movies? Yes, football, that's what. And this enjoyable tale focuses on a footie team who are all trying their hardest to overcome hardship, and sabotage, to win the cup. Filmed in Manchester, the big attraction here is the appearance of the Manchester United team, including manager Matt Busby. And it's not just a few seconds either. Oh no, there's a decent sequence showing the kids being allowed to visit Old Trafford and train with the players. Other "players" worth looking out for include Bernard Cribbins as a policeman, David Lodge as the adult wanting to spoil all the fun, and Susan George and Olivia Hussey as two of the young girls who help and support the team.

The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972) - An oft-forgotten production from Powell & Pressburger, it is actually the final feature film for both of them, this stars Mark Dightam as John, the titular boy, and Robert Eddison as Nick ("comes from electronic"). When John is with Nick, he is able to travel through TV screens at the speed of electricity, which means he can hopefully sneak into the Tower Of London and find his pet mouse, lost there on a school trip at the start of the film. And I should mention John's smart friend, Munro. While the character himself isn't special, the young actor playing him would change his name from Lem Kitaj to Lem Dobbs and go on to help write a number of entertaining feature films (including The Hard Way, Dark City, The Limey, and Haywire).


The Battle Of Billy's Pond (1976) - Billy (Ben Buckton) and Gobby (Andrew Ashby) discover something amiss at the local pond Billy usually likes to fish at. The fish are all dying, which leads the boys to figure out that the water is somehow being polluted. They then have to figure out how to prove it, and how to capture the polluters. There are cameo appearances here for Geoffrey Palmer, Miriam Margolyes, and a fleeting appearance (at the corner of the screen during a family meal scene) for a young Linda Robson, who would also appear for seconds in the next film, which also stars Buckton.

The Glitterball (1977) - Max (Ben Buckton) and Pete (Keith Jayne) end up the carers of a small silver alien entity. Ron Pember is an adult thief who eventually suspects that he can make this situation profitable for himself, and the premise is a fun idea that retains a good dollop of charm, thanks to the lo-fi special effects and the central characters.

A Hitch In Time (1978) - Patrick Troughton is an inventor with a time-travelling device in his possession. And it has an acronym (OSKA = Oscillating Shortwave Kinetic Amplifier). No, Troughton is not reprising his Doctor Who role, but viewers probably couldn't help thinking of it, and smiling, during throughout this amusing time-travel adventure. Michael McVey and Pheona McLellan are the two children who end up making use of Troughton's machine, and Jeff Rawle is "Sniffy" Kemp, a harsh teacher who has a long line of unlikable ancestors. Sorcha Cusack also has a small role.

Sammy's Super T-Shirt (1978) - Young Sammy Smith (Reggie Winch) is training for a big race, with the help of his friend, Marvin (Lawrie Mark). But things get easier for him when his favourite t-shirt accidentally ends up in a lab, where it gains the ability to make the wearer physically superior in terms of strength and speed. Richard Vernon and Julian Holloway are the two adults trying to get their hands on the t-shirt, Patsy Rowlands pops up as Sammy's mother, and Hammer fans should derive some small pleasure from seeing Michael Ripper in one scene.

Black Island (1979) - The message here is quite simple. Always listen to your teacher. Two schoolboys who don't do this (played by Martin Murphy and Mike Salmon) end up in trouble. Having left the main group during a school outing, they take themselves on a small boat trip, losing control and ending up on a small island. But they're not alone, with the other main message here perhaps being never to trust gruff adults played by Michael Elphick or Allan Surtees.

Out Of The Darkness (1985) - Three children start to investigate further when one of them claims to have seen and heard a ghost. It turns out that the ghost is a young boy who lived during the time of an awful plague epidemic. And the local village has a bad history that it may want to keep hidden. An average supernatural tale is boosted slightly by the choice of location. Michael Carter had this to say about the village; "Shooting a children's ghost story about the plague, on locations round Eyam Derbyshire, was doubly eerie because relics of that terrible time were all around us. There is a register of deaths in Eyam church. The word 'plague' litters the pages, and outside, the headstones of plague victims dominate the churchyard."[3]

Terry On The Fence (1985) - A young boy runs away from home and ends up in the company of some troubled youths who bully him into helping them rob from his school. This children's film is very much a lesson to any child at risk of falling in with a bad lot, but it also does a surprisingly good job of fleshing out the background of the main "baddie".

To be continued . . .

1. Main statistics and information lifted from the Children's Film and Television Foundation website, a valuable resource for anyone looking to investigate their filmography further.

2. Essay excerpt from 'Providing healthy recreation for children': celebrating the Children's Film Foundation, by Robert Shail.

3. Essay excerpt from John Krish and Out of the Darkness, by Michael Carter

Race to pick up this set.
Enjoy some weird adventures with this set.
Experience some mild scares with this set.
And here are some tales set in the fine city of London.