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The demented superhero fun continues as 'The Boys' try to get their mitts on a sample of the performance-enhancing drug used by A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), who is gearing up for a race for the title of The World's Fastest Man.
A third of the way through Season and there's no sign of drop in quality; if anything, it keeps on getting better (ie. more twisted). The plot develops nicely as Starlight (Erin Moriarty) finds herself in another dilemma (will she eventually rebel and join Hughie and friends in bringing down the Seven?), Homelander becomes even more sinister, and A-Train's girlfriend proves to be just another seriously messed up superhero (she features in this episode's bloody highlight where she crushes a man's head with her ass!).
Foul-mouthed, violent, unpredictable, and sexy, this is superhero action for those fed-up with endless family-friendly Marvel and DC films.
The title is half right: it is dark, but it isn't scary.
I knew very little about this film going in and, judging from the title, expected a horror anthology along the lines of Creepshow (1982). What I actually got was a very tired ghost story, one that treads familiar ground and regularly resorts to loud noises to try and make the viewer jump (or in the case of my friend, who fell asleep in the cinema, to wake them up).
Based on the books of the same name by Alvin Schwartz, and directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe), the film follows a small close-knit group of high-school kids (as in Stranger Things and IT) who invoke the wrath of a vengeful ghost when they steal her book of scary stories. Each of the youngsters meets a fate in accordance with one of the stories in the book. The only way to stop the ghost is to unravel the mystery surrounding her death.
Øvredal delivers one or two nicely realised creepy creatures along the way (the monsters apparently faithful to the illustrations in Schwartz's books), but the pace is slow, the when the kids investigate the history of the ghost, the film grinds to a halt (which is around the point that my friend dozed off). The whole 'unravelling of the past to put a spirit to rest' idea is as old as the hills, and the film even includes that oft-told urban legend about the girl who has baby spiders burst out of her face (as already seen in 1987 horror The Believers and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary from 2005).
4/10. The anthology format I expected might have worked better.
Your Highness (2011)
A right royal mess.
Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green were responsible for box office hit Halloween in 2018 (a film I disliked, but which the majority seemed to enjoy). I'm just amazed that they were allowed to make any more movies after a debacle like Your Highness, one of the least funny comedies I have ever seen.
A low-brow stoner medieval adventure, the film stars McBride as slacker Prince Thadeous, who is forced to join his heroic brother Fabious (James Franco) on a quest to rescue his bride Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of evil wizard Leezar (Justin Theroux). The men are joined on their mission by Thadeus's wimpy squire Courtney (Rasmus Hardiker) and brave warrior woman Isabel (Natalie Portman), who also has a score to settle with the wizard.
The comedy in Your Highness consists largely of cringe-worthy penis and sex jokes; while politically incorrect humour can be gut-bustingly funny in the right hands, on this occasion it is embarrassingly bad, with terrible performances from McBride and Franco not helping matters. I admit that, as a fan of horror and fantasy, I enjoyed the excess of gore, and gleaned a little enjoyment from the impressive monsters and magic, which includes a well designed (and well hung) minotaur, a perverted little wizard, a five-headed snake monster, and three evil witches, but the pitiful script and awful acting still made it tough going.
By the end of the film, I felt like I had completed an arduous quest myself.
2.5 out of 10, rounded down to 2 for a naked Toby Jones: I had to bleach my eyes afterwards.
Do we need a tenth?
Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood has been receiving some great reviews (it's currently rated 8.3 here on IMDb), but I think it's one of Tarantino's weakest movies. For well over two hours, virtually nothing of interest happens: as much as I didn't particularly enjoy Kill Bill Pt 2, Death Proof or Jackie Brown, I can't say I was bored, but OUATIH is just that -- boring! There's none of Tarantino's sparkling dialogue, no iconic scenes, and the ending simply pulls off the same trick that the director employed in Inglourious Basterds -- changing history (only in this instance, it all seems to be in questionable taste given what really happened fifty years ago).
As a fan of cult movies, Italian westerns, Bruce Lee and old TV shows, and as someone with an interest in the Manson murders, I fully expected to be enthralled by Tarantino's re-creation of 60s Hollywood, its colourful characters, and one of the darkest moments in its history, but was totally taken aback by how mundane this movie is. If you want to watch Brad Pitt feed his dog, mend a TV aerial and drive a car, then this is the movie for you; if you want to see Leonardo DiCaprio talk about books to an 8 year old and record an episode of a dull TV western (a scene that went on way too long) then have at it. I think that if this is the standard of movie that Tarantino is dishing up, he should call it quits at nine.
4/10 for the face-smashing, dog-biting, flame-throwing finalé, which actually perked me up. But that's being generous.
The Boys: The Name of the Game (2019)
Sordid superhero fun.
In The Boys, superheroes are a reality, with the vast majority working for powerful corporation Vought International. When one of these superpowered beings, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), accidentally kills Robin (Jess Salgueiro) by running through her at high speed, her mild-mannered boyfriend Hughie (Jack Quaid) is rightfully upset to see the supe get off scot free. So when a mysterious man, Billy Butcher (Karl Urban), who claims to be a fed, tells Hughie about the corruption within Vought, and offers Hughie the chance to makes thing right, the young man forces himself to take a risk that sees him becoming a member of vigilante group The Boys.
I don't usually like to become invested in TV series, because I'm mainly a movie guy and would rather spend my time watching films. However, a couple of people recommended The Boys to me, so I thought I would take a look: and two episodes in and I think I might be hooked. This first episode doesn't take long to let the viewer know what they're in for: Robin's sudden demise is extremely messy, the girl reduced to soup, with Hughie left holding her detached hands. Yes folks, this is strong stuff, with lots of nudity, perversion, sexual abuse, swearing and violence, making it very entertaining stuff indeed. Karl Urban is great as the gruff British superhero hater, Quaid makes for a likeable foil, and expect big things from Erin Moriarty in the future: she plays idealistic newbie superhero Starlight, who becomes part of Vought elite, The Seven, but soon learns that her fellow heroes aren't quite how they are portrayed in the media.
What's next? Spaceships? A dragon?
Hobbs and Shaw (Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham) reluctantly join forces to try and find Shaw's sister Hattie (Vanessa Kirby), who is carrying a deadly virus in her bloodstream that will become active in 72 hours. Also trying to track down Hattie is technologically enhanced villain Brixton (Idris Elba), who intends to use the virus to cleanse the Earth of the weak.
With every subsequent Fast & Furious movie, the franchise has steered further and further away from its street racing roots, becoming more and more like any other mega-budget action series: full of incredible stunts, massive explosions and hard-hitting fights. Spin-off Hobbs & Shaw sees the F&F universe enter science fiction and fantasy territory: sci-fi because of the futuristic technology involved (which includes a transformer style motorbike ridden by its cyborg villain), and fantasy because of the impossible nature of the stunts which defy all the laws of physics. Oh, and a Samoan mechanic has the know-how to fix a high-tech computerised gizmo, the likes of which he would never have seen before. Magic has got to be involved somewhere!
The crazy action includes the following: a high speed chase through the streets of London during which both a car and the super-bike slide under not one but two moving trucks; an armoured buggy doing a 360 degree roll through the air, landing on the roof of a building; and an extremely silly finalé in which several vehicles are daisy-chained together to prevent a helicopter from escaping. It's cheesy over-the-top blockbuster nonsense designed to be as outrageously daft as possible, and might be reasonably fun, if it wasn't for the endless, supposedly comedic banter between its two stars, which results in a bloated runtime of well over two hours -- far too long for a film of this type.
Tarzan the Fearless (1933)
Buster Crabbe spanks the monkey (actually, it's an ape, but that wouldn't sound as funny).
Made to ride on the coat-tails of Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan The Ape Man (1932), this adventure for the legendary jungle wild-man stars Buster Crabbe, who would later find fame as the hero of sci-fi serials Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Crabbe's Tarzan also started life as a serial, the movie version that I saw being cobbled together out of several episodes, which gives the whole thing a rather irritating choppy, episodic feel with obvious scenes originally serving as cliff-hangers.
Crabbe makes for a convincing Tarzan, his athletic swimmer's build making him perfect for the character (although his pre-Hayes code loincloth is a little too skimpy for my liking: there's way too much ass-cheek on display!). Unfortunately, the action primarily consists of Tarzan swinging on vines, and wrassling lions and crocs, which gets fairly tedious after a while (to be fair, in it's original serial format, it was probably only one animal fight per episode). The plot is forgettable stuff: a young woman, Mary (the gorgeous Julie Bishop) goes in search of her father, but her guides have other plans, aiming to collect £10k for the vine-swinger's body and to relieve a local tribe of their ceremonial emeralds.
Of course, Tarzan puts paid to their plans and gets the girl, and all the jungle animals dance to some music played on Mary's gramophone.
5/10. Worth seeing if only for Crabbe's silly grin that makes him look like a simpleton.
Yi mei dao ren (1989)
Not Lam Ching Ying's finest hour.
Lam Ching Ying plays yet another Taoist priest (this time with a monobrow) in yet another Chinese vampire film. There's the expected hopping vampire in the form of a little kid who chirps like a chick, but this one also chucks in a whole load of other supernatural nonsense, including a female palm tree ghost, evil bats that terrorise some nuns, the spirit of a dead woman who possesses the priest's apprentices, and a Western Dracula-style bloodsucker who is revived by a stupid army captain. All of this is presented in such a chaotic fashion that it proves hard to follow. And if, like me, you struggle with Chinese comedy, the film's constant silly humour goes to make this even more of a chore to sit through.
From the opening scene in which a toothy, slimy monster oozes from a jar, to the ending in which two frogs with glowing Chinese symbols on their skin hop out of some quicksand, I was totally perplexed and not very amused.
3/10. Watch Mr. Vampire instead.
House Shark (2017)
According to Ron Bonk's comedy horror House Shark, herds of sharks used to roam the land in America until they were forced into the sea by hunters, although a few remained. It is one of these last land-dwelling sharks that terrorises homeowner Frank, forcing him out of his house to live in the garden. With the help of house shark expert Zachary (Michael Merchant) and drunken salty sea-dog Abraham (Wes Reid), Frank tries to kill the big fish.
House Shark is, as the title suggests, a dumb movie. No... scratch that. It's a very, very, VERY dumb movie, intentionally so. Unfortunately, Bonk's particular brand of comedy - goofball lunacy with lots of toilet humour - only occasionally hits the mark, with most of the gags floundering like a shark on a Chinese fishing boat. With the film running at nearly two hours long, the silliness gets really tedious, Abraham's drunken drawl proving particularly grating on the nerves.
The special effects range from the barely passable (I quite enjoyed the underwater scene in which things float on clearly visible wires) to the downright terrible (the shark itself looks like it's been made from chicken wire and papier-mâché). The film opens in promisingly trashy fashion with a naked woman pulled down a toilet by the shark, leaving a bloody mess in her wake, but the rest of the film is nudity free, with very little gore.
2.5/10, generously rounded up to 3 for the one line that actually made me laugh: "I don't know how many people died that day. 3....4... maybe none."
There's too much going on.
Howard North (Ben O'Toole) empties sewage tanks for a living, but finds a higher calling when he learns that he comes from a long line of necromancers dedicated to destroying demons. Together with fellow demon hunters Molly (Caroline Ford) and Torquel (Tess Haubrich), and with a little help from the ghost of his dead friend Rangi (Epine Bob Savea), Howard battles evil in the form of sexy soul-sucker Finnegan (Monica Belluci), who just so happens to be his mum.
I really enjoyed director Kiah Roache-Turner's debut feature, zombie flick Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead: it was fun, gory and inventive. His second movie, Nekrotronic, is wilder, packed with visual effects, and even boasts a major star in Bellucci, but it isn't anywhere near as good.
The script introduces so many different ideas that not nearly enough time can be given to adequately flesh them out, and the consistently breakneck pace makes it difficult for Roache-Turner to tell a coherent story. The result is a muddled mess of comic-book sci-fi and horror, one that isn't anywhere near as cool as it it is obviously intended to be: the action scenes are lacklustre and the gore is nowhere near as plentiful as I had hoped (with way too much CGI and not enough practical work).
4/10. I really wanted to like it more than this, but by the end of the film I'd had more than my fill of glowing lights and CGI blood, and had even grown tired of Bellucci (there's a first time for everything).
Percy Potter and the Lightning Stone.
Having already enjoyed success with his big screen adaptation of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, director Chris Columbus explores similar young adult fantasy territory with another movie based on the first in a series of popular books, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, in which a teenager, Percy (Logan Lerman), discovers that he is the son of Poseidon and is accused by Zeus of stealing a powerful lightning bolt.
Like Potter, Jackson possesses incredible powers and becomes involved in a battle between good and evil. And like Potter, Jackson is aided on his quest to clear his name by two friends, comedy relief satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson in the Ron Weasley role) and strong beauty Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario in the Hermione Granger role). Columbus employs the same formula as with his Potter film: slick CGI filled action and adventure with lots of magical creatures and a touch of humour.
The young cast all do well enough: Lerman is likeable as the teenager whose life is turned upside down; Jackson ably plays the cloven-hoofed comedy relief sidekick; and it only seems fitting that Alexandra Daddario should be in this film, for she is such a splendid example of womanhood that she surely has to be a demi-god herself, if not a full-on goddess (anyone who has seen her in Baywatch will know what I mean).
Unfortunately, as visually impressive as the film is (and I'm not just talking about Daddario), it is ultimately lacking in charm and heart, just another in a long line of forgettable, formulaic fantasy films aimed squarely at indiscriminate teens.
5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.
Where Eagles Dare (1968)
Broadsword calling Danny Boy.
A good old-fashioned men-on-a-mission war-time adventure, Where Eagles Dare stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood (the Spaghetti Western star finally shaking off his cowboy persona) as Major Smith and Lieutenant Schaffer, part of a seven man team who embark on a daring raid on a German-occupied mountain stronghold to rescue a captured American general. However, all is not as it seems, with double agents and a hidden agenda complicating an already perilous mission.
Shot on location in the snowy mountains of Austria, this WWII classic benefits from plenty of nail-biting action scenes, lots of nasty Nazis (notably Anton Diffring as icy Colonel Kramer and Deren Nesbitt as slimy Gestapo officer Von Hapen), a couple of sexy ladies (Ingrid Pitt, as undercover allied agent Heidi, reminding me a bit of Scarlett Johansson), and loads of shooting and fighting and stabbing and killing and explosions and noisy stuff like that.
It's gung-ho escapist fun of the kind where none of the actors attempt to speak German (although some do put on an 'Allo 'Allo-style accents) and where the heroes shoot with deadly accuracy but the enemy always misses their targets. At 158 minutes, it goes on for a bit too long, but the pace is snappy enough to avoid boredom setting in, while some of the obvious technical shortcomings (ropey rear projection) can be excused given the film's age.
7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for Pitt in her wench costume.
If anything, the ending is certainly unique.
In the pre-credits scene for this Paul Naschy vampire flick, two men deliver a large crate to an old abandoned sanatorium which has recently been sold to a mysterious doctor. Taking the crate to the cellar as instructed, the men allow curiosity to get the better of them and find a coffin inside. As the men try to leave in a hurry, one of them is attacked by a vampire and the other has an axe planted in his skull (a nice spot of bright red '70s gore). The credits roll as the axed man is shown repeatedly falling down a flight of stone steps in slow motion, the axe falling free, allowing the viewer to clearly see the semi-circular 'cut-out' in the blade where it fitted over the actor's head. We're most definitely in cheesy Euro-horror territory...
The film starts proper as a coach carrying five passengers -- Imre Polvi (Victor Barrera) and four attractive young women -- loses a wheel, and the very unlucky driver gets kicked in the head by one of his horses. Forced to continue their journey on foot, the five travellers seek refuge at the sanatorium, now home to Dr. Wendell Marlow (Naschy), the guests unaware that their host is actually Count Dracula, who proceeds to put the bite on them during the night. However, the Count becomes smitten with the prettiest of the girls, virginal Karen (Haydée Politoff), and becomes torn between using her to bring his daughter back to life, or keeping her at his side as his bride.
Javier Aguirre directed two Naschy flicks in 1973: Count Dracula's Great Love and Hunchback of the Morgue. The latter is a thoroughly enjoyable horror romp full of demented silliness, easily my favourite Naschy flick so far; Count Dracula's Great Love is less satisfying, the plodding pace and weak story (by Naschy) making it a mediocre effort at best, despite plenty of topless nudity and a smattering of reasonable gore (a vamp is thrown out of a window and impaled on a metal railing and one of the female bloodsuckers is staked, resulting in lots of blood). The very silly ending sees a despondant Dracula staking himself (vampire suicide!!) having been unable to convince Karen to renounce her human existence.
Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Good, but it's all been done before.
Postal worker Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins) thinks he is losing his grip on reality, suffering from terrifying hallucinations and flashbacks. As he delves into the mystery behind his mental anguish, he unravels a conspiracy concerning his days serving in Vietnam.
The way I see it, Jacob's Ladder can be interpreted in one of two ways:
A) In his dying moments, soldier Jacob - his brain still affected by the hallucinatory chemical agent unleashed by his own side -conjures up a world where his past collides with a bizarre imaginary future where demons haunt his every move. As he passes away, Jacob finds contentment, reunited in his mind with his dead son Gabe (Macauley Culkin).
B) Jacob is already dead, trapped in a purgatory inhabited by monsters, where he must try and escape his torment, guided by an angel (his chiropractor, played by Danny Aiello).
Both explanations are valid, but unfortunately, neither is all that original, the first having already been done in the excellent 1961 French short Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (screened in the United States as an episode of The Twilight Zone), and the latter in cult classic Carnival of Souls (1962).
Director Adrian Lyne conducts matters with style, presenting some truly unsettling imagery using a variety of impressive (and oft-imitated) film-making techniques, but his treatment is also rather blunt at times, his film practically spelling out the ending - that Jacob is dead/dying - at several junctures. At 113 minutes, the film is also way too drawn out: as 'Occurrence at...' proved, such a story can be wrapped up in far less time (even Carnival of Souls, at 84 minutes, seemed too long).
6/10, plus a bonus point for lovely Elizabeth Peña as Jacob's sexy girlfriend Jezzie, whose presence helped the time pass a little easier.
The Magnificent Seven Ride! (1972)
The not-so-magnificent seven.
I consider the first Magnificent Seven movie to be an over-rated cowboy 'classic', a western retelling of Kurasawa's The Seven Samurai that is hampered by schmaltz and clichéd characters. It is, however, made watchable thanks to its star power, the impressive cast including Yul Brynner, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen and James Coburn.
The only 'star' in this fourth film in the series is Lee Van Cleef, and as good as he is, he can't carry this tired movie by himself. Cleef is U.S. Marshal Chris (previously played by Brynner in the first two movies, and George Kennedy in the third), who, with writer Noah Forbes (Michael Callan) at his side, goes on the trail of a trio of bank-robbers who have kidnapped his wife.
After finding the body of his spouse, who has been raped and killed, Chris tracks down and executes two of the guilty men (one of whom is played by a young Gary Busey), and goes looking for the third, who he believes to have been recruited by bandit De Toro (Ron Stein), whose band of outlaws have been terrorising the small Mexican border town of Magdalena (killing all of the men and raping the women).
At Magdalena, Chris promises the frightened women (very few of whom look Mexican and all of whom are attractive) that he will return with a group of men to deal with De Toro and his bandits. Visiting the prison in Tucson, Chris assembles a team comprising of men he put behind bars, promising each of them a pardon if they help his cause...
While the preparation for the arrival of De Toro's gang, and the subsequent gun battles, are reasonably fun (with some bright red squib work), the film lacks originality and has the look and feel of a made-for-TV movie, with much of the action taking place at one of cinema's most recognisable and over-used film and TV locations, the Vasquez Rocks in California. The inclusion of Hart to Hart's Stefanie Powers as Chris's love interest only adds to small-screen vibe.
4.5/10, rounded up to 5 for IMDb.
Keeping Up with the Joneses (2016)
Isla adds va-va-voom to this otherwise unexceptional caper.
Comedy/thriller Keeping Up With The Joneses isn't very funny and not all that thrilling, the 'spies next door' plot offering very little in the way of originality, and so for many the film will prove a disappointment. Fans of Isla Fisher, on the other hand, will come away more than satisfied: she is absolutely gorgeous here, flaunting her curvaceous body in several steamy scenes. She's so hot that she manages to upstage Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot (nine years her junior), who looks like a malnourished stick insect by comparison. Sacha Baron Cohen, you jammy bugger!
Let's do a quick summary of the Fisher-goodness...
In a dream sequence, Karen Gaffney (Fisher) appears in a sheer negligee studying a sex manual. Zoinks!
Having been cornered by Natalie Jones (Gadot) in the lingerie department at Bloomingdales, Karen buys a set of sexy underwear (basque, stockings and suspenders) which she wears for her lucky husband Jeff (Zach Galifianakis). Sweet baby Jesus!
Going undercover to liaise with arms dealer Scorpion (Patton Oswalt), Karen slips into a figure-hugging silver dress that accentuates her impressive cleavage. Holy Mother of God!
Karen snogs Gadot (the scene that made me want to watch this in the first place). Arooga!
Wearing said dress, Karen leaps out a hotel window and lands in a swimming pool. Wet Fisher... hubba hubba!
4/10 for the film. 10/10 for Isla. That averages out at 7/10.
Can't Hardly Wait (1998)
What a cast!
At a post-graduation house party, Preston Meyers (Ethan Embry) tries to pluck up the courage to tell school hottie Amanda Beckett (Jennifer Love Hewitt) how he feels about her, with the help of a love-letter four years in the writing. Meanwhile, Preston's best pal, misfit Denise (Lauren Ambrose), gets frisky with an old friend.
The lovelorn high-schooler desperately trying to get with the girl of his dreams is a teen comedy cliché, but while this might not be the most original example of the genre, or necessarily the funniest, it succeeds in being a very charming little movie, helped immensely by an engaging group of characters, with a standout cast of familiar '90s faces.
Among the revellers are Clea Duvall (who always seemed like more of the misfit type to me), Jerry O'Connell as a jock loser, Melissa Joan Hart, Jaime Pressly, Jason Segel and Chris 'The Shermanator' Owen, as well as all four members of Josie and the Pussycats boy-band Du Jour: Seth Green, Alexander Martin, Breckin Meyer, and Donald Faison (the last two playing members of a band called Loveburger). Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg) also turns up in the film as a sexy stripper in an angel costume.
With such a great ensemble and solid handling by writers/directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, the result is a fun reminder of the joys of youth and the trials and tribulations of first love.
7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.
Avoid this like the plague.
What begins as a routine zombie film set in the Australian outback turns into a post-apocalyptic psycho thriller with the introduction of Charlie (Steven Jianai), a survivor who isn't all he seems. Joining married couple John (Scott Marcus) and Evie (Tegan Crowley) at their hideout, the initially affable Charlie gradually shows his true colours, forcing husband and wife to take extreme action.
Likeable characters: that's what this film is sorely lacking. No-one in Plague is worth a damn. Evie is a selfish cow who wants to jeopardise the safety of a whole group for the sake of her husband John, who turns out to be a snivelling wimp; and Charlie... well he's not supposed to be deserving of our sympathy. After an hour-and-a-half in the company of these wretched people, during which Evie is raped by Charlie, and John resorts to crying, I was close to tears myself.
The ending is possibly the worst part of this whole mess: Evie has been shot in the shoulder and is too weak to move. With the zombies fast approaching, John has no option but to leave his wife, giving her a gun to defend herself. As John walks down the road, he is shot in the leg by Evie, who has somehow managed to get to her feet. Was she pretending to be too exhausted to see if John would abandon her? While I can't blame her for shooting him (he's THAT irritating), it seems like a cruel trick to play. What was he supposed to do? Die by her side?
Having crippled her husband, Evie leaves him to be eaten by the zombies, and wanders down the road to be picked up by a passing helicopter. The end. What a crock!
Last Rites (2006)
They got me!
It's not often I that I am duped by the sneaky re-naming and re-packaging of movies, but I admit that I bought the DVD for 48 Weeks Later (33p at a local charity shop) mistaking it for the sequel to 28 Days Later. I soon realised my mistake, but decided to keep it anyway - after all, I'm a sucker for zombie films, no matter how terrible.
Originally titled Last Rites, the film features zombies vs. hispanics vs. blacks vs. cops, the action unfolding in a predictable manner as its clichéd characters argue amongst themselves, the living proving to be just as deadly as the zombies. It's a missed opportunity to do something intelligent: there's none of the sociological subtext that the premise suggests. But who cares about that? Director Duane Stinnett keeps the pace fairly lively, and there are a couple of impressive gore effects (a gory arm-ripping and juicy head-smushing) to please splatter fans (although a bit more graphic violence definitely wouldn't have gone amiss: it's a bit 'dry' for much of the time). It all adds up to a passable time-waster as far as I am concerned.
All told, 48 Weeks Later is far removed in terms of quality from Danny Boyle's movie, and its sequel, but still not the complete and utter crap-fest I had been expecting given the subterfuge required to get me to purchase it.
Double Indemnity (1944)
Everything one could ask for from a noir.
A 'double indemnity' is a clause on an insurance policy that pays out double under certain circumstances. In the case of this stylish noir from director Billy Wilder, it's on the accident insurance taken out by Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) for her unaware husband, the lady cashing in big should her old man die on a train. With the help of obliging insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), Phyllis does away with her hubbie, but her plans to collect $100k go awry when claims investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) becomes involved.
I'm no expert on film noir, having merely dipped my toes into the murky world of murder, mystery, deceit, intrigue and betrayal, but Double Indemnity has surely got to be the gold standard of the genre. The screenplay, co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, is brimming with sexual tension, atmosphere, and snappy dialogue. The three central performances are superb - a classic femme fatale in the form of Stanwyck, MacMurray as the fast-talking schmo who lets a good looking dame twist him round her little finger, and Robinson as the relentless, analytical fly-in-the-ointment. Wilder directs with his usual aplomb and the black and white cinematography is excellent.
While the viewer might guess that things are going to go badly from the outset (after all, there is no such thing as the perfect murder), a large part of the enjoyment is in seeing how Phyllis and Walter act under pressure, desperately trying to find a way out as their carefully considered plans slowly crumble. The formula worked so well that it was used again for the steamy '80s neo-noir Body Heat, starring scheming seductress Kathleen Turner, but as much as I enjoy seeing Turner all hot and sweaty, Double Indemnity's coolness gives it the edge.
Howard the Duck (1986)
Ducking hell, that was fowl.
An experiment on Earth accidentally propels Howard, a talking duck, from his planet to our own, where he is cared for by pretty punkette Beverly (Lea Thompson). While Howard tries to figure out a way to return home, seeking help from janitor Phil Blumburtt (Tim Robbins), scientist Dr. Walter Jenning (Jeffrey Jones) becomes possessed by a dark overlord from a far flung region of space that intends to destroy the human race and take over the Earth.
In 1986, Marvel's Howard the Duck got the big budget movie treatment courtesy of producer George Lucas; the film tanked at the box office, partly due to the questionable appeal of a film about a talking duck, but largely because it is badly written (sooo many terrible duck-related gags), poorly acted, and scrappily directed, with weak visual effects from ILM, and a rather unsettling titular character (there's something about those eyes) played by several dwarfs in an unconvincing animatronic duck suit.
Of the cast, Tim Robbins and Jeffrey Jones slug it out for worst actor, both putting in absolutely terrible performances that defy description, making the film difficult to bear at times. Only Thompson comes out of the film with any dignity intact, despite being called upon to get sexy with the diminutive duck: she puts in a likeable turn as Beverly. As for the direction, this would be the last film to be helmed by Willard Huyck (whose previous movie, the Eddie Murphy flick Best Defense, was also a big flop). Say no more.
2/10 for the duck tits (hilarious!), Lea Thompson in her underwear, and the stop-motion animated monsters at the end. And that's being generous.
Some Like It Hot (1959)
Boop boop e doo.
While picking up a car at a Chicago garage, down-on-their-luck musicians Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon) witness a mob execution and flee the scene, hotly pursued by the tommy-gun toting killers. In order to escape town, the pair dress up as women to join an all-girl band heading for Florida. In a bid to woo the troupe's beautiful ukelele player and singer Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), womaniser Joe ditches his Josephine persona to become billionaire Shell Oil Junior, which causes all manner of problems for his pal Jerry. Meanwhile, the Chicago gangsters are in the Sunshine State for a convention, booked into the same hotel as the band. How long will it be before they recognise the two fugitives?
Voted the number one funniest movie of all time by the American Film Institute, Some Like It Hot is pure comedy gold that never puts a foot wrong, from its exciting opening car chase between cops and gangsters, to its now famous last line, "Well, nobody's perfect". While that might be true, if there was ever a comedy that was perfect, it's this one: brilliantly directed by Billy Wilder, with superb performances from its three leads (Lemmon stealing every scene he is in), great supporting turns from everyone else (Al Breneman as the frisky bellhop is a hoot), a couple of memorable musical numbers by Monroe (who is at her sexiest here), and so many quotable lines of dialogue (my faves: 'That's how I like 'em... big and sassy!', and 'They shrink when they're marinated.').
I've seen Some Like It Hot quite a few times over the years, and every time it is a delight, never failing to make me laugh. If you haven't seen it yet, what are you waiting for? A well deserved 10/10.
Sap ji sang ciu (2012)
What is this mess?
I never thought I would see the day when I'd rate a Jackie Chan film as low as this (largely because I've made a point of not watching his more recent Hollywood output). I realise that Chan is no spring chicken, but this being his third film in the Asian Hawk series (the others being Armour of God and Operation Condor), I had hoped for a slight return to the kung fu star's heyday. Instead, we get a disjointed, moronic, badly written, poorly acted piece of anti-Western Chinese-nationalist trash that disappoints at almost every turn.
The film opens with some backstory about twelve bronze animal heads, pillaged from China by nasty foreigners in the 1800s. Having established the history and cultural importance of the artefacts, the film starts proper, as Asian Hawk (Chan) embarks on a mission to retrieve the statues, with help from his team of experts. Before long, I was totally lost concerning the plot, which is all over the place; I couldn't keep up with the characters or their motivation, and was astounded by how random all the scenes seemed to be.
As expected, there are quite a few action set-pieces, but most of them are too silly and clumsily executed to prove satisfying, with the noticeable use of CGI detracting from the enjoyment. The first action scene - Jackie speeding down a mountain road with the help of a 'skate-suit' - sets the standard for most of the movie: it's ambitious and more than a little preposterous, but fails to generate the intended excitement. Similarly, a silly scene that sees Asian Hawk trapped in a maze full of snarling guard dogs also lacks that Chan magic, while the OTT action that takes place on a tropical island is unlikely to impress, with our heroes sliding down a forested slope on a wooden chest full of gold being ruined by some really bad green screen work.
Far better is Jackie's fight against several henchmen in an underground lair and a girl vs. girl battle featuring a very agile lady in gold hot-pants, neither scene relying on special effects to get the adrenaline flowing (unless you count a little wire work). Also proving rather effective is a mid-air skydiving fight scene, but this comes late in the day when I imagine most viewers' goodwill will have long since vanished, and which is followed by a quite ridiculous landing/fall down the side of a volcano that stretches plausibility way too far.
2/10, very nearly reduced to 1/10 for all of the pro-Chinese propaganda that is shoved down the viewer's throat by Chan and his pals.
Silent Running (1972)
Appreciate the flowers and trees while you still can.
The directorial debut of visual FX wizard Douglas Trumbull, Silent Running looks great (FX legend John Dykstra also cut his teeth on this film): the film benefits from nifty photographic effects, wonderfully detailed models, and an authentic look and feel that pre-dates the lived-in realism of Alien. But this ecological sci-fi isn't just about the visuals: it carries a heartfelt message that, while clearly a product of the hippy generation, still rings true today, as the human race continues to mine the Earth of its resources, destroying the planet in the process.
Bruce Dern stars as Freeman Lowell, crewman on deep space craft Valley Forge, one of several ships tasked with protecting the last of Earth's flora and fauna (the plants and wildlife on Earth having died out due to pollution and climate change). Lowell is the only person who actually cares about what happens to the ship's forests, and so when instructions are given to jettison the bio-domes and destroy them, he rebels, killing his fellow crew members and steering the Valley Forge into uncharted space. With the help of three lovable droids, nicknamed Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Lowell tends to the plants and animals, but experiences further problems that threaten the existence of his precious cargo.
Even though Lowell is a murderer, one cannot blame him for taking extreme action, the man driven to kill to protect that which is most important to him, the plants signifying beauty and imagination, which has all but been lost back on Earth. Anyone who appreciates the wonder of nature and wildlife will be rooting for the man as he desperately tries to save the last vestiges of the natural world against all odds. As he does so, he strikes up a touching relationship with his mechanical helpers, his only company in the darkness of space, and when the droids become lost or damaged, it is truly heart-breaking. The finale, in which Lowell must make the ultimate sacrifice in order to guarantee that life continues (with droid Dewey as gardener), is poignant, lump-in-the-throat stuff indeed.
8/10. Even Joan Baez's hippy folk songs work.
Se7en was funnier.
Written by and starring a veritable who's who of '70s British comedy, one might reasonably expect The Magnificent Seven Deadly Sins to be a laugh riot from start to finish; nothing could be further from the truth. Of the seven skits on offer, five are embarrassingly unfunny and one is downright depressing. Only an absurd black-and-white spoof of silent movies succeeds in tickling the ribs, with plenty of walnut-based humour.
Being a product of the '70s, the film is unashamedly un-PC, with dolly birds in hot-pants aplenty, innuendo, and even a moment involving blackface (which is funny for all the wrong reasons). Things kick off with a tasty blonde bit of crumpet stripping off for the camera, supposedly because the girl is a friend of the director (who is presented as a horribly dated cartoon character courtesy of animator Bob Godfrey, best known for cartoon dog and cat, Roobarb and Custard). The animated film-maker then introduces the first of the seven stories...
Avarice stars TV gameshow legend Bruce Forsyth as chauffeur for a greedy businessman who demands that his driver retrieve a 50p coin that has fallen down a drain. Much of the humour is derived from Forsyth falling over in the sewer, which gives some idea of the level of sophistication at play. Didn't he do well? Well, no, actually.
The second story is even worse. Envy sees Harry Secombe as a henpecked husband ordered by his wife to buy her dream home (owned by Geoffrey Bayldon and June Whitfield), whatever it takes. The 'hilarity' includes Secombe having not one, but two, buckets of water thrown over him - it's that clever!
Up next is Gluttony, written by Barry Cryer and Graham Chapman, and starring Leslie 'Ding dong!' Phlllips as an advertising executive promoting a slimming biscuit, but who cannot help but tuck into junk food whenever he can. This is tedious stuff, only worth watching for sexy Julie Ege as vice president of the biscuit company, who, for some strange reason, has the hots for Phillips.
Number four is Lust: Harry H. Corbett plays a 38-year-old single man desperate to pull himself a bird. Rather than go to a club or pub, he hangs around a tube station and eyes up the talent, eventually settling for a girl who has been stood up by her date. While she is in a phone booth, wondering what to do, Harry pops into the next booth and rings her, chatting her up and asking if she would like to meet up. What happens next is not only not funny, but actually rather heart-rending. Corbett puts in a solid performance, but a side-splitter this is not.
Pride features Ian Carmichael and Alfie Bass as two stubborn drivers who meet halfway down a narrow country lane. With neither man willing to back up, the scene is set for laughs galore, but none arrive. What do arrive are an AA man and an RAC man, who add to the confusion, until a bobby turns up to settle the argument. Written by Galton and Simpson (Hancock's Half Hour, Steptoe and Son), but with little of their magic in evidence.
The sixth chapter is the best. A silent movie (complete with caption cards) written by and starring Spike Milligan, Sloth is sublime lunacy, featuring a cast of characters who will do anything to save themselves from effort, from a man who would rather wait for a tree to fall than walk around it, to Ronnie Barker sat down at a bus queue, asking the woman in front to help him open his walnut. This is nutty nonsense in more ways than one, and extremely funny.
It's a return to dreadful form for the final story, Wrath. Two old men on a park bench decide that they've had enough of the grouchy park keeper (played by Stephen Lewis, Blakey from On The Buses) and plot to kill him. Like a live-action Roadrunner/Wile. E. Coyote cartoon, none of their schemes go as planned, the pair eventually blowing themselves up in a public convenience (along with the park keeper, who continues to torment them in hell). It's a chuckle-free way to end what is a mostly disappointing movie, especially considering the talent involved.