Thursday, 26 April 2018

Dead By Dawn 2018: Dave Made A Maze (2017)

Dave Made A Maze is exactly what it says it is. It's a film that revolves around Dave (Nick Thune) having made a maze. He has made his maze out of cardboard. A lot of cardboard. And is now lost somewhere in the middle of it. Well, that is what he tells his disbelieving girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), who then calls in his friend, Gordon (Adam Busch), who calls in a motley selection of people. Despite protests from Dave, everyone heads inside the maze, and they find themselves in an elaborate cardboard world that includes booby traps, living cardboard creatures, and a certain maze-dwelling mythological character.

What this film lacks in budget and star power, although there is at least one familiar face in the cast, it more than makes up for with creativity, wonderful production design and plenty of wit. Director Bill Watterson, who co-wrote the screenplay with story originator Steven Sears, shows no signs of insecurity or indecision in his debut feature. Instead, he effortlessly draws viewers into the surreal world created onscreen and blends common movie moments with a delightfully childish selection of interpretations.

And it's not just the consistently inventive visual style that entertains. The script is full of wonderful gags that range from the sublime to the ridiculous, whether it's people finding themselves suddenly trying to discuss their problems in rhyming couplets or a running gag with people delivering a particular line from Raging Bull.

The cast also help to sell the silliness and make you care about something that could have easily been risible and too daffy to bother with. Thune and Kumbhani have the two hardest roles, because Dave has brought this upon himself and Annie could easily either come across as too weak for not standing up to him. Their performances are, however, helped by a script that places them where they need to be without dragging them to any annoying extremes, and it's easy to sense that the couple have problems, but also that they really do love one another and want to move forward when they next get the chance. Busch has an easier role, and he's arguably the highlight of the film with his mix of admiration for the maze and concern for his friend. James Urbaniak, Frank Caeti, and Scott Narver are also very entertaining as the small (amateur) film crew documenting the journey into the maze, and both Stephanie Allynne and Kirsten Vangsness at least get a couple of great moments.

Although horror fans will appreciate the absurd and elaborate moments that lead to enjoyably ungory deaths, Dave Made A Maze is definitely not one that should be sold as a horror film. It's a fantastical adventure with some time set aside for relationship counselling. And lots and lots of cardboard.

7/10

You can buy the film here, although I don't know about the shipping options.




Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Dead By Dawn 2018: The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue (1974)

AKA Let Sleeping Corpses Lie.

A favourite among many zombie movie fans, The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue is as bizarre a blend of rotting cadavers, dubbing, and odd Britishness as you should probably expect from the title.

I should also say right now that it's not really as good as I remember, and it's hard to understand quite why it has maintained such an enduring reputation over the years. There are many good moments throughout, undeniabley, but the pacing is slower than a snail's pace, and the main characters are nearly impossible to like and root for.

Ray Lovelock is George Meaning, a young man (or damn hippy, depending on your viewpoint) heading out for a trip on his motorbike. Cristina Galbo is Edna Simmonds, a young woman who reverses into George's motorbike. That puts the two of them together for the rest of the movie, as they travel through the British countryside and discover a number of lively corpses that end up killing people. The police (led by an Inspector, played by Arthur Kennedy) obviously don't believe the truth. Because who would?

Directed by Jorge Grau, and written by Sandro Continenza and Marcello Coscia, this is a film that places atmosphere and one or two set-pieces above everything else. Which is fine, especially when you get to the set-pieces, and especially when you have the scenes that have the atmosphere laid on as thick as it can be (soil-covered, shambling zombies look great, tension is created, and there's also some good sound design to help). It's just not so fine for the other 50-odd minutes of the runtime.

It's hard to rate the performances of Lovelock, Galbo, and Kennedy, although the latter gets to spit out some wonderfully derisory soundbites, because the script is so bad in sketching out their characters. Lovelock comes across as a bit of a douchebag, at best, while Galbo is just too simpering and passive throughout. Kennedy is a horrible authority figure, but he's at least consistently amusing with it (not necessarily intentionally).

I can't say that this is a BAD film. The explanation for the reanimation of the corpses is a pretty good one, the plotting is silly but also a bit more focused than many other zombie movies, the undead all look . . . very peaky, and the punchline is a bit of a corker. It's just a shame that the script and performances drag things down quite a bit, although many other horror fans seem to be able to overlook those things while they bask in its redeeming qualities.

6/10

This zombie film can be bought here.


Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Dead By Dawn 2018: Dellamorte Dellamore (1994)

From my Flickfeast.co.uk review. Which may already be familiar to some.

AKA Cemetary Man.

Dellamorte Dellamore is a zombie movie, but it’s one unlike any other I can think of. It is, in fact, a perfect zombie movie to show someone who thinks that all zombie movies are basically the same shambling gorefest, from one film to the next.

Based on the novel by Tiziano Sclavi, director Michele Soavi crafts a masterpiece of existentialist horror, helped by writer Gianni Romoli and a pitch-perfect lead performance from Rupert Everett. The fact that the lovely Anna Falchi is also here, bewitching the male gaze with her consumate loveliness, is also a big plus.

Everett plays Francesco Dellamorte, aka the cemetery man. He looks after the dead. More importantly, he takes care of the dead when they rise up again, on the seventh night after their death. His existence is a lonely one, with most of his time spent in the cemetery in the company of his assistant, Gnaghi (François Hadji-Lazaro). Gnaghi can’t really speak more than one word, and his placid, childlike nature makes him an ideal person to help Francesco and share in the secret duty carried out in the cemetery. Things start to become complicated when Francesco falls in love with a beautiful woman (Falchi), leading to events that will have him questioning his life and his role as a dealer of death.

Sarcastic, exhausted, unhinged, and desperate are the words that I would use to describe Francesco, and all of these traits are expressed perfectly in the performance from Everett (one I would be tempted to call a career-best). Hadji-Lazaro does well in his supporting role, especially in the moments that hint at his character not being half as dumb as he appears to be, and Falchi is so gorgeous that it doesn’t matter when she’s given the most bizarre character developments.

As good as they all are, however, the cast are really just pawns moved in place by Romoli and Soavi. The director provides a succession of gorgeous imagery, with the main cemetery design an absolute triumph, and the design of every shot is atypically artistic for this sort of fare. The dialogue isn’t always as smooth as it could be, but that’s not a problem when you start to get your head around the ideas being toyed with. Francesco can’t decide what is worse, the dead coming to life or the living who are just dying over time anyway, and he starts to create a moral quagmire for himself when he stops seeing much difference between the two. But don’t worry, all of this thoughtful existentialism comes without any loss to the actual zombie action and bloodshed.

I hope this review is enough of a push for anyone who has yet to see the movie, and I didn’t even mention the relationship that involves one main character and a decapitated head, the zombie biker sequence that echoes Psychomania, or the ending that is as brilliant as it is bizarre.

9/10

You can buy it here.


Monday, 23 April 2018

Dead By Dawn 2018: An American Werewolf In London (1981)

Reposted from my Flickfeast.co.uk review.

Two young Americans, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), are trudging across the moors of Northern England when they are attacked by a large, deadly creature. Jack is killed instantly and David survives, only to be informed (by Jack, who is now cursed to wander the Earth as a member of the undead) that he will sprout fur and fangs at the time of the next full moon, hence the title. Despite this worry, David still manages to impress the beautiful nurse looking after him (Jenny Agutter) and gets his wicked way with our very own English Rose in a scene that fuelled many the fantasy of a young lad in the mid-80s. But will his happiness last? Is he going mad? Or will he, indeed, start howling at the next full moon?

If you haven’t seen this perfectly crafted horror-comedy (though director John Landis prefers to call it a horror movie that lets you laugh)  then stop reading this review and do so immediately. Now! It is a favourite for many, many people (certainly one of mine) and remains one of the best blending of those two genres ever made. I also think that this movie, alongside Scanners, helped to expand the newly introduced home entertainment market (thanks to the major rewind moments – Scanners had that exploding head scene and this movie has not only a naked Jenny Agutter but also THE finest werewolf transformation ever committed to film, for which I am eternally in awe of the magnificent Rick Baker . . . and we shouldn’t forget his sterling work in making Jack a very real, very decomposing member of the undead). Just watch it. Seriously. Now.

For those of you who have seen it or have just watched it for the first time, how many highlights can you think of right now? It’s a long and impressive list and, in a random stream of consciousness, I would have to plump for the following: the soundtrack filled with songs that have “moon” in the title, the adult movie titled “See You Next Wednesday” (a Landis trademark in-joke for some time), a young Rik Mayall on screen for seconds, “The Slaughtered Lamb”, the amusing comic relief from the staid policemen, Frank Oz in both muppet and non-muppet form, David Naughton checking his teeth in the mirror and THAT transformation sequence. Throw in an amazing finale set in Piccadilly Circus, genuinely good acting from all three of thhe main leads, a witty script full of love for the lycanthrope myths and great direction PLUS a hell of a lot more and you have the greatest werewolf movie ever made, for my money anyway.

10/10

Buy the disc here.
Americanos can get it here.

The one, the only . . . ME. With that there John Landis.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Dead By Dawn 2018: Spookers (2017)

On the surface, Spookers is a documentary that looks at a New Zealand scare park now situated in an abandoned psychiatric facility. Viewers get to meet the owners, the many staff, and also see some of the paying customers who often react strongly to the terror being unleashed upon them (I think you can guess what reaction leads to someone being asked to clear up a "code brown" over a radio). And that in itself is fun.

I couldn't tell you the names of the main people speaking here, even the owners, but I can tell you that there's a great mix of winning personalities. The people delivering the scares are some of the loveliest people you can imagine, despite often being hidden under impressively terrifying make-up.

On another level, however, Spookers looks at the catharsis that scares provide. By throwing you in with the guests, it reminds you of how much fun you can have being terrorised and terrified in a safe environment. And it shows you how that also works for the people delivering the scares, as they focus on their characters and performances alongside colleagues that have become almost like family members.

And, on yet another level, Spookers looks at the balance between using horror tropes in performance art and being respectful to the memories of those who may be affected by certain ongoing social stigmas. It's one thing to laugh off the idea of clowns complaining about more and more people being scared of them in recent years (as was reported in some news articles) but not so easy to dismiss the conerns of those who view portrayals of deadly psychiatric institution residents as disrespectful to those who used to reside in the very building in which the scares are taking place. Some people are speaking from personal experience, either as a staff member or former resident, and the documentary does well in letting them have their say without making them out to be grouchy party poopers.

Ultimately more intriguing than I expected it to be, Spookers prompts viewers to ask themselves one or two questions that it never sets out to answer, probably because there are no answers. What scares people can vary wildly from individual to individual, as is the case with what (if anything) offends them. Although it gives you a bit more to think about, this doesn't quite match up to the enjoyable The American Scream documentary from a few years ago, but it's much more enjoyable and entertaining than the risible attempt to turn this kind of thing into a proper horror movie that gave us The Houses Of Halloween AKA The Houses October Built.

6/10

Spookers is available to buy just now in New Zealand, UK film fans can currently see it on Shudder.
And here is the Dead By Dawn website/schedule.


Saturday, 21 April 2018

Dead By Dawn 2018: Bride Of Frankenstein (1935)

Some people put Bride Of Frankenstein above the original film. I am not one of those people. It loses a point for one important element - the performance from Una O'Connor. Never mind that now though, we'll come back to it later.

Most of the main players come back for this sequel, a story given a prologue in which Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester, who also plays the famous bride) tells her guests that there is more to the tale of Frankenstein than just her original story. She then proceeds to pick up from the end of the first film. Frankenstein has survived, his creature has also survived, and we get Doctor Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger) added to the mix, an unscrupulous man who hopes to use Frankenstein's work to better his own.

William Hurlbut is the main credited writer this time around, although there are numerous other names who had a hand in crafting the screenplay, and James Whale is back in the director's chair, and it's clear that this is a film even more concerned with showing that the perceived monster isn't really the monster. In fact, he behaves better than almost all of the human characters that we see onscreen.

Thesiger is a lot of fun in his role, callous and calculating even as he seems to delude himself into thinking that he has good intentions, and both Clive and Karloff remain fantastic as the main creator and creation. Dwight Frye also returns, playing a different character not a million miles away from the one he played in the previous entry. Valerie Hobson takes over the role of Elizabeth, doing just fine in the role, and O. P. Heggie makes the most of his role, a blind hermit who befriends the monster and offers him some hospitality (a sequence among many brilliantly parodied in Young Frankenstein). Then we have Una O'Connor, mentioned in the first paragraph. I don't blame her for her performance, it was obviously asked of her, but I do find her to be one of the most irritating characters I have had to tolerate in any of the classic Universal horrors. Shrill and twitchy, I am constantly bemused when I hear from other viewers who enjoy her comic relief.

That performance from O'Connor IS enough for me to drop a point from my rating, but it's not enough for me to dissuade anyone from viewing, and loving, this horror classic. It's arguably the best of the sequels to the iconic horrors of this age and it often feels natural to stick it on for a watch as soon as the first film has finished.

9/10

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.