Monday, 30 September 2013

Casshern (2004)

I REALLY dislike Casshern. It may have its fans, but so does trepanning, and I REALLY dislike that, too. In fact, I mention trepanning because that's what Casshern is like. It's a drill into my skull, one that then keeps going and going until I can feel tremors throughout every bone I have while my senses twitch and spasm towards death. I dislike it.

But DAMN does it look nice at times.

Directed by Kazuaki Kiriya, who also helped to co-write the script with Dai Sato and Shotaro Suga (based on a 1973 anime), Casshern is a grand mix of Shakespearean themes, Frankenstein, war and peace and young men who also have super-powers. Akira Terao plays a doctor who announces that he is close to using certain harvested cells to be able to regenerate human body parts. With a war raging, this discovery could prove invaluable, but the doctor is dismissed by all except a private party. Thanks to his generous benefactor, the doctor continues with his work and then one day, the same day that the corpse of the doc's son is brought back from the war, a big lightning bolt strikes the lab and the cells and limbs that were being experimented on and created come together to create a race of superbeings. Soldiers attempt to kill all of the creatures, but some escape. Meanwhile, the doc grabs the corpse of his son (Tetsuya, played by Yusuke Iseya) and brings him back to life in the lab. And then the war moves up a level.

I can't really fault the acting from everyone involved here, but that's because this movie isn't overly concerned with acting. Terao, Tetsuya, Kumiko Aso and Kanako Higuchi are the best of the bunch. It may seem unfair to not spend more time discussing their work, considering the themes that the movie explores, but this is a film that's more than happy to jump from one fine visual moment to the next at the expense of any actual acting. Why show a smile from a character thinking optimistically when you can show a sky filling up with golden sunlight over land ravaged by war? That's the approach of the movie.

There are one or two effective moments throughout the movie - the rise of the main characters is almost quietly horrific and there are a couple of great fights - but nothing really makes up for the many moments of tedium. It's a paradox that those lovely visuals are also so overloaded with style, and enough flares to keep J. J. Abrams happy, that they become tiresome within the first 10-15 minutes.

The script is overloaded with attempts to muse on the nature of man, the meaning of life and the effects of war, which would be all well and good if it managed to strike a good balance. It doesn't. Kazuaka Kiriya seems to spend most of the movie being very pleased with himself. Every line feels like it's trying to be important, every scene takes twice the time required. This movie runs for approximately 142 minutes, fer chrissakes, in the most complete version. The fact that there's not enough in the mix to barely fill a film of half the length means that it overstays its welcome very quickly.

If you disliked Sucker Punch, if you hated Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow, or if you just prefer to spend your time with good movies worthy of the time you invest in them then I advise you to give this one a wide berth.


Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Terror Of The Tongs (1961)

While there are ridiculous elements in this Hammer movie, it gets beyond an unsteady start to become a surprisingly solid revenge flick. This is Death Wish before people had heard of Death Wish.

Geoffrey Toone is the hero of the piece, Captain Sale, a man launched on a mission by the murder of his beloved daughter. This murder was arranged by the dastardly Tong crime family (led by Christopher Lee). They are, basically, an early 20th century, Hong Kong version of the yakuza and will do anything to protect their identities. Sale starts to upset the Tongs, picking fights with people he suspects will lead him up the chain of command and stubbornly refusing to die, and the stage is set for a confrontation that Sale is unlikely to walk away from.

Directed by Anthony Bushell and written by Jimmy Sangster, this is a colourful and exotic movie, with visuals, tension and thrills taking precedence over things like plausibility and historical accuracy. It doesn't even show that much of Hong Kong, so I don't want people mistakenly thinking they could watch it as some travelogue time capsule. Oh no, all that's shown is all that needs to be shown. Just a few sets and no major exterior shots (well, none that come to mind anyway).

Toone is good enough in the main role, he's believably strong and brave, while Lee does fine in the role of the main villain. It has to be said, however, that this is one of those movies from a past era, with the majority of the Chinese characters being portrayed, unfortunately, by the British actors that Hammer could enlist to work for them. The main female character, a woman named Lee, is actually played by the gorgeous Yvonne Monlaur, a French actress (see picture below). Roger Delgado, Charles Lloyd Pack, Ewen Solon and many others populate the Hong Kong shown onscreen, while the ubiquitous Burt Kwouk lends his authentic ethnicity to a minor role.

This may not be one of the best from Hammer, but it's still decent entertainment if you're in the right mood for it.


Saturday, 28 September 2013

Girls Against Boys (2012)

Unfortunately falling between two stools that may well leave both hardened horror fans wanting something stronger and unwary teens wondering just what the hell they're watching, Girls Against Boys is grim stuff given a glossy coating.

Danielle Panabaker plays Shae, a young girl having a bit of a rough weekend. Instead of completely separating from his wife and moving forward with their relationship, her married lover (Andrew Howard) has decided that he needs to make a go of his marriage. Shae ends up working her bar shift, getting more and more annoyed with everyone around her and then being befriended by Lulu (Nicole LaLiberte). Lulu and Shae head out, get very drunk, meet some lads and get more drunk, flirt and then head home. Well, that's the plan. It's not long until some bad things happen and Lulu is leading Shae on a quest for revenge. Lulu seems to have an agenda, but that suits Shae just fine while her judgment is clouded by pain and anger.

From the title itself to the early scenes of the movie, this feels very much like it's going to be a standard teen drama. Okay, there's actually some darkness shown in the very first moments as Lulu starts to send a restrained male into a minor panic, but that's put on the back burner as viewers are introduced to Shae and accompany her through some all-too-familiar moments. Let's face it, the movie could turn into Dirty Dancing at any time during the first 15 minutes or so. And with a title like Girls And Boys you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be about a battle of the sexes in which the girls prove just how much better they are than the men in their lives.

Funnily enough, the film IS about that. But it also takes a serious tangent to move into a decent revenge flick, before then using the third act to wrap things up with an entertainingly twisted bit of "psycho teen" activity. Writer-director Austin Chick keeps everything moving just fine, but he's held back slightly by the demographic that the movie is being aimed at. The core elements of the movie are harsh and nasty, but putting those in place in a movie for teens ensures that nothing onscreen ever pushes things TOO far.

Danielle Panabaker isn't an actress I've ever been a big fan of, but she's better here than she has been in a number of other movies, believably passive for a lot of the earlier scenes before developing a bit of backbone as things move towards the finale. Nicole LaLiberte is the better presence, however, as she manipulates the events around her to make her behaviour morally defensible, in her own mind. Andrew Howard, Michael Stahl-David and Matthew Rauch are testicle-owning bastards, and act accordingly, while Carmine DiBenedetto and Will Brill are slightly nicer young men, and Liam Aiken is the nicest of the lot.

Girls Against Boys won't make much of an impression on anyone looking for the next The Last House On The Left or I Spit On Your Grave, but it does well for being a "light" (or is that "lite"?) version of those kinds of movies.


Friday, 27 September 2013

Alligator X AKA Xtinction: Predator X (2010)

Alligator X is a creature feature that suffers from an uninteresting cast, an unexciting plot and, worst of all, a poor central creature. It's yet another in a long line of inferior SyFy Channel (note: I'm not sure if they commissioned it or just distributed it in some territories), which should tell you all you need to know right there.

Mark Sheppard plays Dr. Charles LeBlanc, a man who may very well be meddling with mother nature, and we all know how badly that tends to end. He arrives back in town, or the swampland that has some houses in the immediate vicinity, to upset his ex, Laura Le Crois (played by Elena Lyons), and be firmly in the frame when a large predator starts munching on some locals. The latter is just an unfortunate coincidence. Or is it?

The flat direction by Amir Valinia isn't all that surprising. This is, after all, standard, low-budget, creature feature stuff and does the bare minimum required for such a film. What is surprising is that the script by Cameron Larson was the result of a story that four people collaborated on. Four people? To come up with this nonsense?

The special effects are poor, although I've seen a LOT worse in this kind of movie (faint praise though that may be), and the main story strand is a weak excuse to avoid more actual time with the creature onscreen, but that doesn't make it  less deserving of your time than the 1001 other z-grade creature features vying for your time.

As for the cast, Sheppard is good fun as the cocky doctor, Lyons is spirited and enjoyable enough as the woman who has fought hard to keep her life together, Lochlyn Munro is a familiar face I never mind seeing and does fine with his role as a local Sheriff, Ricky Wayne and Scott L. Schwartz liven things up whenever their incompetence is onscreen, and everyone else does what's required.

This isn't rocket science. It's a film about a giant predator in a swamp. If you like that sort of thing then check out the surprisingly good Frankenfish. If you've nothing else to hand then check out this one. If you feel that you must.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Children Of The Corn V: Fields Of Terror (1998)

There's surely an easy answer, but I can't think of a horror movie franchise that overstayed its welcome as quickly as the Children Of The Corn franchise. The second movie may have been the worst of the lot, so far, but no instalment beyond the first movie seems to be able to claw its way up to the level of average. They stink. Children Of The Corn V: Fields Of Terror does nothing to make me think that there's light at the end of this particular tunnel.

The story goes like this: a bunch of teenagers find themselves in a small town named Divinity Falls. They upset some evil children who live in the area and are given a week to leave. Unfortunately, their car is put out of action so leaving becomes a bit of a problem. There's a man (David Carradine) in the area who leads the children, acting as the physical embodiment of He Who Walks Behind The Rows, and one of the teenagers suddenly realises that her brother should number among his young followers. She sets out to meet, and perhaps save, him and then things start to get more dangerous.

Written and directed by Ethan Wiley, this particular instalment of "The Fields Have Ears" is notable for the inclusion of David Carradine, Fred Williamson and a rather naive Eva Mendes (who somehow managed to get her career on track after appearing in nonsense like this and Urban Legends: Final Cut). They may not have the MAIN roles - Stacy Galina is the main gal and her brother, Jacob, is played by Dave Buzzotta - but they get a decent amount of screentime. Kane Hodder gets one enjoyable scene, and Alexis Arquette is the other recognisable face to be dragged through the rows.

The acting isn't so bad that it causes an eye-watering stench, but it's impossible for anyone onscreen to improve the stodgy material they have to work with. The script is stupid and unimaginative, and the direction does nothing to cover up its weaknesses. But if, like me, you've endured the previous movies to get to this one then you already know what to expect.

The REALLY good news? If you've made it this far then there are only a few movies left to endure before you can be well and truly done with the franchise.


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Alice In Murderland (2010)

Alice In Murderland is a pretty terrible film. It contains everything that makes me despair about both slasher movies and also the rise of low-budget film-making. Because we live in a great time for people who want to make movies. Anyone can make a movie. Seriously, anyone. Not only is the price of decent equipment getting lower and lower, but it's actually possible to make an entire movie on your phone if you know what you're doing (oh yes, it's been done). But, remember, in the words of Dr. Ian Malcolm, sometimes people have often been "so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Writer-director Dennis Devine is one of those people who shouldn't really have been allowed to waste his limited resources in creating a film like this. It's crude (in an audio and visual sense), it's often quite dull and it doesn't even deliver the requisite gratuitous gore and/or nudity, an implicit promise that a movie of this ilk should at least deliver good on.

Malerie Grady plays Alice, a young woman who is thrown a themed birthday party by her friends. The theme is Alice In Wonderland, and the location of the party is the same house in which Alice's mother died many years ago. Because nothing says birthday bash like the memories of a murdered mother. To the surprise of nobody viewing the film, people start to get murder-death-killed and the rest of the party-goers remain blissfully unaware of the situation for an unbelievably long time.

As surprising as it may seem, Alice In Murderland isn't without some minor plus points. Despite my negativity in the above paragraphs, I have to admit that it tries to get the pacing right (although it doesn't quite manage it) and it has some humour throughout. Lame humour that will make most people groan, but humour nonetheless.

Malerie Grady, Marlene Mc'Cohen, Kelly Kula, Katie Locke O'Brien, Heath Butler, Jennifer Field, Kim Argetsinger and all of the other ladies onscreen are very pretty, albeit far from the best actresses to appear in such slasher fare. Christopher Senger is the main male presence, he's also not that great in the acting department but he gives off a Tobias Funke vibe for most of the movie, which makes him more entertaining to watch than he otherwise would be.

The gore effects are another source of amusement - at one point I am pretty sure I just watched a woman lie on the floor with some pasta 'n' sauce slapped over part of her face - and nothing ever happens to make you forget that you're watching a production that probably struggled to provide catering for the cast and crew.

Alice In Murderland is horrible, but it manages to entertain here and there for all the wrong reasons. Which saves it from being among the worst of the many movies I have watched in my square-eyed life.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Breeders (1997)

A meteorite lands beside a college that is pretending to be in the USA and an alien starts running around, causing lots of damage. The meteorite also brought a woman (Kadamba Simmons), who then starts to run around and act all mysterious. Is the woman helping the alien or is she in trouble? Meanwhile, Samantha Womack (nee Janus) starts to get a bit jiggy with her tutor, Ashley (Todd Jensen), while the bodycount starts to rise and the other female students are put in mortal danger.

It's not all that uncommon for movies made in the UK to pass themselves off as movies set in the USA, or elsewhere. We have a variety of great locations that director are more than happy to pass off as any location they can. It is, however, slightly less common to have UK movies full of UK actors all trying to pass themselves off as standard Americans. The results range from the endearing (Slaughter High) to the annoying (Red Mist) to the laughably awful (this movie).

Paul Matthews is the man who wrote and directed the film, and I can only imagine how much fun it is to be inside his mind. The plot is ridiculous, the characterisations are awful, the special effects are ropey (but enjoyably so) and the acting is woeful from everyone involved.

Does anyone manage to come out of this with dignity intact? No. Samantha Womack is at least pretty, and happy to take part in scenes that get her shirt wet, but everyone else is either shockingly bad or shockingly dull. Simmons, Jensen and Oliver Tobias fall into the former category, while Melanie Walters and Clifton Lloyd Bryan fall into the latter category. The fact that Clifton Lloyd Bryan plays the space alien, the actor himself is unrecognisable under the rubber suit/practical effects that make up the character, means that he shouldn't be dull, but he still manages it. Yes, this is an alien movie in which even the alien is completely uninteresting.

I admit that if I'd been watching this under different circumstances I could have found it more entertaining. There's plenty here to laugh at so go ahead and bump up the rating if you're after something to amuse you while you accompany any viewing choice with beer and junk food. I'll continue to warn others away from it though.


Monday, 23 September 2013

The Devil Rides Out (1968)

Hammer provides an entertaining, and actually quite brilliant, adaptation of Dennis Wheatley's work and although I have not read any of Wheatley's work, sadly, I am familiar with his themes and tone and cannot imagine that this movie lets down fans of the literary great either.

Christopher Lee and Leon Greene play Duc de Richleau and Rex Van Ryn, respectively, two gentlemen trying to help their friend (played by Patrick Mower) move away from the tight clutches of a local Satanic cult. Easier said than done and problems come in the shape of Tanith Carlisle (played by Nike Arrighi), an alluring female also caught up in the web of the dark arts, and confrontations with the cult's charismatic and powerful leader, Mocata (wonderfully portrayed by Charles Gray). People close to the daring duo are placed in peril and things go from bad to worse before the finale . . . . . but will it be good or evil triumphing as the sun rises?

The cast here all do a fantastic job. As well as those mentioned, with Lee and Gray being particular standouts, there's some solid support in the latter half of the movie from Paul Eddington and Sarah Lawson.

Terence Fisher directs (from a tight screenplay by Richard Matheson) with an assured hand, throwing us directly into the action and letting us find out a little more with each scene as things move from slightly puzzling to mysterious to dangerous to deadly. Though I do not know enough about the rituals and accoutrements portrayed in the movie it all has a sense of authenticity about it, strange considering how far-fetched the movie actually is in its depiction of a struggle between good and evil.

Considering its age, it holds up very well to this day. There are two major "materialisation" scenes that still hold the power to unnerve; in fact, the very first one actually made me want to look away from the screen as I was getting a bit freaked out by the imagery. There are lots of details in the effects and acting that you could poke fun at if you wanted to (one scene featuring an over-sized spider is about as bad as anything in Empire Of The Ants) but if you forgive the "ravages of time" then you will be letting yourself in for a cracking British horror movie aimed distinctly at adults.


Sunday, 22 September 2013

We Are The Night (2010)

Lena (Karoline Herfurth) is a petty criminal who finds herself chased by a determined young policeman (Tom, played by Max Riemelt) after accidentally ripping off a major scumbag. After she just manages to evade capture, Lena ends up at a nightclub where she is approached and bitten by Louise (Nina Hoss). It's not long until Lena accepts her new life and is living it up with Louise, Charlotte (Jennifer Ulrich) and Nora (Anna Fischer) as the group race fast cars, pay people to let them shop in expensive department stores late at night, dance among people they can choose to snack on and generally have a great time. Meanwhile, Tom finds Lena and wants to let her know that she's not going to be in any trouble. In fact, he's hoping that they can see each other. But relationships can be as harmful to vampires as sunlight. Lena may be tempted, but Louise is always watching.

There you have it. The cold queen vamp - Louise. The spirited newcomer to the fold who doesn't want to kill - Lena. The depressed one - Charlotte. The hyperactive, fun one - Nora. Each and every one is a particular type of vampire that we've seen many times before. There's nothing original to We Are The Night. So why should you watch it?

Well, it's all done very well. And it's all given just enough energy and style to make you forgive the fact that you've already seen it done a hundred times before. Director Dennis Gansel, who co-wrote the screenplay with Jan Berger, happily picks great moments from vampire movies of the past century and mixes them into a plot that teases the possibility of a more interesting narrative strand, one that details why male vampires aren't around. Sadly, that strand is left hanging but that leaves time and space for even more fun.

The performances are all perfectly fine, with the leads all being enjoyable enough in their varied roles (I can't single anyone out for praise as I liked them all equally), and the film mixes lots of effective, cheap tricks in amongst some fairly solid, considering the budget, special effects to provide more spectacle and bang for your buck than you'd expect from such fare.

The fact that one sequence, in particular, borrows so heavily from Near Dark doesn't make that sequence any less enjoyable. It simply highlights, perhaps, what allows We Are The Night to work so well. If you're going to steal then steal from the best. My good friend, Christianne Benedict, reminds viewers (in her review right here) that this doesn't re-invent the wheel. That's absolutely true. But it does steal some damn nice alloys and take them for a spin.


Saturday, 21 September 2013

Cheaper By The Dozen 2 (2005)

Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt return as Tom and Kate Baker, parents of twelve children (hence the title), in this sequel to the bland and harmless Cheaper By The Dozen. While the first movie was about the parents trying to fit in a career before realising that perhaps their children still needed them available at home for a few years yet, this sequel shows an attempt to keep the family together and enthusiastic for a holiday that might be their last one together. The older kids are about to set off further afield while the younger kids aren't going to want to join in with the family activites forever. However, when the Bakers get to their vacation spot, Tom finds that Jimmy Murtaugh (Eugene Levy) has bought most of the area and is living nearby. Jimmy is very competitive, and that brings out the worst in Tom.

Adam Shankman takes over from Shawn Levy for this lacklustre affair, reteaming with both Martin and Levy after having worked with them on Bringing Down The House (2003). If you have to choose between this movie and that movie, go with that movie. If you're forced to watch this movie then you won't suffer through anything truly terrible, but there are so many better ways to spend your time.

The script by Sam Harper is pretty horrible. There are one or two okay scenes, but I can't think of any individual lines of dialogue that made me so much as smirk. Think of the lessons that were learned in the first movie and the way in which the family was shown to be imperfect, but able to stick together when things got tough, and then rehash those ideas in an even less amusing way and you have Harper's script.

Martin and Hunt are both just fine as the parents, while Piper Perabo, Tom Welling and Hilary Duff are still bearable as the older members of the Baker brood. Jonathan Bennett is enjoyable enough as Perabo's partner, and Alyson Stoner gets the best moments as Sarah, the young mischief-maker who finally takes notice of a boy and starts to think about using makeup. As for the other main featured family, Eugene Levy is okay in his unsympathetic role, Carmen Electra is always a welcome addition to any movie I watch (hey, if I have to sit through films like this then allow me to enjoy any silver lining I can), Jaime King is  and a very young Taylor Lautner goes about being a very young Taylor Lautner.

If you enjoyed Cheaper By The Dozen then this is just about watchable. It's not good, but I've seen much worse. No, I don't know why they didn't call me for that poster quote either: "Not good, but I've seen much worse - Kevin Matthews"


Friday, 20 September 2013

The Faculty (1998)

Robert Rodriguez hasn't made many bad movies. I won't be silly enough to say that he hasn't made ANY bad movies, despite the fact that I have somehow avoided the ones that people consider real stinkers (*cough* The Adventures Of Sharkboy And Lavagirl *cough*), but he's got a pretty good hit rate, in my opinion. Thankfully, The Faculty is one of his many good movies.

It's a teen sci-fi horror written by Kevin Williamson AKA Kevin "Scream" Williamson that also happens to feature one of the best casts assembled for such material. And Usher.

Herrington High is a typical American school, but things are changing. When Casey Connor (Elijah Wood ) isn't being picked up by bullies, and having his legs splayed to allow them to smash his crotch into the flagpole, he's observing life around him. Some things are strange, like star football player Stan (Shawn Hatosy) deciding that he wants to concentrate on academic pursuits as opposed to sports, some things are just nice to observe, like Delilah Profitt (Jordana Brewster), and some things are strange lifeforms found on the school grounds that could indicate a potential takeover by alien life forms. Yeah, that last thing leads to Casey teaming up with Stan, Delilah and some other students as they realise that their school may be ground zero for an alien invasion. High school may not seem to be a standard battlefield for an alien invasion, but as Casey says: "If you were going to take over the world, would you blow up the White House 'Independence Day' style, or sneak in through the back door?"

What I like to do sometimes, as people may have noticed, is reel off a cast list when I think that it speaks for itself. Read the following list and try to argue that it's not one of the best blends of old hands and new talent thrown together for a sci-fi horror movie. I've already mentioned Wood, Hatosy and Brewster, but there's also Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Josh Hartnett, Piper Laurie, Bebe Neuwirth, Salma Hayek, Famke Janssen, Robert Patrick, Christopher McDonald, Jon Stewart and Daniel von Bargen. And Usher. Everyone does a great job. And Usher.

The script by Williamson and the direction by Rodriguez are both as cine-literate as you'd expect, with ever scene throwing up a wealth of references, in-jokes and foreshadowing. It's a very nicely constructed movie, one that works in terms of a teen movie and also a sci-fi horror without neglecting either. The fact that it's so subversive just adds to the appeal. I don't want to spoil any details for people who have yet to see it, but bad behaviour ends up paying dividends while fighting back against invading aliens. The soundtrack has some good tunes in the mix and the special effects are generally pretty great, mixing plenty of practical work with some solid CGI.

All in all, The Faculty is eminently rewatchable and just a fun time for fans of the subgenre.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

The Kiss Of The Vampire (1963)

A lesser vampire movie from Hammer, this was written by Anthony Hinds and directed by Don Sharp. Neither of the men involved seem to be able to muster any enthusiasm for the material, or inject it with any energy, and that leaves the second-tier cast (only in terms of the Hammer pecking order) floundering.

Edward De Souza and Jennifer Daniel are honeymooners Gerald and Marianne Harcourt. When they experience a bit of car trouble near a small village in Europe they end up staying at the handy sort of inn that only ever seems to crop up in Hammer movies and also get themselves befriended by the sort of seemingly kind, curious nobles who only ever seem to crop up in Hammer movies. This particular well-to-do gentleman is Dr. Ravna (Noel Willman), who invites the Harcourts to spend some time with himself and his family before then inviting them to a big party. But that party is just a ruse. With Marianne in danger, Gerald ends up seeking help from a fellow lodger, the exasperated Professor Zimmer (Clifford Evans).

All of the usual ingredients are in place here. The upper class folk who succumb to the seduction of evil ways, the decent but scared couple running their inn, the embittered older character who knows the truth about the area and its inhabitants and the brave husband willing to risk his own life to save his darling wife.

I won't deny that there are a few moments here and there that I enjoyed, and one or two lines of dialogue that I was pleasantly surprised by, but this is material that has been spruced up and given far better treatment in a handful of other Hammer movies that you could choose from.

The cast put in acceptable performances, I guess, but it's only really Evans who stands out as someone worth spending time with and, indeed, rooting for. Support from Barry Warren, Isobel Black, Peter Madden and Vera Cook is in line with the rather flat nature of everything else in the movie.

I guess, like every other Hamer horror movie, that The Kiss Of The Vampire may have fans. I just can't see anything here that could appeal to anyone, excepting the most easily pleased viewer who may have somehow avoided many of their better outings before getting to this one.


Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Children Of The Corn IV: The Gathering (1996)

Children Of The Corn: The Gathering is a pretty terrible movie, saved from the bottom of the barrel by at least two great actresses in main roles and some fleeting moments of impressive imagery.

Karen Black plays June Rhodes, a woman who just can't bring herself to move beyond her garden path nowadays. Fear grips her and she can't seem to get to the root of the problem. She's taking medication, she knows that she should be making progress, but nothing seems to improve. Her daughter, Grace (Naomi Watts), comes home to help her, hopefully, along the road to recovery, but before you can say "He Who Walks Behind The Rows" it turns out that the local kids have all started to turn into evil little shits and all adults must die. Or something like that.

It's hard to care about a movie that feels so slapdash. In some ways, this is better than the third movie, but it loses the sense of fun and suffers from a lack of Screaming Mad George (as does any movie that doesn't feature work from Screaming Mad George).

Director Greg Spence, who co-wrote the screenplay with Stephen Berger, puts everything together in a standard movie shape, but he doesn't ever really manage to heat things up at all. There aren't any decent set-pieces. At all. Even the finale fails to muster any excitement. Perhaps the concept was already stretched too thin by the end of the first movie, of course. Indeed, why Stephen King gets a credit on each film is beyond me. If he fought so hard against The Lawnmower Man  then I can only assume that he just doesn't know that these films exist.

Fans of Karen Black will enjoy her performance here, she gets a fair amount of screentime and does the hand-wringing, nervous nellie act very well, and fans of Naomi Watts will have fun seeing her "slumming it" before she became a Hollywood darling. As for the rest of the cast, William Windom is good as the local doc, Brent Jennings is a father alarmed by the violence that he witnesses in his household and young Jamie Renee Smith, Mark Salling and Lewis Flanagan III play some of the affected children.

Despite having no reason to actually exist, this film almost manages to be watchable, mainly thanks to Watts and Black. The fact that it falls short is thanks to Spence and Berger.


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Bleeding House AKA The Bleeding (2011)

Philip Gelatt wrote and directed this, his debut feature, and he doesn't do such a bad job. It's a mix of elements that will feel overly familiar to most horror movie fans, but the tone and pacing help to improve what could have been a dull and plodding piece of work. It can't quite overcome all of its failings - the movie is certainly padded out, despite clocking in at just under 90 minutes or so, and focused more on dialogue than visuals - but it tries to do the best with limited resources.

Patrick Breen plays Nick, a man who turns up at the home of a family who stay pretty far away from the nearby town. Nick is after a favour, and he is so charming that the family decide to help him out and allow him to join them for a meal and stay the night. The family have a secret that's causing no small amount of friction, but Nick has his own secret.

Okay, so it may not be as surprising and interesting as it thinks it is, but The Bleeding House still deserves points for trying. Gelatt delivers some decent moments, spacing them out as he ensures that his thin idea stretches to feature length, and the few twists and turns do hold your interest, even if they're not major revelations.

Breen is very good in the role of Nick, although it is a performance that keeps bringing attention to the fact that it's a performance. However, the way his character is positioned in the movie, that's not a bad thing. He is both the instigator of events and also the person responsible for delivering the majority of the required exposition. Alexandra Chando isn't bad as Gloria (a young woman with a penchant for the macabre), Richard Bekins and Nina Lisandrello are good enough as the husband and wife trying to keep the past in the past and a few other people pop up to give decent performances. Basically, everyone gets the job done.

A movie that's probably as equally easy to hate as it is to like, The Bleeding House is one that I hope others are able to watch without becoming too impatient. It's a film that attempts to be a bit different from the dozens of low budget horror movies that end up on rental streaming sites (and some shelves) every month and it should be rewarded for at least trying.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Babylon A. D. (2008)

Directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, who also helped to co-write the shambolic screenplay, Babylon A. D. is a movie that I sincerely hoped to enjoy. I'd heard/read a number of bad reviews when it opened back in 2008 but there are many times when I feel that critics forget to consider the comfort value of some mindless entertainment. Unfortunately, everyone who warned viewers away from this film did so with good reason. It's a mess, it borders on being completely incompetent in a number of places and it is, worst of all, dull as ditchwater.

Vin Diesel plays Toorop, an experienced mercenary who takes on the job of delivering a package from Eastern Europe to America. That package is a young girl, Aurora (Melanie Thierry), accompanied by a religious guardian named Sister Rebekah (Michelle Yeoh). Toorop is determined to get the job done, something he will manage by trusting nobody around him, but he starts to think more and more about the consequences of his actions as various parties try to get a hold of the girl. Is she some kind of saviour? Is she a weapon? She may be neither, but Toorop vows to decide her fate if he discovers that others can use her to cause some major death and destruction.

Based on the novel Babylon Babies, by Maurice G. Dantec, Babylon A. D.  is a messy bag of cliches and bad decisions, unhelped by the fact that none of the main characters are all that likeable. Vin Diesel tries hard in a lead role fairly similiar to many of his other lead roles, but Michelle Yeoh is stuck with embarrassingly bad material to work with and Melanie Thierry is shockingly bad from her first moment to the last. Gerard Depardieu is fun, but not in the movie for long enough to make a big enough difference, Mark Strong is as good as ever and Charlotte Rampling doesn't do her C.V. any favours. The appearance of Lambert Wilson simply serves to remind viewers that he was in two of The Matrix movies, sci-fi action films that hold up as the exact opposite of this trash.

Fans of the movie will insist that there's a vision amidst the mess worth struggling to recognise. Mathieu Kassovitz, by all accounts, certainly didn't have an easy, pleasant experience getting this made. But I can't help thinking that the film is SO bad, riddled with so many errors and poor choices, that nothing could be salvaged from it. Action scenes are badly edited and painfully boring, the dialogue is often either cringe-inducing or completely laughable and all of the flaws are made worse by the fact that the film takes itself so seriously and seems to think that it's full of clever, thought-provoking stuff.

It's not.


Sunday, 15 September 2013

Looney Tunes: Back In Action (2003)

Back when Looney Tunes: Back In Action was released in cinemas I recall a sense of mild disappointment. I was one of those people acting mildly disappointed. Rewatching the movie recently, I have no idea a) why most people were so disappointed and b) why I felt the same way as most people. Looney Tunes: Back In Action is a glorious, demented mix of live action and animation, directed by Joe Dante, that stands proudly as exactly what it was meant to be: the anti-Space Jam.

The plot starts off with Daffy Duck being kicked off the Warner Bros. studio lot after he decides that he's had enough of always losing out to that damn Bugs Bunny. Daffy ends up causing a security guard, DJ Drake (Brendan Fraser), to lose his job. He continues to be a pain in the backside, even as DJ finds out that his father, Damien Drake (Timothy Dalton), is in some serious trouble. It turns out that Damien Drake isn't just an actor who played a legendary spy in movies . . . . . . . he's actually a bit of a legendary spy in real life. Daffy and DJ head off on a journey to save pops, while Bugs and a studios exec named Kate (Jenna Elfman) head off to catch Daffy and get him back where he belongs. Everyone is, of course, now at risk from the dreaded ACME Corporation (headed up by Steve Martin).

Written by Larry Doyle, this is a gag-packed, reference-packed, rip-roaring ride through a world populated by some of the best characters to ever appear in animated form (I'll always take a classic Looney Tunes cartoon over a Disney short). You get Bugs, Daffy, Yosemite Sam, Porky Pig, Elmer Fudd, Michigan J. Frog, Foghorn Leghorn, Wile E. Coyote, Marvin The Martian and many more. Think of it as Who Framed Bugs Bunny and you're close. It also features some great cameos, as you'd expect in a Joe Dante movie, from classic sci-fi beasties of yesteryear.

Leading man Fraser proves once again that he's really one of the best in the biz at acting with not much around him. The blend of animation and live action isn't perfect, but it's certainly amongst the very best that you'll ever see, in my opinion. Some of the animated characters display better acting skills than Jenna Elfman anyway, who is someone I have never warmed to (her success always astounded me). Steve Martin has a lot of fun, Dalton is wonderful, Joan Cusack has a few minutes alongside a veritable "greatest hits" selection of aliens. Bill Goldberg is a suitably intimidating henchman, Heather Locklear struts her stuff as Dusty Tails and genre fans will take great pleasure in spotting cameos from the likes of Dick Miller, Roger Corman, Ron Perlman and Mary Woronov.

It's not perfect, but there are times when it comes pretty close. The set-pieces are all brilliant, with a chase through the paintings in The Louvre being the absolute highlight, the characters never feel as if they're being squeezed into the movie just to sell more merchandise and the young will be kept entertained by the slapstic and visuals while adults also get to pick up every sharp gag and in-joke.


Saturday, 14 September 2013

Barracuda (1978)

A small town finds itself losing people to some vicious underwater predator in this film from the 1970s. Yes, if you'd read that sentence in any other context then you'd assume that someone was talking about Jaws, but if you've read the title of this movie review then you'll know that I am actually referring to Barracuda, one of many Jaws rip-offs that came along in the wake (no pun intended) of ol' Bruce's Box Office bonanza. Although it starts off as just a poor imitation of the classic Spielberg movie, I'm pleasantly surprised to say that the final third sees Barracuda turn into a slightly different beast (again, no pun intended) and instead earns its place alongside some similiar paranoid thrillers from the '70s.

Written by, directed by, and starring Harry Kerwin and Wayne Crawford, Barracuda could easily be a sloppy vanity project. Despite the low rating it has on IMDb, I don't view it that way at all. In fact, this is a film that could have become a firm favourite of mine if it had just managed to cover up a few of its more obvious failings, such as the varied acting and the more ridiculous moments.

The plot sees Crawford, as Mike Canfield, investigating water pollution in a small town that is worryingly close to a chemical plant owned by the nefarious Papa Jack (Bert Freed). Mike is arrested by Sheriff Ben Williams (William Kerwin), but the Sheriff is only going through the motions that he has to. He's just as suspicious of recent activities in his town and thinks that maybe Mike can help him. The Sheriff's daughter (Roberta Leighton) also thinks that Mike can help her, but in a different way. As more corpses turn up on the beach, it soon becomes apparent that the problem may be something more than just local sealife turning vicious.

Actually, the more I think about it the more I realise that Barracuda is a poor movie raised up a notch or two by a great final 10-15 minutes. The barracuda attacks are okay, I guess, but the rest of the film doesn't exactly keep viewers riveted to the onscreen events.

Crawford is okay in the lead role, Kerwin is the best of the bunch as the good Sheriff, Leighton is fine and Cliff Emmich is likeable enough as Deputy Lester, a man who clearly prefers the quiet life to any rocking of the boat (no pun intended). Bert Freed, Harry Kerwin, Bobbie Ellyn Kosstrin, Bob J. Shields and Scott Avery are a mixed bag, but Jason Evers is fairly good as the local doctor who may be able to help Mike and the Sheriff figure out what's going on.

Although I may not have done the movie any favours in my opening line of this review, don't mistake Barracuda for just another Jaws rip-off. It's much more than that, even if it gets by more on charm than any film-making prowess.


Friday, 13 September 2013

The Glow (2002)

A slick, enjoyable TV movie, The Glow benefits from some fun performances, an enjoyable premise and the way that the film unfolds with the viewers staying at least two steps ahead of the central characters.

Dean Cain plays Matt Lawrence, a man who is mugged while out jogging in the first scene of the film. He is approached, and befriended, by some elderly people who offer to let him use their home and telephone to contact his wife, Jackie (Portia de Rossi). By the time Jackie arrives, Matt has well and truly made friends with his saviours. In fact, they've all been getting on so well that Matt has been told about a vacant apartment in the block that could be just perfect for he and his wife. The other tenants own the block, and therefore keep the rents within reason, and really seem to take a shine to the "youngsters" so it's not long until Matt and Jackie cave in and accept the offer. But it also not long until Jackie starts to suspect that all isn't as it seems. Her elderly neighbours are quite obsessed with health and fitness, people start to go missing and events start to seem as if they are being manipulated to take both Matt and Jackie to a certain point.

Directed competently enough by Craig R. Baxley, and written by Gary Sherman (who adapted the book by Brooks Stanwood), The Glow is nonsense, but it doesn't put on any airs and graces. Despite the ridiculous premise, it plays everything straight and relatively safe. Think of it as an extended episode of Goosebumps for adults and you're on the right track.

Cain and de Rossi are okay in the lead roles, with the latter overacting just enough to add some amusement to the proceedings, but it's the older cast members who make this more enjoyable than it should be. Hal Linden and Dina Nerrill both have a twinkle in their eyes, and Grace Zabriskie plays a character with a tongue as sharp as her attitude. Sabrina Grdevich and Jason Blicker play the obligatory friends who get caught up in the situation as things eventually become clear in the second half, and Phoenix Gonzales and Nelson Tynes are two other, non-OAP, tenants in the building.

Although it doesn't include anything extra to spice up the material, this is solid entertainment. I was never bored, I wanted the central characters to realise what they were getting into as events unfolded, and I'd watch it again if it ever came on TV and I was too far away from the remote control. It's nothing special, but it's not bad. It's not bad at all.


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Children Of The Corn III: Urban Harvest (1995)

It's my own fault. Before this movie started I had my expectations dialled down to zero. Then I saw Anthony Hickox listed as an executive producer - the movie is directed by his brother, James D. R. Hickox - and special effects created by Screaming Mad George (the man responsible for the unforgettable gloopy brilliance of Society). Unfortunately, none of these people can do enough to make this any less laughable.

Eli (Daniel Cerny) and Joshua (Ron Melendez) are two young boys who move from Gatlin, Nebraska, to Chicago when they're adopted by an unprepared, but well-intentioned, couple (played by Jim Metzler and Nancy Lee Grahn). Joshua starts to enjoy his new high school and blend in with his urban surroundings, but Eli sees nothing but sinners everywhere he looks and he's determined to sort out the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

What really sinks Children Of The Corn III: Urban Harvest is the performance given by Daniel Cerny. Whether he was given bad direction or whether he just decided to go with the wrong type of performance, I'll never know, but he makes the mistake of going through the entire movie with a demeanour and expressions that are akin to a giant, blinking, neon sign over his head saying: "Evil, evil."

Ron Melendez does better, Metzler and Grahn do okay and Michael Ensign is pretty good as Father Frank Nolan, a man who starts to realise just how evil young Eli is when everything starts slotting into place for the intermittently fun finale. Jon Clair and Mari Morrow also do decent enough work, playing Malcolm and Maria Elkman, the brother and sister who befriend Joshua. In fact, Maria may want to be more than friends. Let's hope that she doesn't upset He Who Walks Behind The Rows. Fans of Charlize Theron will also enjoy seeing her here in her first, uncredited, movie role. She may only be onscreen for less than a minute, but she's still easier to spot than Nicholas Brendon (who also makes his movie debut here, although he is at least credited, albeit as Basketball Player One).

Director Hickox shows that he doesn't have the knack for working with horror material that his brother has, but he does enough to stop the whole thing from becoming absolutely unwatchable. He's not helped by the script, by Dode B. Levenson (with some uncredited writing from Matt Greenberg, according to IMDb), but in the few scenes that allow the special effects by Screaming Mad George to take centre stage it's easy to keep your brain switched off and just enjoy the gore gags.

It's a slight step up from the awfulness of the second movie, but I have a feeling that I'm going to encounter worse as I explore the rest of the franchise.


Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Mimesis: Night Of The Living Dead (2011)

Directed by Douglas Schulze, who also came up with the central story idea (then made into script form by Joshua Wagner), Mimesis: Night Of The Living Dead - aka just Mimesis - has one or two interesting ideas and moments in the mix, but just ends up falling apart as the lack of logic and poor character choices start to mount up.

Allen Maldonado plays Duane, a young man attending a horror fan event with his friend Russell (Taylor Piedmonte). It's never quite clear why Duane is there, however, as he doesn't seem to enjoy the culture that he sees around him and just spends his time berating Russell for being so passionate about the genre. The two young men end up receiving an invite to an exclusive party, unaware of the fact that things are about to get a bit strange. After some time at the party, everyone passes out. They all wake up in the morning, dressed in different clothes and, apparently, in the middle of the events that unfolded in Night Of The Living Dead. How the hell did they end up there, and how the hell are they going to get out?

When I first saw the trailer for Mimesis: Night Of The Living Dead I thought that it looked great. I know, I know, after all of these years watching movies and trailers I should really know better. But no, I am still as gullible as I was so many years ago. I thought this was a great concept and hoped it would play out well.

It IS a great concept, to a certain degree, but it's not played out well. The script is weak, and full of moments to make you pull your hair out (e.g. characters discussing how to get to a truck and start it up before one of the same characters only mentioning later that in Night Of The Living Dead the truck blew up when someone tried to use it), and it's complemented by a weak cast. None of the leads are likeable, with Maldonado and David G. B. Brown being put forward as the nominal heroes, but there are two small roles for genre favourites, Sid Haig and Courtney Gains. Gavin Grazer is suitably irritating as the irritating husband/father who fans of the original movie loved to hate so much, Lauren Mae Shafer and Jana Thompson aren't give much to do and the other cast members are given even less.

The direction from Schulze is competent, I guess, but there's no style and nothing to detract from the failings. Even when replicating the moments from Night Of The Living Dead, it doesn't seem to take the time and care to get anything spot on. Everything feels slapdash. That's a shame, because of more care and time had been taken with the plot development and shot choice then this COULD have been almost as good as the trailer made it out to be.

Disappointing. Very disappointing.


Tuesday, 10 September 2013

It's Complicated (2009)

A romantic comedy written and directed by Nancy Meyers, this is pretty much in line with every other romantic comedy written and directed by Nancy Meyers. It has the added "bonus" of allowing viewers to watch Meryl Streep get frisky and Alec Baldwin act like a horndog (I didn't want to use the word but, believe me, it's the most appropriate one) while it meanders from start to finish.

Streep and Baldwin play a long-divorced couple who rediscover the spark between them. At first it seems great, but it doesn't bode well for Baldwin's current wife (played by Lake Bell) or the man (Steve Martin) who is showing interest in Streep. Hence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . it's complicated.

Okay, there's an intended demographic here that I'm not part of, yet, but that's still no excuse to make a movie quite as poor as this. It may have some older leads, but it could at least have the decency to show them at their best. Instead, this is just wastes the talents of all involved.

At least Streep and Martin get to have fun in a sequence that sees them acting like a pair of stoned teenagers (because, well, they're stoned), but the rest of the movie leaves them adrift in a sea of mediocrity. Baldwin is as good as ever, despite the fact that I could live my life happily without seeing him parading around with so few clothes on. Lake Bell is stuck with a character that we're not supposed to like, and does a good job, and there are a few scenes for Mary Kay Place and Rita Wilson to . . . . . . . . . not do much at all. Nice to see them anyway. John Krasinski is the most fun, playing the future son-in-law who accidentally discovers what's going on between Streep and Baldwin.

If you can find anything in the script or direction that comes as a surprise then you've clearly been living in a monastery for the past fifty years. Meyers, as she so often does, walks the path to commercial success on a carpet of cliches and harmless, bland moments. If a boxset of her work was ever released it could be tagged "The Beige Collection."

But what do I know? This was another big hit at the box office. People lapped it up. I won't encourage anyone to seek it out, but you probably won't hate it if you ever do give it a watch. Even I could only muster up the energy to slightly dislike it.


Monday, 9 September 2013

Hands Of The Ripper (1971)

Absolute trash given that elegant touch from Hammer, Hands Of The Ripper is a film that many fans have a soft spot for, despite how ridiculous it is. And, boy oh boy, is it ridiculous.

The plot concerns a young woman named Anna (Angharad Rees), a woman troubled by the fact that she's the daughter of Jack The Ripper (AKA "Saucy Jack" to fans of This Is Spinal Tap). Not only is Anna troubled by her parentage, she has also been traumatised in such a way that anything shimmering and sparkly can set her on a quest to murder whoever is nearby. When he discovers this fact, Dr. John Pritchard (Eric Porter) is quite fascinated, and endeavours to do what he can to "cure" the girl. But is there something else to it? Perhaps something evil that can't ever be cured.

Based on a story by Edward Spencer Shew, Hands Of The Ripper features a script by L. W. Davidson and direction from Peter Sasdy. Davidson had not written any script before this, and would write none after, whereas Sasdy was a bit of an old hand at Hammer (having directed the likes of Scars Of Dracula and Countess Dracula). He wasn't ever the best of the talent working at the studio, but he has a nack of impressing fans with the bloodletting on display.

While I would normally say that it's always a shame to watch a Hammer film that doesn't feature some of their better-known players (Cushing, Lee, Ripper), in this case I don't mind. It's hard to think of just how the aforementioned stars would have worked with the material. They MIGHT have improved the whole film, even ever so slightly, but there's also a chance that the ridiculousness of it all would have dragged them down to its level. As things stand, the cast here all do solid, if unmemorable, work. Angharad Rees does most of her acting in a trance-like state, which seems to be for the best, while Eric Porter has to keep a brave face on as his character makes increasingly silly decisions with increasingly weak reasoning. Derek Godfrey is superb for every moment that he's onscreen, Dora Bryan is enjoyable in her small role, a manipulative medium, and Lynda Baron is fun as a prostitute named Long Liz, but nobody else makes much of an impression. Keith Bell and Jane Merrow, in particular, are far too bland as a young couple caught up in the events, the former being the son of Porter's character and the latter being his blind fiance.

Yet, despite its many flaws, I enjoy the film. Give it a watch some time, you might end up feeling the same way.


Sunday, 8 September 2013

Scary Movie 4 (2006)

It may not be quite as good as the preceding instalment, but Scary Movie 4 is a surprisingly good comedy, thanks mainly to the material being enjoyably childish as opposed to the irritating crudeness of the first two movies in the series.

This time around the series pokes fun at the Saw franchise, War Of The Worlds, The Grudge and The Village, among other targets. Anna Faris and Regina Hall both return as Cindy and Brenda, respectively, and Simon Rex, Charlie Sheen, Anthony Anderson and Kevin Hart briefly reprise their roles from the third movie, but this isn't overly concerned with maintaining any perfect continuity. It's just another opportunity to take characters that audiences seem to like and drop them into some outrageous situations.

The main new addition to the cast is Craig Bierko, playing Tom, the everyman hero based on the character played by Tom Cruise in War Of The Worlds (and, in some latter scenes, simply based on Tom Cruise in real life). When an alien invasion upsets everyone's day, Tom tries to protect his son and daughter while also assuring Cindy that they will find each other after they have both done what they have to do. Cindy, you see, is also busy trying to figure out why she keeps seeing the ghost of a small, Japanese boy and what exactly he may be trying to tell her.

The best thing to happen to the Scary Movie series is David Zucker taking over the directorial duties (well, that was the best thing to happen until the dire Scary Movie V) and this shows, once again, just how much fun he can wring out of potentially groan-inducing stuff. The script, by Craig Mazin, Pat Proft and Jim Abrahams, isn't exactly the sharpest or smartest, but Zucker puts together a fun cast and does well with budget. This isn't a movie that looks cheap, although it's worth noting that it doesn't make the mistake of looking too polished either.

The cast is a huge plus point, as it was in Scary Movie 3, with those involved including, but not limited to, Bill Pullman, Leslie Nielsen (reprising his role as the inept POTUS), Molly Shannon, Carmen Electra, Phil McGraw AKA Dr. Phil, Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Madsen, Chris Elliott (almost, but not quite, as annoying as he was in Scary Movie 2) and Cloris Leachman. Plus those already mentioned above.

If you've seen, and enjoyed, the other movies then there's no reason for you not to be pleased by this one. It's just a shame that the next film, released seven years later, was such a massive drop in quality. Viewers should stop at this one. In fact, I implore you to do so. For your own mental wellbeing.


Saturday, 7 September 2013

A Haunting At Silver Falls (2013)

While it's familiar stuff to anyone who has seen at least one other supernatural thriller in their lifetime, A Haunting At Silver Falls isn't all that bad, considering its obvious limitations and what it's aiming for.

Alix Elizabeth Gitter plays Jordan, the new girl in town. She is being looked after by Anne (Tara Westwood) and Kevin Sanders (Steve Bacic), but it's not long until she starts to push at the boundaries of their rules and regulations by heading out to party with Larry (James Cavlo). Because of that partying, Jordan ends up in possession of a ring and that ring leads to her seeing a couple of ghosts, the ghosts of twin sisters who were murdered in the area. It seems that the ghosts want Jordan to bring their killer to justice, but that probably won't happen without a red herring or two popping up during the runtime.

Director Brett Donowho doesn't do a bad job here, by any means. True, the film could have been a bit scarier, but it seems that all involved were happy to make this a supernatural-enhanced thriller rather than a horror movie with some extra melodrama. That's fine, but it makes the movie a low priority when it comes to weekend rental choices, for example. It's surprising that the script took three people to work on it - Cam Cannon, Rachel Long and Brian Pittman - because there isn't much here that doesn't feel predictable and derivative.

The cast all do okay. Gitter is fine in the lead role, Westwood and Bacic are very good throughout and Cavlo is good enough, if a bit forgettable. Erick Avari (you may not recognise the name but you will know him when you see him) does well with his limited screentime, and Jade and Nikita Ramsey are both given a  makeover to look impressively frightening as the deceased twins.

Not a movie I would revisit, but I didn't mind watching it once. It avoids the worst cinematic crime of all (which, in my view, is being boring), throws in a few jumps and does enough to keep undemanding viewers, like myself, entertained for the duration. Just.


Friday, 6 September 2013

Alligator II: The Mutation (1991)

Remember Alligator? That was a fun movie, wasn't it? A fantastic creature feature that holds up as a great piece of entertainment today. I may not love it quite as much as I used to, but I'll always have a soft spot for it. Well, this loose sequel doesn't reach the standard of that first movie, but it gives it a good try.

Joseph Bologna stars as David Hodges, one of those rare movie cops who doesn't always play by the rules but, goddammit, gets the job done. When he's not being shouted at by his boss (Brock Peters), or making his wife (Dee Wallace) roll her eyes, he's trying to investigate deaths and find evidence with which to nail slimy businessman Vincent Brown (Steve Railsback). When it looks like a giant alligator is munching on people, nobody can quite believe it. Despite his own reservations, Hodges heads out, with a police officer named Rich Harmon (Woody Brown), and is determined to stop whatever he comes up against.

It may never be as funny as the first movie, but Alligator II: The Mutation certainly maintains a healthy dose of humour throughout, thanks to the script by Curt Allen. Bologna gets to rattle off plenty of sarcastic one-liners and the film revels in the more cliched moments instead of trying to swerve around them. It's an approach that works, for me anyway. The movie may not win any awards for originality or believability, but it's consistently FUN from start to finish.

Director Jon Hess does okay with the material, running through the standard "creature feature" bag of tricks and also reusing some stock footage from Alligator. It helps that he has a decent cast to work with, almost every one of them improving their character.

Bologna is great in the lead, all attitude and no regrets. Wallace is good, though underused, as his wife, and also the woman who helps uncover the truth. Brown is amusingly "wet behind the ears" during the first half of the movie, and he also gets the best, and most bizarre, line in the movie when chatting to the lovely Holly Gagnier (playing the Mayor's daughter). Peters is great fun as the angry Chief Speed, Railsback is a decent villain and Richard Lynch steals almost every scene that he's in as Hawk Hawkins, a good ol' boy who thinks that he knows what he's up against when called in to deal with the alligator.

If you enjoyed Alligator then you should enjoy this sequel. It's the same, but different.


Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Big Year (2011)

Owen Wilson plays Kenny Bostick, the best birder in the world. His big year total stands as a record that looks almost impossible to beat, yet he's obsessed with defending his title. What IS a big year? Well, it's when birders (aka birdwatchers) head out to spot as many different species as possible in one year and then hand in their results to see just where they stand amongst their equally dedicated peers. Bostick may be the man to beat, but Brad Harris (Jack Black) thinks he can do it. As does Stu Preissler (Steve Martin). As do many other people. But how much do you have to sacrifice in a year that could lead to spotting over 700 different types of birds? These three men may find that out as they vie for the top spot.

Directed by David Frankel, and written by Howard Franklin (based on/inspired by a book by Mark Obmascik), The Big Year is one of those films that's hard to hate. The gentle humour works well, there are some nice moments that try to showcase individual birds to show just why the birders often view them as something so worthy of pursuit. Of course, it's so predictable and desperate to please that it's also a film that's hard to love. It just stays in a very safe middle ground.

Owen Wilson turns in another performance almost exactly like most of his performances from the last two decades, but Martin plays it pretty straight and Jack Black is surprisingly restrained in his role, making a decent average Joe that viewers should want to see actually succeed at the one goal he seems to have in his life.

The real pleasure here, however, is in the supporting cast. Rosamund Pike plays the long-suffering partner of Wilson, Rashida Jones is a fellow birder who isn't even aiming for her own big year, but is rather just doing it for the pleasure of doing it, Joel McHale and Kevin Pollak are two men trying to keep Martin focused on his successful company while JoBeth Williams is his supportive wife. Brian Dennehy and Dianne Wiest play Jack Black's parents, and there are small roles for Anthony Anderson, Tim Blake Nelson, Anjelica Huston, Corbin Bernsen and Jim Parsons.

Worth watching if there's nothing else to occupy your time, this is ultimately just a pleasant diversion that allows viewers to observe people who spend their time observing our feathered friends.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Reptile (1966)

Filmed back to back with The Plague Of The Zombies, this Hammer horror movie not only shares many of the same sets with that movie but also treads quite similiar ground when it comes to the actual plot. There are some major main differences, but it actually makes for a nice companion piece alongside the lone zombie movie to be released from Hammer studios in the 20th century.

Ray Barrett and Jennifer Daniel play Mr. and Mrs. Spalding, respectively. The two end up inheriting a cottage in a small country village after Harry's brother dies in mysterious circumstances. Finding out just how his brother died, and dealing with unfriendly locals, becomes the focus for Harry as he and his wife gets used to their new surroundings. A local innkeeper (Michael Ripper) offers some advice, despite the fact that his inn always empties out whenever Harry walks in, and a large finger of suspicion seems to keep pointing at the brusque Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman), a man who spends most of his time being quite harsh to his beautiful daughter (Jacqueline Pearce).

John Gilling is the assured hand in the director's chair, working from a decent, lean script by Anthony Hinds, and there's nothing about this movie that looks or feels cheap. Sharing some of the sets between numerous movies, as they did quite often, was a great move on the part of Hammer, allowing them some more money for practical effects and some impressive set-pieces. At least, thats how it appears to this particular viewer (with the ending of The Reptile being just as enjoyable, as, and quite similiar to, the ending of The Plague Of The Zombies).

All of the cast do well in their roles, with Barrett and Daniel being a likeable pair of leads. Michael Ripper brightens up any Hammer horror movie (just ask any of his fans if you don't believe me), Noel Willman is the standard, snippy gentleman with a possible dark secret and Jacqueline Pearce is sweet and lovely enough to add some real pathos to the final third of the film. Marne Maitland is also very good, and John Laurie steals his few scenes as Mad Peter, a man who may not be as mad as locals like to make out.

This remains one of my favourite Hammer horror movies, and I hope that many others feel the same way about it.


N.B. Anyone who enjoyed the film as much as I did should check out the episode of "Dr. Terrible's House of Horrible" entitled Curse of the Blood of the Lizard of Doom. Not only is it hilarious but it's often spot-on too.