Saturday, 31 August 2013

Nine Dead (2010)

The fact that Nine Dead doesn't look like it was shot by a lunatic band of monkeys is one of the few reasons that the film merits the few points I begrudgingly offer it in this rating system. You see, Nine Dead is just one of those movies that makes it hard for any viewer to work up any enthusiasm for, it's so lazy and badly executed.

Nine people are caught and imprisoned in a room together. If they can figure out why they have all been put together and why a masked gunman wants them dead then they will be free to leave. Until they do get to the reason behind the killing, one will die every ten minutes.

The rot starts to set in with the script, by Patrick Wehe Mahoney, one of a hundred Saw imitators and one that shouts out its failings and ridiculousness while thinking it's being oh so clever. It's as preposterous as it is poor and actually insults viewers with what it asks them to believe in.

Things aren't improved by the acting, a mixed bag of people fail miserably to rise above the weak material with "top name" Melissa Joan Hart providing the worst performance of the lot. Hey, I'm as guilty as the next person of enjoying the odd episode of Sabrina The TeenageWitch but that was a long time ago and it looks like Miss Hart has forgotten everything she ever learned (though I'm well aware she was never all that good back then either, she was at least a little bit likable). I'm not going to name the others, they don't really deserve being mentioned - some act their way to something approaching average but most of them barely stay ahead of "Sabrina".

Director Chris Shadley can keep the camera pointed in the right direction and shows a basic level of competence but he doesn't do enough to cover up the massive plot holes or compensate for the terrible cast.

The one thing I will say, to end on some note of optimism, is that this is Mahoney's first script (and it definitely shows) and Shadley's first stint in the director's seat so there is certainly room for improvement. Given better material to work with, I can see Shadley actually provide a decent movie one day. Maybe.


Friday, 30 August 2013

Prehistoric Women AKA Slave Girls (1967)

A lame outing from Hammer that not only revisits the well they have been to on more than one previous occasion (with the likes of She and One Million Years B.C.) but crams the material into the kind of story any young pre-teenage boy could have written. Though they would have included some actual dinosaurs to add excitement.

The ridiculous plot sees a jungle guide (played by the bland Michael Latimer) seized by a tribe and readied for sacrifice to some white rhinoceros god. As things are about to get very, very bleak for the man it's fortunate that he instead ends up randomly transported through time to an age when one woman ruled all and men were their slaves. The woman, played by the beautiful Martine Beswick, stays in control while her maltreated subjects (including Edith Ronay) start to hatch a planned revolt.

Michael Carreras directs with no enthusiasm for his own, lame script and the only redeeming thing that the movie has to offer is the sight of fine women in fur bikinis. Yes, it's a completely shallow way of looking at the film but, believe me, it's also the best way. Beswick and Ronay certainly give more to the material than it deserves.

It's not dull, and there are a couple of surprisingly passionate tribal dance sequences, but it's really not worth bothering about unless you're a Hammer completist or a fan of the women on screen (and poor, sad wretch that I am . . . . I like to think of myself as both).


Thursday, 29 August 2013

Granny Gibb.

I have kept this blog review-based for some time now. That's for two reasons. One, on the previous occasions when I have tried to keep a writing blog it's just not been enough to keep me motivated to write something every day, or even to keep up with it at all. Two, I'm not egotistical enough to think that people are bothered about my day to day activities. Oh, I've had one or two rambling rants (one about gun control laws and one about cinema etiquette), but nothing much about major events in my life that weren't movies or shows.

Writing being as cathartic as it is, however, means that a post like this was pretty much inevitable. I was woken just after eight this morning by the sad news that my gran had died. As a happy and secure atheist, I don't want prayers or candles lit. I'm not after sympathy. This is a mix of elegy and celebration.

Because my gran spent the last couple of years in a bit of a bad way. She'd had a fall that broke her hip and that had led her to a position of no longer being self-sufficient. As she spent more and more time in a weakened and fragile state, her mind would fade away, to come back every now and again as sharp as it once was. You could tell how angry and frustrated she would get, not least from how she would lash out sometimes at those family members. giving her full-time care.

So, as the cliche goes, she's in a better place now. A place where she doesn't need painkillers, doesn't need to drink her tea from a sippy cup, doesn't need to worry about strange visions that her mind has created that put her on edge and afraid.

Yet, she's not REALLY in a better place. She's in the same place. She's in our hearts, she's in our thoughts, she's in our memories. I don't believe in Heaven or Hell (though I still spell both with capital letters at the start), I believe in energy transforming. Perhaps the warbly singing voice of my gran (a sound so well captured in the classic show, An Audience With Billy Connolly) is now a birdsong. Perhaps some of her grey hair will become the stuff of dandelion weeds, blown away by kids making wishes.

But those are different places, Kevin, so your writing makes no sense.

Aha, but my gran has been the legendary matriarch of our family for years now and we have at least 101 stories we can tell about her. That's her place. That was her place while alive and among us all, and that will be her place forever. I have my favourites, as do her children, as do my cousins, as do friends that got to know her over the years.

Leaving my grandfather hanging from a wire fence, caught by his false leg after a late night of drinking.

Pouring extra whisky into the last drink of the night that my great granny (looked after by my gran for many years) would have before her bed, making her stagger alongside an unwitting 8-year-old me as I helped her to bed.

The pot of soup always boiling away on the hob, stuff so tasty that some of my schoolfriends would badger me until we headed there during school lunch break to queue up and get a bowl. While my gran acted inconvenienced for a minute or two before then grinning with pride.

There are many more. Too many to ever fit on a blog, methinks, and . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . even if they could all be put into text form and archived and put online for all to see . . . . . . . . . . . . . well, I'm not sure that we'd want that. These are the stories about my gran that liven up as we tell them to others. Aunties and uncles talking to me, grandparents talking to toddlers, cousins talking to cousins.

The irony of writing about my gran's passing on this blog is that her life, and the events she lived through, reminds me that human contact and the traditions of oral storytelling are, and will always be, much more valuable to so many people, in a very different way, than the internet could ever manage.

Photo courtesy of Emma Kidd, which I'm sure she wouldn't mind me pinching.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Novocaine (2001)

A quirky comedy thriller that doesn't have quite enough laughs or thrills, Novocaine isn't a bad film, by any means, but it's far from a great one. The script isn't exactly sizzling, and the execution of the material lacks any style and flair, but everything is made better thanks to a great cast who look like they're having fun.

Steve Martin stars as Frank Sangster, an orderly and efficient dentist who runs his business with constant help from his loving partner, Jean Noble (Laura Dern). That ordered and efficient life is turned upside down by the arrival of Susan (Helena Bonham Carter), an attractive young woman who also has a bad habit of stealing drugs. Susan comes with some bad baggage, in the shape of her violent brother, Duane (Scott Caan). Frank also has a troublesome brother, Harlan (Elias Koteas), but he's not as troublesome as the corpse that turns up, looking very much like he has been put in that state by Frank.

Written and directed by David Atkins (with Paul Felopulos helping create the story), this is a quirky comedy-tinged thriller that just falls short of being really worth your time. The twists and turns aren't twisty and turny enough, the little laughs are just that - little - and the whole thing feels as if it is trying, and failing, to be cool.

The cast all do a great job, and that's what helps the film to stay just above average. Martin is solid in another non-comedic role, allowing most of the humour to come from the characters played by Dern, Caan and Koteas, who all have fun with their roles. Helena Bonham Carter is good, and Keith David and Kevin Bacon steal their limited onscreen time, playing a cop and actor researching an upcoming cop role, respectively.

Novocaine is enjoyable enough but, and here's something I thought I'd never say, there are a few much better dentist movies out there. The Dentist and The Dentist 2 are horror movies that make the best of our instinctive fears while The Whole Nine Yards takes a more similiar path to this one, with better comedic results.

This movie is worth a watch, but it's probably not one to revisit and grow overly fond of. It's more of a temporary filling.


Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Scary Movie 2 (2001)

After the success of Scary Movie everyone knew that a sequel was going to happen. I'm not sure if many people thought the thing would become a money-making franchise, but the sequel was definitely coming, whether we liked it or not. Keenen Ivory Wayans returned to direct and the script was whipped into shape by no less than SEVEN writers. Seven writers and this is the best that they came up with? Someone needs to change job, in my opinion.

Starting off with a fairly amusing spoof of The Exorcist, made all the better thanks to a fantastic cameo from James Woods, the whole thing swiftly moves on to parody numerous haunted house movies. The Haunting, The Legend Of Hell House, The Changeling, What Lies Beneath, Poltergeist and . . . . . . . . . . . . . Hollow Man and Charlie's Angels all find themselves on the receiving end of some unsubtle spoofery. A group of young folks - Anna Faris, Regina Hall, Kathleen Robertson, Tori Spelling, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans and Christopher Masterson - all head out to a big, slightly spooky house as part of a school project. While there, they are also in the company of their professor (Tim Curry), his wheelchair-bound assistant (David Cross) and a strange house servant (Chris Elliott) with a deformed left hand. Oh, and the ghosts. They're also in the company of a lot of ghosts.

When I first watched Scary Movie 2 I thought it was one of the worst movies that I'd ever seen. I wasn't far wrong, and it's certainly not a film I would recommend to anyone, but I must admit that I do manage to get a few giggles from it when rewatching it nowadays. The opening section is particularly fun, but then it starts to go downhill fast.

The franchise gets a fair bit of goodwill from me thanks to the inclusion of Anna Faris and Regina Hall, both funny women who always try to make the best of the material. This is, however, offset by the fact that Shawn Wayans plays the most annoying character, Shorty, in any comedy franchise that I can think of. The rest of the cast here do okay, with the exception of Chris Elliott, who is the SECOND most annoying character in any comedy franchise.

Once again mixing crude gags amongst the spoof moments, and once again including a pop culture reference outdated within years of its release (this time it's a GAP advert), this should appeal to fans of the first movie, but even they might see sense and decide to skip it in favour of other instalments in the franchise.


Monday, 26 August 2013

Aftershock (2012)

Directed by Nicolas Lopez, Aftershock is yet another movie that many people will most readily associate with Eli Roth. Why? Well, he produced the movie, helped write the screenplay (with Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo) and also takes on one of the lead roles. Roth is great at engaging with fans and publicising movies that he's involved with, but the downside is that everyone just thinks of them as "Eli Roth movies" - if you think I am talking nonsense then just ask a random selection of a dozen people who directed The Last Exorcism. See?

But I digress.

Roth plays a character only known as Gringo, a young man who is enjoying some time in Chile with a couple of friends/acquaintances (Ariel Levy and Nicolas Martinez) when the memorable partying is rudely interrupted by an even more memorable earthquake. The earthquake causes no small amount of damage and death, but the survivors soon realise that the dark side of mother nature can be matched by the dark side of human nature.

If you had a problem with Hostel (a movie I love, but some seem to think that it shows up Roth as a complete xenophobe) then you're really not going to like the general misanthropy on display here. As well as showing a situation in Chile that goes downhil fast this just casts everyone as dangerous, selfish pieces of crap who often don't take much to be pushed into committing terrible crimes.

The acting is uneven, to put it nicely. Roth is okay in his role, but not great. Levy and Martinez are worse, and their characters are just so hard to sympathise with that viewers just won't care when all hell breaks loose. Andrea Osvart, Natasha Yarovenko and Lorenza Izzo are all pretty enough, but not that great at actually acting, so viewers won't care about them either.

Director Lopez at least gets the carnage and nastiness right. When that's onscreen the movie is at least entertaining. Some fine gore gags pop up here and there, and there are one or two squirm-inducing moments. If only the grue and violence had been accompanied by decent characters and a solid script then this could have been a solid, fun, horror-tinged, disaster movie. As it stands, it's a disappointment.

Oh, and avoid the trailer for this one as it commits the cardinal sin of revealing the very end of the movie. Who the hell designs trailers and thinks that showing the final moment is a good idea?????


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Darkness (2002)

Darkness is a flawed horror movie with good intentions that features some great ideas buried amongst plenty of weaker moments that will feel all too familiar to modern horror fans.

Anna Paquin stars as Regina, a young woman who starts to feel unsettled not long after she moves into a new home with her parents (Lena Olin and Iain Glen) and younger brother (Stephan Enquist). The darkness seems to contain something menacing, a strain is being put upon the family and someone may be in very real danger. Regina suspects that it may be her younger brother who is most at risk, but will she be able to uncover the truth and stop whatever dark destiny seems to be heading their way?

Directed by Jaume Balaguero, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Fernando de Felipe (additional dialogue provided by Miguel Tejada-Flores), Darkness certainly has potential. There are one or two moments that are highly effective, but it's never too long until something comes along that reminds you of just how derivative the majority of the movie is. There's not anything especially wrong with being derivative if things are then blended into something fresh or just so well accomplished that the end result is more than the sum of its parts, but this film doesn't manage that. It tries, and that saves it from being rated any lower, but ultimately fails.

The cast don't help as much as they could, with Paquin, Olin, Glen and Enquist all being just a bit too bland in their roles. Paquin fares the best, as her fans will find unsurprising, but none of the others onscreen are terrible. They're just not particularly memorable. Giancarlo Giannini, on the other hand, may only be a supporting cast member but he does his best with what little screentime he has. Fele Martinez is another cast member who fails to make much of an impression, but I thought I should mention him anyway as he plays another one of the main characters. Badly.

There's a good movie hidden away at the heart of Darkness (no Joseph Conrad-inspired pun intended), and there are times when it almost shows just how good it could be, but then it's all covered up again by cliche and predictability.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

Extract (2009)

Another enjoyable comedy written and directed by Mike Judge, this may be his weakest film to date but it's still a fun viewing experience thanks to a great cast working with a great script.

Jason Bateman plays Joel, the owner/manager of an Extract plant. All is going pretty well for Joel apart from the fact that he can't seem to get home before eight o'clock, which is the time that his wife (Kristen Wiig) puts her sweatpants on. Once the sweatpants are on, Joel gets nothing and he's a bit frustrated by his lack of sex life. When a work-related accident leads to loyal worker Step (Clifton Collins Jr.) losing one of his testicles, Joel finds himself the unwitting payday opportunity for Cindy (Mila Kunis), a thief who realises that she can engineer a meeting with Step before manipulating him into suing the company for more money. Meanwhile, Joel also makes the mistake of following the advice of his friend Dean (Ben Affleck) and hiring someone to seduce his wife, supposedly leaving his conscience clear to begin his own affair.

It may not be as brilliantly wired into the consciousness of all working Joes (a la Office Space) or full of the easy, big laughs of Idiocracy but this still deserves to be appreciated by anyone after comedy that aims higher than most.

Judge is a great talent behind the camera. There may not be too many tricks and flourishes onscreen but he does what's needed to keep things moving along and set up every scene full of that memorable dialogue.

Bateman is good in the main role, playing the kind of role that he can play in his sleep, and Kunis is believably cute and charming. It's easy to imagine her getting away with just what she gets away with. Wiig is also very good in an atypical role, as is Ben Affleck, playing someone slightly addled from a life centred around far too many drugs. Clifton Collins Jr. is a sweet enough "mark" and there is good support from J. K. Simmons, T. J. Miller, Betsy Palmer, Gene Simmons, David Koechner (also in a slightly atypical role, as a persistent and dull neighbour) and Matt Schulze.

All in all, Extract is well worth your time. By the time the end credits roll, there's nothing major to mull over but it's simply a nice, consistently amusing, character piece that won't disappoint.


Friday, 23 August 2013

Nightmare (1964)

Jennie Linden plays Janet, a fragile young woman fearing for her sanity, in this enjoyable, and ever so preposterous, Hammer thriller. Janet doesn't want to become like her mother, you see, who ended up stabbing her father to death, but while convalescing at home it starts to feel as if her mind is breaking and she's heading down the same path. Is she really having strange visions (involving a strange, scarred woman most of the time) and descending into madness, or is there some foul play involved?

If you've seen any other Hammer thriller from this era then you'll already know how this one plays out. That doesn't take away from the fun of it, but there's nothing new here, especially for those who have seen Fear In The Night or Taste Of Fear.

Linden does fine in her role, all nerves and vulnerability, while David Knight puts in a very enjoyable performance as Henry Baxter, the man in her life. Moira Redmond is fine in the role of Grace Maddox, and Brenda Bruce, George A. Cooper, Irene Richmond and John Welsh all do fine in their roles. Timothy Bateson, as a barman who reveals a bit too much information, is also good to watch.

The script by Jimmy Sangster doesn't really hold up to too much scrutiny, but it's full of individual enjoyable moments, and the direction from Freddie Francis is perfectly fine for the material. It's a slight film, and I'd recommend watching the two already mentioned before getting to this one, but it's worth at least watching once.

An easy one to forget about amongst so many other Hammer movies that don't sit in the top tier, I'd still recommend this to fans of the studio, and fans of flimsy thrillers, but it should never be a top priority.


Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Broken (2008)

Written and directed by Sean Ellis, The Broken is an interesting and impressive horror movie that takes a number of well-worn genre tropes and blends them into something more than the sum of its parts. It doesn't become entirely fresh and unmissable, but it deserves to be discovered by horror fans after something that doesn't feature zombies, ghosts/demons or found footage.

Lena Headey stars as Gina McVey, a radiologist who finds her life turned upside down one day when she spots someone who looks exactly like her. Exactly. As she follows the doppelganger to find out just what's going on she gets herself hurt in a bad car crash.Then things start getting stranger and stranger.

Heady does her usual good work in the lead role, and she's supported by a cast of varying quality - the great Richard Jenkins does well with his limited screentime, Melvil Poupaud is okay, as is Michelle Duncan, and Asier Newman makes a memorable impression as Daniel McVey, Gina's brother.

There are some well-signposted jump scares, placed in the movie as if the director was contractually obliged to include them, but the majority of the movie is more concerned with setting an uneasy, off-kilter, mood. Writer-director Ellis walks a nice line between the requirements (cliches) of the genre and many moments that provide some food for thought alongside the chills.

As events unfold, viewers might understandably feel slightly underwhelmed. There is at least one major plot point that many could see coming wayyyyyyy down the line and the tension builds up only to be deflated during the last 10 minutes or so. But this is not a film about individual scares or a barnstorming finale. This is a film about a journey, and that journey is an interesting one.

As the end credits rolled, I considered my rating for the movie and was initially going to settle on something that would signify it as average or just above average, but the more I thought about everything I'd just watched the more I realised I'd been quietly and consistently impressed. I don't expect everyone to enjoy it as much as I did, but I do encourage others to seek it out and give it a go.


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The Telephone Book (1971)

Sarah Kennedy stars as Alice in this strange sex comedy/drama that follows her character around as she tries to find the greatest obscene phone caller in the world. He doesn't really want to be found, at least not immediately, and so Alice meets a variety of men who take quite a liking to her. These include adult film star Har Poon (Barry Morse), a lusty analyst (Roger C. Carmel) and, well, a mugger (Matthew Tobin).

Directed and written by Nelson Lyon, The Telephone Book is a typical example of the sex comedies that came about during, and after, the Swinging Sixties. Released in 1971, it may aim for a more artistic final product but it's really little more than a series of, admittedly amusing, vignettes strung together to form a narrative that's childish in its simplicity.

Kennedy is fine in the lead role, all big eyes, a big smile and willing to disrobe at any minute, while the males onscreen seem to enjoy playing a variety of sex-obsessives. Jill Clayburgh gets the only other female role of note, and steals a few scenes as "Eyemask", a character who is friends with Alice and almost always too busy enjoying some sexual shenanigans of her own to actually help in the hunt for the obscene caller. Speaking of the main man on the phone, he's played by James Harder (though his face is mostly covered by a mask) and is, thankfully, believable as someone who could be such a winning combination of rude and charming that his every obscene call is a huge success. The appearance of William Hickey, as someone who wakes up with a problem that just won't settle down, is another big plus.

There is, as you can probably gather from the premise, a lot of questionable stuff on display here. The treatment of the lead character is pretty shabby, made all the more uncomfortable to watch thanks to her youth and naivete. But it's easy enough to complain about how the movie treats women without stopping to think of how it treats/portrays men. The nicest man in the movie is an obscene phone caller, which I think tells you all that you need to know. Women may be seen as objects of desire, but all men are perverts and/or criminals in this cinematic landscape of unbiased gender defamation.

If the first 80 minutes didn't have enough titillation and crudity in there, don't worry. The last 10 minutes contains animation by Leonard Glasser that could be found in a dictionary beside the word subtle. And with that description, I mean that the definition of the word subtle could easily read: "the exact opposite of the animation by Leonard Glasser during the finale of The Telephone Book."

An interesting film to watch as a curio piece, The Telephone Book is one of many sex films that isn't sexy and features a fair bit of comedy that isn't funny, but it has just enough interesting moments to keep you interested and entertained throughout (with one highlight being the story of how the obscene phone caller found his calling), and will certainly appeal to fans of the bizarre.


Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The Spanish Prisoner (1997)

Written and directed by the great David Mamet, this is a typically twisty and turny thriller from the man, with his usual cool dialogue permeating every scene.

Campbell Scott plays Joe, a man who has managed to create a very important, though never revealed, process that will allow the company he works for to make lots and lots of money. He is the man of the moment, but that moment seems all too fleeting. When he comes into contact with an interesting stranger (Steve Martin) who happily passes along some of his wisdom, Joe realises that he's maybe selling himself a bit short. With that realisation comes an extra helping of mistrust and paranoia. Who can Joe trust and what will other interested parties do to get their hands on his mysterious, valuable process.

Although there are many times when this feels as stagey as so many other Mamet movies (not the worst crime in the world), there are also plenty of moments that open up the world that the characters are inhabiting. The events may be happening to Joe, but the movie feels like things are being manipulated on a grand, at times even global, scale.

As well as Scott and Martin, who both do a great job, the film features some solid performances from Rebecca Pidgeon, Ben Gazzara, Ricky Jay and Felicity Huffman (with a small, but enjoyable, cameo from Ed O'Neill). Viewers may be put off by the rhythm and delivery of the dialogue, but it's an interesting choice to ensure that every line is given its due. There are no ramblings here, no words that don't seem carefully planned.

Fans of Mamet will need no further persuasion to see yet another fine example of his work. This is up there with the best that he can produce, even if it doesn't quite reach the heights of House Of Games or Glengarry Glen Ross, and deserves to find an appreciative audience for a long time to come.


Monday, 19 August 2013

Little Shop Of Horrors (1986)

Based on a stage musical that was based on the original 1960 film, Little Shop Of Horrors (a Roger Corman movie most famous for being shot in only two days), this black comedy features a great cast belting out some great tunes in between some memorable set-pieces.

Rick Moranis plays Seymour Krelborn, a young man working in a flower shop owned by the needy and greedy Mr. Mushnik (Vincent Gardenia). The fortunes of both the store and Seymour start to look better when he discovers a new type of plant, a plant that he names Audrey II, after the woman he works alongside (played by Ellen Greene). Unfortunately, the upturn in fortune comes at a price. Audrey II (voiced by Levi Stubbs, of The Four Tops) doesn't grow or flourish unless it's given a very specific diet. A diet of blood.

Directed by Frank Oz, with a screenplay by Howard Ashman (who also worked on creating the songs with Alan Menken), Little Shop Of Horrors is a near-perfect package of comedy, thrills and genuinely enjoyable songs to sing along to. Like almost any musical, there are some that are better than others, but songs like "Skid Row", "Da-Doo", "Grow For Me", "Some Fun Now", "Dentist" (which remains my personal favourite), "Feed Me (Git It)" and "Mean Green Mother From Outer Space" are so strong that they make up for any of the slightly weaker numbers. Unlike most musicals, however, there isn't one song that I would consider bad. That's as much thanks to the execution of the material as it is thanks to the lyrics and musicality of each number.

Moranis is as good as he usually is in the main role, no stranger to playing a kind-hearted chump, and Gardenia and Greene are both perfect for their characters, with the latter especially enjoyable as a sweet blonde bombshell stuck in an abusive relationship with her dentist boyfriend (Steve Martin, almost stealing the entire movie with his hilarious scenes). Levi Stubbs has a superb voice to use for Audrey II and the plant at the centre of all the attention is brilliantly made real, thanks to the audio mixed with some superb practical effects work. You'll buy into it the scenario very quickly, despite the artificiality and ridiculousness of the whole thing.

John Candy, Billl Murray, Christopher Guest and James Belushi all turn up in very enjoyable cameo roles, and it would be remiss of me not to mention Crystal (Tichina Arnold), Ronette (Michelle Weeks) and Chiffon (Tisha Campbell) - the three women, named after classic girl groups from the '50s and '60s, who provide a number of the main songs and most of the backing vocals.

People who have already seen the movie will already be fans (I haven't met anyone yet who has seen it and disliked it) while anyone who hasn't seen it yet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . needs to change that ASAP.


Despite the technical specs, this version will apparently play on all players -

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Die! Die! My Darling! AKA Fanatic (1965)

One of the more bizarre, and therefore more interesting, movies to be released under the Hammer name, Die! Die! My Darling! feels a bit like something you'd expect to see if Pete Walker and Sergio Martino decided to work together on a movie that then had all of the nudity and bloodshed removed. It's often very stylish, it contains a roster of strange and memorable characters, and most of the highlights revolve around aspects of passion, be it severely repressed or bubbling up to the surface.

Stefanie Powers plays Patricia, a young woman who sets out to visit the mother (Mrs. Trefoile, played by Tallulah Bankhead) of her deceased fiance. When she gets there, she finds a very strange household where no condiments are added to the food, no mirrors are used and make-up is not allowed. Even the colour red is frowned upon. Patricia soon finds herself in trouble, upsetting Mrs. Trefoile and unable to get away as quickly as she would like to.

Written by Richard Matheson, based on the novel by Anne Blaisdell, this is a film more about characters and mood than snappy dialogue. There may not be many memorable lines, but there is great pains taken to develop both the characters and situation.

Powers makes for an appealing lead, her character puts up with a LOT before standing up for herself, and Bankhead is very good as the strict, cold Mrs. Trefoile. Peter Vaughan is good as the lusty Harry, Yootha Joyce does well in the role of Anna and Donald Sutherland puts in an appropriate, but strange, performance as Joseph, a mentally handicapped young man. Maurice Kaufmann may not be onscreen much, as Alan (the current beau of Patricia), but he does just fine.

Director Silvio Narizzano does a good job with the material, keeping everything interesting and entertaining without ever filling out sequences with cheap shocks or gratuitous excesses. The movie walks a fine line between the eerie and the laughably bonkers, and it's to Narizzano's credit that once the film ends it stays in your memory for all the right reasons.

All in all, this is a very good film for fans of the slightly bizarre.


Saturday, 17 August 2013

Last Night A Movie Saved My Life.

The internet is FULL of movie reviewers, absolutely chock-a-block stuffed with them. You can't move through cyberspace without, figuratively, tripping over them. Some folks even review episodes of TV shows and movie trailers. The phrase "everyone's a critic" has never been more apt. But why do people do it? Why do people keep trying to talk amongst a cacophony of other voices?

I can't speak for anyone else, obviously, but I can tell people why I try to put something on here every day. It's a mix of my love for cinema, my OCD and a constant in my life that often staves off bouts of depression.

Whether I was rushing up town with my £5 pocket money to buy the hilarious Stir Crazy on VHS (before everyone was so strict about the laws restricting sales to those not of the correct age) or writing down notes in jotters that I am only thankful have long since been lost, I pretty much fell in love with movies as soon as I was old enough to start escaping into that world. I could rewatch favourite films in a way that only youngsters can. And my movie-viewing habits were nothing compared to my mate, Robbie, who once spent a whole Summer watching Kelly's Heroes nearly every single day of the school holiday. I'm not exaggerating.

As I grew older I started to buy more and more movies, quickly amassing a decent collection. Shelves full of videotapes were as organised and well kept as my mind was chaotic and neglected. I continued to scribble notes, but never did anything with them. I had no idea of what I really wanted to say, or even who I would say it to.

I kept at it anyway. Not the writing, but the shopping. Even at my lowest ebb, with barely £1 a day for food shopping, I kept hold of a few DVDs that I hadn't lost, stored them with my few possessions like some talisman, some portent of good times to come.

Those good times came about three and a half years ago, when I met the woman who is now my wife. Now I'm not saying that there haven't been other good times in my life, but they've always been spoiled by either events outwith my control or, usually, my own self-sabotaging behaviour during one of my many bouts of depression (helped, of course, by a good does of alcohol and the company of people either oblivious, or uncaring, of my mental health issues).

When I first met my wife I was still very much ignorant of ways and means to control my highs and lows. There's no cure for severe manic depression, as I often remind people, but there are a lot of tricks and tactics to help you manage it, to try and stop it having such a negative impact on your life. Schedules and routines are good, for example. Making sure that you pick good friends, of course. And, for me, viewing and reviewing movies. I know, I know, it's strange but true.

I used to write plenty of reviews on IMDb and, because of those reviews, I was approached to write for Flickfeast. I discussed it with my wife.
"I'd be a LOT busier," I said. "I'd be watching even more movies. I'd have some deadlines."
My wife replied to all of these comments by reminding me that I loved watching, and reviewing, movies anyway so may as well seize the opportunity. And she was right.

I've since attended EIFF on four occasions, getting more confident and organised with each visit. I've made LOTS of new friends and connections, both in Edinburgh and around the world. My movie collection has continued to grow beyond the boundaries of good taste (according to my wife). And, perhaps most importantly, I have been happier and more stable in my mindset than I have ever been at any other point in my life.

So THAT'S why I put something daily on my blog. Don't get me wrong, I also like to think one or two people will enjoy what I write occasionally. I am egotistical enough to want to shout out over the hundreds of thousands of other folk shouting out into cyberspace. But it keeps me healthy, happy and motivated in a way that nothing else has.

Well, there's that, and also the fact that it gives me an excuse to watch the likes of Sharknado.

It may seem like a random pic, but it's from an appropriate movie

Father Of The Bride Part II (1995)

Although it's not a direct remake of Father's Little Dividend, this sequel features a number of situations and gags that will be familiar to fans of the 1951 movie.

Time has been passing pleasantly enough for the Banks family ever since the marriage of daughter Annie (Kimberly Williams) to the love of her life, Brian (George Newbern). George (Steve Martin) and Nina Banks (Diane Keaton) have settled into a happy routine, with the former looking forward to the day when he can completely relax. Young Matty Banks (Kieran Culkin) will be heading off to college a few years down the line and there won't be any more children to worry about. Of course, that all changes when Annie announces that she's pregnant. It changes even more when Nina announces the same thing. George suddenly feels every year of his age weighing down upon him and has a crisis of confidence (as well as a fleeting mid-life crisis which leads to him dying his hair and driving a sports car for one or two scenes).

There's no denying that this is a lesser movie, as sequels so often are, but there's an easygoing familiarity to it all that helps make it a harmless time-waster. The characters haven't changed all that much, the journey that they all go on is very similiar to the journey that we saw them go on in the preceding movie and there's a fun cameo from Eugene Levy (who also appeared in Father Of The Bride as a potential wedding singer). These may seem like flimsy reasons to enjoy the movie, and they are, but I don't think that any viewers expected anything weightier from a safe sequel to a safe remake of a family comedy.

Many of the people return to their main roles behind the scenes. Charles Shyer once again directs with a lack of flair, Nancy Meyers helps once more in the script department (with help from the material written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett) and it's obvious that this is very much a case of everyone getting back together and falling into comfortable roles. In front of the cameras, Martin Short steals his scenes again, while Martin, Keaton, Williams and Newbern all do just fine.

For viewers, however, familiarity may breed some contempt. If you liked the 1991 movie then you're unlikely to hate this one, but it's never going to be a favourite either.


Friday, 16 August 2013

Father Of The Bride (1991)

After such a fantastic run of movies in the 1980s, Steve Martin started the '90s with some less anarchic films that would indicate the direction his career would take over the next few decades. He still had greatness to give, but most of his movies would fall into the category of either remake or safe, family fare. Father Of The Bride is both.

Martin plays George Banks, the man who ends up acting a bit funny when he's told by his daughter (Kimberly Williams) that she wants to get married (to a young man named Brian, played by George Newbern). George's wife, Nina (Diane Keaton), is very pleased with the news, but all seems to go from bad to worse as George sees the wedding plans - put together by Franck (Martin Short) and Howard (BD Wong) - escalate while his bank balance just keeps shrinking.

Based on the enjoyable original movie (which starred Spencer Tracy in the lead role), Father Of The Bride is a gentle comedy full of many identifiable moments for parents of either gender. You just never stop worrying about your kids, and never stop seeing them as the small and vulnerable little ones that you spent so many years looking after. Martin and Diane Keaton are suitably parental in their roles, with one being stressed out and overly critical while the other is happy and caught up in the moment. Williams and Newbern are both sweet youngsters, often oblivious to how their actions affect those that love them, and Kieran Culkin is young Matty Banks, a boy who doesn't mind being slightly overlooked while things are being prepared for his sister's big day. Short and Wong are both hilarious as the wedding co-ordinators, and Peter Michael-Goetz and Kate McGregor-Stewart (playing the parents of Brian) do well with their relatively short amount of screentime.

The direction by Charles Shyer is okay, though a bit flat and bland, and Shyer also contributed to the script, co-written with Nancy Meyers (working with the screenplay from the original movie, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett). There are a number of nice little nods to the original movie, but things are also updated nicely and smoothly enough. Which makes this a decent remake that may not be the best thing on the filmography of anyone involved, but doesn't sully the good memory of the original either.

It might not be a film that you now rush out to see, but catch it whenever it comes on TV and you may find yourself amused for the runtime.


Thursday, 15 August 2013

L.A. Story (1991)

The funny thing about L.A. Story is that I always quite liked it when I saw it back in the early '90s, but a lot of it was unfamiliar to me. Whether L.A.-centric or just soaked in the nuances of modern Americana, this comedy depicted an alien world. That's what it was always supposed to do. There are wonderful modern fairytale elements blended in there, but it's mainly a look at a strange culture/subculture/way of life. Funnily, and some might say depressingly, enough . . . . . . . . . . . . none of it seems so strange any more. None of it seems so absolutely American and/or Los Angelean. Hell, I now know more about the different flavours and types of coffees sold at Starbucks and Costa then I ever thought I would. I hate myself for that fact, but I usually hate myself while enjoying a medium caramel latte. To go.

Steve Martin plays Harris K. Telemacher, a resident of L.A. and a minor celebrity thanks to his whacky weather reports. He takes a lot of the stranger aspects of L.A. in his stride, but is also able to look around him and remember how bizarre his city is. The differences between his world and the world outwith L.A. are highlighted when he meets Sara McDowel (Victoria Tennant), an English newspaper reporter and also spends some time the the young and carefree SanDeE* (Sarah Jessica Parker).

Mick Jackson directs this sun-bathed slice of surreal-tinged comedy from a script written by Martin, and both men do their best by the material. The majority of the film is little more than observational comedy shoehorned into movie form, but it works brilliantly. The other main element, involving Martin receiving advice from a wise freeway sign, may be too ridiculous for some to enjoy but fair play to Martin for using it as something that turns the tone of the whole movie from one that could have been mean and sour to something playful and affectionate.

The cast is overflowing with great choices. While I've never been the biggest fan of Tennant, she's good enough in her role here. Martin is great, as always, and Sarah Jessica Parker gives a spirited and lovely performance. It's so good that I actually had to look back over that sentence after putting the words spirited and lovely so close to her name. Richard E. Grant is enjoyable enough, and Marilu Henner, Frances Fisher, Kevin Pollak and Susan Forristal all do well. Cameos from Patrick Stewart, Rick Moranis, Woody Harrelson and Chevy Chase also add to the fun.

L.A. Story allows people to laugh at L.A. and its many quirks, but it also makes an effort to remind viewers that magic CAN happen there. It might just be movie magic, but magic is magic.


Wednesday, 14 August 2013

The Pink Panther 2 (2009)

Following on from the 2006 movie, obviously enough, Steve Martin returns to the character of the bumbling Inspector Clouseau in this amusing sequel that I think is just as good as the previous movie. Be warned, however, that I seem to be the only person who thinks this way. Most other people would like to take both films and burn them on a small pyre before returning to their happy place with some help from the classic films starring Peter Sellers.

This time around, a number of audacious thefts have been committed by The Tornado, a legend in the criminal world. Nobody knows who The Tornado is, but a dream team is assembled to put a stop to the crimewave. That dream team consists of Vicenzo (Andy Garcia), Pepperidge (Alfred Molina), Kenji (Yuki Matsuzaki) and Sonia (Aishwara Rai Bachchan). And Clouseau. When he's not busy driving Dreyfuss (played by John Cleese this time) up the wall, upsetting the lovely Nicole (Emily Mortimer) and sparring with his assistant, Ponton (Jean Reno), he's either showing how much of a calamity he is or, strangely enough, how sharp his mind can be.

A few people jumped ship in between the previous film and this one, which isn't ever a reassuring sign, but if you enjoyed the first film then I can't imagine you hating this one. Oh, you're unlikely to enjoy it as much as I did (so I have discovered), but there's plenty of fun to be had. The script, by Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber and Steve Martin, has plenty of decent lines peppered throughout and the direction by Harald Zwart is competent enough for something this lightweight.

The cast all look suitably worn down by Martin's chaotic character, with Andy Garcia especially good fun in his role and Aishwara Rai Bachchan having fun as the distractingly beautiful member of the team who is also an expert on The Tornado. John Cleese is okay as Dreyfuss, though he never seems quite as exasperated as Kevin Kline did in the previous movie (who never seemed quite as exasperated as Herbert Lom, the actor most associated with the role). Martin, Reno and Mortimer are all very good, and the supporting cast includes Jeremy Irons, onscreen for just a few minutes, and Lily Tomlin, playing someone who tries to help Clouseau adjust his attitude to women and people from other nations.

There's no denying that this is Steve Martin wayyyyyyyyy past his prime, coasting along and working with material that's often beneath him, but I still find it enjoyable and entertaining. Part of that will undoubtedly be down to just how highly I think of Martin. But part of it might be, just MIGHT be, down to the fact that the film isn't actually as bad as most people make out.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Pink Panther (2006)

I know, I know, it's a shocking oversight on my part that I've never actually seen any of the original Pink Panther movies featuring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau (despite owning the boxset). I appreciate that many will feel my ignorance of those movies invalidates my opinion of this movie, and the sequel (review coming soon for that one, too). Well, trust me, despite having not seen the movies yet I AM aware of their prospective greatness. I have seen enough snippets of Sellers in action to know how good he is in the role of Inspector Clouseau, I've seen moments in which Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) is driven round the bend and I know about the friendly fights between Clouseau and his assistant, Kato (Burt Kwouk). Basically, I am emphasising the fact that I know the characters and dynamics even though I've not seen the movies. Yet.

But let's get to THIS movie. Let's get to this interpretation of the character. Inspector Clouseau is still a bumbling, French detective (this time played by Steve Martin), Charles Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) is still being driven up the wall and there's now an assistant named Ponton (Jean Reno) who works with Clousea and deals with surprise attacks. The Pink Panther? Well, it's still a lovely diamond and the cause of a lot of problems. In fact, the disappearance of the gem is the main plot point of the movie, of course. Jason Statham makes a cameo appearance as its owner, Beyonce Knowles plays his partner and Henry Czerny is a suspect in the murder/robbery. Clive Owen has fun as a suave secret agent who inadvertently helps Clouseau to look good, and Emily Mortimer is a lovely young woman who falls for the Inspector, but the majority of the scenes focus on the bumbling nature of the central character and the catastrophes that he causes around him.

Directed by Shawn Levy, this is his typical brand of family-friendly entertainment. I happen to enjoy many of Shawn Levy's movies, but he's not exactly a risk-taker. He's capable enough here, helped enormously by the amusing characters and the script, co-written by Martin and Len Blum. Martin isn't a patch on Sellers when it comes to the character of Clouseau, but he deserves kudos for trying to stay true to the most familiar interpretation of him while also putting his own little spin on things. The fact that he's surrounded by people like Kline, Reno, Mortimer and Czerny helps a lot, and Beyonce does well as a beautiful woman who can make men act a bit funny.

Christophe Beck is the composer, but he uses that classic theme tune by Henry Mancini for both the opening credit sequence and many musical motifs throughout the movie, keeping soundtrack fans more than happy.

As long as you don't keep comparing every moment to the films starring Peter Sellers there ARE many laughs here. Including a very funny fart joke (hey, it's not big, it's not clever, but it's still funny). I'm not going to convince anyone that this is actually a decent comedy and I'm not going to try too hard. I like it, I'd watch it again and I may still like it just as much even after I finally watch my boxset containing the original movies.


Monday, 12 August 2013

Sharknado (2013)

Don't pretend that you haven't heard of this one. The movie that had a poster/DVD cover featuring a tornado full of dangerous sharks, with the tagline: "Enough said!"

Sharknado is exactly what you think it will be. The plot is all about a freak hurricane that picks up lots of sharks and throws them into the streets of Los Angeles. While it's raining sharks (hallelujah?), our hero (Ian Ziering, playing a man named . . . . . . Fin) takes a few people along for the ride as he desperately heads out to help his ex-wife (Tara Reid) and protect his teenage-ish kids.

On one hand, there's no point in criticising Sharknado for succeeding at what it aims to be. Director Anthony C. Ferrante and writer Thunder Levin have crafted what may well be the new benchmark for Asylum movies (taking the crown from the mighty Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus). It's so high concept while also scraping the bottom of the barrel that it forms one almighty paradox wrapped in an oxymoron wrapped in a . . . . . . . . . CGI shark.

The acting from almost everyone onscreen is pretty dire. That's not to say that everyone is unforgivably bad. They're bad, but somehow still manage to win viewers over just by turning up and taking part in the madness. Tara Reid may be the most famous face onscreen, but you wouldn't know it from her acting skills. Let's be generous and assume that she lowered her performance levels to be in line with everyone else around her. Ziering isn't bad, but he's not very good either. John Heard is good fun, despite not being onscreen often enough, and Cassie Scerbo, Jaason Simmons, Chuck Hittinger and Aubrey Peeples all try their best to act like people . . . . . . . . . running scared from sharks that are being thrown from violent tornadoes.

The script is bad, with the obvious Jaws reference(s) being particularly groansome, the continuity is non-continuous and the special effects aren't all that special, but this has some fun moments here and there and certainly can't be accused of being dull.

I think I can sum up my reaction to Sharknado by summing up my reaction to one scene, in particular. The main characters try to tell people about the danger that they're in and try to move people away from shark-infested rainwaters. While doing so, one woman is knocking on the exterior of her car and asking someone to help her dog, who is locked in the car. This is obviously supposed to be a "save the dog, at least save the dog" moment a la Independence Day. But . . . . . but . . . . . but . . . . . the dog is INSIDE the car. The dog is LOCKED IN the car. This means that either a) the woman now wanting help to get her dog out somehow locked it in there in the first place and is, therefore, a bit of an idiot or b) the dog knew that shit was going down and decided to lock itself within the relatively safe shell of the car. Either way, that dog seems to be one of the smartest characters. Enough said!


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Inside AKA A l'interieur (2007)

Ho-leeeeeeee crap! Wow!! Goddamn!!! And other such exclamations of genuine shock and surprise. Inside is one mad, intense, brutal, wild horror movie and if you're a genre fan with a strong stomach then you should check it out as soon as possible. But make sure you really DO have that strong stomach.

Directors Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, almost from the off, mark themselves out as talents to watch in the future. The premise of the movie is simplistic enough (a heavily pregnant woman is terrorised by a strange woman the night before she is due to head into the hospital and have her baby) but the execution is absolutely fearless and astounding.

Alysson Paradis is the poor, terrified mother-to-be while Beatrice Dalle (still Betty Blue to many who grew up with that poster on their wall) plays the mysterious woman doing the terrifying. There are others who appear on the scene but this movie really isn't about the acting, although I never noticed anyone putting in a bad performance, however small the role.

This movie is about the bloodshed, the carnage and the unrelenting build up of terror. I can't remember the last time I felt quite so tense while watching some poor saps in a horror movie approaching their, possibly fatal, fates. This movie had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish and also had me wincing numerous times when the camera showed some of the more painful moments in far too much detail for comfort.

This is certainly not for those who dislike the horror movies that "show too much" but I should just add that there IS a decent story lurking under the streams of blood and viscera. It may be flimsy but it's there and it actually adds to the dynamic of the movie, making a rewatch a surprisingly enjoyable and rewarding (well, sort of, you know what I mean) experience.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Lady Boys Of Bangkok: Glamorous Amorous

The Lady Boys Of Bangkok have been drawing in big crowds at Edinburgh Festival for many years now. In fact, they're almost as much part and parcel of our annual cultural explosion as our world-famous military Tattoo. I'd never made it along to one of their shows, but this year I wanted to change that.

The fact is that The Lady Boys Of Bangkok is a strange name for a major show that you may end up enjoying and recommending to others. It's a show title, in fact, that will cause no small amount of arched eyebrows and sniggers.

Never mind such things. The show put on for the audience is just fantastic. All of the performers mime along to hits that include the latest popular dance tunes (this show featured the likes of Gangnam Style, brilliantly done, and crowd-pleasing stuff from Nicki Minaj, Ne-yo and Girls Aloud, to name a few) and also a selection of beloved standards - My Way, I Will Survive, The Best, etc.

Oh, and there's plenty of sexy dancing. Things are at their very best when the impressive dance routines mix humour, real skill and some occasional thrusting. They dip to their worst, though I may be in the minority with this opinion, when the cheeky routines give way to more unsubtle, almost cringe-inducing, crudity. A "comedy" song and dance about Fifty Shades Of Grey just left me impatiently waiting for it to end, while a singalong of Who The F**k Is Alice? made me worry that we would all see a special cameo appearance from Roy 'Chubby' Brown.

A strange, musical circus designed to let a drunken audience enjoy themselves to the utmost, The Lady Boys Of Bangkok is a mixture of gaudy delight and potential awkwardness. It's a fine line between performers providing a spectacle and performers BEING a spectacle, and it's always just one step away from being nothing more than lowest common denominator fodder for the masses. Everything moves along so briskly and loudly that nobody has the time to consider just what it is that they've actually paid to see anyway.

There's plenty here for men to enjoy, but many of the song choices make it clear that this is all planned as a great night out for the ladies. Judging by the women singing and dancing around me, this show knows its audience and it doesn't matter what I say now anyway.

But I will end with this. I had a lot of fun with this show. In fact, for 3/4 of the show I had a great time. There was one number in particular - My Way - that actually hinted at how much more these performers could give audiences. The performer, changing from dress to suit, mimed along to the Shirley Bassey version before things moved, eventually, to the classic voice of Frank Sinatra. It was poignant, it gave the whole song an extra layer as the person onstage seemed to struggle with keeping one identity from start to finish, and it was brilliantly executed. But it was also completely removed, tonally, from the rest of the show.

I'm glad that I finally went along to see The Lady Boys Of Bangkok and I'd recommend people go to see them at least once. Would I go back? Probably not. Despite the razzle dazzle of it all, despite the enjoyable music and despite the impressive dance moves, I still feel that I overpaid slightly to watch some people mime on a stage while lots of people around me drank slightly more than they should have.


You can buy your tickets for The Lady Boys Of Bangkok here and their main website is here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Mon Oncle Antoine (1971)

Set during Christmas time in the late 1940s, Mon Oncle Antoine is a coming of age tale that revolves around young Benoit (Jacques Gagnon), his family members and the residents of the small mining town that he lives in. On this particular Christmas, Benoit will learn a fair bit about sex and death, while others will be reminded of lessons they learned a long time ago about the class structure.

Directed by Claude Jutra (who also takes a small, but vital, role and co-wrote the screenplay with Clement Perron), Mon Oncle Antoine is one of those little movies that resonates with many viewers.I certainly didn't dislike it. I just felt that nothing much happened to draw me into the world I was being presented with.

The acting is all pretty good, especially from young Gagnon (who gives a nice, natural performance), but this is a movie so seemingly lightweight that it almost blows away like so much dust in the wind. I say seemingly lightweight because the themes being looked at are actually quite deep ones, you just don't notice that as the various vignettes play out (an observation I am not putting here as a criticism - this shows how well Jutra handles the material).

There's nothing wrong, of course, with a movie being put together with such a light touch, and the numerous people who agree with this being one of the greatest films of all time (and one of the greatest Canadian films ever made) will be quick to point that out. The only problem I have with the film is that, for some reason, it doesn't strike a chord with me in the way that, for example, My Life As A Dog did. Or King Of The Hill. Or even, more recently, The Kid With A Bike.

With solid support from Jean Duceppe, Monique Mercure, Lyne Champagne, Olivette Thibault and Jutra, this has plenty (and plenty of other people) to recommend it. It just didn't really work for me.


Thursday, 8 August 2013

Mark Thomas: 100 Acts Of Minor Dissent

Comedians have, for a long time now, been smart, informed individuals who find a way to deliver bad news to audiences while also making them laugh at the absurdity of the world around us. Mark Thomas is smarter and more informed than most, and I've had the pleasure of being familiar with his work for many years (I first experienced his mind-expanding blend of comedy and social issues when he was on TV with The Mark Thomas Comedy Product).

For anyone reading the subtitle and worrying about Mr. Thomas slowing down from his more passionate, more active days, then stop worrying right now. Although the show is entitled "100 Acts Of Minor Dissent" there is nothing minor about the show itself and the ideology and progressive thinking put forward is just as impressive as it ever has been. It's all about knowing your rights, doing what you can to help independent businesses and business owners and engaging in any activities that could lead to positive change for communities all around the country.

I digress. Wait, no I don't. You can't discuss any comedy involving Mark Thomas without discussing the causes he has aligned himself with over the years. I still have such fond memories of him educating schoolchildren about the sweatshops that helped make many of their trainers before getting the number of a CEO (the company was either Nike or Adidas, I think) and allowing all of the kids to call up and leave a message on the guy's answering machine. Or the appeal for people to make their own movies on CCTV and claim their own footage back (I believe it may cost a small fee, but IS always available to you under the Data Protection Act). And much more.

As well as being a bloody funny guy, Mark Thomas has been a personal hero of mine for well over a decade. Seeing him live, at long last, was like ticking something off my 'bucket list', albeit a bucket list full of small and safe things I kinda hope to do in my life as opposed to skydiving and shit. Yes, I admit that I felt a small amount of regret that this was an older and slightly mellower man that I was seeing. I wondered if that rage would still appear, if the audience would be fired up as they seemed to be when I'd seen Thomas on TV in the past.

Perhaps he has mellowed slightly, but perhaps not. Yes, there is certainly a gentler, safer and more entertaining coating to the anarchy he now encourages (I REALLY want to have a go at book heckling . . . . . . . you'll either know what I'm on about or you can feel free to ask). But if you think this is a man who no longer gets angry as he used to, just wait until you hear him explain the reasoning behind and/or complain about OAPs wearing designer trainers.

This man hasn't mellowed, he's just managed to find better ways to sugarcoat the pill over the years. I just hope that more people allow themselves to both enjoy what Mark Thomas offers up, and also think about it long after this one-hour show is over.


The main Mark Thomas website is here.

Buy tickets for the show here, you won't regret it.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

All Of Me (1984)

The last of the collaborations between director Carl Reiner and actor Steve Martin, All Of Me is almost as good as any of their previous efforts and holds up as yet another hugely entertaining piece of inspired lunacy from the two men.

The plot of the story is as ridiculous as it is loaded with comic potential. Martin plays Roger Cobb, a lawyer who wants to take his career to the next level. As a bit of a test, he is asked to handle the affairs of Edwina Cutwater (Lily Tomlin). Miss Cutwater is dying, but she has a plan to live on. As she shuffles off the mortal coil, she will have her soul placed in a bowl and then transferred into the body of the lovely, young Terry Hopkins (Victoria Tennant). Roger Cobb finds this idea insane, but it all proves most troublesome when things go wrong and the soul of Miss Cutwater doesn't get to Terry. The bowl is instead knocked out of an open window and lands on . . . . . . . . . . . yes, Roger. When he comes to he soon realises that something is amiss (no pun intended). His body is not entirely his own. The man and the woman will have to work together in the same body to fix the situation, preferably before Roger loses his girlfriend and his job.

The script, written by Phil Alden Robinson and adapted by Henry Olek, from the novel by Edwin Davis, is full of great lines and great characters, but most of the praise has to go to Martin for his physical performance. His turn here holds up, in my opinion, as one of the best physical performances in the modern comedy genre. Tomlin may be heard more than seen, but she's on good form as the spoilt, tired woman who is used to getting everything just how she wants it. Then there's Victoria Tennant. She's okay, nothing more and nothing less. Jason Bernard is great fun as a blind musician who is also a good friend to Martin's character, Dana Elcar is a lot of fun as Martin's boss and Richard Libertini is amusing and sweet as Prahka Lasa, the man with the power to transfer souls into different receptacles.

Reiner keeps things moving along nicely, there's a decent soundtrack (including some nice use of the titular track), and one or two big set-pieces make up for the fact that the script may not be as sharp as their previous works. Well worth your time.


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Morgan And West: A Grand Adventure

Morgan and West are time-travelling, Victorian magicians and all-round good eggs. I had the pleasure to catch a clip of their act last year in Edinburgh at the fantastic Forth On The Fringe and so, while wandering the High Street with my daughter a few days ago, was delighted to take one of their cards and find out that they had a show on that very afternoon. I bought tickets and killed some time until my daughter and I headed along to enjoy an hour of magic, thrills and comedy.

Let me start by saying how much I enjoy the style of Morgan and West. They are both likeable, witty and talented men. All-round good eggs, funnily enough. A Grand Adventure sees disaster strike the pair when they lose their big book of secrets and have to travel to the ends of the earth, facing many dangers along the way, to recover it. The story, and the humour contained in many of the set-pieces, is a delight and the staging is perfect - the duo making the most of a sparse set that has all they need while easily setting the scene for imaginative audience members. The magic, unfortunately, isn't always such a delight.

An opening sequence about misdirection and manipulation is a real treat, clever and funny and very impressive, but it's a highlight in a show that constantly fails to dress up the simple mechanics on display in, ironically, a more distracting fashion.

I am neither as talented or dexterous or as smart as these gentlemen, but I knew how a number of the bigger effects were achieved (especially a lengthy routine that involved Mr. Morgan tied up in a sack, but also most of the teashop trickery) and there were some that I didn't even care about by the time of the reveal. Yes, sirs, I'm on about the cracking of the safe.

I'm not saying that the show was bad, because it wasn't, but I was saddened by the fact that many of the tricks were based on principles so simple that I'd read up on them as a teenager. Thankfully, the humour and quirky nature of the characters makes up for a lot. There's also a superbly funny bit involving lots of sugar, an impressive encounter with a famous thief and some fun audience participation (note: if you don't want to be involved then don't sit in the first few rows).

I encourage people to see Morgan And West, despite my average rating for this show, and I'd also encourage people to buy one of their tea towels (they do sell them, they may even mention it during the show), but I know that they are capable of much finer magic than the tricks used in A Grand Adventure. The fact that many moments do, however, feel like a grand adventure is jolly spiffing indeed. Remember their names and be sure to catch them at least once when/if they perform at a venue near you.


Tickets can be bought here and more information on Morgan & West can alwas be found here.


n.b. - all ratings for live shows use the standard 5-star system

Monday, 5 August 2013

Fear In The Night (1972)

A psychological thriller by Jimmy Sangster, Fear In The Night is yet another in the long line of Hammer movies often overlooked by fans of their horror movies featuring the archetypes of the genre. I was looking forward to seeing this one, not expecting anything great as I had heard nothing about it beforehand, but I was definitely intrigued.

The plot sees young Peggy (Judy Geeson), recently recovered from a nervous breakdown, joining her husband (Ralph Bates) on the grounds of the school where he works. The school is presided over by Michael Carmichael (the ever-watchable Peter Cushing), who stays there with his wife (Joan Collins). As fragile as she is, Peggy is made even worse when attacked by a mystery assailant. And the worst thing is that nobody will believe her, simply putting it down to recovering, shaky nerves.

While it's not a very remarkable entry into the psychological thriller subgenre, this movie does a number of things quite well. Geeson gives a decent performance as the young, nervous, often child-like, wife. Bates is solid and Collins is pretty good. Cushing is, it goes without saying, great. Before the twists and turns start to occur the pacing of the film also works just fine, drawing you into a mysterious atmosphere of unease and doubt while flagging up some, admittedly easy to spot, future plot developments.

It's also surprisingly bleak in places, rather nihilistic and hopeless for a Hammer movie - another point worth noting and another aspect that impresses when weighed against many other films released by the studio.

Sangster is a better writer (he co-wrote this screenplay with Michael Syson) than he is director, from what I have seen of his work, but he's capable enough and frames his material adequately, if nothing else. Fear In The Night ends up as a movie worth seeing, though perhaps not worth seeking out ahead of many other psychological thrillers you could give your time to.