Joe’s Blog

Archive for the 'movie reviews' category

Ishtar (1987)

April 13, 2012 5:14 am

 

Hollywood is pretty much dead to me now. As long as they continue to churn out uninspired sequels, yawn-inducing remakes and continually force people to pay an extra £2 to watch a film in headache-causing 3D, I’ll be keeping my cinema going hard earned for more worthy fare than Avengers Assemble or Men in Black 3.

There is one thing that Hollywood could do to presuade me back to their wares, and that’s to start making hugely budgeted flops. They literally don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Market conditions, block booking and heavy marketing mean that by the time most people have discovered a film is an absolute clunker, it’s already made its money back in ‘advance screenings’.

But, I’ve always been drawn to flops. In the past, I paid up to watch films like Waterworld, Last Action Hero, Hudson Hawk. Even Bonfire of the Vanities got some dosh off me at the cinema. I had no idea what it was about. I’d never heard of, let alone read, the book (I was only 14 at the time). But I had spent months reading about what an absolute disaster it was going to be, and that was enough for me. As someone more talented than me once said “When the gold plated limo starts to swerve, you have to stay and watch it crash’.

Ishtar has for many years eluded me. Rarely shown on TV, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in a video shop. Apparently you can buy it on DVD, but I’ve never seen it anywhere (this is the UK. It has NEVER been released on DVD in the USA!). So when it cropped up on Lovefilm Instant, I just had to watch it.

Ishtar very quickly became more famous for its background than for the film itself, and its title became a Hollywood byword for the excesses of out of control stars. It ruined a director’s career and wrecked David Puttnam’s time as head of Columbia Pictures almost as soon as he took the job (he had nothing to do with its inception, but was more than happy to criticize it) . It’s budget was more than double the average for its time, and the costs just kept going up. It would have needed to have been the biggest film of the year to make its money back. And the chances were, in 1987, that a musical, with deliberately bad songs, sung by two stars who can’t sing, was never going to be as popular as buddy-cop car chase movies.

You read that right. The plot, such as it is, involves Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as a pair of awful lounge singers getting themselves in some shenanigens in the Middle East, a potential coup which could destabilise the whole area. By its own admission, it’s an attempt to recreate the dubious magic of the Bob Hope/Bing Crosby “Road” movies. The difference is, those two were entertainers, rather than actors. The films were very carefully crafted for their particular talents. Beatty and Hoffman are actors, and Ishtar is NEVER geared towards their talents.

This was a package, put together by Beatty, who wanted to do his friend Elaine May a favour. He’d set up a project for her as a ‘thank you’ for rewriting his huge hit Heaven Can Wait. He got his buddy Hoffman involved (May had done script work for him on Tootsie). In a supporting role, they called upon Charles Grodin, who’s career had been made by another rare May directing gig, The Heartbreak Kid. Beatty collared his then-girlfriend, Isabelle Adjani, for the female lead (and, astonishingly, 2nd billing).

One of these three doesn’t have an Oscar… but she at least has her dignity.

These people, Hollywood’s annointed ones, were left alone deep in the heart of the Morrocan desert with $50 million of someone else’s money to make what they genuinely thought would be an Oscar winning film.

Ishtar deserves its awful reputation. there is absolutely nothing in the way of good film-making on show here. The first 30 minutes are spent on an interminably lengthy flashback (notably short on laughs) showing how our undynamic duo ended up together. What they don’t show is how their dreadful act mangaed to secure them not only an agent, but bookings! If a film is arrogant enough to say “Look, they are SUPPOSED to be dreadful”, it should at least try and explain how they manage to get work.

Their agent sends them to Morocco for a residency in a posh hotel, and within seconds of landing Hoffman has his passport taken by Adjani (who flashes a boob to prove she’s a woman, rather than, y’know, showing her face), and Beatty goes on alone. Hoffman is accosted by Grodin’s slimy CIA agent to do…stuff… plot stuff. There’s a map which fortells of two people who will bring about upheavel in the area (maybe they were thinking of George Bush and Tony Blair). Adjani has the map, but no one knows where it is. Apparently this map will EXPLODE the region. I thought maps showed you where places are, rather than containing hyroglyphics of revolutionary types. But I’m no expert. maybe screenwriter Elaine May is. Or maybe director Elaine May is. Perhaps the real expert is producer Warren Beatty. Then again, the real expert could indeed be the character played by Adjani. Girlfriend of Beatty.

Do you see? Do you see why this may be a bit too top heavy with chums having a lark, with no one to say “Hey, guys. This isn’t actually very funny”.

Gags come very thin and very slow. There’s a good chuckle early on when Hoffman sings a song called “I’ve Leaving Some Love In My Will” to a couple celebrating their golden wedding anniversary. But the height of sophisticated comedy (in the maker’s eyes anyway) is to make short, craggy Hoffman the sexy ladies man, and bed-hopping Beatty the nervous, insecure type. Ha.

I can’t remember watching a studio film that was such a mess. It’s truly painful.

“Five million dollars…each?”

It’s hard to see talent like Hoffman, Adjani and Grodin (the best thing in the film, as usual) wasting their time on something like this. Beatty I have little time for. His career is littered with egomanical projects like this, and I feel he should take a lot of the blame for this mess. Most commentators point the finger at May, saying she wasn’t experienced, or tough, enough to handle a project of this magnitude. Beatty was more than capable, as producer, of stepping in and salvaging something from it, but instead he left May alone, shielding her from Columbia who, quite rightly, were wondering when their $50 million, Oscar-winning, Christmas movie was going to be ready.

I honestly can’t remember that much about the plot. There’s a tedious section towards the end where Hoffman pretends to be an Arabic interpreter for some gun runners (one of whom is played by  Warren Clarke in his usual gruff, Yorkshire manner), which leads to the closest the film comes to an action sequence (well, there’s a helicopter), and a tedious slapstick interlude where governments agents from various countries are trying to kill the gruesome twosome in a busy market and end up wiping themselves out.

The market provides the background for another supposedly ‘hilarious’ scene. Hoffman has been told by the CIA to go to the market, find a man called Mohammed (pffft) and ask him to sell him a ‘blind camel’ (oh, stop!). You’ll never guess what happens…

Many bad movies, like those discussed on this very blog, are given excuses due to budget, casting, inexprienced film-makers, and so on. Ishtar has no such excuses.  I think it’s telling that the story behind the film is far more interesting than the film itself.

And as such, and I don’t say this lightly, it genuinely is one of the worst films I have ever seen.

 

 

Jaguar Lives! (1979)

January 26, 2012 12:11 pm

Jaguar Lives!

Maybe unusually for an exploitation fan, I’ve never really been a fan of kung fu movies. Yes, Bruce Lee was amazing, but his most famous film, Enter the Dragon, owes a bit more to Bond movies than it does to his older classics like Fist of Fury.

For me kung fu movies are very one note: hero is wronged, he has a fight; he goes somewhere, has a fight; a friend gets killed, he has a fight; he tracks down villain, has a fight. At least thats how every film I’ve seen goes. All that changes is the guy pretending to be Bruce Lee, and the settings. So, I’m probably not the best person to review Jaguar Lives!, an attempt to mould an all-American version of Bruce Lee.

And it fails. Miserably.

Jaguar Lives! is one of those films where the trailer is far more entertaining than the finished product, by a long way. It promises an all-star international cast featuring THREE, count them, THREE Bond villains, a Bond girl, Capucine and John Huston! It also promises us that debutant star Joe Lewis (a cross between Sam Jones from Flash Gordon and Gary Busey) is set to follow in the footsteps of Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood. It’s no great surprise that the trailer writes cheques the film cannot possibly afford to cash.

We meet the Jaguar (Lewis) racing his buddy to ‘The temple’ where a bomb is going to explode. Jaguar goes after a baddie and leaves his mate to defuse the bomb. Instead he shoots Jaguar in the back and lets the bomb go off. The rotter. But luckily… Jaguar Lives!

After a rehabilitation period under the guidance of his sensei (Woody Strode… yes, that Woody Strode), Jag is called back into action by Barbara Bach. She works for some internation spy collective called G6, and she needs Jag to… er… I’ll get back to you on that because the exposition happens so fast it’s not entirely clear what Jag is asked to do. He goes to see a blind man (Joseph Wiseman) who tells him where someone is.

Jag arrives in Made-up-a-guay and meets the country’s corrupt general (Donald Pleasance). After a bit of chat Jag takes on a group of secret police on motorbikes (to the strains of some awful matador music) and nicks a helicopter for his escape. That’s the last we see of Pleasance.

Stock footage is employed to show explosions happening in Paris, Rio and other parts of the world the production can’t afford to go to.

Jag proceeds to travel the world (or at least places that Spain can adequately stand in for), meets a guest star who delivers some pointless exposition, and beats up some guys. At one point he hangs on to a car roof, like you’ve seen in countless 70s cop shows, for about five minutes. There is quite an entertaining fight in a warehouse where Jag just chucks spanners at everyone and clambers up a forklift to oversea his handy work.

Eventually, he tracks down the criminal mastermind who is using John Huston’s shipping line to flood the world with drugs. He finds himself in Benidorm of all places (or Benedorme, as the caption states). There’s rather an elaborate set up to reveal who Mr Big is. Is it another guest star we haven’t seen yet? Fat chance. If you can’t work out who it is, you really shouldn’t be allowed near sharp objects.

This is truly dire stuff. It’s clear that Joe Lewis was never going to be a big draw, so the plan to surround him with a wealth of well-known (and indiscriminate) stars is sound. But it’s clear the budget couldn’t stretch to employing them for more than a day or two each. Much like the Amicus horror films of the 60s and 70s, it’s a cheap trick to convince the audience they are getting a star studded extravaganza when you’re actually getting a succession of cameos within a limp story, and a limper leading man.

Lewis arranged his own scenes according to the credits, and, to be fair, they look a lot dirtier than Lee’s or Jackie Chan’s highly coreographed brawling ballets. The final confrontation takes place in an abandoned castle, with the actors literally hurling themselves into brick walls and stony floors. But in terms of style, there is none. At one point the camera jerkily follows them as they fight, clearly with no idea where they are going.

Jaguar Lives! has done absolutely nothing to change my opinion of kung fu movies, and has further reinforced my belief than some of my favourite actors will do absolutely anything if you pay them and promise them a weekend on the Costa del Sol.

Mongolian Death Worm (2010)

January 13, 2012 3:28 am
Mongolian Death Worm
NOT Tremors 5… no… it’s not

It’s currently a great time to be a fan of exploitation trash. Or perhaps not. Ever since MegaShark v Giant Octopus a couple of years back, the world of zero-budget straight-to-video movie making (and I use that phrase in the loosest possible sense) has decided that the best way to make a quick buck is to replicate the formula of that near-legendary exercise in camp escapism. The only problem is none of the people involved in making these films has any talent whatsoever, so the only reason to watch them is for ‘oh-so-ironic’ kitsch entertainment. Sometimes even that isn’t enough to maintain the interest. Whereas the entertainment value of the Roger Corman-produced Sharktopus is increased through the consumption of alcohol, in the case of Mongolian Death Worm, that self-same alcohol will probably result in an early night.

Things start the way these things always start, with a caption explaining that the action is not in fact taking place in what suspiciously like somewhere in the American desert, but is in fact somewhere mildly exotic. In this case we are ‘in’ Mongolia.

At an oil refinery, there’s some digging going on. Only it becomes apparent from the exchange of sneers and threats that this digging is not strictly legal. We’re not told why, but it’s clear we are being introduced to a villain, Patrick, and a reluctant sidekick. We know he’s reluctant because he looks a bit ethnic and speaks of ‘his people’. He’s dead before the credits are finished, eaten by a huge CGI worm which looks suspiciously like a Graboid from Tremors.

The next 20 odd minutes are taken up introducing the bulk of the cast. Daniel is a scoundrel treasure hunter, on the run from some nasty treasure hunters who resemble Mexican bandits. He is played, in a rare moment of genius, by Sean Patrick Flanery, who played Young Indiana Jones in the TV series. Sadly the years have not been kind, and he now resembles a five foot version of comedian Doug Stanhope (EVERYONE in this film is taller than him). He’s looking for Genghis Khan’s treasure. Through a couple of plot contrivances he ends up giving a lift to a couple of doctors who are helping out a village (actually a port-a-kabin with corrugated iron stuck to the side) where everyone is ill. They are blaming the illness on “the worms!”, but of course the doctors think this is nonsense. They are people of science, and not stupid characters in a monster movie. One of the doctors is a cowardly wimp. The other (Alicia) is a hot-pant wearing, independent woman who doesn’t like Daniel because he’s arrogant and selfish. This is a plot point I’ve never seen before so I was intrigued to see how their relationship would turn out…

There’s also a Mongolian sheriff, who drives a rather swish 4×4 with Sheriff written on the side. In English. He also wears a cowboy hat, but sadly not a tin star.

The next hour is pure padding. Our heroes are captured by the bandits before the worms eat them. Bad guy Patrick is interrupted by the arrival of his boss and resorts to Terry and June levels of farce to prevent him from finding out what he’s up to. The sick villagers sweat and say ‘The Worms!” a lot. And every time you think “I haven’t seen those darned worms for a bit”, they’ll be a gratuitous scene of a character you’ve never seen stopping their car and getting eaten.

Eventually, the third act arrives. Patrick and his new reluctant sidekick launch a fake alert at the oil plant to evacuate it, so they can start removing things in tea chests. What could it possibly be?

The sick villagers are getting worse, and so is the plotting, as Daniel and Alicia decide to visit that nearby oil refinery and see if they can get some medical supplies. Finding it abandoned they decide to go and loot it anyway. But, wouldn’t you know it, Patrick nefarious drilling has been attracting the worms, and the plant is now overrun with them. It seems they were actually put on this earth to guard Genghis Khan’s treasure, and they are a bit peeved about having to actually do some work after all these years. They are also advancing, much slower than in the rest of the film, on the tin hut hospital!

So, we’re set for our climax. I’m not going to go into detail, not because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but just because it’s not really worth it. I’m sure if you’ve got this far, you can work out what our heroes will do with an oil refinery filled with killer worms. No? Need another clue? OK, there’s these three rotary handles to shut down the place. But if you turn them the other way they could blow up the refinery. So don’t turn them the other way. Careful now…

Even for a cheap-arse piece of exploitation this really is a chore. Terrible acting, awful dialogue, absolutely zero directorial flair. It just limps from unspectacular set-piece to uninspired set-piece, via clichéd dialogue and plot contrivances that were old hat in the silent era, topped off with a dose of the shoddiest CGI since Pierce Brosnan went ice surfing. The worms themselves look like animated transfers; they don’t seem to cast shadows, they have hardly any texture, and bear such a close resemblance to the Graboids, you’d think if Tremors had been made in the CGI era they were actually using the same animation.

To be fair, that paragraph could easily describe Transformers 3, so at least Mongolian Death Worm is honest in its own craptacular way. But it makes one sin too many: it’s dull.

After the initial set up, you don’t care about anyone in the film, so you just want to see the worms eat people. To be fair, they do at regular intervals (you can set your watch by it), but when the scenes arrive, they are so poorly rendered, and also quite quickly over, that you’re soon back watching Daniel and Alicia flirting, or Patrick ordering the natives around.

I know this isn’t supposed to be high art, but there must come a point in the production process when someone says “Look, guys, this is really a bit shit” or have we finally reached the stage where film makers (like their TV counterparts) have so much contempt for its audience that it will literally release anything now? If so I fear the next Sci-Fi, sorry SyFy Movie Special will be MegaCrocShark vs. Mongolian DinoOctoWormapus.

Don’t Open Till Christmas (1984)

December 16, 2011 10:23 am

Don't Open Til Christmas

Is it me or is it a bit nippy out?

Us Brits and our cousins across the water share many things, and other things we do completely differently. Take christmas. Or rather christmas viewing.

Recently I’ve been checking out Christmas 24 on my revived Sky box. This is, unsurprisingly perhaps, a channel that shows non-stop Christmas films from mid-November to early-January. If you love christmas movies, this sounds like bliss, until you actually watch them. You won’t find It’s a Wonderful Life here. Nor will you find Gremlins, Holiday Inn or Miracle on 34th Street. You WILL find the wonderful Alistair Sim version on Scrooge, but it’s been horribly colourized.

Generally, Christmas 24 consists of a endless stream of made-for-TV movies, mostly filmed in Canada in the middle of summer, desperately attempting to look like your typical American town in December. They are, to a man, dreadful. Sadly, they are also very dull.

But it did strike me, that, to the best of my knowledge, American TV tends to shut down normal programming during the festive season, so they need product like this to fill the airwaves.

In the UK, it’s the other way round. We LOVE watching TV at christmas, so the schedule is filled to bursting with expensive ‘specials’ or all our favourite shows. As a consequence we’re very poorly served by yuletide films. I’ve racked my brains, and can’t name one British christmas-themed cinema release of recent times.

Luckily, we’ll always have Don’t Open Till Christmas, a belated attempt to catch some of that first flush of slasher dollar in the early 80s.

Mad psycho killer with a childhood trauma? Check. Well known date to set it around? Check. Gore? Check. Boobies? Check.

Sit back and wait for the cash to start rolling in.

Except it didn’t happen like that. The film ended up being directed by (at least) 3 different people, and ended up barely getting released at all, after 2 years of filming.

So, how does a slasher about a guy killing Santa, repeatedly, stack up against its more famous and notorious Killer Santa cousin, Silent Night, Deadly Night?

For a film about a killer murdering santas, Don’t Open Till Christmas certainly does what it says on the tin. Within the first 20 mins we’ve seen four jolly fat men bite the dust in a variety of styles (one stabbing, one spear through the back of the head, one thrust headfirst into a chesnut cooking brazier, before hilariously combusting, and one saying goodbye to a dear friend when having a pee).

Despite the investigating officers best attempts, nothing links the murders except the obvious. This doesn’t stop Inspector Harris (Edmund Purdom) from trying to finger Cliff, boyfriend of Kate, whose father is the second victim. He’s also the only dead santa who has any real bearing on the plot. All the others are introduced just minutes before being offed.

This probably tells you all you need to know about the film: it’s not really interested in building suspense, tension or developing a decent whodunnit plot (though at one point every single cast member is given one of those dramatic close-ups that makes you think “ooh, they look a bit dodgy there”).

All Don’t Open Till Christmas cares about is delivering gore and sleaze.

Case in point: the day after Kate’s father is murdered, Cliff bumps into an old friend who runs a photography studio and asks if he and Kate want to join him. The two gents then try to ensnare Kate into a a sexy shoot with a nude model already at the studio. She understandably storms out, leaving Cliff to canoodle with the nude model outside (now wearing a santa outfit, thigh high boots and nothing else). After being spooked by a pair of bored looking extras dressed as policemen (“They’ll think we’re a couple of gays… run for it”) nudie model finds herself terrorised by the killer who, of course, opens the santa outfit for no other reason than to give us a quick flash of flesh, then he buggers off.

This sequence takes up about ten minutes of screen time. It doesn’t advance the plot at all. Nudie model is next shown at home ‘recovering’ where she exposes her boobs AGAIN when the detectives say she’s lucky not be on a charge of indecent exposure (“what’s indecent about THESE?”).

Given the ‘talent’ involved this should maybe not be a surprise, being as the cast includes several 70s sex comedy stars (the biggest of which, Alan Lake (Mr Diana Dors), gives the only decent performance in the film). Writer Derek Ford had spent the past two decades in the same arena, and one of the directors, Alan Birkinshaw (working under the pseudonym Al McGoohan) had also worked in that curiously British genre, before directing Killer’s Moon, possibly the sleaziest film this little island has ever produced.

It’s almost like a ‘Wardour Street Mafia’ production.

This is evident in the style as well. It’s hardly a top notch production. Interiors are static, whilst exteriors are shockingly wobbly. Pick up shots of a christmassy Oxford Street look like they could be stock footage, but then we cut to a shot of Purdom stalking the night, and it’s shot exactly the same way. Could the budget not stretch to a tripod, or a cheap dolly?

As the only barely recognisable name in the cast (with an exception I’ll come to in a second), Edmund Purdom cuts a very sorry figure here. Hardly known now, Purdom was a contemporary of Roger Moore’s when both were contract players in 50’s Hollywood.  He fell from grace (reportedly through booze) and ended up living in Italy making trash like Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks and Dr Orloff sequels. His appearance here was a result on his being in the producers previous film, the slightly more fun Pieces, starring another Hollywood outcast, Christopher George.

Purdom’s directorial credit means very little here. He was originally the director, but at some point he was replaced by writer Derek Ford. he in turn was axed in favour of the film’s editor, Ray Selfe. Somewhere along the way Birkinshaw was brought in to write and direct additional sequences, one of which is a very tedious interlude of a santa escaping a gang of punks by breaking into the London Dungeon where he spends an age being scared of the exhibits before being messily dispatched (along with a staff member who curiously loses her clothes).

This conveyor belt of directors and writers really impacts on the film. Scenes and sequences appear at random and the editing is all over the place. After the first murder, Harris exclaims there’s just “three more killing days to Christmas”, but the film plays out over at least another week. About halfway through, we’re introduced to a new character (of which we are given little information) who ends up being vital to the ever evolving story, but because we know nothing about her, it’s very hard to give a monkey’s.

Towards the end there’s a ridiculous scene featuring yet another santa victim who finds himself escaping the killer through a theatre, which is in the middle of a performance by Caroline Munro. This sequence is only there because the makers knew Munro, and knew her name on the poster would guarantee SOME punters would come (as it were). It’s awful, and actually makes you feel sorry for Munro.

The final five minutes is an absolute mess which seems to show the killer coming back to life, an explaination of why he is the way is, the possibility that the whole film has been a dream, and a final punchline which then negates that, but relies on the conceit of a detective, investigating a serial killer, receiving an anonymous parcel which says “Don’t open till christmas” and he actually follows the instruction!

Ultimately, it’s a mess. A sleazy, gory, mess to be sure, but still a mess.

BUT… but… it’s a snapshot of a time when Brit cinema was in the absolute toilet. Any film released in the 80s should be cherished whatever its merits. The bounders and chancers of Soho were dying out (in some cases literally), and you could make a case for Don’t Open Till Christmas being the last hurrah of the industry that brought us such gems as Diversions, The Office Party and Killer’s Moon.

And, barring Joan Collins’ run in with a psycho santa in Vault of Horror, I’m pretty sure it’s the only Crimbo Horror we’ve got.

Uninvited (1988)

October 28, 2011 3:13 am

Here, kitty...

Nothin's gonna stop me gettin' to the Caymans!

 This contains spoilers. It’s a film about a mutant killer cat… so the spoilers won’t come as much of a surprise

Whilst many people turn their noses up at trash B-movie horror films, it has to be said they do perform a public service. They do a damn fine job of keeping past-it actors in work long after their time in the limelight has passed. Such luminaries as Joseph Cotten, Bette Davis, Veronica Lake and Glenn Ford all topped up their pensions by appearing in the absolute dregs of the genre.

Add to that list, George Kennedy. Oscar-winning Kennedy is one of the few people to have kicked Paul Newman’s arse six ways from Sunday on film in Cool Hand Luke; he successfully saved most of the passengers of FOUR stricken airliners filled with old timers, soap stars and Erik Estrada, as the only person to have appeared in every Airport movie; and was the best henchman a Bond villain never had in Charade.

In Uninvited he plays a henchman. I think. He could also be playing the mafia/muscle end of a ‘huge deal’ doing down in ‘the Caymans’. It’s a bit hard to tell, as Uninvited has a ridiculously bad script. It’s one of those films where things only happen to advance the (flimsy) plot, not because they make any sense.

The only thing you really need to know about Uninvited is that its about a killer cat. If that doesn’t get you excited then you shouldn’t read anymore to be honest.

In a ludicrously cheap prologue, we meet our hero. He’s played by a fluffy version of Garfield, and some nasty scientists are doing experiments on him. Not really sure what exactly, but it’s something to do with radiation. Garfield isn’t too keen and decides to mount the easiest escape in movie history.

Suddenly the lab is overrun with riot police all tracking the moggy down to an underground car park. Garfield really loses it now and decides to fight back, by unleashing his rage in the form of a mutant cat who emerges from his mouth !

Then its down to the plot. Two ‘hot’ blondes in awful late 80’s fashion are on the make somewhere, possibly Florida. They are trying to bluff their way into a posh restaurant when they are invited to join famous billionaire Walter Graham for dinner (they have no idea who he is, but everyone seems to; he’s been on the cover of Time magazine, so that might explain it).

About 30 seconds later, George Kennedy appears as Mike Harvey. he’s a little perturbed to find Walter wining and dining a couple of bimbos when they’ve got ‘business’ to discuss and apparently their boat needs to sail NOW. Ooh, intriguing.

Walter decides to bring the bimbos along as ‘the perfect cover’, but before they can get to the boat the bimbos pick up three random boys (two jocks and a science nerd) and bring them along too. Then on the way to the boat, who else should they pick up? I know, how about that mangy looking fat ginger cat with the ‘LAB CAT’ collar you just found wandering around the dock?

George/Mike is none too pleased about this, until someone mentions it’s good luck to have a cat on board a boat.

We then get some clumsy exposition about how the crew of the luxury yacht have all buggered off leaving just a ‘hot’ blonde captain and George’s own henchman, Albert (who’s introduced as a ruthless killer but then descends into drunk comedy relief).

This section of the film goes on for ages. It must have been a good 30-40 minutes of screen time introducing all this kitty litter fodder, and throwing in random references to ‘the deal’ and the ‘the business’. We never actually find out what ‘the deal’ is, but it involves getting to ‘the Caymans’ as soon as possible.

To alleviate the boredom before they get on the boat we get a throwaway scene of Garfield attacking a couple of rednecks in a pickup. It’s great, not only because you see the puppeteer’s hand thrusting mutant Garfield at the driver, but you also see the zip down the back of the puppet.

At sea, we get lots of POV shots of Garfield stalking the boat, lots of dodgy 80’s fashions (including a gratuitous aerobics scene) and lots of scenes of George looking bored/angry/tense. At one point he even tends bar for the kids. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an actor silently convey the thought of wanting to kill a bunch of teenagers so well. Or maybe he was thinking about killing the director. Either way, it’s a highlight.

Garfield’s attacks, when they finally arrive, are pretty shoddy to be honest, with the best reserved for George himself. Not only does he get a chunk taken out of his ankle (but still manages to walk to a chair), he then seems to develop some kind of fever, which leads to his stomach taken on the appearance of John Hurt in Alien, it starts to expand, and then…. oh. He’s dead. They cut to the remaining cat meat throwing him overboard. So why the elaborate stomach-expanding special effect?

I can only assume the resulting chest-bursting-cat scene didn’t quite match the excellent FX in the rest of the room, and was dropped.

The final third plods along with almost everyone getting mauled, and you’ll have no prizes for guessing who survives, although ultimately it’s pretty arbitrary. You won’t give a toss who gets killed because you won’t give a toss about anyone in the film. Except George Kennedy.

Killer cat movies are a dreadful idea. The only other one I can remember seeing is The Uncanny, a portmanteau movie with Peter Cushing and Donald Pleasance. there are others that I’m going to look out for, including Strays, which, with an imdb rating in the low 3’s, is surely a must-watch.

Unlike dogs, they don’t really have a fierce reputation and, for the most part, they are normally big enough to be dispatched with a swift boot up the arse (I do not condone the kicking of cats for pleasure, only if said cat contains a radioactive alter ego which emerges from his mouth), rendering them about as scary as a slice of toast.

Oddly, this kind of straight-to-video trash would normally be designed to ride on the coat tails of some big Hollywood hit. I can’t possibly think how the makers thought this was a good idea, who they thought the audience was, or how they persuaded George Kennedy to appear it. The only other remotely recognisable actor is Alex Cord as Walter, who played Jan Michael-Vincent’s boss in Airwolf.

If you’re drunk enough, Uninvited will produce a few giggles, but whenever Garfield isn’t on screen it grinds to such a juddering halt that you lose interest. Towards the end I was so bored I couldn’t tell you about the deaths of several characters because I was so disinterested.

Just watch the trailer, it really is all you need to see:

Uninvited (1988) Trailer

Death, Deceit & Destiny Aboard the Orient Express (2001)

October 5, 2011 2:25 pm

 

This train will be delayed due to plot failure...

This week I made one of the most life-changing decisions of my life, and cancelled my SKY TV subscription. On reflection almost £70 a month was quite a high price to pay to watch Modern Family, the odd football match and Lethal Weapon 3 every other night. But then I realised I would miss something that would almost make signing back up worth the money: Movies 4 Men.

For the uninitiated, Movies 4 Men is a non-subscription movie channel which shows, well, bloke movies. On any given day you will find long forgotten Westerns, cheap ass sci-fi rip offs (most Asylum films play regularly) and straight to video action movies. It was here I first discovered the joy of Skyscraper. And flicking through the guide a couple of nights ago I was overjoyed to see, just starting, was (as billed in the guide anyway) Death Aboard The Orient Express, listing Teen Agent himself, Richard Grieco, as its star.

Produced by Fu Manchu nut, and alleged pimp extraordinaire, Harry Alan Towers, Orient Express is a truly gob smacking mix of Agatha Christie, Under Siege 2 and Irwin Allen, produced on a budget doesn’t even stretch to a single shot of the REAL Orient Express.

This is what the Orient Express looks like:

The film thinks the Orient Express looks like this:

They don’t even paint the words ‘Orient Express’ on it!

Anyway, events take place on the eve of the millennium, despite being made in 2000, when everyone with a grain of taste had realised that movies set then would out of date as precisely a minute past midnight. A group of wealthy individuals (and partners/business associates/whatever) gather for a New Year jamboree through Europe to Istanbul. Oddly no one seems to know who invited them. This plotline always irritates the piss out of me, normally appearing in horror films, because not one single invitee thinks “I’m not going to a party if I don’t know who’s invited me”. Here, these are the sort of people who probably wouldn’t go to a party even if they DID know whose party it was, being mostly selfish rich business sorts who are far too busy for social occasions.

Obviously the lure of a posh train, and copious free booze and food is too much to refuse and they all duly turn up. And a motley bunch they are too: there’s a mobile phone salesman, a mobile phone manufacturer, a gymnast, the son of an Indian industrialist, a couple of women who could be con artists (I’m not really sure we ever find out) and an action movie star, Jack Chase! Seriously.

About two minutes after leaving the never identified station a bunch of bad guys shoot all the staff and, luckily all their uniforms fit them perfectly, and they take over the train, with one staying behind to prepare eight course dinners for everyone. Turns out this is our bad guy, Tarik, who tells everyone via a chunky widescreen TV that he has taken control of the train and wants everyone to pay him $50 million or he’ll blow it up.

Well, action star doesn’t take kindly to this and assisted by the gymnast, who he’s decided will be his love interest for this evening, he disarms all the bombs, saving one to blow up the train and the bad guy. Hooray!

You can probably fill in the rest for yourself. Or can you?

This really is an odd film. Not least because it features a truly once in a lifetime cast (who are all dreadful). First up is Richard Grieco as our star. Grieco was never a star in any sense, and is probably still best known for his role in 21 Jump Street where he played a guy who no one fancied because Johnny Depp was in it. Teen Agent is still probably his best known film, though he could have earned minor cult points for appearing in Asylum’s Thor rip-off earlier this year. Time will tell.

Amongst the support, former Bond henchman Gotz Otto appears as the gymnast’s ‘uncle’. For some reason he does a dreadful Marlon Brando in Godfather impression and loses a fight with Grieco by accidentally sticking an axe in his own back (!). His body is hidden and never mentioned again. Though the gymnast is so distraught she immediately sleeps with Grieco to get over it.

There’s a ‘before they were famous’ appearance from Heroes‘ Sendhil Ramamurthy, and B-movie experience support from Brit Nicky Henson and Yank Barry Flatman.

There’s also an Italian actress who spends most of the film in her bra.

But the real gem in the cast, is a future Oscar winner. Believe it or not, but the bad guy chef, is played by none other than Christoph Waltz! And… he’s… AWFUL!

To be fair, his first appearance is rather bizarre. He leads his henchmen onto the train, dressed as a chef, and wearing truly appalling latex make up that makes him look like Rondo Hatton. He spends the next hour dressed like this, cooking food, hidden away from everyone, so why does he leave the make up on? It’s worth noting here, that the film doesn’t actually take place over New Years Eve. No, it takes place over two nights and THREE DAYS! Three days, of Tarik cooking food, in heavy make up, in a hot kitchen, for his hostages!

The henchman perform their duties perfectly, if their duties were to be waiters and train staff for the hostages. They fetch them champagne and canapés (one even tends the bar) for room service; announce ‘dinner is served’ and always look the wrong way when Grieco is hanging upside down by a window outside the train.

There is a wealth a things this film could have done on a train, and it does very little of them. Of course there’s a fight on top of the train, but its pretty short. The main tension, if that’s the word, is derived from the ‘will they won’t they’ conundrum the hostages are put in. Some agree to pay up, others refuse, others have trouble raising the money. For some reason it’s the latter who ends up taking a tumble through a window to ‘teach you all a lesson’.

It’s a treat for blooper hunters though. There’s visible cables during the clambering around on the outside of the train scenes and inconsistencies in dialogue but the real treat was the crash mat bouncing into frame when one poor bugger is thrown from the moving train.

This truly is bottom of the barrel stuff. It’s initially quite entertaining watching a group of mildly familiar faces popping up, and you can easily waste half an hour trying to work out where you know them from. But once Grieco explains he knows how to defuse bombs because he went to ‘bomb school’ for his last film role, and he recorded his night of passion with the gymnast because ‘you never know when it might come in handy’ (and she STILL wants to be his girlfriend) you know you’ve entered a level of bad film-making in which man was not meant to meddle.

The Tourist (2010)

September 8, 2011 4:09 am

 

zzzzzzzzzzzz
Caution: May Cause Drowsiness

A Euro-pudding was a derogatory term applied to films in the 80s and 90s which were funded by large number of different countries. To critics, the sight of the term “A French-English-German-Belgian-Dutch Co-Production’ was enough for them to dismiss the work as a worthless, pretentious piece of crap masquerading as art.

With it’s mix of English, French, Italian, Russian and, of course, American actors and locations, The Tourist could be described as a Euro-pudding. Pudding, however, suggests something satisfying, tasty and fulfilling. Euro-souffle would probably be more fitting. And one that fails to rise at that.

It’s a remake, naturally, of a French film called Anthony Zimmer. Angelina Jolie is Elise, the partner of an international criminal, Alexander Pierce, who Interpol are chasing after he stole over a $1 billion dollars.

Pierce has had plastic surgery, so no one knows what he looks like (including Elise), but a mystery man keeps leaving her notes telling her where to go and what to do, and she unquestioningly follows them to the letter. The latest note tells her to go to Venice and pick someone who matches his height and weight and make Interpol think that this patsy is him. She chooses Johnny Depp (Frank).

What follows is a succession of very dull scenes between Depp and Jolie. Steven Berkoff appears as an international gangster with a never-ending production line of Russian henchmen. Paul Bettany wastes his time as a British Interpol agent (who for some reason we’re initially led to believe works for Scotland Yard ). Rufus Sewell, too, is wasted as the ‘mystery man’. And Timothy Dalton pops up as Bettany’s boss at the beginning, and doesn’t appear again until the climax when he literally appears out of nowhere.

About an hour in we’re suddenly given a ton of information quite quickly which, whilst it changes the plot quite a lot, also throws up far too many questions about what we’ve already seen.

The weirdest thing about The Tourist is that it doesn’t appear to be anything. It’s not an action film (a tedious, slooooow boat chase and Depp’s rooftop escape from the Russians are the closest we get to ‘action’); it’s too light-hearted to be a drama; there’s very little danger or peril, so it’s not a thriller; Depp and Jolie have next to no chemistry (Depp looks positively bored throughout) so it can’t be classed as a romance.

I think the makers were aiming for a kind of Hitchcock homage, in the vein of The Man Who Knew Too Much or North by Northwest. Good luck with that…

It’s fluff, but not even good looking fluff. A Parisian cafe and the shit-filled canals of Venice stopped being exotic in about 1945. Towards the end we go to a posh ball, which looks like it cost a bit to stage, but we’re only there for about five minutes. Still, this is enough time for our heroes to have a dance, despite the fact Jolie is following someone and people are trying to kill Depp.

The whole thing screams ‘Studio Package’. It’s the first Hollywood movie for Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, director of The Lives of Others; Oscar winner Julian Fellowes was involved in the script (though how I’m not quite sure; the closest you get to a witty dialogue is Depp talking to an Italian copper about his attempted murder); two of Hollywood’s hottest stars; a bunch of reliable Brits supporting… and yet it all comes to nothing.

It’s extremely dull. The plot twists in the second half seem have been put there just to move things along a bit quicker, but add nothing except more questions. And the ending is such a mess it MUST have been tinkered with after filming.

It’s not a stinker, just a massive dissapointment and a complete waste of time and money.

Sex and the City 2 (2010)

August 1, 2011 4:11 am
urgh
Abu-Dhabi-Don’t

Ok, how can I put this? It’s something I really need to get off my chest before I go any further. Right… here goes…

I used to watch, and enjoy, Sex and the City.

Oh my… that feels good to get that out there. Now that’s out in the open we can continue.

I wasn’t a massive fan. I watched the first few episodes, and thought it was a very refreshing show. It was great to see a US TV show throwing inhibitions out the window and making the kind of show us Brits had been making since the 70s. All frank language, swearing, and boobies thrown around with gay abandon.

I stuck with it until around series 4 (it’s hard to say really) when Carrie inexplicably dumped Aidan (nice guy character who, rather understandably, had a problem with Carrie’s on-off ‘dream guy’ and sleaze, Mr Big). That for me was the final straw. I’d always viewed Carrie as the kind of self-absorbed, consumer-obsessed, lazy, twee, irritating, clothes horse that in real-life I would avoid like the plague. Now to see her taking it personally because her perfect guy didn’t like the fact she still hung around with a guy she used to sleep with and, ultimately, is far richer than him and therefore more likely to woo her away, made me want to take a Stanley knife to every pair of her precious Manalo Blahniks. That would show her.

From here, the series seemed to turn into a camp caricature of itself and seemed to playing more to its massive gay audience than to the sophisticated female audience it once courted. It was always a bit camp, sure, but never lost sight that it was a show about four independent women in the big city.

I didn’t watch the first big screen incarnation, figuring it would just be a desperate attempt to prolong its lifespan for another few million dollars. By all accounts it was more of the same. Very little attempt was made to open it up to a wider audience (bar introducing a black character into the group, now conspicuously absent from the sequel) and was just an exercise in giving the fans what they wanted.

Sex and the City 2 however is something quite different.

Briefly, it is pant-wettingly bad. More than that it’s cynical, offensive and amateurish. It’s an hour too long, and cost about the same as six series of the infinitely superior TV show put together.

For those who don’t know here’s the deal: our heroines comprise:

• Samantha: slightly older than the other girls, sex mad, PR whizz,

• Charlotte: prissy, inhibited, obsessed with babies, was a gallery owner in the TV series, now appears not to have a job, married to a stereotypical fat short Jew

• Miranda: uptight, control freak, lawyer, was originally there for the lesbian audience with her short hair and trouser suits before finally developing a bit of a character, but not much, married to a bartender, Steve, who is the only normal character in sight

• Carrie: self-obsessed shoe hoarder who thinks her ruminations on relationships are deep and edgy because they don’t make any sense, best-selling author apparently though seems incapable of finishing more than half a page in a week

So, things start crassly with a gay wedding. No, no… a GAY wedding. It’s so gay, Liza Minnelli officiates and sings that Beyonce song about rings. THAT gay. There’s swans, a 20-man chorus of gorgeous bloke singers, lots of sparkly things (sparkle being the ‘theme’ of the film overall), cravats, the works.

One of the couple announces he’s still allowed to sleep around. “Because you’re gay?” asks Carrie “No, because I’m Italian!” is the response. Uh? That’s about the level for the first 20 minutes. I’m fully aware that Michael Patrick King (writer, producer, director) is gay, and this somehow gives him licence to create the most crass, stereotypical gay wedding imaginable. Fine, go for it. You might want to reconsider the notion you helped create that a ‘gay best friend’ is just another ‘must have’ accessory like a handbag or a pair of shoes.

And the married couple are such good friends with the girls that they are never seen or mentioned again for the rest of the film.

Anyway, from this monumental car crash of an opening, we move onto the tedium that is the second act, wherein the girls all decide their lives are worthless and meaningless despite having endless amounts of cash, nice apartments (or two in Carrie’s case) and devoted husbands (except Samantha, who prefers not to have anyone devoted to her).

Carrie gets upset when Big buys her a TV instead of some expensive jewellery, and moves out. Miranda hates her job and just quits with nothing lined up (to be fair, that was Steve’s idea). Samantha is going through the menopause and is rattling from all the HRT she’s taking, and has her personal trauma when she shows up at a film premiere wearing the same dress as Miley Cyrus. In real life of course, Cyrus’ people would have ushered her away from this middle-aged cougar stealing her thunder, but this being film land NYC, Miley instead gives her ‘sister’ a big hug.

Perhaps most shocking of all is the fate of Charlotte. Suffering awfully from the strain of having to look after two kids but not appearing to have a job, she has a hot, large-chested, bra-less, full-time nanny who she’s convinced will want to sleep with her short, fat, bald husband. On top of this she thinks it’s a good idea to do cooking in a vintage Valentino dress and then shout at the kids when they make it messy. The stress is obviously two much and she hides in the pantry for a cry.

Luckily Samantha has just been offered a trip to Abu Dhabi, all expenses paid to help promote a hotel, and can bring all her friends for an all-expenses paid jolly for a week.

Yes, like all those horrible 70s sitcoms that got turned into films, they are off to shake up some tourist destination, where hilarity will doubtless ensue.

Unfortunately hilarity, far from ensuing, seems to get lost somewhere over the Atlantic, and the second half of the film consists of awful puns (“Abu Dhabi-Doo”, “Lawrence of my labia”), dreadful physical comedy (falling off camels) and contrived situations that don’t just test the boundaries of credulity, but smash right through them like a wrecking ball.

This section of the film is so bad, in every way possible, it manages the impossible feat of making you wish they were still at the gay wedding.

The $22,000 a night hotel is also hosting something vaguely called “the rugby world cup trials”. Obviously, this being an American movie they have no idea what rugby players look like. These guys may have nice bodies, but they would probably wet themselves at the first sight of a Haka. And not a broken nose in sight. There also only seems to be about three players from each country who all mingle together like some horrible stag do from hell.

Each of the girls has their own personal butler. Of course, sex-mad Samantha’s is gay (and is therefore great at picking out nice clothes for them, because all gay men automatically know about ladies fashion obviously). Carrie’s is a likeable chap from India who only sees his wife every three months when he’s saved enough for the airfare. Carrie thinks this is sad, but doesn’t realise that its exactly her kind of lifestyle which helps create situations like this. She does leave him money when she goes though. But leaves it in the room for anyone to pick up rather than actually give it to him.

There’s ‘hilarity’ with camels (and yes, they make a gag about camel toes); shenanigans with lost passports; mischief with old boyfriends… well, just about every cliché you can imagine involving going on holiday. Carrie is amazed to see Arabic Pringles on the plane. You live in New York woman! Have you seriously never seen a famous food product with foreign writing on it?

What’s slightly less clichéd, but more disturbing, is the idea that consumerism and sex can liberate Arab women from the oppression they face. Yes, it seems all they need to make their lives complete is condoms and this years spring collection. Luckily they already have the latter in a jaw dropping scene toward the end, where they reveal that they all wear the latest fashions under their niqabs.

It doesn’t quite the match the sheer horror of the rather ostentatious karaoke bar where the girls sing “I Am Woman (Hear me Roar)”, in one of those horrible movie-karaoke situations where no one really wants to sing, yet they are all note perfect, have dance moves prepared, and even work out solos and harmonies.

You may be thinking that I’m rambling on a bit now about nothing in particular. And you’d be right. But that’s exactly what this film does.

It’s not really even a film. Michael Patrick King is a TV writer and director, and it shows here. This is essentially one episode (the gay wedding) followed by an overlong Christmas special. There’s hardly any continuity between the two threads (apart from a dreadfully contrived reference to It Happened One Night). It just lumbers from one scene to another making as many poor jokes and crass comments as it can.

Most of the jokes aren’t even jokes in any conventional sense. Take as an example:

“Everyone knows you don’t hire a hot nanny. It’s the law.”

“Yeah… Jude Law.”

I’ve been informed that this is a reference to that fact Jude Law slept with his kids’ nanny. So? How is that a joke? At best it’s a pun. And a bloody dreadful one. It’s just ‘that word is the same as this word’. It’s comedy on the same level as those god-awful spoof ‘Movies’. It’s laughs by association rather than any inherent humour.

There’s so filmic logic to this thing either. There’s no over-arching narrative. Nobody learns anything, nobody achieves anything, nobody goes ‘on a journey’ (in a metaphorical sense). Everyone ends up exactly where they started, all wrapped up in a neat little sparkly bow. But nothing has changed. What were issues two and a half hours ago are still issues, they just don’t seem to be as big of a problem now because of the wacky escapades they’ve been on.

Watching SATC 2 you do occasionally get the feeling that everyone involved knows this is dreadful. Certainly Kim Cattrall appears to have to have just the right amount of contempt for her dialogue and the fact that she suffers the indignity of spending most of the movie looking flushed and sweaty. The big scene illustrated above where the girls sashay across the desert, is a publicity shot. Cattrall (left) certainly does not beam like that in the movie. In fact she looks openly bored.

If you were feeling generous, you could suggest that SATC 2 is aiming for the kind of ironic-bad movie loving audience that dress up and flock to midnight screenings of Rocky Horror Picture Show, or Showgirls. Two things though: firstly SATC 2 was far too successful to generate the kind of reverential fandom reserved for films that flop on their arse and die when first released. While it just failed to make its money back domestically, it still racked up almost $300 million worldwide. That’s summer franchise movie numbers! And it will pretty much guarantee another one, if Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker ever stop fighting over money.

The second reason it won’t achieve bad movie cultdom is because it generates nothing but hate and contempt from its audience. Imagine going to an interactive midnight screening akin to Rocky Horror. Instead of talking to the characters and throwing rice and whatnot, the audience would have to hurl abuse at Carrie because of her outfits, openly laugh at Charlotte as she breaks down over her cupcakes (and maybe throw a couple of cakes at the screen), or vomit uncontrollably at the liberation of Arabic women everywhere. I think I’ll pass, but if anyone wants to steal the idea feel free. I’ll take 25% of whatever you make.

Cynical, soulless sequels are nothing new, but this reaches new unplundered depths the like of which I didn’t think existed.

As well as conjuring nostalgic pangs for Police Academy 5: Assignment Miami Beach and Holiday on the Buses, it also reminded me of Hearts of Darkness, the wonderful documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now. As Francis Ford Coppola says:

“We were in the jungle, there were too many of us, we had access to too much money, too much equipment, and little by little we went insane.”

Substitute jungle for desert, and I think you’ll understand what was going on behind the scenes. Although I think the going insane bit probably refers more to the audience than the film-makers.

 

 

McBain (1991)

July 20, 2011 6:29 am

McBain poster

In the 1980s, forgotten British hard man Lewis Collins made three Italian/German co-productions, which, although unrelated, all featured identical plots: Collins leads a group of mercenaries into a made up South American country to take out a corrupt El Presidente and his drug business.

In the ludicrously well-regarded (among interweb cultists) McBain a bored looking Christopher Walken leads a bunch of Vietnam veterans into a real South American country to take out a corrupt (but made up) El Presidente and his drug business.

Despite being made at the turn of the 90s, McBain falls into the same category as all those Arnie-wannabies that clogged the shelves of your local video store throughout the 80s. The covers all featured a big explosion behind a beefed up straight-to-video star holding a gatling gun, or somesuch. The genre kept people like Michael Dudikoff in hero roles, Brion James in villainous employment, and directors like Chuck Norris’ little brother Aaron, out of the dole office.

The masters of this were the Go-Go Twins Menahem Golan and Yorum Globus, who ran Cannon films. But by the 90s the genre was pretty much done. So what on earth possessed the Oscar-winning Walken to take on this film is utterly beyond me.

As I mentioned, for some reason, McBain has been the subject of an interweb revival, as some ‘so bad it’s good’ movie. As far as I can gather this is based on one scene only…

McBain shoots down a plane

Yes, McBain shoots down a fighter jet…with a pistol… shooting across the face of his own pilot… without opening, or damaging a window.

Yes, it’s a genius scene of bad movie making. But really that is the only scene worth watching in what is a dreary, poorly written film that only picks up when the next set of stuntmen step onto set.

Being shot in the Philipines (standing in badly for both Vietnam and Colombia), usual health and safety rules don’t apply, so the locals do their best hurling from towers, standing far too close to explosions, and driving without due care and attention. There are a lot of action scenes (eventually) but they becoming so numbing that you just don’t care. IMDB lists the body count at over 250. How can you possibly keep track of that, and still maintain interest in the movie?

Writer/Director James Glickenhaus made the exploitation classic The Exterminator (“If you’re lying, I’ll be back.”) which did a cracking job of combining a troubled nam vet with Death Wish style revenge and Maniac style nastiness. It’s one of the grubbiest revenge films you’ll see, but is also massively entertaining.

We get a glimpse of this being repeated early on, as Walken gathers together his old Nam buddies, to head down to Colombia to take out the El presidente (clearly modelled on Colonel Gadaffi) who killed his friend Santos (a Tesco value Che Guevara) on live TV. Walken needs cash for his mission and decides drug money is the way to go. We see his team take out a derelict brownstone full of grubby characters, ending with an early appearance by Luis Guzman, talking his way out a shotgun blast to the guts. Guzman is excellent, and in two minutes, outacts everyone else put together.

We get scuzzy New York locations, dangling mob bosses off rooftops and car crashes (which mysteriously disappear in the long shots). But this is all too brief.

The pace is deathly slow. We get a 10 minute Nam prologue (starting with a dire Clannad-style version of Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”) which does an awful job of introducing the main players. Michael Ironside is supposedly one of the GIs in this sequence, but I never saw him.

Next is about 15 minutes(!) about Santos’ attempts to overthrow El presidente and getting killed.

Finally, we meet up again with Walken. He’s in a bar. Watching the news. He sees Santos get killed and immediately starts phoning his buddies.

(Incidentally, why in American films do people only watch the news when they are in bars, or when they’ve just got back from the supermarket and someone calls them to tell them to “Turn on Channel 6, right now”?)

They are a ragtag bunch: a cop, a surgeon, a body guard and Michael Ironside as, well, not really sure. He’s certainly rich. he may have his money from computers, as he seems to be the gang’s tech expert. But he also says he can secure all the stuff they need for the mission for the ‘mate’s rate’ of $10million. They acquire this from the afore mentioned mob boss.

None of this is really important. It’s not given any weight whatsoever, except as exposition. But it also helps beef up the running time, as when they do arrive in Colombia (at about the hour mark) it’s clear they had absolutely no idea what to do when they get there.

There is huge potential here, for a cracking actioner in the Chuck Norris tradition. Instead Walken wanders around (with surprisingly little dialogue) with a scowl on his face, maybe trying it on with Santos’ sister (Running Man‘s Maria Conchita Alonso). It’s hard to tell if they actually fancy each other or not.

The rest of the gang have no personality whatsoever, beyond one chap who insists on reading the instruction manual for every piece of equipment. That’s mildly amusing.

Overall though it’s an absolute mess. It’s not involving in any way. The action scenes are far too long and numbing, and overall it’s just very dull.

McBain does not deserve its reputation as a cult bad film. It’s just bad. If you want a proper bad film of this kind, check out Commando Leopard: Lewis Collins, Klaus Kinski, John Steiner and some rather good minature effects. It’s anything but dull.

Should you so desire, you can watch McBain here

Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

June 29, 2011 2:13 pm

nightmare on elm st

“1…2… Freddy’s gonna turn poo…

3…4… please God, no more”

I heard the Elm Street remake was awful, and quite frankly I expected nothing less. But it’s ineptitude and crassness surprised even my cynical little mind.

 Chucked at the screen by Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes (already responsible for the Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacare and The Hitcher remakes) and a director of Blink 182 videos, it takes the usual route of taking everything that made the originals so special, and then throwing out everything that made the originals so special and replacing it with needless origin plots, CGI gore, lots of orange and brown filters and a lack of any discernable film-making talent.

 The basic story of teenagers terrorised by Freddy in their dreams is retained. It’s a pretty scary concept, so it’s not difficult to see how that could still work. But it falls into the trap of not deciding whether it wants to be a straight remake, or whether its wants to be its own creation. For me, the few remakes that surpass their originals are those that disregard almost everything bar the thinnest narrative thread (The Thing, The Fly). What the recent crop of remakes do is retain the story, but also all the iconic links to the past. Jason’s mask, Freddy’s jumper, Leatherface’s… uh… leatherface… Yes, maybe without them the characters would not be the same. You mean, they might be NEW characters, in NEW films?

 Where Nightmare (and Halloween before it) get particularly grating and smug, is in playing with the heads of those familiar with the originals. I’m aware these films are not for me. I know they are made for ‘the kids’ who haven’t grown up with these characters (in the same way that Daniel Craig Bond films aren’t made for the audience that went to the flicks to watch Goldfinger). That’s fine, I’m not young anymore I can deal with that. So why go to the trouble of replicating scenes from the original and then going “AH… you thought we were going to do that… but we’re not! Cos we’re clever, we know what you’re thinking. We’re so BLOODY clever that we can even surprise you jaded, desensitised fanboys.” Either that, or we get the standard “Oh, it’s a little nod to the fans”.

 Well, it’s not a little nod to the fans, it’s a big middle finger to the fans. It’s a big, fat, smug kick in the balls to say “Look, this is what you like isn’t it… but, NO… we’re not giving you that… hahahaha! You’re old! It’s not for you!”

 Which, as I say, is fine. But don’t then do rounds of interviews talking about how much you respect the original, how much you want the fans to enjoy it, and how “the story is even more relevant today than it was then”. A story about a peadophile killing kids in their dreams is ALWAYS going to be relevant, because it taps into primal fears. But you’ve still got to be able to tell that story well… campfire ghost stories wouldn’t have the same impact if Joe Pasquale was telling them.

 I realise this has turned into a bit of a generic rant now, so I’ll try and steer it back on course.

 So they mess with the story for no good reason other than to make it a bit newer. It’s a bit like when sequels introduce back story that really should have been known in the first film (eg Halloween, Star Wars), so Freddy was actually abusing these kids when they were little. So that’s the sins of the parents visited on the children out the window. We do get to see the parents retribution this time, though oddly its played out as one of the teenagers Freddy induced nightmares. Why would he choose that as the basis for a nightmare?

 It plays its card far too early too. As is the norm, we have to have a gory death scene early on which ends with the title appearing on screen in a knife swish sound effect (see also the Saw sequels). But it tries the old “oh good, I’m awake… oh no, I’m still asleep and this is still a dream” trick, never bettered than in An American Werewolf in London. And then it does it again. And then it does it again. THREE TIMES in the first 20 minutes. It’s a movie cheat that’s difficult to pull off successfully once in a film, let alone three times in the first act.

 They also show Freddy far too early. To be fair, the make up job is rather good. It’s still a tad rubbery but he’s a bit more believable as a burns victim than the classic look. Problem is, when he’s onscreen, he’s far too brightly lit. Freddy is supposed to be a character that’s in your dreams, in the dark. Surely one of the reasons why the character worked (at least in the first film) was that you didn’t really see what he looked like. You saw flashes, and shadowed glimpses, and your brain filled in the rest. Looking grotesque isn’t enough. Surely not knowing how grotesque someone is is scarier?

 So, it was an ordeal. And not in a good way.

 Halloween may have been horrible, but it tried to have some original ideas. Friday the 13th was a mess, but was only as bad as most of its originals sequels. Texas Chainsaw Massacare just missed the point of what made the original work.

 This is just a cynical, disrespectful, lazy, smug, hateful ‘film-making’ of the lowest order. It genuinely made me angry. But $120 million at the US box office alone tells us that Freddy 2 with probably with us shortly.

 Bloody kids…