Joe’s Blog

Nazis at the Center of the Earth (2012)

August 6, 2012 6:15 am

HERE BE SPOILERS! You’ve been told…

Oh, The Asylum. It’s been far too long.

Having grown tired of ripping off blockbuster titles with cheap-jack copies (Grimm’s Snow White, The Almighty Thor) and finding ludicrous prefixes to the names of large animals (or combining the names of large animals) to create MEGA movies (Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, obviously), they have taken an interesting turn with their latest shit-fest, managing to sully the good work of someone who spent five years trying to make an interesting low budget film, whilst combining it with a Hollywood rip-off and the excesses of the long dormant Nazisploitation movies of the 70’s. And it truly is a new unwatchable low.

The title alone should tell you that The Asylum are desperately trying to ride the coat tails of Iron Sky, a film that piqued the interest of many a trash film fan a few years ago with a brilliant trailer and a marvelous concept (“Moon Nazis”), that sadly ran out of money and relied on donations from tinterweb geeks to get it finished. It’s a great achievement, managing to look a hundred times better than most Hollywood movies, and it’s good fun, with its tongue nestling nicely in its cheek without being a full-on spoof.

It’s also got a billion times more heart, soul, talent and balls than this. Trying to make a few bob convincing stupid people in video shops or skipping through the Sky EPG that your movie is connected to a big Hollywood film is one thing. Convincing those same people that this is “that new Nazi film everyone on Facebook is talking about” is a different kettle of fish, considering how hard the writer and director worked to get the bloody thing finished AND good. Sad fact is that given Iron Sky‘s wretched distribution, this is more likely to garner bigger audiences, as it will undoubtedly play endlessly on SyFy and be the subject of wonderful internet chatter about how god-awful it is. Which of course I’m perpetuating because I’m a massive hypocrite.

It’s actually more fun spotting the steals from other films than bothering to follow the plot. There’s a touch of The Thing (I wonder if the film had originally been planned to cash-in on the remake/prequel/big stinky poo but they thought better of it), a dash of Dead Snow, a soupcon of Boys From Brazil and lashings of ghastliness familiar to anyone who has ever seen an Italian Nazi camp movie.

One thing The Asylum has always had on its side, is that their films are almost watchable if you’re a few beers down with a group of mates. This is not. I’ve watched a lot of what could be deemed ‘reprehensible’ films in my time, but even I at one point thought “No, you’ve crossed a line there”. If by some bizarre quirk of fate I do choose to watch an Asylum film, I don’t expect to be laughing at the appalling acting one minute, then be witnessing a woman having her clothes ripped off by some undead Nazi, and then be left to be gang raped by a bunch of them while she screams her head off. (This is preceded by a shockingly offensive scene-lift from Schindler’s List!)

I also don’t expect to go from trying to work out how many times the same set can be used for different locations, to the sight of a villain performing an abortion on his girlfriend with a vacuum cleaner.

This is certainly the goriest Asylum film I’ve seen, and some of the effects are reasonably impressive. There’s a couple of good face-rippings, and an amusingly trashy brain operation.

Apparently there is some plot. It’s some nonsense about an Antarctic research base which happens to be right on top of a Nazi underground base where Josef Mengele is alive and well performing skin graft and organ transplant experiments to keep his henchmen alive (an idea which reminded me of the gag in Only Fools and Horses about Trigger’s road sweeping broom). Above them, Dr Jake Busey (huh?), who has ‘lost’ more students than another doctor in the history of Antarctic Research Bases, leads his charges into a big hole, looking for two colleagues snatched by a Nazi at the start of the film.

Yes, of course, Busey has been supplying Mengele with a succession of unwitting subjects for ten years in exchange for his life. Now, he’s decided he quite likes the sound of being led by them. Or does he? It’s hard to know, since he seems to change his mind every 5 minutes. Someone who definitely doesn’t is Dominique Swain (John Travolta’s daughter in Face/Off). Taken at the start of the film, Big Joe takes a bit of a fancy to her, so she dresses up in Nazi gear and plays along. As you do.

But wait… the worst is yet to come. Seriously, if you don’t want to know what all this is leading to stop reading now…

Right… are you ready?

Robot hitler

Remind you of anything? It did to me…

Robot nixon


So we get Mecha-Hitler finishing off the survivors, and finally launching his Death Germ Spaceship, with which he’s going to take over the world. The FX budget of about £4.50 gets blown here. They don’t even composite the actor playing Hitler into the suit for most of the shots (only close-ups) instead employing a CGI rendering that looks like a grey splodge with a moustache on it.

This is all so very wrong in so many ways. And I don’t mean that as an endorsement. If you’re even considering watching this, watch Iron Sky instead. Or at least first. The budgets aren’t wildly different, but the film quality is world’s apart.

I think it’s shameful The Asylum thought Iron Sky was fair game, and that they thought the excesses of something like Beast in Heat have a place in a supposedly ‘fun’ movie. It’s also pretty tragic that fair actors like Busey and Swain are reduced to appearing in gutter trash like this to make a buck.

Go back to what you do best Asylum, making mockbusters for the terminally stupid and drunk.

Die Another Day (2002)

May 25, 2012 7:02 am

Die Another Day poster

With all the 2012 shenanigans going on this year and Britain being the focus of the world for everyone (except us miserable Brits who are refusing to get caught up in the swirl of Union Jack clad mayhem we are being subjected to) it seems only fitting that the greatest living fictional Brit is also celebrating a jubilee this year. Yes, it’s 50 years since everyone’s favourite right-wing, gun-toting psychopath killed his first bad guy on screen, for Queen and country. And probably cos he quite enjoys killing people a bit too much.

The release this week of the first Skyfall trailer seems to have made everyone forget how dreadful Quantum of Solace was and focus instead on how the series has been rejuvenated by the casting of Daniel Craig, and the darker, more sombre tone. Sadly, ten years ago, for the 40th anniversary of Bond’s first on-screen shag, things were a little different.

Pierce Brosnan was being wildly credited with reviving the sexist, misogynist dinosaur for a new audience. Out were Roger Moore’s raised eyebrow, Timothy Dalton’s obvious disdain for a role beneath his abilities, and Sean Connery’s wigs. In came a confident swagger, better supporting actors and bigger action. And after three hugely successful films of variable quality it was decided for the big 4-0, they would go for broke on a thoroughly schizophrenic adventure which would combine a tough revenge thriller, of a kind hard core Fleming fans wanted, and high octane thrills for the mass audience.

What we got was Moonraker 2.

It’s been a long time since I last saw Die Another Day. I caught some of it on ITV a few months back and turned it off as soon as the first ad break appeared (I think it was before the opening titles), so I came back to it having largely forgotten huge chunks of it. But it was just as dreadful as I remembered it being.

If you can’t remember Die Another Day, you’re very lucky. So I’ll refresh your brain. It’s the one with the invisible car. Yes, that got through the committee script process: an invisible car. That pretty much sets the tone for everything else in the film.

Halle Berry plays another ‘female Bond’ who is as talented, resourceful and dangerous as him, but still needs to be rescued four times throughout the film. Toby Stephens is the sneering villain (and a wonderful sneer it is too) called Gustav despite the fact he’s supposed to be from Argentina (but isn’t really). Rosamund Pike is the far more attractive, and more interesting secondary female, and is consequently given little to do. She may be a spy, or she may be working for Gustav. She changes her mind everytime the plot starts to sag.

Bond is banged up in North Korea after killing a General. He’s busted within seconds of landing his helicopter despite pretending to be someone else. This is not the last time you’ll think “Actually, Bond is a bit of shit spy”.

14 months of torture later (over which plays Madonna’s entry for the ‘Worst Bond Theme Ever’ competition. It’s not clear if that’s part of the torture.), he’s still wisecracking with the father of the general he killed, but finds himself traded for the henchman Zao, a character so dull they have to imbed diamonds in his face to make him appear more interesting. MI6 think Bond has cracked and is leaking secrets, so naturally, they let him escape from a high security boat in Hong Kong harbour, so he can find out what’s really going on.

Much tedium ensues as Bond goes to Cuba, shags Halle Berry, blows some stuff up, has a sword fight with Gustav (one of the better scenes in the film, despite Madonna’s contractually obligated pointless cameo) before the villain invites him to Iceland for the demonstration of his diamond encrusted space laser. You know, just like the one Blofeld had in Diamonds are Forever.

Cyril Sneer

Once we get to Iceland things go from bad to worse. We meet ANOTHER henchman called… dear, lord… Mr Kil (sic).  There’s also a weasley electronics nerd who talks like Peter Lorre, who’s designing a Robocop style suit for Gustav to control his space laser.

The villain’s lair will here be played by a palace made entirely of ice (nice idea, based on a real hotel in Scandeweigia somewhere), which of course will have to be destroyed. Nice twist is that the villain blows it up himself in an attempt to drown Halle Berry. Odd this, as she’s trapped in a room made of ice that’s melting. Surely, it can’t be that hard to escape from? And why not just blast her directly with your space laser, instead of s-l-o-w-l-y melting the building?

Meanwhile Bond is trying to escape bad guys (by running away, like a girl) by stealing Gustav’s ice riding thing (it looks like a canoe with skis), and ends up ice surfing into the worst CGI ever seen in a $150 million movie.

Horace Goes Skiing

Bond then remembers he hasn’t driven his new car yet, so goes back to the ice palace and takes on Zao, who himself has a souped-up, gadget-laden motor. Nice, if pointless, idea, but it results in one of the dullest car chases in the series since they just keep blowing each other’s missiles up. It’s a shame, as the logistics for staging the sequence of a car chase on a frozen lake, were huge. Sadly, most of the good work is lost thanks to Tony Scott and Michael Bay editor, Christian Wagner. Ooh, sped up then slowed down car chases… exciting. The sequence does feature one of the series best ever moments though, when Bond uses the ejector seat to flip his car the right way up after being hit by a rocket.

Then there’s a ridiculous climax as our heroes stowaway on a big plane, while Gustav space lasers the demilitarised zone between the Koreas, so the North can invade the South. People get sucked out of the plane, obviously and Halle Berry calls Rosamund Pike a bitch. Which isn’t very nice.

And then we get that bloody awful Madonna theme song in an even worse, bloody awful remix version.

END. Thank god.

There’s so much wrong here, it’s hard to know where to start. The Moore-isms are back with a vengeance, but Brosnan just doesn’t convince, and comes across as a sleazy old man (particularly his continual advances to the excellent Pike who was, literally, half his age). The scene where he flirts with Hale Berry on their first meeting, is frankly the worst dialogue that has ever appeared in a Bond movie (with the possible exception of Moore’s ad-libbed “That should keep you in curry for a few weeks” to his Indian contact in Octopussy).

And Berry, is no better, possibly even worse. It’s hard to imagine this is the same woman who won an Oscar for Monster’s Ball when she was making this. Every line she delivers tumbles from her gob, with her tongue visibly in her cheek. It’s like she knows it’s complete crap, but at least she’s having fun making it. I think it’s a good example of why Bond movies are normally better with lesser known, better actors, than with BIG NAME stars (with the exception Christopher Walken). Did anyone really go to see Die Another Day just because Halle Berry was in it? Come to think of it, has anyone EVER gone to see a film just because Halle Berry was in it? They certainly didn’t go and see Catwoman. Miaow.

"How do you know I'm good?", asked Halle. "You're not, love", replied the audience

Stephens has fun as Gustav.  Many criticised his rather broad performance, and sneer, but as he’s created a new personality for himself, he clearly says he based it on Bond. It justifies all the perceived awfulness, as he’s just being Brosnan as a bad guy.

Judi Dench is her usual flawless self, facing off against an angry Bond AND Mr Blond (Michael Madsen was considered for a recurring character but it never happened. Sadly, she doesn’t slap Bond down when he snaps “Let me get on with my job”, which in the earlier films she most certainly would have.

And Rosamund Pike is excellent, considering this was her first film. She desperately tries to make Miranda Frost an interesting character, despite the script. And her contempt for Bond is as marvelous as Luciana Paluzzi in Thunderball.

A gratuitous picture of Rosamund Pike

It’s just an absolute mess. It’s like one of the major studios, with big American producers, had decided to make a rival Bond movie and got everything wrong (just like Casino Royale ’67 and Never Say Never Again). Poor CGI is tossed around, unforgivable in a series which has always prided itself on real stunts, and high quality craftsmanship in its model work. Even in this day and age, for some reason, Bond movies have never been able to master back projection. Some of the shots are as bad as the legendary Jaws on a cable car from Moonraker, which did feature real stuntmen hanging off a cable car on Sugar Loaf mountain WITHOUT a safety cable. I doubt very much a stuntmen went anywhere a glacier for the ice-surfing scene.

The dialogue is so pun heavy it starts to resemble a Carry On film, or worse, a Confessions film. None of the characters are particularly interesting, they are all just archetypes: female Bond, villainous turncoat, villain, henchman, mad doctor, cannon fodder, singer who wants to be in the film…

The excuses for its overindulgence were that it was supposed to be a celebration: 40 years, obviously, but also it was the 20th (official) film. So the film is peppered with references to all the other films in the series, some obvious, some more cryptic. What this does though, is lift you out of the film, and kills any momentum or tension it may have generated. How can you stay involved with something that every 5 minutes is nudging you going “Look, did you see that? Look it’s the jetpack from Thunderball. Look it’s the Union jack parachute. look Gustav nearly said ‘Diamonds are Forever’, but then didn’t. Aren’t we so clever?”

No, you’re not clever. You’re annoying. It feels at times like one of those awful Dr Who specials for Children in Need. I expect Terry Wogan to appear throwing a metal rimmed hat, or Graham Norton to menace Brosnan with a metal arm. Actually, either of those would have been preferable to Bond fighting Mr Kil surrounded by killer lasers (still, with the fricking lasers?).

You can make a case for several Bond movies being the worst in the series, but they all have something to redeem them. Except this one.

Die Another Day was the last DVD to leave its cellophane straight jacket in my DVD box set. I suspect when the Bluray box arrives, it will remain there forever.



Ants! (aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor) (1977)

May 22, 2012 2:30 am

It’s funny the things that scare kids. As a nipper growing up in the halcyon days of the video nasty I was privy to all manner of eye gouging, limb severing and demonic possession you could shake a bloody stump at. Yet I very rarely had nightmares watching the likes of Zombie Flesh Eaters or the Evil Dead. My nightmares were much more mundane, caused by the faceless man in Sapphire and Steel, Julian Glover ripping his face off to reveal his true alien identity in Dr Who, and, most terrifying of all, The Incredible Hulk. Whilst kids the country over would propel themselves behind the sofa at the mere cry of “Exterminate”, I was cowering behind cushions hoping no one was going to upset that nice Dr Banner this week. At least I would get the warning of Bill Bixby’s green contact lenses.

One set of films did give me the willies, but probably because the threat seemed a tad more real and immediate than that posed by the Caribbean undead or hockey masked psychos: revenge of nature movies.

Whilst they had been a staple of cinema for decades, the 70s brought a whole slew of them, mainly thanks to the success of Jaws. All manner of cuddly (and not so cuddly) critters were wheeled out as the next big threat to humanity. Whilst cinema generally went big (Grizzly, Orca, the wonderful Alligator, um… The Giant Spider Invasion), US TV wanted in on the act too.

Their budgets obviously wouldn’t stretch to ocean filming, or expensive locations for exotic wild animals. So their threats were generally more mundane.

Enter Guerdon Trueblood, a TV movie veteran who managed to turn out FOUR creepy crawly based creature features in a year: The Savage Bees (and a sequel Terror Out of the Sky), Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo and Ants! (aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor).

These seemed to play every week on UK TV in my youth, and I loved them all, even though they would all give me sleepless nights (and ruin sunny days, particularly the day I fell in an ants nest, convinced they were going to eat me alive).

It’s interesting how these stand up pretty well today (and compared to the mega-budgeted The Swarm, The Savage Bees is Oscar-worthy) … except Ants.

An ant yesterday

A group of TV regulars (Robert Foxworth, Barry van Dyke, Suzanne Somers) and out of work B-movie plodders (Bernie Casey, Lynda Day George) find themselves trapped in a hotel, beseiged by killer ants, driven psycho nuts by pesticides.

George runs the titular Lakewood Manor with her wheelchair bound mother (30’s screen legend, Myrna Loy). She’s also having it away with gruff Foxworth, foreman of the building site next door. He’s rather perturbed when two of his men end up in hospital, one later dying, after being buried in a hole. But they didn’t suffocate as expected. Instead they suffered severe nerve trauma, probably as the result of a venomous toxin.

(I should point out here, the film has a slapdash attitude to the difference between venom and poison, using both terms with gay abandon, even from the gob of a so-called expert who talks about poisonous ants, as opposed to venomous ants.)

This 'expert' doesn't know the difference between venom and poison

Of course the hotel is… half full of soap opera characters, and mute extras. There’s the sleazy businessman, and his mistress, who want to buy the hotel and turn it into a casino; there’s the single mum and her irritating son; and there’s a teenage runaway who falls for the pool attendant/desk clerk/handyman (he basically does everything).

The first half of the film very tediously takes us through all these interweaving ‘stories’, occasionally cutting to the hotel kitchen, to show the ants very very slowly making their way up the sink, whilst a jolly fat chef endlessly mixes something in a bowl.

The kid gets in next, and to be fair, it was an accident waiting to happen, what with him scrabbling around in the bins in just his swimming trunks. It’s amazing the ants got him before he severed his achilles tendon on a broken bottle. His leap into the pool (to cries of “Help, he can’t swim!”) to try and rid himself of the ants, is of course witnessed by our hero, Foxworth, who happens to be there snogging the missus. Taking charge, and ordering around the lifeguard, even though he doesn’t actually work there, he starts to wonder what’s going on.

When Bad Movies Attack!

He and buddy Bernie Casey go to investigate the hole where his men were hospitalised. Within a few seconds, Casey is spasming and swatting imaginary ants from his trousers.

At the same time, jolly chef has been got. Serves him right really for wearing open toed sandals in a food preparation area. Strangely, the health inspector isn’t bothered by that, and instead closes the hotel on the grounds that the kitchen must be infected with a virus. Obviously.

This is kick up the arse the film needs.

The extras have all been evacuated, but before our top billed stars can leave, they find themselves trapped by now a horde of ants which are slowly… very slowly, making their way inside!

Yes, this is the half way point. So you can probably guess just how tedious the build up to this has been. Thankfully the second half is so deliriously wacky and unintentionally hilarious you can almost forgive the first turgid 45 minutes.

A real actor arrives, in the shape of Brian Dennehy as a fire chief who shouts a lot and has a magic hi vis jacket which appears and disappears at regular intervals.

Brian Dennehy calls his agent

For some reason each attempt to rescue the remaining stars is only used to rescue one of them. A fire ladder is used for one, but then the truck drives away, happily honking his horn as he goes, with no explanation of why he left. A helicopter is utilised until they realise the updraft is spreading the ants all over the crowd of gawping extras who have now surrounded the hotel.

But the true highlight comes when just three survivors are left. It’s going to take half an hour to get some protective hazmat suits to them, but the ants are closing in fast. Well, not exactly fast, but … slow. Their best bet is not to move. And not breath on the ants.

This results in… well see for yourself. Any description would not do this scene the bad movie justice it deserves.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, mainly because I’m not entirely sure what happens. It’s not entirely clear if they manage to defeat the ants or not.

At the end of the day Ants is a cheap, knock-off TV movie. Thanks mainly to the interesting low-rent cast, it’s more watchable than the dreadful Empire of the Ants, and more accommodating than the widely praised, but desperately dull, Phase 4. It’ll pass the time on a wet sunday afternoon, but really it’s only recommended if you want to see Barry van Dyke fall into a digger, a naked woman covered in Ants, or you’re a Brian Dennehy completist (hey, you never know, they could exist).

Movie Marketing Overkill

April 20, 2012 2:57 am

This is how I feel

I’ve just finished reading a fantastic book entitled “Hit and Run“. It tells the story of how two extremely good salesman (one of whom was also a hairdresser dating a top Hollywood star and singer) managed to wrangle themselves top producer jobs in Hollywood, ultimately ending up running a studio themselves and spending lots of other people’s money. Best thing about it is that it’s all true. The two men in question, Jon Peters (the hairdresser, and Babara Streisand bedmate) and Peter Guber may not be household names outside of the Hollywood family, but for a decade and more they ‘produced’ (or rather had their names attached to) a string of hit movies including Rainman, Witches of Eastwick, Flashdance and The Color Purple.

It’s all fascinating reading, discovering how two men with very little knowledge of the film industry ended up such big players. One reason was they were great packagers of movies. they would schmooze the talent hard to get the perfect combination of story, stars and director. After the film was made they would work their magic once again to sell the hell out of it (if they thought it was worth it).

(Kevin Smith provides a wonderful anecdote about Jon Peters from his time working on the aborted Tim Burton/Nicolas cage version of Superman.)

It’s this selling angle which was fresh in my mind this week when reading about two of their most famous films, one successful, one famously less so: Batman and Last Action Hero. The way these films were handled contrasts starkly to the big sell of today’s blockbusters and despite their reputations, the industry could still learn a thing or two from their methods.

Fast forward to 2012. The huge Hollywood summer is upon us, with the imminent arrival of Marvel Avengers Assemble next week. It’s a one-way trip to CGI, explodo-vision until August. Even the most casual of moviegoer cannot be unaware of the big hitters this year due to the studios relentless marketing blitz.

Barely a day goes by without a new teaser trailer, new photos, new clever virals…

Two films in particular, the aforementioned Avengers and the Alien prequel, Prometheus, have been taking pre-release marketing to entirely new levels. But they are not alone.

The Total Recall remake released a teaser trailer for its teaser trailer. That’s right a trailer, for a trailer. Of course, it worked. In our new networked age, the trailer trailer had a million hits in about 4 nanoseconds. And this probably demonstrates better than anything the way modern movie marketing works. Steven Spielberg once said of Jaws “the public can smell it faster than we can sell it”. That was certainly the case in 1975, when even the concept of adverts on TV was considered unthinkable for a big budget movie.

Now, ‘they’ sell it so relentlessly, the public can’t smell anything else. But when does it reach critical mass, and the audience says “actually, I’m a bit sick of this now, and the film isn’t even out for another month”?

That’s what happened 19 years ago (holy crap!) when Last Action Hero came out. For a year before its release, Columbia spent vast amounts of money convincing the world that it was “The Big Ticket for ’93”. They even went as far as paying a cool $500,000 to advertise it on a later aborted space shuttle launch. Utterly ridiculous, but the story made all the papers around the world. The problem was, it was months before the film’s release. By the time the film saw the light of day, the public was more taken by a little film about dinosuars that had a marketing budget tiny in comparison.

Not learning the error of their ways, Columbia tried the same trick a few years later, with another supposed flop, Godzilla. The first teaser trailer arrived a full year before release, and they paid for a year long hoarding on a prominent site on an LA freeway. Again, the public got bored before the film even came out.

But in 1989, Guber and Peters got it spot on, with Batman. It’s strange that Tim Burton’s film is often credited (or blamed) like Jaws and Star Wars before it, of creating the mega-marketing we see today. But looking back, it was a clear case of the public hyping it. Batman’s marketing consisted of a hastily prepared (and pretty dreadful) Superbowl teaser trailer, and that wonderful, iconic poster. That was it. Two pieces of marketing material. Everything else (the toys, t-shirts, board games etc) came later. As with Jaws and (initially) Star Wars, it was the hucksters and grey market brigade that were making all the money.

in 2012, the same ideas are being used again. So far there are two Dark Knight Rises trailers, and two fantastic posters. That’s it.

The Marvel Avengers Assemble campaign has perhaps been the most heavily marketed film of all time, when you consider the campaign started back in 2008, with the release of Iron Man. That’s four years of continual marketing for a single film, a campaign which itself has included 5 seperate films. The marketing cost for one movie runs into the billions.

So we see how, probably, the two biggest films of the year, have taken wildly different marketing angles. Both will be massive hits, so does it matter?

It’s difficult to judge on these two examples. Prometheus is another matter.

Even as a prequel to a pre-sold concept, it’s going to be hard selling an R-rated (probably, hopefully) sci-fi art thriller in a summer jammed to the cape with superhero extravaganzas. So they are selling the shit out of it. Every drip feed of info is portrayed as life-changing news. This week saw the release of a spoof advert for the Weyland Corp android. And very good it is too. But the marketing seems to want to play it both ways. It wants to batter you senseless with teases and glimpses, without actually telling you much about the film. It’s a nice idea, but only time will tell how successful it will prove to be.

And lost in this sea is another big budget superhero movie, that’s practially been forgotten about. The Amazing Spiderman, is the latest saga to get the requisite Hollywood reboot treatment. It too has launched a huge marketing effort, but isn’t getting anywhere near the coverage of its rivals. Is the summer curse of Columbia coming back to haunt them?

Or is the public now more savvy at smelling a soulless studio product faster than the studio can sell it?

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.