Joe’s Blog

The Tourist (2010)

September 8, 2011 4:09 am


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

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…

Skyscraper (1995)

June 27, 2011 6:14 am

Skyscraper cover


 One day we’ll get a decent biopic about Anna Nicole-Smith. One that ranks up there with the pinaccle of TV-movie gold that is The Jayne Mansfield Story (or, given that Arnie plays her husband, should that be The Chain Mansfield Story?). The parallels between Mansfield and Nicole-Smith are manifest and I’m not a historian so I’ll leave that to some Media Studies student to deal with in an essay entitled something witty like “Pneumatic Thrills: The Dichotomy of Breast Enlargement in Post-Feminist Entertainment“. Or something.

There is a Nicole-Smith biopic, called simply Anna Nicole (or for the hard of thinking, The Anna Nicole Smith Story on DVD)  but it’s a half-hearted, quick cash-in released within months of her death in 2007. And it leaves out several vital events from her ‘story’ including her breakthrough with a series of H&M ads, her lesbian affairs and, most shocking of all, her film career.

Well, I say career. It was more of a period of community service, really. Except she didn’t have to wear a hi-vis vest with ‘Community Payback’ written on it. In fact, she wore very little at all.

She started off quite well with an inspired cameo as ‘Za-za’ in the Coen brothers’ Hudsucker Proxy, and then an extended cameo in Naked Gun 33 1/3.

From here someone had the bright idea that she should, and could, be a star. Why not? She had a massive fan base of teenage boys who were too young to buy Playboy Video Playmate Calendar 1993 or Playboy Video Playmate Review 1993, and with Pamela Anderson about to hit the big time with Barb Wire, it seemed the perfect time to launch Ms Nicole-Smith onto an unsuspecting Blockbuster Video audience.

She made two movies in quick succession in 1995, both directed by Raymond Martino who had graduated (or rather gone downhill) from the Lee Strasburg Acting School, to bit parts in Fall Guy, to straight to video trash starring John Travolta’s brother, Joey.

To the Limit was first, a mafia/revenge/buddy/reluctant allies/shagging thing that I have been unable to find yet.

But Skyscraper sounded much more promising. Nicole-Smith plays a helicopter pilot who finds herself stuck in a skyscraper taken over by hostages. Wow! What an original idea… Nicole-Smith playing a helicopter pilot. That’s the kind of ideas that get people to the top in Hollywood.

Nicole-Smith is Carrie Wisk (pfft) a helicopter pilot who ferries businessmen around the many skyscraper helipads of Los Angeles (though all the different ones she lands on were clearly all filmed at the same place) like a rich person’s taxi service. She’s married to a cop, Gordon (though always called ‘Gordo’ for some reason). Her first fare is dropped off, and he goes to dingy backstreet to exchange a briefcase for a large wad of cash from some bad guys. The bad guys decide they don’t want to pay and instead (in the only decent action scene in the movie) blow up lots of cars with a rocket launcher and shoot uzis indiscriminantly in the street in broad daylight.

Meanwhile Carrie whines on, in her underwear, about wanting a baby. She and Gordo fight and he goes to work. But wouldn’t you know it, he left his car at the station so asks Carrie for a lift. And she’s still angry with him, so we get a hilarious scene of her flying REALLY badly to get her own back.

Gordo and his partner, probably called Deadmeat or Target, catch more bad guys nicking a huge microchip from an electronics firm, which seems to run its R & D team from a used car forecourt prefab. Deadmeat gets blown up by that pesky rocket launcher and the bad guys get away.

Finally, about 20 minutes in, we meet the main bad guy. But it’s not immediately obvious. What is obvious is that he’s going to be very annoying. Not only is he called Fairfax (a villain name cliche that goes back to early days of US soaps) he likes to quote Shakespeare. No particular reason for this. It’s what’s known in screenwriting circles as ‘a lazy quirk’. Fairfax is played by a guy called Charles M Huber, a Senegalese-German who sounds like a French Matt Berry. He may also be one of the producers (Charles Huber) but even imdb is confused about this, since their entry for Huber without the ‘M’ tells us he died in 1960.

He’s Carrie’s next fare. She drops him off at a swanky hotel/resort, where he picks up another case and shoots another guy, again in broad daylight (luckily, no one is in the bar at the time, not even staff).

Next it’s off to the HQ of the electronics firm. Through clunky exposition we discover it’s saturday, so the building is almost deserted. There’s an annoying security guard who looks like Sweetchuck from the Police Academy films, a hard pressed career woman, who’s son is riding around the office on his trikey like Danny in The Shining and a few other bits of cannon fodder, one of which is set up to make us think he’s in with the bad guys, but isn’t. But then he does a deal with them and gets shot. So that was all a bit pointless.

Fairfax is here to get the final piece of his satellite-controlling-doomsday-scenario-meccano set, but wouldn’t you know it Carrie stumbles in looking for a phone (the bad guys disabled her radio on the chopper) and ends up with the case.

And, FINALLY, the Tesco Value Die Hard shifts into, well, not exactly top gear. More like second gear. Anything else would probably blow their budget.

Carrie does the firehouse escape from the roof, only using a winch from a window cleaner rig instead. She starts a fire to alert the fire brigade, but rather than blowing up the building, McClane-style, she just sets light to a waste paper basket.

There’s lots of cat-and-mouse running around. Lots of shooting. Lots of screaming. And Carrie shows off her never mentioned kung fu skills. Seriously, if your character is a helicopter pilot, you really should mention early on that she’s also an ace kung fu fighter rather than just have her start chopping guys throats out of nowhere.

There’s also lots of falling-from-buildings stunts, which all look reasonable good.

What’s no so good is the moment when they DO try to emulate Die Hard‘s exploding building money shot by superimposing what looks like a small electrical fire onto a shot of the building.

Having a tiny budget may excuse some things, like the fact Carrie’s helicopter and the later police helicopter are clearly the same helicopter, with ‘POLICE’ badly letraset on the side (at least two letters are wonky). It may excuse the fact that no-one in this film appears to have had any acting trainign of any kind (of which more to follow).

But it can’t excuse such gaping plot holes as the fact the building supposedly has an impenetrable computer lockdown, but three people manage to get in through a hatch on the roof with no problems. It doesn’t excuse the fact we’re told every employee’s ID card has a tracking device built in, so the bad guys can monitor everyone (and not monitor Carrie), yet when Gordo finally turns up, he appears on the tracker.

It also can’t excuse the fact that the film can’t decide how many “floors of terror” the building has exactly. We’re told at various points it has around 80. The building doesn’t look that big, and the computer tells us that the roof is floor 23!

skyscraper 2

How many floors of terror? Even the makers don’t know.

And it most definitely cannot excuse a scene which was thankfully missing from the version I saw. In the UK, this recently popped up on Movies4Men, a low rent movie channel where I catch a lot of the crap I talk about on here. Despite a late night showing it was missing two scenes. The first, a gratuitous shower scene for Nicole-Smith early on. The second however is even missing (for the most part) on the UK DVD version.

Carrie is captured and handed over to a bad guy to “have some fun with” whilst they look for the briefcase she has stashed. I think you can imagine what “have some fun with” means in the context of this sort of movie. What follows, from what I’ve read and screenshots I’ve seen (NSFW), is a rape scene that seems to be included just to show off Nicole-Smith’s naked body. I’m no prude, but I like to think that in more enlightened times (ie not the 1970s) where sticking a rape scene in a film for cheap thrills was now considered not a cool thing to do. But hey, that’s just me.

The version I watched cuts straight into her lying on the floor with her top off pointing a gun at the bad guy saying “You wanna fuck me? Fuck this!”, shooting him in the balls and he flies back out a window. Justice is served. Sadly not on the director though…

By now, I’m sure you’re dying to know how bad Nicole-Smith is. Well, surprise surprise she is dreadful. And I mean, with a capital D. I don’t think I have ever seen a worse performance in a movie.

Thankfully, the makers seemed to agree and try to keep her dialogue down to a bare minimum. This does lead to whole sections of the film not featuring her at all (I presume this is why the beginning is so protracted, and far too many incidental characters are introduced later on). there’s a wonderful clip on Youtube of outtakes from Skyscraper, where she is being fed lines, and just has to repeat them (I particularly like her “leading your hairspace”).

Skyscraper has nothing to recommend it, despite the best efforts of Total Film and Daily Star on the DVD cover above. It’s mainly very dull, and watching Nicole-Smith trying to deliver believable dialogue makes you nostalgic for early Arnie films. Which is where we came in.

Nightmare City aka City of the Walking Dead (1980)

June 17, 2011 4:49 am

Nightmare city

It was quite odd for me to not enjoy The Walking Dead earlier this year. I’d been led to believe this was a new pinnacle in televisual entertainment, and, as a zombie fan, it would be the ultimate gut-munching experience. Well, I found it to be glossy, watered-down, derivative and, dare I say, a tad boring. To me it seemed to be the zombie thing for people who don’t really like zombie things.

It also signalled the ultimate public acceptance of zombie stories into the mainstream. It’s been a long road, and people like to talk about why the turn of the millenium has seen a sudden surge of zombies into the popular consciousness. To which I say “Bugger off, I’m watching Zombie Flesh Eaters“.

The noughties is NOT the high watermark of zombie cinema. That’s like saying the rash of slasher remakes clogging up multiplexes the world over is signalling the high point of the genre. It’s just lazy Hollywood.

The true peak of zombie cinema was the turn of 70s into the 80s, starting with Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. So popular was it in Italy, that they took the mantle upon themselves to batter audiences into submission with a succession of rip-offs of varying quality, but consistent gore quotients.

Nightmare City is a lesser example of spaghetti zombie-fests, but just as important, as, contrary to its US title, and to the best of my knowledge, it was the first zombie film to feature RUNNING zombies. No Haitian voodoo and shuffling worm eaters here. These radioactive rampagers could probably rundown Usain Bolt if his blood was tasty enough.

Not only that, but they still seem to have their brains intact too.  They can use weapons (or rather they utilise everything they can lay their hands on as a weapon) and even to have a plan of attack!


Nyom nyom

But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. First the plot. A radioactive leak has led to a plane load of ‘infected’ people running amok in an unamed city. That’s pretty much it.

Our focus initially is a TV reporter (Hugo Stiglitz) as attempts to rescue his doctor wife, after his attempts to broadcast the news of what’s happening our thwarted by The Man. Here the part of the once big star parachuted in to make the film sellable to the USA will be played by Mel Ferrer.

Along the way Mel’s daughter is given a sub-plot, as does another Army bloke who’s sculptress wife get’s her top off and mopes around the house.

It’s pretty episodic stuff, with no real narrative thread beyond Stiglitz rescuing his wife, then trying to escape the city, whilst Ferrer points a stick at a model of the city and initiates “…Plan H. We’ll keep Plan B in reserve”. Ferrer’s scenes were clearly filmed in about two days as, bar one scene, he’s never featured outside HQ.

 Mels pointy stick

“We’ll go with Plan H. Hitting them with a pointy stick.”

What it does have is an avalance of ridiculous set pieces, squirm-inducing dialogue and moments of bad movie gold.

After the zombies have seized the airport, they turn their attentions to a TV station. We are treated to an example of the station’s output, which, during the day at least, features a god-awful dance troupe in purple leotards. While it’s certainly more watchable than Loose Women, there’s no need to give us TWO extended views of it (totalling more than five minutes screen time). And handily the leotards have a habit of falling off and exposing the dancers chests as soon as the zombies attack. One poor woman runs direct into camera letting it all hang out before being grabbed and having a nipple sliced off. It’s nowhere near as nasty as it sounds, honest.

Loose women

Loose Women.. Italian style

In fact, the women do come off very badly in this one. Whilst the men tend to get shot, or battered about the head, before the zombies feed on their necks like vampires, almost all the female victims have the indignity of having their tops pulled off, before being stabbed in the chest for a handy feeding hole (to be fair though, if they didn’t want their boobs exposed maybe they should wear bras. Not one woman in this film wears a bra). It’s worth mentioning here that director Umberto Lenzi is one of the less talented, but massively successful, Italian directors, who often created ultra-exploitative rip-offs of better films. the best known example is probably the abhorrent Cannibal Ferox, which he made next. This is far more fun.

Of course, this happens to be the TV station wear Stiglitz works, and he’s on hand to hurl an exploding TV at some zombies and make his escape.

The zombies continue on, taking over a power station, then the hospital where Stiglitz’ wife works. And so it continues…

It’s worth mentioning here, the wonder that is Stiglitz’ acting ability. This man makes Mark Wahlberg look like Jack Nicholson as far as emoting goes. he appears to have only one expression.

Here he is witnessing the zombie attack at the airport (note how his ‘top camerman’ isn’t filming this exciting breaking story)…

Stiglitz 1

Or here, as the zombies attack the TV station he appears to ring for a pizza (or the military, I can’t remember which)…

Stiglitz 2

Or here, where he’s very disappointed that the gas station they’ve found doesn’t stock Ginsters sausage rolls…

Stiglitz 3

It’s an odd film in that it doesn’t seem to know which zombie mythology it’s following. Early on a scientist examines one they caught and explains about their regenerative qualities but also suggests the infection can be passed on. What’s odd is that we never see a dead body get up. Each set piece seems to feature different zombies, but still, you need to see the effect on their victims.

In the plus coloumn, it features a line which has permeated popular culture (at least if you like zombie films). This must be true as I used it for the title of a zombie essay at Uni, and I’d never even seen this film: “Aim for the brain!”. (Oddly, I have vivid memories of the video cover from when i was a nipper. The cover, in it’s skin ripping glory, made it look utterly horrendous. It’s a wonderful piece of trash artwork, which is why I chose to use it above, over its better known equivalents.)

It’s far from the best example of Italian splatter, but it’s certainly not the worst, though it probably has the worst ending to a zombie film I’ve ever seen. Seriously… the worst ending. EVER. In the right frame of mind, and a few shandies down, it can be entertaining. It’s certainly not dull, and you’re never more than ten minutes away from either some outrageous gore, or some ridiculous dialogue.

NB. If you’re wondering why the name Hugo Stiglitz sounds familiar, it’s because he was the name of one of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds

Xanadu (1980)

May 13, 2011 6:57 am


One of the downsides to being a fan of bad movies is that sometimes a movie has such a dizzyingly, mythically bad  reputation that watching it can only lead to disappointment that it doesn’t match up to your expectations. In recent years I’ve been let down by Mommie Dearest, Exorcist 2 and even Showgirls. None of these films, in my mind, reach the fridge-stinking fromage odour generated by, say, Rentadick (a completely laugh-free ‘comedy’ written by John Cleese I recently watched the first 40 minutes of before the thought of slinging the TV out the window made me turn it off). I guess most people just prefer to watch Hollywood crash and burn.

I had this fear for a short time whilst watching Xanadu recently. I needn’t have worried. Everything you’ve heard about how bad Xanadu is is true. And then some.

Plot-wise it’s as flimsy as one of the dresses the dancers wear: Young guy meets old guy… they open a roller disco. That’s pretty much it. Whilst this opens up endless possibilities for comedy, bizarrely that’s one avenue the makers decide not to go down. Instead they chuck in a ‘muse’ storyline, where young guy is guided by said muse, who, it turns out, also helped the old guy out back in the 40’s.

What should have been a bog standard, fad-chasing low budget piece of exploitation somehow ended up as a mega-bucks Hollywood production starring the then hottest female actress/singer, probably the greatest Hollywood hoofer there ever was, a soundtrack by one of the biggest band of the day (if that day had been a few years earlier) and a guy with the looks and acting ability of Joe Dallesandro without the redeeming feature of a crotch you stick on a Rolling Stones cover.

In actuality Sonny is played by a plank of wood called Michael Beck who had made a bit of a splash as the lead in The Warriors.  Whilst in that film, a large ensemble cast seemed to paper over his acting deficiencies, here is is completely overshadowed by just about everyone, including a mural.

It all begins blandly, but not exactly appallingly, as we are introduced to Sonny, who recreates album covers for marketing materials. He had a dream to strike out as an artist but has gone crawling back to the day job with his tail between his legs. When we first meet him he is sketching a woman who looks suspiciously like Olivia Neutron-Bomb. Appalled by this he tears it up and chucks it out the window. The shredded paper appears to ‘awaken’ a mural of eight women. They dance about a bit in dresses designed to show off their pants as much as possible (including one who appears to be wearing a flesh coloured body stocking that gives her the appearance of the kind of anatomy you only see on Barbie dolls and Action Man) .

These ladies all shoot off into the stratosphere, except Ms Neutron-Bomb (Kira), who hangs about Venice Beach on her roller skates, ending up on an album cover that Sonny is replicating, and then leading him into an ‘hilarious’ chase sequence where he steals a bike and ends up crashing into the sea. This will not be the comedy highlight thankfully.

During this sequence we are also introduced to Danny McBride (Gene Kelly, exuding more effortless charm and charisma than the whole cast do in the entire film). he’s a self-confessed ‘beach bum’ who turns out to have been a Glen Miller-style big band leader in the ’40s. He’s got bags of cash he doesn’t know what to do with, so of course he decides he wants to open a club with this strange young man he just met on the beach.

They decide to site it in an abandoned wrestling auditorium (!) where Sonny had his first proper meeting with Kira. Although neither knows it (or at least it’s not clear in the film that they know) Kira was also Danny’s muse in his big band days…

It’s here that banality takes a rather special turn into downright crazy-apeshit bonkers, as we enter Truly Horrific Sequence #1: Danny and Sonny both have their own ideas about what the club should like. Danny wants an old-style jazz club; Sonny wants a truly bizarre … thing… that seems to combine the worst aspects of disco, punk, new wave and rejects from Kenny Everett’s Hot Gossip dance troupe. Here we get a startlingly bad ‘mash up’ of jazz and nasty synth pop (the band are played by California punks, The Tubes). What this sequence achieves in terms of how the club will look isn’t entirely clear, as the final result looks like neither. But we’ll come back to that.


Sadly, this won’t be the last time we see this lot

 Truly Horrific Sequence #2: and the point where I nearly turned off, just because I couldn’t believe what they were putting Gene Kelly through. He’s given a makeover. But this is no ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ kooky sequence. To the tune of ELO’s ‘All Over the World’ (though the choreography seems to have been blocked for a completely different tune, if any tune at all) Gene is subjected to some of the worst outfits seen in cinema history, has the indignity of emerging from a dressing room whose curtains are made to look like a pair of women’s legs, and those bloody dancers are back, prancing around on trolleys and shelving units, wearing Adam Ant cast-offs. For some reason a dancer is made up to look like a spider and emits a tiger roar.

Gene kelly and legs akimbo

Gene Kelly’s audition for Legs Akimbo did not go well

After this, you wonder just how bad things can get from here. Trust me, they save the best until last: Truly Horrific Sequence #3 is the club’s opening. I’m not going to describe it, because, quite frankly, I don’t think you’d believe me. All I’ll say is it features a 15 minute medley of song and dance; Kira changes outfits just by sheer will; Danny disappears and reappears; and Sonny continues to look confused and on the verge of tears.

Michael and ONJ

This is the most acting that Michael Beck does

And then it ends. I swear the ending is one of the most arbitrary since Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It literally just ends.

It’s not hard to work out what’s wrong with Xanadu. For a start it’s a film about a roller disco that doesn’t feature a roller disco until the last 15 minutes. It’s a musical in which the lead actor doesn’t sing (his one number, a duet from Neutron-Bomb, is dubbed by (the horror!) Cliff Richard.

Stylistically it’s all over the shop: in trying to straddle itself between old-time musicals (of the kind Kelly helped create and dominate) and a trendy ‘new-wave’ look, it comes across just hideously contrived. It probably looked dated before it was even released.

From a technical point of view you have wonder what was going on behind the scenes too. You have probably the cinema’s most accomplished dancer, and yet his sequences are directed and edited in such a way that most of the time you can’t see his feet! (The duet with Kira early on demonstrates this best; it also looks like it was edited with a sledgehammer) How he manages to still put in a decent performance playing opposite the charisma vacuum that is Michael Beck, should have earned him an Oscar nomination at least.

Gene and ONJ

Gene is doing some amazing tap-dancing here…
you just can’t see it

Oddly, Neutron-Bomb comes out of it pretty well. Her songs are bland without being unpleasant, she obviously has a good voice, and her slightly detached acting style actually helps the character.

The rest of the soundtrack is good too (the Cliff duet being the exception). The title song is rightly a camp classic now, and ELO fans are treated to some of their best work. Whether they all fit the film is a matter of conjecture. OK, they don’t. At all.

Depending on how you approach it, Xanadu is either a complete sensory ambush, or perfect post-pub entertainment. To modern, cynical eyes such as mine, it’s one of those films where you sit there slack-jawed going “what were they thinking?”. I haven’t even mentioned the ‘out of nowhere’ cartoon sequence, the scene where Kira pleads her ‘parents’ not to take her away from Sonny (a sequence which looks like an effects test for Tron), the fact that opening night of the club, the place seems to have more paid-for dancers than customer, and Kira’s astonishing exit which looks like she’s farted her way into the stratosphere.

Variety magazine famously labelled it ‘Xana-don’t’. That’s a bit harsh. It does need to be seen by everyone. Just once though. Not three times like I did to write this.

Fact: Xanadu was produced by Joel Silver and Lawrence Gordon, who would latter make Die Hard

Fact: Xanadu was Gene Kelly’s last film, though most people have the decency not to mention that

Remakes Rant Redux Re-Envisioned and Remade

April 1, 2011 7:48 am

remake header 2

A couple of years ago I wrote a barely read piece on here about how Hollywood’s relentless remaking of 70s and 80s horror movies was reaching terminal velocity, with seemingly no original ideas left, and the remakes themselves offering nothing of any worth.

Two years on, nothing has changed, and if anything, things are about to get much, much worse.

A few weeks back the internet nearly exploded with the news that after years of legal wrangling, Warner Bros had finally acquired the remake/sequel/prequel/whatever rights to Blade Runner. “Oh, you nawty Hollywood!” the internet cried “Now, you’re just going to go and ruin it”. Well done, internet, you’ve finally realised that Hollywood doesn’t give a monkey’s what you think.

These days, all Hollywood cares about is opening weekend. What was three days, more generally stretches to five days (with ‘special advance previews’). here is where a film will make about 60-70% of it’s total box office. Yep… one weekend.

Hollywood long ago gave up worrying about whether a film was worth making. These the only question is “Will it make it’s money back in three days?”. If the answer is yes, you get a green light.

Of course there are exceptions to this (Inception being the obvious one, but the Chris Nolan/Batman factor managed to get bums on seats that wouldn’t normally go to see an existential thriller…whatever that is) but 99% of Hollywood product is simply thereto fill gaps in the schedule and make a quick buck, as quickly as possible.

This, I assume, is how films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and (god help us) Last House on the Left got the remake green light.  (Incidentally, I found the remake of Last House on the Left to be even sleazier, probably due to its higher budget and the fact it was Hollywood product rather than a low budget indie film.) They would be modestly budgeted and would earn their keep in the first weekend before poor word of mouth could creep out and ruin it for everyone.

Hollywood isn’t entirely to blame, of course. Modern (young) audiences seem to be averse to anything old. Your average teenager seems to see the name Last House on the Left and thinks “I’ve heard of that, it’s supposed to be gross. But rather than rent the original for a couple of quid, I’ll spend a tenner and go and see a new version which is bound to be grosser”. I don’t understand this logic.

Which brings me to the disturbing events of this week. There were three remake announcements this week. THREE! First the truly shocking news that Miss Marple is to be ‘re-imagined’ as a hot 30-something played by Jennifer Garner (negating the point of Miss Marple is that she’s supposed to be old, and therefore people assume she’s a doddery old gran who will never foil their plan).

Once we’d got over that low blow, Hollywood followed up with it’s swift left hook: Suspiria. Yep, Dario Argento’s timeless classic is to be remade by the guy who made Pineapple Express! (I’m not going to hold that pretty dreadful film against him, as most critics on its release expressed surprise at him taking the job as his earlier work had him down as a talented director. I haven’t seen them so can’t comment. Pineapple Express is a ridiculous stoner action-comedy.)

Suspiria, isn’t my favourite Argento film, but it is a wonderful piece of art. And I think that’s important to note: it’s not a horror film in the usual sense. Yes,  there’s blood, there’s  murder, there’s a group of teenage girls. It doesn’t really have a plot, and the ‘horror’ element of it comes directly from the director and his talent. It’s undoubtedly the work of someone who understands horror. What it’s NOT is the sort of film a group of kids will go and watch for a laugh on a saturday night.

The same goes for Driller Killer. Despite its title, it’s not a slasher film. It’s a film about an artist having a mental breakdown. And it’s being remade by Michael Bay’s mob, Platinum Dunes, who have already destroyed TCM, Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.

So, what are these going to end up like? I’m going to stick my neck out here and suggest that Suspiria is going to be sold to the Twilight crowd. It is, after all, a story about teenage girls at a ballet school which is a front for a coven. Those Twilight fans are going to be a bit older by the time it sees the light of day, and with those books exhausted, they are going to be looking for something else that ‘speaks to them’. No doubt, they will introduce some hunky hero into the mix, and the witches will be played by those slightly older  actresses (think Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore) rather than the awful looking hags from Argento’s film. It might also be a PG-13/12/15 rating.

Driller Killer, no doubt, will go the grubby torture porn route. The original focuses entirely on the title character, Reno. There’s no way the remake will do this. It will introduce a group of annoying teenagers to be menaced. In the original we know hardly anything about most of the victims. The first, a tramp, is only introduced seconds before he’s killed. It doesn’t matter who these people are because the film is about the killer. This will not happen in today’s marketplace. The film will be budgeted too highly for that happen.

If I’m wrong, then fine, I’ll hold my hands up. As I said in my original rant, taking a general swipe at ALL remakes will trip you up when people mention The Thing, The Fly or The Maltese Falcon. And when they are released I will assess them as objectively as possible.

But I will state now, I will not be paying to see them (I’ll wait for LoveFilm or SKY), because I don’t want to contribute to the box office/DVD sales, and thus justify their existence. And this is the only way this will stop.


Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)

March 21, 2011 4:44 am

Cabin fever 2 poster


Luckily, it seems there’s more to American horror than just cheap and shoddy remakes. There’s still room in the market for cheap, shoddy sequels too.

 Cabin Fever 2 is a strange beast which appears to have been constructed as a completely unrelated film about a horrible disease, and which has had extra scenes added to turn it into a sequel to Eli Roth’s enjoyable original. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that no recap is provided at the start. This seems odd for a sequel made 7 years later, but which appears to take place the next day (there is a brief hyper-cut flashback later on, but it’s practically impossible to know what it shows unless you watched Cabin Fever within the last 24 hours).

 From what I could gather, the last survivor from Cabin Fever stumbles into a lake, infecting the water with the nasty disease from the first film. The contaminated water finds its way into the bottling plant of a local water company, and onto a high school prom. Gory hilarity ensues.

 At least that’s one plot strand.

 The other concerns a dopey sheriff/deputy/whatever, who was in Cabin Fever but I don’t remember him. investigating the death of the last survivor who stumbles in front of a school bus and recreates everyone’s favourite scene from Robocop (“Help me!”).  The bus is from the school where the prom is being held, but this fails to be relevant later on, as you would expect it to.

 The sheriff finds himself being tailed by mysterious men in hazmat suits, looking to put anyone who knows anything about what has happened with the contanimated water. They eventually find their way to the school, lock it down, and murder anyone who tries to escape.

 Inside the school, everyone is getting the nasties from contaminated punch (peed in by the janitor for some reason), but rather than developing the skin eating symptoms from the original, they now just seem to vomit blood everywhere before dying. A couple of kids succumb to extreme excema (including one horrible pus-related incident) but this doesn’t seem to be its main side effect. It appears the more prominent the character, the longer lasting the symptoms before you die.

 We’re treated to a horrendously twee love triangle, an annoying fat best mate, some sub-Porky’s sex, and (taking a cue from the first film) lots of lovely film references for no apparent reason. All the prom scenes copy, almost shot-for-shot, scenes from Carrie and there’s an Evil Dead-riffing hand/chainsaw interface. These add nothing except to remind you of better films and think “Ah, that’s so clever that you’ve taken the time and effort to copy a better film, but not bother to make your film any good”, while stroking your chin.

 The two plots barely cross each other, strengthening the belief of major post-production tinkering (which there was). And the mood is so totally different from Cabin Fever.

 Where Roth’s film was a sweaty, claustrophobic throw back to the days of Last House on the Left and Evil Dead, this feels more like the tail end slashers from the mid-80s which tried to blu-tak Porky’s style student hi-jinks, onto excessive gore and thrills, usually failing miserably. There’s even an animated credit sequence showing the journey of the contaminated water (accompanied by a rather good tune, I have to say).

 Apparently the writer-director tried (unsuccessfully) to get his name removed after the studio ripped it to shreds and took two years before releasing it. It’s hard to imagine how an untainted version would be any better. It’s not the worst film I’ll see this year, but it is certainly up there.

 But, at least it’s not a remake.

Titanic II (2010)

September 22, 2010 6:43 am

titanic 2 poster

This is quite possibly the most pointless review I will ever write. If you see the title Titanic II, you probably know within about 2 nanoseconds if you want to see it or not. Nothing I say is going to dissuade or persuade you the either way.

But, I feel compelled to share with you the sheer horror of how dreadful it is.

People often like to bore others on message boards discussing what the worst movie ever made is. The problem is that these people have rarely (if ever) seen genuinely BAD films. They may know dull films, stupid films, badly acted films… but that’s just 90% of big studio pictures.

If you want REALLY BAD films, you have to delve into the murkier depths of the Sky EPG, or those dusty forgotten shelves in Blockbuster. There lurk films like Solar Attack, Digital Man and Fearless Dragon (all currently showing on Movies4Men, channel 323). For the past decade or so, the runaway leader in the arena of the ‘mockbuster’ was Asylum films. Specialising in tricking the stupid into believing their movies are sequels to genuine blockbusters, they carved a highly lucrative niche producing the likes of Snakes on a Train and Transmorphers and so on (The Day the Earth Stopped is perhaps the finest example of their titling, even if the movie itself is awful).

Asylum found themselves briefly known to the public at large with the release last year of Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus, with its wonderful trailer and headline-grabbing casting of Debbie Gibson. It was pretty poor but you got the impression watching it that that wasn’t really the point. The point was, they could make a profitable film from that title. It’s the way Roger Corman used to work. He’d give young directors a title, a poster and a budget and tell them to go make a movie.

According to an article in the Guardian a few months ago, all Asylum pictures work to a Dogme style list of rules including a $1million budget and four week maximum shooting schedule. they use experienced TV directors, who are used to working to such constraints, and won’t go getting ideas about art. With that in mind, you have to admire the fact they can turn out four or five films a year and probably never lose a dime. Unfortunately, they have NEVER made a good movie, and Titanic II is quite possibly the worst film they have ever (and will ever) make.

Plot? Rich kid inherits daddy’s shipping line. Decides to build a replica of the Titanic, and re-create its famous voyage 100 years to that fateful day (so technically, this film is set in the future). They manage to rope in a Day After Tomorrow sub-plot about melting ice caps which leads to the inevitable deep sea clash later on. Dennis Quaid will here be played by Bruce Davison, who, last time I looked, was a proper actor. He was in the X Men films and everything.

The rest of the cast is filled with people who sort of look like a cross between two other people (but who have mainly just appeared in Asylum films).  The rich kid is Gary Busey/James Franco, the female lead is Jessica Alba/Rosario Dawson, while Bruce Davison’s colleague is Eva Longoria crossed with the Joker. The ship’s captain looks like Dante from Clerks, there’s the Ron Livingstone-alike helicopter pilot, and so on. Since none of them can act, presumably they were all cast because bored people with a low attention span in the video store on a saturday night will look at the box and go “oh, it’s her… from… that thing… that we watched”, “yeah, that’ll do”…

(Incidentally, Shane van Dyke (rich kid) also wrote and directed, so you can shout at him for being crap for three different reasons! Jackpot!)

So, Bruce Davison is a coastguard who’s jurisdiction seems to stretch from New York to the Arctic, and he’s around to witness first-hand the first of the appalling SFX this film will deliver, when a giant polar ice cap breaks in two. Well, we’re ‘told’ it’s giant. The problem is we never see it in relation to anything else, so it tends to look like a lump of hard icing sugar. The ice fragment is so ‘giant’, we are told, that it will cause (dun dun dun) a Mega Tsunami! I have to admit, I thought this utter bollocks, but it turns out to be completely true. Whereas normal tsunamis are caused by tectonic movements, megatsunamis (no space) are caused by impacts or landslides. That’s probably the only real science this film contains.

Back in New York, Titanic II (or the Queen Mary, as that’s the boat they used for exteriors, and they did NOTHING to hide that fact except compositing the words TITANIC II onto the hull) is ready to roll. Yes, the voyage recreation is true down to the last detail, except where the boat actually travelled from.  You’d think an occassion like this would draw a massive crowd. But it appears, it’s just drawn a crowd of about 15 people. The same 15 people obviously want to see every inch of the ship, as they can be seen waving at it at the front, back and in the middle. Some even manage to get onto the ship to wave at themselves back on the dock. Incidentally, these do not look like the type of people who would be able to afford such a trip. They look like they’ve dressed themselves for an afternoon shopping.

We’re introduced to two blondes. One is a bit dim, and reads a book called “The Original Titanic”. I swear to God.

original titanic

The other one is, of course, Bruce Davison’s daughter, and, of course, ex-girlfriend of rich kid. (At this point it’s worth noting that I can’t even be bothered to look up the character’s names, since to assign these people the term ‘characters’ is an insult to the English language. Within about 3 seconds you’ve worked out how the rest of the film is going to play out, so I won’t bother going into it.

The film is absolute joy for blooper spotters. from the aforementioned people waving to themselves in the dock (with well chosen camera angles to disguise how few people they are actually are) to the joyous moment when someone is walking along a corrider, on a boat, in the middle of the Atlantic, and you can see the New York skyline through the window! Yes folks, the interior of the ship is, in fact, a hotel (as also demonstrated by the fire exit procedure sign next to the lifts). I’m also pretty sure that one character dies twice: once driving a lifeboat, and once, back on the ship, in an explosion.

There’s also the marvellous sight of ‘shaky-cam’ effects when the iceberg hits, but the expensive crockery on the dining room tables (all three of them) stays firmly still. I’ve not seen that kind of thing since the legendary earthquake episode of Santa Barbara. Added to that, some of the extras seem to have trouble swaying in time with everyone else, including one chap who sways the wrong way.

Perhaps my favourite scene, is when Blonde A (Davidson’s daughter) finds her friend injured in the medical room (it’s at this point you discover they are nurses, not the ship equivelent of trolley-dollies). Despite the fact the room is a bit of a mess, there are still clearly lots of lots of medical supplies she could be using to treat her friend’s wounds. When dopey boyfriend says he can’t find what she’s asked for (it’s there, donut, in the medical cupboard you’ve just ignored), she proceeds to use a credit card and (I think) sellotape. What good this would do, I’m not entirely sure, but it seems to do the trick.

I also liked the boat stopping on a sixpence while doing about 100 knots. They pull a handle, it stops.

Moments like this keep you watching, simply because of their jaw dropping awfulness. But that’s all there is. Your mind starts to wander to other things, like “do our heroes hide in a metal cupboard so they didn’t have to spend the money to actually flood the room they are in?”. The last twenty minutes or so, are brain numbingly dull, as they try to reach the ‘Diving Centre’ filled with scuba gear on the boat (I’m pretty sure that’s not one of the authentic details replicated from the original).

Kicking an Asylum movie is really a waste of time, but this is truly dreadful. A mix of Titanic, the Poseidon Adventure and Day After Tomorrow does sound like it could be entertaining, but not when your budget wouldn’t cover half an episode of Eastenders.

But, as I said, you’re either gonna see it or not. Nothing I say is gonna make any difference. Just bear in mind, it’s dreadful!. It’s NOT so-bad-it’s-good. It’s BAD!

Trailer  - seriously this is all you need to see