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Zombi 2 (1979)
In between the horror scenes, this is dreadful
Fulci knows how to direct a horror scene effectively, that much is clear: the famous zombie vs. shark scene, for example, is jarringly good film-making given the dullness of much of what had gone before. The gore scenes are great, with neck-ripping and eye-gouging and dripping worms galore. And there are a few scenes with a fairly effective sense of creeping menace.
Generally, though, it's incredible that this film has such a good reputation. The acting and script are dreadful throughout, the voodoo plot is silly and banal (especially when you never see the 'natives'), and Fulci has zero sense of pacing. It's as if he doesn't care for any aspect of film-making other than the nasty bits.
I can name a dozen zombie films that are way better than this, but hey, if you're mainly in it for the rotting flesh, go ahead.
Considering that Raiders of the Lost Ark is the most stylish, exciting family adventure film ever made, it's remarkable just how much Spielberg and Lucas lost their way on Temple of Doom.
The script has little or no wit, the supporting female character is just irritating (what happened to Karen Allen?), there's casual racism galore, and the last half hour just feels like one identical piece of drawn-out tension. Despite virtually never pausing to take a breath, it's simply less interesting than Raiders because it lacks timing and intelligence.
Still, it's Spielberg and Ford, so it can never be all bad, and there's usually enough going on to keep the attention. And maybe we can thank Temple of Doom for one thing; I think there's a strong chance that Spielberg decided to make the superb Last Crusade by way of an apology.
Band Camp (2005)
One of the worst comedy films I've ever seen
The original American Pie pitched itself somewhere between Animal House and There's Something About Mary: a kind of warm-hearted, gross-out comedy about wayward, sex-obsessed teens. This travesty of a third sequel manages to turn the concept completely on its head by making a comedy FOR sex-obsessed teens, and ones who don't understand subtlety, irony or indeed humour. Where the original relied on a cast of average-looking males who generally stayed on the right side of lovable, this one focuses on the brother of that first film's deliberately irritating Stiffler. And this Stiffler, goes the brain-addled writers' pitch for Band Camp, is one whose antics we are supposed to rejoice at. What results is depressingly inane, and actually manages the feat of being more desperate and pathetic than Porky's, which the first film was (in the main) sending up. It is devoid of any laughs at all, and the worst thing is that Eugene Levy is in it. He looks, as he should, thoroughly embarrassed in every scene.
The future is now (or maybe not)
We watched Westworld last night: first time I'd seen it in ages. It's still great fun, all paranoid futurism, macho satire and the insane staring killer-robot eyes of Yul Brynner. Perhaps more surprisingly, it's also clearly a big influence on the Terminator films.
My favourite moment is one character explaining to another how you can tell who's a robot and who's not: "The hands," he says. "They haven't managed to perfect those yet." Which begs two questions: what's different about their hands (it might have been the grainy film that denied forensic analysis) and, more importantly, why haven't they? Anyway, despite the fact that it's a classic, what's more fun is of course noting how it Gets The Future Wrong in Entertaining Ways. Thus: 1. All the computer technicians are men in white coats. Clearly the world of the early 70s was more respectful towards its geeks, and would have been shocked at the prospect of dead-white skinned conspiracy freaks getting high on Diet Coke as they shinned up the latest data drainpipe to hack into the NATO mainframe or something.
2. The computers themselves all use tapes. Come on, people, let's at least try to imagine the future.
3. Everyone travels from place to place in sleek-looking spaceships. And yet the robot repairmen go around in electric buggies that would fall apart at the mere thought of a Sinclair C5. Highly practical for getting around the rocky desert-scape.
4. The green-screen lab monitors appear to show little useful information, but do a nifty line in seemingly pointless twisting geometric shapes, a bit like pre-Windows 95 screensavers.
And finally, seemingly the first thing all the men do when they arrive in Westworld is seek out the nearest robot prostitute. Completely ridiculous.
Terminator Salvation (2009)
Really damages the reputation of the series
This movie was laughable almost from the beginning. I thought T3 was fairly good - at least it captured the spirit of the first two - but this came over like someone had accidentally given $100m to someone fresh out of film school.
The direction is terrible and often illogical, there's virtually no excitement in scenes which Scott/Cameron would have torn up the screen with, and the acting is hilarious (everyone seems to speak in a gruff monotone). What the hell is Christian Bale doing in it? Did he sign the contract drunk? The female characters are largely pathetic. There are plot holes all over the place (why is John Connor so horrified by the technology that gave birth to a half-human half-Terminator, when he's already seen the T-1000 and T-X?). The whole thing is obsessed with being 'dark' and 'gritty', which it manages nowhere near as well as the 10 minutes or so of 'future' scenes in the first film 25 years ago.
Apart from the effects, and the new 30-foot tall Terminator, what is good about this film?
Clearly the key question about Godsend is how Robert De Niro ended up in such a fundamentally idiotic, appallingly scripted thriller. Once you've got over that particular shock, though, it's time to sit back and laugh at its every flaw. There are many, but surely the worst is the director's clear belief that having a child actor look moody, and planting in plenty of shots of knives and hammers, are the way of keeping your audience convinced that you're some sort of nouveau Hitchcock.
The sound in Godsend is among the worst in any modern movie I've seen. There just seems to be no mid-point between the largely whispered dialogue (volume up) and the ear-splitting musical punctuation (quick, turn it down!) of every half-arsed shock.
I won't go into the dreadful editing (which leaves enormous, and unnecessary, holes in the plot) and the preposterous back story. By far the most offensively poor part of Godsend is the fact that we are shown a child's death, rebirth and first eight years of his reincarnated life in a matter of about 25 minutes. So many opportunities for emotional depth; so many obvious directorial shortcuts, as it becomes increasingly clear that the only thing that interests him is cheap horror.
I Am Not an Animal (2004)
Just had to write a review, having seen the hostile/lukewarm considerations received so far. "I Am Not an Animal" is the best comedy show seen on the BBC for a long time, and I urge everyone to catch it when it's repeated. Mark the Bird is the most wittily observed of the main characters, his weary cynicism brilliantly played off against his belief in himself as a constantly thwarted singer-songwriter; Philip the Horse boasts superb voice acting from the ludicrously multi-talented Steve Coogan; and Winona the Dog provides the most cringeworthy pretensions of all the would-be human animals. The series is original, weird, observationally sublime and different to just about every other show out there at the moment. What it doesn't do is provide viewers with one of the two default options of British comedy: the whacky, light-hearted families of Butterflies and As Time Goes By or the ruthless, cruel parody of Alan Partridge and The League of Gentlemen (not that there's anything wrong with the latter). Highly recommended.
Van Helsing (2004)
Stop it! You're hurting my ears!
As we might all have guessed before setting foot inside the cinema, Van Helsing very quickly and very loudly proclaims that it comes from the same director as the two recent Mummy films. Stephen Sommers appears to be entirely incapable of understanding tension, character development or indeed quiet moments of any sort, and succeeds in spending the entire film slapping on sound and visual effects in such thick layers that the audience becomes stupefied.
Aside from a few original and interesting bits - the characterisation of Frankenstein's creature and Igor, the James Bond spoofery at the beginning, the exploding mini-vampires - it's also a film that relies almost entirely on cliche. Sommers just can't help himself using tired camera angles and hackneyed script, and seems to have asked his composer to add 'atmospheric' (lazy) string music to just about every scene. He's also not averse to constantly reusing ideas once he's had them: people screaming/shouting "Van Helsing!" and people being thrown into walls appear to be among his favourites, and there are so many instances of Van Helsing's sidekick doing/saying something reluctant/cowardly, that it just stops being funny.
Sommers needs to learn a few lessons from Steven Spielberg - how to loosen up a little and let the audience become interested in the characters, and how bombarding us with surround-sound bangs and screams from beginning to end is not the best way to make an action film.
Passer By (2004)
Passes the time.
Average mini-series based on the pretty obvious premise that if you fail to testify properly against a rapist in court, you'll feel guilty. Well acted and well meaning, but the script is bargain basement at times, and the attempt to parallel the father's story with his son being bullied at school is fairly lame. You get the feeling that the writer hit upon a really good idea for a programme (which it is), used up his best ideas in the first 20 or 30 minutes, then tried hard to stretch the protagonist's family problems to fit two episodes. Worth a watch if you like James Nesbitt, who (post-Cold Feet) seems to be carving a solid career out of performing well in mediocre scripts.
Neat little set of interviews
One of those mini-documentaries that DVD was born for. The story, in half an hour, of one of the most interesting (and sadly short-lived) British directors of the 60s. Lots of interviews, archive footage and clips from his three films: She-Beast, The Sorcerers and Witchfinder General. Fascinating, and definitely worth a watch if you get the Witchfinder General DVD (which is recommended anyway).
Cabin Fever (2002)
Superb and misunderstood
Sadly maligned as 'average' on its UK release, Cabin Fever is in fact the best horror movie to have come out of Hollywood for years. A lot of people seem to be harping about its over-the-top action and general silliness, apparently not realising that this is the point - Cabin Fever is a black comedy. Filled with great, quirky characters and an interesting streak of sadism, it's an expert subversion of the horror genre.
A little like My Little Eye (another great recent film), the script-writer delights in killing off every one of the characters and cleverly inverting the standard kids/rednecks formula: turns out the hicks are more sophisticated than your average, and one kid in particular just loses all semblance of humanity, turning psycho and killing everyone that gets in his way. There's also some truly unpleasant moments of gore and (SEMI-SPOILER AHEAD!) a neat apocalyptic twist reminiscent of Cronenberg's Rabid.
William and Mary (2003)
Very well acted and moving at times, William And Mary is one of those TV mini-series that ITV1 is so good at turning out these days. Martin Clunes as a dissatisfied undertaker is particularly good, acting his way through so many emotional troughs and peaks that you're surprised his character doesn't end up in an asylum. The only let-down is the ending, which is rather too neat and unrealistic for my taste.
Boring and pompous
Despite unfortunately thinking itself to be (a) intelligent, (b) important and (c) interesting, fortunately this movie is over mercifully quickly. The script makes little sense, the whole idea of the sado-masochistic relationship between the two main characters is strangely trite, and John Lydon shows us all, in the space of one movie, why he should never have let himself out of music. His performance is one-note and irritating.
The only positive thing to be said is that Harvey Keitel manages to deliver a good turn. His later Bad Lieutenant would show just how badly good actors can act, but mercifully his performance here is restrained.
Dude, Where's My Car? (2000)
That this film was ever made must seem to its makers somewhat astonishing - to a person who just spent £3 renting it (stupid me) it's an outrage. By far the least funny comedy to have ever sullied the world of cinema, it lurches appallingly from send-up to shock comedy to laugh-free stoner antics at the drop of a hat.
A film that raises two wry grins throughout its course: one of which is a moment recycled from There's Something About Mary (a stoned dog! How we laugh!) and another that makes you reminisce for the days of Bill and Ted and Wayne's World - which is just about all the film does, in fact.
One of those films that you rent when you're bored on Saturday night, and you're surprised to find that it's actually damn good.
Hide and Seek is suspenseful, superbly played, interestingly written and, in parts, truly unpleasant. Of course it's a rip-off of Misery (what kidnapping-someone-and-keeping-them-in-a-remote-house movie couldn't be these days?) but it's worth your money far more than a lot of high-profile thrillers.
Good plot, too.
Grey Owl (1999)
Worthy and graceful
I saw the British premiere of this in Bridgend, South Wales - Richard Attenborough was met with generous applause, his film with polite applause. It is a film equally of the heart and of the head, with emotions and affecting performances never quite being allowed to get in the way of the beautiful photography.
Charming in its own way and with a fascinating tale to tell, Grey Owl never quite gets fired up in the same way as historical rivals like Braveheart and Titanic. And this, possibly shamefully, probably just ironically, would seem to be due to the very thing that Attenborough is keen to sell his own movie on - its lack of violence, action, sex and, above all, excitement.
Still, a graceful and involving film - one which deserves the tag 'worthy' more than many others.
Girls' Night (1998)
Not typically British
Northern accents and wide-eyed astonishment at Las Vegas aside, you could be forgiven that this was a Hollywood weepie rather than the working-class British drama it pretends to be. Brenda Blethyn's and (particularly) Julie Walters' performances are detailed and superb, but the cloying sentimentality (including some sick-making talk of angels) is heaped on to the extent that the film becomes tedious rather than sympathetic.
The first half of Girls' Night is enjoyable for its sheer joie de vivre in the face of serious illness, but after around 45 minutes this is lost in a sea of half-baked ideas, repetitive emotional 'scenes' and irritating semi-fairytale romances which upset the previously realistic atmosphere of the piece.
Other than the performances, something of a shapeless disappointment.
Excellent all round
A highly interesting and effective spin on the very modern theme of environmental protest, Road Rage sees Inspector Wexford up against an apparently terrorist organisation who have kidnapped his wife. George Baker is excellent as the dignified but emotionally-crumbling detective, and the mini-series is directed with the kind of calm panache so typical of ITV's big-budget detective dramas.
Highly recommended viewing.
Gets less and less interesting
Contrary to my previous beliefs, the first half of Elm St 2 is actually quite good. It's a strangely enticing surrealist drama, with odd imagery, an interesting teenage-angst subplot and some truly unsettling moments. In retrospect, it is also by far the most serious of all the Freddy films.
Sadly, as soon as Freddy irrevocably establishes himself in the real world, all credibility, interest and possibility of terror dissolves - it's just a boring slasher flick. Also, bizarrely, it ends about twenty minutes too early - where are the overstretched climactic finales that we later come to know and love?
You need this video.
Sheer brilliance. Billy Connolly's razor-sharp mixture of bewildered surrealism and ultra-perceptive observational comedy is showcased here. If you're not pained with laughter at the routines on football, swimming and cookbooks, something vital has been removed from your brain. Buy it - it's better therapy than the stuff you get in clinics.
Strange Kafkaesque sci-fi
For no film has the much overused word Kafkaesque been more apt. Here is the world as Kafka saw it: a bewildering and frightening series of seemingly random events, bureaucracy and lack of progression for the individual within it. Characters act unexpectedly throughout - at first an apparent flaw with the script, but best seen as another aspect of Cube's deliberately slippery reality.
An existentialist melodrama posing as science fiction - and a fascinating one at that.
The Patriot (2000)
If what you came to expect from 'Braveheart' was gloriously presented battles, a taste for gore and a bitter revenge subplot, then have no fear, your expectations will be met.
Sadly, 'The Patriot' doesn't quite live up to the sheer bravado and guts of its predecessor for a number of reasons. The first is that it's about 20 minutes too long, with rather too long, at times, between the action (and don't give any of your 'it's an intellectual film' arguments). Secondly, most of the characters are painfully underdeveloped. Thirdly, and most importantly for me as an Englishman, it is a risibly one-sided look at a war which, like any other, had its heroes and its villains on both sides. I counted two, just two vaguely sympathetic characters on the side of King George. One dies in the first skirmish of the film; the other seems to be going along fine until he decides to set fire a church, slaughtering tens of women and children.
Mel Gibson is, as ever, excellent, as are several of his co-stars. But if Hollywood is to be the judge and jury on the morals of world history, then woe betide any Brit who steps ashore the USA for as long as the memory of 'The Patriot' lasts.
Bad Lieutenant (1992)
Repulsive and exploitative.
Well-conceived one-man-on-the-edge films like Falling Down and Taxi Driver can contain a lot of truth and raise a lot of questions. Sadly, the only question Bad Lieutenant is just what the hell a good actor like Harvey Keitel was doing in it.
Fittingly for such a drearily exploitative movie, Keitel's performance is hilariously bad, pulling out of the hat a lot of sub-de Niro cliches and, in his character's most angsty moments, letting out a loud feral howl which made me crease up every time he started.
The main problem is that the film goes nowhere. Before the film LT was an appalling, immoral cretin. During the course of the film he is an appalling, immoral cretin. And by the end - yup, you guessed it, no retribution, no reinvention, no changes. Just the same old cretin.
If Ferrara was attempting to highlight something about the moral decay of the world, he should have read Paul Schrader. Schrader's Taxi Driver shows that to create a truly tragic individual means that he most have at least some moral purpose behind the confusion of emotions. LT has nothing - just some hackneyed old Catholic background which is never properly developed and a hankering for revenge against the rapists of a nun which amounts to - er, giving them thousands of dollars in cash. And slapping them lightly on the cheeks.
Repulsive in its images, at times incomprehensible in its execution, Bad Lieutenant remains strangely watchable as a tribute to excess. But an unsympathetic lead, one-dimensional supporting characters, a boring plot and moments of hideous immorality do not, Mr Ferrara, a good film make.
Interesting but uneven
The first hour of Sleepers is highly impressive, with the account of the protagonists' fall into the hands of their oppressors and the subsequent atrocities dealt with very well. The images of what happens to the boys are sensational but realistic, avoiding, except at one key point, the kind of triumphal uprising-against-the-system plot line that normally takes over. Here there are no heroes and no courage - just blunt brutality.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film, in which convoluted courtroom-revenge theatrics take over, is unable to deliver such a punch. The only interesting character from the prison meets his end far too early, and we are left, apparently, to cheer on the demise of characters whom we have only seen in half-glimpsed slow-motion fragments. We know nothing of them, and don't care about their plight, other than in a general 'they're bad so they must die' Hollywood kind of way.
We are also asked to support a priest who lies under oath to protect two boys who, by their own admission, have murdered a man in the middle of a bar. That several witnesses saw the murders happen in front of them is ignored by the end of the film - all logic having been cast to the four winds to support a system of values which, while intuitively just, is, on reflection, highly tenuous.
An interesting film, then, but one which needed less Hollywoodisation and a little more thoughtfulness.
Slugs, muerte viscosa (1988)
Three things about this movie.
Number 1: Slugs do not move very fast and therefore are not very frightening.
Number 2: However, they somehow manage to congregate their thousands on a couple's bedroom floor in between them entering the room and finishing making love. Either these slugs do in fact move very fast or the couple have some kind of incredible sexual stamina.
Number 3: The line "we'll get naked and we'll get crazy" should not be used in a movie in which mutant slugs are taking over a town and have killed, in various unpleasant ways, several people personally known to the woman being addressed.