Wednesday, 29 October 2008

No.100 : What Women Want

What Women Want at the IMDb

Mel Gibson stars in this high concept chick flick during which he learns about himself and becomes a better person. Sounds terrible? Well, that’s because it is.

Mel plays Nick (the prick) Marshall a self loving advertising executive who treats people, including his teenage daughter, shabbily. He thinks he’s the bee’s knees but in reality he’s a total ass and heading for a fall.

He specialises in T & A adverts and is confident of a promotion being offered by his slimy boss, Alan Alda. His dreams are shattered however when a supposedly bitchy copywriter played by Helen Hunt is hired instead to try and capture some of the female advertising money that Mel’s sexist campaigns have scared away. Hunt charges all the copywriters to come up with slogans for a load of lady products and gives them samples to take home. Reluctant to get involved at first Mel soon gets in the spirit of things after a few drinks and is soon wearing tights and polishing his nails. Things go further downhill however when he’s caught cross dressing by his daughter and her older boyfriend, and even more so when he falls into the bath with a hair-dryer.

As movie law dictates he isn't electrocuted but instead gifted with the power to hear women’s inner thoughts. Obviously he doesn't believe this is happening and various non-hilarious situations ensue as Mel picks up some feminine remarks. He soon heads for therapy with Bette Midler and once convinced she persuades him to use the gift for the benefit of mankind. Mel being a dick eventually realises the possibilities and utilises his skill to get foxy waitress Marisa Tomei into bed and to steal the best ideas from Hunt and other ad people.

As he works with Hunt he slowly grows to like her and begins to see her and a dowdy office clerk as real people with real feelings. With a large Nike account up for grabs and his daughter’s ill advised date to the prom looming, Mel has to judge the best way to use his skill and to what end.

This is a really ghastly film with the redemption of Gibson’s character both unwelcome and unbelievable. The opening scenes are obviously designed to show that he’s a shallow uncaring swine but he just comes across as a total prick in a cavalcade of endless, self indulgent scenes where he dances around his apartment to Frank Sinatra and generates piles of compliments about his blue eyes and ‘nice ass’ from the minds of the ladies he encounters. To be fair he gets a few negative ones too but there are nothing about Mel, only his character’s aftershave or jokes.

The concept of ‘Mel Gibson reads women’s minds’ is pretty thin to sustain a full 90 minute film so it beggars belief that this trundles on for a bum numbing 126. The padding is relentless with the daughter subplot totally unnecessary as was the treatment of Tomei’s obviously mental character who gets humped and dumped with no pay off coming her way except Mel claiming to be gay. Thanks that’ll help my low self esteem! Another subplot involved Judy Greer’s depressed file clerk who is talked out of suicide by Mel giving her a dream job. Yeah, that’ll address all those mental and psychological issues, thanks again!

The love story aspect is the worst of the bunch with there being not a scintilla of chemistry between the two leads. Hunt’s ballsy high flyer is a travesty to woman with her going all goo-goo eyed over Gibson almost immediately and professing her love for him after one kiss. Unbelievably Mel reveals all and after some terrible feigned outrage she takes him back to live happy ever after! Deceitful tools take note!

The central device is never really explained although we’re given a clue towards the end when an old lady gives him a funny look. We know she must have special powers seeing as she’s oriental and all! All in all this is a bloated, unfunny mess which, while appealing to a certain brand of needy women, will be seen as a shallow piece of patronising garbage by everyone else.

Best Bit : Marisa’s bed wear.

‘W’ Rating : 7/23

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

No.99 : What Dreams May Come

What Dreams May Come at the IMDb

Robin Williams stars in this ambitious and somewhat sentimental drama about a man searching the realms of heaven and hell for his lost wife.

The film opens with Williams, laughably youthed up with a floppy wig, boating on Lake Geneva. He bumps paddles and later uglies with the lovely Annabella Sciorra, and the pair marry before the opening credits have finished. They soon produce two boys but their idyllic life is shattered when the two lads die in an off screen car accident. Williams devotes himself to his medical work but is himself killed by a crashing car five years later.

His spirit is at first lost, visiting his family and own funeral, but he is soon guided to the afterlife by Cuba Gooding Jnr who is the youthful form of an aged doctor who had mentored Williams in his formative years. At first Heaven is great and he is reunited with his sons and family dog in a realised painting done by his wife. Things sour however when he learns that his grief stricken wife has killed herself and has been cast into Hell.

Not taking this lying down Williams seeks out Max Von Sydow who knows the way to Hell and offers to pitch in. The task is seemingly pointless however as memories are wiped in Hell and unless he can convince her to leave they both must live in the devilish realm for all eternity.

This was a really interesting film chock full of great ideas and stunning visuals and only a sentimentality overload prevented it from attaining ‘great’ status. The best part of the film is easily the visions of Heaven and Hell. It is quickly established that heaven is whatever you want it to be and transport is simply a matter of closing your eyes. With these two rules locked down the director has free rein to create lavish and stunning worlds, a task he completes with some relish. Williams initial Heaven , a living painting, was captured to great effect with puddles of paint lying around and painted houses becoming fully interactive three dimensional places.

His later journeys had a more ’classic’ Heaven vibe with people flying around and not a lump of dog shit to be seen. The best parts were however reserved for Hell with a cracking sea of white bodies dragging down their ship followed by a field of heads as far as you could see all begging for assistance and denying the crimes that had cast them there.

The plot was pretty straight forward although there were more changing faces than the first ‘Mission Impossible’ film to keep you guessing. Heaven allows you to take whatever form you wish and the message of ‘it’s what underneath that counts’ is certainly hammered home as our preconceptions are dashed as soon as they’re formed, almost every time.

The performances weren’t great with the always sentimental and blubbery Williams on standard form as was Von Sydow who was still doing his Chief Judge Fargo from ‘Judge Dredd’. Some of the love dripping dialogue was a bit hard to take with the love lasting for all eternity message the main theme for the film. At nearly two hours it is a big ask of the audience to put up with the sobbing Williams for that long, but the cracking sets and effects more than compensate.

I imagine this film with its idealised visions of the afterlife will offer a lot of comfort to the bereaved and it did well to stay away from a religious tone. It didn’t give me the shivers in the way a film like ‘Ghost’ did at the end but, although predictable, the happy ending was no less welcome for that.

Best Bit : Good Crop of Heads This Year

‘W’ Score : 15/23

Monday, 27 October 2008

No.98 : Willow

‘Willow’ was one of the few George Lucas films that I hadn’t seen on release as I had a preconceived notion that it would be a bit cutesy pie and dull. And you know what they say about prejudging things? Yes, sometimes you’ll be right!

Lucas in fact only gets a story credit for the film with the always pedestrian Ron Howard on directing duties. The film is a Hobbit like fantasy yarn that Lucas no doubt came up with after reading some Tolkein and indeed The Bible.

Willow is a family man dwarf who lives with his similarly sized people in a wood. Things are going OK for him but elsewhere the wicked Queen, who is lifted straight from ‘Snow White’, is plotting to scupper a prophesy that predicts her downfall. A baby destined to take her throne is snatched from her mother but before she can be killed the tot is placed in a raft and sent down the river. As chance would have it lands by Willow’s village and is found by his kids. Willow tries to act as if he doesn’t want the baby but we know this is just poor performing from Warwick Davis and he’s up for extra daddy duties soon after.

When some bad guys show up looking for the chosen child Willow has to go on a predictable quest to allow the baby to fulfil its destiny. Along the way they meet lovable rogue Val Kilmer, who agrees to assist him, and various other peoples of the world including some tiny folk nicked wholesale from ‘Gulliver’s Travels’. Meanwhile the dastardly Queen sends her minions out to find our party including the unfeasibly lovely Joanne Whaley, who if she’s really bad then I’m a Dutchman.

The quest takes a predictable path with the requisite number of shots of the cast marching through the snow attained early on. As they head towards Mordor, sorry, the Queen’s Castle, they have an epic battle with a rubbish two headed plastic monster before the final showdown. Can Willow save the day and defeat the wicked Queen and still make it home to show off his new magic tricks? Probably.

I didn’t really like this film from the off and the game of ‘spot the rip off’ can only be enjoyed for so long. The set up with the lost baby was so clichéd I’m surprised that God didn’t sue for copyright. Once we have the characters and quest established you have a pretty unbroken and predictable two hour journey to the inevitable climax. You have to wonder why you bothered and I for one wish I hadn’t.

It is obviously a fantasy movie aimed at kids but films like ‘The Princess Bride’ manage to work with similar material and at least work in a few laughs for the adults and nod towards the predictability of the genre. I did quite like the Lilliputian like tiny folk but the special effects were too ropey to make them seem realistic. That and the plastic monsters suggest that Lucas failed to pony up a ‘Star Wars’ type budget and frankly it shows.

Of the cast Val and Joanne are best with a real chemistry that spilled over into real life. Kilmer especially seems to be having a good time as the lovable and hapless rogue and is almost a Jack Sparrow prototype. Warwick Davis is less good in the title role and never convinces at all. It’s certainly a tough ask of him to carry the movie and it’s one that he falls short of. To be fair the material is poor and hackneyed and some of the dialogue would have the best thesps in the world gasping for air.

‘Willow’ could have been a fun romp but instead it’s a dull retread of every fantasy film you’ve ever seen. It offers poor dialogue, rubbish special effects and a plot as straight as a pool cue. You may enjoy some of the film but those periods are as short as most of the cast.

Best Bit : Wagon chase

‘W’ Score : 11/23

Sunday, 26 October 2008

No.97 : Wah-Wah

IMDb Link :

Richard E. Grant writes and directs this film, partly based on his own life, about a young boy growing up in 1960s colonial Swaziland. The subject matter may sound as dry as the Serengeti and although it’s no ‘White Mischief’ it is still an enjoyable film with some decent performances.

The film opens with our young hero, Ralph, seemingly asleep on the back seat of a car but he is actually awake and witnessing his mother getting it on with a neighbour. Infidelity is seemingly a way of life in the colonies with heavy drinking filling up the rest of the day. Ralph’s Dad, played by Gabriel Byrne, is a career army man now charged with arranging schools, a task that sees him away from home a lot, a situation that doesn’t help his chronic alcoholism.

His Mum, played by Miranda Richardson has grown tired of the life and when Dad takes on a new commission she decides to leave the family for her lover leaving the boy with only a lip stick smeared glass to remember her by. Dad finds solace in the arms of local busybody Julie Walters and finding his son something of a handful sends him off to boarding school. He returns a few years later, now played by the kid out of ‘About a Boy’ to find his Dad has married feisty American Emily Watson who upsets the stuffy social balance of the community.

Watson’s ballsy and brash character inspires the boy to come out of his shell and rebel against the ‘wah-wah’ double talk of their ‘superiors. He gets a part in a local production of ‘Camelot’ and despite some rebellion involving ‘A Clockwork Orange’ things look good for opening night, especially as Princess Margaret is coming. With the show on track, only Dad’s nagging head ache can put a spanner in the works and thwart a potential happy ending.

I quite enjoyed this film which beats a similar path as ‘White Mischief in showing that Brits behaving bad abroad is nothing new. It does however lack the intensity of that film as well as the violence and nudity. As a memoir I’m sure it’s pretty interesting for Grant and his family but for an outsider looking in, not an awful lot happens.

Nicholas Hoult does well as the 14 year old Ralph although playing an awkward teenager with a love for drama presumably wasn’t much of a stretch. His parents were less good with Byrne especially unconvincing as the drunk gun toting father. Richardson is OK as the Mum but I never though she was as bad as the script seemed to want to suggest. Further down the line you get most of the cast from ‘Acorn Antiques’ with Julie Walters and Celia Imrie doing their Mrs Overall and Toffee nosed snob lady respectively. Watson was a bit jarring as the free spirited American and her casting didn’t seem believable against the stuffy colonial officer Byrne.

The predictable scenes of rebelling against the establishment were clear and present and while being a lot of fun for the participants, came across to this viewer as a bit ill mannered and rude. As a bio-pic the film would have been better if Grant has used his experiences wholesale because once you go down the ‘inspired by’ route you start wondering if all the interesting stuff is made up and the dull stuff real.

It’s not a particularly bad film but as a rites of passage piece it doesn’t really inspire, and towards the end I couldn’t care less if a rhino charged through the lot of them. Now that would have liven things up a bit!

Best Bit : Ducking into ‘A Clockwork Orange’

‘W’ Score 14/23

Saturday, 25 October 2008

No.96 : What Happens In Vegas

IMDb Link :

Ashton Kutcher and Cameron Diaz star in this formulaic rom-com that has little to recommend it apart from some fun scenes in the titular town and some decent supporting players.

The film opens with both our leads facing difficult times. Kutcher is a slacker who works for his dad’s furniture firm. When he’s caught goofing off he gets the boot from his Dad who is tired of his lack of application and indeed basketball skills. Elsewhere, control freak Diaz is planning a surprise birthday party for her stuffed shirt fiancé but is dumped before the surprise is sprung, to the embarrassment of her hiding friends.

The down in the dumps duo drown their sorrows with their best pals and independently decide that a trip to Vegas is the best bet to chase the blues away. Due to a computer mix up the couples are assigned to the same room and after a bit of comic fighting the hotel agrees to upgrade them by way of compensation. Kutcher and Diaz don’t get on at first but after some heavy boozing and an extended montage scene things start to click. The next morning Diaz is relived to find her tattoo is of the temporary variety but unfortunately the wedding ring is not.

At breakfast the pair agree to annulment but start to fight over who got the worse end of the match. Before stomping off Diaz gives Kutcher 25c to call his lawyer which he sticks in a slot machine. As dictated by movie law, and no doubt the casino sponsors, the coin is good for a $3 million jackpot and the warring couple find themselves bickering over who gets the cash. Sadly for them they get a script approved judge who enacts some made up law and compels them to live together for six months before the fate of the cash is decided.

The middle portion of the film is then devoted to various schemes from both sides and their allies dedicated to gaining a bigger slice of the pie. As things escalate and the schemes get nastier the couple wonder if it’s worth the grief and whether they really dislike each other after all. When the final judgement is due we are left to guess who’ll get the cash and whether the film will end in the fashion you predicted from the start. (it does)

This is a really poor effort with few laughs and a far fetched plot. The two leads don’t have any chemistry at all and seem a poor match from the off. The best parts are the scenes where their obvious dislike manifests itself in gross out gags and physical fighting. Obviously that can’t last so the characters go through an unbelievable transformation (mediated by an annoying Queen Latifa) that sees the money an after thought to true love.

The only saving grace for me was Rob Corddry as Kutcher’s inept and balding lawyer pal. He showed up in the last Harold & Kumar film and was the best thing in that too as the bigoted ass wiping cop. He is however sadly underused and a subplot involving him lusting after Diaz’s friend is left under developed. The scenes in Vegas were glitzy and enticing but the city showed up so well that there must have been a cash input from tourist board - no one going broke here, only upgrades and jack pots.

The ending was never in doubt, but the sickening closing line about ‘winning the jackpot’ was really vomit educing. Diaz is getting on a bit for these kind of movies and her duck like face seemed a bit haggard for the youthful Kutcher who looked 20 years her junior. Nothing wrong in that but not when she’s been sold as a sexy lead and she look’s like Ashton’s Mom. Ashton is a bit better but his boorish behaviour isn’t endearing and he just comes across as a tit. Add to this a ridiculous Judge and a by the numbers marriage councillor and you have a pretty empty experience. I don’t know what happens in Vegas but this one should definitely stay on the video shop shelf if you are seeking a good night in.

Best Bit : The camcorder wedding footage

‘W’ Rating : 13/23

Friday, 24 October 2008

No.95 : What’s Up, Doc?

IMDb Link :

Barbara Streisand stars as Judy Maxwell in this screwball comedy, come farce set in San Francisco. The film opens with Ryan O’Neil and his fiancée arriving at the airport prior to their nuptials. We know he’s a nerd as he wears glasses but to hammer the point home he’s also a geologist who is carrying a tartan bag full of rocks in the hope of securing a grant for his research. Elsewhere a man with an identical bag checks the contents - a load of files marked ‘Top Secret’. He has worries of his own as he’s being followed by a mysterious man.

As Ryan checks into the hotel we overhear a rich lady checking her own tartan bag in at reception - this one is full of jewels and to complete the quartet another tartan bag full of knickers is thrown into the mix. With all these tartan bags floating around I hope they don’t all get mixed up with funny consequences! Of course they do, but first Ryan has to bump into Barbara which he duly does in the hotels chemist when she delivers the titular line as her greeting.

For reasons not immediately clear the fast talking Barbara takes a shine to Ryan and make his head spin with her double talk and riddles. With the cast now all introduced it’s time for the bags to get mixed up and for various unfortunate coincidences to unfold. With Ryan’s grant at stake as well as his engagement he has to fend off the annoying Barbara as well as thieves and spies galore.

Once the mix is in the open the various keepers and desirers of the bag engage on a long chase through the streets of San Francisco by car, foot and bicycle with love, diamonds and national security at risk. Who will end up with who and what bag will each of them end up with? Can the judge sort out the whole mess and get the starring pair together for the credits? Yeah, probably.

Although extremely contrived this is a hard film to dislike and there are several nods to camera that indicate that the skewed reality is no oversight. I’m not usually a fan of farce and there are plenty of occasions where a timely explanation would save a whole heap of trouble, but clearly that’d be less fun.

The first hour is basically a preamble to the memorable chase sequence which has a few cracking stunts and some vintage slapstick moments such as the men trying to get a plate of glass across street while cars fly back and forth. The secondary characters are great value with Ryan’s grant rival good fun as is his frumpy fiancées, played by Madeline Khan who was a whole lot sexier in ‘Blazing Saddles’.

The two leads are pretty good although the fast talking Streisand in her Jewish Princess mode would be a major annoyance after a few minutes of her company. O’Neil does well as the stuffed shirt Howard who comes out of his shell as the film progresses.

The plot as it is, is simply a series of misunderstandings but enough fun and action is heaped upon it that you forget how sleight it is. Not a bone fide classic but certainly as good as a screwball comedy as you could hope for.

Best Bit : Smashing Scene With Glass

‘W’ Score : 17/23

Thursday, 23 October 2008

No.94 : Warriors

IMDb Link :

No, it’s not ‘The Warriors’, the ‘The’ disallows that one. This is an 1992 film concerning the United Nations peace keeping operation during the civil war in Bosnia. Doesn’t sound as much fun as gang battles with the Baseball Furies? , well maybe not but it is still well worth looking up.

The film opens with a group of working class lads enjoying the football and a night on the town. Elsewhere a couple of better spoken men, who are clearly the officers, are getting on with arranging weddings and the like. A spanner is however thrown into their collective works when they are recalled to duty and sent on peace keeping duties in Bosnia, under the flag of the United Nations.

They are briefed on their role and rules of engagement which include not getting involved in the fighting and being able to help only civilians who have been injured by the conflict. These are quickly called in to question when our men are prevented from stopping a village being torched or helping people who will be hurt, but aren’t hurt just yet.

The tentative agreement that allows them access to the country is always under threat and the men are forced to surrender rescued civilians to the kill squads lest the warlords get upset. The men who are chirpy at first soon get numbed by the horrors of war and the impotent situation in which they find themselves. When one of their number is killed by a sniper some seek revenge, other solace in the arms of women who aren’t their fiancées.

The horror continue apace with people crucified and butchered like cattle. As the mens’ tour of duty ends they have to confront what they have experienced and try to forge normal lives at home. With nerves shredded, relationships betrayed and fallen comrades all in the mix can life ever return to normal?

This film was originally made for TV but has been converted into a single film with a hefty near 3 hour run time. It may seem a big ask to watch 3 hours of atrocities but like ‘Welcome to Sarajevo’ (See No.14) I found it really absorbing and really terrifying. The barbarism of the people was shocking and it was as if no lessons were learned at all from World War 2. The events are seemingly all brought from first hand accounts and it’s easy to see how they could affect the soldiers in the manners shown.

Although a TV production the film does have good values and a stellar cast that includes Mr Fantastic himself Ioan Gruffudd and the ginger one out of ‘Band of Brothers’. As the war was pretty recent at the time of filming the locations, including the torched villages, are real and the uniforms and equipment all seemed authentic to me.

The drama wrought from characters who we have seen slowly develop is excellent and it was interesting to see how the differing ranks and social classes reacted to the same event. I’m not sure there was much of a message beyond ‘war is hell’ but I don’t think the film ever intended to preach. With events as horrific and unimaginable as those shown here you don’t need much dramatic licence to keep the viewer engrossed. It was probably be fair to call the film a drama documentary and hopefully it’ll help stop genocides from ever happening again. Until the next one, if history teaches us anything.

Best Bit : Manchester United fan denied lift by Scousers

‘W’ Rating : 19/23

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

No.93 : Waist Deep

 Waist Deep at the IMDb

Here’s a bit of bad ass action from South Central, ma hoodies. I can’t go on like that for long but this film manages it for 90 minutes without pausing for breath or providing subtitles.

Tyrese Gibson stars as a single dad stuck at his low rent security job. He’s a two time loser trying to make good for his boy. He is due to pick up the kid but is let down by his relief meaning that he has to take his gun home with him. This seemingly unnecessary detail is included to show that our man is a victim of circumstance and not a trigger happy bad ass as some people, a jury for example, may think.

He manages to get to the boy somewhat late but makes good with a toy horsey. For reasons unknown the boy goes to sleep in the back seat and is taken along with the ride when our hero is car jacked. After some massive gun play the baddies get away and our man’s only link to them is through the sexy street suit saleswoman who may have been the set up girl for the car jackers.

Eventually the gangsters get in touch and demand $100K for the boy’s safe return. We learn that our man is just out of jail for a robbery and the hoods think he may still have the loot stashed away. He of course doesn’t and has to embark on a massive crime spree to collect the ransom and save his boy. The girl tags along unwillingly but when she is promised a cut of the take she helps out hoping to free herself from her own crappy existence.

With the cash raised the trade off is arranged but can our man survive the many double crosses ahead of him and stay out of the clutches of the understandably keen police?

This is a really rubbish film but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. Most of these are unintentionally funny scenes where the gun play and over the top action stretch your disbelief and then break it. It is churlish to pick nits as I’m clearly not the target audience. I can see loads of Ali G types getting their wannabe gangster wish fulfilment addressed every time a gun is held side on or someone is addressed as ‘Mofo’.

The ‘hero’ is shown as a decent man fighting for what’s his but he comes across as a terrifying and reckless manic who shoots folk execution style and sticks up banks without a thought for the terrified staff and customers.

The plot is simple as ABC which is probably necessary as subtle plot points would be missed as you punch the air and shout ‘Cap his ass’ a lot. The characters are also wafer thin with development strictly in the ‘arrested’ mode. The two leads are quite decent given the limited material and despite its moral vacuum and terrible message you could do worse for a night‘s guilty pleasure.

Best Bit : Shawshank Steal

‘W’ Rating : 12/23

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

No.92 : What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane at the IMDb

This 1962 black and white classic opens in 1917 where the hottest act in town is baby Jane Hudson singing with her Dad - well there was a war on. Everyone loves Baby Jane and her life sized dolls are a hot item among the crowds who flock to her show. Backstage we see that she is a spoiled brat whose doting father acts on her every wish and scolds her plainer sister Blanche while doing so.

A few years later the tables have turned with Blanche the big star and Baby Jane being a laughing stock living off small roles gifted by her sister. Things take a sinister turn when Blanche is run over and crippled by a car seemingly driven by her drunken sister.

We then move to the present day were we see the wheelchair and housebound Blanche, now played by Joan Crawford, being cared for by her nasty sister Jane, played by Bette Davis. Jane is slowly losing her marbles and things come to a head when she learns of Blanche’s plan to sell the house and put her in a care home. The trapped Blanche has to try and outsmart her evil captor and try to forge a plan of escape before she’s murdered or starved on her all budgie and rat diet.

As Baby Jane’s madness deepens she hires a pianist to help her ill advised comeback and nothing will stop her quest of recapturing her childhood glories, even murder.

This is a cracking film that has two powerhouse performances from Hollywood’s finest at its heart. Presumably the stars must have needed the cash because two less flattering roles you can’t imagine. Crawford does well as the feisty paraplegic who has a secret of her own but the main laurels must go to Davis who plays the nutty fantasist Baby Jane in chilling fashion. Clips of her own films are used to show Baby Jane’s poor acting skills and it’s a testament to how she improved to see her as a batty old woman.

Although claustrophobic and tense the film does have some lighter moments especially when Jane manages to finagle some more booze out of the off licence by pretending to be her sister. For the most part it is a grim tale with all of Blanche’s schemes coming so tantalisingly close to success before she’s outwitted by her senile sibling.

The early scenes were well done and it was easy to see how the madness developed once Baby Jane’s star faded. There are able turns form the pianist, Dad and the Maid but for the most part this is an uneasy, tense thriller that never lets up despite a running time of over two hours. The reveal at the end was well handled and explains some of the behaviours at large while not quite excusing them.

The film, somewhat surprisingly, won only one Oscar in a minor category but given it was released in the same year as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ that’s no disgrace. Its poor return is probably more a symptom of the acting types who vote for the Oscars believing that no one in their profession could fall quite so far from grace but to my mind its gritty realistic look can’t be faulted.

A great film that has a close look at both the worlds of family and celebrity and doesn’t come out too favourable on either. Maybe not a feel good classic but one that shouldn't be missed if you like top notch acting and a thrilling, slow burning script.

Best Bit : “I’ll put my sister on”

‘W’ Rating : 20/23

Monday, 20 October 2008

No.91 : Where the Truth Lies

Where the Truth Lies at the IMDb

Kevin Bacon and Colin Firth star as 1950s entertainers Lanny and Vince who are at the top of their game. They host a regular telethon in the Lewis and Martin style and achieve national attention when ‘the miracle child’ tells of her recovery from polio on their show. Their partnership dissolves at the height of their fame for a variety of reasons that involve a dead hotel maid and some bed room shenanigans.

Things move forward to the 1970s and Vince is facing harder times and is negotiating a $1 million payday for his memoirs, warts and all. The now grown Miracle Girl is the journalist entrusted with the story and the deeper she digs the more questions she finds.

With a mix of contemporary scenes and flashbacks the whole painful truth is slowly revealed amidst a backdrop of indulgence, drugs and loads of sex.

Despite a pretty stellar cast I hadn’t heard of this film before and I understand its relative anonymity is due to its adult rating in the States which caused it to bomb at the box office. It’s a real shame as I really enjoyed this sexy thriller which shed the layers of the mystery like an onion with leprosy.

The rat pack styling of the 1950s scenes was excellent and although Colin Firth doesn’t really convince, Kevin Bacon excels as the sleazy Lanny who is quick to drop his pants but slow to think of the consequences. The secondary cast of lovely ladies, including Mark’s wife out of ‘Peep Show’, all do a good turn and none are shy of shedding their garb when the scene demands it.

Alison Lohman does OK in the demanding role of the investigative reporter who unravels the whole mess but I wasn’t sure that she had the tenacity to see the thing through. There was a cracking scene where after being doped up by Firth she gets friendly with Alice in Wonderland and although it does little to advance the plot it is certainly essential viewing!

The mystery angle is well played with only snippets such as the lobster box being guessed by my experienced eye. The big reveal is worth the wait and it is always a good sign when the truth is in plain sight if you are smart enough to see it.

Reading the boards it seems that this film’s reputation is solely based on the many nude scenes, and although they play a large part in my own recommendation it wouldn’t be fair not to mention some top turns and an engaging plot. Well worth a look.

Best Bit : Alice shows the quickest way to Wonderland

‘W’ Rating : 17/23

Sunday, 19 October 2008

No.90 : We’re No Angels

We're No Angels at the IMDb

Robert De Niro and Sean Penn star as a pair of escaped felons who disguise themselves as priests to avoid recapture. No hilarity ensues.

The film opens in decent fashion with our men safely locked up. After they chat during the governor’s speech they are given a beating and made to watch the execution of a mass murderer. Things go pear shaped however when the bad guy escapes from the electric chair and drags our heroes along in his escape bid. They manage to get over the wall but are left on their own as they are still chained up.

They manage to make it to a small town but the authorities are hot on their trail. As luck would have it a religious festival is about to start and our guys manage to pass themselves off as a pair of priests. Unable to get out of town they try to lie low but complications arise through Demi Moore’s single mother and Bruno Kirby’s confessional lawman.

Obviously no one has photographs of anyone as no one knows what the priests or indeed the escaped criminals look like. Fortunately for our guys the real priests take their time in arriving and everyone is so stupid that Sean Penn’s rough Brooklyn thicko can pass himself off as a distinguished scholar. They also fool young monk John C. Reilly who idolises their every word and mimics the clothes peg still stuck on Penn’s stolen clothes.

With the town in lock down and the real priests overdue our guys are in a bind. Could a procession into Canada be their salvation and can they convince the faithless Demi to lend them her sick child to allow them to join? Obviously the answer to both is yes and the only question remains is whether can they escape and at what cost?

This is a terrible film that can only be described as a comedy if your definition doesn’t require laughs, funny situations or characters. The opening scenes in the prison are really brutal and it hardly sits well with a film that quickly shifts to a bog standard fish out of water scenario. The laughs are supposedly derived form the situation of a couple of crooks passing themselves off as priests, but given that the church is so corrupt it’s hardly a great stretch.

I quite like De Niro in his ‘Meet the Parents’ comedy role but here he offers nothing in the way of mirth or sympathy for a poorly drawn character. Penn likewise was funny as Jeff Spicoli in ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’ but here he’s just a whiny caricature of the dumb New Yorker. The film boasts a cracking second string cast but no one does their best work here with the usually reliable Kirby and Reilly praying for a miracle in the shape of a decent line or scrap of character development.

The set up was pretty weak from the off and these ‘trapped in town’ films always seem restricted and annoying to me. The various impediments put in their path seem fabricated and why two hardened criminals don’t steal a truck from the start is never explained. The lack of the real priests also grates with their prolonged and unexplained absence an obvious McGuffin to allow the situation to exist.

The idea that our men can be redeemed by their masquerade is a pretty thin theme and I certainly had nothing invested in their dull quest for freedom and absolution.

There is pretty much nothing to recommend this film which is as much fun as two hours at church but significantly less funny.

Best Bit : Jail Break

‘W’ Score : 8/23

Saturday, 18 October 2008

No.89 : Waitress

Waitress at the IMDb

Waitress Jenna loves to bake pies. She bakes for her workplace, Old Joe’s, she bakes for her friends and she bakes at home to forget her miserable life. She is married to the boorish Earl who honks his horn a lot and keeps his wife under his thumb. As the film opens Jenna learns that she’s pregnant as the result of a night of lovin’ with Earl that came after he got her drunk. The news is a disaster as she’d been saving to get away from Earl and to compete in the National Pie Baking Championships.

She unhappily resolves to keep the baby and checks in to her doctor for the usual tests. She is surprised however to learn that her aged lady doctor has retired and been replaced by the nice Dr Jim who gladly accepts her offer of a pie. As the pregnancy progresses the two become lovers despite both having complex home lives. Romance is also blossoming at the diner where Jenna’s two waitress buddies both have relationship issues of their own.

Things come to a head when Earl finds Jenna’s stash of cash and starts to knock her about. She confides in Old Joe himself, but knows that if she’s ever going to be happy that she’ll have to make things happen for herself. As her waters break she has to sort out her relationships, have the baby and answer her fan mail from the now ailing Old Joe.

I really enjoyed this film which will forever be tinged by sadness, owing to the murder of writer/director Adrienne Shelly shortly after its completion. Kerri Russell is great in the lead as the downtrodden but spirited Jenna. We get a window into her thoughts through a narration device of her writing a diary for her baby to be and this helps fill out her conflicted character. Although she is hostile to the idea of becoming a mother we know it’s a front and that standing up to Earl is the only route to happiness. Earl is a horrible character, although maybe not as menacing as intended. He’s played by Jeremy Sisto, who played the mental one on ‘Six Feet Under’, and he does well to deviate between pathetic and bullying an a single stride.

The love lives of Jenna’s waitress buddies are really just footnotes but fun all the same. I just hope Larry David knows what his wife is getting up to! Andy Griffith shows up as the wise old restaurant owner and although seen as initially cantankerous we know he’s a good old guy. Filling the cast is Nathan Fillion out of ‘Firefly’ and he’s good value as the sexed up doc. He’s pretty unethical from the start and his motivations aren’t clear given his lovely wife at home, but I guess the point of the matter is that we can’t choose who we fall in love with and when.

The film is really well made with lots of shots of sumptuous pies to keep us fat guys interested. The characters are all well written and although the ending is a bit of the fairytale variety we don’t grudge any of them their happiness. A genuinely uplifting feel good movie that won me over despite its overwhelming theme of chick wish fulfilment. You go girl!

Best Bit : Pies!

‘W’ Rating 20/23

Friday, 17 October 2008

No.88 : Welcome To Woop Woop

Welcome to Woop Woop at the IMDb

Here’s an Australian film you’ve probably not heard of, directed by the same guy who gave us ‘The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert’.

Teddy is a New York con man who smuggles exotic birds from Australia to sell out the back of his van for $1000 a time. Unfortunately for him his creditors turn up looking for money and in the resulting scrap both get killed and he loses his stock of birds. Fearing retribution he decides to lose himself in darkest Australia. After getting his VW van filled by Sir Les Patterson he picks up a couple of passengers, including the free spirited Angie, who is more than free her charms.

After some energetic sex and a dip in the ocean Teddy feels free of his troubles and gleefully agrees that he’s in love with his foxy, but slightly unhinged partner. She proceeds to knock him spark out and the next thing he knows is waking up in a pig sty in the titular town of Woop Woop. The town used to be a big producer of asbestos but was wiped off the map in the 70s when the mine closed. The townsfolk decided to stay in their isolated community and live by their own set of rules, including one that states that you can never leave. We learn that inbreeding has produced too many runts and strangers are lured in to keep the gene pool viable.

The town makes a brand of dog food from road kill kangaroos and they subsist on pineapple chunks and lager. Sounds good to me! The patriarch, Daddio, is a right bastard and shoots potential escapees and hogs the good grub for himself. Teddy sensing dissension in the town forms some alliances and hope to hatch a plan to escape with the similarly disaffected Krystal. With only one truck in town and the key in Daddio’s hands can an escape work and will the mythical ‘Big Red’ come to their aid?

I quite enjoyed this film but it was a pity that it wasn’t so much better. The idea of an inbred community capturing virile men to keep them going was a fun one and for once they weren’t a bunch of mutant hill billies. The community angle worked quite well although it was a bit heavy to show Daddio having a stuffed fridge as if being a kidnapping dictator wasn’t enough.

The first half hour was best the scenes with the young couple were lively and fun - it was a shame they had to get back to the plot! Various Aussie luminaries made an appearance including Rod Taylor playing the stereotypical XXXX drinking, loudmouth Ozzer and Rachel Griffiths in a blink and you’d miss it part of an American slut.

The attempts to make the town sinister and threatening didn’t really work and I quite fancied a couple of weeks there myself. It was obvious from the start that the power corrupts angle was going to be exploited with our man the breath of fresh air needed to blow the old regime away. The finale was pretty routine until a left field supernatural moment caught me by surprise. A bit daft, but fun all the same.

If you FF by the credits you get an extra scene and I just hope the Aussie child support agency aren’t watching. An enjoyable distraction of a film that had plenty of lively women and cracking scenery but not enough character development or plot to hold it together.

Best Bit : Angie goes on a man hunt

‘W’ Score 14/23

Thursday, 16 October 2008

No.87 : Whale Rider

Whale Rider at the IMDb

Contrary to popular belief ‘Whale Rider’ is not a documentary concerned with Glasgow’s famous Cleopatra’s night club. It is in fact a touching coming of age drama about a young New Zealander’s quest for acceptance in a male dominated community.

The film opens with our heroine’s (Paikea’s) difficult birth. She is born healthy but her twin brother is still born and her mother dies in labour. Her father’s father is most upset at the loss of the boy and initially refuses to have anything to do with the girl. He is the patriarch of the community and the first born son of his son was due to continue the line that stretched way back to the original Whale Rider. The girl is no substitute due to her female status. Her Dad finds it hard to accept the situation and leaves to pursue an artist career in Europe, leaving the girl in the care of her loving grand mother and slowly learning to like her grand father.

Things quickly move to the present day with Paikea now 12 years old. Grandfather has decided to broaden his search for an heir into the community at large and sets up a class, to school the local boys in the arts of the ‘ancient ones’. Paikea isn’t allowed to participate but learns secretly by eaves dropping on the lessons and by enlisting the help of her uncle, who was deemed inappropriate for the job long ago. Paikea has natural aptitude for the tasks at hand and quickly shows herself to be better at diving and stick fighting than the boys. Stubborn old Grandfather won’t be shifted however, and her now returned father decides to take her away. On leaving she feels a connection with a passing whale and decides to return and fight for what is rightfully hers.

After singing out to the sea and headlining a school talent contest Paikea awakes to find that a pod of whales has beached itself outside their community, and the efforts of the locals to refloat them have failed. Can our girl harness the ancient ways to save the whales and convince her grandfather of her worthiness to be clan chief at the same time?

Although the messages of equality, redemption and acceptance are all ladled on somewhat heavily this is still a hard film to dislike. The poster kinda spoils any surprise that the ending may offer, but it’s a fun journey getting there. The Grandfather character is a right grumpy old git but he doesn't quite convince that he’s that against the girl even when he is a no show at the talent contest.

Keisha Castle-Hughes in the lead is excellent and got a deserved ‘Best actress’ nomination for her role (Lost to Charlize Theron). I'm not really sure why she wanted to be chief apart from getting on the old man’s nerves, but destiny and the script have to be served. The climatic scene with the beached whales was well done although I'm sure the Health and safety would have something to say about the methods employed.

For a film with a predictable plotline and thinly drawn characters it does well to succeed on a recipe of the triumph of the human spirit and cracking photography. If you are the last in line of an ancient tribe it may well speak volumes to you but for the rest of us it’s a cracking, life affirming family drama that’ll touch the darkest heart. Even mine!

Best Bit : Can you point me in the direction of the sea, please?

‘W’ Score : 18/23

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

No.86 : Wind Chill

Wind Chill at the IMDb

It’s near Christmas and the college kids are heading home for the holidays. Emily Blunt plays a headstrong and opinionated character referred to in the credits as ‘Girl’ who in a text chat with a pal agrees to get a ride home from the shared drives board at the college. She’s lucky to find one going to her home of Delaware and even luckier when the driver referred to as ‘Guy’ waits two hours for her to show up.

His car is a bit bashed up with a wonky door and window and Emily starts to smell a rat when he fails to answer correctly questions about their supposed shared home town. After she gets locked in the bathroom during a rest stop things get a bit fractured, especially when Guy, who supposedly knows the way, is caught getting directions from the spooky gas station attendant. Things come to a head when he takes the car down a snow covered side route and the pair are run off the road into a snow bank by a mysterious car.

When confronted he admits to having set up the journey after overhearing her travel plans as he’s a bit shy and thought a few hours together would bring them closer together. His plan worked, but too well as the pair are now trapped on an isolated road. He doesn't have a cell phone and hers won’t work and to cap it all the food for the journey was left at the college.

Things take a sinister turn when ghostly figures start to appear. Guy finds a burnt out building full of bodies and rosaries after following some monks and she meets a couple of dead school kids and a drowned black man with a habit of vomiting eels. They think salvation is at hand when a policeman appears but he soon turns out to be a bastard and is only stopped when hit over the head. As he goes down, time ripples and our pair are back in the car.

They piece together their stories with the help of an old newspaper and guess that they are being haunted by all the people who’ve ever been killed on this stretch of road. Using movie logic they think that if they make it to sun up they’ll be OK, but Guy is bleeding internally and looking like the road’s next inhabitant. The truth of the road must be revealed if the girl is to survive and can the Guy help in his reduced capacity?

I really enjoyed this spooky ghost story. The device of not naming the characters was a fun nod to the traditional start to the camp fire ghost story “there was this guy and girl…” and the writing was strong enough that you never really noticed the omission of names.

The pacing was really good with it building up gradually before the revelation heavy third act. There were plenty of scares, and for once in a horror film, all were earned - no cats jumping out here! The various spooks were well realised with the ever watchful monks really unsettling. The trim run time of 85 minutes meant there weren't too many dull moments or repetitive appearances of the same ghouls and ghosts.

The conclusion of the film worked well for me and I liked that it was open to interpretation. Having read pages of theories I'm undecided about what happened, and who was a ghost and from when. That said it was effective and unsettling and like any good ghost story you could fill your night after watching it by exchanging your own thoughts and theories with similarly bewildered friends.

The two leads did a good job and their initial frosty match up morphed into a fledgling friendship somewhat seamlessly. The guy character played by Viggo’s son off ‘A History of Violence’, did well as the initially creepy but ultimately heroic stalker, and he left nary a dry eye in my house by the end.

A great little film that fell below my radar on its initial release but one I would heartily recommend the next dark, snowy winter’s night you have in alone. Chilling and thrilling - what more could you ask?

Best Bit : ‘Rockin’ around the Christmas tree..’

‘W’ Score : 20/23

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

No.85 : Weird Science

Weird Science at the IMDb

High school losers Gary and Wyatt are desperate to get laid, but have no chance when the school bullies pull their pants down in front of the girls’ gym class. After watching a strangely coloured version of ’Frankenstein’ they hit on the idea of creating a woman that they can, presumably, shag. Fortunately Wyatt is a spoiled child and has a computer set-up that would make NASA green with envy and programming skills that seem somewhat advanced for 1985.

After feeding in a lot of pictures into a handy slot on the computer they press ‘enter’ just as the house is hit by lightening. As movie law dictates they don’t get a blown fuse but the shapely Kelly LeBrock in small purple panties instead. I always just get an error message - bah! Despite their earlier bravado the lads are unable to take advantage of their willing cyber-babe, settling instead for a threesome in the shower with their pants on.

The digital babe, who is soon named ‘Lisa’, takes the lads out for a night on the town where they get annoyingly pished in stereotyped black bar. The boys are fitted out in fashionable gears and given fancy cars by Lisa but are still picked on by the bullies, including a fey looking Robert Downey Jnr. and Wyatt’s brother played by Bill Paxton in typically obnoxious form.

In a bid to court popularity they hold a party to impress the girls and the rest of the school, who are invited by Lisa. The house however gets wrecked by a bunch of biker mutants and by a nuclear missile conjured up when an attempt to replicate the experiment, that created Lisa, goes awry.

Can the house be fixed before the parents get back and can the lads find love out with the digital realm?

This is an awful film by John Hughes who also gave us the flawless ‘Pretty in Pink’ (unless you dislike Duckie Dale, which I do). It’s basically nerd wish fulfilment, with the pair of immature tossers getting the dream girl and all the stuff they ever wanted for the flick of a switch. Added to that they get the girls and show up the bullies and best the nasty brother. Pity the poor losers who try this for real and burn their house down and get raped in jail!

The two leads are not likable at all and the acting talent that Gary showed in the great ’Vacation’ has all but deserted him at this point. His wimpy pal is worse and his ’I love you scene’ at the end was cringeworthy. Paxton had a one dimensional role but still doesn’t convince as the bullying brother and as an actress LeBrock looks nice, but that’s it.

It may seem a bit harsh to give a kicking to a teenage romp with cut off tee-shirts and shower scenes but it really is chronic. When the lads ditch Kelly for the real life lovelies we are expected to admire their development from nerds to players, but instead it just doesn’t ring true. There are a couple of decent sequences but overall the film is morally ambiguous and more than a little misogynistic too. Not that these are necessarily bad things (!) but in the context of a teen film they’re plain wrong.

The nerd watching this at home between fits of tears would draw two conclusions - suck up to the bullies and forget your own beliefs to be accepted, and the girl that previously wouldn’t give you the time of day is worth having over Kelly because she now likes your Ferrari. Worthwhile advice there for all!

Surprisingly this tosh spawned a TV series that ran for two years and featured the even lovelier Vanessa Angel (Kingpin). I may have to investigate that too to see if the moral ambiguity has been maintained!

Best Bit : ’The Hills Have Eyes’ guy shows up

‘W’ Score : 11/23

Monday, 13 October 2008

No.84 : Welcome to Collinwood

Welcome to Collinwood at the IMDb

When Cosimo (Luis Guzman) gets pinched for a routine car theft he knows he has to get out of jail in a hurry. He has a ‘bellini’ which is well paying and sure fire criminal scheme and he‘s keen to move on it. To get out he enlists his girlfriend to find a ‘molinski’ which is basically a patsy who will own up to the crime for a cash pay off. Things go badly for Cosimo however when the molinski doesn’t convince the judge leaving Cosimo in jail and the suspended sentenced molinski free to take on the Bellini himself.

The robbery involves a jewellery shop safe, access to which is gained through a poorly built wall in the adjacent apartment. The molinski, boxer Pero (Sam Rockwell), enlists a motley crew of hard up would be criminals including William H Macy’s photographer dad and Michael Jeter’s wise old man who loses his trousers.

The scoping out of the job complicates matters when Rockwell falls for the apartment owners’ maid Eva Mendes, and her set of keys may save the day. Meanwhile the crew take lessons from George Clooney’s disabled safe cracker and pay off a cop who takes interest in their activities. With the job all set, two relationships may upset the plan as well as the small matter of some geography.

This film looks great on paper but it falls well short of the sum of its parts. The best element is the characters who are all likable despite being a bit grubby with loose morals. The chat between them is a bit grating however, with all this molinski and bellini stuff seeming a bit tacked on and unconvincing. A bit of street patois is fine but in my experience street folk call a spade a spade and fancy terms like these would soon be excised from normal conversation.

The set up is pretty poor as well. The caper is almost included as an afterthought and the big pay-off isn't worth the investment of your time. I did smile a couple of times but there were no big laughs and those funny bits were unnatural in the flow of the film, coming in a slapstick fashion that wasn't maintained elsewhere.

Macy and Rockwell give good value and largely hold the film together. Clooney is a bit of a fraudster himself as he only appears in two scenes and has about three minutes of screen time despite being the main character on the poster. In truth he’s way too good looking and clean to convince as a scummy criminal, as is Patricia Clarkston who wouldn't be seen dead begging for car thief Luis Guzman’s hand in marriage to save her life.

The film runs only for 80 minutes and it is a pleasant enough distraction. It is however lightweight and forgettable and a waste of a good opportunity.

Best Bit : Eva Mendes Hmmm nice.

‘W’ Rating 13/23

Sunday, 12 October 2008

No.83 : Women In Cages

Women in Cages at the IMDb

‘Women In Cages’ is a hard biting social satire that makes valid socio-political points about the drug trade and the exploitation of women.

Not really.

‘Women in Cages’ is an 1971 exploitation film about a bunch of chicks in a foreign jail and their evil bitch of a matron. The film opens on board a floating brothel, staffed by stereotypes and women with those 1970‘s nipples. In a needlessly elaborate scheme some drugs are passed to Rudy, who turns out to be a real shit. He then takes his American girlfriend, Jeff, to the cock fighting, as you do. The police are however on the case and as they close in Rudy gives Jeff the drugs to hold for him. The authorities give Jeff 10 years in the baddest jail in town and let Rudy off Scot free. Bugger.

Jeff meets the other inmates and it’s good to see hygiene is taken importantly, as the girls are quickly hosed down and deloused. The girls then meet the nasty head matron, Alabama, played by the always foxy Pam Grier. Alabama is a right cow, and takes her pick of the girls for her bedroom and her torture chamber ‘play room‘.

On the outside Rudy is worried that Jeff will talk to the cops, so he enlists her junkie cellmate to do her in with a poisoned ham sandwich. When this fails she uses other tactics but is foiled at every turn. One of Jeff’s other cell mates is enlisted to look after her as the cops thinks she can be turned to testify against Rudy and the syndicate.

With the promised early release not forthcoming Jeff plots the easiest jail break in history and gets out with four other prisoners. For reasons that are unclear, apart from another shirt ripping, they bring Pam along but the notorious trackers are hot on their trail. Can any of the girls survive and will the syndicate be brought to its knees?

This is a pretty crappy film, even given the low standards of the genre. The characters are unbelievable and the acting is deplorable. The dialogue stinks like the prison’s hole with lines like “It’s just like home - only different” peppering the shambolic plot.

Obviously the kind of person who picks ‘Women in Cages’ off the shelf isn't looking for much in the way of stylised drama and at least it delivers on its promise of naked women, lesbian sex and a bit of torture. It’s not very erotic however, and pretty tame by most standards - nothing below the waist please!

The jail break, which is simply going out through the sewers, is a bit easy and the feared trackers look like a bunch of blokes pulled out a Philippino bar for the occasion. Pam Grier shows great promise in an early role, and at least she gets some character development when she sees the horrors she used to inflict on others when the tables are turned.

The lead is devoid of personality however, and fails to register any emotions even when the most heinous outrages are inflicted upon her. She is also totally dumb and her relationship with the swarthy boyfriend doesn’t ring true. Still the nits I pick are hardly the kind that would concern the producers of this type of rubbish. A grubby distraction that should be put away for a few years itself.

Best Bit : Pam gets a massage

‘W’ Rating : 8/23

Friday, 10 October 2008

No.82 : Wild At Heart

Wild at Heart at the IMDb

‘Wild at Heart’ is the last film by David Lynch that I mostly follow and it even has the rare trait of a linear narrative to boot. That said I don’t presume to understand it all, and the requisite weirdness is present and incorrect.

The film opens with a horrific killing as our hero, Sailor (Nicolas Cage), dispatches a would be assassin with extreme prejudice. We learn that the thug was hired by Sailor’s girlfriend’s mother after he turned down her drunken advances. Sailor gets done for manslaughter but his girl, Lula (Laura Dern) is waiting for him on his release from prison. This doesn't sit well with Mom who sets a couple of hit men on the trail of the happy couple.

Choosing to violate his parole Sailor decides that the couple should head for California, away from the nasty in-laws. On the way they couple have a few strange encounters, not least with a dying Sherilyn Fenn and the cast of a tubby porno film.

When they run short of cash in the town of Big Tuna they meet with the nasty Peru (Willem Dafoe) who convinces Sailor to join him on a ‘sure thing’ robbery. Unbeknown to Sailor, Peru is one of his would be assassins and things don’t look too hot at the robbery either. With Lula pregnant and the guns blazing can the star crossed lovers ever be together?

I enjoyed ‘Wild at Heart’ but maybe not as much as I should have given it’s recipe of violence, nudity and wacky characters. I was put off from the start with the guy being killed by Cage bashing his head like a melon off a marble floor. I can watch zombies eat people all day long but I can’t watch that brutal scene at all.

It does improve quickly however and the numerous sex scenes help keep the score up. Cage and Dern do seem a good match and despite his ropey singing and her accent you wish them well. The evil mother in law is great and her cadre of assassins are a weird and wonderful bunch. The best is of course Dafoe who gives a great performance as the sleazy Peru “Say fook me, say it…” he whispers for an age to a clearly up for it Dern.

Plenty of scenes are downright mental and played for laughs especially the dog who gets an early lunch. Some of the weirdness does seem a bit tacked on however and although I’m sure a sense of ‘other worldliness’ is being sought, it just seems a bit daft. Of course it isn’t meant to taken literally with plenty of ‘Wizard of Oz’ moments stuffed in to convince you that you’re really watching a fairy tale. The red shoes, good and bad witches, and the crystal ball were all present but no flying monkeys - unless you count Dafoe jumping around with his thin moustache.

The supporting cast, most of whom appeared in ‘Twin Peaks’, were great with many such as Fenn, Lee and Kelly barely scraping a scene each. Although it does have a lot to recommend it, you do find a lot of the film to be a bit self indulgent and pretentious and that stops it being the real classic which it had the potential to be.

Best Bit : Where’s my hand?

‘W’ Score : 16/23

Thursday, 9 October 2008

No.81 : Winter People

Winter People at the IMDb

‘Winter People’ must be one of the least appealing film titles of all time, and when you marry it to that dull poster you can imagine this was a ‘W’ quest movie I wasn't looking forward to. In the event it’s not as dull as it appears to be, but not by much.

Kurt Russell plays a widower who is packing up to move away with his daughter and her pig. He works as a clockmaker and there’s not much call for new timepieces what with the Great Depression and all. After the briefest of visits to his wife’s grave the happy trio set off on their new start. Unfortunately Kurt drives his car into a river (darn sat-nav!) and they have to hoof it through the mountains on foot. Luckily they spot the smoke from a cabin and they meet young mum, Kelly McGillis. She is hesitant to help at first but gives in when she sees the pig, as she’d one too as a child. And very tasty it was too.

Kurt clumsily establishes that Kelly is an unwed mum but decides to hang about anyway when his car is ransacked by the local hillbillies. He visit’s the town and manages to strike a deal to build a new clock for the church tower in exchange for some new wheels. As time passes he slowly gets friendly with the towns folk, especially when he saves the day during a bear hunt - gangsta style! Trouble is brewing however in the shape of the baby’s father, one of the hillbillies, who forced himself on Kelly and now wants second helpings.

After getting a real kicking Kurt manages to best the villain utilising his previously touted cold water survival skills. They send the unconscious rogue away on his horse, sure in the knowledge that he won’t survive the night. The body is found and the Clampetts are out for revenge - can Kelly come up with a plan that will save her brothers and Kurt, while saving a fortune on the nappies at the same time?

I was bored as rigid as the frozen redneck by this film. Nothing much happens which is understandable when your lead is a clockmaker. Some excitement is injected by a fight with a black bear but it looked so trained I thought it was going to make off on a bicycle at the end. The other confrontations were mostly wordy and went on beyond my abilities to stay awake.

Kurt and Kelly had no chemistry at all and I didn’t believe in their love story in the least. The ‘Sophie’s Choice’ style ending didn’t ring true either nor did the Daddy Baddie’s closing appearance. The massive four-sided clock was quite good though but I didn’t believe that Kurt knocked it out in a couple of weeks.

Down the cast list you do get Lloyd Bridges who’s OK but I kept hoping he’d say ‘Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue’. The pig is quite good although the little girl is a bit too screamy for my tastes. The baddie family were good fun, all decked out like Davy Crocket meets The Texas Chainsaw massacre. Their toothless smiles and shootin’ the place up antics were only undone by their total lack of menace.

At 105 minutes the film is too long and judicious editing down to say, 20 minutes would have been welcome. A heartfelt emotional drama for some, but for me it was a plodding trip to Dullsville. Just like most winters this one was cold and bleak and you’re glad when it’s over.

Best Bit : “I loved that clock!”

‘W’ Rating 10/23

No.80 : Warning Sign

Warning Sign at the IMDb

You know that there’s going to be trouble from the first establishing shot of this 1985 shocker when we learn that the company concerned is called ‘Bio-tek’. Romantic comedies or emotional dramas never take place at firms called Bio-tek, as they are solely the domain for industrial accidents and zombie infestations.

It’s 5pm Friday night and the Bio-tek crew are closing up for the night. We know danger lurks as everyone has haz-mat suits on and the tannoy is barking constant instructions. One chap, who’s possibly a bit too keen to make it to happy hour, manages to get an ominous looking vial stuck to his suit and we get a tantalising few moments as it dangles while he tours the facility.

Eventually it falls off, but doesn’t break. The director then shamefully wrings every possible moment of tension out of the situation as it rolls around narrowly missing the boots of the unaware staff. It looks like we’re going to be OK until the idiot Captain off ‘Police Academy’ shows up and suggests everyone takes off their helmets for a photo before crunching the vial underfoot - Doh! and Double Doh!

The lab is quarantined by a lady security officer and pretty soon a sinister government convoy shows up headed by Katanga out of ‘Live and Let Die’ and ‘W’ classic ‘Witless Protection’. The staff try to bluff their way out but Katanga’s having none of that and despite his claims to the opposite we know everyone is being left to die. Obviously needing a man’s help the lady security officer calls her sheriff husband and he heads off to see a bad boy loner bio-engineer who lives in the hills and may have some skills to save the day.

Inside the plant the germ is taking effect with the first stage some glowing, then death and then mentalism. One pocket of staff are in the Bio-Tek amusement arcade (?) playing Crystal Castles while another are on a full scale rampage. Our lady friend and him off ‘Police Academy’ try to find a cure but it’s clear outside help is needed. The Sheriff and the scientist manage to break into the lab but can they concoct a cure before the maniacs kill everyone or the rednecks at the door break in and let them escape?

This was a truly crappy affair that had ‘TV movie’ written all over it. I quite enjoyed the improbable plot developments and the shameful acting but not enough to give it even half marks. I did quite like the red neck army fighting to free their quarantined relatives with blow torches and pick up trucks while the army and federal agents stood by.

It was a good idea to split the cast into groups in a way that let us see different stages of the disease and the reactions to It. Sadly the ‘disease’ was a bit of luminous paint followed by some joke shop warts and shouting. The place had no shortage of axes but there were no messy kills unless you count the English language and dramatic tension.

The idea of a loner bio-engineer living in the hills was laughable as was the eventual resolution - the best germ warfare agent ever seems remarkably susceptible to some red water, and all the frothing zombies looked like they’d be back to work tomorrow by the end.

The acting talent on show was uniformly awful with Katanga guilty of both wearing mirrored sunglasses and talking bad ass. Sam Waterston, whom I’ve disliked since he did that long joke in ‘Capricorn One’, didn’t convince as an action hero and the ‘Police Academy ‘ guy was his routine rubbish.

I'm pretty sure there was a subtext on show about bio-weapons being bad but seeing as it all got cleared up with a quick shower I'm not sure the point was well made. A bit like the film in general then!

Best Bit : Go away zombies, I’m playing Space Invaders!

‘W’ Score : 9/23

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

No.79 : Wrong Turn 2 : Dead End

Wrong Turn 2 : Dead End at the IMDb

Following our ‘W’ challenge tradition of reviewing the sequels rather than the originals let’s have a look at ‘Wrong Turn 2 : Dead End’. I have seen the original but remember little or nothing about it. Reading the notes I see that none of the original cast reprise their roles, so it looks like the franchise is relying on return custom from fans of hillbilly mutants. The ‘Wrong Turn’ title has no relevance at all to this film and they must be hoping that the kudos of the classy original rubs off on this straight to video sequel.

The film open with a young starlet on the way to the set of a new reality show being shot in rural Virginia. We know she’s a total bitch from the off as she’s blonde and talking trash on her mobile to her agent about being cast in such a crummy film. Sorry TV show. When she runs over a jay walking mutant she foolishly goes back to check, only to get a full on smacker for her trouble. She’s quickly reduced to half the woman she used to be in a cracking kill that sets the tone for the rest of the film.

The rest of the cast has assembled on set and the producer’s girlfriend gamely steps into to replace the missing starlet, whose absence causes surprisingly little concern. We meet the usual cast of misfits such as a lesbian ex-soldier and an injured football star who are vying for the $100K first prize. Hosting the show is Henry Rollins, who does well as a grizzled ex-marine. The overly complex rules of the show are explained to the cast, and us, and they are then sent off to complete some challenges. Unfortunately for them the quest for survival becomes real as a hungry tribe of hill billy cannibal mutants have just placed them on the menu.

As you’d expect the cast are quickly whittled down with some elaborate kills for both sides. The film is played straight but the violence is so over the top that you can’t help but laugh. There is a funny scene early on where the team joker finds a large piece of meat grilling on a spit and tucks in. ‘Oh no’ we think especially as an previously shown tattoo shows up on someone’s plate!

Pretty soon we are down to only two contestants and a few mutants with the end game to be played out in an abandoned paper mill. Our heroes will have to rely on their wits to save their day. Well their wits and a curiously operational bark stripping machine!

Despite my better judgement I rather enjoyed this film. It’s clearly throwaway piece of forgettable nonsense but it was entertaining and pretty gruesome too. At least three of the kills were real ‘Ooowww’ moments and the mutants were good value with their archery and cooking talents. The non-mutant cast were totally anonymous apart from Rollins, but they did their bit getting killed to order and disrobing when appropriate.

On the downside there is precious little in the way of characterisation with obvious markers laid down and later cashed in - ooh I’ve got a bad shoulder, I’ve got a tattoo - are you paying attention viewers?! The plot is also non existent with the game show just a device for dropping the group into the woods and into peril. The progression is as you’d expect with no real twists in the path, but a few blood soaked and sexy asides kept the interest level high.

The mutant bad guys, who only spoke in grunts, were portrayed somewhat unsympathetically although they were excused somewhat by the revelation of toxic dumping by the paper company. I don’t know what kind of paper produces the skull and crossbones type waste that was piled up, but it was so bad that it’s still being pumped out even after the factory has been closed 20 years! This of course laid the ground work for future instalments. I can totally wait!

Best Bit : “My Mom says I’ll live foreve….!”

‘W’ Rating : 13/23

Monday, 6 October 2008

No.78 : Wild Side

Wild Side at the IMDb

‘Wild Side’ is a sexy thriller that is strangely devoid of sex appeal and indeed thrills. Anne Heche plays an expensive (no such thing as ‘high class’!) hooker who has a night of grinding planned with the dodgily coiffured Christopher Walken. He is a bad guy money launderer and has been targeted by the FBI in the past in honey trap operations. He thinks Anne may be an agent but reasons that if she is really a hooker she’ll shag his body guard for $500. Anne is a hooker but laughs off the low rent deal only to get raped by the body guard, who is in fact an undercover FBI agent. Keeping up?

Anne reports the rapist agent to his bosses but rather than investigate the crime they tell her that  unless she cooperates in nabbing Walken that they’ll tell her banking bosses of her sexy sideline. Anne doesn't like her day job at the bank, as all the clients play grab ass, but she needs the job to keep her house so reluctantly agrees to go along with the dubious plan.

Sexy Joan Chen then shows up at Anne’s bank and the two soon become lovers. We learn Joan is married to Walken and a three way scam starts with the alliances unclear. They plan to infect the banking system with a virus and steal $160 million in the process. Things complicate further when the romantic tangle causes Joan to overdose on pills. With the relationships straining against the stress of the complex cycle of duplicity and muddy plotting we have to guess who’ll end up with who and at what cost.

This was an atrocious movie with some of the worst acting you’ll ever see. Tony the sassy bodyguard come cop is as convincing as Big Bird would have been in the role and he equates shouting with acting in every scene. Walken is usually good value but he wilts under the twin strains of a bad wig and shocking script.

The plot, which seems to be deliberately meandering and vague, is all over the place and if it’s trying to mimic the complexities of the characters’ relationships, it succeeds only in duplicating their annoyingness. There are plenty of sex scenes to keep the casual pervert happy involving all of the cast in various combinations. “Do I look like a lesbian to you?” screams Anne in somewhat feigned outrage.

The dialogue is really bad with lines like “banking is like the Mafia- you’re in it for life” - say what? Walken also threatens to kill someone who is attempting suicide without any apparent irony. “ She leaves an I blow your genitalia off“ from a faux Italian Walken also stood out as did “It ain't Ben Dover, Idaho“.

Anne is pretty enough and has a good body which she’s not shy about showing off, but her sexy scenes left me a bit cold. It may have been the blue lighting or the fact that she was grinding Walken who was wearing a Beatles wig, but erotic it was not. Her thin reedy voice and pain of a character made it hard to empathise with her situation and frankly I was cheering on Walken, wig and kinks included. Chen looked pretty uncomfortable doing the lesbian scenes and he weedy character was the same as she trotted out in ‘Twin Peaks’.

If you watch this with ironic detachment you will find a few laughs with the crappy dialogue and chronic acting. You also get a few bangs for your buck, but overall this film should be an embarrassment to all involved.

Best Bit : Walken confronts guard with Trojan as Anne puts fingers in ears.

‘W’ Score 8/23

Sunday, 5 October 2008

No.77 : Witness

Witness at the IMDb

Recently widowed Amish mother Rachel and her young son leave their isolated community to visit a relative. During a stop over in the big city her son, Samuel, witnesses the brutal murder of a man we later learn was police undercover operative. Detective John Book (Harrison Ford) interviews the boy and shows him mug shots without success, but an departmental conspiracy is uncovered when the boy spots a picture of the murderer in a police trophy cabinet.

Book quickly realises that the bad guy (Danny Glover), is responsible for some missing drug evidence and goes to his superior with the case. Unfortunately he’s dirty too, a point proven when Glover comes gunning for him. Now unable to trust anyone Book takes flight with the boy and his mother back to the Amish community. He plans to leave immediately but is hampered by a bullet wound inflicted by Glover that starts to get infected. Over a period of time he recovers but is warned by his partner not to return as it’s too hot for him in the city.

He gradually settles into the community and a touch of romance blossoms with Rachel. Things come to a head however, when a run in with a bunch of rednecks put him on the police radar and the bad guys come calling.

This film has a great cast and excellent director in the shape of Peter Weir. The script won the best screenplay Oscar and it enjoys a reasonably high score of 7.5/10 on the IMDb. I just didn’t enjoy it that much, sorry.

The first thing that put me off the film was the score, which admittedly is of its era, but it just sounded like a funky episode of ‘Miami Vice’ a lot of the time. When the bad guys appeared it went all doom laden, but jaunty when they were raising the barn. Setting the mood is one thing but so is hitting you over the head with a mallet.

The fish out of water scenario that saw Book enter the backwards world of the Amish also didn’t gel for me as he seemed to be getting along fine. Apart from a couple of sniffs in the beginning he was quickly embraced by the insular people and he didn’t seem to mind the lack of buttons at all. There were some lines that suggested he was unhappy with his city life that involved no wife and kids but I didn't get the impression that he was getting fulfilled here either - just as stony faced really.

The blossoming romance with the somewhat chubby Kelly McGillis was slightly better and he became a dirty Book when he got a look at her charms. The energy didn't really sparkle between the pair however, and I don’t think him hanging up his gun was ever really a consideration.

I was also less than impressed by the bad guys who were pretty thinly drawn. Danny Glover, who gives good value in the ‘Lethal Weapons’ films, is really bad but has nothing to work with . The corrupt Chief didn't ring true either and he certainly didn't come across as a bad ass murderer with $20 million of drug cash in his back pocket.

There are some things to like such as the insights into the Amish and a funny scene where some rednecks pick on the wrong carriage to harass, but overall it’s a pretty straight forward three act drama with precious little in the way of character development.

Best Bit : Kelly has a scrub down

‘W’ Score : 14/23