Sunday, 20 September 2009

No.160 : Weekend With The Babysitter

Here’s a bit of an oddity from 1970 that garnered a frankly woeful 1.4/10 at the IMDb. It’s a hard film to categorise - it’s a sort of soft porn, action thriller fantasy with a bit of education and stoner wisdom thrown in for good measure.

We open with scenes of a young girl on a moped inter cut with some action at the border. The customs are shown to be doing a bang up job and although that seems incongruous with the carefree girl all will become clear soon. Or not, depends if you can stay the course really.

Anyway our hot chick arrives at her destination and we find that she’s the titular babysitter - but there’s been a mix up! The wife is indeed going out but not with the husband who is staying in. As he waves the wife off he tells the girl to stay so he can pay her for her time. The dirty bastard.

The pair settle down on the sofa and the girl starts reading a script that the chap, who is a director, is due to film next week. The girl laughs at how crummy the script is (oh the irony!) and tells him that the kids don’t talk like that. To prove her point she takes him out to meet her skuzzy friends.

Meanwhile, we learn that the wife has a drug problem and is visiting her dealer. They want paid and all she can offer is a loan of her husband’s boat which could bypass the customs problems we witnessed earlier. They take her along on the smuggling trip and after doping her up make her indulge in some lesbian sex for no other reason, it would seem, other than to secure an ‘X’ certificate for this tame offering.

Back at the house the husband is flat on his back after the night on the tiles but the girl stays over to make him breakfast and take him to the speedway, like you do. After lots of unnecessary shots of screaming bikes and babysitter nudity he realises that his wife is missing and commandeers a friend’s plane to search for her. Once spotted he rallies his new biker chums to intercept the bad guys and save the wife. Will lives be lost and will our man take his junkie wife back over the nubile babysitter?

This is quite a funny film if you don’t take it too seriously. The two leads are awful with the silver haired director as convincing as a hat stand. We’ve no idea what the baby sitter’s motivation is in seducing the old timer but fair play to him seeing as this was before the time of Viagra. The sex scenes are pretty tame although I did like how one ended with a cut to an anchor splashing into the water!

The kids all get a say and one boy’s assertion that not all bikers were bad was proven when they intercept the bad guys and destroy their drugs rather than toking up themselves. The twangy early 70’s soundtrack is a bit of a distraction but if ever a film was of its time this is it.

It’s certainly not as bad as the low scoring suggests but by no means a classic either. For your money you do get a fair bit of nudity, some cringingly bad sex scenes and dialogue you wouldn’t hear in a porno - so a wise investment all round then!

Best Bit : Pilot calling the control tower and asking them to call a biker bar for help

‘W’ Rating 11/23

Friday, 18 September 2009

No.159 : Walk Hard : The Dewey Cox Story

Well we’re back after a long pause while we fought for our entitlement of Arts Council funding. It not what you know it’s who you blow in this game! We can’t guarantee the same level of ‘W’ movie immersion as you’re used to but the occasional ‘W’ will certainly keep the wwwolf from the door.

First up in this tranche of ‘W’ wonderment is a real treat that is certainly at the pinnacle of the spoof genre, one that is often disparaged by this forum and several lesser ones too.

As you could probably guess from the title this is a comedy retread of the Johnny Cash bio-pic ‘Walk the Line’ but don’t confuse it with the likes of ‘Teen Movie’ and shite like that, this is a fully rounded picture that walks a similar line but picks off plenty of laughs along the way.

We open with the child Dewey who is growing up on a mid-western farm with his prodigy brother. After an ill advised, but surprisingly deadly, machete fight his brother is killed leaving his Dad stating ‘the wrong boy died’ throughout the film, even after Dewey has made his name.

The child actor is quickly replaced by John C McGinley who takes over the role when Dewey is just 14 and towers over the teens of his high school band. His career quickly blossoms and soon he’s on the road with Elvis and being introduced to ever more potent drugs by his long term band mates.

Like Cash, Dewey has his ups and downs and after a few falls secures his own cheesy 1970’s TV series and a succession of trophy wives. He also emulates Johnny by having one woman colouring his life and Dewey is lucky enough to have Jenna Fischer on his arm, presumably when ‘The Office’ was shut.

As the film nears it’s climax we are returned to the opening frames where a contemplative Cox was silently recounting his life before going on stage for one last time. Can Dewey still put on a great show after endless nights of booze, drugs and women?

I have been accused in the past of liking spoof musicals a bit too much, and in truth I’ll take ‘The Rutles’ over ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ anytime, but this film is far more enjoyable than Joaquin Phoenix wrestling with his emotions and acting ability any day.

The songs like ‘Walk Hard’ and ‘Guilty As Charged’ are excellent and Reilly does a great job as the hapless lead. The laughs are frequent and layered throughout the film and at no point does it sag. There is plenty of swearing and nudity to keep the interest levels high and the cast, including plenty of well known cameos, is universally great.

As you will probably have gathered this film is a true return to form for the ‘W’ quest and has certainly got the juices flowing again. Give it a look - run, don’t walk to the video shop. Or download it, I don’t care.

Best Bit : Lyall Lovett has it large
‘W’ Rating : 20/23

Saturday, 20 June 2009

No. 158 : Witchboard

Next up is ‘Witchboard’ a film you may have seen gathering dust on your video shop shelf unaware that it’s actually spawned a few sequels, none of which will darken the door of the ‘W’ Movies Quest. That’s not to say the original is terrible but it’s far fetched premise wears thin half way through this one so gawd knows what part four is offering.

The film should in fact be called ‘Ouijaboard’ as it has nothing to do with witches and everything to do with that staple of teenage parties where everyone has heard of but never seen flying wine glasses and shit. Shit is the worst of course, terrible stains.

Anyway, the film opens with a party for some douche bag 30 somethings with a bit of tension in the air between two men who used to be friends but now are bitter rivals after falling out over Tawny Kitaen - perfectly understandable. One chap with blow dried hair is a total tit and goes to parties armed with a ouija board as a way to get chicks or get out of dancing, it isn’t really explained. He goes into some tale about a dead boy named David whom he has regular chats, presumably when Mother Palm and her five daughters are all tired out.

He summons the spirit and after a few questions the sprite gets understandably bored and causes a bit of damage before disappearing - wish I’d thought of that one post 1985 party! We hope that’s it, but of course it isn’t and the bad boy David starts a murderous rampage that sees a few deaths, a possession and a killer shower.

After ouijaing him back to stop his pocket money our hero is shocked to learn that David isn’t the bad spirit and the true demon is some serial killer dude who lived in their house before. With him using Tawny as a portal the now reunited friends set off to save the day; but their conclusions may be as rubbish as their friendly sprite’s spelling.

This is an easy film to pick nits with what with its terrible acting and dreadful dialogue but I actually quite enjoyed it. It wasn’t played entirely straight with a few wacky characters such as Zarabeth the medium thrown in for a few laughs and a quick despatch. The script is truly awful however with some of the most preposterous lines you’ll ever hear spoken with a straight face.

It doesn’t help that the lead is a poor man’s David Cassidy but to his credit he maintains his douchey character throughout. His pal, the failed and bitter doctor, is little better but at least he is the one voice of reason, joining every viewer in a chorus of ‘what a load of rubbish’ every time a daft utterance is made.

The possession angle was reasonable well played out with a couple of minor surprises thrown in to keep you guessing. The denouement where the titular board takes a few slugs underlines the tongue in cheek aspects of the film as does the closing shot that basically confirms the sequel is shooting straight after lunch.

Overall the film is a decent ride with a heady mix of murder, the supernatural and a friendly demonic shower that send our favourite cast member running for her towel. By no means great but at least it won’t leave you board. Ja?

Best Bit : Ooh that’s a bit hot
‘W’ Rating : 15/23

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

No. 157 : Willard (1971)

Having looked at the 2003 remake yesterday, today we’re looking at the original. That’s just the kind of crazy back to front film reviewing you can expect here at the ‘W’ movie challenge.

For the most part the two films follow the same plot with some sequences intact in both. In this film Willard Stiles is played by Bruce Davison whom I also remember as the senator who gets filled with water in ‘X2’. He works in the office of a steel mill under Ernest Borgnine’s tyrannical boss. At home he lives with his mum Elsa ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ Lanchester who is a lot more mobile here than her corresponding character in the sequel.

After a tough day at work Willard returns home to his sprawling family mansion and is greeted by a surprise party for his birthday hosted by his mother and attended by a gaggle of her crusty friends. After hearing one home truth too many Willard retreats to the garden where he shares some cake with a passing rat. After some nagging Willard plots to kill the rats but after being impressed by their ingenuity he befriends them and soon forms an affinity for a white rat whom he names ‘Socrates’.

His mum soon takes to bed and dies shortly thereafter. Willard’s boss Mr Martin sees this as a chance to get rid of Willard and buy his house, which he plans to turn into apartments. With his now trained rat friends Willard exacts some small revenge by invading his boss’ party, an exploit that cheers up his co-workers no end.

With death duties now due Willard has to resort to crime to save his house while slowly falling for Sondra Loche’s willowy temp. When Willard takes some rats to work Socrates gets killed by Mr Martin, sending our man over the edge. With Mr Martin in the firing line Willard has to juggle his crimes and love life with a falling mental capacity and the malevolence of king rat Ben.

This film was OK but I have to side with the 2003 remake as my favourite rat fest. The original is clearly a lot cheaper and has the look of a TV movie. Obviously there is no CGI to increase the rat numbers but sometimes it looks like there are barely a dozen rats bringing a man down - never heard of a good stamp?! It is clearly of it’s time with a beige look and an invasive score that often sends the film into melodramatic territory.

The romance aspect is a lot more pronounced in the original and I think the sequel was right to largely jettison this plot strand as unnecessary and largely unbelievable - the guy hangs out with rats for goodness sake and Sondra can snare Clint Eastwood! Bruce Davison is good as Willard but I prefer Crispin Glover’s creepiness, a quality that the role really demands. Borgnine is similarly good as the brutish boss but I preferred the bluster of R Lee Emery in the sequel - he’s a bone fide bastard and it shows.

People will tell you that the original is always the best as it’s, well, original. I can see this point of view to some extent but when the remake extracts the essence of the film and expands and improves upon it, it’s clearly a worthwhile venture. My own view is echoed by the voters of the IMDb who give the remake a full star more than the original. Nothing to get ratty about, they are both good pictures - I just need my rat obsessed nut job to be that bit more creepy and my bastard bosses that bit more bastardly.

Best Bit : Boss’ Party Tanks
‘W’ Rating : 15/23

Sunday, 14 June 2009

No. 156 : Willard (2003)

For a special treat, seeing as you’ve been good, the ‘W’ Movie Reviews will feature the same title for two days running. Aren’t you glad you weren’t bad now? I’d seen ‘Willard’ around the time of it’s release in 2003 but had no idea it was a remake. But it is following from the original which came out in 1971, a bit like myself. The two reviews will show the differences between the two films and declare the winner in the all comers Willard championship.

This film (and possibly the other I haven’t watched it yet) concerns the lonely Willard Stiles who lives alone with his elderly mother following the death of his father (in a nice touch all the pictures of the dead Dad show the actor Bruce Davison who played Willard in the original). He works for his father’s former business partner Mr Martin (played by the great R Lee Emery - the drill sergeant out of ‘Full Metal Jacket’) and doesn’t get along well with his boss who’d have him out if it weren’t for an agreement with his dead dad.

One night Willard’s mother hears scurrying in the basement and dispatches her boy to buy traps. The rats are too smart for the traps but the following night one gets stuck on a glue patch. As he’s about to kill it Willard feels an attachment to the rat and names it ‘Socrates’. Word gets around the rat community and pretty soon Willard’s basement is knee deep in rodents, including the massive Ben. The rats are more obedient than you’d expect and soon Willard has them trained to do his bidding. An early attack on his bosses car gives him a new will to live but that’s short-lived when his mother dies and he starts getting hassle from Ben who challenges his authority.

Added to his woes is the loss of his job and after contemplating suicide he decides he’s be better off paying his boss a visit with a few thousands of his pals. With the boss suitably chewed Willard panics and tries to kill off his former friends but the rats are legion and won’t go quietly. Willard has a small chance at a normal life with his one female friend from the office but it may be that he’s already gone too far down the road of madness.

I really like this film, with it’s creepy overtones and malevolent rats. Crispin Glover (George McFly in ‘Back To the Future’) give a cracking performance in the lead role and I doubt anyone else could have pulled it off as well. A lot of his screen time is spent talking to rats and he does it so well that you start to buy into the different personalities that he confers upon the rodents. His interaction with people is like his wimpy McFly role and it’s only towards the end that he really lets rip.

The boss played by R lee Emery is a great character although his demise was poorly timed - let the man look at his smutty web sites in peace. The rats themselves do wonders with them seeming really friendly and appealing one miniute and the next they’re a peeling the skin off someone’s face!

The general mood of the film is dark and gothic and if it weren’t for the absence of an annoying Danny Elfman score you’d swear it was a Tim Burton film. That said it’s hard to see how you can do a film about a loner who trains killer rats to be anything other than dark.

There are plenty of light moments however and there is enough to keep your interest throughout. I wasn’t really convinced by Willard’s change of heart that saw him gassing a lot of his pals but I guess if you buy an unhinged character you’ve got to go with it.

All in all this is a real gem of a movie that the original will have to do well to match. It does have Ernest Borgnine as the boss so that’s a good start. See you next time for more ratty fun.

Best Bit : Boss reaches For Mouse
‘W’ : Rating 20/23

Thursday, 11 June 2009

No. 155 : WrestleManiac

Here we go with yet another slasher pic where the bad guy hacks his way through a group of kids leaving just one to run around finding the other’s bodies before a final confrontation. The twist here? The bad guy is a former wrestler, and that’s about it really. God knows why films like this are made when they have nothing new to offer apart from a few slightly different murders. There are a couple of crumbs of interest but far fewer than you’d need to justify watching, even with a skinny 75 minutes run time.

Despite it’s barely feature length running time the film has a leisurely four minutes of pre-credits which are shown over some vintage footage of Mexican wrestlers - mood setting or run time padding - you decide. Our group of fodder are three guys and three girls in a van who are scouting locations for a porn film they plan on shooting in Mexico. Given that they only have one camera you’d think they’d be better off filming in someone’s flat but these are clearly amateur pornographers.

After getting lost they stop at a predictably run down gas station and are given a warning from a crusty stranger. A seemingly legendary town is nearby and they shouldn’t stop on pain of death. One of our team is luckily an expert on Mexican wrestling lore and insists that the town is the next stop. Legend has it that in trying to secure an Olympic gold the authorities chopped up their three best wrestlers to make one superhuman fighter. He turned out great but sadly maniacal so they stuck him in some remote town and forgot about him.

You can probably guess the rest!

The gang set about making the tamest porno you’ll ever see but one by one they drift away for their appointment with doom. Most of the deaths are seen from the killer’s POV so obviously that saves on the special effects budget. The killings are pretty routine but in keeping with the Mexican wrestling tradition of unmasking opponents he rips off their faces and sticks them on the wall. The wrestling expert deduces that they can stop the bad guy by removing his mask but this proves to be easier said than done.

Soon enough we’re down to just one lady who runs around screaming and finding all the bodies. Can she possibly best the greatest wrestler in history and get away in the van? Hmmm, possibly not.

This was a competent enough slasher film but it offered little of real interest and it’s basically just a run of the mill picking them off cookie cutter special. The wrestling angle was OK and offered some decent plot points but it effectively boiled down to the masks thing and that wasn’t enough to hang the film on, even one as short as this. Of the cast I liked Alphonse the best as he has a bit of sass and the few decent lines all to himself. The fat wrestling nerd never convinced and the woman severed only as eye candy and for screaming a lot.

You’ll see worse but probably nothing so derivative of the genre as this, and frankly you’ll get a more original script from the WWF. Three count? Three out of ten if you’re lucky!

Best Bit : here comes the plumber!

‘W’ Rating : 6/23

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

No. 154 : Whip and the Body

It’s a dark and stormy night as this period Italian drama opens and if you think that’s the end of the clichés you’d be wrong! The stormy night rattles a blood stained dagger that is exhibited in a fancy glass case - you can’t beat those 19th century craftsmen. We learn that a servant’s daughter killed herself after being pumped and dumped by Christopher Lee and the dagger has been kept in the hope that it can be used to exact revenge.

As luck would have it Kurt (Lee) shows up at the castle the very same day. His father is dying and Kurt is keen to make amends for his many disgraces so that he can have his share of the fortune resorted to him. While his Pop lies dying Kurt takes the chance to go riding and have a bit of kinky sex with his brother’s wife courtesy of her riding crop. When the she doesn’t return a search party goes looking while Kurt has a fatal tussle with the curtains which result in the now liberated dagger finding its way into his neck.

With half an hour gone and the bad guy dead you may think that you’re in for an early night, but no! The grave can’t hold this kind of bastard! The ravaged lady soon starts to see Lee’s ghostly image in the window and muddy boot prints cover the castle. Pretty soon she is being whipped again by forces unseen and the crack of lashes is heard continuously. When the father is found dead in his bed we have to wonder if revenge is being exacted from beyond the grave or whether someone is using that illusion to further their own means. Or it could be some one going a bit mental, it’ll be one of those for sure.

This film was made in 1963 and has all the hallmarks of a Hammer horror film from that era such as Christopher Lee, busty wenches and ropey special effects. It is in fact an Italian film, a fact disclosed as soon as anyone opens their mouth and the badly dubbed dialogue spews forth. It looks like Lee did his lines in Italian but they got someone else to dub them in English which gives you the distracting effect of having a name actor talking with some one else’s voice.

A lots of things work well in the film such as the setting, costumes and general unsettling mood. The acting is hard to critique due to the dubbing but there are certainly too many brooding silences for my liking. These are mostly cut short however by the overly dramatic score that demands attention at every turn. Lee does well as the whip cracking bastard although it’s hard to see how all the ladies fall under his spell. The idea of a love story that transcends death was a good one although the finale and revelations kind of undermine that.

It is a pretty decent stab at a period horror/romance and although never scary it does tread a somewhat dubious line at times, with the lady clearly loving the damn good thrashings she regularly receives. Perhaps not a main feature but a perfectly serviceable ‘B’ movie oddity, especially if you like the crack of a whip yourself, you kinky people!

Best Bit : “Open the tomb!”
‘W’ Rating : 14/23

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

No. 153 : Wilderness

Here’s a familiar film even if you haven’t seen it before. ‘Wilderness’ is a decent enough effort but the list of films like it are is as long as your arm. Basically what you get is a group of people trapped in the woods who are gradually whittled down by a mystery assailant. Let’s see ‘Severance’, ‘Dog Soldiers’, ‘Southern Comfort’, ‘Wild Country’ - the list is potentially endless. Clearly the format is a winner what with it being cheap and an easy narrative along the lines of ‘10 Little Indians. That’s not to say that you won’t enjoy the film, just don’t expect anything new or innovative, apart from a couple of neat killings.

We open in a young offenders institution where a new lad, who’s obviously going to be the hero, is having his first day. They stay in a dormitory and two wimpy boys are bullied by some of the others. After one pee soaking too many, one kills himself much to the umbrage of the governor who sends them away to an island as punishment. The island is supposed to be uninhabited but it’s positively teeming with people including four girls from another institution who had double booked the place and an old tramp who turns up dead with bite marks after running afoul of two of the inmates.

Things take a predictable turn when prison warder Sean Pertwee makes his customary early exit due to some crossbow arrows and for being some Alsatians’ dinner. With the two groups now united they have to join forces to try and survive in the wilderness. Soon they start dropping like flies and they deduce that the mystery killer is the dad of the boy who killed himself, who happens to be ex-special forces and pretty good with a crossbow, man traps and dog training.

With the inmates starting to account for each other as well as falling into traps it’s soon time to take bets on who will survive and escape the island. It’s who you’d expect, really.

Despite a glaring lack of originality I quite enjoyed this film. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and there are several laugh out loud moments as well as a few ‘eeewwws’. The best one for me was the man’s ingenious way of extricating himself from a man trap when the dogs were sighted - that’s gotta hurt!

There is not a lot in the way of characterisation and most of the borstal boy stereotypes are present and correct. There is one wrong foot near the end but if you don’t see that coming you must have a bag over your head. The death effects are largely good with Sean Pertwee suffering a graphic fate that goes on a bit long even for there desensitised eyes.

The ‘mystery’ element is discarded right away with an early suggestion on a monster attack quickly jettisoned for a straightforward survival thriller. That was probably a good choice, although I wonder if it was done late in the day due to budget concerns as the set up of ‘a disused military base’ was signposted strongly quite early on. As it was, it was your standard hunt ‘em down fare and although it was nothing new there is a certain comfort in a run of the mill killing off young people gore fest.

Best Bit : Sean’s Pedigree Chums
‘W’ Rating 15/23

Monday, 8 June 2009

No. 152 : Wheels Of Terror (1990)

Here’s the first doubler of the ‘W’ quest with this feature unrelated to the Ollie Reed World War 2 fest we enjoyed slightly way back when. This film has an iconic poster that I remember from the home video hay day of the early eighties. I never saw the film then as the shop never had it in but having seen it now I wish I had kept the air of mystery as it is complete crap.

It was made as a TV movie so you have to give it some latitude but not much as it’s patently awful. The film is effectively one big chase with a few bits of nonsense bolted on for the sake of the running time. We open with a single mum moving to a remote town. She has a history of being a driver (remember that) and has a job driving a school bus which has a souped up engine courtesy of a friendly Mexican (remember that too!).

Mother and daughter relocated to get away from crime ridden LA but wouldn’t you know it that the small town is being menaced by a bad car complete with its own ominous musical cues. We know the car is bad as it has blacked out windows and is a bit dirty. Despite the town being tiny no one seems to notice this dirty Dodge Charger crawling about outside the primary school. Soon a girl is abducted and is retuned interfered with so we know we are dealing with a nonce with a dirty car - the worst kind.

He soon elevates his crimes to murder and the local town meeting is in brouhaha crisis although they pooh-pooh the bad car stories. Despite being the main voice of caution the bus driving mum sees her daughter taken next and embarks on a half hour cross country chase in her school bus to reclaim her captured child. After the seemingly endless chase the car goes off a cliff but then reappears suggesting something supernatural, but then it goes over again and into a dynamite shack for good measure and that’s that.

This film marks a nadir in The Quest and frankly I’m regretting some of the low ratings I’ve issued before as this is the worst of the lot. The ‘bad car’ just comes across as daft and annoying. We never know the driver or his history and all attempts to make a character out of the vehicle itself fail miserably. It does have headlight eyes and a growly voice but that’s it. It’s not even that fast failing to out run a school bus (albeit a souped up one) and it’s really wimpy when given even the slightest bump.

The heroine working mum struggling with her single parenthood and holding down a job is a real cliché but she does buck that somewhat by doing some mean driving stunts in a bus. The seemingly endless chase sequence is really poor with the same put the bad guy into a spin move done a dozen times. There are a couple of humorous moves where the car jumps out, especially one where it flattens a motorcycle cop, but it never graduates from the ridiculous. The coup de gras ending where it lands on a hut marked ‘EXPLOSIVES’ is straight out of Looney Tunes and is a fitting ending to a rubbishy and far fetched TV movie that wants the style of ‘Vanishing Point’ but has all the charisma of vanish stain remover.

Best Bit : Watch out for the TNT shack!
‘W’ rating : 1/23

Sunday, 7 June 2009

No. 151 : Welcome To The Dollhouse

Another slice of life now in the shape of this pretty horrible tale of a girl being bullied at school. There are a few light bits but on the whole the film will be a depressing experience for anyone who wasn’t a cool kid in the playground. Not me of course, I was well liked.

We follow a few days in the life of Dawn a 14 year old who looks a lot like Olive out of ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. She has the unfortunate surname ‘Weiner’ and gets bullied for her looks and is accused of being a ‘lesbo’. Although she doesn’t react to her tormentors she does pass on the ambivalence to her younger sister in the shape of cutting up her Barbies and by calling her a ‘lesbo’.

She has a brother who is also seeking a bit of acceptance by befriending a cool kid by helping him out in class and by having him in his garage band. Her parents aren’t much use either insisting that she dismantle her gang hut so that they can have a party in the garden.

Dawn is also blossoming into womanhood and a has a younger, nerdier suitor but she’s more interested in the unobtainable Steve, who is as hot as all Steves are. In the meantime she has to make do with bully Brandon who schedules regular dates with Dawn so that he can ‘rape’ her which never gets beyond some awkward kissing. Things come to a head when Dawn, after being humiliated at her parents’ party, lets her sister get stranded and then kidnapped. With Dawn now ignored by the frantic parents she falls into a fantasy world where she saves the day, but can she save herself or at least get a date?

This was seemingly quite a successful film that won the Sundance Film Festival but I’d never heard of it before. It’s not that its low budget and independent as ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ did well from a similar starting point, but what this lacks that the former doesn’t is a big heart.

Dawn isn’t a particularly nice character and although we’re lead to believe that’s because of her maltreatment elsewhere it’s hard to care when she has troubles when we see that she’s just as bad a bully as her tormentors. The fact that she uses the same insults as are used on her show that she’s just paying it forward but it’s not exactly an endearing trait. The best scenes are those that involve wannabe rapist Brandon who’s just as big a misfit as Dawn. He too has a dysfunctional family so it’s not hard to see that it’s the home environment that’s getting the blame for this one.

It’s by no means a bad film but there isn’t that much to like and the heart warming is kept to a bare minimum. The lead girl does well in an unflattering role but we have no empathy for her despite a real grim rite of passage. The fantasy sequence towards the end was one of the few joyous moments and if the film had a few of these peppered throughout it’d have been a far more rewarding experience.

Best Bit : Dreamy Dawn Saves The Day
‘W’ Rating : 14/23

Saturday, 6 June 2009

No. 150 : Wake of Death

Good old Jean Claude Van Damme, he’s never one for lofty aspirations like doing Shakespeare or Brecht, he knows his audience and sticks to a strict formula for every film. ‘Wake of Death’ is as you’d expect a revenge thriller with high kicks and a high body count but what did you expect?

To give some credit they do try and be a wee bit clever with a big car chase and deadly peril for JCVD right at the start. Before he cops it the film flashes back and it’s over an hour before we get back to the opening scene again. I hope Jean Claude’s fans weren’t too confused by this non-linear experiment but don’t worry it’s not ‘Memento’ or anything, just a cheap way to open with an unearned bang.

Anyway Jean is a club owner who has just retired from his job as a hench man for the local mafia boss. He has a pretty wife and young son and wants to be nice. Fat chance! The wife works at immigration and when a boat is found full of Hong Kong refugees she takes a little girl home, like you do. But no! This little girl saw her Dad kill her Mum and she’s on the run.

Nasty Dad touches down in LA minutes later and sets about reclaiming his daughter. After some gratuitous sex Van Damme heads to work only for his wife to be killed by the baddie with his big stiletto knife. Claude has about 30 seconds of blubbing and flashbacks to happier times before a chinaman jumps through his window with a samurai sword and it’s game on.

The rest of the film is basically Jean and his pal high kicking their way through the Yakuza. He uses his underworld contacts to do some pretty nasty torture on his behalf and lets his pal do most of the high kicking as he’s getting on a bit himself. As the end nears and we pass the bit we saw earlier we have to wonder if Jean will reclaim his son, save the nice little girl, get the bad guy and have a little bit of redemption for himself.

If you put your brain in neutral you’ll have a good time with ‘Wake of Death’. It ticks most of the boxes with some good fights and explosions. You also get a small dose of angst, some nudity and a man being stabbed in the balls. The plot is as predictable as they come but at least some effort is made to show that Jean isn’t a totally nice guy and some of the deaths are brutal to say the least.

The villains are a bunch of oriental caricatures but this was never going to be a film with a layered and fleshed out bad guy. The ending on a ship, in the fog at night was a straight lift from ‘Lethal weapon 2’ and ‘The Usual Suspects’ with every door offering a fresh seaman for a colourful dispatch. The ending may have a small element of surprise but that’s the only bit in this workmanlike, straight forward and highly enjoyable thriller.

Best Bit : Wife makes up for the Chinese Takeaway
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Friday, 5 June 2009

No. 149 : War Wolves

We’ve seen a few werewolf films recently here at the ‘W’ Movies Quest but none have been as bad as ‘War Wolves’. The first clue of its crappy quality is the (TV) after its title on the IMDb. This of course means it’s a television movie, or at least that’s where it premièred after all the distributors no doubt chose to pass. Frankly I’d agree and would say that passing water over this effort would be too praise it to highly.

The film opens with some soldiers having some R&R while abroad on duty. For no obvious reason we get a full five minutes of the touch football games which involves a strange unit that has both men and foxy chicks. Later while out on patrol the group is caught under fire and eventually decimated by some locals wearing toy store fangs.

We skip six months later and one of the survivors is working in a store. He keeps getting flashbacks to the wolf related incident and we’re pretty sure that he has been infected. Meanwhile the oldest two mercenaries in town are on the trail of three ladies who also exhibit symptoms of cheap transformation effects. Our man is met by another who gives him training in his new powers while the ladies are looking for him to join their group. When he’s cornered at a motel by the mercenaries he has to choose whether to stay or leave with the ladies in a ZZ Top style exit.

This is a strange film to categorise. Although it’s unintentionally funny it isn't a comedy but there isn't enough gore to merit calling it a horror. There is not enough characterisation to call it a drama and it’s certainly no adventure. Low budget crap fest would cover it, but sadly Blockbuster has yet to introduce that section.

The biggest laugh comes with the make up which is easily the worst I've ever seen. I know we have been accused of hyperbole before but trust me on this, you’ll never see anything poorer. Basically a ‘werewolf’ consists of 99p Dracula fangs and some green contact lenses. If you want full transformation add in some Spock ears and some boot polish for your nose. Once your actor is all dressed up have them arch their backs a bit and you're all set. It really is laughably awful and how the actors kept a straight face is beyond me.

The plot is all over the place too with an alcoholics anonymous storyline running parallel with the wolfie one. I think the director was trying to show how both curses can be damaging but are conquerable but it just came across as a load of preachy guff.

In mitigation you do get John Saxon for your money but he looks about 70 and daft as a mercenary. At one point some one throws him a shotgun and it looks like he’s about to fall over. The three female wolves are all very pretty but very shy, in a genre known for a bit of spice. No messy transformations for them of course just the occasional howl to disguise the crappy effects and hole filled script.

You’ll probably have trouble tracking this one down unless you find it on the Sci-fi Channel late at night, so just be grateful for that small mercy!

Best Bit : Hay loft tussle
‘W’ Rating : 1/23

Thursday, 4 June 2009

No. 148 : Wendy and Lucy

I’d have loved to have seen the original pitch for this movie. I guess it was ‘Woman loses dog and then finds it, the end' and the movie executive shouted ‘Solid gold!’. If that plot summary sounds simplistic it’s not really. The whole film takes place over a couple of days and hardly moves from a supermarket parking lot where it begins. Michelle Williams plays the titular Wendy a kind of oddball loner who is travelling to Alaska to get work at a fish cannery.

She stops overnight in Oregon and sleeps in her car with faithful pooch, Lucy. She's awoken by a security guard who wants her to move off but her car won’t start. This starts a series of events that try the patience of both Wendy and the viewer as she tries to keep body, soul, dog and car together. Her downfall is her own fault when she tries to secure a bit of five finger discount at the supermarket. A vigilant employee, who’s meant to come across as a dick but really isn’t, insists on handing her over to the cops.

The cops takes ages to process our light fingered heroine and by the time she gets back to the supermarket, where she left her dog, it has gone. The remainder of the film concerns the quest for the canine as Wendy gets frantic with worry for the fled fido. While the search is on her car is under the mechanic and it’s not looking good. Can the dog be found and will the car be fixed. Can we bear the suspense of these life changing questions?

This is a pretty decent slice of life that’s pretty inconsequential but an interesting insight all the same. We don’t get much back story to Wendy so her motivations aren’t that clear although we suspect something was afoot with the brother in law given her sister’s frosty reaction to her call. She’s not particularly likable with the shop lifting and general mooching all a bit of a turn off. She obviously cares for the dog but everyone else is just a means to an end.

It could be viewed as a fable for our troubled economic times but I thing that would be mining a subtext that isn’t really there. You could also see her as a modern day Blanche Dubois relying on the kindness of strangers. I was reasonably engaged by the film and keen for the inevitable reuniting scene, but as it approached the sense of a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ ending became overpowering and true to form it delivered.

I thought Michelle Williams was decent as the lead although I never really got the sense of desperation from her that her character seemed to be demanding. The rest of the cast were only bit parts although I did like the nicest car park guard in movie history.

Not a film to cheer you up or offer comfort at a time of belt tightening but as an exercise in ‘at least I’m better off than her’ it does a pretty good job.

Best Bit : Shopping the cheap way
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

No. 147 : White Zombie

Here’s an early talkie featuring horror maestro Bela Legosi dating from 1932 which was feared lost bur rediscovered in the 1960s. When you see the print and hear the sound you may think that it would have been better off staying lost but that would be to deny yourself a cracking film with some real iconic moments.

The film is set on Haiti and a young man is bringing his girlfriend home to the family plantation to marry her. On their way to the house their coach is set upon by some zombies. Their driver explains that these dead people have been reanimated so they can work the farms. The mysterious and aptly named Murder Legende (Legosi) is nearby and manages to swipe the bride to be’s scarf.

Understandably a bit upset at the zombie infestation the couple bunk down for the night but elsewhere nefarious plans are afoot. Another suitor of the lovely girl won’t give her up and seeks advice from Legosi, who predictably enough comes up with a diabolical scheme involving his zombie raising powers. Using the stolen scarf and some nifty candle carving skills he kills the new bride much to the overacting of her groom.

With the bride in a box the husband hits the bottle while Legosi gets ready to reanimate the body. All is not well however as the reanimated woman isn’t quite the life and soul of the party that the suitor believed. A bit like the old joke really - I think my wife is dead, the sex is the same but the washing up is piling up. Having being clued up by a local missionary the husband sets about recovering his wife and taking revenge against Murder and his cadre of corpses.

At only 65 minutes this film stuffs a lot in but given the crappy quality of the stock you have to be grateful for that. My summary is based on watching the film but having read some other comments it appears that different interpretations can be made. This is understandable as I’m a bit slow and at times it was impossible to make out the audio. It also doesn’t help that the narrative gets a bit confused in the last quarter and that the two love rivals look a lot like each other.

On the plus side you do get the first ever screen appearance of zombies and they haven’t been as scary since, They aren’t flesh eating or anything mental just mindless slaves capable of any evil command. They are all under Legosi’s direct control and this leads to a funny scene at the end once Legosi has been knocked out. As they all strive for the perfect dive.

Of the actors Legosi steals the show although sound may not be his forte as he often just strikes a menacing pose and holds it. The worst is the missionary who flubs every line and clearly doesn’t believe a word of the tosh he’s spouting. Similarly bad is the butler who has the presence of mind to hold his nose when he’s thrown into the seas by the zombies.

The direction is really impressive and certainly ahead of its time. You get fancy split screens, match cuts and some pretty convincing ghostly special effects where our pissed up man keeps seeing his dead wife floating about. Legosi hogs most of the screen when he’s on set but when you see his evil face you’ll know why. The other leads are OK but nothing notable apart from the lead zombie who basically sewed up the genre look in this outing.

The ending is a bit pat but overall the production is pretty lavish with the sets a rival to the great Universal epics. Before we close a word on the title. The ‘white zombie’ is the lady and the title is to separate her from all the other zombies who are largely black plantation workers. You wouldn’t get away with that kind of profiling today - you’d have to call it ‘White Living Impaired Individual’.

Best Bit : Zombie Dive Off
‘W’ Rating : 17/23

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

No. 146 : Werewolf Woman

We round off our recent trio of werewolf films with perhaps the most mental and skuzzy offering you’re ever likely to see. Seemingly a favourite of Quentin Tarantino ‘Werewolf Woman’ is a tacky Italian offering that marries soft porn with people being eaten.

We open with a group of villagers hunting a monster with torches, perhaps 200 years ago. A naked woman dances over the front credits before she is cornered by the townsfolk and slowly transforms into a kind of Chewbacca sex doll. This outfit, complete with four inch nipples, has to be seen to be believed. Not overly turned on by her charms the mob readies to burn her before a woman identical in appearance to the pre-wolf wench wakes up. It was all a dream or was it? No, it was the lady’s ancestor and we have to worry that the wolfie gene may still be active.

The lady is called Daniella and she suffers from voices in the head and an aversion to clothing. Her Pop takes her out to the country to convalese but before long the urges take her over and she takes a bite out of her sister’s husband - at least the sister can take solace in the fact that he enjoyed several minutes of graphic lovemaking before he got chomped. Daniella is understandably committed the to the nut house but she is soon free when another patient loosens her bonds so they can enjoy some explicit lesbian sex. Any theme starting to show up yet?

Daniella takes to the road and is offered a lift and lodgings by a balding and badly dubbed man who, after getting a surprising refusal, announces "You whore, I’m gonna rape ya” before getting his just desserts. Daniella takes flight once more but is again offered a ride and a place to stay, this time by a far sexier man who is a movie stuntman who naturally lives on a wild west set. Although the bloodlust grips her again, Danielle manages to overcome her bitey habits due to love. Obviously we can’t have that so three men break in to rape her and kill her beau. Can our girl exact her revenge and will she overcome the curse once and for all?

This is a really awful film that comfortably fits in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. The title is a bit of a misnomer as Daniella never becomes a werewolf but only acts under its spell or influence. This is fine by me as the make up in the opening scene was dreadful and I can only assume the director ordered a rewrite to keep it off the screen. Although they persist with the mystical gubbins the obvious answer is that the woman is totally bananas and just likes biting throats. The lead actress, Annik Borrel, is pretty enough but she takes her clothes off so often it gets to the stage where you think ‘C’mon luv put ‘em away’ just before she gets them out again. I’m all for nakedness but she does a good job of seeming mental so it’s not so much a turn on as pretty unnerving.

Sometimes in a dubbed film it can be hard to judge the acting but here it’s mostly bad given the reactions and facial expressions. The pursuing cops are your usual gang of nitwits while the bad guys still have the outline from where the cookie cutter stamped out their characters. The director does his best with a bad lot but must be held accountable for a really poor ‘falling in love’ montage. The lover is a stuntman so we get three separate scenes of him executing a stunt before they embrace - those saloon windows don’t come cheap you know!

The dubbing and translations are laughably bad with great outrages greeted with the most sober of responses such as the man on finding his lover being gang raped by three men = “hey”. It is of course tailored to a certain market of exploitation fans with the next death or nude scene never more than five minutes away. No effort is made to explain the curse or to find a cure and the ending can be described as enigmatic at best. Overall ‘Werewolf Woman’ does what it says on the tin. As long as the tin says ‘naked women and grisly deaths’.

Best Bit : Opening wolfiness
‘W’ Rating : 14/23

Monday, 1 June 2009

No. 145 : Werewolf of London

Having recently reviewed one of the most recent werewolf films let’s have a look at one of the earliest. ‘Werewolf of London’ dates from 1935, several years before Lon Chaney Jnr. made the monster famous in ‘The Wolf Man’. This effort is very dated and seems more like a comedy than the horror that the dramatic score suggests. It doesn’t even have Warren Zevon on the soundtrack - what a rip off!

We open on a sun baked ‘Tibet’ which looks suspiciously like that California desert where they always film ‘Star Trek’. On checking I found that the whole effort was shot in California so let’s hope for some authentic London touches later on. Anyway, our hero is an adventurer botanist who is in Tibet to locate a rare flower that only blossoms by moon light. He manages to find one in a valley where no one has ever emerged from but gets bitten by a man in a mask for his troubles.

Back in London our hero, Dr Glendon, holds a society bash and is met by a mysterious Dr Yogami who needs some of the flowers to help some werewolf men who are terrorising London. Clearly seeing him as a nutter Glendon sends him n his way but gets a bit concerned when his hands go hairy - mother always warned me about that. He finds that the juice of the plant stops the onset of wolfiness but is in trouble when an unseen robber steals the last of the blooms.

The next full moon Glendon transforms and after scaring a society lady chooses to kill a well dressed street walker instead. The police are obviously baffled and choose to ignore the young detective who guesses the wolf related problem at once. Glendon reads up on his situation and sees that he’s most likely to kill the one he loves most and so chooses to move away to a remote boarding house run by a nice drunk lady. After another killing he returns home to get some more flowers, only to be met by Yogami who has a similar need for the blooms. We learn the two have met in the past and soon realise that there is only one way this is going to end.

Although by no means a classic there is a lot to like in this film. It’s very of it’s pre-war day with the ladies knowing their place and everyone being very mannered except for the working classes who are all drunks. There are only two killings, both off screen, and both victims ‘deserved it’, one being a prostitute and the other an adulteress. The werewolf itself is extremely non scary with the costume consisting on some hairy gloves and a wig. The transformations are done in a very rudimentary fashion with cuts visible as our man passes some pillars, growing more hairy at each shot. Later on match cuts are used but these look too obvious to be convincing.

The wolf man himself is a strange creature, choosing to put on his coat, scarf and cap before heading out on a blood frenzy - doesn’t he realise that he’s got a fur coat on? He’s also a bit wimpy getting beaten up by an upper class twit - I guess they had to show these common wolf types their place. ‘London’ looked OK and they wisely kept away from any landmarks. The streets are all fog and carriage lamps and there are enough English character actors peppered about to keep things somewhat on topic.

Most of the acting is dreadful with a lot of dramatic pauses where the actors struggle to remember their lines or at least utter the fanciful dialogue they’ve been given. Worst of the bunch was Warner Oland as the enigmatic Dr Yogami whose slow delivery accounts for about half of the film’s 70 minute running time. He is better known as cinema’s Charlie Chan, a stereotype far more suited to abilities.

Many of the familiar werewolf conventions are missing with no silver bullets in sight although he does go to visit wolves in the zoo - a scene laterreprised in ‘An American Werewolf in London’. The film doesn’t scare in the slightest but as an oddity it’s quite interesting both in terms of the genre and of the period as a whole. The class divide shown is unimaginable today in terms of the portrayal of the working classes and their expendability. The toffs on the other hand are a bunch of party going gadabouts, so no change there then!

Best Bit : Boarding house banter
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Sunday, 31 May 2009

No. 144 : Werewolf the Devil’s Hound

When you undertake a worthy quest like watching over 100 movies that start with a ‘W’ you inevitably see a lot of wolf and wolf-men based pictures. The standard of these vary considerably and quite often the pass/fail tightrope is judged by the creature effects and the deviations from the standard template.

This film is by no means a masterpiece but at least it attempted to do something a teensy bit different with a tired old genre. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its flaws but, as with a lot of cheapo horror flicks, the restrained budget can be half the fun.

The film opens “in the near future” - why, I have no idea as it looks exactly like today. The opening scene is in ‘Germany’, although I suspect it’s the director’s back yard, and three men with night vision goggles are on a hunt. A familiar lupine howl is heard before one gets a really sore throat from a beast that looks a lot like Chewbacca’s albino cousin. Another man manages to tranquillise it and stick it in a big box reminiscent of the one in that ‘Creepshow’ film. I doubt this was a homage though but simply the box they had. After making a vague comment in fractured English about transformations he sends the box off to an unspecified destination.

Meanwhile in the States a man is awaiting a delivery of some big boxes of fireworks for his pyrotechnics business. When too many appear he thinks he’s getting a good deal but that extra box looks a bit familiar! Predictably the beast is soon on the loose and bites the hand of Kevin who thinks it’s his neighbours dog. Obviously he has never done a ‘W’ movie quest as the wolfie symptoms of acute senses and a feeling of invigoration completely fail to warn him of the wolf man curse that now flows through his veins. Elsewhere the hungry beast is racking up the victims with a lazy fire officer and a lady the first snacks.

The middle third of the film is a bit slow as our man slowly realises that he is becoming a werewolf which causing obvious ructions with his wife, especially when he hooks up with the werewolf, who is a foxy chick in her day clothes. It is worth sticking with the film though as the last half hour is totally nuts with all sorts of weirdness going on. I liked the werewolf fighting the robots which the company had in stock and when the Germans appear for the finale any sense of realism goes out the window. Things pan out as you’d expect, if you expected aliens and explosions.

The actors were uniformly awful and I’d be surprised if there was one trained thespian among their number. Especially bad was the nerdy intern who at least offered one laugh when he arrived with some Sellotape to help secure the door which was being attacked by wolfie. The lead did a poor job of conveying his angst and surprise at being a werewolf, as was his dad who didn’t seem fazed in the slightest.

Although this film seems to have a budget in the hundreds rather than the thousands I did quite enjoy it, especially its quirky touches like an impromptu animation to explain a small plot point. I also liked some of the direction which made the most or rather the least from the wolf suit (that looked more like a yeti than a wolf man) - disguising it by only showing it during gun shot flashes was a decent way of not ruining the illusion.

Sometimes the director goes a bit far, with the arty shots coming thick and fast like he’s running through his film school idiot’s guide on speed. The film enjoys a meagre score of 3/10 on IMDb and that seems harsh when you consider some of the crap that gets a mighty 4/10. I’d say half marks for a good honest effort which doesn’t take itself too seriously would be fair. The film does end with an ominous ‘The End?’ - let’s leave it there chaps even our low limits can be tested!

Best Bit : Nerd loses his head
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Saturday, 30 May 2009

No. 143 : Wedding Crashers

Here’s a film that looks like it will be good for a few laughs but when you sit through the thing you realise that it’s a lot of preachy sentimental guff. And I love you man for hearing that.

Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are the titular crashers, a laborious process that seems to involve a lot of work to get some free canapés and score some chicks - haven’t these guys ever heard of the free buffet at Hooters? Basically they finagle their way into weddings and work hard at being the life and soul of the party. They don’t mention how they get in the seating plan for dinner but for my money I imagine most hosts would welcome them as most weddings painfully dull.

The first 20 minutes is basically an extended montage of various weddings and demonstrates the versatility of our fellows - they can do Jewish, Indian you name it. As the montage closes we see them bed an unfeasible parade of lovelies and frankly we’re all as jealous as Hell. But wait! Are they really happy and fulfilled? Who cares? Let’s have more laughs. Sadly no, the remainder of our film deals with the realisation that the fun times are fleeting and we should get married to be really happy.

The turning point comes at a wedding hosted by a US senator played by Christopher Walken, who seems in strangely muted form. After our guys steal the show they are invited back to the family spread for the weekend. Owen is keen to go as he’s taken a shine to Rachel McAdams whereas Vince is less so due to the amorous attentions of the clearly loopy Isla Fisher. Of course they go and over the course of the weekend have various misadventures with Jane Seymour’s horny mother and the artist brother who takes a shine to Vince.

All is not well however as McAdams' slimy fiancée smells a rat and exposes our guys fabricated tales. They rightly get booted out but their friendship suffers as the love struck Wilson can’t cope with rejection. Vaughn meanwhile is still seeing Fisher leaving Wilson no choice but to seek council from the legendary crasher Chazz, Will Ferrell, who has now graduated to crashing funerals. With the family now strangely happy for Vaughn to marry their daughter it’s up to Wilson to crash one last wedding in the hope of a happy ending for all.

I enjoyed this film a lot less than I should have done given the talent on show. The leads are all likable when they are misbehaving but as soon as it gets serious it goes downhill fast. Some of the sentimental pap is barf inducing especially from Wilson whose serial stalker comes out with some real mawkish rubbish. Vaughn is little better offering hugs and ‘love yous’ every five minutes. The only one who comes out with any credibility is Ferrell who sticks to the mantra and seems to be doing fine despite being painted as a loser.

I did feel sorry for the fiancé character who seemed the only one on the ball and gets vilified for exposing the con men. His character gets assassinated when he’s rude to the servant and eyes up some chicks but at least he is up front about it. His downfall at the end isn’t really earned although I did like Vaughn’s ‘Ike Turner’ line.

The other thing that irritated me was the constant quoting of the rules - yeah like they’re going to learn over 100 nuggets of wisdom and live by them. Beer and chicks should have covered it. There were a few good bits including a Milftastic turn by Seymour but overall the message was too in your face and it smothered what comedy the film may have had. It was also troubling to see Wilson with a suicide book only months before his own attempt - sloppy work props department!

Best Bit : Feel them
‘W’ Rating : 11/23

Thursday, 28 May 2009

No. 142 : When Saturday Comes

Sean Bean stars in this grim up north working class hero drama. We open with a young Jimmy at careers day ‘It’s factory or t’pit’ say the helpful man as the rebellious Jimmy refuses to straighten his tie. He and his slightly simple bother try for a fly pint but are rundown by their shiftless father who tells them they won’t amount to anything. Remember all these put downs for later folks!

Jimmy does defy the career man’s predictions however and we find him grown up and working at t’brewery instead. The place seems like good craik apart from a nasty stereotype they’ve strangely employed as foreman. At home the slightly simple brother has amassed a valuable collection of football programmes while Dad is still a loser looking for cash - guard them programmes for goodness sake!

Jimmy is quite happy playing for the pub team and drinking with his mates until a date with the new wages clerk suggests he may be destined for bigger things. The wages clerk, played by Emily Lloyd is more Irish than a leprechaun’s arse but she inspires our man to look for a trial for the local team despite being 36 already.

We then beat a familiar path of small setbacks and wins including a fortuitous walk by the pit just as it caves in on a loved one and a bet on an inappropriately named nag that comes in at 20-1 just in time to pay the gas bill. It can be no surprise that he eventually makes the grade, given the DVD cover and all, but it’s a reasonably fun ride getting there.

The film is written and directed by a lady so you can forgive a few sporting clichés and some pretty poorly set up footballing scenes. Her romantic vision of the game is quite innocent really and it’s almost like a fantasy football reconstruction of someone who in actual fact got his leg broken in the first five minutes in the rain.

The film gets into its own when Jimmy gets his chance with Pete Postelthwaite’s wise uncle with the nasty fellow pros hoping to upset his chances. The baddies are all pretty harmless and a good job is done of setting them up only for our hero to triumph. As always in these things a few real pros are roped in to give it a sense of realism and for them to embarrass themselves in the acting stakes; so take a bow Tony Currie you were nearly as animated as your football sticker.

Mr Bean clearly is having a good time throughout and who could blame him when the script demands he cavorts with strippers as well as Lloyd and gets to play for his favourites Sheffield United. Good work if you can get it! Of the characters I liked the Dad and the foremen best both of whom would give Dick Dastardly a run in the moustache twirling stakes.

The script is pretty pedestrian but as a working class factory worker wish fulfilment you could do a lot worse.

Best Bit : Sean gives Emily a necklace
‘W’ Rating : 15/23

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

No. 141 : Woyzeck

A bit more highbrow fare here at the 100+ ‘W’ Movies quest with a German language period piece directed by Werner Herzog and starring his usual favourite Klaus Kinski. To be honest I didn’t fancy it either but for £3 at Fopp who could argue?

The film opens with Kinski, who is a lowly army private, being run around the parade ground. After this he earns a few extra coins by shaving his Captain who must be a brave man to let Kinski near him with a razor. He also works part time for a doctor who is as mental as he is having Kinski eat nothing but peas for months and catching his falling cats.

If these points sound a bit whimsical they aren’t. There are no laughs at all in the film, just a lot of philosophising and gnashing of teeth. At home Kinski has a pretty lover and a bastard child. The lover takes his few coins but is being distracted by a drum major who has a nicer jacket. The stress of his life and all pea diet is sending Klaus around the bend and he starts to hear voices and imagines the earth is hollow with doom on the horizon.

After a few distressing episodes he goes and buys a knife and stabs his lover down by the river. Once he’s stabbed her for a full five minutes he retires to the bar where his blood soaked clothes draw attention causing him to flee. He returns to the murder spot to retrieve his knife and tries to dispose of it in the river. He convinces himself that each throw isn’t far enough and wades in each time to collect the knife and throw it further.

The film closes with the undertakers recovering the dead girl and we are left to guess if Klaus joined her by drowning. The film ends with a helpful caption that this was a ‘good murder’.

I wasn’t looking forward to this film and the sleeve notes which stated that it made a nod to Becket and Brecht inspired even less confidence. My fears were realised with a rather boring and ponderous film that seemed very nihilistic throughout. Klaus’ early comments that the poor didn’t have the luxury of virtue sealed his fate from the off and his downward spiral was relentless. The film looks pretty enough but has only 28 cuts in total meaning we get lots of drawn out scenes and moody silences. At one point I had to check that I hadn’t pressed ‘pause’ in error as Klaus just stared at me wordlessly for three minutes.

I’m sure this kind of film would go down a storm in the art houses and with pretentious students but as an exercise in enjoyment and entertainment it failed miserably. Think I’ll go and watch an autopsy to cheer myself up!

Best Bit : Cat-astrophie Averted
‘W’ Rating : 9/23

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

No. 140 : Welcome To Spring Break

This film is also known as ‘Nightmare Beach’ but that’s a rubbish title seeing as hardly any of the action takes place at the beach and of course because it doesn’t start with a ‘W’.

The film is one of a raft of teen slasher films that were rushed out to cash in on the home video boom. It is terrible, and to be honest it’s hard to find many positives in the mess but let's have a look anyway. Someone may not have to suffer because I did.

We open with a pre-credits sequence of a man being executed by electric chair. A gang of bikers pays silent vigil outside and apart from a promise to seek revenge from beyond the grave things go to plan. After the credits we meet the motley cast. Skip and his buddy are in town to get over Skip’s disastrous performance in a football match. They drink at a bar tended by the sister of the girl that the executed biker murdered and run into the ‘Demons’ biker gang too.

We also meet the corrupt police chief played by the usually reliable but not here John Saxon and the mayor, who wants nothing to upset his lucrative spring break trade. Filling out the roster we get a party girl and her priest father who warns of doom for all sinners and a man who shouts ‘Go Gators’ in almost ever scene. The party is going well with wet t-shirt parties all the rage until a hitchhiker foolishly accepts a lift from a mysterious biker who has his own rock sound track. His bike is modified to electrocute any passengers to the extent that the girl ends up looking Kentucky fried.

Further murders follow including a hooker and a peeping tom before Skip’s pal gets set alight by the baddie after a kicking from the bikers. Amazingly the police chief and coroner agree to dump the body in a mine rather than suffer some bad publicity. Skip enlists the help of the bar girl and soon they are unravelling the web of conspiracy. With the body count rising so is our list of suspects - could the electrocuted biker be making good on his deathly promise or is it the police chief or the priest?

The best thing about this film is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously and rightly so. The guy playing Skip has to be the worst actor I’ve ever seen and it’s no surprise that this film killed his career stone dead. His eulogy over his dead, but salt covered, friend was indescribably bad with Saxon arriving just in time to save us all more misery.

The deaths come at a steady rate and some are quite imaginative although not too realistic - who’d of thought that a small electrical cable would have enough juice to cook your head and make your eye pop out? The budget is clearly miniscule with gaggles of real spring breakers roped in as extras and to take their tops off.

The ‘mystery’ killer was so obvious from the start I’m surprised that he bothered to wear a helmet. If you confess to not getting it straight away you should say your prayers and hope he gets collared soon. It was the priest. Although how he got away with those tight leathers and a big souped up and modified motorbike I can only imagine. Oh wait, a catholic priest - standard dress and behaviour then!

This is by no means the worst teen slasher flick you’ll ever see but it’s awful acting and non existent plot means that you’ll just have to make the best of the bikini girls and wet t-shirts, which is fine.

Best Bit : Peep show gets closed
‘W’ Rating : 11/23

No. 139 : While She Was Out

Call me an old chauvinist, but when I saw this was a revenge thriller written and directed by a lady I thought that the male characters may not come across too well. But you know what they say about making assumptions, don’t you? Yes, that’s right they are quite often correct.

Kim Basinger plays Della, a put upon housewife. She is the mother of twins and the wife of a right bastard who expects the house to be a bit tidy when he comes home from work. “What do you do all day” he reasonably asks only to be rewarded with some attitude and no martini. It happens to be Christmas eve so after her hard day of slobbing about Della decides to go to the mall for some wrapping paper.

Della’s tough day soon gets worse however when she has trouble getting a parking space (on Christmas eve - go figure!) and a coffee server spells her name wrongly on her cup. - no wonder she’s ready to burst. She manages to get her stuff despite another crisis with her credit card and she heads for home. She does however regret leaving a pissy note on a badly parked car when the occupants show up to tell her off.

Luckily Paul Blart is on duty as he tells the four thugs to move on but gets a couple of slugs in his head for his trouble. Della manages to get away with the foursome in pursuit but rather than head home or to a police station she dives off into a half built housing scheme before crashing her car. The bad guys, lead by an unthreatening Lukas Haas, are white, black, Asian and Chinese - a multi cultural cadre of evil! I suspect their ethnicity was a deliberate ploy to show that ALL men are bastards, regardless of colour.

Anyway the baddies have Della trapped in the housing scheme or is it she who has trapped them? What follows is a series of unfortunate events where Della, armed with her trusty tool box, systematically takes out the bad guys with various implements - you go girl! Before long it’s Della vs. Lukas and it’d be a brave man who’d bet on the bloke!

I quite enjoyed this film but it was let down by its feminist agenda and ropey last 15 minutes. The male characters are awful to a man and you can see this as nothing more than female wish fulfilment from a bunch of angry and possibly menopausal dungarees wearers. If this were made the other way around there would be a justified outcry, but as it is, it just comes across as silly and illogical.

Della is obviously near breaking point due to the many traumas we see her suffer in her domestic life but how this transforms her into an SAS survival expert isn’t fully covered. I did like some of the gory deaths though with the tyre iron a genuine classic.

Basinger does well with the weak material, but I bet inside she’s thinking ‘I won an Oscar why am in this crap!’. Haas is very poor as the lead villain and spends most of the film shouting ‘Dell-a Dell-a’ like he’s auditioning for a dyslexic production of ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’. His demise is the most far fetched of all and highlights that it’s a woman writing the script - if I’d seen three of my pals butchered I’d be running for the hills not getting amorous with the strangely willing assailant!

If you add up my various moans you’ll probably think the film is a waste of time but I enjoyed it and it’s rather blinkered view of humanity. Possibly not one to watch with the good lady however - maybe suggest she gets on with the laundry will you partake of its dubious pleasures.

Best Bit : I’ll just loosen those face nuts for you
‘W’ rating : 14/23

Monday, 25 May 2009

No. 138 : What Doesn’t Kill You

Here’s a film that’s familiar on many levels but still offers enough nuggets of interest to garner pass marks. It opens with a botched armoured car robbery with an off duty policeman interfering with the sloppily planned job. Ethan Hawke pulls off his mask and strides towards the have a go hero with his gun blazing. Before we find out the outcome of the shoot out we dissolve to the past and learn that this is one of those films where we’ll have to watch for 90 minutes just to get back to the starting point.

Hawke and ‘W’ thread friend Mark Ruffalo are a pair of tearaways who grow up on the tough streets of Boston. We see them as teenagers running errands for the local Irish villain and then 15 years later, still doing the same petty crimes. They try to branch out on their own but an early heist involving dodgy TVs sees them sent down for five years.

Ruffalo eventually makes his parole but Hawke gets an extra six months for bashing a nonce. Our man finds it tough on the outside and soon the nuns and the gas board are looking for their overdue cash. With jobs hard to come by Ruffalo struggles with staying away from petty crime and the bottle. With breaking point reached Hawke gets out and suggests that the end to their trouble can be found with one last big job. With the stick up fast approaching we have to guess who’ll be on the crew and whether it’ll be successful.

We’ve seen most of this stuff before with films like ‘The Departed’ and ‘The Boondock Saints’ heavy influences here. The two leads are excellent and I thought Hawke in particular was very reminiscent of his recent outing in ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’. This film isn’t as good as that one but that’s obvious seeing that it doesn’t have Philip Seymour Hoffman or Marisa Tomei displaying her charms. We do get Amanda Peet as Ruffalo’s wife but all she does is moan a lot.

The idea that the two protagonists are on a road that has no exits is, again, a well worn one but they could have jazzed it up somewhat as they were basically saying that if you can only get a crappy job you may as well rob banks. The bad guys lacked a bit of menace and while I’m sure their casual threats delivered from their cosy bar was meant to be reminiscent of ‘The Sopranos’ they served only to show their shortcomings next to that series.

I did like the interplay between the two leads with some of their capers such as dognapping clearly played for laughs. Ruffalo was a bit too anguished as the tormented family man trying to do the right thing but overall I cared a bit so something was right. The ending delivered a rather unearned surprised and my usually favoured ‘what happened next’ captions seemed somewhat out of place here, reminding us that it was a movie rather than a gritty drama.

Despite the various nits the film is better than average but not as good as any of the other stuff I’ve compared it to in the review. So there you have it, if the faint praise doesn’t kill you it’ll only make you stronger.

Best Bit : Nonce Gets His Dues
‘W’ Rating 15/23

Sunday, 24 May 2009

No. 137 : Winter Passing

People with issues - don’t you love them? Can’t beat a bit of misery and soul searching for an entertaining 90 minutes and when you throw in a kitten drowning you know you’ve got the feel good package of the year.

That’s a bit harsh actually because despite it’s depressing table of contents the film won me over with it’s top notch performances and for the small redemptions that most of the characters enjoyed.

The film follows the emotional journey of Reece, played by Zooey Deschanel whom I recently saw in the crappy ‘Yes Man’. Reece is an actress with issues who enjoys a healthy does of self harming as well as drugs and casual sex. We get to see how talented she is as she goes through auditions singing and piano playing her heart out. She is however hard up and an offer of $100K for her late mother’s letters temps her back to the family home.

We learn that both her parents were celebrated authors with her Dad, played by Ed Harris, now a recluse who has had nothing published in years. The obvious comparison here is one with JD Salinger so it’s a bit lazy that he’s called Don Holdin as in Caulfield. After a long bus trip she gets to her home to find her dad is living in the garage while a former student of his and Will Ferrell are living in his house - I hate it when that happens. The group start out cagey at first but after a series of one to ones they all start to get on famously.

Reece finds her mother’s letters but after reading them she has second thoughts about the sale. After airing some dirty linen Don starts writing again and the slightly simple Ferrell gets coerced into trying out for an open mic night, laying to rest the demons of his Christian rock days. As you’d probably guess a lot of healing and bonding goes on with the film ending with just a shaft of light appearing for most of the guys.

I quite liked this film although it does have ‘nominate me for an Oscar’ all over it. Zooey does give a bravura performance in the lead but she is a bit too needy and unpredictable to win any real affection. She has had a bad childhood so it’s fair enough that’s she’s a bit rebellious but she didn’t need to drown that sick kitten.

Ferrell is fine as the borderline retarded Corbet but he is essentially just playing his role from the later and far superior ‘Step Brothers’ right down to the performance anxiety and bursts of repressed rage. The scene where he does an Eagles song in the bar is a good one and it’s a shame that his character is forgotten at the end. Ed Harris is always good value and, despite a ropey wig, he’s fine in this too.

The film is hung pretty much across Zooey’s shoulders and the fact that it’s OK despite a glum and relentless script says a lot for her. Not a rib tickler or a pick you up special but if you like people with problems and seeing them solve some but not all of them then this could be the film for you.

Best Bit : Open Mic at the bar
‘W’ Rating :15/23

Saturday, 23 May 2009

No. 136 : Winter of Frozen Dreams

This film was always going to have to do well to shake off the shackles of that pretentious title, something it singularly fails to do. It opens with a caption ‘Based on a true story’ which is always a kiss of death for me - either it’s true or it’s not anything else is just a confused muddle that leaves you none the wiser at the end.

The film sets its agenda early on with the lead, Thora Birch being convicted for murder. We then go back to 1977 with the narrative jumping around like a kangaroo on acid. A man tells the police of a dead body and they quickly dig the bashed up corpse from the snow. We then jump again with the dead guy running around with hookers. Then he’s dead again and the cops lead by the always dependable Keith Carradine looking for someone to pin the crime on.

In truth the non-linear story is well handled and while the film is no ‘Pulp Fiction’ or ‘Memento’ they at least make an effort to jazz up what is essentially quite a straightforward story. Thora plays a complex role of a hooker who has two names and dates at least two blokes will carrying on her business. One is a bit simple and is persuaded to take out a life insurance policy benefiting the tart. The other is our murder victim who in flash back rewrites his will giving our girl all his stuff. Clearly she has persuasive talents but her motivations aren’t totally clear and enough is unseen to give us doubts as to who exactly did what and to whom.

The detective angle is pretty lazily handled with no actual detecting of note going on. Basically the cops wander around picking up the pieces and sleep in stake out cars. The end clearly is no surprise as it finishes where it started to you have to wonder was the journey worth the effort? The answer is clearly ‘No’. The captions at the end which gives an update on the main protagonist assumes that we should care for her situation and frankly I didn’t. Her character is so unsympathetic and poorly defined that I couldn’t care if she got the gas chamber or a slap on the wrists.

The 1977 setting was well realised with some hideous fashions and haircuts but it takes more than a few pairs of flairs to immerse you in another age. Birch is pretty unconvincing as the femme fatale who has the men queuing up you give her all their possessions and her main beau is so wishy-washy that you’re willing him to keep seasoning his chilli to make sure.

The film has a bleak out look throughout and allied to it’s snowy backdrop this is certainly no spirit raiser. At the end of the film I was unsure where it’s loyalties lay - our girl is clearly a cow but was she a victim herself? The captions suggest that she may be but as long as she stays in the clink there’ll be no chance of a sequel and that suits me fine.

Best Bit : Mmmm chilli
‘W’ Rating : 5/23

Friday, 22 May 2009

No. 135 : Wizards of the Demon Sword

Some people will tell you that a film can be so bad that it’s good. These people, let’s call them wankers, say that if you watch with a sense of ironic detachment a great time can be had laughing at crappy special effects and funny costumes. Not surprisingly I don’t subscribe to this school of thought and if something is a pile of crap that’s as far as it goes from me.

With this introduction I’m sure it will come as no surprise when I say that ‘Wizards of the Demon Sword’ is the poorest effort I’ve seen in some time. The film comes from Troma studios who pride themselves on low budget, offbeat titles such as ‘The Toxic Avenger’ and ‘The Class of Nuke ‘Em High’ but for my money they are better suited to frat style comedies such as ‘The First Turn On’ where their low budgets are less obvious.

This film opens with a warrior saving a busty wench from some bandits. After hearing her sob story and viewing her cleavage our hero agrees to help her in her quest. The titular sword is in the hands of some bad guys and if they figure out how to use it humanity will be enslaved or something. We also follow the trials of a young slave girl who may hold the key to unlocking the sword’s mystical powers.

The plot here is pretty much your standard sword and sorcery quest. The bare narrative is fleshed out with occasional tussles all of which are very poorly choreographed - that 'sword under the arm' death always looks so fake. To lend the film some epic scale dinosaurs are also involved but not in any way that involves interaction with the actors. For example the hero shouts ‘Look over there’ and we cut to some ropey footage of some plastic monsters eating each other. The film stock and back grounds are so different that it’s obvious that old footage is being used which could be OK if the monsters didn't look so poor in the first place.

The acting is terrible throughout with fluffed and stuttered lines kept in. The lead is as wooden as a cricket bat and although better, the lead female struggled uttering her dialogue which to be fair is awful. The only name actor in sight is Lawrence Tierney who played Nice Guy Eddie’s father in ‘Reservoir Dogs’. His part as a slave trader is OK and played for laughs but his delivery is poor and clearly he has no gift for comedy.

The dark realm where the film is set looks suspiciously like that desert outside LA which doubles as every planet in the universe in Star Trek. The sets are terrible too with the bad guy’s castle needing only the ‘Lego’ trademark to complete the look. I was also annoyed by the shrieking, jangly score and the clearly glued on beard sported by the wise man.

Of course it’s cheap and has the look of an amateurish student film, but the lack of a budget shouldn't excuse some of the worst acting, script and costumes you’ll ever see. A real 100%, 24 carat dud.

Beast Bit : Slave Girl’s Selling Points Revealed
‘W’ score : 2/23

Thursday, 21 May 2009

No. 134 : Whisky Galore!

Here’s another 'always on on a wet afternoon but I’ve never seen it before' ‘W’ classic. You’ll be familiar with the plot which sees a bunch of drunken Scotsmen try to outwit the forces of the excise office.

Set on the fictitious island of Todday in the Outer Hebrides during the second world war the film opens with the islanders learning that their whisky has run out. As you’d expect this is a disaster with people fainting and sobering up all over the place. Fortune smiles however when a cargo ship runs aground with its cargo of 50,000 cases of whisky. The locals have to leave it be for the Sabbath but despite their Christian leanings they are not against a bit of theft as they begin to clear the ship the following day.

The ships sinks in dramatic model endangering action the soon afterwards but local busybody, and proto-Captain Mainwaring, Captain Waggett seeks to upset the party and reports his suspicions to the excise department. Meanwhile Gordon Jackson (off the Fine Fare ads) is being smothered by his overbearing mother and an off duty soldier tries to woo the girl of his dreams.

With Captain Waggett retuning with a posse of spoilsport duty men it’s up to the locals to hide the whisky lest it be confiscated and returned to its rightful owners. Can the drunken Scotsmen stay drunk? And can the war be won with this bunch of shiftless yokels manning the home front?

As you can probably gather I’m not too impressed at the moral ambiguity going on here. Yes they are all loveable rogues but the idea that a whole Scottish community lives or dies by its whisky intake is patently ridiculous. We do see the occasional drunk asleep on the beach but no one dying of liver disease, beating their wives or spewing up all over the place.

Although the film is 80 minutes long even that is only achieved with some lengthy padding. The ship doesn’t sink until half an hour in and the real crux of the story only really gets under way with twenty minutes to go. Of course with a paper thin plot you do have to have some good characters to win the audience over and this has a few but not enough. Gordon Jackson is a bit wishy washy although his harridan mother is great. Basil Radford as the lead is poor but has little to work with as his role is basically the English twit foil for the canny Scots.

I did laugh a couple of times but more at the dated sense of values on show and at the general bad behaviour - at one point with the customs at the door one man frantically guzzles two bottles of Scotch. Dead in a week guaranteed. The film does end with a moral and the suggestion that craving whisky, as has been shown for the entire film, might not be a good way to go after all. Well, duh!

The film is generally a gentle good humoured romp with a smattering of stereotypes and mild laughs. Nothing great and morally dubious but a decent distraction and cultural oddity.

Best Bit : Stashing the Scotch
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

No. 133 : Whore

Arty filmmaker Ken Russell made this film is response to ‘Pretty Woman’ and it’s rather glamorous take on the world of prostitution. As you’d expect the film is pretty grim but there is a lot to like even if it does skirt the believability line somewhat.

Theresa Russell plays the lead, Liz, who is a career prostitute. The film opens with her turning tricks on the side of the road before she is chased off by her pimp whom she's trying to escape from. In a series of monologues Liz reveals her past and how she came to earn her living on her back. Through flashbacks we see her, not very convincingly, in her youth and getting married at a young age. After having a kid she walked out on her loser husband and after working as a waitress a chance encounter showed her where the real money could be earned.

As her character is fleshed out we also witness her present day trials from getting slapped about by the punters to trying to evade her murderous pimp. At the start of the film she befriends a street hustler played by Huggy Bear and as their paths cross throughout the film we realise that he may have an important part to play. As the day in Liz’s life ends we have to wonder if she’ll survive and whether she’ll have learned anything from the experience.

This whole film hangs on the lead performance and as much as I like Theresa Russell she doesn’t convince as a street walker. For a start she is too pretty and well made up. I don’t have much experience of such matters but she looks more like a Playboy model than someone selling blowjobs for $40 a pop. Her accent, which varies constantly, is annoying and goes from South Bronx to somewhere in the mid Atlantic.

It’s not a particularly sexy film but Theresa does do her best when the scene demands it. Some of it looks a bit too glamorous and the grim reality the director is striving for never really convinces. You do get to like the lead character however and her grim path to whoredom is well illustrated although some of the male characters are a bit too well worn. Yeah guys are a bunch of horny losers but you could give us a break at some point!

The film was based on a stage play and this is apparent when the actors talk to us directly. This does deny the film of any sense of reality but it does allow a lot more information and background than you’d otherwise get. Although pretty grim throughout there are lighter moments and a few good laughs as the kinky clientele get their wishes for a price.

The ‘hooker with a heart’ is a tired cliché and Liz seems a bit too goody goody for the streets despite her tough demeanour. She tells us she doesn’t do groups, golden showers, men in vans, up the bum, anything dirty or anything without a rubber - surprised if she makes minimum wage with that list of no go areas!

I enjoyed the film which despite not offering too many insights into the red light world was interesting and varied enough to keep my interest

Best Bit : Dining out in a classy restaurant
‘W’ Rating : 15/23