Thursday, 30 April 2009

No. 113 : Weapons

If you think society is on a downward spiral don’t watch ‘Weapons’ as it’ll have you jumping off a bridge. This is a nasty film with brutal murders and a general nihilistic vibe.

The film opens promisingly with long shot of a juicy burger which is then picked up by a man who seems to be enjoying it. But wait! As often happens someone appears behind him and blows his head off with a shot gun. This scene was really well done and the special effects are great even in super slow motion, but it is really shocking and sets a tone that prevails throughout the film.

The film is like ‘Pulp Fiction’ in that we get several interwoven stories with events seen at different times and from differing perspectives. Of course it culminates with us arriving back at the burger bar to find out why the man’s dinner was so rudely interrupted 80 minutes earlier.

We meet various stoner losers who drink red juice and worry about who may have been disrespecting them. One chap straight out of juvie heads over to the basketball court to shoot someone but as he isn’t about he has a game only for one of his pals to be shot in an unrelated attack. We learn this shooting was over someone’s sister who may have been raped and we flashback to a party to see what transpired there.

The film is well made and the performances are uniformly good but I just couldn’t care about any of them. The characters are all awful people who smoke dope and listen to rap music that sounds like its escaped from Satan’s arse. There is the obvious metaphor in place that not all weapons are of the shot gun variety and gossip and backstabbing can be just as lethal - as can fire extinguishers which was demonstrated in one eye watering scene.

Of the cast the only name I knew was Paul Dano who was the preacher in ‘There will be Blood’ and the mute in ‘Little Miss Sunshine’. He had the best role as the needy perv with the video camera but he didn’t fully convince as a bad boy in a crowd of low life scum bags.

It’s not a film I disliked but I’d be reluctant to recommend it given that it’s so nasty and depressing.

Best Bit : Are you going to eat those fries?
‘W’ Rating 13/23

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

No. 113 : Without A Clue

This film opens with Sherlock Holmes apprehending a gang of thieves using his customary wit and a bit of derring do - but things are not all they seem. Once the police and press have gone home from fawning over the master detective he gets yelled at by his assistant, Dr Watson.

Dr Watson, it transpires, is the brains of the outfit and Sherlock Holmes is a character he’s created for his mystery stories, who is played by an unemployed actor. Watson is annoyed that his creation hogs the limelight and he gets no joy when he asks his publisher to let him take centre stage as ‘The Doctor Detective’.

With their relationship broken down Holmes (an excellent Michael Caine) hits the bottle and chases the ladies but soon runs out of cash. Watson on the other hand is threatened with breach of contract by his publisher (Peter Cook) and charged by the Queen herself to investigate the theft of some printing blocks which could ruin the Empire through counterfeit cash.

The duo reluctantly team up and are soon visited by the lovely Lysette Anthony who says her printer father has been abducted. This together with some imported ink and a fire at a paper factory suggest large scale forging is underway and the only man capable of such a neferious feat is the evil Dr Moriarty.

During a shoot out at the docks Watson is seemingly killed it’s up to the hapless Holmes to solve the case with only the help of his landlady and lovely Lynette. With the baddies traced to an old theatre Holmes has to rely on his actor’s training rather than his wits to save the day.

I really enjoyed this film despite it’s pretty straightforward plot and slap stick gags. Michael Caine does a great old soak and Ben Kingsley offers a good counterpoint as the undervalued Watson. The production is sumptuous throughout with Victorian London looking marvellous, replete with urchins and gas lamps.

Of the second string I was a bit disappointed in the usually reliable Jeffrey ‘Beuller’ Jones as Inspector LeStrade whose voice seemed badly dubbed. Maybe his 'gor blimey' accent didn’t cut the mustard but it was distracting nonetheless. Lysette Anthony did her usual posh bird bit and she certainly offered few surprises when her character’s motivations were revealed - nice stockings though!

Despite a few throat slashings this is good family fayre with no sex or swearing. Normally that’d put me off but there is a lot to like in this film with great performances from the two leads and a reasonable sprinkling of laughs throughout.

Best Bit : The mystery of the ass grabber is solved
‘W’ Rating 17/23

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

No. 112 : What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

Here’s a bit of an oddity from the early career of Woody Allen. The film is almost all a Japanese spy thriller which has been re-dubbed by Allen and others for humorous effect. If that sounds a bit cheap, it is but I certainly had more laughs watching this than I do when I watch most modern films, Allen’s included.

The film opens with a host who briefly introduces Woody and gives us an idea of what to expect. Allen is deadpan throughout and says little, but that was pretty much his shtick then as it is now.

The film is a pretty short 80 minutes and there is a good bit of padding included in that run time. For no apparent reason The Lovin’ Spoonful contribute a couple of song and although they are fine they add nothing to the film and hinder the little narrative flow that there is. According to the IMDb the studio wanted the hour long film boosted to ‘feature’ length so that explains it, but doesn’t excuse it.

The opening scene of the Japanese film is something of a disappointment as it happens in a strip club with all the dancing lady’s interesting bits obscured by text. It’s a couple of minutes before a line is spoken and it seems a waste to start on such a weak gag.

The film is so slow to get going that I almost baled out after ten minutes but things soon pick up once the plot is revealed. Our hero is a spy charged with locating a secret recipe for egg salad. All elements of the underworld are after it too and there are endless shootouts and double crosses. Given that the script has been thrown out it’s hard to work out what’s happening and this is acknowledged half way in when we cut back to the host who asks Allen for a plot summary only to be curtly refused.

The spy film seems pretty high budget and there are some impressive actions sequences and lots of lovely oriental ladies, something that Woody himself revealed a taste for later in life! The gags are all of the same toilet humour variety with idiotic announcements and out bursts of song filling the run time. Other gags include rewinding the film, causing a gang of men to jump of a boat when a mouse is spotted and having an eye test run alongside a stripping lady lest you be looking at the wrong thing.

In truth the film is a bit of a hotch potch but there are enough laughs and eye candy to justify a viewing . I’m only glad this cheap genre never fully took off, well until YouTube of course - have you seen the re-dubbed Hitler being told his X-Box is broken? Classic!

Best Bit : Sexy Grid Iron Team Go Into Battle
‘W’ Rating 15/23

Monday, 27 April 2009

No. 111 : While You Were Sleeping

This is one of the better known ‘W’ movie but also one that I’ve avoided as the whole set up seems a bit creepy and predictable.

Sandra Bullock plays Lucy a lonely ticket seller on the Chicago subway system. She fantasises about a hunky commuter but misses the chance to chat him up when he passes through on Christmas day. Happily crime doesn’t sleep and he gets a kicking on the platform and thrown onto the track. Lucy (Sandra) manages to save his life but fortunately for the script he’s fallen into a coma.

At the hospital a nurse hears Lucy talking about the victim to herself and takes her crazed talk of marriage as fact. She announces this to the gathered family and Lucy plays along, lest the mother get a heart attack. Things get more complicated when a wise old relative overhears the truth and when the hunky Bill Pullman shows up, disbelieving that his brother could be so headstrong as to get engaged without telling the family.

The family rally round and after a few gatherings they all love Lucy and sparks starts to fly with Bill. After an hour the coma victim wakes up and, happy at his second chance at life offers to marry Lucy, who agrees despite her feelings for Bills.

As the predictable climax approaches (see the poster!) we have to wonder if Lucy will choose the right man and find happiness. No spoilers required - you know!

I really didn’t enjoy this film at all. It didn’t ring true for a moment and the characters from the savvy old relative to the wise and kindly black supervisor were such clichés. The plot never took an unexpected turn with things panning out as I, and probably everyone else, thought from the start. The family were unbelievably accepting of the cuckoo in their nest and even after the big reveal they were quite happy to have been taken for suckers.

Obviously I’m not the target for this chick flick nonsense but they could have shown an ounce of respect for the audience by not stampings the cookie cutter quite so exactly. The mawkish voice over will make you cringe as will the sweeping power ballads. In mitigation there were exactly two sniggers and I quite liked the Italian neighbour's son who had the hots for Sandra. In truth she does look pretty good but given she plays a mental stalker I think most wise men would steer well clear of her, and indeed of the film.

Best Bit : Wedding Objections mount up
‘W’ Rating 9/23

Sunday, 26 April 2009

No. 110 : Welcome to the Sticks

With stamps going up a massive three pence recently the postal service needs a public relations makeover and it arrives quicker than Parcel Force in the shape of this French comedy.

At first glace the film is a bit of a hard sell dealing as it does with the differing perceptions of southern French people of their northern cousins. Many of the jokes are based on the nuances of language and behaviour and for an outsider looking in it could be seen as an unappealing prospect. The ‘W’ quest however comes up trumps again and a film I wouldn’t normally have sought out turned out to be a real gem.

The film opens with a hen pecked French postal manager being bullied into applying for a plum position at a sea side post office. Although he has a nice life in the south his pushy wife insists that the new job should be won by fair means or foul. After jumping the queue by faking a disability our man is found out and to his horror he is punished with a transfer to the north.

His wife refuses to join him on the two year assignment and everyone is sympathetic as they all know that the northern French are a bunch of drunken barbarians. He is even let off for driving too slowly on the motorway when he tells the policeman of his destination. His worst fears are soon realised when he gets to his empty apartment and the few locals he meets are drunk or unintelligible.

Things quickly change however when our man embraces new things such as the Chip van and the football. His staff turn out to be a stand up bunch and after furnishing his flat they take him out drinking with the locals. So much fun is had that he’s reluctant to return to his wife and when the weekend is over he is stopped by the same motorcycle cop, only this time for speeding to his destination.

As he settles into the job he learns of the tangles love lives of his staff and resolves to help them as they have him. Trouble looms however when the wife decides to visit and the staff resolve to scare her off by acting to the stereotypes he perceives about them.

With the north declared not as bad as first thought our hero must decide whether he loves his new life or his wife more and can the two be rationalised?

This is a really enjoyable film that is funny and heart warming throughout. It is little surprise to learn that it enjoyed France’s biggest box office take ever as they must have lapped up the ridiculous notions they have about each other being exposed for the stereotypes they are. Many of the jokes went over my head with the subtitles sometimes reading ‘no translation possible’ when some regional dialect pun is made. It’s easy to overlook this however as the warm and joyous nature of the film would gladden the stoniest of hearts.

Best Bit : The boss shows how deliveries should be done

‘W’ Rating 20/23

Saturday, 25 April 2009

No. 109 : White Men Can’t Jump

This is another well known ‘W’ film that I was slow to get around to as the subject matter didn’t appeal. Basketball, buddy comedies and da hood are never popular with me but I enjoyed this more than expected.

Woody Harrelson plays Billy Hoyle a disgraced ex-basketball pro who now tries to hustle a few bucks playing the hoops. He’s basically a prototype Roy Munson who would follow in ‘Kingpin’ in just five years time. Woody’s first score involves taking $60 off Wesley Snipes’ character who thought he was the one doing the hustling.

Being impressed at the new talent Wesley suggests the pair team up using the black mens’ misconception that ‘white men can’t jump’ to relieve them of their cash. Things go well with a few small scores but when a big one goes wrong Billy finds out that Snipes wasn’t on his team after all. With a fall out averted by the intervention of their ladies the guys agree to team up for the city two man basketball tournament which they win. With things looking good the pair’s rivalry surfaces again with Wesley taking all the prize cash after a rash bet.

On the home front things are looking shaky with Woody’s wife Rosie Perez having a secret drinking problem as well as an ambition to get on the TV show ‘Jeopardy’. Elsewhere gangsters are after Woody for the loses incurred when he failed to throw a big match and Wesley’s wife needs to move out of the crime ridden neighbourhood.

With these tangled threads coming together the guys agree to team up once more to take on their biggest rivals in a big cash game

I enjoyed the first hour of this film quite a lot but my interest tapered off rapidly and by the end I was glad to see it end. The two leads do a good job as the squabbling no hopers but after a while their constant bickering becomes grating. Woody is especially annoying for an extended scene where he goads rival players into playing badly. The hoops action is well done and seems authentic but it’s hard to hang a 100 minute movie on a few three pointers.

Rosie Perez does ok as the drunk wannabe game show star but it’s hard too see what Woody sees in her constant carping and shouting. The ‘buddy’ aspect is well done and it’s easy to see why the pair were teamed up again as different characters in the less successful ‘Money Train’.

I’m sure this film has a cult following in the basketball and jive talkin’ communities but alas it doesn’t offer enough for me to sign up to either cause. Worth a look but it’s more off the back board than a slam dunk.

Best Bit : Rosie gets in Jeopardy
‘W’ Rating 12/13

Friday, 24 April 2009

No. 108 : Wet Hot American Summer

Here’s a ‘W’ branded fish that jumped into my boat so to speak. Despite a stellar cast I’d never heard of this 2001 comedy before it was listed on the Onion AV Club’s ‘Worst baby sitter list’. I’m surprised that it doesn’t enjoy a higher profile given its cast and off beat humour but hopefully this review, on the always popular 100 ‘W’ movies list, will give it the boost needed to escape its relative obscurity. Well failure loves company so I’m sure we’ll get along just fine!

The film takes place over the last day of summer for summer camp Firewood. The counsellors are your usual bunch of nerds, jocks and horny teens with the campers being the required virgins, losers and show offs. From this predictable starting point things are skewed from the off with every preconceived notion addressed and quickly dispelled.

The slice of life approach denies the film much characterisation but you get plenty of funny scenes were a set up is taken apart with some unexpected mirth. For example a coach gives the rag tag camp baseball team a stirring speech before they concede the game as being pointless given the well drilled and equipped opponents who show up. Similarly a pair of councillors who are discovered to be gay are gifted a nice chaise longe rather than get the predictable baiting.

If these set ‘em up and then wrong foot you scenarios sound a bit right on you could be right and to be honest the film gets a bit predictable in its unpredictability. That said there are still some funny scenes including a couple where a negligent councillor brutally kills the witnesses to wrongful deaths that occurred while he was making out with chicks.

The cast of this 2001 film were largely unknown but today this would be a major release. For your money you get Niles Crane, Brian Fontana (Anchorman), Elizabeth Banks (Knocked Up), Janeane Garofalo (Mystery Men) and Amy Poehler (Blades of Glory). Most only have small parts but they all add up to a decent ensemble piece that deconstructs one of those American institutions, like the prom and the make out party, that we Brits can only dream about.

The film has a wafer thin plot about a piece of Skylab hitting the camp talent show but basically it is a series of sketches demonstrating how mental and horny everyone is. My favourites were the randy chef who takes advice from a tin of vegetables before making love to a fridge and Fantana’s sex mad and murderous councillor.

The film is a bit uneven and you have no empathy for any of the characters at all but it does generate a few laughs and is at least a bit different and subversive.

Best Bit : Witness Disposal
‘W’ Rating : 16/23

Thursday, 23 April 2009

No. 107 : Without A Paddle : Nature’s Calling

Without a Paddle - Nature's Calling at the IMDb

It’s surprising how many crappy films earn a sequel but I was certainly taken aback that the lamentable original of this franchise managed to spawn a straight to video second helping. I saw the first ‘Paddle’ film on 19/01/2005 and immediately excised it from my memory. I remember it’s got Shaggy and Scott Evil in it and that the ending solved the DB Cooper mystery but apart from that I remember nothing.

I therefore went into ‘Nature’s Calling’ with a relatively open mind, or at least as open as it can be when it has the dreaded ‘DVD premiere’ tag affixed. Some brief research showed that none of the original stellar cast reprise their role and instead we get a cast of unknowns basically remaking the original.

The film opens in classic redemption film style with a flash back where we meet our two heroes at school when they are 14. Zach is the cool doofus type whereas Ben is the studious one who falls for a girl who soon gets expelled for campaigning for lab rats. After the titles we meet the pair in their twenties with Zach working at an old folks’ home and Ben as a corporate lawyer.

Hollywood then plays it’s unlikely hand with an elderly patient of Zach’s asking him to find her long lost grand daughter who also happens to be Ben’s unrequited love. The pair resolve to find the girl, a choice that especially suits Ben who has a pair of escaped criminals he failed to defend on his trail. As the guys ready to leave they are joined by Nigel, an annoying British step son of the dying pensioner who may have an agenda of his own.

The trio hire a raft in small town Oregon and there’s barely time for the clichéd locals to warn of the monster in the woods before they set off. As the trio set off downstream we are treated to endless ‘Deliverance’ style P.O.V. shots and no end of intrigue, I’ll be bound.

This is an awful film that deserves it’s ignominious release and poor ratings. It is clearly aimed at an adolescent market with endless planks in the balls gags allied with references to ‘wood’ and ‘shitake’ (thanks ‘Goldmember’). The quest for a teen certificate means that there is no nudity or swearing but plenty of CGI squirrel ball biting action.

The cast are uniformly dreadful with Ben the worst, a sort of Keanu Reeves without the charisma. I did have a soft spot for Nigel whom we were supposed to hate but seemed a decent guy amongst his twattish companions despite his tiring Kevin Kline impression.

The plot, as it was, was predictable throughout and every bit of skulduggery was telegraphed form several scenes earlier. There was an attempt at a wrong foot with respect to the love story but given that the characters were all interchangeable you’ll hardly notice. The big end revelation was only a surprise in retrospect as I thought that’s what the old woman meant in the first place.

The film is competently made and some of the raft scenes were well done. Darkest Oregon did look a bit like a nature garden in places however and the CGI squirrels and hummingbird were badly misjudged. I did like NFL legend Jerry Rice turning up as Al Gore’s mental and black brother but sadly his late breaking appearance failed to rescue the sinking raft.

Best Bit : Riding the rapids
'W' Rating 11/23

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

No. 106 : Wristcutters : A Love Story

In these bleak economic times we all need a boost now and again but you certainly won’t get it watching this macabre downer!

The film opens with a young man getting out of bed and tidying up his bomb site of a flat. With everything now tidied up we see him in the bathroom having slashed his wrists and bleeding to death. At least he’s somewhat considerate to the next tenant!

He awakes in another world fully aware that he’s killed himself and knowing that he’s now in an after life reserved for suicide victims. The place is just like home but a bit bleaker with the colours washed out and no one allowed to smile. He gets a job in a pizza parlour and meets Yan who is fortunate to have all his family around him given that they all killed themselves in separate incidents.

Our man, Zia, leans that his former girlfriend has killed herself (there’s a lot of it about) and convinces his new friend to go on a road trip to find her. Along the way they encounter Desiree who feels she’s wrongly been placed in this world and is seeking out those in charge so that she may be returned to the land of the living.

As their journey progresses they encounter a self styled Messiah (Will Arnett) and Tom Waits whose record keeping job may yet save the day.

This is a strange and depressing film that will doubtless appeal to emo types and few others. I like Patrick Fugit in ‘Almost Famous’ but he can’t carry the lead role here, lacking any empathy whatsoever. Most of the cast are quite introspective and are more annoying than sympathetic. Naturally as a bunch of suicidal youths they can’t be shown as bundles of joy but a bit of warmth would have gone a long way to engaging this viewer.

No explanations are given for the reality our cast find themselves in with black holes in car floors and free floating matches just accepted as the norm. There is ample room for speculation and I’m sure the film maker’s intention was for us to draw our own conclusions. Sadly the only one I reached was that I wished they’d all made better jobs of those suicide attempts!

There were some nice touches such as the real world being a couple of shades brighter that the purgatory world and I liked that the soundtrack was full of suicidal singers like Ian Curtis and Del Shannon. I also liked that the victims brought the scars of their suicide with them with one chap revealing the shot gun hole in his head when he took his hat off. It was a bit inconsistent however as those who had jumped off buildings weren’t puddles of goo!

I liked the idea of the film and hoped that the warm glow of redemption would wash over me at the end. Sadly the self importance of the film and the needy characters meant that it left me reaching for the pills rather than putting them away!

Best Bit : Suicidal flashbacks

'W'Rating 12/23

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

No. 105 : Werewolf in a Womens Prison

I’m sure that some high brow bloggers would dismiss a film like ‘Werewolf in a Womens Prison’ as tacky rubbish beneath their contempt but that’s certainly not us here at the ‘W’ movies extravaganza. It is our policy to fully watch any ‘W’ film before declaring it rubbish and we will do so in this case.

It’s unlikely that you’ve been troubled by this film at your local Blockbuster or even on late night TV but happily due to the wonders of the internet you can find it pretty easily in all the right or wrong places depending on your position on downloading and film copyright ownership. I of course found the film through legitimate channels, full details of which will be available as soon as I’ve made them up.

The film is of the ‘does what it says on the tin’ variety and the plot is thin as Kate Moss’ soup. We open with a not very young or attractive couple making out in a tent in a remote Latino campsite. Howls are heard but dismissed as the throes of passion right up to the point that a werewolf turns up and gets all bitey. With the bloke badly chewed the girl manages to fend off the attack using silver flaked vodka (?) but is unable to save her lover.

The local stereotype policemen refuse to believe her story and she is quickly placed in the local prison for his killing, which is also the local smutty film production facility. Our heroine is shocked at first but soon gets into the swing of things with the uniformly pretty and scantily clad populous. Things however take a predictable twist when she learns that the bite she suffered is likely to transform her at the next full moon.

After a laughable transformation during which many of the staff and inmates are butchered, the corrupt governor (is there any other kind?) and his hench lady plan to exploit the werewolf and use it in their freak show exhibition - bad idea! Can our heroine escape both the prison and the lupine curse? Who cares, there is still time to get those denim shirts off one more time!

It won’t be a surprise to learn that this is a bad film and to be honest I can’t remember one worse. It has a miniscule budget that allows only for the most terrible transformation effects imaginable and a cast that look like they’ve been hijacked from the local burger King drive thru. The dialogue is hokey at best with corny lines delivered, without irony, throughout. “Badger? We don’t need no stinking Badger” being one of the more memorable.

The plot is near non existent with every werewolf cliché you can imagine trotted out from silver bullets to the reappearance of the dead boyfriend, in a scene so reminiscent of ‘An American Werewolf in London’ that I was half expecting Jenny Agutter to walk on and shut down the production.

Doubters will of course say that the film is a self aware parody of the genre, but to pull that off you’d need a witty script and a werewolf that didn’t look like an old carpet with a couple of red light bulbs. In mitigation there is plenty of nudity albeit of the topless only variety and you have to laugh when the heads get bitten off and the blood starts spurting.

At the end of the day however the shockingly poor production values and terrible direction can’t be overlooked and you still feel short changed having seen the whole lamentable affair for nothing. It looks like a high school film project with it’s ropey sets, unbelievable acting and laughable effects and if it set out to be a homage or tribute to the classic ‘B’ movies of the past I’m afraid it only ranks as a ‘D’ at best.

Best Bit : Home video shoot
'W' Rating : 9/23

Sunday, 19 April 2009

No. 104 : Way Out West

If you ask our old friend the man in the street ‘Do you like Laurel and Hardy?’ I’d bet that nine times out of ten you’d hear an answer in the positive. Last week I’d probably be in agreement, with childhood memories of prat falls and humorous kicks up the bum still thought of in rose tinted terms. I’m sure that they were great and talented people but did they make good films? Have you sat through one recently and can you say that it was good? I have and I can’t!

The familiar duo made rafts of short films in the 1920s but only later in their career did they branch into full length films. I say full length, but by today’s standards they wouldn’t qualify as a main feature with ‘Way Out West’ only managing 64 minutes and that is with extra padding. This film is regarded as one of their classics and they were so well known at this point that they didn’t bother with character names and are simply billed as themselves.

The film takes place in the old west and our two heroes have inexplicably been given the task of delivering a deed for a gold mine to a newly orphaned daughter. The lads are soon out witted by the local saloon keeper and the remainder of the film concerns their attempts to recover the deed and get it to the rightful heir. And that’s the whole plot, fleshed out so that it finishes a sentence.

Fans will say that of course the plots are skinny and they are a mere skeleton on which to hang the meat of comedy and circulatory system of laughs upon. Fair enough, but sadly the laughs must have been left in the offal bin of this metaphor. Most of the jokes are of the slapstick variety with Ollie falling into a water hole for example. And then doing it two more times to demonstrate the law of diminishing returns. The rest of the laughs are the looks to camera in which Ollie or the saloon keeper look for our sympathy as another idiotic comment is made.

Despite lasting only and hour the film is padded out with three songs with only ‘On the trail of the lonesome pine’ having any merit. The other two are just yodelling and pretty bad yodelling at that. You also get some really poor match cuts that Buster Keaton would have bettered ten years earlier and some really shocking rear projection work that makes the whole affair looks cheap and if it was shot in an afternoon.

Small pluses include the dreadful acting of James Finlayson the man credited with inventing Homer Simpson’s ‘Do’h’ and a funny sequence where the mule gets hauled into the air - no anti animal cruelty campaigners then! It is of course easy to mock and the success of the film shows that it was made with its paying audience in mind. Simple and repetitive gags for simpler times are fine but they haven’t aged well, and for all its charm, the film seems like a weird oddity that would be better forgotten.

Best Bit : Ass in the air
‘W’ Score : 10/23

Saturday, 18 April 2009

No. 103 : Wedlock

‘Wedlock’ is an 1991 American TV movie that was originally titled ‘Deadlock’ but renamed for it’s DVD release. ‘Deadlock’ is a far more appropriate and better title but crucially the name change granted it eligibility for this list. The film seems to have been a moderate success having won a prime time Emmy but that says more about the quality of TV movies in general rather than the value of this forgettable effort.

The film stars Rutger Hauer and began his wilderness years period following his early promise in films like ‘The Hitcher’ and ‘Blade Runner’. Recently he’s reinvented himself playing bit part low lifes in stuff like ‘Sin City’ and ‘Batman Begins’ and I think it’s a good use of his talents given that he’s always fine in small doses but a bit tiring when he’s the main attraction.

‘Wedlock’ is set, according to the caption, ‘Sometime in the future’ but happily for the budget everything in the future looks like contemporary California. Rutger plays Frank an ‘electronics expert’ who falls in with a bad crowd and is convinced to rob a diamond expo dressed as a priest, as you do. The robbery goes bad when his confederates turn out to be loose cannons and Rutger only just manages to get away with $25 million of stones. Predictably his henchmen turn out to be double crossers and shoot Rutger only to find that he’s stashed the booty elsewhere.

Despite being shot three times by future bullets Rutger survives and the film flashes forward to his arrival at a new prison called ‘The Holliday Camp’ run by, you’ve guessed it, Warden Holliday. As the cliché demands the warden is corrupt and stops at nothing to find out the location of the diamonds, resorting even to sticking Rutger is a box and having someone pee on him.

The prison itself has no bars, with the inmates kept in check by way of a nifty neck device which explodes if the wearer tries to tamper with it or, bizarrely, get more than 100 yards from his ‘wedlock partner’. The idea that every prisoner has an unknown mate and if either tries to leave the complex both blow up. The intention here is that they will act as their own warders and not let any one leave lest they too blow up. This is a ridiculous conceit and why they wouldn’t just have a perimeter without the partner thing is never satisfactorily explained.

Still it’s the angle the whole movie hangs on and Rutger soon learns his wedlock partner is the lovely Tracy (Mimi Rogers who looks like Pat Benetar from an 80‘s music video) who found out this secret info by blowing a guard or something. The two quickly escape, with both the Warden and Rutger's former accomplices in hot pursuit. Can Rutger, the electronics expert, remove the frankly rather basic collar in time and who will get the money? Can Tracy be trusted or is she another with an agenda which may or may not involve falling for our hero. If you want to know you’ll have to watch; or just ask, I don’t care.

It’s actually not too bad a film if you look beyond the terrible premise, risible acting, clichéd characters and barrel scraping budget. It moves along at a brisk pace and there are enough exploding heads and plenty of crappy dialogue to keep you interested. The cast includes the always terrible Joan Chen, the never trustworthy James Remar and the frankly awful Ned Reyerson out of ‘Groundhog Day’, who must be the least threatening evil prison warder ever.

The low octane shootout at the end is possibly the best bit with the least convincing helicopter explosion you’re ever likely to see. No doubt the budget had been exhausted by this point, but you do have to do more than superimpose some flames and dub in a ‘BOOM’!

You will see many worse films that ‘Wedlock’ which at least offers many opportunities to have a good old laugh at its many shortcomings. Not exactly high praise but praise after a fashion, which is something.

Best Bit : Rutger steals the wrong bag for getaway clothes
'W' Score : 13/23

Friday, 17 April 2009

No. 102 : Waltz With Bashir

The great 100 ‘W’s list was so sadly neglected that I actually watched a ‘W’ film the other night without making the connection. How the mighty have fallen! In retrospect the fall from grace can be traced to the start of the quality TV schedule and as most of my shows are about to go on their summer hiatuses you can be assured of some reinvigorated ‘W’ action.

The rebirth begins in somewhat downbeat fashion with ‘Waltz With Bashir’ which I had been aware of but was slow to track down due to the grim subject matter and the basic animation seen in the trailers. Of course prejudging is never a good thing and I was pleasantly surprised with the film, which was nominated for the Best Foreign Picture Oscar (lost).

Waltz With Bashir is a drama documentary which sees a middle age man try to make sense of some lucid dreams and to patch up some holes in his memory relating to his time as a teenage soldier in the Israeli army. Although animated almost all the way through the film uses real people and their experiences, with their interviews shown in animated form with their names and positions captioned in both Hebrew and English.

The dreams our man suffers from lead back to his service in Lebanon which took place during the 1982 conflict. He slowly recalls being attacked and being the only survivor of his squad, managing to escape only after swimming out to sea and then back to his own lines. As he delves deeper he realises that he may have been involved in a massacre of hundreds of civilians and wonders if the horrors have been erased from his memory to preserve is sanity.

The film successfully treads the thin line between entertaining and preaching and despite some harrowing sequences there are some fun bits too, not least a hardcore porno featuring a well endowed plumber with a ‘big tool’. The soundtrack is great too with pop hits from the period by the likes of P.I.L and O.M.D. sitting snugly with some evocative classical music.

Despite my reservations I did enjoy the animation which defies it’s basic appearance with some clever 360 degree turns and snappy direction, especially during the titular sequence.

Although it’s not a film that you could say you enjoyed it is thought provoking and affecting. I wasn’t aware of this incident prior to seeing the film and it’s certainly brave of an Israeli film maker to focus on an event that doesn’t show his country men in their best light.

This is a film well worth looking up and if you think animation isn’t the best medium for analysing the evil that men do, a small section of news footage from the time is included at the end to show that the real horrors are far worse than anyone could imagine, let alone draw.

Best Bit : Plumber Comes To Visit
'W' Rating : 19/23

Thursday, 16 April 2009

No. 101 : Watchmen

Due to an unprecedented one request the ‘W’ quest is resurrected for one final fling (well unless I manage to track down ‘White Dog’) with the once promised ‘Watchmen’ getting the final bow as originally promised. I should apologise for my tardiness as un-updated blogs are a bug bear of mine - ‘The Stink’ I’m looking at you!

Anyway the ‘W’ quest came and went with consummate ease and frankly it was a bit too easy to keep my interest. I had visions of scouring car boot sales for ancient VHS’s of long forgotten films to complete the challenge but even with hastily invented ‘no definite article’ and ‘no sequel' rules the ton was passed without a blip.

The Challenge revealed, somewhat predictably, that having a ‘W’ first initial is no guarantee of quality and indeed the misses outweighed the hits by several to a few. I did think of starting other challenges such as ‘Films with numbers in the title (no sequel numbers)’ and ‘Films where the lead character is called Steve or Stephen’ but sadly neither has yet to gain the necessary lottery funding.

I have kept busy in the interim by watching all of the Daily Mail’s war film collection and the latest additions to the IMDb 250 including the 1936 classic ‘My Man Godfrey’. Seeking suggestions from my brother was a poor choice however with the risible and downright nasty ‘Mum & Dad’ the best of a poor bunch.

Anyway on with the highly anticipated ‘Watchmen’ which I saw at the cinema a week after release to coincide with my 38th birthday celebrations. The film was viewed from the premium seats (supplement unpaid) at the Odeon Glasgow Quay in a select audience of six. The film has seemingly under performed with the $100 million mark just squeezed by in the States and screenings here falling off after a fortnight. The reviews were largely lukewarm which probably cost it an audience beyond the comic fans, together with its bum numbing 3 hour running time.

I’m sure you are all aware of the plot and if not check out the Wikipedia as I’ll assume a basic knowledge of the book and characters lest I bore my few regulars by churning up old ground.

The book is a stone cold classic that still turns up gems at the twentieth time of reading (‘raw shark’ indeed!) and it was always going to be a fool’s errand to try and distil its essence onto the big screen. The initial word was good however, with the characters surviving more or less intact as were the 1980’s setting and quirky details like the Gunga Diner and Hollis Mason’s body shop sign. Questions about an altered ending were raised early on and the wholesale removal of ‘The Black Freighter’ was also a concern.

The film opens well with a clever titles montage that showed the genesis of the superhero in America with plenty of nods to the book such as Dollar Bill lying dead in a bank’s revolving door just as Bob Dylan sang of being stuck in the doorway. From there not much altered from the book and that was a bit of a problem for me. With many scenes lifted intact I found myself getting a bit impatient waiting for the next bit to come along. In the opening scene of The Comedians demise, which was beautifully and faithfully realised, I was subconsciously willing the film along as I knew what was going to happen. I felt a similar urge to ‘fast forward’ throughout the film during several scenes such as Laurie and Dan in the basement (although not in the Owl ship!) and the Mars section, not because they were badly done just because the subject matter was so familiar.It's fine and well being reverential to the original work but a bit of insight and interpreation wouldn't have gone amiss.

During the film’s long gestation an animated comic of the original book was done in twelve chapters and I felt that the film was really just a more expensive version of that. I wouldn’t call the film a failure, and if I’d went in cold with no knowledge of the book I’d have loved it, but instead it just seemed a pretty soulless exercise in assisting the illiterate.

Of the actors Jackie Earl Haley was the pick of the litter with his note perfect Rorschach and I also liked Malin Akerman as the free spirited Laurie who matched her earlier showing in ‘Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies’.

As a spectacle and technical achievement ‘Watchmen’ is an unqualified success but for this reviewer the lack of insight and innovation made the whole experience somewhat empty and a definite disappointment.

I won’t end the quest on a down note however and would say that for the production values alone the film is well worth £6 of your cash and the cast are excellent to a man - that man being Matthew Goode whose Adrian Viedt lacked any charisma, malevolence, style - well just about anything really. I also disliked his CGI Bustabus which just looked like an invading Looney Tune, so at least they were well matched!

The long road to the Watchmen has been littered with crappy films, the odd nugget of goodness and the occasional surprise. If you are on medication and have time to kill I’d certainly recommend a quest such as this to focus your viewing and perhaps take you out of your usual comfort zone of choices. ‘Watchmen’ isn’t the best film on the list and I enjoyed it less than I anticipated I would when this quest was started all those months ago. Still, it’s about the journey not the arrival. Well the journey and a shit load of pick and mix!

Best Bit : Dan gets fired up
'W' Score 17/23