Sunday, 6 October 2013

No.208 : World War Z

World War Z at the IMDb
Zombie films are just like the walking corpses they portray - no matter how many you put down plenty more spring up to mine the last few morsels of original concept from the genre.

‘World War Z’ isn’t anything original apart from it having Brad Pitt in the lead and a budget greater than all the Romeros put together.

Brad plays a family man who has retired from his covert military job. He’s on holiday in Glasgow, sorry Philadelphia, when all sorts of trouble kicks off. It’s not immediately apparent what’s happening and I quite liked the confusing reveal of events as that’s how it’d play if you were in that situation. Anyway Brad and family steal an RV and head away from the troubles only to find that the unrest is nationwide.

He gets called up by his former bosses to lead a taskforce to identify and cure the virus that has caused large sections of the population to turn into fast moving and homicidal zombies. He gets a young scientist to help as well as a team of gun totting marines. Alas it goes tits up early on when his genius falls at the first hurdle and none of the answers are found in the chaos that is now Korea.

Not to be disheartened Brad follows some thin leads to Israel where advance warning of the plague allowed them to build a big wall to keep the zombies out - that’ll work. With destruction in his wake Brad heads to Wales where he’s unlikely to cause any noticeable damage. Once there he and Malcolm Tucker try to find a cure that will save humanity.

I thought this was going to be a total turkey and only watched to see what the set dressed Glasgow would look like but it turned out to be half decent. Glasgow only figures in the first five minutes and it was a bit jarring to see George Square next to establishing shots of the Philadelphia skyline - I guess the audiences in Arkansas wouldn't be similarly disturbed though! The action was pretty good with the carnage in George Square only marginally worse than that on a regular Saturday night.

Brad’s family, who figure significantly in the first half hour, are quickly sidelined and that has to be a positive given he has a plain wife and two stage school kids. Once Brad starts trotting the globe the action hots up with the scenes in Jerusalem particularly impressive with the CGI zombies a million times better than those in ‘I am Legend’. It is quite lucky that Brad manages to survive several moments where all around him were killed, including a decent jumbo jet crash - still if I was paying him $20 million I’d look after him too!

The last scenes in the lab are somewhat drawn out and the solution seems a bit pat and ridiculous at the same time. Is the curse worse than the disease - very probably!

Over all the film did feel a bit padded and somewhat disjointed - the three acts were almost like snippets from separate films and although I know the source book was in a diary style it was somewhat uneven. Brad does his usual solid job but got little support from the rest of the cast who were relative unknowns. The zombies were good in the long shots but up close they didn’t seem to do a lot of damage - maybe the blood was toned down for a more favourable certificate? It’s certainly a film you won’t hate but it won’t be toppling the ‘28’ films from the top of the pile either - no matter how many zombies swarm over it.

Best Bit - Gonna Need a Bigger Wall   16/23

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

No.207 : Wilder Napalm

Wilder Napalm at the IMDb

 Possibly best known as an early screen writing credit for ‘Breaking Bad’ supremo Vince Gilligan, ‘Wilder Napalm’ is a romantic comedy involving brothers with pyrotechnic powers.

Debra Winger is the love interest and as the film opens she is nearing the end of a year long stint of house arrest. Her husband, Wilder,  arrives at their trailer and after some fun he heads off to his boring job at a photo booth. He also doubles as a part time fire-fighter and bingo caller but his mundane life is torn up when the circus comes to town.

The star attraction of the circus is Wilder’s brother Wallace who although a clown, is planning a new act, ‘Doctor Napalm’ which involves him using his fire raising skills. This plan upsets Wilder who has agreement with his brother to keep their skills secret after they accidentally killed a man when burning down his shack.

The two brothers haven’t spoken in five years after Wilder married Winger, a woman they both had feelings for. The action is slow and gentle but the film eventually meanders towards a fiery showdown when the two brothers face off after Wallace tries to get friendly with Winger. There are plenty of pyrotechnics but few surprises along the way.

I quite liked this film but it was fluffy and undemanding stuff and a world away from the in-depth characters and dense plotting of ‘Breaking Bad’. Debra Winger was lovely as the free spirited Vida but just a touch too ditzy for my liking. She did wear a sequence of flimsy green dresses but you lose sympathy for her when she gets frisky with Wallace. It is understandable though as her husband Wilder is such a drip and played with no personality by Arliss Howard. They did try to make him a bit quirky but he just came across as dull.

Dennis Quaid was better as the reckless Wallace and he played it with his usual shit eating grin. His relationship with his brother wasn’t really explored and I didn’t see how Winger could have fallen for them both as they are polar opposites on the personality scale.

There weren’t many laughs but lots of quirky touches such as the barber shop singing fire crew who did a great version of ‘Duke of Earl’ and there was a dog with a hat on.

The fire raising powers weren’t explained but were used to good effect with things lightening up and boiling when their passions were raised. It did get a bit silly when they started throwing fire balls like The Human Torch but I suppose if you are handing out powers you might as well give them full licence to use them.

Down the cast you also got Earnest from those ‘Earnest Goes…’ films and an underused M. Emmet Walsh as the fire Chief. It was a good ensemble and there was a lot to like but at nearly two hours the premise didn’t have the legs and the whole thing fizzled out long before the protracted final showdown.

Best Bit ; ‘Dook, Dook, Dook of Earl….’
W Rating 12/23

Thursday, 29 August 2013

No.206 : Wild Geese II

Wild Geese 2 at the IMDb
Few would deny that ‘The Wild Geese’ is the best film ever, but what about its less well known sequel? Can it match the spectacle of Richard Burton puffing in his combat fatigues or Roger Moore looking cool while chewing on a cheroot?

The film follows the same set up as the original, with an evil conglomerate, this time a media one, trying to secure a mercenary for their outlandish mission. They ask Edward Fox, who is the brother of the now late Richard Burton from the first film but he tells them to bugger off. He does however put them in touch with Scott Glenn whom we’ve already witnessed wrestling with men in a public toilet. No, not like that.

They take him without a look at his credentials and advise he can have all the cash he wants if he can deliver them the 90 year old Rudolph Hess who is languishing in Spandau prison in Berlin. They think the old man will have loads of secrets to spill that they can use in their media empire and possibly influence current political figures. They don’t seem to worry that he’s been in jail for 40 years and that most of his tales will involve prison soup and the price of snout.

Glenn heads off to Berlin and is soon joined by Barbara Carrera who, along with her brother, is the representative of the shady American backers. After touring the sights of Berlin and engaging with some of the local troublemakers the plan begins to take shape. As you’d no doubt guess it involves wearing stolen uniforms and engineering a kidnap after a faked medical emergency. As they’ve already got him in the cast they call in the previously reluctant Fox who for unexplained reason now thinks the plan is a goer.

Alas the two hour run time demands some padding so we get Stratford John’s laughable Arab fix it man and Patrick Stewart’s career worst Russian general. The also employ that bloke off casualty and some other hired guns to form their motley crew which they then train up in an old garage for five minutes.

Eventually the plan gets underway and using the cover of drunken football fans the snatch is on. Will they get away and get paid? Will Hess or rather Laurence Olivier survive the whole shoot and will we be able to understand why all these people keep getting shot in the head?

Although it shares a producer and one character name with the original this film is nothing more than a brazen attempt to secure some reflected glory. They also steal some musical cues and the ‘telescope’ end credits but apart from that this is a bog standard thriller with nothing to recommended it.

The plot is basic at best and although they try to mix it up with a few double crosses it just seems too contrived and confusing for its own good. There is a lot of waffle about the British wanting Hess out so they can shift the Russians but there is also a local gang boss who does his own kidnappings and bad line in acting to keep things the wrong side of convoluted.

Scott Glenn has no charisma whatsoever and doesn’t convince as the rock hard leader of men. He manages to bed Carerra in the tamest of love scenes but he is so wooden he should be sprayed for Dutch Elm disease.  Fox is a bit better doing his usual ‘top ho’ English gent bit and he is a bit tasty with his rifle but in truth his whole character is an import from the far superior ‘The Day of the Jackal’. Carerra adds a touch of glamour but her acting is terrible especially when her brother gets his ticket stamped and she yells the place down, in an unconvincing matter.

The big action set piece was really botched with the Red Caps bumbling about and taking orders from Glenn’s obvious doppelganger. It was hard to work out what was happening and why the army hung around for five minutes to allow the switcheroo to take place - maybe the production was confused as to who was the real dead body - the stiff or poor old Larry Olivier who looked on his last legs.

The last scenes made a mockery of all that had gone before, with seismic character changes allowing a totally mystifying ending. All in all this was a shocker that rightfully remains in the shadow of its illustrious predecessor.

Best Bit : hmmm… ‘We’re drunk football supporters, hic!’
W Score 7/23

Sunday, 25 August 2013

No.205 : Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!

Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! at the IMDb
There aren’t enough films with exclamation marks in their titles - off hand I can only thing of ‘Sink the Bismarck!’ and the crappy Michael Winner comedy ‘Bullseye!’. Any more out there?

The exclamation mark here is a bit misleading as there is no real excitement or urgency in this forgettable romantic comedy.

The titular Tad is a Hollywood leading man with image problems. His running about with starlets is alienating his audience and his agent., Nathan Lane, decides that a charity date competition is the best way to get him back on track. Meanwhile the staff at a small town grocery store are gushing over how lovely Tad is. The manager, Topher Grace, is keen on one of the check out girls but is too shy to make a move. The object of Topher’s affections, Kate Bosworth, is unaware of her admirer despite everyone else knowing they are a good match.

Kate enters the Tad contest and, of course, she wins. She’s jetted off to LA with Topher telling her to save her ‘carnal gift’. The date goes well and, although there is no foo-foo, Tad is clearly taken with the small town girl. Later back at the store Topher is readying his move when Tad shows up - he’s only smitten and has decided to up sticks and move to the West Virginia backwater and pursue the lovely lass.

What follows is a predictable game as the two men try to woo the lovely Kate with slight dirty tricks employed but there is no nastiness and the outcome is never in doubt.

This is a hard film to really dislike as a group of attractive people have fun in the sun. It’s just not very substantial with the paper thin characters bumbling towards an inevitable climax. There is no threat or danger with Tad being underwritten and ill defined in his motivations. He seems a decent bloke but there are suggestions he’s a bit sneaky - like him stealing Topher’s tiresome ‘six smiles’ routine - but overall you have no idea if he’s good or bad. Josh Duhamel is fine as Tad to begin with, but once he decants to the small town he loses credibility - smiler Kate or all those hookers and drugs? Come on!

We are expected to root for Topher’s wishy washy store manager but he’s such a wimp that you don’t really care. He does have some good scenes with the slutty bar tender played by Kathryn Hahn, who seems a far better choice than the bland and harmless Kate Bosworth whom everyone else is falling over themselves for.

The cast was filled out with the always great but underused Gary Cole and Nathan Lane as the excitable agent.

Overall you’ll do a lot worse but there is not a lot to recommend this predictable slice of fluff.

THE Tag Line : Six Smiles Out of Ten 14/23

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

No.204 : White Comanche

White Comanche at the IMDb
William Shatner stars in this risible 1967 western playing the role of twins - one cowboy and one Indian. Using the classic theme of duality, one is good while one is bad with Shatner showing his range as being totally wooden as both.

We first meet Shatner as cowboy Johnny Moon, resplendent in double denim. His expert horsemanship is cut short when he’s grabbed by a lynching gang and he only just escapes. Meanwhile the Indian Shatner, Notah,  is whooping it up and attacking stagecoaches. He’s high on the peyote and kills indiscriminately, saving only the lovely Rosanna Yanni for some ravishing.

The Shatners meet at the Indian camp with cowboy Shatner telling his brother he’s tired of being blamed for his crimes. A busybody squaw stops a shootout and the Shatners agree to meet for a showdown in a nearby town in four day’s time.

Cowboy Shatner heads into town but once again his brother’s reputation gets him into trouble. The local villain tries to hire his gun while Joseph Cotten’s sheriff tries to warn him off. After an overlong saloon fight the lady fresh from the ravishing tries to kill our hero. Happily the misunderstanding is soon explained and Rosanna is hanging about Shatner’s bedroom in no time flat.

With the showdown imminent some space is padded by a low rent gunfight complete with people slowly tipping themselves over balconies and slapping ketchup on their bodies. The bad guy is trying to take over the town you see, with only Cotton, Shatner and the mayor ready to take arms against them. Not so much ‘High Noon’ as ‘Low Goon’. Apologies for that.

With the town secure for now Indian Shatner raises the Comanche nation to attack the town. They are indifferent to the muffin top spewing over the top of his jeans and after wiping out some miners the showdown is on. But wait! Some Indians aren’t in agreement with the ‘slaughter everyone’ policy and we can only hope that the brothers and peoples of all nations can learn to live in peace and harmony.

This film is so bad that it defies any criticism. It’s pious and self important while offering nothing in the way of social commentary or insight. Shatner sucks in both roles and they don’t even bother changing his haircut when he’s playing the Indian. They also don’t bother with split screens so the pairs’ meetings are always a flurry of cut shots or of obvious body double.

Shatner is the worst but the acting is uniformly  awful with the mayor possibly the worst bit part actor I’ve seen. Cotten is OK as the sheriff but you don’t buy his homily wisdom or bravery in the face of insurmountable odds.

The film was shot in Spain and it shows in the green valleys and lack of mountainous terrain. The sets and costumes are also poor with Indian Shatner parading about bare chested in jeans much of the time and possibly wearing the same jeans as the cowboy. The soundtrack sounds like it has been lifted from a porno with totally inappropriate jazzy sequences serving only to keep the audience awake.

Some will get a few laughs at this dreadful production but for the rest of us it’s a complete waste of time.

Best Bit : Shatner on Shatner Action  6/23

Saturday, 17 August 2013

No.203 : Where There’s a Will

Where There's A Will at the IMDb

 More schmaltzy Hallmark made for TV fodder now as we get a predictable ,but perfectly decent comedy drama, the plot of which can be guessed from the punny title.

Familiar character actor Frank Whaley gets the lead in an undemanding role as con man Richie who is in debt to a local heavy. As luck would have it he’s been traced as the sole relative of an old lady in Texas, whom we’ve already witnessed checking her bulging bank book. Hard up Richie heads straight to Texas in his Trans-Am making us wonder why he doesn’t sell that to save his legs instead. Still they’ve put some filler on the fender to make him look like he’s on his uppers, so that’s OK then.

The old lady is playing it for laughs with pratfalls off her reclining chair but we know she’s as sharp as a tack and certainly a match for the gormless grifter. Grandma is played by the mum off ‘Happy Days’ and has a blonde helper who looks like Sharon off ‘Eastenders’. Frank and the help hit it off and enjoy a  small kiss but he still has designs on the family fortune and engages a lawyer to have the old bat declared incompetent.

Elsewhere the heavy has tracked Frank down offering a tiny bit of danger that’s soon seen off by far too nice Sheriff Keith Carradine. Frank also has a rival in an aged granny grabber who has designs on the old lady’s bloomers and has sussed our hero for what he is. But wait, the small town friendliness has changed Frank and he has gained love for Granny after her makeover and he's started to look at his own abandonment issues.

Can Granny and Frank both find happiness and will the house go to the most worthy beneficiary?

This was low key stuff but totally inoffensive with a couple of touching moments - or moments of mawkish sentimentality if you’re a cynic like me. Whaley does OK in the lead but I was never convinced with his bad guy persona or of his plans to swindle the old woman. We know from the off that she was more than his match and the only question was whether Frank would fall in line or be chased off the claim by the wily widow.

The romance angle was tacked on and the kisses exchanged looked awkward and unconvincing. Frank’s about turn, which literally happened overnight, was completely unheralded although they did try to use the metaphor of an unfinished jigsaw left by his absentee mother and some sepia shots to convince, I wasn’t buying.

Marion Ross as the Granny was likeable but her slapstick was a bit overdone and scenes with her chair and with a map just looked silly and unconnected to the rest of the drama laid out before. Carradine as the no nonsense but overly wise Sheriff was underused in an underwritten part and his only real scene was unconvincing as he talked the gangster out of knee capping Frank.

To be fair if you are watching a drama on the Hallmark channel about people vying for a will you can't complain about ‘Where There’s a Will’ as it was almost to the moment what I expected.

Best Bit : Vows of Last Rites?  15/23

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

No.202 : What to Expect When You’re Expecting

What to Expect When You're Expecting at the IMDb
The title and premise should give you some clues but for the slow witted, like me, this is a total chick flick that will drain your will to live as it meanders through two hour’s of  feelings and sentimentality.

We meet a variety of couple in various situations who are either pregnant or trying for a baby. If you have turned off already you’re a smarter man than me! We open with a celebrity dance contest with reality show host Cameron Diaz winning the day with her partner, Mr Schu off ‘Glee’. The audience suspect they are sleeping together, speculation that is confirmed when Diaz pukes in the winner’s trophy - she’s up the duff!

Elsewhere photographer Jennifer Lopez is trying in vain to have a baby and instead plans to adopt from Ethiopia. In a familiar scene they try to clean up their act to impress the woman from the adoption agency, but don’t worry; she’s lovely.

We also get Elizabeth Banks as a baby guru having her first child with the dad being the son of Dennis Quaid who is a competitive race car driver who is also expecting twins with his young trophy wife. Down the cast list the young girl off ‘Up in the Air’ is pregnant after a one night stand and Chris Rock is running a dads’ baby walking group in the park.

So far, so dreadful, but don’t worry; we have minor traumas and growth coming our way too!

Of course I’m not the target audience for this kind of stuff but it was mawkish rubbish with nothing to say apart from a lot of twaddle about babies and bonding. There was a miscarriage that was glossed over quickly and a near death on the table giving birth, but for the most part it was high fiving, life affirming stuff that seemed an exercise in exploiting the mumsy set.

Of the couples I’d probably go with Quaid’s as best mainly because he was boorish and not tuned into the paternal vibe. OK he did have some growth with his son who faded in the shadow of his famous father, but Quaid came across as likeable whereas the son was just a wimp.

Most shameful was the once edgy comic Chris Rock who must have cringed with every schmaltzy line he excreted out. His plot strand was very thin with the union of new dads idea poorly formed and terribly executed.

Diaz and Banks were OK with Banks probably taking the laurels, as they were, after her rant about how crappy pregnancy was becoming that old movie staple; the internet sensation.

There was some overlap with Lopez’s photographer photographing Quaid’s wife and Quaid’s son being on Diaz’s weight loss show but these were perfunctory at best and added nothing to the mix which was as weak as school dance orange drink.

Overall this was probably a success in what it intended itself to be. There was never going to be a shoot out or a car chase but they might have offered something for the dedicated ‘W’ movie reviewer. OK Cameron Diaz in a red sequined bikini but that was it.

Best Bit : Diaz shakes it   7/23

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

No.201 : Whole Lotta Sole

Whole Lotta Sole at the IMDb
Fear not spelling fans - we have that title correctly spelt. A fish based pun in the title - this comedy promises plenty!

Set in Belfast, the film follows a variety of characters whose paths are destined to cross. The least appealing but most watchable is Mad Dog a foul mouthed Irish gangster who runs an amusement arcade and illicit casino. He decks his wife for saying he fires blanks and clearly parenthood is a touchy subject.

Meanwhile in his casino, young dad Jimbo is losing his money and getting deep in the hole. Mad Dog threatens to kill him unless he can raise the £5k in two days - his only option may be to rob the titular fish market. To this end he engages his hapless pal and visits his ex-IRA granddad who thinks the troubles are still ongoing. The old man gives them his tommy gun but insists on tagging along.

Elsewhere Bostonian Brendan Fraser is in town minding an antiques shop for his cousin. We know he has a dodgy past but he seems a decent bloke and certainly impresses the local Ethiopian lovely. Added to the mix is cantankerous police chief Colm Meaney and his community policeman son and a gang of gypsies who may or may not be up to no good.

The robbery goes down badly with little money to be found, but a battered case may be the real prize. As the players converge on Brendan’s shop a hostage situation ensues - will the right people go down and will all the relationships be mended? Hope so!

This was a decent slice of fun that lacked any real ambition. They must have netted Brendan Fraser on his holidays because the rest of the production looks like it shared the budget with an episode of ‘Father Ted’. It did start brightly with some colourful characters and situations introduced. Mad Dog played by David O’Hara had some real menace although his baby snatching plan lacked credibility. I liked Jimbo less, mainly because he was played as a loveable scallywag but came across as a feckless arse. His pal and Grandfather offered more laughs and for the most part Jimbo just shouted ‘be quiet’ a lot as his feeble brain checked through his options.

Colm Meaney did his usual stand up job although the subplot involving his relationship with his son could have been jettisoned with no loss whatsoever. It was good that he got experience of sieges as he’s on the opposite side of one in the new Alan Partridge film. Fraser was OK but I didn’t engage with him on any level. He was meant to be sympathetic and bit mysterious but he came across as largely disinterested.

For me the film lost its way when the siege started and given that took up the last hour of the 90 minute film it was always going to struggle to get a positive review. That said it did have a certain charm and at least two laughs which is better than most. I think if this was caught as a TV movie you’d feel you’d done well but as a cinema or DVD outing you can’t help but feel a bit short-changed.

Best Bit : Cod Knows   ‘W’ Score 12/23

Friday, 2 August 2013

No.200 : World of the Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2

World of the Dead at the IMDb

 If you thought 2011’s ‘The Zombie Diaries’ was terrible you should see the sequel, or rather you shouldn’t.

In truth it’s not much of a sequel more of a similar premise that they’ve tacked on to the original to give it brand recognition. They’ve also shamefully used the ‘…of the Dead’ title format to suggest it may be an offspring of ‘Dawn’, ‘Day’ or ‘Land’. Of course it isn’t, a fact that is clear from the off with a terrible scene of a family holed up in their house that was taken lock and stock from ‘28 Weeks Later’. In this version a family are having a birthday party for their daughter. The man reminds the woman that they can’t go out due to the infection warning. Literally a minute later he hears something outside and he, soon followed by the wife, head out into the dark to have a look. The whole event is recorded on a shaky camcorder and ends abruptly as a predictable zombie appears.

We then cut to another camcorder - authentic = cheap! - as a solider says they found the tape of the birthday party massacre and are now making their own so ‘people know’. I doubt people are interested as a bunch of poorly drilled squaddies talk in clichés and try to look tough. Their base is secure but someone leaves the gate open and several zombies saunter in. Despite their fire power they soon give the order to ‘Fall Back’ which is heard relentlessly throughout the film. The soldiers take a civilian lady with them, who seems disturbed and a poor collection of hardware that looks like it was raided from a toy box.

The team start heading to the coast where they have heard that boats out of Britain are leaving for Holland. Britain has seemingly got the worst of the outbreak and they’ll be safe in Europe. I guess no one told them the title! As the crew continue their journey we jump to footage of men in haz-mat suits burning bodies and, tearfully, a child’s doll. We see these guys a lot and we are seemingly meant to wonder who they are. The big reveal that they are actually the only people they could be will surprise you not at all.

Our squad soon encounter another group of survivors, but these are nasty people who abuse the zombies - sometimes by dry humping them! They have a couple of encounters including a needlessly graphic one where a special needs man is egged on to rape and then murder a female soldier. I imagine the idea is to show that people are worse than zombies but it just seemed like a tacky way to get some blood and breasts on screen.

As our heroes head towards Hopes Point we all hope it ends soon, but there are two big surprises in store. Actually there are none - only that this tosh managed to secure a release.

To be fair the film didn’t promise much. There is not one familiar face on show and the whole thing is short in a field and a barn with a camcorder. OK it may be a film school project with delusions of grandeur but how can they justify dialogue like “It’s Quiet”, “Yeah, too quiet” and “Something doesn’t feel right”. They should have set it on a dark and stormy night and be done with it!

The zombies were of the slow moving ilk and for the most part looked like pale students dripping taco sauce from their mouths. The kills were the usual mix of screams and spaghetti being pulled from their trousers. There was no attempt at characterisation and the acting was dreadful. It looked like you’d get a starring role if you supplied your own ketchup.

Overall this was a squalid unlikable film with austerity budget visuals and a script that was as interesting and innovating as Dan Brown’s recycling bin. In the worst scene a leering fool, looking at a bound and topless woman, says “ I spy something beginning with ‘T’” - if you answered ‘Terrible film’ you’d get the prize!

Best Bit : Mmmm Low rent chase through field of zombies?  ‘W’ Score 3/23

Monday, 29 July 2013

No.199 : Who is Clark Rockefeller ?

Who is Clark Rockefeller? at the IMDb
Good old true life TV movies - they’ve always got questions in the titles and those interrogative pronouns are solid gold for all we ‘W’ movie bloggers.

The film tells the tale of the longest scam in FBI history - a kind of ‘Catch me if you can’t’. We open as a distraught mother tries to get right her televised plea for her daughter. It’s not clear what is happening but we’re sure we’ll get back to that later. We cut to the seemingly wealthy Clark Rockefeller on the way to his club. He remembers everyone’s name and his easy charm has the ladies swooning. He seems like a solid dude and we know he’s not a fly by night as his name is painted on a board of former presidents of the club.

All is not as it seems however when he tells his driver an elaborate tale about someone stalking him and the chauffeur pitches in when the baddie seemingly tries to grab Clark’s daughter during their custody visit. We soon learn that the ‘stalker’ is in fact a chaperone and that Clark has kidnapped his own child. Clark’s ex-wife shows up and after a bit of flapping about over a dropped teddy gives the police a statement. This forms the main part of the film’s narrative flow as the 12 year marriage is scrutinised by a cop keen on gossip.

The lady detective, played by Jonas’ annoying wife out of ‘The Unit’ is a bit of a pain and all judgemental over the wife not spotting the subtle clues that Clark wasn’t all he said he was - the lack of cash for one. Luckily the ex-wife, Sandra, is loaded as she has a high flying job. This allows Clark to carry out his philanthropic acts which mainly consist of buying wine and talking bull shit. As Sandra’s tale gets nearer the present day and her televised plea for her daughter - remember that? - the police start to piece together Clark’s life.

Clark started out as a German exchange student but soon learned of peoples’ gullibility and set him self up as European royalty. After losing his accent he spins through several jobs and possibly a couple of murders. The film isn’t too explicit on this point as it was still pre-trial when it was made but Wikipedia tells us that he totally did it!

While the wife is sounding off and the police are doing those magical internet searches you only get in films we also see Clark enjoy a few days with his daughter. Will her new tomboy hair grow out and will the bumbling cops finally nail their man after 20 years?

I’ve seen a few of these TV movies lately and this is certainly the best of them. The production values were pretty good with Will out of ‘Will & Grace’ in the lead. I’ve never watched the show but he was a compelling and likable actor in a role where he could just have been a real shit. That was well judged as everyone else got suckered so why not the viewer too?

There weren’t any explosions or car chases but at least they went to the expense of recreating Clarks jobs as a surgeon and scientist and that flashback German mullet wig must have cost $20 at least! The film is a trim 86 minutes and it covers a lot of ground in that time. The story was well told and it certainly held my interest throughout.

Best Bit : I’m saving the economy of Liberia!  ’W’ Rating 15/23

Monday, 22 July 2013

No.198 : Where the Sidewalk Ends

Where the Sidewalk Ends at the IMDb

Some gritty film noir cop drama from 1950 now as some heads get cracked and some dames get kissed. We know this is going to be gritty from the off when the film’s title is chalked onto a pavement - none of your sissy titles here!

Our hard bitten hero is New York police detective Mark Dixon who, as the son of a now dead criminal, is trying a bit too hard to show what side of the law he’s on. He’s just been demoted for smacking up the suspects by his by the book commander, Karl Malden. Meanwhile a card game is going wrong. The gangster have a sucker in tow but the mark turns the tables and tries to make off with twenty large. Huge mistake. The mobsters rub him out but one of their molls fails to play along and gets a smack for her trouble.

The cops show up after everyone has split and Mark is soon on the trail of the main suspect. The suspect who’s had a few takes a swing and gets slapped on the chops for his troubles. Alas he’s a war hero with a plate in his head and promptly drops dead. Mark has a problem - call it in or hide the body. With his roughhouse reputation likely to give him bother he decides to hide the stiff.

His elaborate plan to dress up as the dead man and buy a train ticket wearing his hat goes well at first but soon circumstance and some solid police work start to unravel his scheme. Unfortunately the gangster’s moll, to whom Mark has taken a shine, gets involved when her taxi driver father starts to get the police’s attention. Mark tries to fit up a local mobster for the crime but soon his own lies come back to haunt him.

Will he do the right thing and come clean or can the frame hold? Is sending a bad man down OK even if it’s for a crime he didn’t commit? and will anyone get some sleep?

Set over one long night this is a superior police procedural with all the grime and backstabbing of an Ed McBain novel. The hero played by Dana Andrews (that’s a man’s name BTW!) is excellent as the driven and ruthless detective. I wasn’t convinced by his motivations especially when these changed after one small peck with the taxi driver’s daughter - still it was in black and white times.

There were plenty of fist fights with the violence realistic and bone crunching. The bad guys were suitably evil and the thin line between them and the cops was expertly drawn by director Otto Preminger. I liked how the perfect alibi was slowly unwound with Malden great in the scene where the eye witness went from convinced to sceptical in five minutes.

It was clear from the off that the bad boy detective would need some redemption but it was hard won and mostly convincing as his hard held beliefs were brought into sharp focus when the innocents started to suffer.

With no top stars, a limited budget and bleak plot this may not be the sort of film you’d look out for but it’s expertly made and has some stand out performances. Well worth looking up!

Best Bit : Punchbag at the Gym ‘W’ Rating 20/23

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

No.197 : Wholly Moses

Wholly Moses at the IMDb

Dudley Moore stars in this alleged religious comedy that boasts a few star cameos but lacks any laughs whatsoever.

We open with a bus tour of the Holy Land with Moore recovering from recent heartbreak. He talks to a girl and helps find her hat when it blows off. Needless to say it blows into a cave and they find a lost gospel - ‘The Book of Herschel’. As luck would have it Moore is an expert in ancient languages and as he reads the script we dissolve into the past where his words are acted out. All that in the first five minutes - we’re not talking a bout a slow burning labyrinth plot here!

The first bible tale to be lampooned is a lift from ‘Life of Brian’ with Hershel almost having the life that Moses had. As baby Moses is set adrift on his boat made from reeds another child is similarly dispatched. While Moses is found by a princess Hershel is brought up by a family nearby with his own father acting a a slave so he can keep watch. Not surprisingly the baby grows up to be Dudley Moore - the man has range! - and he haplessly finds his way up the social order. In one massively familiar scene a group of conspirators say ‘we need a real idiot to do the job’ just as Moore sticks his head through the curtains. We all saw that one coming! I think it was even old in biblical times!

What follows are risible scenes where Moore, as the Royal Astronomer, talks at length with a jive talking pharaoh who for some reason is a black teenager. He also acts as food tester but sadly the poison is not present. He later survives a massive battle with literally several troops on either side. The disconnected scenes are interlinked by Moore’s tiresome narration and the whole enterprise seems solely geared to shoehorning in as many B list celebrities as possible - oh look there’s Dom Deluise.

Wee Dud is then cast out into the desert and soon gets a job as a shepherd. He meets a beautiful girl - it’s her from the bus! - and is annoyed at having to keep up with the Moseses. His big chance comes when he stumbles across Moses getting his instructions from the burning bush and thinks the mission is for him. He sets off to Egypt to free the slaves and starts to believe he can perform miracles due to other unrelated events such as thinking he can part waters due to a dam being built upstream. If it started bad it gets worse as the curing of the unwilling beggar from ‘Life of Brian’ is performed in full.

As Dud nears the end of the ancient script you have to wonder why his agent didn’t throw the movie version straight in the bin. It’s not just that it totally unoriginal and devoid of any wit or merit it’s just so lazy and obvious that it’d be an insult to an ‘The Only Way is Essex’ viewer. Dudley has never laid claim to being a great actor but he’s basically just himself in both timelines. This can be funny if it’s a big and engaging personality but he’s not funny and can’t carry a small bucket never mind the whole film.

The script is appalling with loads of bible references piled up alongside jokes on the ass = bottom scale of funniness. The production values are also poor with California ‘doubling’ for the Holy Land. This is done with a couple of matte paintings and some costumes that look like they’ll be due back at the fancy dress shop by 5pm.

As you may have gathered ‘Wholly Moses’ was a god-awful mess and perhaps God should have rested on the day this was excreted out too. © Spinal tap.

Best Bit : The orgy of soddom was remarkably tame but we’ll take what we can get. 7/21

Friday, 12 July 2013

No.196 : Wake of the Red Witch

Wake of the Red Witch at the IMDb
Sorry fans of the supernatural there is no actual witch in this film - it’s the name of a boat - albeit a boat with a grudge! It also has John Wayne and the best rubber octopus fight you’re ever likely to see so it must be great right? Mmmmm…

Wayne stars as Captain Ralls. We know he’s a bit loopy from the off when he punishes men caught fighting by making them have a big fight. That’ll learn them. You do have to be sympathetic though as the ship commanded by Wayne is a stock footageship and a poor one at that - every time we see it in an establishing shot it’s doing the same turn - he must have been going around in circles for years!

Anyway it’s the 1860s and Wayne is running a cargo of $5 million of gold bullion. No sooner has he welcomed a new officer on board that he decides to crash the ship and tell a tale to the board of enquiry. Suspicious insurance types will thinks he’s after a payoff or plans to go back and salvage the gold when no one is looking but c’mon - it’s John Wayne!

Narration is taken up by his new officer Sam Rosen who has a thin moustache and is easily lead. The scallywag sailors hire a boat and sail about a while trying to shake off the insurance men who don’t believe the false co-ordinates the rascals gave for the wrecked ship’s location. After buying a treasure map at a bar, as you do, the lads arrive at a remote island inhabited by some pearl divers and a couple of dubious Frenchies.

We soon learn in narration and flashback that the trap is nothing of the sort and Wayne has orchestrated things to get back to the island and reclaim his girl, We learn that seven years before Wayne fought a big octopus for a box of pearls and in return was given the captaincy of the Red Witch. He’s rather have the girl however and despite losing her to the nasty Frenchman decides to win her back. Sadly she snuffs it and although his first mate gets a squeeze of another lady in a big frock Wayne agrees to go back to the wreck of The Red Witch to get the gold - can he find the cargo or does a greater prize await him?

This was an over long and needlessly complex bit of nonsense but I actually quite enjoyed it. It made no concessions to John Wayne being cast as a maverick seafarer and he certainly didn’t bother with any accent or characterisation - he is John Wayne after all. Although set in the South Seas it looks like Wayne never left the studio with one memorable scene showing him walking by a projection of men who appeared to be watching a projection of Islanders in their canoes. Not so much you can see the joins as the joins are all there is to see!

The characters were as you’d expect - villainous and broadly sketched. The evil French overlord had no redeeming features although for some reason he was sad when Wayne was mistakenly thought dead despite trying to kill him throughout. The best bit was of course the underwater octopus fight. Wayne was really fat and puffed his way down about ten feet to retrieve a chest that the locals had failed to capture for many years. Not satisfied with this he jumps back and rolls about with the beast in a scene terrifying to anyone with a phobia of vulcanised products.

The ladies had nothing much to do apart from look pretty and Gail Russell certainly managed this im a series of low cut tops. Seemingly she and Wayne hooked up after this film and you can see he got a better return than the audience! The finale which sees Wayne in a massive diver’s suit plundering the wreck is good for a few laughs as every gold bar lifted causes it to see-saw violently - who stored them exactly in the middle! The slightly shock ending added an extra tick and overall this was a fun outing with a couple of standout scenes that could have been lifted straight from the Marx Brothers.

Best Bit : Put that tentacle there John
‘W’ Rating 14/23

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

No.195 : White Feather

White Feather at the IMDb

 ‘Number 2’ Robert Wagner stars in this 1955 western which, as far as I can gather, isn’t related to the Marillion song of the same name.

Wagner does a bit of pre-credit narration in which he tells us that this is a true story, but the Indians speak English so we can understand them. Thanks for making us feel stupid from the off Number 2!

Wagner plays Josh Tanner, a young surveyor looking to plan some towns in gold rich Indian country. He finds the body of a prospector with an arrow in his back and after pocketing his gold he heads to the army fort. He does a bit of exposition for the Commander and hands over the gold so we know he’s a solid fella. He heads to the store to get a room (and he treats us like we’re thick!) just in time to hear the racist storekeeper give it to some Indians. The bigot sends our man to the back room whereupon our hero meets the sexy daughter fresh out of the bath - a whole shoulder is on display!

We learn that tensions are running high with the Indians, with some ready to sign a treaty but others, notably the Cheyenne, refusing to lay down before their masters - the dogs! Wagner takes a laissez faire approach and on a date with the store keeper’s daughter impresses the Cheyenne Chief’s headstong son with his diplomacy and comb. He’s so impressed that next day he delivers a nice squaw for him - that must have been some nice comb!

He take his new date back to the camp and is worried to note the Indians are practicing shooting on some dummies made up like soldiers - this can’t end well! Wagner tries to chum up with the Indians by giving them knives but all he gets in return is a hot horse that spells trouble with the neighbouring tribes from whom it was stolen. Meanwhile the old Chief has decided to smoke um peace pipe to the chagrin of his hot headed son.

As things get hot on the diplomatic front so do they also in Wagner’s storeroom bed as the squaw sets up home - but isn’t she promised to the warrior, American Horse? Can the battles in love and war be settled so that we can all live nicely together and open casinos?

Once again the ‘W’ movie quest produces a western and quite a po-faced one at that. Normally we get a bit of action and a few drunken laughs but here it’s all business. Wagner acts as a conduit between the two warring peoples and, to be fair, the film gives a balanced view, even highlighting the injustices faced by the natives. The familiar character of the hot headed son is used to bring in a bit of conflict but when he’s impressed by a comb you know he’s not going to be much of a threat.

The film looks impressive and is mostly shot on location. The characters are a bit thin and too clichéd and there’s not a lot to get invested in. Wagner is too non-committal and his lack focus brushes off on the viewer who gets to the stage where he’s lost interest about halfway through.

The love story seems tacked on and, although we get some naked back, it’s largely pointless especially as the spurned loved gets handed his ass in a low rent fist fight.

Overall the film is more worthy than it is watchable and I was looking for a white flag rather than a white feather 30 minutes before the credits.

Best Bit : Indian Takeaway Shows Up in the Store Room
‘W’ Rating : 10/23

Monday, 8 July 2013

No.194 : What Just Happened

What Just Happened at the IMDb

Another title missing some punctuation now as Hollywood has a good old laugh at itself - but are the viewers invited?

Robert De Niro stars as Ben, an A-list Hollywood producer who has problems piling up, both business and domestic. His new film ‘Fiercely’ starring Sean Penn has tested badly, mainly due to a dog being shot, and his English director is not keen on a re-cut. The studio boss, Catherine Keener, who was so nice to that virgin, is ready to take her scissors to the film while the director is about to fall off the wagon, a week short of his anniversary cake.

Meanwhile Ben’s next production is also sailing choppy waters as Bruce Willis is refusing to cut off his luxurious beard therefore losing his sex appeal and the studio’s support. Ben tries to get Willis’ agent John Turturro to rein in his star but he’s too much of a pussy to confront his biggest client. If that weren’t enough screenwriter Stanley Tucci may be shagging Ben’s ex-wife and an agent who recently killed himself may have been messing with his daughter, Kristen Stewart. It all sounds like some implausible bad movie!

The film opens as Ben takes his place at a Vanity Fair photo shot celebrating the most powerful producers in Hollywood. We have the familiar narrative device of some narration from the lead before we dissolve into the previous week’s events which are helpfully captioned ‘Monday’, ‘Tuesday’ etc. - a bit like my underpants.

Things start badly for Ben as his test screening elicits comment cards with less than complementary statements and indeed diagrams showing how much the film displeased the audience. Ben then has to smooth things out with the star, director and studio head in scenes unique to anyone who has never seen another film about the Hollywood system. In truth there are a few laughs especially with the OTT English director, played with a terrible accent by the Canadian Michael Wincott. Keener is good too as the studio head who is happy to take calls while on the throne but she was a bit too nice to convince as a heartless bitch, ready to spike any project that failed to meet her standards.

The second plot about Willis’ beard was less successful as it didn’t convince at all. I know it was meant to be an extreme perversion of reality, but at no point did Willis seem anything other than himself hamming it up. Away from the studio the home life stuff such as the running the kids to school and trying to get back with the ex-wife were a bit dull and I wasn’t really invested at all. I suppose when he’s getting easy sex from horny starlets it’s hard to be too sympathetic!

As the film played towards the Vanity Fair shoot where we joined the action not much had changed and I guess this was the intention of this ‘week in the life’ movie - it’s just always this crazy in Hollywood folks!

DeNiro is as likeable as always but you got the impression this was something cobbled together when he and a few pals found some time in their diaries - no doubt the Cannes scenes also matched their promotional schedules. It wasn’t too self indulgent however and the running time was kept at a bearable 90 minutes.

There are obvious comparisons to be made with ’The Player’ but it falls short of that in terms of humour and depth and is far below, on both counts, my favourite ’inside Hollywood’ flick ’The Big Picture’. Watch that instead - it’s got David St Hubbins in it.

Best Bit - Rob gets a reminder of the forgotten night before.  W Score 16/23

Sunday, 23 June 2013

No.193 : Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies at the IMDb

Bloody zombie films - there’s none for five minutes and then another twenty appear on the horizon. They multiply like, well, zombies. The trouble with this crowded genre is that you have to position your zombie film so that it sits apart from all the rest of the zombie films and that means you have to spend time explaining your rules and zombie conditions.

‘Warm Bodies’ predictably has the world overrun by zombies but these are special zombies - they have an inner monologue! We meet up with a Zombie Nicholas Hoult (him off ‘About a Boy’) as he talks us through his day of shambling around an airport with  the rest of his horde. He laments the loss of his humanity but does have a friend in the shape of  Rob Corddry who memorably had bum wiping issues in a ‘Harold and Kumar’ film.

We also learn that our zombies are nice zombies and that there are nasty zombies out there called ‘Bonies’, who have shed all traces of humanity and become CGI instead. Meanwhile a human settlement is planning a supply run with leader John Malkovich reluctant to send his daughter Teresa Palmer along - good call John, she got into bother in recent ‘W’ outing ‘Wish You Were Here’. Of course she goes along and her group encounters that of our zombies who quickly rip the humans to bits - apart from Teresa to whom Nicholas takes a shine.

Strangely she plays along and soon the pair are holed up in an old plane and getting to know each other through records and pop culture. Initially Teresa, who is called ‘Julie’, is just playing along with our zombie who gives his name as ‘Rrrrrr’ - Romeo and Juliet - geddit? - but soon she sees some spark of humanity in his zombified face.

The two soon have a rare old time driving cars and learning to talk, but their friendship hasn’t escaped the attention of the Bonies who, quite correctly, feel humans are there to be eaten, not socialised with. The pair are eventually split up and Julie returns to the compound but, not to be denied, Rrrrrr rounds up his pals and heads to the human camp - with the Bonies in hot pursuit. Will true love prevail and may this signal an end to human/zombie hostilities?

This was an enjoyable film but it wasn’t distinctive enough to set it apart from the rest of this cluttered genre. Fair enough it has some original ideas such as the slow journey back to humanity and the Bonies but for the most part the clichés were clear and present. Some of the gags such as the driving sequence and Julie overacting as she pretended to be a zombie offered small smiles but nothing more. Given they were going for the romantic angle the kills were toned down with only the Bonies offering any real menace.

In its favour it was a good looking production with a strong cast. I’m just not sure I want my zombies rehabilitated however, and soon as the die was cast I knew where the film was ending up. The film had a lot to like, but like its zombies it was barely showing a pulse in many places and exhibited more than a little decay around the script and plot.

Best Bit  : Bonies showdown.   W Rating 15/23

Sunday, 19 May 2013

No.192 : Witness to the Mob

Witness to the Mob at the IMDb

 More TV movie true crime now as the merit free life story of  mob underling Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano gets the ‘Goodfellas-lite’ treatment.

We open in the present day as the orange jump-suited Sammy considers his life having spent the last decade behind bars. In a familiar narrative style we dissolve back to his youth and chart his progress through the ranks of the New York mafia. We occasionally revisit Sammy in the present day and we are treated to his voice-over throughout as he makes obvious observations and ridiculous statements to justify his worthless existence.

The flashback opens with Sammy’s hair a few shades darker, but he’s still as fat. He’s hanging about with Christopher out of ‘The Sopranos’ and trying to make an impression on the local boss. He gets some tips from the Library Detective off ‘Seinfeld’ and carries out a blood free hit on a man sitting in the front of his car. The film’s TV movie credentials are clear from the off when the hit is devoid of blood and no one says ‘motherfucker’.

Soon Sammy has a girlfriend whom he impresses by re-enacting several scenes from ‘Goodfellas’ - Bobby Vincent that ain’t! In fact the whole film from its ‘rise and fall’ story-line to the narrative device of the flashback and voice-over is lifted wholesale from that much better film and although we are dealing with gangsters here, you’d have thought they’d have shown some decency and mix stuff up just a little bit, but they don’t.

The excuse would no doubt be that this is a true story and sure enough Tom Sizemore shows up as John Gotti. Our man soon ingratiates himself with the Teflon Don and they knock off the ageing boss, possibly because he’s the worst actor you’ve ever seen. Our man is number three in the mob now, wait number two; Frank off ‘The Sopranos’ has just been blown up. Soon our mans ascent to grace reaches its pinnacle and things start heading south - what mistake will land him in prison and will his life expectancy on release be equal to that of a chocolate éclair at a Weight Watchers meeting?

This was a really awful offering that has nothing to recommend it. It deals with gangsters but has no swearing, sex or real violence - why didn’t they do a Teletubbies film if they were so scared of offending people? In truth there was one splash of blood but that was a bucket full thrown over a jukebox when someone got shot in the head - very convincing.

The main trouble was the characters and the acting. There wasn’t a sympathetic person on show and although despicable people can be entertaining they won’t be with acting this bad. The cast was all the usual Italian American suspects with the role call looking like a try out for ‘The Sopranos’ which started the next year.

The lead played by Nicholas Turturro  was a strange casting choice as he’s a small fat man devoid of acting talent. Maybe this was a good match with the real life Sammy but some dramatic licence should clearly have been granted. Even familiar turns like Paulie walnuts and Frank from ‘The Sopranos’ were on poor form with Paulie especially poor on witnessing a hit - ‘Mamma Mia!’.

The production values were poor with one car explosion the extent of the budget. As the film ended I had no interest in the lives portrayed and it’s not because these were evil men; just flat and faceless ones.

Best Bit : Oh good the ‘made man’ scene he’s getting it …what?!
W Score 7/23

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

No.191 : Wagons West

Wagons West at the IMDd

Isn’t it strange how many western films have names that starts with a ‘W’? It may be down to our only watching films on the 24 hour western movie channel but that can’t be the whole story, can it? Maybe some great marketing guru foresaw this blog and the chance to have his film promoted to our whole readership of seven.

‘Wagons West’ is about as standard a western as you can imagine - wagons, cowboys, Indians, people eating beans - it’s got the lot. Except a plot, decent characters, acting worth a mention…

The film opens with a lonesome, aging cowboy enjoying beans by the river. A young lad approaches him with his dog - and that’s all that happened your honour! The boy has run away from home and although he acts tough with his Pop’s gun we can see he’s scared. So can our hero cow poke who humours the boy into accepting his beans and possibly some other stuff - it is rather dark. The boy is upset that he’s leaving on a wagon train and fate would have it that our man is the wagon master - a sort of old west tour guide, the virtues of whom were extolled in a scrolling paragraph at the start.

We cut to a saloon where some people are bitching about the wagon master and how he’s probably off drunk and chasing women - red faces all round when he shows up with the boy! The wagon master, Jeff, soon exerts his authority with a handbags at dawn style fist fight with Clay, a bastard with a black neckerchief - he’ll be trouble!

The wagon train soon begins its trip west but only after taking on another wagon that may have a desperate criminal on board and certainly a pregnant woman - it’s almost as if they’re trying to create situations here! The wagons barely get five minutes out of town when they get some injun trouble. Jeff knows the local braves can be bought off with some fish hooks but rather than patronise these noble people Clay shoots one in the back causing a shit storm to rain down on the wagons. Actually the Indians shrug it off but only because Clay and his bad family plan on selling guns to the natives. Further complications ensue when Jeff gets all kissy face with Clay’s pretend fiancée - this pair aren’t fooling anyone!

Soon we have the big finale when the circled wagons are attacked by a bunch of Indians, who look suspiciously like stock footage in the group shots. The bad family are given guns but can they be trusted to use them to fight the Indians? Will the baby appear on cue and can Jeff persuade the girl to be his beard?

Hailing from 1952 you have to forgive this film for its thin plot and broadly drawn characters. Every cliché in the book is wrung for all it was worth and no surprises were to be had. Rod Cameron in the lead was dreadful - an arrogant bully devoid of any charm whatsoever. His nemesis Clay was no better with his expressions straight out of a silent movie as he overacted every time his feeble plans were foiled. The ladies showed not an inch of flesh below the neck and the romance subplot was as convincing as the ‘frontier’ sets.

The plot, as it was, offered nothing in the way of commentary or excitement and it was basically ‘wagons ho!’, ‘look some Indians’, ‘let’s get on our way’ - it beggared belief that the strung that out for 70 minutes!

As a throwback and an oddity this was decent stuff but as a historical document intended to teach us about the past whilst entertaining us it was about as much use as General Custer’s pension plan.

Best Bit : Ooh shiny fish hooks - Bang!   ‘W’ Score 10/23

Sunday, 12 May 2013

No.190 : Water for Elephants

Water For Elephants at the IMDb

Robert Pattinson and Reece Witherspoon star in this circus drama which was a lot more enjoyable than I’d expected.

The film opens and closes with old Hal Holbrook wandering about a closed circus. Luckily the carnie folk don’t rob him and stick him in the hotdog machine, but choose to listen to his tales of the circus life he’d lead. His narration slowly dissolves into that of Robert Pattison and we head back in time…

Pattison plays Jacob, a young student in depression era America who is studying to become a vet. Alas, he literally sits down to take his final exam when the police arrive to tell him his family is all dead and the house is being repossessed - I hate mornings like that. Jacob goes walking the railway tracks, as you do, and hops on the first open carriage that passes him. This could have been a mistake as it’s full of carnies but happily Bishop Brennan is there to take him in and offer him some lunch.

The train is a travelling circus and after meeting the enigmatic ringmaster (Christoph Waltz) he gets a job shovelling shit. His near veterinary qualifications come in handy when the star turn horse gets sick and Jacob uses all his skill to shoot the nag in the head. This enrages the hot tempered ring master but endears him to his wife who presumably didn’t like the nag anyway.

The boss soon gets over his desire to chuck Jacob off the train and soon has him as his chief vet. Jacob also starts to make friends with his midget bunkmate and several other carnival folk note of whom are nasty apart from Ken Foree, and he had that bad experience with zombies to blame for his less than sunny disposition.

The circus is always in money troubles and Waltz decides that an elephant is the answer. Alas the elephant is rubbish and gets many well deserved beatings from the hard pressed ring master. Jacob however discovers that the elephant speaks Polish and soon she’s doing all manner of tricks to save the show. Whether anyone noticed the irony of exploiting an elephant to show an elephant being exploited isn’t explored.

As time passes Jacob and the ring master’s wife get closer just as the top hatted one  gets more violent and irrational. Can true (cheating) love prevail and will the elephant survive? We know Jacob will as we see him as an old man, but how can the lovely Reece be saved? And who’s putting all those animals back?

This may have the accursed tag of ‘family film’ but there was plenty to like with lots of elephant beatings and adultery to keep the kids happy. Pattison doesn’t have much of a range but he seems a decent guy  and I’m sure he’ll be OK by the time he gets to Hal Holbrook’s age. Reece, who decently starred in her husband’s drink driving video, was fine in her skimpy costumes but she didn’t convince as the child found on a box who had grown up in the circus - didn’t even swear once and had no tattoos! Waltz was the star turn but his mania here was a bit too random to be convincing and it wasn’t clear why he has such a loyal staff when his redundancy policy consisted of chucking them off a train.

The sets and locations were great with classic evocations of hot summers days and elephant shit. The animal scenes were well done although there was a touch of CGI in the final scene of the animals escaping  - goddamn sissy extras! The finale was well earned, and although a bit schmaltzy, I’m all for it.

Overall a  good, solid, well made slice of depression era circus life with animals beaten, justice served and people murdered - sounds like a fun night out!

THE Tag Line - Come to the Circus - Maulings extra  76%

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

No.189 : Widow on the Hill

Widow on the Hill at the IMDb
Made for TV true crime drama next - you can accuse us of cherry picking here at the Definite Article Movie Blog.

Natasha Henstridge stars as Linda, the titular widow who is a nurse with a penchant for low cut tops. The film has the narrative device of a TV show interviewing Linda as she faces a murder charge. The story is then told in flashback with occasional cuts to the present day as the interview develops. We learn from the off that Linda has been accused of killing her new husband, James Brolin.

We meet James in livelier times as a wealthy landowner whose wife is dying. He hires a nurse from an agency and gets Natasha - Bingo! James’ daughters don’t like the new lady in their Dad’s life and worry she’s a gold digger. Pretty soon James’ wife shuffles off and in no time Natasha is in the wife’s fur coat and in his bed. Her sexy style turns the old man’s head and she’s married to him in no time flat.

His daughters however fail to be won over especially as the new wedding ring is the one mum promised to her daughter. The lovely Natasha starts to woo her way into the county set but we all know she’s after his cash - or is she? Have we been seduced by the evil schemer or does she really just have a taste for James’ silver locks and outdoorsy style?

It’s not long before she starts shagging the staff and threatening the family - can this total bitch get away with ruining the family and inheriting the house?

This was a decent enough TV drama but there wasn’t too much to recommend it apart from Natasha running about in a fetching black bra and panties set. Her character was thinly drawn and we knew she was a wrong ‘un from the off with her scheming and manipulating. She didn’t offer much that would garner our sympathies and although she was set up to be a villain she just came across as a bit of a bitch.

Brolin is always likeable but he lacked believability as the rich sucker being drawn in by feminine wiles. His two suspicious daughters were just annoying and the supposedly drunk one didn’t look like ever had as much as a sweet sherry.

The narrative device of the news show was a decent stab at keeping us guessing with the story being broken down to small chunks, with the present day Linda commenting on the events we’d just seen. There was no prospect of any surprises however with Brolin’s fate sealed before we met him. The script was so biased against the slutty wife that we knew the outcome early on but it was good fun to see how evil she could get while wearing a succession of bras.

It was a strange choice to have the whole film build up to the trial and then cover the court action itself with a couple of on screen captions. Maybe they ran out of cash or indeed underwear.

The production values were decent enough but it was essentially a family drama set in a small town so it didn’t need a Death Star or cast of thousands. It wasn’t anything to rave about but it’s certainly worth a look if you catch it on late night TV.

‘W’ Score 15/23

Sunday, 5 May 2013

No.188 : Waterloo Road

Waterloo Road at the IMDb
No, it’s not the BBC yoof soap, what we have here is the black and white 1945 war time kitchen sink drama.

It’s the time of the Blitz and local doctor Alistair Sim has a part time job book ending the film with his wise words and inner monologue. He buys a toy train for a young child and his mind wanders off as we drift into the film proper.

An East end family is making do with the lodger trying to get his breakfast as the family all squabble. The pretty but dim daughter is under fire as she’s walking out with local spiv Stewart Granger, despite being married to John Mills who’s off fighting the war. A busybody sister writes to Mills telling him about the slattern’s antics and soon the squaddie is AWOL and seeking to sort things out.

Mills has several adventures as he has to evade the military police and fate intervenes as she slips out of his hands on several occasions as she sees the town in the company of the spiv. Mills also enlists the help of a fellow deserter and uses his wiles and fighting skills to evade capture.

Eventually as the bombs start to fall the spiv gets the girl in his lair as Mills is tipped off by the doctor as to their whereabouts. Can he stop his girl giving up the goods to the douche layabout and will the toy train recipient be a surprise to anyone?

I really liked this brief slice of 1940’s life. There was certainly no attempt to glamorise our brave boys fighting the war as most we met were on the run or up to some illegal antics. I’m sure this was a tonic to the home front as the stiff upper lip was replaced by a cockney sparrow who was as quick with his fists as he was with his wits.

There were plenty of laughs and I liked the scene where the MPs raid the dance hall looking for deserters. Our hero heads for the toilet only to find a queue waiting to escape out of the window! The action all takes over the place of a day and you can’t say much was invested in the plot which was basically an hour of a manhunt before a ten minute punch up where the baddie gets his just desserts. The characters are great however with Stewart Granger doing well in the thankless role of the gadabout trying to deflower the lonely wife. John Mills is fine as the small but wiry squaddie and there are plenty of great characters showing up to raise a smile.

I was less impressed with the prick tease wife who seemed a bit wet to be getting all the frenetic attention she enjoyed. At the end things all got sorted out neatly and although the blitz scenes were mainly stock footage it didn’t detract from a good knockabout drama that had more laughs than most comedies.

Best Bit : Punch Up!
W Score 18/23

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

No.187 : Waiting for Forever

Waiting for Forever at the IMDb
If you are into films with car crashes, explosions, hot sex scenes and zombies you’d be best to avoid ‘Waiting For Forever’. If however you like people with issues exploring relationships set against and endless indie music background - and who doesn’t?- then you might just want to give it a look.

The film opens with an over saturated flashback with lots of jumpy cuts to pictures of young kids on cine film. We learn that two brothers were orphaned when their parents were killed in a train crashed spelling an end to their idyllic childhood of endless summers and sentimental music.

We arrive at the present day and meet Will. Will is very annoying and wears pyjamas and a bowler hat. He’s portrayed as an innocent who comes out with words of wisdom but he’s essentially a tit who juggles. Will wanders around America following his childhood sweetheart, Emma, who has gained modest success on a TV show that she herself dislikes. She is in a destructive relationship with a cast member and has had an affair with one of his friends. He finds out and confronts the friend while Emma flees to her parent’s house with Will in hot pursuit.

Emma doesn’t know of Will’s puppy dog devotion with the misfit happy just to be in the same town as his fantasy girl. Sadly juggling doesn’t pay much so he’s forced to freeload with his friends at their furniture shop - good to see the chubby one out of ‘Hairspray’ has found gainful employment at last! He also meets up with his banker brother who is unhappy at his sibling’s choices. He’s meant to come across as a dick but frankly he talks a lot of sense, despite no support from his wife who’d presumably be happy if her husband ran off to join the circus.

Emma’s home life isn’t much fun either with her warring parents at each other’s throats. The mum is a bit neurotic and the Dad, who played the same role in ‘Six Feet Under’, clearly doesn’t have long for this world. The mum is star struck when the boyfriend arrives to reclaim his cheating girlfriend but she throws a hissy fit and runs off, only to meet the creepy juggler in the street. The pair hit it off to some degree as they recount their lost youth but she steps away slowly when he starts talking to his dead parents - strange that.

We learn in a flashback that the cheated on boyfriend actually killed his love rival and poor old stalker Will is in the frame. Will Emma choose the right man and will Will beat the rap? Is there time for one more number from the dull, trendy but forgettable soundtrack before the inevitable enigmatic and romantic ending?

I’m sure some people will  love this film but I’m too cynical to see beyond its glaring plot holes and unlikely character developments. The cast are young and attractive but it was a mistake to hang the film on a guy in pyjamas and a bowler hat. He may be an innocent who speaks great words of insightful wisdom but he’s damn creepy too.

The pace of the film was good and although not a lot happened it passed by easily enough, not asking much of the viewer. The slight element of peril was brushed away in five minutes and only the mystery of why the girl goes looking for the twat in the hat remaining. The settings and sunny outlook were all well done and the cast was mostly likable apart from all of those who were thinly drawn - douche bag banker and control freak boyfriend, you know who you are!

This isn’t a terrible film just a forgettable one. I wasn’t willing anyone on at the end and although the pat conclusion was seen a mile off there was no way it could have gone any other way. Simple rom-com stuff with no com to speak of.

Best Bit : Vagabond Will gets grilled by the cops
‘W’ Score 13/23

Saturday, 27 April 2013

No.186 : Wish You Were Here

Wish You Were Here at IMDb

Not to be confused with the 1987 Emily Lloyd film (see No.117)  this ‘Wish You Were Here’ is a 2012 mystery drama with a non-linear narrative and a lot to like. The lack of a question mark in the title makes it sound more of a plaintive plea than an invitation, and as the film develops you can see that was totally the intent.

We open with a high energy holiday being enjoyed by four friends in Cambodia. There is a rocking soundtrack as they party on the beach and eat insects without a care in the world, but the cares are in the post, don’t you worry. As the credits sequence ends the bright lights and rave music are replaced with a haunted man walking through a sodden field as the sun comes up. Something has happened and what follows is the story of the night before. A bit like ‘The Hangover’ with less slapstick.

The four friends are Dave, a kind of tubby Russell Crowe who looks constantly drunk, his wife Alice and her sister Steph and Steph’s new boyfriend, Jeremy. The four head off on the bender as Alice is six months pregnant and it’s their last chance to party before their brood expands to three. We quickly learn that only three of the friends returned home, with Jeremy’s ticket going unused.

At first it looks like a straight forward missing person case but as we learn more about the past through flashbacks we know that secrets and lies abound. The family is wrenched apart when Dave admits to having sex with Steph and the police’s interest in Jeremy’s business interests mean his fate is looking bad. As the customs dog sniffs its way through the warehouse will his disappearance be down to a business deal gone bad or to something a bit closer to home?

Meanwhile Dave has spotted a sinister car tracking his movements and his wife is taking on an unhealthy taste for wine as her baby's arrival dawns. Let’s hope she remembers to buckle up!

I really enjoyed this Aussie slice of life as heavy drinking and infidelity spell all manor of trouble for our hapless bunch. Don’t get me wrong, there’s not a laugh to be had, but their headlong lunges towards oblivion leave you with your fingers over your eyes in places.

The narrative is all over the shop as we are slowly drip fed snippets of information in flashback which serve to dismiss our theories as soon as they develop. The outcome in a Glittering bar wasn’t expected but it put all the pieces neatly and satisfyingly in place.

The cast were uniformly good but for the most part it was a two man show with Dave and Alice shining as their marriage crumbled as the secrets of the holiday were exposed. The editing was excellent and there was never any confusion over where we were in the story with the Cambodia scenes that bit brighter and, helpfully, always containing Cambodian characters.

The police detection angle and the scene with the missing Jeremy’s parents were mostly padding but the sense of doom was well handled as Dave’s infidelity was as big a blow as the other stuff that threatened to engulf them all. I’m being deliberately vague as the unfolding story is really worth your investment. All in all this was an excellent and unsettling 90 minutes and well worth your time.

Best Bit “Tonight’s Special Offer Is…
‘W’ Score 19/23

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

No.185 : Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins at the IMDb

Martin Lawrence stars in this alleged comedy as a successful talk show host who has to reassess his priorities when he returns to the family home and reengages with his relatives. It’s basically a fish out of water scenario rolled up with some issues and knowing that family is more important than money. So far so very righteous but is there something to be salvaged from this worthy premise? Not much!

Lawrence runs his chat show as ‘Dr RJ Taylor' and dispenses homely wisdom to his brawling guests. He’s engaged to a beautiful lady who has just won ‘Survivor’ and confident in his life of luxury and comfort. We can tell where the bar is set early on when he shows up for his plane in a white suit and orders a red wine - guess the rest! With is suit ruined and luggage lost he’s immediately out of his comfort zone and cheap laughs are gained as he has to wear a succession of gaudy outfits.

Things deteriorate as he meets up with his wise-cracking brother, complete with the afro comb stuck in his hair. The brother is meant to have an easy charm to offset RJ’s stiffness but he just comes across as an annoying prick. We learn that ‘Dr RJ Taylor’ is the Roscoe Jenkins of the title and that he’s trying to escape the humble roots that he’s now returning to.

His superior attitude is immediately pricked by his father James Earl Jones and his other siblings including the late Michael Clarke Duncan who kicks his ass whenever possible. The rest of the weekend contains all the predictable sequences such as a softball game and treasure hunt where our man is cast down from his ivory tower and forced to consider what is really important in life. That along with an endless succession of people getting hit by stuff, dog rape and fart jokes.

We learn that Roscoe regrets not hooking up with his high school sweetheart and that the ‘Survivor’ girlfriend is not that nice, as she’s conniving to snare her man like she's still on the show. Will Roscoe’s materialistic approach be forgotten for what is truly valuable and will he end up with the slightly plainer prom queen or the bitchy game show contestant? Probably the latter but you never know. Well maybe you do…

OK I’m not the target market for this film with its 99% black cast but I’m multi-cultural and can appreciate a well crafted character piece that examines family life and the assembling of wealth over other priorities - but this isn’t it. People getting hit in the balls and food fights are low brow in any culture and the wafer thin character arc for Lawrence made for an unengaging two hours.

The third act where Lawrence leaves his son behind to win an obstacle race while being cheered on by his bitch girlfriend to be greeted by his sad family and poignant musical cues was cringe worthy beyond belief. A talk with Dad flagged the inevitable Road to Damascus conversion and as Lawrence’s wardrobe improved you knew things were going to be all right.

It was a good cast and, despite some slapstick that was out of kilter with the overall tone of the film, there were some things to like. Sadly these were remote islands in a sea of mawkish sentimentality and the long-awaited payoff couldn’t be more predictable if it was set in red lights before the credits.

Best Bit :  Personal topiary wins the day
‘W’ Score - 8/23

Sunday, 21 April 2013

No.184 : Wandering Eye

Wandering Eye at the IMDb

You’d think after our experience with ‘Web of Lies’ that we would be avoiding Canadian made for TV films but that’s quitting talk here at the 100+ ‘W’ Movies Quest. The premise of this film involves murders against a backdrop of cheating spouses using the titular web site. Don’t look however if you are after some titillation - this film is so tame that even the word ‘whore’ is obscured by a car horn!

Our heroine is Maren, an attractive redhead who is married to a trainee doctor. She doesn’t work and is upset that’s she’s not getting enough in the bedroom despite the poor sod working all hours to keep her in lattes. She confides in her douche bag friend who offers to deliver her the goods, so to speak. She doesn’t fancy this poor bloke, despite letting him pay for dinner, and instead seeks her sleazy thrills on the internet. We know this isn’t a good idea as a cheating couple seen earlier in the film were shot by an unknown assailant. Be careful Maren, you slut!

She logs onto the titular titilation site and soon meets up with a man in a hotel room. True to form she doesn’t put out and to cap his day off the bloke gets shot when Maren leaves. The cops aren’t too slow on the case and soon two detectives, who used to be married to each other, are teamed up on the case. They manage to link the deaths to the ‘Wandering Eye’ website and with the help of their bookish computer geek programmer they manage to establish how the bad guy is finding his targets.

Troubled by her conscience and possibly her lack of nooky, Maren goes to the cops and they set up a sting operation to capture the killer. Will it be one of the likely suspects such as the man fingering his gun or the troublesome ex-friend who wants paying for that expensive lunch? Surely it’s not going to be the least likely candidate possible, someone barely seen and with no discernible motive? Could be!

To be fair this was a bit better than ‘Web of Lies’ but it shared many of the same failings as that film. The plot was as linear and undemanding as possible and the three acts wouldn’t have been more obvious if sign posts had been erected. That said the lead character’s motivation was unclear as she never really looked at all horny or interested in the poor blokes whose time she chose to waste. I didn’t recognise any of the cast but I see that the lead, Amanda Righetti, has an ongoing role in ‘The Mentalist’ which I don’t watch. She was wooden throughout but was quite fetching in her black bra and panties.

The detection angle was minimal with too long spend setting up red herrings which made the big reveal seemed rushed and unearned. The production wasn’t exactly lavish with the action minimal and stars non existant. There were the usual slices of web-fu, with a couple of key strokes answering all the questions and some very tame sex scenes which wouldn’t worry you if the vicar appeared midway through your guilty viewing.

Basically this is a ‘does what it says on the tin’ TV movie with nothing invested in the script or indeed production, leaving a half baked and unsatisfactory product. That said you will see worse - we won’t ; TV movies about computers are joining made for DVD werewolf films on our banned list!

Best Bit - Dress Try Ons
'W' rating 10/23

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

No.183 : World Gone Wild

World Gone Wild at the IMDb

Well here’s a first for the 100+ W Movies Quest - no not a reader, although that’d be nice - an actual request. OK it was a request borne out of vanity as the person making the request only did so as he almost shares the name of one of the characters, but we’ll take what we can get.

This dystopian action thriller is absolutely dreadful and I doubt you’d be able to find it anywhere apart from my hard drive and numerous land fill sites - but let’s have a look anyway.

The film opens with some scene setting narration. The production evidently didn’t have the cash for a scrolling paragraph so instead poor old Bruce Dern is tasked with setting the scene. It’s the late 21st century and a 75 year war has left most people dead and it hasn’t rained in 50 years. Realising their shaky premise and the abundance of clouds in the film, they add in ‘cruelly there are clouds but no rain’ - you can’t fault science like that.

After a dreadfully tacky credits sequence with the cheapest TV movie graphics and over filtered colours we get to the nub of the action. The writer has seen ‘Mad Max 2’ and thought ‘Yeah no one will notice if I steal that’ so he sets us up in a remote compound filled with people in white clothes and hair bands. He cleverly substitutes the rare resource from gasoline to water to make it all original. Anyway the school only has four books, so at least it’s an improvement from today’s education cuts - little bit of politics there, and the kids have no pencils and a teacher lacking most of her clothes.

The lesson on etiquette is interrupted when Adam Ant appears, towed by cape wearing lackeys, resplendent in his flying goggles and in a hollowed out helicopter. I ‘d say ‘you couldn’t make it up’ but clearly someone has - drugs really screw you up. Ant is playing the ridiculously named ‘Derek Abernathy’ and after spouting a lot of shite for five minutes starts shooting up all the peaceful locals along with his dead eyed henchmen. Total carnage is averted when Bruce Dern turns up and kills a bad guy by booting a hubcap into his throat - clearly he’s not a man to be messed with.

Ant crawls off with some of the settlement’s young men (Operation Yew Tree?) to brainwash them into his cult, yes that's cult, while those who remain take stock and fix their hair. They know Ant will be back and Dern sets off to town for reinforcements. The town is a hell hole with women in basques running about while dying babies are denied water. Sounds like my kinda town! After some recruiting of colourful sidekicks Dern returns to fortify the settlement and wait Ant’s next attack. Can the mismatched gang of renegades and mercenaries take on Ant’s formation bike riding team of white clad brainwashed youths? Will the inevitable explosions kick start the environment? Hell yes!

This blog has been guilty of exaggerating the awfulness of many films but I defy anyone to see this and declare it even a partial success. Well OK, pished up students may be able to laugh ironically at the many plot holes, dreadful acting and atrocious dialogue, but we’re a bit higher brow at this blog.

For a start where, in a world with no rain for 50 years, do they find an endless supply of brilliant white clothes, never mind endless bullets and enough TNT to make 9/11 look like a box of Aldi fireworks? For a world scrabbling in the dirt to survive everyone looks well nourished and there is frankly an over abundance of motorcycles and capes.

OK, we can set these gripes aside, as long as the cast is strong and the plot is tight and coherent. Er, sorry. Ant fails to stand and deliver in the acting stakes and it is baffling how he managed to get through the audition. To be fair in a film where “Does Pinocchio have a wooden dick?” is the best line, the standards were never going to be high. Bruce Dern fails to deliver his usual mania and he seems largely disinterested in a film that doubtlessly looked more fun in the script than in reality.

The gang of misfits were uniformly dreadful from ‘Nitro’ the dynamite expert to some other guy who created a ‘snake pit’ trap with precisely 4 small snakes in it - at least they squashed them together for the close up
shot - Indiana Jones this was not.

The plot was virtually non-existent and they even had two goes at the finale both of which failed to elicit any excitement or tension. Ant had one of the lowest key demises of any movie baddie despite being seemingly bullet proof for the first 90 minutes. The big conclusion was ridiculous as it was predictable and frankly if the new rains had washed this effort out of existence no one would be complaining. Well apart from Mr Abernethy at any rate…

W Rating 6/23
Best Bit - Ant ain't no Goody Two Shoes