Monday, 31 August 2015

No.236 : When Night is Falling

When Night Is Falling at the IMDb

Softcore lesbian action now - well it can’t all be Werewolves and Winters! This is a strange film to categorise - there is something there for those seeking mild titillation but it is also a love story and maybe a bit of wish fulfilment for those with their preferences nailed inside the closet.

The film sets its cards of the table from the start with two naked ladies cavorting underwater to some dreamy music as the titles roll. We don’t know who they are but it is probably just letting everyone know early doors what to expect and to double bolt the door  in case of unexpected visitors.

Our heroine, Camille, teaches myths at a buttoned down seminary college. She wears bland and unsexy clothing and even drives a grey Volvo - they may be trying to suggest she’s not much of a risk taker! She has a partner, who had the fish tank blown up on him in the first ‘Mission Impossible’ film, and the two hope to wed soon. He is out of town on business a lot but they hope to secure a job together at the college where they can work closely together teaching wholesome values to all the students.

Hopefully Camille is better at teaching than looking after her dog as it escapes from her home and is later found dead in an alley. She is suitably upset but bungs its body in the fridge and heads off to the laundrette. At this point she is so stuffy she wears a buttoned up cardigan to do her laundry, but still manages to catch the eye of Petra who gives her arm a suggestive rub when she hears of the dog’s demise. Camille is aghast and runs home, but we suspect she was a bit tempted to know her touchy friend a bit better.

Later on she discovers that she has switched laundry bags with Petra, but luckily she has her card so that they can exchange their smalls - oldest excuse in the book! Before the undie exchange can take place however, Camille and her partner Martin have an important interview with the stuffy college elders. Strangely Camille dresses from Petra’s laundry bag and chooses a top which has her knockers practically hanging out. It’s therefore surprising that the interview goes badly!

Camille then goes to exchange her clothes with Petra and discovers that she works in one of those S&M circuses that we’re always hearing about. Petra again tries it on but a weakening Camille says no once again. A clearly torn Camille must choose between her safe but dull partner and a life with a travelling circus with a hot and sexy lady lover. What will she do? Check the poster if you need a hint…

I quite liked this film and not for the reasons you are no doubt imagining. If you were looking for sexy thrills this tame effort with lipstick lesbians would hardly get you motoring, but it was quite touching and almost innocent in it’s attitudes towards lesbian love, which they make out as forbidden fruit rather than an accepted state of being. Still it was made in 1995.

The look of the film is strange; it looks like one of those Hallmark films with a fuzzy focus and a single camera - cheap in other words. They did try to mix it up however with a hang-gliding class shoehorned in for no other reason to run that old ‘I’m never doing it’ before a sharp cut to them soaring in the sky routine. I think even my talents at missing metaphor failed here as her taking a chance at one thing, which she enjoyed, may have been a foreshadowing to something else?

I did feel sorry for the boyfriend who had no chance when the sexy Petra came on the scene. He was given a gentle landing with the promise of some romance in the pipeline for himself, but over all he was reduced to being a peeping Tom squinting into a circus wagon - we’ve all been there!

The agenda was clear from the start and whilst no one was jeering the fledgling lovers all the stuffed shirts who represented society were suitably outraged. If the film was trying for controversy it failed however, as you ended up thinking ‘good for them’ rather than society was doomed.

The sex scenes were few and not too graphic and although 27 year old Camille’s change in allegiance wasn’t believable it was better than the ‘dead’ dog and the circus ringmaster who had all the showmanship of John Major.

Overall a fun and heart-warming distraction which rose above its budget limitations to produce something worthwhile and memorable.

Best Bit : Oh I’ve hurt my knee - better take all your clothes off…

‘W’ Rating 16/23

Friday, 28 August 2015

No.235 : Wild Target

Wild Target at the IMDb

Some people say British comedies are all the same predictable rubbish and feature the same old faces. Well if it’s ‘Wild Target’ they are commenting upon it’d be had to argue with them!

Bill Nighy plays a hit man with mother and emotional issues. He’s had a long and successful career as an assassin, which he puts down to meticulous planning and not getting emotionally involved. We can see he’s hurting as he learns French from a tape and has dinner on his own, but surely nothing can break his granite like façade?

Meanwhile free spirited Emily Blunt is organising an art scam. She has hooked poor sucker Rory Kinnear to paint her an exact copy of an old master which she will then sell to Rupert Everett having shown him the original (Rory works at the National Gallery) before switching to the fake. The plan goes well and she makes £900k but the scheme falls apart when the paint is discovered to still be wet - art forgery mistake number one, you’d think!

Anyway Rupert hires Bill to kill Emily and after following her about town for a day Bill starts to take a shine to the thieving harlot. He is however about to shoot her when a rival hit man, Rab C Nesbitt, shows up and Bill has to decide to take the contract or the girl. Things are further complicated when Ron Weasley shows up and Bill, Ron and Emily have to escape together.

The remainder of the film is more or less padding as the three unlikely bedfellows get to know each other and themselves before evil hit man, Tim from the Office, tracks them down for a final showdown.

I don’t think I cracked a smile once during this alleged comedy. I normally quite like Bill Nighy but his character here was such a cliché it was hard to care. The meticulous hit man undone by a target plot is a lot older than Bill and frankly he is getting on a bit for his romance with Emily to be believable or even seemly. She is meant to come across as a free spirited rock chick but only manages ‘shallow thieving bint who gets lots of folk killed’.

Ron’s part is pretty superfluous and although he’s meant to be the son Bill never had he’s more like the guy who can’t act who’ll bring in the Harry Potter audience. Things should have been improved by adding Tim from ‘The Office’ to the mix but he lacked the menace his character was supposed to exclude and his comedy dentures were a mistake.

The climax, which has the most blatant foreshadowing I can remember (“be careful with that gun it explodes when fired”), was terrible but at least welcome as it signalled the film was nearly done.

I wasn’t bothered by the film’s shaky moral compass, only by it’s dearth of laughs and predictable plot.

Best Bit : Bill listens to his radio set
‘W’ Score : 9/23

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

No.234 : We Are What We Are (2010)

We Are What We Are at the IMDb

 I don’t normally add release dates to my titles but this Mexican film was remade in America in 2013 and we may have a look at that later, but I doubt it unless it is rated a lot higher than this frankly dull and unappetising feature.

The film concerns a family of cannibals living in plain sight in a modern Mexican city. It opens with an older man staggering through the streets, pausing only to throw up some dark fluids and to ogle some swimsuits mannequins. He’s warned off by the store owner before he keels over and dies - he won’t be shopping there again! As soon as he hits the deck a clean up crew is on the scene to remove his body and his vomit before fashionable consumers pass the spot as if nothing had happened.

This shows right away that the city is somewhat removed from what we would see as normal and I’m sure it’s also making some point about consumerism that I’m too slow to fully comprehend. The action then moves to a small market where two brothers run a watch repair stall. Their customer service is somewhat lacking when an unhappy customer gets a bunch of fives for compensation and their day is further spoiled when they are informed that the man we saw dying earlier was in fact their father.

They head home to tell their mother and sister of the news and a family crisis meeting is held. Dad was the chief provider for the family and mum is concerned that the two boys may not be up to the job of replacing him. It’s not immediately clear what they are up to but matters are soon resolved when we witness the father’s autopsy which includes a finger, complete with nail varnish, being removed from his stomach. Clearly not one to chew his food!

The family are cannibals and they need a body on a regular basis to both eat and to complete their rituals. Meanwhile the wacky autopsy experts hand their findings and the finger to the equally offbeat police who are less than interested. What follows is a quest for food and a somewhat haphazard police investigation which leads to an inevitable conclusion with plenty of gore along the way.

I expected more of this film given it was deemed worthy of a remake and its interesting premise. I think my problem was that I just didn’t care about the family nor was I totally grossed out by their antics. There were a few kills but most of the nasty stuff happened off camera or behind a large plastic sheet. We never really got to the heart of their motivation and they seemed more or less normal which wasn’t unsettling at all.

The whole film has a skewed from reality vibe but that just took it further from the realms of horror for me and into a fantasy world where nothing really mattered. The two brothers were OK but a bit too brooding and lacking in character for me. For cannibals they were fussy eaters with prostitutes and homosexuals both off the menu despite their easily available flesh. I’m sure this was a commentary on society in general with the cannibals more caring than the world at large but that was kind of undone with some of their generally shabby behaviour.

Something may have been lost in the Spanish translation but or me this was just a bunch of weirdoes hitting people with spades and chomping down on fake flesh with little or no point to the whole enterprise. I wasn’t shocked or horrified - just a bit bored and in an 80 minute film about cannibals that’s pretty poor going.

Best Bit - Off to the dancing’!
‘W’ Rating 12/23

Sunday, 23 August 2015

No.233 : Wing Commander

Wing Commander at the IMDb

 Films based on video games are invariably great so this should be a lot of fun…

Oh well, let’s have a look anyway. This 1999 film is based on a video game series I haven’t played but it has a pretty strong cast and has some decent special effects so hopefully it won’t be a total waste of time.

The film is set in ‘Earth Year 2654’ and opens with JFK’s speech about the benefits of space exploration before giving us a potted history of the future leading up to the ‘present day’ where mankind is engaged in a war with the Kolrathi, strange cat like beings who have shinier spaceships than us. An initial skirmish goes badly when the bad guys knock out one of our ships and steal a navigation computer that will allow them to find Earth.

The field command, lead by David ‘Poirot’ Suchet and David Warner (for once not a baddie) have to get some intel to a remote station and the only vessel capable of getting there ahead of the aliens is the lowly ‘Dilligent’ crewed by Fred out of the Scooby Doo films and strangely Shaggy as well. This pre-dated Scooby by a couple of years so someone must have thought they had chemistry together or maybe there was just a lazy casting agent with some Tip-pex.

Anyway our men get the orders delivered and join up as pilots in Saffron Burrow’s fighter squad. She’s the ‘Wing Commander’ of the title which is strange as she isn’t the focus of the film and isn’t in it too much, but a franchise is a franchise I guess! There are a few bits of conflict, mainly about Fred’s ancestry and Shaggy’s recklessness but the remainder of the film is a cat and mouse chase with the bad guys as our heroes try and save Earth whilst trotting out as many sci-fi clichés as possible.

This is a really poor film that demands a lot of the viewer who is willing to stay the course. It is hard to be invested in any of the characters who are all thinly drawn with arcs so dismal that they look a lot like straight lines. The hero Fred faces challenges as he has a ‘Pilgrim’ mother - this is an untrusted alien race and his heritage allows lots of prejudice and conflict - bit like Misters Worf and Spock really. That’s a bit unfair given Worf came later but it’s just such a familiar sci-fi trope that it is hard to get interested. He even has an ancient amulet - a bit like Lone Star off ‘Spaceballs’!

The action scenes are reasonably well done with 3-D space well rendered and the dangers quite real. The problem is that one battle lurches into another and it’s hard to keep the energy and indeed interest up. I started to lose track of what wormhole was what and where we were in relation to the eventual victory, which was never in doubt. There really just was nothing to get invested in and despite some noble sacrifices and heartbreaking losses it showed its video game roots with immediate respawns of near identical characters taking up the slack.

It wasn’t downright terrible but it just lumbered along and given the bad guys would have been laughed off a 1970’s ‘Dr Who’ episode for being unconvincing it’s no surprise that the inevitable victory was tinged with so much ‘so what?’.

It’s a shame a good cast wasn’t better utilised and I got the feeling several of them had ten minutes on set to secure their pay cheques and places on the credits to make it look a more worth endeavour than it actually was. Forgettable cookie cutter stuff.

Best Bit : First space battle was good - fourth replay less so.
‘W’ Score 8/23

Friday, 21 August 2015

No.232 : When the Game Stands Tall

When the Game Stands Tall at the IMDb

 High school American football now, as the record breaking high school team De La Salle’s 151 game record gets the Hollywood treatment. Clearly winning 151 games in a row isn’t interesting enough as the film gets the dreaded ‘Inspired by a true story’ tag which effectively means loads of it might be made up - and according to Wikipedia it is.

Still, it isn’t billed as a documentary so let’s see if it stands up on its own two feet as a compelling sports drama.

Jesus Christ himself, Jim Caviezel stars as coach Bob Ladouceur who has lead the school to 12 straight school championships. As well as football coach he’s also scripture teacher and is married to Laura Dern, which is nice. The film opens with the Championship winning game and the pressure on the teams to maintain ‘The Streak’.  Predictable problems soon arise when star players are distracted by lucrative college offers and pushy parents tries to push their own kids into the team.

Bob has is own issues when he has a heart attack and is also tempted by offers to coach elsewhere. He also has a son on the team who isn’t that good and who takes the huff with his bedridden Dad when told that Pop may not be able to coach sports whilst he’s still warming a hospital bed.

The close season is a busy time as a player gets gunned down at a party and the new roster of players aren’t as keen on sharing their thoughts and holding hands, which helped the previous lot so well. Trouble is also brewing in the league as rival teams accuse Bob of tempting all the best players and basically cheating to keep his streak alive.

They may have a point as Bob retaliates by playing a higher ranked team and immediately loses the streak. After a second loss things threaten to go pear shaped especially as Kurgan out of ’Highlander’s son is closing in on a touchdown record that would make his old man happy and potentially enhance the boy’s future.

Things do improve and a mini streak sees the team to the championship game but can they win and will the lessons they have learned make them better people?

I was really disappointed in this film which had the potential to be good but ended up a cliché ridden mess. As soon as they left the path of truth and introduced extra dramatic elements all was lost for me. Facts were discarded and others made up which made all the achievements and sacrifices pointless.

The sub-plot of the Kurgan pressurising his son towards the touchdown record for his own aggrandisement was so well worn and hackneyed that you knew how it would play out. Every time the dad was on screen he was jabbering on about ‘the record’ and given the message that the team is more important you won’t need two guesses to see how that one plays out.

Caviezel is OK in the lead but he lacked the inspirational qualities the role demanded. His scenes with his wet son were a bit cringey and he had no spark at all with the lovely Laura Dern, who was criminally underused.

There were long periods with no on field action at all, with large swathes of the film taken up with the familiar territory of young black athletes being tempted by cars and the like and a chance to escape their tough existence.

There was nothing new in this film and given it deviated so far from the source material it failed as a biography or as a true story either. A pointless exercise all round.

Best Bit : Need a time out for that one.

‘W’ Score 6/23

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

No.231 : Where the Green Ants Dream

Where the Green Ants Dream at the IMDb

 This was German director Werner Herzog’s first film in English although the copy I saw was dubbed in German and had English subtitles - long way for a short cut!

The film is all filmed on location in Australia and deals with the cultural clash between some native Aborigines and a mining conglomerate who want to extract uranium from land the Aborigines see as sacred. Although an environmental warning, the film is also a parable of sorts and although the subject matter may seem a bit dry it was interesting enough to keep me engaged.

From the off you get a fair idea of where the film’s sympathies lie with a long tracking shot of piles of debris left over from previous excavations. It’s clear that a mess has been made of large swathes of the country and to reinforce this there is stock footage of extreme weather which either indicates climate change or an angry God - I’m going with the latter!

Mining engineer Bruce Spence (Gyro Captain out of the ‘Mad Max’ films) is in his office dealing with an old lady who seems somewhat out of place in the middle of the Outback. She has lost her dog in the mines and asks if it can be found. Bruce fobs her off, but she is a persistent old bird and her quest continues throughout the film, running parallel with the main narrative. I’m pretty sure the lost dog is a metaphor for something, lost innocence maybe, but it’s not made clear and as regular readers will attest, nuance isn’t my strongest suit.

Anyway, the new mine needs some bore holes and progress is halted when some Aborigines show up and block the bulldozers. The workers are keen to shove them off but Bruce, perhaps fearing bad publicity, engages with them to see what it would take to move them on. He has all the right permits but the Aborigines claim ancient title to the lands where, they claim, the green ants dream. In their folklore if the green ants are awoken the world will end. Frankly I was hoping this would happen but seemingly the budget wouldn’t stretch to it.

The mining bosses come in with a raft of offers but all are turned down. Bruce starts to see what he’s up against when he encounters another group in a supermarket huddled round the spot where a favoured tree once grew that was cut down for the store. The bosses decide to seduce the tribal leaders with a trip to the big city and shower them in tat such as a digital watch that no one can turn off - another metaphor?

On the trip home the Aborigines are impressed with a large aeroplane and a goodwill offer is made to supply such a machine to the Aborigines despite them having no airport or conceivable use for it. With this sweetener in place the action transfers to the court room where ancient claims are weighed against the law of the land. Will the miners be sent on their way and the Aborigines left with their land’s mineral wealth intact? What to do you think?!

I quite enjoyed this film but it was too indistinct in what it was trying to be. A factual drama? Part documentary? Social commentary? Fantasy parable? I’ve no idea. Lots of stuff was laid on thick with the evil suits clearly trying to screw with the local heroes. There were a lot of metaphors such as a lift that kept breaking down, perhaps suggesting that progress wasn’t all it was meant to be. I never figured out the relevance of the lost dog although the big green plane was a bit more obvious.

Bruce Spence was the only actor I knew in the film and he did a decent job of holding it together. Most of the Aboriginal cast were not actors but they all had great faces and presences. Things like their drinking problems were touched on but for the most part they were the innocents being treated badly by corporate interests and progress in general.

The film was pretty clear where its sympathies lay and this was shown via Bruce’s character who starts off seeing the Aborigines as a nuisance before gradually going more and more native himself. The politics were not of the subtle variety and there was a lot of mystical stuff going on, such as a key artefact being presented to the court that we, the viewer, weren’t allowed to see but overall there was enough to like to justify a recommendation - just.

Best Bit : Pit vigil with Pal
‘W’ Score 14/23

Monday, 17 August 2015

No.230 : Wicked Little Things

Wicked Little Things at the IMDb

 Child abuse and retribution now - it’s like Operation Yew tree : The Movie!

The film opens with scenes young kids being forced to work down a mine as the credits roll past. You might think they would be no good at digging coal but their presence is qualified by someone looking for a small kid to squeeze into a narrow fissure to lay some dynamite. This would seem an exceptional task and you’d think some Irish navvies would be better suited to the whole mining game. Still, if you go that route you miss out on the hole ‘Village of the Damned’ vibe later on.

We soon jump to the present day and a young Mum and her two daughters are heading out into the sticks. They stop at a grocery store and get warned off by the less than convincing shop keeper but they plough on regardless. All those missing person signs are no doubt just some local colour. We learn the lady is a widow and the family are moving into her husband’s remote ancestral home. The house is a total crap hole and has all the usual features of slamming doors and things that go aaarrrggghhh! in the night.

The youngest daughter Emma, played by a 10 year old Chloë Grace Moretz - Hit Girl from ‘Kick Ass’ - adapts best and soon makes a friend whom the Mum assumes to be her latest imaginary chum. The older daughter hooks up with some local youths and is getting her tonsils tickled in no time fast. Things don’t stay happy for long however, as the acting talent free neighbour shows up to warn of the dark forces in the woods. The family dismiss him as a nutter, but we the viewer witness him leaving a pig out for a horde of carnivorous children to scoff.

The family also have issues with the local landowner who wants them off the property so he can build a luxury resort, but evidence is the cellar suggests he may have inherited money earned off the blood of others.

As night falls, Hit Girl goes missing and an ill advised trip to the old mine leads to a confrontation with a horde of spade wielding, pasty faced psychopaths in matching hats. Can the family be saved and the cursed lifted?

I quite enjoyed this predictable slice of horror hokum. There was no real mystery going on - we knew it was killer kids from the start and so it panned out. No effort was made to explain the reason for their continued existence although that ‘in the woods’ staple of animal carcasses hanging from the trees was trotted out. To be fair they did look a bit sinister in the misty forest with each dressed like Damien in the first ‘Omen’ film - nice of the slave driver mine owners to get them all matching hats!

There were the usual couple of unearned scares and a ridiculous scene where a man is killed on an upper floor and all those below let the blood drip down all over their faces for no apparent reason. There was a decent bit of menace and a couple of grisly kills but nothing too imaginative or horrific.

The main cast were fine but the kook in the woods character was terrible and he was more of a mystery as to how he got cast than mysterious.

There were no real surprises offered and no new ground tread. If you catch this on a dark Halloween night you might get the odd scare but for the most part it was as scary as a 8 year old’s birthday party which is scary enough for me!

Best Bit : There’s strange things goin’ on in them woods!
‘W’ Score - 14/23

Saturday, 15 August 2015

No.229 : Wake in Fright

Wake in Fright at the IMDb

Also known by the less ‘W’ friendly name ‘Outback’ this Australian film from 1971 (same as me!) is an unsettling experience which is hard to recommend but equally an affecting and memorable experience.

The film opens with a young teacher dismissing his class for the Christmas holidays. He’s clearly keen to get away but manages to grab one beer before catching the train to the nearest city, ‘The Yabba’. Our hero, John, has one night to spend in The Yabba before catching a flight to Sydney to meet up with his girlfriend, whom we only ever see in an idealised beach flashback.

John checks into cheap lodgings and pays his $4 rent in advance as well as a $1 deposit on the key - he’ll be grateful for that later! As the internet has yet to be invented John ventures out to a local bar where he meets several of the colourful locals, all of whom are suspicious of anyone who doesn’t like a drink. A tentative connection to the local police chief earns him several beers and soon he is as roaring drunk as the rest of the patrons.

He gets shown the local gambling den which involves hoards of men betting on how two spun coins will fall. Reluctant at first John enjoys some early luck and has soon made a fat pile of cash which he takes back to his room in triumph. As all gamblers know however, it’s never enough and he ponders over how one more successful bet could buy him out his hated teaching job in the outback.

As you will probably guess things don’t go well and after chasing his losses John is left flat broke, without money or his airline ticket. Given his penurious state John has to rely on the charity of the local barflies and is soon drinking heavily in their remote shacks. Donald Pleasance does a great turn as a dipsomaniac doctor and the posh mum from ‘Just Good friends’ is free with her charms as one of the men’s bored and slutty daughter.

As the party progresses John gets more and more ‘native’ and is soon knee deep in blood as the drunken men go on a late night kangaroo hunt. Can John pull back from the brink or is he lost forever in a downward spiral of beer and kangaroo meat? Will his last dollar and gifted gun be his redemption or a fast track to the afterlife?

I really liked this film despite my copy being somewhat ropey. Seemingly the film was lost and only recently restored - looks like I saw a ‘before’ version! This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as the bleached out colours perfectly depicted the heat and grime in every scene.

The film is probably uncomfortable viewing for Australians as, to a man, they are seen as drunken bullies and thugs. After shooting up the local kangaroo population they then set about destroying the only pub in miles - sacrilege! I’m sure a lot of commentary is intended towards the Australian male psyche and drinking culture, but in truth they are a horrible lot and I was only sorry the kangaroos didn’t take a couple of them with them.

You will probably have heard that the kangaroo killings were brutal and indeed they were. To be fair though, the scene was only about five minutes long and in mitigation they did eat what they killed. That said the man wrestling a kangaroo to death is uncomfortable viewing in anyone’s book, despite the disclaimer at the end that all kills were carried out by professional hunters during a sanctioned cull.

The twist towards the end was well done with the finale maybe a wee bit predictable but none the worse for that. Hopefully the teacher doesn’t have to complete a ‘What I did on my holidays’ essay too!

All in all this has to be essential viewing for anyone with an interest in cinema and although not enjoyable as such, it is definitely one that will live with you long after the last kangaroo burger has been digested.

Best Bit : Donald gets a bit fresh
‘W’ Score 21/23

Thursday, 13 August 2015

No.228 : Warning Shot

Warning Shot at the IMDb

David Janssen leads a stellar cast in this 1967 police drama. Technically it should be called ‘No Warning Shot’ but let’s save the nit picking until after the plot summary.

Janssen plays Sergeant Tom Valens who is on a stake out with his partner as the film opens. They are supposedly looking for a psycho killer but they should probably be after the man with the rogue smoke machine instead. They discuss how foggy it is but it looks more like bonfire night. Janssen spots a suspicious character who runs when challenged. Our man soon has him cornered but when the felon moves to draw a gun Janssen shots first sending him into the swimming pool of the apartment complex.

So far so good, but wait? An ID check shows the shot man to be a doctor who was visiting an elderly patient and more worryingly there is no gun. Things quickly spiral downwards for Janssen as he is suspended and the public want his head - this is well demonstrated with interviews with placard wielding protesters some of whom suggest white policemen may get an easier ride - glad things have changed since the 1960’s!

Criminal charges are soon brought and, unwilling to accept a plea, Janssen tries to unravel the life of his victim to see if he really is the good man all seem to think he is. Whilst this is going on he also has to deal with him impending divorce from the lovely Joan Collins - can things get any worse?!

The investigation is well done with a few red herrings thrown in such as woman killed in the same apartment complex due to an illegal abortion which turns out to be unconnected to our case. Other angles include a nutty old lady with a penchant for dog toys, a playboy pilot and a young Stefanie Powers who lacks her ‘Hart to Hart’ hair but still brightens up the screen.

The pieces slowly fall together but who can be trusted and where is that darn gun?

I liked this gritty crime drama. There was no sex or swearing but it was a seamy slice of LA life with some decent brutality thrown in for good measure. The simple premise was laid out at the start and although the film’s sympathies clearly lie with Janssen, the pivotal scene at the start is shot in such a way that we, the audience, aren’t sure if the gun ever really existed.

The detection was good although the resolution was a little bit improbable for my liking. Janssen was a compelling lead and although not that sympathetic, his tough guy with values won me over. He also gets smoochy with Joan Collins but casts her away when she’s half out of her dress - that man has strength! The cast also has Ed Begley, Sam Wanamaker, Walter Pidgeon and  Lillian Gish - Lillian Gish this film is not!

Things do play out as you’d expect but I was wrong footed a couple of times and the pace and drama kept me interested throughout. Well worth checking out.

Best Bit : Joan shows a bra strap!  ‘W’ Score : 18/23

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

No.227 : When Time Ran Out…

When Time Ran Out at the IMDb

If you thought spoof disaster movies started with ‘Airplane’ you should check out this turkey that predated it by a few weeks in 1980. It is laughably bad and all the more so for having some Hollywood heavyweights playing it straight. It’s from disaster maker and cookie cutter extraordinaire Irwin Allen and you could play bingo with it, checking off clichés as the film plods along.

Paul Newman stars as an oil driller. For some reasons he’s doing this on a volcanic island next to a luxury hotel. Not even that, he’s actually drilling for oil in the volcano’s ‘dormant’ crater. Can you guess what goes wrong kids?

Before be get to the lamentable action we are first introduced to the cavalcade of stars who are wheeled in with their improbable back stories. The best is Burgess Meredith who is a renowned, but retired, tight rope walker. What a waste of time telling us that, there's no way will that be relevant! We also meet a slightly haggard Jacqueline Bisset and a bored Barbara Carrera, both of whom are after Paul Newman’s affections. You also get William Holden as the gruff hotel owner and some guy as his hot headed son - I can only assume Richard Chamberlain was engaged elsewhere. Other luminaries include Red Buttons, Mr Miyagi off ‘The Karate Kid’, who was unintelligible, and Ernest Borgnine who plays ‘Tom Conti’ he was rubbish ; didn’t mention ‘Rummikub’ once!

The action gets under way when the drillers hit oil two minutes after Paul Newman arrives. They are understandably happy but this soon dissipates when Paul tells them all to pack up. He’s worried the oil strike may reactivate the dormant volcano. Why he didn’t think of this before they set up all the drills wasn’t explored. Anyway, his greedy men, who have families to feed, insist on keeping the well open and Paul reluctantly agrees. Huge mistake!

With indecent haste the volcano goes nuclear and sets off special effects of literary pathetic proportions. There is a massive tsunami which involves some extras getting a bucket of water thrown over them and an earthquake that puts a medium sized gash in the road. Of course this is a disaster movie so that vital staple, panicky idiots, hove into view and storm the helicopter in a laugh a moment scene that eventually sees a poor model give up its life.

This volcano has attitude though and soon it is raining fireballs down on the hotel - not much of a neighbour but what a critic! It has good aim though and gets a direct hit on Tom Conti, sorry Borgnine. He spends the rest of the film swathed in bandages so he may have sneaked off set early, having bribed someone to take his place.

With chaos all around Newman takes charge. He tells the folk in the fancy hotel that they’ll need to move but gets shouted down due to his lack of success in keeping his oil workers safe - which is fair enough really. Newman manages to get a few of the principals to go with him on a perilous mission to cross the island to safety via a large and unconvincing studio set. Safety beckons just over a rickety bridge but who will survive? And when it is down to a single beam will all hope be lost or does anyone have a special talent that may come in handy? Especially if there is a finely crafted and balanced pole nearby…

This film was so relentlessly rubbish that I actually quite enjoyed it. It was so by the numbers the must have crossed out ‘boat’ and ‘building’ on their one script and stuck in ‘volcano’ instead. Why the hotel guests never went with the ‘A’ list star beggared belief. That said their final fate was worth the admission price alone!

Newman looked embarrassed throughout and did nothing to get us involved with his character. He was a reckless love cheat and a poor negotiator and to top it all was wearing large Cuban heels. The rest of the cast were as bad with pass marks being awarded to no one apart from the hotel guests who bravely tried to leave the film in the helicopter.

The special effects were dreadful with a science fair volcano occasionally spouting some smoke the height of the pyrotechnics. They did invest a lot in the bridge which served in the interminable finale. For some reason the thick planks kept snapping despite no sign of fire of singeing on them - must be those dramatic licence planks we’ve all heard about. It was however a highlight when the tight rope walker stepped up, but only after a few bit parts took a dive into the lava below.

I hadn’t heard of this film until it turned up in one of my ‘W’ trawls and rightfully so - it was poorly made, had terrible acting and was only a couple of gags short of beating ‘Airplane!’ to the punch.

Best Bit - If only I could find a pole - Oh here’s one!

Saturday, 8 August 2015

No.226 : Why Stop Now?

Why Stop Now? at the IMDb

There’s no question mark on this movie’s poster but it appears on the title card at the end, and that’s good enough for us!

That poster is all wrong - it also contains the sub-title ‘A funny thing happened on the way to rehab’ and that’s patently false advertising!

Jesse Eisenberg plays Eli, a piano playing prodigy who looks after his drug addled mother while battling with demons of his own. The film opens with his arriving at an important audition for a select school with a cut hand. His teacher tries to calm him down from his hyper state and we are taken back a day to see how we arrived at this situation.

Things start at a teenage party where we witness Jesse’s social awkwardness amongst his peers and especially girls. He manages to impress with some virtuoso piano playing before spewing up - you hardly ever get that with Richard Clayderman! He has some chat with a girl who clearly likes him before heading off home to his demanding mother.

Mum is due to check into rehab the next day and Jesse sees this as a way to get her off his hands so that he can start a new life at his fancy school. Things fall apart however when Mum’s pee tests positive for nothing meaning she can’t get the state sponsored care she needs. A nurse tells her that if she can get high and ‘fail’ the drugs test she can get into the facility and Jesse can get on with his plans.

From here things start to fall apart in a predictable manner. Mother and son try to buy drugs but the dealers are out of stock. Jesse’s command of Spanish allows a deal to be set up but can the drugs be sourced, the mother committed , the girl won and audition passed?

This was an OK ‘one crazy day’ type film but I never felt invested in Jesse’s frantic and random character. I got that he was at least as mixed up as his Mom but it was hard to care when his annoying mannerisms and selfish behaviour were all that we were offered. There was a degree of redemption reached but he still came across as a dick who was making bad choices. I mean who would agree to go and broker a drug deal for some random and dangerous dealers?

That said the dealers were very nice and would no doubt be chased out of business in five minutes in the real world. One was the ‘Sheeeeit’ guy from ‘The Wire’ and he didn’t even do his line! Melissa Leo was pretty good as the hippy Mom but the potential girl friend was as wet as an otter’s pocket and clearly not worth the effort.

The piano playing was good and having the final scenes set amongst a Revolutionary War re-enactment added a bit of colour, but over all this was a bit dull with no laughs at all. Why Stop Now? Because we all got bored after half an hour!

‘W’ Score 14/23
Best Bit - Party Puking Recital

Friday, 7 August 2015

No.225 - We Are the Freaks

We Are The Freaks at the IMDb

You get a lot of unheard of British films showing up on Netflix - it’s almost like they found a big skip of them behind a closed down Blockbuster store. I’ve watched a few and they are invariably rubbish - check out ‘Full English Breakfast’ if you want a prime example. Most of these films concern what Alan Partridge would term ‘Bad Slags’ with gangsters and football hooligans taking centre stage at a performance no one is watching. Except me.

‘We Are the Freaks’ doesn’t bode well with its poster showing a gaggle of yoof in front of the Union flag which has largely been hijacked by those promoting racism and intolerance. On that front it surprised me - there was no real violence and not much swearing - unfortunately there wasn’t much else either.

The film opens with Jamie Blackley doing narration whilst his character Jack walks down the street. You quickly see that the film will be somewhat subversive when he says he hates voice-overs and stock footage just as they show stock footage of Margaret Thatcher. Bit of politics and self deprecation there! He also draws a gun and shoots a Goth but it’s alright he’s only fantasising. He’s a frustrated wannabe writer stuck in a dead end job and his flights of fancy take him out of his dull existence.

He has similarly disenfranchised friends in the shape of Chunks, who has stolen his brother's Porsche, and Parsons who is in a relationship with the funny looking secretary off ‘Life’s Too Short’. The lads plan a big night out and, after scoring some drugs from Tyres out of ‘Spaced’, they crash a posh party hosted by the parents of Jack’s fantasy love who we know is too good for him as she’s always playing musical instruments when we see her - classy, you understand.

As you’d expect the night doesn’t go to plan with the three lads separating to have their own adventure. There are all pretty low key with one stealing a flag, one busting his banjo string whist having pretty sedate sex and the third wondering if he should open an envelope - it’s certainly not from the Academy Awards Committee I can tell you!

This is an obviously low budget affair so you can forgive some of its shortcomings, but not enough happens to justify even its skinny 74 minutes run time. The first ten minutes were promising but it soon descended into a predictable ‘one wild night’ story that wasn’t particularly wild or memorable. No one had a story arc to speak of and it came across as just a bunch or random stuff that happened and that’s it.

The only memorable scene was Tyres taking down some neds in a kebab shop and possibly Warwick Davis’ secretary riding a young man to destruction with her party frock on. The two leads have been on ‘Skins’ which I’m not familiar with but at least they had the man who liked strawberry jam out of ‘Sex Lives of the Potato Men’ to keep me somewhat amused.

Overall this looked like a film school project bolstered by a couple of familiar faces from the D list. It wasn’t terrible but it also had nothing whatsoever to recommend it.

Best Bit : Kebab Shop Kafuffle  ‘W’ Rating 9/23

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

No.224 : What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? at the IMDb

 What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Well making a sequel to this piece of garbage springs to mind. If that comment seems somewhat predictable I can only say, in my defence, that the film started it.

The frankly never funny Martin Lawrence stars as Kevin, a career thief who scouts auctions for information and potential targets. He scores points off an appraiser by telling her that both her designer glasses and star lot are fakes before taking his wisdom to the auction itself. He spots a pretty girl and, on learning that she is selling a treasured painting to pay her bills steals it from the winning bidder. He then returns it to the lady before receiving some sexy payment in return.

At this early stage the moral compass of the film is set when he tells the lady in a post coital chat that he stole the painting and she thinks he’s a stand up guy for doing so. In a world where black people are often stereotyped as thieves and robbers this is dubious at best especially as every black character in the film has similar moral values ; but he makes wisecracks so that’s OK.

Time passes and Kevin and his acting talent free squeeze have moved in together. He has not done any stealing for a while much to the chagrin of his fence, the late Bernie Mac. His pal John Leguizamo tells him about an easy score at Danny DeVito’s house but this soon goes awry and DeVito takes from him his lucky ring that the new girlfriend gave him. The rest of the film takes up the pointless cat and mouse chase as Kevin and DeVito try to outsmart each other to get the ring and stay ahead of flamboyant police Detective William Finchner

This has to be the worst film I have seen in a long time. It is clearly made for morons with pratfalls and the most obvious gags you have ever seen. For example that ancient one where he says ‘There’s no way you are coming on this trip’ just before a cut to a scene where they are on that trip - yeah that’s there. You also get the slackest, most improbable plot allied with characters who have motivations that defy belief. If DeVito is this mega-businessman answering to Senate committees why is he squabbling with a house breaker? Don’t there guys have people to take care of that kind of thing?

Still to get bogged down in semantics does this film a service it doesn’t deserve. It is unfunny, poorly plotted, terribly scripted and downright offensive - why is it acceptable to dress up as Arabs and do funny voices? The tea towel on the head went out in the 1970’s!

The only mild amusement for me, apart from seeing name actors making a fool of themselves, was the funny sign language interpreter and that was stolen wholesale form ‘Airplane!’.

The end kind of summed up the whole enterprise for me when Lawrence appeared in an outsized afro wig and said ‘I’m a black male, not a blackmailer’. Yes, it was that terrible.

‘W’ Score 3/23
Best Bit : ‘The End’

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

No.223 : Wild Horses

Wild Horses at the IMDb

 Robert Duvall wrote, directed and starred in this contemporary western and had his wife cast in the lead - so is this a showcase for his undoubted skills or a dull vanity project that merits its IMDb score of 4/10?

Duvall plays an ageing Texan rancher who bears the weight of secrets of the past. His gay son’s lover disappeared 15 years previously and a new lady Texas Ranger is keen to reopen the case. What she unearths starts other family skeletons to be rattled from the closet and something has to give.

The film opens in flashback and we’re not clear how the boy died, only that Duvall was there at the time. An undercurrent runs throughout the film that he may have been killed die to redneck intolerances to homosexuality but they seemed keen to skirt round the issue with only passing references to James Franco’s character being gay, and there weren’t any love scenes for him or discussions on his situation. It did shine through that Duvall was the screenwriter as it almost seemed like an old fashioned ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ when the film was crying out for the prejudices to be explored. Still he did duff up some homophobes in a bar, so that’s all right then.

Duvall’s wife Luciana isn’t convincing as the no-nonsense Ranger who smells a Duvall shaped rat and sets her sights on him. English clearly isn’t her first language and her delivery is one note and emotion free. She does get a couple of action scenes, including a low rent car chase, but her part is thin. Her deductions don’t always ring true, but to be fair she says hello to Duvall and straight away he has the hit men on her - not exactly the subtle approach!

Other plot threads that get exposed but not necessarily resolved include corrupt policeman who are dealing drugs with border crossing Mexicans and the paternity of their Mexican looking friend who has lived with them for years but definitely not the result of Duvall getting jiggy with the staff.

The cast was impressive but they get nothing much to do. Josh Hartnett is wasted as the second son and I find it hard to remember any meaningful scene he took part in. The usually good James Franco has nothing to work with in what should have been a good and conflicted character. He seemed nonplussed at his boyfriend disappearing and his reaction at the eventual resolution was muted at best.

I didn’t buy into the dialogue either with lots of improbably moving and articulate speeches being utter by characters who were meant to be red necks or 'good old boy' type farmhands. Duvall talks real slow, as is his way, but he lacked the gravitas and deep rooted resentment that his character was supposed to demonstrate.

Overall this was a wasted opportunity. They had a great cast and locations and a potentially interesting plot, but what was delivered was a flat and wordy borefest that I’ve largely forgotten already.

‘W’ Score - 10/23
Best Bit - Rednecks don’t read the script and start a bar fight

Saturday, 1 August 2015

No.222 : Where the Heart Is

Where the Heart Is at the IMDb

This was an early starring role for the then 19 year old Natalie Portman and although she doesn’t quite pull off the full range demanded of the character she does a decent job with limited material - a bit like many of her dresses!

Natalie plays Novalee a trailer trash teenager who is pregnant to her loser boyfriend. ‘Trailer trash’ isn’t my generalisation - it’s rote large in the film from their trailer to their toothless relations and the mullets on display. Strangely Natalie has all her teeth, is well spoken (albeit in an unconvincing drawl) and lacks any visible tattoos - still it is Hollywood!

Natalie and her man, Willy Jay, set off on a road trip in his beat up car. He’s clearly buying it in instalments as it doesn’t have a floor. This minor structural defect causes Natalie to lose her shoes and sends the hapless couple to Wal-Mart where she gets some tasteful flip-flops. Things are going well until she gets her $5.55 change and we remember that she has a phobia of the digit ‘5’ - remember that for later folks as anytime number 5 is mentioned bad things happen. Actually, don’t bother remembering as it flashes up like a bingo number being called, with endless repetition.

Anyway the 5 phobia holds true and Natalie leaves the store to find her boyfriend gone and her left with her large baby bump and a few dollars. Short of inspiration and maybe because she saw ‘The Terminal’ she decides to live in the store using the stock for her camp out. The film tries to suggest she’s not robbing them blind as she writes down her purchases in a notebook but tell that to the judge - didn’t work for me and all those TVs!

In seconds of movie time the baby is born and she becomes an instant celebrity as ‘The Wall-Mart’ mum - must have been a slow news week. Her Mom shows up in the shape of Sally Field just long enough to rob her of her new found money and to come out with what must be the worst line ever uttered “They’re all pricks in California, they should call it Prickifornia’ - solid gold. It’s not all bad however as she meets nice nurse Ashley Judd and starts a friendship that will last the length of the film

Meanwhile we also follow the runaway boyfriend’s fortune as he tries to become a music star in the care of an underused Joan Cusack. Although we know the couple will cross paths down the line his plot strands seem pointless and distracting. Natalie is however doing better and learning photography from the ‘Franks and Beans’ guy out of ‘There’s Something About Mary’ and getting babysitting help from a chap called Forney who is just a friend and not a romantic interest. Really.

As Natalie stands strong against the pressures of life, with just endless homilies to keep her safe, we wonder who she’ll end up with and whether her daughter’s 5th birthday will live up to all that foreshadowing.

I didn’t mind this film but there wasn’t an awful lot to recommend it. It’s kind of a slice of life with a troubled girl makes good theme. It takes place over several years and Natalie never ages or gains weight - apart from the ‘pregnancy’ cushion being whipped out after 10 minutes. We’re meant to sympathise with her years of struggle but I never bought into that, mainly because of the jarring jumps in the narrative that sees things move at a rate that defies any emotional involvement.

The characters and situations are weak with the romantic trajectory of the two leads obvious from the off. They keep getting let down by those bad boys…wait what about those nice men who have been hanging about for so long?!

There are some decent bits and I especially like the trailer trash standard of the tornado emergency - do those doors in the ground leading to cellars ever work?

The dialogue was poor however and at times downright unbelievable - the mulleted wannabe rock star, who falls afoul of a train, came out with some lovely meaningful chat which rang so untrue it would have been better if he’d have spoken it in Klingon!

The film runs to near two hours and it outstayed its welcome long before the inevitable happy ending. Not so much ‘Where the Heart Is’ as ‘Where’s the Remote Control? There Must Be Something better On’.

Best Bit - Tornado  Alert - where's Grandma?!
'W' Score - 15/23