Wednesday, 30 September 2015

No.244 : Watchers

Watchers at the IMDb

 If you are in the market for an 80’s monster film with big hair and a super intelligent dog then ‘Watchers’ may just be what you are looking for. It’s based on a book by Dean Koontz (at least I think that’s how he spells his name) and I’m guessing it is pretty far removed from the source material as no one does much watching nor are any of the protagonists called ‘watchers’. Still I watched it (worse luck) so let’s see what we saw.

The film stars a mulleted Corey Haim who has a BMX and a hot girlfriend. They get all kissy face in a barn but before you know it she’s been kidnapped and a large monster is on the prowl. We learn from Secret Service Agent Michael Ironside (hair loss at critical levels) that an experiment has escaped from a local lab and it is on a killing spree. It doesn’t like eyes or mirrors so you have to wonder if it is having a bad hair day itself. In fact it is looking for its fellow escapee, a super smart dog. Ironside also warns that there were three experiments at the lab!

The super smart dog shows up at Corey’s house and he christens it ‘Fur face’. The dog understands English and is soon fetching hot dogs, playing Scrabble and writing computer messages with a pencil in it’s mouth. Obviously these things are impossible with paws so fortunately its handiwork happens off camera. While Corey is bonding with the dog, partly by sleeping in the nude with it under his covers, the monster is on the rampage. Various bit parts get chomped and have their eyes removed in scenes a bit too graphic for a film with a smart dog and BMX interest.

Ironside realises that Corey is his best chance to catch up with the monster and dog and soon gets as brutal as the monster - are his ties to the lab more than he is letting on or did he just find the wig shop closed? As everyone converges on a remote shack the scene is set for a titanic battle where the real monster will be unmasked and the fires will be terrifying - well there is a lot of hairspray about.

This was a right old pile of crap but it was funny and dated enough to keep me watching. Not in an ironic way where I laughed at the hairstyles and bad acting…Ok in  exactly that way.

The feeble plot doesn’t have enough to sustain a 90 minute film so subplots and disposable characters are thrown in such as Jason Priestley’s BMX gang who are dispatched in merciless fashion by the monster who clearly had enough of their terribleness - at least Piggy almost made it. The monster itself was a slow reveal with hairy arms and the odd toothy yell all we were treated to. They should maybe have kept it ambiguous as the 'terrifying creature' turned out to be the same costume as the one from‘Bigfoot and the Hendersons’.

The acting, admittedly with terrible material, was shocking with Michael Ironside doing his best to be a hard as nails baddie whilst trying to stop dazzling us all with his bald head and spouting his menace free dialogue. At one point his partner says “This is pretty ridiculous, don’t you think?” Sir, you are correct!

Best Bit : Michael’s big reveal
‘W’ Rating 11/23

Sunday, 27 September 2015

No.243 : World War Dead : The Rise of the Fallen

World War Dead : The Rise of the Fallen at the IMDb

Towards the end of this British ‘found footage’ horror one of the soon to be scoffed characters does an earnest piece to camera. “This is the craziest shit I’ve ever experienced” he says. Well, he’s half right - it certainly was shit!

Of course, with a title like this one you can’t expect much and it certainly delivers nothing at all, except for a series of predictable jerky encounters with some out of focus and anachronistic solder zombies.

Still I’m getting ahead of myself - let’s do the plot - that should cover a sentence! The film opens with some captions and stock footage about the Battle of the Somme - neat way to pad the already skinny 75 minute run time. We learn that a distinguished documentary film maker (who seemingly works out of a Transit van with a bunch of amateurs) has gone missing and what follows is cut from footage that was later found. So far so very predictable.

The characters have none to speak of and they all bitch about each other and argue pointlessly to either build up the tension or to disguise the fact that there is no script and that the zombie extras have only been paid for 20 minutes. The shoot is interrupted when mysterious figures appear in the background and a ‘French’ passer-by advises that it is ‘tres dangerous’ to be in the area.

There are plenty of false starts before the expert starts pulling on a chain that was next to a lake. This reveals a skeleton which belongs to a soldier from an African regiment who practiced bringing the dead back to life. He has a handy amulet in his stomach which the expert pockets, oblivious to its deadly powers! In no time flat the crew is besieged by resurrected soldiers from the Somme battlefield who strangely seem to be wearing World War 2 uniforms. They also have a taste for flesh which is unexplained apart from that’s what zombies do, I guess.

Some of the cast get chomped and another lot find an abandoned, but curiously well stocked, bunker and plot their salvation. Some handy 100 year old dynamite may help their fight and if they can rebury the skeleton (which wasn’t buried in the first place), maybe the dead will rest again. Can’t fault logic like that!

This was a shocker of a film and in no way is that a compliment. For starters I’ll bet the whole thing was filmed in England with one stuck on number plate and a dreadful ‘local’ the only nods to the actual location of the Somme battlefield. To be fair there is no way rubbish like this would get permission to film there, and if that’s the case you have to wonder about the inclusion of old footage of real and dead soldiers from the time. Regular readers will know PC isn’t my thing but real dead soldiers being used to set the scene for this tosh was plain disrespectful.

The acting was ghastly, as was the script which I don’t doubt was improvised throughout. The jerky cameras were vomit inducing and the added crackles and interference offered only annoyance, not authenticity. Very little was done in the was of explaining the zombies’ motivation or the fact that after 100 years the only decay they exhibited was that pasty face make up that students do at Halloween.

The only scares were of the usual ‘jump out’ variety allied to a screech on the soundtrack which wore thin the first time, never mind the fifth.

OK it’s hokey garbage with no pretense at great art or even competent movie making, but this was an embarrassment to all concerned not to mention an affront to common decency in general.

Best Bit - Head gets pulled off
‘W’ Rating 3/23

Thursday, 24 September 2015

No.242 : We Are What We Are (2013)

We Are What We Are (2013) at the IMDb

 Back in Blog 234 we had a look at the Mexican original of ‘We Are What We Are’ and, as threatened, we now turn to the 2013 American remake. There is a certain snobbery in movie reviewers to side with the subtitles but for my money the American version is far superior to its predecessor.

The action, as you’d expect, has been transplanted to America with our heroes now a reclusive farming family in the backwoods of a small town. The film opens much as the original but this time the person barfing blood is a woman rather than a man. Can't nail its 'not a total remake’ colours to the mast any plainer than that! The town is in the throes of a large storm and flood and the biblical flood metaphor prevails throughout as it uncovers secrets and possibly washes away sins - I’m not totally clued up due to spotty Sunday school attendance.

Anyway word soon gets back to the family that Mom isn’t making it home with the groceries and it’s up to dad, his two daughters and young son to keep the family traditions alive. In some ways it is a shame that this is a remake as you know they are cannibals from the start, but if you saw this film fresh it keeps their secret and dieting habits a mystery for much of the film.

While the family is coming to terms with their situation Mom is on the mortuary slab and some unsettling findings are coming to light. There is nothing as oblique as the first film’s finger in the stomach but the doctor finds evidence of a disease that is associated with eating human brains. The Doc also has his own crosses to bear as his own daughter is one of the many people from the area who have gone missing over time.

Back at the homestead Dad has to become provider despite his own worrying hand tremors. His two pretty daughters are a bit more practical and this comes in handy when Dad brings in some road kill for them to prepare. They are reluctant to get involved in the family traditions despite reading up in them in an old journal which dissolves into flashback for those of us interested in the history of people eating.

Meanwhile the flood has washed away some ground and exposed some bones that look both human and cooked. The Doctor enlists the help of the deputy after the sheriff brushes him off and soon the clues regarding the cannibals’ capers start to mount up. Will the long tradition end and will the phrase ‘having Dad over for dinner’ take a new meaning?

I enjoyed this film a lot more than its Mexican counterpart. It was more interesting with better developed characters and a real sense of unease and horror. They did away with the wacky elements and that made it a lot more scary - a gang of cannibals with a sense of purpose and entitlement is plenty to carry a film without distractions.

There was a pervading sense of decay with the Mom needlessly drowning in a ditch  a fitting opening to all of the nihilistic treats to follow. Some of the metaphor such as the flooding and the graveyard scene were a bit broad but overall it did well not to be sensational but creepy and unsettling instead.

I think it was a bit confusing to have the Doctor and the Dad look so similar as it was often double take time, but it was well acted right up to the last five minutes where it went a bit over the top. The violence was horrific but used sparingly and I think the horror from this film will remain through its general vibe rather than the spade whackings and neck bitings.

It was 20 minutes longer than its predecessor but the time was well used to created an affecting and disturbing piece of work which will put you off home made stew for the foreseeable future.

‘W’ Score 18/23
Best Bit : Stiff in the Cemetery

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

No.241 : When Trumpets Fade

When Trumpets Fade at the IMDb

‘TV Movie’ is often a solid pointer to the quality you can expect from a film but this HBO production was impressive in terms of its cast, scale and effects.

The film is book-ended with scenes of soldiers carrying an injured comrade from the battle field. In between the horrors of the Hurtgen Forest campaign are explored through the eyes of Manning, played by Ron Eldard - he was the nice one in ‘Drop Dead Fred’.

Manning is a lowly private who cares only for surviving the war. His platoon has been decimated and he is carrying his fallen comrade Jeffrey Donovan (Burn Notice) on his back. We know it’s a pointless gesture as Donovan has what looks like a pink jellyfish stuck on the side of his head and soon Manning has to make a terrible choice.

Back at base his commanders recognize his battlefield skills - basically staying alive - and promote him to Sergeant in charge of a group of new recruits. Manning drills them mercilessly hoping to keep both them and himself alive. Things come to a head when he is charged with capturing a bridge with the promise of a medical discharge if he’s successful. Will he win his discharge at any cost and will a battlefield promise hold any weight anyway?

I wasn’t expecting much from this 90 minute TV movie but it delivered on almost all fronts. There were a lot of familiar clichés and some sections were virtual retreads of the episode of ‘Band of Brothers’ that covered the same engagement. Of course if you have a flamethrower it has to explode and there were a couple of inventive scenes such as the walk through the mine field which kept things interesting.

The cast was excellent although some big named players such as Timothy Olyphant were in virtual ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ roles. It was also a waste to have Bobby Carnivale in the cast and have him as an officer’s assistant rather than some murderous gung-go maverick that we know he does so well.

Ron Eldard was OK in the lead but I wasn’t totally buying his fragile mental state and his self preservation bit was incongruous with his actions when helping out his platoon. I guess he’s a mixed up character but it’s hard to pull for someone when you don’t know where their motivations lie.

For a TV film there is a fuck load of swearing and some of the deaths and dismemberments were up there on the ‘Private Ryan’ scale of gory. The battle scenes were well executed with a well drilled cast of dozens doing well in a fantastically realised battlefield full of debris and body parts.

I don’t think the film had an awful lot new to say about the horrors of war, and as a character study it was lacking too, but overall this was an enjoyable spectacle and well worth a look.

Best Bit : Bridge Offensive
‘W’ Rating 17/23

Saturday, 19 September 2015

No.240 : When Calls the Heart

When Calls the Heart at the IMDb

 You might think that it is hard to still come up with quality entries for the ‘W’ movie Blog after a torturous trail of 239 and counting but don’t believe it - it’s been a slog since we hit double figures! That is not to say that today’s film was scraping the barrel somewhat, more like scraped through the barrel and burrowed down 10 miles through to the Earth’s core!

‘When Calls the Heart’ is a Hallmark film so you can guarantee from the off there will be no sex or violence. Let’s watch it anyway! The annoying daughter who can’t act off the ‘Taken’ films stars in this as an annoying daughter who can’t act - the girl’s got range!

The film is set in olden days America where not an inch of flesh is shown and all the people of colour are on the staff. They try for  high end look but it’s more ‘Downton Shabby’ than ‘Abbey’. Everyone affects a high pitch posh voice which is annoying, as it is fake. Our heroine, Elizabeth, is a newly qualified teacher and looking onward to getting her first job. Her parents are keen for her to go to a prestigious college with Cherie Lunghi doing her best upper class twit bit as Mom.

Elizabeth is offered a top job but the sleazy recruiting agent, Mr Higgins, implies that he expects some favours for granting the post. Dirty bastard, although given the credentials of the film he’s probably just after some laundry being done. Elizabeth is distraught when her refusal to put out leads her to be offered a post in the Wild West. She is torn at first but soon finds her Aunt’s diary which details her own career as a Wild West school teacher.

The remainder of the film jumps back and forth with the diary extracts acted out by ‘Taken’ daughter wearing a blonde wig while her present day travails have her in a black wig; like I say the girl has range! The film plods on as blonde Elizabeth tries to teach the kids and weakly fend off the advances of Stephen ‘Arrow' Amell, while black hair Elizabeth endures the hazardous journey west with her Mountie protector. Things get near to a conclusion on both fronts when it’s revealed the movie is a precursor to a TV series where all the plot threads will go to die - well I’m not watching that so I’ll just assume they all die of the plague!

You can’t really find fault with a film like this as it was clear from the off what sort of gentle peril we will encounter. Things were perhaps best illustrated when black haired Elizabeth’s stagecoach gets held up by the most polite and respectful road agents you could imagine. None of them said ‘motherfucker’ and they didn’t even try to touch the hem of her ankle length dress - ‘Deadwood’ this was not.

You could see some old ladies lapping this up with barely registering scares such as a wolf ‘attack’ followed by a three mouse home invasion. On the romance front it was hard to pick between the past and present candidates both of whom were more wooden than the old homestead.

Knowing now that it was destined to be a serial it was apparent that little mysteries were being seeded throughout such as the fate of the Aunt and why her diary was hidden in the safe. I’m thinking illegal abortions but given the films trajectory it’s more likely she missed ten minutes of church.

The acting was uniformly dreadful with the fish out of water elements, when our girl had to rough it, the worst - putting mashed potato on your face and telling tales of bed wetting are hardly the stuff of legend.

You may see worse gentle and harmless fayre but I doubt it!

‘W’ Rating 5/23
Best Bit : “I piss the bed too”

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

No.239 : What Now

What Now at the IMDb

The other night I watched ‘Deep Impact’ and it was funny to see how the fledgling internet was shown with the marvels of search engines a wonder to all. That film was from 1997 and has dated poorly, but not as poorly as ‘What Now’ will have in the next 20 minutes - and it was made in 2015!

I suppose the producers would say that it captures the zeitgeist of the moment but when a film is hung entirely on online dating apps you can tells it’s not going to get a place in the National Archives. To be honest, it has dated already with Ashley Madison talked about as a going concern. Someone also references Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’ so there’s another zinger for the folks in 2525!

The film concerns five LA single blokes who are trying for love online. They mostly work in a strip joint so you think there would be the odd woman there but they are ore interested in the ‘swipe right’ kind of ladies. They are presented as a mixed bag of personalities and types but they come across as assholes to a man.

The lead is DJ who works as the strip joint DJ - imaginative naming there. He’s in his 30s and keen for love but for some reason for a guy in the music and stripping businesses he’s a bit shy. He confides in his friends who are all similarly unattached and unsuccessful with the women. After a night of swiping hundreds of ladies they get no matches and decide something has to change.

Sadly the film has no ambition to rehabilitate its characters so one shaves his head and they take new profile pics before broadening their search beyond Hollywood and hey presto - dates! They all take the first girl available with predictably mixed results. One gets an S&M loving MILF while another gets one who is clearly mental as she’s a vegan and spots him as a jock.

Meanwhile a group of girls are also on the dating hunt and rating our men. Can love be found and will our men’s’ shallow approach pay dividends or will they need to see woman beyond a 2-D image to find true love and happiness?

This was a gawd awful mess of a film but I have to confess its terribleness was strangely compelling and I stayed through to the end to see what facile fates our heroes were granted. The old standard of the macho man inadvertently dating a transsexual was rolled out along with many other dating nightmares no doubt designed to get the hen nights cackling at the men’s inadequacy.

To be fair there are plenty of nightmare woman too from the socially responsible nightmare to the moody goth ; but they are all caricatures except for the lovely girl who balks at our hero’s strip show job but we hope to see back to give us all a hope of dating redemption!

The acting is terrible and you get the impression the whole affair was done with favours and cameos from the director’s softball team. One chap ‘Richard’ has the worst English accent you’ll ever hear and the rest have all the charming small talk and chemistry of an SS guard. For some reason Ice-T  shows up as himself and you can only imagine he walked onto the wrong set and earned a credit as a result.

It’s certainly not a film to track down, or even one to watch if you have put off the ironing for a couple of days, but if you are semi conscious and it shows up late night I wouldn’t say you have to turn it off. Fainter praise than that I don’t have.

Best Bit : The worst (at acting) English rock group ever.
‘W’ Rating : 7/23

Friday, 4 September 2015

No.238 : When the Lights Went Out

When the Lights Went Out at the IMDb

Paranormal activity in 1970’s Yorkshire now in this British frightener.

The film opens with  a husband and wife traveling to their new home with their teenage daughter. It’s 1974 and times are tough, although some affluent neighbours do have satellite dishes! The family is struggling financially but hope to have a fresh start in their new council semi.

Unfortunately for them they have moved into a home occupied by a cliché obsessed poltergeist who goes through the usual routine of slamming doors and moving stuff about. The 13 year old daughter is more attuned to goings on and soon sees a spooky figure in the TV - maybe it was ‘Top of the Pops’? The initially skeptical family soon start to believe when they each have an encounter with the spirit, although to be fair it does do a good job of stripping wall paper.

The torn faced daughter confides in her lovely teacher Martin Compston who does some research and takes the class to an old monastery where the girl has a vision of a monk being hanged. There is also a fortunate museum exhibition with lax security which leads the girl to believe her poltergeist pal is the ghost of a 13 year old landowner’s daughter who was killed by a mad monk. She steals the girl’s pendant from the museum as it’s bound to come in handy or she can swap it for some Spangles at the very least.

The case starts to get some coverage from the press and soon the marriage is under stress due to all the nocturnal fumblings that take place when the husband is away - that old excuse again! As the frequency and potency of the attacks increase can a seance or even the Catholic church save the day?

This was an OK, by the numbers, low budget haunted house tale. It was no ‘The House that Bled to Death’ but it went pretty much as you’d expect and had a decent finale that looks like it soaked up 95% of the budget.

The 1970’s were fairly realised but it was a mistake to throw in lots of ‘funny’ lines about avocado bath suites and ugly curtains just so that we in the present day can have a cheap snigger. It was incongruous and took you straight out of any sense of buying into the film’s reality. There were also a plethora of 70’s toys scattered about for the nostalgia effect only including a fully loaded Buckaroo that went off in the night - who ever left their Buckaroo piled high overnight?!

The plot was slight and although less than 90 minutes the film needed some padding to make it to feature length. The solving of the mystery was somewhat pat and the good versus evil battle at the end hadn’t been fully fleshed out for it to make sense. The special effects were quite good although a bit off kilter compared to the rest of the film - we went from muddy 70’s sepia to Industrial Light and Magic for the last couple of minutes.

All in all this was a decent effort but if they wanted something really scare from the 1970’s they should just have recreated the Radio 1 road show.

Best Bit : Uh-oh Slinky attack!
‘W’ Scot 13/23

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

No.237 : What We Did On Our Holiday

What We Did On Our Holiday at the IMDb

 If you like films about bickering couples (and who doesn’t?) this may well be the one for you.

Tenth Doctor David Tennant takes his family on a journey through time and space - well, it happens over a couple of days and they go to Scotland - where marital and family differences are all played out around the celebrations of his father’s (Billy Connolly’s) birthday.

Tennant is married to Rosamund Pike and rather than thank the Good Lord he spends all his time fighting with her - to be fair e never really got over Billie Piper. The pair live in London with their three stage school kids and have a daunting trip ahead of them to the Scottish Highlands where his brother (Ben Miller) and father live.

Ben is a total asshole who bullies his son and values his money over everything else. Bet he learns a lesson soon! He also has the worst Scottish accent you can imagine and it must have been that Alexander Armstrong was busy that weekend.

The family gather and we start to learn some home truths including some infidelity and that Billy has cancer. The innocent kids give away a lot of the family secrets to which wise old Billy dispenses increasingly annoying homilies, as he tries to protect them from the fractious family difficulties.

As the day of the day of the big birthaday party arrives an event occurs that leads all of the family to reevaluate their values and relationships. Yes, I’m afraid it’s that dull!

This was a largely inoffensive film but one that became increasingly annoying as it progressed. The characters were all thinly drawn and I didn’t really care why they were bickering never mind hope that they could become reconciled. The kids all did their best but there were a lot of fluffed lines and the wisdom of their innocence quickly became a real niggle.

The pivotal scene after an hour was as mawkish as it was unlikely - some of the impromptu building work carried out would have stumped Brunel!

It was a good cast with a lot of familiar faces popping up for five minutes but they were largely underused with shouting and yelling taking centre stage over any attempts at wit or charm.

The film was written and directed by Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton of ‘Drop the Dead Donkey’ fame and it’s a shame they produced such an anodyne and forgetful comedy rather than take a few chances, as we’d expect from them. It’s definitely not one to hate but just a twee and forgettable bit of fluff with nothing really to say and no laughs offered either.

Best Bit : No Osprey? Let’s paint one on the film!
‘W’ Rating 10/23