Monday, 31 July 2017

Man Down
Dir: Dito Montiel
The first and only time I heard anything about Dito Montiel’s 2015 war drama Man Down was in the spring of 2017. It was released in the UK in one cinema, one screening and only one ticket was sold. It received absolutely no publicity. The media loved this, and commented on the downward spiral of Shia LaBeouf’s career – LaBeouf being the film’s leading actor. Personally I think LaBeouf’s performances are getting better and better and the roles and films he is choosing are unique and edgy. It’s like a guy puts on a brown paper bag over his head just once and the world just won’t let him get over it. I was actually motivated by his motivational internet video that everyone mocked. Whenever I feel apprehensive and uncomfortably challenged I hear his ‘Just do it’ words of wisdom and it genuinely helps. Yesterday I did say tomorrow, and that is today, and I’ve done a lot since think about this and that is to Mr. LaBeouf’s credit. Those familiar with my sense of humour may think I’m joking here but I’m not, I generally think the guy is okay. I also think his performance in Man Down is impressive, he really gives it all he’s got. The only problem with his performance is Dito Montiel’s shoddy direction. LaBeouf submerges himself into the role, I don’t know how method he gets but his tears seem authentic to me, he convinced me throughout. Montiel ruins it for him by turning the film into a cheap lie, a sudo-sci-fi mess full of pop-psychology and nonsensical twists, thus denying LaBeouf his integrity and the humanity he works so hard to deliver. Montiel’s films never begin well in my opinion, he’s won me over more times than not but there is a fine line between profound and utter garbage and I’m afraid Man Down leans towards the latter. However, there is a lot to enjoy and I have to admit the overall sentiment was made with good intentions. LaBeouf is superb, Jai Courtney is also good but his character isn’t that well written, leaving the actor in limbo which in turn allows the viewer to guess the ending. Kate Mara also suffers from having a poorly written character but she does the best with it as she can. Clifton Collins Jr plays something of a pointless character in my opinion, again badly written and it was a bit of a waste of the great actor’s time if I’m being honest. It is Gary Oldman who gets all the luck when it comes to dialogue. His role is simple yet integral to the film’s tone, indeed it goes downhill as soon as his scenes are over with, but he delivers each line with suspense and intrigue, with each word coming as a complete surprise. The chemistry between LaBeouf and Oldman in this scene is the best the film gets and I have to say if the rest of the film matched its intensity then it would have sold a hell of a lot more tickets and I’m sad that it has been so overlooked and unseen. Oldman has stared in some questionable films of late and I wonder whether Man Down has been shrugged off as another one of his mistakes. It’s better than Criminal by a country mile for anyone who is wondering, although the story becomes just as ridiculous. It’s not the idea or the conclusion that’s ridiculous however, it’s all to do with the poor execution, how the film begins and with all that is left out. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a scary thing, I think it can be explored without wandering into the realms of fantasy and sci-fi – not that that is technically what Montiel does, but it certainly does feel like it. The editing is horrible, the film jumps from one genre to another in a confusing non-linier fashion. The conclusion is predictable from the half-way point and isn’t rewarding when it does indeed happen, in fact, it comes across as farcical and it cheapens everything that was good about it. It’s all on Montiel on this one and as much as his films can irritate me, I hope he survives it. LaBeouf also deserves credit for what is impressive about the film, it’s way past the time he was given a bit of respect, he’s made mistakes but he’s a great actor and an interesting character, I’d rather watch him than most Hollywood mannequins.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Dir: Christopher Nolan
I’m not sure the classic war film will ever be the same again. Don’t get me wrong, in my opinion Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds remains the genre’s radical but mainstream game changer of recent years but hopefully people will now see that Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan is not the greatest war film of all time and that it was never even close. Many have suggested that Dunkirk is ‘the’ greatest war film of all time, but you’d have to break down the genre into categories for me to agree. There are many different sides to war, you have the battle films that concentrate more on military manoeuvres and sacrifice, the ‘epic’ with a cast of the hottest actors of the day - my favourite being Richard Attenborough’s classic A Bridge Too Far – and you have the prisoner of war movie, some that incorporate battle, escape and espionage like John Sturges’ The Great Escape, or the ones that explore the relationship between the captor and those captive, the best being Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence in my opinion. It’s easy to declare either A Bridge Too Far, The Great Escape or Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence as ‘the’ greatest war film of all time, but they only show certain aspects of war. A good war film is an anti-war film, so by that definition Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood is a strong contender. It’s fair to say that British and American Second World War films often dominate the debate, but Vietnam movies among some of the greatest films ever made. Many would argue that Francis Ford Coppola is the greatest, but as much as I love it, I would argue that the war is merely a backdrop of what the core story is about. Samuel Maoz’s brilliant Lebanon looks at war from a very different and precise viewpoint – literally – as the film is shot from the point of view of a tank driver. It’s a very modern and often overlooked masterpiece within the genre. Sometimes war is so ridiculous and detached from real life, that only a comedy can show it up for what it is and there is no better war comedy than Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H. Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17 also explores humor within the absurdity of war and Jean Renoir’s The Grand Illusion is probably the best essay on the folly of war ever produced. Sun Tzu wrote the profound ‘Art of War; centuries ago but it was directors such as Michael Cimino and Terrance Malick who brough art to the genre with The Deer Hunter and The Thin Red Line. The Thin Red Line is more looks than substance in my opinion but I regard The Deer Hunter as being one of the greatest films ever made. Without wanting to go against the grain, I would have to say Wolfgang Petersen’s Das Boot is the most suspenseful and successful in getting across the futility of battle and is a modern masterpiece. Stanley Kubrick has made two of the greatest war films ever made, Paths of Glory is a stunning look at world war one, the horror of the trenches and stupidity of the generals but I could watch Full Metal Jacket all day long, indeed, it is probably the war film I have re-watched the most times. I think at the end of the day you have to separate war films into two different categories: Before the First World War and after and including the First World War. Then, you need to separate the films made of the First World War and thereon into two categories again; stories seen from a military view point and stories seen from a civilian viewpoint. For me, the greatest war film of all time is Come and See by Elem Klimov. It’s a chilling look at the reality and horror that men are capable of. Come and See is the greatest but this is from a civilian viewpoint. I have thought long and hard with regards to what the greatest or at least, what my favourite, and what I think the most successful military conflict war film is in terms of meeting its objective and measure of its impact is and have decided, with all honesty, that it has to be 2017’s Dunkirk. It is phenomenal in that it re-writes the rule book while also adhering to all of the important dos and don’ts of the genre. It’s art, it’s realism, it’s factual, it covers both fear and bravery, the fight and the fight for survival. It’s not all about the ‘no guts, no glory’ cliché that many a propaganda film has rammed down the throat, history be butchered. Sometimes directors can forget that a picture can paint a thousand words, Spielberg knows but squirts the paint down the viewer’s eye socket, Nolan sits back, observes, listens, lives and then paints with quiet determination and subtle panache. Of all of his action movies, you’d expect his big war movie to match the lot but not so, while the film of course full of action, and is constant, it merely drives the film to its final conclusion, builds the drama, without taking over or becoming something just for the sake of it. It is certainly never gratuitous, which I thought Saving Private Ryan was. There is very little dialogue and not one German solder is seen throughout the entire movie. The film itself is only 1 Hour and 46 mins, almost half the time of most films considered classic war films and yet it incorporates nearly every element covered by them. It shows the bravery, the will to survive and the need to protect, the hardship, people pushed to the limits and the best and worst they can be under those circumstances and without judgment. Dunkirk was one of many unique circumstances that changed the course of the war. A bridge wasn’t felled, a high-ranking officer wasn’t captured and nor was a piece of land gained, better than that, solders were saved but it was looked upon by many as a failure. The Brits lost ground, were trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, a stone’s throw from home but far from safety. The battle for Britain would be unavoidable, the men wanted to survive and get home but thought that the public would hate them. They also knew that if they did get home, the battle would be far from over. Their return was far from failure, the effort by the air force, navy and from the public saw the growth of a spirit of resistance that eventually won the war. As Nolan himself put it: "This is an essential moment in the history of the Second World War. If this evacuation had not been a success, Great Britain would have been obliged to capitulate. And the whole world would have been lost, or would have known a different fate: the Germans would undoubtedly have conquered Europe, the US would not have returned to war. It is a true point of rupture in war and in history of the world. A decisive moment. And the success of the evacuation allowed Churchill to impose the idea of a moral victory, which allowed him to galvanize his troops like civilians and to impose a spirit of resistance while the logic of this sequence should have been that of surrender. Militarily it is a defeat; on the human plane it is a colossal victory." The film itself is separated into three interweaving threads, seen from different viewpoints; ‘The mole’ takes place on the beach at Dunkirk where 300,000 soldiers were stranded, surrounded by the German troops, waiting to be either rescued or picked off, whichever came first; ‘The Sea’ sees fishermen and those with private pleasure boats set off from the southern coast across the channel to help save the stranded soldiers while Navy commanders wait at the other end, cramming their men into whatever ship that comes available; ‘The Air’ features spitfire piolets fighting off the incoming Luftwaffe – many of the troops were angry with the airforce as they were largely unseen but they hadn’t realised that they fought off the bulk of the air invasion headed for them inland and the few that did make it to the beach were the few that slipped past them. Our protagonist on land is a British army private called Tommy (played by Fionn Whitehead in a spectacular debut). After escaping an ambush in the empty streets of Dunkirk, Tommy manages to reach the beach and looks for a way out. He meets Private Gibson on the beach and the pair spot an injured man. They know the best way to get on a ship is to act as stretcher bearers and they run towards the mole. Their fear and desperation is real but without cowardice, they were surrounded, the battle was over but the fight for survival had begun. They save Private Alex (Harry Styles) and the duo become a trio. They spend the entire film doing what they can to get out while Kenneth Branagh’s Commander Bolton (a composite character based in part on James Campbell Clouston) stands watch at the end of the mole. Hopefully Styles’ casting doesn’t distract too much from the story itself, he’s actually very good and to be fair Nolan didn’t know who he was when he auditioned, he got the part on his talent. The Sea segment sees Mr Dawson (played by the brilliant Mark Rylance) a mariner with his own vessel headed to help the troops with the help of his son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and local boy George (Barry Keoghan). Their journey is long and treacherous in such a small boat, with dog fights taking place above them and ships sinking around them. They pick up a solder floating alone in the middle of the channel (played by Cillian Murphy) who, suffering from shell shock, becomes a cause for concern. In the Air, RAF pilots Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farrier (Tom Hardy) pick off Luftwaffe fighters over the channel, while segments from the other threads can be seen from their viewpoint. The way the three threads interweave with each other is brilliant. A day scene is followed by a night scene and then back to day again, which really shouldn’t work but I have to say, this is some of the best editing in modern cinema. Nolan explained in an interview that "For the soldiers who embarked in the conflict, the events took place on different temporalities. On land, some stayed one week stuck on the beach. On the water, the events lasted a maximum day; and if you were flying to Dunkirk, the British spitfires would carry an hour of fuel. To mingle these different versions of history, one had to mix the temporal strata. Hence the complicated structure; even if the story is very simple.” He also went on to say “Do not repeat it to the studio but this will be my most experimental film." Each character represents a part of war that the solders would face; bravery, fear, the fight, shell shock and death. There is no empty martyrdom though, no gratuitous violence and not a drop of blood shown, only the fear, desperation and silence of the communal feeling of dread. However, it’s not without the artistic impact that the classics are known for. There are at least five scenes I can think of that will become iconic in the near future. It’s got everything that all the classics have combined without it ever feeling too much or over complicated. It’s utter perfection. Nolan not only looked at war films for inspirations but also of the sprawling early silent films. He didn’t hire thousands of extras but instead used cardboard cut outs and instead, spent money on real Spitfires and ships that would have been used in the rescue. Nothing is wasted, everything on screen matters. He cast young actors with little experience to represent the young and naïve solders who would have been there at the time. Some of the remaining survivors of Dunkirk were invited to the premiere and they all stated how accurate the film’s portrayal was, although a few confessed to Kenneth Branagh that the music in the film was louder than the explosions on the beach. Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is astounding and matches the intensity of the story perfectly. The idea of using a ticking clock within the music works much better in reality than it does on paper. At last, a factual war film has been made with no false heroics, manufactured sentimentality or emotional manipulation. It feels like an impressionist window into the past, an honest depiction of the emotions felt by solders, civilians and a nation in general. It’s the history behind the history. It’s in instant classic, an epic masterpiece, the best film from Nolan and probably the best film of 2017. Anyone who complains that there were no Nazis and no blood doesn’t really known what a good war film is.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A United Kingdom
Dir: Amma Asante
I was initially uninterested in 2016’s A United Kingdom, not because of the subject matter but mainly because I didn’t find the title particularly appealing and I don’t much care for Rosamund Pike. However, I’ve always liked David Oyelowo and when the penny dropped and I realised who Amma Asante was I was immediately keen. Asante was in the best kids TV show in the 1980s (Grange Hill) and her 2013 period drama Belle was an impressive and long-overdue follow up to her relatively unseen 2004 debut A Way of Life. Her directional talent was clear in 2004 and it’s just as good in 2016. The story, the true-life romance between Sir Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams Khama is a beautiful one. Their love, which was pure, was marred by politics, tradition and pure racism but their marriage survived to help break down the barriers and dampen the taboo, particularly in the UK. Seretse Khama was heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), so who he married would always have been scrutinised by his country, particularly because she was white, but the British response was far more surprising, and rather revealing. It is right for the governments of post-war Britain to be revealed of their wrongdoings and as a Brit I’m glad our society is reminded of this. As much as I didn’t like the way the great Clement Attlee was portrayed in the film it did show his downfall accurately. Winston Churchill also received justified criticism, although less so, such is the bastard’s untouchability in today’s society. Respect too for acknowledging Tony Benn and the voice of reason within the Labour party at the time but I do wonder whether the performances and script regarding Jack Davenport’s Alistar Canning and Tom Felton’s Rufus Lancaster were a little overcooked. I guess if the two actors are happy to be typecast then that’s their business but I don’t think it did the film any good, the ‘villainous’ characters could have all been a little less cartoonish in my opinion but I suppose they served a purpose. In the end the message is most important, it needed to reach everyone, even if it does mean that aspects have to be sugared and spoon-fed. However, those important aspect do come through, the love between the Seretse and Ruth is convincing, Oyelowo and Pike are perfect together and they both excel in their very different roles. I think their strong performances outshine many of the supporting actor’s efforts but not to the film’s detriment. Most importantly, it shows the situation for the ridiculous thing it was and how historically important it would become. It’s one of the most heart-warming romances I’ve seen for a long time, fiction is rarely this good, so it is wonderful that it is based respectfully on a true story. Racism is sadly alive and well, I was in a previous relationship with someone of another colour than mine and I was astonished at the reaction we both received from various different people, some strangers and some family. Asante does well not too force the message down the throats of those that really needed it hammered into them and handles the tone with restraint and class. The direction and cinematography is sublime, from the plains of Africa to the cold winder of London, it always looks beautiful and always looks authentic. It’s a fitting tribute, an important history lesson and something everyone can take from, a few script tweaks and a couple of performance changes away from being a five star classic.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Beauty and the Beast
Dir: Bill Condon
Disney enjoyed something of a renaissance in the early 90s and I would be lying if I told you I didn’t enjoy some of it. Aladdin was the film I liked most, I was in my mid-teens and very anti-Disney but I couldn’t help but fall for its charms. I enjoyed Beauty & the Beast a lot less but out of the many Disney videos my younger sister had (and watched 24/7), it was one of a few (Aladdin, Little Mermaid being the others) that I didn’t mind watching with her. You can’t argue with the songs and it is easy to see why kids – and adults – enjoy it and why it has since become something of a classic. Disney have made quite a few animated films since and few are as good. However, the 1991 film is an abomination as far as adaptations go, it is another example of Disney rewriting classic literature and stamping their brand on it. It’s not just kids who are fooled, there are many adults today who think Uncle Walt wrote such stories as Pinocchio, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid etc. How a company can rewrite the real life story of a sex slave into a romantic kids cartoon (Pocahontas) is beyond me, to then sell her as one of their ‘Disney Princesses’ and make money from associated tat is nothing short of amoral. I’m as anti-Disney as I was in my teens but I will admit when they make a great film but like anything, when you make a copy of an earlier copy that is itself a copy, you lose quality. Don’t misunderstand me, Disney spared no expense on making the live-action version of their 1991 animated hit, but this is about as shallow and superficial as cinema gets. I’m sure the super fans loved it and I’m sure those not so obsessed with it did too, indeed it is one of the most profitable films of all time, certainly the most profitable musical of all time. It’s important to remember though that ‘most profitable’ doesn’t automatically mean ‘best’ but I will admit, the songs are catchy and I don’t hate them. As far as I can tell, the story is 90% 1991’s Beauty & the Beast, 5% the musical adaptation and aspects of 1997’s Beauty & the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas making up the other 5%. Why you would incorporate bits of a straight to VHS Disney money making load of old rubbish sequel is anyone’s guess, but I suppose it shows you just how big the fan base is. It is fair to say that certain aspects of the 1991 have been changed for the better. The song "Be Our Guest" in the animated original specifically mentions the time period of ten years regarding the rose that acts as a reminder/time setter for the Beast to act upon his curse. The final petal of the enchanted rose was to fall when the prince turned 21, if he hadn’t found love by this point the curse would stick forever. This would make him 11 at the time of the curse and wouldn’t make any sense, so removing this – and other oddities make for an improvement, but then these are somewhat ruined by constantly misplaced references. Many Disney films are nodded at, which would have been fine if they hadn’t overdone it, surely this obsession with finding ‘hidden Mickeys’ distracts from the story, no wonder kids have no attention span these days. Other musicals receive tribute, Cabaret and Singing in the rain being the most obvious, and so is the less obvious Moulin Rouge, purely for the sake that Ewan McGregor is in it. Likewise, there are countless nods to the Harry Potter films, purely because of Emma Watson. As proud as I’m sure she is of the series, I’m sure she’d like not to be typecast for the rest of her life. Why wouldn’t she want to be Belle, her childhood favourite, she made a heap of money from it but I do wonder if the fact she turned down La la Land for this will be a future regret. Ryan Gosling was wise to not make the same mistake and took the La la Land job over the role as the Beast. However, in interviews with Watson and director Bill Condon, it seems Watson had quite an influence in the film’s production. She insisted on the inclusion of her friend and screenwriter Stephen Chbosky for the film’s scriptwriting, had a big say in the costumes and totally changed her character, making herself the inventor instead of her father, giving Kevin Kline very little to do. She clearly wanted Belle to be independent and a role model for younger girls – which is very admirable – but this was probably the wrong place to do it. I admire her a lot but La Belle et la Bete was written by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont in 1740 to prepare young girls in 18th century France for arranged marriage, I don’t think you can get around that ideology. Watson wisely dismissed ideas of Stockholm Syndrome as an excuse and set about empowering Belle by updating aspects of her character and the story but I personally think she’s only amplified the power disparity between her and the beast. Without wanting to sound unkind, I think she’s convinced herself she has succeeded in something she hasn’t. She says she based part of her performance on Katherine Hepburn, but I can’t see it. I admire her good intensions but she needs to fight harder, her casting as Belle was considered fortuitous by the producers and the studio unanimously decided that she was the only choice because the character is considered the fairy tale, classical-period equivalent of her signature role of Hermione Granger. She needs to take a page out of Daniel Radcliffe’s book and star in a serial killer movie (as the serial killer) quick! I liked that Belle's town is named Villeneuve, after "Beauty and the Beast" author and I love that it fittingly translates as Newtown but it’s just not enough. It’s great that Disney are producing films that show a more diverse cast with interracial relationships and homosexual characters but it is far too forced here and I don’t think it really helps the cause. The problem is that they talked it up too much and made it a thing, where they should have just added it and carried on, as civil rights and fair representation never needs an excuse to exist, it just should without discussion. I’d like to live in a world where cinema reclaims classic literature from Disney. Remaking your own animated adaptation, that is even more ‘animated’ than that animated film, and calling it something new is ridiculous, and I hope the trend is short lived. Bizarrely it was Condon who insisted on the film being a musical and Disney were pretty hands off to begin with. However, after time they got more involved, Jean Dujardin (a real Frenchman) was dropped for Ewan McGregor and his Jamaican accent, the wolves were given scars, and every cliché and stereotype came out of the woodwork. To think Watson was previously set to star in Guillermo del Toro’s dark Beauty and the Beast that was set up at Warner Bros. What could have been. It is fair to say that one of the reasons I disliked so much is because I consider Jean Cocteau’s 1946 adaptation to be one of the most beautiful films ever made. It is cinematic perfection, the 2017 version just shows how far the art has wandered.

Justice LeagueGods and Monsters
Dir: Sam Liu
I’m a big fan of DC’s Elseworld one shots, there is no way they could ever be adapted into live action films (although I can think of a few that really should be), so animated versions are very welcome. That said, Justice League: Gods and Monsters was an alternative reality one step too far for me. I’m a nerd, a DC nerd at that, but I couldn’t help but think that there are plenty of characters and situations available within the comics, without having to come up with some of the nonsense in this particular episode. There were aspects I loved, for instance, I thought the idea that Zod would mix his ‘seed’ with Lara’s (Superman’s mum) ‘egg’ just before his famous journey to earth was fascinating. In this version of reality Kryptonians don’t seem to conceive the traditional way but through blood and high-tech computers, so Lara isn’t raped as such (Alan Moore didn’t write it) but superman is half Zod and half her, making him something of a superhero with mixed ethics. Batman isn’t Bruce Wayne either, instead he is Dr. Kirk Langstrom (otherwise known as Man-Bat), a scientist who inadvertently transformed himself into a Vampire when trying to cure himself of cancer – he literally eats bad guys for breakfast. Wonder Woman completes the alternative trinity but in this version she is Bekka, a new god and the widow of Darkseed’s son Orion, who was killed, along with his whole family, by Bekka’s side during the wedding reception. The Apokolips family had it coming to be fair, but seeing them all attend a traditional wedding was the sort of thing I love and also hate about DC comics. On earth, the three are sort of anti-heroes, with Lex Luther seemingly the planet’s voice of reason. Luther now lives in space as his legs don’t work and he’s bored of the planet. Many other DC character appear, most are only slightly different than they are usually, while others are pretty much the same. Steve Trevor still has a thing with Wonder Woman but their relationship here is a little more feisty; Mr Freeze, Doctor Light, Atom, Bumblebee, Steel, Cyborg, and Mr Terrific among many, appear but only as their normal selves and not in their ‘super’ personas, while the likes of Amanda Waller and Louis Lane are the same except Waller is president and Lane has no romantic link with Superman. While the new Batman and new Wonder Woman have fairly interesting origin stories, there isn’t much to the new Superman’s, which lets the story down somewhat. The conclusion is ridiculous and for most of the film it’s purely a matter of working out who is who in the alternative reality. The new characters aren’t all that interesting to be honest, their relationship with the people of earth and their position there could have been explored in a much better way and it’s still a mystery as to how they all got together in the first place, although I can’t say I really cared while watching. The best thing about the animated film was the violence. I quite liked the ridiculous conclusion too but it would have been half as rich if it weren’t for the unexpected flashes of brutal violence. This is most certainly not for kids and all the better for it. The animation is pretty simple, DC do rush their animations out fairly quickly and I wish they’d take their time a little more but he voice work is great and the script is okay, apart from a few unfortunate references to modern culture and a few unnecessary rude bits. Far from DCs best animation but an indication that they are finally open to exploring new things, adapting one shots and Elseworlds and making films for the true fans and not just kids who don’t read the comics.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Trespass Against Us
Dir: Adam Smith
When I was first made aware that Michael Fassbender, Sean Harris and Brendan Gleeson were going to star in a Gypsie crime thriller directed by the guy who made all of The Chemical Brother’s best music videos, I was pretty much sold. So when I did finally get round to watching it, I felt utterly let down by all the false promise. Director Adam Smith clearly didn’t want to insult the traveller community and made a point to show the characters as a very unique family, with gypsy roots but in no part representative of their culture. He does this badly. He presents an unrealistic situation and unbelievable characters and probably insults when trying hard to do the opposite. The accents are wrong, the clothes are wrong, the way of life is wrong and what they get away with is ridiculous, absolutely none of the story can be taken seriously. Serious scenes are met with moments of comedy, but it’s never clear whether said comedy is actually intentional or not. An intense and emotional scene involving the disappearance of two children is followed by light-hearted and humorous religious dialogue and an inbred/mentally unstable man (your guess is as good as mine) painted blue. I can only imagine that Smith is going for quirky, but the reality is that the film is a mess. Smith seems hell bent on making a cult indie but he just can’t help himself and throws in all of the clichés of modern British cinema. Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of a police officer with a personal vendetta against the family is dreadful. It’s now a stereotype character and is always played by the same sort of actors (I’m guessing Rafe Spall was busy that month). I will give Brendan Gleeson the benefit of the doubt and suggest he did the best with what he was given, his character gets all the best lines and each one is delivered perfectly, it’s just a shame they made him do comedy after such serious themes are explored. Michael Fassbender never looks as if his heart is in it, it’s far from his best performance but I can see how he thought it could be. The idea isn’t that bad, it really is the direction that lets the whole production down. Sean Harris, the most petrifying actor in the UK, it utterly wasted, as are the supporting cast of talented and familiar faces. I think this is the real issue I had with the film, it should have been an intense thriller, Brendan Gleeson’s character should have been terrifying and the overly sentimental conclusion should have been binned. It needed to pick a style and stuck to it, instead of trying its hand at nearly every genre you can think of, except for a few that actually they could have considered. Nothing was of substance. For example, there is a scene whereby a few of the community go on a joy-ride mission, to send a message to the police. They paint the car bright yellow, apart from a slight gap on the windscreen. The scene adds nothing to the film and makes very little sense to the overall story, but in Smith’s mind I’m sure he could see it on a classic film poster one day, his version of the Italian Job’s three Mini Coopers, destined to be an iconic moment in modern British history. It’s meaningless, unconvincing in every aspect, never engaging and somewhat lethargic. Luckily for all involved, it’s also rather forgettable.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Europa Report
Dir: Sebastián Cordero
I have mixed feelings about ‘Found footage’ movies. The Blair Witch Project is massively overrated, the best example of how great it can be – and the biggest influence in the sub-genre as far as I can tell – is Remy Belvaux’s 1992 cult hit Man Bites Dog although you could argue the brilliant (and misunderstood) Cannibal Holocaust was the first. While Troll Hunter and Cloverfield utilised the method rather splendidly, the now overused technique seems stuck in Paranormal Activity hell, with only the VHS series remaining watchable and vaguely original. It seems baffling to me, considering we are a society that is now recorded 24 hours a day from every angle no matter where we are, that film makers still struggle to think of new ideas or how to incorporate home footage and CCTV into their films. I have thought of several situation where this method of filming could be utilised, and without wanting to shout ‘I thought of it first’ (because I didn’t), I had thought of space – or more specifically, a space ship – as the perfect place to make such a film. Europa Report does everything a good found footage film should do, with each CCTV shot looking authentic and unstaged. However, it incorporates these scenes into a sort of post-event documentary that just doesn’t work at all. A good found footage film – indeed, a good horror/thriller/mystery film in general – leaves the conclusion to the imagination of the audience. Again, the only time actual narration of film footage has worked is in the sub-genre’s granddaddy, the aforementioned Cannibal Holocaust. It’s like watching someone narrating through sign language at the corner of the screen when you’re not actually deaf, but with condescension. Europa Report should have been 2001: A CCTV Odyssey, instead it was like watching a bunch of inept astronauts, clumsily killing themselves until accidently landing their ship on an octopus nest. The big alien reveal is astonishingly anticlimactic, I had wondered whether the film would link with Gareth Edward’s brilliant 2010 movie Monsters (his aliens looked similar and came from Europa) but alas it was merely a coincidence. I say coincidence, but the truth of the matter is that Europa Report looks like so many spaceship horror films, I’m not sure it’s the appropriate word. While the visuals are polished and the pace is reassuringly slow, the fact is that they can’t even get the clichés right. At no point did I think I was watching footage of a group of astronauts in space, for me it was six actors, in a room, pretending to be in space. There was no illusion and certainly no magic. I felt nothing when one of them died, not because I’m a cold hearted crocodile, but because the film never connected with me on an emotional level. I can’t say I cared much for the characters in 2001: A Space Odyssey (my favourite space movie) but it was full of mystery, intrigue and possibilities. Europa Report has zero intrigue, little mystery and squanders any of the many possibilities it could have explored. You can’t blame any of this on a lack of budget (I would like to suggest John Carpenter’s Dark Star as an example), this is all about the writing – or lack of it. It’s one thing not to try but it’s another to not even pretend they did. All the ‘silent in space’ scenes were used when they ran out of script and when there was dialogue and longed for the eerie silence that only space can deliver. The visuals weren’t all bad but all the best scenes were ruined by the fake narrative ‘talking head’ interviews from mission control back on earth. It was terrifying when we first discovered that in space no one can hear you scream. Less terrifying when we found out that actually, people can, and you have to listen to their commentary of it and their emotionless fake crying. It wastes a brilliant cast too.
George BestAll by Himself
Dir: Daniel Gordon
I have to admit I’m not the biggest football (soccer) fan in the world and when I think of George Best I generally think of alcoholism, Liver transplants, the British tabloids and his celebrity-hungry ex-wife and son before I think of his talent, success and what he did for Manchester United and British football in general. Pele (regarded as the best player in the world) once called Best ‘The best player in the world’ and after the tragic event of the Munich air crash which lead to the death of half the Manchester United team, Best breathed new life into the beautiful game, some say saving it, but certainly popularising it and making it hip for the first time but whether or not you think that’s a good thing or not is up to you. Best was the original David Beckham in terms of celebrity footballer, far more talented, as Beckham would admit himself, but certainly the first footballer to be treated like a rock star – Beatle-style. Best’s skill and determination lead his team to win league titles and the European cup, something the club wanted and British football needed after the air disaster of 1953 that was part of the then new European league and before players would play for teams outside of their own countries. He did so much when he was still only a teenager, it’s now understandable how it became a little too much for him to cope with and you can see it happening time and time again to sportsman, musicians and anyone who reaches success and fame early on in life. In many respects, Best was the first of his kind and the odds were always against him. Director and producer duo Daniel Gordon and John Battsek team up once more and deliver an insightful biography but I think hard-core George Best fans will probably only enjoy the first half which features some of his greatest goals and unseen interviews and I’m not sure anyone can truly ‘enjoy’ the second half, which delves into his loneliness, alcoholism and fall from grace. Surprisingly his first love and two ex-wives have only nice things to say about him, each clearly feeling some regret and sadness that they couldn’t save him – not that anyone could. His first love Ani Rinchen is now a Buddhist Nun, which she attributes in part to being thrown into the public spotlight at a very young age – it seems you can go either one of two ways. The second half of the film is a look into the perils of fame and success, and it is deeply unpleasant. George Best was a lovely boy who turned into something of a monster when under the influence of booze. There is no excusing the fact that he destroyed his donated liver with booze after he had destroyed his own but it does show you the harsh reality of addiction. Best certainly didn’t hate life, but what he couldn’t live without killed him. It’s an old and sadly common story but there is an element of resentment in watching someone who has enjoyed so much success throw their lives away. Many people suffer from alcoholism and have never been successful, indeed, their addiction can generally come from a lack of it and the complete opposite spectrum, and it feels a little more understandable, at least, it is easier to feel more sympathy. I understand addiction more than I do football but I have no time for either in my life, this story should be about football but you can’t talk about the player without addressing his well-known problems, so I was left wondering who it was really for. I’m not saying we should never talk about George Best – far from it, but in terms of entertainment I found it altogether a little too tragic to enjoy and then felt bad for thinking so what, it’s not as if he saved a burning hospital full of children. From a technical point though the documentary is structured perfectly, it’s down to you whether the content is worth the effort or not.

Friday, 21 July 2017

Dir: Charles Band
Charles Band is the unsung master of low-budget, b-movie nonsense and I love his work. After the spectacular Dollmanvs. Domonic Toys but before his venture into the Puppetmaster sequels, Gingerbread Man shenanigans and all that Evil Bong nonsense, he made a funny little horror called Hideous! The story begins with a veteran sewage worker teaching a couple of young bucks the art of sewage maintenance and how to effectively remove unknowns from clogging up the giant sewage reservoirs of their unnamed little town. He tells them tales of all sorts of weird things he’s found during his long career in sewage maintenance and the many strange and unexplainable things he’s found over the years and, as if by pure chance, they come across such a specimen as they speak. It’s strange, gooey and the sort of thing that would put you off your lunch, our veteran takes charge and takes it away to be disposed of. However, it’s clear that he known what it could be and he’s clearly part of an underground group that collects the strange and the disgusting. He calls his contact and sets up a deal, expert in her field, Belinda Yost. Yost then gets in contact with Napoleon Lazar (Mel Johnson Jr.), a collector who is happy to pay top dollar for such a specimen. However, infamous collector of the macabre extraordinaire, Dr. Lorca (played by Michael Citriniti), also wants the specimen and orders his assistant Sheila to steal the specimen away from Lazar while he’s in transit. Lazar insists Yost help him recover his purchase and along with her ditzy secretary Elvina, the trio travel to Lorca’s castle to take back what is rightfully theirs. Unbeknownst to both groups, FBI detective Leonard Kantor is following them, after being tipped off that not all is legal with the transaction. It is probably surprise to no one that the specimens (the preserved corpses of severely deformed somethings) aren’t as dead as they seem and start killing off the group one by one. The film is pretty much a haunted house movie in the vein of House on Haunted Hill but with crude puppets. The beasties are probably among the least scary ever committed to film and are seldom seen but I quite like them. The script is pretty witty too, more than you’d expect from a typical Full Moon picture and a low-budget horror parody anyway. The best thing about Hideous! (the only good thing about Hideous!) is Lorca’s assistant Sheila (played by Jacqueline Lovell). Sheila is loyal to Dr. Lorca but their’s is a mutual agreement. She steals the specimen from Lazar during a holdup, where she stops him in the middle of a snowy forest road topless, and wearing a gorilla mask. She spends most of the film being the intelligent, level-headed and wise member of the group and the one with all the best lines. She also spends the entire film topless. Now I’m no pervert and I find most scenes of nudity in horror films to be somewhat disturbing but I found Lovell’s Sheila to be utterly charming and something of a rare character in these kind of films. It is what it is, the film is quite clear on that and I found it quite refreshing. The ending is something of an anti-climax but on the whole it was fine, not quite the low-budget 90s horror masterpiece I’d hoped for but fine all the same. Criminally, it is Dr. Lorca who finds himself in a shared sequel (Domonic Toys 2) and not Sheila. Michael Citriniti is good but Lovell’s Sheila should have definitely featured in further Full Moon productions, if not had her own series.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Bad Channels
Dir: Ted Nicolaou
Bad Channels is an early 90s lost masterpiece. Okay, masterpiece is a bit of an exaggeration but if you love low budget, sci-fi b-movies, particularly those made by Full Moon Pictures, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from. Bad Channels is certainly a b-movie for the MTV generation, featuring lots of music and filmed as if it were a 90s music video, complete with slanted angles, luminous colours and plenty of smoke. Indeed, the film features real life MTV DJ Martha Quinn as an ace reporter. The film’s hero is also a music DJ, very much of the Howard Stern variety (before Howard Stern became a nationwide name). “Dangerous” Dan O’ Dare is coming to the end of an on air marathon whereby he is playing Ompa music on a loop (and has been for several days) until a caller can guess the secret code that opens a safe holding the keys to the chains he has attached himself to, in order to free himself and stop the terrible music. His stunt makes nationwide news, the fact that the news reporter guesses the code correctly gains him even more notoriety and he finds himself noticed by a couple of aliens flying above earth. Realising that Dan’s radio station is unique in its power suitability, popularity and geographical position, the two aliens (Cosmo and Lump) invade the radio station and take Dan hostage. Listeners understandably think it’s yet another prank by the trickster disc jockey and listen in in droves, not realising it is all happening for real. It’s already pretty weird but it gets weirder still. Cosmo and Lump use the radio station to pump out music video style visions to young female listeners. Certain types of young female listeners (very attractive ones) find themselves in the middle of their own music videos and find the urge to ‘rock out’ impossible to succumb to. Once fully ‘rocked out’, they somehow find themselves transported to the radio station and shrunken into little test tubes the aliens brought with them. The music is supplied by The Blue Oyster Cult, and I challenge anyone not to find themselves ‘rocking out’ (but not shrinking into a bottle) to it. It’s ridiculous, absurd and above all silly, but there is something extremely likable about it. It has ‘cult favourite’ written all over it, although I’m not sure it has quite reached those dizzying heights as such. It wasn’t great when it came out in 1992 but I would argue that it is now something of a nostalgic gem. All the stuff I really loved in the early 90s I still mostly love, however, there are quite a few exceptions. A lot of it has dated badly and wasn’t much good at all looking back at it. So watching Bad Channel again now, parodying a lot of that bad stuff is actually quite fascinating. The reality is that at best it’s a poor man’s Joe Dante (think 1985’s Explorers rather than Gremlins), although there are a few of us who will defend it to the bitter end. One of the best things about bad Channels however is the post-credit scene featuring none other than Full Moon Character Brick Bardo aka Dollman. He rather selfishly steals the films funniest line for himself and wanders towards the radio station in search of tiny sexy ladies, who need the comfort only a 13 inch man can give them. He and Nurse Ginger find themselves fighting killer toys in 1993’s Dollman vs. Demonic Toys and if anything, you have to thank Bad Channels for that (and Nurse Ginger).

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Dollman vsDemonic Toys
Dir: Charles Band

 At the end of 1992’s Domonic Toys, Baby Oopsy Daisy, Jack Attack, Mr. Static and Grizzly Teddy were repeatedly shot and the demon controlling them sent back to hell by the ghost of an unborn child, so logic would suggest that it would have been the last we would see of them. Similarly, after 1991’s Dollman, we wondered whether he would ever find the answer to the question “Does size really matter”. The end credits to 1992’s Bad Channels suggested the answer was yes, and that Brick Bardo (Tim Thomerson) had heard of a certain shrunken lady called Bunny he may want to make the acquaintance of. A Domonic Toys sequel seemed inevitable, given Full Moon Picture’s methods and the general way of the horror gene, but Dollman 2 seemed unlikely and a Bad Channels follow up even less so. Thankfully, this wasn’t the case (but poor old Grizzly Teddy wouldn’t be seen ever again). I loved Dollman, I think Bad Channels is an overlooked 80s masterpiece and I found Domonic Toys ridiculously charming. So a three-way, ménage à trois, mash up sequel was music to my low budget, b-movie horror/sci-fi loving ears.  I’m not sure why Grizzly Teddy was replaced by Zombietoid, a blonde GI Joe action figure with a sword as a weapon, but I’m certainly not disappointed that the shrunken lady Dollman set out to find wasn’t Bunny, but was in fact Nurse Ginger (Melissa Behr returning to the role) from Bad Channels. An explanation is offered and excepted. The film relies on flashbacks from the three previous films an awful lot, understandable, but with a 64 minute run time it does seem a bit cheap at times. It is essentially a showcase for the three previous films but I think it still does a lot with what it has. The story begins with Brick Bardo making his way to the little town of Pahoota to visit the famous 11 inch women featured in all the newspapers. He feels the urge to reassure her that she isn’t alone, if you catch my drift. He finds her bikini-clad, sunbathing on a kitchen worktop and saves her from a giant (normal sized) spider, in a scene straight out of The Incredible Shrinking Man. Meanwhile, Officer Judith Gray (Tracy Scoggins from Domonic Toys) keeps watch over the toy warehouse were her partner and lover was killed and she was harassed by killer toys. Her dreams tell her that history will repeat itself some way or another and she wants to be there to deal with it when it does. She doesn’t have to wait long, as somehow a drunken homeless man sneaks past Ray the security guard (played by cult favourite Phil Fondacaro), stumbles into the warehouse, jumps on a kids bike, falls off, hits his head and bleeds on the exact spot that causes the killer toys to be awoken. The toys then somehow convince Ray to help them summon their demon master. Realising she is perhaps in over her head, Officer Gray seeks the help of Brick and Nurse Ginger, which is a little sizeist of her to be fair. Surely big people who could squash the toys would have been more advantageous but then Brick does have that powerful gun of his. Brick and Nurse Ginger agree to help and start by shooting Ray between the eyes, unfortunately for the trio, a clumsy prostitute has wandered into the warehouse and has been killed – precisely on the spot where the demon is buried, which of course begins the resurrection proceedings. Of course it is well known demons can’t be fully resurrected until midnight, which gives the three heroes a bit of time to sort things out. Things get a bit weird when the demon possesses Baby Oopsy Daisey and tries to rape Nurse Ginger. Brick fights off the remaining toys and calls Baby Oopsy Daisey’s bluff, until Baby Oopsy Daisey explains he now somehow has a penis and threatens to kill Nurse Ginger with cervical dislocation, after impregnating her and eating the baby of course. Admitting he now has a penis was his first mistake, a kick in the balls later and the day is saved. Brick and Nurse Ginger then go back to the giant kitchen where she lives and have tiny sex. I’m not sure you could ask for more from a sequel, apart from it being a little bit longer and maybe asking for another one? Early 90s, low-budget horror/sci-fi, you just can’t beat it, the genre hadn’t been as good since the 50s and I wonder whether the introduction of CGI will ever see it be as great again?

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Dir: Albert Pyun
Albert Pyun’s 1991 science-fiction cult classic is the stuff of Full Moon Features legend. Full Moon Features have made some amazing low-budget b-movies, they’re not all to everyone’s taste, but I have a real affection towards them. Dollman stars Tim Thomerson as an intergalactic cop called Brick Bardo (Bardo being Pyun’s pseudonym since his second film), a flat-topped ‘Dirty Harry’ type character complete with signature "Groger Blaster", the most powerful handgun in the universe. We’re introduced to Bardo on the planet Arturos, many light years from Earth, in a brilliant scene involving a kidnapper, a laundrette and a group of morbidly obese ladies. He saves the day but is framed for a crime he didn’t commit/didn’t happen anyway and gets shouted at by his boss as he shouldn’t have been on the case in the first place. It’s classic cop parody, done surprisingly well. Bardo soon gets captured by his greatest enemy Sprug, who is now just a head floating on a hover platform, after Bardo has shot most of his body parts off during previous encounters. A particularly funny but gory gun fight ensures and Bardo flies after Sprug in his spaceship after he tries to escape. After passing a sign saying ‘Do not cross the energy band’ the pair cross through the energy band and find themselves transported light years away to earth. In a twist, that I’m pretty sure is out of one of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy books, the pair find that they appear much smaller on our planet, around 13 inches to be exact. As if the huge reduction in size wasn’t enough for the pair to contend with, the battling enemies find that not only are they far from home, they have also landed in a rough part of New York’s undesirable districts: The Bronx. If 80s and 90s films told me anything, it was to never find yourself lost in the Bronx. Bardo witnesses a woman being harassed and assists her by blowing her assailants away and she offers him refuge in return. Sprug on the other hand finds himself at the hands of bad-tempered gang leader Braxton Red (played by Jackie Earle Haley) and start negotiations that would mean bad news for Dollman and the people of earth. It all seems predictable from there on but it isn’t. The story twist and the unexpected outcome are utterly joyous to fans of low-budget sci-fi parody like myself. I’ve said it many times before, some early 90s horror/sci-fi is of the highest calbre, Dollman I think is a prime example of this. I would bet my life many well-known directors working today saw Dollman as youngsters and were influenced by it. It’s hugely enjoyable and a treat to watch but it also comes across as being something of a tutorial on how you can make your own film. I couldn’t never make a film as brilliant as this, but you could work out how to visualize certain effects etc, although it has to be said that the special effects are nothing short (excuse the pun) of awesome. It was an instant cult classic. It was so popular, as were many Full Moon films, that Eternity Comics created a comic series for it. It is a little bit puzzling however, how a film like Trancers (also staring Thomerson, in a somewhat similar role), for example, enjoys a long string of sequels, and Dollman gets one in which he has to share it with two other, very different franchises. Don’t get me wrong, I love Trancers and I love Dollman vs Demonic Toys (a mash-up sequel to Dollman, Demonic Toys and BadChannels) but I feel Dollman had so much more to give. If Dark Moon can make several Evil Bong movies, then why couldn’t it do more for Dollman? Sprug needs an origin prequel at the very least. Still, what could have been. Dollman is every cinephiles dream, and every twelve-year old boy’s who never grew up for that matter. A ridiculous sci-fi cop adventure through time and space, featuring exploding bodies, evil gangs, spaceships and a floating head. Albert Pyun is a b-movie legend, along with the Nemesis series Dollman is his best work and I would probably say the same for Tim Thomerson.