Film Blitz

Pammie’s mammies: Anderson Lee and a couple of close, personal friends.

Barb Wire (who cares?) – I can see why this got dire reviews; the critics will have seen it stone-cold sober at 11 a.m, rather than, as intended, after several beers, a Big Mac and a session of manic slaughter down the video arcade. Having taken the latter route, I had a great time. The film is so shallow it’s in danger of evaporating completely, Pammie’s (fortunately limited) attempts at acting are laughable, and it’s nothing you haven’t seen in a thousand post-apocalyptic films, set in the usual disused industrial estate. Yet it works, on the most cynical, visceral level. I don’t like silicone blondes, yet even I have to admit Lee is perfectly cast, wandering round in clingy costumes (or even clingy bubble-bath!) kicking and shooting her way through the film. Like the cliché says, it’s an empty, meaningless experience, but as empty, meaningless experiences go… B

Batman (Joel Schumacher) – Exchange your brain at the door for a bucket of popcorn, and you’ll enjoy this far more. It’s fast, vacuous stuff, with our mostly concealed hero treading a dodgy line between law-man and vigilante, in a dark and highly ‘Blade Runner’-esque future. Feel free to ignore the amusing but pointless henchman, and the nicely decorative female, seemingly there just to prove the hero is no sword-swallower. On the other hand, the villains are far more colourful, sharp, and get to blow things up for no readily apparent reason. Beneath the sweeping orchestral score (naturally shoe-horning in a few rock toons, for the obligatory soundtrack LP), the real star is the set. Must be embarrassing to be out-acted by buildings… Cinema as spectacle, this is an empty barrel making a hell of a lot of noise. B-

Body Parts (Lamberto Bava) – My contribution to National Cinema Day was to sit at home and watch this 1992 giallo, now coming out through ‘A Taste of Fear’. And that’s an appropriate label, since a taste is ultimately all it provides. It’s a typically intricate, albeit slightly wobbly, storyline, with a serial killer reclaiming donor organs from their recipients because… because he’s a serial killer, y’know? Motivation is not Bava’s strong point — as anyone who’s seen ‘Demons 2’ knows, things need no justification apart from that they look good. There is the inevitably mind-boggling twist ending, but it’s helped by a decent performance from Thomas Arana as the cop leading the hunt, and bonus points for having a psychopath who looks like a young Rutger Hauer. If this film is a body part, it’s most like a pair of tonsils: nothing you’d really miss, but not completely useless. C-

Bugs (Brian Yuzna) – The title change (aka ‘Silent Night, Deadly Night 4’!) tries to cash-in on the success of ‘Ticks’, one of the more energetically entertaining horror movies of recent years, which Yuzna produced. However, it falls well short of the mark; certainly has a few icky moments, especially for those who have a dislike of insects, but it’s just not interesting, and has all the production values of a TVM. Maud Adams is the novice reporter investigating a ‘suicide’ which leads her into a dangerous cult of mad feminists who do yucky things with maggots. That’s about as far as I got before boredom finally overcame me and — this’ll give you some idea of how exciting the film is — I started watching Jimmy Tarbuck. Now, that’s what I call scary. E+

Casino (Martin Scorsese) – I’m not sure my bum can take another three-hour plus movie; at least they’re good value for money. Admittedly (though no help to my posterior), ‘Casino’ is justifiably long, covering a lot of turf, though sometimes it feels like a documentary on hotel management. Based on a true story — the stuff happened, just not in the order given here — it’s a “Rise + Fall” tale, detailing De Niro’s handling of a Mob casino, his involvement with Sharon Stone (never a good idea; hasn’t he seen ‘Basic Instinct’?) and friendship with psycho dwarf Joe Pesci. It all ends brutally: in fact, it starts brutally as well, and “brutally” is its middle name, with bats, hammers and fountain pens meeting flesh. De Niro is inevitably good, Pesci is inevitably Pesci, Stone deserved the Oscar nom, and the soundtrack provides a continual, sarcastic commentary on the action. Undeniably well crafted, it’ll put you off swindling casinos for life. A-

Casper (Brad Silverling) – What an interesting career Sherri Stoner has had: getting her bottom branded in ‘Reform School Girls’, the live-action model for Disney’s Little Mermaid, executive producer on ‘Tiny Toon Adventures’, voice actor in ‘Animaniacs’…and now co-writer of this effects-heavy movie. The last couple are influences that seep though on occasion, most notably a brilliant ‘Apocalypse Now’ homage, and the film is at its best when it updates the traditionally soppy Harvey Comics characters: Christina Ricci, as the daughter of a “ghost psychiatrist”, comes off best in this regard. The villains are scarcely threatening — Eric Idle’s one of them — ­and after it’s established they can’t hurt Casper, that side goes a bit flat. The main focus is Casper’s desire to become a real boy again, though you just know that’s going to end up being horribly slushy. Totally non-threatening, Sunday afternoon viewing. D

Castle Freak (Stuart Gordon) – The much anticipated return of Babs Crampton to the horror genre doesn’t quite deliver, spending too long setting up ‘atmosphere’. The opening sequence sets the standard, with the duchess wandering — very slowly — through her castle to feed and torture her hideously deformed son. It’d have been okay had they run the credits over it, but it simply goes on, and on and on. Then she drops dead, and heir Jeffrey Combs turns up with wife (Crampton) and blind daughter. Before you can say “Quasimodo”, out comes the freak; except, you’ve probably got time to read ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ before anything much happens. Some gross moments finally compensate the viewer, and only in the final 30 minutes does the body count mount acceptably, though up until this point, Crampton and Combs ensure this remains a cut above the usual Full Moon product. I was left feeling this was definitely a 30-minute idea stretched to a full-length feature. D-

Kim Basinger as Holly Wood — not bad, just born that way

Cool World (Ralph Bakshi) – A major flop on its initial release, looking back at it now, it’s harder to see why this adult version of ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’ failed so miserably. While barely coherent, I don’t want coherence from a film about a parallel cartoon universe, peopled by the warped imaginings of Gabriel Byrne’s comic artist (I think it’s safe to equate Byrne with Bakshi). Kim Basinger is a fine ‘toon, for sure (see left), and the animated sections are well up to scratch, even if the interaction between human and cartoon is less effective than in ‘Roger Rabbit’. When Holly achieves her desire, bursting into the real world after bonking Byrne, the underlying weirdness that’s been peeping round the edges, spews up in a geyser of the bizarre. Reality just can’t compete; an entirely viable alternative to drugs. B

Delta Heat (Michael Fischa) – Another buddy cop movie. And no, there isn’t an “l” missing from that last sentence, this manages to rise above the crowd of competitors thanks to excellent central performances from Lance Henriksen and Anthony Edwards. In the other major twist, both are fish out of water, Edwards an LAPD cop down in New Orleans after his partner is messily killed, Henriksen (presumably around ‘Hard Target’ time) the former detective he drags out of the Louisiana swamp to help. Neither are welcomed by the local boys. The deftly handled interplay between them is the film’s best feature; it’s almost aggravating when the plot gets in the way, as there’s nothing inventive there. Inspired casting, to be sure, pity there’s no movie to hang it off. C+

Doctor Mordrid (Charles and Albert Band) – Full Moon have become synonymous with “crap”, because of awful movies like ‘Subspecies’; this is a better effort, thanks again mostly to the presence of Jeffrey Combs. As in ‘Re-Animator’, he makes the fatuous plausible, not an easy task when you consider we’re talking about two wizards fighting each other for the fate of the Earth. Yvette Nipar is the Barbara Crampton substitute here, and Brian Thompson plays the bad sorceror, both are competent enough, though sadly, Nipar is never ravished by a severed head. It smells faintly of ‘Cast a Deadly Spell’, but the finale lacks punch, with the fate of the planet decided by a duel between two stop motion dinosaurs skeletons. ‘Jurassic Park’ it ain’t, thankfully. C+

The Doom Generation (Greg Araki) – Self proclaimed queer film-maker Araki tries his hand at a hetero movie, another entry in the rapidly overpopulated “psychopath lovers on a cross country rampage” genre. Clueless meets Natural Born Killers here, two teenage lovers fall in with a bisexual Trent Reznor lookalike and kill people. Disappointingly ho-hum for about 80 minutes, only the final five deliver on the “welcome to hell” promise from the first scene. The finale is vicious, graphic, and may suffer at the BBFC but by that point, you just don’t care. E+

Fist of the North Star (Tony Randel) – As with both manga and anime, what stays in the mind with this American live-action adaptation is the hyper-violence, notably hero Kenshiro’s tap-tap attack which makes heads explode. The writer, realising this, opts for a script that manages to be incoherent, yet exactly what you expect, up to the obvious climax between Kenshiro (Brit Gary Daniels, looking great but struggling — as anyone would — with the dialogue) and his nemesis. Evil sidekick Chris Penn comes out best, rising above the…well, you know I don’t say this lightly, but “macho bullshit” does come to mind. A distressing amount of leather and well-oiled torsos on view; all that’s  missing is Steve Reeves. D-

The Film Blitz theme appears to be “stars with notable chests”: first, Pamela Lee; then Kim Basinger; now, er, Gary Daniels…

Judge Dredd (Danny Cannon) – Exchange your brain at the door for a bucket of popcorn, and you’ll enjoy this far more. It’s fast, vacuous stuff, with our mostly concealed hero treading a dodgy line between law-man and vigilante, in a dark and highly ‘Blade Runner’-esque future. Feel free to ignore the amusing but pointless henchman, and the nicely decorative female, seemingly there just to prove the hero is no sword-swallower.  On the other hand, the villains are far more colourful, amusing, and get to blow things up for no readily apparent reason. Beneath the sweeping orchestral score (naturally shoe-horning in a few rock toons, for the obligatory soundtrack LP), the real star is the set. Must be embarrassing to be out-acted by buildings…  Cinema as spectacle, this is an empty barrel making a hell of a lot of noise. C

Judgement Night (Matthew Hopkins) – Ah, urban nightmares. ‘After Hours’, ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’, and now this: Emilio Estevez, Stephen Dorff and friends wander into drug-lord Dennis Leary’s territory, where they see him murder an accomplice. Not good to witness, so the hunt is on. Despite obvious flaws — what mob boss could only muster four henchmen? — Hopkins screws maximum tension from every situation, though it’s immediately obvious who’ll survive and who won’t; surprises would definitely help. The major question was “Is Estevez related to Michael Douglas or has he just watched ‘Falling Down’ a lot?”  An easy way to pass 110 generally entertaining minutes, even if no-one is exactly overtaxed. Least of all the viewer. C+

Lord of Illusions (Clive Barker) – ‘Nightbreed’ seems a very long time ago now, doesn’t it? And ‘Hellraiser’, positively prehistoric. Ah, yes, I remember the days when Clive Barker actually seemed to have talent. Not that LoI is actually bad, it looks very nice, there are some great effects, and an effective Simon Boswell soundtrack. However, it all treads familiar ground; it is too obviously not just a Clive Barker film, it’s the Clive Barker film. While Scott Bakula is a decent Harry D’Amour, perhaps he exacerbates the problem that the movie plays too much like an 18-rated episode of ‘The X Files’, without the benefit of any 18-rated Gillian Anderson scenes. It all ends up on a loop, with the climax looking a lot like the start, as evil incarnate is fought. D

M.Butterfly (David Cronenberg) – This adaptation of the play was all but buried on its release here, but to me, doesn’t seem such an aberration for the man. [Warning: plot revelations imminent!] Telling the story of a French diplomat who falls in love with a Peking Opera star, only to discover she is a) a spy and b) a he, it remains true to the ideal of “body horror” and is nigh impossible for any heterosexual male to watch without squirming. Suddenly discovering the woman you love is a man must rank pretty highly among male nightmares, so a tender love scene between a man and a man-pretending-to-be-a-woman make for uncomfortable viewing, and a nice reversal of the female fears seen in ‘Dead Ringers’. Also note the echoes of ‘Videodrome’, most notably at the end where the hero commits suicide, seeing it as the only way out of an otherwise impossible situation. [End of plot revelations!] With disturbingly great performances from Jeremy Irons and John Lone, this has all the makings of a misunderstood classic, even if you may want to wash your hands afterwards. A-

Naked Killer (Clarence Ford) – One of the most infamous of the Hong Kong category III films, something seems to have gone missing between reputation and reality; while this film has its moments, certainly, it’s not the no-holds barred sleazefest one might expect from the cover. What you get, is an interesting mix of ‘Nikita’ and ‘Basic Instinct’; a hit-woman takes on a new apprentice, only for a previous trainee to come steaming back with her lesbian lover and a severe grudge to settle. The action sequences are first-class, and the characterisations are way over-the-top, like some nightmarish wet dream (probably producer Wong Jing’s). Sadly, the bits between the action are laughable, largely thanks to some truly dreadful dubbing — there is a subtitled version available, at a mere £20, but the video company sent the dub… It makes one mean mother of a trailer, but even at 78 minutes, outstays its welcome. D+

Nightwatch (Ole Bornedal) – News of the death of the horror movie seems not to have reached Denmark, going by this stylish and intelligent tale. A law student gets a part-time job at the morgue, only to find creepy things are happening; is his mind going? To add to his troubles, there’s a serial killer in town, who seems to be out to frame him. This does a slow but careful job on the set-up with the first half being so totally restrained I wondered where the “horror” tag came from. The second half delivers the groceries there, and good performances from a young cast help give this more believability than most teenagers-in-peril films. Even if it never breaks any genre boundaries, you shouldn’t feel short-changed. B+

Phoebe — no fake. this time!

Princess Caraboo (Michael Austin) – Based on a true story which took place just after Waterloo, this film manages to break the usual rule of thumb which says that PG-rated movies are inevitably dire. It stars Phoebe Cates — okay, significant plus point there — as a mysterious girl who turns up in a West Country village, and who may be the exotic Princess of the title, or may be an impostor out to con people. Her passage upwards through society towards the Prince Regent is charted, though the story itself is very slight, the acting is the film’s major strong point, and should be compulsory viewing for anyone who reckons Phoebe can’t act. She acquits herself superbly, even against one of those casts full of Britiish character actors which will have you going “Isn’t that…?” for half the movie – as in “Isn’t that Servalan?” (and yes, it is, still with a nifty line in costumes, albeit rather less S/M than in her ‘Blake’s 7’ days).  Managing to be sweet without sinking to saccharine, as “family entertainment” (shudder) goes, it’s surprisingly watchable fluff. B+

The Puppet Masters (Stuart Orme) – Hell, if ‘Lord of Illusions’ looked like an adult X File, this one starts even closer to the mark, with a government agency investigating a crashed UFO near a country town. The first ten minutes or so are cracking, a great monster and Donald Sutherland whipping up a storm as the agency head. Sadly, this doesn’t last and it degenerates into a routine action movie, in which the aliens are hardly seen. Though Sutherland continues to try his best, he just doesn’t get enough screen time; no-one else in the cast has the stature to provide the necessary memorable moments. ‘The Hidden’ did far more with just two aliens. D-

Rob Roy (Michael Caton-Jones) – “History made him a hero”…and Hollywood made him Irish. Maybe it’s revenge for ‘Revolution’ (made by Brits, with a German leading lady); directed by an Englishman and also starring an American actress. Nationalism apart, it’s stirring stuff, with few dodgy accents — Tim Roth’s plummy English is the worst on offer — and Liam Neeson is a fine kilted Celt, struggling against the machinations of Roth and Brian Cox. Despite wobbly moments (too many sheepshagging jokes), overall it confirms what we know as true: Scotsmen are all heroes, Englishmen are all scum ­– even when the Scots are actually American! B-

Roger and Me (Michael Moore) – Moore’s excellent ‘TV Nation’ show proved conclusively that at least one American understands irony. This is in similar vein, with him trying to talk to the president of General Motors, who destroyed Moore’s home town of Flint, Michigan by closing the factories. A step away from normal documentary, like Nick ‘Aileen Wuornos’ Broomfield, the film-maker is part of the movie, it’s as much a documentary about making documentaries, and is a style I like greatly. Swinging from farce to tragedy, but always under control, it leaves an acrid taste in the mouth. If I was Roger Smith, I’d find it very difficult to sleep at night. A

Species (Roger Donaldson) – Oh God, yet another adult X File; at this rate, by the time they get their film out, no-one will want to see it. Though this one has more in common with Tobe Hooper’s excruciatingly wonderful ‘Lifeforce’; psychopathic alien babe comes to Earth and starts offing people. In this case, however, she just wants to breed. Repeatedly. In a wide variety of situations designed to show off Natasha Henstridge’s breasts. Admirable though these are, they’re not quite enough to carry the film and, while Alfred Molina and Michael Madsen try hard, all the human characters are terribly flat (certainly not true about Ms. Henstridge…). Ten years ago, this would have been directed by someone like Dave DeCoteau, starred Michelle Bauer, and cost maybe 100 grand. It might have been better off staying that way. C-

Waterworld (Kevin Reynolds) – At last, a big action picture that isn’t mindless entertainment; unfortunately, it does this by avoiding the “entertainment” part of the equation rather than the “mindless”. The second film in a row to prove that big isn’t necessarily better: expanded to this scale, the word is BLOATED. While Costner’s character has the makings of a great antihero, you just know he’s going to get all soppy and New Man-ish by the end. And that blessed relief is a very long way off, it’s another 135 minute film, at least an hour of which is superfluous. Even the action scenes go on too long, which is perhaps a first, and managing to make Dennis Hopper look flat and uninteresting is also something of a feat. I fell asleep. Twice. Combined with a plot so flawed you could sail an oil tanker through the holes, this is probably the worst big-budget movie since ‘Alien 3’.  E+

The Young Master (Jackie Chan) – It’s been a long time coming, but finally someone has put out a subtitled Jackie Chan film. This is amazing, given the amount of lesser dreck which has appeared, so all praise to Hong Kong Classics, especially since the widescreen subtitled version is the same price as the normal one, rather than coming out in an overpriced cardboard box. The film itself is perhaps the best JC did pre-’Police Story’ and stands up very well, showcasing purer martial arts than the stunts/action for which he’s become renowned. The story is to do with student Jackie tracking down a colleague who’s defected from his school, though it’s merely an excuse for a wide variety of “Object fu”; stools, pipes, fans and skirts are all wielded by Jackie in the lead-up to a final bruising one-on-one battle lasting the best part of 20 minutes. Excellent stuff, that will hopefully lead to more material appearing like this. B+