“Stupid is as stupid does” – Excuses that are really not that much of an excuse

Lowell Altvater, 80, was charged with negligent assault in Sandusky, Ohio after he thought he saw a rat in his barn and fired his shotgun at it. It turned out to be his wife’s hat, which she was wearing. Mrs. Altvater begged police not to file charges, but they did, in part because Lowell had shot himself in the leg in 1992 in the same barn after thinking then, too, that he had spotted a rat. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel- Toledo Blade, 20-12-95; Columbus Dispatch, Nov.95]

A bomb threat that forced a Royal Jordanian Airlines plane to land in Iceland en route to Chicago was discovered to have been made by a Chicago woman who was merely trying to prevent her mother-in-law, a passenger on the plane, from visiting her. And a former USAir flight attendant was sentenced to eight months in prison in May for making a bomb threat to force a landing so she could rest her ailing knee. [Washington Times-Reuters, 11-11-95; Greensboro News Record, May95]

Reading, Pennsylvania, county controller Judith Kraines complained at a commissioners’ meeting in January about having to type letters and do other business on a typewriter because her computer was old and no one had been able to get it to work for two years. “If we had a computer,” she said, “letters would go out faster.”  Three days later, she announced that the computer she was complaining about in fact had not been plugged in to any electrical outlet and that when the plug was inserted and the computer was turned on, it worked fine. [Reading Eagle-Times, 21-1-96]

At an April court martial at Elmendorf (Alaska) Air Force Base, a sergeant was found guilty of using cocaine. He had denied the charge, which was based on a urine test. His explanation was that his part-time job as a pizza deliverer takes him to drug-using neighbourhoods; he has a habit of licking his finger when counting out dollar bills for change; and some of his customers undoubtedly used rolled bills to snort cocaine. [Sourdough Sentinel, 19-4-96]

(London) Film (Festival) Blitz

Thursday 7th. The London Film Festival begins with ‘To Be Announced’, e taut thriller based around the race to get an opening movie for the event. Ok, Urn kidding, but when their last-minute choice is ‘The First Wives Club’, a standard slice of Hollywood stodge that opens here next week anyway, you begin to wish they hadn’t bothered. Glad I didn’t sign up, sight unseen.

Friday 8th. The festival proper starts with The Funeral (Abel Ferrara). Christopher Walken and Chris Penn are gangsters whose brother has been killed: they want to track down the murderer and extract revenge. Very much an acting film, with a loose plot that leaps around in time like Doctor Who on amphetamines. But, for acting, Walken’s your scan, though Penn is also creditably psychotic. If you know Ferrara’s work, it won’t spoil anything to tell you the ending is not quite “happily ever after”. C+

Forgotten Silver (Peter Jackson) is a fake-umentary which for some reason was twinned with ‘100 Years of Polish Cinema’, a completely serious documentary. Or at least, I assume so: together with a good percentage of the audience, I bailed out after roughly Three Seconds of Polish Cinema. Jackson’s spoof biopic of a New Zealand cinematic pioneer is pitched perfectly, building to the restoration of his 4-hour silent epic ‘Salome’. Jackson himself hosts the film, with cameos from Sam Neill and Leonard Maltin. Utterly ludicrous in cold daylight, but played so straight, it’s plausible that New Zealanders invented colour film and powered flight. B+

Of course, the festival isn’t just about movies. It’s also about drinking. With two hours – and a few liver cells – to kill, what better may than to hit the National Film Theatre bar, sink some beer, and quiz Alex Chandon about ‘Pervirella’. Appropriate topic before Fetishes (Nick Broomfield), even if on balance, three pints of Stella was a bad move, as it led to an emergency exit during the film — believe me, it’s not the sort of movie during which you want to be seen sloping off to the toilet. After the slightly disappointing ‘Heidi Fleiss’, Broornfield’s back on form with an eye-popping look at an S&M establishment in New York. All human life is there, including some bits you’d probably rather not see (Jews with concentration camp fetishes?), exposed with the director’s innocent eye. Whether it’ll ever appear here is questionable, as the BBFC are notably anti this sort of thing. But it deserves a far better fate: entertaining and educational A

Saturday 9th. A day off; no tickets for ‘Crash’, unsurprisingly! But after Friday’s press showing, the tabloid press have pounced, predictably led by the Daily Mail. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens: Ferman likes Cronenberg, and has never cut his films, but will be under much pressure to ban ‘Crash’. Seems that Westminster Council are also getting complaints, and may ban it even if the BBFC don’t, knocking Leicester Square out. I reckon it’ll get a cinema certificate (possibly delayed), but any video release will be a long way off.

Sunday 10th. Got to bed at 4am, having fallen asleep on a night bus for the first time. Up rather too early, back into town to see Abel Ferrara being interviewed. Lot of interesting tit-bits carne out: it was originally Christopher Walken who was going to be the ‘Bad Lieutenant’, and one girl in the infamous car-masturbation sequence therein is actually Keitel’s babysitter! An interesting look at an uncompromising director: rumours say a) that he lives in a New York squat and b) is not averse to the odd controlled substance. Whether true or not, I couldn’t say, but the fact that they’re plausible says a lot about the man.

Small Time (Shane Meadows) could be a British equivalent of ‘El Mariachi’, with a micro-budget of a mere five grand — though I can hardly believe that, maybe we’re talking Mariachi-style hyperbole? For Mexico, read Nottingham, and the style here plays more like a documentary, with rapid cross-cutting between the inept crooks (dogfood heists are about their level) who’re plotting The Big One. Half scripted, half improvised, it belies the budget as mentioned, and points up another rising talent. British cinema has more to offer than Emma Thompson. B-

I meet Phil Martin, the only man I know who got a ticket for ‘Crash’, and greet him warmly by the throat. Also the ubiquitous Michael Brooke, unofficial head of the Brit-pack on Internet newsgroup. alt.cult-movies. We discuss ‘Crash’, inevitably; word is it’ll either get through uncut, or not at all. It won’t go quietly, either way. Bearing in mind my ‘Fetishes’ experience, I lay off the beer before Animal Love (Ulrich Seidl). On balance. I might have been better indulging. as it singularly failed to live up to the “NB Some scenes may offend” programme note. Yes, it’s about people’s obsession with their pets, but delights in the banal to such an extent that it becomes banal itself and is the first disappointment of the festival. E. In theory, should stay for ‘Under the Skin’, but can’t face 110 minutes of Peruvian cinema, so cut my losses early and head home.

Monday 11th. Someone is Waiting (Martin Donovan) doesn’t sound like my kind of film: “a lyrical and moving tale of redemption and familial love that suggests death can offer hope to life”. But Nastassja’s in it, so I’ve got to see it — it’s like my job and stuff. Not exactly cheery: the teenage hero starts off wanted for his father’s murder, and life isn’t exactly a bowl of cherries from then on. In flashback, we see his mother (NK) getting killed by bank robbers, for which drunken father Gabriel Byrne holds him responsible. Only a sense of responsibility to his siblings and the memory of his mother keep him going, until a struggle with Dad turns deadly. The visual equivalent of a Joy Division LP: bleak. depressing. but somehow uplifting, thanks to strong performances and a great soundtrack. Though we are not talking enormous commercial potential, it’s unquestionably a worthy effort. B

Tuesday 12th – Thursday 14th. In the eye of the hurricane, a three-day break without any films. Instead, another media panic; the Evening Standard attempt to provoke more controversy by targeting the program of American underground films playing the ICA next weekend. No-one seems concemed, not even Virginia Bottomley, who wants local councils to ban ‘Crash’. Ironically, the same edition has Gong Li, talking about how the oppressive Chinese government censor her work. I feel a letter to the editor coming on… Should have been double Gilliam on Thursday, a Guardian interview and a film on the making of ’12 Monkeys’. But it clashed with Laibach in concert; after much agonising, they won, even though I’d bought the LFF tickets. Still not actually seen ’12 Monkeys’ so I decided there was little point in hearing all about it, and sold the tickets to Alex Chandon. As for Laibach, what can one say about a group whose pre-concert tape was ‘Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits’? Sheer genius.

Friday 15th. Not sure why I went to Tokyo Fist (Tsukamoto Shinya), since I didn’t really rate either ‘Tetsuo’ movie. Tsukamoto himself plays a salaryman whose wife is seduced by a boxer (played by Shinya’s brother!), after being beaten up, he takes up boxing himself in preparation for… well, a final 15 minutes of weirdness. Unlike its predecessors, you can watch ‘Tokyo Fist’ in more than pop-promo sized chunks, but despite the odd disturbing image, by the and it still feels too much like Tsukamoto is going over the same ground once again: metal & flesh, speeded-up film, decay. Yawn. Someone suggested he’d have been an alternative to Cronenberg for ‘Crash’, but on this showing, it’d just have become ‘Tetsuo 4’. Change the script, please. D-

Saturday 16th. Oops. After Thursday’s explanation of why I didn’t go to see Terry Gilliam, I find myself listening to ’12 Monkeys’ scriptwriters, David and Janet Peoples. I’d gone on the strength of David’s work on ‘Blade Runner’ and ‘The Unforgiven’; lucidly, the discussion flows along general lines, the few ’12 Monkey’-specific sections merely pique my interest in the film more. David especially is a heartening figure, from the “I can do better than that” school of writers. He and his wife seem to make a good team; he views films as a collection of images, while she is more story-driven. I leave, with the firm intention of writing a script of my own…

Sunday 17th. Microcosmos (Claude Nuridsany). Appropriately enough for a film about insects, London Transport behaves like an anaesthetised slug: at 4pm. the bus I’m on is crawling round Parliament Square. Luckily, the LFF is also its usual tardy self and I hit my seat as the film starts. Basically, a nature film writ large; no commentary, just insects eating, fighting, breeding, living and dying. However, the big screen adds a whole new dimension — though I’m not entirely happy, twitching nervously at 30-foot high wasps in THX. Truly a cinematic experience: once this impact has worn off, there’s not much else on offer, but how can one resist a film where the leading players include “ladybird with seven spots, climbing caterpillar, bee gathering pollen”? C+

Tony Rayns is the Antichrist of Oriental cinema as far as I’m concerned. His fondness for tedious arthouse fodder over explosive action means our views usually diverge sharply so I worry over his glowing review of (Focus) Osaka Satoshi). But for once, we agree, even if he misses the obvious similarities to ‘Man Bites Dog’. Both are scathing attacks on television culture, with film crews following anti-social loners — here, a cellphone eavesdropper — who find events outstripping them; as in MBD, our sympathies flip half-way through. The cause in ‘Focus’ is an overheard call detailing the location of a pistol; is it a hoax? Course not. Shot in long, unflinching takes, while perhaps lacking the sheer venom of its Belgian brother, it certainly hits the target. B+

Monday 18th. Kids Return (Takeshi Kitano). Has boxing suddenly become incredibly popular in Japan? I ask, as it features in recent films by two major directors: in ‘Tokyo Fist’ as a means of revenge, and here as a way out of a dead-end life. The main characters are a bunch of loser schoolkids, and we follow their paths through to adulthood: one becomes a boxer, one joins the Yakuza, and one…well, just fails. I detect a strong element of autobiography here — the two main protagonists harbour dreams of fame as a comedy act — but that isn’t enough to hold interest, despite a similarly languid feel as ‘Sonatine’, where time also had a nebulous dimension. After the first hour, my interest started to wander, and never quite came back. D

Tuesday 19th. Unexpected festival surprises often turn out to be better than the planned movies. So it is with Shine (Scott Hicks). I bought a seat purely on recommendation, and when I looked it up in the program, my heart sank boot-wards. A biopic of a musician? Based on a true story? Shudder. Luckily, this is much more, especially after we pass the inevitable, cliched, domineering father. Central character David Helfgott (played by three actors at various ages) proves how thin the line `twixt genius and madness is, teetering between stardom and vagrancy. Remarkably restrained (bar Sir John Gielgud going OTT as only he can) and unsentimental, yet very funny at times and guaranteed to have you humming Rachmaninov’s 3rd. A most pleasant experience. A-

That’s more than can be said for Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas). Maggie Cheung plays herself, in Paris to remake a silent movie as a result of her `Heroic Trio’ role, only to find the production falling round her ears. It smacks of “let’s mock Hong Kong cinema”; the clips from HT are edited, cropped and grainy, to make it look cheap and tacky, plus the film portrays fans of such films as shallow or unstable. Yet the director delivers something infinitely less interesting, full of banalities that fail to amuse in the slightest. The film-within-the-film has some promise, and Cheung provides the few worthwhile moments, but it’s either the least amusing comedy since ‘Ace Ventura’, or a very nasty piece of intellectual arrogance. E+

The Guardian interview with Takeshi was slightly distancing; he spoke through an interpreter, so the sizeable Japanese contingent got the jokes earlier, and found them more amusing before translation. However, refreshing to hear a director who lets an audience come to their own conclusions, rather than forcing morals down their throat. Between directing, writing, painting, and acting, he’s a busy man: still not 100% after a road accident, he had to pause a couple of times to take eye drops. Glad he’s recovering though, we need more characters like him around.

Wednesday 20th. Aggravating letter in ‘Time Out’, from a guy bragging how three friends got tickets for ‘Crash’. despite not being BFI members. Now, how did they manage that, given it supposedly sold out before this BFI member got to it? So much for ‘priority booking’. Humph. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I really do suspect a cabal runs the LFF, distributing tickets to their friends before we poor members get a sniff. Anyway, my membership has lapsed now — and will stay that way at least until 1997’s festival!

What would the London Film Festival be, without a fix of everyone’s pet abuse object, Jennifer Jason Leigh, a long-time TC fave since her enthusiastic portrayal of Stretcho, the amazing elastic girl in ‘The Hitcher’. [That sentence will make no sense if you haven’t seen the film. But hell, you should have. Go! Now!) This year, it’s Kansas City (Robert Altman), which annoyingly opens in the West End on Friday anyway. Leigh is a gangster’s moll whose husband has been captured by some nasty rivals (led by, of all people, a very creepy Harry Belafonte) and who kidnaps a politico’s wife (Miranda Richardson) to try and get help. Though Leigh is her usual sterling self, there’s a lot of slack here: characters whose relevance is unclear, and endless footage of jazz musicians jamming. If you knew about the period and characters involved, you’d find it a lot more enthralling; as is, while there’s no denying the quality, it’s all somewhat unfocused and pointless. C-

Thursday 21st. With the Daily Mail getting more and more hysterical, and Westminster Council electing to ban ‘Crash’, at least pending the BBFC decision, it seems an appropriate, if downbeat, moment to draw this report to a close — there’s only a single movie left to see, and I do want to try and have one vaguely topical article in TC! Should ‘King Girl’ be the most amazing film I’ve ever seen, I’ll drop something in the editorial. Otherwise: ‘Fetishes’ was the best of the fest (it’s getting a cinema release — Westminster permitting, I guess), with ‘Shine’ the runner-up, and ‘Animal Love’ gets the TC Golden Raspberry for worst movie and most misleading advertising. Thank you and goodnight. Roll on next year.

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+

“Stupid is, as stupid does”: Sex – the great motivator.

Melbourne – An Australian who posed as a secret agent for five years in order to have sex with a former girlfriend was jailed for nine months on Wednesday. A magistrates court here heard the 29-year-old man manipulated an innocent, patriotic young woman to have sex by inventing five fictional operatives to give her orders, which included oral sex to cure a fictional terminal illness. The man, whose name was suppressed to protect the woman’s identity, destroyed five subsequent relationships by sending her bogus intelligence reports on her boyfriends’ alleged affairs, the court was told. The man was granted bail pending an appeal. [Reuters, 6-3-96]

In March, police in New York City charged salesman Joel Levy, 32, with assault. According to police, Levy’s live-in girlfriend arrived home unexpectedly after Levy had just put in an order for a call girl to come over. Levy improvised a plan to intercept “Brandy” in his building’s lobby, have a liaison, and then to dash back upstairs before his girlfriend got suspicious. When he saw a good-looking woman in the lobby, Levy assumed it was Brandy, nudged her into an elevator, and, according to police, pawed and fondled her while waving a $50 bill, saying, “You know you want it. You know you’ll do anything for it.”  The woman was not Brandy but rather an assistant district attorney from Brooklyn. [N.Y. Post, 3-10-95]

North Hollywood – Barry A. Briskman, 59, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his inexplicably successful seduction of two 13-year-old girls. According to the prosecutor, Briskman had convinced the girls that he was a space alien from the planet Cablell, sent to Earth to recruit a team of beautiful, super-intelligent girls for a female-dominated utopia headed by Queen Hiternia, who was temporarily based atop the Tropicana hotel in Las Vegas. For their trip through space, Briskman told the girls he would have to immunise them vaginally until their “IRF” counts reached 100, and following each sex session, he telephoned the “Andrak 4000” computer to report the latest infusion and to get a readout on how many more IRFs each girl needed. Briskman is presently in prison in Nevada for demonstrating similar persuasive skills on a 12-year-old girl. [Los Angeles Times, 16-9-95]

After filing a missing persons report on his wife, Leasa, Bruce Jensen, 39, learned that Leasa was really feminine-looking Felix Urioste, 34, who had convinced Bruce to marry him in 1991 after a single sexual encounter during which Urioste remained clothed. Said devout Mormon Jensen, to the Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, “There’s no way to describe this feeling”. [Salt Lake Tribune-AP, 14-7-95]