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Evil Heritage (1976)
Disappointment from the usually interesting Warren and McGillivray
19 December 2005
The works of Norman J Warren and David McGillivray can be likened to the little girl with the little curl - when they're good (FRIGHTMARE, TERROR) they're very very good, and when they're bad, they're horrid. SATAN'S SLAVE completely lacks the edgy, tense, paranoid atmosphere of foreboding doom that marked Warren's later work (including the unfairly maligned INSEMINOID) and the gleeful nastiness that made McGillivray's collaborations with Pete Walker memorable, and the result is a tedious experience indeed, with a sub-standard Michael Gough performance, several sequences that make little sense (though the version I saw was probably hacked to pieces by the sensitive souls at the BBC - good of them to leave the eyeball gouging intact though!) and a central premise that just seems corny to our modern sensibilities. The opening credits should give you your first warning that something's amiss, because no fewer than FIVE directors of photography are credited, which is probably why the overall look of the film is so muddled - for every sequence that musters a degree of low-budget atmosphere, there are several that have the over-lit, barrel-scraping feel of a cheap public information film. Warren seemed remarkably unconcerned about coaxing decent performances from the cast at this stage, and the number of alternate versions suggests he wasn't too bothered about creating a definitive director's cut either. In all, a sad disappointment and a missed opportunity - I much prefer Warren as an unsubtle misanthropist to his mantle here as a bargain basement Roman Polanski.

One other thing - the ident at the beginning for the film's distributors Brent Walker is pretty good, with a great synthesizer fanfare, like the old Cannon movies ident from the eighties, only cheap-looking. Catch it if you can!
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Nathan Barley (2005)
Doesn't work on any level
6 December 2005
Chris Morris is undoubtedly a satirist gifted with genius, albeit a very dark and anger genius. He found his natural home on Channel 4 with the excellent BRASSEYE, a dead-on spoof of current affairs programmes, which was followed a few years later by the flesh-crawling pitch black sketch series JAM, which outdid its own radio origins simply by adopting a slurred, woozy visual style that perfectly matched the surreal flavour of the sketches and situations. Then, for some bizarre reason, he looked to the internet for inspiration, found Charlie Brooker's scabrous and wildly funny satire on vacuous media types on the TVGoHome website with the titular Barley as the loathsome protagonist, and this is the result.

Laugh? I nearly dug out a Little and Large video.

Save for a brilliantly dead-pan performance from Julian Barratt as the reluctant King of Cool, and some neat background touches (a light Gilbert O'Sullivan song recast as a techno dance track, a magazine cover trumpeting an interview with the minor TV celebrity Nicky Campbell as if it were the long-lost eleventh commandment), NATHAN BARLEY hardly works as satire, as comedy, as social commentary, or as anything rather than a confusing, headache-inducing whimper of impotent rage at the very people who are likely to watch this kind of thing. And there's the rub - satire has to have a target, the bigger the better, and if you restrict your satire to your target audience, it's not likely to have much of an impact. As a previous reviewer noted, punches are indeed pulled, and if there had been an ounce of the throbbing-vein anger and disgust that had made Brooker's website so addictive on display here, NATHAN BARLEY would have been a minor classic. Instead, it's the televisual equivalent of an executive toy, a shiny, modernistic gadget that exists only to occupy vacant mindspace.

A thundering disappointment that should be avoided at all costs.
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Not one of Walker and McGillivray's best collaborations
5 December 2005
Coming hot on the heels of the sleazy HOUSE OF WHIPCORD and the outrageously gruesome FRIGHTMARE, veteran exploitationer Pete Walker and his puckish screenwriter David McGillivray decided to stir up some more mischief, this time aiming their vitriol at the hypocrisy of the Catholic church, with a blackmailing killer priest who uses the tools of his trade (incense burners, rosary beads and communion wafers) to deal out death to non-believers. Given the hoo-hah the Monty Python team caused with LIFE OF BRIAN four years later, you'd have expected the controversy to rage as Pete and David had hoped it would, but HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN barely raised a murmur - most likely because it's a rather dull and restrained affair compared to their earlier exercises in wonderfully hideous terror. Anthony Sharp is fine in the lead as the crazy cleric, alternating between pompous bumbling and trembling mania at the drop of a hat, whilst Susan Penhaligon makes a memorably vulnerable victim, but the film feels too much of a cut-and-paste catalogue of borrowed elements (the mother fixation from PSYCHO, Sheila Keith basically reprising her WHIPCORD role as Sharp's demented housekeeper, the dysfunctional family business from FRIGHTMARE) to really ring true. The set-piece murders are impressive, and the ending is as bleak and as desolate as you'd expect, but the film contains more padding than a cheap mattress and Walker seems to have confused tension with tedium in several scenes. Still, it's entertaining enough for a slow evening.
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The Comeback (1978)
Effective but occasionally stodgy chiller
5 December 2005
Jack Jones, the seventies MOR crooner, doesn't disgrace himself with his central performance in this memorably demented chiller. Jones plays a pop singer attempting to record a new album in the surroundings of an apparently haunted country retreat, but he's distracted by the creepy staff (Sheila Keith and Bill Owen), his smarmy, secretly cross-dressing manager, the brutal murders of his ex-wife and trusted colleague, and a burgeoning relationship with groupie Pamela Stephenson. Whilst not as gory as FRIGHTMARE nor as fast-paced or compelling as HOUSE OF WHIPCORD, THE COMEBACK has more than enough touches of eye-popping kinkiness, blood-spattered madness and hallucinatory menace to keep discerning genre fans entertained. Just be warned that Jones's music on the soundtrack isn't his best (it sounds like a particularly wayward Scott Walker solo album), and if you're expecting another nonthreatening pop star movie vehicle, you'd do better to avoid this completely.
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Cover Up (1974)
Another solid shocker from Pete Walker
5 December 2005
FRIGHTMARE, had it been made in America or Italy in the late seventies rather than in England in the early seventies, would probably have been caught up in the video nasties scare and banned for years. It's an intense, gruelling and compelling slice of visceral horror, boasting a show-stopping performance by the inimitable Sheila Keith as an electric drill-wielding mad granny with a taste for human brains, and an acidic script by David McGillivray (who once styled himself, not inaccurately, as a punk rocker of the cinema!) which offers one of the most dysfunctional families ever seen on film and enough gruesome goodies to satisfy even the most jaded sleaze hunter. Almost uniquely among British horror films, FRIGHTMARE actually manages to replicate some of the seedy, grimy, bleak atmosphere of its U.S. counterparts (in particular the early films of Romero and Wes Craven) and by the time the horrific, expectation-baffling finale has dissolved into a bright crimson hue, you're likely to find yourself itching for a long shower to wash away this flesh-crawling outrage. Recommended for all horror buffs, this is one seventies splatter-fest that hasn't lost a smidgen of its impact.
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Genuinely shocking exploitation classic
5 December 2005
A young French model (Penny Irving), resident in London having just completed a controversial photo shoot for a men's magazine, is approached at a party by a charismatic oddball calling himself Mark E. Desade (geddit?) whose dating techniques are strange, to say the least. He invites her to meet his parents, and she foolishly agrees - turns out the old couple (he's blind and senile, she's a sadistic retired prison warder) are running their own private prison in the middle of nowhere with the aim of punishing 'immoral' behaviour with beatings, solitary confinement, humiliations and compulsory Bible lessons. A couple of equally deranged guards are on hand to guide these wayward young things back onto the straight and narrow, along with several menacing rats. Don't ask. HOUSE OF WHIPCORD poured napalm on troubled waters with its original release in 1974, when the hang-'em-and-flog-'em brigade were at their most vocal and the likes of Mary Whitehouse and Lord Longford ("Lord Porn", according to Private Eye magazine) were keeping a beady eye on the increasing amount of sex, violence and bad language on television and in the movies. Pete Walker's bleak and disturbing take on vigilante justice gets the flesh crawling and the nerves jangling like precious few British horror flicks before or since, offering little comfort to the viewer as a series of ghastly coincidences, shocking deaths and unexpected twists take us ever closer to the resolutely downbeat ending. Ironically (hopefully) dedicated to the vocal minority who find sentencing too soft and the law largely impotent, WHIPCORD isn't for everyone - the faint of heart should steer well clear - but offers an upsetting glimpse into the heart of darkness for the curious. Ann Michelle and Penny Irving are surprisingly good in their dramatic roles, but the film is stolen by Barbara Markham, Patrick Barr and Sheila Keith, chewing the scenery as the governess, the helpless judge and the most zealous warden respectively. Ray Brooks (the voice of MR BENN) has a few good scenes as Michelle's sex-mad boyfriend.
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Forget the film, listen to the audio commentary!
5 December 2005
DIE SCREAMING MARIANNE is a standard-issue potboiler which is high on 'exotic' locations but low on excitement. Susan George is good to look at, as always, but she can't save boredom from setting in or do much to salvage the dreadful screenplay. Veteran exploitations Pete Walker didn't hit his stride as a truly effective film-maker until he began directing horror movies, bringing sleaze and gore to suburbia, so quite what this tedious mess is doing in Anchor Bay's otherwise excellent Pete Walker boxed set is a mystery to me. THE FLESH AND BLOOD SHOW or SCHIZO would have been more welcome inclusions, but Walker made films for a wide variety of companies and distributors, so maybe some rights complications prevented their inclusion. Having said that, the title sequence is justly celebrated, and Walker offers an amusing and illuminating audio commentary on the film's troubled history (at one point he cancelled the production, and the location filming in Portugal was hampered by personality clashes) and his admiration for the lovely George is touchingly clear throughout. In fact, it's a lot more entertaining than the film itself! Kenneth Kendel, Barry Evans and Anthony Sharpe offer effective support in smallish roles.
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Looks to me like all the budget was used up in the pre-title sequence...
1 December 2005
Warning: Spoilers
THE EXTERMINATOR was another of those movies that had a cult following in early eighties video-fixated Britain, simply because it was a lot more bad-ass and gratuitously violent than anything you could (legally) see in the cinemas around that time. It had an attention-grabbing cover shot of the leather-clad, cycle-helmet-wearing lead character brandishing a flame-thrower, and it looked a lot more tempting than the battered old copy of STRAW DOGS which sat next to it on the shelf. But don't be fooled by the legend or the myths, this film is truly rank. After an attention-grabbing opening sequence set in the swampy hell-pits of Vietnam complete with be-headings (none too realistic, but be-headings all the same), explosions, dramatic helicopter rescue stunts, none-more-evil villains and gunfights, THE EXTERMINATOR shifts gear into...what? It's not exactly clear at first. There's a soft, folkish, John Denver-style song on the soundtrack, which momentarily made me think that David Hess (LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT) was somehow involved, and aerial shots of New York City by night. It's like DEATH WISH, only cheap-looking. Then the 'plot' kicks in. Our hero (Robert Ginty, a terrible actor who always looks dyspeptic) and his war buddy have got steady jobs loading and unloading grocery deliveries from trucks, and the boss is being leant on by some underworld goons. But that's the least of his worries - we're barely out of the title sequence and the drug-addled gangland thugs are on the loose already, picking a fight with Ginty and his family-man friend who is held down and paralysed a couple of scenes later for having the nerve to fight back. By now, you've probably gathered that this is strong stuff, and it just gets nastier. And more ridiculous.

When the paralysed victim is lying comatose in a hospital bed, who informs his wife? The police? The doctors? No - Ginty himself. And the exposition scene is horribly flubbed - why did the director insert stock footage of inner-city slums halfway through Ginty's stone-faced explanation of his friend's fate? It adds NOTHING to the scene. My guess is that there was some trouble with the film stock (or another rogue microphone dropped into shot - this happens a few times) and a substitute shot had to be found in a hurry, so a quick raid on the archives was necessary. Now it's time for Ginty to bring down the street scum. Yes, it's DEATH WISH meets TAXI DRIVER, on the budget of an 8mm porno loop. But what this film lacks in originality (or indeed subtlety) it makes up for in terms of sheer nastiness. So we get graphic scenes of women having their breasts scarred with hot irons, fat blubberheaps raping tethered teenage boys, thugs being eaten alive by rats, Mafia hoods being ground up in industrial mincers...on and on it goes. It's like watching an open sewer disgorging human waste for the best part of two hours. To add insult to injury, it's technically poor, there are NO good performances, the direction is sluggish and if you make it to the finale, there's another horrible folkish song to sit through...which has squat to do with the repugnant dreck that preceded it. Cut or uncut, THE EXTERMINATOR is like being trapped without respite in the brain of a very sick individual, and you'll feel like a long shower to wash off the filth when it's done.
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Good soundtrack, forget the rest.
1 December 2005
I admit it, I like Neil Diamond. He's a great songwriter (he's probably written a lot of your favourite songs too, you're just not aware of the fact), a great showman, a fine and distinctive singer and he's unfairly maligned by people who should know better. But this film should never have been made.

The soundtrack is great, of course - you get Love On The Rocks, you get Hello Again, you get America (which is stirring and emotional even for a dyed-in-the-wool Brit who's never even been to the States), you get Hello's like a greatest hits package. But Neil's acting leaves a lot to be desired. Olivier, clearly going through his "any old crap as long as the money's right" phase, is hilarious for all the wrong reasons as his father. The black-face scenes are just plain wrong - it's funny when Bill Oddie does black-face in The Goodies because his character's a child at heart and it's a surreal show anyway, but the idea of a Jewish rock wannabe blacking up to swindle a club crowd - only to have the ruse tumbled by a genuine black man shouting "that ain't no brother!" or some-such nonsense - should have been spiked at the screenplay's first draft stage. This is Neil Diamond's GIVE MY REGARDS TO BROAD STREET, a vanity project that's an ordeal for non-believers and not much fun for fans either. Buy the CD, yes. Forget the film even exists.
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7 of 1 (1973– )
Wonderful, if rarely seen, experimental series featuring a true comic genius
30 November 2005
SEVEN OF ONE was another 'anthology' series from Ronnie Barker, along the same lines as his earlier ITV series 'Six Dates With Barker', the premise being that each episode would serve as a pilot for a prospective series. It didn't quite work out that way, but since two of the episodes later spawned the hugely successful PORRIDGE and OPEN ALL HOURS, the hit rate was pretty good nonetheless. The episodes were as follows -

PRISONER AND ESCORT - An "habitual criminal" (Barker) is on his way to prison with two guards, the relaxed, personable Barraclough and the aggressive, authoritarian Mackay. My rating - 8/10

OPEN ALL HOURS - A miserly Northern shopkeeper (Barker) divides his time between applying the hard sell to his unfortunate customers, persecuting his naive nephew Granville and chasing the buxom Nurse Gladys Emmanuel. Keith Chegwin and Yootha Joyce have minor roles! My rating - 9/10

MY OLD MAN - An embittered retired train driver (Barker) is forced to move out of his council house due to a redevelopment scheme and live with his snooty son-in-law. An amusing culture-and-generation-gap comedy with a memorable cameo by Leslie Dwyer, later revived as a short-lived (and not very good) ITV series without Barker in the lead role. My rating - 9/10

SPANNER'S ELEVEN - A loud-mouthed hot dog chef and chauffeur (Barker) tries to save his cushy job as the trainer of England's worst non-league football team. Bill Maynard and Christopher Biggins have small roles. A good one-off but not really series material. My rating - 7/10

ONE MAN'S MEAT - An overweight businessman (Barker) is forced to go on a crash diet when his wife prevents him from leaving the house by stealing his trousers. Barker wrote this episode (under the pseudonym Jack Goetz) so it's not thin on laughs, but occasionally feels like an overstretched Two Ronnies sketch. Also stars Sam Kelly, Prunella Scales and Joan Sims. My rating - 7/10

ANOTHER FINE MESS - A pair of Laurel and Hardy impressionists (Barker and Roy Castle) find themselves wrapped up in an escalating series of events, and respond to the madness by gradually turning into their comic heroes. Well-observed and frequently madly funny, but it could be hard-going if you're not a Laurel and Hardy fan (I am)! My rating - 8/10

I'LL FLY YOU FOR A QUID - Barker plays two members of a Welsh family who will gamble on absolutely anything in this comedy about the confusion that ensues when the patriarch dies and nobody can find the winning betting slip (worth nearly £850) he never cashed in. Not really series material but a very good one-off. Also stars Richard O'Callaghan and Talfryn Thomas. My rating - 8/10

A very fine series in all, now available on DVD (though the lack of extras is a wasted opportunity) and a must-buy for Barker fans.
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Sorry! (1981–1988)
Not too keen at the time, but looking back, a little masterpiece.
30 November 2005
Ronnie Corbett's oft-criticised solo project SORRY! was never one of my favourite comedies as a youngster, but in retrospect it's quirky, quietly charming, nicely acted and often amusing. It's not laugh-out-loud stuff but neither is it the 'cosy' comedy some people accuse it of being - in fact, some episodes, like the one where Timothy (Corbett) wishes he'd never been born (and, courtesy of an extended dream sequence, sees what his world would be like had that been the case) or the intricate spoof on Patrick McGoohan's sixties psychedelic drama THE PRISONER in the episode where Timothy plans to get married, indicate that SORRY! was in fact a lone outpost of eccentric British surrealism that just happened to be shown during prime-time on BBC1. Almost everyone remembers the infectious theme tune and the wine bar neon graphics that went with it, it's just a shame the same level of respect has not yet been afforded to the series as a whole.
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What exactly is a 'Jungle Burger'?
30 November 2005
Not quite awful but very far from good, this odd little movie wears out its welcome a lot sooner than you might imagine. It's like one of those sub-standard VIZ clones that cluttered up newsagent's shelves from the late eighties onward come to life, with a screenplay apparently written by an unreconstructed nightclub comedian who aims for the lowest common denominator and hits his target every time. It might be funny to see marching genitalia, a monkey poking a woman's naked breasts or the Tarzan character getting his penis stretched to impossible lengths the first couple of times, but that's really all the film has going for it in the humour department. A shame, because the animation is actually pretty good, and whoever came up with the rich soundtrack score deserved to see his work put to better use. The film achieved a minor cult following in the early days of home video in England due to its explicit (for the time) subject matter and the novelty value of seeing cute characters behaving badly.
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Movie Madness (1982)
Deservedly an unknown movie
29 November 2005
National Lampoon was once a funny magazine. Whether you liked the stoner hippie days of the late sixties or the smug and sassy coke-head days of the seventies (when the comedy was fortified with plenty of naked babes) depends very much on your date of birth, but everyone agrees that by the early eighties, middle age had killed off whichever remaining sparks of anarchic humour that the drugs hadn't, and offerings like this film and the increasingly terrible spin-off records shot further holes in the hull. Outside of a nicely illustrated title sequence, there's absolutely nothing to recommend this singularly depressing stinkbug. If you make it through the baffling opening segment, 'Growing Myself', hoping things will get better, tough luck - they don't. Whoever thought the idea of a woman being brutally raped with a stick of butter was comedy gold deserved to have his head handed back to him on a platter of dog mess. If there's ever a global shortage of guitar picks, the negatives of this rambling, incoherent ragbag of crummy ideas and dire performances may well serve some purpose.
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Animalympics (1980)
A time capsule worth revisiting
29 November 2005
ANIMALYMPICS is definitely one of those films that pretty much defines its time and place - it's got a soft-rock score by 10CC's Graham Gouldman, some shiny chrome-effect logos and bumpers (the titles that pop up at the start of each segment), references to late seventies pop culture including disco fever and surf bums, and it's pre-political correctness so there are plenty of stereotypes (if you're offended by the joke early on about all Asian people looking the same, represented by a herd of puffins, you'd better tune out or get a sense of humour) and, believe it or not, a lot of none-too-thinly-veiled sexuality from our anthropomorphic heroes - the animators do have a habit of going slightly over the top with any movement that involves breasts or rear ends! Whilst the animation isn't the best you'll ever see (I wasn't impressed with the high quantity of 'static' shots where there is literally NO animation at all) and there's not enough action or excitement for the little ones, ANIMALYMPICS does have a nice, dry sense of humour, several bright moments and a welcome lack of cynicism. If you want to revisit your youth or want to give your kids something different from the usual CGI mayhem, this may be worth a look.
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The Day After (1983 TV Movie)
Go easy on the shocks, we can't scare the children.
28 November 2005
When THE DAY AFTER was released in England, I was ten, and my brother rented the videotape. I sat and watched it with one of my friends and we decided to fast-forward to the nuclear attack scene, because we'd heard how shocking and graphic it was, and how TV viewers in America jammed the switchboards for reassurance that it was only a movie, and how this was one of the most controversial films ever made. So I didn't expect the scene where the bomb drops to have all the emotional impact of being smacked in the face with a wet handkerchief. Make that a wet handkerchief with a nursery rhyme embroidered around the edges. What do we actually see? A power cut. Sorry, but growing up in England in the seventies, I was quite used to those. It's going to take a lot more than that to scare me. Then we see people and animals being evaporated in a split second. A flash of light, a brief glimpse of a skeleton, then nothing. About as scary as a ride on the ghost train. And guess what? Jason Robards, the star of the show, manages to avoid getting even singed in the blast simply by ducking behind the dashboard of his car. He even manages to keep up a supply of pristine white shirts, right to the sappy conclusion. Sorry to sound so flippant here, but given that the cold war raged for most of the eighties and the nuclear threat was not only real but a distinct possibility, when you're making a movie about what one of those atomic bomb doohickeys can do to a country, you have to go the whole hog or you'll just make the whole thing seem like an inconvenience rather than a disaster. And that's the whole problem with THE DAY AFTER - its very restraint kills it stone dead. I watched the film again a couple of days ago, and the whole thing has a flat, stilted, stagy quality about it that practically screamed "phoney". The characters, performances, dialogue and direction are bland at best and cardboard at worst. Whilst the superior British take on the potential holocaust, THREADS, benefits from a take-no-prisoners approach that forces the horror and confusion of the bomb down the viewer's throats by means of a steady diet of formation vomiting, shootings, degradation, urine, extreme poverty, civic incompetence, excrement-strewn hospitals and burning animals, THE DAY AFTER tiptoes around the unpleasantness and achieves the unthinkable - it sanitiser's the very eventuality that it purports to condemn. It's like a World War Two film daring to suggest that the concentration camps weren't that bad, or a Vietnam war film that depicts the effects of Napalm as being roughly comparable to that of itching powder down the neck. In short, if THREADS is the daddy of all disaster movies, then THE DAY AFTER is a slightly downbeat episode of M*A*S*H in comparison. It doesn't even come close.
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Thunderpants (2002)
A crying shame that stuff like this ever gets made
28 November 2005
Thunderpants, as its title suggests, is the simple story of a young boy born with two stomachs who farts a lot. And that's it. For the next ninety minutes, all we get are obvious jokes, most of which are about flatulence, terrible performances from smug 'name' actors (whose "look at me, I'm hamming it up in a kid's film, that means I have a sense of humour after all, aren't I wonderful" posturing reminds me of the ego freaks who make televised charity appeals such a chore), and not much else. Whilst I'm always grateful for a British film that isn't an obvious Guy Ritchie knock-off or more profanity-laden kitchen sink excess about football hooliganism, films as obvious and deadeningly stupid as Thunderpants are about as welcome as a kick in the groin with a pair of lead-lined diver's boots. And if I was the creator of the Viz strip Johnny Fartpants, I'd be contacting my lawyer.
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High Fidelity (2000)
Overstays its welcome by about an hour
7 November 2005
The problem with HIGH FIDELITY is that it's already starting to look dated, and it's only five years old. The core problem is that it emerged from a very late-nineties cultural phenomena, that of the 'new lad' (i.e. men who think it's okay to be self-serving, self-indulgent slobs who treat women like dirt then laugh about it with their stagnant social circle over a beer) and its worthless offspring, 'lad-lit' (as in literature), which got a bunch of narrow-minded book critics raving over the ability of mediocre hacks like Nick Hornby and David Baddiel to pad a life of porn videos, football matches and failed relationships out to the length of a slim paperback. Another core problem with lad literature is its nerdy obsessiveness. Hornby could fill page after page with anally-retentive statistics regarding his favourite football team in the name of "authenticity", and nobody complained once. Bret Easton Ellis did a similar thing when he listed is-he-or-isn't-he psycho Patrick Bateman's endless array of gadgets and gizmos in American Psycho, but he was at least poking fun at the vacuous consumerism of the yuppie crowd - with Hornby, it all seemed depressingly real, as if he honestly believed people gave a stuff about what an anorak his lead character was. (I dread to think how many tedious conversations he's been cornered into by similarly inadequate football geeks.) HIGH FIDELITY does itself no favours by relocating the story to Chicago and getting John Cusack to play himself yet again (though I'll always think of him as playing his Better Off Dead character when confronted with this kind of shtick, but that's another story), but the real problem is that the film is way too long. It would have been entertaining as a one-hour TV special, but at its current length it drags, particularly after the halfway mark when the screenplay really seems to drag its heels, throwing in endless diversions and sub-plots that lead nowhere. And maybe I'm being overly picky, but would a music snob like Cusack's character really like someone as populist as Bruce Springsteen? Surely he'd have gone for Tom Petty, who did at least sing a lot of songs about girls rather than cars or redemption by water or whatever nonsense 'the Boss' is grumbling about half the time? Ah well...
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Please God, don't let a director's cut sully the planet!
31 October 2005
I've just read in the trivia section that Jay Roach's original cut of this stinkbomb ran for three hours. Now, if there is a God, and I'm hoping there is, surely there can be no better way for Him to show his infinite love for all creation by not allowing this thing to ever see the light of day. Even in its current form, GOLDMEMBER is about ninety minutes too long. It must rate as one of the very worst movies I've ever seen, and believe me, I've sat through a lot of crap in my time, mostly for the pleasure of trashing the worst of the worst on the IMDb. But tearing into GOLDMEMBER would be like kicking a sick puppy...just too easy. Where to begin? The terrible performances, the retarded sense of humour, the self-congratulatory back-slapping showbusiness cameos, the enormous ego and miniscule talent of Mike Myers, or the fact that Jay Roach's approach to direction and editing makes Michael Winner look positively restrained by comparison? This is ninety-something minutes of my life I'll never get back.
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Whatever anyone else says, this is a superb Carry On.
15 August 2005
Although it doesn't quite scale the dizzy heights of CARRY ON UP THE KHYBER and does suffer somewhat from an obviously farthing-scraping budget, GIRLS is still vintage stuff from the Carry On crew, with a fast-moving, pun-heavy script from the great Talbot Rothwell ("I want a nice warm room with hot and cold running chambermaids" - Sid James, one of his many classic lines), plenty of memorable characters including the dotty Miss Tewkes, the randy old Admiral, the punch-drunk bellboy...hang on, this is starting to sound like FAWLTY TOWERS! If the film has one insurmountable obstacle it's the casting of the ageing, dumpy and diminutive Barbara Windsor as a beauty queen. This isn't even believable in a comedy situation where Sid James is a babe magnet and the gormless Bernard Bresslaw gets jiggy with the statuesque Valerie Leon! The rest of the contestants (with the possible exception of future EASTENDER Wendy Richards) look the part, however, and Carry On regular Margaret Nolan is especially memorable as the busty Dawn Brakes, though the PC brigade would no doubt frown on humour the film derives from her buxom presence! There's also a short but priceless cameo from DAD'S ARMY's Private Godfrey, who has one of the film's funniest lines, and Jimmy Logan is hilarious, camping it up in a role that was evidently meant for either Kenneth Williams or Charles Hawtrey and winning the day with his sheer exuberance. There are some sequences that don't really fit the Carry On mould - the Windsor-Nolan cat-fight, for example, shows signs of desperation, and Kenneth Connor doesn't have enough screen time as the proudly dapper but eternally disgusted Frederick Bumble (a shame, as his performance is note-perfect throughout), but all things considered this is a fine example of seaside postcard humour, and much funnier than the cruder Carry On variations that followed.
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Screenplay: White Lady (1987)
Season 2, Episode 6
Quite a disturbing drama, very much in the mould of Penda's Fen
10 August 2005
As you'd expect from the author of the well-remembered PENDA'S FEN, THE WHITE LADY isn't a conventional drama by any standards. It combines the struggle of a non-conformist, back-to-the-land single parent and his attempts to bring his young daughters up against a backdrop of rural strife and near-poverty with the hard facts about poisonous agro-chemicals and potentially lethal pesticides, very much a hot topic back in the 1980s. Some scenes have an ethereal, dream-like quality, whilst others are gritty and harsh, but nothing kicks quite as hard as the news agency photographs of malformed livestock or the fleeting glimpses of factual data that flash up on the screen every five minutes or so. Another sequence that stuck in my mind was the moment when the father 'lost it' and started beating his daughters (thankfully out of vision) after they got their clothes dirty. This is a very rarely-seen production from the days when the BBC still made respectable, challenging one-off dramas and short films, and as such, a DVD release is long overdue.
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Spike bows out on a reasonably high note
29 July 2005
Towards the end of its run, Spike Milligan's 'Q' series (Q5 began the run in 1969, Q9 completed it in 1980) collapsed into incomprehensible weirdness, with the occasional moment of inspired lunacy lost amongst the bewildering surrealism. Nevertheless, the BBC decided to give Spike one more chance, but that 'Q' prefix had to go - it had been confusing the viewers for far too long, so Milligan retitled the final series 'There's A Lot Of It About', and the format was tightened and lightly reworked to include convincing spoofs of other TV shows, advertising, news bulletins, films and so on, and there was much less of Spike's undisciplined laughing at his own jokes. The result was a series that seems to have stood the test of time quite well, with sketches such as 'Life On Earth' (with Milligan as a scrounging historian who cops a lot of BBC expenses on his interminable quest to find the truth behind Stonehenge), the spoof game shows 'Lose Your Furniture' and 'Flim Flam Flom', the well-deserved swipes at 'Game For A Laugh' and the Thatcher administration and Spike's characteristically irreverent take on the tourism industry still raising a laugh more than two decades later. Some of it looks rather dated, of course, and the racial slurs and Spike's obvious fondness of super-abundant women in black underwear is bound to put the PC brigade off their porridge, but mostly it's a nice way to remember the wayward talents of Spike, and long overdue a decent DVD release.
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Death Wish (1974)
Happiness is a sock full of quarters
29 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Michael Winner stopped making films some time ago and became a professional rent-a-celeb, boulevardier and occasional restaurant critic, largely because his last few movies stank. But there was a time when the redoubtable friend of the stars was capable of better things, and DEATH WISH is proof that Winner once had some degree of talent. A talent untroubled by considerations of subtlety, good taste and understatement, but talent nonetheless. DEATH WISH tells the story of Paul Kersey (a fine performance from the late Charles Bronson), a happily-married architect returning from a second honeymoon with his wife to the scum-encrusted toilet that was New York City circa 1974. Most directors make the viewer wait at least twenty minutes before hitting them with their first jolt of adrenalin-rushing excitement, but Winner can't wait that long, so within the first ten minutes we see Kersey's wife and daughter attacked and raped in their own apartment by three drugged-out hooligans. Even thirty years down the line, it's a genuinely shocking scene; not even the presence of Jeff Goldblum as one of the most reprehensible and hateful thugs ever to smear a screen can diminish its impact. Kersey's wife dies and his daughter slips into a traumatized catatonic state (look quickly for Marshall Anker, the dumb sheriff from LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT during the snowbound funeral scene), prompting him to take a job in Tuscon to take his mind off things. In Tuscon, he meets up with a good-ole-boy property developer who invites him down to the gun club where Kersey turns out to be something of a sharp-shooter. Suitably impressed, the redneck presents Kersey with the parting gift of a handgun, which comes in useful during the second half of the film, during which the vengeance-crazed architect sets himself up as an easy target for muggers, only to wipe them out the moment things get nasty.

DEATH WISH reads like simple, gut-level exploitation, and to a large extent that's exactly what it is, but Bronson's subtle, believable performance, the well-drawn characters, the effective NYC location shooting, Arthur Ornitz's grimy photography and Winner's knack for snappy action sequences help to rise the film above the sum of its parts and make it a minor classic. There's a lot of black humour on offer, some of which works (Vincent Gardenia's performance as the downtrodden, headcold-harbouring detective is always amusing), but some of which - such as the nose-picking hookers and the minor character whose dog "paints such marvellous pictures with his paws" - are simply perplexing. Above all else, DEATH WISH is a highly effective mood piece, the kind of film that goes down well after a hard day, as a reminder that somebody is always worse off than yourself, or as an escape valve for all your guilty fantasies about slaughtering whichever inconsiderate lout stole your parking space or your seat on the bus. For that reason alone, DEATH WISH belongs in your video collection as a very guilty pleasure.
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Violent Shit (1989)
Don't "expect the worst", expect even less than that.
26 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
One of the other users here describes VIOLENT SH*T as "the worst movie ever made by human hands". That's a perfect description, because this terminally boring exercise in incompetently-staged bloody mayhem is terrible on every imaginable level. It makes HEADLESS EYES look like Stanley Kubrick. Shot on camcorder, with computer-generated titles, migraine-inducing video effects and only the faintest attempts at coherent editing (or coherency of any kind), VIOLENT SH*T has the look of a depressing mid-eighties porno, only not nearly as interesting. Its raison d'etre are the taboo-busting gore scenes, but even these are so hilariously inept you're more likely to laugh than cringe - plastic hands, penises, arms, legs, innards and breasts are sent flying as bright pink blood gushes everywhere and the 'victims' bellow unconvincingly. Karl, the 'butcher sh*tter', resembles Eminem with his denim dungarees and cropped blonde hair, and most of his targets look like they've just wandered out of a Scorpions concert with their mullets, thin moustaches, bleached drainpipe jeans and cowboy boots. If nothing else, the film lives up to it's title, because it's both violent and a huge pile can guess the rest. Incredibly, the man behind this catatonia-inducing bilge (one Andreas Schnaas) has gone on to make several other films. Let's hope at least one of them is an improvement over this effort, which is as close a movie has ever come to replicating the sensation of being repeatedly bashed over the head with a tin tray for 75 minutes. Nice when it stops.
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Like watching somebody's bad home movies
26 July 2005
THE LONG ISLAND CANNIBAL MASSACRE is the kind of film that used to get torn apart by the unseen humorists behind Channel 4's 'Exploitica', a late-night comedy show that added captions and comments to lousy old movies and turned them into moving comic strips. Shot on Super-8 for a handful of spare change and technically abysmal, the film begins as it means to go on, with a young girl having a lawnmower driven over her face to the copyright-busting strains of 'Because' by the Beatles (did they know about this?) by some hooded nut wearing welder's goggles. Although this sequence is crudely effective and certainly draws the viewer in, the film falls apart after the opening titles due to the shoddy direction, lousy editing, incompetent sound design (there's a break in the soundtrack every time director Schiff changes angle) and dreadful acting, particularly from the portly Ron Jeremy clone in the camper van. People who think bad movies are outrageous fun would most certainly be cured by the works of Nathan Schiff, a man obviously after the late Andy Milligan's own heart.
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Not as bad as Headless Eyes...
25 July 2005
...but that's like saying being kicked in the groin isn't as bad as being punched in the throat. They both hurt like crazy, it's just that one probably isn't as painful as the other. DON'T GO IN THE WOODS appears to be the retarded, illegitimate offspring of James C.Wasson's quietly unsettling NIGHT OF THE DEMON and the underrated JUST BEFORE DAWN. It's the simple story of a group of happy campers (including a bunch of whiny teens, a birdwatcher who looks like an old silent movie actor, a cripple who looks like Franklin from THE Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE, a female artist and her baby daughter, two bone-chillingly unattractive newlyweds get the idea) whose weekend in the Utah wilderness is rudely interrupted by a bloodthirsty maniac who looks and sounds like Long John Silver gone native and kills people for kicks. And that's it. There's no real plot, not a scrap of characterization, no structure, no dynamic, in fact nothing to compel or even mildly interest the viewer, just endless scenes of these hapless non-actors wandering through the forest and getting killed in various unlikely ways, with blood-drenched murder scenes that resemble Monty Python's memorable spoof of Sam Peckinpah, only done on a smaller budget. As a substitute for any on-screen suspense or drama, the belching, clanking, burbling synthesizer score by H.Kingsley Thurber (love that name!) plays throughout the entire film with no let-up. I'm not joking, it doesn't stop until the end credits when we get to hear him sing an inane ditty about the murderer to the tune of 'The Teddy Bear's Picnic'! Most of the dialogue seems to have been endlessly redubbed and rearranged, which gives the proceedings a surreal, ethereal feel, and the direction and editing are not so much undisciplined as wilfully perverse - it's as if Bryan tore up the entry-level director's handbook on day one, set out to break all the rules and succeeded unequivocally. It would be churlish to point out that the budget was obviously miniscule, since wonders can be worked for a handful of change - see LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, for example - but the budget for this Z-grade splatterfest would appear to have come from the pockets of sleeping gutterbums. As a further point of interest, this film remains banned in the UK, though I can't imagine any sensible distributor paying the censors to watch this nonsense in order to receive an 18 certificate. It's a shame the old X-rating was phased out, because it would suit this film perfectly - it's X-crement from start to finish.
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