Thursday, 29 January 2015


Starring: Johnny Depp, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ewan McGregor
Writer: Eric Aronson
Director: David Koepp

Despite having some of the worst reviews in recent memory, including several which said it was the worst movie ever and one particular rant which proclaimed it the death of cinema, I went along voluntarily to see Mortdecai with Mrs Deej. Although it's nowhere near the worst movie I've ever seen (those "Worst. Film. Ever." people should watch some straight-to-video stuff from the 1980s then go back and think about what they said) and although I do believe cinema is still breathing, I can't pretend that Mortdecai is anywhere near good either. As a matter of fact, it's a terrible, unfunny mess from start to finish.

The story - such that it is - involves art expert and cash-strapped aristo Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Depp) being enlisted by MI5 agent Martland (McGregor) to track down a Goya painting which has been stolen. Naturally, as in this type of caper, several interested parties are vying to get to it first. Aiding our hero is his manservant Jock (Paul Bettany, easily the best thing in this) who a) gets Mortdecai out of various scrapes with some comedy violence, b) gets accidentally shot by Mortdecai on more than one occasion and c) sleeps with lots and lots of young women. It's possible you may find those antics amusing but, save for one poor taste joke from the c) category on a plane that I probably giggled at out of sympathy, I didn't.

Few people emerge from this with much in the way of credit. Ulrich Thomsen, who is amazing on the Cinemax series Banshee, barely registers as a Russian criminal. Paul Whitehouse, he of The Fast Show, looks genuinely embarrassed in his one scene. Jeff Goldblum's cameo is, to say the least, ineffectual. Olivia Munn...well, her character's a nymphomaniac and, er, that's it. You'll have rarely seen so many decent actors given so little to work with.

As for Johnny Depp, he gives it his all but I suspect his performance will irritate just as many as it delights. McGregor is actually pretty good at playing a pompous arse although the sub-plot dealing with his long-standing infatuation with Lady Mortdecai (Paltrow) provides even thinner gruel than the rest of the story although a flashback to their University days did provide a smile. Not a laugh, you understand, but certainly a smile.

David Koepp's arguably better-known for his screenplay work on projects such as Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible but it should be noted that his early directorial choices (The Trigger Effect, Stir Of Echoes) were interesting, edgy affairs. This is the polar opposite, a movie so light that I wondered whether it might evaporate before it reached the screen. For the poor audience enduring this travesty with me, this may have been a good thing had it happened.

Done well, this movie would have hit the mark as an frothy, amusing romp. Alas, it struggles for laughs at every single turn and it wastes the considerable talents of its cast. It doesn't particularly matter that most of the humour is relentlessly old-fashioned but it does matter when it's executed as clunkingly as it is here. Also, the screenplay's obsessed with vomit and moustaches, sometimes both at the same time. Perhaps on some planet that whole puking/face fur combo is side-splittingly hilarious. Unfortunately the movie's playing on Earth and its inhabitants will find themselves trapped in a mirth-free environment for almost one hundred per cent of its 107 minutes.

As for Mrs. Deej, she didn't like it either.

Sunday, 25 January 2015


Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac
Writer: Alex Garland
Director: Alex Garland

Young programmer Caleb (Gleeson) wins a competition to spend a week at the private estate of his company's CEO. When he arrives Nathan (Isaac), the CEO, invites him to take part in an experiment to test the artificial intelligence of his state-of-the-art robot creation Ava (Vikander).

Alex Garland's film raises some big questions about the nature of what it is to be human and the evolution of A.I. His script twists and turns neatly so that you're never entirely sure of what each character's motivation is, even when it's couched within the software of the beguiling Ava. It's often tense, often funny, occasionally nightmarish and just when you think you've predicted where it's going something will happen which will make you realise that you were fed a piece of misdirection earlier on (misdirection is also a theme of the story but I'll expand on that no further).

Gleeson is thoroughly believable as the eager to please coder attempting to come to terms with the opportunity of a lifetime. Isaac, meanwhile, makes the most of his role as the reclusive Nathan. His character is arguably the most under-written of the main three but his is still a performance with several layers. All of that said, it's Vikander's movie and she excels as Ava. Her movements are very precise, her performance is subtly off-kilter and she has a fascinating presence which makes it all too easy to sympathise with Caleb's predicament; Ava's a robot but she's intelligent and attractive. And she appears to be flirting with him...

The robot effects are stunningly brought to life, with Ava's transparent limbs and abdomen revealing components which are exquisitely rendered, futuristic yet credible. Special effects are used only when necessary, a nice move in a time where it must be tempting to trowel on the CGI. Here the effects serve the story which makes for an altogether more satisfying watch.

One issue I did have is that I felt the movie could have ended three or four minutes earlier and would have possibly been all the more effective for it. There's a certain point where if it had just cut to black I'd have been sitting there in stunned silence. As it was, proceedings rolled on further, adding very little other than allowing one of the characters to have their day in the sun. However, that's a very small criticism of what is an intelligent and intriguing film that will have you thinking about it long after the credits have rolled.

Saturday, 24 January 2015


Starring: Zooey Deschanel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Writers: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
Director: Marc Webb

Okay, I have to get something off my chest and this blog is a particularly cathartic way of doing so without destroying things or getting arrested for public order offences. I know this movie got a ton of great reviews when it was released. It was nominated for two Golden Globes. It's won eighteen awards in total, many of them for its screenplay. Its director clearly has talent. It boasts not one but two actors I really like. Gordon-Levitt's especially fine in Looper and The Dark Knight Rises and I'm a fan of Ms Deschanel to the point where I've bought the She and Him albums. I'm impressed with not only her acting but her singing and songwriting too. If I bumped into her in the street - unlikely where I live, but... - I'd probably be a bundle of nerves, dribbling on about how great she is and making myself look a total pillock.

And yet, I can not stand this film. It irritates me to the point of insanity. Even now, I find it so self-consciously kooky that even thinking about it makes me nauseous. I'm sure it wasn't the intention of the film-makers to make a romantic comedy-drama that I didn't find romantic, comedic or dramatic. It made me want to run outside and yell obscenities about its smug, self-satisfied little way. It's the cinematic equivalent of that person that goes on about how they're really not cool when all the while they just want everyone to say "Oh, but you are cool" and then they'll at you smile in a faux-bashful way.

Right, let's get down to the plot before I destroy my laptop. Tom (Gordon-Levitt), a greetings card writer, is dumped by his girlfriend Summer (Deschanel) and he looks back over the 500 days of their relationship, wondering how, where and why everything went wrong. And with its non-linear hopping about back and forth, meaning you don't get the gradual deterioration of their situation over the course of the movie, I really should have enjoyed its original approach to the romcom format.

One of the main problems I have with the film is that the two main characters are so bloody annoying there's no chance of me having no emotional investment in anything they do or say. They visit IKEA and spend ages faffing about in there pretending they're a married couple and it's their house. They joke about how none of the taps in their place work and how it's lucky they have two kitchens side by side. If I'd been in IKEA and had to watch them dicking about while I was trying to buy a new sink unit I'd have been very tempted to tell them to fuck right off.

At one point in the film, Tom and Summer consummate their relationship. Over the course of a 500-day liaison I don't think that counts as a massive plot spoiler. The following morning, Tom is so happy that he goes straight into a dance number. Okay, it's a potentially charming and fun idea so why was I praying for an airstrike? Nothing in this film works for me, whether it's Tom's idealistic then fatalistic view of relationships or Summer's enforced quirkiness. The situations they find themselves in still don't ring true for me after a second viewing. Even their mutual appreciation of The Smiths just made me want to stop listening to The Smiths.

As for the clunky ending, please. I mean, really, please. That was just the crappy icing on a very disappointing cake.

The thing is, although the whole movie is still, for me, like Robert Shaw dragging his fingernails down the blackboard in that scene from Jaws over and over and over again, I have no doubt that lots of other people will really tune into it. They'll love the characters. They'll identify with the situations. They'll laugh at the fake arthouse movie bits. They'll be delighted by the impromptu dance number. And I'm happy that these people find joy in (500) Days of Summer. Me, I even dislike the parentheses around the number in the title and that's speaking as someone who uses parentheses a lot (actually, I don', hold on, I do).

Thursday, 22 January 2015


Starring: Tristan Risk, Laurence R. Harvey
Writer: Eric Havens
Director: Jill Sixx Gevargizian

A short film shot entirely from the unblinking eye (well, generally unblinking, apart from a few nicely-placed streaming glitches) webcam, this tells the tale of Ed (Harvey) and the events that unfold when his paid-for guest Mitzy (Risk) arrives at his place. Needless to say there are surprises in store for both of them...

That's is, I'm just going to watch short films from now on. Well, obviously not, but there's some great stuff out there in small but perfectly-formed packages that are just as, if not more, deserving of attention as their full-length feature cousins. Previously on this blog I've written about Andy Stewart's superb body-horror trilogy - Dysmorphia, Split and Ink - and Rob Nevitt's cracking medical misadventure tale Metamorphosis. I'm pleased to say that Call Girl is another outstanding short-form venture that you should track down. It's also worth noting that this is Jill Sixx's directorial debut and if this doesn't mark her as one to watch in the future I don't know what does.

The acting's first-rate from both players and I get the feeling they really enjoyed portraying their respective roles. Harvey's just so much fun to watch here, initially chattering away to the webcam, giddily waiting for Mitzy to show up, then portraying just the right mix of barely-concealed excitement and awkwardness as he tries to be the perfect host. Risk's performance complements this superbly, slightly standoffish and a little cold at first but quickly trying her best to make Ed - and herself - feel at ease. The dialogue between them is brilliantly written, totally believable and you're instantly drawn into the situation, wondering how it's all going to play out.

Oh, come on. You don't think I'm going to tell you what happens next, do you? You're just going to have to watch it.

In addition to the acting, the set design is beautiful and gives the film an impressive, high-budget look. There's a tremendous use of colour when it comes to both the location and the characters and this makes for some interesting contrasts, the lovely Tristan Risk illuminating the frame, looking utterly stunning in a white dress, set against the gorgeous, luscious red of the walls and Harvey's more sober blue and black attire. Is it light versus dark? Good versus evil? If so, which character embodies which? Or is there something less clear-cut going on? Again, not telling you. Sorry. Didn't you read the second paragraph? I'm telling you to see this movie!

In short (pardon the pun), this is smartly scripted, excellently acted, twisted, surprising and, above all, a lot of fun. I'm now waiting - quite impatiently, it has to be said - for Jill Sixx's next short, The Stylist.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


Starring: Nicholas Vince
Writer: Rob Nevitt
Director: Rob Nevitt

Prepare yourself for three minutes of gleefully-mounted mayhem (almost four in total if you include the credits) seen through the eyes of a Mr. Frost, who awakes in a medical facility following an unspecified treatment. Dr. Carter (Vince) is particularly interested in how Frost is feeling, but before he can ascertain the full details of his patient's condition there's an emergency to deal with. And it's some emergency, believe you me.

After watching so many point-of-view movies that often involve trudging around forests for an hour, occasionally half-glimpsing something that may or may not be a monster (spoiler if you're watching one of those films: if it's only twenty minutes in, it's almost certainly not a monster), it's nice to see that ailing idea being given a shot in the arm here. Seconds into this short film Frost - and, by definition, the viewer - are plunged straight into a world of chaos where you're unsure what's around the next corner or if there's something lurking behind that door to the side. As he tries to find a way out of the place, the craziness (and the soundtrack) ramps up until...well, that would be giving it away, wouldn't it?

Rest assured, the low budget here doesn't in any way mean low class. There's more imagination and incident here in its tiny running time than any tired, churned out big studio genre flick. The reveal just before the end, when you get to see exactly what effect the treatment has had on Frost, is cleverly done and there's a short, sharp shocker of a resolution complete with a marvellously cold final line.

Rob Nevitt's film is a fun, energetic blast. There's grue, gunplay and guilty giggles. There are nods to classic sci-fi/horror tropes but this still retains its own strong identity and as with the all of the best short films you're left wanting more. For genre fans there's some true horror pedigree on show too as Nicholas Vince previously played Chatterer in the first two Hellraiser movies and Kinski in Nightbreed. If you're thinking of watching Taken 3, allow me to suggest that you watch Metamorphosis twenty-seven times instead. You'll enjoy yourself much and you'll still have plenty of time left over to congratulate yourself on supporting a talented independent film-maker.

Sunday, 18 January 2015


Starring: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Melissa Benoist
Writer: Damien Chazelle
Director: Damien Chazelle

A movie about a drummer in a jazz band would probably not set the hearts of many people racing in normal circumstances but Whiplash comes to us with a fair amount of publicity about just how good it is and, with the very recent Oscar buzz surrounding it, surely it's a must-see for the discerning filmgoer. But is it? Read on to find out...

Andrew Neiman (Teller) is a talented young drummer enrolled at the ultra-competitive Shaffer Conservatory of Music. He's steeped in the world of jazz and wants to be one of the greats, listening to Buddy Rich for inspiration, poring over his musical "charts" for hours on end and ignoring the pill-popping, partying antics of the others in his dormitory. In order to reach those heights he must first prove himself worthy of playing in the Studio Band, and for that to happen he must impress its formidable conductor, Terence Fletcher (Simmons). Fletcher himself is looking for the next great jazz musician; could Neiman be the one? The ambitious student will be pushed to the limit in search of an answer to that question.

Damien Chazelle's film works superbly well on a number of levels. Similar to last week's release Foxcatcher, it's an exploration of how far you're willing to go to be the best and it investigates the dynamic between mentor and student. In addition, Chazelle asks questions about when good musicians become truly great ones and focuses on the borderline insane levels of practice needed to even get anywhere close to that level. It's also a father/son story, Neiman's dad (Paul Reiser in a role that's a long way from the shifty Carter Burke in Aliens) being an once-aspiring writer who never got a book deal and who wants his son to see that succeeding in life doesn't necessarily have to mean being the best drummer that ever walked the Earth. There are other things in life like family and romance, but who needs those if you're a famous musician?

Obviously you can't go very far in reviewing this film without mentioning the performance of J.K. Simmons and he's truly mesmerising whenever he's on screen. It would have been easy to turn the character of Fletcher into some sort of pantomime villain but Simmons makes the part all too real, simultaneously hilarious and frightening as he lays into his under-performing charges with some of the most blistering dialogue you'll have heard in quite a while. It's raw, it's often offensive and yet it totally fits with his tyrannical character. 

With such a bravura display of acting from Simmons it would be understandable if Miles Teller faded into the background somewhat but he more than holds his own here which makes the whole movie such an intriguing clash between the two of them. Neiman himself isn't exactly likeable either but both he and Fletcher are so fascinating that you're swept along as the twists and turns are piled on and the film is charged with as much nail-biting tension as any thriller.

There were a couple of points where I felt that the plot strained credulity but given the rest of the film was so magnificent I was willing to forgive its odd flight of fancy. The music is, it goes without saying, absolutely tremendous and the sheer exertion demonstrated in the stunningly shot drumming sequences left me both exhausted and exhilarated. Don't worry about the occasional bum note, by the end of this you'll be shouting for an encore. And that's quite enough musical metaphors for this review.

I'd be very surprised if this one isn't in my Top Ten movies come the end of 2015.


Novelist Iona Brodie temporarily takes over the reins of Strange Colour to give vent to her feelings about Ridley Scott's latest...

Starring: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Kingsley
Writers: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine, Steven Zaillian
Director: Ridley Scott

Ah, Ridley Scott, my memories of you are fond indeed. Alien, Blade Runner, Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, to name but a small selection, are all completely awesome movies. Alas, my love affair is no more after sitting through 150 minutes of the Biblical epic that is Exodus: Gods and Kings.

It all started off very promisingly with serious thesp Christian Bale looking all serious and stuff as Moses and Joel Edgerton, best known for kicking the crap out of Tom Hardy in Warrior, looking all oily and gold and stuff as Ramses. The sibling rivalry is immediately and clumsily set up with the sack-clad and guyliner-free Moses good and obedient to their Father whilst Ramses, looking like a man who has ram raided Lizzie Duke and is wearing all of the loot, depicted as bad with a preference to wrestling snakes over looking after the people of the realm. Moses is quickly informed by a scandalously underused Ben Kingsley that he is really a Hebrew and that his Mother is really his sister (or something like that). This fact is soon leaked and Moses has to flee.

After some wandering in the Desert and a suspiciously quick marriage to a goatherder's daughter Moses is compelled after a head injury by God, rendered most unconvincingly as a small child, to go back to Pithom and lead his people. Queue the plagues.

“Plagues,” I thought, as I sat in the dark staring at the screen and rubbing my hands. “Now things will really start to get going.” Alas, all that got going was an hour of the six o clock news filled with unrelenting misery highlighted by an annoying pan-pipey soundtrack. Some crops got munched and stuff. Some people got spots and stuff. Even the death of the first born son was a bit boring and stuff (although I do have to to give a special shout out to the plague of man eating crocodiles that somehow managed to make death and misery laugh out loud funny).

The pivotal scene where Moses parts the sea was surprisingly underwhelming, played like a tidal anomaly rather than a miracle. A fitting metaphor for this film itself.

They had $200M to spend on this film and I find it quite amazing that they managed to put on such an instantly forgettable spectacle. Yes, the special effects were good but there is not one moment that sticks in my mind like say, the first encounter with the face hugger in Alien. It all feels a little glib, glossy and irrelevant.

Iona Brodie's novella "Dark Waters of the Heart" is out now. Her novel "Hot Voodoo" is due to be published later this year. Follow Iona on Twitter: @IonaB_writer

Friday, 16 January 2015


Starring: Tim Thomerson, Helen Hunt, Michael Stefani
Writers: Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo
Director: Charles Band

In 23rd century Angel City, Trooper Jak Deth is hunting down the last remnants of a zombie-like cult known as Trancers. He's already done away with their leader Whistler but, as Deth tells his boss after reducing the Trancer population by one in an excellent opening sequence, "someone's got to mop up the strays". Just when Deth thinks his job is all but done he discovers that Whistler's turned up very much alive in an ancestor's body in 1984 Los Angeles and he's intent on bumping off the forefathers of Angel City's Council, thus altering the future and paving the way for Whistler to control the city. As Jak Deth also has an ancestor who lived in LA in the 80s, it's time for him to travel "down the line" and see that justice is served...

In the 1980s, Empire Pictures tapped into the burgeoning video industry and a boatload of their movies sailed across the Atlantic, mooring up in rental shops all over the UK. Movies with titles like Metalstorm and Ragewar. These films had great trailers and attractive packaging and I couldn't wait to see them. I even remember waiting around in the video shop one evening because Metalstorm was due back in and that copy was going to be mine as soon as it was returned. On reflection, that's a bit of my life I'll never get back because Metalstorm was dull as a plodding Magnificent Seven variant could be. I'm unlikely to be reviewing Metalstorm. I can't put myself through it again.

That's not to say all of Empire Pictures' output stuck to the "great trailer/terrible movie" template. A lot fell into the "great trailer/okay movie" category and some even made it to the dizzy heights of "great trailer/excellent movie". It's this last category into which I'd put Trancers, regardless of the fact that the gadgetry featured doesn't stand up to ANY sort of scrutiny. Yes, I know that the very idea of the "long second watch" is absolutely ridiculous. I don't care, it works within the context of this movie and if you get hung up on it as you're watching it you might want to switch off as it's not going to get any more believable. I mean, look at the opening paragraph of this review. Trancers is hardly 2001 in terms of realism.

But I digress. This is a fine example of how you don't need an enormous budget to make an imaginative and engaging sci-fi movie. Okay, the special effects might not have looked all that special even on its original release but there's a lot of fun to be had with the time/culture clash plot and the whole enterprise has such charm that I always watch this with a big smile on my face. There are many memorable sequences in this film, including some "trouble at the North Pole" with a shopping mall Santa and Deth's brief, predictably violent encounter with some punk rockers at a club.

The characterisations are terrific too. Tim Thomerson is perfect as the grizzled future cop coming to terms with his new surroundings and a very young Helen Hunt shows exactly why she went on to be such a big star. Her Leena is smart, tough, funny and - vital to the plot - impervious to "trancing". You see, trancing only works on what Deth refers to as "squids", which are weak-minded, easily controlled people. In a smaller role, Stefani carries the requisite amount of quiet menace as bad guy Whistler and his sharp-suited, softly-spoken police lieutenant provides a nice counterpoint to Thomerson's rumpled, brusque gumshoe.

Clocking in at just 76 minutes the action moves along breezily, possibly a little too breezily come the final confrontation between Deth and Whistler which seems just a tad rushed for my liking. Still, that's a small gripe about a thoroughly amusing and entertaining romp that eclipses many much higher-budgeted movies of the time. Although it may not be as slick as Deth's brylcreemed barnet its ramshackle charms and witty script may very well win you over. Remember, folks: "Dry hair's for squids".

Sunday, 11 January 2015


Starring: Steve Carell, Channing Tatum, Mark Ruffalo
Writers: E. Max Frye & Dan Futterman
Director: Bennett Miller

Director Bennett Miller follows up baseball movie Moneyball with another foray into the world of sport. However, whereas Moneyball featured the snappy humour of Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin's script, Foxcatcher is an altogether more downbeat and intense experience.

Olympic gold medal wrestler Mark Schultz (Tatum) is recruited by wealthy sponsor John du Pont (Carell) to join Team Foxcatcher with the intent of winning gold medals at first the World Championships and then the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Mark sees this as a chance to step out of the shadow of brother Dave (Ruffalo), himself a champion wrestler and also an accomplished coach. Du Pont himself is attempting to step out of someone's shadow but in his case it's his mother (an ice-cold Vanessa Redgrave) and he will stop at nothing to prove to her just how great a leader of men he can be. Chasing the dream, as it so often does, comes at a hefty and ultimately tragic price...

The autumnal colours, the languid pace and the sparse, sometimes mumbled dialogue should give you a pretty good idea as to whether you're going to stick with Foxcatcher over its 129 minutes. Events unfold slowly and the repressed emotions of its characters create an almost suffocating atmosphere in which you're constantly on edge, wondering if or when someone will explode with rage. It's effective, unsettling film-making that won't be to everyone's taste.

Next to the performances. Steve Carell has rightly been praised for his portrayal of du Pont. The make-up and prosthetic nose instantly distance us from the Steve Carell we know but it's his portrayal of an eerily obsessive individual that is truly impressive. Without any histrionics he manages to be utterly terrifying and any nods he may receive in terms of acting awards will be well deserved.

That said, it's not just the Steve Carell show. Both Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo prove to be equally superb, each in a role that has them playing somewhat against type. Tatum dials down his usual charismatic hunk image to play a character that may have the physique of his Jump Street character but lacks confidence in his abilities, has incredible difficultly articulating his feelings and cuts a lonely, lost figure indeed. Note to self: the guy can really act.

Completing the awkward triangle is Mark Ruffalo as the older Schultz brother. Ruffalo's trademark crumpled charm is nowhere to be seen here as he plays a quiet, decent, principled, family-oriented man who sees the insecurities in his younger brother and attempts to keep him on an even keel. It's a subtle performance yet it's one that isn't overshadowed by either Carell or Tatum. Keeping the playing against image theme going, Sienna Miller is decidedly unglamourous in a relatively small but nonetheless finely-played role as Dave's wife.

Foxcatcher, for me, is about many things. It's about the competitive nature that exists within all of us. It's about men who can express themselves in a wrestling bout but can hardly talk to each other about what they truly feel. It's about people trying to find their place in the world. It's about other people trying not to lose theirs. It features three truly outstanding performances and it builds both ominously and skilfully to a shocking conclusion, which is all the more gut-wrenching for it being a true story.

Saturday, 10 January 2015


Starring: Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, Robert Beltran
Writer: Thom Eberhardt
Director: Thom Eberhardt

Let me take you back to the mid-1980s. A time when there was a video shop on every corner and I would rent any old rubbish just because it was available. I was there when Night Of The Comet appeared on the shelf and I rented it gleefully. Okay, it was probably going to be terrible - some hokey plot about a comet turning most of the people on Earth to dust and leaving two teenagers in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. But hey, it sounded cool and my video rental quality control was non-existent. I even rented Inn Of The Damned. I'd watch anything.

Weirdly though, once the CBS-FOX logo had vanished and the film had run for a few minutes, I was struck by the fact that the film actually had something. Amusing dialogue. Engaging performances. I was actually enjoying it in a thoroughly non-ironic way. Ninety-odd minutes later, I wanted to rewind the tape and watch it again.

Fair enough, the plot's undeniably cheesy in a 50s sci-fi end of the world way but here it's skewed to give you two teenage girls as the initial survivors and they have their own distinct and memorable personalities: Catherine Mary Stewart as the thoughtful Regina and Kelli Maroney as perky cheerleader Samantha. In all of their scenes together they bounce off each other in a hugely entertaining way and they would make the film worth watching all on their own but no, there are other things going on. They also have to save what's left of the world and stay alive with the help of trucker Hec Goldman (Beltran putting in a winning turn).

Despite the low budget, it looks great. The shots of a deserted Los Angeles are effective and there's a comic book feel to the film which assigns specific colour schemes to specific characters. It may be a simple aesthetic but it really works. The tone of the flick is generally jokey but the creepy moments work terrifically well too, maybe because you're not expecting the plot to lurch into horrific territory so suddenly.

I know people who really don't like this movie but I'm happy to be outing myself here - I love it. It has such a sense of fun that any negative comments about it just seem unnecessarily mean to me. How can you not like Stewart and Maroney's characters going on a shopping spree in a deserted department store? How can you not like Mary Woronov showing up as a scientist? How can you not like the classic video game Tempest being featured so prominently in the first twenty minutes? What do you mean, what's Tempest? Go wash your mouth out!

At this point I probably ought to admit that this movie was responsible for the huge crush I had on Catherine Mary Stewart at the time, a crush that I still have almost thirty years later. There, I've outed myself again.

Catch it whenever you can, all you teenage comet zombies. It's been re-released on DVD and Blu-Ray so you've no excuse.

Friday, 9 January 2015


Starring: Gordon Holliday (Dysmorphia), Austin Hayden, Shian Denovan (Split), Sam Hayman (Ink)
Writer: Andy Stewart
Director: Andy Stewart

On what began as a fairly unremarkable Tuesday in January 2013, I decided to go to see the Brandon Cronenberg movie Antiviral as part of the monthly Celluloid Screams screenings in Sheffield. Before the film began, we were told that there would be also be a bonus short movie and a warning that said short movie had caused people to pass out at its previous screenings. Oh, really? That old chestnut. Over the years I'd seen a lot of movies and not once had I seen anyone pass out at a screening. That kind of publicity might have worked back in the days of William Castle but there's no denying that filmgoers have become much more savvy over the decades. And so, with my cynicism now firmly set to "on", the lights dimmed and the short movie began to play.

A few minutes later, a girl three rows in front of me slid from her seat and landed on her knees with a bump. She stumbled into the aisle, woozily zigzagged her way to the back of the cinema, reached the exit door....and then fell straight through it, hitting the floor with a sickening thump.

The short film? Dysmorphia.

Okay, so now that I've put most (if not all) of you off ever seeing this film, allow me to drag you back from that place where you've now dug your heels in quite deeply. Yes, Dysmorphia is strong stuff. Yes, it's one of the most disturbing things I've ever seen. And yet I'd urge you to see it because it's superbly made, beautifully paced and builds to a magnificently twisted and darkly comic punchline.

One of the many great things about Dysmorphia is that it plays upon the things that you don't see as well as the things you do. Add in some amazing - and truly disgusting - sound design and you find yourself dropped into a genuinely gruelling experience which isn't going to give you an easy way out. Maybe fainting is the way to go. For horror fans it's an absolute treat, one that left me catching my breath, then laughing nervously as the end credits rolled and I realised I'd made it through. It certainly made Antiviral seem tame by comparison.

Dysmorphia is the first movie in a "body horror" trilogy from Glaswegian writer/director (and producer and prosthetic effects supervisor and....) Andy Stewart and it was a pleasant surprise when it was revealed that the second and third movies in the trilogy - Split and Ink - would be screened during the Celluloid Screams 2014 Festival. I can report that neither Split nor Ink caused any further faintings in Sheffield but that doesn't mean either film is any less disturbing.

Split focuses on one man's extreme reaction to the break-up of a relationship and what's clever here is that Stewart understands exactly what makes an audience squirm in their seats. People don't really feel the pain of a spectacular decapitation but they'll sure as hell wince at someone losing a fingernail. The content in this short is, for me, more explicitly gross than that in Dysmorphia but it's all part of the plot as "The Man" experiences a physical deterioration in the most drastic way possible. Any film that can make an entire audience recoil with disgust and yet still keep them engaged gets my vote.

And so to Ink, the final film in the trilogy and a gruesome tale of a man who takes a novel approach to getting himself the best tattoos possible. In keeping with the trilogy there are sequences which are most certainly not for the squeamish but the wince-inducing stuff is balanced with some welcome pitch-black humour. Yet again I don't really want to say too much more about it because as with all three films in the trilogy it's so much better when you have no idea what's coming next.

If you're a fan of "body horror" you should check this trilogy out as soon as you possibly can. Even if you're not, I'd still recommend that you see these. Each short film is a disturbing little gem, made with a lot of care, featuring great performances and I can't wait to see what Andy Stewart does next.

Just don't eat beforehand...

Thursday, 8 January 2015


Starring: Liam Neeson, Forest Whitaker, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen
Writers: Luc Besson & Robert Mark Kamen
Director: Olivier Megaton


A couple of years after the box-office success (not to mention massive disappointment) that was Taken 2 it comes as absolutely no surprise that tragedy magnet Bryan Mills (Neeson) is back to have yet another terrible series of events befall him and his family in, yes, Taken 3.

But what's this? Twenty minutes in and Liam Neeson hasn't broken anyone's neck, tortured some poor sod or participated in a destructive car chase. No, he's embroiled in various domestic issues involving his wife Lenore (Janssen) and daughter Kim (Grace). Lenore's having marital problems with Stuart (Dougray Scott) whilst still having feelings for ex-hubby Bryan, meanwhile Kim's got a bombshell of her own to drop but isn't sure how to tell her dad blah blah this Taken 3? Were they screening a TV movie by mistake that just happened to star the same actors?

Anyway, all of this soapy stuff is shattered ruthlessly when Bryan goes to meet Lenore at his place and finds her as brutally murdered as you can in a 12A movie, ie. not very. Trouble is, Bryan's picked up the knife that was used to do her in and now the cops have shown up. He's a crack security operative and yet he picks up a bloodstained knife from the floor? Ooookay...

Of course, Mills doesn't hang around to let the cops arrest him and with one bit of choppily-edited violence he's free to find out who really bumped off his ex-missus. Now, at this point the movie could have revelled in setting up a load of possible suspects for our hero to pursue, each one revealing a new and exciting twist that sent the plot in a totally unexpected direction as the truly complex nature of the events surrounding the murder unfolded. But no, this is a Taken movie, right? There's a very, very, VERY short list of characters who could be involved in the murky goings-on and yes, it's the exact person you think it's going to be.

That said, the simplistic nature of the plot could easily be forgiven if the action sequences were up to snuff. The original Taken wouldn't have won any awards for plotting and yet it was efficient, brutal, thoroughly entertaining stuff. I loved it. Sadly that isn't the case for its third outing. The fights are full of such quick cuts so you don't feel any sense of involvement whatsoever and the car chases are somehow lacking in excitement.

To me the whole film felt like it was just going through the motions, which is a shame because there's certainly some talent in front of the camera. Forest Whitaker can usually be relied upon to turn in a decent performance and he does so here, even though his detective is signified as deep-thinking by having him carry a chess piece around with him. The support's none-too-bad either, namely Leland Orser as one of Mills' security buddies and of course the lovely Famke Janssen as the ill-fated Lenore.

I guess I have to admit that any movie that chose to dispose of Famke Janssen in such an arbitrary manner would probably have fallen straight out of my good books but I resisted the temptation to scream "NO!" in a dramatic manner at her untimely demise and gave the rest of the film a fair chance. Unfortunately, Taken 3 doesn't satisfy in terms of thrills and I hope the tagline "It Ends Here" is true for this series. However, given the number of possible enemies Bryan Mills has made during his career in covert operations, I wouldn't bet on it.