Tuesday, 28 July 2015


Starring: Reese Mishler, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos
Writers: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Directors: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing


In 1993, a small-town school play is the scene of a horrific accident which leaves one student dead. Twenty years later, the school is to restage the play in memory of the original tragedy. Hmm, how well do you think that's going to go?

The Gallows takes us back to the found footage well once more and, on this evidence, it turns out that its source of water has long since dried up. And that someone has dumped a load of toxic waste in there. And topped it off with a cartload of horse manure. Don't get me wrong, this subgenre isn't a guaranteed dead loss - Brian Netto's smart, shocking Delivery and Elliot Goldner's creepy The Borderlands come to mind as shining examples of how to take an increasingly tired formula and give it a fresh, interesting spin.

Cluff and Lofing's movie, however, resorts to the usual seemingly endless shots of people videoing long walks down dark corridors and jumping at sudden loud noises. Fans of motion sickness will be delighted to know that there are several sequences of gorge-rising shaky-cam as characters run away from - or towards - something nasty that may or may not be there.

Sticking to the well worn, yawn-inducingly predictable path of any number of films of this ilk is, unfortunately, just the tip of the movie's gargantuan iceberg of problems. For starters, the characters are the least sympathetic I've seen in a while. This wouldn't be so bad if they had some substance but they're just self-centred, boring, vacuous people and although being self-centred, boring and vacuous isn't the sort of thing for which someone should be murdered horribly it's hard to be swept along with them as they attempt to deal with the increasingly deadly situation in which they find themselves.

Reese (Mishler) comes across as...well, a bit of a dick. Ryan (Shoos), the guy with the camera for most of this flick, comes across as....well, a bit of a dick. Actually, no, he's a monumental dick, the sort of life-affirming presence who likes to bully the more academically-minded students and who appears out of nowhere to shout "BOO!" just because he thinks it's funny.

Hold on, he does appear out of nowhere to shout "BOO!" just because he thinks it's funny. And this is the level where the "scares" in The Gallows generally reside. In the absence of any genuine, innovative chills it soon becomes an exercise in predicting just when the long silences will be punctuated by the next bang or crash. The film is on a mission to startle rather than create a lingering sense of unease.

As for the plot, it has more holes in it than Al Pacino at the climax of Scarface. Now, I'm not one to demand forensically-detailed credibility in a movie unless it's absolutely warranted. I'm more than willing to suspend disbelief in the name of entertainment but there's so much stuff in here that made "WTF?" flash across my mind in large, pulsing, neon characters that there was little chance of me becoming even the slightest bit engaged with this absolute mess.

If a school play had previously resulted in a tragic accidental death by hanging, would that school really want to commemorate it two decades later by putting on the same play? Yes, let's just rake all of that up again when most people are probably trying their best to forget it. "Hey! Remember that kid who got hanged? Let's build another set of fully-working gallows in his memory! After all, it's what he would have wanted". Oh yes, that would be a set of fully-working gallows. Because a set of non-operational gallows that just look the part don't actually fit the bill. Let's go full method by dishing out an actual execution!

Next, there's the reason that Reese, Ryan and Ryan's cheerleader girlfriend Cassidy (Cassidy Gifford) sneak into the school the night before the play. You see, Reese is a superb athlete but a sucky actor so Ryan - genius that he is - comes up with a fiendishly cunning plan which involves the wrecking of the stage so that the play can't go ahead and therefore Reese's questionable thesping skills will not lead to his embarrassment in front of the rest of the school. Yeah, as if anyone at that school will be trashing the reputation of anyone on the football team. Also, I don't believe that Reese's psyche would be forever fragmented by him not being able to steal the show at a crummy school play. It's established early on that he doesn't really care about the play, he's taking part because he's got the hots for Pfeifer (Brown).

Okay, let's just try to get past that. On to the wrecking of the set. Oh, the carnage. The devastation. The wanton destruction. If, of course, your definition of "wanton destruction" is pushing over a few fake pot plants and carefully unscrewing the wooden structure of the gallows. They even used the correct tools to do the job right. It's the most civilised act of vandalisation ever. Look guys, take an axe, take a sledgehammer. Destroy the whole thing in a few minutes. But no, Reese treats it like a DIY project and just about the only thing he doesn't do is go on about how it's important to use the correct drill bit. Come to think of it, why are they filming themselves damaging the set? Maybe Reese was going to use the video to get his own series on Discovery Home and Leisure. The movie isn't clear about that.

So, on to the killer. I have to mention the killer who, if he showed up in a different horror movie, would have the potential to be quite a cool character with his hulking presence, hangman's hood and noose in his hand. The problem here is that, if he's the spirit of the guy who died (which I'm pretty sure it is) then the original victim of the hanging looks like Peeta Mellark after a bout of crash dieting and the guy who shows up as the vengeful spirit could be on WWE trying to bodyslam The Undertaker.

One thing I will say is that it does have a rather neat twist towards the end. Another thing I will say is that I just lied about there being a rather neat twist towards the end. One character accepts their fate so readily that it makes a nonsense of all their previous behaviour and another character is revealed to be, when you think about it, too old to be at that school unless they've had a few educational challenges.

After all of that, just when I thought the film had gone to DEFCON-1 in terms of planet-threatening idiocy there was another scene, in another location, when the cops arrived to arrest the guilty party....and proceeded to be bumped off by the ghost. So the ghost could have killed any of the cast, in any location, at any time it wanted which makes the whole thing with the original location and the reconstructed gallows a tad over-elaborate as a revenge plot.

Even at just 81 minutes, The Gallows stretches its threadbare story to breaking point, the first twenty minutes checking in with various characters you don't see again once the proceedings switch to the evening. That wouldn't matter if they mattered somehow to the development of the plot but in almost all cases they're there as filler to pad out the opening act. Once the film finally kicks into gear there's the odd effective moment but most of the action is robbed of any suspense by the tick-box approach to its shocks, characters it's virtually impossible to care for and the utterly inane dialogue. As found footage goes, whoever found it really should have taken it to the recycling plant so it could have become something useful.

Having said all of the above, The Gallows made a very tidy sum of money at the US box office from a budget of just $100,000 and has probably put plenty of bums on seats here in the UK too, so what do I know?

Thursday, 23 July 2015


Starring: Seth McFarlane, Mark Wahlberg, Amanda Seyfried
Writers: Seth McFarlane, Alex Sulkin, Wellesley Wild
Director: Seth McFarlane

All of the blurb about this movie seems to be very keen on pointing out that it's the "sequel to the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time", so I'm not going to mention that at all. Except that I just did. For UK audiences, this translates as "a 15-rated comedy that made lots and lots of money at the box office". Regardless of the fact that the original was apparently seen by almost everyone above a certain age, is the sequel any good?

Well, I'll get to that soon but down to the business of the plot first, which kicks off with Ted marrying his girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth in feisty, adorable, winning form) in a ceremony officiated by FLASH (AH AH!) himself, Sam J. Jones. Ted's best bud John (Wahlberg) is still around but his marriage to Lori is over so a) he's moping around wondering why he ever committed to a serious relationship in the first place and b) that means there's no Mila Kunis in the follow-up. Excuse me for a moment....


Okay, now that's out of my system. I'm okay now. Deep breaths. Where was I? Oh yes, Ted and Tami-Lynn decide that they should become parents - don't panic, there's no weird human-bear hybrid birth scene here - but their attempts to adopt a child are curtailed by the American legal system which decrees that Ted is not actually a human being and hence is not allowed to become a parent. Enter rookie lawyer Sam L. Jackson (Seyfried) who takes up Ted's fight for justice while the titular bear holds out hopes that she'll hook up with John and get him "back in the game".

So, what's the verdict? Heh heh, see what I did there? Seyfried's character is a lawyer, you know, what's the verdict? Okay, suit yourselves...

Obviously this movie is terrible because Mila Kunis isn't in it. Damn you, Seth McFarlane! Only kidding. Ted 2 does deliver its fair share of laughs even though it's not as hilarious as the first movie and it has the same warm, sentimental heart which is thinly concealed by a layer of foul-mouthed comedy. McFarlane seems much more at home off-screen as the voice of Ted that he is on it (see A Million Ways To Die In The West), Wahlberg gamely takes several for the team during the proceedings and the sweet, smart Seyfried may be the new poster girl for stoners. Ever noticed how big Amanda Seyfried's eyes are? The film-makers of Ted 2 have and they're the subject of a recurring joke.

Several characters from the first movie show up again with mostly successful results, the only return really hitting a few bum notes being the re-appearance of Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) who again has designs on kidnapping Ted for his own nefarious ends. Ribisi's a brilliant actor and he's creepily funny in the role but the subplot involving his character is just a retooled version of exactly what he did in the previous film and as such it's somewhat on the redundant side, even if it does leads to a couple of decent gags centred around a Comic Con event. The running time of almost two hours is also a slight problem and a bit of judicious pruning here and there would have tightened things up and kept the laughs coming at a quicker pace.

Ted 2 isn't an unqualified success but it does have a few laugh-out loud moments and plenty of chuckles. It doesn't make me desperate for Ted 3 but it doesn't make me dread it either.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


Starring: Dieter Laser, Laurence. R Harvey, Bree Olson
Writer: Tom Six
Director: Tom Six

"It ends here" proclaims the poster for Tom Six's third Human Centipede instalment and on the evidence of this movie it probably should. This one focuses upon Laser's Bill Boss, who's a prison, er, boss with a problem. His penitentiary is an embarrassment to the state, teetering on the edge of complete anarchy. Enter Cuban cigar-smoking Governor Hughes (Eric Roberts in a brief role) who tasks Boss with both sorting out his enormous clusterfuck of a slammer and saving taxpayers' money in just two weeks. If Boss fails in his mission, Hughes will make sure that Boss will be boss no more.

So what is boss-man Boss to do? His right-hand man and accountant Dwight Butler (Harvey) thinks he has the solution. You see, Dwight's watched the first two Human Centipede movies - not mentioning that he has more than a look of the main guy in the second one - and is convinced that the way to save money on prison guards and food and damage repair and hospital bills and so on and so on is to surgically attach all of the prisoners together in one enormous centipede. As you do. Of course, there's the option to remove anyone from the centipede who's finished their sentence and then the rest of it can be re-attached. That's for anyone who was wondering about that issue. Which is probably none of you.

Tom Six appears to have pitched this as a gross-out comedy rather than all out, hard-driving horror but the genuinely gross moments are few and far between and the comedy isn't that surefooted. True, the banter between Laser and Harvey is fairly amusing to begin with but this soon palls, especially as the movie wears on and Boss becomes more and more desperate/insane which is manifested in Laser SHOUTING MOST OF HIS LINES. V-E-R-Y S--L--O--W--L--Y. If this works for you, you'll probably get a lot more out of it than I did. As for me, Bill Boss became very tiresome very quickly. I spent most of the second half of the movie hoping that he'd lose his voice and just get on with assembling the damned Centipede. Like we don't know it's coming.

Wobbly accent aside, Harvey turns in a much better performance as Dwight, bringing a lot to the role - arguably a lot more than this deserves - and his character proves to be the most sympathetic and interesting of the bunch here even though his "penal reform through human centipede" idea is somewhat questionable to say the least. Dwight carries a torch for Boss's secretary Daisy (Olson) and his frustration at not being able to defend her against Boss is palpable and surprisingly effective. Also, Clayton Rohner is amusing as a disgraced medic who's practicing at the prison without a licence and who provides the surgical know-how to implement the Final Sequence. He'd be even more amusing if he didn't have to play off Laser, who spends their scenes together SHOUTING MOST OF HIS LINES. V-E-R-Y S--L--O--W--L--Y.

It's fair to say that the uninitiated will almost certainly find something that will offend - probably quite early on, to tell you the truth - but for genre fans it may prove somewhat disappointing and, dare I say this, quite dull. There's the odd truly shocking and repellent moment but for the most part it's trying so hard to be offensive that it just becomes an exercise in pushing as many buttons as possible to cause maximum revulsion. Oddly, it's this approach that renders the proceedings ridiculous rather than revolting.

The one and only thing about this movie that did genuinely offend me was the treatment of Daisy, who spends the movie being verbally and physically abused in increasingly horrific ways without so much as a sniff of ultimate, carthartic payback. Even in a film as OTT as HC3, played as broadly as it could possibly be, this kind of behaviour still comes across as worryingly misogynistic. Dressing it up as black comedy doesn't excuse it in the slightest, as a matter of fact it makes it several times worse. Given the insultingly one-dimensional character she has to breathe life into, adult movie star Olson is actually none-too-bad but why she chose to be in this is anyone's guess.

Suffice to say, Human Centipede 3 walks off with the award for being the third best movie in a trilogy that hasn't exactly set the bar high in terms of cinematic excellence. Admittedly, Six gives the Centipede's third outing a different spin to its predecessors but instead of bringing something fresh and interesting to the table it's a total misfire, tedious when it should be making the audience laugh and tame when it should be making them barf. It's a hundred minutes of my life I'll never get back.

But is it worse than Mortdecai? Now you're asking...

Wednesday, 8 July 2015


Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke
Writers: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier
Director: Alan Taylor

Arnie's oft-repeated line "I'll be back" holds true here for he is most definitely back, front and centre, in this continuation of the Terminator franchise. This time out, John Connor (Clarke - Jason, not Emilia, obviously) has to protect mum Sarah (Clarke - Emilia, not Jason, obviously) from being bumped off by a time-travelling cyborg so he sends back trusted soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back to 1984 Los Angeles to prevent the dastardly deed from being done.

Hold on, isn't this the first movie only with the addition of a fancy, effects-laden prologue featuring an attack on Skynet? Well, for a few minutes it seems as though it may be, with a more youthful Arnie's T-800 spec Terminator falling out of the sky near the same garbage truck and then marching across the grounds of the Griffith Observatory where he's about to acquire some clothing from three punks. Which is where the plot takes a pleasing left turn as....actually, if you're going to watch it, I won't spoil this but suffice to say the expected timeline has been all messed up. For all you fans of Nike Vandals then don't panic, Reese still makes sure he gets himself a shiny new pair but in his quest for classic footwear the Genisys version of the character finds himself trying to evade more than the cops. As for Sarah Connor, she's no waitress but a gun-toting, order-giving survivalist with an Arnie of her own in tow.

With me so far? If you're not then you're going to have an issue with the alternate timeline shenanigans which are rolled out in this flick. The pasts, presents and futures of various characters criss-cross each other and set forth numerous permutations as to how the fate of humanity may or may not play out. To be honest, it's more or less a load of guff but the proceedings shoot along at such a clip that you're not given much of a chance to ponder the plot holes in between the fisticuffs, gunplay, chases and explosions.

Unsurprisingly, Genisys doesn't hit the heights of Cameron's original (or indeed its sequel) but it's several notches up on Terminator: Salvation and it's in a totally different ballpark to the execrable Rise of the Machines. It pays a lot of respect to the original movie while still having plenty of fun riffing on it. Of course, it's great to see Arnie back in the role he was pretty much born to play and the fact that he's here again after all these years - the plot deals with his aging in fairly swift order - lends the film a warm glow of comforting familiarity.

Elsewhere, issues do arise with new actors replacing old ones in familiar roles. Emilia Clarke does a perfectly decent job as Sarah Connor but Linda Hamilton was so good as Sarah Mark One that Sarah Mark Two takes some getting used to. Likewise, Jai Courtney proves he can handle both the action and emotional beats as Kyle Reese but he's not Michael Biehn. Jason Clarke is saddled with a somewhat underwritten part as both a good and bad guy and he doesn't make quite the impact I'd expected but to be fair this doesn't sink the movie, which rests more on the admittedly entertaining interplay between Arnie, Ms Clarke and Courtney. The movie does, however, commit one huge faux pas in giving the great J.K. Simmons the square root of eff all to do. Apparently he may figure more if/when there are follow-ups to this and I hope this is true because his considerable watchability is totally squandered here.

To conclude, this is enjoyable blockbuster fare that doesn't take itself too seriously (the odd line even pokes fun at its own improbability) and keeps the action coming thick and fast. Even the 12A rating doesn't hamper things as I thought it might, the fights between the machines being lengthy, crunchy and destructive. Yes, the plot - which somehow manages to be both dumb and needlessly complicated at the same time - doesn't exactly help matters but overall the fifth Terminator outing functions capably as undemanding action fodder.