Sunday, 19 February 2017

MY BLOODY BANJO

TWANGGGG!!!!!!!!! CONTAINS SPOILERS

It's always awkward when a film comes along that you ultimately don't like very much and you know the writer-director. How do you confess this without being insulting - or at least coming across as insulting? Do you try and intimate that the problems are with you rather than the film or with him? Do you straight up lie and say you thought it was marvellous? Do you focus on minor issues or trivial items like knowing the locations or spotting the influences and references? As one who's never been great at social interaction at the best of times, it's even more of a minefield than usual and now you've been given huge tin boots to go stomping across it.

Pelzer Arbuckle has always been bullied and persecuted: at school the only thing that got him through was his imaginary friend Ronnie, but people died as a result. Now in some unspecified office role at a paper distribution firm, he's still picked on and humiliated on a daily basis by bosses and co-workers, ramped up even more after an eye-watering sexual accident that Google informs me is a genuine thing. Not to go into details here but I'm not touching the damn thing ever again; all I can say is thank heavens for the Delete History option. Following the death of the one work colleague who wasn't a colossal bastard to him (Laurence R Harvey), Pelzer realises that maybe conjuring up Ronnie once more is his only remaining option....

An entirely British stab at Revenge Of The Wimp horror, My Bloody Banjo (originally just titled Banjo) may be set in the town of Henenlotter, but it's the Frank Henenlotter of the more uncomfortably sexual Bad Biology than the grindhouse grime of Basket Case, and in any case the tone is much more aligned to Troma films, none of which I've ever liked even a little bit. The Toxic Avenger, Tromeo And Juliet and Class Of Nuke 'Em High (and various sequels) I've always felt were mean-spirited, shoddily put together and revelling in the worst of puerile bad taste; Lloyd Kaufman (who has a brief cameo as a doctor, named after his Toxic Avenger directing alias) talks a good movie but has yet to direct even a tolerable one.

Sadly that's the tone of My Bloody Banjo: abortion jokes, HIV jokes, wildly overpitched performances, excessive gore. Now I'm certainly not against tacky splatter movies, and some of my all-time favourites could never be described as subtle, but the trouble is that this movie is very much all on one note, and there's very little in the way of light and shade. It doesn't give you any respite from the horrors of Pelzer's constant suffering, until the final turning of the worm where good and bad alike are slaughtered and the worst of the villains do not suffer nearly enough (it also never explains why he even works there and even throws in better reasons why he doesn't need to). Some of the gore is impressive (there's a nifty chainsaw-head interface, and kudos for the truly uncomfortable banjo incident itself, one of the most effective look-away moments in years), and Ronnie himself is kind of fun, but I could have done with a little respite from the horribleness.

**

Friday, 17 February 2017

XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE

XONTAINX XPOILERX

It's now fifteen years since the first XXX movie, and twelve years since it sputtered to a close with the Diesel-free follow-up. How many Vin Diesel franchises are there that you'd have expected to die off after the frankly underwhelming second one in which Mr Diesel didn't show up? (Fast And Furious doesn't really count - that didn't really pick up until Part 4 AND he was only in the teaser of Part 3, which actually takes place between Parts 6 and 7 anyway.) And it doesn't look like they've spent the intervening years fine-tuning the concept for a triumphant blockbuster return; rather it looks like they've simply sat down with any number of Mission Impossibles and other assorted globetrotting knockabouts, then hired a particularly excitable fourteen-year-old boy to knit them together.

That would explain why the film's line of demented action sequences include a motorbike chase through the jungle onto the beach and then into the sea, where the bike sprouts skis! And Vin Diesel and Donnie Yen chase each other through the surf! It would explain the oh-no-not-again MacGuffin of yet another whizzy computer gizmo, this time one that can send satellites plummeting to Earth. And it would also explain why the film is heaving with numerous hot chicks mercilessly objectified under the camera's pubescent gaze. Even the bespectacled techie nerd is an only slightly dressed-down Miss October. In anonymous retirement in the Dominican Republic, Xander Cage (Diesel) is brought back into the XXX program to retrieve a terrifying electronic plot device that has been audaciously stolen from American Intelligence but Must Not Fall Into The Wrong Hands. Assembling his own team of specialist mavericks and lunatics (in favour of hardass, dumbass Marines), Cage tracks down the team who stole the toy in the first place...

Of course it doesn't make a whole lot of sense: if not-in-it-enough Samuel L Jackson has been convinced Diesel's extreme sports maniac is still alive (despite being killed off and replaced by the slightly cheaper Ice Cube in The Next Level), how come it takes new boss Toni Collette absolutely no time to track him down? How does Diesel expect to go undercover on a tropical island full of rogue agents when he's got the XXX agency logo tattooed on the back of his neck? And how can the studio expect to make a stand against video piracy when Xander's first big action scene is a dizzying hillside descent so he can patch his slum town into the premium sports channels?

Still, despite the stupidity, of which it's not just fully aware but out-and-out proud, XXX: Return Of Xander Cage is perfectly adequate blockbuster action fare, and while it may not have the gripping suspense of the best of the Mission Impossible movies or the A-list class of the best of James Bond, it'll more than suffice in the (temporary?) absence of those franchises. Frankly I'm more excited about another Fast And Furious instalment, but while we're waiting, this will more than fill the gap.

***

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

FIFTY SHADES DARKER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS OUCH PHWOOOOAR

Here we go again.... The middle section of the Fifty Shades Trilogy really is more of the same: bigger, raunchier, sillier, softer. While the original film was little more than a Pretty Woman poor-girl-rich-boy romance with tasteful lighting and music choices to dilute the depravities we weren't really shown anyway, Part Two ups the frank nudity factor (at last there's some meat to go with the cheese) but descends into so much absurdity and terrible dialogue that you expect the theme from Dynasty or Falcon Crest to erupt at half a dozen particularly gigglesome moments. Maybe it's unfair for me to pick holes in the Fifty Shades movies given that, like the Twilights or the Star Wars prequels, I'm not the target audience. This isn't a blokey film about bonking, it's a girlie film about lurve; a sweet and sentimental fairytale, albeit one in which Prince Charming likes to tie Cinderella to the bedpost and spank her with a table tennis bat. It's Beauty And The Beast, except he's ugly on the inside and America's Next Top Adonis on the outside.

Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) may have walked away from multi-billionaire Christian at the end of the first movie, but he can't let go: pining for her in his cavernous penthouse and plotting to win her back (apparently by shelling out money left and right in the belief this will impress her). His sexual hangups are all down to his backstory of abuse and mother issues, but he's trying to put it all behind him for Anastasia, even if it's just with apparently fantastic regular sex rather than cable ties and whips. But he's too controlling, too stifling - he buys the publishing house where she has her dream job, he won't let her go to New York for work because he's jealous of her boss (of course, it's fine for him to go off on business trips). Even when it looks like they're finally together and he pops the question, Kim Basinger is lurking around trying to break them up....

Fifty Shades Darker is a very silly episode of a very silly soap opera with dialogue George Lucas would have rolled his eyes at, and sex scenes that are franker than you'd expect at a multiplex these days, where an 18 certificate suddenly stands out amidst the 12A blandness. It's fairly painless and it looks nice, Danny Elfman has the soft strings going, and it's too silly to be either boring or offensive. Sure, you might want to read it as a film about emasculation - Christian Grey is giving up that very part of him that makes him what he is at the behest of a woman who's giving up very little in return, just as he was the one giving up control in the first film, the tagline of which was "Lose Control" - in which she's in charge, not the dominant sadist. It's still not very good though.

**

Thursday, 9 February 2017

RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER

CONTAINS SPOILERS, AS IF YOU'RE THAT BOTHERED BY THEM IN PART SIX OF A VIDEOGAME FRANCHISE

Well, they've generally been kind of fun, the Resident Evil films, and there's not many franchises that have kept up this level of "bonkers but enjoyable". Sure, some have been better than others - I've never been that fussed about the second one (Apocalyse) but liked the third (Extinction) a lot better, perhaps for the visuals Russell Mulcahy brought to it. The ongoing antics of skimpily-dressed ass-kicking genetic clone Alice and the baffling corporate decisions of the Umbrella Corporation have brought much pleasure over the last fifteen years and six films, but perhaps it's now time to draw it to a close with one final blast of nonsensical zombie mayhem.

Very little of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter has much in the way of logic behind it. The Umbrella Corporation (whose incompetence with bio-weapon containment led to nothing less than a zombie apocalypse) is no longer a business but a religious crusade led by Very Mad Scientist Isaacs (Iain Glen) to wipe out humanity and start again with his cryogenically preserved super-race. Alice (Milla Jovovich) has forty-eight hours to get back into The Hive underneath Raccoon City and unleash an anti-virus that will deactivate the zombies and save what's left of humanity. But Umbrella are waiting for her and the gang of survivors...

How is this anti-virus is supposed to work across the world when Alice is already down to the last few minutes of her countdown? How come The Hive's defences are so easily bypassed? (Okay, it's not exactly a walk round Sainsburys but they left the giant slammy doors wide open and unmanned, for goodness' sake.) If mad Dr Isaacs doesn't want the anti-virus unleashed, why does he carry it around in an easily smashed vial and not stick it in a concrete safe with a forty nine hour time lock on it? Why is there an Umbrella spy in the group of survivors - what's in it for them? In between wondering about all that, you might ask why Paul WS Anderson has made a film large chunks of which seem to revolve around people beating his wife (Jovovich) up.

Still, there's fun to be had with the zombie hordes and the non-stop action, Iain Glen is agreeably over the top, it doesn't waste much time and the numerous chase, fight, monster and kaboom scenes are satisfyingly crunchy and violent. And at least it does end properly without the sense that it's all just leading to a To Be Continued caption: this is a natural conclusion without the vital loose ends that require a further instalment to take care of. Maybe it's not going out on a high, but if this is the end then this could be the one franchise that doesn't keep trundling on for two films longer than it needs to. Blu-Ray boxset for Christmas, perhaps...

***

THE JEKYLL AND HYDE PORTFOLIO

CONTAINS SPOILERSSSZZZZZZZZZZZ

It's easy to throw that "Worst film ever!" line around. That latest thing with Seth Rogen and/or Adam Sandler and/or Jennifer Aniston and/or Will Ferrell may be absolutely terrible, but it'll have some technical sheen to it that at least means it's in focus and the dialogue is audible. There's a lot further to fall: through the headbanging idiocy of Transformers and the like, anything with Danny Dyer, most of the cheerless British Sex Comedy genre, shonky 50s drive-in horrors from Edward D Wood Jr, Old Mother Riley films, a thousand public domain quickies from the dawn of the sound era. Sure, Sex Lives Of The Potato Men is lousy, but how many Al Adamson movies have you seen?

Beyond all that - stupidity, incompetence, artlessness, ugly people with their clothes off - there's still the ultimate crime of boredom. The very least a film should try and do is stop you from falling asleep at seven o'clock in the evening, and there are a few that can't even manage that. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Jekyll And Hyde Portfolio, a wretched slasher nudie from 1981 in which a mad killer is on the loose at some sort of home for wayward girls in drab woodland. Most of the ladies get their kit off, there's the occasional badly staged murder, a lot of blather, and a severed head. Meanwhile one of the tutors is having a high old time dissecting live frogs in macroscopic detail (for real, so a BBFC certificate seems unlikely). Or maybe I dreamed it all...

Eventually the murderer is unmasked as someone or other, and after just two days I can't recall who it was or why they were doing it: it's already faded from memory because the film somehow bypasses your conscious mind entirely and aims for the unexplored recesses of the subconscious, emerging as just disconnected fragments that make no more (and no sense) than when they were strung together as a hopeless excuse for a narrative. On a technical level it's astonishingly shoddy, none of the cast can act even slightly (granted, none of them were hired for their dramatic abilities and nobody went to see it for the high-calibre thesping), and the pacing is all over the place as whatever slasher mystery might be afoot keeps getting put on hold for yet another lumpen sex scene or another lingering look at what a frog's innards look like. Entirely sarcastic gratitude to Vinegar Syndrome for restoring it to its original lack of glory and Amazon for charging me no money to watch it.

*

Saturday, 4 February 2017

31

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS, FOR ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD REASON

In news that is likely to surprise absolutely nobody who hasn't been living in a cave on the dark side of Neptune for the last twenty years, Rob Zombie has a new movie out and it's terrible. I know, who'd have imagined? Blowing an idiot-shaped hole in my New Year's Resolution to steer clear of obviously rubbish films, it's left me scrabbling furiously around for some kind of defence against the charge of adding the damned, damnable thing to my rental queue in the first place: Malcolm McDowell usually delivers the goods, it played on FrightFest's main screen last year, Mr Zombie's last film The Lords Of Salem was almost competent in parts....

Whatever: those aren't defences, they're just excuses. Rob Zombie's brief flirtation with the idea of being mildly interesting was clearly a one-night stand and not the start of a long term relationship as with the meaninglessly-titled 31 he's scurried back to his usual territory of Crazy Mad Things That Happen For Absolutely No Good Reason. A random assortment of travelling carnival workers is ambushed on the road: they wind up locked in an abandoned industrial plant and have twelve hours to survive the parade of colourful Crazy Mad whackos sent in by Gamesmasters Malcolm McDowell and Judy Geeson, wearing Carry On Don't Lose Your Head aristo wigs and white facepaint For Absolutely No Good Reason. (Quite how they even know what's going on, given that it's 1976 and there don't appear to be any cameras down there, is anyone's guess.)

So every reel or so a crazy mad maniac with a stupid name (Doom Head, Sex Head, Psycho Head) and a chainsaw or an axe shows up and our supposed heroes have to man up and kill in order to survive. In the event, they do, and as wimpy civilians they prevail against what are supposed to be top of the line mad killers - particularly the ultimate Doom Head who may wield a mean fireaxe but so loves the sound of his own prattling that he literally filibusters his own rampage by talking over the twelve hour final whistle, the absolute idiot. The big splatter setpiece of two simultaneous attacks with chainsaws is rendered incoherent in the editing suite, to the extent that I genuinely thought different characters had got killed. (Apparently they had to shoot that whole sequence in just eight hours, but that's not a defence, just an excuse.)

Why are there naked women wandering around? Why is the opening sequence in black and white? Why is it even called 31? Absolutely No Good Reason. I've no idea and Zombie has no idea either. He's more interested in shrieking riffs on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (why else have a crazy mad gas station attendant near the start?) together with an indulgence of gratuitous grindhouse excess, a recipe that frankly got boring halfway through House Of 1000 Corpses and has never really gone away. The Devil's Rejects was intolerable garbage, Halloween was only vaguely interesting when he was pretending to be John Carpenter and Halloween II didn't even have that. And this is just more of the same: bleak, nihilistic, violent and, for all the blood and shrieking, crashingly, crushingly dull. Not unexpected, given his track record, but it raises the question of why I bothered to watch it. Answer: For Absolutely No Good Reason.

*

Sunday, 15 January 2017

THE BYE BYE MAN

CONTAINS SPOILERS

Utterly generic template horror movie gets utterly generic template review spoiler warning and, indeed, utterly generic template review. There are no surprises on offer in a film that, barring specific details, is as production-line a supernatural bogeyman and haunted house popcorn screamer as they come: if Lin Shaye had wandered in from the Insidious movies she wouldn't have seemed wildly out of place (especially given an early cameo from that series' Leigh Whannell).

The Bye Bye Man is a film that goes out of its way to avoid challenging expectations so much it looks like it came from an online screenplay generator full of [Insert Name Here]. Three dimbo college teens, a couple and a black best friend, lease an old house off-campus but soon find themselves beset by curious visions and hallucinations which may or may not be (but obviously are) connected to a reporter back in 1969 who went on a shotgun rampage and then killed himself. He was under the influence of a demonic figure called The Bye Bye Man, whose gimmick is that he doesn't actually exist in the physical world but the more you think about him, the more real and threatening he becomes. Merely saying his name brings him and his (dubious CGI) hellhound ever closer....

So it's a bit A Nightmare On Elm Street, a bit The Babadook, a bit The Conjuring and Insidious, a bit Lights Out, a bit Sinister. There's even a vaguely goth hot psychic chick brought on to be [a] predictably ridiculed, [b] predictably killed off in an unnecessarily violent and spectacular manner (that one dates all the way back to Witchboard!). But.... as a Friday night teen horror movie it does work on the level of basic Boo! and long scenes of fools wandering around a creepy old house in the dead of night without switching the lights on for no good reason. The early appearances by the Bye Bye Man himself (Doug Jones) are pleasantly unsettling, and the tricksy hallucination sequences where everyone is seeing different things are nicely handled. It's a pity that it sticks so rigidly to the formula. Delayed from last year after apparently being toned down for (yawn) a lower certificate - the close-range shotgun murders are ridiculously bloodless - it's worth a look but don't go in expecting anything radical or gamechanging.

***

Sunday, 1 January 2017

LIST: THE WORST FILMS OF 2016

Boy were there some cinematic skidmarks in 2016....Again, my personal choices from the films I saw that had UK cinema releases in the last 12 months, no matter how minimal or brief.

10. BLAIR WITCH
Has found footage developed in the last few years? Amazingly, no; just more of the same. Why didn't they just make a proper film?

9. THE NEON DEMON
Looked nice but thoroughly empty.

8. FROM VEGAS TO MACAU III
Incomprehensible gibberish if you haven't seen the first two. It's incomprehensible gibberish even if you have seen the first two.

7. HIGH-RISE
The most divisive film of the year? I know it's not the accepted wisdom but I got annoyed with it very, very quickly.

6. CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE
Dumb action comedy melange that didn't work, wasn't funny, wasn't exciting, and was a colossal waste of the usually reliable Dwayne Johnson.

5. MISCONDUCT
The silliest big star thriller of the year (Pacino! Hopkins!), possibly the milliennium.

4. LONDON HAS FALLEN
Tasteless, ugly bang-bang with an uncomfortable line in Muslim-bashing and some terrible CGI destructo-porn effects.

3. BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE
A hundred and fifty minutes of miserable, incoherent nonsense at full volume, with no laughs and no entertainment to be had.

2. GRIMSBY
Sacha Baron Cohen's latest attempt to redefine comedy as "thing that is not funny". Gross, grotesque, and actors like Mark Strong have no excuse.

1. THE GREASY STRANGLER
It made me feel unclean and slightly ill and I wish I hadn't seen it.


Dishonourable mentions (in no particular order) to Shadwell Army (ID2), Yakuza Apocalypse, Ride Along 2, Bastille Day, Criminal, The Assassin (best director at Cannes or not, it bored the daylights out of me), Warcraft, Kill Command, We Are The Flesh and The Call Up.

LIST: THE BEST FILMS OF 2016

So how was 2016? Anything good at the multiplexes? Arthouse fare suitably cerebral? Did the blockbusters bust enough blocks? There was certainly some good stuff on - not sure it was a vintage year, but there was some good stuff on show and of the ones that I saw (whether at cinemas, on Blu or via streaming services), these are the ten films I liked, admired or enjoyed the most. As ever, I use the Launching Films website of UK theatrical releases in 2016, regardless of when or where I actually saw them. They're my picks, so obviously they're not going to match up with yours....

(Also, a couple of titles have changed from the list I submitted to HeyUGuys last week. Sorry about that.)

10. UNDER THE SHADOW
There were some pretty good horror movies this year; sadly this one didn't get anything like the kind of release it deserved.

9. BONE TOMAHAWK
Ditto: supremely nasty in places, more of this sort of thing please.

8. HELL AND HIGH WATER
Terrific crime thriller, fantastic mood.

7. VICTORIA
One take. One shot. Enjoyable thriller and a stunning technical achievement.

6. THE NICE GUYS
Probably more straight-up fun than any other film this year.

5. GHOSTBUSTERS
So much more entertaining than a million online dunderheads wanted to believe.

4. THE HATEFUL EIGHT
Don't retire. Okay, so it's flawed and half an hour too long, but the good stuff is so good I'll forgive it. And it looks great on 70mm.

3. ROGUE ONE
Again: pathetic bellowing halfwits whined about it not having white male leads in it (the way The Force Awakens didn't and the way The Phantom Menace did). Creepy CG aside, it's a further testament to what happens when George Lucas isn't involved in these things.

2. TRAIN TO BUSAN
The best zombie movie in thirty years. FACT.

1. SPOTLIGHT
My favourite of the awards contenders from the start of the year:

Honourable mentions (in no particular order) to Deepwater Horizon, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Eye In The Sky, Green Room, Goodnight Mommy, Evolution, Room, Midnight Special, Mechanic: Resurrection (shut up, I enjoyed it) and The Witch,

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

THE GREASY STRANGLER

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND TO BE HONEST I'M TRYING NOT TO SWEAR

It's that time of year when I'm sort of sketching out my Top and Bottom Ten films of the year, and I've more or less picked the films that are making the lists and I'm reasonably happy with them. And then with three weeks to go a Blu plops through the post, and within about minutes of putting the thing on you absolutely know in your heart you're going to have to take one of those lists and shred it.

The Greasy Strangler is genuinely revolting. It's visually revolting, it's artistically revolting, it's musically revolting, it's tonally revolting, it's comedically revolting, it's sexually revolting, it's dramatically revolting, it's morally revolting and it's politically revolting. In a sense that this sordid, witless trash has any plot to speak of, it concerns an endlessly bickering father and son in a Godawful nowhere town who present walking tours of local buildings with (entirely fictional) links to major disco artists. They meet a woman who can't decide which of the two she's in love with; meanwhile a serial killer covered in grease is going around strangling minor characters.

There comes a point where the deliberate mining of the bottom of the grossout barrel for the cheapest of bad taste laughs just looks like desperate attention seeking, and not for one single crass frame did it capture my interest. For all the supposedly excessive and extreme material it's colossally dull: a witless parade of non-comedy swearing, farting and masturbating that's astonishingly puerile. The score is an unlistenable combination of squeaky voices and assorted Bontempi noises; the grotesque sex scenes and nudity are made even less palatable by enlarged prosthetic genitals which I assume to be there for laughs, and the performances are less those of actors than of people humiliating themselves for absolutely no reason.

Watching The Greasy Strangler is like staring at a puddle of cold vomit for an hour and a half. It's a thoroughly unrewarding way to spend your time, you start to sense it contaminating your very soul and I came away feeling soiled and dirty (and not in a good way). It's arguable that a film like Dirty Grandpa, which I abandoned after about twenty minutes, is even worse because you expect a hell of a lot better of people like Robert De Niro and Aubrey Plaza, whereas I've never even heard of this bunch of squealing clowns. Well, to wear my Daily Mail Imbecile hat for a second: it's worth pointing out that this repulsive, artless garbage opens with the logos for Picturehouse and the British Film Institute, two organisations from which one should reasonably expect some level of professional quality control (and, of course, as a taxpayer I end up tossing a few coins to the BFI anyway).

Rubbish I can cope with - hell, I've seen four Sharknado movies - but this is a new and terrifying, yet monstrously boring, dimension of rubbish: ugly, nauseating, tiresome, painstakingly crafted to be as deliberately offputting as possible. I wish I hadn't seen it; I wish I still lived in a world where Batman Vs Superman was the worst it was physically possible for a film to get.

*

Sunday, 27 November 2016

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

CONTAINS SLIGHT SPOILERS, SLIGHT SPOILERS AND SLIGHT SPOILERS

Rather than spend the entire day watching three movies back to back full of people you're really not interested in and having life crises you can't really get very excited about, here's one movie that bolts the three movies together in one unwieldy two-hour package so you can get on with watching two completely different, and probably better, films. The sad fact is that while Nocturnal Animals looks gorgeous, and sounds gorgeous (Abel Korzeniowski's score combines the lush, tremolo-strings of Herrmann and Donaggio with the repetition of someone like Philip Glass), it's impossible to get involved in the glum, sterile lives on show.

Amy Adams runs a poncey art gallery, she's unhappily married to businessman Armie Hammer in a cold and empty, but ridiculously expensive and beautifully furnished mansion. She receives an advance manuscript of ex-husband Jake Gyllenhaal's ugly, violent novel, and in between reading it she reminisces about their relationship. Past, present and fiction are intercut, with Gyllenhaal also appearing as the hero character of the dramatised novel, in which his family are run off the road by Texas lowfiles and he seeks revenge when his wife and teenage daughter are found raped and murdered. Why has he written this trash, and why has he sent it to her? Should Adams have stayed away from him, on the advice of her frankly horrible mother (Laura Linney)? Or should she now try and reconnect with her one true love?

Matters aren't helped by an opening credits sequence in which obese, elderly ladies dance nude in slow motion that has nothing to do with the film except that it's part of Adams' impossibly wanky art installations. Certainly it's beautiful: cinematography and production design are outstanding. Michael Sheen and Andrea Riseborough pop up briefly, and it's fun to watch Michael Shannon as the Texas sheriff taking a very unorthodox approach to police procedure in the fictional section. But it never gets us to care, it never gives us the emotional hook needed to get us involved. Disappointing overall, but wonderful on the surface.

**

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

SOUL ASSASSIN

CONTAINS SPOILERS

It's weird what goes through film-makers' minds sometimes. The decision to go for a particular mood that doesn't fit the subject, the decision to go for inappropriate or wildly anachronistic music scores, the decision to concentrate on the least interesting character. In this instance it's a curious predilection for a specific visual palette: steely blues and greys. This suits all the scenes set in modern offices: cold, shiny metal and glass with pretty much everyone in sharp power suits. But it's odd to see them maintain that look for exteriors supposedly set in broad daylight and not, despite the blue filter, at four in the morning. Fine: you've got a style you like, but as with Michael Bay's preference for contrasting unnatural teal skies with radioactive orange skin, there are times when it just doesn't fit.

Since the movie is a pretty generic action thriller in which a guy runs round a European city (in this instance Rotterdam) suspected of multiple murders and unsure which of the smartly-besuited corporate slimeballs he can trust, slapping a distracting visual style across it is pretty much of a wasted effort, like putting Dolby 7.1 Surround on the Antiques Roadshow. Skeet Ulrich, granted a fantastic promotion to Head Of Security for a clearly crooked multinational finance company, plans to propose to his hotshot investor girlfriend - but suddenly she's murdered in front of him. Meanwhile, Kristy Swanson (the original Buffy) is lurking around a factory with some activist types and there's a secret disk with incriminating evidence on it....

The DVD cover of Soul Assassin notes that the feature includes "...a short scene which contains a strobing effect..." so sufferers of photo-sensitive epilepsy should be warned. In fact the film contains numerous such sequences, because Laurence Malkin clearly doesn't have enough faith in his cast or material to carry the film without post-production gimmickry that had me looking away from the screen more than in the last two Insidious movies put together. And I don't suffer from photo-sensitive epilepsy; I just found it annoying, particularly when applied to action sequences that were already overedited. Filmed straight, and not photographed through a sheet of blue glass with the flicker effect turned on full blast, this would be a decent enough potboiler for a Friday night Netflix session. As it is, a few amusing moments apart it's really not worth the effort.

**