Sunday, 21 February 2016

NOBODY CAN COOL

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

As titles go, Nobody Can Cool is pretty meaningless: it appears nowhere in the dialogue (which is frankly so basic that the DVD extras even include a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone says "shut up" or "f*** you") and it's not as if anyone is that hot or needs to calm down that much to begin with. Staying true to the first lesson of B-Movie Making 101 - don't film what you can't afford - the movie has just six characters, one car, one house and some fake blood and prosthetics, and it wisely doesn't try and overreach its meagre resources.

Made (or at least copyrighted) back in 2012 but only now surfacing in the UK, this is a long way from essential, but it does have a few pleasingly weird moments. Nobody Can Cool pits two contrasting couples against each other in a confined space: Susan (Catherine Annette) and David (David Atlas) are on their way to a friend's remote cabin for a romantic break. But when they get to the front door they find Len (Nick Principe, who sometimes seems to be having the most fun giving us his very Best Acting) and the heavily pregnant Gigi (Nikki Bohm) already there. They're supposedly hardened criminals, though rather than doing the simple thing and killing the newcomers/witnesses (which they'd presumably have to do anyway) and stealing their car, they invite them in....

Sadly, none of the four seem to be thinking clearly: Len ties our heroine up with easily cuttable rope next to the knife drawer; David and Susan have not one but three golden, nay diamond-encrusted, opportunities to leg it and botch all of them - and while it's always fairly obvious that it's going to end up with the good guys descending to the villains' level in order to survive, it's only when a third master criminal turns up that the bullets finally start to fly. Before that everyone's tying each other up as hostages, as if Len and Gigi are eventually going to let them go, and tables are turned with ridiculous ease.

Shot on the very, very cheap (check the on-screen font for the credits), the end result isn't great by any stretch, but it's never actively boring and occasionally it gets agreeably silly - it includes one of the most badly timed marriage proposals ever, as well as an entirely unnecessary toilet moment; Len models a horrible yellow Hawaiian short throughout and Susan spends the second half of the movie running around in a scarlet onesie. But if nothing else it avoids any suggestion of the sort of gloating sexual violence that sometimes seems inevitable in trashy B-thrillers. That might be down to having women in charge: writer/director/producer Dpyx is actually a duo, Marcy Boyle and Rachel Holzman, neither of whom have their own IMDb pages, and they only have this one to their name so far as a gestalt partnership.

**

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

5 DOLLS FOR AN AUGUST MOON

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

The overdue exhumation of the films of Mario Bava continues with this light giallo that mostly dispenses with horror and suspense and piles on the eye-popping production design and costumes. Less of a traditional giallo like, say, Blood And Black Lace (probably my favourite Bava film) and more a colourful whodunnit in which everyone seems surprisingly unconcerned about a homicidal maniac on the loose and the rising body count, its appeals are mostly visual and certainly not narrative.

Beginning with Piero Umiliani's horrible Hammond score that's probably the most annoying example of giallo's fixation with dramatically inappropriate easy listening/lounge music, 5 Dolls For An August Moon focusses on an obnoxious bunch of decadents having an extended holiday in a frankly gorgeous beach house on a private island. The house is owned by a rich industrialist who's trying to persuade a scientist to sell his revolutionary new formula for some kind of synthetic resin. Meanwhile the wives lounge around looking wonderful until someone starts bumping people off. The launch has gone, the supply yacht isn't due, the radio doesn't work - oh well, put on another colourful outfit and have another drink, and try not to worry about all the corpses hung up in the freezer....

It's light enough to get away with a 15 certificate - there are no black-gloved psychopaths on view and the fairly ordinary motives are a far cry from the genre's usual revenge and sex - but with no real suspense and no threat to the characters, there's not much reason why we should feel involved, and not much reason why we should try and work out who the killer is. In the end it doesn't really matter anyway: the final scene reveals all but you've rather lost track of it by that point. But who cares? It all looks fabulous. Bright colours, skimpy clothing, sunlight, interior decor: everything looks like a fashion spread for a glossy magazine and not like a multiple crime scene in which men and women are casually murdered with equanimity.

The Blu, of course, looks wonderful, with the option to watch in Italian with subtitles or the English language dub. I chose the latter: I usually go for original language but in the case of Euro horror and Hong Kong martial arts movies dubbing can give it a peculiar charm. There's also a commentary track by Bava expert Tim Lucas and an option to watch the film with just the music and sound effects in case you really can't get enough of that Hammond organ. Also included is the hour-long documentary "Mario Bava: Maestro Of The Macabre" from 2000, narrated by Mark Kermode and including rather too much footage from the genuinely terrifying "Drop Of Water" segment from Black Sabbath. Maybe that all bunks the package up to an essential purchase; personally I'd be more excited about a release for Planet Of The Vampires but it's still definitely worth picking up.

***

Thursday, 11 February 2016

FROM VEGAS TO MACAU III

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND WHUUUU....?

Your response to this third instalment of the From Vegas To Macau series (previous entries are also referred to as The Man From Macau films, but apparently not this one) will most likely depend on a number of factors. Far from the least of these is some regard for Hong Kong action movies and comedies from the late 80s and early 90s, specifically films of the God Of Gamblers ilk, with all their overblown sentimentality, wild overacting, idiotic slapstick and occasional forays into what we decadent and unsophisticated Westerners might regard as the politically incorrect. Which, as it happens, I do. Secondly, an appreciation of the mighty Chow Yun-Fat: once regarded as The Coolest Man In The World at the time on the back of bullet-heavy Heroic Bloodshed epics like A Better Tomorrow II, Hard Boiled and the genuinely awesome The Killer (all by John Woo), and still at it aged sixty and not looking it (either he's had some fantastic work done or he truly is one of The Immortals amongst us). Not being unduly bothered by a level of CGI that the makers of Sharknado would consider shoddy is probably an advantage as well.

Most importantly, you need at least some idea of the first two movies, which might be difficult given that neither of them have had any official distribution in the UK. However, even if you've watched them in the last week (they are out there on, ahem, "a website") you're going to struggle because the narrative veers wildly between "wayward" and "not giving a toss what you think". From Vegas To Macau III is as loosely plotted a film as you'll ever see, to the extent that even attempting a synopsis is on a par with clearing out the Augean Stables, but briefly it concerns a mad scientist (Jacky Cheung) who has kept alive villainess Molly (Carina Lau) from the second film after she dived from the back of an aeroplane with no parachute. Molly was the old flame of legendary gambler Ken (Chow Yun-Fat) who starts this film in tears at the marriage of his daughter to his protege; the only cure is for him to be hypnotised (by someone doing a Brando/Corleone impression for no good reason) into thinking it's his fat cousin instead. Then an exploding robot duplicate of Andy Lau turns up and Chow ends up in prison for stealing $15 million. They escape, there's a romance between a couple of domestic robots, and they all head off to a casino island with Ken pretending to be Ko Chun (Chow's character from God Of Gamblers).

There are musical numbers, a card game with Psy, a brief dream sequence where a blacked-up Chow is eaten by a dinosaur (!?), a long sequence where he thinks he's the hero of an old kung fu movie, some table tennis, giant flying robots, someone dressed up as Spiderman (again for no good reason) to play a dice game, a custard pie fight and a martial arts sequence where Andy Lau takes on ten robot Andy Laus in the villain's basement. It is all spectacularly stupid and makes no coherent sense whatsoever, leaping from knuckleheaded knockabout to computer-generated action sequences to Chow Yun-Fat mugging furiously to Chow Yun-Fat looking cool in a tux. But there are no moments which suggest actual jeopardy for actual characters (as there were in both previous films); it's winking at the audience so aggressively throughout that you can't take a second of it seriously and it's clear that none of the cast and crew were either. When the traditional blooper reel over the end credits is no different in tone to the actual movie, something's gone awry.

Hong Kong cinema has always been its own beast and has never abided by Hollywood multiplex rules: that's why we like it. But From Vegas To Macau III is so random and uncoordinated, even by the standards of the first two films, that it never hangs together and collapses into a string of odd sequences that aren't nearly as awesome as they should be. Essentially it's got no more substance than a Carry On film; that doesn't mean it's not occasionally amusing, but this isn't even one of the good ones. The end credits suggest a 3D post-conversion, but thankfully the UK cinema release is in Normalvision.

**

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

BEVERLY HILLS NINJA

CONTAINS SPOILERS AND MILD DESPAIR

Sometimes you see a film and can't stop wondering what the script meetings were like. Maybe you can envisage the writer toiling endlessly at Microsoft Word, agonising over every comma, while surrounded by piles of research notes and dramatic flowcharts. Or you can imagine them roaring with hysterical laughter at every zinger they've crafted for Adam Sandler or Seth Rogen to kill stone dead. Maybe you can even hear their carefully tailored Spotify playlist, especially crafted to inspire their creativity even further.

I can't help feeling that in the case of Beverly Hills Ninja the meeting took less time than you'd need to soft boil an egg. "Here's the pitch: he's a fat, incompetent ninja and he falls over a lot," most likely with assorted cover versions of Kung Fu Fighting burbling away in the background. That's all there is to it: the late Chris Farley plays an imbecile ninja who, absurdly, cracks an international counterfeiting racket and, even more absurdly, cops off with the hot blonde at the end.

It's rubbish, obviously: a witless Ow My Balls parade of falling over, stupidity, silly voices, walking into walls, falling over, breaking things, setting things on fire, falling over, fighting and falling over for those who find Mr Bean too intellectually daunting. Sure, some of the falling over is funny (a couple of times, anyway), but aside from bonehead slapstick the film doesn't have much in its comedic armoury. No-one goes into a film called Beverly Hills Ninja expecting a Noel Coward script of glittering witticisms, but surely there should be room for something a little more sophisticated than an overweight bloke repeatedly hurting himself and behaving like an idiot while Kung Fu Fighting plays on the soundtrack. According to the IMDb, Chris Farley wept at the first screening.

**

BEWITCHED

DIDDLE-IDDLE-DEE! CONTAINS SPOILERS

Mediocre high-concept nonsense wherein nostril-wiggling witch Nicole Kidman decides to try and live like a real non-magical human by moving to Los Angeles and taking the lead role in a reboot of TV sitcom Bewitched (wherein a witch decides to try and live like a real non-magical human). The resultant mess of self-referential in-jokery and the collision of fantasy, fake reality, meta-reality and "real" reality (in which one of the other characters on the show is also played by a witch, and another previously unseen character turns up in the "real" world) would cause the Tardis to crash into the middle of the Sun in confused bafflement, and it has to be said that Bewitched's makers do not pull it off.

Already multi-layered matters are complicated further when she gets involved with her co-star, a thundering halfwit played by Will Ferrell who wants all the glory of the new show for himself; the trouble is that viewers only like the show for her and not for him. Meanwhile Michael Caine is probably the best thing on show, materialising every so often as Kidman's witchy dad to lech around young women, and Shirley MacLaine is another witchy actress playing a TV witch.

It's not any good at all, and Will Ferrell in particular is as thoroughly charmless as he ever is, but the film is occasionally amusing enough to more or less just about scrape under the wire. The TV studio background is interesting, though the sitcom they're all making looks terrible and the Kidman-Ferrell romance simply doesn't work. But at the very least it's never terrible enough to be actively annoying. Instead it's just something inconsequential, burbling merrily away to itself but never capturing your complete attention. Hardly worth the effort.

**