Thursday, 27 July 2017

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING

CONTAINS SOME SPIDEYSPOILERS

Someone must have quietly passed a law stating that there shall at all times be a Spiderman film either on release or in production. There's no other explanation for rebooting the character yet again - the third restart and (if you count the cameo in Captain America: Civil War) the seventh appearance in just fifteen years, now shoehorning him into the Avengers universe. (It's as if the Bond films just kept remaking Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace with all new casts, and then did it yet again after 007 had a quick walk-on in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) It's hard not to conclude that they're going to keep on pressing the reset button until they get Spider-Man right, and they still haven't: while there are definitely things they're doing right there's so much wrong that on balance it ends up another failure. It's not even something I can call a disappointment since my hopes weren't that high in the first place.

The two things they've done absolutely right with Spider-Man: Homecoming are [1] not to make it an origin story so we can skip the radioactive spider bite and kindly Uncle Ben getting killed off yet again, and [2] bringing Aunt May down in age so she's not a grey-haired old biddy any more. (I understand that's how she appears in the comics but she's not his grandmother, for goodness' sake.) The villain this time is The Vulture (Michael Keaton), shafted out a contract to clean up the debris of whatever the hell happened at the end of Avengers Assemble: he smuggles out some of the mysterious alien gloop and starts making and selling his own weapons to criminals. Peter/Spider-Man (Tom Holland) wants to stop them but Tony Stark doesn't think he yet has the temperament to take on anyone but local muggers and bullies...

Much of the film is devoted to Peter Parker's high school experiences: we've got a crimefighter in a hi-tech combat suit spinning webs across the city, but we're spending half the movie watching his fantastically tiresome crush on Liz and whether he's in or out of the quiz team. Which isn't necessaily a bad thing: the film feels pitched younger than the other versions. The makers have indicated they were riffing on John Hughes films like The Breakfast Club and Pretty In Pink, which does at least yield the film's best moment, a terrifically tense scene with Liz's father as he drives them to the school dance. At the other end of the scale are the whizzbang action sequences, particularly the climactic fight in and around a burning, out of control aeroplane in which Spidey is practically indestructible (especially absurd since, unless my memory has been shot completely in the last few days, he's wearing his homemade suit rather than the fantastic Stark suit).

There's some enjoyment to be had elsewhere, but it's mostly the kind of sitcom fun with Jon Favreau as his handler who isn't interested in handling him, while Tony Stark is even less likeable than usual (and he's not very likeable even at the best of times). Inevitably, of course, there's a tease for a continuation which may be either the announced 2019 Spider-Man sequel or next year's Infinity War Part 1, which apparently stars absolutely everybody except Barbara Windsor and the Honey Monster. Either way, that law about keeping Spider-Man films going all the time isn't about to be broken any time soon, which is a pity because he, and I, could do with a break.

**

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

SIN

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

Gary Oldman has apparently said this is the worst movie ever made. It isn't - there are about three hundred films by Jess Franco and Al Adamson that are demonstrably and incontrovertibly worse - but that's hardly a recommendation for this unedifying wallow in the cesspit of human depravity: drugs, gang rape, pornography, blackmail, sadism, revenge, corruption and mere senseless murder all get a look in. But it feels undecided about what it's trying to be: tacky, sleazy trash or something deeper and more serious: exploitation junk or Proper Drama.

Ving Rhames is a retired cop turned farmer with a busted arm who discovers that his sister (Kerry Washington) has been turned into a junkie sex slave by jaw-droppingly evil scumbag crime lord Gary Oldman. Not just that, but her gangrape has been filmed as part of an obscure vendetta against him and his former partner. Can Rhames figure out who is behind it and why?

Sin isn't much good: it's a simple slice of disposable, forgettable DTV junk of the kind Medusa Home Video were putting out on tape thirty years ago, but there's nothing to indicate why either Gary Oldman or Ving Rhames (or indeed anyone involved) decided that yes, this should be their next project. The money? I like both those actors and they're always watchable, but they're really not enough to justify watching this thing, or even making it. Despite the sordid horribleness of it all, it's somehow got away with a 15 certificate.

**


Monday, 10 July 2017

THE 25TH REICH

CONTAINS ZE SPOILERS

....though, curiously for a film calling itself The 25th Reich, setting itself in 1943 and utilising that German-looking Iron Sky font on the DVD artwork, it doesn't actually contain very much in the way of Nazis. Rather it's a (very) small-scale men-on-a-mission war movie with just five characters and a sense that it was deliberately constructed to recall war movies of the time (except for the swearing and, er, CGI spaceship).

A small platoon are on a mission to track down two escaped pumas in the Australian outback (for reasons too dull to go into here), using a huge machine to attract them. In fact it's a top-secret mission to find a flying saucer and stop it falling into the hands of the Nazis, and the machine is actually a time-travel device. But, after a ton of backstory and waffle, there might be a traitor in the ranks...

Towards the end it stops being mildly silly and opts instead for colossally silly, as our heroes are thrown forward into the far future where the Nazis are planning to spread their hideous creed across the entire universe with a fleet of spaceships, and any dissenters are chased down by loyal Nazis who have been converted into giant mechanical spiders. Sadly by that point the film has crossed the line between endearingly dumb and just plain stupid, so it doesn't fly even on the mythical so-bad-it's-good level. The giant spiders are actually pretty decent monsters, with better CGI than the retro spaceships, but it's too little and way too late.

**

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

THE CREATURE BELOW

CONTAINS GLUB GLUB SPOILERS

In terms of visual effects, we've been spoilt in recent years. The technology has moved so fast that you don't need to operate on a Jurassic Park budget to come up with impressive computer imagery or physical monster effects, and some quite startling creations can be put together on very little money. Plus, of course, we'll forgive some wobbly FX work if we're engaged with the story and characters, or even if we're not but it's the kind of goofy entertainment that's not supposed to be great anyway (see the likes of Sharknado). Still, genuinely shonky CG can take you out of a movie as easily as one cellist scraping hard at the wrong notes can take you out of the whole symphony: a pity when there's as much good stuff on offer as bad.

The Microsoft Paint-level effects aren't the only problem with The Creature Below, but they're the most noticeable because they show up first. Olive is a deep-sea research diver working with a new suit that will allow her to go further down than ever before, but on the first test dive she encounters something in the depths and blacks out. Fired by her unreasonably hateful boss (who is obviously doomed a couple of reels later), she returns to her suburban semi with an egg-like thing she discovered lodged in the ruined diving suit: under her care it begins to transform into a larger creature with a hunger for human flesh and blood....

There's a fair amount of Lovecraft and Cthulhu, the ancient god of unpromising Scrabble racks, on offer (Olive has a certificate on her basement wall from Miskatonic University); the physical effects are pretty impressive, particularly on the smaller creature, there's comfortably enough blood and gore for the 15 certificate, and the apocalyptic ending, the very definition of "well, that escalated quickly", is terrific. The three-way domestic tension between Olive, her boyfriend and her sister is entirely uninteresting, but it does give the opportunity to chuck some more bodies into the basement (the moment where Olive discovers her strange and interesting new pet's attraction to human blood is very similar to Rick Moranis and Audrey II in Little Shop Of Horrors). Agreeable fun, but the CG lets the side down.

***

SOUTHERN FURY / DOG EAT DOG

CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS

In this ever-changing world in which we live in, while governments and nations sway this way and that, it's important to cling on to the absolute certainties. Water is wet, the sky is blue, political types are most likely talking through their hats and Nicolas Cage continues to overact in DTV time-passer movies that are deemed worthy of the most token theatrical releases before the level playing field of the supermarket DVD racks. Time was when, like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, a new Nicolas Cage movie would play at least the bigger 'plexes, but these days it's a few prints at most to garner some enthusiastic critical pullquotes for the DVD release. A tactic that can only work if the movies are any good and, in these two instances at least, they're really not.

Southern Fury was originally called Arsenal and, to paraphrase Red Dwarf's Holly, is indeed a steaming pile of Tottenham. Indeed, the only highpoint in an otherwise glum and unlikeable thriller is Mr Cage, decked out in a silly moustache and Anton Chigurh hairdo and overacting like he's being paid extra for every mile over the top. Set somewhere in a Deep South loserville, it tells of two brothers: one an ex-military drug addict, the younger a successful construction boss. Desperate for money, the elder brother teams up with the local crime boss (Cage) to fake his kidnapping for a healthy ransom...

It's not very good: as so often happens it's impossible to care what happens to a gallery of deeply unsympathetic characters and, as so often happens, it all ends in a ludicrous bullet frenzy of the kind John Woo was a master and Steven C Miller (auteur behind terrible Santa slasher Silent Night) is not. The final reel is enhanced with super slo-motion CGI bullets and blood squirts, which obviously look terrible, and the cops are noticeable by their almost total absence from the corpse-strewn proceedings except for John Cusack for no good reason, provoking an all-encompassing response of "yeah, whatever".

You'd expect Dog Eat Dog to be at least slightly better, given that Paul Schrader is a filmmaker with an impressive list of credits including Cat People and American Gigolo as well as scripts for Martin Scorsese. Which makes it all the more remarkable that he's recently directed Dying Of The Light (which was notoriously taken away from him in the edit) and The Canyons (which probably should have been): uninteresting nonsense films that don't even look good. Coming across like The Three Stooges Do Tarantino, it has a trio of staggeringly idiotic ex-cons looking for one big score and finding it in a kidnapping plot which inevitably goes horribly wrong. While Southern Fury was grim and miserable, this has bouts of what might be charitably described as jet black comedy but can be more accurately read as repulsive and tasteless knockabout. Cage is less unhinged than usual, with none of his trademark bug-eyed shouty freakouts or silly voices, though he does spend his last scenes pretending to be Humphrey Bogart.

Some startling moments of gore and what I guess is supposed to be hilarious violence (Willem Dafoe bloodily knifing an overweight woman to death in the opening sequence) aside, it's all very unedifying and - cue cut and paste from two paragraphs back - it's impossible to care what happens. The three leads are hideous scumbags and/or imbeciles, no-one deserves your sympathy, and the film doesn't even bother to wrap up its botched kidnap plot. Neither film is worth the rental fee or the ninety-odd minutes of your evening; Dog Eat Dog is the slightly more entertaining of the two but Southern Fury hasn't set the bar very high.

**
**