film reviews

The Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence (2015)

After the euro-gloss of Human Centipede: First Sequence and the exploitation arthouse of Human Centipede 2: Full Sequence, director provocateur Tom Six returns with the much threatened Human Centipede 3: Final Sequence. And boy howdy, it’s hard to decide what to make of it.

The stars of Six’s last two films, Dieter Laser (First Sequence) and Laurence R Harvey, (Full Sequence), returning roles that are polar opposite to those they made famous. Laser’s calm and calculated Dr. Heiter is replaced by Bill Boss; a ranting, racist, raping prison governor looking for order by any means necessary. Harvey’s childlike Martin is swapped for Dwight Butler, Bill’s overly patient and brow beaten assistant who may just have the solution he needs

A squishy stew of castration, shouting, sexual violence and Eric Roberts, Human Centipede 3 is liable to offend pretty much everyone. Stacked up against the first two, it’s perhaps not as technically brilliant. Nor is the ‘centipede’ the main focus of this third entry. Bill’s experimentation in castration and arm-breaking to quench his prisoners’ wrath remains at the forefront for the majority of the film’s narrative. Accusations then that the film is boring seem to be a little misguided. Like Tom Green’s Freddy Got Fingered, Human Centipede 3 is deliberately polarising. There are long periods of nothing happening, which are punctuated with waves of deplorable behaviour. Laser screams at the camera for what seems like hours on end. There are some extremely uncomfortable scenes with Bree Olsen. And then, from seemingly nowhere, we’re in slapstick territory. You’re not leaving the film feeling bored. No no. You’re feeling polarised with yourself.

If it sounds like we’re like we’re sitting on the fence, then we are. Tom Six is definitely trying to get a reaction and he’s not bothered how you respond. We’re flummoxed but we think that’s the point.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

After Kick Ass, Matthew Vaughn returns to the material of l’enfant terrible, Mark Millar with Kingsman: The Secret Service, loosely based on Millar’s comic book The Secret Service.

Taron Egerton plays Eggsy, a London kid from the wrong of the tracks who is taken under the wing of Colin Firth’s Harry Hart, a gentlemen spy for a secret service known as Kingsman who set up shop, literally, on Saville Row. Whilst Eggsy tackles his spy training head on, internet tycoon Richmond Valentine (a lisping Samuel L Jackson) is traversing the globe looking for the rich and powerful to join his solution for global warming. Spoilers: he’s up to no good. Can Eggsy and Hart stop him before it’s too late?

Based on a script co-written with his usual collaborator Jane Goodman, Vaughn’s Kingsman is an explosive and blackly humorous response to the po-faced spy thrillers such as the Bourne Trilogy (there is no fourth) and Daniel Craig’s Bond. It’s also spectacularly violent, with a key scene set in a Westboro Baptist type church being the most gloriously vulgar and memorable. Anyone raising an eyebrow at Colin Firth being in an action film will be pleasantly surprised as he fights his way through a scene that feels like both The Raid movies compressed down to five minutes.

Whilst the film never lets up, there are some missteps. Kingsman was clearly filmed in the UK, and its apparent in many a scene that steps foot outside the British Isles. Admittedly not the crime of the century, but it does take you out of the film. There’s also a crude joke towards tot eh end that attempts to heighten and satirize the typical conjugal rights ending to a Bond movie, but instead rewrites Eggsy character unnecessarily.

However, these are minor quibbles in a film that for the most part is a blistering, balls to the wall comic book adaptation.

22 Jump Street (2014)

When it was first announced that 21 Jump Street was getting the reboot treatment at the hands of Jonah Hill, a lot of people were expecting it to go as quickly as it came. However, it defied the critics, turning out to be a smart but foul mouthed piece of joy that managed to even follow the canon of the oringal Johnny Depp vehicle.

Now, Hill and Channing Tatum are back in the sequel, 22 Jump Street, and boy would they like you to know how much they know they’re in the second part of a franchise. Starting off with  Nick Offerman as Chief Hardy imploring our two leads to carry on doing the ‘same thing as before’, the movie goes to great pains to be as meta as possible. Yes, the plot is exactly the same, albeit in a college environment, but you don’t have to keep signposting it. Really, we get it.

Not that the film isn’t funny. Far from it. There are plenty of times where it’s just as witty as before. The point is that there’s only so much nudging you can take before you start to bruise. The end credit sequence probably sums up the issues with the film best. With its abundance of spoof sequel trailers, the whole affair feels like it was a hell of a lot more fun to make than it was to watch, which is a hell of a shame.

Trifecta of Horror: Les Diaboliques (1955), See No Evil (2006), Black Roses (1988)

Les Diaboliques (1955)

Directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, Les Diaboliques is story of two teachers at a private in France who share a common bond: the school’s tyrannical headmaster. Married to one and making a mistress of the other, he abuses the poor women until they finally decide to be rid of him. Drowning him and disposing of the body, it is understandable the women become somewhat unnerved to hear that he’s been seen walking around town. With a private detective hot on their tail, the duo’s fragile allegiance begins to crack.

Les Diaboliques is as near perfect a movie as you will ever get. Clouzot’s direction is taut and he piles on the tension till it becomes unbearable. The performances by Vera Clouzot and Simone Signoret are impeccable. The finale is one of cinema’s all-time greatest and lingers long in the memory. It will also give you an irrational fear of your bathroom for weeks. Buy it, treasure it, and never let it leave your side.

See No Evil (2006)

A group of ne’er do well twentysomething teenage delinquents are roped in to help renovate a run hotel. Unbeknownst to them, its ensuite rooms are stalked by a giant of a serial killer, played by WWE’s Kane, with a penchant for poking out eyeballs. See No Evil is not subtle, nor very original. In terms of today’s social media, it is the BuzzFeed list of horror tropes. Things happen, followed by more things. Some of these things involve screaming. Then, thankfully, it ends.

See No Evil 2 comes out later this year under the helm of the Soska Sisters, aka the Twisted Twins. Having wowed many with their last feature, American Mary, it’ll be interesting to see what they do. Because on its on merits, See No Evil doesn’t seem to warrant a sequel.

Black Roses (1988)

Small town America is about to get its ass kicked by Black Roses, a heavy metal band ready to tear it a new one. Well, all the band members are actually demons in disguise, so it’s the least you can ask of them really. Directed by John Fasano, this is B-movie 101. Kids are becoming corrupted, the mayor refuses to believe there’s a problem and only a teacher and his fabulous knitwear can stop them.

It’s loud, it’s brash and a wayward boy’s father is eaten alive by a speaker. Death by stereo indeed. With plot holes you can drive a tour bus through, Black Roses is an incredible amount of fun. Poorly written fun, but fun nonetheless.

Before Midnight (2013)

It’s hard to discuss Before Midnight without referencing the previous films. As such, please be warned the following contains spoilers.

Before Midnight allows us to once more dip our toes into the lives of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) who stole our hearts in Before Sunrise and Before Sunset. After the events of nine years previously in Sunset, the transatlantic couple are holidaying in Greece with their two children and numerous friends. Jesse is still making waves as a writer, having written another book based on his relationship with Celine. She meanwhile has become unsure of what to do with and is planning a career change.

The wonder and charm of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy is how, after the setup of Sunrise, Sunset was been like dropping in on old friends. We delighted in their company and waited eagerly for them to fill us in on what they’d been up to. Midnight has that same feeling, but it’s a more somber affair. Celine’s optimism has appeared to have been worn away, with a suggestion that she sees herself failing to live up to the Celine in Jesse’s novels. When we’re first reintroduced to Jesse, he is packing his son from his first relationship back to his ex-wife. Missing his plane in Sunset was a pleasurable mistake for Jesse, but it’s clear he worries about the effect his divorce has had on his son. These are emotionally not the same people we met all those years ago. The mistakes and worries of life that could be swept away by the follies of youth, have come home to roost.

It probably goes without saying, but Delpy and Hawke are superb. Previously we were party to Jesse and Celine exploring each other physically and mentally; laying themselves open to each other and revealing their hopes and fears. In Midnight, during Linklater’s obligatory real time conversations, they begin to chip away at each other’s defences. Frustrated with themselves, they use their intimate knowledge of each other to make a comment here or a dig there. It’s the kind of raw dialogue you can only have with someone you care, or have cared, for deeply. The bitter comfort of knowing you may win this fight, because you know the cheat codes. And the fact it hurts us to watch them act this way is a testament to what Linklater, Delpy and Hawke have achieved. We are fully committed to this relationship, even if Jesse and Celine appear not to be.

Before Midnight is a perfect example of filmmaking, with strong performances and an insightful script. Get all three films, take the evening off and wallow in cinema at it’s finest.

The Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)

Director Phillipe Mora wrote and directed The Howling III: The Marsupials as a retort to an unhappy production on his previous film The Howling II, which saw scenes and extra nudity being inserted without his consent. And it’s pretty easy to see the stabs and kicks he’s making, falling, as they do, with the subtlety of elephant diarrhea.

The Howling III sees Jebra (Imogen Annesley); a young shape shifter running away from her village in the Australian outback, as well as her abusive step-father. Arriving in Sydney, she becomes the lead in a trashy horror franchise, directed by a Hitchcock lookalike who works actors into the ground. Falling in love with a member of the production crew, Jebra must hide her lycanthrope secret from him, not knowing that Daddy Dearest has sent her sisters out to get her back.

The whole thing is a patchy affair that, with its psychic werewolf ballerinas and birthing scenes, makes next to no sense. Though the same thing could be said for the original Howling, it at least had some capable talent on board as well as a modicum of a budget. This second sequel seems to blow its load on a transformation sequence that doesn’t really happen to our protagonists. Rather it happens within the film they find themselves watching in the local cinema.

Whilst it may seem petty to criticize a horror comedy for being silly, the fact is that with barely a titter to be had or a scare to be seen, the silliness is all that’s left. It’s like watching your grandma dance around in her pants – No one is laughing and there’s a deep concern for all involved.

Compliance (2012)

Based on the strip search prank calls that occurred for over a decade, which saw numerous people being taken in by a mysterious caller pretending to be a state official, Compliance keeps its voyeuristic eyes on the 24 hour fallout from a phoncecall received by a fast-food restaurant on its busiest day of the week.

When till jockey, Becky (Dreama Walker), is accused by the aforementioned caller of stealing money from a customer, she finds herself violated, dehumanized and even sexually assaulted. And despite this, and being very aware we leave ourselves open to attack, Compliance isn’t really about her. It’s about Sandra, the frumpy, middle-aged restaurant manager who takes the call to begin with. Played wonderfully by Ann Dowd, she is a put upon woman who, when we first meet her, is being berated by a delivery man and mocked by the ankle biters, including Becky, who make up her team.

As soon as she receives the call that wags its audial finger at Becky, Sandra is pulled in. Whether this is as a way of showing her dominance in the restaurant or simply because she feels she’s doing her bit for society, it’s never made entirely clear, with a denouement that suggests that Sandra doesn’t really understand what she’s doing. It’s a testament to Dowd’s portrayal that you will flip flop from pitying her, to out and out anger at her stupidity.

Rarely stepping outside the perimeter of the restaurant’s car park, director Craig Zobel ensures Compliance is a claustrophobic affair. When we do leave the confines of the Kentucky fried cock-up, we find ourselves peering over the shoulder of the crank caller (Pat Healy) as he performs the most mundane of tasks, such as making a sandwich, whilst making the most malevolent of phone calls.

Compliance is not an easy ride. Like a dark relative to Ruben Östlund’s Involuntary, it adds to the discussion of human behaviours and group pressure. It’s very easy to reach the end credits and proclaim to the person next to you that you would never be caught out like Sandra and Becky, but how long afterwards you can keep up that pretense is another matter.

Skyfall (2012)

There’s something enjoyable about award-winning, worthy directors taking on fluffy entertainment. Lately, it just seems to work in their favour. Christopher Nolan directed Christian Bale as he jumped from rooftop to rooftop as The Dark Knight. Kenneth Branagah threw Chris Helmsworth into an omnipotent smackdown in Thor and now Sam Mendes is skulking around the shadows with Daniel Craig in… Baaaa-da-dum, baaaaa-da-dum, badabadadum! Skyfall.

With a hard drive containing the names of all NATO’s undercover agents stolen, Bond (Daniel Craig) is the only man who can bring it back. Too bad the head of MI6, M (Judi Dench) made a bad call which saw Bond taking a bullet in the shoulder in Istanbul and straight into the bottom of a vodka bottle. Will Bond recover? Will M make amends? Will Daniel Craig wear those blue shorts again? All these questions, and ones you never thought to ask, will be answered in this, the 23rd Bond bonanza.

Craig has shaped into a worthy contender for best Bond. In Skyfall, we find him more broken than in Quantum of Solace – being shot will do that to you. Red eyed and stubbly, he’s a long way from the days of Brylcreem and Sean Connery. And the effects of the pre-credits scene echoes throughout the narrative. Unlike Die Another Day when Pierce Brosnan recovers from months of brutal torture at the hands of the evil, communist Asians like it was just a dose of the clap. But he’s not all sullen faced; Craig’s Bond has developed a sense of humour. Less ‘The bitch is dead’ and more arched eyebrows. A fight in a Komodo dragon pit raises just as many genuine giggles as it does gasps.

Craig goes toe to toe with Javier Bardem’s Raoul Silva; a man with an almost Oedipus complex over M. If Bond is order borne of chaos, then Bardem, as the demented techno whiz, is what happens when that order goes full circle. Bardem stalks the film like a grandiose 70s quiz show host, chewing the scenery and spitting it out into the faces of those around him. He is a powerhouse and we haven’t seen an act of show stealing like this since the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

But Skyfall is not just about two men puffing their chests out and trading blows, the script by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan means we also focus on Judi Dench’s M. Rather than just being the bookends to Bond’s adventures, Skyfall sees M understanding the consequences of her actions over the years. With Ralph Fiennes’ Chairman of Intelligence and Security Committee breathing down her neck for answers, a large part of the film concentrates on what kind of future a woman like M can have in the modern world, when technology means the shadows of the world no longer exist. There are almost reflections of Stephen Frears’ The Queen in Dench’s performance, as she finds herself to be the archaic dinosaur she once accused Brosnan’s Bond of being.

And that’s the other thing this film achieves. It questions the relevance of Bond. When Casino Royale was first announced, there were some who wondered if there was a place for the martini guzzler in Hollywood when Jason Bourne was sweeping up the box office. Now, six years on, those questions are being raised again within the narrative of the film. MI6’s new quartermaster (Ben Whishaw) even wags his finger, acknowledging that the days of spy chasing are almost over. This kind of introspection bleeds through to the finale, which couldn’t be anymore different from the likes of Goldeneye, Live and Let Die and even Quantum of Solace. And by god, does Skyfall feel better for it.

Is Skyfall perfect? Well, not quite. There is one scene that just doesn’t settle well with us. Dubbed in EBFS as ‘the Scotch scene’, Bond is made to witness an act of violence that shows how truly unhinged Silva is. In the aftermath of this abhorrent behavior, Bond utters a line that just doesn’t work. Now, it’s very likely that this is an attempt by all involved to show him trying to mask his emotions, but quite frankly it just comes across as flippant. It smacks of trying too hard, but it does highlight that this modern Bond is so ingrained in our subconscious that a line that echoes the ghost of Roger Moore past just doesn’t feel right, so they must be making some progress. Throw in a Bond girl who has been sex trafficked since she was 12 and we can see why some people have taken offence to this instalment.

That said, these matters, despite all the hype they’ve generated for Greg Orton and the press, are a very small part of the bigger picture. That bigger picture being that this is one of the best Bond movies in recent years and proof that you don’t have to rely on trinkets, like invisible cars, euphemistically named women and bald-headed cat strokers to keep the flame burning.

In summary, Skyfall is fantastic. Pure and simple. It’s unadulterated fun that reaffirms why we all got excited about Casino Royale. Mendes has constructed a Bond film that doesn’t even have to be a Bond film. Yes, the Bond brand gets the bums on seats, but it’s the talent on-screen that will keep you in there. Take out the recognisable traits of the 50 year old franchise and you still have a taut, entertaining spy thriller, which is more than you can say about other franchises such as Twilight and The Dark Knight.

Redd Inc (2012)

Redd Inc, going by the equally punerific title, Inhuman Resources, in some countries, serves the distinction of being one of only three other horror films that we know of that are set in and around a workplace. The others being Christopher Smith’s Severance and Office Killer, starring Molly Ringwald, which is so obscure, Wikipedia had to help us find it.

Often, as any George Romero scholar will tell you, horror can hold a mirror up to society. Romero’s own body of work encompasses commercialism, racism, civil rights, the war on terror and the instant fame of YouTube. Look at other modern takes of the genre; Lake Mungo’s scares almost take second place to the story of a mother’s loss, Alison Lohman’s desire for a better job kickstarts her problems in Drag Me to Hell and Kill List may be set in the world of hitmen, but we are left to wallow in the suburban ideals of our two leads lives before all that. Using the familiar as a backdrop helps heighten the scares; shifting them from being subtle icy fingers stroking the back of someone’s neck, to the longer lasting impression of jumping out on someone in a sheet, shouting boo and kicking them in the balls. And it’s this testes-crushing position Redd Inc aims for with it’s tale of office politics gone awry.

In Redd Inc,  Five strangers, including spunky internet stripper, Annabelle Hale (Kelly Paterniti), wake to find themselves in a darkened office, chained to a desk and being project managed by Thomas Reddman (Nicholas Hope), a convicted serial killer thought to have died in an asylum fire. Reddman, as well as being quite, quite insane, has taken issue with the sentence handed down to him. Despite all evidence to contrary, he is convinced of his innocence and has ‘employed’ our protagonists to find out the ‘truth’. Failure to adhere to his ever-changing company policy, leads to a permanent dismissal.

Redd Inc teeters on the precipice of torture porn without, thankfully, realising it’s Eli Roth potential. Instead, we’re gleefully reminded of Peter Jackson’s work before he started dicking around with hobbits, and the 80s schlock of Tom Savini. Which is appropriate enough, as the goateed goremeister makes a cameo, as well as providing the means with which to lop people’s limbs off as and when necessary.

Anyone who has seen Bad Boy Bubby will know Hope is adept at playing crackpot and his Reddman is no exception. Flipping between scary zen-like calm and irascible bastard the next, Hope chews away the furniture and cast till there’s nothing left. There’s a delicious black humour that runs through the film as well. Black humour that benefits from everyone playing it perfectly straight. When Reddman begins to file literally everything away in his cabinet, it would be tempting to do comedy turns to camera, but director, Daniel Krige, ensures that the scenes stay as black as old Tommy’s coffee.

It’s not all sunshine and carveries, the ending does seem to over-egg the pudding and there’s a danger of it all falling apart as result. However, unlike The Last Exorcism, which broke its subtle build up like a sledgehammer on a kitten, it’s not too detrimental. The previous hour is so absurdly macabre that it’s easy enough to forgive it and bury the hatchet.

J. Edgar (2011)

There are two main storylines plaited through J. Edgar, Clint Eastwood’s 32nd body of work . The first is a by the numbers, rise to power tale of J. Edgar Hoover (Leonardo DiCaprio) powerfully rising through the ranks of the FBI. The second sees the powerfully risen J. Edgar Hoover ghostwriting his rising of power whilst simultaneously trying to stop someone rising to power in American politics. During the 137 minute running time, neither amounts to anything more solid than cappuccino fluff, wrapped in pastry.

So, where does it all go wrong? Pretty much everywhere to be frank. It’s like a buffet of poor decisions and ill-judged moments, washed down with a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Poop.

Screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black, gave us 2008’s Milk, which not only reeked of Walk Hard dialogue (‘It’s more than an issue. This is our life we’re fighting for.’), but also turned the assassination of one of the key spokespersons for gay rights into nothing more than a hideously melodramatic affair. With J. Edgar, his tropes are still there for all to see. The dialogue clunks along with all the panache of a Twilight fan fiction (‘All the admiration in the world can’t fill the spot where love goes.’) and he deals with key moments of Hoover’s life with the delicacy of a steamroller. We’re not going to enter the debate of whether Hoover was a transvestite or not, but we imagine if he was, it wouldn’t have happened in the way it fell out of Black’s head (Hello mummy issues!).

Eastwood’s direction fails to add anything to the limp script and his control over everything makes it feel like a 6th form performance or TV drama. In fact, if this were on ITV2 during a rainy Sunday afternoon and you’d finished descaling the teapot, then you may find yourself watching it. And like Heartbeat and Doc Martin, you wouldn’t come running into the office on Monday morning telling everyone to watch it. You’d probably fail to even acknowledge its presence. The direction really does have the bite and taste of a diluted glass of milk.

We would like to say that at least the actors step up to the plate with some sense of talent, but, quite frankly,  the casting is way off. Hamster faced man-child, Leonardo DiCaprio utterly fails to come even close to being believable. Adopting a Jack Webb tone of voice, DiCaprio goosesteps through the Bureau like a child demanding a glass of cola before bed rather than a forefather of criminal investigation.

When you put together a biopic on Hoover, the subject of his sexuality is going to crop up and so it falls to Armie Hammer to play Hoover’s protegé and possible lover, Clyde Tolson. Hammer comes off a bit better in this regard and at least attempts to add some weight to his performance. In fact, his scenes with DiCaprio are probably some of the best parts of the film, but really, that’s not saying much. Constantly flipping between ‘are they or aren’t they?’, the film doesn’t really make a stand until two-thirds in by which point, DiCaprio’s pouting will have poisoned your mind so much that you’ll be screaming at Tolson to run for the hills.

As we’re covering pretty much a large part of Hoover’s life, this means we have to endure old man make up. Every time we return to OAP Hoover and Tolson, it’s almost laughable. Shaking like a dog is humping your leg is not ‘acting’ old. Returning to our 6th form performance comparison,  they may as well have thrown flour in DiCaprio’s hair and had him say ‘ooh, I’m 62 you know’. With this and Prometheus, there appears to be an alarming trend to use prosthetics on the young rather than use those other things… You know… They look like young people, but they’re wrinkly… That’s right, old people.

J. Edgar is a painful, horrible fart of a movie. Aside from looking at our watches, we couldn’t help thinking about James Ellroy’s fantastic Underworld USA Trilogy and how those three books say a damn sight more than this ever will. If anyone disagrees, just remember, we have files on you.