movie reviews

Hillbilly Horror Show Vol.1 (2014)

‘Nuttier than a squirrel fart’ runs the tagline of Hillbilly Horror Show Vol. 1, hinting at the kind of humour you can expect in this horror anthology. If you find the smell of rodent methane funny that is. However, despite a title that suggests copious amounts of sons of the earth gory humour a la Redneck Zombies, Hillbilly Horror Show is actually a platform for independent filmmakers to show off their talent through various shorts.

Host Bo has salacious feelings towards his ‘sister-cousin’, whilst Cephus is a tongue-tied type whose indecipherable mutterings can only be translated by cousin kisser Bo. They

deal out the kind of puns that would make the Crypt Keeper sigh as they make their way through a collection of DVDs they’ve purportedly found on the side of the road.

What of the shorts themselves? Well, as anthology aficionados will understand, you take the rough with the smooth if you’re going to get to the end. With Hillbilly Horror Show, despite there only being four shorts on offer, the rough outweighs the smooth.

First up is Frankie and the Ant, a two-hander between two shady types on their way to a hit. The strongest of the four, it also suffers from being derivative, feeling like one of those Tarantino rip-offs in the 90s, and a ripping a joke wholesale from Fargo. That said, I could have stayed in this world for longer than it allowed me to. As soon as it gets going, it comes to an abrupt end.

An animated short about two skeletons entering a form of duel entitled Doppelganger is our next film. Whilst technically rather brilliant, it unfortunately just left me feeling cold. In addition, when you stack it up against the other shorts, it feels out-of-place, like it shouldn’t be introduced by two grown men and a woman in a bikini.

Amused is a wordless chase through the woods, as murderous men sporting rictus grins vehemently pursue a woman. Despite it’s musical score that suggests otherwise, very little happens as our heroine moves from one set piece to another. On a positive note, the scenery looks lovely.

The Nest is a love note to the eco-horrors of yesteryear, such as The Swarm, Dogs and others. In the middle of Nowheresville, USA, a diner owner is selling her own brand of highly addictive honey. Meanwhile, the town’s bovines are being chewed up and spat out by something not human. Are the two things connected? Of course. Will it enthrall, surprise and astound you? Maybe. Taking up the majority of Hillbilly Horror Show’s running time, The Nest looks great, but is dampened by questionable performances and special effects. It could be argued that this is deliberate to fit in with the tone of the films it acknowledges, but even so, it’s not worth the run time.

A problem that runs across all four shorts, regardless of quality, is that they each keep their end credits within the ‘horror show’, as opposed to being left till the end. As such, the whole caboodle comes across as the patchy result of someone throwing a bunch of YouTube movies onto iMovie and hoping no one will notice. We’re not saying the filmmakers don’t deserve their dues, but think about how long you’d last with ABCs of Death if each letter was followed by its production credits, instead of being rounded up for the end. Would it make Ti West’s M section any more tolerable? Didn’t think so.

Hillbilly Horror Show VOL. 1 will certainly appeal to some (but not many). Perhaps those who are willing to negate quality horror for bikinied bosoms may wish to take the plunge.

Creature (2011)

Ever watched a film and thought, ‘Hang on! This is one of them blue movies where people wriggle on top of each other.’ Well, at times during your viewing of Creature, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d inadvertently picked up a porno.

The premise is simple: A bunch of twentysomthings go camping in the woods and get themselves in a bit of a pickle with a half man/half crocodile beast named Lockjaw. When the gang arrive at their campsite, after what seems like a criminal amount of time spent to exposition and crazy rednecks, rather then get themselves all chewed up and spat out like any god fearing horror would let them, they split off into groups to indulge in some heavy petting, drunk girls being free and easy in tents and  couples masturbating whilst they watch others have sex. We wish we were joking. There’s so much flesh on show, we tutted to the point we realised we felt ridiculously old. Surely kids want more from horror, than this…

After everyone has wiped themselves down, a plot twist is thrown into the arena for good measure and it’s only then the film begins in earnest with less than minimal scares, ridiculous prosthetics and dialogue best forgotten. Those who like a lot of breasts with their undercooked horror may have a fun time, but for everyone else you’re best off letting this sink to the bottom of the bay.

Le Week-end (2014)

Wanting to rekindle their relationship, Nick and Meg Burrows, played by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan respectively, pack their bags for Paris to relive their honeymoon 30 years previously. Instead of reopening the gates of passion, the holiday just seems to further impound the difficulties they are having at home. Nick is a failed lecturer who allows his son to walk all over him, answering his calls and placating his every need. Constantly worried about money, Nick is the result of life beating you in an arm wrestle. Meg, meanwhile, is petrified of the Autumn years that loom over her and, wanting a clean break in life, is pursuing a new career and relationship.

Despite how it may first appear, Le Week-end is a wonderfully, bittersweet romantic film. It’s not that Meg and Nick hate each other, they’ve just reached a fork in the road and each turn off looks like a dead end. They fight and break up so many times during the first act, it feels like this clash of Meg’s caustic dominance and Nick’s simpering benevolence forms a glue that keeps them together. Anyone who has been in a long enough relationship will understand how the person you love the most can be also be the one that makes you the most angry. When Jeff Goldblum, a former student of Nick’s enters the picture, he unwittingly further exposes the insecurities the couple have with themselves and each other, leading to a bleakly funny game of dinner party confessions in the film’s closing act.

Expertly directed by Roger Mitchell (Hyde Park on Hudson), a carefully worded script by Hanif Kureish and three excellent leads, Le Week-end is a joy from beginning to end.

The Abominable Snowman (1957)

Before Peter Cushing had his career with Hammer permanently entwined with Van Helsing and Frankenstein, there was The Abominable Snowman. Peter Cushing plays Dr John Rollason, a guest at the Rong-ruk monastery, along with his wife and his assistant. When a second expedition arrives at the monastery, led by the steel jaw American that is Forrest Tucker, Cushing’s Rollason gets caught up in their mission to track down the eponymous mythical creature.

There is much to enjoy in this romp in the mountains. Whether it be Cushing’s quaint Britishness clashing with the might of Tucker’s yank, the claustrophobic nature of the cave where our heroes find themselves trapped, or the impossibly long fingers ripping their way through the tent of a distressed mountaineer. It whips along at such a pace, it’s impossible not to get caught up in it all. Despite the suggestion otherwise, The Abominable Snowman isn’t really about the monster at all. It’s about human nature and interaction. It’s the classic ‘Who’s the real monster?’ affair. And it’s great to see Maureen Connell going all Lara Croft as she puts together her expedition to track down her missing husband.

There’s something cozy about films like this. Something akin to being wrapped in a cotton blanket with a large brandy and telling ghost stories by the fire. It’s comforting. For the entirety of its short running time, you’re genuinely transported to a different time and place and left. Left to soak it all up before your attention is caught by the latest PG-13 ‘horror’ advertised on YouTube. These films are the reason why Hammer was and is so popular. We just hope this isn’t all forgotten when production starts on the remake.

Run for Your Wife (2013)

It’s fair to say that Danny Dyer plays to type. The great mockney of all mockneys is not known for his chameleonic performances; he’s never going to be mistaken for the Lon Chaney of his generation. We are never going to hear the words ‘And the Academy Award for Best Actor goes to… Danny Dyer for his performance in Wat Choo Looking at Bruv.’

So, when he took on the lead in the big screen adaptation of Ray Cooney’s bawdy farce, Run for Your Wife, we all crinkled our brows and went ‘derp?’ After all, based on previous performances, Dyer is to comedy, what Liam Gallagher is to wit and reasoned debate. Isn’t that right, our kid?

And it looks like our chin stroking and feverish worries were justified. Like Big Ben chiming on New Year, Dyer hasn’t let us down. He is dreadful. But that’s like swimming in the sewers and worrying about the turds that surround you, when one has dropped into your mouth. Run for Your Wife just doesn’t work artistically, amusingly or even ironically.

Directed by Cooney himself, the film sees Dyer as a Landahn cabbie, who manages to hold down two marriages through meticulous planning and talking through his arse. Wife one (Denise Van Outen) believes he does night shifts, whilst wifey number two (Sarah Harding) believes he works during the day. Which, just to digress for a second, doesn’t make a blind lick of sense. Anyway, helping out a bag lady being mugged (Judi Dench says ‘fuck’. Chortle.), Dyer is knocked out and spends the night in hospital. With his schedule out of whack, he runs around trying to stop everyone from his wives to the police from finding out about his bigamy. All whilst being helped by his dopey neighbour played by Neil Morrissey (if only The Vanishing Man had caught on, eh Neil?).

It is fair and justifiable to say that the plot to Run For Your Wife is absolute balderdash, with jokes set up in a manner we haven’t seen since A Few Best Men. When Morrissey is given custody of a chocolate cake and told to look after it, you sit there like prisoner of war waiting for the depressing inevitability of it all.

Run for Your Wife harks back to a particular age of cinema. An age that saw the Carry On movies in their last death rattles, big screen adaptations of TV programmes usually going to the Costa Del Sol, and sitcoms dressing racism up as the loony left getting their knickers in a twist. In Run For Your Wife, Christopher Biggins and Lionel Blair play a pair of mincing queens, one of whom wears women’s clothing. This is the kind of knuckle dragging stereotyping we thought couldn’t be topped by Shame’s ‘gay people are a bit seedy aren’t they?’ ending. But it gets worse.

The final act of the film sees everyone running around with their pants around their ankles and being accused of being gay or a transsexual. And we really want to focus on that verb, accused. The number of times Dyer and his motley crew puff out their chests and go on about how they lurve the birds, is frankly embarrassing. You could argue that you’re supposed to laugh at their protestations, but we’re pretty sure that’s a weak argument. The joke seems to be: pretending to be gay equals hilarious. Actually being gay? Urgh!

Presumably in an attempt to lend the film some credibility, the whole sorry affair has been swaddled in numerous cameos from the Ghost of Light Entertainment. There’s a reason why the night sky was dark whilst filming this. All the stars were here. Russ Abbott, Bernard Cribbins and, in hindsight, an ill-judged Rolf Harris are just some of the faces cropping up to persuade you that you’re watching comedy gold. When Andrew Sachs, dressed as a moustached waiter, pratfalls his way into the lap of Anthony Head, you don’t laugh. You just wish you were watching Fawlty Towers.

Slow, idiotic, offensive and downright insulting to logic, Run for Your Wife is this year’s The Room… But without any of the fun.

Gravity (2013)


Mark Kermode has long championed Inception – Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi film that coupled the fantastical world of dreams with the usually dry subjects of corporate takeovers, daddy issues and suicide – as an example of intelligent filmmaking. In his 2010 review, The Quiff surmised it was ‘a film that imagines that the multiplex masses aren’t so dumb after all!’ So what’s happened in those three years since? Well, not much. Nolan made another Batman film, Ryan Reynolds proved the Green Lantern’s powers could produce anything except a decent script and the Twilight and Fast and Furious franchises have dominated the market. It’s hardly been the fall of the Bastille.

Thank heavens then for Gravity; Alfonso Cuaron’s first directorial feature since 2006’s Children of Men. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are astronauts performing a routine mission to repair the Hubble Space Probe. Bullock is the fledgling astronaut on her first mission, with only six months training under her belt (‘Does that include holidays?’ Quips one of her teammates). Clooney is the rakish veteran now on his final expedition and looking forward (maybe?) to retiring.

When the debris from a defunct satellite catastrophically interrupts them in the course of their duties, they, along with the other members of their crew, find themselves cut off from communications with Mission Control. And that’s as much as we’re going to say. The trailers for Gravity have been somewhat thrifty in plot telling and we’d like to perform the courtesy of doing the same. Gravity is a film best gone into knowing as little possible.

What we can say is that Gravity is definitely one of the best films to crash into 2013. Cuaron’s direction is sublime and he deftly constructs a claustrophobic atmosphere in the large, unfeeling void that is space. Often switching to the point of view of his main players, Cuaron doesn’t just want you to emphasise with the panic and fear on display, he wants you slap bang in the middle, gasping for breath and questioning the futility of your existence. This is one of the few times we can think of where we actively recommend seeing a film in 3D over 2D. Yes, he’s that good. But it’s not just Cuaron’s party. Emmanuel Lubezki is, as always, at his side providing sumptuous cinematography that would make the most heartless of stones emote.

On the acting stakes, this is Bullock’s time to shine. As medical engineer Ryan Stone, Bullocks provides us with a performance that makes you wonder why she ever bothers with films like The Proposal. Fragile, yet determined, she is the backbone of this film; displaying strength in the face of adversity and providing a genuinely strong female character, where strength isn’t represented by wearing tight PVC and karate kicking people in the kick. And if a scene involving a nursery rhyme doesn’t move, then we pity you. Clooney, meanwhile, shows once again that he can bring his charming bastard routine to pretty much any situation and make it work. Here, as Matt Kowalski, his quick wit and bravado is almost a mask to hide the uncertainty of his survival, but it’s also there to act as a rock for Stone to hold on to.

Numerous themes run throughout and, like Nolan’s work, will be picked apart  for years to come. People will point at the signposted theme of rebirth – and honestly, these moments are the weakest parts due to their being just too on the nose – but for us this is a tale of acceptance and moving on. Everyone has been left with an opportunity to sink or swim, and it’s their decisions on which way to go that truly define them.

Put simply, Gravity is a wonderful balance between storytelling and filmmaking. Now, please. Please, please, please can we have more of these?


Patrick (2013)

The general rule thumb for your everyday remake tends to go X wants to remake Y which is well loved by Z and then the internet explodes taking with it the lives of many innocents. And then there’s films like Patrick, which, upon the announcement of its remake, everyone seemed to just shrug.

Produced by the legendary, Antony Ginnane, and directed by Richard Franklin, the original Patrick is the simple tale of a coma patient with psychic powers. Patrick is Nearly Dead, cries the poster, And Still He Kills! Despite its Australian origins, it’s painted with a broad eurohorror brush. Interestingly, its Italian release would see Patrick being rescored by members of Goblin. Patrick seems to have bypassed the aforementioned online genocide simply by virtue of being so cult that it makes Meet the Feebles look mainstream.

Ginnane is back, bringing Patrick kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And this time he’s got Patrick fan and director of the wonderful Not Quite Hollywood, Mark Hartley on board. Like before,  Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) is a comatose young man who is routinely experimented on by the nihilistic Doctor Roget (Charles Dance), much to the horror of the Nurse Kathy Jacquard (Sharni Vinson); a new employee of Roget’s clinic. Patrick and Kathy begin to build a relationship. When that becomes threatened by the clinic’s Matron (Rachel Griffiths), Patrick puts his psychic powers to ill use. Like Evil Dead earlier this year, Patrick strays very little from the path of its predecessor but tries to at least come across as its own beast.

Despite the very modern setting (Patrick can surf the web with his mind now!), Hartley invokes the creaky leather and cobweb flavoured breath of the best gothic films by Hammer Horror. Whilst Kathy tries to better understand Patrick, there’s also the mystery of the basement to uncover. It’s all very Jane Eyre (sort of). In fact, one has to wonder how much better this would have worked as a 1920s period piece without all Patrick’s googling. We digress…

Hartley has a firm hand on the proceedings and manages to wring enough scares out of the premise, even if there are one too many of the quietquietquietBANG variety. Meanwhile, Justin King’s script hacks away some of the flab of the 1978 original, to leave us with a plot that’s as lean as Patrick himself. King clearly has some fun with the story; throwing in numerous references to the original (yes, the frogs are back). However, not much use is made of the coastal setting that this remake finds itself in. Again, we can’t help but wonder whether this story really should have been set in 2013 at all?

The cast is strong. Dance stands out the most, as he seemingly savours his role as the world’s biggest shit. Jackson Gallagher as Patrick is, understandably, not given much to do and whilst his Edward Cullen-esque appearance will attract the Twilight fans (we can already see the fanfiction), we kind of miss the googly eyed nature of the original Patrick, Robert Thompson.

And yes, we’ve referenced the original numerous times. But it’s hard not to do so, when even the poster campaign invites you to think about the original before you even venture forth into the cinema: The Killer in a Coma Returns.

Patrick is solid remake (remix if you will) and will most likely appeal to those looking for a dark ninety minutes to kill the night, but whether it’s an essential horror flick is debatable.

The Kings of Summer (2013)

Jordan Voght-Robert’s directorial debut, The Kings of Summer, is an artistically shot poignant drama about the wilderness years between childhood and manhood that also just happens to be blisteringly funny.

From a screenplay by Chris Galleta, a writer the Late Show with David Letterman, Kings of Summer is story of three mid-teens from Midwest America who build themselves a dream home in a nearby forest as a means of gaining life experiences and becoming ‘men’. In reality, for two of these boys, it’s also a way to escape their overbearing parents. Joe (Nick Robinson), the brains, has become isolated from his father’s coldness. Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is the muscle and has begun to break out in hives in reaction his parent’s excruciatingly cheerful henpecking. For the third boy, Biaggio (Moises Arias) this is an opportunity to be part of something.

The three leads are superb. Despite some dialogue that feels a little bit lost in the mouths of teenagers, they each strongly portray that impossible age of reasoning when the world seemingly owes you something and is refusing let go of it. Arias is particularly special as the puppy-boy eager to please. It’s easy to dismiss his part as nothing more than a foil to Robinson and Basso’s straight men routine, but dust away the topsoil and you have a complex character. One struggling with his issues of friendship, sexuality and acceptance.

As much as this is about the children, this film is equally focused on the parents. In particular, Joe’s father, Frank (Nick Offerman). Widowed only a few years before we meet him, Frank stomps around his house like a bear with a sorehead a music festival, starting fights with delivery men and family members. Constantly banging heads with Joe, he initially sees his son’s absconding as a personal vendetta. Whilst Joe holds up in the forest, failing to catch food and growing a moustache, Frank goes on a journey of growing up himself. Offerman is wonderful, capturing an aspect of parenting that is grotesque caricature, touchingly human and utterly familiar to anyone who has fought with a guardian or parent figure.

There are splashes of absurdity in The Kings of Summer that could have, if handled incorrectly, rocked the boat and brought you out of the film. However, these are dampened by Voght-Robert’s simple, dreamlike direction that suggest that the whole story is merely part of an afternoon’s reminiscing by an adult Joe.

With this, Stoker, The Way Way Back and Mud, it could be suggested that the coming of age genre is once again coming of age. And as the zombies, remakes and reimaginings start making us run for our own shelter, maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.

Pain and Gain (2013)

Based on the Miami New Times articles by Pete Collins (who acted as script supervisor for the film), Pain and Gain is the true story of three bodybuilders: America Loving Lugo (Mark Wahlberg), God loving Doyle (Dwayne Johnson) and BBW loving Doorbal (Anthony Mackie). Inspired by a self-help guru (Ken Jeong), Lugo devises a plan to kidnap one of the affluent clients at his gym and, with the help of Doyle and Doorbal, extort all the money he possibly can do. What already starts off as a hare-brained scheme, kicks off a chain of events that leads to murder.

Before its release, Pain and Gain had already gained notoriety from the families of the victims portrayed. The screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely (Life and Death of Peter Sellers and Captain America), treats the three antagonists as absolute knuckleheads. Wahlberg’s tall poppy syndrome is undercut by his constant malapropisms. Johnson walks around like Mongo from Blazing Saddles in a Jesus Saves t-shirt, whilst Mackie shares a fruity flirtation with Rebel Wilson. It’s akin to watching The Three Stooges with chainsaws. Which is shaky ground to be hanging their crimes on in the first place. The fact the humour flips between making us laugh AT them and then WITH them highlights the schizophrenic nature of this film as it is. It’s definitely a weak script.

A script that isn’t helped by the cast’s delivery. Whilst Johnson is quite fun as the teetotal ex-con heading on a downward spiral, Wahlberg sleepwalks throughout and even Ed Harris seems to be phoning it in. What did we also discover? Allowing Rebel Wilson to adlib in a movie, funny. Allowing Rebel Wilson to adlib in a film that’s based on a true story, tacky.

Then, when all hope is lost, everyone’s favourite franchise destroyer steps up to the plate…

Criticising Michael Bay has become something of a sport now. And with each new entry in his canon, the sport has gone from a long distance triathlon to shooting fish in a barrel with a bazooka. Sometimes, in the quieter moments, it can seem that we’re all just being a bit too hard on the Bayster. He’s just a man. A mortal man, trying to entertain us right!? What’s wrong with that? And then he goes and releases a film like Pain and Gain.

My Bay, My Bay, what have ye done?

For a film about bodybuilding, it’s amazing how podgy this film is. Despite all Bay’s favourite tricks – breasts, homophobia, explosions, loud music – he can’t disguise how much he needs someone to say, ‘Mikey! Enough!’ There’s almost something commendable about making an hour and 20 minutes – which covers character introductions and their first kidnapping – drag like the 100 year war. The same way you might begrudgingly acknowledge someone’s feat in killing over 50 people in an hour. ‘Wow! It’s a terrible tragedy, but they must have been good at cardio.’ But then to have to acknowledge that there’s still another 50 minutes to go just feels inhuman. Any good will the film tried to create has been well and truly crushed underfoot by Bay. When he cherry picks a directorial choice from Bad Boys II, we know that the film has lost us forever.

Pain and Gain could, potentially, with the right director have been a black satire of the brutal pursuit of the American dream. Admittedly, with the script issues, it still wouldn’t have been very good. However, with Bay, the whole thing is offensive from beginning to end. It’s like listening to Scooter whilst Bay himself gives you a lap dance dressed as the Hulk. His green body paint testicles slapping you in the face. In fact, that’s the best summary we can give it.

Pain and Gain; a neon painted bollock of a movie.

White House Down (2013)

It’s like waiting for a bus, right? You wait all year for a siege movie based in the White House and two come along at once… Albeit a few months apart… So, maybe not that similar to waiting for a bus…

Antoine Fuqua’s Olympus Has Fallen, starring Gerard Butler (the poor man’s Russell Crowe) met with the critical equivalent of a shrug. It seems the world just wasn’t ready for another propaganda film about the evils of North Korea.

So, with that in mind, what does White House Down have to offer? The story follows Channing Tatum, a US capital police officer, who takes his daughter with him to the White House for a job interview with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s secret service agent. When Capitol Hill is bombed, right-wing terrorists use the confusion to storm the White House and kidnap James Sawyer, the President of the United States of America. It’s up to Tatum’s abnormally thick neck and muscles to save the day.

If you liked Die Hard, Die Hard 2 and Die Hard with a Vengeance, then you are going to love White House Down. Really. Director Roland Emmerich and screenwriter, James Vanderbelt, must have had a late night marathon of Bruce Willis classics before they put their nose to the grindstone. Tatum berates himself constantly for getting involved, the terrorists aren’t all they seem, Foxx and Tatum bicker whilst driving at high-speed, and there is plenty of crawling through viaducts.

Not that being derivative in this case is a bad thing. White House Down is just big dumb fun and it knows it. If Foxx had ridden a T-rex though the corridors of power whilst clutching a laser gun, we would have accepted it and asked for seconds. Subtlety is not on the agenda. Nearly everything that will come into play in Act 3 is signposted with a neon Chekov’s gun. Like Q’s inventions in the Bond movies, if it’s not necessary to the plot, you don’t need to know.

Some of the dialogue crunches a little too loudly (‘You gotta get out there and be the President again.’), the patriotic allegories are a little too on the nose and a line uttered just as the credits roll will make you wince. However, it can all be forgiven by virtue of the fact, it sidesteps the grit that weighs down your usual modern-day blockbuster.

Finally, kudos for making the terrorists a little bit closer to home and, weirdly, throwing a couple of digs at that last Bastille of truth, Fox News. ‘Apparently we’re Arabs.’ Beams the terrorist team leader, when a news channel makes a leap of faith as to the ethnicity of the White House raiders. Whilst these little actions don’t make the film any more grounded, it is somewhat believable to think that a White House Aide would lament the crashing of the stock market to her superior as all around her burns.

We can’t be too mad at films that want you to have fun and whilst White House Down isn’t a shining beacon in filmmaking, it’s nonetheless an inoffensive way to spend a couple of hours at the cinema.