Reviews


In Trailer Trash (did you see what I did there?), I’ll be inspecting new trailers and explaining why I, and perhaps I alone, will be respectfully declining any opportunity to see more than the allotted two minutes of the movie on display. Today I’ve picked out this little treasure, I Kissed a Vampire. Yes, vampires again. Yawn.

Apparently, it’s the first feature length episode of some web series that’s been a hit among a large group of young, and seemingly undemanding, human folk. Or something.

Release The Curmudgeon!

I Kissed a Vampire

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/dBSSKsjPeEQ?rel=0

5 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Seeing This Movie

1. Fucking Teenage Vampires. Again.

Lord, give me strength. When will they stop? When did stringy, whiny teenagers manage to hijack an entire genre like this?  Vampires are supposed to be scary, menacing, creatures of the night, not ridiculous Justin Bieber wannabes who’ve been raiding their mum’s make-up. And where exactly does a vampire get the money for hair gel, anyway? ‘Half a monster and half a man’, eh? You’re neither, brat face.

2. Feeble Music.

Believe it or not, this is advertised as a ‘Rock Musical’. Oh, really? That piece of engineered, focus group approved teeny crap is what passes for rock these days? Not quite Hendrix, is it? ‘I Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ couldn’t be a more apt title for the song on the trailer since that’s exactly the condition the tune engenders. Trust me, you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night, begging for a lobotomy, with that irritating jingle lodged in your brain like a mocking tumour of mockery.

3. Awful Puns

‘You’ve really gotta get over your fang-ups and take a bite out of life’. Hilarious! We’ve hit comedy gold! Do you see what they did there? They said ‘fang’ instead of ‘hang’! I think my head just fell off. Where’s Kenneth Williams when you need him? One can only hope they’ve included the other classics, such as ‘He’s a real pain in the neck’, ‘Fangs for the memories’, and the immortal ‘How do you like your stake?’. Guffaw, snort, tee hee, etc.

4. The Walls are Closing In

Was this movie filmed in someone’s garage? Talk about micro-budget set design. It’s like a 1970′s BBC production or a student project. There doesn’t appear to be a set much larger than my kitchen, including the world’s most compact fairground. They’re hoping that if they shine enough coloured light bulbs around no-one will notice. But just in case, they’ll nip out to the beach periodically to relieve the claustrophobia.

5. Fucking Teenage Vampires. Again.

Yeah, I know I did this one already but, frankly, there’s so little going for this thing that I can’t even find five reasons not to see it. You’ve got four reasons and that beats me simply writing EVERYTHING in big letters under the video. And don’t think I wasn’t tempted.

Quod erat demonstratum.

This is why we love cinema

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Jude Law

Director: Martin Scorsese

Screenplay: John Logan (from the book by Brian Selznick)

‘I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.’ 

Orphan boy Hugo Cabret lives behind the walls of Paris railway station, keeping the station clocks going while attempting to fix a clockwork man found by his father. When he becomes involved with the old man who runs a toy booth, Hugo stumbles upon an old secret, and an opportunity to fix something long broken.

Martin Scorsese is full of surprises. The last thing you would expect from the man who brought usRaging Bull, Goodfellas and Taxi Driver is a whimsical children’s tale. And yet, Hugo turns out to be a movie that perhaps only Scorsese, the movie historian’s director, could have made. Indeed, it is glib to describe this a simply a children’s movie, since at its heart Hugo is nothing less than a love letter to cinema itself.

Adapted from the huge, heavily illustrated, book by Brian Selznick, Scorsese and his production crew work hard to faithfully bring Selznick’s words and pictures to life. Set in a fairy-tale Paris, and bathed in rich primary hues, Hugo is wrapped in a little bit of magic from the outset. Like the films of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or indeed Georges Méliès, whose presence is central to the film, Hugo exists in a sort of hyper-reality. Scorsese has always been a master with the camera, but almost every shot in Hugo looks like it was cut from an Impressionist’s canvas. It is a beautiful piece of film-making.

At the movie’s core is Asa Butterfield, affecting if not always convincing as the titular orphan, scurrying around the station and watching its array of oddball characters going about their day-to-day routines. Surrounding him is an impressive gallery of predominantly British character actors, including Christopher Lee as the enigmatic bookshop keeper and Sacha Baron Cohen, restraining himself as the station’s oafish Inspector. Chloë Grace Moretz affects an impressive English accent as the Granddaughter of Ben Kingsley’s surly, embittered Georges Méliès and it is the relationship between Méliès and Hugo, both lost and waiting to be fixed, that forms the warm heart and soul of the movie. Scorsese is adept enough to never allow the film to fall into easy patterns of schmaltz or cloying sentiment, nor does he bring on darkness for its own sake, rather striking enough of a balance to make the moments of joy real, welcome and uplifting.

It was all going so well until Little Jimmy said, ‘I loved you in Star Trek’.

Where Hugo truly succeeds is in the way it skillfully weaves a fantasy tale around the reality of Georges Méliès, one of cinema’s earliest pioneers, and his elderly years. Those who know nothing of Méliès are nevertheless presented with a wonderful fairy-tale, brimming with the kind of childlike innocence rarely found in modern cinema, and those who are aware of his work will find a loving, poignant tribute to cinema’s adolescent years. Never is this more entertainingly realised than during those scenes where Scorsese recreates the shooting of some of Méliès’s best known films, such as A Trip to the Moon. It is impossible not to be carried along with Kingsley’s childlike enthusiasm for his dancing skeletons, insect-people and the very earliest of special effects. “Everybody keep still!”

Ultimately, Hugo is a tale of innocence lost; the innocence of a boy who has lost his parents, the innocence of a nation returned from the Great War, the innocence of a man who believes his greatest triumphs are behind him. But also the innocence of cinema, a medium which once embraced, cherished and inspired only wonder and awe.

In the words of Georges Méliès himself, “If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around. This is where they’re made.”

At last night’s Oscars most of the big awards went to The Artist, another movie which casts a fond eye over the beginnings of celluloid. A little bit of a travesty, really, because for me it isHugo that is by far the superior movie.

5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Stubble of Men

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer

Director: James Watkins

Screenplay: Jane Goldman (from the novel by Susan Hill)

‘Please don’t go to Eel Marsh House.’

When young lawyer Arthur Kipps is sent to the remote village of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of recently deceased widow Alice Drablow, he discovers a township gripped by fear. After spending a night in Mrs. Drablow’s Eel Marsh House, Arthur begins to unearth the truth behind a series of apparent child suicides and attracts the attention of a vengeful ghost.

Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black has enjoyed a wonderful shelf life since its publication in 1983.  An old fashioned ghost story in the spirit of M.R. James, it has spawned a successful stage play, now  in its 25th year, and numerous radio adaptations. In 1989 a British television movie was commissioned and broadcast on Christmas Eve which for many, myself included, remains one of the finest ghost story movies ever made. Now The Woman in Black has finally made it to the big screen, under the care of the newly reborn Hammer studios, with some big shoes to fill.

I was excited about this one since I am a big fan of the book, the play and the earlier movie. Of course, everyone else seems to be more excited about seeing Daniel Radcliffe without that stupid scar on his noggin and being all-grown-up-now, but whatever floats your boat or sells your movie. As someone left scratching his head on the dock while the great Harry Potter ship sailed off into history, I was able to enjoy The Woman in Black without that particular distraction. Unfortunately, I had a distraction of a different kind. My advice to you is go and see this movie in a cinema with good sound proofing. Or, failing that, go to a cinema that isn’t showing The Muppets in the adjacent screen. Nothing kills the atmosphere of a man quietly exploring an old, dark house like the distant sound of Gonzo’s singing chickens. Pretty sure they weren’t in the novel.

These days the simple ghost story is becoming something of an endangered species, mostly kept alive by Asian cinema and American ‘found footage’ movies, which is a shame. Modern audiences, happily fed on a diet of endless Saw and Final Destination sequels only seem to react to horror movies that beat them over the head, rather than something that takes the time to try and get under their skin. The YouTube generation aren’t interested in something that doesn’t shout or satisfy within three minutes. So James Watkins, whose previous effort, Eden Lake, had the far easier task of making teenagers scary, could easily have been tempted to betray the slow-build subtleties of the source material. Luckily, he hasn’t.

In a departure from the source material, Radcliffe’s Arthur is not a happy, eager young man with a loving family but a grieving widower, unable to let go of the wife who died giving birth to his son. It is a peculiar change but one that ultimately ties into the film’s resolution, also altered from the novel. It’s a bit of a stretch to accept Daniel Radcliffe as a father, no matter how much stubble he grows, but he wholeheartedly throws himself into a role which often requires little of him but to look miserable/tired/scared (*delete as applicable) at the appropriate moments.

Daniel discovers that the stairs don’t move here and Emma Watson isn’t going to save his ass.

The town of Crythin Gifford is smartly realised; small, gloomy and unwelcoming in the best tradition of the ghost story, and the central setting of Eel Marsh House is wonderfully spooky. It is within the confines of this house that The Woman in Black begins to do its work as Arthur is subjected to an escalating series of creepy encounters while he pieces together the story behind the haunting. Watkins builds the tension slowly, giving us only fleeting glimpses of the figure behind it all while never letting us forget that she is always present, if not visible. And, contrary to the novel, the apparitions are not limited to the woman herself, although this does sometimes seem a little like overkill.

Where The Woman in Black most falls down is in a third act that slips too much into needless sentiment, providing Arthur with a cozy, heart-warming character arc at the expense of what should have been the ghost’s unrelenting malevolence. In all fairness, it’s not a complete disaster and actually provides a pretty clever twist, but even so it stinks of a disappointing desire to provide the audience with a resolution to the story which won’t be too bleak for them. And I like my ghost stories with a sting in the tail.

All in all, The Woman in Black is a worthy attempt to bring the story to the big screen. However, my recommendation would still be to seek out the 1989 Granada Television version if you only intend to see the story once.

4 STARS

Starring:Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

“I drive.”

A stunt driver for the movies by day and a getaway driver for hire by nights, a solitary, nameless man’s life and psyche begin to unravel when he becomes drawn to the woman who lives next door.

Ryan Gosling should be careful. If he doesn’t start making superhero movies soon, people might think he’s an actual actor and everything. Having impressed in a series of indie movies, happily skirting the borders of fame for years, Gosling seems to have finally caught everyone’s eye with this Canne favourite. Which is odd because he has done a lot better.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest has won over many a critic with his stylish, deliberate exercise in cool. And there’s certainly no doubting the panache and gloss of Driver, which is more than accomplished visually. Refn clearly seems to have a particular time and place in cinema on his mind and with its retro soundtrack, sharp L.A. exteriors and central male enigma, Driver is more than a little reminiscent of 1980s Paul Schrader.

However, scratch beneath the surface of Driver and there is very little substance to find. In fact, it turns out to be a slow, pensive character study of a man seemingly without a character. Quite the challenge. The nameless driver is a strangely aimless, taciturn figure, almost to the point of being a vacuum. Occasionally he says something, every now and then he even smiles, but it is only toward the end, when his beguiling relationship with neighbour Irene and her son leads to tragedy, that the driver begins to show not just his true colours, but any colours at all. It’s a long wait.

It’s somewhat difficult to understand who Drive is aimed at. Fans of the usual car-based action movies such as The Fast and the Furious, or indeed the video games which many will find the movie resembling, could be disappointed by the paucity of actual driving scenes, although when they come they are impressively executed. On the flip side, lovers of more cerebral fare may find even their patience tested by the long silences and moments of sombre inactivity.

Ryan prepares for that superhero movie by lifting a car with one hand

Performances are almost all-round excellent, as far as they are allowed to go. Mulligan is quietly affecting as Irene and Cranston stands out as the driver’s boss and sponsor, Shannon. There is also a pleasing turn from Ron Perlman. The usually excellent Gosling, however, has centre stage and underplays it all a little too much. You neither like the driver nor dislike him, neither empathise nor really criticise (except perhaps toward the end when he finally snaps). There is simply nothing to work with in a character this banal. He’s like Rain Main but without the mumbling and amusing facts about air travel.

With some flashes of brilliance, there is an exceptional movie trapped somewhere in Drive but, ironically, drive is exactly what the end result is missing.

Rating – 2 Stars

Starring:Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko

Directors: The Vicious Brothers

 “I don’t know how much longer we can last. We’re not alone in here anymore.”

Paranormal investigation show, Grave Encounters, is now on its sixth episode and presenter Lance Preston and his team are locking themselves in the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital for the night. Expecting the kind of anti-climatic experience which has let the show down so far, the team find quite the opposite.

I’m a big fan of the increasingly prolific ‘found footage’ genre of horror movie. For some reason, its ratio of good to bad is unusually impressive. So I was very much looking forward to Grave Encounters, the debut from writer/director team The Vicious Brothers (who are not brothers and do not have the surname Vicious). Based on those often cheesy TV ghost-hunting shows which have found popularity over recent years, Grave Encounters simply takes the format and demonstrates what would happen if these people actually found something during one of their episodes. The filmmakers also expressed a desire to take a genre that is by nature often restrained to maintain realism and throw something a little more excessive into the mix. In this regard the filmmakers succeed, although not always to the movie’s benefit.

Grave Encounters takes it slow at first, giving us time to get to know Lance Preston, played with an amusing earnestness by Sean Rogerson, and his team of pantomime presenters and technicians as they settle into the impressive location for the night. The problem is that they are so convincing as they kind of people who usually front these shows that they are also, inevitably, rather irritating; all pretentious looks and solemn pronouncements. You are waiting for them to find out what being scared really is, and therefore never completely on their side when things go to hell.

It is when the hospital haunting begins in earnest that Grave Encounters both scales its heights and scrapes its lows. Those who have grown weary of the lack of incident in these types of movies will find much more going on during this one. In fact, the filmmakers seem at great pains to ensure that, if nothing else, their movie will never be accused of being boring. Where most other entries in this genre are content to tickle the back of your neck, Grave Encounters simply slaps you round the head. It is not subtle and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, with some very effective frighteners but also a few scares a little too heavily signposted to truly shock. It doesn’t help that one of the main scares appeared in the trailer.

Who ya gonna call? Art students!

There are a few inspired moments amongst the horror movie clichés and classics, particularly in the way that the movie plays with your expectations as morning arrives, very little has happened and you wonder where the movie will go next. However, one thing Grave Encounters can lay solid claim to is the fact that it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Once the action kicks off it barely relents and the last forty minutes provide a breathless ride that will have you either jumping, screaming, laughing, or all of the above, depending on how you take to the various shaky-cam assaults which the hospital throws at our not-so-intrepid TV crew.

Grave Encounters is probably not one for the high-brow horror enthusiast. Yes, there is the odd CGI embellishment. Yes, it wants to entertain rather than convince. It’s a bit of a crowd-pleaser with a hit-and-miss, kitchen sink approach that may grate with some. However, watch it on its own terms, don’t take it too seriously and the chances are you’ll have a blast.

Rating – 3 Stars

Starring:Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence

Director: Jodie Foster

‘You’re nothing without me, Walter. Nothing. I’m the only part of you that works.

After two years of severe depression, toy executive Walter Black retreats completely and begins communicating with his long-suffering family through a glove puppet. Meanwhile, his estranged elder son fights to avoid becoming his father.

Having been trapped in limbo for over a year, waiting for the dust to settle on Mel Gibson’s public meltdown, The Beaver is finally released into the world. And it’s hard to imagine a more fitting role for Gibson to have chosen, even if it was chosen and performed before the event.

Walter Black, so lost in a black hole from which he feels there is no escape that he is forced to hide within an alternative persona, is such a perfect fit for Gibson that it’s hard to believe that he was second choice for the part and equally hard to believe that original choice Jim Carrey could have brought half the pathos that Gibson delivers to The Beaver. With every flicker of his eyes, every hunch of his shoulders, Gibson portrays a man trapped in his own personal Hell, while still managing to mine the ridiculous premise for nuggets of comedy. Foremost in this regard is the English cockney accent Gibson utilises for the beaver puppet itself. Apparently coached by Ray Winstone, you would swear in several places that Winstone was dubbing the puppet himself, so accurate is Gibson’s delivery. It’s the ideal voice for a puppet that becomes increasingly sinister as the movie progresses.

The always excellent Foster who, like Gibson, is no stranger to acting and directing in tandem, turns in a solid performance as Walter’s exasperated wife, torn between wanting to escape her husband’s destructive condition and wanting to save him from it. Anton Yelchin is not entirely sympathetic as Walter’s teenage son, who keeps a list of similarities between himself and his father with the intention of ridding himself of each one. It’s a sub-plot that, like The Beaver itself, is weakened by skipping over the depth, never quite fulfilling its potential.

Where the movie as a whole fails is in its rather half-hearted exploration of Walter’s underlying depression, or analysis of why he chooses to disengage from himself the way he does. That he creates a persona through a glove puppet for his own rehabilitation is a fascinating conceit. It deserves to have been explored with a little more depth, rather than simply rely solely on Gibson’s nonetheless accomplished performance.

I was going to make a gag about hands in beavers but this is a family site. Sort of.

The Beaver is by no means a bad movie. Foster has an assured touch behind the camera and the movie has real heart at its core. It is also anchored by one of Gibson’s best performances, without which it would certainly have been less of a success. By turns heart-breaking, sinister and funny, rarely has an actor seemed more at home in a part. However, the titular character itself never quite manages to become more than a puppet on the end of Walter’s arm, which seems like a failing given the importance it plays.

Ultimately, The Beaver gets caught up in trying not to be too much of any one thing. Torn between the tragic and the comedic aspects of Walter’s tale, it never quite reaches the heights of either.

Rating – 3 Stars

.

.

Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler

Director: J.J. Abrams

“She used to look at me… this way, like really look… and I just knew I was there… that I existed.”

Summer, 1979, in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. While 13-year-old Joe Lamb and his friends are making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera they witness, and barely survive, a horrific train crash. Shortly afterwards, strange things start happening in the town and Joe begins to suspect that something less than human was on that train.

One suspects that J.J. Abrams always fancied himself as a natural successor to Steven Spielberg, and this collaboration with the Grandmaster of fantastical cinema really does go a long way to proving that assumption true. Abrams, of the same generation as this reviewer, grew up during the heyday of Spielberg and his ‘movie brat’ contemporaries and Super 8 is nothing less than a beautifully crafted love letter to those magical cinema experiences of the late seventies and early eighties.

In paying homage to his hero and, in this instance, mentor, Abrams gives us what almost amounts to a greatest hits of Spielberg themes. Small town Americana, broken families, kids who are much smarter than the adults, an oppressive military and a heart as big as the alien intruder abroad in suburbia. All are present, correct and served with the kind of loving nostalgia that could only be brought to life by someone whose inner-child was there at the time. And, in turn, it’s impossible for the inner-child of the viewer not to be carried back to that sense of wonder which permeated the movies of that time.

The young cast are uniformly excellent, and Abrams certainly seems to share Spielberg’s knack for bringing the best out of his adolescent actors. Joel Courtney, as the reserved, wide-eyed Joe and Elle Fanning, as the confident, sassy Alice are both engaging and sympathetic leads. And if the adults sometimes feel a little one-dimensional it’s only because this is not really their movie. They’re just there to make the kids look smart. Which, of course, they do.

Abrams manages to bring his own style to proceedings while still shooting the movie and moving the camera as if he were the young Spielberg. Indeed, it often feels as if you are watching Spielberg’s lost movie, made somewhere between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., but with shades of Cloverfield thrown in.

You think these haircuts suck, boys. Be thankful the movie wasn’t set in 1985.

However, it’s this overwhelming nostalgia, and accurate imitation of a style of moviemaking long gone that will probably be the making or breaking of Super 8 for much of its audience. Many of a younger generation will doubtless find it a little too passive and a little too otherworldly for their liking, whereas those a generation behind them will be reminded of a time when movies didn’t need to smack you round the face, or leap out of the screen, to bring into their embrace, enthralled and enchanted, for two hours of whimsical fun.

The Sixties, with all of its commendable trumpeting of tolerance, restraint and free love was always going to be too good to last. Sooner or later there’s always a rebound and in Hollywood few movies represented that rebound better than 1971’s Dirty Harry. Peace, love and understanding proved to be no match for the most powerful handgun in the world and an actor who, at that time, was best known for playing a different kind of cowboy.

The project had been floating around Hollywood for a few years by the time Eastwood came on board. Originally written under the title Dead Right as a vehicle for either Frank Sinatra or John Wayne, it began to do the rounds after both actors turned it down, Wayne because he felt it was too similar to his other roles and Sinatra because a wrist injury left him unable to carry the weight of Harry’s hand cannon. Burt Lancaster and Robert Mitchum also declined the role, both objecting to the character’s violent, right-wing persona. The script itself went through a number of revisions, including drafts by John Milius (unsurprisingly) and Terence Malick (very surprisingly). Eventually the script was offered to Clint Eastwood, on the recommendation of Paul Newman (after he, too, turned it down) and Eastwood, who found some sympathy for Harry’s dedication to victim’s rights, agreed on the condition that his old friend Don Siegel direct.

What the screenwriters, Siegel and Eastwood created was a movie, and a man, who polarised audiences and critics alike (New Yorker critic Pauline Kael denounced it as ‘fascist’) and who continues to do so today. The character of Harry Callahan is one of cinema’s more challenging propositions, especially for those of a liberal and left-leaning disposition. Unlike many other anti-heroes, such as Escape From New York’s Snake Plissken (who sounded a lot like Eastwood) or X-Men’s Wolverine, Harry exists in a wholly non-fictional world and as a result asks much more uncomfortable questions about that world. It is entirely possible to be appalled at Callahan’s disregard for the rights of those he pursues, but also to cheer him on when he puts the bad guys down. Harry represents an animal justice which must resonate somewhere in everyone, even if the necessary application of law and ethics make his actions just plain wrong.

You could debate the rights and wrongs of Harry Callahan for hours, and that’s what makes him such a potent and important fixture in the history of cinema. _________________________________________________________________________________

Dirty Harry

Don Siegel (1971)

‘You gotta ask yourself a question. Do I feel lucky?’

A serial killer is holding San Francisco to ransom and rigidly self-governing Detective Harry Callahan, at constant odds with the city’s policy of tolerance and liberalism, is determined to stop him at any cost. But preferably at the cost of a few .44 bullets.

Having been offered to just about every A-list star in Hollywood, the role of Harry Callahan finally came home to the only actor, at least in retrospect, who could have played the archetypal anti-hero cop. Dirty Harry is Eastwood’s Man with No Name in a contemporary setting, only with an added sense of righteousness and humour. And while the movie can look and sound rather dated, very much a product of its time, it set the template for a thousand loose-cannon-cop movies that followed it but never managed to better it.

Eastwood and his mentor Siegal, always a great pairing, create a taut, brutal classic in which rooting for the cop is not always as easy as it usually is. Few actors could make such an objectionable character so likeable but Eastwood’s frosty charm works perfectly. Here is a complex character masquerading as a simple one; a character whose perceived callousness is actually a result of a fervent, concrete belief in right and wrong. Dirty Harry makes you question yourself and your morals in a way that few cop movies had before or would again. 

The Punk: Serial killer Scorpio, based on the real-life San Francisco killer who called himself Zodiac (do you see what they did there). Actor Andrew Robinson had to be sent on gun training to stop him from flinching every time he shot his gun, but turns in a signature performance as the deranged, whiny lunatic. In fact that for many years he had trouble getting any roles that didn’t involve being a deranged, whiny lunatic.

Rating – 6 Shots

_________________________________________________________________________________

Magnum Force

Ted Post (1973)

‘A man’s gotta know his limitations.’

After a series of high-profile San Francisco criminals are murdered in broad daylight, Harry Callahan begins to suspect that a rogue hit squad exists within the police department, even as he begins to attract the attention, and admiration, of four rookie cops.

Magnum Force was a direct and intentional attempt to answer the critics of the first movie by demonstrating the difference between Callahan and a group of genuine police vigilantes. Although Harry is still the same play-by-his-own-rules cop as before, he stands in total contrast to the group of executioners with badges who are slaughtering criminals in cold blood. Even when they go as far as to offer him membership of their group, he turns them down. Callahan may be ruthless and trigger-happy, but he’s not a vigilante.

Although Eastwood’s preferred choice of Don Siegel was absent from this sequel, it didn’t seem to hinder the quality at all. Ted Post, who clashed with the now far more powerful Eastwood both during and after production, does just as good a job as his predecessor, even upping the action a little as well as the violence. And it’s to the movie’s credit that it resists the easy route of simply retreading the original, by finding a way to extend the moral complexity and present and even larger grey area for Callahan to work in. 

The Punk: Make that punks. Officers John Davis, Philip Sweet, Alan “Red” Astrachan, Michael Grimes and their leader, the unctuous Lt. Neil Briggs make up the hit-squad within the department. Looking a little like Village People when they all turn up wearing the same outfit, the group features quite the list of future stars in David Soul, Tim Matheson, Robert Urich and, err, Kip Niven. Plus the ever reliable Hal Holbrook as Briggs.

Rating – 6 Shots

_________________________________________________________________________________

The Enforcer

James Fargo (1976)

‘Here’s a seven-point suppository, Captain.’

Having just foiled a robbery by driving a car through a liquor store window, Inspector Callahan is taken off homicide and made to work in Personnel. But when a group calling themselves the People’s Revolutionary Strike Force engage in a series of escalating crimes, culminating in the kidnap of the Mayor, Callahan is reinstated. Only this time his new partner is a woman, much to Harry’s disapproval.

The series loses its legs a little with this third instalment, although it remains an enjoyable slice of debatable Callahan behaviour. Eastwood, despite delivering some of the funniest lines of the franchise, seems to be a little on autopilot here. In fact, The Enforcer is notable for being the first Dirty Harry movie in which Eastwood fails to remain the centre of attention, upstaged as he often is by a charming, engaging turn from Tyne Daly as the brash, inexperienced Inspector Kate Moore. The banter between the two characters is certainly the highlight of this one. The Enforcer also suffers from rather lacklustre action scenes, compared with the franchise’s two previous outings, although the finale on Alcatraz Island is a series high point.

Director James Fargo was originally set to be Assistant Director to Eastwood, but the actor decided not to direct due to a lack of preparation time after completing The Outlaw Josey Wales. Ultimately, The Enforcer is a worthy addition to the franchise but did mark the beginning of the decline.

The Punk: Baby-faced psycho Bobby Maxwell and his motley group of get-rich-quick hippies, layabouts and bums. DeVeren Bookwalter was primarily a stage actor and following The Enforcer primarily remained one. Unlike the foes of the previous two movies, Maxwell is never really explored in much detail, just a background character awaiting his magnum bullet. Imagine his surprise when he gets a bazooka shell instead.

Rating – 4 Shots

_________________________________________________________________________________

Sudden Impact

Clint Eastwood (1983)

‘Go ahead, make my day.’

After yet again upsetting the mayor and police chief, despite the positive results, Inspector Callahan is shipped off to the small town of San Paulo to investigate a murder. There he meets artist Jennifer Spencer, who, as Harry begins to suspect, is hunting down and killing a group of men that raped her and her sister 10 years ago. 

The fourth outing for Harry Callahan is also the first and only Dirty Harry movie to have been directed by Eastwood himself, which is surprising considering he had been directing since 1971. As with Magnum Force, the maverick cop is again contrasted against an out-and-out vigilante, although this time a far more sympathetic and understandable one. An interesting premise in what had become an otherwise increasingly tired franchise. By this time, of course, the rogue cop was becoming a familiar movie figure and Sudden Impact suffers from being just one in a crowd.

The odd thing is, Sudden Impact probably introduces more change into the franchise than any other instalment. Moving the action from San Francisco makes for a refreshing change of scenery, the introduction of a female and uncomfortably justifiable murderer, with whom Harry develops a relationship, returns the series to its morally questionable best and Harry even gets a brand new gun. But somehow it all manages to seem like the same old same old, only without the 70s grit that elevated its predecessors.

The Punk: Rapist, bum and all-round pantomime scumbag Mick and his equally sleazy crew serve as the cannon-fodder for either Harry or Jennifer. Paul Drake, who went on to enjoy a dazzling career in lo-fi TV shows, couldn’t have been more of a ham if he wore a top hat, cloak and twiddled his pencil moustache while tying hapless maidens to railway tracks. Dreadful. Shoot this guy, already. 

Rating – 3 Shots

_________________________________________________________________________________

The Dead Pool

Buddy Van Horn (1988)

‘Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one.’

After putting away a major crime boss, Harry finds himself dealing with more fame than he is comfortable with. And when celebrities begin dying in mysterious circumstances he becomes aware of a betting ring among the elite predicting which celebrities will die next. As one particular list of celebrities proves to be too accurate to be coincidence, Harry discovers his own name has been added.

The last Dirty Harry movie, and its easy to see why. The Dead Pool takes both a promising idea and a cinematic icon, and fritters them away on a lazy, flat and badly made attempt to make Harry seem at home in 80s cinema. He doesn’t, and so iconic has the character of Harry become that he no longer elicits the same sense of moral uncertainty as he did way back when. Instead, we get unexciting scenes of Callahan shooting bad guys to a triumphant soundtrack and are left feeling nothing. Eastwood even looks as bored doing it as we are watching it. The character, the actor and the franchise has simply become too old for this shit.

The Dead Pool is notable for featuring early appearances from a young Liam Neeson and an even younger Jim Carrey, but it’s the older Eastwood who ultimately disappoints, portraying an older Callahan who is apparently exactly the same man he was back in 1971. There is one great scene involving a car chase through the streets of San Francisco as Harry is pursued by a remote controlled car, but when Inspector Callahan finally dispatches the bad guy with a huge harpoon gun, he takes that last step toward becoming a parody of himself.

The Punk: The Dead Pool is the first and only movie in the series to keep the identity of its main villain a secret until the end, leading you to believe that Neeson’s movie director is the killer. However, when the true identity of the murderer is revealed to be a nobody stalker we haven’t seen before called Harlan Rook, it has a rather overwhelming ‘so what’ factor to it. Yawn.

Rating – 1 Shot

_________________________________________________________________________________

.

.

Starring:Connor Paolo, Nick Damici, Kelly McGillis

Director: Jim Mickle

“I hate vamps.”

America has been laid waste by a plague of vampirism, giving rise to scattered pockets of humanity trying to survive the growing number of infected. When young Martin loses his parents in a vampire attack, he is rescued and taken under the wing of a hardened drifter known only as Mister. The two travel north toward ‘New Eden’, adding to their number while trying to survive both the vampires and a ruthless Christian cult, known as The Brotherhood, who believe the vampires are God’s instrument of Judgement.

Rejoice, for vampires are the bad guys again. No place for pale-faced, brooding teenagers or angst-ridden guys in long coats here. Just vampires the way they should be; ravenous, snarling animals who wouldn’t even know where their navel is, let alone want to spend hours gazing at it. It’s a mark of how far the vampire genre has drifted that a movie where they are actually monsters should be so refreshing. The second feature from director Mickle who, having started out as a Key Grip (you know, appears in all the credits and no-one knows what it is) gives hope to would-be directors everywhere, takes the vampire back to its parasitical roots.

Coming off like a cross between The Road and Zombieland, with all the gloom of the former and none of the humour of the latter, Stake Land is a rather bleak viewing experience. That isn’t to say that it isn’t enjoyable, on the contrary, but its apocalyptic and violent landscape makes for a rather dark hour and forty minutes that some may find hard to equate with entertainment. Not being one of those ‘some’, of course, I enjoyed it. Much like The Road, it’s this bleakness that gives the rare moments of lightness in Stake Land such a power when they come; a smile, discovering a friend is still alive, a gift. Against such a backdrop of hopelessness and horror, such moments of humanity take on a greater resonance and Stake Land never loses sight of this fact.

Like many good horror movies, Stake Land shines a light on humanity and finds the horror from within as well as from without, its prime focus being on fundamentalist religion as represented by The Brotherhood. Religion and apocalypse are willing bedfellows and it is hinted at several times that The Brotherhood are largely responsible for the spread of the plague due to their penchant for dropping vampires into populated areas, thereby delivering God’s wrath. In this world, vampires are weapons of mass destruction and the terrorists’ weapon of choice. It’s an inspired twist.

Dave couldn’t figure out why no-one was giving him any loose change

Co-writer Damici turns in an understated performance as the taciturn Mister, a character who says little and gives away less. So much so, in fact, that as the movie ends we know as much about him as we did when the movie started. He’s tough, morally immutable and kills vampires. You need know nothing more about Mister, it seems, but the lack of growth or exploration may leave some feeling a little short-changed. Joining him along the way is an almost unrecognisable Kelly McGillis as a nun, Sister, who brings some balance by representing the best of religion and also provides an amusing rhyme with Mister.

Stake Land is a good addition to a genre that has long been suffering from tediously romanticised visions of its creature. Reclaimed from the teenage market, the vampire finds its teeth again. It’s brutal, violent and sometimes scary, but there is an honest, human heart beating at the centre of Stake Land which is more potent and more real than a thousand Twilights.

I’ve been a fan of horror movies my whole life, and for much of t hat time the best of the genre invariably came from the US and, to a lesser degree, the UK. The likes of George Romero, John Carpenter and Wes Craven defined the genre through much of the 70s and 80s. However, over the last decade Western horror seems to have lost its way, becoming mired in an endless cycle of torture porn or tedious remakes of old classics, with only the occasional standout moment of success. It’s no accident, then, that a large portion of US horror movies are also remakes of films from a part of the world that seems to have cornered the market in accomplished, well-executed and downright scary entries into the genre. Hollywood is looking across the pacific toward Asia, and this is where all dedicated horror fans should be looking, too. Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong. This is where Horror’s new home is. Often heavily influenced by the ‘J-Horror’ of Japan, with its vengeful, lank-haired, Onryō ghosts, Asian cinema produces horror movies the way they should be; creepy, brooding, psychological, extremely atmospheric and devoid of comfortable outcomes. Here are Celluloid Zombie’s Top Ten from the continent that’s putting the horror back into horror movies. _________________________________________________________________________________ 10. Kairo (Pulse) Kiyoshi Kurosawa – Japan -2001 A solemn, moribund study of isolation and loneliness in the technological age, Kairo sees spirits from the other side use the internet to manipulate the living into disconnection and suicide. Those that do not kill themselves simply fall so into hopelessness that they become nothing more than shadows on the wall. We are the ghosts in Kairo. What Kairo obviously lacks in laughs it more than makes up for in depth and mood. There are some chilling moments but Kairo is more effective when simply crawling under your skin and dragging you into its apocalyptic world. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2005 as Pulse, with the original’s ponderous atmosphere replaced with more direct horror. Not a bad movie, but lacks Kairo’s sense of despair. _________________________________________________________________________________ 9. Noroi: The Curse Kôji Shiraishi – Japan – 2005 One of the few ‘mockumentary’ style movies to come out of the Asian horror wave, Noroi is a movie that rewards patience and attention span. Mostly revolving around paranormal investigator Masafumi Kobayashi’s attempts to solve a series of unexplained events, a host of seemingly unrelated characters and occurrances are gradually drawn together to an unforgettable conclusion. Noroi has a remarkably unsettling atmosphere throughout, which is all the more remarkable given that for much of the movie very little happens. However, as the truth behind Kobayashi’s investigation becomes clear, there are moments of bone-chilling horror and an ending which will stay with you for a very long time. Hollywood Remake: No, and not very likely either. Too weird. _________________________________________________________________________________ 8. Alone Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2007 Thai woman Pim lives in Korea with her boyfriend Wee. Pim was separated from her Siamese twin Ploy when they were teenagers and Ploy died as a result of the operation. When her mother falls ill, Pim and Wee return to Thailand and to Pim’s family home, where she finds herself haunted by her dead, vengeful, sister. Is it real, is it guilt or is there something else? The second movie from writer/director team Pisanthanakun & Wongpoom is probably the most Western-influenced horror movie in this list, but don’t let that put you off. Crammed full of great shock moments, a particularly mean ghost and a neat twist in the tale, Alone is scary and a lot of fun. Hollywood Remake: The rights have been bought so expect the US version soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 7. Creepy Hide and Seek Masafumi Yamada – Japan – 2009 After a series of bizarre disappearances involving students and colleagues, schoolteacher Ryoko discovers they had all been playing a ritualistic game called ‘creepy hide and seek’. The game involves all the same rules as normal hide and seek, except that what comes looking for you isn’t quite human. Crap title, great movie. A little known gem, Creepy Hide and Seek has everything you could want from a good J-horror. The action is slow, deliberate and extremely atmospheric, helped in no small part by a very unsettling soundtrack and expert camerawork. At least it lives up to that title. Hollywood Remake: Not yet, but this is exactly the kind of movie that American filmmakers like to assume they can do just as well. Expect one soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 6. Audition Takashi Miike – Japan – 2000 When middle-aged widower Aoyama decides to look for a new partner, he holds fake auditions for a movie role to meet women. He is immediately taken with the young, seemingly shy Asami and begins a relationship with her. However, he soon discovers that cute little Asami has some really strange hobbies. And she wants to share. The movie that made everyone sit up and take notice of unique filmmaker Takashi Miike, Audition is the kind of story that could put you off dating forever. Featuring a truly terrifying performance from Eihi Shiina, Audition is a horror movie with an emphasis on the horror. Hollywood Remake: No. And with its mixture of torture, abuse and vomit-eating, there’s not likely to be one anytime soon. _________________________________________________________________________________ 5. A Tale of Two Sisters Jee-woon Kim – South Korea – 2003 Jee-woon Kim’s highly acclaimed story of two sisters enduring an unstable, abusive step-mother and seemingly indifferent father is an intelligent, layered, unsettling film which reveals its secrets slowly and keeps you guessing right up until the end. Quite possibly one of the most beautifully shot horror movies in recent memory, A Tale of Two Sisters marked out its director as a talent to watch and he hasn’t disappointed since. This one has a brand of horror for everyone, ranging from the supernatural, through the psychological, to the purely physical. Jung-ah Yum, as the step-mother, is at once appalling and sympathetic. No mean feat. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2009 as The Uninvited, which gave us a lot more teenage flesh and a lot less atmosphere. _________________________________________________________________________________ 4. The Eye Oxide Pang Chun, Danny Pang – Hong Kong – 2002 Blind violinist Wong Kar Mun has a successful cornea transplant and begins seeing ghosts wherever she goes, some friendly and some otherwise. Together with her doctor, she determines to find out the identity of her eye donor. The Eye starts off as an effectively spooky ghost story, but deepens into something more heartbreaking as the mystery behind Wong Kar Mun’s new eyes is uncovered. The ghostly encounters make the hair stand up on the back of the neck, and just when you think the story is resolved, The Eye throws in a surprise ending. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2008 as The Eye. Jessica Alba, while easy on the eye (did you see what I did there), just doesn’t have Angelica Lee’s sympathetic appeal. _________________________________________________________________________________ 3. Ju-on (The Grudge) Takashi Shimizu – Japan – 2003 The third in Shimizu’s Ju-on series, but the first to get an international theatrical release, The Grudge centres on a cursed house and the characters who come into contact with it over varying timelines, usually to their extreme detriment. Complex, layered and disturbing, The Grudge is also very, very creepy. This one will definitely make you feel less safe under your covers, which is traditionally where you are supposed to feel safe. Neat trick. The movie spawned further sequels, and while Shimizu’s Ju-on: The Grudge 2 was also very good, this remains the finest of the series. Hollywood Remake: Yes, by the exact same director and starring Buffy, no less. Shimizu also directed the American sequel. Not awful, but neither matched his homeland efforts. _________________________________________________________________________________ 2. Shutter Banjong Pisanthanakun & Parkpoom Wongpoom – Thailand – 2004 Photographer Tun and his girlfriend, Jane, hit a girl with their car as they are driving home from a party. Tun insists that they flee rather than aid the girl, much to Jane’s consternation. From that point on, they are subjected to a series of spooky occurrances from which secrets begin to emerge. The debut feature from Alone’s collaborative writer/director team. Shutter is a sleek and well-oiled machine of a movie. While it doesn’t exactly break new ground, it takes the elements that had made Asian horror so successful before it and weaves a well-paced, twisting tale around a series of consistently spooky scenes. Great ending, too. Hollywood remake: Remade in 2008 with the same title but far from the same result. _________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Ring Hideo Nakata – Japan – 1998 Journalist Reiko’s niece dies, one week after viewing a mysterious video tape. Reiko views the tape and is warned, by a phone call, that she now has only one week to live. After her son watches the tape, Reiko and her ex-husband, Ryuji, try to discover the secret behind the cursed video. The Granddaddy of all J-Horror and a hugely influential movie, Ring is heavy on atmosphere from the outset. Rather than subject the viewer to a series of shocks (although there are one or two) Ring slowly builds itself up to a single, extremely scary, moment. Hollywood Remake: Remade in 2002 as The Ring. Overcooks what the original leaves simmering. You only get one chance to see this for the first time so choose wisely. Go Japanese. _________________________________________________________________________________ .

Next Page »