Friday, 23 January 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #17- "VAMPIRE KILLER BARBYS."









When I was about 11 or 12, realising that girls were not he worst thing in the world and had begun to find myself drawn to them in ways I didn't really understand (and still don't, if I'm totally honest), I would sometimes go into the local independent video rental shop (PIP Tank Video) under the guise of wanting to play the glitchy "Street Fighter 2," machine they had that allowed you to beat your opponent in literally one second if you knew how to exploit it properly (the key was to play as either Ryu or Ken and throw a Dragon Punch the second the round started, as doing that would also throw about a million Fireballs at your opponent), and walk around looking at the back of all the movies rated 15 and up, in the hope that I'd find pictures of women in some state of undress, or if I was lucky the occasional bare boob. And I mean occasional, I think you can count the number of nipples I saw doing this on the fingers of one hand.

Why am I telling you this incredibly embarrassing fact about myself? And how does it relate to the movie I'm going to be covering today?

Because there's pubic hair on the back of this box. And it definitely isn't mine.

I picked this up in the same day I bought "Code 46," and in my rush to get to the counter with that, I didn't really give the box the good once over I usually do. I didn't really worry about it too much because, well, it's called "Vampire Killer Barbys." Who wouldn't want to review a film called "Vampier Killer Barbys?" What more do you need to know? So I'm sitting on the bus on the way home, inspecting my purchases, when I looked on the back of the box for this film and saw a picture of a topless woman running through some forest or something. "Huh," I thought "there's something you don't see anymore in these politically correct times," casting my mind back to the days previously described. So based on nostalgia alone, I already had warm feelings towards this film.

Then I noticed she wasn't wearing any jeans. Then I noticed she wasn't wearing... anything. At all. I mean, it's not the largest picture in the world, and it's not like it's one of those "Hustler"-style gynecological centerfolds, but the fact remained, on the back of this movie that I had just bought for a pound, there was a picture of a woman, and I could very clearly make out her breasts and pubic mound. I'm not the easiest person in the world to shock, but I think on this crowded bus, I may actually have gasped. Because this was something new. This was something I had never encountered before. I had never found full frontal on the back of a video or DVD box before (excluding porn. Obviously). And suddenly those nostalgic feelings went away, because even during my bout of puberty-spurred curiosity, I didn't think I would ever see... that. To be brutally honest there's a very good chance I wouldn't have known what I was looking at if I had. It just makes me laugh that we live in an age where everybody is walking around on eggshells terrified of saying or doing something that would upset anybody, and I was able to go into what is essentially a discount supermarket and buy something with a picture of bush on it (and no, I'm not making that joke. One of the many good things to come out of the recent Presidential election is that joke can now go away, hopefully forever). Oh, and there's also a picture of a bearded man holding a scythe, grinning manically, flanked by two dwarfs, who also seem very pleased with themselves. On any other box, this picture would have been the star attraction.

This move is the work of Jess Franco, who I've come to discover has something of a cult following amongst horror fans. I was talking about movies recently with a friend down the pub, and totally unprompted she dropped his name as a director whose work she enjoys. He apparently started composing music at age six, before eventually discovering film, where frankly prolific isn't the word- he has a staggering 189 directorial credits listed over at IMDb, dating back to 1957's "El Arbol de Espana," all the way up to 2008's "La Cripta de las Mujeres Malditas," AKA "A Bad Day at the Cemetery." He's also a writer, a composer, an editor and an actor, very often working on his own films under an amazing array of pseudonyms (my personal favourites being Adolf M. Frank and Clifford Brawn). Even "Jess Franco" is a pseudonym, his given first name being Jesus. Alot of his work has been in the Erotic Horror genre, and I'm sorry, but that idea doesn't work for me. I can just about get my head around the concept of Erotic Thrillers, because most of them just feature sexed-up versions of the old Film Noir Femme Fatales, but I don't get the concept of Erotic Horror at all. To me, I don't see how it's possible to be frightened and horny at the same time. They just seem like naturally-opposed emotions. And even if you don't mean it like that, if you just mean it as in blood and guts, then that doesn't work for me either, because without going into too much detail, there's enough blood in my personal life already without me introducing it into the bedroom (that was marvelously cryptic of me, wasn't it?)

Also the band featured here is real, and apparently still active today, a Spanish punk-pop band, the only difference being they spell "Barbies" how you'd expect. Apparently the only reason it was changed in the promotional material was because Mattell predictably kicked up a stink. Humourously, the correct spelling of the band's name is all over the film itself, from their drumkit to their van, which just goes to show you just how much attention Mattell's lawyers were really paying. I don't know for a fact if all the people playing the band here are actually in the band, but the lead actress, Silvia Superstar (which I'm also guessing isn't her real name), definitely is.

The beginning is like Horror Movies 101- it's dark, the moon is full, there howling somewhere, and we see a large close-up on the face of a stuffed wolf. This happens quite alot during the film actually, we'll suddenly find ourselves zooming in on one of these, as if the director thinks, "LOOK! STUFFED WOLF! SCARY!" Um, no. Real wolf, kind of scary, stuffed wolf, something you're fairly likely to see round your Nan's. A bloodied man runs semi-dressed out of a large building. This is referred to as a castle several times over the course of the film, but it looks more like a mansion to me. I suppose it doesn't matter what you call them, in the end they're the same thing, just big houses. He's running for his life, stalked by Arkan (Aldo Sambrell), a balding man dressed like a butler, and Baltasar (
Santiago Segura), the aforementioned bearded gentleman, sadly for the moment without his tiny posse (I said posse. Get your minds out of the gutter). The poor dude manages to give Arkan the slip, only for Baltasar to sneak up behind him and slit his throat. It's one those film school specials too, where the knife leaves a trail of blood across the neck without actually causing a wound. Baltasar cuts off the man's ears, taking it back to his little friends Pipa and Pipo and attempting to decide which of them deserves to have this little treat, before deciding on... one of them (I can't tell the apart, I'm not going to pretend I can), his reason being that "the kindness and gentleness you reserve for me at night deserves a reward." Oh Lord, he's sleeping with them. Even worse, we find out later that these two are in some way supposed to be his children. Erotic Horror, ladies and gentlemen! Arkan then goes to address the lady of the house, The Countess, who's little more than a skeleton at this point in the film. A skeleton in a dress. You cold probably get it a role on "Hollyoaks." He tells her he's got a present for her, that being a jug presumably full of blood, and then say that "He" has returned, and they are once again under his "devilish protection." Who "He" is, we never actually find out, and as you'll see later, his protection amounts to jack shit.

Follow the credits sequence that appears to happen over a painting of Vigo from "Ghostbusters 2's" fat sibling, we finally meet The Killer Barbies themselves, performing at a concert, and... they're not bad, amazingly. They don't reinvent the wheel or anything, but they're decent enough, and the song they play in full here, "Love Killer," is incredibly catchy. I caught myself humming the chorus hours after I'd finished watching the film for the first time, which is usually a good sign. We also get a look at Arkan in the crowd, watching them perform with a scowl on his face. He's clearly a purist. After the gig, they take their payment, which they're informed is, "enough for some joints maybe," which is funny, because the next scene seems them turning down a guy who offers to sell them some grass (HA!). Once they get in the van and start driving, the movie briefly turns into a twisted, perverted version of "Scooby Doo." Sharon (Angie Barea), the only other female member of the band, starts openly blowing Billy (Billy King, the only person here using his real name, and I think also the only person other than Silvia actually in the band for real at this point), causing Mario (Charlie S. Chaplin) to comment that "if you're still hungry, my fly is at your disposal." What a charmer. Flavia (Superstar) takes her top off so Rafa (Carlos Subterfuge, who looks just like Shaggy if Shaggy were evil, which is probably the main reason this scene feels so Mystery Machine), will let her drive, causing a man to fall off his bike when he sees her (heh). They're listening to their own music whilst all this is happening, by the way, seemingly the same two songs on a loop, including "Love Killer." What a bunch of nasty little narcissists.

At this point I would usually make some observations about the acting talents of those involved, but with this film that's almost impossible, because as you've probably figured out be the names of alot of the people involved, this isn't an English language film, but rather Spanish. I usually like to watch foreign movies with subtitles, partly because I'm just a bit of a pretentious twat, and partly because you get a better sense of the acting abilities of someone when you hear their real voice. On this disc though, no subtitles are available, so all we get is an English dub. And my God, it's horrific. Almost nobody's voice matches up with the character they're playing (Rafa sounds like a cartoon dog, Flavia sounds much older than her claimed 19 years) and the ones that do sort of make sense are ruined by voice actors who either realised what kind of movie they were doing and just phoned it in, or have probably never done this sort of thing before. They even dub over people laughing! "Ha! Ha! Ha!" Is that strictly necessary? Laughter is one of the few things that can be understood in any language (Christ, when did I turn into Bono?).

The van predictably breaks down, and Arkan, who had seemingly been riding around on a little boat just to pass the time just moments earlier, shows up to offer them a place to stay until someone can show up to fix it tomorrow. They take him up on his offer, with the exception of Sharon and Billy, who stay in the van to fuck. I'm not being crude saying that. We cut back to them several times, and that really does seem to be all they're doing in there, for hours at a time. They don't even switch positions. Once the others arrive, they all notice a painting of the Countess, presumably done before all her skin fell off. "I've got this feeling I'll recognise her," Flavia says. What do you mean, you think you'll recognise here? You're staring at a painting of her right now, either you recognise her or you don't. "She's as beautiful as she is mysterious," Rafa chimes in. How does he know she's mysterious? He's bee in her house for all of five minutes. For all he knows, she could be on the toilet. "Yeah, she's not my type, but I'd still bang her," Mario offers. Okay, fair enough.

Upstairs, Arkan visits The countess' quarters again, and amazingly, she now has flesh. It would seem that drinking blood restores her, and at least we now have a reason for him to want the band to stay, even though it's never revealed why he chose them specifically to be the next victims. He takes the band to their rooms, and everything seems alright with them, until the next scene where Flavia and Mario sneak around and find Arkan seemingly calling for a tow-truck for their van, only for them to discover what he was actually speaking into was an intercom, so he didn't really call anybody. Okay, two things- 1)If he really didn't know they were there, why was he pretending to place a call for a fake tow truck? What was that in aid of? 2) Why were Flavia and Mario even sneaking around? Two seconds ago they were insanely happy with this arrangement, now they're tip-toeing down stairs like like a couple of kids playing detective. It makes no sense. It also doesn't lead to anything, as they go upstairs to tell Rafa what they've seen, he tells them not to worry, so they... don't. Meanwhile, The Countess drinks some more blood and continues to look and act stronger. She asks Arkan how much he loves her, to which he replies, "Madam, listen to me, nobody has ever loved anybody so much, I love you more than Paul loved Virginia, more than Cyrano loved Roxanne, and Romeo loved Juliette." Ahhh, that's actually quite lovely. He's a sly old charmer, that Arkan.

Hey, anybody wondering what Billy and Sharon are up to back at the van? No? Well, tough, because you're going to find out, as the movie cuts back to them. And as I said, they're both rutting away like rabbits, Sharon still mostly dressed and very obviously still wearing a thong, as Baltasar, Pipa and Pipo look on. And dear God, they're still listening to "Love Killer!" It's like they're determined to turn me against the one thing in this movie I quite like. The Little guys break into the car, steal the Barbie dolls the band has hanging up as decorations, and also plant a quite disturbing winged thing on the rear-view mirror, all without Billy and Sharon noticing. And Bathasar? He has a wank. Erotic Horror, ladies and gentlemen! Sharon sees the thing hanging from the mirror, and freaked out, talks Billy into coming with her to the mansion. When they get there, they bump into Arkan, who tells them of something that apparently happened there, of a satanic monk that fell in love with an aristocratic lady, tortured and raped her to death, then created a potion made from her blood and his semen that brought her back to life. Billy then asks him what the time is, he says he, "lost track of time centuries ago," and when they're backs are turned, he just disappears. Okay, now I'm confused. From this story, it would be safe to assume that this monk was the "He" Arkan mentioned earlier. However, from all the sledgehammer-subtle hints being dropped, it's also fairly safe to assume that Arkan is the monk, so what sense would it make for him to say "He's" returned, when it seems like he's always been there? It also renders that lovely declaration of love he made earlier decidedly less lovely.

Billy and Sharon go in the house, have a brief chat with their bandmates, than suddenly decide not to stay there after all. I can't say I blame them after that story, but it does make me laugh how much of a sheep Billy is. He literally does whatever Sharon tells him to. This proves to be a wrong move, as they are promptly set upon by Baltasar and Arkan, who slit Billy's throat and then chase the naked Sharon (I love how she makes love for hours with her clothes on, and then decides right this second that she's going remove them. It's like she remembered, "Hey, these come off!") through the forest, until Baltasar decapitates her with his scythe, which doesn't best please Arkan, but they're both like, "Fuck it, this'll do." They take her and Billy back to some place on the mansion grounds there a verity of mutilated bodies are hung up in the air, their blood collecting in jugs, that's then added to a pot along with some white stuff that I assume is supposed to be semen. Baltasar actually dips his finger in the spunk and licks it, and even though I know it's fake, this still got a shudder out of me. So well done movie, you managed to at least gross me out using a partially sexual situation. He also handles the most obviously fake dead body I've ever seen. The arms and legs don't move at all, and the arms are straight up in the air, like the guy died doing the YMCA.

Having regained her strength, The Countess finally appears, and she looks... alright. She's played by Mariangela Giordano, and she does look damn good for a woman who was pushing sixty at the time. Much like Jennifer Tilly looks damn good for a woman of 50 (I know, I can't believe it either). I will take exception to Rafa calling her, "the most beautiful bitch I have ever seen in my life," though, because, dubious compliment aside, if that's true, he's obviously not lived. He's instantly smitten, and she seduces him into coming upstairs with her, which initially angers Flavia, until she reveals, "I'm just mad because he should have found a way to include me." This movie was very clearly partially written by a very old man. Upstairs, The Countess ties Rafa to the bed, and they start... actually, I'm not sure what happens. She scratches him, then she just starts rolling around on the bed, groaning and moaning. At one point I think the only parts of her even touching him are her feet, and they're just touching his leg. And strangely he seems to be having as much fun as she is. I will say though that the fact that this woman is as old as she is gives this scene a sort of anarchic edge, like the filmmaker is actually trying to make some kind of statement about age and beauty and sexuality. He's probably not, he probably just wanted to see her tits, but it's quite an interesting thought all the same. Eventually they start having something that look like sex, only for The Countess to produce a knife and start stabbing him during the act. This is it. If you were to ask me to close my eyes and come up with a visual representation of Erotic Horror, this is what I would come up with, a person killing another person whilst they're shagging. Erotic Horror, ladies and gentlemen.

And also once again the knife produces blood without actually breaking the skin. Maybe it's magic.

There's actually a fair bit if runtime left, but if I'm honest, not much else happens. Flavia discovers the bodies and freaks, Mario kills Arkan with a crossbow to the head (where the fuck did he find a crossbow? And if Arkan's supposed to be a ghost, how can he die?) The Countess gets killed being thrown out of a window and being impaled on a spike (I always found it strange why evil monsters would just leave so many spikey things lying around...), and Billy, who is somehow not dead even though he had his throat slit several hours ago now, traps Baltasar in their truck and sets fire to it (using lighter fluid left next to some hay, if you can believe that). He kills himself and the dwarfs, but not Baltasar, who comes after Mario and Flavia, only to be run over by a steamroller. The dummy they used is very obviously a blow-up doll. At one point I think you see one of the arms pop. Flavia and Mario then escape on Arkan's boat, and we're treated to a little spoken-word wrap-up, translating the text that's on-screen...

"Flavia and Mario without any further problems returned to the city, where they continued their artistic career. They are still bonded together by a strong friendship"

Okay, so that's just a long-winded way of saying they're still making music together. Gotcha, with you so far.

"Olga Lujan and Arkan disappeared without a trace. The castle was turned into a first-class hotel for tourists."

Um, okay, so their bodies disappeared, that's what you're saying. Still doesn't explain how you could kill a ghost with a crossbow, but never mind.

"Baltasar was punished for his crimes and became food for worms and vermin. Then he returned to him mosterous offspring hoping to have one day a new oppertunity."

Um... so he's dead? You mean he met up with his kids in Hell? And what kind of oppertunity could he be waiting for in Hell?

"Killer Barbies has a new car in which they travel across the country."

Thank you, I really wanted to know what you did about the whole wheels situation.

"Finally, nobody really died. The proof of that is that we can applaude the group this evening in Velencia. Our story is, in reality, a creation of pure fantasy."



... WAT?!?!?!

That's how youre ending this movie?! "Guess what, none of this actually happened!" Well, DUUUUUUUUUUUUUR! Could never have figured that out without a clearly disinterested voice-actress teling me so! Wow, who would have guess that movies are fake (except for the ones based on true stories, and they're very often faker than they want you to believe)? In all seriousness, I hate it when people try to pull this meta shit completely out of nowhere, it makes you feel like a fool for ever being emotionally invested in the story to begin with. And yes, believe it or not, there are people who could bring themselves to be emotionally invested with even something like this. In many ways, and admire and envy them.

As I said before, there are things wrong with this movie that aren't the faults of the filmmakers. I can't hold them responsible for the dub, because they probably had no say in what was done there. And I'll lay off the acting, because the dub is so distracting it's impossible to tell whose good and whose not. However, even with those two small mercies, there are still a crippling amount of things wrong with this you can blame them for, the biggest of all being just how cheap and tawdry the whole thing feels. I get the feeling Franco was trying to give this a Hammer-like quality, but the thing with the Hammer horror movies was, even with all the gore and nudity you'd often see, their productions still managed to have an air of class about them, something this is missing from almost the first frame. It's a mish-mash of horror cliches that have been used better in other movies, with some flesh thrown in to hopefully keep people interested, and it fails because it's not scary, and I personally didn't find it even slightly arousing (I'm not going to go into detail on that one either, use your imaginations if you really need to. Probably better off doing that anyway).



Before I go, I'll leave you with a gift, the best thing in his movie, so you don't have to even consider buying this to experience it. Don't say I don't ever do anything for you.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and when I first joined the force, I assumed there was semen on everything.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Cheap Arse Film Review #16- "TOUGH & DEADLY."









PRICE: £1.00

I have two great loves in my life- cinema, and professional wrestling, both of which took root in my childhood. The first movie I ever went to see was either "Tranformers: The Movie," or "An American Tale," in this old cinema in Romford that is now sadly a nightclub. My family always made a big deal of going to the movies together, which is why when my Dad asks me if I fancy going to see with him and my Mum, I'll still very often say yes, even at the age of 26. My first wrestling-related memory isn't even of anybody wrestling, it's of Hillbilly Jim, this shirtless, overalls-wearing hick, and "Mean" Gene Okerland, a bald man with a killer mustache and a suit, standing in front of a wall of TVs, recapping the week's events in the World Wrestling Federation. They were the strangest pairing I had ever laid eyes on in all my six years on this planet. I was immediately transfixed, and a lifelong obsession had begun. Soon everything I had was wrestling related- I had the toys, I subscribed to the magazines and comics, owned replica title belts, everything in my bedroow was covered by images of gurning men, from my wallpaper to my curtains to my bedsheets. I attended live shows with my family. I watched The British Bulldog (RIP) win a battle royal in the Royal Albert Hall and got so excited I ran out of the booth we were sitting in and collided with another boy, splitting my lip open and spending the entire train journey home holding a Hulk Hogan bandana full of ice on it (probably should have had stitches in that. Still got a scar there to this day, which I can sometimes be seen absent-mindedly chewing on). I also attended "WrestleMania XX" with my Dad nearly five years ago now, travelling to New York, sitting in the crowd at Madison Square Garden (which if you're a wrestling fan is pretty much Mecca), watching Eddie Guerrero (RIP) retain his WWE Title, and Chris Benoit (RIP... anyone noticing a theme here?) win the World Heavyweight Title, and then embrace Guerrero, his real life best friend, as they both stood in the middle of the ring with belts people told them they would never hold, confetti and fireworks going off around them. It was one of my favourite memories, but recent events have seen it become somewhat... tainted.

So yes, I do get rather excited when these two worlds collide. I'm giddy like a school girl at a Westlife concert about seeing "The Wrestler," and am elated at Mickey Rouke picking up the Golden Globe for Best Actor. I only hope he turns the momentum into Oscars success too, and that when he gets off stage he grabs Sean Penn by the scruff of his neck, bends him over and then violently sodomises him with the award, as half the crowd gasps and the other half cheers (I really don't like Sean Penn. Is it obvious?). And back when I was a kid, it was a different level of hysteria altogether. As a confirmed Hulkamaniac (something I still am a bit today, even though I'm now what they call a quote-unquote "Smart" fan and should consider Hogan The Devil), I had to see every movie Hulk Hogan was in. My tiny mind couldn't figure out why he wasn't in everything. I saw "Suburban Commando," (which also had The Undertaker in it, with the... voice of a... small child...) and "Mr. Nanny," in cineams, and considered them masterpieces. Of course, looking back on them now, I realise they... weren't. But I still have a fondness for them, and also "No Holds Barred," which I missed theatrically, but later watched on video. To this day I associate Tiny Lister completely with the part he played in that film. Even when he popped up in "The Dark Knight," for a brief cameo, I wanted to scream, "ZEUS!!!!!"

I wasn't that familiar with the films of Roddy Piper, though. The only one I can remember watching as a boy was "Body Slam," which also featured Dirk Benedict and "Captain" Lou Albano. Even though I've not seen it yet, let's just say I can pretty safely assume it's not "The Wrestler," in terms of quality or realism. Even back then I remember being fairly underwhelmed by it. But then that was to be expected, right? After all, Roddy Piper was nowhere near the star Hulk Hogan was, so of course his movies weren't going to be as good.

It would take me until I was 19 to see "They Live," for the first time, and my eyes were opened. In this violent, clever, hilarious B-Movie, he was a movie star. Moreso than Hulk Hogan ever was. If you go back and watch his movies now, Hogan has the look of a deer in the headlights, The World's most famous wrestler finding out, to his horror, just how little that meant when the director called action. Piper, on the other hand, was a charismatic, cocky son-of-a-gun, who may have rivalled even Bruce Campbell with his ability to take even the silliest lines and turn them into catchphrases. As a man, he was also far more interesting than Hogan ever was, a hard drinking, harder partying Canadian with a healthy interest in the white stuff. There are many stories out there about him, but my favourite has to be the one Ric Flair recounts in his autobiography, of the time Piper got paid for a show with a spittoon full of cocaine that he spent the entire car journey back to the hotel shoving his face into like some kilt-wearing Tony Montana.

He should have been a star. It should have saved him from the wrestling industry, which he loved as many do, only to have that love repaid with a body that has been utterly smashed to shit, as many have (he continued to wrestle regularly for years with an artificial hip). At the absolute least, he should have had the kind of career Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson now enjoys, that being the best thing in bad movies (a streak he recently broke with "Get Smart," where he fell behind Steve Carell, Anne Hathaway and Bill Murray cameoing as the guy in the tree nobody wanted to talk to, to be the forth best thing in an actually pretty good movie). But instead he had to make do with movies like this.

Before I get into the meat of this, I want to first comment on the title of this thing. Basically, I think it's amazing. At first I thought it sounded like a joke, like some parody of an action movie. I wouldn't have been surprised to find out it co-starred McBain. But now I've lived with it a bit, I have a higher appreciation for it, because it's unpretensious, totally without bullshit, an action movie boiled down to it's very essence. If it were a cologne, it would probably smell like a mix of blood, sweat, gun powder, cocaine and both male and female sexual fluids. I'd wear it. Fuck, I'd bathe in it.

This horrible and annoying keyboard score kicks in, and then the movie's off, treating us to some aerial shots of a road near a stretch of water, before we settle on what looks to be an old Jaguar driving along said stretch of road. I have no idea where this is supposed to be taking place. I don't think it's supposed to be America though. The car eventually pulls up outside a mansion, and out of it steps a large black man with a buzzcut, wearing a trenchcoat. This is John Portland. Actually, it's not John Portland, at least not at this point, at this point he has another name and goes by the codename Quicksilver, only be given the name John Portland when Roddy Piper's character, Elmo Freech, throws a dartboard into a map of the United States. But he's called John Portland on the box, and the credits have him listed as just "John Portman," so I'm going to call him John Portman. He's played by Billy Blanks, seven-time Karate world champion and a legitimately hard bastard who most people will have the best chance knowing from his range of Tae Bo workout videos. There was a period of my life when I was pretty obsessed with Tae Bo, and would tell people that Billy Blanks was going to reshape my body from the pale, flabby monstrosity it had become into one a Greek God would be proud to own. Then I hurt my leg a bit doing one of the kicks and never watched any of his videos again.

No sooner does he enter the mansion and sit down to talk to the person who lives there, who claims to have information Portman's might want to know about, than the residence is set upon by a group of about four people who seem to be dressed like pool cleaners. At first I thought they were the good guys, but then the second they get inside the place they start randomly shooting people in the head, including a woman just sitting at a table reading a book, which doesn't seem like a very heroic thing to do. They drill through one of the floors to use a camera to see if Portland and friend are in the main room, which they are, and I can't help but think that's alot of needless work. I also refuse to believe neither of them heard a bloody drill coming through the ceiling. They try to knock out Portland with a dart and fail, the other poor guy gets a bullet in the head like everybody else, and then we're into the first fight scene on the film.

And it's one of the worst fight scenes I've ever seen.

This really isn't the fault of any of the actors or stuntmen. They do there bit well, but the shooting, sound effects and especially the editing of this scene just kills it. Blows very obviously don't land, there's horribly cheesy "THWACK!" sound effects, and there are just seemingly random cuts thrown in, and I don't mean in and MTV, ADD kind of way, I mean someone will go to throw a punch or a kick, then there'll be a jump-cut and the punch will have landed without us seeing it. It's a cliche, but it really does look like somebody was let loose on this with a pair of blunt scissors. It happens in other fights too, I'll mention them when we come to them. The only explaination I can think of is that these cuts were made to make the BBFC happy when the movie was brought over here for classification, and because it wasn't going to be a blockbuster or anything, people just hacked stuff away without any care and shoved it out. I can't imagine even a movie of this level doing something like that intentionally. So all this is going on, somebody gets kicked over a balconey in slooooooow moooooootion, until finally somebody gets a dart in Portland and they all beat the shit out of him, dragging away his limp body, because for some reason he needs to be brought in alive.

And then suddenly the film comes alive, because finally Roddy Piper appears. It's not like his scenes are any better written or directed than any of the others, but there's alot to be said for star power, and when he's on-screen, boom, star. You're still having shit flung at you, it's just not being thrown with as much force. We discover he's a former-cop-turned-private-investigator when he tries to bring in a large man named Tiny (fiction in general never gets tired of this joke, does it? "Hey, this guys fat/thin/tall/short! Let's call him "Skinny!"/"Tubby!"/"Stubby!"/"Stretch!"), who he finds in some apartment with another dude, doing drugs and watching a show with a guy in a chicken suit in it, as a woman in her underwear lies on the bed seemingly ignored and unfulfilled. Other than the other guy and the drugs, I can totally relate to this. Tiny decides he doesn't want to go quietly, and then there's another fight scene (the second in just under nine minutes) and while I wouldn't call it good, at least it's not affected by the editing problems that blighted the last one. My favourite part is when Piper gives the other dude a two-handed chokeslam onto the bed as if we're expected to believe this will hurt. They somehow end up on the roof of the building, and Elmo bitch slap's Tiny's friend off the side of the building with he falls into an empty swimming pool in slooooooow moooooootion. The police then show up to pick up Tiny, and nobody really seems that concerned with surely dead gentleman, all they do is trade snide comments with Elmo.

We then return to Portland's plight, to see his beaten up body is transported somewhere by car for questioning. Sat next to him is a man administering drugs to him to keep him sedated. "He'll be asleep for a long time," he says, and before he's even really finished that last word, Portland headbutts him in the face and we're in yet another fight scene (third in 13 minutes). Its not really much of one, because there's only really so much you can do in such a cramped space and HOLY SHIT PORTLAND JUST KICKED A DUDE THROUGH THE WINDSCREEN WHO THEN GOT RUN OVER BY THE CAR! Okay, I'll give it to them, that was great. It does call into question my theory for all the edits earlier though. I mean, if I was right about the BBFC, wouldn't this be one of the first things to go? I can see a man thrown through glass and left as roadkill, but I can't see someone throw a punch? Also the dude went through the glass in slooooooow moooooootion. Everytime someone dies this seems happens. Watching this movie is like playing "Fallout 3."

The car crashes, and everyone dies, except Portland, who's left a bloody heap. He's discovered by a bus driver and taken to hospital, where he's discovered by Elmo, who instantly takes an unusual interest in him. They at least give a reason for this to begin with, that he thinks there might be some money in it for him if he turns out to be a missing person, but when nothing turns up on him, Elmo still sticks around, protecting him from another hit (by throwing the guy out the window in slooooooow moooooootion) and having him hide out in his apartment. And the only reason we're given for this is that, well, that's the plot. We also get the first of a couple of scenes set at the main offices of the CIA, who it turns out Portland works for. These consist of people sitting at a very long table, in a room that seems to be some kind of light vacuum, as all around them is darkness. Maybe they've vampires. CIA Vampires intent on protecting the World so they'll always have a fresh supply of blood on hand. Actually, I'm going to write that down, that's a pretty good idea. Nobody nick it. It's in these scenes that it's established that Portman is almost impossible to track, as he no longer officially exists after he nearly died on a field mission after taking a shotgun blast at point-blank range. Okay, I'll buy alot in movies like this, but I'm not buying that. I refuse to believe that even in a movie called "Tough & Deadly," could a man take that and live. He wouldn't be intact, let alone alive.

So Elmo and Portland become instant best friend, with Elmo bringing him to his place of work, introducing him to his assistant/secretary Mo, and deciding to help him heal up. His idea of healing up doesn't involve letting Portland rest up though, no. Instead, we're treated to a training montage! I can't believe this movie was released in 1995, it's so eighties. They run, do push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups. It's really just an excuse for Billy Blank to show how in-shape and bendy he is, but I'll give it to Roddy Piper, he's cut. He was never really one of those wrestlers who had an amazing physique, but here he looks great. He obviously didn't want to be shown up and put the hours in at the gym. Then, suddenly, Portland is working for Elmo, helping him bring guys in, starting with some drug trafficker. They go to a bar to find him, ony for Portland to piss off a truly wild-eyed dude with long hair in a cowboy hat by accidently knocking his beer over his girlfriend. This leads to (say it with me, children) another fight scene, one that's edited even worse that the one right at the beginning. There's a point where Portland is thrown over the bar, only for hi do jump back over the bar, seemingly about to throw a kick and... suddenly he's standing on the ground and the other guy is selling a blow we never saw land. At the very least everybody fell down in real time.

The next day, Elmo asks Portland to show him some of his newly-discovered fighting skills. At first he's reluctant to, but Elmo talks him into it, there's a misunderstanding, that then we have another fight scene. Well, it's not really a fight scene, it mostly consists of Blanks and Piper falling in and out of shot, presumably after taking blows off-camera. What I like to imagine happened before they filmed this was Roddy made it clear that he wasn't down with taking that kung-fu shit, and this was the best compromise they could come up with. The cheapness of the whole production is exposed here too, because not only do some walls wobble when they crash into them, but Elmo also falls into a radiator, and it's immediately noticable that, not only is it not attached to the wall, or even made out of metal for that matter, but it also seems to come in two parts. After their horseplay, they follow up a new lead on the guy they were looking for the night before, this time taking them to a pool hall, where yet another fight scene breaks out. I've properly lost count of how many there have been at this point, and we're not even halfway through. There's also more shitty editing. This time we're not allowed to see a pool ball thrown by Portland collide with someone's head. Anyway, they find there, and the guy Elmo'd been fighting with only seconds ago stands up as if nothing happened and informs him that "Mr. Milan ain't gonna like you busting one of his family like that." Thank you very much for coming back from your severe beating to drop a name that's sure to be important in a little while, strangely camp thug.

Infact, it's going to be important right this second, because in the very next scene we meet Milan, discover that the guy they just picked up is his nephew (even though the guy from the previous scene actually looks older tha this guy, at least to my eyes), and sends a couple of boys to administer some "dental work" to Elmo. The thugs turn up in Elmo's office, and... you know. Elmo disposes of them quickly, shooting one in the knee, the other in the foot, kneeing him in the face, and then we get another horrible edit- this time he's holding the guy as if he's going to punch him, and then the next second the guy's staggering backwards as if he were drunk. Hell, that's all I have to go on. It's not like I actually saw anything done to him. We then find out the men Elmo and Portland have pissed off are the same men who had Portland beaten at the beginning of the film, and that they also have people within the CIA, who are now actively trying to kill both of them.

Portland and Elmo discover someone spying on them as they head out of Elmo's apartment for somewhere a little bit safer. Elmo appears to be in trouble for a second, until Portland FLIES IN OUT OF FUCKING NOWHERE WITH A BODY SCISSORS! It's not cool on the same level as kicking a man under the wheels of a car he was riding in is, but it is cool. They don't get anything out of the guy, but they note that he didn't fight like one of Milan's guys, so he must have ties with someone else. They reach Elmo's friend's place, where for some reason they seem to think the coast is clear. The guy eve says, "Peaceful here, isn't it?" He may as well have heard a twig snap and said, "I'll go and check that out," because he ends up dead about a minute later when the bad guys unload a machine gun into the house. Portland makes the guys think he's dead so he can get the drop on them, taking them all out single-handedly taking the last guy out by kicking him through a window in slooooooow moooooootion, and then off a balconey (lots of balconies in this movie...) in slooooooow moooooootion. I have no idea where Elmo was during all this, or why he doesn't seem too upset that his good friend is now dead when we finally see him again. All I know is they now end up on the doorstep of his assistant, Mo. "Guys," she tells them, "I am really tired. One of you is gonna have to watch."


"Guys, I am really tired. One of you is gonna have to watch."


"Guys, I am really tired. One of you is gonna have to watch."

... Speechless.

So the rest of the movie is them now taking on the might f the drug runners and the corrupt forces within the CIA, as John starts to slowly regain his memories. They use Milan's phone records to discover Milan has been calling an old army base and a number in Washington (the number is 555-0000, if you need any more proof of how litle effort was put into this script). They go to one of Milan's warehouses, where more fights happen, and Piper gets to pull off the obligatory wrestling move all wrestlers have to do when in movies like this by body slamming someone. Milan slips away during all this. Do they follow hot on his heels? No, they go back to Mo's apartment and nearly come to blows over music. You see, Elmo wants to listen to a country CD, whilst Portman wants to listen to a rap one. Isn't that funny? A black man and a white man both like two totally different types of music!

Fuck this movie.

Eventually John remembers everything, and this leads to one last big battle at the CIA army depot that was listed amongst Milan's phone records. He heads out alone, and predictably he's captured, but overwhelms his guard with both his hands in cuffs. I think he may also kill one of them with his chair, as he lifts it into the air with a dramatic flourish and starts to bring it down in slooooooow moooooootion, before we very abruptly cut to a shot of Elmo's car pulling up after he's realised where Portland's gone. He sneaks up on one of the bad guys and...

... puts him to sleep with a Sleeper Hold. I've... never experienced anything like this before. I'm literally so happy at what I've just seen that I'm actually afraid to express that happiness, lest I do something silly like run out into the street naked reciting passages from The Bible in song.

Portland goes fucking Terminator on everone, taking them all out with fists and feet and guns even though he's been shot, discovering how Milan is working with the CIA to smuggle drugs into the country on military flights, and that he was taken out after he discovered this. There's some more fighting, Portman looks like he's about to be killed, before the good CIA show up. The bad guys are taken down, Portland has his memories and his job back, Elmo, who stopped seemingly the only small truck full of drugs there was on the site, that also happened to have the drug lord himself riding shotgun, is told he'll be nicely financially compensated for helping out, and they finally take Portman to the hospital. The End.

I don't feel like mincing my words tonight- this movie was awful. It's badly written, badly directed, and features almost universally bad performances, the worst coming from Billy Blanks himself. I really wanted to avoid making any puns based off his last name when talking about his acting abilities, but... there really is nothing there. He's beyond wooden. He barely has anything to say in the whole movie, other than lines that only exist to push the plot along, so I'll give them credit for seemingly realising what they were working with, but he's so bad he can't even do that properly. And the one thing he can do, which is fight, is sabotaged due to him working with a director who doesn't know how to shoot a fight scene, and an editor who doesn't know how to edit. The one good thing about this movie? Roddy Piper, so I guess he was trying to follow The Rock's career model, the only problem being he chose to appear in bigger turds than The Great One ever has.



Oh well, at least I've still got "The Wrestler," to look forward to. I'm going to go see that with my Dad for his Birthday.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and I was frozen today!

Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Cheap-Arse Flim Review #15- "CODE 46."










Okay, here's the thing about Poundland- as far as their DVDs go, they sell alot of shit. Shit with awesome titles that often look like they'll at least be fun to watch and write about, but shit all the same. But every now and again, I'll be skimming the shelves, and I'll stuble across something genuinely interesting, that may actually star people I know, be made by someone I've heard of and have been financed and distrubuted by a production company that doesn't operate out of its Dad's shed. I mean, up until recently they were selling the single disc version of "Donnie Darko," which, if you're reading this and for some reason you've never seen it, I can't recommend doing so enough. And their four-in-one collections usually have at least one film on them that's worth a peak at.

But even taking all that into account, I was shocked to have found this. I mean for a start it stars Tim Robbins and Samamtha Morton, who I'll admit may not be massive draws to the casual movie fan, but they're very respected in their field, and most people will at least know Robbins from "The Shawshank Redemption." It's also directed by someone of note, Michael Winterbottom, who's up there with the most respected British filmmakers working today. He's not quite the draw that, say, Danny Boyle is, but unlike him he's not really succeeded in making himself one of the top draws for the movies he makes, a brand if you will (And I mean "brand," in the possible way, I want to point out, I mean it in the way Kevin Smith, Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and, on a much larger scale, Steven Speilberg are brands. Most people aren't going to see "Slumdog Milionaire," they're going to see, "The New Danny Boyle Move"). But he's still made some wonderful movies, such as "24 Hour Party People," (also written by the writer of this one), and "A Cock & Bull Story," both starring Steve Coogan, and both probably finding their way past the halfway mark in my top 100 movies of all time (although "... Party People," would be placed above "... Cock & Bull Story," if I'm honest). And even the films he's made that weren't as well recieved, like the sexually explicit "9 Songs," (which I've not seen, so you know what that means...), he's still found himself given respect for being willing to take chances. And there was one of his films, sitting sandwiched between two low-budget erotic horror movies (more on them another time). Suffice to say, I picked it up and ran for the counter like I was afraid it would turn to dust at any second.

Prior to the film starting properly, we're greeted, as we were with the last movie I covered, to more text, informing us of the following...










As you can plainly see, that is alot of text, and also alot to take in before the credits have even rolled. I find myself slightly more forgiving of this technique than I was when it was use in "Stag," because whereas that movie used it so it didn't have to bother establishing who any of the characters, here it's used to illustrate what will undoubtably be one of the main plot points of the movie. However, I can't help but think they could have just had a character at some point explain what Code 46 is, in a more efficient way than this does. All you really need to know is that, in the future, there are lots of people walking around unknowingly related to each other, and Code 46 exists to stop them reproducing. And even if you did feel like going into more detail than that, it's not like this movie was running long, including the credits it lasts a little less than 90 minutes.

So the movie starts properly now, and we see Tim Robbins' character, William, arriving at Shanghai by plane and being driven to the city, as we hear a woman's voice speaking over the top of what we're watching, speculating about what he must have done to reach his destination and eing proven write with every jump-cut. Some people feel the same way about voiceovers as I do about needless text, but I've never minded it really, especially not when it's used properly, which I feel it is here. It's not really used to fill in plot holes as it is to give us an insight into the mind of another character. When the car reaches the one of the checkpoints into the city, it is accousted by those that live (or as William's driver puts it, "just exist") in the desert surrounding it, attempting to sell them things. William takes a shine to one of the Outsiders, buys two sherbert fountains off him, and then gently lets him down when he says he can't get him into the city, telling him not to give up trying. This gets him telling off from his driver, who informs him that he shouldn't give out hope like that, as people who can't get in places usually can't for a reason. See? Something was established within the movie using characters, dialogue and actions! That wasn't so hard, was it?

Following this we meet the woman who was providing the voiceover for the proceeding scenes, Maria, played by Samantha Morton, when a talking screen near her bed wakes her up and wishes her Happy Birthday. I'm a huge fan of Samantha Morton. She's an amazing actress, but that's only part of it. In all honesty, I suspect she may be an Angel. I mean, she's not a typically attractive woman. "Quirky," I suppose is how most would describe her. But she just radiates this... it's difficult to put into words, but... she gives off this luminous, frail beauty, in every role she plays. You can't take your eyes off her, and you don't really want to. She... I'm going to stop now, because I've just read this paragraph back to myself and it's coming across as really creepy, and I've a feeling it'll only get creepier. She's fucking wonderful. Let's get back to the movie. Maria tells us via voiceover of a dream she has every year on her Birthday, that she's on a train, walking from carriage-to-carriage, looking for someone, she only has twenty stops to find them, and every year the train makes it to another stop. She tells us tonight she's down to the last station, and that if she's allowed to sleep, maybe she'll discover what she's who she's lookng for, or at least where she's going. It's all very cryptic, as you can tell.

Over the next few scenes we discover Michael's job, which is that of insurance freud investigator, and that he has been called in by The Sphinx, a company that makes insurance cover documents, or "Papeles," that allow people to travel to places they wouldn't normally. Apparently, someone has been creating forged Papeles for people, and the company would like William to discover who the culprit is. We also find out that William is able to read people's minds when they give him a piece of information about themselves, which is why he's so good at his job. He has this ability through the use of a specially created "Virus," that allow the people that are infected with them to do things they normally couldn't. I like the whole virus concept, and I also like that it's implimented in a very real-world way, with people not looking to become superheroes or anything special, but just to be better at their jobs. There's also a funny line later where Maria tells of how she was once infected with a virus that allowed her to speak Mandarin, only for her to not know what she was saying afterwards.

The Sphinx has already narrowed down a list of suspects for William to interview, based on the printer the forgeries came from, and he interviews them one-by-one, getting them to tell him something about themselves, leading to some very good pieces of dialogue, especailly from the woman who admits to having a fetish for freckled skin, which is made even funnier by William's amused reaction. I think I'm halfway with her on that one. Whilst I don't think I have a fetish about it, specifically, I do think freckles are nice. The only person who gives him any trouble during these interviews is, predictably, Maria. He takes this as a chance to flirt with her in a roundabout way, asking her what she's doing tonight, which lead her to tell him it's her Birthday, which of course lets him into her mind and causes him to look sternly at her and almost growl, "Happy Birthday." Now, we know why he's suddenly turned like this, because he's obviously just found out something about her that he'd rather he hadn't, but she doesn't know that, and if I were her, this sudden change in demeanour would have me slowly backing towards the door.

So once it's established that it's obviously Maria doing the dirty work, William goes and intentionally fingers the wrong man (I hate it when the wrong man gets fingered...). And he does this so he can transparently get into her knickers. Actually that's not fair, this is a classier movie than that, I suppose you could say that he's drawn to her in a way he's not used to, and in looking into her mind maybe he feels like he's made more of a connection to her and all that. But the problem with making small movies like this is that often, alot goes unsaid, and sometimes people's actions can feel like they come right out of left-field. So alot of the time you're left to just assume people's motivations for things, and I don't think it makes you a bad person if you assume that a guy who just let a woman he's just met that he's obviously attracted to off a fairly serious crime because he's horny.

He follows her onto a train, they talk some more, and agree to go and get something to eat. I have to say, there's real chemistry between them, they have this warm fondness when they look at each other that you see from people who find each other attractive and enjoy each other's company (and it is possible to have one without the other, believe me). It goes along way to counteract the age difference between them that can play on some people's minds. I've met people who just outright refuse to watch "Lost in Translation," because the find the thought of Bill Murray romancing Scarlett Johansson repulses them, makes their flesh crawl. It's not as extreme here as it was in that movie, Tim Robbins would have been in his mid-fouries when this was filmed as opposed to his early-fifties, and Samantha Morton isn't as young as Johansson was, but I know some people will stii hae a problem with it. To me it also helps that Robbins looks remarkably youthful for a man of his age, whereas Murray... to put it politely, he appears to have lived a hard life.

They go to karaoke bar, which bizarrely has Mick Jones from The Clash up on-stage singing, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (I can't decide if this joke is clever or too clever for it's own good). Here William and Maria meet up with one of the people she's sold a Papele to, Damien, who intends to use it to travel to Delhi to study bats. Oddly, William picks this moment to become stern again, parroting what his driver said earlier about how there's usually a very good reason for people not being given permission to go to certain places. I mean, seriously mate, make up your fucking mind. You can't suddenly go all authoritarian. You've already let her off and pretty much defanged yourself in front of her. You gave her a sherbert fountain for her Birthday, for Christ's sake. She even pretty much confirms this when he asks her why she's showing him all this, saying he could have her arrested at a moment's notice, and she just casually says, "You won't." So just chill and have a dance. Oh good, you are.

William ends up back at her apartment, where they keep up up their friendly chatting/flirting. She tells him that one of her figers is younger than all the others because of a childhood accident that caused her to have to grow it back. William jokingly suggests maybe he should have the same thing done to get rid of his old face, but she tells him he doesn't need that done. That's nice. She shows him her moving image scrapbook made up of her memories, including some of her parents. She falls asleep where she's sitting (CHARMING!), he carries her to bed, and she begins to have the train dream... only for him to wake her up with coffee. She get up, and they both start singing Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry," her on the toilet at the time, and of course, they have sex. I talked to a friend of mine about this movie, and mentioned this particular bit to him to him as I thought it was profoundly strange, and in his opinion this sounded like the most realistic part of the movie, because, and I quote, "Most women take a piss when they know for a fact that they're going to get laid, so they don't have to stop in the middle." I love my friends.

There are a couple of sex scenes in this movie, and both of them are a bit, well... yuck. The second one is yuck for a couple of additional reasons, but they both share the same basic problems. I think it's the way they're shot, as though we're seeing the act from William's point of view, which in theory should be okay because we get to see none of his obviously gurning face. But the thing is, I don't think Sam Morton really knows how to do sex acting. She's just sort of writhing around almost as if she's in pain, and if something off-shot is biting her legs off. It's really not erotic at all, which would be fine if that were the point, but I don't think it is. If the crtics are to be believed, this scene may have been an indicator of things to come for Michael Winterbottom's career...

They wake up later that night, and William is now quite abrupt and hurriedly getting ready to leave. You could chalk it up to him only having a 24 hour pass, and there's some cuddling between them, but you can clearly tell he just wants to get out of there. And when he gets home, we discover why- not only does he have a son, who he's already mentioned, but he also has... A WIFE! I'll admit that maybe I'm a little naive, but I was actually a bit shocked at this reveal, inwardly going, "OF COOOOOURSE! HE HAS A WIIIIIFE!" I mean, yeah, he'd mentioned the kid, but having a son doesn't mean you have to be married. And of course this information colours the previous sequence of events a bit. Before, he was a guy who found himself strangely drawn to a woman he's just met in a way that confused him. Now he looks a bit like a letch who used his position to get himself some from someone he knew for a fact that he'd never see again. Bad form.

The movie has the sense to realise people may feel this way about the character now, so William is shown attempting to call Maria, only to get no answer, and is also seen looking up information about her and her family on his computer. His virtual stalking is interrupted when he's informed that Damien, the guy he met in the bar with Maria, has been found dead in Delhi. This part of the movie I really like because it portrays the Power That Be as more than just evil megalomanics that want to control everybody. Damien was denied access to Delhi because he had a genetic weakness to Wards Disease, which causes the sufferer to bleed to death. We're told that it's rife in that area of the world, but most of those that live there are immune to it. So there was a real, legitimate reason for him being told, "no." It adds a level of complexity to things that I approve of. It's now obvious that William has fucked up on a rather grand scale, and he's reluctantly sent to bring in Maria.

One problem though- she seems to have disappeared, taken away by oficials due to a "body issue." Using his empathy, he discovers that Maria is pregnant, and has been taken to a clinic "Outside," for violation of Code 46. Almost halfway through this movie and finally the title and all that stuff at the beginning make sense...

... wait... if they've violated Code 46, then that would mean...

... no, I'm not gonna think about that, not until I absolutely have to.

He finds the clinic, only to discover that his empathy is useless here, as the place is filled with "Anti-Viral Bacteria," that cancels it out and also gives him a cold (I like the ideas this movie has, and the way it impliments them), preventing him from guessing the password of the woman on the desk (played in a cameo by Nina Wadia, who UK readers may recognise from "Goodness Gracious Me!" amongst other things). However, instead of turning him away, she tells him, "Here on The Outside, we do not have access to some of the pleasures freely availiable on The Inside." Taking the hint, he tries to bride her, only for her to inform him, "I don't need wealth, I just need... a little encouragment." Now, maybe it's my dirty mind, maybe it's the way she says the line, or maybe it's just the coy-yet-knowing smirks both people have on their faces but... I think she's saying she'll let him in if he has sex with her. And the next scene is his walking around the clinic talking to a doctor, so use your imaginations. This guy.

William is finally taken to see Maria, only to find out that she doesn't remember him. He's finds out that this is due to the fact that, as always happens when Code 46 is accidently breached, the woman is taken into custody, the pregnancy is terminated, and the memory of the person she was with (i.e. William) is removed. Under the guise that he needs her for his investigation, he takes her from the clinic and back to her apartment, where he uses her memory scrapbook to show her that he knows her, that he fell in love with her, and that the memories of him have been taken from her. She freaks out. Who wouldn't? I would. Thought not as much as I'd freak if I discovered what William does next- he takes a sample of Maria's hair to a genetic screening clinic, has it compared with his own, and finds out the inevitable, that they're (gah...) technically related. Worse, she's (GAH!) a 100% genetic match with his mother. Oh dear Lord. His next course of action is to get the fuck out of Dodge immediately, driving to the airport and trying to get on the next plane back home, only to find that he can't leave, as his cover has expired, leaving him with no choice but to ask Maria to get him a forged Papele, which she does with great difficulty, as she's practically been rumbled and relocated to a new position.

On the train to meet him, however, she flashes back to her Birthday dream, and suddenly her memories of him come flooding back. She tells him this, and he decides to use his cover not to go home, but instead to go to a place called Jebel Ali, taking her with him. I'm not sure if I buy this scene, to be honest, it's another point whee we're just left to assume things. For William to go from being so desperate to get back to his family, to deciding that he'd rather be with Maria, just because she remembers him, doesn't ring true to me. I mean, I know he loves her, but it's just such an abrupt turn. In any event, they arrive, do some sightseeing, find a place to stay, and then...

... oh no. Oh nonono. Maria wants them to have sex again. And he want to, too. I think I'm going to be sick. Worse, the people who erased her memories also gave her a virus which would make her physically fight back against having sex with him if they ever tried, which since she's insistant they do so, she gets him to tie her wrists to the headboard of the bed with their belts. So this scene is going to feature, for lack of better words to describe it, the consentual rape of a woman who is genetically the guy's mother, with light bondage thrown in for good meas...

... VAGINA!!!!!



I was just... caught off-guard for a second there, because William just removed Maria's skirt, and there was a long, lingering close-up of Samantha Morton's... vagina. I didn't even know you could do full-frontal in a 15-rated movie. Actually scratch that, I recently saw "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," for the first time, which is also a 15, and was surprised by the amount of Jason Segal's penis that was in it. But still. Anyway, this sex scene's no improvement on the last one, only this one comes with added Oedipus complex. In an interesting twist, the next day it's revealed that the virus comes with a failsafe built into it, which causes the person infected with it to call in and report the offence they've just comitted, and then not want to leave the scene of the crime. Camly, as if accepting his fate, William convinces her to leave, buys a car, and they begin to drive of into the desert, being followed by another car. It's here I was expecting, well, maybe not a big stand-off, but maybe something a bit dramatic, last standish. But that's not what happens at all. What happens is, William and Maria are involved in an accident when he suddenly swerves to avoid people riding camels on the road. That's it, that's the big climax. They're both captured, William has all the memories of Maria erased and is sent back to his family, where he's shown being very happy, and Maria is exiled to The Outside, her memories left intact, as she now no longer matters. The last line of the film is delivered by Maria in voiceover- "I miss you."

I know some people will make it to this point and decide they're never going to watch this movie just because of that ending. And I can understand that, I can understand people thinking it sounds totally unsatifying. Even I'll admit to watching the credit start to role and thinking to myself, "... Huh. Okay. That really is it, then?" But still, I liked this movie. I liked the performances from the two leads, even if I have no idea what kind if an accent Morton was attempting. I liked the cinematography, this really is a beautifully-shot film, even moreso when you take into account that they probably didn't have alot of money to work with. I like the music. I don't talk about music enough in these things, but I'm going to start doing so from now on. The score's great, emotional without being cloying or cliched, and they even manage to use a Coldplay song at the end and not make me want to roll my eyes. I like the version of the furure put across. Most films either go the route of everything being drity and in a state of disrepair, ala "Blade Runner," or go the clean-and-clinical "Brave New World" way. This one takes elements of both, and smooshes them together in a way that seems more realistic. I could believe that this is what the future could be like. But most of all, I liked how... warm this movie feels. Looking at the box are and the title, I expected this to be very detatched, but instead it's a remarkably human story full of love. Love that doesn't win out in the end, but love all the same.



A rare victory for Poundland. Savour it, boys and girls, because I think it's going to be something of a rarity.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and forget it Jake, it's Chinatown.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

The Cheap-Arse Film Review #14- "STAG."









PRICE: 99p

"But Daddy, why'd you have to call it... "Stag?""


That's a reference not many people reading this will get, but I had to get it out of my system. Sorry.

So, the nineties. They were odd, weren't they? I had a problem admitting that for a while, partly because I'm a sentimental bastard and look back fondly on alot of my childhood and early teen memories from that time, and partly because, unlike the other decades that my ilk readily make fun of, like the sixties and seventies, or even the eighties, I was there in the thick of it, a willing participant in the insanity. I owned one of those T-Shirts that changed colour with your body heat that never worked properly again after one wash. I had a line shaved into my head like Vanilla Ice. I fancied all the Spice Girls (yes, including Sporty, and I wouldn't say no to any of them now, thinking about it). I THOUGHT DAVID BADDIEL WAS FUNNY (strangely though, he's now one of my favourite writers and opinionists. I wonder if I'll change my mind about that in ten years time...). So in laughing at the nineties, I would have been laughing at myself. And I took myself far too seriously for far too long to be able to do that. But now, fuck it. Alot about that decade was absurd, and so was I. Still am. Look what I do for fun.

It was also the decade when we collectively seemed to become bored with happiness. Let me tell a story from my youth. When I was about 14, I was in Drama class, and we were all split into groups of about four or five and told to come up with a silent performance about a boxer and his girlfriend. To be original, our group thought it would be fun to have our version end on downer, with the girlfriend leaving with the boxer's opponent after the poor guy had been beaten. So the time came to show what we'd come up with to each other, and we went first. We did our bit, got a round of applause, then walked off stage. The then next group then went up and, other than a few minor details, performed the exact same story. So did the next group. And the one after that. The last group, I'll never forget this, actually had the boxer beaten to death as his girlfriend laughed at him from ringside. And when we were done, our teacher, and eccentric-but-lovely lady, sat silently in her chair for a few moments. I half expected her to start literally weeping for the future. She may have unknowingly witnessed the birth of Emo, come to think of it.

My point is, it was very trendy back then for stories to be depressing, and cinema wasn't immune to this. From about the mid-to-late nineties, we saw the brief rise of the misanthropic, occasionally mysoginistic, "Feel-Bad" sub-genre of dramas and dark comedies, such as "In the Company of Men," (two men plan to seduce and then destroy a deaf woman), "Your Friends & Neighbors," (this is the entire one-line synopsis from IMDb: "Unhappy couples fall apart and hop into other beds with other people." That pretty much sums it up
. Also this movie and the last one were both written and directed by Neil LaBute, which pretty much sums him up, too) "Very Bad Things," (which has more than a couple of things in common with the movie I'll be covering today, which is interesting because apparently "Stag," came out first...), before reaching it's logical conclusion just before the end of the century with "Fight Club," which somehow managed to find hope and optimism in nihilism, self-loathing and the end of the financial world (Christ, now there's a movie that's as relevent today as it ever was...). Sometime amongst all that, this movie was released, and true to form, it's plot isn't exactly rainbows, unicorns and hand-holding.

We begin with some aerial shots of a city somewhere in America. I don't know what city. I'm tempted to say New York, but that's what I'm always tempted to say, and one day I'm going to get it wrong and and get an angry email off someone. Tom Jones is playing over the top of this by the way, singing an upbeat, happy ditty which really does nothing to tell you what kind of movie you're about to watch. We then follow a car in the same manner until it pulls up outside a house and two men, one black, one white, both dressed in suits, get out. The white guy then waves to his neighbor as he's bringing down his American flag. We know this is his house because as he waves, he says to his friend, "That's my neighbor," which straight away seems like an odd thing to say, because if this is your your house, of course the person livng next door to you would be your neighbor. That's what neighbors are.

They go inside the house, and are talking about some kind of business they're doing, and the white dude suddenly finds himself in the middle of a surprise stag party with his friends old and new. The laugh, they hug, they share oddly sexualy-charged looks with each other, you know the drill. At this point, the movie introduces us to all the characters by way of freeze-framing on them and putting up a some text telling us who they are and some additional information. This is what we learn...

VICTOR MALLICK (John Stockwell); Entrepreneur of the year, groom
MICHAEL BARNES (Mario Van Peebles); Victor's business partner & attorney, candidate for City Council
TIMAN BERNARD (John Henson); Accountant, author of "Ethics in Business
TAYLOR RUNDGREN (Greg Alan Williams); Former football star, child care worker
JON DICAPRI (William McNamara); Soap oprah star, spokesman for "Stars Against Drugs"
PETE WEBER (Andrew McCarthy); Drug dealer, extortionist. Self-employed
DANIEL KANE (Kevin Dillon); Gulf War veteran, post traumatic stress disorder
BEN MARKS (Mark Blum); Owner of "Happy Home" greeting card chain
ED LABENSKI (Gerald Anthoney); Contractor, church treasurer
FRANK GRIECO (Ben Gazzara); Restauranteur, grandfather

I'm in two minds about this technique. On the one hand, I'm a fan of economic character establishment, of getting the basic nuts and bolts of who someone is out there as quickly as humanly possible, and this certainly does that. But at the same time, it feels a little bit, I don't know, lazy. Like they couldn't be bothered to establish who these people were within the context of the movie, so they just put some words up on screen and that was the job done. The only person during this sequence who really gets any additional development is Timan, who Pete discovers is secretly gay and leading a double life when he goes through his wallet. Some of them also either really signpost a few upcoming plot points (I wonder if the one that's the spokesperson for "Stars Against Drugs," will be revealed to have a habit?) or are just oddly worded, like when we're told that Daniel is "post traumatic stress disorder." What, is that his job now? Does he just walk around being Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Would it have been too hard to have stuck the word "sufferer," on the end? We find out that Ben Marks owns the "Happy Home," greetings card chain after he's said he's going to destroy his wife during their divorce, which was at least an amusing sight gag.

So the party goes on, there's drinking and other debauchery, and... WAT? Ed is now running around in women's underwear and suspenders wearing a red curly wig. Okay, what's going on? This is the forth dude dressed like a woman I've seen reviwing the last two movies. Is the cosmos trying to tell me something? Anyway, like with any good stag party, the strippers (played by Kelly McShane and Taylor Dayne) eventually show up, along with their male escort, all dressed like cops. I've been accused a couple of times recently of having a thing for, and I quote, "dirty blondes." And whilst I will hold up my hand and say a few of the women I find myself drawn to sexually fit into this category, I don't think it's fair to say they're my type, because these women right here really are dirty blondes, and I don't find myself attracted to them in the least. They both look a bit ragged and older than they probably are, which to be honest is probably good, because alot of stripper and/or hookers in movies look far too fresh-faced and chipper to have been doing what they do for any length of time. It's a hard life, and puts years on a woman very quickly. They start to perform, sucking on their chocolate guns (no, that's not code for anything, they really do have chocolate guns), remove their clothes, there's lap-dancing, some actual fucking, and I can't help but think this whole spectacle looks really... gross. They're all just a bunch of baying drunk idiots, some of whom are old enough to be my Dad. Being at a stag party is definitely more fun than watching one, I've decided.

Everything's going good, the guys are all getting their jollies in one way or another, then someone goes and does something stupid like accidently killing one of the girls whilst throwing her up and down in a blanket over a marble floor. There was no danger in doing that at all, was there? Their escort freaks out, and we find out that his gun isn't made of chocolate when he starts firing it, tagging Daniel in the leg, before he accidently shoots himself in the struggle. So this party now has a bodycount of two. We're really rocking now!

Her sister (oh yeah, I forgot to say, the strippers are sisters), comes back downstairs from fucking one of the old dudes after hearing the gun shots and, upon discovering the bodies, understandably begins to have something of a conniption. Do they attempt to calm her down and explain what happened? No, not really, it seems like a better idea to them to take her upstairs and duct-tape her to a chair whilst they figure out what would be the best course of action for them now. As was established by the text near the beginning, these people aren't Average Joes, most of the are very successful and have alot to lose, so the thought of just calling the cops isn't all that attractive to them. It's at this point that Pete really takes center stage as a complete and utter... I want to use the one curse word I've sworn to myself I'll never use, just incase my Mum ever reads any of these. You all know what it is. That dude behind the glass told Jodie Foster he could smell hers in "Silence of the Lambs." Getting back to Pete, from here on in he's the closest thing this movie has to a real antagonist, which is to say that whilst everyone else now turns into a dick, he turns into a great, big, swinging dick. When he first showed up, he looked just so stereotypically bad news, with a tattoo on the side of his neck and these horrible yellow teeth, that I thought it might be a red herring and that he'd actually end up being the hero. But no, the movie had his role all planned out, and he seemingly just dressed the part. Infact, he's worse than he looks, if that's possible. He's more than just a horrible person, he's virually a personification of pure evil, goading people to give into their dark desires and using their dirty little secrets against them. There's a bit later on where he's playing the piano with this massive grin on his face, and I swear, he looks like Satan himself. And the only real explaination for his behaviour we're given is that he was raped in prison on his Birthday. "Happy Birthday, bitch," one of the other characters mutters upon hearing this. Lovely.

From this point on, the movie becomes talky. Very, very talky. I suppose that's why the first 15 minutes or so were so gimmicky and frantic, because they felt that they had to hook the audience before the main body of the film began. Quite clever, really. But I will say this part of the movie isn't that interesting to recap. I tried, but I then reread what I'd wrote and realised all I was doing was making a transcript of the screenplay. There are a couple of moments worth mentioning, like Frank recalling the time he and a friend of his got away with shooting a man dead during an armed robbery in his youth (whilst staring at the thong-clad backside of the dead girl, for reasons I really don't want to think about), and Daniel telling Taylor about his experiences in Iraq (to which Taylor responds, "Man I don't need to be hearing this flashback bullshit," which I think may be the best line in the screenplay). You also get a good look at the acting abilities of all the men really for the first time. Most of them just give eh performances really, nothing special. There are a couple of good ones. Kevin Dillon's alright, although this movie is a testiment to just how typecast he now is, as I'm not the biggest "Entourage," fan in the world, I've probably only seen a couple of episodes, but when I saw him on the front of the box, I found myself thinking, "Wow, Johnny Drama's in this." And Andrew MaCathy has a ball as Pete, but then playing the panto villain who gets to munch on the scenery is always fun. There are also some real stinkers, too. Ben Gazzara as Frank is awful, every line of dialogue he utters is so over-laboured and filled with BIG DRAMATIC EMPHASIS. I cringed everytime he said something. William McNamara doesn't come across much better either. Some of that might be down to the character he's playing, who might be the biggest loser of all of them, but his big puppy-dog eye and the open-mouthed, gormless facial expression he wears in every scene makes it hard for me to give him the benefit of the doubt. And Mario Van Peebles... I can't decide if he gives a bad performance or not, in all honesty. He plays William in a very reserved, constantly nervous way, even before the shit hits the fan. I don't know if it's a strange performance, of if it's just strange seeing him play a character like this, which isn't something he normally does. It's memorable, I'll give him that.

Its during these scenes that Daniel is positioned as the sort-of hero of the film, by making everyone agree that they all have to agree with whatever plan is proposed before they go along with it. Victor's first idea is to blame the whole thing on Pete, but when that results in guns being pulled everybody quickly moves on. The best they can come up with is to dispose of the bodies and then pay the woman upstairs to go away and keep quiet, which she's not down with because, 1) these bastards just killed her sister and her friend, so fuck them, and 2) she has a son and isn't willing to uproot him. As this is going on, there are more deaths- Timan jumps into the swimming pool, drowning himself for apparently being so pathetic, and Daniel and Frank, who start being hostile to each other out of nowhere, get into a scuffle, with Daniel using his military training to overwhelm the old guy, causing him to have a heart attack (thank God). That's your hero, right there.

So things go on like this for a while. The neighbor we saw earlier comes over twice, both times setting off the alarm, causing them to have to shut it off and get rid of him. Incidently, the neighbor's played by Jerry Stiller, father of Ben, who seems really confused in this role, like he had no idea he was supposed to be in this movie until he was called to the set. Daniel finds the woman attempting to escape, and perhaps out of guilt over what he's just done, starts untaping her. This causes his supposed friends to turn on him and now tie him up. They're both brought downstairs, and what the've been uneasily dancing around for the last hour or so is finally verbalised- they kill the surviving stipper, and blame the whole thing on Frank, whose death is no being treated like an early Christmas present. They all go along with it, some of them reluctantly, except Daniel, whose vote they decide no longer counts. As a last resort, Daniel proposes aplan that lets her live, and it's this- they use their collective power to have her son taken away from her, have him placed in foster care, and if she ever says anything, they'll have him killed. I'll say it again, THAT'S YOUR HERO. His idea of saving this woman is to take away the last thing she has left to live for! And she says as much when he puts the idea to her, before telling them all to get bent.

Hearing enough, Pete goes to finisher her off, before Daniel breaks free and rushes him, seemingly kneeing him in the nards and taking his gun. He then offers it to all the other people in the room to se if they have the balls to shoot the girl themselves. They all say no, with the exception of Victor, who snatches the gun off him, says he has too much to lose, proclaims her, "just a fucking whore," and is about to pull the trigger when... his phone goes off. He answers it, and it's the alarm company, informing him that they've had the cops dispatched to his place due to his alarm going off. He tells them that it's nothing, and to call the police off, but they still pull up in his driveway anyway. The watch through the window, trying frantically to come up with a plan for when they knock, when they get a call on the receivers not to bother going in. They turn back, the guys celebrate, and the woman bursts into tears. She then notices that, like a bunch of morons, they've put down not one, but both of the guns, which she picks up and turns on them, shooting Pete in the knee and then firing both point-blank into his chest. The police then burst in (and inexplicably there's now alot more than the two there were just a second ago), shoot the woman, who dies in Daniel's arms as he looks at a picture of her son in a locket she had around her neck, and arrest everybody else, who are all blaming each other for what went down. As it turns out, it didn't matter what they said, as we find out that the last twenty mintes or so of them planning had been accidently recorded on the video camera they were using to record the festivities earlier, and we are informed by Daniel via voiceover that they all served jail-time, the harshest sentences going to Victor and William, who serve seven years. Daniel apparently uses the tape to get off with no charges, even though the tape must have recorded him proposing they kidnap her son, which must have broken some kind of law. We're then told that he feels bad about the woman's death (although he hasn't expressed any remourse for Frank, I want to point that out) that she shouldn't have died, and that he thinks about that every time he sees her son. Whether he now has care of the boy or if he just kept her locket, we're never told. Not that it matters.

I've said before that it's possible to make a cynical, spiteful movie that's actually entertaining to watch. And I stand by that. But if this movie proves anything, it's that there's an art to it. It is possible to write a morally repugnant character that it's fun to spend time with. Take, and this might not seem fair to some people, but take Daniel Plainview from, "There Will be Blood," for example. He's not a nice guy. He's a greedy, manipulative arsehole. But you enjoy watching him, because he's so charasmatic, and he's allowed a little complexity, especially with regards to the relationship he has with his adopted son. Or Tyler Durden! He puts across ideas and makes the case for things that most upstanding citizens would be repulsed by, but everyone who loves "Fight Club," be it the movie or the book, loves him, because he put forward said ideas in such a compelling way. Or... or... THE JOKER! Which one? Doesn't matter! Be it Nicholson or Ledger, he's a murderous psychopath, and he's adored. I went to see "The Dark Knight," with my family, and my mother- MY MOTHER!- said at the end that she thought The Joker was great and that he was her favourite character. So it can be done.

But it's not done here. Here, almost every single character is loathsome, and I hated every second I was in there company. I couldn't wait for this movie to end, and I couldn't wait to throw it away.



I'm actually surprised I'm binning this. I really thought I'd end up keeping it, because whilst I was looking over the box, I saw that my beloved Empire Magazine (and it is love, if I could marry one monthly publication, Empire would be the one, moreso even than Playboy, because I don't think I'd have alot in common with Playboy) had at the time of it's release given it four-stars-out-of-five and proclaimed it, "the best thriller of the year."

That, ladies & gentlemen, that is what you would call a sign of the times.

Until next week, I'm The Cheap-Arse Film Critic, and you're a hooker!