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Brahms: The Boy II

86 minutes have rarely felt so long.
I don't know what's hardest to believe: that they made a sequel to mediocre doll horror The Boy, that the film has had a cinematic release, that Katie Holmes is in it, or that I actually dragged myself off the sofa and out of a nice warm house to go and see this steaming pile of derivative crap.

The first film was a moderately entertaining take on the old creepy doll format, but Brahms: The Boy II is so clichéd and predictable in virtually every way that it had me groaning in exasperation rather than yelping in fear. For the majority of the film, very little of interest happens: youngster Jude (Christopher Convery) glowers menacingly as antique doll Brahms slowly takes hold of him, he draws worryingly violent pictures, and refuses to eat his dinner. Brahms switches on the television, and turns his head when no-one is looking. Hardly what I would call bowel-loosening horror!

After much dull stuff and nonsense, in which Holmes, as Jude's mother Liza, struggles to look suitably concerned or scared, and absolutely no-one dies (a boy has a nasty accident, as much his fault as it is Jude's or Brahms'), director William Brent Bell delivers a rushed final act in which the demonic doll is easily defeated by being thrown in a furnace.

A dumb ending sets things up for a third film -- straight to DVD/streaming service next time, I suspect.

2.5/10, rounded up to 3 for the subtle changes in Brahms' expression as Liza checks the doll for a serial number, but minus one point for all of the sudden loud noises that take the place of genuine scares.

War for the Planet of the Apes

That poor horse.
War for the Planet of the Apes. Sounds epic, doesn't it? Humans and chimps locked in mortal combat for the supremacy of the planet. Which makes it all the more of a let-down that the majority of this third movie in the rebooted franchise doesn't feature any such action. Most of the film follows chimp Caesar (Andy Serkis) as he makes his way to a human military base where he hopes to take revenge on The Colonel (Woody Harrelson), the man who killed his wife and child.

Along the way, Caesar encounters both human and apes, some of whom join him on his travels (including a comedy relief chimp called Bad Ape, and a young mute girl called Nova, a nod towards Linda Harrison's character in the original The Planet of the Apes movie). When Caesar is captured and taken to be tortured in the Colonel's ape work-camp, these new friends help him to escape. Of the 140 minute run-time, only the final 20 minutes or so contain any scenes that could be described as 'war', as a human battalion attacks The Colonel's stronghold; the apes are caught in the crossfire as they try to flee.

Judging by the film's current IMDb rating of 7.4, Caesar's emotional journey seems to have satisfied many viewers. Me? I longed for hordes of angry apes on horseback firing machine guns (the best thing about the previous movie), but I was left wanting, my disappointment compounded by the fact that the digital effects for this third film have finally come close to convincing me that the apes are real (the CGI has really improved since 2011) and an all-out inter-species battle could have been something truly spectacular. Oh well, maybe next time.

5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb (although I very nearly rounded my rating down because -- and you can call me picky, if you like -- I refuse to believe that a horse could support the weight of a fully grown gorilla).

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Better than Rise.
I struggled with Planet of the Apes reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes, finding the plot dreary, human lead James Franco rather bland, and the CGI ape effects less than convincing. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is far better in terms of storyline, progressing the narrative nicely into post-apocalyptic territory, and the digital trickery to bring the apes to life has improved. That said, I'm still not 100% sold on computer generated animals: it's clever stuff, to be sure, but even the best CGI isn't good enough to convince me that they're anything but pixels.

Take the opening scene, for example: an army of apes hunts a herd of stags through the woods, only to be confronted by a bear. All of the animals are CGI, with the fancy camerawork swooping in and out of what is a presumably CGI enhanced environment. It's an overload of not quite completely credible visual wizardry that immediately reinforces the fact that most of what we are seeing has been realised with a fancy 3D software package. Since so much of the rest of the film relies on this technology, the whole experience, no matter how skilfully told, doesn't quite sit right. It's a shame because the acting and direction are very good, and the writing enjoyable (not always plausible, but still fun) with plenty of pathos and loads of action, as the human survivors of a 'simian flu' epidemic come to blows with a civilisation of intelligent apes lead by chimpanzee Caesar (performed via motion capture technology by Andy Serkis).

If you're a fan of all things ape, then the positives outweigh the negatives, ensuring that the film is an entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. If anything, it does provide the awesome sight of a snarling chimpanzee riding a horse while firing two machine guns.

6.5/10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb.

Sonic the Hedgehog

Not-so-super Sonic.
I spent many happy hours in the early '90s playing Sonic the Hedgehog on my Mega Drive. I just spent ninety-nine minutes watching the Sonic movie in the cinema; they were nowhere near as enjoyable.

When early images of a horribly human-like CGI Sonic were leaked online, fans of the speedy blue mammal were not at all pleased; as a result, the studio revisited the hedgehog's design and re-rendered the special effects.

Or so they would have us believe.

Call me a cynic, but I think that the whole thing was a clever marketing ploy. That they had the final, cuter design in their pocket all along, fully rendered and ready to go, only pretending to have got it terribly wrong in order to generate interest. By seemingly going to the immense trouble and expense of re-visiting the look of Sonic, they appeared to be genuinely concerned about keeping us hedgehog-heads happy. How could anyone not go and see the film after all that effort?

The truth of the matter is that screen Sonic is still a bit off (his eyes are a weird shape, his spines look strange and his legs are too long) AND he is a bit of a dick to boot: he plays with property that doesn't belong to him (baseball equipment), spies on his neighbours, steals from a gift shop, trashes a motel room, crashes a borrowed car, causes a bar-room brawl, and leads Dr. Robotnik on a merry chase through a city's streets that undoubtedly involves many human casualties. His personality is abrasive to put it mildly (and he's borderline schizo).

Sonic might have been a bit more bearable had the plot/script for his movie debut been hilarious and full of inventive action, but sadly this is not the case. The storyline is weak, the action predictable and the humour unlikely to appeal to anyone over the age of five. One might argue that the under-fives are the target audience, but are they really? Anyone who played the Sonic games at the height of their popularity will be in their late thirties, forties, or even older; there's very little in this film that will appeal to adults.

Jim Carrey, who plays Robotnik, is his usual manic, larger-then-life self, but soon proves to be just as irritating as his CGI co-star. James Marsden, who plays Tom Wachowski, the small town sheriff who befriends Sonic, is simply bland. The action is overloaded with unimpressive digital effects, with two scenes being blatant cribs from the X-Men movies, Sonic stealing his super-speed/slow-motion schtick from QuickSilver. There's only one genuinely amusing line of dialogue, when Sonic is hiding in a hold-all -- the rest is just unfunny blah!

My favourite thing about the whole film are the closing credits, which are rendered in the style of old Sega game graphics: not only do they evoke a feeling of nostalgia and look cool, but they herald a very welcome end to a painful ninety-nine minutes of pure dross.

3/10. They should have set the whole film on Sonic's world, with the hedgehog having to brave various perils in order to free his woodland pals from Robotnik. I'd have loved to have seen an underwater scene with the hedgehog taking gulps from bubbles of air to make it out alive.

Dark Waters

Not exactly a laugh a minute. Unless you're sat in front of me, that is.
My daughter is just a little bit obsessed with Tim Robbins: she's seen virtually all of his films, many of them multiple times (she's even seen Howard the Duck more than once, which is above and beyond the call of duty). So I now find myself accompanying her to the cinema to see Dark Waters, a film that she's already seen by...ahem...'other means', but which she now wishes to see on the big screen to get the full Robbins effect.

I can take or leave Mr. Robbins, and films about corporate law really aren't my thing, so I wasn't expecting too much, but I'm happy to say that Dark Waters is actually pretty good -- not nearly as funny as the people in front of us thought (they were old and probably didn't know where they were), but still quite absorbing, the film helped in no small part by a strong central performance from Mark Ruffalo (he's the real star of the movie; Robbins only has a supporting role as his boss). Ruffalo plays corporate lawyer Rob Bilott, who represents a West Virginian farmer who claims that U.S. chemical giant DuPont are responsible for poisoning his land and livestock. As Bilott investigates, he discovers the one thing that any sane person already knows: that big corporations couldn't give a flying rat's arse about the consumer and their well-being just so long as the dollars keep rolling in.

What follows is a David vs. Goliath battle that sees Bilott risking all to get DuPont to accept responsibility for polluting the environment with 'forever' chemical perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), also known as C8, which can cause all manner of potentially fatal conditions. The film features a lot of paper-shuffling, people suffering from terminal disease, and a bad CGI cow, which might not be some people's idea of a good night out, but I say give it a whirl -- it's a damn sight better than a lot of the twaddle I've seen recently (Cats, Bombshell and Birds of Prey, take a bow).

7.5/10, which I would have rounded up to 8 if it wasn't for a couple of 'jokey' moments where Bilott's kids say inappropriate things (yes, the old folk in front of me found them hilarious); to me, these moments of levity seemed totally out of place.

N.B. Look out for a shot of the DuPont chemical works at the end of the film that sees the smoke being sucked back into a chimney (they must have reversed the footage and hoped that no-one would notice).

Doctor Sleep

Don't overlook it.
If you're a fan of Stephen King's style of writing, then there's a good chance you'll really enjoy Doctor Sleep, which is one of the most King-ian (or is that 'King-esque'?) screen adaptations of his work that I have seen in a long time, the film brimming with atmosphere and memorable characters, with all the little idiosyncrasies that make King's books so special. Hell, it's even got a weak finalé (lifted from King's original novel of The Shining, but never featured Kubrick's film).

Ewan McGregor (proving to me that he CAN still act after I had almost written him off) plays Dan Torrance, all grown up, womanising, getting wasted and doing his best not to 'shine'. Travelling to a small New Hampshire town, Dan meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), who gives the 'lost soul' a chance to turn his life around, securing him a job at a local hospice. It is there that Dan earns the nickname Doctor Sleep because of his uncanny ability to comfort the patients at their moment of death. He must use the full range of his powers, however, after teenager Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) contacts him telepathically, warning him of a ancient tribe of people called The True Knot, who feed on those who shine, sucking up the 'steam' produced when their victims experience pain and suffering. Combining his abilities with those of Abra, Dan eventually confronts Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), leader of The True Knot, at his old 'haunt', The Overlook Hotel, where he introduces her to some familiar faces.

Director Mike Flanagan (Gerald's Game) provides plenty of nods to the original Shining movie plus lots of impressively mounted scenes of his own devising (the murder of a little leaguer is genuinely disturbing and Rose's astral projection scene is stunningly executed), and he manages to hold the viewer's interest throughout despite a whopping three hour run-time and a measured pace. The build-up is so well-crafted that, when the final show-down arrives, it cannot help but feel a little anti-climactic (with the destruction of The Overlook being rather contrived). That said, as a whole this is a very admirable sequel to a much-loved horror classic and well worth checking out.

Charlie's Farm

Everyone buys the farm.
Aussie slasher Charlie's Farm suffers from serious pacing issues: after a promising pre-credits scene (featuring decapitation and impalement), virtually nothing of interest happens for about an hour. It's 60 minutes or so of tiresome nonsense as four friends drive to the location of the titular farm, once home to a cannibalistic couple and their physically deformed and mentally unstable son Charlie. On their travels, the foursome visit a bar where their enquiries upset the locals, camp in the outback, set off on foot, and finally find the farmhouse, where they stay the night. Barring the occasional flashback to provide further backstory for Charlie, the action thus far is uneventful and quite laborious.

The last half an hour is a different matter entirely: it's a gore-soaked blast, finally introducing the now-grown-up homicidal hulk Charlie, as played by 6'11" strongman Nathan Jones. Easily one of the most impressive movie maniacs of recent years, Charlie is a musclebound killing machine who likes to make a real mess of his victims. A young woman has her head crushed by a tractor, a guy gets his penis cut off and stuffed into his mouth, and a girl's jawbone is yanked off. Even actor Kane Hodder of Jason Vorhees/Victor Crowley fame meets his match, his character having his throat torn out by the grotesque giant. The grisly effects are excellent and certainly help to make up for the dreary first hour.

5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for the impressive splattery kills.

N.B. Those who watch for Bill Moseley might feel a tad disappointed, since his turn as Charlie's evil father is little more than a glorified cameo, and fans of star Tara Reid (does she still have fans?) surely have to admit that she is now way too old for this kind of thing.

The Nest

Just buggin'.
If The Nest were to be made today, its creepy crawlies and gore would be CGI; thankfully, it was made in 1988, before computer generated imagery ruled Hollywood, meaning that it features real bugs and practical effects. Not very good practical effects, granted, but still a whole lot more fun than soulless digital trickery.

In terms of plot, this killer-insect B-movie is very routine: an island community comes under threat from flesh-eating cockroaches, the creatures genetically engineered by an unscrupulous corporation. It serves up all of the expected clichéd characters, from the misguided mayor (Robert Lansing) who allows the insect experimentation to occur, to handsome cop Richard (Franc Luz), who has a monopoly on the island's hot blondes, to Dr. Morgan Hubbard (Terri Treas), the cold, calculating female scientist, to local loony Shakey Jake (Jack Collins), who is destined to have his face eaten.

There are very few surprises to be had, at least until the moment when the insects and their victims morph into hybrids for no discernible reason other than to allow for some crazy creature effects. A cat/cockroach hybrid is hilariously bad, leaping at the humans at lightning speed, the mayor messily transforms into a monster that has its head blown off by a shotgun (wielded by the mayor's tasty daughter, played by Lisa Langlois), and the roach 'queen' consists of several mangled human heads atop a human/insect body (the heads looks suitably gnarly, but the thing moves mechanically and appears to be on castors). The best (and bloodiest) effect is saved until last, as the queen uses its mandibles to slice off the top of Dr. Hubbard's head!

Very similar in vein to the similarly titled 2000 TV movie They Nest (which also sees cockroaches threatening the inhabitants of an island), only more schlocky.

5.5/10, rounded up to 6 for IMDb.


Close, but no cigar, Mr. Hitchcock.
I've barely dipped my toes into the early work of Alfred Hitchcock, but it appears that the master of suspense was fascinated with violent crime right from the outset. Murder!, an early 'talkie', deals with the case of a young actress, Diana Baring (Norah Baring), who is convicted of killing another woman with a fire poker. Celebrated stage performer Sir John Menier (Herbert Marshall) is one of the twelve people who declare her guilty, but he does so under duress, coerced by the other jurors. As Ms. Baring awaits her execution, Sir John, regretting his verdict, investigates the crime with the help of theatre couple Ted and Doucie Markham (Edward Chapman and Phyllis Konstam).

At 31 years of age, and still learning his craft (and getting to grips with the use of sound), Hitchcock directs Murder! in a rather awkward manner, trying a range of storytelling techniques that don't work quite as well as probably intended. Certain scenes (the trial in particular, with the jury looking from side to side and then cajoling Sir John in unison) are extremely clunky, not working as well as they might have seemed on paper. The film also suffers from a sluggish pace and rather stagy performances, the cast most likely unaccustomed to the talkie format. Still, despite the film's drawbacks in both direction and acting, Murder! should still be of interest to Hitchcock fans, with themes that recur throughout the director's career. Of particular note is the real killer's aberrant sexuality: as in Psycho, thirty years later, the murderer in this case likes to dress up as a woman (although the thing he is really ashamed of is that he's a half-caste -- go figure!).

5/10. Hitchcock still had a way to go before becoming a truly great director, but this film is worth seeing for the shocking climax, the moment in which Ted's feet sink into Sir John's carpet (apparently intended to convey the character's nervousness, but just plain weird), and for the clever (at the time) reveal at the very end which suggests that everything we have been watching was just a play.


Hitch's first hit from Hollywood.
Director Alfred Hitchcock is renowned for his visual acuity, creating some of the most memorable shots in movie history; he also had a keen eye for beauty, casting some of Hollywood's most stunning actresses in iconic roles: Grace Kelly in Rear Window, Maureen O'Hara in Jamaica Inn, Tippi Hedren in The Birds, Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound, and Janet Leigh in Psycho, to name but a few. Perhaps his most enchanting leading lady was Joan Fontaine, who won an Oscar for her role in Suspicion (1941), but who was never more appealing than in her first film for Hitch, Rebecca, based on a novel by Daphne Du Maurier.

The gorgeous Fontaine plays a meek young woman (we never discover her name, but she's not the 'Rebecca' of the title) who falls for rich aristocrat 'Maxim' de Winter (Laurence Olivier) while working in the South of France. Equally besotted, Maxim proposes to the self-effacing beauty, and takes her back to his ancestral home, Manderley, which he once shared with his first wife Rebecca, before she drowned in a boating accident. The new Mrs. de Winter does her best to adapt to her new lifestyle, but is constantly under the shadow of her predecessor, with stern housekeeper Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson) being particularly disapproving of Maxim's new bride, deliberately driving a wedge between the married couple and even going so far as to try and talk Mrs. de Winter Mk. II into killing herself.

Thus far, the film is pure melodrama and sappy romance, and avid Hitchcock fans might be wondering where the murder and mystery is; worry, not, for this comes in the second half of the film and provides plenty of intrigue and suspense as Maxim reveals what really happened to his first wife and is subsequently suspected of her murder. Both his wife and the viewer are aware of his innocence, but with Rebecca's lover Jack Favell (George Sanders) accusing Mr. de Winter of murder, and plenty of damning evidence, things are looking pretty bad for the poor fellow. It all wraps up nicely in the end, of course, but there are plenty of tense moments along the way, all handled in the director's typically assured manner, with bags of atmosphere and sumptuous cinematography.

But as great as the direction and story are, it is the performances that really make Rebecca a winner: Olivier is perfect as the troubled toff, Anderson is wonderfully wicked as scheming housekeeper Danvers, nobody does 'bumbling oaf' quite as well as Nigel Bruce (playing Major Giles Lacy, who puts his foot in his mouth whenever he speaks), Sanders is suitably slimy as adulterous blackmailer Favell, and Fontaine... well, she is completely captivating, every smile, every tilt of her head, and every nervous glance guaranteed to win over the viewer (she was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars, but lost to Ginger Rogers). Hell, even the dog that played Maxim's mutt Jasper was excellent (so cute!).


You will be.
Before Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock did psychoanalysis, using Sigmund Freud's clinical method for treating mental disorders as the basis for his romantic mystery Spellbound. Ingrid Bergman plays beautiful psychoanalyst Dr. Constance Petersen, who tries to help the new head of Green Manors hospital, Dr. Anthony Edwardes (Gregory Peck), after he suffers from a nervous breakdown during surgery. As Constance cares for the clearly troubled man, romance blossoms between the two, but further problems arise when it appears that Edwards isn't who he claims to be. Petersen's diagnosis is amnesia, but what has caused the condition, who is the man she has fallen for, and where is the real Dr. Edwardes?

Expertly handled by Hitchcock, this intriguing thriller features excellent central performances from Bergman and Peck, who share great on-screen chemistry, as well as wonderful support from Leo G. Carroll as fellow shrink Dr. Murchison, and Michael Chekhov as Constance's kindly mentor Dr. Alexander Brulov. Hitch gradually cranks up the suspense, keeping the viewer in the dark as to whether Edwardes (or John Ballantyne, as he eventually remembers his name to be) is worthy of care and concern or if he is actually a murderer, as he himself believes. Such is the director's skill that even a really creaky spot of back projection during a skiing scene doesn't detract from the tension. L As with most Hitchcock movies, the visuals are great (skiing scene aside), with a fantastic ending that makes clever use of oversized props and just two frames of colour, but arguably the most memorable part of the film -- a bizarre dream based on designs by painter Salvador Dali -- wasn't actually directed by Hitch, but by William Cameron Menzies. The key to solving the mystery, it's highly imaginative and seriously weird, but sadly all too brief. Although originally planned to run for a full twenty minutes, the surreal sequence in the finished film only lasts for a scant couple of minutes. I'd love to have seen it in its entirety.

7.5/10, rounded up to 8 for IMDb.

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

Worse than Suicide Squad.
Before we saw this movie, my son told me that there were lots of 1/10 reviews on IMDb from people who hadn't even seen the film. Well, here's a 1/10 review from someone who has.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn reminds me a lot of Lori Petty in Tank Girl (1995), another comic book film that really ground my gears. Like Petty's character, every quirky mannerism and snarky comment by Harley got right on my tits, as did her horrible fashion sense. In addition to Robbie's diabolical performance, we get equally obnoxious turns from Rosie Perez as a tough cop, Ella Jay Basco as an annoying pick-pocket, and Ewan McGregor as camp crime boss Roman Sionis, plus an absolutely pointless tribute to Marilyn Monroe, lots of dumb, supposedly amusing captions, a tiresome self-aware voice-over, and a horrible CGI hyena.

Director Cathy Yan (who?), working from a charmless script by Christina Hodson, is unable to do anything interesting with the admittedly wafer-thin plot, which can be boiled down to just a handful of words: "everyone is looking for a diamond".

A muddled, noisy, gaudy mess, full of poorly constructed action scenes and goofy humour that falls flat on its face, Birds of Prey is possibly the worst film I have seen at the cinema in recent months. And I saw Cats and Bombshell (another Margot Robbie disaster).

Grandmother's House

A mediocre kids-in-peril horror.
After the death of their father, teenage siblings David (Eric Foster) and Lynn (Kim Valentine) go to live with their grandparents on a farm in California. Soon after, David begins to suspect that something untoward is afoot, having seen a mysterious woman (played by '80s scream queen Brinke Stevens) with a guitar apparently being accosted by his elderly guardians.

Grandmother's House has one or two well executed moments of tension and features a nicely twisted denouement, but the bulk of the film is uneventful and slow making it a rather tiresome movie overall. Too much time is dedicated to David sneaking around the farmhouse and the surrounding orange groves, with very little in the way of plot progression to keep things interesting.

Of the good stuff, a scene in which David becomes trapped on the farmhouse roof is fairly suspenseful as the boy almost comes a cropper several times trying to find a way back inside, the poor lad running headfirst into a metal pipe took me by surprise, and the ending delivers the deviancy one might expect from a film produced by Nico Mastorakis, the director of infamous video nasty Island of Death.

4.5, rounded up to 5 for IMDb.

Bottom: Accident
Episode 6, Season 1

No more Bottom for me.
The only clever thing about Bottom is the name for each episode, each title making an amusing two word phrase when paired with the word Bottom. Everything else about this programme is dumb. Not dumb fun, just dumb. It's imbecilic and childish and so chronically unamusing that I'm extremely relieved that this is the last of this series.

In episode six, it's Richie's birthday, and he has sent himself loads of cards in the post because no-body else cares. He's also arranged a birthday party, but no-one has accepted his invitation, leaving Richie (Rik Mayall) to celebrate with flat-mate Eddie (Ade Edmonson) and his two pals Spudgun (Steven O'Donnell) and Dave Hedgehog. Having broken his leg while hanging decorations, Richie finds that his suggestion of a game of sardines proves problematic, especially with the other party-goers content to leave the birthday boy hiding while they get drunk and watch TV.

With cartoon violence, urine drinking, testicle flicking, and gags about 'doing it', this is the same level of moronic as the other episodes. I won't be watching series two or three.

Bottom: 's Up
Episode 5, Season 1

Hard to believe, but this was written by adults.
The funniest part of episode five of series one of Bottom is when Richie performs an Indian rain-dance and gets bird poo in his face instead of rain. Yes, that's the comedic highlight in this one, which doesn't say much for the rest of the show. The plot sees Richie and Eddie (Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson) looking after the shop below their flat while the owner goes to his mother's funeral. The supposedly hilarious chaos that ensues includes Richie insulting several customers (including threatening an old lady with his fist) and becoming trapped on the roof with Eddie while the shop is looted.

The moronic humour on offer includes Eddie mistaking several family friendly videos for porn, Richie getting excited about visiting a nudist beach, and the guys insulting each other about the size of their posteriors. Trust me, the bird poo gag is the best part.

Bottom: Apocalypse
Episode 4, Season 1

I'm a glutton for punishment.
Episode four of series one, and Richie and Eddie (Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson) are once again strapped for cash, at least until they discover that Richie's Aunt Olga has died and left them the princely sum of £600 in her will.

By now, I'm starting to think that Mayall and Edmonson's brand of anarchic humour isn't for me (although I do recall finding The Young Ones funny back in the day): Apocalypse didn't make me laugh once. A trip to a funfair and a run-in with some thieving gypsies failed to raise a smile, cameos from Helen Lederer and Liz Smith do little to improve matters, and the ending, in which Eddie pretends to be the grim reaper, is silly and not at all amusing.

Just two more episodes of series one to go; I suspect that I'll pass on series two and three.

Bottom: Contest
Episode 3, Season 1

Bottom of the barrel entertainment.
Richie (Rik Mayall) pretends to commit suicide to try and guilt Eddie into buying him a pint, but his flatmate has had a bad day at the dole office and couldn't care less. The pair then argue about money and what to watch on TV (Miss World or boring documentary), resulting in Eddie being kicked out.

Contest was originally intended to be the pilot episode of Bottom, but was eventually aired mid-series, probably so as not to deter viewers from investing in the show. It really is that weak. The funniest moment comes as a bored Richie tries to amuse himself, first with the telephone, and then nervously playing an electronic keyboard. If that doesn't sound that funny, it's because it really isn't -- it's just the best part of a particularly laugh-free episode (one that resorts to jokes about masturbation in sheer desperation).

Bottom: Gas
Episode 2, Season 1

Mayall reunited with Glover.
Series one, episode two of Bottom, and the formula is already starting to get repetitive. This is another 'zany' half hour of knockabout violence and crude humour, and it really isn't all that funny, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson doing the same tired schtick that they did ten years earlier in The Young Ones (back when it was fresher). Occasionally, one of their puerile remarks might elicit a snigger, but for the most part it is hard to believe that they a) got paid for this, and b) managed to stretch out the format over three series.

This time around, Eddie (Edmonson) and Richie (Mayall) are visited by the gas man, who is investigating unusual fuel consumption in the area. It turns out that the pair have been stealing gas from their neighbour Mr. Rottweiller (Brian Glover) and now they must sneak into his flat to disconnect their pipe before anyone finds out. Cue plenty of slapstick, explosions, and Richie crawling into Rottweiller's bed to take a closer look at the man's tasty blonde girlfriend. Might provide a few giggles for the easily amused, but it's far from the best of British TV comedy.

N.B., Mayall and Glover can be seen together in An American Werewolf in London (1981), playing chess in rural boozer The Slaughtered Lamb.

Bottom: Smells
Episode 1, Season 1

Utterly, utterly, utterly, utterly stupid.
A decade after appearing in anarchic comedy series The Young Ones, Rik Mayall and Ade Edmonson starred in Bottom, playing flatmates Richard "Richie" Richard and Edward Elizabeth "Eddie" Hitler, a couple of perverted losers who struggle to make cash or get laid. What Bottom adequately illustrates is that, even though the performers have aged physically, mentally they've stayed exactly the same, their show just as moronic, zany, puerile, and madcap as the one that made their names.

This first episode see the crude duo using a pheromone sex spray to try and score with women down the local boozer. Violent knockabout slapstick and gags about rubber johnnies, sex shops and foxy stoats are the order of the day, all of which raise a few giggles, but three series of such silliness? We shall have to see how thin it all wears and how quickly.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

More of the same. Yawn!
Assassin John Wick is referred to as Baba Yaga in this third chapter, suggesting that he is, in fact, a supernatural being; his ability to evade death, appear and disappear like a ninja from a Godfrey Ho film, and move with lightning fast reflexes despite being in his mid-fifties confirms this fact, in my opinion. Unfortunately, Wick's invincibility means that the many action scenes in Parabellum are largely devoid of excitement, the only outcome being that Wick is still alive and all of his enemies are dead.

Chapter 2 set things up for a potentially entertaining part three, ending with John Wick (Keanu Reeves) on the run, hunted by the world's top assassins, all keen to collect the bounty on his head. This film should have been a whole lot of outrageously OTT comic-book fun, with an array of bizarre and unique killers, each with their own distinctive look and style; it certainly starts off on the right foot with a few of fun fight scenes (one against a tall guy in a library, another in a shop full of knives, and one in a stable that makes good use of the horses), but it all goes downhill rapidly after that.

A pack of trained dogs easily outshine their human co-stars in one skirmish, a fight involving samurai swords and motorbikes blatantly borrows from The Villainess (2017), and a battle between Wick and Mark Dacascos in a glass room is frustratingly tedious (despite Dacascos's impressive martial arts skills). I blame director Chad Stahelski, who hasn't progressed as a film-maker since part one, content to simply give fans more of the same. The preposterous ending is the icing on the cake, John Wick surviving falling several stories from the roof of a building. Enough already!

5/10, minus one point for the retro-technology used by the tattooed administrators working for the 'high table': Commodore 64 keyboards, green CRT monitors, rubber stamps, rotary dial phones. Seriously, what is the point?

John Wick: Chapter 2

Keanu kills everyone. Again.
I love me a bit of the old ultra-violence, but I also like a plot of some kind to go with all of the gunfire, blood and broken bones. Failing that, the gory mayhem had better be something special - something that breaks new ground in terms of action cinema. John Wick Chapter 2 is relentlessly violent, Keanu Reeves' eponymous hitman laying waste to almost everyone he crosses paths with, once again finishing most victims with a shot to the head, but the action is simply more of the same, director Chad Stahelski bringing nothing new to the table.

This sequel sees Wick being forced out of retirement to honour a 'marker', criminal Santino D'Antonio (Riccardo Scamarcio) calling upon the quasi-mythical hitman to repay his debt by assassinating his sister Gianna D'Antonio. Wick refuses, which results in his house being burnt down and his life being put on the line. Realising that he will only ever have peace if he agrees to Santino's request, Wick kills Gianna, and massacres her henchmen; however, in order to tie up any loose ends, Santino double-crosses John, putting out a contract on him. Now Wick has to battle lots of other hitmen and women. Luckily for him, they're all rubbish and easily killed. Miffed at being betrayed, John goes after Santino, meaning that he has to fight even more gunmen, but they're all a bit rubbish too. Wick gets shot in the gut and stabbed in the leg in the process, but is able to shrug off the pain, continuing to cut a bloody swathe through the bad guys to get to his target.

If kick, punch, blam, blam, blam is all you want for 2 hours, with very little variation in style, lots of CGI blood, and nothing to tax the brain, then have at it - it's not unwatchable, just unremarkable. To his credit, Stahelski ends the film well by nicely setting up things for a third film. I just hope he doesn't give us the same thing all over again (Chapter 2 even repeats the novelty subtitles that I found so irritating in the first film).

Jamaica Inn

Puts the corn into Cornwall.
Mary Yellan (Maureen O'Hara) travels to Jamaica Inn to stay with her Aunt Patience (Marie Ney) but discovers that her Uncle Joss (Leslie Banks) is the leader of a gang of ruthless ship-wreckers.

The first of three Hitchcock films to be adapted from novels by Daphne Du Maurier (the others being Rebecca and The Birds), Jamaica Inn is a tale of murderous cut-throats and ne'er-do-wells at work on the rugged, storm-lashed Cornish coast, the wicked men luring ships onto the rocks to pillage the cargo.

Hitch, so brilliant at contemporary thrillers, seems out of his element with this period piece, which boasts lots of atmospheric black and white imagery, but lacks suspense thanks to a meandering plot that sees the characters to-ing and fro-ing between the rocky shore, the inn, and the home of wealthy scoundrel Sir Humphrey Pengallan (Charles Laughton).

An early scene in which rascal Joss Merlyn (Leslie Banks) and his men mercilessly slaughter the survivors of a shipwreck as they clamber ashore is surprisingly shocking, but the rest of the film is merely mediocre melodrama, with only Laughton making the most of his role (yes, he overacts terribly, but at least he's entertaining). O'Hara gets by on her looks alone (she's absolutely ravishing), but this is far from an auspicious debut (yes, I know this is her third film, but it's the first in which she went by the name 'O'Hara'), the young actress putting in rather stagy performance.

5.5/10, very nearly rounded up to 6 for the amusing moment when undercover lawman Jem Trehearne (Robert Newton) realises he has been duped by the baddies: his stupid expression had me thinking he might turn into an animated donkey, as seen in many a Tom and Jerry cartoon.


Itsh a lot of fun, for shure.
Amsterdamned, directed by Dick Maas (de Lift, Down), is a Dutch giallo/slasher that features a murderous scuba diver at work in the canals of Amsterdam. The notion of a killer wearing wetsuit, mask, flippers and air tank being able to sneak up on people unawares is extremely silly, as is a pointless subplot involving a psychic teenager, but such lapses in logic are fairly typical of the giallo genre and don't prevent this from being a highly enjoyable movie.

Eric Visser (Huub Stapel) is the tough cop tasked with catching the lunatic who has been butchering locals, and his investigation leads to him becoming acquainted with sexy scuba diver Laura (Monique van de Ven), who, unbeknownst to Eric, might just be close friends with the killer. As the bodies pile up, Eric finds himself under increasing pressure to solve the case, leading him to risk his own life in two daring chases through the streets and waterways of the city (one on wheels, the other in speedboats, both of which are worthy of a James Bond film).

In addition to the stunt-fillled action sequences, director Maas also delivers two entertaining moments clearly inspired by Jaws: a young woman in a bikini floats in an inflatable ring while the killer approaches unseen from the depths, and police diver John van Meegeren (Wim Zomer) is shocked when a corpse falls onto him while he investigates a sunken boat. We also get a modicum of gore (the bloody corpse of a hooker being dragged across the glass roof of a canal tour boat is fantastic), a bit of comedy (a crazy old man in flippers turning himself into the police) and a tense finale in which Laura finds herself in mortal danger. And for those who think they've got the mystery all figured out... well, Maas has a surprise in store that helps make this Dutch murder mystery a serious rival to its Italian counterparts.

8.5/10, rounded up to 9 for IMDb.

The Family Jewels

More Lewis = less laughter.
Ten year old heiress Donna Peyton (Donna Butterworth) spends two weeks with each of her six uncles to try and decide who is to be her new father, when it's patently obvious that her caring chauffeur Willard Woodward is the perfect candidate.

A vanity project written by, starring and directed by Jerry Lewis, The Family Jewels sees the comic actor playing seven different characters, thereby allowing him to run the gamut of his comedic repertoire: loveable (Willard), scatterbrained (old sea salt Uncle James), grouchy (circus clown Uncle Everett, who hates kids), zany (Uncle Eddie the pilot, who sounds a lot like Jack Lemmon from The Great Race), logical (private detective Uncle Skylock), and villainous (gangster Uncle Bugsy).

Films don't get more self-indulgent than this, Lewis milking his multiple roles for all they are worth, the star often over-egging the pudding, with many of the characters outstaying their welcome. Lewis is having so much fun doing his zany thing that he doesn't know when to call it quits and move on to the next segment. The result is a film that could have done with some judicious editing to remove the chaff, but I imagine Lewis's ego got in the way of that happening.

Butterworth is charming as the young rich girl who is constantly bemused by her many uncles' eccentric behaviour, and Lewis is at his best when he's playing loveable Willard, but overall there is way too much grandstanding from its star for this to be considered a success.

A Room for Romeo Brass

See it for Considine.
A slice of late '90s social realism from first time director Shane Meadows, A Room for Romeo Brass suffers from a weak narrative, being little more than a snapshot of the lives of several people living on a Northern housing estate; however, what it lacks in plot it makes up for somewhat in characterisation, with memorable turns from its talented cast of mostly unknowns, especially Paddy Considine, here making his feature debut. Considine plays twenty-something social misfit Morell, who saves twelve-year-olds Gavin 'Knock Knock' (Ben Marshall) and Romeo (Andrew Shim) from being beaten up. Morell befriends the boys, but after Gavin plays a cruel prank on the young man, embarrassing him in front of Romeo's sister Ladine (Vicky McClure), he starts to display psychotic tendencies.

Like a younger, more disturbed John Shuttleworth, Considine is both hilarious and scary, and steals every scene he is in. A disastrous date with Ladine, which culminates in Morell entering the room in a silk robe and proudly showing off the boner straining against his Y-fronts, is the perfect mix of humour and tension. What starts off as uncomfortably amusing ("I want you to touch it, touch it!") quickly turns sinister when Morell doesn't get what he wants. It's testament to Considine's confident, pitch-perfect performance that he is able to convincingly switch from pitiful to terrifying in the blink of an eye.

The excellent performances and very witty script ensure that the film isn't swamped by the mundanity of its kitchen sink drama (like so many boring Mike Leigh films). There are some terrific lines of dialogue to be had, many delivered in style by the youngest members of the cast (my favourite line from Romeo: "she stinks of p**s, has long gums and tiny teeth."). The film also benefits from an excellent soundtrack, with lots of great tunes, kicking off in fine style with A Message To You Rudy by The Specials, and closing with The Stone Roses. It's a shame then that the film didn't have a stronger story to tell, and that it ends on such a disappointing note: Morell, so amazingly dark and menacing, is given a quick hiding by Romeo's dad and is presumably never seen from again, and Gavin puts on a magic show, with Romeo dressed in drag as his assistant. Kinda lame, to be honest (I wanted Morell to do more damage before being handed his ass).

6.5/10, rounded up to 7 for IMDb. Good but not great.

If you haven't already seen them, watch Dead Man's Shoes (2004) and This Is England (2006), both of which show Meadows at his best.

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