The Visit

Okay, okay, Mr. Shyamalan – I enjoyed The Visit. Even the corny humour and the pre-requisite twist worked for me and while there is absolutely nothing ground-breaking or new here, it’s a perfectly entertaining horror movie that I still struggle to find a target audience for – is it form regular horror fans? Is it for kids? Does it matter? I have no idea.

Shyamalan jumps on the found footage band-wagon with The Visit – the conceit being that our two lead characters want to document meeting their grandparents for the first time. This is the 21st Century, and our two leads are tweens, so this is perfectly believable. Less believable is the fact that they are sent off on their own, across country, to meet their grandparents without having the faintest idea what they look like or without their mum dropping them off. The film wouldn’t work if those things happened of course, but it’s a silly setup nevertheless. The grandparents seem lovely, even if the generational gap means things are awkward, but they all seem to get on. There are house rules, such as going to bed early and not leaving your room after 9.30, and not going in the basement, but we accept those because old people are weird. Time passes, things get weirder, and twisty twist time comes.

The twist becomes more apparent as the movie progresses – it’s Shyamalan so you know shenanigans are afoot. Mercifully, the twist isn’t left to the final moments but revealed fairly early, setting up an interesting finale. There are some inspired moments which allow the faintest dread to creep in – playing under the house is jumpscare bait, but fun, and the cleaning the over sequences recall our childhood Hansel and Gretal fears. I won’t go so far as saying there’s supposed to be any deeper level of generational paranoia going on here – the fear of aging, of the mentally ill, or of dying for example – the set up seems too silly to allow such thoughts. You will be left with questions – spoiler alert – why is this couple living at the house after all this time and why do they consent to the kids coming? You can’t throw around ‘they’re crazy’ as an answer for everything.

The film works because the four leads are all believable and watchable. Even the son (Ed Oxenbould), with his annoying raps somehow comes off as funny to me when there’s no good reason he should. Olivia DeJonge gives a nice twist on the final girl trope, while both Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie are effective pre and post twist. How the kids aren’t destroyed mentally after this is a wonder – maybe they’ll crop up again as Shyamalan experiments with his own Extended Universe. So yes, I enjoyed it in spite of myself – it’s silly but feels like a good popcorn flick – light scares, some laughs, and a twist which most likely won’t catch anyone off guard, and a return to commercial success for someone once hailed as the next big thing.

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Problem Child

*Originally written in 2003

In 1990 we were blessed with one of the greatest comedies of all time. Problem Child came along just before the more sophisticated Home Alone blew all competition out of the way. Problem Child is nevertheless a film filled with great gags, brilliant acting from everyone, and a witty dark side which few directors can effectively balance. Unfortunately most people see it as nothing more than juvenile and it has become a fairly despised movie. While critics hated it and it seems that it hasn’t found a subsequent audience, it still generated an inferior sequel and spin-off TV series. For me, it will always be an all-time favourite, and even though I first saw it when I was seven or so and can see why it is so hated, I still find it hilarious.

Junior is an orphan. Abandoned by his parents, he did the rounds at various homes, never staying at one place for too long because he didn’t fit in or rather because he was as one character says – ‘wicked’. Junior finds himself at a Convent school where he soon starts trouble. The Administrator, Peabody (Gilbert Gottfried) knows that the Nuns want to get rid of him, and when he hears that a husband and wife who can’t have kids are looking for a child to adopt, he cons them into taking Junior – everyone’s happy. However, the family soon realise that Junior is no angel and want to get rid of him, but adopted father Ben sees that he is just a lonely kid who keeps getting shoved around. When Junior’s hero – a murderer named the Bow Tie Killer – murders his way out of prison, he pays Junior a visit, kidnapping Junior and his adoptive mother and sending Ben on a rescue mission.

The film has too many funny moments to mention – the opening montage with Junior growing up, the scenes with the nuns, the camping trip, the baseball game, and even small things like – ‘Look a giraffe!’… ‘Look a fist!’ make this film a comedy which deserves so much more respect than it will ever get. The dark side, the violence, these are neatly balanced by the fact that Junior just wants to be loved, and the film can be seen as an effective satire on the whole adoption process where children can often become numbers or forgotten in a system. John Ritter is perfectly cast as the father, Jack Warden is brilliant as old fashioned Big Ben, Amy Yasbek is good as the annoying Flo, and Michael Oliver puts in a stunning performance, stealing every scene he is in. Unfortunately he seems to have disappeared from the spotlight and never did much beyond the sequel. For all round laughs they do not come much better, and every kid should see this. When you grow up though, don’t hate it just because it seems childish and amateurish, love it as it should be loved.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Problem Child!

Mr And Mrs Smith

*Originally written in 2003

A light-hearted Hitchcock comedy with some good performances and an interesting idea, but one which fails to stay in the memory. Hitchcock’s most notorious and memorable comedic scenes are those which appear in his most tense and thrilling films, working best because of the dark and sexually charged situations his characters find themselves in. In Mr and Mrs Smith Hitchcock spends the entire film dissecting the flaws and perks of married life – becoming overly accustomed to one another, yet knowing that no-one else could put up with each other.

After playing their usual, monthly truth telling game in which husband and wife ask each other a question which the other must answer truthfully, a game which will naturally lead to problems, Annie becomes annoyed with her husband David. She asks if he had to do it all over again, would he still have married her. He answers with a ‘no’ as he misses his freedom, but says he does not regret anything he has done, and loves her. In an odd coincidence both David and Annie hear that their marriage is void and they simply must remarry. However, both decide to play with the rule unknown to the other, and soon all hell breaks loose.

The two leads are good and the best moments, aside from the dialogue, are Hitchcock deliberately showing the monotony of both married life, the singles game, and the last few scenes in the log cabins involving husband and wife trying to make each other guilty. Unfortunately this is too soft, and does not have enough funny parts to deserve many watches, but is an interesting film nonetheless and a change of pace from what we would expect.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa

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British Televsion comedy can be excellent, unfortunately it’s usually the dregs like The Office or Little Britain which reach a wider audience, while classics such as People Like Us, Look Around You, The League Of Gentlemen, or Alan Partridge get overlooked. The character of Partridge has been a beloved figure here for decades now, but it’s only recently that he made his big screen debut. Does it succeed in translating to the movie format where so, so many have failed before?

Yeah, pretty much. Partridge as character is both strong and established enough to fit any medium – radio, TV, stage, and film. Coogan and Iannucci have been writing and performing this guy for decades and still find ways to keep things (my most hated word) fresh. Keeping things up to date is easy when you have someone like Partridge – he isn’t a product of a decade or a flash in the pan – he’s just some bloke who has lived and grown as all humans do – we just happen to have seen it happen. That’s the key factor in the movie being a success. On top of that, the writing is as sharp as ever, the performances are just as good as on the small screen, and the plot is cinematic and over the top without being overblown or reaching into silly excess. There is no need for globe-trotting or apocalyptic villains or endless celeb cameos. It’s just Partridge in an unusual, but not unexpected, hostage crisis.

As you would imagine, Partridge is the architect of some of what happens. His job at North Norfolk Digital is at risk after a buyout by some larger corporation so when he hears that it’s either him or fellow DJ Pat who will be axed, he does his best to save his own skin. Later, a disgruntled Pat enters the Station armed with a shotgun and demands his job back. Soon all manner of awkward Partridge antics ensue as Alan tries his hand at negotiating, surviving, scheming, DJing from within the hostage situation, and making sure he comes out on top.

Like the best movies based off shows, this feels like an extended episode which both respects and expands the show’s mythology/universe. The humour will be familiar to fans of the show, as will most of the faces – most of the series regulars show up here, from long suffering Lynn and Geordie weirdo Michael, to Mid Morning Matters co star Simon. Plenty of gags in the script which will reveal themselves with multiple viewings, and plenty of laughs from the more physical side.The movie never tries to cater for a new audience my going to extremes of action or casting, and is more than comfortable in its own skin – if you like any of the Partridge or Coogan shows, then you will undoubtedly enjoy this. Newcomers should find an easy blend of comedy and action, but I have a feeling that the audience will continue to be mostly British – it’s not as immediately universal as something like Mr Bean, though once you understand the characters and his quirks it should sell anywhere.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Alpha Pappa and if you think it does a good job of both advertising and expanded on the series!

Stripes

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I think I have come to a shocking revelation; I’m not a huge Bill Murray fan. Sure I like him, and I enjoy plenty of the movies he has been in – particularly in the early days, but he’s rarely laugh out loud funny for me. Stripes is another good Billy Murray movie where he is supported by an terrific comedy cast – it is those guys who evoke the most laughter from me and I always get that gnawing suspicion that this film, and even a few other Murray classic might have been better with someone else in his place. Blasphemy, I know! I’ve no idea who that other person may be but still, that suspicion rears its head, chomping away at me and saying everyone else is laughing, why aren’t you laughing you weirdo? Stripes is one late 70s, early 80s cult comedy classic that had always somehow passed me by – while plenty of the films made around the same time by the same cast, writers, directors are ones I grew up with, Stripes is a film I only came to in recent years.

Murray plays a deadbeat taxi driver who loses his job, girlfriend, and apartment after a particularly bad day – in classic Murray fashion this all drifts off his back in a carefree way. Looking for something to pass the time rather than any higher notion, he encourages his friend (Harold Ramis) to join the army with him. As this is the 80s, they set off and hi-jinks ensue. We meet a variety of cadets and commanders, as portrayed by some of Hollywood’s finest and a fair few up and coming comedy stars – Warren Oates, PJ Soles, Judge Reinhold, and John Candy are some of the recognizable faces. Like any other number of movies of similar ilk, we get training skits showing how Ramis and Murray rub against authority but eventually, and nonsensically, they complete training and are sent on a top secret mission.

To the film’s credit, it resolves the conflict between maintaining a semblance of plot while the slacker skits are played out – the comedians are given free-rein, but only as much as the plot will allow. The plot is by the by, but it’s enough to keep us engaged whereas a series of unrelated bits would have just fallen flat. The comedy mixes slapstick with deadpan slacker humour, light satire, visual gags, and mini stand-up routines. It doesn’t go the juvenile way of Police Academy though there are moments of raunch and sex comedy, and the general tone is one of playful anarchy. If it was one I grew up with, like the aforementioned cop series, or some of John Candy’s hits, then I’m sure I would hold more fondness for this, but watching as a new customer it gets a few laughs, chuckles, and holds the attention, but not much more than that.

Is Stripes one of your favourite comedy’s? How do you think it ranks alongside other comedies of the time and subsequent slacker type movies? Let us know in the comments!

Horrible Bosses

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It’s another BLOKES comedy for MEN with TESTICLES. Following such dubious hits as The Hangover, this film caters to men who like their jokes breast fueled and their films boob filled. As a bloke of some description I can see the merits in these movies, and even enjoy them, but I won’t rave about them like many other critics have. Horrible Bosses is an okay movie with a good cast giving okay performances. There are some good laughs, there’s an okay story, and some stuff happens along the way. Okay?

The story follows three friends – all 30 or 40 something – in dead end (decent) jobs who hate their bosses. They’re just like you! At some point a – ahem – Hitchcockian plan is hatched where they decide to kill their respective bosses. The rest of the film follows various japes in the same vein of all these types of films. It has the same loose vibe as all those other films, not as energetic or youthful as Judd Apetow’s films, and perhaps with not as talented ad-libbing comedians, but upping the world-weary frustration. Some good jokes, some laughs, some entertainment from watching Aniston be slutty, Farrell being weird, and Spacey being Spacey, but beyond that there isn’t much to recommend it. It’s fine.

I guess that’s it.. does anything else need to be said? There’s a sequel which I haven’t seen yet. Type words into the comments!

Wolfcop

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Lets get the cliché comparisons out of the way – it’s Teen Wolf meets The Evil Dead! Or something along those lines. I wasn’t expecting too much from Wolfcop, and although it’s the sort of film I generally (or used to) enjoy for inherent cult silliness, genuinely good films in this vein have been few and far between in recent years. Thankfully Wolfcop is an enjoyable romp with plenty of laugh out loud moments and a great soundtrack. It doesn’t take itself too seriously (because of course you wouldn’t) and although it clearly has a low budget, most of the effects are good, most of the performances are passable, and I suspect most viewers will be entertained on some level.

The plot goes something like this – a small town down and out alcoholic cop whose only interest in life is when the next booze break is, suddenly becomes empowered to take out the trash when he discovers he is a werewolf. Rather than the usual tropes of trying to hide this fact from everyone, he embraces it, slaps on his badge and side-arm, and goes out to rid the town of crime, a la Robocop. While it seems like the main goal of the film is to watch him take out local drug dealers and gangsters, the film introduces a twist later when a group aware of the existence of werewolves begins to cause trouble.

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I don’t want to say too much more on the plot, not because there are any genuine game-changing spoilers, but because you should watch the fun unravel for yourself. It does take some time before the wolf antics begin, but the film and central characters are interesting enough before that point to carry things. Once the werewolf emerges, the entertainment, and gore, levels are dialed up and you’ll be giggling like a child at the silliness, the one-liners, and the visual gags. We get a funny spin on the werewolf transformation scene (with one body part change being particularly amusing), quotable dialogue, a funny side-kick, and good performances from Leo Fafard, Amy Matysio, and Jonathan Cherry (though the rest of the cast don’t come off as well). The plot is a little haphazard and cliché-ridden, but you don’t go in expecting miracles. What may be the strongest piece of the puzzle is the soundtrack by Shooting Guns – a heady mix of guitars, noise, and electronica which is prominent throughout, varied, and memorable. If you enjoy cult films, cheesy horror comedies, or simply like the title of the film then give Wolfcop a go before all your friends see it.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Wolfcop – is it up there with An American Werewolf In London, or down there with An American Werewolf In Paris?

Street Trash

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A cult ‘classic’, Street Trash is a film I have known about since my childhood but somehow was never able to get my hands on till recently. I’d seen small bits and pieces of it before and had read various accounts calling it deliciously gruesome, offensive etc – all the things I look for in a horror movie, naturally. Having finally seen it I can’t say that time has been good to it in most respects, from the dated effects to the unfortunate misogyny. The film’s rampant disregard for women is in truth the only offensive thing here, and while yes we are supposed to be dealing with Street Trash and other assorted dregs dredged from society’s rim, it nevertheless feels like it is reveling in its attitudes.

Like any number of other 80s horror movies, Street Trash deals with toxic waste, or ooze, or some sort of chemical mistake. While some movies use this formula to turn hapless victims in to zombies, here the stuff (in the form of a new brand of alcohol) turns our already near-zombified morons to mush, hissing, melting, and occasionally exploding into colourful puddles of cartoon gore. That’s the biggest letdown of a film I had heard so much about – the low budget is obvious and the effects are poor in the few instances they are actually shown. In many cases we simply get reaction shots of the victim’s tortured face, or the sickened grimaces of bystanders, while squelching, farting sounds bubble into our ear holes. There are a few interesting moments and deaths which would have been more potent at the time of release, but it doesn’t come close to the quality of effects or inventiveness of many other films from the same era.

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Having said already that the film treats the female characters mostly as meat or figures of ridicule or hatred, it’s ironic then that the script is the highlight of the film. The dialogue is well written and peppered with one-liners, many dated, many funny, and it fizzes along when it needs to. It’s a shame then that the story is not interesting, the characters unappealing, and the plot bounces around in different directions which all end up going to the same unfortunate place. There are some funny moments and with a higher budget or better effects some of the kills would possibly be rightly seen as classics – where else are you going to see a man melting to nothing while sitting on the can, and then accidentally flush himself away? Other positives include some of the performances – Mike Lackey as the hero (?) is basically excellent, and the city looks ugly and hopeless. In an attempt to make some sort of epic comparing all layers of society as monsters, we get a large cast of characters who sort of intertwine, from Fred and his brother who live in a junkyard with a variety of other hoodlums, to the broken and crazed Vietnam vet Bronson who claims to be King of the yard, to the obese actual owner of the yard and his receptionist, to a burly cop trying to cut out the crime Bronson and his bunch are unleashing, to an Italian American mobster cliché who is having a feud with a mouthy restaurant doorman. With more time and effort, this could have been a gore-filled, low rent Pulp Fiction for the 80s, but instead it comes over as a series of skits. I dearly wanted to like and even love Street Trash, but aside from some good ideas and bad intentions, it doesn’t work. It’s passable, cheesy entertainment that I would still recommend all horror fans see, but unless you grew up with it I can’t see it converting too many new fans.

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Let us know in the comments what you think of Street Trash – is it one of your favourites, or should it be confined to the scrap heap?

Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World

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I love apocalypse fiction in all its forms, so going into those I was hoping for it to be some sort of satire on the genre given that it was advertised as a comedy and featured Steve Carrell. What I didn’t expect was it to be a genuinely moving piece, nor did I think I would be naming it as one of the best End Of The World films I’ve seen.

The first thing to say about the movie is that Steve Carrell has dialed down his humour and performance, instead crafting something more subtle and poignant as the ironically named ‘Dodge’. The second thing is that this has all the hallmarks of a movie which will gain a cult following over the years due to a number of sweet moments which never resort to quirky humour or overt sentimentality. With a great cast, good performances, and a solid idea which plays out at its own inevitable pace, I’m saddened this didn’t make a dent at the box office but hopeful that many will experience it in the future.

Dodge is a quiet married man drifting through life in an unimportant job and an apparently loveless marriage. A news report early in the movie tells us that a final attempt to save the world from a catastrophic event has failed, and that in three weeks time all life on Earth will end. With only days left to live, we see snippets of how humanity reacts – with wanton sex, rioting, crime, suicide all seen as valid decisions. Dodge however, in true existential form, simply continues his life as if nothing has happened – returning to his job when everyone else has gone. As the days pass he thinks increasingly about his childhood love and decides he wants to go on a road-trip to find her and confess his feelings. Tagging along is the younger Penny, played by Keira Knightly, a woman who wants to get home to England to spend her final moments with her family. The two form an unlikely friendship as they travel across America witnessing and experiencing all manner of human behavior. All the while, the clock is ticking down to oblivion.

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Aside from possibly being a little too slow in places and from maybe being advertised as another hilarious Carrell venture, I don’t have anything negative to say about the movie. It charms, it will make you question what your final moments and decisions may be under the same circumstances, and while you may not re-evaluate your priorities after watching it certainly nudges you in that direction without ever being preachy. Everything is delivered in a matter-of-fact way, with only hints of the surreal, and when taken in context nothing which happens during the story seems unreasonable. Knightly and Carrell are as good as they have ever been, ably backed by Martin Sheen, Adam Brody and other in smaller roles. Steady direction, a good soundtrack, and a decent script all wrap together to complete this little gift which, as I mentioned already, deserves to be seen repeatedly by a much wider audience than it has so far reached.

Have you seen Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World? How does it fare alongside other apocalyptic movies? Let us know in the comments!

Cockneys Vs Zombies

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It seems there’s a zombie mashup for every occasion; all we need now is Zombies vs Zombies, and the world will implode in an undead mass. While it’s true that the majority of these efforts are terrible, every so often something good squeezes through. Cockneys Vs Zombies just about hits the mark thanks to its charm and swagger and a number of funny moments and a good cast. Although the whole geezer thing gets irritating after a few minutes, it somehow doesn’t get too badly in the way of this entertaining jaunt through the East End.

Firstly, I’m surprised at how little money the movie has made given the critical consensus and a fair amount of hype and advertising around release, at least in the UK. According to Wikipedia, the movie has only made just over 100 grand off a 2 Million budget. That in itself is enough to make me recommend the movie – it’s a hell of a lot better than movies which rake in tens or hundreds of millions – better made, more inventive, funnier etc. Audiences outside of the UK may struggle with some of the speech and dialogue, but if you’re willing to give it a try, and if you like zombie movies, there’s no reason why you won’t enjoy this.

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Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker star as Cockney brothers who want to help raise the money required to prevent their Grandfather’s Retirement home from being demolished. Not having any particular skills or education, they decide to rob a bank. When the robbery goes tits up the brothers (along with their cousin Katy and two friends) take a couple of people hostage. While all this has been going on, a construction group has accidentally discovered an abandoned 17th Century graveyard underground containing zombies – unleashing a growing wave of the undead across the East End. Soon the group of friends and hostages are surrounded by zombies and need to set aside their differences to reach their loved ones and try to fight their way out of London.

The film has some very funny moments – the zombie chasing the old man (Richard Briers’ last role) and much of the action in and around the Retirement home. Although Alan Ford’s hard old man shtick wears then very quickly, the appearance of Honor Blackman and Michelle Ryan, along with the rest of the cast prove that the ensemble can carry and cover most annoyances. The movie doesn’t deviate far from most movies of its kind – the outbreak, the siege, and the escape are all present, but the addition of the elderly characters and the setting, along with the fact that everyone involved is having fun mean that this is infectious and entertaining, if not as timeless as Shaun Of The Dead. Give it a go if you are a fan of that movie as it shows there is still life in this beaten horse.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of Cockney’s Vs Zombies – is it one film too many in the genre, or one joke too few?