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!

Race With The Devil

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It’s Peter Fonda, Warren Oates, motorbikes, and devil worshippers – what more could you possibly want? Yes, it’s another one of those American attempts at a Hammer movie and although it isn’t going to win any awards or top any lists it’s still plenty of fun.

The two couples in this movie are not quite yuppies but they definitely symbolize the ‘city’ in the good old fashioned city vs country trope which appears all the time in horror movies. Oates and Fonda are (not brothers, I could have sworn they were) owners of a Motorcycle shop and have just splashed out on what classed as a fancy RV in the 70s. Rather than hop down to Florida for a few weeks on a beach, they load their motorbikes onto the back of the RV, load their wives inside (and an annoying dog) and hit the road for a spot of camping and dirt riding (of the motorcycle and sexual variety). After pulling over in a random field they stick on the Barbie, make some cocktails, and enjoy staring up at the stars and shooting the shit. As the little ladies get ready for bed, Oates and Fonda stumble upon some hippy ritual with masked weirdos and exposed titties. But wait, this ain’t just any old ritual, it’s a good old fashioned sacrifice! And now they’ve been spotted – run!

You can gauge the paths the film is going to tread from fairly early on – the vague, non-committal answers from the local townsfolk, the suspicious glances, and investigations into demons and witchcraft. As with all these films there is deception and chasing, but this one offers less horror and more action than you would expect. In many ways this feels like a halloween episode of CHiPs or Knight Rider than an actual horror film, but that’s no bad thing from where I’m sitting. The endless Zulu-like parade of bad guys makes you think that half the State is populated by evil devil worshippers and the way they just keep coming after the four campers is quite funny – the public chases and massive amounts of damage are sure to draw a hell of a lot more attention to their antics than if they had just let the witnesses get away and rant to some cops in the big city who wouldn’t be arsed to investigate.

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Like I said, this ain’t gonna light anyone’s fire too brightly, but it makes for an entertaining evening for fans of the genre or the stars while remaining an interesting relic of days gone by. Let us know in the comments what you thought of the movie.

Girlhood

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I had been looking forward to this one after reading nothing but good reviews, along with the fact that I typically enjoy coming of age movies. In truth I was a little underwhelmed by Girlhood; it’s a good movie, but there was too much of a personal detachment for me which came more from a lack of emotion conveyed on screen rather than me being a British white thirtysomething bloke. If anything it suggests a promising future for its director and stars.

Girlhood follows a few months in the life of a teenage girl who lives in a tower block complex – the sort you would expect to find in any populous city. She is protective of her younger sister, scared of her older brother, and feels trapped by her surroundings and life – the choices, options, and ability to simply live life the way you want to are limited. We see a host of tropes from similar movies or movies set in similar territory – the hoodlums lurking in the shadows, the invisible parents or adult authority, the contrast between the dim, dark housing development and the bright city lights and delights. That’s not to say the film simply rolls out trope after trope – it engages them and acknowledges them as true to life occurrences. With this approach, the film moves in a matter of fact way – nothing seems startling or out of place, but neither is anything shocking or exciting.

Marieme has been told that she cannot continue her schoolwork due to bad grades (or possibly race and class), and facing a bleak future she decides to go against everything she knows and speaks with a bunch of girls who appear to be part of a gang. Initially it is obvious she is out of place, but the girls accept her and she is quickly drawn into a world of theft, dancing, petty fighting, and general chav activity – but also friendship unlike anything she had experienced before. It is during these moments that the movie has its finest moments – the scenes of young women simply loving being round one another and feeling like they can take on the world are among the most exuberant and honest in film. The film attempts to take a darker turn later in the film as Marieme becomes a drug mule, loses her femininity or accentuates it in a deliberately cartoonish manner, and soon loses faith in her current path – she sees no future for herself in this direction and yet cannot accept returning to any past life. For me, the film loses its way in these moments – Marieme becomes a less interesting character, we lose her friendship with Lady, Fily, and Adiatou, and nothing really happens. It’s clear that the viewer is being shown, not for the first time, that even a strong woman will struggle given the poor choices she has ahead of her and we appreciate that there is little Marieme can do to improve her situation.

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The problem with Marieme is that, even though she is conflicted, she never truly becomes a fascinating character. There are moments, but not enough for us to sympathise with her – this is also hindered by the fact that for most viewers she repeatedly picks the worst option from the choices she has. It’s an annoyance of seeing potential wasted, of watching someone who is essentially good going nowhere. Karidja Toure is very good in the role, transforming from a meek nobody, to an effervescent girl, to a tired, hopeless woman. Assa Sylla is also strong as Lady – the whole cast in general are good at giving realistic portrayals. Sciamma, whose Water Lillies I enjoyed, gives another complex view of growing up as a girl – the hope, the fear, the love and the despair, and most importantly the friendships. The camera frequently moves in a slow panning motion, keeping the viewer as an outsider who cannot quite grasp the struggles of the character, and there is a heavy reliance on music and light. The soundtrack feels retro but uses modern pop music too, yet it lacks a punch or a hook outside of the obvious Diamonds scene. From an emotional standpoint, I always felt that feelings were skirted or on the fringe – perhaps deliberate, though maybe not. I felt like the friendship was real, but there wasn’t enough to make me laugh or love, scream or cry about. The most upsetting scene was possibly seeing Marieme’s little sister possibly following in her footsteps, but this wasn’t explored further.

In all, this is a film which most viewers will likely enjoy more than I did, but for me it is not up to films such as Stand By Me, Now And Then, or even The Virgin Suicides or Little Women –  though perhaps those are not all valid comparisons. A film like this relies on a likable cast and understanding director – both of which are checked boxes here, but they also need poignancy, a certain nostalgic charm or sense of empathy, and that intangible atmosphere which draws us back for repeated viewings and which makes us want to spend more time in the presence of the characters and their world. Girlhood for me doesn’t quite hit all of those notes, and while it is a more grim film than those previously mentioned, it is the lack of emotion which dulls the viewer and keeps us at arm’s length.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Girlhood!

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?

The Last Exorcism 2

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Nell returns in this interesting sequel to the found footage hit which doesn’t do enough to answer the questions viewers would have been asking after the credits rolled on the first movie. The film drops the found footage, leaves behind the documentary style, and instead adopts a more traditional approach as we find Nell trying to re-integrate with society by moving in to a halfway house for teenage girls. Rather than getting any explanation on what happened at the end of the last movie or what has happened to Nell or other characters in the interim, we pick up some time after with an apparently possessed Nell lurking in a random house. After recuperating in hospital, she is taken in by the kindly Frank, makes friends, gets a job, and begins to move on with a new life of freedom and individuality. It isn’t long before hooded figures begin stalking her, strange phenomenon breaks out in the house, and somebody finds clips of the found footage depicting the previous film on Youtube and all Hell breaks loose, literally.

While the film does contain the odd (tame) scare, it simply doesn’t have the heart and soul of its predecessor. While Part I was a genuine attempt to tell a powerful, disturbing story with twists and turns, Part II is clearly a cash-in with little regard for its central character or for existing fans. It’s a shame because there are a lot of things that work here, and Bell once again throws every ounce of her being into the performance – creating a horror icon deserving of being mentioned in the same breath as Carrie, Freddy, or Michael Myers. We have strong supporting work too in minor roles – Watson as Frank is a sympathetic figure and Julia Garner’s Gwen tows the line between good and evil. The idea of Nell trying to move on is commendable, the setting opens the doors for many ideas which never come to fruition, and the conclusion is pleasingly nefarious. What doesn’t work is the gaps in the story – we could have had Nell attempting to recount where she has been, or some sort of additional closure. The omniscient hooded figures and just-introduced characters who seem to know Nell and her demon don’t have enough history to make us interested, and the Order Of The Right Hand, apparently sent to help Nell are completely useless in their jobs and again appear out of nowhere with no back story to allow us to care.

Fans of the first film will likely want to catch up with Nell and see how everything turns out, but I imagine most will be disappointed. While there is a glacial tone and the gnawing sense that things will soon go wrong, and while certain characters are ambiguous enough for us to question their intentions, these things are inferior to how they are executed in Part 1. Stick around for the last 10 minutes and enjoy it for another excellent performance by Ashley Bell.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Last Exorcism Part 2 and if you felt if lived up to its predecessor!

Ranking The Bond Women -Introduction

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Chauvinism ahoy! Following on from my ridiculously unpopular Bond Songs ranking posts I thought I would move on to even more misguided waters by listing all of the women who appear in Bond movies. As before, this is a personal list so nostalgia and personal preference will hold more weight that cultural importance or lack thereof, with a sprinkling of character, writing, and acting ability aiding in the ranking. Before I get started with the list, for all your purists out there THIS IS MY LIST. I am including Never Say Never Again (even though it’s tripe), I am including typical Bond girls and female Bond baddies, and I’m trying to include even the most minor character – it just needs to be someone who has had some sort of fling or naughty, nudey escapade with Double Oh Shlong – because of this I may miss a few characters – don’t hate me. Or do, I don’t care. I am not including Moneypenny as she is a regular, recurring character and I’m not including Judi Dench’s M because I’m not a GILF hunter.

At time of writing I have identified a frightening, wrist-wrenching 90 ladies. My wife tells me I have peculiar tastes when it comes to women, so be prepared for some unusual choices in my top 20. I’ll split up my posts into minors, middling, and major characters, and I’ll even share with you a lovely picture of each woman along with my alarmingly non-pervy thoughts. Won’t that be lovely? And because no blog post is complete without a list – here is the list of Bond Girls by movie which I will be including! Feel free to let me know your favourites now, or alternatively wait until I have completed my wanking. RANKING! Ahem, ranking. Ahem.

Dr No: Honey Ryder, Sylvia Trench, Miss Taro

From Russia With Love: Sylvia Trench (again), Tatiana Romanova, Zora, Vida

Goldfinger:  Dink, Jill Masterson, Tilly Masterson, Bonita, Pussy Galore.

Thunderball: Fiona Volpe, Paula Caplan, Mademoiselle La Porte, Patricia Fearing, Domino Derval

You Only Live Twice: Aki, Ling, Helga Brandt, Kissy Suzuki

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service: Teresa Di Vicenzo, Ruby Bartlett, Nancy,

Diamonds Are Forever: Tiffany Case, Plenty O’Toole, Bambi, Thumper, Marie

Live And Let Die: Solitaire, Rosie Carver, Miss Caruso

The Man With The Golden Gun: Andrea Anders, Mary Goodnight, Saida, Chew Mee

The Spy Who Loved Me: Anya Amasova, Naomi, Felicca, Martine Blanchaud.

Moonraker: Manuela, Corinne Dufour, Holly Goodhead, Apollo Jet Hostess

For Your Eyes Only: Melina Havelock, Bibi Dahl, Countess Lisl

Octopussy: Octopussy, Magda, Bianca,

A View To A Kill: Kimberly Jones, Mayday, Stacey Sutton, Jenny Flex, Pan Ho, Pola Ivanova

The Living Daylights: Kara Milovy, Linda, Rubavich, Rosika Miklos,

License To Kill: Lupe Lamora, Pam Bouvier,

Goldeneye: Xenia Onatopp, Natalya Simonova, Caroline

Tomorrow Never Dies: Inga Bergstrom, Wai Lin, Paris Carver,

The World Is Not Enough: Cigar Girl, Christmas Jones, Electra King, Molly Warmflash,

Die Another Day: Peaceful, Miranda Frost, Jinx. Verity.

Casino Royale: Solange, Vesper Lynd

Never Say Never Again: Domino Petachi, Fatima Blush

Quantum Of Solace: Agent Fields, Camille, Gemma

Skyfall: Bond’s Lover, Severine

Spectre: Lucia Sciarra, Madeleine Swan, Estrella

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The Last Exorcism

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Horror moves in ever decreasing circles; one big idea comes along, is successful, and then breeds ever more numerous and more inferior spawn. The same can be said for other genres, and film and art in general, but it’s rarely more true, obvious, and barrel-scraping than in horror. As the genre dragged itself from the tattered, splattered remains of Torture Porn, the spectre of Handheld began to loom large. Paranormal Activity brought back the low budget innovation and shocks of The Blair Witch Project and updated its post-grunge malaise into the tech-obsessed, tech-scared new millennium. The ever decreasing circles rapidly became a noose to the point that shaky-cam and found-footage became terms which strangled imagination and left viewers dangling in disappointed, unexpected boredom. In general, I’m more forgiving of these films, even those which rely on obscure jump-scares and long periods of quiet before sudden deafening bangs in lieu of genuine tension and frights – as long as the premise is good, the idea interesting, and the filmmakers work with heart rather than greed. But like those long periods of quiet, every so often after a long period of similarly uninspired dross there comes the sudden deafening bang of quality.

The Last Exorcism looks from its trailer, from its premise, like just another found-footage film. It bears all the hallmarks of the sub-sub-genre, and it has its fair share of shaky camera work. However, thanks to some genuinely stunning performances and an honest attempt at tweaking the tropes and conventions and doing something more than just ticking boxes, it ends up being one of the best horror movies of the last few years. We have periods of silence but also genuine tension, and we have jump scares working along side surprising frights and moments that will chill. We have a strong cast and an assured director in Daniel Sturmm who knows exactly when to give a glimpse of what’s lurking inside his box or tricks, and when to rip the lid off.

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The film follows a loose documentary style formula, with a disillusioned Minister who has lost his faith plying his trade as a travelling exorcist. Sick of himself, sick of the people he meets, sick of religion, and sick of tricking people into believing he is saving them and thereby perpetuating their beliefs he decides to bring a film crew along on his last exorcism – he is going to show the world that he, and many like him are, a fraud. Accepting a request from a backwater town, he and the crew travel to the Sweetzer family farm to cast out the demon Abalam who, it appears, has taken over their sweet and innocent teenage daughter, Nell. Marcus explains to the camera that he has seen many patterns and similar cases over the years, and as he prepares for his mumbo jumbo and ritual, he tells us how to perform a fake exorcism. Having done his job and headed for home, things take an unexpected turn as Nell somehow tracks him down and is in a worse state than before his exorcism. From this point, the film unleashes all manner of scares and tricks as we are left to second guess motives and next steps. The plot twists and turns, offers a few red herrings, and nothing is clear until the final moments.

What I enjoyed most about the film is the performance of Ashley Bell as Nell. This is clearly a highly talented actress who should go on to future stardom. Her performance is visceral and charged with emotion, filled with subtle little ticks and looks, and she easily conveys naivety, fear, and possessed rage. It’s a performance which reminds me of Weaver in Aliens, Hamilton in T2, and Sheryl Lee in Fire Walk With Me in that it is full blooded, wildly energetic yet focused, and almost takes on a life of its own outside of the confines of the film. She deserved an Oscar nod for her work here, and it’s a shame she wasn’t recognised. Horror fans may be sick to their guts of found footage and exorcism films, but The Last Exorcism is the cream of the crop and shows what can be achieved in this style.

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Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Last Exorcism and how it ranks alongside other exorcism movies.