MAD: An American Werewolf in Paris
Feb24

MAD: An American Werewolf in Paris

(1997 Buena Vista/Watched on DVD) Idiot on vacation crosses paths with a werewolf. Suffers lycanthropy. The almost entirely forgotten sequel to John Landis’ seminal 1981 wolfman holiday retreads much of the same paths overemphasising the comedy and hallucinogenic fucked-uppedness and downplaying the horror to the point where it’s not actually really a horror movie. It also cranks the romance angle up a notch whilst delivering some truly shonky 90s CG in place of London’s still amazing practical work. It’s really odd to watch. It shouldn’t be funny, it’s trying too hard and mixing slapstick with absurdity and occasionally a clumsy stab at the dry scripting of London, though delivered in very over the top fashion. And sometimes it actually does work. There’s a gag with a condom that made me laugh out loud with its multi-part dedication, a dead dog that really shouldn’t be as rib-tickling as it is and occasional moments where characters you assumed were absolute idiots do something fairly smart in order to survive. There’s also a bit with a bungee rope that should make you groan, but it’s so oddly sweet it makes you grin instead. Best of all is Julie Delpy, fresh out of Before Sunrise and looking absolutely radiant, ten leagues ahead of the dimbo tit-weasel protagonist, played by Tom Everett Scott. She’s framed as a tragic, regretful lycanthrope, super strong, brave, selfless and determined and she treats him (rightly) like an amorous puppy. The crying shame is that she’s not in it a lot more. If the Chunderworld movies had a heroine half as compelling as this they would be vastly improved. Because of the way it is lit, shot and scored, and the bargain basement effects (aside from some pleasingly loup-garousome makeup), I was never actually convinced this was a movie. It has the sensibilities and energy of TV or straight to video fare. It stands to reason as the director and composer have only done a few other projects and the cinematographer, Egon Werdin works only in Dutch and German films. Musically speaking, there is, however, no excuse for that interminable onslaught of unbearable 90s toss. When Smash Mouth is your highlight, you have a soundtrack best suited for siege situations. The wolves though, these are some grotty, lazy screen creations that would make the creatures Lucas pasted onto Mos Eisley in Star Wars: Special Edition that same year look like the pinnacle of Weta creature effects mastery. They are barely rendered Shrekshit of the lowest order. If I’d been responsible for those visual effects I would officially be An American Werewolf...

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MAD: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Feb23

MAD: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

  (2016 Screen Gems <again. Not one gem so far>/Watched on Netflix) In an alternate early 19th Century, in a version of England long beset by zombies, the events of Jane Austen’s classic novel play out (incredibly loosely), with a lot of zombie fighting. It’s one iota as much fun as it sounds. I take personal issue with so many aspects of this production that I can feel a firestorm of a rant inbound. First of all the premise is a Harry Enfield sketch that has here been taken and unnaturally stretched to feature length. Manifestly the title alone got it the 2009 book deal, as it is simple and effectively subversive enough to grab the attention and elicit a chuckle. The trouble is, once those seven seconds are over you are left with the fact that beyond the title it must also be a story, one that is either very daring and ambitious or an empty waste of everybody’s time. Unfortunately it’s the latter. The film is stupid and clumsy, does everything *because it’s cool*, from the girls trained to fight monsters by being sent to China and Japan and learning Shaolin martial arts and Katana skills (and yet remaining superficially identical to their source characters despite this major cultural shift and intense life experience) to memorable lines of original dialogue delivered in scenarios that would never comfortably house those words. Writer Seth Grahame-Smith and screenwriter Burr Steers have between them only a fleeting grasp of the delicacy of the source novel. Scene to scene, entire dramatic movements are perverted, mishandled, misinterpreted or overblown to the point of nonsense. But beyond the fact that this is a parody that does not love what it satirises, they also have no comprehension of such things as timescale, customs, history, physics, storytelling, character development or what would actually happen to our world in this era, going through an extinction-level event. Instead it focuses mostly on weak jump scares and the juxtaposition of refined gentry and brief, painfully samey, monster encounters. If it couldn’t be a *good* period drama with zombies, it could at least have been a good *action horror zombie movie* with costumes, but it manages to be a Jack of three trades, and even-slightly-competent at none. It’s tedious, it bears no weight of the life and death at play, and since it’s not the least bit funny then its sole remit as a comedy is also wildly missed. The third matter is one of poor marketing. Screen Gems took a movie that could have been made on a shoestring and festooned with claret, aimed hard at an adult audience, and they squoze...

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MAD: The Great Wall
Feb22

MAD: The Great Wall

(2017 Universal/Watched in the Cinema) Zhang Yimou is a really mixed bag for me. I like Hero a lot, though it is overlong and eventually needlessly convoluted, when it could have been simpler and more elegant. I LOVE House of Flying Daggers, which approaches Crouching Tiger levels of beauty and melancholy tone tinged with hope. And I absolutely flipping HATE Curse of the Golden Flower, a ludicrous, pompous, self-serious mess, filled to the brim with annoying, loathsome characters, and my giddy aunt is it boring! That’s the main issue with The Great Wall. It makes 105 minutes feel like 1005. It’s not a poorly made film, fairly nuts and bolts, but I couldn’t find a single thing to rouse my interest throughout, and for the first time I deliberately made myself comfortable and napped, first on the empty seat to my right, then the one to my left. I missed nothing during my moments of unconsciousness either. It’s kind of like the long-running game series Dynasty Warriors, and if you describe exactly what happens in both those games and in the film, they sound super epic and impressive, but in execution only a certain type of person is going to find themselves thoroughly engaged with either. Dynasty Warriors is a niche title, satisfying a certain kind of loyal fan. I just don’t think the global market contains that many people who want to see this kind of movie sub-genre, which I shall name “Siege-Pablum”. In terms of plot, imagine if Gimli and Legolas had turned up at Rohan in The Two Towers, only they were just passing through, looking for the eleven secret herbs and spices that the Chinese put in their gunpowder. Plus there’s all of that other wonderful stuff that’s in The Two Towers, and you’ll find not a shred of that here. They blunder up to Helm’s Deep. They get brought in, the Uruk Hai attack immediately, only they’re the Brood from the 80s X-Men comics. Apparently they’ve been attacking for centuries because a meteor crash landed, and that’s why the wall was built. Gimli and Legolas help out a bit. The battle ends. Then there’s a lot of talk, some smaller fights, and a last ditch suicide run from a very small team on a big, green screen place, the goodest goodies survive, and it ends. Right… some questions. 1. If the Brood have been attacking for a long, long time, and it took between 1700 and 2000 years to build this 5500 to 6000 mile wall, just… well I mean *imagine it*… and amid all that nonsense that your brain is conjuring up, you...

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MAD: Fury Road: Black & Chrome
Feb21

MAD: Fury Road: Black & Chrome

(2015 Warner Bros/Watched on Blu Ray) Biggest question here, how do you improve on perfection? I really mean that, and there are fewer than ten movies I would describe in this way. There is one tiny moment that is less than perfect, which is the focus of the scene when the Splendid Angharad is having her body mined for Joe’s unborn baby. The medical specialist in attendance (the Organic Mechanic) is unbelievably crass about the horrendous and tragic scenario which has shaken even the Immortan to his core, but we never see Splendid. I fully understand how neither man could be compassionate here, showing too much humanity would make them less of a destructive force to escape. From Joe’s perspective, we should see the loss of a child, but from Miss Giddy’s perspective we should see Angharad herself. That is simply a matter of camera angles and the focus only on Joe and the Mechanic with one or two shots of Giddy and none of the departed makes a deeply uncomfortable scenario clumsier than it could have been. But that’s it. It isn’t even the content that I have a problem with, it is just the split focus being vague. EVERYTHING else in this film, every shot, every musical note, every drum beat, every stunt, every character arc, every machine, every line, every slow motion spiral through the air, every frame, every vista, is P.E.R.F.E.C.T. In terms of what they were setting out to do. The origin of this alternate, black and white vision on Mad Max IV is when George Miller was watching the second movie, The 1981 Road Warrior getting itself scored in the rough cut stage. There was a very starkly balanced black and white edit playing out in the room and George realised that some of the shots were even more striking. He aspired from that point onward to one day release a monochrome version of a Mad Max movie And some time after the initial release of Fury Road, he got his wish. I’ll say right now that if you truly love this movie, recognising it as an amazing contribution to cinema then this edition is worth owning. It comes with the original full colour version as well on a separate disc, so you’re all set until you need it in 4K, and from what I’ve read, that version actually looks a little less convincing, with some of the CG elements more noticeable in such high definition. Having seen the movie you won’t recall many of these at all, because the illusion is so thoroughly sold and because so very much of what we...

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MAD: Cats
Feb20

MAD: Cats

(2002 Universal/Watched on DVD) On planet Thundera, shortly before the feline population evolve into advanced, spacefaring glam warriors, a bunch of their ancestors sprawl about in an alley and sing about what it means to be a cat. This was a specially filmed 20th anniversary production of the long-running 1981 musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Over the years this production has been praised to the high heavens, showered with awards and it has delighted audiences all over the world, especially little girls. I’d not encountered it before, but picked up the DVD since we’re on a musical high right now. I realised within seconds what a terrible mistake I’d made, and how I was about to be trapped for two hours in a garbage dump filled with two dozen completely loopy theatre actors, dressed like fluffy nightmares. Their names are (and I had to verify this with many fact checks because these words are babbled amid songs with gibberish lyrics), Mungojerrie, Munkustrap, Rum Tum Tugger, Rumpleteaser, Mister Mistoffelees and Bustopher Jones, plus twenty more, and they are EVERYWHERE! There’s no hero, no villain, no “I want” song, no conflict, no story, just a bunch of cats singing about being Jellicle cats. Periodically a new cat comes along and I think they sing about this new cat, but it’s always hard to tell. It’s absolutely nonsensical, somehow managing to be filled with light humour whilst being overly earnest and self serious. By the sixth thousandth utterance of the nonsense word “Jellicle” I wanted them all spayed! After doing some research Sharon turned up the nugget of information that the niece of T.S. Eliot, (whose work this is loosely based on) used to say this gobbledygook phrase when trying to pronounced “Dear Little…” cat. But I feel sorry for the countless dads dragged to the West End and Broadway and coerced into forking out a king’s ransom for tickets, sat there for 115 minutes and trying to make head or tail of any of this without access to Google. People who hate musicals are probably thinking of this when they reckon on the cause. It takes self-indulgence to nuclear levels and 95% of it is prancing. On the other hand, it’s kind of perfect that they’re all caterwauling indistinctly, with songs that are impossible to follow, all self-absorbed to the point of being inhumanly unrelatable, they’re cats. All this is true until Elaine Paige, First Lady of the London stage appears as the bedraggled old Grizabela. Her eyes tell of a moggy with a lifetime of experience, which automatically puts her streets ahead of the rest. Her presence and physical performance...

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MAD: The Magnificent Seven
Feb19

MAD: The Magnificent Seven

(2016 Columbia/Watched on Talk Talk TV) I watched the 1960 classic in preparation for my second viewing of this and almost exactly the same situation as True Grit occurred. Unfettered by the nostalgia of watching the film at an early age on my daddy’s knee and carrying it with me through my life I was able to weigh up the relative merits of something effectively stored in a time capsule and judge them against this re-exploration that I saw last year on the big screen. Almost everything has changed about film itself in the past 57 years. That’s incidentally a span of time that cut Ellen Ripley off entirely from the life she originally put on hold to go haul rolling stock in space. The Earth she came back to was different enough to make her feel… alien. The original is a window back to a simple time when everything moved in broad brush strokes. When Chico’s outburst in the bar would not have been hilariously overblown by today’s standards. When those gunfights were thrilling and Steve McQueen was fetching. Sit a child down in front of that film, and unless they were raised on similar fare they are not going to be paying attention. Frankly the same is true with adults. Now please understand I’m not attempting to drain away the merit of respected, classic movies from decades past, they are the foundation on which the films of my childhood sat, atop which modern cinema now sits. They stand back there, forming their link in the chain of influence, always presenting the opportunity to be elaborated upon. What I mean by this is simply that when an audience sits before a screen, a chasm exists in between, and modern films have a lot more at their disposal to bridge that chasm and form connections. That kind of scenario makes remakes of films extremely important for keeping them alive in the collective unconscious. Though you could argue that Three Amigos!, A Bug’s Life and Galaxy Quest already set out to do this, and that Magnificent Seven 1960 was performing that function for Seven Samurai. Kurosawa’s masterpiece has been dubbed as “The greatest action film ever made” by certain critics, yet it is entirely unwatchable for general audiences, then and now. Lets not kid ourselves that technical craftsmanship can bridge those chasms when the setting, the pacing, the language, the era it was made, the culture it was from and even the simple lack of colour burn down every rope cast across. All that said, THIS Magnificent Seven is nigh on the best it could possibly have been for this...

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MAD: Hidden Figures
Feb18

MAD: Hidden Figures

(2016 Fox/Watched at the Cinema) Behind NASA’s endeavours past our atmosphere and into space, and later onward to The Moon, there were many unsung women of colour doing the computations in the background. This is their long awaited story. This film covers a short period of years in the early 60s between Sputnik launching and John Glenn’s first manned American flight that reached space. It was smack bang in the middle of the conflict over civil rights and forms the perfect framework for a people struggling hard to just be accepted and treated like people, in a mistrusting, bigoted world of segregated drinking fountains, toilets, bus sections, library sections and most of all workplaces. This story focuses on three real life women: Dorothy Vaughan (played by Octavia Spencer, with a quiet, determined smoulder different to her firecracker performance in The Help, and just as powerful) oversees a whole group of “Colored Computers” which literally entails two dozen mathematically gifted non-white women foisted into a dingy room to crunch numbers for the white, short-sleeve shirted men with black ties and buzzcuts, half a mile away in the rooms where decisions get made. She winds up sneaking over to their IBM machine, a vast, unwieldy room of tape reels, daisy-wheels and punch cards. One guess as to who is the only person who can make this lumbering behemoth sing data. Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae) is pushing to be able to take night school classes, ultimately winding up in a room full of the same, incredulous men. This privilege requires court appointments and fighting every obtuse obstacle with a ferocity that would leave most white men questioning its worth. Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is the one whose story takes the lionesses share of the screentime. I realise now that in my wordplay, which I use to make these write-ups more fun I just claimed that she got a more meagre portion than someone else who got the male lion’s share. This isn’t the case, but it’s interesting (in a bone-chilling kind of way) how gender swapping terms often has the opposite effect, culturally speaking. Katherine is a stone cold genius. We meet her as a child and she’s exhibiting all kinds of Good Will Hunting super mathletic abilities. She’s also shy and reserved, overly aware of how uncomfortable the people around her are with the double threat she represents. She must suffer the indignity of scurrying back and forth through many coridoors and clear across a long car park to get to the “Colored Women’s Bathroom” since no such place exists in the building she was promoted to. The men don’t...

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MAD: John Wick Chapter 2
Feb17

MAD: John Wick Chapter 2

(2017 Warner Bros/Watched in the Cinema) John is dragged back into the assassination game and ends up with a huge bounty on his head. Dozens of men are murdered by him. Directed by Chad Stahelski, co-director of the original (David Leitch the other, is absent this time). Written by Derek Kolstad (who wrote the original). I was going to compare this with Die Hard 2, a perfectly serviceable action film that follows the movements of the soon-to-be-classic original, without the power or finesse. But that isn’t a fair enough comparison, because I actually like Die Harder. I was then going to compare it to God of War II because the original game is a closed loop, with Kratos finishing his journey in the only place he could end up sitting. The second game unnaturally rips that narrative open again and forces him back onto the road of horrific violence, principally because the original was a success and studios like money. We all know where that ended up, with God of War III and a truly sickening, dead-eyed psychopath wreaking mindless, tasteless vengeance across the heavens. I would far rather the director and writer had been put to work resurrecting the terrible Hitman movies and making something good out of that premise. Or get them on the next Bond movie, since the lines between this and the Craig films have now blurred so much you could trade the characters and people would not notice. Both way better ideas than to sequel a film that by its very shape requires itself to be LEFT ALONE. This is going to be a very unpopular opinion, because I have only heard good things about this movie, but I really, genuinely dislike almost everything about it and resent its existence. I knew that without the grief-interrupted and simple but unimaginably intense driving force of the original absent, this was going to have to come up with something pretty special to fill that void. What it came up with is the kind of loopy shit a fourteen year old boy would scribble in the margins of his exercise books on his long road towards maturity. The aspect they decided to greatly expand upon was my least favourite of the first film (and the reason it doesn’t warrant five stars), namely the cabal of assassins that are so secret nobody even knows they exist… or in this case nobody needs to know because it would appear that EVERYBODY in the entire world is an assassin, working for this network. I can’t even begin to describe how empty that renders proceedings. John and a slew of attackers...

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MAD: Golden Ninja Warrior 
Feb16

MAD: Golden Ninja Warrior 

(1986 IFD Films/Watched on DVD) This one is going to be very short. Golden Ninja Warrior, another from the same stable as Ninja Terminator and Ninja Dragon, it even features the same knackered plastic car park set of the latter. If it’s worthy of placement at a finale once it’s worthy of being there twice… unless it wasn’t worthy either time. Same deal again. Same terrible music, world’s worst editing, facepalm-inducing acting, even sillier dubbing, blending inappropriate cockney accents with what sounds like the voices of rats that can speak. Any actual martial arts are too sloppily cut between shots to give you any idea of pace or clear movement. There are plenty of complaints about Bourne and Taken style action edits blurring the frame to obscure imprecise movements, but this kind of film makes it clear the problem has *always* been there. And the big change is that this time it’s a woman. To frame her adventure the whole film is about sex trafficking, it’s riven with sexual assault and degradation of women, including the heroine herself being raped in a bedroom by a fat, drooling old pervert of a crime lord for a really gruelling amount of time, while the burbling music suggests it is not intended to be nearly as dark a moment as you are taking it. It’s still ridiculous, but it stands as testament to the kind of lazy, shitty story men write about women because they don’t know anything else about the female experience, and make it clear each time that they are frankly dangerously unqualified to handle this subject. Ninja Terminator is a hilarious, party-friendly experience. Ninja Dragon is a lot more forgettable. Golden Ninja Warrior is vile. Avoid it like a moon-faced white male who uses words like “cuck” and...

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MAD: Innocent Blood
Feb15

MAD: Innocent Blood

(1992 Warner Bros/Watched on DVD) It began with the caption “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your screen”. I fed this into a translator and what came out on the ticker tape was “This has had the sides of the frame hacked off in order not to upset complete nincompoops with square TVs in 1998 who believe everything must be watched in fullscreen, otherwise it’s not the full… screen (as evidenced by those pesky bars at the top and bottom. “What was in those spaces that we were never allowed to see?” they thought. “Super important movie stuff, surely”. To that I say “Warner Bros of the Clinton era. Do not presume to know what MY screen looks like, for I live in the future! A fascist police state, wherein humans are transfixed by little glowing, oblong twit-machines from wake to sleep. In other words, butchering cinema is the polar goddamn opposite of future-proofing. And don’t even get me started on that copy of Nixon I put in the other night, only to find it was one of those early crop of DVDs lazily ported from laserdisc, devoid of anamorphic justification, and thus a small rectangle in the middle of the screen surrounded by a sea of charcoal grey played out the movie with the blurry, artefact-strewn chaos of an explosion in a lard factory, viewed through a shoebox periscope. This is all a great way of filibustering to avoid talking about Innocent Blood, one of John Landis’ underachievements. Ostensibly it’s about a pretty, French vampire lady who likes to walk around her gothic Pittsburgh apartment in the altogether and preys on mobsters. That’s about all we find out of her in the first minute and we learn nothing more throughout. It’s almost impressive how much information gets conveyed before those floodgates snap shut. She bites a mobster in his car, then shotguns him and sets fire to it efficiently to ensure he doesn’t come back. Then we barely see her for twenty minutes while the dearly departed Robert Loggia as Sal the Shark viciously murders a whimpering, snivelling associate and Anthony LaPaglia reminds us what a handsome chap he was as an undercover cop who watches it happen. He’s sort of a protagonist but not really, in fact we actually spend more of the movie with Sal, who tries to very roughly woo Marie the vampire in his penthouse. This is a man whose idea of consent is “Well, she’s here.” And whose idea of foreplay is “Are you done puking, because I gotta work in the morning.” She...

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