This month, the roundup is bigger than usual thanks to spending three weeks in sunny France, in an area where the Internet was an occasional luxury rather than a constant presence. But in between drinking copious amounts of beer and wine, and sampling far too much cheese and local bread, there was quite a bit of movie watching going on. These are the movies I watched in a gite in the middle of the gorgeous Brittany countryside, almost all of them a reminder that when life is this good you can forgive quite a bit…
The Posthuman Project (2014) / D: Kyle Roberts / 93m
Cast: Kyle Whalen, Collin Place, Josh Bonzie, Lindsay Sawyer, Alexandra Harris, Jason Leyva, Rett Terrell, Will Schwab
Rating: 5/10 – a group of teens develop super powers thanks to a device created by the dastardly uncle of one of them, and must thwart his plan to use it for immoral profit; pretty much a low-budget, amateur version of The Fantastic Four, The Posthuman Project relies on its not inconsiderable charm to help the viewer get past its rough edges, but the acting and the dialogue leave an awful lot to be desired, sometimes too much so.
Predator: Dark Ages (2015) / D: James Bushe / 27m
Cast: Adrian Bouchet, Amed Hashimi, Sabine Crossen, Ben Loyd-Holmes, Jon Campling, Joe Egan, Philip Lane, Bryan Hands
Rating: 7/10 – a group of mercenaries led by Thomas (Bouchard) set off to hunt the mysterious creature killing people and animals in a nearby forest – and find something even more deadly than they expected; a fan-made short that adds a novel twist to the Predator saga, Predator: Dark Ages is a welcome distraction that confirms that, sometimes, the big studios don’t always have the right idea when it comes to their franchise characters.
Drunk Wedding (2015) / D: Nick Weiss / 81m
Cast: Christian Cooke, Victoria Gold, Dan Gill, Anne Gregory, J.R. Ramirez, Nick P. Ross, Genevieve Jones, Diana Newton
Rating: 4/10 – when a couple decide to get married in Nicaragua, they and some of their friends are given hand-held cameras to film it all… with predictably awful, drunken, outrageous, and potentially life-altering effects; if your idea of comedy is seeing someone urinating on another person’s back, then Drunk Wedding is the movie for you, and despite its lowbrow modern day National Lampoon-style approach it still manages to hold the attention and is surprisingly enjoyable – if you don’t expect too much.
Zombie Ass: The Toilet of the Dead (2011) / D: Noboru Iguchi / 85m
Original title: Zonbi asu
Cast: Arisa Nakamura, Mayu Sugano, Asana Mamoru, Yûki, Danny, Kentaro Kishi, Demo Tanaka
Rating: 5/10 – while on a trip to the woods, Megumi (Nakamura) and four older friends find themselves under attack from zombies who have emerged from the bowels of an outhouse – and only her martial arts skills can save them; a wild, wild ride from one of the masters of Japanese Shock Cinema, Zombie Ass: The Toilet of the Dead is equal parts raw, uncompromising, witless, and gross, but it’s also a movie that just can’t be taken at all seriously, and on that level it succeeds tremendously, providing enough WtF? moments to make it all worthwhile.
Faults (2014) / D: Riley Stearns / 89m
Cast: Leland Orser, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Ellis, Beth Grant, Jon Gries, Lance Reddick
Rating: 8/10 – down on his luck cult expert Ansel (Orser) sees a way out of debt and a chance to regain some self-respect when a couple (Ellis, Grant) ask him to abduct and de-programme their daughter (Winstead), but he soon finds himself out of his depth and facing up to some hard truths; a tour-de-force from the always excellent Orser – and with a solid supporting performance from Winstead – Faults is an unnerving look at a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and the ways in which his broken life have led him to a motel room where his own personal beliefs come under as much scrutiny as his captive’s.
She’s Funny That Way (2014) / D: Peter Bogdanovich / 93m
Cast: Imogen Poots, Owen Wilson, Rhys Ifans, Jennifer Aniston, Will Forte, Kathryn Hahn, Illeana Douglas, Debi Mazar, Cybill Shepherd, Richard Lewis, Ahna O’Reilly, Joanna Lumley
Rating: 6/10 – theatre director Arnold Albertson has a secret: he gives prostitutes money in order that they can set up their own businesses, but when his latest “project”, aspiring actress Isabella Patterson (Poots) lands the starring role in his latest production, it all leads to the kind of deception and duplicity that will test the notion that the show must go on; a modern attempt at a screwball comedy, She’s Funny That Way doesn’t have the sheer energy that made movies such as His Girl Friday (1940) or Bringing Up Baby (1938) so enjoyable, but Bogdanovich knows his stuff and keeps the movie entertaining for the most part, even if it doesn’t stay in the memory for too long afterwards.
Curse of the Witching Tree (2015) / D: James Crow / 102m
Cast: Sarah Rose Denton, Lucy Clarvis, Lawrence Weller, Jon Campling, Caroline Boulton, Danielle Bux
Rating: 2/10 – divorcée Amber Thorson (Denton) moves into an old house with her two children (Clarvis, Weller) only for strange phenomena to start happening that’s connected to a witch’s curse, and which leaves them all at risk of supernatural forces; woeful in the extreme, Curse of the Witching Tree is amateurish nonsense that is badly directed, poorly acted, contains defiantly stilted dialogue, suffers from below-par photography, is tension-free throughout, and stands as an object lesson in how not to make a low-budget British horror movie.
Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937) / D: Louis King / 64m
Cast: John Barrymore, John Howard, Louise Campbell, Reginald Denny, E.E. Clive, J. Carrol Naish, Helen Freeman
Rating: 5/10 – when dastardly villains Mikhail Valdin (Naish) and Irena Saldanis (Freeman) kidnap Phyllis Clavering (Campbell), the girlfriend of Captain Hugh Drummond (Howard), they send him on a merry chase where each clue he finds leads to another clue as to her whereabouts – but no nearer to finding her; the first of seven movies with Howard as the dashing sleuth created by H.C. “Sapper” McNeile, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back is as cheap and cheerful and antiquatedly entertaining as you might expect, and benefits enormously from a cast and crew who know exactly what they’re doing.
Every Secret Thing (2014) / D: Amy Berg / 93m
Cast: Diane Lane, Elizabeth Banks, Dakota Fanning, Danielle Macdonald, Nate Parker, Common
Rating: 7/10 – several years after two young girls are incarcerated for the murder of a younger child, their return to their hometown is marred by the disappearance of a little girl, and the belief that one or both of them is responsible; a stilted attempt at an indie film noir, Every Secret Thing features good performances – particularly from Macdonald – and focuses on the emotional effects a child abduction can have on everyone involved, but it never develops a sense of urgency, though its key revelation at the end carries a wallop that helps dismiss what will seem like a narrative impasse up until then.
Children of the Corn: Genesis (2011) / D: Joel Soisson / 80m
Cast: Kelen Coleman, Tim Rock, Billy Drago, Barbara Nedeljakova
Rating: 3/10 – a couple (Coleman, Rock) break down on a desert highway but manage to find shelter overnight with a old preacher (Drago) and his much younger, foreign bride (Nedeljakova), but soon find that what’s in the preacher’s barn is much more menacing than the old man himself; placing the action largely away from Gatlin, Nebraska may have seemed like a smart move but this tired, dreary, and just downright dull entry in the franchise shows just how bad things have gotten since the 1984 original, and just why Children of the Corn: Genesis should remain the last in the series to be made.
Skin Trade (2014) / D: Ekachai Uekrongtham / 96m
aka Battle Heat
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, Tony Jaa, Michael Jai White, Ron Perlman, Celina Jade, Peter Weller
Rating: 6/10 – when cop Nick Cassidy (Lundgren) is powerless to stop his wife and daughter being killed, he determines to go after the crime boss responsible, Viktor (Perlman), and destroy his human trafficking network, which means travelling to Thailand and teaming up with detective Tony Vitayakul (Jaa), who’s also out to put a stop to Viktor’s illegal behaviour; with its human trafficking backdrop giving it an unexpected depth, Skin Trade is not just a brainless, slam-bang action movie, but instead a very well-made (for its budget) revenge flick that features some great fight scenes – particularly one between Lundgren and Jaa – and uses its Thai locations to very good effect.
The Reconstruction of William Zero (2014) / D: Dan Bush / 98m
Cast: Conal Byrne, Amy Seimetz, Scott Poythress, Lake Roberts, Melissa McBride, Tim Habeger
Rating: 6/10 – when the brother (Byrne) of a scientist (also Byrne) wakes from a coma, it’s not long before he begins to suspect that this identity may not be that of the scientist’s brother, and that he’s a pawn in a much bigger conspiracy, but the truth proves even stranger and more disturbing than he realised; a spare, almost antiseptic movie about notions of identity and individual consciousness, The Reconstruction of William Zero features terrific performances from Byrne, but lacks consistency of pace and sometimes feels as if Bush has taken his eye off the ball and taken a while to find it again, which leaves the movie often feeling flat and lifeless.
Not Another Teen Movie (2001) / D: Joel Gallen / 89m
aka Sex Academy
Cast: Chyler Leigh, Chris Evans, Jaime Pressly, Eric Christian Olsen, Randy Quaid, Mia Kirshner, Deon Richmond, Ed Lauter, Paul Gleason, Mr T, Molly Ringwald
Rating: 5/10 – at John Hughes High School, popular jock Jake Wyler (Evans) accepts a bet that he can’t take an ugly girl and transform her into the prom queen, but when he picks out Janey Briggs (Leigh), and begins to spend time with her, it makes him begin to question whether he should have made the bet in the first place; a predictably irreverent teen movie that parodies all those dreadful teen comedies from the Eighties, Not Another Teen Movie has more heart than most, and thanks to Mike Bender’s script contributions, is also quite funny in its knowing way, and gives viewers a chance to see the future Captain America back in the day when his skill as an actor wasn’t quite as honed as it is now.
Bloomington (2010) / D: Fernanda Cardoso / 83m
Cast: Allison McAtee, Sarah Stouffer, Katherine Ann McGregor, Ray Zupp, J. Blakemore, Erika Heidewald
Rating: 7/10 – former child actress Jackie (Stouffer) attends Bloomington college, and finds herself having an affair with one of the professors, Catherine (McAtee), until the offer of a comeback threatens to end their relationship before it’s fully begun; an intelligent, finely crafted romantic drama, Bloomington has two great central performances, and an emotional honesty that is only undermined by the clichéd nature of Jackie’s need to return to acting, and Cardoso’s over-reliance on silent longing as a sign of emotional upheaval.
Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers (1988) / D: Michael A. Simpson / 80m
Cast: Pamela Springsteen, Renée Estevez, Tony Higgins, Valerie Hartman, Brian Patrick Clarke, Walter Gotell
Rating: 5/10 – Angela Baker (Springsteen), having decimated most of the staff and children at Camp Arawak, and now judged to be safe around others, begins sending unruly teenagers “home” from Camp Rolling Hills – which in reality means killing them for any and all perceived infractions that Angela takes a dislike to; a much better sequel than expected, Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers gets by on Springsteen’s preppy performance, some not-too-gory deaths, and Simpson’s confident touch behind the camera, as well as that dreadful musical interlude: The Happy Camper Song.
Gunsmoke in Tucson (1958) / D: Thomas Carr / 80m
Cast: Mark Stevens, Forrest Tucker, Gale Robbins, Vaughn Taylor, John Ward, Kevin Hagen, William Henry, Richard Reeves, John Cliff, Gail Kobe
Rating: 6/10 – brothers Jedediah (Stevens) and John (Tucker) are on opposite sides of the law, but when Jedediah becomes involved in a land dispute between cattle ranchers and farmers, his sense of right and wrong is put to the test, and he has to choose sides in the upcoming fight for the choicest plot of land; a robust, earnest Western, Gunsmoke in Tucson is a staid, respectable movie that doesn’t stray too far from its basic plot, and skimps on any psychological undertones in favour of a straight ahead anti-hero vs. the bad guys scenario that makes for a pleasant diversion.
Beyond the Reach (2014) / D: Jean-Baptiste Léonetti / 91m
Cast: Michael Douglas, Jeremy Irvine, Ronny Cox, Hanna Mangan Lawrence
Rating: 6/10 – arrogant businessman Madec (Douglas) hires tracker Ben (Irvine) in order to bag some game out of season, but when he shoots and kills an old man by mistake, Madec refuses to accept responsibility for his actions and when Ben stands his ground over the issue, finds himself being hunted instead through the harsh Mojave Desert; an occasionally tense two hander that will do little for either actor’s career, Beyond the Reach ramps up the contrivance levels with each successive narrow escape that Ben makes, and with each missed shot that Madec makes, leading to the inevitable conclusion that this is one movie where credulity needs to be left at the door – an idea that is further enhanced by the movie’s risible conclusion.
Blood (2012) / Nick Murphy / 92m
Cast: Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, Stephen Graham, Brian Cox, Ben Crompton, Naomi Battrick, Zoë Tapper, Adrian Edmondson
Rating: 5/10 – when a young girl is found murdered, the police, led by Joe Fairburn (Bethany) immediately set their sights on local child molester Jason Buleigh (Crompton), but when their prime suspect has to be let go for lack of evidence, Joe and his brother Chrissie (Graham) decide to take the law into their own hands, with terrible results; grim, visually depressing, and with a script that has more holes in it than a string vest, Blood has only its performances to recommend it, particularly those of Bethany, Graham and Cox, as well as the sense to know that its tale of a proud man’s downfall is always more interesting when you don’t know just how far they’ll fall.
Echelon Conspiracy (2009) / D: Greg Marcks / 102m
aka The Conspiracy; The Gift
Cast: Shane West, Ed Burns, Ving Rhames, Martin Sheen, Tamara Feldman, Jonathan Pryce, Sergey Gubanov, Todd Jensen
Rating: 3/10 – computer security tech Max Peterson is given a mysterious phone that helps him gain a small fortune, but in doing so he finds himself embroiled in a plot to ensure that the NSA’s super computer, Echelon, gains the upgrade it needs in order to spy on everyone globally; so bad on so many levels, Echelon Conspiracy wastes its (mostly) talented cast, flirts with credibility before running away from it at high speed, offers laughs in places where they shouldn’t be, and is the cinematic equivalent of a car crash.
Crazy Sexy Cancer (2007) / D: Kris Carr / 90m
With: Kris Carr, Jackie Farry, Melissa Gonzalez, Brian Fassett, Aura Carr, Kenneth Carr, Leslie Carr, Oni Faida Lampley, Bhavagan Das
Rating: 7/10 – when aspiring actress Kris Carr was diagnosed with cancer, she decided to make a visual record of the process of dealing with it, and the various ways in which other cancer sufferers have done so, and supported by the cameraman/editor who became her husband, as well as family and friends; an uplifting, positive message for anyone dealing with cancer, or who knows someone who is, Crazy Sexy Cancer is the kind of documentary that doesn’t attempt to overdo the physical and emotional strain of being in such a situation, but which does nevertheless offer plenty of poignant moments in amongst the hospital visits, and shows Carr to be a determined, aggressive would-be survivor.
The Night Flier (1997) / D: Mark Pavia / 94m
Cast: Miguel Ferrer, Julie Entwisle, Dan Monahan, Michael H. Moss, John Bennes, Beverly Skinner, Rob Wilds, Richard K. Olsen, Elizabeth McCormick
Rating: 7/10 – hard-nosed, disreputable reporter Richard Dees investigates a series of murders carried out at small airstrips that appear to be the work of a vampire, but his initial scepticism gives way to reluctant belief as he talks to witnesses, and sees the injuries the victims have sustained; a well-crafted movie that betrays its low budget and scrappy production design, The Night Flier is still one of the better Stephen King adaptations thanks to Pavia’s confident handling of the material, Ferrer’s see-if-I-care performance, and some impressively nasty effects work courtesy of the KNB Group.
Killer by Nature (2010) / D: Douglas S. Younglove / 90m
Cast: Ron Perlman, Armand Assante, Zachary Ray Sherman, Lin Shaye, Haley Hudson, Richard Riehle, Richard Portnow, Svetlana Efremova, Jason Hildebrandt
Rating: 3/10 – troubled by nightmares of murder and sleepwalking, teen Owen (Sherman) undergoes therapy with Dr Julian (Perlman), a therapist who believes that a person’s essential nature is handed down through bloodlines – a theory originated by convicted murderer Eugene Branch (Assante), and who is connected to Owen in a way that causes Owen to believe he might be the perpetrator of a series of murders that mimic Branch’s modus operandi; a thriller that can’t decide if it’s tepid or overwrought, and then settles for both (sometimes in the same scene), Killer by Nature is a humdinger of a bad movie, and proof positive that sometimes the old saying that “if you can, it doesn’t mean you should” relates to far too many movies for comfort – especially this farrago of awful performances, pseudo-intellectual posturing, and deathless direction.
Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword (2009) / D: Christopher Berkeley / 75m
Cast: Frank Welker, Casey Kasem, Mindy Cohn, Grey DeLisle, Kelly Hu, Kevin Michael Richardson, Sab Shimono, Keone Young, Gedde Watanabe, George Takei, Brian Cox
Rating: 6/10 – on a trip to Japan, Scooby-Doo and the gang become involved in the search for a mystical sword, while trying to thwart the efforts of the ghost of the Black Samurai to beat them to it; a middling entry in the series that at least provides a different backdrop than the standard old dark house (or mine, or hotel, or funfair…), and which allows Shaggy and Scooby to be the heroes we all know they really are deep down, while displaying a pleasing awareness of Japanese culture.
[Rec]³ Génesis (2012) / D: Paco Plaza / 80m
Cast: Leticia Dolera, Diego Martín, Ismael Martínez, Àlex Monner, Sr. B, Emilio Mencheta, David Ramírez, Miguel Ángel González
Rating: 7/10 – a young couple’s wedding day is disrupted for good when one of the guests takes a bite out of another one, leading to a frenzied free-for-all among the guests and a fight for survival for those not affected by whatever’s causing people to become zombies – including the bride and groom, who have become separated in the mêlée; half found footage, half professionally filmed, [Rec]³ Génesis acts as a prequel to the events of the first two movies but is let down by both the change in location, and the absence of Claudia Silva, as well as a sense that by going backwards in terms of the outbreak and its possible cause, the makers are treading water until an idea as to how to carry the story forward from [Rec]2 (2009) comes along.
uwantme2killhim? (2013) / D: Andrew Douglas / 92m
Cast: Jamie Blackley, Toby Regbo, Joanne Froggatt, Jaime Winstone, Liz White, Mark Womack, Louise Delamere, Stephanie Leonidas, Mingus Johnston
Rating: 7/10 – popular schoolboy Mark (Blackley) leads a secret life on the Internet, where he invests his time and emotions in relationships with people he’s never met, but when of those people ask him to stop their younger brother, John (Regbo), from being bullied, what follows sets Mark on a dangerous path to murder; based on a true story, and told with a glum sense of foreboding throughout, uwantme2killhim? is an engrossing (though slightly frustrating) recounting of one of the strangest cases of the last fifteen years, and features two very good performances from Blackley and Regbo, though they have to fight against a script that favours repetition over clarity, but which still manages to flesh out what must have been a very strange relationship between the two boys.
Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938) / D: Louis King / 58m
Cast: John Howard, Heather Angel, H.B. Warner, J. Carrol Naish, Reginald Denny, E.E. Clive, Anthony Quinn
Rating: 7/10 – on the very day that Drummond (Howard) is finally due to marry his long-suffering girlfriend Phyllis (Angel) he becomes embroiled in the kidnapping of his old friend Colonel Nielsen (Warner), and finds himself travelling to Morocco – with Phyllis, butler Tenny (Clive) and old pal Algy (Denny) in tow – in order to rescue him; the fourth in the series is perhaps the funniest, with Howard allowed to spread his comedic wings, and even the villain (played again by Naish) given some splendidly dry remarks to make in amongst the threats of death by hungry lion, and a bomb on Drummond’s plane.
The Four-Faced Liar (2010) / D: Jacob Chase / 87m
Cast: Daniel Carlisle, Todd Kubrak, Emily Peck, Marja-Lewis Ryan, Liz Osborn
Rating: 8/10 – five friends – couples Greg (Carlisle) and Molly (Peck), Trip (Kubrak) and Chloe (Osborn), and single lesbian Bridget (Ryan) – experience various ups and downs in their relationships, especially when Trip has a one night stand, and Molly finds herself attracted to Bridget; a refreshingly honest look at what relationships mean to different individuals, and how they affect the people around them, The Four-Faced Liar is an effective, well-written drama that benefits from good performances all round, a soundtrack that supports the mood throughout, and Chase’s confident approach to Ryan’s script.