Archive for August, 2013

‘Wild Child’ (Nick Moore, 2008)

 

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Something you discover when you become a parent is that your kids won’t always follow your lead when it comes to good taste, judgement and generally sound film choices. At the time of writing it’s the dag end of half term and my daughter, 9 years old, got to choose what we’d watch this evening. She picked ‘Wild Child’. I’d never heard of it, didn’t recognise any of the cast on the list – not even the star! – but what the hell. She’s only 9. I can’t make her watch giallo every night.

‘Wild Child’ follows a pretty standard formula for most kids’ comedies. Duck out of water makes inroads, loses inroads, ultimately redeems themselves. That’s it. If I’m honest, I didn’t object to the ninety minutes of my life this film used up. Performances aside it wasn’t too bad. I’m something of a whore for this kind of schmultz. What helps with this film is that it wasn’t American, something I wasn’t expecting. Let’s go over the plot.

Young whoresA young, spoiled brat American teen wreaks havoc in her glorious palatial home, so her father (played by Aidan Quinn who I convinced myself was David Rasche) packs her off to the English boarding school her dead mum used to go to. Said brat, Poppy, is played by Emma Roberts. I’d never heard of her before and in writing this up I’ve just discovered she’s Eric Roberts’ daughter! How fucking cool is that? Just this minute found that out and it’s put a big fat smile on my face. Unfortunately, Eric’s daughter is not a natural actress or if she is, this isn’t the sort of film she should be in. Normally I can give a young performer a break as they’re just starting out, but she’s genuinely awful. Like someone painted eyes on a dildo and hid behind it bawling lines in a whiny yank drawl.

The English schoolgirls are pretty good all told, but I was surprised to see familiar faces. Only recently I’d watched ‘Fresh Meat’ and found it quite enjoyable. Two of the leads from that, Kimberley Nixon and Sophie Wu are present here. I also recognised Juno Temple, though lord knows how as looking at her credits she and I have little in common when it comes to films. But among them all and playing the villain of the piece is the shockingly woeful Georgia King. A terrible performance, tonally off with the rest of the cast and seemingly in a film of her own. Am I being harsh? Fuck yes. But if you’re going to put your kids on stage, expect them to get more honest reviews than you give them in the front room.

wc5We have adults as well. Aside from David Rasche-a-like Aiden Quinn we also have Natasha Richardson who must be turning in her grave to know this was her final film. She’s perfectly alright in it, but man alive. What a final entry on a CV. Only Orson Welles comes lower. Shirley Henderson fulfills her purpose as having to appear in every vaguely British film that’s made. The big surprise is that Toby Jones isn’t with her. Instead we get Jason Watkins who’s essentially the guy you end up with when Toby Jones is busy. They look and sound the same. Weirdly there’s also a teacher played by Daisy Donovan. I used to quite fancy Daisy Donovan.

A final note on the cast is the only young male lead. At first I assumed a shaven llama had stumbled through a washing line and onto set, obscuring the actor. But no, this giant-headed posh boy was a chap by the name of Alex Pettyfer. I’d heard the name before. With luck, I won’t encounter it again.

Skanks shoppingSo that’s the people out of the way, let’s focus on the script. It’s not too bad, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s written by a Dahl. Got plenty of time for the Dahl family. Roald Dahl’s books were exquisite and I’d have gladly inseminated Sophie Dahl when she was still human. It’s not a particularly witty script and the characters are thinly written. Whether this is because it’s just a kids’ film or not isn’t clear. I think Roald Dahl would say otherwise, but with films these days, rather than books, they’re edited by committee and any shortfalls can always be blamed on arsehole producers sticking their feckless oar in. It’s not a film you’ll be quoting, especially with predictable lines like: “England? They don’t even speak American there.”

Director Nick Moore belies his editor credentials by allowing every shot to last a few seconds longer than it needs to. Whether this is because he’s waiting for the cinema to quite down after a belly laugh is debatable, but it feels uncomfortable to watch. A lot of scenes feel like bad takes where the cast are waiting for someone to yell cut.

Shaven llama and famous dadSo what can we learn from all this? ‘Wild Child’ isn’t unwatchable, but it’s more fascinating than interesting. One thing’s for sure: this is not a film that should appear on anyone’s 24hr Film Session set-list. There’s no good explanation two grown men can give for watching schoolgirl-japes in a darkened room at 3am. Other than the excuse I posted in paragraph one.

Films like this leave me feeling my age. I’m beyond my mid-thirties now. Most of the cast here were born after I met Mr Frost and we started having these film sessions. That absolutely horrifies me. So if all the above seems harsh, bitter and resentful then it’s because it is. Fuck them and their film. Young bastards.

‘Say Anything…’ (Cameron Crowe, 1989)

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I have a really fat head. It’s the curse that’s seen me afflicted with an inability to wear a hat of any kind. I wish I could wear a hat. People don’t wear hats anywhere near as much as they used to. These days the only headgear you see is a baseball cap, usually at a jaunty or backward angle showing no respect at all for the design of the thing. I loathe baseball caps. I once worked in a fast food environment where they insisted I wear a baseball cap if I’m handling food, but on closer examination of the rules I found that I was actually required to just cover my head with a hat. So I wore a sombrero. It did the trick of annoying management and got me out of looking like a total dick in a baseball cap (yes, I’d rather serve dim sum to theme park visitors in a sombrero than wear a baseball cap. Even in that garb I felt less of a dick than I would in a fucking baseball cap).

hatMy love of  eighties films reflects my love of hats. You won’t find a more eclectic range of headwear than in the eighties, and no-one rocked the hat better than the ladies. In the closing scene of ‘Say Anything’, Diane Court (Ione Skye) sports a hat far too big to wear on a plane and I love it. It’s wider than her seat but no-one complains. A quick rundown of other great eighties hats would include Molly Ringwald in ‘Pretty in Pink’ (Howard Deutch, 1986), Winona Ryder in ‘Beetlejuice’ (Tim Burton, 1988), Kim Cattrall in ‘Mannequin’ (Michael Gottlieb, 1987) and of course Carter Wong in ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ (John Carpenter, 1986).

This final scene in Cameron Crowe’s rather sweet love story is unfortunately also a reminder that we’re at the dag end of the eighties, and that a film like this has come about five years too late. It evokes an eighties on a par with the sixties in ‘Withnail and I’ (Bruce Robinson, 1987). A decade that’s come to an end and is struggling in its last year. By 1989 the home video boom was in full blast and whereas in the early eighties even a small, low budget film could be noticed, by the end of the decade dozens of new films were coming out each week just to keep the rental market happy. Endless rip-offs, homages and tributes to better, bigger budget films. Crowe’s film here is a straight-to-video John Hughes tribute. In many ways it’s almost a sequel to the aforementioned ‘Pretty in Pink’ but with a bit of role reversal.

But ‘Say Anything…’ is not a bad film. In fact it’s a great film, and one which gets forgotten about mainly as people think they’ve seen it because the scene where Lloyd Dobler holds up his beatbox in the early hours of the morning to woo Diana has been mimicked, spoofed and cloned so much since. Crowd-Say

There are problems though. The soundtrack is pretty awful and intrusive, though not as much as Crowe’s later films where the soundtrack seems to have been chosen before the script. It’s the original music by Anne Dudley and Richard Gibbs that grates most. It feels like a soundtrack lifted from another film.

Where the film scores its best marks is in the performance of not either of the leads but John Mahoney as Diana’s father, James Court. He’s got a great character to work with on paper, but he clearly brings more to it than that and his chemistry with Ione Skye is spot on. That Mahoney had only been acting in film and television for a few years at this stage in his career (he started acting at 37) is remarkable. He’s confident, assured and genuinely charismatic. I was 13 when I first saw this film and found him utterly likeable. I always hoped that my future father-in-law would be just like him and oddly enough, my father-in-law did actually look a bit like him which I only realised when watching this again recently.

SkyefallFor a 13 year old this is a cautionary tale. Relationships are nowhere near this easy to cultivate. Mind you, I never looked like John Cusack. Lloyd’s ease at wooing Diane is not to be taken lightly. However I learned a lot from Lloyd’s honest, respectful and polite nature around Diane’s father. Good manners are all-important for a first impression. Take note, kids. Manners cost nothing.

I digress. The story couldn’t be more basic. Boy meets girl, in fact boy doesn’t even meet girl on screen. Before the picture even fades in we’re told they’ve already met briefly and now he plans to ask her out. But boy meets girl. Boy is unfocussed without a particularly bright future, while girl is strong, determined, supported and going places. She’s top of her class, has a fellowship for education in the UK and her parents are divorced meaning she has to live with her father. Her father owns a retirement home and is being investigated for tax fraud. That’s it. That’s all you need to know and it’s enough to entertain for ninety minutes.

I recently had a conversation with Mr Frost, my comrade in this blog endeavour, regarding ‘The Swimmer’ (Frank Perry, 1968) where we bemoaned the lack of a good idea in modern film. A film doesn’t have to be explosions, tension, conflict and action. It doesn’t have to be a big CG-fest. A simple, sweet idea is more than enough to carve a suitable story. Audiences are being spoonfed endless crap by modern cinema. I know he plans to write up ‘The Swimmer’ soon so I won’t dwell on this, but with ‘Say Anything…’ we have a simple idea well done. You can’t ask for more than that.

ShagnastyIn my view, a film is successful if, after the credits roll, you wonder what happens next. If you care enough about these characters, and you should care about the characters in any film, then the film-makers have done their job well. Is it possible that Lloyd and Diane stayed together and lived happily in England? Would Lloyd have been able to kickbox in England? Chances are he probably took a job in Woolworths, rose up to store manager and is now unemployed thanks to the collapse of the Woolworths group and is currently on the verge of losing his benefits because of smallprint. Or maybe they did just live happily ever after.

This is a perfectly acceptable entry into any 24hr film session and is suitable for a slot in the first 12hrs. While entertaining and fun it could be a bit too restful for the tail end.

I leave you with this fantastic piece of art by Marco D’Alfonso.

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‘Friday the 13th Part V – The New Beginning’ (Danny Steinmann, 1985)

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There is a commonly held opinion that any film which has spawned many sequels will in fact decline in quality with each successive sequel.

This is of course bullshit. Utter piffle. The perfect example of this is the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise since the first film is arguably one of the poorest and the third (of ten) is really the lowest of the low.

However in terms of ‘Friday the 13th’ fandom and enthusiasts the fifth entry in the saga is frequently considered one of the weakest. In order to defend this it’s going to be necessary to get some seriously hardcore spoilers out of the way early on. If you’ve not seen this film and hope one day to sit through the entire Crystal Lake story then it’s probably best you stop reading now.

You were warned. ‘Friday the 13th Part V – The New Beginning’ has a fundamental difference over its fellow sequels in that Jason and his mother aren’t in it. This isn’t like ‘Halloween III – Season of the Witch’ (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982) where the film detours off on a tangent. The fact Jason isn’t in this film is actual the twist and it’s a bloody effective one.

So here’s the story, in a neat nutshell so we can move on to the other elements (aside from the cracking script) that make this possibly the best entry in the series. Little Tommy Jarvis is back. At the close of ‘Friday the 13th John ShepherdPart IV – The Final Chapter’ (Joseph Zito, 1984) little Tommy, ably played by the ever-reliable Corey Feldman, attacked and killed Jason while defending his family. Following a lovely pre-title sequece where Feldman returns, we hit the real world and little Tommy is all grown up, now played by John Shepherd. Tommy’s mental health is also suffering and he arrives at his new care home, presumably not far from Camp Crystal Lake given that the locals know about Jason Voorhees. Now, forgive me here as I’m no psychiatrist, but surely it’s not the best location to send the poor sod to recover? America’s a big place. He’s clearly very tense.

Pinehurst Halfway House has a fairly small guest list, all with their own problems which sadly we never really get to the bottom of. This could’ve been a fun opportunity in the guise of ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street III – Dream Warriors’ (Chuck Russell, 1987) to have a band of misfits, each with a flaw and a strength who could work as a group. Instead we’re never really shown any indication that they have issues at all other than Jake and his slight stutter and virgin-status.

Fat FuckWithin seconds of Tommy’s arrival there’s a grisly killing. Slow, overweight stereotype Joey (Dominick Brascia) is suddenly and brutally murdered by Vic (Mark Venturini), another resident. As Vic is taken away by the police, the paramedics remove Joey’s body. This is where the film, on a second viewing, can be a little heavy-handed and personally I think it’s a pretty clever idea. You see Joey has no family that they know of. No-one knows what happened to his dad. We’ll find out at the end of the film, but the trick is – Roy (Dick Wieand), the the seemingly irrelevant paramedic attending the scene, is in fact Joey’s dad. And seeing his son’s chopped up body sends him doolally. But we don’t know that for now so forget I mentioned it.

Tommy settles in quite badly. He’s quiet, introverted, still makes his silly bloody masks and over-reacts in a pretty major way if someone borrows one. The other characters are rather thinly drawn. There’s an intriguing back-story with little Reggie the Reckless (Shavar Ross), his grandfather and his brother which is fleshed out reasonably well, if only through enthusiastic performances, but the other patients are ill-served. A nymphomaniacal couple, a body-popping goth and … Robin (Juliette Cummins). Robin is probably the most irrelevant, dull character ever to grace the cinema screen. If it weren’t for the fact she takes her top off for no reason one could wonder what she’s doing adding this to her CV at all.

Along the road from the care home we also have Ethel (Carol Locatall) and her backward son Eddie (John Robert Dixon). They’re your typical hillbilly comic relief and probably the film’s major embarrassment.

Anyhoo – people start dying and there are various suspects being lined up for us on the understanding that it can’t be Jason doing it because he’s dead. Although Tommy keeps hallucinating that Jason is stalking him, we never see the killer. Barbara StreisandSo our prime and obvious suspect is a visiting stranger who arrives at Ethel’s farm to ‘clean out all of that chicken shit and dump it behind the shed’. He’s offed almost as quick as he arrives, killed while ogling our nymphomaniacs going at it. Suspect number one of course is Tommy who doesn’t propel the narrative as much as you might expect, disappearing as he does for nearly thirty minutes.

Eventually enough people have died to indicate that the wholesome blonde doctor Pam (Melanie Kinnaman), the loveable but roguish young black boy Reggie and Tommy are going to be our troika of survivors. This is when Jason turns up. A fight eventually spills into the barn where he’s push onto some conveniently placed spikes below a hay loft (why are spikes always positioned below a hay loft?). He’s revealed to be Roy, the paramedic from earlier.

But wait! What’s this?! It’s not over yet. In the hospital Tommy wakes up, has a funny turn, grabs a Jason mask and knife from the drawer (who put it there?), kills Pam and leaps out of a nearby window. This is of course all a dream. Or something. Not really clear. But this is the eighties and all horror films have a nonsensical denouement involving a splintered reality so let’s leave it for now.

That’s the plot, but there are some other great elements that make this film stand out in the series and it’s my intention eventually to cover the whole run a film at a time as I have a real soft spot for ‘Friday the 13th’.

Oooh shit, BabyMusically this film ups the ante on the previous film’s Crispin Glover dance sequence (Google it). We get two stand-out moments. One is a musical murder on a toilet. This is Reggie’s brother Demon (played in a very early role by Miguel A. Núñez Jr.). As Demon shits out a bad enchilada, his girlfriend sings to him from outside. They keep this up for a while and then she goes quiet. She’s dead, and Demon will be soon in a moment. Run through with a spear from outside. Demon’s departure is a real shame. He’s a fascinating character.

Our next musical interlude comes courtesy of eighties goth Violet (Tiffany Helm) for whom I carried a torch as an 8 year old when I first saw this film. Always love a goth. But this goth, while rude and sullen to her friends, spends most of the film listening to various rock refrains on her enormous headphones. It’s odd then that she resorts to some awesome robot dancing/body popping to soft rock lords Pseudo Echo. It comes out of nowhere in the midst of murder and has been edited into a loop here for your enjoyment:

tumblr_m1y3be5Pwa1r2kncco1_r1_500So with two big musical numbers can the film deliver even more? Well yes it bloody can. There is a rare example of an effective use of a film within a film rather than a plodding example of a director showing us his inspirations and favourite scenes. Robin (oh, exciting, fascinating, deep, interesting Robin) and Jake sit watching ‘A Place in the Sun’ (George Stevens, 1951) while Jake tries to make his moves on this charismatic and appealing goddess. But the film serves to up the tension brilliantly since there’s not a lot else going on in the house at this time. Also one has to admire the balls-out method of Jake who rather than asking for a date merely asks for sex. You don’t get if you don’t ask so hats off to him.

The murders in ‘Part V’ (not actually called ‘Part V’ on release and in fact the original plan wasn’t to call it ‘Friday the 13th’ at all which would’ve been quite cool) are rather lackluster due in part by the MPAA’s vicious cuts to get the film from an X to R rating. This leads to the overall feeling that you’re watching a TV movie as each violent encounter fades to black or cuts away at the critical moment. In many ways this is to the film’s advantage as it no longer feels like a horror film and more of a thriller, which in essence it would be if the characters had a bit more… character.

One Bored Jasoneffective slaying comes courtesy of two stereotypes in a broken down car. As stereotype one (with the line ‘Those cunts ain’t gonna wait all night’ – nice, we can’t see blood but we do get the word ‘cunt’ – god bless America) nips off for a piss, stereotype two is slain with a distress flare in the mouth. It’s really well done but one can’t help but wonder where this distress flare came from.

Finally we have something rare in a ‘Friday the 13th’ film which is the classic ‘cat out of nowhere’. I won’t spoil it for you, just remember that it’s coming and shake your head in disapproval when it does.

If, as the title implies, this was intended to be a new beginning for the ‘Friday the 13th’ series then one has to wonder where they were planning to take it beyond this film. Tommy speaks barely five lines in the whole film and has no real menace to him at all. Perhaps they intended the mantle of Jason to be passed on from person to person in much the same way is implied in ‘Jason Goes to Hell’ (Adam Marcus, 1993). Whatever their plans, they clearly weren’t what we eventually got with ‘Part VI’ which really was a new beginning for the series. But in ‘Part V’ we have a stand-out entry which relies on plot and not killings. A film you can show a friend and they won’t feel like they’ve just sat through horror. It’s a brave and bold attempt at doing something new with the franchise and Steinmann should be commended for that much at least.

For a film session the recommendation would be to commit to the entire run over 24hrs, it’s just about doable. After the interminable 2 and 3 you’ll be glad when this baby kicks in the door.