Heatstroke (2008)

Heatstroke

Did Hawaii have a Governor for a while who really liked low-budget movies? Because it seems a lot of them genuinely filmed there, and not just “Lost” (although perhaps they left all their equipment there and the SyFy Channel borrowed it). If only that Governor had demanded that all movies shot on his island were good.

 

This is part of one of my favourite sub-genres, “films with misleading descriptions”. IMDB tells us it’s to do with people noticing the heat index is rising, and a soldier stepping in and discovering a sinister plot – I mean, if you squinted really hard you could make that fit the events in the movie, but you’d be disappointed if you expected exactly that from the finished product. A group of Army scientists are on Hawaii looking for evidence of alien life – I think that’s why they’re there? They certainly mention that from right at the beginning. Main man and “That Guy” actor par excellence DB Sweeney is Captain Steve O’Bannon, and he’s flying a microlight round the island, looking for stuff, only to have his engine damaged by an alien which leaps up from the canopy, helpfully leaves a claw in his flight recorder and then drops down again, without being seen.

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As they give it to us right at the beginning, I feel forewarned is forearmed when it comes to the special effects. People occasionally talk of the “weight” of a bit of CGI, that feeling it’s a thing in the same scene as the actors, but in “Heatstroke” I’m not even sure the creatures (sort of an insect-human hybrid thing) are in the same movie. The camera wobbles but they don’t, they’re lit completely differently…it’s sort of embarrassing, and if this is the best they could manage, they probably ought to have just put them in the movie less.

 

Steve crashes his microlight into the middle of a modelling shoot on the beach, which is both “starring” and being directed by Caroline, played by Danica McKellar, making her second appearance this week for the ISCFC. She’s equally poorly used in both, really, being the eye candy who doesn’t do much of anything. She’s at least written pretty well, having a full character and giving as good as she gets in conversation, but in terms of stuff that happens, she’s sort of irrelevant.

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But if you ignore the special effects, and the poorly served female characters, this is actually alright. The team find evidence of alien life, and the super-skeptic Army Major and his scientist sidekick Dr Taggert, who’s completely at the other end of the scepticism scale, turn up too. People run about the woods and get sliced up! One of the team gets possessed by an alien, I think? Maybe just so it’s easier to film fight scenes between two humans than one human and a blank space where some rubbish CGI would be. I’m not doing a very good job of convincing that this is a half-decent movie!

 

The acting is pretty uniformly great, for one. McKellar is excellent, Sweeney is fine, and they give characters to pretty much everyone, so thumbs up to Aussie TV director Andrew Prowse (“Farscape”, among many other things) and writer Richard Manning (who also wrote for “Farscape” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation”, being responsible for all-time classic episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise”). If they’d had a bit more money (like for hiring extras, as the entire island has 7 people on it) or a better CGI team, this could have been a very strong movie. They could have also spent that money on more scenes, as there’s too much padding, like the whole flashback / dream sequence thing, which goes nowhere and does nothing.

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There’s lifts from two of the 80s most iconic sci-fi movies, too. The creatures act and sound a bit like the Predator, and there’s a heroic sacrifice with a grenade just like that bit in “Aliens”. Only problem is, in “Aliens” the people who blew themselves up also blew up some aliens (the creature survives the explosion in this) but they also didn’t have a fully loaded rifle right next to the grenade which they could have used. Ah well.

 

If you’re ill in bed and this comes on SyFy Channel, don’t leap to turn it off. But don’t expect too much either.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

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“Mardi Gras Massacre” is interesting as it’s one of the very few of the 72 banned movies to never re-submit itself for a BBFC classification. Now, this is probably down to the distributors going bankrupt or something, but “Mardi Gras Massacre” has never been seen legally by anyone in the UK. That is a damn shame, because with a bold display of rank incompetence, bizarre plot choices and gore so mild as to be almost charming, it’s shot right to the top of my B-list of video nasties (obviously, there’s an A-list, which is stuff like “Driller Killer”, “Tenebrae”, “The Evil Dead”, and “Possession”).

 

I hope you enjoy this review, anyway, even if you don’t track it down (although you definitely should). “John”, a sharp-dressed Englishman with a huge chin dimple walks into a sleazy New Orleans bar and asks around for the most evil prostitute in there. A helpful pair of ladies points him in the direction of someone the credits refer to as “Shirley Anderson the Evil Prostitute”, and he has one of the odder conversations I’ve ever witnessed. The line that seals the deal is Shirley saying “I could win first place in any evil contest”, so off they go to John’s place, a little apartment with a very unusual soundproofed bedroom.

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It’s about now when B-movie aficionados will notice the similarities to a great gore classic, 1963’s “Blood Feast”. Both movies are about the ritual murder of women for an ancient god, although “Blood Feast” is an Egyptian god and just random women; this one is a Latin American god and specifically prostitutes. Anyway, John gets to work, tying up the women and then slicing hands and feet before cutting open their chest and removing the heart, which is a decent effect for a low-budget late 70s movie, even if it’s barely enough to get it banned. Now, John kills three women during the course of things, and those three murders are pretty much identical – he goes, finds a prostitute, takes her to his bedroom, ties her up and cuts out her heart. They’re shot pretty much the same way too, so I might suggest director Jack Weis (who clearly thought he’d given the world his masterwork, as he never directed anything again) was more interested in showing gore than he was in making things visually appealing.

 

Time to talk about the cops. We’ve got personality and brains to discuss! Our main man is Sergeant Frank Herbert, a former vice cop who’s now working homicide. After talking to Sherry the friendly prostitute about the death of her friend, he decides to take her to dinner – I thought it was to do with getting more information, but no, Frank and Sherry start up a relationship, and we’re treated to a substantial montage of their week of bliss together. Hey, Frank, someone’s murdering prostitutes and you’re supposed to be investigating it! Their relationship is treated at least initially as perfectly normal, but surely it must be a bit weird for a cop to date a hooker? Even in late 70s New Orleans? Of course, when he’s bored of her, he calls her a whore and slaps her about a bit, only at the end for her to apologise to him! Wow! I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but I’m kind of on the side of the murderer, who at least has a moral code.

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The “brains” part of the above is the investigation itself. The murderer is a well-dressed Englishman with a distinctive facial feature (a huge chin-dimple) and goes into places with a weird request – to purchase the services of the most evil prostitute there. The first killing takes place weeks before Mardi Gras, so it’s not like New Orleans will be heaving with millions of tourists, and you’d have to think he’d stand out a bit. But he’s able to carry on killing, no-one bothers warning anyone to be on the lookout, no-one comments on anything other than a weird ring he wears, and the police don’t seem to do anything other than the most perfunctory investigation. And there’s one moment where Sherry sees the killer and doesn’t recognise him! Surely you’d at least notice the accent? What the hell? Although if we’re talking baffling choices, the bit when John picks up a woman who he thinks is evil because she’s wearing devil horns and red body paint is my favourite.

 

On top of the weird plotting, we get a real flavour of New Orleans in the late 70s. This movie was filmed in dirty back alleys and dive bars and is, I imagine, much more “authentic” than the traditional tourist-style videos we normally see. There’s also footage from Mardi Gras itself, which must have been miserable that year as everyone is in thick coats and hats…it’s surprisingly interesting visually, if not for the reasons that anyone intended at the time. It’s also heavy with disco fever, to the extent of (with the exception of 15 seconds near the end) the entire soundtrack being disco, even though New Orleans is the jazz capital of the world. Even seeing the real patrons of the bars (not a paid extra in sight) is a fascinating look at another time and place – there’s a fight on one dancefloor which is witnessed by a chap dressed as Frank N Furter, for example. The camera really captures the grime, and the cheap nature of the film used helps in that regard. It’s got a great grindhouse look to it.

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The ending is pretty strange, which fits with the rest of the movie. John tries to kill three hookers at once (including Sherry) but finally the police decide to do their damn jobs for a second and find out where he lives – although, they’re tipped off and decide to go to a bar, have a drink and wait for backup! Anyway, John escapes and at that point the actor just disappears from the movie – we’re treated to a car chase and some extreme long shots of someone dressed the same as John driving a car into the ocean and disappearing. Low-budget movies always find weird and wonderful new ways to do things!

 

While it’s often dull (those murders go on forever and are all the damn same) and treats women absolutely appallingly, it’s entertaining enough to give a go to. I wouldn’t even worry about the gore, it’s hardly worse than the opening of the average episode of “Bones”. The decision to ban it seems sort of stupid, giving it notoriety it never deserved, although it’s not like they’ve ever tried to capitalise on it by re-releasing it over here. It’s an anti-classic!

 

Rating: thumbs up

Earth’s Final Hours (2011)

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To keep ourselves from going mad here at the ISCFC, we try and notice trends across completely disparate movies. There’s “Gerald Webb Watch” (a fine actor, and one of the Asylum’s supporting players); “unquels” – sequels which bear no relation to their predecessors; my favourite, movies with prostitutes who have really luxurious apartments; and the subject of today, stereotypical villain actors who get the chance to play a good guy. We’ve seen Robert Davi in the second and third “Maniac Cop” movies, and now we get to see Robert Knepper, aka T-Bag from “Prison Break” and a million other creepy roles.

 

A scientist fella and his young assistant are setting up what look like silver painted deckchairs in a field. Turns out they’re sensors to pick up info from super-dense matter expelled from a “While Hole”, and Federal agent John Streich (Knepper) is investigating. Now, I felt from the off like I’d missed a prologue or something, as the white hole matter hits the field where they’re stood, killing the scientist and going straight through the Earth and out the other side, somewhere in Australia. How did he know where this up-to-now theoretical hole was going to hit the Earth? Why were the Feds interested in a bloke in a field in the middle of nowhere?

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Anyway, this super-dense impact is causing the Earth to slow down, which is in turn causing the magnetic fields at the Poles to reduce, which means the sun’s rays are causing all sorts of havoc. The Earth will eventually stop, one side will freeze, the other will burn, and the main Government scumbag Arnett (Roark Critchlow) wants to make sure the “green band” between the two will be controlled by America, and specifically rich, powerful Americans. It’s a whole heap of science and people staring at screens with computer renderings of the Earth on them, you know, the usual.

 

There’s actually quite a lot of stuff in this movie, even if it does slow down at the end. Streich’s son Andy is a computer super-genius, hacking into the Department of Defence’s top-secret servers with no problem and feeding the info to his Dad. He’s got kinda a girlfriend Michelle, and she’s the “oh, are you sure you should be doing this? I’m worried about you” voice of reason these sorts of movies feel they ought to have.  Then there’s the friendly Government scientist Chloe, a friendly Government guy, the evil Government henchman, and finally the genius scientist who invented a system to stop exactly this sort of disaster but got locked up by the CIA for his trouble, Rothman (Bruce Davison). Our heroes are trying to gain control of two old satellites to do some important world-saving science, and Arnett is trying to control them in order to keep control over a potential green zone.

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Lots of characters, good special effects (all the lights in the sky), a few decent plotlines, there’s certainly enough to put it in the top tier of SyFy Channel movies. The acting is mostly strong, too – Knepper is great, and clearly enjoys the chance to be the hero; Davison likewise; and the smaller parts are filled with a range of people you’ll recognise from some of the last decade’s best genre shows – Stargate, Fringe, and Orphan Black, among others. The only weak links are our two teen heroes, Cameron Bright and Julia Maxwell. Maxwell’s surprisingly poor, given how good she was in “Supernatural”, and Bright might as well be replaced by a nodding dog that goes “whoah” every few minutes.

 

They hit the point where the ending would be at about 1:15, but they’ve got another 15 minutes to go, so it just gets padded and padded. It seems to be a flaw of the SyFy system, where movies have to be a certain length to fit schedules…and I guess they ought to have known that before they started. When you have a fight with five separate “get knocked down, almost out, get up and fight some more” scenes in, you can tell they’re playing for time. Bit of a shame.

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It’s also sort of interesting when this was made – at a time when idiots were saying the world would be done in December 2012. How do you feel now, dum-dums? A few people in this movie seem resigned to their fate, too. I reckon they wouldn’t make this in 2016, unless the white hole was spewing sharks.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Path Of Destruction (2005)

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Quick SyFy Channel original movie checklist. Man-made super-disaster? Check. Evil corporate boss? Check. Outsider genius who can save the day? Check. Future Hollywood A-lister? Yes, readers, the only reason you’re likely to want to see this decade-old movie, as yet unreleased on DVD in the West (the version I got was Russian) is to see an early performance from Chris Pratt! He’d already been on “Everwood” for a few years at this point, so he wasn’t a complete unknown, but it’s fun to see him before season 2 of “Parks and Recreation” (and some other movies, I guess) made him a star.

 

Nanobots are our problem here. Project Serena, from Stark-Corp (run by Roy Stark, a fun super-evil turn from David Keith) is all about using nanobots to clean up environmental disasters, even though it’s obviously going to go horribly wrong. The experiment is based on an oil rig way out in the Bering Strait, and on said oil rig is investigative TV reporter Katherine Stern (Danica McKellar), going undercover as a rig worker. Her friend, who got her the job and stayed behind a week longer than he should to help her get settled in (!), happens to be wandering past the bridge as the scientists leave their PCs unlocked and just fills a disc with the most important secrets that Stark-Corp has. Ain’t that handy? So, she’s got all the info she needs to bring the evil corp down, but at that very moment an experiment on the nanobots turns them evil (or whatever), they escape and start eating everything! The collapse of the rig is a decent effect, but don’t get used to it because the rest of them are pretty rubbish.

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The final piece of this puzzle is the rebellious scientist, Nathan McCain (Pratt). He works in a remote base in Alaska, providing info to the Army, but a couple of years ago did some consulting work for Stark-Corp too, “crunching some numbers” on a nanotech project. His early scenes are, for a reason which must have made sense to one of the producers, dominated by his assistant, the hard-partying, slang-slinging, layabout Terry (Stephen Furst). Furst is a veteran of TV, having had large roles on both “St Elsewhere” and “Babylon-5” (as well as the classic “Animal House”, of course), and at the time, he’d have been maybe the biggest name involved. So for him to play his part as if he’s Pratt’s age and a moronic pervert is one of the more curious choices this movie makes. An even more curious choice when you learn that Furst directed, under a pseudonym. What the hell was he thinking?

 

Katherine escapes the rig and wakes up in hospital – given she’s one of the tiny handful of survivors of one of the largest disasters in recent history, she’s allowed to just wander the hospital and no-one seems to care. But it’s not all comic relief and shots of hospital corridors – Katherine realises what’s going on, and knows she has to get to Nathan and get his help. So there’s a bit of confusing travel to and from Seattle and Anchorage (which, bear in mind, are over 2,000 miles apart), lots of scenes of a swarm of black nanobots (if they were actually nano, you wouldn’t be able to see them, but whatever), the Army getting involved (on the side of the good guys, for once), and Stark-Corp pinning the disaster on Katherine, calling her an eco-terrorist and desperately trying to cover their own ass.

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Eventually, they figure out a way to solve the problem, but not before Stark-Corp’s lies begin to be revealed and we get to see that the Army have literally made a paper plane. The ending is all kinds of stupid, as the friendly General pilots that plane to save the day – first up, he’s not flown in 15 years; second up, Nathan is the navigator, despite him being a scientist and not, y’know, a pilot; and third up, the person in charge of detonating the special device is Katherine, despite her being a damn reporter! Okay, I can hear you ask. Perhaps they needed Nathan to decide the optimum time to drop it. Nope!

 

Bulgaria was the shooting location, apparently, but they made literally no effort to make any of it look like America, including at one point filming in a mall where the Bulgarian shop signs are clearly visible all over the place. Fun fact: in real life, Danica McKellar is a maths whiz, having written several books on the subject and even serious academic papers. Why not have her be the smart one? Instead, she’s obliged by the plot to wear a crop-top and leopard-print trousers throughout, as if we couldn’t tell she was attractive otherwise. Oh, and right at the beginning we get an absolutely perfect example of the “one week til retirement, hope nothing happens to me” trope that should have been retired when movies were black and white.

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It’s just silly. They lucked into having two great leads (although there’s absolutely zero chemistry between them, oddly enough), but wasted them on this. Avoid unless you’re part of some charity event where you have to watch all Chris Pratt’s TV and movie work in a row.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012)

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If I was given a time machine, after I’d done all the important stuff (stopping wars, recording the lost episodes of Doctor Who), I’d pop over to Pittsburgh in 1968 and make sure George Romero filed the copyright paperwork for “Night Of The Living Dead”. Due to its seeming public-domain status, it’s been the subject of several remakes, a million ripoffs, and full-length parodies, along with many many awful VHS and DVD releases, both colourised and not. In 2006, we were treated to a 3D remake which I never bothered with because it looked terrible; but 2012 brought us a 3D prequel to that movie, and as it starred Andrew Divoff, Jeffrey Combs and Sarah Lieving, I decided to check it out.

 

Divoff is Gerald Tovar Jr, the boss of a cemetery / crematorium / undertaker’s. We know he knows about his rather unusual problem from the very beginning, as the local Health & Safety Inspector is bitten by a zombie just wandering round the graveyard, and there’s quite a lot of the movie which is sort of farcical, as Gerald runs round closing doors and stopping people from walking down certain corridors and so on. He’s got a few staff members – the possibly necrophiliac DyeAnne, pothead Russell, and Aunt Lou; and into this mix walk two people. There’s new hire Cristie (Lieving, whose character is named after Romero’s wife, fact fans), a mortuary expert; and the other Tovar brother, Harold (Combs), down on his luck and needing some cash.

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So you’ve got live bodies and a potentially enclosed location. Everything we need for a zombie movie! And here’s where the logic starts fraying round the edges somewhat. Tovar Sr apparently did jobs for the Government, involving the disposal of “unusual” corpses, but the problem is we see lots of communist paraphernalia round the place, and I find it at least a little unlikely that a communist would agree to help the US government, or that they’d want his help in the first place.

 

The second, and far bigger, problem, relates to how the plague spreads. Gerald carries on helping Uncle Sam after his father’s death, but one bodybag leaks green liquid, it falls on a corpse, that corpse reanimates. The movie’s blurb calls Gerald pyrophobic, but the only explanation the movie gives us is that he can’t work the oven (perhaps I missed that bit?) So, he’s got a basement room absolutely packed with rotting corpses, which he videotapes to see if any of them start coming back. If he sees movement, he blows their head off, job done. Now, peeling that onion, why doesn’t he get the oven fixed, or just ask someone else to operate it? Why doesn’t he decapitate everyone who passes through his doors, so to speak, preventing this being a problem? Why not chuck the corpses in a lime pit or something?

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If you can ignore this logic, there’s a surprising amount to like. Harold is a right-wing conspiracy nut, and loves “Fixd News” with its most famous correspondent, the Alaskan platitude-spewing “Sister Sara”. As well as being the second movie we’ve covered with a Sarah Palin parody in it (the other being the tedious “Iron Sky”), she’s another ISCFC link, being played by the great Denice Duff, last seen by us in the “Subspecies” sequels, and looking like she’s not aged a day in the intervening 20 years. There’s a ton of references to Romero and the previous movies in the series, which is done with a nice amount of tongue-in-cheek; and there’s a scene where DyeAnne, Russell and Cristie smoke weed after embalming a corpse, which is pretty funny.

 

Divoff and Combs are B-movie royalty and do their parts rather well (even if one suspects they could do this in their sleep) and everyone else is fine too. Lieving, though, deserves better. She’s got that combination of talent, physicality (she looks like she could kick ass, in other words) and beauty that mean she ought to be doing roles like this in much bigger budget movies. I mean, it’s nice we get to see her in trash, but it’s time for her to fly!

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I’ve skated round it a bit, but simply put, this is boring. The plot doesn’t really make any sense, and such action as there is is pretty much confined to the last 20 minutes (not enough zombies, guys), with people dying haphazardly and the ending being terrible. That enough bad stuff for you? Okay, more. The special effects are not helped by being in HD – there’s one scene where a zombie’s jaw is punched off but you can still see the actor’s perfectly okay mouth underneath, coated in black paint, for instance.

 

What a shame. I wish they’d doubled down on the comedy personally, or had more zombies in it, or done anything other than what they did with the first hour (which was pretty much nothing). A completely wasted opportunity.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Space Twister (2012)

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While SyFy has made several movies which were very good and a whole heap of them which were terrible, they’ve also made many many more of them which are just sort of…there, and the more you see of those movies the more you realise they could have probably been made by a Script-Bot 5000. You’ll recognise the ideas – there’s a couple who are either estranged or just in different locations for much of the movie; their teenage kid is often central to solving the crisis. Lots of travelling, and lots of dodging the villain of the piece, which is often a result of mankind stretching too far (digging too deep, harnessing too much power, etc.)

 

Rather than just reprint the review for “Alien Tornado”, let’s recap. A school is about to have a science fair, and the people in there for Saturday detention are setting it up. Megan is the super-genius who’s developed some device for producing X bosons (a particle that only exists on gas giant planets), and Will is helping her out, despite apparently being a bit on the dumb side. Will’s Dad is the gym teacher, Megan’s dad is a bit of an inventor, so you can see how their paths were set for them from childhood.

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Anyway, the Device not only causes the red spot on Jupiter to disappear, but huge red storms to appear on Earth. The kids are trapped in detention, the parents are scattered all over town, and some distance away, a couple of real scientists read the evidence collected by Megan, realise she’s for real, and immediately get on a plane (man-scientist has a pilot’s licence, of course) and head for the town and the storm. Things get serious quickly, though – New York and Boston are completely destroyed, among other places; and the only thing that can stop these “destruction particles” from tearing the planet apart is sending a special rocket into the atmosphere, which Will’s dad has been building in his shed.

 

The cast is decent enough for a SyFy movie – Will’s dad is Mitch Pileggi, best known as the FBI director from “The X Files”; and the lady scientist is Erica Cerra, best known as the deputy from the SyFy show “Eureka”. Everyone else is fine, and the special effects are okay too. It’s solid looking.

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The problem is act 2, as so many SyFy movies have. A cop drives up the school, being chased by the electrical storm (luckily, this electricity moves much slower than normal electricity does) and crashes; she survives, but only so she can get driven to hospital and blown up on the way. Absolute filler. It’s full of not-terribly-exciting scenes where someone will drive frantically around trying to avoid getting blasted; it would have been nice if the threat had developed or escalated in any way.

 

The twist (that Will is the real genius of the pair) is as obvious as it is bizarre. Why did he hide his incredible talent from his parents, and let them think him an unmotivated dullard? Why didn’t the scientists decide to check the weather before they set off in their flimsy little plane? And how many times can you say “X boson” before the words cease to have any meaning?

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I mentioned above about New York and Boston, and that’s perhaps the most crucial part of the movie, and the one that’s largely ignored. The “save the day at the last minute” trick can’t happen, because the last minute has come and gone – this little science experiment is without a doubt the biggest disaster in the entire history of the human race, killing tens of millions. So, okay, they successfully destroy the storm (as if there was any doubt) but what happens ten minutes after the end of the movie, when everyone we’ve just seen gets thrown into the deepest, darkest hole imaginable for the rest of their natural lives?

 

It’s not terrible, just very very ordinary, and with plot holes big enough to X. Hey, if they can’t think up an original script, I’m not going to think up an original insult.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie (2016)

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I don’t hate Donald Trump, particularly, although his stated views are repellent and I think he’d be the worst President the USA ever had (although, we’d be one step closer to “Idiocracy”, and getting “Ow, My Groin” on TV). He’s been allowed to succeed through his father’s wealth and a system that rewards him – he’s more like a dog who steals a steak. He’s just being a dog, it’s our job to make sure the steak isn’t in a spot where he could take it. Or train him better. I don’t know, this is a stupid analogy now I think of it. I hate the system.

 

If you’ve been on the internet recently, you may have seen something about this. It being linked to by some news site, or your comedy nerd friend telling you about it. Funny Or Die decided to make a 50 minute long parody / TV version of Donald Trump’s 1980s book “The Art Of The Deal”, part of the genre – awful businessman reveals how awful he is and how easy it is to make money if you’ve got the system stacked in your favour – that mercifully hasn’t fully invaded our shores yet. Anyway, even though they’ve been pretty much solely devoted to short sketches to this point, FOD just took the same number of ideas and jokes you’d get in a three minute sketch, and made something which lasts 50 minutes.

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Johnny Depp does a hell of a job as Trump, unrecognisable under make up, and there’s a ton of internet-comedy-famous names too – Jack McBrayer Kristen Schaal, Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, Michaela Watkins, Alfred Molina and Stephen Merchant (well, Molina is a serious-ish actor who’s suddenly decided to make weird comedy shows). The “film” follows a chapter outline, as Trump explains to the kid who stole his book and snuck into his office about his rules of business. I realise I’m recapping the outline of a comedy sketch. I’m sorry.

 

The framing device is Ron Howard, who tells the story of how Trump wrote, produced, directed and starred in his own TV movie but it was bumped for an NFL game and never shown – he found a copy at a yard sale and wrestled an old lady for it. But you just said it was never shown?

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It’s more to be admired for sheer bloody-mindedness than it is laughed at, I think. Perhaps the joke is that it’s a 50 minute sketch, and we’re all fools for watching it? The problem is both that it’s not funny, and that it doesn’t even stick terribly well to its own premise. It’s supposed to be a movie completely controlled by Trump, but it shows him at times in a very negative light. Why would he tell the world he couldn’t poop, for example? Then, the idea is even further hammered into the ground with the post-credits bit where Howard says “that was terrible, wasn’t it?” and takes the tape out and throws it in the bin. If you hate it, why are you showing it?

 

Several other reviewers have praised it for a similarity to “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace”, which is perhaps the only real laugh of all. Darkplace is ten times the show this was, every episode was five times as many jokes in half the time, with real care and craft put into it (and hilarious performances from everyone involved). This was just expecting you to laugh at people you’ve seen in other, funnier things, merely because they’re wearing stupid wigs.

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Perhaps this would be funnier if I was American, and was living with the idea of a Donald Trump presidency. I wonder if Americans would think the Comic Strip movie “Strike!” was all that funny, an ocean divorced from the background? But as an outsider with an American wife who’s horrified at what’s going on, I…still didn’t like it. An idea to be commended for its strangeness, but not particularly enjoyed. Directed by Drunk History’s Jeremy Konner and written by a guy who used to edit “The Onion” (a comedy paper / site that told you a joke in a headline, then beat the joke into the ground for five paragraphs), I wish all that assembled talent could have done something a bit better.

 

Rating: thumbs down

American Hero (2015)

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As both an Englishman and a lover of inadvertent comedy, I feel duty-bound, whenever I see the name Nick Love, to share this clip from the DVD commentary to “Outlaw” of Love and star Danny Dyer, definitely not coked up to the gills, discussing what a classic their movie is and how it’ll come to be regarded as a socially important work. God love the pair of them.

Love has directed a very American film, but clearly someone further up the monetary food chain was less than thrilled with the finished product, so we’re given a very misleading trailer, with scenes edited out of order and the comedy element played way up. What you’d expect to be a light story of a loveable loser finally using his powers for good after suffering a heart attack is altogether darker. Stephen Dorff is Melvin, a drug-taking, hard-partying but ultimately decent low-level criminal who’s had telekinetic abilities since as long as he can remember. His family and friends tolerate it with good humour; this includes his best friend / foster brother Lucille (Eddie Griffin), who’s been in a wheelchair since getting shot in the back while serving in the Army. We start with Melvin losing visitation rights to his son in a court case; from then on it’s partying and aimlessly wandering the streets, until a heart attack makes him realise his life is a joke. So he decides to straighten up, train, and take responsibility for making his locality a better place, which mostly involves a group of drug dealers who live in one of the city’s many derelict apartment blocks.

 

The movie is framed like a documentary, and about halfway through I was pretty impressed with the way Love has managed to nail both the look and feel of those American indie movies and documentaries, with the washed out colours, the long music-backed scenes, and the progression of the plot – an enthusiastic thumbs up to him for doing his homework (or hiring an extremely good cinematographer). Although, as the movie goes on, you begin to notice a few scenes that the crew either wouldn’t have been allowed to film or wouldn’t have been able to, such as when Melvin falls off the wagon, buys some cocaine and take it to his friend’s house, where they all do it and party with what looks like a group of prostitutes. Perhaps everyone signed their releases? I don’t know, but the scene where a gunfight takes place and the cameraman calmly films it without cover of any kind is a bit farfetched if we’re buying the documentary concept.

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It’s set in New Orleans, and one thing Love doesn’t shy away from is showing how tough it’s been for the residents of that city, post Katrina. Everyone’s broke and living in tiny, cheap buildings, but on the other hand it’s not disaster tourism. There’s not that aspiration for bigger toys or more luxurious homes but there’s a lot of love for neighbours and friends. I like the people in this movie. But alongside all that there’s the story of the characters, and how dark it gets. Lucille gets shot in retaliation for Melvin’s first attempt to fight the drug dealers, and we see a lot of Melvin in turmoil over his life and how he’s wasting it, his lost relationship with his son and so on.

 

We’re  definitely being sold “Hancock” and not what it is – a low key indie drama-comedy about a man whose life is falling apart, and happens to have superpowers. A lot of its negative reaction (low ratings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes) seem to come from people saying “why was I tricked into watching this?” The scenes of him using his powers are really good, too, with surprisingly realistic-looking special effects. He tears a building apart to get to the drug dealers; slowly pulls the roof off a house while sat bored on a park bench; levitates Lucille to get money from tourists (as well as helping him hit on women using his powers). But it’s not really about his powers, or being special, it’s about him realising he has responsibilities. The story is a very human, if rather OTT at times one, and Dorff does really well with his perpetually dishevelled look, and Griffin as the conscience / morality.

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It’s a little over the top, the ending is (probably deliberately) confusing, and too much of it goes nowhere, but ultimately it’s got a good heart and it’s quite an interesting take on a story. It’s sort of interesting that he hid his power so completely, if a trifle implausible. Surely there’d be some proper scientist or government person wanting to experiment on him? Especially after the “documentary” movie came out? Ah well, small potatoes.

 

Rating: thumbs up