Thursday 29 May 2014


Who would have guessed that, in a movie featuring 300-foot tall, fire-breathing monsters, the most unbelievable characters would all be human?

Oh, dear. When promising newcomer Gareth Edwards was handed a £160 million budget for only his second movie – on the strength of his lo-fi (and low budget) debut hit, Monsters – hopes were high. But sadly, the Wunderkind has produced a steaming great pile of dino-plop.

Still, there is at least some good news: the monsters themselves are fabulous. They look sinister, they move convincingly and their guttural, ear-bending shrieks send a shiver down the spine. Besides Big G himself, there’s a couple of black, spindly, bird-like giants (called Mutos) who entertainingly go on a monster-sized ASBO rampage across the globe.

As for the director’s much-criticised decision to do a very slow reveal of the beasts (for the first hour, all you get are snatched half-glimpses or blurred images on TV screens), it actually works a treat. The gradual build-up of tension makes for a spectacular visual treat when the monsters are finally revealed in their full glory.

Equally, much of the disaster-style footage is spot on. A succession of images – ruined, tottering skyscrapers; battleships tossed about like bath toys; wrecked urban landscapes – really stick in the brain.

But then the actors have to go and ruin it all by speaking.

It’s true. The monsters may be levelling entire cities, but the film itself is ultimately brought down by a hokey plot, terrible dialogue and ropey acting. No-one emerges unscathed.

Bryan Cranston, afforded almost demi-god status after his turn in Breaking Bad, looks like a man who’s just realised how terrible the film is. He croaks and whines ineffectually for a bit, then wisely decides to die half an hour in.

Leading buff-boy Aaron Taylor-Johnson utters not a single memorable line, and merely bounces around from one action scene to another.

But it’s in the ‘war room’ that things really take a tumble. David Strathairn joins a bevy of lantern-jawed military types to bark out the usual guff about ‘having a visual’ and ‘needing situational awareness’.

Such scenes are rarely inspiring, but in Godzilla they are comically poor. Even the basic walking-and-talking choreography is noticeably bad. You can actually see actors stepping three paces to the left to find their mark before delivering a line. It’s desperately hammy stuff.

Ken Watanabe praying for his bowels to move
And it gets worse. Ken Watanabe, brought in to be the ‘Japanese’ guy, is little more than a cartoon. Every line he utters is a wise proverb, delivered with a pained look suggestive of constipation worries. His performance makes Cato from the Pink Panther films look nuanced.

By the time he ponderously pulls out an old time-piece (‘It…was…my father’s’) that supposedly froze at the moment Hiroshima struck, you haven’t the heart to point out a wind-up watch wouldn’t actually have stopped.

But, in a crowded field, poor Sally Hawkins carries off the worst actor accolade. Constantly fretting, worrying and semi-sobbing, she’s resembles nothing more than a modern-day Stan Laurel.

The piss-awful weakness of the human story here is strange, because the strength of the central characters’ relationship in Edwards’ Monsters was its defining quality. It all strongly suggests the studio leaned heavily on the young director to make a bland and accessible piece of pap.

All of which begs the question: why does Hollywood keep on giving blockbuster movies to auteurs? Suppose, say, someone was really skilled at flying a model airplane; you wouldn’t sit them in the cockpit of a commercial airliner and tell them to hit the thruster. But Hollywood does this all the time.

The very skills that make Edwards a good small movie-maker – strong personal vision, an ability to improvise, skilful handling of a small cast – make him a terrible fit for a baggy, committee-led blockbuster.

This point was demonstrated last year when the hugely talented visionary Guillermo del Toro managed to make the $190million Pacific Rim one of the most unwatchable films in recent memory.

Godzilla ponders the absence of a heavyweight
acting co-star
The problem is simple. A blockbuster director is a particular kind of beast – usually a high-functioning sociopath – who’s generally mad enough to take on a studio, loudly threaten to resign, Fed-Ex their own doo-doo to the company president etc. Auteurs just can’t achieve such giddy heights.

Put it this way: you probably won’t see a lo-fi indie film about disenchanted shop clerks directed by Michael Bay coming to a cinema anywhere near you soon. So why are the sensitive types taking on such huge projects, especially when the results are so consistently dire?

And be assured, no cliché is left un-mined in this tosh. Cute kid noticing the monster first? Of course. (Twice.) Loved one trapped fatally behind glass door and sharing final moments with lover? Oh, yes. Hero improbably finding himself eye-to-massive-eye with the giant monster? Yes, about five times – it’s almost like they’re dating.

Ultimately, beset by demands to make a film anyone can like, Edwards has produced something that very likely no-one will give a toss about. Ironically, he is gobbled up by his own monster movie.

Artistic merit

It’ll be no surprise to learn the chopper scene is poorly handled. Facing a monster with a reach of around 400-feet, the chopper pilot goes in shooting and flies right under its left nipple. Unsurprisingly, said beastie immediately swats chopper. Duh. What did the pilot think was going to happen?

Exploding helicopter innovation

None. Godzilla has previously destroyed helicopters in Roland Emmerich's risible 1998 franchise offering.


This scene takes place at an airport, and there’s a nice shot of the nervy airport crowd watching from behind a huge glass wall as the chopper hits a few airplanes and triggers a series of explosions.


The short-lived monster and helicopter encounter has zero tension, and makes even less sense. Expensive, pointless, confusing: it could be a metaphor for the film as a whole.

Favourite quote

Ken Watanabe is clearly in the movie purely for the moment when he stagily turns round, panto-style, and declaims: “They call him…GOR-ZIYYA!”

Interesting fact

Despite the galumphing bad reviews for Godzilla, Gareth Edwards has just been handed the reins for the next Star Wars movie. Given the previous Star Wars trilogy featured some of the wonkiest acting on record (Hayden Christensen’s love scene with Natalie Portman regularly tops Worst Scene of All Time lists), they’ve clearly got the right man for the job.

Review by: Chopper

Still want more? Then check out Jafo discussing Godzilla with a bunch of other cool folk on The Large Association of Movie Blogs podcast on the film.

Saturday 17 May 2014

The Marksman

As a child of the eighties, Wesley Snipes has been an oddly curious presence in my life. He’s always been there, but only ever on the margin of things. In many ways, Snipes is like an estranged uncle, one who makes random appearances at birthdays and weddings, before vanishing for years without explanation.

Perhaps the reason for this peripheral existence is that despite a near 30-year career he’s never made an era-defining or life-changing film. Sure, there have been some very good ones (White Men Can’t Jump, Blade, Rising Sun), but never one for which he’ll always be famous. Today, sadly, Wee Wes is probably best known for his sudden bouts of amnesia when his tax bills were due, and for dire DTV fodder like The Marksman (2005).

The plot is straightforward. Snipes plays an out of work actor who has squandered his income and is now facing an upcoming tax bill that he cannot afford to pay. That’s not really the plot, but if it were it would be a darn sight more enjoyable than this tripe.

The actual story is thinner than wet Rizla. After Chechen terrorists take over a nuclear power station and threaten to blow it up, Snipes has to lead a team of special ops soldiers on a mission to infiltrate the complex and stop radioactive Armageddon. But before Wezzer can complete his mission, he must overcome a series of deadly action movie clichés.

First, there’s Snipes himself: a mysterious, but brilliant operative who is haunted by a mission that went tragically wrong. Then there’s the cardboard cut-out villain, a crazed Chechen warlord, who ruthlessly kills without compunction – except when he captures Snipes and his team (at which point he just ties them up so they can escape later and instigate his demise).

And finally there’s the obligatory double-cross. It turns out that the suspiciously helpful Russians are still bitter about losing the Cold War, and have been feeding the Americans false intelligence. It’s all a plot to trick Snipes and his men into blowing up the nuclear power plant. Oh! The Commie swines!

Psychic Snipes guesses the plot twist
Of course, our Wes is the only one who figures this out. Not through a deep understanding of post-Cold War geopolitics, but by repeatedly muttering, “This is too easy” whilst wandering through a forest.

Now, most films would be embarrassed about blatantly pilfering plot devices. Not so The Marksman which, having tired of copying other films, decides to dispense with the charade and just reuse bits from those actual films.

Yes, in one shameless sequence a complete section of DVD actioner Active Stealth is inserted into the film. Together with the liberal use of stock footage of jets, tanks and other heavy weaponry, The Marksman begins to resemble a badly stitched patchwork quilt. Something that roughly resembles a film, but one made of up pieces that clearly don’t go together.

And, so to the reason I endured this film for ninety, retina damaging, minutes: the exploding helicopter. Thinking they have completed the mission, our heroes head to their extraction point where they are to be choppered away to safety.

Snipes realises it’s a double cross, but too late. One of the evacuation team, who is secretly working for the Russians, drops a grenade into the waiting chopper. With only a few seconds to spare, the marines run for cover as the chopper behind them erupts into a dirty black and orange fireball.

A classic 'heroes illuminated by exploding helicopter shot'
Artistic merit

It’s a decent enough explosion. I guess it was a choice between a screenplay and a pyrotechnics expert.

Exploding helicopter innovation 

None at all. We’ve seen helicopters destroyed by grenades as far back From Russia With Love in 1963.


There is one absolutely priceless moment in the film when the senior General tasked with leading the military response asks: “Do we have any guys with real combat experience?” which is followed by an awkward silence.

Now, you might think that the world’s only military superpower would have no shortage of such experienced veterans. Incredibly, it seems Uncle Sam’s armed forces are a straw man filled with pimply faced teens who’ve never fired a shot in anger and only Wesley Snipes is qualified for the job.


Several sequences are shot in the jerky handheld style used so effectively in the Bourne films and NYPD Blue. Unfortunately, director Marcus Adams’ efforts resemble less an edgy, cinema verite than simply a drunk dad trying to film the family barbecue on a cheap camcorder.

Favourite line

“Always bet on black.” Okay, that’s actually a line from Passenger 57, but it’s still our favourite Snipes quip.

Review by: Jindy

You can read other reviews on this film by friends of this website DTV Connoisseur and Comeuppance Reviews.

Monday 12 May 2014

The Thaw

It’s ironic that, having made his name playing Iceman in Top Gun, Hollywood quickly went very cold on Val Kilmer.

First there was the frosty reception for his lumpen turn in Batman Forever. And when his lame reboot of 60s spy caper The Saint met with an equally chilly response, Tinseltown promptly shoved Kilmer’s career into the deep freeze and forgot about him.

Since then, Val’s attempts to once more bask in the warm glow of cinematic success have resulted only in lukewarm DTV slush. So, could this low budget chiller be the one to finally bring Val Kilmer in from the cold? In a word: no.

The Thaw (2009) sees Kilmer play Dr Kruipen, a scientist investigating the global warming crisis. While working in the Arctic, he’s made a momentous discovery with global implications. So naturally, this being a schlock-horror movie, the first thing he does – before calling the World Health Organisation or the UN – is invite four nubile teen students along to, like, check it out.

And then, after a few early scenes, he pulls a Yeti-like vanishing trick and simply disappears for most of the film. At first you hardly notice. But after a while, as you stifle yet another yawn at the panto-horror antics of the teen-bots, you’ll start questioning whether you really saw Val Kilmer at all.

Was he even in this movie? Have you perhaps confused this with another movie? After all, the only evidence for his existence lies in a few brief, blurred sightings, uncertain third-hand accounts and opening credits that state ‘Starring Val Kilmer’. It’s all a mystery. Truly, Big Val has become the Abominable Actor of Hollywood.

After the brooding one’s exit, we’re left to follow the travails of the regulation issue movie teens (frigid nerd, horny jock, babe-alicious cheerleader, earnest ‘nice’ boy) as they slowly – and witlessly – begin to comprehend the danger they’re facing.

But what is the chilling terror that our young clichés are pitted against? The answer, dear reader, is flesh-eating bugs.

Photographic evidence of Val Kilmer's presence
in this film
Our weirdo doctor has discovered an ancient, deadly parasite while defrosting the remains of a prehistoric woolly mammoth. And once thawed, these pesky critters like nothing more than burrowing under human skin, where they quickly multiply and start feasting on the flesh.

And, horror of horrors, it turns out the doc isn’t quite as nice as he doesn’t seem. Oh, no. Our boffin’s view of humanity has soured after being ignored for years (perhaps this is where Kilmer identified with the role).

His dastardly plan is to deliberately infect the naïve teens and send them back to civilisation, thus unleashing the buggy threat on the world. Although given the sex-ploits of the teens, venereal disease might well kill everyone off long before the bugs get a chance to.

As a way of getting the world’s population to listen to his message about melting ice-caps, it’s unconventional to say the least. Let’s just hope Al Gore doesn’t catch on to this one.

Matters come to a head in the final act, when Big Val finally wanders in from the snow to find his cunning plan has been rumbled.

Not to be foiled, he infects himself with the dangerous parasite and hops into a helicopter to fly back and infect the world. With all the other teens rendered into bug-food, it falls to the frigid nerd (typically the last surviving genre type in cheesy horror films) to stop the deranged doctor.

Grabbing a rifle, she fires inexpertly at the helicopter and ‘luckily’ hits the pilot in the neck, killing him. The chopper spirals out of control and whirlybirds into the Arctic base station. Boom! Both building and helicopter blow up in a massive fireball. Someone get the marshmallows.

Artistic merit

Given this is a low budget film with few frills – or thrills, for that matter – this is a commendable chopper fireball. Having the helicopter crash into the building gives the pyrotechnics boys and girls a perfect excuse to create an impressively large fireball.

Exploding helicopter innovation

Little to report, sadly. Helicopters have been destroyed in similar circumstances countless times before. Perhaps surprisingly, even the polar location of the explosion is fairly common. For previous examples see: John Carpenter’s The Thing (and its remake), TV disaster movie 2012: Ice Age, and the lamentable creature-feature Arctic Predator.


A gory, improvised, amputation has long been a staple of the horror film, and dismemberment fans will are in for a treat with The Thaw.

After being bitten on the arm, one hapless teen agree to have their arm unceremoniously chopped off to stop the infection spreading. Fortunately, there’s a big meat cleaver handy.

Unfortunately, the wimpy teen wielding it is afraid of blood. They initially bungle the amputation necessitating repeated, gruesome, blows to finally sever the limb. Given a choice, they should probably have left his arm to the bugs. They’d have made a cleaner job.


Talking of plot standbys, where would these films be without the scene where one character realises they’ve left something crucial behind? Sure enough, this hoary old plot device here is creaked into dishonourable service once again here.

After trapping the parasites in a laboratory, the gang realise they’ve left vital evidence of the conspiracy in the room. Cue a predictably frantic escapade into the room to retrieve said device.

Tag line

The somewhat meaningless: “Extinction will find you.”

Interesting fact

William B Davis, better known as the ‘smoking man’ from The X-Files, briefly pops up as a talking head in a TV clip.

The truth is out there, but the entertainment certainly isn’t in here.

Review by: Jafo