Cult Comedy Horror Double Bill

Now, listen you damn fool kids. You might laugh at me because I'm a grizzled old guy sitting on my porch rocking chair whilst you head off to watch films with your beer and your drugs and your barely-covered bodies. Well, I'm hear to tell you there's a lot of so-called cult horror-comedies out there and not all of them are good. I'm here to warn you where not to go poking your noses, in case you come to a bad end. You listening to me? This is important.

I had high hopes for John Dies At The End (Don Coscarelli, 2012), because its director made the wonderfully offbeat Bubba Ho-Tep, which remains a cult favourite of mine. Sadly, it seems as if a soul-sucking Egyptian mummy has got it hands on Coscarelli, because this shows none of the wit or charm that made Bubba Ho-Tep so great. Based on the book by David Wong , it begins with a slacker David (Chase Williamson) killing a zombie, before sitting down to tell a skeptical reporter about how he and his friend John (John Cheese) acquired psychic powers which enabled them to see creatures from alternate dimensions, prompting all sorts of zany adventures. The muddled tale unfolds in flashback in ways that are presumably intended to catapult the film to cultdom, but which are neither funny nor scary, a bit of an oversight for a film purporting to be a horror-comedy. The great pity is that it does waste a good premise, not to mention the combined talents of Paul Giamatti and The Kurgan himself, cult favourite Clancy Brown. Never mind John, the film dies on its arse well before the end.

So you'd be much better off with Tucker and Dale vs. Evil (Eli Craig, 2010), a low-budget Canadian horror-(screwball)comedy-bromance which has a great time poking fun at the slasher genre. Tucker & Dale (endearingly played by Tyler Labine and Alan Tudyk) are two slovenly, good-natured country boys heading off to their dilapidated cabin in the woods for a fishing vacation. Unfortunately for them, a group of college kids on a camping trip in the woods mistake them for a couple of psycho hillbilly stalkers out for blood. A few misunderstandings later, and Tucker & Dale have become increasingly bewildered by the antics of the apparently insane kids, which more often that not ends up in inadvertent, not to mention very funny, bloodshed. It's laugh-out loud throughout, smartly subverting the genre cliches, even if it does falter towards the end by resorting to some formulaic slasher beats in the finale. Sadly, its low profile means it has been rather unfairly overshadowed by the bigger-budget, similarly themed The Cabin in the Woods, which came along a couple of years later. However, if Tucker & Dale vs Evil teaches us anything, it's not to jump to assumptions based on looks. It may not be as slick or polished as The Cabin in the Woods, but it's much funnier and actually surprisingly sweet in the end-up. Happily, Tucker & Dale are set to return in a sequel - let's hope next time they get the recognition they deserve.

Now, let's hope that's pointed you in the right direction. Hey! Stop sniggering and rolling your eyes. I bin around a long time, you know, and I've seen a lot of bad things, more than you'll ever know. And I'm telling you which way to go right now. Hey! Come back! Don't make the same mistakes I did!! Damn fools.

The Past (Asghar Farhadi, 2014)

What's it about? Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) travels from Iran to France to finalise his divorce from his estranged wife Marie (Bérénice Bejo), who now wishes to marry her boyfriend Samir (Tahar Rahim), whose own wife lies in a vegetative state in hospital following a suicide attempt. Complications ensue.

Is it any good? Farhadi's follow-up to the Oscar-winning A Separation may not quite be as good as that superlative film, but it's a similarly engrossing drama, which draws the audience into the messy emotional world of the protagonists. In previous films such as A Separation and About Elly, Farhadi used a modern Iranian setting to emphasise how cultural and societal pressures acted to constrict the characters. In this film the French setting means those pressures are less important, but the characters are constricted nonetheless, this time by historical pressures, as their various overlapping back-stories refuse to let them move forward without the weight of the past dragging them back. The details of these back-stories are drip-fed to the viewer in wonderfully assured fashion, almost like a murder-mystery, with Samir's comatose wife acting as the victim. As we discover more about past events, sympathies shift from character to character as we begin to understand the baggage they all carry and their struggles to collectively and individually deal with it. It's intelligent, grown-up drama, with great performances, including from the children as the kids who must burden their fair share of their parents past exploits. That said, it does falter in finding a satisfying resolution, although the obvious riposte is that real-life rarely finishes neatly either. However, it felt like a bit of a cop-out to me though, which was a bit disappointing given the quietly gripping drama that preceded it.

I don't trust you. What do others think? An enthusiastic reception all round, with critics and audiences alike impressed by Farhadi's ability to generate such gripping drama from 'ordinary' set-up. This is the first film Farhadi has made outside of Iran and in this interview he discusses his motivations and inspirations for The Past.

What does the Fonz think? Past tense.

Buy it on Amazon

Richard Attenborough Double Bill

So I returned home from holiday to the sad news about Richard Attenborough's death. Naturally, most articles since have paid due tribute to his work as director on epics such as Gandhi and A Bridge Too Far, and for his avuncular, beardy performances in the likes of Jurassic Park and Miracle on 34th Street. But did any of them acknowledge his two best performances, which happen to be as thoroughly nasty characters? Well? Oh. They did? Well, that's okay then. So. Well, I might as well do it too. I'm, like, fashionably late, don't you know?

Brighton Rock (John Boulting, 1947) is a fine adaptation of Graham Greene's novel, centred around an excellent performance from a fresh-faced 24-year old Attenborough as the juvenile psychotic hood Pinkie Brown, a role he had previously played on stage to great acclaim. Pinkie is a small-time teenage gangster in pre-war Brighton who finds himself rapidly out of his league when his gang is threatened by a larger more sophisticated operation. After murdering reporter Fred Hale, he is forced to tie-up possible loose ends, leading to his courtship of naive waitress Rose, not out of love, but because a wife can't testify against a husband. His nemesis comes in the form of Ida, a good time lady who embarks on a campaign to see justice for the murdered Fred and to save the soul of Rose. It's a pacy thriller, with some fine noir direction which captures the seedy backstreets of Brighton to great effect. It's probably fair to mention that the transfer to screen means it is less cruel and bleak than the source novel, with Pinkie's Catholic guilt and abhorrence of sex watered down, as well as a final shot which is more hopeful than it ought to be. However, this is still a fine film and worth  a watch, not least for Attenborough's sinister and arresting turn.

10 Rillington Place (Richard Fleischer, 1971) is based on the exploits of notorious serial killer John Christie, who killed at least eight women during the 1940s and 50s in his London home (guess what the address was?). As befits the sordid story, this is a grimy, tense, claustrophobic drama, all the more horrific for being true. As the banal, softly-spoken and unspeakably evil Christie, Attenborough puts in a terrifically unsettling performance, one that disturbed him greatly during shooting. A young John Hurt is also excellent as Timothy Evans, Christie's simple-minded lodger, who was wrongly convicted and executed for the murder of his wife and daughter, murders that Christie had actually committed. Once the truth emerged upon Christie's arrest, the miscarriage of justice was a key case in the abolishment of capital punishment in the UK. It was this historical importance that Attenborough said afterwards was the reason he could not refuse the role. However, one suspects someone as savvy as Attenborough also viewed it as an opportunity to impress as an actor playing against type. And impress he does. It's not comfortable viewing, but it's worth seeing for him in particular.

Two fine films, so why not check out the darker side of Attenborough. If you'd prefer to finish on a lighter note, though, here's a smiley picture of him as Santa. RIP.

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson , 2014)

What's it about? A new lobby boy at the titular hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka is taken under the wing of dandy concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes). Murder, theft, prison, war, cakes and OAP sex ensues.

Is it any good? Listen! I've got a FANTASTIC idea for this review. I'm going to write this review like a TripAdvisor entry. Because it's a review of a hotel, see? Won't that be the cleverest thing, like, ever!! Oh, excuse me just a minute *reads note handed him by lawyers*. Oh. Seems that's been done. On the TripAdvisor website itself, no less. Well, now that I think about it, it's not that clever. Bloody hipsters.

Anyhow, the film delivers everything we have come to expect from a Wes Anderson movie; a cleverly constructed, beautifully framed and shot film, with quirky sensibilities, some great sight gags and a host of cameos from actors on his Rolodex (Bill Murray, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, to name but a few). What we might not have expected is a very funny performance from Fiennes, whose comic timing and deadpan delivery is impeccable throughout. He is really terrific, as he barrels breathlessly through the energetic and consistently amusing screwball plot, which brings to mind a those great pre-war comedies from the likes of Ernst Lubitsch. It does all finish a bit abruptly and it isn't as charming as Anderson's previous Moonrise Kingdom, plus it's content to be a frothy confection, rather than a deeper, more satirical film. But no matter, it's still great fun and it's a film that shows there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric blockbuster-driven world that was once known as cinema. Indeed that's what it provides in its own modest, humble, insignificant.......oh, fuck it. I have to go, someone threw my cat out the window.

Anything else I should know? Well, I supppose you'll be wanting to see that TripAdvisor page now. You can find it here. Elsewhere, you can read about how Austrian writer Stefan Zweig inspired Anderson to make the film.

What does the Fonz think? The Fantastic Mr Gustave.

Buy it on Amazon

A Word From The Fonz

A special shout out to all those students receiving their exam results today, especially if you didn't do as well as you had hoped. Always remember, folks, A-Levels will never be as important as AYYYYYY-Levels.