Category Archives: Reviews

Drive (2011) review

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks, Ron Perlman

“There’s a hundred-thousand streets in this city. You don’t need to know the route. You give me a time and a place, I give you a five minute window. Anything happens in that five minutes and I’m yours. No matter what. Anything happens a minute either side of that and you’re on your own. Do you understand?” (The Driver, Drive)

I didn’t really know what to expect when I put Drive into my Blu-ray player. To be perfectly honest, though it had received rave reviews from people I knew, people whose opinions I trusted, I just couldn’t get excited about it. Ultimately I ended up renting it and giving it a go purely because my fiancee wanted to see it. I’m glad I finally did, because it’s a sensational film.

Doug's surprise 40th birthday party was about to go horribly wrong

Drive tells the story of an unnamed driver (Gosling) who works as a movie stuntman during the day and is a freelance getaway driver for criminals at night. After falling for his next-door neighbour (Mulligan) and deciding to help out her jailbird husband, things end up going pear-shaped and the driver has to struggle to ensure not only his own survival, but that of his neighbour’s family.

Ryan Gosling puts in a curious but ultimately appealing performance as a man who says very little throughout the film. There are moments of dialogue when it’s really essential to get the point across but a lot of Drive consists of Gosling and Mulligan staring at each other without saying anything. And yet, that’s partly what makes the film so interesting, because their chemistry is such that they both do such a great job of saying an awful lot without actually saying anything.  Continue reading Drive (2011) review

Faces Of Death (1978) (Video Nasty review #6)

Director: John Alan Schwartz

Starring: Michael Carr

“During the past 20 years I know that my compulsion to understand death was much greater than just an obsession. My dreams have dictated my mission. But now it is time to witness the final moment, to discover the circle that forever repeats ifself. The end of the beginning or the beginning of the end? I’ll leave that decision to you.” (Dr Gross, Faces Of Death)

I’ve been putting off watching Faces Of Death for years but I knew that my pledge to eventually watch all 72 video nasties meant that one day I’d have to grin and bear it. With my fiancee on holiday in France, I figured there was no time like the present. As I expected, Faces Of Death is fucking horrible.

Ironically, this is actually a real drowned corpse that a member of the film crew came across by pure chance during the film's production

This gruesome ’70s film is part documentary, part mockumentary, a film that claims it wants us to consider death and make us question the ways in which we kill and be killed, but in reality it’s just an excuse to show scene after scene of grotesque footage. It’s since been admitted that around 40% of the footage was faked, but that of course means around 60% was real and that’s just macabre.

Of course, even if it hadn’t been admitted that much of Faces Of Death was fake, these days it’d be much easier to tell anyway. The film originally gained notoriety and popularity in the early days of VHS, where people would rent and copy the taboo tape, passing it around their friends and constantly degrading the already fuzzy picture quality in the process. This made it easier to believe all the footage was real, because the detail lost in the tape quality would be filled in by the viewer’s subconscious and made “realistic” in their heads.  Continue reading Faces Of Death (1978) (Video Nasty review #6)

Dead Space: Downfall (2008) review

Director: Chuck Patton

Starring: Voices of Nika Futterman, Keith Szarabajka, Jim Cummings

DOBBS – “There’s a lot of blood in this room, but no bodies.”
SHEN – “Sounds like one of your parties.”
DOBBS – “Or your sex life.”

If you haven’t played the Dead Space series of video games you’re missing out on a bunch of petrifying, immersive survival horrors that combine the isolation of outer space with the terror of big bastard mutant alien things. Since the games start with you onboard a ship that’s already been infected with said mutants and had its crew sliced to bits however, it seems there’s a lot of story to be told about how the situation got so messy. Enter Dead Space: Downfall.

A prequel to the original game, Dead Space: Downfall is an animated movie explaining how the SS Ishimura, a mining ship, ends up being infested by the monstrous Necromorphs. After a colony on the planet Aegis VII asks for advice on an alien artifact they’ve found, the Ishimura nips down to the planet and takes it on board. Not before a ship infected with a Necromorph manages to get inside the Ishimura though, infecting the Ishimura with the mutant menace.

"This is the last time I take the bins out on curry night"

The Necromorph virus spreads throughout the Ishimura, turning the ship’s workers into mutants. Predictably, shit goes down and various poor sods end up coming face-to-face with their own spleens. It’s left to a small group of surviving workers to destroy the mutants, save the Ishimura and figure out what the alien artifact is supposed to be.

Of course, this being a prequel to the Dead Space video game, which sees you arriving at the Ishimura and finding everyone dead with Necromorphs still running riot, it should be fairly obvious to most people watching Downfall that nobody’s going to make it out alive by the end of this one. It’s harder then to care much about the well-being of the film’s main characters when you know they’re going to end up pegging it before long.  Continue reading Dead Space: Downfall (2008) review

Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) review

Director: Tod Williams

Starring: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

“We just can’t let this affect us that much. If we do that, the terrorists win.” (Daniel, Paranormal Activity 2)

After the success of The Blair Witch Project, the inevitable sequel followed. Rather than sticking with what worked and going with another low-budget handheld camera effort, the filmmakers went with a big $15 million production that felt nothing like the original. It was a moderate success but most fans of the first film hated it (personally, I liked it but that’s for another review). No doubt with this in mind, the makers of Paranormal Activity instead decided if it wasn’t broke they shouldn’t try to fix it, and so Paranormal Activity 2 is more or less the same as the first movie.

"Oh hello son. I appear to have fallen arse over tit. Be a dear, help me up"

Once again we’ve got a couple moving into a new home, and once again we’ve got the whole thing captured on home video cameras (with security cameras chucked into the mix too this time). Once again weird shit starts going down, and once again it seems clear that there’s some sort of demon terrorising them.

Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity 2 seems to lose something that the original had – the sense of intimacy that made it so powerful. Whereas the original film simply consisted of a couple moving in together for the first time, using a single store-bought camera to record the weird goings-on that have started to happen, this time so many new elements are introduced to try and add some variety. Instead though, they just make the situation more complicated.  Continue reading Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) review

Dollman (1991) review

Director: Albert Pyun

Starring: Tim Thomerson, Jackie Earle Haley, Kamala Lopez

OVERWEIGHT KID – “That’s a Kruger blaster! The most powerful handgun in the universe!”

DOLLMAN – “That’s right, fat boy.”

While Full Moon Features is still going these days, it’s probably fair to say that most of the stuff it puts money into is utter shite. The likes of Dangerous Worry Dolls, Gingerdead Man and Killjoy, while entertaining to those who get a kick out of watching bad movies, just can’t cut it overall. This wasn’t always the case though – back in the late 80s and early 90s Full Moon Productions (as it was known then) was a powerhouse in the world of low-budget, straight-to-video sci-fi and horror. Film series like Puppet Master, Subspecies and Trancers were much-loved by genre fans at the time, and the Videozone making-of features at the end of each tape (long before DVD, mind) helped gain Full Moon a cult following of fans. Dollman was one of the films Full Moon released during that time period, and it’s easily one of the silliest.

The cast of Cheaper By The Dozen were somewhat taken aback by Steve Martin's diva attitude

Dollman opens on a planet many light years away with its hero Brick Bardo coming face-to-face with his nemesis, the criminal Sprug. On this planet if you commit a misdemeanour and are caught you have a body part removed as punishment, so when you consider Sprug is just a head on a floating platform, it’s obvious he’s a nasty bugger. Still, that doesn’t stop him jumping (well, rolling) into his spaceship and trying to leave the planet, with Brick following in hot pursuit. The two ships crash-land on Earth (the Bronx, to be precise), so Brick has to find a way to repair his ship and get back to his own planet before Sprug finds him. There’s just one thing – on Earth, Brick is only thirteen inches tall.  Continue reading Dollman (1991) review

Super 8 (2011) review

Director: JJ Abrams

Starring: Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Gabriel Basso

“Stop talking about production value, the Air Force is going to kill us.” (Cary, Super 8)

I’ve complained a few times on That Was A Bit Mental that they don’t make films like The Goonies or The Monster Squad any more – films where children act realistically, talk over each other, swear from time to time and are in genuine danger throughout their adventure. Super 8 is proof that, though rare, these films can still exist in modern cinema.

Set in 1979, Super 8 tells the story of a group of 13-year-olds who meet up on occasion to shoot a low-budget zombie film using their Super 8 movie camera. While filming a scene near a railway line they manage to catch film of a train speeding past them, colliding with a truck on the line and causing the mother of all train crashes. Running over to the truck they find their biology teacher behind the wheel, who cryptically tells them that they and their families are all going to die if they tell anyone what happened. Little do they know that the train contained a huge alien life form – one who’s now free, not too chuffed at the way it’s been treated, and well up for a shitstorm.

Hull city centre had seen better days

Put bluntly, this film is superb. The first half-hour is charming as you instantly fall in love with all the kids in the group (not in that way you maniac). Their dialogue is completely believable and you completely buy into the idea that they’re a bunch of close friends, in particular the main character Joe and his chunky chum Charles (the director of the kids’ film). The introduction of Alice (the wonderful Elle Fanning) makes things even more entertaining as you see this group of young teenage boys swooning over her but still trying to act cool. It’s all just so genuine.  Continue reading Super 8 (2011) review

The Muppets (2011) review

Director: James Bobin

Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Chris Cooper, Kermit The Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Animal

STATLER: “If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you were reciting some sort of important plot point.”

WALDORF: “I  hope so. Otherwise I would’ve bored half the audience half to death.”

STATLER: “You mean half the audience is still alive?”

I’ve been a huge fan of the Muppets ever since I was really young. As I grew and managed to get hold of more and more Muppets stuff I managed to grit my teeth and ignore the worst parts of Muppet history Muppets In Space, the early laugh-free Saturday Night Live stuff) and focus on the classics – The Muppets Christmas Carol, The Muppets Take Manhattan and, of course, The Muppet Show itself.

Walter is the newest Muppet. And he's pretty awesome.

The Muppets have been out of the public eye for so long however that when I heard another movie was on the way I felt excitement and trepidation in equal measure. Would this be the long-awaited return of the Muppets I’ve been hoping for for years, or would it be an anachronistic, out-of-date embarrassment that would sound the death knell for my beloved puppets? Thankfully, the answer is the former, and by some distance.

The Muppets tells the story of Walter, a young puppet who lives with his brother Gary (Jason Segel). Walter is the world’s biggest Muppet fan, so when Gary and his girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) ask him to travel to Hollywood with him he jumps at the chance to visit the hallowed Muppet Studios.  Continue reading The Muppets (2011) review

Zombie Strippers (2008) review

Director: Jay Lee

Starring: Jenna Jameson, Robert Englund, Roxy Saint, Penny Drake

“Let’s see if I got this straight. Our best stripper is a reanimated corpse who is feeding off the living flesh of our customers, who in turn reanimate, even if they’re just a fucking head? You don’t see this as a problem?” (Ian, Zombie Strippers)

Usually when a film has such a blatant and exploitative title as this it’s using that title to draw people to a film that in reality can’t live up to the name (hang your head, Alien Terminator). Zombie Strippers however not only successfully does what it says on the tin, but crams so much of both aspects into said tin that you’d need some sort of special spatula device to be able to scoop out the tightly packed contents. What I’m basically saying in a needlessly elaborate way is there’s a lot of zombies in here, and a lot of stripping.

"Stand back, I know CPR"

It begins, as so many zombie films do, with a secret government research facility making an arse of things. They were trying to create a bunch of super soliders that could come back to life after being killed, but naturally what they made instead was a bunch of zombies. After a failed attempt to destroy them, one escapes and makes his way to a strip club where he attacks Kat – a stripper (Jenna Jameson) – and bites her neck out. And if you think I’m going to stoop to the obvious “deep throat” joke there, then I’m frankly stunned.  Continue reading Zombie Strippers (2008) review

The Care Bears Movie (1985) review

Director: Arna Selznick

Starring: Voices of Mickey Rooney, Jackie Burroughs, Cree Summer, Sunny Thrasher

“They must be taught a lesson! A lesson for the children! A lesson for the town! A lesson for everyone!” (The Spirit, The Care Bears Movie)

First, a disclaimer. I watched the shit out of The Care Bears Movie when I was a wee tot, and it terrified me every single time. When I saw it was available on the US Netflix library (which can be accessed using this trick), I decided it would be the perfect film for That Was A Bit Mental, for reasons that will become obvious. Well, even more obvious than anthropomorphic bears that can project magical symbols from their guts.

The film opens on an orphanage, where delightful-old-man-and-not-at-all-a-padeo Mr Cherrywood (Mickey Rooney) is tucking the children into bed. They ask him for a bedtime story to help them sleep peacefully and he obliges, ill-advisedly deciding to tell them the one about the evil as fuck book that tried to plunge the Earth into misery.

The Care-A-Lot version of Countdown had a fancy (if run-down) set

Before that, Mr Cherrywood’s tale opens with Kim and Jason, two snotty little kids whose parents have “gone away” and hate everyone as a result. They’re so jaded with life they seemingly can’t even give an ounce of a fuck when two brightly coloured teddy bears approach them and ask to be their friends. Despite their best efforts, Friend Bear and Secret Bear (for it is they) don’t manage to win over Kim and Jason, despite delightful not-at-all-sinister-or-voyeuristic lines like “we know a lot of things about you: Kim reads a lot of books and wants to be a nurse when she grows up, and Jason, you want to be a jet pilot”.  Continue reading The Care Bears Movie (1985) review

Any Given Sunday (1999) review

Director: Oliver Stone

Starring: Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, LL Cool J, James Woods

“Life’s a game of inches, so is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half-second too slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch. On this team we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch. Because we know when add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the fuckin’ difference between winning and losing.” (Tony D’Amato, Any Given Sunday)

Take one of the greatest actors in the world, team him up with one of the greatest directors in the world, throw in an amazing supporting cast and set it all on an American football field. The result is Any Given Sunday, one of the finest sports films ever made.

"I'm going to win this staring contest, you goddamned schmuck"

Pacino plays Tony D’Amato, an aging coach who’s trying to lead his team, the Miami Sharks, to glory one last time. Standing in his way are Christina Pagniacci (Diaz), the daughter of the team’s late owner (and Tony’s friend) who doesn’t believe in tradition and wants to move the team to another city, and the team’s doctor (Woods), who’s been giving players illegal injections to keep them playing, despite the risks to their health.

Tony’s players have their own issues, too. His quarterback (Quaid) is also feeling the pangs of old age and fears his career is coming to an end, his wide receiver (LL Cool J) is annoyed he’s not being thrown the ball enough and believes it could affect his sponsorship contracts, and the rock in his defence (played by real-life American footballer Lawrence Taylor) has injured his neck and is one bad tackle away from permanent paralysis at best, death at worst.  Continue reading Any Given Sunday (1999) review