Tagged in: The Too Late Reviews

The Hunger Games (2012)

Children kill each other on telly in a well-acted but otherwise familiar SF action drama.

The Hunger Games (film)

The Hunger Games (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

This review was written  1 year too late

Reading anything about the film adaptation of Susanne Collins‘ popular novel of the same name reveals a familiar set of references. Its resemblance to both the book and film of Battle Royale, its resemblance to the short story “The Lottery” and numerous other humans-hunting-humans films – Death Race 2000, The Most Dangerous Game, Turkey Shoot. It’s a long list, and it takes some oomph to do it well again.

The story set-up is the usual futuristic, post-war division of society with rich winners and destitute losers. Here, the rich offer the poor a way out by randomly choosing young boys and girls to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of all.

Katniss Everdean volunteers for the games to save her chosen little sister from a certain fate. A skilled hunter with a reason to win beyond the riches escape and victory promise, Katniss is played with some depth by the excellent Jennifer Lawrence, supported by Woody Harrelson as a former winner turned trainer, as well as good turns from Wes Bentley and, surprisingly, Lenny Kravitz. The quality acting really saves The Hunger Games because, alas, there’s not a lot else going on.

By falling into that SF chestnut (i), the divided, dystopian society, the makers (let’s not single any one individual out) approach their vision so heavy-handedly it’s embarrassing. The well-to-dos flaunt themselves in garish, OTT costumes and make-up – imagine an entire city populated with Chris Tucker from The Fifth Element – and eat fine food. Meanwhile, the struggling poor in concentration camp-stylee clothes, living in a permanent grey, survive off of scraps and barter.

Turkey Shoot (film)

Turkey Shoot (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cue SF chestnut (ii), where a violent game keeps the urges of the masses checked. Administration of this televised game is borrowed wholesale from The Truman Show, with Wes Bentley in the Christof role, manipulating events to produce better entertainment. This approach is particularly knuckle-headed in that the two big FX set pieces in the film – a forest fire and a big doggy attack – don’t make sense. If the show is about watching the kids kill each other, why generate events that could result in their deaths?

The controllers of the game are also incongruous. You can just about buy all the overdressed, affected, made-up rich types enjoying the bloody spectacle screened in a Roman gladiatorial sort of way, but the “normal” folk working at the TV station where the programme is made are just so that – normal. Not crazily dressed, not eccentric in any kind of way. So matter-of-fact, that it defies credibility that not one of them might question what they do, or at least show some hint of discomfort. They are, after all, accessories to the murder of children.

And don’t get me started on the dubious gifts that get parachuted into the game to assist players. Pah.

Only worth your time if you are a fan of the books or cast. Otherwise, The Hunger Games will leave you… (I hate this bit..) starving.



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The Burning (1981)

The Burning (film)

The Burning (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Once-banned video nasty with Oscar-winner Holly Hunter and George from Seinfeld.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 

This review was written 32 years too late

Surprisingly not buried by its makers – current Paramount CEO Brad Grey and Miramax’s Weinstein Brothers, among others – The Burning is a standard US early 80s gore-a-thon that, like most US early 80s gore-a-thons, isn’t that gory. Made the “video nasty” list in the UK, it’s now available uncut – and unexciting.

Kids at a summer camp accidentally immolate weirdo caretaker Cropsy, leaving him looking like pizza. Five years later, Cropsy leaves hospital with mayhem on his mind and heads back to camp, after setting the scene of what’s to come by sticking scissors into a prostitute who failed to notice his charred, melted features.

At camp, we see the usual collection of irritants who don’t die quickly enough at Cropsy’s hands, or garden shears in this case, which are his preferred MO. Among the kids you want to see massacred are Jason Alexander a long time, a lot of hair, and quite few inches off the waist before he was George Costanza in Seinfeld; and a barely recognisable Holly Hunter.


Cropsy? Cropsy! I think I’m going to kill you!

The film then sets up a series of faux scares where we think an innocent is going to get it only for it to be revealed as a prank or some other non-entity trying to scare all and sundry. There’s a little T&A here and there, lots of Cropsy POV shots in the woods at night, but the whole film never really gets going.

Even when the kids get stranded without their canoes, there’s ample opportunity to pick-off victims one by one that’s not exploited. When you compare this fodder to what the likes of Mario Bava was doing years before, it is a real disappointment. A supposedly notorious raft massacre scene that helped contribute to the film’s UK ban is particularly dull.

Rick Wakeman’s sub-Carpenter electronic score grates; Tom Savini‘s make-up uninspired, while British director Tony Maylam manages one or two stylish moments.

The Burning is a distinctly – here it comes – tepid affair otherwise.


Cockneys vs Zombies (2012)

cockneys-vs-zombies-bannerOnly a British horror-comedy would pit cockney oiks and OAPs against the undead. Richard Briers with a zimmer frame and an Uzi? Bring it on.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

This review was written 1 year too late

A couple of crafty builders in London’s east end unearth a crypt sealed since 1666 and decide to see what they can nick from it. Cob-webbed skeletons start moving, then reach for the inept pair and – bam. We have our outbreak story explained. Now, we can get on with the blood and the feasting and the carnage.

Cockneys vs Zombies is a surprisingly fun film, and much like the recent Nazi exploiter “Iron Sky“, does silly things well keeping it from slipping into genuine bad.

While a zombie epidemic begins, a small group of Cockneys are about to pull a bank job and use the cash to save their grandad’s old people’s home from closure. Cockneys, see? They love family. It’s all about family.

Despite bungling the robbery, they manage to escape thanks to the undead who have managed to eat the old bill who were lying in wait. Decamping to a warehouse, they realise their situation and go on a rescue mission to the OAP home. But is seems the old folk are doing pretty well by themselves, lead by the once hard-as-nails Ray who ain’t giving up without a fight.


Interestingly, the film has an awareness of what zombies are and how they behave. The characters are familiar with zombie lore and use it to their advantage. Even the pensioners know it. A bite equals infection and turning, the undead shuffle slowly, you need to mash their brains to finish them off – it’s all there. They’ve seen every film listed in the Book of the Dead.

As the youngsters in the warehouse squabble among themselves Ray’s pensioners are doing their best to hold off an assault. When his family arrive, totally tooled up, we get to see the likes of Richard Briars, Honor Blackman, and Tony “Get Some In!” Selby shift prodigious quantities of lead the undead’s way.

It’s all handled with a big, knowing smile by director Matthias Hoene, while Harry Treadaway and Rasmus Hardiker as the grandsons of Alan Ford’s Ray, abetted by a sassy cousin in the form of Michelle Ryan, keep the rhyming slang and unremitting Cockney attitude from getting too annoying.


All together now, “We’re going head-to-head, with the undead, you can fill ’em full of lead but they won’t stay dead…”.

What’s not to enjoy?



Head-to-head song

30 Days of Night (2007)

30 Days of Night (film)

30 Days of Night (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Excellent, alternative and refreshing vampire film, with an intriguing premise, stylish direction, and some satisfying, choppy violence.
Rating: ★★★★½

This review was written 6 years too late

A month-long polar night in the small Alaskan town of Barrow gets nasty as well as cold when a herd/troop/flange (insert your collective noun for vampires here) of bloodsuckers descend on the place – and boy, are they hungry.

The vampire genre, much like the zombie genre, is pretty much dead (boom-tisch!) these days. It’s hard to get interested in another take on the fang-toothed undead that does not seem a variation on some approach already taken. Welcome, then, is 30 Days of Night, which strands a bunch of humans in a snow-bound town in perpetual darkness.

30 Days whips along at a cracking pace, and very soon into the film most of the town has been decimated by the fierce, multi-fanged vampire clan led by Danny Huston. Up against them is Ashton Kutcher‘s sheriff, his estanged wife and small bunch of survivors moving from house to house as they wait out the month until the sun returns.

While the vampires have speed, agility and strength on their side, the survivors have local knowledge of both Barrow and the weather conditions to aid them in their struggle.

Danny Huston in 30 Days of Night

Sharp-toothed guy.

Circumstances continually force their hand, of course, and their numbers dwindle as they lose more and more each time they move on. The vampires also get it a bit too – spectacularly torn to shreds by snowploughs, axes, and assorted crunching machinery. A final, unexpected showdown concludes the film just as the sun returns.

Brit director David Slade does a superb job creating atmosphere and gives his film a real style, making the vamps extra menacing by having them communicate in their own, feral language and filming them in such a way to give them a hungry, kinetic desperation to their movement. And for a film set entirely at night, it’s lit very well, meaning you don’t miss a drop of the red, red blood sprayed, pumped and drank.

Originally a rejected screenplay that subsequently became a successful graphic novel, it rose again as a film thanks to Evil Dead-ites Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures. 30 Days delivers in much the same way Raimi’s own, post-Spider-Man stylish horror Drag Me To Hell – a novel approach, assured direction, and a respect for the audience. Recommended.



Frenzy (1972)


Frenzy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frenzy, Alfred Hitchcock‘s penultimate thriller, is set in London where serial killer Barry Foster chokes women with an impressive array of ties and pins the blame on his surly mate.
Rating: ★★½☆☆

This review was written 41 years too late

The arse-up floating body of a dead woman washes onto the banks of the Thames near the old County Hall building, prompting various responses from onlookers along the lines of  “Ooh isn’t it dreadful?” and “What I’d like to know is what are the police doing about it?” – horrible British responses, both out of time with early 70s Britain and a depressing representation of a people talking just in responses.

It was this Britain Hitchcock returned to at the end of his career when, aged 73, he apparently wanted to capture on film the London of his youth before it changed forever. So what we have here is a splendid visual document of London – a sweeping aerial opening down the Thames shows the remnants of a once-thriving port; Covent Garden when it was still a working market – and an average thriller, lifted by some trademark flourishes from a declining master.

Barry Foster is Robert Rusk, a Covent Garden market trader who comes across as a slightly more upmarket Jack Harper from On The Buses, complete with tedious, chirpy banter (“Trust your Uncle Bob”, “Bob’s Your Uncle”, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” and so on) and a natty line in suits – and ties. For Rusk is the mysterious Neck Tie Murderer – a killer and rapist terrorising women in the capital.

Hitchcock reveals this early in the picture, and at the same time we meet Richard Blaney (the late Jon Finch), a down-on-his-luck friend of Rusk’s whose ex-wife becomes a victim, thus marking him as the number one suspect.

Blaney flees briefly before being captured and banged-up, while Rusk carries on killing only to leave incriminating evidence on a victim, leading to a none-too suspenseful scene in the back of a potato truck where Rusk snaps the victim’s fingers to pull a tie-pin from her rigour grasp. As tension goes in films, potato-based escapades are few and far between.

It’s easy to see why.

Around all this, Alec McCowen‘s copper tries to piece everything together as the body count continues to rise.

The film suffers terribly from being a 1950s British film set in 1972 London. Characters talk like they are from a previous era; it’s as if the swinging sixties never happened. About the only nod to being a “modern” film is a few brief instances of nudity and an unpleasant rape scene. It is also devoid of any real tension since we know who the murderer is early on and Jon Finch’s innocent Blaney is such an unlikeable loser, you don’t really care that he’s been fingered for the crimes.

On the plus side, there are some stylish visuals – a tracking shot backwards down a flight of stairs, a freeze-frame on a victim’s eyes at the point of death – and some quality acting from Billie Whitelaw and especially Anna Massey, who in stark contrast to her role in the best London-set serial killer film Peeping Tom, plays a brassy barmaid with appeal.

Frenzy’s biggest let down is its ending, however. While Alec McCowan gets to deliver a witty last line, the complete lack of excitement or tension as the real killer is identified and cornered by Blaney gives a clumsy and jarring conclusion, leaving you to ask, “Is that it?”.

Yep, it is.

See Hitch introducing the film in the trailer

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Ninja III: The Domination

Ninja III: The Domination (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Laughable attempt to fuse martial arts and the paranormal with ridiculous results in the final entry of Cannon’s initial series of ninja flicks from the early 80s.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

This review was written 29 years too late

Ninja movies reached a wider audience in the 1980s when budget-movie kings the Cannon Group produced first Enter the Ninja and then Revenge of the Ninja – both starring Sho Kosugi. By the time of this third instalment, the US interpretation of the ninja format seemed to be in place, and Ninja III delivers in poor quality spades.

Fight sequences are typified by reverse footage shots to simulate incredible leaps; sword-play is none too gory; acting abysmal; plot meaningless; logic non-existent – yes, this is what you got with Cannon’s ninja output, but Domination takes it to a whole new height of, at times, enjoyable nonsense.

Lucinda Dickey, she of Breakin’ and Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo, if you recall, is phone engineer Chrissy who spots a stumbling, injured man while up a telephone pole. Climbing down, she finds dying and bloodied the “Black Ninja” assassin whose spirit passes into Chrissy. From then on, a possessed and ninja-powered Chrissy sets out to kill all the people who did the original ninja in.

Standard revenge nonsense, then, given a few degrees of twist by employing the supernatural and a Kunoichi – a female ninja. What hope this plot ever had is underdone almost immediately in the most ridiculous opening fight sequence you’ll ever see. The Black Ninja, hired to kill a scientist on a golf course, rather than use his myriad skills of stealth and secrecy, instead jumps out of a bush where a poorly driven Titleist is buried in the rough and crushes said ball in front of his victim’s bodyguards. Despatching everyone around him, he then simply, er, runs away and gets chased by police cars and helicopters. So much for silent killing and legendary stealth.

The law eventually corner him and shoot him more times than Sean Connery gets it in The Untouchables, but he manages to escape by tossing a smoke bomb to the ground. Hey, Black Ninja, I’m no expert but maybe you could have done that while you were running away from the police instead of once they trapped you? Just saying, is all.

Screen Shot 2013-01-15 at 10.59.34 PM

A possessed Lucinda Dickey – you can tell she’s possessed by the dubious eye makeup

And so it goes on. One poorly executed fight scene after another; a half-arsed seduction by the admittedly lovely Lucinda Dickey and the decidely un-lovely Jordan Bennett as the cop smarming over her; various home appliances including a video game getting possessed and taunting Chrissy forcing her to dance to dreadful 80s pop to blot out the supernatural happenings; the arrival of Sho Kosugi from Japan, wearing an eyepatch the size of a frisbee to sort things out; dreadful, dreadful music – it really does not end.

This film is relentless in its delivery of trash in every form – I’d really urge you to see it.

Watch the trailer to get a sense of what to expect:


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The Time Machine (2002)

The Time Machine (2002 film)

It’s the poster for Sahara before it was ever made! That’s time travel for you.

Heartbroken Guy Pearce travels in an armchair time machine to save his dead girlfriend but ends up battling Jeremy Irons and some hairy things instead.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This review was written 11 years too late

Given a façade of credibility in that it was directed by original author HG Wells‘ great-grandson, Simon, this latest version of The Time Machine is not as good as the average enough 1960 version directed by George Pal. (There’s a 1978 made-for-TV version too.) The 1960 version starring Rod Taylor fares better since it feels and looks from another time – it’s a 50-year-old depiction of Victorian England – while this version with CGI and high production values renders a fine looking 1899 New York but seems out of place.

The film has a modern day gloss but does not feel ground-breaking or different in anyway. George Pal‘s 1960 version at least upped the ante in terms of effects when first released. Wells’s offering, by comparison, just feels dull.


Dull as Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, portrayed by Guy Pearce. He’s fine, it’s just his character that bores. The murder of his fiancée prompts him to construct a time machine, go back to the past to try and save her and blah-de-blah-de-blah you don’t need me to tell you anymore. But I will, and the catch is the time paradox, meaning that since he created the machine out of grief for his lost love, each time he saves her, she then has to die in some other way for the machine to exist.

He jumps forward to 2037 to try and find an answer but encounters Earth on the brink of collapse. Escaping this turmoil, he accidentally jumps forward again, this time to the year 802701 where he finds the world overrun with Starbucks, I mean Morlocks. These human-descended furry beasts feed on human-descended non-furry beasts, the Eloi. Just to be sure of the difference, Morlocks look like pumped-up, saucer-eyed bewigged versions of a post-plastic surgery Cher, while the peaceful Eloi come in the shapely, scantily-clad form of Samantha Mumba.

Hartdegen falls for Mumba, who – guess what? – makes it onto the Morlocks’s menu while Morlock boss Jeremy Irons explains the terrible truth of the feeding regime. Hartdegen faces-off with Irons’s Über Morlock in the Time Machine, eventually kicking him out of the device where he totally unsurprisingly shrivels old quickly, before the Machine grinds to a halt in the year 635,427,810.

And let me tell you, there’s not much to see there. You see, it’s dull, again, which is such a let down. A wasted opportunity.

The Time Machine tries hard, and it really wants to be better than it is. But here’s a tip (stupid sign-off sentence approaching): turn back the clock and dig out the 1960 version. Or better still, watch Back to the Future again.

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No Escape (1994)

Cover of "No Escape"

Ray Liotta, he has the only gun in town

Futuristic thriller with Ray Liotta as a murderer sent to an island prison where inmates squabble and kill each other…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was written 19 years too late

Directed by Bond two-timer Kiwi Martin Campbell, “No Escape” is another of many prison-based films where the inmates are left to their own devices as some form of ultimate punishment. Yes, quite a few of them die but in general, “No Escape” ‘s inmates don’t have it to hard – no shivs in the back during the exercise period nor soap-dropping intrusions in the showers. Divided into two distinct groups – the Outsiders, bearded, savage, “Mad Max 2“-like – and the, can you guess? Insiders, clean-shaven, dignified, softies; they get along as well as two starving dogs in a pitbull ring.

Robbins (Liotta) is a former soldier who offed his CO and subsequently escaped from every prison he’s ever sent to. Finally, he’s placed in a – ooh, scary – Level 6 facility, an island which promises the film’s title. First encountering the Outsiders where he’s immediately asked to prove himself in combat, he subsequently escapes the naughty boys and teams up with the nice Insiders, who are planning to escape the island.

There’s a lot of back and forth between the two camps for reluctant hero Robbins, being perceived by Lance Henriksen‘s The Father as a potential successor of the Insiders, and as a worthy and challenging opponent by Outsiders leader Marek (Stuart Wilson).

It’s good enough action delivered by the reliable Campbell, and the film has enough enjoyable corn to pass the time. The ridiculously clean-shaven Insiders get to make a few references to the scarcity of razors, a sort of in-joke trying to explain their unlikely appearance. The Outsiders contribute by having Marek deliver the inevitable homosexual overtones most men-only prison films deliver. He gets two priceless lines while ogling a young, captured Insider: “Sweet, tender, adorable boy. And I don’t want him bruised,” followed by the even dafter, “You are so cute. Where are your other little friends? You can tell your Uncle Walter.”

Acceptable fare then, and worth a look with a few beers if you stumble across it on Netflix.


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Waterworld (1995)

Cover of "Waterworld (Ws)"

Costner looks like this throughout the film. No smiles.

Famous flop full of downright stupidity but also had a certain amount promise until it all went soggy…

Rating: ★★½☆☆

This review was written 17 years too late

Way over budget, a fired director, Mother Nature chipping in with ravaging storms, “Waterworld” is one of those films where everything went wrong to compound a dreadful script that should probably have never been written let alone greenlit.

Like many films with a troubled production history, there are flashes of a good film in there somewhere. A futuristic tale where Kevin Costner‘s lone sailor and man-mutant – he has webbed feet, gills and can survive under water – The Mariner coasts around a completely flooded Earth in a gadget-equipped catamaran. When he reluctantly gets involved with a woman whose daughter has a map to dry land tattooed on her back, his life-on-the-ocean-waves solitude is sunk by cackling, nasty baddies intent on skinning the girl.

Ah, the baddies. Called Smokers and led by a hilariously OTT Dennis Hopper, there are times during his performance where you think Waterworld is a really bad comedy. Hopper plays The Deacon, leader of hundreds of brigands who reside on the rusting hull of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. They zip about on jet skis, old planes, speedboats and anything else they can power with the remains of the oil, and generally behave like extras in a Monty Python film.

As Costner’s Mariner tries his best to protect little tattooed Enola from the big bad Deacon, we get to see the good side of Waterworld – some stylishly directed scenes of sailing ships racing at speed, sails bulging, wake crisping. Like sailing itself, you find yourself caught up in this empty, blue world where there is just wind and sea and nothing to distract you.

Sadly, you get interrupted by Hopper and co. zooming in on jet skis, snarling and giggling as they hunt the girl down, snapping you out of any peaceful reverie you might have found yourself in and plunging you back into the midden of the script.

That’s pretty much all there is in terms of actual plot. So what, exactly, fills the two hours+ run time (and let’s not even visit the nearly three-hour director’s cut)? Holes, that’s what. Enormous, gaping plot holes. It’s never explained why Costner’s mutant Mariner chooses to sail everywhere on a boat when he can, easily, survive under the sea. What else? It’s ignored that the Smokers (who do smoke a lot) seem to happily laugh about stray ash and butts falling into the ship’s oil reservoir, yet when the Mariner makes the same threat, they panic like nervous girls. Or why The Deacon requires a mic and loudspeaker to speak to his deck-bound crew from high up on the bridge of the ship, yet the Mariner way below can easily have a two-way conversation with him without a voice being raised.

Director Kevin Reynolds, who got booted off the set (the same sets destroyed by an impromptu hurricane), handles the action and sailing sequences really well, and these give the film its best moments. It’s just a shame he never managed to rein in Hopper (well, many have tried, let’s be honest), stop the film from going USD 75m over budget, or deep-six the turgid script his old pal Costner gave him.

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The Ghost Train (1941)

Arthur Askey

Arthur Askey IS Tommy Gander

Arthur Askey mystery comedy chock full of “ooh, where’s-me-washboard”-isms and other minor irritations but a couple of witty lines too.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was written 72 years too late

It is a requirement when writing about “The Ghost Train” that one mentions it was based on a play by Arnold RidleyPrivate Godfrey in “Dad’s Army“. With that fulfilled, we can move on.

It’s 1941, and chirpy yet irritating comedian Tommy Gander (Askey) makes a train late by pulling the communication cord in order to retrieve his hat lost on the line. The delay means the train gets stuck overnight at Fal Vale station in Cornwall. There follows a series of creepy station masters, dead or not dead people, and people who are not who they claim to be. Oh, and fifth columnists. All that from sweet old Private Godfrey’s mind. Damn, done it again. Not supposed to mention him.

The stranded travellers include a dotty spinster with a parrot, a couple a day away from getting married who are more scared about what the bride-to-be’s mother will think of their first night together out of wedlock, an elderly doctor with a drink problem, and a young “chap” who competes with Tommy over the affections of the attractive Jackie Winthrop, who is protected by her short-tempered brother.

Thunderstorms, ghosts and other low-key scares unsettle the band and slowly advance the plot, culminating in a model train crashing.

As a vehicle for Askey, the mostly one-set locale gives him ample time to demonstrate his irritating brand of comedy, which must have been just as annoying 72 years ago as it is today – stepping over imaginary bodies, endless silly voices and smirks then parading around in a very unpleasant leotard all combine to make you want to punch him.

It’s an interesting film, however, as a period piece and also when one bears in mind that the Askey version is the third film version based on Ridley’s play and the second to be directed by Walter Forde, who had shot a version a decade previously. Its premise seems to have an enduring appeal, since it was made again in 1976 in Danish, while a new English version is apparently in the works.

Watch the full movie on YouTube


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