White Dog

Director: Samuel Fuller (1982)
Starring: Kristy McNichol, Paul Winfield, Burl Ives
Find it: IMDB

We've all been there - it's a peril that goes hand in hand with meeting new people. You're chatting with a new colleague or acquaintance; you're getting along rather well - maybe even making plans to meet in the pub later for a couple of bevvies - and then boom, there it is. The racist comment. "I think you should vote like me," the hideous racist Viking, as I like to refer to him said, "you should vote BNP." Ew. And for the record, fucking no. He then went on to explain his belief to us all that Indian men should be banned from hospitals. Because of their unhygienic beards.

It's a problem Julie Sawyer (McNichol) knows only too well, adopting the German Shepherd she accidentally runs over late one night. Cuddly, goofy*, shaggy*, loyal and utterly lovely-looking, it doesn't take White Dog (he never gets a name) long to ingratiate himself into her life. At around the point he saves her from a would-be rapist, Julie falls in love with her dog. Only, it emerges, White Dog has serious issues. White Dog is a fucking racist. Trained by his previous owners to attack black people, White Dog has a serious aversion to people of colour; going so far as to murder one innocent truck driver as he goes about his rounds late one night.

Desperate not to lose her new best friend, Julie brings him to a Hollywood trainer, hoping that she can un-teach an old dog his antisocial tricks. If Keys (Winfield) takes his mission personally, it's because he sees it as an opportunity to show that racism can be un-learned. And also, you know, because he himself is black, and White Dog is a fucking racist.*

Well-meaning and powerful (if flawed), White Dog is a typically eighties exploration of racism and civil rights issues, rarely beating about the bush in its pursuit of the jugular. Based on a true story (no, an actual true story), the story is effectively told by director Samuel Fuller and supported by a wonderful score from Ennio Morricone. Tune in expecting subtlety, and you'll be disappointed. It's effectively Bolt meets American History X. Go in with a soft spot for dogs and a love of eighties cult cinema, and you should have a good time with it. As good a time as you can have with a movie about an aggressively, possibly irredeemably racist dog, anyway.

* Like UKIP.


Director: Jon S. Baird (2013)
Starring: James McAvoy, Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan
Find it: IMDB

A film which was released in October and I have seen three times already. A film which apparently gets better every time I see it. A film which I gave a 3/5 the first time I saw it, a 4/5 the second time I watched it and, finally, 5/5 last time. I guess next time I see Filth, it'll have achieved 6/5. By the time I watch it for the umpteenth time, it'll have achieved self-awareness.

I have never claimed to be one of those impartial, objective reviewer types, but there is something about Filth which really speaks to me, making it one of the best films I've seen in years. Maybe it's because James McAvoy is also incapable of growing a beard, instead winding up with a crap gingery, pube-esque stubble through which you can still sort of see the outline of a chin. Shit beard growers of the word, unite.

McAvoy plays Filth, a medium-ranking police officer suffering from drug addiction, alcoholism and a severe bipolar disorder. Determined to score himself a big promotion, Filth bullies, lies and undermines his way around his colleagues while also attempting to solve an all-important murder case on the way. Meanwhile, the hallucinations and delusions get ever worse, with Filth Bruce rapidly spiralling out of control. I read Irvine Welsh's Filth in preparation for its UK cinema release. It quickly climbed the charts to become one of the best things I've ever read.

As such, Baird's adaptation was initially a disappointment. There's not even a tapeworm. The film baulks at the darkness of Welsh's novel, cutting back and toning down much of its excesses. Honestly, I just wanted the tapeworm. But then, as I watched the film for a second and third time, I came to appreciate Filth for what it was - watchable. Honestly, if they'd left in everything the film cut out, you'd be left with something as unwatchable as Salo. And, besides, this version has an insane energy all of its own.

McAvoy is mesmerising as the almost irredeemable Bruce Robertson. Grubby, nasty, horrible and yet charismatic in spite of it all, it's a fascinating portrayal of a very Scottish Bad Leuitenant. It's not hard to imagine Nicolas Cage playing Bruce in an American remake. Around him, the film thrives on its surrealist scenes of fantasy, animation, impromptu musical numbers and, um, Jim Broadbent with a massive head (essentially standing in for a tapeworm). Eddie Marsan, Shauna Macdonald, Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots all impress in supporting roles, while John Sessions is the most bearable he's ever been.  

Since its release, Filth has quickly become a solid favourite. Even better, its Christmas setting makes it a great festive watch. This isn't the Filth of the novel, but it's gorgeous all the same.

The Phantom of the Opera (1989)

Director: Dwight H. Little (1989)
Starring: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Bill Nighy
Find it: IMDB

Robert Englund is the Phantom of the Opera in this very eighties retelling of the classic horror tale. An often forgotten member of the classic horror icons club, it's surprising that the Phantom isn't a bigger screen presence. While Frankenstein and Dracula have many a movie to their name, the poor Phantom has but a couple of classics and a horrible musical. This gory, garish horror feature attempts to right-side the balance by giving the Phantom his own franchise. And, with Freddy Krueger himself in the title role, it gets off firmly on the right track.

With Freddy at the height of his popularity (this film was released a year after the third Nightmare on Elm Street sequel) the timing should have been spot on for this re-adaptation. Scarred, cackling and wearing a hat, his Phantom isn't even that dissimilar from Freddy as a villain. The plot, as with previous adaptations, sees The Phantom/scarred composer Erik Destler obsess over Opera singer Christine Day (Schoelen) as she appears in a popular new version of Faust. Rival singers, incompetent set designers and snotty critics are all high on The Phantom's hit list. To be fair, I once ripped up an issue of Official Playstation 2 Magazine after they poo-pooed KT Tunstall's singing voice, so I can dig it. Just stick to reviewing Tomb Raider, assholes.        

This is a nastier, more sadistic Phantom than we've seen before, stalking and slicing up his enemies like some sort of slasher villain. The finale, set in his sewers, gives up any pretense of it being anything else, and transforms into full-on slasher film. Englund plays the Phantom as a sadder variation of Krueger, dressed up in his Sunday best. Although that's hardly a bad thing - he's at his most entertaining here, delivering a deliciously camp performance throughout.

Elsewhere, young Bill Nighy pops up in a small role (Bill Nighy, however, young, is always appreciated in any role) while Jill Schoelen is a sweet, likeable heroine. The ending offers promise - in a Darkman kind of way - but, alas, The Phantom's franchise was not to be. This 'all-new nightmare' isn't quite 'new' enough to win its audience, but it is a delightful spin on an old tale.   

How I Live Now

Director: Kevin Macdonald
Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, George MacKay
Find it: IMDB

An American teenager with a horrible attitude visits her cousins in England just as nuclear war threatens to envelop the world around her. With the adults elsewhere, the kids live an idyllic life of whimsy and swimming holes, kissing cousins and cow whispering. Then, as they so often do, the military turn up, and this (literally nuclear) family is torn apart.

I am reliably informed by someone who actually read the book, that there is actually a reason why Daisy (Ronan) is such a massive arsehole to everyone all the time, why Eddie (MacKay) can talk to cows and an actual sense of character development beyond Daisy suddenly, inexplicably not being such a massive arsehole to everyone. But I haven't read the book, so all I can comment upon is the film's less than impressive handling of such matters.

It starts off just fine, an apparent slow-burn cross between Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games. Daisy, while unlikeable, shows ample room for redemption, and her cousins are enjoyably, well, British (in an Ron Weasley meets Outnumbered sort of way). The first quarter or so of the film is when it is at its best. Then the army arrives,and everything goes to shit.

Character development fluffed and rushed (Daisy's OCD is barely there), it's hard to care about any of the kids or their plight. It gets darker and is surprisingly unpleasant at times, but feels rushed and inconsistent. The cow whispering (think Aquaman, but with cows) comes to naught, and the central love story isn't even developed enough to be considered creepy.

My life continues now much as it did before I watched How I Live Now. An utterly wasted opportunity, it certainly won't change your life anytime soon.


Director: David Brooks (2012)
Starring: Brian Geraghty, Josh Peck, Alice Eve
Find it: IMDB

The compelling story of three idiots who don't realise that they outnumber a not-that-scary murderer by three-to-one. Following an office Christmas party, three drones (Geraghty, Drake or Josh from off've Drake and Josh, and Eve) stop off at a 24 hour ATM so as Drake or Josh can get the money to buy himself a pizza. Trapped inside as a violent killer decides he'd rather not let them out, the kids face the unenviable choice between being gruesomely murdered or freezing to death. Despite the fact that, you know, they outnumber him three-to-one.

A typical film of the 'trapped' subgenre, ATM does very little that you haven't seen before, but just enough that you shouldn't withdraw (like a debit card, not a penis) in boredom before it's all over with. At the very least, it might help cut down on that fucking ridiculous urban myth that if you enter your PIN number backwards on a cash machine, it automatically alerts the police. Bad luck if your PIN happens to be '0220'. No-one gives a shit about you, palindromes.

Fairly tense and frequently gory, ATM is just likeable enough to hold viewer interest, even as Drake or Josh tries to convince us that he's a real actor and a black security guard shows up to, predictably, die immediately. No-one has a lower life expectancy than the security guard or cop who shows up halfway through a horror film to offer the protagonists a glimmer of hope when all looks darkest. And if he's black, you know you're really fucked.

Peck is surprisingly good as annoying office worker Corey, while Alice Eve impresses as the token female. Geraghty is a dull lead, but his plight is such that we sympathise with him nevertheless. Cockblocked by a serial killer and Drake or Josh from off've Drake and Josh in the same night? Now that is unlucky. 

The makers of ATM would no doubt love for me to say that it "does for cashpoints what Jaws did for the ocean and Psycho for showers", but since the heroes of those films weren't incapable, cowardly idiots, that would mostly be a lie.

We Are What We Are (2013)

Director: Jim Mickle (2013)
Starring: Kassie Wesley DePaiva, Bill Sage, Michael Parks
Find it: IMDB

Largely exempt from film fans' anti-remake rants, due to the fact that (a) it exudes a bit of classiness and (b) no-one saw the original Mexican version anyway. I did see it, but I don't remember a thing about it, hence my lack of whining here. Besides, I like remakes. So there.

Following the death of the family matriarch, a dad and his kids come together in their grief to continue their cannibalism habit without getting caught out by suspicious local doctor Barrow (Michael Parks). You know a film is creepy when Michael Parks isn't even playing the scary one. Making that role his own is Bill Sage as beardy dad. An impressive screen presence, Sage brings a scary glare, awesome beard and quiet sense of menace to the role, owning the screen for all his time on it.

The kids are alright too, with Ambyr Childers and Julia Garner doing well as his conflicted, mourning daughters. There's a nice appearance from Evil Dead II's Kassie Wesley DePaiva (that's Bobbi Jo to you) at the beginning too, in the film's most saddening scene.

Those expecting Wrong Turn or Texas Chain Saw Massacre style action from We Are What We Are will be disappointed by this film's focus on family drama over lurid man-munching. There is still plenty of that, but the drama is what makes We Are What We Are stand out from the rest. Apart from maybe the original film, but I can't remember that, so we'll never know.

Cold Comes the Night

Director: Tze Chun (2013)
Starring: Alice Eve, Bryan Cranston, Logan Marshall-Green
Find it: IMDB

On the run from dogged DEA brother-in-law Hank and whining wife Skyler, Walter White (Cranston) holes up in a seedy motel run by unfortunate single mum Chloe (Eve). When partner in crime Jesse is shot dead during an altercation with a floozy, poor Walt - whose cancer has now apparently spread to his eyes - must call upon Chloe to recover his missing money. Or, you know, something along those lines.

Cold Comes the Night will attract many a Breaking Bad fan seeking their next fix. Starring Heisenberg/Malcolm's Dad himself - Cranston - as a grizzled, disabled antihero, it should be the perfect Breaking Bad substitute. Except it isn't, though. Just as many a meth chef came to learn that there's no comparison when it comes to Walt's really good blue stuff, so Cold Comes the Night fails to live up to the standards set by the  Best Television in Years.

It's earnest and hardworking, but this gloomy thriller is simply too predictable and dull. Cranston and Eve give good performances as the gruff gangster and the stressed working mom, but neither can elevate the material to a level worth seeking out. Some Coen Brothers humour would have done wonders for the film; anything to detract from its predictable story and complete lack of dynamism.

It looks as though the search continues for my post Breaking Bad fix. Day or night, this one just left me feeling cold.