Tuesday, 14 August 2018


Patrick Read Johnson, 1995        - USA/UK/Germany 

screenplay: Jill Gordon ~ from a short story by Chris Crutcher

“Fat kid” Angus’ (Charlie Albert) ambitions in life veer between talking to Melissa, to stop being picked on and to go to Jefferson. His only friends in this are his truck-driving mum, his ever-dozing grandfather who is over seventy and just getting married, and his geeky pal Troy. Luckily, coming-of-age conventions will help out and he’ll get his moment.

          Angus’ is conventionally and agreeably on the side of the big kid, and it’s funny and winning enough and not quite as smug as something offered by John Hughes, but it’s firmly embedded in tropes and predictability. You’re unlikely to miss its message of “freaks” being absorbed into the “normal” – his suit is plum and everyone else is in blue: wow! the same colours as his science experiment!* – but if you do somehow miss it, even though it’s been hammered home many times, Angus will speechify it at the prom showdown. For the most part, the agenda reaches the tenor of one of the tossed-off faux-poignant slogans projected on Troy’s bedroom wall: “Love stinks / Reality Bites”. It’s set at the same level of insight and symbolism as a TV show for tweens… and it’s true I probably bought into liked it more when I was younger. It’s one of those American Teen movies designed to be a reassurance and outcry against the realities of an outsider’s existence.

Each character is defined by how they don’t quite conform, as if they’re wearing allocated badges. Angus’s mum is a truck-driving, arm-wrestling female, challenging gender stereotypes but sadly not using Kathy Bates enough. There is Grandpa Ivan (George C Scott), dozing off at strategic moments, playing chess in the park, but at 72 (oh, 73) about to get married to a women thirty years his junior, challenging ageism. And even Angus himself is not your average nerdy, dejected fat kid, for he makes his worth at football (the point being that others overlook his contribution to the game) and just wants to get along and can stand up for himself. In fact, one of the more successful subversions of stereotypes has Angus frequently breaking the nose of jock bully Rick from the age of five; the unspoken gag/point is that here’s a bully we see continually getting hurt and pounded as a result of his own pranks, yet never stops bullying (but don’t worry, because he’ll get his). But there is a moment when Angus’ mum lists some of the humiliations her son has to go through at school which seems to hint at a parallel film, perhaps a less broad and less contrived exploration of his plight more in tune with the minutiae of his experience.

And then there’s Troy (Chris Owen): he’s Angus’s best
friend, small, big-eared and socially inept ~ surely a missed poster-boy for ‘Gummo’ ~ who isn’t challenging anything really, but just sticking by his big pal. It’s probably this friendship and Angus’ relationship with his Grandpa that resonate most: they are fluid, funny and relatable. Much is made of the childishness of both Angus and Grandpa Ivan: they bicker like siblings; they both have big dates with idealised women (females don’t do well here); the two run parallel with grouching Grandpa George C Scott representing lost chances. It is also only late into the film that it is obvious that Troy is far more physically abused than Angus and yet seems to be intent only in aiding and abetting Angus’s goals in life, thereby revealing Angus in a more self-pitying light. But the film only briefly touches on this foible. Again, the film misses a chance to delve deeper into character and instead goes for tired chess analogies instead. Even so, the film holds its own with the endearing performance of Charlie Talbert as Angus ~ reputedly found in a Wendy bar queue.

And what would a coming-of-age film without a great soundtrack of the times? Personal highlights are opening credits with a marching band playing along to Love Spit Love’s ‘Am I Wrong?’, starting things on a high, and slow-dancing to Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade into You’.

  • And much is made of the embarrassment this plum suit, but we see him a black suit for the wedding, so…?

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Lean on Pete

Andrew Haigh, 2018, UK

An excellently performed little heart-breaker, directed by Andrew Haigh with restraint and the deliberate tempo of barely stifled tragedy. The title and premise – a boy and his horse – probably conjure something more fluffy and more obviously manipulative, but ‘Lean on Pete’ has more in common with the subdued tone of its young star Charlie Plummer’s debut film, ‘King Jack’. 

Plummer proves to be one of what must be the most naturalistic and convincing teenagers in cinema and can carry an entire film effortlessly. As a character, Charley is mild, resourceful, vulnerable and capable in equal measure with the determination to just keep going on his own terms: this isn’t rebellion or defiance; it’s just what he knows. He comes from a negligible and unstable but not uncaring home-life with his dad (Travis Fimmel) and falls into work with the irascible Steve Buscemi who races horses into the ground for a meagre living. Charley is looking for something to call his own and soon takes to the horses, especially one called Lean on Pete who becomes his confidante as things get tough. And yet, this otherwise admirable independence alludes to the neglect and displacement that Charley has subsumed into his character: his indifference to authority isn’t a sign of insurgence but rather his inability to see and accept more official forms of assistance because he doesn’t feel a part of a more mainstream culture.

All the characters appear to have reached points of acceptance of their lot; this is not a world of aspiration. Charley’s dad is more a best buddy than a father, getting by on what remains of his shit-eating good-ol’-boy charm to win women as he forgoes stability. Buscemi is a master of projecting a twitching humanity suffocated by disappointment and self-loathing but even his Del seems to be trying to find a way to be empathic to the boy despite himself. Chloë Sevigny is the obvious port-of-call for sympathy but even she is broken by the knocks she has taken and callously repeats that you can’t treat horses like pets: “…they’re just horses”, she repeats like a mantra trying to convince herself. Later, Charley falls in with a couple of jocks who just want to play games, drink and sleep. They barely seem to care when he joins them. Elsewhere, dramas of abusive relationships play out across assumptions of what gender roles should be. It feels like a dead-end environment where empathy rears up regardless of the cruelty and apathy it’s up against. In that way, it captures the tone of drama lived rather than always announcing itself.

It’s a film that never quite does what you might expect. It’s not that Charley is always badly treated, but he just wants to do things his own way and walks away from official help multiple times. You get the impression that most people he leaves behind really would want to know he’s okay. He gets by on charity, pity, luck and just plain kindness. And when it calls for it, the strength to hit back: don’t mess with a downtrodden and determined teen with nothing to lose. It’s what Common Sense Media calls a “traumatically beautiful drama”, which may seem a somewhat clumsy description but is indicative of the contrasting forces always at work visually and dramatically.

Magnus Nordenhof Jønck’s cinematography presents bright and clear vistas of the Pacific Midwest, through which Charley marches on, resolute to reach his aunt through chronic sunburn, loss and homelessness. The scenery is wide open to him but, as placid as he may seem, it’s no match for his determination. All the time, the slow burn on misfortune and luck carry him onwards. Peter Debruge finds Haigh’s low-key approach distancing and problematic, but this isn’t so much making Charley unrelatable as the film giving him a respectful space to do things his way. It’s a careful tone that doesn’t high-light self-pity because it’s protagonist doesn’t. In this way, it’s more like the more observational coming-of-age dramas like ‘American Honey’ or even ‘The Florida Project’, but it’s still something warm and ragingly empathic. Ultimately, it is a thoroughly moving ramble through a rites-of-passage that doesn’t even feel like heroic overcoming-of-the-odds, but rather just how things are for this kid. 

The Secret of Marrowbone

Sergio G. Sánchez, 2017, Spain 

Evidently running from domestic horror, a mother and her children escape to a remote big house and call themselves Marrowbone (now there’s a name that’s trying hard). There, they try to hide away and keep to themselves, at least until Jack (George MacKay) turns twenty-one. But the ghosts of the past are not easily shaken, even when she declares that they should all have collective amnesia of it.

While other recent horrors are trying to stretch the ambient and ambiguous corners of horror, and where dramas like ‘First Reformed’ and ‘Custody’ utilise horror techniques and atmospheres, ‘The Secret of Marrowbone’ is agreeably old school in its gothic genre intents: there’s a family secret and there’s a crumbling house. These are essential ingredients for this kind of thing and, mostly, Sergio G. Sánchez’s script directs with attentiveness to shadows and delivers with decent scenes of creepiness – the youngest son chasing after dice and a descent through a chimney, for example. But there’s some negligible dialogue, some confusing geography and messing around with temporal displacement. There’s also an archness that belies a faint air of awkward over-insistence as things are put in place, but after the set up it gradually settles down and gets better. Like Sánchez’s renowned script for ‘The Orphanage’, there’s obvious thought and planning here that means that the final revelation is mostly earned. Or you may roll your eyes. But it’s a decent if minor and self-conscious thriller where – as with ‘The Orphanage’ – Sánchez proves ultimately as ruthless as he does sentimental.  

Friday, 27 July 2018

Lunar Engine: "From the Fake Beach Hut"

Here is a new EP from Lunar Engine which was recorded by Ben Brockett at Route 49 Studios, Brighton. It was a very nice afternoon and the sessions included half old and half new material. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

First Reformed

Paul Schrader, 2017, USA

Words such as “austere” and “serious” are the kind of expressions made to pepper reactions to Paul Schrader’s character study of a priest descending into an irrevocable despair. After all, we can begin with the protagonist – Ethan Hawke – being named Ernst Toller, the same name as the left-wing playwright that committed suicide. If Ingmar Bergman was American streetwise, it might feel like this. The colours are so drained that – as Simon Mayo says – it feels as if the film is black and white.  Indeed, it’s so dour that it’s moments of oddness and surely black humour can get lost under the weight of it all: a choir singing jubilantly about being purified in the blood of lambs (this is as darkly amusing and disturbing as a typical moment in a horror film); or when they sing a Neil Young protest song when ashes are being scattered in polluted waters. 

But overall, it’s a masterclass in letting dialogue and actors carry the drama with conversation and performance. The conversation between Toller and Michael (Philip Ettinger) for example: Michael’s wife Mary (Amanda Seyfried) is concerned about Michael’s deteriorating behaviour after he’s just been arrested for environmentalist activism and asks Toller to counsel him. It’s a compelling and convincing conversation and exposition is organic, the performances thoroughly disarming, intimate and moving. It’s also when I first started thinking, When did Ethan Hawke have that face? It’s a compelling face that is as once stolid, lined, vulnerable, frequently seemingly on the verge of tears or a breakdown. It’s sure to be one of the performances of the year. Toller used to be a military man who encouraged his son to join up; when his son died soon after, Toller’s marriage fell apart and he fell into a pit of darkness and conflicted faith. Although Toller appears to be available to his meagre congregation and his duties – he ministers a “souvenir shop” Church in a somewhat tokenistic position – he is an alcoholic and will not face-up to his mortality. He writes a journal in lieu of prayer – and here is a narration as colour rather than a tour guide, showing that Schrader is again a master of the voiceover – and finds that his crisis of faith leaves room for a political awakening. When he cannot forgive himself, it’s surely a small step to the conclusion that God will not forgive us either. 

Elsewhere, characterisation is wittily measured just right so that, for example, the out-of-touch opinions of Reverend Joel Jeffers (Cedric Antonio Kyles, or a.k.a. Cedric the entertainer) is both recognisable and amusing without being condescending; or the conversations between Toller and Mary that feel both revealing and chaste. 

It’s filmed with the tenor of slow horror with something tense, pending and uncanny as a watermargin (it’s not so dissimilar to the first act of ‘Hereditary’, for example), set by Brian Williams’ foreboding score. Then it moves into magic realism and an ending that is sure to provoke debate (confusion as a first stop, but perhaps dissent too). It’s bold and although there may be accusations that the ending is unfounded the ambiguity is surely a bold move from the tidier and perhaps less striking and troubling endings that might have been. It’s a riveting work that can’t help but echo Schrader's ‘Taxi Driver’ (and it knows it and references that too), but it’s another crucial portrayal of a man both imploding and exploding in slow motion. When faith and activism and violence blur so much in the news, ‘First Reformed’ finds that moment where they crash and is intelligent, empathic and vital viewing.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Xtro - and excess

Harry Bromley Davenport, 1982, UK

This was one of those VHS covers that promised so much when you held it in your hands as a youth in the video store. And it didn’t disappoint, having many moments that you could relish telling your pals about in simple gleefully shocked sentences. Not least of all a woman being raped by an alien and giving birth to a fully grown man. But there’s also the eating of the snake eggs, the panther, the… Well, ‘Xtro’ seems to pack so much random stuff in its primary location of an upmarket flat – even a naked Maryam d’Abo – that this is what makes it special: the idea that even on a limited budget and location, all is possible.

The inspiration seems to have been not only to cash in on the extremism agenda of the contemporary horror movement and the fad for Scott’s ‘Alien’, not only to present a counter-‘E.T.’ (“Not all aliens are friendly”), but (according to Davenport) also to mimic some of the spirit of ‘Phantasm’. Davenport long disliked ‘Xtro’ and certainly, when reflecting upon its genesis, seems very much to have conceded with whatever leftfield idea was asked of him (“A panther? Sure…”). Now, having seen that fans are happy to follow its waywardness if not see it as welcomingly unpredictable, he seems to have made his peace with it (with Second Sights’ wonderful new release).

‘Xtro’ justifies its nightmare logic by having random psychic powers as the reason for anything and everything unsystematic that happens. Some find it confusing and messy, but when you accept that psychic powers mean that anything goes, there arguably isn’t a thorough need for logic, just inventiveness. In that, it follows the psychic terrors of films like ‘The Fury’ or ‘Carrie’ or especially ‘Harlequin’; but its Eerie Child angle also hints at ‘The Omen’. As a kid, I was particularly taken with psychic horrors like ‘Harlequin’, ‘The Shout’ and ‘The Medusa Touch’ where the imagination seemed to bend reality to its will. I found that scary (and perhaps The Twilight Zone’s ‘It’s a Good Life’ provides a great epitome of this). And if this sounds as if it’s strayed from an ‘Alien’ rip-off, the joy of ‘Xtro’ is watching it mash everything together in the kitchen sink and to go wherever the hell it wants. Apparently the producer wanted a panther in the flat, so there it is, and it doesn’t seem ridiculous but simply a highly evocative part of the madness (Davenport notes the panther in the white corridor as the film’s best shot, but there are many). Certainly the seemingly arbitrary built on the peaks of odd moments were the kind of narratives my undisciplined teenaged brain was making and that’s how I read ‘Xtro’, but rarely does such random plotting work as successfully as it does here: it’s a fun-ride of surreal horror and contemporary excess underpinned by a kitchen sink drama. It works as a portrayal of reality breaking down along with the family unit.

And beneficial, as usual in these B-cases, is that the lead actors Philip Sayer and Bernice Stegers take it all seriously and deliver above-average performances to ground the absurdities and accentuate them. Perhaps Simon Nash as the boy just waiting for his alien abducted dad to come home isn’t particularly good, his ‘Grange Hill’ volume and working class accent puts him at odds with everyone else’s naturalness. Nevertheless, he fits the special grubbiness and low-rent British Eighties-ness that can’t be affected and only gives a solid foundation for the outré incidents. It’s an example where that particular low-rent feel becomes an asset. The soundtrack by Davenport is at once unforgettable, a little hokey, quintessentially Eighties synth and somewhat resembles the Dr Who scores of the time (and included in Second Sight’s release; a real bonus). The effects are both tacky and vivid: yes, the man-sized birth is appropriately icky, horrid and in bad taste, but no less memorable are performers Tik and Tok as the Action Man come to life and as the alien – the alien that wastes no time in being seen, a simple, slightly stiff but unforgettable.

There are two endings to ‘Xtro’ and although Davenport thinks that the ending with the clones of Danny doesn’t work, I disagree: surely it fits the nightmarish and haphazard tone and provides more motivation for the alien visit; the other ending is more just an ‘Alien’-style shock that leads nowhere. So no, I can’t really say ‘Xtro’ is “good”, but it reaches places other more prestige films don’t and exists totally in its own realm, however much of a B-movie rip-off it was intended to be. I have always been very fond of it.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

What have you done to Solange?

Massimo Dallamano, 1972, Italy-West Germany

Italian gym teacher Enrico “Henry” Rosseni (Fabio Testi) is drifting down the Thames (apparently) and carrying on an affair with his student Elizabeth (Cristina Galbo) when she sees a murder on the embankment. But he’s too busy trying to have his way to believe her, insisting her protestations that she witnessed something is just a tactic to avoid intimacy (but he does take “No” for an answer, albeit much perturbed). Someone is killing the girls at a school run by somewhat skeevy white middle-aged men, who Elizabeth turns to after some time rather than the police. (Wait: why does she wait…?) The first thing that Inspector Barth (Joachim Fuchsberger) does is to show the school staff explicit pictures of the girl’s body with a knife in her vagina: “It’s a necessary formality,” he says (?) – and he doesn’t even seem to have spoken to the parents as yet; and when he does, he shows the x-ray of the killing to the father (!). Anyway, when Elizabeth is murdered too, Rosseni investigates the murders (as immigrant teachers are prone to do) – which includes roughing up potential leads in the style of tough-guy cops from the movies – even as he is in conflict with his frigid wife (Karina Baal). Well, actually she becomes totally sympathetic and lets her hair down when Elizabeth is killed and is told she was a virgin. And where would the police be without Rosseni turning up where dead bodies are? But he’s never under suspicion, really. And then in the third act, Solange (Camille Keaton) herself turns up in earnest and proves the key to it all - her hair long and unkempt and her finger permanently hovering at her bottom lip to signify she isn't quite all there but yet conveying some kind of broken innocence.

“Only sixteen and surrounded by secret boyfriends, petty jealousies, orgies and lesbian games,” Rosseni laments, apparently shocked and unaware that his own affair contributes to this tapestry of scandal. "I wouldn't be surprised if they were doing the drug scene too." Of course, this also reads like a checklist for a certain male fantasy. Adele of Foxspirit gives ‘Solange’ a more feminist spin: 

"Set in London, but using Italian dialogue, What Have You Done to Solange? chafes against the restraints of the typical Giallo by contrasting the conservatism of a Catholic girls’ high school with the sexually charged atmosphere of Italian cinema."

But I always found such analysis is left a little unreinforced by the text; that it doesn’t align with the mixture of silliness and salaciousness that typifies giallo. All the females here are a response to masculine priorities with their autonomy often dismissed by the generally creepy men: a little more substance to the women would have made this more a persuasive criticism of misogyny, but the all-round shallow characterisation has no gender preference. 

Mark Edward Heuck gives context for Dallamo’s “scared schoolgirls” trilogy – but not to worry if you don’t work out the mystery because Inspector Barth will helpfully explain it all in closing, even if it’s doubtful he would have worked it all out at that point as he’s been pretty clueless all along. What we get is a parade of pretty girls and a ridiculous police procedural that isn’t convincing at all as a killer goes around murdering girls in the most lurid manner. As Kyle Anderson says, these giallo films “exist in worlds where logic in narrative doesn’t mean nearly as much as shocks and salaciousness.” Giallo doesn’t exist in realism, but in an alternative realm seemingly made of adolescent horror and fantasy, grazing against nightmare logic but never usually competent enough to truly achieve this, despite the often excellent aesthetic. Of course, you have ‘Suspiria’ and ‘Footprints on the Moon’ as examples where this does work, but ‘Solange’ is more of that which is fun for the daft character outbursts and dialogue, for the sensationalism and exploitation. But it's most confrontational framing is reserved for the abortion scene and indeed it's whole tone is more like one big tut at the goings-on of the young with a bit of a lurid cautionary tale for girls to keep their legs closed. 

What this does have less of is bad dubbing which is often part of the fun: they are dubbed but the actors are speaking English so the incongruity between the soundtrack and the visuals are less likely to induce amusement. And of course the whole sordid enterprise is given oodles of credibility and atmosphere from Ennio Morricone’s dreamy score. 

Saturday, 30 June 2018


Ari Aster, 2018, USA

Of course, the blurb that’s it’s a modern ‘The Shining’, or ‘The Exorcist’ or whatever isn’t helpful at all and rather silly. How can a piece survive on its own with that kind of baggage? But it’s an exemplary entry in the Horror trend towards the slow burn, the more abstract; the kind offered by contemporary favourites like, yes, ‘The Babadook’, ‘It Follows’, ‘The Witch’, ‘A Girl Walks Home at Night Alone’, etc. The kind that Brett Easton Ellis doesn’t really like – despite himself being responsible for a fine example of art horror – and the kind that is likely to provoke those that like their genre less  obviously existential and  more schlocky and jumpy into boredom. But it does have jumps – well, it made the women along the aisle from me jump out of their noisy popcorn; and from reading and hearing comments from others it does seem to offer enough for the crowd for whom ‘The Conjuring’ represents horror. 

A family mired by grief over their unknowable Grandmother’s death starts experiencing an uneasiness that is more down to unspoken and unexpressed feelings than anything supernatural. This is where it is evident that this particular strain of horror benefits from demands for superior acting and ‘Hereditary’ certainly offers that. Toni Collette as the troubled and turbulent mother Annie, Alex Wolff as her suppressed and traumatised son (and Wolff can hold a lingering close-up) and Gabriel Byrne as the somewhat bemused and mild voice of normality are all exceptional. The dioramas Annie makes offer a lot of opportunities for surrealism that the film doesn’t dwell upon or much utilises for hints, scares or expression. Rather, these dioramas can be seen as part of her attempt to control as well as replicate her environment, but this too is vulnerable as hinted at by the opening unseen and omnipotent force gliding into the diorama of their domestic life via the camera (the artform of dioramas is infiltrated by the artform of horror).

And then there is the car accident. The build-up, execution and aftermath are so exceptionally well done that, for a moment, the film is pushed into something special (and it’s certainly one of my scenes of the year). The fact the film lingers on the shock until it blossoms into full grief stricken horror is masterful. So it is true that, afterwards, the steering into the kind of comfortable tropes that the first half has hinted at but avoided is where much of the disappointment from audiences surely stems. Here’s a mat as a clue; here’s a book of photographs to explain it all; here’s a voiceover, etc. Films such as ‘It Comes at Night’ and ‘The Witch’ – hell, even ‘The Shining’ – have surely proven that explanation isn’t really needed when so much else is working and – just like the Infomercial of Exposition in ‘Get Out’ – ‘Hereditary’s obviousness in the latter stages can only cause weakness and dissatisfaction, even if it does reach for satire and conspiracy theories.  But it does succeed as a tale of a family crumbling into more and more horror, where the very opening glide into a diorama points both to the artifice of storytelling and an omnipotent external force diving in to tear them apart. But right to the end, there’s enough twists, slight-of-hand and outstanding detail (such as the truly haunting and horrible disembodied head; or the fact that it’s not THAT on the ceiling you need to worry about but – as the camera pans – it’s something over THERE) to make this a little special; hence the hyperbole. The execution outweighs its weaknesses.

Its kindred spirits are ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ but also ‘Kill List’ where it becomes “actually you're watching THIS film”. But the film doesn’t have the conviction to follow through with the abstractions and ambiguities like ‘The Witch’ and ‘It Comes at Night’ and is ultimately happy to be something far more recognisable and more conventional. I certainly didn’t feel the same depth of disappointment that some have felt – because perhaps tropes don’t trouble me as much – but by the end neither did I feel it was ultimately quite as outstanding as it might have been, despite its frequent moments of brilliance. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

One moment in: 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and 'Jaws'

Stephen Spielberg
'Raiders of the Lost Ark', 1981 USA 
'Jaws', 1975, USA

I assume now that every pre-teen thinks ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ is a bit old hat and has seen the ‘Hatchet’ films at a sleepover, but when I was a kid it was hard to see contemporary horror. I always credit ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ as giving me my first “gore scene”. Of course, I mean the face melt of the Nazis at the opening of the Ark. No, I had never seen anything quite like that beforehand – maybe stills from ‘The First Man into Space’ in all his goopy glory that I had in a monster book came close (but I wouldn’t see that until much later). But here was a graphic melting face in all its bloody liquefying glory. All the credentials for a gore scene: just there because it could; graphic because it could be; a little outrageous; a moment to wrench and make you go “Wha? Oh –!!! Blegghhhh!” - but not necessarily in that order. And the hint that maybe you are watching something you shouldn’t. 

Of course, now I am thinking that it was notable what Spielberg was getting away with here and  in ‘Jaws’ which, in these moments, were just as full-on as the horrors, and were often more graphic once the horrors were cut up by censors. Even as a kid, I knew Bruce the shark chomping on Quint in the finale was silly and hints that there’s always a little condescending “Hey, they’ll swallow anything in the end” to Spielberg – but its excess works. This was 1981 and we were just on the brink of the Video Nasty panic that came with ‘81’s ‘Evil Dead’ – and the melting in both are kindred spirits – but even so, that was an ‘X’ (18) and ‘Raiders’ was rated PG, a family film. Gee, ‘Jaws’ is a PG too now, which makes me think that the censors have always had a blind-spot with Spielberg. And even now, these are treasured go-for-broke moments if not the initiation tests for gorehounds they used to be.

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice - second watch

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
Zack Snyder, 2016, USA

A second watch of 'Batman vs Superman' and the first twenty minutes are fine. There’s the unnecessary recap of Batman’s origin in nightmare form with Snyder’s particular “opening credits” editing style that was so effective with the ‘Watchmen’ opening credits – but even that can’t liven up this well-worn origin – and some action and some spy-like shenanigans and that’s all good enough. It still seems to have promise. And then Jesse Eisenberg does his impression of Lex Luther as The Joker and it’s pretty insufferable – why conceive Luther that way? Go straight to Vincent D’Onofrio in the ‘Daredevil’ TV series. The films takes a true nosedive them, but it’s never badly made. It’s a mess and overloaded and the rivalry between the two heroes never really convinces, although it’s mostly based on Bruce Wayne being an uncompromising asshole. Jeremy Irons makes for a cranky and quite unlikeable Alfred instead of wry and dryly super-efficient. There’s a dream sequence that seems to be there just to allow Batman the fantasy of a different suit and using a gun and owing down bad guys; and make no mistake, he make not actually wield a gun but there’s so many explosions and physical violence that he obviously kills many by proxy. There’s a confusing appearance from The Flash in a vision of sorts. There’s nothing really wrong with Henry Cavil but this Superman … well, although we’re meant to be convinced that he’s conflicted and angst-ridden, it’s not truly convincing as colouring him in and perhaps going with the Good Guy God approach would have been more interesting, done right (like Peter Parker is better for being naïve and gung-ho). He’s not quite 2D in a way that captures the imagination. But a second watch shows that Gal Godot does much with little and that Doomsday is pretty cool for a CGI creation, if it would only linger a little. Oh, and there’s something about other superheroes too. And why leave a Kryptonite spear underwater where any bad-guy could trace it? And superheroes bonding over mummy resolves conflicts... But by then, true interest has been pummeled away by overstuffing the turkey with CGI, protesting too much forgetting to be fun.

But ‘Batman vs Superman’ does have one stand-out scene with Batman’s hand-to-hand combat with a gang of bad guys in a warehouse. That remains and is the one moment when it all comes alive.