Les Combattants/Love at First Fight (2014)

Sweet and surprising French comedy-drama.

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‘I don’t hit girls’

That’s how Arnaud (Kevin Azais) reacts when he’s been coerced into a surprise beach wrestling match with Madeleine (Adele Hanael). I can relate. I don’t hit girls. Saying that, I don’t hit boys either. So yeah, bless Arnaud and his dilemma, but if his female opponent has stepped into the ring by choice, odds are she knows she can take him on. And yes, she kicks his arse. Madeleine is a focused, prepared, humourless and tough-as-nails young woman who spends her spare time training for whatever impending apocalypse may be looming around the corner. Arnaud seems happy just to stay at home for the summer and work with his brother in their self-employed trade as builders. In fact, their latest job turns out to be at Madeleine’s house, where her parents would like a poolside shed installed.

As Arnaud continues with his work and Madeleine practices combat swimming (with spare building equipment crammed in her rucksack to add extra pressure to her training), the two get to know each in the barest minimum way. She’s taciturn to say the least, but Arnaud’s intrigued, and when he discovers that she wants to join the army (and not just the lower ranks – she wants to join the hardcorps, where you are pushed to the limit), he volunteers to take her to the next town so that she can enlist for a two week training camp. In a moment of recklessness, Arnaud enlists too, even if it means temporarily leaving his brother in the lurch.

This is one of those small but perfectly executed films, and a really enaging one too. There are lots of great little moments, especially between our two leads, who have an awkward but gradually special connection. It is a romance – you could almost say a romantic comedy, but despite the tone being light and energetic, it’s not exactly that either. There are no comic set-pieces or gags as such. It’s simply a drama with humour (hmm, that’s not as marketable as ‘rom-com’, I’ll admit) as well as charm, life, and oomph. It’s also beautifully filmed – a sequence at a lake late on in the film is particularly nice. Admittedly, Arnaud and Madeleine are not quite an equal double-act – the story is mostly told from Arnaud’s point-of-view, but Madeleine’s the more fascinating of the two, mainly because she’s the more beguiling, complex character, I suppose. Still, they make a great couple, and I found the ending particularly satisfying. A great little film.

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Songs I Love: Soft Cell’s ‘Numbers’ (1983)

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The sound of Soft Cell’s iconic and fabulous Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret has crawled its way, like a dirty old man in a Soho fleapit, into the hearts, minds and pants of our great nation. Everybody’s heard their cover of ‘Tainted Love’, swooned to ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ and probably have a soft (or hard spot) for lots of other gems on that album. NSEC is the people’s Soft Cell. The Art of Falling Apart is the freaks’ Soft Cell album, and it’s a belter. I’m not going to go all contrary and rave over the second album at the expense of the first – they’re both great LPs, but nothing on their debut hits me the same way ‘Numbers’ from album #2 does. What a song. What a tune. Seriously, you know when you hear a song and you’re all like, where has this been all my life? It’s definitely my favourite song by this brilliant band, from an album that was just too dark and downbeat to really catch fire, but one that has its own cult following.

Right from the off, it feels…off. A couple of squidgy bass notes, and then the drum beat comes in askance and suddenly we’re descending underground. Seriously, that opening synth sounds like the lift doors to some dungeon closing in on us. Maybe it’s the same sex dungeon we visited in ‘Sex Dwarf’ from the first album, and musically this is just as sexy, queasy, filthy a song. Marc Almond and David Ball have honed their perverted, claustrophobically erotic sound to a horny T here, but the lyrics are devastatingly downbeat, the numbers of the title being the countless run of lovers (‘you never know their names/because names make a person real and there’s no real people in these games‘) our narrator has been through and disposed with, he himself increasingly burned out, and fucked-up. By the end of the song, even the narrator has become a number all of his own, just another throwaway screw (‘body 1, body 2, body 3, body 4…‘). Where did love go wrong, Marc sings, but unlike when a similar question was posed in the title of their dreamy lounge cover of ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, the effect here is hollowed-out and ruined. It could also be suggested that by the end of the song the numbers end up representing statistics of victims of AIDS, which had become a recognised virus by the time this song had been released.

Such lyrical darkness was a far cry from the romanticism of the first album, but the music was just as – maybe even more so – overwhelmingly beguiling than before, so much that it’s easy for to focus on just that element, especially when you’ve got an astonishing instrumental section like the one around halfway through, where a lonely siren wail calls out unaswered through sleazy streets and we slip further and further downwards until all of a sudden a brilliantly unexpected marimba and birdsong at around the 2:08 mark adds even more exotic atmosphere to an already heated, sweaty and hazy soundscape.

It’s a tremendously atmospheric song, but I’ve only talked about the album version, which clocks in just under five minutes. The 12” single release is twice that length – however, I don’t like the sparser, less clammy sound of the extended cut. It’s like layers of sleaze and smoke have been removed from the album mix, but nevertheless there are loads of pleasurable moments that aren’t present on the LP cut where Ball has a ball breaking down key moments and letting them linger for longer. Overall though it’s not as devastating a strike as the album incarnation, which is a shame as Soft Cell’s twelve-inch mixes are usually better than their shorter versions, but in the case of ‘Numbers’, less is more. Go for the album version, and the album itself, which unfortunately came out at a time when pop was only getting brighter, brasher and pulling itself together. Certainly not falling apart.

Watch the video here: Soft Cell: Numbers video

PS: For a fantastic look at Soft Cell’s The Art of Falling Apart album in depth, check this article out here.

Grizzly (1976)

Jaws with Paws? Jaws with Claws? Nope, it’s Jaws with Flaws.

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Look, you can throw whatever insults you like at Grizzly – it can take it, it’s only an EIGHTEEN FOOT TALL BEAR, after all! Or is it? The (brilliant) poster makes that dubious claim, but the film itself has one character suggest that it’s merely FIFTEEN FEET TALL! Yet when we do see the grizzly in all its terror, it’s REGULAR BEAR-SIZE at ELEVEN FEET TALL! Hmm, now that’s proper false advertising, that. Grizzly is a shameless quickie rip-off of Spielberg’s immortal shark thriller, only this time the horrors take place in the bucolic locale of a National Park rather than the mystery of the ocean and the attractions of the beach.

Quick similarities of note include a trio of intrepid heroes, one of which is a Roy Scheider-style enforcer of the law who struggles to fight the bear admist selfish bureaucracy represented by a callous mayor-type (natch), and another is an Robert Shaw-like obsessed bear-fanatic who wants to confront Grizzles mano-a-bear-o. The third doesn’t quite resemble Richard Dreyfuss, but he does have a USS Indianapolis-style anecdote to give us like Shaw so wonderfully did. I thought the actor who played him was the same one who portrayed the reclusive Howard Hughes-esque fall guy from Diamonds are Forever, but it’s not. Even the fate of the bear is just as explosive as that of the shark, though unlike Jaws, where said outrageous demise was cleverly set-up throughout the course of the final act, here we simply get a rocket launcher produced from somewhere in the back of a helicopter. BOOM!

Just like Jaws, the villain in this has no real back story or reason to show up, it’s just there. Oddly enough, its first victim is played by Susan Backlinie, who also played the famous h’ors douvres in Spielberg’s iconic opening sequence. Her death here becomes a quick afterthought though, as we move onto a second victim within mere seconds. We’re also spared a full shot of the bear for the first part – just a few teases of swiping claws and the use of point-of-view shots, which in retrospect make the bear’s stalking resemble that of Jason or Michael Myers. When we do see the monster in all its glory, its true size is thoroughly disappointing given we were expecting this behemoth of a bear.

The film attempts to outdo the already bloody violence of Jaws with a bigger kill count and plenty of gore. We get a severed arm ten minutes in, and a nasty slashed face soon after. Later on we get torrents of blood spilled through the rapids, a shocking attack on a mother and son and various bloody maulings. Luckily a rabbit is spared. A horse is not so lucky. This film has recently been doing the rounds on the UK’s Horror Channel, but only during afternoons, where its surprisingly grisly (grisszzly?) violence gets mauled by the censors in a manner in which our eleven-feet tall killer would almost be proud. Yeah, Grizzly has no qualms about who it eats, and this is one of those films that got a PG in America – before the PG-13 arrived in 1984, PG films in America were far more extreme in content than they are now, and in recent reviews of mine I was surprised to discover that films like Race with the Devil and the 70’s version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers were rated PG. Audiences were made of sterner stuff back then, I suppose. In the case of Grizzly, I hear some of the truly nasty bits were nevertheless trimmed on theatrical release.

Either way, there’s a grim tone throughout – humour is mostly absent (most of the laughs come unintentionally – I love the line ‘that’s all we need – a killer bear on the loose’, delivered like it’s a mild inconvenience), no one is automatically safe from the film’s body count and the ending is more sober than happy. The script and performances are servicable, although it’s nice to see the dependable Christopher George in the lead – he’s probably best known for his definitive death throes in B-movie spectacular Enter the Ninja and being the pick-axe happy co-lead in Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead. He’s got a pretty one-dimensional character to work with, but he brings warmth, seriousness and lead presence to the role. All of the other actors, stuck with what they’ve got, just get on with it, and some of them even survive to the end. The forest locations are well used and best experienced in widescreen, while the music resembles the more heroic themes from….yes, Jaws. Actually, if this was a Jaws film, it would rank quality-wise somewhere between Jaws 2 and 3. So not bad at all. But not very good.

P.S: Note that the above poster actually refers to the bear as ‘Grizzly’ as though that was its name. That’s definitely a step-up from Jaws, which chickened out from actually having its characters refer to the shark as ‘Jaws’, though that didn’t stop Bart Simpson from saying ‘this is where Jaws eats the boat’ when watching it on TV. He did go a bit far when excitedly claiming such things as ‘this is when Die Hard jumps through the window’ and ‘this is where Wall Street gets arrested’.

Ghostbusters (2016)

Don’t believe the bad hype. It’s alright!

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When future generations look back on this time – our time – and they think of Ghostbusters, we all want them to think of the wonders of the original 1984 film, the underrated wonders of the second and the animated wonders of the cartoon (at least before it was ruined by meddling execs), don’t we? A fine legacy, right? But nooooooooooo, Hollywood had to spoil everything by re-BOOTing the damn thing, so now when future generations look back on Ghostbusters, they may very well think of this new version before the old one, the old one which we took to our hearts and still love decades later. Sacriliege! Well, it would be sacriliege if the film was crap.

Which it isn’t.

I’ll admit, the news of a Ghostbusters reboot filled with me fear. Reboots, remakes and remodels have a very patchy success rate in this day and age. Legacys spoiled and whatnot. The fourth Indiana Jones film is probably the most saddening example of this, all the more baffling because it was the original director responsible for such dirty soilage. I’m a child of the 1980s – I may have been too young to experience the fruits of the ‘Second Golden Age of Hollywood’ (as Homer Simpson puts it) at the cinema, but home video and TV viewing meant I devoured a lot the classics anyway, and yes, these films turned out to be very special for a lot of us. When news of a remake arrives, it’s usually accompanied with a groan. Remember when Poltergeist got remade a year or so ago? Somehow we all knew it wasn’t going to be that great, and apparently it wasn’t. I never watched it, but I never heard a good word about it, and as such, didn’t bother. By that time I had been fed up of giving remakes/reboots a chance when they usually turned out to be either rubbish (The Omen, The Wicker Man) or just meh (Robocop, The Thing), so the likes of Evil Dead, Elm Street, Total Recall, Point Break and whatnot were simply ignored by this good reviewer. Not from sheer ignorant obstinance, but because I do take film critics seriously – when they were saying the film in question wasn’t much cop, I took their word for it, and for the most part, they were right. Sometimes I’d catch up with a particular remake and realise that I should have given it a chance, but those are the risks you take, I suppose. At the same time I remain soberly cynical about future remakes in the pipeline (Big Trouble in Little China, for example) because I’ve been burned before and I don’t want to get my hopes up too much. I won’t be picketing the studios or trolling on Twitter though, because that’s just mean.

Why? Because in the end, none of these remakes or reboots ruined my childhood. They just ruined my evening, that’s all. The originals were still there, and yes, it was painful at the time to see these inferior versions claim the limelight over the original for that brief moment when it was released and were publicised, but mostly they faded into obscurity. Why? Because they weren’t any good. If they did latch on to the public consciousness, it was probably because they did have something to offer, and I’m all for that. If a remake or a reboot is great, then what are we complaining about? The first two Bale/Nolan Batman films, the Planet of the Apes films are two examples of reboots that have worked spectacularly well. And you know what? The older films are still there to be enjoyed and savoured. Living together in perfect harmony and whatnot.

The news of a Ghostbusters remake however, turned out to be the Last Straw in the eyes of those who feel all originals should be left alone. I’ll admit, my first reaction was that of jaded pessimism – the director Paul Feig, had made Bridesmaids, a funny-but-not-that-funny comedy that seemed to get a freer than usual pass because of the all too rare occurrence of a high-profile comedy with a predominantly female cast. I felt it suffered from the same Judd Apatow problem of a comedy that was too long, too baggy and in sore need of an editor. Oh well though, we’ll see what happens, I suppose. For some though, the news of a Ghostbusters reboot was just too much – I hadn’t really been paying attention to much of the backlash because I can’t be arsed to be drawn into the hype of upcoming films years before they actually come out, I just want to concentrate on the films that are out now instead. I was aware that some (but certainly not all) of the backlash was focused on the fact that the new film would feature four women as the Ghostbusters – on one level I couldn’t give two hoots who were in the roles as long as they were good, but then I realised that given women get such a crap deal in blockbusters, the decision to make it female-led felt necessary. I wanted to like the film almost instantly for having the… er, balls (okay, let’s go with ovaries) to go ahead with a decision.

Now, the notion of re-doing Ghostbusters didn’t seem quite as up there with so-far unpromised notions of Jaws and Back to the Future, but still it seemed wrong to me. Even talk of a third Ghostbusters film that would have been a sequel to the first two was in the skies for a long time, and that got my alarms ringing too. Just leave it alone, I thought. Yet when I could be bothered to give it some thought, I realised the idea wasn’t bad at all. Ghostbusters had always been more of a thing than a cast-in-stone classic, potentially very adaptable and ripe for expansion.

Then the trailer came along.

It was crap, wasn’t it? I mean, its eventual distinction of being the most unpopular film trailer ever on Youtube was most likely part of the conspiracy by disgruntled fans to purposefully get it there because they were so pissed off by the sheer notion of a Ghostbusters reboot. I believe that some of the impetus of that conspiracy was fuelled by misognyny, but I stress, I don’t believe that it was purely fuelled by that – there are lot of fans out there who simply have had their fill of mediocre-to-crap reboots. However, let’s not forget that it wasn’t a good trailer, was it? It wasn’t funny, the ghosts looked dodgy, the reworking of the theme tune sounded rubbish and some of the dialogue sounded cringey. Then there was the fact that the film had resorted to having a black character as the one non-professional all over again. The treatment of Ernie Hudson’s Winston character, acceptable-ish in the first one given that it was an expository film, not so much at all in the established sequel, was a sad example of sidelining the black character in mainstream Hollywood. It seemed like the new film was repeating the mistake, and even compounding it by emphasising the whole ‘shouty-sassy’ stereotype. And regardless of who was saying it, that whole ‘THE POWER OF PATTY COMPELS YOU!’ gag was just awful – this was one of the big jokes? Riffing off a film that came out before the original Ghostbusters came out?

Another, slightly better received trailer came along, and the best I could say about it was that it was alright. It honestly should have been the first trailer, even if it would have still lambasted simply for being a new Ghostbusters promo. Right up until last week, I was ambivalent – probably unlikely to see it unless the reviews were great. And you know what? They were! That was enough for me. Pretty much across the spectrum – great. Not even any two-star reviews! Threes and fours everywhere! Sold. I was still prepared not to be blown away – the other Feig film I had seen since Bridesmaids – 2015’s Spy – suffered from the same problems as that earlier film. Too bloody long, and too baggy, though with plenty of belly laughs, so good enough.

My opinion? It’s good!

It’s not great, but it is good.

I don’t love it as much as the original. Okay, okay, what a ridiculous thing for me to say. I’ve lived with the original since I saw it on its Christmas TV premiere back in 1987. I’ve only lived with the new film for 24 or so hours. How can it stand up to that? I also don’t love it as much as the wildly underrated Ghostbusters II, but again, that one’s been in my life since I saw it at the cinema as an eight year old back in 1989. Those two films are a special part of my life, and they always will be. Maybe this new one will be a special part of lots of other lives, and that’s a good thing. I’ve had my childhood classics – let the kids have theirs. Anyway, I’m going to avoid comparisons with the old films as best as I can, even though the film is having plenty of fun doing that itself.

The four Ghostbusters are the hoping-to-be-tenured university teacher Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig – playing it sweet and straight) who wants to bury her past as a co-author of a ‘ghosts are real’ tome lest it ruin her reputation, her former creative partner but still true-believer Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy – endearingly enthusiastic) who wants the book to reach an audience so she can pay the bills, her eccentric current partner in science Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon – live-wire), and subway worker Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones – warm and engaging) who encounters a ghost at work and wants in on the action.

The plot to the new one is similar enough in that we have four ghostbusters busting ghosts in New York, culminating in a big showdown, but how it gets there is refreshing enough to deliver some surprises. For instance, we actually have a human antagonist named Rowan who is deliberately unleashing the supernatural in the city, an underused but effective turn by Neil Casey as a social misfit who’s tired of being the underdog. The presence of ghosts is established and seemingly popularised instantly, but is thwarted by the Mayor (Andy F****n’ Garcia!) who wants to keep all of this hush-hush so as not to panic the city. However, Rowan’s plan to bring about spectral chaos becomes too immense to contain, leading to an all-out explosion of ghostly shenanigans, and to quote the second film, when shit happens, who you gonna call?

Okay, the good stuff – the new Ghostbusters are fine. There’s an easy-going, natural chemistry between them and they all get a chance to shine. It’s early days, and new characters take getting used to, so it’s too soon for me to say how well this new team works, but early signs are promising I really do hope this film gets a sequel to enhance all of this. Wiig and McCarthy are effortlessly funny and have a good, believable friendship going on between them. The obvious stand out turn is from McKinnon, with her (animated version) Egon-style haircut and infectiously gleeful performance providing much of the film’s energy. Jones, despite being responsible for the trailer’s worst bit, is also funny. These are funny people. I like them. They work well together. Enough said. The thing is, these characters are literally female of course, but their femaleness is not the be all and end all – they’re regular people, regular characters, certainly not sexualised or solely defined by their gender. We’re not talking about four Lara Crofts or male fantasy stereotypes here. For that the film and all involved should be congratulated. It’s so depressing that in this day and age, there are no female-led adventure/action films. It’s just a given that the women are sidelined or their ‘strength’ is boiled down to their ability to be able to give as good as the guys when it comes to a punch-up. This needs to be rectified. Ghostbusters is a start.

What else? Well, despite fearing that it all looked a bit too much like Luigi’s Mansion for the Nintendo Gamecube in the trailers, the vividly colourful look of the ghosts is actually quite cool in the film itself. Some of the ghosts look great, especially a short-lived but properly creepy mannequin ghost half-way through. Supporting performances are excellent, especially Chris Hemsworth as the ladies’ secretary, who may very well be the stupidest on-screen character since Brick in Anchorman. It’s wonderful to see Garcia back on the big screen, and his reaction to being called the worst thing a Mayor could ever be called is priceless. Charles Dance also has a cool, brief appearance near the start. Unlike Feig’s earlier works, the film is not too long. It’s just right. That will probably change when the extended cut arrives on home video, but hopefully the new stuff will add rather than subtract from the film’s impact.

Okay, the not so good stuff. It’s not scary. Oh, how I wish it could have been scary. It’s a film about ghosts! Bring on the fear! I’m not talking hardcore horror – it’s a family film (crack jokes not withstanding) after all, but aside from the occasional very mild spooky bit, I don’t see this one giving children nightmares. What? Giving children nightmares? How horrible! That’s right! Scary kids films are the best! The lack of fear means the big ending, as fun as it is, lacks any kind of real dramatic weight. Okay, I’m going to bring up the original here – the first one had the kind of serious scares that were thrilling to a younger viewer – entry-points to more adult horror, for sure. Stuff like the demon in the fridge, any of the terror dog bits, and yes, the librarian at the start. They counter-balanced the humour beautifully and both elements enhanced each other. There was a real sense of escalating tension in the first one, but here it all just kind of cruises in medium-gear.

Now to some of the humour. Now this film is funny (though not as witty as the originals), but the film seems to be too aware that it’s being funny, if you know what I mean? I understand it must be difficult to rein in your enthusiasm when you’re making a film like this, but there was a bit too much of an ‘awesome!’ vibe that sometimes left me cold, and ‘awesome!’ is an exclamation I could happily do without hearing in any film, ever, from now on. It’s been said that the enjoyment of a film is in inverse proportion to the enjoyment the actors had making it, and while that’s a severe test, it’s true that sometimes watching actors get off on their own jokes can get a bit annoying. Having Hemsworth dance through the end credits is an example of such overkill, I thought. However, such self-indulgent stuff really worked in Ghostbusters II because the actors had pretty much earned the right to have a laugh, riff and enjoy themselves because we’d all been through the first film together and it was like a wonderful reunion of some sorts. The guys had already proved their worth in the first one, and they could afford to be a lot more easy-going, self-reflexive and naturally hilarious as a result. I think we could have saved the indulgences of this new Ghostbusters film for its sequel, which, I repeat, I hope we do get. We have a good thing going here. It could be a great thing.

Also, the cameos. The best one is the homage to Harold Ramis, seen near the start. I thought that was wonderful. The others range from slightly awkward (Bill Murrary), cute (Annie Potts, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson) to just baffling (Sigourney Weaver). Oh yeah, Slimer is back too, with a girlfriend. How does that work? In fact, I don’t want to know. I think the film could have done without these appearance to be honest. They just distract. And yes, the new takes on the theme are not great. That was always going to be a tough one, to be fair.

So speaking as someone who rates Ghostbusters as one of his favourite films, who adores the first two seasons of the cartoon version and who thinks that Ghostbusters II is probably the most underrated sequel ever, this new one is a welcome addition to the canon. Compared to what has preceeded it, it falls short, but on its own terms it is most enjoyable. Go for it.

PS: I can never be bothered with star ratings and whatnot, but to counteract the suspiciously low rating on the Internet Movie Database, I assigned it the mark I felt it deserved. 6/10.

Fletch Talks: The Film Podcast – June 2016

Relatively brief edition of the podcast this month, as we only saw three films between us! Mark will dissect the big-budget spectacles of

Independence Day: Resurgence (aka ID4-2)

Gods of Egypt (aka WTF?)

and we both take on Shane Black’s…

The Nice Guys

There’s also some room for random films we saw at home. Listen via the commentaries link to the right or download for free so that our lovely voices are yours to keep FOREVER.