Under the Cherry Moon (1986)

Seriously, it’s not that bad…

Prince-under-the-cherry-moon-movie-poster-2

In 1984, Prince was so hot you could get blisters just from looking at him. After five increasingly spectacular albums, the phenomenon that was Purple Rain shot him into the stratosphere, and I think most of us would agree that it was a thoroughly deserved success. As I’ve already said in my earlier review, Prince delivered a 1-2 shot that was so irresistible he became the biggest star on the planet for a while. The film was – the occasional iffy performance, touch of sexism and cringey line of dialogue excepting – a triumph. It still stands up well today, with the performance material still utterly electrifying. The accompanying album was mind-blowingly great – a non-stop thriller (even more so than Thriller) of a pop juggernaut that, for better or worse, consolidated Prince in popular culture. I say worse in that it was the sort of album that everything Prince did afterwards was going to be judged against.

Capture2

I mean, how the hell do you follow it? After all, Prince had not one but two albatrosses to conquer – a blockbusting album and a blockbusting film. On the musical front he remained as preposterously prolific as ever, with parts of Around the World in a Day already finished before Purple Rain had even been released, not to mention the wealth of still-unreleased stuff that lurks in his vault. Of course, the easy thing to do would have been to release another Purple Rain, but Around the World in a Day was a classic example of Prince not looking back, instead taking on a new wealth of influences, delivering something entirely different. Yet despite the low-key promotion (Prince wasn’t even in the video for first single ‘Paisley Park’) and the not so-hot reviews, the album still sold, just not in the same league as its predecessor. Fans wanting more ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ and ‘When Doves Cry’ might have been disappointed – the album rarely burned with the same white-hot electricity. It’s far more playful, bittersweet, weird and no, it’s not a blockbuster like Purple Rain, but its rewards are plentiful. It’s big hit – the effervescent ‘Raspberry Beret’ – is difficult to resist, the baroque tale of heartbreak that is ‘Condition of the Heart’ is one of his most beautiful ballads, ‘America’ rocks, ‘Paisley Park’ is pure utopian loveliness, ‘Pop Life’ home to one of the best piano + synth + slap bass hooks EVER and ‘Tamborine’ a delightful throwaway. Okay, ‘The Ladder’ was a bit too obviously ‘Purple Rain’ Part 2 and ‘Temptation’ a bonkers tale of sin, guilt and last-second redemption that won points for sheer bravura, but was still an oddly unsatisfying album closer. Then there was the real life stuff – Prince, already known for his reticence with the press, had now refused to contribute to the Stateside equivalent of Live Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ – ‘We are the World’ – which wound up some of the press and the public a little, not to mention that on the night that the music world’s biggest and brightest were recording said song (and apparently eating caviar/drinking champagne, but let’s not concentrate on that), Prince’s bodyguard got into an violent altercation with a photographer (this and other contemporaneous events would be referenced in later B-side ‘Hello’). All of a sudden, Prince was a selfish jerk, a weirdo, etc. Still, the music. Damn good music. Ah yes, but what about the movies?

moon

If Prince had quit while he was ahead cinematically and never released anything other than the Purple Rain movie, his celluloid legacy would have remained untarnished. However, everybody wanted more. Now, the obvious thing would have been Purple Rain 2, but Purple Rain was soooo 1984. No, this new film would have to be just as much a step into new territory as his music had been so good at doing. By the time Under the Cherry Moon had come out, even Around the World in a Day was last year’s news. He’d made another album, which would act as the soundtrack to the new movie.

ParadeLP

That album, Parade, is a masterpiece on equal footing with Purple Rain. The Revolution-era of Prince is one of the most giddying, deliriously imaginative and varied capsules of music ever created by anyone, and that’s just the stuff that was officially released. Honestly, dig further, and there are even more unreleased riches to discover. If Around the World in a Day was an album full of gems but not quite a classic overall, Parade hits back with a vengeance, an expertly executed, almost scary-in-its-scope rollercoaster that continues the Prince momentum with flair, funk, ingenuity, beauty, humour and outright razzle-dazzle. The first stretch of music, an uninterrupted medley of breathtaking variety that takes in the carnival psychedelia of ‘Christopher Tracy’s Parade’, the so lean it’s malnourished strut of ‘New Position’ and the humid, Lisa Coleman-sung lust-funk of ‘I Wonder U’, packs more into its five or six minutes length than most albums could hope to accomplish. The dreamy balladry of ‘Under the Cherry Moon’, the jazzy ‘Girls and Boys’, monstrously epic ‘Life Can Be So Nice’, beautiful interlude ‘Venus de Milo’, the monumental, soaring ‘Mountains’, the delightfully cavalier ‘Do U Lie’, the overlooked single ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’ and heartbreaking closer ‘Sometimes it Snow in April’… oh, and ‘Kiss’. You know that one. I mean, the album’s just embarrassingly brilliant. Unfortunately, all of this musical genius was undermined by the accompanying movie, which was regarded as his first out-and-out failure. It probably didn’t help that Prince was listed as director – for critics this insanely multi-talented genius had gone step too far, like what, he can do anything? What was he going to do next, write children’s stories?

It was probably was very eagerly anticipated back then. Nowadays it’s rarely described as anything (if described at all) but a total turkey. Reviews were crap, box office was low and it crawled out of cinemas in quick time. It also won five Raspeberry Awards. Luckily Prince was still hot, and he moved on and we got Sign O the Times and everybody forgot it, if not forgave it.

It’s an odd film. Unlike Purple Rain, which tapped into a cultural buzz and ended up defining it, Under the Cherry Moon has absolutely no likeminded ambitions. It’s Prince doing his thing, his own idiosyncratic thing, I’ll give Prince this – he’d could have done Purple Rain all over again, but Cherry Moon is so different to Purple Rain that it almost feels like an act of perversion. The most obvious thing is that it’s in black and white. I mean, the 1980s – the most day-glo, neon-drenched decade of them all, reduced to monochrome? What was he thinking? Also, even though the personal elements of Purple Rain made for some surprising drama, I’m going to wager that everybody’s favourite bits in that film was the performance stuff. Cherry Moon has almost no footage of Prince actually singing or playing. Only one song – ‘Girls and Boys’ – gets ‘performed’, and even that’s rudely cut-off halfway. The Revolution don’t feature, except for the ‘Mountains’ promo that plays over the end credits. You can either hate this film for its refusal to play by expectations or just enjoy the ride.

vlcsnap-2018-07-22-10h25m22s965

The plot? Well, first of all it seems to be set in an undefined time period that looks like it’s set in the 1920’s, what with its Jazz Age ambience, yet there are references to Sam Cooke and Miles Davis, plus one of the characters starts singing ‘Planet Rock’, so where the hell are we, the eighties? Prince plays Christopher Tracy, a narcissistic gigolo/pianist who loves seducing the money out of the local high society women on the French Riviera. He’s assisted by his fellow conman brother Tricky (Jerome Benton), with whom he has a flirty, homoerotic chemistry. The latest rich girl on the block is Mary (Kristin Scott-Thomas), who’s potentially worth a cool 50 million dollars. So Christopher begins his seduction, but what starts out as mere mercenary greed soon blossoms into….yep, love. The thing is, Mary’s already engaged to someone she doesn’t love, and her criminal father (Steven Berkoff) isn’t going to take too kindly to some flash hustler trying to rip off the family. Yeah, it’s an old, old, old story, but filming it in monochrome actually makes everything here seem agreeably old-fashioned anyway. The director of photography, Michael Ballhaus, was a Scorsese collaborator at this time, so it’s no surprise that this is one very fine looking movie – it was rumoured that Ballhaus had actually co-directed the movie with Prince after original director Mary Lambert was ejected from the scene.

vlcsnap-2018-07-22-10h14m42s247

The plot stuff is pretty loose – there are often scenes of Christopher and Tricky goofing around, trying to charm their way out of paying the rent on their flat, or showing up Mary’s ignorance (the highly amusing ‘Wrecka Stow’ sequence). There’s a gag involving bats which comes out of absolutely nowhere, and yet it’s kinda genius – I love it for its sheer randomness. There’s also a bit where Prince channels Bela Lugosi’s bizarro close-ups – absolutely mad. There are also an awful lot of shots of Prince and Mary kissing, if you like seeing that in close-up. Well, one of the songs on the soundtrack is called ‘Kiss’ – what did you expect? For the most part it’s a breezy, fun ride. There’s little of the darkness and misogyny that lurked underneath Purple Rain, and while Mary is initially treated as a figure of fun, it’s more to do with her class roots than her gender. I think.

vlcsnap-2018-07-22-10h21m21s194

As for Prince himself, it was noted around the time of Purple Rain‘s release that The Kid was a thinly veiled depiction of himself, but here he seems to be trying something else. Maybe there’s a lot of Prince in Christopher; who knows? Like The Kid, he’s hardly a flattering example of humanity, though instead of the former’s ugliness, here it’s more do with gaucheness and arrested development. There’s a rather telling scene later on when Christopher calls Mary late at night – she’s already smitten and is lying in her bed (listening to an instrumental of  ‘I Wonder U’ – if that’s not music to get you in the mood then I don’t know what is) and she asks what’s on Christopher’s mind. He responds with the goofiest delivery of the word ‘sex’ possible, like he’s struggling to keep it together and not blow the charade. You realise that at this stage that Christopher is still a child at heart, despite the reality of these adult complications he’s involved himself in. Sex is definitely a game to this guy – he behaves like an adolescent (even more so than The Kid), a coquettish schemer with a gamut of poses and moves that resembles role play and not actual adult sexuality. He’s a little brat. Tricky is no better – the pair of them deserve each other. Still, they are funny together – it’s nice to see Prince actually play off another actor following the sulky sullenness of his Purple Rain interactions, and his and Benton’s scenes are a pleasure.

vlcsnap-2018-07-22-10h26m25s703

There are hints throughout that all this romantic treachery could end badly, but still, seeing Christopher get gunned down at the film’s climax was a bit of a jolt, like a compilation album with nine party tracks that ends with Joy Division’s ‘Decades’. Okay, maybe not that severe, but still! To be fair, the album does something similar – the momentum of the first eleven songs are so breathlessly exciting that the downer of ‘Sometimes it Snows in April’ comes as a shock. Yet like that song’s title suggests, life can be full of sudden left-turns. Besides, ‘April’ is one of Prince’s most beautiful songs, whereas the ending of Under the Cherry Moon doesn’t quite have the dramatic punch it was probably hoping for. In fact, such is the generic nature of the boy-meets-girl/class divide/vengeful father plot that a lot of the film doesn’t really have much in the way of emotional heft. It’s all been done before, I suppose. The pleasures of this film lie in the little bits, the little idiosyncrasies, and of course, the songs, if you can hear them. Unlike Purple Rain, where all nine songs were heavily integrated into the film’s fabric, almost acting as a commentary on the action. Under the Cherry Moon prefers to showcase Parade‘s songs as background material – sometimes they dominate a scene, like ‘Christopher Tracy’s Parade’ soundtracking the establishing shots of the Riviera, or ‘Kiss’ and ‘Anotherloverholenyohead’ dominating later scenes, and of course the aforementioned ‘Girls and Boys’, but other times they’re just there to a little extra ambience. A waste of great songs, you may think. You may be right.

vlcsnap-2018-07-22-10h31m09s175

So, is it actually a misunderstood gem? Hmm. Hear me out. I love Prince, particularly 80’s Prince, so I feel that everything he did during this time was touched by some kind of genius. Yes, even this. It has a ebullient, effervescent charm that I find pretty appealing. It has been noted that the more fun the crew had on a film set, the less fun it ends up being for the viewer. This can apply mostly to comedies, where everybody seems to be getting off on their own jokes, more so than the audience. I get the feeling that Prince and his mates were goofing around on the set – Cherry Moon is hardly an outstanding example of watertight narrative or originality, but it gets by on an easy-going vibe. Most of the humour in Purple Rain was of the unintentional kind, like when Prince was going off on one of his tantrums, or the occasional wooden supporting performance. Here, the comedy is most definitely intentional.

vlcsnap-2018-07-22-10h36m05s697

Ultimately, Under the Cherry Moon will remain a curio, but I like it. Yeah, it got slagged, but Prince was moving too fast to seem to care too much. After Cherry Moon, Prince broke up the Revolution, tried to release a triple-album called Crystal Ball which fell through and, combined with other unreleased projects, emerged as Sign ‘O’ the Times, which many regard as Prince’s artistic peak (not me, but it’s still a 5-star experience). This was followed by the acclaimed concert film of the same name, which usually doesn’t get lumped in with Prince’s other three films because, aside from a few dramatic segues between songs, it’s essentially a gig set to celluloid. Then there was the attempt to get back to funk basics with the salacious The Black Album, which was pulled by Prince at the last minute for various reasons the most rumoured being that he took Ecstasy and God told him not to release such unsavoury material. Good move there from the Man Upstairs, because had it been released, The Black Album would have been (in my opinion) Prince’s weakest album of the 80’s. A good album for sure, but not great. The swiftly created Lovesexy was the ‘good’ to The Black Album’s ‘evil’ and was a deliriously funky, often spectacular ride through Prince’s spiritual and physical obsessions. Maybe not quite on the same level as his last few albums, but damn, damn fine nonetheless. Then came Batman, which brought renewed commercial success thanks to the film itself, and did have plenty of engaging songs in it (the sparkling ‘Vicki Waiting’, the fun ‘Partyman’ and especially the gorgeous ‘Scandalous’, for me his best recorded seduction) but the overall quality was a step down from before. A few genuinely mediocre songs (‘The Arms of Orion’, ‘Lemon Crush’) didn’t help.

This takes us to the Graffiti Bridge
vlcsnap-2018-07-22-10h30m29s659

Ghostbusters (2016)

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

Ghostbusters

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.

Death Wish 3 (1985)

Hilarious trash – one of the best bad movies ever made!

Death_Wish_3_Poster

Paul Kersey is back! Charles Bronson is back! Michael Winner is back! Golan and Globus are back!

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h30m13s661

Three films into the Death Wish series, and Michael Winner has finally succeeded in creating an entirely fantastic world of magic unrealism, avant-garde logic and outrageous madness. Nothing here resembles reality. Of course the first film remains the best, but nothing else in the series matches Death Wish 3 for sheer hilarity. It is so far beyond mere rubbish, occupying a realm of wonderful badness that makes it one of the all-time best worst films. After this, Winner bailed on the series and it became just another shit low-rent franchise, but for one glorious moment, everything clicked. Unlike the leering grotesqurie of the second film, which took the grimly effective horror of the first film and ramped it up to hideously exploitative levels, Death Wish 3 is so silly, so funny and so over the top that it doesn’t leave that same nasty taste in the mouth that #2 did. Oh, of course there’s an obligatory rape scene (why, Winner, why?) but luckily it’s over before we know it and everything else is just flat-out, unrelentingly, wonderfully awful.

Well, I say everything else…. I’ll be honest, the first hour or so is decidedly patchy – there are lots of amazingly awful moments, but lots of bits that are just dull. Let me pick out the best bits of the first two thirds before we concentrate properly on the unparalleled, extended brilliance of the final twenty minutes. The first hour or so is essentially just a random mish-mash of scenes depicting the anarchy of the tenements, Kersey taking out the odd bad guy and chief criminal Fraker getting more and more infuriated with the whole thing.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h38m02s492

The opening beating/murder of Charley, Paul’s old war buddy. Obviously I don’t condone violence towards the elderly, or anyone for that matter, but the line ‘It’s collection time…CHARLEY! Collection…TIME!’ is the first indication that this film’s going to be something special. Plus, like Jeff Goldblum and Laurence Fishburne before him, we get to see poor Alex Winter become the third actor in a row to tarnish his early CV with a misguided appearance in a grimy vigilante exploitation flick. He’s one of a few hilariously camp looking ‘gang members’ in this opening, one of whom is The Giggler –  more of him later. By the way, this scene follows an opening credit sequence that boasts the most horrible jazz funk bollox music score imaginable. The credits say that the music was composed by Jimmy Page. Yes, that genius from Led Zeppelin. A lot of the music is simply recycled from the second one, including Page’s awesome ‘growling’ theme, which as I mentioned in my old review of DW2, was the only legitimately excellent thing in that film.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h40m33s267

More violence towards the elderly, this time merely hinted at – when total wrong ‘un Manny Fraker (Gavan O’ Herlihy, son of The Old Man from RoboCop!) is prevented from killing Kersey in prison during a punch-up, yet he parts with these words – ‘I’m gonna kill a little old lady, just for you. Catch it on the six o’ clock news!’ We never do get to see that all-important bulletin. Additionally, Fraker’s absolutely horrendous haircut has often been referred to as a ‘reverse Mohawk’, and it’s difficult to better that description. He later has some painted stripes on his forehead – you know, because he’s in a gang, and they’re a kind of tribe, I suppose.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h43m55s685

Kersey takes on two hoodlums outside the tenement. He’s a little bit narked off to begin with, his dinner having already been interrupted by the sound of them trashing a car. He goes out to see what all the fuss is about. What’s going on, he asks? With what, they respond? With the car! What does it fuckin’ look like they’re doing? They’re stealing the fuckin’ car, so get out of their fuckin’ faces! ‘BUT IT’S MY CAR!’ Kersey delightfully reveals with all the sleight of hand of a peak-form magician. The two hoodlums laugh. ‘Now you gonna die!’ one of them says. All of a sudden Kersey produces a CANNON of a gun and blows them both away. Now I’m not saying that Kersey’s racist (the film certainly isn’t – all races are capable of being scumbag criminals if the diversity of the gang are anything to go by), but he does kill the unarmed black guy before he kills the white one with the knife. Just sayin’.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h46m14s172

Poor Mr and Mrs. Rodriguez (the latter played by future Deanna Troi, Martina Sirtis) are just trying to get home with their shopping. But this total dickhead gang member is on their case asking for five dollars. To be fair, he does say ‘lend’, so for all intents and purposes he is going to pay them back. Still, his approach is very aggressive, especially when he shouts ‘LEND ME FIVE DOLLARS…. SUCKA!!!’, whilst winking at one of his dickhead gang member buddies. When the verbal thing doesn’t work, Mr. Rodriguez is knocked over, but just like magic, Kersey appears out of nowhere (he does this a fair bit whenever a random crime is occurring) and punches the dickhead slam in the face. Instead of taking on this 70 year old, the dickhead simply runs away. Some young lad watching the event is well impressed with this, shouting his approval and giving Kersey the thumbs up. Kersey responds in kind, and it’s here that we know that Charlie is truly down with the kids.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h47m19s949

After the rotten and box-ticking ugliness of the rape scene (inflicted upon poor Mrs. Rodriguez), her husband and Kersey learn of the attack over the phone, after which they head on over to the hospital. However, events have spiralled further downwards far more rapidly than anyone expected, as the doctor breaks the news that ‘Mrs. Rodriguez has expired’, which makes her sound like a bottle of milk! I know expired and death are the same kind of thing, but come ON, you do not break that kind of news with that kind of terminology. Kersey’s protestation of ‘but she only had a broken arm!’ is more icing on this spectacularly misjudged cake of a scene.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h48m19s884

The death of The Giggler, a thief who can outrun anyone and has a tendency to break out in fits of amusement, is a most welcome moment. Kersey acts as bait, draping a very expensive looking camera over his shoulder (and eating an ice cream for extra innocuousness), the sight of which The Giggler can’t believe. He snatches the camera and runs off, giggling, but there’s no way he can outrun Kersey’s speeding bullet, which gets him right in the back, killing him. The crowd start cheering. After which, we cut to Fraker and his gang. ‘They killed The Giggler man… THEY KILLED THE GIGGLER!’ protests a lackey. ‘They had no business doing that. None’, Fraker insists. Er, what? Was there a verbal contract going on here? Looks like the good people have crossed the line with that act, I suppose.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-22h50m27s341

Again, not a very nice scene, but utterly hilarious in the scheme of things. Kersey has just had sex (off screen, but still – bleurgh) with the token love interest (after having chicken for dinner, which Kersey likes), but in Death Wish world, this act of outrageous transgression means she’s marked for death, and what do you know, not long after she’s punched out cold at the wheel of her car, which is left to career down a hill and blow up! Kersey, like he did with his family before, looks only mildly inconvenienced by this turn of events. At least it means he can get on with the ending (his preferred kind of climax, to be fair) without distraction.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h27m25s711

So now we’re at the final 20 minutes, which are as gloriously awful as you could hope a closing, extended orgy of violence could be. Only Commando rivals it for sheer glee, but Commando is ultimately a much, much better film than this. Which makes this ending all the more hilarious. I think. Kersey’s woman is dead. Some of the poor tenants have been murdered. Then there’s no-bullshit police chief Shriker, played by 80’s mainstay Ed Lauter (no one does grump better than him, except Paul Gleason), who doesn’t give a shit how many bodies are wasted on the road to peace, serenity and peaceful serenity, just so long as they get there, and he’s secretly backing Kersey’s destructive vengeance mission.

So here we go: Kersey gets some serious lethal firepower (through the mail!), which includes an anti-tank/anti-personnel rocket launcher! He loads up with bullets, gets the bereaved (but strangely upbeat, considering) Mr. Rodriguez to tag along, and word of this reaches Fraker, who calls up what I suppose must be some kind of local criminal loan agency – he requests ‘more guys, as many as you can spare me’.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h22m46s096

Before you know it, there’s a small country’s worth of cannon fodder in town, and they’re kicking the townspeople around (quite literally – one poor sap gets a boot right on the bum), stealing their groceries (paper, not plastic), dancing on their cars, cleaning their own teeth with loaded guns (idiots)  and trashing the buildings, but Kersey wastes no time in producing a massive automatic gun and, with Rodriguez providing bullets, kills about thirty people in as many seconds! Cue much OTT death throes, which I have to give the actors proper credit for given they’ve not been given any blood squibs to work with. Look, you can clearly see there are no impact wounds – I hate this in films, it just takes you out of the film immediately. You can tell it’s just a bunch of actors camping it up, giving it their best Hamlet. Why Winner would hold back on the violence in this bit is a mystery, given that it seems to be what’s getting him off. The squibs come back later on though.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h26m29s734

Also, the word ‘motherfucker’ is heard a lot during these scenes – I’m sure it’s even the same vocal snippet of the word repeated over and over again. By the way, look at Rodriguez’s facial expressions compared to Kersey’s. One of them is trying to act. One of them isn’t.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h20m25s760

The outside carnage provides much amusement for those trapped in the tenements – one of the neighbours is delighted that someone’s taking out ‘the creeps’. Later on they watch the carnage on the telly with great amusement, as though they’re watching You’ve Been Framed or something. Former good actor Martin Balsam, who plays one of the neighbours, even yelps ‘oh boy!’ like an excited schoolboy upon witnessing one of many explosions. Some of the residents are this close to breaking out into an impromptu street party after successfully killing a bunch of bikers with one of those chains tied between two lampposts. Seriously, they start dancing!

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h50m20s759

Before those bits though, a nearby car load of hoodlums are blasted to bits by Kersey and Rodriguez, and at last we get some much needed realism in the form of impact shots, which brings the grittiness back to proceedings and then some.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h34m55s780

More bad guys/target practice show up, blow up some more buildings. The carnage here is definitely depicted as fun – we don’t know these people, or these random buildings, so let’s just get off on all the chaos! Blow up that car! Blow up that shop! Smash those windows! Set that guy on fire! Okay, that last one’s not very nice, but there you go. The shaky camerawork and wonky zooms only add to the all-over-the-place approach. One in every five deaths depicted here is accompanied by a hilariously graceless rapid camera zoom, and it’s these deaths that are the best. Not to mention the deaths that send the victim through whatever window or door they’re standing in front of. Or the ones that send them off buildings or stairwells. Kersey is soon introduced in one shot with his gun protruding from around a corner, and if that isn’t the most blatant cock-metaphor in cinema history, then I haven’t seen the one that is. Kersey gets shot a few times in the gut without realising, because you know, he’s wearing a bullet proof vest! That’s how those things work – you don’t feel a thing! The police and local fire services are on the scene to try and control some of this madness, but the bad guys are everywhere – a tasteless bit follows where a woman is dragged out half naked by a bunch of scumbags just to we can get some nudity in on the scene, but thankfully this bit is cut short as Kersey shows up and blows them away. Such is the power of his gun that when he shoots one of the would-be rapists, the guy actually is sent flying forwards. Fraker’s not present at that moment though, he’s too busy having a whale of a time killing the good guys. I mean, look at that grin. It’s so oily you could fry bacon with it.

vlcsnap-2016-05-31-23h43m28s893

I shouldn’t laugh at the scene that I’m about to describe but I can’t help it. An elderly couple are in their house, but they’re forced out when Fraker and Co. throw a bunch of molotov cocktails through the window, which leads to them running outside – on fire – after which Fraker kills them with a machine gun. God, that doesn’t sound funny at all, does it? I guess it’s the way you tell it, in which case Winner is a master comedian. What is definitely, no-two-ways-about -it funny are the few scenes where various hapless goons try to break into some houses and suffer the consequences. One guy falls victim to a plank with a knife in it which hits him right in the face (think an X-rated Home Alone), resulting in him falling backwards and off the stairwell (natch), and another guy gets far more than he bargained for when, after climbing in through the window, a panicked woman blasts him out of the house with a shotgun, screaming as she does so!

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h04m36s988

More deaths, more priceless Rodriguez reactions, more appalling attempts to kill Kersey and more smashing through windows follow, and the film has hit a shit hot streak (emphasis on shit) that should have you as gleeful as one of the tenement residents. I have rarely laughed so much at people getting killed on screen. Bill from Bill and Ted gets killed when Shriker deus ex machinas his way into the scene when neither Bill or Kersey are looking. After this bit, the soundtrack goes all ‘Edge of Seventeen’/’Bootylicious’ for just a few seconds, and the film almost becomes cool. But then it doesn’t. With Rodriguez off to get some more ammo, we get a proper Wild West bit where Kersey and Shriker walk down the streets killing people left, right and centre.

The final confrontation between Kersey and Fraker turns me into The Giggler just thinking about it. First of all the music keeps going back to this silly little melody that sounds like someone tapping on a Xylophone randomly. Kersey briefly decamps to one of the flats to get some ammo, only for Fraker to sneak in through the window, but before he can do any killing, Shriker shows up and and shoots him, but not before taking a hit in the arm himself. Kersey gets a few bullets in Fraker too, for good measure. Of course, Fraker isn’t really dead, for that would be an appalling waste of celluloid for Winner, so he has him open his eyes whilst Kersey and Shriker talk shop.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h11m26s948

Fraker lurches up and reveals that he was wearing a protective vest (‘Bulletproof! Just like yours, asshole!’) which, like Kersey’s recent experience, seems to have not affected him in the slightest. So, Fraker has the gun, but like Shriker says, he can’t take on both of them; they’re too far apart for him to shoot them together. ‘Bet me!’, Fraker dares, moving the gun from Kersey to Shriker – there’s actually a good shot (the first and last in the film), where the camera is at Fraker’s hip and travels with the gun as it is aimed from one person to another. However, in that split second, Kersey produces THE ROCKET LAUNCHER and FUCKIN’ EXPLODES Fraker right there in the room, blowing out the wall in the process. Before his death, Fraker gets a wonderful zoom right into his horrified face, an expression that should be burned into the retinas of all self-respecting cineastes. It’s something (well, it’s exactly) like this.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h16m31s080

Oddly, when Fraker’s girlfriend sees the explosion, she screams – it’s as though she just knows he’s been killed, even though there was no way for her to know this. But fuck it, she knows somehow. With him dead, the gang admit defeat in an instant, doing a pouty retreat that’s so mannered it’s almost like a music video. With that, Kersey plans to walk the earth once more until Death Wish 4: The Crackdown, which wasn’t directed by Winner and is therefore a Loser in the franchise. There is a funny bit in that film where a table full of crooks blow up but before they do they are quickly replaced with a bunch of distinctly un-human looking dummies that linger just a little too long on screen for us to believe that the characters really died. If you can believe it, the guy on the left is meant to represent Danny Trejo.

vlcsnap-2016-06-01-00h19m11s989

Bio-Zombie (1998) review

The second-best ‘zombies let loose in a shopping mall’ movie ever made, the Hong Kong horror comedy Bio-Zombie came out before all things zombified came back in vogue, and is a total riot. Similar in tone to Edgar Wright’s later Shaun of the Dead, the film has a lot of fun goofing off zombie tropes and expectations whilst also clearly in love with its ancestors. There’s lots of cool gore but also some surprisingly poignant moments – you might not expect that from the beginning, given that right from the off there’s an anarchic, hilariously scrappy approach, as our two lead characters/idiots yak over the film’s own opening credits, which they appear to be watching inside the movie we’re watching.

No lie, the cocky, arrogant and very shouty Woody Invincible (Jordan Chan) and his cocky, arrogant and very shouty deputy Crazy Bee (Sam Lee) are proper slackers/jerks straight outta Clerks/Mallrats who run a pirate DVD stall in the local mall. Don’t like what they’ve sold you? Think it’s a badly shot bootleg? Get lost, but take a couple of pornos with you on your way out, just to shut you up. When they’re not selling hooky films, they’re gambling, mugging, ogling women and winding up the local security element. Amazingly, these two remain strangely likeable. Maybe because they’re just babies underneath all that swagger. Their attempts to talk tough towards bigger, tougher men fail miserably. Even the bit when they mug beauty salon worker Rolls (Angela Tong) shows just how incompetent they really are. Even when Bee admits that the one thing on his bucket list is to kill another person, I thought aw, bless him. Rolls, by the way, is blatantly coveted by the sweet sushi restaurant worker Loi (Emotion Cheung), and it’s killing him to see her out on a date with the bounder Woody, even if she’s only agreed to go out with him in order to get him drunk and fess up to his earlier crime. There’s also the bloke who runs the mobile phone shop who is such a dick to his wife that he comes off as the film’s real villain. Anyone who boo-hissed at Dylan Moran’s David in Shaun of the Dead will find plenty of cowardice and outright twattery to despise here.

Oh yeah, there’s a zombie element! Forgot to mention that. Turns out that the government have got their hands on some nasty bioweapon that can transform its subject into a fully fledged, paid-up member of the walking dead, and when some suits observe an already transformed zombie on display in a warehouse, things go appallingly wrong. The zombie escapes, kills a few people and the one survivor who flees the scene with a sample of the bioweapon is knocked down by Woody and Bee’s car. Situation follows crisis follows misunderstanding, and what follows is a small-scale zombie siege back at the mall. It’s a camp, gooey, energetic and often very funny ride – the characters are engaging, the blue-tinged, mirror-walled (there’s a great split-screen reveal gag) décor give off a colourful, vivid atmosphere and there’s even a sweetness to some of the quieter moments, not to mention a willingness to take no prisoners on the body count that makes for some surprising and genuinely effective dispatchings. As for the splatter, it’s gory but never nasty, even if there is a nod to one of Dario Argento’s more disgusting moments from an earlier film of his (hint: it’s from Opera), the comedy is the kind of highly strung, manic kind that fans of Return of the Living Dead and Braindead will appreciate and there’s even a video game influence during a bit when the film adopts what I can only describe as a character statistics sequence later on. Director/writer Wilson Yip and co-writers Matt Chow and Siu Man Sing are having an absolute ball with their inventive set-pieces, hyper-violence and gleeful energy.

As a horror film Bio-Zombie is not scary, but it’s not really aiming for that – what it is is exciting, surprising and very funny. Genre fans will love it, and even in this day and age of zombie overload, it stands up very well. I’ve only seen the subtitled version, but apparently the US dub is hilariously silly. Also, did a particular energy drink manufacturer realise that their product was going to be used like this? Admittedly, the film doesn’t paint the drink itself as bad, but I certainly didn’t fancy any glucose-fuelled refreshment after it was all over!

Labyrinth (1986)

Labyrinth (1986) Original

I have to admit something. For a long time, this film didn’t remind me of the babe.

You know, the one with the power. What power? The power of voodoo and all that. However, now that my three-year old niece has become a new full-on Labyrinth fan, and can quote it with ease, I can safely and with confidence say that this film does now remind me of the babe. I don’t know if she has the power of voodoo yet. I’ll get back to you on that one. It’s great that she loves the film though, because there is something still utterly, adorably fresh and sparkling about Labyrinth, despite (and of course, because of) all the 80’s trappings.

Fantasy and 80s cinema went hand in hand very nicely – okay, not all of it was great, but it still had sweep, magic, spectacle and imagination, and even though we live in a time where the likes of Lord of the Rings has proved that there is an enormous audience for this kind of thing, there still doesn’t seem to be that many great fantasy films out these days. Back then, we had Dragonslayer, Krull, Willow, Legend, The Dark Crystal, Ladyhawke, The Company of Wolves, The Princess Bride, Excalibur…. okay, not all of them are classics, but they had a consistency to them. If you liked one of them, you’d most likely like the others. There was plenty to enjoy, and Labyrinth, with the exception of The Princess Bride, was the most tongue-in-cheek and funny of the lot. It helped that the script was by Monty Python’s Terry Jones, who has a lot of fun playing around with fairytale tropes and standards, with plenty of great sight gags. Director Jim Henson and his team’s brilliant puppetry skills are second to none – we get a totally believable range of characters, beautifully voiced, from the tiny (and very unhelpful) worms, depressed door knockers (these look amazing, the really do look like talking metal – beat that, T-1000) or our main cast of creations, more of which below. The only bum note is a very dated looking sequence where a bunch of fire monkeys try to decapitate our hero – to be fair, that’s less to do with the puppets than the special effects attempted to try and get them in the same shots as Jennifer Connelly.

Yeah, this is one of Connelly’s early roles – not her earliest, as we’d already seen her as the young Deborah in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, and she’d played the lead in Dario Argento’s bonkers paranormal/telekinetic/simian slasher/serial killer horror Phenomena, and her performance is a straight-up anchor mooring all of the eccentricity around her. Seriously, she’s the only character in the film who doesn’t attempt to provoke a laugh. This is a good touch, stopping the film from going over the edge into outright comedy.

The plot is simple enough – our angsty, and let’s be fair, quite annoying protagonist Sarah (Jennifer Connelly) is very upset that her baby brother Toby gets all the attention, all the love, all the cute close-ups and none of the babysitting duties. Oh, how she wishes Jareth the Goblin King would take him away. Fair enough. Except he actually does, and the Goblin King is none other than David Bowie, sporting an astonishing wig and very revealing tights. He jiggles his balls about a lot too, but that’s nowhere near as rude as it sounds. Anyway, Sarah instantly regrets her rash decision, but Jareth won’t go back on their deal, not unless she can work her way through the labyrinth that leads to her brother, and in 13 hours too. On her way, she encounters all manner of fantastical creatures, including a fairy-killing coward named Hoggle, a Donkey Kong-like gentle beast named Ludo, an idiotic knight called Sir Didymus and his adorable canine steed Ambrosius, the latter shifting from being a real dog to a hilariously fake puppet depending on the danger he’s in. These are fantastic creations, a true testament to the genius of their creators.

Oh, and there are songs. David Bowie songs!

And they’re fun! What do you mean, they’re not ‘Life on Mars?’? Yeah, but ‘Life on Mars?’ isn’t ‘Magic Dance’, which is, as you all know, the song that reminds us of the babe. The version on the soundtrack album is better than the one in the film though – I always thought the goblin vocals were a little weak on screen – like, properly crap even. They sound better on the CD, and when they’re totally un-salvageable, Bowie just sings their lines instead. Despite all that, ‘Magic Dance’ is, with the exception of the Bowie-written-but-not-sung ‘Chilly Down’ (the one with the fire monkeys – not great), the least impressive of the songs here.

‘Underground’ is properly fantastic – all six minutes of it. It sounds great blended with Trevor Jones’ score over the opening credits, sounds better a few minutes later as Sarah runs back home in the rain and is your classic example of brilliant closing credits music. It also throws in, convincingly, a gospel element in the chorus, while Bowie even adds the decidedly risque lament ‘no love injection’ into a kids film theme, which I never noticed as a child. The gorgeous, dreamy ‘As the World Falls Down’ is one of the most unabashedly straightforward love songs Bowie ever wrote  – it was almost going to be a single (a video was made for it) but was pulled at the last minute, which was a shame as it could have been a success. Indeed, this and ‘Magic Dance’ are the two most downloaded songs in Bowie’s entire canon, probably because of their inexplicable absence from any singles compilations since. Anyway, ‘As the World Falls Down’ is lovely, and it really works in the film too. The dramatic ‘Within You’ (not to be confused with ‘Without You’ from Let’s Dance) works incredibly well as a song in its own right – in the film it’s one of many bravura touches during its wild climax, so you might be too dazzled by all the Escher imagery and baby-in-peril excitement to realise it’s one of his best songs from this era.

As for Bowie’s performance – he’s still got that ever-so-slightly awkward line delivery which we all love anyway because it’s David Bowie and his awkwardness is endearing (prime example – ‘Turn back now, Sarah!’ about ten minutes in). However, he is still a magnetic performer – he’s the only one who could get away with that costume of his. He has a whole sequence where he’s singing to a few dozen goblins and he still looks cool. Yeah, he looks goofy and, in the spirit of things, quite pantomime, but he looks damned good too. He always did, didn’t he? I love David Bowie. Always have, always will.

The film is similar to Neil Jordan and Angela Carter’s The Company of Wolves in that it focuses on a girl on the cusp of adulthood, at a time where one must decide whether or not to put childish things away. While in the other film this process is unavoidable (and treated with outright horror at times, especially at the end), here there’s a bit more resistance to accompany the seduction. One of the best sequences in the film is when Sarah is lost in a masquerade ball, dizzy by all the debauchery around her and pursued by Jareth – she denies his romantic advances, and surprisingly, considering this is a man approaching 40 pursuing a girl of 15, there’s nothing icky or uncomfortable about this bit (this is her dream, not his). The film ends in direct polar opposition to The Company of Wolves – almost flippantly, you could add, but what’s wrong with prolonging childhood a little longer? Besides, Goblin City’s residents know how to throw a party.

Issues I have with the film? That fire monkey bit. Actually, they’re not on fire, but their fur is all ‘flamey’ I suppose. The Bog of Eternal Stench bit, which is mostly brilliant (you can almost smell this sequence), has a moment where some helpful stepping stones emerge from the bog so that Ludo can make it to the other side in safety. Yet the stepping stones emerged from the bog, and lest we forget, if you touch even a little bit of the bog, you’ll smell bad forever. Ludo walks all over bog-covered steps! If it was one of the other characters, I’d have almost forgiven it, because they’re wearing shoes and could have thrown their offending footwear away afterwards, but Ludo’s barefoot! Maybe he stinks already. I can’t imagine him taking a bath that often, and all that fur must be an absolute nightmare to maintain. Yeah, that’s a real minor nitpick blown up to paragraph-sized criticism, but I can’t ignore it.

Overall, Labyrinth is a splendid, utterly lovable entertainment for girls and boys, kids and adults – it wasn’t a hit back in ’86, but it has become a serious cult film, with a vengeance – in London, there are Masquerade Ball screenings! Put together with The Princess Bride, and you have a double-bill of utterly wonderful, self-aware (but still full of heart) fantasy comedy cinema that’ll have you wondering why they don’t make them like this anymore.

PS: That milk bottle sight gag is so, so, so wonderful.