Film review – Flash Gordon (Mike Hodges, 1980)

Where’s he got that leotard from? Why doesn’t he just sleep with the alien girl? Why is he so dedicated to the earth girl when they’ve know each other ten minutes? Why did they do so many tracking shots?

If you’re sat there pondering any or all of these questions, then you may well have been watching Flash Gordon. Maybe, like me, you were on holiday with a VHS player and only a handful of of videos to play on it, of which 80% were James Bond.

On the face of it, this could have been a great film. There’s a classic comic book as the source. The cast is, for the most part, absolutely brilliant. Then there’s the unforgettable titular theme song by Queen.

Yes, it’s easy to be critical of it now. It’s almost 40 years old and time has not been kind to the flimsy costumes or the flimsier scenery. These are of the time and can partly be forgiven.

But there are things that you just can’t get past. Gilbert Taylor acted as cinematographer. This is a man who worked on Star Wars just three years prior. Between him, director Mike Hodges (Get Carter) and editor Malcolm Cooke there was a much more impressive final product to be had. Some clumsy edits reveal mistakes in actors’ takes, whilst tracking shots do little to hold the imagination when it seems a wider angle could have been taken.

The dialogue is intentionally camp but winds up feeling unintentionally humorous. This results in confusion over certain lines that may or may not have been intended as jokes. There’s an excruciating scene between Flash (Samuel J. Jones) and Princess Aura (Ornella Muti) that not only feels embarrassing but also fails to provide any motive for either character. In particular, our hero seems to have developed a sort of honour-bound dedication to Dale (Melody Anderson), a woman he had only met a couple of hours before and knows nothing about.

For campiness, it’s impossible to beat the American Football fight at the start of the film. Why, oh why…

Indeed, overall there is very little in the way of character development and the viewer is left to piece together the well-intended plot from what we are left with.

There are two types of film that become cult classics. Some are under-appreciated gems, or at least were when they were released (see Big Trouble In Little China, The ‘Burbs or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Others attain cult status because they flopped or were never that good in the first place (Tommy Wiseau’s The Room, or every film by Ed Wood). Unfortunately, Flash Gordon falls into the latter category.

It’s a real shame because my memory of the film was hazy but certainly positive. It is now somewhat tarnished, just like the VHS copy I watched. Fitting, really.

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Secret Cinema X 2017 – Another successful guess!

So the truth is finally out there. The Handmaiden was this year’s Secret Cinema X film, as predicted in an article published here a month ago.

The official Twitter account finally announced the truth in a reveal video here. I’m gutted I didn’t get chance to go but it looked absolutely amazing. I’ll make do with Moulin Rouge next week instead.

I managed to watch The Handmaiden earlier today and the film is simply a must-see. Park Chan-wook is a masterful director and he has produced another work of wonder with his latest film. Check it out if you can!

You can order Secret Cinema X exclusive poster prints here, including the one featured in the header of this article.

Film review – Free Fire (Ben Wheatley, 2017)

Ben Wheatley returns this month with his latest feature film Free Fire, which blends brutal action and sharp humour to create a roaring success of a film that will keep audiences entertained way beyond the 90 minute running time.

The premise of the film for Wheatley stemmed from Wheatley reading online of various police stand-offs throughout history. He found one that lasted 45 minutes because neither party could hit their targets, despite years of training to do precisely that (sadly I can’t find the article to link to). This tickled a nerve with Wheatley, who thought it would be brilliant to see it on the big screen – especially since most stand-offs in films last no more than a minute.

Set in the 1970s, the story revolves around two gangs meeting in a warehouse to make a trade for some arms. One group includes Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), both presumably sourcing their weapons for IRA-related activities (though this is never explicitly mentioned), along with headstrong Justine (Brie Larson), idiotic junkie Stevo (Sam Riley) and even-more-idiotic Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). Providing the weapons are a group including bearded negotiator Ord (Armie Hammer), the sharp-tongued South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the intelligent Martin (Babou Ceesay), driver Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) alongside a handful of support characters.

Speaking after the film at a preview at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham, Wheatley offered a brilliant insight into some of the production decisions on the film.

Hilariously, to get a feel for the environment and ensure the people were in realistic positions throughout to communicate properly, he had the entire set built in video game Minecraft. This allowed him to walk around the factory and get a feel of where he’d be once production started. A simple but brilliant solution, but also necessary as he stated this is the only 3D modelling tool he knows how to use.

On a similar note, the shoot-outs themselves were partly inspired by Wheatley’s experience of playing video games, a medium he is a fan of enjoying even though he is yet to be involved with the creation of one (sadly his comment about writing an adaptation of 1980s video game Gauntlet was probably tongue-in-cheek).

One issue they could have faced was in the continuity for the bullet shots. Clearly with 1000s of bullets flying around, there was a risk of wounds being out of place, or disappearing and reappearing between shots. The simple solution was to film it in sequence, which also plays into the building of tension at the start and exhaustion for the characters as the story plays out.

Learn from Vern

Of the many great performances here, the highlight is Sharlto Copley as Vern. Initially annoyed about his Savile Row suit getting damaged, his whitty one-liners had the audience in creases. He’s a complete jerk and Copley plays it brilliantly, his irritating mannerisms making the heightened-tension all the more believable. 
The result is a film that consists almost entirely of a shoot-out that feels far more realistic than anything we’ve become accustomed in Hollywood films. People aren’t simply experts in shooting guns and it takes practice and skill to be any good at it. The characters in this film aren’t experts and that’s why the film plays out as it does. It’s grim, gritty, exhausting and hilarious.

Seek it out and watch it.

Film review – Wake of Death (Phillipe Martinez, 2005)

I was recently enjoying a holiday in a Spanish beach resort. It was a great week, with brilliant weather and loads to do. One quirk of such holidays is the small selection of English-language television channels available. They’re always different and always extremely limited. This holiday was no different: BBC1, BBC2, BBC4 and ITV. And then there was movies4men.

Movies4men is a channel I steer clear of. Why? Because frankly it sounds like a pornography channel. It’s actually a terrible name for a fairly reasonable channel, with war and western genre films throughout the day and some action films in the evening. The name is, at best, a little sexist. But it sort of makes sense once you get used to it.

Anyway, if you turn it on at around 11pm on any night there is a fantastic chance you’re going to be stuck watching a poorly-executed Jean Claude Van Dämme film. And that’s where I was every night at 11pm. And that is how I came to watch Wake of Death.

It’s okay darling. It will be over soon.


“After his wife is brutally murdered, an ex-cop wages war against the Chinese triads,” reads the brief plot on IMDB. It tells you pretty much everything you need to know. It may well be one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

The acting does nothing for a script written by a group of screenwriters – there were four – that probably knew that the script wasn’t particularly important for this film. Why? Because there would be no sequels. Because it had JCVD on the poster and the people who watch it will tend to only care about the action, fighting, martial arts, car chases and explosions. Because it’s hard to screenwrite “JCVD does typical JCVD stuff” without sounding nonchalant about the whole affair.

No matter what the result of the filmmaking process was, the audience would come. They would have been satisfied, albeit devoid of any kind of betterment.

They will have also been treated to a surprising number of JCVD sex scenes, which would probably have been more than they bargained for.

Van Damme has never been a great actor. Heck, he even used it as a defence in a lawsuit back in the 1996. Coincidentally, he has acted in 39 films since that comment from his lawyer was made. None of them appear to have really challenged the notion. 

The only time he tries to really act in ‘Wake of Death’ is a scene where he has to cry as he drunkenly remembers his dead wife. It’s as poorly-executed as that scene in one of the Taken films where Liam Neeson jumps over a fence, with about 10 different camera cuts along the traumatic rollercoaster ride. Someone is kind enough to throw water on Jean-Claude’s face between shots, but that’s still not enough to stop the director giving up and breaking the tension with a random Chinese triad bursting through the window and having a quick fight before running away.

If Van Damme has done some great cinema this millennium I am yet to see it. But his fans will seldom have been disappointed. 

Film review – Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter, 2001)

John Carpenter’s history as a filmmaker may have many blemishes on it. For every Assault on Precinct 13, there was a Village of the Damned. For every time Kurt Russell escaped from New York, he also escaped from L.A. Yet few of his films have stunk as badly as Ghosts of Mars, which, unlike most of his other films, hasn’t got better with time.

Set on a remote Martian mining town, the plot concerns police woman Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) transporting dangerous criminal “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube). However, upon arrival she realises that the planet has become infected, essentially, by zombies. She has to team together with a group of survivors including Jason Statham, Pam Grier and Clea DuVall.


The film was a box office bomb, making back just $14m of its $28m budget (global sales, according to Box Office Mojo). It’s hard to see why. Why it cost so much, that is. Conceptually, the mining town should look gritty, desolate and run down. It actually ends up looking more like a half-baked Crystal Maze set that was abandoned half-way through.
The plot isn’t terrible, and good movies have been carved out of much worse starting points. The soundtrack, provided by John Carpenter, is brilliantly varied.

What lets it down is dated visuals – they’re very 2001 – and an unreliable script. The actors do their best with it, but it simply doesn’t hit the marks.

It must be tough to turn down an offer to work with someone as great as John Carpenter. One can only assume that those involved looked at the script and were reminded of his best work. 

[Note] I hated all the official posters for this film, but unearthed the brilliant poster by Ralf Krause on the website AlternativeMoviePosters.com. Check out the website for more great alternative movie posters and order some to decorate your wall with something wonderful!