Krampus  (2015)    62/100

Rating :   62/100                                                                       98 Min        15

Comedy horror focusing on the travails of a family and their relatives one especially cold winter’s eve when Krampus, the pagan god of cramps, descends upon them, resulting in numerous involuntary and sudden spasms in the family members whilst they go to the bathroom and about their normal business of bickering, fighting, cooking and vaguely trying to be merry and pretend they actually like one another, often to comic effect. No, not really. Rather Krampus represents the sinister anti-Santa, thought to have originated in Austria and one of numerous similar figures in European folklore and tradition, he is usually represented as a horned, hoofed, towering menace, whisking misbehaving children off to some unknown, and presumably grim, chastisement, although oddly enough he doesn’t seem to have made it as far north as Scotland – he was probably deep fried and eaten by the same kids he came to collect.

Certain members of the principal family, basically all of them, have forgotten what Christmas is really all about, or rather their rotund gun-totting relatives staying over have steamrollered whatever seasonal cheer they had left, bringing the decidedly unfestive house to the initial attention of Krampus, who elects to pay them a little visit and pick them off one at a time along with the help of his animated companions: grisly werebears and despotic gingerbread men (and possibly women) and a sort of Christmasy version of The Thing. Nothing brings people together like common adversity – unfortunately common adversity also sometimes drives them further apart, and Krampus has a field day with nary a sensible decision made to stand in his way. In fact, he has such a good time, he decides to pay the neighbours a visit while he’s at it too.

Directed by Michael Dougherty (‘Trick r Treat’ 07) and co-written by him, Todd Casey and Zach Shields, the entire thing feels like there’s a really good movie constantly threatening to come out, but it never really does bar a few nice touches here and there, and although the cast, including Adam Scott, Toni Collette, David Koechner and Krista Stadler, all at least carry their roles, their characters simply have too many moments when they act in a horribly stilted way, pausing hopelessly when they need to finish off daemonic foes and always two or three steps behind what is clearly right in front of them. Similarly, the direction and writing continually show signs of promise but fall down too readily, with many action scenes difficult to view clearly – and the most promising characters dealt with too summarily. It’s a great concept though, which may witness ‘Krampus’ carry its weight a little farther than it really ought to.

Knock Knock  (2015)    54/100

Rating :   54/100                                                                       99 Min        18

The latest take on the home invasion scenario, from director Eli Roth and cowritten by himself, Nicolas Lopez and Guillermo Amoedo. Roth’s involvement was for me slightly balanced out by Keanu Reeves’ appearance in top billing here, leading to the conclusion that this probably wasn’t going to sink to the lows that Roth’s ‘Hostel’ (05) did, for example, and that assumption proved accurate although much of this film simply doesn’t lead anywhere at all with a ratio of about twenty percent horror to sixty five percent flat nothingness with limp direction, writing and, at times, acting – having said that the other fifteen percent is occupied by some very convincing scenes of sexual tension thanks to the ‘invasion’ this time being carried out by two nubile, fit young women.

The pair, played by Lorenza Izzo (Roth’s wife, incidentally) and Ana de Armas, turn up unannounced at architect Reeves’ swanky house with their overtly soaked wet nips and a sorrowful tale of being late for a party and … actually I don’t remember the rest of their excuse, I was distracted – as is Reeves who lets them in to dry off whilst wondering what they might really be after. I have this problem all the time – the best thing to do is to tie them up and gag them as quickly as possible just to be safe, you cover all your bases that way. Needless to say, market research tends to bypass my cave these days but unfortunately Reeves isn’t quite so savvy when it comes to psychos, or teenage girls, and, well, he doesn’t get much work done over the weekend put it that way.

The film is a remake of 1977’s ‘Death Game’ and its troubles begin just shy of half way through when it all but runs out of steam and it becomes apparent there was no real thought given to the theme other than to replicate the sort of scenario better displayed in ‘Funny Games’ (97 & 07) and its imitators but with a visual overemphasis and indulgence on the aspect of sex appeal, where it is at least successful, and yet there was a lot of scope for development. A surprising lack of even traditional screw turning both relieves and disappoints and they could easily have put in a lot more black humour, just as it ought to be much more tense than it is – worst of all, though, are multiple moments where solutions to problems are presented and not acted upon, which any horror or thriller can only get away with for so long. Ana de Armas is the film’s best revelation with a largely believable delinquent romp and a body possibly worth enduring a certain degree of discomfort for, but even for male audiences her and her partner in crime’s charms won’t be enough to overlook the frayed narrative that occupies the latter half of the film.

Kingsman : The Secret Service  (2014)    67/100

Rating :   67/100                                                                     129 Min        15

From director Matthew Vaughn and featuring the same sort of vibrancy that was evident in his ‘Kick-Ass’ (10) although also the same slight lack of cohesion – the gap between its moments of fanciful entertainment and more serious drama being just big enough to fall through at times. Based on ‘The Secret Service’ comic by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, Kingsman are a secret British spy organisation who recruit and train the best and brightest in order to keep the world safe – at this particular moment in time from evil technology giant Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson). ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton) is the unlikely working class hero battling local neds and hoodlums, and whose connection by birth to Kingsman will see him brought into the fold by veteran agent Galahad (Colin Firth), but will he make it through the gruelling and highly competitive training regime?

The camera is all over the place for a number of the action scenes and, especially in the beginning, it is really distracting. The film settles somewhat as it goes on but then it just starts to drag – all until one absolutely fantastic scene which inaugurates the final third, you’ll know it when you see it, and leads to an entertaining finale, again a very similar progression to ‘Kick-Ass’. The music sounds rather like a cross between a Bond score and that from 2012’s ‘Avengers Assemble’ (unusually it was composed by two people, Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson), Michael Caine plays the head of Kingsman and Mark Strong appears as one of the senior operatives (Merlin) and also sports a Scottish accent – which initially will have you thinking, ‘is he trying to do a Scottish accent? No, it can’t be, wait – what on earth is that?’ but eventually he gets it down pretty well. Also with Sophie Cookson and Mark Hamill, it’s an enjoyable action adventure film even if it does leave you with a slightly uncertain feeling overall.

Knights of the Round Table  (1953)    50/100

Rating :   50/100                                                                     115 Min        PG

Richard Thorpe’s Cinemascope (MGM’s first),Technicolor and somewhat over the top and fanciful take on the myriad legends of King Arthur takes the story in his own direction, as is tradition, and does likewise with history in the process. Despite Arthur Pendragon sporting various images of yours truly throughout, the entire first half of the movie is entirely woeful, with horrid set design even for the era, lacklustre action and swordplay sequences, corny pious dialogue and strikingly bright costumes that begin as eye catching but eventually become lurid, as the somewhat irritating music plays throughout with barely a pause for breath. The action picks up in places, only to be swiftly let down again – such as when some of the knights casually push over one of the stones at Stonehenge and a fairly convincing cavalry charge sees their efforts rewarded by an accompanying volley of arrows from their own troops. Groan.

Only when the saucy gaze of Ava Gardner, playing Guinevere, finally appears and espies the gallant Lancelot, Robert Taylor, do things get more interesting, but even then the pace continues to rise and fall. Lancelot is essentially the main character here as he befriends Mel Ferrer’s King Arthur, and then uses his strong commanding American accent to woo every maiden in his path. Uninventive and probably best left for fans of the principal leads or the genre.

Kill Your Darlings  (2013)    69/100

Rating :   69/100                                                                     104 Min        15

A film hot on the heels of Walter Salles’ perspective on the Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac and co released earlier this year. Here, the story focuses on the coming of age of budding poet in the making Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and his erotic fascination with Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan) whilst the two of them studied together at Columbia university in 1940’s New York City. I wasn’t expecting to get anything out of this, and was simply envisaging more pretentious glorification of just how self absorbed they all were, as they continue to drag their lives into ever increasing circles of depravity, a vicious symbiosis with their writing careers (misery and poetry do often go hand in hand) all whilst the audience ask themselves who exactly would want anything to do with these people?

This sort of egotistical masturbation does exist, and it is annoying, but as the film progresses the story and in no small measure the good central performances begin to make it quite interesting – Radcliffe in particular has a very good turn, with a convincing accent to boot. The film opens with Carr in jail for murder, and the rest primarily fills in the blanks as to what led to it. The murder in question is a matter of historical record which inevitably most of the Beat Generation wrote about at one point or another – here the details have been shifted around a little, but the essence of events seems to be well captured. An interesting and impressive directorial debut from John Krokidas and, ahem, miles better than ‘On the Road‘.

Kick-Ass 2  (2013)    65/100

Rating :   65/100                                                                     103 Min        15

The sequel to ‘Kick-Ass’, one of the most popular films of 2010, sees a return of the cast, but not director Matthew Vaughn, who instead personally selected the relatively inexperienced Jeff Wadlow to step behind the cameras and also write the screenplay. Oddly, the change in director isn’t particularly noticeable, a testimony to Wadlow and his adherence to both the previous film and the comic book source material, from Scottish writer Mark Miller.

For the series Miller has openly stated that the story is autobiographical, primarily in that when he was young, he and his pals decided to actually train to become superheroes. Eventually, reality kicked in and they changed their minds, but when writing the comics his desire to play with this concept together with his founding love of the genre produced a curious, violent, blend – central character ‘Kick-Ass’ with no powers whatsoever, trying to fight crime and often being brutalised in the process, and other characters like ‘Hit-Girl’, a schoolgirl with deadly fighting skills and an unparalleled eloquence for one-liners, who is for all intents and purposes a real superhero. Therein lies the founding problem with the series on the big screen – it’s a fun blend, but one constantly compromised by the need to get the balance spot on, an all but impossible task that sucks the heart out of the story, leaving the supporting characters, like Hit-Girl, a lot more interesting than the fraudulently motivated central one.

‘Kick-Ass 2’ sees a raft of people don capes and spandex and take to the streets to fight crime, all after being inspired by the exploits in the first movie, and Kick-Ass finds himself in a sort of very low-key Avengers style gang. Here, the aforementioned balance is constantly rattled around, with severe and dire consequences applied via a layer of gloss. A scene involving the killing of a dog was removed from the film, as was a rape scene – although the footage left in the film suggests the only reason the rape doesn’t happen is because the villain can’t get it up at the time. It’s all a little too much – sensible deletions for the sake of trying to focus on a fun, comedy comic book film, and yet it leaves the feeling of something sinister that isn’t quite being given the serious treatment it needs.

Jim Carrey has a fantastic cameo (much like he did in ‘The Incredible Burt Wonderstone’) as Colonel Stars and Stripes, but has since distanced himself from the film in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings. This is the statement he released;

I did Kick-Ass a month before Sandy Hook and now in all good conscience I cannot support that level of violence. My apologies to others involved with the film. I am not ashamed of it but recent events have caused a change in my heart.”

And the response from Chloë Grace Moretz (who plays Hit-Girl);

It’s a movie. If you are going to believe and be affected by an action film, you shouldn’t go to see ‘Pocahontas’ because you are going to think you are a Disney princess. If you are that easily swayed, you might see ‘The Silence of the Lambs’ and think you are a serial killer. It’s a movie and it’s fake, and I’ve known that since I was a kid… I don’t want to run around trying to kill people and cuss. If anything, these movies teach you what not to do. Each to their own. I respect [Carrey’s] decision.”                Source : Huffington Post

Interestingly, the penciller for the comics, John Romita Jr, has talked about the violence he has to depict, saying he morally never thought he would be drawing the stuff, but he frankly loves the characters and the fact that it has become a movie – it’s now a guilty pleasure for him. That sort of encapsulates the difficult duality of the thing. Personally I love Hit-Girl arriving and dicing the bad guys (this film is just as gory as the first one) but there’s a definite conceit, an uneasiness to everything. Kick-Ass decides to go back to crime fighting simply because he’s bored, for example, which is a little too convenient after the events of the first film, and here the police seem a little too relaxed about allowing several teams of costumed vigilantes roam the streets – not to mention the fact real superheroes regardless of their costume would make every effort not to be noticed by the public, not withstanding the likes of Iron Man.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson returns as the titular hero, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as was hinted at the end of part one, becoming the bad guy – ‘The Motherfucker’. There’s a host of other bad guys who aren’t given enough screen time and barely get one line each, and indeed the climax is nowhere near as good as in its predescessor. Ultimately, it’s wayward but enjoyable, and it still left me in the mood to watch Batman again, which is no bad thing. Part three is being written as the finale. I suspect there will not be much of a happy ending.

Keith Lemon – The Movie  (2012)    1/100

Rating :   1/100                                                                         85 Min        15

The Red Dragon does not get this movie. AT ALL. It’s trash, and quite why so many pop celebrities (two Spice Girls, Ronan Keaton, Garry Barlow etc.) have debased themselves in it is a complete mystery. Once upon a time Britain had Monty Python, now we have the likes of Leigh Francis (Keith Lemon). Sad times. It receives a single point purely for Kelly Brook – The Red Dragon leaves it up to your imagination as to why that might be.