Tag Archives: rubbish

Films that you probably haven’t seen and definitely shouldn’t #4: Double X: The Name of the Game (1992, dir. Shani S Grewal)

As anybody with a cursory knowledge of cinema knows, there are many different types of ‘bad’ film. There are noble failures, big-budget studio stinkers, comedies that aren’t funny, thrillers that aren’t thrilling, and films so smug and wide of the mark that they make you want to pick up the nearest blunt instrument and embark on a merciless killing rampage. Every once in a while, however, there comes a film so fundamentally awful, so brain-scramblingly inept in every department that you really need to ensure you’ve watched with it at least one other person to prove you haven’t gone insane and simply made it all up. Double X: The Name of the Game, starring cuddly (and sadly late) comedian Norman Wisdom (yep Granddad, that’s NORMAN WISDOM) as a leathery career criminal, is such a film. From the unwieldy title, through the 95-odd minutes of its running time, to the lonely process of taking stock of what you’ve witnessed, it takes some believing. And boy, does it take some watching.

In Double X, Wisdom portrays Arthur Clutten, an elderly safecracker in a ruthless crime syndicate presided over by slick businessman/gangster Edward Ross (Simon Ward). Clutten decides to quit the game when he sees vicious enforcer Ignatius ‘Iggy’ Smith (Bernard Hill) dispensing with one unlucky victim in too gratuitous a fashion. As a negotiating tool for his long-term safety, Clutten purloins crucial documents from the gang’s HQ that, if exposed, would incriminate Ross. Clutten’s plan goes awry when the gang kidnap his daughter (Chloe Annett) and offer her in return for the documents. Confusing, if not completely scuppering what sounds like a relatively straightforward noir-inflected plot is the presence of a totally ridiculous character: a retired Chicago cop Michael Cooper (William Katt) shored up in the Scottish Highlands who, unfortunately, happens to be the lead.

Double X: The Name of the Game gets off to a terrible start, and never recovers. The credit sequence, with its Pino Palladino-lite bendy bass score and electric blue porn-style typography puts you in mind of Babestation, and is followed by one of the longest, most inane voiceovers (a classic telltale sign of lazy storytelling) of all-time, delivered by a half-asleep Katt. Cooper and Clutten strike up a tentative friendship, and Cooper is all set to be the leading man, our navigatory anti-hero. However, one rude edit later, he completely disappears and we are plunged into a flashback that takes up almost two-thirds of the film. In any film with its head on the right way round, Clutten would have been no more than a supporting character, but for whatever reason (the editor went on holiday, the editor went missing, Norman Wisdom edited the film himself, there was no editor), he takes centre stage. So when, after what seems like an eternity, Clutten is violently dispatched, you wonder if that’s really it for him because so much time has been invested in his story. Well, it is, and believe me, no matter how well prepared you think you are, you will be shocked when Norman Pitkin gets a cap popped in the back of his head. Following Clutten’s demise, Cooper becomes the main man, far too late in the day for anyone to care, and writer-director Grewal crowbars in enough plot in the last half-hour to fill up three (bad) films. Alas, the ridiculousness doesn’t end there.  Underpinning proceedings is an entirely fictionalized gang war between the North and West of London v. the South and East. Remember those heady clashes between Croydon and Cockfosters that encapsulated the dark days of Major’s Britain? No, neither do I.

The acting is mostly somnambulant. Katt’s desultory turn (he constantly appears to be looking just past the camera for an exit) makes you wonder how many actors turned down the part before he landed it. His wooden-ness, flowing blond locks and propensity for hanging around in areas of natural beauty immediately put me in mind of Ryan O’Neal’s legendarily poor showing in Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance (see here for the worst line reading of all time), and he seems to visibly lose interest in the film as time progresses. Bernard “Yosser Hughes” Hill’s outrageous performance as ‘Iggy’ is perhaps the film’s worst. Free of his trademark moustache, Hill appears to be suffering from some kind of micro-Samson syndrome, his ability to deliver a single line with conviction seemingly bound up in the erstwhile whiskers of his top lip. His overcooked Oirish accent (“OI HATE PEOPLE LOYIN’ TO MOI!”) fatally undercuts any attempt at genuine menace, and just in case his dastardly antics didn’t tip us off that was a wrong’un, he’s also sporting an extravagant limp ‘n’ cane combo. In his first appearance, he’s seen torturing a hapless, shirtless crim, suggesting evil homosexual undertones. I’m sure director Grewal was aiming for a Blue Velvet-style peek at a depraved criminal underworld. Unfortunately, it all comes across the like the (rarely visited) Playbus S&M stop. Chloe Annett, later to make Red Dwarf fanboys erupt, (first with fury at the idea a girl crashing the sci-fi boys club, and then presumably with something else when they saw her in a catsuit) does what she can with a role that requires her to be tied up, look a bit sexy, and keep a straight face when confronted with some of the worst dialogue ever committed to celluloid. Perhaps surprisingly, it is the miscast Wisdom who fares best, imbuing one or two scenes with his daughter with a necessary touch of pathos.

Bernard Hill and William Katt: “Gissa decent script. Go on. Gis one”

On an artistic level, this film has absolutely nothing to recommend it. It is leadenly paced, disgracefully acted, erratically and confusingly edited, and despite containing one or two eye-wateringly, unintentionally hilarious scenes (the alarming moment when our jaded anti-hero shoots a naked man in the balls for no reason is literally one of the funniest things I have ever seen), Double X is generally too boring to recommend as a “so bad it’s good” style must-see. Says producer Noel Cronin in the cheerful DVD liner notes: “[the low budget] was a mixed blessing: good in that the film looked a lot better than the money allowed, but bad in the sense that the critics believed the film had been made on a far bigger budget … and reviewed it accordingly”. Cronin comes across as a likeable, enthusiastic guy, but the fact is Double X’s myriad problems can’t be attributed to its low budget. All the money in the world wasn’t going to get dialogue like – “I shot him in the back of the head” … “That sounds painful”, or, “…remember when I asked you for that steak and a Bible?” – to fly. Add in the poor performances and deep-rooted structural problems and you have a recipe for disaster. By way of comparison, Christopher Nolan’s still criminally underseen debut Following managed to convince as a taut, compelling thriller on a budget of around £4000.

There’s a superb sketch from Lee and Herring’s 90s TV showThis Morning With Richard not Judy, in which ‘Lazy Journalist Scum’ are castigated for the crime of using the uninspired formula of “x” (famous person) is like “y” (other famous person) on “z” (a particular type of drug)” to describe something. They use the example of sweat-ridden rubberface Lee Evans being “like Norman Wisdom … on acid!”, and illustrate this by staging a reconstruction portraying what Norman Wisdom would really be like… on acid. It’s funny, but it portrays a Norman Wisdom as confused and unsettled as I was trying to watch Double X. Were I one of those lazy journalists, I might be tempted describe Double X: The Name of the Game as a poor man’s Raymond Chandler on a lethal cocktail of crack and Diamond White. In lieu of no Double X trailer lurking about on YouTube, it seems rather apt to conclude with the aforementioned clip from TMWRNJ. Enjoy:

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Films that you probably haven’t seen and definitely shouldn’t #3: Capone (1975, dir. Steve Carver)

"Fails comprehensively as a biopic"

You spend all your time beating people?

–  I take Sundays off.

Capone is exactly the type of film that is bound to disappoint, a forgotten exploitation flick whose odd casting and shady synopsis immediately brings to your mind rapturous images of forbidden cinema as you’re going over the wacky DVD jacket. A bit like when you were a kid and some obnoxious friend managed to stay up late enough on a school night to catch Basic Instinct or Scarface on TV and fill you in the next day on the graphic details that become the building blocks of your fantasy, until a belated vision of the actual film, years later, destroys the deviant masterpiece you created in your mind.

Last week, out of boredom and nostalgia, I started browsing 50 Years of American Cinema by Bertrand Tavernier (Round Midnight anyone?) and Jean-Pierre Courdoson, an absolute classic of francophone film literature and also my personal movie bible (sadly never translated into English). At the entry for the year 1975, my eyes were caught by the following description: Roger Corman manages to gather an interesting ensemble cast for his take on Capone: Ben Gazzara in the title role, John Cassavetes as Frankie Yale and a fresh-faced Sylvester Stallone as Frank Nitti.

What the fuck? How had I not heard of this before? Capone? Corman? Cassavetes? Stallone?!

Immediately, I started daydreaming, imagining a nonchalant, pre-David Chase take on the dullness of suburban thugism, floating fragments of drunken improvisation in true Noo Yawk tawk interrupted at carefully calculated intervals by the mandatory pear-shaped seventies tits and litres of fake bright-red blood that Corman required to guarantee the financing of his projects. Put simply, I saw Husbands with guns starring Rocky in the supporting role of the vicious enforcer; I pictured Ben Gazzara swaggering in leftover sets from The Godfather Part II in a tasty slice of exploitation cinema; I even dared to think I’d “discovered” an unfairly shelved Bloody Mama.

A quick look on Amazon informed me that it’s been reissued on DVD recently, and a week later so began my viewing of Capone, directed by Steve Carver; Carver who, instead of joining the rank of the New Hollywood royalty like his fellow alumni from the Roger Corman school (Scorsese, F.F. Coppola, Dennis Hopper, James Cameron, etc) went on to direct such gems as An Eye For An Eye with Chuck Norris. Remember the advice of Cassavetes (yes, that hypocrite again) to Scorsese after a screening of Boxcar Bertha, his only contribution to the Roger Corman’s catalogue? “Congratulations! You’ve spent a year of your life making shit!”. Well it appears no one was there to tell Carver…

The misleading VHS sleeve

So, how bad is Capone? Well, quite terrible, but not bad enough at the same time. Let me explain.

“After 45 years, the true story will be told!” promises the tagline. Hmm, I don’t know which story they were talking about, but Al Capone’s it ain’t. The film is so historically inaccurate that it makes De Palma’s The Untouchables look like an academic thesis in American Studies. To make things worse, Carver is completely ignorant of the rise-and-fall narrative convention that is the backbone of any gangster epic worth its salt. Where does Alphonso come from? How did he rise so fast? What caused the scars? Nobody seems to give a shit. In the first scene, the mafia top honchos call a greying Gazzara, easily in his forties, “kid” – that’ll suffice as an origin story, and if you’re not happy here’s some boobs! Look out, a machine gun!

Screenwriting was never the forte of Corman’s movies anyway. He would put half-baked concepts in production like he would tie his shoes, always rushing in to surf on the success of the latest box office hit – in this instance, quite clearly, The Godfather saga. Taking the time to write dialogue and a three-act structure would be a waste of time and money. Therefore, Capone fails comprehensively as a biopic – that was to be expected.

As a gangster flick, it fares no better. Carver fails to understand what makes mob fans tick: the tasteless bling, the lavish lifestyle, the “I’m just breaking baaaaaalls” banter, the impromptu bursts of violence. At some point, Capone seems to consist entirely of a succession of badly choreographed drive-by shootings and corny slo-mo. Sigh.

Moving on to the oddball cast, Ben Gazzara plays the mythic mobster with the same OTT approach favoured by Robert De Niro a decade later – arched eyebrow, big cigar in the corner of the mouth, bouncing shoulders, flashy dressing gown and loud “heeeeey, caaaaam’ooooon”s to punctuate every single utterance. John Cassavetes, the pope of American indie, appears half-heartedly in only ONE scene at the start (misleading advertising has always been the preferred marketing strategy of B-movies) and Sylvester Stallone is bafflingly miscast as a cool-headed, Machiavellian gangster (I shit you not), the brains rather than the muscle, lecturing the audience in the epilogue about the evil of violence (“Capone was stoopid yaknow, just killing people yaknow.”) Talk about a disappointment, and I was lucky enough not to see the fantastically fallacious VHS sleeve prior to researching this (Sly doesn’t fire a gun once in the film). So, if you’re looking for some snarky laughs at the WTF? assemblage of future stars and struggling auteurs in their starving years, Capone is kind of a let-down too. No one is downright awful, though you can almost hear the rumbling of the actors’ ravenous stomachs.

As with most exploitation films, however, its redeeming qualities are to be found in its inherent, dated cheapness. The vintage red fades, the Californian hills in the background of downtown Chicago, the gratuitous nudity (again), the glaring insertion of stock shots from an even worse-looking movie (The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre), the more-than-decent retro car chases (that’s probably where most of the micro-budget went), the ill-advised attempt at a stylish, dark photography, Coppola-style, during the sit-down scenes and a couple of off-colour improvised lines to be caught here and there. Capone’s blatant flaws are actually quite charming, but that hardly makes it essential viewing, even in a cheeky, postmodern way.

GG

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Roxy Music at the pictures

More than what, Bryan?

For those of you who view Bryan Ferry as unimpeachably slick and cool, check out this zero-budget atrocity of a promo video for Roxy Music’s 1982 single ‘More Than This’.

Things get off to a supremely awkward start as a salmon shirt-clad, hand-on-hips Ferry lurks beneath a shining cross sporting a posture that sits somewhere between ‘camp’ and ‘ashamed’.  As the light of Christ floods the screen, the camera creeps closer and closer to the singer, who looks as though he’d rather be anywhere else.

At 00:48 Ferry sings, “No way of turning”, and stalks off camera. Suddenly we are in a cinema and Ferry promptly TURNS AROUND to watch the screen. Often, characters going to the cinema is a fascinating trope (think Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver). But not here. Ferry just sits there with his back to us, presumably watching the discarded rushes of the ‘More Than This’ shoot.

After some lumpen sashaying in front of a cheaply rendered, brothel-tastic inferno (is the drummer on fire?) Ferry settles down in his comfy seat, TURNS AROUND again, and that’s it. For a minute and a half.

Great song, though.

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Meh.

Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve just seen the new remake of John Boulting’s 1947 spiv-thriller Brighton Rock and, let me tell you, it is one of the most pointless, plodding non-entities of a film I have sat through in a long time.

Serviceable enough for half and hour, and held aloft by Sam Riley’s performance (although he looks distractingly like Pete Doherty) as teen menace Pinky Brown, the film utterly loses content, threat and momentum, drifting into a grey, sludgy, suspenseless TV drama with inappropriate choral swells, a singularly unthreatening cameo from Andy Serkis and a vapid turn from Andrea Riseborough as the hopeless, put-upon female lead Rose: a one-dimensional, hugely frustrating vacuum of suffering, suffering, stupidity and more suffering.  Furthermore, if there was a good reason to update the film to the 1960s, other than to insert one deus-ex-machina scene about Mods on bikes, then it escaped me.

Watch the original, and scratch your head. It makes Gus Van Sant’s Psycho look vital. Why? Why? Why?