Monthly Archives: August 2015

Ghost World

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: Mocking misfit Enid graduates from High School with best friend Rebecca, but whilst Rebecca settles into work, Enid has nothing better to do than play a prank on Seymour, a shy record collector. Enid and Seymour become better acquainted and she encourages him to dive into the world of dating, but Enid struggles to come to terms with what she really wants – from friends old and new, and from life.

It is rare that a film aimed at adults (primarily young adults in this case) features young female leads ahead of the male cast, and even rarer that the female leads are not portrayed first and foremost as sexual objects; in these respects, Ghost World is to be congratulated. Centred on bright but stroppy teenager Enid (Thora Birch), this adaptation of Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel takes a frank and feisty look at those ‘difficult’ teenage years.

Enid and her friend Rebecca (Scarlett Johannson) inhabit the geekier end of the High School spectrum, so are delighted when they no longer have to attend – except that having failed art, Enid must go to summer lessons in order to graduate, a pain since she would much rather make fun of everything around her in Los Angeles, including her would-be lover Josh (Brad Renfro), who works at a store whose owner is as frightening as the customers; the naff 50s-style diner whose jukebox plays horrible modern dance; and especially Seymour (Steve Buscemi), the bookish man she lures into the diner having pretended to be the woman he sought in a plaintive personal ads message.

Despite finding Seymour pitiable, she nonetheless takes enough of an interest to buy records from him at a yard sale; they find they share the same esoteric tastes, and a strange relationship develops in which young Enid hands out most of the advice to the older man. Meanwhile, Rebecca is cut out of the picture and carries on with plans to move into her own apartment, her friendship tested when Seymour actually gets himself a date with a woman his own age, leaving Enid with nobody else to call.

There are some lovely pieces of cultural contrast in Ghost World, Enid and Seymour’s love of Delta Blues set against mindless rockin’ and the ghastly but relevant artwork of the Coon Chicken Co. put alongside fatuous feminist pieces such as a tampon in a teacup (bringing brilliant reactions from Illeana Douglas as Enid’s art teacher); there are also some scathing lines, well delivered by Birch, that pinpoint Edna’s disaffection with what surrounds her: her father Bob Balaban’s relationship with the monstrously suffocating Maxine, the awful one-day job she gets at the cinema. Birch’s relationship with Buscemi is convincing too and, despite the age gap, never particularly creepy; when the inevitable arrives, it is handled sensitively and in a credible manner.

But: having set up interesting characters and posed interesting questions about where they are going in life, the second hour of the film (which is easily twenty minutes too long) entirely forgets how much fun the first hour was and follows Enid into depression as she feels ever more sorry for herself, failing to complete her art course, failing to connect with her father, running away from the relationship with Seymour (and indirectly causing his life to fall apart too).

The conclusion of the film features its own piece of moribund symbolism as Norman (Charles C. Stevenson Jr), the man perpetually waiting for a bus that never comes, gets his ride and Enid follows: not only is this dramatically unsatisfying – we have no idea where she’s going or what she will do when she gets there, and hold out little hope that she will feel less sorry for herself – but feels like a strange message to send to the target audience of young women*. Not that movies are in any respect to be taken as guardians of morality or responsibility, but the film presents going missing on a bus to who-knows-where as a perfectly valid route for escaping your problems, and fails to give any consideration to what Rebecca or Dad might think of their friend/daughter going missing.

Still, this is a viewpoint from a thirty-something male who expected the film’s comic vein to be present throughout and result in a denouement something akin to Election or even Napoleon Dynamite (which takes a few cues from Zwigoff’s film); and in a way I respect Ghost World for its decision to follow Enid’s story to its rather downbeat conclusion. However, with great performances, excellent music, some good lines and a really good story, I would have liked to see these characters given a happier ever after.

NOTES: There is, of course, an interpretation of the story in which Enid’s journey is distinctly a one-way trip. In which case, the message is stranger still.

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The Guru

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: Dance instructor Ramu leaves India for America, dreaming of fame and fortune in New York. The reality is less than glamorous but Ramu’s emergency appearance as a swami at a swanky party bags him not only a girlfriend but also a new career: as a sex guru. Ramu, however, knows next to nothing about sex and relies on the supposedly confidential advice of adult film actress Sharonna, who is hiding her career from her fiancé. Will love get a look-in in this scenario of lust and deceit?

The Guru opens in an Indian cinema with a young boy who gets bored of watching a traditional Bollywood picture and sneaks into the next screen to watch Grease. I don’t know if this was a subliminal message to cinemagoers, or how many took the film up on the suggestion: but those that did can consider themselves as having had a lucky escape.

The boy, as it turns out, grows up to be Ram or Ramu (Jimi Mistry), a dance teacher much loved in his home town but keen to discover America, especially as a cousin has written back with tales of penthouse suites and Mercedes cars. But when he gets there, all Ram finds is a job in a restaurant (from which he is promptly sacked for covering an abusive customer in curry) and a share of a room above it; the only acting role he gets (after showing producer Michael McKean his macarena and taking off Risky Business) is in a porn film opposite Sharonna (Heather Graham), but even here he isn’t (ahem) up to the job.

Things look bleak, so Ramu turns up at the birthday party of spiritually-confused poor little rich girl Lexi (Marisa Tomei) to beg for his job back; however, the mystical swami booked for the occasion becomes permanently indisposed and Ram steps in. He is initially tongue-tied but Sharonna’s encouraging words in the ways of love come back to him and he is a sensation with the crowd, sending Lexi into spiritual ecstasy and causing a stir with her repressed friends and family. Whilst Ramu pretends to be a mystic, Sharonna pretends to be a supply teacher to keep her Catholic, abstemious, firefighting boyfriend Rusty (Dash Mihok) off the scent; the two agree to see each other so that Sharonna can pass on her ‘wisdom’ in a sex-talk-for-wedding-cake deal, but as their lessons continue a relationship grows. And all the time, Ram’s sham swami transforms the sex lives of New Yorkers and threatens to become a Broadway smash.

This being a romantic comedy, you may well be able to guess most of how The Guru resolves itself without any more information; and you might assume that the novelty of Indian main characters lends the film an enchanting Eastern feel, especially when Lexi’s birthday party turns into an impromptu Bollywood dance (albeit one performed by Americans such as Lexi’s mother, Christine Baranski).

And yet, almost nothing about Mayer’s film works. Firstly, whilst I am sure the film had the best of intentions about depicting Indians (taking pot-shots at obsession with status symbols, for example), Ramu’s friends come over not so much ‘Aren’t we funny?’ as ‘Aren’t we annoying?’ If Mistry is the least worst offender in this, it is only because he is so bland: he certainly doesn’t offer much by way of comedy, and (to British ears, at any rate) we know his accent is fake because we’ve seen him in soaps like Eastenders. But he’s not helped by the second point, which is that the writing of The Guru is lousy. The script provides a witless parody of the porn industry, dreaming up film titles like ‘Guess Who’s Coming at Dinner’ and ‘Glad-He-Ate-Her’; and in Sharonna, a miscast Heather Graham somehow thinks up profound proclamations about the nature of sex even though – in fact, because – she hates what she’s doing.

And what are these profundities? ‘Feel Billy Joel between your legs’ is the big one, leading to the hilarious sight of a theatre full of people chanting the words of ‘Just the way you are’ in a loved-up trance. At least Graham is spared Marisa Tomei’s fate; Lexi is an annoying, spoilt nothing of a character who exists solely to confuse religions and deities (is she supposed to be satirical?) and speed up Ramu’s progress towards stardom.

To be absolutely fair, there are a couple of bright lines in the film (especially the joke about America’s most famous Indian being the one in The Simpsons) and the actors generally do their best, but at every stage predictability and incompetence overtake them. Sharonna and Ram are almost discovered – he pretends to be a holistic plumber; the two have a fight and Sharonna vows to marry Rusty – Ram discovers he can think about nothing but her and rushes to tell her; he acknowledges his deceit, not only on a TV talk show, conveniently passing the mystic’s hat onto Lexi (that’s her dealt with!), but also in a cloying speech in the church; and Rusty, whose avoidance of sex has been suspicious all along, declares his love for the fireman who also comes to disrupt the ceremony (that’s him out of the way too! What a clever writer I am, says Tracey Jackson).

I was going to give this film a 5, until the director insisted on going full circle with the Grease idea and…well, you can picture the rest. There’s nothing particularly offensive about The Guru, but there’s nothing to get excited about either, and this is perhaps the greater crime. When a film contains New York, pornography, sex, Indian Cinema, religion and all the opportunity for sparks that the collision of these materials seems guaranteed to generate, the soporific harmlessness of the end result and the lack of fire is more than disappointing. For your own sakes, if Grease is on next door, go and watch that instead.

Bugsy Malone

WFTB Score: 12/20

The plot: A turf war erupts in prohibition-era New York when Dandy Dan, his gang armed with new-fangled Splurge guns, moves in on the interests of rival Fat Sam. From the safety of his sarsaparilla-serving speakeasy, Sam calls on chancer Bugsy Malone to help him out, but Bugsy has his own issues: wooing wannabe actress Blousey Brown while avoiding the attentions of Sam’s statuesque squeeze, Tallulah.

Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a man – okay, a child acting as a man – who minds his own business, which is (amongst other things) looking for fighters in New York. He also has an eye for the ladies, such as aspiring actress Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger) who hustles for a singing job at the lively Grand Slam speakeasy run by Fat Sam (John Cassisi). Sam’s got bigger troubles than singers on his plate, because erudite rival Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) – with the help of the ultra-effective Splurge gun – is wiping out his gang and threatening to take over Sam’s illicit interests.

Sam turns to Bugsy for help and while the latter’s grateful for the money, it brings him back into awkward contact with Sam’s girl Tallulah (Jodie Foster), carrying feelings for the fixer from times past. Despite Bugsy’s resourcefulness, he disappoints Blousey and struggles to find a solution to save Sam from disaster. However, a chance meeting with heavyweight Leroy (Paul Murphy) and the recruitment of a motley crew partially levels the playing field ahead of the final, messy showdown.

Assuming – as I think we have to – that Bugsy Malone is first and foremost a film for children, it should be a near-total non-starter. What familiarity did kids of the 70s, or any time since, have with tales of Prohibition-era gangsters? Furthermore, I can’t be the only person who, as a child, loathed the sight of other kids on the screen. I resented their precocity whether or not they were actually any good, and it has to be said that there are plenty of ropey performances here: not least Dugger (promoted to a starring role at the last minute) and, to be honest, Baio, who is affable but fairly bland.

Those two issues are plenty to be getting on with, but there are others: the film is sometimes repetitive, the plot lurches from scene to scene, and production values point to a movie without the budget to make sure everything was done to the best possible standard. Though I don’t mind it, there is something odd about children having adult singing voices; Noo Yoik accents fade away mid-sentence or completely fail to materialise; and there’s an awful moment in My Name is Talllulah when an extra obscures Foster completely by walking into shot at an inopportune moment.

Which makes it all the sweeter to report that for all of its faults, Bugsy Malone works like a charm. The fact that all the actors are children mitigates against their precocity, and makes for a unique viewing experience (fine, almost unique – bet you’ve never seen Kuwentong Bahay-Bahayan either). The tone of the movie is pitched just right; the children are old enough not to be twee or cutesy (though Dugger has a sweet, doll-like face), but neither are they asked to act like ‘real’ adults – in short, there’s nothing inappropriate in the film. Additionally, specific performances are very engaging: Cassisi is brilliantly pugnacious as Fat Sam, the sadly-departed Lev smartly suave as Dandy Dan. And then there’s Jodie Foster, whose range of expressions – and sincerity of emotion – reveal an experienced young actress operating on a different plane to her co-stars. The fact that she came to the shoot after filming Taxi Driver with Scorsese and De Niro explains a lot. A teeny Dexter Fletcher also makes an impression as Baby Face.

Bugsy Malone also benefits from Paul Williams’ catchy melodies, which I imagine are what linger longest in most people’s memories. Fat Sam’s Grand Slam, Tomorrow, So You Want to be a Boxer and Foster’s song are all great fun, but the song Bad Guys – later reprised and transformed into You Give a Little Love – contains the most energy and verve. Indeed, the riotous fight that forms the film’s climax is brilliantly handled, four or five minutes of song, dance, kids being kids and positive morals that contains more entertainment than many entire movies, especially for younger viewers. Adults are free to watch the movie too, of course, and while they’ll be more aware of the film’s faults, they can also appreciate the work that has gone into gently parodying the gangster genre. The splurge guns, pedal-powered cars and pint-sized period costumes are lovely, whilst the Grand Slam set is a thing of beauty – at least, until the kids wreck it.

Tastes and technology move on, and I’ve no doubt that many a 21st Century child will look at Bugsy Malone and wonder what the hell is going on. However, I’m equally convinced that there’s more going for Alan Parker’s film than nostalgia for watching it as a youngster; in performances such as Foster’s, and with a clutch of energetic, toe-tapping numbers, this is a film that will have fans of all ages for many years to come.

Not Another Teen Movie

WFTB Score: 7/20

The plot: Plain Janey Briggs seems set to spend another year as the butt of a load of familiar jokes, until bragging footballer Jake Wyler takes on the task of scrubbing her up to Prom Queen standard in order to win a bet. Meanwhile, Janey’s brother Mitch and his friends are desperate to lose their virginity and Jake’s sister Catherine is merely desperate to fulfil her rampant desire.

You may not have thought that movies such as American Pie and She’s All That contained enough substance to sustain a feature-length lampoon, but the five writers of Not Another Teen Movie thought differently and smashed the plots of several films together to make this spoof. Given that most of the films spoofed started off as juvenile and tasteless in the first place, it’s easy to fear the worst, but whilst Joel Gallen’s film is no Airplane!, it is thankfully a cut above recent efforts such as Epic Movie, Disaster Movie and so on (as far as I can tell, apart from ending in ‘Movie,’ this film is not linked to that franchise in any way).

Our main protagonist is Janey Briggs (Chyler Leigh), a nerdy composite of Rachael Leigh Cook’s Laney Boggs from She’s All That and Julia Stiles’ Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, with – in an opening sequence in which some, er, ‘private’ time is interrupted by family and well-wishers – a dash of Jason Biggs’ American Pie loser thrown in for good luck. The film proper begins in time-honoured fashion with new guys being shown around the campus of John Hughes High School and promptly being sectioned off into three groups: Jocks, Nerds and ‘slutty girls,’ labels which rebel Janey rejects to the mocking of preppy cheerleader Priscilla (Jaime Pressly) and her friends.

On the male side, Chris Evans takes up the Freddie Prinze Jr. role as Jake Wyler, the popular but troubled quarterback who takes up the bet to make Janey a prom queen even though she has ‘glasses, and a ponytail… [and] paint on her overalls.’ Janey’s wackily-dressed friend Ricky (Eric Jungmann) loves Janey as she is, but he’s destined to be forever overlooked. Rounding out the picture are Mia Kershner as Catherine (essentially copying everything Sarah Michelle Gellar did in Cruel Intentions) and Cody McMains as Mitch (fulfilling, with his friends, the American Pie bit, though he’s also obsessed with a beautiful girl, like Cameron in 10 Things…).

What follows is an extremely mixed bag of hits and misses as Janey is revealed to be anything but plain and Jake learns life lessons, even if his bad luck in Football games continues. There are some very good jokes which mock the inherent ridiculousness of the plot of She’s All That, or other High School movie staples – the token black guy, for example (two black guys at the same party? That is wack!); there are also some funny ‘voices off’ that puncture the seriousness of several scenes. There are some very bad jokes, such as the English teacher complaining about toilet humour before getting covered in excrement and an extremely flatulent girl, the geriatric reporter from Never Been Kissed, or the cheerleader with Tourette’s.

In between, the plots of the original films play themselves out with brief excursions into other movies; as increasingly is the case in this sort of film, the writers appear to hope that playing the ‘recognise the film’ game will pass the viewer’s time pleasantly enough in lieu of new gags. Some of the references go back a long way: the tributes paid to John Hughes, The Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwald in particular (she turns up to glower in the finale) are cute, but you do have to wonder whether an audience familiar with She’s All That/10 Things etc. would recognise, or care about, the nods to old [High] school films. Still, these touches do no harm and it is good to see Paul Gleason reprising his role as the bolshy teacher taking detention. Breakfast Club cameos apart, Mr T livens up an otherwise dull Football sequence, and thankfully that’s just about the limit of the famous faces – many a recent spoof has resorted to roping in celebrities but giving them nothing to work with.

A musical number towards the film’s climax signals that all five writers are struggling for ideas, but the actors make sure that staying with them isn’t too much of an ordeal as the film builds to the inevitable Prom. Rather than mugging for the camera, the young actors play their roles pretty straight; Evans is solid and Chyler Leigh most impressive as Janey Briggs, pulling off the trick of being beautiful and funny with flair. Although Mitch and his friends are less compelling, Randy Quaid as Mr Briggs has a great time as their trashy, inebriate father; in general, the performances are less of an impersonation than you might expect, each character gaining a semblance of their own personality which is more than you can say for many a modern spoof.

To be completely honest, I would struggle to recommend Not Another Teen Movie over most of the films that give it its inspiration, but you could argue that its cannibalisation is little worse than those movies’ heavy leaning on The Taming of the Shrew or Dangerous Liaisons. Despite moments of excessive gross-out humour, this movie denigrates its cast and the ‘art’ of film-making far less than a lot of recent comedies, and the cast repay the favour with some bright playing, making the film palatable on repeated viewings. Not a teen sensation, then, but not a tragedy either.

Elektra

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Brought back to life by mystical Kimagure sensei Stick, Elektra carves out a life as a top-drawer assassin; but the job of killing Mark Miller and his daughter Abby proves a hit too far. Elektra’s failure to complete the job brings out a horde of demons sent by evil organisation The Hand, who are strangely keen to get hold of the bright but troubled teenager. Elektra reluctantly decides to protect the youngster, but it’s too much of a task for her skills alone.

Last seen dead at the hands of the vicious Bullseye, Elektra Natchios (Jennifer Garner) seems an unlikely candidate to be carrying out hits against well-protected scum such as Jason Isaacs. Elektra is indeed alive, saved then spurned by blind Kimagure master Stick (Terence Stamp); but as she waits at a plush lakeside house for her next assignment, she’s something of a lost soul, recalling her father’s pushiness and her mother’s tragic murder at the hands of The Hand: agents of evil controlled by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Roshi, though his wild son Kirigi (Will Yun Lee) is itching to take charge.

Elektra meets the neighbours, would-be kleptomaniac Abby (Kirsten Prout) and her dishy father Mark (Goran Visnjic), and reluctantly pops round for Christmas dinner; their kindness means that when Elektra’s fixer McCabe (Colin Cunningham) identifies them as her next target, she cannot go through with it. Still, whoever wanted them dead is determined to get their way and Abby – not quite what she seems – is targeted by Kirigi’s cronies: man-mountain Stone (Bob Sapp), deadly beauty Typhoid (Natassia Malthe) and Tattoo (Chris Ackerman), who can summon animals from his skin to do his will.

Elektra initially leaves Mark and the girl with McCabe, but realises that Abby’s predicament mirrors her own life and becomes her protector. Even though Stick’s private army lends a hand against The Hand, it’s ultimately Elektra’s responsibility to defend her friend by squaring up to the lightning-fast Kirigi.

Viewers of 2003’s Daredevil may well be surprised by the existence of Elektra, since our heroine was pretty conclusively killed in that movie. However, death is frequently only a temporary inconvenience in Comic Book World*, and all is explained by Stick’s use of Kimagure to bring her back to life. There’s no criticising the film for that, but just about everything else in the film makes you wish that she had stayed dead.

For a start, it begins so slowly, presumably to let us appreciate Elektra’s state of mind; unfortunately, whilst Garner is very shapely in a range of outfits, her pouting lips and languid style don’t exactly lend themselves to existential crises or inner turmoil. Then how does the plot proper get underway? With an objectionable teenage girl, rarely something to gladden the heart of seasoned movie-lovers. The story contrasts Abby’s upbringing with Elektra’s, whose mothering instincts are provoked despite herself; and while the set-up brings Léon to mind, Prout is no Portman and her Abby is far too much the self-assured brat, on first impressions at least, to engage our sympathy or demand our interest. Goran Visnjic’s rugged but half-hearted love interest doesn’t add much either.

Things don’t improve when we get to the more obviously comic-book elements of the film. In Daredevil, Elektra was a woman who, whilst phenomenally athletic, was still more or less a normal woman. In her own film, she becomes a practitioner of Kimagure, an all-purpose mystical discipline which, in addition to knife-throwing, stick-wielding and general martial artistry, offers (besides resurrection) the ability to control time (allowing for some Matrix-like scenes), clairvoyance (albeit in black and white) and – laughably – a way of telepathically contacting your enemy; however, it can apparently be nullified by hedge mazes. The enemy are barely less silly, Tattoo in particular being a purveyor of daft flying wolf heads that chase the Millers through the woods.

None of this would matter much if the end result was spectacular and effective set-pieces, but there’s nothing memorable to report; one of the longest fights takes place between Abby and Elektra, and much of the action of the climax is lost amongst the obligatory, tiresome effects used to create dozens of errant sheets or a million CGI snakes.

I could go on. While there may be a good comic-based reason for it, I had no idea why the executive board of The Hand existed or why they looked like they had been bussed in from Rising Sun; I could mention that Terence Stamp is so uninvolved that he can’t even be bothered to use his eyes; I could have a go at Rob Bowman for his plodding direction, which exhibits neither a feel for action nor a sense of humour. However, I’ll leave it at this: for massive fans of Jennifer Garner, there’s enough happening in Elektra to make it worth a watch (to its credit, the film doesn’t drag on), and there’s nothing offensive should you want to show your own teenage daughter or son a strong female action hero – demons don’t bleed, they go up in puffs of smoke. Just be warned that it’s unlikely to be the most rewarding 90 minutes of your lives.

NOTES: The Simpsons make fun of this phenomenon when, in an edition of Radioactive Man, the hero and his sidekick Fallout Boy are killed on every page.

Killer Joe

WFTB Score: 14/20

The plot: Needing cash desperately to stave off his callous creditor, witless Chris Smith teams up with the rest of his family in a plot to murder his poor, unloved mother for her life assurance policy. To do the deed, they enlist the services of a corrupt cop nicknamed ‘Killer Joe’. The trouble is, they don’t have the money to pay Joe up front, and their only collateral is Chris’ innocent sister Dottie.

Judging by the jokes, there’s apparently no shortage of dumb Texans. Even so, you’d have to go some to find one dumber than Chris Smith (Emile Hirsch), who’s managed to get himself $6,000 in debt with no way of repaying it. With his deadbeat father Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) and stepmother Sharla (Gina Gershon) in no position to help, Chris hits on a drastic plan B: get his no-good mother killed so blameless sister Dottie (Juno Temple) can cash in and share out the $50,000 from the insurance policy. He’s even got an assassin lined up in crooked cop ‘Killer’ Joe (Matthew McConaughey), but there’s a snag; Joe won’t lift a finger until he gets his $25,000. On the other hand, Dottie is a sweet little thing…

I don’t wish to advertise the particular video streaming service I saw Killer Joe on – let’s just say it’s handy if you love film – but I have to admire their chutzpah in including the movie in their ‘comedy’ section. There is comedy in the film, mostly in the lazy, brainless lump that is Ansel and specifically in a moment of clothing-based comic timing; but in general, Killer Joe‘s view of life makes even the Coen brothers’ bleakest outings look like a Farrelly brothers romp. A more accurate description would be that the film follows the form of a morality play, showing the very serious consequences that follow when very stupid, very greedy people decide to dance with the devil.

And what a devil Joe is. His evil is overwhelming, though unquestionably charismatic, and to be fair the Smiths invite him in, though they can have little idea of the havoc he’ll wreak in their trailer. Joe’s evil is set against Dottie’s other-worldly – if not entirely innocent – nature, with Chris caught between his pathetic vices and a real concern for his sister’s welfare. Crucially, Tracy Letts’ writing always brings out the human drama of the characters’ interactions – for example, Dottie telling Joe “Your eyes hurt” or recounting the story of her mother’s, um, poor parenting skills. Veteran director Friedkin also plays his part, keeping most of the scenes tight and enclosed, retaining the intensity of Letts’ stage play as the plot unfolds and events turn from gritty and noirish to nightmarishly disturbing in its level of violence and weird depravity. If you’re at all squeamish, especially where food is concerned, you might want to give this one a miss.

If you were to do so, however, you’d be missing out on some fantastic performances. McConaughey’s is the most immediately impressive, powerfully transmitting Joe’s disregard for others through his commands and violent outbursts; Haden Church brings nuances of fear and cowardice to Ansel’s lazy acquiescence and Gershon is superb, Sharla never asking for our sympathy even as the actress suffers horribly for her art.

If anything, though, the real surprises come from the younger actors: Hirsch is terrific as the utterly useless Chris, completely unrecognisable from the wet blanket of The Girl Next Door; and Juno Temple beautifully brings across Dottie’s beautiful otherness. She submits to her ordeal but is never simply a victim of abuse; and you would never, ever guess that she’s an English rather than a Texan rose. And – brilliantly – she gets to tease us with the ambiguity of the film’s closing seconds, allowing us to come away with the ending we want.

However, it’s in the treatment of Dottie that Killer Joe’s issues are, as it were, exposed. There’s an uncomfortable and threatening, yet deliberately alluring, sensuality to Dottie’s seduction which feels exploitative; and the feeling isn’t limited to the way Temple is dressed or undressed, or how Sharla (or anyone else, for that matter) is mistreated (I won’t go into more detail, so as not to spoil the surprise!) at the film’s tumultuous climax. Having been unhappy about the way Charles Napier’s sadistic cop dispatched poor Angel in Supervixens, it would be hypocritical to give Friedkin’s film a free ride just because its focus is not so keenly on bosoms.

Actually, neither the sex nor the violence are problematic in and of themselves; it’s just that one way or another, they recall so many other films: movies by Meyer, Tarantino and the aforementioned Coens, A Clockwork Orange, American Psycho. It’s true, of course, that Letts’ play precedes many of these works, but Friedkin’s fine-looking film has to live in some very long shadows – and for all its shock value, lacks the long-lasting impact of many of those films.

Still, it’s good to know that confrontational, well-written films like Killer Joe are made and distributed, and that Friedkin is still able to bring his talents to bear, in the light of almost complete imaginative bankruptcy from mainstream Hollywood (look at 2011’s top 10 grossing films to see what I mean). It’s not exactly a barrel of laughs, or even what you’d call enjoyable, but some incendiary performances and a marvellous control of tension and atmosphere make for a very watchable film.

Lesbian Vampire Killers

WFTB Score: 4/20

The plot: Best friends Fletch and Jimmy drunkenly decide to take an impromptu break in the English countryside. They meet a busload of beautiful girls and the group head to a cottage where the lodgings are free and the beer flows freely. Unfortunately, there’s a catch: the village of Cragwich is cursed, and the party is disturbed by the arrival of bloodthirsty lesbian vampires. Jimmy must summon up the courage of his forefathers to prevent the rebirth of a vicious vampire queen.

If there are two lads who could do with a break, it’s fast friends Jimmy and Fletch (Matthew Horne and James Corden). Jimmy’s pushy girlfriend Judy (Lucy Gaskell) switches off their on-off relationship for the umpteenth time, while Fletch becomes unemployed after tiring of being a children’s entertainer and assaulting one of his charges. In a moment of drunkenness the boys choose a budget holiday destination by throwing a dart at a map, resulting in them hiking their way to the backwater village of Cragwich. The locals are a strange but suspiciously hospitable bunch, offering the boys the use of a cottage for the night; a deal which only gets better when they encounter a group of attractive young women, including mythology expert Lotte (MyAnna Buring) heading the same way. However, when things start going bump in the night, it’s not in the way Fletch would like but an attack by a horde of nubile young lesbian vampires, out for blood.

With the help of Lotte and the local vicar (Paul McGann), Jimmy and Fletch reluctantly take it upon themselves to fight back against the daughters of the village, cursed to turn on their eighteenth birthdays. What Jimmy doesn’t know is that he’s more involved than he could ever imagine, since one of his ancestors slew the Vampire Queen Carmilla (Silvia Colloca) centuries ago, and it’s down to him to ensure she doesn’t come back. Unfortunately, neither he nor Fletch are remotely suited to the grisly task.

The jumping-off point for discussing Lesbian Vampire Killers has to be a comparison with Shaun of the Dead, since the similarities go much deeper than a meek, put-upon protagonist accompanied by a larger, gobbier mate. Both the style – jumpy cuts, sped-up action, and the structure – fretting over failed relationships in the pub – are deeply imitative of SOTD, or perhaps more pertinently its TV forerunner Spaced. Spaced, however, was already cinematic in its references, sharply played and often brilliantly written: Lesbian Vampire Killers is a horribly written film.

For one thing, there are hardly any jokes, merely the juvenile notion that adults swearing is always funny, no matter how unimaginatively it’s done; for another, more important, thing, the characterisation is woeful. Matt Horne has so little to do he barely registers, while the remaining characters alter personalities so radically from one line to the next that you wonder if writers Stewart Williams and Paul Hupfield ever collaborated on the script, or just submitted half each as a final draft.

Judy, for example, is a hopelessly inconsistent character whose motivations are entirely unbelievable, and who doesn’t even stick around long enough to provide meaningful conflict for Jimmy and Lotte’s burgeoning relationship. And Fletch is all over the shop, one second aggressive and gung-ho, the next a high-pitched whiner full of can’t-be-arsed cowardice.

As a result, the acting appears to be awful, and while much of it is poor (the women are clearly chosen for their looks, not their acting chops) the cast shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. James Corden is capable of much more – for example the TV movie Cruise of the Gods, where he’s positively adorable – while Horne has employed his hangdog expression to good effect on the celebrated sitcom Gavin and Stacey (co-written, of course, by Corden). Here, the duo are literally lost in a script which even the notably thespish qualities of Paul McGann can’t raise from the dead.

None of the above would really be relevant if the film lived up to the fantasies engendered by the title, of course; but here again it disappoints. Yes, there’s a lad’s mag leeriness about some of the film, the camera stopping to note hotpants, heaving bosoms and the like. However, given that the film was always geared up to be a ‘15’ Certificate, it could surely have made more of the setting, introducing more gore, more spice, more knowing, parodic exploitation.

Instead, the Lesbian Vampires of the title are largely amorphous, CGI-heavy figures who make shapes at each other but do nothing except kiss in a teenage boys’ fantasy of what lesbianism might be like. Had the film gone full-throttle down the exploitation route it might not have been any better, but at least you could say director Phil Claydon had given it a go. There’s absolutely no point in giving a film a come-on title like Lesbian Vampire Killers, then producing a bland, uninteresting, unfunny stodge like this.

If you’re around the age of fifteen and have never been exposed to any sort of splatter, skimpily-dressed women or vaguely naughty swearing before – and given the popularity of the likes of Superbad, that’s highly unlikely – you might get something out of Lesbian Vampire Killers. Otherwise, you’ll have to be both a big fan of Horne and Corden and terribly, terribly forgiving. In other words, if you chuckled at their legendarily dismal sketch show, you might not hate this. If not, head straight for something – even Paul, at a push – featuring Messrs Pegg and Frost. Or better still, wait a few years until you’re old enough to enjoy From Dusk Till Dawn.