The Iron Mask 2019 ****

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What Did I Just Actually See? would be a good title for Oleg Stepchenko’s crazy-ass epic, which gets released in whatever’s left of the US and UK on April 10th 2020. Alternative titles include The Mystery of the Iron Mask, The Dragon Seal and most significantly, Viy 2; Journey to China, because this is, in fact, the sequel to Viy, a Russian hit from 2014. Much in the way that the Fast and Furious universe pulls into stars from other cinematic franchises, the Viy brand has pulled in two recognisable crowd-pleasers in Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both of whom have producer credits here. It sounds mad as a brush, but if approached correctly, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. There’s fake dragons, black witches, real dragons, flying monkeys and loads of sub-Pirates of the Caribbean CGI of 18th century locations; with no actual blockbusters on the horizon, we’ll just have to make do with this mind-boggling but endearing effort. Did I mention that this film claims to be based on the writings of Gogol?

Some have carped that there’s only a few minutes of the stars here; that’s fake news to be sure, because there’s a good forty minutes or so of wild action featuring Chan and Schwarzenegger; what’s odd is that they feature heavily in the opening of the film and they don’t return until the last couple of scenes. Chan is in his element with some intricate physical comedy; his character, Master, is chained up in the Tower of London by James Hook. Hook is played by the Austrian muscleman-turned-politician, and it’s one of the more oddball efforts of his remarkable career. With his red tunic, mutton chop/moustache combo and bug-eyed silent movie acting style, Schwarzenegger really gives this his all in a highly amusing piece of burlesque. Also locked up with the Master is a mysterious man in an iron mask, and it’s him that we follow on his gaol break, leaving the Master and Hook to fight it out. Did I mention that Hook is using King Arthur’s sword to fight the master? Just one more eye-brow raising detail in a film packed with them.

You’d better enjoy seeing Chan and Schwarzenegger’s Tom and Jerry routine while you can, because the film decides that’s quite enough of that for now and launches into something completely different. The rather charming Jason Flemyng is the actual star here, and this perennially underrated actor shines as Jonathan Green, a cartographer who invents a unique way of measuring distance involving a wheel attached to his carriage. A royal commission puts Green head-to-head with all kinds of computer-generated creatures, with real and fake princesses, dragons and a flying monkey that, once again, resembles boastful bat Bartok from the cartoon Anastasia, a character who seems to be living rent-free inside my head for the last few weeks. Did I mention that there’s musical sequences here?

Ok, so there’s a bit of bait and switch going on here, but be honest, would you be reading this if I’d led with Jason Flemyng and flying monkeys? If you’ve been carried along by the unfamiliar energy of such fanciful expensive international epics like 47 Ronin or The Great Wall, you’ll get the same kind of rush here; lots of strange creatures and eye candy, all the weirder because it’s highly unlikely that you’ve seen the first movie so there’s no context at all. That’s a strength here; with no idea what’s happening and no chance to find out, you can just sit back and enjoy the show, with everyone from Charles Dance to Rutger Hauer roped in to mumble about dragon’s eyelashes and wear silly costumes. Those of us who enjoy brainless entertainment with find that The Iron Mask is pretty much the only show in town this Easter; it’s a daft, family-friendly romp that’s sold on the back of two big names, but provides plenty of silly fun for those keen for a fix of fresh-air escapism. As William Hurt’s character says in The Big Chill; ‘Sometimes you just have to let art wash over you…’

Signature Entertainment presents The Iron Mask on Digital HD in the UK from 10th April 2020.

Standing Up, Falling Down 2019 ****

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Timing in comedy is, as both comedians and audiences will attest, everything; the release of Standing Up, Falling Down in the US came at a point at which cinemas and streaming services were positively groaning with new products. The UK release in April 2020 comes at a time of drought; there’s precious few new releases and even fewer which might be attractive to a mainstream audience. So it’s pleasant to report that Matt Ratner’s debut film is an enjoyable star vehicle for old favourite Billy Crystal, as well as a nice calling card for the lesser spotted Ben Schwartz.

Schwartz has had a prominent role in Parks and Recreation, although his misguided entrepreneur never seemed to be the right fit for the sitcom; he’s a stand-up too, and on paper, Standing Up, Falling Down sounds like a straightforward passing-of-the–torch number between old and young. Rarely seen of late, Crystal is a legend in the business, a nine time Oscar host and legit movie star whose work on films like Running Scared or When Harry Met Sally demonstrated he could handle the leading man role with aplomb. So when struggling comic Scott (Schwartz) finds Marty urinating in the sink of a comedy club, we kind of feel like we know where we’re going. But Marty isn’t actually a comedian, he’s a doctor, of sorts, and gives Scott some useful advice about a skin complaint. Marty is a kind of Patch Adams character, a naturally funny guy with a large Twitter following for his gags, but family issues which make him lonely. The two become friends, and Marty encourages Scott not to give up on his dreams so easily.

There’s some funny scenes here for sure; a pot-smoking escapade that goes wrong is delightfully played by all concerned. But Peter Hoare’s screenplay has more nous than just a simple gag-fest; when Scott finally arranges his comeback gig, he’s broken-hearted that it’s his beautiful ex girlfriend that turns up, not his dermatologist pal, a lovely twist on the conventions of the be-all-you-can-be genre. Standing Up, Falling Down stays true to the hard edge of the title, and the sentiment is earned by the bitter-sweet behaviour depicted here.

There are so few comic films made today that Ratner’s film deserves some attention; in the way that Danny Collins was a serviceable late-period vehicle for Al Pacino, this is a nice chance to see that Crystal can still shine, with Schwartz supporting nicely with a self-deprecating, wry performance that shows he’s more than a one-trick pony. Something of a relief in troubled times, Standing Up, Falling Down might just have arrived at the right time to warm up an increasingly chilly room.

Signature Entertainment presents Standing Up, Falling Down in the UK on Digital HD from 30th March 2020.

Ghost World 2001 ****

ghost worldNobody’s planning much right now circa March 2020, but it would be nice to think that the 20th anniversary of Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World next year might bring some attention to a neglected film. Adapted from a comic book by Daniel Clowes, Ghost World managed the difficult trick of getting Academy Award recognition (in the adapted screenplay category) and yet barely making a dent in the collective consciousness. A cult movie was born, and while Ghost World nimbly ducks accusations of ersatz geek chic, it’s still hard to pinpoint exactly what goes wrong and right here.

Clowes admitted that the last twenty pages of the script ended up not making the final product, and Ghost World is front-loaded plot-wise in a way that probably didn’t satisfy casual customers. But the route forward is paved with snark, and an off-kilter view of modern life that doesn’t feel dated at all. Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) graduate from their Californian high school without much fuss; they’re underwhelmed by the experience, and by pretty much all aspects of life around them. Rebecca has the usual crushes to content with, but Enid strikes up an unconventional friendship with a shew-ish middle aged man (called Seymour, inevitably, and played by Steve Buscemi, even more inevitably). Enid and Seymour bond over 78 records and distain for mainstream culture, but the experience tests the bonds between Enid and Rebecca.

Aside from a striking visual aesthetic, with empty streets and simple, effective frames, Ghost World has plenty to commend it, not least decent supporting roles for Illeana Douglas and Bob Balaban. And while Rebecca gets short shrift outside of her badinage with Enid, Enid herself is a three-dimensional creation, a role-model for malcontents, capable of great cruelty and kindness at the same time, without a firm notion of where these emotions are coming from. The perennially under-used Birch does a great job here, creating something iconic from Enid’s vacillations, and she’s the X factor that makes Ghost World worth another look.

Teen movies are ten-a-penny to be sure, but Ghost World’s dissection of teenage restlessness is even more prescient now than it was at the time. Viewers may be attracted to see Johansson in an early role (she’s fine), but Ghost World’s attitude is a one-off; John Malkovich produces, Todd Solondz visited the set, and it’s one of the best films made by middle-aged men about what women might feel when confronted by the comic, tragic un-loveliness of middle-aged men themselves.

The Company of Wolves 1984 ****

Featured-180401-CompanyOfWolvesThe Britbox streaming service has a way to go to convince the public that it can be an alternative to Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney + in the UK. A joint BBC/ITV venture, it is, like early Netflix, reliant on existing content, but tv content is not as timeless as the best movies are; the result feels like a pacifier for the elderly, rather than a new force in streaming. And with so many great films turning up on You Tube, it wouldn’t be hard to gather up the rights to a better selection of movies than the paltry last-turkeys-in-the-shop offered here.

And the exception that proves the rule is Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, a rather striking riff of werewolf myths and mythology based on a script and story by Angela Carter. Jordan feels that this is not a horror film, and certainly it doesn’t adhere to most of the clichés of the genre. It also doesn’t match the description on Britbox; ‘starring Terence Stamp’ reads the blurb, but Stamp has roughly twenty seconds of screen-time, playing the Devil, and says precisely one line.

Instead, the star of the film is the attitude of the author, Carter’s take on fairy-tales could be nicely summarised by the phrase ‘don’t bet on the prince’. Alive to the way that traditional stories re-enforce male dominance, Carter turns the hymn-sheet upside down and depict exactly how the werewolf legend might inform and inspire womanhood. Thus the stories told by Rosealeen (Sarah Patterson) by her granny (Angela Lansbury) deal with men who are hairy on the inside, with Stephen Rea undergoing a memorable transformation as a groom who comes home years after his wedding night.

Lansbury is not the only name here for genre fans; Brian Glover is a perfect villager, David Warner a father determined to protect his family, and Graham Crowden, a veteran of Lindsay Anderson’s sci-fi satire, plays the local priest. Micha Bergese, the choreographer, also has a striking scene. Their faces are right for a low-budget yet creatively imaginative production that evokes a dream-world that might have forerunners in Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. The influence of The Saragossa Manuscript is evident in the episodic structure, but the curious narrative form allows Jordan to be true to the spirit of Carter’s work.

This was a hard X at the cinemas, and seeing at as a schoolboy circa 1985, The Company of Wolves for, for sure, a horror movie for me, right up there with Alien. The gruesome effects haven’t dated at all, and there’s also some striking moment where wolves burst through the airs and graces at a costume dinner party, or Lansbury gets casually decapitated. The horror is real, but comes from a different source that other films; the imagery is re-set from a feminist POV, and that gives The Company of Wolves a unique flavour. Goodness knows what casual Britbox viewers will make of it, but The Company of Wolves is a neglected classic well worth tracking down.

https://www.britbox.co.uk/ or

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea 1954 *****

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A good few decades have passed since I first saw this at my local flea-pit, and now the Disney+ catalogue provides a chance to look again at Richard Fleischer’s robust adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic story. I saw this on a revival at my local fleapit at the age of six, and was impressed by the Gothic design of the Nautilus ship, by the dynamic lead performances, and the impressive physical effects, not least the giant boggle-eyed squid that was worth the price of admission if paying to see fighting squids is your thing.

Disney’s adventures in live-action haven’t always been successful, but with an expensive, state-of-the-art Technicolor/Cinemascope pedigree, this is one old movie that comes up looking pretty spruce. Sure, there’s a few dated process shots, but there’s also some stunning glass paintings, notably Captain Nemo’s volcanic base, and lots of well–integrated hydraulics and clever model-work. When I was a kid, this movie was all about the monster, but the plot and character development still made an impression, and while the submarine effects are still cool, it’s the acting that really seals the deal on classic status here.

Was there ever a better leading man that Kirk Douglas? Often shirtless, resplendent in his earring, never short of a sea-shanty (A Whale of a Tale!) or a cheeky rabbit-punch in the melt for those who annoyed him, his Ned Land is a rambunctious creation, and the fore-runner of many inferior action heroes to come. He’s perfectly matched in James Mason’s Captain Nemo, who comes on all saturnine charm, but the veneer soon gives way to intense philosophical wrestling about the current state and vexed future of mankind. Nemo is an ambiguous character, the very opposite of Ned’s two-fisted, straight-up heroism, and yet the two men play off each other perfectly.

Ned eats with his hands; he’s ‘indifferent to utensils’ and unimpressed by Nemo’s sophisticated, evolved diet, which serves up ‘milk of a sperm whale’ and ‘sauté of unborn octopus’. Their struggle, narrated by the wonderfully bug-eyed Peter Lorre, is that of the heart and the brain, yet both men have each quality in abundance and this isn’t a shallow story of good and bad but does justice to Verne’s loftier ideas. Ultimately, 20,000 Leagues is the yardstick by which Disney/family films should be judged; yes, there are attractive carnival elements like Douglas serenading a seal or fighting off cannibals, but 20,000 League Under the Sea delivers when it comes to story, dialogue, acting and overall bonhomie; it’s a cinematic game-changer of its day that still comes up fresh as paint today.

The Wolf Hour 2019 ****

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I used to read scripts at a company that had a first look with a major studio; one story that we saw over and over again, as drama, comedy or thriller, was a film in which an agoraphobic woman struggled to leave her house. Usually tailored for a Sandra Bullock or a Meg Ryan, we took these scripts seriously; it felt like one day there would be a great film on this subject.

The Wolf Hour isn’t that film, but it’s better than the disparaging reviews it’s had since a Sundance selection in 2019. Writer/director Alistair Banks Griffin’s drama/thriller is set in the hot summer of 1977, and the infamous New York blackout plays a key role. But this is, topically enough, a story about self-isolation, and as such, has a certain topicality. Naomi Watts plays June E Leigh, a gifted writer given a record-breaking advance to write a follow-up to a successful novel. She repairs to her grandmothers apartment in the South Bronx to write, and when the story starts proper, she’s years past her deadline and her writing isn’t going anywhere good. Instead she’s alone and obsessed with the constant threatening buzzing of her intercom, but the police don’t take her seriously and accuse her of crying wolf.

There’s a latent threat here, but where from? The delivery man, who has strange wounds he washes in June’s sink? The cop, who seems unnaturally aggressive and suspicious of June’s claims? A one-night stand that June orders from a phone service? The gangs of youths who seem to congregate at her door? Or perhaps the visitor who seems to be supportive but June has her suspicions about? Of course, there’s a serial killer on the loose too, this is the Summer of Sam. The Wolf Hour turns over and examines each card in turn, and although the resolution isn’t blinding, there’s still plenty of enjoyment in the scenario. Watts, who also executive produces, is pretty good here, shredding her good looks in a Kidman/Destroyer way and managing to suggest how June can be both smart, literate and self-aware while unable to overcome her fear of leaving her house; there’s echoes of Mulholland Drive as she blankly stares down the bland facia of the intercom.

The Wolf Hour also does well to restrict the action to June’s POV, with views out of the window and an otherwise tight focus on what she sees. There’s a touch of Repulsion here, but it’s worth revealing that this isn’t a film about sexual threat, more about an individual’s fear of the outside world. With much of the world’s population going stir crazy due to lockdown restrictions at the time of writing, The Wolf Hour’s timely insight into a specific mental condition is probably a healthy shot of cinematic drama for us all; it’s an absorbing little mystery B-movie that deals with isolation is a sensitive way.

The Wolf Hour hits UK streaming on March 23 2020 and can be rented or downloaded via the link below.

Basil the Great Mouse Detective 1986 ****

basilPerhaps it’s due to the deep dive into the Finnish suicide/BDSM scene that my reviewing duties led me to yesterday, but this seemed like a good time to enter a more familiar world and that world, dear reader, is the world of mice detectives. Sure, Stuart Little always had some problems to solve, and I was impressed by meeting of minds featured in Tom and Jerry meet Sherlock Holmes, but ultimately the greatest mouse detective is Basil, and a opening trial offer on Disney + provided this critic with a welcome opportunity to examine this seminal story in the annals of the shrew shamus.

Disney’s financial and creative issues are well documented in the 1980’s, and the failure of The Black Cauldron to revive the studio’s animation fortunes is often seen as the end of a chapter that re-opens with The Little Mermaid. But Basil The Great Mouse Detective was something of a hit, not enough to revitalise the studio, but certainly identifiable as a turning point in retrospect. The John Musker and Ron Clements team that worked on Mermaid and Aladdin found their feet here, and the lively style that suffused these films starts here.

Based on Evie Tutus and Paul Galcone’s book Basil of Baker Street, this is the story of Basil (Barrie Ingham), a mouse detective who lives in 221b Baker Street, and emulates the more famous denizen of the property; he has his own Watson, freshly returned from a mouse war in Afghanistan, and his own mystery to solve, a kidnapped mouse who may have fallen foul of Professor Ratigan (Vincent Price). Those wags who like to question the details of fictional world will have a ball with Basil’s London; there are mouse speak-easys, mouse prostitutes, a sexy mouse song sung by Melissa Manchester (Let Me Be Good to You) and mouse drugs; Watson is knocked for six by a solution put in his beer while he and Holmes are tracking down Rattigan. Their investigation leads them to their foe, and there’s an elaborate and highly impressive climax involving airships and a fight in and around the face of Big Ben. But the scenes before, with Basil taking control of an android mouse Queen of England to give Ratigan a public spanking, are as funny as the climax is thrilling.

Basil is never less than enjoyable, but there’s a few narrative flourishes, like the wonderfully elaborate manner of execution prepared for Holmes, that look forwards to the best comic exaggerations of the later Disney style. And in Ratigan’s batty assistant Fidget, there’s a truly iconic foe; wonderfully characterised, Fidget feels like the fore-runner of Iago and Abu in Aladdin, a side-kick whose expressiveness doubles-down on the main emotion of the scene, and he also feels like an ancestor of Bartok the bat in Don Bluth’s Anastasia.

This is arguably the most underrated Disney film, a secret success, sewing the seeds for a revitalisation of a creative identity that leads directly to the Disney+ brand. And no film that features Vincent Price as an evil villain can be dismissed; his saturnine voice works wonders here, and the scene in which he announces his tax plans for the country’s future at the expense of the weak and elderly is a neat indication of the moral folly of rampant capitalism, exactly the kind of trenchant political satire the kids today need to hear.

White Zombie 1932 ***

whitezombie1932A withering indictment of the gig economy and zero hour contracts in the Haitian workforce circa 1932, White Zombie is a horror movie with a sociological point. This is not White Zombie the band, but the 1932 film, coming in at a hefty 25 quid on blu-ray, but a reasonable £2.50 on Amazon Prime. Victor Halperin’s horror feature is a fairly primitive affair, even for 1932, but it’s got a certain something about it that has reserved a special place in cinematic depictions of hell on earth. So just to be clear; this doesn’t match up to modern cinematic standards, unless you enjoy stilted dialogue, over-ripe performances and unknown actors speaking extremely slowly. But if you’re prepared to overlook the faults, there’s something bubbling up rather nicely here.

These aren’t just any zombies, they’re cheap labour organised by Murder Lengendre, whose name sounds like he might be a rapper but is in fact performed by Bela Lugosi in a performance so ripe that even he must have wondered if he should tone it down a notch. Murder controls the zombie workforce by holding his hands together in the zombie grip; in this method, he runs his Haitian sugar cane plantation without any interference from health and safety jobsworths. Along come couple Madeleine and Neil (Madge Bellamy and John Harron), looking to get married, but the local boss Charles Beaumont (Ronald W Frazer) has designs on Madeleine and wants her for himself. So Beaumont consults with Murder, and decides that he’ll turn Madeleine into a zombie and get control of her in this unconventional method.

This is, in itself, a neat story idea; Murder uses his supernatural power for an economic gain, but wires are crossed when the same techniques are used for personal or sexual motives. You can insert your own capitalism metaphor here, but there’s a reason by Tobe Hooper wanted to remake this film, and it’s because there’s a genuine potency in the idea. It’s true that things get a bit bogged down here before a cliff-top climax where the characters fling themselves onto the rocks with gleeful abandon as the co-incidences and contrivances pile up. And while White Zombie is inferior to seminal works by Val Lewton or Carl Dreyer, it successfully evokes a similar primitive, haunting feel; the sound of the drums and the images of tortured souls have gained resonance over the years.

Even the most subtle of Lugosi’s acting techniques can still be seen from space, and yet his big performance is the heart of the film. Halperin even experiments with a couple of camera moves and some strange visual juxtapositions; there’s a brilliant use of silhouettes in a key dramatic scene. So while White Zombie works as a horror comedy, since there’s many unintentional laughs, it’s also something of a key text for horror fans, one that uncovers ideas about male control/economic mastery that still resonate today.

Slaughterhouse-Five 1972 *****

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE-POSTER_final-Art_Lucas-Peverill_20The moment that I gave up on terrestrial broadcasting of feature films was at some point during a BBC broadcast of George Roy Hill’s 1972 adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five Or The Children’s Crusade. Edited for content, with sweary dialogue, plot-driven nudity and whole scenes missing, then finally panned and scanned in a way that rendered the compositions meaningless, seeing this film cut to ribbons made a decision for me; no more trusting the authorities when it came to providing cinematic content.

Watching Slaughterhouse-Five now is something of a revelation. George Roy Hill’s 70’s output needs no excuses; post Butch Cassidy, he followed up with great star vehicles The Sting, The Great Waldo Pepper, Slapshot. But for the key role of Billy Pilgrim, a metaphorical time traveller, he went with Michael Sachs, an unknown who won a Golden Globe nomination here for a strong, subtle performance. Sachs plays Billy Pilgrim, a man who, not unlike a literary Doctor Who, finds himself unstuck and moving back and forward in time. Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t really sci-fi; the action moves, briefly, to an alien planet where Billy is put in an alien zoo and encouraged to mate with Playboy Playmate Valerie Perrine, but that’s essentially the last ten minutes. Otherwise, this film is largely a historical and personal meditation on the firebombing of Dresden during WWII, evoked using real, sobering footage here.

Seen in HD, Slaughterhouse-Five has a crisp, clean look by the wizardly Miroslav Ondricek, with technical specs through the roof; The great Dede Allen (Reds, The Breakfast Club) edits, with smash cuts back and forward in a fragmented timeline. Glenn Gould provides a remarkable soundtrack that, together with an imaginative sound-editing palate, makes Roy Hill’s film more like playing an album that watching the movie. And the digressions are intense as a 70’s movie might promise; a scene in which Billy’s wife crashes her car, dislodges her exhaust, and dies of carbon monoxide poisoning after driving the wrong way down a freeway is crazily downbeat, not least because the previous scene shows how joyful she was when Billy gifted her the same car. There’s all kinds of pleasures here, not least in the acting, with Ron Liebman and Eugene Roche particularly strong as the two experienced soldiers that Billy bounces between morally, Platoon-style, and John Wood as a British officer with a practical, worldly view that Billy finds hard to understand. And a final scene, as Dresden is looted and Billy finds himself trapped beneath a stolen clock, perfectly encapsulates the idea that although Billy moves freely in his mind, the physical world can still trap him in a moment in time.

Slaughterhouse-Five is a brilliant adaptation that even the author was delighted with; it distils key moments from a sprawling text, and creates something cinematic that is probably easier for us to get our heads round in 2020 than in 1972. A Cannes winner of the time, Slaughterhouse–Five is one of the best grown-up movies you’ve never seen, a wise, satirical and important story that sees several great talents realise a difficult text. And if you’ve only ever seen it on tv, it’s worth taking another look. So it goes.

Beowulf & Grendel 2005 ****

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Didn’t I review Beowulf a few weeks ago? Aha, well spotted, but that that was Beowulf, and this is Beowulf & Grendel; yes, as you survey months ahead without a single cinema release circa 2020, over a decade ago there was such a glut of cinema around that there were competing films based around Old English epic poetry. Millennials might find it hard to believe but there was a worldwide mania for Old English epic poetry in the first years of this century; you couldn’t sit down in a Seattle coffee shop for grungy West Saxon scholars. Alas, Robert Zemekis’s Beowulf was not a hit, and neither was Sturla Gunnarsson’s earlier effort as viewed here, and the focus moved to Marvel now that the vogue for Hrothgar interpretation has faded.

Critic Nathan Rabin, always a good canary-in-the-coalmine when it comes to this kind of film, described it as going ‘entertainingly awry’, but while the director admitted that pretty much every aspect of this film went ‘awry’ in a feature length documentary Wrath of Gods (2006), the result is defiantly entertaining. Firstly, it’s got a much better Beowulf in Gerry Butler, freshly graduated from Strathclyde University’s law department and in his absolute prime here. The warrior fights the monster Grendel, and his mother, but strangely the events that provide the inciting incident for Zemekis’s film are the climax here, with ensuing pacing issues. In fact, Beowulf and Grendel has quite a different take on the source material, humanising Grendel, who we see playing 10-pin bowling with human heads and passing the time before revenging the death of his father. Much more is made of the tribal issues that Beowulf, pumped-up on herring and egg, solves, notably Eddie Marsan as a religious leader. ‘Christ? I’ve heard of him,’ muses an unconverted heathen. ‘Did you ever have much luck with trolls?’ Such anachronistic dialogue promises and delivers laughs for sure, but it’s clear that everyone is in one the joke; everyone mumbles about ‘f**king trolls’ and Stellan Skarsgaard’s boozy king curses ‘No-one eve tells me anything!’ He’s a king who bemoans ‘I’m a king whose balls are ground up on Instagram’ although I may have mis-transcribed that line; no subtitles were available.

‘Where there is superstition, there is practice,’ is a more stimulating line that sticks in the mind here, suggestive of the film’s demythologising of the subject without removing the magic; this Beowulf isn’t given to CGI, but stunningly shot locations in and around which tiny figures run, a unique look that, from all accounts, exhausted cast and crew. More information on the trials and tribulations of the shoot can be gleaned from the detailed EPK interview with Butler on the last day on the shoot, sitting in his Winnebago in full costume looking like every inch a football star giving a post-match interview.

Beowulf & Grendel made $100,000 on a sixteen million dollar budget, quite a feat, and yet it is, by Rabin’s terminology, a secret success. It has a unique, authentic look, a striking take on superstition and religion as non-exclusive, and big, big performances from Butler and Sarah Polley, red of hair, lustrous of make-up and relishing every second as an Irish soothsayer. It’s no surprise this whole enterprise was caviar to the general; the two box quotes on the DVD offer the faintest of faint praise ‘Gerald Butler is perfectly cast,’ gushes cinematical.com while reel.com dishes out the superlatives with ‘the movie is better than the book’. Neither cinematical.com or reel.com exist now, even if they existed back then, so questions might be asked about the authenticity of these pull quotes; bizarrely, it’s easier to trace Old Norse epics than identifying reviewing websites of 15 years ago. Beowulf & Grendel is a knowing, underrated, revisionist take on a legend that comes up fresh, funny and far better than it’s reputation suggests. Much like the title character.

99p on Amazon Prime in the UK, go on, you know you want to…