Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Chronicle (2012): Review

Chronicle is a 2012 found-footage sci-fi film. Directed by Josh Trank and starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell (Wasted on the Youth, Almost Kings) and Michael B. Jordan (Red Tails). Although the film is set entirely in Seattle, Washington it was actually filmed in Cape Town, South Africa to reduce the budget.

 Chronicle follows high schoolers Andrew (DeHaan), Matt (Russell) and Steve (Jordan). Andrew is an angst-ridden anti-social teenager who decides to chronicle his life with a video camera and his cousin Matt is trying to help him fit in. Along with Matt's friend Steve, the trio discover a mysterious crater in the earth when they become bored with a local rave and venture inside to discover something not of this world. After the encounter, the trio discover they have acquired the power of telekinesis and set about documenting their powers and the impact they can have on their surroundings. This is soon followed by the ability to fly, and they soon find their powers increasing rapidly. Andrew's troubles at home soon begin to affect his mindset as his father is a drunk and his mother is terminally ill and he starts to abuse his powers , turning into a megalomaniac. As Andrew's rage manifests, he attempts to tear the city apart and it 's down to Matt to confront his cousin in a spectacular climactic fight sequence.

 Chronicle is a fine example of pushing the found-footage sub genre in a new direction and overcoming the restrictions and cliches associated with the format. This is achieved rather cleverly by allowing Andrew to control the handheld camera through his telekinesis and allows for a much wider selection of camera angles than is usually available in a found-footage film. It also helps to appeal to those turned off by the "shaky-cam" style as, for the majority of the film, Andrew is in firm control of the camera and is in fact acting as the director to his own chronicle. In addition to this there is also the added element of other cameramen's perspective such as Matt's girlfriend and, towards the end, a variety of alternate recording devices such as camera phones, CCTV and even helicopter footage. Again this frees the film from the restraints of found footage and allows it to create extraordinary action sequences that film makers wouldn't usually be able to achieve within the sub-genre.

The special effects are also very well done in the film and are blended in a very realistic way essential to the format. Cheap and fake CGI would've stuck out like a sore thumb in a found footage film but the excellent, and very subtle, effects used in Chronicle allow you to suspend your disbelief. You also become immersed in the character's adventures, even when you're watching them play football at aeroplane cruising height. The application of superpowers to ordinary kids creates a real escapism for the viewer as you imagine where you would go if you could fly and what you would do if you had the power of telekinesis. This brings he viewer back to their own school days but also reminds us that when teenagers are given immense power, no good can come of it.

Chronicle is a hugely enjoyable found footage film that reminds us what can be achieved within the format and that there's still life in the old dog yet. It also works extremely well as a superhero (but not necessarily comic book) film grounded in reality and shows there's more that can be done outside of traditional found footage horror genre. The film sometimes veers into far-fetched territory with it's outlandish camera angles but if you can suspend your disbelief and go with it, you'll have a blast!

4 Stars ****

What did you think of Chronicle? Did you like the application of found-footage to a superhero film?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Superior Remakes #3: The Ring (2002)

The Ring is a 2002 psychological horror film. Directed by Gore Verbinski (Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy) starring Naomi Watts (King Kong, 21 Grams) and Martin Henderson. The film is a remake of the seminal Japanese horror film Ringu (1998) but adapts the back story and setting for a western audience.

The film opens with two teenage girls discussing an urban legend involving a mysterious videotape, the legend goes that after viewing the videotape you receive a phone call telling you that you will die in 7 days. It is revealed that one of the girls did indeed watch the tape exactly a week ago and consequently suffers inexplicable heart failure, it also just so happens that the victim's Aunt is top journalist Rachel (Watts) and after a plea from her sister she sets about investigating the mysterious circumstances surrounding her Niece's death. Rachel manages to retrieve and watch the tape prompting her to receive her own phone call to indicate her days are numbered. After showing the tape to her ex partner Noah (Henderson) and accidentally to their son Aiden, Rachel becomes trapped in a race against time to save her family and find a way to break the curse of the tortured Samara.

Ringu was a tremendously groundbreaking film and helped to not only revive south east Asian horror but also had an enormous influence on western horror. The Ring is a direct result of that influence and as good as the original is, the American remake is just that little bit better. There are 2 main reasons for this, the striking direction by auteur Gore Verbinski and the incredibly strong central performance by Naomi Watts. The original had it's own style and atmosphere but The Ring goes way beyond that with it's blue-grey palette and iconic imagery creating a fresh and engaging style all of it's own. The repeated use of imagery from the tape such as the tree, the horses eye and of course the iconic well ring create an immersive sense of empathy as you experience a little taste of the hallucinations that the characters are experiencing.

Watts is tremendous as the rather unsympathetic Rachel character, her first appearance is when she arrives late to pick up her son from school and the parenting skills just get worse from there on. This is a really refreshing change from the virtuous hero/heroine and of course draws a parallel with the fraught relationship between Samara and her mother making for a really interesting characterisation of the lead. The use of advanced CGI effects in the film has been a point of contention for fans of the original, and whilst I will agree that the iconic ending of Ringu has been given an unsatisfactory gloss here, there is one use of CGI that I feel greatly improves upon the originals effects. The fleeting shots of the victim's faces after their encounter with Samara are some of the most disturbing images I've seen in a horror film, and the grotesque lifeless expressions left much more of an impact than the originals use of a negative freeze frame.

Most successful Japanese horrors have been remade for the western market purely for people who can't be bothered to read subtitles and some have been disastrous (Pulse, I'm looking at you!). However, the way in which The Ring has been remade has allowed for the brilliant premise to be retained whilst adapting the mythos for a completely different culture, and combine this with it being arguably one of the most visually impressive horror films (alongside The Shining) and you have a truly terrifying film with enough depth to creep under your skin and stay with you for a long time.

5 Stars *****

What did you think of The Ring? Do you prefer Ringu?

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth (2012): Review

Nazis at the centre of the Earth is a 2012 straight-to-dvd nazisploitation film. Directed by Joseph J. Lawson starring Dominique Swain (Lolita, Face Off) and Jake Busey (Starship Troopers, Identity). The film is an Asylum "mockbuster" and is intended to capitalise on the more widely released nazisploitation film Iron Sky (2012).

The film follows an Antarctic scientific expedition helmed by Dr Lucas Moss, his partner Dr Paige Morgan (Swain) and Dr Adrian Reistad (Busey). After Paige and her colleague are abducted by gas masked Nazis during a field test the rest of the crew mobilise and set out to investigate their disappearance. This leads them to a crevasse in the ice which in turn leads them to discover an entire world within the centre of the earth populated exclusively by Nazis, meanwhile the captives are being interrogated by Dr Mengele so that the Nazis can learn more about modern science and rebuild their rotting army. The rest of the crew soon join the captives and the Nazis manage to extract enough knowledge (and stem cells) to achieve their master plan and give birth to a fully resurrected robo-Hitler.

 Nazis at the Centre of the Earth is, above all, a crushingly boring film. If you've seen any of the other Asylum projects (Titanic 2, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus et al) you'll definitely know what to expect; terrible acting, idiotic script and atrocious (and entirely unnecessary) CGI effects. For example there are exterior shots of a snowmobile that has been digitally rendered which begs the question, is it really cheaper to digitally render your props and sets? And judging by the quality of the CGI on display I think that question is resolutely answered. The dreadful looking robo Hitler is another eyesore, looking like it could've been featured in a computer game from around ten years ago (which is ironic considering the nod to Castle Wolfenstein) and really takes the film in an even more outrageous, but still not funny, direction.

 Swain and Busey are both wooden and awful, although to be fair they have been saddled with a terrible script to work with, and in fact the only character in the film that comes across as even remotely engaging is the Josef Mengele character, as he plays it straight and sinister with minimal Nazi (love) camp. The story has enormous plot holes, taking it's initial setup from John Carpenter's The Thing and antagonists from the excellent (and much funnier) Dead Snow but obviously not coming anywhere those films in terms of quality. The fact that the centre of the earth looks like some kind of wooded nature reserve is absurd and was clearly due to budget constraints, and why is it so clear and sunny? It's supposed to be the molten core of our planet for god's sake!

Nazis at the Centre of the Earth is a pitiful attempt to piggyback on the buzz surrounding Iron Sky, which will hopefully be a far more enjoyable film, and has absolutely no redeeming features or entertainment quality whatsoever. Poorly made, poorly acted and nowhere near bad enough to be good, there has been a clear waste of a ludicrous concept which could have been exploited for comic effect but which ends up being about as funny and entertaining as Nazi Germany itself.

1 Star *

What did you think of Nazis? Are you looking forward to Iron Sky more?

Monday, 21 May 2012

Skyfall Teaser Trailer is Here!

The first teaser trailer has been released for upcoming James Bond film Skyfall. Featuring some intriguing word association the trailer also features some very epic looking action sequences. Skyfall will be released in November.

What do you think of the trailer?

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Duncan Jones to Direct Fleming Biopic

Duncan Jones is set to direct a biopic of Bond creator Ian Fleming's life. The award winning director of Moon and Source Code will be adapting Andrew Lycett's biography of the man behind the famous spy and will be the first feature film to document Fleming's life.

Are you looking forward to this? Do you think Jones is right for the project?

Friday, 18 May 2012

Movie B Bad #3: The Boxer's Omen (1983)

The Boxer's Omen aka Mo is a 1983 Hong Kong kung fu fantasy film. Directed by Chih-Hung Kuei and starring Phillip Ko. The movie was produced by the prolific Shaw brothers studio, who produced most of the Hong Kong movies of that time.

The Boxer's Omen follows the story of Chan Hung whose brother becomes paralysed after a brutal kickboxing match with a vicious Thai boxer. Chan Hung vows to avenge his brother and defeat the man responsible,  however, before starting his boxing training he is visited by the ghost of a Buddhist master which prompts him to fly to Thailand to train as a warrior monk. This is where the film pretty much abandons the boxing plot altogether and focuses on Chan Hung's quest to learn the ways of Buddhist magic and break the curse placed on his master by the evil wizards. This involves competing in bizarre wizard duels as well as finding time to return to Hong Kong to actually compete in afore-mentioned kick boxing match before travelling to Tibet to find the Dalai Lama's ancient ashes and lift the curse once and for all.

This film is a bizarre, nonsensical but hilarious mess. The title is really a misnomer as there is barely any kickboxing in the film and after the opening 10 minutes Chan Hung (and apparently the film makers) completely forgets about his brother and instead vows to avenge the Buddhist master that he's only just met, which is certainly a mismanaging of priorities. The story just gets more bizarre from there and combined with the highly erratic editing it's certainly a difficult plot to follow. Many of the sequences appear to be hallucinations in Chan Hung's mind and the set design rarely makes it clear where the events are transpiring or whether there even indoors or outdoors.

The best thing about the film is easily the battle sequences and the hilariously poor special effects that accompany them. As soon as the first battle starts (between the black wizard and the Buddhist master) you know the film is about to go off on an epic tangent as there is face melting, reincarnation and manipulation of bats and cobras. This first battle sequence is only there to illustrate how diabolical the black wizard is, it's the battle between the wizard and Chan Hung himself (fresh from his head-shaving and magical monk training) that is the truly ludicrous centrepiece of the film. This features flying heads, snapping crocodile skulls and a giant alien head birthed from a ball of pink slime, to name but a few highlights, and is both hilarious and delirious in equal measures.

The Boxer's Omen is a film in which it is absolutely futile to attempt to follow the plot but is what you have to call a truly original piece. There are sequences in this film that could only originate from the most deranged imagination and many elements that I''ve never seen on film and probably never will again. I would loosely recommend the film for fans of kung-fu or fantasy films but in essence it is a psychedelic exploitation film which is as much an acquired taste as regurgitated bananas (watch the movie)

4 Stars ****

Have you seen The Boxer's Omen? Have you seen any black magic films?

James Bond Returns! In New Skyfall Teaser Poster

The official teaser poster has been released for upcoming Bond film Skyfall. This precedes an official trailer that is due to be released on Monday to start the hype for the 23rd Bond film.

Are you excited for Skyfall? What do you think of the poster style?

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Quiet Eye, Prometheus Viral Clip

The latest (and possibly last) viral clip has been released to promote upcoming sci-fi epic Prometheus. This one is entitled "quiet eye" and features Noomi Rapace's character Dr Elizabeth Shaw, potentially the closest character to an Ellen Ripley, and a video message left for Peter Weyland discussing her archaeological interests. The film is released on 1st June, check out the clip.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Underworld Awakening (2012): Review

Underworld Awakening is a 2012 horror action film. Directed Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein (Shelter) and Starring Kate Beckinsale (Underworld Franchise, Van Helsing), Theo James (The Inbetweeners Movie) and Charles Dance (Alien 3, Last Action Hero). The film is a direct sequel to Underworld Evolution (2006) and the fourth film in the series overall.

Underworld Awakening picks up right where Underworld Evolution left off (Rise of the Lycans was a prequel and as such isn't really mentioned). After the events of Evolution there is an ethnic cleansing of vampires and lycans and Selena (Beckinsale), together with her lover Michael Corvin (a vamp/lycan hybrid), attempt to escape the genocide. Unfortunately they end up getting knocked out by a grenade and when Selena awakens she discovers she's been in cryogenic stasis for 12 years (a la Demolition Man) and both immortal species' have been near eradicated. Selena's prime objective is to locate Michael, howeve,r what she ends up with is her (presumably) 12 yr old daughter whom she was hitherto unaware of and has also inherited her fathers unique hybrid genes. This leaves Selena and what's left of the vampire clan to unravel the lycan conspiracy and discover why vampires are near extinction but lycans appear to be re-surging.

Underworld is one of those strange modern horror franchises that actually lends itself to being milked absolutely dry, much like a Resident Evil or a Final Destination, these are the modern-day slashers, the Friday the 13ths or the Nightmare on Elm Streets. The key element that lends itself to this kind of longevity is the effectively simple premise...vampires vs werewolves, these kind of films pitting classic monsters against each other are now sadly a part of b-movie history, and make no mistake Underworld is one big expensive b-movie. Admittedly the Twilight franchise has muscled in on Underworld's clan rivalry concept  but I'd like to think that Underworld doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as the afore-mentioned "horror" franchise and comes across as a more enjoyable, action-packed and gory endeavour.

The continued characterisation of the rival clans continues to be the strong point of the franchise although the lycans are some what neglected here with no real villain characters to speak of (presumably they had their screen time in the prequel) and the camp factor of Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy is noticeably absent. However, Dance steps seamlessly into the role of Vampire elder and Beckinsale's usual cold and hard portrayal of Selena is enough to keep you occupied in between the shooting and exploding. There are interesting new additions to the series in the form of a jumbo werewolf (resulting from hybrid genetic modification) and an interesting silver nitrate gas grenade which adds a visually impressive sparkle (a twilight wink perhaps) to the violent action sequences.

Underworld Awakening is a genuinely entertaining and fun popcorn movie, it is a blatant vehicle for action choreography and special effects but the film sticks to what the franchise does best and reminded me how I rather liked the previous films in retrospect. You can definitely check your brain at the door, as the plot is a mere formality, and enjoy watching vampires and werewolves tear each other to bits, after all, how many other films are offering that in 2012?

4 Stars ****

What did you think of the film? Have they made enough Underworld films now?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

First Clip From Wheatley's Sightseers

The first clip has been released for Ben Wheatley's upcoming Sightseers. The film will premiere at the Cannes film festival and will follow hot on the heels of last years critically acclaimed Kill List, details are scarce but it's definitely a rural affair and appears to share the same tension and oddball humour as Kill List. Check out the clip over at Twitch Film

Are you looking forward to this? What kind of film are you expecting?

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Devil Inside (2012): Review

The Devil Inside is a 2011 found-footage religious horror film. Directed by William Brent Bell (Stay Alive) starring Fernanda Andrade and Suzan Crowley the film was shot on a small budget in Romania, Italy and the Vatican City.

The Devil inside follows the supposed demonic possession of Maria
Rossi (Crowley) and her daughter Isabella's (Andrade) investigation to uncover the meaning behind her multiple murders and subsequent confinement to an Italian asylum. Once in Italy she discovers the exorcist academy and meets 2 local priests who agree to show her an exorcism to greater determine whether her mother is indeed possessed. The film culminates with Maria having an exorcism performed on her however the ritual has a seriously adverse effect on those present as the witnesses begin to show signs of possession themselves.

The Devil Inside has been the target of much criticism and scorn from critics and audiences alike, however I feel a lot of this negativity is based on people being influenced by other opinions and reacting badly to the ending in particular. I won't try to argue that The Devil Inside is a poor film, it is, but not spectacularly so and it's important to get to the root of why people have been so deeply offended by this film. Firstly it is really quite silly, the lecture sequences in the exorcist academy in particular, and the cast overact so much that it is difficult to take this seriously as a horror film or certainly a found footage film. That's not to say there aren't genuine creepy and scary moments but they were all in the trailer and are all undermined by idiotic dialogue delivered by very poor actors.

The main thing that has offended people seems to be the ending. I won't give away too much even though many other people have, but the general message is that the investigation into Maria
Rossi was never resolved. Not only does this void the entire plot and build-up to the final sequence but the way in which it is delivered is so insulting to movie fans that it was booed by several audiences, and rightfully so. The bare minimum that one expects from a film that portrays itself as an investigation or "mockumentary" is that the main issues are resolved, this is lazy, arrogant film making and has earned the film it's reputation despite some very effective sequences in other places.

If you're a die-hard found footage fan (which I am) or a die-hard religious horror fan (which I'm not) you may find some of the scares effective and the plot somewhat interesting however, for the most part I found it to be a
clich├ęd, boring and predictable mess. This might have cut it in the early days of the found footage craze but in 2012 audiences expect a lot more than the same old cheap tricks and an idiotic conclusion.

2 Stars **

What did you think of the movie? Does it deserve it's criticism?

Sunday, 13 May 2012

New Prometheus Posters

The Prometheus marketing machine keeps rolling with two new international posters for the upcoming sci-fi epic due for release in less than 3 weeks. Looks like we're sticking with the giant head imagery and the pod chamber which is sure to be explained when the film is released on June 1st.

What do you think the giant head means? What's inside the pods?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

IT!...Came From the 50s #3: Invasion of the Bodysnatchers (1956)

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is a 1956 sci-fi film adaptation of the 1954 novel of the same name. Directed by Don Siegel (Dirty Harry, Escape From Alcatraz) and starring Kevin McCarthy (Innerspace) and Dana Wynter (Airport). The film is regarded as one of the classic sci-fi movies of the era and has been remade 3 times.

The story is told from the perspective of Dr Miles Bennell (McCarthy) in the form of a flashback, complete with narration. Bennell is a GP in the small fictional town of Santa Mira, he starts to notice strange activity after his patients begin to accuse their loved ones of being impostors completely devoid of emotion. One such case is referred to him by romantic interest Becky Driscoll, who's cousin suspects her uncle of being an impostor and this leads them to Bennells friend Jack who finds a body bearing a suspicious resemblance to himself. The couple discover the towns inhabitants are being replaced by doppelgangers or "pod people" as part of an alien invasion and are left with no one to trust as they attempt to escape the invasion!

Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is no doubt a seminal work of science-fiction and one that most people are aware of in one incarnation or another, the main reason for it's success and longevity is it's surprisingly deep philosophical themes. Like many of it's contemporaries the film is an allegorical tale, not of war or science but of identity and trust.  This adds an interesting existential element to the film that was simply not seen in other sci-fi films of the era; what makes a person who they are? what makes us human? and most importantly how well can you really know someone. This is highly relevant due to the historical context of the film, being released in 1956 places it not only at the centre of the cold war but also at the centre of McCarthyism and this is epitomised in the films strong sense of paranoia and distrust.

 Atmosphere also plays a large part in the effectiveness of the film and creates a tension rarely seen in other science fiction/horror films of the day. The narration also works really well to flesh out the story and prevent any confusion over the body doubles and who's who and the subtle difference in the performances also helps to make this distinction. The design of the pod people is really well done and quite sinister considering the primitive level of special effects available, the lifeless bodies are born out of the pods covered in a bubble-like plasma and when they emerge have a shiny waxwork-esque appearance which is quite arresting. All the actors give suitably over-the-top performances throughout the movie's central crisis which rather than looking dated actually contributes to the films overall theme of mass hysteria.

When a film gets remade three times it's usually an indication of a compelling and timeless story and that's exactly what Invasion of the Bodysnatchers is. Pioneering and so relevant to the time in which it was made, the film is as thrilling and tense as I'm sure it was in 1956 and if you've ever seen any of the other versions I certainly recommend going back in time to experience the original.

5 Stars *****

Have you seen this film? Have you seen any of the remakes?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Bad Ass (2012): Review

Bad Ass is a 2012 action-comedy film. Directed by Craig Moss and starring Danny Trejo (Machete, From Dusk 'til Dawn), Ron Perlman (Hellboy) and Charles S. Dutton (Alien 3, Gothika). The film was based around the youtube sensation epic beard man, a video which captured senior citizen Thomas Bruso becoming involved in an altercation on a San Francisco bus.

The film opens with the recreation of the epic beard man video in which Frank Vega (Trejo) defends an elderly black man on his local bus by beating up 2 skinheads. As in real life Vega becomes a cult hero and  role model as a result of the video whilst simultaneously inheriting a house from his mother. Frank moves in fellow Vietnam vet Klondike and dog Baxter, but just as he starts to settle (after years of post-war alienation) a pair of local thugs gun down Klondike and leave Frank heartbroken. As the local police procrastinate Frank takes the law into his own hands to track down Klondikes killers and avenge his death leading him to unravel a corrupt conspiracy involving Mayor Williams (Perlman) and gang lord Panther (Dutton) along the way.

When I first heard about this film I was really expecting a vigilante exploitation film similar to the excellent Hobo With a Shotgun (2011) however it's a surprisingly genuine drama with real heart, as well as plenty of ass-kicking. You may be wondering how Moss managed to turn a 3 and a half minute youtube clip into a 90 minute film, the answer is very loosely. The only thing the movie has in common is the incident itself and the general setting and character involved, this is to the film's credit as Trejo is able to play a much more sympathetic and likeable character than the real life epic beard man and flesh out the context of the incident. The bus sequence acts as a catalyst to establish the absence of law enforcement which then allows the audience to get behind Frank and his quest for vengeance.

This movie would be absolutely nothing without Trejo, this is one of the finest performances of his prolific career (which to date includes 228 acting credits). Trejo provides the necessary emotional core that elevates the film above senseless action sequences and it's impossible not to like or sympathise with the Frank character. The other thing that surprised me about the movie was how funny and sharp it is, Trejo has the pleasure of delivering some laugh-out-loud Bond-esque one liners such as grinding a man's arm into a garbage disposal then thanking him for "giving him a hand". By using this kind of humour the film is able to remind you that a story involving a senior citizen single-handedly bringing down an organised crime syndicate doesn't necessarily take itself that seriously.

You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a movie featuring the talents of Danny Trejo somewhere along the way but this is truly a role that Trejo has been waiting a long time for. Able to flex his comic muscles at the same time as his regular muscles, Trejo creates a very sweet and likeable character that is even able to portray an (almost) believable relationship with a woman half his age whilst simultaneously beating up half of California in the process. Bad Ass is violent and dramatic but just like the titular character it's young at heart and thoroughly entertaining, the type of old person we'd all like to grow into.

4 Stars ****

What did you think of Bad Ass? What's your favourite Danny Trejo role?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Piranhaconda Trailer

A trailer has emerged for the latest Roger Corman/SyFy monster mash Piranhaconda. Starring Michael Madson (Reservoir Dogs), the typically wafer-thin plot revolves around a movie crew that stray too close to the piranhaconda's lair when an egg goes missing and much butchery ensues. The film will air on the SyFy channel on June 16th, check out the trailer.

Are you looking forward to this? Any other hybrid monsters you'd like to see?

Monday, 7 May 2012

The Divide (2012): Review

The Divide is a 2012 post-apocalyptic sci-fi film. Directed by Xavier Gens (Hitman, Frontiers) starring Lauren German (Hostel: Part 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre) and Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens).

The film takes place immediately following a nuclear attack on New York City, amidst the chaos 8 residents of an apartment building manage to force their way into the reinforced basement of their block. The basement has been specially equipped for such an occasion by anti-terrorist enthusiast and building superintendent Mickey (Biehn) and the group soon find themselves sealed in and ordered not to leave (by Mickey) due to the radioactive fallout.  This soon leads to cabin fever and after biohazard stormtroopers break in and kidnap a young girl the group become welded in with no choice but to co-exist for survival. Tensions run high once the group discover Mickey has a secret vault of food and water supplies and the bunker soon becomes far more dangerous than the nuclear wasteland that awaits them outside.

The Divide is an interesting film, not particularly well acted or written but there is certainly a message within the story which is relevant in the paranoid age we live in. Superintendent Mickey is an ex-firefighter and was directly involved with the 9/11 cleanup, this has turned him into somewhat of a paranoid and xenophobic individual. Mickey immediately assumes that the Arabs are to blame but when they manage to capture the body of an armoured intruder they find him to be  of a south east Asian ethnicity. No other intruders are revealed but this raises intriguing questions around the back story of the attack  however, I feel overall the outside story is a little bit underdeveloped. In the only sequence which takes place outside the bunker we see the kidnapped girl being drip-fed in some sort of stasis pod, again this is very intriguing but there's no follow up and I felt that many of the most interesting parts of the story were never followed up on or fully explored.

Something which certainly compensates for the poor actors and script is the excellent score. Composed by Jean-Pierre Taieb, the score swings from beautifully melancholic piano pieces to pulsating synth compositions to build tension during the more violent sequences, this score was very reminiscent of John Carpenter's early scores (particularly on The Thing) and led to me investing a lot more into the characters and the situation than I otherwise would have. The tone of the film is very bleak and nihilistic and really revolves around the darker elements of the human psyche and what we're capable of in certain situations and the score and cinematography really help establish that, I just feel that the performances let the film down and undermined the drama and tension attempting to be built throughout.

Although The Divide is a post-apocalyptic film, it's more a set-piece designed to examine human social behaviour in desperate situations and on this level it's certainly an interesting film however I would have enjoyed the film a lot more if I'd had some of my questions answered; who dropped the bomb? why are the children being stored in pods? what is the reason behind this? It's always better to have a film raise questions and force you to really think, but those question need to be resolved somewhat and as a result I found The Divide an ultimately unsatisfying film.

3 Stars *** 

What did you think of the film? Did you have more questions than answers?

Greatest Horror Films of the 1970s

1. Halloween (1978)

2. The Shining (filmed in the 70s but released in 1980)
3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

4. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

 5. Carrie (1976)

 6. Alien (1979)

7. Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

8. The Amityville Horror (1979)

9. The Wicker Man (1973)

10. Suspiria (1977)

Friday, 4 May 2012

Rare Imports #3: [Rec] (2007)

[Rec] is a 2007 found footage horror film. Directed by Paco Plaza and Jaume Balaguero and starring Manuela Velasco. The film is Spanish language and was shot on location in Barcelona.

[Rec] follows local TV reporter Angela as she films a special news report on the firemen of Barcelona entitled "While You Are Asleep", which follows the crew on their local rounds. After a call is received reporting screams from an apartment block, the firemen and TV crew  rush to the building to discover a rabid old woman who appears to be suffering from some kind of infection. Finding the rest of the residents congregated in the lobby, the building is soon quarantined and the group are left to fight off the frenzied infected. After exploring the building and discovering clues linking the outbreak to the catholic church, the film climaxes as the survivors confront the source of the infection...the Madeiras girl!

Although found footage films are now a monthly event, back in 2007 this was not the case . Although Paranormal Activity had been making waves on the film festival circuit it had not yet established itself as the most profitable film of all time,  bringing  dozens of found-footage films with it. That being said, I feel it's fair to say that [Rec] had an equal hand in resurrecting the format (post Blair Witch) as well as breathing new life into the stale zombie/infected sub-genre. The Spanish location and culture also add an extra dimension to the limp infected sub-genre as do the religious conspiracy elements. The shaky-cam format is always going to turn off a certain portion of the audience who would dismiss the concept as "queasy-cam". However, the format has never worked better than in the claustrophobic setting of the apartment building and this provides the adrenaline-fuelled experience that garnered the film international attention.

The creature effects for the infected are simple but very effective, resembling rabid animals, but the real standout creation in the film is the Madeiras girl. I can't quite explain the terror I felt when I first saw the hideous ghoul shuffle into frame but for me, it's up there as one of the most horrifying climaxes in film history. Of course it helps a great deal that the sequence is shot in the night-vision style which creates a very tense and claustrophobic environment. There's something genuinely disturbing about the appearance and movement of the films sympathetic villain. Couple that with the films iconic parting image and you have an extremely satisfying payoff that has been masterfully built to throughout the piece.

[Rec] spawned a tremendous sequel and a prequel, [Rec] Genesis, is being released this year but it's a testament to the original film that such a (so far) consistent franchise has been produced. Spain hasn't had a particularly rich history of horror films (with the exception of Armando De Ossorio's Blind Dead series) when compared to it's neighbours France or Italy but this film is more than enough to put them back on the horror map. Turn the lights off, turn the sound up and prepare to scared witless, then go watch [Rec] 2.

5 Stars *****

What did you think of Rec? Do you like any other Spanish horror films?

Amber Heard joining Machete kills?

News has emerged that Amber Heard (The Ward, Drive Angry) is in talks to join Robert Rodriguez's upcoming film Machete Kills. The sequel to Danny Trejo vehicle Machete (2010) will already see bombshells Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez reprise their roles, add Heard to the mix and you get the feeling of what kind of demographic the film makers are going for. Production starts next month.

Are you looking forward to Machete Kills? Who else would you like to see cast?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Wicker Tree (2011): Review

The Wicker Tree is a 2011 film intended as a companion piece to The Wicker Man(1973) and is adapted from the 2006 novel Cowboys for Christ . Helmed by original director Robin Hardy  the film stars Graham McTavish (Rambo, Colombiana), Brittania Nicol and Henry Garrett. As with the original the film was set and filmed on location in Scotland.

 The film follows the couple of former raunchy pop star Beth Boothby (Nicol) and simple cowboy Steve (Garrett) as they are sent to the heathen Scottish countryside to convert the locals to their born-again christian beliefs. There they are greeted by Sir Lachlan Morrisson (McTavish) and the rest of the locals who are fascinated by the exotic missionaries and are only happy to hear them preach the good word of Jesus. However things soon turn sour as Steve is seduced by local Jezebel Lolly and the ulterior motives of the villagers come to the fore in the form of their pagan mayday celebrations.

The fact that this "sequel" has taken 38 years to be made tells you everything you need to know about this film, it's unnecessary. The Wicker Man is a seminal work with a pretty final ending, which begs the question why has Robin Hardy decided to make a sequel after all these years? Although the film doesn't follow on from the orginal in a direct way, it's certainly set in the same universe and deals with a lot of the same themes which for me made the film feel like a fairly pointless retread of a classic. The film offers nothing new to explain the mythos behind the pagan cults and the events play out in a relatively identical manner (with one major exception),  the only glaring difference is the budget with this incarnation looking a lot prettier than the made-for-tv looking original. It also saddens me that the legendary (and visibly ailing) Christopher Lee was wheeled out for an utterly pointless cameo to link this film with the original, his dialogue is unintelligible and his appearance is purely to get a name star associated with the project.

All that being said, if you asses the film completely independently of it's famous "companion piece" it's actually not a terrible film, and if you compare it to the 2005 remake of The Wicker Man, it's a bloody fantastic film! It's quite fun to see these fanatical Americans dropped into the pagan Scottish countryside and the clash of cultures is something that works well within the original story. The acting and script are fine if not a little bizarre but that's certainly in keeping with the tone of the original whose eccentricity still has viewers scratching their heads. A very important aspect which has also been retained from the original is the rural setting which is as much of a presence as any of the actors in the film, this ties in well to the themes of the story and the reasons for the eventual actions of the Scottish pagans.

If you've never seen The Wicker Man then you may get some enjoyment out of this but the people who are most likely to understand the film are those that are more than familiar with the original. It is ironic then that this movie offers absolutely nothing to those people who, in all honesty, would never have wanted a sequel to The Wicker Man. That film was a self contained story due to it's strangeness and inaccessibility and did not require any kind of sequel or follow-up.

2 Stars **

What did you think of The Wicker Tree? Was it a worthwhile sequel?

New Juan of the Dead Poster

Anew poster has been released for upcoming Cuban zombie film Juan of the Dead. The film follows the adventures of Juan as Havana succumbs to a zombie apocalypse and he's left to fight of the hordes of undead. The film sees a UK release on 4th May, check out the trailer below.

Are you looking forward to Juan? Are you a fan of foreign zombie films?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

AHAAAA! Partridge Movie Will See the Light of Day

It has been confirmed that the Alan Partridge movie will begin shooting this year. Former Father Ted director Declan Lowney will direct the big screen adaptation of the cult British sitcom with Armando Ianucci co-writing alongside Steve Coogan, who rose to fame playing tragic-comic former chat show host. The film should see a release in 2013.

Are you looking forward to this? Have you been desperately awaiting more Partridge?

Prometheus International trailer


The international trailer for Prometheus has now been released. The trailer gives us an insight into both the role of Weyland employee Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) and our first look at the creature design in the form of a cobra-like facehugger. The film is released on 1st June in the UK and 8th June internationally, check out the trailer.

What role do you think Vickers will play? What do you think of the creature design?