Thursday, 25 May 2017

Colossal (2017): Review

Colossal is a 2017 indie kaiju film. Directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes) starring Anne Hathaway (Interstellar), Jason Sudekis (Horrible Bosses) and Dan Stevens (The Guest). The film debuted at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival.

The film follows the self destructive Gloria (Hathaway), an unemployed alcoholic who's just been dumped by her boyfriend Tim (Stevens). Forced to move from New York back to her small hometown, she soon rekindles a friendship with childhood friend Oscar (Sudekis) who employs her at his local bar. Suddenly, A giant monster is spotted attacking Seoul on the other side of the world and, although initially shocked, Gloria soon discovers she can control the monster from the safety of her local park. However, Oscar also learns that he can control a giant robot in Seoul, and their relationship soon begins to strain under the great responsibility of having your very own city smashing avatar.

Colossal is a wonderful little indie movie that surprises you at every turn, and ends up being a film about personal relationships that just happens to have giant monsters in it (much like Gareth Edwards Monsters). However, when it comes time to do a bit of smashing, the effects are spot on and the monster a fairly original design. The film is beautifully shot and the small town setting and flawed characters well drawn, if indie film cliches. What's most impressive is Vigalondo's restraint, whenever using the monsters in the plot, he always does so to get across a point and to draw parallels with his human characters.

The only drawback of the film is the characterisation of Sudekis' Oscar. The intention is to have him become the anti villain to Hathaway's anti-hero, however, you're either a villain, or you're not. Swinging wildly between drunken tirades, pathos, and punching Gloria in the face, serves only to confuse audiences and I wasn't quite sure how to feel about him by the end. Hathaway's performance, however, is tremendous. Playing against type, she is a disheveled, damaged mess and creates the same sympathy for her monster avatar as she does for her own character.

The subgenre of indie kaiju is a small niche indeed, but a welcome twist on the genre as Legendary are doing a bang up job of the blockbuster variety. Colossal joins the likes of Monsters (2010) and The Host (2006) as a charming tale of small town relationships set against the larger backdrop of giant monsters and Vigalondo continues to prove one of the most original minds in the business.

**** 4 Stars

Wha did you think of Colossal? Would you have liked more monster action?

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Zac Efron is...Ted Bundy?!

In a somewhat surprising casting move, former child star Zac Efron has been cast this week in an upcoming biopic of infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. Noted documentarian Joe Berlinger will be directing the ridiculously titled "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile" as Efron attempts to shake off his teenage typecasting. 

In fairness, Efron obviously has the looks for the role and, as you can see, there is a pretty strong resemblance. What remains to be seen is whether Efron can turn on the darkness when it comes time to stop the charming and start the killing.

What do you think of the casting? Can you see Efron as Ted Bundy?

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Alien: Covenant (2017): Review

Alien: Covenant is a 2017 sci fi horror film. Directed by Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) and starring Michael Fassbender (Frank, Shame), Katherine Waterston (Steve Jobs), Billy Crudup (Watchmen) and Danny McBride (This is the End). The film is a direct sequel to Prometheus (2012) and a prequel to the Alien franchise.

Alien: Covenant picks up ten years after the events of Prometheus as the colonist ship (cleverly titled "Covenant") is forced to wake up it's crew a little earlier due to system malfunctions. Served by ship android Walter (Fassbender), Captain Oram (Crudup) discovers that there is a much more habitable planet much nearer to them than their original destination and decides to take a task force to invesigate (what could possibly go wrong?). Aided from the air by pilot Tennessee (McBride, Oram takes second in command Daniels (Waterston), Walter and others down to the surface where they get a lot more than they bargained for in terms of the planets inhabitants, both alien and artificial.

In 2012 Ridley Scott dissapointed legions of Alien fans across the world by promising a prequel that would reveal the fascinating origins behind the revered Alien franchise. What we actually got was a disjointed, confused mess of a film (albeit visually stunning) that barely resembled the orginal franchise and Scott is nothing if not consistent. Covenent is so clearly a response to the poor reception of Prometheus, you can almost hear Scott off set, as the Xenommorph is eviscerating a crew member, shouting "is this what you want?!". Sadly, the answer is still no. The characters are supremely bland, the plot laughably predictable, the horror about as subtle as a brick and the dialogue howlingly bad. No, people were actually howling with laughter in my screening, and I can't say I blame them.

What really breaks my heart is that the great Michael Fassbender bears the brunt of most of this garbage dialogue and tries to carry it off with a scenery chewing performance as the villainous David, but to no avail, and to think, David the android was one of the highlights of Prometheus. The paint by numbers plot is so formulaic that it is clearly one gigantic MacGuffin to get to the creation of the Xenomorph itself, so these pointless prequels can tie up with the original movies. And for what? In what must be an in joke, one of the characters actually speaks the dialogue "none of this makes any sense" and, from the moment the film opened and I saw Guy Pearce returning as Peter Weyland, I knew nobody had learnt anything from the failure of Prometheus.

I never thought I would say this but Covenant is even worse than Prometheus and, to watch a once great director, now a stubborn old man, trying to recapture the glory of his masterpiece is the real shame here. Covenant is like Alien but without any of the suspense, style or atmosphere and truly shows how out of touch Ridley Scott is with the iconic franchise that he once helped to build. Scott continues to dominate the genre of "visually impressive nonsense" and it now seems that the franchise is doomed to float through unimaginative sci fi hyperspace for good. In space, no one can hear you yawn. 

** 2 Stars

What did you think of Alien Covenant? Is Ridley Scott out of touch?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Darren Aronofsky returns to psychological horror

Acclaimed arthouse director Darren Aronofsky gave everyone a mother's day present yesterday in the form of the poster for his surprise new film "Mother!". The film stars Jennifer Lawrence alongside Javier Bardem, Domnhall Gleeson and Michelle Pfeiffer. 

Although it certainly had it's fans, I was no fan of Aronofsky's last foray into the genre with Black Swan. However, with a strong cast and a potentially less melodramatic approach, I could be convinced otherwise. The film is slated for a November release in the UK.

What do you think of the poster? Are you a Darren Aronofsky fan?

Monday, 8 May 2017

New Blade Runner trailer

A full trailer has been released for the upcoming Blade Runner 2049. As well as giving an action packed look at the visually jaw dropping world, the trailer gives us a better look at the characters being played by Ryan Gosling, Ana De Armas and, most intriguingly, Jared Leto. Leto appears to take on a creator character (similar to Eldon Tyrell in the original) as we're given a glimpse into how replicants are made for the first time. check out the trailer...

As well as hearing the familiar strains of Vangelis' iconic score, you can see Harrison Ford reprising the role of Deckard and passing the torch to Ryan Gosling's mysterious "Officer K". The burning question on my mind, however, is Officer K a human or a replicant? We'll find out in October

What did you think of the trailer? Do you think Officer K is a replicant?

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Raw (2017): Review

Raw is a 2017 Belgian-French horror film. Directed by Julia Ducournau (Mange) and starring Garance Marillier, Ella Rumpf (Tiger Girl) and Rabah Nait Oufella (Girlhood). The film was first released at the Toronto International Film Festival, amidst reports of fainting due to the film’s graphic scenes.

The film follows teenager Justine (Marillier) as she attends her first week at veterinary school. A lifelong vegetarian, Justine becomes subject to the various hazing rituals orchestrated by the older students, including her sister Alexia (Rumpf). One particular task requires her to eat a raw rabbit kidney and, after initially being reluctant, the ritual soon awakens a strange desire for human flesh. As she struggles to conceal her metamorphosis from her roommate Adrien (Oufella), Justine discovers that she is not the only one with a taste for flesh and tries to make it to the end of freshers week without her secret being revealed.

Raw would have to considered one of the most impressive feature length debuts for any director in recent memory. The themes and ideas are actually pretty well worn in horror ie body horror as a metaphor for puberty, cannibal families and comparisons to Carrie (76), Ginger snaps (00) and We Are What We Are (10) are more than fair. Ducournau puts the French post modern spin on the premise, without going as far as the New Wave of French Extremism. Rather than gory, the film would be much better described as visceral in a way that has rarely been achieved since the heyday of David Cronenberg.

Equally as impressive in her feature length debut is young actor Marillier, throwing herself mentally and physically into the role of a teenager being tortured by her own desires and urges. The concept of a vegetarian becoming a cannibal is obviously a rich vein of irony and black comedy and Ducournau wisely peppers this style of humour throughout the script to give the audience a rest after some rather intense sequences. The film is visually stunning and a washed out palette is complimented by some jaw dropping wide angle shots which force the viewer to focus on the slightest of movements like a laser.

Raw doesn’t forge any new ground but it takes reliable horror tenets and weaves them together in a eye wateringly intense experience that you’re not likely to forget soon. As one of the new wave of female directors forcing their way into a male dominated genre, Ducournau certainly has a bright future and has crafted a film of the year candidate on her first attempt.

5 Stars *****

What did you think of Raw? Did you find the film intense?

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Free Fire (2017): Review

Free Fire is a 2017 crime comedy film. Directed by Ben Wheatley (High Rise, Sightseers) and starring an ensemble cast featuring Cillian Murphy (Sunshine), Brie Larson (Kong: Skull Island), Sharlto Copley (District 9), Sam Riley (Control) and Michael Smiley (Kill List). The film was produced by legendary filmmaker Martin Scorcese.

Free Fire opens with IRA members Chris (Murphy) and Frank (Smiley) going to meet with South African arms dealer Vernon (Copley) in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of Boston. They are accompanied by hapless duo Stevo (Riley) and Bernie and the meeting is facilitated by Justine (Larson) and Ord. Initial tensions over weapon specs and protocol soon descend into violence as it emerges Stevo was involved in an incident with one of Vernon’s crew the previous night. This transforms into a prolonged shootout between the two gangs that lasts most of the movie as they fight to get out of the warehouse alive, and preferably with a briefcase of money.

Free Fire is a return to Wheatley’s (and Jump’s) comedy stylings first flexed in Sightseers, as well as a return to his crime caper debut Down Terrace. Here the action is transplanted to America where a whole mix of accents serve to support the witty script. Murphy, Smiley and Copley all get to use their own accents whereas Riley effects a Bostonian twang. The script is packed with killer one liners with Sharlto “watch and Vern” Copley stealing the show as the pompous, but still somehow affable, Vernon. Riley is also perfectly cast as the scummy junkie who throws the spanner in the works but who you also somehow root for, despite learning of his psychotically violent tendencies.

Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal more to say about Free Fire as not a great deal more happens, and here is where it starts to slip down the mighty totem pole of Wheatley instant classics. Around an hour of the film is simply one group of people shooting at another group of people and, sadly, no amount of pithy dialogue can sustain that. It’s also a pretty bloated cast with, ironically, the American actors Larson and Armie Hammer left trying to play catchup with their international counterparts in between shots being fired. There is a peppering of gore to keep things interesting and a tremendous sequence involving a van driving in circles to a John Denver soundtrack but, overall, the film limps to a close rather than the kind of explosive finale seen in Kill List or Sightseers.

Ben Wheatley is arguably the best director in the UK with a string of tremendous, and varied, films on his CV but Free Fire would have to rank fairly low on that list. A middling film from Wheatley is still better than a lot of directors best efforts and, perhaps, crime films just aren’t my thing (Down Terrace is also one of my least favourite Wheatley films). Free Fire is an amusing romp that, very nearly, kept me entertained throughout, but certainly won’t leave as much of an impression as some of Wheatley’s more bizarre efforts.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of Free Fire? What’s your favourite Ben Wheatley film?

Friday, 31 March 2017

New WFTPOTA trailer

A 2nd trailer has been released for the upcoming War for the Planet of the Apes. Whilst not quite nailing the brevity and impact of the first trailer, this does seem to shed more light on Caeser's motivations against the human militia and, interestingly, indicates some of the Apes have turned traitor and joined up with the humans. Woody Harrelson also gets some cracking dialogue as the Colonel Kurtz-esque character including “Sometimes it is necessary to abandon our humanity, to save our humanity”. Check it out...

This also promises to be the most action packed instalment of the rebooted franchise, after Rise (2011) and Dawn (2014) so skilfully set the scene. This is my favourite franchise of the decade and I can't wait to see the full scale wintery warfare promised in this trailer. War for the Planet of the Apes will (ironically) be released in July.

What do you think of the trailer? Are you a fan of the series?

Thursday, 30 March 2017

IT gets first trailer

The first trailer has been released for the upcoming remake/adaptation of Stephen King's IT. The creepiness factor is definitely strong with this one and I was impressed by how much they held back, showing very little of Bill Skarsgard's Pennywise. check it out...

Although I'm not completely sold on this interpretation of Pennywise, it was always going to be difficult to replicate the sheer terror of Tim Curry's iconic performance, everything is looking good here and they've certainly nailed that classic King atmosphere. We'll have to wait til September to be traumatised by Pennywise all over again.

What did you think of the trailer? Are you looking forward to the new Pennywise?

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Get Out (2017): Review (spoilers)

Get Out is a 2017 psychological horror film. Directed by Jordan Peele (Key & Peele) and starring Daniel Kaluuya (Psychoville), Allison Williams (Girls) and Stephen Root (Office Space). The film is the directorial debut for Peele, who was previously known for his comedy sketch work.

The film follows the young couple of Chris (Kaluuya) and Rose (Williams), as Rose prepares to take Chris home to meet her family. Chris is initially paranoid at being the only black person at the house before being introduced to the black staff Georgina and Walter, however, they begin to exhibit very strange behaviour. After being coerced into a hypnotism session with Rose’s mother, we learn that Chris has been harbouring guilt from his childhood relating to his own mother’s death and, during a party at the family home, the rich white guests start to take an unhealthy interest in him. It soon becomes clear that Rose has been luring young black people back to the family home where, bizarrely, her brain surgeon father transplants the consciousness of the rich white people into their bodies. Trapped inside the house, and under hypnotic mind control, Chris has to fight for his life to escape his grim fate and remain in control of his own body.
Jordan Peele has crafted one of the most witty, socially relevant and suspenseful horror films in recent memory, and the fact that this is his first film is all the more impressive. The set up is somewhat familiar, reminding me of Funny Games (97) or You’re Next (11), but the idea of race as a source of tension is introduced right away and is the main thread from which the plot points hang. It is an exceptionally well written film as Peele plants seeds throughout that will only be paid off in the third act, or even on a second viewing, and there are many lesser directors that simply don’t think this far ahead. Crucially, the heavy subject matter of racism is peppered with comic relief, mostly in the form of Chris’s friend Rod, as well as clever eccentricities in the characters that ensure it is a film that can be enjoyed and analysed in equal measures.

The performances from the supporting cast are excellent with Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener providing the perfect balance between sinister weirdos and strangely likeable parents. Allison Williams proves much more interesting after Rose’s true motives are revealed and Georgina and Walter’s performances are fascinating when reassessed in the light of the third act reveal. The only downsides, performance wise, are the pretty bland protagonist Chris and the under-utilised Stephen root but this can be forgiven in quite a busy cast. As ambitious and original as the whole hypnotic slave/consciousness swapping angle is, I have to say the idea of mashing 2 brains together in one skull to create an avatar was a pretty far fetched notion in an otherwise grounded movie.

Get Out reinvents the twisty Hitchcockian thriller for the interesting modern times in which we live and offers a rare black perspective within the horror genre. Multiple mysteries are deployed and resolved with the precision of a much more experienced director than Peele and, no doubt, the horror world will be watching his next move closely. Get Out doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it is surely the freshest take on the genre you'll see this year.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of Get Out? Did you feel the plot was a little too out there?

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017): Review

Kong: Skull Island is a 2017 American Kaiju film. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer) the film stars Tom Hiddleston (High Rise), Brie Larson (Room), John C. Reilly (Stepbrothers), Samuel L. Jackson (Snakes on a Plane) and John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane). The film is part of Legendary pictures continued “Monsterverse”.

The film is set in the early 70s against the dying days of the Vietnam war as Monarch operative Randa (Goodman) attempts to get an expedition together in order to visit the mysterious Skull Island. Joined by Mercenary James Conrad (Hiddleston), photographer Mason Weaver (Larson) and Colonel Packard (Jackson), the team soon discover that Skull Island is far from uninhabited as the giant ape lays waste to their squad of helicopters. Stumbling upon castaway Hank Marlow (Reilly), we soon learn that Kong is the protector of the island and that the subterranean “Skullcrawlers” pose a far greater threat. The team must survive the horrors of Skull Island and escape, as Kong does battle with a jumbo Skullcrawler, in order to tell the rest of the world about these gigantic new creatures.

Skull Island has long been pitched as King Kong (1933) meets Apocalypse Now (1978), which is a pretty bold claim considering those are two of the greatest films ever made, and, on this promise, it delivers in spades. Vogt-Roberts is clearly well versed in both these films, as well as kaiju and war movies in general, and does a fantastic job in creating this fresh take on a modern monster movie. The direction and visual set ups are eye watering as, locations wise, we’re taken on a world tour of Vietnam, Hawaii and Australia and the visual effects, as with Godzilla, blend seamlessly into the world. The design of Kong is a welcome return to the classic bipedal character, with Peter Jackson’s anatomically correct character now a distant memory, and the King has been massively scaled up so that he can do battle with the other King in 2020.

The pacing is perfect, as the film wastes little time getting our protagonists onto the island, and the cast is strong despite a wasted John Goodman and a woefully miscast Tom Hiddleston as an action hero (Kurt Russell, he is not!). I particularly enjoyed Jackson’s turn as the Colonel Kurtz-esque Packard, he just made it through a war, he’s not about to let a damn dirty ape trample all over him! My immediate concern when I first saw the trailer was that John C. Reilly was there to provide ill-advised humour and, although his character has unexpected depths, I felt that a lot of the attempts at comic relief still fell flat on their face. However, for every human character that was in danger of becoming irritating, there were more than enough creatures on display to marvel at including a giant Octopus, Spider, water Buffalo and, of course, the sinister Skullcrawlers (themselves actually based on a briefly glimpsed creature in the original King Kong).

Much like 2014’s Godzilla, the film isn’t perfect but it does exactly what it needs to do, it brings these beloved characters back to life and sets them in new and vivid adventures for Kaiju fans, old and new, to enjoy. The philosophy of enlisting Vogt-Roberts is clearly the same as Gareth Edwards, these are technically exceptional directors with a passion and nerdom that we can all respect and relate to. See it on the big screen at least once to maximise your adventure to Skull Island, and don’t forget to stay for the post credits sequence. There’s never been a better time to be a kaiju fan!

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of the film? Did you like the Vietnam war setting?

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Gaff returns for Blade Runner 2049

Some very welcome casting news has emerged surrounding the upcoming Blade Runner 2049 in the form of Edward James Olmos reprising his classic Gaff role. A mysterious and infrequent character in the original Blade Runner, he said more with his origami skills, however, also got to utter one of the greatest final lines in film history.

"It's too bad she won't live. But, then again, who does?"

Olmos joins Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Dave Bautista and Jared Leto in Denis Villeneuve's belated sequel to the classic sci fi film.

What do you think of the casting choices? Are you excited for this one?

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A Cure for Wellness (2017): Review

A Cure for Wellness is a 2017 Gothic horror. The film is directed by Gore Verbinski (The Ring) and stars Dane DeHaan (Chronicle) and Jason Isaacs (Event Horizon). The project was an American-German co production.

Lockheart (DeHaan) is an ambitious young businessman from New York. After the CEO of his company disappears into the Swiss Alps, to a mysterious clinic, Lockheart is tasked with travelling to the clinic and retrieving Mr Pembroke. However, after being involved in a car accident trying to leave the clinic, Lockheart soon finds himself a patient under the watchful eye of the hospital director Dr Heinrich Volmer (Isaacs). Lockheart is forced to investigate the hospital in order to uncover the mysterious “cure” that they offer, as well as the sinister history of the building before he ends up becoming a permanent resident.

After languishing under the uninspired wing of Disney for over a decade, including interminable Pirates of the Caribbean sequels and the disastrous Lone Ranger (2013), Gore Verbinski has finally returned to the horror genre after his enormous contribution with The Ring (2002). It’s a shame that such an auteur moved on so quickly from the genre and, indeed, you probably didn’t know that the first 3 Pirates of the Caribbean films were directed by the same person. Happily the iconic aesthetic of The Ring carries through to A Cure and Verbinski crafts another visually astounding modern Gothic horror. The direction is flawless and the setting is breathtaking, with much of the exterior scenes being filmed on location at a German castle, and Verbinski shows a perfect command of the big screen.

In terms of the story, you might think we’re in Dr Caligari/Shutter Island territory and you’re partly right. However, there is real effort made to forge a separate path through the “lunatics are running the asylum” trope and the film certainly kept me guessing as to the true nature of the plot. A tense and mysterious atmosphere gives way to body horror as the film progresses, giving DeHaan a bit more to work with in terms of his character, though I still didn’t feel he was well cast in the lead role. Isaacs gives a much better accounting of himself as the sinister hospital director, and a cracking German accent. At around the 2 hour mark, I felt the film could have concluded very nicely, but then, the plot takes a wild turn into dangerously silly territory and they throw an awful lot of plot twists at the wall to see what sticks, which is a bit of a shame.

Overall, A Cure for Wellness is a solid effort from a very talented director which somewhat suffers from its similarities to other films and, more importantly, it’s attempts to differentiate. Come for the scenery and jaw dropping cinematography, but don’t expect to be satisfied by the wacky twists and turns that prevail. Let’s hope to see many more modern Gothic horrors, especially if they’re directed by Gore Verbinski.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of the movie? Were you satisfied with the ending?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Giant shark movie "Meg" delayed

The upcoming adaptation of Steve Alton's novel "Meg" has hit a snag as the film has been pushed back from spring to summer 2018. Scheduled to be directed by John Turtletaub (National Treasure) and starring action hero Jason Statham, this moves the film into the much more traditional summer season for shark movies.

Personally, I lost a lot of interest in this project when Eli Roth jumped off and Statham jumped on but, at the very least, we may well get to see the biggest shark in movie history. until Statham punches it back to extinction!

Are you looking forward to this one? Would you rather see a shark movie in the summer?

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Vera Farmiga joins Godzilla sequel

Some more casting news regarding the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters this week as modern day scream queen Vera Farmiga joins the project. Best known for her roles in The Conjuring series, as well as Norma Bates in Bates Motel, Farmiga joins Stranger Things' Millie Bobby Brown.

After so long in developmental hell, things hadn't been looking great for Godzilla 2. But now, with the cast shaping up and with Michael Dougherty (Krampus, trick r treat) directing, we may still get a sequel that lives up to it's royal title.

What do you think of Varmiga being added? Who else would you like to see cast?

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

"To the Covenant!" online prologue for new Alien film

A short prologue has been released for the upcoming Alien: Covenant. Clocking in at just 4 minutes, the clip introduces you to the new crew and even throws in a clever nod to the original Alien movie. Presumably this won't be included in the theatrical cut, but is a really nice way to introduce the new cast members and establishes a tone that can seemingly shift from jovial to terrifying in a split second. Check it out...

Also, interesting is the various tension between crew members, particularly James Franco's character and his subordinates. We''l have to wait until the 19th of May to find out more.

What do you think of the prologue? What are your first impressions of the cast?

Thursday, 23 February 2017

The Void gets a new trailer

A new trailer has been released for the upcoming Astron 6 project The Void. From the team that brought you Father's Day (2011), the film has been gathering quite a bit of steam as comparisons to John Carpenter classics like The Thing have begun to rack up. The trailer foregoes setting up any plot and instead opts for a sequence of glimpses into the Lovecraftian horrors that dwell within the hospital which the film is set in. Check it out.

It's quite refreshing to have a trailer which doesn't reel off the whole plot but, like a comedy, if all your best bits are in the trailer it could make for a disappointing watch. It also seems to take on a more serious tone than the usual Astron 6 fare, which is good. The film will be released on the 31st March in the UK.

What do you think of the trailer? Is it too similar to older horror films?

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Rings (2017): Review

Rings is a 2017 supernatural horror film. Directed by F. Javier Gutierrez (Before the Fall) and starring Matilda Lutz (Summertime), Johnny Galecki (The Big Bang Theory) and Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket). The film is the third entry in the American franchise, itself a remake of Ringu (1998).

The film begins with an aeroplane crash linked to the mysterious Samara videotape. Several years later, college professor Gabriel Brown obtains the videotape and Samara’s curse soon starts circulating around the students. This includes Holt, boyfriend of Julia (Lutz) who starts to investigate after not hearing from him in some time. She discovers that a group of students, and Gabriel, have been copying the video and passing the curse along to other people who they refer to as “tails”. However, after Julia herself watches the video, she sets out on a mission to discover Samara’s true origins and end the curse once and for all.

So, after several delays, the belated third entry in the American Ring franchise arrives 12 years after the last entry. In terms of authenticity, it feels very faithful to the original masterpiece (surely one of the greatest English language remakes) and replicates the unique look and feel of Gore Verbinski’s direction. Gutierrez is clearly a talented director with technical flair and the franchise has visually never looked better. The scares are there, and they’re pretty familiar as far as the franchise goes but there were still some neat twists and the atmosphere of the film is undeniable. Also, I personally got a kick out of seeing the infamous tape on the big screen as it’s always had a very unsettling effect on me.

The question you always have to come back to with sequels (and especially threequels) is this, is it necessary? And in this case, I’m afraid it is a definite no. Other than the slight update in technology, which somewhat conflicts with the decision to retain the vhs premise, it hits all the same beats as the original film albeit with a cast and a script that pales in comparison. Much of the cast appears to have been hired for being young and sexy rather than any actual ability, The ring franchise not traditionally being either of these things, and when your strongest performance comes from someone in The Big Bang Theory (a true horror) you know you’re in trouble. Credit should be given to the great Vincent D’Onofrio for his attempt at the Brian Cox character from the original but, unfortunately, the films production delays have now rendered this a pastiche of last year’s Don’t Breathe.

A hell of a lot better than Hideo Nakata’s The Ring Two (forgive me Hideo!) but still standing in the awesome shadow of a modern horror classic, Rings frustratingly offers new scares whilst also overexposing a horror icon. The already convoluted backstory becomes incomprehensible in a shallow attempt to wring every last drop from the franchise and it really is a shame. Hardcore franchise fans, or newcomers, will find things to enjoy but, for me, it left me colder than the bottom of Samara’s well.

** 2 Stars

What did you think of the film? Is this an unnecessary sequel?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

New Halloween movie gets a writer and director

After being pretty quiet for a while, a whole load of new details have emerged regarding the upcoming Halloween reboot. Not only has the project found a director in David Gordon Green, but Danny McBride has also signed on as writer.

The duo have previously been best known for their work on comedies such as Eastbound and Down, The Pineapple Express and the dreadful Your Highness. However, with Green recently moving into more dramatic territory with Red Oaks and McBride featuring prominently in the upcoming Alien: Covenant, it looks like the pair are really looking to explore new ground with their sequel to the horror classic.

And, as if he anticipated the raised eyebrows at the appointment of Green and McBride, franchise creator John Carpenter has also spoken out as producer, stating McBride's story is much closer to the tone of the original movie with no sequel campiness in sight.

We will have to wait until Halloween next year to see how this one turns out.

What do you think of the Green and McBride being hired? Would you rather a sequel or a remake?

Friday, 10 February 2017

Friday the 13th reboot is dead

News has emerged that Paramount pictures have managed to do what dozens of teenagers couldn't, they've killed Jason Voorhees! The upcoming reboot was due to begin principal photography in the next couple of weeks but has now been axed (pun intended). There is speculation that a poor opening for the "Rings" movie could be responsible for the move but no official explanation.

You could argue, and I would, that 11 sequels is probably enough for one franchise (the most recent reboot being less than 10 years ago) and the iconic character doesn't need any more outings, freeing up resources for original horror ideas. Then again, Jason Voorhees will never die!

What do you think of the decision? Did you want to see another reboot of the series?

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Split (2017): Review

Split is a 2017 psychological horror film. Written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan (Signs, The Visit), the film stars James McAvoy (X-Men, Filth), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) and Betty Buckley (Carrie). The film premiered at Fantastic Fest 2016.

The film follows Kevin Wendell Crumb (McAvoy), a sufferer of dissociative identity disorder and home to 23 distinct personalities. After kidnapping Casey (Taylor-Joy) and her 2 teenage friends, his personalities begin to shuffle whilst they are being held captive in his basement. His most dominant personality Barry (an effeminate fashion student) attends regular therapy sessions with Dr Fletcher (Buckley). However, as she suspects, other personalities are starting to take over “the light” including the surly Dennis, motherly Miss Patricia and childlike Hedwig. As Dr Fletcher struggles to pinpoint the shifting personalities, a 24th personality “The Beast” begins to form, placing the captive girls in terrible danger.

Split is a great concept, but it’s also an ambitious one and the tone of the film is regularly in flux between high concept thriller and schlocky b-movie. That the film turned out as good as it did is a credit to McAvoy who gives an impressive, if slightly pantomime, performance demonstrating his versatility and retaining his “proper actor” reputation, even in genre films. Shyamalan has crafted a tight script that rarely lags as the tension is kept ramped up at all times and his technical abilities make maximum use of the dingy basement setting. The sound design, particularly towards the end, is excellent and helps the film reach nauseating levels of tension.

The strength of the movie is also its biggest drawback, it is a one man show. The teenage characters are entirely superfluous and, although bold characterisation attempts were made for Taylor-Joy’s character, I found it difficult to care about any of them and eager to see which personality McAvoy would unveil next. Similarly, the Dr Fletcher character is there to provide the Basil exposition and gets lumbered with some of the most wooden pseudo-scientific dialogue in the film. Shyamalan has once again opted to forego his traditional shock twist in favour of a more subtle revelation, however, as I haven’t seen the film that it relates to, I can’t speak to its effectiveness. As with “The Visit” it wisely chooses not to hinge its entire plot on a third act twist, but rather, throws in a little something extra at the end for people that care.

A taut and effective psychological thriller that weaves a convoluted plot around a towering central performance, with more than a few forays into silly territory (zoo Animal hybrid anyone?). Shyamalan never quite decides whether he wants to base his central character in reality or use the film’s key hook, the DID, to craft a supernatural villain. Go into the cinema with a cheesy, exploitation mindset and you’ll lose yourself in McAvoys performance and have a great time. If you go in expecting a clever and complex film with everything wrapped up in a neat package by the end, then you expect too much of M. Night Shyamalan.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of the film? What did you think of James McAvoy’s performance?

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Chucky returns!

Details are emerging on a brand new film in the Chucky franchise, following the surprisingly good Curse of Chucky in 2013. Fiona Douriff will be reprising her role as Nica Pierce, a paraplegic committed to an insane asylum following the events of the last film. Brad Douriff will of course be voicing Chucky once again with the characters of Andy Barclay and Tiffany also returning.

I've always been a fan of the Child's Play/Chucky franchise and it has remained surprisingly consistent over the years. However, it sounds like Don Mancini (writer) is throwing a lot at the wall for the 7th installment, with a lot of returning characters. That being said, he also threw a lot at the wall with Seed of Chucky (2004) and that was a riot. Add to that that he was also able to steer the franchise back from the brink of meta insanity with Curse and I pretty much trust Mancini completely. A sizzle reel has been released to remind you of who Chucky is, as if you could forget!

Are you excited for a new Chucky film? Do you think the franchise has gone on too long?

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Rupture (2016): Review

Rupture is a 2016 sci fi thriller film. Directed by Steven Shainberg (Secretary) and written by Brian Nelson (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night), the film stars Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Prometheus) and Peter Stormare (Fargo, Bad Milo). The film debuted at the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.
The film follows Renee (Rapace), a single mother who finds herself kidnapped on the way to a skydiving day out. She awakens strapped to a bed in a mysterious facility where she is subjected to a series of experiments designed to produce excessive levels of fear. Briefly able to escape her room, she discovers there are many other victims being subjected to similar experiments by the sinister staff of the facility. The staff eventually reveal themselves to be inhuman beings who achieved superhuman powers by pushing themselves past the perceived limit of mental trauma in a process they call “rupturing”. Renee becomes converted to their cause but draws the line when they try to convert her son, leaving her position as the “mother” of a new race in question.

Rupture takes a number of ideas done better in other forms of fiction and cobbles them together in a half baked waste of a film. The central premise of torturing victims until they reach enlightenment, or transcend, is so blatantly lifted from the French masterpiece Martyrs (2008). Furthermore, the idea of locking someone in a room and slowly introducing their worst fears is even more blatantly lifted from 1984 (just replace rat mask with spider mask here). This wouldn’t be so bad if the film actually committed to some graphic violence or atmosphere, as those influences would warrant, but the most you get here is some seriously ropey effects for the lumpy headed alien species that made me laugh out loud.

Unfortunately the script is nearly as ropey as the effects, disappointing given Nelson’s previous work, and nonsense lines about “fear altering DNA” and “scaring you past death” are delivered with as much enthusiasm as they deserve. What’s most disappointing about this film is that Noomi Rapace is being completely wasted after appearing in several high profile films that promised to launch her career outside of Sweden. Add to that the completely miniscule role for fellow Scandinavian heavyweight Peter Stormare, and this all becomes a very frustrating exercise. Fleeting moments of suspense and impressive technical direction do appear from time to time but not nearly enough to save the film from being laughably inept.

If you feel like you’ve seen this film before, you definitely have, and there is very little on show to distract from the highly derivative premise. Frankly, almost everyone involved in the film is better than this and would be best off moving on very swiftly, which for Rapace will be Alien: Covenant in a few short months. Have you ever been so scared that you turned into a lumpy headed alien? No, me neither!

* 1 Star

 What did you think of the film? Did you like the premise?

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Rings gets a 2nd trailer

After being delayed for the third time last November, Paramount are once again threatening to release their belated threequel to the American Ring series. This time scheduled for a February 3rd release, a new trailer has been released to kickstart the marketing campaign once again.

Thankfully much shorter and less revealing than the overstuffed trailer from last year, we get a neat montage of scares set to a creepy nursery rhyme to set the tone for Samara's return. Obviously, the fact that the movie has been repeatedly delayed is not a good sign, but perhaps we will be able to see for ourselves when February 3rd rolls around.

What do you think of the new trailer? What are your expectations?