Monday, 21 November 2016

Forsaken (2015) Review

Forsaken Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

In 1872 Wyoming, a former gunslinger and his estranged father encounter a ruthless businessman and his posse of thugs.

Director Jon Cassar's Forsaken is very much a paint by numbers Western, however, the draw (no pun indented) is having father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland share the screen. In addition, the supporting cast elevate Brad Mirman's screenplay with the likes of Demi Moore, Brian Cox and Michael Wincott. Wincott's Dave Turner, a dangerous principled gun for hire is particularly notable aiming for the heights of Tombstone's (1993) Kilmer Doc Holiday and underrated Aaron Poole shines as thug Frank Tillman, both actors leave an impression.

Along with Jonathan Goldsmith's score Cassar's low-key Western captures the essence of the classics including Shane (1953). And while it's not a novel as the recent Bone Tomahawk (2015) or as broodingly fun as In a Valley of Violence (2016) it ticks all the American West boxes. Kiefer Sutherland's John Henry Clayton like Ethan Hawke in the aforementioned film is haunted by the war, Here writer Mirman doesn't really offer anything new, however, thanks to Kiefer's simmering cowboy performance he sells the heartache and torment of a repressed killer. The love triangle between Moore's Mary, her husband and John adds some drama in amongst Cassar's well staged fights and shoots out as people are force to sell of their land.

Donald Sutherland's Reverend William Clayton only gets one scene with Cox (who sadly isn't given much to do) an unscrupulous business man James McCurdy. But the Sutherland's father and son relationship tensions offer some weighty telling scenes with tragic accidents, war, mother and brother back-story dynamics which hold interest. The preceding peak in the showdown closing act and Winacott and Kiefer cement their gun slinging positions in a satisfying close.

Overall, it doesn't shake the genre up but is worth watching if only for the Sutherlands, Winacott and Poole's performance.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Bone Tomahawk (2015) Review

Bone Tomahawk Movie Poster*** This review contains spoilers ***

A posse embark on a rescue mission into the wilderness of the Wild West but bandits are the least of their problems when faced with the cannibalistic captors.

Director/Writer S. Craig Zahler crafts an enjoyable mature low key Western romp with graphics scenes (including dismemberment, disembowelment stabbings and gunfights) lettered throughout especially in the closing.

The cast on fine form as a sheriff (Kurt Russell), his deputy (Richard Jenkins), a gun slinger (Matthew Fox) go about rescuing a cowboy's (Patrick Wilson) wife from - in a twist of sorts Neanderthal troglodytes. Russell is perfectly cast, with his look, straight talking gruff tones fitting a role he can do in his sleep, here though there's something heroically poignant drenched in his character. Similarly, Brooder, Fox well dressed in white cowboy has a back-story which pulls no punches and is intriguing. Its character driven with some candid dialogue that cements your care for the characters, Jenkins particularly shines as the aged widowed deputy, Russell and especially Fox are memorable.

Zahler offers a novel twist on John Ford's The Searchers. There's a sense of scale and a lived in feel in his vision. The genuine attention to period detail reinforces the narrative. It's dusty, picturesque (with cinematography from Benji Bakshi) but it also offers a over shadowing sense of impending doom and violence as the unlikely group of men go on a journey of survival and danger. The special effects are finely executed, wince inducing and leave an impact. Like producer/director Jack Heller 2011's of Dark Was the Night the whole thing is low key and even with the characters having dynamite at the ready Zahler doubling duties as writer satisfyingly avoids the Hollywood explosive clichés.

Bone Tomahawk's slow-burning story complements the gripping performances and as a smart horror Western its highly recommended.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) Review

Ouija 2 Movie Poster*** This review contains spoilers ***

A widowed fortune teller who decides to incorporate a Ouija board into her fake routine soon meets real evil when the board starts calling to her daughter, uncovering a horrific secret.

Director Mike Flanagan's 1967 setting gives it a different feel to many of its contemporary rivals. In its eerie effective first 40 minutes Ouija's cast shine, it's only in the special effects driven latter half the character build up which Flanagan and co skilfully created is unnecessarily thrown out. Elizabeth Reaser's Alice Zander who believes they've contacted her dead husband is sadly side lined in favour of digital spectacle. Child star actor now an adult Henry Thomas is particularly notable, his priest Hogan character with a past is played out well. Young actress Annalise Basso as Lina and even younger Lulu Wilson as Doris are memorable, the two sisters feel real enough.

With some help from The Newton Brothers' score the Ouija board scenes and planchette usage gives some chills as they talk to an entity who they think is their father. It becomes noticeably derivative in the last act, borrowing The Matrix's Neo's closed mouth effect, The Exorcist with possessions and the Exorcist III where Doris skitters across ceilings to name a few, there's enough jump scares and creepy faces to retain interest with its World War Two connection twist. The stretched face look is over used and to Wilson's credit her performance can be spooky enough without it. The dark shadows darting in the corn of the eye are particularly well executed and more effective than the big stunt set ups.

As a prequel to the 2014 film Ouija it arguably surpasses its predecessor, but in a sea of horrors it's another addition that simply can't compete with the classics or more recently The Conjuring films and Exorcist TV series, but Flanagan and writer Jeff Howard thanks to the good small cast ensemble have a solid stab at it.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Man Vs. (2015) Review (with spoilers)

Man Vs. Movie Poster*** This review contains major spoilers ***

A survival documentary filmmaker runs into trouble when he comes up against more that just the local animal life.

With a major spoiler from the outset, imagine and episode of Bear Grylls mixed with the Predator (1987) and an alien design reminiscent of District 9 (2009) and you'll sort of get feel of Man Vs. Half of the fun of director Adam Massey's offering is guessing for the first half what is the main character up against.

Man Vs. echoes the likes of Exists, Blackfoot Trail, Bigfoot County (2012) Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes (2012) Willow Creek (2013), The Hunted (2013) while not a found footage film per say, thankfully it's a mix of presenter Doug's camera views, go-pro POVs and a traditionally shot film perspective (similar to REC 3 (2012) and The Pyramid (2014).

In terms of execution Massey's film surpasses genre expectations due to traditional shot segments and well executed practical and 'monster' special effects in the last quarter. It has a very small cast ensemble. Thanks to a great performance from Chris Diamantopoulos as Doug, channelling Grylls, he single handily keeps Man Vs. interesting while he does his TV show bits for the majority of the film and believes he's being hunted by a bear, wolf or even a crazy fan of his show.

The Canadian natural forest setting framed by Miroslaw Baszak sells Massey's story. Writer Thomas Michael leaves enough clues - skinned bodies, chess boards, black goo, dead fish to keep you guessing what Doug is up against but if you've seen 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) you'll see the twist coming. That said, Michael and Massey successfully create a small scale paranoia tale on the backdrop peripheral of something larger going on. John Rowley's score is effective throughout, but especially in the closing where realisation hits Doug and rescue by his team and acquaintance are skewed.

While the genre is worn, if you like the aforementioned movies you'll get a kick out of Massey's addition to the genre. Three quarters survival show and a quarter sci-fi. Recommended.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Darkest Moons - Halloween and beyond release

Hello ghosts and ghouls. Finally (phew) and aptly this Halloween my new book entitled Darkest Moons is released on paperback and Kindle. If you would like a chance to win a free electronic copy share this post on Twitter or Facebook @amesmonde! Read on for more Darkest Moons' details.

From the press release:

darkest_moons_cover_for_kindleDarkest Moons

In 1878 a mining community came to terms with the existence of a terrifying horror.

Over 130 years later a troubled London police officer, Alex Caine, is transferred to the sleepy village of Red Meadows. Her country life and the investments to rejuvenate the valley are put in jeopardy when a World War II bomb is unearthed triggering a chain of disturbing events.

A series of grisly mutilations follow but what is causing this mayhem, a wild animal or a serial killer hell-bent on destruction? With limited resource, battling local politics and with help from an unlikely ally, legends from the Garloupmira to Sasquatch are probed. Caine’s well-being, sanity and beliefs are tested as she desperately strives to solve her case.

As the moon rises the curse begins!

Darkest Moons

By A. M. Esmonde

An AM to PM Publishing Book

Publication Date October 31st 2016

Paperback ISBN 1508567700

e-book ASIN B01MDSP46K 

202 Pages

Ask in your favourite bookstore or order from Amazon

Link T.B.C

Watch the Darkest Moons Teaser Trailer: https://youtu.be/5qYX7Sal0k4

A. M. Esmonde, “A gothic mansion, hidden secrets, crypts, beasts and mysteries. With a never seen before creature that spawned legends. What is real and what is not in a seemingly perfect community? Present day set 'Darkest Moons', incorporates flashbacks throughout a Welsh village’s history packed with elusive characters. Darkest Moons will be available as an e-book, readers who want the traditional paperback will get the e-book free and can also enjoy the revelation connections to my all my other novels."

As with any first editions, if there are any niggling little errors please let me know and we'll get it correct for the second run. Thanks

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

The Exorcist: Chapter Five: Through My Most Grievous Fault (#1.5) (2016) Review

The Exorcist Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The exorcism of Casey Rance has finally arrived and all those involved must make a choice that will change their future forever.

Chapter Five retains the series gritty dark feel and The Exorcist continues to exceed expectations in 'Through My Most Grievous Fault'. It's partly a mile stone turning point for the characters, Alfonso Herrera's Father Tomas Ortega is tricked and later finally gives into temptation. With dramatic range the excellent Ben Daniels as Marcus Keane tackles the demon and his own inner demons head on. As an outsider looking in and believing it is a medical issue not a possession, underrated Brianne Howey as Katherine Rance former ballet dancer logically calls the police and has Marcus arrested.

Director Jason Ensler balances the real and supernatural world elements with finesse. Hannah Kasulka's Casey Rance (in almost a duel role is on form) the surreal inner demon fight with Robert Emmet Lunney's evil Salesman is developed further with creep execution. While the practical effects and makeup are welcomed debatably other effects are unnecessary, The Exorcist seems to work best when its focused on the characters and subtler moments rather than spectacle.

Writer David Grimm delivers a note worthy twist which connects it to the novel and subsequently the film. Alan Ruck's Henry Rance get more too do here and is key in revealing Geena Davis' Angela to be Regan MacNeil, also Sharon Gless appears briefly as Chris MacNeil. Its a chilling and dramatically weighty episode, there's nothing worse than gnarly demon feet on your chest, recommend.

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Walking Dead: The Day Will Come When You Won't Be (#7.1)" (2016) Review

*** This review contains spoilers ***

Rick must make a choice that will decide the groups fate.

Gone are the days of Miami Vice killings and Dallas like twists. This is brutal unrelenting with a revelation of not just killing one, but two main characters. Where's as the penultimate episode of seasons 2 Fear the Walking Dead raised the bar in graphic violence, The Walking Dead's season 7 opening episode knocks it out of the park.

"The Day Will Come When You Won't Be" contains excellent makeup special effects and pure tension and exists mainly to show who died and where Rick now fits in the world of the dead. TV doesn't come much more  dangerous or horrifically sadistic as this. Director Greg Nicotero's atmosphere is thick with blood and mist. From zombie killings to head bashing and eye popping action it's genuinely gut turning relentless from beginning to end with Rick having to make a series of decisions to save his son and friends. Both Jeffery Dean Morgan as Negan and Andrew Lincoln as Rick are outstanding here. Morgan offers some much needed viewer nervous levity, notably the vampire line about his baseball bat named Lucille, while Lincoln is fittingly shell-shocked throughout echoing the viewers disturbed surprise.

With some solid direction, writing from Scott M. Gimple and a fitting score it raises the bar in terms of harrowing nauseatingly TV violence and it emotionally surpasses expectations. Recommend piece of zombie entertainment.

In a Valley of Violence (2016) Review

In a Valley of Violence Movie Poster

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A drifter is left for dead and returns to the town that wronged him and his dog.

After a spate of disappointing low budget westerns including two featuring Scott Eastwood, In the Valley Violence is entertaining crafted with care. While it's no Hateful 8, Unforgiven or Tombstone to name a few, known for his atmospheric horrors director Ti West offers a solid off beat modest Western.

With opening credits that are reminiscent of Sergio Leone' Dollars trilogy and story beats which echo, John Wick and Rambo, West offers a Western in the vain of High Plains Drifter. It's a dusty grim dead silver mining town, there's no hustle and bustle. It's a low key affair with a small cast including John Travolta as a tough mediating marshal who steals the show. Burn Gorman is notable as an intoxicated Priest. Ethan Hawke's Paul is quite fleshed out, wanting to forget his past and get to Mexico. His dialogue with Taissa Farmiga's Mary-Anne rings true. It’s really a James Ransone’s Deputy Gilly Martin versus Hawke’s Paul rather than Travolta versus Paul yarn. Abbie (Jumpy) the dog deserves a mention. Karen Gillan is worthy of note along with Eric Robbins’ cinematography who masterfully frames the makeshift town.

Although past West collaborator Jeff Grace's score can be intrusive it oddly works better when it's not channelling Ennio Morricone. Bloody and violent in places with a few shoot outs, a hanging and slit throat, Grace along with West build some effective tense moments and to Ti's credit he also offers some humour that gives In a Valley of Violence a refreshing push.

It's a pity that West's marked as an army deserter Paul, didn't emulate the Man With No Name rather than try hard to avoid clichés as the homage in context of the tale may have elevated the story more and satisfy fans looking for a resurgence of the Eastwood style.

While it's paint by numbers stuff and won't shake the genre, it utilises the emptiness in contrast to the big budget Westerns and wisely makes the small cast ensemble and empty town part of the story. Recommend.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Ash vs Evil Dead: Last Call (#2.3) (2016) Review

Ash vs Evil Dead Movie PosterAfter picking up a woman at a bar and banging her from behind Ash gets a warning reminding him of an evil he encountered 30 years ago. With the book of dead in his possession he realises he may have to face up to a little mistake and save his town.

In terms of cult horror nostalgia Ash versus the Evil Dead captures the tone of the films perfectly thanks to Sam Raimi's foundation setting direction of the debut episode El Jefe.

Raimi offers floating P.O.V forest shots, blood, gore, twisted heads and demonic voices within the first 12 minutes. Later there's Vaule Stop stockroom action with a maniac toy doll and flashback exposition using the first two films. Raimi throws in more floating P.O.V shots this time in a car park, there's creepy demon faces in a diner, a Lucio Fulci eye tribute and Lucy Lawless for good measure. To top the episode off a cop investigates the odd occurrences and Ash teams up with two co- workers to take on a demon in an action packed caravan showdown.

Bruce Campbell is outstanding and intriguingly expands the character of aged Ash Williams. Written by Raimi, Ivan Raimi and Tom Spezialy the first episode's production values are high, many of the effects are first rate, the horror delivers scares and the comedy is on sleazy point.

As one of newest batch of film properties becoming TV shows this encapsulates the essence of the Evil Dead, basically it's a chainsaw-handed, reluctant demon hunter fan's dream.

In the first episode of the second season Ash returns to his home town Elk Grove to stop the Necronomicon getting into the hands of a demigod's children.

The season two's Home picks up shortly after where season one ended. Our trio's superficial dream life (for Ash that is) in Jacksonville is cut short when demons turn up at a spring break party. Ash, Kelly and Pablo make their way to a crematorium in Ash's creepy town to help Ruby out, but not before Ash runs into some old school 'friends'.

Director Rick Jacobson with writer Craig DiGregorio offers more blood, shotgun, chainsaw action and more great gags along with one liners. Lee Majors shows up as Ash's estranged father which expands Bruce Campbell's Ash back story. The effects are great, the monsters (Lucy Lawless's Ruby's demon kids) are scary. Armed with the Kandarian dagger there's a great action scene where Ash reluctantly helps Ruby and we welcome Kelly doubles played excellent by Dana DeLorenzo and Ash gets more hero worshipping from Ray Santiago's delirious amusing Pablo.

Jacobson delivers on the scares and the comedy is on groovey sleazy point.


*** The Last Call contains spoilers ***

Ash holds a party to draw in the car-jackers and get his Necronomicon book back.

Where as another horror themed TV show based on a film, has lost is wind (and Titty Twisting production values), Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert's Ash Verses Evil Dead goes from strength to strength with the 'Last Call' episode being no exception.

Ash's 'Ashy Slasher' reputation from the murderous events from The Evil Dead film is explored further. Actor Bruce Campbell's Ash's father son relationship is tested with a bucking-bronco ride and is humorously left semi-resolved when Brock Williams, wonderfully played by Lee Majors bites the dust. Ted Raimi cameos along with the excellent regular cast. Lucy Lawless' demon Ruby, Ray Santiago's Pablo and the lovely anti-Hollywood cast Dana DeLorenzo's Kelly get some quieter moments. What director Tony Tilse does with some great writing from Noelle Valdivia is mix the action, comedy and horror perfectly.

Ash's infamous 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 car goes on a Stephen King Christine-like rampage with some wincing bloody tyre action. There's some great lines and Deadite bathroom fight action with heads getting lobbed off and penis' and Ketamine laced drinks getting consumed. What more could you want? Great horror fun, highly recommended.

Eyes Wide Shut (1999) Revisited

Eyes Wide Shut Movie Poster*** This review contains spoilers ***

A man is drawn into an underground sexual group which puts his family in danger.

Based on Arthur Schnitzler's 1926 novella Traumnovelle (Dream Story) as a mystery thriller Stanley Kubrick's Eye Wide Shut at first glance doesn't deliver, with only a few taught scenes littered throughout as an elite secret society is discovered by the film's main doctor character played by Tom Cruise. However, as a visual and atmospheric piece of cinema it excels.

Interestingly, it's not the famous masonic segment or Bill (Cruise) and Alison (Nicole Kidman) relationship woes nor the basic thriller premise that ignite interest it's the plot's undercurrent, what is not said but implied and insinuated through looks, background items and actions that makes Eye Wide Shut so interesting. It can been seen to have many layers and can be inter-played and interpreted in different ways similar to, but more subtle than the likes of Revolver (2005) or Mulholland Drive. Just touching the surface, did Bill and Alison handover their daughter to the secret society at the end? Was Alison already a member? Was Bill's friend killed? Are the characters all lying to Bill? Kubrick presents endless questions, which answers only throws out more questions.

The camera work, lighting, sets, music and costumes are great. Supporting actors Sydney Pollack, Vinessa Shaw, Leelee Sobieski and Rade Serbedzija really shine. Oddly Kidman feels subdued throughout and Cruise (possibly cast too young) while reaching some emotional heights never seems moved by the bizarre nightmare he finds himself in, again this could be interpreted in different ways depending on your thoughts if you believe that there is more going on beneath the exposition or if it's taken at face value. Eyes Wide Shut arguably only really works if you deem more is going on than there actually is.

Overall, excellent atmosphere with a story that allows the viewer to draw their own conclusions. If you expect a conventional thriller you may be left disappointed but if you enjoy daydreams about chance and missed opportunities this may float your boat.