Saturday, 28 May 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) Review

*** This review contains superhero world destroying spoilers ***

1983, an ancient mutant awakes to reclaim the Earth. Only a handful of inexperienced mutants can stop him and his newest recruit - the powerful Magneto. 

Director Bryan Singer's X-Men: Apocalypse has the synonymous superhero city-level destruction with amazing effects, yes it feels a worn but the focus remains on the popular characters and their relationships. It magnifies all the best of the genre, serving up a solid story that remains pin sharp clear throughout. 

The Valley of the Nile opening is the most interesting of the film, Singer conjures up a Stargate, Gods of Egypt hybrid where we're introduced to the excellent Oscar Isaac in almost unrecognisable make up as the mutant Apocalypse. Notable is Death played memorably by Monique Ganderton, one of The Horsemen who saves Apocalypse allowing him to recruit some familiar mutants later. These include Angel (Ben Hardy channelling the late Heath Ledger) and a young Storm, Alexandra Shipp. Olivia Munn's Psylocke has an edge and a costume in which she steals every scene.

There are several films crammed into one and it works thanks to the central friendship story-line that's heart to the film. After the visually fantastic opening the first hour establishes what the characters have been up to, the latter half is then a face off between the players. World-destroying, operatic mutant, Isaac (who is somewhat a Tom Hardy acting chameleon) makes Apocalypse menacing. Simon Kinberg's script keeps Apocalypse engaging retaining a comic feel even though it is nihilistic at times. Debatably indifferent, Singer and Kinberg never allow Apocalypse reach Nolan & Synder's bleakness or the polish of recent Avengers and it's Marvel movie counterpart outings. There's fun to be had, Quicksilver (American Horror Story) Evan Peters gives X-Men: Apocalypse one of the most memorable scenes where he uses his super-speed to save students and a dog from an exploding mansion to the The Eurythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)'. 

For die-hard X-Men fans Hugh Jackman's Wolverine cameo restarts his original story with a gruesome killing rampage. The acting is what you'd expect for a cast boasting such well known faces. Grappling with the dark side of her abilities Sophie Turner's Jean Grey even though given little to do until the action packed closing is a good addition. Mystique played again by popular actress Jennifer Lawrence never quite matches her older counterpart, Romijn. Likewise Cyclops, Tye Sheridan doesn't meet Marsden's presence. James McAvoy as good actor as he is still can't shrug off Patrick Stewart's Xavier shadow. Whereas Michael Fassbender gives Magneto's story-line the emotional depth it requires especially after his family are murdered. Finally Nightcrawler - Kodi Smit-McPhee learns to hone his powers and is a great addition. 

The characters are all interesting but Psylocke and Storm embody the way this entire series has changed its female characters; giving them emotional integrity, swagger and complexity as much as possible in a sea of other characters. In all the special effects, sound design, costumes and amazing sets X-Men: Apocalypse gets close to evoking the friendship nature of the comics. It also reflects a morally grey rather than black and white view of the world without endless rain and gloomy lighting. 

Yes, there's a Stan Lee cameo and of course there's a anti climatic post credit scene which follows on from Wolverine's aftermath. Overall, Singer's back to basics story and fast pace in a wash of other recent superhero films offers (by the skin of its teeth) enough new thrills to pass the time with. Worth watching for Issac's troubled Apocalypse and Ganderton's small pivotal role alone.

Warcraft (2016) review

Azeroth stands on the brink of war, the leader of the humans and the leader of the orcs are then sent on a collision course that will decide the fate of their people. 

Okay bear with me on this one, there's is a pay off here, hence my unorthodox comments and thoughts. 

There is a honesty and truthfulness that comes with a Ducan Jones film, from having a famous father (a true legend) Jones broke convention not becoming one of those superficial celebs making a living in the shadow of a parent. Now what has this to do with Warcraft? I'll get to shortly. I know very little if any thing about Warcraft, I know it's big and I know it's a fantasy role playing game so I'm not going to pretend I know more than that. 

Warcraft with all the whiz bang jiggery pokery, beneath the sweeping shots and special effects there is a heart felt tale about parenting and loss. What this has is that Moon, Source Code humanity which Jones brings to the table, that roundness and grounded feel that he stamps on his films. As a film-goer and this is why my aforementioned ramblings were important. The script has an honesty that it's not just some money making studio movie but an indie film finely crafted on a large scale. You feel your mate made this great spectacle, there's an underlying apprehensive innocence in contrast to a sense of wonder and adventure. Warcraft seemingly feels that he isn't in it for the money, but for the story telling and artistic craft of it all.

The execution is near on perfect in the confines of the budget and today's capabilities with brutal sword play and battles. The director is wise to keep the focus on the interesting characters and themes of conflict, family and loyalty with Ramin Djawadi ominous score adding to the proceedings. Warriors, Kings, magicians and creatures, the human cast and the CGI performers melt together and you invest in the characters and their secret meetings and campsite confessions. The computer imagery, textured layers of animation and 3D modeling fuse with the mix of practical stunts and sets. Dominic Cooper and Tony Keball are notable but Paula Patton as hardened Garona steals the show as a go between peace keeper and will no doubt set geek hearts aflame. Writers Jones, Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen juggle the many major characters successfully and the cast deliver mysterious dialogue with ease. 

Jones and crew give us the Matrix of fantasy, lots of things will be familiar not just reminiscent because of Lord of the Rings, Dungeon and Dragons, Fire and Ice, Planet of the Apes, John Carter to name a few. But because of an inherent subconscious of the genre that's in the ether and part of our pop culture. But like the stylised Matrix did for sci-fi (as much as I hate to admit it) after the dust settled it stood on its own feet and was a milestone in film. As a 70'd kid Warcraft for me puts magic back in the mix instead of it languishing in low budget TV shows, a soulless blockbusters or sub-par cash-ins, here Jones takes it to a fitting level where it should be and cleverly sets up a follow up.

There's unavoidable rooted fantasy tropes littered throughout and Jones injects a little nuance or twist wherever possible. As a sci-fi medieval-ish action saga Warcraft is highly recommend.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Synchronicity (2015)

Synchronicity Movie Poster
*** This review contains time travelling spoilers ***

A partly funded experiment creates a wormhole, that the lead scientist hopes will usher humanity into a new scientific frontier.

Independent writer/director Jacob Gentry's Synchronicity is a sci-fi noir that attempts, on a very low budget, to channel Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Gentry is smart enough not to disguise or apologise for low budget short comings and like the recent Automata and The Machine it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not, avoiding the pitfalls of The Anomaly for example.

Michael Ironside extended cameo as Klaus, a domineering, super-rich businessman who's bankrolling Jim's experiment is excellent and unintentionally upstages actor Chad McKnight's best quirky effort as a Jeffery Combs-like Jim. Abby Brianne Davis does her best to out do Sean Young's Rachel as a nonchalant woman who may or may not be assisting Jim or Klaus.Davis really nails this curious absorbing role thanks to a good performance and fitting dialogue.

The budget does enough to create a doomy atmosphere with a dystopian stylishness thanks to some interesting locations, special effects and Ben Lovetts' score unashamedly reminiscent of Vangelis.

Complications arise at once the time travel begins and with only a handful of characters Gentry keeps the viewer engaged with some intriguing narrative twists. It's clear the viewer is on low budget feature ride, the minimal psychological and symbolic flower wormhole gives it an artsy Kubrick and Tony Scott feel, without overblown special effects, that may give sub-genre fans a buzz.

Its very much a character piece. When Jim goes through the wormhole proving the viability of time travel it becomes a doppelgänger tale akin to the effective Nacho Vigalondo's Timecrimes, incidentally also not reliant on flashy effects.

If time travelling speculative science fiction with video calls, heels, high rise buildings and shafts of light is your thing, you'll a kick out of this low budget - less is more sci fi.

Miami Vice: The Afternoon Plane S3 Ep17

Miami Vice Movie Poster

*** This review may contain pastel colour spoilers *** Get a load of that poster.

Tubbs has won a week's all expense paid vacation to an island retreat, St. Gerard. But when he and his girlfriend Alicia Austin arrive its a ruse that has been set up by an old adversary.

The Afternoon Plane is the seventeenth episode of Miami Vice's third season, its one of the strongest semi-self contained episodes, also it resolves the Tubbs Orlando Calderone story-line. Crockett unusually appears briefly at a wedding but this gives support to the story as it plays out similar to the 1952 classic High Noon, with the impending arrival of a killer and the local towns people won't help. With the phone service down Tubbs is on his own just like Garry Cooper. Written and directed by David Jackson in this episode you get the sense of urgency, there's desperation and frustration from Tubbs.

Philip Michael Thomas as Metro-Dade Detective Ricardo "Rico" Tubbs really gets a chance to shine. The supporting cast are on form and include Vincent Philip D'Onofrio and John Leguizamo, also notable is Maria McDonald as Alicia Austin, Tubbs love interest. There's a jarring steamy love making scene after Tubbs and Alicia do some horseback riding. As it unfolds refreshingly McDonald gets to up the ante rather than be just Tubbs' 'woman'. As it comes to head Tubbs and Orlando face each other in a fitting showdown.

With gun hails of gun fire, plenty of simmering tension, complemented by Jan Hammer's music (and featuring We Touch by Loz Netto) The Afternoon Plane is one of the stand out episodes that doesn't involve the usual main cast.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Kill Command (2014)

*** This review may contain robotic spoilers ***
An elite army unit is helicoptered to a remote, off-the-grid island training facility along with a synthetic enhanced female.
What could have been another Syfy channel or Asylum picture thankfully is not due to some commendable CGI work and solid performances from the relatively unknown cast. Don't expect B flick, man versus robots, Battle of Damned (2013), Kill Command is played straight and is a tighter more polished production. It is one of those simmering science fictions with a group of soldiers fighting to the death as they make there way through woodland, a hi-tech facility and later a training city setting.
Actor Thure Lindhardt as Captain Bukes keeps the proceedings grounded and David Ajala as Drifter, echoing Drake from Aliens character is notable with Bentley Kalu's short screen time deserving a mention. It's Vanessa Kirby as hybrid Mills (in a role reminiscent of The Machine and Ex Machina) who steals the show, as the team are tracked and picked off one by one with the fitting Brad Fiedel-like score by Stephen Hilton sounding out. Director/writer Steve Gomez offers a satisfying turn of events as it's revealed that it's the machines who are in training. There's some nice touches with the robots upgrading and using the wildlife for target practice. 
Granted there's some choppy pacing and yes, gamers will be familiar with the designs, it also borrows from a countless range of scifi films from Predator to Screamers, more recently Skyline and Edge of Tomorrow to name a few. That said, Gomez's serious small debut is far more rounded than many recent big budgeted films. The Terminator-like closing along with its twist ending lends is self to an inevitable tantalising sequel that with a bigger production would be gladly welcomed.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Fear the Walking Dead: Sicut Cervus 2.6

*** This review contains zombie spoilers ***

The Abigail arrives at the Mexico coastline and Strand leads the group through a town to Thomas's gated estate.

Director Kate Dennis delivers an important sixth episode of the second series. While writer Brian Buckner retreads George A. Romero's ideas and the second season of The Walking Dead with the living keeping the dead, here in a wine cellar, it breaks ground in terms of what means to die, love and loss.

The opening where parishioners take their communion and die one by one this sets up the group's action driven standoff later after an ill fated run-in with a Mexican flotilla which is guarding the border. Talking suicide notably is the emotional set up of Strand (Colman Domingo) shooting lover Thomas (Dougray Scott) in the head. But interesting there is a bit of misdirection with them at one point contemplating committing suicide with the help of Celia, Luis's mother. Both Scott and Domingo really give outstanding performances here.

In addition, you have the topic of living being more dangerous than the dead; Chris contemplates killing Madison and Alicia after letting Madison almost get eaten just out of interest and Celia's divisive view on death and the dead saying the infected are simply "what comes next." Dennis and Buckner also give an insight into Nick's tired state of mind, as well as Kim Dickens' Madison Clark and Cliff Curtis' Travis Manawa relationship strains.

Overall, "Sicut Cervus" is one of the standout episodes, not only does it develop the characters, including a flashback of Daniel (Rubén Blades) in the Salvadorian Junta, holistically it gets under the skin of the undead themes as well as offering a rounded story of both drama and action.

The Dead the Damned and the Darkness (2014)

 *** This review may contain zombie spoilers ***

A group of uninfected band together to escape the mutants to get to a coastal road.

After a wacky action packed opening, director Rene Perez delivers a low budget infection affair. Perez's heavy score is excellent when reminiscent of Euro splatter flicks and it harks back to Italian horror's when a woman's shirt (Raven Lexy) is ripped open exposing her breast. Writers Barry Massoni and Perez offer some interesting moments, mainly those involving a deaf character Stephanie, played notably by Iren Levy. Lead Robert Tweten with a practical and cool costume also deserves a mention.

Akin to Zombie Massacre's dead make up, the mutants also growl. Nevertheless, plenty of effort has gone into the production which is traditionally shot, its not another PoV or found footage movie. It's a zombie mash up, while not as well executed as Wyrmwood or as stylised as Bomshell Bloodbath, thankfully it's not as sleazy as Zombie 108 or Zombie Fight Club. Sadly, Perez links it to his 2011 predecessor Cowboys & Zombies a.k.a The Dead and the Damned in the latter half, jarringly taking the edge off this with some unnecessary flashbacks.

At times in the spirit of B exploitation flicks its better than anything made for the Syfy channel, zombie completest may get a kick out of this low budget offering.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

The Boy (2016)

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

A Montana woman, Greta, gets a temporary job as a nanny and to her surprise is paid to look after a porcelain doll, which is treated like a living child by his parents.

Director William Brent Bell offers a creepy tale with plenty of shock scares. The typical British James Herbert-like setting of a large British aristocratic home with mature gardens adds to the sinister atmosphere. Lauren Cohan's performance is excellent as Greta. As things go bump in the night with objects seemingly moving around reminiscent of Child Play, Dolly Dearest and Annabel to name a few, Cohan sells the fear factor. Bell 's production is polished, aided by its sound design, Bear McCreary's score (who appears to be knocking them out in his sleep) and Brian Berdan's editing add to the pace and atmosphere throughout.

Written by Stacey Menear, Greta's back story and motivations are believable but it leads to a somewhat inevitable Cape Fear-esque appearance by Cole, Greta's ex, played by Ben Robson. Rupert Evans gives a great understated performance as as Malcolm thanks to Delay's dialogue. Still grieving for their son, both Jim Norton as Mr. Heelshire and Diana Hardcastle s Mrs. Heelshire are delightfully creepy and emulate the odd couple in Dolls (1987) as their intentions are tragically revealed. Notable are the scenes where Greta demonstrates Brahms' ability to move by himself to Malcolm and when Greta is locked in the attic by an unseen force.

Although the lath reveals the house is state-side and not British, the excellent interiors and grounds really sell it. As with my incessant mention of other films it covers a lot of horror tropes. Those familiar with Housebound (2014) and an array of others will see the twist coming a mile off. If anything the rushed and jarring reveal takes away the suspense and tension finely built by Bell in the first three quarters with a Halloween masked phantom closing. That said, to Bell's credit the ghoul remains masked retaining The Boy's mystery. But the star of the show is the Brahms doll, which is just plain unnerving.

Those with pediophobia may want to avoid this at all costs but for the rest of us it's a solid horror thriller that works best when its honing the psychological aspect and delivering jump scares.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Blackfoot Trail (2014)

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

A landscaper takes his girlfriend on a nostalgic camping trip but the couple find themselves lost in the territory of a predatory black bear.

Very loosely based on the 2005 true events of Jacqueline Perry and Mark Jordan, Blackfoot Trail A.K.A Back Country has a simmering build up as the two leads trek into the wilderness. The first 45 minutes is broken up with a tension filled scene where Eric Balfour's Brad make's a subtle move of sorts on (Jeff Roop) Alex's girlfriend.

Refreshingly, its' not a found footage film and traditionally shot. Director/writer Adam MacDonald is wise to take a less is more approach keeping the 'monster' hidden for the most part. After the couple become lost the first major attack comes in around the hour mark and it's worth the wait, the bear and gore effects are particularly brutal. MacDonald uses an unconventional interesting pull on focus. This unorthodox technique adds to the on screen proceedings especially as Jenn, played realistically by Missy Peregrym, is put through the mill.

The small cast ensemble are effective right down to the bit parts, notable is Nicholas Campbell as a Ranger. Although Balfour's Irish accent is unnecessary, it's a shame that his part is only an extended cameo. It's fitting MacDonald plays against expectations as Balfour's Brad doesn't simply save the day, but it would have been effective if MacDonald had weaved Balfour's character into the story a little more. But it's a little quibble. Frères Lumières music complements Christian Bielz's raw cinematography and MacDonald's on location shoot adds to the realism.

The real black bear moments sell Blackfoot Trail, expect a slow burner with great scenery and grounded performances. With the recent spate of killer bear features MacDonald's sober offering is probably the best of the bunch since The Edge.

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Jungle Book (2016)

The Jungle Book Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***
With a tiger on the hunt, a young boy embarks on a journey of self discovery with the aid of a panther, Bagheera and Baloo the bear.

A welcomed retelling of the 1953 Disney cartoon as oppose to the original Rudyard Kipling source material. However, you can't help feel that director Jon Favreau and writer Justin Marks arguably should either kept all the Disney songs instead of a select few or omitted all of the songs. Because of this Scarlett Johansson's Kaa scene feels cut short.

The death of both of Mowgli's human and wolf father offers some emotional weight and its is dark in places, both Christopher Walken's King Louie and Idris Elba's Shere Khan are fantastic and quite menacing. The effects and voice characterisations work well for the most part and actor Neel Sethi Mowgli deserves credit for his outstanding performance against the life like CGI characters including Ben Kingsley's notable, Bagheera. There's enough story tweaks, drama and visuals to allow Favreau version to stand on its own feet.

Entertaining, both Favreau and Disney are on form here but it's debatably still not as good or as fun as its cartoon feature counterpart.