Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Night of the Comet (1984) fashion versus zombies

A comet turns most of the life on Earth into red dust, leaving two young women to fight the wicked types who have survived.

This off beat 80's scifi has a premise that harks back to The Last Man on Earth (1964) and it's tone is reminiscent of Lifeforce (1985) mixed with Dawn of the Dead (1978) and the Blob (1988 remake) to name a few.

Director/writer Thom Eberhardt creates a visually eye-catching B- film with an eerie atmosphere on a neon-primary coloured backdrop. It has tongue-in-cheek humour and zombie-like effects spread throughout.

The two female leads, cheerleader kitted Samantha (Kelli Maroney) and Regina "Reggie" Belmont (Catherine Mary Stewart) assisted by survivor Hector (Robert Beltran) take on nomads, dodgy scientists and alien infected zombies.

The notable Stewart as Reggie keeps the energy high and Eberhardt throws in a consumerism subtext for good measure. Night of the Comet while not as pacy as it could be has enough going on including 1980's fashion to keep it entertaining.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Housebound (2014)

Contains New Zealand horror comedy spoilers.

A troubled young woman, attempts to steal the safe from an ATM, confined to her house she finds out that there may be more to her mother claims that their house is haunted.

What's starts out as seemingly haunted house flick turns into something totally different, reminiscent of The People Under the stairs mixed with Ghost Adventures. Those comparisons are probably not giving director Gerard Johnston's film the credit it deserves. As while it borrows other genre elements it turns them on its head like the low budget Undead (2003) or Severance (2006) it becomes something quite original. It's a tightly constructed black comedy horror with some genuine laugh out loud moments and jump scares.

Bloody and creepy in places this part mystery story set mostly in one house it's a boy who cried wolf tale in some respects, or girl in this case, as no one believes Kylie's claims apart from a security contractor, Amos.

Morgana O'Reilly is exceptional as Kylie Bucknell, the rebellious ASBO teen who has been tagged and confined to her home after a botched robbery. The small cast ensemble are outstanding with Cameron Rhodes channelling a mix of Jim Broadbent and Randy Quaid. Rima Te Wiata as Kylie's mum Miriam is particularly notable.

Praise should also be given to Johnston's writing as Morgana's character Kylie doesn't scare easily and isn't a victim, this with a few story tweaks puts a breath of fresh air into the often stale haunted-house/slasher genre.

"Narcos" (2015)

A chronicled look at the criminal activity and the many sides of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Intriguing, like watching the 2005 documentary Cocaine episodes 1,2 and 3 Viva la Coca, An Honest Citizen, Leo and Ze respectively mixed with Scarface. With some genuine photos and footage of the day briefly inserted into episodes you get reminded that what you're watching is a good rendition of what happened. As the story unfolds you get a sense of the many viewpoints and different levels of both the government and Narcos. The series depicts the Colombian drug cartels power and gives a sense of its reach across the globe.

There are great performances from a relatively unknown but stellar cast including Wagner Moura (Elite Squad) as Pablo Escobar. Boyd Holbrook (Run All Night) whose resemblance to the real Steve Murphy is uncanny and Pedro Pascal (Game of Thrones) Narcos exceed expectations.

On the backdrop of the finely recreated late 70s and 80s it's violent, tension filled and fuelled with emotion. While Miami Vice was fiction and ripping stories from the headlines it showed the effects of the drugs on the streets. This shows factually to an extent through dramatisation how they got there and just how characters are a shade of grey. While the accents may not be perfect each fast paced episode is well written, has great production values and with a shot on location feel it gives the proceedings weight. 

It's certainly a series to watch driven by an ending which you know is inevitable by its true life subject matter.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Beowulf (1999) not that one, the alternative.

In a besieged land, Beowulf, a stranger is drawn to the darkness and must battle against a creature named Grendel and his vengeance seeking mother. 

This is an odd mixed medieval, scifi and steam punk version of the 6th Century poem Beowulf. It has a pumping score and soundtrack with great visuals and plenty of over the top dialogue and action. Despite a made TV feel director Graham Baker offers leather, weapons, castles, dungeons and a practical rubber suit Grendel hidden behind some CGI reminiscent Predator mixed with Alien.

With the prowess of Filmation's He-Man Christopher Lambert is Beowulf, sporting a Sting-like bleached hairdo. Corset squeezed Rhona Mitra is stunning as Kyra although given little to do. Model Layla Roberts shows up as the Grendel's mother and a succubus to effectively woo Oliver Cotton who plays Hrothgar. Former Bond bad guy Götz Otto also features and The Mummy's Patricia Velasquez briefly appears as Pendra. The cast wrestle with the script and for unexplained reasons the voices of the main cast have been re-dubbed (with their very own voices) which can be distracting as the timing of the loop is slightly off like an old Kung fu film.

Even though made prior to The Mummy Returns the CGI Scorpion King looking monster in the closing act isn't as convincing as Lambert's stunt double's Rutger Hauer looking hair and somersaults.It hasn't budget or the finesse of The 13th Warrior (1999) or Outlander (2008) and lacks the seriousness of Beowulf and the Grendel (2005) but it's far more fun than the lustre 2007 3D Beowulf version.

Watch it if only for the costumes and Mitra.

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Good the Bad and the Ugly almost 50 years of greatness

Three gunslingers compete to find a fortune in a buried Confederate gold amidst the violent chaos of the American Civil War.

One of the greatest Westerns ever made. While Spaghetti Western For a Few Dollars more is debatably the better tale, The Good the Bad and the Ugly is grander in scale and scope (thanks to Director of photography Tonino Delli Colli) with the main characters even getting caught up in the New Mexico Campaign of 1862 complete with war camps, prisoners and an exploding bridge.

Clint Eastwood returns to the genre as protagonist Blondie (aka The Man with No Name) along with Lee Van Cleef who this time plays Angel Eyes (The Bad). Both Eastwood and Cleef are outstanding with Sergio Leone's 1966 offering benefiting from the addition of Eli Wallach who delivers a sterling and memorable performance as Tuco Ramirez (The Ugly). The characters written by Age & Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni and Leone (with additional material provided by an uncredited Sergio Donati) are well defined archetypes which are constructed perfectly.

The Good the Bad and the Ugly has one of the greatest crescendo building endings ever and the film is complete with Leone's perfectionist directorial trademarks. Ennio Morricone's iconic theme completes the package as the score complements the three players double crossing each other throughout to the closing Mexican Standoff.

You can feel the heat and taste the dust in this highly influential recommended Western.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

From Dusk Till Dawn 2.1 more Titty Twisting

Three months after freeing Santanico from the Titty Twister, the Gecko Brothers are separately on the run; Seth and Kate are in Mexico; Richie and Santanico plot vengeance on the Culebra. 

Opening Night, the first episode of the second season, continues with the spirit of the first season and encapsulates some of the DNA of the film. While some of the CGI effects fall short Greg Nicotero's (Day of the Dead, The Walking Dead) practical makeup effects still are outstanding. Directed by Robert Rodriguez this series is no longer chained to the narrative of the film like the first season adaption, episode 1 is in fresh uncharted territory.

The main characters Seth (D.J. Cotrona) and Kate (Madison Davenport) hiding in Mexico and Richie (Zane Holtz) and Santanico (Eiza González) planning an assault on the Nine Lords starting with a robbery told with a flash forward and flashback. Rodriguez's direction is as sharp as ever and the atmosphere is dark and rich with reds. Freddie's (Jesse Garcia) turns up in latter half and Wilmer Valderrama's Carlos appears briefly. There is also an expanded Santánico Pandemonium back-story with flashbacks that now include a new character Malvado who sports a long-coat made of human faces played by Esai Morales.

Actor Danny Trejo from the film returns as a new character, Razor Charlie, with an introduction reminiscent of Creepshow 2's Old Chief Wooden head story, his appearance topping this episode off for fans.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Fear the Walking Dead again

A divorced male teacher, with his new partner a female guidance counsellor and her children find themselves in the opening stages of a zombie apocalypse.

AMC's original series Fear the Walking Dead takes us back prior to the outbreak that began with award winning Walking Dead. After an excellently executed bloody and gnarly opening in a crack house church where a drug addict (the son of Madison Clark) escapes a zombie attack. It then moves to everyday life slowly unravelling reminiscent of the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake and Diary of the Dead's news footage of the reanimating dead.

There's plenty of suspense and atmosphere in the first episode, the pacing is spot on with a thought out introduction to the dysfunctional and estranged family. The family drama feel natural and unforced thanks to some attention to detail, effective writing by Robert Kirkman and Dave Erickson, Adam Davidson's direction and solid acting. Cliff Curtis as Travis Manawa and Kim Dickens as Madison Clark are particularly notable. With a drug hit subplot, murder, shootings, a hit and run and undead attacks there's plenty going on but not at the expense of the characterisations.

The first pilot episode attempts to avoid the tropes/clichés but given the subject matter its unavoidable, hopefully going forward it doesn't recycle too many elements of its predecessor nor follow its meandering footsteps.

The Los Angeles setting gives it scope, a fresh feel and like its predecessor it benefits from an on location shoot. Hopefully it'll retain its grounded feel. Those wanting a fast paced ride or running zombies maybe disappointed. However for the old-school zombie fans it's creepy, suspenseful, moody and engrossing.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Fantastic Four (2015) again

When transported to an alternate universe, four young outsiders gain superhuman powers which test their relationships.

Director Josh Trank's Fantastic Four is dark, oppressive and grim so grim some of the one liners feel out of place. The aesthetics aren't what you'd expect, with major changes and the actors are possibly too young, but previous outings also had this issue. However, the characters are easily identifiable and encompass the essences of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's creations.

Although Lee serves as executive producer in terms of look and feel it shares very little with the comics or previous incarnations of the Fantastic Four. Without drawing comparisons to the 1994 Roger Corman (bootleg) version or the recent underrated 2005 and 2007 outings this version is surprisingly drawing. 

Taking its time Trank's offering spends the whole of its running time as an origin story about friendship, war policies and morales with only the last ten minutes to deal with their adversary, Doom. Due to the unorthodox story structure it comes to an abrupt end. Also oddly Fantastic's tone feels more DC than Marvel.

Kate Mara is notable as The Invisible Woman. Jamie Bell's performance as The Thing in the latter half is by design hidden by the effects. Toby Kebbell is excellent but his screen time is limited with the rest of the cast being effective in their respective roles.The music by Marco Beltrami Philip Glass score is exceedingly ominous and compliment the great effects, sterile sets, costume design and performances as they harness their powers.

Arguably all the recent superhero adaptations attempts while entertaining never seem to capture their subject matter spirit faithfully coming across as bloated, soulless money makers which try to cash in by appeasing adult fans at the expense of younger children which doesn't always mix and this is no exception. 

That said, if a slow burning, brooding re-imagining is your thing then this delivers exactly that and to its credit its edgier than its paint by numbers same universe contemporaries despite an anticlimactic rushed showdown.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Altar (2014)

A young family move to an isolated house which the mother has been hired to restore only to discover that presences still linger casting a hold over her artist sculpturing husband. 

Taking a leaf from a James Herbert novel and channelling countless haunted films Altar is an effective ghost story chiller, however, what sets director/writer Nick Willing's offering apart are the practical and some special effects which have an optical natural feel as opposed to the usual ineffective blatant CGI. 

Willing delivers some genuinely eerie visuals and creepy moments, this coupled with a great score and on location shoot help give some credence and atmosphere to the proceedings. Matthew Modine's Hamilton sports a Shining Jack Torrence like woollen jumper (the writer character is replaced here by an artist) and mimics Torrence's transformation (although quite speedy) still Modine gives an intense performance. Both the younger actors are effective, actress Antonia Clarke is notable as Penny. Olivia Williams gives convincing performance which complements the naturalistic writing and setting. 

While it breaks no new ground in terms of ghost stories or twist endings it's a solid old school British horror.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Arena (1989)

All bets are off at a corrupt intergalactic fighting competition where a system removes the fighter's advantage, no matter what species and puts them on an even standing. 

Made and released in the UK in 1989, like Robot Jox, Crash & Burn, Oblivion and other Charles Band productions the lack of money is obvious but this B-film captures the imagination which many larger budgeted films fail to do. Arena taps into a time when fighting films had peaked and Rocky was deep rooted in the conciseness along with WWF specials. Director Peter Manoogian offers plenty of showdowns. His direction is fine and many of the makeup and special effects still hold up. 

In a cast of outlandish aliens Claudia Christian features as Quinn and the Christopher Reeve-a-like Paul Satterfield's Steve Armstrong works as the stereotype hero.

Despite its clichés and the fact it was never going to win any Oscars its many references to other science fictions and fresh concept makes it an enjoyable low budget science fiction.