Saturday, 25 June 2016

The Final Version prediction

The The Final Version is the third book I’ve had published; my first was a zombie chiller and the second was a vampire horror novel, and was better received reaching #13 in the fantasy horror chart. The Final Version is the first novel I draft, even though released third. I, who never in the first 30 odd years of my life, ever imagined would write one word for publication. And I never could have predicted it would reach #12 in the charts.

Yesterday, while prepping my next novel Darkest Moons (out October 2016) I looked over The Final Version digital eBook edition which is available is on Amazon. After rereading some of it was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I didn’t recognise half of what I’d written. Had no recollection of writing it. “Where did those words come from?” I questioned. “Who did they come from?” All I can figure is I went into some kind of writer’s trance. There's a Bladerunner feel, but a plastic and neon one in and in contrast to crowded over population there's an emptiness, loneliness where people have buildings to themselves and go about there business under big brother's eye. The suburbs are different again, policed ravaged and dangerous.

But what came out is something that makes me laugh today after UKs decision to leave the EU because of the way the political landscape in the World especially the shift in UK and USA, which echoes in the  subtext of the novel's backdrop. The Final Version, centres around a hearty mix of cyberpunk, DNA, A.I. Robots and Cloning, but its also a post war story of sorts, a warning if you like - which I hope doesn't come to pass. Where the elite chose not to revive their fellow people (in cryo status), to keep power and resource across the remaining cities to themselves. Of course there's assassinations, conspiracy, but never more has a piece of fiction I've written become a step closer to reality not just with DNA, advancements in technology and transatlantic travel but the blurred warped political agendas. 

For less than a coffee check out the future... Are you unique or simply the final version? 

Amazon The Final Version

https://www.amazon.com/Final-Version-M-Esmonde-ebook/dp/B00K34ZPSA

The Final Version Trailer

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The Trust (2016)

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



Disillusioned and bored with his job a Las Vegas officer's attention is brought to a large bail amount paid in cash, this leads him to a purpose built safe room that with the help of his employee they decide to steal the content.

Directed by Alex Brewer's The Trust, I'll say this up front, works thankfully due to some smart casting. Nicolas Cage's performance as Jim Stone is a return to form. Stone is a witty, wacky, intelligent officer who seemingly goes by the book but reaches point where he doesn't want to end up like his dad (Jerry Lewis). Lewis' very brief cameo is a pivotal role, in as much as it set the stage for Stone's motivation. Cage's nihilistic Stone screws the tension tight, at times defusing it with quips at Waters' (Elijah Wood) heart pounding expense. Wood's washed out character Waters with a conscious is swept along as the two Evidence Management unit officers, fed up with trying to make ends meet plan a heist.

The film opens with Waters banging a prostitute and later deliberating how much money to leave. Don't expect the bright lights glitz of the Vegas Strip to feature too much, there's none of the stereotype Vegas gambling, shows or sharp suits in the film. The film has a Training Day grit, the robbery they plan is in a run down apartment in the seedier neighbourhood outskirts.

Writer's Ben Brewer and Adam Hirsch feed Cage and Wood some great lines which they delivers perfectly. The Trust offers partly a 'day in the life of' type of feel, with a couple of shoot outs. Brewer's on location shoot adds the principles fine performances and Reza Safinia's music adds to the fun. Ultimately, if the leads were played by anyone else The Trust may have fallen into obscurity, its Cage's demeanour and Wood's portrayal that really hold it together as the twist kidnapping ending, while well staged, is somewhat anticlimactic especially in comparison to the entertaining first half where Waters goes on stakeouts and Stone goes to work undercover at Vegas hotel making more money on tips than he does as a police officer. There's also an amusing scene where Stone sporting an awful German accent tries to purchase a diamond tipped drill from Europe over the phone using a translation book.

Overall, it's a well made film even if the climax is disappointing. Its worth checking out just to see the chemistry between the two leads and Nicolas Cage breaking out of Video on Demand/straight to DVD hell, back to cinematic form thanks to Brewer's direction.

Conjuring 2 (2016)

*** This review contains demonic spoilers ***

Lorraine wanting to retire from the spiritual field and Ed Warren tired of justifying what they do travel to north London to help a family plagued by a malicious spirit.

Opening with a chilling medium session at the notorious Amityville home, where Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) has an encounter with the dead Lutz family and a demon nun, director James Wan hits the horror road running. The creepy nun from Ed's  (Patrick Wilson) painting an omen of death later turns up at Ed and Lorraine's home and we're introduced to their teenage daughter. Meanwhile, a single mother raising four children are harassed by the  previous deceased occupant. With a fistful of writers and the sharp editor,  Wan creates a good build up, fleeting between the US and UK and although it takes its time getting Ed and Lorraine to the English house, it works giving the film scope.

The cast particularly the child actors are great and Farmiga shines. Wilson delivers another great performance as the matter of fact Ed. Incidentally as well as being a handy man, he also does a good acoustic rendition of Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love". The notable German actress Franka Potente also appears as a sceptic but gets very little screen time. Simon McBurney is solid and almost equals Timothy Spall's performance as Maurice Grosse. Like its predecessor it shares much with other haunting films but it stands on its own due to Wan's execution, he knows horror, the eeriness, atmosphere, timing of visuals and sound to get hairs standing on end effortlessly. Something which the rushed Annabelle (2014) arguably lacked in his absence as director.

With a pause for thought, like true crime murders, it gets under your skin and you can't help feel that someone is profiting from someone else's misery. Conscious aside, true or not, Wan stays close to the Enfield Haunting's beats with plenty of artistic licence to inject enough practical and CGI effects without it losing its grounded feel too much in the first three quarters.

From wall posters to wallpapers, clothes and cars the 1977 is recreated almost perfectly. There is a set up with a remote control, although I don't recall there being remotes like that in Great Britain, or at least the family surely wouldn't have been able to afford that TV, in any case, the set up is still effectively creepy with a great jump scare when the young girl encounters an old man in both a reflection and face to face. As well as a scary zoetrope toy and fire engine, there's a horrific moment where the girls young brother is tricked into thinking a ghoul is a dog wanting to go out by ringing a bell next to the door.

The UK terraced neighbour setting sets it apart, but naturally its reminiscent of the three part The Enfield Haunting (2015) and When the Lights Went Out (2012) which told the  1974 Black Monk of Pontefract story. Nevertheless, Wan to his credit recreates the Brit 70s injecting some nostalgia for the viewer, with the location, The Jam, TV clips of the day and so on. Wan packs the Conjuring 2 with energy, jumps scares and handles the emotional scenes delicately. In the closing act there's a twist as it tries to hone The Exorcist. While it may not have the grit and weight of the aforementioned, it has an entertaining mix of drama and horror to set it apart from many others. As Ed and Lorraine do battle at the end, Ed stops the young girl falling to her death as Lorraine word duels with the demon (akin to the design of 2005's The Nun/La Monja), yes there's an unnecessary wash of practical and computer imagery in the finale but it comes back to earth with an eerie text epilogue, then the couple add the zoetrope toy to their collection which is followed by the leads bursting with chesmisty dancing happily together.

With Ouija boards, spooky nuns, spectres, toys, moving furniture, ghosts, demonic voices and so on you can't go wrong. Excellent mainstream horror entertainment.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Stomping Ground (2014)



Stomping Ground DVD cover*** Written for BCRising.com. This review may contain cryptozoology spoilers ***


A young Chicago couple Ben and Annie return to Annie's small North Carolina hometown, bumping into some of her old friends they embark on an impromptu Bigfoot hunt which threatens their relationship and lives.

I love a good Bigfoot film, the ones though with blood and guts, there's been a spate of the recently, like shark films and creature features they're a minefield in terms of quality ranging from Eduardo Sánchez's Exists to (Syfy, enough said) Bigfoot. Director Dan Riesser's Stomping Ground, is a low budget surprisingly good traditionally shot Bigfoot film. While the camera work is a little rough in places, it benefits from an on location shoot. To drum up the film's saleability to horror hounds Evil Dead's Theresa Tilly appears very briefly. We get some dead bodies, a severed finger, a severed head and a pretty good Bigfoot costume (no rubbish CGI, hooray).

John Bobek's city boy Ben and Tarah DeSpain's Annie are strong enough to carry the film as their relationship is tested. For a low budget film the acting excels. Jeramy Blackford, is notable as Paul and gives performance (akin to Eric Balfour's Brad in Blackfoot Trail killer bear feature) as Annie's former boyfriend, which prompts some tension between him and Ben. Justin Giddings is amusing enough and plays local Bigfoot expert Jed. J. Michael Radtke's visual Bigfoot effects work better from behind and in the shadows, with the bright showdown stealing some impact and effect.

There's the expected Deliverance jokes and references to Wrong Turn, writers Riesser and Andrew Genser's script works best when it avoiding pop culture references, to their credit they give Annie enough back-story throughout without dropping everything in the first five minutes and the knocking, den building, hair and calls remind you it's a Bigfoot film. The extremely long build up struggles to hold attention with the Bigfoot segments coming late in the latter half of the third act. The ego-stroking, chest-beating competition between Ben and Paul gets a little repetitive objectifying Annie. Stomping Ground is more interesting when they're talking about local history, drinking moonshine, playing games and being attacked.



At 80 minutes it feels longer than it is, tonally Riesser's offering doesn't hold up comedy wise to be another Tucker and Dale versus Evil, there's also not enough Sasquatch focus and gory action set-ups to fully satisfy horror fans. That said, it's a commendable independent film effort and certainly worth checking out especially if you're a Bigfoot lover.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Jaws: The Revenge (1987) Revisited

*** This review may contain jaw dropping spoilers ***

A great white shark stalks a woman to the Bahamas to kill the remaining members of her family...

I'm fond of Jaws the Revenge, there I admit it. Although it may be a bad movie, also an incompetent one, to its credit it ignores Jaws 3- D and stars Lorraine Gary of Jaws and Jaws 2. Yes, Ellen Brody returns, the wife of chief Martin Brody. Director Joseph Sargent opening is probably the strongest segment of the film. We return to an atmospheric Martha's Vineyard but this time it's Christmas time where Ellen's youngest son has his dad's old job and after a call is eaten by a shark while a choir drowns out his screams. There's some good to come out of this event as we get some cameos at the funeral by the actors of the original. Grief stricken Ellen flees the Bahamas to stay with her eldest son Michael played by Lance Guest (of fricking Starfighter) - but, get this, the shark has somehow followed her, it wants to eat her entire family possibly as revenge for its parent sharks being killed by Brody in part one and two, who knows?! Yes it's a paper thin plot with a series of shark attacks but if you can look beyond that and the shoddy shark models there's something quite endearing about 1987's Jaws: The Revenge.

At the time criticized for its jumping shark (no Henry Winkler pun intended) it has since been established that sharks in fact do propel themselves out of the water (although in the critic's defence I'm sure the filmmaker had no idea of their over 15 feet leaps at the time). That said, to date no shark has been heard roaring like Bruce 4 does in this film. Guest's performance is excellent, he really is likable (honestly) as the marine biologist and over protective son. Mario Van Peebles' Jake with a terrible accent and an unlikable attitude makes you secretly glad he gets eaten, depending on which version you watched, you still feel sorry for his wife.

There's a handful of imaginative scenes which makes this instalment worthwhile. At one point Jake attaches a device to the shark so that he can track it through its heartbeat. These heart beat noises build up some tension akin to the barrels in the 1975 Jaws. Interestingly, there's set up where Michael is chased through a wreck and escapes using his air tank - James Bond style! In addition there's also banana boat scene where Jaws (Bruce 4) tries to chow down on Ellen's granddaughter. Another positive is that Gary really shines as the credible paranoid grandmother and mother. It's refreshing to see (albeit cringe worthy) the older lady falling in love with a local pilot Hoagie (Michael 'Get Carter' Caine). Oddly writer Michael de Guzman injects an overbearing amount of sexual dialogue. With every adult character in the film acting at times like a frisky teenager under Sargent's supervision.

For tradition and impact Sargent wisely uses John Williams classic theme and unsurprisingly Michael Small fills in the rest delivering a near on perfect score. In the closing Caine's Hoagie is so Dirty Rotten Scoundrels cool he crash-lands his aeroplane in to the sea and when he emerges onto the boat he's completely dry, "Blood 'ell, the breath on that thing". 

So long as you're watching the version where Jake dies and shark gets stabbed, sinking breaking the boat up and not the one where Jaws inexplicably explodes (recycling footage from the original Jaws) it's a more fitting closure. Either way both versions are choppily edited and you can't help feel that with more care or a different director even with the preposterous, yet, novel premise it could have been better.

Overall, hugely flawed but somewhat entertaining.

The Darkness (2016)

*** This review may contain portal opening spoilers ***

On a family holiday at the Grand Canyon a young boy with autism takes five black pebbles marked with symbols. These stones belonged to the Anasazi tribe and by removing them he inadvertently releases supernatural forces into his home. 

Not to be confused with Jaume Balagueró's Darkness (2002) talented director/writer Greg McLean of sleeper hit film Wolf Creek and underrated killer croc flick Rogue offers a supernatural horror in the vein of Poltergeist and Amityville Horror including their remakes.

What really works in McLean's favour is the Taylor family is not made-up of the stereo type character models synonymous with the genre. No stranger to mainstream horror Kevin Bacon returns to genre looking fittingly pasty and washed out as a former philandering workaholic father Peter who is determined to change his ways. Incidentally, his wife Bronny effortless played by the excellent Australian actress Radha Mitchell is a recovering alcoholic mum. To add to their rocky relationship, their son Mikey is autistic and their teenage daughter Stephanie is bulimic. The cast deliver the obvious challenges as well as underlying pressures of the family dynamics. 

Worthy of note is Lucy Fry's Stephanie Taylor, the actress really portrays the teen angst and hysteria convincingly. Trian Long-Smith's Sammy Levin, the savvy, bright intern leaves an impression but is sorely underused possibly to avoid clichés with Bacon's Peter. Also writers McLean, Shayne Armstrong and Shane Krause effectively unfold some plot points, from Bronny's alcoholism to Peter's self obsessed boss Simon Richards played (notably) by Paul Reiser. Although a functional role, he gives background to Peter as well as moving the story forward with regards to his own family history. 

The derivative setting of American wealthy suburbia is eye-rolling. Yet, you kind of get the impression that Australia's McLean, Armstrong and Shane Krause intended this to possibly be set in Uluru (formerly Ayers Rock) rather than the Grand Canyon, maybe to appease producers. Also there's a choppiness that suggests there was another cut. As it plays out McLean offers, taps inexplicably turning on and doors closing by themselves. There are shadows in the background, demonic shapes in photos. The demons with animal headdress are creepy enough along with a few jump scares including a dream sequence with a wolf and a nasty dog attack. Johnny Klimek's music is particularly notable with it tribal-like beats and the sound design peaks when spiritual healing Hispanic women Teresa and granddaughter Gloria (salient Ilza Rosario) try to 'cleanse' the home Tangina Barrons' (Zelda Rubinstein) style. 

The corresponding mystical stone pebbles to each animal, wolf, snake, dog, crow, cow to their five un-rested spirits (with excellent earthy costumes) which the Anasazi tribe used to keep them at bay is an interesting element but like the family set-up there's little pay- off apart from lessons – 1. A family should stick together no matter what 2. Don't remove items from an ancient cave or you'll unleash vicious demons that will break up your family, take your child or send you mad. To McLean's credit we get to see each animal practically (rather than CGI) but disappointingly we never get to see the bull. Thankfully an attack on Mikey's grandmother's cat tastefully takes place off screen.

Considering this feature is based on a true story that was relayed to McLean the build up follows all the usual horror tropes, things going bump in the night, investigating the cause, calling in the spiritual help and so on. There's even Exorcist homages with noises in the attic and Mikey's Mr Howdy-like imaginary friend Jenny. As the story develops the special effects also increase. While the portals, shadows, black hand prints and swirling clouds are finely executed as with many paranormal horrors the effects driven closing undermine the grounded set up. Instead of CGI for CGI's sake it may have worked in its favour for the family to physically race to return the stones. 

In true late 70s and 80's style during the end credits there's a shot leaving it open for a follow up or putting it to rest. Either way while it doesn't tread any new ground in terms of supernatural horror, those unfamiliar with the aforementioned supernatural films will certainly get a kick out of this and for old hats there's the alternative family set-up. That said, given McLean's creativity and originality with previous works this has too many moments of déjà vu and not enough scares to give The Darkness its own legs despite the well developed family drama foundation.

Overall, worth checking out if only for the performances and demon costume design.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Critters (1986) Retrospective

Critters Movie Poster*** This review may contain toothy grin and dart quill spoilers ***

A group of 'Crites' hijack a prison ship and escape to earth where they lay siege on a farmhouse attacking the family inside.

Director/writer Stephen Herek Critters is an ambitious creature sci-fi, along with fellow writers Domonic Muir and Don Keith Opper it juggles a lot of sci-fi elements despite a predominantly rural setting. There are intergalactic face-changing bounty hunters, alien creatures, spaceships and ray cannons. Herek and company in true 80's fashion spend little time in giving the creatures and bounty hunters a back story leaving it to the imagination. This works in its favour compared to the excessive exposition in many of today's films. Likewise, the Critters just happen to come across the farmhouse after chowing down on a bull. Interestingly at the time of Critters' VHS run I unjustly saw it as a rip off Gremlins, much like Munchies. Yes it cashed-in on its popularity but writers have since pointed out that it was written before Joe Dante's classic went into production and subsequently underwent rewrites to reduce the apparent (in the ether) similarities between the two films.

The escaped alien Crites with their sharp toothy grins and tranquilizing dart quills amusing roll around like hedgehogs on speed. Encapsulating the sound of 1986, artist Che Zuro plays in the background among some other 80s bands with David Newman's score giving power to the action setups and menace to the Critter puppets. The encounter in the cellar where the father is attacked is quite effective, especially the preceding search and reveal by torchlight.

The Critters are amusing times, at one point they converse with subtitles, "They have weapons" says one, "So what?" replies another before getting blasted away. There's also scenes where a Critter encounters an E.T. (1982) doll – tearing it apart, a toilet hiding Critter (a likely homage to 1985's Ghoulies) and also a moment where one eats a cherry bomb may rouse a chuckle.

In the opening the commander of the prison hires two shape-changing bounty hunters to pursue the Crites/Critters to earth (maybe his inspired AVP Requiem's story-line). These hunters, with Space Marine like costumes get some humorous moments mainly because of mistaken identity by the small townspeople. Tim Curry-like actor Terrence Mann takes form of the rock band front man Johnny Steele, complete with a Bon Jovi hairdo. While the other takes on faces of a few locals notably Don Opper who plays a duel role of both the bounty hunter and the towns paranoid drunk Charlie McFadden.

McFadden a friend of young Brad Brown have a Miyagi and Daniel san Karate Kid bond which is older man young boy relationship that are seemingly avoided in films these days. Brad played by Scott Grimes (who latter would voice American Dad's Steve) is a stereotype 80s film kid experimenting with fire crackers, bickering with his sister and trying to bunk off school. Notable is Billy Green Bush's Jay Brown as an everyday farmer and his wife played by Dee Wallace Stone). Wallace is given very little to do, the character Helen Brown is purely functional and pretty much retreads her E.T. mother role, that said she does get to fire off a few shots at those Critters. Playing Brad's teenage sister April is fresh faced actress Nadine Van der Velde (who was 24 years old at the time) and incidentally appeared in the aforementioned copycat film Munchies. Actor Billy Zane sporting a little rats tail shows up as April's boyfriend, destined to be Critter fodder. For sale-ability appeal Blade Runner's acting veteran M. Emmet Walsh plays the pretty useless local Sheriff Harv.

There are a handful of stunts and although the optical effects have unsurprisingly dated the practical effects still hold up well. The impressive gooey face changing sequence is memorable and the Critters themselves are simple and effective from the rolling, to the firing quills with plenty of good old fashion blood on display after an attack. After the bounty hunters cause some mayhem in the church and a local bowling alley (the teams shirts echo a Ghostbusters logo design) they arrive at the farmhouse to capture the Critters. In the final act after the family house is invaded we have our heroes go about rescuing April from a giant kidnapping Critter. Herek gives us an obligatory end explosion, a chance for a special effect team to show off their fine miniature model skills, with moments for the editors to flex their skills. In addition, with some eggs laid in a barn there's the inevitable unashamed set up for a sequel (which came two years later in 1988).

Critters still has a charm about it thanks to the novel creature design and acting of likable Grimes'. Produced by New Line's Bob Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm St.) Critters is squarely aimed at its mid-teen target audience and despite some bumpy pacing Critters delivers enough laughs and playful alien set-ups to retain a lasting appeal long after the VHS was replaced by DVD and on-demand films.

Monday, 30 May 2016

TLMEA (2016) Review


During a drug raid a group of policemen find themselves trapped in a nightmare, the third zone of Dante's ninth circle of Hell.
I had the pleasure of viewing another German/English language screener personally from filmmaker Kevin Kopacka. Here the Austrian director offers another dark moody psychological visual 32 minute short. The preceding opening with a horrific story of the fate of a young boy which is followed by a flick though the sounds, voices and static of a radio station of 99.9, Kopacka's prequel to Hades - TLMEA is more street than its predecessor, following a sullen group of swat and undercover police (poliza). Blurred images, shadows on red, troubled sleep with unnatural lighting, flashy editing that cuts to the hyper real moments as the director takes us through on screen title cards beginning with segments subtitled Limbo and Lust.
TLMEA unfolds with the harsh reverberating, at times melodic music by Aiko Aiko as we go further into the subtitled levels and themes, Animosity, (Greed reflected on the TV), Malice, Heresy, Violence, level 1,2, 3 and so on; we seep into the Twin Peaks dreamlike mind of our chain smoking protagonist with a cancelled TV show, Johnny Arson, showing on the TV sets in scenes possibly reflecting society imitating art and sensationalising horror and vice-versa.
Amongst the array of unconventional yet wonderfully abstract coloured lighting (reminiscent of Revolver) there some great effects by Tim Scheidig as a character turns to ice (reflecting Dante's penalty for the damned) and we are introduced to more hallucinatory themes subtitled Fraud and later Treachery.
Time and effort has clearly been pumped into this production. The acting is first rate, the excellent Anna Heidegger appears briefly (reprising her Hades role). Author/producer H.K. DeWitt also appears. As with Kopacka's other work the narrative is up for interpretation, no doubt a mainstream interesting feature script awaits (wow, I'd love this team to option one of my novels). As a standalone mystery thriller short it may not have the nightmarish impact of Hades but as a companion piece they compliment and complete each other perfectly.
As mentioned running through the underbelly of the short is the nine circles of Hell (Dante's Inferno). These dreamlike nightlife images, have a contradicting visual clarity as our lead Cris Kotzen as Schweitzer unloads a gun bringing the state of mind to a close, Tolomea after 'Ptolomea', conjuring Minos (interestingly played by rapper/artist Ufo361).
If visually surreal rides are your thing, this is compulsory late night viewing.

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.

The series time resetting and continuity malarkey aside there are many anachronisms littered throughout - t-shirts, glasses and locations etc. that were not around in 1983. Also there are ‘fridge logic’ instances, for example Magneto should be about 50. Between First Class and Apocalypse, 20 years have gone by but many of the characters remain youthful, Magneto should be about 50 having being around 10 in 1944, Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert appear to not have aged a day and so on.


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.

There is a honesty and truthfulness that comes with a Duncan 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. 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 Jones' offering has is that Moon, Source Code humanity which Jones effortlessly brings to the table, that roundness and grounded feel that he stamps on his films. The script has an honesty that it's not just some money making studio movie but an indie-spirited 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.

Unusually the subtitle 'The Beginning' was absent on the title screen in the cinema version, it simply says 'Warcraft' possibly linked to the rating. While available for all to see with an adult, the battles are intense, stabbings etc. it not just the scary demon and skeletal faces that will scare the young kids but the emotional impact of orc Durotan (CGI capture Tony Kebbell) wife and child storyline. As Orc clan honour is tested, there are duelling wizards, a giant golem and griffin. Jones also briefly throws in a few elves, dwarfs and huge wolves for good measure. There's betrayal, double-crossing and retribution, the powerful magical Orc, Gul'dan (the excellent Daniel Wu) literary sucks the life of humans akin to The Dark Crystal.

The casting is not mainstream, Ben Foster's wizard Medivh avoids stereotype and is a young incarnation of a wizard, as is Llane (Dominic Cooper) a younger than expected King. Battle hard human Lothar Travis Fimmel (of Amazon's Vikings) as well as some grand action scenes, emotional set ups (one echoing the Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan showdown) he also gets comedic moments, many alongside wizard/mage apprentice Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) who again is not what you'd expect for someone so powerful. This casting works in Warcraft's favour and if you had a thing for blue women Smurfette, Neytiri and Mystique, Stark Trek olive and She-Hulk green is the new in colour with Garona Halforcen. Fittingly cast is memorable underrated Clancy Brown (of Highlander fame) as the principled conflicted Blackhand, Gul'dan’s right-hand orc.

The daytime colour is bright and vivid in contrast to the pin sharp night time and darker scenes, Warcraft has a unique look and feel. 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. Fimmel and Kebbell 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 the fantasy 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 fantasy, medieval-ish action saga Warcraft is highly recommend.