Thursday, 25 August 2016

Suicide Squad (2016) Review

Suicide Squad Movie Poster*** This review may contain DC spoilers ***

U.S. intelligence officer decides to assemble a team of dangerous, incarcerated super villains who are held to ransom for a top-secret mission.

David Ayer's dark comic book film Suicide Squad offers plenty of solid acting, but the film feel like a series of abridged clips in a paper thin story, which is a shame given Will Smith's fine performance as Dead Shot and Joel Kinnaman's first-rate Rick Flag. Actually the cast save this suicide run including the likes of Viola Davis, Jay Hernandez who has an horrific back story as Diablo and gets a memorable show down with an Incubus. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is notable with plenty of presence as Killer Croc. Ben Affleck's Batman's cameo and The Jokers failed attempts to reunite with Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn is at times more interesting than David Ayer's popcorn servicing plot.

Ayer's bid to frame all the squad Magnificent Seven/Reservoir Dogs style arguably feels staged and overtly over done. Steven Price's music helps the action and poses with some techno Rambo-like motifs. The all-villain fighting team spend too much time fighting faceless hordes of monster entities. That's not to say that Ayer doesn't deliver of the directing duties or aesthetics, the look of Suicide Squad oozes an edgy ominous atmosphere and a quantity of dialogue and cutting humour hit the mark. Its just all undermined by paint by numbers plotting and a collection of convenient coincidences as team log heads with intelligence operative Amanda Waller and/or is attacked by the Enchantress, her brother and their minions.

With the team forced to carry out the governments wishes or have their heads blown off to Ayer credit there's poignant moments with a sense of camaraderie and heart much of which come from Smith, Kinnaman and Robbie. Jai Courtney redeems himself as Boomerang after his stint as Kyle Reese. Sadly, at times confined to flashbacks Jared Leto's admirable maniacal uncomfortable take on The Joker is left to just pop up now and again like a whirlwind Silver tooth evil Cesar Romero. Robbie's Quinn and Leto's Joker tortured Stockholm syndrome-like relationship is scarily realised. Their switch-blade romance reminiscent of Natural Born Killers and the like would have made an interesting dark original film in its own right.

Nigglingly Ayer on occasion debatably reduces Robbie to eye candy (by default) and Harley could have been played by anyone with the equal amount of nihilistic sassiness which under serves both the character and the actor, thankfully the flashbacks flesh her out but Robbie is spread quip thin in the main story. The editing and pacing doesn't seem to help things either, Suicide Squad possibly could have benefited with the back-stories being extended and playing out chronologically, even over two films - as it rushes to get to a place and that somewhere never quite pays off which is a crying shame giving the effort put in. Cara Delevingne puts in a good dual role innings as June Moone/Enchantress but the otherworldly unstoppable CGI villain while well realised feels out of place, the CGI versus the gritty underdogs doesn't seem to hold up in the closing. There's also a tagged on ending with an unnecessary (Marvel style) scene that sets up the Justice League movie instead of a Suicide Squad sequel, which leaves the Squad characters hanging.

Warner Bros' Suicide Squad is entertaining but frustrating, it's worth watching for the actor's efforts if you can over look its short comings. Will Smith and company require another fairer crack of the whip.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Darkness Falls (2016) Review


***This review contains spoliers***

Suffering from amnesia, confused and alone Melissa slowly discovers that the world isn't what it supposed to be.

Award winning short film Mörkret Faller A.K.A Darkness Falls, not to be confused with Darkness Falls (2003) comes from Swedish director/writer Jarno Lee Vinsencius. I was lucky enough to view a screener of this well crafted little gem, Vinsencius offers a tight sci-fi thriller short with a filmactic feel.

Opening with an aerial shot in a chilly winter setting, we are introduced to an injured girl who awakes in dusted snow white forest. Hearing noises she fleas into the night to a café with no memory of who she is. Vinsencius' offers a moody atmospheric piece which echoes the likes of Memento, Insomnia and the best of X-files, running just under a perfectly paced 15 minutes the dialogue driven Darkness Falls packs plenty in, mysterious letters and meetings, as Melissa tries to unravel who she is. The acting is first rate, the small cast have a respectable weighty presence, striking Joanna Häggblom is impeccable as Melissa and notable is Niclas Fransson as Felix.

Darkness Falls hots up when Melissa meets a man David (played by the talented actor Demis Tzivis) who knows what she is going through and they are chased by shady female agents. Vinsencius injects some interplanetary hi-jinks and effects used at just at the right moments. In addition, he throws in a twist loop ending with some impressive alien creature design from Ellinor Rosander and a sound scheme by Michael Tiedtke. With reminiscent Philip K. Dick story vibes and some DNA of my own novel The Final Version there's paranoia mysterious leaders and tracking transmitter chips. Its dark, high concept stuff, with clones and duplicate planets but Jarno Lee Vinsencius reins it successfully on a personal level.

Intriguing, well scripted, grounded short - highly recommended.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Carnival of Souls (1962) Revisited

After a car accident a woman is haunted by a terrifying ghoul.

A true horror classic, director Herk Harvey and writer John Clifford both waived their earnings in order to get the film made. Upon release in 1962 the film was a failure in the box office, thankfully its subsequent airings on late night television helped to gain it a strong cult following so Clifford and Herks work was not all in vain.

The delightful Candace Hilligoss is perfectly cast as the troubled woman that after surviving a traumatic car accident, that kills her two friends, becomes haunted by a frightening ghoul and drawn to a mysterious abandoned carnival. It's a shame that Hilligoss only acted in two features as she gives an impressive performance as Mary Henry who is refreshingly independent thinking and self-sufficient pushing boundaries of 1960's America.

The music is very creepy and a little too intrusive in places, however, for it's time and budget it is a well crafted film. Carnival of Souls many not be as sleek and stylish as the Haunting (1963) but it is far more eerie. The zombies are not as imposing as in Night of the Living Dead, however, they are vastly creepier and macabre.

Oozing atmosphere it's a creative and unnerving film that concludes with a common place twist but back in '62 it was ahead of it's time, a true cult classic.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Star Trek Beyond (2016) Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The USS Enterprise crew are tricked to a nebula in the furthest reaches of uncharted space, where they encounter a ruthless enemy who wants to tear the Federation apart.

Director Justin Lin offers a fast paced third instalment with plenty of explosions and phaser laser shoot-outs. The action comes at full velocity especially after the Enterprise (is unnecessarily destroyed again). With the established cast of well loved characters Lin effortlessly helms what feels like a big budget Star Trek episode as they crash land on a planet. The effects are for the most part excellent, even if larger-than-life for epic set-up sake, especially in the opening attack and closing with the fleets star ship USS Franklin, zooming about a giant space station Starbase named Yorktown.

With Kirk regulars (Chris Pine), Spock, Bones (Karl Urban), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho), Chekov (Anton Yelchin) and Scotty (Simon Pegg) the cast look more at ease, seemingly settled in their established roles and bring the well loved characters to life suitably. Echoing Wrath of Khan (1982) thankfully protagonist Idris Elba as Krall has a strong screen presence and is one of the better Star Trek baddies, for a moment in the closing it appears he's going to become sickly honourable but appreciatively the writers were wise to avoid the trope. The new addition Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is excellent on all accounts, her character fits universe perfectly. There are flashy moments where she uses a holographic device similar to Total Recall (1990), Escape from L.A (1996) and Superman II (1980) etc, still, her character is well developed and Boutella breathtakingly executes the fight scenes (there is an opportunity for her to join the cast of characters with untimely death of the excellent actor Yelchin). Under Lin's direction Elba and Boutella simply shine throughout.

While it lacks any real Gene Roddenberry nebula exploration writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung offer a straight forward story, the usual fitting Star Trek speak and relationship touches, echoing past films and series of the original crew, notably Bones' interaction with Spock and Kirk. If anything it on the nose honours the original outings a little too much while not investing time in investigating the planets vegetation or natural life forms in place of a survival piece. It retains the series' sci-fi roots, but skimps on the science and discovery, replacing it with blockbuster exploits. The staging, sets and costumes are perfect; Star Trek Beyond has some great visuals and it is wonderfully produced. Michael Giacchino's great Star Trek theme finds it way throughout out and his additional scored music is more upbeat and less sterile, fittingly taking chances like Lin's Beyond in whole. It's interesting that they use the Franklin an old Starfleet ship, with Pegg and Jung's transparent twist being reminiscent of H. G. Wells' Morlock or the Cave (2005) to name a few. Touchingly there's not only a tribute to Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) but to the whole original time-line crew where Zachary Quinto's Spock comes across his older alternative time-line self's belongings. The joint mission statement brings it casually to a Star Trek 50th Anniversary fan servicing close, enticing a fourth adventure.

Overall, Beyond feels like an expensive and extended action packed episode, while not boldly going to places they haven't been before, it's an enjoyable comfortable stop.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Shark! The Shallows (2016) Versus In the Deep (2016)

The Shallows Movie Poster47 Meters Down Movie PosterI'm a sucker for shark films, okay maybe not shark-comedies, chainsaw flying shark-edies and Ghost Shark films.  So you know where I'm coming I enjoyed the MEG (novel soon to be a movie) imitators Megalodon (2002) and the more satisfying Shark Hunter (2001) despite their limited production values. Hyped Shark Night failed to beat the better mainstream Deep Blue Sea.

The versus films for example Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus, Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark and so on, are all pretty much DVD chum along with Sand Sharks, , Jurassic Shark, Shark Zone, Red Water, Jersey Shore Shark Attack the list goes on and on. There's also the countless Jaws rip off's - The Last Shark, Tintorera, Mako: The Jaws of Death etc. 

There's the better ones, Bait and the serious Open Water and The Reef. This is just touching the surface, as you can see there are loads of shark films, many of them just not very good. Then just as you thought it was safe, two entertaining, seriously toned great white films come along, like buses at once. While they may not have the characters of the Moby Dick-like classic Jaws, as well as being well directed and filmatic they have the two ingredients which make them work, great looking great whites and entertaining premises. You have Jaume Collet-Serra's The Shallows with Blake Lively and Johannes Robert's In the Deep with Mandy Moore and Claire Holt both are entertaining in their own right here my low-down on the two.

The Shallows Movie Poster***This review may contain jaw chomping spoilers ***

After the loss of her mother, medical student Nancy Adams travels to a secluded beach. Hitting the waves Nancy finds herself being stalked by a great white shark.

With a broken surf board lying near by a young boy finds a Go-Pro helmet cam and we get to see a recording of how its owner met their demise. We're then introduced to Nancy Adams (Blake Lively) bouncing around in a vehicle in the middle of nowhere, with the feeling we're in a torture tourist film. However, thankfully this is a killer shark film. Interestingly, director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Unknown) quirkily shows her social media texts and photos as a wipes on screen. Played by Óscar Jaenada , Carlos the broken English local (who does not kill Nancy) drops the surf board touting tourist off safely at the beach. The perfect body, on the perfect beach, with the most perfect waves and scenery sets up a false sense of security.

It's not long before Nancy encounters some surfers who warn her of a strong current and rocks. It not just abs, bikini and cleavage. Surfing film fans may find the first minutes particularly interesting, its wonderfully shot as they surf the waves off the beautiful beach. In addition Collet-Serra makes full use of the unorthodox novel way (breaking the third wall) of the videophone calls and watch face projection on screen. These shots set up the family dynamics, back-story and elapsing time to hold attention and keep momentum. The proceedings are enhanced by Marco Beltrami’s (World War Z, The Thing 2011) score. But this is all inconsequential as deep down you're waiting for the shark to strike.

After a dolphin appears to break things up with a jump scare, Collet-Serra is wise to get to the great white quite quickly with an excellent shot of the sharks silhouette through a huge wave hot on Nancy's heels like something from a Steve Alten novel. When the water turns red - the survival story beings. The Shallows doesn't present great shakes in term of story, it's a basic don't get eaten tale reminiscent of Open Water (2003) and The Reef (2010), person verse nature. The Shallows offers big budget set ups and thrills with a whale carcass and buoy being bashed by the great white, the effects, bruises and bite makeup are finely done, there's also plenty of blood, severed limbs and bites on display. There's a solid performance from Blake Lively who is focal throughout. But the star of the show is the shark, when it breaks the water it's exceptionally realised, it feels and looks for the most part scarily real. This is not a Syfy channel special effect, this great white is unnerving and frightening.

There are calm before the storm moments where Lively's Nancy befriends a seagull, tends to her wounds, talks to herself, the night time shots are particularly eerie as she silently stalked. Inevitably each chance of rescue is thwarted by the tenacious killer. With a handful of shark attacks littered throughout there’s enough moments to maintain interest. Dehydrated, no food and losing blood writer Anthony Jaswinski's offers part an endurance test story as well as a creature feature. As Nancy goes from salvation points, through the salt water, rock to rock, there's plenty of tension as she times her swims in an attempt to out manoeuvre the shark. The slick editing and Jaswinski's story brings the film full circle playing against expectations and with sleight of hand you're into the unknown, with Nancy's fate up for grabs in the closing act where she faces off with the extremely aggressive predator. With high-tides, jelly fish stings, storms closing in, flare guns, Collet-Serra keeps the thrills coming until the end.

Refreshingly it doesn't rehash Jaws. Shark fans will no doubt get an uneasy and unsettled kick out of some of the elaborate stunt setups. With its small cast, excellent lead, beautiful location cinematography, if you’re into stranded shark films you can't go wrong.

Overall, a fast paced, grounded shark attack film and a recommend bite of entertainment.
The Shallows Movie Poster



*** This review contains major spoilers ***
Two women become trapped in a cage 47 meters below the Mexican waters.
It's been a long time since there have been modest budget serious well produced shark films, then in 2016 two come along at once. Thankfully, In the Deep's set up is quite different to The Shallows, but it shares the same high production values and execution. Director Johannes Roberts offers a novel, tense, at times claustrophobic great white film that will leave you gasping for air. 
Sisters, one in the mist of a breakup Kate (Claire Holt) and wilder worldly travelled Lisa (Mandy Moore) are restless in the safety of a hotel pool and room in Mexico. Coincidently, Roberts like in The Shallows adopts the film technique of texts, in this case Lisa's ex, popping up on screen, breaking the fourth wall. With Kate being upset the sisters go on a night out and meet two locals, who they later hook up with for a meal and kiss. The next day after a motorboat ride they all go on a $100 each cage dive on a rickety boat, the Sea Esta. 
Matthew Modine is the captain of the unofficial excursion and his extended cameo, which is mostly a soothing voice on a radio advising the inexperienced divers on what and what not to do. Modine offers some weight and star power to the film as a everyday sailor Taylor. Like the aforementioned film, it's also different to Jaws, The Reef and the like and stands on its own. 
Although, writers Ernest Riera and Roberts sacrifice developing Modine's functional character in place of getting the sharks on screen quicker, they put enough into brunette Moore's self-conscious Lisa and carefree blonde Holt's characters for you to invest their fate. They have an arc from the nightclub holidaymakers to strong women striving to survive. The story is straightforward enough, but visually at times it excels. 
When the sea-hand Javier (worthy of note Chris J. Johnson) starts chumming - a shark, approximately 20 foot shows up, bigger than those on the Discovery Channel or in the National Geographic. After the two locals try the first cage as the huge shark circles, the two nervous but excited sisters have their turn with their diving masks and tanks checked. Suffice to say, it all goes wrong when the rusty winch breaks and the the girls descend 47 meters. What follows is a survival test, trapped in the cage at first, then running out of air as they make attempts to move the winch, swim from the bottom ocean floor in the aggressive shark infested waters, to get more air in various ways etc. Only to be thwarted by the finely realised, terrify sharks. 
With sharks attacking from nowhere there are some genuine jump scares which are heightened by the sound design and tomanddandy's music. Mark Silk's cinematography really shines, not just on the surface but below water. It's not just the confines of the cage that add chills, it's the vast ocean open space, the silence of being submerged and void beyond the sea cliff's edge. Notable there's a scene with their radio's out of range, Lisa tries to communicate with the surface leaving herself venerable in the endless salt water. Going beyond the sea floor cliffs edge later underwater Kate swims, stopping on top of a protruding rock deep below the blue sea. The unseen giants overshadow each move the women make with the threat of an attack at any moment. Every time the sisters leave the cage you feel the edgy chill of the imposing sharks.
Anyone scared of the water will no doubt get glass-boat diving chills out of In the Deep. And those who love shark films will not be disappointed with the whites on display as they attack, from below and on the sea floor with only cave recesses and the eroding cage to protect the sisters. 
Roberts keeps the pressure on as things get worse when a diver is killed and the second attempt to save them goes awry. There's also a fearful doubt throughout that those topside have left them. We get plenty of blood-filled wince moments with the cage crushing Kate, spear gun cuts, shark bites and flares. As they fend off the predators when trying to get air tanks and get to the top it never slows in pace. In addition, Riera and Roberts add an interesting surprise Gravity, Descent-like twist in the tense final act.
Overall, a fine and welcomed addition to the killer Carcharodon carcharias genre.

The Martian (2015) Review


The Martian Movie PosterThought to be dead an astronaut botanist has to live in the dangerous conditions of Mars, relying on his ingenuity to survive until the next mission arrives.


Matt Damon doesn't understand why he was reduced to only saying his name in Team America, maybe it's because the film-makers were being ironic, never more so in The Martian is this highlighted. Under director Ridley Scott's auteur eye Damon shines here as Watney in Drew Goddard's adaptation of Andy Weir's novel. It's tense, humorous and visually rich including planets, Martian landscapes, space crafts and NASA control rooms. It's also smart and thrillingly realistic as they plan rescue attempts and Damon hones Robinson Crusoe on Mars, Grativy, Apollo 13 and the like. The sets, props, costumes and special effects CGI for the most part are excellent the locations both on Earth and the red planet really sell it.

The acting aided by Goddard's first-rate script. Both Jeff Daniels and Kristen Wiig are notable here in serious roles. Memorable are Sean Bean as Mitch - a mission director, Benedict Wong plays Bruce Ng an engineer of the rockets for the rescue mission and Chiwetel Ejiofor is Vincent, a director and the first person to establish contact with Watney. There plenty of disco tracks as that's all Watney has to listen to, but Harry Gregson-Williams' Martian score is solid. Watney's uses all his skills an intellect, stapling a wound, he rations food and grows his own in seemingly impossible conditions and uses different NASA equipment to aid him. Damon's Watney at times is very witty and you warm to dryness and invest in his survival, rooting for him in his highs and lows. Back on Earth Scott offers digestible politics and PR but there's a positive aspect with countries, individuals and departments working together with each other.

Goddard and Weir's offering doesn't contain any sci-fi metaphysical and/or horror tropes with The Martians realism and by default Scott remains focused on a humane elements and visual effects never delving into what made him a household name. It's about human beings tackling problems and the exploration of Mars' barren environment and like similar space disaster movies there's plenty of emotion, even with its long running time it moves along at pace.

Overall, if red planet sandstorms, potato growing and space travel is your thing, it's a must.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2014) Revisited

*** Contains spoilers ***

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Movie PosterThe Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

Reluctantly a hobbit named Bilbo leaves the comfort of his own home to go on adventure with a band of dwarfs to reclaim their territory.

Without drawing any comparisons to the books, Jackson's latest venture visually captures the imagination, even though heavily reliant on CGI naturally to tell the story some shots are unnecessary and on occasion distracting for example the rendering of the hares. The Hobbit An Unexpected Journey works best when it's displaying the wonderful landscapes, sets and focusing on the characters interactions.

As a prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy it's notably visually glossier loosing that filmatic like feel. Nevertheless, it is a fine film with fantastic costumes, great writing and a wonderful cast, too many to name, Martin Freeman captures the essence of Ian Holmes Bilbo, notably with the line "I'm going on an adventure!" Once again Andy Serkis steals the show as a superior computer generated version of Gollum.

As a standalone film you have to have patience as I can see why a new comer to the series would find the opening plodding, with flashbacks and meetings of off the wall dwarfs. However if you've seen The Lord of the Rings it works better as you are already invested in two of the main characters from the off.

Naturally and unavoidably the narrative is slightly lighter and less grim in tone given the danger and what is at stake compared to the previous trilogy. This aside the journey is certainly worth your time.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Movie PosterThe Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

Bilbo Baggins, along with a group of dwarfs and Gandalf the Grey, continue their quest to reclaim the dwarf gold from a dragon.

Without making comparisons Tolkien's book this follow-up to the smouldering Hobbit is faster paced and is much more of a spectacle with some great set ups putting the adventure back on track even with its lengthy running time. It goes without saying the sets, costumes and music are fantastic and Jackson keeps quality consistent as the actors give it their all. The introduction of more Lord of the Rings characters takes the adventure into uncharted territory and director Peter Jackson offers more excitement and here the Middle Earth hijinks has all the mysterious and strange elements you'd expect from a fantasy saga.

Notable is the creepy oppressive forest segment where the company are ensnared by giant spiders and Bilbo must come to the rescue, the barrel escape sequence has plenty of action. Later Gandalf investigats the tombs of the Nazgûl and faces off with the Orcs. But act three finishes it off nicely where Bilbo faces Smaug and the Dwarfs try to retake mountain.

Jackson effortlessly offers incredible visuals and quality action. While not all the special effects are good as Smaug, the dragon, it ends on a cliff hanger leaving you eager for the final chapter in the trilogy.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Movie PosterThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

Bilbo is forced to be a mediator in a war with an array of opponents as Gandalf and his fellow sorcery friends push back against a rising evil.

Again without comparing it to J.R.R Tolkien's fantasy novel Peter Jackson brings the Hobbit trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. The returning cast are once again on form, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen,Richard Armitage, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Ken Stott and James Nesbitt to name a few. It also features The Lord of the Rings actors Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm, Christopher Lee, Hugo Weaving and Orlando Bloom.

Surprisingly Benedict Cumberbatch's excellent Smaug is killed off early in the first act bringing the dragon's story-line abruptly to a close. Also Luke Evans' Bard while great in the action scenes feels like a sidekick to the Elves and Dwarfs and is given little to do. That aside, it's an engrossing dark episode that stirs emotion with some surprise deaths. Bilbo forges friendships and is torn between duty and the greater good. There's more Legolas and Tauriel, giant bats, magic spells and sword fights. Jackson's offers epic battle scenes (where Billy Connolly show up as dwarf Ironfoot) and stand offs along with a tense romance and friendship climax. As with the previous outing the special effects are at times a little iffy but it's still colossal technical achievement. Again the production values are high, the costumes, props and sets are outstanding topped off by a magical Howard Shore score.

In amongst the visually stunning set ups Peter Jackson agreeably connects it to the second (filmed first) Middle-earth trilogy.


The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Movie PosterThe Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

volcanic Mount Doom of Mordor.

Thankfully, to his credit, director Peter Jackson delivers an adaptation in the heart and spirit of Tolkien's fantasy and the extended version offers even more of a bold, cinematic take as the Fellowship's heroes struggle to save Middle-earth. The Fellowship of the Ring is packed with danger and evil forces including haunting reaper-like Ring wraiths, pointy Orcs, a octopus- like creature, the Balrog a giant fierce demon and more.

Jackon offers adventure, heartache and conflict as a group of Hobbits leave the safety of the Shire. Unlikely hero Frodo (Elijah Wood), a Hobbit that commits himself to the task of destroying a ring is helped by Sam (Sean Astin) his loyal friend and acquaintances Pippin Took (Billy Boyd) and Merry Brandybuck (Dominic Monaghan). The characters are wonderfully brought to life by the acting talents on board. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is an endearing hero venerable too, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) an Elf and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), a head strong dwarf aren't just standard warrior characters as they slowly develop an unlikely bonding. Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) is a wise guide and an insightful companion. Notable is Sean Bean as Boromir who gets a memorable story arc. As well as the main players there's notable actors Christopher Lee as the evil Saruman, Hugo Weaving as the powerful Elf Elron, otherworldly Liv Tyler an Elf who save Frodo from the scary Ring wraiths in a spectacularly filmed horse chase and there's also ethereal Cate Blanchett to name a few.

Along with Howard Shore's mystical power score, as well as some Elven language, character development and breath-taking set-ups that already existed notably the chase through mines of Moria with its Cave Troll and demon. In the final act The Fellowship go hand to hand with the strong skilled imposing Uruk-hai.

Jackson's extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring, reinserts scenes and shots that expand upon the characters and themes. It includes Isildur's death, more glimpses into Bilbo and Frodo Baggins relationship, Wood Elves leaving for Grey Havens, Aragorn singing, Galadriel offering gifts to the Fellowship which enrich the tone making them more powerful than the theatrical cut.

It's a swords-n-sorcery epic with warfare which ends of a cliff hanger. In retrospect it was frustrating waiting for the next part but since you can now watch the whole three-part journey without the wait coupled with the extended scenes, all is forgiven. The production values are high. Weta's special effects for the most part are excellent, this coupled with the fantastic make costumes, props etc. and sweeping beautiful locations create a breathtaking masterpiece.

Jackson's The Fellowship of the Ring as well as being an admirable fantasy film sets the scene for the first-rate saga to come.


The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Movie PosterThe Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

The Fellowship has gone their separate ways. Some shed of their mortal coil, others to recover captured friends, while two Hobbits venture towards Mordor to destroy the ring.

The skillful Kiwi director Peter Jackson along with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens top the previous instalment not just in scale, notably the battle scenes and attack on Helm's Deep, but in character development. The Two Towers is a near on perfect a fantasy epic with more digestible dialogue, which builds tension and momentum that complements the action with its chases and lengthy and difficult conflicts.

Again Howard Shore's score is outstanding and heightens the emotional scenes and battles. The groundbreaking practical and digital visual effects, sets, costumes, props and locations are commendable. We have more weird and wonderful inhabitants of Middle- Earth as well as the introduction of new characters King Théoden (Bernard Hill), Miranda Otto is delightful as Eowyn and Gollum (CGI performed and voiced tremendously by Andy Serkis), is revealed fully. David Wenham is Faramir (brother of Boromir), worming calculating Wormtongue played by Brad Dourif and warrior Eomer is played by Karl Urban.

Gimli, Aragorn and Legolas becomes closer. With a telling flashback of his Balrog fight Gandalf the Grey returns as more serious Gandalf the White. There's sagacious interplay between Sam, Frodo and Gollum as their journey to destroy the ring is met with obstacles. Aragorn's love for Arwen is tested. With the drama of Théoden being under a draining mind control spell there's also plenty of action, Rohan's soldiers slicing and dicing Orcs and Uruk-hai, and a showdown with Warg riders where Aragorn seemingly dies. There's also two great battles, an army of Tree Ents taking on Saruman, while Rohan's army along with warrior Elves go head to head with a countless Orc and Uruk-hai armies at Helms Deep.

The extended version of The Two Towers like its predecessor improves on Jackson's theatrical cut, Sam uses his Elvish rope (which ties in with an extended scene in The Fellowship of the Ring), Merry, Pippin and Treebeard have more screen time and we find out how old Aragon actually is. Flashbacks reveal more of Faramir's family dynamics as well as more backstory to the sadly missed Boromir.

As a fantasy sequel and midway part you couldn't ask for much more, excellent entertainment.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Movie PosterThe Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Legloas, Gimli, Gandalf, Aragorn and an army try to save humankind while Sam and Frodo move on to destroy the ring to stop the root of evil.

Peter Jackson and company offer the same excellent standard of storytelling on screen. With the moving Howard Shore music score, high production values, real life locations and special effects to help bring Middle Earth to life. Gollum's treachery comes to pass. Gandalf and the rest of the Fellowship continue fighting against immeasurable odds. There's more love and loss, tension and urgency in this final part. Jackson handles both the action and emotional drama with ease, in amongst the effects including the giant spider Shelob, dragon like creatures, spirits, trolls and orcs.

With the extended The Return of the King we see how Sauroman dies and how Wormtongue meets his demise, there's extended battles and lots of little additions that like its predecessor enhance the journey rather than take anything away.

Jackson offers many great moments in the third instalment even if it somewhat rehashes in terms of visuals the some of the Two Towers only with larger battles. We see how Deagol and subsequently Smeagol/Gollum gets the ring. There's the creepy cave of the dead where Aragorn and company face the ghosts of disgraced warriors. Frodo tangled in Shelob web is spine-chilling as the two Hobbits are assaulted by spider legs and fangs, there's also a disturbing encounter with various Orcs and Uruk-hai in Mordor reminiscent of Mary and Pippin's experience in Two Towers.

The saga of 'The Lord of the Rings' is a perfect mix of action, adventure, with a slight hint of romance. And Return of the Kings brings it to a very emotional close.

Ghostbusters (1984) Revisited

Ghostbusters Movie PosterParapsychologists Peter Venkman, Raymond Stantz and Egon Spengler along with everyday man Winston Zeddemore try to prevent the end of the world by stopping a god, Gozer the Gozerian.

Director Ivan Reitman, with László Kovács' cinematography offer a grounded feel to the wacky characters and supernatural story line thanks to the on location city scenes which are complemented by Dan Aykroyd's and Harold Ramis' witty writing. There's an excellent 80s soundtrack and wide ranging score by Elmer Bernstein. Not only does Ghostbusters work as a piece of entertainment it captures New York during the political and social Reagan-era, a different time.

The ghost wrangling cast are excellent, Bill Murray gives a hilarious deadpan performance as the team come together. Aykroyd, Ramis and Hudson offer great comic turns. The supporting cast are also strong, Sigourney Weaver is on fine form as Dana Barrett, Rick Moranis as Louis Tully and William Atherton as bureaucrat Walter Peck are particularly notably. Annie Potts is humorous as crabby but likable Janine Melnitz. Tully's crush on Barrett is humorously played out. Weaver gets to give a full range of emotion, right down to playing possessed. As well as eggs cooking on worktops and ghouls in fridges there's also a horrific scene where Barrett is gagged and dragged by evil hands across a room on a chair. Many of the effects still hold up and the optical ghosts remain eerie.

There's a perfect a blend of special effects and comedy, too many moments to mention, notable is the scene at the hotel where armed with their proton weapons the team go to capture a greedy ghost and Venkman gets slimed. Packed with quotable lines, Reitman offers paranormal and supernatural hi-jinks including demon dogs, skeletons, spectres as well as chuckles. Together Aykroyd and Ramis along with Reitman and crew not only deliver a great film but they forge some pop-culture equipment, the iconic Ecto-1 that the Ghostbusters use to travel, proton packs, the P.K.E. Meters, containment unit and the like.

From the New York Public Library where they encounter a elegant ghost that transforms into a horrifying spook, to the showdown against Gozer and the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the witty jokes, the chemistry on screen and the effects are magical. A classic to be treasured.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

In the Deep (2016)

E

*** This review contains major spoilers ***
Two women become trapped in a cage 47 meters below the Mexican waters.
It's been a long time since there have been modest budget serious well produced shark films, then in 2016 two come along at once. Thankfully, In the Deep's set up is quite different to The Shallows, but it shares the same high production values and execution. Director Johannes Roberts offers a novel, tense, at times claustrophobic great white film that will leave you gasping for air. 
Sisters, one in the mist of a breakup Kate (Claire Holt) and wilder worldly travelled Lisa (Mandy Moore) are restless in the safety of a hotel pool and room in Mexico. Coincidently, Roberts like in The Shallows adopts the film technique of texts, in this case Lisa's ex, popping up on screen, breaking the fourth wall. With Kate being upset the sisters go on a night out and meet two locals, who they later hook up with for a meal and kiss. The next day after a motorboat ride they all go on a $100 each cage dive on a rickety boat, the Sea Esta. 
Matthew Modine is the captain of the unofficial excursion and his extended cameo, which is mostly a soothing voice on a radio advising the inexperienced divers on what and what not to do. Modine offers some weight and star power to the film as a everyday sailor Taylor. Like the aforementioned film, it's also different to Jaws, The Reef and the like and stands on its own. 
Although, writers Ernest Riera and Roberts sacrifice developing Modine's functional character in place of getting the sharks on screen quicker, they put enough into brunette Moore's self-conscious Lisa and carefree blonde Holt's characters for you to invest their fate. They have an arc from the nightclub holidaymakers to strong women striving to survive. The story is straightforward enough, but visually at times it excels. 
When the sea-hand Javier (worthy of note Chris J. Johnson) starts chumming - a shark, approximately 20 foot shows up, bigger than those on the Discovery Channel or in the National Geographic. After the two locals try the first cage as the huge shark circles, the two nervous but excited sisters have their turn with their diving masks and tanks checked. Suffice to say, it all goes wrong when the rusty winch breaks and the the girls descend 47 meters. What follows is a survival test, trapped in the cage at first, then running out of air as they make attempts to move the winch, swim from the bottom ocean floor in the aggressive shark infested waters, to get more air in various ways etc. Only to be thwarted by the finely realised, terrify sharks. 
With sharks attacking from nowhere there are some genuine jump scares which are heightened by the sound design and tomanddandy's music. Mark Silk's cinematography really shines, not just on the surface but below water. It's not just the confines of the cage that add chills, it's the vast ocean open space, the silence of being submerged and void beyond the sea cliff's edge. Notable there's a scene with their radio's out of range, Lisa tries to communicate with the surface leaving herself venerable in the endless salt water. Going beyond the sea floor cliffs edge later underwater Kate swims, stopping on top of a protruding rock deep below the blue sea. The unseen giants overshadow each move the women make with the threat of an attack at any moment. Every time the sisters leave the cage you feel the edgy chill of the imposing sharks.
Anyone scared of the water will no doubt get glass-boat diving chills out of In the Deep. And those who love shark films will not be disappointed with the whites on display as they attack, from below and on the sea floor with only cave recesses and the eroding cage to protect the sisters. 
Roberts keeps the pressure on as things get worse when a diver is killed and the second attempt to save them goes awry. There's also a fearful doubt throughout that those topside have left them. We get plenty of blood-filled wince moments with the cage crushing Kate, spear gun cuts, shark bites and flares. As they fend off the predators when trying to get air tanks and get to the top it never slows in pace. In addition, Riera and Roberts add an interesting surprise Gravity, Descent-like twist in the tense final act.
Overall, a fine and welcomed addition to the killer Carcharodon carcharias genre.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) Revisited

*** This review may contain talking head spoilers ***

A mixed group of townsfolk team up to destroy the reanimated dead that have taken over their town to eat brains.

With lines that mirror and hark back to the 1985 surprise hit, it's more of a remake despite being called part II, akin to Evil Dead 2 in relation to part one. Here three kids, find a canister which contains a Trioxin enriched body. The barrel which (literary) fell off a back of a lorry is unlocked by two of the three teens, releasing a gas which make the two bullies ill and also revives the occupants of the local grave. 

Young teen lead Michael Kenworthy's Jesse Wilson and Marsha Dietlein as Lucy Wilson are worthy of note (possibly named Wilson at a stretch to possibly link the two films with Burt Wilson from the original). Jesse who is locked up by the young bullies escapes their fate while locked up in a mausoleum. Director/writer Ken Wiederhorn offer excellent practical and make up effects, (despite continuity errors where Tarman 2's design inexplicably changes between shots), there's plenty of Thriller styled undead on display. Unfortunately the soundtrack (recreating the vibe of the original) was replaced due to license issues and the replacement music sadly takes away some nostalgic and complementary value. 

The supporting cast are solid, if somewhat hysterically panicked. With a good mixture of horror and comedy there's Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks) as Tom, notable is Suzanne Snyder as Brenda, whose dressed in her best Tiffany outfit. At one point military men wielding guns show up, one of which is actor Mitch Pileggi pre-X-Files. Memorable is Philip Bruns eccentric Doc Mandel. The excellent James Karen and Thom Mathews return as grave robbers who release Jesse from the mausoleum. They ineffect reprise similar characters from the first outing, echoing the same slow changes into zombies, at one point Mathew's Joey even gives an acknowledging line of, "I feel like we've been here before. You... Me... Them!" and as a viewer you'll feel the same as many of the setups give a feeling of de ja vu right down to another leathery talking female corpse. 

The setting including a graveyard, contrasting suburbs and town offers enough chills as the lumber dead horde go in search of brains, at one point even breaking into a pet shop. There's hands (reminiscent of Adams Family's Thing and Ash of Evil Dead's appendage), talking decapitated heads, plenty of body parts, worms coming out of faces, rotten flesh and every kind off blood guts and severed spines a horror fan could want.

As the survivors lure the zombies with carts of brains and Jesse faces off against his now dead bully there's a satisfying conclusion including a Michael Jackson thriller style zombie thrown in just for the hoot. Wiederhorn's offering doesn't get under the skin as much as its predecessor nor does it have the nihilistic ending that made part one standout. Nevertheless, the special effects hold up much better than the mix of horror comedy and its still a cadaver load of zombie fun.