Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Criminal mastermind Lex Luthor, obsessed with defeating Superman, manipulates Batman into preemptively battling him.

Despite its short comings director Zack Snyder (Man of Steel and The Dawn of the Dead remake) offers a brooding thoughtful take on the seminal figures of our 20th century pop culture. Ben Affleck is surprising perfect as the aged Batman and Henry Cavill once again proves he is rightly another generations Superman. While slightly out of place Jesse Eisenberg does his best at putting a new spin on Lex Luthor. Diane Lane, Amy Adams, Laurence Fishburne and Kevin Costner return and Amy's Lois Lane gets more to do in this installment.

Jeremy Irons' limited screen time is welcomed but with its excessive running time both Holly Hunter and Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman are underused. DC fans will be pleased as Snyder and writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer slip in live-action portrayals of Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash. The film's plot twists are interesting and include the killing off of some main characters, the plot also includes Man of Steels' Zod. However, disappointingly once again the hero's face off with the typical effects-driven, end level bad guy in the closing act, smothering a potentially powerful story. Its also crammed with overt man versus god references.

Snyder thankfully though offers a fittingly dark toned grim whirlwind with a visual grandeur thanks to Larry Fong's cinematography. Notable are a few edgy jarring dream sequences. Wonder Woman's untold story with a Belgium 1918 photograph peaks interest. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice pays tribute to the characters' roots, offering great modern incarnations of them but Dawn of Justice loses momentum by the end with a clichéd effects driven Doomsday battle.

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984)

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

An orphan child is brought up by apes and is latter introduced to his aristocratic family.

Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is based on the original writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Made in 1984 director Hugh Hudson offers an origin story made in a time before origin films were common place. Hudson offers the same epic operatic grandeur he'd brought to Chariots of Fire (1981). Uncredited screenwriter, Robert Towne (Chinatown), goes under pseudonym of his dog (P.H. Vazak) and second screenwriter Michael Austin offer an interesting three act affair, beginning in 1885 the downfall of his parents and Tarzan as a child, then as an adult assisting Capitaine Phillippe D'Arnot (played excellently by Ian Holm) out of the jungle and Tarzan back in the United Kingdom.

Christopher Lambert' gives a fine performance as he learns to speak English and comes to terms with his heritage. Death hard hittingly runs though this adaptation, humans and animals are all put on the chopping board and it's quite a slow paced emotional journey. Notable are Ralph Richardson (in his last film) and Eric Langlois as preteen Tarzan. Interestingly, despite the title, the name Tarzan is never mentioned and Andie MacDowell's Jane is curiously dubbed by Glenn Close.

Makeup genius Rick Baker's ape characters are for the most part convincing suit designs. With cinematography by John Alcott it's visual rich from the African jungle to Victorian Britain and the London Natural History Museum. Greystoke oozes atmosphere and even though a somber affair it leads to the film's unsurprising conclusion. It's visuals and time passages are far more interesting than the central character and this is debatably why Greystoke isn't critical revered as it possibly could have been.

Overall, this is a serious retelling which takes a chance on effects (refreshingly pre CGI), storytelling and casting, they simply don't make films like this anymore.

R.O.T.O.R. (1987)

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A Dallas man is witness to the death of a cop and there's more to his story.

With a video cover in the vain of the Vindicator, echoing The Wraith, The Terminator, Mad Max and Robocop, this low budget tail end of the 80s is like none of the above.

Cullen Blaine's offering Robotic Officer Tactical Operation Research (R.O.T.O.R) has an informative title voice over, packed with exposition and flashback that adds very little to the proceedings. What it does have is a nostalgic soundtrack from synthesiser beats to some country music. It's also nicely framed.

There's a robot which looks its just rolled out of Buck Rogers, and R.O.TO.R, correctly dubbed "a tin marionette," is like a stop motion endoskeleton with daft Punk shades.

The dialogue is a pretentious and cheesy as it comes. Even when the motor bike patrol cops goes all Westworld/Hitcher stalker-ish it sadly remains one of the most uneventful films of 1987. Not even some toy robots or The Terminator P.O.V shots can help. With Dallas' 80s fashion R.O.TO.R never lives up to or delivers on its premise of a directorate driven, judge and executioner super cop.

It picks up briefly in the last half hour as leather clad, moustache sporting, ChiPs sunglasses cop takes on some locals and later blows up when his arms and legs are tied up. There's a little twist killing that amounts to nothing, with a twist ending that won't make you spill you coffee.

Despite its faults it's better filmed than 90 percent of the DTV films produced these days. Worth watching for nostalgic value only. Stick on Class of 1999 instead.

Flash Gordon: The Greatest Adventure of All (1982)

Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Dr. Hans Zarkov travel to the planet Mongo to fight the evil emperor Ming the Merciless who is secretly giving military technology to Hitler.

Despite Filmation reuse and overused of recycled cells (notably Ming laughing) this truly is one of Flash Gordon's greatest adventures. The setting and scenes ooze the imagination, with giant statues, palaces, space crafts and monsters. The 1980's live action movie borrows plenty from this Filmation film. Although shown in 22 December 1983 in the UK on ITV it was split up and used as the bases of the Saturday morning series Flash Gordon (1979).

Written by Samuel A. Peeples, whose credits include the original Star Trek series, its packed with great action set ups and array of memorable characters including the voice talent of Melendy Britt as Aura (later she voiced She-ra) and Ted Cassidy's Chewbacca lion like Thun. It's only short coming is that Dale Arden is sorely underused, reduced to a damsel in distress.

It's edgy, has a great atmosphere and even delivers a twist ending that outdoes it's 1980's live action counterpart.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Attak Trak He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (restoration)

So this blog is a little (well way off) what I usually post. My son and I decided to do a little restoration project. I'm not talking 'American Restoration' more Antique's Road Show. So the geek in me got a 1980s He-Man vehicle from an auction site, incidentally the person selling it had a leather suite as well (see before pictures). Gave it a clean, got it working, put some new stickers and a new battery cover on. Voila - now a little bit of 80's joy has been restored by my 7 year old and I. 







Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Haunting in Cawdor (2015)

A Haunting in Cawdor
Review written for

Run by a failed Broadway director a Midwest work release program which rehabilitates young offenders as an alternative to jail puts a group of  teens through the mill when a pesky curse is played out.

To cut a long story short director/writer Phil Wurtzel’s Haunting in Cawdor is a rework of Shakespeare’s Macbeth with a ‘Venus in Fur’ touch about it. Now some horror fans reading this maybe be thing ‘eh, what?’ That’s because Friel Films’ Haunting in Cawdor is not a horror film per say, it’s more of a thriller with the associated Scottish curse, speaking the name Macbeth inside a theatre which will cause disaster.

The budget is clearly small, the camera work is crisp and the goings on are centred on one interesting and fitting location. Any work based on Shakespearian play is, as you might expect dialogue driven leaving the special effects waiting in the wing. Wurtzel clearly loves the source material. Pouting, innocent eyed beauty Shelby Young plays the deeply disturbed Vivian faultlessly. The acting is theatrical and fits its offbeat tone which suits Cary Elwes’ (secretive Lawrence O’Neil) acting prowess perfectly.

Haunting in Cawdor panders to the Twilight generation of teen angst but also covers suffering and graver abuse issues. Incidentally, Twilight star Michael Welch appears as rouge Roddy. As the curse increasingly starts to look like a reality there’s some jump scares, smidgens of blood and dream-like visions but generally it’s jammed with teen summer camp-tropes and Elwes pensively looking over his glasses. 

It’s a wordy, low budget character piece with at best creepy theatre shenanigans, dressing rooms and running through the rain. Don’t expect 100 minutes shock and terror and you may ‘break a leg’ finding some teen cinema charm in Cawdor.

Friday, 5 February 2016

The nature of the Miami Vice revival

With The X-Files, Twin Peaks and countless other shows being revived as series' or films, it felt timely to approach Universal/NBC. It's no secret, I'm a huge Miami Vice fan.

I decide to contact NBC with a proposed once vice episode and in my independent capacity it's has been difficult getting a forum with NBC/Universal and key players/producers. Given the nature of the episode it was paramount to get actor/singer Michael Philip Thomas on board which I have had more success with. His Theatrical Agent has been most helpful and supportive of the project.  Don Johnson, Edward James Olmos, Sandy, Michael Talbott and John Leguizamo have all bee invited to read the proposed 112th Miami Vice Episode. 

You also can read the outline here:

If you like what you've read and if this is something you'd like to see, if it takes fan encouragement to get NBC/Universal interested in this, then I guess that's what it would need. I'll leave it to you as even the best literary agents and their contacts are having problems.  

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Revenant

 *** These comments may contain spoilers ***

Thought to be a burden an injured man, Huge Glass, is left for dead. After his son is murderer he then begins a journey of recovery and revenge.

Set in 1823, like the comparable Outlaw of Josey Wales, the characters feel real and are motivated, they all have shades of grey. However, director Alejandro G. Iñárritu excels the aforementioned in scope thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki's cinematography, natural lighting and advancements in film making. The Revenant is beautifully shot and really captures the cold outdoors authentically. It's realistic, harsh and uncompromising, showing the best and the worst of man. It captures the bitter coldness that survival films, the likes of Alive, The Edge and Deadly Pursuit a.k.a Shoot to Kill only touched on. The relentless breathtaking bear attack is as intense as Leonardo DiCaprio's committed performance as he fights to survive and avenge his son's death.

Tom Hardy as John Fitzgerald cements the absorbing drama, his character like the natives and French offer cold, punishing brute force from each others perspectives in contrast to the silence and beauty of nature. Thanks to the excellent performances, props, costumes and locations it's easy to buy into the story.

The Revenant is a tour de force ultimate endurance tale and has heart and soul. The sober moments and relationship scenes with the indigenous characters are interesting, the history feels well researched. Gleeson as with Star Wars Force Awakens is average but engaging, DiCaprio and Hardy are outstanding along with the supporting cast. Will Poulter's involvement is particularly notable.

It's very serious and justly void of humour, but has irony woven throughout. From a horse falling from cliff, to wolves attacking bison, eating raw meat, avalanches and waterfalls, log cabins, outposts and tepees. It's a great frontier revenge survival thriller with multi layers. Recommend.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Age of the Dead A.K.A Anger of the Dead (2015)

In a world ravaged by a virus that turns people into cannibals, survivors endeavour to reach an island, however, it's not just the zombies that are a threat.

Right from the opening where a little girl gets eaten you know it's not going to be a fluffy DTV addition to the genre. Writer/Director Francesco Picone's offering looks bigger than it is with real locations, lots of gore and a steady pace. Zombie completists au fait with Eaters (2011), Apocalypse Z (2013) aka "Zombie Massacre" and Zombie Massacre 2: Reich of the Dead (2015) will be familiar with the makeup style and saturated look that the talented (and friendly) Luca Boni and Marco Ristori have delivered in the past. Here they hang up their directing hats and don producer roles (along with Uwe Boll who incidentally has very little involvement, House of the Dead - this is not).

Picone takes up the reins and delivers similar aesthetics to Boni and Ristori. Jokes aside I tip my hat to Boll and company who appear to be single handily reviving the Italian zombie scene with another sub-genre addition.  However, Picone's film is more refined, it's void of comedy, the make up is more realistic and the script along with the acting are better.

The blood, bite wounds, severed limbs are effective. After the strong opening it then jumps four months after the outbreak with a road trip storyline that includes a pregnant woman Alice played memorably by Roberta Sparta. It has emotion and some tension between her and Peter as they are chased down by the sound attracted fast moving infected. The characters have to make hard choices along the way. Both Désirée Giorgetti as the Prisoner and Aaron Stielstra as Rooker are notable, their story thread is hard hitting at times with a nasty female abuse subplot reminiscent of Joe Chien's Zombie 108's (2012). However, when the story follows Alice and Peter and the zombies are in the forefront it works much better.

The acting, make up effects and camera work is solid enough, and even though all the players appear to be named after characters or actors synonymous with the zombie genre it's not a Syfy channel production. Also refreshing its not set in the USA, the locations are quite interesting and to Picone's credit it benefits from a nihilistic down beat ending.

Anger of the Dead (A.K.A Age of the Dead) is worth viewing especially if you liked the aforementioned films, that said Picone's offering is appreciatively far more serious and debatably superior due to it's darker tone.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

The Hateful Eight (2015)

  A blizzard forces a group of four to take shelter at Minnie's Haberdashery where they encounter four more strangers. With betrayal and deception, the eight strangers realise they may not make it to destination, Red Rock, after all.

The Hateful Eight offers impeccable framing, mountain landscapes, opening with a snow covered statue of Jesus. This film is all about justice and executions. The film is broken up with synonymous Quentin Tarantino chapter title cards. With Outlaw Josey Wales and Spaghetti Western coolness mixed with Tarantino seemingly nonchalant, yet, diligent story telling The Hateful Eight partly plays out like a heavyweight Cluedo mystery. Escaping an impeding blizzard menacing Russell known as the Hangman and bounty hunter outlaw Samuel Jackson ooze charisma and the whole cast clearly enjoy the wordplay. With its few locations (Reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs), as the group are isolated at a stagecoach passover (incidentally including Dogs' actor Tim Roth) it's mostly reliant on the actors talents and script. There's notably interesting flashbacks and a midway 4th wall voice over which brakes the confinement of the film up. Thankfully, the planets are aligned and all the elements like a jigsaw puzzle fit together in Tarantino's favour.

Ennio Morricone score is perfect, but Tarantino also slips in a track and later a song performance (by an almost unrecognisable excellent Jennifer Jason Leigh) which surprisingly work considering its a winter set Western. There's a fanboy moment in a snowstorm where they stake guide rods and Ennio's score pulses harking back to the remote beats and paranoia of The Thing. It has a small cast ensemble. As the opening credits run anyone with an appreciation of film will have a inclination it's a Tarantino film simply by its tight casting, from classic to cult actors. Many he has already worked with and some he's prompted a deserving career revival. Samuel L. Jackson is outstanding with his Sherlock-like prowess.  Walton Goggins is particularly notable. The supporting cast are great and include the likes of Zoe Bell, (surprisingly seriously good) Channing Tatum, Michael Madsen (also of Reservoir Dogs) to name a few.

It's a fine production, packed with seemingly period authenticity, excellent costumes, props, right down to the mutton chops and facial hair. There's plenty of historical social commentary, modern mirroring subtext and choice language that intentional or not will no doubt cause ears to prick up as the array of characters interact. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, who has worked with Tarantino on various film along with the naturalist lighting and setting gives the proceedings visual weight.

Lincoln letters, horse carriages, shootouts, it's gritty, violent, hard hitting packed with punchy dialogue driven scenes. It's edgy, naturalistic with poisoning, double crosses, twists and turns synonymous with Tarantino's back catalogue. There's also a memorable gross out scene with sick and blood, severed limbs courteous of make-up veteran Greg Nicotero. There's exploding heads and when the tension builds and shoot outs happen they have a brutal impact.

There are great character arcs and development but debatably Russell and Roth steal the show. It's undeniably talkie but with plot surprises, fine performances and sharp writing, if you like Tarantino's trademark style and Westerns in general it's doesn't get much better than this.