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.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

*** WARNING: This review may contain Jawa spoilers ***

*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Thirty years after the second Death Star's destruction, Luke Skywalker, the last Jedi, has vanished. An unlikely group get drawn into search for the Jedi before the First Order, a successor to the fallen Galactic Empire find him first.
J.J. Abrams flourishingly takes over the reins from George Lucas for Disney. The production values, effects and music are outstanding with writers Lawrence Kasdan, Abrams and Michael Arndt successfully handing over the baton to the new characters without leaving the beloved ones behind. John Boyega's Finn has depth and is very likable, as too is Daisy Ridley who is simply outstanding and steals the show as Rey. Oscar Isaac's X Wing pilot Poe Dameron is memorable and somehow manages to encapsulate the look, swagger and feel of the original Star Wars spirit.
If I were to nit-pick the Andy Serkis' Supreme Leader Snoke hologram and the monsters hiding and attacking the Millennium Falcon as it hums back to life CGI is not without its problems. That said, it's doesn't distract from the overall great quality of the effects throughout, from the impressive practical and visual effects right down to jolting storms troopers, desert creatures, spaceship base interiors, sweeping planet topography and beyond. 
With droids housing information, space battles and giant weapons with weaknesses, yes, it's partly a rehash of the first film with a few welcomed twists and surprises but it's a really visual and emotional treat, with great sets, costumes, make-up and locations. The action set ups, shoot outs, spaceship dogfights and sabre duels are fantastically staged. There's plenty of Han Solo gunplay and humour on display.
The mix of new and old characters returning works and there's array of familiar faces and quality actors including Max von Sydow and a hidden Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma. Well loved characters, not just the likes of R2-D2, Han, Leia, Chewie and C-3PO but lesser known ones like Admiral Ackbar and Nien Nunb also return. As the rebels face another threat, bigger than the Deathstar it manages to remain engrossing and grittier than its predecessors.
There's the emotional loss of a main character and Mark Hamill's Luke screen time is fittingly limited which allows Ridley to shine throughout as she develops her skills along with droid BB-8. Adam Driver's misguided Vader obsessed Kylo Ren is interesting.
Overall, the young cast carry the beats you wanted and expected from a sequel to the original trilogy but it also excels as Abrams manages to fashion an atmosphere of his own while retaining the Star Wars feel and magic. The force is strong with this one. Highly recommended.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Christmas, thanks and updates

Its that time again, 2015 is coming to a close. I’m sure Shakin Stevens, Slade and Wizard are selling records (downloads) and DVD sales of likes of Gremlins, Die Hard, Trading Places and Home Alone increase..

I’d like to thank you for your patronage, I take your support very seriously. Readers will be glad to know that at last Darkest Moons will be released (yes really!) I’ve poured in a lot of detail when crafting this novel, from the storyline and research, to exterior artwork. I hope you will enjoy.

This year I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my early day heroes. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with Carl Weathers, Jenette Goldstein and her husband (also called Aaron) and my hero George A. Romero and his wife. After James Herbert (R.I.P) and George I think the only idol I’ve left on my list is Schwarzenegger.

As well continuing to support a diverse handful of indie film projects, as well as the day job and writing reviews for @BCRising  (I've seen alot of screeners this year) surreally I’ve found myself busy pitching ideas to SkyDance, NBC/Universal and Sony. I’m a little fish in a very big and experienced pond. So like all projects I won’t hold my breath. I simply don’t have time to travel in the 'required' circles. The NBC project has been particularly exciting but getting the right forum has proved challenging.

I want you to feel a part of my work as well. While I’m on Facebook and Twitter, the best way to reach me and get a personal response is via my website that includes any business or option queries.

Have a great seasonal time and I hope 2016 fulfils your dreams! Believe in yourself and keep plugging. A big thumbs up to you all.


Friday, 11 December 2015

Crying Wolf (2015)

Crying Wolf poster
This review was written for @BCRising 

In a little English village called Deddington a pack of werewolves on holiday come face to face with their victim and hunter friend.

For a moment I’m going to hold back on yabbering about this latest werewolf film, I should also point out that the 3D version was sadly not available for us from Tirana Films/Great Dayne Entertainment/Boom & Spray Productions. More important than director’s Tony Jopia’s offering is the knowledge that the first scene has Hammer Horror star, Sinbad’s Margiana and James Bond’s Naomi, actress Caroline Munro. Here she cameos as a shopkeeper, arguably still edible to the older gentleman, surely any self respecting werewolf would be honoured to gobble her up. I digress, many of the same cast and crew of Cute Little Buggers, a low rent Gremlins, reteam armed with a Hammer's business model, like a multi-picture deal of Craig Fairbrass films for... Ba-dum ching - Crying Wolf! A Kermit the Frog YAY please.

Taking a compulsory leaf from American Werewolf in London and Dog Soldiers and the recent Howl, Jopia’s Crying Wolf has plenty of sleepy village dolly tracking and crane shots. Jopia armed with ropey CGI (a limited suite of stretch effects, colouring and kinetic werewolves reminiscent American Werewolf in Paris); plenty of claret and fake limbs throws on screen what can only be described as canned wolf fodder. The tin looks good, it contents appear tempting but even if out of curiosity do you really want to open that bad boy up and taste it?

To Jopia's credit I've never seen a werewolf film with a grand Bond style opening credit sequence but voilà Crying Wolf has one and a theme tune too. With pub humour, Brookside pacing, gratuitous blood and breasts, this is not to be confused with Jeffrey D. King’s independent documentary film Crying Wolf (it’s an easy mistake to make). Written by Andy Davie, Michael Dale and Jopia this presentation is ridiculous and equally as silly (including a wrong hole gag) with its out of place flashbacks and unnecessary back stories. Aside from an abundance of pretty looking cast members what’s genuinely enticing is the atmospheric locale (possibly interesting if you live outside of the UK), there are also some nice make up, old school practical effects and there really is a germ of a good idea hidden away in bottom of a pint glass. It’s energetic cast, include Gabriela Hersham, Chloe Farnworth, Joe Egan (of the well executed short – Predator Dark Ages), Kristofer Dayne, Gabriela Hersham and Ian Donnelly to mention just a few who put in every effort known to man to have fun with their characters. Notable is Angela Holmes who pops up briefly.

I’m going to mention (because I can), if I didn’t know better I’d say their tagline is a rework of my very own novel but this sub-genre stuff is in the air. With werewolves appearing from the shadows lunging at the camera and popping into an already very cropped frame, for the love of Thiess of Kaltenbrun don’t expect Lowell Dean’s Wolf Cop. Be safe in the knowledge that John Landis needn't worry about losing his 1981 and 1984 werewolf crown either. 

This stretched low-budget Carry On up the hammy werewolf is best served with a load of friends, excess barrels of real ale and an aptitude for this type of film. No doubt Crying Wolf will certainly become someone’s guilty pleasure.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

He-Man and She-Ra: A Christmas Special (1985) Retrospective

Two Children become lost when they go to find their family's Christmas tree, befriended by Orko they set about to bring the goodwill of Christmas to Eternia.

In 1985, in the hight of this popularity came this hour shy Christmas special. Filmmation's offering works just like the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and its spin-off She-Ra episodes. Even though a commercial for the twist waist & power punch action toys it also had some great stories and morals to share, this is more of the same. Naturally there's the recycling of the same cells but there's plenty of new footage including cute children, a puppy and Adam dressed as Santa Claus.

When Alisha and Manuel visit Eternia their goodwill attracts the unwelcome attention of Horde Prime and Skeletor. The tale switches between planets and this special has a mix of fantasy elements synonymous with both shows - fairies, soldiers, monsters and (also thrown in are Transformer-like) robots.

Amongst the action set-ups there's some nice writing from Don Heckman and Bob Forward with plenty of sugary cuteness and animated visual treats. Look for Orko's nod to Ghostbusters. For fan's it bridges Earth to Queen Marlina, there's the on screen mix of Eterniain and Etheria characters and Skeletor's transition from super villain to reluctant nice guy. After Hordak orders Skeletor to kidnap the kids there's a great scene where they explain Christmas to Skeletor:

Skeletor: Tell me more about this "Christmas."

Miguel: Well, it's a wonderful time of the year. Everyone has lots of fun.

Skeletor: You mean they get in fights?

Miguel: No, no - they have fun!

Skeletor: Fights are fun. I like fights!

Miguel: And you give each other presents.

Skeletor: And when you open them, they explode, right?

Miguel: No! They're nice gifts.

Skeletor: Nice? Doesn't sound like much fun to me!

Priceless. Today, 30 years later directors Bill Reed and Ernie Schmidt offering may have trouble keeping up with the pace and style of contemporary cartoons but it's a heart warming story, fitting for the seasonal period, complete with some catchy songs and all the regular character favourites (voices from legend Alan Oppenheimer, John Erwin and Linda Gary to name a few).

While possibly not the best Christmas cartoon, that prize is up for debate, it's still has great nostalgic value and is great viewing for children.

Labyrinth (1986) Retrospective

Frustrated with babysitting on yet another weekend night, a selfish teenager summons Goblins to take her baby half brother. She is then given 13 hours to solve a labyrinth and rescue him from a Goblin King before he is lost forever.

Even though it was met with mixed reviews nearly thirty years later it still manages to charm and retain a cult following. As a boy I remember watching Jim Henson's feature in a darkened cinema, being scared by the Goblins in Toby's room and the Firey gang intimidating Sarah.

Under scrutiny, some of the wonderfully painted backdrops, CGI (at the time a pioneering) owl and matted Fireys' elements have dated but overall the film holds up extremely well. There's plenty of subtext - for example; Sarah's mother, Linda, a stage actor and her relationship with an unnamed man portrayed by David Bowie. There's also 'Easter eggs' including toys, figurines, books and games referencing the characters and set ups shown in the film.

Veteran performers Frank Oz and Dave Goelz operate various puppets in the film, along with a number of Henson's show and film regulars. The talents of the many puppeteers, animatronics, designers and voice work to name a few are outstanding in bringing the characters to life. This coupled with the finely crafted sets, costumes, hair and makeup add up to something quiet special. That's without mentioning the wonderful score by Trevor Jones, music by Bowie and choreography by (Star Trek Next Generation) Gates McFadden. Based on Dennis Lee and Jim Henson's story and although a couple of writers had a hand in the screenplay, its credited to Monty Python's Terry Jones, the finished product is magic.

It's much more fun than Flight of the Navigator of the same year and better than The Never Ending Story (1984). Henson retains the fantasy atmosphere of The Dark Crystal but makes Labyrinth far more family friendly to great effect, balancing the pace and darker elements successfully.

David Bowie is perfectly cast as crystal touting, owl shape shifting Jareth, who takes Toby on Sarah's wish and falls in love with her. Bowie has some great dialogue both humorous and serious. Like The Wizard of Oz adventure it refreshingly has a female lead, Sarah played by Jennifer Connelly, who's acting and interactions with the puppet characters really sell the magic and believability.

Sarah aided and hindered by an array of memorable characters from a Wiseman, Door Knockers, Helping Hands and The Worm, to the (creepy Dark Crystal-like) Junk Lady and Four Guards to name a few. She's mainly helped through the labyrinth by fairy exterminator Hoggle, Sir Didymus, Ambrosius (a.k.a Merlin Sarah's trusty dog) and Ludo a friendly Bigfoot like creature as she goes through the different environments including a maze, bog, forest, Goblin town and Oubliette to mention but a few.

The music numbers are well placed and fitting. Bowie's 'Magic Dance' with the complex puppetry is a joy and technical timing achievement and as a child what was once the boring masquerade ballrooms bit 'As the World Falls Down' plays, as adult is hauntingly dreamlike and wonderful executed. The catchy 'Chilly Down' song stands out and though not malicious, the Fireys are unintentionally dangerous, the track includes the voice of Red Dwarf's Danny John-Jules.

As the film draws to a close its topped off with an edited version of 'Undergorund' which also played in the opening as Sarah recites the play, The Labyrinth, possibly hoping to follow in her mothers footsteps. What's intriguing now is that you can interpret the film in different ways other than the narrative presented - that her coming of age adventure was real. As an alternative the whole adventure maybe just away for here to remember her lines, a dream or something more symbolic.

Overall, some of the elements have dated slightly but as a family piece of entertainment and fun you can't go wrong will Labyrinth. To the ingenious talent of late Henson's credit it has yet to be equalled or surpassed.

The Dark Crystal (1982) Retrospective

To save Thra the last Gelflings, Jen and Kira, go on a quest to find a shard of the UrSkek Crystal which will fulfil a prophesy that links the fate of two races, the cruel Skeksis and the gentle Mystics.

Jim Henson with his talented artists and performers create an unparalleled, eerie, oppressive atmosphere. The Dark Crystal is a technological and artistic achievement and still holds up pretty well today. As well featuring real locations there's great set and creature design, puppetry, miniatures, matte paintings, optical composite work and some blue screen. Trevor Jones' score is powerful and Joseph O'Conor's Orson Welles-like narration sets the scene. The voice tones of the leads are sombre, whispery and slow, adding to its hazy dreamlike quality in contrast to the harshness of Aughra and the various Skeksis characters.

As a fantasy film Henson creates a compelling world with its array of creatures. As the Gelflings go on their quest they encounter friendly monsters, Landstriders, Nebrie and (Fraggle Rock-esque) Podlings to name a few. But over all its dark in nature from ceremonial imagery, right down to the Garthim a crustacean-like creatures employed by the Skeksis to capture the Gelflings. Memorable is the exiled SkekSil the Chamberlain notably performed by Frank Oz and voiced by Barry Dennen.

Refreshingly pre-CGI, Dark Crystal is impressive, but the pace is questionable and there is little of the Henson-Oz trademark a sense of fun which he injected into his Muppet works and later Labyrinth. That's not to take anything away from his 1982 offering. As story it can teach a lesson in morality to children but the visuals and tone appear for the most part geared for entertaining adults.

Overall, its infectious, mysterious, romantic Gothic atmosphere can leave you in a groggy dream-like state. Whether that's a good thing or not is debatable, but not many fantasy films can boast such an affect or lasting visual impact.