Sunday, 20 July 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, no monkeying around.

The ALZ-113 virus causes the collapse of human. Ten years later, Caesar leads a new generation of apes and an out of the blue encounter with the humans causes hostility between his ranks and the human survivors.

All the ape action one could hope for and more. It's very rare a sequel can equal it's predecessor but Dawn is an exception, it not only pays homage to the classic original series it successfully incorporates emotional throw backs to Rupert Wyatt's Rise notably when Caesar returns home.

The effects trump the first instalment and director Matt Reeves's film has a better pace than Rise. Using elements from the limited budgeted classic's follow ups from Beneath, Escape through to Conquest and Battle it also sets new ground in-terms of execution thanks to Reeves skills.

There's plenty of action set ups from Reeves and there some truly tense scenes notably from a menacing Koba playing a dumb chimp routine or the first human contact with the apes compound. The emotion oozes from Caesar thanks to Andy Serkis and some ingenious effects. With great sets and a real location feel coupled with the music score, immense sound design and some great acting from Jason Clarke and Gary Oldman (slightly under utilised here) it meets entertainment expectations. There's not just spectacle for spectacles sake, like Rise it feels very much grounded.

Dawn gives apes fans both new and old a fantastic cinematic experience. Granted the story by a handful of writers may not have a lot of twists and turns but Jaff, Silver and Bomback offer an intriguing enough script with both subtle subtext and blatant warnings of both past and present to the viewer. Dawn has plenty to say. 

With no time travel loop story element required (as in the original) lets hope the Icarus astronaut's (from Rise) return thread doesn't raise it's head too early and is handled with as much care further down the line as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has. Yes it's good. So good in fact you kind of feel guilty for not missing the fantastic Roddy McDowell bless him. Recommend.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

The Transformers are being hunted down by humans with the help of an interstellar bounty hunter. Optimus Prime aided by a human inventor set about to stop another annihilation by a device called the seed.

There's no doubt that the action set ups, sound design and special effects are fantastic. However, any trace of characterisation from the original TV series is all but extinct. The Transformer characters once again are given little dialogue nor interaction with each other, with the Dinobots not even getting a line of dialogue.

The Transformers on screen are as empty and soulless as the transformer copies created by an entrepreneur inventor/military contractor played by Stanley Tucci in a subplot with his company having the ability to create their own Transformers. Kelsey Grammar is on form but his evil Harold Attinger motivations are as interchangeable as his ties - queue disgruntled, unappreciated, shady CIA character. Sophia Myles talents are simply under utilised.

With a vast world of 1980's characters at their finger tips that could be updated/developed writer Ehren Kruger and director Michael Bay fail to use any of these typesets or even any basic personality dynamics from the series. Bring back Star Scream, Jazz, Soundwave and the others that prompted the people to make these movies in the first place - Glavatron (voiced by Frank Welker) is wasted. Age of Extinction borrows plot elements from Prometheus and Man of Steel to name a few instead of using anything Tranformer-esque.

T.J. Miller's likable character Lucas Flannery is disposed of in the first 20 minutes and its remaining few redeeming features Mark Wahlberg and Nicola Peltz battle on trying to avoid cliché after cliché, also Optimus Prime has some character development. Actually if Shia
Labeouf's Sam had been by replaced Wahlberg's Cade Yeager it may have
been a better film series, that said, if Sam returned with Cade it would make some good character interaction but I digress, it's a one man and robot show with everything else falling short and brushed over thinly with new elements being added needlessly. Age of Extinction makes Dark of the Moon look like the Godfather.

Given its lengthy running time its themes and plot are never fully developed. Should the writers and producers have gone back to the source material the fans and film goers would have thanked them for it. This instalment once again banks on viewers desire to see a Transformers film and of course we come in masses but are once short changed as it doesn't deliver - it's like a shiny brand new convertible without an engine, looks good and cool but it is vacant.

It's clear that the talents behind of Age of Extinction have no love for Transformers (but are great at the movie business) - sadly not recommended.

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh

A troubled antiques collector inherits a house from his estranged mother only to discover she was devoted to a mysterious cult. As they try to commune with each other a horrifying creature begins to reveal itself.

In the vein of the likes of Ti West's Innkeepers and House of the Devil, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is an old school chiller that works on a psychological level even more so than the aforementioned. Director Rodrigo Gudiño's slow burner explores lose belief and faith to name a few and takes it's time to build up the characters. Aaron Poole gives an outstanding subtle performance as Leon Leigh and Vanessa Redgrave's voice-over throughout as Rosalind Leigh adds a poignant touch.

Gudiño's camera work gives the impression that Leon is not alone in the house and the camera seemly acts as Rosalind's spirit at times. The house itself with the interesting location, prop and set design are the real star of the film, this coupled with the music and sound design deliver an atmospheric and immersible eeriness experience. The brief special effects are executed fittingly and add to the creepiness of the production. Rodrigo Gudiño's offering is wonderfully crafted and his restrained screenplay along with with Pooles' performance help build the tension of dread nicely.

Overall it's an original slow burning touching mystery that doesn't rely on shock tactics to create unease and successfully puts the view in the mind of its main character. Highly recommend.

Sleep Tight Mientras Duermes review

An apartment concierge Cesar has a personality disorder unknown to the tenants of the building. Cesar goes extremes to make himself happy, drugging a young woman each night to be close to her with murderous consequences.

Alberto Marini's screenplay is reminiscent of Hammer's The Resident however whereas The Resident was a satisfying stalker film, Mientras Duermes (Sleep Tight) elevates tension to another level without a sell out Hollywood ending.

Thanks to Luis Tosar's great delicate performance as Cesar and Marta Etura's likable Clara Sleep Tight is a rounded thriller. It's character driven and is as chilling and infatuation creepy as they come. From a school girl blackmailing Cesar, and Clara's boyfriend turning up, to Cesars intense and nasty conversation with an ageing dog owner and boss to name few there are moments littered throughout to help keep the picture on edge not just him hiding under a bed, and using Clara's tooth brush reminiscent of The Resident.

It has an on location feel (the look of the apartment is that of REC and REC2) with a naturalistic supporting cast of actors. Although elements have been done before,the insect infestation for example Jaume Balagueró delivers a crafted chiller, possibly one of the best of its sub-genre.

It's a twisted psychological tale with some great acting and directing. Recommended.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Final Version - the future is in your hands

I haven’t blogged much lately, the reason being I wanted to surprise readers with a brand new book - The Final Version. To give you a little background the original manuscript dates back to 2008! Now six years in the making The Final Version, my third novel, and first science fiction is out now on paperback and Kindle.

Journey through the history of genetics and be catapulted to a post-apocalyptic future, a conflicted dystopian utopia of cyberpunk, cryogenics and government-conspiracy.

London... The future, Jan Denton is abducted close to Big Ben Redux and is taken across the Atlantic Tunnel to the Oval Skyscraper, New York. He is accused of various murders of famed figures throughout history.

Is Denton really Vasco, the killer of these prominent individuals? How could one person live so long? Time is running out as Denton must try to unravel the mystery before an assassin who knows the truth tracks him down.

Are you unique or simply the final version?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Dolls (1987) moralistic killer toys

A group of strangers take shelter from a storm in an old house only to find themselves hunted down by a collection of dolls, from old-fashioned china dolls and porcelain dolls to dolls that talk and move.

Written by Ed Naha 1987's Stuart Gordon's Dolls remains creepy and scary and is certainly not for viewers with a pediophobia. Fuzzbee Morse's great score is atmospherically fitting with its melodic cues and stings there's also a touch of 80s synthesiser thrown in.

The set design and locations set up the eeriness from the outset. Mac Ahlberg's cinematography coupled with Gordon's old school camera tricks and some fantastic blood, gore and practical special effects from an array of craft masters sell the horror. Watching the unsavoury characters getting picked off one by one, meeting their demise is horror fun throughout.

Choppy continuity and a spate of dodgy acting aside Gordon's offering for the most part is excellent. The tone is more oppressive than that of Charles Band's PuppetMaster (who was also one of the producers on Dolls) and those familiar with Brian Yuzna's horror work will notice his producer touch on the production.

Even though some optical effects and Dave Allen's stop motion has dated slightly they still add an uneasy air to the proceedings. The death scenes are effective and credit to the special effects team when it's revealed what's under the dolls it's enough to send shivers up and down the spine.

Amongst the dark corridors, antique furnishings, storms and lightening there's a handful of standout scenes, Hillary Hartwicke with a pram; killer toy solider death squad; Teddy bear attack to name a few. Aside from Mr. Punch and Teddy the dolls act as more of a collective.

With some dark humour perfectly cast Hilary Mason's (no stranger horror roles including Don't Look Now and The Haunted) timing and subtle delivery as the old woman Hartwicke is outstanding. Carrie Lorraine's Judy, an imaginative little girl is very effective. Stephen Lee's (Robocop 2) innocent Ralph fits the part in contrast to Guy Rolfe spooky character(who would later play Toulon in Puppet Master 3 to name a few) is on fine form.

A recommended moralistic adult fairytale highlighting that being a parent is a privilege not a right.

Dolls on IMDb

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Excalibur - as noble as it's knights

After Merlin the magician brings up Arthur to be king, forces conspire to tear Camelot apart.

John Boorman's retelling of the King Arthur tale is debatably the definitive version to date. It's an advantageous production which benefits from a dreamlike quality with stylized lighting, effects and sweeping cinema photography. It's violent, sexually overt, yet, intentional or not the blood is comic-like with bright reds and crimson. Based on Thomas Malory's book with a handful of writers involved in the screenplay it commendably covers a lot of ground cramming in all the main segments you'd expect from the legend.

The performances are theatrical which makes the dialogue more palatable. Arthur Pendragon's (Nigel Terry) journey from country bumpkin to King is a joy and the famous affair, love, loss and betrayal themes are handled terrifically. Nicholas Clay as Sir Lancelot is perfect and has a short character arch. The quotable lines come thick and fast, Nicol Williamson's over the top quirky, witty Merlin is a delight to watch and a young Helen Mirren as Morgana lifts the ensemble. While Cherie Lunghi may not be everyone's idea of the perfectly cast Guinevere there's still a star studded cast which includes the likes of Gabriel Byrne, Liam Neeson and Patrick Stewart to name a few.

Some of the effects may have dated but it oozes atmosphere and spirit benefiting from an on location feel, coupled with the lavish set design It is a visual treat, yes it's exaggerated reality but that's part of Excalibur's allure. Recommended.

Fire and Ice - Teegra flesh revisited

A king's land is under an impending threat from an ice lord and his army. After his daughter is kidnapped a warrior assists the princess to reunite her with her people.

Like Ralph Bakshis' The Lord of the Rings (1978), Fire and Ice has plenty of atmosphere, it actually oozes it but it's dispensable story leaves it lacklustre given its similarities to other tales. It also appears unusual that the sub character, namely Darkwolf is more fleshed out than the main lead Larn. That said, there's some nice fantasy elements notably the sub-human ape-like beings, flying dragon hawk-like creatures and sorcerers to name a few.

Given the adult nature of the film it may have been rounded by more blood splatter and Cynthia Leake/ Maggie Roswell (voice) Teegra either being topless through-out or less scantly clad as she almost becomes a titillating distraction.

That said, there's no shortage of ambiance with wonderful background paintings on display. The rotoscope technique and animation give it a magical unearthly feel. The Teegra flesh on display and a Conan-esque witch scene that makes it worth a viewing alone. Yes it's flawed but it's also visually masterfully crafted.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers those pesky pods

The people of San Francisco are being duplicated by an alien organism and replaced while they sleep with an emotionless copy. A handful of citizens who realise the truth try to escape the invasion.

Opening with a distant planet and it's life-form's journey to earth with its spore spouting (thanks to some well executed) effects, it's a quality production. Like it's 1956 predecessor what's interesting is the refreshing angle how a scifi invasion flick can be handled without spaceships and green men. As well as the number of subtexts to discover there's also a San Francisco undertone of a city changing. Here so convincingly true to life are the expected reactions including terror, humour and wit from the characters. It's relevant covering inherent fears of paranoia which is probably a testament to why the 1978 version is so well regarded.

A lot of attention has gone into the background activities on display as the characters discover something is not quite right, there is great self aware camera work and realistic settings, natural lighting and so on, it's hard not to like director Philip Kaufman's finely constructed science fiction. Overall, subtle in places, it's intense in others with chases and effective hard hitting scenes featuring ghastly half formed pod people, including a part man part dog alien. The special effects holdup and are still creepy.

Complete with a cameo for Kevin McCarthy of the original this is both Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams (complete with hairy armpits) arguably finest performances, with the likes of energetic Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy in their respective supporting roles. 

Thanks to a convincing script from W.D. Richter, Kaufman's fine direction coupled with Jack Finney's solid novel source material and the natural delivery of the actors, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is still a credible, mature and tour de force of mistrust and conspiracy.

A must see for serious science fiction fans.

Gravity to boldly go...

Astronauts are left stranded in space when debris hits their shuttle, with a limited air supply they are left fighting for survival.

Director Alfonso Cuaron offers an interesting, intense tour-de-force that will leave most viewers with sweaty palms and a lump in their throat. Sandra Bullock is above her usual form as Stone, while Matt Kowalski's cock sure character played by George Clooney's is as exceptional as the first rate special effects on display. Considering the small cast the pace is fast with never a dull moment as it moves from one spacewalk to the next.

The film feels very much based in reality, the first person perspective shots are used sparingly and effectively, they add to the claustrophobic feeling in contrast to sweeping views and emptiness of space which adds to the tension. Orbit and space has never felt or looked so real thanks to the benchmark effects.

While the story doesn't break any new ground, it's a basic yarn, visually it excels all expectations, Alfonso and Jonás Cuarón's screenplay has some interesting touches and dialogue one of which notably features Clooney's character and overall it comes full circle to a satisfying conclusion. Cuaron and crew's faultless execution, coupled with a fitting soundtrack, score and some fantastic sound design deliver a heart pounding and moving tale.

A milestone cinema, which raises the special effects bar, highly recommended.