Sunday, 24 September 2017

The Limehouse Golem (2016) Review

When music-hall star Elizabeth Cree is accused of poisoning her husband on the same night as the last of a series of 'Golem murders' Inspector Kildare discovers both cases maybe linked and sets about solving both crimes.

Based on an an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd's 1994 murder mystery novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem director Juan Carlos Medina offers an old-school Hammer-style horror anchored by performances by subtle Bill Nighy (who took up the reigns from the late Alan Rickman), Olivia Cooke (of Bates Motel), Eddie Marsan and Daniel Mays. But it's Douglas Booth as Leno who steels the show.

All the familiar Gothic Victorian elements and crime story beats are there reminiscent of A Study in Terror and countless other yarns and clichés set in the period which are more than likely inherited from Ackroyds source material. Set on the unforgiving, squalid streets of Victorian London in 1880, Jane Goldman's script captures the Lizzy Borden and Jack the Ripper talk of the time, but where 2015's comparable Frankenstein Chronicles series had a filmactic feel this is sorely lacking in Limehouse Golem given it's made for TV look despite a theatrical release. That said the costumes, makeup and music are spot on as Nighy's Kildare goes effortlessly about piecing the case together aided by some bloody flashbacks and spectres in his mind. There's a little nihilistic twist which peaks interest showing that the conscious of life isn't black and white especially when it comes to work politics, promotion and fame.

Overall, it has some gruesome elements and while it may not work as a whodunit reaching heights of In the Name of the Rose, Agatha Christie or a Sherlock Holmes mystery it satisfies as an unconventional immersive period piece in the vain of countless Ripper-like outings. Worth checking out even if for Booth's memorable performance.

Monday, 18 September 2017

It Comes at Night (2017) Review

It Comes at Night Movie Poster

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Two families are forced to share a home in an uneasy alliance to keep the outside evil at bay only to discover that the true horror comes from within.

Director Trey Edward Shults' It Comes at Night is a taught effective horror drama, its strength lay in the audience using their imagination proving again that what's left unseen can be just as horrifying as anything on the screen. Reminiscent in tone of Into the Forest (2015), The Thing (1982) (echoing its paranoia) it's ambiguity, natural setting and Brian McOmber's subtle score all add up to something quite engaging.

The cast are effective, the child actor is natural, also Kelvin Harrison Jr. playing Travis, a 17 year old suffering from gory nightmares feels believable but it's edgy Joel Edgerton's Paul and convincing Christopher Abbott's Will that are the glue and shine here. Both roles have an intensity and both men ooze tension. Shults offers a well shot horror, drama that's brilliantly paced, with an eerie atmosphere aided by Drew Daniels immaculate cinematography.

Shults never plays his cards and as a viewer you're fed little bits of information, not really knowing the scale of what's going on. With characters with welts, checking teeth, nails and burning bodies, the interesting thing is that you also don't know if what they're afraid of changes you into a monster or rabid zombie or something else. Refreshingly the viewer doesn't see what they fear, and you shouldn't need to either. There are a few shoot outs and stand offs but it works more on a psychological level, less is more here and with rife paranoia this offering excels. Recommended.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

IT (2017) review

Seven young outcasts face their worst nightmare when an ancient, shape-shifting evil emerges from the sewer to prey on the town's children. 

Director Andy Muschietti's story beats are perfect the casting is top notch. Bill Skarsgård is fitting as IT/Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a trans-dimensional evil that awakens every twenty-seven years. Skarsgård's and Tim Curry's IT is like Jack Nicholson to Cesar Romero's Joker, both equally great but a different take on the same character, so there's no need for comparisons. Incidentally there's a fitting nod to Curry's TV Pennywise in a room of clowns. For the main cast there's the one reminiscent of a young Kevin Bacon, the Rob Lowe looking one, the Molly Ringwald (amusingly self referenced within the film) the River Phoenix one and so on. Echoing The Breakfast Club, Goonies and Stand By Me to name a few.

Muschietti and writers Chase Palmer, Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman even cram in a creepy gnarled tree and a dilapidated haunted looking house. Starsguard moves eerily slow and contorted at times and uneasy fast at others. There's much more gore in this adaptation. As a horror it offers enough creepy moments but where it gives today's horrors a run for their money is the friendship, outcast and bully themes which come directly from Stephen King's source material.

A major departure from King's 1986 novel and 1990 miniseries is the 80s setting for the child part, even with the Airwolf T-shirt, New Kids on the Block songs, Casio watch, Gremlins posters and Nightmare of Elm Street 5, Batman and Lethal Weapon 2 showing in Derry's cinema, some of the period feels a little off but the recreation for the most part works.

Again its strengthen comes from the casting which emotionally affects the story at its core. Frights, whether a cellar, sewer, bathroom or the alley or simple a dark office, the music, sound design thanks to Muschietti's staging amplifies the chills while wearing its heart on its sleeve with the young performers.

It's tight and pacey, with enough time for the characters to breath. Muschietti injects plenty of jump scares and creepy moments, and with a larger budget and omitting the adult segments (saving them for an IT sequel/chapter 2 and possibly flashbacks to 1989) it actually, surprisingly is better than its predecessor adaptation.

Packed with terrifying, hallucinatory and nightmare imagery coupled with a near on perfect cast IT is highly recommend.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Annabelle: Creation (2017) Review

Annabelle: Creation Movie PosterAfter the tragic death of their little daughter, a doll-maker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a orphanage into their home, but shortly after a demon begins to terrorize the girls.

Annabelle Creation is a solid entry that offer plenty of scares and the period rural setting sets it apart. Director David F. Sandberg injects a smidgin of Texas Chainsaw atmosphere into the proceedings as a group of girls and nun are terrified by a demon. The acting from Stephanie Sigman's Sister Charlotte and the young girls is impressive. As too are Anthony LaPaglia and Miranda Otto in small but pivotal roles.

It's a demonic possession tale like the chronological follow up, not a killer doll film per-say if you've come in cold. Even though it's an origin story midway through you can't help but feel that thanks to some editing another prequel to an already existing prequel could be made with some misplaced flashbacks of Otto and LaPaglia thrown into what for the most part is a constant story from Gary Dauberman.

With dark creepy visuals, notably a lift, water well and scarecrow scene, eerie music and limited special effects but plenty of jumps scares Annabelle harks back to the simpler days of horror. Daunerman and Sandberg link the ending nicely to its 2014 predecessor Annabelle and there's mid and post credit scene which are intriguing enough to leave you possibly wanting another.

Overall, a well shot, filmatic, rounded chiller with credit to child actors for their good performances.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Saint (2017) (TV) Review


With the FBI hot on his heels international thief Simon Templar goes about helping a man get his kidnapped daughter back.


Sadly this incarnation of Leslie Charteris The Saint has all the trappings of feeling like a TV pilot made in the 90s despite being made in 2013 (with extra shots filmed in 2015) and left on the shelf until 2017. Even though directed by Hollywood director Simon West (Expendables 2, The Mechanic) it's a shame The Saint wasn't given the same film treatment that was given to The Man from U.N.C.L.E (2015) or the budget of the poorly received 1997 film.

For fans Ian Ogilvy returns in a main role but not as Templar and also former Templar Roger Moore cameos. We also have reworked snippets of Edwin Astley's theme pop up. The cast is full of talented movie actors including Eliza Dushku, James Remar and Thomas Kretschmann. With some action littered throughout there's also interestingly flashbacks (an origin-like story of sorts) of Simons youth. With some good one liners Adam Rayner has a good stab at the main role Simon Templar. Rayner has the voice, look and suaveness especially after he loses his beard in the first act but like the whole production feels constrained.

As a TV film or pilot, even with some good actors and talent on board with a budget that appears to be less than an episode of 1980's Miami Vice West just can't pull the rabbit out of the hat. In a TV sea with Lethal Weapon, West World, White Collar to name a few it's watchable but feels clunky when compared to the slickness of TV shows in recent years and lacks the nostalgic charm given its present day setting.

It's a pity that makers didn't make it stand out by placing it in the 1960s original or 70s Return of the Saint time period akin to a Life on Mars or the aforementioned Man from U.N.C.L.E film.

Monday, 17 July 2017

George A. Romero (February 4, 1940 – July 16, 2017)



In 1968, George A. Romero and co-writer John Russo made a black and white film on a small budget, it became one of the most successful independent films of all-time. It was Night of the Living Dead.

I won't dig up old stories about copyright woes, remakes or go through his career and the like, there are plenty of documentaries, books and websites about his zombie films before zombie films (became let's just say) mainstream, he revolutionised horror creating a whole sub genre of horror. Yes, Romero did make other films and TV shows, but Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead had a personal and lasting impact on me.  Also without Romero there would be no 28 Days Later, Return of the Living Dead, Zombie Flesh Eaters, Zombie Land, Shaun of the Dead, World War Z and certainly no Walking Dead to name a few, heck there'd be no zombie genre. His influence is so wide, it's amazing how much money, flashy big-budget films and shows have been made off his back. 

I digress, so big George - filmmaker, writer and editor, his touch stretched over to the UK in form of a tubed TV and touched a young Esmonde. I don't recall the specific years, a late night showing of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, then at some point Day of the Dead on a VHS. I was hooked to his gore-filled and satirical horrors. He inspired an epidemic of imitators (myself included). In 2010 my own novel Dead Pulse was published (based my 2007 erroneously published short) and without Romero, this tribute pulp would never have existed. While George was busy with his adoring fans I remember talking to his wife Suzanne, she kindly took a copy to give to George, I didn't want to give it to him directly, because I didn't want him to get the impression that I wished him read it (I'd be embarrassed if he ever did, maybe he used it as tinder on a cold Canadian night) but I gave it to her to give to him at a later time out of respect because I wanted him to know what an influence he'd had on my writing and film-making work. "It's debatably not my best one," I'd said. We shared a laugh and had a conversation, Suzanne was every bit as pleasant as George himself saying that he'd be touched and she was every bit sincerer.

People say something like - 'avoid meeting your heroes, you may be disappointed', I've met two of mine and on both occasions they have been everything I hoped, both are now sadly no longer with us. George is one of them. Two years ago I got to spend sometime with George and basically thank him, I can truly say that and I was not disappointed, as well as a great talent he was a kind and gentle giant, full of humour, modest to the core and a down to earth gentleman. My thoughts are with his wife and family.

He a left behind a terrific legacy to be enjoyed. He will be missed.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The Madam in Black (2017) aka Svarta Madam Review

The spirit of a witch reeks havoc on two siblings and their partners when she is summoned to their cottage. 

As the genre is close to my heart I couldn't pass an opportunity to view Sweden's filmmaker Jarno Lee Vinsencius latest offering Svarta Madam. Opening with a creepy exposition card harking back to the good old days of horror we're treated to glimpse of a 1633 burning at the stake. Moving forward to 1995 oozing atmosphere as two children, Emma and Alex, go about summoning a spirit (unavoidably echoing Bernard Rose's Candy Man and the Bloody Mary legend) it then jumps to 22 years later at a birthday dinner where the siblings are reunited with their grandmother's mirror. Director, writer Vinsencius packs every frame of The Madame in Black with a flavour of eerie ambiance. With a few jump scares courteous of an injection of effective sound design and music he then amps up the horror suspense with creaky floor boards, disembodied whispers and shrieks in the dark.

As the body count increases even with severed fingers, dreams within dreams, the script rings true, adding some much needed credibility to the underdog genre. It contains all the creepy staples of a good horror, even floating camera work in a forest reminiscent of Evil Dead but like the recent Spanish horror revival this is also fittingly played straight with an on location backdrop enhanced with naturalist lighting. The cast are on fine form, as with Vinsencius' Darkness Falls this offering benefits from some strong performances courtesy of Ida Gyllenstan and the notable Demis Tzivis. 

The moonlit night is seemingly CGI free and the makeup effects by Ellinor Rosander are used sparingly. When Madame in Black appears it encompasses all the best of practical horrors, a simple effective shrouded figure (also played by Rosander) channelling Exorcist III. But where Vinsencius excels is in his cinematography, creating a cinematic feel, even throwing in some aerial shots that put DTV horror and some bigger budget films with longer running times to shame. It's clear that Vinsencius gives 110% to his craft and there's no wonder why this Swedish chiller has won handfuls of awards. 

This is a must see short horror film, watch with the sound up and the lights off.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Drive (2011) Review

Drive Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Driver is a Hollywood stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. Thing go awry when a new acquaintance is drawn into one last job.

Director Nicolas Winding Refn offers a stylish, moody film with substance based on James Sallis novel. Drive has subtlety and great acting performances to match, it's a simply must see crime drama. Hossein Amini dialogue carries weight, with a few twists and turns, the locations ooze atmosphere and the music and Cliff Martinez score add to the nighttime atmospherics.

Ryan Gosling's Driver with an icy exterior, who later warms up to his neighbour and her son shines throughout in amongst the likes of affable motormouth Shannon (Bryan Cranston), hard man Nino (excellent Ron Perlman), Oscar Isaac's Standard Gabriel and Albert Brooks' surprisingly dangerous character Bernie Rose.

It's not a fast and furious action film, it's more of a smouldering poignant gangster movie with moments of calm and graphic violence. It echoes films like Heat, Taxi Driver with some To Live and Die in L.A. Refn's direction is on point, performances by the ensemble cast, visuals and stunt sequences are excellent and grounded aided by some slick editing from Mat Newman.

Gosling is outstanding, Drive is an essential neo-noir crime film, highly recommend.

Once Upon a Time in Venice (2017) Review

Once Upon a Time in Venice Movie PosterAn ex-Los Angeles detective turned PI seeks out the ruthless gang that stole his dog.

Director, writer Mark Cullen's entertaining beach bum action caper which sees Bruce Willis as Steve Ford return to centre stage instead of small cameos. Thankfully Willis isn't just there to just pick up a pay cheque, its very much his own film, and he's as cheeky and charming as ever.

The on location feel captures the heat of Venice Beach and Cullen offers plenty of colourful locale visuals. The characters are all quirky and larger than life including humorous Jason Momoa as mumbling gangster Spider and Steve's heartfelt troubled friend Dave (excellent John Goodman). Things get more and more outlandish as Steve tries to solve a number of weird cases. Sadly, Famke Janssen is wasted as Katey Ford.

With echoes of the recent The Nice Guys (2016) there's a few shoot outs and double crosses with hints of watered down Tarantino thrown in for good measure, Cullen like the moments of comedy set these up with perfect timing thanks to some effective staging and Matt Deizel fine editing.

Overall, while not Willis' best it's an almost return to likes of Last Boy Scout form rather than Die Hard, still it's good fun and worth a viewing.

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Autobots and Decepticons are still at war and the key to saving our future lies buried in the hidden history of Transformers on Earth.

The expensive state-of-the-art special effects and Mark Wahlberg is mostly what keeps the fifth installment of the franchise watchable, aside for the nods to the original series (ship crashed on a hill, Frank Welker's voice, the episode "A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur's Court" to name a few) very little remains what many of the 1984 viewers fell in love with.

Director Michael Bay's staple eye candy and stereotype battle of the sexes aside, although some human characters return including Josh Duhamel, Nicola Peltz (voice cameo), John Turturro and an unrecognisable Stanley Tucci as Merlin, not even Anthony Hopkins can raise this above mediocre.

The Last Knight is packed with pointless expletives, the usual flash editing, big fights, eye rolling comedy and a compulsory loud soundtrack to accompany the on screen shenanigans. The tone is inconsistent as it goes from one setup and continent to the next. It's crowded with new characters and set pieces including underwater submarine chases, medieval battles, D-Day WWII like battles to outlandish colliding planets with jets, three headed dragon Transformers, swords, a staff and a butler - everything is thrown in.

There's a niggling feeling that the Transformers franchise needs to go back to some design basics and charm of the original series even with harking back to the knights of King Arthur in the plot. Yes, sadly some classic G1 Transformers are missing or not resurrected and new robots are thrown in just to sell more toys. However, where there is an improvement, is that here we have more interaction and characterisation from Transformers robots themselves.

Entertaining at times, watchable, slick leave your brain at the door robot action film, but unnecessarily messy and desperately needs to go back to the source material.