Review Roundup - I, Robot

EX MACHINA (2015)

I'm always glad to see at least one low budget science fiction feature and this year doesn't disappoint. While Alex Garland is best know as a writer he takes the director's chair for the first time in this tale of robotics and artificial intelligence. I've enjoyed his films in the past and although Sunshine and 28 Days Later get some flack for the third act violence it's never something I found to be hugely problematic. This time around they with go in a direction which is a lot more subtle, so perhaps he got all that out of his system with the gloriously bloody Dredd. Which isn't to say this doesn't feature it's share of alarming sequences but they take a lot of time getting there, and it feels appropriate for the material. It's strange to see Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleeson jumping from this to mega franchise Star Wars but as usual they are great choices for a slower, small scale story and seem able to easily jump between popcorn blockbuster characters and the nuanced performances required here. Don't expect any fast paced action here, this is slow and unsettling all the way.


Review Roundup - New Order

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015)

So Star Wars is back, as you might have noticed. It's unlikely you've been able to avoid an advertising bombardment of this magnitude. There will be practical effects and real locations, there will be actual characters and feelings. Running and yelling are also sure to be included, after all this is a J.J. Abrams movie. Though it's a decade since the last major release in this series they faced the minor issue of delivering something that followed films from much longer ago. They'd have to pick up from 1983, rather than continuing in the vein of the problematic prequel trilogy. Besides the fact that many of the original cast members had been absent, the tone and style were quite different. Getting one of the original writers on board along with director of the Star Trek reboot were logical if commercially safe decisions, which isn't a surprise to anyone; after all the sale of Lucasfilm to the Disney corporation was big news. However Abram's last movie was something which magnified the issues I have with Trek '09 and Lawrence Kasdan hadn't written a classic feature in a long time. But... they do have TIE Fighters, and muppets, and Han Solo. With my concerns set aside is this simply a fun adventure and a good time?


Review Roundup - A Night At The Opera

MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE - ROGUE NATION (2015)

Brian De Palma's revival of the 60s TV series feels like a long time ago, and well that's because it was. Nearly two decades later this franchise is still going, and somehow they've managed to really pick up the pace with the last two instalments giving it all renewed energy. The 1996 feature remains a class act, and in a lot of ways it's one of those 'better than you remember' type films even if the plot has always been a little convoluted. It remains a slick action thriller with plenty of memorable set pieces and stylish direction. 20 years later... a lot has changed. It's bigger and louder, and the shifts in tone veer into comic relief a lot more frequently. And yet the double crosses, ticking clocks, high tech facility break ins and those Lalo Schifrin chords are all still here. They are still reinventing that burglary on a wire scene in new ways. Luckily the mixture of old and new creates something that really works despite them saying 'disavowed' far too often and failing to avoid the same old plot about agents on the run from their own agency. Considering this is the forth sequel, this is definitely in realm of 'better than you expected'.


Scorecard

NOVEMBER


FILM OF THE MONTH: Ikiru ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Catching up

2015 (SORT OF) RECAP

With time in the year running down it's time to do a quick look at all those features I have forgotten to get into. Some would probably have been given a place under bonus reviews or even features to themselves at some point - but didn't ever make it due to one reason or another. It's going to be a mixed bag in terms of content, genre and of course quality but this is as good a time as any to get into things which have been overlooked. I think most of the blockbusters have already been covered recently so while a few here are larger names there are some which have had less hype or brand marketing. As I untangle my brain it's probably apt that two of these involve thought power and mental faculties... a couple of entries are from last year. So this is sort of a cheat but there you have it, let's get stuck in before this is all left unsaid and falls into the memory dump.


Short Film Safari - Little Ant-Man

Review Roundup - Hive Mind

ANT-MAN (2015)

Perhaps fitting the title, this latest addition to the Marvel cinematic branding plan appeared without a lot of fanfare. Being released post Age of Ultron probably didn't help but it's a strange time in which new origin stories in the traditional sense have not been told for several years and even Guardians of the Galaxy was still a team up movie at heart. There was also some controversy surrounding the production as many will be aware, as after almost a decade of involvement director-writer Edgar Wright dropped out of the project just before filming due to creative disagreements that have not been discussed openly. Adding one more character to the roster shouldn't really have been an issue at this late stage but there was a sense that this represented another risky proposal to the studio, particularly with the oddball nature of the story and its comedy style. But at the same time it also had the potential to add something new in terms of what can be done with visual effects set pieces - with the right kind of imagination shrinking characters down on film has been done well several times in the past. However the feeling that this has all been done before, along with the shadow of changes being made to the story at the last minute are noticeable issues that disrupt the fun to be had here.


Short Film Safari - Tokyo Cosmo

Review Roundup - I Know Now Why You Cry

TERMINATOR: GENISYS (2015)

I guess at this point I have to look at this one out of some kind of obligation, or maybe it's just a sort of morbid intrigue to see how low things can get. With that title it's not hard to imagine what's in store. Like the Die Hard series it was already on its last legs by the forth instalment. So to add that last straw another round of robot action only vaguely resembling James Cameron's original film has been thrown together, because they can I suppose. They even include Jai Courtney here just to make the comparison in quality obvious, which was nice of them. The series which was once kind of clever and included some great characters is now pretty much free of any character at all, and badly wants to be seen as thought provoking science fiction but instead is packed with nonsensical techno babble and time travel sub plots that are just laughable. Studios beating a dead horse is always unpleasant to see, and this is no exception.


Scorecard

OCTOBER


FILM OF THE MONTH: [REC] ☆☆☆☆
A Nightmare on Elm Street ☆☆☆☆
Blow Out ☆☆☆☆

Sequel-a-Thon Bonus Round - Nightstalker

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 1984-1994

After an extended sequel session some months ago I planned the Nightmare series as a kind of side feature for the end of October, having never really looked into it outside some vague memories of the first movie. They were memories of weird and gruesome things of course, so it seemed like a good idea. There are a lot of fans that exist who cite the third and seventh instalments as where the peaks in quality lie, so it was time to put that to the test and also to see why those entries which came in between are remembered less fondly.

Like so many of its contemporaries, Wes Craven's original fantasy slasher film has way too many sequels, and I would soon discover they churned them out without enough creativity or imagination behind them  considering the premise. It's a series set in a world where anything you can dream up is possible but rehashes itself way too often, often looking to capitalize on the popularity of certain ideas without sticking to what has been previously established in terms of rules and lore. It relies on familiar elements rather than actually executing them in an effective way or writing them properly. But let's go deeper, and see what exactly the issues are here and how all of this holds up as a franchise. The man of your dreams is waiting...


Review Roundup - Dino Riders

JURASSIC WORLD (2015)

There's a lot to be said for the art of building suspense. After all, the original Jurassic Park was for the most part an exercise in tension building so that the science gone wild elements that Michael Crichton was such a big fan of had time to slowly spiral out of control. On top of this the creatures had to be disguised or hidden behind rain forest foliage or perimeter fences, ground breaking effects are tough. The focus was instead on the human element, and this is arguably the real meat of the story - people interacting. Everyone knows the mixture of CGI and puppetry brought dinosaurs to life in new ways, but like Jaws the character development is what matters. All the arguing, the banter and the quirky sound bites are just as memorable as the horror they come across later. The thing people generally talk about when discussing The Lost World besides the San Diego rampage is the literal cliffhanger moment with all the rain, snapping cables and breaking glass. Suspense matters. The sequels are far from successful, so has anyone remembered this and written a worthwhile 'forth in the trilogy' release, or 14 years after our last trip to InGen is this another unnecessary instalment, too little too late?


Review Roundup - Sending You Back To The Future

TOMORROWLAND (2015)

Film storylines taking ideas from Disney theme park rides have not been a novelty for some time, though in the wake of the Pirates of the Caribbean juggernaut this hasn't been as prolific an idea as you might have expected... presumably because other efforts in this vein weren't well received. So this time around they have opted to take ideas from the park itself along with a few of Walt Disney's own futurism beliefs. Getting Brad Bird to direct another life action feature after the forth instalment in the Mission: Impossible series was certainly a good idea, though having Damon Lindelof on board after Star Trek Into Darkness seems rather questionable to say the least. But sources of inspiration aside it was refreshing to see what seems to be for the most part to be an original project, one that captures a sense of adventure far better than 80s throwbacks like Super 8 and Earth to Echo. A new world awaits us, the world of the future... they've saved a seat on the rocket ship just for us. But how much of that is mired in heaving handed themes and clunky storytelling devices?


Review Roundup - They're Creeping Up On You

IT FOLLOWS (2014)

Modern horror a lot of times these days falls into the bland category, with the likes of Insidious and Sinister blurring the line not only in terms of their homogeneous titles but the generic supernatural plot elements and the forgettable cast of family units taking up the screen; a big overall lack of charisma. It seems that when the lingering smell of the Blair Witch Project and its ilk are not involved, found footage tropes and all; the type of haunted house jump scares these projects are littered with is the only other go-to source of inspiration a lot of the time. When remakes are not being done of course. Which is weird considering the plethora of interesting ghost stories and chillers out there. It's understandable that the oldschool slasher movie won't get as many theatre seats filled with an adult rating these days, but still this is a disappointing state of affairs. Luckily there are those who try something new, which is to say they take from their own sources. Much like The Guest the 80s style of John Carpenter makes a comeback with It Follows, with a hint of Wes Craven thrown in there and a few nods to Hideo Nakata's Ring. Which is hardly original but at least they might manage go create something with a personality.

Scorecard

SEPTEMBER



FILM OF THE MONTH  Eyes Without A Face ☆☆☆☆
A Better Tomorrow ☆☆☆☆
Armour of God ☆☆☆☆
Monty Python and the Holy Grail ☆☆☆☆
Monty Python's Life of Brian ☆☆☆☆
Odd Couple (1979) ☆☆☆☆
Return of the Jedi ☆☆☆☆
Ring ☆☆☆☆
Tetsuo ☆☆☆☆
The Empire Strikes Back ☆☆☆☆
Foxcatcher ☆☆☆☆
The Living Daylights ☆☆☆☆
The Young Master ☆☆☆☆

Weekend Retrospective - Brothers in Arms

A BETTER TOMORROW (1986)

'Do you believe in god?'
'Yes. I am God. God is human.'


Aka True Colours of a Hero. John Woo's breakout feature and his first foray into the 'heroic bloodshed' genre of action film is a pretty low key affair in comparison to his later works. In fact A Better Tomorrow 2 is a complete monster next to the original, with a gigantic body count, explosions that set actors on fire, and a verbal tirade about rice. It's an overloaded action spectacle dripping with melodrama and ridiculous plot twists. Which of course I have time for. But while his other films have been discussed here in the past, it's time to go back the start. While it's not the first of it's kind, it's hard not to see the influence on film just by looking at the career changes it would propel.

Notable not only for it's mix of triad thriller elements and martial arts meets gunplay action that would define a genre, it would also create a new hero in the guise of Chow Yun-Fat, a television actor known for his work as a romantic lead as well as in comedy. It's been said that the studio actually fought against his casting, which is kind of crazy looking at what followed. But there's a lot of great stuff here considering this was a first attempt in many ways, and it would ultimately pave the way for more crime and action movies. Appearing in an unpredictable explosion of new ideas it was released just months after both Police Story and Yes Madam hit screens at the end of 1985, revitalising Jacking Chan with fresh material and making a star of Michelle Yeoh respectively.


Review Roundup - Metal Fatigue

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON

While the Marvel Cinematic Universe has pressed onward to new heights with the last solo outing for Captain America and the wacky high-jinks of Starlord and friends, it's time to get back to what made this all so tantalising for many people in the first place, the big team up of Earth's mightiest heroes to round off the individual films. While the original Avengers had a clunky start and took time to find its feet, once the big showdown came along it was hard not to enjoy the mix of disaster spectacle, alien invaders and green giant versus puny god beat down. But here we are, back for round two. And while Thor 2 might have tripped over it's own cape and the Mandarin was a bit of a lost opportunity, things have picked up the pace in the time leading up to this second team adventure. With more characters, ever growing stakes and a world now changed following the antics of HYDRA being foiled, there are a lot of pieces to be balanced when the roster is still increasing. Now this is another entertaining feature with enough eye watering comic book action and fun dialogue for anyone, but the element of simplicity has been lost in a film that seems to be too long and at the same time in need of an extended cut.


Review Roundup - Tinker, Tailor

KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE

While the action espionage genre has stayed on the same course for years now after films like Casino Royale and The Bourne Identity, there have always been those who think this kind of story shouldn't be taken too seriously. So despite the popularity of those big franchise releases (even if some of their sequels vary in quality) it's not surprising that someone came along to do a different take on all of this and meet that demand, and since Matthew Vaughn is better known now for Kick-Ass than Layer Cake it's even less surprising this is another loose adaptation of a comic series. Dark and gritty this is certainly not, in fact at times is rather gaudy and ridiculous. But this is an action film with spies and plenty of death and destruction, so does this all fit together properly as a fun blockbuster ride?


SUMMER SEQUEL-A-THON 2015

PART 3: WELCOME BACK...

While it seemed simple enough to keep on track in terms of a single theme early on during this round up, things started to go off the rails a little later on. The mix of East meets West didn't help I suppose, as the more standard 80s sequels clash with the crazier ideas of Hong Kong movies. When you have to sit and think 'okay so which is the one where a giant Buddha shoots lighting out of it's eyes before transforming into a flying centipede' and 'so wait which has that vampire bowling scene?' this is where madness starts to set in. But the old tricks remain, characters are left out and forgotten, plot lines are discarded or repeated and new ingredients that don't quite fit are thrown into the soup just to keep it from being stale. Some of it works, while other elements are just not fit for consumption.


Scorecard

AUGUST



FILM OF THE MONTH - Rififi ☆☆☆☆
Project A ☆☆☆☆
Legend of a Fighter ☆☆☆☆
Network ☆☆☆☆
The Killer (1989) ☆☆☆☆
Once Upon a Time in China ☆☆☆☆
Come Drink With Me ☆☆☆☆
Donnie Brasco ☆☆☆☆
Drunken Master ☆☆☆☆
Fist of Legend ☆☆☆☆
Avengers ☆☆☆☆
Iron Monkey ☆☆☆☆

Martial Arts Mix - Little Fortunes

YUEN BIAO MOVIES

If you've ever sat watching any number of Jackie Chan movies from the late 70s to early 90s, as well as the kinds of action movies and comedies from Hong Kong in the era; a few faces will start to become very familiar. Not only because many of them are part of the JC stunt team but also the fact that so many actors and stunt performers came from the same few opera schools as children, and had to make a living on the screen when demand for traditional entertainment died out. If you check out his biography (which is well worth reading) he talks about some of his 'brothers' from those days such as Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao who both went on to become stars in their own right. Here I'll be taking a look at the latter, the younger of this trio. As the acrobat of the group he often can be found doing hair raising physical feats alongside Sammo (Eastern Condors, Millionaires Express) Jackie (The Young Master) or even both (Project A, Dragons Forever) which are all worth seeing as genre classics in their own right. But for now I'll try and stick to those where he gets to show his stuff and have top billing.


Review Roundup - Third World RoboCop

CHAPPIE (2015)

In what seems to be a knee jerk backwards step after receiving criticism for the heavy handed social commentary in Elysium, Neill Blomkamp has apparently decided to avoid any serious attempt at moral messages and create a straight up schlock fest, with cartoonish figures fighting with and against the title character, which is itself a blue and orange robo-child. There are a handful of minor references to religion versus science and a couple of lines about machines having souls, but these are so fleeting that it might have been better to cut them out entirely. But I have a hard time disliking the guy even if the promise shown in District 9 seems like a long time ago. This remains someone that thinks in terms of 'what if illegal aliens were aliens' and 'what if the rich-poor divide as visible from spaaace' while throwing in the best of Weta Digital. The action spectacle and production design work is pretty stellar as usual and while I have a lot of complaints this is still an entertaining film. But to get into those issues will take me some explaining, so let's get to it.



Review Roundup - Fuel my fire

A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014)

Writer and director J.C. Chandor returns with another attention grabbing project, and with that title it would be impossible to ignore even without remembering the power of his last movie All Is Lost. Taking on moral quandaries and shady business deals rather than one man against the sea; this time things still lend themselves to the story of a single character struggling against forces that seem to be slipping out of his control rather quickly. The premise avoids going directly into that world of 70s and 80s organised crime which has been played out so many times before but still retains many of those elements, and manages to create an atmosphere reminiscent of those older releases through the use of sound and colour to enhance the period setting. It also helps that the cast is great, but does the rest hold up as a thriller or is it less than the sum of these parts?


SUMMER SEQUEL-A-THON

PART 2: THE FIRST TIME WAS ONLY A WARNING

So moving on from features which go in new and humorous directions with the follow up story, it's time to take a look at those inevitable sequels - ones which follow popular or acclaimed releases. With so many book franchises lined up it should be easy not to screw things up that much, right? After all a cash grab rehash is a rare occurance... yeah. Sarcasm and cynicism aside, the lineup we have here doesn't ever get too ridiculous although the results do vary wildly at times. It's interesting that they all use that old trick of delaying the story for a few years to go off on new tangents and recast certain characters. Some might actually be good, which is just a crazy idea. Let's take a look...


Short Film Safari - BARTKIRA

Scorecard

JULY

Life Itself ☆☆☆☆
Mission: Impossible ☆☆☆☆
Avenging Eagle ☆☆☆☆
Evil Dead II ☆☆☆☆
F for Fake ☆☆☆☆
Pom Poko ☆☆☆☆
The Apartment ☆☆☆☆
The Bridge on the River Kwai ☆☆☆☆
The Exorcist III ☆☆☆☆
The Phantom of the Paradise ☆☆☆☆
First Blood ☆☆☆☆
The Raid 2 ☆☆☆☆
The Right Stuff ☆☆☆☆

Horror Roundup - Weekend with Argento

THE ANIMAL TRILOGY

So called because of the titles, Dario Argento's first three giallo movies lack the signature music from Goblin and Claudio Simonetti and rarely venture into the crazy visual flourishes he would become known for with Deep Red and Suspiria. They sit firmly withing the murder mystery genre without venturing into the supernatural, stories about extra sensory perception or anything with eye popping set design. Which is kind of a shame, and while glimpses of style and imaginative moments are found sprinkled all over the place things never quite come into their own. However it's still worth considering each on their own merits, so let's take a look.


SUMMER SEQUEL-A-THON 2015

PART ONE: WHO'S LAUGHING NOW?
 
Following up a popular film for one reason or another is a process that can often have mixed results, as this little movie marathon shows. It's to be expected a lot of the time with horror and schlock that another movie will end up being a let down - that spike in quality on part two which leads to the third entry dropping the ball doesn't happen that often when things are not planned out. While we touched on this before in the last b-movie excursion, that was generally made up of one-offs and stories that don't have the loose ends to ever receive a part two. Others were just too strange to need one... But that doesn't always stop sequels arriving, so let's get right into some of those which just couldn't be left alone.

Short Film Safari - Fresh Guacamole

Scorecard

JUNE


Big Hero 6 ☆☆☆☆
Bronson ☆☆☆☆
Jurassic Park ☆☆☆☆
Magnificent Butcher ☆☆☆☆
Duel ☆☆☆☆
Guardians of the Galaxy ☆☆☆☆
Touch of Evil ☆☆☆☆
Prodigal Son (1981) ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Hard target

AMERICAN SNIPER (2014)

Once upon a time I had a thing for war movies that has been long forgotten, with the likes of Saving Private Ryan, Enemy at the Gates or Black Hawk Down fading in my memory. Even if some of all those desaturated late 90s and early 00s pictures still have merits to discuss, I guess that kind of thing represents a long forgotten phase where the content that mattered to me at the time differed from what I am interested in today. But every so often something comes along that I want to check out, in this case a new feature directed by the man himself Clint Eastwood; someone with a strong career behind the camera - particularly with recent releases. And while my interest in the subject matter at hand may have waned, he had certainly made a great double feature with the two Iwo Jima stories back in 2006. But unfortunately his latest just doesn't satisfy me in the same way as that Second World War diptych, and it's unable offer the same kind of character conflict or depth.


Review Roundup - Battle fatigue

THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (2014)

So here we are once again, staring into the abyss. While the first Hobbit adventure had a lot of problems, the second chapter in this series is what all but killed my enthusiasm to watch the finale. I suppose in a way closure was required even if there was an increasing sense that the origins of this two part story had started to show some time ago, and the limits of what could be added to the proceedings to increase the running time were almost at breaking point. A battle taking centre stage was the first warning sign it had nearly ran out of steam, but giving things the benefit of the doubt is a problem I often have. There was still time to write some characterisation, right? Surely they could pull themselves together and give the trilogy a send off worthy of the legacy set by the brand names involved. But this is an almost completely problematic film in the trilogy, and I use the word film quite loosely here.


Review Roundup - Flight of fancy

BIRDMAN (2014)

Gimmicks get old real fast, so the whole 'single take' thing didn't strike me as something particularly interesting (or unique - see Rope and other films). Still, I gave this a shot because of the rest of the pieces in place. Especially having Michael Keaton in the cast as a lead to do something interesting, because let's be honest after working on the Robocop remake he needed it. When's the last time he got a lead role like this? Voice work for Porco Rosso? (Though actually it's a pretty good dub) Thankfully the film on the whole goes beyond camera tricks and visual effects to provide something which is engaging and dramatic throughout - it's much more than a one trick pony. Beyond the silly title and the idea of an actor playing on his own career as a past superhero, there's a lot more to get invested in with a story about ambition, mental anguish and backstage drama.


Scorecard

MAY 

Mad Max: Fury Road ☆☆☆☆
Submarine ☆☆☆☆
Play Time ☆☆☆☆
Birdman ☆☆☆☆
Punch Drunk Love ☆☆☆☆
Shaun the Sheep ☆☆☆☆
The Double ☆☆☆☆
Throne of Blood ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Roman ruin

POMPEII (2014)

Mixing up the disaster movie genre with some classic swords and sandals action and adventure shouldn't be something that is difficult to get wrong, but Paul W.S. Anderson doesn't exactly have a lot of flair for genre movies outside the guilty pleasure that is Even Horizon. Giving him a little benefit of the doubt for what seemed to be an easy opportunity for some schlock and spectacle didn't bear much fruit unfortunately, in a movie chock full of passable effects sequences, half baked clichés and acting that ranges for complete ham to complete rubbish. The bits that work are entertaining enough and when things are moving at a fair pace it's easy enough to watch, but there is a whole lot of dead weight dragging it down well before the suffocating ash buries the principle cast.

Review Roundup - Burning chrome

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

It's always a worry to see a director returning to their roots after so much time, whether the results are something passable like Drag Me To Hell, or embarrassing let downs like Land of the Dead or Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. People change over time, their attitudes change and as storytellers they mature - for better or worse. It can also be a problem trying to recapture the old magic if their reasons for going back are simply a lack of imagination during a time when they have more of a budget and less pressure. In the case of Mad Max this really shouldn't work, even without considering the third installment didn't turn out to be very good, George Miller has spent a long time in the decades since making family entertainment. But in the case of Fury Road all those years away from action cinema have actually worked out to be a blessing with a film that is brimming with detail, in both the world building and the action sequences.


Scorecard

APRIL

Blue Ruin ☆☆☆☆
Locke ☆☆☆☆
Mean Streets ☆☆☆☆
Miller's Crossing ☆☆☆☆
Django Unchained ☆☆☆☆
Cop Land ☆☆☆☆
The Wrestler ☆☆☆☆
Calvary ☆☆☆☆
Interstellar ☆☆☆☆
The Aviator ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Voyager

INTERSTELLAR (2014)

A long time ago I picked up a film called Memento on a whim, through some vaguely remembered word of mouth perhaps or a glimpse of it in a glossy mag somewhere. It had three discs so it must be good right? I still remember what a big surprise it was, and it remains my personal favourite in what is now Christopher Nolan's back catalogue of movies (although I would say The Prestige is his best work). What's striking about these projects is how they always remain a little surprising, mixing human drama with magic, neurological conditions and comic heroes. My initial worry was that the excess of The Dark Knight Rises in terms of lengthy and unfocused plotting signaled a turning point for what was a very good run for the director, with a film that contained greatness but was not excellent overall. Things seemed like a step down from its predecessor and too many little problems cropped up - even if I didn't mind the sound mix. On top of that there was all the noise from mixed reactions after the release of his space adventure story. Thankfully this one has far more going for it in terms of what works, and delivers a high caliber science fiction movie in spite of some minor flaws along the way.


Review Roundup - Trip to the moon

EUROPA REPORT (2013)

Recent years have provided some great sci-fi releases like Moon, but have also seen far too many found footage movies in a baffling ongoing life span for a genre in need of retirement. Does it really need to continue outside of ultra low cost horror? Well the answer is no of course. But with Europa Report I was interested to see what seemed to be a relatively grounded approach to telling a story about astronauts. The idea seems simple enough with a plot about finding life on Europa, the ice covered moon of Jupiter which may hold a potential for water based organisms. But the story telling devices and overall feel of that fly on the wall approach are always a threat to effective drama and well shot sequences, and unfortunately this is a film that is in real need of an alternative narrative style.


Review Roundup - Sympathy for mister vengeance

BLUE RUIN (2013)

Revenge on the screen is as usual a dish best served cold, but in the case of Blue Ruin it's even more bitter than usual. The film tells the story of a man apparently living just for vengeance, as the protagonist Dwight first appears on screen with a full beard, having given up on the world to eat from the trash and live out of a blue car which both represents the name of the film but also appears to be symbolic of his own mental state - rusted and full of holes but ready to be refueled for action at the right time. This time soon comes along when the man who killed his parents is given an early release from prison. There are no real heroics here, no delusions of grandeur. This is a movie where the premise has been stripped of all that so that the moral bleakness of the events can take place without any kind of righteous ideals; it's an intense and dark experience.


Review Roundup - Night drive

LOCKE (2013)

One man shows are always an interesting idea, and seeing them come together well is a satisfying experience. Much like All Is Lost, this is a story of one man's struggle - although while his emotional state is often at the center of the story, what he is up against is very different. Rather than facing the elements and fighting against unfavorable odds this is more about a moral battle and an internal conflict. Tom Hardy pulls this off in a plot about employment and marital problems, one that has multiple conversations about pouring cement and hiring building site workers. But in spite of this and along with the fact it's all set inside of a car on the road at night with little in terms of visual variety, it works as a very engaging and dramatic piece of film.


Scorecard

MARCH

Day of the Dead ☆☆☆☆
Dr Terror's House of Horrors ☆☆☆☆
An American Werewolf in London ☆☆☆☆
Nightcrawler ☆☆☆☆
Rocketeer ☆☆☆☆
The Naked Gun ☆☆☆☆
The Royal Tenenbaums ☆☆☆☆
Theatre of Blood ☆☆☆☆
Willow ☆☆☆☆
Twilight Samurai ☆☆☆☆
Lilo & Stitch ☆☆☆☆
Fantastic Planet ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Masks and monsters

YOU'RE NEXT (2011)

Just I recently came across blog that offered an idea that I found particularly interesting, that John Carpenter was becoming someone of influence to new horror directors. Now as a fan of a lot of his films, in particular those with horror and science fiction elements this was a nice prospect. The release of his recent Lost Themes album, a project that showed some of his musical compositions that were never used on film struck a chord with me too, and as a film maker any kind of resurgence was something to look forward to. So with You're Next I was excited to see those influences being to materialise in a slasher plot with certain moments that were very Haddonfield, 1978. Even if the rest of the film will need some further examination.

Review Roundup - Satanic panic

HOUSE OF THE DEVIL (2009)

I often complain about the stylistic choices of films which intend to conjure up certain period visuals. A story set in the 1970s or the 80s will usually have a few bad hairdos and maybe attempt to thrown in some questionable tastes in fashion, but will fail to use the right kind of colours and visuals to really nail that illusion. Once in a while you get something that really fits though, and Ti West's atmospheric horror picture has a lot of that from the washed out look of things to the intro credits. It really adds to the tone, which is important for a plot of this kind where the homage ideas are clearly on show. But while the setup is excellent things take a few wrong turns towards the end, which I will get into.

Review Roundup - Nocturnal activity

NIGHTCRAWLER (2014)

There are some movies out there which are pretty twisted and dark but they still manage to make you root for the main characters at some point or another despite their lack of redeeming features. Nightcrawler is a lot like that. Comparisons to films like American Psycho may be a little unwarranted but it is something that crossed my mind during this, and it does have that uneasy feeling at times where you're following behind someone who is slowly going over the edge. While it rarely ventures into what could be considered black comedy, the way things play out as an off kilter version of the typical underdog story against the backdrop of morally lacking TV news does have that vibe about it. But it runs with that stock premise to deliver something a little different - and the central hero being so enigmatic and sinister is what brings this all together.

Scorecard

FEBRUARY

Robocop ☆☆☆☆☆
Star Trek IV ☆☆☆☆
Star Trek VI ☆☆☆☆
Deep Red ☆☆☆☆
Poltergeist ☆☆☆☆
Tenebrae ☆☆☆☆
Horror Express ☆☆☆☆

Short Film Safari - The Reward


WINTER B-FEST 2015

Part 3 - It came from the 80s



Well it's the last part of this little horror show so we might as well go off the rails completely. Where better to start. Part corporate marketing satire, part The Blob, you just can't get enough of The Stuff. After a mining crew find a mystery substance coming up from the ground and uh decide to taste it... (yeah) a new mystery product appears on the shelves, one that is outselling ice cream even if nobody knows the secret. Well it has no artificial ingredients, they are least being honest about that part. But as it turns out the contents are a little more alive than pro-biotic yoghurt as people start turning into addicts, and later worse than that. The plot is all over the place and the acting varies from bad to acceptable ham levels, as an ex-FBI agent, and an advertising exec race to do something about the popularity of the treat. The effects are fun for what they are in a bloodless but still grotesque feature, but the pacing kills it in the third act when it rushes to a conclusion. That being said it's hardly forgettable like many of these other viewings.

WINTER B-FEST 2015

Part Two: It came from Italy


So... Zombi 2 is not a sequel. They just wanted to market it as a follow up to Dawn of the Dead in Italy where it was titled Zombi. Which still makes me laugh, it's such a cheap move. As far as its video nasty status goes this is by no means as bad as it's reputation when it comes to the violence. You get the usual biting and flesh eating stuff and obviously the infamous splinter in the eye sequence. While certainly hair raising it's hardly realistic looking so I don't see what the problem is. I guess it's just a product of being desensitized in the modern era, but even by the standards of 70s and 80s horror it's not that excessive. The movie itself has a certain amount of atmosphere and like a lot of these Italian horror releases there is a nice electronic score. The slow pacing early on mostly works even of they do have the ridiculous shark vs zombie scene. It offers creepy shock value only, and has zero social commentary. But what you get works unlike some of the other viewings here.

Review Roundup - Dark shadows

THE BABADOOK (2014)

In an interesting take on the psychological horror genre, Jennifer Kent's monster under the bed story certainly offers a lot of food for thought in terms of looking at grief and loss. Though this is billed as a creature feature right down to the black and white poster art mimicking the titular story book at the centre of its plot, it has to be said that those elements are the least interesting ones. While it's true that there are stand out sequences showing the book itself with all its hand made artwork and disturbing pop-up sections, approaching this as a horror film in the usual sense is probably ill advised. There is a lot more going on here and while the idea this being scary is meant to be a focus, it conflicts with the themes at its core that offer more depth. How much of this all works in the way things play out is up for consideration.


WINTER B-FEST 2015

Part One: It came from Outer Space

It's cold out there. The last few weeks of winter seem to last forever and the overcast skies bring a grey and miserable feeling to an already dull post holiday period. Icy showers have been hitting my window for a while now with little signs of respite. So what is to be done, maybe some feel good adventure films and family rated stories about heroic action? Well it is a nice idea. But the only sane choice is to get through a series of films about monsters, aliens and serial killers.


Getting things off to a suitable start we come to Lifeforce. The original story was titled The Space Vampires which explains everything you need to know about this plot. Along with elements from Dracula, it has the feel of a Hammer picture, something from the Quatermass series perhaps with a London setting and a number of British cast members - including a brief appearance from Patrick Stewart. The central duo are US astronaut Steve Railsbeck (Dwayne Barry from the X-Files) who teams up with an SAS Colonel played by Peter Firth. They attempt to stop everyone in London from being turned into grisly emaciated zombies that steal energy from the living, after mysterious human looking creatures are brought back from space mission to a comet. The story plays out with a pretty standard b-movie feeling but does have some fancy visuals courtesy of John Dykstra and a score by Henry Mancini which will seem strangely familiar to X-Men 2 fans. Both feel above what it deserves, but production values elevating the material is something that does happen several times in this little marathon.

Review Roundup - Some assembly required

EARTH TO ECHO (2014)

There's a certain sinking feeling that I get after looking into a film synopsis or hearing about a title through word of mouth, and realising that I didn't pick up on the fact that it's a found footage movie. As a genre I consider it to be pretty superfluous, since it takes away from what might have been some nicely constructed shots and detracts from the overall look of any film most of the time. The gimmick wore out its welcome a long time ago with Cloverfield and lives on through cheap horror features for some reason, I assume because of some misconceived attempt at "realism" or simply as a way to market lower budget films. Strangely it also crops up in stories outside of horror like Chronicle - which I managed to enjoy quite a bit but was constantly reminded of what things could have been without the distracting camcorder footage or the need to think of who is filming what throughout. Like that this is a sci-fi adventure which overcomes the shortfalls of the style and delivers an enjoyable "E.T. lite" story. If only they'd have dropped the gimmicks since there are many elements that work far better.



Scorecard

JANUARY

Ghostbusters ☆☆☆☆
Suspiria ☆☆☆☆
The Fly (1986) ☆☆☆☆
Captain America: The Winter Soldier ☆☆☆☆
Inglourious Basterds ☆☆☆☆
Dragons Forever ☆☆☆☆
Eastern Condors ☆☆☆☆

Review Roundup - Booze, Broads and Boredom

SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR (2014)

Back in 2005 it was a strange thing to see the first adaptation of Frank Miller's fantasy noir series hit the screen. Along with Batman Begins it fed into what would become a new trend for both grittier comic book films and those adaptations which took far less liberty with the source material. With its bizarre white on black blood effects and the use of far less than realistic physics, Sin City was a fresh experience even if its separate components were all derivative and the look of everything was one step along from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. In spite of the clichéd hard boiled detective elements; the ninja cannibals and mutated killers were so out there that it balanced out those stock femme fatales and crooked politicians. In the meantime 9 years have passed - the term "Nolanised" has entered film debate as a pro and con, and people are tired of visual effects that use so much green screen. Robert Rodriguez has become the person that is responsible for two badly executed Machete films instead of what should have been a logical result of his friendship with Quentin Tarantino. So while I would have liked to see this turn things around it's no surprise that nothing feels right even if on the surface everything looks the same.


Review Roundup - Break Down

THE ROVER (2014)

Looking back at the retrospective we did of George Miller's work on the Mad Max series a few months ago, it's easy to spot some of the superficial similarities with those releases and this one - after all lone cars roaming a wasteland evoke a very obvious comparison. However this is a story that immediately diverts from that tone and style, and is anything but an action film. This is an all together more sobering experience devoid of cartoon characters and wacky outfits. But its strengths do lie with the characters for other reasons since they offer the most real meat in the story, one that may not entirely work as a revenge plot or a straight up drama. But those stronger elements are something to be considered.


Weekend Retrospective - OUTATIME

BACK TO THE FUTURE - PARTS 2 AND 3

It's 2015, Happy New Year. For those floating through a half asleep, vaguely hung over cyberspace existence this week you may have noticed online that this is the year which Doc Brown and Marty visit when they travel to the future in the first sequel to Robert Zemeckis's sci-fi comedy. This is a few months early in terms of that story if you want to nitpick, but there has already been an overload of images relating to incredibly bad '80s versions of future fashion as well as of course the long awaited (but nowhere in sight as yet) hover board from Mattel. Nowhere has gaudy pink plastic been in such demand. But the question has to be are these really great movies or is all the nostalgia overshadowing things a little? The original outing remains a genuine classic thanks to snappy writing, fun characters and that Alan Silvestri soundtrack. It has a special feel to it - something that was a fresh idea in the right hands. But having seen the others less frequently over the years I needed to step back a little, and re-examine how much of the other two entries in this trilogy really hold up.



As the numerals of Part II flash across the screen things immediately come off as slightly awkward. Right out of the gate we have elements that feel out of place - Jennifer being sent to sleep because the writers couldn't think of giving her anything to do, and the neutered car waxing Biff seeing the time machine and talking to himself because they couldn't think of anything new. While it's perfectly fine to think his old self was never completely straightened out, it's an odd thing to have him in such a central role. School muscle head becomes central villain? I get that he was the antagonist but a recurring bad streak so wide is just lazy, and having the guy become so evil instead of growing up is odd. Anyway into the future - and more strange plot decisions. What comes along isn't the adventure the original ending might have promised.

Most will agree that the forced character element of Marty becoming a guy who can't back out of being considered a coward is the worst part here. He was a forward upbeat kind of guy, a musical front man remember? Caring about being called 'yellow' never works and is clearly the result of an imaginative dead end. Just think of what a great spectacle they could have created if the whole movie was in the future with flying cars and wacky outfits. The chase here is fun but they spend too much time in the town square set from Gremlins. The morality lesson about misusing future sports results is depressingly uninspired and remains a missed opportunity. The clever parts about the original, how it played with Marty's expectations with his parents, and the great fish out of water comedy is dropped, which is a shame. Maybe they had more ideas planned with George before Crispin Glover quit, it's not clear. It's never unwatchable and has some fun beats but it's far from great, and by the time they get to the 1950s again it starts to become a setup for a gag they didn't need to go with in the first place.



Taken on it's own, this isn't great, so luckily the third installment is a far better despite never reaching any great heights. It works as a build up at least for some moments. The jumping back and forth is lost in favour of a stronger character based plot about escaping the Wild West, and though some issues remain due to it having to close off loose ends from part two, it's a fresher and simpler experience. One time period and less characters work for it. Some of the charm factor even begins to creep back in, especially when the story changes focus to share time with the Doc and his self professed 'great unknown' outside science - women. Jokes that depend of watching Part II before hand might even work, just a little. And besides all of this the visuals are a welcome change with the finale having some genuine hair raising moments, even if they never get close to that original clock tower ending. It still exists as a sequel nobody had any intention of making from the start, which shows; but in some ways they round off the ending in a way that fits even if that flying train rides the line between cool and really goofy. In a way I guess that sums up a lot of this. Remember, the future is what you make of it - so no lacklustre remakes please.