Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Ritual

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  David Bruckner
Screenplay:  Joe Barton, based on the novel The Ritual by Adam Nevill
Starring:  Rafe Spall, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali, Sam Troughton
Running Time:  94 minutes
Genre:  Horror

Five middle-aged friends, Luke (Spall), Hutch (James-Collier), Phil (Ali), Dom (Troughton) and Rob (Paul Reid), meet up in a London pub to plan a guy's holiday.  Immediately afterwards Rob is killed in a liquor store robbery.  Six months later, the other four friends are on a hiking holiday in Sweden, partly as a tribute to Rob.  However, the group are unprepared and inexperienced with wilderness survival.  As tempers fray, the weather takes a turn for the worse and one of the group suffers a twisted ankle.  The guys decide that, instead of continuing with their planned two day hike, they will take a shortcut through a thick, dark forest.  Now, anyone who has ever seen a horror film knows that this is a big mistake.  The men soon realise their mistake when they get hopelessly lost and discover a freshly killed animal carcass suspended in the trees, and strange runic markings carved into the tree trunks.  Spending the night in a run-down cabin in the forest makes the bad situation a whole lot worse.

Based on a successful novel from British horror author Adam Nevill, this film never really works, mainly because the four central characters are all pretty unlikeable.  There isn't much backstory given to them, and they spend most of their time bickering and trading apparently jokey insults at each other, but it is hard to see how they became friends in the first place, because most of the time they don't even seem to like each other.  It does have something to say about how men find it so difficult to open up about their problems and anxieties even among their closest friends, and also how male friendship often works, with an apparent superficial, light and sometimes almost cruel surface, but with a lot of deeper undercurrents hidden beneath it all.  It also deals with the very real but inevitable horror of simply getting older.  It's worth pointing out that this is almost an entirely male film, the only women on screen appear very briefly towards the end.  After a brutal pre-credits robbery sequence, the film moves into a quieter tone of a Blair Witch-style lost in the woods film, until kicking into high gear for the climax.  The thing that stalks the group is mostly hidden, you hear it's roars and see the trees shaking, alongside the occasional dismembered corpses of it's victims strung up in the trees, with occasional half-seen glimpses of a large creature, until it's revealed in all it's CGI glory towards the end.  The climax feels kind of rushed.  It's not a very scary film, and it is kind of frustrating because despite some good sequences and ideas, the whole just didn't really work for me, and it felt like it should have been so much better.

From left to right:  Robert James-Collier, Rafe Spall, Asher Ali and Sam Troughton             

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

"Sleeping Beauties" by Stephen King and Owen King

Year of Publication:  2017
Number of Pages:  715
Genre:  Horror, fantasy

One day all the women in the world start to fall asleep as normal, but they do not wake up.  Instead, as soon as they fall asleep they grow a web-like cocoon , and react with mindless, murderous violence if the webbing is cut or broken.  In the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, a strange woman appears who has superhuman powers of strength and healing, has knowledge about people that she could not possibly possess and, most of all, can sleep and wake as normal.  As a rapidly decreasing number of women stay awake to combat "Aurora" (as the mysterious syndrome is called), men face up to a world without women.  Meanwhile, the women wake up to a strange world, entirely without men.  Can the women find their way back?  More to the point, do they want to?

This is a pretty gripping novel, it focuses mainly on the small town of Dooling, and the women's prison in the town.  It comes from a simple, but quite fascinating premise:  How would men be in a  world without women?  And what would a world without men be like?  It's a timely novel, which does not shy away from contemporary resonance (some books wear there politics on their sleeves, this one pretty much has it on the front of it's tee-shirt).  However while it is thought-provoking, it also succeeds in being fun.  despite it's length it keeps you reading.  It's dark, funny and suspenseful with a range of interesting and mostly likeable, although there are a fair few straight-forward villains.  Of course, Stephen King is the most popular writer of our time, and here he teams up with his son, Owen, although the novel's voice is pretty consistent, and reads throughout like a Stephen King novel - however I have never read any of Owen King's other works, and so I do not know what his style is.  Some of the storylines in the book are unsatisfying, and there are a few plotlines that seem to be building up early and are then abandoned.  However, this is a good book and well worth your time.


Sunday, 8 October 2017

Blade Runner 2049

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay:  Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, from a story by Hampton Fancher, based on characters from the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Starring:  Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas, Sylvia Hoeks, Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Carla Juri, Lennie James, Dave Bautista, Jared Leto
Running Time:  163 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction

This is the long-awaited sequel to Blade Runner (1982), one of the most influential science-fiction movies of all time.  The film is set in 2049, where a series of environmental disasters have made the use of biologically engineered artificial humans known as "replicants" a necessity for humanity's survival.  However some of the older model replicants have not integrated and they are hunted down and executed (or "retired") by police "Blade Runner" units.  The film focuses on K. (Gosling), a Blade Runner, and I won't say anything else because it would be something of a spoiler.

This is possibly one of the most visually stunning films that I have ever seen.  It is absolutely beautiful, moving from neon-drenched cityscapes to desolate, grey wasteland, to burnished orange deserts, all swathed in mist, dust, rain and snow.  However, as with the original film, this is a demanding watch, because it is very slow, and long.  It moves at it's own rhythm, and if you can go along with that and surrender yourself to it's spell then it really works.  As with the original the characters tend to get washed out in the visuals.  Ryan Gosling plays his lead role in a similar manner to his role in Drive (2011), Ana de Armas gives the film some much needed heart as Gosling's hologram girlfriend, and it is worth pointing out that, while Harrison Ford does reprise his role from the first film, he does not appear until very late in this film and has little more than an extended cameo.  In fact, Harrison Ford's appearance is something of a spoiler, but he is featured very heavily on the poster and all the publicity for the film.
In many ways, I prefer this to the original, the storyline is intriguing, with an interesting central mystery, and it still tackles the Big Issues about the nature of humanity.  While the length and pace might put off some viewers, I think that this film will find it's audience sooner or later, and there are images and scenes that I think will become iconic in the future.   
See this film, and see it on the biggest screen possible. This is dark, beautiful and intelligent science-fiction.


Ana de Armas and Ryan Gosling in Blade Runner 2049       

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Simon Curtis
Screenplay:  Frank Cottrell-Boyce and Simon Vaughan
Starring:  Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly Macdonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther, Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Running Time:  107 minutes
Genre:  Period drama, biopic

Playwright AA Milne (Gleeson), traumatised by his experiences in the First World War, has difficulty relating to his socialite wife Daphne (Robbie) and his young son Christopher Robin (Tilston as a child, Lawther as an adult).  He also has trouble restarting his writing career.  Moving to a rural area in southern England with his family and Christopher Robin's nanny (Macdonald).  Milne becomes inspired by his son playing with his stuffed toys and starts writing the "Winnie-the Pooh" stories.  However the success of the books comes at terrible personal costs for Milne and Christopher Robin.

This film about the creation of the beloved "Winnie-the-Pooh" stories is not such a sickly-sweet confection as it might have been, and as it might look from some of the advertising.  This is actually quite dark, AA Milne suffers from severe post traumatic stress disorder, he and his wife cannot really relate to Christopher Robin (it's hinted that Daphne didn't really want a child, but thought that a baby might cheer up her husband) and it is really his nanny that raises the child (although I think, at the time, that was fairly standard for families of the Milne's wealth and social status).  Most of all, Christopher Robin really suffers from the immense fame that the huge success of the "Winnie-the Pooh" stories conferred upon him.  However, this is a very beautiful film, full of summer meadows and dappled sunlight shining through trees, and does manage to capture some of the magic of Milne's work.  The performances are good from all concerned, with Will Tilston in particular affecting as the young Christopher Robin.  In the end, the film becomes incredibly moving.


Domhnall Gleeson and Will Tilston in Goodbye Christopher Robin     

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Flatliners

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Niels Arden Oplev
Screenplay:  Ben Ripley, based on Flatliners written by Peter Filardi
Starring:  Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Nina Dobrev, James Norton, Kiersey Clemons, Kiefer Sutherland
Running Time:  110 minutes
Genre:  Horror

Medical student Courtney Holmes (Page) convinces her reluctant friends to take part in an experiment during which she will be clinically dead before they resuscitate her, so that she can learn first hand what happens after death.  After the experiment Courtney finds herself with a new lease on life and astonishing powers of memory.  After seeing the effects, Courtney's friends all want to undergo the experience.  However, it soon turns out that flatlining has some much darker side effects, as the students begin to be haunted by bizarre and disturbing visions.

Although referred to as a sequel to the 1990 film Flatliners, this 2017 film is really a remake.  Keifer Sutherland, who starred in the original, does appear in this, although as a different character.  This is a fun film, with a good cast.  Despite being a horror film, it's really not scary at all, and suffers from being too long.  The characters aren't particularly explored and are more or less cliched.  It also suffers from having too pat a conclusion.  There is plenty of humour, the characters manage to rise above the material, and it is exciting, and the flatlining sequences are well executed.
I can't really say how fans of the original Flatliners will take to the remake, because I've not seen the original in years, and can't remember much about it. 

Ellen Page in Flatliners

Friday, 29 September 2017

"The City & The City" by China Mieville

Year of Publication: 2009
Number of Pages: 373
Genre: Fantasy, crime, detective

The city is Beszel and the city is Ul Qoma, two cities in two different countries, but each occupying the same geographic space. The cities are built in and around each other, however anyone in one city (resident or visitor) is forbidden to take any notice of anyone or anything in the other city. Any failure to do so incurs the wrath of the mysterious and all-powerful "Breach". When the body of a murdered student is found in Beszel, it seems like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad, but the investigation proves more complex and dangerous than Borlu could have imagined, leading him from one city to another and to the even more mysterious places in between.

This 2009 novel from British author China Mieville works as a complex and intriguing fantasy tale in a well-realised world, the rules by which the two cities exist together and function are well worked out and believable, but this also works as an exciting detective novel, and it delivers anything you might want from a crime novel. A gruesome murder, investigation, no shortage of suspects, action, chases, and a likeable and troubled protagonist. It also makes a point about how people deliberately ignore the more troubling aspects of where they live.



Sunday, 24 September 2017

Desperado

Year of Release:  1995
Director:  Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay:  Robert Rodriguez
Starring:  Antonio Banderas, Joaquim de Almeida, Salma Hayek, Steve Buscemi, Cheech Marin, Quentin Tarantino
Running Time:  105 minutes
Genre:  Action

This film is a sequel to Robert Rodriguez ultra-low-budget debut El Mariachi (1992), but is also kind of a remake with a much bigger budget, because, although it follows directly on from El Mariachi, and events from that film are referenced, it follows the plot of the first very closely, and several set-pieces form the original are recreated on a much grander scale.  The unnamed Mariachi (Bandreas, replacing Carlos Gallardo from the first film) is seeking revenge on crime boss, Bucho (de Almeida), for the death of his one true love.  With the help of his American pal (Buscemi), the Mariachi wanders from town to town with a guitar case full of guns pursuing Bucho.

Full of stylish action and violence, which is graphic enough to be appealing to action fans, but not too graphic to be too disturbing.  Antonio Banderas makes for a great action hero, and Salma Hayek, who made her breakthrough performance with this film, is good as the bookstore owner who helps the Mariachi.  There is also a fun cameo from Quentin Tarantino.  This is the kind of movie that is just a fun action packed romp.        


Salma Hayek and Antonio Banderas in Desperado