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

El Mariachi

Year of Release:  1992
Director:  Robert Rodriguez
Screenplay:  Robert Rodriguez
Starring:  Carlos Gallardo, Consuelo Gomez, Peter Marquardt, Reinol Martinez
Running Time:  82 minutes
Genre:  Action  

This 1992 movie is the debut film from writer/director Robert Rodriguez.  An unnamed musician (Gallardo) travels from town to town with his guitar to pursue his dream of becoming a mariachi like his father and grandfather.  Arriving in a small town, the Mariachi is mistaken for a criminal, Azul (Martinez), who has broken out of jail and is being hunted by the local crime boss, Moco (Marquardt).  Like the Mariachi, Azul dresses in black and carries a guitar case, only Azul's is full of guns.

Reputedly produced for a budget of only $7000, which Rodriguez raised mainly by taking part in medical tests, this is funnier and more exciting than many bigger and more expensive action films.  Carlos Gallardo is winning as the Mariachi, and Consuelo Gomez is affecting as the bar owner who he falls in love with.  Some of the acting can be politely described as  overly enthusiastic, the low budget is obvious in many scenes, and also there are several scenes that seem to be there just to pad out the run time, but by and large this is a fun, stylish movie, with well choreographed action.  It was followed by two sequels:  Desperado (1995) and Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003).      

By the way, Robert Rodriguez's book on the making of the film, Rebel Without a Crew (1995), is worth tracking down for anyone interested in low-budget film-making.

Carlos Gallardo is El Mariachi

Performance

Year of Release:  1970
Director:  Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg
Screenplay:  Donald Cammell
Starring: James Fox, Mick Jagger, Anita Pallenberg, Michele Breton
Running Time:  105 minutes
Genre:  Crime, drama, fantasy   

This film was produced in 1968 but not released until 1970.  In London, Chas Devlin (Fox) is a brutal gangland enforcer, who genuinely enjoys his work.  When he disobeys direct orders from his boss and kills a rival for personal, rather than business reasons, Devlin becomes targeted by his own gang.  He decides to hide out in the vast mansion of reclusive rock star, Turner (Jagger), who lives with Pherber (Pallenberg) and Lucy (Breton).  In Turner's surreal, erotic, decadent world of drugs, sex and mysticism, Devlin finds the boundaries of reality and fantasy collapsing.

This is a film that, if you see it once, you will never forget it.  It's very much a film of two halves.  The first half is, in terms of plot, a great if conventional gangster film (in terms of style and technique it is a million miles away from an ordinary gangster film), and in the second it becomes a surreal fantasy of sex, drugs and identity.  It utilises a fragmented, stream of conscience style, using almost every cinematic trick in the book.  James Fox is perfect as Chas Devlin, someone who is, in British criminal slang, a "performer" (a gangster with a special talent for violence and intimidation), he frequently tells people "I know who I am", he lives in a pristine apartment, and is always immaculately groomed and dressed in sharp suits, and is always in control.  Mick Jagger's Turner is another type of performer, a rock star who has retired because, as he says "I lost my demon".  Devlin, a man who needs to be in control, suddenly finds himself, in Turner's house, in a situation where he has no control, where all the old rules just don't apply.  Very much a product of it's time, and full of references to Jorge Luis Borges and William Burroughs, this is still genuinely shocking and disturbing.

Mick Jagger in Performance

White Heat

Year of Release:  1949
Director:  Raoul Walsh
Screenplay:  Ivan Goff and Ben Robert, based on the story White Heat by Virginia Kellogg
Starring:  James Cagney, Virginia Mayo, Edmond O'Brien, Margaret Wycherly, Steve Cochrane,
Running Time:  113 minutes
Genre:  Crime, thriller, film noir  

This is one of the quintessential Hollywood gangster movies.  Tracing the violent life of psychotic robber Cody Jarrett (Cagney) who despite being married to Verna (Mayo),  has a deeply unhealthy bond with his equally ruthless mother (Wycherly) who is the only person that he seems to have any real feelings for.

This is an exciting, influential film and is widely regarded as one of the best films ever made.  It has aged well, and the almost documentary style film-making is still in evidence today.  The ending of the film has become one of the iconic scenes in movie history, and the prison cafeteria sequence is startling.  James Cagney turns in a gripping performance as the savage, but strangely sympathetic Jarrett, and Virginia Mayo is impressive as Verna, who Jarrett cruelly ignores, but has her own capacity for extreme ruthlessness.   Edmond O'Brien makes less of an impression, however, as the square-jawed hero.  This is a must see for thriller fans.

James Cagney in White Heat

Saturday, 23 September 2017

"I Am Behind You" by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Year of Publication:  2014
Number of Pages:  405
Genre:  Horror

This horror novel is the sixth book from Swedish stand-up comedian turned author John Ajvide Lindqvist to be translated into English.  Four families on caravan holidays wake up one morning to find the rest of their campsite has vanished. In fact everything has vanished, they are totally alone in the middle of a seemingly endless blank, flat field, where, despite clear bright blue summer skies, there is no sun, and the grass is the exact same height.  Where are they?  How did they get there? Why are they there? and, more importantly, how can they get back?  Running low on food and supplies, their situation is desperate, but there is something else out there.  Something that knows their worst mistakes and deepest desires, and will confront them with their darkest dreams and worst fears, and something even worse.

Lindqvist is still probably best known for his debut novel, Let the Right One In (2004) which was  adapted as an acclaimed Swedish film in 2008 and a successful US remake, Let Me In (2010).  With Let the Right One In and his subsequent books, there can be little doubt that John Ajvide Lindqvist is one of the most interesting modern writers working in horror.  The characters in this book start off wondering where they are and how they got there, and are little the wiser by the end of it.  For every question that is answered, another is posed, and it really seems to just stop dead.  However, this is the first volume in a planned trilogy, so presumably we'll find out what happens later.  The ending, though is a fairly minor issue when this is such a chilling, gripping novel and genuinely disturbing.  It's full of dark humour and often graphic gore.  The frequently surreal happenings in the book work because the  characters are interesting and well-drawn, with their past lives depicted in flashback.  Lindqvist is frequently compared to Stephen King, and this has a lot of King-like elements to it, with the disparate collection of ordinary people having to band together against horrific adversaries, although it's more like if Stephen King had ever collaborated with Ingmar Bergman, because it has a very strong philosophical element to it.  Lindqvist his a particular gift for writing about children and one of the child characters, six year old Molly is one of the most terrifying characters you're likely to read about this year.  This is definitely recommended.


Monday, 18 September 2017

"A Legacy of Spies" by John le Carre

Year of Publication:  2017
Number of Pages:  264
Genre:  Thriller, espionage

Moving between past and present, the novel follows Peter Guillam, retired British spy and former right-hand man of legendary spymaster George Smiley, living peacefully on his family farm in Brittany, until he is summoned back to London by the Secret Service who are investigating an operation Guillam was involved in over fifty years ago.  Forced to rake over his murky past in Cold War espionage, Guillam is forced to reckon with the consequences of a life of personal and professional betrayal.

This fine novel returns to the world of Cold War spying that made John le Carre's name and features the return of his best-loved character, tubby, bespectacled, soft-spoken, but ruthless spymaster George Smiley.  The novel is a kind of follow-up to le Carre's 1962 breakthrough novel The Spy Who came in From the Cold, and also calls back to his other best known book Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1973).  Written in spare terse prose, this is nevertheless complex and emotionally devastating.  As with many le Carre novels, this deals with the psychology of a spy, and the moral and psychological consequences of that lifestyle.  This is John le Carre at his best.   


Saturday, 16 September 2017

Mother!

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay:  Darren Aronofsky
Starring:  Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer
Running Time:  121 minutes
Genre:  Horror, drama,

A young woman (Lawrence), referred to as "Mother" in the credits, although nine of the characters are named in the film, is married to a successful poet (Bardem), who is suffering from writer's block.  They live together in a rambling country house which she is renovating after a severe fire.  One night a strange couple (Harris and Pfeiffer) arrive and insinuate themselves into the lives of the homeowners.  It then gets progressively darker and weirder as more and more people invade the couple's home.

This film from writer/director Darren Aronofsky is frankly bizarre.  It's full of striking, memorable images and sequences, and Jennifer Lawrence gives a fantastic, tortured performance.  Some of it though is frankly tedious, and almost the whole thing makes very little sense.  It's probably best to see the film as an allegory, not to be taken literally, and there is likely to be a lot of discussion about what it actually means.  My take on it is that Jennifer Lawrence just wants to be left in piece with her family, but it's impossible to escape from the demands and intrusion of the world outside.  It's worth watching for it's sheer ambition.  You'll likely not see much like this, certainly not from a mainstream Hollywood release.  Personally I didn't enjoy the film, but I'm glad that I saw it, and I*'m still trying to decode what the hell it's all about.

Jennifer Lawrence in Mother!

Friday, 15 September 2017

A Nightmare on Elm Street

Year of Release:  1984
Director:  Wes Craven
Screenplay:  Wes Craven
Starring:  Heather Langenkemp, John Saxon, Ronee Blakley, Amanda Wyss, Nick Corri, Johnny Depp, Robert Englund
Running Time:  90 minutes
Genre:  Horror

 A group of teenage friends in a small American town find themselves pursued in their dreams by a horrifically burned figure armed with a glove which has razor-sharp blades attached to the fingers.  If they are killed in their dreams, they die in reality too.  As the friends are killed off one by one, the survivors have to stay awake long enough to figure out a way to fight their dreams.

This film is one of the most influential horror films of the 1980s and possibly one of the most influential horror movies of all time, introducing the iconic movie villain Freddy Krueger (played by Robert Englund), and spawning six direct sequels, a TV series (Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990)), a crossover with the Friday the 13th franchise (Freddy vs. Jason (2003)) and a remake in 2010.  By and large the film sticks to the well-established slasher movie formula, but given a supernatural twist.  The death scenes are, by and large, imaginative and well-staged.  Another reason why the film works so well is the simple fact that everyone sleeps and dreams, and our dreams are always beyond our control, and it plays with the idea that is we are harmed in a dream we could be harmed in real-life as well (the idea that dying in a dream equals dying in real life is a very old one, and it used to be believed that this is why we wake up at the very last minute, a kind of psychological escape hatch so we don't snuff it in our sleep because we happened to have a midnight snack).  Writer-director Wes Craven was inspired by a series of disturbing real-lifer incidents from the 1970s where refugees from Southeast Asia refused to sleep after suffering terrifying nightmares, some of them subsequently died in their sleep.
The film creates a believably cluttered suburban setting, and is elevated by Craven's obvious affection for his teenage characters, who are played by a talented cast headed by Heather Langenkemp who gives a great performance mixing vulnerability and strength as the strong-minded Nancy, and a very young Johnny Depp as her boyfriend Glen.  Of course, the standout performance is Freddy Krueger who, coupled with his memorable appearance, gives Freddy a gleefully cruel wit, before the character became a pop culture joke.
This is one of the purely fun horror movies.  Full of shocks and scares and a few jokes, and nasty enough to raise a gasp, but not nasty enough to be too disturbing for non-horror fans.

Heather Langenkemp and Robert Englund in A Nightmare on Elm Street           

Saturday, 9 September 2017

It

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Andy Muschietti
Screenplay:  Chase Palmer, Carey Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman; based on the novel It by Stephen King
Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Wyatt Oleff, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Bill Skarsgard
Running Time:  135 minutes
Genre:  Horror

This is an adaptation of the 1986 novel by Stephen King.  Set in 1989 (as opposed to the novel's 1958 setting) in the small town of Derry, Maine, which has been terrorised by a spate of mysterious disappearances of children.  Seven young outcasts, who call themselves "The Loser's Club" decide to put a stop to it:  Bill Denbrough (Lieberher) has a bad stutter and his younger brother, Georgie, is among the missing; Ben Hanscom (Taylor) is picked on because he is overweight; Beverley Marsh (Lillis) is abused by her father and is the subject of cruel rumours; Richie Tozier (Wolfhard) is the group clown, often getting in trouble due to his loud mouth and foul language; Stan Uris (Oleff) is picked on because he is Jewish; Mike Hanlon (Jacobs) is subjected to racist bullying; and Eddie Kaspbrak (Grazer) has become a hypochondriac due to his over-protective mother.  They discover that the culprit is Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Skarsgard), who is in reality an evil, shapeshifting entity which feeds on fear, particularly children's fear.

Previously adapted as a two part TV miniseries in 1990 which was re-edited into a feature film; It is one of Stephen King's best known books.  The film lacks the richness of the book, but is an effective horror film, although, like many horror films, it relies too much on sudden jump scares and CGI trickery, and  there is less of the idea that was depicted so well in the book, of It mining the deepest subconscious fears of it's victims.  It is well acted, and the film really shines in  the quieter character moments.

Clowing around:  Bill Skarsgard is It

Thursday, 7 September 2017

"The Girl with All the Gifts" by M. R. Carey

Year of Publication:  2014
Number of Pages:  460
Genre:  Horror, science-fiction, thriller  


This 2014 novel from writer M. R. Carey (the pen-name of British writer Mike Carey, whose probably best known as a comics writer probably best known for his runs on X-MenJohn Constantine: HellblazerLucifer and his own series The Unwritten), is a striking post-apocalyptic science-fiction / horror tale.  Set in a near future Britain, ten year old Melanie is a bright, intelligent, friendly girl who loves school, particularly her favourite teacher Miss Justineau.  She lives in a cell on a military base.  Every day soldiers strap her to a wheelchair at gunpoint, muzzle her and take her to her classes with the other children on the base, similarly strapped and muzzled.  Occasionally there are new faces.  More often children disappear and are never seen again.  Outside the  world is gone, most of the population has become infected by a fungus that turns humans into cannibalistic zombies known as "Hungries".

This a deeply affecting, exciting, thrilling, and occasionally surprisingly tender story.  The plot moves along at a brisk pace, with interesting and engaging characters.  The are some plot contrivances, with characters often being rescued from certain death at the very last moment, and it's full of stuff that you will probably have seen before in many other zombie apocalypse stories (of which there have been a lot!).


Saturday, 2 September 2017

The Limehouse Golem

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Juan Carlos Medina
Screenplay:  Jane Goldman, based on the novel Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem by Peter Ackroyd
Starring:  Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Douglas Booth, Daniel Mays, Sam Reid, Maria Valverde, Henry Goodman, Morgan Watkins, Eddie Marsan
Running Time:  105 minutes
Genre:  Horror, crime, period drama, mystery, thriller

Limehouse is one of the poorest and roughest areas of Victorian London where every kind of crime, degradation and vice is rampant, and now it is targeted by a brutal serial killer, the so-called "Limehouse Golem" which strikes seemingly at random, targeting the young, the old, men and women.  World weary Police Inspector John Kildare (Nighy), who has been passed over for promotion due to rumours about his private life, is put in charge of the case and during the investigation finds himself drawn to troubled music hall actress Elizabeth Cree (Cooke), who is on trial for the poisoning of her husband, one of several suspects in the Golem case.

This is a lurid, full-blooded Victorian melodrama, rich with atmosphere and period detail.  It's full of gore and horror, but also works as an intriguing mystery.  The film uses historical figures as characters, such as Karl Marx (Goodman), novelist George Gissing (Watkins) and comedian Dan Leno (Booth).  Bill Nighy is great as the sensitive, troubled police inspector and the connection he forms with  Elizabeth is genuinely touching.  The film explores themes of social inequality and the pursuit of fame.

Bill Nighy and Olivia Cooke in The Limehouse Golem

Thursday, 31 August 2017

"Moon Palace" by Paul Auster

Year of Publication:  1989
Number of Pages:  298
Genre:  Literary fiction

This novel by American novelist Paul Auster opens in 1969 and follows recent graduate Marco Stanley Fogg in a quest for family and identity which takes him from New York City to the desolate beauty of American West.  Along the way he encounters various characters who all have their stories to tell.

The book deals with familiar Paul Auster themes such as the relationship between life and art, the role that chance plays in life and unreliable narrators.  It's a novel about exploration in both the literal, external sense of going out into the world, but also in the internal, spiritual sense.  It's a coming of age story spanning three generations, and ultimately it's a story of America itself.  It is beautifully written and full of memorable characters.



Saturday, 26 August 2017

"Oracle Night" by Paul Auster

Year of Publication:  2004
Number of Pages:  207
Genre:  Literary fiction

This novel is set over nine days in 1982.  New York author Sidney Orr is recovering from a serious illness, and has not written anything new in a long time.  Passing by a stationery shop, Orr stops and buys a blue notebook.  The notebook seems to unlock something inside Orr and he begins writing again.  However, while he is once more exploring his creativity, Orr's world is rocked by a string of life-changing events, some of which seem to be connected to the stories he is working on.

This short novel is beautifully written, moving between Orr's work and his "real" life.  It explores the links between life and art and how art and creativity can impact on the real world.  Orr is an interesting, if often unlikeable main character, and is surrounded by several other memorable characters.  It's definitely recommended, particularly to writers.    


Show Pieces

Year of Release:  2014
Director:  Mitch Jenkins
Screenplay:  Alan Moore
Starring:  Darrell D'Silva, Siobhan Hewlett, Khandie Khisses, Boykitten, Alan Moore
Running Time:  77 minutes
Genre:  Horror 

Alan Moore is possibly one of the most important and influential figures in the entire history of comics, the creator/writer of Watchmen (1986), V for Vendetta (1988-89), From Hell (1989-1996) and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen  (1999 - current) and the writer of one of the most influential and controversial Batman stories of all time, "The Killing Joke" (1988) among many others.  A lot of his work has been adapted to film, with varying degrees of success.  However Moore himself has been famously against any of the film adaptations, to the extent of refusing payment and taking his name off the credits.  However here is something that he has written specifically for the screen.  Show Pieces is actually five short films, three of which have been collected into a linked anthology.

In "Act of Faith", a young newspaper journalist (Hewlett) makes a rash decision with deadly consequences, in "Jimmy's End" a heavy drinking womaniser (D'Silva) enters a bizarre and sinister working men's club, and in "His Heavy Heart" a man is forced into a nightmarish version of Ancient Egyptian funerary rites.

Directed by Mitch Jenkins, the film is visually very striking, with a powerfully oppressive, bleak atmosphere, and a minimum of graphic gore.  More atmospheric and disturbing than actively scary, it has a strong thread of dark humour. 


Saturday, 22 July 2017

Dunkirk

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Christopher Nolan
Screenplay:  Christopher Nolan
Starring:  Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D'Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Running Time:  106 minutes
Genre:  War

This Second World War film deals with the Dunkirk evacuation where 400,000 Allied soldiers were rescued from the beaches of France in 1940.  It deals with three narratives set over three different time frames.  British soldier, Tommy (Whitehead) is one of those waiting for rescue, constantly under threat from bombs and torpedoes. Civilian sailor Dawson( Rylance), his son and employee make the dangerous crossing across the English channel to help with the evacuation.  Two Spitfire pilots try to fend off enemy bombers.

This is a gritty, visceral, intense experience.  It's more like an experimental film with very little dialogue or even story.  It's all about the viewing experience, and this is a film that needs to be seen on the biggest screen possible.  The cast, which include pop singer Harry Styles in his first major acting role, are impressive with very little to work with.  Kenneth Branagh and Mark Rylance provide the noble stiff-upper-lip speeches. This is an unusual war film in that the enemy is barely glimpsed, aside from a fighter plane you never see a German soldier, or catch a glimpse of Nazi imagery.  The characters are under threat from an unseen enemy, with attacks coming out of nowhere.  Also the soldiers are not selfless heroes.  In fact, they are often decidedly unheroic and often unlikable.  I couldn't say I enjoyed this film, but I admired it a great deal.            


Chopping Mall

Year of Release:  1986
Director:  Jim Wynorski
Screenplay:  Jim Wynorski and Steve Mitchell
Starring:  Kelli Maroney, Steve O'Dell, John Terleski, Russell Todd, Karrie Emerson, Barbara Crampton, Suzee Slater, Nick Segal,
Running Time:  77 minutes
Genre:  horror, science-fiction

Park Plaza Mall has installed a state-of-the-art new security system including three brand new Protector robots, designed to incapacitate and apprehend thieves.  However a lightning storm causes the robots to become homicidal and track and kill eight teenagers who are trapped in the mall after a party.    

This is the kind of film that if you watch it late enough, drunk enough and in the company of like-minded friends could be comedy gold.  Otherwise it's terrible.  The dialogue is terrible ("I'm sorry, I'm not used to being chased around a mall at midnight by killer robots", and a guy trying to seduce a woman:  "You smell like pepperoni... I like pepperoni"). The robots look like a combination of Johnny Five (from the Short Circuit films) and a Dalek (from Doctor Who) and about half as threatening as either.  They also move so slowly and so loudly, the characters could probably just keep out of their way.  Much of the script also depends on characters getting into trouble by doing very stupid things.  The acting isn't good, but it is about as good as the material deserves.  There is some fun to be had here with appearances from B-movie favorites such as Barbara Crampton (of Re-Animator fame), Dick Miller (veteran of many Roger Corman productions) and Paul Bartel and Mary Woronov (reprising their roles from cult favorite Eating Raoul), alongside many movie jokes and references.

One of the Protector robots from Chopping Mall  

Friday, 14 July 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Year of Release:  2017
Director:  Jon Watts
Screenplay:  Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Jon Watts, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, based on Spider-Man created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee
Starring:  Tom Holland, Michael Keaton, Jon Favreau, Zendaya, Donald Glover, Tyne Daly, Marisa Tomei, Robert Downey Jr., Jacob Batalon, Laura Harrier
Running Time:  130 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction, action, superhero

Teenager Peter Parker (Holland) has his hands full with schoolwork and maintaining his secret identity as superhero "Spider-Man".  After aiding billionaire Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) in Captain America: Civil War (2016), Parker is taken under Stark's wing and given a new, sophisticated Spider-Man costume.  Soon tiring of the small-scale crimes he has been foiling and good deeds that he has been doing in his neighborhood, Peter sees his chance at the big time coming when he runs across a gang stealing and adapting advanced alien weaponry and Stark technology and selling it to criminals.

Spider-Man first swung on to the world's cinema screens played by Tobey Maguire in the 2002 Sam Raimi film Spider-Man, which was followed by two sequels, and then in the 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man and it's sequel, with Andrew Garfield in the role.  Here we have yet another reboot, and, following Tom Holland's debut as everyone's favorite webslinger in Captain America: Civil War, he is firmly part of the ongoing "Marvel Cinematic Universe", the shared universe of various movies and TV shows centered on various superhero characters from Marvel comics.  Here we have the superheroics in the world of a teen movie.  Peter Parker worries about ordinary teenage stuff such as his grades, and his crush on classmate Liz (Harrier).  It's a refreshingly small-scale film, there are no world destroying monsters or maniacs, here the villain (played by Michael Keaton) is quite sympathetic.  He's a man who wants money to look after his family and his employees after they are casually laid off.  He's ruthless and murderous when pushed, however he is kind of likable.  Tom Holland is possibly the best screen Spider-Man yet, returning the character to his teenage roots, his Peter Parker (and Spider-Man) is engagingly awkward and enthusiastic, also the fact that he makes mistakes.  Most of the film's destruction, such as slicing a ferry in half, is his fault (albeit accidental),  he is also surrounded by a fun group of friends and adversaries.  By and large the film is self-contained, although it probably helps if you have seen the other MCU films, it also differs from other Spider-Man films in that it doesn't show Spider-Man's origin story, which is only briefly referred to.   While the action sequences aren't as thrilling as some of the other superhero films, this is still a funny, thoroughly entertaining romp.

Tom Holland in Spider-Man: Homecoming

       

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Late Spring

Year of Release:  1949
Director:  Yasujiro Ozu
Screenplay:  Kogo Noda and Yasujiro Ozu, based on the novel Father and Daughter by Kazuo Hirotsu 
Starring:  Chishu Ryu, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura
Running Time:  108 minutes
Genre:  Drama

Twenty seven year old Noriko (Hara) lives happily with her widowed father, Professor Shukichi Somaya (Ryu).  Until, that is, a meddling aunt (Sugimura) convinces the Professor that it is high time that Noriko got married.  However, Noriko does not want to get married, particularly as it would mean leaving her father alone.

This is one of the great works of Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu, and, like many of his films, it deals with themes of tradition versus modernity, family life and conflict between the generations, as well as the philosophy of mono no aware (the pathos of things), an awareness of the impermanence of all things.  Nowhere is it better exemplified than in the film's powerful closing scene.  The film also comments on occupied Japan (the film was made at a time when Japan was occupied by the Americans following World War II), contrasting images of Coca-Cola advertising with traditional Japanese pursuits such as a noh play and a rock garden.  It's not a plot driven film, and it moves at a slow, meditative pace.  There is also the theme of duty to others versus the individual needs, Noriko wants to stay and look after her father, her father, while he values Noriko's kindness and companionship, knows that she must set out and lead an independent life, even though it means him being alone.  It demands a lot of patience from the viewer, being largely filmed, like many Ozu films, by static cameras, with beautifully composed shots and characters often seen at a remove from the audience, framed in corridors and doorways.  If you have the patience to go along with the film's gentle rhythms than you will be richly rewarded.

             
Setsuko Hara and Chishu Ryu in Late Spring

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Hot Fuzz

Year of Release:  2007
Director:  Edgar Wright
Screenplay:  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring:  Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Dalton
Running Time:  121 minutes
Genre:  Comedy, action

Police Constable Nicholas Angel (Pegg) is one of the best officers in London's Metropolitan Police.  Fed up with Angel constantly outshining the rest of the force, his superiors transfer him to the sleepy, rural village of Sandford.  Angel reluctantly resigns himself to a life of turfing underage drinkers out of the local pub, collaring shoplifters, mediating disputes over garden hedges and occasionally finding lost swans.  However, it soon turns out that Sandford suffers from a disproportionately high number of fatal accidents.  Angel soon suspects that there is something deeply sinister going on in the village, but the only one of Sandford's lazy and incompetent police force who believes him is eager, childish Danny Butterman (Frost), whose idea of policing seems to largely come from American action movies, and who also happens to be the son of the head of the Sandford Police, Inspector Frank Butterman (Broadbent).

This film forms the second of Wright, Pegg and Frost's "Cornetto Trilogy" (the others being Shaun of the Dead (2004) and The World's End (2013)).  It can best be envisioned as being like a big Hollywood action movie plunked down in the middle of a quiet, Miss Marple style English village.  The film constantly references action movies, frequently spoofing the cliche's of the genre.  It's consistently funny, and the jokes keep running thick and fast throughout.  The sometimes graphic violence and over the top action are played as almost slapstick comedy, and Wright is a great visual director, and he choreographs the carnage very well.  Pegg and Frost perform very well together and their bond provides the emotional core of the film.  However the film feels about ten minutes too long and lacks the resonance of Shaun of the Dead and The World's End.  Also female characters barely get a look-in.  The eagle-eyed may spot cameos from Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (as a man dressed as Santa Claus) and Cate Blanchett (as a forensic investigator, with her face alomst completely concealed by a mask).

Simon Pegg and Nick Frost bring the noise in Hot Fuzz 

Friday, 30 June 2017

Shaun of the Dead

Year of Release:  2004
Director:  Edgar Wright
Screenplay:  Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Starring:  Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Dylan Moran, Lucy Davis, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Peter Serafinowicz, Jessica Stevenson
Running Time:  99 minutes
Genre:  Comedy, horror

29 year old Shaun (Pegg) is an electronics salesman with little to no ambition or direction in life.  his free time is torn between the two great loves of his life: his girlfriend Liz (Ashfield) who is increasingly frustrated by what she perceives as his laziness and lack of ambition, and his best friend Ed (Frost) an even bigger loser than Shaun, who prefers to spend all his time in the local pub or playing video games.  Finally losing patience with Shaun, Liz dumps him.  Heartbroken, he determines to win her back.  However, the course of true love never did run smooth, and Shaun's romantic quest is hampered, not only by the fact that Liz's friends, obnoxious David (Moran) and his dippy aspiring-actress girlfriend Diane (Davis), obviously hate him, but also by the fact that London is overrun with flesh-eating zombies.

Following their success with the cult sitcom Spaced (1999-2001), writer-director Edgar Wright reteamed with writer-actor Simon Pegg and actor Nick Frost, with this lively, dark and hilarious blend of comedy and horror.  The film opens as an almost conventional romantic comedy, with only slight hints initially of what is to come, and the characters are so wrapped up in their own lives, they don't notice the disturbing signs around them until it is too late.  Comedy and horror are two deceptively difficult genres to make work - it's hard to make people laugh, and even harder to scare them.  Combining the two successfully is like catching lighting in a bottle.  However this manages it.  The comedy is genuinely funny, and the horror elements are genuinely disturbing; the zombies are threatening, and when characters die, there is real weight to it.  The film shows off Wright's hyper-kinetic style of film-making, full of pop-culture references.  Fans of British comedy will no doubt recognize cameos from Martin Freeman, Reese Shearsmith, Tamsin Greig, Julia Deakin and Matt Lucas among others.  It is a hugely entertaining film that will appeal to hardcore horror fans, but also to general audiences.  It forms part of the so-called "Cornetto Trilogy" along with Hot Fuzz (2007) and The World's End (2013).

     Dylan Moran, Kate Ashfield, Simon Pegg and Lucy Davis prepare to battle the undead hordes in Shaun of the Dead

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Comics Round-Up # 7


SHADE, THE CHANGING GIRL  # 9

Written by: Cecil Castelluci
Illustrated by:  Marley Zarcone
Inked by:  Ande Parks
Coloured by:  Kelly Fitzpatrick
Lettered by:  Saida Temofonte
Cover by:  Becky Cloonan
Published by;  Young Animal

In the City, Part Two:  Band on the Run.  16 year old runaway Meghan Boyer, possessed by extraterrestrial entity Loma Shade, is alone in Gotham City, where she decides to take in a show by her favourite band The Sonic Booms, who she came across in a 1960s TV show.  However, when she sees that they are no longer the young, hip band from over fifty years ago, she is forced to confront for the first time human ideas of ageing.

Another fun issue from one of the brightest and most vibrant comics on the stands.  Always inventive, the chaos that Shade, albeit inadvertently, causes is fun to watch, but is shown to have consequence.  This issue in particular deals with ageing and the appeal of nostalgia.


BANE CONQUEST # 2

Written by:  Chuck Dixon
Art by:  Graham Nolan
Coloured by:  Gregory Wright
Lettered by:  Carlos M. Mangual
Cover by:  Graham Nolan and Gregory Wright
Published by: DC

The Sword part two.  Bane has been captured, imprisoned and tortured by a new villain, Damocles.  Bane's only hope lies in fellow prisoner Bruce Wayne.

The character of Bane was created by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moenech and Graham Nolan, and first appeared in 1993 as a Batman villain, and is possibly most recognizable for the iconic image of breaking Batman's back, and was memorably and mumblingly played by Tom Hardy in the movie The Dark Knight Rises (2012).  In Bane Conquest, he is more of an antihero, the leader of a team who maintain order in Gotham City, a place which he seems to regard as his own personal property.  In this issue he forms and uneasy alliance with Bruce Wayne, and curiously seems to be perfectly aware that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and Wayne also seems to know that he knows.  Anyway, this is a fun issue excitingly told with vibrant artwork.

   

PREDATOR: HUNTERS # 2

Written by:  Chris Warner
Art by:  Francisco Ruiz Velasco
Lettered by:  Michael Heisler
Cover by:  Doug Wheatley
Published by:  Dark Horse

For centuries, advanced alien Predators as their personal hunting ground, but now a task force has been formed to fight back, and the Predators are about to become the prey.

There have been many comics spun off from the film Predator (1987), many of which use the plot of a small group being picked off one by one by a mysterious force.  It turns out to be a Predator!  The hero has to stop them before anyone else dies...  This story rings the changes by having a group actively hunting Predators.  The focus in this issue is mainly bringing the band together and detailing their mission, the focus is on exposition and backstory rather than action, but if you are invested after having read the first issue, you won't want to miss it, but it might not be the best to start off with.  The artwork is fantastic:  beautifully detailed and moody.


SAGA # 43

Written by:  Brian K. Vaughan
Art by:  Fiona Staples
Lettered by:  Fonografiks
Cover by:  Fiona Staples
Published by:  Image

In a bizarre galaxy, Alana and Marko, soldiers from opposing sides on an interplanetary war fall in love and have a child named Hazel.  Now all three are targets from both sides and are forced on the run in a hostile universe.

Saga is one of the most acclaimed comics being published, although it has not recently had anything like the amount of attention that it had five years ago.  However, it is as good as it has ever been, and this is the perfect jumping on point for new readers, as it begins a new story arch (also this issue only costs 25 cents, as part of a promotion to mark 25 years of Image Comics).  It manages to be funny, ridiculous, disturbing, endlessly imaginative and genuinely emotional, with some great characters and fantastic artwork.  If you've never read Saga, jump on now.


HAWKEYE # 7

Written by:  Kelly Thompson
Art by:  Leonardo Romero
Colours by:  Jordie Bellaire
Lettered by:  VC's Joe Sabino
Cover by:  Julian Totino Tedesco
Published by:  Marvel

Private Investigator Kate Bishop, a.k.a Hawkeye, is attacked at home, and left with a package, apparently her attackers were sent by her arch-enemy Madame Masque, and inside the package is a pendent that belonged to Kate's mother.  Kate sets off to confront Madame Masque, perfectly aware that she is walking straight into a trap.

A very entertaining issue combining action, jokes and mystery.  It's all very well designed with imaginative page and pane layouts, particularly in the action scenes.  The central mystery, unfolding through extensive use of flashbacks, is tantalisingly constructed, although the conclusion of the issue isn't particularly surprising.


ADVENTURE TIME # 65

Written by:  Mariko Tamaki
Illustrated by:  Ian McGinty
Coloured by:  Maarta Laiho
Lettered by:  Nate Fiorentino
Cover by:  Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb
Published by:  Kaboom!

It's the last round of the Best Princess Ever Competition in the magical, post-apocalyptic Land of Ooo.  The finalists are: Flame Princess, Breakfast Princess, Hot Dog Princess and Lumpy Space Princess, but one of them is not what she seems...

This is a fun one-off story, that should appeal to fans of the TV show Adventure Time (2010 - onwards) as well as newcomers.  It's funny and light and the artwork perfectly matches the style of the TV series.       


PICK OF THE WEEK


SAGA # 43
   

Friday, 9 June 2017

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Year of Release:  1991
Director:  James Cameron
Screenplay:  James Cameron and William Wisher
Starring:  Arnold Schwarzenegger, Linda Hamilton, Edward Furlong, Robert Patrick
Running Time:  137 minutes
Genre:  Science-fiction, action,

In the year 2029, a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles is a battlefield in an ongoing war between a small group of human resistance fighters and the machines controlled by the vast computer system known as Skynet.  In a last ditch attempt to destroy the resistance, Skynet sends a liquid metal, shapeshifting T-1000 Terminator (Patrick) back in time to the 1990s  to kill the ten year old John Connor (Furlong), who would grow up lead the resistance.  The resistance, however, is able to send a reprogrammed older model T-800 Terminator (Schwarzenegger) back in time to act as the young Connor's protector.  John, the T-800 and John's mother Sarah (Hamilton) - the target of a failed assassination attempt ten years earlier - are forced into a desperate struggle to survive, and possibly save the future.

Whereas The Terminator (1984) was a modestly budgeted science-fiction chase movie, everything here is bigger including the action, the budget, the length and Schwarzenegger himself who, alongside director James Cameron, really broke through to the action "A" list with The Terminator.  Terminator 2 was groundbreaking in it's day for it's visual effects, particularly it's use of CGI which was really still in it's infancy in 1991, it was also the most expensive movie ever made up to that time (although Cameron himself has broken that record several times since).  It broke box-office records and remains one of the most iconic films of the 1990s.  Although, of course, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, but this really does improve upon the original, building on and expanding the world and the themes of the first.  The tone of the film is surprisingly downbeat and bleak, with the characters not being particularly likable most of the time, although when your chased by an unkillable, shapeshifting robot that exists solely to kill you, and you know for a fact that the world is about to be annihilated in a couple of years, you could probably be forgiven for having a case of the grumpys.  The performances are good, with Schwarzenegger delivering one of his most memorable appearances.  Schwarzenegger is an actor of limited range, but he knows what those limitations are and he plays to his strengths, and what he does well, he does better than anyone.  Linda Hamilton gives an intense performance as the traumatised Sarah Connor, a world away from the cute, fluffy waitress from the beginning  of the first film, she's almost a human Terminator here.  Edward Furlong made his acting debut as the ten year old John Connor and turns in a fine performance.  The action is spectacular, and the special effects, surprisingly, have aged very well and still hold up today.  Full of memorable moments, this is one of the best movies of the 1990s.

He'll be back:  Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

  
 


Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Lights Out

Year of Release:  2016
Director:  David F. Sandberg
Screenplay:  Eric Heisserer, based on the short film Lights Out by David F. Sandberg
Starring:  Teresa Palmer, Gabriel Bateman, Alexander DiPersia, Maria Bello, Billy Burke
Running Time:  81 minutes
Genre:  Supernatural horror

Rebecca (Palmer) worries about her young half-brother Martin (Bateman), who lives alone with her estranged mother Sophie (Bello), who suffers from mental illness.   Rebecca soon finds out that martin and Sophie are both haunted by a powerful supernatural entity known as Diana (Alicia Vela-Bailey) who only manifests in the dark, a being that Rebecca remembers from her own childhood, and that now seems to be coming after her.

Most good horror films tap into a primal fear, in this case fear of the dark, one of the most universal fears there are.  Starting out as an award winning three minute short film, this isn't a particularly good movie, it relies too much on the same scares, the characters aren't particularly well sketched out, there are few surprises and the entity and the rules by which it operates are shown too early on, which diminishes her effectiveness later on.  Having said this however, there are times when it does work, and some of the scares provide a real jolt, and as a whole there is enough entertainment to pass the time, particularly when they try and find ingenious ways to provide light.  The entity herself, a shadowy, spindly, clawed figure rising out of the darkness, is striking.

Gabriel Bateman and Teresa Palmer in Lights Out          

The Firm (1989)

Year of Release:  1989
Director:  Alan Clarke
Screenplay:  Al Hunter Ashton
Starring:  Gary Oldman, Lesley Manville, Phil Davis, Charles Lawson
Running Time:  70 minutes
Genre:  Drama

London, 1988:  Clive "Bex" Bissel (Oldman) is a 30 year old estate agent, who lives an apparently comfortable suburban life with his wife, Sue (Manville) and baby son.  However when the weekend comes, Bissel is the leader of the ICC (Inter City Crew), a hooligan "firm" (an organised gang who attach themselves to soccer teams and go to matches with the sole purpose of fighting rival gangs).  Bissel has an ambitious plan to unite the rival firms into one for a European championship, with the aim of causing havoc on an international scale.  However the rivalries are not so easily put aside.

This made-for-TV movie was the final work from acclaimed director Alan Clarke, who died in 1990 at the age of 54.  Like much of his work, this is an examination of male aggression and social commentary, which is as much about Britain at the end of the 1980s as it is about soccer thugs.  Hooliganism was a real hot button topic at the time, and these are not the traditional disaffected young men, they are mostly not "victims of society" but middle-class people with good jobs and plenty of money, who commit the violence for the "buzz".  This is an exciting film, shot with a constantly roving camera a times almost shoving the viewer into the middle of these guys, and the film has a real sense of danger (apparently some of the fighting scenes weren't entirely fake).  Gary Oldman gives a terrifying performance as the mercurial Bex, always well-dressed, charismatic and intelligent, but who can turn on a dime and unleash savage brutality.  This is definitely a film about men, and women don't really get a look in, the only major female character is Sue, and Lesley Manville does not have that much to do, but she does appear in a very disturbing sequence that was cut from the broadcast version of the film, but is available in the "director's cut".  Alan Clarke himself was a committed soccer fan and hated the hooligans for ruining the game, the film makes a point of never actually showing any soccer at only one point are any of them seen at a game, and they aren't watching it.  The film periodically erupts into violence, which is sudden, savage and brutal.  It might be a TV movie but it is definitely not for the faint of heart.  A brutal, confrontational work.

Gary Oldman gets bang out of order as the leader of The Firm  

Monday, 5 June 2017

King of New York

Year of Release:  1990
Director:  Abel Ferrara
Screenplay:  Nicholas St. John
Starring:  Christopher Walken, David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne, Victor Argo, Wesley Snipes, Janet Julian
Running Time:  106 minutes
Genre:  Thriller, crime, gangster

Convicted drug lord Frank White (Walken) is released from prison, and immediately returns to New York City and sets about expanding his already vast criminal empire, making a bid for legitimacy by using the profits to help an underfunded inner city hospital.  However, White and his gang ruthlessly proceed to wipe out anyone who stands in their way and, as the body count rises, a group of police officers are determined to stop Frank, by any means necessary.

This is one of the best films from prolific director Abel Ferrara, a gritty, action-packed urban thriller, which rattles along with nary a dull moment.  Christopher Walken is effective in the lead, looking almost more ghostly than usual against his all black clothing and shadowy locations.  His Frank White is an interesting character, calm, cool, reasonable, soft-spoken, who can erupt with sudden, ferocious violence, an absolutely ruthless killer, who nevertheless has a strong social conscience and who claims that he has never killed an innocent person.  The film features several well-known actors in relatively early roles, including David Caruso, Laurence Fishburne (here billed as "Larry"), Wesley Snipes, and Steve Buscemi.  There are few female characters and they are given very little to do, except look pretty.  It contrasts the world of opulent hotel rooms, lavish galas and lunches in top-class restaurants, with the gritty mean streets, dark clubs and back rooms, and the film uses it's locations very effectively.  The film's frequent graphic violence may be off-putting for some viewers, but it is one of the best urban thrillers of the period.

Christopher Walken reflects in King of New York