Saturday, 29 December 2012

Tyrannosaur – Ripples in the Water

Tyrannosaur is not a happy film.

In fact, it’s fucking devastating.

It’s full of horrible things happening to beautiful people.

Its emotional onslaught leaves you battered and bruised . . . curled up crying in the corner.

Yet with that comes an undeniable power.

The extraordinary performances remove any sense of fiction. We are no longer sitting in front of screen; we are watching these people live their lives. We are dragged down through all the shit they are, but we also catch those glimpses of the light.

Paddy Considine handles the direction with a lightness of touch, and avoids the traps that could leave the film bogged down by its subject matter. The camera goes no way to manipulate; instead it portrays these characters with an almost documentary-style frankness.

Like life, Tyrannosaur has no over-arching storyline. There’s you, there’s me and there’s every other miserable sod on this planet.

So often in stories, amazing circumstances cause great things to happen to your supposed average Joe. But in Tyrannosaur, Joe is far from average and the only thing that happens to him is life.


Monday, 3 December 2012

DUMPSTER DIVING #5: Delta Force 2 Review – F**k You, Chuck

The phenomenon of Chuck Norris jokes has always fascinated me.

Kids pick up these jokes from older kids on their bus, and there you go, they're set for life. They have a simple piece of comedic maths; you think of something impossible, say Chuck Norris can, or has, done it and you've got a joke. Here are some examples:

Chuck Norris counted to infinity . . . . . twice.

There is no chin behind Chuck Norris' beard. There is only another fist.

Or even,

Chuck Norris grew up in the 21st century without ever hearing a Chuck Norris joke.

But what do these kids actually know about the man?

Most could probably tell you he has a beard. Some could even go as far as telling you he has a ginger/auburn beard.

So he is just a guy with a beard? Is there no other reason he has become the butt of thousands of jokes?

Well, he was in a load of action movies . . . or some shit like that.

That was me up until a few months ago. You could count the things I knew about Chuck on the hand of a man who’s had one of his fingers kicked off in an episode of ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’.

But, as I say, that was up until a few nights ago. For now I can go back to school boasting that I've actually seen a Chuck Norris movie . . . and, for that, I'll be worshipped like a God.

The movie in question is a certain Delta Force 2, subtitled 'The Columbian Connection', and it's rubbish. So, please don’t waste your time watching it.

Talking about not wasting ones time on atrocious cinema, I'm going to keep this brief.
  • The action is downright boring.
  • Chuck is not much better (he seems to deliver every line in exactly the same way).
  • I find it amazing that an action movie with so many explosions and gunshots can be so dull.
  • And whatever you do, please hide your kids from the slimy bastard of villain.
But the biggest disappointment of all is Norris himself. Whatever childish fantasy I had dreamed up about what a Chuck Norris movie would be, it wasn't this. Far from it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

DUMPSTER DIVING #4: Universal Soldier: The Return

And now for another low-budget action star: Jean-Claude Van Damme; a man who I've previously seen talking about how cold his nipples are in a Coors Light advert.

This is the sequel to 1992’s ‘Universal Soldier’, in which, as far as I can tell, Jean Claude Van Damme died, was brought back to life as the first ‘UniSol’ (super-soldier), fought some bad guys and then somehow became a regular human again (admittedly a regular human who can kick you in the face, but that’s not the point).

This time, a super computer goes rogue and Van Damme needs to stop it, save his daughter and fall in love . . . all in the space of 80 minutes. And Van Damme just about manages holds it all together; he is a likeable screen-presence and handles his action well. His tongue-in-cheek acting style works well and he is far more charming than some other trashy action stars.

The combination of Van Damme and some fun set pieces make for an enjoyable watch, but unfortunately that’s only half the story . . .

SETH’s (the super computer) top man is soooo cheesy and soooo boring. He manages to look like an utter douchebag and reel off dumb one-liners meaning anytime he’s on screen is almost painfully bad. The stereotypical blue-haired computer hacker is not much better, but fortunately his stupid face isn't on-screen for long. And then, not so much of a downside as a problem: the human incarnation of SETH, who should quite clearly be played by Wesley Snipes. I know he is probably slightly out of their price range, but the faux-Snipes got irritating.

Fortunately a combination of Van Damme, enjoyable moments and a speedy-Gonzalez running time make up for some stupidly written and performed characters . . . and it’s a whole lot better than fucking Delta Force 2.


Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Body – (Stephen) King of the Castle (Rock)

I wrote this months ago while in Cyprus, and, even though it was written in a spur of the moment and I don't necessarily agree with it all in hind-sight, I have tried not to change too much.
Anyway, it's kinda fun to look back and the ending still makes me smile.

Chapters 7 & 8 of Stephen King's novella, 'The Body', are two of the most inspiring, interesting and thought-provoking chapters of fiction I have ever read.

Chapter 7 is a short story; making it a story inside a story. This technique is also used in Rob Reiner's film adaptation, 'Stand By Me' when our protagonist, Gordie, tells his friends a story around the campfire.

However, the story in chapter 7 is a far cry from a tent full of projectile vomiting; it tells of an older kid, known as Chico, and the turn of events that lead him to go off and explore the world for himself.

In this fictional 'The Body' universe the reader is absorbed in, this is Gordie's first published story. And, like with most things, the first time is the most important, as Gordie describes in the following chapter . . . . .

We start chapter 8 with a sense of self-deprecation; he focuses on the bad elements of the story and talks about how derivative it all seems in hind-sight. He talks about writing the way he had been told or the way his favourite authors did.

He goes on to talk about writing things he knows very little about (in this case sex) and about creating characters that are more experienced than he is and, in turn, more interesting and exciting. He also mentions writing along the lines of pre-set, dull and occasionally offensive, stereotypes. But then we have a silver lining . . . . .

He tells the reader that it was the first time that something felt like his story. The fact that despite - and possibly because of - its problems, it was a turning point and he had finally written a story that felt personal.

I, for one, find this incredibly moving and powerful for one simple reason: I am that guy.

I write occasionally and it would be a more frequent occurrence if it wasn't for some the same issues Gordie had; especially the one about finding your own voice when all you really hear are other peoples. I feel like a baby; I try to speak but just find myself babbling nonsense, and, if I do manage to form a word or two, they are simply replications of what I have heard from those around me. I am waiting for the day when I can turn what I have learnt from others into something personal, something that belongs to me and me alone. I’m waiting to grow up, essentially.

These two chapters have led me to where I am now; sitting writing this.

So, whatever you think of Stephen King, you can't deny that he has a gift. For he has done something extraordinary; he has inspired someone to be creative; to sit down and write something. And that is something people often take for granted; the gift of inspiration.

Pretty fucking melodramatic, right?

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

DUMPSTER DIVING #3: Ransom – One Tin of Gloss, Please

Again I went for something slightly above my set 'trashy action movie' criteria. But, even though it is the work of a high-profile director (Ron Howard) and stars ex-'superstar' Mel Gibson, 'Ransom' had never made it onto my radar.

Gibson plays high flying business man, Tom Mullen, whose son is soon kidnapped by a bunch of criminals asking for $2 million. They know about a certain skeleton in Tom's closet and are certain it'll be easy money.

Tom gets the FBI on the case but learns that traditional methods aren't going to get his son back, forcing him to take matters into his own hands.

Now, if you ask me, that is a perfect set-up for a brutal revenge movie, with Gibson getting the chance to crack some skulls on the way to saving his child; something akin to 'Taken'. This opportunity is wasted, however, and what we're left with is something more dull, but possibly more interesting.

This approach gives the filmmaker time to ask questions about society (who are the real scumbags: the poor committing crimes to get a better life for those they love or the elite feeding off the members of society too weak or poor to do anything about it?). Such questions are thought-provoking and it's important that they be asked, but the film never really seems to form its arguments. It's as if the studio heads were too scared to have the film say something with any conviction. Leaving the audience to answer any moral questions for themselves is all well and good but not if you are going to leave key elements feeling glossed-over and unsubstantial.

Such glossing over also softens the blow emotionally. Scenes that should have had me laughing/crying/cheering/booing instead left me cold and feeling uninvolved.

Not to say it isn't well done; Howard supplies solid and, at times, stylish direction and the majority of the cast are fine (though it doesn't help that any emotional engagement relies on fearing for the safety of a dumb kid). But it all feels disappointing.

Ransom had the chance to be an excellent revenge thriller but instead half-heartedly went for something 'thought-provoking' . . . . . and far more boring.


Monday, 1 October 2012

DUMPSTER DIVING #2: Crimson Tide – R.I.P Tony Scott

I wrote this before hearing of the tragic death of Tony Scott. So I would just like to take this chance to say thank you, Tony, for making intelligent blockbusters that have been wowing audiences for 30 years, and will continue to do so far into the future.


Up next was Tony Scott's submarine based thriller, Crimson Tide.

The world is on the brink of World War 3. Russian extremists have rebelled against the Kremlin and announce they are willing to start a nuclear war against America. In response the US government sends out some of their nuclear subs, including the USS Alabama, captained by Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman).

Ramsey's First Officer has been taken ill and Denzel Washington's character, Ron Hunter, is appointed as his replacement.

A disrupted message then causes a mutiny on the ship, with half siding with Hunter and half with Ramsey. These two vastly different men must settle their differences before the world is blown to smithereens.

It's these two characters who provide the most interesting drama; with Hunter representing the modern way of thinking (more analytical/theoretical/philosophical) and Hackman representing the old-school (gung-ho etc.). But Hackman is more than just the 'oorah' stereotype and his character is written with far more depth and exploration. This allows for some riveting verbal confrontations giving Hackman and Washington the chance to flex their acting muscles. The best examples of this are written and delivered with a sense of rhythm that transforms the scene into a thrilling verbal action sequence.

Hackman and Washington are ably supported by a fantastic cast, with even the smallest roles played superbly. Such superlative acting elevates the whole experience and, at times, delivers thrilling, heart-in-mouth moments.

However, such moments aren't always as great as they could be and towards the end, many opportunities for gripping verbal exchanges feel wasted, instead relying on standard blockbuster clichés. One early exchange touches on the meaning of war; but such thought-provoking moments are never replicated.

I can't finish his review without mentioning the unsung star of the piece: the submarine itself. The sets provide moments of both claustrophobia and of emptiness. With metal corridors and countless knobs and dials, at times it feels like a spaceship. It's a whole different world under the sea, and the set design reflects that perfectly.

Crimson Tide does what the best films do, it takes the audience out of their comfort zones and provides them with new people to meet, new problems to face and new worlds to explore . . . . and eventually destroy.


Sunday, 30 September 2012

DUMPSTER DIVING #1: The Patriot – Flower Power

First up was 90s not-particularly-action-packed action movie, The Patriot.

Steven Seagal plays a genius doctor who is called into action when a rebel militia, led by a bearded Neo-Nazi, release a lethal biological weapon in a small American town.

Even though Seagal is clearly not a genius doctor – and his character development is slightly suspect and lacking in explanation (quiet doctor to martial arts master in a matter of minutes) - it is enjoyable watching him do his thing. The rest of the cast aren't half bad either and, on the whole, the acting is sufficient.

Personally, I also enjoyed the fact that I was never sure what the point of it all was. Is it hippy propaganda, or is it simply harking back to simpler times with no biological weapons and no fancy labs? To add to that, I'm not even sure how 'American' it is; in many ways it seems to speak negatively about the US (focusing on their views on biological weapons, war in general and the treatment of the Native Americans).

But whatever it's about, The Patriot provides a mostly enjoyable 90 minutes, with some surprisingly heartfelt moments. And its 'action movie' claim isn't completely defunct; featuring, among other things, a memorable death by wine glass.


DUMPSTER DIVING: An Introduction

I know summer may seem like nothing but a distant memory to many of you, but I still have remnants of that summer spirit on my hard drive . . . and by 'summer spirit' I mean the movies I watched on VHS while I was baking away in Cyprus.

What better way to spend long Mediterranean nights than sat in front of a ten year old 4:3 screen watching whatever gems have been left there by the owners??

Gems including;
  • The Patriot (of the Seagal variety)
  • Crimson Tide
  • Ransom 
  • Delta Force 2
  • Universal Soldier: The Return
  • Under Siege 2
A cineaste's wet-dream, I'm sure you'll agree.

Seeing said stacks of VHS tapes, I set myself a trashy action movie criteria in order to see what I was missing on ITV4 a couple of nights a week.

Anyway, I got around to watching the above films; thoroughly enjoying some and utterly despising others.

I'll leave you to guess which ones are which . . .

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins) Review

I like reading whole chapters at a time; in the same way that I like watching whole TV episodes. That's no big deal . . . . .

Not usually, anyway . . . but that links with the gripe most prominent in my mind about part two of the Hunger Games trilogy: the last chapter.

I had made an effort to save the last chapter so I could read it all in one go. Now I'm not one for spoilers, but it was disappointing . . . to say the least.

I had been slightly worried when I reached the end of the penultimate chapter and realised Suzanne Collins only had fourteen pages to fashion some kind of suitable ending in preparation for the last part of Katniss' story. My worries were apt.

I just felt let-down. I had already worked out some of the twists, and unfortunately they happened to be the ones Collins focused on most. The twists I hadn't been expecting were glossed over and never carried the weight good twists do. All this adds up to a badly executed final chapter, but one that I hope will be made up for with part three.

However, even with all this negativity, I enjoyed the reading experience of Catching Fire more than the Hunger Games. Now, this was probably down to the fact that I watched 'The Hunger Games' before reading it, but that's not the point.

I must also add that while the Hunger Games are what the series has focused on up until now, they aren't the most interesting aspect. What I am looking for in Mockingjay is the continuation of the rebellion story-line rather than another, probably over-contrived, Hunger Games.

In Catching Fire, Collins did manage to develop the Games themselves, adding more of a problem-solving element for Katniss and the reader, but I'm growing tired of angry animals (that are going to look horrible in CGI, I might add) and killer weather patterns.

So please, Suzanne Collins, don't disappoint me with Mockingjay. Both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire had their ups and downs, but the ups have the chance to become something special.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – A John Blake Story (SPOILERS)

My favourite Batman story arc from the comics is Frank Miller's seminal origin story, ‘Batman: Year One’. Along with Miller's other Batman books in the late 80s and Alan Moore's ‘Watchmen’, Year One changed superhero comics for ever. Year One was tonally darker than pretty much anything that had come before; focusing on gritty realism rather than shark repellent batspray and ‘biff’s and ‘pow’s. Without Year One, there is no Batman Begins, and, in turn, no The Dark Knight Rises.

The thing is . . . Year One isn't really a Batman story at all. Even though it chronicles Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl, at its heart it is a story of a good cop in a bad city; a certain Jim Gordon. In Year One, a great partnership is born; one between Batman and Jim Gordon.

This features quite prominently in Nolan's trilogy, especially in Batman Begins. But, while it covers the main beats of their relationship, I never felt it was explored enough. However, in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan kind of made up for any Jim Gordon shaped holes left in the previous films with someone new entirely; rookie cop, John Blake (played superbly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

In The Dark Knight Rises, John Blake gets a story arc prominent enough to serve as the Batman-working-together-with-a-good-cop element for the entire trilogy. They have a similar background (both orphans etc.), they both want to do the best for their city, they both think that the GCPD aren't doing their job well enough, and, in their own ways, they take matters into their own hands. Jim Gordon sees this as well and recruits Blake to join his underground squad trying to save the city.

The trailers never really mentioned Blake and neither did any of the other promotional material, but we get a real focus on the character; the similarities between him and Bruce/Batman, the mutual understanding (the ‘orphan smile’ in particular) and the fact that he basically becomes Batman's man on the ground (even more so than Gordon). Batman obviously sees something in Blake, as confirmed by the glorious final scene in the movie. This was hinted at when Batman suggested that Blake wear a mask to protect those he loves, and, as early as last year, rumours were flying around suggesting that Blake was going to become Robin or Nightwing or any other side-kick.

One of the many predictions I made about the story was that Blake was going to become Nightwing, as Nolan had previously said he would never feature Robin in one of his films. And Nolan was telling the truth; he never used Robin. But he did use John Blake, a man willing to fight for his city without the protection of a mask.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – Hidden Preconceptions

So there we have it; The Dark Knight Rises.

The epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. The finale of the story he wanted to tell.

And “what did you think?”, I hear him ask.

Well . . . .

“You liked it though . . . didn't you?”

Yeah, but . . . . .

That was my initial reaction to the film. And now I'm going to try and elaborate.

To do that I need to go way back to autumn 2008 . . . .

The Dark Knight has just been released to critical acclaim and commercial dominance; everybody's raving about it and, most importantly, it's raking in the cash. So, unsurprisingly, Warner Brothers want more: Nolan's not so sure, but he's willing to be persuaded.

That job goes to David S. Goyer, his co-writer for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The two men are sitting in an L.A. diner, discussing the future of the franchise. Out of the blue one of them has a brainwave. They have an ending for the third instalment, and the entire trilogy; one image that will conclude everything that has come before.

Not a beginning, not a middle, not a villain, not a title, not even one word of dialogue. An image.

Now, I've read this story many times, most recently in an issue of Empire magazine. So I've had more than enough time to mull things over, to create my own ending to someone else's franchise. That story, along with internet rumours and Nolan saying that the end is the most important part, had left me with only one possible outcome; Batman dies.

I was sure of it. It seemed to fit with the Nolan universe, a world of pain and suffering . . . but also light. I decided that in a monumental act of heroism, Batman would sacrifice himself for the greater good, for the people of Gotham.

So, Mr Nolan, how come you didn't listen to me? How come you didn't read my mind and end the film exactly how I'd envisioned?

Wait, what was that?

You didn't know that I thought Batman should die?

You went and made a Batman movie without consulting me?

How very dare you!

I’d tried to go in with no preconceptions; hell, I thought I was going in with an open-mind. I was wrong.

However long ago it was that I had decided on the death of the Caped Crusader, those thoughts and ideas had had plenty of time to imbed themselves onto my psyche. At first subconsciously and then, as time went on, very much consciously, I knew that was what I wanted to happen. That would be the finale; a glorious fanfare of thanks and appreciation to a legend. The people of Gotham would accept that Batman was right all along, that they should have never doubted him, that he was trying to help.

Instead, we got something else. It doesn't matter how close it was to my ending, it wasn't, and will never be, what I had hoped for.

But who is to blame for that?

Me, that's who. Me . . . and the internet.

Now, I love the internet as much as the next person, but it has changed the world as we know it, and not necessarily for the better. It gave me the kindling to create the finale I wanted. All it needed was a spark; a spark that I gleefully supplied.

The fire was lit.
The fire rose.
And then the fire died, leaving behind a pile of ashes for me to craft whatever I saw fit.

So . . . . .

Dear Internet,

When rumour is ashes, you have my permission to die.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Attack the Block – Un Film de Cornballs

‘Attack the Block’, the debut film from comedian-turned-filmmaker, Joe Cornish, is a refreshing 21st century sci-fi. In a world of Transformers and Battleship, where over-long, ball-swinging smash ‘em ups have become the sci-fi norm; Attack the Block offers something new, and harks back to a time when sci-fi was darker and more grown-up, but less serious and more fun at the same time.

The film tells of a group of youths who run into a spot of bother when a poorly planned mugging is interrupted by an unexpected arrival. The problem escalates, and the group soon find themselves fighting for their lives on a night none of them will forget.

For a first-timer, Cornish handles the direction very well; with some interesting shot choices and well-constructed action sequences. Also, even if the symbolism is not particularly subtle, it is well thought through and is at least trying to do something interesting (the tower-block as a spaceship being the highlight).

Unfortunately, the film does suffer on an emotional level due to the fact that it's hard to like some of the main characters. Obviously, some come out better than others, but that opening sequence lingers in the mind and, as a result, I never felt as attached to the characters as, I think, the director wanted me to be. 

Adding to the sense of alienation (accidental pun), is the dialogue. The British, street slang used by the main characters may be difficult to understand (especially for any overseas viewers), and I often found it grating and forced. I know that Cornish was going for a realistic feel, and at times it works as intended, but too often if strays into the realm of forced realism, which is off-putting. It also makes it harder to come up with killer dialogue if 90% of your characters are speaking like that; “Right now, I feel like goin’ home, lockin’ my door and playin’ Fifa” is not exactly world class dialogue and neither is it in the slightest bit witty. For a British bloke in his 40s, Cornish does a decent job of replicating the ‘street’ lingo, but some of the youth culture references stick out like a sore thumb, rather than feeling natural.

Underneath its alien-smashing facade, Attack the Block is a not-so-subtle social commentary; with the primary point being that society unfairly stereotypes youths (like those seen in the film) as thugs and bullies. I am fine with Cornish taking the opportunity to say these things, but it's often forced down your throat and, in the end, I don't think it's entirely successful.

However, Cornish does pull off some truly memorable moments; the silhouette of Moses in the doorway is straight out of a grindhouse martial arts movie, and the following chase sequence is genuinely thrilling.

So, while Attack the Block is far from perfect, it's a blast to watch and I hope that Joe Cornish is given a second chance to show what he can really do. It's just a shame the film is nowhere near scary or funny enough.


Friday, 29 June 2012

Captain America – Punching Hitler in the Face Since 1941

As much as I love 'The Avengers', it has one major problem; because it pretty much perfected the comic-booky superhero blockbuster, all other comic-booky superhero blockbusters pale in comparison. So watching Captain America post-Avengers maybe wasn't the best idea.  No longer can a superhero film just be a big action-orientated comic book blockbuster, they have to offer something new to stand out. Fortunately, Captain America does just that.

You see, Captain America isn't really a superhero film at all. Like 'Thor', Captain America has something new to offer to the superhero blockbuster catalogue. Where Thor had Norse mythology and Shakespearian family-based tragedy, Cap is a rip-roaring World War 2 action adventure. The 40s provides the back drop for 90% of the movie, and the period elements are fantastically realised. Seeing the 40s recreated with a blockbuster budget is a rare delight in modern day cinema, and seeing Brooklyn as it was 70 years ago is a step back in time. The design team also did some fantastic work on Captain America's suit for the movie. While it keeps elements from the classic costumes, it is far more practical and it actually looks like it could be used to fight in.

The futuristic alien tech harnessed by super-villain Red Skull (aka Johann Schmidt) is inventively integrated into an otherwise believable WW2-era arsenal, with the German submarine being a highlight. However, there is an over reliance on CGI, which doesn't always look as good as it should. While the scenes with ‘skinnified’ Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) do look pretty incredible, some of the later action sequences lack any sense of real danger and kind of pull you out of the moment.

Talking of Chris Evans, he does a solid job of playing a weedy little guy/national hero, and he certainly looks the part. He is helped out by a stellar supporting cast, featuring Hayley Atwell (looking fantastic in 40s get-up), Stanley Tucci (as the sympathetic scientist who knows what makes a real hero), Tommy Lee Jones (playing a fantastically grumpy army guy), Hugo Weaving (who just seems to have a villainous face) and Toby Jones (as Red Skull's brilliant right-hand man/scientist).

But, however enjoyable it is watching a good old-fashioned war adventure movie, the action is poor; possibly thrilling sequences completely fall flat. At one point Cap and the Howling Commandos (his hand-picked team of soldiers) zip-line onto a moving train just to fight inside a mundane corridor. The aforementioned CGI issues occasionally bring a comic-book style unobtainable with conventional methods, but too often they just make all the action seem more boring.

Also, the need to link this in with The Avengers occasionally gets in the way. The 10% of the film set in modern day  feels rushed and should really have been included in The Avengers itself, though that may have caused more problems that it fixed. The most interesting aspect of the character within The Avengers team is the fish-out-of-water stuff, which is barely developed in the few minutes Johnston had to work with.

I must finish by mentioning a fantastic montage of Cap touring the States to raise support for the war effort. Played over the top is an amazing song called 'Star Spangled Man' written by the films composer, Alan Silvestri (who Marvel were so pleased with they brought him back to write the fantastic Avengers score). What Joe Johnston (director) manages to cram into this three minute sequence is extraordinary; it shows Cap wearing a low-budget and completely impractical suit (a nod to Cap's original get-up from the comics), and at one point has him punching Hitler in the face (a reference to the cover of the first ever issue of Captain America). But, in a way, this sums up the entire film; when the best, albeit fantastic, sequence in the film is a propaganda montage with Cap prancing about on a stage, you know that the film hasn't entirely worked on a summer blockbuster level.

The action is below-par and it sometimes feels like a hastily put together introduction to a fascinating character, just to get the cinema-going public familiar before The Avengers dropped. However, the old-fashioned elements work well and the cast is fantastic, which leaves us with an enjoyable adventure yarn, but it could have been so much more. 


Sunday, 3 June 2012


People watching Alien 3 on opening night way back in ’92 will have had a very strange experience.

Everything starts well; with David Fincher (director) having the inspired idea of ending the Fox fanfare with a creepy space wail. The audience are on edge and ready for another two hours of ‘adult’ sci-fi.

Unfortunately, it never arrives. Instead Vincent Ward (the primary writer) kicks the audience in the teeth. The space-pod that Ripley, Hicks and Newt had used to escape at the end of Aliens has crash landed . . . with a conveniently placed egg on board, of course. Somehow Ripley survives, but Hicks and Newt aren't so lucky.

Not a good start.

Things don't get much better. But, it's not all bad; for every stupid plot turn, there is sometimes a wailing Fox fanfare. But, only sometimes . . .

The biggest problem the film has is not knowing what it is; not scary enough to be classed as horror, not exciting enough to be an action movie. This lack of true identity means that it never finds a worthwhile path, and what you end up with is strange mish-mash of genres; sometimes going for chills, sometimes going for straight out action, and a substantial chunk of space-based romance (which starts clunkily and then never really has any chance to develop).

One of the things that Alien and Aliens do so well is give you a handful of side-character that you care about, whether that be the marines in Aliens or the crew members in Alien. That is not the case here. Yes, you care about Ripley (but no more than in the preceding iterations), but all of the other character are just dull, with poorly judged criminals-after-redemption stories and weird prison guards, made even weirder by their off-putting English accents which wouldn't feel out of place in a Guy Ritchie film. The only character that I thought was remotely interesting was Charles Dance's Clemens, but, with his untimely demise, he is never explored as much as he could have been.

Another big problem is the cumbersome quasi-religious sub-text and the complete destruction of the pro-female message set up by Scott and Cameron. What started as trying to rectify the sexism in Hollywood has turned into 'men are awful, and it's all woman-kinds fault'. It's a puzzling U-turn and the nearly-rape scene is tough to watch and feels totally out of place. Instead, the aliens are shown as woman-respecting creatures, with the four-legged freak refusing to harm Ripley because she *SPOILER* has the new Queen growing inside her *SPOILER*.

However, as I have said, it's not all bad. David Fincher, in his first feature film, shows that he does have a good eye and sense of tone. The acting on the part of Weaver and Dance is good, with the latter stealing what little of the show he is alive for and it does get reasonably enjoyable when they knuckle down and decide to catch the alien.

The score should also be mentioned; it's not in the same league as Jerry Goldsmith's Alien score or James Horner's for Aliens, but it works for dramatic sci-fi, reminding me of something more akin to Star Trek than an Alien movie. 

A flawed film, especially considering the brilliance it followed and the brilliance Fincher went on to produce, and a step in the wrong direction for the franchise; one it never truly recovered from.


Friday, 1 June 2012


Aliens is a very different beast to Alien. Whereas Alien focused on slow tension, building to almost unbearable levels, Aliens is far more action orientated; aiming to thrill the audience rather than freak them the fuck out.

James Cameron brings his knack for blockbuster storytelling (which continued up until Terminator 2) to Ridley Scott's framework, and rather than exploring the mythology (Space Jockeys etc.) he pushes the same story forward, and keeps the focus firmly held on our favourite parasitic extra-terrestrials. 

Ripley is safe and she is woken from space-sleep 57 years after the events of Alien. She hopes for a peaceful life, but that is all disrupted when she is asked to go and explore some curious goings-on on LV-426, the planet featured in Alien, which is in the process of being colonised. Then, as expected, the shit very much hits the fan.

A mixture of hard boiled heroine, heart-pounding action, thrilling set pieces, a real heart (Bishop is one of the most likeable sci-fi characters ever), and the greatest monsters in cinema-history; Aliens is truly remarkable, and even the special edition (which is a whopping 154 minutes long) never gets dull. Yes, most of the action can be regarded as point-and-shoot, but when it is handled this well and executed with such panache, how can you complain? Also, the dialogue is not exactly Casablanca, but it's chock-a-block full of quotable marine lingo (“Game over, man!”). 

All this action takes place within the confines of a selection of important maternal issues. Not only with the Alien Queen (making her big-screen debut in an extraordinary fashion), but with the Newt-Ripley relationship and the news about her daughter; it's powerful stuff. Scott started it in Alien, but Cameron took it to a whole new level with this sequel, and together they created an action lead to rival any Schwarzenegger or Stallone. This was also Hollywood's introduction to the bad-ass heroine, and Sigourney Weaver's Ripley has not yet been matched.

The action is relentless, ending with a pretty much silent last half hour showing cinema in its true form; a visual medium. Too often filmmakers rely on people talking at you to get their message across, when instead they could just let the image do the talking; action, when used properly, can be the best form of exposition. This is cinema back to its silent roots; where the filmmaker uses action to tell the story rather than flashy dialogue. The score acts as another link with the silent-era; James Horner managed to perfectly capture the feel of the piece, it never becomes intrusive but is always there in the background, making the set pieces more dramatic and the moments of tension more nail-biting.

Though it may seem like a dumb 80s action movie, this is cinema at it most raw and thrilling. A masterpiece.


PROMETHEUS PREP: An Introduction

I would like to say I have been waiting for this moment for 33 years, but that's not exactly the case . . . it's more like 3. Buuuuut . . .

*drum roll*

Well in the UK, at least, and I'm off to my local world of cine to feast my eyes upon what Sir Ridley has concocted for us all on Monday.

So to fully gear myself up for what I hope will be an amazing cinema-going experience, I have decide to make full use of my shiny Alien Anthology Blu-ray set and watch an Alien-universe marathon; A film a night, leading up to Prometheus on Monday afternoon.

I decided to go with a slightly altered order, and started with Aliens (my personal favourite), Alien 3 (the assembly cut's pretty good), Alien: Resurrection (Let's be honest here, it's not great) and then Ridley Scott's dark, brooding masterpiece to lead directly onto Prometheus.

I plan on posting a review a day, finishing with the big one on Tuesday.

So, I hope you enjoy the ride. I know I will.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The Cabin in the Woods – It's F**king Crazy!!

The Cabin in the Woods is unlike anything you have ever seen.

Even if you're a seasoned horror aficionado who's seen everything the genre has to offer - all the way from Nosferatu to Gingerdead Man 3: Saturday Night Cleaver (no, I haven't seen it either; but, yes, it does exist) - nothing will have prepared you for The Cabin in the Woods.

Though it starts out normally enough, chaos soon ensues and creators Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard orchestrate a thrilling mash-up that flies from one realm of craziness to another and then ends with one final crash.

At times, though, it can get a bit too crazy. But instead of focusing on those elements, I recommend just going with the flow and letting the film-makers take you on the journey they intended, not the one you think they intended.

And they certainly left their mark, with elements that can only have come from Whedon's wonderful mind (a certain drinks flask being the prime example). He gives the film a tongue-in-cheek, comedic touch that sits perfectly with the more traditional horror fare. However, this does come at the expense of proper scares and, though there are jumps here and there, some might find it a bit tame.

But that's the thing, don't go into the cinema expecting anything. Just let yourself go and don't resist what the film is doing. This is when The Cabin in the Woods is at its most thrilling.

I have been purposefully vague throughout this ‘review’ for a reason; the less you know, the more you will enjoy it. The trailers are very spoilerish, so I recommend going in cold; no trailers, no plot summaries, no expectations, nothing. Just sit back and enjoy the mayhem.

Part homage, part parody, The Cabin in the Woods is a must-see for horror fans . . . and pretty much a must-see for everyone else, as well.

The Wire #2.1 – What the Fuck They Change the Music For?

It's been three long weeks, but I've finally dived back in. 

So here we are . . . Season Two of The Wire.

The old crew are back: McNulty's back to his best, still managing to fuck Homicide over, even when he's on Harbour Patrol. Most of the old team have moved on as well; Kima's got paperwork, Herc's laughing at ‘whiteboys’, Daniels is on evidence, Prez is trying to do good, but not being helped by his dickish father-in-law, and Bunk's doing what Bunk does best; being Bunk.

Not to be outdone, Barksdale's crew are back as well. Avon's coping with it behind bars, trusting Stringer to keep his empire up-and-running, and Bodie is still not trusted.

But we've also got a load of new European Harbour guys; Frank seems to be the boss, and then there's Serge (or should I say Boris). But, the thing is; I have no fucking clue what the hell they are doing. They just seem to spend their time talking about dicks and Polish dildos, and, on top of that, they've got a container full of rotting whores.

Well I'm sure I'll soon find out what the hell is going on down at the harbour, but until then I can dream for the good old days of the season one theme. 

P.S. I miss you Bubbs.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

A Game of Thrones – Should I Stick It Out?

Sitting here, while listening to the Game of Thrones theme tune (which is fantastic by the way), I am trying to make a decision: carry on reading 400 pages of fantasy, or wait a while and buy the blu ray of the HBO adaption. I’m finding it very difficult: in an ideal world I would finish the book and then watch the TV show, but that’s not as easy as it seems.

You see, those first 400 pages (only half the book) have been a struggle, one lasting for months and months and months. I have probably been reading on and off for six months, and I’m still only half way through. It’s not even that I’m not enjoying it (I am), it’s just sooo long. I can sit down for half an hour, and only read like ten or fifteen pages.

Another reason that it’s such a tricky decision is that I’ve got a great pile of books on my to-read shelf; most importantly, the new Patrick Ness book, ‘A Monster Calls’, which I have been looking forward to reading for a while.

I just wish I could get stuck in, and hide myself away for a few weeks and get it finished. But, that’s pretty tricky with exams and all that shit.

So, help me out internet.

Should I finish it?

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The Hurt Locker – A Change of Heart

A couple of years back, I watched ‘The Hurt Locker’ while lounging on a sofa round a friend’s house . . . and it was crap. It was dull and the main character was a dick; I couldn't bring myself to watch the whole thing.

A couple of nights ago, I watched ‘The Hurt Locker’ again. This time sitting on my sofa, all alone . . . and it was great. It was genuinely exciting and the main character acted as a brilliant vehicle for the message of the film; I watched it from beginning to end.

So why the contradiction? Well, honestly, I’m not sure. But whatever it was that clicked the second time, it really made a difference. It is something that I have never experienced on this level before; I mean sure, I’ve liked films more on a second viewing, and vice versa (just recently, ‘The Departed’). But I have never gone from actively disliking a film to thinking it was something special.

But, in the end, all I can really say is: watch it, and decide for yourself.