Archive for July, 2012

20120724-185539.jpgAfter the Harkonnen’s processes are no longer deemed satisfactory the Atreides family is requested by the Emperor of planets to oversee the extraction of a precious commodity known as Spice on Arrakis. However, an ongoing feud between Harkonnen and Atreides leads to treachery and double cross. A gifted young adult of the Atreides family after being exiled and thought dead turns to the denizens to restore order, not knowing that he maybe the prophesied messiah.
It’s not often that a miniseries limitations can be critically overlooked; however, Dune is the exception due to its intriguing multi-layered, character loaded presentation. Should Dune have been made recently with a filmatic look and budget of recent TV series’ it may have become an archetype version of Dune.
John Harrison’s screenplay and direction is at times cleverly subtle, however, on occasion it is bland and clichéd. Notwithstanding much of the scripts highs and lows maybe be courteous of Frank Herbert’s inspiring, influential novel source material as it’s been around since 1965.
The cast donning elaborate costumes are on fine form and wrestle well with Harrison’s and Herbert’s dialogue. The ensemble include the likes of Giancarlo Giannini, Saskia Reeves and Zuzana Geislerová who plays the creepy Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam. Julie Cox is captivating as Princess Irulan Corrino and William Hurt is perfectly cast as the heavy burdened, ill-fated Duke Leto Atreides. Notable is Karel Dobrý who gives a memorable and resonating performance as Dr. Pardot Kynes. Lead Alec Newman as Paul/Muad’Dib carries the story arch and weight of the series successfully.
The effects and backdrops vary in quality and execution, some are wonderfully realised and ingeniously produced while others take you out of the moment, comparable in distraction to Ian McNeice’s Baron Harkonnen breaking the fourth wall with theatrics to the camera.
You can take or leave the actors, special effects, action scenes and sets the real star of the show is the story which can be revisited, dissected or just taken at face value. As with all grand sagas there’s a lot going on, with an array of characters to keep track of. Perhaps there’s too much for the casual viewer and it may be disappointing to those wanting to see a straightforward space adventure.
Nevertheless, through all its short comings it’s an epic story on a sweeping scale only hampered by its budget restrictions and occasional delivery.
A former government agent Snow is unjustly sentenced to 30 years for crimes against the U.S. However, when the President’s daughter Emily visits the Maximum Security (MS) One space prison things go awry and Snow is offered a pardon if he can rescue her against all the odds. This gives him an opportunity to conclude some unfinished business if he can survive the the inmates released from their cryogenic chambers.

Lockout is not meant to be taken seriously and has unjustly met with criticism. In the spirit old school action films directors James Mather and Stephen St. Leger deliver a fast paced, slick, sci-fi set in 2079 which lets loose an astonishingly pumped up Guy Pearce against 500 convicts. Although the twist is very predictable for anyone paying attention, there’s enough futuristic shenanigans, action setups, excitement and shocks to entertain.
Pearce goes against his usual dry intelligent typecasting as a wisecracking, chain-smoking, hard man which he pulls off with ease. For our viewing pleasure he’s clearly having a good time with Snow’s tounge and cheek dialogue and throwing himself into the action. Maggie Grace is more than adequate as Emilie Warnock and is physically put though mill and like Pearce has a strong albeit uncomplicated arc. The casting of Vincent Regan as Alex the leader of the prison revolt gives the usual stereo type bad guy some weight and intellect. While psycho Hydell played by Joseph Gilgun is intensely menacing as well as amusing.

The early stylistic bike chase sequence aside the effects including the MS One and space sequences are successfully realised. There is a notable cringe-worthy eye piercing scene and plenty of crunching fistfights as well a energetic interesting story. It’s edgy and hard hitting at times, the fight scenes and shootouts are spectacular and Alexandre Azaria score complements the on screen action. Luc Besson, Stephen St. Leger and James Mather’s writing harks back to the days of old when action heroes were just that. Even though derivate of the many sci-fi thrillers it borrows from it’s a finely executed and complied package. With visual and story elements reminiscent of Escape from New York (1981) and Outland (1981) the script delivers an abundance of one liners that even Schwarzenegger would be proud of.

Lockout is a straightforward, entertaining, sci-fi actioner that proves Guy Pearce can turn his hand to just about anything.

After revisiting Dust Devil I thought I’d take another look at visionary Richard Stanley’s 1990 offering Hardware…

Parts of a faulty military robot, Mark 13 are found in the post- nuclear desert wasteland by an old-timer, nomadic scavenger. The Nomad sells the head to to a cyborg who in-turn gives it as a gift to his girlfriend who soon finds that the robot is far from dead.

Director Richard Stanley offers a plausible grim, post-apocalyptic, sci-fi fantasy, which borrows a few visual elements from Blade Runner and Terminator. Hardly surprising it’s also reminiscent of Judge Dredd’s Cursed Earth as Hardware was inspired by comic-book ‘2000 AD’.

Robot Mark 13; once it re-makes itself sometimes looks menacing enough with a cool factor but other times it comes across less ominous. Moses played Dylan McDermott hams it at times in the drug induced scene but play it straight for the most part. There’s an unevenness to some of Michael Fallon’s and Stanley’s dialogue. Moses’ friend Shades (the usual solid John Lynch) is at times like “Stiles” from Teen Wolf (1985) rather than Cyberpunk. Stunning Stacey Travis gives a good performance but sadly she has to don a Rambo-like bandanna in the closing segments. Lengthy sex scenes aside there are few nice touches in Stanley’s screenplay, Motorhead’s Lemmy as a river taxi driver who introduces his own ‘Ace of Spades, Iggy Pop as a DJ voice-over and there’s Mark 13 killer injections and a severed hand. The desert setting bookends the film, the city scenes ooze atmosphere, you can taste the sand and dirt. However, these scene’s are few and far between with the majority of the film confined to one one well dressed flat set.

The crude stalker sub-plot is vulgar yet adds to the story elements of control, hopelessness and the faults of humans.The social control, DIY culture, new experimental drugs reflects the time it was made. That said, Hardware offers sophistication, like Mark 13 technology to get its point across. With a mix of elements it pulls the story in different directions but remains focus on humanity versus technology which with Stanley visuals gives it an art house, music video feel, ambiguous yet focal possibly due to Steve MacManus and Kevin O’Neill’s narrative.

Given it’s modest budget and producers, Hardware in retrospect may have benefited from a heavier edit, possibly with the re jigging of the creepy, voyeur Linc (William Hootkins) element concluding earlier with the discovery of what the Mark 13 is (by the reliable actor Mark Northover) inserted later. With a mixed bag of special effects and sound design the ending annoyingly has endings on endings like many an 80’s thriller.

Stanley’s direction has bursts of energy and he skilfully creates an apocalyptic world as it strives to deliver on its great concept.

An investigation into a government cover-up leads a Sydney journalist and her crew into a network of abandoned tunnels and it quickly becomes clear the story is hunting them.

Whereas the likes of Grave Encounters (2011) played out a like an episode of Ghost Hunters, Ghost Adventures or Most Haunted gone awry, The Tunnel takes the Documentary approach with footage and interviews. Director Carlo Ledesma delivers a well made P.O.V and static film. The contrasting interviewee segments are particularly crisp and come across as authentic.

The actors are solid, Andy Rodoreda, Steve Davis as Steve Miller are note worthy, however, as they explore the dark tunnels there are few chills but sadly an atmosphere killer is the jarring inserted interviews (with the people who were there).

The Mocumentary idea dates back to This Is Spinal Tap (1984), A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and before. The Tunnel while reminiscent of The Fourth Kind (2009) in structure to its credit does try to be slightly different – removing itself from the Paranormal Activities and REC films to name a few.

By comparison The Tunnel is light-years ahead of Tape 407 (2012) or The Amityville Haunting (2011) and is genuinely eerie at times. Although well made with a standout creepy neck breaking sequence the shock element of who lives or dies is taken away due to the viewer knowing that the interviewees are going to survive. This hampers the film and causes The Tunnel to become redundant. Still it’s worth watching if only for camera operator Steve Davis’ truthful performance.

A few of a detachment of German Army soldiers are mysteriously murdered in a Romanian citadel – 1942. The SS arrives to investigate and put a stop to the killings. However, there is an evil force at work within the Keep which will do anything to escape.
The Keep is a high concept yarn. The initial find set up and shooting of the villagers are stand out moments. The visuals and effects are stylistic, strong lighting, wind machines, optical layers are very much of there day. The special make-up has a startling ‘cool’ look to it, the ‘Molasar’ and Trismegestus designs are particularly well executed. Notably are the cast which includes the likes of Gabriel Byrne and Robert Prosky. Jürgen Prochnow is on fine form as Captain Klaus Woermann, Scott Glenn is intense and Ian McKellen is memorable as Dr. Theodore Cuza. The sets are well crafted, the on location shoot add credence to the WWII setting and costumes add to the believability.
Nevertheless, rather than being intriguing with a slow pace The Keep plods along without building any real tension or suspense. The editing is a little jumbled, it appears to be a mixture of good and bad takes leaving it somewhat disjointed especially in the final reel, it may have benefited from only using those ‘good’ takes with a shorter running time. Tangerine Dream’s score is of its time but doesn’t compliment the scenes, it’s highly intrusive and takes away much of the atmosphere, subtlety and eeriness.
Even with director Michael Mann at the helm and given the excellent story based on F. Paul Wilson’s novel and Mann’s adequate screenplay it never gels together. It’s not sure whether it wants to be an art house, MTV video piece or gritty supernatural. Should Mann had attempted this recently he may have been able to fuse it together satisfyingly. I suppose retrospect is a fine thing. Curiously, Mann’s workprint ran for 3 hours, after the studio saw what he had they wanted cut to no longer than 90 minutes and assigned it second-level advertising. Mann has since distanced himself from the film.
Through all its disjointedness The Keep is an interesting film with a strong mythical good versus evil theme that plays on old religious fables. Molasar (Michael Carter) is the most menacing evil entity/being ever committed to celluloid and it’s a shame that this has fallen into obscurity robbing the character and The Keep of even cult status.