Archive for May, 2016

Critters Movie Poster*** This review may contain toothy grin and dart quill spoilers ***

A group of ‘Crites’ hijack a prison ship and escape to earth where they lay siege on a farmhouse attacking the family inside.

Director/writer Stephen Herek Critters is an ambitious creature sci-fi, along with fellow writers Domonic Muir and Don Keith Opper it juggles a lot of sci-fi elements despite a predominantly rural setting. There are intergalactic face-changing bounty hunters, alien creatures, spaceships and ray cannons. Herek and company in true 80’s fashion spend little time in giving the creatures and bounty hunters a back story leaving it to the imagination. This works in its favour compared to the excessive exposition in many of today’s films. Likewise, the Critters just happen to come across the farmhouse after chowing down on a bull. Interestingly at the time of Critters’ VHS run I unjustly saw it as a rip off Gremlins, much like Munchies. Yes it cashed-in on its popularity but writers have since pointed out that it was written before Joe Dante’s classic went into production and subsequently underwent rewrites to reduce the apparent (in the ether) similarities between the two films.

The escaped alien Crites with their sharp toothy grins and tranquilizing dart quills amusingly roll around like hedgehogs on speed. Encapsulating the sound of 1986, artist Che Zuro plays in the background among some other 80s bands with David Newman’s score giving power to the action setups and menace to the Critter puppets. The encounter in the cellar where the father is attacked is quite effective, especially the preceding search and reveal by torchlight.

The Critters are amusing times, at one point they converse with subtitles, “They have weapons” says one, “So what?” replies another before getting blasted away. There’s also scenes where a Critter encounters an E.T. (1982) doll – tearing it apart, a toilet hiding Critter (a likely homage to 1985’s Ghoulies) and also a moment where one eats a cherry bomb may rouse a chuckle.

In the opening the commander of the prison hires two shape-changing bounty hunters to pursue the Crites/Critters to earth (maybe his inspired AVP Requiem’s story-line). These hunters, with Space Marine like costumes get some humorous moments mainly because of mistaken identity by the small townspeople. Tim Curry-like actor Terrence Mann takes form of the rock band front man Johnny Steele, complete with a Bon Jovi hairdo. While the other takes on faces of a few locals notably Don Opper who plays a duel role of both the bounty hunter and the towns paranoid drunk Charlie McFadden.

McFadden a friend of young Brad Brown have a Miyagi and Daniel san Karate Kid bond which is older man young boy relationship that are seemingly avoided in films these days. Brad played by Scott Grimes (who latter would voice American Dad’s Steve) is a stereotype 80s film kid experimenting with fire crackers, bickering with his sister and trying to bunk off school. Notable is Billy Green Bush’s Jay Brown as an everyday farmer and his wife played by Dee Wallace Stone). Wallace is given very little to do, the character Helen Brown is purely functional and pretty much retreads her E.T. mother role, that said she does get to fire off a few shots at those Critters. Playing Brad’s teenage sister April is fresh faced actress Nadine Van der Velde (who was 24 years old at the time) and incidentally appeared in the aforementioned copycat film Munchies. Actor Billy Zane sporting a little rats tail shows up as April’s boyfriend, destined to be Critter fodder. For sale-ability appeal Blade Runner’s acting veteran M. Emmet Walsh plays the pretty useless local Sheriff Harv.

There are a handful of stunts and although the optical effects have unsurprisingly dated the practical effects still hold up well. The impressive gooey face changing sequence is memorable and the Critters themselves are simple and effective from the rolling, to the firing quills with plenty of good old fashion blood on display after an attack. After the bounty hunters cause some mayhem in the church and a local bowling alley (the teams shirts echo a Ghostbusters logo design) they arrive at the farmhouse to capture the Critters. In the final act after the family house is invaded we have our heroes go about rescuing April from a giant kidnapping Critter. Herek gives us an obligatory end explosion, a chance for a special effect team to show off their fine miniature model skills, with moments for the editors to flex their skills. In addition, with some eggs laid in a barn there’s the inevitable unashamed set up for a sequel (which came two years later in 1988).

Critters still has a charm about it thanks to the novel creature design and acting of likable Grimes’. Produced by New Line’s Bob Shaye (A Nightmare on Elm St.) Critters is squarely aimed at its mid-teen target audience and despite some bumpy pacing Critters delivers enough laughs and playful alien set-ups to retain a lasting appeal long after the VHS was replaced by DVD and on-demand films.

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During a drug raid a group of policemen find themselves trapped in a nightmare, the third zone of Dante’s ninth circle of Hell.

I had the pleasure of viewing another German/English language screener personally from filmmaker Kevin Kopacka. Here the Austrian director offers another dark moody psychological visual 32 minute short. The preceding opening with a horrific story of the fate of a young boy which is followed by a flick though the sounds, voices and static of a radio station of 99.9, Kopacka’s prequel to Hades – TLMEA is more street than its predecessor, following a sullen group of swat and undercover police (poliza). Blurred images, shadows on red, troubled sleep with unnatural lighting, flashy editing that cuts to the hyper real moments as the director takes us through on screen title cards beginning with segments subtitled Limbo and Lust.

TLMEA unfolds with the harsh reverberating, at times melodic music by Aiko Aiko as we go further into the subtitled levels and themes, Animosity, (Greed reflected on the TV), Malice, Heresy, Violence, level 1,2, 3 and so on; we seep into the Twin Peaks dreamlike mind of our chain smoking protagonist with a cancelled TV show, Johnny Arson, showing on the TV sets in scenes possibly reflecting society imitating art and sensationalising horror and vice-versa.

Amongst the array of unconventional yet wonderfully abstract coloured lighting (reminiscent of Revolver) there some great effects by Tim Scheidig as a character turns to ice (reflecting Dante’s penalty for the damned) and we are introduced to more hallucinatory themes subtitled Fraud and later Treachery.

Time and effort has clearly been pumped into this production. The acting is first rate, the excellent Anna Heidegger appears briefly (reprising her Hades role). Author/producer H.K. DeWitt also appears. As with Kopacka’s other work the narrative is up for interpretation, no doubt a mainstream interesting feature script awaits (wow, I’d love this team to option one of my novels). As a standalone mystery thriller short it may not have the nightmarish impact of Hades but as a companion piece they compliment and complete each other perfectly.

As mentioned running through the underbelly of the short is the nine circles of Hell (Dante’s Inferno). These dreamlike nightlife images, have a contradicting visual clarity as our lead Cris Kotzen as Schweitzer unloads a gun bringing the state of mind to a close, Tolomea after ‘Ptolomea’, conjuring Minos (interestingly played by rapper/artist Ufo361).

If visually surreal rides are your thing, this is compulsory late night viewing.

*** This review contains superhero world destroying spoilers ***

1983, an ancient mutant awakes to reclaim the Earth. Only a handful of inexperienced mutants can stop him and his newest recruit – the powerful Magneto.

Director Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse has the synonymous superhero city-level destruction with amazing effects, yes it feels a worn but the focus remains on the popular characters and their relationships. It magnifies all the best of the genre, serving up a solid story that remains pin sharp clear throughout.

The Valley of the Nile opening is the most interesting of the film, Singer conjures up a Stargate, Gods of Egypt hybrid where we’re introduced to the excellent Oscar Isaac in almost unrecognisable make up as the mutant Apocalypse. Notable is Death played memorably by Monique Ganderton, one of The Horsemen who saves Apocalypse allowing him to recruit some familiar mutants later. These include Angel (Ben Hardy channelling the late Heath Ledger) and a young Storm, Alexandra Shipp. Olivia Munn’s Psylocke has an edge and a costume in which she steals every scene.

The series time resetting and continuity malarkey aside there are many anachronisms littered throughout – t-shirts, glasses and locations etc. that were not around in 1983. Also there are ‘fridge logic’ instances, for example Magneto should be about 50. Between First Class and Apocalypse, 20 years have gone by but many of the characters remain youthful, Magneto should be about 50 having being around 10 in 1944, Rose Byrne’s Moira MacTaggert appear to not have aged a day and so on.

There are several films crammed into one and it works thanks to the central friendship story-line that’s heart to the film. After the visually fantastic opening the first hour establishes what the characters have been up to, the latter half is then a face off between the players. World-destroying, operatic mutant, Isaac (who is somewhat a Tom Hardy acting chameleon) makes Apocalypse menacing. Simon Kinberg’s script keeps Apocalypse engaging retaining a comic feel even though it is nihilistic at times. Debatably indifferent, Singer and Kinberg never allow Apocalypse reach Nolan & Synder’s bleakness or the polish of recent Avengers and it’s Marvel movie counterpart outings. There’s fun to be had, Quicksilver (American Horror Story) Evan Peters gives X-Men: Apocalypse one of the most memorable scenes where he uses his super-speed to save students and a dog from an exploding mansion to the The Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’.

For die-hard X-Men fans Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine cameo restarts his original story with a gruesome killing rampage. The acting is what you’d expect for a cast boasting such well known faces. Grappling with the dark side of her abilities Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey even though given little to do until the action packed closing is a good addition. Mystique played again by popular actress Jennifer Lawrence never quite matches her older counterpart, Romijn. Likewise Cyclops, Tye Sheridan doesn’t meet Marsden’s presence. James McAvoy as good actor as he is still can’t shrug off Patrick Stewart’s Xavier shadow. Whereas Michael Fassbender gives Magneto’s story-line the emotional depth it requires especially after his family are murdered. Finally Nightcrawler – Kodi Smit-McPhee learns to hone his powers and is a great addition.

The characters are all interesting but Psylocke and Storm embody the way this entire series has changed its female characters; giving them emotional integrity, swagger and complexity as much as possible in a sea of other characters. In all the special effects, sound design, costumes and amazing sets X-Men: Apocalypse gets close to evoking the friendship nature of the comics. It also reflects a morally grey rather than black and white view of the world without endless rain and gloomy lighting.

Yes, there’s a Stan Lee cameo and of course there’s a anti climatic post credit scene which follows on from Wolverine’s aftermath. Overall, Singer’s back to basics story and fast pace in a wash of other recent superhero films offers (by the skin of its teeth) enough new thrills to pass the time with. Worth watching for Issac’s troubled Apocalypse and Ganderton’s small pivotal role alone.

Azeroth stands on the brink of war, the leader of the humans and the leader of the orcs are then sent on a collision course that will decide the fate of their people.

There is a honesty and truthfulness that comes with a Duncan Jones film, from having a famous father (a true legend) Jones broke convention not becoming one of those superficial celebs making a living in the shadow of a parent. I know very little if any thing about Warcraft, I know it’s big and I know it’s a fantasy role playing game so I’m not going to pretend I know more than that.

Warcraft with all the whiz bang jiggery pokery, beneath the sweeping shots and special effects there is a heart felt tale about parenting and loss. What Jones’ offering has is that Moon, Source Code humanity which Jones effortlessly brings to the table, that roundness and grounded feel that he stamps on his films. The script has an honesty that it’s not just some money making studio movie but an indie-spirited film finely crafted on a large scale. You feel your mate made this great spectacle, there’s an underlying apprehensive innocence in contrast to a sense of wonder and adventure. Warcraft seemingly feels that he isn’t in it for the money, but for the story telling and artistic craft of it all.

Unusually the subtitle ‘The Beginning’ was absent on the title screen in the cinema version, it simply says ‘Warcraft’ possibly linked to the rating. While available for all to see with an adult, the battles are intense, stabbings etc. it not just the scary demon and skeletal faces that will scare the young kids but the emotional impact of orc Durotan (CGI capture Tony Kebbell) wife and child storyline. As Orc clan honour is tested, there are duelling wizards, a giant golem and griffin. Jones also briefly throws in a few elves, dwarfs and huge wolves for good measure. There’s betrayal, double-crossing and retribution, the powerful magical Orc, Gul’dan (the excellent Daniel Wu) literary sucks the life of humans akin to The Dark Crystal.

The casting is not mainstream, Ben Foster’s wizard Medivh avoids stereotype and is a young incarnation of a wizard, as is Llane (Dominic Cooper) a younger than expected King. Battle hard human Lothar Travis Fimmel (of Amazon’s Vikings) as well as some grand action scenes, emotional set ups (one echoing the Phantom Menace, Obi-Wan showdown) he also gets comedic moments, many alongside wizard/mage apprentice Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) who again is not what you’d expect for someone so powerful. This casting works in Warcraft’s favour and if you had a thing for blue women Smurfette, Neytiri and Mystique, Stark Trek olive and She-Hulk green is the new in colour with Garona Halforcen. Fittingly cast is memorable underrated Clancy Brown (of Highlander fame) as the principled conflicted Blackhand, Gul’dan’s right-hand orc.

The daytime colour is bright and vivid in contrast to the pin sharp night time and darker scenes, Warcraft has a unique look and feel. The execution is near on perfect in the confines of the budget and today’s capabilities with brutal sword play and battles. The director is wise to keep the focus on the interesting characters and themes of conflict, family and loyalty with Ramin Djawadi ominous score adding to the proceedings. Warriors, Kings, magicians and creatures, the human cast and the CGI performers melt together and you invest in the characters and their secret meetings and campsite confessions. The computer imagery, textured layers of animation and 3D modeling fuse with the mix of practical stunts and sets. Fimmel and Kebbell are notable but Paula Patton as hardened Garona steals the show as a go between peace keeper and will no doubt set geek hearts aflame. Writers Jones, Charles Leavitt and Chris Metzen juggle the many major characters successfully and the cast deliver the fantasy dialogue with ease.

Jones and crew give us the Matrix of fantasy, lots of things will be familiar not just reminiscent because of Lord of the Rings, Dungeon and Dragons, Fire and Ice, Planet of the Apes, John Carter to name a few. But because of an inherent subconscious of the genre that’s in the ether and part of our pop culture. But like the stylised Matrix did for sci-fi (as much as I hate to admit it) after the dust settled it stood on its own feet and was a milestone in film. As a 70’d kid Warcraft for me puts magic back in the mix instead of it languishing in low budget TV shows, a soulless blockbusters or sub-par cash-ins, here Jones takes it to a fitting level where it should be and cleverly sets up a follow up.

There’s unavoidable rooted fantasy tropes littered throughout and Jones injects a little nuance or twist wherever possible. As a sci-fi  fantasy, medieval-ish action saga Warcraft is highly recommend.

Synchronicity Movie Poster

*** This review contains time travelling spoilers ***

A partly funded experiment creates a wormhole, that the lead scientist hopes will usher humanity into a new scientific frontier.

Independent writer/director Jacob Gentry’s Synchronicity is a sci-fi noir that attempts, on a very low budget, to channel Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Gentry is smart enough not to disguise or apologise for low budget short comings and like the recent Automata and The Machine it doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not, avoiding the pitfalls of many recent low budget with ‘named actor’ science fiction films.

Michael Ironside extended cameo as Klaus, a domineering, super-rich businessman who’s bankrolling Jim’s experiment is excellent and unintentionally upstages actor Chad McKnight’s best quirky effort as a Jeffery Combs-like Jim. Abby Brianne Davis does her best to out do Sean Young’s Rachel as a nonchalant woman who may or may not be assisting Jim or Klaus. Davis really nails this curious absorbing role thanks to a good performance and fitting dialogue.

The budget does enough to create a doomy atmosphere with a dystopian stylishness thanks to some interesting locations, special effects and Ben Lovetts’ score unashamedly reminiscent of Vangelis.

Complications arise at once the time travel begins and with only a handful of characters Gentry keeps the viewer engaged with some intriguing narrative twists. It’s clear the viewer is on low budget feature ride, the minimal psychological and symbolic flower wormhole gives it an artsy Kubrick and Tony Scott feel, without overblown special effects, that may give sub-genre fans a buzz.

Its very much a character piece. When Jim goes through the wormhole proving the viability of time travel it becomes a doppelgänger tale akin to the effective Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, incidentally also not reliant on flashy effects.

If time travelling speculative science fiction with video calls, heels, high rise buildings and shafts of light is your thing, you’ll a kick out of this low budget – less is more sci-fi.

Miami Vice Movie Poster*** This review may contain pastel colour spoilers *** Get a load of that poster.

Tubbs has won a week’s all expense paid vacation to an island retreat, St. Gerard. But when he and his girlfriend Alicia Austin arrive its a ruse that has been set up by an old adversary.

The Afternoon Plane is the seventeenth episode of Miami Vice’s third season, its one of the strongest semi-self contained episodes, also it resolves the Tubbs Orlando Calderone story-line. Crockett unusually appears briefly at a wedding but this gives support to the story as it plays out similar to the 1952 classic High Noon, with the impending arrival of a killer and the local towns people won’t help. With the phone service down Tubbs is on his own just like Garry Cooper. Written and directed by David Jackson in this episode you get the sense of urgency, there’s desperation and frustration from Tubbs.

Philip Michael Thomas as Metro-Dade Detective Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs really gets a chance to shine. The supporting cast are on form and include Vincent Philip D’Onofrio and John Leguizamo, also notable is Maria McDonald as Alicia Austin, Tubbs love interest. There’s a jarring steamy love making scene after Tubbs and Alicia do some horseback riding. As it unfolds refreshingly McDonald gets to up the ante rather than be just Tubbs’ ‘woman’. As it comes to head Tubbs and Orlando face each other in a fitting showdown.

With gun hails of gun fire, plenty of simmering tension, complemented by Jan Hammer’s music (and featuring We Touch by Loz Netto) The Afternoon Plane is one of the stand out episodes that doesn’t involve the usual main cast.

*** This review may contain robotic spoilers ***

An elite army unit is helicoptered to a remote, off-the-grid island training facility along with a synthetic enhanced female.

What could have been another Syfy channel or Asylum picture thankfully is not due to some commendable CGI work and solid performances from the relatively unknown cast. Don’t expect B flick, man versus robots, Battle of Damned (2013), Kill Command is played straight and is a tighter more polished production. It is one of those simmering science fictions with a group of soldiers fighting to the death as they make there way through woodland, a hi-tech facility and later a training city setting.

Actor Thure Lindhardt as Captain Bukes keeps the proceedings grounded and David Ajala as Drifter, echoing Drake from Aliens character is notable with Bentley Kalu’s short screen time deserving a mention. It’s Vanessa Kirby as hybrid Mills (in a role reminiscent of The Machine and Ex Machina) who steals the show, as the team are tracked and picked off one by one with the fitting Brad Fiedel-like score by Stephen Hilton sounding out.

Director/writer Steve Gomez offers a satisfying turn of events as it’s revealed that it’s the machines who are in training. There’s some nice touches with the robots upgrading and using the wildlife for target practice.

Granted there’s some choppy pacing and yes, gamers will be familiar with the designs, it also borrows from a countless range of scifi films from Predator to Screamers, more recently Skyline and Edge of Tomorrow to name a few. That said, Gomez’s serious small debut is far more rounded than many recent big budgeted films. The Terminator-like closing along with its twist ending lends is self to an inevitable tantalising sequel that with a bigger production would be gladly welcomed.

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The Abigail arrives at the Mexico coastline and Strand leads the group through a town to Thomas’s gated estate.

Director Kate Dennis delivers an important sixth episode of the second series. While writer Brian Buckner retreads George A. Romero’s ideas and the second season of The Walking Dead with the living keeping the dead, here in a wine cellar, it breaks ground in terms of what means to die, love and loss.

The opening where parishioners take their communion and die one by one this sets up the group’s action driven standoff later after an ill fated run-in with a Mexican flotilla which is guarding the border. Talking suicide notably is the emotional set up of Strand (Colman Domingo) shooting lover Thomas (Dougray Scott) in the head. But interesting there is a bit of misdirection with them at one point contemplating committing suicide with the help of Celia, Luis’s mother. Both Scott and Domingo really give outstanding performances here.

In addition, you have the topic of living being more dangerous than the dead; Chris contemplates killing Madison and Alicia after letting Madison almost get eaten just out of interest and Celia’s divisive view on death and the dead saying the infected are simply “what comes next.” Dennis and Buckner also give an insight into Nick’s tired state of mind, as well as Kim Dickens’ Madison Clark and Cliff Curtis’ Travis Manawa relationship strains.

Overall, “Sicut Cervus” is one of the standout episodes, not only does it develop the characters, including a flashback of Daniel (Rubén Blades) in the Salvadorian Junta, holistically it gets under the skin of the undead themes as well as offering a rounded story of both drama and action.

*** This review may contain zombie spoilers ***

A group of uninfected band together to escape the mutants to get to a coastal road.

After a wacky action packed opening, director Rene Perez delivers a low budget infection affair. Perez’s heavy score is excellent when reminiscent of Euro splatter flicks and it harks back to Italian horror’s when a woman’s shirt (Raven Lexy) is ripped open exposing her breast. Writers Barry Massoni and Perez offer some interesting moments, mainly those involving a deaf character Stephanie, played notably by Iren Levy. Lead Robert Tweten with a practical and cool costume also deserves a mention.

Akin to Zombie Massacre’s dead make up, the mutants also growl. Nevertheless, plenty of effort has gone into the production which is traditionally shot, its not another PoV or found footage movie. It’s a zombie mash up, while not as well executed as Wyrmwood or as stylised as Bomshell Bloodbath, thankfully it’s not as sleazy as Zombie 108 or Zombie Fight Club. Sadly, Perez links it to his 2011 predecessor Cowboys and Zombies a.k.a The Dead and the Damned in the latter half, jarringly taking the edge off this with some unnecessary flashbacks.

At times in the spirit of B exploitation flicks its better than anything made for the Syfy channel, zombie completest may get a kick out of this low budget offering.

The Boy Movie Poster*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A Montana woman, Greta, gets a temporary job as a nanny and to her surprise is paid to look after a porcelain doll, which is treated like a living child by his parents.

Director William Brent Bell offers a creepy tale with plenty of shock scares. The typical British James Herbert-like setting of a large British aristocratic home with mature gardens adds to the sinister atmosphere. Lauren Cohan’s performance is excellent as Greta. As things go bump in the night with objects seemingly moving around reminiscent of Child Play, Dolly Dearest and Annabel to name a few, Cohan sells the fear factor. Bell ‘s production is polished, aided by its sound design, Bear McCreary’s score (who appears to be knocking them out in his sleep) and Brian Berdan’s editing add to the pace and atmosphere throughout.

Written by Stacey Menear, Greta’s back story and motivations are believable but it leads to a somewhat inevitable Cape Fear-esque appearance by Cole, Greta’s ex, played by Ben Robson. Rupert Evans gives a great understated performance as as Malcolm thanks to Delay’s dialogue. Still grieving for their son, both Jim Norton as Mr. Heelshire and Diana Hardcastle s Mrs. Heelshire are delightfully creepy and emulate the odd couple in Dolls (1987) as their intentions are tragically revealed. Notable are the scenes where Greta demonstrates Brahms’ ability to move by himself to Malcolm and when Greta is locked in the attic by an unseen force.

Although the lath reveals the house is state-side and not British, the excellent interiors and grounds really sell it. As with my incessant mention of other films it covers a lot of horror tropes. Those familiar with Housebound (2014) and an array of others will see the twist coming a mile off. If anything the rushed and jarring reveal takes away the suspense and tension finely built by Bell in the first three quarters with a Halloween masked phantom closing. That said, to Bell’s credit the ghoul remains masked retaining The Boy’s mystery. But the star of the show is the Brahms doll, which is just plain unnerving.

Those with pediophobia may want to avoid this at all costs but for the rest of us it’s a solid horror thriller that works best when its honing the psychological aspect and delivering jump scares.