Tagged Sci-Fi

Suburban Parasitic Anxieties: David Cronenberg’s Shivers

Shivers. 1975. Directed & Written by David Cronenberg.
Starring Paul Hampton, Joe Silver, Lynn Lowry, Allan Kolman, Susan Petrie, Barbara Steele, Ronald Mlodzik, Barry Baldaro, Camil Ducharme, Hanna Poznanska, Wally Martin, Vlasta Vrana, Silvie Debois, Charles Perley, & Al Rochman. Cinépix/DAL Productions/Canadian Film Development Corporation.
Rated R. 87 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

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POSTER
Even if I love¬†Alien to death and think it’s a masterpiece of cinema, the fact remains that Dan O’Bannon definitely saw David Cronenberg’s¬†Shivers a.k.a¬†They Came From Within. And not just that, he loved it. This was the original piece of dreadful science-fiction-horror that preyed upon an isolated environment, high up above everything else, a nearly self-contained atmosphere where a predator on the inside starts to take out the residents, one by one. Just like Weyland-Yutani were terraforming and the government or whoever were planning to use the Xenomorphs for sinister purpose, the creatures of¬†Shivers were created for a purpose but then that purpose went terribly awry. Is it a coincidence then that the residential apartment complex where this film is set happens to be named Starliner? I’m not accusing O’Bannon of anything. He’s already been accused, anyways. I enjoy the little similarities because it shows the legacy and intrigue of Cronenberg. He is an important artist who dares to ask questions about human nature, the social effects of technology and medicine and more, as well as so many other things. Only his third¬†feature,¬†Shivers asks of us what the price of advancement is in terms of our social lives, as a whole in society. The more we isolate ourselves, jamming our life into smaller spaces so that we can cram more people in around us, the further at risk we put ourselves of becoming something entirely other. In that case, there is no progress, no evolution. We only evolve into something mindless, swallowed whole by a concern for economic and social status, consumed by our consumption. Through his trademark body horror Cronenberg explores the terrifying downfall of a society within society inside the Starliner apartment building, and much like J.G. Ballard’s¬†High-Rise, as well as the recent Ben Wheatley adaptation, this film depicts how a self-contained environment can eat itself alive
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The big horror here is Cronenberg’s use of phallic, slug-like creatures to represent an invasion of otherness. Again, it is man-made. But it is other, a parasite. What we know know as typical Cronenberg comes here through those slugs squirming their way into the human body. Of course it happens many ways. However, the most eerie and prominent in this screenplay is sexual intercourse. These parasites drive the hosts sex crazy. One of the first women we see infected attacks a man and yells, terrifyingly enough: “Im hungry. Hungry for love!” Later, the most disturbing moment for me is when a family of three that were earlier stuck in an elevator are now infected, and they tackle a man; the little girl kisses him on the lips with her bloody mouth. This one scene really gets to me, as it is creepy anyways, but then with the girl kissing the man, the blood on her, the family all gone raving mad. It’s a sight to behold. Otherwise, Cronenberg does give us a few graphically pukeworthy practical effects, as the slugs slip out of mouths, flop out onto clear umbrellas leaving yucky streaks, one even slips its way up from a bathtub drain and between the legs of an unsuspecting woman (precursor to Craven’s famous bathtub scene in A Nightmare on Elm Street). So many effective, bloody little moments.
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Amongst everything else, the symbolism of Cronenberg’s¬†Shivers is what makes it a worthy and enduring piece of Canadian cinema. While there’s the invasion of otherness and becoming something else, there are more elements at play. The whole sexual angle of people just trying to ravish everyone, gone mental from lust, this comes to represent how the close proximity to the others in these buildings, jamming everybody together no matter if it’s high class suites or what is a recipe for social disaster. Essentially, it is the idea of assimilation, the conformity to a group norm and a way of life that’s accepted as singular. Because they’re not attacking each other like madmen and madwomen, they collectively seek out more people to pass the parasite onto. So it’s like this roaming group of social power, these parasitic citizens of the Starliner apartment complex gradually spreading their diseased love around until finally everybody has conformed, they all fit perfectly in their little boxed apartments(/compartments).
Also, if you want to go deeper, the idea of all these people living in a deluxe apartment complex sort of quarantined off from the rest of society can serve as a statement about how the upper class is sort of an incestuous group of people that perpetuate a system of disease amongst themselves by remaining sectioned away in their own little world. Not everybody here is big time rich or anything. But it’s a suburban residential building, so we’re certainly not talking about a rough neighbourhood. So the way these people descend into a madness of orgy and violence is a comment on how these people mingle only with their own kind, and anyone from outside – such as the man who worked with Dr. Hobbes, the original one guilt of scientific hubris by inventing the sex slugs – ends up killed. The new people, they’re simply indoctrinated and likewise infected with the parasitic, aphrodisiac slugs. So these types of cut-off suburban environments within societies only begets more isolation, in turn more madness.
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That climactic scene where the Starliner’s own doctor, Roger St. Luc, who’d been fighting against the parasitic invasion this whole time finds himself being crowded and mauled in the pool with all the residents is a doozy. It is the epitome of the anxieties of the suburban social life, closed and boxed in, stuck into the cookie cutter frame with all the other mindless, sex-crazed, consumerist zombies. Honestly, there are few scenes in a film which get to me as deeply and have resonated as long-lasting as this one did. From the first time I saw this film about 12 years ago or so, it stuck. And watching it again now, especially where the kiss lands on St. Luc, similar to how the frame slows down on it like with the little girl earlier, the impact is just as weighty.
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There are obviously flaws, as this is a low budget picture and also it was one of David Cronenberg’s first trio of¬†feature films ever. With¬†Shivers, he began to explore the physiological body horror that went on to become his trademark, and here his interest in the social life of humans started to really take off. In a disturbing, poignant fashion. Initially dismissed as completely useless, particularly after the CFDC and others were not happy about its content,¬†Shivers has gone on to be better understood, also more appreciated by certain people. By no means perfect it has a unique charm. Moreover, it is effective body horror with plenty to please even some seasoned veterans of the genre.
Cronenberg is certainly king in the realm of body horror. Always. Forever.

Fear of the Outside World in Tremors

Tremors. 1990. Directed by Ron Underwood. Screenplay by Brent Maddock & S.S. Wilson.
Starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Robert Jayne, Charlotte Stewart, Tony Genaro, Ariana Richards, Richard Marcus, Victor Wong, Sunshine Parker, Michael Dan Wagner, Conrad Bachmann, Bibi Besch, John Goodwin, & John Pappas. Universal Pictures/No Frills Film Production.
Rated 14A. 96 minutes.
Comedy/Horror/Sci-Fi

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POSTER¬†I’ve got a fondness for the monster/creature feature sub-genre of horror and science fiction. There are so many classic, old school Hollywood flicks that have iconic monsters. Everything from James Whale’s¬†Frankenstein to Karl Freund’s¬†The Mummy. You can consider Stephen Spielberg’s birth-of-the-summer-blockbuster¬†Jaws a creature feature.¬†There are even lots of solid indie movies to have produced iconic, horrific creatures, such as the recent Mickey Keating alien film¬†Pod, 90s fare like¬†The Relic and Guillermo del Toro’s¬†Mimic (though studio interference¬†butchered the latter).
And for all its faults, 1990’s underground creature flick¬†Tremors is an entertaining addition to the pack. With a memorable VHS cover I remember wanting to see this movie as a kid. I eventually caught it, still too young for horror, on television late at night. While there’s a great deal of humour and campy movie making, there’s still a super creepy aspect to this one. Despite some almost slapstick style acting and cheese¬†Tremors still manages to attain a level of ’90s horror glory, as it ekes out a few laughs, also giving us a nice dose of creature action with a few fun special effects along the way. By no means is it classic, but it is an enjoyable bit of horror wrapped up a science fiction comedy.
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In the tiny town Perfection at the edge of the desert, two handymen, Earl Bass (Fred Ward) and Valentine McKee (Kevin Bacon), are at their wits’ end. They’ve decided to up and get out of there, to try and make lives for themselves somewhere else. Except that when they’re headed out Earl and Valentine find a man named Edgar up stuck in a tower. In fact, Edgar’s dead. He stayed up there for days and dehydrated. Really?
Well turns out, a woman named Rhonda LeBeck (Finn Carter) is in town studying seismology. There have been some serious, strange readings in the ground around Perfection lately.
Big, hungry, and terrifying worms seem to be living underneath Perfection. And now they’re coming up to grab anything they can get their slimy mouths on.
But when the ground isn’t safe, where do you go?
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That’s the biggest appeal of¬†Tremors in terms of its horror. We feel a fear of anything that can come from the air or underneath us, whether in water or under the ground. Because it’s something inescapable. It’s bad enough if you’re in water, as anything can get you, there’s really nowhere to hide you’d have to just keep on swimming. Until you make it to land. But it’s scarier on land. You either have to climb, die, or fight. So that’s what Earl, Valentine and the rest of the crew find themselves up against. And in a small desert town like Perfection there are even a more limited number of options of where to go than might normally be found. A lot of the tension the screenplay builds up is simply through that isolation. The few residents are forced to do anything they can possibly think of to try and fight these creatures.
If you really want to get deep, the tremors represent the influence and pressure of the outside world. Valentine and Earl are on their way out of Perfection, off to the big city. However, they don’t even make it past the town limits before something pulls them back in. The tremors are an outside influence trying to infiltrate the town. Earl and Valentine realize this, their small town way of life threatened, and they’re pulled back in to defend themselves. Underneath the horror and all the comedy,¬†Tremors is about those who realize they’re more at home, safer with those they’ve known in their little tight knit groups than branching out into a bigger place where they don’t know anyone, where anybody, or anything, can be lurking right below the surface. Ultimately, it’s an agoraphobic film, and if you see it in that light then the film can really take on a different light, making the horror more fun.
On top of all that, the Graboid creatures were created by Amalgamated Dynamics (they’ve done a bunch of other stuff from the recent¬†Harbinger Down which they did independently to other bigger films like¬†Death Becomes Her and David Fincher’s¬†Panic Room). Even if you simply take¬†Tremors for what it is, at a base level, the horror and the effects are still a lot of fun. There are some genuinely nasty bits of effects, especially once some of the Graboids start to get shot/blown up.

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Cheesy as the movie can get, both Bacon and Ward are endearing, as well as the fact they’ve got great chemistry together. It’s a perfect old guy-young guy buddy combination, to the point you can almost consider this a buddy comedy horror. Again, there’s some definite stinky cheese here. But it’s the way these two sell it, how they use their charm to make the screenplay work even at its most campy. Bacon, as always, is energetic. Ward, too. They play the small town attitude well and you can really buy that these two have been working together for a while in Perfection – part of me wonders how they ended up as partners, Val probably meeting Earl when he was just a teenager and the two became this almost pair of grifters, roaming around doing anything they could to make a buck, work for this person, that person. So for a movie that has ’90s cheese factor of significant proportions, the screenplay actually drums up a good bit of intrigue for all its simplicity. Carter does a fine job with her role as Rhonda, providing a semi love interest that doesn’t actually come out until right before the final credits (something I dig because love stories are tiring sometimes and clutter up certain plots). She gets the chance to be smart, bad ass, and aids in the overall protection of Perfection. In that way, she’s a productive outside influence as opposed to the monstrous Graboids. The rest of the cast is peppered with nice casting choices, such as Michael Gross and Reba McEntire as an awesomely nutty gun-loving couple that come in handy, even the classic Victor Wong is in there for good measure. For an ensemble cast, this film could’ve done much, much worse.
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As I said,¬†Tremors is by no means a classic. Or is it? No masterpiece, that’s for sure. But it is one of those ’90s movies I’ll never forget. I saw it constantly on the shelf at my local Allan’s Video, it finally came on television late at night. Then I probably saw it another dozen times over the next 26 years, including today while reviewing it. It’s got light hearted comedy, a couple solid little performances for the movie they’re in, as well as the fact those Graboids are creepy, nasty looking things. In a decade that fell off a little compared to the ’80s, re: horror movies,¬†Tremors is a welcomed bit of fluff that hits the spot when you’re looking for a bit of lightweight cinema that crosses comedy, horror, and science fiction in the span of a quick 96 minutes.

Midnight Special is Emotional Sci-Fi with Action Bones

Midnight Special. 2016. Directed & Written by Jeff Nichols.
Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks, David Jensen, Sharon Landry, Dana Gourrier, Sharon Garrison, Allison King, & Sean Bridgers. Faliro House Productions/Tri-State Pictures/Warner Bros.
Rated PG. 112 minutes.
Adventure/Drama/Sci-Fi

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POSTER
When it comes to independent films, Jeff Nichols is a writer-director I’ve admired now for a few years.¬†Shotgun Stories in 2007 was a great little movie that tackled the flawed masculinity inherent in Southern blood feuds as it examined two sets of half brothers in the aftermath of their father’s death. It also starred the wonderful character actor Michael Shannon, whom many have grown to love as of late particularly. Later, in¬†Take Shelter again starring Shannon, Nichols took us into a highly psychological world that bent the limits of reality, begging us to wonder whether or not the events onscreen were real, or if they were just manifestations of the lead character’s troubled mind.¬†Mud was an interesting, subtle look at people on the fringe, how they come together, and how they survive.
But now, teaming once more with Shannon alongside a slew of other wonderful talents from newer (Adam Driver) to classic (Sam Shepard), Nichols breaks out with an emotionally charged, intelligent, slick thriller that runs the gamut of family drama and adventure to science fiction.¬†Midnight Special is a lot of things. Above all, it is engaging. In a day and age of remakes – some good, a lot terrible – big budget blockbusters without any soul, Nichols’ films are continually a ray of light. This is no different. There are many things to enjoy. And if I can suggest anything, go in without knowing anything. Even the plot. It won’t ruin things if you do, but the beginning is even more tense and filled with excitement if you’re relatively clueless.
And for that reason let’s just dig right in.
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The plot is a lot of fun. Despite¬†knowing from trailers that the film is heavily science fiction, there’s a very raw human drama to the opening few scenes. It doesn’t stop there either. As Roy (Michael Shannon) and Lucas (Joel Edgerton) rush Alton Meyer (Jaeden Lieberher) around from one place to the next, under cover of night, all we know of the situation for sure is that there’s a massive hunt for the boy, an amber alert, everything. So if you had no better idea it’d seem like a truly distressing situation. But slowly, Nichols lets the information trickle down. What starts and continues as a human drama also takes on elements of a larger, more complicated, complex universe that Nichols has created.
We’re introduced to people from The Ranch, the men dressed in suit and ties, the women dressed like Jehovah’s Witnesses. They all seem to have a strange fascination, or rather obsession, with little Alton. And the gravity of everything is so evident. Not only are Roy and Lucas transporting Alton extremely secretively, to the point of gunning down a cop early on, it seems the father is dead set on protecting the boy. There are a ton of things happening, too. In a movie that’s just a little shy of two hours in length, Nichols packs a good punch. All the different aspects of the screenplay¬†are pretty well fleshed out without having to be too full of exposition. Plus, things get real action oriented past the half hour mark, which then takes the pacing to another level. The first thirty minutes are a nice, effective slow burn that picks up steam quickly heading forward.
When we finally start to see more of Alton and his powers, the whole movie gets infinitely more interesting. More and more, scene after scene, Nichols reveals further bits of the boy’s abilities. Yet there’s a cryptic nature to them until late in the game. We’re never cheated, but Nichols definitely draws it out. Expertly. The suspension and tension as the plot moves on at a steady pace really will get your heart rate up, in the best kind of sense.Film Review Midnight Special
Alton: “Whats Kryptonite?”
Lucas: “Its the only thing thatll kill Superman
Roy: “Its made up
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There is never enough Michael Shannon. He’s a talented actor whose work is consistent. Even in movies that aren’t so great (i.e¬†Man of Steel,¬†The Iceman,¬†Premium Rush), his talent makes things more interesting, more credible. He can really disappear into a lot of different roles, which is why he’s best deemed a character actor. His strength is that he’s got the handsome look, though there’s something odd about him, too. He has an affable quality, then there is a dangerous, strange side to him that can come out just as easily. Here, he plays a devoted, loving father pushed to the limit. He is a father under special circumstances. So there’s all this conflict in his character, but above all he is a father who wants to protect his son, no matter what the cost. And he’s forced into a blind faith, all out of love for his boy. A great performance, well written role.
The rest of the cast are equally as excellent. Edgerton is a fantastic talent (also a good writer) and he plays well off Shannon. They’re very believable together, which is honestly something I never predicted beforehand. What I like is that Edgerton has the same kind of qualities as Shannon, except in a different way. He is at once that manly, tough-looking kind of guy when he wants to be, at others he has a sensitive quality. In addition, Kirsten Dunst is good here as the mother of Alton, estranged from Roy. I’ve long said she is a solid actor, having recently given¬†a complex performance in Season 2 of Fargo. She adds an extra, intriguing aspect to Alton and Roy, as a family. That brings us more of the family drama that makes¬†Midnight Special a more interesting science fiction themed film than many others out there.
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When the action gets pounding the film never lets up. There are moments where it’s a chase movie, others the guns start to fly. Sometimes we get wild expressions of Alton’s powers. All the while, the cinematography by Adam Stone captures everything so naturally, and in turn beautifully, even in the moments of pure speculative fiction that happen throughout. Add to that some really great synthesizer score¬†from composer David Wingo, and those moments of tension where things are tight, the pulse is pumping, they become more intense. Sometimes it’s a semi-homage to the 1980s, but most of all it is simply an effective bit of electronic music that serves to augment a film; like any good score should.
This is all around an excellent film in terms of its visual components and its sound, not just the score but also the design. There are too many moments to list really. But Nichols, as director, crafts Midnight Special into a beautiful piece of work aided by these two artists.
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Absolutely a 5-star film. There are so many derivative science fiction works out there, in movies and literature. It’s nice to see Jeff Nichols take the initiative and make something different. He lets everything flow out organically, never pushing the plot too much or too far, but rather just allowing it to unfold. The science fiction, though utterly central to the story, is not always the most interesting element. The family, the cult at The Ranch, the relationship between father and son, the relationship between best friends Lucas and Roy; so many things take precedence over the presence of a little boy with sort-of-super powers. Everything comes together here and¬†Midnight Special takes its rightful place near the top of the best list of modern science fiction over the past couple decades. Nichols turns this into something completely unexpected. By the time it’s over, you won’t know what hit you.

The Metaphysical Rage of Broken Marriages in Cronenberg’s The Brood

The Brood. 1979. Directed & Written by David Cronenberg.
Starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Henry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald, Cindy Hinds, Susan Hogan, Gary McKeehan, Michael Magee, Robert A. Silverman, Joseph Shaw, Larry Solway, Reiner Schwarz, Felix Sillas, & John Ferguson. Canadian Film Development Corporation/Elgin International Films Ltd./Mutual Productions Ltd./Victor Solnicki Productions.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

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POSTER¬†As one of the crowned jewels of the Canadian film industry, David Cronenberg continually fascinates me as a filmmaker and storyteller. So much of his work deals in body horror, particularly his early films¬†up until the post-2000s.¬†The Brood may be one of his most impressive works of body horror. It tackles several aspects of psychology, as well as the idea that psychological symptoms manifest themselves physically, which they do. However, Cronenberg turns this idea into something gruesome, personal, something macabre and beyond reality. Yet all the while this film treats everything so clinically. Even with the wild sci-fi elements, Cronenberg’s 1979 classic is so painfully honest about its real life aims. Everything he¬†has ever done with body horror is a metaphor; to how we live in this world, how we relate to it, to others, and everything in between. Although taking swipes at the field of psychology in certain respects,¬†The Brood is also about the rift between people that not only causes damage in their relationship but to everyone surrounding them, too. Above all, the rage of this movie stands in for that which two people sometimes experience when their relationship is at odds – an all-encompassing rage that gives birth to nasty things we’d rather believe never existed in us.
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At the Somafree Institute, psychotherapist Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) uses a modern, edgy technique as therapy for his patients: psychoplasmics. He acts out scenarios with his patients, as well as encourages them to let their suppressed emotions express themselves physically. Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is an emotionally troubled woman whose divorce battle with husband Frank (Art Hindle) over the custody of their five-year-old Candice (Cindy Hinds) has become incredibly ugly. Under care of Dr. Raglan, Nola undergoes psychoplasmics treatment. Meanwhile, strange and dangerous things start to happen around the Carveth family. First, Nola’s mother dies. Then her father.
And slowly, Dr. Raglan finally realizes his treatments are the danger giving spark to the fire of Nola’s disturbed mind. As Frank struggles to keep his daughter safe, Nola’s physically embodied rage and repression gives birth to pure terror, which puts everyone close to her in peril.
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I know Cronenberg admittedly wrote this during a fiery divorce. That’s evident. All the same, like literature to truly experience and interpret a work it is not necessary to worry about the author’s own personal life. No matter close and parallel to the work it may seem. While on the surface this is simply a personal drama blown up into the larger, nastier proportions of a horror film,¬†The Brood is a great analogy for the dangers of repression, as well as the danger of improper psychiatry all at once. First of all, considering the Nola Carveth character, she is a damaged woman. Through the plot she is revealed to have suffered physical and mental abuse from her mother, effectively ignored by her father. So part of this whole story is the repression of her womanhood, the silencing of her voice as a woman by her mother, her father denying her of identity through his silence. All this turns to rage and she expresses is to devastating effect via psychoplasmics with Raglan, turning it into an unstoppable force. On one hand, a warning about how repressed feelings and buried emotion can unearth itself in horrific, devastating ways. On the other, there’s Raglan and his cowboy psychotherapy. He plays with peoples lives. Not all psychologists/psychiatrists are like that, obviously. But there are some, like in any profession, whose concern is only for themselves. Raglan pushes and pushes until Nola becomes this completely monstrous thing oozing hate. Similar to how some psychotherapists play fast and loose with the mental health of their patients prescribing too much medication, not the right stuff, using therapy which doesn’t work, and so on. Using the concept of the literal birthing of rage, Cronenberg expresses this dangerous psychotherapy quite well. And from this springs all the terrific horror he imagines onscreen.
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In addition, the rage and the creatures represent the bad blood between a married couple going through an ugly divorce. A situation like that creates a poisonous cloud that can infect many others, not just the two directly concerned parties Рit moves to the children, the family, the close friends, the next lovers. So look at it how you will, the premise of this movie works in many different lights. The rage of Nola is symbolic of a host of issues, disturbingly perfect in later shots of the film.
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The performances are solid, particularly from Samantha Eggar and Art Hindle. Oliver Reed is pretty good, too. Hindle plays the concerned, confused husband and father well. He also doesn’t play it over-the-top, which many actors might have done. Instead he’s a calculated and thoughtful character, whose actions come as very natural. I always love him, anyways. But his Frank is solid here. Then there’s Eggar. She plays Nola perfectly. There’s a manic look in her eyes sometimes that’s downright shocking. It still creeps me out now when I think of it. And her delivery is so wonderful. Her performance is a treat all around. She plays well off both Hindle, and especially Reed. Not sure if anybody else could’ve played this role. Something I’ve said before, but here that sentiment is beyond true. Her presence is full of disturbing power, a real classic.
A totally bonkers 5-star film that uses all its force to drive home a metaphorical point about repression, rage, the density of emotion, the dangers of psychology. So many things. Perhaps Cronenberg’s best film, as it works on that level of metaphor, as well as simply on an excellently gruesome level as just a solid horror.

Fear of Invasion in Predator

Predator. 1987. Directed by John McTiernan. Screenplay by Jim Thomas & John Thomas.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, & Shane Black. Amercent Films/American Entertainment Partners L.P./Davis Entertainment.
Rated R. 107 minutes.
Action/Horror/Sci-Fi

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There are 1980s films. Then there are quintessential ’80s films. Such is the case with¬†Predator. It boasts one of those awesome casts that makes things work incredibly well, mostly due to the fact Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura are each enjoyable to see on camera; but they’re just the icing on the cake. The writing has got plenty of that ’80s charm with cheesy one-liners that would never survive outside the decade (“I aint got time to bleed“). There’s a ton of kick ass action that spreads from science fiction to horror in the one breath. And it’s the sci-fi aspect¬†that’s so damn fun.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences a good helping of action in the course of his career. He’s made¬†Die Hard and¬†Die Hard: With a Vengeance, as well as¬†The Hunt for Red October, and also the criminally underrated adaptation of Michael Crichton’s¬†The 13th Warrior. But above it all reigns this 1987 science fiction action-horror masterpiece. Playing on a collective fear of the unknown re: intelligent life out in space, McTiernan’s¬†Predator puts a bunch of military men in the way of the titular intergalactic hunters, pitting the toughest of the tough against an entity far scarier, far more nasty than any of them.
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Our first glimpse of the Predator’s thermal vision scanner is actually chilling. It has this starkly contrasted feeling, and the sounds, the thumping of the heartbeats, makes things even more unsettling. Best of all, the men don’t know they’re being watched. So the voyeurism of this Predator as he susses out the group and their possible weaknesses is a scary element. He watches, waits, stalks. They are his prey. Quickly, we’re introduced to the abilities of this space hunter and the advantages his technology give him.
And that leads into part of why I love¬†Predator. If you’re the kind that likes reading deep into a film, even if it’s action, then let’s get going! See, to my mind, the idea of these Predators out there, coming from another planet and meeting head-on with these military men, the mercenary-types, it speaks to the uniquely American fear of being conquered. Being dominated. Being bent to the will of a power stronger than oneself. The idea that these super hunters could go up against our best, the military-trained men with every skill for battle imaginable, this shatters any notion of superiority.
Then again, it’s just a movie about an alien killing a bunch of dudes, right?
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Setting this in the jungle was a stroke of genius. The locations look absolutely incredible. Much of the cinematography in general is pretty good, too. Donald McAlpine does a solid job capturing different aspects of the film – from the horror to the action to the more sci-fi elements. He takes us from the action oriented battles to the close-up, fearful conversations of the men as they hide in the bush from the Predator. The suspense is always present. The horror always just around the corner. Together with McAlpine is the talented composed Alan Silvestri, whose music can be heard in everything from¬†Who Framed Roger Rabbit to¬†Forrest Gump to¬†The Avengers. His score really amps up the energy, ¬†the suspense, and breaks the tension in all the right places. The orchestral score flares up in wild moments of action. Its strings lay just beneath the conversations of the men as they try and figure out how to proceed against their unseen threat. Adding McAlpine’s cinematography with the downright fucking amazing score out of Silvestri, all the genre elements are aided with a thick atmosphere of dread and uncertainty.
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On one hand, Arnold is not a good actor; at all. On the other, he is a great action star. Contradiction? Nah. He’s got the looks, the big hulking frame and muscles, there is a quiet intensity about him almost all the time. He’s got charisma, his charm is undeniable. Plus, he can do the action, he can perform some stunts and give authenticity to the term ‘action star’. So who better to lead¬†Predator? In addition to Ahh-nold, we’re also given some Carl Weathers, whose performance is fairly enjoyable. Then Jesse The Body – he pops off a truly hilarious and unfortunately homophobic line early on, but makes up for it with typical ’80s nonsense dialogue that’s so perfect to keep things fun. The cast was never going to win any Oscars. Although, they work well as an ensemble, they’re all pretty ripped which lends itself to their being military men and hardcore mercenaries, so that’s the best McTiernan needed for the action and the thrills provided.
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Excitement. Suspense. Greasy biceps. Blood. Brutal alien killers. Arnold covered in mud, kicking a little alien ass. Predator is a big 4-star action extravaganza. It has the right amount of everything to make this one of the best of the 1980s. The science fiction and horror aspects of the screenplay really helped this become a favourite amongst fans. Because action movies are meant to be Rated R. So why not give fans of the sci-fi and horror genres a dose of action they can enjoy? Turns out, everyone enjoyed it.
For all its flaws and missteps,¬†Predator‘s appeal is undeniable, it is long lasting, and as long as there are action-science fiction hybrids, this will remain a proven classic.

Man Vs: Survivorman Meets Predator

Man Vs. 2015. Directed by Adam Massey. Screenplay by Thomas Michael.
Starring Chris Diamantopoulos, Chloe Bradt, Michael Cram, Kelly Fanson, Sam Kalilieh, Alex Karzis, Constantine Meglis, Drew Nelson, & Kate Ziegler.
Darius Films.
Unrated. 87 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

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POSTERWhen it comes to found footage, a film can often help itself by using a gimmick. Now, that does not always help. Although, sometimes the sub-genre is at its best when a film not only has a good story but also an interesting gimmick. The Poughkeepsie Tapes used found footage to explore the decades long trail of a demented serial killer. Afflicted tackles the vampire sub-genre within found footage framed by the world globetrotting trip of two lifelong buddies after one is diagnosed with a likely terminal illness. And the good ole Blair Witch Project had pretty much the first big, successful internet campaign mixed with a richly fleshed out fake mythology to propel it forward big time.
Man Vs. uses a premise I’ve long said would make for an interesting ride. With a main character whose job is very Les Stroud-like, and whose television series is quite the direct parallel to¬†Survivorman, Adam Massey’s film is a creepy little flick. Some of the effects, specifically later in the film when we see what is in the woods with the main character, leave a lot to be desired. In fact, part of it is terrible CGI, the other parts equally terrible riff on¬†Predator. But the suspense, the emotional journey of the protagonist, all the tension which builds up towards the conclusion, is every bit worth it. The pay off doesn’t fully cash the cheque this screenplay wrote for us. Still,¬†Man Vs. does an interesting job with its premise, Chris Diamantopoulos carries the dramatic portion of the movie on his shoulders, as well as the fact there is a quiet atmosphere which will certainly give you a creep or two. Don’t expect the conclusion to offer much for what it stacks up going in, but enjoy what there is to find because it’s not all a waste. Though it borders on it.
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Doug Woods (Chris Diamantopoulos) hosts a big television series called ‘Man Vs.’ that takes him to remote locations in the forest, where he’s left alone with only a few bare provisions, forced to encounter the wilderness and whatever it brings on his own. He is a TV celebrity, so part of him is bit of a show already. Though, it’s clear he knows his way around. After his brother Terry (Drew Nelson), Bill (Michael Cram), and Angie (Kelly Fanson) leave him at the latest location for the start of their newest season, Doug digs in. He finds food, a couple rabbits running around. He sleeps under the stars, he builds himself a little shelter. Everything is nearly idyllic. At least until something or someone starts messing with Doug.
When he finds his camp in disarray, a strange substance under his makeshift traps, even discovers his one and only Amp energy drink drained, the fact Doug’s not alone really hits home. Even worse when dead animals turn up all over his camp area and a big man-sized trap is left for him.
Can Doug survive this, too? Or is this one episode that’s likely never to air?
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What’s interesting start off is how, usually, Doug has a bit of control. Because there’s the satellite phone lifeline. Introducing an eerie science fiction angle effectively puts him out there completely alone. So part of the plot really puts this guy, this survivalist, to an actual test. Also, like Les Stroud and his thoughts on the possibility of a sasquatch existing, Doug is a rational guy who spends a lot of time out in the wilderness, he sees a lot, hears so much, and that brings a degree of common sense-style knowledge – when he begins to question what exactly’s happening in those woods, there is an element of pure fear and doubt that works its way into the viewer, similar to how it does Doug himself. When people who are normally so grounded and rational minded find themselves questioning the presence of something ‘other’, it is much more of a shock than someone whose beliefs are fluid.
Actor Chris Diamantopoulos has a massive job to do with shouldering the weight of this film’s drama. If he weren’t as charismatic, the whole thing would’ve suffered much more. Instead, he gives us a very likeable Stroud-type guy. He is real, he’s got a family at home, his friends and the relationships with those who do the show, and so on. The writing helps, obviously, but it’s Diamantopoulos whose got to face the camera head on and be the only one onscreen for the better part of its entire 87-minute runtime. I’ve seen him in a number of things, most notably his delightfully unsettling turn on¬†Hannibal, though, he is at his best here. Watching his Doug switch from pissed off and upset to putting a face on for the camera and his TV¬†show, it is impressive at times. He gives us a view into what the life of a famous survivalist might be like, of course alongside a sci-fi situation that no survivalist would ever want to be in. His likeability and natural, relaxed attitude as the only person on camera really does well to help the screenplay feel organic.
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I really feel the last 15 minutes or so does the entire film a terrible injustice. If they’d decided on another way out,¬†Man Vs. could easily have come out on top as a great little found footage effort. Instead we’re given half baked nonsense, too many additions to know what to do with, and more of the brutally CGI’d creature in the woods. I’m convinced had they went without including direct looks at their creature, or maybe completely went with it unseen, the whole story would’ve came off better. Without ruining anything, Doug ends up at a camp and sees something there on a television set which shocks him to the core. It should come off as a moment of impact. Rather, it’s more of an eye roll scene that made me want to fast forward completely through the remaining few minutes.
This is a 2-star film. A lot of wasted potential. Diamantopoulos is the best part about this found footage sci-fi-like thriller. If not for him, there’d be very little to enjoy. The suspenseful scenes and all the tense plot development is interesting. To a point. With nothing to justify all its slow meandering towards a lackluster conclusion,¬†Man Vs. is barely mediocre, and ultimately mostly a huge disappointment.

The Survivalist: Realism in Post-Apocalyptic Life

The Survivalist. 2015. Directed & Written by Stephen Fingleton.
Starring Martin McCann, Mia Goth, Andrew Simpson, Olwen Fouere, Douglas Russell, Kieri Kennedy, Ryan McParland, Michael Og Lane, Claran Flynn, Hussina Raja, Logan Kerr, Aran Downey, Sean Doupe, and Matthew Henry. The Fyzz Facility Film One.
Rated 18A. 104 minutes.
Drama/Sci-Fi/Thriller

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POSTER¬†I’d been excited for a while after hearing of¬†The Survivalist, as I kept on hearing there was something different about it than other films like it. You will no doubt think of many different science fiction romps where the end of the world is upon us, perhaps everything from¬†The Road to¬†Mad Max and more. However, there is a quiet elegance, a beauty about writer-director Stephen Fingleton’s debut feature film which you won’t always find in other similarly themed movies; this is certainly more close to the Cormac McCarthy adaptation than the early Mel Gibson star vehicle.
What we get here is a world of lush visuals, the earth still vibrant and beautiful, as starvation is rampant and has turned humanity in on itself. Whereas something like¬†The Road explored a total end of the world style situation, where humans were indeed beginning to fold on another, The Survivalist takes on a small story within a bigger world yet it manages to tackle some other issues. Right from the beginning 15 minutes you’ll understand this is a unique and vastly different science fiction thriller than you’re used to. But that doesn’t mean anything bad. Completely the opposite – the unusual nature of this movie will draw you into its complex, and at times both dark and gorgeous world. Featuring a breakout performance from Martin McCann, the plot of The Survivalist comes alive, it grows on you and in you, presenting a incomparable vision of a world future that’s incredibly terrifying at times.
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The Survivalist (Martin McCann) feeds off the land, or what he can, anyways. Earth as it is now, in the future, has found itself ravaged by starvation. People grow crops where and when they can. Not everyone is able to do everything they want, as humanity crumbles further and further. Violence is a new way of life for many. Money is no longer of any use, neither are bits of gold, watches, anything that would’ve been used as currency in the old days. Living on his own, The Survivalist manages to get through the day, each day, one after another.
Except one day his daily routine is interrupted. Two women come to the door – Kathryn (Olwen Fouere) and her daughter Milja (Mia Goth). They need and want food. They offer up gold and trinkets, but The Survivalist wants none of those things. Nothing is of much use to him anymore. Only Kathryn offers him something far more intriguing, something he has not had for far to long: sex with a woman, Milja to be exact. After they spend a night together, The Survivalist’s life changes, becoming drastically different than it was before. And not for the better, as an arrangement he strikes with the two women devolves into something worse. Suddenly, his whole world and his life are threatened, more than ever.
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The central performance of Martin McCann stuck with me almost from the first frame. He’s got a naturally piercing pair of eyes, though, his acting gives them fire. Even just by himself there is a whole world behind his eyes, and you can watch him go through a range of emotions simply by looking into them. Without words, in many of the scenes, McCann can bring us into the character’s head so well. Combined with the sweeping and emotive cinematography of Damien Elliott, the performance McCann gives is powerful, capturing him in such wonderfully framed shots that it’s hard not to want to keep staring at them long after they’re gone.
Likewise, both Mia Goth and Olwen Fouere are excellent. Fouere, the older of the two, sort of gives Goth the lead-in; both cold, calculating women, but each of them quiet and inconspicuous. They’re like mirrors of one another, or perhaps Goth’s Milja is a shadow of Fouere’s Kathryn. Either way, they both express similar subtle power as McCann, which in turn compliments his performance in the right kind of sense. Three of them together can make an ordinary scene into something much more, and all without much dialogue.
That brings me to another thing I love: the screenplay. Fingleton doesn’t make a typical post-apocalyptic film, which he easily could have done. Yes, as I said, there are parts of¬†The Survivalist that will seem familiar. But it’s in the way Fingleton lets his plot and story play out, twisting, turning quickly at times (though paced at a steady rhythm). That’s why it all works. Even more than that, the exposition is cut to a minimum here, the bare minimum. If there’s even any at all, in terms of the overall story of what’s happening. When it comes to The Survivalist himself there is a brief portion of expository dialogue where he reveals a small piece of his own story, although it isn’t much. I dig that because we don’t have to know a ton about him; several of his actions speak louder than words.
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The entire aesthetic of the film, visuals and sound design included, are so perfectly fitting, full-stop. There is certainly a slow burn feel to the movie, interrupted now and then by situations which give the plot energy, but no matter what is happening at any given time there’s a continually fluid darkness to every frame. From one minute to the next, the cinematography captures everything with a somber beauty, as even the colourful green pastures and clear sunny skies take on a heavy foreboding quality. I always love when the visuals in a film can maintain that gritty feel despite a night or day setting. Because make no mistake,¬†The Survivalist¬†is 150% grim. There are bright and bouncy locations, as the little cabin and the tiny field of crops sitting among healthy green trees all look pretty. But with everything happening within the story there is a black cloud looming constantly, which comes across brilliantly in the cinematography. Coupled with that, the sound design – without a score – takes us deep into the world of the film, from wind blowing between the cracks of the cabin and regular everyday noises like the scraping of plates, the rattle of a mug, to the rush of the river and the natural sounds of the outdoors. Some people might not like that, but I suspect they might be not of the type who enjoy this sort of film in general. Yet if you’re willing to give it a chance the movie’s look and feel, its atmosphere, will get into you with its hooks.
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A quality 5-star film, an amazing debut feature out of Stephen Fingleton. We’re often bombarded with a lot of low budget science fiction films that aim too high before sinking too low with acting and visuals which never quite seem to cut it. In opposition to all those other less movies trying to hard and delivering nothing,¬†The Survivalist goes for less while bringing so much more to the table. With a sparse yet impressively powerful style, Fingleton’s film is full of surprises. It is intense at its core, full of humanity, and above all else the performances root this story in a firm place, as the actors each use their talents to bring a tragic world to life before our eyes. I do hope Fingleton will bring us more to enjoy in the future – his vision of what the future looks like is scary, depicting a depleted human nature – so if that happens, I want more films like this, and quick.

Southbound is a Darker Twilight Zone for 2016

Southbound. 2015. Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, David Bruckner, Patrick Horvath & Radio Silence. Screenplay by Roxanne Benjamin, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, David Bruckner, Susan Burke, Dallas Richard Hallam & Patrick Horvath.
Starring Chad Villella, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Kristina Pesic, Fabianne Therese, Nathalie Love, Hannah Marks, Dana Gould, Anessa Ramsey, Susan Burke, Davey Johnson, Mather Zickel, Karla Droege, Zoe Cooper, Justin Welborn, David Yow, Tipper Newton, Matt Peters, Maria Olsen, Tyler Tuione, & Kate Beahan. Willowbrook Regent Films.
Rated 18A. 89 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

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POSTER
Anthology films, especially those of the horror variety, can either end up being extraordinary, or very mediocre. The¬†V/H/S films (sharing several of the same producers as this film), in my opinion, are pretty damn good; for the most part. Some thought they were a mixed bag. I actually loved the third one,¬†Viral, most of all, even though so many thought it was terrible. Either way, there’s always a gamble inherent in putting different stories, no matter their genre, together into one whole anthology. You can divide people easily that way.
But fans of The Twilight Zone¬†and other similar horror/science fiction might appreciate¬†Southbound in the same sense I did. There really is something for everyone. That is, for everyone interested in the dark, macabre corners of the imagination. I’ve seen reviews dubbing this as a mixed bag. Not sure how they felt that way, but it’s all subjective. Me? I found myself dropping jaw several times, loving each scene and simultaneously wanting the current segment to end just so I could see what would happen next. As a lover of both horror and science fiction, the cross between the two genres is subtle, though, it is clearly evident. Maybe it’s not even science fiction, but rather a supernatural aspect. Either way it’s got that¬†Twilight Zone vibe, as I said, and in a way that does not come off as a copy of anything from the series or movie. I’m not even sure if the filmmakers even intended to make this feel that way. Yet it has an amazing sense of homage without ever really trying to reference¬†The Twilight Zone or any other films in particular. Mostly, the directors and writers come together to present us with one of the best anthology movies out there. Period.
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Instead of attempting to briefly describe any plots, I’ll forego the usual format. Instead I want to focus on the impressive elements of each segment, without spoiling anything too much, or if possible at all.
“The Way Out” has an excellent monster, or whatever you want to call it. Super neat! Unique, too. Not saying there’s never been a drawing like it before, probably there has been. But as far as horror movies, even science fiction go, I’ve not seen a creepy creature like this in a long time. It’s part skeleton, part demon-ghost, part smog. Definitely a fun addition, and one that looks unsettling, especially when it stands (floats?) off in the distance like some supernatural Michael Myers waiting at the end of the street.
Overall, I dig the opener. It is an eerie sci-fi romp with bits of horror. Plus, I like that we’re not given a ton of exposition here to try and explain all we’re seeing. It fits and works perfectly for an anthology film with a bunch of shorts together, as you get just enough then walk away wondering: what sort of place is this? Added to that, it’s a killer way to start off an anthology. Really throws you off balance, in a proper way.
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Second short – “Siren” – isn’t overly unique, nor are there any impressive effects really. That being said, I dig the relationship between the female characters at the center of the plot. And I also think less is more, in certain cases. Again, like how the first introduced some interesting things then left them fairly open, this one gives us a taste of the main characters and their lives, who they are, but it’s only a slice. We don’t get everything, and it’s one of the big reasons why I thought, despite its shortcomings, this segment works so well. There is a lot of creepiness happening and the build up to the reveal of what’s going on is definitely tense, at times darkly comic, as well as the fact we get Dana Gould playing a super weird dude.
Then there’s the connection between each short. Everything happens out on the highway, a desolate stretch of road where it seems nothing but terror happens. I especially like how¬†the second and third connect, as it involves one of the women from the second in an absolutely mortifying sense. The writing in most of these segments is pretty fun and dark as hell.
In this third one, “The Accident”, there is some truly gory, gruesome work in the practical effects department, and I am ALWAYS a sucker for well executed blood in a horror. Although I found the second segment lacking in awesome effects, going more for lackluster work, this one makes up for that big time. “The Accident”, for me, is most similar to the vein of many great¬†Twilight Zone episodes, and the movie, as well. It has a truly unsettling vibe from beginning to end. And who doesn’t find abandoned hospitals a creep-out?
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“Jailbreak” gets really out there, too. If the point of being in Hell hasn’t come across strong enough yet, boy, oh boy – does director Patrick Horvath ever hammer it home in this short! Horvath and Dallas Hallam wrote this, and they directed/wrote the fascinating slow burn¬†Entrance from 2011; a movie that, to this day, has not yet washed off me. Here, though, there’s a much more wild, supernatural, nasty angle to the story they tell. I won’t spoil it because there are a couple truly WTF moments you need to see going in blind. On top of everything else, the practical effects in this segment are outrageous; in the best fucking way.
My favourite out of this anthology is the final segment, “The Way In”. Above all else, the way this connects to the other segments is absolutely spectacular. Truly, it is wonderful and dark and weird. I wasn’t expecting this finisher to connect everything so perfectly, as if cauterizing the plot and its various threads. The build up in this segment I enjoyed incredibly, which then devolves into madness after everything breaks. Finally, it’s the very last few moments that reconnect the beginning and end of the entire anthology. I can’t say too much about this one, for fear of spoilers. I will say this – the beginning of this short lulls us into a real everyday type of crime feel, as if we’re about to see a typical thriller that we’ve seen a hundred times, and from there propels us through a vicious, quick and adrenaline-fueled segment which caps things off with the right touch.
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Absolutely a 4.5 star film. Like I said: a favourite anthology of mine. This will be going up on the Blu ray shelf once it’s out, but for now you can snatch it up via iTunes. There’s really a lot of good stuff here and anybody who says it’s uneven may just not be into the style of this entire movie. Everything connects so well, as if a tiny thread runs through every segment to tie it all up, sewn nicely and stitched at the seams. Hopefully the team behind¬†Southbound and¬†V/H/S continue to do these anthologies, as I feel they’re really getting better at them all the time. Plus, different directors and writers come in, so the blood is fresh. This one contains a good deal of talent, heaps of the damn stuff.
Southbound, and movies like it, are the reason why I adore genre films.

The Magical Sci-Fi of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. 1977. Directed & Written by George Lucas.
Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, Peter Cushing, Alec Guinness, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, David Prowse, Jack Purvis, and James Earl Jones. Lucasfilm/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Rated PG. 121 minutes.
Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Sci-fi

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POSTER
Even though I do like certain novels and films in the science-fiction genre, mostly it isn’t one I’m huge on overall. Not knocking it. I prefer horror, of many kinds, dark dramas and thrillers. Yet that’s the thing about¬†Star Wars, its appeal crosses over regular genre boundaries. It reaches out on many levels to different audiences and draws them together. People act like the franchise’s fans are strictly a ton of sci-fi nerds. Wrong. There are so many people who love¬†Star Wars that come from different backgrounds, in terms of their genre preferences.
Above all else, George Lucas’ first Star Wars film, fourth in the timeline,¬†A New Hope is an incredible achievement. It breaks us into a massive space opera story, throwing us into its middle in an ambitious move by a somewhat beginner filmmaker (yes I know he made films before but c’mon – this is way bigger than anything else he’d done before). The way Lucas fleshed out a massive franchise by putting us into Episode IV as the start of the films released, it’s pretty damn impressive. The ambition is strong in this one.
With a ton of interesting and innovative effects, alongside fun performances from relatively unknown actors at the time, and a truly interesting overarching story, Lucas was able to birth one of the most influential franchises in film history, as well as one nobody who’s a fan will or could ever forget.
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I won’t waste time explaining any of the plot, as I usually do with my reviews. If you haven’t seen this yet you probably already know a good deal, having heard much about Princess Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher), Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and his often times pessimistic companion C-3P0 (Anthony Daniels), as well as the handsome smuggler with an attitude Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Even those who’ve never seen a single film in the entire franchise know many of these names. Very hard not to, especially in today’s age of social media.
So instead of recounting the plot a little, I’ll dive in.
Immediately, the first few scenes of¬†A New Hope always grab me. I particularly love the Stormtroopers and their gun fighting, lasers going everywhere, pew pew pew. But it’s the white, sterile sort of spaceship in which they’re fighting that grabs me, then in the middle of it all Darth Vader (played by David Prowse; voiced by James Earl Jones) strolls past in his stark black costume, the iconic helmet shaped like an old Rolls Royce. There’s something about the visuals in the beginning which continually gets me. No matter how many times I see it, no matter that I know what’s coming, there’s a quality to the beginning of the film that catches me and from the start keeps me wanting more. Of course, more comes. Even better is the fact everything outside the spaceships looks so rustic, from the planet Tatooine itself with its desert feel to the cantina, to the Millenium Falcon with its lived-in sense of atmosphere, as if everything is old, used, and the battle between the Empire and the Rebels has decimated almost everything wherever anybody goes. So what really impresses me off the bat about Star Wars: A New Hope is the production and set design, the art department, and more. Once you get further into the story, the special effects impress. And after finding out the origins of the many iconic sounds – lightsabers in battle, the firing guns of the spaceship and so on – it’s all the more interesting because you can see the innovation it took on the part of Lucas and his entire team. They didn’t half-ass a single second.
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From the look of the film physically, in terms of set and design overall, we also need to remember the magic cinematography of Gilbert Taylor. His amazing credits include¬†Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Roman Polanski’s harrowing¬†Repulsion and his later film Cul-De-Sac, as well as¬†The Omen, all of which saw him in the role of Director of Photography. And because of this, we have him to thank – as D.P. once more – for the gorgeous look of how¬†A New Hope was filmed. Then, you add in the massively talented John Williams, whose score is one of the most iconic bits of film history; even if you don’t know the movies, you probably could recognize the theme and other portions of the music.
Moving on, the editing is also a large part of why the movie works, from its wonderful sideswiping transitions to the excellent cuts between the action. Several editors worked on the movie, including an uncredited bit of magic from Lucas himself. However, Paul Hirsch is the one I find myself most interested in, as his work spans many genres, many amazing filmmakers: several Brian De Palma masterpieces such as¬†Sisters,¬†Phantom of the Paradise,¬†Carrie and¬†Blow Out; then there’s also his work on¬†Creepshow (“The Crate”),¬†Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, one of the funniest films ever¬†Planes, Trains & Automobiles,¬†Falling Down, another excellent De Palma adaptation on¬†Mission: Impossible, plus several more recent films that are pretty fun and interesting. So Hirsch brings all that talent to¬†A New Hope – one of the first half dozen movies he worked on. Moving past his efforts for Lucas, which also include the sequel The Empire Strikes Back, he’s become a sought out editor having done one of the latest¬†Mission: Impossible¬†sequels, as well as the upcoming¬†Warcraft movie. Most of all, you can tell even in this movie, at the early stages of his career, Hirsch was talented. The editing could’ve easily been shoddy in¬†A New Hope, but his work, plus the work of the others involved in the editing room, makes this piece of science fiction a masterwork. The transitions between scenes has a remarkable feel, which makes you often forget you’re watching a supposed space opera. Instead, it feels like any other classic, well-made film of its era. Perhaps even better. All due to so much great technical work behind the scenes, elevating all the other work out front.


But without the power of the actors starring in¬†A New Hope, even the most amazing work in terms of editing, cinematography and score would all fall short. Carrie Fisher plays Leia as both a strong yet still vulnerable person, as does Mark Hamill; the parallels between there characters exists in the fact they’re both natural leaders, however, they’ve not yet realized it in this first film. At the end of the movie, both Luke and Leia appear to us now more mature, changed, ready to take on whatever else comes.
Further than that, once Harrison Ford’s Han Solo comes on the scene there is an extra dimension of charisma and swagger not yet present in the filmic universe of¬†Star Wars. Not only does Solo give us a bit of comedic relief at times, there’s also an intensity to his character, the rebel who is not actually a Rebel, if you get my drift. Him and Chewbacca are the two inseparable friends whose job takes them from one end of the galaxy to another. Moreover, Han plays the part of the disbeliever – the one whom Luke, mainly, must convert. So what I like is that Solo also brings in questions of faith, of belief, and this gives us a nice counterpoint to someone like Skywalker who believes deeply in the force, certainly once he starts to discover his Jedi connections. Truly, though, if Ford didn’t play the character, I’m not sure who could’ve done the job. Definitely sure there aren’t many, if any, who could have come into their own as Han Solo and look as good doing it as him. It’s hard now to imagine anyone playing either of these main parts, but seriously: these actors brought a ton of emotion and charisma to the entire movie. The most important of these elements? They bring heart and soul.
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This has always been a favourite of mine, specifically in the science fiction genre. While it’s not as leaned towards science as other movies, in regards to authenticity, that does not matter. You know, I love Neil deGrasse Tyson, but following along closely with actual science isn’t something I care about when watching films.
For a long time, I considered this a great film. Nowadays, after watching it more than several dozen times in my life, I consider¬†A New Hope perfect. Not to say there aren’t any little mistakes or flubs along the way. But to me, personally, this is a 5-star film. This has a beauty and grace about it, and also contains work above and beyond the call of duty in terms of its technical aspects. Not to mention I still get chills now and then whenever I put the Blu ray on. The influence of¬†A New Hope is vast, it will never ever die. And with Episode VII The Force Awakens recently rocking the box office, continuing to do so, the legacy of George Lucas and his original work from 1977 endures. Its light won’t ever, ever go out.

Lucy: Half-Assed Besson

Lucy. 2014. Directed & Written by Luc Besson.
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Pilou Asbaek, Analeigh Tipton, Jan Oliver Schroder, and Nicolas Phongpheth. Ciné+/Canal+/EuropaCorp/TF1 Films Production. Rated 14A. 89 minutes.
Action/Sci-Fi/Thriller

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I’m a fan of Luc Besson. His first feature film,¬†La dernier combat, is a tour-de-force in thinking outside the box and innovative storytelling. Afterwards, he put out other wonderful pieces of filmmaking such as¬†The Big Blue, Nikita,¬†L√©on: The Professional,¬†The Fifth Element and more. While he tackles an array of subjects throughout his filmography as a director, as well as a writer, Besson usually does impressive work when it comes to science fiction and contract killing. Let’s face it: this is his niche. Nothing wrong with it either.
All that being said,¬†Lucy is not one of his best films. It isn’t trash, though. It just doesn’t measure up to some of the aforementioned efforts with which he hit, in my mind, grand slams. Where¬†Lucy falls short is mostly in the writing, not the execution. The premise of the movie is amazing, but plays on a well-debunked myth that humans only use 10% of their brain. If Besson had whittled away a few bits of his screenplay, there may have been a chance for his ambitious story to fit well with his style of filmmaking. As it stands, this is a decent enough action thriller, albeit one that doesn’t use much of its own brain power. Still, the adrenaline flows from beginning to end in classic Besson style.
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Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is American. She is 25, living in Taiwan. Succumbing to a dark request forced upon her by a recent boyfriend, Lucy is handcuffed to a briefcase full of drugs and made to deliver it for a villainous man named Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik).
Only after meeting Jang, things turn into a terrifying nightmare. Lucy, along with several other unsuspecting individuals, has her abdomen cut open, and inside is placed hundreds of grams of a new experimental drug called CPH4, tucked in a plastic bag. Life gets even worse once Lucy ends up in a cell, chained to a wall. After being beaten by a guard and kicked in the stomach, the bag inside her breaks, leaking the CPH4 into her bloodstream. The drug is meant to expand the brain function of a human being from the supposed 10% we use regularly, to a whopping 100%.
On a rampage to both save her own life, as well as discover what’s happening to her, Lucy tracks down Professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman) whose studies happen to involve the expansion of the human brain’s functions. Along the way she is tested, both mentally and physically. But most of all, Lucy is becoming – something new, something extraordinary, and something very, very dangerous.
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At the start of the film, we’re introduced to an ape. Shortly afterwards, through dialogue, we discover it is Lucy – the first ever woman. This sets up an idea about evolution, biology, of science and the ways of the world. Although, most of this never really goes anywhere. It does, and it does not all the same. Part of what I mean is that it’s heavy handed. So much animal imagery in the first little while, and it was not needed. Whatsoever. I saw someone talk about this Besson film in the right way recently: it breaks too much a big rule of cinema, in that it tells us too much. Instead of showing things, letting the audience suss out the meaning, almost every aspect in the film’s initial quarter comes to us spelled out in great detail.
Something I did like, in that regard, is how Besson continually gave us the 10%, 20%, 30%, and so on. Not that we didn’t understand her brain power and function was increasing, it was simply an extra way for him to up the intensity. After each percentage update, you can almost feel your own adrenaline pumping, ready for the next big event, awaiting some kind of excitement about to drop on us.
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I can’t exactly say this movie is filled with good performances. Not to say Scarlett Johansson or anyone else in the picture does a bad job with their role. But here there is Johansson, Morgan Freeman, and a favourite of mine Min-sik Choi (his turns in films like¬†Sympathy for Lady Vengeance,¬†Oldboy,¬†I Saw the Devil and others are fantastic). Between them, there is incredible acting power. Except none of that really makes it across here. Especially Freeman who is vastly underused for the majority of the film, as well as Choi whose charisma and idiosyncrasies are not used appropriately either. Particularly, I love Johansson and she does not do much at all in this film. Contrasted with a recent film like the unbelievably incredible¬†Under the Skin, the almost phoned-in performance here makes Johansson look bad – simply because I KNOW SHE CAN DO BETTER. With such an interesting script and characters you’d think these actors might knock this one out of the park, at least as far as their jobs go. Unfortunately, we’re not given any such performances and it’s a large part of why this movie doesn’t do any better than mediocre.
Even the action elements of¬†Lucy don’t end up making things pay off. As opposed to Besson work like¬†The Fifth Element¬†and¬†L√©on: The Professional, this one doesn’t pack as much oomph. There are moments of action and adventure. There are pieces of exciting fights. Ultimately, though, Besson opts to go more for telekinesis style fighting, shootouts, and flashy special effects work which does nothing for me. He claims wanting to make the first part similar to¬†L√©on: The Professional, the second akin to¬†Inception, and the final act he hoped would draw parallels with¬†2001: A Space Odyssey. Ambitious? Sure. Yet there’s not enough action and choreographed fight sequences in the entire film, at least not proper ones, for the whole premise to be fully realized. The trailer promised an almost non-stop thrill ride along with the titular character, but what we really get is a bit of action and lots of science fiction musing (misguided at that). Worst of all, the finale is packed with a huge gunfight, even a bazooka being fired. And wrapped up in there is a lackluster ending, leaving us with more questions than answers, as well as wondering how all the potential was squandered.
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I can give this a 3 star rating without feeling bad about it either way. Luc Besson is a fantastic filmmaker and, at times, he can truly be a visionary from his technique to the way in which he writes his stories. With all the hopefulness of its premise, Lucy just cannot deliver the appropriate goods. Boasting an impressive cast, a fun idea and the visual flair of Besson, this should have been more interesting than how it turned out. While not every last bit of the movie was bad, obviously, there are too many misfires for it to be anything better than average. Here’s to hoping Luc pulls up the bootstraps and hauls out something better next time.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch – Better Than Remembered

Halloween III: Season of the Witch. 1982. Directed & Written by Tommy Lee Wallace.
Starring Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Michael Currie, Ralph Strait, Jadeen Barbor, Brad Schacter, Garn Stephens, Nancy Kyes, Jonathan Terry, Al Berry, Wendy Wessberg, Essex Smith, Maidie Norman, John MacBride, and Loyd Catlett.
Dino De Laurentiis Company/Universal Pictures.
Rated R. 98 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

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halloween-iii-season-of-the-witch-dvd-cover-13 The¬†Halloween franchise is one of my favourites in horror. Not a big fan of the last couple. But seriously, from John Carpenter’s original masterpiece¬†Halloween right up to¬†Halloween V, I’m right in there with the biggest of fans. Each of them aren’t equally as amazing. They’ve each got their merits, though. I’ll say this: the first two are slasher horror masterpieces.
In the middle of all the regular Michael Myers pictures, there stands¬†Halloween III: Season of the Witch. What ought to have been marketed as a spin-off from the franchise rather than actually being the permanent third installment has been banished to the world of cult classic verging on generally maligned. There are several camps of people who talk about this¬†Halloween film – some say it’s terrible and has no merit, others (like me) think it’s real good and should’ve done better had the producers marketed it correctly, and then crazier people than I who say it’s the best of the series (sorry that honour belongs to the very first; no matter how much I enjoy some of the others).
What I know for sure is this is a good horror movie. It doesn’t deserve to be torn up, it also doesn’t need to be over praised. If you go into it knowing this is NOT a Michael Myers slasher, then there’s a chance you’ll come at it correctly and find the horror and quasi-science fiction elements enjoyable. Watch a trailer, any trailer for this film and you can understand it’s different from the others. But it isn’t bad different, it’s simply not a typical¬†Halloween entry. Much as I love Michael, this movie has a creep factor wholly of its own and I firmly believe – without any hype – the only reason this movie isn’t more widely loved is solely due to how its been marketed. Take the¬†Halloween title off this, keep¬†Season of the Witch and maybe make a few more tenuous ties to Myers (like showing the original film on a television), you’ve got yourself a solid 1980s horror classic.
h3iiiSmall shop owner Harry Grimbridge ((Al Berry) is attacked by unknown men in the night. He flees and eventually ends up in the hospital. There, he’s later killed by one of these same men. Although, Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is witness to the man’s last words, and shows up just after his murder. Following the killer outside, he sees the man pour gas all over himself and strike a match, blowing his car sky high. This sets him off on a quest to figure out what happened – alongside him is Harry’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin).
What they end up uncovering is a vast and horrific plot by businessman Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy); one involving Halloween, threatening every boy and girl looking to put on a mask so they can head out for candy.

The whole opening 20-minute sequence is extremely creepy and a whole lot of fun: from when Harry Grimbridge is attacked by the suit & glove wearing assailants to the moment Dr. Challis watches one of them light himself on fire and the car explodes. Can’t think of a better way this movie could’ve started out. The writing here from director-writer Tommy Lee Wallace is solid and makes the film’s energy pump hard immediately.
HalloweenIII-MasksBartender: “What’s the matter – don’t you have any Halloween spirit?
Dr. Challis: “No

An obvious viewing of this film holds themes involving¬†big versus small business, consumerism, corporations feeding off the figurative soul of children via Halloween, and more. I’m not the first to try and draw any of that out, nor will I be the last.
I love the character of Harry Grimbridge to start. Right off the bat you’ve got this small business owner, running a hold-out shop against the big supermalls and chain stores, still getting much of his business from kids just out of school – and he’s being hunted down by the robot-like, suit & glove wearing henchmen, the identical looking murderers; they are legion. A little later there’s a homeless man Dr. Challis comes across. He gets his head pulled off by two of them because he’s out rallying against the man. The homeless man happens to tell Challis about how Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) won’t employ the good ole local boys, but rather imports his workers from elsewhere. Can this get any clearer really? It’s not quite on the nose, definitely in the vicinity. No matter, I think it works great because there’s metaphor yet it’s blatant and still that’s perfect. Makes for a bit of unsettling horror.
cochranThe effects aren’t all spot on, though, they are certainly effective. I love when one of the clone-like henchmen pulls Grimbridge’s skull apart by the eye sockets and nose. Incredibly vicious, both during and afterwards! When a woman dies at the motel, I thought the initial parts of the makeup effects looked great, but the the longer Wallace lingers on her the worse it looks. Still, there are other worthwhile effects. Particularly once the science fiction type elements find their way into the screenplay, the practical makeup effects are ghastly at times; in the appropriate sense. The orange juice-looking liquid used at one point is sickly and makes for an uneasy feeling in the guts. Great, great stuff.
A subtle scene involves a drill – we never get to see the brutish stuff, we’re left by Wallace to imagine it instead. Which I often find even more tough. Nice choice by him on this one. Could’ve easily been a gory kill and here it’s something that will probably make you cringe in different way.
Favourite effects scene has to be when the first young boy has his head destroyed by the pumpkin mask. The way the mask looks to start, breaking down and decaying like it’s burning up inside and out, then all the insects, the snake slithering through the boy’s dead mouth… it’s raw and disturbing. Some intense shots here, especially considering the whole family of three dies in the made-up living room set. It’s a shocker of a scene, super effective.
10.23-halloween3Halloween-3-04Taken on its own, as a sort of standalone spin-off,¬†Halloween III: Season of the Witch is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror movie. There are plenty of chilling moments, different in subject matter yet similar in tone to the rest of the franchise. As well as the fact you’ll see several wild kills, a few of those even further contain fun practical effects. It isn’t as great as¬†Halloween or¬†Halloween II, but it is damn good stuff. A little different spin on the franchise, and why not? The whole series wears out past the fifth entry, even earlier for some other viewers, so what’s the harm in one movie taking another path? I see no reason why this should be a widely panned film. It’s not perfect, but there is great horror and a dose of science fiction even. Check this one out if you’ve avoided it until now. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised; or horrified, possibly.

Horrific Revelations in Space: Paul W.S. Anderson’s Event Horizon

Event Horizon. 1997. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Screenplay by Philip Eisner.
Starring Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson, Richard T. Jones, Jack Noseworthy, Jason Isaacs, and Sean Pertwee. Golar Productions/Impact Pictures/Paramount Pictures.
Rated R. 96 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

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IllpcThere are some excellent horror films which take place in space. For instance, I’d consider¬†Alien as science fiction, but definitely with a great deal of horror involved. More recently there’s¬†Pandorum, which I enjoy a ton and there are nice horror moments in that one, as well. In the found footage sub-genre,¬†Apollo 18 has lots of creepy sci-fi/horror-ish stuff to offer. Even classics like Mario Bava’s fantastic¬†Planet of the Vampires come into the sci-fi realm crossing with horror.
Of course there’s also terrible stuff like¬†Leprechaun 4: In Space,¬†Jason X, the live-action version of¬†Doom, John Carpenter’s rare misfire¬†Ghosts of Mars, and even worse horror movies crossed with space misdaventures such as the dreadful¬†Inseminoid.
In my opinion,¬†Event Horizon falls in with the former category of science fiction horror. Specifically the stuff taking place in space. Not only is the sci-fi angle of the film incredibly interesting and a lot of fun (I have no idea if any science within is accurate and could care less; it’s a movie), there’s a ton of horror – and I mean a TON! If you can’t get into this film, even a little, then that’s sad because I always look forward to putting this one on if I need to get creeped out‚Ķ in space.
event-horizonIn 2047, a rescue vessel is sent to a find the Event Horizon spaceship which disappeared seven years ago. Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), along with his crew, and designer of the lost ship Dr. William Weir (Sam Neill) are along for the ride. Adjusting to deep space travel, Weir settles in amongst a group who don’t particularly want him there, nor do they want to be there themselves; this rescue mission took them off a scheduled break from time in space. Things get worse once they locate the Event Horizon.
Aboard the lost-now found ship, one of the crew members gets sucked into a portal created by the experimental gravity drive at the heart of the vessel, which comes alive suddenly and on its own. After he comes back, and a shockwave rocks the rescue ship, everyone is forced to board the Event Horizon.
What follows is a descent into madness and the depths of Hell itself far from the safety of Earth, in the dark and lonely confines of space’s outer reaches.
Event Horizon 1Something I noticed in this film was the great prosthetic work. From the first time we see some noticeable prosthetics, as a dead body with significant injury and decay floats into the view of Kathleen Quinlan’s character Peters, I knew the makeup work all around – from the blood and gore stuff to dead bodies and other such elements – would be well executed.
Lots of interesting stuff happening from Duncan Jarman, whose resume includes some of my favourites such as¬†A Midsummer Night’s Dream,¬†The Beach,¬†The Hours,¬†The Last Samurai,¬†Danny Boyle’s¬†Sunshine,¬†Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,¬†Valhalla Rising,¬†Biutiful,¬†Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1/2; if that’s not enough he’s done work on two upcoming films I’m aching to see,¬†In the Heart of the Sea and¬†The Revenant. And he’s but one of the makeup department; plenty others worked their asses off, too.
The special makeup effects are solid. Some genuinely upsetting visceral stuff. Again, poor Peters (Quinlan) gets a big first dose, as she sees her son in a vision while in the Event Horizon’s medical lab – his legs are basically rotting, the flesh beginning to slop off his bones, bloody in patches. Not too long afterwards, Captain Miller (Fishburne) sees his own vision of a man on fire; incredible work on this brief moment.
As Justin (Jack Noseworthy) runs into his predicament with “the dark inside [him]”, the effects kick in with some nice blood and gore. There’s also an awesome shot of Justin’s veins bulging out massively through the skin on his arms, which I found – though brief – very cool.
7mwaa9c-imgur terror-from-beyond-a-list-of-sci-fi-horror-films-set-in-space-source-http-www-themovi-84456Another impressive aspect of¬†Event Horizon is the set design. There’s a constant flow of amazing set pieces making up the spaceship, which helps to add a haunted house style setup to the film. Because essentially that’s what this is – a haunted house horror movie located in space, on a ship in a deep region. The whole of angle of Christian Hell comes into play, as D.J. (Jason Isaacs) decodes the message from the Event Horizon before it went completely dark for seven years. Set design can help a film or kill it; here, it truly elevates the whole aesthetic. Inside the Event Horizon especially, I cannot get enough of its entire design. Very sinister and creepy with this vast sense of isolation in this large corridors and rooms. The gravity drive itself is sort of Hell-ish looking, like something you’d imagine Pinhead might have sitting on his desk at home, at the office. Lots of this type of thing happening, which makes the set design something great and a major element to why I find the creepiness so effective in a lot of scenes.
7VleCGAJSyjnykIAQvoSO1qkyZNI’m not overly impressed with the dialogue in the screenplay, nor am I thrilled by any of the performances that much. Both Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill are favourites of mine – the former in just about everything, particularly his latest turn in Bryan Fuller’s¬†Hannibal as Jack Crawford; same goes for the latter, Neill is awesome in everything from his portrayal of Dr. Grant in¬†Jurassic Park to his wonderful role in John Carpenter’s¬†In the Mouth of Madness. That being said, even these two aren’t incredible here, no more than you’d expect from anyone else honestly. They’ve definitely put in much better work elsewhere, but they’re not bad here either. Simply, it isn’t the acting which brings me to¬†Event Horizon.
Ultimately, it’s the makeup effects/special effects, the prosthetics work, and so on, which impresses me. Not to mention I do enjoy the screenplay, just not so much the characterization or the performances which came out of it. But I love the story and the plot themselves as a whole. I think one of my only big criticisms here is that I could’ve maybe used another 15 minutes to tack on some bits and pieces to certain characters, such as Captain Miller (Fishburne) and Weir (Neill). They had a bit of time, not near enough. Particularly Weir, as he comes to be even more important to the Event Horizon ship than we’re initially led to believe. If we had another 15 minutes, there could’ve been a bit of extra time dedicated to Weir and helped to flesh things out a little more. My beef is that things feel a bit rushed, like the lead-up to Weir’s involvement with the Event Horizon’s evil side sort of came as an afterthought – I feel like Philip Eisner, the screenwriter, was going with the ship itself doing all the awful stuff then later put Weir in as being the villain eventually. It could’ve worked better, that’s all I’m saying. The way it is in the final product feels slightly contrived; easily fixed by giving the subplot a bit more time to stretch its legs.
weir-jpgAll in all, I’m willing to say, for me, this is a 4 out of 5 star film. I honestly don’t like anything else from Paul W.S. Anderson, except the guilty pleasure I get from his version of¬†Mortal Kombat. So I’m glad to say that I honestly love this movie. There are definitely flaws – I think the writing for Cooper (Richard T. Jones) was absolutely pitiful, which is unfortunate because I think Jones has a ton of charisma and he’s like a slightly younger version of Denzel Washington; underused and under appreciated as an almost “token black guy” role that could have easily been written better.
Aside from that, the makeup effects are out of this world (sorry for that lame unintended space pun), the story and plot are creepy, and there are two good actors (though not at the very top of their games; still good) to give this science fiction horror romp a nice edge. I suggest if you’ve not seen it, do so soon! Great way to quench your thirst for a genuinely well done horror which happens to take place in space. Enjoy, and if you have any sensible, civil comments please feel free to drop them below and we’ll have a chat about this bit of underrated ’90s sci-fi/horror.