Digging Up the Past in THE TRIANGLE

The Triangle. 2016. Directed & Written by David Blair, Nathaniel Peterson, Adam Pitman, Andrew Rizzo, & Adam Stilwell.
Starring Andrew Rizzo, Lee Rizzo, Brick Patrick, Nathaniel Peterson, Ciara Rose Griffin, John Budge, Nicholas Daue, Hendra Mylnechuk, Andy Greenfield, & Karen Jean Olds.
Firework Brain/BadFritter Films.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
img_3997When found footage films go for different concepts from what we see so often, there’s always a bit of worth in watching them. Not that it automatically makes them good; not at all. But credit where credit’s due. Every inch of found footage could be the exact same plot, over and over, if it weren’t for a few great titles out there. Even a few that follow the repeatedly lifted plot of The Blair Witch Project are still good, simply for the fact they’re actually scary.
The Triangle is a horror, yet it isn’t traditional. Having loved Ti West’s The Sacrament and its fictionalised retelling of the tragic Jim Jones story, my initial worry with this movie was that it might follow too closely in line with his, either ripping it off or just feeling way too similar to be any good. It actually goes in its own unique direction, to surprising lengths. The story starts out as a real documentary, in that the postcard these guys receive from an old friend is true to life. From there, reality gives way to beautifully organic plot, to strange horror bordering on science fiction.
This is one found footage flick that has great camerawork, which is an added bonus to all the weird, wild plot developments over the course of a lean 94 minutes. You won’t quite know what to expect, and part of that works on your nerves. A lot of complaints I see online are simply due to the slow burn plot. So, if that’s not your thing maybe you’re not the target audience here. I’d still suggest giving it a chance because of the unique events that unfold in front of the camera, as well as some of the questions you’ll be left asking later.
img_4001Just starting from the premise it’s an interesting way to begin this faux-documentary. A vague, mysterious opening with the postcard, holding endless possibilities. Wondering about many of those sketchy possibilities is a reason why the initial scene is kind of tense. There’s also this hopeful mood, too. Still, a lingering sense of uneasiness accompanies the postcard and even once they decide to head out after their friend there’s an undeniable apprehension inside them all. Like them, we feel on the precipice of a life changing adventure, never knowing if what’s next could be something terrible dark, or if it’s all worry for no reason. You might doubt your thoughts, which is a recurring feeling, and it’s in those moments The Triangle catches you in its tangled web.
There’s talk in the community, as it is with these types of places, about self-sufficiency. What does that really mean, in the end? What must one sacrifice in order to gain it? Or, do these cult-like people simply give themselves over to something or someone else to replace modern society (et cetera)? Often so-called self-sufficiency in these communes, in reality, requires devotion to an Other: a god, a deity, or in these situations a charismatic leader in Rizzo. And when there are these hierarchical positions amongst supposedly open, free communes, there are always secrets, things kept from people and those people kept in the dark about something. Of course we find this is truer than ever throughout the course of the plot.
Any horror, mystery, thriller needs suspense and tension. If not, there’s nothing to grasp onto and even an interesting story can end up plenty less compelling. From the time these guys get to the Ragnarok commune there’s a great deal of slow, mounting tension while the documentary crew – representative of the modern world, that old society from which the commune tries escaping – clashes with everyone they meet. Not in a totally overt way, either. That’s  one reason why it feels dangerous. There is a gruelling passive-aggressiveness about their behaviour, especially Rizzo; he’s the number one. His sense of domineering status and narcissistic attitude comes out more and more after we get to know him a bit. At first, he doesn’t seem to hold that narcissism. He’s open, welcoming, friendly, foolish. As the time passes this changes, and Rizzo emerges, subtly, as absolutely like all those other cult leaders in history. That’s his, and their, ultimate aim is to talk the talk, walk the walk, no matter what lies behind the veil. Perhaps scarier is the fact Rizzo isn’t the only narcissist in the cult, that he’s a mere figurehead for a main group who all share something in common that others in the commune don’t – what that is, you’ll have to find out on your own. Such a thick tension goes on for a long while, then once the mystery of the plot breaks the impact of the coming horror feels significant. We get time with all the main characters, not only Rizzo, so after having spent that portion of the film getting into their lives and their emotions, et cetera, it’s gripping to watch what goes on past the halfway mark.
img_3999SPOILERS: from here on in there’ll be a bunch of spoilers – turn back, lest ye be spoiled!
The commune is named Ragnarok, based on the Ragnarök of Norse mythology which is most commonly translated to mean “the final destiny of the gods.” Later in the film we discover a core group in the commune has had what they call “the dream” and it’s about being led on a journey by this shapeshifting creature, at the end of which it disappears leaving a dinosaur skull – a tyrannosaurus – and then, as one of them puts it, “at the end of the dream, were gone.” Certainly by the time this dream comes up we’ve seen the skull they’ve dug up in a nearby cave, we get the sense it has an effect on people emitting a high-pitched noise the closer you get to it. When the end of the film comes, the main group from Ragnarok who’ve had the dream are all ill, going a bit crazy, and they wander off up into the hills. We see a flash of light in the cave, and everyone is gone.
What does it all mean? Here’s my take.
One of the purposes of their commune was to try and get back to a time they felt was lost in modern society. These people reject the modern world so much that when it comes time for them to sign releases for the film crew, at first there’s significant contention. This changes, yes, but Rizzo even talks about simply not having time for the logistics because they live in the middle of a desert, no real houses, self-sufficient, so they’ve rejected that entire system of living. Point being, they wanted to go back to a lost time, a time before, another place almost. In the end, as it went in their collective dream, a nearly genderless woman comes to take them up to the dinosaur skull, and then they’ve disappeared (“at the end of the dream, were gone“). Have they been transported through time, back to another place? Did they will it to happen through their collective brain power and wanting it to be true? They strip down, almost in a primitive sense. As if going somewhere closes aren’t needed. Everything speaks to going back to the past. Right on down to the fact they’ve dug up the past, literally, by finding the fossil. We’ll never know where they’ve gone. Not for sure. We can only assume from what we’re given, and it’s good fun trying to piece the puzzle together.
img_4002I’ll probably be in the minority, although I couldn’t care any fucking less. The Triangle is an interesting addition to the found footage heap, definitely nearer to the top of the pile. When I felt it was about to rip off West’s recent Jim Jones-inspired effort, the plot threw me for a loop. Not everything was perfect. Even for a slow burn this one takes its sweet time drawing out the story.
All the same, no matter its mistakes this is a weird, worthy little movie. The camerawork is top notch for found footage, giving it more credibility than about half of them in the sub-genre. Better still, I enjoyed the performances and they help make this faux-documentary feel more like the real thing, giving the emotionally charged moments a sense of gravitas. You can do much worse than this movie, as the suspense does a fine job making the stretched out plot feel like an enjoyable breeze.
The Triangle deserves a watch. At least one. Maybe you’ll be pissed off, having felt it was a waste of time. Or maybe, like me, you’ll enjoy trying to figure out the answers to all the questions left after the finale. Either way, it makes you think. And that can’t be said for so many other found footage horrors out there. This one isn’t filled with shaky camera angles, screams, or even blood. It works on your brain until the last moment.

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Science Fiction Icarus in X: THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES

X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. 1963. Directed by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Robert Dillon & Ray Russell.
Starring Ray Milland, Diana Van der Vlis, Harold J. Stone, John Hoyt, & Don Rickles.
Alta Vista Productions.
Not Rated. 79 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller

★★★★
posterRoger Corman helped a lot of young directors and writers, as well as actors, get their start in an often ruthless business; one he knew plenty about. We can’t forget his genius as director, though. He might not get the praise he deserves, that doesn’t mean there aren’t people out here praising him. I’ll gladly add my name to that list of folks.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes is, as I see it, one of his best pictures. It’s such a unique and fun, old school movie with a sci-fi brain and a horror heart. The script comes from Robert Dillon (French Connection II) and Ray Russell (Mr. Sardonicus), together making the character of Dr. James Xavier one of the more tragically mad doctors of cinema.
While special effects heavy due to the nature of the plot, Corman does a fine job directing this to make it stand out as one of the more interesting films of its kind during the 1960s, when sci-fi had already been pumping out for years and only continued to more so afterwards. The psychological nature of this tale and its examination of a doctor with a God complex, to an extreme length, is a personal favourite of mine in the science fiction genre.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-33-43-pmWe start with a macabre opening on a loose eyeball, which is then bobbing in a test tube of fluid. Followed by the hypnotic spiral that pulls us into this strange film. As if preparing us for the oddities to come; the weird and unexpected are about to unfold. Corman’s best films, of which X most certainly is one, are amazingly vivid in terms of visuals. Especially those shot by Floyd Crosby, including this film, and the Corman Poe adaptations The Fall of the House of UsherThe Pit and the PendulumThe Premature Burial, and the loosest of all Poe movies The Raven. The gorgeous, colourful widescreen beauty is in full force here. More than that, Corman and Crosby used some interesting techniques to visualise the x-ray vision of Dr. Xavier (Ray Milland). Hell, even when the doc has eye drops put in Corman opts to include a point of view shot from the eye itself, blinking lids and all. This serves as a method of immersing us in the experimentation of Xavier along with those fun x-ray shots and other similar sequences.
The inevitable seeing people naked is a fun moment, if not a tad disturbing as Dr. Xavier finds his ability to control the x-ray vision slipping. Moreover, he’s a constant invasion of privacy, privy to your most private birthmarks. That ethical breach then extends, as the doctor uses his vision in order to push his way into surgery, to prove himself as the best in the profession. Of course this proves correct when Dr. Xavier can see exactly what’s wrong with a patient by looking inside her; this is the definitive commencement of his newly formed God complex – or at least recently exacerbated complex – which only gets worse, the hubris building him to scary heights. So high, in fact, that the only fall imaginable is on the same tragic level as that of Icarus, plummeting out of the sky.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-4-59-23-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-11-46-pmI consider the plot on par with great sci-fi literature, the likes of which Richard Matheson might dream up on a dark, stormy night. There’s wonderful thematic material. Most importantly, great power – no matter how beneficial – when mishandled and disrespected can lead to nothing except woe. The proud doctor goes from top surgeon to sideshow carnival freak to a desperate gambler at the end of his rope. Another doctor tells him during the first scene: “only the gods see everything.” Almost as if taking that as his mantra, a challenge to achieve, Dr. Xavier makes the God complex of doctors into something which ultimately proves near lethal; at the very least, capable of destroying one’s sanity.
In the end one of the biggest concepts is, essentially: if/when man finally witnesses something so much bigger than himself, god-like, will he then also be able to handle the sight of such pure, magnificent power? At the centre of his new vision Dr. Xavier can’t seem to see that one last radiant glow of some Other right behind the wall. It drives him mad. Partly, this speaks to an idea that religion, in whatever form (Christian, Muslim, Pagan, anything else), doesn’t have all the answers, nor does science. When Xavier gets to the point he thinks he’s utterly at the top of the food chain, in a manner of speaking, he discovers there’s still a final dimension which he cannot see. At least not in life.
During the final scene, the doctor proclaims to a pastor and his flock that at the core of our existence lies “the eye that sees us all.” And this is what drives him over the edge, that he – merely a man – cannot ever rise to the level of a god. He can be a doctor, perhaps the closest literal occupation to that of a god, wielding life and death right in his hands, but he will never be god-like, not really. That is still something too powerful for even his scientifically engineered eyes to grasp wholly.
screen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-16-03-pmscreen-shot-2016-10-27-at-5-18-19-pmThere’s much to love about X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Milland does a fantastic bit of work as Dr. Xavier, making us feel sorry for him even after watching his out of control hubris get the best of his better self. The progression of his intent on becoming a god is at times uncomfortable, simply because we can smell a downfall coming a mile away. But that doesn’t mean this story is predictable.
Corman is a great director, whose interest has always been to make the films he’d like to see, in hopes that others share his macabre sensibilities. He runs the gamut of pure horror to more sci-fi-type stuff such as this flick. His influence on genre filmmaking is nearly unparalleled; truthfully, nobody else has touched as many movie making lives as him. He deserves the genre community’s love as much as any other director in the business.
X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes in this day and age probably looks, in title, cheesy to people. To me, there’s not an ounce of cheese in this movie. There are little funny moments, such as the dialogue from Xavier at a party when a woman says she’s noticed him across the room and he replies that she has “sharp eyes” – the screenplay is not void of humour entirely. Mostly, this is a serious look at a doctor falling headfirst into the deep end, sinking quick and harsh into the mess he’s made fro himself. The God complex in doctors has never before felt so tragic because at the end of the day Xavier did all this to himself, rather than test it on another person. So, in line with poor Icarus and his ill-advised flight, the doctor with his x-ray eyes is more sad than scary, although no less horrific in psychological terms.
All I know is that this film doesn’t ever get enough love, and more people need to see it. We should all be talking about this when the conversation about top science fiction crossed with horror comes up; in Corman we trust.

ÉVOLUTION’s Sci-Fi Medical Redefinition of Gender

Évolution. 2015. Directed by Lucile Hadžihalilović. Screenplay by Hadžihalilović & Alante Kavaite in collaboration with Geoff Cox.
Starring Max Brebant, Roxane Duran, Julie-Marie Parmentier, Mathieu Goldfeld, Nissim Renard, & Nathalie Legosles.
Les Films du Worso/Noodles Production/Volcano Films.
Not Rated. 81 minutes.
Horror/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2

DISCLAIMER: This review is a spoiler-filled discussion on the thematic aspects of the film. Usually I opt to discuss technical elements alongside theme, but because of the cryptic nature of Evolution, I’ve decided to solely look at the film’s meaning. Or at least what I feel it means.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-12-37-amLucile Hadžihalilović is a gem of a director and writer. Her work may not be accessible to every single viewer. That doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the time to explore. Her first full-length feature Innocence came to us over a decade ago, the story of a relatively ambiguous yet dangerous process, the grooming of girls at a boarding school for adult life.
Now, we swap genders and genres to take a look at a world where young boys are groomed, although for an entirely other purpose than the girls of Innocence. This time there are doses of horror, mystery, and a heavy dab of science fiction. The boys in this film are like a parallel to the girls of Hadžihalilović’s 2004 feature. Or rather, they may be a statement in line with them. This is something of which I’m still not totally sure.
For a pretty gruesome story, at certain (many) points, Evolution is equally as interesting. There area number of questions left at the end. Some will likely walk away confused and feeling slighted, as if Hadžihalilović didn’t give us enough answers. Others, like myself, might find them just enough, and good enough, to keep your brain mulling certain events, images, dialogue over and over.
And whatever the film is definitively about, one thing is for sure: you won’t forget some of what you see.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-22-57-amThe story is set in a seaside village populated solely with women, maybe in their mid-30s, and young, prepubescent boys. At first, there’s a quiet, idyllic quality about the place. You almost feel a tranquillity wash over everything. Without all that machismo and testosterone of a world filled with men, machines, noise, so on. But we get to a point where the nasty underbelly of the village is exposed, and discover the women aren’t the mothers of these boys, though they say so. They’re actually experimenting on the young boys. During the night, the women write naked, moaning together in the sand. By day, they watch videos of C-sections and implant the boys with medicine, force feed them nasty gruel, all in order to get them pregnant.
Oh yes. You heard me. So, is this a proactive smashing of patriarchy by redefining biology, literally? Science fiction has these women actually configuring the body of young boys to have children. And at this juncture, there are many divergent paths a thematic reading of the film can go.
One of my best guesses is based on the fact the women have suction cupped backs, like the underside of a tentacle running up their spine. First of all, they don’t look slimy or weird. It looks like they’ve either evolved from another form, or they’ve been transformed into something other than normal women. Secondly, a woman named Stella shows the main boy Nicolas pictures of doctors – which look like men, though you can’t actually tell (they have male hands, it appears) – with young girls, suction cups along the spinal cord. This seems to suggest the women were experimented on, as the boys are now. Aside from Stella, the women are cold and emotionless, to a robotic extent. She’s the only one to show anyone – Nicolas – any actual emotion. Therefore, it leads me to believe that perhaps these women escaped their own doctor captors, or a situation similar, and can’t reproduce. They then experiment callously on the boys like men once did to their bodies. I believe the women can’t reproduce because of the writhing sand scene: the women produce what looks like a bloody, dead fetus after moaning awhile together; assuming I’m right, this is a stillbirth and it suggests the women are infertile. Why else experiment on the young boys? Because if not then it seems their fertility work is born of pure revenge, a way to get back at the male gender for having treated them with such disdain.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-32-16-amUltimately, Hadžihalilović plays on the male fear of someday being treated exactly how women, particularly girls, have been treated since time immemorial. So many scenes take us to the limit, as we’re forced to watch these young boys, Nicolas especially, experience unnatural reconfiguration of their bodies. At the end we find out the women have abducted these boys from an industrial, modern-looking world, starkly in contrast to their simplistic and primitive village. The movie works as a futuristic fairy tale, an allegory about the male anxieties surrounding many men’s worst nightmare: what if we had to go through everything a girl goes through in order to, by society, be considered a man like they must do for us to see them as a woman? For women, beginning at a much too young age as girls, one thing is for sure: your body is not your own. Boys, men, this is a given; we own our bodies. However, the girls haven’t had it that simple. Evolution sees a sci-fi twist on gender roles to make those male anxieties come alive in a terrifying way.
Though hazy at the best of times the film is chock-full of symbolism. One of the most prominent and first to come about is that of the starfish. Sure, they can regenerate. They also represent the Virgin Mary in Christianity. It’s the fact they can reproduce both asexually and sexually which interests me. Much like the boys, who after the experiments would be able to both have a child and also impregnate a woman with child. Along with the starfish is the colour red. We see the colour repeatedly referenced throughout: a red shirt, Nicolas’ red swim trunks, and later the bright red hair of Stella. There are several symbolic meanings for the colour red, such as fire, blood, seduction. Which interests me most? Love, or passion, whichever you prefer. Why does it interest me? Because Nicolas is the only boy whose passion/love still exists. He’s the one in the red shirt, the red trunks, and likewise Stella, with her red hair, is the only woman to show any emotion (also notice that in terms of colour her eyes are not black like the other women; they’re blue). The other boys lack his thirst for knowledge. This ties into the other images, of the drawings. We see Nicolas draw a giraffe, a ferris wheel, all these images that are nowhere to be found in the village. In the finale we see Nicolas returned to the shores of that old industrial world of his, so it’s evident then that these are things he remembers, from back home, from where he was taken. But the red, his passion, it’s exemplified in how he refuses to become emotionless like the other boys or the women. Rather, Nicolas is unrelenting in wanting to discover the truth, to understand, to know, and his passion for knowledge, the love he feels in connection with Stella, these are ways for him to retain humanity.
screen-shot-2016-10-21-at-12-47-15-amI’m not sure what the true, overall message of Hadžihalilović’s film is, and after seeing the film a couple times I don’t know if I ever will, not positively. Evolution absolutely explores gender roles, though I can’t tell to what end exactly. Male anxiety is one thing, but there are many elements at play in this cryptic screenplay.
You can look at a lot of images, the symbolic use of red and the focus on the starfish among others, and draw your own conclusions. Please! Let me know what you think if you’ve seen the film.
We can almost relate Hadžihalilović’s story to a modernised fairy tale about what happens when we, the adults, interfere with the gender roles, or lack thereof, in the children of our society. The damage can be done on both sides, whether forcing them into certain roles, or even insisting constantly that they ought to be fluid and embrace both sides of their nature, whatever. Maybe Hadžihalilović is pointing out that kids ought to be left as kids. If we interfere too much the consequences are endless. But the consequences aren’t always good ones.

Cronenberg’s THE FLY Affirms Alexander Pope: A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing

The Fly. 1986. Directed by David Cronenberg. Screenplay by Cronenberg & Charles Edward Pogue; based on the short story by George Langelaan.
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Geena Davis, John Getz, Joy Boushel, Leslie Carlson, George Chuvalo, Michael Copeman, David Cronenberg, Carol Lazare, & Shawn Hewitt.
SLM Production Group/Brooksfilms.
Rated R. 96 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
posterO, David Cronenberg! Thy body horror is strong, gruesome, wild.
You can do a lot worse than this for a Halloween season. Starting off with a couple more ghostly films, The Fly is as nasty as any other horror film you’ll see. Maybe nastier. Yet even as Cronenberg dives deep into a genre of which he is surely master, he always manages to hold onto metaphor, allegory, deeper meaning in general.
Telling us the story of hapless inventor Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), questions of man’s venture into unknown science surface; lust for power sits chiefly in the centre of all the screenplay’s attention. The Fly isn’t a metaphor, it puts us directly in a messy science fiction situation where horror takes the reigns and flies away with them. In the driver’s seat is Cronenberg with all those icky tricks up his sleeve. In the passenger seat, his audience. Goldblum, opposite the fantastic Geena Davis as reporter extraordinaire and his eventual girlfriend Veronica Quaife, is magically weird in the lead role, which does wonders for every last turn of the screenplay.
But if you’ve never seen this, or any of Cronenberg in general, be forewarned: there’s so much great writing, although the yucky transformation Brundle undergoes takes precedence over everything, and not every stomach is as strong as mine.
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The script references Alexander Pope, using one of his lines in a twisted revision, as Seth tells Veronica ominously: “Drink deep, or taste not the plasma spring!” This reworking of Pope comes from the great poet’s An Essay on Criticism. This speech partly, because of this reference, goes to show how lost Seth becomes in his own quest, or lust, for power. He uses the words of one of the greatest English poets to have ever lived as his own, appropriating the words to fit his needs. Just as he bends science to his will. Brundle gets stranded along the way, especially after the transformation. He’s consumed by the will to be ultimately powerful. He has changed life, science, knowledge, all with his own mind and ideas and work ethic. However, as Pope says in that same quote right before his line which is actually about the Pierian spring (see: The Muses), he also cautions that a little learning is a dangerous thing.
Ah, yes – the horror of knowledge. This line is clear in how Seth abuses science. He doesn’t fully know the effects of what he’s about to do, into which dark pool he’s ready to dive. That doesn’t stop him, either. Thinking he knows everything, Seth forges ahead with a little learning instead of ENOUGH learning. Hubris of science is his undoing, believing in himself far too much. There’s also a part of Seth wanting to impress Veronica, finally finding somebody interested in him genuinely, as well as professionally. And so his lust for power, plus the lust for Veronica, drives him down a corridor filled with terrifying revelations.
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Funny how the wound Brundle experiences in bed with Veronica is a computer chip, or a chip of some kind. It sticks into him around the shoulder on his back, right where a wing might be. This first penetration of the body is where Cronenberg sets us on the body horror path. The shot is only brief, but we watch as Veronica pulls the chip and its little pins out of Seth’s skin, the small, bloody scrapes left. Later, this is paralleled by the appearance of wings, fly parts protruding from his skin. Whereas before it was a circuit, a chip, now it is organic. And still, Seth is half-man, half-other. Regardless if it’s a piece of a circuit or the wings of a fly, he has given himself over. No longer does Seth control himself and his body: he has given it to science, wholly and hideously. This, of course, becomes more disgustingly obvious through the furthering change in his physical composition, until he’s less man and all but entirely insect.
I think if you wanted to look at it in a more personal way, The Fly is a metaphor for symbiotic relationships, in the way people fall into relationships and do things they might not otherwise in order to stay together. For instance, Seth doesn’t decide to step into the pod until Veronica heads off to see her old boyfriend; though there’s nothing to suggest she wants the guy back, Seth feels slightly jilted. So he foolishly steps into the pod after rambling about Veronica a bit. By the end of the story, he’s begging her to stay away. He knows that he’s become something monstrous, no fault of hers but all due to the fact he perceived pushing his experiments to the limit as a way to somehow impress her, keep her around. After his transformation becomes grotesque, Seth finally realises he’s become someone else because of their relationship, and not in any way, shape, or form is it a good thing. For all the ruminations on power and its corruption, Cronenberg’s The Fly also works well on the level of a searing personal drama. Just so happens it’d be a personal drama with a heavy helping of sci-fi and horror to boot.
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I love both Goldblum and Davis. They’re great together, and separately they’ve got different strengths. The female part for Davis isn’t necessarily typical, she does have a strength to her which makes Veronica interesting. That’s a large part of why I like the character relationship between Seth and Veronica, because he’s more of a timid, shy, weak sort of person. That is before he meets her. Then this change happens. Previous to the nasty transformation, Seth discovers a power from his experiment, and in part he sort of feels she has something to do with it; she gave him a newfound sense of confidence, this unlocked everything else. But in the early stage, I love how Seth is less powerful, and we get all that from Veronica. Once everything starts changing, Goldblum really gets awesome. He dives headlong into the mad scientist aspect of Brundle, which makes things both darkly funny at times and outright wild once the story breaks down.
Absolutely a 5-star classic in my mind. Yeah, I love the Vincent Price original, too. Cronenberg does numerous horrific things to make the experience all the more eerie. Throughout the film, after Seth’s change commences, there are these nice moments where the transformation is clear, yet still in sly ways. Such as how Seth loads down his coffee cup with sugar, scoop after scoop, unaware he’s even doing it.
The writing is splendid in the right horror way, the acting matches all of that. Cronenberg has made plenty of good work. This is one of his most truly disgusting pieces, which is saying something.
But god damn, look at that Brundlefly!

ANTIBIRTH’s Body Horror Is Gross & Nothing More

Antibirth. 2016. Directed & Written by Danny Perez.
Starring Natasha Lyonne, Chloë Sevigny, Meg Tilly, Mark Webber, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, Emmanuel Kabongo, Neville Edwards, Morgan Bedard, Carey Pascall, Lili Francks, Marie-Josee Dionne, Jessica Greco, Kevin Hoffman, Chad Gibbons, & Spider Allen. Traverse Media/Hideaway Pictures/Culmination Productions.
Not Rated. 94 minutes.
Horror

★★
poster There are weird, oddball movies. Then there are out of this world fucked up movies, too. You can either go with the flow sometimes, or else perish in the wake of their strangeness. Antibirth is of the latter category; a movie on such a mission to mess with your head that it doesn’t always feel totally sure of itself. A lot of negative reviews have cropped up, which doesn’t exactly surprise me. Although part of me likes certain stuff writer-director Danny Perez tries to accomplish, I’m not completely out to lunch – some of this is plain poorly executed and downright bad.
Natasha Lyonne gets to play a unique part. We’re not often given such a nasty, nerve-rattling depiction of a free spirited woman undergoing a terrifying experience of pregnancy as Perez writes for her here.
Something like Rosemary’s Baby plays into the idea of pregnancy in a much more Satanic way while Antibirth is like a feverish mix of Sid and Nancy with David Cronenberg. There are moments of horror greatness, uneasy scenes where you can just about feel your own body shying away from what’s happening onscreen. However, and unfortunately, those pieces don’t get you too far.
After awhile I lost interest in exactly what was going to happen because of how overextended the screenplay felt. Too many things happening without the quality to keep them compelling. Lyonne does nice work, another bad girl role that fits her perfectly. She kept me glued to her performance. There’s nothing much else to put this over the top. I wanted to like Perez’s film. The weirdness wasn’t off-putting, it felt more fun, and gross in the way us horror freaks love. But the promise was only that: a promise. Without a pay off. Or without a pay off worth the journey we’re meant to undertake with Lyonne’s character.
pic1 I truly enjoy body horror as a sub-genre. Cronenberg is, of course, the master. There are others who’ve dipped into those nasty waters. For all this film’s faults, Perez manages to do some effective work in this arena. Why I find body horror so great is because, when used correctly, it can work well with bigger ideas. From The Fly‘s questions of man’s pursuit of knowledge and how it can affect a person, to The Brood tapping into all sorts of ideas including, like Perez’s film, that of motherhood. So what Perez does well, in his best moments, is use the visceral aspect of the sub-genre in order to gross us out. Moreover, he hammers home the fear of motherhood, the terrors some mothers go through. In an interview, Perez discusses how we more often than not see a stereotypical vision of pregnancy as a happy mother, everything’s great.
In opposition, Antibirth depicts impending motherhood as a science-fiction-esque experience. You could try to make a point for Perez attempting to make this a metaphor of some kind. Not sure exactly how far you’d get, but you might be able to try. Nevertheless, if you simply take this as an overall depiction of pregnancy as something horrific instead of beautiful, then it works. There are several screenplay concepts jammed into one here. Perhaps if Perez had stuck more strictly to one concept the entire thing would work incredibly well as that metaphorical vision of motherhood. Without a strong, coherent screenplay, he loses something in the last half hour that mars his better ideas. What kept me interested is the sheer madness of the body horror. By the final shots, I was in awe of what I’d seen.
pic2-1 One thing I absolutely love is the music. There’s nothing like an already acid trip-style movie with a heavy, psychedelic soundtrack and score on top. The various dark compositions throughout are courtesy of Eric Copeland and Jonathan J.K. Kanakis. There’s even times where the score melts into the soundtrack, specifically the scene where Lou (Lyonne) describes her fateful night to Sadie (Chloë Sevigny) and the bumping music turns into the band playing at a club. Other than that you can find a handful of interesting moments like that, which makes a solid score even better.
Lyonne is obviously the biggest part of the film. Her character gets pregnant, fast and vicious. Not only is it an emotional headspace in which she has to get, there’s also that body horror. So Lyonne’s got the sort of greasy junkie act down while still not falling into the same character as the one she plays on Orange is the New Black. Here, Lou isn’t exactly a lovable character by any means. The acting makes her worthy of your empathy, though, as we’re along for the hideous ride of her pregnancy and feel just as terrified as she does. Lots of impossibly weird moments, especially closer to the end. And no matter how out there the whole thing gets, Lyonne manages to keep the character grounded at least.
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I can’t recommend this to anybody. More of a novelty film, like certain other grossout horrors across many sub-genres. Definitely if you’re looking for body horror, this is not one of the titles I’d jump at first. Not even second, third, or thirteenth. Try Cronenberg, the more recent indie flick Bite, or any number of other movies.
Perez gives it a shot, only to fall mostly flat. Lyonne’s the best part of it and gives us a fun headtripping performance. Apart from her enjoyable bits, nothing else will wow you. The effects are decent at times. The ending has a neat creature. Just don’t expect a whole lot more, or else be sorely disappointed.

Ridley Scott’s Alien: Gorgeously Horrific Isolation

Alien. 1979. Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon; story by O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett.
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Harry Dean Stanton, John Hurt, Ian Holm, Yaphet Kotto, Bolaji Badejo, & Helen Horton. Brandywine Productions/Twentieth Century-Fox Productions.
Rated R. 117 minutes.
Horror/Sci-Fi

★★★★★
POSTER
I’m not even a huge science fiction fan. Of course I love any good movie, no matter the genre. But even as a nerd, someone who grew up loving Star Trek: The Next Generation and plenty of other science fiction, it isn’t my first choice. Yet you can’t keep a great film down. No matter if it’s your preferred genre or not. Now, when you start to mix genres together, that’s my favourite. So at a crossroads between horror and sci-fi, Ridley Scott’s Alien converges on my tastes to make for an altogether frightening experience. The undeniable legacy of the film is plastered over many genre films that have come out since. Likely that’ll be the case for a long, long time. Scott’s genius as a director is matched in the writing of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, collaborating here on the story with Ronald Shusett. Working on the isolation of space, in ’79 still a relatively new frontier with untold terrors lurking in its dark and uncharted territories, Alien coils you into madness through its horrifying scenario playing out on a previously quiet ship called the Nostromo amongst a bunch of shipmates trying to get home to Earth.
The atmosphere here is tantamount to actually being out there in the depths of outer space, stuck on a ship somewhere where nobody can hear you scream. Scott makes you feel the despair, the fear, the isolation and its effects. Each set piece is better than the last, every corner and hallway exudes the sense of a real environment. The writing of O’Bannon is one thing. The imagination of Scott is entirely another beast, one that isn’t finished working as of this writing. But the clever effectiveness of one of his most satisfying works never fails to hook me. Watching it right now, nearly 3 AM here in Newfoundland, I’m watching Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett walk through the corridors alone, calling out for Jones the cat. And when he finds that facehugger skin, the chills still run up my spine.
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First and foremost, Sigourney Weaver as Ripley is obviously the star of the show. What I dig, though, is how O’Bannon sets the entire crew up as characters. Once we get to the excitement and all the wonderful thrills(/chills), Ripley is our woman. She carries us through the action, the horror, as our tour guide almost. Regardless of her status as protagonist, O’Bannon gives us the time to get to know the others around her, so as not to stick us totally in one perspective. It’s a testament to good writing when a screenplay is able to setup a cast of characters behind the one real main character, to make them interesting, to have us spend time with them and let each one build instead of ending up as simply expendable victims for the alien to kill. Mostly, O’Bannon writes the characters so that they’re natural. In any genre, any writer will have a better chance at making their script more powerful if the characters feel like they’re organic. With a crew like those on the Nostromo, the chemistry has to be tight, like the sort of chat and relationships you’d generally see from any group that spend so much time together. Add to that a bunch of good actors who give it their all and you’ve got one enjoyable feast of emotions that run the gamut from strength to paranoia to bald fear and everything in between.
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That first reveal of the Xenomorph is forever etched in my mind. Having the cat there makes it unique. Those shots of Jones hissing, then the eyes watching poor Brett get nibbled up, they’re really something spectacular. Not sure why it’s so interesting. Perhaps to see a cat, a fine predator in its own right, witness such an apex predator at work is the reason this scene works to such a degree. Either way, when the Xenomorph, so quiet, drops down behind Brett, there’s a HOLY SHIT moment, and you immediately understand how threatening this creature is truly. Forget the size, the look, the nasty jaws and acid blood, just the sheer physical prowess of the Xenomorph to curl down from above, slow, silent: that is horrifying. Later, the scene with Dallas (Skerritt) and the Xenomorph is the stuff of which nightmares are made. Then things only get more frightening, the tension mounts until you feel your spine sucking up against the inside of your stomach. There’s a lot of downright exciting moments, too, but it’s the frights that keep me enthralled with Scott’s work in this movie every damn time.
My favourite sequence? When Ash (Holm) goes haywire. The first time I’d seen the film I never once expected it to happen. Now, I’m still impressed. The eerie way Holm plays the scene, the unsettling close-ups shot tight on Ash’s face as he starts leaking a bit of liquid, starting to go crazy. Then when Parker (Kotto) discovers the secret Ash is hiding, the nastiness of the simple effects make it all the more wild.
The sets are elaborate and Scott is able to take us away to another place. You become completely absorbed in the future world. Right down to how they’re shot and the way we initially follow a tracking shot through portions of the Nostromo before coming upon the crew in their stasis. A fine opener to the film, but a visual aesthetic Scott keeps up throughout the film’s entirety. The coldness of the camera, the silence, I find it works well with the advanced looking technology of the ship itself. At certain times you’re sure to be reminded of Stanley Kubrick. Others, you’re most definitely in a Scott landscape. What I like most are the exteriors, as opposed to the clean looking interiors. Outside we get this idea that yet it’s the future, but it is a dirty, rough and tumble one.
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There’s no denying Alien is a whopping 5 stars. A fantastic ride into the heart of science fiction-horror. Scott blew everybody away, and still does with this piece of work. When people try to tell you horror or sci-fi can’t be art, you show them this film. Tell them they’re wrong. The imaginative direction on Scott’s part, the writing of O’Bannon. The strong central performance of Sigourney Weaver as the beloved Ripley, the beyond excellent support of a cast with the likes of John Hurt and Ian Holm. There is much to love. I can never get enough. I personally love the first three films of the series, and Prometheus.
But this one started it all. The dangerous aliens of the outer reaches have never been so vicious, so adverse to humanity as they are in this Scott masterpiece. Feast on it. Learn from it. This film won’t ever get old, except in the way that it gets better with age in all its horrific, science fiction goodness.

Minority Report’s Speculative Fiction is All Kinds of Awesome

Minority Report. 2002. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Jon Cohen & Scott Frank; based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick.
Starring Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Steve Harris, Neal McDonough, Patrick Kilpatrick, Jessica Capshaw, Anna Maria Horsford, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Tim Blake Nelson, Lois Smith, Mike Binder, Jessica Harper, & Peter Stormare. Amblin Entertainment-Cruise/Wagner Productions-Blue Tulip Productions.
Rated PG-13. 145 minutes.
Action/Mystery/Sci-Fi

★★★★1/2
POSTER
Steven Spileberg is one of those directors whose work usually calls me back to a specific time in life. The memorable cinematic experiences of my early days were informed by Jaws which is the reason for my fear of deep water, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and its long lasting effect on my strange interests (aliens, paranormal, so on; even though I’m a major sceptic), as well as the adventure and thrill I found in Raiders of the Lost Ark and of course the emotional ride that is E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. So many times, Spielberg wowed my young mind, as he did to so many, many others long before me. And yet even while I grew up the classics kept on coming. Jurassic Park changed my life in terms of how I saw movies, that they could be action-oriented and full of science fiction, that the adult and childhood interests in dinosaurs could find a way to fuse in one exciting bit of fiction. On top of everything, Spielberg has dipped his talent into producing a vast number of projects, many of which are classics in their own right without him having taken the reins as director. So usually if his name is attached, I’ll watch a movie simply for that sake, no matter how it turns out.
Minority Report didn’t get ravaged by critics, in fact it generally received a positive turn out. Furthermore, the movie did well domestically and overseas; the profit was more than triple its budget of just over $100-million. At the same time, I feel it’s not as well remembered as it ought to be when considering how great a movie it is, from acting to the direction to the overall look and atmosphere. Reason being that 2002 was a massive year in film, including releases such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Spider-Man, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Men in Black II, Die Another Day, Signs, The Count of Monte Cristo, and those are just the big ones. Getting lost in the cracks, Minority Report is one of Spielberg’s best post-2000, and one of the last legitimate dives into sci-fi that he took (until taking on duties for Ready Player One). There’s enough excitement and intrigue in this movie to fill a few of them. Cruise gives a solid performance, and Spielberg keeps us on the edge of our seats while we roam the futuristic landscapes of an America that feels not too far off. Ultimately, Spielberg and the writers explore Dick’s story while asking if the technological advancements our society is capable of can manage to outwit the corruption and moral weakness at the hands of the people tasked with using that very technology. The bottom line of Minority Report concerns morality, humanity among the advancements of science, and the will of man to do evil, despite all odds.
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The entire process of the Precrime system is a ton of fun. Spielberg really went to town on coming up with the whole thing. I’d like to know more about how the design was decided. Just that room where Cruise’s character does his thing with the screens, those tailor-made wooden, varnished balls, every last detail is incredibly fun. Of course part of this most likely comes from the original short story by Philip K. Dick, though as I understand it the story’s been changed a good deal. I don’t doubt Dick’s story definitely has plenty of the detail Spielberg then used to come up with the look of his Washington, D.C. law enforcement facility of the future. However, part of it is definitely the master filmmaker himself putting his mark upon the adapted material.
One thing I’ve always loved is the design of the roadways, even the cars themselves. The chase scenes are incredible. Funny how certain reviews out there, by professional critics, have claimed these scenes are silly. Really? Are we watching the same movie? Because these chase scenes are perfectly science fiction and every bit the epitome of action. Totally exciting. That first sequence where Cruise is jumping down across the various vehicles is heart pounding. As far as the visual effects go, there are only one or two slight missteps. When you’re not dealing in practical effects, CGI and the like can sometimes let you down. Luckily, these moments are seldom, only one or twice throughout the over two hour runtime. The large majority of the effects look great, keep the pulse thumping, and add another nice element to the dark, gritty nature of the story and its feel.
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A huge part of what interests me is the idea of the surveillance state. We’ve almost got this amplified version of the CCTV-laced streets in the U.K. in this future vision of Washington, D.C. and other areas. For instance, as Anderton first tries to get away he moves through the malls and the subway stations, and every screen nearby is flashing his name, speaking to him through personalised advertisements, the newspapers in other passengers’ hands read pop-up headlines about John and his Wanted status. Overall there’s a really great riff on George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four in that Dick, as well as the screenwriters here, further explore the concept of the ‘thoughtcrime’, the idea that basically forms the foundation of the Precrime Division and their precognitive awareness/action on crime.
This entire angle makes for incredibly interesting plot developments. The fact Anderton is tagged in every way to be recognised by all the various computer systems makes for a tough predicament. There’s an optical recognition system around the entire city, which heightens the police search, as it’s not as simple to just hide away when every street corner, every sidewalk is seemingly rigged to scan your eyeballs and go straight to the source for your identity. Eventually, John finds a doctor whose talents lie in the black market – eye surgeries, to be exact. That’s actually one of my favourite sequences, including a cameo for one of the best character actors Peter Stormare; the whole thing is dark, gritty, weird, it’s an awesome bit that adds to the atmosphere, and turns into a nice addition to the chase elements of the screenplay. What I love most about this whole part of the film is that it speaks to the loss of privacy, the great lengths to which some will go in the future to avoid all the intrusion on their personal lives by way of technology, and so on. Before the film released, Spielberg talked about the technology he envisioned for the movie, and it’s also interesting to note he usually consults a lot of technical experts when making science fiction in order to try and bring some degree of realism to the subject matter. So go check out the TED talk with John Underkoffler, a scientific adviser who worked with Spielberg on the film. Then try and tell me we won’t see more of that in the future. In turn, we’ll watch our privacy disappear, more and more. Online ads are already tailoring themselves to our Facebook and Twitter accounts, our personalised information that’s floating around inside the internet. Soon enough, we’ll walk down the street, just like Anderton, and find the screens looking out at us, scanning, tailoring their ads to who we are as people. Most of all, Minority Report isn’t merely thrilling action: it’s a scary vision of a future world towards which we are headed, if we’re not too careful.
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The performances are good, from Cruise in the lead to Farrell and Max von Sydow in their respective supporting roles. Above anything, the atmosphere is what makes this one for me. I love Spielberg’s movies and every one of them feels different, though each of them also has that same magic. Despite moving from genre to genre, as well as through many types of characters and stories, Spielberg always retains that classic style. No matter if the subject material and themes are dark, friendly and youthful, or if they explore a world completely foreign to our own, his films are all capable of transporting us into a sacred space, one beloved by many cinephiles around the globe. Minority Report is one of his best in recent years. There’s a constant excitement, even in the more low key moments. The pacing is exceptional and keeps the whole thing going, allowing Spielberg to stop between his big chase scenes to flesh out a deeply personal, emotional story involving a father and the loss of his son, the crumbling of the relationship with his wife, all of which is folded up in a wonderfully compelling sci-fi tale. Don’t sleep on this one. If you’ve yet to see it, get out and do yourself a favour. Especially if Spielberg gives you the nostalgia feeling in your stomach the way he does for me.

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

★★★★★
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.

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

★★★★★
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 SistersPhantom of the ParadiseCarrie 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 & AutomobilesFalling 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, NikitaLéon: The ProfessionalThe 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 VengeanceOldboyI 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 Léon: 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 Léon: 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.