Blair Witch Review

People seem to forget it nowadays but when The Blair Witch Project came out, it was a cultural landmark. Nothing else like it had been created before, and it then ushered in the “found-footage” trope that has been prevalent in the early part of the 2000s. Some people loved it, some hated it. Myself, probably in the middle (although it has been a while since seeing it). Twenty years on, does the new Blair Witch carry on the legacy?

Blair Witch stars James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Brandon Scott and Corbin Reid and is directed by Adam Wingard. the film follows the brother of Heather from the first film (McCune) who collects a set of friends and a documentary filmmaker to venture into the woods to see if they can find his sister.

In the original, it’s widely known that the cast were just coming into their careers and were genuinely scared of their surroundings. The new cast feel like they are more acting rather that reacting to the things around them, making it feel a little more staged. It follows a more conventional style of filmmaking with stock characters (promiscuous girl, wacky black guy, weird locals), giving us tropes we recognise so we can focus more on the woods and action rather than them.

The film is set up like a found footage movie, but updated to modern times. Drones, little headpiece cameras and an all-matter of gizmos such as GPS and walkie-talkies are brought in, which is an interesting addition. These people are actually going into the forest to look for something, not messing about with a camera. Little bits of the equipment get used here and there, but to no great effect other than some new visuals. The first half of the film is all shaking cameras and no real coherency, which eventually started to give me a migraine. It does calm down in the second half, so it’s half redeemed. When the original was made, the marketing convinced so many people that the film was real, that we were watching the last known recording of the three filmmakers. Now that we know that it was all basically fabricated, the sequel was a bit of a non-starter. We know it’s fake, we know it’s made-up, and no amount of people holding cameras or devices is going to convince me otherwise. It is basically a beat-for-beat remake of the original, but without the clever marketing.

Sadly, the spectre of most horror films nowadays, the jump scare, it used to full effect. Most of the time it’s not even anything remotely frightening, just loud camera glitches or microphone pops, which really get irritating after a while. After getting jump-scared by two of her friends, the main female lead says “Can people please stop doing that!”, almost reading the audience members minds. Again, the second act brings it together, with an excellent mix of some Cronenberg-style body horror, a genuinely tense “hearing-monster-walk-around-you” set-piece, a little glimpse of what could be a witch and an ending with a reveal which is novel and interesting. Good horror should leave it open-ended, and the second half does deliver. We even see what those stickmen are eventually used for, and it’s clever and fun.

Looking back at the whole of the Blair Witch, you can almost see the twenty years of horror that it’s tried to keep up with. You obviously get the nods to the original, but also little flashes of things like the VHS series and The Descent. The new stuff it brings to the table is superb and lends a lot of richness to the lore of the Blair Witch, but the basic retread will put of people who didn’t like the first one. If you hated the original, you will hate this, but if like me you were impartial or liked the original, you might get a kick out of it.

Score: 5/10 An abysmal first act leads into a slightly stronger ending.

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Finding Dory Review

Oh for goodness sake, let the sequels end! “But this is different,” I hear you say, “it’s Disney/Pixar”. And yes, before they became the super-media conglomerate that eats up every single other piece of entertainment, Disney and it’s younger creator Pixar crafted some excellent contained movies. Which they are now soiling with unnecessary add-ons like Cars 2 and Monsters University (admit it, you completely forgot they made Monsters University). But let’s dive in (pun intended) once again for Finding Dory.

Finding Dory stars Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Hayden Rolence and Ed O’Neill and is directed by Andrew Stanton. The film follows on one year after the events of Finding Nemo, when Dory (DeGeneres) remembers her parents, she sets off to find them, with Marlin (Brooks) and Nemo (Rolence) in tow.

While I was on-board for the sequel, the story is rather boring. In Finding Nemo, Marlin was unsure of how to reach Nemo, and that’s what made the story exciting. In the sequel, we are pointed to exactly where Dory’s parents are at the beginning of the film, so it just gets tiresome after the fourth or fifth time Dory goes in the wrong direction. Even in a 90 minute film, this feels like extraordinary padding. To the end of the film I was really getting angry at the drudging story, but then during the final twenty minutes, the film pays off for one beautiful scene, before heading back to trudging boredom for the finale. And sure, it’s nice to go back to these characters, but there aren’t many memorable new ones. But stick around until the very end credits and you may see some familiar faces.

The film is a lot lighter on jokes than previous Pixar films, and most of the good ones were shown during the trailers. The majority come from the duo of Dominic West and Idris Elba as a pair of “geezer” sea lions (who were shown, but only one moment), who switch from stretching out in the sun to barking at trivial things. They are one of the funniest things in the film but are only in the film at the very beginning and at the very end.

Since the whole film is set at an aquarium, you would think that you would get some lovely shots of thousands of fish swimming around the giant tanks. Sadly not so. We may get one or two fleeting glimpses of shots similar to the school run at the start of Nemo, but most of Finding Dory is set in bland white corridors and darkened storage facilities. With Pixar being one of the biggest animation houses, I would really want for something a bit more stimulating than nondescript buildings.

Maybe Pixar spent the entire budget on the short film before, called Piper. It’s another animal based story, of a small bird learning how to hunt for food in the sea. It’s almost photo-realistic, like a nature documentary, but with some silly human qualities added to the birds to make them more relatable I guess.

But I can’t deny, the music is what pushes the film along. Thomas Newman returns once again, and basically does the same thing he did for Nemo. It’s sad when the best thing about the new film is something that was perfected back in 2003, but it’s great to hear Newman’s signature style in a cinema sound system.

To finish, Finding Dory was just like every other sequel this year, really, REALLY not needed. And Dory continues the trend of Pixar properties of having a really good first film and a quite boring second attempt (Toy Story being the only exception). I would say let’s learn from our mistakes, but heck, we’re all going to go watch Incredibles 2 aren’t we?

Score: 5/10 Fleeting moments of greatness, let down by a wilting story.

Alien Series Collection

Preface

The Alien franchise is known as one of the defining series in both science-fiction and horror. Being passed from director-to-director and catapulting many of the then unknown actors and actresses into the mainstream, it deserves it’s place in film history. So I decided to review all of it.

  • Prometheus
  • Alien
  • Aliens
  • Alien3
  • Alien: Resurrection

Review

Prometheus

The prequel set nearly 30 years before Alien, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron. While many (including I) first disliked this film, on a second viewing it grew in standing. The sets are beautiful, with Iceland and Spain being used for the endless landscape shots of planet LV-223. The built sets, such as the ship Prometheus and the gigantic head statue with the black vials are some standouts of recent set design. Noomi Rapace (from the original Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is tremendous as Dr Elizabeth Shaw, especially since this is her first main actress role in an English-language film. Michael Fassbender as android David is another spectacular role for the actor, who is strangely charismatic and sinister simultaneously.

Harry Gregson-Williams’ score merges seamlessly with the awe of the world, highlighting certain scenes like David in the Orrey or the Space Jockey as being great points in the film. While it doesn’t answer many of its questions (much like Alien didn’t) it still stands as a singular film, and stands well.

Score: 8/10 A certain highlight that doesn’t get as much love as it should.

Alien

Released in 1979, with Scott directing and starring Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt, Ian Holm and Yaphet Kotto. A massive group effort, with script writer Dan O’Bannon and designer H.R. Giger working with Scott to create a truly terrifying film. Giger’s design for the xenomorph, with it’s odd steampipe design is one of the most revered monsters in all of movies, and the chest-burster scene is a memorable and scary entrance. The set design, also done by Giger, especially the Space Jockey and Nest are impeccably created and totally deserved the Oscar they won.

The film is shot like Jaws, very few open shots of the monster. While it makes the film tense, it’s a bit of a let-down, especially because of the exquisite design. It’s slow paced and the final showdown feels rather anti-climactic, but apart from that, it’s rather well made.

Score: 7/10 Greatly influential and rather scary.

Aliens

James Cameron took over directing for the 1986 sequel, with Weaver returning, also starring Lance Henricksen, Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton, as well as Carrie Henn. Set 57 years after the first film, it sees Ripley return to the planet LV-426 from Alien, along with a platoon of colonial marines to exterminate the xenomorph menace once and for all.

The marines featured can be seen as creating the stock types for army grunts in all other war films (the black sergeant who loves cigars, the diminutive but badass girl, the comedy “wacky” tech nerd) and hopelessly misjudge the situation with a cocky attitude that quickly dissolves in the face of the perfect predator. Weaver builds off the rather lacklustre characterisation in the first film, working with Carrie Henn’s adorable Newt, who set’s a high bar for least annoying child actor ever.

Filled with expert set-pieces like the Powerloader fight, the tunnel escape and several raging gun-battles as well as some of the most quotable lines in cinema (there are so many, and most of them aren’t really suitable for a family friendly site like this). Aliens builds on the success of Alien by doubling the size and scope, moving from horror to action and moving up in score.

Score: 8/10 A fine sequel that is better than the original.

Alien3

Released in 1992, Alien3 once again stars Sigourney Weaver and introduces Charles Dance, Charles S. Dutton and Pete Postlethwaite and is directed by David Fincher (his first feature film). Set another 20 years after Aliens, the emergency pod from the Sulaco marine ship crashes onto a mining planet and penal colony Fury 161. An Alien egg crashes down with them, sending the mining site into disarray.

While Fincher is on record as saying he hates the film due to not being allowed full control over it, for a debut it’s rather well done. The dialogue and acting is sometimes over-the-top and comical (it seems all convicts in the future are cockneys) but the film features several excellent characters such as de facto leader of the prisoners Dillon (Dutton) whose constant quoting from religious scripture lends the film a nice sense of gravitas. The dark brown and grey colour palette becomes a bit dull and the CGI Alien is rather poorly merged within the film, but a fast-paced finale involving Ripley and the inmates trying to guide the Alien into the mining pit brings the ending up from a drab middle.

And the trilogy concludes by reinforcing the notion that runs throughout the entire series; the Alien always wins.

Score: 7/10 Give it a chance, it’s surprisingly alright.

Alien: Resurrection

You just can’t keep a girl down. Set two hundred years after her death at the end of Alien3 , the film follows the clone of Ellen Ripley who is brought back to life by Weyland Yutani to harvest an Alien foetus from her DNA. Featuring Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Brad Dourif and directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, the film follows a set of mercenaries who after coming aboard the Weyland Yutani ship are attacked by Aliens.

This is seen as the worst Alien film in the franchise, but it still has some standout scenes. Brad Dourif as crazy scientist Dr Gediman, who gauges the Alien’s intellect through a series of tests is an impressive moment, showing how clever the super predator is. An underwater pursuit of the heroes by Aliens is another well-made scene and shows the Aliens working as a team to catch their prey. This film also features the Newborn, a xenomorph with human traits. While the human eyes look rather silly, the rest of the appearance, which looks like Slimer crossed with Skeletor, is rather disturbing and creepy.

The film feels rather like the first Alien, ordinary working people trying to make a living while facing off against an enemy too powerful for them to comprehend. But the switch from comedy to horror to action feels rather awkward, while Sigourney Weaver looks thoroughly bored again as Ripley, only there to pick up a check.

Score: 5/10 It’s ridiculous but has some superb scenes.

Independence Day : Resurgence Review

2016 is looking like the year of unnecessary sequels. With Zoolander 2, Absolutely Fabulous and Jason Bourne all coming out this year, it’s cementing the old, tired adage of Hollywood not having any new ideas. But, here we go, with another film that’s over twenty years old getting a sequel, Independence Day: Resurgence.

Independence Day: Resurgence stars Jeff Goldblum, Liam Hemsworth, Maika Monroe and Jessie Usher and is directed by Roland Emmerich. Set twenty years after the first film, the aliens that Earth defended against come back, with more resolve to destroy the planet this time.

I wasn’t that big a fan of the first Independence Day. I’m not a fan of disaster movies in general, I find them boring for the most part. So it was with great reluctance that I went to see Independence Day: Resurgence (titled in the great tradition of “Name of film, colon, ominous sounding word beginning with RE”). I’ll try and be professional about this, but I’m just calling my biases out beforehand, just to be open.

You would think if it was a film set twenty years after the original film, they might add in some new characters. While they do put some new characters in, they are all intrinsically linked back to the older characters, most of which look like their coming back for the paycheck. The problem with having so many characters though is that none of them get enough screen time. Most of the new ones get only the basest of character development, where something could have been added, especially to Jessie Usher’s character, who is the son of Will Smith’s character from the original. The older characters as well have script issues, with going from rivals to best friends without anything in between.

The abundance of characters leads me onto the second problem I have with the film, the editing. Not in a camera/cinematography way, more in terms of the story. Independence Day: Resurgence suffers from “The Phantom Menace Effect”. The Phantom Menace‘s last third switches from tragedy to comedy to action too quickly, the emotional tones of the film are all messed up. Independence Day: Resurgence has this same problem in its final act. It jumps between six different scenes, each with differing emotional changes, with the film feeling inconsistent at best and jarring at worst. It’s even worse when people start dying, most aren’t given proper due, so it feels anticlimactic.

The only really shining light through all of it is Jeff Goldblum. He has some funny lines (which really is saying something, this script is full of weak jokes and “comedic” characters) and he looks like he’s having fun while everyone else is just there. But that’s Jeff Goldblum, you get what you pay for. It would have been better if Will Smith had returned though. His double act with Goldblum is one of the reasons why the first Independence Day is loved and I think that it would have supplied a lot of the charm that is missing.

If you are looking for a film filled with mindless fun then you’ve come to the right place. Roland Emmerich is the guy who directed The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 and White House Down, along with the original Independence Day. If anyone knows how to create big explosions on screen while supplying a melodramatic and cheesy script, it’s this guy. But sadly, Independence Day isn’t that good a film. It just stands there, lamenting it’s glory days, saying “Hey kids, I was kind of great once.”

Score: 4/10 Big, loud, CGI-filled, but just not that fun or memorable.

Jason Bourne Collection Review

Preface

With the new film in the series, Jason Bourne coming out in the…Jason Bourne franchise, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the series as a whole. The Bourne series’ influence on cinema in the post-2000 scene is massive, everything from Taken to XIII to Daniel Craig’s James Bond owes a debt to Bourne, and it’s still influencing cinema today. The films I will be reviewing are;

  • The Bourne Identity
  • The Bourne Supremacy
  • The Bourne Ultimatum
  • The Bourne Legacy

Review

The Bourne Identity

The start of the series, with Matt Damon in the title role and Doug Liman on directing duties. The film follows Jason Bourne (Damon) a spy for the CIA who is struck with amnesia and hunted by his old firm. We see the start of the themes and notes of the franchise here; the European setting, a sense of realism (distinguishing it from the most recent James Bond film at the time, Die Another Day) and the bone crunching mix of Jeet Kune Do and Filipino Kali for the fight scenes. And while there are moments of greatness peppered throughout (The bank/embassy evacuation, the Mini chase through the streets of Paris and the showdown with Clive Owen’s Professor) there is a hint of ropey-ness about it all. The fight scenes aren’t well shot and the sound effects are ripped straight from an Adam West Batman episode. The staircase ride, while it starts interesting, also has some video-gamey sound effects, poor CGI and sped-up footage. Apart from that, Chris Cooper is a great villain as Conklin and John Powell’s score is one of the most recognisible themes in all of cinema.

Score: 6/10 A Good start to an action series.

The Bourne Supremacy

Matt Damon returns as the superspy but the director’s chair has moved from Liman over to Paul Grengrass. The story continues two years on, when a shadowy Russian oligarch forces Bourne back into the CIAs spotlight. While this was never my favourite Bourne film, after going back to it, I look upon it more favorably. Greengrass’ signature hand-held shaky style is at it’s best here (and sadly imitated poorly by many other directors) conveying the brutality and speed of the hand-to-hand fight scenes. One fight, between Bourne and the last Treadstone assassin, Jarda, is a brilliant display of improvised weaponry. The hotel/ Neski segments have a nice Traditions Of The Trade feel and help fill in background to Treadstone. The main weak point is the story. Who is Gretkov (the oligarch) and why is he so interested in Bourne? Why does he have the Neski files? There is no clear point to why the main bad guy is setting up Bourne other than to make some money, which is quite poor character development.

Score: 8/10 If it wasn’t for the weak story, this would have been the best one.

The Bourne Ultimatum

The final chapter of the Matt Damon trilogy, with Paul Greengrass returning to direct. Set mere hours after the end of Supremacy, the film follows Bourne as he finally heads after the CIA to find out who he really is. This is the culmination of everything that was great about the first two while taking out the elements that didn’t work. The hand-to-hand combat is better than ever, with a beautiful set piece against a Capoeira-infused Blackbrair agent. The rest of the action set pieces are on par, with a great rooftop chase in Tangiers as well as a shootout in London Waterloo. The story is also leagues ahead of the tenuous link in Supremacy, with it linking back to Bourne as his origin rather than some half-baked scheme about stealing money from the second film.

Score: 9/10 The best of series so far.

The Bourne Legacy

With Matt Damon and Paul Grengrass both said they were not returning to the series, it fell to the previous three film’s screenwriter Tony Gilory to take the directing chair and Jeremy Renner as a new “Outcome” agent Aaron Cross to take hold of the Bourne franchise. Set during and after The Bourne Ultimatum, the film follows another agent, Aaron Cross, as the previous programs are shut down by government bureaucrat Eric Byer (played superbly by Edward Norton) to risk embarrassment of the CIA. Cross is the only survivor of his program, leading the CIA to hunt him down. While Jeremy Renner is good stand-in for Matt Damon in the action scenes, his manner is too cheerful. He’s always cracking jokes, which doesn’t really fit the character of a deadly assassin. His romance with Rachael Weisz seems token and the film ends flatly, obviously trying to set up a sequel that never came. Apart from one long-take of Cross in a shootout in a house and a nifty motorcycle trick near the end, the rest of the action is boring or ridiculous. The story isn’t engaging like the third film and it’s only the barest relation to the Bourne series that made anyone want to go see it.

Score: 4/10 Generic-o fist-punchy, gun-shooty (that means it’s bad).

X-Men Apocalypse Review

Finally, a superhero series I’m actually interested in, the X-Men. Coming out two years before Sam Raimi’s Spiderman (thought by many to be the pivotal films for the superhero genre) X-Men showed how good superhero movies could be. And after watching Days Of Future Past literally 24 hours ago to be caught up with the entire franchise, now it’s time for the Apocalypse.

X-Men: Apocalypse stars James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence and Oscsar Isaac and is directed by Bryan Singer. The film follows the young X-Men as Apocalypse (Isaac) the first ever mutant comes back to wreak havoc on the world.

The great cast we all know and love are back. In addition to the old regulars we have newcomers such as Sophie Turner, Tye Sheridan and my favourite, Kodi-Smitt McPhee, recast to bring back younger versions of Jean Grey, Cyclops and Nightcrawler respectively. But even with the frankly amazing cast, there are too many characters. The first X-Men film gave us maybe around seven main mutants to remember. Here we have way too many; Apocalypse and his Horsemen, the older group of X-Men and the younger mutants as well. Lots of critics and fans have been hating on Oscar Isaac for his portrayal as Apocalypse. Sure, he was a bit flat, like if Ultron hadn’t had the brilliant voice of James Spader and we never understood what his powers were, but overall he was fine in the role.

The over-crowding of the mutants brings the other problem of the film to the front, the script. With all these characters are their different sub-plots and character re-introductions; it’ll get to the point where it’s been well over half an hour before you get back to certain characters. Mystique and Nightcrawler’s introduction especially, there are massive gaps in their parts of the story. And due to the odd editing, it seems like the duo are stuck walking around East Berlin for a couple of days instead of going where they need to immediately. To continue with the script, the film isn’t as witty as the ones before, with only a few jokes coming from the naivety of Nightcrawler. Character development, which Days Of Future Past managed to have a lot of, seems to happen here in an instant, with characters changing allegiances in mere seconds, rather than over the 2 AND A HALF HOUR running time.

It’s weird; all I seem to do with superhero films is rant when I come down to writing the review. Even with a franchise that I like, it’s just that saying anything I did like would essentially be repeating myself over and over again. The cast is good, the action is good, the effects are good, but we all know this already from past films. That’s not to say that there aren’t new, interesting side-plots. Quicksilver copies his set-piece run from Days Of Future Past in Xavier’s school, set to Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams and it is honestly the best scene of the film. A scene with Apocalypse, which uses a Beethoven remix (if I’m correct) is also fun for the choice and use of classical music in that scene. It’s just I can’t really remember anything from the rest of the film clearly.

The last thing I want to talk about is the scale of the film. In Days Of Future Past, the final climactic battle takes place on the lawn of the White House. All of the energy of the film was focussed on that space. In Apocalypse, it’s major battle encompasses nearly the entire world. When it’s spaced out it loses something. To make a nerdy analogy; in Doctor Who when the Doctor first faced the Daleks, it was a big deal. Now they appear so frequently it’s lost all sense of emergency. It’s the same here. It feels too big, too dramatic, too weighed down. It just needed to back up a small amount.

In looking back and writing this review, Apocalypse wasn’t as good as I remembered it being. I enjoyed myself while I was in the theatre, but it’s not a great X-Men or superhero film, just good enough.

Score: 6/10 Days Of Future Past was better.

Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

I’m a few days late behind this one. Everyone and their dog has been shouting their piece about Batman V Superman, it almost feels unnecessary to jump in this late. But it’s the biggest film of the year so far so I better review it.

Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice stars Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons and Gal Gadot and is directed by Zack Snyder. BvS follows Batman (Affleck) as he tries to put down Superman (Cavill) in order to keep the world safe.

Let’s try and start with the good. A lot of the cast do good work. Ben Affleck fights off all of the criticism that was levelled at him when he was announced (go back and look at those tweets, it’s appalling how people attacked him) and turns in a very good performance as Bruce Wayne. Yes Bruce Wayne, any buffed up guy with a strong jaw and a smoker’s voice can play Batman and sadly he’s hardly in the film. Henry Cavill stands around being wooden for most of the run time, which is only heightened by the complete lack of chemistry between him and on-screen girlfriend Amy Adams. Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman does nothing until the final five minutes and Jesse Eisenberg is completely off as a mincing, stuttering Lex Luthor. The only really good actor is Jeremy Irons as Alfred, and that’s mainly down to Irons being a superb in basically any film he does.

And…that’s about it. Let’s get to work on the bad. EVERYTHING ELSE.

The main problem with the film is it’s script. In short, it’s ridiculous. Batman versus Superman is not a film title, it’s a scene. We already saw the “God versus Rich Badass” scenario in the first Avengers film, it was Thor against Iron Man. Although here, we don’t even get that. For a good two-thirds of the film it’s Bruce Wayne versus Clark Kent instead. Some lines, especially the one that makes Batman and Superman join up against another bad guy who pops out of nowhere (mainly for the fans, because NO ONE else will have heard of him) is hysterically dumb and contrived, it feels more like a spoof of superhero films than one that’s meant to be taken seriously. When we finally get to the last half an hour Zack Snyder remembers he was meant to be making a superhero film and tries to fit in as much explosions and punching as he can, until it becomes desensitising.

Another problem is the film’s length. BvS is 151 minutes long, way too long for what the film comes down to. Apparently there is an extra thirty minutes that Snyder took out of the cinema release, I guess that’s where all the plot is because there is nothing but the thinnest of plots in those two and half hours. It makes the film feel stuck in a weird limbo; it’s both overlong and too edited.

It’s wide knowledge that the film has been gutted, bringing it down from an 18 to a 12a rating and especially in the fight scenes the editing is extensive. It reminds me of Quantum of Solace, there is no pain. People are being thrown through walls and bones are breaking, but there is no “feedback”, no visceral connection between audience and screen. Again, it becomes comical about how much violence gets dished out and how little we feel involved in the action.

And since DC and Warner Bros. are wanting to set up ANOTHER BLOODY SUPERHERO FRANCHISE, BvS houses several little Easter Eggs as to who will be in their next two to three films. It’s so tiresome nowadays, why not focus on making the film that’s actually out good rather than just cutting your losses and trying to make money back with your next couple of films?

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is plainly bad. It was insanely overhyped, it’s badly in need of an editor and manages to make a film about two of the best crimefighters going toe-to-toe with each other incredibly boring. I know we’re still in the beginning of 2016, but I bet this will be on my Worst-Of list at the end of the year.

Score: 2/10 A fan service film if ever I saw one.

Silent Hill Double Review

Preface

As you might have gathered from my other forays of video games turned into movies (Hitman: Agent 47 and the Tomb Raider films) I love video games. And with one of my university courses this year focussing on horror, I recently got back into one of the most interesting game franchises ever, Silent Hill. And since it’s one of the many franchises that has been adapted, I thought I would take a break from actual work and bring you another double review, Silent Hill and Silent Hill: Revelation.

Review

Silent Hill

Silent Hill stars Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Jodelle Ferland and is directed by Christophe Gans. The film follows Rose (Mitchell) as she tries to find her daughter Sharon (Ferland), after she loses her in the town of Silent Hill.

Games like Hitman or Tomb Raider, while they have some semblance of story are not the most cinematic of games. Silent Hill however, is very focussed on narrative and that’s one of the films strongest points. It’s a straight adaptation of the first game’s story, with minor points from the rest of the series thrown in as little Easter eggs for the fans. The major change in the story is changing the main character from male to female. Gans says that he made this change as when he was writing the film, the main character’s emotions and dialogue had more in line with a woman than a man. To be fair, the main character from the game, Harry Mason, hardly had a personality to begin with, so Gans would have had to create a background for whoever the main character was and Radha Mitchell does great as terrified mother Rose.

Gans does a good job of capturing the iconography of the series; the radio static, the misshapen Freudian monsters and the beautiful detail as the haunted town peels away into the “Otherworld”. This is another one of the films strong points, with CGI blending seamlessly with the built sets, creating a flaking snowfall effect to both bring in and take away the dark world.

The film does have several problems however. A lot of the cast seem to be hamming up the script (despite the original Silent Hill already having a lot of camp in it), with Sean Bean’s atrocious American accent being the cherry on top. Along with this, the film is very American in its horror, meaning the horror is mostly all gore and blood with no deeper meaning. Silent Hill was created in Japan, and a lot of their horror stems from psychology, but here a lot of that has been stripped backed for a more in-your-face approach. And just as a fan, why is Pyramid Head here? He’s a (spoiler alert) Freudian/Jungian manifestation of the main character from Silent Hill 2, him being in the film is a total undermining of his symbolism. But in fairness it is pretty good visualisation of the infamous monster.

In conclusion, Silent Hill has a few slip ups, but overall, it manages to capture the atmosphere of the game very well.

Score: 7/10 A good enough example of a video game film done right.

 

Silent Hill: Revelation

Silent Hill: Revelation stars Adelaide Clemens, Sean Bean, Kit Harrington and Malcolm McDowell with directing duties being moved over to Michael J. Bassett. The plot follows Heather (Clemens) who on her eighteenth birthday is called back to Silent Hill, with the town holding dark secrets about her past.

You won’t find a good Silent Hill film here. You won’t find a scary horror film here. You won’t even find a good film here. What you will find, if you ever decide to watch Silent Hill: Revelation, is something that flips from being incredibly tedious to unintentionally hilarious.

Where to start? Well, at the beginning. The film just starts in the middle of a conversation, with no build up to introducing the main characters or back-story to get us up to speed from what happened since the last film. I rewound the film several times because I was sure I had missed a few minutes of the film before realising that the film just begins abruptly.

Sean Bean’s American accent appears again and is terrible, but Bean is only the start of a selection of bad performances. Adelaide Clemens as Heather does nothing but scream and pout and Kit Harrington once again shows that the only good performance he can give is in Game of Thrones. Malcolm McDowell shows up for a couple of minutes in a dress and overacts his heart out. Sure, the script doesn’t help, with endless exposition and dialogue so wooden is basically a tree.

Quite a few of the monsters are done practically, but the effects are so poor you can tell it’s a guy in a mask. The rest of the monsters are created with cartoon levels of CGI which just adds to the “so-bad-it’s-good” quality of the film. Pyramid Head shows up again for no reason, becoming a good guy and helping the protagonists out at the end, which makes no sense.

The film was made for 3D viewing, so there are lots of moments when stuff is meant to be jumping at the camera. Since all I’ve seen is the normal version of the film, the spectacle of a blade being jabbed at the screen or blood flying at me doesn’t work and just makes the viewing experience worse.

It’s not like the film doesn’t try. There are a few moments when the snow is falling in the streets and enough of the plot and characters from Silent Hill 3 that it feels like a film that everyone involved thought it could be a good film. The fact that it tried and failed is fascinating to watch.

The ending is what really got me though. The film has the gall, the sheer temerity to not have one, but three sequel baits, with several characters from the series turning up. A sequel will never be made, which is good but also sad. This is one of the best series to adapt, but the people making it don’t know anything about Silent Hill.

In conclusion, Silent Hill: Revelation is one of the best comedies I’ve seen in a while. That sounds like praise, but then you remember that it was meant to be a horror film.

Score: 1/10 A slow-motion trainwreck of a movie.

London Has Fallen Review

Finally, it’s March. We’re going to be having some great films this month, Hail Caesar!, Anomalisa and even though I’m not looking forward to it, many film-goers are eagerly anticipating Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. But, before we can enjoy those, I have to clean house one last time for London Has Fallen.

London Has Fallen stars Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman and Alon Moni Aboutboul and is directed by Babak Najafi. The films follows secret service agent Mike Bannng (Butler) who must protect US President Benjamin Asher (Eckhart) after terrorists attack London.

I’ll start by saying that I haven’t seen Olympus Has Fallen. I’m much more of a White House Down kind of guy, but due to the former being a box office success and the latter flopping, we get an unnecessary sequel. But anyway, how does London Has Fallen stand as a film?

The answer is poorly. Very poorly.

The action scenes are passable. Most are just confusing jump-cut affairs, apart from one pretty good long take of a firefight in the London streets. Several explosions open the terrorist attack and it seems every single object in London has been doused in petrol and is a hair away from catching fire. Everything that can explode does explode, it starts to become almost comical. Director Babak Najafi seems to be giving Michael Bay a run for his money in the unnecessary explosions department, as we have around seven explosions delivered in a montage.

As the set-up for the film is the state funeral for the British Prime Minister, several heads of state are present in the film. Just in case we get confused between them, each one has a lapel pin of the flag of their nation attached to them, it’s like the film is holding your hand in case you get confused. The leaders on screen are thinly disguised versions of each the real life version, with Merkel, Berlusconi and Holland in all but name on screen. But as nearly all of them get wiped out in the opening ten minutes it falls to Gerard Butler as the world’s most Scottish American to save the day. He makes the British police and army look like bumbling fools, but that might be because Banning himself seems to be like a video game character in comparison, with the unlimited ammo and auto-aim cheats turned on.

The London displayed in the film was designed by someone who used tourist books as their research. The capital of England (not the capital of Britain, something the movie keeps getting wrong) is just made up of famous landmarks and tube stations. I guess this is to cater to the American audience, who only recognise London from Buckingham Palace and Big Ben.

While the first film had rogue elements of North Korea attacking the United States, for the sequel the bad guys are rogue elements of Pakistan. The films tries to put some motive into why the bad guys are staging a terrorist attack but it never really comes together. It tries to make the audience see their side of the conflict, with drone strikes killing their families, but then the film just turns around and becomes pro-US again, instead of staying with what could have been a good theme of the context of war. What we get is another modern action film that ends up painting all people from the Middle East as terrorists. For the finale it goes overboard, with Gerard Butler torturing the second-in-command bad guy while explaining why America is the best country in the world. I was half expecting to see an eagle fly overhead with the US flag in its talons and it screeching “‘MURICA!” for the end credits.

In conclusion, London Has Fallen is just a mindless action film with not much to recommend. If you want something as dumb as this to work, get Roland Emmerich to direct it. At least he knows how to make this stuff entertaining.

Score: 3/10 I can’t remember a single scene composition from the film…and I watched it yesterday. That should tell you all you need to know.

Zoolander 2 Review

The first Zoolander film came out all the way back in 2001 and has subsequently become a cult comedy hit, highlighting the careers of its stars. Now, fifteen years later, a sequel comes to theatres. Does Zoolander 2 recapture the comedy glory of the first film, or has it been too long for the really, really, ridiculously, good-looking male model?

Zoolander 2 stars Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Kristen Wiig, Penelope Cruz and is directed by Ben Stiller. The film follows male model Derek Zoolander (Stiller) who comes out of retirement to find his long-lost son Derek Jr. and stop a evil fashion-based cabal from killing him.

I remember hearing that Zoolander was getting a sequel and since I’m an optimist when it comes to films, I was hopeful that we would get another instantly quotable and often funny film. Sadly, I was disappointed, as it seems that in those subsequent fifteen years, no new jokes have arisen.

The majority of the jokes seem to be call-backs to the previous film, such as Will Ferrell’s Mugatu asking for his latte, or a sequence near the end where Zoolander must perfect “Blue Steel” again, this time to stop a bomb instead of a throwing star. There are a handful of jokes that are new, but most of them are hit and miss. A lot of the new material could be considered offensive or just plain unfunny, such as an extended joke by Zoolander and Hansel about how fat people are gross and untrustworthy, or another moment where the duo debate androgynous model All’s (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) gender, asking whether All has a “hot dog” or a “bun”. I wouldn’t even class it as a joke, I can’t see a punch-line anywhere in the scene.

The first film had a couple of cameo appearance by celebrities, such as Paris Hilton and a spectacular couple of minutes by David Bowie, but in Zoolander 2, the film is packed with famous people, some without any connection with the fashion industry. While Zoolander 2 has fashion creators such as Tommy Hilfiger, Anna Wintour and Alexander Wang, others are ridiculous. Susan Boyle, Kiefer Sutherland (who does a really out of place joke about miscarriages), Ariana Grande, even Neil DeGrasse Tyson pops up at one bit to say a string a swear words while describing the universe. The film even tries to redo the David Bowie scene but with Sting instead, which pales in comparison to first film. It just screams a certain type of pandering, where the actors just asked their famous friends if they wanted to do a two-second wave to the camera for a few dollars.

The first film was an over-the-top story about male model being brainwashed to be highly-trained killers. It was a story that was silly but knew it was silly, so it made the film funnier. The story in Zoolander 2 stars out pretty simple, but over the run time, more plot points and characters get piled on top of each other until it’s a mess of a story. The last ten minutes are mangled, as the film tries to ret-con the entirety of the plot up until that point, before spinning around again and saying “Oh no, we were right the first time.” Unfortunately, I was already bored by the lack of engagement on-screen, that I didn’t even care about the double twist.

I will admit though, it was nice to see the characters that we all loved back in 2001 back in Zoolander 2. Just Zoolander and Hansel standing next to each other was enough to elicit a smile from me. But the rest of the characters aren’t really that charming or entertaining. Kristen Wiig, who plays Alexanya Atoz, the head of fashion a label, is putting on a really thick accent, which makes her dialogue really hard to understand. It almost sounds like the reversed dialogue from Twin Peaks. Will Ferrell does nothing as Mugatu, just screaming and shouting instead of anything more varied. It’s all just wasted talent.

In the end I say, who asked for this film? I didn’t think there would be millions of people craving another Zoolander film and unfortunately, it’s really quite terrible. If you’re wanting a comedy to see in the cinema, just go watch Deadpool.

Score: 5/10 Just stick to the first one.