Category Archives: Spoiled!

Midnight Masked Maniac Movies: “Laid to Rest”

Yep, it’s a slasher movie alright…

As it’s almost Halloween, it must be time to talk horror flicks, masked maniacs, supernatural weirdness and things which go “Wooaarrgghh!!” in the night.  With that in mind, I’ve taken the plunge back into the icy, bone-chilling waters of the slasher flick – a horror sub-genre which is near and dear to my heart – with the 2009 feature by Robert Hall, “Laid to Rest“.

Set in the sleepy back roads of Texas, “LtR” ignores the torture porn antics of Jigsaw and co and goes back to basics, pitting implacable, Chrome skull mask-wearing villain Chrome Skull against The Girl (Bobbi Sue Luther) in a pitched battle for survival during one hellish night.   And as far as plot goes, that really is the crux of it – faceless mass murderer hunts down Final Girl and slices, dices and pummels anybody who has the misfortune to stand between him and his quarry.

There’s nothing particularly ironic about this entry in the genre – in fact, after a decade or so of horror movies more than eager to point out their grasp of genre tropes, the lunk-headed, rough-around-the-edges, low-budget style of this flick seems like, if not a breath of fresh air, a somewhat welcome change from post-modern horror treatises just dying to share their fancy book learning with you.

“Laid to Rest” has not a brain in its head and wouldn’t know originality if it brandished a ludicrous knife and chased after it for a few hours – this is horror of the kind that flourished in the 1980’s when low-budget scares were all the rage and laserdisc was the viewing media of choice for the discerning nerd and when fright flicks first got my attention.   This is very much the kind of stalking, slashing fare that you’d expect to see late night on cable – minimal locations, actors who you might know from other stuff, low-key synth soundtrack and claret by the score.

The small cast of characters in this story behave like absolute cretins because that gives the make-up department a chance to go crazy with the gore effects when the boogeyman catches up with them and administers the proper punishment for their lack of smarts, because that’s what the maniacs in this kind of movie do – act as a kind of roving Darwin Awards inspector, removing the terminally dim-witted from the gene pool so that their stupidity can’t be passed onto the next generation of cannon fodder…horror movie protagonists.

The performances are…variable?  Kevin Gage, who you might remember from his role as Waingro in Michael Mann’s “Heat”, plays a teddy bear truck driver who goes on the lam with Luther’s somewhat blank heroine when she escapes Chrome Skull’s grasp.  He’s the best thing in the movie, for my money – a likeable archetype who you do root for despite the fact that he’s in the company of characters so bereft of wit that you fear for them safely making breakfast of a morning, let alone escaping the machinations of a movie serial killer.

The likes of Thomas Dekker, Jonathan Schaech and Lena Headey also turn up in cameos and meet the kind of fate which one might reasonably expect from appearing in a film titled “Laid to Rest” (don’t expect to see any of them in the sequel).  As a Klingon warrior might say – ‘They died with honour (and a great big knife sticking out of their noggin)’.

Can I recommend this movie?  Probably not – if you’re a student of horror, this is going to seem awfully familiar, and only the presence of some familiar faces distinguishes it from ten dozen similar gore fests doing hard time on the shelves of your local video store.  If you don’t really dig the hard stuff, this is one gory horror flick – director Hall started out as a make-up specialist and his expertise in creating very convincing and credibly repugnant effects is likely to gross you out for the next couple of weeks.

I don’t have a rating system, but let’s say that this one is more “Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddie’s Revenge” than John Carpenter‘s “Halloween”, but it’s not without…charm isn’t the word.  It’s not unenjoyable.  “Laid to Rest” is low-fi, slash-em-up action for the spooky season – just be aware that the gore might make your pumpkin candy return unexpectedly…

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Late Reviews: “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”

I, for one, welcome our new Simian overlords…

The long bank holiday weekend in the UK has meant two things.  The first is that I refrained from posting in order to enjoy the break – the second is that I ended up watching a bunch of films which had passed me by in the last year – thus giving me the opportunity to then post more reviews.   Everybody wins?

SPOILERS throughout for the film’s plot – please be advised if you haven’t seen it yet.

To the point, then – I finally had the chance to catch up with last summer’s sleeper sci-fi hit, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and it was absolutely worth the wait.  British director Rupert Wyatt‘s first major studio effort is a remake/remodel/remix of the classic sixties sci-fi “Planet of the Apes”, itself originally adapted from the Pierre Boule satirical novel, and this new version does a damned good job of updating the story to reflect our present-day societal concerns whilst still finding clever and unobtrusive ways to directly reference the original film.

My major reservation about seeing this film was purely a casting one – I’m not the biggest fan of James Franco and didn’t relish the prospect of sitting through a movie where he had to carry the bulk of the story on his shoulders.  It’s an irrational prejudice and one which I’m happy to say was somewhat undone by his work in this film, which was oddly affecting and compelling – it’s a tough ask to make a driven scientist who does some fairly appalling things during the course of the story sympathetic and understandable, but a combination of a great script from Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Franco’s subtle characterisation makes you care about Will Rodman, even when his work essentially brings about the fall of civilisation as we know it.

Still, in a planet where TMZ.com, the OctoMom dance single, “Geordie Shore” and One Direction exist perhaps it could be said that humanity had a good run and should turn things over to our Ape betters, eh?

This isn’t to say that Franco’s the only reason to see the film – he’s supported by a superb cast which includes the ever-reliable Brian Cox, Freida Pinto, David Oyelowo, a splendidly hissable, wonderfully villainous Tom Felton and a truly heartbreaking John Lithgow, playing Franco’s father in the film, whose battle with Alzheimer’s is the motivating factor which sets the plot in motion.  As for the reliably excellent and boldly innovative motion-capture-hybrid performance by Andy Serkis, I’ve written about his shamefully unacknowledged body of work before but you might want to read Franco’s generous and informative assessment of his performances over at deadline.com.

Why must we put up with such unattractive movie stars? Why?!

And what a plot it is – rather than the astronauts crash-landing on a mysterious planet which turns out to be (shocker!) an Earth overrun by apes in the 1968 film, this update takes a more grounded approach to the established mythology, following scientist Will Rodman (Franco) whose attempts to save his father (Lithgow) from ongoing Alzheimer’s Disease are complicated when he rescues chimp cub Caesar (a superb Andy Serkis) from certain death at his lab.  His work on an experimental  cure for his father’s condition involves testing on animal subjects, which increases their intelligence and comes back to bite him in the butt in the worst way possible…

It is this relationship between roughly plausible science and spectacle which gives the film a weight that it might not otherwise have if it were a run-of-the-mill, explosions aplenty blockbuster – we can all imagine the horror of what Alzheimer’s would do to somebody that we love and what steps we might take if we had in our power to do something that could reverse that foul and evil disease once and for all.

The film’s plausibility doesn’t stretch to its treatment of the primate characters, unfortunately – when we eventually see the hellish ‘ape rescue’ facility which an adult Caesar is incarcerated, I had to raise an eyebrow at the inclusion of an Orangutan and a Gorilla amidst the general chimp population.  Just wouldn’t happen – the animals would have torn each other apart, the facility would have shut down and the plot just wouldn’t be able to unfold in the way that it does in this film.  I attribute this wholly to artistic license and can move past it as the rest of the film is so enjoyable.

“To the Apple store, brothers! iPads for one and all!”

By the time that the set-piece depicted above arrives, and our Ape brethren have well-and-truly overrun a San Francisco utterly unprepared for an army of super-smart Simian soldiers besieging the Golden Gate bridge, I was ready to follow it anywhere that it went and eager to see how an inevitable sequel would develop the plot strands left hanging at the end of the film.

At the close of the film Caesar and his intelligent apes have escaped to the forests of California and Franco’s much-beleagured airline pilot neighbour- played by genre veteran David Hewlett – has been contaminated with a strain of virus which, we can logically deduce from the mid-credits scene, is responsible for a global pandemic which will go on to decimate the planet’s population.  We’ve not yet gone down the route of gun-wielding great Apes riding horses and rounding up rogue packs of on-the-run humans but we’re certainly a bit closer to it by the time that this film ends – I’d love to see what kind of spin Wyatt and his writers could put on the tropes established by the original quintet of “Apes” films.

If you liked the classic series, have a love of thought-provoking sci-fi and want a movie which doesn’t which doesn’t treat the audience like dolts and buffoons then this is definitely a film that you should catch up with.

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“21 Jump Street” – or how I stopped worrying and learned to love remakes…

No doves, no love, muddy funsters…

TL:DR version?  It’s a hoot – go rent it.

When the 2012 reinvention of “21 Jump Street” was announced, I confess to having had misgivings about it.

For one thing, remakes are the work of enfeebled minds, so utterly in thrall to easy cash and terrified of producing anything original that they desperately seek anything to remake, as the heavy conceptual lifting has already been done by somebody else.  All that has to be done by the ‘creative’ brains trust bringing the new version to life is to cut-and-paste contemporary pin-up actors and new music into the mix and make the marketing campaign obnoxious enough to bring teens to the theatres in their droves on date night.

Yes, kids, this is how we dressed in the late eighties and early nineties. Try not to hurl.

For another thing, this is “21 Jump Street”, dude!  Though utterly rubbish in execution, possessed of severely reactionary politics and as plausible and true to life as a “Fast & Furious” movie, the Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson, Dustin Nguyen and Peter DeLuise baby-faced cops undercover tv drama was a staple of my teen years and any new pretender to the throne couldn’t possibly do anything to justify its existence.  Misbegotten, I say to you sir/madam – misbegotten!

“But where shall we secrete your Rocket Launcher?”

Happily, it turns out after a viewing of said foul remake that I’m full of shizz and can inform you that this remake of the 80’s TV show is arguably one of the funniest comedies in years, managing the tricky feat of balancing the demands of obnoxious bromance bobbins, fast-paced action, well-observed high school clique tale and meta, self-aware comedy quite brilliantly.

A large part of the success of this film, after the bonkers direction of Phil Lord and Chris Miller (previous film – “Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs”!) and Michael Bacall‘s deranged screenplay, is the playing of Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill.  Their on-screen chemistry is so immediate and so convincing that you find yourself pleasantly surprised by it and wonder why nobody thought to combine the two before – their bickering, name-calling and self-aware idiocy are a delight to behold, from their initial meet cute to the middle of the film, where the script contrives splendidly to play with our expectations of the actors, making nerdy, chubby motormouth Hill the most popular kid in school and buff man mountain Tatum seek solace in the bosom of the school’s science nerds.

There’s a plot – something-something-designer-drugs-in-high-school-hey-guns-lots-of-guns! – but it scarcely matters when the jokes are as funny as they are in this film and when our expectations are pretty much undercut at every turn, from character to incident.  I’m not saying that this film reinvents our experience of cinema or anything as profound as that, but the combination of likeable characters, unexpected events, non sequitur wit and blithe mayhem does manage to make what could have been a by-the-numbers cop flick ever so more palatable and enjoyable than I ever expected it to be.

Tatum, for example, is a joy in this film – I had him pegged as a dopey pin-up with minimal acting talent but he’s the funniest and most charming leading man who you could hope for, given the right material.  After seeing this, I suspect that the decision to delay this summer’s “G.I. Joe – Retaliation” to 2013 has bugger all to do with slapping a 3D makeover on the movie and everything to do with the fact that Tatum’s character being killed off in the original version managed to unceremoniously get rid of the biggest movie star in the damn flick – three of his movies this year have cracked a hundred million at the US box office and I’d be willing to stake my size 14 Vans on the fact that he’s the reason for those numbers.

A rare sequel that I’m actually looking forward to – if it has more Ice Cube shouting and being grumpy, more unexpected cameos and more barely allowable filth, then I’m there on opening weekend…

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“Doctor Who” wallpaper is Dalek-mungous!

My, what a lot of Daleks you have there, Doctor.

Following hot on the heels of that crazily exciting BBC America trailer for the new season of “Who” (Dinosaurs! Chastising Mechs! DalekCon 2012!), comes this nifty wallpaper with Matt Smith cradling some ginger lass whilst an assortment of homicidal pepper mills look on askance.

At least, I guess that’s what happening.  It’s Thursday – you shouldn’t expect any coherence out of me this late in the week.

Still no news on when the awesome will be descending on television channels in your corner of the globe to help you get your geek on – if the Great and Wise Moffat has any clue, I’m sure he’ll be letting us know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Film review: “Chronicle”

“Chronicle” is a divisive movie.  Trust me on this – when we watched this tale of teens with mysteriously acquired superpowers, my wife and I couldn’t have had more different opinions on it.  Spoilers, of a kind, may follow…

Beware those Emo kids at the mall – they’re gonna psychically mess with your shopping cart!

The marvellous Mrs Rolling Eyeballs was, to say the least, less than engaged by the film.  She hated the characters and felt that the story was non-existent.  Whilst I will concur that the story is fairly threadbare and that the protagonists were very much ‘types’ and not exactly boldly drawn, I really quite enjoyed Josh Trank’s debut film and marvelled at what he pulled together on a budget which might cover a single action sequence in “The Avengers”.

Would you trust these boys with super powers?

Starring nobody that you’ve heard of – though lead Dane DeHaan is the spitting image of a young Leonardo DiCaprio – “Chronicle” goes the “Spider-Man“/classic Marvel Comics route in gifting a disparate trio of high school lads with uncanny, telepathy-derived powers and seeing how they use/abuse them for personal gain.

So far, so predictable.  Where “Chronicle” scores best for me is in giving us teenage characters who behave probably as you might do if you found yourself wearing their Converses – rather than flitting around town stopping crime and being upstanding members of the community, these dudes prank unsuspecting mall shoppers and zip into mid-air for a swift kick-about (interrupted rudely by a passenger jet).

For the first part of the film – before things go positively David Fincher – this nerd troika reacts to their good fortune by using it for selfish gain and giggles and things only go south when DeHaan’s put-upon, abused nerd Andrew finds his reliance on his extraordinary gifts taking him to very dark, bully-destroying, patricidal, places indeed.

If you can get past the ‘found footage’ conceit – Andrew videotapes everything, in an effort to document his alcoholic father’s regular beatings – this is a very different take on the coming of age superhero origin story which we see so often.  The action sequences are remarkably effective – the climax being a particularly well-executed example of mass civic mayhem rendered on a budget more akin to Kevin Smith’s films than Un Film De Michael Bay – and give a tantalising hint of what an “X-Men” spin-off might look like if the makers of Channel Four‘s parent-worrying teen drama “Skins” got their mitts on the Fox franchise.

It’s an impressive debut and makes you wonder what director Josh Trank might do with the multiple projects – “Spider-Man” spin-off, “Venom”, the “Fantastic Four” reboot and video game adaptation, “Shadow of the Colossus” – that he’s attached to develop.

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Prometheus Shrugged, and you will, too.

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Quick version?  Ridley Scott‘s return to the Alien mythos is a mess.  I can’t think of a bigger disappointment that I’ve had at the cinema in years.

“Prometheus” isn’t a total wash-out but as a companion piece to Scott’s series-opening movie in 1979, it so completely fails to live up that movie’s enduring excellence that its existence can be owed mostly to Fox wanting a sci-fi summer blockbuster and Scott feeling that it was time to dip his toes back into xenomorphic murky waters.

The good parts?  Production design is amazing – the clean sleekness of the “Prometheus” ship is the reverse of the lived-in, grotty, ‘haulage vessel-in-space’ environment’ created by Scott and his craftsmen in the first movie but is no less convincing and eye-catching.  Similarly, the alien structures echo the past but somehow manage to be new and different enough to convince you that you’re not just checking out Giger off-cuts from 1979.

Effects are excellent for the most part – there’s a particular make-up job which I had some reservations about – and the sound mixing is amongst the best that I’ve heard in a theatre since, ooh, “Black Hawk Down“.  Yeah, Scott and his sound team know how to make your ears sit up and pay attention.

The acting’s pretty decent – with a single caveat.  Noomi Rapace‘s heroine, Dr Elizabeth Shaw is an excellent character study to join Sigourney Weaver‘s iconic Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley.  She’s a person of faith thrown into a conundrum which challenges her assumptions and sends her on a ride through a very demanding, quite personal Hell.  Rapace is captivating in every thing that I’ve seen her in, but she’s perhaps the single-best thing about this opening visit to the “Alien” universe.

Similarly, Idris Elba convinces as stoic ship captain Janek, as is Charlize Theron, who plays the traditional role of buttoned-up corporate weasel, Vickers and gets to add colours and tones of underpinning decency and humanity which previous emissaries of the Weyland company haven’t been allowed to show.  Michael Fassbender is also superb as the creepy, box-fresh, Peter O’ Toole channelling android, David.

On the debit side, Logan Marshall-Green didn’t do anything for me – his scientist character doesn’t really register next to Rapace and brought to mind the dreaded Matthew McConaghey during his frequent moments of shirtless pouting.  He may be a very fine actor in different material – but in this, he’s a set of abs with no discernible personality to distinguish himself from A.N. Other young male actor.

The biggest problem with the film is the screenplay – it just doesn’t have a very interesting story until the proverbial last gasp of the film.  The core theme – were we created by a divine being or by extra-terrestrial engineers engaging in inter-stellar DNA experiments? – isn’t dealt with particularly well and the exploratory tone of the first half of the film soon gets jettisoned in favour of the body horror and revulsion at human physical decay which we encounter in a lot of the series.

When the gloop starts to hit the screen my interest waned, particularly as the gore and grue isn’t as inventive or well-realised as it was in “Alien”.  There’s one particular scene – I’ll say the words ‘non-elective surgery’ and leave it at that – which was a trial to sit through.  In some ways, it may become the classic scene of this film but I found it messy and gross, if adhering closely to some of the memorable moments of the “Alien” sequence.

The ending is…okay, actually.  It promises a much more interesting entry in the series than this film delivers.  I’d rather that we skipped this movie entirely and cut-and-pasted the best bits of this film into a pre-credit sequence for that hypothetical sequel.

Oh, Ridley, what are we to say of this film.  If you’re an “Alien” fan, you would be daft to miss it, particularly on the big screen.  If the series means nothing to you, there’s every chance that you might see this film and wonder what all the fan boys have been wittering on about all these years.

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“The Avengers” – a reading list

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Just seen “The Avengers?  About to see “The Avengers” for the fourth or fifth time?  Not entirely sure who these “Avengers” folks are and just what all the fuss is about?  Don’t worry about it – Den of Geek has your back.

DoG’s writer James Hunt has compiled a handy cheat sheet for reading material which might tickle your fancy after viewing Joss Whedon‘s face-meltingly awesome superhero adventure and I heartily concur with some of Hunt’s choices.  Just be forewarned that the list can be considered rather spoiler-filled if you’ve not yet seen the film and have been observing radio silence prior to its release.

Right off the bat – check out “The Ultimates volume one and two.  You’ll find them very familiar if you’ve seen any of the Marvel Studios films.  Whedon’s film feels like a cover version, to some extent – bits and bobs from the original comics appear in the film, but he hasn’t slavishly copied anything and invents some other plot strands which are as satisfying as the ones weaving their way through Mark Millar‘s story.   Whedon’s tone is also distinctly different from Millar – compare Buffy The Vampire Slayer to Hit Girl from Millar’s “Kick Ass” and you might sense that the two writers approach an empowered heroine from distinctly different viewpoints.

The Whedon run on Astonishing X-Men is also worth your time – it fell victim to scheduling delays, which rather rankled, but was quality storytelling for the most part from a writer who genuinely loves the comics medium and its history.

If you fought the action in "The Avengers" was nuts...

I was really into the Marvel event “Civil War”, which would arguably make a better movie than comic – the spectacle and hero against hero conflict is inherently dramatic and there’s a chance to fix the somewhat underwhelming ending of the story if it gets a big screen makeover, too.  You can almost see the roots of this story being set down in “The Avengers” – I’ll not spoil your experience of the film by saying any more…

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