Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Goosebumps (2016): Review

Goosebumps is a 2016 family horror film. Directed by Rob Letterman (Monsters VS Aliens) and starring Jack Black (School of Rock, King Kong), Dylan Minnette (Let Me In, Prisoners) and Odeya Rush (We Are What We Are). The film is based on the popular children's books by R.L Stine and 90s TV series.

The film starts off with a familiar Goosebumps setup. Zach (Minnette) is the new kid in the neighborhood and has moved in next to Hannah (Rush). The only problem is Hannah's overprotective and weird dad (Black), who seems intent on keeping her locked up in the house. This is where it starts to get meta. After Zach and his buddy Champ sneak into the house, they discover that, not only does Hannah's dad own a collection of Goosebumps books, but that he is R.L Stine himself! Unfortunately they learn this after accidentally opening one of the books and unleashing a menagerie of monsters on the unsuspecting town. The only way to get them back in? For Stine to write a new story that ends up becoming the plot of the film itself.

Goosebumps captures the feel of the original series (including a Danny Elfman score) and puts it through the Cabin in the Woods (2012) filter to freshen it up a little, with some Jumanji (1995) mechanics thrown in for good measure. Jack Black is surprisingly good as the semi-fictional version of Stine and even better as the iconic Slappy the dummy, who is perfect as the leader of the monsters. There is a good selection of monsters on show including the abominable snowman, the wolfman, a giant preying mantis and an assortment of gnomes. However, I still felt that there could have been more and sometimes they focused on the slightly more generic beasties.

The only part that let the film down a bit was the over reliance on cgi effects for the monsters, which were not of the highest standard (although they were dealing with a lot of different characters). Slappy was the only character rendered with practical effects (perhaps appropriate if he’s the leader) and a lot of the other monsters felt like they weren’t quite as alive as they should have been (particularly the gnomes who had lost a lot of their sinister qualities since the TV show). I also felt the romantic sub plot was somewhat unnecessary and bolted on and Hannah's character twist was pretty cheesy.

My expectations were fairly low for what is essentially a glossy, big budget reboot of a cult TV show that played such an important part in many horror fan’s childhoods. But, all things considered, this is probably as authentic a Goosebumps experience as could be expected in 2016, and on such a large scale. There might be an over reliance on CGI effects but that goes for the movie industry as a whole. Campy B-movie fun that the whole family can enjoy but unlikely to make the same impact as the original series.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of Goosebumps? How does i compare to the books and TV show?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Martyrs (2016): Review

Martyrs is a 2016 American horror film. Directed by Kevin and Michael Goetz (Wrecked) and starring Troian Bellisario and Bailey Noble. The film is a remake of the seminal 2008 French film of the same name.

The film opens with a young Lucie (Bellisario) escaping captivity and being re homed in a convent where she meets future best friend Anna (Noble). Fast forward 10 years and a deranged Lucie storms a suburban home and exacts bloody revenge on her captors. Starting to lose touch with reality, Lucie reaches out to Anna who quickly gets dragged into a mass murder case, but also a worldwide religious conspiracy intent on creating martyrs who can potentially see through to the other side. This leads to a bloody finale which sees the girls achieve transcendence and discover the secrets of the universe before they die. 

Martyrs (2008) is not only one of the greatest French horror films out there but takes it's rightful place as one of the greatest horror films outright. Though the new wave of French extremity produced other gems (Haute Tension (2003) and Inside (2007), Martyrs perfectly encapsulated the savage but profound nature of the movement. And what do Americans do when they get their hands on complex, thought provoking foreign films? They dumb it down of course! Don't get me wrong, Martyrs is a fantastic looking film with a really strong score to boot, but the decision to remove almost all of the violence from the plot really defeats the object and significantly changes the tone of the film.

Random changes to other elements of the plot seem to have been made simply to differentiate from the original and the spectacular flaying sequence from the original is replaced with a simple crucifixion (which didn't even involve piercing of the hands and feet). If the entire premise of the film is that Martyrs are created through a process of intense suffering then we need to see that suffering (as in the original) otherwise the transcendence (or in this case double transcendence) is not believable and makes no sense.

There is probably a good reason that no other French new wave films have been remade. A. Not many directors would have the balls to do it and B. most directors understand that these films have a uniquely French blend of extreme violence and sophisticated, cerebral ideas that would simply not translate into an American setting. This isn't a terrible remake, but rather, falls into the vast and expansive category of pointless remakes that offer nothing new nor enhance enjoyment of the original film.

** 2 Stars

What did you think of the remake? Is the extreme violence vital to the plot?

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Synchronicity (2016): Review

Synchronicity is a 2016 science fiction film. Directed by Jacob Gentry (The Signal) and starring Chad McKnight, Brianne Davis (Prom Night), AJ Bowen (You're Next, The Sacrament) and Michael Ironside (Scanners, Total Recall). The film premiered at the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival.

The plot revolves around brilliant scientist Jim Beale (McKnight) and his attempts to build a successful time machine along with his crew Chuck (Bowen) and Matt. These attempts are being funded by billionaire investor Klaus Meisner (Ironside) who happens to own the worlds supply of radioactive material needed to run the machine. After a mysterious item comes through the machine from the future, Beale is led through a treacherous journey through time and space by a mysterious girl named Abby(Davis). All he has to do to save the world and get the girl is bring the past and future together without causing the universe to collapse.

Right from the smoky, beautifully lit opening shots to the lush synth soundtrack it becomes very clear that this movie is an homage to Blade Runner and the sci-fi noir subgenre in general. This can sometimes go a little overboard, with lens flares that even JJ Abrams would think a little excessive. But, on the whole, the film is gorgeous to look at and the filmmakers have far exceeded the limitations of their budget. The story itself is more your grab-a-pen-and-a-pad type sci fi in the same vein as Primer (2004) and Donnie Darko (2001) and will reward you providing you can keep up with the universes and time loops in play.

I can't really say that it's a film any more ambitious than Primer, perhaps just with more aesthetic appeal and sexiness. And speaking of sexiness, the only thing that tended to drag the film down was the somewhat shoehorned romantic angle which felt pretty out of place in such a full on, physics based plot. I understand they were trying to tap into the romantic noir feel of Blade Runner and marry it to more ambitious, scientific plot points but the reason this worked so well in Blade Runner is because it was more suggestive philosophy than equations and formulas.

Definitely worth a watch if you like time travel/parallel dimension movies (which I obviously do), but by the same token, Synchronicity doesn't really offer anything new to fans of the genre and I can understand why some have been frustrated with it not quite fulfilling it's potential. Perhaps my feelings will change with repeat viewings, and it's always a compliment to the ambition of a time travel plot that you feel inclined to dig through it again, but sadly many people will watch it once and dismiss it as a poor mans Blade Runner.

**** 4 Stars

What did you think of Synchronicity? Did it need to be more ambitious?

Thursday, 7 January 2016

TMMDI Top Ten of 2015

2015 was a great year for Kiwi horror comedy and world cinema in general, Mad Max made his triumphant return to the screen in the best entry to date and the mighty Michael Fassbender pulled off an impressive hat trick (although Slow West and Steve Jobs didn't quite make this list). It was also the year that the Oscar winning films were pretty bloody good (in Birdman and whiplash). Honourable mentions to Ex Machina, It Follows, Unfriended, Crimson Peak, The Final Girls, Spectre, Green Inferno and Turbo Kid.

1. What We Do in the Shadows

2. Mad Max: Fury Road

3. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

4. Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

5. Housebound

6. Macbeth

7. Bone Tomahawk

8. Whiplash

9. Attack on Titan (Parts 1&2)

10. Krampus

What do you think of the selection?  What were your favourites of 2015?

Friday, 1 January 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015): Review

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a 2015 sci-fi blockbuster. Directed by JJ Abrams (Lost, Super 8) and starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega (Attack the Block), Adam Driver (Inside Llewyn Davis) as well as returning cast from the original movies. This is the first Star Wars film to be produced under the Disney banner and without the involvement of creator George Lucas.

The film takes place 30 years after the events of the original trilogy and the demise of the evil galactic empire. Unfortunately a new evil empire has risen to take it's place in the form of "The First Order". Similarly, another rebellious faction has risen to meet the threat, this time called "The Resistance". Luke Skywalker has since gone into a self imposed exile and Han Solo has gone back into the smuggling game. It falls to our heroes Rey (Ridley) and Fin (Boyega), with the help of Han and Chewie, to find Luke before the villainous tandem of Kylo Ren (Driver) and Supreme leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) do.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A pair of young heroes use a droid (which holds concealed plans) to lead them to an ageing Jedi in order to stop an evil empire (fronted by a masked villain and his withered master) from using a planet sized weapon to takeover the galaxy. This is the plot of The Force Awakens and, more importantly, the plot of Star Wars: A New Hope (1977). There is a fine line between referencing the previous films in the franchise for nostalgia and overly relying on them and lifting plot points and characters wholesale. The Force Awakens steps over that line and repeatedly slaps you in the face shouting "do you remember those films you loved as a kid?"

When the producers gave George Lucas the credit of "characters based on" they really weren't kidding! Rey and Fin bear strong resemblance to the roles of Luke and Han, BB8 is obviously the new R2-D2 and the combo of Kylo Ren and Snoke is an incredibly unsubtle pastiche of Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine. Every time I would start to enjoy the spectacular action sequences or strong performances of Driver and Ford (who has definitely still got it) I would be ripped from the my child-like state by an infuriating recreation of a scene from the original movie (for example, a strange looking band playing in a bar full of aliens).

I don't appreciate remakes or reboots that are deceptively marketed as sequels, and for those of us that had waited decades to find out what happens after Return of the Jedi (1983) the answer is: pretty much exactly what happened before Return of the Jedi. It's great to see Star Wars fever gripping the nation once again and my heart genuinely melts when I see a brand new generation of children falling in love with the franchise. However, for long term fans of the franchise (and potentially miserable grown ups) there is nothing new or interesting here to reinvigorate the series. It's not a bad film by any means but it could have been so much better, I'm crossing 2 cynical fingers for episode 8.

*** 3 Stars

What did you think of The Force Awakens? Did it borrow too heavily from previous films?

Monday, 21 December 2015

Krampus (2015): Review

Krampus is a 2015 horror comedy. Directed by Michael Dougherty (Trick r’ Treat) and starring Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation), Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense) and David Koechner (Anchorman). The film was an unprecedented commercial success for a Christmas horror film, reaching number 2 in the American box office.

Krampus centres around a dysfunctional family (and their extended family) at Christmas time when a neighbourhood powercut plunges them into darkness. After youngest son Max becomes upset and tears up his letter to Santa, a horde of mischievous creatures descend on the family led by the evil Krampus. Tom (Scott) and Howard (Koechner) are forced to face the elements (and minions) in order to bring back Tom’s teenage daughter while Sarah and her sister protect the remaining children. Eventually the festive beasts invade the house and the family are forced to put their squabbles aside to escape the dreaded Krampus.

It’s not very often that I fall in love with a film 10 seconds in, but that’s exactly what happened with Krampus. The perfectly framed shot of aggressive shoppers spilling into a mall in slow mo to the strains of “it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” sets a horror comedy tone that Joe Dante would be proud of. And speaking of Dante, it’s clear that Gremlins has had a huge influence on the film and the leanings towards mischievous monsters rather than terrifying (although there are some of those too!) puts it right up there with Gremlins and other Christmas horrors that have their tongue planted firmly in their cheek.

The creature design itself is fantastic and it’s no surprise when you learn that Weta digital are responsible for this (Rise/Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). The minions range from almost cute to downright disturbing and the decision to hold back on Krampus himself made the reveal all the more special (more of a gnarled Santa than a goat-like beast) and the horned silhouette gave me goosebumps like not many monsters can. If I were to nitpick I would say that the family angle is not all that original and bore a close resemblance to the plot of Home Alone (1990), however, when you have monsters that are this original it really doesn’t matter and the Max character was sympathetic enough to invest.

Trick r’ Treat came out of nowhere as Dougherty’s directorial debut and became an instant horror classic and, as only his second film, Krampus is no different. Few directors can nail horror comedy in a way that satisfies hardcore genre fans and appeals to a mainstream audience (Dante, Landis, Edgar Wright) but Krampus makes it look easy. A new horror icon is born and Krampus is a festive genre powerhouse that will be enjoyed annually for many years to come!

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of Krampus? What's your favourite Xmas horror?

Sunday, 29 November 2015

IT!...Came From the 50s #5: The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms is a 1953 giant monster film. Directed by Eugene Lourie (Gorgo) the film stars Paul Hubschmid, Cecil Kellaway (Harvey) and Lee van Cleef (The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). The film features the pioneering work of special effects legend Ray Harryhausen (Mighty Joe Young, Clash of the Titans) in his first credited project.

Starting off in the Arctic circle, we are let in on a top secret project called "Operation Experiment" (rubbish secret name) in which Dr Nesbitt (Hubschmid) and his colleagues are studying the effects of atomic weaponry. As is often the case, the foolish experiments end up awaking a giant prehistoric lizard who decimates the science team and begins to work his way down the east coast of North America. After successfully convincing his superior commander (Van Cleef) and the world's leading paleontologist (Kellaway) of his discovery, a team is soon put together to stop the beast from destroying New York. However, aside from being gigantic and, let's face it, a double hard bastard, the lizard is also carrying lethal radioactive blood. This leads to a climax set on Coney island which not only requires the use of a roller coaster, but also a radioactive isotope to be shot into the throat of the creature and save humanity.

If this plot sounds familiar, it's because it's near identical to the very first Godzilla film which was released a little over a year after this film. In fact, The Beast not only helped to directly inspire Gojira (1954) but also the giant/atomic monster movies of the 50s and beyond, making it a very important film indeed. However, where Gojira would go on to spawn an iconic franchise consisting of no less than 27 sequels, The Beast came and went with little fanfare and it perplexes me why a sequel was never produced.

The plot is solid and the pacing is classical in it's "less is more" approach, favouring a strong mystery vibe rather than a "dinosaur smashing buildings up" approach. But when the smashing starts, it is a glorious sight...even to 2015 eyes! The combination of Harryhausen's inimitable stop motion work with front projection and an awful lots of extras running for their lives is surprisingly convincing and a lot of fun to watch. The clever twist of the creature's blood being radioactive, therefore necessitating a slightly smarter approach, is genius and I wished they'd perhaps spent a bit more time on this.

The Beast From 20,000 fathoms might be the more overlooked giant monster film when it comes to classics like Gojira and Them! (also 1954) and the "Rhedosaurus" may seem like the more bland creation to modern eyes but this is a truly iconic film with substance to back it up. Recommended viewing for any Godzilla/Kaiju fans, or indeed any fans of the legendary Ray Harryhausen, The Beast is representative of both of those things and I was certainly left wanting more.

***** 5 Stars

Have you seen the movie? What's your favourite giant monster movie?