Monthly Archives: July 2013

Review: Sanitarium

DVD Review

Sanitarium DVD 001This is a bargain bin buy that turned out to be a decent find,  It’s not a classic but one that I can probably watch again. It’s an anthology film that owes a debt to films like Asylum from Amicus Productions. It has a cast of experienced actors and they all get a chance to show what they can do in this exploration of madness.

Dr Stenson (Malcolm McDowell) is a psychiatrist in charge of a sanatorium. The linking theme is that he has three patients who have very strange stories which is a very loose way of linking them together. Each linking section has Stenson being contemplative and directly addressing the audience with his thoughts. This often felt a bit cheesy but it is usually short.

The first story Figuratively Speaking stars John Glover as Gustav Spieler, an artist who is barely sane and he has created creepy looking dioramas with articulated figures made of clay and is being lauded as a genius though they looked to me like the sort of highly stylized stop motion figures familiar from East European animation. Gustav is so unworldly that he completely relies on his close friends such as his assistant Mateo (Walter Perez) and his agent Sam (Robert Englund) to keep him alive, fed and medicated. He is apparently such a great success there are calls for him to take his creations to New York. His figures seem to come to life and whisper lies and fears into his ears that drive him to commit awful crimes. It’s a straightforward tale of betrayal and guilt and has a gimmicky little pay-off at the end.

The second story Monsters Are Real is introduced by having a medical student preparing a research paper looking for an interesting case study. Steven (David Mazouz) is normal eight year old boy who has an abusive relationship with his father (Chris Mulkey) who spends his time boozing at a strip club. While sitting in class of the concerned young teacher Ms Lorne (Lacey Chabert) he sees a hooded figure outside the window. He keeps seeing this figure stalking him and it turns out to be some sort of monster but is he real and is he there to hurt him or protect him? This story is fairly short but is definitely the film’s weakest and though there are dark hints at the abuse Steven is suffering it is not given enough time to develop it. The story has the little gimmicky ending again with the medical student and the now adult catatonic Steven.

The last story Up To The Last Man is the strongest and it stars Lou Diamond Phillips as university professor John Silo whose descent into madness is accompanied by a growing obsession with the story of a Mayan prophesy predicting the end of the world on December 21 2012. The story mainly features him alone in shelter that he had built and we see in flashbacks the gradual process of his alienation from the world as his students abandon his class and he loses his job and his family. He hears people pounding on the door of his shelter but he is sure everyone is dead and this is either his madness or the Annunaki, alien beings from the Demon Planet Nibiru predicted in prophesy. It has the most gimmicky ending leaking into the linking narrative but is more effectively worked into the story than in the other two stories.

This film has a modest budget so there is not really too much special effects and the gore is minimal. What is does have is some good actors and interesting writing as well as some wooden or downright hammy acting. This reminded me a lot of TV anthology series like Tales of the Unexpected or Twilight Zone and I would not be shocked to find out it was a pilot for such a series. It isn’t the most original film but it is fairly atmospheric and I liked it.

Rating 6.5/10

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Posted by on July 30, 2013 in Entertainment, Film


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Review: Dead Souls

DVD Review

The cheap photoshop cover design should have been a warning

The cheap Photoshop cover design should have been a clue

Like many of many of blind buys this was going cheap in the DVD section of the supermarket. Sometimes I‘ll discover a hidden gem or a total turd. This is one of the other types, an unremarkable film that goes through the paces of an unoriginal forgettable story. It’s clear it has a low budget and I think was made for one those US cable TV channels called Chiller 

A few days after his 18th birthday Johnny Petrie (Jesse James) finds a letter addressed to him from a lawyer Andrew Judson (Jaiden Kaine) that his controlling mother Mary (Geraldine Hughes) hid from him. Mary does not let Johnny have a mobile phone, watch television and will not let him even go to college (yet she still lets him attend a public school which seems inconsistent). Making Mary into a religious nut mostly seems to be a way to explain why an 18-year-old would not have a phone.

It turns out that Johnny has inherited a house and its estate in Maine from his family and Judson wants to meet John to sign some papers so that he can get on with selling it. The film actually opened with a minister killing his family and nailing them all to wooden crosses in the barn. A young boy managed to hide his baby brother from his father before being killed so it’s no real mystery to us that Johnny is the baby. When he asks his mother she starts freaking out and collapses. She gets admitted to hospital and kept in for observation.

While Mary is in hospital Johnny goes to talk to Judson in Maine. I can’t remember the name of the town but it was something like Wetwipe. As he gets of the train he’s greeted by three teenage bullies led by Mack (Noah Fleiss) who seem to know all about him and when he would be arriving. They are too young to remember the murders so their attitude seems to stem from the needs of the plot especially since none of the other locals express concern about him being back. Is this hint of a deeper plot? No it really isn’t.

Johnny and Judson go out to the house and Judson shows him around but he seems to be in a rush to get Johnny to agree to sell the property and leave. He does tell Johnny that the house was his father’s and that he was the only survivor of a terrible accident that killed his family. Johnny wants to take some time to look the place over on his own and see if he can learn something about them.

As soon as Judson leaves Johnny feels nervous since this probably the first time he’s been so alone. He starts hearing sounds of someone moving around upstairs and just when I was expecting some ghosts to start doing stuff it turns out that Johnny has a squatter, a runaway called Emma (Magda Apanowicz) who never does tell Johnny what she’s running away from. Emma becomes a love interest eventually but now her role is someone for Johnny to talk to.

There’s a few more false starts involving Mack and his buddies followed by a visit from a local madman Sheriff Depford (Bill Moseley) who knows what’s going on and how to stop it, but of course he gets dragged off by the police who also kindly explain to Johnny that his name was originally Bryan and that his family were murdered by his father.

Finally we get to see the spirits of his family as they creep around for the benefit of the audience but of course go unseen by Johnny or Emma. The film then goes into the third act and as the mystery is unravelled I felt a strong sense of “hunh?” I know that these sort of stories need some mystical bollox explanation but this was just an incoherent jumble of made-up things that somehow justified what happened. It just wasn’t developed enough and I felt disappointed. A lot of characters get killed at the end too but it seemed very rushed. Overall I think I don’t have strong opinion about this film.

Rating 5.0/10

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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in Entertainment, Film


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Review: The World’s End

Cinema Review

worlds endThere’s a lot of talk in the publicity about this being part of trilogy of films by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost but this film is as different from the previous two films as Hot Fuzz was from Shaun of the Dead. It shares with them the idea of taking a genre film plot and setting it in England with characters more familiar from comedies. This time it’s the alien invasion Sci-Fi genre that gets the treatment and the film does a good job delivering authentic a science fiction action film with their trademark irreverent humour.

Gary King (Simon Pegg) is a man whose life peaked as a teenager and its been downhill ever since  He ropes in his old school buddies to relive what he remembers as the best night of his life: a pub crawl around twelve pubs starting with The First Post and finishing with The World’s End. We get introduced to the four others completely from Gary’s perspective as teenagers so Oliver (Martin Freeman) is nicknamed Oman because of a birthmark on his forehead, Peter (Eddie Marsan) is alright because his family are wealthy and Steven (Paddy Considine) is the rival ladies’ man. Andy Knightley (Nick Frost) was Gary’s best friend and wing man. A sixth person mentioned is Sam (Rosamund Pike) Oliver’s sister that Gary once had sex with in the disabled toilet of a pub.

All Gary’s friends have gone on to be adults with jobs, wives and children and they are not really that interested in a pub crawl round the town they all left far behind with a desperate loser who has not emotionally grown since their school-days. Their memories of Gary and that night are not as warm as Gary’s so he has to manipulate each of them into joining him out of pity

When they arrive back at their hometown the place is cold and indifferent to them and there’s certainly no warm welcome. They check into a hotel (run by Julie Deakin who played the landlady in Spaced, an early TV collaboration of Pegg, Frost and Wright). Then the pub crawl starts at The First Post which has had a corporate makeover that the friends refer to as being Starbucksed (though Wetherspooned might have been more accurate). Gary gives them an enthusiastic historical introduction to the pub and seems to expect the barman to remember him which he doesn’t. Gary orders five pints but Andy interrupts and says he wants water. This really upsets Gary but Andy doesn’t care about pleasing Gary and hints that Gary is reason he only drinks water now.

The next stop The Old Familiar is identical to the first pub even down the customers but has a different barman who still doesn’t recognise Gary. In the third pub Gary gets the instant recognition he wants but that’s because his photo is pinned to a wall of shame full of customers who have been barred for life.

At the fourth pub The Cross Hands Gary picks a fight with a teenager in the toilet whose only offence was to ignore Gary bragging about how cool he used to be. He finds out the young man is not in human but some sort of modular android and destroys it. Andy and the others come into the toilet to talk about one the nastier lies he told to get them there. Soon they are battling a gang of teenage androids. They realise that have no idea how many people have been replaced by androids and the sensible plan is to leave immediately but Gary talks them into carrying on with pub crawl to avoid alerting the other androids that they know about them. Andy downs four shots to catch up and get drunk enough to go along with Gary’s stupid plan.

As they go on they discover the aliens’ plan but Gary drives them on to finish the pub crawl because that really is more important to him than the end of the world. Simon Pegg’s character is definitely not a hero in this film and he drives the story forward by his misguided quest. A lot of the comedy comes from his immature behaviour and the way he drags his straight-laced friends along for the ride. The film starts slowly building a very realistic character dynamic before it shifts up a few gears into a high action finale.

The casting includes familiar faces that have worked with Pegg, Frost and Wright before such as Mark Heap, Michael Smiley, Reece Shearsmith and Darren Boyd. There’s also a very well-known actor who hasn’t been credited who has a small but important role in the story. The cast are just great and there’s naturalness to their interactions.

Like other films by Wright, Pegg and Frost this film is influenced by the films they have loved, in this case it’s science fiction films and the broad theme certainly owes a lot to Invasion of Bodysnatchers (the 70s remake rather than the original). I’ll have some fun spotting them when the film comes to Bluray. There’s a running gag that they can’t agree what to call the androids who are bit touchy about being called robots and they eventually end up calling them blanks

This film might not be quite as funny as Shaun of The Dead or Hot Fuzz but it still has more laughs than many other comedies and there’s a real depth to characters. The theme of the film is the battle for individual freedom with all its flaws against compromising and conforming but it’s done with the wit you’d expect from these writers.

Rating 8.0/10

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Posted by on July 21, 2013 in Film


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Review: Pacific Rim

Cinema Review

pacific rimI went to see this film mainly because I have enjoyed the previous work of director Guillermo del Toro. I have only a casual knowledge of anime and in particular stories of giant human-piloted machines (or mecha) that fight monsters so I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this. This film succeeds in giving us the spectacle of destruction that it promises but still keeps the story grounded on a human scale.

When Earth comes under attack from an invasion of giant monsters (called kaiju) from a rift at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to another dimension the nations unite to create giant machines capable of killing them. These machines are called Jaegers and have to be operated by two pilots whose minds are linked by a technology called the drift. Because these pilots are putting their lives at risk to save they are celebrities and some have the ego to match.

This all explained in narration and montage by one of the pilots Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who pilots a jaeger called Gypsy Danger with his brother Yancy (Diego Klattenhoff). We get to meet their commander Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) and the ops technician who runs the monitors and comms op Tendo Choi (Clifton Collins Jr.). Raleigh and Yancy take Gypsy Danger out against an enormous kaiju. The fight does not go the brothers’ way Yancy gets killed leaving Raleigh to kill the kaiju alone. All this happens before the title screen comes up and the film starts.

The film restarts five years later and the world leaders tell Pentecost that they are shutting down the Jaeger programme in favour of building giant walls to keep out the kaiju. Raleigh is a homeless drifter working on the construction of one of the walls. Pentecost decides that even if the governments have turned their backs on them the Earth still needs them so he wants to keep going with one final push to try to seal up the rift. He recruits Raleigh who is afraid of going back into the drift since he was connected Yancy when he died.

The story of the fallen hero who re-enters the battle and regains his confidence and the respect of his comrades is not exactly novel but it is the backbone of a story that really does a good amount of character development for a film that is about giant robots killing monsters. Pentecost has a young assistant Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) who really wants to be a pilot and is by far the best qualified to drift with Raleigh. Pentecost is reluctant to let her but he relents and we learn the reason for this fatherly concern later as we see more of her backstory.

The big fights are really well done and there’s an authentic sense of damage to real things as the kaiju tear up chunks of cities and the jaegers tear up the kaiju. During the battles the focus is always kept on the human crews in the jaegers giving a sense of the stakes as the kaiju fight back.

The weakest thing in the film for me was the pair of scientists they have as their research team Dr Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Gottleib (Burn Gorman) that are crudely drawn cartoons of scientists and who constantly bicker like they are married to each other. They are working on figuring out where the kaiju are coming form and if they can seal the rift. To do this they have to contact Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman), a black market dealer in kaiju parts, to get them a kaiji brain. Geiszler was bearable but Gottlieb seemed to just be weird for the sake it and it wasn’t convincing. There was also the arrogant jaeger pilot Chuck Hansen (Robert Kazinsky) whose entire character seemed to be defined by the chip on his shoulder about Raleigh coming back.

The design of future Hong Kong really does fit in with idea of a society that has gotten used to kaiju attacks with the city rebuilt around the bones of dead kaiju too large to be removed and kaiju souvenirs and merchandise for sale. There’s even a temple of a cult of kaiju worshippers in a huge kaiju skull.

I enjoyed this film more than I thought I would though not as much as other people did. It is exactly what you expect it to be and if you think you’ll enjoy that you probably will because it is made very well by someone with a determination to get it right. Idris Elba deserves the praise he gets for his performance though Rinko Kikuchi and Charlie Hunnam give credible performances too. It is a big loud action film so if you are going to see it this is one that will probably look better on the big screen

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on July 13, 2013 in Film


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Review: Warm Bodies

Bluray Review

Warm Bodies Bluray 001I remember when this came out in cinemas it was being described as Twilight with zombies as if before Twilight there had never been romance in horror films. I suppose we’re meant to have agreed that films aimed at the young adult female market are to be dismissed off-hand by reference to the hugely popular but critically panned film and book series. It’s not the first to tackle the idea of a relationship between a living human and a zombie but that was certainly the opinion of the mainstream reviewers who snickered at the concept. This is more of a comedy than horror film and though comedy tastes my vary I liked its take on the zombie genre.

R (Nicholas Hoult) is a zombie in a world long after the plague hit and as he wanders around an airport we hear his thoughts in narration. I know narration can be annoying but it gets over the fact the protagonist of the film barely talks, communicating with his best friend M (Rob Corddry) by grunts. These zombies still remember being alive and their daily routines are like a ritual repeat of those memories. Eventually those memories are lost and zombies become bonies; fast, savage skinless creatures who feast on anything with a heartbeat.

Eventually a zombie has to eat so R and M go out on a hunt with a group of other zombies because there’s safety in numbers. In a hospital they come across a group of humans who are scavenging medical supplies. R kills the leader of the group Perry (Dave Franco) and as he eats his brain he gets Perry’s memories which are full of his love for Julie (Teresa Palmer) and his desire to protect her. R fights off the zombies trying to attack her but Julie gets knocked unconscious during the attack.

R decides to take Julie back to the airport to protect her until she recovers and the other zombies stop looking for her. This is the first time Julia has ever met a zombie with any sense of compassion for others and she learns that R at least seems to have an inner life with his large record collection on the plane he calls home.

By the time R gets Julie back the walled human enclosure her feelings for R have grown and she realises that he may well be the first sign that the zombie condition is curable. There are problems to overcome such as convincing the humans, particularly Julie’s father Grigio (John Malkovich) that a cure is possible and tackling the bonies that are gathering to invade the human stronghold.

I liked the characters in this film and I was not bothered that the zombies in his film followed their own rules. The two stage zombie thing was probably necessary to allow the zombies to be somewhat sympathetic by having the uber zombie bonies as the main threat. This was also done in the vampire film Daybreakers where the normal populations are vampires who become bestial uber vampires through lack of blood.

The film plays about with the relationship between R and Julie and even has a balcony scene but it never gets too icky. There were nice touches like the scenes of R smearing with smelly goo and teaching her to walk like a zombie to blend in at the airport are mirrored later when Julie puts make-up on R and coaches him to seem more human to blend in at the enclosure. For a zombie film there is not much gore which probably explains the 12A rating. I thought it was a decent fun film with a few laughs. It has the cheesy old theme of the power of love makes us human but why not?

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on July 8, 2013 in Film


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Review: This is the End

Cinema Review


credit: Sony Pictures

There seems to have been a rash of films about the end of the world recently but though the word apocalypse get thrown around a lot to describe these films this time it’s actually the original apocalypse as featured in the all-time best-selling horror compilation The Bible (also still topping the charts as the book bought most often without ever reading).

It is refreshing that in this film there are no actors playing other characters as every one of the main cast is playing themselves or at least a very embarrassing parody of themselves or in the case of Seth Rogen the same part he plays in all his films so far. The story is that Jay Baruchel goes to visit his friend Seth Rogen in Los Angeles for a quiet session of talking drugs and playing computer games. While there Seth talks the reluctant Jay into going to a house-warming party at James Franco’s house. At the party everyone is acting really over the top especially Danny McBride and the smooth hairless bubble butt of Michael Cera. Everyone is pretending they are all great friends though Jay is feeling uncomfortable being stuck with Seth’s new LA friends and is determined to be the party’s buzzkiller.

While Seth and Jay go to a local grocer for cigarettes The Rapture happens, taking all the decent people to heaven. There is no religious thing here; decent people get zapped up by blue light and the selfish, greedy and angry get left behind. There’s chaos with earthquakes and driverless cars crashing and fires breaking out.

Seth and Jay make their way back to Franco’s house where the party is still in full swing, oblivious to what’s happening outside since no-one at the party got “raptured”. No-one believes Jay about the apocalypse and even Seth doesn’t back him up when Jay faces ridicule over it. When another earthquake comes everyone runs outside and a giant pit to hell opens up, swallowing many of the celebrity guests.

Some of them manage to get back into Franco’s house including Seth, Jay, Jonah Hill and Craig Robinson. James Franco had never left. The five decide to stay put and check what supplies they have while they wait for help to arrive since they still don’t believe it’s the apocalypse. They go to sleep and wake up to find Danny McBride has used all the water and cooked all the food. It doesn’t take very long before the friendly masks start slipping and the selfish egos and childish insecurities come out.

Comedy is very subjective and this film’s humour is very crude and broad. It isn’t particularly clever but I did get a few laughs especially at the party and the last act of the film. The middle of the film feels a bit flabby, when they are bickering with each other and parodying Big Brother but it does have a couple of nice bits like a section where they make a sequel to Pineapple Express on a camcorder and later when Jay tries to exorcise a demon possessed Jonah Hill with lines from the Exorcist.

Needless to say there are various cameos including Emma Watson who smashes through the door with an axe looking for food and water but she quickly moves on when she hears the idiots taking about rape. Channing Tatum’s butt also has a small cameo but that’s hardly a rare sight in films. If you are a fan of the type of comedy Seth Rogen writes you’ll probably enjoy this. I thought it was okay for a few laughs but it’s probably a bit over-stretched and not funny enough in the middle.

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on July 2, 2013 in Film


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