Woke up to the very sad news that one of my favourite horror directors Wes Craven had passed away. Apparently he had been suffering from brain cancer.
Craven was a true legend in horror, and directed such classics as A Nightmare On Elm Street, The People Under The Stairs and Scream. The genre, as well as the movie industry as a whole has lost a true pioneer.
When Liam Neeson defied expectations and proved a credible action star in the breakout hit Taken, I couldn’t wait to see what would come next. However what we did get were a series of thrillers that all seemed to come from the same blueprint, delivering entertainment of rapidly deteriorating quality … Taken’s own sequels a prime example.
However I came to this fairly well reviewed revenge thriller with a degree of optimism because well, Neeson is still a solid screen presence and with the right script can really deliver the goods. Sadly then this wasn’t the case here. Neeson plays a down on his luck mobster, estranged from his son and still hanging out with his gangster friend Ed Harris. Yet one night Ed Harris’ loose-cannon son gets in a sticky situation with some Albanian drug dealers and is soon involved in murder – that get’s witnessed by Neeson’s limousine driver son. Neeson then has to protect his only son from this unhinged hoodlum that he’s forced to kill, which pisses off old friend Harris – and so sets forth a night of retribution and well, a lot of running.
Slightly convoluted story aside, the concept here is decent, and the performances, especially Harris and Neeson are not bad. RoboCop remake’s Joel Kinnaman is also passable as Neeson’s clean-cut son … but the big let down here is the direction from usually commendable Jaume Collet-Serra (the underrated ‘Unknown’ and cult classic ‘Orphan’). He chooses to shoot the whole movie like a rapidly edited pop-video that really didn’t suit the gritty, realistic tone and spoils pretty much every attempt at a good moment. A car chase is dizzying and just not enjoyable to watch. Shoot outs get tiresome very quickly, and even quiet character moments are awash with camera angles that don’t stay in one place for more than a second. The writing is also pretty lazy and get’s rather silly at times just to help the plot along (leave the hit man alive? Really??).
Some plot elements like how Neeson won’t let his son fire a gun and the father / son bonding or the friendship between Harris and Neeson, helped give the movie some depth – and in better hands, could have made for much more memorable fair (Michael Mann comes to mind, considering we get a steal of Heat’s famous coffee shop scene). But no, this was just sloppy style for the sake of sloppy style, that took any potential and ruined it.
Here are a number of movies I still hope to see before the end of 2015. I’m trying to get as many in as possible so my end of year Top Ten has more to pick from. I think my viewing this year has had some real gems and compiling the list will prove very interesting.
David Cronenberg has easily cemented himself as one of the most challenging and daring directors to have ever gained mainstream popularity. Perhaps still most famous for the Jeff Goldblum remake of The Fly, this Canadian born visionary film maker has for me, made some of the most powerfully bold and disturbing interpretations of horror I have seen. This 1982 effort saw him break out from obscure fair like The Brood and Shivers and finally deliver his own distinct voice.
Starring James Woods and Deborah Harry (of Blondie) this follows the story of Max Ren, a sleazy cable TV executive on the look out for new material for his network. One day he stumbles upon Videodrome, a broadcast that appears to be purely torture and violence – the exact kind of material he thinks his viewers will want. Only thing is, Videodrome comes with a deadly signal that causes horrific and freakish hallucinations in anyone who watches it.
Despite a meagre budget and fairly basic production values, Cronenberg lavishes the whole movie in a visual style that presents television as a strange new villain in a way that the internet could be perceived the same today. This movie was ahead of it’s time in it’s themes of living through another medium, and even one character refers to us all having different names that we’ll one day take on, sort of like avatars in a chat room. It’s very cleverly observed. Cronenberg tried to lesser extent to bring such ideas into the modern age in his sort-of sequel Existenz which explored videogames instead of television, but it’s here that his concept is at it’s boldest. Deborah Harry is provocative, sexy and daring, not afraid to shed some clothing and portray herself as a self-harming adrenalin junkie, and Woods is perfect as the guy who takes a bite out of the forbidden fruit. Acting isn’t exactly stellar though and supporting cast are amateurish at best. It also get’s a little lost in it’s own hallucinatory world towards the end. But with still impressive make-up work from An American Werewolf In London’s Rick Baker (bar the dodgy gun-hand-thing) and some creative gore along with a few ingenious effects (the breathing TV) – this still had the power to shock and creep this viewer out, even all these year’s later.
This Arrow Video release comes in a limited edition collector’s packaging that has a detailed hardback book exploring the film and Cronenberg’s career with fresh interviews and archival text. The movie has always been in great shape and the same can be said here in a very vivid and clear image with equally crisp sound even if it’s only in mono. Arrow, swiftly becoming my go-to company for great treatment of genre classics, has once again pulled no punches with this release and the extras are simply exhaustive. A commentary by critic Tim Lucas, a number of detailed featurettes and documentaries, behind the scenes footage, a deleted scene and in this limited edition set a few of the director’s early short films. In a word: impressive.
Inspired by some videos on YouTube, I went ahead and got myself some LED lighting for the back of my bedroom TV and the underside of the shelves that house my PS4, Sony Receiver and Xbox One. Here’s a pic…