The Void


Viewed – 20 April 2019. online-rental

A movie that starts with a woman being set on fire in a field, certainly isn’t messing around and so begins this uproarious if somewhat rough around the edges horror movie. A cop stumbles upon a delirious man injured whilst escaping his pursuers, and quickly takes him to a nearby hospital. However it soon transpires the man has run away from a cult group who quickly surround the hospital, cloaked in white and sporting an ominous black triangle symbol. So sets forth a battle for survival as events quickly descend into hell.

Immediately it’s clear this is fairly low budget stuff and skimps on any star appeal in favour of ‘limited’ performances from its cast, especially the cop acting as the movie’s main protagonist. Thankfully a frantic pace helps disguise such shortcomings and delivers lots of violence, gory set-pieces and some decent practical creature effects. This movies wears its influences proudly and I recognised nods to the likes of From Beyond, Hellraiser and The Thing. It lacks the tongue-in-cheek appeal of say a Stuart Gordon or John Carpenter movie and takes itself a little too seriously. Also at times the film making gets rather amateurish with incidents of confusing editing and shots where it’s not that easy to tell what you’re looking at.

The second half of the movie however cranks up the craziness, monsters and horror … and this turned up the entertainment factor for me immensely, meaning that overall I’d say check this out – especially if 80’s-style throwback horror is your jam.

Verdict: 3 /5

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The Fisher King


Viewed – 16 April 2019. Blu-ray

After the sad passing of gifted comedienne and actor Robin Williams in 2014, I think it’s taken me until now to watch one of his movies again. Yet having sat through this, everything I loved about him came flooding back. He certainly was one of the most likeable and versatile presences in anything he appeared in and this 1991 fantasy-drama is no exception.

Directed by master visionary Terry Gilliam (Twelve Monkeys) this has Jeff Bridges as a shock-jock radio DJ who’s outspoken show inadvertently leads to a shooting in a local restaurant. Disgraced, Bridges falls on hard times and stumbles upon the plight of local ‘bum’ Perry (Williams) who comes to Bridges’ aid after some youths attack him. However, Perry isn’t playing with a full deck and believes the Holy Grail is held in some wealthy tycoon’s house in the middle of New York.

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This is quite mad-cap stuff with Gilliam at full tilt delivering fantastical yet captivating imagery (grand central station turning into a ballroom) and filling the movie with a wealth of oddball creations. Yet this is also a story of redemption and salvation and Williams delivers a laugh-out-loud zany performance that’s also filled to the brim with heart. Bridges is also on fine form (with hints of ‘the dude’ prior to The Big Lebowski) and goes on a real character journey.

At times Gilliam’s direction and emphasis of the weird and bizarre gets a bit ‘much’ and takes a little bit of adjustment to fully appreciate. However at its core the movie is equal parts magical, heart-breaking and feel-good making for a genuine cult classic.

The Blu-ray release from the U.K. division of Criterion boasts a pleasingly crisp and vibrant image. Although mostly filmed in a subdued style, various details make it look more expensive than its low budget origins, helped I’m guessing by Gilliam’s unique eye. A noticeable shimmer does rears it’s head now and then though. The 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack is also clear and effective-enough, if not particularly showy. Extras consist of several worthwhile featurettes, although none new for this release. A highlight though is Terry Gilliam’s commentary from the 90’s. There’s also a poster-like booklet with its own write ups on the movie. Solid treatment for a still very unique and enjoyable movie.

Verdict:

(the movie) 4 /5

(the Blu-ray) 4 /5

Pet Sematary


Viewed – 10 April 2019. Cinema

I went into this with expectations dialled down mostly because I don’t consider the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel all that great. However, a remake is a chance to improve upon a concept so there’s every reason to hope this one fairs better. A doctor (Jason Clarke) and his family move to a rural town and soon befriend the kind old man across the road (John Lithgow) who eventually introduced them to the Pet Cemetery in the woods, located on the family’s land. However following an unfortunate incident involving the pet cat and a lorry, the old neighbour suggests burying the animal beyond the pet cemetery. So of course, the cat comes back and sets in motion a spiral of increasingly macabre events.

Pet Sematary

The movie quickly resorts to cliches like ‘we should never have moved here’ way before that sort of thinking seems reasonable. Also, John Lithgow surprisingly fails to have the screen presence of the originals Fred Gwyn with delivery for such iconic lines as ‘the soil of a man’s heart…’ and ‘sometimes dead is better’ coming off rather half-arsed. However Jason Clarke is decent aided by a memorable turn from Jeta Laurence as his daughter. Flashbacks to the wife’s memories of twisted-spine sister ‘Zelda’ is also cranked up in the freakiness and jump-scares department and really, turns out to be the movie’s most disturbing aspect. Also changes to the final act help explain-away some of the more ludicrous developments of the original, but also come off as even sillier somehow.

So this remake wasn’t terrible and at times genuinely scary, but like the original … I can’t help but feel that the concept is overall flawed.

Verdict: 3 /5

Upgrade


Viewed – 09 April 2019. Online rental

This came as a surprise. An interesting sounding thriller that has a married couple getting mugged in the wrong neighbourhood that leaves central protagonist ‘Gray’ paralysed and his wife dead. However a billionaire inventor later approaches Gray to offer him a breakthrough microchip that will not only cure him – but also upgrade him.

Set in a not-so-distant future with self driving cars, a.i assistants and drone robots, this tight and energetic movie was like a cross between Ghost in the Shell, RoboCop and Videodrome with heavy influence of body-horror auteur David Cronenberg. Director Leigh Whannell has put together a well narratively-clever genre flick that’s at times very violent and full of action. The relationship between Gray and a disembodied voice named ‘Stem’ coming from his microchip proves the most entertaining aspect and how this new power is used to aid him in an investigation into his wife’s killers is particularly compelling. Add to this some great fight scenes and even if at times the ‘walking like a robot’ aspect looks rather silly, I still found myself invested.

It may lack any recognisable names and it’s all done it seems on a tight budget … but Whannell achieves a lot with very little and that always goes down well with me. Recommended.

Verdict: 4 /5

The Highwaymen


Viewed – 02 April 2019. Netflix

You’d think a movie based on a notorious true story and starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson, would be a sure bet. However this thriller told from the perspective of two former Texas Rangers, pulled out of retirement to put a stop to Bonnie & Clyde was surprisingly ‘meh’.

Costner & Harrelson make for an good pairing however, and their banter and slightly bumbling approach to an off-the-books investigation proves the main enjoyment of the film. You see, despite an atmospheric setting and authentic sense of time and place, the movie really plods along, barely even showing the legendary bank robbers, especially ‘in the act’ and by focusing more on these has-been lawmen the movie fails to be as riveting as the subject might suggest. It’s also one of those very vague movies when it comes to various clues and important details leading to finally locating Bonnie & Clyde – which proves rather frustrating. In addition, the real-life fame and hysteria that surrounded the murderous criminals is only slightly touched upon.

There’s entertainment to be had here, but overall this was a missed opportunity.  Another so-called Netflix original that underwhelms … I’m sensing a pattern.

Verdict: 2.5 /5