Underwater


Viewed – 11 July 2020.

Although Kristen Stewart has appeared in some big name movies, including Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman, she’s often overshadowed by either co-stars or the movies themselves. She can be an actress that seems a bit one dimensional but regardless I’ve always felt there’s potential. This latest effort puts her front and centre so let’s hope it delivers.

This has Stewart, as part of a deep-sea mining crew that following a disaster have to journey to another facility, crossing the sea bed along the way. Only problem is there seems to be a group of deadly creatures hunting them. So a battle for survival commenced in the depths of the ocean. I got a distinct The Abyss meets Alien vibe with this and it didn’t go unnoticed that Stewart is rather Ripley-like even if she’s no Sigourney Weaver. Despite lacking the ambition of either of those titles, the movie does deliver an at times intense and claustrophobic experience that’s often quite unnerving. With a disaster right at the start it’s a movie that hits the ground running and barely let’s up ‘till the credits roll. The sea creatures are more freaky than scary and unfortunately the horror is a tad watered down (pun intended). The beginning also suggests the plot might explore the psychological effects of being so deep under the sea, but this gets abandoned almost instantly.

Stewart is decent though, proving both gutsy and vulnerable at all the right moments. Support comes from the dependable Vincent Cassell and T J Miller (who’s predictably the comic relief) and direction throughout is focused and atmospheric. This is a good looking movie with some stylish sequences but ultimately is let down by under-developed characters and an over-resemblance to better movies. Solid entertainment, but lacking its own personality.

Verdict: Good

Repo Man


Viewed – 08 July 2020 Blu-ray

For some reason I have always wanted to see this early eighties oddity. Directed by British cult filmmaker Alex Cox (Sid & Nancy) this is pure low budget gorilla film-making with an almost throw-away plot revolving around street punk Otto (Emilio Estevez) who gets involved with a group of ‘repo men’ who steel / reclaim cars when debts fail to get paid. However one such car doing the rounds has a very unusual package in its trunk that may just be extra terrestrial.

This was a bit nuts. It’s clear Cox was going for a rather surreal vibe with sprinklings of social commentary and not so subtle send ups of shady FBI, street culture and sci-fi b-movies. It doesn’t really make much sense, it’s never explained why the car with the alien in its trunk is just driving around constantly – where is it going? Or how one girl seems to be connected. Acting from Estevez as well as the late Harry Dean Stanton varies from passable to bad all the time too. There’s also some pretty dodgy edits along the way that add some confusion.

Yet somehow it’s still kinda fun, and every now and then I can appreciate something stripped down, experimental and different. A soundtrack featuring Iggy Pop is a bonus and some of the film-making, as awkwardly cheap looking as it is, has a certain charm to it. I’m glad I’ve seen it now and I had a good time, but it remains far from essential viewing.

The Blu-ray, part of Eureka’s Masters of Cinema series is rather packed however. It boasts a clean and fairly detailed restored image as well as a DTS HD mono soundtrack (although dialogue can get a bit echoey). We get an archive commentary from the director, producer etc and an 11 minute intro from Alex Cox, shot in 2011. Add to this a wealth of deleted footage, a TV version, trailers, a retrospective making-of and a detailed booklet. For collectors, this makes up for many shortcomings with the actual movie.

Verdict:

(the movie) Poor

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix


Viewed – 16 May 2020 Blu-ray (A-Z Collection Challenge)

I had put the Harry Potter franchise on hold for a while now but having reached ‘H’ in my A-Z challenge I thought it was a good idea to pick up where I left off. This fifth entry in the celebrated saga has Harry returning to Hogwarts and facing a backlash following his involvement in Voldemort’s apparent return and the death of Cedric. With suspicion surrounding him and school headmaster Dumbledore, a new professor is brought on who proves a bit of a tyrant. However a secret society turns to Harry to investigate Voldemort’s plans and hopefully prevent a war.

The world of Harry Potter is again enchanting and imaginative. This entry reunites us with many likeable characters including Ron Weasley, Hermione and Hagrid. Imelda Staunton is also fun as villainous professor Delores Umbridge … however, the plot spends far too much time with this character wrecking havoc at the school and less on the Voldemort plot, leading to a deja-vu showdown against the dark lord that we’ve pretty much had in various guises for five movies now. Despite the stakes raising each time, it’s on a whole a concept that feels stretched out and repetitive. With that said, production values, atmosphere and effects work are all still great, and that showdown familiar as it is, is pretty bad-ass.

Radcliffe is on a whole, likeable but far from a gifted actor (even at this stage), his line-delivery particularly lacking emotional weight. Co-stars fair better, especially Emma Watson and Michael Gambon. However like most of the movies thus far in this franchise, there’s little that propels the story forward and is bogged down in unnecessary world building and throw-away side plots. I like this world and these characters quite a bit, but whilst this entry was indeed fun in places it was also quite underwhelming.

Verdict: Good

Gemini Man


Viewed – 10 March 2020 online rental

When a movie revolves around a technology gimmick I usually approach with caution and even in this age of amazing CGI I can still tell, especially with the currently in-vogue de-ageing tech as seen in Captain Marvel and The Irishman. Will Smith plays an assassin who yearns for retirement. However on the day he gets his wish a team of contract killers start hunting him down, and one of them bares an uncanny resemblance to his younger self.

When you’re your own worst enemy

Director Ang Lee throws together an action thriller that uses the technology well and mostly makes for a fun time. The story is fairly cliched but helped by charismatic turns from Smith and also the always likeable Mary Elizabeth Winstead. A motorbike chase early on is particularly exhilarating but mostly this focuses on character, with an interesting exploration of identity and morality. Clive Owen is also decent as Smith’s former mentor. Gimmicks like the hyped 60fps passed me by as I wasn’t sure if this rental was supporting it, and the de-aged Smith effect is about 50/50 when it comes to convincing and weird looking.

You may have come to this for Smith or the tech, but I was most impressed by the cinematography with several breath-taking locations that gave this a globe trotting Bond movie feel. However, with a lack of big set pieces, the movie couldn’t fall back on its story which lacks depth and feels a bit familiar. I’ve also seen such actor-in-a-scene-with-himself done better in movies like Dead Ringers over 30 years ago. Overall entertaining, occasionally thrilling and still another enjoyable turn from Smith in what appears to be his come back period.

Verdict: Good

Colour Out Of Space


Viewed – 07 March 2020. Online rental

I used to be quite the fan of Nicholas Cage and rank many of his movies as firm favourites. However in recent years his output has garnered little acclaim and although this sci-fi horror is far from a return to past glories it’s certainly an interesting and daring choice for the once Oscar winning actor.

Something strange in the garden…

Cage plays Nathan, a family man who lives out ‘in the sticks’ with his wife (Joely Richardson) daughter and two sons. However one night what at first appears to be a meteorite crash lands in their front garden, bringing with it a weird pink glow that soon begins to have a strange affect on the family.

Directed by Richard Stanley, a filmmaker I’m not familiar with but it’s clear he brings with him a distinct vision and style … with echoes of the much underrated Stewart Gordon gore-fest From Beyond and an atmosphere that’s Stranger Things meets The Twilight Zone. Only what feel like a restricted effects budget holds this back, but it runs with some pretty messed up ideas (especially towards the end). Not surprising when it’s based on a H.P. Lovecraft short story. Cage is decent as are the rest of the cast and as the metorite’s otherworldly presence takes its grip each character gets their moment, although not necessarily for the better.

What it lacks in ambition it makes up for in style, very trippy imagery and just plain ‘out there’ ideas that gives this its own feel like its birthing a whole new sub genre – hallucinogenic alien invasion? Whatever it was … I was up for it.

Verdict: Recommended