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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

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Ring


Viewed – 22 March 2019. Blu-ray

Following the mysterious deaths of a group of students, a rookie female reporter investigates links to an urban legend revolving around a cursed video tape. The movie that started it all. An international sensation that spawned several sequels as well as an American remake. So how does this 1998 original hold up? Well, what Japanese horror does well and this does equally well is that ‘unsettling stillness’. Dark Water, by same director Hideo Nakata, avoids clichéd jump scares or gore, favouring gradual menace this movie cemented and made a genre all its own. Add influences from traditional Japanese folklore, and traditional detective stories as well as Japanese ghost stories spawned what we now know as J-horror.

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More an eerie drama than full-on scare-fest, this feels rather lightweight despite its reputation, even though that slow burning ticking clock plot device helps deliver a sense of dread that makes that famed, often satirised and copied ending all the more powerful. However, performances are largely only passable and often overly theatrical.  Thankfully, Nakata’s direction is restrained but suitably creepy, helped by a great sense of unease if avoiding full on chills mostly., and that incredibly effective, freaky soundtrack does crank up the horror.  Yet overall, this is rather dated today and the plot doesn’t make much sense, leaving many questions unanswered.  A girl trapped in a well, a curse, deaths but er… how does that connect to videotapes? It seems to me like a convenient plot device.  It’s also  to me this was a clear influence on recent cult hit ‘It Follows’ amongst other movies.

The new 4k restoration from Arrow Video boasts a decent picture with effective sound treatment in DTS HD master audio 5.1. The movie is rather stilted and bland to look at yet this only adds to it’s atmosphere. Extras consist of a fascinating commentary from film historian David Kalat. We also get a complete version of the cursed video (date you watch it?) and several worthwhile featurettes.  There are also trailers and a photo gallery. Decent treatment for a classic that whilst diluted by modern standards, still deserves its place in horror movie history.  And yes, I prefer it over its Hollywood remake.

Verdict:

(the movie). 3.5 /5

(the Blu-Ray)  4 /5

The House That Jack Built


Viewed – 05 March 2019. Blu-Ray

Matt Dillon, who first caught my attention following his star-making role in cult favourite Drugstore Cowboy returns after what seems to have been a long absence from the movie scene. Hats off to him for choosing such a controversial role as ‘Jack’ a man recanting five incidents during a twelve year history as a serial killer.

The House That Jack Built

One of those movies that instantly stirred up controversy following it’s Cannes debut. With a myriad of clever, baffling and disturbing references in an attempt to explore a damaged mind, both revered and reviled director Lars Von Trier’s movie is equal parts challenging, shocking and decidedly clever. Structurally with Jack’s repeated attempt to build a house whilst at the same time descending into madness is a work of ingenious symbolism. In amidst harrowing depictions of breast-slicing or strangulation there’s also a surprising and welcome amount of satire and dark comedy (returning a rigpr mortis-stricken body to the scene of the crime, OCD cleaning up), that comparisons to American Psycho or French thriller Man Bites Dog are valid. However, one scene involving a mother and her two little boys challenged even my admittedly far reaching boundaries.

Dillon is fantastic and very convincing as this unfeeling sociopathic killer and in different material (or if he was Anthony Hopkins) might have got the Oscar nod. Yes, Von Trier gets self-indulgent in his artistic flourishes, throwing in German expressionist-like imagery and footage from the holocaust as well as his own movies to hammer home various points about art and violence. Yet along with Jack’s narrated conversations with disembodied confidant ‘Verge’ … what we ultimately get is a very unique take on the serial-killer subject, meaning I came away rather impressed.

Verdict: 4 /5

Alita: Battle Angel


Viewed – 07 January 2019  Cinema

Director James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator 2) had been hoping to helm this adaptation of the popular Japanese manga.  However, his attention these days is focused on the Avatar sequels, and so with a large degree of supervision he passed his passion project onto Robert Rodriguez, a risky move in my opinion as the once celebrated genre film maker hasn’t had a major hit in a while, with Sin City probably being his last movie to make any sort of rumbles. 

Alita

Set in the distant future, this has Christoph Waltz’s cybernetic limb doctor stumble upon the remains of a robotic girl, and goes about bringing her back to life, only to discover she has incredible fighting abilities.  ‘Alita’ you see, has clouded memories of a past that is linked to the hovering city of Zalem, ruled over by omnipresent ruler ‘Nova’.  What was she before?  What do her memories hold secret, and why are thugs seemingly hellbent on capturing her?

Visually stunning and with state of the art technology, this is a fun adventure with a breakout performance by Rosa Salazar as Alita (underneath Avatar-style CGI).  Along with a great Guipetto-like turn from Waltz who always lends presence to each movie he appears in and a story that cracks along at a good pace, I found myself having a great time with this.  Occasionally the CGI over-load reveals some shortcomings with one such scene looking like the actors are not part of the scenery (the rooftop scene), but in many other aspects it’s jaw-dropping (Alita herself bug-eyes and all, and those mutant bad guys).  The movie also falters at being clearly the beginning of a much larger story, with too many questions left unanswered.  Also the love story sub-plot is a tad cheesy, and less said about Jennifer Connelly’s performance the better. 

Yet with solid world-building and some bad-ass action (the bar fight, the motor-ball sequence), not only has Rodriguez found his groove … but Cameron can also be proud to finally realise such a vision.  Roll on part 2!

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Top Ten Movies 2018


Based on movies I enjoyed the most in 2018.  Some movies may have hit cinemas during 2017 but I missed out seeing them at the time.

10

Thor

Thor Ragnarok

9

Hereditary

Hereditary

8

Annihilation

Annihilation

7

Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

6

IT

IT

5

Lady Bird

Lady Bird

4

Ready Player One

Ready Player One

3

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place

2

Avengers

Avengers: Infinity War

1

The Greatest SHowman

The Greatest Showman

 

Honourable mentions:  Halloween, Deadpool 2, Unsane