Tag Archives: reviews

HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS – HALLOWEEN 2021 SPECIAL!

HORROR OBSCURA FILM REVIEWS

Halloween is slowly creeping out of the fog and shadows. It’s a time of the year where horror films come to the fore. Personally, I watch horror all the year round, but it’s always fun when the genre pulls focus on the cultural calendar.

Rather than concentrate on current horror film releases, I thought it would be interesting to seek out chillers that are a tad less known. So, I had a scan through Amazon and Shudder screening platforms and unearthed several cult horror gems worth catching.

Some of these films come from the 1980’s period which encompassed the “video-nasty” era in the United Kingdom. With the advent of home video technology, the government suddenly got frightened about bloody and exploitational films and desired control. Censoring seventy-two titles and banning a flurry of films actually made people want to watch them more. This caused the government’s policy to backfire as people clamoured to watch “pirate” video versions of such films. In fact, it was in the living room watching forbidden films and the old Universal black-and-white classics where my true love of horror cinema began.

The following films may not have been banned at the time, but I was intrigued by how many of the titles I missed seeing on first release. Aside from Ben (1972), When A Stranger Calls (1979) and Phantasm (1979), I hadn’t seen the other titles. Therefore, if you’re looking for obscure horror films to watch then delve deep into the Amazon library. They have a fine feast of 1970’s and 1980’s fear inducing fare, many of them which were on the infamous “video-nasty” list. Dare you watch them!?



THE CAT OF NINE TAILS (1971)

An early Dario Argento giallo finds a blind puzzle-maker (Karl Malden) and dogged reporter (James Franciscus) investigating murders at a genetics lab. Aside from a couple of scary set-pieces, notably in a graveyard, it neither works as a detective nor horror story. It is however beautifully filmed with a vibrant restoration. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CHUD (1984)

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission track down missing toxic waste the New York homeless population are becoming victims to something monstrous in the sewers. An energetic sci-fi-horror hybrid combining a schlocky plot with socio-environmental themes. It’s not bad and actually quite funny, with early roles for John Heard and Daniel Stern whose acting raises the overall quality. (Mark: 6 out of 11)

CLASS OF 1984 (1982)

I remember school kids raving about this film when I was twelve. I really wanted to see it, but could never find it in the video shop or from the “pirate” video guy. The plot merges The Blackboard Jungle (1955) with Death Wish (1974), as Perry King’s music teacher attempts to soothe the savage beast of a gang of nasty punk students. He fails and the final act revenge-driven rampage is fantastically inventive and gory. Latterly famous director, a young Tim Van Patten, portrays the psychotic, Peter Stegman, with vicious zeal. A true exploitational classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11).

HELL NIGHT (1981)

This is one of those films I had never even heard of. With a sizeable budget of $1.4 million dollars for a slasher film, it concerns four college students, including a grown-up Linda Blair, spending the night in a creepy house as part of an initiation ritual. Unfortunately, there’s a psychotic killer about hellbent on hunting them down. We’ve seen it all before, but it was nicely filmed and had decent humour. Overlong but way better than I thought it would be. (Mark: 7 out of 11)

PHANTASM II (1988)

I reviewed the remastered version of Don Coscarelli’s low-budget masterpiece here, but only just got round to watching the sequel. Phantasm II (1988) had a bigger budget and suffers from some stodgy plotting. The re-casting of Mike with James Le Gros in the role throws you. Yet, once Mike and Reggie fight with the Tall Man (inimitable Angus Scrimm), the razor-sharp spheres and the hooded monsters, the film finds real pace. Coscarelli blows-up a lot of stuff and ramps up the weaponry, but the sequel lacks the twisted magic of the original must-watch horror fantasy, Phantasm (1979). (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)



TERROR TRAIN (1980)

Another unknown mini-gem I found on Amazon. This Canadian slasher film is, you guessed it, set on a train and finds, yes you guessed it again, college students getting picked off one-by-one by a vengeful psycho. Notable for a really good plot which gives the killer empathy and understandable motivation, it also stars everyone’s favourite final girl, Jamie Lee Curtis. With disguise and magic prevalent in the themes, David Copperfield also appears in a neat role. Highly entertaining with a killer twist. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

WHEN A STRANGER CALLS (1979)

Inspired by a famous urban legend, Fred Walton’s chilling suspense thriller has one of the most nail-biting opening twenty minutes in horror cinema. Carol Kane is the babysitter terrorized by a series of tense phone calls from a mystery ringer. From that terrifying start the story falters slightly as it focusses on Charles Durning’s obsessive search for the unhinged man. Only when Kane rejoins the film some years later does the horror rise up again in a truly frightening denouement. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)

WILLARD (1971) / BEN (1972)

This was an odd one because I knew and seen the sequel Ben (1972) when I was a younger. Little did I realise the original Willard (1971) had been released the year before and became a sleeper box-office hit. Bruce Davison is excellent as the introvert, Willard, who is bullied at work by his aggressive boss, Ernest Borgnine. Only when, and take a deep breath here, Willard trains an army of rats does he gain confidence to take on the world. It’s a weird film that actually works because of Willard’s fascinating character arc and Davison’s nuanced performance. (Mark: 8 out of 11)

The follow-up Ben (1972) focusses on Willard’s alpha rat, Ben, and his friendship with lonely kid, Danny. The sequel really raises the rat count and there appears to be thousands of them in their dirty lair. Danny is a likeable kid who suffers from a serious illness that prevents him from going out. Why he would make friends with a killer rat though is still frankly nuts! A lack of thrills and goofy premise make it difficult to recommend, and is more famous for the classic Michael Jackson hit called, surprisingly enough, Ben. (Mark: 6 out of 11)


“CINEMA” REVIEWS: NOMADLAND (2020) & SOUND OF METAL (2019)

“CINEMA” REVIEWS: NOMADLAND (2020) & SOUND OF METAL (2019)

Due to the being very busy at my day job I have fallen slightly behind with my film reviews. Thus, I am consolidating two quality dramas I have watched in a double bill review presentation. In fact, it is quite apt that these two films are critiqued together as they are both Oscar winners, both focus on an individual’s struggle against difficult personal trauma, both films represent an alternative vision of America and are told in a meditative and absorbing style.


NOMADLAND (2020)

Directed and written by: Chloé Zhao

Produced by: Frances McDormand, Peter Spears, Mollye Asher, Dan Janvey, Chloé Zhao

Based on: Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie etc.



Winning the Oscar for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress in a leading role, perhaps upsold my expectations for Nomadland (2020). It is an example of amazing filmmaking without being a particular brilliant film. I get why it won Best Picture, but that was more to do with there not being one specifically superb standout film among the nominees. Frances McDormand isn’t even very memorable as the lead protagonist, Fern. Don’t get me wrong she is highly empathetic and admirable in her resilience to stick to the road, living in her van and scrapping by independently. However, the film is one-paced. It is all set-up and little pay-off, with the odd flat tyre, van breakdown and Fern having to shit in a bucket providing occasional spikes in the drama.

Much praise though goes to the incredible cinematography and Chloe Zhao’s intelligent and naturalistic direction. She really gets into the weeds of the flailing American dream, as well as providing insight into the lives of working-class people disenfranchised by American capitalism. Moreover, Zhao’s use of non-professional actors is quite astounding, as at times you feel like you are watching a pseudo-documentary. Ultimately, Nomadland (2020) though, is arguably too meditative and glacially paced. It remains a brave and quietly powerful film, but it’s just too quiet for my dramatic needs.

Mark: 8 out of 11



SOUND OF METAL (2019)

Directed by: Darius Marder

Produced by: Bill Benz, Kathy Benz, Bert Hamelinck, Sacha Ben Harroche

Screenplay by: Darius Marder, Abraham Marder

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Mathieu Amalric etc.



Sound of Metal (2019) is another quiet drama, however, it really begins with a load of noise. It derives from Riz Ahmed’s drummer, Ruben, thrashing on stage with his girlfriend, Lou, as she fronts their heavy metal band giving an energetic performance to a lustful crowd. Ruben and Lou live out of their R.V. travelling and gigging around America, but he soon discovers his hearing has been severely damaged. Doctors offer hope in the form of an operation, but it’s extremely expensive. As Ruben is an addict, he also seeks spiritual help at a shelter for deaf people in recovery. There he meets, Joe (Paul Raci), the facilitator at the shelter and Ruben’s slow road to recuperation begins.

Riz Ahmed is outstanding as Ruben, a talented, bright and strong-willed individual who finds himself tested by a loss of hearing. His journey is a slow-moving but compelling one. I especially enjoyed the process where Ruben learns to cope, sign and believe that deafness should not be considered a disability. Indeed, the scenes Ruben shares with the wiser Joe are incredibly moving and thought provoking. Further, Darius Marder directs with a sure hand and really uses the sound effects powerfully, getting us into Ruben’s head both literally and figuratively. Overall, Sound of Metal (2019) beats along steadily but with incredible purpose and rhythm. It teaches us that losing a major sense need not be the end of one’s life, but rather the beginning of an altogether different one.

Mark: 9 out of 11


FIFTY NOT OUT! 50 FAVOURITE FILMS IN 5 MINUTES!

FIFTY NOT OUT! 50 FAVOURITE FILMS IN 5 MINUTES!

I celebrated my fiftieth birthday last week. So, for a bit of fun I set myself a cinema game involving the theme of fifty. I gave myself no more than five minutes to list fifty favourite films. The rules are simple:

  • Pick 50 favourite films off the top of your head.
  • Take no longer than 5 minutes.
  • No checking Imdb.com or other cinema sites.
  • One film per franchise.
  • Go with your instinct – don’t overthink it!
  • Once you have written fifty down – you cannot change any.

Of course, these aren’t necessarily the best films ever, but instinctively films I love. Obviously, I am now kicking myself for the many great works of cinema I have missed. But, it’s just a bit of fun! So, here we go! In alphabetical order – FIFTY FAVOURITE FILMS chosen in FIVE MINUTES to celebrate FIFTY YEARS alive!



A GHOST STORY (2017)

AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999)

ANCHORMAN: THE LEGEND OF RON BURGUNDY (2004)

AU REVOIR LES ENFANTS (1987)

THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998)

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)

CASABLANCA (1942)

CASINO ROYALE (2006)

DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

DEAD MAN’S SHOES (2004)



THE EXORCIST (1973)

FARGO (1996)

FIGHT CLUB (1999)

FOUR LIONS (2010)

GLADIATOR (2000)

THE GODFATHER: PART II (1974)

GOODFELLAS (1990)

THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

HALLOWEEN (1978)



INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS (2009)

JAWS (1975)

KES (1969)

LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003)

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)

MAN ON FIRE (2004)

MEMENTO (2000)

MILLER’S CROSSING (1990)

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (1996)

NETWORK (1976)



THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (1980)

NOSFERATU (1922)

ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984)

PSYCHO (1960)

RAGING BULL (1980)

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

RESERVOIR DOGS (1992)

ROBOCOP (1987)

ROCKY (1976)

SCARFACE (1983)



SECRETS AND LIES (1996)

THE SEARCHERS (1956)

THE SEVEN SAMOURAI (1954)

STAR WARS (1977)

THE TERMINATOR (1984)

THE THING (1982)

TREMORS (1990)

TRUE GRIT (1969)

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

WITHNAIL AND I (1986)


SHUDDER HORROR FILM REVIEWS – EXTREME!

SHUDDER HORROR FILM REVIEWS – EXTREME!

I’m continuing the Shudder film review residency here on my site with this post. However, as I watched so many horror films on the channel recently, I have decided to break them down into categories. This one is called Extreme!

Essentially the films reviewed here are — because of their content, style or both — prime examples of nasty, violent, sickening and in some cases extremely depraved horror movies. So, be warned do not watch these films, unless you have a strong emotional constitution and actually enjoy witnessing graphic scenes of gore, sex and bloody mayhem.

For your information, the films are reviewed in order of my rating, which as usual is out of eleven.



REVENGE (2017) – DIRECTED BY CORALIE FARGEAT

Featuring a B-movie rape and revenge plot, this exploitation story is raised way above its subject matter due to ultra-stylish direction, gorgeous cinematography and a compelling lead performance by Matilda Lutz. She portrays Jen, an aspiring actress, who is on a weekend getaway with handsome boyfriend (cheating husband), Richard (Kevin Janssens). He seems very well off as their break takes place at a stunning isolated villa location. However, things go awry when two of his hunting buddies turn up, and one, Stan (Vincent Colombe) attacks Jen while Richard is out. From then on events twist from incredibly bad to worse for Jen, and she finds herself being hunted down in the blazing heat of the desert. The film looks absolutely incredible with amazing photography and colour design. Overall, what it lacks in story and characterisation though, it more than makes up for in stunning action, searing violence and a powerful critique of toxic masculinity.

Mark: 8 out of 11


TERRIFIER (2016) – DIRECTED BY DAMIEN LEONE

I saw this horror film appear in a post on the YouTube channel What Culture Horror. So, the story of a demented clown who never speaks and slashes people to death on Halloween definitely piqued my interest. It’s both extremely violent and low-budget, having been made for around $100,000. However, it is in fact impressively shot and edited for such a small amount of money. The gory effects are amazingly effective too, summoning up memories of 1980’s prosthetic film effects. There is no real subtext or thematic strength, but I was pretty tense and sickened throughout. Moreover, the clown called Art is a memorably monstrous creation. He kills without reason and purely for his own entertainment. Nihilistic in tone, the director sure knows his horror and delights in presenting many sick ways of murdering his characters. Thus, if you like disembowelling, strangulation, burning, beheading and other gruesome movie deaths then, Terrifier (2016), is worth watching from behind the safety of the sofa.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) / THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY (1981) – DIRECTED BY LUCIO FULCI

Filmmaker, Lucio Fulci, is often found lurking in the shadow of Italian horror filmmakers such as Mario Bava and Dario Argento, however, he truly knows how to frighten and sicken the life out of an audience. So much so he has been given the nickname, ‘Godfather of Gore’. As well as directing many films, notably, Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979) and The New York Ripper (1982), he is infamous for his “Gates of Hell” trilogy which included: City of the Living Dead (1980), The House By the Cemetery (1981) and The Beyond (1981). I re-watched the first two recently and while not as terrifying as when I saw them in the past, they still have the power to shock. While lacking coherent plots, containing pretty bad acting and some chronically dreadful dubbing in places, paradoxically Fulci’s films can arguably be considered surreal horror classics. They may not make any narrative sense, but his ability to create stunningly violent set-pieces is legendary. Memorable scenes include: the spewing of intestines, crawling maggots, hanging priests, drilled brains, chopped heads and monsters rising from basements and graves. Such imagery and dreaded moments — all set to a creepy synth soundtrack — make Fulci’s movies unsettling viewing experiences.

Mark: 7 out of 11


ISLAND OF DEATH (1976) – DIRECTED BY NICO MASTORAKIS

Not only is this one of the sickest films I have seen, it is also one of the most appalling I have sat through. Having said that, that is in fact what Greek director Mastorakis, based on what I’ve read, set out to do. The story, if you can call it that, focusses on a couple called Christopher (Robert Behling) and Celia (Jane Lyle) who go on a sex-driven-kill-crazy-honeymoon-rampage on the Greek island of Mykonos. If you can get past the couple having sex in a phone booth while telephoning his mother, and stomach Christopher raping a goat before killing it, then do watch the rest of this conveyor belt of pornographic sex and violence. By the end, I was stunned to silence at how sick the film was.

Mark: 1 out of 11


TETSUO – THE IRON MAN (1989) – DIRECTED BY SHINYA TSUKAMOTO

Lauded as a low-budget Japanese extreme body horror cult classic, Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), is either the work of a genius or a complete madman. Filmmaker, Shinya Tsukamoto, deserves so much praise for literally making most of the film in his own house and paying for it out of his own pocket. Yet, the thumping industrial soundtrack, jump-cutting-stop-motion style and story of metal invading the body, soul and mind of various characters was too f*cked-up, even for me. I know it gets mentioned as a work of genius, but it was frankly unwatchable. Thankfully, it’s only sixty-seven minutes of hell to get through.

Unmarked!

SIX OF THE BEST #25 – FILM PLOT-HOLES!

SIX OF THE BEST #25 – FILM PLOT-HOLES!

One of the main reasons I watch films is because I love a good story. I especially like working out the ins and outs of the plot lines too. So, it stands to reason that some films may have inconsistencies in their story or even plot holes. I would define a plot hole as a gap in the story which remains unexplained by the writer or writers. Sometimes these can spoil the film, but more often than not it can add to the enjoyment. They may in fact be known to the writers, however, they may have left it as an enigma for the audience to work out. Either that or the writers made a mistake or they could not be bothered to, or were unable to close the hole. In fact, they may be hoping we don’t notice or care.

There are so many films out there and I’m sure one could nitpick holes in most stories. Here I have picked out six of my favourites. I have chosen well known films so as to differentiate between good and just plain bad storytelling. Moreover, I have also omitted horror films where people just make stupid decisions. Likewise fantastical, surreal and dream logic narratives are avoided. Lastly, the major Marvel franchise plot hole is skimmed. You know the narrative hole that occurs in the stand alone entries. E.g. in Spiderman: Far From Home (2019), if the world is being threatened why don’t the other Avengers help poor Peter Parker? Oh, they’re conveniently busy. . . hmmm. Anyway, here are six of the best plot holes I like. If you can think of more please let me know.

***CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS***



KING KONG (1933 / 1978 / 2005) – how did they get King Kong back to New York?

This question is not always one that is brought up as an obvious plot hole. However, think about it. Kong is captured on Skull Island, but is suddenly revealed in New York. How did they manage to find a boat big enough to carry him to America? And what if he woke up? He would destroy any ship carrying him with a yawn and stretch. Plus, because we do not SEE him being transported a massive hole in the narrative occurs.


How King Kong quadrupled in size since 1933

HALLOWEEN (1978) – who taught Michael Myers how to drive?

It chills the bones when Donald Pleasance’s Dr Samuel Loomis finds on a dark evening on October 30th, the day before Halloween, his most feared patient, Michael Myers has escaped from a maximum security facility. Myers has stolen a car and sped off into the night. The big question is, given Michael was six when he committed the murder, how the hell did he learn to drive? Obviously given Myers is a manifestation of pure evil, he somehow mastered driving through psychic force.



STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (1979) – the V’Ger probe would be coded as Voyager!

Talking of William Shatner masks, Star Trek is a wonderful science fiction television series and film franchise. It’s loved by many and given the numerous narratives involving time travel and alien species there are no doubt more plot holes in there. I mean the number of aliens who talk English and look human is quite something. However, in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), there is a major plot hole involving the “V-Ger” probe. Indeed, the entire twist of the plot centers around “V-Ger” actually being “Voyager,” as demonstrated by the corroded name plate on the probe. It seems weird though that nowhere in its programming (or anywhere else) did Voyager have its name recorded. It would be like if a label of a computer, say “Dell”, had the “D” covered up, the boot-up screen would not read, “ell” during post, it would still read, “Dell”! Thus, the plot hole is entirely illogical, Captain.



THE TERMINATOR (1984) – why not just destroy the time machine and stop Kyle Reese going back?

There are loads of plot queries in James Cameron’s classic sci-fi thriller. The one I like the most is more paradoxical than plot hole, but similarly this illustrates flaws in Skynet’s overall plan. Given Skynet and The Terminator have detailed files on everyone, why didn’t they know Kyle Reese was John Connor’s father? If so, just destroy the time machine to stop him going back. If killing Sarah Connor in the past stops John from ever being born, perhaps killing Kyle or stopping him time travelling would have the same effect.


SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION (1994) – when Andy escapes, how does he put the poster back so perfectly?

This is one plot hole I love and is in fact, given Andy Dufresne’s incredible struggle to escape, one you can certainly understand. I mean, thematically speaking, Andy is coded as a spiritual Christ-like figure throughout the film. It’s very subtle, but it is there. Thus, perhaps, he had some divine intervention during his escape. He definitely earned it. Lastly, I also love that it is literally a plot hole and Andy escaped right through it.



SIGNS (2002) – why did the Aliens raid a water-based planet when it hurt them?

While the director has had his fair share of critics, I generally enjoy most of his early films and some of the more recent ones. Signs (2002) is a fantastic sci-fi thriller with themes of faith, family and alien incursion. The major hole is the aliens have to be incredibly stupid to want to invade a planet that is 70% their biggest weakness. However, as some have pointed out, it wasn’t an invasion, but a raid to get some people. However, given people are made up of water and water is in Earth’s atmosphere, perhaps Shyamalan should have made their weakness alcohol or even actual acid. Still a very entertaining film though.



AMAZON PRIME REVIEWS FEATURING: THE BOYS (S1), THE EXPANSE (S1) and PREACHER (S1)

REVIEWS OF THE BOYS (2019), THE EXPANSE (2016) & PREACHER (2016)

So, we are now a few weeks into the lockdown scenario caused by the COVID-19 virus and I have been off work for around that amount of time too. Tragically people are dying, and we owe it to be responsible by continuing to follow the rules laid down that will prevent the spread of the infection. It’s tough for everyone including families, employees and businesses. The capitalist system has taken a massive hit, and some will not survive in terms of life and work. I am not a religious person, but I pray to everyone’s God, whoever that may be, society comes through this. We are digging tunnels, looking for light and an escape. It cannot come soon enough.

In terms of escape it has never been easier to find both the time and formats with which to fill the gap. Thankfully the internet is still up and running, thus I have been filling my time in — aside from some minor administrative work-from-home stuff — writing my film reviews, editing and posting short videos, exercising and watching quite a lot of television and film content. Anything to stop me from becoming a beer monster or functioning alcoholic – AGAIN! The latest focussed viewing has been of Amazon Prime, and the many boxsets they have. So, here are mini reviews of three shows I have seen recently. All with the usual marks out of eleven.

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



THE BOYS (2019) – SEASON 1 – PRIME VIDEO

Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, this violent superhero comedy is the complete antithesis of the Marvel Universe. Taking savage satirical swipes at huge corporations and United States foreign policy, it features a group of vigilantes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) called ‘The Boys.’ For a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned revenge, they have targeted the most powerful business in the world, Vought International. Vought control and monetize ‘The Seven’, a group of all-powerful superheroes who happen to mostly be narcissistic, unstable and psychotic arseholes.

The initial episodes started slowly for me and I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters. This could simply be superhero fatigue or certain weaknesses in the writing throughout. However, the spikes of tremendous action, vicious humour and spectacular violence kept me on board. Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr impress as the nefarious villains, while Erin Moriarty shone as the one decent superhero, Starlight. The least said about the shockingly bad English accent Karl Urban delivers the better. I mean his acting is impressive, but mate – come on!!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



THE EXPANSE (2015) – SEASON 1 – SYFY/AMAZON PRIME

Usually when I see something is on the Syfy channel I baulk slightly. I mean the shows are pretty decent as a rule, but some right old fantasy schlock can get dumped there. So, with a saturated streaming market offering a plethora of U.S. cable shows, sometimes the Syfy channel shows get short shrift. It’s a shame because The Expanse is a really good science-fiction programme which began airing on Syfy, but is now on Amazon Prime. The sci-fi show hangs tonally between Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Philip K. Dick-style “Mars v Terra” stories I have read. Indeed, while it doesn’t contain actual aliens or Dick’s surreal explorations of the psyche, it is, in fact, a fantastically plotted and styled industrial, political and humanistic set of narratives.

Based on James S. A. Corey’s (a pseudonym I believe for two writers), The Expanse (Season 1), is set hundreds of years into the Earth’s future and space has been colonized. But it’s not a utopia. Mars, Earth and an outer-planetary system of space stations called ‘The Belt’ are all conflicted on the brink of civil or galactic war. The multiple narratives follow the likes of the always-excellent, Thomas Jane, as a grizzled cop investigating a missing person and a space freighter gang led by Stephen Strait. The latter’s crew go from episode to episode finding life-threatening situations throughout. It’s a space-rock solid production full of twists, action and conspiracies; retaining a cynical, noir and unglamorous edge which makes me want to watch further seasons.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



PREACHER (2016) – SEASON 1 – AMC/AMAZON PRIME

Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad writer, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven and hell is based on a comic book by Garth Ennis (that man again) and Steve Dillon. Starring the very reliable Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, we find him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.

Like The Boys, I initially found Preacher a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful, however, Cooper is great, and he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking ex-girlfriend, Tulip. Moreover, English actor Joseph Gilgun steals the show as the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves steadily, with arguably too many secondary characters, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends most religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then Preacher is definitely one to pray to the lords of television for.

Mark: 8 out of 11 (but 10 out of 11 for the gore)

TWO CHARACTERS ON THE EDGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN – FILM REVIEW DOUBLE BILL – HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018)

HORSE GIRL (2020) + THUNDER ROAD (2018) FILM REVIEWS

Having seen both these fascinating character studies, Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) recently, I was compelled to write a double bill review because similarly they feature: lower budgeted production values, a singularly powerful lead acting performance, characters who have recently lost their mothers, very uncomfortable emotionally charged scenes; as well as both exploring themes relating to mental illness. Thus, I thought it interesting to review the films with these elements in mind.

In regard to mental health, it is quite rightly being addressed more and more in society in a respectful manner. The barriers and prejudices of the past are being eroded and people are talking about it more openly. I have first-hand family experience of someone who has suffered with mental illness. Plus, I have experienced the loss of a close friend to suicide due to debilitating anxiety and have other friends on anti-depressants. I have tried to be of assistance to those people, but it is incredibly difficult to help anyone. Likewise, medical professionals seek various ways of attempting to assist, treat and counsel individuals with mental health problems.

Ultimately, it so tough to deal with such illnesses as they are powerful and invisible. I have utmost empathy for anyone suffering from anxiety, depression and serious mental health problems. It’s such a shame that I feel kind of helpless when it comes to helping people I am close to. It is not always enough to listen and understand, thus professional medical help should be sought and sometimes even that is not enough. It is not surprising therefore that cinema is also exploring such stories and themes.

With Joker (2019), mental illness was examined in a comic book genre setting in a powerful way for me. Some critics felt it trivialised mental illness. I felt that it was, while stylised and theatrical, actually accurate in the disturbing disintegration of Arthur Fleck’s downward mental spiral. Horse Girl (2020) and Thunder Road (2018) are two very different films in terms of genre, but with similar thematic trajectories as Joker (2019). Indeed, while they are independently produced and smaller in scale, they feature two frightening renditions of characters on the verge of a mental breakdown.

***THESE REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS***



HORSE GIRL (2020)

Directed by: Jeff Baena

Written by: Jeff Baena and Alison Brie

Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, John Ortiz etc.

Depicting mental illness accurately is a very tricky thing on film in my view. Obviously, we have over the years had all manner of psychotics and mad people chasing and killing others in horror films and thrillers. There have also been many films centred around characters in mental institutions. Some are respectful examinations, but many more could be seen as exploitation films. Horse Girl (2020) is not exploitational, but rather an oddity that falls somewhere between the gaps of arthouse drama and weird character study. Such films are difficult to assess as, however impressive the technical aspects of the production are, the strange events of the film could alienate an audience in terms of entertainment.

Despite Alison Brie’s exceptionally brave performance as Sarah, the narrative consistently disengages you emotionally, taking you to very dark and weird places. Sometimes you have to wonder whether the actor is holidaying in weirdness for the sake of it, or is genuinely drawn to characters who exist with mental issues. Given Brie is an intelligent and highly talented actor, plus she co-wrote the script, you cannot help but feel this is a very personal project. Her portrayal of a shy loner dealing with the suicide of her mother, sleepwalking, day delusions, fragmented time loss and nightmares makes Horse Girl (2020) a disorientating experience. However, in conveying the chaos and frightening nature of mental illness, the film is commendable but tough to recommend.

Mark: 7 out of 11



Thunder Road Jim Cummings

THUNDER ROAD (2018)

Written and directed by: Jim Cummings

Cast: Jim Cummings, Kendal Farr, Nican Robinson, Macon Blair etc.

Talking of films that are difficult to recommend, Jim Cummings self-produced, written, directed and acted film Thunder Road (2018) is another. Rather than giving us, like Horse Girl (2020), an unreliable narrator and escalating series of surreal events seemingly separated from reality, Cummings film deliver very real feelings of embarrassment and anxiety to the audience. Advertised on certain film sites as a comedy-drama, neither the comedy nor drama are conventionally enacted. The film is based around a series of hysterical monologues and stream of consciousness dialogues from Cummings grieving and soon-to-be-divorced troubled cop, Jim Arnaud.

Arnaud’s mental issue is not psychosis, but rather a circumstantial and emotional nervous breakdown precipitated by grief and a personality disorder. The opening scene at a funeral for Arnaud’s mother, is a case in point. Based on his original short film of the same name, Cummings produces a tour-de-force acting exercise in both awkward comedy and distanciation. Subsequently, the film’s narrative events find Arnaud attempting to be a good father, friend and police officer, however, he is constantly on the edge of an angry outburst or outpouring of emotional honesty. His character makes us empathise as he is in grief, but at the same time he’s very difficult to like due to his extreme reactions. Ultimately, as a low budget feature for Jim Cummings acting abilities, Thunder Road (2018) is a compelling character study. However, it’s tough to watch and the slightly misogynistic ending left a sour taste in what was a fascinating emotional exploration of grief and mental instability.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11



MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #1 – SARAH CONNOR

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #1 – SARAH CONNOR



**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


Having briefly explored what makes up film character personas in this article here, I thought it would be fun to start a new feature which looks at memorable film characters. So, with Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) in the cinema, I wanted to look at one of the greatest character narrative arcs ever in my opinion. When I say character arc, I am talking of the transformation of a character throughout a film or films. Because for me, the arc of Sarah Connor is absolutely brilliant.

I haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as for me, the Terminator franchise is a spent force narratively speaking. I’m sure it’s a great spectacle, but I am more interested in speaking about James Cameron’s first two genre masterpieces. I am specifically intrigued by Sarah Connor movement from timid waitress to hardcore rebel fighter. Thus, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke’s turns as the character are ignored here.



The genius of James Cameron’s original film The Terminator (1984) is how it is both simple and complex at the same time. It takes time travel tropes, which while very familiar today, were extremely fresh and exciting back in the 1980s. Mashing up ideas from literary science fiction, Star Trek , The Twilight Zone and films like Westworld (1973), Cameron gave us one of the greatest bad guys and heroines ever committed to film. Plus, he did it all on a $7 million budget!!

At the heart of the sci-fi, war and thriller genres is an intriguing character study and even a love story. The Terminator (1984) introduces Sarah Connor as a waitress who is having a bad day. It’s about to get worse. She has been murdered and it’s on TV. Well, it’s not her, but someone with the same name as her. Very quickly she is confronted by a man from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), claiming she is the mother of the person who will be a future saviour. How do you process THAT?!? Mind blown!!



Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor then find themselves pursued by a futuristic cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger), hell bent on her destruction. Here she learns more and more about the future and how machines will take control, but her son, John, will lead the resistance. Thus, over the course of the film, as Sarah learns about her fate, the audience learns too. Sarah begins as a conduit and passive, before transforming slowly into an aggressive and battle-hardened fighter.

When the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), come around we meet a whole different kind of Sarah Connor. She has transformed into a muscular and angry revolutionary. Not surprisingly, her narratives about future robots and the apocalypse find her sectioned. But, we know she is telling the truth. Moreover, due to her toughness, guile and resourcefulness, she is now very capable. No four walls will hold Sarah Connor.

Finally, Linda Hamilton’s performance must be praised too. In the first film she is a small character, quiet, likeable and lacking confidence. Over the course of the two films her physical, mental and emotional transformation is very impressively rendered. Cameron’s writing and Hamilton’s commitment to the role make Sarah Connor a highly memorable film character for me.



I AM NETFLIX – UNOFFICIAL FILM FESTIVAL! REVIEWS OF: EL CAMINO (2019), PADDLETON (2019), WILDLIFE (2019) and many, many more. . .

I AM NETFLIX – UNOFFICIAL FILM FESTIVAL!

I am still perplexed how the Netflix business model works, however, the amount of viewing I get for my subscription fee is quite incredible. In the last month or so I have squeezed even more value out of it too.

Having caught up with some Amazon, Netflix and Sky television shows of late, I realised I had missed a number of film releases on Netflix. I have since rectified that by watching loads of them in an unofficial Netflix Film Festival.

So, here are some quick-fire reviews of newer film releases, ones I missed on initial cinema release and some re-watches too. All are marked out of eleven and organised in order of enjoyment.

**SPOILER FREE**



HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

BLACK 47 (2018)

Excellent chase thriller set in Ireland during the famine of the 1840s. Like Rambo meets Irish historical drama, it was both gritty and compelling throughout. Mark: 8 out of 11


BLINDSPOTTING (2018)

This excellent urban comedy-drama impresses with humour, poetry and adroit social commentary. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal excel as friends trying to steer clear of the law – Mark: 8 out of 11


COLOSSAL (2016)

This quarter-life crisis drama meets monster movie is tonally uneven, but full of fantastic ideas. Anne Hathaway is great as the party person trying to get her shit together! Mark: 9 out of 11


EL CAMINO (2019)

Did you ever wonder what happened to Jesse Pinkmon (Aaron Paul) after Breaking Bad finished? I didn’t. But this neo-Western fills in the gaps in an entertaining and solid fashion. Mark: 8 out of 11


THE GUILTY (2018)

Danish thriller findsan emergency call handler (Jacob Cedergren), striving to save a woman’s life. Tense, claustrophobic and full of twists, it’s low budget but high in suspense. Mark: 9 out of 11


PADDLETON (2019)

Starring the affable Mark Duplass and the brilliant Ray Romano, this low-key story of friendship is both funny and moving in equal measures. Mark: 8.5 out of 11



PRETTY GOOD!

AT ETERNITY’S GATE (2018)

Pretentious, elegant and beautifully told story of the last days of Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) Mark: 7 out of 11


BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE (2019)

Sporadically hilarious talk show parody, with Zach Galifianakis asking dumb questions to a host of celebrities. Mark: 7.5 out of 11


I AM MOTHER (2019)

Almost brilliant science fiction film, full of great concepts and visuals. It’s let down by a very confusing ending. Mark: 7 out of 11


IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019)

Very effective mixture of sci-fi and B-movie thriller genres, finds Boyd Holbrook’s cop chasing a serial killer. Mark: 7.5 out of 11


WILDLIFE (2018)

Interesting portrait of a dysfunctional 1960s U.S. family. The acting is great but the story rarely catches fire. Mark: 7 out of 11



NOT TOO BAD!

ADRIFT (2018)

Love, disaster and survival set on a yacht – Mark: 6 out of 11


A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE (2018)

Amusing look at the history of satirical magazine, National Lampoon – Mark: 6.5 out of 11


CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)

Hit and miss historical satire about the war in Afghanistan. Mark: 6 out of 11


HUNTER KILLER (2018)

Efficient Cold War B-movie with dodgy plotting, but decent action set-pieces – Mark: 6 out of 11



KILL THE MESSENGER (2014)

Interesting but undramatic profile of a journalist who uncovers a US Government conspiracy. Mark: 6 out of 11


MURDER MYSTERY (2019)

The cast get a luxury holiday as the audience get a frothy and silly Agatha Christie knock-off! Mark: 6 out of 11


RATTLESNAKE (2019)

Entertaining and tense, race-against-time thriller which finds a mother with an unenviable dilemma. Mark: 6.5 out of 11


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THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT (2018)

Sam Elliott excels in this weird, slow-moving drama, which in no way lives up to the fantastic title. Mark: 5.5 out of 11


THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019)

Great cast and worthy narrative cannot save this political thriller from falling short by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11


SHAFT (2019)

Samuel L. Jackson acting talent cannot quite save another reboot of the classic 1970’s private investigator. Mark: 5.5 out of 11



AVOID!

HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)

Gross out puppet comedy which is horrific in every way! Mark: 2 out of 11


IN THE TALL GRASS (2019)

Decent horror story, ultimately gets lost in the weeds! Mark: 4 out of 11


SUBURBICON (2017)

Two narratives fail to gel in this 1950’s set misfire! Mark: 4 out of 11


ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Directors: Tom Harper, Shane Meadows

Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having watched Shane Meadows classic British film, This is England (2006), again of late – review can be found here – I thought it would be fascinating to catch up with the subsequent television series via ALL 4. Thus, Meadows and co-writer, Jack Thorne re-introduce the gritty lives of beloved and some not-so-beloved working-class characters, within the satanic Midland mills of England.

I would strongly advise, if interested in watching this drama, you begin with the film first. That way you can familiarise and experience the events and characters of the show in the correct order. Indeed, this classic series works best when you watch the film and subsequent series, This is England ’88 (2011) and This is England ’90 (2014) as a continuous whole. That way you get the full power of Shane Meadow’s vision for the characters and the period it is set.

The series for me is an engrossing mix of nostalgia, comedy, drama and socio-political exploration. Opening some three years after the original film, we re-join the “gang” going about their lives attempting to breach the difficult gap between youth and adulthood. After the tragic events of 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) has lost contact with the group but over the course of the four episodes he integrates back in. The others are either unemployed or in Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) case employed and attempting some form of upward mobility. Moreover, Lol/Lorraine (Vicky McClure) and Woody are planning to get married. However, the return of Lol’s father (Johnny Harris) brings back painful memories for her and his presence gives the series the villain of the piece.

The structure of the series echoes that of the film. We start with mostly lighter episodes containing a comedic flavour. The seeds of drama, such as Woody backing out of the wedding at the altar, are planted early on. Nonetheless, the early episodes contain some really funny scenes. These include Shaun’s run-in with the local bullies and a party which gets completely out of hand too. There’s much in the way of bawdy and sexual humour, especially when Gadget is used as a sex toy by local divorcee, Trudy. These scenes make us feel safe and warm, yet we know that trouble isn’t far away for the characters.

Once again, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of eras with a classic collection of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock, ska, punk and pop music. Similarly, the fashion of the characters is a postmodern melange of punk, mod and new wave looks. Politics and sport are also thrown into the mix with the 1986 “Hand of God” World Cup dominating the backdrop of the series.

As the characters and era are established and some laughs have been mined, the drama really kicks in. Lol and Woody’s relationship breakdown causes her to make some poor decisions, as she capitulates in the stress of her father’s return. Vicky McClure is fantastic as Lol. You can feel the trauma in her whole being during the scenes with Johnny Harris’ evil patriarch. The culmination of their conflict is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever witnessed on a television screen.

Overall, This is England ’86 is full of complex emotions, humour and drama. There’s a real honesty to the characters who are just trying to live their lives in the Midlands, despite all the disadvantages it brings. Ultimately, they are striving to be decent but find their loyalties tested by friends, family and their lack of opportunities. Amidst the humour and camaraderie of the series we get some brutal and unforgettable moments of drama which remain long after the credits have rolled. The politicians of Westminster may not care and want to forget about such lives, but Shane Meadows won’t let us forget, delivering a powerful character chorus of laughter, tears and togetherness.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11