I love a good aquatic set horror movie, whether the events take place down below in the depth in a submarine or on the surface in a boat. Neasa Hardiman’s Sea Fever is a solid offering that features a bit of both of these worlds, set aboard a trawler somewhere off the Irish coast that encounters something previously undiscovered in the animal kingdom. Captained by a veteran couple (Dougray Scott & Connie Nielsen, always welcome in my book), the boat soon finds itself marooned way out in open water as some massive, otherworldly creature attaches itself to their hull with with powerful phosphorescent tentacles and holds them in stasis. It’s up to a loner marine biology major (Hermione Corfield) to try and discover the nature of this animal and how to get it off their craft, but soon it becomes clear that this thing has a terrifying way of reproduction that involves tiny spores ending up in human anatomy systems after which some truly shocking body horror commences. The scenes of horror are bloody, frantic and genuinely disturbing but they’re juxtaposed with an ethereal beauty and reverence for this creature, and the power that nature has over us as a species. One character even observes that this animal isn’t malicious or evil but simply mistook their boat for another large animal and did what is in its nature: attempt to feed and reproduce. There’s a compassion there in the scriptwriting that you don’t often have in these types of horror films, and it gives it a different aura overall. We never truly see the creature in its entirety but the luminous encroaching limbs emanating ghostly blue light from the deep and the vague suggestion of a vast body mass below it are incredibly haunting, almost profound images that linger with you. If you’re a fan of aquatic horror in the vein of things like The Abyss, DeepStar 6, Leviathan and The Rift you’ll get a kick out of this. It’s restrained yet scary, brutal yet lyrical and does a great job at evoking atmosphere.
Nobody is a nice riff on the one man army revenge shtick and is not only in the tradition of John Wick, it’s also written by one half of the same creative forces behind it so it sorta has that feel, albeit of a more… suburban dad variety. Bob Odenkirk is a left field choice for the ‘invincible ex-spook’ archetype and while I had my doubts that his physicality could pull off some of the stuff I saw here, he no doubt has the grit and charisma in spades to inhabit this intense role. He’s Hutch, an unassuming family man whose wife (nice to see Connie Nielsen) and kids don’t seem to think much of him, especially after he appears to be totally ineffective at defending them from violent home invaders one night. It turns out this random blue collar family man is an ex government assassination guru and pretty soon that one encounter with burglars leads to an ongoing, cataclysmic feud with the Russian mob, spearheaded by a sociopathic (or soviet-pathic?) piece of work named Julian, played by Aleksey Serebryakov in an impressively rambunctious portrait of pure unfiltered evil, like a Slav kingpin version of the joker or something. The action here is wonderfully choreographed, relentlessly brutal and crisply filmed, especially a bone smashing close quarters fight on a public transit bus that kicks off the central conflict. The great Christopher Lloyd has a nice bit as Hutch’s dad, a veteran living in a rest home who proves he isn’t quite out for the count yet and gets some great kills in alongside his son, and we also get RZA as a former colleague who steps in for some action too. Unfortunately the film chose to include the always awesome Michael Ironside but inexplicably decided to cast him in a wholly inconsequential sideline role that has nothing to do with the plot overall and could have been played by any Joe Nobody, an ill advised casting choice that would have caused me to remove a star from the rating if I were doing that star thing. Don’t hire Michael Ironside unless it’s a memorable, badass, worthy role, it’s just common sense. Anywho, it’s a solid flick, great villain, superb action and while I may not be onboard with the hype as much as some I’ve seen, I still had a good time. I will give it extra credit for one of the most gruesome, satisfying, laugh out loud villain deaths I’ve seen in action cinema.
Remember that movie Dead Calm where creepy Billy Zane terrorized Nicole Kidman and hubby Sam Neill on the high seas? Well, picture that with a wayyy cheaper budget and starring Rutger Hauer, Eric Roberts and Karen Allen instead and you’ll have some idea of John Mackenzie’s Voyage, a cheap little B grade thriller that benefits from a cast who deserved a better script and some gorgeous, atmospheric Mediterranean locations. Hauer and Allen are a wealthy couple fighting their way through a crumbling marriage who sail towards a dilapidated Monte Carlo mansion they wish to restore over the summer. Soon they run into a young hotshot (Roberts) and his sexy wife (Connie Nielsen), invite them aboard and continue through the sun and surf as a quartet. It’s always a bad move to trust strangers though, especially if one of them is Eric Roberts and that mile wide, winning yet somehow sinister smile of his. Soon it becomes apparent that these two kids aren’t who they say they are and clearly have intentions beyond hanging out on the boat and having drinks. Mackenzie is an accomplished director, having made notable impacts with The Long Good Friday and The Fourth Protocol, among others. Roberts and Hauer are legendary badasses of cinema but also notorious for appearing in shit films. They hold their own and give awesome turns here though, as do the two ladies, but it’s in script and execution that this thing falters. It should be full of tension and uncomfortable suspense, and unfortunately the tank is only partly full, and it ultimately fails to deliver as an effective thriller. Still, worth it for the four leading actors who are all consistently reliable performers, as well as the beautiful Mediterranean ambience to soak up. Just don’t expect to be excited or kept on edge all that much.
Harold Ramis’s The Ice Harvest is one of my favourite Christmas films and completely overlooked for the dry, sardonic black comedy gold that it is. It’s one of those dour, gloomy Christmas films where not only do things not go the protagonist’s way, but pretty much spiral out of control for everyone else too and the festive setting serves as an ironic lacing to the wry, nihilistic and comically violent story. John Cusack is laconic boozehound mob lawyer Charlie, who has just embezzled his gangster boss for a couple million, with the help of his scheming guttersnipe of a partner Vic (Billy Bob Thornton at his utmost sleaziest). That’s the jumping point for a deliciously warped, noirish descent into deranged family values, deadpan interactions, double crosses and drunken shenanigans, and really is there any other way to spend Christmas Eve? There’s a femme fatale in stripper Renata (Connie Nielsen, rawr), the specifics of whose loyalties remains gleefully ambiguous until later on, a titty bar bouncer (Ned Bellamy) with serious anger issues, a nasty thug (Mike Starr) dispatched to kill them and the vengeful big city kingpin who has been swindled, played by a blustery, cheerfully psychotic Randy Quaid. Speaking of scene stealing, Oliver Platt does an encore as Charlie’s best friend who is now married to his bitch of an ex wife, the impromptu Christmas dinner scene the entire family shares is some kind of fucking demented, mean spirited comedic genius (“Turkey Lurkey!”). It’s interesting because there is not one single redeemable character in the film, they’re all a bunch of conning, backstabbing, murdering, ill adjusted, jaded criminals and severe alcoholics, especially Cusack, who downs enough bourbon throughout the whole night that it’s a wonder he can stand up for the third act. But somehow… somehow there’s a strange likability to these poor souls, trapped in a perpetually snowy Wichita Kansas trying to outsmart, outgun and out-drink each other. Morality rears it’s head but once among the gunplay and verbal sparring, when Charlie imparts a parable to Platt regarding his two uncles, one of whom was a standup guy and died early and the other a scumbag that lived a long life. His point being that it doesn’t matter what we do in the service of morality because it could all end tomorrow, nothing even matters so why waste time trying to be good and get off the naughty list? I enjoy that cheeky justification, and what better time for it than Christmas? A classic for me.
John McTiernan’s Basic is a film that commits the cardinal sin of cheating its audience with an obnoxious, horrendous twist ending that it neither earns nor properly makes sense of. It’s a real crying shame too, because the film up until then is a hell of a lot of fun and has a rambunctious John Travolta performance that could shake the cobwebs loose from a barn. When a near mythic drill instructor (a volcanic Samuel L. Jackson) with some terrifying over-the-line tactics disappears along with some of his cadets on a routine training exercise deep in the jungles of Panama, Travolta’s rowdy DEA Agent is called in to investigate. Why a DEA agent, you ask? Well, it being Panama one might assume that any controversy anywhere could be drug related, but the film states that it’s because no one is as skilled at interrogation than him. That proves to be true, as he slowly, cleverly speaks with the remaining trainees and starts to piece together a cluttered version of events from each one. They are played by the reliable likes of Dash Mihok, Taye Diggs, Giovanni Ribisi, Brian Van Holt and Harry Connick Jr., and as such many of the scenes are quite engaging. It doesn’t hurt that Connie Nielsen is good too as Travolta’s anal retentive, by the book partner. The film oscillates through various scenarios, teasing us with which mystery might be real, and when it comes time to whisk the curtains back and land the pirouette of a reasonable final act… it just… shits itself and completely ruins not only everything that came before, but the entire film, which is really too bad. At first I thought I was just too stoned to get what happened the first time years ago, but I’ve since rewatched it a few more times and… nope. It’s illogical, unwarranted horse shit that doesn’t work any way you spin it. I would have honestly preferred the central mystery to never even get solved over the half assed resolution they cooked up. Roger Ebert pointed out that this film deserves to be in a genre he calls the ‘Jerk Around Movie,’ and I agree. It shamefully wastes the viewer’s time with an ending that’s both insulting to the efforts of the actors who really worked hard here, betrays it’s own narrative to the grave. Bleh.
William Friedkin’s The Hunted is the kind of blunt, ruggedly visceral, artery slicing action picture we should be seeing more of in modern times. Where in other films there’s car chases, shootouts and the man to man violence is impossibly elaborate, Friedkin goes primal here, with knife fights that cut to the basics of the human body and its movements, fight scenes that make us wince because we can feel each jab and tear, as the camera dives in close to give us a dose of intimate adrenaline. While the story is simple enough, there’s a haunted complexity to Benicio Del Toro as a highly trained ex marine who has lost his mind. Someone with that skill set is a dangerous person when they go off the rails, and soon this traumatized warrior is hunting people for sport in the Washington rainforest. The only one who can track and possibly stop him is his former Lieutenant and trainer, played with earnest frankness by Tommy Lee Jones. The flashback scenes of Del Toro’s training are very matter of fact, as Jones shows him, without emotion or bias, how to wound or kill another human being in the most efficient way possible. This has made him into a deadly weapon, but they never took his psyche into account, which has run amok. I love action films set in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest region (see Shoot To Kill with Tom Berenger, another great one) where I live, the scenery takes on a lush, mossy personality of it’s own here. The latter half of the film is purely just Jones hunting Del Toro through the Northern wilderness, each using their skills, setting booby traps, reading the terrain until the eventual bloody confrontation. When I say bloody, I mean just that ; Their knife fight is some of the best close quarters action I’ve ever seen, and will have you shielding your major organs as you watch them slice and slash. Friedkin here acts the same way Michael Mann operates with his gunfight sequences: they both understand that less is more with these types of set pieces, to not go overboard and throw all the cards in (John Woo does this, but with grace and style), but to let the action be realistic, impactful in it’s pacing and land with the real threat and consequences of violence instead of screaming overkill. If this film has come out in the 70’s or 80’s like the vibe it exudes, it would have had one of those beautifully hand drawn vintage posters. There should be a criterion edition or some sort of boutique release that revamps the artwork and provides the ultimate DVD package for this film, because it’s one of the finest action movies ever made.
David Mackenzie’s Perfect Sense is one of those films that is indeed almost near perfection, a totally unique viewing experience from frame to frame. It also happens to be one of the most depressing things you’ll ever sit through, so fair warning. The story unfolds in Glasgow, where some strange pandemic is causing people, all over the world, to slowly lose there sensory perception, one at a time and preceded by cursory symptoms like rage, hunger, grief or the like. Sounds like a neat setup for a streamlined post apocalyptic thriller right?
Not so much. Mackenzie is fascinated more by things like intimacy, pacing, thoughtful musical accents, haunting narration and how these underplayed qualities are influenced by the extreme nature of the theme. It’s also a fiercely passionate love story, but one that gets gradually bleaker, as each instrument in our bodies we use to show love for one another slowly dims and darkens, a harrowing thing to witness once we’re invested. A research scientist (Eva Green) and a chef (Ewan McGregor) meet, fall in love and are then faced with the dire adversity of the world’s situation. First everyone’s sense of smell disappears. Then taste. Hearing soon after. And so it goes. Their romance is already a tangled bramble bush thanks to both their collective issues, and once the epidemic enters the picture, things aren’t easy to deal with and don’t go well. McGregor’s sunny disposition contrasts the overcast,
dismal palette of the film, whilst Green and her seemingly never depleted stores of intensity are in full forecast, the two making an electric pair onscreen. I love how a story that’s so rooted in sci-fi and thriller elsewhere gets the quiet, contemplative romantic focus here, it’s a welcome change. This isn’t Hollywood territory though, and the epidemic is treated in the gravest way, without salvation via deus ex machina in sight, and I’ll warn you that the final scene will land with an anvil blow to your ol’ soul, it’s that bleak and disheartening. Couldn’t recommend it enough though, it’s a dose of pure brilliance on every perceivable level.
WONDER WOMAN is a rather terrific film. Yes, it follows the template of an origin story, and it is somewhat uninspired at times following that formula (first reel death, sacrificial death at the end of the film, “surprise” villain), but regardless of the generic template used, the film and its star propel forward creating a very engaging, entertaining, and invigorating film.
The constant comparisons to CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST AVENGER does have some slight merit, but it is a rather lazy comparison. Sure, both films revolve around a set piece pertaining to each World War, and sure it’s a ragtag crew of soldiers that support the hero in their take-down to essentially end the war; yet there is so much that separates the two.
The craftsmanship of WONDER WOMAN stands superior.
The cast of this film may be one of the best ensembles constructed for a comic book movie. Supporting Gal Gadot is Chris Pine (in probably his best performance to date), Connie Nielsen, Danny Huston, Ewan Bremner, Said Taghmaoui, David Thewlis, and a scene-stealing Robin Wright. All of these characters, regardless of screen time and/or limited development are giving a substantial amount to do and say, and casting each specific actor to their respective role immediately creates authenticity for that character.
Hans Zimmer’s theme for Wonder Woman, which made its debut in BvS, is perhaps the best piece of music that he has ever composed. When it cues itself up to Gadot kicking German ass in the film, it creates even more excitement for the viewer. The action pieces in this film are incredible.
Everyone deserves full credit for this picture. Gal Gadot completely owns the role while simultaneously propelling herself to a bonafide movie star. Director Patty Jenkins has become a rising star within Warner Brothers, and Zack Snyder deserves his due credit for discovering Gadot and creating the aesthetic that WW cultivates.
WONDER WOMAN didn’t save the DCEU, it was doing just fine before this film, but it certainly stopped a lot of the negative press. Though those who constantly fill their social media feeds with unapologetic bias and echo chamber nonsense will remain undisturbed. This film may not completely warrant the abundance of overwhelming and over the top accolades, it is a very fine picture, and don’t be surprised if this film has legs going into awards season.
Join Tim and Frank as they discuss WONDER WOMAN. They discuss the influences, the current state of the DCEU, where the WW franchise will go from here, and what this film means for the DCEU and the genre in general.
One Hour Photo is as stark and unnerving as the clinical, creepy photo negatives being developed in the darkroom of your local London Drugs, or whatever the equivalent is stateside. Back in the days before the social media boom, every single photographic memento passed through those hallowed halls, and through the hands of the hard working folks at the photo counter. One such person is Seymour Parrish (Robin Williams), a sweet, good natured guy with a subtle and growing offset in his personality. He loves his job, and finds solace and ritual in handling the precious memoirs of the masses, even getting to know many of them in a friendly manner. He takes a particular shine to the Yorkin family (Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan), gradually becoming obsessed with the life they have that he observes through the constant stream of photos he develops. Friendly soon turns to freaky as he becomes a bit too fascinated in them, and he finally takes up the mantle of disturbed stalker, digging up dirty secrets they have that he has no right to know about, and even less to interfere with. It’s a nightmare for any unsuspecting family to got through, but the real horror story is Seymour’s damaged psyche, set off by this idyllic lifestyle he watches from haunted eyes. Williams has the hard task of making him sympathetic, which he does, but we are only willing to give pity at arms reach; this is a scary, twisted man we see, with demons bottled up so tight he isn’t even aware they exist anymore, until they come crawling forth for a psychologically naked and raw final sequence that will leave you reeling. An unpleasent film in almost every way, bathed in an eerie sickness that matches the sheet white fluorescent glow of the store that is Seymour’s world, externally and in his tragic, broken mind. Bring a steady set of nerves and a strong stomach.