Lord help me, this is how you do filmmaking. I haven’t seen a SciFi horror this good since… who knows since when. Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor is a sensational, surreal, coldly animalistic, shockingly violent exercise in retro futurism, psychological netherworlds, jarring identity crises, lethal corporate espionage and unnerving body horror. Cronenberg, son of David, isn’t just a chip off the old block but outright surpasses most of his Pops’ work that I’ve seen with this stunningly original, unforgivingly oppressive piece. Andrea Riseborough gives a haunted, waif-like, primordial turn as Tasya Vos, a contract killer whose hunting ground is the mindscape, the price being she begins to lose her own mental footing amidst traversing that of others. She works for a shadowy firm run by spooky handler Girder, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh in another one off her increasingly unsettling, opaque turns. Tasya infiltrates the minds of chosen targets, takes over their cognition and motor function, using them as scapegoats to carry out high profile assassinations. Her newest target is a corporate pretty boy (Christopher Abbott) who is dating the daughter (Tuppence Middleton) of a powerful, mean spirited business magnate played by Sean Bean in some of the liveliest, boorish work I’ve seen from him in some time. This job proves difficult once Tasya’s mind begins to meld with her host’s, the lines blur and things get out of hand pretty quick. This is a punishingly violent film, and there’s a few genuine bury your face in someone’s shoulder moments, even for those with strong stomachs. Cronenberg flaunts the same fetishistic fixation on what practical effects can show in terms of physical decimation to the human body that run in the family, and the results of his creative exploration are nothing short of soul-disturbing. He also shows a flair for the surreal too, as you can see by the poster. There’s some otherworldly imagery, sound and tactility at play here that give this a nightmarish atmosphere that is pure and singular, thanks also given to a wonderful, elemental electronic score by Jim Williams. There are some themes that border on the taboo, or at least notions I’ve ever seen so bravely explored in horror, such as letting go of the familial/societal boundaries established in the modern world and reverting back to a predatory state of existence, I don’t know about you but that kinda makes my skin crawl in this context. I suppose my one issue would be that there are no characters to care about, the only one I felt sorry for was Tuppence Middleton’s unwitting girlfriend, her’s is the only performance with any warmth or genuine humanity in it. But I realize that’s kind of what Cronenberg & Co are going for here: this is a cold, pitiless piece of horror extremism that isn’t here to reinforce the core comforts of human nature, but rather to turn over every stone and dig up the long suppressed aspects of it that no one wants to admit are there. An arresting, darkly beautiful piece of trippy retro SciFi splatter bliss, and the best film of the year so far.
If Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond is beyond anything it’s the borders of good taste, for the most part anyways. This is a slimy, gooey, sleazy, schlocky piece of ooze that functions on an inherently terrific central premise, but drags it through the muck of lowbrow, lurid horror, and without apology. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just not what I was expecting I guess, or not to that level. Gordon totem Jeffrey Combs plays a twitchy lab assistant whose piece of work boss (Ted Sorel) has patented a weird machine called the ‘resonator’ which uses psychic vibrations to enlarge the human pineal gland and open the doors of perception to whatever horrific beings lurk out there in other dimensions, which in this case is not as many as I’d hoped. A seemingly idealistic yet surprisingly corruptible psychologist (Barbara Crampton) and a cavalier police detective (the great Ken Foree) escort traumatized Combs back into the house where these experiments previously went berserk and wouldn’t you know it, someone pulls a whoopsie, turns the resonator thingie back on and it all goes berserk again! Thing is, I was expecting an impressive variety of ghoulies, icky aberrations and Lovecraftian hoo-hah to emerge and terrorize them, and the only thing that really does is a severely malformed new version of Combs’s boss, as you can see on the charming poster in my photo grid. He’s an admirably gross special effect, but where’s the variety, man? Where’s the whole zoo of disgusting unholy fuckers to rival something like… Carpenter’s In The Mouth Of Madness? Maybe this thing had budget constraints, lack of creative juices or what-have-ya, but I just felt like there could have been… more, given such a delicious setup. Also, there’s some trashy bits that were unnecessary, a weird, awkward S&M freak show vibe that didn’t need to be shoehorned in and take it from someone who appreciates the uber-kinky aura in something like Hellraiser (where it was appropriate) when I tell you… it was not necessary here, it cheapens and dilutes the potential for true otherworldly horror. By the film’s climax we get several folks running amok with their sentient pineal glands protruding from their foreheads like glistening head-penises and it lands squarely in WTF-ville. Anyways there’s scenes that are ok, with the neat 80’s effects, score and aesthetic, but something just feels… ‘off’ about this one. Like the freaky deaky aspects that are so much fun in other similar films just.. landed with a clunk here. I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but a film with such a cool concept just should have done more, and avoided being so trashy in certain key areas.
There have been many a cinematic sensation born out of heart, passion and YouTube.
I think back on films like Sandy Collora’s Batman: Dead End and David Sandberg’s Kung Fury. The doors that opened to these filmmakers responsible for bold and daring exercises in bringing everything they’ve ever wanted to see on the big screen to it…no holds barred!
Now another movie-making warrior has appeared on the horizon. His name, Stefan Chapovskiy with his 80s action opus, WAR GENE. The prospect of such a film receiving a grand treatment, particularly in this era of remakes and reboots, would be a welcome breath of fresh air on top of a blistering, high-octane, action roller-coaster that makes a strong claim to be a smorgasbord of everything that was right, good and true about the action cinema that flourished until Hollywood decided the way ahead would be to stick all of its action heroes in tights.
So, ever curious to shed light on the movers and the shakers in the indie cinema world, I reached out to Stefan, hoping to learn more about the man who kinda looks like Sly, while uncovering a man driven by his passionate need to create and being in possession of the same skill-set that made the man who shares his visage, astronomically successful and a Hollywood staple.
KH: Tell us a little bit about yourself?
SC: Well, I was born in USSR in 1977 (oh God, I feel like a dinosaur now, I mean that was a completely different era). My family lived modestly but mother always tried to give me all she had, first and foremost, a thirst for knowledge, for self-development. I learned to read rather early and liked to draw some characters and scenes from my favorite books. This gave a lot of good material for my imagination and sometimes I wrote my own stories. Later sport also came into my life : swimming, athletics, martial arts(mainly taekwondo) and finally, bodybuilding(I’d like to clarify, I’m 100% natural athlete and don’t use any pharmacologic drugs (anabolic steroids, HGH or something like this). Thus, even today, when I am who I am (former winner of California natural bodybuilding and fitness championships, personal trainer, founder/president of Natural Bodybuilding Federation in Russia, actor, writer, producer, director, world traveler, husband and father) – I work out and read books almost every day. But, as you have probably guessed, there was a third element of my becoming as a creator. I’m talking about movies.
KH: When did you fall in love with movies?
SC: It’s hard to say…I guess everyone, especially at a young age, loves movies. The question is, what kind of emotions do you prefer? For example, I remember my age when I liked a horror movies. But definitely, if we’re talking about «fall in love», my favorite genre is action. No matter, what mix( action + drama , action + adventure/sci-fi/historical/etc.). That’s what motivated me most of all. But if in my childhood, after seeing Spartacus(1960) or 7 Samurai(1954), I was making a swords and fought with the neighbor kids, after seeng Bruce Lee movies I started in martial arts. Finally, one day I saw the movie Rambo 2 and it is not an exaggeration to say that this day completely changed my life : from my start in bodybuilding and military service (for 2 years, so now I am a former sergeant), to film schools in Russia, St. Petersburg and later, USA, Los Angeles.
KH: Were like so many of the cinematic giants of our time and took to making films early?
SC: Actually, no, I made my first project pretty late, when I was 34. But for sure I always felt that desire to create, by any means : painting ( I’m pretty good at it), or writing, photography or music, posing and scene choreography…you know, my coming to film-making was just a matter of time. I’d say I accumulated those preconditions for years.
KH: After film school, tell us about your quest to get yourself and your vision to the big screen?
SC:In my case, film schools were not a determining factor, because I’ve been involved with the acting since my childhood. My mother and uncle had a theater education, so I’ve acted on stage during my school years. Later, since 2001, I started to play in movies but after several years of playing stereotype characters(gangsters or bodyguards, because of my emphasized bodybuilding image in those years), I realized that I want to progress further. As I said before, I started thinking about my own projects. And idea of the War Gene movie it’s something where I can embody all my best skills : as a writer, actor, director, concept-artist, etc. But most importantly, this project is the greatest opportunity to express my love, my passion to the 80’s action movies that created me.
KH: WAR GENE is an impressive exercise in genre mash-up…was that what it was always intended to be?
SC: Yes, that was a part of my strategy. The thing is, I wrote the War Gene synopsis a while ago, in 2017 and later, a full screenplay (actually I still re-writing some details but story line is completed). But after new experience during my visit to American Film Market, I realized that promo-trailer it’s a good way to show much more about your project and get some feed back faster. Moreover that is a perfect challenge for every aspiring director. Another temptation that finally convinced me to start the War Gene independent production was an understanding that I can, literally, go back to my favorite 80’s, but this time as a film character, not as a viewer. At the same time I expected that it will not be easy (even for experienced director) to reveal the all lines of War Gene story ( just imagine the elements : a war drama, psychological thriller, an action, sci-fi and adventure, several time lines : 1984 and the 60’s, Vietnam War – and all of this under the old school style cover, some sort of tribute to the 80’s epic movies. Add to that the necessity to meet several minutes length and very small budget, so …finally I decided to increase the duration. That’s why, as you can see now, War Gene has two different, in its structure, parts (except for an intro) – the first one looks more like a movie and the second is a classic trailer. According to my director’s vision, this way allows to immerse into the film atmosphere firstly, and then to see the all its genre diversity.
KH: Tell us about the film’s journey from your mind to the film the world can now see?
SC:Hmmm, it’s a long story… Well, I have to start with the main point – my initial motivation. As you can see from my previous answers, since my teenage years I was inspired by Hollywood action movie characters(as well as probably every guy of my generation). I have to say I grew up without a father but fortunately I found someone who has taken his place and became a role model for me for a long years.I’m talking about Sylvester Stallone and his characters, especially John Rambo. By a strange coincidence, when I got older, I started to look him, partly because of my gym workouts. When I came to USA I was surprised that many people told me about it. And for sure, I used it in my performances – as a bodybuilder, then as an actor on stage. Since 2010 I’ve been focused on idea to make a First Blood prequel, about the early years of John Rambo. I was lucky to meet Sly Stallone himself a few times, contacted to Millennium Films producers and even made(as director, producer and actor) a fan-art trailer Rambo 5 : The Beginning that reached over 7.5 million views on YouTube. Finally I was invited on the set of Rambo 5 that I consider some kind of the top of this story. But at that moment I realized that I can’t pursue that dream all my life…I became older and wiser. On the other hand I was (and still am) a “pure product” of the 80’s movies, its legacy. So I started to create my own project, using all my specific experience and skills. I wrote a new, original story and obtained copyright. Here is a log-line :
“1984, a team of rangers on a punitive expedition in Colombia jungle gets abducted by aliens. During the experiment, conducted on the space station, humans are forced to pass deadly tests, competing with warriors from other worlds. “
It was an idea to combine some typical elements of the 80’s action and sci-fi movies but in the new mix. So, in 2018 I started pre-production of the War Gene short movie. I did everything step by step and was learning on the fly. First of all, I calculated a film budget(going forward, I have to say I exceeded it on the stage of post-production because of visual effects). And I was lucky to get support from my old friend Paul from Florida with whom we have worked on the set of my fan-art project (Rambo 5 :The Beginning) in 2011. So, I made a storyboard, bought (and made) props and costumes, included some rare things like a real flak vest M69 used in Vietnam War. I assembled cast and crew, chose the locations and studio. And in March of 2019 we filmed it in Florida. It was really exciting for all of us, especially a night jungle scenes. I have to say, Gavin, our cinematographer, did a great job. But most of all I was pleased with that total old school atmosphere of military brotherhood…I’ll never forget it. During 2020 I did post-production in St. Peterburg, using a Russian VFX artists and young talented composer. We worked together long hours and Ruslan were listening all my ideas and music sketches(according to my vision, we tried to reconstruct some music styles of iconic film composers from the 80’s, especially Jerry Goldsmith and Basil Poledouris). As you can see, almost every scene, even very short, has its own music theme and the same time it’s in harmony with the next one. Such a brilliant job for that short independent film.
And a couple of words about an intro. Actually I have in mind just a one intro, inspired by typical for the 80’s dark opening scenes of sci-fi movies like The Thing(1982), Terminator(1984), Running Man (1987), Cyborg (1989), etc. I’d say the making of War Gene intro were the most difficult job, because we used the real (!) scorpion and mantis. By the way, for sure none of them were harmed( despite of the our movie where they both died – scorpion was “killed in action” by mantis and later mantis was crushed by my character, Sergeant Rabek, who suffering from insectophobia, due to the post traumatic stress disorder after his captivity in Vietnam camp in 1969. But finally, I added one more opening scene, from the beginning – I mean a real chronicle compilation from the different military conflicts of the second half of the 20th century (till 1984) : Vietnam, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Salvador, Lebanon, Rhodesia…I did it for more realistic atmosphere of the Cold War era when the our film takes place. And yes, I fully realized that the first intro(about 30 seconds of documentary)will scary off most of YouTube viewers…but, you know, at this level(short movie) it’s not about some profit…it’s about my director’s vision and creative expression.
KH: Like most indie filmmakers I have encountered, you haven’t let your limitations hamper the final product… Do you think ultimately, that is the key to success in the film industry, being bold?
SC:Success in the film industry…I’d say, success in your own soul much more important. It makes you HAPPY in your life, what could be better? Of course, to be a world-famous filmmaker it’s just great. But, by my opinion, you shouldn’t try to do it because of popularity or financial profit only. For 99% this direction will makes you dissapointed. But if you do it according to your soul, your passion, your creative ambitions – I salute you, this is a way to the happy life. Not for everyone, but for “creators” – it’s undoubtedly.
KH: The scale of your canvas and your ingenuity have seen WAR GENE explode as an inspired beginning to a larger work…is that the trajectory, or do you plan further, smaller films to further develop your craft?
SC:War Gene project is something I have to develop nearest years. My main goal now is to find a suitable production film company and make a feature film. Even 3 years ago, at the American Film Market 2017, during my first presentation of War Gene (at that time as a short synopsis and several concept arts), I attracted interest of several independent film companies. But I took a pause because I’d like to get the larger scale and worthy budget for this movie. Now I have a screenplay and short promo movie/trailer, so we’ll see…I say more, I already have a synopsis of War Gene 2, in case of success with the first part. Thereby, my nearest years is going to be very interesting and productive, I believe. The same time I admit some probability to make a couple of new short movies in War Gene cinematic universe – like I said I have a lot of material as a creator and really happy to work with it.
KH: I’m excited to see where you go next after such an audacious debut… I for one will be looking forward to the next movie you bring to fruition?
SC: Thank you, Kent! By the way, feel free to reach me if James Cameron will call you soon and ask for my contact info 😉 Ok, seriously, I appreciate the opportunity to tell more about my story. I’m always open for a new ideas and proposals. Everyone can contact me on my FB page https://www.facebook.com/stefan.chapovskiy and Instagram Stefan Chapovskiy (@stefanchapovskiy) . to see what’s new in my life. My big Hello and best wishes to your readers , take care and keep in touch!
I never thought I’d say I was even slightly underwhelmed by a latter day Christopher Nolan film, but such is the case with Tenet, a new pseudoscience mind bending espionage barnstormer from the filmmaker that didn’t so much blow my mind as tie it’s proverbial shoelaces in a knot. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, there’s plenty to get excited by here, but swaths of the narrative feel dry and uninvolved, the central premise that should be rich and tantalizing is painfully underdeveloped and the main character is less a character than a blank game piece scooting around a chessboard of intrigue and action. He’s ‘The Protagonist’, given the ironically opaque title and played by John David Washington in a performance that is sadly devoid of much life or expression. Tasked with playing a vital part in an incoming Cold War whose implications reach beyond science and physics, he’s teamed up with 007-esque operative Neil, played by Robert Pattinson in a turn that’s blessedly engaging, subtle and picks up Washington’s slack. I don’t want to give too much away because the film’s secrets are pretty fun, as they race all over Europe smoking out vague intel, having fierce gun battles and car chases and trying to prevent… what, exactly? There’s a spectacularly nasty Bond villain played by Kenneth Branagh who is a genuinely scary, fascinating piece of work, and I greatly enjoyed his arc and that of his long suffering wife (Elizabeth Debicki, solid) as well as some well mounted, intricate action set pieces. There’s a quick Michael Caine cameo that exists purely so Nolan can seat him at a table for all of two minutes to deliver clipped exposition, and appearances from Martin Donovan, Fiona Dourif, Aaron Tyler Johnson and Clemence Poesy. Nolan makes his paradoxical concept so dense and intricate that by the time the scintillating finale rolls around, parts of it are so much in the clouds that you just raise your arms in defeat and go “ok bro” and trust that he knows what he’s doing, because I sure didn’t, yet perhaps will with some more viewings a lá Inception. That isn’t the bone to pick here though, it’s mainly the fact that the narrative feels rushed, staccato, unnatural in places and doesn’t possess the fluidity, grace, cohesion or focus of his earlier works. Half the time the dialogue and editing during interaction scenes is so brisk, so chopped up and so hurried that its tough to really be drawn in, before you’re off to the races in a flurry without a proper roadmap to prep you for the fun. There are some very exciting sequences involving the premise which I won’t spoil, some terrific character work courtesy of Branagh, Debicki and Pattinson. But man, Washington is just not a dynamic actor and can’t carry the weight expected of him, while much of the film’s setup isn’t strong enough for payoff later on that isn’t strong enough either. I loved the super sonic, unconventional score by Ludwig Göransson, the action is neatly photographed and intensely realized when its good, and somewhat incomprehensible when it falters, especially in a hectic third act paramilitary incursion that I’m sure made sense to Nolan on the drawing board, but comes across as pandemonium on film. There’s a lot to enjoy here, but I have to be real and say this could have been so much more, especially for an artist as accomplished as Nolan.
I remember the summer of 2005 so clearly: I had just gotten back from a month of summer camp, I had seasons tickets to PlayLand and the big movie event of the summer for me was Michael Bay’s The Island, which was released this week of that year and will always hold a special place in my heart as a formative, nostalgic and utterly ‘summer’ filmgoing experience of my childhood. Reworking a classic ‘clones on the run’ motif and injecting it with his trademark dose of spectacular visual effects and action filmmaking, Bay tells an exciting, thought provoking, rousing and propulsive science fiction saga of clones Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johannsson) on the run from the only life they’ve ever known inside a giant utopian society where they are told their one purpose is to go to the fabled ‘Island,’ when in reality the truth is of course far more sinister and morally egregious. They are pursued by conflicted Black Ops mercenary Laurent (Djimon Hounsou, haunted, badass charisma on a terrific low burn) at the behest of pseudoscience guru Dr. Merrick (Sean Bean with quiet malevolence on full blast), an amoral bastard with a bad case of God Complex. Their journey takes them from this holographic underground hive out into the California desert and eventually to a stunning, stylized Los Angeles of the future where they learn the truth about themselves, the state of the world and make attempts to rescue the multitude of clones still stuck in the facility daw away. Bay has his troupe of actors and we see wonderful supporting work from a scrappy Steve Buscemi, Kim Coates, Ethan Phillips, Shawnee Smith, Chris Ellis, Max Baker, Glenn Morshower, Tom Everett and heartbreaking Michael Clarke Duncan as an ill fated clone. One of my favourite aspects is a thundering, soul stirring original score composed by Steve Jablonsky that crescendos in a finale suite reaching heights of emotional overflow and adrenal stimulation I didn’t think possible in the medium of film fused with music until then. I couldn’t care less what you think of Bay or his work, he’s one of the most influential and treasured filmmakers for me, for growing up watching films with my family and exploring what could be done in the realms of action/science fiction storytelling. The Island is an extraordinary piece, one of my most cherished ‘summer at the movies’ memories and one hell of a damn fine film.
James Horner was a totemic titan of Hollywood musical composition, one of the absolute greats. If you needed unparalleled orchestral grandeur, primally elemental accents to landscape and nature, rousing battle cry pieces of flowing, melodic passages he was your guy and crafted some of the most prolific, memorable scores in cinema. He left us far too soon in a tragic 2015 plane crash but his work lives on eternal, and these are my top ten personal favourite original scores from this wonderful artist!
10. Walter Hill’s 48 Hrs
He goes gritty, smoky and jazzy for this classic buddy cop flick, keeping the excitement somehow both light and dangerous in his work. Favourite track: the exuberant main titles with faint, pleasant steel drums that suit the breezy San Francisco vibe.
9. Mel Gibson’s Braveheart
Beautiful bagpipes pull at the heartstrings and sweeping strings roll over the Scottish highlands in this classic historical epic. Favourite track: Can’t beat that main title.
8. James Cameron’s Aliens
His composition is eerie, badass and mirrors the darkly lit corridors of creepy space stations here, getting appropriately intense once the creatures make themselves known. Favourite track: ‘Bishop’s Countdown’, a master class in impossibly suspenseful tension and epic, cathartic release.
7. Ron Howard’s Willow
Swashbuckling high fantasy is the musical tone in this beloved, refreshingly dark and slightly underrated children’s adventure film. Favourite track: ‘Escape from the Tavern’, a playful, jaunty piece that accompanies Val Kilmer in drag and Warwick Davis as they sled down a snowy mountain on a shield at full throttle.
6. Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall
Another historical epic sees James compose some of his most achingly beautiful and richly melodramatic music yet, compositions that sweep over the rugged Montana terrain that is home to an early 1900’s family and many struggles they encounter. Favourite track: the main theme, utilizing brass and pan flutes to evoke a strong emotional connection to the material, setting and characters.
5. Joe Johnston’s Jumanji
Those drums man, they still haunt me. This is a playful, sweet natured score that dips into appropriately scary and primal places. Favourite track: ‘A New World’, a lovely piece that has a sympathy for the protagonist’s tough arc and a great sense of small town character.
4. James Cameron’s Titanic
This is just so iconic, and probably the most recognized collaboration between Horner and Cameron who maintained a strong working relationship over several films. Deeply romantic, wistful and reverent, this score has it all and is pretty much time capsule worthy. Favourite track: tough pick but ‘Rose instrumental’ just always gets me in the feels.
3. James Cameron’s Avatar
Here he ducks a typical SciFi sounding score for something far more down to earth and elemental, with tons of affecting vocals and a breathtaking auditory scope. Favourite track: ‘Jake’s First Flight’ … just try listening to that without getting goosebumps and little spikes of actual adrenaline. Pure magic.
2. Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy
He absolutely nails the Greek tragedy aesthetic in this very underrated, beautiful and heartbreaking epic. Using vocals and battle drum percussion theres a real sense of approaching threat as war literally looms on the horizon and a sense of deep romantic regret from both factions. Favourite track: ‘3200 Years Ago’ sets the mood like no other.
1. Ron Howard’s The Missing
This may look like a weird first choice but it’s an underrated, gorgeous horror western and James’s music is stark, eerie, gruesome and suits the haunting mood just perfectly. Favourite track: ‘New Mexico, 1885’ ushers in the spooky atmosphere nicely.
Today’s video game is RLH: Run Like Hell, a spectacular SciFi horror survival story whose main influence is most noticeably the Alien franchise, right down to the involvement of some of the same actors. So basically there’s a station somewhere way out there in deep space, where a bunch of individuals both human and alien must survive against a terrifying extraterrestrial menace who basically decimate anything they come across and are constantly mutating, learning from the trial and error ways of their prey and always, always hunting up and down those classic dimly lit, eerie space station corridors. You play as seasoned badass marine Nick Connor (the great Lance Henriksen, Bishop from Aliens), who thinks he’s seen it all until he’s up against this marauding race of monsters. He forms a shaky alliance with alien mercenary Dag’Rek (Clancy Brown, always awesome) and there’s other work from Michael Ironside as a hard bitten commander, Star Trek’s Kate Mulgrew and Brad Dourif as a kooky little Doctor which is basically the same role he had in Alien Resurrection. This is a very cinematic game not just for the inclusion of genre seasoned actors or oh so subtle film references but because the cutscenes evoke a true feeling of cosmic isolation and dread, and the gameplay demands a lot of both your reflexes and adrenal glands. There’s countless close quarters battles, chases, near misses and quick escapes that take full advantage of very narrow hallways littered with dangerous obstacles for these creatures to use against you and hunt you down if you’re literally a second too late hitting those buttons. There’s gorgeous galactic visuals in the numerous sweeping cutscenes, detailed creature design, gruesome gore and a real sense of style too. It feels like the Alien films but swaps out the green and black palette for a grey/purple mashup of hard, cold surfaces splattered with blood and organic swirling nebulas of starry colour outside the space station windows to marvel at in between blasting monsters and running like hell for your fucking life. Terrific game.
There’s nothing quite like the sight of Will Smith armed with a high powered rifle, dog at his side, left completely and utterly alone in a deserted metropolis to scavenge, wander and roar down an empty main drag in abandoned super cars. This is an applicable film right now because that’s kind of how I’ve felt being downtown at work these days, minus the dog and super cars. Smith is Robert Neville, the last man alive on Manhattan Island, or so he thinks. By day he wanders around, searches for food and keeps himself occupied, by night he barricades himself inside a modest fortress while the rest of NYC comes crawling out, now turned into savage marauding zombies by a mysterious virus. Robert tried his best to contact anyone who might be out there by radio and tirelessly works in his lab searching for a cure. This is a strange rhythm that continues for the first half of the film or so until the inevitable progression of a Hollywood narrative interrupts it. I kind of have a love hate relationship with this film, in the sense that I love it for some aspects but not so much others. The first portion of the film is one of the most effective uses of immersive atmosphere and drawing the viewer in I’ve ever seen. Seeing this in iMax back in the day I really felt like I was there with Robert, felt that isolation, despair, restlessness end even blessed solitude at certain moments. It’s a sensational way to open your story, but then as soon as other human characters are added later on, the vacuum like aura is yanked away and it becomes kind of… I dunno, routine. You’ve gotta be a pretty special post apocalyptic film to trick your audience into not only believing the premise but imagining themselves in it, and at the outset they more than succeed. It’s just later on the illusion foibles and loses us a bit. That and the dodgy CGI used on the zombies who are scary no doubt but still a bit rough in the FX department, but hey this was 2007 and Weta was busy working on King Kong so what can you do. I nitpick here and that shouldn’t suggest I don’t love this film, because I do. I just believe a piece that leaps out of the gate so effectively, so convincingly should keep up that lightning in a bottle magic for the whole duration, but that’s just me. It does have one of the single most heartbreaking scenes cinema has to offer, acted flawlessly enough by Smith to leave any badass viewer bawling. Anyone reading this who’s seen the film will know. Oh, and there’s also a weird Batman Vs. Superman poster in Times Square, I’m not sure what the deal is with that but it seems odd for 2007 considering that film wasn’t even made until 2015, no? Maybe there’s some cool time travel trivia to the making of this one.
What if there was an alien organism out there whose evolutionary process unfolded at about a thousand times faster rate then ours? What if it crash landed on earth and began said process amidst our carefully balanced infrastructure and caused a modicum of pandemonium? Couple that juicy premise with the gooey Ghostbusters sensibility of Ivan Reitman and the X Files vibe that David Duchovny carries and you’ve got Evolution, one hell of a fun film. This raucous SciFi comedy didn’t make much of a critical splash and sort off faded into obscurity but it’s tough for me to see why as I had a fucking blast with it, starting with the oddly balanced comedic quartet of Duchovny and Orlando Jones (in a role that sounds like it was written for Will Smith, how cool would that have been) as college scientists, Julianne Moore as a CDC guru and Seann William ‘Stifler’ Scott as a hapless wannabe fireman. This alien species grows at a scary rate and contains the kind of arbitrarily morphing biodiversity you might find in a Super Mario game. While they kind of seem benign and don’t really have an aggressive or conquering mentality beyond their base evolutionary nature, it still seems like they need to be eradicated on the simple ‘us vs. them’ clause. An asshole military general (Ted Levine) and the blustery, stressed out governor (Dan Akroyd dressed to the nines and stealing the show) have their own ideas but they’re in over their overqualified heads and it’s up to our four heroes to figure something out. This is an escapist comedy that doesn’t take its premise too seriously but rather wants to showcase some lovingly crafted 80’s era practical effects and a few scrappy early 2000’s CGI ones too. It’s got a playful Men In Black mentality that I felt right at home in, and knows how to have a great time. My favourite scene is when four scared housewives open the pantry to find a slug/dog/platypus/seal looking thing and one of them responds dead seriously with: “When did you get a dog??” It’s that kind of lunacy that spurs this into a truly inspired piece. That and all the ooey gooey aliens running around being chased by a shotgun wielding Agent Mulder & Co. Good times.
It’s crazy times we’re living in because of this Coronavirus, and I hope everyone out there is staying safe, taking necessary precautions and keeping a level head about the pandemic. I also hope you all are finding time amidst the chaos to take care of yourselves, have a beer, cuddle your pets, chill with loved ones and do things that make you happy. I myself am continuing the blogging train to stay sane and this week it’s time to take a look at my top ten favourite films about viruses, yay! Not to be deliberately morbid but it does seem appropriate given our situation and there are some really excellent films out there that deal with outbreaks, from procedural dramas to schlocky horror to fascinating science fiction. Enjoy my picks!
10. Robert Kurtzman’s The Rage
I had to include at least one low budget gore fest on this list because it’s an incredibly formative arena in the genre for me. Legendary FX guru Kurtzman makes hilariously scrappy work in telling of a batshit insane evil Russian scientist (the great Andrew Divoff having a blast) who releases a horrific rage virus into human tests subjects. When they get loose and vultures feed on them the vultures go ape shit and become nasty mutants that go after everyone and it’s all a deliriously violent bit of B horror mayhem. Can’t go wrong with mutant vulture puppets done with knowingly crude effects and a whole lot of choppy editing commotion.
9. Breck Eisner’s The Crazies
This one is interesting because the deadly virus isn’t your typical flesh eating zombie kind but rather infects the population of a small county with mental instability and eventual madness. There’s something so unnerving about the afflicted’s behaviour here and the incredibly suspenseful efforts of one sheriff (Timothy Olyphant) to keep the insanity under control.
8. Neil Marshall’s Doomsday
It’s unfair to call this film simply a virus themed horror flick, as there’s just so much going on. It’s part Escape From New York, part Tomb Raider, part Mad Max like several films collided into each other at top speed and yes, there’s a nasty killer virus here too that wiped out most of Britain’s population. Malcolm McDowell’s scientist turned medieval despot puts it best when he observes: “A virus doesn’t choose a time or place. It doesn’t hate or even care. It just happens.” Astute analysis of such an event.
7. Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever
The gross-out factor is to the extreme and the dark humour dial turned up to the max in this ooey gooey tale about a group of vacationing friends who encounter a horrendous flesh eating virus at their rural getaway. Man there are some wince-out-loud moments here, just watch what it does to a girl shaving her legs, as well as the shocked reaction of one dude who goes to finger bang his girl and comes up with a handful of… well, her I guess. Also that running joke regarding the redneck convenience store owner and the rifle above his counter? Fucking top tier comedy gold right there. Avoid the remake, Roth’s original vision is the real deal.
6. Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Juan Carlos Fresnadillo’s 28 Weeks Later
I’m trying not to make this list too zombie-centric because it somehow feels like cheating but one slot gets designated and it has to be these two superb films. There’s a ferocity, an overwhelming intensity to those infected by this virus that makes both films feel thrillingly alive, dangerously immediate and gives them a cutthroat edge. Oh and I guess I cheated already anyways by putting two films in one spot but I’m one of the rare people who finds Weeks just as amazing as Days so they get to share the pedestal. Robert Carlyle going full Jack Torrence on bath salts man, can’t beat that aesthetic.
5. The Farrelly Brothers’ Osmosis Jones
This is such an underrated flick and if I ever do a top ten list on films that combine live action with animation it’ll make that cut too. Bill Murray is a slobbish zookeeper who contracts a wicked nasty virus played by… Laurence Fishburne lol. Half the film takes place inside his body where a rogue cop white blood cell (Chris Rock) races to stop the fiendish strain before it gets to all the major organs and it’s game over. The animation is slick, uniquely styled and the film just hums along with cool ideas, colourful imagery and terrific voiceover work.
4. Paul W.S. Anderson’s Resident Evil
This film has quite the virus, it doesn’t just stop short of turning people into zombies but mutates than into all kinds of giant horrific monsters for Milla Jovovich’s Alice to fight. I think these films are great, particularly this super stylish, sexy first entry that’s got enough blood, psychotic Dobermans, gunfire and security system gadgetry to bring the house down.
3. Wolfgang Petersen’s Outbreak
While this one does take the big budget Hollywood approach to the virus motif, it’s still a smart, scary and incredibly suspenseful piece, and holy damn the virus here is one monster. “It’s the scariest son of a bitch I’ve ever seen” says Dustin Hoffman’s virologist guru, and he’s not fucking kidding. It has a kill timetable of 24 hours, which are almost insurmountable odds but these people try their best and provide one hell of an engaging film.
2. Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion
This one, while still a Hollywood release, takes the clinical and detached route. Despite being heavily casted with big time A list talent the real star of the show here is the virus itself and it’s ruthless journey from Hong Kong to the states and beyond. Soderbergh employs crisp, precise editing and a sonic jolt of a score from Cliff Martinez to keep this thing moving along at the same scary pace as the pandemic it chronicles.
1. Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys
This one made the top spot on my time travel movie list too and does the same here, it’s just an all timer for me. We don’t even really see the virus here that wiped out most of humanity or it’s effects, most of the film takes place either just before or long after it’s released. But we get a sense of it, in the desolate snowy streets Bruce Willis walks through in a Mr. Freeze looking quarantine suit, filled with spectral roaming animals turned loose from a zoo. We feel the maniacal nature of the insane doomsday prophet (David Morse) who released it too.