Sunday, 30 October 2011

DVD Review: Erik The Viking

Directed By: Terry Jones
Starring: Tim Robbins, Mickey Rooney, Eartha Kitt, Imogen Stubbs, Terry Jones
Erik (Tim Robbins) discovers that he is not happy with the raping and pillaging customs of his people. Looking for advice, Erik asks the wise old woman Freya (Eartha Kitt) for a solution. She tells him that since Fenris the Wolf has swallowed the sun, the age of violence, Ragnarok, has begun. Worried by this revelation, Erik decides to travel to the legendary land of Hy-Brasil , in order to find the Horn Resounding, the magic artifact that will take him to Asgard and awake the Gods. With this in mind, Erik prepares an expedition and sails to adventure; but Halfdan the Black (John Cleese) and Keitel Blacksmith (Gary Cady) are not happy about finishing the lucrative business of war. Both decide to follow Erik in order to make him fail.
In 1989, Terry Jones turned his attention to the Viking way of life and the legends that surround it. Echoing work on the Python movies; Holy Grail and Life of Brain, Jones mixes a little fact with a lot of intelligent humour. Whilst it isn’t quite up to the quality of entertainment as the mentioned films, Erik the Viking still has a lot of likeability. The movie had gone largely forgotten outside of its fanbase, which is a shame. Perhaps this release will fire up a renewed interest.

Jones, a keen historian, made a movie that lightly uses the Monty Python style of humour whilst using his knowledge of the Viking way of life. The movie is peppered with historical references, but typically, they are twisted to ensure the comedy works and that the audience isn’t alienated. The tone of the movie is more in keeping with the Life of Brian, in that the comedy is more restrained than some of Jones’ collaborations with Terry Gilliam. It was this background, with the Python team, that ultimately harmed the movie, I believe. People, understandably expected a movie more in line with the Python humour and maybe felt a bit cheated that it wasn’t quite the same. The story lets it down, but the performances are top notch.
Tim Robbins effectively plays the naive, well intentioned Erik. This was an early role for Robbins and different from the roles that he would subsequently undertake. His crew are played by familiar actors and help flesh out their roles and screen time. John Cleese brings his usual magic to the mix and manages to steal every scene he appears in. Freddie Jones, recognisable to fantasy fans from the movie Krull, puts in a good turn as Harald the Missionary. Other recognisable faces include Tim McInnery (Spooks, Blackadder), John Gordon Sinclair (Gregory’s Girl), Samantha Bond (Bond films from Goldeneye to Die Another Day). Both Anthony Sher and Imogen Stubbs are interesting in their respective role. Sher plays a weasel-like Loki (the villain that is being used in The Avengers movie next year). Stubbs plays Princess Aud. Eartha Kitt plays the part of Freya, a Norse Goddess surprising well. I thought she’d camp it up a bit like her appearances in the Adam West Batman series but she dwonplays that side of herself.
Erik the Viking originated as a children’s story for his son, but grew into something more adult: The spirit of which still remains, in part. Whilst it loses the over the top zany style of the Monty Python comedies, it also loses something because of it. Sometimes, the movie is too clever for its own good, I hate to say.
This Arrow release includes the “Director’s Son’s Cut”. This cut reduces the movie’s screen time to just a lean 75 minutes long, rearranging some scenes into more of a logical order and speeding up the pacing. The problems with editing the movie tend to suggest that the movie was already troubled before release. This may come to explain how the movie disappeared from the audience’s consciousness back in 1989 and hasn’t really made a mark on pop culture since. 

Arrow present the feature with the wonderful attention to packaging that we’ve come to expect from the “white boxes” with a vast array of special features, including featurettes and interviews. There are two versions of the film - the 75 minute cut, already mentioned, and the Director’s Cut that took away about ten minutes from the theatrical cut. It’s almost as complicated as the story of the many versions of Highlander 2, but not quite.
I prefer movies like Time Bandits and the Python movies. I think there was a clear reason why those projects were successful and Erik wasn’t. These guys worked better writing and producing in collaboration rather than independently: Well, certainly Terry Jones with this project. Erik the Viking will appeal to those who can’t quite get the Python movies and like strange fantasy comedies.
Score: 6/10

Blu-Ray Review: The Conversation

Directed By Francis Ford Coppola

Starring: Gene Hackman, John Cazale, Allen Garfield, Robert Duvall, Harrison Ford, Teri Garr

Surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) values his personal privacy and anonymity above all else. When he and his partner Stan (John Cazale) are hired by a mysterious client, known only as the director (Robert Duvall), to follow a young couple, Harry deduces that the woman, Mary, is the director’s wife, and the man is an employee with whom she is conducting an affair. Harry becomes convinced that the director intends to murder the pair. Haunted by guilt from a previous assignment where the information provided resulted in a loss of human life, sets out to prevent the killing himself.

When people talk about Francis Ford Coppola, they tend to talk about the Godfather movies and Apocalypse Now. But, if talk turns to The Conversation, there tends to be some blank faces. For a movie that won Coppola the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and three Academy award nominations, and features Gene Hackman in arguably his best role, it’s a crime that The Conversation isn’t better known.
The reason why is probably self-evident; the movie is bereft of obvious action scenes. It’s a character piece where the action is driven by the circumstances, dialogue, and revelation. The Conversation owes more to the spy genre, but is more a study in guilt than paranoia.

How many times have you seen a performance by Gene Hackman, conscious that it’s Gene Hackman? The Conversation brought out a career defining performance in Hackman that is my favourite of all his roles. As enjoyable as many of them have been, I’ve mainly been aware that Hackman is in his comfort zone. The character of Harry Caul is complex and troubled. Hackman does a great job of selling us this very private character that ends up being a victim of his own business.
Caul is not a likeable character. He is a loner that spends far too much time immersed in his work. He is supposed to be the best in the business but this seems more by chance than by skill alone, as Coppola reveals to the audience a number of reasons why Caul is actually quite sloppy. Whilst he might come up with innovative ideas and equipment to fulfill his client’s wishes, his approach to his private life is haphazard and puts his life in danger. The best example is how easily a pen, containing a sophisticated listening device, is placed in Caul’s top jacket pocket.
Caul gains sympathy from the audience purely because he is fallible and is seen to be trying to do the right thing, but he seems to spend so much time observing others that he hasn’t fully developed his own identity. He admits to not having any real possessions of any value, for example.

This is another movie full of performances. Coppola must have known that any weak link in the acting chain and the movie would fall apart. Even the smallest role required the right actor and the casting process got it right.
John Cazale plays Harry’s under appreciated colleague that is pushed into working for the opposition.
Allen Garfield is superb as the pushy, irritating, rival of Harry’s. A few years before he shot to mega-stardom in Star Wars, Harrison Ford turned in a great performance as the Director’s shady assistant.

There are those that will tell you to switch on the subtitles to get more of an idea of what is being said during the recordings. No! Don’t do it! The whole point of the movie is how Caul is interpreting the conversation. That’s why the movie is called The Conversation. It’s the most important part of the plot. Harry bases his whole theory about the Director looking to terminate an affair with extreme prejudice on what he hears and upon his guilt from the outcome of previous submissions.

The Conversation focuses on how much of our own beliefs and experience we bring to interpreting what is said and what is seen. The movie can offer a lot to those who enjoy a thriller and drama that requires a certain amount of intellectual input, such as the TV drama The West Wing, where conversations drove the drama along, coupled with top drawer acting.

Score: 9/10

The Conversation is out on Monday 31st October 2011, from Studio Canal and is available from all good stockists.

Blu-Ray Review: Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence

Directed By: Nagisa Ôshima

Starring: David Bowie, Tom Conti, Ryûichi Sakamoto, Takeshi Kitano, Jack Thompson

In 1942 British soldier Jack Celliers (David Bowie) arrives at a Japanese prison camp. The camp is run by Yonoi (Ryûichi Sakamoto), who has a firm belief in discipline, honour and glory. In his view, the allied prisoners are cowards when they chose to surrender instead of committing suicide. One of the prisoners, interpreter John Lawrence (Tom Conti), has come someway in understanding the Japanese way of life, and tries to explain the Japanese way of thinking to his comrades, but is considered a traitor.

People talk about movies that deal with the subject of War being futile, but this movie deals with it better than most. There is no heavy handed message. It’s there if you want to interpret it.
The movie also deals well with the theme of how choices made in childhood can haunt a person in their adulthood. It talks about the divisive nature of human beings, who during peacetime and without the complex differences that culture and religion can bring, could form strong bonds and find that they are, in fact, very similar in nature. This is why the title of the movie is very important. It’s not Merry Christmas Colonel Lawrence, its Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Only at the end of the movie, do we find out how important this is.

The movie is more about performances than plot. No character is ever allowed to descend into caricature, although Jack Thompson’s nearly does with his take on the role of Group Captain Hickley (Thompson was Australian). Bowie appears out of place and almost more of an alien than he did in The Man Who Fell To Earth; but it works within the overall scheme of things. Bowie reaches into the character’s persona and shares some great scenes with Conti and Sakamoto. Sakamoto plays Yonoi with a mix of quiet and angry desperation as he tries to humanely deal with those he considers to be with little or no honour. As the story reveals, he was more of a compassionate person (perhaps due to his background in psychology) than his peers. Takeshi Kitano plays the brutal camp sergeant, Hara, with great relish and even manages to use his comedic background in providing some of the few genuinely funny scenes in an overall somber movie. Action fans will know “Beat” Takeshi from his excellent Yakuza movies such as Gonin, Brother and also, the massive hit Battle Royale (out on the Arrow label).

One might wonder why David Bowie appears to be the lead character despite the title of the movie. Cynically, it could have been a marketing ploy to sell the movie on the back of Bowie’s hugely successful singing career. That alone would have been alright, in my view, as it would have got more people to have watched this wonderful movie. However, I like to think that it was because of the effect that the character Celliers has on the situation at the camp. He becomes a catalyst upon his arrival, playing on the superstitious beliefs of the Japanese authority. In some ways, Celliers understand the Japanese psyche just as much, and perhaps more, than Lawrence. Through Cellier’s formative experiences, he has gained an insight into his fellow man; an instinct that helps form his decisions, and ultimately dictates his overall fate.
This is not to take anything away from Tom Conti’s role as Colonel Lawrence. He truly shines as a man who is balancing his sense of compassion towards his fellow man, be they Allied Forces or Japanese, and his suffering at the hands of the Japanese in a barbaric POW camp.

Unusually, (for this type of movie) there is a palpable undercurrent of homosexuality in the screenplay highlighted in the obvious; the Dutch soldier and the Korean civilian worker, and the less obvious; Yonoi’s feelings toward Celliers. I’m not entirely convinced that Ôshima had pure homosexual feelings in mind, from Yonoi , but instead an attraction that goes beyond mere sexuality and encompasses a different type of unrequited love: a feeling of mutual respect and recognition of a man who is the Yin to his Yang. Bowie is well cast in this role because of his androgynous look. Bowie brought an ambiguity to the role that is well exploited by Ôshima.

Sakamoto was famous for his work with the electronic group The Yellow Magic Orchestra, and provided a memorable and iconic score for this movie. I’m not entirely convinced that it fits the movie throughout, by providing an ethereal and dreamlike quality to scenes that maybe didn’t need to be as abstract as they ended up.

Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence put forward the view that no one is right in a war. It is about how you conduct yourself, and the strength of beliefs. I believe that this movie is underrated and another that can benefit from an enlightened, modern audience and this new HD release can only help get it out there.
The Blu-Ray presentation shows the glorious cinematography and is a welcome addition to Studio-Canal’s classic catalogue.

Score: 9/10

The Blu-ray is out now and available from all good stockists.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Blu-Ray Review: Mother's Day


Directed By: Darren Lynn Bousman 

Starring: Rebecca DeMornay, Jaime King, Patrick John Flueger, Warren Cole, Frank Grillo 

Following a disastrous bank robbery attempt that leaves one of their number critically wounded, three brothers head for their childhood home to take refuge until the dust settles. What they don’t know is their mother (De Mornay) recently lost possession of the house in a foreclosure and no longer lives there. Instead, they stumble across the new owners, a young couple and their guests, who are in the middle of a birthday celebration. Seeing no alternative, the brothers take the partygoers hostage before contacting their mother to explain their dilemma. Willing to do anything to protect her offspring, mother arrives at the scene, along with her only daughter (Woll), and immediately takes control of the situation while masterminding a plan to help her family escape across the border from the US into Canada . Unfortunately for the hostages, mother’s plot requires some serious funding and she’s determined to get hold of it any way she can. So begins a long night of psychological terror in which loyalties are tested, secrets are revealed and sins are punished by a deeply disturbed woman with maternal instincts that can only be described as sociopathic.

Horror isn’t dead, it’s being reborn, and Mother’s Day is a prime example of how a “remake” should be produced. I used quotation marks because this isn’t so much a remake as a loose interpretation. However, it’s still a remake as some of the premise and character names of the original have been used. This movie has it’s origins in the Charles Kaufman directed Troma film from 1980. That film was comedic compared to this tense and dark version. Newcomer Scott Milam turns in a fantastic screenplay full of red herrings and twists. It’s great to watch the movie twist and turn against expectations. I don’t think there was a time when I could honestly say “I saw that coming”. The director Darren Lynn Bousman has plenty of experience, in particular directing Saw films; in ratcheting up the tension to almost brain curdling levels.

The acting is realistic and very good. Most of the cast come from good solid acting roles in television; gone are the days when that meant bargain basement. This production is not high budget but it doesn’t need to be, the quality is there. 

Rebecca DeMornay is suitably creepy in the role of Natalie Koffin or “Mother”. She does wonders with this role. With Hollywood and US TV studios being youth centric because of the demographic that watch TV and movies now (apparently), it’s a joy to see Rebecca DeMornay give an outstanding performance, showing that the older woman has a lot to offer movies. Ok, for me, she’ll always be Lana, in Risky Business. That isn’t ageist on my part but more to do with the fact that Risky Business was such an iconic film.

Her acting, in Mother’s Day gravitates between maternal caring and cold brutality. A little like her onscreen siblings; just as you think the acting is going too far and too over the top, they rein it in: Both Warren Kole (Addley Koffin) and Matt O’Leary (Johnny Koffin) stretch credibility with their roles, without going over that line past melodrama with their psychopathic behaviour. The screenplay contains a metaphor for nature and nurture in the way that life has effected Natalie Koffin, and the subsequent way in which she has brought up her children. A bad situation has led to bad choices and then led to her doing bad things. It elicits a tiny bit of sympathy for the character and it helps in the way that DeMornay plays the part. At first we see the obsessive love she has for her children and how far she’d go to protect them. As time goes on, that sympathy erodes. 

Jaime King (Beth Sohapi) is excellent as the wife with a few secrets. Beth gets punched, kicked, and generally abused. King makes it all the more painful by her realistic acting. Frank Grillo (Daniel Sohapi) plays her husband with the right mix of cowardice and guilt. Shawn Ashmore (the Ashmore from the X-Men, not Smallville) delivers another reliable performance as a Doctor forced to deal with the Tim Roth inspired performance from the gut shot Matt O’Leary. Ashmore plays the role with a nervous calm that is impressive to watch and similar to his role in Frozen (directed by Adam Green). I liked seeing Deborah Ann Woll outside of her role as Jessica Hamby, in True Blood. I thought she was a little underused in Mother’s Day. Her character, Lydia Koffin, looks as if she’s going to be act a certain way and then the movie moves on in a slightly, if not inevitable way. Lyriq Bent took time out from the excellent Rookie Blue and puts in a very physical performance. There is no weak link in the cast. While not all the characters may be likeable, the actors do a great job in maintaining the suspense generated by the plot and direction.

A special mention must go to the cameo by AJ Crook. She is known for playing the demure and stunningly pretty “JJ” in Criminal Minds. In Mother’s Day, she plays a girl out on the town, with a friend, waiting to use the cash point. I won’t say how that scene plays out but she’s dolled up to look a lot different than she normally looks.

I’ve purposefully steered away from talking much about the plot. I feel that it’s very important to go into the movie knowing only the synopsis. If you like the sound of that, chances are that you’ll embrace the movie and love what the cast and crew have done with it. In promoting the film “From the Director of Saw II, III and IV” there is a suggestion that the movie might follow a similar route. I hope potential viewers will disregard the tagline and see it for the more original type of horror movie that it is. 

The DVD/Blu-Ray is out now.

Score: 9/10

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Coming Soon to DVD/Blu-Ray: Troll Hunter


One of the biggest hits with audiences at this year’s Film4 Frightfest and a major critical success during its subsequent UK theatrical release in September 2011, which saw it earning Four Star reviews in Empire (“spectacular fun”), Total Film (“ a true one off... it will quite simply blow you away”) and Time Out (“shot through with an unexpected, often unsettling, humour”), the horror-comedy Troll Hunter bursts its way on to DVD and Blu-ray on 9th January 2012.

The debut feature from Norwegian director Andre Ovredal, this “original and highly assured fusion of B-movie lore and fairytale terror” (The Hollywood Reporter) combines the vision of “Where The Wild Things Are” with the faux-documentary, found-footage stylings of “Cloverfield”, “REC” and “The Blair Witch Project” to produce an “enormously entertaining” (Variety) and suspense-filled creature feature that the Daily Star rated as 'one of the finest monster movies ever" and Total Film described as being “like David Attenborough taking a stroll into Roald Dahl’s brain.”

Following the deaths of a couple of tourists and a spate of livestock mutilations in the mountains and forests of Norway, the government’s official line is that rogue bears are responsible. But the local hunters don’t agree and neither does a trio of college students who have been stalking an alleged poacher, Hans, with the intention of making a documentary film about him. Their persistence in pursuing Hans finally pays off when the filmmakers become victims of a night-time attack by something that is obviously much larger than a bear. In the aftermath, Hans agrees to an interview in which he reveals the truth regarding his occupation – he is actually a government employed troll hunter. Sceptical, the students volunteer to assist this unlikely hero in his work on the understanding that they will be allowed to document the proceedings and publicly reveal the heavily guarded secrets of a race of creatures thought only to exist in fairly tales.

A “clever and engaging mock documentary” (The New York Times) that is “fun, funny and fearless” (Little White Lies), and "great fun" (flash-bang action movie reviews) Troll Hunter is “an instant cult classic” (IGN).

Troll Hunter (cert. 15) will be released on DVD (£17.99) and Blu-ray (£19.99) by Momentum Pictures on 9th January 2011. Special Features include; Trailer; deleted scenes; improvs and bloopers; extended scenes; visual effects; behind the scenes; HDNet: A Look at Troll Hunter; photo galleries.

Blu-Ray Review: Mr Nobody

Directed By: Jaco Von Dormael 

Starring: Jared Leto, Diane Kruger, Sarah Polley, Linh Dan Pham 

It’s 2092, and 118 year old Nemo (Jared Leto) is recounting his life story to a reporter. He appears confused, often thinking that he is only thirty-four years of age. His story becomes more convoluted as he tells of his life at three primary points: at age nine (when his parents divorced); age sixteen and age thirty-four. Woven into this story are the tales of alternate life paths, often changing course with the flick of a decision at each of those ages. One life path has him ultimately married to Elise (Sarah Polley), a depressed woman who never got over the unrequited love she had for a guy named Stefano, when she was a teenager; and who asked Nemo to swear that when she died he would sprinkle her ashes on Mars. A second life path has him married to Jean (Linh Dan Pham). Their life is one of luxury but one also of utter boredom. The third involves Nemo with his step sister Anna. They have a passionate affair but are torn apart; damned to spend the rest of their lives thinking or searching for one another.
The question is; which of the life strands is reality? 

This is a complex, multi-layered, head-kick of a movie that will probably appeal to those of you who enjoyed the time-twisting and ethereal Donnie Darko or even the parallel universe melodrama Southland Tales (both directed by Richard Kelly). 

The whole film is based upon a key decision that nine year old Nemo has to make; do I go with my Mother (following his parent’s divorce) or do I remain with my Father? As an old man, Nemo sees the many lives that either decision could have generated or did generate. Confused? Don’t worry, you won’t be alone. My telling you of this decision is, in effect, a spoiler as it is not revealed until about 20 minutes from the end of the movie. By knowing this detail you might enjoy the movie more. The boy’s imagination, as to what fate(s) await him, dependant on the mental flip of a coin lead to a multi-verse of strands that culminate with time reversing and taking the decision away. The dimension of time is broken down in the boy’s imagination and interpreted in a non-linear way. The journalist reflects the boy’s questioning of his own thoughts and ideas, in an attempt to make order of the chaos. Every single choice affects the future. This concept is reflected in scientific terms through String theory, Chaos theory and The Butterfly Effect. The latter is explicitly presented in a number of scenes; notably the use of a leaf and the raindrop that obscures and removes Anna’s phone number.  
Reality is made up of the different choices in life, seen from a 9 year old perspective, which has the power of imagination; therefore we cannot accurately know that the future that the 118 year old Nemo inhabits is correct. Given the nature of the future, the elder Nemo inhabits, I’d guess that it is the child’s view of where humanity ends up. To the viewer, it’s not a stretch to believe that we could have found a way to become immortal, but the idea seems to simplistic and the future landscape just a little too over the top.

Mr Nobody’s “plot” involves a number of ontological discussion points about the nature of time and how an individual’s decisions affect it. The memories, if that’s what we call them, are filmed in distinct styles to separate each parallel life and give them identities and reference points. This careful and methodical presentation greatly helps when the lifelines entwine and become more involved. 
Without wanting to sound any more pretentious than I might have already sounded: Even if you don’t understand some of the science and theory I have explained, you might well enjoy the movie for what it is and sub-consciously “get” what is going on. It’s beautifully photographed, well acted, has a great soundtrack and arresting visuals. With no word of a lie, I actually felt two instances of déjà-vu watching it: Seriously! I’m not sure why and what it meant and that might come to explaining quite how the movie affected me. 

The Blu-Ray makes a stunning looking, visually exciting movie come into its own. The soundscape is adequate for a movie of this type and frankly I didn’t noticed it because I was so immersed in the plot.

Perversely, the 160 minute running time isn’t enough to fully flesh out the movie’s themes. Even after the credits roll, I found myself thinking about the movie and felt that I could have sat through an hour more. It’s a great shame that Mr Nobody didn’t receive a wide cinema distribution, but then if the general cinema going public thought Inception was complex, I’m not sure what they’d make of this. If it had been sold as a kind of cross between Benjamin Button and Amelie, it might have stood a chance. Sadly, we’ll never know. I hope that this movie gets recognition on DVD and Blu-Ray because it deserves to be seen. 

Score: 9/10

Mr Nobody is out now at the usual retailers.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Straw Dogs Blu-Ray Competition

Coinciding with its 40th anniversary and with the forthcoming remake, director Sam Peckinpah’s notorious thriller Straw Dogs has been carefully restored and remastered for release on two-disc DVD and for the first time ever as a features-packed Special Edition Blu-ray on 24th October 2011.
Discover more about the original in a series of articles running on which will include reactions to the remake, plus details of the screening of the original at The Barbican in London on 9th Nov.
And for your shelf we have copies of the Blu-ray to give away for two lucky winners.

All you have to do is email me at and a winner will be picked at random. Good luck!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

DVD Review: Evil Things

Directed By Dominic Perez
Starring: Elyssa Mersdorf, Morgan Hooper, Ryan Maslin, Torrey Weiss, Laurel Casillio
It's Miriam's 21st Birthday. As a birthday gift, Miriam's aunt Gail has decided to lend Miriam her beautiful country house for an entire weekend. Aunt Gail's country house is amazing. It's a four bedroom house surrounded by breathtaking mountains and miles and miles of woods. Miriam invites her young college friends Cassy, Mark, Tanya and Leo to join her at the country house for what looks to be the most amazing weekend ever. Things get off to a sinister start though, as they encounter a van on route that starts stalking them. After they get settled into the house, they are unsettled by strange noises and occurances which lead them to believe that their “friend” in the van might still be nearby...and then a videotape arrives on their doorstep...

They say that if you copy something enough times, the quality degrades and that’s now happening with the found footage genre of movies. If you’re familiar with my reviews, you know that I like the genre, just as I like the zombie genre. The trouble is, like the zombie genre, filmmakers realise that they can make it on the cheap and use it as a directorial debut. Dominic Perez’s debut isn’t bad, it’s just badly timed. The TV series The Walking Dead has effectively made the idea of making any future nil-budget zombie movies redundant. Sadly, we will still get these efforts winging their way on DTV. Some will be good, some bad. 
The Paranormal Activity franchise is helping to spur on studios to get filmmakers to create more found footage movies. So far, nothing mainstream (not even the PA movies) has been so good as to overshadow the genre with quality. Cloverfield came very close but it was one of the first mainstream examples that arguably started out with the mondo genre and arrived at Cannibal Holocaust. Then, Blair Witch brought the genre on to the screen again complete with an exceptional and atmospheric marketing campaign. The only series, in my view that eclipses most of the genre is the Spanish REC series. They’re superbly made with the right amount of tension and scares, but they’re not mainstream.

Ok, so Evil Things. Is it any good? It’s well made, for an ultra low budget thriller, but a little “So what?”

The direction and cinematography are both competent with little of the shaky camerawork that is a staple part of the genre but ultimately the thing that most people hate about it. I liked the framing and editing of shots, especially with the ambiguity of the van stalking the kids during the first act. The kids themselves are clearly first time actors but are no more annoying than any other characters in these movies. The guys seem a bit lacking in personality, and one of the girls gets so hysterical I was hoping she’d get a slap to calm her down; especially when she was supposed to be making a call to the police but couldn’t stop snivelling. I hope that my fate never rests on someone like that.
Laurel Casillo, as Cassy, comes out of this quite well. She was very good and shows promise for an acting career, especially with the impression of her boyfriend’s mother. It was genuinely funny.

The first act is typically scene setting. The group attract a stalker (or stalkers) in a van that appears to follow them. I wasn’t particularly eagle-eyed during this and liked the ambiguity that it might not be the same van every time they thought it was. It’s easy to relate to the characters while they are on the road and getting harassed by the vehicle. I’m sure many of us have had to put up with assholes on the road that seem to stay on our tails on a lengthy straight road.

The tension increases when they arrive at a house with no lighting and the subsequent Blair Witch style forest walk. The mis-en-scene was particularly bad with a house that has no curtains in winter! I get that the group had to be open and vulnerable to the antagonists but come on, let’s have some reality here, after all it’s supposed to emulate reality and not be a fantasy.

 It’s not until they get a suspicious set of phone calls and a knock on the front door that things get a lot tenser. They receive a video tape that shows their movements since they hit the road. It’s the people in the van. It’s easy to empathise with the young people in this scene but the following events don’t live up to the promise. The feeling of oncoming dread isn’t followed satisfactorily by any real scenes of scares. There’s one where a door slams and presumably the occupant of the room meets an untimely end. It’s illogical, and makes no sense if you think about it. What follows is a half-assed finale, with an odd epilogue.

Although it’s effective in its execution, the score used is totally out of place in a found footage movie, unless we’re supposed to believe that the guy in the epilogue has added it. It’s something that takes us a little out of the movie. A noise that we hear during the forest scene doesn’t add up either. It sounds vaguely like a sound effect from the movie Predator. It turns up during the end credits too. What it portrays is anyone’s guess.

Dominic Perez should not be put off by bad reviews as I think that there’s talent there and future projects should be carefully considered.
The bottom line is that Evil Things does not deliver the goods. There are far superior movies of this type currently doing the rounds. A movie with such little palpable ambition would have been ok at the beginning of the surge of found footage titles. But with REC having set the bar, it has been left behind by movies like Grave Encounters. It’s a shame that the last act of the movie is so shoddy and that we have no idea of what happens to the protagonists. (We’re pretty sure that they’re dead but have no idea what the antagonists were doing with them). It’s not left in an air of mystery, it’s just left. That said, there are positives that I listed above. Whether they’re enough to interest you is down to your taste. I feel that without the inclusion of cuss words, the film could easily have been a 12 rating. The movie would have worked far better without the swearing and if it was made clear that this was made to appeal, and to scare, younger generations.

Score: 4/10

By the way, to the imdb “reviewer” who thinks movies should be graded based upon the size and scale of the production. Really? A movie should entertain whether it’s a big budget Summer tentpole or a low budget indie flick. There should be no separation.

DVD Review: 51

Directed by Jason Connery
Starring Bruce Boxleitner, Jason London, Rachel Miner
Due to public pressure, a team of journalists get to go on a tour of Area 51, The US’s most infamous airbase. During the visit, one of the base’s extra-terrestrial “guests” escapes causing havoc and carnage.
Good news! This isn’t the worst movie that I’ve seen come of the SyFy stable. The bad news? That’s not saying much.
Last year, Bruce Boxleitner appeared in my “Movie of the year” Tron Legacy. I have a lot of time for the actor. He’s an all round nice guy and is always a pleasure to watch, even in this. Boxleitner tries so very hard in 51. The trouble is; it’s like he’s got a better script than everyone else. While he’s delivering his lines with enthusiastic relish, everyone else is chewing the scenery around him. John Shea (Lex Luthor from Lois and Clark) has a go at putting something into the movie but it's a futile gesture.
Whilst I applaud the filmmaker’s decision to film with physical effects rather than render the aliens with CGI, the results are amusing. “Patient Zero” who has the power to mimic base personnel is, in its original incarnation, a veiny body stocking worn by an actor. The alien protagonist looks like a cheap knock off of an Asgard in Stargate SG-1. Another evil alien looks like a cheap cross between an Alien from the Alien movie franchise and the creature effects in a 1987 movie called The Kindred. The positive is that the creature kills are quite effective. Unlike some SyFy generated projects this one isn’t afraid of the gore factor. An example is a nice tentacle through the eye shot.
The premise is promising enough but beginning the movie with a shot that takes you right out of the movie, because of an horrendous green screen application, was the first bad move. There are attempts at building tension and they work up until the point you see either the body stocking or the rubber tentacled creature. The movie is an anachronism merging 50s style plotting with 80s style special effects. There are scenes lifted straight out of other movies, to add insult to injury. One such example is the scene in which the characters test each other to see if they’re the creature, using a torch. This scene is borrowed and borrowed badly from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
The SyFy brand continues to frustrate. They cancel shows like Caprica and Stargate Universe and spend the money on making genuinely dire TV movies of the week like the Craptocus Vs Shiteoclops type movies. 51 is marginally better but I can’t recommend it.
Score: 2/10