Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Walking Dead Season 5: Have we seen Neagan?

I reckon all of you that have seen "No Sanctuary" Episode One of Season 5, have been blown away. What an exciting season premiere! There are plenty of reviews online, so I'm not going to get into that.
What I will give is more kudos to the cast for outstanding performances, especially Andrew Lincoln, Melissa McBride, Chad L Coleman, and the kid that plays Judith. Also, Bear McCreary's score not only provides the voice to the fear in the episode but once again adds the humanity and emotion to the proceedings. The piece playing when the group meet up with Carol, Tyreese, and Judith was heartbreaking.

Instead of a review, I'm going to suggest that we've seen the first glimpse of a hot Walking Dead comic book character; Neagan.
Just before the final credits we go back to "Then" before the cannibals became sick, twisted fucks. A guy opens a storage container door and picks out a girl, presumably for his pleasure and that of his colleagues.
In the credits, the character is described as Terminus Guard, from what I can gather, and played by Nelson Bonilla. I could be wrong. Even in HD, we don't get a look at the actor long enough, but I think that this character could be Neagan, who is one crazy badass in the comic book and kills off a major character in a gruesome, grisly, and upsetting way.


Why? Well, in recent interviews, key TWD personnel have been saying that the TV series will be following the comic book more closely. By that I think they mean using key characters and some locations. It's been hinted that Neagan will appear sooner rather than later, despite Robert Kirkman's protestations.
I guess we'll see....

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Crowdfunding: Cul-de-Sac


'Cul-De-Sac' 

 1. A street, lane, etc., closed at one end; blind alley; dead-end street.2. Any situation in which further progress is impossible.
A truly terrifying 'monster in the house' (found footage) movie based within 'Sackbury Pitch'- an ancient old English forest sheltering the remains of an iron age hill fort dating back to the Iceni tribes, Queen Boadicea's invasion of Camulodunum and foreboding tales of the malevolent 'spirit of the wood '.


Check out a new found footage movie trailer but with an Evil Dead style vibe. The rough trailer gives a good indication as what to expect. If you'd like to see it made and help with the director's vision, have a look at the Indiegogo page:Cul-de-Sac


Starring the excellent character actor Frank Jakeman, it shows much promise and it would be great to see it at a FrightFest event.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Movie Review: The Equalizer



When The Equalizer was announced, as a project, I wasn’t exactly surprised. The majority of Hollywood action movies fall into two categories; Super heroes and the recycled ideas from yesteryear. When it was announced that Denzel Washington was to play Robert McCall, directed by Antoine Fuqua (a favourite director of mine) my interest meter rose to “excited”.

I have to say that the trailer didn’t do much for me as a fan of the TV show. I say “fan” as an overused word, when in fact I just liked it. The elements that thrilled me, in my late teens, involved the supporting characters Mickey Kostmayer (The always excellent Keith Szarabajka), Robert Lansing’s Control, and later on, Jimmy played by another dependable character actor, Mark Margolis. The helped give McCall depth, which was necessary as Edward Woodward played McCall very straight and disciplined. His performance was mistakenly described as “wooden” on occasion, which was untrue. Woodward was a very warm human being and to be that character required him to act very differently to his nature. I can’t say the show was ground breaking but it had charm and was possibly the first popular TV show to have an older action hero as its main character. I can probably be corrected on that. It also ran into trouble for being violent. It was a product of it’s time during which New York was suffering pre-Giuliani. It was no surprise that The Punisher comic book was about to become popular during this period because he was doing what fellow New Yorkers were afraid to, stand up against the criminal elements.
The tone of The Equalizer was quite vengeful. I recall an episode where a woman is strapped to a bomb. McCall rescues her and seemingly the perpetrator is escaping. The woman says to McCall:
“He’s getting away.”
McCall replies “No, he’s not” as he frees her from being tied to a chair. We hear an explosion as the criminal gets blown to bits from a car explosion that McCall has rigged.

For most of the series, I liked the fact that you didn’t quite know exactly what McCall did for the CIA. That aspect has been carefully preserved in the film.

The trailer made the film look like just another action film but branded with the name of a TV show, yet I did like the way in which McCall guessed how much time it would take to beat the living shit out of the bad guys. I should have had more faith in Fuqua, because the film itself is thrilling.

It opens quietly and atmospherically as we’re introduced to McCall. Here is a man who lives in a Spartan apartment and has become a creature of habit. He has a job in a hardware store and at nights goes to read a book in the same coffee shop. He lives life by ritual; evident in the way he sits in the same place, unwraps a napkin of cutlery, takes out all but the spoon and tends to a cup of tea. Also a regular of the coffee shop is cute teenager “Teri”. Like most teenagers, she likes things that are bad for her and McCall sometimes brings her cake from the birthday celebrations at his workplace. She becomes drawn to him because she sees in his eyes her own feelings of loss. They strike up a guarded friendship and begin talking during their visits to the place. He’s well aware of what she does, but doesn’t judge her or even mention it.

We’re treated to scenes establishing how well liked McCall is at work. He takes fellow worker, Ralphie (played by relative newcomer to movies; Johnny Skourtis) under his wing, as he’s training to be a security guard. These establishing scenes work well, as it’s easy to write a part in a revenge thriller and make the protagonist too dark and unlikeable.

When McCall learns that Teri has been brutally treated by her pimp, he utilises his skills to face the pimp and his entourage and violently end their operation. By doing so, he incurs the wrath of the Russian mob who send their best enforcer to Boston , to investigate. This puts all the people that McCall cares about in danger, leading to a bloody inevitable climax. In between this, we see McCall helping out families against corrupt cops making this feel like the origin of the TV character, which the final dénouement pays off.

For many years, I saw Denzel Washington as a “serious” actor who appeared to take roles in more high brow or cerebral projects like Glory, Much Ado About Nothing, The Pelican Brief, and Philadelphia (to name but a few). Lately, he’s proven himself to be a powerhouse of an action star. The Book of Eli is a good example, where he performed in widescreen action shots with little or no edits. His performance as Robert McCall is no disappointment. He truly nails the part of an ex-CIA operative atoning for the past.

Chloë Grace Moretz has already proven herself to be an energetic, and exciting actress in projects like Kick-Ass. She puts in a believable performance that harks back to Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver, although a bit older. Fuqua is careful not to over sexualise Moretz but keeping it obvious as to what profession she’s in. Moretz gives a sensous performance without it being dirty or explicit. She’s sympathetic and we can see why McCall is motivated to seek revenge for her. We’re put into the mind of McCall whereby she is seen as being in a bad place at the wrong, and is capable of so much more, given the opportunity.

Martin Csokas plays the Russian enforcer, Teddy. Csokas puts in a physical performance that struck me as a more controlled version of Stansfield, in Luc Besson’s Leon . Whilst Gary Oldman went just a little too near the mark of OTT (to be fair he played Stansfield as he was; a drug addled psycho) Csokas plays Teddy as quietly menacing before launching into an ultra violent assault on an Irish mobster. Compare that scene to another where he murders a young woman. Incidentally, the cinematography is chilling in the latter scene and recalls Hitchcock’s Rear Window with the viewer as the observer. I was also reminded slightly of Argento’s Tenebrae where the camera travels up an apartment wall, peeking in windows. Csokas has probably been in more projects than you would initially realise. He was recently in Amazing Spider-Man 2 as Dr Kafka, and Sin City 2 as Ivan Kravec.

Bill Pullman and Melissa Leo put in appearances as two retired operatives that McCall visits to gain some information. In my view, this scene is instrumental in setting up a sequel. Otherwise, it seems slightly out of place in as far as the design is concerned. It serves to fill some background but raises more questions than answers, which is why I suspect that the Plummers might appear in a potential Equalizer 2; a movie I thought was greenlit but Fuqua was cagey about, saying that it will depend upon the success of this one. Given that both Washington and Fuqua are to work on The Magnificent Seven, it won’t be soon. Fuqua told us that when approached about the new version of the classic Western, Washington was only interested in what horse he would ride and the guns he would be given: Shrewd man.


In my view, Fuqua is earning his place amongst directors like Scorsese, and Michael Mann. His attention to detail and artful use of the camera elevate his movies. The casting of his movies is always excellent, which helps. Harry Gregson-Williams rises to the occasion in this movie, making good use of the quiet moments by giving us a theme that implies the buried grief that McCall has. Gregson-Williams is one of the few composers in big budget movies that is capable of creating thematic sequences that are memorable after the film has finished and make me want to buy the score.
The screenplay by Richard Wenk (The Mechanic, 16 Blocks) is minimal and effective. By minimal I mean that we don’t get long laborious scenes of exposition. Fuqua fills in the gaps neatly through visual cues that give us what we need to know. Far too many movies bog down pacing by over plotting. There are no issues like that in The Equalizer. Of course, if you need, or have got used, to be drip fed information about a character, you’re going to be disappointed.

For a film based upon an eighties TV show, the movie has a 70s thriller vibe with 80s style editing. Mauro Fiore, who also worked on Fuqua’s Training Day, shows why he gets repeat work with the Director. The movie is stylish without becoming over stylised. I compare one of Washington ’s previous movies Man on Fire. I was irritated with Tony Scott’s ADHD style direction which spoilt a decent revenge flick. The Equalizer marries the stylish (McCall’s “Equalizer-vision when he analyses his opponents) to the more workman like hand-held camera work (subtly used to generate tension during scenes when McCall is being hunted by Russian heavies). Fuqua knows what lens, what camera to use for any given scene and it helps the movie along with being distracted. In the after screening Q&A, Fuqua points this out when questioned on what advice he would give budding filmmakers.

The action, when it comes, is hard and fast. There are plenty of action set pieces to enjoy. Before this gets to seem like a Neal/Fuqua love in, I do have only one small gripe that I can relay without spoiling the plot. Given that the movie’s action sequences, for the most part involve up close and personal violent fights between McCall and the antagonists, one big explosion is a bit out of place. I guess it’s necessary but it jars with the rest of the movie, for me. Like I said, a minor issue that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the movie. This is definitely in my Top Ten of 2014 movies.

I managed to thank Fuqua for delivering a “Hard R” rated movie, and I meant it with no sycophantic attitude. It’s great to see a violent thriller aimed at adults for a change and not embracing the PG-13 money spinner. With this in mind, I hope people do go and see it so that The Equalizer 2 gets made. There’s more story to tell.


Antoine Fuqua during the after screening Q&A


Thanks to www.DenofGeek.com for hosting the screening, and to Sony Pictures.




The movie will be shown in UK cinemas from the 26/09/2014.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Movie Review: Cold In July


Directed By Jim Mickle

Written By Nick Damici, Jim Mickle (screenplay adapted from a Joe R Lansdale novel)

Starring Michael C Hall, Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Wyatt Russell

Synopsis (from imdb.com)

When a protective father meets a murderous ex-con, both need to deviate from the path they are on as they soon find themselves entangled in a downwards spiral of lies and violence while having to confront their own inner psyche.

A bit of background

I've never made a secret of the fact that I'm a massive Miami Vice fan. So, when I heard that Don Johnson was going to guest on Graham Norton's UK chat show, I thought I'd catch it. I was interested in what Don was going to say about Cold in July (let's face it he was there to promote it). Just as it seemed that Don was going to talk about the Miami Vice years, Cheryl Cole interrupted by saying "Cuuuld in Joo-lie, there must hav coom over ere" or similar. Don lost his thread and whatever he was going to say got lost. Thanks Cheryl, after all it's all about you isn't it.
So, after that disappointment, I was primed to see a screening of Cold in July, with the Director doing a Q&A. I was hoping perhaps Don being in the country might mean a surprise visit but sadly it was not to be.

Review

This was always going to be a Perfect Storm, for me; a mix of Jim Mickle directing a Joe R Lansdale story, starring favourites of mine; Don Johnson, Michael C Hall and Nick Damici and scored by Jeff Grace. I'm a fan of all of them for different reasons. I sat there, thinking "Please don't suck". I can safely say that Cold In July doesn't suck. It's not the masterpiece that Stake Land was (I love that movie and I reviewed it here) but it's a potential movie of the year for me, so far.

What struck me immediately, was that the opening scene was so John Carpenter. I wondered if Mickle had asked the man to do him a favour and take over directing reigns. Of course, he hadn't and it's no slight to Mickle that I reference Carpenter. It's a clear homage; a love letter to that era. The electronic score, by Jeff Grace evokes the Carpenter/Howarth collaboration that produced such iconic scores to Halloween, Escape From New York and Dark Star, yet has an identity all of it's own. Grace takes a theme that initially is a driving techno track and in the right places, repeats the theme with a gentle piano version that is very effective.
Some of the shots emulate Carpenter's style, from Halloween. The night shoot is so good and refined that it could have been carried out by Dean Cundey. When the title arrives on screen it even appears to have the same font that Carpenter favoured for most of his movies. There is also a few nods to Dario Argento, with the use of colour and camera movement.
Mickle's previous background in Horror movies will explain many of the tense scenes that follow those conventions, even down to the manhunt towards the end.

The movie begins with an intruder in Hall's house. To say much more than that might spoil the film. Cold in July is one of the few Lansdale novels that I haven't read. Generally, I stuck to his genre books (From Zombie Westerns to Drive Ins besieged by alien monsters) and the Hap and Leonard series (something Mickle is adapting to television, with a pilot due to be submitted this Fall). I went in without knowing the plot and the viewing benefitted from that.

In typical Noir fashion, an event opens up a whole can of bad worms, as the triumvirate of Hall, Shephard and Johnson find a common cause and a foe to vanquish.

Don Coscarelli showed that it was possible to film a low budget adaptation of Lansdale's novel whilst retaining the voice of Lansdale. Well, it was easy because on both occasions, Lansdale did adapt his own screenplays and this is the only minor gripe of mine; that Lansdale's voice wasn't quite as pronounced. This isn't a major failing and more of an nit pick on my part.

As one of my fellow viewers remarked on, at the Q&A, what Mickle does brilliantly is portray  the last year of the 80s with reverence and accuracy. There are things that you'll laugh at; Hall's mullet, Johnson's car phone, but Mickle invites you to laugh without sarcasm. With the car phone, Mickle and Damici's screenplay cleverly references mobile phone signal issues that we still suffer today.

Having just seen 8 seasons of Dexter, I can say that at no point did I think "there's Dexter". Hall plays a not entirely sympathetic character who reacts to a situation and then finds himself discovering an ugly side to his character that has to tap into, to protect his family.

When Don Johnson arrives, the tone of the movie shifts and becomes a little lighter. His gravitas is perfectly in place, and similar to his participation in Robert Rodriguez's TV adaptation of From Dusk til Dawn.

I've read that some found it difficult to empathise with the characters. For me, the characters become drawn together to get rid of a sickness that pervades their community. We don't see the bigger picture, we just see how the Dixie Mafia has influenced behaviour and encouraged it. There's no need to tell that bigger story.

Fans of Blood Simple, and Fargo, will enjoy this story. It follows a similar path to bloody and violent revenge thrillers, too.

The final scenes evoke memories of John Flynn's Rolling Thunder, John Woo's A Better Tomorrow 2 with it's Peckinpah style violent gun battle.

Verdict

With Transformers 4 about to dominate the World Box Office, it's refreshing that a movie like this actually got a cinema release, whoever limited. I would have expected this to go straight on to disc. I hope this shows great faith in a director and writer whose careers on the up. I also hope that with The Equalizer receiving a "Hard R" certificate in the US, film studios recognise that movies that appeal to adults can still be made without editing them to a PG-13. Whilst I understand the economics of doing this, cinema is competing with increasingly violent TV shows like Banshee, Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead. With this in mind, I look forward to seeing the show based on Joe R Lansdale's Hap and Leonard stories. Good times in the Southern US will continue on screen.

Cold in July is currently on release.


A big thanks to FrightFest for putting on the screening and the Q&A. Tickets have just gone on sale for their annual London Film Festival. Find out how to buy tickets here.

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Movie Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past



It’d be very easy for me to compare the comic book two parter, originally published in Uncanny X-Men 141/142 (Volume one, of course). After all, it’s one of my favourite stories. But, the movie stands on its own and is more of a sequel to First Class than the previous X-Men movies.
That said, as this is a feature review, I will just mention the cool bits of the original story. What draws you immediately to the comic books are the covers. Uncanny X-Men has had some of the best covers and also some of the worst; the X-Babies comes to mind. The Days of Future Past delivered on the tag lines. Issue 141 is my all time favourite X-Men cover, with an older looking Kitty Pryde, and Wolverine (wearing a fur lined flight jacket) standing in front of a wanted poster, illuminated by a search light, that includes mutant and “normal” superheroes pictures, with either “Apprehended” on the face, or “Slain”. The second issue, 151, shows Wolverine being blasted by a Sentinel energy beam, with a tagline that says; “This Issue everybody dies!” Grim stuff.

The opening images of hundreds of bodies being discarded into pits, showing the extent of a Genocidal policy is another Singer representation of a World War 2 atrocity that has even more resonance now, with extreme Right-wing views getting more support. With the ever increasing developments in A.I. and the potential for it to run amok, this story is still timely. Imagine 20 foot robots hunting down immigrants. It’s not difficult to do. In America alone they could be used along the Mexican border.

The threat of the Sentinels, and the damage that they’ve caused, is conveyed very quickly in the opening act. Future X-Men, including Blink and Bishop are protecting Professor X, and Magneto (the old timers, basically) and working out ways to outwit the Sentinels. But, their days are numbered. It’s clear that the Sentinels are learning and adapting too damn quickly. Converting their current strategy, of sending people back in time to work out how to avoid the robots, it’s decided to use Wolverine for a much longer trip in order to change their future. Dodgy time travel theory aside, it makes sense for Wolverine to travel back in time, instead of another character due to his healing factor. Logan is also the most popular and interesting character for this to happen to. What follows are opportunities for humour, peppered along the way, such as his “first” meeting with Hank McCoy.

Peter Dinklage is one of my favourite character actors alive today. I first noticed his skill, as an actor in Nip/Tuck. Then, like everyone else, I enjoyed his performance as Tyrion Lannister, in Game of Thrones. In this he plays Bolivar Trask, the creator of the Sentinel program and (unknowingly) the cause of such a bleak future. Like William Stryker, Trask thinks he’s saving humanity but he goes about it in such a misguided amoral way; carving up mutants on lab tables is not a benevolent way of addressing the matter. Nor is creating an army of killer robots. So, Mystique takes it upon herself to stop him. Logan is out to stop her. What follows is an entertaining and slightly thought provoking movie. I say “slightly” because the audience is sophisticated enough, now, for it. Back in 1981, the comic book story caused a fan boy stir.

Later in the movie, the future X-Men are dispatched in quite grisly ways. Whilst there’s no blood, that I could see, the brutal efficiency in the way the super-sentinels stab, spike, tear and decapitate is a little disturbing if you’ve seen the characters in the three movies.

Highlights for me included the Quicksilver sequence, which was just as innovative as the Nightcrawler scene was in X2 , where he invaded the White House. I liked the comedic moments with Logan but was disappointed at a limited battle with Sentinels. His claws did not get a work out. The movie was more a sequel to First Class than I initially suspected. Both McAvoy and Fassbender put in strong performances; McAvoy spitting out “I don’t want your future!” and Fassbender with his pained cry about how he didn’t do something that I’m not going to spoil. Logan takes a bit of a back seat. Just as he’s about to get all feral, he’s taken out of the picture. It reminded me of the Fox animated series, from the early 90s. Every time, Wolverine was about to get violent, they’d take him out of the story with a laser blast or something.

I’ve seen comments about continuity, but there’s always been a problem with that. The obvious example being X-Men Origins, with the Director refusing to acknowledge stylistic references from X-1 and 2 despite the movie being a prequel. Continuity goes wrong in comic book form, too, so my advice is to ignore that aspect of Days of Future Past and enjoy it for what it is; an attempt to right some previous wrongs (in Last Stand, that is).

Days of Future Past was always a cautionary tale, with an explicit message about what can happen if the wrong decision is made. The film doesn’t shy away from this but to its credit it does exactly what comic books do. For those who want an action film, although there’s a wait for a big battle, there are battles beforehand, you get it. If you want something deeper than a blockbusting action flick then you can look deeper and find nuances of character that show that many of the main characters are going through some exploration of what it means to be who they are. The dilemma facing people is that of might over mental ability, at times.


Is this the best X-Men movie yet? I’m undecided as I love X2. Only repeated viewings of a, hopefully extended, Blu-ray release will tell that.

Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Chronicles of Wayfarer

video
News coming soon...

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

CD Review: Lucid by Matt Stevens




I recall some years back actually queuing up for a gig. It was a K-Scope night at the Union Chapel and once again, Matt Stevens was handing out flyers encouraging people to listen to his music. I’d seen him support artists before, but I was struck by his tenacity, if you will, exuberance at continually working hard to self-promote. He did a superlative job and with the help of social media and word of mouth, news did get around and Matt’s popularity increased exponentially. I recall seeing him at The Borderline, as a support and he deserved a bigger crowd. As I sat, watching his amazing guitar work, he brought to mind a big bear of a Prog Mariachi-fast and furious, but with the contrast of being an exceptionally personable guy.

I’ll avoid going into Matt’s biography, because I reckon you’re probably reading this because I’ve advertised it amongst my friends on Facebook, so you're one of the FB crowd instead of someone googling a review of Lucid and arriving here randomly. I’m not a music reviewer; I’ll leave that to my peers who deservedly get published on official music websites and in Rock publications, but I will proffer an opinion.

Matt has proven to be highly creative when constructing guitar-based tracks. What he does brilliantly, and it shows on this album, is that he eschews the trappings that guitarists normally get into when releasing instrumental albums-you know, the sort of album that is a showcase for the individual’s talent as an artist, but is hugely self-indulgent and praised by only the most sycophantic of fans-and gets on with entertaining tracks that showcase the light and shade that he is capable of. Influences from his own work are clear in some tracks, but this is not a solo album that we’ve heard before. Fuzzy, dirty noise that you’d expect to here on a Fierce and the Dead track thrust through the track Unsettled, and is Jimi Hendrix after 15 pints of Doom Bar. 

Echoes of previous solo work turn up in the tracks Flow, The Other Side, KEA and A Boy. Track 6 Coulrophobia appears, to me, to be influenced by Steven Wilson. It has that quality about it. Far from being a derogatory statement, I think it shows the evolution of Matt Stevens as a musician; in that he’s saturating in music that he enjoys and giving it that Stevens identity.

If I had one criticism, it’s from a Prog fan’s perspective. Some tracks are just too damn short. Exhibit A: the title track, Lucid. This is a fine track and it feels like a ruined orgasm when it ends. It ends too soon; there’s no payoff for me. I hope Matt releases a longer version, to give a more satisfying experience. The Bridge, of course, cannot be criticised for this.

Guest stars such as Jem Godfrey, Pat Mastelotto, and Stuart Marshall help to give the album a dimension that it deserves. The bass work by Lorenzo Feliciati and Charlie Cawood is particularly effective.

If this is your first Matt Stevens album, I recommend hunting down his previous work. Lucid is so good that they might seem like demo recordings. Whilst that description sounds unfair, as the quality of Ghost, and Relic (for example) is very good, it serves to illustrate and chart the evolution of this clever guitarist. I’m excited to see what exposure Stevens gets from this album. I’m hoping that it opens more doors to collaboration.

Praise should also go to Esoteric Antenna, for putting their money where their mouth is and producing a memorable album that has immense replay value. With strong albums by The War on Drugs, and John Wesley already commanding my attention for album of the year, it should say much that Lucid now joins that battle, in my head, for the top spot. This is another good year for music, as it’s only April. Forthcoming albums include the new one from Opeth, IQ, and Tim Bowness. We’re spoilt rotten!

Lucid can be bought from good record shops (try finding one) or all good inter web stockists. I recommend Burning Shed: