Saturday, 29 October 2016

Powers - Season 1

Cast: Sharlto Copley, Susan Heyward, Noah Taylor, Eddie Izzard, and Michelle Forbes

Creators: Brian Bendis and Charlie Huston

437 minutes (18) 2015
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Sony DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton

“Killers can’t be heroes.” High concept, but fairly low-budget, this sci-fi/ fantasy TV series ponders the question what if Heroes (2006-10) was a cop show instead of a soap opera? A superhero named Diamond lost his powers and became police detective Walker (a hero who can’t fly!) so there is an aspect of metaphorical disability to this drama where abilities are just as much a curse as a gift. Michelle Forbes is great as the super-glam Retro Girl, a veteran of the disbanded team Powers United, and still an inspirational role model to a new generation of wannabe heroes like the powerless Calista (Olesya Rulin).

Frequently annoying teleporter Johnny Royalle (Noah Taylor) deals booster-drug Sway from his own night-club, and has a secret bunker lair with no doors. Eddie Izzard plays crazy convict Wolfe, an indestructible but not invulnerable mass-murderer who eats people (his attempted prison breakout brings all the intense horrors of hellish pits to an underground cell-block), and took away Diamond’s powers. Young costumed types of the Powerz Kidz, like fashionable Zora (Logan Browning), are usually more interested in publicity stunts and egotistical branding for their celebrity profiles than doing the right thing.

There are tragic mistakes on both sides of the law, and police loyalties and responsibilities are tested to every limit, particularly for Walker’s new partner Deena (Susan Heyward). The show embraces witty and complex themes for its contemporary fantasy lore (including some flashbacks to 1990s origins of older characters), and the changing social mores of a manipulative and parasitical culture that inevitably results in a killer, self-tagged as Kaotic Chic, who targets heroes in killings “Staged for the pleasure of the ignorant masses.”

“Pull your self together,” says Walker to an instant-clone copy of multiplying henchman Simons. “I’m stuck inside myself,” he complains in custody when cops lock him up in a coffin-sized cell. Apocalyptic menace of extreme possibilities in the mooted Black Swan scenario concerns the LAPD’s resident cyborg. Walker regains his powers only briefly. Co-creator Brian Bendis has significantly good form in comics (advancing the ret-con makeover cause of Marvel’s Ultimates series), and his work brings cynical vibes and redemptive tones, as popularised by film noir (“Life is a wearying endeavour”), so that this show seems much closer to Warren Ellis’ inventive genre-bending than anything inspired by the more obvious touchstone of Alan Moore’s Top 10 comics. 

Powers: Season 1 is great TV entertainment about both the morals of justice and the motives of criminality. It’s a terrific show that skilfully combines costumed superhero action scenes with compelling dramas of lost identity and rediscovering a purpose in life.  

Monday, 24 October 2016

The Curse Of Sleeping Beauty

Cast: Ethan Peck, India Eisley, Natalie Hall, and Bruce Davison           
Director: Pearry Teo

89 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lionsgate DVD Region 2

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

Inspired by the Grimm brothers’ Little Briar Rose story, and based upon a comic-book version of that fairy-tale, this low-budget movie is directed by Singapore-born auteur Pearry Reginald Teo, maker of sci-fi actioner The Gene Generation (2007), uncanny horror Necromentia (2009), fantasy adventure Witchville (2010), and bloody thriller Dracula: The Dark Prince (2013). Each of the filmmaker’s works successfully creates a unique world for the genre screen, and his latest performs the same cinematic trick. 

Haunted by weirdly romantic dreams, lonesome artist Thomas Kaiser (Ethan Peck, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) is drawn out of his lethargy when he inherits a decaying mansion. Complete with secret passages and sealed cellars, the ancestral home of his broken family hides a captured girl, in suspended animation, whose revival depends upon a kiss from Thomas. So far, so ordinary, and in-line with all traditional fables of enchanted slumber, but The Curse Of Sleeping Beauty eventually becomes full-blown gothic horror with a techno contemporary appeal. 

Teo composes images of suffocating obsession, exploring apparently romantic destiny that starts off with strobe-lit encounters in dusty rooms where lurking demons scuttle around, and spooky mannequins deliver jittery menace from over the uncanny valley. Doll-faced India Eisley (star of futuristic action movie Kite, 2014) makes a wonderful, yet eerie Briar Rose - ultimately the unwilling host for satanic and catastrophic forces. As the gun-toting cleric, genre veteran Bruce Davison brings exposition, and defiance of supernatural powers. He banishes djinns, and leads our doomed Prince Charming towards a final confrontation with the spell of evil.

The twist-ending of a diabolical turnaround into apocalyptic misfortune upsets many narrative conventions, and yet seems fitting after numerous hints and foreshadowing of netherworld apparitions. Thomas’ recurring dreams are obviously too seductive for comfort, and so the climactic volte-face, and human-domain foreclosure, is expected. All happy ever afters are hereby cancelled.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Tales Of Halloween

Cast: Hunter Smit, Cameron Easton, and Adrienne Barbeau       
Creator: Axelle Carolyn

92 minutes (18) 2015
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Arrow blu-ray region B
[Released 24th October]

Rating: 6/10
Review by Steven Hampton

Narrated by the heroine from John Carpenter’s The Fog, this is a compendium of 10 comedy-horror short films. Should the dead of night be just kitschy fun or something else... that’s genuinely scary? Do today’s genre fans prefer traditional spooky chills or undomesticated rawk ‘n’ roles? The first segment concerns a sin like gluttony, and it hints at better things to come but, sadly, nothing very interesting happens, especially in terms of neo-gothic narratives or gore scenes or sudden frights.

There are lots of bad kids, good kids, cute kids, and edible kids, with practical jokes that inevitably backfire, low-brow humour and macabre slapstick, grisly torments and motive-free violence. Lacking any fresh ideas beyond its undeserving fascination with all-too-familiar horror mayhem stuff like comicbook monsters and sadistic teens scampering about through the un-breathable smog of atmosphere, anthology feature Tales Of Halloween offers nothing more than just another empty celebration of the American holiday season’s darkest day.

Like a recurring dream or a genre obsession, the original Night Of The Living Dead appears on TV screen during various home intrusions. This is far less experimental than The ABCs Of Death or those V/H/S features, although it is trying hard to rank alongside Creepshow and its many imitators. The revenge of a pumpkin-head is one geeky nightmare of remarkable absurdity. Horror icons, like John Landis and Joe Dante, are reduced to mere guest cameos. Half tired, half tiresome; TOH is rather a nonsensical flick that is nevertheless an amiable timewaster, quite likely to please followers of the Masters Of Horror TV series.

Monday, 17 October 2016

One Million Years BC


Directed by Don Chaffey
Starring Raquel Welch, John Richardson, and Martine Beswick

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) is the spectacular prehistoric adventure that gave the world the most iconic bikini shot of all time, and made a star of fur-clad Raquel Welch. An epic tale of man’s battle for survival at the dawn of civilisation, rival tribes the Rock People and the Shell People battle not only the gigantic prehistoric monsters and each other, but the earth itself, still heaving, bubbling and boiling in its volcanic state.

Billed as the 100th production from the legendary Hammer production house, the highlight of the film was without doubt the stop-motion dinosaur animation by legendary special effects animator Ray Harryhausen. The result was Hammer’s biggest commercial success, and the big screen’s most famous dinosaur epic right up until the release of Jurassic Park, 26 years later.

The film will be released on DVD and Blu-ray by Studiocanal.

Special features:
New interviews with Raquel Welch and Martine Beswick
Exclusive Ray Harryhausen stills, storyboard, and artwork
Production stills gallery.


Rating: 8/10 
Review by Ian Shutter

A British remake of Hal Roach's 1939 classic One Million BC, this prehistoric adventure was produced by Michael Carreras for Hammer and it became the studios' biggest ever success, making an international sex symbol of its star, Raquel Welch. 

The story of primitive humans and dinosaurs living together in the same era, this is an outlandish and frightfully dated movie when viewed today. Shot on stunning locations in the Canary Islands, with the volcanic landscape of Lanzarote providing a particularly convincing backdrop, One Million Years BC features John Richardson as Tumak, the caveman exiled from his 'Rock People' tribe, who journeys to the ocean's shore where he meets the more advanced 'Shell People', epitomised by Welch in furry bikini as Loana. 

A lack of scripted dialogue for the actors, except for faux names (often comprising too many syllables for credibility), meant that gestures and physical attitudes were at the heart of the cast's variable performances, while director Chaffey had to carefully storyboard every scene involving creature effects - but he was used to this exacting process by now, having previously made the magnificent Jason And The Argonuats (aka: Jason And The Golden Fleece, 1963). Of particular note for chauvinists is the cat-fight between Loana and Nupondi (Martine Beswick), which is probably the most exciting bit of the film.

Stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen, fresh from his success with First Men In The Moon, 1964 (which adapted H.G. Wells' book into a space travel farce), worked for nine months, after Chaffey's ten weeks of principal photography, to create the memorable dinosaur effects. These included a brontosaurus, an attacking allosaurus, and a battle between a triceratops and a ceratosaurus. There's also a giant turtle, and a pterodactyl that, at one point, snatches up Loana.