Monday, 11 September 2017

Dark Matter: Season 3

Cast: Melissa O’Neil, Anthony Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr, Jodelle Ferland, and Roger Cross

Creators: Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie

585 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Acorn DVD Region 2

Rating: 7/10
Review by Christopher Geary

Like its genre TV rival Killjoys, this Canadian space opera series concerns heroes versus overlords where the influence of British adventure Blake’s 7 (1978-81) is apparent, but general sci-fi themes are a far greater influence than any specific or current production. Here, corporate war breaks out to concern the mercenary crew of starship Raza, caught up in the galactic rivalry between governmental authority and royalist empires. Following the developments of Season Two, Dark Matter: Season Three continues to blend its post-cyberpunk and techno-chiller themes with FTL interstellar adventures, pitched on a sub-genre spectrum of quite distinctive colours and tones apart from expansive Star Trek inter-species politics and pulp-inspired conflicts of Star Wars. 


Peacemaker Six (Roger Cross) settles on a colony to help the workers win independence against security forces. Actress Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl) switches effortlessly between the clockwork angel of her android character (“I have a good feeling about this”), to vamped glamour of her undercover seductress role-play, and the malevolent death machine when she’s hacked by enemy techies. The faulty ‘blink drive’ accidentally shifts Raza 600 years into the past, which prompts the crew to visit Earth in 21st century, playing creepy aliens in suburbia. No paradox avoidance strategy survives any confrontation with unanticipated events, never mind a random coincidence.


Android refugees with religious beliefs in search of their creator, with robot freedom as the prize, overthrowing humanity, and stars the final destination form a strong thread in this third season’s plot-arc, where “polymer-coated nano-fibres and... boobs” is the Raza ship’s own blonde android’s new ‘blondroid’ look, even before her emotion-chip upgrade. The ongoing feud between Raza crew-members Two (Melissa O’Neil) and Four, alias: Ryo (Alex Mallari Jr) soon escalates and leads to her kidnapping with an emperor’s ultimatum for the Raza crew.


With alternative-world versions of the main characters lurking in the background of plots, and interactions shedding light upon originals and their doubles, circumstances are tricky and become increasingly complicated as new story-arcs spin and weave between crew or gang. Everything is on the line and comes to head when an enemy shipyard in space has to be destroyed but the only weapon available causes a dimensional rift, opening a portal for sinister ‘black ships’ to enter the continuum. This obvious and predictable cliff-hanger ending yet, unfortunately, the show has been cancelled by SyFy.       


Monday, 28 August 2017

Legends Of Tomorrow: Season 2

Cast: Victor Garber, Caity Lotz, Brandon Routh, Dominic Purcell, and Neal McDonough

Creators: Marc Guggenheim, Phil Klemmer, and Greg Berlanti

715 minutes (15) 2016-7
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Warner blu-ray region B

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton

A by-product of the DC media franchise, comic-book TV adventure Legends Of Tomorrow follows the relative success of Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl, assembling a mixed gang of rogue supporting characters. Recruited for time-travel missions against a super-villain, to save the planet and fix an unstable history troubled by immortal Vandal Savage, who’s conquered the entire world in the future. After defeating their arch-enemy, this epic story continues in Legends Of Tomorrow: The Complete Second Season, beginning with a mystery as their leader Rip Hunter (Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who) disappears. The group of ‘outcasts and misfits’ remain together and take over the unofficial police duty against any time-travelling pirates and meddlers. Charting a safe pathway between the chaos theory and domino effects of aberrations in the time-stream, to repair or defend the established timeline - even with guidance from a new historian, is not easy for the fractious crews of time-ship ‘Waverider’.



Although Dr Martin Stein (Victor Garber), one half of nuclear-powered hybrid ‘Firestorm’, assumes command initially, it’s Sara Lance - alias White Canary (Caity Lotz, Arrow) who soon becomes the new captain. Ray Palmer - alias The Atom (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns) has various problems with his hi-tech suit, while thuggish Heat Wave (Dominic Purcell) mourns the loss of his partner-in-crime Captain Cold (Wentworth Miller). But the individuals in this crew must be forged into a team capable of saving troubled humanity, and the whole world, from all their fractured yesteryears to the distant future-history. 



In 1942, the heroes save New York from a Nazi nuke and meet the Justice Society for a WW2 mission. In feudal Japan, they tackle the roles of seven samurai protecting a village from a brutal Shogun. In Mississippi during the Civil War they face zombies that bite, although the really hot topic here is rebellion against slavery. Evincing a world-weary heroism that few can match, Lance Henriksen guest stars as Obsidian, last of the JSA in 1987, working at the White House. Always excellent in cowboy movie roles, Jeff Fahey turns up in a wild western where the desperado of death Jonah Hex is found in need of saving from a lynch mob. Along the way, the Waverider irregulars pick-up newcomers including new historian Nate (Nick Zano), who becomes Citizen Steel, and JSA super heroine Amaya - alias Vixen (Maisie Richardson-Sellers). But nearly all trails and clues lead to plots by Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough), aided by evil cohorts Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), and Eobard Thawne - alias Reverse Flash (Matt Letscher). 


There are visits to Capone’s Chicago in the ‘roaring 1920s’, Washington’s great revolution against British colonial rule, King Arthur’s Camelot where ‘Sara Lancelot’ adds some spice to a classic myth, and Raiders Of The Lost Art suggests that George Lucas directs classic movies to inspire inventors and historians. The brain-washed Rip Hunter is captured, but he takes over Waverider time-ship, and the only way that the crew have of getting their old captain back is to get inside his head with a mind-link. So, after psychic contretemps, the lanky Brit is soon back in charge. A rare space mission intercepts the sabotaged, and hijacked, Apollo 13 mission on the dark-side of the Moon. Can even the legends pull off a lunar rescue to get Odyssey’s crew home safely without any resorting to a Cold Equations sacrificial solution?


The main cross-over storyline links LOT with Arrow, The Flash, and Supergirl for a team-up adventure to fight alien invaders the Dominators. Shadowed by men-in-black agents, haunted by absent friends and missing relatives - due to the alternate ‘Flash-point’ world, and afraid of strangers, the various heroes defending the Earth must learn that meddling with timelines for personal gain doesn’t result in a better world.




Finally, got the Spear of Destiny? “Set a course for the Crucifixion.” But, no... They’re off to the French trenches of WW1 on a quest leading to a fellowship with the young Tolkien instead. Doomworld posits absolute victory for the Legion of super-villains complete with clichéd, homicidal monologues. Ultimate iterations of Legends might also be final or fatal versions. Will superheroes die or just fade away? LOT season two is 17 episodes, packed with amusing comic-book sci-fi fantasy sketches and witty genre mash-ups. The show is one of a kind that’s slowly risen to the heights of being the best DC TV series because of its comparative lack of boring soap opera where the story grinds to a halt for supporting players to emote, while details of their sundry relationships are delivered with gratuitous moping about or woolly introspection. Sob stories always spoil the fun. 


Friday, 25 August 2017

Supergirl: Season 2

Cast: Melissa Benoist, Mehcad Brooks, Chyler Leigh, David Harewood, and Chris Wood

Creators: Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti, and Andrew Kreisberg

968 minutes (12) 2016-7
Widescreen ratio 16:9
Warner blu-ray region B

Rating: 7/10
Review by Richard Bowden

“In order to live, we must keep daring,” Kat Grant advises her protégé Kara Danvers. Unlike DC’s other TV shows, troubled by the muddled plotting of Arrow and soapy skiffy of The Flash, the debut season of Supergirl presented a witty balance of super-heroics and office sit-com. Like Buffy during the 1990s, Supergirl is presented as a role model, but also now a feminist media icon for 21st century TV, and this is tremendous fun, boasting innate charm and genre humour to spare. Some of that goes on in Supergirl: The Complete Second Season, as when departing guest Superman says “to be continued,” and gets away with it. The show delivers topical and relevant stories, while avoiding a blatantly campy attitude towards often light-hearted material.


The kryptonite powered cyborg Metallo is particularly trying challenge for the high-flying heroine. Meanwhile, influenced by her visitor Clark Kent, Kara opts to become a reporter for CatCo magazine, working for news-room editor Snapper Carr, a grouchy kind of Lou Grant as a stickler for top quality journalism, and staunch defender of the Fourth Estate. In the absence of Calista Flockhart’s corporate diva Cat Grant, it’s this revisionist version of Snapper Carr (winningly portrayed by Ian Gomez) who becomes the heart of maturity offering an intelligent perspective for the second season. Despite his on-screen presence in only eight episodes, his grumpy charisma overshadows most of the office scenes, even when he’s off-stage. “A half-truth is a whole lie.”   



Welcome To Earth features ex-Wonder Woman Lynda Carter as the President, offering an ‘alien amnesty act’ to calm immigration problems, while several new ETs appear, with or without any dramatic space-ship arrival events. There are cage fights for alien gladiators, cop cars in orbit, and yet more sci-fi weapons alongside references to the climate change debate, lesbian angst, and questions of moral prejudice or social responsibility, producing unhappy lives with brave smiles.



Contending with a monster called Parasite, Martian mutation, a theft of Kryptonian blood, deportation instead of execution, while alien bounty-hunters are after Supergirl - wanted: dead or alive, our supreme young super-heroine tackles mightier menaces that her lesser costumed colleagues - in TV shows Arrow, and The Flash, are simply unable to overcome. 
The cross-over event for this year is the Dominators alien-invaders storyline that’s out on standalone DVD as Invasion.




The show’s mix of sci-fi themes also has medical a nano-tech manifestation that becomes a weaponised swarm, while guest star appearances as familiar DC characters bring unexpected returns for apparent betrayal, predictable farewells for the common good, and extra-legal shenanigans, in contrast with the dos & don’ts for rom-com dates. Supergirl and some DEO agents confront insidious villainy from the Cadmus cabal that’s led by Lillian Luthor (Brenda Strong). Teri Hatcher and Kevin Sorbo play alien parents, the Queen and King of planet Daxam. Unfortunately, there is more dreary soap opera instead of appealing sitcom routines this season, and Supergirl slips down the rating chart. While this remains a better show than Arrow and The Flash, DC comics on TV is now easily dominated by its breakaway adventure series Legends Of Tomorrow.


Thursday, 3 August 2017

Resident Evil: Vendetta

Voice cast: Kevin Dorman, Matthew Mercer, and Erin Cahill

Director: Takanori Tsujimoto

97 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony blu-ray region free  

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton  

“Tomorrow, the world will be a different place.” The cross-genre appeal of Resident Evil is especially impressive in three varied particulars, as it cleverly evokes the burning cities of apocalyptic sci-fi, the sweaty anxiety of haunted house fantasy, and the grisly splatter of dismemberment horror. In this third CG animated feature, the heroes tackle a villain who intends to destroy New York with a new strain of the deadly virus. There’s floppy-haired maverick agent Leon (Matthew Mercer), hard-boiled but sympathetic soldier Chris (Kevin Dorman), and the newcomer is adorably cute professor Rebecca (Erin Cahill), who is not afraid to tell off the boys, and knock sense into their stubborn or selfish attitudes. With a support crew in tow, this trio face the monstrous machinations of Arias, the businessman creating zombies as commercial products - to feed his quest for diabolical vengeance and to fund an apparent vanity for tailored suits, just like a typical James Bond nemesis.


Here, standard displays of action movie hardware (“Dibs on the bike”), and urban scenes are often indistinguishable from live-action counterparts, while the leading players are all depicted via the aid of with state-of-the-art motion capture techniques. Digital characters in this movie are enhanced so that every shrug, twitch, blink, smirk, and small gesture is rendered by digital artists with exquisite care and textured magic. If some minor bouts of stillness and the general lack of micro-expressions might sometimes make the main stars appear wooden in terms of performance values, let us not forget how stoicism and wholly professional calm are also traits of characters in these genre scenarios that are worthy of emulation.



Resident Evil: Vendetta boasts a storytelling verve and chaptering that is well achieved by grimly tragic twists or absurdly comic turns. Shoot ‘em up episodes are de rigueur for this milieu, as are some advanced weapons as tools of the mayhem trade, monsters as a merchandise traffic, and the overtly sexualised, ultra-violent blonde villainess. Solidarity among the survivors is what makes the premise most interesting as it provides a credible humanity in this amoral world of inhumanity to people alongside a worship of wealth and power, clearly reflecting the concerns of 21st century reality. With a plot-line that all but laughs at the anti-vaccine propaganda that seems to be closely related to stupid fears of science and technology, this movie also astutely references The Bride Of Frankenstein as wittily as Frankenhooker did. Where this franchise best helps to redefine the comic-book conventions of protagonist versus antagonist is in its presentation of ultimate showdowns featuring an evil mastermind and superhuman henchman combined into a single menace.      



Disc extras:
  • Filmmaker audio commentary
  • Stills gallery
  • CGI To Reality: The Creature featurette (exclusive to Blu-ray)
  • CGI To Reality: Designing Vendetta featurette (exclusive to Blu-ray)
  • Motion Capture Set Tour with Dante Carver (exclusive to Blu-ray)

Bonus disc exclusive to Blu-ray:
  • B.S.A.A. Mission Briefing: Combat Arias
  • Designing The World Of Vendetta featurette
  • 2016 Tokyo Game Show footage

Monday, 31 July 2017

Dreamscape

Cast: Dennis Quaid, Max von Sydow, Christopher Plummer, Kate Capshaw, and David Patrick Kelly

Director: Joseph Ruben

99 minutes (15) 1984
Widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Second Sight blu-ray region B

Rating: 7/10
Review by Octavio Ramos Jr

Directed by Joseph Ruben (The Pom-Pom Girls and Money Train), Dreamscape stars Dennis Quaid as Alex Gardner, a young man who uses his psychic abilities to make money. Rather than help make a local hood rich, Alex agrees to work with his mentor Dr Paul Novotny (Max von Sydow) on a research project in which ESPers can ‘dream-link’ into the minds of troubled individuals. The goal is to determine the power of dreams and nightmares, and subsequently remedy deep psychological problems that manifest most clearly in the world of the subconscious.

While Novotny, Alex, and psychologist and love interest Jane (Kate Capshaw), address problems such as a husband’s impotence in a comedy relief sequence, and a child’s ‘Snakeman’ nightmare in a horror sequence, the US President (Eddie Albert) is plagued by nightmares that he will someday destroy the world through the use of nuclear weapons. To help these dreams come true, bad guy Bob Blair (Christopher Plummer) recruits Tommy Ray Glatman (David Patrick Kelly), also a talented ESPer but one with homicidal tendencies.


The movie’s climax takes place within the President’s dream world, with Tommy Ray using martial arts - which Alex manages to defeat with a single blow (very unlikely!), and assuming the Snakeman’s form in an attempt to kill the president in his dream. Alex responds with a psychological secret of his own and, in the end, manages to kill Tommy Ray in his sleep, rescue the President, and save the world. Dreamscape was the prototype film of its kind, setting the trend for films such as A Nightmare On Elm Street and The Cell. For its time the special effects are solid if not a bit cheesy, and the performances are either over-the-top (Quaid) or wooden (Capshaw). The story itself is compelling and the screenplay adequate, and although some of the sequences are exciting, when combined the pieces feel disjointed and weak.



Restored with 2K scan for this hi-def release.
Bonus material:
  • The Actor's Journey interview with Dennis Quaid
  • Dreamscapes And Dreammakers - retrospective including interviews with Ruben,co-writer David Loughery, actor David Patrick Kelly, and members of the special effects dept.
  • Nightmares And Dreamsnakes - looks back at the Snakeman with Craig Reardon, David Patrick Kelly, and others
  • In-depth conversation between producer Bruce Cohn Curtis and co-writer/ producer Chuck Russell
  • Commentary track with Bruce Cohn Curtis, David Loughery, and Craig Reardon
  • Snakeman test footage
  • Stills gallery



Thursday, 27 July 2017

Power Rangers

Cast: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, R.J. Cyler, Ludi Lin, and Becky G.

Director: Dean Israelite

124 minutes (12) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B
[Released 31st July]

Rating: 6/10
Review by Donald Morefield

In the wake of the revamped Ninja Turtles movies, Saban’s Power Rangers starts on a Cenozoic era Earth where conflict between injured hero Zordon (Bryan Cranston) versus evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks), who chews up any scenery with gusto, is interrupted by a meteor strike that devastates the planet. This is a surprisingly dramatic prologue that’s intended to evoke a legendary tone for what follows, although much of it is quite broadly humorous.       

About 66 million years later, college prankster and aimless quarterback Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the survivor of a car crash, finds himself punished by detention along with other naughty kids, ex-cheerleader Kimberley (Naomi Scott), techie Billy (R.J. Cryler), who is “on the spectrum,” plus lonesome diver Trini (Becky G.), and crazy guy Zack (Ludi Lin). 


Together, they escape from The Breakfast Club (1985) conventions, to embark on a far grander adventure, unearthing power coins, and finding a long-buried alien spaceship crewed by a kind of Mr Explainer droid. Slowly but surely the gang develops, throughout a training schedule, from delinquent friends to a team of demi-gods.


Man Of Steel meets Green Lantern is a measure of this movie’s obvious genre influences, while its super-team origin story is an engagingly worthwhile mythology building exercise - not unlike Transformers and Pacific Rim. For the first 90 minutes, drama is limited to character set-ups, establishing rather than re-building cartoonish icons for a 21st century audience already familiar with Marvel and DC mainstays in live-action extravaganzas. 


Then we get just 20 minutes of visual effects and fighting against an army of zords that combine into a gigantic golden enemy, with young heroes in their colour-coded space rangers' armoured suits (red, pink, blue, black, and yellow), driving ‘dinosaur’ cars that contribute to, if they do not directly cause, massive small-town property damage.


Saturday, 22 July 2017

Elite Force: Operation Mekong

Cast: Joyce Wenjuan Feng, Baoguo Chen, Xudong Wu, Ganesh Acharya, and Carl Ng

Director: Dante Lam

124 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Cine Asia DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by Rob Marshall

Based upon a true story about a massacre of Chinese fishermen by river pirates, action blockbuster adventure Elite Force: Operation Mekong (aka: Operation Mekong), from director Dante Lam, combines dizzyingly-fast chases, hectic bouts of martial arts, some mind-boggling stunts, and well orchestrated explosive shoot-outs galore. Focusing on the ‘Golden Triangle’ drug trade along the Mekong river, depicted here as a gateway from hell with the bitter irony that such beautifully verdant landscapes are a major source of global miseries, like addiction and violent crime, and Naw Khar is a kingpin who’s Tony Montana-style crazy enough to join in a gun-battle with his gold-plated Kalashnikov.


This is a slickly polished production with high shooting ratio and its brisk pacing, for an international and multi-lingual action thriller, that’s colourful and vivid with high impact visuals, compares favourably with Hollywood’s best. The movie’s police heroes include undercover agents who must appeal to gangsters’ vanity and glossy over-ambition to insinuate themselves and their spying efforts into an criminal world ruled by egotistical paranoia. The feature excels when it comes to a smooth integration of hi-tech gadgets into a traditional narrative of dogged cops and sinister crooks in the business-as-usual facade of creating and maintaining a monopoly.



Somewhat amusingly, even in the busiest moments of all this blistering mayhem, there's a directorial / auteurial concern expressed for the relative safety of babies (endangered in a shopping centre) and dogs (pathfinder across a minefield) put in jeopardy, but its characters are generally closer to eastern stoicism than the more familiar blubbering sentimentality that bedevils many Asian pictures. And yet, for every small victory over chaos and inhumanity, there’s a heavy price to be paid in blood, such as lethal terrorist bombings as reprisals for arrests. The final raid on a jungle camp delivers on a promise of fantastic action with selfless sacrifice and practical heroics in a high-stakes display of helicopters, pyrotechnics and gun-play.


Monday, 17 July 2017

Logan

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, and Richard E. Grant

Director: James Mangold

137 minutes (15) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
20th Century Fox DVD Region 2

Rating: 8/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

What we are told is to be Hugh Jackman’s final appearance as Wolverine is easily the best of the stand-alone films featuring the grizzled, conflicted, mutant, and one only wishes that the earlier outings had been stronger, in order to provide a more satisfying narrative arc to the trilogy. The desire to tinker with simple ideas, resulting in over-complication, bedevils every other superhero film you see, in the same way that it currently plagues the source material. Logan is a simple story, simply told, with strong central performances and that’s the difference.

I hail from a more innocent era where comic-book storylines evolved from who-will-save-the-girl/city/world/cosmos, and it was enough to establish the threat and then depict the hero coming back from an initial defeat to ultimately triumph. Those storylines passed muster for a few decades so it was inevitable that something had to be done to refresh the mix, but reading about parallel earths, life model decoys, Skrull impostors, death and resurrection, implanted false memories, and the remorseless juggernaut-like onslaught of retrofitting and rebooting that goes on in the Marvel Universe, hardly inspires one to pick up a new comic-book. There doesn’t appear to have been any need to infect the movie versions of comic-book superherodom with this rash of over-complication but it’s happened anyway.


It’s hard to say why some superhero films work and others don’t, and any assessment has to be purely subjective. The films produced under the auspices of the MCU have a coherent vision but that hasn’t meant they are an unqualified success, and the films produced by other studios are a bit of a mixed bag. The first two X-Men movies, and X-Men: First Class, the first Iron Man, Captain America, the original Spider-Man, and Thor all worked for me, sequels, and other entrants, less so. Simple stories and strong characters work, overlong battles with CGI villains don’t.

The first two Wolverine movies weren’t all bad but they seemed hampered by a desire to cram too much stuff in. The only bit I truly enjoyed in the first film was the final battle with Deadpool, perhaps because of its comic-book silliness, The Wolverine would have been better if it had adhered more closely to the simple outline of its source material.  The Old Man Logan comic is the inspiration for Logan but happily the film strips away the excessive trappings of that particular corner of the Marvel universe, and presents a simple road movie with a pursuing threat.

In a future where mutants have largely been eradicated and no more are being born, James ‘Logan’ Howlett (Hugh Jackman), tends an increasingly infirm Charles Xavier, Professor ‘X’ (Patrick Stewart), with the help of Caliban, the former mutant ‘Hound’ (Stephen Merchant). Xavier is prone to devastating psychic seizures, and there is a suggestion that just such a seizure has resulted in the deaths of mutants at the Professor’s former Westchester Academy. Logan’s health is failing too, his mutant healing factor no longer functions efficiently and the adamantium lacing his bones is poisoning him. Logan works as a limousine driver in El Paso to buy the drugs that control Xavier’s condition and to raise the money that will buy them a boat to get away from the mainland. In a nice touch, Xavier is housed in a downed water tower which, with its riddled interior letting in specks of light, resembles Cerebro, the Professor’s mutant-detecting machine. Xavier insists, against Logan’s arguments, that he can sense a new mutant presence.



Logan is approached by a former nurse Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who recognises him as the Wolverine. She is prepared to pay him to transport her and a young girl named Laura (Dafne Keen) to a safe haven in North Dakota known as ‘Eden’. Despite initial misgivings, Logan agrees, but the nurse is murdered by Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook), a cybernetically enhanced employee of the Transigen biotech corporation who is tracking Laura aided by his private army of Reavers. Laura stows away with Logan and when Pierce and the Reavers come for her she is revealed to be a deadly mutant weapon with claws like Logan’s. Xavier claims that Laura is the mutant that he has detected. 

Gabriela’s cell-phone diary reveals that Laura is part of a programme run by Dr Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), to create mutant children from existing DNA samples, Laura has been bred from Logan’s DNA. Superseded by the creation of X-24, a violent adult mutant, the children were to be terminated, but Gabriela and other members of the nursing staff released as many as they could. Xavier insists that he and Logan take Laura to Eden, but Logan discovers that the notion of the safe haven is from an old X-Men comic-book and, as he says, only a third of the things in the comics ever happened and they didn’t happen like that. Pursued by the Reavers and the murderous X-24, Logan and Laura gradually bond on the road until the violent climax.

With a relatively small cast, and a simple story, Logan can concentrate on character and performances, Jackman and Stewart’s tetchy sparring and trading of f-bombs is a particular highlight, as is Stephen Merchant’s west-country Caliban. The film is very violent, perhaps unnecessarily so, one recalls a correspondent complaining to the X-Men comic’s letter page about the juvenile appeal of the Wolverine character, ‘he drinks, he smokes, he slices and dices’. There is some humour, Logan overseeing Xavier’s toilet visits, and later launching a Basil Fawlty style attack on his recalcitrant vehicle. Dafne Keen is impressive in a largely mute role, and just about makes you believe a genetically enhanced feral 11-year-old with claws could carve up burly thugs twice her size.



There are extras as usual, with a director’s commentary and deleted scenes.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Trespass Against Us

Cast: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris, Lyndsey Marshal, and Rory Kinnear

Director: Adam Smith  

99 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by J.C. Hartley

Referred to, in some parts of the quality press, as a new British gangster movie, Trespass Against Us is hardly that. Set in rural Gloucestershire with accents to match, and dealing with family conflict, it’s hardly a travellers (pejorative redacted by reviewer) Godfather. The Cutler family, with their wagons in a circle in an English meadow, go hare-coursing by estate car, and spend their evenings around big bonfires, when they are not out thieving. Dominated by the figure of Colby (Brendan Gleeson) a flat-earth creationist who justifies their itinerant existence by reference to Jesus’ instruction to his disciples, basically ‘jog-on’, they are not an attractive bunch, nor is any attempt made to present them as such. Colby’s illiterate son Chad (Michael Fassbender) yearns for a different life, where his kids can go to school, get the education he lacks, and exploit the interweb for everything it’s worth. 



Early in the film Colby organises a protest to draw attention to the imprisonment of Chad’s brother Brian. The protest does not take the form of a petition to be handed to a local MP, or a sit-in outside the town assizes, rather Chad is instructed to paint a stolen hatchback bright yellow, daub it with slogans such as ‘Free Brian’, and ‘Fuck You Gavvers’, and drive it at breakneck speed around local shopping-malls and housing-estates. Chad comes up against a local bobby, the quaintly-named PC Lovage, a cheery soul who vows to get him.



Things go badly wrong when Colby organises a literal smash-and-grab raid on a local stately home, which turns out to be the residence of the Lord Lieutenant. Quite why he does this is never clear because, as Lovage points out, the raid makes the national news, and mobilises the constabulary to come out in, well, force, with helicopters and armed units. Does Colby want to head off what he sees as Chad’s rebellion by initiating a spell inside? Nothing is ever clear.

Despite the extreme unattractiveness of the Cutler entourage to nice, sheltered, middle-class reviewers like me, the film is nicely-paced and the performances are excellent, as may be expected from such a top-notch cast. Fassbender is as mesmeric as always, Lyndsey Marshal is brilliant and believable as Chad’s wife Kelly, wanting a life away from her father-in-law’s pernicious hold on her husband and her grandson Tyson. Georgie Smith as Tyson, and Kacie Anderson as his sister Mini, are excellent as the youngest Cutlers. Brendan Gleeson is horribly convincing as the paterfamilias using the Bible, his old Dad’s ‘wisdom’, and a sense of injustice and persecution to justify a life outside of the law. 



Unfortunately, the film ultimately fails to deliver a coherent narrative. There is a growing atmosphere of unease around the likelihood of conflict, but that conflict never comes.  Colby scuppers Chad’s chances to move onto a decent estate, all chalets and static caravans, and the pair have a brief scuffle. Colby seems to be making veiled threats against Kelly. The ‘cracked’ Gordon Bennett (Sean Harris) seems to be a danger, hurling fire extinguishers onto bonfires and trying to attach himself to Chad’s family, but in a scene of unnecessary cruelty Chad takes out his frustration and anger at Colby by covering Gordon in bright blue paint. 

Then, suddenly, just as the film appears to be reaching an inevitable flashpoint, when Chad is rebuffed in his attempts to buy a pedigree puppy for Tyson’s birthday, he ‘steals’ the puppy (he actually leaves the money) and gets arrested. Climbing an oak tree, he is joined by his son, exchanges declarations of love with his family, and in a Butch and Sundance moment with Tyson, leaps down into a safety net and into police custody. To quote Leiber and Stoller, ‘Is That All There Is?’ 


There are the usual extras: a ‘making of’ made up of interviews with cast and production team, and a film about director Adam Smith’s relationship with The Chemical Brothers.  Smith has collaborated with the band for some 20 years, on videos and stage presentations, and the soundtrack for Trespass Against Us was provided by Tom Rowlands. 

Monday, 10 July 2017

Stormy Monday

Cast: Melanie Griffith, Tommy Lee Jones, Sting, Sean Bean, and James Cosmo

Writer and director: Mike Figgis

93 minutes (15) 1988
widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
         
Most reviews of this feature praise the performances at the expense of the story and carp at the pace, the understatement and treat it as if it were a poor relation of Get Carter. Apart from the Newcastle setting, evocatively photographed by Roger Deakins (Jarhead, The Village), and the gangster elements of the plot, there is little in common with the earlier movie except that this is another impressive addition to the stable of British noir.

Brendan (Sean Bean, Silent Hill, Flightplan) takes a job as a cleaner at The Key Club, a Jazz venue on Newcastle’s quayside run by Finney (Sting, Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels), during that town’s American week, and overhears a plan to intimidate the club owner into signing over his property. An American businessman Cosmo (Tommy Lee Jones, The Missing, Men In Black) is in town buying up property with the tacit approval of the local council in order to foster urban regeneration; we later discover the plan is part of a money-laundering scheme while Cosmo faces a Senate inquiry back in New York. Finney, piqued by the original heavy-handed approach from Cosmo’s aides, is refusing to sell up and the stage seems set for violence, with Brendan, the quiet loner, somehow coming to the rescue.


Having set-up the scenario, Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas), who wrote the screenplay, as well as directing and composing the incidental music, thwarts expectations; Finney is no effete club owner but a tough operator with connections, Brendan is no tough guy just a sensitive artistic soul steeped in American culture. The film is not a condemnation of American cultural imperialism; the local council are out to milk the newcomers, local businesses are showing record profits during American week.

Brendan meets and falls for Kate (Melanie Griffith, Tempo), who works at a local restaurant but is involved with Cosmo as an escort/ honey-trap in his wooing of local council officials. Kate’s attempts to escape Cosmo’s patronage, and Brendan’s involvement with Finney’s equally dangerous game, set the scene for violence and tragedy.


Albert Finney apparently turned down the part of Finney (directorial joke?) as he felt the screenplay was ‘too cutty,’ but the montage effects, which almost languidly bombard the viewer with images from the very out-set, wholly compliment the atmosphere of rising tension; streetlights are reflected in the polished hood of a cruising Jaguar car, a square in the town contains a huge inflatable Coke bottle like something imagined by Claus Oldenburg, The Krakow Jazz Ensemble perform a Hendrix-esque rendition of The Stars And Stripes at a civic reception, violent photographic newsreel images by Weegie, decorate the restaurant of the same name where Kate works, Brendan’s room is filled with images of Gable and books by Hemingway, his wardrobe consists of white shorts, crisp white shirts, chinos and a leather jacket; everything creates a sense not of colonisation but cultural displacement.



This is a tremendous, overlooked, low-key, haunting genre movie by a real English auteur and deserves at the very least a place on the syllabus at film school. There is a fascinating director's commentary as part of the extras.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Pulse

cast: Kumiko Aso, Harujiko Kato, Kurume Arisaka, Masatoshi Matsuo, and Koyuki

writer and director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

115 minutes (15) 2001 widescreen ratio 16:9
Arrow DVD Region 2 retail
[released 10th July]

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Christopher Geary

“Would you like to meet a ghost?” Take note of the wording of that question from this movie. In marked contrast to The Sixth Sense, this extraordinary Japanese chiller is not concerned with just seeing dead people, ‘all the time’, it’s about actually meeting them. Furthermore, like John Carpenter’s under-rated Prince Of Darkness, this harks back to Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass TV serials for its thematic inspiration, and varied genre references. Viewers requiring easily digestible rationalisations from screen fiction are advised to look elsewhere for their home entertainment. The original publicity for this DVD release made a major play of the fact that Pulse (aka: Kairo) predates acclaimed shockers, The Grudge and The Ring, but that was only true of the US remakes, not their Asian originals Ju-on (TV movie, 2000) and Ringu. None of that really matters, however, because Pulse is quite superior to any of those pictures.

The initial phase of its scenario is somewhat reminiscent of something out of British cult-TV series Sapphire And Steel (1979-82), but without, of course, the prompt appearance of detectives from a nameless paranormal ‘agency’ capable of solving the mystery - and fixing whatever’s gone tragically wrong. With unhurried pacing, moments of scary delirium, and an instantly likeable young cast, Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) ensures Pulse intrigues and fascinates like all the best sci-fi horror. A solitary IT man, Taguchi (Kenji Mizuhashi), overdue with the delivery of a computer disc, quickly (and very quietly!) hangs himself in the next room when he’s visited at home by worried co-worker, Michi (Kumiko Aso). The CD-ROM rapidly spreads a bizarre ‘virus’ that causes a spate of suicides.

Shadowy figures lurk in public buildings or private residences. Normal TV programmes are suddenly on the blink, mobile phones fail to work or only receive calls from dead people, and haunted ‘forbidden rooms’ sealed with red tape (that serves multiple symbolic functions throughout the narrative) are now found on every backstreet. As the most hi-tech gadget-conscious, consumer culture on Earth, perhaps it’s no big surprise that Pulse’s digital apocalypse starts in Japan, where the ‘permanent shadows’ of Hiroshima suggest a powerful resonance for this supernatural movie’s uncanny images.



Despite the plot’s focus on technology, it’s female intuition that leads some of the main characters into shocking discoveries and mortal danger. Taguchi’s colleague Yabe (Masatoshi Matsuo) is next in line for a confrontation with an eerie spectre. He soon becomes withdrawn and lethargic, and the increasingly familiar pattern of death-wishful thinking dominates his limited future. Avoiding computers offers no protection from the blitz of elemental chaos. Economics student Kawashima (Haruhiko Kato, Another Heaven) hardly knows enough to connect a home PC to the Internet, safely, but his desktop link has no immunity to the invasive psychic entropy.

College undergraduate and IT-tutor Harue (former model Koyuki, from Zwick’s The Last Samurai) investigates the origins of creepy web-cam footage showing brooding spectres in tireless-as-rust action replays, and reflects on the lack of genuine social contact in an urban civilisation where TV lays claim to ‘reality’ (and elsewhere, a gardener comments sagaciously on the insincerity of friendships in modern life). But, in spite of her philosophical insights, Harue still ends up lonely and utterly distraught, reluctantly acknowledging that “nothing changes... after death.” She is cruelly overwhelmed by something inexplicable that’s “no longer a faint presence” in the everyday human world, and she’s not comforted by Kawashima’s pragmatic optimism. It’s particularly sad to see the cheerful Junko (Kurume Arisaka, making her film debut) succumb to the prevailing sickness of ‘zombified’ wraith-dom, in one of this evocative drama’s most distressing scenes. Following the frightening disappearance of Junko, the despairing Michi phones home. Her mother answers, but there’s nobody there...



Kawashima finds the missing Harue’s science lab abandoned and wrecked. In the sparkling rainbow lights of a games arcade, the virtually formless apparition of a wandering spirit is truly unnerving but, adding to desperate survivors’ continuing misery, sinister forces come oozing from another realm into corporeality. Are you getting this message... or is it just a trick of the light? The low-key CGI work is startlingly effective. There are only a few ‘spectaculars’ (a burning city, a plane crash in the urban wasteland) during the narrative’s gripping climax, yet all such moments are always entirely relevant to the story, never gratuitous special effects shots that undermine the plot’s carefully wrought tension. The occasionally shrill music and unearthly sound effects of early scares gives way to melancholy strings, and the closing score is neatly wrapped up with a westernised rock theme song (Hane by Cocco) that’s actually rather good.

Putting most Hollywood genre thrillers to shame, Pulse delivers a brilliant vision of the end of the world that ingeniously avoids the usual pitfalls of sci-fi clichés. As such, it is highly recommended to fans of thought-provoking, fantastic cinema.