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  • Film (Re)View – The Dark Tower

    I aim with my eye.

    I do not shoot with my hand; he who shoots with his hand has forgotten the face of his father.
    I shoot with my mind.

    I do not kill with my gun; he who kills with his gun has forgotten the face of his father.
    I kill with my heart

    (Stephen King, The Gunslinger)

    I’ll hold my hands up and freely admit that I haven’t read the books and, maybe, that’s a good thing. I don’t know if they’ve crammed all the books into one film or not and so I could relax and enjoy this cinematic extravaganza, because that’s exactly what it was.

    The story tells of a young boy, Jake, who has visions about a Tower, a Gunslinger (Elba)and the Man in Black (McConaughy). The Man in Black is trying to destroy the Tower using the screams of children, kidnapped from Keystone Earth. The Gunslinger is sworn to protect the Tower, but has lost his mojo. Of course, the adults in Jake’s life believe he is acting out and arrange for him to be seen by a sleep clinic. This prompts him to run away.

    Jake draws everything he sees and one of his drawings is of a house which, coincidentally, isn’t far from where he lives. The house turns out to be a portal to this other world and so Jake’s adventures begin.

    I had to chuckle at the little references to King’s other books – homage was paid to Pennywise the clown via an abandoned fairground ride; and the short story Room 1408 was immortalised as the number of the main portal. I also sniggered at The Man in Black’s fearsome name….Walter. I guess this is a reminder that this is a film aimed at children.

    The filmmakers, thanks to King, have created a thoroughly believable world for me to sit back and enjoy. Not once did I find it odd that an old abandoned house would be a portal to another dimension. I actually thought it was a great use for an abandoned house and got me wondering about the various abandoned buildings near me.

    Suffice it to say, The Dark Tower will take you on an adventure, through the eyes of a young boy, into another world. A world where there exists a Dark Tower, which holds the balance between the worlds and keeps the evil at bay, a Gunslinger who fights to protect the Tower and a Man in Black who wants nothing more than to destroy it to unleash said evil. Why he wants to let the evil out is unclear, but we can assume it’s because he is, in essence, the devil, and he wants to be surrounded by more of his kind.

  • Film (Re)View – Annabelle: Creation

    It wasn’t scary, not for me anyway, but it was extremely creepy. The filmmakers succeeded in suspending my disbelief and creating a scenario where possession exists and where a child’s spirit (or otherwise) can be summoned back. Apart from the sheet over the doll incident -which, in all honesty, there was no realistic way of doing that scene – all the chills and spills were extremely well done. The effects in this film did NOT stink of cheese, I am pleased to say.

    The film is about a dollmaker (LaPaglia) and his wife who have a young daughter, Bee (Annabelle), who is tragically killed. So desperate to have some connection to her, they summon what they believe is her spirit to reside inside the doll, but they don’t realise they have summoned a demon which is hungry for souls.

    After the demon takes half of Mrs Mullins face, Mr Mullins summons a priest and, between them, they bless the house and lock the doll away – why they didn’t burn it I have no idea!!

    The Mullins’, wanting to hear happiness in their house again, take in a group of orphan girls, one of whom, Janice, is crippled due to polio. It is Janice that the spirit draws in and makes its own and whom it uses to try and destroy the others.

    I won’t tell you anymore, but the end of the film dovetailed perfectly into the opening of a previous Conjuring release – very well done!

    Go and watch this film. There is a reason china/wooden faced dolls are rather creepy!!

  • Film (Re)View – Atomic Blonde

    One of the great things about this film was the realistic and authentic fight scenes. I really felt for Theron’s stunt double because she took a pasting on more than one occasion. It was so so good to see a real fight scene and not a CGI/computer-gamed one (Take note film-makers!!). The fight scenes were extremely violent and bloody and it was great to see the real impact of being shot through the head. Hats off to the team for these sequences.

    The plot wasn’t anything special, if I’m honest. A list of names of ‘spys’ that, in the wrong hands, could extend the length of the Cold War by a lifetime. The list also contained the identity of a double agent and this was the cat and mouse chase throughout the movie. It did keep you guessing as to who it might be and I like that, as I don’t want to be able to work it out too soon; the film becomes dull then.

    Stellar acting from both Theron and McAvoy, who were brilliantly convincing in their respective roles.

    The only eye roller for me was the unnecessary girl on girl sex scene in the film. Boys…it makes it so obvious that this film was made by men who need to get out a bit more, I’m afraid. It didn’t fit with the plot and it was obvious it was just thrown in because, well…Theron & Boutella….well, why not. Ladies, you should have put your foot down!!

    Apart from that, the film was intriguing, fast paced, full of action and violence, with a nice twist at the end. All you could ask for really ?

  • Film (Re)View – Wish Upon

    After losing her mother to suicide, young Clare is brought up by her father, Jonathan, who gave up on his dream of being a sax player and dumpster dives for a living instead. One such dive uncovered a box covered in Chinese writing, which he cleaned up and gave to Clare.

    Clare, a student of Chinese, could translate some of the writing on the box, enough to learn that the box was said to grant wishes. Now, for a girl who didn’t fit in at school, this was a gift to say the least. The box said it would grant seven wishes and she wasted no time in making her first one – that the girl bullying her at school ‘just rot’……..and that’s exactly what she did; she developed necrotising fasciitis!

    The thing that Clare didn’t know, because she was unable to translate all the writing, was that each wish demanded a blood sacrifice. She didn’t even connect the dots, not straight away, when those she cared about started dying in freak accidents.

    Giving the box away didn’t help and it was impossible to destroy.

    Clare thought she had beaten the box at its own game when she wished she had never been given it, but she clearly hadn’t understood the ultimate cost of having your wishes granted.

    The film has what all good horror films should have…….a shocking ending that really slaps you in the face and makes you sit up and take note.

    Hats off to the writers and director because not once did I question the validity of this story. Objects that grant wishes are the stuff of fairy tales, but this most definitely wasn’t a fairy tale. It was a real world scenario where it seemed perfectly normal to find a Chinese wish box with a bite!

    Most definitely worth a watch!

  • Film (Re)View – Dunkirk

    As always, Christopher Nolan delivered. This film wasn’t about the fighting; but about trying to get our army (and the French) to safety so they could go on fighting a war. Yet, on that beach, these men were fighting a different war, a war for survival.

    Tommy’s viewpoint emphasised the difficulty these soldiers faced in trying to get home. I’ve lost count of the number of times he found his way onto a boat, only for it to be destroyed by the Germans, and him to wind up back on the beach at Dunkirk. His interactions with fellow soldiers, one of whom was Harry Styles (an impressive performance), highlighted the ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality that existed; yet Tommy tried to save the french officer, against the will of the others.

    Mr Dawson, a man who had lost a son to the war (a common story) didn’t hesitate to volunteer his boat to aid the rescue operation. So many civilians did the same thing, enabling approx 300,000 men, out of the 400,000 stranded on that beach, to be rescued. That takes more than just courage and I am humbled by their selflessness.

    Farrier, the remaining airborne fighter pilot, fought to keep the German air force from bombing the boats, to the extent that he sacrificed his own life for the sake of his comrades. To make such a decision is more than admirable and it was a heartstopping moment when he landed that wounded and fuel less plane on the beach, on the German side, and stepped out to face German guns.

    Nolan has surpassed himself. Go and see this film, that’s all I can say.

  • Film (Re)View – War For The Planet of The Apes

    This film has been slated as having a weak storyline, but I disagree. Simple is not weak. The title of the film – ‘War’ – should give the game away. At the heart of a war the story is simple, one side wants to destroy the other; that’s all this film was doing.

    It didn’t start out this way, as many wars don’t. Caesar was set on moving the apes to a place out of reach of the humans that hated and hunted them.The trouble was, said humans, just wouldn’t leave them alone. As is the way with the human race, if it doesn’t like something, it must remove it from the face of the earth.

    The main target was Caesar himself, but the Colonel messed up and killed his wife and eldest son instead. An act of all out war.

    Blinded by his need to avenge the death of his family, Caesar set out to destroy the Colonel and left his troop to find their new home without his protection. Needless to say, they were captured and held within the Colonel’s compound, forced to work without food to build a wall for him.

    Caesar’s task, therefore, was complicated by his need to free his troop, which included his youngest son.

    The film deals with hatred, loyalty, love, trust and freedom. It is an amazing piece of film-making and I am humbled by the acting as well as the effects.

    The film will pull at your heart-strings as well as test your own strength of will. Would you kill for those you love, if they were taken from you? Think about it.

    This world was thoroughly believable and the story within it, one that is all too familiar in this real world.

    Personally, I found this film thoroughly engaging; my only criticism being that it was a bit too long.

  • Film (Re)View – It Comes at Night

    The film is set in a post apocalyptic world and so, by definition, is actually a horror film. The apocalypse has been caused by a contagious virus which is transmitted via contact with an infected person or animal.

    The story centres on a family, headed up by Paul (Joel Edgerton), who have just lost Grandad to the virus. He leaves behind a daughter, grandson and son-in-law….plus his faithful companion, Stanley the dog. The key, I think, is the dog, assumed benign, but is he?

    They end up taking in another family, the mother of whom is none other than Elvis’ granddaughter, Riley Keogh.

    By throwing the two families together, the film highlights the human condition and its highly suspicious nature. Each family swears they are virus free, yet one of them isn’t, but who is it?

    The ‘drama’ is created when Stanley runs away and is then found dead in the house. Stanley is said to have the virus. Stanley bit Paul before he ran off, yet it is the other couple’s son, Andrew, who is blamed for having the virus.

    It shows how, in a world such as this, it is every man for himself and it shows how difficult it is to trust other human beings. Everyone becomes the enemy; something which The Walking Dead illustrates very well.

    This film is very very good. The filmmakers have convinced me of this world and have spun a real story within it. It has a shocking ending and leaves you wondering. For me, though, it did leave too many questions.

    Was it all Travis’ dream? Was Andrew the carrier? Was Travis the carrier? Was Paul, who got bitten, the carrier? Was Stanley even sick (makes sense he would be, given he was the Grandfather’s dog).

    Go see for yourself as, despite my questions, it is well worth a watch.

  • Film (re)View – Spiderman Homecoming

    I don’t know what to say. This film is shocking! If it wasn’t for Michael Keaton, who played an excellent villain, I would have walked out.

    The filmmakers should be ashamed of themselves for turning a well respected superhero into a laughing stock.

    Yes, he is only 15 and, in theory, this is set before all the others, but they have made a complete mockery of Spiderman and turned him into a complete joke.

    I am not impressed and would say to you – don’t waste your money!

  • Guillermo del Toro Fest

    If you’re a fan of horror, which you must be if you read my stuff, then get over and follow Grimm up North, as these are the guys who put this on and there’s another coming up on 19 August for John Carpenter. It’s well worth your time, I can assure you.

    Before we get onto talking about the films – spoiler alert here, as I do tell you ALL about them – I want to talk a little about Guillermo del Toro and the venue itself – The Plaza in Stockport.

    Guillermo del Toro Gomez is a Mexican film director, screenwriter, producer and novelist and, surprisingly for me, is NOT related to Benicio.

    His directorial credits include the four films I went to see – Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II and Cronos – but obviously extend well beyond these. Del Toro seems to be as prolific a producer as he is a director and I have seen a number of his produced films; my favourites being The Orphanage, Mama and Puss in Boots (I know, but who can resist those eyes?).

    Did you actually know that del Toro is also a novelist and, not only that, but that he penned The Strain, which I believe has been made into a TV series? Is there no end to this man’s talents?

    Del Toro was originally chosen to direct Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit films, but left due to production problems, but he is still credited for his contributions as a co-writer. Hands up who knew this fun fact?

    His work has many themes running through it and some of the better known ones are as follows:

    • Strong connection to fairy tales and horror
    • He has a lifelong fascination with monsters as he sees them as symbols of a greater power.
    • Use of insectile and religious imagery, amongst other things
    • Frequently collaborates with Ron Perlman, Doug Jones and Federico Luppi

    It was rumoured that del Toro would be working with Universal on a Frankenstein movie (one of his all-time favourite characters), but this doesn’t appear to be the case, given the Dark Universe has enlisted Oscar Winner Bill Condon (Beauty and the Beast) to direct their next release – Bride of Frankenstein.

    The Plaza could not have been a better venue for this day of back to back Del Toro movies. The Plaza is an Art Deco venue, built in 1932 as a Super Cinema and Variety Theatre. It was designed to evoke the glamour of the era, with its sumptuous surroundings, highest possible attention to detail in its customer care and an eclectic mix of screen and stage presentation, all supported by the finest Café dining experience in the region.

    I am pleased to say that the Art Deco styling remains intact today, enabling me to settle into elegance of a bygone era to enjoy films of a not so bygone time.

    Now, I think, it is time to talk about the films themselves.

    Cronos 1993 – Federico Luppi & Ron Perlman

    I didn’t know anything about this film before I sat down to watch it and must admit to groaning when I found out it was largely subtitled. I always find that reading the subtitles detracts from watching and taking in the film. This issue, however, did not bother me in any of the films, as I rapidly became engrossed in the story.

    The Cronos device is a device created hundreds of years ago by a scientist who was searching for the key to eternal life. It contains within it an insect which when fed your blood will, in exchange, inject into you eternal life. The downside is that you develop a thirst for blood and need to feed regularly to prevent your tissue from dying.

    Sound familiar? This story, in essence, tells the story of how to create a vampire, as this is essentially what the Cronos device does. It does give the user eternal life, but it comes at a cost – a thirst for blood and an intolerance to sunlight.

    For me, as a writer, Del Toro succeeded in creating a believable world in which I could foresee such a device existing. The story then kept a good pace and had the conflict between Jesus (Luppi) and De La Guardia over ownership of the device, with De La Guardia having the instructions and Jesus having and using the device. Needless to say, things went horribly wrong, illustrating the fact that you do need to understand the instructions before you use something, even if it’s only to know what can go wrong if not used properly!

    Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) – Ivana Baquero, Sergi Lopes & Maribel Verdu

    Pan’s Labyrinth is a fairy tale that overlaps with real life. The fairy tale tells of the Princess of the Underworld who escapes as she wants to see the sun. On her escape, the sun wipes all her memories and so she doesn’t know who she is or where she’s from. Ever since, a Faun from the Underworld has been searching for her.

    The name Pan, I believe, relates to the Greek God of the Wild, who also resembled a faun. This is supported by the Spanish name for the film – El Laberinto del Fauno.

    Ofelia, who comes with her mother to live with her bullying stepfather, Vidal, is presumed by the Faun to be the lost Princess. To prove her origin, the Faun sets her three tasks. She passes the first, but fails the second, causing the Faun to abandon her to a life of hell with a stepfather who doesn’t want her; her mother having died whilst giving birth to her stepbrother.

    Her only ally is Mercedes, Vidal’s maid, who is also a member of the ‘resistance’ which Vidal is seeking to destroy.

    The real world element is set just after the Spanish Civil war where military people like Vidal are seeking to reward the wealthy at the expense of the poor, hence the rise of the ‘resistance’.

    As the battle between Vidal and the ‘resistance’ reaches critical mass, Mercedes wants Ofelia to run away with her, but Ofelia won’t go without her brother. It is this act that provokes the Faun to reappear and give her another shot. When she won’t sacrifice her brother for the chance to become the Princess, the Faun dismisses her again, leaving Ofelia at the hands of her step-father, who kills her to retrieve his son.

    In death Ofelia returns to the underworld and is reunited with her true mother and father to assume her role as Princess again.

    The film does bring into question whether there really is a fairy tale or whether this is all a little girl’s dream, dreamt up to banish away the horrors of war, the loss of her biological father and the dislike she holds for her stepfather. Is this, therefore, just a coping mechanism, or is it really a fairy tale? After all, there is no happy ending for Ofelia.

    By creating this mystery around the origin of the Princess story, Del Toro has again created a believable world where the existence of fairies and fauns makes sense. This is critical to any fantasy film or novel, as we are asking the audience to suspend their disbelief and so we have to create a believable story within our fantasy world.

    The Devil’s Backbone (2001) – Fernando Tielve, Inigo Garces, Eduardo Noriega, Junio Valverde & Federico Luppi

    Also set in the Spanish Civil War, this film tells the story of Carlos, a boy who is left at an orphanage run by Carmen and Dr Casares, who are working with and hiding gold for the ‘resistance’. A former resident, Jacinto, is now the caretaker at the orphanage, but he is trying to find out where the gold is so he can steal it. In the courtyard is an unexploded bomb which is said to have landed the night an orphan called Santi disappeared and remains the focal point for many of the boys.

    Through a tale of the new kid being bullied until he stands up and gains the respect of his bullies, we learn that Santi’s ghost is haunting the orphanage and is predicting doom for them all. Carlos tries to find out, in vain, what is going to happen.

    Soon, all becomes clear when Jacinto, forced to leave for trying to break into the safe, returns and blows the orphanage up, killing most of the residents. It is in the aftermath of this explosion that Carlos learns that it was Jacinto who killed Santi.

    When Jacinto comes back to retrieve the gold, the remaining boys set upon him and lure him to the basement, where they stab him before pushing him into the well/pond to allow Santi the revenge he desires.

    This is a sad tale, very prevalent in the war, of children who lose their parents and are left to the goodwill of others for survival. A camaraderie is born which often lasts a lifetime. It is also a story of greed and opportunism and how good will win over evil no matter the setting and circumstances. The ghost story that runs through the film tells of a boy, killed accidentally, but not given a proper burial. His spirit is therefore deemed to roam his place of death until it is freed and able to move on. For Santi to move on, Jacinto needed to be punished for what he did. An eye for an eye is the path Del Toro chose to follow for his ghost story.

    No one wins at the end of this film and it leaves you wondering what will happen to the boys that are left alone.

    The Devil’s Backbone refers to the situation where a child is born with its spine visible i.e. no skin covering it. Dr Casares explains to Carlos that these children are said to be evil and borne of the devil. He uses this example to illustrate that he is a man of science and so knows that an open spine is created by various genetic malformations. He is trying to tell Carlos that there are no such things as ghosts. I have to disagree.

    Del Toro does not create a fantastical world in this film, but instead stays in the real world, a world where ghosts roam and can be seem, especially by children; a world the same as the one in which we live.

    Blade II (2002) – Wesley Snipes, Norman Reedus, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman

    This film sees Blade form an uneasy alliance with the vampire council in order to defeat a common enemy, known as the Reapers. The Reapers are creatures, originally vampires, whose genetics have been changed. Along with physiological changes, the creatures feed on both vampires and humans and need to feed at a frequent rate to stay alive.

    The council sell the alliance to Blade on the premise that once the Reapers have decimated the vampire population, they will start on his ‘precious humans’.

    Although the story is an excellent twist on the vampire tale, and the addition of Norman Reedus is a definite plus, all the fight scenes detract from the film, to the extent that I zoned out during these scenes.

    The twist in the tale is that the head of the vampire clan, Kounen, is the one responsible for these Reapers, by trying to create an invincible strain of vampire. The guinea pig for this experiment is his own son, Jared, who has gone on to spawn the plague of Reapers. Nyssa, Jared’s sister, and one of those tasked with helping Blade destroy the Reapers, is horrified, but she isn’t the only one who is betrayed. Scud turns out to be one of Kounen’s familiar’s and has been working to destroy Blade.

    The touching ending to a horror film, especially one where the lead isn’t really one to show his emotions, didn’t really ring true for me. A resolution – yes. A soppy ending – no.

    Del Toro again created a believable world where vampires and Reapers could foreseeably exist. As I said, what let the film down were the protracted fight sequences; scenes that were in vogue at the time the film was made.

  • Film (Re)View – Gifted

    Frank took in baby Mary when his sister, a math genius, committed suicide. He vowed that he would give Mary a ‘normal’ life, away from all the pressures that a child prodigy has to endure.

    The film opens with Mary having to attend primary school, as Frank has exhausted any home schooling he can do. Mary, understandably, stands out as a tad more intelligent than the rest of the class.

    Frank turns down a scholarship to a ‘gifted’ school for Mary, citing his promise to his sister as the reason. Somehow (and this is never explained) his mother gets wind of Mary’s talent and swoops in to try and take her away and give her the life a ‘gifted’ child should have…..in her opinion.

    What Frank’s mother, Evelyn, fails to note, is that her daughter committed suicide due to the pressures put upon her by her gift and also, in my opinion, by an overbearing mother.

    The film charts the battle between Frank and Evelyn over Mary and it highlights the damage that can be done by a pushy parent, who is only focused on the child’s talent and not on the child itself. This is a theme that is prevalent in society today and it can be so destructive.

    There is a way to give a gifted child a ‘normal’ life as well as encouraging and developing that gift and we see this in the conclusion to the film.

    The filmmakers pushed all the right buttons for me and had me rooting for Frank and hoping his way won in the end. Whether it did, you’ll have to see for yourself!