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  • 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!

  • Film (Re)View – The Mummy

    ‘Death is the doorway to new life. We live today. We shall live again. In many forms we shall return.’ Egyptian Prayer of Resurrection.

    ‘The past cannot remain buried forever.’ Dr Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe)

    Two great quotes from what I felt was a really great movie. I went with three other people and it would appear I may have been the only one who enjoyed it; the others found it ‘just weird’. Did I enjoy it because I ‘got it’, because I’m weird too? Perhaps.

    This is the first of Universal Studios’ revivals of the classic horror movies from the 1930s/40s era, under the banner of The Dark Universe. Others, confirmed so far, will be Bride of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man.

    So, yes guys, this is a HORROR movie. I think once you wrap your head around that, other things will fall into place.

    This was an excellent version of an age old tale. Is it based in truth? I don’t honestly know. Nor do I care, as it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the film one iota. Why? Because the filmmakers had succeeded in suspending my disbelief and creating scenarios and events that I believed could happen in this world they had created. This is the big thing. If you do not get your head out of the real world, you will hate this movie. You have to get your head in the space of a world where ancient egyptian princesses are unearthed and spells are broken, bringing them back to life to wreak havoc.

    Sophia Boutella was phenomenal as The Mummy. She had the right mix of sex appeal, power and strength needed to seduce people and bend then to her will. She also had vulnerabilities, which all ‘monsters’ need to have. She was portrayed in a very three dimensional way and created empathy within me as I watched her plight.

    Tom Cruise must have had one too many Red Bulls before doing this movie. He never stopped! I’m not a Cruise fan, but I was impressed with his performance in this movie as, for once, he had left his ego at the door and portrayed a very funny and likeable rogue with a soft heart. His softer side was evident by the twist at the end of the film.

    I feel Annabelle Wallis was dealt a raw hand. She was supposed to be a highly intelligent and well regarded doctor and yet they portrayed her as a stereotypical weak female, always needing Tom to save her. Shame on you filmmakers!

    My favourite character, I have to say, was Russell Crowe’s performance, not as Dr Jekyll, but as Mr Hyde. He carried off that cockney accent and bad boy attitude so well. I can’t wait for his film and hope he reprises the role.

    The Mummy is certainly an action packed, face paced, heart pumping film, full of unexpected chuckles as well as the right amount of terror and horror not to have me rolling my eyes.

    Thoroughly enjoyable and well worth a watch.

  • Film (Re)View – My Cousin Rachel

    I must confess that I have never read this intriguing novel by Daphne Du Maurier, although it is on my bookshelf now! The trailer certainly sold this tale of intrigue, deception and perhaps murder.

    From the start, I found this film to be thoroughly engaging, although I did want to give Philip (Sam Claflin) a good slap for being so naive and stupid, but then I had to step back and wonder if this is what all young men of 25 were like back in the 19th century. He behaved like a lovesick teenage girl and the annoying part of it was that no one, not even his guardian, never mind is lawyer, had the guts to step up and stop him. 19th century manners and all that have a lot to answer for!

    The image that is spun of Rachel before you meet her, is that of a deceptive and manipulative woman who will stop at nothing to get her hands on the family fortune, thanks to his Uncle Ambrose’s letters. These sent Philip into a tailspin and sent him on the warpath. When we actually meet Rachel, she is completely different from what we expect (and Philip) and this acts to disarm us. Is this intentional or is it all a ruse? We are told that Ambrose died of a brain tumour, which sent him mad. Is this true or is this a lie, as Philip believes, to some extent, throughout the story?

    Rachel is a strong, independent, outspoken, sexually free and confident woman; something diametrically opposed to the norm in the 19th century.

    I liked Rachel. She never strayed from who she was and she certainly never asked for any of what was bestowed upon her. Is this down to her feminine wiles or down to a hot-headed young man?

    You may wonder why I pose so many questions, yet this is exactly what the film raises – questions – but not in an annoying way. The questions it raises are there to make you ponder and chew over various scenarios. The ending is also a huge question as, while we never truly know Rachel’s motivations, it doesn’t leave us stamping our feet and demanding more.

    As a writer, I found this tale broke many of the no-no’s in writing, the prime one being leaving your audience wondering. I didn’t feel cheated by this tale. I found it engaging, captivating and mysterious. I am now intrigued to see how far from the book it diverged, given the cast weren’t allowed to read it before filming……intriguing, is it not?

  • Film (Re)View – Wonder Woman

    I was not disappointed. Gal played a strong, resilient and determined young woman who was decisive and not easily swayed by the views of others. She stood firm on what she believed in and I respect that. This shone through into a very believable character and one whom you rooted for all the way through. Even through heartbreak she stood strong and tall, harnessing the raw power of her emotion to defeat her enemy.

    An excellent script and henec storyline, with only a couple of flaws in my book. Ares, the God of War; a man who when defeated would bring the end to all wars………given this film was set in the Great War (WWI), I think it was a glaring mistake to say that destroying Ares would end all wars, as we know this not to be true. The other ‘mistake’ is one I called out in King Arthur – a fight scene which is clearly a computer animated game scene. This, for me, is a big no-no. Animate where you need to – in an animated film, but don’t insult our intelligence and try and be clever. This is people fighting, so make it real!!

    Rant over.

    As a writer, I feel the filmmakers succeeded in creating a believable world and, within that world (war issue aside, as it is still our world), they created characters and a storyline that slotted in perfectly. Ticked all the boxes and well worth a watch!

  • Film (Re)View – King Arthur

    Sticking with believability, the early scenes with the rogue mages and the godzilla sized elephants didn’t ring true, as Ritchie had failed to build a supernatural world of giant monsters that we could accept by suspending our disbelief. This flaw turned me cold as it is a huge no-no.

    Arthur’s story was good and even the modernism of language and wheeling and dealing worked for me (although my friend would vehemently disagree).

    The main issue I had with the film was Arthur. I just didn’t like him, engage with him or anything. He was portrayed as arrogant and self involved, cocky and disrespectful. Basically, he possessed all the bad traits a man can possess. Not a good image for a hero.

    The other huge flaw was the fight scenes. A couple of them actually looked like computer game footage and this turned me completely off. Animation where animation fits; real people where real people fit.

    This film could have been so much better. It came over as a medieval gangster film which it most definitely should not be. That’s not to say I didn’t like it; it just could have been far better.

  • Film (Re)View – Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge

    It is circa 21 years after the last one and Will and Elizabeth have a son, Henry, who is hell bent on breaking his father’s curse (on the Flying Dutchman). To do it he needs a map, which no man can read, to find the Trident of Poseidon.

    Cue Carina Smythe, an astrologer, horologist and, hence, assumed witch, who has a diary given to her by her father which, when the Blood Moon rises, will reveal the way to the Trident.

    When Captain Jack trades his beloved compass (which takes you to your heart’s desire) for a bottle of booze, Captain Salazar (and his ship and crew) is freed. Salazar is a Spanish military captain who basically cleaned up the seas of pirates until he was outsmarted by a very young and newly made Captain Jack, who trapped Salazar and his ship in the Devil’s Triangle. Now free of the Triangle, they want Captain Jack and the compass to find the Trident, to break the curse (of Devil’s Triangle).

    Paths cross and entangle as everyone is out to double cross everyone else, including Barbossa, whose ship Salazar takes over in his hunt for Captain Jack.

    Carina steers a restored Black Pearl, following the map laid out in the stars, to successfully find the Trident.

    Curses are broken and Barbossa, recently revealed as Carina’s father, sacrifices himself as he takes out Salazar to save the others.

    Resolutions:

    1. Jack has his beloved Black Pearl back and a full and adoring crew.
    2. ALL curses are broken.
    3. Will Turner, and the Flying Dutchman, are now free.
    4. Will is reunited with Elizabeth.

    And, everyone lives happily ever after……..yes, Henry and Carina fall in love (eye roll!!)

    My only criticism is that  neither Jack, the pirates nor Elizabeth Swann had been aged to reflect the passage of two decades. Jack and the pirates can argue various curses, but not Elizabeth. Shame on you Disney!

    As a writer, if you write a series, your final volume MUST tie up all storylines and leave no loose ends. I feel this film did that, hence my opinion it is and should be the last one.

  • Film (Re)View – Sleepless

    Superb cat and mouse story of how seriously an undercover operation can go horribly wrong.

    Vincent Downs (Foxx) has lost his family (divorce) due to a two year undercover op. He is Internal Affairs and is undercover trying to weed out corrupt cops. When they steal the wrong man’s cocaine stash, they bring the wrath of the Novak’s (drug family) down on them. Downs’ son gets kidnapped as leverage.

    The trouble is, Bryant (Monaghan) is also investigating corruption and believes Downs is the bad guy and finds and hides the drugs that he needs to get his son back!

    Fast paced, action packed and with a huge body count, the film has a surprising twist. After believing the corruption has been quashed…….the DEA soon prove otherwise!

    As a writer, the pace action and content of this film were in balance and kept you on your toes. I didn’t see the twist coming, but I also did’t feel it was the right twist, as it left the story unresolved which is a big no no!

  • Film (Re)View – The Promise

    A heartfelt and harrowing tale of the invasion of Armenia by Turkey in WWII, and the senseless destruction of so many lives for no other reason than being on the wrong side.

    The love story between the three leads is so very sad and something many of us can identify with, as Chris is in love with a woman who no longer loves him. Ana and Michael, torn apart by the war, are brought back together in horrific circumstances.

    The ending, though heartbreaking, is probably the simplest and best, from a writer’s point of view, otherwise you are into the whole love triangle issue and who will win. It isn’t good to leave a story unresolved as it leaves readers unhappy and dissatisfied!