Thursday, December 29, 2016

5 things to love about The Neighbour (2016)

What’s it about:
Josh Stewart plays John, a man who lives with his girlfriend in a remote house in the woods. He makes a living changing car license plates for a low rent drug smuggling operation and has plans to run away to Mexico when he gets enough money. However, he has one problem. His neighbour who it turns out is doing something equally illegal on his property.

5 things to love:
1. The escalating tension in the first act is great. I particularly liked the way the neighbour comes over uninvited with a couple of beers and proceeds to nicely warn them to stay out of his business. I love these types of scenes in the film where characters say one thing but very obviously mean another.

2. Once again Josh Stewart is great in the lead. His weather beaten face and near constant look of fatigue really fits the character well. I’ve got to check some more of his films out.

3. The lighting really stood out. Director Marcus Dunstan is clearly getting better and better with each film. He uses lots of very vibrant blue, pink and yellow lights to keep the picture visually arresting.

4. The use of the telescope was great. Obviously, not as good as Rear Window but I’m a sucker for films that have the hero forced to use binoculars or telescopes (Someone’s Watching Me, Body Double) because it makes them really vunerable and unable to stop events.

5. There’s a neat little visual cue that’s repeatedly used in the film where it cuts to Super 8 footage. I enjoyed this and thought it could have been used a little more, perhaps during the more tense scenes to make them scarier.

1 thing it did need:
More originality. As much as I still enjoyed the film – it’s very solid – it does feel like a variation on the same themes as The Collector and The Collection. Bad guy has to save people from REALLY bad guy. I’m happy that Dunstan and Melton have dropped a lot of their usual gore but the neighbour and his secret activities aren’t anywhere near as intriguing as the collector which is a shame as it loses a lot of tension in the last third.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

5 things to love about The Collection (2012)

What’s it about:
Picking up from the previous film Arkin is released by the Collector into his latest trap/murder spree in a nightclub. He manages to escape and is taken to hospital where he is quizzed by the police. A man offers Arkin money to help him track down where the Collector lives so that he can rescue his daughter – the Collector’s latest victim. Reluctantly, Arkin agrees and together with a group of hired guns they track down the Collector’s hideout – a vast abandoned hotel.

5 things to love:
1. The film really ups the ante and has a much wider scope and scale. The writers (Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton) have clearly borrowed the blueprints of the movie Aliens. It has the same hero goes back to face villain with armed escort. And just like Aliens the hired guns are far less effective than you’d think they’d be.

2. The concept is great. I can’t believe no one’s done it before. The Collector’s hideout is basically like a serial killer’s version of the Batcave – complete with trophy cabinets and everything.

3. Needless to say the traps are even more gory and ludicrous. I won’t spoil any of them here. The film also throws in some nice twists such as a woman who the Collector has imprisoned and wants to help Arkin.

4. At just over 70 minutes this is really fast paced and doesn’t have an inch of fat. I wish more film were like this.

5. The fact you never see The Collector’s face. I thought this was incredibly well done, the camera avoids his face where he takes his mask off which means he retains and air of mystique and terror.

1 thing it did need:
Very few complaints about this film. It did exactly what I wanted it to. Maybe an extra 5 minutes to let the film breath would have been nice. The thing I really wanted is a sequel but apparently it’s highly unlikely the third film The Collected will be made.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

5 things to love about The Collector (2009)

What’s it about:
Josh Stewart plays Arkin, a thief who is masquerading as a handyman for a wealthy family. When he returns to their house at night to break into their safe he discovers that that they (and now he) have become victims of a serial killer called the Collector who follows a very particular MO. He breaks into your house, locks all the doors, sets up Saw-style traps and then waits until only one person remains alive who he bundles into a box and collects to take to the next house. Will Arkin get out alive? Will he be able to save any of the family members?

5 things to love:
1. It goes without saying but this film will primarily be of interest to Saw fans. The writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton wrote Saw IV,V,VI,VII and this film was intended at one point to be a Saw prequel. I was never a fan of the Saw movies at the time but I caught up with them on DVD and enjoyed how insane they got in terms of convoluted plot. The traps in this are much more simple but no less gory and squirm inducing. The worst fate actually falls to the family cat!

2. Josh Stewart is a solid leading man. He’s got this tired, worn out face that really suits the character he plays. His character Arkin is resourceful and smart which makes a refreshing change from the usual stupid protagonists you get in horror films.

3. The film is really nicely shot considering its tiny budget £3million budget. There’s some really good camerawork. I particularly liked early on when the Collector and Arkin don’t know the other one is in the house and the camera looks down from overhead as they go in and out the rooms.

4. The film does a nice fake out ending where the hero escapes only to realise he has to go back in. I know this type of stuff annoys some horror fans but I enjoyed it. (Look out for the humorous alternate ending on the DVD).

5. The Collector is a pretty memorable villain. He doesn’t speak and is only seen wearing his black mask but his viciousness and seemingly indestructibility make him stick in your mind after the film is over.

1 thing it did need:
An explanation for how the Collector managed to set up some many elaborate traps in the house in such a short space of time. It’s a big plot hole that the movie asks you to swallow. It would have been good if there was some kind of explanation.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

5 things to love about The Spirit (2008)

What’s it about:
Frank Miller adapts Will Eisner’s classic 1940s comic book hero. Gabriel Macht plays The Spirit (aka Denny Colt), a masked avenger who helps out the police to protect his beloved Central City. One night, he interrupts his arch-enemy The Octopus (Samuel L Jackson) who is buying a mysterious box from a thief called Sand Serif. Of course, Sand is a childhood friend of Denny's who turned to crime, can The Spirit turn her back to being good, and will he be able to stop The Octopus’ master plan?This film was pretty poorly received at the time but I kind of enjoyed catching up with it recently. 

5 things to love:
1. The film uses a similar stylised black and white look that Robert Rodriguez employed on Sin City (which Frank Miller co-directed). It’s a gorgeous look and really enhances the film. Don’t expect any of the same crazy levels of violence as Sin City though this is very PG-13.

2. The film has a goofy screwball sense of humour. I think this put a lot of people off but I found it refreshing. Audiences don’t like seeing superhero be goofy. The Spirit goes back and forth between seriousness and silliness. At one point the Spirit is hanging off a building by his coat when his trousers fall down exposing his boxer shorts. Think more 60s Batman than Nolan’s Batman.

3. Frank Miller’s comic book experience means that he sets up a lot of shots as if they are comic book panels. Very dynamic shot selection. One of my favourites was that often when the Spirit fights someone he punches them off screen and you see his shadow beating them up on the wall. The film also, I feel, is Miller trying to draw some larger themes about comic book heroes and villains and how one creates the other and then they proceed to fight each other in a never-ending battle.

4. The eye candy in this film is off the charts. Eva Mendes, in particular, as Sand Serif has never looked hotter. The part where she photocopies her ass is amazing.

5. It’s a very bold film and doesn’t try to go down the same routes as other superhero hero films. It’s a crazy, weird, strange story. And given how similar so many superhero movies have become it's refreshing to see something that goes off the rails.

1 thing it did need:
This film had a number of problems. The acting is so large and broad it makes the film feel cheap. I think the whole thing could have been remedied somewhat if there was a better actor in the lead. I thought Gabriel Macht did well but it really needed someone with star quality to take control of the material. Johnny Depp maybe?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

5 things to love about The 13th Warrior (1999)

What’s it about:
In the 900s an Arabian court poet, Ahmad ibn Fadlan (Antonio Banderas), is banished from Baghdad and sets out northwards. He meets up with and agrees to join a group of Vikings led by Buliwyf (as the titular 13th warrior) as they head out to protect a village that is being attacked by a vicious creature called the Wendol. Sound vaguely familiar? Yes, it’s basically the story of Beowulf told from an outsider's perspective. Based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, it tries to make a realistic origin for the fantastical tale.

5 things to love:
1. The reveal of the Wendol is fantastic. I won’t spoil it here but it’s a pretty good concept that works great visually. The first time you see the creature winding down the side of the mountain is awesome.

2. There’s a great central performance by Antonio Banderas playing Ahmad (one of the few positive Arabian character in a US film). The only downside is that the film can’t, by its nature, make him take the lead. Having him chronicle the adventure works perfectly in the book but it’s a little strange to have the protagonist be so sidelined in a film.

3. The film has great little bits of detail about certain Viking rituals which I’m sure are taken from Crichton’s novel. Crichton was always a stickler for filling his novels with as many facts as possible. One particularly interesting (though slightly unbelievable) bit is that initially Ahmad is speaking English (for the audience) and the Vikings are speaking un-subtitled Norwegian (I think) and then slowly, as Ahmad picks up their language, they start speaking English too.

4. The storming of the Wendol’s lair is a great set piece. The Viking group basically have to sneak into an elaborate cave system and abseil down a huge internal waterfall. It’s tense and very well directed by John McTiernan (and a little reminiscent of Predator which is never a bad thing).

5. Lastly, you’ve got to love that the film doesn’t shy away from some strong bloody violence and has some big, epic, practical sets. 1999 was a bit of watershed, most films this size would subsequently be made with CGI and be 12A rated (see The Mummy, also 1999).

1 thing it didn’t need:
The film suffered from some reshoots by Crichton rather than McTiernan which maybe(?) improved the film from its initial rough cut (I don’t know, it’s not available) but give the film a very disjointed feeling. You can especially tell that the ending was a hurried reshoot. It’s a shame because it spoils an otherwise solid film.