Review: Poltergeist

Director: Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember)
Writer: David Lindsay-Abaire
Producers: Nathan Kahane, Roy Lee, Sam Raimi, Robert G. Tapert
Starring: Sam Rockwell, Rosemarie DeWitt, Saxon Sharbino, Kyle Catlett, Kennedi Clements, Jared Harris, Jane Adams
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 93 min.


Film remakes have a stigma marked against them that probably isn’t entirely deserved, but it’s hard to argue with the ratio of unnecessary ones out there to those that actually improve upon their predecessor. The horror genre is probably the most frequent producer of remakes, as most of them tend to adhere to one of about a half dozen basic formulas, so why not add a brand name to the mix if you’re going to be taking on such a similar story anyway. That’s the case with Poltergeist, director Gil Kenan’s recreation of the Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg hit from 1982. In the decades since that first film told the story of a quaint American family whose house was haunted by a group of disgruntled spirits, there have been countless horror entries offering up the same basic premise in slightly titled ways. Instead of trying for a new spin on the recycled formula, Kenan and writer David Lindsay-Abaire opted to just go back and redo the original so they can add an iconic title onto their prepackaged routine of generic thrills.

This Poltergeist doesn’t do nearly enough to justify its existence in the pantheon of pointless remakes, as it seems to have no interest in offering up anything fresh against what is still a heavily watched original picture. Tobe Hooper’s film is regularly played in homes all across the world, so what’s the point in making a new feature that’s essentially the same thing? Kenan and Lindsay-Abaire don’t bring a modern spin to this effort in any real way, instead just playing the exact same beats that worked before except this time there are iPads and plasma televisions. You can’t blame them for trusting an old standard, but what they failed to realize is that as nostalgic as people can be for the original Poltergeist, the concept itself is quite dated in terms of what audiences require today. Hooper’s film still works as a product of its era, but the premise of an overly generic white suburban family haunted by supernatural spirits in a PG-13 throwdown isn’t something that translates well to the modern age.

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Review: Tomorrowland

Director: Brad Bird (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol)
Writers: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird
Producers: Jeffrey Chernov, Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird
Starring: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy, Tim McGraw
MPAA Rating: PG
Running time: 130 min.



My original posting of this review can be found HERE


In addition to being loosely tied to a Disney theme park attraction, Brad Bird’s Tomorrowland attempts to bring back the science fiction of yesteryear, focusing on bright futures and the infinite imagination of man and our unwavering ability to reach for the stars.

In theory, a movie celebrating old-school sci-fi themes sounds refreshing and fun, especially given the Disney spin, but the film falters by constantly condemning modern sci-fi for its dire outlook on the future of civilization, all the while becoming the exact thing it’s criticizing.

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DVD Review: Falcon Rising

Director: Ernie Barbarash
Screenplay: Y.T. Parazi
Starring: Michael Jai White, Neal McDonough, Laila Ali
Country: USA
Running Time: 96 min
Year: 2014
BBFC Certificate: 15

The release of The Expendables and its sequels helped give direct to video action movies a bit of a popularity boost over the last few years. This seemed to be a double edged sword though in my opinion. It rejuvenated the careers of a couple of nigh on forgotten action heroes like Dolph Lundgren and helped keep Schwarzenegger and Stallone still relevant as on-screen ass-kickers. However, in dragging out the careers of these men now in their late 50’s and 60’s (Stallone will be 70 next year!), I feel as though some deserving new action stars are being held back. One of these is Scott Adkins, whose film Ninja: Shadow of a Tear I reviewed a while back and enjoyed a lot. He was in the second Expendables film, which likely helped his career, but he’s still not quite risen to top billing in any notable successes or theatrical releases (although the days of cheesy action movies playing in theatres has pretty much been and gone).

The second (not necessarily meant in that order) DTV star I always feel deserves more recognition is Michael Jai White. He had top billing in Spawn back in 1997, but the film hardly set fire to the box office and he spent most of the film in OTT make-up, so his face never became a part of the public consciousness. In 2006 he received acclaim in action movie circles with a starring role in Undisputed 2 (alongside Adkins) and this helped give his career a boost. Since then he had a small role in The Dark Knight and made a few great DTV gems like Blood and Bone and the wonderful blaxploitation spoof, Black Dynamite (which White co-wrote).

Action aficionados might know him then, but once again he hasn’t starred in a big commercial success yet. Hoping to change this and create a whole series of action vehicles for White is Falcon Rising.

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Blu-Ray Review: Paper Moon

Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Screenplay: Alvin Sargent
Based on a Book by: Joe David Brown
Starring: Ryan O’Neal, Tatum O’Neal, Madeline Kahn
Country: USA
Running Time: 102 min
Year: 1973
BBFC Certificate: PG

Peter Bogdanovich had a remarkable start to his directorial career. After training as an actor in the 50’s, working as a film programmer for MOMA and a film journalist, he eventually turned his hand to directing with the well received Targets, produced by Roger Corman. We’ll ignore Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women (when Bogdanovich worked under the pseudonym Derek Thomas) and say that the next three films he made were all critical and/or commercial successes. In 1971, The Last Picture Show (which I shamefully have yet to see) wowed everyone and the following year he made the hit comedy What’s Up, Doc? starring Barbra Streisand and Ryan O’Neal, then in 1973 he released the Oscar-winning Paper Moon. Bogdanovich was box office gold and a darling with the critics (although Paper Moon had a few detractors), but from then on his career made one of the most spectacular nose dives in cinema history. Everything since has been mediocre or a curiosity at best and it’s hard to see how that happened. From the extra features included with this new re-release of Paper Moon it doesn’t sound like Bogdanovich had a hard time and the success shouldn’t have harmed him, but for whatever reason, he never regained his momentum.

Rather than lamenting the director’s decline though, let’s celebrate one of his cast iron classics.

Paper Moon sees low rent con man Moses Pray (Ryan O’Neal) saddled with a newly orphaned girl, Addie Loggins (Tatum O’Neal), who may or may not be his daughter. He is to send the girl to her aunt in Missouri, but after the sharp 9 year old cottons on to Moses’ scam which earned him $200 from the death of her mother, Addie demands he repays the money to her. Having spent it already, Moses is forced to tow her along whilst he swindles the money out of local widowers through his bible salesman shtick.

Addie isn’t as dumb and innocent as you’d think of a girl her age though and it soon becomes clear that she can teach Moses a thing or two about grifting. So the two become a con double act, robbing the American public (who are suffering from the effects of the Great Depression) along their trip across the state. As well as improving his less honourable skills, Addie gradually helps Moses become a slightly more responsible and honest man too, which leads to a final dilemma as to what to do with the young girl.

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Review: Mad Max Fury Road

There and back again, a breeders tale.

When you boil all of the fireworks and prop-fetish out of the latest Mad Max film, Fury Road, you really have simplicity. The women are fed up with the men using them as chattel – literally, as seen in a human dairy farm made for the purposes of feeding the big-bad, Immorten Joe, and his mutant children, ‘mothers milk.’ The remaining, less tethered, women decide to leave, but then, given few options for emigration in a desert planet, decide to return. Vehicular mayhem of the likes never put up on screen in the history of cinema ensues. And there are consequences of upsetting the social order of things, mostly the crashing and burning of things, but a few lessons are learned along the way.

Mad Max, at least in the ever-increasing-in-budget sequels, has always been the iconic Ronin who wanders into town, tipping the scale of social order by his masculine independence. He is a symbol in a world of warlords and cowering, dirty plebian peasants.

In the rather muddled opening prologue seemingly run at 1.5x speed and laden with superfluous micro-flashbacks of the disappointed children who have taken root in Max’s subconscious, Max is captured by Immorten Joe’s ‘War Boys,’ stripped of his V8 Interceptor, and arrives at the Citadel to coincide with the younger women, those not tied to a milking apparatus, making their exodus. The gambit involves the outposts only female warrior, Charlize Theron here a hard-beaten alloy of Pris, Cherry Darling, Meredith Vickers, and Sarah Connor folded to steel and decorated in cosmetic axel-grease foundation. Imperator Furiosa has a plan to smuggle out the last of humanity’s corn-fed center-fold DNA to the mythical ‘green place,’ beyond the desert sandstorms under the guise of a regular gasoline and ammunition resupply run. Joe straps on his Vader-meets-Bane breathing apparatus and engages in pursuit. Max gets entangled.

Fury Road is essentially a remake of the (superior) template-setting 1981 sequel, The Road Warrior. It replaces gasoline with lady-flesh clad in fluttery white maternity wear, and aims to get way-the-fuck-beyond the Thunderdome. This is helped considerably by hundreds of millions of 21st century studio dollars. For George Miller nerds, there are enough callbacks to the original films (from actors to onscreen images) to fuel a good sized jerrycan. The wild practical stunts involving vehicles and men leaping from car to truck to monster-truck, or dangling from poles and any number of resulting slap-stick visual gags buried in a modern CGI spectacle reminded me more of the set-pieces in Gore Verbinski’s The Lone Ranger than George Miller’s previous desert chases. Perhaps this seeded the desire for the film to be about how we watch these kind of movies. Maybe it is.

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Blu-Ray Review: The Train

Director: John Frankenheimer, Arthur Penn (uncredited)
Screenplay: Franklin Coen, Frank Davis
Based on a book by: Rose Valland
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau
Country: France/Italy/USA
Running Time: 140 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: PG

A fairly underrated director, John Frankenheimer has been behind a number of classic movies, such as The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz and Seven Days in May as well as some thrillers and action movies that are underrated themselves, such as Ronin and 52 Pick-Up. He was one of the few directors to get on with the notoriously difficult Burt Lancaster and the two of them made five largely well received films together. The Train was one of these, although Arthur Penn was the original director before Lancaster (supposedly) fired him.

Frankenheimer promptly changed the film to better suit his sensibilities (or perhaps to better give Lancaster a much needed hit). Whereas Penn’s film was set to be a more thought provoking look at the willingness of the French to risk their lives for art, Frankenheimer dampened the focus on art to instead produce a rip-roaring action film which occasionally stopped for breath to examine the price of war and the sacrifices made. Whether or not this was for the best we will never know, but we’re sure as hell left with a bloody good film.

The Train is based on a true story set in occupied France in 1944, where a German Colonel (Paul Schofield) loads a train full of priceless art from a Parisian museum to send over to Germany. He and everyone else at the time knows that the end of the war is coming and France will soon be handed back to the French, so this is his last chance for the Germans to keep the valuable items for themselves. The museum curator can’t let this happen though so calls on the Resistance to help. A handful of members work at the station housing the train, including station master Labiche (Lancaster), so they’re asked to take this task on. Initially Labiche turns down the job, but circumstances gradually sway him to put his and his fellow soldiers’ lives on the line to keep what belongs to the French in France.

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Blu-Ray Review: Retaliation

Director: Yasuharu Hasebe
Screenplay: Yoshihiro Ishimatsu, Keiji Kubota
Starring: Akira Kobayashi, Jô Shishido, Hideaki Nitani
Country: Japan
Running Time: 94 min
Year: 1968
BBFC Certificate: 18

Hot on the heals of releasing Yasuharu Hasebe’s Massacre Gun on Blu-Ray last month (which I also reviewed), Arrow Video have polished up the director’s follow up, another violent gangster thriller, Retaliation. I enjoyed the previous film a lot, but couldn’t help comparing it to the superior work I’d seen from Seijun Suzuki. This time around is a similar story, although I was comparing it to Massacre Gun more than anything else.

Retaliation sees gang member Jiro (Akira Kobayashi) come out of prison after serving 8 years for killing a member of a rival gang. As soon as he sets foot outside the gates he’s approached by Hino (Jô Shishido), who vows to kill him to avenge the death of his brother (which was the cause of his incarceration). This first attempt is thwarted by his girlfriend, but Hino is still hellbent on carrying out his actions.

When Jiro gets home to his Godfather, he discovers that his once powerful gang has all but disbanded. The Don of another gang, the Hazama family, has been supporting his ageing leader though. The once rival Don offers Jiro a job, to gain control of Takagawa City for his family. In doing so, he would be able to run it as he likes. Seeing this as a way to make his own family name relevant again, Jiro accepts the offer and proceeds to play two rival gangs off against each other. Once rid of them he hopes to go legit and run a construction company in the area. However, as is often the case in these gang warfare films, nothing quite goes to plan and the bodies pile up and loyalties are tested.

In amongst all of this, Hino is forced to side with Jiro by his employers, but he vows to carry through his vengeance once the job is done. The two become closer as things go on though, so what will happen by the end?

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Blu-Ray Review: The Offence

Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenplay: John Hopkins
Based on a Play by: John Hopkins
Starring: Sean Connery, Trevor Howard, Ian Bannen, Vivien Merchant
Country: UK/USA
Running Time: 112 min
Year: 1972
BBFC Certificate: 15

Sidney Lumet was responsible for a handful of cast iron classics. His debut feature 12 Angry Men and several films he made in the 70’s (Dog Day Afternoon, Network and Serpico) are all considered some of the finest films ever made. If you look on the IMDb though you’ll see he has an astonishing 73 directing credits to his name. Granted the first 20 or so are TV shows, but he’s still got quite a large volume of work under his belt. Because of this, he has made a huge number of films that have been forgotten over the years despite his pedigree. Some were probably forgotten for good reason (Gloria for instance), but I imagine there are a good few gems lurking in there waiting to be discovered. It’s that thinking that got me excited about checking out The Offence, which is being re-released on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of Eureka’s superb Masters of Cinema series.

The Offence stars the legend that is Sean Connery as Detective Sergeant Johnson, who is part of a team of policemen on the hunt for a child molester in an English suburb. Shortly after a fourth victim is found, a suspect is brought in for questioning. The slightly fey Kenneth Baxter (Ian Bannen) is this suspect, who gives nothing to the police detectives who question him. Johnson, who is hell bent on catching the deviant and plagued with memories of previous cases, is convinced Baxter is his man though and locks himself in the interrogation room with him to knock out the truth. He knocks too hard though and beats the man possibly to death. Johnson himself becomes the offender at this point and the spotlight is turned on him and his demons.

My opinion on this film veered this way and that, and after reading a couple of other reviews (not something I generally practise) I seem to have the opposite opinion to everyone else, so please don’t take my thoughts as gospel.

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Blu-Ray Review: Blood and Black Lace

Director: Mario Bava
Screenplay: Marcello Fondato
Starring: Cameron Mitchell, Eva Bartok, Thomas Reiner
Country: Italy/France/Monaco
Running Time: 89 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: 18

Mario Bava is one of the most highly influential directors in genre cinema. His films are rarely listed as the greatest of all time, but his work kick started a number of sub genres as well as inspired numerous more famous directors. Bava’s first credited feature, Black Sunday (a.k.a. The Mask of Satan) in 1960, was a sumptuously gothic horror which looked beautiful (he began his career as a cinematographer) but was laced with violent imagery, including an incredibly gruesome opening sequence where a spiked mask is hammered into a suspected witch’s face. This caught people’s attention and is still considered one of Bava’s best films. A few years later, he directed what is considered the first real giallo (violent Italian ‘whodunit’ thrillers to put it simply), The Girl Who Knew Too Much (a.k.a The Evil Eye) in 1963. He is also believed to have created possibly the first slasher film with A Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve) in 1971. His violent, stylish brand of filmmaking, which often set plot aside to let the mood, tone and visuals replace/provide the substance, was hugely influential on numerous horror and thriller directors, particularly other Italian masters such as Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci.

Blood and Black Lace came shortly after The Girl Who Knew Too Much and a few years before A Bay of Blood but is equally as important. It more clearly defined the giallo genre than its predecessor and also contains a number of the tropes of the slasher movie, meaning it could also be considered one of the films to forge that sub-genre. The importance of this film certainly must have been felt by the genre-loving folk over at Arrow Video as they have just released a gorgeously well remastered and loaded dual format blu-ray/DVD set. I was lucky enough to be sent a copy to review so below are my thoughts on the film and extra features.

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