Sunday, 30 December 2012

Cabin in the Woods (2012)

Horror these days must be hard work, to actually surprise people anyway. If you just want to gross people out, that might be a bit easier; but to do something genuinely different is tricky. Since Wes Craven reinvented the scary movie back in 1996 there has been a market for clever horror. Now in 2012 Joss Whedon and Cloverfield writer Drew Goddard have changed the game again. Ostensibly a film about a group high school kids escaping to a Cabin for sex, drinking and getting high it turns out that they are part of something far greater than any of them expected.

These teen horror movies are not generally renowned for their fantastic actors, Cabin in the Woods does however have a decent performance from Chris Hemsworth (the only one of the high-school kids to really know how to act), and both Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford are great. There’s not much more to say about the film without being spoiler-tastic; technically there’s nothing amazing, though the special effects are top-notch, it’s the concept and the story that makes the film so entertaining. I think I was expecting a big twist towards the end, whereas actually the twist is revealed near the beginning, but it still makes the rest of the movie thoroughly entertaining and a huge amount of fun.

Silent Running (1972)

With its clear Eco-message and minimal cast, Silent Running is quite a bold film, and it's clear why this is a bit of a cult classic. Certainly not the first film to tell us how Earth is going to hell and we really need to look after our natural resources, but by placing the story in space and having most of the film featuring only one character, it does something different.  Bruce Dern's character - Freeman Lowell - is one of a crew of four aboard the Valley Forge; one of several crafts harbouring huge domes which maintain various ecosystems: the last remaining from a blistered Earth.  However, Lowell is the only crew member who really cares about these ecosystems, and when the order comes from command to jettison the domes and detonate them before returning to Earth, Lowell dis-obeys the orders and escapes to the far side of Saturn alone with his forest.

Bruce Derns' performance as Lowell is very good and the ambience of the film is a strong influence on the more recent Moon.  Dern plays the misunderstood forest protector well, with suitable passion yet being slightly unhinged at the same time, and given that his only companions for a lot of the film are three droids (which are very cute) it's quite an achievement.  The special effects are really kept to a minimum which helps to not date the film to the 70s (OK, so the hippy vibe given off by the Joan Baez music will), and a lot of the exterior space shots look quite classy and timeless (perhaps not surprising given that director Douglas Trumball was special photographic effects supervisor on 2001: A Space Odyssey and Bladerunner).  The droids are quintessentially 70s but they are so cool that they look more retro than dated!

This all makes Silent Running a really enjoyable Sci-Fi story; the message is obvious but instead of being hit over the head with it we are engaged by the mental state of Lowell and the way he deals with the order to destroy the last vestiges of terrestrial flora.  The film is not action packed and takes its time, which is no bad thing; a great performance by Dern, some smashing sets and special effects all add up to a pretty cool film.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Evil Dead II (1987)


Despite being far more ridiculous than the first instalment, it is clear that Sam Raimi is a very smart director.  He shows how clever he is with the camera, and he isn't afraid to experiment with peculiar effects, paving the way for a future in mainstream blockbusters.  Having said that, Evil Dead 2 is quite insane.  It starts very quickly, and within five minutes you may be forgiven for thinking the film should be ending soon!  But this is all a prelude to using the Book of the Dead to transport the evil back to where it came from, via Bruce Campbell having a possessed hand, and having cut it off, attaching a chainsaw to where said hand used to be!  However, despite its daftness, Evil Dead 2 is furiously entertaining, lurching from one Bruce Campbell hammy comedy moment to the next (it is this film that really cements Bruce as a cult hero) via several zombie moments that look more Spitting Image than threatening!  But it's all part of the charm, and it ends by setting up Army of Darkness perfectly. Certainly not the scariest horror film every made, but certainly one of the most entertaining.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Just watched this as part of Film4's MI marathon tonight. Of all the MI films, this is the only one I own on DVD; I can only guess that I used to like it. It's not all bad, but certainly the weakest of the series. Directed by John Woo, so cue lots of jumping and shooting, shooting and jumping, slow-mo doves (some were backlit pigeons) and some very stylised action (including a dramatic motorbike chase that almost features Tom Cruise and Dougray Scott, but does feature an obvious switch between slick and offroad tyres mid-chase!).

Possibly the most straightforward plot of the series, Ethan is trying to figure out the link between Chimera and Bellerophon, actually a virus and its antidote, and what Sean Ambrose (Scott's character) wants with them. Of course he's trying to create an epidemic so that he can peddle the cure, making fat loads of cash. Actually with such a relatively simple plot it's amazing that so little happens in the film until the very end. I think far too much emphasis is placed on the romance between Nyah (Thandie Newton) and Ethan, and their relationship juxtaposed with the idea of Nyah sleeping with Ambrose so that the IMF can work out what is actually going on.

Cruise is good again as Ethan Hunt (this is really a film just to make him look cool), but otherwise everyone is fairly ordinary, even Anthony Hopkins phones in a performance. The best person is easily Brendan Gleeson (isn't he always?) as George McCloy, head of the molecular research company Biocyte. But he's the one really shining thing in an otherwise outwardly exciting and stylish, but inwardly ordinary and lacklustre film.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (2011)

This mission sees Ethan Hawke and his team try to clear their name after they are framed for bombing the Kremlin. As a result Ghost Protocol is initiated; which essentially means that IMF is shut down until the situation is resolved. Cue lots of stylish set pieces, high-tech gadgetry, slick subterfuge and Tom Cruise performing some unnecessary aerial acrobatics.

It is, however, all very entertaining. Director Brad Bird has made the transition from animation (probably best know for Up, Ratatouille and The Incredibles) to live action very well. He does nothing especially fancy, but is slick enough for this kind of film. The main cast are all given enough to do, and there is also time to flesh out Ethan's character a bit. As Ethan, Tom Cruise is in his element; and as someone who does all his own stunts, everything looks pretty spectacular. Maybe the MI series exists just to make Tom look good, but to be fair he does it justice. Good to see Simon Pegg out in the field, and not just to bring brevity to tense situations. Jeremy Renner is good but perhaps suffers from having to play second fiddle to Tom; still, they could have done a lot worse. He's even involved in Ethan's back-story. Paula Paxton is fairly kick-ass as the sexy Jane Carter and Michael Nyqvist as a fairly one dimensional baddie completes the main cast.

Overall, perhaps the most enjoyable film of the franchise, maybe only let down by a weak villain, but then most of the fun is had in tracking him down. Spectacular, intriguing, and clips along at a good pace despite its 133 minute run time.