Blade Runner 2049 – Review.

When the sequel that die hard sci-fi fans have wanted for decades was announced, that being Blade Runner 2049, many of us danced for joy in a very awkward way that made many around at the time think that we where unwell. Far from it. We could bearing contain the well spring of emotions that bubbled up within our pale bodies. Many may have even run outside and blessed the heavens, and then darted back inside before bursting into flame.

We had many questions: would Ridley Scott direct and if not, then who? Would Harrison com e back? Would Deckard come out of the artificial closet and embrace the replicant within?

When the internet went all buzzy like a swarm of psychotic bees over the trailer I had a dose of conflicting emotions about what I saw. There was the Breakfast Club final scene fist pump of ‘hell yeah’, but there was a dash of fear there too. Will they turn over beloved Blade Runner into a summer blockbuster action film. Evidence was there in glorious HD that it could very well be. I was nervous. Even the team of Denis Villeneuve directing, Ridley Scott producing, one of the original screen writers Hampton Fancher returning to co-write, and Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos returning to the world of Blade Runner didn’t disquiet the unrest. And when I finally paid for my ticket, I actually stopped at the door to the movie theatre and said a little prayer to the ghost of Phillip K Dick.

That prayer might have just worked because what the film was, was nothing short of brilliant. This is precisely the film I want it to be. Denis Villeneuve, who’s work includes Prisoners (2013), Sicario (2015), and Arrival (2016), delivered a film that perfectly shows a world familiar to us 30 years on. The neon and moving billboard advertisements have evolved into something more like interactive holograms, spinners are way cooler, the cityscape is still frightening and beautiful, you can by holographic A.I. to keep you company, and replicants are now Blade Runners.

This time round Blade Runner, Officer K (Ryan Gosling) unearths by accident a long dead secret concerning replicants that could change the world live in when his boss (Robin Wright) sends him after a possible replicant working in a protein farm. This brings him in conflict with Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) the new king of replicant manufacture and his unstable replicant hence woman Luv (Sylvia Hoeks). And everything ends with Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) and the replicant underground.

This film revolves around the mystery that slowly pulls the characters into the K’s investigation and it becomes an obsession for K and Wallace for different reasons. The filmmakers keep you guessing, and the identity of a particular character, I won’t spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it, is only revealed only minutes from the end of the film. There are questions that stay with you in this film, much like the original and this film is pure cinema, it’s what movies do better than any other form of entertainment.  And like the original film, the images and the characters are burned into your brain through eye and ears that can’t help drink in the minutes of this marvel. And it is a shame that his film, again, much like the original, failed at the American box-office. But if this film has a future anything like the life of the original, this film will be around long after other more profitable films released in the same year.

For further information check out the links below:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1856101/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blade_Runner_2049

Please, go out and watch the film, re-watch the original, read Phillip K Dick’s original story. And ponder the questions of what it is to be human that these storytellers dare you to answer.

And that is all from the Monkey for another day.

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Blade Runner 2049 – Review.

What A Novel Idea.

When I was growing up in the 1980s and the 1990s, I was obsessed by movies. And as an old fart almost 40, nothing much has changed. But what has changed is how we engage with the filmmakers and the product they create to entertain us, the masses. We have online and digital magazines, websites devoted to the smallest or broadest element film business, blogs, podcasts, more and more documentaries on the world of movies and DVD and Blu-Ray special features.

When I was a much younger version of myself, 60kgs lighter, I got my movies news, trivia and reviews from two places: 1) the monthly or bi-monthly magazines I use to buy on my way home from school, and 2) the movie tie-in novelisation. And this is the very thing I would like to talk to you, humble reader out there, if you indeed are out there and I am not merely shouting into the storm.

There may be those of you out there, imaginary or not, who might not know what I mean by a novelisation. Well, in the simplest terms, it is the opposite of the book to screen process, where a film in novelised in book form. Why would you want to read those, you may be asking? Wouldn’t you just watch the movie again. Well, yes, but stay with me for a second and I’ll explain.

In the late 1970s and the 1980s when the blockbuster film business was flooding everyone’s fragile little brains with marketing for these massive tentpole films, two such popular marketing produces that filled that blank space in certain retail outlet where the movie soundtrack album and the movie tie-in novelisation. It was indeed a marketing tool to catch then eye and influence you to buy a ticket to there cinematic three ringed circus, but that doesn’t mean they where just a market device. These books had merit

Some of them where badly written, there is not doubt about that, but some where written so well that they surpassed the film on which it was based. For instance, the novelisation of the 1977 film Orca: The Killer Whale, itself a rip-off of Jaws, was not only better than the movie, it was better than the original Jaws novel written by Peter Blenchley.

But the novelisations grabbed my teenage imagination in another way. To make sure the novelisation is out in bookstores as part of the marketing campaign, the writer hired by studios wrote the novel based on the screenplay and not the finished movie before time and budgetary constraints and the edited process excised whole sections of the story. As a result, the novelisations often had story elements that the film version didn’t have. So if a story element confused you, plot holes confounded you or a characters motivations seemed wrong or flimsy, there was a good chance they are may sense in the book version. The story ends up a more complete one, an in some ways better.

I still remember my head exploding when I read the novelisation of Terminator 2: Judgement Day by Randal Franks. It contained inner monologs that the film couldn’t do and had a more of the future war than the quick visual throwaway reference in the finished film. And more T-1000. I thought I had discovered a treasure. I quickly started to buy, borrow and steal every novelisation I could find. Before the digital age took over with DVD, Blu-Ray, VOD and podcasts, this is where I could my do dose of deleted scenes, and they came with fully rounded out characters to boot.

These books where my special features. And it was reading these books, many for films I owned already, that I began to understand how films where made, especially relating to story. And how many pages of story could be told on screen in a 90 second sequence. This understanding was completed when I started buying and reading scripts.

And all these years later, I still buy them. And I read them with great affection. Just this year, I read novelisations for a handful of Doctor Who episodes, classics like The Last Starfighter and Ladyhawk, three Star Trek titles, two Star Wars titles, and a novelisation for the original V tv series. And recent released films are not immune to the novelisation. Films like The Nice Guys, Kong: Skull Island, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets all graced my reading list.

I wish, in part, that the movie tie-in novelisation was still highly regarded, even just for a marketing tool, because the richness of the tales being told on screen seem more real to me if I can relive the story and learn more about the story in book form. But maybe that is just me.

~Monkey.

Some of the best movie tie-in novelisations:

Star Wars by George Lucas (and Alan Dean Foster)

Return of the Jedi by James Kahn

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial by William Kotzwinkle

The Omen by David Seltzer

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Kahn by Vonda McIntyre

Raiders of the Lost Ark by Campbell Black

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C Clarke

V by A.C.Crispin

Orca by Arthur Herzog

Gremlins by George Gipe

Alien by Alan Dead Foster

Star Trek by Alan Dead Foster

Star Wars: The Force Awakens by Alan Dead Foster.

The Last Starfighter by Alan Dean Foster

What A Novel Idea.

‘What I Think of That…’ Eight Reviews.

Being a died in the wool film junkie with a demanding job, sometimes its hard to fit in every movie and tv show I want to watch. And sometimes I miss the big and/or important movies as they flash across the cinema screens. So, what happens to these films on my radar that slip through my surveillance net, weight til they land on DVD or Blu-Ray and pounce.

And that is what I’m here for today, to give you my opinion of eight movies I missed at the cinema and recently caught up on in a blinding marathon full of popcorn and coke (the beverage, not the drug).

The Fate of the Furious (2017) Dir. F. Gary Gray.

The latest addition in the Fast and Furious franchise, the 8th so far, is the first in the franchise since the death of one of the franchises main stars, Paul Walker. Vin Diesel’s mumble growl baritone is back as Dom Toretto, as is the rest of his colour gang/family in the ridiculously fun action flick.

The filmmakers do their best to turn the narrative on its head as Dom is turned against his family by evil hacker master mind Cipher (Charlize Theron) holding old flame Elena and their baby hostage, forcing Dom into working as her henchman. And in case you haven’t guested just yet, shit goes down and the good guys win. Duh, what where you expecting?

Dom’s Girlfriend/Wife (what is there relationship anyway?) Letty takes over the team with the help and guidance of Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell) and newcomer Little Nobody (Scott Eastwood). While Michelle Rodriguez is an exceptional actor, she doesn’t really rise above scowling sexpot.

Stand outs in the cast are Kristofer Hivju of Game of Thrones fames playing Cipher second in command Rhodes. Unlike fan favourite Tormund on GOT, Hivju places the icy badass perfectly and I had to muffle a cheer when he met his end. Another great pairing is Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs and Jason Statham’s Deckard. Statham’s Deckard was a villain in previous instalments but is brought into the team by Mr. Nobody. Hobbs and Deckard’s interaction, first as revivals in federal prison (An action sequence executed perfectly) then as bickering alleys, they are a double act that should have the bubby cop movie together. Pure cinematic gold.

But ultimately, this cartoon for adults, while fun with its willingness to ignore physics for a sweet visual (the chase sequence with cars versus a submarine for example), doesn’t match up to the other chapters in the franchise, the 7th stamped in people minds after Walker’s death would always be hard to top. But in the end this is a popcorn tent pole film of the highest order. It is winning no awards, but it fun and its well worth it to see Dame Helen Mirren playing Statham’s mum.

 

XXX: Return of Xander Cage (2017) Dir. D.J. Caruso

From one Vin Diesel lead visual circus to another. Now, while this film franchise started a year after the FF franchise, it currently only has three instalments, with the second featuring a different lead in Ice Cube. But Vin Diesel being big again he returns to the franchise.

The film series XXX is, like FF, full of reality bending action that gives the middle finger to physics and this recently chapter could even be another FF movie with a team of misfits lead by Diesel is at its core. And because of this it is quite forgettable compared to the colourful security the FF franchise.

Now, let me be clear, I enjoyed this movie. But one of the reasons I wanted to watch this piece of fluff (that being Samuel L. Jackson) was hardly in the film at all, his role resided to a glorified cameo. But the other reason did deliver in spades. That of martial arts super star Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. These two actors are extraordinary athletes seem to perform amazing feats while reality has its back turn, and while their action sequence they performed are nowhere as good as film shoot in the naïve country’s film industry, they are still a highlight. Another Game of Thrones actor, Rory McCann (who plays the Hound) almost steals the show with his sheer presence proving the casting agent for the HBO show are actually good at their job.

At the end of the day I’m glad I watched XXX: Return of Xander Cage but now that I have watched it, I think I can live the rest of my life without having to view this piece of candy again. I’m on a diet after all.

 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) Dir. Andre Ovredal

This is the only horror movie on this list. Not because there weren’t many horror movies released this year, but because this is the only one I missed on its first release. And one of the few good ones.

I read some very promising reviews for this film which sparked my interest. Not the least of which was the director Andre Ovredal who directed the amazing Troll Hunter in 2010 and the two male leads in Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch. And I wasn’t disappointed by the time I sat down on the couch in the dark with a big bowl of popcorn.

The story revolves around father and son coroners/funeral home owners as they take on a last-minute autopsy of a young woman from the sheriff. And as the autopsy goes on through the night, the puzzle of Jane Doe gets weirder and weirder and the supernatural rears its ugly head. Questions of ‘who was this woman’ become a maybe ‘who is this woman’, the two men start to crack.

What is surprising about this film, is that so much is done with so little. A lot of the unease of the piece is down to subtle changes in sound and score, the framing of the action and lighting. And the oddly magnetic performance for Olwen Catherine Kelly as Jane Doe who doesn’t move the entire film and yet she is all over this film.  Andre Ovredal creates an atmosphere that becomes more and more intriguing and its 86-minute running time seems to pass very quickly and considering the action takes place primarily in one location with three actors, one playing the dead body Jane Doe, that is an impressing achievement in a cinematic landscape that contains so many films that are all flash and no substance. This film holds your attention and slowly amps up to a finale that I loved.

I don’t want to give away too much in the way of story or spoilers, but if a horror movie that will stay in my brain pan for days after you watch it, then please watch this film. And then go back and watch Troll Hunter and you’ll see a film maker that has a firm grip on the horror genre.

 

Kong: Skull Island (2017) Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts

From horror movie to monster movie. When you think of monster movies, and even the sub-genre of giant monster movies, King Kong is the granddaddy of them all. And the story has been retold many times. So, it was refreshing to see them not do the same old story with Kong. This flick has more in common with Pacific Rim than Peter Jackson’s recent King Kong remake. This movie is a audio visual ride akin to you being on a flaming roller coaster and loving every turn.

Set in the 1970s, the film follows a mysterious American government agency called Monarch as it embarks on a expedition to a yet uncharted island in the south pacific at a time when the Vietnam war is winding down. Lead by Monarch’s top dog Bill Randa (John Goodman) as he puts his team together of mercenaries, scientists, a photo journalist, and U.S. soldiers as they converge on the primal Eden on this lost island.

Upon arrival, they drop charges from helicopters to take seismic reading of the island to better map the area. This unleashes the fury Kong, the islands protector, who shows the interlopers who’s boss. The survivors, with the help of a marooned World War II pilot Hank Marlow, must navigate through the ‘lost world’ with all its surprises to get to the extraction point on the other side of the island.

Giant guerrilla, giant spiders, giant buffalo/yak things, giant lizard creatures are aplenty in this film. Our heroes are completely out matched and ‘out gunned’ and the WWE giant monster smackdown are freaking sweet.

With a cast featuring the aforementioned John Goodman as well as Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Ortiz, Toby Kebbell, Terry Notary, Australia’s Robert Taylor and a cameo by Oscar winner Richard Jenkins, this amazing all-star cast could have been hired to distract from am awful script. But how surprised was I when I found it wasn’t the case. Character or character type, has their moment to shine. And the Director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who hasn’t before this directed a massive film like this before, show his has got to chops to become a great genre director.

John C. Reilly steals the show as marooned pilot Marlow, being the film’s conscious as well as its comic relief, a structural double act that could have fallen flat but in Reilly’s expert hands helps elevate the story. And a special nod to the two actors playing Kong, Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell (doing double duty as the human character Jack Chapman as well as Kong). These two actors have worked on previous Planet of the Apes movies with MoCap king Andy Serkis play various apes characters, where perfect casting to tackle the unique character of Kong.

I give this film four and a half out of five helicopter explosions.

And if you have time, jump onto YouTube and check out the Honest Trailer for Kong: Skull Island in which the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts help criticize and lampoon his own film. Priceless.

 

Power Rangers (2017) Dir. Dean Israelite

What can I say about this movie? I’d like to say, since I was never a fan of the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers, that this movie is a deformed aborted foetus of a film and that the filmmakers are a bunch of money hungry twits who forced on the unwitting public such a tragedy chasing the almighty nostalgia dollar.

But I can’t. SERIOUSLY!

This movie surprised even me. And that doesn’t happen often.

From Dead Israelite, the director of Project Almanac and the writer of Real Steal and Flight, John Gatins, the project was in good, if not interesting hands, considering the simple and cheesy nature of the original television show and the terrible film from the mid-1990s.

For the main characters in the film, this is a perfect coming of age and a wonderful superhero origin story. The usual character types one usually finds in these kinds of film actually gives way to decent characterisation. I describe this film as The Breakfast Club get superpowers. You have the bad boy Zak (Ludi Lin), the misunderstood jock Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the nerd/brain Billy (RJ Cyler), the crazy girl Trini (Becky G.), and the popular girl with emotional problems Kimberly (Naomi Scott). And to those of you who are old enough to have watched The Breakfast Club, do you remember what they called themselves in the written essay revealed to us in voice over? The end of the piece goes, “…each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal.” Sound familiar?

And the similarities don’t stop there. The Powers Rangers, before getting their powers, are thrown together in detention, just like TBC. Likewise, they have similar histories, much of which comes out in a ‘round table’ confessional around a campfire, that echoes the scene in TBC on then landing in detention.

But the similarities to The Breakfast Club aren’t distracting or blatant in anyway, but actually help the audience invest in the characters and grounds the more fantastic elements of the film in a ‘reality’ that never seems out of place.

The film also stars Bryan Cranston as Zordon, adding a little class to the film in front of the camera, as does Bill Hader’s vocal stylings as the robot Alpha 5 adding comic relief. But out of all the actors in the film, it is Elizabeth Banks, playing the evil Rita Replusa, who has the most fun on screen. She portrays Rita with the right combination of ego driven swagger, destructive glee, and ‘moustache-twirling’ laughter, and a little slice of ham. So may think an actress like Banks is wasted in a film like this, but come on, who doesn’t want to play a villain? And in this kind of movie, she excels, and except for Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, Banks does more with her characters than the villains in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Baby, it’s Morphin’ Time.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017) Dir. Chad Stahelski.

Keanu Reeves is back as chiselled hitman John Wick in this sequel to the 2014 film. After the events of the first film are wrapped up at the beginning of the second chapter (JW getting his car back), John and his new dog return home to settle into the normal life his recently passed wife wanted for him.

But the actions of the first film have attracted the attention of an old colleague, the very mob kingpin who helped him leave the world of contract assassination behind him all those years ago. Santino D’Antonio (played by Riccardo Scamarcio) comes to John to cash in the favour John owes him. Something that is prized about money and honour in the world of this film. John refuses, and D’Antonio blows up John’s house and destroys the last connection with his late wife. John takes the job, that of killing D’Antonio’s sister (Claudia Gerini) to avoid a price on his head from the underground community he is a part of. But he gets one anyway and the fun ensues.

Ian McShane and Lance Riddick return as Winston and Charon respectively, owner and concierge of the protected hotel/club/hide-out of the underworld types. John Leguizamo also returns in a glorified cameo, wasted as he was in the first film, but like McShane and Riddick, he adds stability to the story. The film also adds Common as a revival assassin/bodyguard, the great Laurence Fishburne and the Bowery King and Ruby Rose, covering up the fact she can’t act by playing a character who can’t speak.

This is a film that you can’t help but compare to the original, a film that came out too little fanfare and blow the box-office away. But the release of this film in Australia was delayed. The February 2017 release date was pushed back to July 2017, about the same time the film was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the USA. Nice going Australia!

Apart from the delayed release, the film was quite good. But, and this is where the comparing to the original comes into play, didn’t have the same visceral impact the original film had. Its like the strange phenom of a band’s follow up to an amazing first album. Good, even great by normal standards, but is missing that one element to elevate the sequel to the level of the original. And with John Wick: Chapter 2, I couldn’t really tell you what it is it’s missing. I mean, then action is there in all its forms. Car chases, gun battles, hand to hand combat and tense stand-offs.

Maybe it is just down to the director Chad Stahelski, a former stuntman turned director. Stahelski directed JWC2 by himself, whereas he co-directed the first film with David Leitch, who’s recent film Atomic Blonde did what the first John Wick film did. So maybe Chad Stahelski, while a competent action director, is the weaker of the two. Or maybe the writer of the two films, Derek Kolstad, just churned out the contractual sequel to keep the studio happy.

Fun, but like so many other sequels, no new ground was covered. And we still have Chapter 3 to look forward too. Yay?!?

 

Ghost in the Shell. (2017) Dir. Rupert Sanders

Live action remakes of animation is popular right now. One just has to look at the Disney rooster to see they are planning more of them after the surprise hits of Maleficent in 2014, Cinderella in 2015, The Jungle Book in 2016, and Beauty and the Beast in 2017. Well, made surprise hits was going too far.

Live action versions of anime films have usually been in the purview of the Japanese film industry, as Hollywood’s attempts have been pretty awful. But then there was Ghost in the Shell.

Now I was very trepidations when I heard they where making this film. And then there was the ‘white washing debate’ about Scarlett Johansson’s casting as Major and the poor critics response to the film before release, and of course the internet trolls. But while I took all this in, I wouldn’t make any judgements until I saw the film. Because I loved the original, I was willing to give the live action film the benefit of the doubt.

Now everything people loved about the original is present in this version. All the characters are in attendance including a new character in Major’s team, Major’s ‘creator’ gender swapped into a woman and the main antagonist is a character mixed from elements from then original Ghost in the Shell, it’s sequel Innocence and the series Stand Alone Complex. And surprisingly enough, these changes blend neatly into the frame work of the story.

It only downside, as I have already mentioned in this article about other films, the film doesn’t cover new ground. It is quite happy to tread over the old boards of the anime without adding anything new. This is faithful to the source material and is in no way a shot for shot remake like Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, but it seems to me a Japanese live action film might have been the way to go. But this film is by no means bad in anyway and I know filmmakers can have a tough time adapting a much-loved property. I was just hoping for a bit my bang for my buck.

The academic qualities of the film are many, from notions of self and personality in the face of emerging technologies like cybernetics and medical advances, what is it to be human, the notion of soul over hardware. The list will go on.

I suggest, everyone watch this film and make up there own mind.

 

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. (2017) Dir. Guy Richie.

Guy Richie has had a great run in the last ten years. Re-inventing Sherlock Holmes a great deal of humour, style and swashbuckling bravado being the most popular. His take on the 1960s super spy series The Man From U.N.C.L.E. was equal, if no more so, to his take on the great detective on Barker Street.

So when the new came down the entertainment news pipeline that Ritchie’s next film with be a big budget re-invention of the King Arthur story, Britain’s greatest fairy-tale of honour and valour, fan boys and cinephiles around the world sat at their desks in front of their computer screens and channelled Mr Burns with a ‘Excellent’ slipping past their lips in barely contained joy.

We all know the story King Arthur and the Knights of the round tables and  a re-telling of the Arthur/Camelot myth is not a new one. There have been romantic versions, action version, fantasy version, animated versions and even a musical version. So why should we care.

A massive and talented cast, great direction, decent script, top notch editing and a wonderful musical score, everything was in place. The trailer hit and like a dealer offering the first taste free, we the customers, we’re hooked. And then the film was released. And that is when the trouble started.

The critics seems to attack the film for its short comings while other more ridiculous films got away Scott free. Audience seems to ignore the film, well in Australia away, and the film only lasted a few weeks on cinema screen in the land of Oz. Which is a shame, because this is such a fun film.

Okay, so its not going to win any Oscars. These kinds of films rarely do, Lords of the Rings aside. But who cares. That shouldn’t be the mark of a good film. This is ‘popcorn’ entertainment. If its fun and you, the audience member, enjoys themselves, then you have a good movie.

I’m saddened, more than any other film on this list, that I missed this film at the cinema. I’ve watched it a few times since I bought it, and it hasn’t let me down with repeat viewings. And why wouldn’t it. The film is a perfect blend of Harry Potter, Games of Thrones and the sword and sorcery films of the 1980s like Conan and Beastmaster, with a little God of War thrown in. And as you would except, the visual effects realise the story elements perfectly.

And if you still don’t think its something you want to lay down you hard earned for, the cast itself is worth a look. SOA star Charlie Hunnam is the titular character, rounding out another great character to the already growing list. Joining him is Jude Law, Astrio Berges-Frisby, Djimon Hounsou, Aidan Gillen (GOT’s Littlefinger playing a likeable good guy), Geoff Bell, and Eric Bana as Uther Pendragon.

I is a pity that that this film wasn’t more widely successful than is was. But, apart from David Beckam’s cameo, hopefully this film will be a cult classic it deserves to be in later years. Fingers crossed.

‘What I Think of That…’ Eight Reviews.

George A. Romero – The Passing of a Master of Horror. 1940 – 2017.

It has been established that persons who have recently died have been returning to life and committing acts of murder. A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life and seeking human victims. It’s hard for us here to be reporting this to you, but it does seem to be a fact.

                                                                     Newcaster in Night of the Living Dead (1968)

 

What can a say about George Andrew Romero that hasn’t been said by fans, filmmakers, critics, trolls and even himself. Well, I can only tell you what Romero meant to me personally. And of course ramble as I do. You where warned.

He was responsible for many nightmares, for which I thank him for from the bottom of my scaredy cat heart. Sound strange? Why do we watch horror films? To be entertained? Of course. But it’s the fact that they frighten us that gives us that thrill we keep coming back for. And George did that in spades. And his films, especially his zombie films, had an underlying social commentary that not only made them stand out from the average slasher or gore-fest flicks at your local megaplex, but truly scared the living dead shit out of us. He did it to me. Zombies, or more so the idea of a zombie outbreak, remains my one irrational fear. That safe fear can be entertaining and rejuvenating.

Until I discovered his films in my mid-twenties study film at university. Up until then I steered away from zombie movies because of a bad childhood experience with one. It was the Night of the Living Dead that started it all. Watching the film and reading the material we lowly students were given, my skull was burst open for Romero to feed on. I hunted down and watched, and later bought, every one of his films and devoured them all. And just like when I had discovered John Carpenter years earlier, I was studying at the feet of a master filmmaker, a master of horror. And at 6’5” his feet case a big shadow.

Romero created a whole sub-genre of film. He created what we think about as the modern zombie films. Before 1968s Night of the Living Dead, zombies had been a voodoo created horror that was old hat in the late 60s. He put rotting flesh on those old bones and the imitators and rip off artists built on his foundations.

He was a filmmaker that almost came out of nowhere, if you don’t count the countless short films and tv commercials he made with his company ‘Image Ten Productions’, and quickly became an auteur. The Romero name became a brand, one which delivered a quality product every time. And of his 20 directing credits, 15 where horror movies, 6 where zombie flicks, 3 where collaborations with Stephen King, 2 with Dario Argento and one featured knights in armour on motor bikes. What is not to like.

I watch his films every year, as I do with John Carpenter and Wes Craven, and I never get bored with them. They have a unique style and structure all their own. And the images. Wonderfully frightening. And the characters interact was where the real horror was. Minority and females characters often took centre stage. A black lead in a movie in 1968 was a big deal.

In a time where the older filmmakers are passing on, Craven and now Romero, I fear for the horror genre as there doesn’t seem to be to many candidates to take up the mantle left by the old guard. We need a new generation to strap on the armour, jump of the motor bike and kill some fucking zombies. To recreate the vampire. To add a new twist on the werewolf, to re-slash the slasher film.

George Romero’s work will live on. It will inspire, entertain and make us all think about the hard questions. And plan for that zombie outbreak.

And who knows, maybe George with be back in a few days hungry for human flesh leading the zombie horde.

The Godfather of the Zombie has passed. (Maybe).

George A. Romero – The Passing of a Master of Horror. 1940 – 2017.

The End of an Era – Video Stores

Everything in this world changes. The old gives way to the new (notice I didn’t say better there). From my perspective, it’s usually down to one of two things as to why things change. Money, you say. Partially. Time maybe? It certainly is a factor. I see these two factors of change as cultural evolution of thinking and technology. I know I may be simplifying things a bit, but this is my blog, so button it.

For example, Telephones have evolved from the clunky behemoths with a big slowly moving dial on the front that was so heavy that on more than occasion if was probably logged into police evidence as a murder weapon, to the sleek and small handheld digital devices we all have today that contain more computing power than the super computer that put men on the moon almost 50 years ago. And with those changes comes a new way of thinking about the concept of the telephone. People choose to text rather than to speak to another human being, countries have altered the way traffic lights work for pedestrians due to these little amazing devices containing a camera, digitals music play, games platform and access to the internet are taking the attention away from clueless people walking across the road where the road become the lights to say, ‘Stop!’.

The change I have hopefully gathered you all here for today is not as impressive and urgent. Not a bit. But never the less it is something close to this movie geek and pop culture nerd. That of the humble video store.

The evolving media mediums have always been a topic of worry for the people making their livings in the medium that previous. Moving pictures was thought to kill radio when they became talkies, television was a possible death blow to the Hollywood studios and their product, home video and the rise of video stores where anyone could rent something that they wanted to watch was seen as a possible death knell to both network television and the Hollywood machine. This is where I am going to stop the ‘next thing that could kill the previous thing’ barrage. Why, you ask. Because after this point, things do really change.

I am fully aware that the Hollywood style movie houses died out and was replaced by multiplexes, but people still go to the movies. Radio no longer air radio dramas and adventures, but get in your car and turn a certain knob and there is music, commercials and chatty disc jockeys to accompany your journey. But what if you wanted to go and rent a movie on DVD or Blu-Ray (VHS having already been replaced)? Sorry to say, no. At least not the way you used to.

The humble video store has been replaced by vending machines that are dodgey at best, digital downloads where you can rent or buy movies or TV shows, online streaming subscription services and the generally cheap DVDs and Blu-Rays on offer to buys in many stores. The video rental stores just haven’t been able to keep up and one by one have been shutting up shop.

I know what you’re thinking, “So what? Thinks are better now than they were.” Different, yes. Better? I’m not so sure. It is true that now you can get your hands on any kind of film ore TV program very quickly, almost instantaneously is some cases, but the revere for the material is not the same.

Now I did already point out this was an opinion of mine and I am looking through these with nostalgia goggles, but I think it is such a same. When I was younger I didn’t read for myself, I read for school. I played with other kids whose parents knew mine. I played the sports my parents wanted me to play. But when we went to the video store, surrounded by thousands of mini movies posters of the VHS cases, I was told I could wonder these isles of imagination a pick something that I wanted to watch. Me. Not Mum or Dad or my sisters or my brother, but me. I was overwhelmed with choice and I almost cried. I chose a VHS tape of the Masters of the Universe. And I watched it three times before it had to be returned. And again, I got to choose something. And one choice turned into two, two to three. And when I was old enough, I would walk or ride my bike down to the local video store and chose whatever I wanted. And I sampled everything I could. Everything I was on the table there was not restrictions. The world opened up for me then, my mind soaked it all in like a sponge, my imagination became mighty and my education began, truly began in the isles of that video store.

Now my adult brain is still soaking up everything I can find, but the experiences of finding what you want is no longer an adventure with a cinematic outcome as close to a religious experience as I can get. It has become a little more clinical. Anticipation replaced with a waiting game with the postman.

The closest to that feeling I have gotten in recent years is going into JB Hi-Fi (anyone outside Australia, it is a huge chain of stores loaded with every kind of media) and wondering the isles viewing the titles on the spines of the DVDs or Blu-rays. I will continue to go to these places and lose myself in the past, when the choices I made helped make me the person I am today.

The last video in my area is closing soon. It is selling off all its stock and closing its doors. I know eras end, and everything changes. It is the one constant in the universe. But we all must mourn the passing of the end of even the smallest things in our lives, because without them, we wouldn’t be who we are, be it man, woman, child or mutant.

I raise my glass to the video rental stores. You will be missed.

The End of an Era – Video Stores

Corman is King. Reviewing Death Race 2050.

Death Race 2050 (2016) Dir. G.J. Echternkamp

Starring Manu Bennet, Malcolm McDowell, Marci Miller, Burt Grinstead, Folake Olowofoyeku, Anessa Ramsey and Yancy Butler.

Holy Jumping Shitballs! This movie is amazing. Award winning? Not on your life. Fun? Without a doubt. Cheesy? You can bet your sweet ass it is.

Released on DVD and Blu-Ray in 2016, Death Race 2050 is a remake of one of Corman’s own films, Death Race 2000 (1975) which is considered a cult classic of American exploitation cinema.

I know what you’re thinking out there, dear reader. Wasn’t Death Race 2000 already remade in 2008 with the Brit machismo Jason Statham? Why yes indeed, it was. It was fun and brutal and had an angle of social commentary with a nice side order of core. So why remake it again? Well, it seems Roger Corman wasn’t happy with the remake excising a lot of the political commentary, dark satire and the broken society elements for the storyline. Which is fair enough, as a lot of filmmakers are sometimes less than happy about remakes of their films. But that was back in 2008, what took Corman so long?

Well now, gentle fluffy bunny slipper wearing reader, it wasn’t until a few years after 2008 that Mr. Corman got an idea for a remake. He was being interviewed by an Italian journalist who remarked that The Hunger Games had similarities with Corman original Death Race 2000. That was when the ideas fell into place and the dollar signs in front of his eyes.

He contacted the studio Universal, who had the rights to produce the remake (and it two sequels) and made a deal. And what a deal it was. Universal released the film straight to disc and a little after the new year, it landed in the mighty land of skin cancer. (Ptssh! That’s Australia I’m talking about).

Now for many decades now Roger Corman has been making films independently in Hollywood, even as far back as the old Hollywood studio system. He has made his films fast, cheaply, often reusing sets and actors, and while many of his films are pretty terrible there remains within them a weird kind of charm. And occasionally he produces a gem that lasts and is even studied in academic circles. And even more amazingly, none of his film have EVER lost money. That is right, he never technically had a flop in all his years in the film business. Which I believe is because he has an eye for talent, hires them while they are cheap and supports them. Joe Dante, Ron Howard, James Cameron, amongst others, have all got their starts with Roger Corman. Corman himself has directed 56 films, and while he hasn’t directed a film since the beautiful gothic sci-fi horror film Frankenstein Unbound in 1990, he has continued to produce films cheaply, on time and in demand. And while his mainstays of drive-ins and video rental have changed, he has produced films for cable networks and streaming services with such titles like Supergator (2007), Dinoshark (2010), Sharktopus (2010), Camel Spiders (2011), Attack of the 50 Foot Cheerleader (2012), Piranhaconda (2010), and Sharktopus Vs Whalewolf (2015). And you thought only the Asylum boys had a stranglehold on the cheesy CGI monster movie because of Sharknodo. How very wrong you are, silly mortals.

But Death Race 2050 is up there with the crazy, cheap exploitation films that made the original such a fun ride. If I could use one phrase to some up this film, it has to be a glorious ‘Over the Top’.

In the near dystopian future, everyone is addict to reality television they watch on headsets, all day, every day because the is basically on employment. The Corporation owns and runs everything and they produce all produce and entertainment in the United Corporations of America, and the most popular spectacle is the Death Race. A cross country motor race where drivers race supped up death machines whose sole purpose it to mow down innocent pedestrians for points on the way to the finish line. The most popular of these drivers is the mysterious masked Frankenstein. Add ridiculous competition for Frankenstein, like Jed Perfectus and Tammy the Terrorist, and rebel resistance (I know, right), gore from laughable to awesome, cheesy television presenters, outrageous costumes, a crazy amount of terrible CGI and the chairman with worse hair than Donald J Trump and this movie is a gem of ridiculous fun that barely hides its brilliance. I see this remake very soon having the same cult status as the original.

And the disc even comes with special features. Three documentaries (The Making of, The Look of 2050 and Cars! Cars! Cars!) that look at the production, and there are also deleted scenes. Yes, that’s right. There was crappier stuff that they had to cut out. Whaaaaaaaat?

If you want some awesome, crazy, ridiculous fun that you can actually have a intelligent conversation about (or even hit it with a Rifftrax or MST3K treatment) this movie is a must.

GET SET! READY! LAUGH!

Corman is King. Reviewing Death Race 2050.

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps: Justice League Dark Blu-Ray Review.

DC Comics have been releasing original animated movies for some time now, making them alongside their various animated series, an area where they have continued to kick Marvel’s collective asses for some time now. While Marvel is trying to catch up with the use of Disney’s animation department, they have a long way to go. DC’s animated films use to be made for television, but tv broadcasts of these films now seem to be an afterthought as these straight to DVD and Blu-Ray released films have increasingly offered more adult driven content, with the occasional limited cinematic run.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 & 2 based on the Frank Miller graphic novels and Alan More and Brian Bolland’s adapted Batman: The Killing Joke have both been released over the last few years to praise (& cinematic runs), the later bringing Mark Hamill back to voice the Joker, a character he had retired from. They have told stories from the comic books, individual stories that are not connected to an overreaching arch. These stories are told the best way the filmmakers can with the confines of length, usually between 75 and 95 minutes.

But on the 7th February 2017 with the release of the animated film Justice League Dark, DC Comics and Warner Bros Animation have given us something a little different; fantasy (in this case magic) with a healthy dose of adult themes and a darker plot. In fact, in the United States it was slapped with an R rating for the magical themes coupled with the humour and the moderate action. In Australia, where I reside clicking away at the computer keys, the film was given an M rating for mature audiences for the same reason.

Based on the Justice League Dark comic series in the recent New 52 soft reboot of DC’s titles written by Peter Milligan, Jeff Lemire, and Mikel Janin, the screenplay for this film was penned by J.M. DeMatteis and Ernie Altbacker and directed by DC/Warner Animation veteran Jay Oliva was a sigh of relief for many DC fans. After the Guillermo del Toro’s failed attempt to give us a live action Justice League Dark film, the property seemed to die a tragic death of never being translated to another medium. And the announcement of the animated film gave many hope, as did the casting of Matt Ryan returning to voice the character of John Constantine which he played in the short lived live action television series. Hope seemed to be alive for a motion picture or tv show of either JLD or Constantine. Or both. Can we all be that lucky?

The story features the (regular) Justice League troubled and very confused about a large string of supernatural killing happening all over the country. While meeting about the mystical crimes, Batman bows out and leaves, leaving the other members scratching their heads. But after a strange occurrence featuring the name ‘Constantine’ written in blood over Bruce Wayne’s bedroom does Batman snap into action. Tracking down Zatanna and Deadman as a means of finding Constantine, we are introduced to him and the House of Mystery where he resides and the human like avatar Black Orchid, who protects the magical artefacts Constantine stores in the house. After a fact-finding mission into the mind of one of the survivors of the mystical attacks thanks to the aid of Ritchie Simpson, an old friend of John’s, more members join the fight and the villains revealed.

Jason Blood and his demon alter ego Etrigan, join to help stop a foe that they both faced back in the time of Merlin, a character called Destiny, and the ever-popular fan favourite Swamp Thing also joins the fight against Destiny and Felix Faust. And in the final confrontation, even the (regular) Justice League are thrown in to mess thing up.

While this is primarily a John Constantine story, it is good to see some of DC’s lesser used characters in the next best thing to a live action movie. All that it was missing, apart from more Swamp Thing, was the DC equivalent to Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Doctor Fate. Now, while is not usually presented as a dark character, it would have been amazing to see.

 

The DVD release of Justice League Dark is rather bare, but the Blu-Ray release has some of the standard extras we have come to know and love from DC’s animated films. The great comic writer Len Wein, who created Swamp Thing, along with other artists and writers appear in the documentary ‘The Story of Swamp Thing’. This little talking head doco gives us the characters back story, his changes over time, and reason for the character’s appeal.

There are also four little vignettes ‘Did You Know?’ giving us a little trivia on the production, trailers for other DC animated movies, a trailer for the new Wonder Woman film, two bonus episodes of Batman: Brave and the Bold featuring some of the characters from the main feature and a sneak peek at the next animated feature, Teen Titans: The Judas Contract. As a special feature’s package, this is pretty standard. But some these the DC’s animated titled are packed with docos and extras, like the DC Showcase, action packed short featuring various heroes and villains. Sadly, there are no sign of the Showcase shorts here.

If you haven’t picked up any of the DC animated titles, I high recommend buying one or two and checking them out. They are rarely released about $20, often retailing for much less, and are always entertaining. Intriguing and entertaining stories, characters you know and love in various incarnations, beautiful animation and some real kick ass action.

I give it 4 out of 5 severed monkey heads.

 

Here is a list of the DC Animated films from recent to earliest:

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract (2017)

Justice League Dark (2017)

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016)

Batman: Bad Blood (2016)

Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015)

Batman vs. Robin (2015)

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015)

Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014)

Son of Batman (2014)

Justice League: War (2014)

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013)

Superman: Unbound (2013)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 2 (2013)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1 (2012)

Superman vs. The Elite (2012)

Justice League: Doom (2012)

Batman: Year One (2011)

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (2011)

All-Star Superman (2011)

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010)

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)

Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)

Wonder Women (2009)

Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)

Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)

Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Scary Monsters and Super Creeps: Justice League Dark Blu-Ray Review.