Sunday, 23 October 2016

Hell House

Title: Hell House
Director: George Ratliff
Released: 2001
Plot: Documentary following the youth group of the Cedar Hill Trinity Church based in Cedar Hill, Texas who on Halloween put on a “Hell House” in their attempt to save the souls of the local residents who attend the event.

Review: It constantly surprises me how the Christian community view the issue of censorship where often the more radical members will call for the banning or censoring of anything that they see not fitting within their belief structure and has previously lead to things such Mary Whitehouse spearheading the campaigning which lead to the “Video Nasties Act”. However bizarrely such concerns over censorship don’t seemingly apply when it in somehow links to their own belief as highlighted by various groups calling for the rating of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” to be lowered so their kids could see it, despite it containing some truly brutal and horrific scenes which seemingly they had no qualms about exposing their kids to.
Another prime example of this is the group at the centre of this documentary, whose “Hell House” see’s them putting on performances depicting scenes of high school shootings, abortion and AIDS to name but a few of the controversial topics which the group are happy to cover as part of their drive to increase attendance at church services by seemingly terrorising the local population with the prospect of going to hell.
One of more surprising aspect of the documentary is that director George Ratliff does not set out to belittle or make fun of his subject, the way that so many films focusing on the more radical Christian groups have previously done in the past. Instead Ratliff is happy to just play the observer and provide a platform for them to explain their reasons for putting on such a grotesque spectacle especially one which seemingly views no topic as being too controversial to be featured as highlighted by one of the group questioning the inclusion of high school shootings so soon after Columbine only for another to insist that it only makes it only the more relevant for their cause. It should be noted though that despite the occasional extreme opinion cast by the group they are largely painted as being full of good intention as well as truly believing that what they are doing is the Lord’s work.
Following the process in its entirety we join the group in their planning stages, before heading into the auditions for cast members who will be acting out the various grim scenes with there seemingly being no shortage of fresh faced congregation members eager to play the role of the girl raver whose date raped or the guy dying of AIDS. From here its on to the building of the “Hell House” which they build from the ground up constructing a whole house to stage their production which is honestly nothing short of impressive much like the size of the crowd that they manage to attract most drawn in by the prospect of a shocking or controversial spectacle than perhaps the intended religious aspect.
The real trick of the “Hell House” though after they have finished traumatising each group with their graphic performances is to offer the group at chance at salvation from their sin by joining members of their church for prayer and bible study. As to be expected some of the performances spark less than favourable reactions from some of the people attending who come away feeling that someone is dammed instantly for being gay or that the message is more mixed than the organisers would believe it to be. However instead of the expected big showdown and shouting match between the two groups we expect it to be, we instead get a surprisingly calm discussion as one of the organisers states that
“damnation is ultimately a matter of a personal decision whether or not to accept God, regardless of the misfortunes of one’s circumstances.”
A reminder that this group are far from the radical Christian groups we have come to expect from the protest held by the Westborough Baptist Church documentaries like this and in particular “Jesus Camp” which the initial reaction is to draw comparison to but outside of the performances being graphic and certainly questionable in taste the church seemingly have no agenda outside of spreading their message and ultimately recruiting more parishioners to their church.
A fascinating documentary which manages to be insightful about its subject without feeling the need for vilification, while providing a Halloween viewing alternative from the usual horror fare 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Escape From New York

Title: Escape From New York
Director: John Carpenter
Released: 1981
Starring: Kurt Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Adrienne Barbeau

Plot: Following a 400% increase in crime in 1988, Manhattan has been turned into a maximum-security prison. However when Air Force One is hijacked and crashed into Manhattan leading the President (Pleasence) to be captured by “The Duke” (Hayes). Now its down to former special forces soldier Snake Pliskin to rescue him in 22 hours or the explosives planted in his neck will explode. 

Review: One of the key films of John Carpenter’s early filmography it also marks the start of his collaborations with Kurt Russell, which would not only see Russell playing some of his most memorable roles as it always seems that both of them where at their best when they are collaborating. Of course it was a pairing which almost never came to be as the financial backer AVCO Embassy Pictures had wanted to cast either Charles Bronson or Tommy Lee Jones for the role of Snake, with Carpenter especially concerned that Bronson was both too old for the role as well as fearing that he would take over the film production. Russell though was equally an unlikely choice seeing how at this point in his career he was best known for his roles in Disney comedies than anything close to the tough guy action role he gets to play here. 
Unquestionably Russell embodies the role of Snake who is every bit the 80’s action hero with that eyepatch and vest combo, let alone the awful snake tattoo on his stomach and yet somehow he manages to make Snake come across like the total bad ass he is as he snarls his way though pretty much every encounter while using the quiet moments to light another cigarette. Right from the start though its clear that he has no loyalty to anyone but himself and no doubt had he not had explosives put in his neck it’s likely he would have made his escape at the first opportunity rather than do anything to help the government he long lost any faith in. 
Despite the title here St. Louis, Illinois stands in for New York due to the budget limitations while Carpenter taps into a vibe similar to Walter Hill’s “The Warriors” with his vision of a rundown Manhattan where the gangs and criminals have been left to govern themselves with “The Duke” standing on top of the pile as he cruises around the streets with his gang in his heavily customised ride complete with chandeliers on the bonnet as Isaac Hayes plays the character like something out of a blaxploitation movie as much like with “The Warriors” here Carpenter clearly has created for himself within the walls of this prison a world where he can toss in any number of random or colourful ideas he wants including throwing in a Punk Jim Jarmusch.

One of the most surprising aspects of this film though is in the pacing for while it might promise a none stop action fest, Carpenter actually restrains himself when it comes to the action slowly building the tension of Snake sneaking around the ruins of the former city as he tries to locate the president. At the same time this also means we get to see him find alliances with Ernest Borgnine’s taxi driver “Cabbie” aswell as as the Duke’s advisor “Brain” (Stanton) though its always clear that Snake’s interest are always with what is going to benefit him first. Carpenter should also receive credit for setting up what we assume to be a potential ally for Snake only to have her suddenly snatched away by the frenzied gang who have taken over the sewers. 
However by pushing “The Duke” so late into the film it does feel at times like we never get to see him as the credible threat that Carpenter would like him to be, for while he might command the respect of his followers he feels like he is lacking development for his character especially in terms of backstory and how he came to be on top of the pile. That being said Hayes has enough presence as he recycles his “Truck Turner” performance to make such things a minor issue here. 
Once the action starts though there is a lot of fun sequences throughout the film as Snake battles gang members including being forced into a battle to the death with real life wrestler Ox Baker. We also get a down to the wire chase across the bridge out of Manhattan with the Duke hot on their tails. Of course if there was any doubt about Russell being able to handle the action scenes, they are soon squashed here as he throws tasty looking punches at goons or engages in heated gun battles as he embodies the character who refreshingly compared to a lot of his 80’s counterparts is surprisingly grounded in reality and works perfectly in this world. 
A fun ride throughout and its fun to remind ourselves of how great these early Carpenter films where, while at the same time giving a truly iconic action hero who sadly he wasn’t able to capture the same magic with the second time round with “Escape From LA” but viewed for its own merits its unquestionably a fun romp from a master firing on all cylinders.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Pretty Persuasion

Title: Pretty Persuasion 
Director: Marcos Siega 
Released: 2005 
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, James Woods, Ron Livingston, Elisabeth Harnois, Adi Schnall, Stark Sands, Jane Krakowski, Michael Hitchcock, Danny Comden, Jaime King, Selma Blair

Plot: Kimberly Joyce (Wood) is a student at a prestigious Beverly Hills school for the wealthy along with her best friend Brittany (Harnois) and Randa (Schnall) who soon find themselves drawn into her scheme to take revenge on her teacher Percy (Livingston) after he humiliates Brittany. 


Review: I originally watched this film back when it was first released and while I certainly enjoyed it back then it hardly moved me. Of course returning to it now as an older and arguably wiser movie watcher it was great to see that it had actually improved with age. Essentially a reworking of “Wild Things” as Kimberly and her friends accuse their teacher of sexual assault, its clear from the start that Kimberly clearly has darker intentions than she is first letting on. 

Opening to Kimberly auditioning for a role on a generic teen soap which she hopes will finally give her the big acting break she’s been chasing despite living a life of luxury thanks to her wealthy father. Still its clear from these opening moments that she already has her ideas of where she wants to be and possibly how to get there especially when she shows the first hints of her ruthless side early on. Kimberly its clear is not one to hold her opinions as we see her openly verbally abusing her step mother at the dinner table with accusations of “fucking the family dog”, while her father seems more concerned with his dog than what she is doing. 

Perhaps because of the free reign she is given from the obvious lack of parental supervision, let alone her privileged background its equally obvious that Kimberly sees no limit to what she can achieve or who she has to use or destroy to get there. The most facinating aspect to her character though is how she can convince both Brittany and Randa to go along with her morally questionable plan to essentially destroy their teacher.

While the film might sound like a reworking of “Wild Things” which it essentially is, here though director Marcos Siega infuses the story with a vein of pitch black humour which brings to mind the films of Todd Solondz such as “Welcome To The Dollhouse” which this film certainly shares a similar tone with. At the same time Siega gleefully plays around with our perceptions of the characters almost as if he is determined to create a world in which all the characters are all flawed with the depth of said flaws being used as to how much the audience can side with them. Case in point being Perry who might be setup as a victim here, yet we see him in his personal life every bit the sexual deviant as he has his fiancée play the naughty school girl, reading out Kimberly’s disciplinary essay in what we discover later is his attempt to re-enact her seductive turn. Of course by the time we reach the court room Kimberly is selling it in a much more innocent light. 

This constant twisting of facts and reality is where the strength of the film really lies for while we might feel that we know what is going on, Siega it seems is constantly able to find a way to question a character or the direction the film is going to go especially as the film finds ever darker comedic veins to mine, though its hard to say if this as part of a deliberate attempt to provide further shocks or if he’s attempting to satire the privileged lifestyles of these characters. 

The assembled cast here are all great with Evan Rachel Wood giving a surprisingly mature and confident performance here as Rachel, easily able to switch between her various states of manipulation so that you never have any doubts about how she is managing to constantly convince people to follow her or allow themselves to be drawn into her schemes be it through blackmail or sexual manipulation regardless of gender as we see when she seduces the local new anchor Emily (Krakowski) to bring more sympathy for her court case and not even the media is resistant to her charms. 

Equally fun here is James Woods as Emily’s father who whole largely a supporting role attacks every scene with all pistons firing, spewing out profanity laced comments and projecting rage on all those who don’t meet with his own vision for the world. His money and status like so many around him only fuelling his own delusions of being untouchable so that he can rant freely about women, Jews and “beaners”.

The wasted member of the cast here though is Adi Schnall whose character with her innocent nature and certainly lack of expose to the lifestyle of her fellow students seemingly has been setup to provide some kind of moral centre to the film. Sadly due to the lack of development we get for her character she ends up becoming a missed opportunity, ultimately falling along the wayside as Siega instead chooses to focus his attentions on the ever more complex game which Kimberly is playing.

While Siega it seems certainly has a lot of things he wishes to cast opinion on from the central theme of false rape claims, he also chooses to give nods to high school shootings, racism, porn, teenage sexuality and the effect on children of being brought up under such privileged circumstances it does however mean that the film can feel like its going off in random directions as Siega attempts to find a way to tie it all togther which might feel alittle too disjointed for some tastes, especially with the ending being almost a sure fireway to ensure that everything that came before it is nicely tied up, even if its at the sacrifice of the original direction for the story and really only works thanks to how he has spent the rest of the film developing Kimberly’s character so that her final actions are easily to believe that she would choose to make them. 

While perhaps not as dark as the work of the aforementioned Todd Solondz this film still goes some way to providing that same dark humour fix. Yes a similar tale of student manipulation can be found with both the likes of “Election” and “Wild Things” but unlike those here we have a film which is not afraid to push things further still which while certainly not for all tastes is still a film worth giving a spin.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Green Inferno

Title: The Green Inferno
Director: Eli Roth
Released: 2013
Starring: Lorenza Lzzo, Ariel Levy, Daryl Sabara, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Sky Ferreira, Magda Apanowicz, Nicolas Martinez, Aaron Burns, Ignacia Allamand, Ramon Llao, Richard Burgi

Plot: Justine (Lzzo) joins a group of her fellow student activitists on a protest against the timber industry in Peru. However when their plane crashes into the jungle the group soon find their trouble are only just beginning when they are captured by a tribe of cannibals.

Review: Once hailed as the savoir of modern horror its taken less than the course of three films for the general opinion of Roth to plummet to ever increasingly lows especially as “Hostel” spawned a host of unneeded copycats. At the same time for some reason he has chosen to believe that everyone else is in the wrong, as recently highlighted during his appearance on the “Bret Easton Ellis Podcast” where in an always interesting move he proclaimed that critics weren’t “qualified” to critique his films while going on to rave about his love for Pauline Kael who I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have got his films either. Still since he made his debut one thing he had constantly talked about doing was a cannibal movie, let alone his love for Ruggero Deodato’s “Cannibal Holocaust” from which he draws the title for his own stab at the genre which hit its grimy heights of popularity in the early 80’s with only the occasional title such as 2007’s “Welcome To The Jungle” turning up as it seemed that film makers where happier to use Zombies to fill their people munching needs.

While it might be a cannibal movie for the most part, Roth here seems to also have an axe to grind against the armchair protestors the smart generation has spawned who happily use hashtags to fight for causes they know little about. Here we get to see this with out group of unwitting students who head out with grand plans of shutting down the local loggers by broadcasting their protest virally. This of course though is really just a plot device to set up their capture by the cannibals which follows their impressive crash landing in the jungle. Unfortunately its around this point that like the plane the film also takes a nosedive for once the cannibals turn up the film quickly descends into gratuitous splatter and misguided frat humour with Roth wasting little time in establishing the intentions of the tribe as they quickly hack to pieces and cook the most portly surviving member of the group, while the others are tossed in a cage to presumably await their turn in the cooker.

Shot on location in the Peruvian jungle and casting local jungle natives who if we are to believe Roth’s mythology surrounding the making of the film had never seen a movie which he choose to correct by showing them “Cannibal Holocaust” which seemingly they thought was a comedy rather than a horror film. Unquestionably though it adds an air of authenticity to the film as both the village and suspicious surrounding rainforest makes for a fantastic background to the grim slaughter throughout the film.

While the natives themselves might with their full red body paint might be for the most part interchangeable, Roth does however ensure that we do get a pair of memorable central villains (if they could really be classed as such) with the imposing lead headhunter (Llao) and Antonieta Pari as the village elder while adding to the “Aftershock” reunion which looking at the assembled cast seems to be what he was aiming for here. The downside here though comes from Roth continuing his love of having characters speak in their native tongue without subtitles which he first gave us in “Hostel” and there it worked as it was kept to short bursts with the characters animated enough for it not to matter. Here however we have large sections with multiple characters meaning that like the group we are never sure what is supposed to be happening or just why the tribe are so bloodthirsty towards them.

Confused might actually be the best way to describe this film as while it starts off strong enough, it really all goes out of the window when they arrive in the village, the plotting from this point falling into a vicious cycle of failed escape attempts and gory demises which for the gorehounds might be enough but for those of us wanting something a little deeper with their horror it makes for a frustrating experience. Roth only further detracts from the film by once more attempting to fuse frat boy humour with horror with the usual hideous results and giving us such random moments as one of the girls suddenly feeling the urge to take a dump in the corner of the cage (complete with stupid fart sounds) and the group believing that getting the natives stoned will help them only to spark a case of the munchies!!

In terms of the gore its kind of a mixed bag with some of the effect proving effective while other despite the veteran effects team come off looking surprising amateurish at times. Still the creativity is there at least with limbs hacked and eyeballs removed, while their version of a temporary tattoo is pretty inspired and helped to balance out the moments which didn’t work, such as the death by painfully obvious CGI ants, the quality of which I’m sure even “The Asylum” would be embarrassed by and leaving a potentially standout moment leaving very much like an afterthought.

Due to distribution issues it meant that despite being originally set for a 2013 release it was only this year that the film finally got a release creating an unitentional double header for Roth as we also got “Knock Knock” released around the same time, a film I’ve as yet to see to see if he anything changed for him as a director in the time which passed between the two films being finished. Right now though Roth is very much a director whose initial promise has long since faded leaving us wondering what that original appeal was as certainly its hard to find here.

Monday, 3 October 2016


Title: Wanted
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Released: 2008
Starring: James McAvoy, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Terence Stamp, Thomas Kretschmann, Common, Marc Warren, Konstantin Khabensky, Dato Bakhtadze, Chris Pratt, Kristen Hager, Lorna Scott

Plot: Wesley (McAvoy) is an office clerk in a dead end job, who discovers that his recently murdered father was a member of an a group of master assassins known as “The Fraternity”. Now he is offered a chance to take his father’s place as they hunt for his father’s killer.

Review: After exploding onto the scene with his genre bending double header of “Night Watch” and “Day Watch” which saw the forces of light and dark battling in modern day Russia, it was only really a matter of time before director Timur Bekmambetov got called up to bring his unique and highly visual style to the Hollywood system, even though he’d technically already made this back in 2001 with the Roger Corman produced remake of “The Arena”.
Based on the cult graphic novel by Mark Miller and J.G Jones of the same name this is one comic book adaptation where its best to have no connection to the source material which was set in a world where the Supervillians had won their secret war with their superhero counterparts leaving them free to run the world free from interference. Sadly this was all scrapped from this film adaption which was crafted instead as a project for Angelina Jolie who was coming to the end of her contract with Paramount with plans for a third “Tomb Raider” movie being stuck in development hell. Miller though was happy with the end result, even remarking that the previsualized footage had raised his expectation for the film adaptation. 
When we meet Wesley at the start of the film he is your usual office drone, being constantly beaten down by his overbearing boss popping anti-anxiety meds for his panic attacks, while his girlfriend cheats on him his supposed best friend Barry (Pratt). It’s clear he’s going nowhere fast until his life is thrown into chaos by the arrival of Fox (Jolie) especially as it comes with an accompanying pharmacy shoot out and high speed chase with his father’s killer and fellow assassin Cross (Kretschmann).

While he might be far from the most likely candidate to be an assassin, it seemingly doesn’t matter seeing how his father’s legacy soon has him being recruited to take his place in “The Fraternity” lead by Sloan (Freeman) and did I mention that they get their targets from the mythical “Loom of Fate” which like the COG’s in “Minority Report” identify targets before they have the chance to cause create “Evil and Chaos”. An addition in this reworking that makes me wonder how exactly anyone thought it was a logical idea but its the one we are going with here, which is made only the more comical by how seriously everyone seems to be playing things. 
It’s this crash course in assassin skills which makes up much of the first half of the film and also where the film is the strongest as Wesley learns marksmanship, hand to hand fighting and knife skills most of which involves him having the living hell beaten out of him by his fellow assassins. At the same time he also learns to tap into his adrenaline to give him superhero levels of strength, perception and speed. These later skills adding a surreal edge to the action as Bekmambetov seemingly takes this as a cue to craft any kind of bonkers and over the top action sequence he can think of. However once we get into the pursuit of Cross the film kind of loses its way and becomes a more traditional action thriller, if a totally over the top one with a train based chase sequence and exploding rat based finale ensuring that its still memorable even if the pacing isn’t as tight as the first half.
McAvoy is completely believable as both Wesley the office drone and the bad ass assassin despite initially being turned down for the role due to not having the traditional leading man look or build and while Ryan Phillippe was considered for the role and no doubt would have been equally interesting to see in the role, there is something so likeably about McAvoy that you can’t help but cheer him on as he finally snaps telling his boss what everyone actually thinks about her, before smashing a keyboard across the face of his former best friend as the displaced keys (and his tooth) spell out “Fuck You”. Angelina Jolie meanwhile slips effortless into her action heroine persona with the changes she brought to the character only adding to Fox rather than detracting such as her now largely silent persona through to the smaller details like the binary code list of targets she has tattooed on her arm making it easy to forget the fact that in the source material she looked more like Hallie Berry as its a role she unquestionably owns here. 
The supporting cast are equally great thanks to the colourful characters they play with Konstantin Khabensky making his English language debut as “The Exterminator” reuniting with Bekmambetov after working on both Night Watch and Day Watch together with Bekmambetov seeing his casting as a way of having a familiar face on set and along with his fellow Russian Dato Bakhtadze who plays the knife expert “The Butcher” providing some of the best moments of the film, while both Common and Marc Warren clearly seem to be relishing having more meaty supporting roles than they are used to playing. 
The real star though here though are the action sequences which give zero thought to their plausibility with Bekmambetov it could be argued using ideas he had left over from Night / Day Watch only with none of the supernatural elements to cover for this kind of randomness. That being said there is something so fun about watching a car chase in which a Porsche barrel rolls over a police blockade or watching Fox and Wesley play a game of capture the flag on a moving train. Perhaps because they are shot so care free and clearly within the confines of this universe than any kind of reality its never a push to accept any of this and just enjoy the ride. Shot with a mixture of crisp focus and gratuitous slow motion, while there might often be a lot happening in these actions scenes its easy at the same time to follow what's happening, while the ending might be the most gratuitous scene of gunplay since "Hard Boiled".

While I might not have liked the film much on that original viewing, upon returning to the film though I discovered that viewing it on its own merits there is a pretty fun popcorn action flick to be found here in the vein of “Shoot-em Up” or “XXX”. Yes it might not be the most realistic of films but when its this much fun who really cares?

Friday, 30 September 2016


Title: Westworld
Director: Michael Crichton
Released: 1973
Starring: Yul Brynner, Richard Benjamin, James Brolin, Norman Bartold, Alan Oppenheimer, Victoria Shaw, Dick Van Patten, Linda Scott, Michael Mikler
Plot: In the near future a high tech amusement park has been created in which guests can act out their fantasies in one of the three “worlds”. However when the park androids begin to malfunction they soon start to turn on the guests. 

Review: While Michael Crichton might be best known as a writer, having given us the likes of Congo, Jurassic Park and Disclosure he is should be equally recognised for his work as a director with this film not only marking his debut as a director but also the first film to use 2D computer imagery.

Opening with a reporter greeting returning Delos guests sharing their experiences of playing knights or cowboys, engaging in shoot outs and marrying princesses before we are shown the introductory video to the resort which outlines the three worlds they have created West World (Wild West), Medieval World and Roman World with each promising their own experiences within their lifelike settings. We also meet Peter (Benjamin) and his friend John (Brolin) who are both paying $1,000 per day to live out their cowboy fantasies despite Peter being sceptical about the whole experience. 

In many ways a test run for “Jurassic Park” as here we get another hi-tech park suffering a major malfunction, only this time instead of rampaging dinosaurs we get homicidal androids who’ve forgotten the fact that they aren't supposed to be killing the guests. The idea behind the parks though is fantastic with guests being free of any kind of moral quandary over the actions they make thanks to the park being staffed with android actors for the guests to engage with as well as seduce and kill. This of course is just what Peter and John want of course as they play out their gunslinger fantasies, while casually giving a thought to joining in a bank robbery while they hook up at the local brothel. 
The androids in the three worlds all play a variety of roles, while programmed to respond to the guests or provide cues to engage with them in shootouts or romantic dalliances, while going into a state where they just repeat themselves if a guest misses their cue, bringing back memories for myself of the restaurant scene in Cronenberg’s “Existenz”. Yul Brynner is unquestionably brilliant as the gunslinger as he essentially plays the android version of his character in “The Magnificent Seven” and perfectly projects a cold and emotionless exterior, only ever showing emotion when he’s running through one of his scripted lines and as a result gives us the perfect villain of sorts for the film and in many ways a forerunner for the unrelenting killing machine that James Cameron gives us in “The Terminator”.
Unlike “Jurassic Park” the issues with the park here aren't caused by sabotage but instead a technical breakdown that the technicians can’t resolve because they don’t fully understand how the technology actually works. The lead up till the collapse of the park though is subtly done as more of the androids start to malfunction as we build up to the final chase between Peter and the unnamed android gunslinger (Brynner) as he tries to escape through the other worlds. it’s during this build up we also get to see hints of the inner workings of the park as a team of engineers work through the night to reset scenes and clean up shoot out’s the guests seemingly none the wiser of the work they are carrying out to maintain their fantasies.
While Westworld might be the main focus, Crichton also gives us passing glances of the other worlds, mainly to show how the breakdowns are spreading across the park and possibly as an excuse to work a sword fight into what is essentially a sci-fi western with one of the guests engaging in a length battle with the medieval world villain who unsurprisingly is “The Black Knight” the same as Westworld’s black clad gunslinger. Sadly we never get to see who the villain of Roman world is.

While Peter and John might initially be setup as being the heroes of the film, here Crichton instead does something unexpected as he follows the pair on their cowboy fantasy only to in the finale suddenly have one of them suddenly and unexpectedly shot dead leaving the survivor to spend the final 15 mins running away from the Gunslinger. It’s an unexpected ending especially when it doesn’t see either of our supposed heroes stepping up and becoming the hero they are playing at being.

A strightforward story which throws out some intresting ideas and ones which Crichton obviously explored further with “Jurassic Park”, while a sequel “Futureworld” and a short lived series “Beyond Westworld” attempted to expand the world further with little success and while the forthcoming HBO series aims to take another crack at this world this remains a fun curiosity if ultimately too disposable to be considered high sci-fi.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Under Siege 2

Title: Under Siege 2: Dark Territory
Director: Geoff Murphy
Released: 1995
Starring: Steven Segal, Eric Bogosian, Katherine Heigl, Morris Chestnut, Everett McGill, Brenda Bakke

Plot: Having retired from the Navy Casey Ryback (Segal) is now working as a chef in his own restaurant, while following death of his brother he plans to take his niece Sarah (Heigl) on vacation in an attempt to reconnect with her. Things however don’t quite go to plan when the train they are on gets hijacked by ex-CIA programmer Travis Dane (Bogosian) along with his hired mercenaries with plans to blow up the Eastern seaboard by targeting a nuclear reactor hidden beneath the Pentagon.

Review: While rewatching this film for the umpteenth time I was suddenly hit with the realisation that this might actually be my go to action movie, a position unsurprisingly held previously by “Die Hard” whose legacy has been in many ways tainted by its oversaturation in pop culture, let alone hipsters citing it as their favourite Christmas movie.

Following on from the equally great original, here the sequel trades up the Naval Warship for a cross country train which also has the great touch of being in an area of zero radio coverage known as “Dark Territory” and despite the initial reservations when I saw this about how exciting a train could be as a setting especially one which wasn’t out of control, it somehow really works with director Geoff Murphy truly utilising the setting while film also marked his last mainstream release after “Young Guns 2” and “Freejack” before moving onto doing 2nd unit work for the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

Casey Ryback is really the closest that Segal has come to getting a trademark character and compared to the interchangeable hero roles he plays in his other films, it only makes it all the more sad that this would be the final outing for the character, despite Segal maintaining that they are working on a third film which I can only assume would take place on a plane seeing how between this film and the original they already covered boats and trains. That being said we kind of already had that movie with “Executive Decision” a film which crushed many fanboys at the time as Segal didn’t get quite the leading role the poster promised. Still despite having put on weight since his previous outing leading to Segal wearing a girdle the character of Ryback here really hasn’t lost a step as we re-join him to find he’s still the same killer combination of badass and chef!

While Ryback has to once more deal with a group of trained mercenaries, this time lead by a bleached  Everett McGill; what really makes this film stand out is just how great a villain Eric Bogosian makes as Travis Dane a role which was also offered but turned down by both Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum the later of which I would have also have liked to have seen. At one point Gary Busey was set to return despite being blown up in the first film and was rumoured to have fallen out with Segal after he defended Erika Eleniak from his persistent advances. However thanks to Busey’s “Pay or Play” deal he was paid his full $750,000 salary which Segal as producer had to ironically pay without Busey working one day on the film.

Bogosian here essentially steals every scene he’s in as he embodies the role of Travis, a former CIA hacker / programmer who after feeling he was wrong by his former employers plans to use the Earthquake generating Satellite to wipe out Washington D.C and much of the Eastern seaboard. At the same time he’s a focused maniac constantly working it seems two moves ahead of everyone else as he foils with ease any attempt made to regain control of the satellite. Interestingly he also has no kind of combat skills and never even picks up a gun as he prefers to hide behind his henchmen lead by Penn (McGill) who he lets get on with dealing with Ryback while he plays mind games with the government.

While it might in many ways just relocate the plot of the first film, there is still a lot of fun action throughout the film with Murphy really managing to make the most of what would on first appearances appear to be a very limited setting but somehow Murphy really manages to make the most of the training setting as the action not only takes place inside the train, but also on top and underneath as well as a brief spot of “Cliffhanger” inspired action off the train aswell. Despite Segal being known for his Aikido skills here the action is instead more based around heroic gunplay and honing his inner MacGyver and in many ways foreshadowed the path. We do however get a tasty looking knife fight between Ryback and Penn to fill the required big showdown requirement while it was nice to see that they didn’t have Travis suddenly turn into a secret badass in the finale.

An incredibly fun action film and one certainly helped by its quick pacing and colourful villains which help to cover for the shortcomings the film has such as Segal limited acting range and Katherine Heigl’s equally bland performance as his niece which seems to only have been included to add some kind of emotional connection to the story. Still despite this there is much to enjoy here as in many way it surpasses the original while providing a rare highlight for this period of Segal’s career and one which he has long since fallen from.
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