Friday, 17 August 2018

Rampage

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Director: Brad Peyton  

108 minutes (12) 2018
Warner Blu-ray region B  
[Released 20th August]

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary  

An epic yet briskly paced monster-movie, Rampage is based on a video game. It starts with Marley Shelton playing a scientist on an orbital station where she fights a giant rat. That confrontation in space doesn’t end well. The source of mutation falls down to Earth, and infects three animals that grow to enormous sizes, threatening chaos or destruction in a wave of menace across America.  


Dwayne Johnson (San Andreas) stars as Davis Okoye, a primate expert from San Diego zoo, where he’s a handler for tame gorilla George, an albino that knows sign language but kills grizzly bears when infected by a weaponised pathogen from the space station. Naomie Harris (Moneypenny in recent James Bond movies) portrays the geneticist Kate Caldwell, a doctor who sketches out this movie’s sci-fi back-story about the potential dangers of genetic editing by CRISPR tech, just before the enraged and rapidly growing George escapes from captivity. Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen) plays cowboy styled secret agent Harvey Russell, a government spook on the trail of rampaging George.  

The albino gorilla George provides Rampage with subgenre links to Mighty Joe Young and King Kong. Ralph the giant grey wolf from Wyoming forests appears here with tacit links to Norse mythology’s Fenrir, the alias of Fenris in Thor: Ragnarok, while - alongside the movie’s numerous helicopter stunts - the special effects for Ralph also provide a couple of visual puns about Airwolf. Lizzie, the gigantic mutant crocodile emerging from Florida swamp-lands, is a fantastical representative of dinosaurs, and it also recalls Godzilla’s city-stomping antics. These varied influences add up to a magnificent creature-feature, packed with amusing effects and spectacle.    


Due to a radio signal that lures the giant beasts, in a deranged plan hatched by biotech corp villainess Claire Wyden (Malin Akerman, Watchmen) of Energyne, Willis Tower in Chicago becomes the ultimate focus of mayhem by the monsters. Okoye is an ex-special forces commando (of course), so when he teams up with the big ape to fight the other two giant monsters, this can easily be viewed as an off-beat superhero movie (Caldwell mentions Justice League), and seems aligned to comicbook related cinema in general, despite its video game source. George is not unlike a super-hairy version of the Hulk. The gorilla is an over-sized rage monster, a result of experimental evolutionary science gone awry. George battles mutant animals (Ang Lee’s Hulk fought a trio of dogs), and during the ape’s primal rampage, he wrecks tanks and helicopters (just like the Hulk), after which the calmer gorilla becomes the movie’s hero to save a city.


Rampage boasts great action sequences, leavened by good humour, and urban tragedy in Chicago is rebalanced with a happy ending. This movie is a hugely entertaining treat for any fans of Kong: Skull Island, Pacific Rim, and various Marvel and DC productions.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Tideland

Cast: Jodelle Ferland, Janet McTeer, and Jeff Bridges

Director: Terry Gilliam  

120 minutes (15) 2005
Arrow Blu-ray region B

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary

“This is not a vacation.” Contentious and controversial fantasy comedy-drama, Tideland is set in rural Texas, with a southern gothic atmosphere that was shot in Canada without irony. Noah (Jeff Bridges) is a melancholic redneck junkie, and a completely tragic wreck of humanity, redeemed only by the briskly romanticised fairytale views of his precocious and amusingly melodramatic young daughter Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland). Orphaned by the sudden deaths of her parents Jeliza-Rose happily escapes from her grim reality into a wild-child’s shattered and morbidly challenging dreamscape, where even a passing train is likened to a monster shark, and quarrying explosions on an open mining site marks an apocalyptic wasteland edge of the known world.


Before she’s lost down a revisionist Alice-in-Wonderland rabbit-hole of jagged memories and allusive imagination, the lonely little girl depends upon her Barbie heads for spooky companionship, but slowly descends into a waking state of broken filmic taboos and her sundry whitewashed nightmares. Eventually, she falls in with the disturbingly eccentric neighbours, brain-damaged Dickens (Brendan Fletcher), and his formidably demented sister Dell (Janet McTeer), a “keeper of the silent souls” via her taxidermy hobby.


Terry Gilliam directs with a keen eye for painterly visuals, rich in colour, artistic textures, and menacing images, and this emerges from the joylessly designer immaturity of its critically lambasted cultural chrysalis as an engagingly distorted version of Tobe Hooper’s seminal black-comedy horror The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974), one that’s deeply innocent of grisly mortality and rustic human devils, and thoroughly unsuitable for any closed-minded movie-watcher. Barely restrained madness appears to be Gilliam’s default sensibility for cinematic adventures, and that bursts to the forefront of this disconcerting wallow in child-like views of adult-world mysteries.


Much of Tideland concerns various attempts to get away from human death and its many grisly and testing consequences. The mother’s body is abandoned by family and denied a Viking funeral pyre of her death-bed. The father is vicariously resurrected by taxidermist Dell. Jeliza-Rose appears somewhat bemused by her unburied parents’ stillness as wholly phantasmic presences. The bodiless dolls (voiced by Ferland as parts of her performance of Jeliza-Rose’s fantasy world) attest to the little girl’s disquieting views of life, and what constitutes normality, where “squirrel butts don’t glow,” or its opposite, when a wrecked school bus, dumped close to the railway tracks, seems more comforting in its rusty decay than a place that might otherwise (in a genre drama) be duly haunted by ghostly children.


Despite adverse critical reactions to Tideland, it has recently emerged as one of Gilliam’s best movies, and one of his most emotionally involving and cult-worthy efforts. 

Disc extras:
  • Gilliam’s heartfelt intro, and director's commentary track
  • The 2005 documentary Getting Gilliam (45 minutes) by Vincenzo Natali
  • Making-of, and technical, featurettes
  • Deleted scenes, interviews, picture gallery

Monday, 13 August 2018

A Quiet Place

Cast: Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, and Millicent Simmonds    

Director: John Krasinski

90 minutes (15) 2018
Paramount 4K Ultra HD

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary  

Sometimes, genre cinema delivers novelty pictures. Sometimes, taking your work home with you is a very good thing. Seemingly designed for the deaf, this movie posits a dark future where aliens hunt by sound, much like Wyndham’s Triffids before them. However, the deadly monsters visualised for A Quiet Place are not plodding big plants but super-fast predators that stalk a rural landscape, and pounce on every squeak or tinkle. When fireworks explode, the monsters come running like they’ve heard a dinner bell.

Emily Blunt stars as pregnant Evelyn, whose family must live and scavenge in complete silence to survive, with problems of communication, not unlike those previously seen in Buffy The Vampire Slayer celebrated episode Hush (1999). Director John Krasinski, who is married to Blunt, plays Evelyn’s husband, Lee. Their headstrong young daughter Regan (deaf actress Millicent Simmonds, Wonderstruck) is the most rational and yet pessimistic character, and she provokes a crisis after leaving her mother all alone without help when the baby’s due soon. Regan wears a cochlear implant, and this device proves to be vital to discovering the creatures’ weakness and quickly field-testing an improvised solution to killing them.


Although a few elements of this hit sci-fi horror movie seem rather contrived - especially the dangerous nail on a staircase, and the premature birth scene - A Quiet Place does fit very neatly into the vaguely surreal cross-genre mode of post-apocalypse nightmare movies, exemplified by Day Of The Triffids, while Ridley Scott’s Alien is another obvious influence. 


As a movie without much dialogue, the use of sounds and complete silence is often quite inspired here, despite the reliance upon sign language (that once common trope of soap operas, usually to somewhat maudlin effect), and the Abbot family living in a crucible of terror is held together not by scientific knowledge, or very much practical ingenuity, but formed into a survivalist unit by simple-minded religious beliefs.


Thankfully, this is not a (mostly) silent movie in the utterly pretentious sense of Oscar-winning B&W production The Artist (2011), or the Spanish version of Snow White (aka: Blancanieves, 2012). The mystery of a wholly personalised sci-fi, and its farm setting, in A Quiet Place often seems reminiscent of Signs (2002), and Krasinski’s direction mirrors the cryptic tone of Shyamalan’s work in general.


Risk assessments, diversionary tactics, grief-stricken responses to a horrifying tragedy. All of these genre-related tensions build up to a stunning hold-your-breath climax where red lights mean danger close, and the alien threat invades the family home. An excellent job of casting young actors to play energetic roles, where they actually save each other, in truly heroic fashion, without reliance upon their parents, bolters this movie’s appeal to a varied audience, and the kids never succumb to Disneyfied schmaltz and juvenile adventuring.


More importantly, here’s a movie that challenges the familiar Hollywood orthodoxy that a pregnancy can hamper female beauty. A Quiet Place presents Evelyn’s motherhood as an attractive trait, without being blatantly sexy, and thanks to the headlining performance by an already accomplished actress, she’s just extraordinary as the climactic action heroine, too, while still maintaining her motherly characterisation. That’s certainly Blunt force trauma for aliens, indeed.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Ready Player One

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, and Ben Mendelsohn

Director: Steven Spielberg

138 minutes (12) 2018
Warner Blu-ray region B

Rating: 8/10
Review by Steven Hampton   

Almost anything goes in this prime example of blockbuster fan-fiction that’s an effective play-list medley of pop culture favourites, especially movies. For its details, Ready Player One gleefully plunders many genre classics, so that the young hero Parzival’s car is from Back To The Future, a T-Rex guest-star is the same dinosaur from director Spielberg’s own Jurassic Park, and a magic spell is borrowed word-for-word from John Boorman’s Excalibur. But this is not a movie about movies, it’s about games and a possible futurism for gamer culture.    


Turning the island of Manhattan into a shape-shifting arena, the first big game is a kind of Tron meets Death Race, loaded with so many effects in a multi-level dreamscape that the affects of Inceptionitis and Matrix syndrome soon kick in, to generate dizzying and frequently dazzling appeal (like - hey, remember this?), fully designed to a risk sensory overload of viewers’ memory banks. Everything from Avatar to Zardoz is scavenged for styles and ideas that are remixed, if rarely as well-matched as Sucker Punch, into this freewheeling - oh, so cool it’s terminally cool - scenario that can and often does feel like it’s a vague follow-up, but not a narrative sequel, to Last Action Hero (1993). The twists on familiar stuff are what drive its genre mash-up. Ever wondered what Kubrick’s nightmare-movie The Shining might look like if depicted as an Elm Street derivative? 


Back to the game, and its hero-worshipped creator, we are told there are three keys to be found on the players’ quest. Clues that would annoy or baffle the Riddler are offered, and the supreme Easter egg is a winner-takes-all prize. But Spielberg knows that super-toys never last all summer long. Parzival, the alias of Wade (Tye Sheridan), teams up with elfin heroine Art3mis, alias of Samantha (Olivia Cooke), like hacker heroes staging an eco-rebellion against corporation IOI (101?) boss-man Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), his robotic mercenary I-R0k, and feisty assassin F’Nale (Hannah John-Kamen, Killjoys), who isn’t the movie’s final girl, but she does at least deliver this movie’s last punch as a visual punch-line.


Not just a movie inspired by 1980s media, RP1 is also, and primarily, a big-scale production that repeats elements of virtual reality from cyberpunk and then re-introduces its designer VR concept afresh, while still maintaining respect for the various genre touchstones, even those that are being acutely satirised here. The most peculiar thing about RP1 is that its young cast who portray the rebellious ‘High 5’ heroes of 2040s are exploring a futuristic creation that depends largely upon icons from modern history. The kids are playing with their grandparents’ toys. It’s rather amusing that teenager Wade Watts’ favourite movie action hero is Buckaroo Banzai. On a battlefield of inconvenient dangers, assorted subgenre references or genre riffs result in a bout of MechaGodzilla versus the Iron Giant. Also deployed for the Planet Doom finale, there’s a WMD (for the win?) disaster scene when a 'Cataclyst' bomb threatens to end everything of any VR value for all concerned.


If this was about the 1960s, the witty punch of the sci-fi movie would be ‘acid flashbacks’. As RP1 centres on the 1980s, but its tone is flashbacks with some weird twists. Although many parts of the movie lack any hint of true originality, the job of the makers is to rework and recycle the familiar into something re-bootable or reboot-worthy, and that’s achieved with aplomb in the movie’s Oasis virtuality to generate a blitz of purely honest fun (RP1 is definitely a bright city, not another Dark City, and it avoids the blatantly green eco-message of Avatar), whether any specific 1980s icon is actually being spoofed or not. Candidates for ultimate in-jokes appear every few minutes.


However, despite being a polished work of sci-fi media, RP1 begs the nagging question, what’s happened to pop culture to the 2040s? Has the exploitation of the 21st century’s remake industry resulted in utter social stagnation for all home entertainment? Perhaps this anorak movie’s formalised Gen X mentality (rewarding “steampunk, pirates”) means that our current decade’s cultural dystopia will continue unchallenged for the foreseeable future. Ready to break the geeksphere?


Nearly two hours of bonus viewing includes interview clips and behind-the-scenes material, showcasing mo-cap stunts in the Volume room, and live-action on studio sets (where Spielberg chose to shoot on film, not digital), about hi-tech design and special effects. Game over... perhaps only until 'Ready Player Two'?

Friday, 10 August 2018

The Death Of Superman

Voice cast: Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, and Rainn Wilson

Directors: Jake Castorena and Sam Liu

81 minutes (12) 2018
Warner DC Blu-ray region B

Rating: 6/10
Review by Donald Morefield

When the monstrous beast from space Doomsday arrives in Metropolis, its evil presence on screen evokes an iconic end-of-an-era story, based upon the four-issue series 1992-3 of comic books. As usual, Lois Lane is central to the Kryptonian son’s narrative on Earth, and real-life celebrity couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn play Clark and Lois, for an astute genre-savvy casting coup that adds spousal comfort and genuine chemistry to their vocal performances in this animated movie. Despite revisiting and revising the plot of previous animated movie, Superman: Doomsday (2007), there's more than enough going on here, with regard to romantic engagement, and philosophical debates about who should know a hero's secret identity to please fans of DC comics and movies, and would like to see other variants.


Playing alongside in-jokes and various references to Superman lore, The Death Of Superman pays affectionate tribute to Superman: The Movie (1978), and borrows some key images and themes of action scenes from Man Of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (2016), and Wonder Woman (2017). Clark’s adoptive parents Ma & Pa Kent, necessary as a soap-opera sub-plot to re-create the heroic orphan’s back-story afresh, seem influenced more by TV series Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman (1993-7), rather than Smallville (2001-11), or any of the recent big-screen outings. 


The Justice League attempt to confront Doomsday before Superman, and although Green Lantern (voiced by Nathan Fillion), and Batman (Jason O’Mara) deliver their best efforts, only Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson) has the strength and power to manage a fight scene that does much more than simply get the monster’s attention. Eventually, it’s a mega-brawl when a punch-up sequence escalates and intensifies to become a brutish battle, the ultimate mano a mano. There’s a smart plot-twist when Lex Luther attempts to save the besieged city and, by extension, the world, using a hi-tech suit of armour (in something vaguely like a ‘Hulkbuster’ style), of his own invention, for the increasingly savage urban combat against Doomsday.


VideoVista’s editor has argued that what superhero cinema depends upon is photo-real animation, so perhaps that’s what cartoon style movies like this example really do need instead of traditional flat 2D artwork. When actual motion within the artwork frame is as basic and limited as character moments are in this movie, the suggestion in favour of a drastic upgrade to a fully CGI (or PRA?) format for digital animation, does seem valid, so, it’s a bit of a shame, and a great missed opportunity. Should DC to adopt a future-proof business model by investing in greater cinematic realism that is, or should be, a welcome and worthwhile advancement for animated movies? 


Also, it’s hard to identify the intended audience for a movie like The Death Of Superman, especially coming after the Doomsday tragedy has been done in a live-action movie directed by Zack Snyder. Since both live-action and cartoon movies have 12 certificates, and the animated version includes scenes of bloody violence, there’s no direct appeal to younger viewers, and only the niche ‘anime’ market remains.


Animated sequel Reign Of The Supermen (2019) will continue this epic story-arc, and that follow-up movie is promoted with a featurette in this Blu-ray discs extras.