Friday, 31 March 2017

Split (2016)

"Split" (2016, M. Night Shyamalan, Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Universal Pictures) is a psychological horror. Not to be confused with either the bowling movie, or the short horror film from 2014 of the same name.

Three teenage girls are kidnapped by a man called Kevin (James McAvoy) who has been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder, or split personalities. He has 23 personalities in total. Whilst only some of his personalities actively want to harm the girls, none of them are inclined to help them, fearing rebuke from Dennis; the dominant personality and head kidnapper.

McAvoy delivers such a wealth of talent in this film. Although he is not given opportunity to show all 23 personalities, the ones he does portray on-screen are expertly delivered, very different and so very sinister. It's enough on its own simply to watch him switch between characters and costumes with ease.

The acting from all characters is pretty solid, the main failing for me of this film was the story telling itself. M. Night Shyamalan films can be hit or miss for me. In the main his ideas are excellent concepts, but his twists and turns often feel a little forced and last minute. For me, Split also suffered from this aspect. An excellently quiet, sinister build up suddenly spiralled into a bit of a mess in the pursuit of a twist.

However, overall the film was intriguing enough to engage my attention and the superb acting from McAvoy really keeps you guessing.

[Image: Blumhouse Productions, et al]

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Kong: Skull Island

"Kong: Skull Island" (2017, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Legendary Pictures, Tencent Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures) is a monster movie about the infamous giant ape, King Kong. It is a reboot of the legendary King Kong franchise. However, this time the story is not a carbon copy of the original, instead re-imagining Kong's origin tale.

A group of scientists and Vietnam war soldiers travel to an uncharted island to face the legendary beast and a host of other gigantic killing machines. Can they make it back off of the island alive?

A glossy blockbuster with lots of explosions, murderous CGI beasties and angry humans. Although the film is undeniably entertaining, it lacks some of the class of the old-time monster movies. There's a subtle hint to Kong's affection for kind-hearted female humans, but without the dramatic, heartbreaking familiar storyline, most of our drama is human-centric. In the main, the action is relatively repetitive and the real hero, Kong himself, actually sees very little screentime.

A blockbuster with a B-movie vibe that should be great, but feels misplaced. However, the success of the creature design bodes well for the impending face-off between Kong and Godzilla.

[Image: Legendary Pictures]

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again

"The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let's Do the Time Warp Again" (2016, Kenny Ortega, Fox 21 Television Studios, Ode Sound & Visuals, The Jackal Group) is the tribute to Richard O'Brien's 1975 cult masterpiece homage to sci-fi cinema, The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The bulk of the movie is a scene for scene remake of the original but there's additional wrap-around scenes involving a cinema full of Rocky Horror movie-goers and we get some screen time from The Usherette (Ivy Levan) who was present only in the stage production of the original and not present in the 1975 film. She's a good addition, looking pretty awesome in her kick ass outfit, and keeping the rabble of cinema goers in check... Kind of. The wrap-around plot also brings in some of the traditional audience participation aspects which surround live viewings and stage productions of the cult classic.

We follow Brad Majors (Ryan McCartan) and his new fiancé, Janet Weiss (Victoria Justice), on a road trip which leads them to the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Laverne Cox) when their car breaks down. Upon admission to the castle by the handyman, Riff Raff (Reeve Carney), they discover that the inhabitants of this home are not normal. From Magenta the maid (Christina Milian) to Columbia the groupie (Annaleigh Ashford), everyone is a touch insane and Frank is not keen to let the couple leave. But when they do leave, will they ever feel the same?

As well as the audience wrap-around, which I appreciated, the film does have some good points. Victoria Justice's rendition of Janet is very close to Susan Sarandon's original film version. Her singing style is absolutely pitch perfect. Reeve Carney's rendition of Riff Raff is also very similar to Richard O'Brien's vision - except for that wig! Adam Lambert also does a really good job of playing Eddie, and although his part is short, it was a good few scenes. Ben Vereen also updates the character of Dr. Everett von Scott.

Our title character, Rocky (Staz Nair), looks amazing in his little gold boxers, and Laverne Cox gives an excellent portrayal of Frank-N-Furter with a sexual flare that is both very different to Tim Curry's iconic rendition and also similar in its power. My only main bicker with this character is that I feel that not having stockings and suspenders on kind of takes away from Frank's style.

Having Tim Curry himself play the narrator was also very moving.

Now to the flaws; Mr. Director, Ortega, is from High School Musical fame and you can tell. This feels like a shiny penny of a production and it kind of robs some of the soul away that the original and the stage productions enjoy. It's overly produced and the costumes look like costumes, not what the characters happen to be wearing. Magenta's outfit in particular looked way too pristine. However, I liked her hair!

Having all the songs the same is, of course, a must for Rocky. It's all about the music! But I feel like updating the story to modern day might have been a good twist making this remake seem a little more worthwhile.

All in all, it's not a terrible movie, but it feels like a shiny TV homage more than an update of the classic. I doubt there will be many die hard fans of this version in years to come and it might slink into obscurity.

[Image: Fox Television Studios, et al]

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

What ever happened to Baby Jane?

"What ever happened to Baby Jane?" (1962, Robert Aldrich, Seven Arts Productions, Warner Bros. Pictures) is a psychological horror film about two ageing actress sisters. The film is based on a 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell and stars the famously feuding Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

To be honest my sudden compulsion to re-watch this famous flick was inspired by the first part of the episodic docudrama "Feud: Bette and Joan" (2017) starring Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, which is very entertaining and definitely worth watching!

"Baby" Jane Hudson (Bette Davis) is an ex-child star who, after casting a shadow over her sister's childhood due to her booming stage career, later found that her own adult acting career was then overshadowed by her elder sister, Blanche (Joan Crawford). Having turned to drink to drown her sorrows, Jane is suspected to have caused the car accident which paralysed Blanche.

Years later, it is evident that Jane's mental state is not good, and as sole carer for Blanche she has the power to hold her captive, away from the world. All attempts from outsiders to intervene are halted by an angry and devious Jane and eventually drive her to becoming more and more erratic and dangerous in her attempts to live out her delusional plan of becoming America's sweetheart once again.

A fascinating study on the feelings that lost popularity and fame can have, and on the breakdown in the mind of someone who cannot move on with their lives. Jane's father drove her to stardom, but didn't provide her with any sense of longevity; her career would always end when she grew older. Her jealousy of Blanche is the exact reflection of Blanche's own feelings of jealousy and resentment which she had as the 'unfamous' child.

Both sisters are fabulously portrayed with relish by Davis and Crawford, helped along by their own off-screen dislike for one another. Jane's spiralling mental state and heart-breaking delusion are almost difficult to watch. A particularly chilling scene where she is singing in the mirror and then catches a glimpse of her aged face is really aweing. Blanche's quiet desperation and helplessness builds the sense of dread to match the madness of her sister.

The film enjoys a tense and exciting ending with some revelations and last pieces of both character puzzles falling into place. A genuine classic that will continue to be discovered by new audiences as time goes on.

[Image: Warner Bros. Pictures]

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Night Watchmen

"The Night Watchmen" (2017, Mitchell Altieri, Contender Films, Indie Entertainment, Studio BOH) is about a vampire outbreak in an office block all started by the miss-delivered corpse of a famous clown....

Ken (Ken Arnold), Jiggetts (Kevin Jiggetts) and Luca (Dan DeLuca) are night security guards for a large office block. They are joined by a new rookie (Max Gray Wilbur) for his first day on the job.

Aside from oogling Karen (Kara Luiz) on the monitors and consistently forgetting to acknowledge Penny (Diona Reasonover), the guys' job seems to pretty much consist of playing cards and eating. That is, until they receive the unusual delivery of a coffin by mistake containing a deceased, famous clown. Unfortunately, the dead clown doesn't stay that way for long and swiftly fills the building with a horde of ferocious vampires!

An epic battle ensues, but can our unlikely heroes actually save the day?

A fun film with a so-bad-it's-good vibe that really hits the mark. The banter between the characters, who were surprisingly well-rounded considering the genre, is entertaining and the action is gory, silly and well paced. The film is a perfect party movie, not overstaying its welcome and containing angry, zombie-esque vampire clowns.

Definitely worth a shot.

[Image: Contender Films, et al]