Category Archives: Cult TV/Movies

REVIEW: The Possession (2012)

WARNING: This will contain spoilers

POSS1

A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The spirit has something of penchant for possessing young children and Emily is its latest host. The girl’s father teams up with his ex-wife and a Rabbi to find a way to free Emily from the curse and return the evil spirit from whence it came and so goes the story of The Possession.

POSS2

OK excuse my language a moment but I have to get this off my chest. It royally pisses me off when horror movies start with the words Based on a true story to get you worked up before the film begins. I have said in previous reviews that horror movies are more effective when you can believe these things could happen to you. It’s one of the reasons why slasher films are more disturbing than ghost films because that is a physical threat. When me and my wife sat down to watch this I saw those words and like I was possessed myself my mouth uttered the word “Bullshit” and the movie hadn’t even begun. Why? Well I knew the story of the Dybbyk box from a documentary I saw a few years ago. It was quite famous for a while becoming its own urban legend because the owners of the box maintained a blog telling people of all the occurrences that were happening around it. How true these blogs are only the author’s know but one thing is for certain; the word Based… gives the makers of movies like this a lot of leeway in the writing while at the same time trying to get you scared by believing this actually happened.

POSS3

Anyway, let’s get on with it. This movie was a real mixed bag for me. Literally the first half of the entire film just dragged and dragged. The concentration on the family’s problems surrounding the parent’s divorce and the subsequent behaviour of the children made me forget I was watching a horror at times. That being said I have to give credit to Natasha Calis and Jeffrey Dean Morgan playing the daughter and father. They both portrayed a strong bond that actually got me invested in the outcome of the movie and if that was the purpose of the long build up then mission accomplished. Most of the others in this move are really just there to make up the numbers though. Even the mother played by Kyra Sedgwick (who I swear hasn’t aged a day since Born on the Forth of July) seemed like she was filler and that the film could have done without her.

POSS4

In the 2010s horror movies have more or less mastered the feeling of tension and producing the jump scares that everybody loves. The Possession is no exception and the whole tone of the film is low and brooding throughout. It feels like its hanging over you and that’s a good thing because its supposed to feel like that as that’s what’s happening to Emily regarding the box. I did feel the director pulled out all his art school training for this however in that some of the scenes particularly early on feel very art house such as the fading of voices and the weird camera angles. While this is just for the sake of it at first I really liked the scene in the kitchen where we are looking at Emily’s distorted image through the glass as the possession becomes complete.

POSS5

In terms of story a lot of this was very predictable. This is not a movie that is going to surprise you. Even in the last scene with the Rabbi driving down the road with the box on the passenger seat I knew there was going to be a crash and the box was going to be thrown out. What I didn’t understand however was that the Rabbi explains that the demon only wants children. Why then did it possess the father in the end? Was it threatened by him or something? I just didn’t like it. Once again we have another earthquake producing exorcism scene; that’s getting very old now. That being said there are some scenes I absolutely adored such as the MRI scene where they see the demon inside her. Another scene that I really liked was when Emily asks for more breakfast and then utters “She’s still hungry.” It was done so quickly and yet eerily that it made the hairs on my neck stand on end.

I would not say I didn’t enjoy this movie. It was enough to stop me from knocking it off and watching something else but by the same token it’s not a movie I would really bother with again.

REVIEW: Sky Fighters (2011)

sky-fighters-2011-2

The “elite” pilots of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) Air Division 903 have had their reputation tarnished when one of their J-10 fighters is damaged by a birdstrike. Thus begins the heroic and patriotic efforts by its members to restore honour and become China’s premier fighter unit – their Top Gun…Come on I had to say it.

Sky1

That is roughly the plot of this movie. I say “roughly” because frankly the plot is as thin as a paper airplane. It has almost no importance in how this film plays out and feels like just a series of scenes put together for the sake of making something of a movie about fighter pilots. It is entirely about eye candy in the action, planes and the stars (see it’s not just Hollywood churning out such films). The purpose of this film is to entertain young Chinese men in to thinking they will be chased by women and live the high octane lifestyle of a Hollywood fighter pilot, complete with sunglasses, if they enlist in the PLAAF. That’s right it’s simply a glorified recruitment video. Again the same could be said about Top Gun itself and it is well known that when it came out in 1986 the US Navy experienced a record number of applications. If the producers were only interested in hooking patriotic Chinese young men in to military service then it has to be said its probably succeeded.

Sky2

But what about the rest of it? I am a huge aviation enthusiast. If you want further proof then I am shamelessly taking this opportunity to promote my defence website – Defence of the Realm – because if its good enough for the Chinese government to use this film to promote their armed forces then its good enough for me to do the same for my site proving again this movie is all about hooking people. As an aviation and military enthusiast I have to say there is something here to take an interest in. There are lots of footage of the J-10 fighter that China has produced in recent years and the aircraft does look sleek and modern. Some have said that as well as to recruit new members into the armed forces this film was also intended to promote the J-10. There are also lots of footage of other Chinese military equipment and bases but what does this do for the film? Well…It meant I spent most of my time looking over the actor’s shoulders trying to see it all which was far more interesting than what was supposed to be happening.

Sky3

There is an unfortunate failing in this movie though regarding the aircraft. Whereas Top Gun and, to a less successful degree, Iron Eagle relied on the images of F-14 Tomcats and F-16 Falcons whizzing around the skies to make up for the plotholes, Sky Fighters limits its footage of the actual fighters to just when they are on the ground. All the flight sequences are CGI and bad CGI at that. I don’t mean to sound mean but the CGI dogfights look like they have come from the Ace Combat series of the Playstation One era. They are terrible. Worse still the footage of the actual aircraft on the ground is speeded up to make it look more dramatic but ends up looking like a Benny Hill sketch.

Sky4

What I will give this movie is that the actors involved do actually make an effort in a lot of the scenes and it’s clear they feel they are doing something good for China. You can see the patriotism in their eyes and sometimes I did wonder if the actors wished they were doing this for real rather than making these kinds of movies. One scene will always stay with me though when looking for evidence of the propaganda aspect of this movie and that’s the university question scene where a Western student asks about how the J-10 compares to the F-16 Falcon. She is told in no uncertain terms the J-10 is superior to her home country’s fighter. Sorry for going all plane-brain but the truth is that while the J-10 looks good on camera its performance in reality is still some way behind many Western designs.

Sky5

Its obvious that the film makers tried to match the look of Top Gun with the traditional patriotism of Chinese military service. The result is a movie that is almost a parody of the 1980s classic. It is nothing more than blatant propaganda to the point of being a comedy to the Western observer. But let’s take a step back a minute. The vast majority of military films, be they American, British or Chinese, are in themselves propaganda promoting the glorious history of their respective armed forces. We in the West may mock this film but almost certainly the same has happened with our movies in the East. I can understand why some 19 year old in China would see this then walk in to his recruitment office but really it is a poor film in every respect. In short this is the type of film I like to call “MST3K fodder.”

REVIEW: Alien Abduction: Incident in Lake County

alien_abduction_1998

Also Known as The McPherson Tape, this was one of the forefathers of the current found footage craze. Released a year before the ground breaking The Blair Witch Project the movie was actually a remake of an even earlier film simply titled as Alien Abduction which was released in 1989. Part movie/part mockumentary it tells the story of a family sitting down for thanksgiving at their farm when the power goes out. Three of the family members (including the one with the camera who feels the need to record everything) go out to investigate and find a spaceship complete with the ‘Grey Aliens’ mutilating a cow. When the aliens discover they have been filmed they terrorize the family over several hours before eventually abducting them. The film ends with the aliens hypnotizing the family in to leaving with them and the movie implies they have not been heard from since even going as far as to asking for people to help with finding them.

Alien Abduct 1

This movie has all the classic trademarks of a found footage movie. The one holding the camera feels the need to film everything even when everyone else is shouting at him to put the camera away. There are scenes where he puts the camera down to do something and rather than turn it off like every other time this is the one time it actually captures something. Another problem the movie has is that its horror is built up on the low quality of what we are seeing (so you believe its real) then when you get the big reveal of the aliens it fails to work and ends up looking comical. The mockumentary sections failed to impress as well and just seemed like a bunch of community college level actors hoping this will be their big break. Some of the actors in this movie did indeed go on to bigger things with Aaron Pearl, who played “Kurt McPherson”, going on to star in films such as Man of Steel!

Alien Abduct 2

All those things aside however this movie was not without its scares. I will be honest and say that when the electricity transformer on the power line explodes early in I jumped a mile. The build up was quite ordinary (if that makes sense) so it was really out of the blue. The alien passing the window behind net curtains while everyone sits down to dinner was distinctly chilling if you managed to catch sight of it and the first time I saw this movie it had me wondering if there was something behind my curtains as it was about 3am and my tired mind was very ready to play tricks on me.

Alien Abduct 3

Unfortunately there’s not much else here. There is a lot of character conflict in the movie and it is implied that the aliens have something to do with that (although the eldest brother was already a bit annoyed that his sister is dating a black guy and didn’t tell them). The little girl also seems to have a telepathic link to the aliens and tries to convince her family they don’t want to hurt them and when she is ignored she starts to go to lengths to help the aliens. I found this aspect of the story unconvincing and annoying rather than scary.

As a film then this is really a mixed bag. It has one or two memorable scares or unnerving moments but the rest of the time you are either watching a family argue and shout or supposedly former abductees/experts telling their story.  I would only recommend this to people who do have a certain soft spot for found footage movies like myself.

REVIEW: Iron Eagle

4722

Brian: Plus, it’s given me a chance to work on my novel. And I finally have a title.
Lois Griffin: Oh, what is it?
Brian: Faster Than the Speed of Love.
Lois Griffin: [chuckles] That is… that is the worst title I’ve ever heard.
Brian: No, i-it’s the story of a boy who has to rescue his father, who’s a pilot that’s been taken captive by a militant Islamic country.
Lois Griffin: [laughs] That’s the movie Iron Eagle!
Brian: What? Is that-is that a recent film?
Lois Griffin: [still laughing] They made three sequels!

Family Guy
6×02 “Movin’ Out (Brian’s Song)

Action films of the 1980s are in a league all of their own. The ludicrousness, the over-the-top of it all and the seemingly invincible protagonists and 1986’s Iron Eagle had all of this in spades. The plot goes that a USAF pilot is shot down by an unnamed Islamic country (OK it was very obviously meant to be Libya, I don’t know why they never just came out and said it) and now his son and a semi-retired veteran pilot hatch a plan to rescue him using just two F-16 Fighting Falcons that his teenage friends have helped them steal.

1

Remember what I said about 1980s action films being ludicrous? This has one of the most unrealistic plots ever. What was the intention of this film? Was it supposed to be a gritty action film or a teenage action-comedy? I am not saying that the idea of using fighter planes to rescue a hostage/loved one is bad. Far from it. If this script was tweaked and a few things dropped there is potential there for a fairly decent action movie. What I absolutely hated however was that a group of air force brats are able to hoodwink the USAF, especially at the height of the Cold War, to get the two F-16s. I know you have to suspend disbelief to an extent with most films but for this to work you had to shut off your brain entirely. It gets even worse when in a flashback scene we learn that before he was shot down Doug’s father has been secretly training him to fly an F-16.

2

I have always felt Louis Gosset Jr was an actor who never got the chance to be the superstar he deserves to be but frankly if he chooses roles like this then its no surprise. That being said he does his best given the limitations of the script. When he is making the recording for Doug in case he gets shot down it is surprisingly touching to hear. Louis Gosset Jr was by far and away the best actor in this movie. However, I can’t help but think that his character, Chappy, must be suffering from some kind of Vietnam War psychological syndrome as this would be the only reason a seasoned pilot would go along with these kids and their plan.

3

Of course, action movies rely on the action more than anything and to be fair here Iron Eagle does have a decent amount. The opening race between the Cessna and the motorbike was entertaining to watch and probably the most believable part of the movie (sadly). I know there is a lot of oil in the Middle East, at least there was in the 1980s, but did the not-Libyans put it everywhere because the buildings explode in huge fireballs. It looks daft. At one point a radio tower crashes in to a tent which goes up like napalm. The flight sequences with the F-16s are good but when you consider Top Gun came out a year earlier and looked far superior it does diminish the quality somewhat.

4

Therein lies Iron Eagle’s biggest problem. It went up against one of the most iconic and beautiful movies of the 1980s. I am not saying Top Gun is perfect but it had such a higher quality to it in every way – acting, production, script – that it glossed over its own failings. One thing the two movies do have in common however is a great soundtrack with Iron Eagle enjoying songs from Queen and Steve Winwood.

In the end Iron Eagle is a rather uninspiring 80s action flick. Incredibly it did produce three sequels and while all suffered similar problems to the first movie they were in my humble opinion superior.

REVIEW: Chernobyl Diaries

Chernobyl-Diaries-poster

The best type of horror film is the one that blurs the line between reality and fiction. Horror films grounded in reality strike us harder than the supernatural type because we could believe it could happen to us more than our six year old getting possessed by the Devil. With radioactive mutants being a topic for the horror genre since the beginning of the nuclear age its surprising therefore that it took over 25 years for a movie to be made about Chernobyl; an actual nuclear disaster. Several movies and TV shows have touched upon it such as The X-Files and the 1998 Godzilla movie but nothing has tackled the idea directly. I would say that the deaths of hundreds in a relatively recent tragedy was the reason nobody wanted to touch it but then again we had movies about 9/11 in 2003!

Whatever the reason why it took so long, Chernobyl Diaries took a shot at it. It’s no secret that the critics have absolutely panned this movie and indeed it has few genuine fans but I am going to try to be as objective as possible in my review. In case you don’t know the plot of the movie goes that a group of friends decide to visit Pripyat, the abandoned city where the workers of the Chernobyl power station used to live. When the reactor melted down the entire city was abandoned and remains so to this day. The group hire the somewhat amateurish tour guide Yury who after being refused entry at the guard station finds his own way in for them. With no one knowing they are there the vehicle they are travelling in gets sabotaged and over the next two days they are attacked by wild dogs and radioactive human mutants.

chernobyl-diaries-crop2

Here is what I liked; Most horror films go for a sense of claustrophobia to achieve a level of fear but Chernobyl Diaries’ setting of a real abandoned city achieves the opposite. You get the feeling these guys are genuinely trapped in the middle of a radioactive nowhere. I also liked the blink-and-you-missed-it-moments such as the odd radioactive freak running across the road in the distance. With no music to alert the audience it is genuinely surprising but not entirely scary. The build up to the action is slow but doesn’t feel like it drags, it’s steady enough to keep you interested. The acting isn’t bad either which is always a relief. These types of films tend to have porn star acting without the porn.

Now here is what I didn’t like; the ending was bloody terrible! We got lots of hints that there was a much bigger story unfolding such as the bus where the Ukrainian guards had obviously been in a fight with these people/mutants. There was a sense that what we were watching was leading to something such as a government conspiracy but there was almost none of that. What a waste of an opportunity. We never got to see ‘them’ properly either and while in some horror movies less is more, in this case I think we really needed a proper reveal of these things. Also while the acting was pretty good I didn’t really care about the characters. None of them warmed me up to invest in whether they survived or not. I just viewed this whole group as ‘victims’ and that was it.

CHERNOBYL DIARIES

In short this was a wasted opportunity. It had so much to offer and I was genuinely interested in seeing it through to that God awful end. I swear up until the end I had high hopes this was going to pull something special out of its hat but it never happened. I would say that if a sequel was made with an effort in story rather than frights then I would be willing to give that a chance. I wouldn’t recommend this though unless you had nothing else to watch.

I’m sorry Stanley…I can’t let you do that.

sk

Stanley Kubrick is without a doubt one of the best directors of all time. His unique style pours out of his movies and without a doubt this is most evident in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. This sci-fi masterpiece has been described as being less of a movie and more of an experience. That’s pretty damn impressive by anyone’s standards.

A little known fact about the movie and something that perhaps sheds a little light on Kubrick’s psyche is that during its filming he was sufficiently worried that contact with extra terrestrial life would occur before the end of filming that he actually tried to take out an insurance policy against it. He approached the respected Lloyd’s of London with the unusual request to recover any financial losses he would incur should that happen but either they didn’t take him seriously or they too believed contact was close at hand because they refused him. 

It’s difficult to know if Kubrick was serious or whether it was part of some marketing scheme that Lloyd’s refused to participate in. Either way the movie was finished and released without the visitor’s arrival becoming a cult sci-fi movie the likes of which has never been seen before or since.

REVIEW: Apollo 18

WARNING: Spoilers


Apollo_18_Poster

Decades-old found footage from NASA’s abandoned Apollo 18 mission, where two American astronauts were sent on a secret expedition, reveals the reason the U.S. has never returned to the moon. Released in 2011, Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego’s Apollo 18 was probably one of the more ambitious found footage movies to have come along in the recent craze of such films taking a unique twist on the whole moon landing conspiracy thing to include extra terrestrial creatures.

Firstly, this is a beautifully made movie and the moon scenes probably haven’t done much to dissuade the conspiracy theorists who believe the whole thing was a hoax filmed in Area 51 or something. A lot of the footage really feels like it could have been a real moon mission and Lopez-Gallego’s team should be justifiably proud of that. This is probably one of the more claustrophobic movies I have ever seen and at times you really feel like you are in the vacuum of the lunar surface. Being something of a space nut myself one of the most thrilling aspects of this movie was seeing the Soviet lander. Again it was beautifully recreated and was a superb touch to the story especially with the two different footprints scene.

apollo18

What I didn’t like however was the sheer predictability of the story. The scene in the crater with the camera flash and the dead cosmonaut was a prime example of this. Also I didn’t think the creatures were particularly scary although I will admit the idea that something can disguise itself as a perfect rock one minute then be a giant crab thing next is a little unsettling. The fear factor wasn’t there and instead the movie is more about the survival aspect of these two men trapped on the moon. That was really gripping and I think could have made a movie plot in itself. The slow pacing will test even the most hardcore fan of the found footage genre who is used to it by now with films like Paranormal Activity. While I liked the inclusion of the Soviet lander it’s use in the final scene was questionable. How could they be sure it was going to be able to dock successfully with the Apollo service module in orbit? Were they planning on spacewalking or something? It was poorly conceived and poorly executed.

On the whole this is an enjoyable movie for about 90% of the time but is wrapped up badly in my opinion. To be honest though I think the film’s biggest problem is the limits of the found footage genre in this context. There is a LOT of footage here that covers almost everything that happens. Now I know this is true of these types of films but the key to such film’s success is the ability to believe that this footage could have been recorded. In this film I just didn’t believe it. The Moon is such a unique setting that to get this kind of footage suspends belief so far off the scale that it doesn’t work. I firmly believe this film would have been no better nor worse had it not been made in this way and instead made in a more traditional format.

lklander apollo 18.jpg_thumb

I was recently speaking to Crumb Budget Productions on their review of another found footage movie Willow Creek and we discussed how the found footage format has a lot of potential but has just been used up by greedy studios wanting to cash in on it. In this case I think the Moon is a roll of found film too far.