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The Descent: Part 2 (2009)
Not so masterful horror film, mostly spoiler free review
Traumatised and bloodied, Sarah has made her way out of the caves with no memory of the events from the past two days. Keen to uncover what happened and find any survivors, a local sheriff forces Sarah to guide a search party back into the dark.
With The Descent, Neil Marshall created a self contained story that all but buried the chance of a follow-up. Considered too bleak for US audiences, the ending was neutered and left a door slightly ajar for this entirely unnecessary sequel. Marshall knew not to venture back into the caves but no one can blame former editor Jon Harris and producer Christian Colson for attempting to set up a potential series.
The trouble is not with the action and the set pieces. These are handled well enough to suggest Harris may have the chops to continue in this line of work. However there's a distinct feeling of routine all round with Part 2. The territory's the same but it's as if someone's moved the furniture around. There's enthusiasm in the set pieces, but everything's been done better before. The caves seem better lit which make them less claustrophobic. At least one 'immoveable' rock can be now be seen wobbling. The caves also seem easier to move about in, barely justifying how an ageing sheriff can wander around with relative ease and presumably no former spelunking experience.
It's the sheriff that causes the first real bone of contention. The writers struggle with the concept of sending a amnesiac(!)back into a nightmare to act as a tour guide. They justify this by making the sheriff an unspeakably massive dick. It's a standout performance by Gavan O'Herlihy(the long lost Chuck Cunningham from 'Happy Days' and son of The Old Man from 'Robocop')but only because he stops just short of twirling his moustache. His character's present solely to push the plot on with annoying stupidity while other events are fairly predictable. It's harder to be invested in the other characters this time around as a result, especially when the marketing bods decided to give many of their fates away in the trailer, showing nigh on the end of the film in all their wisdom. The deaths and gore are more comedy than terrifying but very entertaining all the same and provide the highlights of the film.
At the very least it's thankful the plot draws a line under the absurd theories by overzealous fans of the original that suggested Sarah contradicted the events on screen by killing her own crew. The ending of Part 2 however may be just as contemptible. Depending on box office returns and home entertainment sales there's little doubt a third entry, in 3D perhaps, will be on the way.
It's easier said than done but if an audience goes into this film with little or no expectations then they may find the time passes with relative ease and they'll have seen far worse perfunctory sequels in recent years. It's a commendable effort but only an adequate product. When placed next to the original; if it feels as though this is half of a decent movie, that's because it is.
White Noise 2: The Light (2007)
As fate would have it, better than the average Noise. Mostly spoilerfree.
First we learnt about Electronic Voice Phenomenon (E.V.P) now we are 'learning' about Near Death Experiences (or the just as catchy N.D.Es). Family man Abe Dale (Nathan Fillion) is brought back to life after being declared dead on a hospital gurney, but not without spooky consequences...
For an ad campaign that suggests White Noise: The Light is a taking a different route to world of paranormal phenomena, it doesn't take long for our hero to find himself on familiar E.V.P based territory. Not that this is a particularly bad thing, the first White Noise became quite a sleeper hit at the box office and found a large audience on DVD. The Light was originally intended as a direct-to-DVD project but clearly there was enough potential to give it a staggered cinema release. And quite rightly so.
The set up is pretty similar - an early tragedy leads to our protagonist meeting an E.V.P enthusiast. The main difference this time is that Abe now has the ability to see the ghostly goings-on without having to watch static on a TV for countless hours like Michael Keaton, which helps the pace no end. Director/editor/visual consultant Patrick Lussier ensures there's more 'jump' moments this time (like them or not) and the detective whodunnit element of the first story has been replaced with a 'whydunnit' after Brit actor Craig Fairbrass (Cliffhanger, EastEnders!) commits a brutal act in a busy restaurant prompting Abe to find the motive. There's some holy unoriginal sequences like the ol' Tunnel of Light malarky that could've perhaps happily lent itself to some artistic interpretation.
White Noise started with receiving messages from the dead, but then shifted on to messages from the not-yet-dead (messages from the er... living?) If this was a senseless plot line irked you, then The Light is likely to become slightly irritating around about the time we hit the theological element to the story. We're then treated to something directly out of The Omen (even going so far as to quote the book of Revelations and briefly show a creepy kid with a dodgy haircut). Where would the harm have been to incorporate the unholy trilogy of demonic shadows that plagued Keaton's character? Without giving anything away, this would have fitted perfectly within the theme.
That said, cutie Katee Sackhoff is nicely paired with the ever excellent Fillion and Craig Fairbrass does pretty well as a gruff nutter in a role normally reserved for the likes of Sean Bean. Although there's some unanswered questions, there's a Firefly/Serenity gag to distract Fillion fans and the special effects are suitably effective for what was most likely a pretty modest budget. An entirely watchable movie that's entertaining for most of the 99 minutes runtime. If White Noise: The Light has been your cup of tea, seek out The Eye by the Pang brothers before it gets the remake treatment.
It's unlikely that this series will ever be considered classic horror by any means, but then who knows - maybe 3 is the magic number...
Children of Men (2006)
"The future's a thing of the past." Tremendous from start to finish.
The apocalypse arrives on film once again in a plot so simple it's horrifyingly believable. It's 2027 and the world is close to annihilation because no child has been born in 18 years. London office worker Theo (Clive Owen) is offered cash by a radical ex-girlfriend to escort a refugee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to safety. Their lives are soon at risk from both government and revolutionaries.
Although the camera work and cinematography is nothing short of stunning the focus always with our protagonist, ensuring we're kept in the middle of the action throughout. It is also undoubtedly one of Owen's finest performances to date. Theo is never far from danger yet he struggles on with convincing dignity. Occasionally baffled but far from stupid - Theo is essentially a reckless, underplayed action hero that doesn't jump at every opportunity to arm himself with a gun. This works well with the international ensemble of incredible talent: Michael Caine's charming pot dealing hippie, feisty Julianne Moore, key role Claire-Hope Ashitey, the wonderful Pam Ferris, the increasingly busy, excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor, Danny Huston and writer/director/producer Peter Cullen (gloriously sadistic Syd) to name a few... This is surely a casting coup to be jealous of.
The episodic nature of the story makes Children of Men difficult to place into one genre alone. Briefly glimpsed futuristic sci-fi technology is grounded in reality and looks entirely achievable while grey, graffiti ridden concrete locations provide an excellent backdrop for the near satirical look of our current social and political climate. There's poignant drama interspersed amongst exhilarating action and yet enough twists to call it a thriller.
This is not to say it's flawless. Some exposition is handled better in places than others for instance. However Alfonso Cuarón has achieved a completely remarkable experience. Arguably the film could have been longer given how strong most of it is. The only really hard pill to swallow is the comedy juxtaposed with some stark imagery that looks all too familiar to anyone who has ever seen the News from the past few decades. Nice to see a Pink Floyd reference though (pigs might fly!), and someone finally found a use for Battersea Power Station.
Ideally an audience should see this film with no preconceptions and know as little about the plot as possible. This will be unlikely though due to a staggered box-office release schedule, word of mouth and a plethora of reviews and trailers that are eager to give much of the game away. Ironic then perhaps that it must be said - Children of Men is a cinematic milestone. Great special effects and an effective soundtrack accompany this heartfelt, moving and thought-provoking film. Easily one of the best films in recent memory.
Not really any spoilers to worry about. Severance is both fun and gruesome!
For the better part of a decade every British comedy or romance was hailed as 'The funniest film since Four Weddings and a Funeral'. Although there are many Brit films made in any year worth a look, only one will truly be mass marketed and labelled as our best export. With Four Weddings' a distant memory, anything remotely amusing or linked with horror is now wrongly compared to Shaun of the Dead (or possibly Dog Soldiers). Poster quotes and lazy comparisons aside, it's nice surprise that for a horror comedy, Severance isn't actually half bad at all.
The plot is nice and simple. A (predominantly English) sales division working for a multinational weapons corporation are sent on a team building exercise in Hungary only to find themselves stuck in a dense forest where they are being hunted by a merciless European gang.
While Severance doesn't do anything particularly wrong, there are of course a couple of faults. Any work environment has to have some pretty unlikeable characters so it's unavoidable to feel less sorry for some when the killings start. Toby Stephens is undoubtedly one of the finest actors around, but he's yet to play a role in a successful film that really does him justice. Utterly capable and ever reliable Tim McInnerny (of legendary Blackadder fame) is amiable enough, but it's Danny Dyer that gets most of the punchy one-liners as the part-druggie, part-chav cheeky chappie he's grown accustomed to playing. Thankfully, cute Laura Harris hasn't been cast as the 'is she or isn't she the villain all along?' as it's really time she ditched that and moved on.
The two distinct genres don't always make for a happy marriage and eventually the tone shifts over to deadpan. At least one line is stolen from elsewhere but there's a couple of shots that felt like homages rather than plagiarism. There's more than enough laughs and nasty moments to fill both audience preferences. The fast pace means Severance doesn't risk outstaying a welcome, the special effects team did a great job and the camera work is suitably snappy. The only real risk is hype as anyone expecting anything other than a night out with a few grim moments and some genuine belly laughs will leave wondering what the fuss is about. Try to avoid thinking about where these guys took their inspiration from too as that wouldn't do anyone any good either. A solid 3 star experience that hopefully has some extra bits come home-entertainment time.
Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
A welcome surprise, Slevin has appeared as if from nowhere.
Bruce Willis, Sir Ben Kingsley, Morgan Freeman, Lucy Liu, Stanley Tucci and Josh Hartnett fill a cast line up every bit as impressive as say, Sin City. Leaving behind the sour taste of Wicker Park, Scottish McGuigan follows the likes of his own Gangster Number 1 with this incredibly cool, at times funny thriller that has somehow sneaked into the cinemas without much of a fuss. Supporting cast includes a very welcome cameo from a Jackie Brown star and a bunch of UK actors imitating their US counterpart's accents to perfection. The pairing of Sir Ben and Freeman alone is worth the price of admission, but this is Hartnett(as Slevin)'s film and perhaps it should not be too surprising that he carries it off effectively. In fact, none of the cast really put a foot wrong and even Lucy Liu is pretty adorable (against type if you believe the all the press).
Despite a reasonably confusing series of opening events, Slevin is essentially a straight forward, neat black comedy of errors(mistaken identity for one). The dialogue is at times razor sharp and the action is well shot. The body count climbs steadily as the movie progresses at a cracking pace that never becomes dull. Slevin is thematically similar to a few other choice stories, but like Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Slevin should be enjoyed more for the ride and the audience should try not to guess ahead of the plot and let it unfold naturally. There will still be some surprises appearing even for the most avid film fans but like so many thrillers Slevin could be ruined from word of mouth. If it weren't for the warm, familiar feel of similar films, this little gem would be rated higher. Unfairly dismissed by some as confusing, wrongly compared to the legendary Usual Suspects - it's a league apart from the mess that was Revolver and doesn't outstay a welcome.
Oh, and Willis gets to call someone a 'f*** head'. Great stuff.
On the Up (1990)
Charming comedy, fondly remembered
Dennis Waterman had a winning formula that endeared him to the British public. He often sang a show's theme tune, played a role with likable affability and his supporting cast are usually comprised of familiar faces from film comedy classics. On The Up is no exception, Waterman (Tony) is joined by the experienced comedy favourite Sam Kelly and the sorely missed, wonderful, late First Lady of Carry On films Joan Sims.
It is perhaps the personal touches that made this show a success for the BBC. Calling the driver Sam and having namesake Kelly play him worked well for the mostly straight-faced banter between him and Tony. It is Sims however that adds a level of sentiment that is simply heart wrenching. Having endured much personal tragedy in her life, Sims began drinking during the 1980's until it hospitalised her and she rehabilitated. On The Up sees her playing a charming housekeeper (Mrs. Wembley) who is kept company at the end of her weary day by a glass of sherry while she sits quietly in the dark alone (until joined by Tony of course). A fitting catchphrase and in-joke was coined with her 'Just the one!' drinking policy, only to hear back 'Just the one Mrs. Wembley'. The extremely versatile actress had a diverse, impressive and extensive body of work, but it is this sitcom that I remember as a suitable commentary on a much sadder period in her life.
On The Up was a light and impossibly inoffensive comedy that ran only for an enjoyable couple of series. The jokes weren't bad, the wife was cold, the daughter wayward and the hired help sassy. Simple and effective. Another case of 'they don't make them like they used to' perhaps.
The Descent (2005)
Masterful horror film. Spoiler free review
If nightmare inducing horror is not your bag then the less you know about The Descent the better. Geordie writer-director Neil Marshall has delivered an accomplished, well acted, out and out horror movie that comes as much of a pleasant surprise as his first major feature Dog Soldiers did back in 2002. Shot in a mere 7 weeks The Descent sees a sextet of undeniably attractive action women leaping headfirst into an Appalachian potholing adventure that goes wrong so quickly you are left wondering if any one of them will survive, let alone ever see daylight again.
There are comparisons to be drawn to Marshall's 'Soldiers of course - again the story is stark and wonderfully economic. Again there is group of six people, predominantly one sex accompanied with a lurking, ominous threat and again there are more nods to popular film culture than you probably realise. The Descent however has a sense of humour that is suitably pitch black.
Long before the cave appears we play witness to a traumatic event that underlies the plot and serves to both unite and tear apart relationships in equal measure. Mostly affected are fragile Sarah and physically strong Juno, an adrenaline junkie who leads the group further and further beneath the ground. No time is wasted in recreating the primal feel of crawling through tunnels with hard hats scraping the dust from the rocks, choking and inducing paranoia all the way as it lingers in the stale, torchlit air. It's here Marshall gets a little inventive. Playing with various different lighting techniques our heroines become colour coded through scenes via glow-sticks, flashlights and video camera. Sounds echo when visuals are briefly lost and deliciously bone crunching they are too. Events escalate quickly and the whole ride becomes what can only be described as a non-stop relentless assault on the senses that will demand repeated viewing.
The only thing that will ruin this movie for you is word of mouth, which ironically is exactly what this film will need to become commercially viable. But the less you know, the more you will enjoy it. Have fun spotting references to Carrie and Apocalypse Now by all means, but don't be fooled into thinking this is a mere standard entry into the much saturated genre-movie staple. The Descent will rank as one of the most unashamedly terrifying British films ever made. It was made by people that love good cinema, and it shows. The Descent was made before The Cave, and now has an alternate ending for new audiences.
There's a lot to like about the Apocalypse
For many the hit series was ten years of pitch black humour loaded with affectionate parodies of classic films and a hilarious assortment of over a hundred characters with instantly recognisable catchphrases. Few shows have survived transition from radio to TV to stage show to film but The League of Gentlemen have achieved it with suitable aplomb.
The talented writer/performers had initially envisioned a Monty Python style medieval adventure, but as soon as writing began they soon realised that the characters they have lived with had become very real and deserved better. With that, the Royston Vasey folk realise their very existence is under threat as the writers decide to disregard the fictitious town and work on a 17th Century romp instead.
With the exception of Michael Sheen playing much unseen League member Jeremy Dyson, The League play pretty unlikeable caricatures of their real life personae as well as the familiar faces of Tubbs ("I made a little brown fishy"), nightmare inducing sexual predator Herr Lipp, butcher Hilary Briss and an unlikely hero - irate businessman Geoff Tibbs. New faces appear when the third reality appears, it's here we are treated to charming and funny cameos from veteran actors and popular TV stars. For many this will be a really enjoyable 90 minutes.
'Apocalpse is not going to please everyone though. Working on this level of post modernism has been done a few times before now and may seem all too familiar to audiences raised on irony drenched teen successes kick-started by the likes of Wes Craven having a New Nightmare. It also takes a lot of confidence in an audience to keep up with a high concept story so there are moments of exposition and dialogue that serve only to confirm what most in the audience already know. Comedy as a genre is formulaic but it's now unheard of for a British film not to fall back on the huge back catalogue of TV stars to fill short amounts of screen time. It's also hard to believe the creators ever wanted their offspring killed off, which is perhaps why some of the role reversal doesn't always quite hit the mark. Would Hilary Briss have wanted to try save Royston Vasey in the series?
However, while the show's deliciously dark vein has almost all but disappeared but is arguably more accessible for it. Much will be said about the character development and efforts to humanise the likes of previously one joke incarnations like Herr Lipp. It is here an impossible level of depth can be found along with a harsh streak of biting satire and throwaway put downs. Sentiment is there with a lump in the throat but not sugar coated thickly enough to intrude on the action. The music is good, performances exemplary and the animation is wonderfully seamless; a nice throwback to Terry Gilliam and Ray Harryhausen's work. In short, there's a lot to like about the Apocalypse. Like so many TV to film transfers it was never going to be easy finding the line between preaching to the converted and introducing the uninitiated to the League's slick and distinct voice. But no matter what your preference is, this last trip to the town which 'You'll Never Leave' is oddly lined with hope and ultimately very, very touching.
Angel's Dance (1999)
A good Belushi film
Amazingly the little known Kyle Chandler is now playing a major role in Peter Jackson's King Kong. So perhaps now Angel's Dance will get minor recognition. Featuring Backbeat's Sheryl Lee and the jobbing James Belushi (as potential victim and professional hit-man respectively) this small B-picture is surprisingly watchable and at times darkly humouress.
Opening with Jon Polito (in a familiar role established better in Miller's Crossing) sending a trainee hit-man to go with the best in the business to learn the ropes. For 'The Rose' (Belushi) this means teaching Tony (Chandler) to let go of any morals he once had and picks a random name from a phone book as the target. Neither one of them could predict that the target (Lee) would fight back with terminal force.
Offbeat, quirky and with some decent action scenes (and some good costumes to boot) this is yet another film that won't be seen by most, but will be appreciated by most that do. Surely Belushi is long over due another half decent role like this, perhaps Tarantino will remember him in years to come...
Layer Cake (2004)
In short, see this film.
After being cast as Bond, Daniel Craig's back catalogue is now much sought after. Although Craig came to most of the UK's attention with a stand out performance in Our Friends in the North, it's Layer Cake that showcases why he got the Bond audition. Perhaps now, this strong contender for the best thriller of the year may find the audience it deserves. Mis-sold as a more art house friendly addition to the Guy Ritchie school of crime films, Layer Cake is a unique and remarkable experience.
The plot is deceivingly simple and would wrongly be placed in the gangster-wanting-to-retire-peacefully cinema staple seen frequently in Al Pacino movies. It is a much greater accomplishment that the audacious visual style, superb script and excellent performances make easy comparisons to this film pretty difficult. If anything it is closer to Schrader's 'American Gigalo' where the morally questionable hero is engulfed in a situation going on around him. The predominantly male cast is faultless with everyone from Dexter Fletcher to Michael Gambon putting in superb turns to give the characters justice. Far more human than the cartoon stereotypes we've come to expect after so very many Brit gangster flicks. Craig has never looked in better shape for taking on Hollywood.
Hats off then to Matthew Vaugn for filming Britain as it can look. Grimy in places but every bit astonishing in locations as our Stateside cousins. We've grown too used to seeing rain pouring and hackneyed clichés that have represented this country on celluloid. It's not foppish. It's not Bend It Like Beckham. So there really is no excuse left not to see it (aside from the awful trailer). Layer Cake deserves a wide audience and there's more than enough of everything for everyone to enjoy. At times hilarious, astonishingly frank and incredibly concise the whole film is a pure joy and clearly made for people that love film. Makes you wonder why they can't all be as classy as this.