Source Code (film review)
Directed by Duncan Jones | Runtime: 1hr 35 mins
Reviewed by Dan Collacott
Duncan Jones debut film Moon was a completely refreshing and unexpected slice of old school science fiction. His follow up Source Code is another high concept science fiction film except this time Jones has a big budget to play with.
Captain Colter Stevens is a soldier who wakes up in another man’s body aboard a Chicago train eight minutes from destruction. Each eight minutes is replayed over and over - as Steven's is given multiple opportunities to work out who he is, why he is there and to try and prevent further bombs from being set off.
I won't run into spoilers about how that situation arises and who is controlling him, but suffice to say he develops a connection and empathy with the woman who is with him in those final minutes (Michelle Monaghan). Stevens tries several times to deviate from the mission at hand and repeatedly questions the situation he finds himself in.
The film's premise is compelling enough and the tension builds fast as the movie unravels like a tightly wound coil; my only issue is the story is pretty limited and peaks around halfway through. Once the lid has been lifted on just what is happening to Stevens the film limps towards the final twist, which is fairly obvious as twists go but though still has enough ambiguity to maintain some intrigue.
The film has been likened to 'Inception meets Ground Hog Day' and I guess that is as good a comparison as you will get, it certainly feels more accurate than the 'Bourne meets Inception' tag line peddled out for the disappointing Adjustment Bureau.
Even though Source Code has been speculated as being purely a means for director Jones to raise the funds to bring another of his own scripts to the screen (the Bladerunner inspired Mute) it still has a Moon-esque feel to it, for one the male leads in both films (Gyllenhaal and Rockwell) are likeable tragic heroes who somehow distort and turn their respective situations on there head.
Source Code is by no means a classic but it is still well worth seeing and certainly can't harm the reputation of its director and cast.
Splice (film review)
Written by Dan Collacott
Director: Director: Vincenzo Natali. Run time: 1hr 47 mins.
Clive Nicoli (Brody) and his girlfriend and fellow genetic scientist Elsa Kast (Sarah Polley) have successfully created two large moving scrotums (seriously that is what they look like) from the spliced dna of several species, fortunately the two ball bags in question also love each other. As they say in commercials here's the science bit, the two genetic hybrids don't quite manage to provide some protein that the company Nicoli and Kast need to... erm... well... I think there was something about the protein saving lives or it gives women perfect asses or something like that. The threat of pulled funding leads the twosome to introduce human DNA into their splicing, believing they have to do this before someone else does and that it will save lives (?). The result is a life form that emerges from another cocoon type ball sack, looking like a shaved rabbit with no ears, it survives and... oh come on you've probably seen the trailer do you really need me to really explain all this?
So skipping ahead, the result of their experiment grows into a young bald female type thing with goats legs and a tail. All the while director Vincenzo Natali pretty unsubtly introduces 'the female lead's mum was mentally unstable' gambit, of course this lends weight to a whole load of childhood and parenting issues, which is handy when distorting Elsa's maternal instincts towards Dren (yep she named it, oh and by this point it is making noises like Bjork and looks like and probably is Bjork). Then Clive dances with Dren and sniffs her or sees in her eyes that she is connected to Elsa, yes you guessed it the next revelation is Elsa used her own 'mad family' DNA to create Dren. Which leads to the most laughable scene of the entire film, Nicoli ends up having sex with Dren, why? I really don't know, the Elsa link? The fact he likes to shag weird genetic hybrids? Or the fact she is actually an attractive model/actor that's just wearing a face prosthesis and stick on wings? Anyway it's this scene that really undermines the credibility of the film (It's like they wheeled in Lars von Trier and said 'hey Lars why don't you add one element to this film, anything you want, seriously dude go for it') what is even more stupid is it only takes about three minutes for Elsa to get over seeing her boyfriend getting his groove on with freaky Bjork, I mean Dren.
Anyway, yada yada Dren turns evil (possibly because of the mad family DNA), the whole thing goes a bit 'Species' and despite the carnage no lessons are learnt by the evil medical corporation.
So in conclusion, the first half of the film is a truly intriguing modern day riff on the Frankenstein theme and what it lacks in substance it just about makes up with originality, but this alone can't sustain you after 'that scene' and the fairly predictable end to proceedings. I really wanted to like this film and I think when the dust has settled and I've stopped laughing at the thought of Adrian Brody having sex with Bjork with goats legs then I'll probably realise there is a half decent film in here, but sadly it is undermined by a couple of awful scenes and a massively unsophisticated plot.
Interview with Dave Gibbons
Written by Dan Collacott
Damon Lindelof's adaptation of Watchmen into a TV series loosely based on the source material, impressively proved there was credible artistic life left in the franchise. In 2009 we sat down with co-creator of the original graphic novel, Dave Gibbons, to talk about the book and even Snyder's film adaptation.
In 1986, writer Alan Moore, artist Dave Gibbons and colourist John Higgins made history when they created ‘The Watchmen’. The twelve comic series followed an alternate cold war reality storyline containing outlawed costumed heroes, brought together again when one of their number is mysteriously killed. The collected graphic novel won worldwide critical acclaim including being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 best novels of all time. Over twenty years later and following a deluge of failed attempts, director Zach Snyder has finally succeeded in bringing a work described by director Terry Gilliam as ‘unfilmable’ to the big screen. Even a last minute dispute over rights between Fox and Warner Bros couldn’t prevent the most highly anticipated comic to film adaptation since ‘Dark Knight’. We had the honour of talking to legendary co-creator Dave Gibbons about the film adaptation, his new book ‘Watching The Watchmen’, and the graphic novel itself.
We asked Dave why he thought ‘The Watchmen’ had remained so successful for so long?
“I think we had timing very much on our side. We came along when the superhero comic was ready to be deconstructed, pulled apart and have its workings looked at. It was good timing for Alan and I personally as we had both been working in the field for quite a few years, we were both technically able to do what we wanted, and still young and energetic enough to give it the time that it took. We thought we would do the twelve monthly issues of Watchmen and it would go into the back issue boxes to become just a memory. But as it happened it was one of the first comic series to be collected together in a book, which could then be sold in both comic stores and mainstream book-shops.”
‘The Watchmen’ is arguably one of the first comics to truly humanise the role of the superhero in a more realistic context. Dave enthusiastically discussed the validity of that statement.
“When I was a kid I thought some of the comic characters were human, I really liked Superman - he really felt like a kindly uncle for some reason. The kind of emotional range of costumed superheroes was rather narrow and inhabited its own little fantasy world. I think what Alan and I did was ask the question, if superheroes were real what would they be like? In other words why would someone put a costume on? You could be mad, it could be a wonderful hobby going out in the evenings fighting crime, it could be that you were trying to keep your parents happy because it was the family career. Those things make it rather more interesting than just ‘Oh I’ve been given powers, I must go and fight crime,’ and then we had the character of Dr Manhattan who had been given amazing God like powers, yet wasn’t really interested in crime fighting. It was because he had these powers he became detached from humanity in a way that Superman and the other powerful superheroes never had. The other side of the coin was how the world would be changed by the presence of these costumed characters. We concluded that people at large would be suspicious of them; they would see them as evil rather than good. There was also something demotivating about having a being on the planet like Dr Manhatten, whereby no matter what you do, how fast or clever you are, he would always still be better than you. These were the questions we were asking.
I think in a true sense it did humanise them as we had a cast of characters with all the flaws of the people we knew, rather than these idealised perfect beings who we would all aspire to be.”
One of the most layered and memorable characters in ‘The Watchmen’, is the troubled vigilante Rorschach, his name taken from the psychological personality test and his mask adorned with the changing ink blot shapes that cover the pages of that test. We asked Dave, does Rorschach embody the truth of how a superhero would exist in the real world?
“Rorschach is clearly psychotic! But like a lot of people who have extreme black and white polarized views, people like Hitler and Margaret Thatcher, there is something attractive about them. I think Rorschach is a very heightened version of how you might turn out if you did decide to be a vigilante and you were exposed to the true humanity of people. In fact I think those who have to deal with the dark side of people, policemen, soldiers etc. are easily tipped over the edge if unsupported or unprepared. In a way Rorschach has very clearly gone over the edge...”
Having had sole responsibility for drawing how ‘The Watchmen’ comics looked, we discussed with David his proudest piece of Watchmen artwork.
“Some of my favourite pages in Watchmen from an art point of view, and this is no slight on Alan, but they are the pages with little or no words on them. I think there is the one where we first see Rorschach and he is investigating Blake’s murder, he looks up at the building and fires his gun up before he scrambles up the outside. That is one page I have always been fond off. And the one where Dan Dreiberg wanders round his house in the middle of the night naked in a trance, those have always been favourites of mine, rather than individual illustrations. Watchmen isn’t a thing where you have splashy pictures of superheroes, there aren’t many money shots, it’s more an accumulative affect of all the detail and relationship between the sequences.”
Dave has been involved with almost every stage of ‘The Watchmen’s’ adaptation to film.
There is real hope then that this should ensure the movie’s faithfulness to the source material is maintained.
“I heard that Zach was going to be directing and introduced myself at the UK premiere of ‘300’. I know a little bit about the genesis of ‘300’ as I’ve been friends with the creator Frank Miller a long time. When he was doing his tour of Europe researching 300, I spent a lot of time with him then so knew what his plans were for the series, and I knew that Zach exactly nailed what Frank was after! I asked Zach if there was anything I could do to help with Watchmen.
Shortly after that I was sent a copy of the screen play and asked for feedback, which I gave, all of which was gratefully received and I believe acted upon. I then drew three pages of scenes that were in the screenplay but not in the graphic novel as Zach wanted to know how I would visualise them. Then I visited the set and gave more advice. I’ve been to a screening of a rough-cut of the movie and again was really encouraged to give feedback and criticism so they could hone it the best they could. I’ve been involved in the publicity also and I’m completely behind it. Everything I have seen has only enhanced my gut belief that Zach would do everything in his power to do it properly, and as far as I am concerned that is the case.”
Some fans have been outraged by the prospect, so we asked Dave what he knew and thought about this?
“The ending the script had when I first saw it was that the bad guy was killed by the hero and ended up going off into the sunset with the girl. Which I didn’t like and obviously isn’t the ambiguous ending from the graphic novel, it basically had a typical Hollywood ending. Later on, when I visited the movie set, Zach said to me the character who had initially died at the end didn’t die, which was fantastic as it meant it was true to the graphic novel - as long as that is the case I don’t really mind what the Macguffin is. So to me whether there is a squid or not is unimportant as long as what the film means and the moral ambiguity is left. I am perfectly happy to accept Zach’s judgement as to what works best as a movie, and I am perfectly happy with the ending I have seen so far.”
As a deeply personal piece of work it was clear Dave would be cautious about seeing his progeny brought to life in celluloid form.
“Of all the characters, I think the one that was absolutely imperative to get right was Rorschach, and I did have some notes from the original script where I felt he hadn’t been handled quite right. He’s a difficult character and perhaps the hardest one of the lot to bring to life in a true way, but I think in this film it has been done very successfully. I think Nite Owl is also very close to me, as probably if I was a costumed hero then he is the one I would be. The name of the character is something I actually dreamt up when I was just a kid and has stayed with me ever since. He’s been wonderfully portrayed as this over the hill superhero who can only get it up when he’s in his costume. All the actors turn in fantastic performances and they all successfully bring the characters to life. They’ve treated them all with great care and reverence as far as I can see.”
In addition to the film Dave has released the companion book ‘Watching the Watchmen’ a veritable treasure trove of rare sketches and background work that allows fans to see how the characters and scenes were created and developed. So has releasing such a large body of past work give the award wining artist closure?
“I suppose it did in as much as I had kept the things for all those years. Originally I kept them as Watchmen was such a complicated process that I was always having to refer back to what I had drawn earlier, or make sure that things were consistent over the issues; which is why I kept things as a reference. At the end of it I could have chucked it all away but I didn’t, and I think in the back of my mind I thought, ‘you know someone might be interested one day in such a finite archive covering all the twelve issues contained in the graphic novel’. As it turns out my hoarders instinct was right I think.”
The popularity of ‘The Watchmen’ has continued to grow for every year that has passed. We asked at what stage the creators knew they were creating something special?
“When you are actually working on a comic you don’t ever get the chance to stand back and say, ‘we are doing the Citizen Kane of comics’, I think if you have those sorts of thoughts you are going the wrong way. It wasn’t until three or four issues in Alan and I went to the states that people were coming out of the offices at DC to pat us on the back, and other artists and writers were seeking us out and shaking our hands. Only then did we think we have got something here that our colleagues in the profession think is well done. It wasn’t until about seven issues that it was clear the fan reaction was huge! Which was quite daunting when you are only halfway through something and you’re being told it’s the best thing ever, yet you still have to pull another six issues out of the can! So even then we didn’t have the chance to sit back and contemplate our navels, we just had to crack on and get through it as fast as we could.”
Jackpot (Arme Riddere) - (film review)
Director: Magnus Martens, Country Norway, 2012, 1hr 26 mins
Cast: Kyrre Hellum, Henrik Mestad and Marie Blokhus
Review by Dan Collacott
Following the success of Headhunters, writer/director Magnus Martens has brought another story by Norwegian crime thriller author Jo Nesbo, to the big screen.
Jackpot begins at brake neck speed in the thick of a bloody shoot out in a seedy strip joint. The police arrive to find Oscar Svendsen (Kyrre Hellum) crawling from underneath a female corpse, bloody, bewildered and acutely aware he is clutching a shotgun! The story is retold via eccentric police officer Solør (Henrik Mestad) as he cross-examines Oscar back at the station.
Oscar paints himself as the reluctant victim, forced to deal with each new problem regardless of the moral implications. He helps run a factory that employs former prison offenders. A shady new arrival at the factory, Dan Treschow (Andreas Cappelen) persuades Oscar, his incompetent life long friend Thor Eggen (Mads Ousdal) and fellow worker Billy Utomjordet (Arthur Berning) to play the soccer pools using a new betting system. Oscar reluctantly places the bet, but makes one crucial change to a result, which, as it turns out effectively wins them 1.7million. Oscar makes a short trip to get some more celebratory booze, but returns to find his fellow revellers have turned on, and killed one of their number. This kicks off a merry go round of greed, treachery, deceit and murder as the trio fight to dispose of bodies, pay off old debts and stay undetected by the police long enough to enjoy their tainted windfall!
The retelling of the story is quite Tarantino-esque, although the comedy and violent misadventure that features throughout probably owes more to Guy Ritchie than Quentin and the Coens. Director Magnus Martens plays the violence brutality fast and the action increasingly absurd. Oscar’s recollections are coloured by the cynicism of the superbly deadpan but razor sharp Solør. Whether Oscar is the victim or lead perpetrator is given further ambiguity in the final act when the same scenes are retold by his repugnant ex-cop landlord.
The film unashamedly owes much to John Huston classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as well as Fargo and Lock Stock (especially the music in some of the zanier scenes). It falls short of being a classic or even being in the same league as the brilliant Headhunters. Never the less, Jackpot is a stylish and enjoyable crime thriller, full of quirky but violent comic capers.
Offender (film review)
Director: Ron Scalpello, UK, 2012, 1hr 42 mins
Cast: Joe Cole, English Frank and Kimberley Nixon
Review by Dan Collacott
Before Joe Cole was ripping up sets in Peaky Blinders and Gangs of London there was his turn in Offender.
First time director Ron Scalpello’s Offender puts the spotlight on a society out of touch with it’s youth, whilst providing a modern day nod to Ray Winstone’s borstal classic Scum.
A group of hardened former youth offenders take advantage of the London riots to carry out a smash and grab motorcycle raid on a jewellery store. The robbery takes a sinister turn when gang leader Jake (English Frank) fatally shoots the shop owner. They stash the bikes and loot, but are later arrested for driving a stolen car. The gang manages to avoid taking the rap for the murder and theft, but panic when young probation officer, Elise (Kimberley Nixon) spots that Jake is wearing a rare Rolex connected to the robbery.
Elise is also the pregnant and adored girlfriend of hard working and big-hearted, youth Tommy (Joe Cole). Tommy arrives to meet her from work, only to find she has been badly beaten by one of the gang, in a brutal bid to ensure her silence. Elise loses her child and their relationship crumbles under the weight of the resulting grief. This cruel loss kicks off a gritty tale of murderous revenge as Tommy purposely gets himself incarcerated in order to find the person who attacked Elise and bring justice to the gang who ruined their lives.
Hollyoaks in prison this isn’t, there is plenty of violence, drugs and corruption in this gritty depiction of life in a youth borstal. The characters seem slightly cartoonish and cliché at first, but as the violence ramps up so does the acting. Joe Cole excels as the cold unflappable youth, Tommy. Woefully out of his depth yet driven blindly by the need for revenge. English Frank is compelling as the loathsome, meat headed thug gang leader, Jake. He and his gang represent the failure of the penal system, as they kangaroo between crime and incarceration without fear of either. An honorable mention must also go to the brilliant Shaun Dooley as the corrupted, bitter pot smoking head warden Nash.
The moral compass for this movie is a little skewed, it deals with so many difficult subjects without really deciding which it wants to focus on. It successfully shines a light on modern youth culture, providing a violent depiction of a disaffected generation with the riots as a backdrop. How much of the insight into life in the prison is realistic or sensationalised is difficult to pin down. Thankfully there is no moral epiphany for Tommy or path to redemption for any of the characters in Offender and this fact alone keeps the drama believable and the revenge dark and uncompromising.
Some of the peripheral characters and plotting are a bit lightweight at times, but thankfully Offender is well acted and hard hitting enough to paper over its flaws.The professional production by Nick Taussag (Shank), superb cinematography and tight dialogue elevates Offender well above the rank of your average indie Brit movie.
Interview with Howard J. Ford
By Daniel Collacott
“I would really rather have come home in a body bag than without a film.”
Writer-director Howard J. Ford and his brother Jonathan Ford are the fast rising sibling partnership behind revered apocalyptic zombie road move ‘The Dead.’ Set in West Africa the film garnered great critical acclaim for its unique cultural take on the un-dead sub genre.
The duo first cut their teeth working on commercials, before progressing to writing and directing films. Howard followed his and his brother’s debut film Mainline Run in 94 by solo directing Distant Shadow in 2000, before the two brothers reignited their creative partnership with ‘The Dead’ in 2010.
“In reality, our commercials gave us more assistance in getting The Dead made and also the sheer amount of commercials we had shot gave us the ability to think quickly in any given circumstance and come out of even a turbulent situation with a usable shot. It’s possible that some of our cast and crew may not have been as quick to jump on board had we not made films that had been released in the past so I suppose it all helps.”
Such was the war of attrition the sibling directorial pairing fought to bring their movie ‘The Dead’ to the big screen that the story behind the making of the film is just as compelling as the film itself. This lead Howard to write a book detailing the suffering and sacrifice he, his brother and the cast went through during the movies filming in West Africa.
“I never thought I would write a book but when I finally got back from Africa after the shoot it was kind of a ‘what the hell just happened’ moment. I think it was the shock waves from all the real death we encountered and all of the horrible situations like the knifepoint muggings and being held at gunpoint! We witnessed so many horrible situations like our leading actor Rob Freeman nearly dying from Malaria and also how close to the edge my own brother became as he watched his almost lifelong dream project apparently fall apart around him! Standing in a hospital being told your lead actor is being treated on a drip but he still may die within 2-3 days was a sobering moment.”
The book entitled ‘Surviving The Dead’ is an emotive, detailed and cathartic account of how the film was made. Illustrated with never before seen stills from the shoot, it shows and describes in vivid detail what the cast and crew had to endure to bring The Dead to our screens. Be Warned, the material recounted - is not for the faint hearted!
“We all witnessed a lot of grim things and I simply had to get it all down on paper onto a physical form. I even thought I might burn the document once I had done so – it was either that or an exorcism of some kind! But then during the process of writing something strange happened. I started to realise that some of the ridiculous situations we had ended up in were actually ironically quite amusing - some of the fights between crew members that seemed so stressful at the time made interesting reading in hindsight.”
The whole cast and crew found the poverty and suffering they encountered extremely hard to swallow. Despite this they were able to give something back to the people and communities they worked with. In fact some of Howard’s fondest recollections were from his encounters with the villagers who became part of the film’s cast and story.
“The upbeat moments were nice to recall, like how happy the guy with the disability was who plays the very first Zombie in the desert. He had a leg that bent right back due to polio (we just added the prosthetic bone effect for the shoot) and in real life he worked really hard for coins each day carrying bags for a little guest house in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. We come along and he gets paid enough to live for three months for just walking from point A to point B as a Zombie. He simply could not believe his ‘luck’. So Ironic I know but he came with us for three days in the desert to reach the location and to him it was like the best holiday he’d ever been on. He was on a ‘jolly’ and my translator told me he was so happy that he could dance. That was an image I didn’t want to see but I was so happy to see him smile the way he did.”
One thing that stands ‘The Dead’ out from other zombie survival movies is the sheer scale and bleakness of the film. Bringing the un-dead to a new cultural setting within West Africa gave the brothers the chance to tell the story from a unique angle and context. The cinematography alone is stunning, the use of vast barren desert landscapes and long shots of the shambling un-dead locals is as unnerving as it is awe inspiring.
‘The Dead’ moves the traditional city based survival movie to a less confined setting, although the constant presence of zombies in almost every camera shot means that the size of the journey doesn’t in any way detract from the feeling of impending doom.
“Jon and I had wanted to do a zombie film since teenagers and even the classic ones that we loved - we got a little frustrated with as they all eventually seemed to have people hauled up in one location. We loved the bits before this inevitable containment, where characters were on the road and trying to get supplies etc. So we swore our zombie film would ALL be on the road. That’s kind of where it came from. Jon had made a lot of notes even more than 20 years ago about a stranger in a strange land of zombies but it was later we discovered Africa due to some commercials we shot there. That was the first moment I got palpitations of excitement at the thought of all the additional meanings our zombie film could have.”
The film unites a US serviceman with an African soldier in the fight to reach the safety of a military base across hundreds of miles of barren landscape. This partnership is central to the core of the movie and one that switches the focus away from the usual fall of law and morality that apocalyptic films usually opt for.
“We just felt that too many zombie movies concentrate on the characters themselves becoming the problem or the danger to each other and we wanted to say that mankind does inherently have good qualities and would want to help where possible. We also wanted to show the African people as very much working together to help each other. It’s all about two different cultures coming together to fight a common enemy. I hope that is positive. It’s probably why it’s so frustrating when someone sees the trailer online and just says ‘it’s a white guy shooting black people in the head’! It’s not at all about that.“
The popularity of The Walking Dead TV series and the swathe of high budget but profitable horror remakes has prompted a lot of film companies to look at the zombie genre in a whole new light.
“For a decade or so before this if Jon and I mentioned the desire to make a zombie movie, we were literally laughed at. Jon always found this particularly frustrating as making a zombie movie was all he really wanted to do.”
Despite the newfound acceptance of the apocalyptic zombie film, the brothers didn’t have backing from a large studio, ‘The Dead’ was independently made and the budget meagre despite the high production values ($150 thousand dollars of which a reported $30 thousand of which went on corruption & bribery). Although Howard notes that there was something positive to come from horror films becoming more mainstream.
“The fact 28 Days Later, which is not really a Zombie movie but is perceived as one, and also Shaun Of The Dead were financial successes, may have been a factor in people having confidence to be attached to such a project (as The Dead). “
Such was the extreme events encountered it is a wonder the entire crew were able to survive the film’s creation, the book describes one such horrific accident that nearly ended proceedings and lives.
“There were some pretty scary moments like the near death from a head on collision with a bus which we then read in a paper the next day killed 66 people in the ‘worst road collision in Burkina Faso.”
It is also a miracle that the two brothers didn’t quit the entire project, especially when their entire crew where at odds with each other and with them.
“There was one moment during all the things that were going wrong and I was desperately trying to make it work with a lot of what I felt like personal sacrifice, when a kind of ‘committee’ formed and I kind of ‘stood accused’ by some of the crew for the pain they were going through."
“For those that read the book, they will see just how far Jon’s emotions went out of control during the production and it was purely because of how personal this was.”
In many ways the book serves as a warning to other would be filmmakers about the pitfalls and problems of filming in foreign locations, but Howard was keen to draw out the positives of the whole experience.
“We have all learnt so much sadly from what went wrong. I certainly would not do it again with so little money and I would take into account that getting anything done in Africa takes you four times as long as you could ever imagine.”
The book also serves as not only an account of what happened during the filming, but also places a spotlight on the lives of those that live in the region.
“I had promised some of the local crew members in Burkina Faso that I would ‘tell the truth’ about the corrupt local police and other goings-on, it suddenly became a book.”
Both Howard and his brother have a passion for travelling and even though their time in Africa pushed them both dangerously close to the edge, it hasn’t quenched their wander lust and love for the continent itself.
“Even after all that happened, I would like to film in Africa again – of course with more money, more armed guards and more assistance on all fronts. Africa is such a beautiful place full of lovely people and just because some people in uniform are somehow forced to be corrupt to put food on their families table doesn’t mean people should refrain from going there. I urge people not to let their lives go by without experiencing a journey in Africa. Although you could just watch The Dead instead and stay relatively safe in your seat!”
Howard is currently working on a supernatural thriller called ‘Indelible’ which has been optioned for a shoot in the US later this year. His brother Jon is writing a revenge movie, which as Howard points out ‘is a subject he is very passionate about!’. But despite what it took to make it, the brothers may not yet be finished with ‘The Dead.’
“There is still talk of a follow-up and if so we would definitely re visit the same key characters. There are some aspects of the story we couldn’t cover first time round so if enough people buy the first one, we will have to go back!”
You can check out the book Surviving the Dead which is available from most good book stockists.
Rambock: Berlin Undead (film review)
by Dan Collacott
Director: Marven Kren – Run Time: 59 min
As a massive fan of the genre it pains me to admit that there are far too many zombie films being churned out at present; but if every zombie film produced was as accomplished as Rambock: Berlin Undead then there could be no complaints from me.
Director Marven Kren’s take on the zombie film has a distinctly old school feel to it. Where many undead flicks revel in excessive gore, mass destruction and emphasis on the scale of the outbreak, Kren sacrifices these elements for a more fast paced, linear and story driven plot.
Lead character Michael (Michael Fuith) has come to Berlin to attempt reconciliation with former girlfriend Gabi (Anna Graczyk). But instead he finds Gabi missing and the block she lives in (and the block opposite) under siege from white eyed rabid frothing mouthed zombies. Aligned with plumbers assistant Harper (Theo Trebs) Michael and numerous others in the blocks try and survive and escape the situation as the whole of Berlin falls to the epidemic.
Now the plot sounds quite simple, but there are plenty of nice touches and subtle twists on the zombie genre to keep you as captive as the survivors in the film. For one the make up and effects is superb and the setting and sound track suitably creepy enough to maintain the tension and sense of threat throughout (the zombies don't squeal or make dumb noises like cornered farm animals).
The story itself focuses solely on Michael and his fairly tragic situation, the other characters are really collateral and the speed of the plotting doesn’t really allow you any time to worry about this. The whole thing is superbly shot and the balance between character and plotting is spot on. The zombies are of the fast running rage variety, but their own weaknesses and the format of the virus itself has been given a subtle make-over (no spoilers here). The acting is pretty good and feels vey naturalistic and believable also.
The ending itself is both clever and touching and helps set this film apart from the others currently munching over the horizon. Kren should be credited for creating a traditional zombie flick that has all the best ingredients an undead horror film should have, with a few rather cunning modern tweaks.
Priest 3D (film review)
How do you ruin a film like Priest?
Review/Discussion By Dan Collacott
Few people I know went rushing to see Priest 3D when it hit the cinemas in May of this year. Quickly dismissed as ‘predictable b-movie action dross’ by most critics, the film really didn't get a fair crack of the whip.
On the surface Priest has all the elements it needed to be a successful and impressive take on the bad future horror genre. It had some really good ideas, a wealth of story to cherry pick a script from and a half decent cast. Yet the end result is pretty much a disappointing mess. There is much promise in the film's opening quarter mins but beyond the 20min mark it reverts to a poorly cut, generic paint by numbers brainless action movie. It would be all to easy to dismiss Priest as another big on budget low on substance movie purely made with the aim of making money and not impressing critics!
Some would say the whole thing was doomed from the start. Priest was in production for years with numerous cast and directorial changes pushing it to the fringes of the abyss. If that wasn’t bad enough then there was the obligatory ‘why don’t we try and make more money by making it 3D’ revelation from some yea-sayer in the studio funding the project. Those efforts and last minute tinkering resulted in… well a few fairly pointless 3D scenes on motorbikes!
To be fair even though the 3D was shoehorned in at the end and pointless - it doesn’t really harm the film in terms of how the viewer experiences it (although I am sure others would argue that point). It is also worth pointing out that the film’s cast all do a very competent job with the material at hand, Paul Bettany (as the titular Priest in question) carries on where he left off in Legion. Karl Urban (Black Hat) makes a pretty good if slightly hammy fist of the cowboy vampire bad guy. Cam Gigandet, Maggie Q and the stellar Christopher Plummer also make up a solid supporting cast… and yet none will be remembered for those performances.
The film is based on a series of long established Korean comics of the same name by author Min-Woo Hyung. As you would expect the story within the comic has been watered down for sake of the film, but remnants of Hyung’s highly conceptual vision of a semi-Orwellian religion obsessed bad future remains in tact. The onscreen reimagining of what vampires are and how mankind has struggled against them historically is a selling point.
The problem is the film makers have been forced to edit the story down to just 87mins when I’m sure there would have been enough material and story to make something much more epic in time and scale. In fact there is probably several hours of footage out there that hit the cutting room floor hard in the final days of post-production.
As a result, when watching Priest you can’t help but notice the fact that the entire film has been hacked to pieces. Dialogue feels stilted, character development rushed and any back-story is glossed over. Most scenes feel short or cut down or like there was some context missing or some more compelling narrative once introducing them. For example (Priestess aside) Bettany’s fellow ass-kicking priest posse actually only feature for one major scene. His side kick for most of the picture (Hicks) talks a lot of hot air about how tough he is and what he can do - but we never really see him do any of it, in fact he makes Batman’s 1960s Robin look macho by comparison.
But it sounds like I am taking the easy route here and just slagging off the film, which is not the point of this at all. For one the film’s dark future setting is wonderful and the take on the vampires and their history is as i've already said pretty darn cool. In fact the film’s concept/angle is as interesting and refreshing as the ideas presented in ‘Day Breakers’ and ‘Nightwatch’ except the makers of those films had the conviction/balls/permission to realise their vision. In all fairness though I’m sure with Priest it was just a case of two much interference and too much time spent in development hell. I’m sure the directors and writers of Priest weren't happy with the film that was actually put out.
It looked a Priest 2 was planned or at least that’s what ‘the war is only just beginning’ quote at the end suggests. This never came to be.
American: The Bill Hicks Story (film review)
Film Review by Dan Collacott
They say you should never meet your heroes, by the same token it can often be dangerous to get too close to the truth of a person. Biographical films are capable of shattering myths and deconstructing your lifelong heroes to the point where you are left feeling cheated and empty. ‘American’ actually proves that Hicks had fairly humble and comfortable beginnings, with strict yet loving Baptist parents, a supportive brother and a close set of friends who remained some part of his life until his tragic end. It is through their stories that we learn that Hicks’ genius was organic rather than being coloured by any one significant event or tragedy in his life. The film clearly highlights that his struggles with alcohol and drugs ultimately laid the foundations for the comic maelstrom and prophet he finally became. But if you wanted to know what made Bill Hicks tick, what fuelled his obsessive desire for the truth.... then ‘American’ leaves that open to interpretation.
Film creators Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas use a highly effective form of photographic/cut and paste style animation to set this film apart from other documentaries. The animation reinvents the events that are presented chronologically by the talking heads, keeping you at the heart of Hicks' life throughout. As a result you are immersed visually into Hicks’ school days, his amateur comedy circuit touring, struggles with alcohol, right through to his reinvention, obsessions with winning over the US public and his untimely death from cancer.
Creators Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas make economic use of over 200 hours of archive footage and photographs they pulled from Hicks’ TV work, film captured by his brother Steve and those taken from Hicks’ own almost obsessive collection. The animation and ordering of the archives meant the film makers took six years to fully realise their vision. In spite of this Harlock spoke of how he never grew tired from watching Hicks in action and even after the screening he still felt his words never lost any of their impact.
Although both creators managed to channel the true cult of Hicks, they only briefly acknowledge his rock star status in the UK. They mitigated this and other questions regarding gaps in Bill’s life by describing how they had to sacrifice many interviews and stories about the him as they wanted to maintain the momentum and time line of his story without taking it into directions that would deflect too much from Hicks himself. We also hear nothing of his loves and relationships, although Thomas did state that Hicks last girlfriend had tragically passed away and two of his other long-term girlfriends had remarried and didn’t want to appear in the film.
‘American’ is quite a daring title from a man famed for questioning everything his country did from the first Gulf War to how the authorities dealt with Waco, even producing footage of himself burning the US flag, only to argue that the whole point of being an American was having the right to do so! Both creators explained the title was to get the film attention, and that ultimately Hicks’ search for truth and ability to question and examine what it was to be American, was a true form of patriotism.
In the Q&A at the end of the presentation Steve Hicks phoned in to add his praise and express his satisfaction at how the film had turned out, which resonated loudly as Steve seemed to be quite central to the film and Bill’s life in general.
I discovered Bill Hicks via the 1996 Tool album Aenima which as a tribute features quotes from his ‘One Good Drug Story’ set and ‘Arizona Bay.’ I came to this film wanting to fully embrace the cult of Hicks and find out how he became described as the comedian’s comedian and possibly one of the most important leftfield, controversial and thought provoking comedians that ever lived. In many ways the film succeeded in doing that. In truth you don’t have to have any previous interest in Hicks to find ‘American’ to be a touching and inspiring film.
As a biography and documentary it succeeds in providing the film goer with a balanced and sugar free account of the comedian’s demons and genius.
The Awakening (film review)
Director: Nick Murphy - Runtime: 107 mins
Review by Dan Collacott
Us Brits love a period drama, the decadence of a society with all its manners, values and a fresh pot of tea with scones has become a national draw. The traditional ghost story is a cherished part of our past and with a 1921 post war setting, horror thriller The Awakening is a welcome change from the loud gore and high concept brutal torture flicks of recent times.
Troubled hoax exposer and author Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) is drawn from her London home to a boarding school in the country by teacher and ex army man Robert Mallory (Dominic West). Cathcart is charged with the task of dispelling the paranormal myth around a recent child's death, bringing fact and reason where fear and anxiety have taken hold. Her own bereavement and the weight of her surrounds and situation cloud her judgement as it proves the school has more than smoke, mirrors and ghostly suggestion at its cold heart.
Director Nick Murphy has deftly put together a psychological period suspense thriller very much in the mould of The Others and The Orphanage. More importantly it is a classic ghost story that builds the tension in subtle layers rather than bludgeoning its audience with gore and cheap jump gimmicks. Murphy certainly knows how to scare though - weaving some chilling set pieces subtly into the film's polite narrative. The scenes featuring Florence looking through the windows of the model school doll's house had my heart climbing out of my chest!The whole picture is beautifully shot, benefiting greatly from the lush aesthetics of the 1920s countryside and Gothic architecture of the boarding school at the heart of the picture. The highly emotive themes of loss and loneliness work to suppress the more predictable and cliche elements that surface towards the end of the film.
The performances of Rebecca Hall, Dominic West and Imelda Staunton are highly accomplished and the scripting tight. My only criticism is some of the plot elements didn't sit well together, the mix of science, scepticism and paranormal meant that Murphy struggled to bring a balanced end to proceedings. In fact I felt like I was seeking out one last cruel twist of fate before the credits rolled.