Category Archives: Entertainment

Amsterdamned (1988): Still Quite a Thriller (Review)

Monique Van De Ven and Huub Staple

Amsterdamned is a taut thriller written and directed by Dick Maas and starring Huub Stapel  and Monique van de Ven (who starred with a young Rutger Hauer in the 1973 cult classic film Turkish Delight).   Maas as a director made films that looked polished and suitable for marketing in the United States, indeed, world-wide and Amsterdamned was no exception. The film is still quite good and having aged exceedingly well provides a number of solid scares.

The story of a serial killer who haunted the canals in Amsterdam was actually edge of the seat viewing when the film came out. I watched the Dutch video when it was released in 1989, sans subtitles, and only catching around every other word, it had me watching the scarier bits through my fingers.

Huub Stapel is Eric Visser who is a single parent raising his daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet). Eric is also a more than capable detective on the Amsterdam police force.  A prostitute is murdered along a canal in the capital. Her body is strung upside down from a low-water bridge. The bloody body is drug across the glass top of a scenic boat full of tourists and school children.  

This traumatizing event is the start of a string of bodies left in and around the canals. Eric must catch the killer before he is taken off the case. Along the way he meets and romances Laura (van de Ven) a tour guide at a local museum.

Amsterdamned  is dark, tense and damned scary in places. There is an underwater scene in a sunken canal boat that will make you jump and the action is well choreographed and pretty thrilling.  There are plenty of twists and turns and this police drama is more horror than suspenseful thriller.

Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam will know that the canals are full of rubbish, until they have been dredged, and bacteria that can make the hapless person who falls in very ill.  The same world traveler will recognize that some of the excellent boat chase stunts took place in Utrecht and not Amsterdam. The cafe settings are much closer to the canal than any in the country’s capital city.

Maas sets the scenes very well and manages to make the film scream by in terms of pacing. At almost two hours long the film should have a few slow spots but does not.  Even the scenes with Eric’s daughter and her “boyfriend” (which do feel a tad like filler) do not detract from the storyline. One scene, in fact, has  a lovely fillip to the proceedings that is impressive and chill inspiring.

For  a “slasher” serial killer film, there is a surprising lack of gore.  Certainly there are the odd limbs scattered here and there and, apart from the murdered prostitute at the start,  not much in the way of claret.

In many ways the film feels like a homage to every American detective movie made in the 1980s. Most of the detectives wear leather jackets and the music is evocative of most crime  films that featured heavy police work and a high body count.

It should be noted that Huub Stapel worked with Maas on the 1986 film Flodder  and its first sequel Flodder in America!.

Amsterdamned is still cracking cinema that delivers as much of a punch now as it did in 1988.  This horror/thriller continues to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat and provides enough scares to impress.

This is a 5 star film. The special effects are quite good for the time and the tight direction, excellent cast and the taut/scary storyline makes for an almost perfect film.  It can be seen on YouTube, in its entirety, with English subtitles.

Ghost Graduation (Promoción Fantasma): School’s Out Forever (Review) 2012

Poster or Ghost Graduation 2012

Having recently discovered the comedic directing abilities of Javier Ruiz Caldera via the very entertaining Spy Timeit was brilliant to find another film by this  director on Netflix; Ghost Graduation. This  fantasy/comedy offering (original title Promoción Fantasma) from Spain has a ghost busting teacher who helps some dead students get out of school forever. 

Modesto (Raúl Arévalo) learns at an early age that he can see and interact with dead people. Unlike the kid in The Sixth Sense, the departed that Modesto interacts with look like everyday people. These are normal looking and look nothing like the grim ghosts  in M Night Shyamalan’s film. 

The young man grows up to be a teacher who is fired from every school he finds employment with. His social skills are mainly to blame as he isolates himself. Modesto attends therapy sessions and is told there are no ghosts and that he is gay.

The teacher hires on at Monforte, a school plagued by inexplicable events The school has an opening after s a literature teacher is flung out an upper story window. The events are caused by a group of dead former students who have failed to move on.

The quintet of deceased “Breakfast Club” members is comprised of stereotypes that work very well for the comedy.  The school bad boy – Dani (Àlex Maruny), the Jock – Jorge (Jaime Olías),  the party animal – Pink Floyd (Javier Bódalo), the loose girl – Marivi – (Andrea Duro) and the  good girl – Angela (Anna Castillo).

The comedy begins in earnest when Modesto is hired as the new literature teacher. The rest of the film deals with his burgeoning romance with Tina, played by Alexandra Jiménez who worked with director Caldera in Spy Time. The school’s headmistress has a thorn in her side with school council president Ortegui (Carlos Areces) who has a surprising connection to one of the ghostly students. 

Ghost Graduation does what any really good comedy should do. It makes one laugh and cry. The film also shows that students are pretty much the same all over the world.  The five ghosts of the school died  during a 1990s Christmas party. The deceased were  five students who were in detention in the library and they all perished in a fire. The kids are stuck at the school until they can move on.

The comedy is contagious, from the ghostly students freaking out that the new teacher can see and hear them to  Modesto’s reactions to his surroundings, it is all good fun.  In terms of violence there is very little; a teacher thrown out a window twice is all there is. There is some partial nudity but no sex and no foul language in the subtitles.

The director show the same skillful handling of this comedic feature film that he demonstrated in Spy Time.  Ghost Graduation is fast paced and at 88 minutes speeds by with all the momentum of a bullet train.

The film looks good, in terms of CG, except for  the “vomiting” sequences where Pink Floyd spews copious amounts of pink liquid. The character died drunk and stayed drunk.

Arévalo is spot on as the social inept Modesto whose confidence grows as the film progresses. Jiménez plays the beleaguered school head very well and apart from being stunning, has comedy chops to spare. The actors playing the students were brilliant and for those who may have only discovered  Anna Castillo;  keep an eye on this one. 

Caldera has adroitly handled two comedy offering out of a possible three. The last film, Three Many Weddings is the 2013 offering from a trio of films that began with Ghost Graduation. The Spanish movie is subtitled but this takes nothing from the enjoyment of this comedic haunted school tale.

This was another 5 star film from a director who won this reviewer over on Spy Time and had now solidified a reputation of being able to effortlessly do comedy.  Streaming on Netflix watch this one. Now.

Spy Time Aka Anacleto: Agente Secreto (2015): Action Comedy Fun (Review)

Anacleto and son in Spy Time

Based on a comic book that parodies the James Bond world of spies and super secret agents, Spy Time (Anacleto: Agente Secreto) is a fun action comedy that is particularly apt for this day and age. Anacleto is the silver-haired suave secret agent who has to deal with a declining budget and a list of enemies that hate him.

One, Vázquez, stages an escape as he is being transported from one prison to another (“A smaller, dirtier, prison,” says Anacleto with more than a little satisfaction.).  As he departs the escort van the secret agent’s nemesis reveals he plans to kill Anacleto and his son Adolfo (Quim Gutiérrez).

Adolfo is a Wilber milquetoast character. A security guard at an electrical shop who is afraid to approach the criminals stealing merchandise from the shop floor.  Adolfo’s girlfriend Katia (Alexandra Jiménez) is breaking up with him because he is boring and does not even have a driving license. 

The two meet up at a nightclub and after she fights with her brother, Martin (Berto Romero), who is Adolfo’s best friend,  Katia and Adolfo have break-up sex at their apartment. After learning that she still intends to leave him, Adolfo goes to sleep on the couch.

Vázquez sends his first assassin to kill Anacleto’s son and a very surprised Adolfo learns that  he can defend himself and kills the Chinaman.  The next morning he goes to tell Katia and finds the apartment is in pristine  condition and that  the dead body is gone.

Adolfo meets his father Anacleto (Imanol Arias) and the two begin to reforge broken bonds and survive the many attempts on their lives. 

Directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera (who specializes in comedy films) and written by a trio of  scribes who based the screenplay on the comic by Manuel Vázquez Gallego Spy Time is a delightful romp that has little gore but some surprisingly brutal violence. 

(The writers who crafted the screenplay are: Pablo AlénBreixo Corral and Fernando Navarro.)

In terms of violence, one character has an long allen wrench shoved into their eye. It is a tad shocking but the act does not detract from the humor. Once again because there is a lack of gore. There are no buckets of claret here;  just enough to show that violence has occurred.

There are many comical moments. Anacleto giving Katia’s entire family truth serum. When Adolfo’s soon-to-be ex girlfriend complains that Anacleto’s son did not get the serum the secret agent protests. “What do you think I am? I’m not going to drug my own son!”

A great bit on assembling IKEA-type furniture and a secret meeting in a Bingo hall (“22, two little ducks”) and some splendid comic stunts make this a very entertaining film to watch. From the ubiquitous  tuxedo and cigarette to the Walther PPK semiautomatic pistol,  the role of Anacleto screams James Bond. But on a modern day EU budget.

The two main actors; Gutiérrez and Arias, look like father and son and their chemistry together is spot on. Arias is brilliant as the calm and self assured secret agent who “Never fails.”  Spy Time was shot in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain and this helps the setting of the film feel authentic.

The Spanish shop fronts and the streets all put the viewer right  there. Viewers who have lived in Europe prepare for a light dose of nostalgia. (A quick sidenote: The fight scene in the covered market is brilliantly choreographed and quite funny.)

Spy Time is a 5 star film, virtually perfect in every way. Funny with a lot of action; shootouts and fights, with more than enough clever dialogue. The pacing is swift and flowing so that the 87  minute runtime feels much faster.  In terms of violence it is a tad severe so consider yourself warned.

The film is streaming on Netflix at the moment. It is a subtitled production so those who cannot cope with foreign films they “have to read” may want to give it a pass. For the rest, put your glasses on and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

Jarhead 3: The Siege (2016) Feels Like a CoD Movie (Review)

Charlie Weber as Albright in Jarhead 3

Jarhead 3: The Siege feels like a  CoD (Call of Duty) movie minus the first person shooter perspective.  The third in a short trio of films that started with the 2005 “biopic” Jarhead with Jake Gyllenhaal, this one leaves the subject of sniping and Desert Storm behind, as did Jarhead 2.

Set in the American Embassy  in Afghanistan Marine Corporal Evan Albright (Charlie Weber)  arrives  full of enthusiasm and an urge to excel. He manages to annoy  Gunny Raines (Scott Adkins) and Ambassador Cahill (Stephen Hogan) as well as head of security Kraus.

The Marine is keen and observant and he spies a familiar face in the crowds outside the Embassy. Evan does not follow the chain of command and his forewarning is disregarded. The building comes under siege from a known ISIS terrorist, believed to be dead from a drone attack and it is Albright who must save the day.

Directed by William Kaufman (The Hit List, Sinners and Saints) and written by Chad Law and Michael D. Weiss Jarhead 3: The Siege is pretty straight forward and does feel a lot like video game film.  (It does, in fact feel a lot like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 4 although there is  no embassy in the game…) 

There are no real “Hoorah” moments and overall the Marines are not doing this for the corp, it is about being overrun by the bad guy and trying to survive.  The embassy staff have an obligatory “spook” in the form of Brit actress Sasha Jackson  (who plays Olivia Winston).

There is one major annoyance in the film, meant as comic relief   but it is so intrusive and so manufactured that it is  more distracting and not amusing at all. The character of Blake (played by Dante Basco) is a pencil pushing member of the embassy staff who films everything for the “Embassy blog.”

Apart from being a nuisance, it is like Blake wandered onto the set from another film by mistake. Why the character is included in the movie is a mystery. His antics are not funny  and one  truly feels that Blake should have been taken out early on in the proceedings.

Another instance where the script wanders from the CoD formula is the apparent nod and wink to An Officer and a Gentleman. At one point Gunny Raines hands Albright his “marching orders” and the younger Marine tells his superior he has “no place else to go.”

For those who like action films with plenty of fire fights and terrorists being eliminated with extreme prejudice this will be a winner.  There is a subplot of CIA money being the real reason there is peace in the area and a predictable ending.

It is interesting to note that the character of Olivia Watson gathers new weapons and more ammunition throughout the running firefight. No one else does however as apparently the Marine’s have a never ending supply of ammo and guns that do not need reloading.

Despite the annoyance of Blake and the inclusion of the naughty CIA Jarhead 3: The Siege is entertaining.  Not in the sense of being intricate or making one think deep thoughts but in terms of action it is quite satisfying.

This is a 3.5 star film that could have stretched to 4 without the character of Blake. It is streaming on Netflix and worth watching. Be prepared to fight the urge to shoot the annoying arsehat with the  video camera yourself.

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016): Road Trip (Review)

Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Megan Ferguson, Gomez

The Fundamentals of Caring is yet another 2016 feel good film with a plucky young person overcoming a horrific condition. In this case Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  While it is all too easy to write this effort off with an unhealthy dose of cynicism, like some critics on some sites (Like, cough, cough; The LA Times.), this road trip film does deliver.

It is not just the presence of “Mr. Popular” Paul Rudd, although this does help, but the chemistry between Rudd and Welsh actor Craig Roberts seals the deal here. Rudd can, of course carry a film himself, but this odd couple pairing actually works.  

Roberts is an accomplished comic actor who has excellent timing. Just check out his other work, which includes some straight roles. (Specifically check out Submarine, a romantic dramedy which was released in 2011.) His interaction will all the principles in this film was spot on.

The real surprise here was Selena Gomez. Her role as the hitchhiking Dot was natural and believable.  The paring of veteran actor Bobby Cannavale with Gomez was perfect. Rudd gave the type of spot on performance one expects. 

The story, taken from the book “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by Jonathan Evison was adapted and directed by Rob Burnett. It stars Rudd, Roberts, Gomez and Cannavale along with Megan Ferguson as Peaches and Jennifer Ehle  as Trevor’s mum, Elisa. 

Kudos to Ehle for doing a believable English accent (based on the character living in the USA long enough to “soften” it considerably) it was a surprise to see she hails from the southern states.

Rudd is Ben. A writer who has suffered a devastating loss in his life. Traumatized, he takes carer classes and changes his career and immediate goals. He meets Elisa and her son Trevor (Roberts). Trev has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and is in a motorized wheelchair. The 18 year-old has a set routine and a wicked sense of humor. We learn that he does not keep carers very long.

Ben is slightly pedantic and a little too serious. Trevor loves practical jokes and sarcastic jabs.  This odd couple pairing works well and eventually both will change as a result of their closeness and daily interactions with one another.

Dot (Gomez) is heading to Denver and bumps into the two men as they go visiting the lamest tourist attractions on the map.  Along their travels they run into a very pregnant Peaches (Ferguson) who completes this little merry band of travelers.

To be fair, The Fundamentals of Caring feels like another film influenced by The Theory of Everything or the more recent Me Before You. But what is wrong with that?  This film, for all its adult language and a couple of gags that were adult in nature,  is a feel good film. A road trip where we laugh at the antics of these two disparate individuals.

Burnett does his job well, as do the talented cast, and the finished product makes you laugh and cry.  A number of critics were underwhelmed by the film and that is a shame. The combination of silly tourist traps (The World’s Biggest  Bovine for instance) is amusing on its own, add the comic jabbing between Rudd and Ferguson to this and it becomes comedy and not just a pale copy of other films.

Feeling a little like screen legend Kirk Douglas* from The Ragman’s Son,  “I liked it.”

*In the book, Douglas chooses a wine that the more expert wine connoisseurs demanded be taken away. As the waiter reached for Kirk’s wineglass the three time Oscar nominee  put his hand on it. Douglas then tells the reader, “I liked it.” 

The Fundamentals of Caring may feel a little formulaic but it works well. This is down to the cast and a script that delivers as many chuckles as belly laughs.  Burnett runs the film with a deft hand and never bludgeons the audience with the disease.  He also builds on Ben’s personal tragedy slowly and the reveal  works well because of this.

Airing on Netflix from today, the film is a cracking 4.5 star offering that will make the viewer laugh, giggle, chuckle and tear up a little bit if not outright cry.  Brilliant stuff and well worth a look or two. Check it out.

Jessica Darling’s IT List (2016): Junior High Challenge (Review) [Update]

It List_5x7_RGB_VOD

[Update] It was helpfully pointed out that this review seemed to be missing a paragraph or two in regards to the cast. The omission was one of poor editing and has now been rectified. Mike’s Film Talk apologizes for any upset this may have caused. The problem has now been rectified. Thank you.

Based on Megan McCafferty‘s book, part of a series, Jessica Darling’s IT List  follows the journey of our heroine as she begins junior high school, aka middle school, and all the missteps along the way.  Jessica is a young lady who does not get overly excited about dating, finding the right friends or wearing fashionable clothes. Her new school is a huge challenge.

The new seventh grader is more concerned about being Jessica. Her older sister Bethany (Blair Fowler) comes home from college to give her little sister some tips about what not to do in junior high.  Jessica (Chloe East) tries the IT list and things do not go smoothly.

Along the way she makes new friends and finds middle school a challenge. All the rules have changed and she has problems.  Anyone who has changed schools as they have moved up  the academic ladder will recognize  the issues that Jessica faces.

From being put in the wrong class (woodwork) to the challenges of finding new friends while trying to hold on to old ones, the move to a new school can be  minefield.

Directed by Ali Sher (her first feature length film) from a screenplay written by Julie Sherman Wolfe this tween comedy  hits all the right notes. With a superb supporting cast the film moves smoothly from one disaster to another. 

Abraham Benrubi plays Mr. Pudel the bigger than life woodwork teacher and Myrna Velasco is Miss Garcia the teacher who manages the cheerleaders in the school. Both these actors bring much to their roles and Velasco is funny as the overly enthusiastic faculty member. 

Chloe East does an excellent job as the “fish out of water” girl who tries to take her sister’s advice. Jacob Melton is spot on as Aleck/Marcus and all the young cast do a fine job telling the story. 

Emma Rayne Lyle does a bang up job as Bridget, Jessica’s “Bestie,” who also finds the move to middle school difficult.  From being upstaged by the school mascot “stupid chicken,” to having her new boyfriend move in on her best friend, Bridget has her own issues. 

The interaction between East and Lyle works very well. The two have a splendid chemistry together. East also is a perfect fit with Melton  and these young actors all  sold that awkward feeling between existing and potential when something is amiss.

There are moments at the start of the film where it feels like all these tweens are focussing on the wrong things. However the message at the end of the movie is a reassuring one.

The feel of Jessica Darling’s IT List is reminiscent of old time live action Disney.  For those who grew up on The Wonderful World of Disney and those Annette Funicello serials on Sunday evenings, or even their older films like the original The Parent Trap, will notice a similarity.

(It also has a touch of Nickelodeon mixed in there.)

Although in this film the Jessica sorts her problems out with a minimum of help from the adults.  They are there to help when needed,  for instance Mrs. Darling (Jane Sibbett) comes to Jessica’s aid when there is a wardrobe problem and the school nurse helps out as well. 

This is a comedy though so any problems are quite light hearted and not life threatening.  In terms of violence, bad language and sexual situations; there are none. Jessica Darling’s IT List is a family film and it is one that the entire clan can sit down and watch together. Even grandma can see this one and not be offended.

Younger kids will like the movie as it shows the mysteries of junior high school (middle school) and the adults will get the relevance of how the microcosm of school never really changes.

This is a 4 star film where  the storyline is funny and not too mature for the age group of the characters.  Jessica Darling’s IT List premiered on 20 June and is available on  VoD. Check this one out, it is an enjoyable romp through the seventh grade that will bring back memories for some.  For others  it is just a good giggle at the journey of our heroine.

Keep an eye out for the Mighty Eagle…

It List_5x7_RGB_VOD

 

Mother, May I Sleep With Danger? (2016) Lesbian Vampires…Dude (Review) Spoilers

James Franco and Lela George

The only thing that “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?”has in common with the 1996 original, besides the title, is Tori Spelling.  This new version features lesbian vampires (Dude!) with a curiously flexible standard  when it comes to the male of the species. (More on this later.)

Not too dissimilar to the German vampire film Wir Sind Die Nacht (We Are the Night) this tale of small town vamps is also about  a finite sized group of all female Nosferatu’s.    Unlike the German horror film, these lesbian vampires are slowly adding to their number.  (In We Are the Night, the fanged group reluctantly increase their number  by one.)

James Franco, perhaps the busiest man in Hollywood, produced and provided a story for the re-imagining of this tale.  He also plays a cameo role as the drama teacher/professor. Amber Coney directed and wrote the screenplay for “Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” and she also played one of the goth-chic vampires. 

The film looks at the sexuality of Bram Stoker’s original tale about the count and how it is still all about exchanging bodily fluids.  Focusing not on the homoeroticism but a band of 20 something lesbian vampires who kill men who “abuse” women.

In one scene a date rape is about to transpire and the vampires swoop in to save the innocent girl and drain the miscreant dry.  Later in the film;  history repeats itself but with a  very different outcome.

What is interesting about the film, apart from its PG-13 lovemaking between Pearl (Emily Meade) and Leah (Leila George),  is that it challenges gender roles across the board. Franco’s drama professor chooses Leah to play the man who would be king  in the “Scottish Play.”

Apart from serving to be somewhat progressive, as pointed out by Rolling Stone, this re-casting of the lead role allows for what could have been a love interest to become homophobic and bitter. (Herein lies the only bone of contention with the entire film. Bob  -played by Nick Eversman – changes, in the blink of an eye,  from  a lovesick crush to a roofie dropping rapist. Thus proving what every feminist has been saying for years, “all men are rapists waiting to happen.” Seriously?)

SPOILER ALERT – If you have not watched the movie yet skip the next two paragraphs. A’ight?

The object of this second attempted date rape is Leah, whom  Bob has “crushed on” from the start of the film. She is rescued by the vampires and in the ensuing fracas he escapes being bled dry and “changes.”

Later the male wannabe rapist is accepted wholeheartedly into the little group of vampires without question. They even go partying later.  Cue confusion and disbelief from the viewing audience of one.

There is a thread of “true love conquers all” in the love affair between Pearl the vampiric photographer and Leah the danger loving gal .(Who does not ask her mother permission to sleep with her lesbian lover. )

In the film there is a certain amount of claret (blood) splashed about but not copious amounts, this is, after all, Lifetime inspire of the side-boob shots and simulation of sex. The final battle does include some gore but nothing to send the viewer into shock.

“Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” ends on a bit of a flat note and I do not believe for an instant that it is a clever as Rolling Stone believes.  At best it is a re-write of an older Lifetime “classic”  that has been “sexed up” and used the vampire myth to facilitate the more modern take on young love.

Overall the film is slow paced and tends to drag in too many places. The classroom scenes all look and sound authentic; helping to authenticate the setting and give one a sense of place. It still entertains although is could have moved a bit faster pace wise.

Tori Spelling leaves her recent reality show presence behind and is actually very convincing as the mum who is shocked to the core that her daughter loves another woman.  As Leah’s single parent she even manages to convey those mixed feelings of love and protection that one has for any child, however surprised they are at their  life choices.

“Mother, May I Sleep With Danger?” is a solid 3.5 star TV movie. It aired on Lifetime on 18, June and will undoubtably air on LMN shortly after. An interesting film that is definitely worth a look.

 

Anton Yelchin: Dead at 27 – Freak Accident Ends Talented Actor’s Life

Anton Yelchin dead at 27

Anton Yelchin died age 27 in what has been described as a freak accident by police.  His own vehicle rolled back and ended the talented actor’s life in the early hours of Sunday morning, 19 June, 2016.  Yelchin was a busy and exceptional actor who worked steadily in Hollywood.

Anton; born Anton Viktorovich Yelchin in St Petersburg, Russia, had over 65 credits under his belt and three projects in post production at the time of his death. (Star Trek Beyond, Rememory and Thoroughbred)  Yelchin had major roles in Terminator: Salvation, Fright Night and Alpha Dog.

But it was Star Trek,  where Anton played Chekov,  that threw the young actor into the limelight.  Although fans of his work could point to other films that he starred in where his performances were above and beyond.

He was quite adept at  “horror/comedy.”  Playing the title roles in Odd Thomas and Burying the Ex showed he could do more than play Kyle Reese or the rebooted Charley Brewster or the newly imagined Chekov in the Star Trek franchise.

Anton Yelchin as Chekov
Yelchin as Chekov

Anton Yelchin was convincing in whatever role he played and was comfortable in any genre. Comedy horror – Fright Night,  Science Fiction – Star Trek, Terminator: Salvation,  Drama – Alpha Dog and Romance – Like Crazy The Russian born actor also worked in television and did voice over work for video games.

Tributes to Yelchin have been pouring in via social media with reactions from Chris Evans, Tyler Shields and Fran Kranz to name but  a few. The shocking news of Anton’s death is trending on Twitter as fans and friends alike rush to share their grief.

Fran Kranz @frankranz

Anton Yelchin was a very talented actor who would have graced our screens for many years  to come. The 27 year old actor’s death was confirmed by spokesperson Jennifer Houser from the LAPD.

Chekov, Odd Thomas, Jacob, Max, Kyle Reese, Charley Brewster and all the other characters Yelchin portrayed will live on. RIP Anton Yelchin.  Gone far too soon with so much left to give. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all the friends and family of this talented actor.

 

 

Kill Kane (2016): No Budget Thriller With Vinnie Jones (Review)

Vinnie Jones in Kill Kane

Not having a discernible budget means little in the overall scheme of things.  “Kill Kane,” starring Vinnie Jones could have been an edge of the seat thriller.  Shane Meadows, for example, made the brilliant Dead Man’s Shoes (with Paddy Considine and Toby Kebbel) for a pittance and the film was unforgettable.

Director Adam Stephen Kelly, helming his first feature length film did not strike cinematic gold for a myriad of reasons. Kelly co-wrote the movie with Christian Sellers and Andrew Jones and this may well be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

“Kill Kane” is a revenge film. Told haltingly via flashbacks and slow plodding scenes between all the characters. Vinnie Jones is P.E. teacher Ray Brookes. Ray is married with a wife and two kids. While out driving with his missus, the couple stop to consult a map. Brookes investigates some criminal activities in the industrial estate and witnesses a murder. 

His family are executed and only he survives after being induced into a three month coma. Ray wants revenge and he sets about getting it.

Jones as actor literally does best when he has little dialogue. (With the right lines and direction Vinnie can act his little cotton socks off, check out ABCs Galavant.) In this instance the former bad boy footballer manages to show a range of emotion. Although he could not cry, he came close and convinced me of his grief but not one tear was shed.

Sean Cronin was very effective as the cold and brutal gangster who carries out the hit on Ray and his family. Unfortunately the film has a lot wrong with it.

“Kill Kane” moves at a “molasses in winter” pace. At an hour and 14 minutes the film should have flown by. Unfortunately the pacing was so slow the film felt twice as long. The soundtrack was too loud, it felt as though the filmmaker wanted the sound to be very ’70s; harsh and clashing and intrusive.

Speaking of sound, the actors clearly looped or provided their online dialogue via ADR.  Lips did not match and the protagonists all sounded lethargic and bored.  The gangsters, and the DCI actually, all delivered their lines in a near monotone.  At one point, as the film was shot entirely in Wales, I wondered if they were speaking Welsh and the English was dubbed in. There was no proof either way except for those lips not syncing with the dialogue.

Another odd thing was the DCI having a shotgun handy in the boot (trunk) of his car. Britain has an armed response team and regular cops, even inspectors, do not carry guns. Shotguns are strictly regimented and must be locked in cases. It may have looked very good but is miles from reality.

“Kill Kane” was made with the idea that Vinnie Jones could carry a film.  This independent production must have felt it was a good idea and even though Jones is not a strong performer he could have made it work with better writing.

This English take on Michael Winner‘s Charles Bronson Death Wish” franchise may get better with a sequel or two but for now the film lacks so much.

For a myriad of reasons this film rates a 2.5 stars.  So many things conspired to drag this tale down, poor sound work, that included a too loud soundtrack, plus a snail-like pace just destroyed any chance this had of entertaining. On Hulu at the moment, watch this one  only if there is nothing else  to do. Sorry Vinnie, better luck next time.

Howl (2015): Terror Courtesy British Rail (Review)

Poster for Howl

It is hard to find fault with the British horror film “Howl.”  It delivers some delicious terror courtesy of British Rail, or its imaginary equivalent,  and it has some familiar faces and names from the world of horror.

(The company logo appears to be an “A” and the only rail service that start with that letter is Arriva in Wales.  As not one passenger speaks with a Welsh accent and since there is no Eastborough in Wales, the company must be imaginary.)

Written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler (both better known, somewhat amazingly, for children’s telly) and directed by Paul Hyett “Howl” hits all the right notes.   This was Hyett’s second film as director, the first being “The Seasoning House” which starred  Rosie Day and Sean Pertwee

Hyett’s directorial debut was a brilliant thriller where Pertwee was a baddy and Day won Best Actress for her role.  This second  feature from the director does not disappoint as it takes the myth of the werewolf, or a hybrid of the creature, and places it in the English countryside.

The plot deals with one of those tiny rail lines with about five cars that empties out the closer the train gets to its final destination.  The vehicle hits a deer and stalls out. The driver (Pertwee) gets out to check and dies; ripped to shreds by a werewolf.

Joe  (Ed Speleers) has been passed over for promotion and is bullied into doing a double shift for the Eastborough line.  When the driver (Pertwee) goes missing Joe is in charge of the reduced number of passengers and he tries to save everyone. 

Another actor from Hyett’s past also appears in “Howl;” the splendid Shauna Macdonald who was the main protagonist in both “The Descent” and The Descent 2. Paul was the makeup supervisor on both films.  

The film switches from a claustrophobic  setting to a more open one and back again.  The characters range from the snooty young teen who calls Joe a perv to the smarmy financial expert with a house in the country and a flat in the city.  The successful businessman is a snot and calls one young man on the train “ASBO boy.”

“Howl” is atmospheric and very English in its delivery.  There are no guns to fight the monsters who are attacking the train.  Weapons include a huge spanner (wrench) a fire axe and a crowbar.  There is a bit of the “stiff upper lip old chap” attitude combined with a sort of “MacGyver” (or even the “Dawn of the Dead” remake) ingenuity.

The creatures look very convincing and quite scary. They also appear to be practical mixed with a bit of CG and they work very well.

There are a few things that do not ring true.  The carriages are far too clean both inside and out. Another issue is the PA system, it is far too clear and concise with an adequate decibel level and no static. In other words everyone can hear each announcement clearly. Anyone who has ridden the rail system in England will know that reality is much different than what is shown here.

(At the risk of being really picayune, the “guard” did not punch a hole in the tickets either. Just saying.)

Small complaints aside, “Howl” works brilliantly.  This is what English directors do best. Make horror films that entertain and give a nod and a wink to the genre. Sean Pertwee appearing, and then dying before the film’s midway point, is almost horror tradition. The only film, to date, that Pertwee’s character survives in is the 2010 horror film “Devil’s Playground.”

(A small bit of trivia: This is Pertwee’s second werewolf film. The first being “Dog Soldiers” where he is also attacked by the creatures. Arguably Pertwee’s character could also count as having survived.)

“Howl” is a cracking good film with enough gore and edge of the seat viewing to entertain the pickiest horror film fan.  A solid 4.5 star film (it loses a half star for those clean carriages and for killing off Pertwee far too quickly) that is streaming on Hulu and Amazon at the moment. Check it out and see if you too fall in love with this film.