The Decent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent (2005): Still a Tight Fit

The Descent, written and directed by the brilliant Neil Marshall, was a revelation in 2005. It is begins with a shock to the system, or two, and rapidly turns into an exercise in claustrophobia. Watching it again tonight on DVD, I found it to still be a tight fit. One that manages to leave me feeling a tad panicky and breathless, despite having watched it numerous times over the years.

My daughter and I watched it initially and both of us were blown away by the mood and the many changes that Marshall manages to manufacture in the film. In terms of unique and “outside the box” horror, this talented maestro knocks it out of the metaphorical park. (The original viewing of this horror film was back in approximately 2007.)

(I will admit to being an unabashed fanboy of Marshall. This is, after all, the same man who brought us the wonderfully weird and and delightful Dog Soldiers, as well as my “go-to” sci-fi/thriller fix, Doomsday.)

Back to The Descent:  The ladies are an interesting bunch with Juno; (Natalie Mendoza) the one who seems to be guaranteed to be the “final girl,” Sarah; (Shauna Macdonald) whose mind is a myriad of mixed emotions and Beth; (Alex Reid) the observer who sets a certain chain of events in motion, heading up this ensemble effort. The dynamic between these three and its messy interlude, runs alongside the main plot, after it makes its appearance, and shows the true depth of this movie’s story.

Marshall allows us an “out,” if you will, early on in the film. The MyAnna Buring character talks of the dangers of Spelunking.  She mentions hallucinations, dehydration, and disorientation as just a few of the long list of problems that exploring deep under the earth can cause.  By the film’s end, it is all too easy to contemplate a scenario where Sarah has dreamed the whole thing up.

Juno’s affair with Sarah’s late husband, the blind and cannibalistic cave creatures, and the end battle between Juno and Sarah could all be a construct of a woman who still needs medication after the horrific death of her husband and child. Medication that she forgets to bring into the cave with her. Sarah does, after all, get stuck in that narrow and somewhat heart stopping passage between caves. Is it such a stretch to imagine that the poor woman remained trapped there and had an intense Bardo moment?

It is interesting to note that the entire film leaves one with a tight feeling in the chest, a certain breathlessness and a slight sense of panic. After that first “jump scare” (I still cannot follow a vehicle with a load of copper, or any type of, pipes in the back without an uneasy feeling that borders on paranoia.) to the final shot of Sarah’s apparent demise, the ride is incredibly tortuous and stressful. I am not, as a rule, claustrophobic. But Marshall’s offering, from start to finish, certainly puts me in that place.

Despite being over 15 years old, The Descent still manages to entertain and put the audience in a very uncomfortable place. It is available to watch, for free, on IMDB TV. If you have not had the opportunity to watch this, or for that matter, the other aforementioned Marshall films, I would highly recommend checking it/them out.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? - Review

Blumhouse’s offering in 2020 is the “remake” (re-imagining) of the ’70’s long running hit “Fantasy Island.” While I agree that Michael Peña is no suitable replacement for Ricardo Montalban (and before we go any further, I will confess to being a mad fan of both the former and the latter actors) I don’t get all the hate for this film, as the Stephen Bishop character says in the film The Rundown, “Why all the hostility bro?”

Directed by Jeff Wadlow and written by Jillian JacobsChristopher Roach and the director, “Fantasy Island” has a  motif of horror. To be fair, in watching old reruns of the old show, there were a fair few of those “fantasies” that were a bit close to the bone. And…some were downright scary. Just getting that out of the way.

Starring the brilliant Maggie Q, capable but spot on Lucy Hale, cold but creative Portia Doubleday, and the stunning Parisa Fitz-Henley, as well as two brilliant cameos by the versatile Michael Rooker and fiendish Kim Coates (Along with a bevy of other actors this reviewer has never heard of.) the film works well. It has the look and ambiance of the original television show while lacking the eternal elegance of Montalban’s take on Roarke.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)
Welcome to Fantasy Island!

Another significant change is the house. (I’ve seen the original one from the series. It is located in the Los Angeles Arboretum and looks exactly like it did in the television show. At least it did in 1977.) The new one is, apparently, mostly CG and consists of one “real” floor. While it is something to see, it lacks the style of the original, located in Arcadia, California.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)

The film starts with a blonde (Doubleday, best known for Mr Robot.) being stalked by a group of masked men.  We then meet the guests, all five of them; although two are sharing the same fantasy. The film also trots out Roarke’s “assistant” and we move into the long disjointed segue into the multiple storyline.

Modern touches such as  the addition of mobile phones and the internet, do not detract as much as the lack of elegance from this new imagining of Roarke. To be fair, there could not have been many actors who were capable of filling Montalban’s shoes. (An actor who could not only be so otherworldly, kindly and sophisticated as Roarke but could also chew up scenery like no one else as Khan in Star Trek’s Wrath of Khan.)

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)

There are things that work. For example, using stars of television in the main parts, Hale; Pretty Little Liars, Doubleday: Mr Robot, Rooker, The Waking Dead, for example. It adds to the feeling that this could, in an alternative universe be part of the original show. Even the main plot, for all its holes, is simplistic enough to feel like a first cousin to the long running series.

To be fair, the worst thing about the entire movie is its similarity, in terms of underlying plot, to the animated feature Fantastic Island. For those who have never seen Daffy Duck’s film, the power of the island is all down to a wishing well. Not too far from the power of the Blumhouse feature and its island.

We are missing Tattoo, and his tiny cry of “Boss! The Plane! The Plane!” But for all the above complaints, there is a satisfying twist and each “fantasy” ends in a Gene Levitt fashion.Not too complicated but a tad darker than the television show.

This is not deep nor overly impressive. It is, however, an entertaining way to spend an hour and forty minutes. I would give this a 3.5 stars out of 5, if only because the choice of Peña was such a poor one. He is a very talented actor, but he is not Mr. Roarke.

Fantasy Island: (2020) Why All the Hostility Bro? (Review)Well worth the rental price of six bucks and the price of a microwave popcorn and coke.

Meet the Author: Steve Blackwood Nails It

Meet the Author: Steve Blackwood Nails It

Written, directed by and starring Steve Blackwood (Days of Our Lives, Beyond the Mask) Meet the Author is a laugh out loud funny multi-layered offering based on a stage play by David Susman. Blackwood  is Marvin, a writer whose first book reached dizzying heights of popularity. Personal tragedy interceded to force an extended hiatus and he is now trying to break back into the best seller charts with his second effort.

Marty Smith is Jennifer, the fan who nails the returning author and she brings as much to the table as Blackwood. These two bounce well off one another and their interaction paces well with the opening scene of the short film. In what feels like a sly poke at the Mel Gibson vehicle “What Women Want” Marvin is met by a group of adoring female fans at his book signing.

With one telling Marvin to  “call me” and others declaring their utter devotion, the writer becomes increasingly uncomfortable with all this attention. Meet The Author then shifts gears and loses nothing in the transition. Blackwood has, in his second effort as writer/director, knocked this one out of the park.

(It is interesting to note that his first film I Feel also featured Marty Smith.) The cinematography, by Evan Schneider, is spot on. Crisp and on point in terms of contrast and lighting, it really sets the scenes for the buildup of both the comedy and eventual revelation.

The film is funny, no doubt about that, but it also reveals a underlying theme. At one point Marvin states that he is a writer. It is, he says, the only thing he knows how to do. Interestingly, the long time between his breakout book and the sequel, proves that regardless of his “inactivity” his creative bent is still there.

There are a number of underlying points made in this film.  While the comedy works brilliantly, the repartee between Jennifer and Marvin is witty, clever and, amazingly enough, natural, the real magic in Meet the Author lies in its hidden introspection.

This award winning film (winning Best Narrative Short at the Ri Sene Film Festival and getting special recognition at The London Short Comedy Festival as well as The Boston International Film Festival) proves that Independent Short Film is a genre that can entertain and make the viewer think.

Blackwood may be well known for his long stint on Days of Our Lives but he has shown a flair for writing and directing that matches his skill at comedy. Kudos also go to Smith for her portrayal of a fan with a difference and to Pamela Jayne Morgan as Marnie; the Public Relations gal with a fixation on Momma from Gypsy.

In fact, the entire cast, especially the adoring females at the start of the film, all go above and beyond the call. Everything about Meet the Author works, from start to finish.  This is a full 5 star effort that makes the viewer laugh out loud repeatedly while simultaneously enjoying the deeper meaning behind the comedy.

Watch this one as Blackwood really nails it across the board (Pun intended.)

Meet the Author: Steve Blackwood Nails It
Steve Blackwood as Marvin

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Old Fashioned Tales That Satisfy – Review

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, based on the books of the same name, is the latest offering to come from Guillermo del Toro. He shares credits of both producing and co-writing the screenplay and the story is as old fashioned as it is satisfying. It is, in short, a visual treat.

Directed by André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) the film looks brilliant. If one is of a certain age, the tones, hues, and overall colour of the film looks like all those old photographs from childhood. Every frame reeks of nostalgic melancholy that feels at home with bell bottom jeans and cars that all came from Detroit.

The film offers nothing new. It does, however, take one right back to their childhood. Tales told breathlessly around campfires or, in some instances, around Ouija boards, that invoked disbelief, at first, and then, at last, a sense of dread and acceptance. It is not the tales themselves that impress so much as they way that they are presented.

Each vignette offers a sort of variation on original tales that have been updated or altered to fit this particular theme. Not having read the books, which is now on my list of things that must be done, it is not clear how well the filmmakers managed to capture the spirit of the source material.

Regardless of whether the film manages to capture the intent of author Alvin Schwartz or not is not up for discussion. It should be noted that the first iteration of these books caused an outcry amongst concerned parents. (Apparently the illustrations of Stephen Grimmell were considered quite unsuitable for the targeted age group.)

Gore factor aside, which the film manages to control rather admirably, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark entertains without offending anyone. Deftly mixing urban myths with some original myth making, the movie does produce a few jump scares. Sadly, most of the “scares” rely on the rather tired device of cranking up the sound to Boeing 767 level, but some do work without the volumetric control used too often.

There are some nice touches for the horror fan. One of the male characters (Auggie, played admirably by Gabriel Rush) sports a Halloween costume that could be right from the frames of the 1978 film Halloween. The “clown” outfit; “It’s a Pierrot,” argues Auggie repeatedly, feels like a deliberate homage to Michael Myers’ outfit in the original horror film. (While the two outfits are nothing alike, there is an odd resemblance. Enough of one, at least to this viewer, that it seemed glaringly obvious.) It should be said that there are other nods and winks to classic horror stories throughout.

The cast of the film; Rush along with Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn,  give it their all. Each convinces admirably and at no time does one ever doubt their character’s veracity. (Colletti will obviously go far in her chosen profession. She knocked it out of the park easily.) It was lovely to see firm favorite Dean Norris as the father. More of Norris would not have gone amiss but one obviously has to draw the line somewhere in terms of running time.

The cinematography is brilliant and the use of hues and tonal shifts in terms of colour works wonderfully to establish mood and direction. While it would have been interesting to see a much darker version of this movie, in other words if del Toro had directed the feature, Øvredal does an excellent job.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is not, overall, frightening. It delivers a great storyline reminiscent of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors or Asylum and does so with a certain juvenile panache. This is a kid’s film, after all, but it entertains very well. It earns a full 4 out of 5 stars for delivery and one should see it in the cinema.

One Voice, One Mic: The Rise of Podcasting Ben Gummery on the Importance of Me

One Voice, One Mic: The Rise of Podcasting Ben Gummery on the Importance of Me

One Voice, One Mic, a 2019 documentary by Ben Gummery is all about the rise of the podcast. Narrated by the man himself, the short film could be said to be all about the importance of me. In today’s society it is all about the big “I am.” Podcasts, as pointed out in this short feature, are all the rage. Some are more popular than others, for example, Kevin Smith’s work is beyond well known, but according to Gummery and his subjects, there is room for everyone.

This documentary will be hitting Amazon on 30 September and it is one to check out. Using clips from Smith at the start, Gummery turns the camera on a number of known and unknown Podcasters. Many of these are English and, for the most part, unheard of by this reviewer.  This is not to say that they are not significant, nor important in their own way.

Podcasting has indeed been on the rise, as aptly pointed out in this documentary, and, as also pointed out, becoming a popular way for folks with clean diction and a unique take on things to build an audience. Some of the participants in this film downplay the requirements and the time consuming edits needed to sound professional, or at the very least not sound gormless to the nth degree, but this is an interesting look at a booming industry niche.

Podcasting has been around for a while now, as pointed out by Gummery and his Podcasters. This reviewer has even guested, several times, on ChasingCinema.com, that started out on Apple iTunes and can now be found on YouTube. It is a comfortable medium that does indeed feel up close and personal. Intimate without being intrusive, the format is one that becomes almost addictive to its listeners.

It is also a means of getting one’s own opinion and voice out to the masses. In this time period of “the importance of me” it trumps YouTube, with its excessive need to regulate. Podcasting also neatly sidesteps Google with its anally retentive attention to marketing, copy-write infringement and annoying algorithms. As one caster states, “you just upload to Apple” and bang you’re a Podcaster.

This is an interesting look at the rise of Podcasting and Gummery does a good job of showcasing a varied group of folks who take this world serious enough to put their mouth where their money is (pun intended).

Gummery, whose next project will be on Kevin Smith “fan-art” is a capable craftsman. He is able to provide the viewer with a diverse arena of spokesmen for the art form of speaking into a mic. His passion for the medium shines through clearly as does the passion of the various folks who love it. (It is interesting to note that there are no female Podcasters involved with this project.)

Keep an eye out for this One Voice, One Mic September 30, 2019 on Amazon. It may just inspire you to pick up a microphone and have a go yourself. A 5 out of 5 for presentation and the inclusion of “we are not worthy” Kevin Smith.