Frankenstein (2015) Film Review

There have been so many films over the decades based upon the hugely influential and famous book by Mary Shelley. This new version I watched a week ago does change things around just a little and because of this does bring some new things to the story.

This Frankenstein film is directed by Bernard Rose (most famous for directing the first Candyman movie) and starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Danny Huston, Xavier Samuel. The begins right away with the ‘birth’ of the monster, this time called Adam (played by Xavier Samuel). We see that he is created in secret by married scientists Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston. They run tests, try to teach him skills, and he starts life much like a naïve simple child. He does though possess a dangerous increased strength and eventually this almost has him terminated. After struggle, Adam escapes and runs away alone.

After this it moves along in similar fashion to the original story-the monster/Adam meets and accidentally kills a small girl, runs from police officers, blood is spilled as he runs on alone, confused and desperate.

The film is told from the point of view of the monster/Adam and set in our modern world. This does make it fairly more believable and more tragic in some ways. This does contrast in my mind with the large scale, big budget mid-90’s film version starring De Niro as the monster, with huge sets and costumes and set way back around the time that the original book was written.

Adam soon meets a friendly homeless blind-man on the streets who tries to give him advice and help him to understand people and how the world around them works. If you know the story, you can expect that eventually it all does again fall to pieces with increasing death and destruction around Adam. The end is more different to how the tale usually winds up and is trying to say something through the eyes of the monster this time.

Bernard Rose is a very talented director and while this film has a fairly low budget he does take care in crafting a very thoughtful and poetic film, while it does not shy away from explicit bloodshed and gore fairly frequently. It is probably one of the more bloodsplattered versions of Frankenstein on film but this does not ruin the film. Another director doing the same thing, with same levels of blood and gore may have put out a much more simplistic disposable movie. With this version of the classic tale, Rose opens out some different thoughts on man creating man or life in our modern technologically advanced times, but also how such an artificial being would exist, feel, struggle against our fearful, aggressive and shallow world.

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both out now in paperback/ebook/hardback in all good bookshops internationally and online from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others. His first horror novel will be published toward the end of 2017.

Neon Demon Film Review

This very gorgeous looking film was released only around a year ago and it has just come up on Netflix. I had read about the film being very unusual, maybe challenging. It looked very erotic, stylized and unreal. I expected something kind of psychedelic in a dark and disturbing way.

This is what I got in some round about way. Quite obviously from the start it is heavily inspired by film directors such as David Lynch, Brian De Palma, and European art house films from over the decades. There is also a very strong debt to Italian horror director legend Dario Argento. But did it concentrate too much on the visuals and forgetting about story? I will have to say yes.

I am a big fan of David Lynch and this film plays out very slowly, with very consciously crafted images which do remind the viewer of Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and more. It also made me think of Black Swan, the ballet film starring Natalie Portman. Like that film it focuses on a young insecure woman trying her best in a field of work which places strong emphasis on looks and body image.

The story is really very basic from the start-very young teenage girl goes to the big city for top modelling job. She is very naïve and meets a number of characters who may or may not want to help her on her way up.

It does seem to desperately want to be a great Lynch film. Like some of his films, this one mostly goes at a very slow pace. In films like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet that is usually fine as Lynch sets a number of things up for the audience to watch for in the story. With this film not too much is really set up at all to care much about. The start of the film looks fantastic and then most of the rest of it really drags along. Keanu Reeves plays an obnoxious and out-of-character motel keeper. Jena Malone is often quite interesting and seems to pull the film along. Sadly at the end she seems to let us down (after a couple of very crazy scenes.)

This is not any kind of bloody horror film if you may be expecting that at all. It could be labelled as psychological horror, yes and does have a handful of horrific moments which are quite surreal. I do think that I could probably watch it again and get more from it but generally I think the director did not really put on screen what he really may have been after which is a shame because I can seem that it could possibly have been something very good.

 

James E. Parsons is an author of science fiction novels Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from all good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is due published later in 2017.

High Rise-Film Review

It is around a year since it was released, this adaptation of the classic J.G.Ballard novel from 1975 it was shown on television last week and I watched it this weekend. I am a big fan of the books and fiction of Ballard and Ben Wheatley, the director of this film has been making increasingly good and very original films for the last few years in the UK.

News of this adaptation made me very curious at the time and Wheatley even managed to pull in top Hollywood star Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Avengers and Thor movies) and others such as Jeremy Irons, Luke Evans and others familiar faces.

Alright, so I had not read the book of High Rise but was familiar with the story concept and it seemed similar to a few other Ballard books he had written after that one which I had enjoyed. Over the years there had been a number of occasions where his books were almost put on the big screen or can be seen to have obviously influence a good number of science fiction and thriller films. The one clear adaptation which stands out was the David Cronenberg directed Crash-a version of probably the most famous and notorious Ballard book. Like that story and some others from Ballard, High Rise explores the psychologically dark and uncomfortable interests and desires of mankind in modern or near future times.

So from the slick poster artwork and trailers and knowledge of Ballard fiction I might have been expecting something extremely brutal, disturbing and challenging. Is this what I got?

To a degree yes but I may have been let down in some ways. It did not have to be just like the cold and perverse tale of Crash, and this film was actually even surprisingly humorous and retained a more restrained kind of satire I felt.

Like a number of Ballard stories it looks at how society could go over the brink and breakdown starting from what we see as the perfect example of civilized and decent western post-industrial living. With this tale, in what is built as a state-of-the-art high rise building we see the divides of class and society stacked over each other. It only takes a short of amount of time before the rich and poor begin to antagonise each other to the most absurd and extreme ways.

I was expecting Tom Hiddleston to lead the story in a more engaging way but he seemed possibly distant-but then Ballard lead characters can often seem like that. The actor Luke Evans actually puts in a very good lively performance as the rage fueled and frustrated tv actor, along with one of the better performances from Jeremy Irons in a long time.

It was fairly obvious to see clear influences of the director in the style of visuals and editing-hints of Stanley Kubrick, Nic Roeg. The music often bringing to mind A Clockwork Orange.

I think one main problem for me was that the director decided to set the film in the 1970’s when the actual book was written. if the book like other Ballard novels was intended to be set in simply a near future then this may have confused things for me. Was it that the director wanted to say things about that period of time or did he just want to really make a period film, paying homage to some of his favourite films and directors of that time?

This film then is not set in a near future for us, but a kind of alternative 1970’s where things spiral horribly out of control. I believe that I did read the director saying that the political climate of that time had interesting parallels with today and so did feel like an interesting place to put the film.

Would I personally like to see a version of High Rise set in our modern times or a contemporary new near future? The story or book may now be dated to some extent and has influenced a few films over the years already. Will our civilized  capitalist society still yet unravel and tear itself to pieces? Any future may yet be possible…

James E. Parsons is the author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and other good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is due in 2017.

 

 

Flares and scares-1970’s Horror

We passed the ‘Summer of love’ but the long hair and flares were there with the prog rock and changes in filmmaking and what we could be scared by on the big screen. This period in time was during and through to the end of the Vietnam war and I believe this did have a strong effect on the films which came to us at this time. With indie film directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Dennis Hopper revolutionizing what could be a film and how it could be made, horror films soon followed in the same steps.

Over here in the UK we had the regularly successful Hammer studios still putting out their gothic flicks of macabre dread such as Countess Dracula but soon others would take things into our modern and urban homes.

Of course in 1968 George Romero gave us his first horror classic Night of the Living Dead which did seriously change horror films forever. Low budget, black and white, on the move. It seemed to feel like a live news television report almost. Even to watch it today that movie is very powerful in a number of ways.

So into the 1970’s we had Mario Bava and Jesus Franco overseas continuing with their arthouse styled horror and erotica suspense chillers but it would be Wes Craven with The Last House on the Left, The Exorcist and The Wicker Man in 1973, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974, David Cronenberg starting his run of body-horror movies with Shivers in 1975, Carrie, The Omen, To The Devil a Daughter from Hammer in 1976, in 77 Wes Craven and Cronenberg again along with Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria from Italy.

1978 was a big year when we had Romero return with the classic Dawn of the dead, but also Carpenter gave us the first Halloween. This was the one which I believe really got practically everything right on spot for a horror movie.

1979 gave us Ridley Scott’s ALIEN movie, science fiction melded into space horror. The Brood, Amityville Horror, Phantasm. There were many more in this decade but the films mentioned above each added something which made a focused change to what we were afraid of on screen and also said much about what we no longer feared.

It was this decade where the big studios were confused and afraid to take serious risks and indie filmmakers were getting serious with very creative physical special effects and props, shooting all kinds of almost radical and lurid scenes which none had dared do before. The fears of the president Nixon years and nuclear war were truly present and this was manifesting into cinema screens, even if at midnight showings. Film horror was no longer set centuries of decades in the past, in had reached the present and it was savage and on the loose.

 

James E Parsons is a SF/Horror author. His first horror novel is published later this year. His previous books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century are now available in all good bookstores, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, Amazon.

 

 

Suicide Squad- Movie Review 2016

There were big problems with this movie long before it reached our cinema screens a couple of weeks ago. Most of that was thanks to Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Oh, how the public got their teeth right into that one. Was it really such a dour and terrible movie?

Anyway, here we get the next DC movie, in an almost strange move from the studio putting this out before the major DC films already set up for the next few years. While Marvel continue to dominate comic-book movies globally, DC have been inching forward nervously with very mixed reactions since the Green Lantern movie.

This film was possibly a wise and shrewd move for DC films- a chance to test the waters briefly where even Marvel had not fully dared to venture. Here we have a group of villains or anti-heroes. Where we’ve had around a decade of solid mighty, brave and honest justice defending heroes we might want something a little different at this point right?

But then along came Guardians of the Galaxy and even Deadpool. A double-shot of irregular naughty and playful misfit action, very different from the Avengers. Also very fresh and funny. Oh finally we get funny. All of this while Suicide Squad was still in production…and so then came the reshoots, rewriting, more editing. This almost looked a sure sign that DC were seriously confused, desperate even.

So while earlier in the year most audiences were left cold and unimpressed with the epic length Bats V Superman film, we were at least interested in the idea of Suicide Squad. But whether it was going to turn out a wild triumph or an ugly mess was to be seen.

So what do we get with the super-multi-coloured crew of deviant criminals and neon villains? We get quick-fire jokes, fast-moving story and a big scale action flick which reminds us of Escape from New York and other 80’s street-talking 80’s dystopian movies. It has swagger and muscle, it is smart ass and teasing.

This is the most instantly fun and enjoyable DC adapted film, but it does have problems. With all of the extra work in edits and shooting of extra scenes and more it still has not been pulled together tight enough. There are certainly a good number of great scenes and moments, usually with Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Will Smith as Dead Shot.

I will be honest- it just about seemed like DC/Warner just could not give us funny or wise-cracking comic-book movies and characters-or simply were afraid to do so. They seemed to need to define themselves apart from Marvel distinctly but that choice was not working very well so far. With Suicide Squad coming from a largely unknown comic it seems they were feeling more comfortable to play around with their own methods of comic-book cinema style.

If they movie had come to us before Deadpool it may well have been super-huge at box office, so far it seems to have done only fairly well. It is not as slick and well put together as Guardians of the Galaxy (which it seems to really want to be). While it does look great, has some good moments with Jared Leto’s new Joker and Harley, and chatter between the various squad crew like the Ghostbuster reboot from this summer, the story is probably too simplistic and the end showdown just not nearly great enough.

I would like to see another Suicide Squad movie, I just hope that next time around they really give us the most insane and truly wild movie they are capable of putting on screen.

James E. Parsons is author the science fiction novels Minerva Century and Orbital Kin, both available from all good bookshops now in paperback, ebook and hardback.

 

 

 

 

To leave Earth-Minerva Century thoughts

The countdown has now begun. There are just weeks until my new science fiction/speculative fiction book Minerva Century is published.

This is a new story which looks at a possible time in future when humankind has left this planet, relocated to another, and we have changed ourselves and where we are, and why we are.

If we were to really leave our Earth, in big numbers-say hundreds or thousands of people at a time, or even more than this-how would we do this, and why would we do it?

There are a number of specific business people and individual corporate entities right now attempting to take small numbers of regular, willing individuals who are will to pay the price on brief journeys into near space with mixed results.

Very many sci-fi tales over more than a century now have considered where mankind might go in outer space, which planets we would make our own first. I would hope to think that I am not a pessimistic person, but what do you think might be the main thing which would finally make us leave this planet? Would we be leaving for good, progressive reasons or actually could it be that some terrible or horrific event or change in global cultures, economies, technologies might provoke us to escape?

The new SF book Minerva Century from James E.Parsons is published at the end of June, in paperback, ebook and hardback from all good booksellers. His first book Orbital Kin is available now.

BATMAN V SUPERMAN-Wonderful hero justice

As I often do, I waited until around the second week or so of release, and then I set out to a cinema to sit through the epic big screen superhero slap around of Dawn of Justice. Also, I ended up seeing it in a very (and I do mean very) small old art deco style independent cinema down south. The air-con was not all too obvious, but we all made it through the movie.

So here it was- the first step into the DC comics big screen Justice League franchise, bringing together a number of the most well-known superheroes of all-time. I sat down of course with my memories of the previous Zack Snyder directed Man of Steel movie, and like so many movie and comic fans, the uncomfortable emotional feelings were stirring up inside. All of that OTT almost endless carnage for the last half hour or more of Man of Steel…why? Why so much? for so long? Does Superman really do that kind of thing? There were other questions about the kind of Superman Snyder was giving us, and here we were once again.

This of course is a very long movie, but you know I think I can actually say that it didn’t really seem as long as it actually is. I know-that sound odd, possibly even unbelievable right? Yes, it could still probably help from twenty or thirty minutes cut, but it does work  mostly. There are problems with this film. It comes more down to the tone and balance between the kind of films we expect to see Batman in and the the kind we have seen Superman in for the years before this. I think I feel Batman should have been a little closer to the previous Nolan version still, but Affleck is suitable I think, probably better than Bale although we do see more of Bruce Wayne through this film.

As a superhero comicbook movie pulling together a good number of characters for shared screen time, this probably works more successfully than Iron Man2 (although I am one of the very few fans of that film, or someone who admits to liking it still).

As DC try to quickly but successfully follow behind Marvel with their own cinematic hits and blockbuster multi-series films, this was a neccessary film before reaching any kind of modern Justice League movie. Did Snyder really have to squeeze in so many characters? While this is a long movie, you still feel like you do not see enough of all of the them. The one character probably most successfully shown here is Lex Luthor. Very well measured maniacal mannerisms and dialogue from Jessie Eisenberg, give us a new Luthor this time extremely manipulative and quite similar to Ledgers’ Joker.

The other big draw for many people here was also the very first big screen showing of the new Wonder Woman. Gradually through the film, she interacts with Bruce Wayne playfully, before fantastically joining in with the final showdown battle at the end with instant ease and powerfully assured confidence. Now, it does seem like her own first movie will really be something very special when it hits the big screen.

There are some dumb and almost brainless points to this movie-well, Snyder does direct still-but overall I think I can say that it does seem to successfully launch the DC superhero movie franchise after years of trying.

James E.Parsons is author of SF novel Orbital Kin available as paperback/ebook from all good bookstores. New SF novel Minerva Century due soon in 2016.

Chappie-Film Review

Due to writing and other things, it has taken me some time to get around to finally watching some of the big sci-fi movies from last year. Here we are with the lastest film from Neill Blomkamp, who in the past has previously given us District9 and Elysium. He is seen by some people as arguably the news hope in science fiction cinema, and now he is even linked up to a new film in the popular ALIENS series.

When his last film Elysium recieved mixed reviews concerning the plot and writing, here he has moved to yet another classic SF idea-robots becoming human. This film is great fun, but it is unashamedly similar to the Short Circuit movies and Robocop films of the 1980’s.

He knows that this is not a groundbreakingly orginal concept, but that is alright because here he takes the robots again to his own home country and familiar land of of his first film, Johannesburg. While very similar to Short Circuit in tone, this time the robot story is set only a very short time from right now, our present time, and so pulls in a few modern cultural elements that we see and hear today.

So does this film do more than simply rehash 80’s robot movies?

Well, narratively speaking, it really is as if Johnny5 from Short Circuit is the lead police robot in one of the Robocop films. That is how it goes really. But don’t worry, as this time, the visually are really captivating, with motion-capture animation of Blomkamp regular actor Sharlto Copley. So unlike those 80’s sci-fi movies with their large cumbersome animatronic physical effects, the character of Chappie moves much more smoothly and fluidly on screen. He is a joy to watch.

So while the main story may be mostly highly predictable, the film does looks so fantastic visually, with great lighting and cinematography, fantastic locations and sets. We also have a number of great and well known movie icons and actors including Sigourney Weaver, Hugh Jackman, Dev Patel. It is great to see Jackman play against type, as a nasty  ex-military bully, desperate and cheating through the film. Dev Patel is the usual lovable character we can expect from him, and Weaver is becoming a mainstay in Blomkamp films.

So as the movie goes along, we watch and think ‘Okay, this actually is Robocop with Johnny5 in the lead’, it is entertaining as he is given consciousness and goes from being a very naive child-like robot, to then being used and manipulated into a street style ‘gangster’ robot, while his maker Patel, urges him to think for himself, follow his creative desires and interests over crime and violence. It is an emotional and moving film, especially for example when Chappie is left in the urban streets and attacked by youths.

This is entertaining but then as the expected story moves along, the plot changes and goes a bit further than Short Circuit simply did. Chappie sees that he has only days left to ‘live’ but than hopes to find a way to stay alive. This element reminded me of the Replicants from Blade Runner but in this case, you feel more for this artificial being.

The film does end with a wide and spectacular set piece, guns blasting and robots fighting. It may have been derivative and very familiar but with the philosophical changes and the unique visual effects it is a great modern sci-fi movie. Interestingly, I watched the ‘alternate’ ending after seeing the cinema cut and it would have offered a much more possibly grim and dystopian version.

Should we fear artificial intelligence? Should we fear the rise of robots? They may come to work with us, live with us in our lifetime, but they may be friends have rights as well.

 

James E Parsons has his second SF book Minerva Century published soon in 2016.

 

A Force in cinema-Star Wars takes control again

For many of us, 2015 may have felt like one of the longest years in our lifetime. We had many teasers and trailers after a good number of pictures and pieces of info relating to probably the biggest movie release of the decade or longer – yes Star Wars:The Force Awakens was due to land in cinemas.

Lucas had passed on the rights to the all-consuming Disney for a massive billion dollar deal, and JJAbrams was directing this all-new first part of a new trilogy which was to follow on from Return of the Jedi.

I may not actually be a howling mad crazed Star Wars fanatic. I did not see the film on the night of release (though my wife did.) I have now seen it, just over a week since it finally dropped and has now overtaken Titanic in all-time box-office success.

Now what can I say about this new movie? What should I dare to say? If there could be anybody left who has not yet seen it-many of us have seen it more than once, may two or three times or even more-and so I may not be ruining much if I do discuss the film.

Have you seen it? Once, twice or five times or more? What are your thoughts?

So of course, we all had our ideas about what could be in this new movie. There have been many spin-off related books and comics and more over the decades which included the original well-loved characters such as Han Solo, Luke, Chewee and Leia. There were some things which seem almost very certain to be included, and other things which would probably have been very far from likely really.

This new Star Wars movie has come after the hugely problematic prequel trilogy, all directed by creator George Lucas. Those movies did look superb I think, but yes, he did make so many terrible mistakes with characters, plot and more. So with this new movie, we were all very nervous indeed. Need we have been?

This Star Wars return has been directed by new cinema success director JJAbrams, already a huge cult favourite of television and who has in recent times translated his success to cinema with his own Super8 and then tackled the rebirth of Star Trek. Without really seeming too hesitant, he jumped right into Star Wars like he was born for the job-perhaps he was.

So then, with the movie, what do we get? This is heading toward 40 years since the original landed in cinemas and became an all-time science fiction classic.

This is where I now get mindful, and try to not spoil too much if you have not yet seen The Force Awakens.

It does continue on a good number of years after Return of the Jedi, and some of the most loved characters in cinema and sci-fi history show up. Now we should perhaps remember that it should probably take a few viewings to really see a film for what it is, to really take all of it in, for the tale to open up to us.

Is it better than The Phantom Menace? Silly question of course. It most certainly is. But it is not as simple or easy as all that. JJAbrams has attempted to take us back into the world of the original trilogy. There are modern day special CG effects here, but used very carefully alongside real props, locations and actors. Gone this is the over abundance of CG-everything such as in the prequel movies, in place of the visual style of the cheaper and more basic original trilogy. That is quite some challenge, I think is was met well.

Next up, we meet new characters. This film is produced in a much different time, decade and cultural place. With this, the characters are different in their roles, their actions, their backgrounds in some ways. I would say that the actors chosen are great for the roles overall.

There are some weak points to the film, probably mostly around Kylo Ren and some of how the First Order is depicted but this does not ruin the movie. However JJAbrams managed to make this first new movie, he has done well, and we can be very pleased and thankful. Well done Abrams. This could have been a much worse movie, and so we look forward to what may yet be two more great sequels ahead.