IT remake (2017) Review

Here we are in February 2019 and I have now seen the recent movie remake of the Stephen King story. I finally saw it now after it has been named most financially successful horror at the box office of all time. What does that mean? Does it suggest that it is the perfect horror movie? The perfect adaptation of the King novel?

If you are a horror movie fan, you probably have seen this movie. Let’s remember that this 2017 adaptation is only the first in a two part adaptation. Will the next part be as good or even better?

Personally, I am most familiar with the 90’s tv mini series adaptation. I did not have sky tv so may have missed the first time it was available, but it when due to be shown on the BBC it seemed like a real big even. I recorded  both parts on one VHS tape. I am fairly sure I must have seen the chilling clown face of Tim Curry’s Pennywise way before seeing the mini series. I as had most only seen many horror movies, a longer mini series format was quite different and had a larger story and more detailed characters to offer. Also it had that very infamous ending to the story which I believe many King fans disliked.

Cut to 2017 and we get this new take on one of the most well-known King tales. I’ve seen many photos and images of the Pennywise in magazines, online and on televisions since the movie was released and became a huge hit. I was fairly sure of what I was going to see creeping up and jumping out at me from the screen. I did hope there would be a lot more to surprise me when actually watching the movie, and thankfully that was the case.

What do we get from this version of the story? How is it different to the book and the previous mini series?

I have not read the book yet. Are you surprised? I think I have seen more King adapted movies than read his books but have been inspired as a horror writer by both. From what I know, the mini series from the early 90’s remained very close to the book. Originally the story sees the main group of young boys set in the late 1950’s experience trauma at the supernatural terrifying encounters with Pennywise the clown. The story jumps from then to the present day and back. This new version has the boys growing up in the 80’s and we saw many references to familiar pop culture-movies like A Nightmare On Elmstreet, mention of Michael Jackson, and the style brings to mind much loved movies from that decade such as Goonies, E.T., Stand by Me. It stars one of the lead young actors from top nostalgic Netflix phenomenon show Stranger Things which itself is inspired by these kinds of classic movies. We also get a new Beverley who looks very much like 80’s teen icon Molly Ringwald, so much that one of the boys in this new version makes a self-aware joke of the fact. So at first I may have groaned, as it seem that there is just far too much 80’s nostalgia going on right now, but it works out alright in this movie.

In style, this new version looks very slick, really well directed with great cinematography. It seems obvious they really wanted this movie to scare the pants off audiences in cinemas, and really feel like a ghost train or rollercoaster ride. It often does. I has a great opening sequence where we see little Georgie taken by Pennywise and the story moves along quickly introducing the young boys and Beverley with their individual personal troubles and growing pains. It may have felt a little strange to be watching a horror film with young kids as the main characters, but then this came hot on the heels of the popularity of Stranger Things it was not too bizarre. I was quite impressed by most of the young actors, each working well with their own parts and how they acted in the scenes confronting the supernatural terror or Pennywise.

The filmmakers did seem to want to give Pennywise some element of a backstory, placing him in some kind of reality which may or may be a good choice in the end.

It did feel similar to a number of these regular big budget event horror movies like The Nun or others of recent times, where they aren’t really serious horror films but just throw up a number of standard jump-scares one after another. These movies get very tiring and predictable in no time, but with this version of IT there was at least enough going on with the individual characters and their lives to keep the main story interesting between jump scares. Yes, the filmmakers obviously decided to make that one big difference to the 90’s mini series-this time it would keep you jumping and screaming almost every ten minutes or less. Most times, it works very well-this new Pennywise mutates and transforms into a whole collection of horrifically surreal nightmare monsters. Back in 1990 most of these visuals would not have been possibly until we have the CGI we take for granted now or if done in practical effects it may have taken another decade to make just this part of the new adaptation.

There are things shown in this version which may not have been in the original book or mini series or were previously only hinted at before. It could be that there is too much on screen this time. Where in the 90’s mini series we mostly only had a few brief moments of Pennywise and other shocks this time there are many thrilling and wildly animated scenes of twisted terror which may have taken things too far. Was it better when we only less of Pennywise previously? As far as real reliable ghoulish and engaging retro horrors go, this was a great movie. I guess we will see even more Pennywise in the next part due later this year and I look forward to seeing how famous adult actors chosen to portray the grown up kids deal with the return of the clown.

 

James Parsons is author of horror novel Northern Souls available now in paperback/ebook from all good bookshops and online. Also author of two SF novels Orbital Kin and Minerva century also available in various formats from shops and online now.

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The Ritual (2017) Film Review

Somehow I did manage to avoid seeing this new horror film until I had read the book it is adapted from by the author Adam Nevill. I had recently met him around the time this was due out at cinemas and as I started reading more of his books (and became more of a fan) decided to hold back and experience the book first.

There are many times a film is adapted from a successful or well known book-for example Silence of the Lambs-and people always say ‘the book was better’ or ‘not as good as the book’ so I wanted to make it one of those time I actually read the book first.

I’ve read a few of his books now and they are always written well but I can see why The Ritual was chosen to be a film over some of the others. The story so obviously has that horror movie big screen atmosphere, could be made on a fairly low budget and possibly fits in with similar movies around these days.

Personally, I enjoyed the book a lot but over half way in there are some parts of the story and characters I may have changed or written differently. Some of those things were changed in the film-more on that later.

So just as a modern horror movie, even if you are not familiar with the book, how well does it succeed? The film sees a group of male friends who have known each other since university days get back together around a decade later after one of them has died. They decide to explore the wilds of Sweden on a hiking trip. It starts of well, we see how the friends act together, how the group works, hear about how their lives have changed over the years since university. Each friend is different, they have different outlooks on life, some more jaded, cynical than others, some experiencing divorce, career problems, regrets.

At the start we see them on the town back in the day, where two of the friends Luke and Rob go to a corner shop for more booze. There is a robbery in the shop, Luke survives but Rob dies. Throughout the film, we see Luke constantly thinks about how he didn’t save his friend, how it could have been him.

After a couple of days hiking the group gets lost, one injures his leg, slowing them down. They find some disturbing things in the woods around them. Settling down for a night in an abandoned cabin they encounter and experience more unexplainable things. Lost in the forest, with hardly any food or water and arguing over the direction something in out there making sounds, moving among the trees, waiting…

It sounds like a very simple idea for a film and well, it is but the direction and acting make it works really well. Rafe Spall in the lead role as Luke carries the film but the other actors support him well, their characters reacting to the terror around them well.

There are some humorous dark comic funny lines as the characters try to comprehend their situation and get through it. There are several graphic scenes which heighten the fear without being to overdone.

What many have been talking about since the film was released is the actual monster stalking them in the great forest. This thing is CGI but by god, it possibly is one of the most distinctive, haunting things in any horror movie for a long while. And also it actually is basically exactly how it is described in the original novel. Well done filmmakers.

Also the scenes where Luke has flashbacks or hallucinations to where he watched his friend die in the cornershop are filmed really well as he seems to sit in the forest where the cornershop appears among the deep trees before him or it is cut and edited well. Yes, some very good editing in this film as well.

So how different is the film to the book? Well it is mostly exactly the same until around the big turning point in the story, after half way in the book-

The acting and characters are very much as they are in the book but I did feel a good portion of them wandering the large deep and dark forest and their arguments and desperation and some of the detail of their individual characters was stripped down to some extent. I can understand that this regularly happens for book to film adaptations and it is not as bad an outcome as does often happen.

(Spoiler ahead?) Luke and Dom make it to some strange large cabin and meet strange locals.

In the book it turns out some nasty young black metal Satanists have been watching and hunting them down one by one. These Satanist black metal youths trap Luke in a room, with plans to sacrifice him. He eventually talks with the them, arguing with the leader about what life means, what lies in the forest, music, what the world gets wrong. Eventually Luke escapes after a long fight, flees and confronts the forest monster, drives away in a bloody and beaten state, smashes into it in a crazed detailed confrontation but only just survives to make it back to home.

The film still takes Luke to the cabin where the meets strange locals who worship the forest monster/Satanic beast, but the specific young black metal band characters of the book and the time Luke spends talking with them is cut out. The film shows only brief versions of these characters, but the mysterious old woman with them remains, feeding him up for the sacrifice. The final ending of Luke confronting the monster is changed, but is equally dramatic and possibly works better for the big screen or as a movie ending.

This film feels like some of the best old hammer horror films and The Wicker Man for modern times, with a hint of Blair Witch in there too. Very well made modern horror and I recommend it to all horror movie fans.

 

James Parsons is author of the horror novel Northern Souls available now from all good bookshops and online in paperback and ebook. He has also published two SF novels -Orbital Kin, Minerva Century also available now.

CELL(2016) -Movie Review

This film adaptation of the Stephen King novel has been out for a couple of years now but I recorded it from television around Halloween and watched it this weekend. I read the book a few years ago and did enjoy it. I found it interesting at the time as it was the first book from King after his serious accident which really caught my attention. By this time most people had small palm-sized cell phones, and so the concept of this story was something which could pull you in easily.

I had forgotten a lot of the main story and only really remembered the troubled production issues the film experienced and then later the mixed or negative responses once the film was released. Having watched it, I actually did not think it was too bad. I noticed that King co-wrote the screenplay and so must have wanted to be sure that it would transfer to the big screen in a way that he wanted to see when writing the book possibly.

So CELL is one of very many recent post-apocalyptic movies, and in a way sort of a zombie movie. The people who are changed by the sudden strange phone signal are not ever called zombies in the movie, but the occurrence is viewed as a kind of mass epidemic. When the book was published the film 28 Days Later had already started the ball rolling in pop culture bringing zombies back to the fore of horror. Since then and through the 00’s we’ve had so many riffs on the zombie/post-apocalyptic concept-extreme horror versions, parodies like Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland, huge Hollywood budget takes such as I Am Legend and World War Z and even the Godfather of Zombie movies Romero returned with Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead with varied results.

It is probably I Am Legend which CELL most closely resembles and possibly even works better than in some ways. While many people also dissed that Will Smith blockbuster movie of the classic and hugely influential genre novel, these movies both share a similar cinematic atmosphere of dread and modern unease. There is a fear of loneliness and technological paranoia through both movies, as well as a hint of post-911 terror anxiety.

I actually was big fan of I Am Legend, certainly the first half of the movie which is for the most part almost dialogue free and simply followed Will Smith through his lonely daily routine and we observe his isolated experience and the effects on his character.

With the movie CELL, within minutes the main character played by John Cusack joins with Samuel L Jackson and they move across the country to find his wife and son. They join with a small number of other desperate and surviving individuals on their journey. This tale being based on a King novel, is no simple zombie splatter flick-though the gore and visual effects are really up there along with some of the most realistic from Tom Savini-it sees the masses of people affected by the phone signal ‘evolving’ together acting almost like insects or animals.

I actually could have sat through a longer version of this film and that may have been due to the casting Cusack or Jackson but also the different take on zombie concept. I thought it possibly could have done a lot more. We are at a time when one of the most popular shows on the planet is The Walking Dead, which is all about a small group of distinctive survivors working together against the zombie masses on a daily basis. I am not really a fan of the show (I know, sorry people!) but still do like zombie and post-apocalyptic or dystopian films and novels which have something different to offer.

There were some moments where I did want to yell at the screen ‘Don’t touch that phone!’ or ask why are they going in that building, and some characters and scenes which seemed a little lazy or predictable. It does features some elements which are quite familiar to other King books or films such as The Stand but I still continued watching until the end. Not a perfect movie, but not really as bad as you may have heard either.

James Parsons is a UK author of horror novel Northern Souls- available now as paperback/ebook from all good bookshops and online. He has previously published two science fiction novels as James E. Parsons, Orbital Kin and Minerva Century also available as paperback,hardback, ebook from bookshops and online now.

Leatherface (2017) Film Review

Origin stories-who needs them? When thinking of iconic horror monsters do we really want some explanation about where they came from or what created them?

Whatever our opinion we have had a few of these over the last decade or more. I was surprised when this film was announced so soon after the Texas Chainsaw3D film, and that it was not another sequel but a prequel ‘origin story’ of the main iconic monster of the long lasting horror franchise. In the past, often against the wishes or interest of loyal fans we have had hints at the origins of modern horror monsters such as Freddy Krueger of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, flashbacks encounters of the past life of Pinhead from Hellraiser, and more. In my mind the most recent and probably unnecessary prequel origin tale for one of the most iconic modern monsters was the Hannibal Rising movie which looked at the early years of Hannibal Lecter of the Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal films. It was closely adapted from the short novel written by the great Thomas Harris, who created the character but it did not feel entirely called for. Did that movie take away too much of the mystery from the iconic monster that is Hannibal Lecter?

Would this new Texas Chainsaw prequel be just as unnecessary? Or would it give the iconic voiceless chainsaw wielding fiend a fresh and solid layer of realistic character?

It came free onto Netflix a few days ago so now was the time to find out I decided.

I had already heard and read many very mixed reviews and thoughts on this slightly controversial addition to the Chainsaw series. Leatherface is now up there with Dracula, Pinhead, Freddy, Phantom of the Opera and other legendary horror monsters. Many may hold the view that we don’t want to know too much about them-who they used to be, where they came from, what made them evil or unstoppable killers. The less we know, the more they may seem like some mysterious force of nature, a kind of evil energy or lifeforce.

This movie goes right back to the very start. Back to the Sawyer house out in the open fields of America. We have seen different versions of the Chainsaw family through the various sequels-there has never really been any clear explanation about why sometimes there seem to be a couple of older brothers with Leatherface, different mother figures, sometimes extra extended family members other times only one or two others. In this early beginning the story gives us a Sawyer family with a couple of older grown brothers, one simple chubby young brother, and the young Leatherface character now called Jed. The mother in this version is played by the excellent Lili Taylor, who continues to seem to get better with every film she appears in over the years. At first I thought she was only going to be in the short opening sequence of the film, but she appears throughout as it moves along. Young Jed seems to witness regular violent scenes and torture measured out by his family on unsuspecting people or police prying into their family business. The local sheriff is played by Stephen Dorff and we see that as in the 2003 remake the Texas police can be expected to be cruel and corrupt figures almost as violent as the Sawyer family. Young Jed is taken away after Sheriff Hartman comes in believing they were the reason his daughter died.

Cut to a few years later and young Jed is in some kind of mental institution for young offenders. The Sawyer mother comes to attempt to take back Jed (also now named Bud) but ends up starting a riot where the young offenders escape, cause violent bloody havoc, Jed and some others go on the run taking a young nurse who had only just starting working there. She had seen that while Jed seemed a quiet and dangerously strong young man he did seem to have a kind heart in some way. She is taken hostage along with one of the more sane and decent young men and Jed by two others who will do anything to get away. This young couple in charge have no morals and the film almost seems to morph into Natural Born Killers at this point, only set in the late 1950’s. It becomes a bloody road trip escape movie, where we seem to want the decent young man and pretty innocent nurse to escape together. Young Jed is silent and exploited by the crazed duo in charge as the Sheriff and police soon pick up their trail.

When you have known and watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre for a very long time (originally seeing as a banned copied VHS) the slick, Hollywood level cinematography and direction, costume and light and more take it many miles away from that original place of fear. But we have had several sequels already over the years and one prequel as well which only when so far back, not to where Leatherface was a small child as in this film. Do we know too much about the character now for him to really scare us? In a sense the discontinuity of the Sawyer family through the series does possibly help add a level of continued ambiguity for fans. This is an origin story-but can we really trust the truth of it? What is the real Sawyer Chainsaw family? Who is the real Leatherface and does this film really tell us the truth?

It does throw us a twist in the story after the halfway point which makes it interesting. I really did not expect it. Maybe I was just tired or liked the idea. You then want to go back and consider the film again and the characters up to that point. Well, the people who like the film. So it is probably true that it lacks a strong consistency all through the film with the narrative-is it a horror film? a road movie? a tragic romance? It certainly is not just a simple straight ahead brutal murder splatter flick all way the through like most of the other Chainsaw movies and as most fans may have wanted to see.

I have to say that the acting does on the whole carry the film, especially Dorff as the Sheriff and Lili Taylor as Ma Sawyer. She could even get her own solo movie I would be happy. Some people moaned that Leatherface doesn’t even used a chainsaw or wear a mask until the end of the movie but well that surely makes sense in this case. It incorporate those elements into the story so that they make sense in the end and it is a tragic start to one of the most well known modern iconic horror monsters.

Like the Hannibal Rising book/movie which reveals much about the terrible childhood traumas which shaped the grown killer years down the line, this film shows us a number of things which affected the mind and life and outlook of Leatherface. Can we accept possibly knowing this much about a previously very mysteriously powerful monster?

A number of specific scenes and shots clearly set up the identity of Leatherface and suggest why he wears a skin mask of his victims, why he kills, his lack of voice and interestingly his confused identity. It even touches on his conflicted gender perception at the end previously explored to mixed opinion in the forth film.

Is this a great new addition to the Texas Chainsaw series? It may not have the usual terrifying rollercoaster nightmare experience of most of the movies in the series but it does have some good acting (which doesn’t always appear in the Chainsaw movies) and a number of very graphic moments which will please many of the bloodthirsty Chainsaw fans out there.

 

James Parsons is author of the horror novel Northern Souls out now in paperback and ebook from all good bookshops and online. He also has two science fiction novels-Orbital Kin and Minerva Century available paperback/Hardback/ebook as well published as James E. Parsons.

Hellraiser:Judgment Film Review (2018)

*Spoilers ahead…

I could not wait. Some would forget about it for many months until they casually notice the cheaply priced UK dvd for sale but I am a huge Hellraiser nerd and so I went for it, ordered the American region dvd. Was it a huge mistake? Was I let down?

News of this next sequel in the possibly increasingly low quality series came a fair ago. The film was actually finished and held back from cinemas or dvd release last year due to some distributor/studio reasons but thankfully they came to sort things out and we can now view this new chapter in the Hellraiser cinematic world.

I don’t know how well you know the movies or the original created by the legend author/artist/filmmaker Clive Barker in the late 80’s but many fans have become very cynical and jaded about any new entry in the series. Arguably the first three movies are best and certainly probably the ones most fans liked above the others. Those movies were produced with mostly big studio financing and it can be seen on screen. Around 1996 came Hellraiser:Bloodline and at the time I was really eager to see where they would take Pinhead and the Cenobites. Well that film sadly went straight to VHS (I had to buy an ex-rental from a reliable local store) and it was some kind of tragic cinematic mess. The director took his name off the film, the studio recut the movie which just could not manage to successfully put on screen the complex and ambitious tale of medieval times, present day and sci-fi future locations on a challenging budget. The series was gone for a few years until it returned with Hellraiser:Inferno, a more intimate smaller story and the new few straight to dvd sequels remained similar to that one in budget and ambition. There have been strong rumours that some of those sequels were made from old on-spec horror scripts which simply stuck Pinhead in for a few minutes and hey presto-cheap Hellraiser sequel to make some money from the loyal fans.

The most recent sequel Hellraiser:Revelations controversially hired a new actor to play Pinhead lead Cenobite. Many fans just could not accept this, and the film was largely seen as a real waste of time and a cheap cash-in mess, the actor receiving strong criticism and negative responses.

A couple of years on and Gary J Tunnicliffe, a special effects artist who had worked on several of the sequels since Hellraiser3, has given us this next sequel. Again many fans were very sceptical and weary but in interviews Tunnicliffe was stating that he had a fresh concept for this new sequel, something that could really push the series forward and not simply for the sake of keeping the film rights for the studios. He sounded very confident in what he was telling us. We could bare in mind that he did write the terrible previous Hellraiser:Revelations sequel but he argued that the studio did what they did and he had no say in how that one was made. He stated that he offered them a couple of new Hellraiser scripts, one very extreme and one which was basically the new sequel. They eventually did give him the chance to direct it and I think it was a good thing to do.

If you are a Hellraiser fan you probably know that in the decades that the franchise has existed, there have been many sequels, comicbook tales inspired by the films, new short stories and merchandise going off in various interesting directions. Some of the sequels could have done many great things over the years but as is often the case movie studios, producers and distributors get nervous or greedy and hold back and cash in or play safe.

With Hellraiser:Judgment it is quickly obvious that Tunnicliffe does genuinely have a great personal interest in the series, the world, the character of Pinhead and where it could possibly go. So the main storyline of the film is quite standard detective murder mystery but from the first few minutes it takes us into strange and bizarre Hellraiser places we haven’t really experienced since possibly the second movie. Be prepared to wonder ‘what the hell is happening here?’ before the familiar detective plot comes into play after the main title. It looks nice and nasty, all sepia gloom and dark shadows with weird characters and a glimpse of our second new Pinhead actor.

So it moves forward as three cops-two male pals, one new female-attempt to track down a mysterious serial killer who seems inspired by Old Testament scripture for his murders. Yes that does sound like the David Fincher classic Seven and many other cop thriller/serial killer movies of the last 20 years but this brings in Pinhead and Cenobites with it. Like most of the cheap sequels, again Pinhead is not in the movie for very long at all, but actually that probably works very well-remember he only appeared in the original for a few minutes but made a lasting impression.

This sequel does feel quite similar to Hellraiser:Inferno which also had a detective hunting down a mysterious serial killer. There are a few similar steps along the film in terms of narrative, and almost wonder why Tunnicliffe did not go with more of a different or unusual plot but it largely serves to bring in Pinhead and the Hellraiser world. Now, I will not detail every unusual new character or scene we get in this new sequel. There is a new character actually played by Tunnicliffe called The Auditor who is not exactly a Cenobite but works for some department of Hell. He works with Pinhead but not for him. There is a big change this time where Tunnicliffe decides to bring in the opposite of Hell:Heaven. The director believed that in the Hellraiser world or films it should be logical that both could meet at some point and so we see an angel speak with The Auditor and later confront Pinhead. This may not go down well with some long-time fans of Hellraiser but in some ways yes it does make sense. The budget of the film may have limited how this could come across on screen but it works alright.

I should consider this new third actor taking on the role of Pinhead, one of the most iconic and well known modern horror movie monsters of the last 30 years. Paul T. Taylor dons the iconic special effects makeup and actually I think that he does put in a pretty good performance. I did miss the familiar sound of the voice of Pinhead as we known it from Doug Bradley but that was not a huge distraction really. So the previous new actor has disappeared, possibly hiding in shame of his performance in Hellraiser:Revelations but I think I would be happy to see Paul T. Taylor remain the Priest of Pain for at least one more sequel. He also personally seems very excited to be the character and understands how significant and iconic the role is in the horror world.

The film does meander along into the second half with not really too much taking place beyond a mystery killer teasing the detectives, they argue among themselves and one of them goes off alone. Meanwhile the Auditor and Pinhead are also interested in knowing who the serial killer is and where he is. This links both sides of the story and thankfully there is just about enough characterisation for us to care about the detectives and what happens to them. A couple of big twists in the plot help keep our interest, though at least one of them is probably fairly obvious-again the detective storyline not hugely original but basically serves its purpose.

Fans will be please to see some familiar cenobites return to the screen and even a cameo from another iconic horror actor which sadly missed the chance to really do something maybe more entertaining, even if as extra deleted scenes on the dvd.

The actually ending is fairly bold, especially considering the previous line of safe Hellraiser sequels and Tunnicliffe has suggested it keeps things open for a follow on sequel in future. We see Pinhead confront the angel, they argue about what should be done with the serial killer, she tricks Pinhead. He decides to kill her classic Hellraiser style with the sudden flesh ripping hooks and chains but some powerful force moves around his domain and he banished from his role, made human and left on Earth. This ending may confuse or even enrage many long-time fans. Some may just think it to be really dumb or stupid but at least Tunnicliffe has taken a bold step with a very loved and iconic horror monster. We will seen the response over time, if not a direct follow on sequel. I think it actually could, and possibly should happen. Tunnicliffe I think is evidently talented and enthusiastic enough to continue the series personally and I would welcome that. The combination of him as continuing director, Taylor as new Pinhead and a bigger budget could offer something really great next time.

So is it a new horror movie classic? No, not at all. Is it a Hellraiser sequel worth seeing? I think so. Even horror fans not really big on Hellraiser may still enjoy it on some level. It has more gore and blood than some of the sequel, a better Pinhead performance and in some ways a more bold and challenging tale to offer on screen. I say give it a go, Hellraiser fan or casual horror movie fan of any kind.

James Parsons is author horror novel Northern Souls available now as paperback & ebook from all good bookshops and online. Also his two SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century as paperback, ebook and hardback in shops and online as well.

Midnight Special(2016)-Film Review

I’m steadily going through a few films from the last few years which I have missed but have cropped up on Netflix. This was one of those films. It was from director Jeff Nichols, who has now made a number of very acclaimed and respected films and it was his second to feature the actor Michael Shannon.

It had been a while since I had thought about watching it and I only vaguely remembered that it was in some way possibly a science fiction movie. This was right but not very much like most sci-fi movies you might see.

It starts quickly with two men going on the run with a young boy-who seems oblivious-driving at night while at the same time the FBI bust into a large rural church gathering and round up the people there. In the car with the two men, the calm young boy wears swimming goggles at night and reads a comicbook by torchlight until they have to turn off the headlights and the driver puts on night-vision goggles so that they can drive unseen. Yes, very strange indeed.

Soon after this the film slows down while the two men, one played by Michael Shannon is the boy’s father, continue their journey to get the boy to a specific destination in a few short days before the FBI can reach them. Is the boy really his son? What do the FBI want? What were the church doing with the boy?

The film quickly threw up these and other questions. It seemed like it may have actually simply been a tense kidnap or abuse drama story but then a very sci-fi thing happens suddenly with the boy and we see that something really strange and fantastic is going on and there is a whole lot more to the story.

Soon enough the film feels like a mysterious episode of The X-Files or an X-Men film but it continues to maintain a tense emotional hold on the viewer. They meet up with the boy’s mother and soon Father, Mother and close friend all struggle with what they should be doing and what is the right thing for the boy.

In some ways I thought it may have been a bit more standard chase/thriller film with the cops/FBI on their tale and very predictable but thankfully that mostly was not the case. Most of the visual effects are really good, certainly the end of the film. It may not be the most original sci-fi movie all the way to the end but it become quite a philosophical story which raises a number of questions about faith, guilt, alien contact, families and more.

A good science fiction film with some challenging emotional and philosophical depth.

James E. Parsons has two SF books out now-Orbital Kin & Minerva Century both available from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes&Noble and other bookshops and online in paperback and ebook now.

 

Ghost In The Shell (2017)-Film Review

Yes this live-action adaptation of the anime sci-fi cyberpunk 90’s classic was released at cinemas many months ago but I missed it back then. I was given a copy of it for Christmas and so now I have seen. There was a few reasons why I didn’t catch it back at the cinema months ago, and one of those reasons may have been due to the slightly uncomfortable issue of ‘Whitewashing’ in the film which very many people were critical about. Why did it star Scarlett Johansson? Did it need to have her? It is seen as an American movie-did it have to be? Could it not have been Japanese made with full Japanese cast of actors?

There were several arguments around these issues of the film production-why was the lead character played by a white American actor? But then the response was that the character of Major Mira Killian was not specifically Japanese in the original manga or anime and was possibly wearing a body and also is a cyborg so she could be created in any visual design way. And on it continued.

So yes, that all may have put me off seeing it or paying my money at the cinema which may have been endorsing this kind of possibly Americanisation of original Japanese entertainment. I could understand it in other ways as well-Scarlett Johansson was at the time of production possibly the highest paid Hollywood actress/female actor due to her role as Black Widow in the Marvel movies, which is a similarly well trained, highly physically capable heroic character so it does right in that sense. Plus, they would have thought it the best thing to have her in this film as it would possibly draw such a huge audience because of her.

So anyway, lets talk about the movie. I am also a big fan of the original anime film from the mid-90’s. If you already knew about it, you may have seen over time how frequently it had been stated that without Ghost in the Shell there may have been no The Matrix. That’s possibly true, as the Matrix trilogy especially the first film did seem to take so much visually and stylistically from this anime/manga classic. I did see the anime G.I.T.S. a couple of years after Matrix was released and I really was shocked at the similarities.

Besides the controversies of production, with this live-action version of G.I.T.S. what do we get? Is it a very close remake? Is it only inspired by the original anime?

Well this is where it did not do so well for me as it is not a total remake, or exact shot-for-shot live-action version but it does feature several very memorable scenes from the anime movie which look almost exactly the same (made extremely well) and the story uses some of the anime feature length story with some elements from episodes of the anime series as well. This resulted in a film which did not really give me a fascinating original new tale, but I mostly knew where it was going all of the way through to the end.

In some ways now I do actually regret not seeing it at cinemas or even on IMAX because along with the recent Blade Runner sequel this movie really does look absolutely mind-meltingly stunning visually. It gives us what Ridley Scott probably exactly wanted for the original Blade Runner all those years ago. It looks just like Scarlett Johansson is walking through that movie and you almost expect her to bump into Deckard on the neon-lit streets. It also contains some of the very best science fiction special effects I have seen in recent times when we seen Major taken apart, reconstructed, broken, her face opened out, other similar cyborg characters and robotic creations. They all look seamless and breath-taking.  These are different times for Hollywood with their international cinema audiences changing and evolving and so I can probably (cynically) understand the very international main actors cast around Johansson. This is no bad thing just different to the anime and does feel possibly forced. But then they added in Juliette Binoche who of course is really great and added a maternal bond element with the Major. Strangely they cast Japanese legend Beat Takeshi Kitano-which is fine, as he is a fantastic actor/director-but he has his own dialogue in Japanese and subtitled while no other characters do in the movie.

Another big difference is that this live-action adaptation is nowhere near as philosophically deep or profound as the anime original. I’ll be honest, I had to watch the original a good couple of times for so much of the philosophical theories and issues to sink in and absorb them. With this version, a thin level of the questions around humanity, the self, cyborg, A.I. and robotics are probed but not with too much depth. It would be wrong to have the script be exactly the same as the original but I did feel they could have worked on this more but then in many ways it still is a Hollywood movie aiming for as wide an international audience as possible.

This film is not a total let down. It is not as controversial as you may have been led to believe. If you have not ever seen the original anime or manga you will possibly really love it. You may wonder if it is a Blade Runner spin-off movie. I felt that it was also a little too short. If you have seen the anime movies and series or the manga go see this anyway because it is still very much worth seeing. It is not entirely perfect but it is still a really great new sci-fi movie which does begin to ask some questions about how robots, A.I. and technology may radically alter our lives in only a short time from now.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century (a cyborg mystery in space) out now in paperback, ebook and hardback in all good bookshops and online. Also his first horror novel Northern Souls is out now in paperback/ebook.

Justice League (2017) Film Review

All these years up against the mighty Marvel studios must have been such a challenge and creative pressure. Finally a few weeks ago we got to see the most famous DC comics characters united together as the Justice League on screen for the first time. This was of course several years after Marvel did the same with their iconic characters in Avengers Assemble to great success.

Between each DC superhero movie since around 2010, Marvel gave us usually two great movies each year and DC repeatedly floundered with not entirely amazing or only half-way successful films such as Green Lantern and Man of Steel. They looked great most of the time, everything at first seemed in place but fans and critics just were not convinced.

Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds cost a huge amount of money and hardly made back any of it. Man of Steel did well enough at cinemas but only received very mixed responses. All the while Marvel comics films featuring Thor, Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America all cleaned up financially and creatively.

After Man of Steel, DC continued on with their dark and brooding vibe and gave us Batman V Superman and this polarised audiences even more. Oh god, it was well over two hours long. Oh my word, it seemed to move at a glacial pace. Where was all of the action? Oh, in the very last 35 minutes. That film did not go down well at all (I actually…yes I do like it but do understand the negative responses) and next up came Suicide Squad. This next wacky, day-glo movie decided to mimic the Marvel movies and lighten the atmosphere and tone-more jokes, ‘zany’ characters, plenty of action. Well, besides some very obvious reshoots all the way until the film was released, which made the studios and producers seem very insecure and very desperate; again this movie had mixed reactions from cinema goers.

What were DC doing wrong? Did they know? Did they care? What were Marvel studios doing right? The trailers for Suicide Squad had a load of clips for scenes which did not end up in the film, it had some great music not in the actual movie…a real mess. Hold up though, I do still like the film (somehow…) even though as a few people have pointed out it had many really terrible mistakes all through it, some of the scenes and action sequences look very cheap and it could have been so much better. But we got over it. How? Wonder Woman hit cinemas in her own full length movie this summer. What a movie it was. Glorious, joyous, great fun film. It looked splendid, the direction was really great, the lead actress was perfect-everything came together just right.

Thanks to that one movie showing that DC film studio could do it right eventually we once again built up our hopes for their version of Avengers Assemble, the first movie to feature the most famous DC heroes together. Less than one month ago Justice League landed in cinemas. It did take me awhile to see it, but that was just due to things in life. Personally I may even have been more excited about seeing how this movie turned out than the new Star Wars sequel at Christmas.

Superman is dead. The world mourns and Bruce Wayne/Batman starts looking to put together a new team to fight some mounting mysterious threat. Justice League does start slow, in some ways, careful but lighter both visually and in tone. There had but much consideration to the changes to be made after the problems of Batman V Superman. Gradually as Wayne meets and contacts Aquaman, Cyborg, the Flash and Wonder Woman the story starts to move with more pace. What are the obvious changes and new elements? Humour, jokes and quips from each of the heroes but especially The Flash. This does help, it makes the whole film feel more fun, less of a grind. Yes Batman V Superman was very dark and moody, but I think it was intended to be like that and that Zack Snyder possibly was wanted to lighten things up when this film finally arrived. It may not have simply been the effect and competition with Marvel and the Avengers films. The actual Justice League comics were often more colourful and fun than the individual Batman, Superman or even Flash comics.

Like the Marvel hero movies, the Justice League are up against some all-powerful evil villain. He is named Steppenwolf and has some kind of mythological story legend. The actual plot of Justice League is quite blatantly similar to the Avengers long building Infinity War storyline-evil super villain needs to collect powerful mysterious things, put them together and can then rule the world/galaxy.  It doesn’t really get much more complex than that. That may be fine actually. I think the main problem with the movie is probably that we don’t really know or then care who this crazed Steppenwolf villain is as we’ve seen it many times before. That is not the real problem, more than the writers didn’t try to make the villain and plot something just a bit more different and get us more interested. Ironically, the Marvel movies often have forgettable or naff villains but are finally getting over than hurdle and now DC have fallen right into it. This is something I think they just about managed to conquer in the Wonder Woman film.

On the whole I actually do like most of Justice League-I was surprised how much The Flash and Cyborg were involved in the story and on screen and enjoyed both of them. Wonder Woman again really great-yes though possibly too many close shots of her butt, I mean really? The direction and cinematography I thought were really great actually. There were some really fantastic action sequences and I loved the visual style of the film. So do I thank Zack Snyder or Joss Whedon for the parts of this film that I enjoyed? Do I thank both men? It does feel like Whedon really added a lot into the script when he came onboard. So overall, it may not have felt as if it had a seriously important story or villain to overcome and it may have just served to start off a series of Justice League movies, which is fine. I don’t think most reviews you may see or heard are to be taken so seriously. This is a great fun movie. You do feel confident that it could be the start of a new positive chapter in DC movies from this point on if things can still go that way. I hope they do.

 

James E. Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available in bookshops and online now. His first horror novel Northern Souls was published in October and also available in shops and online as well.

The Void (2016) Film Review

This was the main movie I decided to go with this Halloween. I usually pull out a couple of horror classics or films which I really like, that way I can be sure not to be disappointed. This year I thought, no I’m going to watch one or maybe two fairly new horror flicks for a change.

Now I had heard and read quite a lot of good things about this new movie over the last year or so. I had heard that it actually had practical special effects-okay this does happen, but often they just turn out looking terrible. In this case the feedback was that these effects worked really well. Surprise there, plus I grew up on 80’s horror movies where it was all about lots of latex and animatronic effects clear to see and buckets of blood and gore all over the show so this appealed to me.

It also seemed to have a fairly distinctive and original concept and mysterious idea in the story which seemed to make it stand out from a number of recent horror movies. I’ve been waiting for something to come along which was brave enough to offer up a new mythology, a fully formed world of terror instead of yet more twenty-somethings running around with some masked killer on their trail.

So this movie seemed mysterious and confident, just what I wanted. Halloween, get ready for this in my dvd player.

If you haven’t seen it yet I won’t let out too many spoilers or I’ll try not to do so. The story takes place in and around a small town hospital with a young police officer observing a number of shocking and creepy events connecting up around him and the small set of main characters. They become trapped in the hospital as they soon notice a large number of what seem like hooded cult members surrounding the building while it is soon enough clear that something not of this world is trying to take them down…

This movie does have a strong 80’s vibe and several films come to mind while watching it such as Assault of precinct 13, The Thing, Hellraiser, Phantasm and others. It is often quite claustrophobic and intense. Considering that the directors had only previously made shorter spoof parody genre movie, with this movie they conjure up genuine serious cinematic terror all the way.

It was good to see a new horror film which soon enough moves at a quick pace and has a cast of good enough actors which help build up the panic and hysteria of the story around them. Some have said that the plot gets quite confused or disjointed as it goes on. There may a couple of plot holes but the main issue has been that many felt it was quite derivative of some of the classic 80’s horror films I have mentioned. Also there are two strands of terror coming in to attack the main characters and yes, in some ways these two elements may not exactly make totally logical sense.

I can assure you though that the film does have a bunch of really impressive set pieces, a load of blood and gore spilling out all over the place. Some of the acting may be a little hit and miss at times but generally it works well enough. Ultimately this is a genuine bold new spectacle of a horror movie. It all builds and builds toward a final head-trip of an ending.  It might be good to see some kind of sequel to this movie if the directors would be interesting in the idea.

So if you are a fan of some of the most bloody and creepy 80’s monster movies with a sharp supernatural twist this could be the one you have been waiting for right here. Dare you enter the VOID?

James E Parsons is author of two SF novels-Orbital Kin & Minerva Century. His first horror novel Northern Souls has been published this Halloween. All three are available from all good bookshops or online now.

 

 

Blade Runner 2049-Film Review

(Spoilers Alert ) Here we are over three decades after the original SF movie classic was in cinemas and flopped but gained an ever-growing cult fan-base and actually influenced almost all sci-fi films, books, television ever since.

I had been reading a few articles and interviews with the new director Denis Villeneuve (whom had recently had success with SF alien first contact film Arrival) and the actors involved this time including Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling. As the original film was set in 2019 which is only a couple of years away right now the new sequel moves further in time but only by around thirty year so that it could still be some sort of ‘near future’ story. Given the current advances in AI and robots, DNA/gene splicing and research and bioengineering we can potentially believe some of this new story could take place in some ways in our actual near future.

For decades now of course the fans of the first film have long debated the truth of Rick Deckard-was he human or replicant? Thanks to around half  a dozen versions of the film from director Ridley Scott there have been a number of ways to interpret the film. Is this one of the reasons it has been such a cult favourite for so long?

The story does move on this time. There has been a catastrophic global blackout on energy and data which helped the original Nexus replicants to escape and hide. The company did collapse due to scandal after the many dangerous escaped replicants such as the ones we know from the original movie. After time a new visionary businessman named Wallace has come along and has designed new breeds of replicants with longer and natural lifespans but he does have some deadly intentions for the long term.

We follow a new Blade Runner named simply K in this sequel as he starts to find some clues which begin to lead him to an extremely important case which breaks apart what he thinks he really knows about himself and his work. With this story, we start knowing that K is a new natural lifespan replicant Blade Runner-we know that he knows this, but what he uncovers still leads toward the end of what he thinks of as his truth and the true work he is doing and for what reasons.

Often criticism of the original movie argues that it lacks enough narrative, short on story and character at the expense of breath-taking visuals and soundtrack above all else. I understand that, but do not entirely agree with it. With this sequel, of course it does resemble the original in very many ways. This will keep the many loyal old-time fans pleased, but again it might provoke those same negative comments to some extent.

We are now more than thirty years down the line from the first Blade Runner movie. The fans and viewers have grown old with that film (and the many different director’s cuts and theatrical versions). So in some ways this sequel really did have to offer more for cinema audiences in terms of story depth and detail, to some extent at least. Over the many years there have been at least one spin-off sequel novel, a sort of sequel videogame and comic-book versions which have moved the story on in a number of ways, and so there have been a number of possibly strong enough concepts and ideas to move forward with if and when a sequel was ever made. Some really did not like the idea of a sequel to this particular cult classic. Was it another cynical cash-grab from Hollywood? If it was, well it is forgiven and a relief to find that it is a bold success.

I have seen in the last week or more since it was release, at least two extremely positive reviews from a couple of very well respected UK film critics whom I usually trust. I have also read and heard a small number of negative remarks, and these are possibly justified in some ways.

It is good to see that the director has mostly kept the film quite stripped down of CGI besides the girlfriend of K and a few other effects which help support the near-future atmosphere in subtle ways. There were actual miniature sets made and real international locations filmed and I think the combination of these worked really well did help connect this with the original film. Along with this, the film just looks absolutely stunning. at least four or five times I was sitting there thinking to myself ‘my god, that looks so amazing’ as I watched the screen.

It is I think even longer than the original Blade runner movie, and does seem to pack in a fair amount of more story, twists and detail this time around. This might be one aspect which almost made it feel too different to the original, but again we are in 2017 now, the core fans of the original are probably older and willing to take in more narrative levels this time. Thankfully I don’t think it goes quite too far with this.

With the actors and acting I largely think they were all great choices. Ryan Gosling fits the world of Blade Runner really well, and feels like a new younger Deckard-which fits in well with the film later on. Harrison Ford is held back until really fairly late on in the film but this works and feels natural for the story. It seems Ford understood this thankfully. Someone recently didn’t seem to like the performance of Jared Leto as new corporate messianic businessman. I think it probably is more about the almost repetitive and not entirely always required dialogue he is given. He could have opened up the character I think but it may have posed a danger to the overall film.

But this is a sequel to Blade Runner and it is the direction, set design, soundtrack that we really want to see work well and it certainly does give us what we’ve been waiting for. We see much more of what we only had brief glimpses of in the first movie. This is a truly breath-taking vision of a possible future, bringing to mind Spielberg’s A.I., The Matrix and Dune in different ways among many other scifi visions.

Go see this movie on a very big IMAX screen if you can. This is another example of a rare and very worthy sequel to a highly influential and classic sci-fi film.

 

James Parsons is author of two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century, both available now in all good bookshops and online. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published 31st October.