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Alien: Covenant – film review

ALIEN: COVENANT

It’s another Prometheus – only ten times worse.

Reviewed on Thursday 11th May 2017

Directed by Ridley Scott. Screenplay by Dante Harper and John Logan, story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green. Starring: Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup. Running time: 122 mins.

Seeking a new life on a new world, the crew of the colony ship Covenant land on an uncharted planet where an alien craft had crashed ten years before. When two of the crew become infected by microorganisms; giving birth to terrifying creatures, the lives of all remaining colonists left aboard Covenant in hypersleep are threatened.

PLEASE NOTE: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS

Ridley Scott’s street cred with Alien fans was literally hanging by a thread following the major letdown of the pseudo prequel Prometheus – a movie which did more to damage the integrity of the series (in explaining away the mystery of the Space Jockey) – than anything seen in the series’ undisputed nadir – the godawful Alien Resurrection.

Going by the trailers and ad campaign for Covenant, one would be forgiven to expect to see a full-blown, actual Alien movie this time around. Featuring snatches from Jerry Goldsmith’s original Alien score; gradually-revealed opening title typography and naturalistic acting, we are immediately lulled into believing that what we are about to see will indeed be an authentic addition to the original universe of Alien films. It is only thirty or forty minutes into it when all is shamelessly revealed that we suddenly realize to our horror – we have only been deceived yet again; anticipation turning to anger and dismay and a disbelieving sense of betrayal. We have been watching Prometheus 2 the entire damn time. The tone of the performances starts as naturalistic but inexplicably becomes theatrical and operatic – a clumsy shift from which the movie never fully recovers. This tonal shift coinciding with the anticipated appearance of the David character from Prometheus; this singular moment heralding the train wreck to come. The much ballyhooed, yet irritatingly smug performance of Michael Fassbender as nefarious android David in Prometheus only becomes increasingly more annoying here (to the point where he devolves into nothing more than a platitude-spouting super villain whose ultimate goal is nothing less than the extermination of humanity). And it is this hour or so of the movie (with the away team stranded on the planet dealing with the homicidal David) which garnered the bulk of groans and heavy sighs from the audience.

Where the film completely falls apart however, is in its depiction of xenomorph biology. In addition to Dan O’Bannon & Ronald Shusett’s original nature-inspired alien life cycle (egg/facehugger/chestburster/adult) – we are also treated here to some half-assed, nonsensical notion of microbial infestation resulting in the host incubating a chestburster (or laughably in this case – a backburster) – which then bursts forth. Gone however is the terrifyingly bizarre embryonic, snake-like chestburster – here ludicrously replaced in one particular instance by a fully-formed miniature version of the adult alien, none of which gels with anything we’ve seen so far. It is this seemingly deliberate disregard for already established internal logic which is the most infuriating aspect of this film. And with the original’s director back on board (enjoying complete creative control no less) – there really is no justifable reason for so brazenly (and consciously) messing around with the alien’s life cycle – especially to such a ridiculous extent as this. With his use of homages to James Cameron’s fast-moving facehuggers and the bambi burster from Alien 3, Scott appears to be tipping his hat to installments other than his own. However, his use of the quadrupedal bambi burster makes no sense here (being birthed from a bipedal human) – as the big takeaway from Alien 3 is the creature takes on the characteristics of the host. Indeed, there is so much confusion going on about what the actual rules are to this creature that we very quickly find ourselves throwing up our hands in frustration and disengaging from the movie entirely.

Unlike the pitch-perfect pacing of both Alien and Aliens (excellent examples of how     to draw an audience in and effectively escalate momentum) – the structure of Covenant is clunky in the extreme; lurching from one disjointed sequence to the next. It appears Scott is indeed attempting to follow the structural template of these previous entries – the gradual introduction of the various alien forms over the course of the flm; the changes in locale from act to act. But these radical shifts in tone between scenes involving David and the rest of the film are so jarring when they occur it really does feel like there are two films in here vying for supremacy. Indeed, by the time the film finally decides its an Alien movie and essentially replays the second half of Alien (albeit at breakneck speed with zero suspense) – we are way     too disengaged to even care.

Just prior to the release of Covenant, Scott hinted of his plans to direct at least   three more Alien films before he is finished. However, if this movie is anything to     go by – I guess all we can do is hope that someone whose opinion he respects will successfully talk him out of it.

If you live in a universe where Prometheus doesn’t exist. Then this one won’t either.

no stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, May 11th 2017

Greg Moss is a flm school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-f thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Life – film review

LIFE

Despite visceral punchline CG-heavy monster flick is a generic yawn.

Reviewed on Thursday 23rd March 2017

Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson and Ryan Reynolds. Running time: 103 mins.

A group of scientists aboard the International Space Station attempt to revive a Martian organism which has lain dormant for millions of years. Once it is revived,     the creature turns hostile and begins killing off the hapless scientists one by one.

About a third of the way into this generic ‘rampaging monster aboard a spaceship’ movie, I began to wonder when the penny was gonna drop; when that one cool idea which got the flm green-lit in the frst place would be revealed. Frustratingly however that one cool idea literally appears in the fnal moments of the flm (although, if one thinks about it – it doesn’t actually make a lot of sense), by which time anyway you may or may not actually give a shit.

Relying on dim-witted contrivances in order to place their characters in peril, writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool, Zombieland) appear to have completely ignored the universal lambasting Damon Lindelof received in his portrayal of scientists as idiots in Prometheus; opting instead for more of the same. Jake Gyllenhaal is undoubtedly a fine actor and he does his best with the material he     has to work with here, but overall the characters are shallow and unconvincing.

Again taking its cue from Prometheus, we have here the usual onslaught of CG blood and squid tentacles invading human bodies – but virtually zero build-up of tension and suspense. And although we are constantly told the consequences for humanity would be dire should the creature be permitted to escape to Earth, it is because we are never made aware (even obliquely) what legitimate threat the beastie actually poses to humanity (Does it reproduce rapidly? Does a nefarious corporation want it for its bio-weapons division?) – that the sense of urgency required to create tension in isolation stories such as these is severely lacking; resulting in our personal disengagement from the outcome.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to this ‘lack of suspense’ issue, however, is that we see way too much of the creature (something Ridley Scott wisely avoided in the original Alien) – both during the attacks and in between. Here we are subjected to endless long distance shots of the creature cart-wheeling through corridors and across the exterior of the station – as well as countless close ups of it (held for far too long) parading itself for the camera – to the point where it very quickly ceases to be scary. Jon Eckstrand’s overbearing score valiantly attempts to compensate, but ultimately comes across as shrilly desperate and annoying.

The visual effects depicting the exterior of the International Space Station are fine (if nothing we haven’t seen before – particularly in Alfonso Cuarón’s highly applauded Gravity). While scenes depicting the cast maneuvering through the station in Zero G do tend to look a little goofy at times, the biggest issue is the creature itself; both in terms of its design and execution. Resembling the squid-like monster Noomi Rapace gives birth to in Prometheus, this thing isn’t even remotely scary or convincing.

Disappointingly bereft of even a decent modicum of originality or suspense, Life is a lazily generic and ultimately superfuous addition to the ‘rampaging monster aboard a spaceship’ genre – of which Ridley Scott’s nearly forty year old Alien is still the uncontested benchmark. I recommend you go watch that film instead.

1.5 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, March 23rd 2017

Greg Moss is a flm school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-f thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Logan – film review

LOGAN

Brutal body count with heart distinguishes Jackman’s fnal bow as Marvel fave.

Reviewed on Thursday 2nd March 2017

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Directed by James Mangold. Screenplay by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green, story by James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant and introducing Dafne Keen. Running time: 137 mins.

NOTE: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE.

It is no secret Hugh Jackman has been wanting the opportunity to play the Wolverine character in a more adult-oriented, less ‘comic booky’ vehicle (something which 2013’s The Wolverine originally hoped to achieve – but ultimately failed to follow through on). And with this, James Mangold’s own follow-up to that particular missed opportunity, Jackman has fnally gotten his wish. And, refreshingly, it appears there was very little (if any) studio meddling in this fnal installment of Jackman’s highly-regarded multi picture run as the Wolverine character.

Make no mistake, sporting a level of violence and brutality not seen in any previous Marvel releases (aside from last year’s Deadpool) – this flm is unashamedly aimed at mature audiences. Featuring numerous skull stabbings and limb-loppings, it’s diffcult to guess the exact body count – but I’d dare say it would defnitely be up there with 2014’s equally hyper-violent John Wick.

Being the last mutant of his generation, Logan’s immortality has clearly taken its toll since we last saw him. A bitter, haunted shell of his former self, now living in self-imposed exile from society, his regeneration powers waning, Logan works as a limo driver in order to supply an ailing Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) with the drugs he needs to keep his increasingly erratic and potentially dangerous psychic abilities at bay. And much like Michael Douglas’ character in Romancing the Stone, Logan’s external yearning (the thing which kick-starts the plot) is to earn enough cash in order to buy a boat and simply sail away; while his internal yearning (being the one he is unaware of) is to rekindle his ability to care for others (for, immortality, as we know, makes one vulnerable to the trauma brought about by the continued loss of loved ones). As it turns out, the solution to both Logan’s inner and outer yearnings arrives in the form of Laura (Dafne Keen), a hunted young girl Logan is hired to transport across the US to rumoured ‘sanctuary’ in Canada.

Despite the dark, gritty tone, there is a deeply-felt emotional core to this flm; provided by the beautifully realized chemistry between Logan, Xavier and Laura; giving us a real sense of authenticity not usually seen in more one dimensional comic book fare.

There is no question Jackman inhabits the role he has claimed as his own. And much like Christopher Reeve as the quintessential Superman, it is diffcult to imagine anyone aside from Jackman playing this character in what will be the inevitable future reboots. And Patrick Stewart is always a joy to watch, but here (thanks to a screenplay which gives him plenty to work with) – he delivers one of the best performances of his long and distinguished career. And newcomer Dafne Keen (with Logan marking her frst ever big screen appearance) – as Logan’s rebellious charge, is also very good.

While the opening action sequence in which we see Logan single-handedly take out   a gang of would-be carjackers is shot a tad too close to get a clear sense of what is going on, Mangold does handle action more coherently later on – particularly with Logan’s narrow escape from his New Mexico retreat with the bad guys in pursuit. Another standout sequence is the beautifully-staged scene where Xavier uses his psychic powers (like a human EMP) to paralyze a Vegas hotel full of people when     the bad guys attempt a takedown. Interestingly, although taking place in the year 2029, the depiction of the future is fundamentally no different from present day; with automated cargo trucks barreling along the highway being the most outlandish concept (an idea, incidentally, most likely cribbed from the long forgotten 1990       sci-fi thriller Solar Crisis).

My only quibble with Logan is the flm’s length. While the running time of 137 minutes is warranted to some extent (this being Wolverine’s alleged swansong), it does tend to drag somewhat heading into the fnal act. However, for those, like me, who have felt this tiresome tsunami of comic book movies currently clogging the cineplexes to be generic, bland and repetitive in the extreme – be rest assured; Logan is something else. It isn’t just a great comic book movie, it’s a great movie – period.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, March 2nd 2017

Greg Moss is a flm school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-f thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Bill Paxton 1955 – 2017

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It was with great sadness I learnt yesterday of the shock passing of one of my favourite actors Bill Paxton. Best remembered for his scene-stealing role as the gung-ho but cowardly Private Hudson in Aliens (providing pitch-perfect delivery of some of the most quotable lines ever) – Bill first came to my attention as the goofy gap-toothed bartender Clyde – punched out by Amy Madigan – in Streets of Fire in 1984. Other notable roles of Bill’s include the gleefully sadistic nocturnal predator Severen in Near Dark, the clueless lothario conman wannabe Simon in True Lies and the rancid chicken-eating ‘human cockroach’ Gus in The Dark Backward.

Although Bill’s impressive body of work will continue to be revisited and enjoyed in years to come, it still saddens me we will never see another new performance from this talented and much appreciated actor. By all accounts Bill was genuinely loved     by all who knew him. My thoughts go out to his friends and family.

The Jacket – film review

THE JACKET

Another compelling little gem for those who enjoy their sci-fi low tech and heady.

Reviewed on Sunday 19th February 2017

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Directed by John Maybury. Written by Massy Tadjedin. Starring: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Daniel Craig. Year of release: 2005. Running time: 103 mins.

The year is 1993 and Jack Starks; a returned Gulf War veteran wrongly accused of murder, is incarcerated in a mental institution where an experimental drug treatment he is subjected to gives him the apparent ability to travel back and forth fourteen years into the future. Armed with foreknowledge of his impending death in four days time, and with the help of a troubled young diner waitress in 2007, Jack must piece together the events surrounding his mysterious demise in order to prevent it from happening.

Directed by British flmmaker John Maybury, the tightly-knit and compelling screenplay by Iranian-born writer Massy Tadjedin, from a story by Tom Bleecker     and Marc Rocco is loosely inspired by the 1915 novel The Star Rover by celebrated author Jack London (White Fang, Call of the Wild).

The jacket of the title refers to the straight jacket which Jack Starks (Adrien Brody)     is forced to wear during his ‘treatments’ while he is drugged and placed inside a mortuary drawer for hours on end. Reminiscent of the mind-blowing 1980 film Altered States, it is this combination of experimental drugs and sensory deprivation which provides our hero with metaphysical experiences – in Jack’s case, time travel. While inside the jacket, Jack’s visits to the future and his interactions with Keira Knightley’s Jackie in 2007 present him with clues about the circumstances of his death in 1993. In other words, information gathered in the future is used to affect the present and thus also change the future.

Despite misleading poster art giving the impression the flm is tonally darker than it actually is, The Jacket is essentially a psychological sci-f mystery with substantial romantic elements; something more akin to Duncan Jones’ Source Code than mindbending horror fare like Jacob’s Ladder. And unlike Terry Gilliam’s Twelve Monkeys – a flm to which The Jacket has been frequently compared, there is no ambiguity here as to whether or not Jack is actually travelling through time for real     or merely just delusional and fantasizing he is visiting the future.

As played by 70s icon Kris Kristofferson (Blade, Flashpoint) the head psychiatrist conducting ‘behavioural modifcation’ experiments is presented with a refreshing degree of understanding not usually associated with mad scientist characters depicted in these kind of stories. While the remainder of the supporting cast;     featuring the always watchable Jennifer Jason Leigh is also very good. And Daniel Craig (playing a role similar to that of Brad Pitt in Twelve Monkeys) is virtually unrecognizable as one of Jack’s unhinged asylum inmates.

The sometimes industrial, mostly electronic score by Brian Eno (one of only a handful of original movie scores he has composed) nicely underscores the general unease     of the asylum sequences involving Jack’s treatment. While the moody, low-key cinematography by Peter Deming (Lost Highway, Drag Me To Hell) creates a suitably sickly pallor which contrasts nicely with the brighter, more positive tones of the 2007 sequences.

For those who don’t necessarily need their sci-f bristling with technology, but still enjoy wrestling with heady sci-f concepts, there’s much to enjoy with this beautifully crafted engaging little gem.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Greg Moss is a flm school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-f thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Passengers – film review

PASSENGERS

The first great adult-oriented sci-fi film of the year.

Reviewed on Monday 2nd January 2017

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Directed by Morten Tyldum. Written by Jon Spaihts. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. Running time: 116 mins.

Jim Preston, a colonist travelling to a distant planet, awakens from hypersleep aboard an automated starship to fnd he has been awakened ninety years too soon. Without any hope of returning to hypersleep, Jim faces the awful prospect of living out the rest of his life alone; a castaway in space.

A highly-regarded screenplay un-flmed for almost a decade, Passengers was the writing sample which persuaded Ridley Scott to hire the hot young screenwriter       Jon Spaihts to initially develop the Alien prequel; substantially re-tooled by Damon Lindelof to eventually become the debacle that was Prometheus in 2012. Having read and quite enjoyed Spaihts’ original draft for Alien: Engineers (after it was leaked soon after the release of Scott’s Prometheus), I was intrigued to go see Passengers based purely on the fact Spaihts was the originator of the material.

The opening half hour or so beautifully conveys the deep sense of isolation and despair Chris Pratt’s everyman mechanic Jim Preston experiences upon realizing     he is fated to live and die alone aboard a starship of sleepers. With the hypersleep revival of the Jennifer Lawrence character – an aspiring young journalist named Aurora Lane; planning on writing about her round trip to the colonies, the film becomes less a study of isolation and more a traditional romance – albeit one which explores a fascinating quandary.

This revival of Aurora presents the Chris Pratt character with a compelling moral dilemma which lies at the very heart of this story; a dramatic aspect which is explored with unfinching honesty to the extent where our sympathy for Pratt’s character is (uncharacteristically for a contemporary big budget Hollywood movie) threatened. There are some who have felt the exploration of this dilemma is somewhat unsavory. But I feel, in this respect, these detractors have missed the point and this flm should be appreciated for daring to go out on a limb and not just treading the safe and easy (and bland) path of most Hollywood fare. Indeed, I can foresee people heatedly debating the moral implications this film presents in the decades to come (much like the future debates I imagine regarding Amy Adams’ equally divisive moral choices in the recent Arrival). A traditional romance such as Passengers either works or it doesn’t based purely on the chemistry (or lack thereof) between the two leads. And thankfully the on-screen chemistry between Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence is very much in evidence. Having never seen any of Jennifer Lawrence’s previous work, I was unaware just how talented a performer she really is. And Chris Pratt (another actor I’ve also never had an opinion of one way or another) is also very good.

Jon Spaihts’ keenly-wrought screenplay presents characters whose motivations we can understand. While Norwegian helmer Morten Tyldum demonstrates he is equally adept at staging thrilling action sequences as he is eliciting strong performances from his stars. And the stunning sets and visual effects depicting the enormity of the starship Avalon, as she traverses the vastness of space; truly demand this flm be seen on the largest screen possible.

Passengers is an emotionally authentic romance as well as being a thrilling survival tale which, like all great sci-fi, has something relevant to say about the human condition. Oh and it might just be the perfect date movie too; with plenty to discuss over that post screening coffee.

4 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, January 2nd 2017

Greg Moss is a flm school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – film review

ROGUE ONE

Disney’s overblown fanboy fiction sidebar is ultimately superfluous.

Reviewed on Thursday 15th December 2016

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Directed by Gareth Edwards. Writen by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy, based on characters created by George Lucas. Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn and Forest Whitaker. Running time: 134 mins.

A rag-tag bunch of rebels attempt to break into an Imperial stronghold in order to steal plans for the planet-destroying space station known as the Death Star.

SPOILER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

I must admit, the idea of talented young directors who grew up loving Star Wars having a crack at George Lucas’ universe did seem somewhat intriguing at first. Although there was always the possibility that it would be nothing more than a cynical exercise in milking the Star Wars cash cow even further. Having enjoyed Gareth Edwards’ previous films (the microbudget indie darling Monsters and the 2014 version of Godzilla) – I was excited to learn he had been signed on to direct Rogue One. And there’s no denying this film is well directed. It’s not the direction I have an issue with – it’s the writing.

The first twenty minutes is a confused and muddy jumble of difficult to differentiate characters with no striking distinctions from one another (aside from the weapons they weild). And apart from the robot K2 – really the only truly engaging character     in the entire movie – the remainder of the characters are so bland – as to be almost non-existent. While pre-existing characters (or should that be post-existing characters) – feel shoe-horned into the narrative for no legitimate reason. Why is Princess Leia even in attendence during the battle to steal the plans? For no other reason than (much like the finale of Revenge of the Sith) – to connect this installment to the opening of A New Hope. Diehard Star Wars fans would no doubt call this nitpicking – but it all feels so contrived and clumsy; lacking in finesse.

However, the thing which irrevocably threw me out of the film – never to recover; has got to be the surprise re-appearance of the late Peter Cushing (here playing the same role he did in 1977 – before he died). Unfortunately, creepy computer-generated Peter Cushing is only just marginally less creepy than creepy computer-generated young Jeff Bridges in Tron Legacy. Every time CG Peter Cushing appeared on-screen – I felt, well – completely unnerved. Sorry, but this CG depiction of real, recognizable people is still way too ‘uncanny valley’ for my liking. And, yeah, it completely threw me out of the picture.

Finally, and I know I’m gonna receive plenty of flack for this; the most problematic issue with Rogue One is the central character. Here again we have a young woman with familial abandonment issues (a long-time Disney trope if ever there was) – who is also a kick-ass fighter; which we only saw just last year with the character of Ray in The Force Awakens – and to be quite honest, this meme is already tired second time around. Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the depiction of female empowerment on-screen. But, by the same token; little boys these days are also (probably moreso) in desperate need of strong role models. And it’s telling that both Rogue One and The Force Awakens really do present no strong male role models to speak of. Hopefully future installments in the franchise will do something to redress this balance.

On a positive note, Michael Giacchino’s rousing wall-to-wall score perfectly imitates John Williams’ style, while the authentic recreation of John Barry’s iconic production design for the original Star Wars is also worthy of note. But these things alone don’t necessarily make this installment essential viewing in my opinion.

So how does Rogue One bode for Disney’s future side-bar installments of Star Wars? Well, for me, if this ‘first out of the gate’ installment is any indication – not that well     at all. I prefer my Star Wars to be escapist fun and not have blatant sociopolitical agendas and gender politics shoe-horned into it.

2 stars out of 5

Star ratings: 1 – poor / 2 – below average / 3 – good / 4 – excellent / 5 – unmissable

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Megaplex Marion, Adelaide, December 16th 2016.

Greg Moss is a film school graduate with a background in directing music videos     and is currently seeking representation as a screenwriter. He likes creative people, feeding the cat and watching genre movies. Greg can also be heard on the Blu-ray commentary track for the 1980 sci-fi thriller Saturn 3, out now from Scream Factory.