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Halloween 2018 – film review

HALLOWEEN 2018

Too little. Too late.

Reviewed on Thursday 25th October 2018

Directed by David Gordon Green. Written by David Gordon Green & Danny McBride & Jeff Fradley, based on characters created by John Carpenter & Debra Hill. Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak and Will Patton. Running time: 107 mins.

Forty years have passed since Laurie Strode’s initial encounter with the masked killer Michael Myers. The trauma she suffered as a teenager has made her stronger and more determined to protect herself and her loved ones should Michael escape from custody. Then one fateful Halloween night, Michael breaks out to continue his rampage; facing off against Laurie in a violent final showdown.

It is said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while hoping to achieve a different result. The same could be said for the mounting stack of Spider-Man reboots we are subjected to every few years. But it is undoubtedly Halloween which currently holds the top spot of five franchise restarts over its now eleven film history; the most recent being Rob Zombie’s Halloween in 2007.

I must admit, the last Halloween film I saw was the unfairly misunderstood and under-appreciated Halloween III: Season of the Witch back in 1983 – itself an attempt at steering the franchise into an anthology series – wherein each October a stand-alone film unrelated to the story of Michael Myers (and connected only by the pagan holiday itself) would be released under the Halloween banner. Admittedly a brilliant and intriguing concept (and one which would have opened up the series to unlimited story possibilities), the idea was sadly abandoned following vocal outrage from fans over the absence of Michael Myers.

By the time Halloween 4 was released five years later – and being the return of Michael Myers – I had pretty much lost interest in following the series any further.

This latest entry is the third Halloween sequel since 1998 to feature Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode and much like Halloween H20, this film also ignores previous instalments. The only difference here being that even the events of the first Halloween II are ignored, meaning this is, for the first time, a direct follow-on from the original 1978 Halloween – the most significant result of this retcon being that Laurie and Michael are no longer brother and sister (the big reveal in Halloween II).

The screenplay by David Gordon Green & Danny McBride & Jeff Fradley is the biggest issue I have with this film; being all over the shop tonally – with needless and embarrassingly awkward humour seemingly shoe-horned into what are otherwise really tense sequences. There is one scene in particular towards the end – involving two random cops comparing lunches which should really have been left on the cutting room floor – as it totally dissipates the building of tension. Thankfully the film recovers quickly enough to lead us into a remarkably suspenseful and claustrophobic cat-and-mouse final sequence. The other overall problem with the script is that we spend far less time with Laurie Strode than we should. Whenever we cut away – to concentrate on other (less interesting) supporting characters, the film appears to lose focus and thus momentum at certain times – particularly around the mid-point. And whilst I appreciate the nicely-played dynamic between Laurie and her estranged daughter Karen and grand-daughter, Allyson (played by newcomer Andi Matichak) – it is Laurie’s journey from victim to survivor to ultimate victor we should be primarily invested in. One need only to look to films like The Terminator and Aliens as prime examples of stories effectively told almost entirely from the heroine’s point of view. And just as a side note, it has to be said – Laurie being a haunted survivor (prepping for the inevitable return of the unstoppable force which tormented her) does clearly appear to be inspired by the portrayal of Sarah Connor in Terminator 2.

Bizarrely, there is also a completely unearned and pointless left-of-field reveal in the second half – with one particular character (for no discernible reason) shown to be something other than what we thought he was – something more akin to Decker in Clive Barker’s Nightbreed. While, only minutes later, still reeling from the reveal, the reveal becomes null and void and pointless – giving us a real “Well why the hell did that all just happen?’ moment. It’s quite bizarre.

On the plus side, the anamorphic lenses employed by DP Michael Simmonds do recall the widescreen look of the original Halloween. The wider frame providing ample opportunities to hide Michael in the background or off to one side – hidden in plain site. And for the first time in thirty-five years, John Carpenter returns to scoring duties on a Halloween movie (this time bringing along his current co-collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies – fresh from their involvement in the celebrated Lost Themes and Anthology albums). The main title – here given a brand new spit and polish using today’s technology – still remains one of the most menacing and dread-laden pieces of film music ever.

Whilst I can appreciate the filmmakers’ intent here to make a follow-up worthy of the original Halloween, the somewhat inconclusive ending does appear to leave things open for yet another instalment. An idea which, when I think about it, doesn’t fill me with much enthusiasm.

2.5 stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Wallis Cinemas Mitcham, Adelaide, October 25th 2018

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.

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1% One Percent – film review

1% ONE PERCENT

Brutal Aussie biker flick delivers break-out role for potential new star.

Reviewed on Sunday 21st October 2018


Directed by Stephen McCallum. Written by Matt Nable. Starring: Ryan Corr, Abbey Lee, Josh McConville, Simone Kessell and Matt Nable. Running time: 92 mins.

The vice president of an outlaw motorcycle club is coerced into doing business laundering money with a rival club as restitution for his brother’s involvement in a foolish attempt to rip them off. When the president of his own club is released from jail and immediately reneges on the deal, the VP must challenge his psychopathic boss for the top spot otherwise his brother will be targeted and killed by the rival club.

Delving into the occasionally explored world of outlaw motorcycle clubs, this impressive feature debut from film school graduate and commercials director Stephen McCallum is a gritty and intensely engaging character-driven crime drama whose greatest asset is its unpredictability.

Featuring a powerhouse central performance from former NRL rugby league player-turned actor Matt Nable (best remembered for his stand-out appearance in the sci-fi action fave Riddick – opposite Vin Diesel) the film recalls that other no-holds-barred gritty take on an Aussie flavoured fringe culture, the Russell Crowe-starring Romper Stomper from 1992.

The movie’s only recognizable shortcoming is its esoteric title – seemingly nondescript to the casual observer. It does however have relevance – referring as it does to an alleged misquote attributed to the American Motorcyclist Association – that 99% of motorbike riders are law-abiding citizens – while 1% are not.

The cast is uniformly excellent – while Matt Nable (imposing as fuck as club president Knuck) overshadows everything. Whenever he appears it is virtually impossible to     tear one’s gaze away – his nuanced performance being pitch-perfect and totally convincing; fully inhabiting this monstrous, hateful character while simultaneously charming us to the verge where we can perhaps even see ourselves sympathising with him. The other stand-out performance belongs to Josh McConville as Paddo’s dimwitted but well-meaning brother Skink (perhaps the film’s most sympathetic character). So good is McConville’s performance that we forget we are watching an actor play a role and truly buy him as a real person – reacting to the escalating bloodshed with horror as events spiral out of control.

While Stephen McCallum’s direction artfully escalates a serious sense of dread,       the finely-wrought screenplay – penned by Nable himself – also does a great job in subverting expectations; the final third of the film going in directions we simply cannot anticipate.

Heralding the arrival of a potential new star (drawing comparisons with Russell Crowe in Romper Stomper and Eric Bana in Chopper) – One Percent may well be the vehicle to propel another talented Aussie actor from down under obscurity to the loftiest of heights.

4 stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Marion, October 21st 2018

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.

Mandy – film review

MANDY

Panos Cosmatos delivers a Heavy Metal fever dream.

Reviewed on Tuesday 2nd October 2018

Directed by Panos Cosmatos. Written by Panos Cosmatos & Aaron Stewart-Ahn. Starring: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache and Ned Dennehy. Running time: 121 mins.

A chainsaw-wielding woodsman embarks on a revenge-fuelled killing spree after his beloved is brutally murdered by a band of demon-worshipping cultists.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Panos Cosmatos had never intended to make another film following his 2010 feature debut – the trippy sci-fi thriller Beyond the Black Rainbow. So it came something of a surprise when Mandy appeared on the radar (seemingly unannounced).

Nicolas Cage plays Red Miller, a simple lumberjack living in a secluded cabin in the woods with his beloved artist wife Mandy (Andrea Riseborough). The couple’s idyllic existence is thrown into brutal disarray when cult leader Jeremiah (Linus Roache) takes a fancy to Mandy and has his creepy drug-addled band of followers raid the property – taking the couple hostage in a bid to convert Mandy to their cause. When Mandy refuses his advances – humiliating him in the process – Jeremiah has her brutally killed while Red is bound with barbed wire and left for dead. Freeing himself, and armed with an assortment of weapons, Red embarks on a bloody quest of vengeance – encountering demonic bikers from hell along the way.

Screenplay-wise, the narrative is fairly straight forward with minimal dialogue – allowing for the film’s evocative imagery and immersive (dare I say Lynchian) soundscapes to be fully appreciated. Unlike most films these days, this film has     room to breathe, create a mood and draw you in.

Despite what one might think of Nicolas Cage – whether or not he can still be taken seriously as an actor, his performance here is one of his more subdued and less cartoonish ones – suggesting Cosmatos was free to rein him in to a certain degree. The remainder of the cast (particularly the cult members) are well chosen in their     roles – the standout being Linus Roache as Jeremiah. Andrea Riseborough (virtually unrecognizable from her role in Oblivion) is also very good.

Clearly a child of the 80s, Cosmatos says he drew inspiration from the lurid box art and back cover plot descriptions of R-rated videos in his local store – movies he was too young to see – but fired his imagination. Taking place (as does Black Rainbow) in the year 1983, the film is filled with obvious and not so obvious references to classic cult movies from the 80s (with nods to such films as Evil Dead, Hellraiser, Heavy Metal and Altered States being most in evidence). Cosmatos however seamlessly blends these elements into the very fabric of the film, so the overall effect is a singularly cohesive vision which is very much its own thing. Indeed, so unique is Cosmatos’ vision that it is virtually impossible to compare Mandy to anything that     has come before. It truly is one of a kind. Mesmerizing.

As with Black Rainbow, Cosmatos again utilizes anamorphic lenses to great effect; the super-wide properties of the lenses lending a super-immersive aspect to the images. Featuring highly-saturated colors rarely seen in modern films these days, the cinematography by Benjamin Loeb also creates many moments of startling beauty. Interestingly, while shot using modern-day 4K, the image appears to have been deliberately degraded to give it that classic grungy 80s B-movie look. The score by     the late Jóhann Jóhannsson (whose final score this is) also leaves an indelible impression, perfectly augmenting the sense of dread and intensity in certain scenes.

Whilst Beyond the Black Rainbow clearly has its fair share of admirers and detractors, it wouldn’t at all surprise me if Mandy is, in time, hailed as something of a sleeper hit cult classic. In the meantime though, and much like Darren Aronofsky’s aggressively divisive Mother! – I also suspect the audaciousness of Mandy will either be enthusiastically embraced or derisively dismissed – no in-between. But then again – isn’t this the very thing which characterizes a cult movie?

An LSD laced fairy tale for adults – a luridly beautiful, heavy metal-inspired fever dream, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy definitely demands more than one viewing – perhaps even several. And this is something I very much look forward to doing very soon.

4.5 stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Event Cinemas Marion, October 2nd 2018

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.

The Predator 2018 – film review

THE PREDATOR

Another beloved 80s action property at risk of becoming fully Marvelized.

Reviewed on Thursday 13th September 2018

Directed by Shane Black. Written by Fred Dekker & Shane Black. Starring: Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane and Olivia Munn. Running time: 107 mins.

On special assignment in central America, a US sniper witnesses the crash-landing of a Predator ship. Targeted by the authorities for what he saw, he joins forces with an escaped busload of military misfits headed for the looney bin and together with a renegade kick-ass female scientist – embarks on a perilous mission to go get his estranged autistic son – before the Predator does.

Having missed seeing the original Predator in theatres upon its initial release in 1987 (subsequently catching it on VHS) – I finally got to see the much-loved Arnie vehicle on the big screen at a special one-off retrospective theatrical screening several weeks ago.

Best described as Alien in the jungle – wherein a crack team of black ops mercenaries are picked off one by one by an unstoppable otherworldly trophy hunter for sport, this surprise hit of 87 went on to spawn an LA-set sequel in 1990, two Alien cross-overs in the early 2000s and the stand-alone Predators in 2010. Of these films it is really only the first two which are generally considered as canon (having been conceived and penned by the original writing team of Jim & John Thomas). While all the rest are really nothing more than ill-conceived fan fiction – and should generally be avoided.

When it was announced legendary Lethal Weapon scribe Shane Black would be helming an authentic follow-on to the first two movies, interest was piqued (he was after all one of the original cast members featured in the first movie – and therefore     by rights would most likely have an understanding of what makes a good Predator movie).

So what the fuck went wrong?

Some have blamed studio reshoots (particularly with reference to hasty last minute meddling with the third act) – but in all honesty, this film is just plain bad from the get-go.

Much like that other needlessly awful soft reboot of a much-loved 80s action series Terminator Genisys (wherein comic book sensibilities are clumsily shoe-horned into it for no other reason than to appeal to a younger audience) – this film ultimately suffers the same fate; the much derided ending being an ominous sign of where the studio wants to take this series. Are you ready for an Iron Man clone fending off hoards of Predators?

The amusing banter between characters one normally associates with Shane Black’s writing is present, if laid on a little thick here – to the point where the film ultimately doesn’t take itself seriously enough to generate even a modicum of suspense or concern for the stakes – making the overall experience of watching the film an un-involving and passive one. At least the original had the sense to move its (highly quotable) funny banter to one side – as the suspense kicked in. Here there are funny lines right to the end, dissipating our concern for what’s at stake – should the antagonist succeed in their nefarious plan.

And while we’re on the subject of suspense – there is none to speak of in this film. None. The director of the original, John McTiernan, clearly knows how to generate suspense via anticipation. We anticipate something bad could happen at any moment. His use of long takes and ambient jungle sounds building tension – not only for the characters on-screen, but we the viewer as well. After all – it is this inclusion of the audience which most (if not all) filmmakers strive to achieve. Or so one would be expected to believe.

This lack of suspense (in this new film) is due largely to its pacing. There is simply no let-up long enough in the action – no time to pause to accommodate the possibility of the generating of tension or anticipation. This film starts at high speed and never stops. This wouldn’t be an issue for a non-stop balls-to-the-wall actioner like Crank or John Wick. But when your property has a sizeable horror element to it, it might be useful to slow things down every now and then – to allow audience inclusion. Adding to the frenetic pacing, it appears there are whole scenes missing – giving the first half of the film a certain choppiness, as it lurches clumsily from one sequence to the next.

The complexity of the plot is another issue. Sure we have hastily-delivered exposition thrown at us left right and centre, but at no point are we clear on what exactly is at stake; there is no clearly-defined goal from the outset. By the halfway point we find ourselves giving up on understanding what the hell is going on and merely wait for     the film to run its course.

The series’ central really cool idea of the Predators being interstellar big game hunters, travelling from planet to planet to hunt each new world’s dominant species     as trophies (which may or may not have been inspired by the hoary 1980 sci-fi film Without Warning) – is basically discarded here in favour of your basic alien invasion scenario. The Predators, it seems, have been enjoying our changing climate so     much (due of course to man-made global warming) – they now want to settle here permanently. And not only that, now it appears they’ve been collecting DNA from from all these various planetary alpha species to engineer genetic improvements in their own biology – an unwarranted plot convolution which is neither clever, nor compelling. It’s just plain dumb. (This uncalled for meddling with established lore being something of the order of the conceptual vandalism Ridley Scott perpetrated on the Alien mythos with the diabolical Prometheus and Alien Covenant. But, hey, don’t get me started)

Undoubtedly the bloodiest entry in the series thus far, it is perhaps due to the fan backlash afforded other recent iterations of 80s action properties which had their violence watered down for a PG-13 rating (Terminator Genisys, Total Recall, Robocop) – the violence in this Predator is so extreme – so over the top – as to become borderline ridiculous. With the Marvel-inspired final reveal no doubt pointing to a more kid friendly next instalment, my guess is this will be the last R-rated Predator movie we will be seeing for quite some time.

The conspiratorially-minded part of me wonders if there is a deliberate agenda on the part of the major studios to take beloved and iconic properties from the last forty years (Alien, Indiana Jones, The Terminator, Predator) and debase them to such an extent they will no longer remain relevant to future generations – or if its just your run-of-the-mill corporate blind greed and stupidity responsible for pumping out shameless garbage like this.

no stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Wallis Piccadilly Cinemas, Adelaide, September 13th 2018

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.

The Guardian – film review

THE GUARDIAN

Muddled adaptation diverges from a perfectly effective source – to its own detriment.

Reviewed on 25th August 2018

Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay by Stephen Volk and William Friedkin, based on the novel ‘The Nanny’ by Dan Greenburg. Starring: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell. Running time: 92 mins.

SPOILER WARNING: The following review contains major spoilers for both the source novel and the film.

Heavily promoted at the time as being Friedkin’s long-awaited return to the horror genre after a seventeen year hiatus since the release of The Exorcist, it is fair to say this 1990 film had little chance of meeting expectations.

Published in 1987, Dan Greenburg’s novel, The Nanny, features prose which is simple and straight forward, somewhat similar in tone to domestic horror tales one might read from the 1960s and 70s (most notably Rosemary’s Baby and The Amityville Horror).

When a New York advertising executive and his wife hire a straight-laced English nanny to help care for their infant son, the couple soon find themselves targeted       by an unrelenting supernatural force – a force determined to take control over every aspect of their lives.

Phil and Julie Pressman are struggling to cope caring for their colic afflicted son, Harry. Harry’s persistent and prolonged crying is exhausting them and driving them to despair. In their escalating desperation, the couple approach an agency for a Nanny to help them and offer a little relief. Enter Luci Redman – mid-thirties (although her skin is more like mid-fifties). Striking to look at, her face might be described as beautiful, except there is something severe and off-putting about it. Six feet tall, she is big-boned and solidly built with piercing light blue eyes so piercing it isn’t pleasant looking into them. Despite initial misgivings regarding Luci’s annoyingly stern take-charge manner and in the face of no other suitable candidates, the couple decide to take her on. The fact she is so effortlessly able to settle the child (while his parents cannot) being the number one concern which secures her employment. Luci’s outward demeanor comes across initially as strident and demanding; rejecting out of hand the concerns of her employers regarding her disrespectful nature. It is only when she is called out on this and threatened to be fired she becomes as sweet as can be, giving the impression this is her true nature – lulling the couple into a false sense of security. The novel is fairly pedestrian to begin with (dealing mainly with the somewhat mundane aspects of child-rearing) – but quickly picks up once Luci’s psychosexual manipulations of the couple come into play. With Phil’s sexual needs being frustratingly unfulfilled since the pregnancy, his ability to fend off Luci’s increasingly provocative advances is seriously impaired.

Midway through the tale, Luci’s intentions begin to take on a sinister, possibly occult bent suggesting witchcraft. However this is never stated overtly. Refreshingly, at this point, she is depicted more as a force of nature with no specific explanation as to her origin or even motivation for her actions. All we know is she is obsessive at best or worse – just inherently evil. As the narrative hurtles towards its grotesquely violent climax, Luci’s persona becomes virtually demonic in nature with her relentless drive in the pursuit of her goals verging on the supernatural. It is here Greenburg finally gives us a sizeable info dump offering up an explanation. It appears Luci is the re-incarnated spirit of a young child raped and murdered in the 1800s. She has incarnated at least twice; moving from family to family – taking over their lives to create the perfect home life she has always craved. The book’s finale (evocatively taking place in a snow-bound cabin in upstate New York) – becomes full-blown horror when Luci is set alight and goes screaming off into the woods, only to return later as a charred corpse, burnt beyond recognition – as she faces off in a vicious final showdown with Phil.

Prior to signing on to helm the film which would eventually become The Guardian, Friedkin had only read a pre-existing draft of the script by Welsh screenwriter Stephen Volk (which by all accounts was a far more faithful adaptation of the source material). The celebrated director signed on to the project as a personal favour for his old friend Joe Wizan – a former agent with the William Morris agency who initiated Friedkin’s break into the film business, who by this time was himself forging a promising career as a producer (having already had a hand in developing such films as Audrey Rose and Iron Eagle). Friedkin was reportedly uninspired by this initial draft (calling the story lame) and would collaborate with Volk on a further rewrite – before embarking on a final draft on his own.

The resulting film bears little resemblance to the novel.

Aside from the title change (Friedkin felt The Nanny might give the wrongful impression the film was a British costume drama) – the most immediate difference between novel and film is the change in locale from New York City to Los Angeles. Sadly this change means we lose the dread-filled Gothic feel of the novel’s final act in favour of, well, no atmosphere at all (the irony being that Friedkin’s intention with The Guardian had been to make a modern day Grimm’s fairy tale – which the novel’s snow-bound climax is clearly meant to be a reference to in the first place).

Right from the outset any potential mystery and intrigue is immediately hamstrung by the unnecessary inclusion of a title card which tells us in no uncertain terms the nanny’s motivation for what we are about to see unfold (she is part of a druidic cult of spirit beings who sacrifice children to blood-drinking pagan tree gods). Since we as an audience are immediately privy to what is going on, it then becomes a matter of waiting for the characters to play catch-up – making the entire viewing experience decidedly disengaging and dull (just imagine how ineffectual and disengaging Hitchcock’s Psycho would have been if the psychiatrist’s explanation of Norman Bates’ behaviour had been placed up front before the story even begins).

While Friedkin’s The Exorcist is widely touted as one of the most terrifying films ever made, Friedkin himself has been loath to label it a horror film. With no interest in – or even affinity for, the horror genre – it makes sense Friedkin wasn’t the original choice to helm The Nanny adaptation (that being Sam Raimi of Evil Dead fame). It is clear Friedkin was approached largely for the instant marquee value he would provide as the director of The Exorcist.

This isn’t to say The Guardian doesn’t appear to be trying to be a horror film – featuring as it does numerous (if barely glimpsed) gore effects and attempted jump scares. It’s just that what makes the novel such a compelling read is the mounting sense of dread Greenburg is able to instil in the reader – with the gradual onion skin reveal of Luci’s true nature.

Tonally and thematically Friedkin’s take on the material is all over the place. Whereas Greenburg’s book has a tightly-knit structure and cohesive through-line, Friedkin’s clearly overbaked screenplay has so much crazy nonsense going on it’s virtually impossible to follow (or even care about) anything that happens. Superfluous characters seem introduced for no good reason other than to offer cheap thrills and provide a body count – the prime example being an unsavoury gang of would-be rapists who menace the Nanny (here renamed Camilla) – only to be dispatched in       a ludicrously grisly manner by the blood-drinking tree. Likewise the admittedly well-directed sequence where a potential paramour is attacked by a pack of home-invading coyotes has virtually no bearing on the central plot and appears to be included only as a desperate attempt to ignite interest in the second half.

While Friedkin has demonstrated with films like Sorcerer and The French Connection he is indeed a masterful (even visionary) director, with the debacle that is The Guardian he has also revealed he can only ever be as good as the material he is given. It’s just a shame in this instance – he was either unwilling or unable to recognize the strengths of Dan Greenburg’s novel and build upon what is, in all honesty, a respectably solid base. Perhaps enough time has passed for a new version of The Nanny to be mounted (with a current visionary at the helm) – one which adheres more closely to the source material.

1.5 stars out of 5

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

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.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – film review

SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY

It could have been worse.

Reviewed on Thursday 24th May 2018


Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Jonathan Kasdan & Lawrence Kasdan. Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Woody Harrelson, Donald Glover and Emilia Clarke. Running time: 135 mins.

Han Solo is a young punk chasing his dream of becoming a space pilot. With the help of his newfound Wookie sidekick Chewbacca, the pair become involved in a daring heist. A heist which leads to the infamous Kessel Run – mentioned as an aside in     the original Star Wars.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Following the historical (not to mention hysterical) fanboy drubbing and backlash afforded The Last Jedi, (sure, on a re-watch – it has its issues) – it would seem there was a lot riding on this – Disney’s latest entry in its expanding Star Wars franchise (also the sophomore effort in a proposed sidebar series of stand-alone films in the wake of the asinine and redundant Rogue One). For such a troubled production (the film was completely re-shot following the eleventh hour firing of its original directors), Solo is something of a surprise. The film no-one wanted or even asked for – is actually pretty good – enjoyable even.

Han Solo is arguably the best-loved character from the original trilogy, three writers being instrumental in his creation (Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz – uncredited in providing the first movie’s best lines; particularly the banter between Han and Leia in A New Hope and Lawrence Kasdan continuing this banter in Empire and to a lesser extent in Return of the Jedi). So with Kasdan again on board to pen this directly connecting backstory, the character is very much the one we remember from the original trilogy.

Alden Ehrenreich plays the titular character with a certain roguish charm befitting Han Solo – without self-consciously aping Harrison Ford’s idiosyncrasies. He’s actually pretty good. Donald Glover is also a believable fit for a young Lando Calrissian (although Lando’s retconned ‘pansexuality’ shoehorns a character flourish which is completely uncalled for in a Star Wars movie). Rounding out the main cast – Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke are fine, while Joonas Suotamo’s performance as Chewbacca seems to be a little off here – particularly in the way he carries himself     in his initial scenes.

Ron Howard has always been a solid journeyman director, a filmmaker who has     never really possessed any discernible signature style of his own. And it is this ‘disappearing into the material’ aspect of a journeyman director which originally steered George Lucas’ selection of Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand to helm     the two initial Star Wars sequels over auteurs like Paul Verhoeven and David Lynch, both of whom were seriously considered as potential helmers for Return of the JediSoldier of Orange and The Elephant Man respectively being the reason why they were under consideration (it was only upon Lucas seeing their other films Spetters and Eraserhead that he ultimately – and probably quite wisely – nixed that idea). Whilst I applaud the studio’s decision to hire visionary directors to helm these stand-alone films, clearly what is needed here – as far as revisiting characters already established in the Skywalker saga – are journeyman directors like Howard to help maintain tonal continuity with what has come before.

Fast-paced and fun and tonally in step with the original trilogy and not nearly as morose or ludicrously retconned as Rogue One, Solo is a film nobody wanted – but     it could have been worse – so much worse.

3.5 stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Wallis Piccadilly Cinemas, Adelaide, May 24th 2018

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.

The Shape of Water – film review

THE SHAPE OF WATER

A mesmerizing masterpiece.

Reviewed on Sunday 21st January 2018

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro. Screenplay by Del Toro and VanessaTaylor, story by Del Toro. Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer and Doug Jones. Running time: 123 mins.

A mute cleaning lady working in a Cold War government research facility falls in love with a human-like amphibian creature being held captive for scientific study. When the creature is earmarked for vivisection, she enlists the help of her friends to free him in a daring break-out attempt.

Having been an avid admirer of Guillermo Del Toro’s work since the release of his Mexican-lensed feature debut Cronos in 1992, it is with eager anticipation I look forward to each new Del Toro offering. His films can be brutal and dream-like, darkly humorous and, some might say – downright weird. But if nothing else, they are consistently mesmerizing. Indeed, if I had to sum up the experience of watching any of his films – in one word, it would be – captivated. I find it impossible to take my eyes off the screen – for even one second.

Del Toro’s portrayal of the monstrous and otherworldly as being sympathetic in the face of human cruelty is a signature theme which he revisits from time to time (most notably in Pan’s Labyrinth) – a theme which he again explores here with The Shape of Water. His protagonists are generally societal outcasts we can all relate to and whose motivations we fully understand and here Sally Hawkins delivers this on-point and seemingly without effort. Considering her character – Elisa Esposito – is essentially mute for virtually the entire running time, she does a superb job in utilizing this potential limitation to her advantage. The on-screen chemistry between she and the gill man is palpable and Hawkins is a crucial part of this. Indeed, while the idea of interspecies romance may seem like it could potentially be somewhat problematic to present convincingly (and, well, tastefully) – Del Toro and his pitch-perfect cast succeed brilliantly in selling it. And prosthetic character actor and long-time Del Toro collaborator Doug Jones again delivers another finely-nuanced performance under impressive make-up – generating enormous sympathy for the enigmatic creature. The supporting cast is equally as strong – with Richard Jenkins delivering a stand-out turn as Elisa’s hollywood musical-loving neighbor and confidant. But it is Michael Shannon as Colonel Strickland, the primary antagonist – who essays a presence one simply can’t look away from. Despite the volatile Strickland’s knee-jerk brutality, Shannon is still able to generate a considerable amount of empathy for his character. He is a man of the system who feels just as unfulfilled in his life as Elisa – but his frustration manifests in more explosively violent ways. We may be horrified by his actions, but we at least understand him as a person and are privy to his motivations.

There’s no doubt the look of this film is nothing short of gorgeous, featuring lush cinematography by previous Del Toro lenser Dan Lausten (Mimic, Crimson Peak) imbuing the film with that signature Del Toro texture we come to expect. With production design by Paul D. Austerberry, art direction by Nigel Churcher, set decoration by Jeffrey A. Melvin and Shane Vieau and costume design by Luis Seqeira contributing enormously to the realizing of a highly-detailed, very specific – almost hyper-real re-imagining of the early 1960s. And Del Toro’s extensive use of floating camera moves throughout lends the film an all-pervasive dream-like quality which perfectly matches the fairy tale tone of the piece.

Despite the American setting, the film does very much have a European feel – particularly with regard to scenes of frank sexuality and Alexandre Desplat’s accordion-centric score. Indeed, considering the way the world of Sally Hawkins’ character is presented here – it would come as no surprise if the inherent whimsy of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie was a significant touchstone for Del Toro’s development of the material.

The Shape of Water is perhaps Del Toro’s finest achievement to date which, considering the high standard of his output so far, makes it a must-see for fans of     his work. And to those who are less familiar – I definitely recommend you add this to your ‘to watch’ lists (which, hopefully, come Oscar night – with its 13 nominations, including best picture – everyone will be doing).

5 stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Wallis Cinemas Mitcham, Adelaide, January 21st 2018

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.