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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.

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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.

2017 – End Of Movie Year Round Up

Looking back at the films released this year – well, the ones I saw anyway.

The film year 2017 was, for me anyway, a year of mostly pleasant surprises – the stand-outs being the films which went in directions I wasn’t expecting (avoiding trailers only adding to the experience). Time being what it is, I made a pact with myself to be more selective in my movie-going this year. Which is why I only saw thirteen films in theaters. Seeing as I didn’t see as many this year as in previous years, I thought I’d start by briefly mentioning some of the other films I did see – but didn’t end up posting about for one reason or another.

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

Baby Driver

3.5 stars out of 5

While it kinda’ feels like a Michael Mann heist movie for milliennials, Edgar Wright’s passion project is still great fun.

John Wick: Chapter 2

3 stars out of 5

More of what we got from the break-out, super-violent, Keanu Reeves-starring instant cult action flick from 2014. Although it very much feels like the middle chapter of a projected trilogy, Chapter 2 does indeed present itself as a natural expansion of the John Wick universe – leaving us wanting more and excited to see what happens next.

Mother!

4 stars out of 5

Perhaps the most divisive film of 2017 (aside from The Last Jedi, that is). There are those who either love Darren Aronofsky’s latest adult fable – or hate it. And yes – I’m aligned with the former. Deliberately shying away from knowing anything about it before going in – and prior to all the post-release uproar – I found it a troubling, mesmerizingly visceral and ultimately haunting cinema-going experience – something not felt since Jonathan Glazer’s equally polarizing and visceral Under The Skin four years ago.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day 3D

5 stars out of 5

Having seen and been impressed with James Cameron’s 3D reissue of Titanic in the theater some years ago, I was intrigued to see just how much the added dimension of depth would benefit T2. As it turns out – it contributes quite a bit, being particularly immersive during scenes where the camera meanders through specific locations   (the Skynet office block in particular). The climactic chase sequence involving the chopper flying beneath the freeway bridge is also rather impressive in 3D. Quite apart from the added bonus of the third dimension, it really was great to just experience T2 in a large theater for the first time since 1991 – particularly being remastered in 4K. And I’m pleased to say – the movie has barely dated and holds up remarkably well after all these years (still more than deserving of its status as an all-time action classic).

War for the Planet of the Apes

4 stars out of 5

Or a more appropriate title might be The Great Ape Escape. As, despite obvious nods to Apocalypse Now War is more akin to a prison break-out movie than a full-blown war film. With his third and final appearance, Caesar firmly cements his rightful place as one of the most keenly-drawn and iconic figures in recent cinematic sci-fi history. And reprising his role as the compassionate and deep-thinking Caesar, Andy Serkis again delivers a finely-nuanced performance. As great as Serkis is in this particular role, however, it does seem he has been upstaged yet again by a supporting player. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes it was Toby Kebbell as the traitorous Koba and in this one it is definitely Steve Zahn as a brand new character known as ‘Bad Ape’ – a character whose joining of Caesar’s quest brings a welcome dose of levity to proceedings. With director Matt Reeves at the helm for a second go-around, War undoubtedly positions this new Planet of the Apes series as one of the most consistently brilliant genre trilogies of the millennium; one which cleverly leads – integrity maintained – into the events of the 1968 original.

And now my picks for the best and worst of the year (most of which I reviewed):

Best studio film of 2017: Blade Runner 2049

Best indy film of 2017: Infinity Chamber

Honorable mentions: Passengers, Logan, Only The Brave, War for the Planet of     the Apes

Worst film of 2017: Alien: Covenant

The ones I missed: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Detroit

Even though I had originally reviewed Travis Milloy’s Infinity Chamber (previously titled Somnio) in 2016 – the film only secured an official release this year, making it not only the best indy genre movie of 2017 – but one of the best indy sci-fi films of the decade. Smart and funny, with an intriguing premise (also featuring a terrific central performance from Christopher Soren Kelly) – Infinity Chamber is the latest directorial offering from the writer of cult sci-fi fave Pandorum, and with a Blu-ray release likely in 2018, it is well worth checking out.

Who would have thought we’d have a Blade Runner sequel in 2017, let alone a film as brilliant as Blade Runner 2049. Once it was announced that Ridley Scott had stepped aside – allowing Denis Villeneuve (Arrival, Enemy) to helm, from a screenplay by original Blade Runner scribe Hampton Fancher – the prospects that this might be a good movie after all increased ten-fold. But who could have foreseen that Blade Runner 2049 would become an instant classic – let alone a sequel sure to be held in the same regard as The Empire Strikes Back and Terminator 2. Despite its failure to ignite the US box office, I for one would love to see Hollywood continue to take risks and produce more thoughtfully-made, adult-oriented sci-fi films like this one (and the under-appreciated Passengers).

On the flipside, it’s a sad irony that the same man behind the original Alien is also     the one who has completely ruined the experience of seeing it for future generations. Gone is the representation of the creature as an unexplained and terrifying force of nature – here being sloppily and pointlessly retconned as the creation of a mad scientist robot – itself created by humans. The result being, Alien: Covenant is nothing more than Ridley taking a great steaming dump on common sense – while giving the middle finger to life-long fans of the original trilogy. It really pains me to list this film as the worst of the year – as I feel drained even just thinking about it for five seconds. Hopefully, if Ridley is disallowed to carry out his threat to make another one, I’ll never have to mention it ever again. Ever.

The films I’m most looking forward to seeing in 2018:

Mortal Engines, Annihilation, The Tangle, The Shape of Water

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.

Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi – film review

STAR WARS VIII: THE LAST JEDI

Course correction steers saga away from expectations.

Reviewed on Thursday 14th December 2017

Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Starring: Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. Running time: 154 mins.

Forced to flee their secret base after it is attacked by The First Order, the Resistance fleet, commanded by Princess Leia, are pursued across the galaxy. Meanwhile, Rey attempts to convince an exiled Luke Skywalker to join the fight against his former pupil Kylo Ren and take down The First Order.

PLEASE NOTE – THIS REVIEW IS SPOILER FREE

Revisiting The Force Awakens in the lead-up to seeing this latest installment and, having not seen it since its theatrical release – I was somewhat shocked to find Abrams’ entry doesn’t hold up nearly as well on a re-watch. The relief I felt that it wasn’t terrible having long since faded, the issues I had with it initially are now all the more glaringly obvious. While its recapturing of the sense of fun of the originals was indeed welcome (particularly in light of the stodgy seriousness of the prequels) – the nonsensical motivations of some of the characters in The Force Awakens, not to mention the fact that it is structurally a beat-for-beat copy of A New Hope really do make for a frustrating and ultimately unsatisfying re-watch. Indeed, as with last year’s downright abysmal Rogue One, it really does feel suspiciously slapped together without any real passion or forethought. My biggest gripe with The Force Awakens this time round however is just how pathetic a villain Adam Driver’s Darth Vader wannabe Kylo Ren actually is. Portraying him as a petulant brat prone to tantrums     is not nearly enough to instill a sense of awe or fear in the audience. Also, the fact     he got his ass kicked by a female half his size does nothing to paint him as any particular threat to anyone (well, aside from his own men, that is).

With The Force Awakens so closely aping the structural template of A New Hope, speculation was rife this new sequel trilogy would be nothing more than a lazy rehash of the story arc of the original films. However, with Rian Johnson taking the creative reins – this thankfully no longer appears to be the case – as the unfolding story arc     of Kylo and Rey, so far, is very much its own thing. Structurally, at least – the film recalls The Empire Strikes Back – in the way it segues back and forth between Kylo’s pursuit of the Resistance fleet and Rey’s tutelage under Luke. But, to Johnson’s credit – that’s pretty much where similarities end.

Clearly the issue I had with the Kylo Ren character being ineffectual was also an issue for Johnson, as he has addressed this directly – using it to his advantage in     a wholly satisfying way. Also addressed is the matter of Finn’s flip-flopping loyalties, taking what began as a poorly-written character in the previous film and turning him into an (albeit) reluctant hero – willing to sacrifice his own life for the greater good. The Poe Dameron character also benefits here from better writing – playing a more prominent role in proceedings – becoming essentially the dashing rogue – impulsive in nature. As played by Oscar Isaac, I can see his character quickly becoming a firm fan favourite.

The scenes between Luke and Rey on the island are really the glue which hold this film together – with the theme ‘accepting failure’ being central. And Daisy Ridley, given more to do here, only cements what an incredible presence she is on screen. While Mark Hamill (Luke is now the self-exiled sage his old mentor was – albeit a more bitter one) – does a great job in portraying just how spiritually damaged Luke has become.

As one might have guessed from the poster art alone, Last Jedi is tonally a lot darker than the previous episode. Sure, there are a number of genuinely funny moments scattered strategically here and there. But overall, there is a palpable sense of melancholy which, either knowingly or unknowingly, pervades the film. Having witnessed the generally negative backlash against the darker tone of The Empire Strikes Back upon its initial release, I find it ironic that history appears to repeating itself with Last Jedi. Perhaps in years to come, this film will be fully appreciated and embraced just as fondly as Empire is today.

As with all Star Wars films outside the original trilogy, Last Jedi does have its share of flaws – sporting the longest running time of the series, momentum does tend to flag somewhat leading into the final act. But the finale – cross-cutting back and forth between various characters in peril (much like in Return of the Jedi) – more than makes up for this. My only other issues are relatively minor, the most annoying being the inclusion of earthly slang and colloquialisms in some of the dialogue (something Lucas – to his credit, took great pains to prohibit writer Lawrence Kasdan from doing in his penning of subsequent installments) – these stories do take place a long time ago in a galaxy far far away after all. My only other gripe is the virtual side-lining of Artoo and Threepio – characters through whose eyes, up until now anyway – we are meant to be experiencing the saga. It’s sad to see – with these recent episodes – this well-established given, for whatever reason, has been basically abandoned.

These minor quibbles aside, The Last Jedi is excitingly bold, full of surprises, emotionally involving and already appears to be the most divisive of all the Star     Wars films so far. I find it odd that some feel it is a flaw the film ends with no         clear indication of where the story may go from here. I would suggest this is     probably a good thing.

4 stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Wallis Piccadilly Cinemas, Adelaide, December 14th 2017

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.

Only The Brave – film review

ONLY THE BRAVE

Oblivion helmer delivers profoundly moving, hugely affecting third feature.

Reviewed on Saturday 2nd December 2017

Directed by Joseph Kosinski. Screenplay by Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer. Starring: Miles Teller, Josh Brolin, Taylor Kitsch, Jeff Bridges and Jennifer Connelly. Running time: 134 mins.

A true-life account of a legendary squad of Arizona wildfire fighters known as The Granite Mountain Hotshots who, on June 30th 2013, faced the biggest challenge       of their lives – survival.

Helmer Joseph Kosinki has quickly established himself as a one of the most exciting directors around today. With his previous films Tron Legacy and the insanely underappreciated Oblivion already demonstrating a keen eye for impressive visuals and the ability to effectively immerse an audience within the worlds depicted. With this latest offering, Only The Brave, Kosinski here demonstrates he is also more than capable of engaging an audience emotionally with the characters on screen.

Despite some clunky expositional dialogue early on, the screenplay by Ken Nolan     and Eric Warren Singer (based on a GQ magazine article) – does a nice job             of steering well away from cliched melodrama in the depiction of the various relationships the principal characters have with their significant others. While     Jennifer Connelly once again demonstrates why she is considered one of the best actors of her generation – here essaying Josh Brolin’s headstrong love interest.

Set over a period of several years, we are given ample opportunity to see these characters evolve – as we ultimately develop a genuine fondness for each of them. While essentially an ensemble piece, the success of this film really rests squarely   on the shoulders of Miles Teller – here playing a recovering junkie, looking to reform and clean up his act after the birth of his daughter. And Teller does a exceptional job in generating sympathy for his character in the face of his character’s major flaw. While Josh Brolin is equally solid in his role as the determined squad leader – a man also dealing with his own demons. And the great Jeff Bridges is, as always, a joy to watch – here delivering one of the best lines in the film, in a scene where he pep talks the Granite Mountain squad, prior to their all-important evaluation, “The only place you’ll find sympathy here – is in a dictionary. Somewhere between shit and syphilis.”

Utilizing his training as an architect, Kosinski possesses a heightened ability to stage spatially-coherent action sequences – so we know precisely where we are geographically at any given time. And the seamless blending of practical and CG effects (not to mention the impressively immersive sound design) – really does give us a sense of being right there – in the middle of the action. The beautifully-staged aerial sequences, involving various water bombing aircraft (both fixed wing and helicopters) are also a major draw card – making it apparent why Kosinski has been rumoured to be on-board with the Top Gun sequel for Tom Cruise. And based on his achievement with this film alone, things are looking very good for that long-awaited movie, if he is indeed attached. The surreally-handled reveal of a Sikorsky helicopter sucking water from a man’s swimming pool, which happens within the first few minutes – was the moment this film hooked me and didn’t let go.

And the ending. Oh boy, the ending. Being completely unaware of the true-life     story of the Granite Mountain Hotshots (and deciding not to research the subject beforehand) – this made the finale, for me anyway, all the more devastating. I highly recommend any prospective viewers of this film shy away from knowing anything about the actual events before going in, particularly if you want to experience the visceral gut-punch of the film’s final minutes to their full effect.

Only The Brave is a superbly-crafted and compelling illustration of the best aspects of the human condition – best experienced on the biggest screen possible.

4 stars out of 5

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

Viewed at the Wallis Cinemas Mitcham, Adelaide, December 2nd 2017

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.