Saturday, 14 April 2018


While the third Alien film has always been a problematic guilty pleasure of mine, I've always maintained that the creature design was the standout highlight of the whole franchise. After James Cameron's unceremonious decision to not call back Swiss surrealist H.R Giger, whose seminal monster design in the first Alien film helped elevate it into movie legend, director David Fincher reached back out to the artist for his take on a more animalistic beast. While the creature in Alien 3 may not entirely be Giger's own, the surrealist definitely helped to shape the monster into what was seen on the screen; a slick, quadrupedal thing. This time, born of dog (or ox, depending on which edit of the film you watch) the bio-mechanical styling had been dialed back in favor of a more naturalistic bone-and-sinew aesthetic, while the phallic domed head also returned. It is, in an odd way, a thing of horrific beauty.

Anyway, my youngest son (with a little help from his mother, I'm certain) bought me the NECA figure of the aforementioned Dog Alien for Christmas. NECA may make beautifully crafted figures, but read any review and you'll see that craft is somewhat let down by the way they are put together. Sadly mine was no exception, and straight out the box my wonderful new model was missing a shoulder blade. This led to a debate with the seller, who eventually credited me with a free replacement. This still left me with the damaged figure, and an unusual opportunity to try my hand at some amateur modifications. The NECA toy, as articulated as it is, was not designed to be put on all-fours, which seems odd seeing how it spends most of the film in this way; the legs do not bend in on themselves, and the neck and skull don't lift enough. The end result is an alien left staring at the floor, looking like its in the throes of an unusual yoga pose rather than running on the heels of its next victim. So I resolved to force this damaged figure into a dramatic running pose and re-base it. The following is what came to pass...

First I assembled a few items; polystyrene, garden mesh, straws and some of my oldest son's old toys. I used the polystyrene as a wall, which I hoped would act as the backdrop for the alien. I pinned some of the garden mesh to the back to act as type of metal grill or fencing. The purpose of the backdrop is not to be anything specific, just to hint at the sort of backdrops from the film; bricks, pipes, chains, etc. Wallpaper cut into squares and mounted on card were used to replicate the look of uneven bricks. After applying the decorative touches I coat the backdrop in black. The base is, funnily enough, a leftover from a plastic Alien 3 model kit. The alien itself broke long ago, I held onto this for some unknown reason. I paint it concrete grey and give it a black wash. Here you can see a the hand of the Alien figure, used for scale.

I use a number of browns and grays on the brickwork, and a combination of gun metal and silver paint on the pipes (formally drinking straws) and metal-work. The canister was an old plastic toy, repainted. I used a silver paint to make the thing looked scratched, and a black wash again to make it appear suitably grimy. Again, the scaffolding was another toy. I gave it a similar treatment to the canister. A fine bronze chain is also applied and left hanging irregularly, again to hint at the type of imagery from the film.

Next I take the alien figure apart, stripping it into its individual components. I discard all the joints, as when in place they don't look particularly natural and only elongate the limbs. I take some time to play with these, and to work out the final pose. The tip of the tale was crooked from how it was packaged clumsily, so I used Milliput to straighten it. This is mostly successful. Clay failed to hold the limbs together, so I'm forced to splash out on more expensive modeling putty. It works, but keeping the thing together while it sets presents issues. Finally I manage to balance it on a combination of household items. Amazingly, and by pure luck, the thing actually balanced on its own without being propped up.

I examined a number of photo references from Alien 3, film stills, behind the scene pictures and other models and figurines. The colours seemed often contradictory, and the sepia lighting of the sets often just bathed everything in a brown hue. Finally I opted to begin with an olive green base coat. The second coat of paint was a tan brown, although I'm sure not to coat the thing entirely, so in areas the olive green still breaks through, especially on the fleshier parts. I base the backdrop (which couldn't support its own weight) onto a piece of MDF. It's cut so that it's wide enough for the whole wall, but cut into an angle that should compliment the alien's base. I add further highlights to the ribs, spine, shoulders, teeth, tongue and lips. I also use modeling putty to fill in the gaps between the dome and lips, and use black paint on each end of the dome.

... To be finished,

Sunday, 10 September 2017

IT, THE LOSER'S CLUB; Full-Tilt review

"Derry is not like any town I've been in before. People die or disappear, six times the national average. And that's just grown ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse..." 
Ben Hanscom

They sat gaping in fear at the horror on the TV-  Noel's House Party.

Does this scene remind anyone else of Apocalypse Now?


Based on Stephen King's novel of the same name, the story follows a small group of misfit children, self deprecatingly called 'the loser's club', who band together to seek companionship and respite from the hardships of their daily lives. But, after a spate of recent disappearances, the group must confront an age-old evil that lurks beneath their hometown- a shape-shifting entity which exploits the fears of its victims as it preys on the weak.

As I've often said, films do not exist within a vacuum....Stephen King wrote his seminal book It in 1986. He'd already had quite a prolific career, and this was to be his 22nd novel (18th under his own name). As well as the book, most people are also quite familiar with the 1990s TV series adaption, staring the wonderfully unnerving Tim Curry. While most people, including myself, have fond memories of this series, it's not aged particularly well given its low budget, a cast of hit-and-miss talent, and the stark fact that much of the novel would be unpalatable to TV audiences of its day (including sexual abuse, animal torture, underage sex and the graphic mutilation of children) And don't forget, these were long before the days where Stephen King adaptions were considered a box-office goldmine, and hardcore violence was commonplace. Much has since changed. However, despite a weak second half, most people will fondly remember the show's flashbacks featuring the children (the younger cast being arguably more believable than their adult counterparts), which provided the narrative spine of the series. So it was with a feeling of trepidation that fans of the book and TV series alike reacted to news of a film re-imagining. I, like others, felt the TV show left room for improvement and would have been quite happy to see It on the big-screen, save for the nagging fact that, after the TV show, which despite flaws has become something of a cult classic, and Curry's performance now being so firmly cemented in most people's perception of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, a film would seem destined to fail... The following review proves that concern to be misplaced.

Script and Direction: 2/2

Firstly, as already widely known by now, the film is a sassy, scary and entirely justified retelling of King's most famous novel. Yet, we should be clear that this film is not a wholly faithful adaption of said book- there are differences. For starters, the film is now being retold in the same era where the book found it's main characters as their adult selves, the mid 80's being, what was at the time, the present day. It was written chiefly for people who, like the author, had grown up through the 50's and were now reminiscing on the hardships and excitement of their own youth. So, given that, it feels perfectly natural that film makers of my generation approach the material of the film in the exact same way- this is a story about the childhood of our middle-aged generation. Along with this change of setting, the film has had to embrace certain other changes, but all of which feel entirely justified and, dare I say it, even necessary. I feel that this change in setting came from an honest place, and not simply a way to cash in on the success of the similarly 80's set Stranger Things, which was probably born of the same feeling of nostalgia. This new treatment is intriguing. Sure, it's a horror, but it works on so many other levels; it's a coming-of-age tale, a kitchen-sink drama, and, most surprisingly, hugely funny. Funnier than a straight-laced horror has any right to be, and so much so that you could almost call this a horror comedy (although the elements of comedy are played straight and dark).

Casting and Acting: 2/2

Most of the young cast get a chance to deliver a funny line or two, but most of the hilariously sweary wit goes to the character of Richi Tozier, as played by Stranger Things' own Finn Wolfhard. His frizzy hair, be-speckled and innocent face and diminutive height go a long way to helping his laugh-out-loud delivery. While Richi will prove to be an audience favorite, most of the more dramatic moments are handled by Sophia Lillis who, as the gang's only girl, Beverly Marsh, faces the most distressing moments. Testament to the youngster's talent, these scenes feel all too uncomfortable, and ground what's otherwise quite a light-heated take on child murder (if you can say such a thing). Yet, these scenes never feel entirely out of kilter with the rest of the film and are handled deftly. There were points where (because we might as well be honest at this point, we're talking about child sexual abuse) I felt “actually, these bits are probably worse than the friggin' child-eating clown”, and that these parts were in danger of undermining the chief ghoul- yet, in a stark and beautiful moment of realisiation, I understood this was actually the point, and this conceit pays dividends later on. Jaeden Lieberher plays Bill Denbrough, arguably the lead of the film, the stuttering lead of the misfits, and along with Lillis takes on the more serious aspects of the story. Bill's character is a sad case, haunted by the disappearance of his younger brother and is as yet to come to terms with the very likely fact that the boy is dead (something the audience is already aware of). His grief is what galvanizes the characters into a confrontation with the creature It. Jeremy Ray Talor, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer and Wyatt Oleff all offer fine and adoring support as the remainder of this gang of friends... Which leaves us with Bill Skarsgård, as the epinonimous It. Now, Tim Currey was always going to be a difficult act to follow, and in the age of Heath Ledger's Joker and the need for artistic integrity and originality, there seemed little breathing space for a new Pennywise the Clown. However, Skarsgård (a few little nit-picks aside) may have just found such a niche. With a voice pitched somewhere between a drooling imbecile and the horse-groan of a gravel-dry throat, his puppet-with-the-strings-cut sagging shoulders, a walk like a clockwork toy, and the highly-sprung tension of a coiled spring, his Pennywise truly is a sinister creation- director Andrés Muschiett, who cut his teeth on indie-horror Mama clearly has a penchant for juddering movements and unnaturally crooked limbs, bringing some of that ghost's near stop-motion way of movement to bear on this Pennywise. At times the ghoul threatened to teeter too readily into creepiness (Its guise of the clown was initially meant to lure children in, rather than send them running in fear for their lives), and this version also lacked Tim Curry's comically nasty quips, but all-in-all, a very original and successful take.

Pace and Focus: 1/2

While nobody among the cast ever feels like they're letting the side down, you can't help but feel that the script certainly favors some of the characters over others. Love it or hate it, this is arguably something the original TV show has over this big screen adaption- a more balanced story. Here, the characters of Stan, Ben, Mike and Eddie are mostly peripheral, there to make up the numbers, which is a shame because given the talent of the young actors you can't help but feel they've been a little wasted. And, rather oddly, while Bill is, academically speaking, the main character (it's he who leads the group and drives the story onward towards it's conclusion), I felt like this was Beverly's film; her character has the lion's share of the screen time, and the harder obstacles to overcome. While I'd have welcomed the film to allow her to take starring role, this wasn't to be the case. It's here that the film loses some of it's focus and momentum, struggling to find a line to walk between the lead as it appears on paper, and the lead which comes through strongest on screen. Another issue I had while watching the film, slight as this may be, was the lack of any real build-up. While the surreal and bizarre set-pieces are definitely creepy and jumpy, the characters are given very little introduction before 'shit gets real', and given how the film boasts a run time over 2 hours, it would seem odd that the first 90 mins of the TV series again manages this task more successfully. Perhaps this is symptomatic of a modern audience and its demand for things to get going, but personally I'd like to see a little extra character-building. Who knows, maybe I'll get my wish in the DVD release, because it did at times feel like we'd had moments trimmed out; a quiet before the storm always makes the thunder sound a little louder and the lightning seem a little brighter.

Aesthetic and Style: 2/2

The film invokes an accurate sense of time and place, and it's not for nothing that the film finds itself often compared to The Goonies (and not just in as much as a group of humorously foul mouthed kids having an adventure). For me, the film is at it's creepiest when it's dialed back slightly, I always find when CGI is obviously in use, somehow things become less tangible- CGI has no heft or presence, which is important to suspend an audience's disbelief. But, again, it's a minor grumble, seeing how CGI is the go-to of modern cinema, and I'm obviously hankering for the latex and physical effects which simply aren't in use any more. The film has done well to carve out a unique version of the Pennywise character, although it's possibly on the over-stylized side of things, again, a preference rather than a criticism... I guess my biggest gripe with the film, and I'll mention it here seeing how it doesn't really belong anywhere else, is with the opening moments of the film. We're introduced to the character of Bill first, and his ill-fated little brother Georgie. Their chemistry is believable, and while it's touching it's never saccharine-sweet. Watching this I begun to feel really uncomfortable. I was thinking “Jesus, I know what's going to happen and it's awful, this is gonna' be heart breaking”. Then little Georgie goes into the basement, and spies what he thinks are two eyes staring at him in the basement, and a genuine chill went down my spine. The lights come on, and low-and-behold, it was the reflection on two glass ornaments. Was this just the overactive imagination of childhood innocence, or, was this some evil presence, already marking its next prey? The screen lingers here in the basement for an ominous moment before cutting away. It was in this moment that the film was, for me, at it's absolute apex of horror. All at once it was a lament of childhood fears I'd long ago abandoned, and what was probably the most inexplicably creeped-out I'd been in over 20 years of watching horror films. But the film was soon to lose that edge of intensity. Georgie goes out into the rain, encounters It, and is inevitably slaughtered. This is the films weakest moment, served up only moments after it's strongest genuine scare. And why? Because the film, at pains to prove that it's got the courage to 'go there' and eviscerate a child on-screen, over plays it's hand. Not only is there some obvious CGI (a personal bugbear), but also because, if you lob the arm off of a person, said person is going to be crying out in the most extreme pain imaginable while the wound explodes in a fountain of gore: this did not happen in the film. By simple fact that a child this age cannot act in this amount of pain convincingly, or that there was nowhere near enough blood, or that the then injured child attempts to crawl away from his attacker when, in truth, he should be screaming out till his vocal chords break, this destroyed the magic and subtlety of the previous scene. The moment would have been all the more terrifying to simply cut away at the penultimate moment (perhaps just to see the wellie boots disappearing into the storm drain?), but instead the film plays it's hand and you realise it's a bluff. However, the film then turns on a pin, and instead of subtleties and spine tingling horror, what you get instead is 2 hours of jump-scares, grotesque set-pieces and playful banter.

Intention and Originality: 1/2

The interplay between identity and belief that was present throughout the book is more visible in this big screen adaption than the TV series; Bill becomes leader of the group because of the belief his friends install in him, while Beverley assuming the identity of 'womanhood' creates it's own issues. Likewise, It feeds on fear, and it's possible the creature only feeds on children as a way of promoting this fear- it's easier to scare children with night-terrors than it is to scare adults, and similarly It finds itself powerless if you don't believe It can harm you, or moreover, you believe you can harm It.

Despite early concerns and minor misgivings, It is an amazing film. The problem facing the sequel, which will probably focus on the adult versions of these characters in the 'present day', will be the same which plagued the second part of the TV series; the most enjoyable parts of the book, indeed, the book's unique selling point if you can call it that, is the fact that the story concerns children. When it's children up against It, they're all the braver for their vulnerability, and far more interesting than a bunch of middle aged people. A follow-up, focusing on adults in a different era, will by definition feel like a different film entirely. And to be frank, it's the children that make this movie. Without the Goonies-like friendships, or that Stand By Me coming-of-age aspect, the film is a fairly generic horror re-make that plays to well used troupes; Evil-Dead without the brutality, or Ring with red balloons. Perhaps the film would have been wiser to drop any notion of telling a later story about adults, and instead invest it's time in a story where the children actually manage to vanquish the monster at the end of the film? Instead, and possibly to bend cap-in-hand at the alter of money-money-money, this is clearly setting up a future installment, and following that maybe even a franchise? Integrity will always take a back seat to success because, movie making like any other business, is still just a business.

Final Word: 8/10

The success a of horror depends more on our own individual tolerance than it does on movie-making technique. As this story is at pains to explain, we each fear something different. It's opening scare may be something everybody felt, but likewise might only be speaking to me and my experiences personally rather than on any tangible communal fear. For me, It isn't so much scary as it is a grotesque carnival of attractions. However, given the nature of the story, as well as the sense of mischief and fun present throughout the film, that seems quite a fitting detail. In closing, It earns it's stripes and ranks among the better Stephen King adaptions. It may only get 8/10, but it's a very high eight, and if genre pictures are more your thing (as they are mine), you can't really ask for too much more than this. That said, you may well find yourself leaving the cinema still humming the carousel-like theme tune from the 90's TV show; a sign that, while this may stand on it's own achievements, this It never quite manages to distance itself from the shadow of that same-titled cult. Still, it marks director Andrés Muschiett as one to watch out for, and all the more impressive when you consider It is only his second feature film.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017


Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry).

It's been a blast.

Well, this is it. I'm hanging up this blogging lark. Not for ever, but at least a good long while. "Why" you ask? Well, I'm concentrating on my other creative endeavors for the time being. I'm probably going to see the remainder of the year out in some minor capacity; so expect a review of the new Planet of the Apes film (which I had the pleasure of seeing recently), and soon the new IT, possible The Dark Tower. But after that the lines of communication are going to close.

See you on the other side of success, or not.

It's been fun.

Take care you all.

Paul Michael Carlisle.

"Final report of the commercial starship Nostromo, third officer reporting. The other members of the crew - Kane, Lambert, Parker, Brett, Ash, and Captain Dallas - are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the Nostromo, signing off..."
Ellen Ripley (Alien)

Thursday, 6 July 2017


“Can't you just be a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man?”
Tony Stark

"With great power..."

Following on from the events of Civil War, well-meaning high school student Peter Parker excitedly awaits his next mission with the Avengers, unaware that he has been essentially 'shelved' from the most dangerous assignments because Tony Stark isn't confident he's ready for the big-leagues. Elsewhere, salvage specialist Adrian Toomes is all but put out of business by Stark Industries, and so turns to selling illegal weapons created from alien technology to support his family. When Parker stumbles across Toomes' operation the stage is set for a super-powered battle of wills with far-reaching consequences.

For your consideration...
Spiderman Homecoming does not exist within a vacuum. Most will realise that this is the third reboot in 15 years (that's a reboot every 5 years for the slow of math). I've always maintained that re-boots not only deserve to be, but in all fairness should be, considered alongside previous incarnations. After all, if you don't feel confident that you can improve on what's already come before, then why are you rebooting something? The first of Sam Raimi's Spiderman films was a film for adults pretending to be one for children (complete with an attempted rape, a bone-crunching final and a hero who fails to 'get the girl'). His second Spiderman was a children's film pretending to be for grown-ups (featuring a villain who 'learns the error of his ways' and redeems himself saving the hero, as well as some sickly-sweet soul searching). Raimi's third entry failed in just about every way, but by now Raimi had proved once and for all that superheros could be big business. Marc Webb's (oxymoron alert) 'Amazing' two efforts somehow turned everybody's favourite unassuming teenager into a prick; there's more to updating a character than giving him a skateboard and an attitude (he was more of a Bart Simpson than any Peter Parker). It was therefore with a mixed reception that Marvel finally managed to buy back Spiderman's rights from Sony and announced yet another reboot by launching the character into it's expanding MCU (the Marvel Cinematic Universe). There were those who were happy to see the character back in safer hands, those who were upset that they would never see the close of Marc Webb's announced trilogy (idiots mostly), and those who thought a third reboot was simply too much too soon. Even Kirsten Dunst,Raimi's leading lady, waded in to the debate. "We made the best ones, so who cares?... They’re just milking that cow for money.". It was a fair comment, and in most instances she'd be dead right; the first 2 Raimi films would be hard to top, but let's not forget the movie business is still a business and I'm sure she's taken the odd job 'for the money'. However, on this occasion Ms. Dunst may have to eat those well chosen words... The first thing that needs to be said about Spiderman Homecoming is this; it's by far the best Spiderman movie to date, and one of Marvel's strongest entries. Secondly, it's very, very funny. Most of the Marvel films to date have been an entertaining combination of whip-smart banter and explosive mayhem, with Guardians of the Galaxy thus far being the most humerus. However, Spiderman goes one step further to the extent it's probably first and foremost a comedy and a super powered adventure second. That's certainly no bad thing... I once said the time for a perfect Spiderman has come and gone, but I was (as the scores might suggest) dead wrong, although I do feel vindicated in the accuracy of some of my points. I said Marc Webb's Nolan-esque take on the character was a step totally in the wrong direction, and for a character like Spiderman it should sway more into the comedic realms of Kick-Ass (which in so many ways essentially was a Spiderman story). Homecoming is EXACTLY that, thanks to a terrific script credited to no less than 12 writers, which would normally result in disaster. Read-on, Spidey fans...

Script: 1/2
Despite the fact that the script is incredibly entertaining, there's no disguising the fact that, so far as the plot is concerned, it's pretty silly. However, that said, you're not watching a Spiderman film for the plot, right? By placing Spiderman into the Marvel universe (a God-send in so many ways), it does mean having to embrace some of the more 'wild' elements of that franchise, including alien technology. But with Marvel's favourite son back on home ground and in safe hands, it's a very small price to pay... On another note, it always bothered me how anybody was supposed to overlook the fact that a teenager on a low to modest income could afford to create the Spiderman outfit and web-shooter tools (a point that became laughable in Marc Web's gritty attempt). In Tony Stark the Marvel universe finds it's answer, and it's at once such an obvious and shrewd move. Naturally, Stark is responsible for essentially bankrolling Peter Parker and providing him with the tech, and it becomes suddenly believable that the suit would be blue and hot-rod red (this from a flashy and extravagant billionaire who designed himself a gold suit). Minor grumble; too many gadgets for my liking, but it feels a reasonable fit for the MCU. Wasn't overly sold on the suit's internal-voice, but it proved a great way of keeping the character talking and provided the occasional laugh.

Pace: 2/2
While I was watching the film I always felt like we were moving from scene to scene with such speed and efficiency that by the time it ended it had felt like a relatively short experience. I was surprised to read that actually the film was just over 2 hours in length. While I adamantly stand by my opinion that most stories can be told successfully in 90 to 120 minutes, Homecoming obviously stands as proof to the fact that a well told film will justify it's length. Thankfully, none of this time is spent wasted on an origin story (not even Civil War bothered). The Marvel head-sheds, quite wisely, have figured out most people know the whole 'uncle Ben thing' pretty well by now, and instead just get on with telling the story at hand.

Acting: 2/2
Not sure how else I can put this, but Tom Holland IS Peter Parker. He's perfect; he's nerdy, he's self deprecating, he's enthusiastic, he's innocent, he's witty, he's good natured while never being a goody-two-shoes. He's not wet like Toby McGuire was (his moping got tedious after a while), and he's not too-cool-for-school like Andrew Garfield. And, shock-horror, he's pretty close to actually being of genuine high-school age- that's a first and it makes a huge difference. McGuire and Garfield were both clearly adults, adults in peril. Holland looks like a kid, sounds like a kid, acts like a kid- he's just a kid doing the right thing in the face of real danger, and all the more braver for it. That's what Spiderman should be about!... In Raimi's first Spiderman, Willem De Foe chewed the scenery with relish and gusto, and made for the perfect Green Goblin. There will never be a better Goblin, why try? Wisely, Marvel didn't bother. Instead, they've found a perfect foil in Michael Keaton, and rather than dial in a zany Beetlejuice-styled performance, Keaton again proves his range by making Adrian Toomes a very nuanced character. He's ruthless but not an entirely unlikable, he's a character that started with honest intentions and, true to life, found himself on a slippery slope. He's justified his crimes (he has a family to support), he had the opportunity (the alien technology from his clearance days) and he had the motivation (forced out of work by Stark Industries). Ruthless but not cruel, nothing he does ever feels for the sake of causing suffering, although he's clearly dangerous. It all comes from an honest emotional place, who hasn't at some point felt like they're put upon by 'The Man'? And, in a refreshing turn, Toomes, AKA The Vulture (although in the film nobody ever calls him this) is one of the few villains in the Spiderman rouge's gallery who isn't the result of a failed science experiment.
I don't think it's saying too much to point out that, once again, the villain learns of Spiderman's secret identity (after all, it's only happened in every film so far; Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Harry Osborne, Venom, Sandman, Lizard, Hobgoblin). So naturally, Parker also learns who Adrian Toomes is (in one HUGELY shocking twist which I did not see coming). In the scenes that follow with Holland and Keaton sans-masks, the air is electric and both actors show the standard of their game; Holland looks genuinely heartbroken and terrified all at once, and because he's (importantly) "just a kid" he looks all too vulnerable. Keaton is totally conflicted- all seething rage and reluctant adoration. It's a Hell-of-a scene, and sets up the dramatic tone for the remainder of the film. On that subject, like Ant Man before it, Homecoming's stakes are relatively small. There is no doomsday bomb, no city-sprawling gas-cloud, no alien invasion. Ant Man (while not the best film in the Marvel cinematic franchise) was, in the end, a man trying to save his daughter from a maniac: as an audience we can relate to those stakes much easier than, say, the Avengers saving the world from aliens. Spiderman's stakes concern an attempt to steal a shipment of powerful weapons, but that's about it. But, given the smaller-scale, and Spiderman's relative inexperience and the terror he feels confronting the Vulture, that's significant enough. This is about bravery, loyalty and dedication, and what is at the end of the day (super powers not withstanding) "just a kid".
Other mentions; Robert Downey Jr is always a delight as Tony Stark, although his long-suffering assistant 'Happy' Hogan, as played by Ironman director Jon Favreau, has more screen time in his function as Parker's minder. Marisa Tomei gets a few laughs as a MILF-style aunt May, and Disney heartthrob and teen model Zandaya is a 100 miles from her usual glam image as one of Parker's fellow students (I dare not say more). Laura Harrier plays Parker's popular but sweet natured love interest Liz, while Jacob Batalon is a joy as Parker's nerdy best friend; he and Hollander have a warm and believable chemistry which the film does well to exploit.

Aesthetic: 2/2
The effects are (despite earlier misgivings) all good, and the suit design has grown on me some. The Vulture (never my favorite villain) here has a cool makeover, and the scenes where he's flying around while fighting Spiderman are all serviceable. Most of this sort of action we've seen a lot by now, no matter how good this reboot is there's no denying a strong sense of deja vu in the visuals. What makes it different this time round are the characters and situations at play. That said, the film does include a few novel touches; by moving much of the climax to very high-up in the air (beyond the 'playground' of buildings seen in most of the other films) there's a genuine sense that Spiderman is out of his element and in great danger, and it's also funny to see Parker suffer from a bout of vertigo, a joke that works all the better for Holland's youth. In fact, his relative inexperience is a cause for many of the funniest moments- it's refreshing to see that, just because he has the suit, this doesn't make him the fully-fledged and capable hero that McGuire and Garfield instantly became (although I admit things on occasion did go wrong for McGuire). But yes, the budget and effects are well utilised, and the smaller scale means that the spectacles somehow feel more grounded in reality.

Intention: 2/2
Homecoming is the first film that nail's it's target audience, in the purest sense. It's a film about a teenager, for teenagers. But, by extension, teenagers being the middle-audience, there's something here for everybody. It's funny (very funny), it's sweet natured (while never saccharine) and it's exciting (especially if you're too young to remember the first 3 films). Familiar themes and characters are given fresh overhauls, but are never so different that they're somehow offensive to long term fans. As a child I grew up on Spiderman, and I personally thought the changes were not only made with good intentions but entirely necessary; I've seen Aunt May as doddery, I've seen MJ as the perfect cheerleader type, I've seen Flash Thompson as the mindless brute, I've seen Harry as the best friend. I honestly didn't have high hopes for Homecoming, like a lot of people I thought it was a film the world didn't need, even if Marvel would likely do better than Marc Webb (I really, truly, hated those films). But, happily, I was wrong. Another feather in Homecoming's cap is how it essentially stands alone. Sure, it references events from Avengers Assemble and Civil War, but in such a way that, even if you have no prior knowledge, the film feeds you this information easily. Sure, it also features Tony Stark, and 'Happy' Hogan, both to great effect (Stark's relationship with Peter is particularly poignant in parts, hysterical in others, not to mention an excellent way to introduce Spiderman into the MCU) but, again, it's set-up in such a way that anyone can enjoy this film without an encyclopedia-like knowledge of all the other Marvel output. This didn't feel like a 'tent-pole' film; it wasn't there just to set-up more cross-overs, an issue that plagues many of the Marvel films. Nor does it suffer from the twin plagues of too many characters and establishing too many plots. No, Homecoming is Homecoming, it's that simple. Refreshingly, anyone can enjoy this on it's own merits.

Final Word: 9/10
Let's hope “friendly neighborhood Spiderman” is less a disparaging remark and more of a statement of purpose for the wall-crawler's future films, because it's this smaller scale which is one of the films most vitalizing and promising strengths. Will something be lost in seeing Parker transform from a well-meaning but fledgling hero into a sure-footed mega-hero on par with the other Avengers, as it was in the dreadful Kick-Ass sequel? We will have to wait and see, but the future is looking bright. It was very brave for the studio to have the entire climax of the film take place without use of the iconic Spiderman suit, (for reasons I can't discuss just yet), but like Tony Stark chastises “If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it”. And with those words, Marvel invest everything they have in the character of Peter Parker and not the cash-cow image of Spiderman, a conviction that pays off in spades. I've heard Homecoming described as "Harry Potter meets Avengers", and while that's not entirely inaccurate it also fails to capture the films level of success or significance: Homecoming didn't try and rework that old line "with great power comes great responsibility"; it lived it. Homecoming isn't just the title, it's the Marvel welcome the character deserves. A joy from start to finish. Kudos Marvel, one right out of the park.

Saturday, 1 July 2017


David (Alien Covenant)

Happy times.

Just a few nagging questions / thoughts I have following Covenant. I think enough time has passed now that I can discuss this without ruining the film for anybody (see, ain't I thoughtful?)...

Yes, I did this exact same thing after Prometheus,

I know. In no particular order:

1. Is Ridley Scott Intentionally demystifying the entire franchise? By delving into the 'how and why' of the alien mythos, and effectively sucking the mystery out of the franchise by insinuating that the most feared extraterrestrial in film history is, in all likelihood, the work of a demented android with 'daddy issues', feels like someone's being a dick about things...

2. Taming the alien is, simply put, stupid, and steals much of their menace. They are no longer the most dangerous organism in the galaxy, just a pet to be tamed.

3. The Oram / Daniels re-connection has no weight because the conflict never grew beyond a few angry words.

4. David goes full-on 'Games of Thrones' in terms of villains who take a long time to meet their deserved fate at the expense of sympathetic characters. We can pretty much kiss goodbye to Daniels and Tennessee et al.

5. The implied rape of Shaw is harsh, bad enough she was fucking cut to bits. Missed it? David threatens Daniels with the line “I'll do to you what I did to her” before throwing her onto the table and forcibly kissing her. Worse over, Daniels probably still has this to come, and she knows it as she drifts into hyper-sleep with David watching over her. Cruel.

6. Am I really to believe you can drown out an emergency alarm with loud music in the shower? Er, NO.

7. Why, after being stalked by monsters, would anybody decide “oh, I need to wash because I'm dirty and sweaty” and then proceed to wander off into a dark and deserted castle all on their own?

8. Why are the Covenant crew transporting fetuses? What good does this actually do? They still need to be raised into adulthood like normal children, so why not conceive them the usual way? And how, exactly, are they meant to grow? Just, why? WHY???

9. When the alien is crushed by the crane, that acid should have dissolved the metal almost instantly (one single drop in Alien dissolved through 3 floors and a metal boot) and the subsequent spurt should have easily covered and killed Daniels.

10. During that same crane scene, the heat alone from those jets should have killed Daniels.

11. We're told the Walter android was adapted because David was dangerous. Yet, nobody on Earth should know that David went off the rails in Prometheus. This implies that Peter Weyland took David on that doomed trip knowing full well he was dangerous, which doesn't sound all that likely.

12. The crew of the Covenant comment on the Prometheus mission because Dr Shaw vanished along with it. Surely, if Prometheus was to be remembered for anything, it would be for the fact that Peter Weyland, one of the most influential businessmen of the last century, went missing aboard it, not some bloody random doctor. That, or for the fact that Weyland's daughter and the intended inheritor of his enterprise, also went missing on the Prometheus's journey.

13. The alien life cycle feels too fast, as it did in AVP and AVPR.

14. How did nobody not notice the sprawling great dead city on their arrival? It didn't feel like they had to walk all that far from the landing spot to reach it so you'd think it could be seen from the air...

15. Where is the rest of the planet's population? Even if this isn't the Engineer's home-world, you'd think they'd have spread out beyond just the one city... And if this wasn't the Engineer's home planet, how comes they never thought to investigate? Surely all these creatures have a way of staying in touch with each other or routinely drop by?

16. David, seemingly marooned on the Engineer's planet, plans on destroying mankind- but why? Surely he must have realised that the odds of him being discovered were incalculably small?

17. David is more than capable of flying an Engineer shuttle on his own (he did so while Shaw was asleep). Could he honestly not find another shuttle to fly elsewhere? Did the Engineers really live on the planet without other shuttles? And on that subject, David drops the toxin which attacks and kills the Engineers, and then, having made it across the galaxy safely, somehow loses control and crashes his ship into a mountain? What, did the large, immovable mountain suddenly leap out at him from behind a tree?

So, fair?  What do you guys think? Can you defend any of this, or do you have issues I've missed?

let me know...

Friday, 30 June 2017

RUSH; Full-Tilt Review

“Twenty five drivers start every season in Formula One, and each year two of us die. What kind of person does a job like this? Not normal men, for sure.”
Niki Lauda

Not exactly 'The Tortoise and the Hare'...

The “true life” story of one of Formula One's “greatest rivalries”. James Hunt, a charismatic English playboy racer who enjoys his hedonistic lifestyle of fast cars and lose women, finds his spate of easy wins come to a sudden halt with the arrival of Niki Lauda, a straight-laced and coolly calculating Austrian. Tempers flair off the track and tragedy looms on the horizon...

Script: 2/2
Despite the fact that there seems to have been very little rivalry off the track between Hunt and lauder in real life (photographs are widely available of the 2 chatting amicably between races), the story obviously takes a few liberties in pursuit of drama. That's not necessarily a failing so much as an observation. Rush instead presents a character study between two men who, ironically, would only later come to realise they had more in common than first appears, not least of all a near self-destructive and all-consuming passion to be the best.

Pace: 1/2
While I was aware on odd moments that I was sitting and waiting for the 'next thing' to happen (the first half is especially episodic), it's hardly a dull ride- and the races themselves are suitably covered without ever taking the lion's share of the screen time.

Acting: 2/2
Despite a range of familiar faces, this is really a two-man show. Chris Hemsworth dons his best English-toff impression and, despite a few wobbly accent moments, is suitably chiselled and roguish while never being too self engrossed that we can't find something in the character to warm to. Hemsworth gets by more on charisma than any real acting, but it serves the character just fine and doesn't hamper his performance. Daniel Brühl as Lauda is almost the antithesis of Hemsworth (as Lauda was of Hunt, fittingly); his was a character that would be easy to dislike, a cold-fish seemingly devoid of emotion, but due to the subtlety of Brühl's performance and subtle comic timing he manages to make the audience really route for his character. Their scenes together, though few and far between, really spark.

Aesthetic: 2/2
The film has a fairly loose grasp on time and place, but intentionally so. The fashions and staples of the mid-70's are present on screen but never in a way which draws attention; the film is at great pains to appear contemporary, most likely so it doesn't isolate or distract it's audience (the 70's is hardly a selling point). The races themselves are filmed in an exciting flourish of quick edits involving screeching tires and heat-hazed tarmac, even people without an interest in F1 will likely find their pulse quickening.

Intention: 1/2
I'm always dubious of anything “based on true events”, because, by and large, there's very little fact involved. But likewise I'm not a stickler for fact either, I'm aware films have to work to a certain dramatic format. It's easy to see what attracted director Ron Howard to the project; there was plenty enough in the Hunt / Lauda dynamic to make the situation worth mining for inspiration, and Lauda for his part (still alive) approved of the film.

Final Word: 8/10

Where the film struggles the most is in its closing; trying to make something dramatic of a non-event (the most dramatic moment happens at the close of Act 2), artistic license can only be taken so far. However, this is redeemed in part by it's melancholy denouement. All in all, Rush is a commendably character-driver spots movie, and a film which should hold the attention of anyone regardless of how excited they are about F1, or for that mater, how much or little they might know about the Hunt and Lauda rivalry and how it ended. 

As a point of interest, the casting of this film was incredibly accurate. I found this online, thought it was worth sharing. Naturally, there's a certain Hollywood glamorizing, but on the whole striking similarities...

Biggest change here is poor ol' Lauda.