Repo Man: A down-and-out kid takes a job as a car Repo Man, but soon gets mixed up in an alien conspiracy. This feels intentionally retro and ‘cheapy’, like a 1950s era B-movie (aliens, radiation, dystopia…) Under the surface it feels like the director had a lot to say about the mood and culture of the time; unfortunately, it feels like there wasn’t enough budget or focus to properly explore the promising glimpses. The film’s set in quite a cynical version of L.A. where all factions are caricatured: the young punks/skinheads are knuckleheads, the repo men are jaded, the conspiracists are ‘nutjobs’, the government agents are obedient – it’s all a bit surreal, especially when characters drink from generically branded ‘Beer‘, ‘Rum’, & ‘Food’ bottles/tins, and spout lines like “Fuck this… Lets go do some crimes”. It stands out most for focusing on the disenfranchised youth of the 1980s, but the appeal (and audience connection) have faded in the past 31 years. There’s a great Surf Rock / New Wave soundtrack, and some infamous lines of dialogue, particularly those delivered by Harry Dean Stanton, who’s the only actor that truly stands out, spitting magically heartfelt and bitter lines like “Ordinary fuckin’ people… I hate ’em”. Repo Man is billed as ‘Sci-Fi‘ and ‘Punk‘ – I’d argue that this is neither, but simply a Troma or Corman styled B-movie. It’s cheap, cheerful, in the same boat as Surf Nazis – but overall better, more charming, and feels authentically ‘cult.
The Double: a retired CIA operative is paired with a pen-pushing rookie – both specialists on a hitman called ‘Cassius‘ – who is believed to have re-surfaced, years after his apparent death. Cassius (ka-see-us) – for some unbelievably annoying reason pronounced “cashus” for the runtime – if I ever hear that name again it will be too soon – it would make a great drinking game. Gere is OK here, but it’s not outside his comfort zone. Topher Grace gets enough screentime to shine, but doesn’t shine because his acting is terrible. Everyone else it a footnote. The story could have been quite interesting – but doesn’t start twisting and turning until it’s far too late – and you’ve lost all interest. The action is sub-standard, and overall – there’s not a whole lot of anything likeable, or even admirable to be found in here. It’s a bad film, but mostly because it plays its hand after 30 minutes and spends the rest of the runtime carelessly smashing through every spy/thriller cliché imaginable. Not good. Not good at all.
John Carter of Mars: an American civil war-vet accidentally teleports to Mars in the middle of a war. At over an hour long the setup drags on, and the whole film never really shakes off the ‘teeing up a franchise’ vibe as things are cintinually explained – including all of the confusingly named species, planets, and cities – feels like Bill Cosby suggested a couple. The script isn’t the best, although there’s a few comedy gems poking out between clunky, formulaic dialogue and sections of explanation – that would have been better to get over with in one big voiceover. There’s some half-decent actors making a quick buck here Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Willem Dafoe – who are all good, but nobody has much scope with flat, stock characters, the most entertaining and likable of which is a non-speaking dog-like alien. Some other undertones felt out-of-place, like the environmental agenda segments (including literal green warriors!) Some positives of note: graphics are awesome considering most of it is CGI/Green Screen, several gratuitous big action set-pieces, the score is top drawer and is reminiscent of Indy films, skimpy outfits on the Princess are awesome, a smart ending, and there are parts that feel like a solid old-fashioned action adventure. Unfortunately, despite the source being an ‘original’ space story (almost 100 years old) it’s been copied and ripped off so often over the decades, leaving a major air of déjà vu. Finally, I know we’re supposed to suspend disbelief, but given advances and general knowledge in astronomy / physics / space and science… a lot of the unknowns from 100 years ago now feel like massive, tardy unexplained plotholes – but that’s a minor gripe. John Carter is undoubtedly an impressive story; but it’s just not presented as best it could be (down to the framing device – it’s necessary, but could have been done better), and because of this, it never got me going once, which is disappointing for a film this big.
Evidence: while shooting a documentary four young campers find themselves in the middle of an increasingly creepy situation. The opening half is front-loaded with the standard box o’ tricks to pull you through the slow, familiar, setup – dead animals, tits, lesbian kissing, howling, mysterious sightings, jumps… no trick is left unused and it’s all a bit ‘meh’. Hand-held found footage documentary style is an instant disability these days for several reasons: 1) it’s a hard sell to viewers. 2) Plenty shaky, out-of-focus or focusing footage. 3) Characters constantly drawing attention to camera. 4) What they go through, nobody would drag a camera around. 5) First person in the woods, just screams Blair Witch… Despite all of this, the second half is where it picks up, the action kicks in, the critters come out to play. No monsters is left unrepresented: critters, ghosts, bigfoot, rabid zombies, lurching aliens (very Attack the Block-y) all chasing after the campers. This section is solid horror, and reminded me most of the first few Resident Evil games – the docu cam also works best here as it plays out like a rapid pace first-person shooter. Technically, the film’s decent given the budget; the picture is sharp when it has to be and the scares / jumps work well. Having a boring setup and killer payoff split the film down the middle, but it is worth sticking to the end of this.
Skyline: Brain-eating bio-tech aliens invade earth, consuming anyone that looks at their blue light. This wasn’t too shy about plagiarising massive chunks from previous sci-fi blockbusters like The Matrix, Cloverfield, Independence Day etc – it could have been a re-write of any of those films. The TV actors do alright for the most part, although nobody really gets characterised beyond b-movie territory, and you’ll have heard the script a hundred times before. The only redeeming aspect of this was that some of the destruction and mayhem looked pretty sweet, however, most of it just looked plan old ridiculous. The last five minutes sucked out what little credibility the film had by the end; one of the worst endings ever. Patchwork, hackneyed Sci Fi.
District 9: part-documentary about life in South Africa 20 years after aliens first landed on earth. This is an unbelievably fresh take on the alien/sci-fi movie and when you pair the idea with such outstanding graphics, the film looks and feels a thousand times more real and believable than the clichéd outer-space bloodbath. Despite his radical transformation, the acting – pretty much one guy – is very good, and remains believable. It’s quite messy, but the blood, gore and black comedy makes this feel more like Braindead / Bad Taste – ‘specially the alien guns! The last 30 minutes are crammed with cheesy blockbuster action, which feels wrong here and is a bit of a let down: I also hate how humans can use complex, alien machinery without training! South African’s will no doubt pick up the racism and poverty undertones, although they’re not in your face (unless you’re Nigerian or a Nigerian Scammer). It’s a well-made and very fresh idea, that passes far to quickly but falls short in the last quarter. Leaves you hungry for prawns. Second viewing in a year, still great.
Into The Universe with Stephen Hawking: A Discovery Channel mini series (3 episodes) that tries to get your head ’round some of the biggest questions, answers and theories regarding space / aliens / time travel / big bang etc. This programme really massages my soft spot for hardcore science, as Stephen Hawking explains some mind-bendingly complex concepts but with clarity and simplicity rarely achieved in this type of show – mainly down to layman’s terminology and universal examples. There’s also a bucketload of flashy graphics and epic music to suck you in and lull you along. Most enjoyably, the final episode is a two-hour special that starts before the big bang and looks forward to the end of our universe. This totally immersive show is essentially an updated version of “A Brief History of Time”, so if that’s your thing, check it out!