Monthly Archives: June 2014

From Dusk Til Dawn: From Movie to TV Series

I really enjoyed the From Dusk Til Dawn movie (thanks to my mum and dad for letting me watch violent movies at a young age!). Directed by Robert Rodriguez and written by Quentin Tarantino this fun 1996 film is half crime thriller and the other half vampire frenzy! Now Roderiguez has turned his own movie into a tv series, shown in the US on his EL Rey channel and for the rest of the world on Netflix.

Brothers Seth and Richie Gecko (D.J Cotrona and Zane Holtz) are on the run after Seth has broken out of prison and a bank robbery has gone wrong, killing several people including law enforcement officers. In order to cross the border to Mexico unnoticed they take a family hostage. But escaping from the law is not the Geckos only problems as unbeknownst to them-there are mystical forces at work, who may also be giving visions to Richie making him unstable and dangerous.

It’s a bit hard to describe the TV series. In a word I would say: Interesting. The TV series basically takes the movie and spreads it out over 10 episodes. Some episodes are basically just scenes from the movie expanded and added some extra subplots so it doesn’t feel like the series is just recreating the movie’s greatest hits. The show truly diverts from the film’s plot at about episode seven.

The show enables Roderiguez to expand the myth behind the vampires and there is a lot to do with Aztec snake Gods, goddesses and the nine lords. Some of gets a bit boring and pretentious, trying to make something more epic  out of a simple idea that is fine how it is. Some of the changes are also a bit off-putting at time.

One of the main problems is Richie, the deranged and psychopathic Gecko brother. Now again it’s odd because Zane Holtz is actually really good in the role, strangely creepy and intense but with model looks. He’s a better actor than Tarantino in the same role (sorry Quentin-I still love your movies!). But it’s strange seeing this version of Richie being an anti-hero rather than a straight up murderer/serial rapist like in the movie. He even shares a kiss with innocent preacher’s daughter Kate and she describes him as just ‘a tortured soul’. I guess they needed to change the characters a bit for the tv series but it’s just a bit jarring. As his brother Seth, Cotrona is ok but not as naturally charismatic as George Clooney was in the same role. The real weak link in this series is actress Eiza Gongalez, who is just there to look pretty as Santanico Pandemonium. She may be good-looking but when she is made to act it’s a bit painful to watch. Basically she’s just not as memorable as Selma Hayek who would have been great reprising this expanded role.

Even with the changes to the Gecko brothers, they are still not going to be the most sympathetic protagonists. So the Fuller family from the movie are brought back and a new character in the form of ranger Freddie Gonzalez (Jesse Garcia). The Fuller’s consist of ex preacher Jacob (Robert Patrick-who was also in the rubbish From Dusk Til Dawn 2 but as a different character ), daughter Kate (Madison Davenport) and adopted son Scott (Brandon Soo Hoo) who are on a road trip after the death of the family matriarch when they are held hostage by the Geckos and the ranger is avenging the death of his partner at the hands of the brothers. All these characters are likeable and sympathetic but you get the feeling that Roderguez is much more interested in the Gecko brothers, hence the changes made to their characters, more on their back story and the possibility of them being some kind of ‘hero brothers’ according to some legend. The last few episodes which focus on some lame labyrinth saw my interest start to dwindle and I was annoyed that the ranger and the Fuller’s family were left as spare parts and – to me-their arcs were unsatisfactorily concluded and rushed. Kate also could be annoying at times although she does get a good fight scene with a chainsaw.

I’m not sure how much of interest it would be to anyone who hasn’t seen the original movie. If you’ve seen the film that this makes for an interesting companion piece but it didn’t keep me entertained enough to be watching the second season anytime soon.

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Oculus

Scaring people is difficult to do in this jaded, genre savvy world today. Can psychological horror Oculus put the shiver’s up an audience’s spines?

Having been residing in a psychiatric hospital since he was 10 years old Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is finally released. But his hope to put the past behind him is shattered by his sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan –Doctor Who‘s Amy Pond in a slightly distracting American accent), who wants to hold her brother to a promise he made 11 years ago. To destroy the mirror they believed as kids ruined the lives of their family.

The film has an effective narrative, constantly going between the modern-day events of Tim and Kaylie with flashbacks to the younger Tim and Kaylie (Garrett Ryan and Annalise Basso). The transitions between the past and the present were smoothly done. Both plotlines are engaging and are filled with tension. Although there is some blood (with a particular effective incident with a lightbulb) the film is more about the psychological scares, and just like the protagonists you will find your mind being messed with.

There is some great acting to be found in this film with Ryan and Basso especially strong and sympathetic as the younger Tim and Kaylie trying to work out what is happening to their family. You just want to tell their older selves to cut their losses and run away! The parents are also well-developed. Rory Cochrane plays the afflicted dad well and it’s good to see Katee Sackhoff as the mother play a different role from her usual Tough Girl routine and show range by playing someone more vulnerable.

Although it’s a good film with a strong premise the film fails to elevate itself into greatness. It’s creepy and atmospheric rather than all out scary. Some aspects of the film are also  a bit predictable. While the characters try to set up precautions to stop themselves falling foul of the mirror’s powers, you do feel that they should have known better considering their previous experiences and just stay well away, although at least they have strong reasons to attempt what they do. There’s also something set up at the beginning which is so obviously going to go wrong that you feel there should be sign saying YOU REALLY SHOULDN’T HAVE PUT THAT THERE!

I perhaps had higher hopes considering I heard such positive things about it. An effective horror but it won’t leave you nervously looking at that large mirror in your house.

Rating 3/5 – better at building tension then in its final execution but strong acting makes it an effective chiller

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22 Jump Street

Rewind back to 2012 before 21 Jump Street was released. It was the hit no one was expecting. After all it was based on a tv series with a ridiculous premise. It had that guy-Jonah Hill- from Superbad, before he was Oscar nominated and although everyone knew Channing Tatum was hot, and those of us who saw A Guide to Recognising Your Saints knew he could act, no one knew if he was funny. But then it was released, became a huge hit and most of all it was hilarious. But now that expectations are higher can the crew at Jump Street strike gold for a second time?

Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) are undercover again, this time as college students looking for the dealer of a new drug WHYPHY. But they struggle dealing with their new college lifestyle and maintaining their friendship at the same time. Will they get the dealers and still be friends?

As you can imagine no one in this film is taking themselves too seriously but they do take being funny as serious business, so cue lots of jokes about how ridiculous it is that there’s a sequel to this movie and how “second missions” are never as good the second time around. They are only bigger and more expensive than the first. Although they playfully acknowledge how similar everything is to the first movie the jokes are not a repeat of the first film.

Happily Tatum and Hill make for a great “power couple” once again. Hilariously facing relationship troubles due to Tatum’s new bromance with fellow jock Zook (Wyatt Russell-son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn), cue a very jealous Schmidt. It’s also great to have Ice Cube as Captain Dickinson  back again with a brand new flash office across the road at 22 Jump Street, who also hammers it home how expensive everything is for the “second mission”. Theres also great cameos from Dave Franco and Rob Riggle from the first film.

The only thing that perhaps is missing from this film is the surprise element that the original had. No one was expecting it to be any good which made the laughs even more hilarious. While the jokes are still funny in this one I don’t think they come at quite a ferocious pace as the previous installment. However considering the state of most sequels now a days the fact that this one manages to be good in its own right is enough of an achievement.

Stay for the end credits to get some ideas on what future installments of Jump Street could look like. Is it wrong that I would actually want to see a lot of them?

Rating 4/5 – a great comedy with a brilliant double act in Hill and Tatum

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Love Crime (2010)

Who would want to work for a high-powered corporation hey? Especially if they are filled with people like the ones who appear in this suspenseful thriller.

Isabelle (Sagnier) is an assistant at a multinational corporation who works directly for Christine (Scott Thomas) a manipulative business executive. Christine regularly takes advantage of Isabelle’s hard work while also exploits the fact that the younger woman has a crush on her. When she pushes Isabelle too far, Christine may end up paying a terrible price for her behaviour.

This is one of those films where the performances really help sell the film’s premise. The acting of the two leads is flawless with Kristen Scott Thomas terrific as the ruthlessly ambitious Christine, while Ludivine Sagnier effortlessly manages to portray the different sides to her character at some points sympathetic while at others just as manipulative as her rival. This film could easily have stumbled into a melodramatic mess but the performances help ground the film and make the characters feel real rather than stereotypes.

The problem with this film is that  it’s easily to tell earlier on where this film is heading. However the real mystery is how exactly Isabelle’s plan is going to work which helps keeps the audience’s attention. It’s also gets a bit boring seeing films where women who are lesbian or bisexual end up acting like the woman scorned going mad with passion and revenge. However at least the performances mean it doesn’t seem quite as tacky as it sounds.

Rating 3/5 – compelling performances from its two female leads keeps you glued to this suspenseful drama

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LOL (2012)

Miley Cyrus has gone from sweet looking Hannah Montana to a wild child that sticks out her tongue at any opportunity. In between these two phases she made this film in a small step away from her Hannah Montana image.

A remake of a french film of the same name Cyrus plays Lola -or Lol as her friends call her-an average teenager who finds out her boyfriend Chad (George Finn) has cheated on her over the summer. As she deals with the fallout from this she also struggles with complicated feelings for her best friend Kyle (Douglas Booth), her single mum (Demi Moore) not so secretly sleeping with her ex husband (Thomas Jane) and her friends own complicated love lives.

They can get a bad rep at times, but there are some good teen flicks – 10 Things I Hate About You is a brilliantly funny films with sympathetic characters. LOL is not one of these films. Not good enough to a proper hit, not edgy enough to be controversal and not cheesy enough to be a guilty pleasure. Instead the film just sits on an awkward edge feeling safe and uninspiring.

It doesn’t help that Lol is such an unlikeable brat. She’s not relatable enough or has an aspirational lifestyle for young girls to admire. I’m not sure who exactly this character would appeal to. It doesn’t help that all the supporting male characters are just lazy stereotypes. Cheating douche boyfriend, cute and soulful guy BFF, Lothario ex husband, hot teacher, hot cop etc. I can’t even remember most of their names.

Although it was weird seeing Douglas Booth in something other than a period drama he actually looked better in a modern setting. But his character is quite dull with a disapproving father subplot that fails to be of any interest as we all know the father will come round to his son’s musical ambitions by the end of the film. It really isn’t a spoiler.

However the film does have a few good things in its favour. Cyrus isn’t terrible in the lead role. Moore is watchable enough with her dating and parenting dilemmas and Lol’s friend Emily (Ashley Hinshaw) has some amusing moments as she falls for her teacher and tries to avoid falling for a geeky student. Ashley Greene’s flirtatious student is also interesting but barely explored.

Rating 2/5 – Fine for a mindless evening movie to disengage your brain but otherwise it’s probably best avoided.

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X-Men: Days of Future Past

I used to love watching the X-Men cartoon as a kid, so I’ve always had a soft spot for the mutants. Despite a few fumbles along the way (particularly The Last Stand and Wolverine: Origins), I’ve enjoyed the big screen version of the X-Men. But with time travel and a huge ensemble involved in this sequel will it be an epic adventure or an overloaded mess?

In the future robots called Sentinels are killing mutants. Things have gotten so bad that Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Professor X(Patrick Stewart) have come together with a small band of surviving mutants to try to set things right. When Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) is able to send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time (it makes more sense in the film-kind of), he tries to bring together the younger version of Charles (James McAvoy) and Erik (Michael Fassbender) to stop Mistique (Jennifer Lawrence) from making a terrible mistake that will affect all the mutants.

Ok first up the bad points. Anyone who reads this blog knows how much of a fan I am of Jennifer Lawrence. However this was not her best film. Not that she was awful but she looked like she bored the whole way through. It may be because her character Mistique didn’t have a powerful character arc this time around. Most of the time her character was just there to be in the middle of a power struggle between two men. Boring. I also didn’t understand how the character Kitty Pryde got the power to send Wolverine back in time in the first place. Maybe I missed something.

Thankfully there is plenty of good things in this movie. The highlight of which is Quicksilver (Evan Peters), one of the new mutants brought into the film franchise. He’s of particular interest because his character is appearing in both this movie and in The Avengers: Age of Ultron. Based on what we’ve seen here, Marvel Studios have got their work cut for them trying to beat this version. Peters’ speedster Quicksilver has just a few scenes but his Quicksilver is funny and interesting. The sequence when we see things from his perspective as he speeds up and everyone slows down is brilliantly realised. The humour, the music, everything is perfect. I’m also glad they kept him to just those scenes as he could have been overused but instead it’s one of the memorable moments of the film.

Out of the future mutants I was really interested in was Blink (Fan Bingbing) and her portal creating abilities. I hope we get to see more of her. While it could have been mutant overload with the two timeline worth of characters sharing the screen, the film never feels messy and it easily flits back and forth between the two settings. There is also a lot of welcome humour amidst all the drama. Jackman’s Wolverine has a lot of the best lines and it’s always fun to watch him step back into the role. It’s also great to see both versions of Magneto and Professor X again, and we even get a scene where both Charles face each other for a pep talk.

Occasionally this movie drags a bit in between the action. However it tends to pick itself up again quite quickly. And I have to say I love the ending. The last few scenes are great and leaves you eagerly anticipating the next film.

Rating 4/5 – exciting, fun and full of action, in other words a great summer blockbuster

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Maleficent

The animated version of Sleeping Beauty is one of my favourite Disney movies and I always found Maleficent to be a truly scary villain. So will this live action retelling of Sleeping Beauty with a twist live up to expectations?

Maleficent is a fairy that lives in The Moors. As a child she befriends a human boy called Stefan. As they grow older friendship turns to love, until Stefan (now played by Sharlto Copley) betrays her. Vengeful and consumed by rage Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) places a curse on Stefan’s daughter Aurora. But can Maleficent ever be redeemed?

After I watched this film I turned to my sister and said “That was dull.” However everyone else I went with seemed to think this was film was enjoyable and funny. I felt like I watched a completely different film to everyone else in the cinema. Part of the problem, I realised is that I prefer Maleficent evil. I didn’t really want a back story which basically says-oh she wasn’t so bad after all. What can I say I like my Disney villains evil!

It doesn’t help that most of the attempts at humour falls flat, and it missed the sense of dread that the animated version had. It was a shame that most of the characters (apart from Maleficent) were thinly drawn with Copley in particular having to ham it up to make up for the lack of proper characterisation. I also got annoyed with the film’s  lack of subtlety with the movie hammering home that men are EVIL!

But the film wasn’t a complete dud. The motive for Maleficent’s curse on Aurora is better than being snubbed an invite for a Christening (although I wasn’t that impressed that she was basically a woman scorned over a man). I liked Sam Riley’s shapeshifting Diaval, although he was underused. The film looks pretty so when I got bored I could look at some of the colourful backgrounds.The children who played young Aurora were cute. Jolie is the bright spark in the movie and she obviously revels in playing the character, however I wished she could have unleashed her bad side more.

Rating 2/5 – underwhelming and a missed opportunity for one of Disney’s most terrifying villains

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