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life-posterWhat’s it all about?

A team of scientists aboard the International Space Station discover a rapidly evolving life form, that caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

Why did I want to see it?

Impossible for me to resist nasty monster in space terrorising extremely good looking people. Plus Ryan Reynolds, obvs.

What did I think about it?

“It’s Alien, Jim, just not as we know it.”

It’s totally impossible to watch Life without thinking of Alien (which reached me out totally when I was a student back in 1979 and had to go home in the dark in a lonely part of Glasgow, but that’s another story). The similarities are more than obvious – thing that’s alive gets on board, picks crew off one by one, has to be stopped from getting to Earth. The main differences are:

  • the crew know they are bringing potential life on board and have protocols in place to manage it (or so they think
  • when things go wrong it’s very up front and everyone knows immediately
  • it’s taking place on the ISS so just a hop, skip and a jump away
  • there is a distinct lack of grunge

Having said all of that, Life is what it is and does a pretty good job of it. Yes, it has a cast that is that is too high-powered for a glossy B-movie, it has an ending that seems to have surprised some but the Book God spotted it coming just before I did, and why does everything want to eat us?

The effects are really good, the alien in particular is excellent, and it moves along at a reasonable pace with not too many “what are you doing, you’re a scientist for god’s sake” moments (though there are still some). The various deaths are nasty, I did jump a few times and squinted through my fingers at least once (apparently) so it was all good fun, except there really should have been more Ryan Reynolds.


MV5BMTc2Mjk0MTM0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjgyOTg1NjE@._V1_SX214_AL_So we had this plan for Monday that after I had finished work for the day we would go to the cinema and see a film (as you do). We had given some thought to what we might see:

  • Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and the lovely Mark Rylance; or
  • Black Mass with The Deppster and the Boy Cumberbatch; or even
  • The Good Dinosaur which I gather is not Pixar at its best but is still a good little movie

But no, I wanted steampunk style tosh and so decided that we should go and see Victor Frankenstein.

However, best laid plans in the form of life getting in the way via a fatality at a nearby station which meant that transport delays, rubbish teatime traffic and my feeling a bit under the weather (headache caused by neighbour’s builders – yes, they are still drilling and hammering away) meant that we never made it.

Stayed at home and ate pizza and watched Criminal Minds instead (there is nothing that Hotch and Garcia can’t put right between them).

But I am determined to see this film at some point. How could anyone resist the glories of Professor X and Harry Potter building a monster?

Has anyone seen it? Have I missed the best thing ever and should I kick myself, or have I had a lucky escape?

MV5BMzE1NzM4MjEyNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjYzMjMzMTE@._V1_SX214_AL_What’s it all about?

A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Haunted mirror alert!

Why did I want to watch it?

I really like Karen Gillan and wanted to see her in a role that didn’t have her almost unrecognisable under blue make-up (see Guardians of the Galaxy). I like a good horror film. I love haunted mirrors (especially the one featured in The Gatecrasher, one of the stories in From Beyond the Grave with the great David Warner).

What did I think of it?

I think the first thing to say about Oculus is that I didn’t find it at all scary. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nicely creepy and has occasional jumps intended to be frightening but it’s more of a psychological study in obsession than a traditional horror but works very well.

So Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is being released from a mental institution where he has been since he was a young boy because he shot and killed his father who had apparently murdered his and Kaylie’s (Karen G) mother after seemingly going mad. He’s locked up because of the whole “possessed mirror made my Dad do it stuff”. Kaylie has managed to get access to the mirror and wants Tim to help her prove that it was a supernatural entity that caused all the bad things to happen. Cue mayhem.

When your heroine looks at a mirror and says “Hello again. You must be hungry” you can tell this isn’t going to end well.

I really liked the two lead characters in both their child and adult incarnations and I thought the structure worked very well, constantly and effectively moving backwards and forwards from the present day to the events leading up to the night of the murders. There is some interesting stuff about memory and especially how it can be affected by therapy – Kaylie is convinced that Tim went into the institution sane and they have turned him”mad” but of course the question is whether she herself, having received no help growing up to deal with all of this, is actually the one who is mad.

There was only one way this was going to end (there is some very very obvious foreshadowing) but I wasn’t quite sure who exactly was going to come out alive. And the ending is nicely inconclusive. Interestingly, the film has grown on me since watching it a few days OK and I’d be happy to watch it again.

Dracula-Untold-bat-posterWhich for some inexplicable reason I keep on referring to as Dracula: The Untold Story, which is just silly, really, as this version of Dracula is not hugely at variance with most of the other stories already most definitely told.

Anyway, here you go:

What’s it all about?

As his kingdom is being threatened by the Turks, young prince Vlad Tepes must become a monster feared by his own people in order to obtain the power needed to protect his own family, and the families of his kingdom.

Let’s revisit that synopsis later.

Why did I want to watch it?

I must have considered going to see this film when it was announced because I had a jpeg of the poster in my files, and equally I must have decided at some point not to go and see it because I had heard some unfavourable reviews. I gave in because the Book God came across it by accident on one of the movie channels and thought it looked quite interesting, but was too scared to watch it on his own. That last part may be an exaggeration, if not a downright lie 🙂

What did I think of it?

Dracula Untold is not exactly as described by the lovely people at IMDb. Yes, kingdom-threatening Turks are around, but Vlad used to be one of their warriors until he dumped them and his old chum Mehmet is just looking for what’s due to him (1000 boys to train as soldiers and Vlad’s son as a hostage.) And Vlad isn’t that young, he’s done his fair share of fighting before coming home, getting married and producing a son who must be about 9 or 10.

And it’s just as much about unleashing his inner monster (all that past impaling f’rinstance, however he may try to justify it on ‘sacrificing few to save many’ grounds) as it is becoming a vampire to deal with his enemies.

But to be fair this wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I had expected or feared, it was actually pretty OK, no small thanks to Luke Evans who was suitably angst-ridden in the title role. His wife was a bit wimpy and there was insufficient Charles Dance for my taste but the effects were good (especially all the bat stuff) and Dominic Cooper glowers wonderfully. It just felt like this was a shortened version of a much longer film and the ending smacked a little of bet hedging for a potential franchise.

So, absolutely fine and not a bad way to spend 90 minutes but can’t see there being demand for a sequel.

The_Borderlands_2013_film_posterWhat’s it all about?

A team of Vatican investigators descends upon a church in a remote area to demystify the unusual happenings, but what they discover is more disturbing than they had first imagined.

Understatement of the year.

Why did I want to watch it?

I like this sort of thing. Also any film that can disturb Mark Kermode to the point that he thought he might have to leave the screening must be worth a look. Also also, I love Gordon Kennedy, beardie Scotsperson of normally genial aspect.

What did I think of it?

Ooh, this was creepy to the max. I need to try to talk about it without actually telling you what actually happens because the development of the story and the ultimate denouement are best experienced by not knowing very much about what may be going on.

But basically there’s this church which a young priest has had reopened after it has languished in decay and disuse and shortly after it’s all been tidied up (and during a christening which now I look back on it is clearly significant) there appears to be some sort of supernatural happening which he of course interprets as a miracle. Cue the arrival of the Vatican investigation team who, to Father Crellick’s dismay, are there to debunk the whole thing (that’s what they do, apparently, test potential miracles to destruction).

It’s a found footage film, made possible by the fact that the team is very high-tech, so lots of microphones and CCTV and the team all have headcams they (theoretically) wear all the time and when the weird stuff happens the tension builds until ooh, it all gets very unsettling and disturbing and a bit WTF at the end.

The Borderlands is in the best tradition of low-budget British creepsters and it left me a bit freaked if I’m honest and, like all the best horrors, in the days since I’ve watched it scenes have been popping into my head and I’ve been pondering what it all meant and picking up references I may have missed at the time but make sense now, which is all very satisfying indeed.

I liked it, can you tell?

DaybreakersWhat’s it all about?

Daybreakers takes place

in the year 2019, a plague has transformed almost every human into vampires. Faced with a dwindling blood supply, the fractured dominant race plots their survival; meanwhile, a researcher works with a covert band of vamps on a way to save humankind.

Which makes sense, although a covert bunch of vamps makes me think of a gang of Theda Bara lookalikes with long cigarette holders on the prowl, and I don’t think that’s what they meant.

Why did I want to watch it?

Vampires, obviously. And Sam Neill. And most importantly, Sam Neill as a vampire.

What did I think of it?

So where shall I start?

  • Sam Neill as a vampire ( I may have mentioned this already 😀 ) – I love him deeply but he is particularly good when he is being smoothly villainous and terribly reasonable in a sharp suit, which he very much is here
  • I am developing a soft spot for Ethan Hawke, but he really is a bit drippy and tortured in this film, looking for a synthetic substitute which will allow the human race to survive because vampires won’t need to feed on them
  • Willem Dafoe is suitably craggy as the main turning point in the plot
  • it looks very noir, right down to lots of action taking place in the dark with moody blue lighting (because vampires, duh), some nifty 1940s style hats and lots of smoking by your man Ethan
  • there is lots and lots of heavy-handed allegorical imagery here, just can’t decide which piece of human on human nastiness it’s referencing, but I winced at the obviousness at least once
  • well, that was always going to happen to (a) Sam’s daughter and (b) Ethan’s brother
  • well, he was always going to be a bad’un
  • never, ever trust the man in the sharp suit who sells stuff to make lots of money for a living

Reading back on this it makes it sound like I really didn’t like this film, but it was fine, honestly, a good choice for a Saturday afternoon settled on the sofa, but not really all that ground-breaking, and bloody without being frightening. To be honest *whispers* it was a bit of a disappointment. But it had it’s moments….

IMG_0227What’s it all about?

The Babadook is an Australian horror film in which

A single mother, plagued by the violent death of her husband, battles with her son’s fear of a monster lurking in the house, but soon discovers a sinister presence all around her.

Why did I want to watch it?

As I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I really enjoy a good horror movie, and I had heard good things about this from both professional critics (it was one of Mark Kermode’s’ favourite films of last year) and friends (who assured me it wasn’t one of the quiet, quiet, LOUD fraternity). And it was a Saturday afternoon, my traditional horror-movie-watching time, so what else is a girl supposed to do?

What did I think of it?

This is a really effective film, not the scariest I’ve seen but really quite creepy and unsettling largely because of its domestic setting, playing into the fear we all have (or is it just me?) of something going wrong inside your own house, because after all that’s where we are supposed to feel safest isn’t it?

I suspect The Babadook may also be scarier if you are a parent (which I’m not) because there is a strong mix of resentment about the behaviour of the little boy and your own potential loss of control and terror that something is after him which intellectually I think we can all understand but perhaps has an additional weight if you have kids of your own.

I will confess that I found Samuel really annoying for the first part of the film and my sympathies were totally with Amelia as she struggled to cope on her own, but as time passes and it still isn’t clear whether the Babadook is real or she is going mad, I started to wonder how much of the situation she had created herself and to feel a bit sorry for the kid who may actually have been getting it right all along. I will say no more than that.

As a monster the Babadook itself was very well done, menacing without really being properly seen, and all of the performances were great. I thought it worked very well, liked it very much and will watch it again.

MV5BNzM3NzU2NzUzMV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjY2OTUxNw@@._V1_SX214_AL_What’s it all about?

Nearly a year after a botched job, a hitman takes a new assignment with the promise of a big payoff for three killings. What starts off as an easy task soon unravels, sending the killer into the heart of darkness.

Too right. Kill List starts off as an ultra-realistic violent thriller before turning into something altogether more disturbing.

Why did I want to watch it?

Do you know, I’m not entirely sure but I think that Mark Kermode fingered it as a TV movie of the week on the show he does with Simon Mayo and I had heard that it was a very strange and interesting film and so I decided to give it a whirl

What did I think of it?

I think it’s fair to say that I was really taken aback by Kill List. I hadn’t deliberately avoided reading up on it before I watched it but I knew that it was a violent film. What I hadn’t really picked up is that it’s a horror film, and I mean a real horror film where (relatively) ordinary lives spiral entirely out of control. And because I knew so little about the story – I mean, I knew that it was about contract killers, for example, but not much more than that and that it all goes Horribly Wrong – the way the film develops came as a real surprise to me, and the end was a real WTF moment because it was so out of left field and unexpected and disturbing.

Without giving anything away about the plot, this starts off as a very realistic and violent film about two ex-soldiers who have become killers for hire since leaving the army and who are getting back into the game after time off when a previous job went wrong (though we never find out exactly what happened). There are minor oddities at the start (the behaviour of one of the guests at a dinner party for instance) and then it slowly builds up with an increasing level of strangeness until it goes completely and horrifically weird. There’s no other way to describe it. And what’s really effective is there is no attempt to explain what the hell is actually going on. The film just ends.

For the first 20 minutes or so I really thought I was going to hate this film, but then (and I’m not sure exactly why) I became intrigued and wanted to know what was going to happen and straight after watching it I still wasn’t sure what I thought of it, but images from it have kept popping back into my head in the days that have followed and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I decide to watch it again sometime. Because it really is unsettling and disturbing and to a certain extent pointless. But powerful, definitely powerful. Definitely.

MV5BMTk4ODgxMDU0M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg0NzcyMDE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_What’s it all about?

The Last Days of Mars, according to IMDb, is about

A group of astronaut explorers [who] succumb one by one to a mysterious and terrifying force while collecting specimens on Mars.

In other words: Martian Space Zombies!

Why did I want to watch it?

One of those things really. I was doing something in the kitchen and was flicking through the movie channels to see if there was anything worth watching while I was doing whatever it I was doing and came across a zombie-type attack on Mars. I just love films (and books for that matter) set on Mars so it was a no-brainer to find out when it was being shown next and to record it.

What did I think of it?

If you’re going to watch this sort of thing then a gloomy, wet and windy Sunday afternoon (as it is slowly getting dark) is the perfect setting for a small horror film.

And it wasn’t too bad; a good cast (Liev Schreiber, Romola Garai, Olivia Williams and Elias Koteas for a start), a surprisingly claustrophobic setting (small base on big empty planet), people who’ve been stuck together for six months and keen to get home, and the Unexpected Thing That Happens just as they’re getting ready to leave.

Which of course isn’t that unexpected. As soon as someone breaks protocol to keep their major discovery to themselves you know it’s all going to go pear-shaped. Have none of these people seen Alien?

Things I learned from this movie:

  • never, ever trust anyone who says “Just trust me on this one”
  • the team member with the previous unspecified traumatic incident that no-one talks about is probably going to come through in the end
  • someone will always state the obvious e.g. “this just doesn’t make sense” as previously thought-to-be-dead person comes back to life
  • the person who appears not to be seriously injured almost certainly is, and will go to great pains to hide the fact
  • it’s a good idea to check that everyone, but everyone, is accounted for before you go into the apparently abandoned main base, in the dark

Like I said, not too bad, half the team trying to be stoic under significant provocation while the other half is falling to pieces all over the place. And they were all a bit horrible to Olivia Williams’ stroppy female scientist who might have been a pain but who was absolutely right at every single stage.

And I thought the climax was a bit of a cop-out. I think the director was trying for something open and ambiguous, leaving it up to us to decide what was going to happen, but it all seemed a bit too much of a “not sure how to finish it, let’s just do this” ending.

But seriously not that bad, and a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Assuming you like Martian space zombies, of course 🙂

panslabyrinth20068988_fThis post originally appeared on my Bride’s Film page over on my other blog. I’m re-posting here with some added commentary (where appropriate) so that my film reviews are all in the same place.

Date watched: 26 July 2008 (umpteenth viewing; really, I’ve seen this film so many times I’ve lost count)

What IMDb says:

In the falangist Spain of 1944, the bookish young stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer escapes into an eerie but captivating fantasy world.

What I said:

I’ve had this film for ages but wanted to save it for when I could really concentrate on it, and a wet Bank Holiday seemed absolutely right. I really love Guillermo del Toro; I was an early adopter of Cronos and have, I think, watched everything he has directed since then, including Mimic which I may very well be one of the few people to enjoy. 

So of course I was really looking forward to seeing Pan’s Labyrinth, especially as both Jonathan Ross and Mark Kermode had raved about it in their reviews. I can’t say whether it should have won the Oscar for foreign language film because I haven’t yet seen The Lives of Others, but I’m very glad to say that it didn’t disappoint.

The film is set in 1944 in Fascist Spain, where Ofelia and her mother, who is heavily pregnant, go to join her brutal stepfather at his military outpost. She finds a labyrinth behind the camp and when she reaches the centre she meets the Faun, who claims that she is a princess out of place and in order to get to return she has to carry out three tasks.

Things I liked about this movie = the art design and special effects are truly spectacular and otherwordly; Ofelia herself is excellent; the character of Mercedes; the growing sense of doom; the bravery of the doctor; the inevitability of the ending

Things I didn’t like = I thought this was perfect, but some people might find the violence too much; I squirmed on a couple of occasions and almost had to make use of the Safety Cushion; the insects crawling over Ofelia during one of her tasks were a bit yucky too

If you like dark fantasy you will love this, and it does illuminate some of the things which happened in Spain after the Civil War was over; a good companion to The Devil’s Backbone.

I am so looking forward to Hellboy 2!


There isn’t much more to say about Pan’s Labyrinth, but Hellboy 2 was definitely worth waiting for 😀

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