Sunday, 21 August 2016

Ghost island

Made in Singapore but shot in English, TV movie Pulau Hantu (2008) – trans: ‘Ghost Island’, is released on DVD in the UK as CURSE. Directed by Esan Sivalingam, it is set on a now unpopulated isle where a village was ruled by a corrupt medicine man whose predations led to his rape victim, and her daughter, being buried alive. In the present day, we see an army squad arrive via boat to search the island for AWOL soldiers. The troops are attacked, repeatedly, by an invisible enemy. “This is not happening!” keens one man, and he’s not even wounded.  

Reminiscent of Korean military–horror, Ghosts Of War (R–Point, 2004), Curse focuses on mortal fears in the drab jungle/ forest as night falls, suddenly, signalling the presence of dark forces. Suspicion and paranoia results in frightened soldiers shooting each other in a cluttered and, ultimately, very confusing storyline not helped by inter–cutting with the lone survivor (although he’s not the only one, we find) in army debriefing interviews after the mission has failed.

Having uncovered crimes (a ‘mass suicide’, apparently) of the past, the intruders here must learn that simply re–burying evidence will not make the supposedly evil forces go away. Badly made on video, with colourless imagery and some clumsy editing, this lacks even an ounce of the sinister heavyweight edginess that is required for strong atmosphere in a rural ghost story. 

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Thai house

Like many haunted house movies, Thai horror, THE HOUSE (2007), really starts with a face–at–the–window scene. A young reporter is investigating a mystery that surrounds three murdered women, all killed in crimes that span decades but are linked to the same house.

The back-story about a murderous doctor attempts to infuse some topicality but, nonetheless, it is a tired batch of pop–up gothic clichés. Subliminal scares and some first–person handycam views are hopelessly copycat after the likes of Bangkok Haunted, Shutter, and Ghost Of Mae Nak. Also, and perhaps inevitably, it borrows atmosphere and mise en scène from The Eye and Grudge movies.  

Sometimes insipid, generally underwhelming, performances do no favours to a plot which hinges upon the cartoonish loony in prison who enjoys OTT snidely Lecteresque confessions. Cheapo CGI makes for shadowy demonic phantoms that are rarely more than slightly creepy.
It is hard to tell if the portentous apparitions are supposed to be ‘real’, especially when they are no different to hallucinations in the dreams of traumatised victims. This is all so depressingly formulaic that it seems unlikely many viewers will care, either way.

Saturday, 6 August 2016


“You don’t know what’s out there,” he warns her. “That’s why I’d go,” she replies. ANOTHER EARTH (2011) is an artsy variant of Gerry Anderson’s classic home-grown sci-fi Doppelganger (aka: Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, 1969). After a road accident kills a musician’s pregnant wife and their young son, the other car’s teenage driver Rhoda is convicted of negligence. Years later, she begins an affair with still grieving widower, John, a famous composer, eccentric enough to play the saw, but he has no idea who she is, at first... 

While SETI broadcast greetings to the new planet, and hope for first contact, everybody is baffled by this apparently cosmic reflection, growing ever larger in the sky, and UFOlogy nutters roam the streets with placards of impending doom. The genre debut of director Mike Cahill, who co-wrote the screenplay with lead actress Brit Marling (Sound Of My Voice), this is a low-budget indie about festering guilt with flailing attempts at redemption. It may be viewed as metaphysical philosophy and existential introspection or simply muddled up nonsense about dreams coming true from shattered lives, but, either way, it does tend to get a bit lost in its own headspace of tragedy.

Facing hard truths about the improbabilities of forgiveness, like Lars von Trier’s sometimes painfully beautiful Melancholia, it’s more interested and immersed in its characters and their respective melodramas than any science fictional aspects, with a preference for the symbolic instead of the confrontational, and many – perhaps too many – of its pivotal or dramatic scenes occur off–screen. Another Earth is like a mirror world for observers in need of enlightenment but its paranormally reflective surfaces are often impenetrably blacked out. The parallel planet just hangs above the clouds offering vague promises of second chances and a multiverse heaven away from home. Unfortunately, if viewed as serious SF, this never gets off the ground. 

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Real Steel

REAL STEEL (2011) is not a remake, although it feels like one, partly due to the previous adaptation of Richard Matheson’s story Steel for a Twilight Zone episode in 1963, and partly because the producer Steven Spielberg has dealt with fighting robots before in A.I. (2001). Here it is 2020, where clunky ‘Ambush’ is wrecked in a small town bullfight, and the Japanned replacement bot ‘Noisy Boy’, loses its first match so it needs repairs that remote-control operator, full-time failure, and reluctant father Charlie (Hugh Jackman, failing to carry a leading role, yet again) can’t afford.  

Now he’s stuck with custody of his 11-year-old son, for a road movie, with boxing mecha interludes, that everyone involved somehow imagines is an awesome blockbuster super-toy (to last all summer long) that’s oh so cool it’s positively hypothermic. Bailey (Evangeline Lilly, TV’s Lost) is the techie who owns a rundown gym; but she can’t bring any warmth or humanity to a scenario vacancy that’s Robot Jox meets Transformers, with robo-Rocky asides, and all the testosterone thrills of beeping arcade video games. The mind–numbing predictability of its father/ son relationship reconciliation is made worse when the kid’s a winner, dad’s such a loser, and everything is going to work out so the grotesquely Hollywooden, shamelessly tearjerker style happy ending is inevitable.

Director Shawn Levy (CGI–laden Night At The Museum comedies, Pink Panther remake) keeps the machines running on a soda-pop high from scrap-yard challenges to the big leagues of New York arena bouts, while a sentimentalised variant of Terminator 2’s young John Connor mentored by Schwarzenegger’s reprogrammed assassin makeover is turned into utterly cringe-worthy tripe by twin ailments of Disneyfication and Spielbergitis. There’s less room here for ‘characters’ than you get in a Twitter post, and the cliché–magnet plot is blatantly easy to summarise as a one–liner. In a montage-riddled climax, junk bot Atom becomes the best brawler, too self-consciously amazing as a painfully obvious Tin-man/ little toaster that could, who beats all the odds against autonomous champ, the mighty Zeus. Yes, it’s an A–Z of aahhh... aw shucks, or - perhaps, urgh! A sequel is on standby.

Saturday, 23 July 2016


“How many names do I need?” CONAN THE BARBARIAN (2011) is director Marcus Nispel’s remake of John Milius’ 30-year-old classic vehicle for Schwarznegger. German–born Nispel has carved out his Hollywood career on post-millennial updates of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th, Frankenstein (TV from a Koontz ‘concept’), and peculiar lost–Viking adventure Pathfinder (based upon a Norwegian original).

Born via battlefield C-section, the hero of this movie version of Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian champion is played by Jason Momoa (from Stargate Atlantis). His unfortunately–doomed father is portrayed by Ron Perlman (making Conan the ‘son’ of Hellboy!, Eh?). It starts in a Cimmerian village where, after his day of chores, boy Conan takes a shortcut during local warrior wannabes’ egg-in-mouth race home. He survives an ambush, and collects four heads, but he’s not ready for a sword until the village is attacked in a storm of blood and fire and that familiar rain-of-arrows cliché.

Bad guy Zym (Stephen Lang, ex-killer of Smurfs-on-acid in Avatar), re–assembles the bone shards of a powerful face–hugger mask to make himself a god, and resurrect his beloved. Having lost the invasion battle, there is further horror when Conan’s dad is doused in molten steel. Once grown up, Conan and his chums free a bunch of slaves, and then our muscular champ saves elusive pureblood ‘monk’, Tamara (Rachel Nichols; P2, G.I. Joe, Continuum), in the slick yet rather characterless mayhem of numerous action set–pieces happening amidst fairytale picture–book scenery. Whether he is killing or carousing (“I live, I love, I slay”), Momoa wins this month’s award for best ‘sneer with eyebrows’ performance. Rose McGowan (from Planet Terror) is venomously witchy as the top villain’s daughter Marique, who conjures up a sand wraiths’ kung fu melee, while shirtless Conan strikes his comicbook poses in strap–on rags.

Nispel is so fanatically intent on presenting stunts and special effects that lucid storytelling is neglected, and it falls to stilted unwashed dialogue and blunt flashbacks to carry the mediocre plot. Sadly, the filmmakers ‘forgot’ there needs to be an intriguing mythical dimension (which the original Arnie flick had plenty of!) to swordplay adventures like this. Empty spectacle is never appealing enough to fully entertain and this Conan fails the same way that Mike Newell’s clunky Prince Of Persia failed. It rattles hollowly and thoughtlessly along with nothing much to say about barbaric heroism or vengeance, and clearly no idea how to make up for its shortcomings with only the studio toolkit and high grade production values as commendable assets. “Behold, and despair!”