Home
Commentary
Livecam
News
Reviews
Tech Corner



 

2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012

Dog Soldiers (Blu-Ray) - Dec 30, 2015
Director: Neil Marshall

Main Stars: Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, Emma Cleasby, Liam Cunningham

Rating: 4 out 5

A group of soldiers are dropped off in the Scottish wilderness as part of an exercise where they must engage a special forces unit. Things go from bad to worse when they come across the other group torn to shreds and quickly find themselves fighting for their lives against an unknown enemy. I must admit I had never even heard of this movie until I stumbled across it being advertised by Shout! Factory as a special collectors edition release. Unlike their brethren of Vampires and Zombies, for whatever reason Werewolves don't get a lot of love. Besides the standard bearer of American Werewolf in London, most people probably couldn't name another entry in the genre. So I was excited to watch this and see what it had to offer. Thankfully, it didn't take long for me to be thoroughly engaged by it. I felt like I had been warped back in time to the early 80's. Despite being taken from a 2K scan, the video leaves a lot to be desired. While I don't have an issue with film grain, this one is extremely grain heavy and dark visually. And yet, it somehow works for the movie. Couple that with old school creature effects (no CGI here) and again you'd swear this was made 30 years ago. Imagine my shock when I found out afterwards that it was made in 2002. In addition to a pretty decent cast with some familiar British faces the story draws a lot of inspiration from Aliens. Being a horror flick, there's the usual gaps in logic but not enough to detract from the overall story. A pleasant surprise.


Pacific Rim (Blu-Ray) - Dec 20, 2015
Director: Guillermo del Toro

Main Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Diego Klattenhoff, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Ron Perlman

Rating: 4.5 out 5

In the near future, monstrous creatures begin rising from the oceanic depths and unleash devastation upon mankind. To combat them massive robots are built, controlled by two pilots who's minds are merged into one via a neural link. Mankind eventually gets the upper hand and for years the threat is kept at bay. Until one day when a new generation of monsters emerge and the robotic guardians are once again called upon to save the day. Big dumb fun nicely sums up this movie. A bit of a departure from Director del Toro (Pans Labyrinth) in terms of the scale of the action. He takes a Japanese genre - kaiju - and brings it to Western audiences in the best way possible. Visually the film is stunning and filmed in a 1.85 aspect ratio which is rare for an action film - but the net effect is it fills your TV with it's eye popping goodness. On the audio front it's no slouch either filling the air with it's aural assault. If you've been looking for a movie to use as your home theater reference disc, this is it. But beyond the technical merits the film also brings a fairly decent emotional tie in with the two main characters. The hero (Hunnam) who having lost his brother in a previous attack now finds himself paired up with a rookie pilot (Kikuchi). He must overcome his fear of her sharing the same fate as his brother and she must overcome her childhood trauma at the hands of the monsters she now finds herself fighting. Throw in del Toro regular Perlman and Idris Elba as the commanding officer with a strange fatherly affection for the rookie pilot and you have a great cast. Forget the last two god awful Godzilla movies, instead fire this up, sit back, and let the on screen mayhem envelope you.


Ex Machina (Blu-Ray) - Nov 6, 2015
Director: Alex Garland

Main Stars: Domhnall Gleeson, Corey Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Rating: 5 out 5

Caleb (Gleeson) is a young computer programmer at a large multinational company. One day he wins a trip to work with the reclusive and brilliant owner (Isaac). Calib is tasked with determining if the company's secret breakthrough Ava, a robot with artificial intelligence, is truly sentient or not. However, the lines become blurred as he soon becomes enamored of her and begins to question whether something almost human should be kept in a laboratory prison. Steven Hawking is on record as having said "The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race." While I don't think I currently have anything to fear from my iMac, it is somewhat unnerving that the world's most brilliant person considers that to be the greatest threat to humanity. With that thought as a backdrop this film explores the possibility of our creations rising up against us as well as the philosophical question of whether something not human but self aware should have the same basic rights that we do. At a more base level it's also an excellent thriller with an unexpected twist. Beyond that I absolutely loved the camera work - everything filmed in a cool, detached manner with plenty of wide shots. Couple the visuals with a story consisting of a handful of characters in a shut off, almost claustrophobic setting, and a sense of building dread and you have a very Kubrickian film, part 2001, part The Shining. While I tend to cringe when reviewers drop the K bomb, here it is definitely appropriate. One of the best additions to the sci-fi genre to come along in awhile. Highly recommended.


It Follows (Blu-Ray) - Sep 21, 2015
Director: David Robert Mitchell

Main Stars: Maika Monroe, Keir Gilchrist, Olivia Luccardi, Lili Sepe, Jake Weary

Rating: 4 out 5

Jay (Monroe) finally gives into her adolescent urges one evening in the back of her boyfriend's (Weary) car. While pondering the meaning of life during her post-coital bliss she is suddenly chloroformed by her lover and wakes up tied to a chair in an abandoned car parkade. There she is told that he has passed on a terrible curse to her- that she will be relentlessly pursued by an apparition that can take the form of anyone until either it kills her or she passes the curse on to someone else. I went into this without knowing anything about it which made what unfolded all the more satisfying. After wallowing in endless crap releases for years replete with over the top gore and cheap jump scares the horror genre gets a much needed boost of quality filmmaking. Quick edits and gimmicks are replaced with an overwhelming sense of dread that builds and builds and old school camera work. The way the camera follows the kids as they walk through suburbia is reminiscent of the movie Halloween and its obvious that at a certain level the film is paying homage to it. But ultimately it comes down to the cast to sell what on the surface is a ridiculous premise. And they are up to the task with Maika Monroe being the standout. More importantly, they come across as believable without resorting to tired stereotypes about teen youth. Sex obviously plays the central role both in receiving the curse and in lifting it and the equating of sex with teenage tragedy is a staple of 80's horror. Consider this then to be retro-horror of the absolute best kind.


Black Sea (VOD) - Jul 23, 2015
Director: Kevin Macdonald

Main Stars: Jude Law, Scoot McNairy, Ben Mendelsohn, Tobias Menzies

Rating: 3.5 out 5

Robinson (Law) is a gruff submariner who's spent more of his life under water than on land. His life is turned upside down when some corporate shill half his age tells him the ocean salvage company he's worked for all those years no longer needs his services. Back home he ponders a future with no prospects until one day while drowning his sorrows he hears of the discovery of a Nazi U-boat found at the bottom of the Black Sea, rumored to be filled with gold. It’s his for the taking if he can manage to keep his hastily assembled crew of misfits from killing each other while avoiding the Soviet navy above their heads. Think Ocean's Eleven meets Das Boot. I found the concept intriguing and despite some plot contrivances and a complete disregard for physics at the end it managed to thoroughly engage me from beginning to end. Filmed inside a real Soviet submarine, the claustrophobic setting enhances the non-stop tension. With not much else to look at, the focus is on the performances and the actors do a good job conveying the fear and paranoia they face. McNairy is especially great as the slimy corporate minder and one can't help but compare him to the equally reprehensible Carter Burke in Aliens. But, some clichés are present, and character development takes a bit of a back seat in order to move the story along. Not the best thriller out there, but effectively entertaining with a great cast and unique setting.


The Lords Of Salem (Blu-Ray) - Jun 8, 2015
Director: Rob Zombie

Main Stars: Sheri Moon Zombie, Bruce Davison, Jeff Daniel Philips, Patricia Quinn, Ken Foree

Rating: 4 out 5

Heidi (Zombie) is a recovering drug addict and member of the late night crew at the local radio station. One day a mysterious record shows up which they play on the air, releasing a hellish cacophony of otherworldly notes. Soon after Heidi starts to lose her grip on reality as she is increasingly haunted by disturbing visions. I simply couldn't wait for Halloween and had to see this. While watching, I kept thinking to myself 'This is a Rob Zombie film'??? Beautiful is an apt description as it's visually gorgeous to behold. Everything is cast in an eerie and soft light which works well with the retro look of the movie. Retro would also describe the feel of the film. Unlike most of the modern day dreck that passes as horror, the viewer isn't bombarded with sequence after sequence of quick edits designed to make you jump. Instead everything is presented in a cold, detached viewpoint and there's an underlying sense of dread that slowly continues to build until the movie reaches its conclusion. There's so many nods to and cues from previous greats. It's as if Kubrick, Polanski and Ken Russell had a baby together. As for the casting, Patricia Quinn and Ken Foree were pleasant surprises. I recognized Foree instantly as he is an icon, but it took me awhile to realize who Quinn was (think Rocky Horror). About the only issue I had was the ending wasn't quite as good as I feel it should have been - still, the positives more than outweigh the negatives. Critics automatically dismiss his films as garbage, and his fan base likely will be divided as it's a significant departure from his earlier works. That said, I think this is easily his best effort and a great addition to the genre.


Hysteria (Blu-Ray) - May 21, 2015
Director: Tanya Wexler

Main Stars: Maggie Gyllenhaal, Hugh Dancy, Jonathan Pryce, Rupert Everett, Felicity Jones

Rating: 4 out 5

Mortimer (Dancy) is a young doctor in Victorian England struggling to convince his peers of the need to rise above medically archaic practices and embrace the new science. After being fired from his latest stint he finds work with an elderly Doctor whose practice consists of relieving women from their affliction of 'Hysteria'. He soon finds himself swamped with eager patients to the point where his hand and arm ache constantly. He also finds himself torn between the Doctor's two daughters, one a proper lady, and the other a fiery woman with an independent spirit prone to railing against the establishment. I'll admit, the main reason I sought out this movie was due to the subject matter. Loosely based on real events, Hysteria was a catchall diagnosis they used to give to women who were, well, simply put, sexually frustrated. Eventually some clever inventor inadvertently created the vibrator which was quickly employed to relieve all those poor women of their suffering. Despite the salacious overtones, the whole subject is handled with typical British humour and wit. Dancy is charming, embodying the spirit of a younger Hugh Grant and Gyllenhaal is convincing as the woman determined to throw off the shackles of her male dominated society. Any criticisms tend to fall along the lines of either it wasn't sexy (so then watch something NC-17) to it only lightly touched on women's rights issues (so then watch such uplifting fare as The Accused). To them I say get bent! And appreciate Hysteria for what it is, a thoroughly entertaining if somewhat breezy film.


Interstellar (Blu-Ray) - Apr 14, 2015
Director: Christopher Nolan

Main Stars: Matthew McConaughey, John Lithgow, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine

Rating: 1 out 5

Cooper (of course that would be his name) is a former NASA astronaut who now enjoys life eeking out an existence tending his dust covered crops. You see the earth is doomed (isn't it always?) and it's getting increasingly difficult to grow food. But thankfully one day he sees the face of Jesus in some dust on the floor and jumps in his trusty pickup and drives 90km/hr through cornfields until he conveniently comes across a super-secret space facility which is about to launch a rocket to search for a suitable planet in some other galaxy to live on. So the rocket is prepped for launch although no one there thought about who was going to actually pilot the thing, so Cooper showing up just then was super convenient cause hey he used to fly rockets like 20 years ago. So he then spends all of 2 minutes saying goodbye to his daughter before taking off for certain death. Then he and some other people no one cares about blast off and once in space realize they are super advanced because although they took off in a 60's era rocket have somehow mastered the ability of cyrosleep, yet still manually dock with orbiting space stations. So they check out a couple of planets and fight a bad guy and then enter a black hole. I think at this point I dozed off for a bit only to awaken to watch some more ridiculous nonsense. I can't think of a movie hyped so much which sucked so bad other than perhaps Star Wars Ep 1. And don't believe the glowing reviews which are nothing more than Batman fanboyz expressing their unfounded adulation of director Christopher Nolan. It's obvious that McConaughey should stick to his Lincoln commercials and that Nolan's best days are behind him. Oh, and a slow clap for coming up with probably the most stupid robot design I've ever seen in a sci-fi film. I wish I could go into a wormhole and get back the 3 hours of my life I just wasted watching this crap.


Kingsman: The Secret Service (Theatre) - Mar 1, 2015
Director: Mathew Vaughn

Main Stars: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Mark Hamill

Rating: 2.5 out 5

As a young boy, Eggsy (Egerton) learns the news that his father has died serving for Queen and Country in an operation shrouded in mystery. Before leaving, the man (Firth) who told his mother this news gives him a pendant with a phone number on the back. He tells him that should he ever be in trouble to call it. Years go by and time has not been kind to his family. Poverty and violence are the norm. One day while sitting in jail after being involved in yet another fight he decides to call the number and overnight his life changes. When I saw the trailer for this I remember thinking it looked interesting although somewhat odd. Unfortunately that oddness continued throughout the movie. Full of humor one moment and violence the next, the film never seems to know what it wants to be. Is it serious? Is it a parody? Some have said it's simply a reaction to the super seriousness of the latest Bond films. Fair enough I guess, but for me the combination just didn't gel.  Not all was bad however. I thought Samuel L. Jackson was hilarious in the role of the bad guy. I was also pleased to see Mark Hamill return to the screen. In fact, it took me awhile to recognize him. Egerton was also excellent in his transition from street kid to dashing spy as was Firth in the role of his mentor. And it may be that I'm just getting old, but I was actually annoyed by the non-stop F bombs. It wasn't in character for anyone and did nothing for the story. For what it's worth the audience seemed to love it. Me, not so much.


Fury (Blu-Ray) - Feb 11, 2015
Director: David Ayer

Main Stars: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena, Jon Bernthal

Rating: 4 out 5

The tank crew of Fury, a Sherman tank fighting through Germany during the last days of WWII are a tight nit group. A bond forged through their shared experiences and the horrors they've seen. They are put to the test when one of them is killed and the replacement is a young kid who's never seen combat before. The tank commander must whip him into shape before all of their lives are put in jeopardy. I'm a fan of war movies. Specifically those that embrace realism over flag waving and accuracy over story telling. Fury is one of those movies and while I wouldn't put it up there with the likes of Full Metal Jacket or Das Boot, it's an extremely powerful addition to the genre. It does away with all the usual pretenses - the US isn't necessarily the good guys, the Germans not necessarily the bad guys. In the fog of war there's not much difference between the two as they are all just trying to survive. The fact that all of this takes place inside the claustrophobic confines of a tank is notable as I can't remember another film offhand where that was the case. All of the actors give great performances but the standout is Lerman who plays the baby faced new recruit. My only issue was the climactic ending which while riveting I found extremely unlikely - and therefore going against my original criteria. Still, everything else more than outweighs that one transgression. Finally, while I usually don't pay much attention to the extras, the ones on this disc are exemplary and make one appreciate the movie even more.


The Maze Runner (Blu-Ray) - Jan 28, 2015
Director: Wes Ball

Main Stars: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Ki Hong Lee, Aml Ameen

Rating: 4 out 5

Thomas (O'Brien) wakes up in an elevator that's ascending a seemingly infinite shaft. Once he finally reaches the top he finds himself forgetting his name and who he is and surrounded by a bunch of teen boys who seem amused at his disorientation. Eventually he discovers that they are all trapped in a massive glade and the only exit is through a foreboding labyrinth that only a select few called Maze Runners are allowed to enter. If there's any hope of them escaping he must break the rules and enter the maze. How to describe this? Think Lord of the Flies meets The Cube. Obviously I was enthralled with the concept. One of those 'what's going on here?' type movies that I love so much. While the story of reluctant hero rising above adversity to save everyone has been done to death for me it wasn't that big a deal as I was so invested in finding out the mystery of the maze. That said, kudos for introducing the female character and not having the typical love story subplot dreck that seems to be mandatory these days. And while most of the time is spent keeping the maze a mystery and thus keeping the audience in suspense, when they finally get in there I wish more time had been spent exploring that world. Still, that's a minor quibble. Not having read the book I can't comment on how closely the movie follows it, but having seen the movie I definitely want to read the book now. A pleasant surprise.


Lucy (Blu-Ray) - Jan 27, 2015
Director: Luc Besson

Main Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Min-sik Choi, Amr Waked

Rating: 2 out 5

While in Tapei, Lucy (Johansson) is simply supposed to deliver a mysterious case to an even more mysterious Mr. Jang. Things go horribly wrong when she is instead forced to be a drug mule and the drugs surgically implanted in her begin to leak into her system. Director Besson has made some terrific films - La Femme Nikita, The Professional, The Fifth Element - truly great films. Unfortunately, this is not one of them. Besides not making any sense at all, my biggest issue was the suspension of disbelief that's required when viewing any science fiction type movie. In response to criticism of Lucy, others have asked what's the difference between it and say spaceships shooting lasers. Fair point, and I've been struggling to define why I had such an issue with it. The closest I can come up with is that it's premise is the sci-fi equivalent of Alice eating the cake and growing really large. The fact that they devoted much of the runtime highlighting a brilliant brain researcher (Freeman) to give what was happening to her a sort of legitimacy only made it worse. Beyond that, even as an action film I found it rather mundane. It had all the elements - Car chase, check. Guns firing away, check. But it just didn't resonate with me. And hottie Johansson, while lovely to look at, doesn't have the presence or acting ability to rise above the rest of the film. About the only good thing was the character of the French cop (Waked) who owned the screen. Disappointing.