Sunday, 20 April 2014

Leaving (For) Las Vegas

Knifed in Venice will be inactive between 
April 20th and May 2nd 2014
as I am getting married in Las Vegas, NV.  If you're in the neighbourhood we're at NYNY so drop by for a pint.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

The Grey

Certificate: 15
Running Time: 117 mins
Director: Joe Carnahan
Starring: Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, Frank Grillo
Genre: Action, Thriller
Country: USA

Having made something of a name for himself with Narc, director Joe Carnahan found himself drawn into the sensory candy store that is the high concept Action movie genre with the surprisingly entertaining Smokin’ Aces, and the sadly disappointing The A-Team.  Teaming up with Liam Neeson (officially known as Big Liam in Northern Ireland) one year later are there any shades to The Grey or are the reviews pretty much black and white?

When word came down that Big Liam was taking on wolves in his next movie it crossed my mind how interesting it would be to see an Escape to Victory style movie set in the Midlands against the crushing backdrop of the recession.  The Grey is not this movie though.  When his airplane crashes in Alaska leaving six survivors in the middle of nowhere up against a pack of hungry wolves it’s up to Neeson (or Big Liam) to lead them to safety or find themselves as a raw starter.

A friend described this movie (between laughs) as “as stupid as Deep Blue Sea and it wasn’t long before I was able to see what he was talking about.  Yes, it is true that wolves hunt in packs but whether or not they’ve mastered flanking manoeuvres, strategy or misdirection is open for debate…I’m not even sure Wolves (the football club) have that level of tactical prowess.  As an animal lover it has something of a dangerous message for the masses.  It’s very much a hobbies from the mind of Sarah Palin feel to it.  Big bad wolves are evil, we should probably kill them all, one at a time…while we’re at it why not get rid of all the bears, snakes and why not cats?  They do look at you funny after all.  It might seem like an odd criticism for a popcorn flick but with so many people taking what little education they can squeeze into their heads from cinema it is a little unsettling how easily acceptable these notions can be.  Saying that, it’s understandable.  Genre movies need antagonists.  In this instance the untamed, untameable wild plays antagonists to Neeson and his band of anti-heroes.  The problem with the wild baddie is, much like that of the Sci-Fi alien baddie, all too often we’re unable to view anything in the film from their vantage point and they become one dimensional which in turn makes the film boring, predictable and lacklustre.  For the most part Carnahan tries to stave off this by having a little bit of in-fighting amongst ours heroes but again this is riddled with problems.  From the get-go they’re described as criminals and assholes making it a little difficult to care.  For the most part (with the exception of Big Liam) I was on the wolves’ side.

Very little stands out in the way of acting.  Big Liam (as Ottway) throws down his Taken, Non-Stop, Unknown performance and has openly stated he’s out to make as many action movies as possible while his knees hold out –good luck to him.  Dermot Mulroney gives a muted performance having not been given too much to do on screen and the rag-tag band of bastards are all interchangeable.  The biggest shame is that James Badge Dale (The Departed, 24) has the least amount to do and the most amount of talent.

There are some nice touches in The Grey –and they’re all down to Carnahan.  The use of the white snow against the pitch black night creates a nightmarish, almost Weimarian, landscape to set this narrative against.  Neeson’s early moments remembering his wife are handled extremely well with a lovely stylistic that you wish would continue throughout the movie –but it doesn’t.  As the film goes on the identity and style bottlenecks until it becomes run of the mill.

The overwhelming problem with The Grey is it is that of mixed messages.  At heart, thematically, it's a war movie yet it's a war that most of the audience are uncomfortable with them fighting.  The men are laid siege to and in the end have to seek a stronghold they can defend.  What could have made this film interest would be if it took place man-on-man, as it would have had a level to play on that saw man fight against nature (man’s nature) but unfortunately it’s literary man versus nature.  Ridiculous?  No?  Imagine watching the same movie only they’re in Alaska up against seals.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Too Cool For School

George Clarke’s six feature from Yellow Fever Productions is in the middle of its Kickstarter funding campaign [click here].  This weekend cast and crew of Zombie Schoolgirls, Attack! were in the field pulling together some trailer-based fun for all those fans of fighting and feeding!  If you're like me and you're as impatient as you are excited when it comes to high-octane independent cinema then you might want to check out what we've got below.

Meet 'the girls' [left to right]: Rachael Galloway, Rachael Stewart
& Chloe Sacco
The trio play an elite bounty hunter unit called:
The Schoolgirl Alliance
...and as if dealing with the zombie population wasn't enough,
the other bounty hunters have the ladies in their sights.
But they never counted on the girls being graduates from the
School of Hard Knocks & Nunchakus
The campaign for funding continues until May 15th but it's never too early to help guarantee that this visual explosion of East meets West makes it to the silver screen.  With Galloway, Stewart & Sacco it looks as if Clarke has hit the trilogy goldmine with a cast that can act, fight and look great doing it.  A dream of a movie!  And if all this isn't enough then why not check out the trailer below.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Kung-Fu Kicks...For Starters

The Kickstarter campaign for the sixth feature film to come out of Belfast based Yellow Fever Productions under George Clarke is up and running.  Supporters of the indie cinema scene can donate some greenbacks [here].  We recently sat down with George to wag chins about Zombies, Schoolgirls and Riots.  That interview including a synopsis of Zombie Schoolgirls, Attack! can be read [here].

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Paranormal Apparition [aka Cold Blood Canyon]

Certificate: 18
Running Time: 90 mins
Director: Alec Tuckman
Starring: Elissa Dowling, Lulu Brud, Dan Holahan
Genre: Horror
Country: USA

Beverly Hills, swimming pools, movie stars…and the occasional haunted mansion; this is the premise behind the 2007 release, originally titled Cold Blood Canyon.  The synopsis is one that’s greeted by most horror cinema enthusiasts with a level of caution…scepticism and maybe even fear as one year can’t seem to pass without an unexpected horror hit being mined by many inferior reproductions.  The re-branding of Cold Blood Canyon in order to hitch its wagon alongside the hugely successful Paranormal Activity franchise is where the fear should probably end as for the most part, Paranormal Apparition is a pretty good movie.

When it comes to the story, PA is in no danger of breaking new ground, accidentally or otherwise; but then again show me a horror film that does and I’ll show you a rarity.  Wife, (second) husband and daughter move to Los Angeles, take up residence in the dream house only for said dream house to have a mysterious (and bloody) past.  Daughter is sensitive to the atmosphere of the abode, parents oblivious –go!  For the most part you can pretty much chart where this movie is going to go only you can’t.  There are one of two shoulder drops that send you off in another direction and they are not only hugely entertaining but rather well plotted.  It’s a real shame they aren’t 1. more frequent and 2. earlier as it could have really helped a script that didn’t so much run out of steam as not have a great deal in the tank when it set out across country.  They are there (at least) and they give the film a much needed change of pace and sense of identity that the audience will certainly appreciate, appreciate enough to even overlook the odd plot hole.

The cinematography and direction are both strong, confident, steady where it needs to be steady but not without a little flash and style when required.  The use of light and shadow to create the echo of a spectre are well worked.  Tuckman understands the financial restraints that come from the larger end of independent production and that CGI is best used if required rather than when required.  The framing and pacing are excellent in both the late-night “what’s that sound?” scenes and the adrenaline fuelled moments of the final third; and to his credit Tuckman knows how to tell a compelling visual story.

Paranormal Apparition is not without its fair share of solid performances.  Lulu Brud (Danielle) has the unenviable task of carrying the movie that most of the audience are convinced they’ve seen before.  Up against this unseen enemy, not to mention the unseen enemy within the Coldwater Canyon residence this is a mighty task yet she’s strong.  Brud’s performance is one filled with honesty, intelligence, emotion, strength and believability that’s not present all too often in horror cinema.  Look back at the early Nightmare on Elm Street movies and try not to pull the Macauley Culkin shocked face at what’s on screen.  She’s the driving force behind the narrative and does an excellent job at raising the bar for all around her.  Similarly, Dan Holahan as the stepdad is nothing short of powerful on screen.  This man casts an undeniable force across the mise-en-shot demanding that all viewing become involved in his performance.  There’s a richness to his presence that is all too often lacking in independent cinema, and a charisma to his delivery that’s marvellous.  Jen McAllister (Evelyn, the mother) has a habit of blending into the background –and it’s hardly surprising.  Up against husband and daughter it would take a performance of thesp standards to carve out a patch of screen-time for herself.

There are some issues with Paranormal Apparition though nothing that can’t be forgiven and when the biggest issue is sound quality –when shooting exterior shots in noisy Los Angeles, it shows that there’s a lot (between opening and ending credits) to be proud of.  With Paranormal Apparition Tuckman has skilfully blended two different, well tested, sub-genres of horror in order to create something that’s entertaining in its own right and not because of any relationship to a similarly named mainstream success story but because there's an enthusiasm to the work on-screen that oozes from every shot.

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