Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Blair Witch: Film Review

Blair Witch: Film Review

Cast: James Allen McCune, Callie Hernandez, Corbin Reid, Wes Robinson, Valorie Curry
Director: Adam Wingard

17 years ago, a little film called The Blair Witch Project redefined the found footage horror genre and set the world alight in 1999.

A sequel, Book of Shadows did little to build on what the film offered in the first place (except to expand out some ideals of the first) - and now 20 years after the first film's found footage was shot, a bait and switch threequel from directing wunderkind Adam Wingard (You're Next, The Guest) was unveiled at San Diego Comic Con.

Previously masquerading under the title The Woods, Blair Witch once again heads back into the woods of Burkittsville and into the world of urban legend. This time, it's due to James (Allen McCune) whose sister Heather Donahue went missing first time around. When footage purportedly of Heather shows up on YouTube, James contacts the poster and asks to meet.

This leads to 4 friends, including one lifelong friend and documentarian Lisa (Hernandez), heading to the woods to see if they can find the original house and consequently, James' sister.

But this being Blair Witch, you can guess what happens next as the freaky moments begin to hit....

A lot's changed since the first Blair Witch arrived on the scene with its lo-fi skills and reasonably high concept game-changing ethos - and Wingard's smart enough, and also crippled enough, to embrace that.

This one has wearable tech (ear cams) and utilises a drone and walkie-talkies; there's talk of the dark net, and a hint of Creepypasta's Slenderman thrown in as well, but at its heart, this film is as old-fashioned and as familiar as the first one. In many ways, a lot of the film feels like the first Blair Witch, slightly re-hashed and done again; there are cracks and noises in the woods, there are those stick figures, and there's the old pesky witch again.

But just as the jaded blanket of cinematic familiarity threatens to strangle your idea of what this film's setting out to do, Wingard changes it up a little and throws in some effective jump scares that you know are coming but arrive with bone-crunching glee, before a distinctly claustrophobic finale.

It's more about the execution of some of these moments and the touches (a camera use in the Descent like finale's quite inventive) because most of the rest of it feels eerily familiar. And there's one element which is likely to provoke plenty of discussion and head-scratching confusion over timelines. (But to say more is to spoil, though needless to say resolution is frustratingly wanting)

If anything, Blair Witch plies deep into a world we now inhabit.

It's a world where the internet distorts and dissects urban legends, where internet grainy films are pored over endlessly and debated in reddit threads or forums; it's a world that's got too savvy for cheap thrills. And that was essentially what the first Blair Witch film offered - a lo-fi grainy hand-held take on a ghost story told around the camp fire. In among the truly impressive and dissonant, distorting soundscape, Wingard cleverly evokes that sense of questioning and plays on those down-the-rabbit-hole moments to provoke some thrills and expand some of the mythology that many may feel adds a sheen of freshness after the usual mundane set up antics.

And yet, if you go down to the Woods today, you're in for a familiar surprise in many ways, which is ironically, both Blair Witch's strength and its weakness. It mines some effective thrills, and some genuinely unsettling moments, but it can't quite live up to the power of the first and in parts, feels like a re-tread of the iconic horror.

Ironically, Blair Witch is hampered by the first film's collective cultural importance to cinema; Wingard comes close to replicating parts of that film's success, but it can't help but escape its feeling of deja vu when the lights go up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Win Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Win Hunt For The Wilderpeople

To celebrate the release of Hunt For The Wilderpeople on DVD and Blu Ray, I'm giving you the chance to win!

Ricky (Julian Dennison) is a defiant young city kid who finds himself on the run with his grumpy foster uncle (Sam Neill) in the wild New Zealand bush. 

A national manhunt ensues and the two are forced to put aside their differences and work together to survive in this hilarious and heart-felt adventure.

You can win a copy of the year's biggest New Zealand film that's simply a phenomenon.

Directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is out now on DVD and Blu Ray

To enter simply email to this address: - simply CLICK HERE and in the subject line put WILDERPEOPLE 

Win Narcos Season 1

Win Narcos Season 1


Based on the incredible true story of Pablo Escobar, Narcos is an inside look at the men who would stop at nothing to take down the notorious cocaine trafficker.

This ground-breaking series takes an unfiltered look into the war that would change the drug trade forever.

They were violent, crazy and filthy rich guys used to getting what they want… one way or another.

To enter simply email to this address: - simply CLICK HERE and in the subject line put NARCOS 

As It Is In Heaven 2: Film Review

As It Is In Heaven 2: Film Review

Cast: Frida Hallgren
Director: Kay Pollak

10 years ago, a Swedish film found itself in the unique position of resonating with audiences.

In New Zealand alone, the film spent 52 weeks in the box office charts thanks to both its feelgood factor and its word of mouth as the story of a conductor after both a second chance at life and love scored critical acclaim.

A decade on and a sequel to As It Is In Heaven has shown and with it, a collective feeling of what next for the story which felt resolved and unworthy of further exploration.

In that time, a lot has changed and quite possibly, some of the assumed character familiarity has faded. Needless to say Michael Nyqvist's conductor Daniel Dareus is no longer with us, having given up the ghost after his path to redemption was completed in the first film.

But the wild child student Lena from his choir who he slept with is about to give birth as the action picks up nine months later.

Ostracised by some for her relationship and saddled with a past, Lena decides to help drunk priest Stig to get more into his church as well as settling some old scores by showing she can put on a version of Handel's
Messiah for a grand re-opening.

Juggling motherhood as well as a potential new love interest, pressure grows on Lena to measure up to her own expectations and deal with her past. However, with the community and authorities turning against Stig, it looks like Lena may have bitten off more than she can chew.

As It Is In Heaven 2 is simply an off-key muddle when compared to the vastly superior first film.

Whereas the first had subtlety and nuance aplenty as well as warmth of character, this one jettisons all of that for a broad comedy opening, a birth in snow and a muddling priest that feels like Father Ted met with Sweden in a tonal road crash.

Once things settle, they don't get much better with the script preferring to fall into a rut that sees Lena consistently clashing with the priest Stig who then chastises her. It's a stuttering way to carry out the drama and ironically for a film about a community choir, a one note story throughout that drags the 130 minute run time to a halt.

To be fair, Frida Hallgren remains a beguiling presence as the movie plays out and is certainly worthy of stepping into the conductor's role of the film even if she has little to work with. And the script writers clearly haven't thought about how to conclude the film with a jarring character death that's supposed to hit emotionally failing to land - and the death ex machina event prematurely brings events to a close with threads left narratively unfed on the vine (closure of churches, a removal from the priesthood et al). Add to that some jarring religious imagery that borders on the blasphemous for some, and As It Is In Heaven 2 is a scathing cousin of a great film that once set so many hearts and souls alight.

Lightning very rarely strikes twice in the same place and As It Is In Heaven 2 is sadly a reminder of that fact - disappointing, difficult and out of tune, it's probably safe to say you'd be better off re-watching the original and bathing in that glory, rather than submitting yourself to this inferior and unwarranted sequel.

The Killing Joke: DVD Review

The Killing Joke: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Roadshow Home Ent

"First off all, before the horror began, there was a time when capes and fighting crimes was really exciting."

So begins the 26th animated DC Universe film, an adaptation of one of the most praised iconic storylines in the series - the origins of the Joker, from a 1988 graphic novel by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland.

However, Batman: The Killing Joke is predominantly the story of Barbara Gordon's Batgirl (narrated brilliantly by Tara Strong) and her relationship with Batman.

The film starts out with more of a background to Batgirl, her abusive relationship with the Bat (he's emotionally cold and distant from her) and her quest to take down a criminal from the Mob who's obsessed with her.

But then, Batman: The Killing Joke segues into the original graphic novel and what you'd expect from the film - lifting panels from the page and transposing the iconic imagery created by 2000AD supremo Brian Bolland.

Vocally, the film's sound with Conroy and Hamill giving their usual all to Batman and Joker respectively. And Strong's particularly, er, strong with her Barbara Gordon - even if creatively the filmmakers appear to turn this Batgirl into someone who is fawning a little over the non-availability of the Batman.

It's an odd choice and along with a controversial sex scene (yep, you heard that right), the Killing Joke appears to have dangerous things to say about the portrayal of Batgirl and women in general. While it's understandable there's plenty of online commentary on Batman's behaviour after his controlling instincts kick in and he ignores after the Bat-booty call, the film's handling of Batgirl in the aftermath is weak.

And given the backstory is supposed to give some drive to Batman's desire to punish Joker for Gordon's paralysis, it's odd to note that the original novel lent more weight to that side of the story by making Joker's inherent cruelty seem more random and therefore nastier because of its cold-blooded nature. As with the novel, there are hints that she suffers a sexual assault as well which seem to be backed up in the film.

Perhaps that's some of Batman: The Killing Joke's strength - it faithfully adapts the novel in a way that enhances the original and embraces some of Bolland's original artwork.

But potentially, a lot of the back half of the film is weaker anyway, with the set-up being the more interesting elements of Batman: The Killing Joke; as with most comic books, denouements tend less to hold water and flounder in the face of such story-telling odds. Flashbacks weave into an origins story for the Joker as per the original, and Hamill engenders his Joker with the definitive touches.

All in all, even with the controversial elements and an ending that is up for discussion after these two yin and yang nemeses share a joke, the over-riding feeling with Batman: The Killing Joke is that it's an animated tale that is more Batgirl's story.

Whether that's a good thing, or whether the joke's on the audience, time will perhaps tell. 

New Fifty Shades Darker trailer arrives

New Fifty Shades Darker trailer arrives

The brand new trailer for Fifty Shades Darker, starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson has just dropped.

It comes after the new New Fifty Shades Darker poster released.

The Magnificent Seven: Film Review

The Magnificent Seven: Film Review

Cast: Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D'Onofrio, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, Martin Sensmeier, Byung-hun Lee, Peter Sarsgaard
Director: Antoine Fuqua

Rote and without a hint of much of his own style, The Magnificent Seven somehow manages to feel like a weaker carbon copy than a redo of the 1960s classic.

This time around, Denzel Washington leads the pack as Sam Chisholm, a newly sworn warrant officer. Riding into town with nary a comment but with every head turning as a black man heads down their street, Chisholm is asked by widowed Emma Cullen (a largely underused but pleasingly effective Haley Bennett) to avenge her husband's death and free their mining town from the tyrannical grip of Bartholomew Bogue (Sarsgaard).

Gathering up a motley crew of multi-racial misfits (one of the more revisionist edges that Fuqua gifts the reboot), Chisholm and his man saddle up for a fight.

The Magnificent Seven is nothing in comparison to the 1960s John Sturges' western which housed the likes of Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen et al.

Mixing in characters that feel under written and giving them stock-standard scenes where they literally say they are bonding is not a key to emotional success when the final shoot out begins.

Equally, it doesn't help that the bad guy of the piece looks dead behind the eyes and appears indifferent to these meddlesome seven in the final wash; in fact Sarsgaard looks like he's stepped in something again and is wasting his time wiping it off.

Using Sergio Leone style close ups, hints of the original theme and gifting everyone a posturing close quarters pose, the movie feels like Fuqua and True Detective writer Nic Pizzolatto have created a carbon copy of a western but forgot to add the heart and soul of what made The Magnificent Seven work in the first place.

At least 50% of the Seven are fleshed out - though a personal connection to Bogue is hardly necessary - but yet all of them manages to feel like a lazy once over. From wise-cracking Chris Pratt's card-dealer sharpshooter to Ethan Hawke's former Confederate sniper and now traumatised gunslinger to Sensmeier's Indian whose perfect face paint is more charismatic than anything he does, Fuqua's eye is not on character but on execution of action.

And to be fair, even though he uses some of the familiar Equalizer traps and tricks to help the group despatch the baddies, the shoot-out at the end feels like waves of faceless bad guys being despatched by a group who you can barely keep up with. It uses all the tenets of a Western stand-off; from guys falling off roofs to confusion, but it hardly warrants the long build up to the pay-off.

It's a shame because the start channels the old John Ford westerns with shots of great sweeping countryside, snatches of a great James Horner OST, hints of the old Magnificent 7 theme and the tried and tested cinematic formulae to help set it all up. And when Denzel rides through town, you can cut the tension with a knife. But the set-up also becomes The Magnificent Seven's weakness as the script uses Pratt's outlaw charm as a crutch and D'Onofrio's size and shape as he quotes scripture in a high voice to propel it - and it's not enough.

And the final shot with its almost painted on coda is frankly close to insulting and an execution of a terrible pun on the title which is unwarranted and unwelcome.

Ultimately, the 2016 version of The Magnificent Seven comes up wanting - it strives for epic Western, but falls short. Despite its competent and workmanlike handling on-screen and its intentions, it's less Magnificent, more Meh-nificent.