film

Tracers

Cam runs into trouble, thanks to mounting debts and a run in with a free runner that costs him his bike, limiting his bicycle courier opportunities.  Thankfully, said free-runner happens to be all over Cam and draws him into a dangerous world.

Remember Taylor Lautner, that lad from Twilight, well this was an entry in his ongoing, although infrequent, action career and this film is a vehicle for him to demonstrate his athletic ways, if not his acting prowess. The stunt work certainly gives a sense of danger as Taylor Lautner’s Cam navigates the rocky road of friendship Nikki (Marie Avgeropoulos) and a rivalry with Dylan (Rafi Gavron).

“Look where the car isn’t”

The performances lack weight, it’s like watching an after school drama at times and the action sequences, which features plenty of parkouring all over the shop, aren’t enough to hold the film together.  Of course, as interesting as parkour is, it wouldn’t be very interesting if it was just Cam and company leaping over things for 90 minutes, so we get a thrilling plot, involving taking down a bad guy.

“We do everything we can not to get caught.”

It’s not helped that the script doesn’t have weight.  The dialogue is heavy on exposition at times and the deepest of characters, Miller (Adam Rayner) comes across as a douche zen master, lumbered with clunky nuggets of wisdom, before turning into a criminal mastermind written with two-dimensional depth, which is still significantly more character than Cam and Nikki.

Although it’s difficult to judge time, it doesn’t seem that much time passes between Cam’s run in with the loan sharks, the rapid descent into danger and the gig that will sort it all.  He does, in this time, lose everything, get kicked out of his lodgings and have to go to his new found friends for a new job, as a member of Miller’s criminal group, which all goes well until it doesn’t and Cam has to dig himself out of yet another hole.

For action set pieces, Tracers is a decent film.  That’s pretty much it.

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Runner Runner

 

A young student, down on his financial luck, finds that a gambling site isn’t playing by the rules and decides to take on its supremo, only to be drawn into a world of corruption and deceit.

A sun kissed setting, a world where money flows as easily as water, and a principle cast that is incredibly talented and attractive, Runner Runner should be a high rolling winner.  Alas, under the facade, it’s all a bit… bland.

The cast shine with powerful performance as Justin Timberlake’s Richie (is there a more go-getter name?  Scoot, perhaps) battles against Ben Affleck’s Ivan Block (a name that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond film).  Gemma Arterton has little to do as Rebecca, but is still superb, and the presence of Antony Mackie as Agent Shavers is only saved by Mackie’s skill as an actor.

The premise – an every-man (well, as every-man as Richie can be given his business and mathematics acumen) taking on a ruthless business tycoon – is hardly new, but it being set in the world of, primarily, online gambling certainly gives it an edge.  Sadly, it’s an edge that is dulled by a script that never settles on what it really wants to be, going from drama to action without ever maintaining either.

Definitely a film where cast and setting will leave you thinking it’s better than it is.

The Frankenstein Theory

A group of film makers follow an improbably young professor who is intent on saving the reputation of his family name by proving that Frankenstein was more than just a work of fiction.

The concept is an interesting one – what if Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was based on fact? Unfortunately, it’s executed in a tedious way that is a reminder that found footage films are rarely as engaging as their premise.

As would be expected, given that none of the characters are supposed to be professionals, the actors manage to capture the awkwardness of going about their business, although Kris Lemche is far and away the best of the lot, despite looking far too young to be Professor Venkenheim.

The story lacks tension, even when the strangeness starts (the cast of two-dimensional characters are incredibly blase when their snowmobiles are trashed).  Venkenheim aside, it’s entirely possible that the viewer will forget the names of the other characters as they trek through a landscape that is far more interesting than they are.  They lose their best hopes for survival, yet the filming continues without any sense of hopelessness.  As the terror ramps up, we get a lot of night-vision camera, jump scare tactics that barely work and a sense of dread that makes Most Haunted look like true horror.

As a genre, found footage has never really matched the skill of Blair Witch and Cannibal Holocaust, having almost become a shorthand for cheap, jump scare laden horror.  Paranormal Activity has rumbled on as a box office success, The Dyatlov Pass Incident (Devil’s Pass) was an interesting attempt, whilst Apollo 18 and Chronicle defied expectations and crafted a film that felt “authentic” within the genre.  It is, however, an overused trope that, far too often, feels too much like a student film experiment trying to be different.

Thus is the issue with The Frankenstein Theory – the concept exceeds the abilities of the film makers and it feels far from the “original vision in horror” that the blurb suggests.

Vamp

Two best friends attempt to secure the services of an adult entertainer but end up facing a centuries old evil.

Richard Wenk’s 1986 cult classic sees Grace Jones at her most captivating as Katrina, an ancient vampire who rules her own night-time empire, facing off against AJ (Robert Rusler) and Keith (Chris Makepeace) as they fight for survival against overwhelming, nightmarish odds.

“Very new. Very now”

With a superb supporting cast, including Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe and Billy Drago, and a wonderful soundtrack (Volare has never seen better use, whilst Grace Jones gives a sparkling performance for Katrina’s theme and Jealous Heart will stick with you), it’s certainly a film of its time – exceedingly cool, beautifully shot and a entertaining script that does what few horror films, let alone horror comedies, since have truly managed to do.  AJ and Keith bounce off each other, the horrors are visceral and don’t rely on jump scares and there’s a real level of malevolence at play.

Rusler and Makepeace, as the confident AJ and the responsible Keith, are wonderful together, even if Makepeace does come across as slightly wooden on occasion.  Dedee Pfeiffer as the surprisingly (for its time and genre) independent Allison comes close to stealing the show and Grace Jones lights up the screen as Katrina, she may not say much but her actions speak much, much louder.

“Ever have one of those nights?”

The idea of a world that operates after dark is a chilling one and well executed – the After Dark Club feels realistic, the haunt of the hopeless, whilst the street scenes – with Snow’s gang of miscreants and the various denizens of this world – give the feel an urban authenticity.

Between this, Near Dark and Lost Boys (which would both be a released a year later), horror audiences were treated to a rejuvenated vampire genre, long separated from the Hammer Horror Dracula days and far removed from the much later Twilight interpretations.  Wenk and Schumacher gave us the sexiness of vampires, whilst never letting us forget the danger, whereas Bigelow masterfully craft a dark and dirty tale.  In the 1980s, vampires were never treated better.

Ultimately, in Vamp, the good guys would prevail, but the final moments do give us a hope for a sequel that would never materialise.

Robocop

In a future where Omnicorp military machines protect America’s interests and its personnel, Alex Murphy becomes their latest experiment.

Whilst the success of Omnicorp’s robots in international conflicts has led to an era of peace for war torn countries, using them in America has proven controversial.  Novak, an outspoken television host, makes his point quite clear and Omnicorp are spurred into action, recruiting, Detective Alex Murphy into the Robocop project.

As he begins to become one with the project, it becomes clear that corporations aren’t to be trusted where crime is involved, and only Robocop can make a difference.

“Masculinity incarnate.”

A reboot of the 1987 Paul Verhoeven film, Robocop keeps much of the core story, injecting a modern take into the story.  An arrogant America businessman seeking to make his homeland safe regardless of the cost, reckless science being used to further human interest, and the underlying reminder that humanity is all important… all whilst killing everything in sight.  The story is still “how far is too far?” but it’s diluted from 1987.

Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman and Samuel L Jackson head up the cast, and they deliver powerful performances, whilst Joel Kinnaman is the bland Alex Murphy/Robocop.

Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner deliver a script that explores what it means to be human as we only just begin the journey of technological augmentation and the question of free will, and underpin it with the familiar story of crime, corporate greed and a world where freedom isn’t free.

“Tin Man.”

Whereas Verhoeven had crafted a stunning assault on the senses and sensibilities, Jose Padilha directs a successful retelling, touching upon morality in a modern age without any of the dark satire, and with the human element ramped up.  There’s attempts to do something different, but that doesn’t make it a better film, just a different one.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is the sixth entry in the found footage franchise, this time promising to, for the first time, let us see the activity.

The “final entry” in the series of found footage films, Paranormal Activity was launched at a time when found footage had becomes something of a popular choice amongst studios – cheap to make, so easy to recoup the costs and parlay this into box office success to fuel the desire to make more.

“Why are you so interested in this?”

The franchise certainly has proven popular amongst some audiences, but is the sort of film that feels like it’s only scary to those unfamiliar with the genre or are susceptible to mass hysteria – everybody jumping because everyone is jumping at that scary thing that happened that probably doesn’t make sense, but “wasn’t it scary!”

“Sometimes it’s just a glitch”

Throughout the franchise, the films have built on the idea that each family involved has wanted to film their day-to-day lives, giving a reason for the paranormal stuff to be filmed whilst they’re being scared out of their wits.  This is no different, with the family discovering a VHS camera and tape library that captures their interest, allowing Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension to take it a step further, giving us more of the background to the disjointed film series.

As with earlier entries, the film builds up slowly – everything is normal, something odd is discovered, weird things happen, more weird things happen, everyone is scared and the film ends.

It’s difficult to remember the characters names, let alone care for them, as the script is so thin on character development, probably because the writers were more interested in getting to the next scary bit.

The problem with the found footage genre is that the footage has to have been found – with Cannibal Holocaust, it was a television studio contemplating showing the footage; Blair Witch Project, it was framed by “the students went missing, this footage was found”; but too often, as with Paranormal Activity, there’s a sense that the footage isn’t so much found as… just there.  Are the family somehow reviewing their own footage of their own paranormal experience after the fact, as they do in the film?  Thinking about this whilst watching the film suggests the levels of disengagement that I had.

If Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is the last film in the franchise, it ends very much as it began – a great idea on paper that never truly works.

 

Poltergeist – Remade, Rebooted, Reimagined?

The Bowen family move into a new, perfect, family home, only to find that it’s the source of a paranormal terror.

Poltergeist is one of my favourite horror films.  I first saw it on TV, late at night and it terrified me.  It showed Steven Spielberg’s masterful ability to capture craft a family story, inject it with horror, yet stop short of it being too fantastical.  There was weight to everything, every performance and every moment.

“Without judgement or cynicism.”

In this 2015 remake of the 1982 original, we get the original film seen through modern sensibilities and expands on some of the themes of the original – a loving family, a threat that starts out as fun but slowly becomes darker and a fight against an unthinkable terror.  It goes further, introducing an all-too modern psychological issue for the son and enhancing the fun side of the haunting for Madison contrasting with the more terrifying side through Griffin.

There’s plenty to marvel at in this film as the mundane becomes terrifying, but the use of CGI over physical effects still takes us away from the “realism” of the original.  Yet, there are ample physical effects at which to marvel, it’s the CGI that gets in the way.

Poltergeist has a solid cast led by Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt.  Kennedi Clements and Jared Harris have the hardest tasks of all as Madison and Carrigan Burke, this film’s Carole Anne and Tangina – she brings the same wonder to the role, whilst Harris is a powerful performer in his own right, bringing a different, modern take on the role of the medium.

Technology plays an extended role in the film, beyond the television.  Streaming technology, GPS, drones, tablets – it’s a modern world, after all.

“This is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before.”

The biggest disappointment is one of its newest additions – a look inside the paranormal dimension.  It’s better to not see, to only catch glimpses of what’s beyond, that’s what made the 1982 film so effective – whilst we could be scared by what we saw, it’s the terror of what we can’t that’s truly horrific.

The family in peril, the home invasion, the disbelief turned into belief are all well executed, until the rather slapdash ending.  It’s a great story (because it always was) and a relatively effective update, but this could have been a film in its own right, instead of Poltergeist.