Monday 2 November 2015

Monday Night Roundup #1

With much of the restructuring at Apocalypse Later complete, I'll be posting new reviews very soon. As before, I'll be posting them of the sort of films that most critics don't cover to my main Apocalypse Later site and also reviews of more mainstream pictures to The Nameless Zine.

In the meantime, I'm still watching movies and plan to add a brief weekly roundup here of everything I've seen that won't end up on either of those sites. So here's Monday Night Roundup #1:

Tremors 5: Bloodlines (2015)

Director: Don Michael Paul
Stars: Michael Gross and Jamie Kennedy

It's been eleven years since Tremors 4 and that was a prequel. It's about time for a new entry in the series and this starts exactly how it should, with Bert Gummer introducing a survivalist video. He's having a lot of fun, even though he's bald nowadays, and so are we, but sadly it doesn't last.

We don't go downhill immediately. It takes a while for the cool homages to all sorts of other films to multiply and almost shift this film into being a genre parody. It's supposed to be a Tremors film and references to King Kong and Jaws don't detract from that, but the shot for shot kitchen scene from Jurassic Park does and before long it becomes so derivative that it's King Kong Jaws Jurassic Park Predator Tomb Raider Alien Lethal Weapon Die Hard Tremors. Holy crap, that's a lot of references. Of course, we have a supposedly surprising Indiana Jones and a Fridge Too Far setup too.

The upsides are Bert Gummer and the location, which is the intriguing choice of the Gauteng province of South Africa, known as the Cradle of Humankind, a long way from the normal hunting grounds of the graboids. I liked the new setting and Bert becomes more endearing with each appearance. Michael Gross plays him like he's the thirtieth Republican candidate for president and he's clearly enjoying every moment of it, even in a comedy scene when he's stuck in a cage.

The downsides aren't everything else, but they're certainly more plentiful than the upsides. I think I hated the detachable tentacles the most. Now, they can just leap out of the mouths of graboids and dance around like snakes. Perhaps it makes more sense than the herd of cattle that does precisely nothing during a frickin' graboid attack, especially given the punchline of the first movie, but it's still stupid.

Worst of all, though, is the basic logic, which is completely flawed. The whole idea is that graboids, previously confined to the American southwest, have shown up in South Africa, so off goes Gummer to take them down. Except he quickly finds that they've always been there and nobody told him. Or anybody else. The natives even have ancient tribal warrior dances about fighting assblasters, for Pete's sakes.

I have to say that I enjoyed Tremors 5: Bloodlines, but very much from a guilty pleasure perspective. I absolutely adore the original Tremors, which may well be the best monster movie of the last half century. While I still get a kick out of the sequels, the prequel and even the TV show, I can't pretend that any of them are any good. This may be the worst of them, but it's still a Tremors movie and that's good enough for me. The question is whether it'll be good enough for you.

The Falling (2014)

Director: Carol Morley
Stars: Maisie Williams, Florence Pugh, Maxine Peake, Monica Dolan and Greta Scaachi

Every other movie nowadays seems to feature at least one member of the Game of Thrones cast, but I haven't seen Maisie Williams in anything else except the hilarious short called The Olympic Ticket Scalper, with Sir Patrick Stewart, which can be watched online and should be soon. She's made a couple of other features, Heatstroke and Gold, but this was the first one that I've had a chance to see.

It turns out to be a surprising picture, something of a British version of Picnic at Hanging Rock, set in a girls school in the late sixties where a mysterious fainting epidemic breaks out. The only difference is that this one has at least a token explanation for some of what goes on, though I'm still juggling a few theories as to much of the rest.

Williams plays Lydia who is, of course, the character at the heart of the story, but for a while we don't realise that. In fact, we don't even realise that she's the lead because initially Lydia plays second fiddle to Abbie and Williams plays second fiddle to actor/musician Florence Pugh, who does a great job with the character.

Abbie is Lydia's best friend, a blonde beauty who doesn't behave with the dignity the school expects. She wears her skirt too short, she misbehaves with boys in cars and, we soon discover, she turns up pregnant. Lydia merely, and quite obviously, has the hots for her friend and walks forever in her shadow. Sadly, she can't do that for too long, because Abbie has a seizure which leaves her dead in a hallway.

From here, things get really interesting. While Abbie is clearly into boys, Lydia is clearly into Abbie and we wonder early on if that's a sexual thing or just a deep friendship, with the likelihood being the former. There's a great deal of character building early on as Lydia, who proclaims herself not interested in sex, explores her sexuality without her sexually active best friend to help.

So this is a coming of age picture rooted in confusion and double meaning. Surely the falling of the title doesn't only refer to the fainting fits that begin to occur more and more often with a variety of girls and even one of the teachers, some clearly aimed at attention seeking but others not. Surely it also has a religious connotation, equating sex with sin, as Lydia falls for Abbie and then into a sort of psychological adolescent hell. It may even refer to Abbie's fall from Lydia's life, the pivotal moment in the film. Certainly there's an overt double meaning in the description of the orgasm as the little death.

I liked this a lot, but found it difficult to quantify why. I liked how it refused to explain things but felt it should still have explained more. I appreciated the final scenes that solidify some background but felt that they shouldn't have dominated the explanations. I liked how the teachers were gradually brought into the story rather than keeping it all purely among the students, but wanted more reasoning as to why.

I'm happier to talk up the acting, as Williams, Pugh and others are very good indeed. Best of all though is Greta Scaachi, who is absolutely superb. She appears initially to be a throwaway character, Miss Mantel, just a tough as nails teacher (Lydia calls her a 'malicious prude'), but she grows subtly throughout the film, gradually exposing a little of her background to colleagues and to us in a number of scenes. The one with Miss Charron, the art teacher, is amazing cinema.

If the rest of the film had been that good, this would be a must. Instead, it's merely an enjoyable and engaging curiosity.

Jumper (2008)

Director: Doug Liman
Stars: Samuel L Jackson, Hayden Christensen, Diane Lane, Jamie Bill and Rachel Bilson

David Rice is the jumper of the title, though he doesn't know that as our story begins. He's just a schoolboy with a crush. He gives Millie a snowglobe of the Eiffel Tower, because she dreams of travel, but a bully throws it onto a frozen lake. He goes to retrieve it, falls in, gets stuck under the ice and... teleports into the local library, surrounding water and all. As it's after hours and he can't get out, he has to teleport himself back home.

He's from a broken family, his mum having left when he was five and his dad not being much of one. So he decides that 'this thing that happened, it could set me free'. In other words, if mum could run, so can he and off he goes. He learns how to use his talent and finances his new life with a neat bank robbery.

And as a young adult, he does pretty well. He jumps to London to pick up a random chick in a pub. He has lunch on top of the sphinx's head. He has a secret room in his New York apartment with cash organised by country, a personal bank vault. Yes, life is good for David. How can we learn to teleport too?

And then, after eight years, a grey-haired Samuel L Jackson shows up. He joined the film as an NSA agent investigating that bank robbery, but took his time tracking his prey down, waiting in David's apartment for him to return. Now we find out that he's not really NSA but something a lot more sinister and there's a war going on that David is about to join.

There was a lot of potential here and I can't say that I didn't enjoy parts of the film from the popcorn ride standpoint but there's a great deal that's wrong with it. While many critics have lambasted the departures from Steven Gould's source novel, I haven't read it so can't comment on that front. To me, much of the problem is with the casting, as none of the actors live up to the possibilities opened up in those promising early scenes.

Hayden Christensen is a blah as the adult David. I expect that his role made teenage girls everywhere very happy but I don't see why. Rachel Bilson is a little better as Millie, but she's another blah. Kristen Stewart, who only has to appear on screen to piss me off, is thankfully not in this film for more than a few seconds, but Bilson reminded me enough of her that even the resemblance polluted her performance. Diane Lane is good but hardly in the film. Michael Rooker is good too but not in it for much more.

That leaves Jamie Bell and Samuel L Jackson to try to elevate proceedings and both are worth watching. However, Bell is stuck playing a slightly crazy jumper without any of the edge his character should have had and Jackson plays his odd religious fanatic just like he plays Nick Fury. It isn't remotely enough.

I hated the ending too, which didn't help. I won't spoil it but it made no sense to me and, while it clearly sets up a sequel that hasn't happened, I have no interest whatsoever in watching it if it does. It's wrong in every way and the film as a whole comes close. In the end, the only thing really going for it are the effects. Welcome to Hollywood.

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