One More Thing Before 2018

2017 has been a challenging year.

For cinema, 2017 could’ve been better. I didn’t get around to seeing all the films I wanted such as Blade Runner 2049, Justice League and the Marvel films.

Colorful 2017 New Year date in sparklers

From the ones I did see however, I feel that 2017 has actually been a solid year. I saw some flawed but very entertaining films like Kong: Skull Island, Alien: Covenant and Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I also saw some decent films that, while had entertaining and memorable qualities, also had a significant number of flaws. These included Wonder Woman, War for the Planet of the Apes and The Disaster Artist.

The number of films I saw was so low, I didn’t think I had enough to compile a best and worst of the year list. However, I have chosen a single Best film of the year and Worst film of the year.

The Best film I saw in 2017 was It. The film’s visual horror and characters I thought were so well presented, it stood above everything else I saw this year.

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‘The Losers Club’ in It [Credit: Warner Bros.]
The Worst film I saw in 2017 I disliked so much I didn’t even bother writing a review on it. That film was another horror called The Bye Bye Man. Its cliché antagonist, characters, plot and stupidly complicated mythology made the film a very testing watch.

Personally 2017 has been pretty pleasant. I finished my second year of University and have started my third and final year. I had a splendid holiday in Nerja Spain with my family. I turned 21 and had a fabulous party.

Creatively, 2017 has been a mixed bag.

Before writing this I read one more thing before 2017, my last post of 2016. In it I mentioned I was going through an existential crisis in terms of creativity. Unfortunately that crisis is continuing to this day. If you’ve been following this blog you’ve probably noticed that the frequency of content has been bumpy. I can have good periods where I post something every week or so, and I can have bad periods where I don’t post anything for months. I’ve spent most of 2017 thinking about my creativity, my passion, my desires and my motivations. It’s a difficult issue and I think it may take a while, but hopefully it’ll lead me somewhere. Somewhere better than where I am now.

Despite the crisis however, there has been some positives creatively. Getting Icesica uploaded took a huge weight off my conscious. In the past I’d have nightmarish thoughts about my hard drive breaking and losing Icesica forever, without having shown it to anyone. It’s good to know now that it’s finally out there for people to see.

I’m also proud of the four reviews I posted last Halloween. I hadn’t posted in a while at that point and I wasn’t sure if I could find the time and energy to crank out a review every week for a month. On top of that, each review was of a horror film I loved and I’d had to somehow convey years of personal analysis and feelings into a single post within a week. I’m happy that I came up with a rather ambitious plan and actually managed to carry it out successfully.

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One of the films I reviewed this Halloween, ‘Candyman‘ [Credit: TriStar Pictures]
I’ve also put together a few videos on my YouTube channel that I’m proud of. Captain Sweden Strikes Again, the trailer I made for Icesica and the recent Captain Sweden are big highlights for me.

So what the hell is 2018 going to be like?

For cinema, it looks exciting with films like Pacific Rim: Uprising, Annihilation, Deadpool 2, Avengers: Infinity War and, most interestingly, Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Personally, I hope to get a good degree and have more new experiences.

Creatively I hope things get better. I hope to resolve this interior crisis. I have a lot of ideas for videos, reviews, stories and other things I want to make. It would be great if 2018 offered a start on those projects.

Wherever you are and whoever you are, I hope 2018 pleases you, reassures you and fulfils you. Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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I don’t know… Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) Review

I think whether Star Wars: The Last Jedi is good or bad purely depends on how you feel about the franchise at the moment. If you loved The Force Awakens and Rogue One and are hungry for more, then I think you’ll enjoy The Last Jedi.

If, however you’re hoping for a fresh and original Star Wars film, then you may have a mixed reaction to episode eight.

Me personally I feel that Star Wars should’ve ended after Return of the Jedi. Everything that came after I don’t think was necessary, they were really just produced for profit. There’s only one truly solid story that can be told in this universe and it’s already been done.

So while The Last Jedi does certainly contain some new drama and ideas, the film does still borrow a lot from the original trilogy.

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I hope I conveyed my uncertainty well for you all.

Rey, Kylo and Luke

The journeys these characters embark on in the film are fantastic. Picking up immediately from where The Force Awakens left off, The Last Jedi depicts Rey’s training dictated by her new master, Luke Skywalker. However, Luke is reluctant to teach Rey at first. We learn that Luke’s views on the Jedi has changed. This will be a spoiler-free review so I won’t go into specifics but I will state that Rey and Luke’s plot explores the moral perceptions of the Jedi. It’s the most compelling part of the film. I was leaning forward, quite close to the edge of my seat, every time they were on screen.

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Rey (Daisy Ridley) stood before Jedi legend Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) [Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.)
Kylo’s story is also quite compelling. Avoiding specifics again, Kylo is presented as the same villainous young Vader-wannabe as he is in The Force Awakens. However, like in The Force Awakens, there are instances where it seems Kylo is unsure of his position. The Last Jedi expands on this uncertainty, which makes the plot even more engaging because you never really know what Kylo’s position is.

Po, Finn and Rose

The plots regarding Po Dameron, Finn and his new friend Rose carry most of the film’s flaws, believability being one of them. As the resistance flee from the First Order, trying to escape their pursuit, there are a few moments that challenged my suspension of disbelief. Not only were they difficult to believe but they also got little development and attention after they occurred, making them seem even more unbelievable.

These plots, like The Force Awakens, borrow a lot of beats, ideas and imagery from the original trilogy, particularly from The Empire Strikes Back and even A New Hope towards the end. I was hoping the film would rely less on previous films for material as this is the second part of a brand-new trilogy and it still feels like we’re trapped in the world and scope of the original trilogy.

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The AT-ATs return [Credit: Lucasfilm Ltd.]
As stated before, whether you will like The Last Jedi or not depends on your current feelings about the series. In my opinion, the film presents some solid new material and drama in the form of Rey’s training, Luke’s changed stance on the Jedi and Kylo’s moral uncertainty. However, it still rehashes beats from previous films and the plot gets very far-fetched occasionally.

If you want to see a completely new and fresh Star Wars film then I would lightly recommend The Last Jedi but if you want to see a more typical Star Wars film with the spirit of the original trilogy, then I highly recommend it.

I give The Last Jedi a good 8 out of 10.

Feeling Torn. The Disaster Artist (2017) Review

The Disaster Artist is a must-see for any fan of The Room. It is a great comedy that mocks the film’s flaws, recreates classic scenes and also an engaging drama that depicts its genesis. However, the structure and plot make the film less than what it could be.

The Disaster Artist pic
LISA.

The Comedy

The humour is very meta as most of the jokes basically make fun of The Room. As the cast and crew are shooting, they are baffled by the script. They approach Tommy constantly, questioning issues like Denny’s age, Johnny laughing at Mark’s creepy story and the fact that Claudette’s breast cancer is only mentioned once. Their criticisms is very similar to those of most audiences, making the film very relatable and even more funny.

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The crew watch in awe at their director at work [Credit: Warner Bros.]
Some humour comes from Tommy himself and how weird and arrogant he is. The depiction of Tommy Wiseau in The Disaster Artist seems to be a clear exaggeration of the Tommy that appears in the media. He’s a man with a vision who’s trying to blend into a culture that’s completely alien to him. So many great scenes spawn from this characterization. It can’t be said that Tommy is the funniest element in the film as the meta humour is still very strong. The truth is that both elements work tremendously and together they create a great comedic experience.

The Drama

The narrative is presented from Greg’s perspective, making him the protagonist. Even though he’s not as fun to watch as Tommy, he does have a desire and a weakness, which make him relatively empathetic. He dreams of becoming a Hollywood actor but his self-consciousness prevents him from performing convincingly.

That is until he meets Tommy, who teaches him how to be fearless when performing. This leads to a friendship that acts as a strong foundation for the drama. As hilariously weird Tommy is, we see that to Greg he’s almost a brother. I think their relationship is one of the big highlights of the film, especially when we witness their struggle to break into the industry.

While Tommy is presented as an oblivious clown, he is given some humanization. He wants to act, create, express himself but his look, accent and attitude detract the big Hollywood producers. His characterization and past may not be understood but his passion and desire certainly are. As Tommy tries to make it in Hollywood, he is rejected by numerous drama teachers and producers, each one more vicious than the previous. This makes for some legitimately hurtful scenes as we see Tommy depressed and discouraged by his failures.

The Structure and Plot

I thought that the way the film chronicled the shooting and production felt very incomplete. The Disaster Artist essentially presents a series of scenes of the cast and crew shooting specific sequences from The Room, which while very funny, feel quite random. The shoot is a subplot that doesn’t really have a plot. It just starts, has a bit of conflict and then ends all of a sudden. I think there needed to be more tension, the goal of the shoot had to be made clear so that there could be an engaging plot with escalating adversity.

There’s also a major plot hole that I couldn’t get out of my mind. As Greg and Tommy are shooting, their relationship crumbles. Greg becomes increasingly more offended by Tommy’s direction and choices, yet he continues to act in the film. Why doesn’t he quit if he can’t stand the production? I’m sure this is addressed in the book of the same name but it’s never dealt with in the film. It’s a significant flaw that seriously affected my engagement in the plot.

Overall, the structure and plot could’ve been a lot stronger however the comedy, the drama and the clear attention to detail when recreating The Room, is good enough for me to recommend it.

I give The Disaster Artist a good 6 out of 10.

A New Holiday Favourite. Krampus (2015) Review

If you’re comfortable with the usual holiday favourites like Elf and It’s a Wonderful Life, then I suggest you avoid the film I’m about to review. However, if you want to see something original and have a dark sense of humour, then please continue reading this review of 2015’s Krampus.

This horror comedy revolves around the dysfunctional Engel family, trying celebrate the holiday season but when their squabbling breaks young Max’s Christmas spirit, Krampus (the Satan to St Nicholas’s God) appears. What follows is a brutal and ridiculous fight for survival as the family try to defend themselves from Krampus and his army of helpers.

Krampus pic
Even if you hate horror comedies, hopefully this photo of me smiling holding a thumb up will persuade you to watch this one.

The Comedy

I think the humour in Krampus, while dark and cynical, is very well done. The Engel Family are a divided and conflicted clan who’re trying to celebrate a holiday that embraces love and unity. Max’s half (which consist of him, his parents and sister) come across as the traditional American family. They take Santa photos, bake cookies and possess very liberal values. The other half however (which consist of Max’s aunt Linda, her husband, three children and great aunt) are rough, pro-gun southerners.

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Max’s mother, Sarah (Toni Collette), prepares for the arrival of her sister’s family [Credit: Universal Pictures]
The film displays Christmas as a time of tension and tolerance rather than of love and giving as the two groups try get along but their flaws and quirks make it impossible. This results in some very amusing scenes. A good example is when Linda’s clan arrive at Max’s house as they barge in with homemade food and a bulldog called Rosie.

In addition to the cynical character-driven comedy, Krampus features some zany humour in the form of Krampus’ helpers. They consist of killer gingerbread men and teddy bears with razor sharp teeth. The helpers add a fantastical wacky charm to the film, similar to that of Gremlins and Leprechaun. The zany comedy contrasts nicely with the cynical humour and horror.

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A burning gingerbread man leaps to attack [Credit: Universal Pictures]

The Horror

Speaking of horror, while the quirky creatures and cynical humour make Krampus a mostly amusing experience, the film is a horror comedy and certainly has its scary moments. Not all of Krampus’ helpers are cute as his army also includes a flying angel doll and a giant worm-like jack-in-the-box, both are very creepy.

When we first see the jack-in-the-box creature, it is swallowing a child whole like an anaconda. When it swallows, it releases a disgustingly monstrous roar. Not long after, we are introduced to the angel as the parents find it resting on a plank in the attic like an owl. It immediately swoops down and attacks Max’s mother, revealing a slimy tongue and a pair of ghostly doll eyes.

Subtler horror comes in the form of Krampus himself. Unlike the angel and jack-in-the-box, Krampus is kept in the shadows for most of the film. Only his horns, hooves and overall silhouette are shown at first, however the power and damage he’s capable of is conveyed clearly. Using the same method films like Alien and Candyman utilized, Krampus immediately establishes the consequences of the monster but reveals the monster itself gradually, engaging and disturbing the viewer.

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Max meets the legend himself [Credit: Universal Pictures]

The Message

With the cynical, wacky humour and intense horror, you’d think Krampus was an anti-Christmas film, showing gore and cynicism for the sake of showing gore and cynicism. However, when considering Max’s story and the film’s ending (which I will not spoil), Krampus is very Christmassy in terms of values. Without giving too much away, I theorize that the film argues Christmas can be a difficult time as you must perform acts of kindness and love in a world where acts of hatred and greed are the norm, but is still a holiday worth believing in and fighting for.

Overall, with its blend of dark, cartoony humour and shocking, suspenseful horror, I think Krampus is one of the best Christmas films I’ve ever seen and I highly recommend it.

I give Krampus an outstanding 10 out of 10.

 

One of the Greatest Horror Films I’ve Ever Seen. Candyman (1992) Review

You know you’ve been affected by a piece of art when you constantly need to revisit it and find new things in every viewing. Sometimes art stays with you because of its mystery, your continuous struggle to determine what the piece means. I have experienced this with quite a few films, Candyman is one of them.

Every time I watch it, I get a new angle on its narrative. I cannot say objectively what the film is about. So in this review, as a conclusion to Halloween 2017, I am going to simply state my current theories and why I think Candyman is an incredible film.

Candyman Pic
This was an emotional watch.

The premise of this 1992 horror concerns a graduate student, Helen Lyle, researching urban legends in Cabrini-Green Chicago for her thesis. The focus of her investigation is a legend known as Candyman, a boogeyman with a hook for a hand who appears when you say his name five times before a mirror. After a series of brutal and unexplained events, Helen begins to question whether the Candyman is just a myth or something far more real.

Philip Glass and the Atmosphere

The horror in Candyman is subtler than in most horror films. While there are some gory scenes, most of the film’s horror manifests in its atmosphere. The affect Candyman has on the community socially is just as disturbing as the Candyman himself.

We see graffiti art depicting the Candyman in a monstrous style. We hear eerie stories about Cabrini residents hearing something “coming through the walls”, calling the police and not being believed. We hear even more gruesome stories about the Candyman mutilating children in public toilets. The film introduces us to the idea of the Candyman and what he does to his victims, which creates a lot of tension because when you first see him, there’s a notorious reputation and backstory in your head.

This grim, eerie atmosphere is expressed beautifully by Philip Glass’ soundtrack. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll notice that I rarely comment on a film’s technical qualities (cinematography, editing, soundtrack) but in Candyman the score is so incredible I can’t ignore it. With an operatic choir and organ, Glass creates music that conveys the huge, god-like devastation the Candyman myth has caused in the community. The soundtrack will never leave you.

Theme

As I stated before, I can’t say what the film is about with certainty. My thoughts change with each viewing. However, I think I can say with some confidence that Candyman does comment on the American class system. I’m not the only one who thinks this, there’re quite a few reviews and articles online that share a similar opinion.

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Helen (Virginia Madsen) is held captive by the Candyman (Tony Todd) [Credit: TriStar Pictures]
This is one of the main qualities of Candyman that makes it so unique and affective compared to most horror films. Its horror is based heavily in reality. The film depicts an African American community being terrorized by an unknown force and receiving no aid from the authorities. I think the Candyman symbolizes the American criminal, the drug lord, the little tyrant that was able to take over the town because the authorities couldn’t be bothered to intervene.

The more Helen denies his existence, the stronger he becomes because that’s how tyrants thrive. From the ignorance of the higher powers. This stems into a harrowing plot where Helen tries everything to reject and reason with the Candyman.

The story of a monster terrorizing a small community due to the ignorance of authorities I think can be applied to any crime ridden area in the states or anywhere in the world. However, to see the story executed so maturely and atmospherically in a horror film I think is very rare.

I have no doubt the next time I watch the film I’ll have more theories, some of them could be expansions of the ones I just shared or they could be completely different. My point is, Candyman conveys ideas and feelings unlike any other film I’ve seen. It’s been around for over two decades and it still has an impact, so I encourage everyone to give it a watch.

I give Candyman an outstanding 10 out of 10.

 

UPDATE: If you’re a fan of zombies and theatre, then I’ve got the show for you! Some friends of mine are doing a stage version of Night of the Living Dead called No More Room In Hell in Sunderland.

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If you’re in the area please drop by and give the show a watch. You’ll be in for some great performances by some fantastic actors! Check here for info on dates and tickets.

 

MORE ZOMBIES. The Return of the Living Dead (1985) Review

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m not a fan of comedies. I can’t explain it. I guess my sense of humour is just too immature to enjoy crafted, planned out comedy. However, I do enjoy ‘amusing’ films. They don’t make me laugh out loud but they make me smile and happy.

With its great characters and amazing zombies, I consider The Return of the Living Dead to be an ‘amusing’ film. This 1985 horror comedy revolves around a bunch of employees at a medical supply warehouse, who accidentally release a poisonous gas that brings back the dead.

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Another raving review is ahead.

The Characters

They’re fantastic and funny in their own ways. Frank is jolly and very confident but as soon as the zombies appear, he turns into a whimpering coward. Burt is a fearless leader who’s strictly concerned about the company’s reputation and will do anything to get rid of the zombies.

Freddy, a new employee at the warehouse, is the protagonist. He’s essentially an avatar for the audience as he’s not as distinct as Frank and Burt personality wise. Like us, he witnesses and reacts to all the crazy shenanigans.

While the employees try to contain the zombies at the warehouse, we see a subplot focusing on Freddy’s friends waiting for him to finish work. They may not be as likable as Frank or Burt but they’re still funny.

They’re a bunch of reckless, crazy punks, especially Trash. She comes across as very pretentious as she constantly talks about death and ‘society’. However, she’s also very unstable. There’s a really silly scene where she shares her fantasies about dying and then suddenly strips naked and starts dancing. It’s wonderfully barmy.

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Freddy’s friendly gang of punks [Credit: Orion Pictures]
The characters, with their quirks and chemistry, make the film a funny and joyous watch.

The Zombies

Out of all the zombie films I’ve seen, the zombies in The Return of the Living Dead are probably the most unique, even by today’s standards.

One of the major features that make the zombies different to other film zombies is their indestructibility. All of their body parts are independent, so if you chop off a limb it’ll still come after you. Zombies are decapitated, dismembered and even burned, and yet they continue to attack.

They can also talk. Most of their dialogue consists of them screaming ‘BRAINS!’ However, in a few amusing scenes, they lure cops and paramedics to their den over the phone.

Another unique feature is their look. Not one zombie looks the same. They’re not all grey skinned like in Romero’s films or have red eyes like in the 28 Days series. They all each have their own individual design. One zombie is a rotting skeleton smothered in tar while another is pale-skinned with no arms or legs. They look more like zombies you’d see in a comic or a cartoon rather than in a live-action film, which I think is appropriate as it matches the silly tone.

I love The Return of the Living Dead, with its fantastic characters and incredible zombies. I recommend it for everyone this Halloween, even to those who don’t like horror films, I’m sure this one will get a chuckle out of them.

I give The Return of the Living Dead a gleaming 10 out of 10.

An A-Class B-Movie. Wishmaster (1997) Review

Wishmaster is a wonderful little horror film with its great characters and glorious blend of horror and humour.

This 1997 film revolves around a gemologist, Alex, who unknowingly frees the Djinn (an evil genie). His mission is to grant Alex three wishes so that upon the granting of the third wish he can free his race and rule the earth.

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This’ll be a raving review just so you know.

The Djinn, Horror and Cheese

The Djinn is a great horror villain. He has a motivation and numerous methods of killing people. That, with his devilish charm, makes him a lot of fun to watch. While trying to persuade Alex to make her wishes, the Djinn collects souls from other people by granting them a single wish. This is where the film is both scary and cheesy as the wishes backfire at the grantees in absurd and disturbing ways.

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Andrew Divoff as the Djinn [Credit: Live Entertainment]
A good example of the film’s cheese is a scene at a police station, where an officer reveals his desire for a nearby criminal (who’s never been charged) to commit a crime so he can shoot him. The Djinn grants his wish and takes control of the criminal’s body, making him snatch a gun and shoot everyone. It’s ridiculous that the cop just openly states what he wants with little persuasion from the Djinn. On top of that, the way the criminal just stands up yelling and starts shooting people is hilariously silly.

A good example of the film’s horror is a scene where a medical student finds the Djinn pealing the face off a dead body. “Am I to understand that this is something you do not wish to see?” asks the genie. “Uh huh” the student replies and with a slight hand gesture, the Djinn fuses the student’s eyelids shut.

The Characters and Plot

Tammy Lauren as Alex, examining the Djinn's opal [Credit: Live Entertainment)
Tammy Lauren as Alex, examining the Djinn’s opal [Credit: Live Entertainment)

Despite the far-fetched premise, the characters and plot are quite solid. They’re a lot more engaging than those in your average horror film.

Alex is an understandable and decent protagonist. Whenever she’s on screen, you’re not bored and waiting for the Djinn to come back, you’re engaged. She has a flaw (her guilt following her mother’s death) and a reason to pursue the Djinn (he murdered her best friend). You won’t be invested in her as you’d be in Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars trilogy but you’ll be watching to see if she defeats the Djinn or not.

 

Some of the supporting characters are pretty fun and likable, Alex’s Boss Nick Merritt for example. He’s a greedy, patronizing, sassy man who loves cash and valuable items.

Wendy Derleth, a Uni professor Alex meets for info on the Djinn, is also a fun character. As well as being funny and grumpy, she comes across as very wise and honest.  When she tells Alex about the history and legacy of the Djinn, she makes it sound quite chilling.

While Alex, the Djinn and the supporting characters make Wishmaster an engaging film, the plot produces some real fun and tension. The Djinn tries everything to get a wish out of Alex, such as tormenting her with visions of the souls he’s taken and threatening to kill her sister. She tries to resist but as the Djinn’s methods become more extreme she struggles. The plot escalates to an explosive climax with a rather clever resolution and a surprisingly happy ending.

I’ve known Wishmaster for over seven years now and have been watching it every Halloween since. Its horror, humour, characters and plot are hard for me not to like. It’s a beautifully wacky film to watch with a group of friends this Halloween.

I know how biased this may seem but for what it is I give Wishmaster a wonderful 9 out of 10.