This franchise panders to action fans who revel in violent far-fetched nonsense, making no apologies for its cheap thrills and explosive gratuity. Where certain cinephiles will dismiss it as trash, others will celebrate its sense of frivolity. Being a sucker for brainless action myself, I definitely fit within its target demographic.
With a significantly smaller budget of $40-million (compared to London's $60-million and Olympus' $70-mill) ANGEL HAS FALLEN's restraints are immediately evident. There is a definite modesty to the new instalment with the big action centrepieces being replaced by a formulaic man-on-the-run synopsis. To counteract the budget cut, Butler's character is written to be a burned-out father whose age and weariness threatens to end his career. He is no longer the actioneer we once knew, and his newly appointed fugitive status allows him to avoid massive fight sequences and high-concept action... for the most part. Of course there IS plenty of action to keep 'em keen, but to a lesser degree.
Some other consequences of the smaller budget include a few poorly executed green screen moments and a dependancy on poor dramatic character arcs, however, with a cache of nifty Bond-esque tropes the film manages to tread water without sinking. A cool drone attack early into the story sets the tone of the film and, while this sequence is admittedly ludicrous, it preps the viewer for a new direction to the series.
Butler is a seasoned pro when it comes to this brand of conservative-leaning action and he relishes every punch with absolute glee. Despite his age affecting his physical limits, he gives all that he's got to make Mike Banning a bonafide action-movie legend. Freeman, who is now 82-years old, returns to the series as the POTUS, replacing Aaron Eckhart from the previous instalments. Whether or not Eckhart was invited back, his absence plays to the movie's strength as Freeman offers greater depth and humanity. Although clearly an old man, Freeman's capabilities on screen are no barrier for his commitment to physicality and sincerity.
New additions to the cast include Danny Houston as Mike's former ranger teammate and owner of a private military contractor, and Nick Nolte as his estranged forrest-dwelling hermit father. Both are welcome newcomers to the series with each of them serving the story with an abundance of cliches and obvious tropes. Jada Pinkett Smith also co-stars as the FBI manhunter hot on the trail of Banning. They are all about as conventional and predictable as it gets... but intentionally so.
When it comes to this brand of movie we expect a good time but not a whole lot of substance or integrity. It is easily the lesser of the three films in terms of quality and bravado, but it's probably the most fun of the lot as far as I'm concerned. There's been three years between each instalment since the first movie arrived in 2013 and whether or not we can expect another one in 2022 remains to be seen. With Banning's body giving up on him, perhaps we'll enter the cyber-bionic phase... or maybe he'll call the shots from mission control... it's a stupid series and anything's possible. Fans of Olympus and London Has Fallen need only apply.
Whichever way you cut it APOCALYPSE NOW is a stroke of genius.
Working on the assumption that you are familiar with either previous cut of the film I will skip the part where I lay out the synopsis, except to say that the film is quite possibly the greatest sentiment of the Vietnam War ever put to film. As any one of the versions attests, it isn't so much a realistic portrayal of the conflict itself (although it feels so) but rather a concise charter of the psychological trauma and the culture surrounding it. It is very much a perpetual descent into madness manifested in a surreal and nightmarish experiment of storytelling.
THE FINAL CUT removes 20 minutes from the Redux cut, making for a trimmer 3-hour narrative with less lag. One - of two major sequences - which Coppola added in 2000 has been removed again; it being a second encounter with the Playboy Bunnies. It was an ineffective addition in the first place and the story benefits without it. The other sequence features a visit to a French plantation whereby Martin Sheen's character, Captain Benjamin Willard, spends an evening with a large family who refuse to leave their acreage, which has been under threat throughout the conflict. The sequence in of itself is fantastic, however within the context of APOCALYPSE NOW it serves as dead weight. The sequence lacks subtlety and feels politically motivated, and it undermines the overall sense of nuance and suggestion that the rest of the film embodies.
Other notable changes include extended sequences involving Robert Duvall's surf-obsessed Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore and longer monologues from Marlon Brando's psychotic Colonel Kurtz. Again, these are fantastic scenes in their own right, but ultimately serve little purpose. Were they to be confined to supplementary material on a home-entertainment release then they would hold immense value, but in terms of serving an 'ultimate cut' they are simply a filmmaker's self-gratification.
Irrespective of my personal grievances, APOCALYPSE NOW: THE FINAL CUT is a sight to behold. It has never looked and sounded better, and it gives cause for audiences to see it again on the big screen. Whether you watch the theatrical version, the Redux or the Final Cut, you will witness one of cinema's finest achievements; an audacious and visionary cinematic masterclass, and an unrivalled visceral experience. A tour de force of music, psychedelia and violence featuring an ensemble of Hollywood titans.
For argument sake lets call it a trilogy... 3 cuts... 3 visions... 3 films.... each being powerful, and each with their own story to unpack. For what it's worth I will always preference the original 147-minute theatrical cut, but I will always watch whichever one you want to offer me.
Based on a comic-book of the same name from the 1930s, THE SHADOW tells the story of an American drug lord in Tibet, who is captured by mystical servants of Tulku - an ancient holy man wizard - and cursed to serve humanity as a force for good. After years of training in a Buddist temple the former criminal earns himself the power to mind-read, hypnotise and distort perception, and conceals his identify with invisibility. Returning to New York City in the 1930s The Shadow (real name Lamont Cranston - Alec Baldwin) serves the city as its lone crusader, ridding the streets of criminals and mob rule. When a former student of Tulku arrives to the city inside the sarcophagus of Genghis Khan, The Shadow must defeat him before a mystical army is raised.
Despite the character's origins and previous 1937 radio incarnation by Orson Welles, the 1994 film marches to the beat of its own drum, owing gratitude to Burton's influence while leaning heavily on the Asian-infused fantasy films of the time. The result is a delicious visceral treat that plays out like a cross between Burton and John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China comes to mind).
Director Russell Mulcahy is – in my estimation – one of the most overlooked and underutilised director's in Hollywood. A home-grown talent, he began his career directing some of the biggest music videos in the world (Elton John, Duran Duran etc) before making his impressive feature debut with the cult favourite Razorback. He would go on to make classics such as Highlander, Richochet and The Real McCoy before finding himself assigned to second-rate fodder like Tales of the Mummy and Silent Trigger. Amongst all of that he made THE SHADOW, his boldest and most impressive production to date. And how criminally underrated it is. Boasting a phenomenal production design – shot entirely on studio backlots and sound stages – the film leaps off the screen with it's vivid imagery. Richly textured city street-scapes and immaculate cinematography are accompanied by a sensational musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. The result is a film that eluded its audience upon release but found them throughout the years, earning itself a well-deserved cult status.
The film was written by David Koepp during the most prolific time of his career having penned films like Jurassic Park, Carlito's Way and Mission Impossible within the span of three years. THE SHADOW, it must be said however, is one of his weakest scripts, lacking the depth and character development of some of its contemporaries. Obviously better writing may have elevated it to respectable heights at the time, but the fundamental strength of the film is in its look and aesthetic. As with most of Mulcahy's work, the style IS its substance.
In the film Alec Baldwin makes for an unlikely superhero and delivers a reliable turn, and while there is something not-quite-right about him in the role, his charisma and handsome charm lend an endearing quality to the proceedings. The supporting cast includes Penelope Ann Miller, Peter Boyle, Ian McKellen, Jonathan Winters, Tim Curry and John Lone (and what Asian-infused adventure movie of the 90s would be complete without the stereotyped character actors James Hong and Al Leong?). It is an impressive cast which retrospectively brings comfort and nostalgia to the film.
Films like THE SHADOW don't get made any more so do yourself the favour and track it down. Relive its delicious production design and feel the energy of Goldsmith's score. It holds up incredibly well and deserves a revisit.
The Shadow is available on Blu Ray & DVD through Umbrella Entertainment.
The first notable problem with ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is that the soundtrack fails to pop the way we have come to expect from a Tarantino film. Of course the soundtrack is very evident and it informs much of the story, however the songs don't feel as carefully selected or as thoughtfully placed. Perhaps this is a symptom of having only seen the film once (maybe a premature judgement on my part). The film is in every sense a reversion to his earlier work, calling upon strong pop cultural references to drive its narrative, which is certainly cut from the same cloth as Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, and where those films boasted an immediately arresting collection of songs, HOLLYWOOD isn't as hit-laden or ear-wiggy.
Other issues include an immodest amount of self-indulgence, unnecessary cameos and grading monologues. With its 1960's Hollywood setting, the scene is set for an eruption of Tarantino-gasms, and we wouldn't expect anything less, however he has indulged himself so much so that the average movie-goer will inevitably disengage from it's endless in-jokes, geeky film-speak and pop cultural intricacies. Suffice to say this is not as accessible as QT's previous work, but....
… it is definitely his BEST work since Jackie Brown. As a filmie with a decent grasp of film history and pop culture, I felt a kinship with the man and appreciated him speaking so deeply to a movie-lover like myself. I admit that I struggled at first. The first act is a slow burn and a meandering series of seemingly trivial encounters had me worried that he might not be able to push through his own hedonism. And then one important scene at the infamous Spahn Movie Ranch flips the story on its head and sends the film barrelling ahead at a million miles per hour, giving retrospective relevance to what had transpired previously.
Inspired by the real life partnership of Burt Reynolds and his stunt double Hal Needham (director of Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run) the film tells the story of Hollywood actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) who find themselves navigating second-rate television guest appearances and lead roles in foreign films. Work is drying up and Dalton's fame is on the decline when a snappy movie producer, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) offers some sage words of advice and points him in the right direction. Dalton also happens to live next door to world-renowned director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbee) and when Booth's path coincidentally crosses with the Manson Family, the clock starts ticking down towards an inevitable climax on that most infamous night on Ceilo Drive.
This is a film jam-packed with surprises and I wouldn't dare reveal any of those tasty treats for you. What I will say is that Tarantino has captured the 1960's era with precision and filled his frame with absolute nostalgia. DiCaprio and Pitt both deliver what I will argue are the best performances of their respective careers, without any sense of rivalry or competitiveness. Each knows how good the other is and the camaraderie is strong. Robbie is a great addition to the cast as Sharon Tate, giving a mostly muted performance that relies on her character's sense of Hollywood wonderment. She gives a fabulous turn, with one particular scene in a movie-theatre (watching the real Sharon Tate on screen) serving as once of the films stand-out moments.
The cameos, while excessive, are generally good. Few of them grace the screen for longer than a minute but they all fit the bill nevertheless. Pacino does Pacino and Kurt Russell does Kurt Russell, while folks like Bruce Dern, Zoe Bell, Dekota Fanning, Luke Perry and Clifton Collins Jr contribute to a colossal ensemble of blink-and-you'll-miss-em players. Timothy Olyphant and Emile Hirsch are given slightly more screen time and it's great to see Hirsch back in the game following an unfortunate assault charge and subsequent blacklisting from Hollywood.
Some detractors have recently condemned Tarantino's supposed obsession with violence against women, to which needs addressing. I would argue that the number of men brutalised and killed throughout the course of his career far outweighs the number of women, and that those female characters he has subjected to extreme violence (The Bride in Kill Bill, Daisy Domergue in The Hateful 8 and the ladies of Death Proof... not to mention Alabama from True Romance) have turned said violence against their attackers. I would also argue that Tarantino writes strong female characters in his films and that his brand of filmmaking derives from an era of exploitation. We tend not to care when men are pulverised, mutilated and executed in QT's stories, and yet when women are hurt and then empowered it's outrageous and unacceptable. Give me a break! As for the specific violence against the women in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD... it's contextually satisfying and entirely justified. If you disagree then you need to reevaluate your own moral code. To go into specifics would be to ruin the fun and reveal too much...
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is a return to that urban sensibility that put Tarantino on the map. It is also ambitious and gratuitous and all things that make him a cult figure. Were it not for the aforementioned foibles earlier in this review I would be inclined to declare the film an instant classic. It comes damn near close to being a perfect film, and yet misses the mark thanks to self indulgence and a stronger than usual overriding sense of egotism.
This is writer/director Oliver Mann’s feature debut and he proves, right off the bat, that he can not only create a complex and harrowing story populated by emotionally complicated characters, but that he can handle the out-of-order storytelling style he’s opted for in a way that feels like so much more than just a present-day story with a series of flashbacks. The story of older David who escapes his father by moving from New York to LA to have a crack at professional stand-up and the story of younger David who witnesses the domestic violence the father brings down on his family are told in a way where they hold equal weight and continually collide creating the sparks that enliven the movie and provide us with a tale where one-plus-one equals more than two. Likewise, the secondary stories of David’s troubled girlfriend Marcella (Wilma Rivera) and Robert, the friend that tries to help him out only to get him deeper into trouble, provide a depth and texture to the overall narrative that account for an authenticity and grittiness that is, perhaps, surprising for a first feature.
Mann’s work as director is well supported by Sachi Bahra’s strong cinematography and a lilting, sometimes haunting score from Kelli Sae. Performances are strong all ’round with Trigueros a standout in the role of David who navigates his way through the perilous waters of this story and makes a pretty good fist of his comedy club routines. There’s a droll humour to David’s act that might not have them rolling in the aisles but serves the story well in terms of the reflective nature of his humour. As the father, Ashton is believable and frightening, more for the psychological side of his abuse than for the physical. Strang, as the fragile mother trying to hold things together in the face of impossible odds, finds just the right amount of pathos as she loses her grip on reality. And, then, of course, there’s Rivera, with a terrific performance as the damaged Marcella who finds the sweet spot between vulnerable and dangerous that David finds himself drawn to.
The idea that a stand-up comedian’s funny stuff comes from a place of pain and darkness might be a cliché, but Oliver Mann’s screenplay and his realisation of it onto the big screen is anything but cliched in its explorations of his central character’s struggled with the harder sides of life, and his escape through making other people laugh. The dream-like final sequence might not entirely work as a denouement to the complex story (there’s a bit of voice over that suggests a lack of confidence in the imagery to do the job) but it leaves us in no doubt that for all the hope in the world that might bring a story like this to a close, there is still no escaping the dark undercurrents that we bring along with us from the choices we make in our difficult lives.
Making Dave’s teenage self (Brenock O’Connor) the lead is one of the biggest reasons this film pulls off its breezy tone. O’Connor finds just the right balance for depicting Dave’s Bromley-centric worldview, ensuring he conveys the awkwardness of youth without verging into naivete. Rather, his arc is cast as a classic coming-of-age journey, as we watch Dave’s confidence and ability to express himself grow by making friends through the club. Considering most viewers will probably recognise O’Connor from his time on Game of Thrones, it’s a pleasant surprise to see him simply have fun and show his range.
While some of the supporting cast suffer from a lack of material, the few who are given ample opportunity to share scenes with O’Connor are just as entertaining. I was particularly impressed by Jamie Foreman as Bromley owner Charlie McQueen, a character who initially comes across as a one-dimensional villain with no regard for Dave and other fans. McQueen’s perspective is ultimately revealed in the third act, but he’s a welcome presence long before then thanks to Foreman’s exaggerated, flustered delivery and comedic timing. Savannah Baker shows a similar talent as McQueen’s daughter Ruby, though using her primarily for a forced romantic subplot felt like wasted potential. However, this pales in comparison to the underdeveloped roles given to Alan Davies and Martine McCutcheon, two demonstrably funny people, who play Dave’s parents yet are barely seen.
Meanwhile, the film’s 1960s setting is captured perfectly, with the production’s warm and nostalgic approach serving as an ideal complement for the script’s tone. British filmmakers always seem to nail the technical aspects of period pieces and THE BROMLEY BOYS is no exception. From obvious era-appropriate details like the club’s uniforms and equipment, to locations such as the McQueens’ house which are only seen briefly, there’s a sense that the designers look back on the decade with as much fondness as Dave himself. For instance, Dave’s bedroom is filled with Bromley memorabilia both official and handmade, quaint yet specific flourishes emblematic of how easy it is to immerse yourself and simply enjoy the film’s world.
Unfortunately, the film’s story is the only element where it disappoints, struggling to provide an interesting catalyst for the characters and jokes. This is hardly a golden rule for comedy, since there have been plenty of successful films where nothing substantial happens (see Clerks). Yet in the case of THE BROMLEY BOYS, the plot which ultimately emerges is contrived and wafer-thin. Essentially, Dave finds evidence suggesting the club’s best player is being transferred, only for the rumour he inadvertently starts to snowball in unbelievable ways. Likewise, the quasi-twist used to raise the stakes in the third act requires a huge suspension of disbelief and makes Dave look recklessly inconsiderate.
Thankfully, the rest of the film makes such a strong impression that my issues with its story can be overlooked. THE BROMLEY BOYS is plain and simple fun, suitable for anyone who can relate to passionate fandom, or viewers who just want to switch off and laugh.
It’s Halloween and a bunch of people in Halloween costumes are milling around in a party mood at an old railway station with a few old steam trains lined up and ready to go. One of the trains is designated as the ‘Murder Mystery Train’ and out of the steam emerges a different group of characters in period costume all lined up and ready to enjoy a night of role-play and mystery solving... or so it seems. As they prepare to board there’s a strange moment between the group in period costumes and the group in Halloween costumes. But what does it mean? You’ll have to wait for the end of the film to find out.
In the meantime, enter The Host (Frank Lammers) a larger than life character in top hat and mourning coat who chews up the scenery as he welcomes the guests aboard and introduces them one by one with a vaguely threatening overtone revealing truths and secrets about each in turn. Most of our key characters, it seems, don’t really want to be here. Evelyn (Carter Scott) is only here because her friend is one of the actors in the ‘show’. Thomas (Everette Wallin) is only here because he promised his brother he’d come. Eugene (Logan Coffey) is representing his cosmetics company who provide the make-up for the actors. This is his fourteenth time on board and he’s pretty blasé about it. The only one who really wants to be here is young rich kid, Abigail (Shae Smolik) whose parents have sent her along with chaperone, Antonia (Leticia LaBelle) who is the most reluctant participant of all.
The Host has barely finished his introduction when the ‘murder’ takes place. But wait, something’s not right. Turns out it’s a real murder and then, before we know it, there’s a robbery taking place and then, before we’ve got our heads around that, the train takes a bend going too fast and comes off the rails, plunging into a deep river. Now our heroes are stranded in a slowly submerging carriage (looking like a scene from The Titanic) but when one of the show’s characters, Marcus (Daniel O’Reilly) tries to swim to shore, he’s pulled under (like a scene out of Jaws) by some weird looking monster that’s a cross between the double-jawed Alien, the Demogorgon (from Stranger Things) and the Creature From the Black Lagoon. So now it’s a monster movie and our heroes are being picked off one by one.
In theory, there’s no reason why this rapid shift of genres and styles can’t work, and, to a certain extent, there are moments in this film when it works really well. But those moments don’t coalesce into a satisfying whole. Partly it’s a problem of tone. There are moments that feel like the campiness and heightened reality is intentional and that we should be finding this darkly comical if not, at times, hilarious. But there are other moments where it feels like it wants to be a horror film and that we should be on the edge of our seats. The upshot is that D-RAILED sits uncomfortably on the fence between both those possibilities leaving the audience (or, at least, me) feeling quite uncertain about what it is we’re watching.
What keeps it afloat (excuse the pun) are some strong performances, especially by Scott who carries the narrative and is quite compelling on screen. She somehow seems to navigate her way through the story giving us a sense that she knows what this is meant to be, even if we’re not one hundred percent sure. I can’t really talk about the film’s ending, other than to say that there’s quite a twist waiting for us in the final scenes that shifts gears yet again and attempts to provide an explanation for what we’ve been watching for the past eighty or so minutes. For me, the ending is a bit of a let down in terms of how it contextualises the overall story. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way if you’re willing to go with the flow and to view the story through something less than a critical eye.
WICKED WITCHES is a prime example of how to nail an opening scene, as the film’s protagonist, Mark (Duncan Casey), is introduced flawlessly without even saying a word. Mark’s marriage has just imploded for reasons which are never fully explained and, in my opinion, don’t need to be. The quiet devastation that Casey conveys as he removes Mark’s wedding ring and throws it away is captivating enough. In need of a place to stay, he finds a room for rent at an old farm which was the site of many parties during his school years; one of his old mates, Ian (Justin Marosa), is even living there now! How perfect! While viewers will immediately notice Ian is super creepy, Mark is simply happy to see a familiar face during this tough time.
I liked this initial premise as it’s basically a twist on Get Out where the lead not only has more reasons to let their guard down, but is simultaneously dealing with a recent emotional hardship. As a result, it’s easier to understand why Mark takes longer to recognise Ian’s behaviour and keeps staying at the farm in spite of it. Besides, there’s other weird stuff happening anyway, for instance, the women Mark sees around town are all blank-faced and silent yet seem to be watching him carefully. Meanwhile, he constantly has nightmares of being chased through woods by demonic women. As I mentioned above, there are few horror tropes more satisfying than watching tension slowly build around an oblivious character, particularly when set to an ominous, Stranger Things-esque score as heard here.
However, things quickly go downhill for Mark and the film when a group of his other mates arrive at the farm to relive their youth with drinks, drugs and dancing. Ian brings the mysterious women who are soon revealed to be demons or witches or ... something? Seriously, that’s how much backstory WICKED WITCHES gives to its eponymous characters; we don’t even find out how their supernatural powers work, let alone their origins. Regardless, any tension or semblance of plot devolve into mindless, distractingly cheap-looking gore as the partygoers are slaughtered. In fact, I swear an extra literally puts their arm inside of their shirt to simulate it being ripped off. Given the Pickerings clearly lacked the budget or technical proficiency to employ convincing VFX, the decision to have these gory sequences comprise almost the entire second half of the film is baffling. I was left with the impression that at this point, WICKED WITCHES stopped being a horror film and started being one about how women are evil creatures seeking to control and destroy men.
Although I originally believed the depiction of Mark’s divorce had been limited to his perspective to maintain pacing, it feels more deliberate and vindictive based on his subsequent encounters with women. In case his recurring nightmares were too subtle, the only line spoken by a female character throughout WICKED WITCHES (a character who, by the way, remains unnamed) emphasises that they have been out to get him all along: “we’ve missed you, Mark”. Even if this misogynistic message was somehow not the intended interpretation of the film, it’s unacceptable and the direct result of the Pickerings’ script leaving out too many details. After a slow but not discouraging first half, it still amazes me that WICKED WITCHES was ultimately botched to such a degree. There will surely be horror fans out there who can get something out of its adherence to tropes, but it’s hard to imagine many viewers will be left satisfied by it.
2018 | DIR: FULVIO SESTITO | STARRING: RYAN CARNES, JORDAN HINSON, CLAUDE DUHAMEL, DON STARK, MARTIN SENSMEIER, MILTON CHEE, PETER STORMARE, DEE WALLACE | REVIEW BY CHRIS THOMPSON
As far as Chris is concerned it’s complete bunkum, so he sets off with his camera operator, Brent (Claude Duhamel) to the heartland of UFO believers; a convention somewhere near Roswell, New Mexico. Here he meets Emily Reed (Jordan Hinson) who claims that every seven years since her seventh birthday, aliens have come for her and spirited her away for experiments before returning her to Earth (it’s as though an outer-space Michael Apted is making an extra-terrestrial version of 7 Up). Of course, Emily is about to have her 28th birthday, so Chris decides to tag along, despite her initial poor impression of him, and record what happens.
What follows is a series of strange and ominous encounters, firstly with Bill (Don Stark) the overly friendly (not fooling us for a minute!) convention organiser, and then with the slightly kooky Lucille (a great little cameo from Dee Wallace) who has in her possession what she claims to be an alien artefact. Then, when Chris and Brent are out on a lonely desert road at night their car hits something (or did something hit their car?). When they pull over to check it out, Brent thinks he sees aliens coming for them, but Chris is still not convinced. It’s a good, scary moment as Brent tries to get the hell out of there while Chris tries to stay firm in his scepticism. Of course, the audience is not in much doubt about what we think they saw, but this is a film where not everything is as it seems, and maybe there’s a trick or two up Sestito’s sleeve that we haven’t guessed.
This is a well made and tight little film that for most of its narrative keeps us engaged and, to a certain extent, curious to know what will happen next. Sestito directs with confidence and restraint and the screenplay by Marc Porterfield and Thomas Warren (from a story by Sestito, Warren and Rebecca Berrih) is well paced and full of interesting characters. Despite Chris and Emily being on opposite sides of the alien abduction debate, there’s a sweet little romance that slowly builds between them and as we get closer to Emily’s 28th birthday we can see that Chris is concerned for her even if he doesn’t quite believe her story. There’s a bit of a strange and unnecessary tangent late in the day when Emily leads Chris and Brent to a local Native American leader, John Greatbear (Milton Chee) who conducts a peyote ceremony that gives the filmmakers the opportunity for some hallucinatory effects but not much in the way of narrative progress. This scene stalls the story for a bit, but fortunately, things get back on track before too long and we find ourselves in a good place again in time for the climax. I don’t want to give away what happens next, suffice to say there’s a big change of gear and the film opens up to some great production design and art direction by Kino Scialabba and Traci Hays respectively.
Carnes and Hinson are good together as the two main characters on opposing sides of the central premise and the rest of the cast are uniformly strong with the highlights being the brief appearances by the three more seasoned actors – Don Stark, Peter Stormare and the ubiquitous Dee Wallace. But rest assured, they don’t overwhelm the younger actors. Instead they provide a strong underpinning for the more youthful, fresh-faced performances that make up the bulk of the movie.
Beyond the Sky is both an entertaining, enjoyable ride through some of the quirky landscape of UFO culture and a sweet little romance where our heroes have to face a few challenges that are (excuse the terrible pun) out of this world.
BEYOND THE SKY is released on DVD via Eagle Entertainment on 11/09/2019.
The second great idea is that a mystical stone has fallen to Earth from space; a stone that has the power to transport those in grief back in time to the moment they lost a loved one and to offer them the opportunity to save their life. But caveat emptor, this power comes with tricky little ‘monkey’s paw’ kind of twist.
Of course, these two ideas converge in the muddled narrative of SILENCIO and that’s where things start to fall apart.
In the aftermath of the missile crash in the Zone of Silence, Research Scientist, James (John Noble) and his assistant Peter (Nic Jackman) are trying to recover the cobalt 57 when they stumble across the strange space stone and carry it back to their lab for tests. Weighed down by grief over the death of his daughter, her husband and his two granddaughters, James accidently touches the stone and is instantly transported back to the scene of the roadside accident that took his family’s lives where he manages to save one of the two granddaughters.
Ten years later, that granddaughter, Ana (Melina Matthews) is a Psychologist and single mother with a young son, Felix (Ian Garcia Monterrubio). One day, a regular patient, Daniel (Michel Chauvet) tells Ana that he is in communication with the dead; specifically, her sister Lisa (Lucy Paez) and that she has a message about the space stone. Meanwhile, Grandfather James is in some kind of non-specific brain sleep, but never fear, ghostly Lisa knows how to revive him, which is just as well, because nefarious forces have hired a young thug (Hoze Meléndez) to strong-arm James in order to get hold of the stone. It seems everyone wants that stone, including Peter (now played by Rupert Graves) who is still a friend of the family. And that’s just the set up!
It’s a shame that writer/director Lorena Villarreal has stuffed so many competing elements into her screenplay. Not only do they ultimately cancel each other out in terms of their struggle for screen time, but the level of exposition required to explain the convoluted supernatural and extra-terrestrial forces at work defeat even seasoned actors like Noble and Graves. In the end, the battle of ideas is won by the space stone, rendering the whole Zone of Silence story (and, for that matter, the film’s title) redundant, but by then it’s too late to re-focus us enough into the time-travel-cheating-death narrative to make the film’s ending work. This confusion in the third act is exacerbated by a sudden burst of unexpected graphic violence which seems both unnecessary and out of character with the rest of the film. Again, this is a real shame, because it eclipses the very tantalising dilemma that Villarreal presents Ana with as the story reaches is climax. It’s a great twist that’s lost in the shuffle.
To their credit, Matthews, Noble, Chauvet and Graves make as much of a fist as they can with the material they’ve got to work with, but in the end, even strong performances can’t untangle the messiness of too many ideas and not enough direction.
This all probably sounds familiar in the post #MeToo, #TimesUp world, but this story happened well before Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were outed for their reprehensible behaviour towards women. The assaults in question took place between 1991 and 1993 but it’s probably a story you’ve never heard. Why is that? Well, that’s the question that Minh Collins sets out to answer in his documentary ROCKING THE COUCH.
The ‘couch’ in question is, of course, the ‘casting couch’ the meaning of which, in case we didn’t know, is explained to us by actress Kim Johnston Ulrich along with a little bit of history about the term and its use in old Hollywood (apparently it was first used in an article in Variety in 1937). But, unlike most of the women in this documentary, Kim’s not here to share her story of falling victim to Wallace Kaye. She’s here as the wife of a Casting Director to reassure us that her husband and the majority of male Casting Directors today don’t behave like Kaye, but are honourable respectful men. It’s a curious, seemingly redundant moment in the documentary, but it’s not the only one.
A substantial part of this film’s short running time (65 minutes) is devoted to material that, at best, is peripheral to the supposed thrust of the subject matter. We have ‘LA Criminal Defence Attorney’ Stephen G Rodriguez popping up every ten minutes or so to provide definitions of the relevant laws and terminology, and to make the distinction between sexual assault (which is a crime) and sexual harassment (which is not).
And if you’re wondering why we get so much focus on Rodriguez when he seems to have no connection to the Kaye case, then perhaps it’s explained when his name pops up in the credits as one of the film’s producers. Or there’s ‘actor/producer/writer Pritesh Shah who gets enough screentime to tell us that he’s been propositioned many times by aspiring actresses (some of them married!) who’ll do anything (anything!) to get into his next film. Of course, he never takes advantage, but the point that some women go looking for this treatment is made. And finally, there’s the decidedly strange inclusion of several spots devoted to an executive producer named Ikon Barenbolm (shot in a bar with a glass of wine in hand) who tells us, amongst other things, that some women make these kinds of accusations in order to gain notoriety or for revenge or for other reasons that have nothing to do with actual assaults. Perhaps these moments are there in the interests of balance, but to my eye they serve to do little more than undercut the genuine stories from the many courageous women who confront the cameras to reveal their distressing experiences to us.
Ostensibly, it’s these women’s stories that the film is meant to be about, inorder to expose the details of the Wallace Kaye case and ask why it didn’t garner more public outcry and galavanise Hollywood to act against this kind of professionalised sexual misconduct twenty-five years ago; why it took the Weinstein and Cosby cases to prompt some sort of positive action. Much of the blame is laid at the feet of the Screen Actors’ Guild for its reluctance to act or respond to the accusations made against Kaye and for the general industry disinterest in addressing the issue. But, in the end, Rocking the Couch doesn’t really offer much in the way of analysis or insight. Instead, what we’re offered are the often graphic testimonials of women who encountered this kind of sexually predatorial behaviour from Kaye and others, often illustrated with stock footage and recreations of intimate situations and scantily clad women that seem to undermine their stories with imagery that’s more titillating that informative.
This, combined with so much irrelevant, peripheral information and the inclusion of voices that suggest that some women might make this stuff up, brings nothing new to the table with regard to an important and very current social and political issue. Instead of adding to the argument, it takes advantage of it, using footage of both Weinstein and Cosby as a kind of springboard for its own benefit and, in doing so, misses the opportunity to bring some kind of benefit to the movement that would see these stories be more like that of Wallace Kaye – a thing of the past.