5 Modern Sci-Fi Films You Should Probably Watch

Just do it.

The Machine (2013)

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A prime example of a film with an unoriginal concept (military trying to create super-soldier cyborg types to defeat a pesky Cold War enemy) but with great execution. Like most of the films on this list, the budget for The Machine was low (around the £1million mark) but they still managed to bag a decent cast (Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Caity Lotz) and make fantastic use of the low key location. Lotz steals the show, her transformation from enthusiastic young graduate to kick-ass cyborg is sublime, though Stephens puts in a decent performance as the scientist driven to obsession. There are some delightfully well choreographed fight sequences and while it is a little naval gazing and slow in parts, it does pose some interesting questions, and the ending stays with you.

 

The Final Cut (2004)

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Before Black Mirror plunged in there with its weird dystopian visions (that seem to be coming fruition scarily enough), Omar Naim produced this little known nugget of sci-fi weirdness. Released during the period where Robin Williams was throwing out some curveball performances (One Hour Photo, Insomnia), The Final Cut sees him playing it a little more straight and restrained as Alan Hakman, a cutter who is drawn into a dangerous game of intrigue and blackmail. The Final Cut is not going to win, and didn’t win, any Oscars, it’s structure and plot are pretty standard. However, the world building and concepts are where the film really comes into its own, and you sort of wish they had kept the focus on that instead of heading down the action thriller route. Either way, The Final Cut is a strong and interesting entry into Robin Williams’ filmography.

 

Grabbers (2012)

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Lots of jokes about being drunk. Check. An alcoholic lead character. Check. Excessive use of the word ‘feck’. Check. All the hallmarks of a decent Irish film, and Grabbers is no different. It’s a proper no frills, sci-fi/horror/comedy monster film, with some amusingly gory deaths, daft plot twists, and amiable character stereotypes. The monsters are fantastically realized and the one key aspect of their biology leads to residents of the island retreating to pub and getting pissed. Grabbers does nothing new, it owes a lot to Tremors, however the film has such heart and wit, and some gorgeous cinematography, that it is more than enough to make watching this film well worth your time. And have a few drinks while you’re at it.

 

Coherence (2013) 

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Coherence is an absolute mind-fuck (excuse my French). It starts as a seemingly straight forward relationship drama with a lot of smug people sitting round a dinner table, however after an astronomical anomaly passes by, things begin going south. Coherence sets out a truly fascinating ‘what if’ scenario. What if we existed on parallel realities but co-existed on the same plane? What if we saw those ‘other’ versions of ourselves but they weren’t quite ‘us’? What if we interacted with those ‘others’? The major thrill in Coherence is that you don’t know which characters or which ‘others’ you are watching at any one time, you don’t know whose reactions are legitimate. Where you watching the ‘others’ in the first place? Are the ‘others’ just as baffled as confused as the first set of characters we meet or are they already aware of the situation? Coherence is a film that deserves multiple re-watches and almost requires it, and it also deserves a first watch so get going onto Netflix and seek it out.

 

Primer (2004) 

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When I first watched Primer I didn’t quite understand what was happening. When I watched Primer for the second time I still didn’t quite understand what was happening. Primer is an obtuse, borderline impenetrable piece of work, but therein lies its charm. Shane Carruth (director/writer/producer/actor) refuses to dumb down the science or give people massive doses of exposition to help them understand exactly what is going on. The plot of Primer is a simple one to start with; two friends invent a device in a garage which they discover can send objects back in time, however, their relationship begins to fracture as does their grip on what they have created. Primer is a staggering bit of cinema when you consider the size of its budget ($7000), the fact that no one in the film had acted before, and that Carruths had never written or directed before. Like Coherence, Primer is on Netflix and it is worth keeping on your ‘to watch’ list even after you’ve watched it for the third or fourth time.

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Top 5 Remakes That Were Better Than The Original

As we groan in abject disdain as Hollywood pumps out more and more seemingly pointless remakes (hello Robocop and the-stuck-in-development-hell Highlander) we are in danger of losing sight of the fact that sometimes the remake can actually improve on the original. Yes, the percentages are low, for every Coen Brothers True Grit there is a bargain basement Get Carter, but remakes can sometimes surprise us, adding a new dimension to an old story, and in some cases (which there are two of on this list) new technology and visual effects can provide a more visceral experience.

I admit, I am a little bit of snob when it comes to remakes, especially those that don’t seem have a point to it; doing a remake for the sake of ego boosting or raising the profile of a particular actor/director makes absolutely no sense to me, there has to be an advance or something fresh whether it be political, technological, sociological, whatever… that the original either was lacking or fudged in the first place.

So here we are, my own personal top 5 remakes that were better than the originals.

1. Invasion of The Body Snatchers (1978)

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The 70s remake of ‘Invasion…’ is on every single one of these remake lists and usually at the top. The reason being because it is absolutely bloody marvellous. The original ‘Invasion…’ was released in 1956 and dismissed without fanfare by the critics but as time as passed it has been widely re-assessed as an allegoric masterpiece tapping into the paranoia and fear of the US populace during the rise of communism and the Soviet Union. The remake keeps the main themes intact, the dangers of conformity, or not asking questions of those around, of just blending into the crowd, of someone exerting complete control over your mind and body, but ramps up the visuals with some deeply disturbing and Cronenberg-esque body horror (see the scene in the garden with Donald Sutherland and bunch of replicated bodies writhing on the grass). And that final scene, oh that final scene, hopeful at first and then horrific afterwards, I dare you to find a closing scene that gives you such a conflicting shock of emotions. Also you get a very, very youthful Jeff Goldblum and Donald Sutherland with a moustache and perm. I don’t know what much more you would need.

2. The Thing (1982)

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A remake of an adaptation of book that has its own prequel, The Thing has its origins and tentacles all over modern cinema, but John Carpenter’s 1982 sci-fi horror is unparalleled in both technical achievement and as a perfect example of how to execute a simple plot in one location with small band of actors. We all know from a previous post how much i admire Kurt Russell and his glorious beard, but credit also has to go to the supporting cast, specifically Keith David as Childs and Donald Moffat as Garry (who has a cracking one liner during the tense blood test stand off). Like ‘Invasion…’ above, the main progression from the original is the special effects. Rob Bottin and his team create some effects and pieces so disgusting and strange that it’s both mildly stomach churning yet extremely difficult to look away. The Thing is not a complex watch but is a compelling one, and again like ‘Invasion…’ and all good sci-fi horror films, the ending is bleak but open for endless theorising, and I am not ashamed to say that I have watched the videos and read the message boards about whether or not Childs or MacReady or either of them is The Thing at the end (and it’s a heck of a rabbit hole).

 

3. The Departed (2006)

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A remake of the Hong Kong crime drama Infernal Affairs, The Departed is absolutely rammed to the gills of all the actors the Scorsese had on speed dial, apart from De Niro who was probably off making a shit comedy because he is De Niro. You’d think with all that talent, and egos probably, that The Departed would possibly sink under the weight but this is Scorsese and he is the king of keeping an ensemble cast in check (I’m guessing by boomeranging his eyebrows if one of them gets a bit feisty). This is one of those remakes that sort of doesn’t have a point to it apart from it being adapted from the Far East in order to suit the American market and usually that just doesn’t work (I’m looking at you Oldboy and Dark Water), but The Departed is one of those rare occasions  where everything just works. Damon and DiCaprio are the two sides of the same coin with Jack Nicholson, as unpredictable as ever, flipping between the two of them. The supporting cast is sublime (the scenes with Alec Baldwin and Mark Wahlberg out-yelling and out-swearing each other is worth the price of a dvd alone), the script has some wonderfully ornate foul language and strong twists and turns, and while it does run on a little long, The Departed just pips Infernal Affairs in high crime drama stakes.

4. The Fly (1986)

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Of all the body horror films The Fly is the one that stays with me the most, probably because it’s the most…. juicy. A remake of the 1958 film, it sticks to the core plot of mad scientist mixes atoms with a fly after a cross-contamination incident but takes the gore and excess to new heights. There’s acid vomit, a maggot baby, Jeff Goldblum (who obviously has good taste in sci-fi because this is his second appearance on this list) falling apart in the most grotesque manner possible, and some phenomenally vile set pieces. The 1958 version was shocking at its time, the visual effects disturbed and appalled in equal measure, but watching it now it’s almost amateurish, so Cronenberg’s remake is a prime example of how advancing technology aids and gives reason to a great remake.

 
5. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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I’m being bold here and letting you all know that I am not a fan of musicals. Most musicals bring me out in a serious case of hives. Just give me drama, give me comedy, don’t sing it at me. Ya dig? However, I will let Little Shop of Horrors through my musical defences. A remake of a Broadway musical which in turn was based on Roger Corman’s 1960 film, Little Shop of Horrors is an absolute blast. With its tongue firmly in cheek, it presents the story of sad old Seymour and Audrey, desperate to escape the NYC slum and end up in the possession of a strange plant that feeds on human blood. What follows is a bizarre, amusing and pleasingly camp 90 minutes with some wonderful musical song and dance routines, and some glorious cameos from Bill Murray and Steve Martin. The original 60s film wasn’t a musical at all, just a very low budget black comedy and it did work, but when presented with the 80s form with musical additions then you realise that this remake is exactly what Little Shop of Horrors needed.

Review: X-Men: Apocalypse

Rating 12A, 144 minutes

X-Men: Apocalypse is like one of those birds within a bird within a bird that you can get reasonably cheap from Iceland (and most other decent supermarkets of your choice). It’s overstuffed to the hilt, crammed together with little regard for form or presentation that it is hard really get a grip on all the new stuff while simultaneously trying to enjoy the old stuff. Bryan Singer has a habit of throwing everything, including the kitchen sink, into his films and Apocalypse is no different.

We open with some Mummy-esque Egyptian tomfoolery as poor old Oscar Isaac is plucked from the masses to be the new vessel for the ‘world’s first mutant’ Apocalypse. For reasons I will not spoil because it is actually a pretty nifty opening sequence, he ends up buried for a 1000 years or so under a heap of rubble deep beneath the city of Cairo. Cut to 1983 and the X-Men aren’t really the X-Men. Charles and Hank are still helping the weird and wonderful mutant children of the world in that ridiculous house, Mystique is hopping around Europe helping random mutants where she sees them (and we get a nice sequence in East Berlin where we are introduced to Nightcrawler (whom i love) and Angel (whom i can live without)), and Magneto is living incognito in Poland with a family. We also get a decent introduction to dear old Scott Summers who, thank god, is infinitely less annoying than his previous guise (sorry James Marsden), and Jean Grey is re-introduced as a sassy loner who the rest of the school is mildly terrified of.

In Cairo, some nosy CIA agent (hi Moira!) lets the old immortal cat out of the bag and our dear Oscar emerges from his cocoon looking like a cross between Ivan Ooze and Imhotep, and he is not a happy bunny. He spouts some hokum about false gods, the world needing to be cleansed, systems needing to be torn down and all that usual megalomaniacal stuff after putting his hand on a television. He then starts in earnest to locate his four horsemen (Storm, Angel, Psylocke, and Magneto), with each getting their own scene of transformation and change. Magneto’s thread in particular has decent emotional heft which is also aided by the fact Fassbender is an absolutely cracking actor, but some of that heft is dulled by a strangely bizarre scene in a certain famous concentration camp that left me feeling more uncomfortable than anything.

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From here X-Men: Apocalypse heads down that now familiar superhero film route of wanton destruction, bloodless deaths of millions and oodles and oodles of CGI. The whole charm of the first two X-Men films and, to an extent, First Class was the sparing use of full bloodied action sequences. They were there but they weren’t bombastic honking blares of noises and things loudly crumbling and disintegrating. They were neatly positioned and neatly executed, but in the post-Avengers/Marvel throng, it now seems that every superhero film must have these increasingly lengthy and pointless blitzes and the more I see them, the more wistful I become for the good old days.

Apocalypse himself suffers from having a very vague and underdeveloped motivation for wanting to cleanse the world. He’s basically just a power hungry, greedy bastard clown man. Isaac does well with what he gets, some of his lines are undoubtedly cheesy but he delivers them with enough gravitas to get away with it. Fassbender is the stand out of the rest of the cast, though it does help that Magneto has the most emotionally intense character arc of the lot. He and McAvoy, as always, bounce off each other with great aplomb, although there is only so many times in so many different locations i can watch Charles tell Erik that there is good in him. McAvoy himself doesn’t get that much to work with on the whole, but he delivers some nice comic touches in his scenes with Hank and Moira which makes a nice change from the intense Charles that we are so used to seeing. Jennifer Lawrence is a little bit flat here, and there is a distinct whiff of ‘contractual obligation’ in her delivery. Evan Peters as Quicksilver steals every scene he is in. His holler of ‘WE DON’T KNOW BRO!’ got one of the biggest laughs in the screening. The newbies, on the whole, hold their own. Kodi Smit-Mcphee (whose name annoys me for no discernable reason) adds a wonderful amount of levity to proceedings as Nightcrawler. As mentioned before, Cyclops is far less slappable and credit must go to Tye Sheridan for that, and Sophie Turner is pretty decent as Jean Grey even if she does spend a lot of her time gawping (judging by the ending of the film and what the producers/writers/directors have said in various interviews she is going by playing a far bigger part in the future).

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In the grand scheme of things, X-Men Apocalypse is not a bad film but it’s certainly not a great one. Tonally, it’s a mess. Pacing wise it works. Through its reasonably lengthy 144 minute run-time i never found myself bored or disinterested, and in this day and age that’s quite an achievement. The CGI is rather cartoonish when placed in comparison to Marvel’s output, however, even if it wasn’t a deliberate move by Singer et al, I found some of it rather charming. To see a superhero film actually embrace the non-realism instead of going all Nolan and gritty (hello BvS) was a refreshing change.

There is a little too much scraping over old ground in terms of character exchanges (Charles and Erik in particular have the same argument that they had in First Class and Days of Future Past – they should just get married and have it over with) and some dialogue is eye-roll inducing but on the whole Apocalypse is a pretty solid, entertaining entry into X-Men film history if a little devoid of originality.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Highlander: A Love Story

Anyone who has known me longer than five minutes will know that i have a pure and absolute love for Highlander. I’m not one of those nostalgia fiends who merely declares a like for a film in order to score some cool points (I don’t even think Highlander would score any cool points in any era of time to be honest). My love for this film transcends space and time, dimensions even. So transcendent it is that I once bid on Ebay for a replica of Connor MacLeod’s sword when I had too much time and not enough sense. Alas, I lost the bid so we will never know what a 19 year old university student would have done with a fake Scottish broadsword.

 

My Highlander journey started on a dark and chilly evening in 1995. I, a mere youthful scamp of 7 at the time, took an opportunity to sneak downstairs and turn the television on after my parent’s had retired to their bedroom for the night. Flicking through the glorious four channels (remember when we only had 4!) that were on offer, I came across a strange vision. A vision that grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and never let me go.

 

Two men, one old, one young, one clad in trainers and dad jeans, the other in swish glasses and suit, were trying to hoof the shit out of the each other in a soggy underground car park with swords. There was the echo of clanging metal, sparks flying as they clashed their weaponry off various pillars, posts and cars, backflips were performed, and there was I,eyes wide, mouth agape, drinking it all in. For the next 110 minutes I was transfixed by the strange and bizarre spectacle of sword fights, bagpipe based flashbacks, and loud excessive noise, until it ended in a blaze of shattered glass and Christopher Lambert howling like a banshee. I’ll never understand how my parents slept through the entire thing (I had the television on loud enough) but i am so thankful that they did because if they hadn’t then maybe I would have never enjoyed Highlander in the way that i did on that very cold evening in 1995.

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It’s not The Godfather Part II, I’ll give you that. It’s not ahead of its field in special effects, the script is nifty but oddly paced, the direction a little too on the wrong side of fast and furious, and the acting is over the top on many of the actors behalf, though enjoyably so, but for giving you that euphoric feeling of joy, Highlander cannot be challenged.

 

As soon as the credits begin, and Brian May strikes that heavy opening chord of Princes of The Universe, you find yourself balling your fist tightly, and then Roger Taylor’s drums kick in and everything is alright with the world. Admittedly, the credits are a ridiculously underwhelming show of red writing over a black screen, but that music, oh that sweet music, gets you so bloody pumped up that it’s hard to stifle an aggressive declaration of ‘YEAH!’ as it rolls out between your clenched teeth.

 

Queen had done soundtracks before, Flash Gordon most notably, but the music they provided for Highlander is without a doubt one of the greatest gifts to humanity itself. Their 1986 release A Kind of Magic is essentially the Highlander soundtrack, unofficially i might add, and shows Queen returning to their heavier roots (Princes of the Universe and Gimme The Prize are almost heavy metal-esque) while also batting out some bona fide hits in One Vision and A Kind of Magic. It’s not an understatement to say that A Kind of Magic is one of my favourite albums, it’s link with Highlander is probably part of that love, and I listen to it on frequent rotation which then makes me want to watch the film which then makes me want to listen to the album which makes me want to watch the film…… repeat ad infinitum.

 

If you can’t get your tiny mind mind past the fact we have a Swiss-French-American playing a Scotsman and a Scotsman playing a Spanish-Egyptian then Highlander is definitely not for you. If you enjoy spotting random British actors in early roles (Terry from Emmerdale and Celia Imrie being two familiar faces that pop up with Scottish accents) or if you want to see what Mr Krabs from Spongebob Squarepants was doing a decade before he decided to make Krabby Patties then you might actually want to give it a whirl. Lambert is perfectly not perfect as MacLeod, his attempt at a Scottish accent being more wonky than one of my old bras, yet I genuinely can’t think of anyone else playing Connor. He plays some of the more comedic scenes (the drunken duel and the underwater sword swishing) with quite a deft touch and as we get further into the flashbacks showing his life pre-New York he manages to bring something more as we start to understand the loneliness and isolation or being an immortal (the bloke is 450 years old .. THINK OF ALL THE DEATH HE HAS SEEN), and we don’t just see Connor as some powerful bloke with a sword, but an actual person struggling with the negatives of the ‘condition’ that he is. Yes, he is an immortal, but look at the human and emotional cost of that.

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Connery plays Connery in hosiery like no one else could. He also gets a fantastically cheesy fantasy film opening monologue which he reads with gleeful gusto like he knows what he is reading is hokum but he’s getting paid a big fat £2 million or so to do it. He and Lambert strike a decent chemistry as his character Ramirez gallops in on his steed and offers to train Connor in order to defeat the nasty piece of work that is the Kurgan. There were only two characters that gave me nightmares as a child, one of them was Ursula from The Little Mermaid and the other was Kurgan. With his pale skin, hollow blue eyes, jet black hair, scars across his neck and face and low, rumbling voice like a cryptkeeper gargling gravel, Kurgan (Clancy Brown or Mr Krabs or every horrible army general on television) is absolute nightmare fuel. He beheads without guilt or fear, skewers one man and lifts him off the ground, he stalks through the night intent on tracking down Connor and separating his head from his shoulders, leaving carnage in his wake. He is wonderfully awful, a foe that you genuinely believe can defeat your hero, and that is a rare thing indeed.

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Mythology wise, Highlander is the strongest film of the lot. Before they started mucking about with the extra-terrestrial angle in the subsequent and increasingly shitty sequels, the mythology was of a far purer nature. Immortals had been fighting for centuries, whittling the numbers down until there were only a handful left who were then drawn to one particular place (which so happened to be New York City) and this was called The Gathering. When an immortal kills another immortal they absorb their energies and this is called The Quickening. Immortals can only be killed by decapitation. Immortals can sense each other’s presence hence the seemingly random opening sword fight in the underground car park. Some nit-picky questions such as ‘why? are amusingly side stepped. Ramirez dismisses the entire ‘why’ question in three lines ending with ‘Who knows?’ You either embrace this mythology or you can spend your sad time trying to pull it apart. Believe me, it’s far better when you just embrace it.

 

I’ve watched Highlander three times already this year and the returns it produces are not diminishing. It remains, for me, a true high water mark of the swords and sorcery fantasy genre that gets sullied by so much lazy rubbish (by some of its own sequels nonetheless). It’s fun, unashamedly daft in parts but with real heart and soul and i reckon i could get at least another 5 or 6 watches out of it by the time the year is out.

P.S…. if you’ve never seen it, what are you doing with your life….

The Naff Nic Season: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

(95 Minutes, Rating 12A)

 

I remember a time when I had hope in my life. A time where I would feel the sun beating down on my face, a cool breeze rustle through the trees, delicately brushing against my skin, and I would feel joy and elation at a bright new day. But after wading my way through the dank swamp of Nicolas Cage’s worst films, I now feel devoid of a soul, which is now something i have in common with Johnny Blaze, the protagonist (and a bit of a wanker to be honest) of our final film in the Naff Nic Season, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.

 

Ghost Rider is not something I really had an opinion about when the first film was released back in 2007. The comics were something that had passed me by like light mist in the distance as I was too busy trawling through the various Punisher volumes and anything Ed Brubaker or Garth Ennis pumped out. The film adaptation of Ghost Rider was derided by the fans of the comics on release and mauled by critics. I, on the other hand, found it a mildly diverting couple of hours in between handfuls of cold chicken nuggets.and reheated chips. It wasn’t the best film I had ever seen nor was it certainly the worst (hello Beaches), so when I was tasked with watching the sequel for this particular challenge I was neither fearful nor elated.

 

In hindsight, I probably should have been a bit more apprehensive as thus far most of the films I have seen for this challenge can easily have dual use as items of torture or to incite riots (put Deadfall on constant loop in Durham prison and i can guarantee it will cause some ructions). But I trundled on in, like a blind man stumbling into a cheese shop, feeling for a strong cheddar only to find a rotten, leaking camembert.

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Cage returns as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, the stupid idiot who made a deal with a demon and ended up with a flaming skull of a head as some sort of benefit, but this time we find him in hiding as his Ghost Rider persona has become increasingly difficult to control. He’s offered a possible way out of his problem by some foisty monk called Moreau (Idris Elba), who promises him freedom if he is able to save a young boy called Danny from the hands of Mephistopheles, who we saw in the first film as Peter Fonda but is now inexplicably played by Ciaran Hinds even though Fonda was interested in reprising his role. As you can see the plot is so thin it borders on anorexic, rehashing the old ‘save the boy, save yourself’ trope from countless other heroic Hollywood films.

 

It’s no surprise to see that one of the writers involved in Spirit of Vengeance is David S. Goyer who, when on form can crack out a decent screenplay i.e. Dark City, The Dark Knight Rises, but somehow manages to puncture these moments of greatness with great big pins of solid shit i.e. Zig Zag, The Unborn. Spirit of Vengeance is one of his glorious fecal points. The script is weaker than my gran’s knees, messy to point of incoherence, which is easy to understand when you discover there are three (three!) screenwriters who had their paws on this screenplay, and there are some truly weak attempts at Schwarzenegger-esque humour smattered around the action sequences, that may have worked if Ahhhnold had been involved but instead are just embarrassing and at odds with the darker nature of the plot.

 

Cage’s performance is on the milder side of crazy. Not as googly as Vampire’s Kiss, not as dead behind the eyes as Left Behind, however, it feels oddly predictable. As we watch him scene to scene, you can almost see where he is going and what he is trying to do before he has even done it which is a massive shame as a big draw of watching a Cage is his sheer unpredictability. His fervent declaration post-Spirit of Vengeance that he wasn’t interested in doing any more Ghost Rider films may hint that he wasn’t having all that much fun filming the sequel. The rest of the cast are perfunctory, though it was nice to see Christopher Lambert pop up for a few minutes with a bald head and a sword (anyone involved in the first Highlander film are tops in my opinion and deserve endless cameos in all films), and Ciaran Hinds makes a fair fist of replacing Fonda, giving Mephistopheles/Roarke a more booming presence. For some reason, Idris Elba agreed to be in this, maybe to facilitate the purchase of a new Lexus or maybe to make a film that pushes The Reaping close to being the worst thing on his reasonably varied c.v, either way he does his bit, running about in a robe looking attractive.

 

For a film with a budget hovering around the 60 million dollar mark, the special effects and CGI in this film are laughable. The rendering of Ghost Rider’s skull is like something from a Playstation 2 game, and the achingly sad scenes of CGI usage in the stunts is enraging. I hope the special effects creators and technicians got a box of chocolates with ‘You tried’ written on the underside.

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I genuinely don’t think Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance seeks to be a good film in the true sense of the word. For me, it seems to aim to fill that ‘entertaining trash’ tick box but unfortunately it only succeeds in being shockingly shite (in the true sense of the word). If you thought the first Ghost Rider was an affront to the comics then you really should not see the second one. While the first film had its moments with some nice spiky exchanges, especially between Cage and Eva Mendes’ characters, and some decent action set pieces, the sequel is hollow, devoid of fun and bogged down by its hackneyed attempts at exposition. Nobody is having fun here, the audience included.

 

IMDB Rating: 4.3

My Rating ★✩✩✩✩

The Costner Change Around

Because I don’t have that much going on with my life, I have recently discovered, much to my confusion, that I quite like most of Kevin Costner’s films. This would not have been a cool thing to admit 10 or so years ago where he was mainly a mocked man; that bloke that everyone pointed at and mumbled ‘he did Waterworld ya know.’ Most of the talk around Costner was about his various flops (The Postman, 3000 Miles To Graceland, Dragonfly) and his main claim to fame in the UK was playing Robin Hood with a pretty naff accent. He became a byword for mawkish sentimentality and box office losses even though this is the same man whose c.v. included The Untouchables and JFK.

 

In the past few years, Costner seems to have had a small resurgence, whether it be by taking small but effective roles (Man of Steel) or slipping in television and being ridiculously good (Hatfield & McCoys). Either way, it’s a good thing to see, even if he is still puncturing his good work with dirge on occasion (3 Days To Kill was an abomination). I could sit here and tell you all to go and watch JFK or Bull Durham to remind yourself or to understand that Costner is actually a fucking good actor, but I wouldn’t insult your intelligence as such because you should have watched those already (you really should). Instead, I give you a handful of lesser known cuts from Costner’s c.v. that deserve to be seen more.

 

  1. Thirteen Days

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Okay, okay, okay…. This films takes a hell of a lot of dramatic license with many things, in particular the size of the role that Costner’s character, Kenneth O’Donnell, had within the whole Cuban Missile Crisis itself, however Thirteen Days is a really solid political drama. Bruce Greenwood (who really should be President now he has played two US Presidents in his varied film career – which is more practice than most nominees get) is JFK who, after seeing surveillance showing the Soviets placing nuclear weapons in Cuba has to make a plan of action that won’t end in an all out nuclear war. It’s a film with very few action sequences (Pearl Harbour this is not and thank bugger it isn’t) and a whole lot of scenes of men talking with furrowed brows in various nicely furnished rooms. But this low key approach is extremely effective. Costner, however much a lie the size of his character’s role in the crisis was, imbues O’Donnell with a sense of control, the calm in the eye of the storm, and becomes the relatable locus for us gather around.

 

  1. The Company Men

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Before The Big Short blustered its way into cinemas, The Company Men, along with Margin Call, was probably the best film out there tackling the thorny issue of the 2008 financial crisis. While Margin Call took the more technical, real time approach, The Company Men took a more human route, focussing on the life altering effects of the collapsing institutions and downsizing. Costner plays the blue-collar, straight talking drywaller who takes his brother-in-law (Ben Affleck) in for work after Affleck’s white collar, corporate stooge is let go from his job. Five years ago, the combination of Affleck and Costner would have made me sellotape my eyes closed and place a bin on my head but alas time has passed and tastes have changed. Costner is wonderful in The Company Men, anchoring his and Affleck’s portion of the story with his typical understated gravitas. His role isn’t a big one, most of the heavy hitting is done by Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, but The Company Men was one of the more intriguing stepping stones in Costner’s journey in leaving his insipid late 90s film career behind.

 

  1. No Way Out

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No Way Out is a proper taut and tense homage to those twisty political thrillers of the 40s and 50s. It’s far more well regarded in the USA than it is here in the UK and gave Costner his big Hollywood break a few years after The Big Chill was meant to do the same before his scenes were left on the cutting room floor. Costner plays a naive Navy Intelligence officer brought into help the delightfully bolshy and desperate Gene Hackman to cover up a murder of a young woman that both of them happened to be sleeping with. It’s easy to see why this broke Costner into the big time, he pretty much carries this film on his shoulders with consummate ease, that youthful faced freshness of his comes good making you see how truly out of depth his character is. As the manipulations and plot turns pile up, No Way Out turns into a guessing game of who is playing who and then the twist at the end turns absolutely everything on its head. It’s refreshing to find a thriller that is over 25 years old and that still makes you go ‘oh shit’ at the end. See. It.

 

  1. A Perfect World

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A convict with a heart story… yaaay. But before you snort derisively and pooh pooh with vigour, I’m going to put it out there that this is one of my favourite Clint Eastwood films along with Unforgiven and Absolute Power. The story is a deceptively simple one. Costner plays an escaped convict Butch who takes a young boy as a hostage as he tries to flee the state. Eastwood is the Texas Ranger who has a past with Butch and, after learning of his escape, is determined to set things right. When I write this plot down it sounds absolutely ridiculous and mawkish to the hilt but Eastwood (who also directs) handles the material with such respect and care it’s so bloody difficult to not get drawn in and i’m not afraid to admit that I nearly cried at the conclusion. This is also one of Costner’s best performances in my very humble opinion, his Butch is a subtle and nuanced piece of acting, there is no massive grandstanding or lengthy monologuing; there is just great scene after great scene.

 

  1. Mr Brooks

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When you read the synopsis of this film and see that Costner is playing a serial killer you immediately think that you have another The Postman-esque flop on your hands. Costner is too All-American, blonde hair and twinkly blue eyed to pull off such a grotesque human being. However, the reasons as to why it shouldn’t work are the exacts reasons why it does. Costner subverts our expectations of him as an actor, and the type of character we usually see him portraying. We expect him to be a hard-working Joe with a nice family and a nice white picket fence around his house, and technically speaking that is what we get but with a seriously big difference. Costner is Earl Brooks, a massively successful, well liked businessman who has a secret life as the ‘Thumbprint Killer’. For the past two years, he has managed to keep his murderous urges at bay by attending twelve step addiction meetings under the guise of being a substance abuser, but his urges are becoming more intense as his id (played with relish by William Hurt) becomes more and more insistent that they take a victim. I can’t emphasis enough how much of a grim delight it is to see Costner take a massive step away from his comfort zone and play a frighteningly homicidal yet seemingly normal man. Yes, Hurt does have the more intensely manic role as the id, but Costner is the one doing the killing and you can see how much Earl enjoys it no matter how hard he has been trying to quell his urges. There are some silly little plot turns which threaten to veer Mr Brooks off in hokey territory, however, the presence that Costner and Hurt bring to the proceedings keeps the film on an even footing. Rumours of a sequel were floating around a few years back but have seemed to have fizzled into nothing, which is a massive shame as Brooks is a character i would have happily watched more of. So make the most of this one, and if you haven’t already seen it then get your life sorted out.

The Naff Nic Season: Deadfall (1993)

Rating 18, 98 Minutes

 

You look at the cast list (Nicolas Cage, James Coburn, Peter Fonda, Michael Biehn), you look at the director (Christopher Coppola, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola) and you think that maybe this film will make a reasonably strong attempt at being more than decent. But no, Deadfall manages to be an atrocious mess of a film on every single conceivable level.

 

Joe (Biehn) is part of a family of con artists and after a sting gone wrong in which he kills his own father (Coburn), he vows to carry out his dad’s dying wish; to steal back some valuables from his uncle Lou (also played by Coburn for god’s sake). Lou turns out to be a trickster himself and Joe finds himself drawn into his uncle’s schemes before becoming completely out of his depth.

 

So far, so meh.

 

I’m going to be bold here and say Francis Ford Coppola’s ability to write a cracking screenplay didn’t quite flow down the family tree to his nephew Christopher. Francis has seemingly hoarded that particular genetic disposition for himself and his own branch. Deadfall’s internal logic is horribly flawed. For a film about a bunch of con artists everyone is absolutely dense as concrete, Joe in particular seems to be utterly oblivious to the fact that he might be getting played by his dodgy old uncle. Although he is sidetracked in rather spectacular fashion by Cage’s Eddie, a bizarrely tanned, moustached coke fiend with an accent so bizarre it sounds like Cage is practicing LOUD Spanish while gargling mouthwash.

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Cage steals this film. Of that there is no doubt. His performance in this film is pure Cage madness. There is top notch yelling of complete nonsense, ‘WELL, VIVE LA FUCKING FRANCE, MAN! ‘ some hardcore cocaine sniffing, an appalling wig which apparently Cage picked out himself, a very Ronseal-esque skin tone which only highlights the shoddy nature of his hairpiece, and some strange line delivery. I’m not quite sure what exactly Cage was going for here. Sometimes OTT works, see Pacino in Scarface for example, but Cage’s histrionics are so out of place in Deadfall it knocks the film on its head, almost drowning the film in a pool of Cage based insanity, although this probably would have been the preferable outcome instead of the hackneyed lump of dump we were left with.

 

Coburn runs him as close as is humanly possible, showing up towards the end as dastardly uncle Lou, with a shocking dye job that is enough to make you despair that such a quality actor has been reduced to camping around in this cesspit. Poor old Michael Biehn is rendered a mere spectator. He tries his best to keep things grounded and a bit more gritty than the parading peacocks of Cage and Coburn, but is completely overshadowed by the scenery-chewing villains. The audience’s heads are turned away from Joe’s plot and journey, and left with a bad case of whiplash as Cage steams into the film, roaring away about 15/20 minutes in. You end up not giving a royal shite about Joe, you just want to spend the next 40 minutes or so trying to work out what the hell Cage is saying. And then when he’s gone the film slides in stale, cliche ridden banality.

 

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Deadfall does not reach the depressing depths of badness like Left Behind did. At least in here we find Cage invigorated and energised, instead of seemingly resigned to his fate of shit films and death like he was in Left Behind. For that reason, it rates higher in my estimation by the width of a pubic hair. But Deadfall is NOT a good film. The Cage-less scenes are intensely boring, the director’s attempts at creating intense scenes through dark lighting and use of shadows just make you squint and wonder why everything is brown (probably because shit is brown which this film is (maybe that’s the deeper meaning we’ve all been looking for)), the counter intuitive actions of its protagonist are just embarrassing and the final showdown couldn’t have been more of a damp squib if you had drowned it in a bath.

 

Thanks to this godforsaken website and my own raging stupidity, I have seen this film twice now. Two times too many if you ask me. I thought maybe second viewing would have allowed to see things to this film that I hadn’t seen the first time round, maybe some shafts of light showing through this blackened turd of a film. Alas not.

 

Deadfall is a true exercise in Hollywood nepotism. Christopher Coppola’s family connections is probably the only reason he was given the money and time to make this utter parcel of shite. Unsurprisingly, it flopped at the box office, bringing in a paltry $18,000 compared to its budget of $10million. According to my research for this Naff Nic Challenge, it is rated higher than The Wicker Man which is the biggest lie since halitosis. At least in The Wicker Man, Cage’s weirdness meshed in with the general angle of the film and provided some comedy gold for years to come (those memes don’t just make themselves). Deadfall is cinematic ebola. Avoid at all costs.

 

IMDB Rating: 3.7

My Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ ( i wish there was a poo symbol)