Home Blog

Drive Hard (2014) movie review


Compared to most direct to DVD films, Drive Hard proves to be quite entertaining. Overall it’s a quieter character piece with brief spurts of action. It’s all set off by a bank robbery, as John Cusack’s Simon Keller latches onto former racing driver turned driving instructor Peter Roberts (Thomas Jane). His goal is to try and make Jane see where he has gone wrong in his life, and to perhaps push him away from the safe, boring existence he has manage to place himself into.

Their relationship develops from antagonism to a level of grudging respect as they run from the police and the mobsters that are chasing them. The mismatched buddy formula is used to middling effect.

And, somehow, it proves to be quite funny. Not laugh out loud, but enough to cause a brief chuckle here and there. That was much more than I expected from it going in. Usually with direct to DVD films there’s an expectation that it will be universally dire. It’s a good job that the gags were there, otherwise I would have literally nothing good to say about the production.

Thomas Jane and John Cusack are, generally, good value for money in whatever role you give them. In Drive Hard it is no different. Jane’s clearly having fun, even if he feels miscast as the whiny, self-obsessed Peter.

This is one of those strange situations where we’re supposed to empathise with his character. To feel sorry for the fact his wife isn’t sleeping with him; that the future of their relationship hinges on how he feels about her earning more money than him. That he’s soon complicit in Keller’s plan doesn’t sit well. If there was a genuine reason to dislike Peter’s wife, like her having an affair or something, it would have made sense. As it is, she’s a perfectly pleasant woman and any issues they have are seemingly all in Peter’s head.

Put it down to the target demographics. It’s not an excuse for it by any stretch – more a lack of understanding about what makes for a good story. And good characters. And good action sequences. Those are most definitely lacking. To use a driving analogy, it’s like it’s all stuck in second gear and they’re thrashing the engine trying to get more speed out of it. And, crucially, not understanding that they can change gear.

And why does Keller get involved in this? Darned if I know. This is where the script falls on its face. Character motivations are foggy at best. Plus there doesn’t seem to be any genuine point to what’s happening. The closest we get to anything passing for genuine motivation is the gas station guy who, intent on defending his patch, accidentally shoots himself in the face.

Cusack meanwhile is playing to form and doesn’t stretch beyond his usual style. Laconic and hammy he might be, but it does work to the movie’s benefit. It’s not a performance that will go down in the history books as one of his defining moments. But then his delivery emphasises just how much this is supposed to be a lighthearted romp.

So it’s nothing spectacular by any stretch, and the misogynistic background to every female interaction is cringeworthy. But the banter between Jane and Cusack is more than sufficient in isolation. Drive Hard works, but it’s not as engaging as it could have been.

See more about the movie here:
Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/drive-hard/
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2968804/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018) movie review


Deep Blue Sea 2 is not a sequel to Deep Blue Sea. It is in fact a remake. A low budget, low effort, low quality remake. It’s almost identical minus the budget, the plot, the parrot and the actors. Don’t let that number two in the title fool you. It’s a mere ploy. It’s like comparing Fright Night (2011) with Fright Night 2 (2014). As in, they are the same film, just slightly different.

So, the plot is near enough the same as the one we got in 1999. Some intelligent sharks rampage through an underwater facility, killing the pesky humans that get in their way. It doesn’t help that the epic facility in the middle of the ocean looks, from the surface, like a shed has been dropped onto it. Why are these people in the middle of the ocean with genetically modified sharks anyway? Because a guy called Durant wants to use said genetically modified sharks to prevent an Artificial Intelligence-led apocalypse. Right, okay then…

It doesn’t help that Durant is on drugs. No wonder he’s worried about an AI apocalypse, he’s probably spending most of his waking hours off his face on whatever cocktail he’s pumping into his body. It does give us moments where he has a Rain Man/A Beautiful Mind flash, with formulae et al appearing on the screen. Honestly, they were some of the least annoying parts.

There are efforts to riff on popular moments from the original film. This breaks up the monotony elsewhere. Most of the run time is as padded as the lead actress’s brassiere. Who, it has to be said, exists solely to be angry at other people and run around in tops that are a size too small. Those same tops are also unzipped or unbuttoned to almost comical depths.

Then there is Trent, a cut price Thomas Jayne replacement. The character leaves almost no mark and now, a few days after watching it, he has left no impression on me whatsoever. What I can recall is that he is another key component in the angry acting school that the producers of this movie were apparently casting for.

Events take an unexpected turn for the hilarious when the baby sharks arrive. No doubt inspired by a need to save on the CGI budget, they appear as threatening as a stern look from an elderly librarian. Those baby sharks attack the cast in corridors that all look the same, but have different coloured lighting. See, it can’t be the same set used repeatedly! Look, this one is yellow! And this corridor is blue! Trust us, they are totally different locations!

The positives, as brief as they are, include the pre-credits sequence (quite nicely shot), and the bait-switch (pun intended) that hearkens back to Samuel L Jackson’s ill-fated role in Deep Blue Sea. And that really is it. There is literally nothing else I can recommend besides maybe switching the film off.

Save yourself the time and effort. If you have a choice between watching Deep Blue Sea 1 and 2, or just watching Deep Blue Sea twice, do the latter. You will be missing out on literally nothing.

(Rec) (2007) movie review


I say it time and time again. Finding a new angle to take on the zombie genre is always a positive thing. Finding that new angle and providing an engaging narrative at the same time is even better. That (REC) succeeds despite being a first person, “found footage” piece is to its credit. I’m not much of a fan of that genre, but here it didn’t annoy me in the slightest. In fact, it’s a very clever piece of cinema.

(REC) opens with news reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) preparing a piece to camera about the local fire station. It’s not very interesting stuff and intended for broadcast in the middle of the night. Clearly, there is room for her career to expand from here.

Then, some action. After a callout to a block of flats where a resident is apparently trapped in her home, the building is sealed off by the authorities. The reason? A zombie-like threat that could mean the death of all inside.

The found footage approach does work well in this context. Rather than apply a film-like filter the footage is presented everything is presented in its raw, unprocessed look. It’s the same appearance as if you were using your phone or camcorder. A minor point, but a clever one.

Then there are the more obvious moments of tension and surprise, built up steadily over the course of the short run time. We as the audience are as trapped as those are inside the building, watching everything through the camera. An almost thankless task from Pablo Rosso’s ingeniously named cameraman, Pablo.

We can’t see what’s happening behind it, relying on the person holding it to see what’s happening. When you’re faced with a building of rampaging zombie-like infected, it’s a perfect opportunity to shock and surprise everyone involved – including the actors.

In some cases the cast were, apparently, unaware of some of the jump scares that were coming. Intended to create a more genuine reaction to the peril, it works. Aside from the zombie infection thing (because zombies aren’t real, right folks?), there is a sense that this could be something that actually happened. Featuring actors who are, at the very least, not that well known outside of Spain is a positive factor.

(REC) doesn’t do much to support the advance of gender politics in cinema. Angela may very well be the main character, but she spends most of her time screaming and not helping the situation. Admittedly she does start to come into her own as events progress, but she remains a resolutely scared young woman throughout. Understandable perhaps, but it’s hardly progressive.

With that said, (REC) does copy the plot of most zombie films, where most of the people there are hysterical. The only significant departure is that it inverts the formula. Rather than the dead being piled up outside trying to get in, they’re already inside. And er, probably not actually dead.

Still, it gets away with a lot despite its meagre budget and zombie plot cliches. The sound design is excellent, enhancing the sense of dread that anyone in their right mind would feel if placed in the same situation.

Where it succeeds in breaking away from the pack is in its gore and its element of surprise. Characters are bumped off in unexpected ways and there are effective jump scares littered throughout. It might not cover too much new ground, but it packs a punch regardless.

Find out more about the movie here:
Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/rec/
IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt1038988/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1

Maniac Cop (1988) review


Generic "cop in a fistfight with a psycho killer" pose Number 6.
Generic “cop in a fistfight with a psycho killer” pose Number 6.

I love 1980s cinema. It was the perfect storm of special effects and the feeling that anything was possible in film. And, of course, it gave us the low budget, schlocky delights of films like Maniac Cop. A cheesy plot compliments an equally cheesy soundtrack. And it’s AWESOME.

What’s not to like about a killer cop who has a MASSIVE chin? No, really – he does have a massive chin. But who is he? And why is he intent on killing people left, right and centre? You will find out soon enough.

But not by me – you should go and watch it for yourself. This is a spoiler free zone, remember?

On the subject of big chins, there’s a lot of bait and switch thinking from the start. One of the potential suspects – okay, the only other suspect – is Mr Chin himself, Bruce Campbell. Bruce is always a welcome addition to any project – as is Sam Raimi, who shows up in a cameo as a news reporter.

It goes without saying for the film as a whole that it’s standard slasher killer fare. A cop, Frank Macrae (Tom Atkins) is on the maniac’s trail. Meanwhile Jack (Bruce Campbell) and Theresa (Laurene Landon), try to clear his name following the murder of his wife. In doing so, they hope to reveal the true identity of the killer cop.

"What do you mean his chin's bigger than mine?"
“What do you mean his chin’s bigger than mine?”

An interesting twist is that the main character is a cop cheating on his wife. And, just as interesting, that we are supposed to empathise with him. That comes easy because it’s Bruce Campbell. It’s different and somewhat refreshing for the genre. More so because there are no hormonal teenagers in sight.

Maniac Cop represents some of the best you would expect from a 1980s horror movie. There is a mysterious killer, an enjoyable soundtrack, great performances and an enjoyably cheesy tone. It also follows the perfect 80s formula of being a story you can tell in half the time. And yet it only runs for 85 minutes. Even so, it does start to flag in the final quarter as the deaths slow down and the pace along with it.

And the script doesn’t always offer a decent explanation for what’s going on. You can go one of two ways. Leave it a mystery or try and explain what made this person who they are, why they kill and so on. Maniac Cop tries to do this but falls short when providing its revelations. It’s like all the worst parts of the Friday The 13th, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises combined to form this big bad.

This is a minor complaint though. For the most part Maniac Cop an enjoyable romp that doesn’t need to be taken seriously. Embrace the cheesy, over the top nature of it and you’ll have a blast.

Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies (2016) review


What caused the outbreak: fake snow machine
Obligatory disembowelment scene? Yes
Zombie rules: Zombies react to music. Destroying the brain doesn’t kill them. Removing the head does.
Fast or Slow Zombies?: Slow
Running Time: 78 minutes

A plan to combat the effects of global warming by creating fake snow leads to a zombie outbreak. It doesn’t help that the creator of the fake snow machine has used a suspicious neon green substance to do it. This is not going to end well.

The slopes were particularly vicious this season.
The slopes were particularly vicious this season.

Meanwhile, a crew of extreme sports enthusiasts are on the piste. But they’re not merely travelling downhill at speed. No, they are making a fancy snowboarding video. Of course, the real plot is the burgeoning romance between Branka and Steve. Because a zombie outbreak is always the way to a woman’s heart.

Despite its low budget Lederhosen Zombies looks the part. Every scene has a high contrast, colourful palette. It’s a throwback to 80s horror films in almost every respect. From the slight tone of whimsy to the gloriously synth-heavy soundtrack. I’m uncertain, but many of the tracks seem like direct lifts from something like The Thing or the 1985 Day of the Dead.

That high contrast approach gives everything that extra hint of the 1980s. There’s no such thing as a dull colour palette here when you can use the giallo method. Reds, yellows, greens and purple gels abound in the lighting.

Bordering on the ridiculous, the ballroom dance sequence was for me the film’s low point. Nobody in their right mind would consider dancing while surrounded by zombies. Never mind that the undead are distracted by the music, it’s still a problematic scene. If Branka and Steve were drunk at the time then you could let this one slip. But they’re not drunk, and they show flawed decision making. So… typical zombie movie territory then.

Case in point.
Case in point.

With that said, it is very well presented. Much like the script too, which is amusing but never quite hits the same marks as, say Shaun of the Dead. As for gore, this is very much in Braindead territory. They throw impressive gore effects into the mix with reckless abandon.

Lederhosen Zombies tries to be too many things at once. Is it a dark, serious zombie horror? An outright comedy, knowingly steeped in zombie lore? Or is it a balanced combination of these things? Well, no. It’s never all that sure of itself and some jokes do fall flat. Plus, the romance angle doesn’t do either of the characters any favours. Meanwhile its self-referential approach to the zombie genre is nothing new. This is quietly dropped after a couple of brief references, which is a shame.

The mixture of tones and influences doesn’t do the finished product many favours. It would have been better to either focus on one tone throughout, or emulate Shaun of the Dead. How? By blending the comedy elements with horror. Shaun worked because the characters were believable and either lovable or loathsome. Lederhosen Zombies never reaches that pinnacle. But the good news is that the gore and cinematography more than justify a viewing.

What I’m Reading This Week – 10 March 2017 Edition

I’ve recently changed my commute routine for the day job. Before, I used to drive 35-40 minutes into work, park up nearby and repeat the routine coming home. I’m making a bit of an effort at the moment to save money here and there for a mortgage – you know, proper grown up stuff. As part of that I realised I could spend less money by driving to the nearest train station that has free parking and then catch the train in from there. The good news is that yes, it is indeed saving me money. I only pay for the trips that I have to make. Before, I had a monthly parking pass which I would be charged for whether I used it or not.

Anyway, to explain the train thing. It means that now I have opportunity to read some books, watch some TV shows, even do some writing when I’m on the train. It’s an extra hour or so per day that I have for it, and I’m making the most of the time I’ve gained back. So far this year I’ve finished off 15 books, 6 or 7 ahead of my target for the year. I’m quite pleased with myself – if only because I have more than 500 books on the “to read” pile, which never seems to shrink. If anything, the more I’m reading the worse it gets. In a good way, of course.

There, that’s the boring bit of context out of the way. Now onto the fun stuff.

So then, what have I been reading this week? I’ve been switching between physical books and my Kindle subject to where I’m reading. As much as I’d like to lug around a big hardback novel on my commute, it’s much more convenient sticking with the Kindle. Physical books I tend to read when I’m at home.

The Player of Games by Iain M Banks

I’ve recently started reading the Culture series of novels by Iain M Banks. Consider Phlebas was a solid space opera opener, even if the plot felt like it was a case of watching the main character Horza make one bad decision after another. In any case there was enough there for me to enjoy without picking too much of it apart. The characters were interesting and the world itself feels like a living, breathing thing in itself. Good enough to justify continuing with the series in any case. Thus, I made a special trip to Waterstones to pick up the second in the series, The Player of Games.

At the time of writing this I’m about 40 pages in. The story focuses on a character called Gurgeh who is very, very good at playing games. This in itself isn’t usually enough to draw me in, but it’s book 2 in the series and Banks has drawn me in with the way he describes the world and the character’s thoughts. I’ll provide my final review of this as soon as I finish it. Most likely in time for next week’s update, if I follow my usual routine!

Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood by Oliver Bowden

You know, I read the first Assassin’s Creed novel in probably 2010 or 2011. Since then I’ve bought the next three books in the series but hadn’t read any of them until now. I vaguely recall enjoying the first book, obviously enough to justify buying more books in the series. I should also point out that I’m a big fan of the video games. The story’s aren’t great, but I love the gameplay and the things you can do within that open world.

Unfortunately my feelings don’t stretch to the books. I’ve finished nearly half the book inside a couple of days and, bearing in mind it’s a novelisation of perhaps my favourite game in the series to date, it’s a horribly clunky affair. Aspects of gameplay such as developing the guilds and freeing parts of Rome from Borgia control are thrown into the narrative with reckless abandon, adding little to the core narrative. The dialogue is stilted and uninspiring, and both action and stealth sequences lack the necessary impact. It’s a shame, because there’s a lot to like about the world the series is set in.

There is one good thing about it – the novels ditch the modern day story completely. Thus, there are no cutaways to Desmond in the 21st century. This is purely about Ezio and his quest to defeat the Borgia menace. Otherwise, I’m not impressed thus far.

Reading far and wide has an effect on my own writing. It helps me to see where I could be going wrong, where I could make changes for the better, and so on. It can, in some very rare instances, show me where I’m doing things right as well. It’s interesting to see what other authors put out there, and to learn from them however I can. Not only that, but it’s also a brief respite from the real world. It certainly does the job, even when the book in question is mediocre.

Oh yeah, I also finished the first draft of my second novel this week. I’ll hit you with details on that shortly.