Saturday, April 3, 2021

Movie Review: A Good 'B' Movie - The Cave

While I am not usually a horror fan, something about The Cave piqued my interest. “
In the 13th-century Carpathian Mountains of Romania, an Eastern Orthodox abbey and its inhabitants are destroyed by a landslide. Centuries later, a group of modern-day Soviet and British plunderers search for the long-lost abbey during the Cold War era. They discover the abbey is built above a vast cave system, but it is completely blocked off by an intricate floor mosaic. Trying to blast their way in, they cause a landslide that buries the abbey, trapping the men in the cavern below. They descend further into the cave in hopes of finding a way out, even as they hear strange sounds in the darkness. Some time later, present day, a new team, led by Dr. Nicolai, with his associate Dr. Kathryn Jennings and cameraman Alex Kim explore the site, and the mythology behind the winged demons depicted in the mosaic on the abbey's floor. Local biologists believe the cave could contain an undiscovered ecosystem, so they hire a group of American spelunkers led by brothers Jack and Tyler McAllister – thrill-seeking professional cave explorers who run a world-famous team of divers.” (Wikipedia)

 Yes, this has all been done before but somehow this version brought a little freshness to a tired trope. Of course the Knights Templar are involved and they’re always good for an ancient mystery. Again, of course, the looters failed to grasp the significance of the mosaic, with images of skeletal winged demons with oddly human faces and very, very long teeth, and the reason the monks had sealed off the cave in the first place. The cast is also good, albeit since this was made in 2005, some had not achieved their fame of today: Lena Headey, Eddie Cibrian, and Morris Chestnut star. The pace is slow in parts which would be logical as they investigate this new ecosystem. However, the science part of this science fiction/horror flick does work in that there are ecosystems where creatures flourish in almost total darkness underwater.

Where the plot got lost is in having too many back and forth forays into various tunnels (above and under water) with people being attacked by the fearsome creatures. But that aside, the special effects are great, and the pace speeds up as the last remaining survivors have to get out. One of the crew members bitten by a creature starts to exhibit signs of turning, which adds to the rising suspense and tension. Schlocky it might be, but you will be sitting on the edge of your seat. The director saved the best for last in that when two of the remaining three survivors meet up, it becomes apparent that the parasite wishes to escape. A fantastic ending.

What a pity there has never been a sequel, but this was because (I surmise) it was considered a flop. The movie did not do well, garnering negative reviews and not making much over the original budget. But the photography is really brilliant and although critics slammed the lack of character development, this is an action horror movie. Does one really worry about character development if the cast is being chased by monsters bent on killing them? The movie worked for me. 4/5


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Movie review: Don't miss News of The World

I think I am right when I say News of the World is one of the best movies I have seen in a very, very long time. The story is deceptively simple: a task that must be performed but one that turns into a dangerous mission. “
In 1870, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, a former member of the Confederate Army who served in the 3rd Texas Infantry, makes a living traveling town to town reading newspapers for the populace for ten cents per person. Following an evening of news reading, setting out for his next location, Kidd finds an overturned wagon on the road. Investigating, he finds the body of a Black soldier and a young White girl named Johanna, dressed in Native American clothing. After an encounter with a Union Army patrol, Kidd is instructed to take the girl to Union officials at a checkpoint in a town up the road where they will sort out her Bureau of Indian Affairs paperwork and return her to her surviving family. Reluctantly, Kidd acquiesces to the request.” (Wikipedia)

Difficulties include delays in the bureaucratic red tape, with young Johanna (who speaks no English) refusing to accept being returned to her remaining family, instead yearning for the Native American family that took her in. Kidd and Johanna (movingly performed by Helena Zengel) are tracked by men who want to traffic the startlingly beautiful golden-haired, blue-eyed child, ending in a fight to the death. They meet the self-styled leader of a radical band of militia and have to talk and then fight their way out of a perilous situation. Life was hard and dangerous for anyone on the road.

If you think this is just Tom Hanks playing Sully meets The Magnificent Seven, think again. Yes, Hanks is a consummate and appealing actor, and he brings the right amount of gravitas and authenticity to the role, but it is more than that. He becomes Kidd so that while watching, you don’t see Hanks; you see Kidd. The relationship develops between two lost, lonely, and broken people. Kidd has his own personal story as Johanna has hers. Director Paul Greengrass surprises with a slow-moving but not ponderous, beautifully filmed, socially relevant (without ramming wokery down your throat) story. You will cry when Joanna cries for her adopted people, moving inexorably away across the river, disappearing into the mists. I wanted to know more about their plight. Of course, the film touches only briefly on many issues of the time, including the treatment of the Native American people uprooted by the invaders; the tensions of post-Civil War that still simmered and festered; and the surprising discovery that news travelled slowly and had to be sent through laborious means.

The acting is superb. I was pleased to see Mare Winningham make a cameo appearance. I first saw Hanks and Winningham play together in Turner and Hooch. Every single character, small or large, important or seemingly irrelevant, plays a vital role. The audiences gathered in the town’s biggest hall, cheering at good news and gasping at bad news, personified the era perfectly. The photography was stunning, taking the viewer right into the scenes. The pace was just right for every scene. Yes, I think this is the best movie I have ever seen, and I am sorry it did not smash the box office like some of the utter tripe that passes for entertainment now. A beautiful film about important issues. Don’t miss it. Very highly recommended!

Friday, March 19, 2021

Series review: Why You Should Watch Harrow

, starring Ioan Gruffudd is a definite must-watch. The premise: “Harrow tells the story of Dr. Daniel Harrow, a forensic pathologist with a total disregard for authority. He has an unfailing empathy for the dead which helps him solve even the most bizarre of cases. Willing to bend every rule, he is determined to give victims a voice and reveal the truth behind what happened to them. Meanwhile, a terrible secret from his past threatens him, his family, and his career.” (Wikipedia). However, the charm and appeal of this series lies not in the main character Harrow, but in the solid story setting, Australia, and its really great cast. Interestingly, I don’t really care for Gruffudd because I find him rather louche in his portrayals – perhaps just a case of always being cast as the handsome, lightweight, and vaguely suspect leading man? While it is all about him and his secrets, the past that rears its ugly head at inopportune moments, the main stories never get shunted to the background. Harrow and his team are always on a case, which they solve.

For me, the delight in this series comes in the form of two unlikely heroes: both middle-aged, slightly overweight, successful but insecure. Darren Gilshenan, whom I have never seen before, plays Dr. Lyle Fairley, a pathologist, a rule follower, and positive stickler when it comes to the nitty-gritty. He absolutely shines in his idiosyncrasies; an all-consuming love for everything Asian, which includes imbibing odd-smelling herbal brews and boasting an encyclopedic knowledge of Asian history and artifacts. He is absolutely hilarious and very watchable, maybe even a scene stealer… Hero #2 is Damien Garvey as Bryan Nichols, Detective Senior Sergeant at Queensland Police's Criminal Investigation Branch. He is also a real pleasure to watch. The archetypal straight arrow, also a stickler for the rules, life and people sometimes disappoint him. One of the best scenarios is when Harrow, Fairley, and Garvey go camping on a mano a mano camping trip that turns deadly.

Australia is a character all on its own and it shows in the way this is filmed. The Aussies are down to earth, straight-talking, and call a spade a spade. I know because I have literally hundreds of ‘rellies’ there. While watching, you truly believe that the characters are real people. It is so refreshing to see. The scripts are excellent and the dialogue is very natural. The location is Brisbane and surrounds, but there are a few episodes shot in the Outback. Don’t miss this one. I am hooked.