31 Days of Halloween Hysteria – “Jason X”

Sci-Fi terror, Canuck-style...
Sci-Fi terror, Canuck-style…

Directed by the late Jim Isaac, 2001’s  “Jason X” is a widely reviled entry in the ongoing canon of Voorhees-centric slasher movies.  And I re-watched it, so that you don’t have to.

Actually, that’s unfair – I do have a soft spot for flicks which blend sci-fi and horror and “Jason X” performs that task unquestionably.  Whether it constitutes a decent horror movie is another issue, as one element that you might reasonably expect from an entry in the “Friday the 13th” saga is for the odd jump scare or suspenseful stalk-and-slash sequence to scare the wiggins out of you.  And, regrettably, your correspondent must inform you that this is the least scary horror movie that I’ve watched in quite some years.

Perhaps that has something to do with the future setting – there’s something about the unholy mash-up of sci-fi vehicles, habitats and technology depicted which robs the film of genuine scares.  As many of the cast are wholly disposable military grunts in the vein of “Aliens” or “Halo”, there’s very little sense of danger, as we know that no amount of heavy weaponry will put a dent in Camp Crystal Lake’s most horrific native.  And we also know that Jason’s modus operandi is to despatch the cast one by one until a final girl (or boy) is left alive to lure Jason to his climactic doom.

That final girl, this time around, is also a first girl – the film begins with scientist Rowan (Lexa Doig) whose attempt to put Jason into cryogenic deep freeze is rudely undone by a military/scientific team led by a cameoing David Cronenberg, who wishes to experiment on Jason to see what makes him tick.  With an inevitability that sustains this evergreen horror franchise, Rowan manages to trap Jason in cryo at the expense of her own life as she’s put on ice with the machete-wielding maniac.

Jump forward to the year 2455.  Earth is toast and science students are on a field trip to the decaying husk.  They salvage the cryo tank and the on-ice due of Rowan and Jason.  As in any B-movie of note, a decision is made to study the pair, which leads to another go-round of hide-and-go-kill, only this time in space.

At a refreshingly brisk 92 minutes, “Jason X” delivers the goods in terms of body count – 21 actual people, one virtual reality alien, two VR campers, the assorted crew and personnel of a space station – whilst cleverly side-stepping the idea of continuity by being set far in the future.

In terms of performances, Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder (at the time, both actresses were cast in the syndicated “Andromeda” tv sci-fi series) make the biggest mark, with Ryder’s turn as cyborg Kay-Em 14 being particularly charming.  It’s the latter character who – for a little while, at least – gets to put the wrassling-style smack-down on Mr Voorhees once she’s upgraded by her maker/lover Tsunaron.

Ultimately, the issue with “Jason X” is that whilst it diverts and entertains for the majority of it’s running time, it never really surprises, with the conventional beats being hit on cue and the outcome never really being in doubt.  Of course, at this point, a viewer of the “Friday the 13th” series knows essentially what they’re getting and it would be an unwise film-maker who tries to subvert the expectations of the horror hardcore.

The biggest issue is the total lack of scares in the film.  There’s gore galore and the usual stalk-and-slash mechanics are well in evidence, but the film doesn’t really want to make you jump out of your seat.  There’s no sense of dread here – it’s almost a film that you could watch with the family, were it not for the frequent displays of eye-rollingly mandatory T&A and salty dialogue.

If you’ve not seen this entry in the series, it’s certainly worth a look, so long as you don’t expect it to reinvent the language of cinematic terror.  For that, we might have to look to look to the in-development reboot by revamp specialists Platinum Dunes.  I’m expecting some kind of found-footage effort, but we shall see whether the current tropes of horror are enough to give this old slasher a jump-start.

“Elysium” movie review – Everything’s Ruined!

"Those anti-Batfleck protesters went this way, yeah?"
“Those anti-Batfleck protesters went this way, yeah?”

I really enjoyed director Neill Blomkamp’s debut sci-fi movie, “District 9” in 2009.

It did a great job of embedding social commentary beneath the surface of a sci-fi action flick, finding time to suggest that Racism Is A Bad Idea whilst also not forgetting that we were probably watching the film to see cardboard cut-out bad guys get satisfyingly splattered by big ass alien weaponry.

It was cheap as chips, knew that it was a genre movie and wasn’t afraid to have an idea or two – “District 9” was a rather wonderful piece of filmic sci-fi.

Expectations, then, were high for Blomkamp’s follow-up, the Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley starring “Elysium”.

It’s a tale of haves and have-nots on a suitably epic scale, with Moneybags One Percenters in the far future having left a polluted and overpopulated Earth to the empty-pocketed masses and fetched up on Elysium, an orbital gated community-cum-gated community where tasteful, monied excess is the order of the day and all diseases are cured by magical space technology.

On Earth, former crook-going-straight Max (Matt Damon) is having a much scabbier time – when he’s not being brutalised by the no-tolerance police droids which he helps to build in William Fichtner’s factory, he’s getting horrifyingly irradiated in an industrial accident which gives him five days to live.  His one hope is, yes, an illicit run to Elysium on a shuttle which will probably be shot down by Jodie Foster’s head of security.

This is, as you might have gathered, a less than subtle and occasionally ham-handed “District 9” follow-up from Blomkamp, which at least has glorious action cinematography and genius industrial design to distract you from a screenplay which is frequently so earnest and simplistic as to make anybody with half-a-brain roll their eyes in dismay at the contrivances and technology fails evident throughout the story.

The world building is still magnificent – Blomkamp does convincing, beaten-down future settings in the style of his filmmaking forebears Ridley Scott and James Cameron and invents environments which have clearly had more consideration paid to them than the plotting of this film has.

Potential viewers of this film whose politics are right of centre are probably best advised to skip this at the cinema as the film’s wide-eyed liberal politics, nay actual socialism, will just piss them off.  And I say that as a liberal soul who frequently found himself whilst watching this film wondering whether Blomkamp actually wants his viewers to take up rail guns in order to get access to the medical care which they are  denied by glitzy CEOs in space Bugattis?

Damon’s good as the titular, rough-hewn hero – and he’s matched by Copley who makes a superbly hissable villain (you might need to fine tune your hearing to pay attention to his none-more-Sarf-Iffrickan accent, but it’s worth the effort). The only weak acting link in this movie, bizarrely, is Jodie Foster who appears to decided that what this movie really needed was an accent and characterisation which wanders between French diplomat, “Barefoot Contessa” tv chef Ina Garten and a minor member of the British Royal family.

It’s utterly perplexing – can we retrospectively revoke acting Oscars?  Is that a thing, yet?

Nonetheless, “Elysium” is a very entertaining action movie with sufficient forward motion that it can temporarily blind you to the fact that it doesn’t really hang together when you view the plot and events therein afterwards (Brain data transfer?  Surface to orbit missiles shot from a hand held rocket launcher?  Changing one word in a computer code sub-routine magically reboots the global social order?).

The idea at the heart of the film – that healthcare should be  free and universal – is one that I wholeheartedly agree with so it’s nicely subversive if not actually deliciously eccentric to see it form the centrepiece of a summer action blockbuster. Wonders will never cease…


“Lockout” review – the future is funny-looking…

Moody blue future?
Moody blue future?

One-man producing machine Luc Besson likes his genre movies.  Witness his success with “The Transporter” series, the “Taken” films, the “Taxi” series and the “District 13” movies.  The guy knows how to crank out a relatively inexpensive B-movie and have it succeed on a global scale.

The recent Cannes film festival, for example, revealed that we’ll be getting Chinese co-produced, Statham-less entries in “The Transporter” franchise (there’s already been a cable tv series based on the concept) and a U.S. remake of “District 13” is in the works with Paul Walker and the Rza under the title “Brick Mansions”.

Last year’s “Lockout” was another would-be franchise-starter from the writer/director/producer, pitting indie fixture and unlikely action hero Guy Pearce into a sci-fi prison movie with more than a hint of Snake Plissken about it.

It’s a tale of disgraced Secret Service agent Snow (Pearce), framed for the murder of a friend and about to spend thirty years in enforced stasis when the U.S. president’s daughter is taken hostage aboard orbital space prison M.S. One.  And that’s about as much as you get in terms of story – this is a very stripped-down film with a brisk running time of 95 minutes and no time for fripperies such as nuance or romance.

In fact, the closest thing that this film has to a romantic sub-plot is the opening sequence, which has Snow being repeatedly smacked in the kisser during an interrogation flashback as he cracks wise at a reliably oily and bastardly Peter Stomare.

Milk.  Good for you. Apparently...
Milk. Good for you. Apparently…

As in the aforementioned adventures of John Carpenter and Kurt Russell’s Cycloptic badass, the kidnapping of a politician’s daughter drives the plot and forces our right guy to be in the wrong place to sort things out and Pearce does a great job of embodying the world-weary traits which we’ve come to expect from the post “Die Hard” action hero.

He sells the fights and stunts well, delivers the script’s great, Shane Black-esque one-liners with aplomb and might have a lucrative future headlining mid-budget B-genre flicks like these – he’s helped by having a truly detestable bad guy to butt heads with in the form of Joe Gilgun, whose hair-trigger psychopath has never met a human being he wouldn’t be happy to blow away with a large handgun.  Gosh, but he’s unpleasant (and I’m not talking about his wandering, not-quite-Begbie-from “Trainspotting” Glasgow accent)

The rest of the cast are fine – Maggie Grace makes for a spunky, witty heroine and conscience for the hero – though the script contrives a little too much to have them meet cute and bicker, setting up a romantic sub-plot which the film rather puts to one side in a rush to blow things up.  Vincent Regan is good value, too, as the nominal leader of the prison uprising – he’s got one of those, “I recognize you from that film…” faces.

One thing is certainly of note – in an age where we go to see science fiction films at the cinema and routinely marvel at the gleaming production design and bleeding-edge visual effects, “Lockout” is a movie which has some of the most eye-poppingly bad CG effects that you could ever hope to see.  Seriously.  There’s a chase sequence at the outset of the film which was apparently rendered on a Spectrum 48K and, for all I know, may have been streaming into the movie from a cassette tape.

Witness, if you will:

A sequence which cost at least £25 to make...
A sequence which cost at least £25 to make…(image via The Knights Blog)

James Cameron is questioning his professional choices as you read this review.  For realsies.

To sum things up – if “Lockout” is playing on TV one night and you happen upon it whilst channel surfing, you’ll probably have a lot of fun with it if only to play ‘spot-the-homage’ and wince at some of the more clout-around-the-ears moments of fisticuffs.  It has good dialogue, occasionally insane plotting (Parachutes?  Really?) and a scrappy charm which is hard not to embrace as an established fan of little genre movies which try to bely their budgets (this funky little effort cost $15 million to make, fact fans).

It’s not a film which you have to own unless you like your action sci-fi unpretentious, eye-wateringly violent and shepherded to the screen by Luc Besson – a small demographic to be sure, but if that’s you, you could certainly do worse than to pick up this film.


“About Time” – Richard Curtis does…sci fi?


Remember the film version of “The Time Traveller’s Wife”?   Yeah, me too.

Comprehensively destroying Audrey Niffenegger‘s brilliant novel, it’s one of those movies which actually makes me angry – how many potential readers of that wonderful book were actively turned off by the film and never got a chance to enjoy a story which is genuinely heart-wrenching, full of ideas and gloriously drawn characters who live on in the memory long after reading?

Apparently, Rachel McAdams may have felt a need to atone for her presence in that bloody awful film as she’s front and centre in the new film from the Don of Rom-Com, Richard Curtis.  And boy does 2013’s “About Time” seem a little bit…familiar?

In the nicest way, that is – I’m really rather keen to see Curtis play around in territory which is reasonably uncharted for him, given his triumphant previous brush with sci-fi.  Obviously, the presence of Greatest Living Englishman Bill Nighy certainly helps, as does appealing lead Domhnall Gleeson, last seen breaking hearts in series two of Charlie Brooker’s “Black Mirror”.  

As for Ms McAdams – she gets the benefit of the doubt.  It’s not her fault that director Robert Schwentke’s Hollywood movies suggest somebody taking the money and running…

“Inspector Spacetime” – the question isn’t where, but when…

I love nerds. Nerds effing rule.

Over at Tor’s blog, there’s a fantastic piece about “Community” and it’s insta-cult “Doctor Who” parody, “Inspector Spacetime” – which you can watch here on IO9.

A 45 second throwaway gag in the “Community” season premiere now has its own fandom.  Sometimes, I really love Teh Internetz…

The show that "Doctor Who" wishes it was. Or something. My head hurts.