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RESTORE POINT (2023) Review by Steve Kirkham

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RESTORE POINT (2023)

4 stars
Plaion Pictures. Digital 1st April
How often do you back stuff up – you know important stuff like your work folder, or all those oh so interesting photos cluttering up your phone? Imagine if you could do a back-up of yourself and be revived, via cellular regeneration, if you suffered a violent or unexpected accidental death. Bet you would make sure you did it then! That’s the clever premise at the heart of Czech sci-fi thriller RESTORE POINT.
Set in the near future of 2041, in an Eastern European country, this has police officer Em Trochinowska (an excellent Andrea Mohylová) drawn into a murder case involving this emerging technology that enables people to brought back to life.
When David Kurlstat (Matej Hádek), head researcher at the Restoration Institute, the company responsible for developing the innovative science, and his wife turn up apparently murdered, Em takes on the case. Bizarrely, for someone who was working on the project, neither he nor his wife have viable backups to restore them. All clues point to a terrorist group, calling themselves the River of Life, who are opposed to scientists playing God.
But as she digs further into the case, she begins to realise there is more to this than meets the eye, with cover-ups and conspiracy coming to the fore. Her investigation is also constantly undermined by an interfering agent from Europol.
With a great central concept this a compelling, slickly made production, well acted and assuredly directed by Robert Hloz.
As much police procedural as it is sci-fi actioner, this incorporates nice little touches throughout that add up to a convincing future world without flashily overshadowing the strong narrative which has great twists and turns. Some might find this inventive film a touch talky but it holds the interest throughout.
Steve Kirkham

THE SHIFT (2023). Review by Steve Kirkham

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THE SHIFT (2023)

3 stars
Kaleidoscope Entertainment. Digital 25th March. Blu Ray and DVD 1st April
It starts intriguingly as a man, who we later learn is Kevin, pulling himself from out of a lake – he is injured and as he walks away he disappears… all will become clear eventually.
Following the titles we see the self same Kevin (Kristoffer Polaha – who appears to be a favourite in Hallmark style movies) at a hotel bar, drowning his sorrows, as he has just lost his job at a big financial firm that has crashed. He has lost almost everything – but then he meets Molly (Elizabeth Tabish) and they hit it off. She describes to him how their life together might play out (bit forward if you ask me)… and he is immediately smitten.
In between certain scenes, the film intercuts quotes – which are from the Bible (I had to look them up, being the heathen that I am). Our first clue that what we are watching isn’t all it seems.
It jumps forward to when they are married (at least I think that’s what is going on as some of this is a bit jumbled). They have a son but are struggling financially, but still have a strong relationship.
Kevin is then in a serious car accident. Recovering from the incident he meets someone who calls themselves The Benefactor (Neal McDonough). “I am here to help you”, the mysterious stranger declares. “I want to offer you job”. Because the first thing you think after being banged up in a crash is your career prospects! He proposes that he become one of his “shifters” – and he doesn’t mean driving a removals van. These are people who can move other folks from one reality to another – it becomes clear that this is what has happened to our protagonist as The Benefactor has brought him to an alternate universe.
Placing his faith in God (another clue as to what we are really watching) he refuses to go along with his increasingly angry captor, who is obviously actually Satan himself. Unfortunately for Kevin he now finds himself trapped in a dystopian world, without his wife and child and he spends the rest of the movie trying desperately to get back to them.
Whilst this is initially interesting, and the idea of an external force being able to play with people’s lives, moving them between various different existences, is clever and well presented here, as the film unfolds you begin to realise quite early on that this is no straightforward sci-fi thriller, but is instead a faith based movie – it’s an adaptation of the story of Job dressed up in science fiction clothes.
I guess the first clue that I was watching a religious film was the fact it was made by Angel Studios – who had a surprise box office hit last year, in the US at least, with SOUND OF FREEDOM starring Jim Caviezel.
With the previously mentioned Bible quotes peppered throughout, the Christian angle becomes more obvious and explicit as things progress. I suppose you could just read it as a mystery/thriller and take no notice of the overlay of religion – but it is fairly hard to ignore! The biggest asset here is McDonough, who really gets his teeth into his role as the devilish antagonist.
This is an expansion by writer/director Brock Heasley of his 2017 short of the same name.
Steve Kirkham

A MILLION DAYS (2023). Review by Steve Kirkham

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A MILLION DAYS (2023)

4 stars
Signature Entertainment. Digital Platforms. 18th March
The opening titles inform us it is 2041: the earth is in ecological collapse and our survival rests on interplanetary missions to take us off-world (you know, so we can screw up another planet – cynical, moi?). This type of exploration has been made possible because of the development of an artificial intelligence system known as Jay.
Worryingly, though, after the credit roll we are shown a female astronaut Nazara (Nina Mahdavi) adrift in space, desperate and calling for help that doesn’t come.
Cut to the remote home of Commander Anderson Reigel (Simon Merrells), who is about to lead the next flight into the void. Sam (Kemi-Bo Jacobs), his wife, was involved in developing the code which runs the AI and which makes decisions about the undertakings based on running simulations as to how any expedition will pan out.
When Charlie (Hermione Corfield), part of Sam’s team, arrives at their home, she brings news that may affect the upcoming mission, as she has run a new model via Jay which predicts about how successful the colony could be – and it points to catastrophe!
Reigel and Sam are faced with a dilemma – ignore the forecast and move forward, shut down the AI or abort completely.
In the classic 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968), the onboard computer HAL 9000 tries to halt the trip to Jupiter, as it has an agenda of it’s own, and this movie explores similar ideas of a machine intelligence gaining too much power, though it is earthbound and much smaller in scale. A timely exploration on the potential over reliance on computerised brain power and judgement, this delves into wide ranging concepts within its framework.
Well acted by all concerned, this keeps it intimate, with its use of one locations, whilst inferring massive wider issues that humanity is facing. There is also talk of a missing astronaut Gene Campbell (Darrell D’Silva) who you know will be important plot wise. And what of the space woman in the opening sequence? Was Jay responsible for her death?
Some may find the reliance on science techno speak and dialogue heavy scenes a bit drawn out and this does unfold like a play – big ideas on a small scale.
Steve Kirkham

MONOLITH (2022) Review by Steve Kirkham

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Monolith

MONOLITH (2022)

4 stars
Blue Finch Film Releasing. Digital Platforms. Out Now
A black screen. A man is talking. “I want to tell you a story…” The screen remains blank for longer than is normal, making you feel uncomfortable. Slowly, very slowly it fades in to a close-up of a microphone. These opening minutes encapsulate the feeling engendered by this low key, engrossing sci-fi mystery – a creeping sense of tension pervades.
Lily Sullivan plays a character who is only identified as The Interviewer. She’s a journalist who made a mistake in her previous job by not corroborating her sources – she is now stuck trying to create content for a mystery podcast called Beyond Believable – which looks into strange phenomena. Frustrated by her new position, she receives an anonymous email which simply has a name (with a picture of that person) plus the words ‘The Brick’, and a phone number. Could this be the start of a new story?
She calls the number and thus begins an investigative journey to try and find out just what ‘The Brick’ might be. As her podcast numbers begin to tick up, she is drawn into a mystery which may well impact her own life.
This was presumably shot during Covid in Australia – though it is only now seeing release, possibly due to Sullivan’s starring role in Evil Dead Rise. She is excellent here and carries the film, as she is the only person seen on-screen, with all the other participants being the voices of those she is interviewing.
Working alone from her parents flashy and remote home, this is a science fiction conspiracy drama, cleverly scripted by Lucy Campbell, which uses this isolation to its advantage as the camera prowls and focuses on her as she gets deeper and deeper into the unfolding enigmatic puzzle. Matt Vesely, in his feature film directing debut, has created a movie that grips and sucks you in with the script keeps you guessing and even wondering whether it is all in her head. Considering the limitations of both locale and framework this is never less than fascinating and compelling.
Steve Kirkham

TROPIC (2022). Review by Steve Kirkham

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TROPIC (2022)

3 stars
Blue Finch Film Releasing. Digital. 4th March
A French science fiction drama, TROPIC opens with several people training underwater to see who stay under the longest. They are competing for a place on the Euro Space Programme, to be part of an off world mission – in the background of this it is inferred that this could well be important for the human race and its survival but this is not front and centre here as this is a smaller scale story focussing on the characters than the wider implications.
The film follows twins who are both attempting to gain a spot on the flight – Tristan (Louis Peres) and Làzaro Guerrero (Pablo Cobo). They are determined that they will both go, but soon that conviction and their whole relationship will be challenged.
Out one night practicing their underwater skills, to increase the time they can hold their breath, they see something unknown crash into the lake where. They are swimming. It emanates a strange glow which Tristan is caught in.
He is quarantined as a precaution – good job too as some kind of possibly alien parasitic organism begins to grow within, damaging his lungs and his brain function. His brother is understandably upset and feels adrift without the the support of his sibling.
Does he continue his prep with the very real possibility he will be leaving his beloved brother behind on Earth? He will have to face the dilemma of not being able to care for Tristan.
With slight overtones of 50s sci-fi like THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT (1954) and FIRST MAN INTO SPACE (1959) and similar, this remains grounded and doesn’t overplay the fact of the contamination and how it affects the ailing Tristan… he never turns into a full blown monster!
It is a bit slow in the telling, however it is bolstered by believable acting and convincingly directed by Edouard Salier without devolving into an out and out creature feature being more an exploration of relationships ans how they can be shaped by traumatic changes.
It’s the ties that bind which are put under stress when tragedy strikes and the impact of loneliness when the people you rely on are no longer there.
Steve Kirkham

BLACK TIGHT KILLERS (1966). Review by Steve Kirkham

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BLACK TIGHT KILLERS (1966)

4 stars. Radiance Films. Blu Ray. 26th February
What’s not to love about a kitschy 60s Japanese movie about a group of scantily clad female ninjas! With six bikini topped young ladies, with bejewelled masks on, gyrating around behind the credits and the title BLACK TIGHT KILLERS you know you are in for a groovy outing.
The film centres on Hondo (Akira Kobayashi), a war photographer in Vietnam. On the way back home from his latest assignment, he sets up a date with air stewardess Yoriko Sawanouchi (Chieko Matsubara). On their assignation she is perturbed by a strange man who seems to have followed them – Hondo goes to confront him and on returning to his table finds his date has disappeared.
Searching, he hears her scream. Meanwhile the curious man is being attacked by three leather clad ladies – he is whipped, beaten and killed, which Hondo witnesses. They use ninja bubble gum bullets to prevent him seeing any more and run off into the night, whilst his new beau looks on. Also watching, unbeknownst to them, are two mysterious trench coated men who will figure later in the plot.
Whilst he is contacting the cops, his girl is snatched by the assassin girls and he finds himself arrested for the death of the stranger and only released when his reporter friend vouches for him and pledges to help him find the girl. Who has kidnapped her and why? Who do these female killers work for? What is going on?
This Blu ray from Radiance is a crisp and colourful rendition of a beautifully shot, dynamic and fun escapade that plays like one of those spy thrillers like the Matt Helm’s or IN LIKE FLINT. It is very sixties – and sometimes quite silly and makes no real attempt at realism. For instance, the scenes set in cars driving along make a virtue of the back projection used, bathing it in various colours to bring an appropriate artificiality to proceedings.
The music emphasises the spy stylings and this is hugely enjoyable with it’s action, the vivacious go-go dancing squad of lady ninjas and the crazy weapons that are employed, including a ball that imbues invisibility, a can of laughing gas and at one point using 7 inch singles (remember those?) to be thrown at victims. Outrageous at times, this is eye-popping, with chromatic and bright pop art pizzazz.
Steve Kirkham

ROOBARB (1974) Review by Steve Kirkham

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ROOBARB (1974)

4 stars (for nostalgia)
Fabulous Films/Spirit Entertainment. DVD and Blu Ray. 19th February
It’s kind of mad that a kids cartoon from the 70s is getting the Blu Ray treatment – but here it is, a 50th Anniversary release.
If you are of a certain age, and see just the title ROOBARB, you will immediately hear the theme tune by Johnny Hawksworth in your head and see visions of the distinctive wobbly style of animation (go on admit it – it’s happened already hasn’t it?).
Shown on BBC1 just before the early evening news, it’s one of those shows, like MR. BENN and BAGPUSS, that you remember having loads of episodes – however, the original only had 30, which are all present on this release. It was just shown a lot. It features the gentle narration of Richard Briers.
Created by Grange Calveley, the cartoon introduced the “rough” animation it is fondly remembered for, which was created using marker pens and gave it an incredible dynamic energy. It was directed by famous English animator Bob Godfrey and produced by his company, with each episode being about 5 minutes in length.
So what’s it about (assuming you haven’t seen it): Roobarb, apparently based on creator Calveley’s Welsh border collie is a green dog who enthusiastically gets involved in crazy misadventures. His friendly rival is a pink cat called Custard. That’s it really. Simple…
Charming and innocent fun, this will make you chuckle and watch with an air of nostalgia – it’s all kind of sweet and silly.
Disc 2 features the 2005 revival series ROOBARB… AND CUSTARD TOO, (which I have to admit I didn’t even know existed) which whilst retaining the shaky kind of feel, isn’t quite as energetically visual, as it was a created on computers and the vibrating of the colours and outlines is a little bit too consistent. Shame … still, despite this, it is still amusing, even if it doesn’t live up to its predecessor. Briers returns for the voiceover and there were 39 episodes.
Steve Kirkham

SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE (1985) Review by Steve Kirkham

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SANTA CLAUS: THE MOVIE (1985)

3 stars
StudioCanal. UHD/Blu Ray/DVD/Digital. Out Now. Cinema re-release November 24th
With a simple onscreen title of Santa Claus, this was known as Santa Claus: the Movie via it’s advertising, in an effort to recall the previous success Superman: the Movie from the same production team. They also brought back Jeannot Szwarc, who had helmed Supergirl (1984) for them, and husband and wife team David and Leslie Newman to write a script that in some ways echoes their writing on Superman.
So is the movie a much loved classic deserving of a rediscovery with a 4K spruce up and polish or is it, as many critics have written, an unmitigated disaster? Like any movie like this, its probably somewhere in-between, and checking the User Reviews on the IMDb there are clearly fans out there, though having rewatched it on UHD I am afraid I tend towards the festive fiasco.
A kindly old man called Claus (David Huddleston), who delivers wooden toys he has made to local children ventures out in a blizzard and ends up frozen solid, with his wife Anya (Judy Cornwall) and their reindeer – they are a magically transported to the North Pole by a sparkly star and greeted by Patch and his fellow elves – as he is now to be Santa Claus.
And so begins the legend of the white bearded fellow in a big red, white trimmed coat (an image which was popularised by Coca Cola), delivering parcels around the world (like DHL, though more reliable). Amongst the elves in the workshop you may well spot some familiar faces including Melvyn Hayes, Don Estelle and even Burgess Meredith pops up for one short scene as an ancient Elf.
After several centuries, Santa has become weary and his wife suggests he takes on an assistant in the shape of the loyal Patch. When this ends in disaster, the newly promoted elf decamps to New York and falls in with evil toy manufacturer B.Z. Overplayed by John Lithgow the film partially livens up with his over the top acting.
It’s not enough however to save this colourful but charmless outing. It tries it’s hardest to be magical but ends up being cheesy and is severely let down by a weak script and visual effects which look even worse in 4K. It isn’t helped by the Henry Mancini score that attempts to constantly clue you in when you are supposed to be enraptured and spellbound by what is onscreen. You won’t be!
Apparently several directors were approached to handle the project including Lewis Gilbert, Robert Wise and even John Carpenter (now that would have been interesting).
This new 4K restoration, which we are reliably informed had 150 hours spent on it to clean it up, is a disappointment visually – whilst it is vividly rendered, much of it has dancing grain which is even more distracting when the effects scenes kick in.
Look out for a young Nicole Appleton of the group All Saints as one of the little girls in a ballet class.
Extras:
New Interview with Mrs.Claus: Judy Cornwell
The Making of Santa Claus
Shooting the Press Conference Scene
Deleted Scenes
Steve Kirkham

Welcome to The Spirit Tracers issue #2. If you’re a fan of Star Wars, Superman and Dune you will love this.

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https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thespirittracers/the-spirit-tracers-2-the-sci-fi-adventure-continues?ref=project_link&fbclid=IwAR04_eLPtlqKy3ri-5dRf9Px3HC3wylOGWwFmeYNkBRMC7RzvesMVSElBug

 

This just in from our pals at The Spirit Today ers.

Welcome to Issue #2 of The Spirit Tracers! We’d like to say a big thank you to those that came on board our first campaign and we hope you join us on this next issue as this edition is going to be an exciting ride… taking  you further into the realms of the Yellow and Blue Galaxies. You can order your copy or copies in the rewards section. You only get charged if we reach our target.

So beyond the tagline, what’s ‘The Spirit Tracers’ about?

What if every negative thought and idea travelled somewhere into space. And what if some ‘strange entity’ was able to capture all of that and use it as a weapon against the law of attraction. Join us on an epic journey of spirituality, magic and reincarnation across the ‘Crystal Star System.’

DOOR MOUSE (2022) Reviewed by Steve Kirkham

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DOOR MOUSE (2022)

3 stars
The Movie Partnership. Digital download. Out now

Door Mouse is an indie Canadian neo-noir mystery thriller about a broke comic book artist called Mouse (terrifically played, complete with “Mickey Mouse” hairdo, by Hayley Law, Riverdale). To make ends meet, as drawing her Whoreific strip isn’t paying the bills, she also works as a dancer at a burlesque bar run by baseball bat wielding Mama (Famke Janssen, the most recognisable face in the cast). When Doe Eyes, one of the other girls that work there, and Mouse’s buddy, goes missing, our intrepid scribbler decides to turn detective to try and track her down. She is helped by her friend called Ugly (Keith Powers, who isn’t, ugly that is).

Before long even more of the female workers have been snatched and she finds herself drawn into a sinister world full of unsavoury characters, putting herself in danger as she tries desperately to find out what has happened to her co-workers.

Playing out like an old school detective movie, complete with voice over, this is stylishly shot by Mike McLaughlin, with visuals that are at once both gritty and colourfully flashy, and it cleverly incorporates animated sequences, drawn by our protagonist, to further its narrative.

Better known as an actor (he also appears in the film as drug dealer Moony) Avan Jogia both directs – in his feature film debut – and also wrote the script. It shows him as a talent worth keeping an eye as he clearly has a distinctive vision. It does skirt with style over substance but just about manages to keep things together – almost becoming a budget version of Eyes Wide Shut at the end, with cheaper papier mache masks!

Cultdom beckons – It’s certainly different and all the better for it.

Steve Kirkham