Feature: Three Ways to Fix the Pirates of the Caribbean Franchise

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Originally published on Flickering Myth on 27/05/17.

Despite being one of Disney’s mainline franchises for nearly 15 years, building sequel after sequel into what is now a multi-billion dollar series, the old-timey, Johnny Depp-led Pirates of the Caribbean is in something of a tricky place.

Caught between different generations of fans and apparently now incapable of catering to all, the latest instalment, this week’s Salazar’s Revenge has seemingly confirmed what 2011’s On Stranger Tides quite seriously hinted towards: in terms of quality, Depp and co. are pretty much lost without a paddle.

There’s no denying that the Pirates movies are money-makers, and I’m sure good movie or bad, they’ll still be raking in the dough for many years to come (arguably the worst in the series ended up as the biggest cash draw overall). But there’s nothing that says the most profitable releases have to sacrifice clever storytelling (or, by this point, even just coherency) in order to make those big box office bucks.

So here’re a handful of suggestions on how to get Captain Jack back on track once and for all, whilst still keeping an eye on those all important market figures.

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1. Bring back the sword-fighting

It’s safe to say that the single most standout film in the series remains 2003’s original Curse of the Black Pearl, that rather lovingly set the scene with not only some extraordinarily clever (and hugely effective) character introductions, but also plenty of comedically-tinged action too. It’s something Gore Verbinski, director of that first trilogy, carried through to the slightly more jumbled, but still massively enjoyable initial sequels too. Everything from Captain Jack and Will Turner’s opening sword battle, to the totally bonkers water-wheel chase that closes out Dead Man’s Chest showed off just how important these huge-scale, but lovingly (and practically) choreographed sequences were to the series.

More recently though, with this latest effort being one of the biggest offenders here, the Pirates sequels have morphed into a barely-recognisable mess of CGI-heavy nonsense, that usually results in either all of the major characters running away, or a totally uninspired and forgettable 2-minute trade of blows. From a franchise that used to take our breath away with its action, it’s a sorry affair. Especially when there’s room in the series’ tone for something that could be as crazy as Fury Road on water.

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2. Start new legends, don’t constantly bother old ones

It didn’t come as much of a surprise when Disney pushed on with further sequels, even after Verbinski had closed out his original trilogy and put the stories of most of the main characters officially to bed. There was so much life and possibility left in the Pirates world, with so many avenues still left unexplored, that in many ways it even sort of made sense. It’s a shame then that time and time again, the studio and filmmakers involved have been pulled back into that same old story, with those same old, now fairly worn-out, characters. The cinematic equivalent of flogging a dead horse. In fact, in Will Turner’s case, quite literally so.

And whilst On Stranger Tides certainly tried (but ultimately didn’t help matters in this department), happily going rogue but failing to find any new or remotely satisfying ground; what’s happened with Salazar’s Revenge is totally despondent. At the centre of it all is actually a fairly fresh (if a little cliched) story, but one that ends up so overwhelmingly suffocated with past Pirates lore, with fan-favourite characters seemingly crowbarred in at every possible opportunity, that the whole thing just ends up sinking almost immediately on arrival. If the series is going to live on any further, it needs to head back to basics, ease its vice-like grip on what came before it and, maybe even *gulp* reboot itself. Which brings me cautiously onto the next point…

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3. Make Captain Jack relevant again (or ditch him altogether)

The series’ one consistent lead, and probably its biggest overall box office draw too, there’s no denying that Captain Jack Sparrow has quickly become one of this generation’s most iconic new creations. A charmingly selfish drunk-turned-supremely unlikely anti-hero, he’s a character whose legacy knows no bounds. It’s such a shame then that he’s never actually given anything even remotely interesting to do anymore.

The Jack of the early Pirates efforts was a difficult one to pin down, and that’s exactly what made him so fun to watch. A total wild-card, at any point the camera could spin round to find him ditching the heroes and high-tailing it across the seven-seas, saving, and looking out for, nobody but himself. He was courageous, daring, and fronted some of the series’ most thrilling action set-pieces, sometimes single-handedly. More recently though, Depp’s Sparrow has taken to just hanging around in the background of others’ adventures, offering up nothing more than drunken pointing and the occasional silly one-liner, more of a creepy uncle than a swashbuckling adventurer.

Some have put this down to Johnny Depp’s own furiously mounting star-power, taking himself out of any sequences that look particularly strenuous or could take longer than a handful of hours to film, but the real answer is most likely something a bit more straightforward: bad writing. Jack worked so well originally because his character was at total odds with Elizabeth and Will. He was the wonky third-wheel and now he’s stuck without any new fully-fleshed characters to bounce off of appropriately. He lacks relevance, sliding quietly into the background and coming dangerously close to turning himself into the franchise’s very own pirate-themed Jar Jar Binks.

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So while scrapping his character altogether and starting afresh Curse of the Black Pearl-style might seem a little drastic/hugely unlikely from a business point of view, there are still ways to get him back on track. Stronger characters, stronger relationships, and a more devoted Depp would certainly be a start.

There’s so much promise built into the Pirates world; it just needs a new set of pipes. An ambitious new team of filmmakers and writers who aren’t afraid to push the boat out with the film’s action, twinned with a fresh new story that actually makes sense, and the right amount of understanding and creative backing from the studio could set them up for a whole extra decade of new sequels. Just please, for the love of God, stop trying to do the same thing over and over again, it’s not getting any of us anywhere.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge is out in UK cinemas now. 

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Feature: The 5 Cult TV Shows That Deserve A Reboot

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Originally published on Cultastic on 21/05/17 and on Flickering Myth on 26/05/17. 

Despite something of a critical bollocking, Dwayne Johnson’s tongue-in-cheek Baywatchreboot is set to take on a huge portion of the summer box office takings.

And considering that it’s very much following in the footsteps of similar cult TV reboot success stories like 21 Jump Street, it proves that there’s definitely a market for all those other giants of the small screen, quietly waiting in the wings, ready to take that final big leap into blockbuster territory. In fact, there’s so many of these already in active development, that this feature got more and more difficult to research as it went along, with all of the best ideas seemingly already snatched up.

So, from that other well-known Hasselhoff project, to some straight-up risky bids, here’s a collection of potential big money reboots that we could see happening just about any day now.

Knight Rider

Chances are, some executive somewhere is literally reading a script for a Hollywood reboot of this classic Hoff vehicle as we speak. There’s already been numerous follow-ons, from a post-apocalyptic mid-90s TV movie (set in the far-off dystopia of 2010), to the short-lived 2008 mini-series of the same name, but we’re still yet to see an update that does the cheesy 80s detective drama justice. And in a post-Baywatch movie world, why the hell not.

To those still somehow unaware of its set-up, Knight Rider saw a pre-beach body Hoff tackling the forces of evil alongside a hyper-intelligent (and practically indestructible) robot car called K.I.T.T., that, aside from pretty much doing most of the criminal-catching legwork, could speak and sling a one-liner faster than any able-bodied action hero could ever muster too.

If that’s not a great set-up for another self-mocking comedy right there, I don’t know what is. You could even cast Dwayne Johnson again and set up a whole Hasselhoff-centric cinematic universe. With the right script and voice talent, it could be the next big thing. 

Cagney & Lacey

On a totally different, much more progressive note – Cagney & Lacey is the ultimate reboot-waiting-to-happen. With plans already in place for a female-lead Jump Street spin-off, and news hitting even just this week of an apparent Rihanna/Lupita Nyong’o buddy movie, female-focussed cop dramas are inches away from becoming all the rage. So why not give a nod to the 80s TV show that arguably got the ball running all those years ago?

All it takes is the right pairing and a slightly more driven plot than the likes of the otherwise hugely successful The Heat, and we could be onto another winner. It will probably have to beat those other rival projects past the post though, so a quick development is key.

Xena: Warrior Princess

Because there’s only so many buddy cop-comedies the market can manage, why not give new life to a totally different beloved female icon of the 90s instead? No, not Buffy (one exceptional case of a cult TV reboot being a terrible idea). Originally a spin-off of the Sam Raimi-produced, live-action Hercules series, Xena: Warrior Princess developed a totally insane cult following of its own, running for 6 Emmy-award-winning seasons and even earning its star, Lucy Lawless, one of the most memorable Simpsons cameos to date.

Especially with Wonder Woman set to open the door for a totally new breed of female warrior, a Xena movie could be a clever move for a studio looking to find their own way into the new-look swords-and-sandals trend. The lacklustre performance of the last several Hercules movies probably won’t do it any good, but considering just how much the original show totally outshone its male counterpart, there’s nothing stopping the Hollywood movie equivalent doing the exact same.

Airwolf

Albeit a bit of a bold choice, one 80s TV “classic” that could benefit massively from even just a mid-budget movie update, is the bonkers sci-fi drama Airwolf. Starring Rick & Morty fan favourite Jan-Michael Vincent in the midst of his short-lived heyday, it’s very broadly about an expert pilot’s adventures with his ultra-advanced black ops helicopter, pulling off some of the most insane and unusual aerial manoeuvres and dogfights imaginable.

There’s no ignoring the fact that t’s super silly and there’d need to be a lot retooling to the old-school cheesy plotting, but the very basic central idea definitely has a lot of potential.

Fringe

And finally, an extremely recent piece of cult TV; Fringe was always so much bigger than the dwindling platform Fox gave it on the small-screen. Even though it only ended a handful of years ago in 2013, there’s so much room to give it a second-life (and hopefully an even more impressive run) at the movies.

Dealing with some of the densest and most exciting alternate-reality science-fiction, it not only had all the right characters, but all the right writers too, spearheaded by Hollywood hero J.J. Abrams and his then Bad Robot cohorts Alex Kurtzman (who directed the new Mummy) and Roberto Orci (who wrote Star Trek its sequel, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2).

Hell, if a big-money movie follow-up seems like too weird an idea so soon, Abrams and his team could even just chop and change the show’s best bits and muddle them into their growing Cloverfield universe somewhere instead. Either way, it would be great to see more of Fringe, no matter the capacity. 

Film Review: Baywatch

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Originally published on Flickering Myth on 23/05/17.

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Based on a famously cheesy, and similarly ridiculous, long-running TV show of the same name, it’s worth lowering your expectations for Baywatch straight off the bat.

And even if you had no expectations to begin with, it’s still somehow worth lowering them further: this is about as brainless as summer movies get. Half gross-out farce, half stupendously silly buddy cop actioner, guaranteed to righteously offend anyone with even half-an-ounce of intellectualism to their film tastes. Everyone else though, is guaranteed a whale of a time.

It’s been a long time since someone made a blockbuster that’s this aggressively stupid without a giant herd of animated alien robots to fall back on, but at the very, very least, both director Seth Gordon and the cast of Baywatch are fully aware of what they’re getting themselves into. For a movie that literally starts with the pulsating biceps of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, princess-carrying a helpless injured surfer to safety with a gigantic flashing title-card sparking over a tidal wave behind him, it very much sticks to its often overwhelming tone almost all the way through.

In fact, if anything, the near god-level worship of Johnson and the rest of the film’s ongoing self-awareness can actually get a little too much at times; like Gordon and co. are so insistent that they’re in on the joke that it comes off feeling far too desperate overall. The trick to the cheesy TV remakes that came before it (that very much set the trend that Baywatch has since followed) was a careful balance of the new and old, the self-aware and the general straight-up comedy; and with all its constant self-abuse and poorly shoe-horned fan-service/cameos, Gordon’s film feels like C-grade Jump Street at best.

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Despite all of these scripting issues though (and a paper thin drug-running plot that, let’s face it, very few people were expecting to be inventive/intelligible anyway), there’s no denying that there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the film’s cast. Even when Johnson’s not around to rattle off insult after insult, or flex his ridiculous body in the direction of yet another 80s-style one-liner, his newbie teammates more than make up the difference. Efron is still a delight as the same preppy cool kid he’s grown up mastering (and could seemingly play in his sleep), Rohrbach and Bass are an unlikely but cute pairing, and the fierce (but also sadly, totally underused) Hadera and Daddario kick plenty of bottom in all the right places.

Unlike the appeal of the original TV show, there’s certainly much more of an attempt to balance out the levels of objectification here too. It’s still not quite in balance, and much of Gordon and his team’s attempts to downplay the levels of male gazing on display come down to simply just taking the piss out of the fact that they’re doing it, which certainly doesn’t make it alright. But at the same time, there is a conceited effort to throw some light on the male anatomy here too (the only real nudity is male), and ultimately anyone expecting a buttoned-up, fleshless approach from a big-budget movie adaptation of Baywatch, aimed at a largely young audience, is frankly insane.

It’s not quite the summer movie event of the year, or really even Johnson or Efron’s best, but between the pair’s winning comedic chemistry, plenty of killer one-liners and an (at times, excessively) fun tone, there’s just enough to enjoy here to make Baywatch worth a watch. But if you find yourself drowning in the cheap cheesiness of it all, don’t expect any two-handed plot twists or burly action set-pieces to come swimming along to save the day; this one’s as dumb as a dolphin, and proud of it.

Baywatch is out in UK cinemas now. 

Feature: The 5 Weirdest Monster Movies Ever

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Originally published on Flickering Myth on 16/05/17 and on Cultastic on 28/05/17. 

With the Godzilla/King Kong universe getting a sudden resurgence, and Cloverfield taking things into franchise territory at long last, the monster movie is suddenly in something of an unexpected heyday as far as Hollywood is concerned.

Whether they’re human size or intergalactically huge, monsters of all shapes and origins are popping up all over the place, even recently, in an indie dramedy starring Anne Hathaway.

A coming-of-age style drama about a down-and-out party girl returning to her hometown (with added Kaiju), Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal finally takes its UK bow this week, taking the title of one of the weirdest monster placements in movie history. So we thought it only appropriate to round-up some similarly strange creature-features, from alcohol-fearing tentacle beasts, to a killer whale with a deadly vengeance.

Orca (1977)

Somewhat riding the wave of success that followed Steven Spielberg’s Jaws in the second half of the 1970s, Michael Anderson followed his seminal sci-fi classic Logan’s Run with this bizarre sea-set revenge story. Richard Harris stars as a sea-captain/hunter who quickly finds himself on the shit-list of the ocean’s other deadliest predator, following an unfortunate incident involving murder and said killer whale’s family. The thriller that follows is an unsurprisingly campy bloodbath that sees the orca in question tearing its way through everyone Harris’s captain has ever loved, known or even just spoken to, following every spectacular murder with a celebratory series of mocking flips/calls that stand as pretty much the ocean-creature equivalent to a well-meaning middle finger.

In many ways, it’s the anti-Blackfish, ending on one of the most unusual man vs. monster face-offs ever. Not quite what you’d expect from what started as a Jaws clone, Orca is infinitely more fun than a lot of the Spielberg-focussed sequels too.

Spring (2014)

Taking the whole monster movie spirit in a similar direction to the likes of Colossal, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead strip back a lot of the horror usually associated with the genre and focus more on a romance instead. A romance between a young American man ditching all of his stateside problems for a trip to Italy, and a beautiful local woman who’s secretly an immortal sea creature that frequently transforms into a tentacle-laden beast.

It’s a total rollercoaster of emotions, that’s far sweeter and understandably more sensitive than the usual creature-feature fare, with a hefty dose of creativity powering the whole thing along too. Still weird though. Very, very weird.

Matango (1963)

Following the stark raving success of quintessential monster hit Godzilla, the Japanese Kaiju king himself, Ishirô Honda, followed it up with a series of similarly silly sci-fi movies about everything from flying walruses, to intergalactic jellyfish.

The most bonkers of the lot though was arguably Matango, a shipwreck drama about a group of deserted islanders that find themselves taken over by an evil race of gigantic living… mushrooms. Taking the classic 60s “men in rubber suits” approach, it’s 100% as ridiculous as it sounds, and 100% as enjoyable too.

Grabbers (2012)

Tormented’s Jon Wright followed up his horror obsession with another darkly comic and mega gory hit, this time about bloodsucking aliens feeding on a rural Irish town with a penchant for drinking. Noticing that the monsters in question (faceless, tentacle-covered blobs) take a heavy disliking to the amount of booze in their prey’s blood, the heroes of the film start fighting the ongoing invasion the only way they know how: by getting as drunk as humanly possible.

Whilst it still holds on to quite a few of the expected genre mishaps, Grabbers is very much a unique stab at a standard formula and only ends up better, the weirder it gets.

Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills (1997)

Last, and in many ways least, despite having the greatest title of the lot, this late-90s Troma comedy casts Vacation’s Beverly D’Angelo as the Beverly Hills woman of the title, who quickly finds herself cursed with turning into an ancient pterodactyl after her husband pisses off a shaman. Hilarity supposedly ensues, and although it comes from The Beast Within’s Philippe Mora, this one’s far from Troma’s best work.

It does however, stand as easily the weirdest plot on the list and is home to some of the strangest monster-related moments possibly in any film ever. The sub-Buffy season 1, half-woman, half-pterodactyl rubber suit must be seen to be believed.

Feature: Alien: The Best & The Worst Sequels, Prequels and Spin-offs

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Originally published on Flickering Myth on 06/05/17.

With the long-awaited Alien prequel/sequel Covenant very nearly upon us, it’s time to once again dig up one of sci-fi’s longest-running franchises, to finally, and definitively, separate the classic, from the garbage. Few expected a further forty years of movies when Ridley Scott first birthed H.R. Giger’s Xenomorph way back in 1979, let alone the idea that the very last filmmaker to take a stab at the decade-spanning nightmare fuel, would be Scott himself.

Yet here we are, no less than three direct sequels, two spin-offs and now a further two prequels later, with the original creator’s name at the helm once more. Not all are great, some are barely watchable, but among the trash and garbage that the series at some point became, there’s some real extra-terrestrial themed gems dotted throughout. Here’s your ultimate guide to all 7, from worst, to best.

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7. Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)

This eventual big-screen versus match between two of the sci-fi genre’s all-time biggest monsters was inevitable, but should’ve really stayed between the pages of the fan-driven comic books that inspired it. Whilst not linked directly to the original Alien series (most simply call the AVP pair ‘spin-offs’), there’s simply too many easter-eggs here to ignore the connection (the existence of both Weyland and Yutani to name just two), even as directing duo the Brothers Strause totally tear apart everything that made either of the leading figures even the tiniest bit effective in the first place.

This is a shoddily-assembled and hugely brainless monster mash, more focussed on body-count than any sense of horror or story. And although R-rated and violent enough, it’s still marginally worse than its predecessor thanks to plenty of overly-dark fight sequences and one of the stupidest climaxes of any monster movie to date. Not to mention the Predalien, which is exactly what you think it is, and looks even sillier than you’d expect.

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6. Alien vs. Predator (2004)

But it must be said that a great deal of Requiem’s issues all span out of the major stupidity of the Paul W. S. Anderson-backed original. Despite rocking one of the most badass tag-lines in the entire franchise (“Whoever wins… we lose.”), Anderson’s post-Event Horizon, pre-Resident Evil stab at uniting two of the movie world’s fiercest monsters, goes tits-up incredibly quickly. First off, it’s the only PG-13-rated film on this entire list, so the action itself feels very peeled-back and tame; again it’s claiming not to be an Alien movie, then constantly pumps itself full of callbacks (here, AliensLance Henriksen as “Charles Bishop Weyland” – I mean come on) and lastly – and arguably worst of all – it doesn’t make any sense.

It’s set on Earth, over a hundred years before the first xenomorph was discovered in space; a Predator, created as a distinct nemesis of humans, teams up with the humans, and the whole thing is set in an as-yet undiscovered pyramid under the friggin’ antarctic. It’s a total mess that reduces both of the genre’s most badass monsters to cheap, world-less puppets and it would be a whole lot easier if both it and it’s sequel just never existed.

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5. Alien: Resurrection (1997)

The last in the original Alien sequel timeline, Resurrection comes courtesy of a lot of very talented individuals. With a script from Buffy’s Joss Whedon, direction from Delicatessen and Amelie’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet, and a cast that included everybody from Winona Ryder, to Ron Perlman and the return of franchise champion Signourney Weaver, on paper this should’ve been nothing short of a masterpiece. The result however, is about as far from the word as ever thought possible.

Nothing quite lines up: the playfulness of Whedon’s words get lost in overly-dark tonal shifts, each of the characters rarely play off of anything more than a single quirk, and Weaver’s Ripley trades badass heroine for super-touchy, wide-eyed clone, obsessed with feeling up absolutely everything in sight. Jeunet hasn’t made another Hollywood picture since, and it’s fairly obvious why: his off-the-wall, darkly comic style makes Resurrection feel at total odds with what the series is at heart. It’s not totally awful, and certainly has its moments, but is also far, far, far too silly to ever really work. 

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4. Alien 3 (1992)

Often hailed as the worst of the bunch, but really far from it, David Fincher’s feature debut is certainly troubled. Presented in two forms, original and ‘assembly’ cut, that differ rather wildly from each other in certain ways, Alien 3 certainly suffered from a tremendous amount of studio distrust, having already cost Fox millions of dollars in failed screenplay drafts and stalled production starts before the cameras had even started rolling. To this day, Fincher calls it “the worst thing that ever happened” to him, and the resulting movie, although messy, has its charm.

For one thing, it keeps to the original’s darker tone, using the xenomorphs sparingly and giving Weaver plenty of drama to play with. It makes huge waves with the franchise’s overall direction plot-wise, not being afraid to take big risks, and it never once feels like it’s just retreading what’s already been done like a great deal of more contemporary sequels. It’s definitely not the most entertaining, but often feels easily slated because it was the first in the series to be something of a step-down from its predecessor, and is easily worth a re-watch alongside the top three.   

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3. Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott’s first return to the Alien series, the first official prequel to his original, had a hugely mixed reception on its release. Promising everything from 3D effects-driven landscapes, to a ferocious new heroine for a new generation, and most appealingly of all, the very origins of the xenomorphs themselves, it was a huge void to fill. So it’s fairly understandable that Scott only managed half of what he set out to do. Between Noomi Rapace’s brilliantly-played scientist, Michael Fassbender’s retro-fitted android and decent nods here and there from the likes of Idris Elba, Charlize Theron and Rafe Spall, the cast were certainly in place for a runaway success. And with a mega-money price-tag, the effects were too.

But the crux of it is that Prometheus struggles majorly in the story department. It’s packed full of incredibly tense and cleverly remastered moments that sit neatly beside the original. But the lack of a genuinely involving antagonist, with Scott replacing the tried-and-tested xenomorphs with doughy, statue-esque ‘Engineers’ – apparent Gods in a very weird and ham-fisted creation parable – really sinks this one hard. Rapace and Fassbender deserved a better, more horror-orientated movie, and from the looks of Covenant’s trailers, it’ll be something of a soft reboot of what fans were initially expecting from this one.

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2. Aliens (1986)

Including James Cameron’s 80s action masterpiece Aliens in the same list as a lot of those already covered just feels wrong. Deeply, and devoutly wrong. The space between second and third place here is almost astronomical; Cameron’s original and in many ways, unexpected sequel, not only stands among the finest follow-ups in movie history, but also as one of the most celebrated sci-fi films full stop. It’s an extremely basic idea – the addition of a single letter to an already simplistic title that tells you absolutely everything you need to know – but one that totally changes the game (and in many ways, the genre, too).

More of an action picture than anything else, Cameron stays true to Giger’s xenomorph designs, expanding where possible (the Alien Queen here might be the franchise’s greatest big bad) and really putting his own spin on an already beloved classic. After an entire generation grew up running away from what scared them, Cameron instead forced them to chase it themselves, head-on, turning Ripley from a free-thinking survivalist into a hard-edged, gun-toting action hero, lending a giant hand in the legacy that followed.

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1. Alien (1979)

But, it must be said that no matter how hard he tried, Cameron could never even come close to the frankly immortal reputation that Ridley Scott’s original space-set nightmare built for itself. Very much the quintessential horror film, born from the mind of John Carpenter’s college buddy, the great Dan O’Bannon, and helped along by a perfect storm of creative maestros; Alien married the tension of Jaws with the sci-fi driven creativity of Star Wars and draped the entire thing in the thickest black cloth money could buy.

To date, nearly forty-years on, it remains one of the most influential, forward-thinking and academically-rich movies ever, creating the ultimate antagonist: a snarling, body-invading emblem of pure fear. In shifting Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley into leading lady status, Scott and co. even kick-started a whole new wave of movie-driven feminism too (although Cameron’s later involvement in this simply cannot be ignored), and birthed an entire generation of thick-skinned, fast-talking female leads.

Whether they realise or not, every horror film to date owes some form of debt to the 1979 original Alien, and absolutely no amount of shoddily-designed sequels, prequels or spin-offs can take away from that genre-defining legacy.

Feature: The 5 Best Movies to Look Out for at Sundance London 2017

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Originally published on Flickering Myth on 05/05/17.

Storming back to London’s Picturehouse Central off the back of an incredibly successful rebrand last year, Sundance’s London branch is fast becoming one of the city’s go-to film festivals. And while Netflix and Amazon have already sunk their claws into some of the biggest titles from the flagship Utah fest back in January (both The Discovery and Grand Jury Prize winner I don’t feel at home in this world anymore are already available to stream), there’s still plenty to get excited about, theatrically speaking.

Sundance London is all about showcasing the best and brightest from the bigger Sundance banner  and this year’s selection has a helluva lot of originality. 

The Big Sick

One of the buzziest titles that premiered back in Utah in January was Emily V. Gordon and Kumail Nanjiani’s semi-autobiographical rom-com The Big Sick, that charts the real-life couple’s own struggles with cultural differences in 21st century America. Written by the pair, and starring Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan (playing Gordon’s role), it’s already been hailed as one of the best comedies of the year, and opened endless doors for everyone involved. Not to mention the fact that it raked in one of the biggest distribution deals of the festival, and will be streaming on Amazon Prime from July, so this might be your last shot at seeing it on the big screen.

Bushwick

Fans of real-world action, Birdman-style one-shots, and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista gather round, because boy do we have the film for you. Set in an alternate modern-day America, where Texas has started a second civil war and is in the process of invading Brooklyn, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, Bushwick finds the abbed-up softy teaming up with Brittany Snow to escape the ongoing battle. Directed by Cooties’ Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott, and co-written by Stake Land’s Nick Damici, it’s about as visually ambitious as indie action flicks get, and certainly earns a spot as one of the most anticipated of Sundance’s genre releases.

A Ghost Story

Swiftly acquired by distribution top-dogs A24 way back in January, David Lowery’s low-rent passion project, made with the money he earned from calling the shots on last year’s Disney adventure Pete’s Dragon, is about as Sundancey as this year’s releases get. Described as a “singular exploration of legacy, love, loss, and the enormity of existence”, it follows a classic white-sheeted ghost (Casey Affleck) trying to reconnect with his mourning wife (Rooney Mara). And while it may look a little silly/pretentious on first glimpse, it’s clear that Lowery’s created something exceedingly unique with this one, which simply deserves to be seen to be believed.

Dina

The winner of this year’s Grand Jury Prize for Documentary feature, Antonio Santini and Dan Sickles’ portrait of a real world romance between autistic pair Dina and Scott has been described as ‘unconventional’ too many times to count. In fact, it even describes itself as ‘unconventional’ in its IMDb plot synopsis. But where this verite-style love story hits a note we’re all very familiar with is in just how much respect it holds for the very ideal of romance itself, crafting an unexpected, but apparently also delightfully charming drama, out of a world we’re often far too separated from in cinema.

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Dawn of the Deaf

Oddly enough though, the hottest ticket of this year’s festival for genre fans, actually comes from a short. Showing as part of the Sundance shorts showcase, Rob Savage’s total subversion of the outbreak genre is an absolute must, not just for horror fans, but for anyone with an eye for finding an original idea in a haystack of formulaic ones. Dawn of the Deaf follows the fallout of a mysterious sound that wipes out the entire world’s hearing population, cramming as much emotional weight and genuine ingenuity into its tiny 12 minute run time as possible. It’s not only beautifully written, shot, and acted, but also stands as a great introduction for Savage, who’s certainly one of the most exciting new homegrown talents around.

Surprise Film

For the first time ever this year, Sundance London will be playing against trend and screening a mystery film, the title of which will only be revealed when the opening credits roll. And sure, there’s plenty of other incredible-sounding titles already listed in the SFFL program, but there’s just as many leftover from January that apparently didn’t quite make the cut, and who doesn’t love a good old-fashioned surprise? With possibilities ranging all the way from Directing award winner Beach Rats, to Aubrey Plaza’s cult hit in the making Ingrid Goes West, to any of the festival’s other hugely-acclaimed titles, this one night only event definitely shouldn’t be missed.

Film Review: Immigration Game

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Originally published on Flickering Myth on 03/05/17 and on Cultastic on 04/05/17.

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It’s no secret that free-for-all Battle Royale-style horror movies are all the rage at the moment.

From Kinji Fukasaku’s cult original, through its sequel, three Purge movies (plus its upcoming TV adaptation) and even the young-adult-aimed answer/blockbuster waste of time The Hunger Games, the base formula for Krystof Zlatnik’s low-rent thriller is nothing even remotely new. And whilst he does dress it up somewhat with some eye-gougingly current political subtext, the reality is, we’ve seen it all before, and done a whole lot better than this.

Immigration Game has a lot going for it: a confident, likeable lead, a relatively clever (if a little on-the-nose) update of a tried-and-tested formula. Zlatnik finds some neat ways of stretching every penny with a few unconventional filming methods, that leak all the way back into the very plotting itself (reality TV finally, at long last, has its uses). The major problem here is just that it really can’t compete in scale, very obviously replicating elements of those that came before it, but with a much cheaper and less impressive approach.

Zlatnik certainly has a penchant for violence, and the fight sequences, although largely uninspired in their choreography, come off as gritty and brutal enough, building well and ending with a real and genuinely fierce gut-punch of a finale. But rather frustratingly, it’s only when the leads are throwing punches and dodging pipe wrenches that they’re actually even the tiniest bit convincing; a problem not necessarily with the acting talent, but instead with Zlatnik’s own writing.

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Landwehr’s lead Joe is easy enough to get on with, but his supporting cast don’t seem to have nearly enough to do, reduced to pattering about, repeating the same lines and motivations over and over until the very end of the final act.

Which, when it comes, really hits like a freight train. Immigration Game certainly has its sweet moments, and definitely has the capacity to be both triumphant and hopeful in equal measure. It’s based around a very real problem, not just in Germany, but the world over too, and early on, there’s just enough teased to make the politics work without the film becoming too preachy. But as the action-heavy plot kicks into gear, so much of this is lost that, by the frankly twisted ending, it’s not about immigration anymore at all.

The way in which Zlatnik eventually ties everything together isn’t exactly flawed on a narrative level, it’s just exceedingly pessimistic for a film that started out on such a different note. He doesn’t quite deliver what you’d expect given both the title and the overall set-up, tossing a lot of the bigger ideas around throughout and dropping all but the least convincing one at the final hurdle.

Fans of the more extreme and darker side of horror will likely find a lot to get excited about here, even if its only really got one foot in the genre to begin with. Immigration Game doesn’t quite go in the direction you’d expect, and while that can be in many ways commended, it’s also incredibly jarring to sit through, and ultimately very divisive in the long run.

It’s certainly a lot more than just a cheap Euro-themed take on The Purge; there is some real personality here and there. But between an unwarranted, nasty ending, and its director’s apparent inability to settle on a consistent theme, it doesn’t stand out quite as much as it could.

Immigration Game was screened as part of SCI-FI LONDON 2017.