Review: “Pitch Black” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d bend the rules slightly for the next review in my “1990s Films” series and look at a sci-fi/horror/action film that was originally released in February 2000 (but probably made in 1999) called “Pitch Black”.

On a practical level, I decided to bend the rules because “Pitch Black” was a film that I got on DVD ages ago but never actually got round to watching, so I was curious about it. On an intellectual level, I mostly consider “1990s-style” films to be ones made in the time between 1989 and 2001 (eg: between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11). So, this review is within the spirit of this series, if not the letter.

So, pointless justifications aside, let’s take a look at “Pitch Black”. This review may contain some mild SPOILERS, and I should also warn you that this film contains FLICKERING LIGHTS during an early part of the film (although I don’t know if they’re fast/intense enough to cause problems).

If you look in the bottom left corner, it reads “DVD video – compatible with Playstation 2”. Oh my god, the nostalgia!

“Pitch Black” begins with a spaceship that is transporting cargo and forty passengers (in suspended animation) that is struck by micro-meteorites. The ship’s emergency systems kick in and rouse a pilot and one of the officers from cryosleep, but the captain has been struck by one of the meteorites. Struggling to control the ship, the pilot suggests jettisoning the passengers, but the officer won’t allow it.

So, spotting a habitable desert planet nearby, the pilot makes a dangerous crash landing and manages to save some of the passengers. However, one of the survivors is a dangerous convict called Riddick (played by Vin Diesel) who soon escapes into the desert. The man who is supposed to be guarding him insists that the survivors hunt him down before he attacks them.

However, during the search, one of the survivors finds an underground cave system… and is promptly eaten by something. When Riddick is captured, the survivors initially accuse him of murdering the dead survivor but, after one of them explores the caves and is nearly eaten by a creature, they soon realise that having someone as tough as Riddick on their side might not be a bad idea – especially since he’s even got night-vision implants in his eyes.

Yes, he isn’t wearing those shades/ steampunk goggles just to look cool.

A while later, the survivors stumble across an abandoned geological station, whose inhabitants disappeared 22 years earlier. Whilst several of the survivors work out how to get the station’s spacecraft working again, the pilot uses an nearby orrery to calculate that there was a solar eclipse 22 years ago.

Yes, that glowing thing in the foreground is basically just a 14th-18th century astronomical tool. Futuristic!

Another encounter with the creatures in the station’s drilling room also teaches the survivors that light is harmful to the creatures.

Still, the station’s space shuttle just needs new power cells. So, it’s a simple matter of lugging the cells from the cargo ship’s wreckage to the geological station. I mean, what could possibly go wrong….

Oh, another solar eclipse! What are the chances?

One of the first things that I will say about “Pitch Black” is that it reminded me a lot of both “Alien 3” and “Tremors” in terms of style, atmosphere and concept. It contains both the suspenseful, mysterious desolation of the “Alien” films and the inventiveness (and emphasis on rules-based survival) of the “Tremors” films.

The film also plays with the concept of space quite expertly, contrasting the vast agoraphobic expanse of the sun-bleached desert with the claustrophobic darkness that the solar eclipse causes (where the characters have to remain near light sources at all times, lest they be eaten). This really helps to add a lot of suspense and tension to the film. And, yes, this is more of a suspenseful sci-fi horror thriller than an action movie or a splatter movie.

Yes, the characters spend far more time running away from the monsters than fighting them. Which is sensible!

Although the film contains some action scenes, they are relatively few – with the survivors sensibly realising that running away from, repelling and/or hiding from the creatures is the only sensible way to deal with the situation. This also has the effect of making one scene where Riddick does fight one of the creatures (armed with nothing more than a knife) seem even more dramatic by contrast.

The survivors are a fairly interesting bunch too, including a rather posh British antiquities dealer, an imam who is an expert on desert survival, several members of the imam’s congregation, a rather badass Australian couple (one of whom is played by none other than Claudia Black from “Farscape” and the later seasons of “Stargate SG-1“!), a young girl disguised as a boy, Riddick, the guard and the pilot.

And, yes, Claudia Black plays a vaguely Aeryn Sun-like character too 🙂

Many of these characters get at least a small amount of characterisation and they mostly seem to be a fairly realistic group of characters, who react to the situation (and each other) in complex and realistic ways, and have realistic motivations. Seriously, although a couple of the characters (such as the antiquities dealer) are a little bit on the stylised side of things, the fact that many of the characters are relatively realistic really helps to add a lot of drama to this film.

Riddick, on the other hand, is something of a mystery. The audience gets a few hints about his past but he’s played as a rather ambiguous, extremely tough and fairly mysterious character.

Whilst a lot of films contain morally-ambiguous heroes, Riddick is an especially good example of this type of character. Throughout the film, there’s a genuine unpredictability about him which helps to add to the suspense. In fact, my only criticism of the character is that he sometimes tends to speak in a rather quiet and gravelly way that is occasionally difficult to hear/understand (even with headphones).

Part of the drama of the film is trying to work out exactly what Riddick’s moral code actually is, or if he actually even has one.

The alien creature design is also suitably menacing, with the mysterious creatures resembling a cross between giant bats, hammerhead sharks and the xenomorphs from “Alien”.

Awww! How adorable 🙂

The fact that they are sensitive to light is a key part of the film, although one other interesting element of their physiology (eg: that their “vision” is motion-based) is only briefly exploited in one scene. Likewise, the creatures are also shown fighting with each other at one point.

Another interesting element of this film is that it shows both lifeforms on the planet that didn’t adapt to the presence of these creatures and lifeforms that did:

For example, these dinosaur-like creatures seem to have… gone the way of the dinosaurs.

Whereas, these bioluminescent grubs/slugs won’t get eaten any time soon.

In fact, Darwinism is one of the key themes of this film – with a dialogue segment between the pilot and Riddick about the “survival of the fittest” being one of the film’s more dramatic scenes, which also helps to define both characters’ outlooks on the world too.

The film’s pacing is reasonably good too, although it is a very slightly more slow-paced film than I had originally expected. But, given that the emphasis is on suspense and exploring a mysterious planet, then this is understandable. Plus, at about 104 minutes in length, this film is just about short enough not to outstay it’s welcome. Still, the pacing of this film is closer to that of a disaster movie or a horror movie than a thriller/action movie.

The special effects are also relatively good too. However, the film’s late 1990s/early 2000s CGI effects are somewhat noticeable. Still, given that many of the CGI-based scenes take place in dark and gloomy locations, the old CGI often isn’t as noticeable as you might think.

As this is a film about light and darkness, it goes without saying, but the lighting in this film is brilliant! The awesome 1990s-style high-contrast lighting in many parts of the film is also complemented with lots of cool-looking “used future” set design that is very reminiscent of both the classic “Alien” films and “Blade Runner“.

Unfortunately, Riddick ruins this brilliantly gloomy lighting a couple of seconds later by turning the lights on.

A new life awaits you in the off-world col… Or, maybe not.

And just check out this amazing green lighting too 🙂 This film may have been released in 2000, but it’s definitely from the 1990s 🙂

In terms of the music, I didn’t really pay that much attention to it. However, the creatures’ bat-like echolocation noises often provide suitably ominous, and almost musical, background noise during many scenes.

All in all, “Pitch Black” is a suspenseful, claustrophobic sci-fi horror movie that is filled with well-written characters, an intriguing premise and some really cool visual design. Like a lot of classic sci-fi horror films, this one also often relies on not explaining everything in order to create a sense of intrigue and drama. Yes, it was a slightly different film to what I had expected – but it’s still a really good one. If you like the “Alien” films, then this one is worth watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about four and a half.

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Review: “Striking Distance” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d re-watch a detective/thriller/horror movie from 1993 called “Striking Distance”.

This is one of those films that I vaguely remember watching on late-night TV when I was a teenager. And, since it was included on a cheap DVD boxset (that also contained “Bad Boys) I thought that I’d take another look at it. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS, but I’ll try to avoid larger ones.

So, let’s take a look at “Striking Distance”:

Why it loses out on second billing to “S.W.A.T” on this DVD cover is a complete mystery to me.

After a creepy title credits montage involving a serial killer, “Striking Distance” begins in Pittsburgh in 1991 – with homicide detective Tom Hardy (played by Bruce Willis) getting ready to go to a police social event with his father, when he catches a news report about a police brutality case that he gave evidence in.

Well, that was a rather convenient coincidence…

This case led to the conviction of Hardy’s partner Jimmy (played by Robert Pastorelli), which has made him somewhat unpopular within the police department.

On the way to the social event, Hardy and his father get a call from dispatch and soon find themselves in the middle of a dramatic police chase.

Which somehow still continues for quite a while after this point, despite all of the suspension-wrecking jumps here.

The criminal drives expertly and manages to evade all of the other police cars until only Hardy and his father are left. After a crash, Hardy is knocked unconscious. When he comes to, he learns that the criminal not only fled the scene, but also shot his father too.

Some time later, Hardy goes to Jimmy’s sentencing, where one of the other officers tells him that they’ve caught a serial killer that Hardy had been trying to collar. However, Hardy has his doubts about the suspect.

Well, it wouldn’t be a very long film if this suspect was actually the criminal…

But, when Jimmy’s sentencing hearing begins, Jimmy is nowhere to be found. It soon transpires that he is standing on the edge of a tall bridge and threatening to jump. Despite the efforts of Hardy and the other police officers, Jimmy jumps.

Two years later, Hardy is a washed-up officer in the Pittsburgh river patrol – after being hounded out of the police for publicly expressing his doubts about the suspect in the serial killing case and for the events surrounding Jimmy’s death.

Bitter and cynical, Hardy is also, as you would expect, something of a loose cannon too. And, after “accidentally on purpose” throwing his partner overboard, he gets assigned a new partner – Jo Christman (played by Sarah Jessica Parker).

And, yes, there’s the obligatory scene a few moments earlier where Hardy mishears Jo’s name as “Joe” and then looks surprised.

At first, the two of them don’t get along well. But, after a thrilling raid on a coal boat, they become friends. However, Hardy is shocked when he gets a call over the radio about a body in the river. When he arrives, it doesn’t take him long to realise that it is the same modus operandi as the case from two years earlier. So, despite Christman’s reminders that he isn’t a homicide detective any more, Hardy decides to investigate once again……

Again, it’d be a fairly short film if he didn’t….

One of the first things that I’ll say about this film is that, even if you already know the ending, it is still a surprisingly suspenseful, dramatic and compelling film. Although this film has a few dramatic action sequences, it is actually more of a detective film than an action movie (unlike, say, “Bad Boys) – with a lot of the film focusing on Hardy trying to catch the serial killer and investigate the case unofficially.

Likewise, the film’s pacing is slightly closer to that of a detective movie than an action movie – with slightly more emphasis placed on the character dynamics between the various detectives than on the film’s relatively few chases and fights.

And, yes, a lot of the film is taken up with dialogue and sailing.

Likewise, the film also contains a suitably clever plot, at least one expertly-used red herring and a couple of shocking plot twists. Although this film isn’t exactly a police procedural or a Sherlock Holmes-like detective film, the emphasis is still firmly on detection, suspense and character-based drama rather than action.

Surprisingly, scenes like this aren’t as common as you might think.

Even so, the film’s action elements are fairly good – and still stand the test of time. Like with another vaguely nautical action film from the 1990s called “Hard Rain“, the film’s focus on small-scale events happening in one location really helps to keep the action dramatic, “realistic” and focused.

Likewise, the fact that the film’s action scenes actually have consequences (eg: Hardy spends the entire film limping from an injury he sustained in a thrilling car chase early in the film) helps to give the film’s action moments a real sense of drama and impact.

The suspenseful, dramatic and theatrical car chase at the beginning of the film is probably also the most well-choreographed of the film’s action scenes, although a later scene where Hardy uses a flare gun is probably the most inventive action scene.

The only action scene I can think to criticise is a somewhat random and unnecessary scene where Hardy (mostly) single-handedly raids a coal boat filled with criminals, seemingly just to impress Christman. Still, it’s a thriller movie starring Bruce Willis, so at least one badass “Die Hard”-esque scene is to be expected.

Yippie-ki-yay mothership!

Plus, at a streamlined 97 minutes in length, this film’s narrative manages to remain fairly focused throughout. Seriously, I’m surprised at how much storytelling and characterisation the film-makers managed to include here.

Yes, it certainly isn’t the most complex film I’ve ever seen, but there’s a lot of characterisation for many of the characters (eg: the older detectives who Hardy often ends up clashing with, Hardy himself, Christman etc..) and the relationships and dynamics between the characters are a central part of what makes the film so compelling.

However, quite a few of the conversations in this film can be described as terse, angry or bitter. Then again, this often adds suspense and tension to the film.

The emotional tone of this film is also somewhat interesting too. Opening credits aside, the film initially seems reassuringly “retro” – with Bruce Willis being Bruce Willis, some thrilling action, lots of beautiful scenery, some amusing dialogue etc..

Yet, as the film progresses, the emotional tone gradually darkens somewhat – with chilling plot twists, story developments, characters and scenes that push the film away from the thriller genre and into the horror genre. Or, more accurately, it’s one of those “a horror story in all but name” thrillers that used to be more popular during the 1990s.

For example, this scene probably wouldn’t look out of place in a horror movie.

Not only is this horror emphasised by the killer’s identity and modus operandi, but also by the fact that we learn relatively little about their motivations too. Not to mention that the motivations of some other characters seem all too chillingly realistic too. So, this isn’t really a “fun” action movie in the way that a film like “Broken Arrow” is, but it’s still a very compelling thriller.

In terms of set design and lighting, this film does fairly well. Most of the set design is fairly “realistic”, although there are some cool locations at various points in the film. Not to mention that Hardy also lives in a wonderfully cosy houseboat too, which just seems so quintessentially 90s.

Needless to say, it also provides a good backdrop for the obligatory romantic sub-plot too.

The lighting is, as you would expect from a film of this vintage, absolutely brilliant! Like so many other films from the 1990s, “Striking Distance” is filled with lots of wonderfully atmospheric gloomy and/or high-contrast lighting. Seriously, I miss when films used to include lighting like this on a regular basis.

Seriously, this place looks AMAZING!

Plus, Hardy’s houseboat looks really cool at night too.

Musically, this film is reasonably good – with the stand-out musical moment being an ominous slow-paced rock song that plays whenever the serial killer phones the police to taunt them.

All in all, “Striking Distance” is a compelling detective/horror/thriller movie (with some action movie elements). Yes, this film will be most dramatic when you see it the first time – but the character dynamics, characterisation, horror elements and suspense mean that the film can still be surprisingly compelling even when you know who the murderer is. Yes, it isn’t a “fun” 1990s action movie – but the suspense, horror and drama elements of the film are still fairly timeless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a four.

Review: “Bad Boys” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d check out an action/detective/comedy film from 1995 called “Bad Boys”. Although I vaguely remember watching the sequel to it sometime during the early-mid 2000s, I’m pretty sure that I haven’t seen the original film before.

So, when I noticed that it was part of a fairly cheap DVD boxset (which also included “Striking Distance” too), I thought that I’d check it out.

Before I go any further I should point out that this review may contain some SPOILERS and that the film itself contains some FLICKERING/ STROBING LIGHTS in one scene set in a nightclub (although I don’t know if they’re intense/fast enough to cause problems or not).

So, let’s take a look at “Bad Boys”:

And, yes, I’ll also be reviewing “Striking Distance” during this review series too 🙂

“Bad Boys” follows two narcotics detectives in Miami called Burnett and Lowrey (played by Martin Lawrence and Will Smith) who are investigating the theft of $100 million worth of drugs from a police evidence room. The only catch is that they’ve got to solve the case in four days, lest their department be shut down for incompetence…..

And, yes, the characters even comment about the fact that the evidence locker contains a large ventilation shaft.

After some of the stolen drugs are found at the house of a murdered ex-cop (along with the body of one of Lowrey’s friends), someone called Julie (played by TÊa Leoni) rings the police department and demands to speak to Lowrey.

Julie is a friend of Lowrey’s murdered friend, and she witnessed the entire thing (and, as such, is being pursued by the criminals). But, fearful of reprisals or corrupt police officers, she’ll only speak to Lowrey. However, Lowrey is out investigating a lead. So, Burnett is told by his boss to impersonate Lowrey.

Needless to say, hilarity, action and adventure follows….

As opposed to careful by-the-book police work and methodical investigation.

One of the first things that I will say about “Bad Boys” is that it works well as an action movie, a drama film and a comedy. However, the detective-based parts of the film can occasionally rely a little bit too much on coincidence and contrivance. Yes, there is some supsense and mystery- but the case at the heart of the film is mostly just there as an excuse for amusing situations, character-based drama and/or thrilling action set-pieces.

Still, the film does at least pay lip service to it’s “detective movie” elements, with the detectives occasionally investigating or following leads. However, this film is more of an action movie than a police procedural.

But, this isn’t to say that this film is all style and no substance. Although comedy and action are central parts of the film, these are still anchored in a compellingly dramatic story that revolves around two or three well-written characters.

Likewise, the film occasionally blends action and comedy in a fairly good way. Such as when the two detectives suddenly realise exactly what they’re hiding behind during a frenetic gunfight.

If anything, this film is more of a character study of the (occasionally antagonistic) friendship between Lowrey and Burnett than anything else – with both of them getting the bulk of the characterisation in this film.

Although Julie also gets a fair amount of characterisation too, the main focus of the film is on the two detectives. Even the film’s main villain is something of a two-dimensional character, who is just there to give Burnett and Lowrey an excuse to have a thrilling action-packed adventure.

Then again, a film about these characters just doing ordinary police work would also be quite fun to watch.

This character-based drama and comedy is helped by the contrast between Burnett and Lowrey’s lives (eg: Burnett is a fairly ordinary middle-class family man and Lowrey is handsome, wealthy, single etc..). However, although these differences play a key part in the film’s comedy, they usually aren’t over-emphasised to cartoonish extremes too often. And, despite many amusing arguments and/or misunderstandings, the two characters’ friendship is a central element of the film.

The film’s comedy elements work well, although they are a little bit more subtle than I expected. The bulk of the comedy comes from amusing dialogue between Lowrey and Burnett, in addition to the fact that they have to impersonate each other too. As well as this, there’s also some slapstick comedy, ironic humour, movie references and farce that helps to keep the film’s humour varied.

For example, one of the funniest slapstick scenes in the film is when Burnett tries his hand at weightlifting whilst Lowrey talks to an informant.

Although the film isn’t “laugh out loud” funny that often, the frequently amusing dialogue and situations often help to give the film a slightly more light-hearted emotional tone.

For example, this scene where the two detectives are pretending to be each other (and arguing, whilst trying not to look like they’re arguing) is absolutely brilliant.

The film’s action elements also stand up pretty well, even to this day. Since this film was directed by Michael Bay, it’s a given that it contains several dramatic explosions (with the rather pyrotechnic final battle against the villains being a good example of this). But the film also contains a few well-choreographed gun fights, fist fights and car chases too. The action scenes in this film are all fairly compelling, if somewhat “standard” quite a lot of the time.

Still, there are some interesting action scenes – such as one involving barrels and one where Lowrey chases a car on foot.

Likewise, the film’s pacing is also reasonably decent too – with the film remaining compelling throughout. However, at 116 minutes in length, the running time is a little on the bloated side of things. Yes, the film never quite feels “too long”, but it would have probably been even more compelling if the editor had been allowed to edit a bit more. Then again, compared to the films that Michael Bay made after this one, 116 minutes is relatively short in comparison.

In terms of lighting, set design and visual style – this film has some amazing moments. Not only are there lots of dramatic sunsets and cityscapes that just ooze mid-1990s awesomeness, but there’s also some truly brilliant interior design and cool set design, which is complemented with the kind of brilliantly gloomy lighting that is pretty much synonymous with the 1990s.

Yes, it’s ludicrous and completely impractical but, dammit, I want one of those large glowing clocks!

And this cityscape looks AMAZING!

I’m not sure if I prefer the set design or lighting design here. Both are amazing!

Musically, this films is rather interesting. Although most of the film’s background music uses a variety of instruments and styles, there is a single sequence of notes that turns up in many of the film’s songs. This sounds really thrilling and dramatic, although it is also one of those catchy pieces of music that will probably get stuck in your head fairly easily.

All in all, this is a good film. It is filled with comedic dialogue, thrilling action, stylish visuals and a compelling story. Although I have a few criticisms of this film (eg: the running time, the two-dimensional villain, the contrived elements of the investigation etc..), it is still a very good film overall.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four.

Review: “House On Haunted Hill (1999 Remake)” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a break from the comedy genre and re-watch one of my favourite horror movies.

I am, of course, talking about the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill”. Surprisingly though, I’ve only seen a few clips of the 1950s film that this movie is based on (the only William Castle film I’ve actually seen is “The Tingler”. In fact, I saw it at the cinema.. but that’s a different story).

Although I first encountered this terrifying, but somewhat overlooked, modern horror classic on late-night TV when I was about fourteen or fifteen (and got a DVD of it a few years later), it has been way too long since I last watched it.

So, without any further ado, let’s visit… the House on Haunted Hill! Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS and CREEPY IMAGERY. Likewise, I should probably warn you that the film itself contains some FLICKERING/ STROBING EFFECTS. (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to cause problems or not)

“House On Haunted Hill” begins in 1931 at the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute For The Criminally Insane. It’s a fairly ordinary evening – the orderlies are doing their rounds and keeping their records up to date, whilst Dr.Vannacutt performs cruel experimental surgery on one of the patients. However, his malevolent dissections are interrupted by a violent riot.

Egads! A cacophony! I fear that there may also be a scuffle too! Nurse, fetch me my duelling sabre!

In the ensuing chaos, the institute almost burns to the ground – with very few survivors managing to escape.

And, yes, there’s even an old-fashioned newsreel about it! This film is awesome!

Flash forward to the late 1990s and debonair theme park owner Steven Price is showing off his latest attraction, “Terror Incognita”, to the press.

However, his thrilling premiere is interrupted by a phone call from his wife Evelyn who has just seen a segment on TV about the institute and wants to have her birthday soiree there. After an argument, he agrees to it, but decides to rewrite the guest list and make some theatrical alterations to the party to spite Evelyn.

And, yes, as his name suggests, Steven Price bears at least a passing resemblance to Vincent Price.

However, when the guests show up to the institute, Steven is shocked to see that they weren’t on his revised guest list. Evelyn doesn’t recognise the guests either. The guests are completely bewildered too. Still, the show must go on.

Given the institute’s horrific history, Steven has decided that he’ll add a bit of spice to the party by promising anyone who manages to stay the night there one million dollars. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh…. that’s what could go wrong.

One of the first things that I will say about “House On Haunted Hill” is that it is pretty much a perfect horror movie!

It is an absolutely brilliant mixture of knowing theatricality, vintage-style horror, late 1990s style gothic horror (think J.K.Potter, Cradle Of Filth album covers, Tim Burton, Marilyn Manson etc..), dark humour, creepy set design, psychological horror, suspense and gruesome horror. And, yes, it isn’t a movie for the easily shocked!

Even though this is one of those horror films that will scare you the most when you watch it for the first time, I was still surprised at how creepy this film remains after several viewings. Even when you know what to expect – the atmosphere, style and premise of the film will probably still subtly creep you out.

Seriously, even the opening credits are at least mildly disturbing…

And, yes, this film has style! I usually wait until near the end of a review to lavish praise on a film’s set design and lighting design – but, this film is often a visual masterpiece!

Not only is it filled with loads of really cool gloomy lighting, but the creepily mysterious institute (which is a chilling mixture of art deco architecture and something a bit more “Silent Hill“-like) is one of the things that really adds a lot of extra atmosphere to the film.

It’s a glowing coffin, filled with several smaller coffins!

Ah, I KNEW that hiring Gunther Von Hagens to do the interior design was a mistake!

I say it in all of these reviews, but people REALLY knew how to use lighting well during the 1990s!

Likewise, this stylishness also extends to the film’s dialogue, which contains some brilliantly witty and acerbic lines. Although this film is a scary one, it doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously either. There’s just enough cynical comedy to lull you into a false sense of security, so that the later parts of the film will be extra scary by contrast.

In addition to the film’s disturbing backstory, one thing that really helps to make this film more creepy and suspenseful is the fact that it’s basically a survival horror videogame in movie form.

If you’ve played games like the original “Resident Evil” or “Alone In The Dark“, you’ll know what I mean by this. Most of the film takes place inside a locked building, where the characters have to fend for themselves. Like an old-school survival horror game, the main focus of the film is on both exploring and trying to escape a dangerous environment.

You have entered the world of survival horror…

The scary setting of the film is also complimented by both the cast of characters and the writing. Both Steven and Evelyn are brilliantly theatrical and creepily unpredictable characters. The bitter and acrimonious relationship between them also provides equal amounts of dark comedy and chilling suspense too.

Seriously, this is far from the most menacing confrontation they have with each other…

As for the other characters, the institute’s nervous caretaker also helps to add a sense of paranoia to the film. Likewise, the mysterious guests are a mixture between ordinary and eccentric. Seriously, although this film doesn’t contain a gigantic amount of characterisation for some of the characters, both the acting and the characters really help to make this film what it is.

The film’s pacing is really good too, with the narrative remaining fairly focused throughout the film. Likewise, the film uses suspense expertly whilst never feeling too fast-paced or too slow-paced either. Best of all, the film tells a satisfyingly complete story within the space of just 89 minutes too!

In terms of the special effects, they still just about stand the test of time. Even the few CGI elements in the film are dark, subtle and/or mysterious enough to still look ok by modern standards.

For example, this scene involving an evil Poirot-like character uses a really cool oil painting style CGI effect that still looks really cool, even to this day.

Interestingly, although this film contains some very well-made gore effects, it isn’t really that much of a splatter film. Even in the grislier moments, this film often still aims more for “disturbingly creepy/grotesque” rather than “buckets of blood“.

Well, except for the scene featuring a literal bucket of blood, of course…

Musically, this film is superb! Not only does the film’s soundtrack contain the kind of gothic orchestral music that is reminiscent of vintage horror movies, but it also contains an absolutely amazing cover version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” performed by Marilyn Manson. This song plays twice during the film and, on both occasions, it adds instant atmosphere and drama.

All in all, “House On Haunted Hill” is an excellent horror film! The tone, style and atmosphere of it is an absolutely brilliant blend of old-school horror and late 1990s gothic horror.

Not only has it stood the test of time well, but it’s the kind of film that also still has the power to be creepy after repeated viewings. It’s a film that manages to be terrifyingly dramatic whilst not being “ultra-serious” either. It’s also (sort of) the cinematic equivalent of an old-school survival horror videogame too, with a strong focus on scary exploration and constant danger.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Shooting Fish” (Film)

For the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a slight break from Hollywood films and take a look at a comedy film from 1997 called “Shooting Fish”.

I wanted to include this film in the series because I saw it on rental VHS when I was about ten. Although I remembered very little about it, it has the distinction of being the first “12 certificate” film that I ever saw and, to my ten-year-old self, this fact alone was the height of coolness! So, when I saw that second-hand DVDs of it were going fairly cheap online, I just had to get a copy for old times’ sake.

So, let’s take a look at “Shooting Fish”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

“Shooting Fish” follows two con artists called Dylan and Jez (played by Dan Futterman and Stuart Townsend). Their goal is to raise ÂŖ2 million by scamming and cheating as many rich businesspeople and aristocrats in London as they can, in order to fulfil their lifelong dreams of living in a stately home.

ÂŖ2 million? How difficult could it be?

Their latest swindle involves selling fake voice-recognition computer systems and, to make the scam work, they need a fast typist. So, after placing an ad in the paper, they end up hiring a medical student called Georgie (played by Kate Beckinsale).

However, in the middle of a “demonstration” of the system, she becomes suspicious. So, Jez and Dylan tell her that they are raising money for orphans (which is technically true, since Jez and Dylan were orphans when they were younger). Glad to help out with a good cause, Georgie decides to join the gang….

Yay! Crime!

One of the first things that I will say about “Shooting Fish” is that it’s slightly more of a subtle and understated comedy than I’d expected.

Although there are quite a few amusing moments and it’s a rather “feel good” kind of film, it often isn’t really the kind of “laugh out loud” comedy film that I’d originally expected.

Most of the comedy is dialogue-based/ character-based, but there’s also some visual humour too. Like this amusing number plate which reads “A T05 DF”.

In fact, the thing that it reminded me most of was an excellent TV series called “Hustle” that appeared a few years after this film came out.

However, although “Shooting Fish” has some of the slick cheekiness of “Hustle”, the narrative sometimes feels a little bit less focused. Whilst “Shooting Fish” certainly contains it’s fair share of amusing capers and audacious schemes, it is also slightly more of a character-based drama too. Whilst this adds some emotional depth and drama to the film, it also takes some of the focus off of the main characters’ many amusing cons, swindles and tricks.

The dialogue is fairly good, but the film’s pacing doesn’t always feel quite right.

Another slight problem with “Shooting Fish” is the lack of attention to detail.

Whilst the elaborate heists in a TV show like “Hustle” are somewhat silly, the audience is distracted from this by the many small details and clever plot twists that the show’s writers have added. On the other hand, there are some scenes in “Shooting Fish” where you’re left thinking “how the hell did they get away with that? Someone would have noticed!“. This film is very much a ‘style over substance’ film sometimes.

Case in point, this scene involving a jockey and a “hidden” helium baloon springs to mind. Somehow, not even the other jockeys notice it…

For the most part, the story of the film is reasonably good. However, there are a couple of parts of the story that seem a little bit contrived (eg: a plot element about recalled ÂŖ50 notes). Still, given that this is a slightly stylised feel-good comedy caper movie, then these parts of the film can be excused for this.

Likewise, the tone of the film is somewhat interesting too. Whilst some parts of the film are fairly stylish and slick, many other parts of the film are somewhat slow-paced and understated. Whilst this gives the film a bit more complexity, it does detract very slightly from the comedic elements of the film. Even so, as I mentioned, this is more of a frequently amusing light-hearted feel-good film than a “laugh out loud” comedy.

There’s also the inevitable romantic sub-plot too.

The characters in this film are reasonably good, with the friendship between Jez and Dylan being a central part of the film. Plus, since Dylan is a more extroverted character and Jez is a slightly more geeky and introverted character, the contrast between their personalities helps to add some interest to the film.

Likewise, their uncertainty about how Georgie will react if she learns the truth about their plans to raise ÂŖ2 million for orphans is also an important part of the film too. But, whilst Georgie has an interesting backstory, she sometimes comes across as a somewhat old-fashioned and “posh” character in a few scenes.

Although the “posh” element of her character is explained (somewhat unexpectedly) at one point in the film.

This film also contains a couple of interesting cameos from well-known actors too. To modern audiences, the most noticeable of these is that a certain then-unknown actor called Peter Capaldi happens to have a brief role in the film.

[Insert amusing “Doctor Who” reference here.]

In terms of lighting, style and set design, this film is absolutely excellent!

Not only are the flashback and daydream scenes in this film filmed using some really cool purple and green filters, but a similar effect is also used in the background of another scene in the film too. Not only that, many of the location designs in the film look suitably distinctive and detailed too. Best of all, there’s also a fair amount of cool-looking high contrast lighting too 🙂

Seriously, I really love this effect! More films need to use it!

And the lighting in some scenes is amazing! I’ve said it many times before, but people certainly knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s!

Musically, the film is fairly good too. Although I (surprisingly) didn’t recognise any of the songs in “Shooting Fish”, they all seem to go fairly well with the events of the film.

All in all, this is an amusing feel-good film. Yes, the narrative could have probably been a bit more focused. Yes, this film can occasionally have more style than substance. But, it isn’t a bad film. If you’re looking for a light-hearted drama film or something that is vaguely, sort of possibly similar to “Hustle”, then this film might be worth watching.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

Review: “Mallrats” (Film)

Well, for the next film in my series of 1990s film reviews, I thought that I’d take a look at a Kevin Smith film from 1995 called “Mallrats”. I’m genuinely surprised that it has taken me this long to watch this film.

Seriously, despite buying a second-hand DVD of this film from a market stall about eight years ago, I only eventually got round to watching it for the first time shortly before I wrote this review.

So, this review has been a long time in the making. And, without any further ado, let’s take a look at “Mallrats”:

“Mallrats” is a stoner/slacker-themed romantic comedy that focuses on two adorable slackers called Brodie and TS Quint, whose girlfriends (Rene and Brandi) break up with them on the same morning.

It really doesn’t seem to be their day.

Slightly disappointed by this turn of events, they decide to distract themselves by visiting their local shopping centre.

Needless to say, it isn’t long before they begin to hatch a convoluted and hilariously calamity-stricken plan (with the help of their friends Jay and Silent Bob) to win back the love of Rene and Brandi…..

Or, rather, a number of hilarious calamity-stricken plans…

I’m not doing the film justice with this short plot summary, but “Mallrats” is one of those films that is surprisingly difficult to describe. There are so many small story arcs, running jokes, clever references, sub-plots and other such things that a full summary of this complex comedy would probably guzzle up most of the review. Yet, despite this level of complexity, Mallrats is still a lean and streamlined 91-94 minutes in length. Now, this is good film-making!

As the title of the film suggests, most of the events of “Mallrats” take place within a large shopping centre and this helps to lend the film’s multitude of jokes and sub-plots a real sense of narrative focus that prevents the film from becoming chaotic or confusing. This is one of the most complex comedies that I’ve seen in a while – and it works really well, especially since many of the film’s sub-plots ended up being connected to each other in various ways.

In addition to lots of amusing sub-plots (such as one involving a notorious security guard called LaFours, one about a guy staring at a “Magic Eye” picture etc..) this comedic complexity is also a central part of the film’s dialogue too.

And, yes, the running joke about the “Magic Eye” picture is absolutely brilliant!

Although the comedy in this film includes a mixture of farce, pop culture references, gross-out humour/ “edgy” humour, character-based humour and slapstick comedy, the bulk of the film’s comedy comes from the gloriously irreverent and surprisingly complex rapid-fire dialogue.

Oh, and immature humour too. I totally forgot about that.

Kevin Smith’s films often focus heavily on good writing and “Mallrats” is no exception. Not only is the dialogue filled with lots of amusing comments, sarcasm and funny insults but there are also a fair number of short descriptions of amusing events that occurred outside the events of the film too. This occasional use of narrative dialogue also allows a film that is (mostly) set in a single location to feel a lot more varied and complex.

Seriously, this is one of those films where the scenes that just show the characters sitting around and talking can sometimes be some of the best scenes in the film.

The eccentric characters in this film are absolutely brilliant too – in addition to a few comedic background characters, the film mostly focuses on the friendship between TS Quint and Brodie, who are nice – but somewhat immature – “slacker” characters. They are contrasted with Rene and Brandi, who tend to be slightly more sarcastic and “realistic” characters.

But, the stand-out characters are Jay and Silent Bob, two stoners who turn up in many of Kevin Smith’s films (probably because Silent Bob is played by none other than Smith himself).

Not only do these characters get up to all sorts of hilarious mischief, but the version of these two characters in “Mallrats” is much better than the versions of them that appeared in “Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back” (since Jay isn’t homophobic, since both characters have better taste in music etc..). Plus, since they aren’t the main characters here, their personalities tend to stand out a bit more when contrasted with the other characters.

Well, it wouldn’t be a Kevin Smith movie without these guys.

Stylistically, this film is brilliant! Not only does it open with a really cool comic book style opening credits montage (set to some wonderfully ’90s punk music), but the set design and general style of the film treads a very careful line between “realistic” and “highly stylised”. This goes really well with the film’s eccentric story and comics-related theme.

Seriously, this opening montage is AMAZING 🙂

And, yes, despite being made in 1995, this film feels oddly “modern” (even down to the extended cameo by Stan Lee) in some parts due to the main characters’ obsession with *ugh* superhero comics. Even so, these elements of the film are mostly played for irreverent laughs rather than taken seriously. So, even if – like me- you aren’t a fan of superhero comics, then these elements of the film are still enjoyable to watch.

Seriously, the film is as much a parody of superhero comics as it is a homage to them.

But, despite these modern elements, this film is still gloriously “90s” in so many ways.

Whether it’s the awesome punk music (seriously, I love 90s punk music 🙂), the focus on “edgy” humour, the costume and set design or even just the general “atmosphere” of the film, this film is very much a piece of 1990s nostalgia 🙂

For example, the set design, costume design and lighting here are about as “1990s” as you can get!

In terms of the special effects, set design and lighting, this film is surprisingly good. Since it’s a low-mid budget comedy movie from over two decades ago, the special effects are a little on the basic side of things but they mostly work fairly well (with the only exception being a very slight jump in the footage when two characters use a motorised grappling hook).

Likewise, the shopping centre that the film is set in not only features some really cool lighting and set design, but also the occasional amusing background detail too. Although one of these background details (the carpet shop’s name) hasn’t aged well and seems a bit awkward when seen today – many of the background details are timelessly comedic:

Like this one.

*Sigh* I miss the days when lighting like THIS was pretty much mandatory in films.

Likewise, this scene set at Brodie’s house features some really cool lighting (and a “Tremors” poster 🙂 )

Musically, this film is really good – with lots of awesome 1990s punk music playing in the background during a few scenes. Although I didn’t recognise any of the punk music, it certainly sounded like the kind of thing that I’d have probably considered to be even cooler if I’d watched this film when I was younger.

All in all, despite it’s immature and “edgy” exterior, “Mallrats” is actually a surprisingly complex and intelligently-made comedy film. Not only will this film make you laugh out loud, but you’ll be genuinely surprised at how many story threads, running jokes and comedic characters Kevin Smith manages to cram into just 91-94 minutes.

Although a few elements of the film’s humour are a bit dated, “Mallrats” still stands up really well as a comedy film to this day. Seriously, I wish modern Hollywood was as intelligent and creative as it often used to be in the 90s.

If I had to give this film a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Blue Streak (Film)”

Well, the next film in what seems to be turning into a series of 1990s film reviews is a comedic heist/detective thriller movie from 1999 called “Blue Streak”.

Although I’d vaguely heard of this film quite a few years ago, I hadn’t seen it before. But, since it sounded interesting and was going fairly cheap second-hand, I decided to check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Blue Streak”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

And, yes, this is a DVD from the days when film studios added small print to DVD covers about the BBFC increasing the age rating due to the special features.

“Blue Streak” begins with an elite jewel thief called Logan (played by Martin Lawrence) pulling off a thrilling high-tech heist in a skyscraper in Los Angeles. Things start out fairly well for Logan and his accomplices, and he is soon able to purloin a rather impressive diamond.

A daring late-night heist in a heavily-guarded building in the middle of a large city? What could possibly go wrong?

However, thanks to a betrayal by one of his accomplices and a couple of unfortunate coincidences, the police are soon alerted. On the run from the law and threatened by his traitorous accomplice, Logan manages to get to a nearby building site and hide in an air vent. But, he realises that it’s only a matter of time before the cops find him. So, he conceals the diamond in the vent and hands himself in.

Two years later, Logan is released from prison and decides to go back to the building site to pick up his diamond. However, there’s just one problem…

The building is now a police station.

After a failed attempt at sneaking into the station, Logan quickly realises that the only way that he’s going to get hold of the diamond is to impersonate a detective. However, although he just planned to sneak in and grab the diamond, his disguise is perhaps a little bit too good – since he quickly gets assigned a partner and sent out to investigate crimes. Needless to say, hilarity ensues…

Even more amusingly, Logan is also told to teach his inexperienced new partner how to be a detective.

One of the first things that I will say about “Blue Streak” is that, like a couple of the films from the 1990s I’ve reviewed recently, it is just fun to watch.

Not only does it work really well as a comedy film, but it also works fairly well as a mildly suspenseful light-hearted thriller film too (since Logan’s former accomplice is after him, since Logan gets involved in a major case and since Logan still also has to find that pesky diamond too).

The premise of this film is also fairly clever too. This certainly isn’t an ordinary detective movie! Not to mention that the fact that Logan is somewhat out of his depth also easily allows for a good mixture of comedy, action and suspense too.

For example, in one scene Logan accidentally ends up in the middle of an armed robbery at a cornershop. Having very little police experience, he hides behind a row of shelves whilst the robber and the shopkeeper have a dramatic shootout. Outside the shop, Logan’s new partner rigidly follows police procedure to the letter.

And, yes, this part of the scene is played in a hilariously stuffy and serious way.

By a slight twist of fate, Logan then apprehends the robber… only to discover that he is none other than his old friend (and accomplice) Tulley, who is somewhat surprised to see him. Logan then tries to help Tulley escape before his partner makes a dramatic entrance.

However, Tulley ends up fleeing down a one-way alleyway and ends up hiding behind a dumpster whilst the police gather at the other end of the alleyway. Disregarding procedure, Logan strides down the alleyway (as the other cops look on in awe) to “confront” Tulley. Of course, the two of them then end up having an absolutely hilarious argument with each other.

So, yes, the premise of the film allows for an enjoyable mixture of comedy, action and suspense.

Needless to say – the comedy elements of this film are absolutely brilliant, with a lot of the best comedy in the film coming from both Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle’s hilariously funny performances as Logan and Tulley. This is especially true in scenes where Logan and Tulley end up arguing with each other.

Interestingly, in the special features on the DVD, the makers of this film point out that the film ended up containing a lot more “Logan & Tulley”-based scenes than originally planned, purely because these scenes are so hilarious.

Not only is this film filled with all sorts of amusingly irreverent, ironic and informal dialogue but, like a lot of good comedies, the film also includes a variety of different types of humour.

In addition to the comedic dialogue, there’s also character-based humour, slapstick comedy, “double act“- based humour, farce, parody and satire too. Although the humour in this film isn’t always the most sophisticated thing in the world, it is rarely predictable and it works really well.

The film’s action/thriller scenes are also fairly well-handled too. Unlike in some action-comedy films I’ve seen, the emphasis remains firmly on the comedy. Whilst the film might contain a few dramatic gunfights and suspenseful scenes, these are often used as a basis for amusing dialogue or slapstick comedy rather than just as an excuse for a spectacular gunfight or car chase. Even so, the action in some later scenes of the film is handled in a mildly more “serious” way.

It’s a stand-off, in Mexico. Now, if only there was some quick and pithy way to describe this unusual situation….

The set design, special effects and lighting design in this film are all reasonably good too. Thanks to the focus on practical effects and the relatively small number of action scenes in the film, the special effects are pretty much “timeless”.

Likewise, the film’s locations all look reasonably ok and, best of all, the film also contains some really cool lighting in a few scenes too. However, most of the lighting in this film is fairly “realistic” and “modern” when compared to the cool high-contrast lighting in a lot of other films from this decade. Still, there’s a little bit of classic 1990s-style high-contrast lighting in this film (especially in the earlier scenes).

Seriously, more of the film should have included lighting like this!

Not to mention that lighting and visual style during the opening credits looks really amazing too 🙂

In terms of the music, the most memorable music in the film consists of a couple of rap songs. Interestingly, the DVD’s special features also include a few music videos too although, at the time of writing, I haven’t got round to watching these yet.

All in all, “Blue Streak” is a fun, funny, feel-good film. Not only is this film a really good comedy, but the crime/thriller elements of it also work reasonably well too. Yes, it isn’t a “serious” thriller movie or anything like that, but it still contains some enjoyably light-hearted action and suspense.

Plus, at a lean and streamlined 90 minutes in length, the film moves along at a reasonable pace too. Seriously, if you want something to cheer you up if you’re in a slightly gloomy mood (like I was when I started watching it), then you can do a lot worse than this film.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.