Gattaca – 7.5/10.

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Allegory for discrimination against the underclass or straight up sci fi thriller? Doesn’t really matter.

Gattaca director Andrew Niccol wrote The Terminal and The Truman Show as well as writing and directing Gattaca, Lord of War and In Time so he has a decent pedigree. Gattaca to me though feels like a more grown up but less fun version of Equilibrium. An impressive cast featuring Ethan Hawke, and Uma Thurman play it really straight with only Jude Law standing out above the rest with a funny and believable performance and Alan Arkin a close second place with a typical grumpy Arkin turn. Law is one of the most underrated actors of his generation and he blows Hawke away in the scenes the two share together. Gattaca drags in places but there is an excellent climatic scene and the score is brilliant. Not a film I can imagine wanting to watch again but a decent if bland entry in the sci fi canon.

As Above So Below – 8/10.

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Five attractive and intelligent people encounter a really hardcore zone on the Crystal Maze.

The cynical part of me wants to point out the MANY flaws inherent in As Above So Below. The awkward clichéd script, the fact that director John Erick Dowdle packs the flick with bizarre unexplained creatures, the complete lack of character development, but somehow it all kind of works. The obvious bedfellow in recent years would be Grave Encounters but while that film takes ages to go completely bonkers As Above So Below achieves this in about fifteen minutes. A horror film set in the very real catacombs underneath Paris is an inspired idea and the acting is consistently on the ball so even when the dialogue is truly awful the actors keep it together. So to the main crux of any horror film, is it actually scary? Well despite taking many risks throughout a skinny run time of 93 minutes AASB is always unsettling and sometimes genuinely frightening. Weird, strange, hard to pin down sure but entertaining definitely. I can’t remember the last time I saw three good horror films in a row (The Sacrament & The Conspiracy), perhaps the genre is turning a corner.

The Sacrament – 8/10

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Religious cult does what religious cults do.

After watching horror director Ti West’s most well known films The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil I commented ‘Ti West has yet to make a great movie but ironically his subtle, 1970′s aping style makes him one of the more original voices in modern Western horror.’ Well he has made a great movie now. West has a very simple but distinctive style wherein he takes an established horror trope (ghost story in a hotel/girl alone in a house), spends an hour building the tension then ties it all together with a payoff. While he hadn’t quite mastered it with the aforementioned films he completely nails it here. The tension is less hammer horror and more impending sense of dread leading to a truly nightmarish conclusion. The last twenty minutes are a masterclass in jaw dropping, unadulterated horror proving you don’t need gore to frame something truly shocking. As a leader in the exciting ‘mumblegore’ scene (characterized by low budget production values and amateur actors, heavily focused on naturalistic dialogue – Wikipedia) Ti West is breathing a fresh lease of life into a tired genre by going back to basics. A straightforward story, well acted, well written but still frightening and gruesome to the extent that I found myself watching the conclusion through my fingers. One thing missing from The Sacrament that I LOVED about West’s previous work was how it looks. House of the Devil looked amazing, like a vintage 70s horror but filmed in glorious HD. The barren setting of The Sacrament leaves West limited in his options visually but I am excited to see him tie all his talents into one flick eventually. The Sacrament also brings the tragedy of ***SPOILER*** the Jonestown massacre to life in a unforgettable and affecting way. The best horror film I have seen since Oculus and the best overall of 2014

The Conspiracy – 7/10

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Two aspiring film makers infiltrate a secret society that are trying to orchestrate a new world order only to discover they are all actually lovely chaps (spoiler – they aren’t).

I don’t need to list the films responsible for the rise and rise of found footage horror films since Blair Witch Project arrived back in 1999 but you may not have noticed the modest ascent of cults and secret rituals in the horror world. Sound Of My Voice, VHS 2 and most memorably Kill List have tackled the subject in recent years with varying degrees of success. What makes The Conspiracy unique is that it tackles existing and popular conspiracy theories. Most people can’t see the phrase ‘conspiracy theory’ without emitting a knowing groan but The Conspiracy at least sticks to some of the more widely known reptilian schemes (RMS Lusitania, 9/11, FEMA, JFK etc) and most pleasingly has no agenda other than to just make an entertaining and chilling movie. While you know what is going to happen within five minutes it is still executed very well and the last twenty or so minutes are genuinely creepy. You normally expect some pretty crap acting in these low budget found footage films but everyone does well here and the two leads are very solid. Good enough to ensure I will watch debutant director Christopher MacBride’s future work with interest.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes – 8/10.

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‘Who are the real animals?’ film predictably asks.

It would seem reasonable to expect a sequel to be similar in tone, style and story to the original. That is not the case here. Think Alien and Aliens and you have a good idea of the shift in mood and action from Rise of the Planet of Apes to it’s successor. It is a bold move to push the story forward ten years within which most of the human race has been wiped out by simian flu or war. That period could have been a stand alone film by itself. So we find the apes still led by Ceasar but now they are just chatting away like it ain’t no thang. There is nothing to rival the heart stopping moment in Rise when Ceasar first speaks but there is absolutely no denying that the CGI here is incredible. At no point in the film do you doubt that this is real. We are talking about goddamn dirty apes riding horses here. That is some achievement. As we know though CGI alone does not make a movie (Clash of the Titans, Transformers) but luckily there is loads of great stuff going on here. The ape characters really are superbly written and the grudging rivalry between Ceasar and Koba is one of the more compelling movie relationships in recent years. The story is solid if predictable and unoriginal but it is just a platform to allow director Matt Reeves showcase some astonishing sequences between our primate brothers. The only downside is that the human characters are not as well sketched and end up very much supporting players. Gary Oldman doesn’t bring a great deal to the table and his supporting human cast are forgettable. While the action slows down without an ape on screen and it is not as good as the film that preceded it there is still more than enough to make this a worthy sequel.

COMING SOON – THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS FILMS.

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This year I have decided to celebrate Christmas by watching 12 celebrated Christmas films over 12 days beginning on the 12th of December and ending on the 23rd.

Here is the run down in all it’s glory:

1. Muppet’s Christmas Carol
2. Santa Clause (Dudley Moore)
3. Elf
4. Bad Santa
5. Home Alone
6. Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
7. National Lampoons Christmas Vacation
8. Jingle All The Way
9. Santa Clause (Tim Allen)
10. Scrooged
11. Die Hard
12. It’s A Wonderful Life

Ravenous – 4/10.

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A cast of supporting actors repeatedly murder each other whilst sporting daft hats.

Robert Carlyle, Guy Pearce, David Arquette, Neal McDonough and erm… the principal from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off… you really think that at some point in the making of this film one of them might have said ‘Hang on… this is shit isn’t it?’. Alas nobody posed that question so we are left with Ravenous. It is hard to pin point what is actually bad with this film. The acting is actually pretty good. Somehow this ends up damaging the film as you have decent actors very seriously portraying a really silly premise *SPOILERS* (Immortal cannibal shows up. Turns everyone else into immortal cannibals. Immortal cannibals fight each other. Guy Pearce wears a lovely blue jumper). I would say there are better films in this genre but I’m pretty sure this is the only film in the period drama cannibal category. The kind of film that makes you frown all the way through. Bafflingly rubbish.