Horror Film Review: Event Horizon (dir by Paul W. S. Anderson)


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Event Horizon, a sci-fi/horror hybrid from 1997, is one of those films that starts out with a series of title cards:

“2015 First permanent colony established on moon.”

Wait … 2015?  How did I miss that?

” 2032 Commercial mining begins on Mars.”

Yay!  Only 16 more years to wait until we’re finally on Mars!

“2040 Deep space research vessel ‘Event Horizon’ launched to explore boundaries of Solar System. She disappears without trace beyond the eighth planet, Neptune. It is the worst space disaster on record.”

Wow, that sucks.  But things happen…

“2047 Now…”

Alright, let’s get this story going!

Seven years after it disappeared, the Event Horizon suddenly sends out a distress signal.  It turns out that it didn’t blow up like everyone assumed.  Instead, it’s still out in space.  The surly crew of the Lewis & Clark is called off of leave and sent on a rescue mission.  (And when I say surly, I do mean sur-ly!  Seriously, nobody on the Lewis & Clark is in a good mood … ever!)  Accompanying the crew is Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), the scientist who designed the Event Horizon.  Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne) may not be happy about having Dr. Weir on his ship but, then again, Captain Miller always seems to be annoyed about something.

The Event Horizon appears to be deserted.  The walls are covered with blood.  The captain — at least it appears to be the captain — has been crucified and left on display.  Dr. Weir explains that the Event Horizon was designed to create an artificial black hole and it’s possible that the ship went into another dimension and that it may have brought something back with it.  Other crew members speculate that the Event Horizon may have accidentally been transported to Hell.  Either way, it’s not a good thing but, after the Lewis & Clark suffers some damage, the crew find themselves stranded on the Event Horizon.

Soon, the crew members are having hallucinations.  The ship’s doctor (Kathleen Quinlan) sees her son running through the ship.  Captain Miller sees the burning corpse of a friend that he had to abandon during a previous mission.  Another crewman appears to be possessed and attempts to commit suicide by opening up the airlock.  Dr. Weir has visions of his dead wife.  Things get darker and darker.  People die.  Eyes are ripped out of sockets.  A video of the original crew is found and it’s like something out of a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.  Miller wants to blow up the Event Horizon.  Dr. Weir replies, “We are home!”

Agck!

Seriously, Event Horizon is a curious film.  I’ve seen it a few times and I have to admit that it’s never quite as good as I remembered.  If you want to get really technical about it, Event Horizon is a poorly paced film that is overly derivative of the Alien franchise and it features perhaps the worst performance of Laurence Fishburne’s career.

(Yes, even worse than his performance in Contagion…)

But, at the same time, even if I’m always somewhat disappointed with the film, Event Horizon is also a movie that stays with you.  Whatever flaws the film may have, it is genuinely scary and disturbing.  Director Paul W.S. Anderson does a good job of turning that spaceship into the ultimate floating haunted house and, even more importantly, he keeps you off-balance.  This is one of the few horror films where literally anyone can die, regardless of whether they’re top-billed or have an Oscar nomination to their name.  Whatever the evil is that has possessed the Event Horizon, it is ruthlessly and sadistically efficient.

Plus, there’s that video.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about.  Anderson has complained that the studio made him cut a lot of footage out of the video but what remains is disturbing enough.  Seriously, you’ll never want to hear another Latin phrase after watching Event Horizon.

Review: Gotham S1E02 “Selina Kyle”


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Tonight’s Gotham picked up where the “Pilot” left off and that’s the fallout from the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne. We find out during the episode that the Wayne family was considered one of the two pillars of the Gotham community which kept the city’s order and status quo. The other pillar being Don Carmine Falcone was a nice touch by the writers. It was this little piece of world-building information that is gradually selling me into this series even this early in it’s freshman season.

The history of Batman, the Wayne family and the underworld which permeates Gotham has been told and retold so many times that it’s hard to imagine that anything new could be added to keep things fresh to hardcore fans of the character and the world. It’s actually been a major problem for comic book and film screenwriters when it’s time to come up with something new and not have it become such a major deviation from the character canon to alienate fans.

Showrunner Bruce Heller must’ve seen something within the backstory and history of some of Batman’s adversaries because he looks to be setting up Carmine Falcone and Fish Mooney as the two main antagonists for season 1. In the comics and in the films we don’t really get to explore these two characters very closely. They’re described as underworld mob bosses and, at times, seen as brutish thugs who just happen to be the heads of their criminal enterprises.

“Selina Kyle” is the title of tonight’s episode though we don’t really see the title character until much later in the episode. The episode itself dealt with a new case for the Gordon and Bullock duo who are still feeling their way around each other. It doesn’t help that Bullock seems to be getting tired of Gordon’s “holier-than-thou” attitude towards him and the rest of the force considering he and many in the force think Gordon killed Cobblepot in the previous episode. We, the audience, know better, but Gordon knows he has to continue to sell that assumption made by everyone.

While tonight’s episode wasn’t as overly busy with cramming as many Batman characters and locations it was still quite packed. In addition to building on the Gordon and Bullock relationship, we also have the episode’s main story about teen runaways being grabbed off the streets by unknown parties. Then there’s still the Wayne murders which the pilot episode showed wasn’t really solved. Will the murders of Bruce’s parents take up the bulk of the first season (I sure hope it doesn’t) or will it get a good enough resolution to help move the season’s narrative towards other more interesting storylines.

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It’s in the last twenty or so minutes of the episode that we finally get to see Selina Kyle. Camren Bicondova has such a unique look that it’s a bit jarring seeing her, at first. Yet, it’s the actress’ very exotic-look that hints at Bruce Wayne and Batman’s one true love turning into quite the seductive beauty. Yet, tonight’s episode just portrayed Selina Kyle as a tough, street-savvy runaway whose major role this season is the fact that she knows who really killed the Waynes.

Now, what really made tonight’s episode keep the series on an upward trend would be the two characters mentioned in the beginning: Carmine Falcone and Fish Mooney.

These two characters have become more interesting in just two episodes than throughout all the thousands of stories told about Batman through the comics, films and cartoons. As played by John Doman and Jada Pinkett Smith respectively, Falcone and Mooney make the show really interesting. These are not costume wearing villains or mentally-scarred antagonists. They’re hardcore criminals, but who have learned how to work within the system that is Gotham’s elite society. Where the show pushes forward that the Wayne family has been and continues to be a longstanding pillar of Gotham community, the show also seems to intimate that it does so with a sort of tacit acknowledgement of the seedier side of Gotham.

John Doman’s performance as Carmine Falcone continues to impress. There’s an almost paternal quality to the character but one that never tries to hide the brutality that’s made him the boss of all of Gotham’s criminal underworld. There was such a nice transition from polite businessman to sociopath mob boss in a space of a heartbeat during Falcone’s impromptu meeting with Mooney that one had to rewatch the scene more than once to pick it up.

Of course, many will point out that Jada Pinkett Smith as Mooney was just as good, but in a much more showier fashion. No disagreement in this corner. Smith’s performance is the opposite of Doman’s and it will be interesting how the power play between the two bosses will develop and how it’ll affect the rest of the cast of characters on Gotham.

This show still has growing pains to go through, but tonight’s episode was a good way in working through it while still trying to tell a compelling story. One thing Heller seems to have gotten right (whether by accident or deliberately) with this show’s writing is that he’s made the villains more interesting than it’s supposed heroes. That’s always been the case with Batman outside the comics and this show just continues to perpetuate it.

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Trash TV Guru — “Gotham” Episode 1, “Pilot”


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Okay, fair enough, I’m kinda late to the party here since Arleigh has already chimed in with his thoughts on the rather unimaginatively-titled first episode of Fox’s new Gotham TV series, Pilot, but as  the closest thing to a “Bat-fanatic” here at TTSL, I thought I’d go ahead and offer a second opinion — even if it’s not terribly different from the first one you fine folks have read here.

Let’s start by stating the obvious — between Year OneEarth OneZero Year, and Batman Begins, the origins of the Dark Knight detective have been done to death on the printed page and the silver screen over the last couple of decades, so only the venue is really “new” here, the basic outlines of the story this show is going to present are already well-known — aren’t they?

Well, yes and no. We all know how the series “ends,” whenever that happens to be — Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl and becomes Batman. Similarly, we all know how the story begins — wealthy socialites Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down in the notorious “Crime Alley” neighborhood of Gotham City in front of their young-at-the-time son, (here played by David Mazouz) and his life is, obviously, forever changed.

It’s what happens in between those well-established “bookends” that  events in Gotham will be playing out, and there does seem to be ample room for either whole-cloth invention, or creative re-interpretation, within the confines of that territory, and this pilot episode shows that, as was done with Smallville over the course, of — what,  ten seasons? — the principal creative minds at work here, most notably executive producer (and writer of this opening salvo) Bruno Heller, will be doing a little of both.

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Apparently the main plot thread, at least running through the first season, will see clean-cut rookie detective Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) and his crooked partner, Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), investigating the Wayne murders, and this initial episode largely focuses on them chasing a red herring in the form of a small-time hood named Mario Pepper (Daniel Stewart Sherman) , who they end up killing while he’s trying to escape, to the equal parts relief and despair of his wife and young plant-loving daughter, Ivy (Clare Foley). There’s some painfully strained dialogue that will probably make long-time Bat-fans cringe interspersed here and there, and a couple of scenes that are downright painful to watch, but by and large the story moves along at a reasonable enough little clip, the twists and turns our two protagonists encounter are generally involving, and the stage seems to be set for at least a modestly entertaining yarn as things progress.

Was the episode a great intro to the series? Not by any stretch of the imagination. Was it good enough? Sure, what the hell — I’ll be back next week for more, at any rate, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

So, how about a rundown of what Heller and director Danny Cannon get right, and what they get wrong, shall we? First, the good stuff : Mazouz is excellent as the pre-pubescent Bruce Wayne, and shows  pretty remarkable acting range for a kid. He’s by turns heartbroken, sullen, withdrawn, and determined. Good show all around. McKenzie displays a requisite amount of “regular-guy charm” as the show’s ostensible lead. Logue is a magnificent casting choice for a gruff and cynical veteran detective who’s definitely on the take — probably from more than one source — but may not be completely beyond redemption. Camren Bicondova largely lurks behind the scenes as a young Selina Kyle, but she exudes mysterious charisma to spare and you’ll definitely want to see more of her. John Doman seems intent on giving crime boss Carmine Falcome a whole new layer of depth and a set of complex motivations that really have me interested in finding out just what makes him tick. Cory Michael Smith is the perfect blend of genius and creepy in his role as police scientist Edward Nygma, who will “grow up” to become, of course, The Riddler. And Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot delivers his lines — and performs his physical actions — with a kind of just-beneath-the-surface insanity that shows that if and when he does become The Penguin, he’ll probably be more of the Danny DeVito ilk than the Burgess Meredith one.

The real show-stealer, though, is Jada Pinkett Smith as new character Fish Mooney, a second-tier — for now — player in the local mob scene who has brains, ambition, cunning, and sex appeal to spare. She seems to be having the time of her life sinking her teeth into the role, and it certainly shows. And if she’s not enjoying herself, well then — guess her acting is even better than I’m giving it credit for.

Oh, and just as a quick aside : does anyone else think the scene where she’s auditioning a struggling young stand-up comic for her club might be the first appearance in this series of, well — you-know-who? Maybe I’m over-thinking things, but I had to put it out there regardless.

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It’s not as if Heller isn’t prone to offering other subtle hints in this episode’s script, either — one of Gordon’s superior officers just happens to be named Sarah Essen (Zabryna Guevara), and folks who have read Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman : Year One know that name well. Likewise, fans of the Gotham Central comics series will already be well familiar with the names Crispus Allen and Renee Montoya (played by Andrew Stewart-Jones and Victoria Cartagena, respectively), who pop up here as GCPD internal affairs agents. They’re not given much to do, admittedly, but a word of warning to Heller and all other series writers as far as this subject goes : Renee Montoya, in particular, is someone with a lot of hard-core fans, being that she represents one of the few positive portrayals of strong, independent, lesbian women of color anywhere in mainstream comics. Treat her right, or ignore her altogether, but don’t get this one wrong. There are some lurid hints dropped that she has “a past” with Gordon’s fiancee, Barbara (Erin Richards), but I wouldn’t suggest playing Montoya for pure soap opera value — it would be tremendously disrespectful to a character that was truly groundbreaking on the printed page.

Which brings us to what Gotham, at least so far, seems to be getting wrong (apart from some occasionally dodgy set design and CGI work and the script flaws previously mentioned) : Sean Pertwee (son of my second-favorite Doctor to Tom Baker) is a good casting choice as Alfred, and his protectiveness of his young charge certainly shows through, but Heller writes him as a semi-militaristic hard-ass in a move that seems to be a direct nod to the risible work of writer Geoff Johns in his limp Batman :Earth One graphic novel (please note I’m only singling out Johns’ script for criticism, as Gary Frank’s art on that book was superb). I hope they don’t go too far down that road with the world’s most famous fictional butler. Poison Ivy appears to be the victim of a radically different “re-imagining” that, so far, looks a lot less than promising. The overall tone of the proceedings appear overly concerned with shoe-horning in too many specific Bat-elements and not doing enough to establish the city as an entity separate from its most famous vigilante crime-fighter. And having Barbara be a well-heeled, glamorous socialite is a bit of a betrayal of the working-class roots of Jim Gordon and his family that we’ve all come to know — he just doesn’t look right lounging around in her fashionable penthouse apartment.

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All in all, then, what we’ve got  is a case of “some good, some bad.” By the time the episode was over I was reasonably optimistic that, despite the “mix n, match” approach to re-invention and outright invention that I mentioned earlier,  we’re not looking at another Smallville clone here — i.e. a show that amounts to little more than Beverly Hills, 90210 with super-powers. The jury is still out, though,  on whether or not this show’s creators have enough of a different spin to add to the Bat-mythos to make this a worthwhile project. They’re borrowing influences from a wide range of sources, some of which I would’ve preferred having them ignore altogether, but it’s probably safe to assume that only some of those things will prove to be major factors in the series going forward. How far forward I go along with it remains to be seen, as there was nothing in the pilot episode to make me say “alright, awesome, I’m all in!” — nor was there enough to make me throw up my hands and walk away in disgust. We’ll call how I feel about things “cautious optimism” for now, with the greater emphasis being on “cautious.” Heller and co. have me interested — not it’s time to impress me.

Review: Gotham S1E01 “Pilot”


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“Gotham stands on a knife’s edge” — Carmine Falcone

It’s one of 2014’s most-anticipated new series. The world is superhero crazy right now and it was only time before DC dipped back into the Batman well to base a live-action tv series on their most-successful property.

Gotham doesn’t actually take the usual tack and bring in Batman himself as it’s main character. The show uses one of Batman’s most important allies as the focal point of the show. Jim Gordon has always been one of Batman’s staunchest friends throughout every story ever told about the Dark Knight. This show looks to explore Jim Gordon’s early years as part of the Gotham City Police Department. We still get to see Bruce Wayne as a child and his character and who he will become still loom large over the pilot and, I suspect, the series in general.

The pilot episode was written by the show’s executive producer Bruno Heller and it’s actually too paint-by-the-numbers. It literally tries to introduce as many of the Batman rogues gallery in it’s less-than-an-hour running time. We get a quick intro to not just the Riddler and the Joker, but we also get the early beginnings of the Penguin, Catwoman and Poison Ivy. Don’t even get me started on Batman’s more traditional adversaries in Fish Mooney and Carmine Falcone.

It’s difficult to judge a series on it’s pilot episode since the show is still trying to find it’s identity. We saw this with last year’s other comic book series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., and how it took literally 2/3’s of it’s first season to finally find it’s stable footing before it could even figure out what show it wanted to be. Gotham may just have an easier time to find its way in the superhero entertainment landscape since DC has confirmed that the series will not tie-in with it’s cinematic universe the way Marvel did with it’s own series. This should give Bruno Heller and his writers a much more free hand in molding the show into what they want. Yet, there’s a danger in that freedom in that too much of a drastic deviation from the Batman source will rile up the character’s rabid fanbase.

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The first episode does arrive with some very good performances from it’s leads. Ben McKenzie as Det. Jim Gordon commands the stage whenever he’s on the screen. He’s able to convey not just the man of integrity we know Jim Gordon to be, but also inject a bit of a darkness to the character that we rarely saw in the films and cartoons, but comic book fans are very well aware of. McKenzie’s Jim Gordon definitely a bit more rougher around the edges but still idealistic than the Gary Oldman take on Jim Gordon who was more seasoned, but also more cynical about the best way to combat crime in Gotham.

Donal Logue as his veteran partner Harvey Bullock does a good job in becoming the bridge for the audience between the principled Gordon and the more corrupt, underbelly of law and order that is Gotham. We’re not sure if he’s a corrupt cop or just one who has learned how to navigate the dangerous waters of the criminal underworld as one of Gotham’s protectors. Time will tell if this version of Harvey Bullock becomes more of the Batman Begins analogue Arnold Flass or the cynical, but loyal cop of the cartoons.

Now, a show about Batman’s hometown wouldn’t be able to call itself by that city’s name if I didn’t mention the rogues gallery that will end becoming Batman’s (and to an extent, Jim Gordon) reason for being. We don’t see colorful costumes or even the recognizable look of Batman’s villains in this pilot episode, but as stated earlier they do try to cram as many of them in this series premiere as they could. It’s almost like a convoy designed to remind audiences that the show will explore not just Jim Gordon’s early days before Batman rises from the shadows, but also the time of the villains before he arrives.

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Of all the bad guys the show tries to push at the audience in this pilot it’s Fish Mooney as portrayed by Jada Pinkett Smith that stands out most. Her crimelord brings a certain amount of flair to the episode that hints at the over-the-top villainy that will come about once Bruce is all grown up and takes up the mantle of the bat. There’s hints of a past relationship between her and Logue’s Bullock that could turn out to be interesting. Robin Lord Taylor as a young Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin is ok, but something in his performance looks like someone trying too hard to bring out in this series the Penguin’s quirky mannerisms that the character looks to be the most cartoony of all introduced in the episode.

Gotham had a good and interesting introductory episode that laid enough stones on the series’ foundation as it moves forward. With only 16 episodes instead of the usual 24 most full-length tv series get Bruno Heller and the show’s writers has less time to create this version of the  Gotham and Batman world we’ve come to expect. Will they manage to inject some new blood into a world that’s been adapted and reimagined through decades of comics, tv and film work or will the series just try to appease the hardcore comic book fanbase thus alienating the wider general audience.

We shall see and future review installments will tell if this site buys into the series with wholeheartedly or end up getting off the ride before it’s over.

Review: Dog Soldiers (dir. by Neil Marshall)


Werewolf films have always gotten the short-stick when it came to quality product. Vampires have always gotten the glamour and choice stories to be told on film. Sure there’s been some great werewolf films like An American Werewolf In London, The Howling and Wolfen, but more often than not most modern werewolf films try to copy the early Wolfman of the 1940’s Universal horror days. I’m very happy to say that Neil Marshall, an up-and-coming director from across the pond, has taken the premise of the werewolf tale and seemlessly blended it with the action conventions of such action-horror films like Aliens and Assault on Precinct 13. He even manages to mix in the tried-and-true themes of the siege action war films like Zulu and The Alamo.

Dog Soldiers is pretty much a straight-up action-horror film with a simple and tight plot of a group of British soldiers out on n exercise in the Scottish Highlands where they soon run across a pack of werewolves. These soldiers are only part of a much larger covert mission conducted by the special operations department of the British military which seem to think that some sort of creature lives in the Highlands which they want to capture and experiment on. It is safe to assume that neither group has their plans go according to how they’ve planned them. It doesn’t take the film too long before both groups have been whittled down to a few survivors by the werewolf pack and must seek refuge in an out of the way countryside cottage.

With the help of a young zoologist, who happen to be driving by the deserted country road when the group flees from the werewolves, Dog Soldiers suddenly turn from a your typical werewolf film and into a siege reminiscent of such classics as Night of the Living Dead, Aliens and Zulu. The rest of the film is a race against the clock as the werewolves outside slowly, but gradually probe the defenses of the remaining survivors until the climactic final reel where secrets between between some of the survivors are revealed to show that the situation the soldiers have been put in were not accidental. The final half hour of Dog Soldiers is as action packed as the last half hour of Aliens.

Neil Marshall’s simple, yet tight directing and pacing of the film was helped considerably by the fine ensemble cast of British actors. There’s some fine performances from Kevin McKidd as the cool-headed Pvt. Cooper who shares abit of history with the secretive and aloof covert operator Capt. Ryan (played by Liam Cunningham). In fact, I would say that McKidd’s performance as Cooper holds the film together and keeps it from sliding into camp. The rest of the cast does a fine job with Sean Pertwee as the Sgt. Wells being a sort of father figure for the young soldiers in the squad. Emma Cleasby rounds out the British ensemble cast as the young anthropologist Megan who comes across the fleeing soldiers on the country road and takes them to the only defensible shelter in the vicinity. Her character does a good job of gradually letting out the nature of the danger they’re all in.

Any talk of the performances in Dog Soldiers will not be complete if I didn’t mention Darren Morfitt’s gung-ho and manic performance as Pvt. Spoon. His Spoon portrayal is abit like Bill Paxton’s role as Hudson in Aliens, but minus the early bout of panic and cowardice. Spoon revels in the situation he and his squad mates have been put in. He sees it as the ultimate test of British military skill and nerves against insurmountable odds. He even mentions the Battle at Roarke’s Drift to make a point to a squad mate. This is ironic since that battle was the setting for the classic siege war film Zulu which Dog Soldiers pays homage to.

The effects work in Dog Soldiers was very well done for a film that had a budget less than the FX budget of most Hollywood blockbuster projects. Some people have pointed out that the werewolves either looked like men wearing a furry suit and/or furry-looking puppets. This is further from the truth. The look of the werewolves were pretty simple and with the budget Marshall and his crew had to work with they looked pretty convincing. Neil Marshall also seemed to have taken Spielberg’s rule of showing less is more approach. We really don’t see the werewolves in full until the final twenty minutes or so. By then the film has already hooked and reeled in its audience into suspending their disbelief and just enjoying the film. Dog Soldiers also contains quite abit of gore-laden scenes that were very well done. Limbs and heads ripped from bodies abound in this film. Stomachs are gutted with entrails spilling out. There’s even a nice scene of the werewolves feeding on the remains of one of their kills that most past werewolf films don’t show on-screen. Marshall seem to have figured out that gore and scary moments can be in the same film instead of just one or the other.

2002’s Dog Soldiers was a very small film, but it was one of the first first of the last couple years that has brought back balls-to-the-wall horror, action and gore back into the horror genre. Before Dog Soldiers most horror films have sunk to the PG-13 soft horror or the cynical, self-referential films like Scream. What Neil Marshall and company have done with Dog Soldiers was to make horror the way it should be: a hard rated-R thrill-ride that takes its audience by the neck and doesn’t let go. Gorehounds and fans of horror and action films should rejoice in the finished product that is Dog Soldiers. They should also be glad to know that Neil Marshall is one director who understands what makes a great horror film. I for one can’t wait for what he intends to do next.