The Invitation (2022)

The Australian Bluray release of The Invitation

The Invitation (2022)

If the popularity of Jackass and Fail Army can tell us one thing, it’s that humans like to see someone fail terribly at something that could have been an achievement of mammoth proportions. The thing is, though, is that you only have to burn several seconds of your precious life with the set-up and pay-off of these skits, so it doesn’t feel like you’ve wasted time until you’ve slid down a YouTube hole into a void that started at 7pm but finished 30 minutes before you are supposed to get out of bed for work.

The problem with a film that does the same thing is that the promising set-up isn’t seen to fail until 90 minutes to 2 hours later, and that bit of time thievery can occasionally be unforgivable. At the risk of burying the lead, this film suffers from this very thing.

Our protagonist, Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel)

The Invitation is a 2022 film, directed by Australian director Jessica M. Thompson who received critical acclaim for her 2017 film The Light of the Moon, and was written by Blair Butler, who genre fans will know as the screenplay writer for the 2018 slasher-in-an-amusement-park film Hell Fest.

The Invitation tells of struggling artist Evie (Nathalie Emmanuel) who is given a ‘Find Yourself’ DNA kit after working as a caterer at one of their events. She resists the idea at first but eventually gives it a go as she feels disconnected from past relatives. Very soon she discovers a long-lost cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner), a quite overbearing member of English aristocracy to reveals to her that she is the part of a family-wide scandal as her great-grandmother had an affair with one of the footmen (a BLACK footman! )at her estate, and had a child who was kept hidden.

Oliver invites her to come to a wedding at New Carfax Abbey in England, offering an all-expenses paid trip to meet other members of the family. Upon arrival, she awkwardly meets Mr Fields (Sean Pertwee) who assumes, due to her skin colour, that she is one of the hired help for the wedding, a mistake soon rectified by the arrival of the charming and handsome Walter DeVille (Thomas Doherty), the Lord of the Manor, who appears to be quite taken with Evie.

Quickly, though, we, the viewers, find weird goings on at the manor: maids start disappearing and Evie feels strange presences in her room, and her feelings of alienation increase as she meets more and more of the wedding guests, all of whom are white, and some of whom seem to be deliberately making her stay even more uncomfortable.

As our story unfolds, we discover a terrible secret within the house that may effect the future of Evie and her entire family!

The mysterious Walt DeVille (Thomas Doherty)

This film starts with a bang, and because I knew nothing about it before watching it, I found myself thinking we were entering a film similar to Jordan Peele’s Get Out, which alters slightly as you begin to realise that the problem within the family is not a medical one, but instead is more of a supernatural one.

Thompson’s direction is wonderful, and reminds me a little of the first Twilight film with its lush, moist exteriors and darkened and claustrophobic interiors. I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by the cast as well, with Emmanuel’s American character feeling SO out of place amongst the posh accents of the privileged aristocracy, which adds to the stranger-in-a-strange-land feel to the film.

The images and darkened tone of the film are brilliantly underlined by a spectacularly haunting score by Dara Taylor, whose work can be heard in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and various pieces amongst The Boys series. The claustrophobic interiors are certainly made more cramped by the atmosphere it creates.

Evie’s cousin, Oliver (Hugh Skinner)

The dialogue of the script is wonderful too, and the performers are convincing in their roles, but that’s not to say the actual STORY is consistently good, and as I mentioned early, descends into somewhat of a car wreck.

When one considers modern horror through the eyes of Peele and his contemporaries, and the tales they tell, this feels more like something akin to Wes Craven’s much-maligned werewolf movie Cursed (one I actually enjoy). I expected to be wowed in a fashion like the afore-mentioned Get Out, or to be shocked like I was with the Wicker Man-esque Midsommar from writer director Ari Astor, but instead, this amazing set-up crashes horribly into an almost teen friendly result of a series of films that would be ripping off things like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, or worse, Wesley Snipes’ Blade films. The car crash at the end of the film is the hamfisted shift in gear from psychological thriller, to supernatural terror, to wannabe monster-hunting franchise.

Another criticism of the script is the dreadful bait-and-switch performed within its story. Some creatures of the night have set rules throughout literature and cinema, and when a story chooses to ignore those boundaries for the sake of hiding the identity of a well known trope, it’s deceitful and not very good writing. Again, this reveal is towards the end of the film when it loses the traction it got at the beginning so it is not unsurprising.

My comparison to a Fail Army video is not so much that I wanted enjoyment from seeing someone fail, but instead, from watching someone achieving a magnificent feat: it’s a shame it instead descends into silliness.

I do look forward to more films by the director as I thoroughly enjoyed the visuals, and the quality of the cast, but were tragically let down by a story made more disappointing by an incredibly promising start. I didn’t like it, and couldn’t see myself rewatching it, and I don’t think it’s worth wasting your time on due to those disappointing story points. If delicious cinematography is your thing though, give it a look with the sound turned down.

Disc: This film was reviewing using the Australian Bluray release, which contains the following extras.

First, there are two versions of the film available to watch. The first is the theatrical version, whilst the second is the extended cut. General rule of thumb is to always watch the longer version as in general, the first things to be cut for timing, or ratings, is violence and nudity, which is definitely the case here, even though both are still on the lighter end of both elements.

There are some outtakes and bloopers which are not particularly funny or clever, but the cast seem to enjoy themselves through them so bravo to them.

There are two deleted scenes and an alternate ending. As one would expect, the film does better without the extended scenes, and it CERTAINLY is better into it the awful Goosebumps-styled ending presented here. Interesting to see the film actually could have ended even worse than what it did.

It’s amusing that all of these extras have wedding related names which are relevant considering the story, but not as obvious now the films name was changed from the more blatant ‘The Bride’

The Wedding Party – Meet the Cast is a brief introduction to the cast and the director, and their perceptions of the characters in the film.

The stunning statue from the foyer of the manor

Til Death Do Us Part – production and Design looks at how the filmmakers made the decisions of how the film should look, and the dichotomy of the ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ of British aristocracy, or at least how it’s perceived in cinematic language. It is a beautiful film with some lovely design choices to lean into the bad stuff involved with the family, including a wonderful statue depicting something like the St George vanquishing the dragon artworks of Brent Notke or Adrian Jones, but the dragon clearly having the upper hand.

Lifting the Veil – Designing the Story investigates the idea of a more feminist view of a horror story and specifically the direct influences of a source novel I don’t wish to share as it is a spoiler, on this film. Some of the tributes are quite subtle whereas others are somewhat clumsy, and don’t work anywhere near as well, and announce where the story is going early, though you may, like me, hope it’s not going in that way.

The spa is one of the delightful features of the manor.

Never Back Down (2008)

The cover to the Australian DVD for Never Back Down

Never Back Down (2008)

Film: I’ve always loved the wrestling. Even after I discovered it wasn’t real I got sucked into the whole soap opera of the storyline’s, especially around the time of the Attitude Era, with the Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and those guys. I did really love it, and even as an adult bought action figures and stuff, and then a friend of mine introduced me to the UFC.

I liked boxing and martial arts, and even went to those events at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, but UFC took me by surprise. The brutality, the fitness, the strength, the determination… everything about it captured my attention; my love of violence in movies was possibly also tickled as well, and as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) entered the vernacular, via its sports men and women entering movies and TV and other pop culture areas, I became enamoured.

This meant that very quickly we got to see movies based around the sport, and this film, Jeff Wadlow’s Never Back Down, a film that became a franchise is all about the MMA, and like films like The Karate Kid, it’s all about the new guy fitting in via the sweet art of beating people up.

Jake (Sean Faris) makes a bad decision in regards to dentistry

Jake (Sean Faris) has had to move to Orlando Florida with his family because his younger brother secured a position at an exclusive tennis school. It’s lucky though, because he has been getting into lots of trouble after the death of his father, and a particular nasty fight he had had during a football game is doing the rounds on the internet.

This piques the interest at everyone at his new school as there is an underground fight club, and very quickly, Jake is manipulated into fighting rich-kid douchebag but high-level buttkicker, Ryan (Cam Gigandet) by his girlfriend Baja (Amber Heard), where he is totally and utterly humiliated.

Jake decides to join a local gym run by Jean Roqua (Djimon Hounsou) after being introduced by his new friend Max (Evan Peters), who will teach him to fight as long as he promises to never fight outside of the environment.

This of course is impossible for the hot-headed Jake, who ends up at the wrong end of a few bits of biffo, but Jean continues to train him regardless, not knowing that his intention is to win The Beatdown, an underground fight competition held in a secret location, on the chance he might get to show his new skills to Ryan…

Ryan (Cam Gigandet) shows off his girlfriend Baja (Amber Heard)

Essentially what we have here is Fight Club without the discussion about mental health and the rejection of modern life. It’s more than that though, it’s also the same sport movie that you’ve seen 100 times before but there is a couple of things that make it stand out.

The first thing is Cam Gigandet. The best bad guys are the ones who do two things: they don’t know they are the bad guy and believe them to be the heroes of their own stories, usually due to having so many hangers-on and hot girls following them. The other is they have to be so douchebaggy that you don’t want to see them get their comeuppance, you NEED to see it, and Gigandet, a handsome rooster for sure, has such a punchable smart-arsey face that when it does eventually happen, the experience is almost divine.

It also stars the now-infamous Amber Heard, who was a cute and bubbly up-and-coming star who had previously been in All the Boys Love Manley Lane and Drop Dead Sexy. I had forgotten that it was her who played Baja, and I remembered liking her, and her role in this is certainly the Barbie-like love interest, but she does play it well. I’m gonna miss her not playing Mera in the next Aquaman movie because I liked her in that too.

The fighting choreography is also really good, and this version of the film on this DVD has, according to Wadlow, a remixing of the fight effects to make it more crunchy sounding. I do so love the sound of a breaking bone (on someone else) so I appreciated the effort.

This film does for MMA what The Fast and the Furious did for car culture: brought it kicking and scream into the world of mainstream. I want to say it’s awful, but as a teen sports movie that is more about the visuals than a deep story or a carefully constructed narrative, it’s not too bad.

Score: ***

The menu screen

Extras: There is a couple of interesting extras on this disc, especially the bit with MMA legend Bas Rutten. The disc opens with previews for the ‘comedy’ Semi Pro, Feel the Noise and Superhero Movie.

Commentary from director Jeff Wadlow, actor Sean Farris and writer Chris Hauty is not too bad. All three give interesting takes on what their perspective was of each scene.

Deleted Scenes with Introductions by Jeff Wadlow are a series of 11 deleted scenes that has Wadlow explain why they were removed from the film. Generally I think films are better without the scenes removed, when they aren’t just for gore or blood reasons, and as usual, some of these would have dragged the film down.

Mix It Up: Bringing MMA to the Big Screen looks at adapting a new modern sport into a new film franchise, and the training the actors went through to get into condition for the film.

How to Fight Like a Champ with Bas Rutten. Now Bas Rutten is an MMA legend, known as El Guapo (the Handsome One), Bas has an MMA record of 33 fights and 28 winds, and of those, 11 by KO and 14 by submission… simply, he’s a damned war machine. In this, he both discusses his sport, and comments on some of the fights from the film.

Score: ***

WISIA: I find the film strangely alluring and keep returning to it… much like the Fast and Furious films.

Jean (Djimon Hounshou) is moody about something over there

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013)

The cover to the Australian BD release of the film.

Film: I am a reviewer who cannot criticise sequels too harshly as I was brought up on them, from the original Star Wars saga to the various Friday the 13ths and Nightmare on Elm Streets I have always liked seeing further adventures of my favourite characters… which probably comes from being a fan of comics as well.

Of course in any series of films, one stands out as being the sloppy stuff that a dog pushes from its back passage… ladies and gentlemen, I give you A Good Day To Die Hard or as I will forever refer to it as A Good Day to Suck Hard.

This film was written by Skip Woods (more on him and his miserable script later) and directed by John Moore, who definitely knows how to put together an action sequence but can’t seem to get good acting out of his actors. It should also be pointed out he was responsible for the dire Flight of the Phoenix and The Omen remakes so be warned!!

A Good Day to Die Hard starts like a Bond film, with mucho shenanigans in Russia involving a political prisoner Komarov (Sebastian Koch) who has hidden evidence against politician Chargarin (Sergey Kolesnikov), which culminates in an assassination performed in a nightclub by someone who we quickly find out is Jack McClane (Jai Courtney), son of John McClane (Bruce Willis), who is immediately apprehended. John McClane, back in NYC, hears of this and makes his way to Russia to support his son at a trial where he is to give evidence against Chagarin, claiming it was him who ordered the hit, which puts him in the courthouse with Komarov.

Three men, wondering why they agree to do this film.

What we don’t know though is that Jack is actually a CIA agent in the midst of a three year operation to get Komarov to an escape point so they can get him out of Russia and to use the hidden evidence to bring Chargarin to pay for crimes he committed in the past… as expected, John gets dragged into it and we are then subjected to double-crosses, gunfire, helicopter and car destruction porn (you’ll see the Mercedes Benz emblem more in the first 30 minutes than you have ever seen in your entire life) and a father and son relationship once strained, now repaired.

I’ll start with the only positive for this film: the action sequences. These were filmed with a Hell of a lot of skill and were as thrilling as all get out and on occasion have points of shocking sudden violence that come completely unexpected. There is nothing really original here though, and in actual fact the first car chase scene in Moscow felt like an 80s styled pop music megamix of the tank scene in Russia from Goldeneye and the car chases from Die Hards 3 and 4.

Moore also used the George Lucas school of filmmaking idea insomuch that every scene in a sequel should be like a scene from a previous film, whether that be for familiarity or a lack of ideas I am not so sure, but it annoys me to no end. This film had so many homages to other Die Hard films that I felt like it was a tribute band version of a Die Hard film: all the hits and none of the misses. It replicated the ‘falling’ scene (from the first one), big explosion scene (from the third one) and many others… honestly, they could have taken scenes from previous films and clipped them together and made this film as it really was just a bunch of big scenes linked together by a loose script that stole from both Die Hard With A Vengeance, XXX and several Bond films.

Gunship porn at its finest!

The script is where the film actually falls apart. Skip Woods, who for me was a winner with Hitman and Swordfish, but taught us what ‘SUCK’ looks like with X-Men Origins: Wolverine repeats his Wolverine experience with barely even one-dimensional characters, luke-warm stereotypes and plot twists that were so obvious that Bruce Willis may as well have been holding a sign that said ‘PLOT TWIST’. What also was a problem for me was that after all the double crossing and triple crossing, the motivation for the main bad guy seemed hugely watered down, and his entire plan relied on SO much convenience that he could have opened a 7/11 store.

The other real problem for me was the character of John McClane. Bruce Willis’s iconic character was SOOOOOOOO out of his depth in this spy film that at time he seemed like nothing more than an amusing sidekick to Jack McClane’s heroics. At times John would shine though with his NYC cop instincts, but ultimately, he was just there to fire guns and wisecrack

After such a good run, and as far as I am concerned, a great modern day reboot in Die Hard 4.0, this is a miserable waste of time that exists solely to hand over the reins to a new ‘John McClane’. Imagine the ‘handover’ scene at the end of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull if it went for 98 minutes. Yeah: it’s THAT bad.

Score: *1/2

Easily the worst image of a menu screen I’ve ever taken!

Extras: As usual, a lot of this stuff could have been joined together to make one decent sized making of instead of a bunch of shorts.

Deleted Scenes as usual, glad to see the back of them because it would have made this film Die Longer.

Making It Hard to Die looks at the entire making of the film, from locations to venue the armoury the director wanted. Far too short as a making-of, but looks at a lot of stuff you wouldn’t think about in filmmaking.

Anatomy of a Car Chase directs the big car chase and looks at all the elements of it.

Two of a Kind investigates the similarities and the chemistry there had to be between Bruce Willis and Jai Courtney’s characters.

Back in Action looks at the character of John McClane.

The New Face of Evil takes a look at the baddies of the film.

Pre-vis shows the action sequences in their raw, early CGI form. They look like early Call I’d Duty or Battlefield cut scenes, but they do show how bog action sequences are blocked out and they they decide on the best shot.

VFX Sequences dies at all the visual effects plates used for various effects sequences.

Storyboards and Concept Art Gallery look at the pre-visualisation of the film.

There are two Theatrical Trailers and a commentary with Director John Moore and First Assistant Director Mark Cotone

Maximum McClane is a mega mix of McClane’s Die Hard experiences.

Score: ****

WISIA: It’s easily the least of the DH films so no, I won’t be watching it again.

The bad guys arrive!

This film was reviewed with the Australian Bluray release

After.Life (2009)

After.Life (2009)

The cover to the Australian DVD release

Film: You just have to love it when a first time director knows how to use a hammer, and hits every nail right on its head, and here, with After.Life,  Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo does just that. The director is also the co-writer along with Paul Vosloo and Jakun Korolczuk and the three of them have crafted an amazing story with some spectacular set pieces and excellent performances from the cast: not bad for the first swing at the ball.

After.Life tells the tale of uptight school teacher Anne (Christina Ricci), who is in a relationship with lawyer Paul (Justin Long) that has its problems, that is, constant fighting, and in general she just seems completely disinterested. After an argument that starts as a misunderstanding, Anne jumps in her car and has a horrific car accident, where she is pronounced dead at the scene… until she wakes up on the slab at a mortuary.

Christina Ricci as Anne

Funeral Director Eliot Deacon (Liam Neeson) is attending to her body and explains to her that he has the ability to talk to the dead, in which he feels he helps the souls of the deceased transition from their living state to one otherwise. He explains to Anne that not everyone has the same ease in their transition, and he feels that she might be one who finds it complicated.

Anne is not thoroughly convinced, and feels as though she is still alive so it takes all Deacon’s patience to help her, and being her burial is a few days later, he is under a time constraint but Anne’s concerns that she is not actually dead, and instead a prisoner keep resurfacing, and after a time, may be not so unfounded…

Liam Neeson as Deacon

Wojtowicz-Vosloo’s directorial skills lie in two main areas: cast performance and scene setting. Every scene was lit and set like a painting and put together with the kind of meticulousness that would make Dario Argento sweat, and the cast all really were able to show their stuff. Ricci’s character’s fractured personality mixed with confusion made her initially unlikable but eventually you felt badly for her plight… I should probably point out for the pervy Ricci fans that there is a little bit of nudity in this film of her as well!!! Liam Neeson played his role like a less vaudevillian Vincent Price, and Justin Long actually acted for the first time in his life, and didn’t just seem like the Mac/ PC guy.

All in all, After.Life is a delicate film with some great performances and drips with a creepiness that could only be compared to an old guy in a raincoat on a schoolbus. I didn’t know anything about this movie going into it the first time I watched it, had forgotten all about it and have to admit to being totally impressed by it. The performances of all in this film were superb and the film will keep you guessing right to the end.

Score: ****

The menu screen to the Australian DVD

Extras: The disc opens with a few trailers for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Crazies (remake) and The Collector and the only other extra is a trailer for After.Life itself.

Score: *

WISIA: This is a forgotten film that I only just remembered even existing and now I think it will enter my regular rewatch rotation.

Ricci ponders the difference between life and death

Sexcula

Sexcula

Film: It’s a wonderful thing for film fans when a lost film is rediscovered, no matter how obscure. Sexcula is probably the only known attempt at Canadian porn in the 70s, and honestly, that’s for the best.

A young girl inherits her grandfather’s house after he dies, and so she and her beau travel to see the property. The house is a renovator’s nightmare, but she reveals to her partner that somewhere within the house is her grandfather’s diary, which tells of some fascinating events involving the lovely Dr Fallatingstein (Jamie Orlando), her creation Frank (John Alexander), her sidekick Orgie( Tim Lowery) and sex therapist Countess Sexcula (Debbie Collins)…

…oh, and an oversexed gorilla (Bud Coal).

The story tells of how Fallatingstein’s creation, Frank, is fully operational, but for some reason cannot perform any sexual act as he is unable to get an erection… this is pre-Viagra… even using a resorting to using a sex robot that Orgie is constantly trying to have a go at. Fallatingstein contacts the one person that should solve Frank’s problem, the sexy Countess Sexcula.

Sexcula tries varies situations to arouse Frank, but he seems easily distracted or just not interested. Can Sexcula get Frank to… um… rise to the occasion? You’d better watch Sexcula and find out!!

So obviously, a lost legendary porno film is never going to live up to its hype, but that’s not to say that the usual trapping of 70s porn aren’t here: terrible acting, dreadful sets, horrendous acting and, well let’s just say, ordinary people rooting. Don’t expect the finely waxed landing strips of your partner either: the people in this film have more bush than a national park!

The acting is of a desperately low quality as well. I admit I am not expecting Oscar winning performance in a film like this, but an ability to deliver a line without sounding like you were reading the script off idiot cards might make the low and hairy/ scarey quality of the porn slightly more bearable.

Unfortunately, the acting and sex aren’t the only things problematic with this film. To be fair this is a ‘lost’ film, and one can’t always expect pristine hi-def quality from the providence that something like this comes from, and I don’t wish my criticism to sound like it is aimed at those who released this film. Clean up on a project such as this is definitely not going to be of a priority like, say, the James Bond collection.

There are two definite image problems here though, and they unquestionably stem from the direction. The camerawork was occasionally sloppier than the fellatio, and whilst I don’t expect the expertise of Dean Semler in a 1970s Canadian porno film, something that wasn’t occasionally like an even more amateur version of The Blair Witch Project would certainly have been appreciated. What is amazing though is that this camera issue isn’t always immediately apparent as the lighting of the sets are so murky (I imagine the idea was to make it look ‘spooky’) that you can’t quite be sure of everything the camera is doing: at one point I even though my TV had somehow turned itself off!!

Hilariously, occasionally olde school spotlights are used for dramatic effect, and fail tremendously.

It’s not all bad, though. The music soundtrack is a particular highlight, being a hilarious combination of Brady Bunch music, elevator muzak and Russ Meyer burlesque, and let me tell you, two of those don’t sit well with hardcore sex!!

Unsurprisingly, the image from this lost film is pretty poor, but that is not due to Impulse Pictures’ transfer. The film itself looks like it was mostly filmed in a basement with only Dolphin torches for illumination. The transfer is pretty good, with the film having only occasional artefact damage. The sound is presented in mono 2.0, and again, the original sound is the issue, not the transfer… it’s been a while since I heard the ‘clicketing’ of film running through a camera on a disc. Having said all that though, the presentation does add to that grindhouse feel that we all love so much.

Tragically, that is all I can say is good about the film. If it was supposed to be a tribute to Universal Horror, with its obvious winks to Dracula and Frankenstein, it failed miserably, and if the horror aspect was just supposed to be dressing for my arousal, well we had another fail. I’m a guy and I am supposed to be easily turned on, but unfortunately this received another ‘F’. Honestly, watching a documentary about a sewer treatment plant would spark movement in the underpant area quicker that this piece of tripe.

Bad acting, hairy arses, crappy wigs and substandard camerawork: yes, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to 70s porn. The film itself is somewhat of a chore to get through, especially with the dialogue being so dire (but occasionally funny) and the sex not being very sexy, but for a collectors of porn/ sexploitation history; it’s probably a must have, but certainly a once only watch. The ending also, is something that has to be seen to be believed… but not in a good way!

Score: *1/2

Extras: As far as extras on the disc go, I am afraid there is only a trailer, but there is also an essay by ‘porn archaeologist’ Dimitrios Otis and comic by Rick Tremble giving some additional insights about the film.

Score: *

WISIA: Definitely not.

My Dear Killer aka Mio Caro Assassino (1972)

My Dear Killer aka Mio Caro Assassino (1972)

The cover to Shameless’ release of My Dear Killer

Film: This film opens with the greatest murder EVER put to celluloid. I kid you not: it has to be the MOST original murder weapon any killer has EVER used in a film, and I will have no argument.

The weapon of choice?

It takes a particular skill set to murder in this fashion

A bucket digger mounted on an earthmover (they call it a dredger in the film, but that is wrong) picks up a guy by his head and squeezes until it pops quicker than a zit in a teens bathroom. My reasoning for claiming its ‘best’ status is twofold: one, the inventiveness of the killer to think ‘Mmmm, opportunity is knocking, why not answer?’ when suddenly deciding to grab the victims head, and his/ her sheer chutzpah to actually use it… I mean, it is hardly stealth, kill-in-an-alley kind of a weapon!! Color me admirable!!

This film was directed by western/ Trinity Brothers director Tonino Valerii from a script by Roberto Leoni (Santa Sangre) and Franco Bucceri (Gli Esecutori), based on a story by them, along with Velerii himself and Django co-writer José Gutiérrez Maesso (which is nodded to in a scene where Django is played on a TV).

My Dear Killer tells of police investigator Luca Peretti (giallo regular George Hilton) who is assigned to a murder case when an insurance investigator has had his head removed in the aforementioned murder. As the layers of the murder unfold though, he finds himself caught up in an older investigation which involved the kidnap and death of a young girl. Of course as the investigation gets deeper, the bodies start piling up, but can Peretti figure out who the killer is with the unusual clues he has?

Giallo killers are always perverts too

As a fan of giallos I looked forward to seeing this, especially as its male lead was in other giallos such as The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh and All The Colors of the Dark, and was much more than pleasantly surprised. Even though the story is quite detailed, it never becomes a victim of its own cleverness, nor does it becomes convoluted as some giallos do. The investigation goes from a to b without any longshot hunches that these films can sometimes contain.

There is some well played violence in the film as well, though somewhat silly at times (the killer sits and chats with one victim before searching her house, whilst she quizzically watches, for something to kill her with, and finds a circular saw!! This guy is clearly a disorganised serial killer to not have a weapon handy) and being an Italian film of its era, some stunningly gorgeous cast members.

I should also point out that this Shameless release is the first time it has been released uncut, which should add to the joy to those who like the bloodier side of things.

I think this film is a great giallo, and it is truly a shame that Valerii never made another as its direction is really solid. Also, it being a part of the Shameless collection, number 11 in fact,  gives it some collector swagger as well, with the spine of the amray making up the word ‘Shameless’.

Score: ****

The DVD menu screen

Extras: Not the greatest ever extras from Shameless on this disc. We have the trailer for the film, and a bunch of trailers of other Shameless releases, including What Have They Done To Your Daughters?, Night Train Murders, Torso (Carnal Violence), Baba Yaga: The Devil Witch, Ratman and The Black Cat.

Score: **

WISIA: Yes.

Strangled by the prices at the post office. Nothing’s changed.

This film was reviewed with the UK Shameless Screen Entertainment DVD release

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

The Girl in the Spider’s Web (2018)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release

Film: There is no doubt that Lisbeth Salander is a character who sits in my top 5 favourite female characters of all time (for transparencies sake, the others are Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider video games, Iden Versio from the Star Wars based video game Battlefront 2, Black Canary from DC Comics and She-Hulk from Marvel comics… Jean Grey from the X-men and Power Girl from DC comics follow close behind), and I have thoroughly enjoyed her character in pretty much well every incarnation I have seen of her, from comics to film to TV… but even though I like this film, I’m not quite sure that Claire Foy, a wonderful actor, was perfect for this role.

After seeing Roony Mara and Naomi Rapace in this role, I found Foy, who is wonderful in The Crown TV series as Queen Elizabeth II, to not be a physical match for the other actors, and I found her to be slightly unbelievable in the role. Another case of this from a film a few years earlier was Terminator Genesys, where Emilia Clarke from Game of Thrones was thrown in as the ‘new’ Sarah Conner, but again couldn’t match her physicality.

Before anyone calls me out of this as being sexist I would like to point out it has nothing to do with sex. Sometimes a role requires a particular physical attribute to perform a role. Even though I like Tom Cruise’s Jack Reacher films, I am not quite sure that he accurately portrays the character as defined by the book. I also wouldn’t like to see characters like Conan or John Rambo played by Tom Hanks at any time in his career.

Sometimes a look defines a character, and film being a visual art form, that requires a degree of accurate portrayal. Foy’ s physicality is perfect in the Crown, but for the role of Lisbeth Salander, I’m not so sure. That’s not to say she didn’t play the part well because she did, but I had trouble visually believing her.

Anyway, this film, the second in the English versions of the Millennium tales, is based on the novel by David Lagercrantz, who wrote this book after the character’s creator, Stieg Larsson passed away, and the script is by Jay Basu, who also wrote the Monsters sequel, Monsters: Dark Continent. The film was directed by Fede Alvarez, who previously gave us the Evil Dead remake and Don’t Breathe, two films for which I have a great respect.

Our story tells the continuing adventures of hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy), who this time has been employed by Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) to retrieve a program he created called Firefall, which is able to activate the world’s nuclear weapons, believing is too dangerous to be ‘owned’ by the NSA.

Lisbeth (Clare Foy) in vengeance mode

Whilst making the attempt, Salander gets the attention of NSA agent Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stansfield), which become her first problem. Her next one is the mercy who try to get the program from her, which makes her miss her meeting with Balder, causing him to think she is keeping it for herself. He contacts Crane (Synnøve Macody Lund) who puts him and his son August (Christopher Convery).

Very quickly, in twist after twist, the programme is being transferred from one set of hands to another, Salander finds there is a mastermind pulling the strings, her very own sister, Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), who has a very personal agenda against Salander.

For the most part I like this film. The story is engaging and it’s full of Bond-like action and twists and turns in the tale, but unfortunately, Foy, a wonderful actor, is disastrously miscast. Both Rooney Mara and Naomi Rapace looked like hardasses who had seen, and experienced, far more than their years would suggest, but Foy looks more like a cosplayer doing a cutesy version of the same character for Dragon Tattoo-con. It’s such a shame that the focus of the entire story, and this is more a story about Salander than about something she’s involved in as an interloper, has an actor who’s not quite right in the lead role.

Balder (Stephen Merchant) cops one in the eye

In Foy’s defence though, the choice of Sverrir Gudnason as Mikael Blomkvist is just as flaccid, so they make a great pair. I am comparing him to Daniel Craig’s performance in the American-made Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so maybe that’s not fair.

This even reflects in the design of the film. The characters all have some amazing outfits, especially the red suits that Hoeks gets to wear, but Foy’s outfits just look off the rack, instead of the almost gothic battle outfits the previous actors wore. The rest of the film design is wonderful as well. Alvarez has managed to make a film that’s so cold and wet looking you’ll need a blanket and a towel to watch it.

Speaking of Hoeks, her portray of Camilla Salander is as villainous as they come, and she feels more in control and a better all-round villain that every one of Daniel Craig’s Bind villains except for Mads Mikkelson’s La Chiffre. Whilst on cast, I was surprised to see Stephen Merchant in a serious role, something I’m not sure I’d seen him in before.

A few years ago, I was on a podcast where myself and the others there discussed our favourite characters of all time, be it comic, movie, book or whatever, and Lisbeth Salander was my number one as I have a real love of the character. This film is a good one, with one key piece of miscasting that causes it to fail somewhat.

A missed opportunity is the worst kind of fail.

Score: **1/2

Australian Bluray menu

Extras: Disc opens with trailers for Searching…, Venom and weirdly, the special features of the disc itself… ok, then…

Commentary with Director Fede Alvarez and Screenwriter Jay Basu which is a fascinating look at the story origins and what they took from David Lagercrantz’s novel.

Deleted Scenes, as I always say: the film was better off without them.

Claire Foy: Becoming Lisbeth is a discussion about Claire Foy’s portrayal of the character, and how it contrasts with her portrayal of the ‘other’ Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth II in the TV series ‘The Crown’.

All About the Stunts talks about the stunts, focusing the the big car crash, the motorbike on the ice scene and a car chase. Each section seemed to focus more on the effects used so I’m not sure what this extra was about at all.

Creating the World: The Making-Of talks about how the decision to break out of Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and into the new stories felt like a better idea than to remake the Swedish films that were already very popular.

Secrets of the Salander Sisters looks at the characters and portrayals of Lisbeth and Camilla and the difference between our antagonist and

Previews, which takes you back to the previews at the beginning of the disc.

Score: **1/2

WISIA: I will because it is a part of the Lisbeth Salander stories, but under protest!

Salander escapes across a frozen lake on her motorcycle

This film was reviewed with the Australian Bluray release.

Zombie Fluxx

Zombie Fluxx

The wonderful cover to Zombie Fluxx

My wife is not really a game player, which is a bummer because I own over 500 games! She does have a few she enjoys, like Lords of Waterdeep (a Dungeons and Dragons worker placement board game) and Scopa (a traditional Italian card game), for example, but in general she’s difficulty to please with card games.

It’s especially frustrating when you set a big game up and by the end of turn one she might say,’ nope, I don’t like it.’

What is funny about playing with my wife is how she learns rules. Her only question is always, ‘how do I win’ and then she observes how the turns go and follows everyone else’s lead.

Introducing her to the card game Fluxx was hilarious, because at the beginning, you don’t know how to win.

Fluxx is one of those games that is a great game by itself, but has several ‘re-skinnings’ that incorporate various themes into its basic gameplay, which is that you start with three cards, you draw one card, and play one card… unless another card in play tells you to do something different.

In the game, you have various types of cards:

New Rules are cards that can change the basic rules of the game, like draw 4 (instead of draw 1), Hand Limit 2, which means if you have had to draw 4 cards, then played 1, you have to discard cards until you only have 2, or Double Agenda, which tells you that there are two goals to choose from… but what are the goals?

Goals are how the game ends. They will feature two keepers, like one called We’re All All Right, which makes the win conditions that you need two ‘friends’ as keepers. The goals can change during the game though, so play as many keepers as you can.

Keepers are cards that you keep in front of you which may lead you to a win condition, but some goals claim you must have no zombies as keepers, which is difficult… but zombies can be removed…

Creepers are keepers you play immediately with no exception. You can win with a zombie in front of you, so you need to be looking for weapons cards to get rid of them.

Actions are basically cards that you play, and do whatever they say, the results usually being to your advantage.

Play continues until one play is able to complete the goal a card is offering, and this can be done by have the appropriate keepers, or even playing a goal card that allows you to win.

The artwork on the cards is very much of the standard Fluxx type, but it is function and the zombies are appropriately zombie-ish. This game also has the option of removing the zombie related cards so it can be played as a regular game of Fluxx.

It’s a very simple game, and this one’s horror theme isn’t a game that drips the horror genre, but it’s fun enough, and easy to play and can be enjoyed even by non-gamers like my wife!

Score: ***

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Paranormal Activity (2007)

The Australian release on Bluray of Paranormal Activity

Film: Oh boy, do I hate found footage films.

To me, they are the reality TV of cinema. Lazy, cheap and boring filmmaking that require ridiculous reasons for there to either someone with a camera or a camera remotely set up; this became most evident as this particular series of films rolled on.

The Blair Witch Project is a fairly shoddily-made, uninteresting film that created a hubbub around its release by duping people into thinking it was real. In terms of it being a piece of marketing brilliance, I can’t deny that, but once the magician’s trick, ie that it wasn’t real, was revealed it immediately lost all of its power. I find it interesting that movies are allowed to get away with this so-called marketing. They basically told us it was a documentary and it wasn’t; usually if a company made false adverting claims like that it would be the end of their career.

Micah (Micah Stoat) got a new video camera

This film was written and directed by Oren Peli, who also directed 2015’s Area 15, and has acted as producer on all the Paranormal Activity sequels (of which there are several).

Paranormal Activity starts with a thank you to the families of the main characters Katie (Katie Featherstone) and Micah (Micah Stoat) and the police department for supplying them with the video tapes of the mysterious case surrounding the events of the film.

The film starts with day trader Micah and his brand new video camera as he decides to fill his days with filming his and Katie’s lives together, but something as awry. As the filming continues, Katie and Micah discover through looking back over recordings made of themselves asleep, that there might be something in the house with them… something malevolent… something that doesn’t appreciate a psychic investigator, or Micah’s amateur attempts with a Ouija board.

Quickly things escalate and we discover that maybe whatever it is may have a secret locked in Katie’s past..

Katie (Katie Featherstone) is really impressed with Micah’s new camera

Ok, so I have displayed my opinion of these films in my introduction, but this film has a couple of things going for it. One is the cast. Katie and Micah make for a realistic couple which is what really sells the ‘found footage’ style of the film. The other is the way their characters are written, and the way their relationship starts to dissolve as the events of the haunting become more intense.

The problem I have with this film is that it is a party trick. The entire film has no soundtrack, unless you count the occasional guitar plucking that Micah does, but what it does do is plays a very low hum anytime something ‘scary’ is about to happen, and it’s very low, so you don’t just hear it, you kind of feel it too. Most films do something similar, but they also have a score as well. This has silence, and then the creeping ‘ommmmmmmmmmm’ whenever its going for scares.

Scorsese claimed that Marvel made theme park rides rather than ‘proper’ cinema, and if that’s true, ‘found footage’ films are bad VR experiences like the ones you would have played in a Shopping Centre at $10 for 5 minutes.

To its credit, this disc does have two versions of the film on it, the theatrical version and an ‘alternate’ version, which is the same film, but with the last minute being different… the problem being that different ending can also be seen in the extra titled ‘alternate ending’ so why have them both here. Weird choice.

You may ask why I own this disc then, if I hate it so much, but that’s has a very simple answer: my wife digs these films and she’s not a fan of horror, so if the opportunity comes to watch a horror film with her, I’ll take it, even if it’s one I don’t like.

Score: *1/2

The Australian menu screen

Extras: There’s only two extras on this disc. The disc also starts with a trailer for Nowhere Boy, before hitting the menu.

Alternate Ending is pretty dumb and I’m sure the filmmakers are glad they didn’t go with it, otherwise Katie wouldn’t have been able to show up in sequels.

Paranormal Activity fans is one of the dumbest extras I’ve ever seen. It’s one of my most hated things, a stills gallery, but of people who must have submitted photos of themselves to appear on the home release? I feel like I’m owed 6 minutes of time for wasting it watching crap like this for a review.

I would have given the extras at least one star for the alternate ending, but the ‘Fans’ extra is an absolute insult unless you are one of the ‘lucky’ people who are on it.

Score: 0

WISIA: Straight back to the bottom of the rewatch pile it goes, and stays.

The psychic

High Rise (2015)

High Rise (2015)

The cover to the Australian Bluray release of High Rise

Film: I used to read a real lot, but just because time sometimes gets away from you, I don’t read anywhere near as much now. I used to read a big variety of stuff, from classics to modern horror, but somehow, the works of J. G. Ballard somehow missed my grasp.

After watching this film I have decided that that is something I need to rectify!

Ballard wrote challenging and disturbing work apparently, dealing with psychology, mankind’s relationship with technology, the media and sex… it’s always about sex! This film, High Rise, was based on his 1975 novel based of the same name.

Tom Hiddleston up to mischief in High Rise

This film was directed by A Field In England’s Ben Wheatley who just brings the most stunning eye to the story, making it a film that seems to be about the future, but setting it in what looks to be 1975, when you consider the fashion, the liberal smoking practices and the fact that SOS by Abba is referenced twice through the film. The adaption of the story was done by regular Wheatley collaborator Amy Jump, who also worked on A Field in England, and Kill List.

High Rise tells of Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston), a teacher of physiology who has moved into the 25th floor of a 40 story high rise after the death of his sister. He quickly befriends Charlotte (Sienna Miller) who lives on the floor above and Wilder (Luke Evans) who lives on one of the lower levels with his wife, Helen (Elizabeth Moss) and their children.

The building, situated on the outskirts of London, is one of five building which have a massive car park separating them. The architect of the project, Royal (Jeremy Irons) lives on the top floor of Laing’s building in a lavish apartment with an almost countryside-looking terrace, with his spoiled wife Ann (Keeley Hawes). Royal’s building has all the amenities a building would need to be self contained: a school, sports facilities, a shopping centre but with everything within reach, why would one after bother to leave?

Sienna Miller as Charlotte, who is NOT enjoying Wilder’s affections

After accidentally causing a tenant to commit suicide, by pretending a brain scan came back with cancer, Laing starts to believe that Royal has paid off the police so they won’t investigate goings on in the building, and as a cycle of power outages, garbage piling up and food becoming difficult to source, the people of the lower levels start rising up against those of the upper levels, and violence, rape, assault become the norm.

Very soon, a full scale class war begins, but who will survive…

I bought this film several years ago and it has sat unwatched in my, you guessed it, To Watch Pile and I’m sad I didn’t get to it sooner. Wheatley’s direction is dreamy and intense at the same time, Jump’s script is solid and profound and the performances are just fantastic. I would almost go so far as to say it’s one of the best cast films I’ve seen in a long time. If you like the ideas proposed in the movie/ TV series Snowpiercer, or even Doctor Who’s Paradise Gardens, you should enjoy this.

Super solid film that’s made me excited about watching it again, and even has opened me up to a new author to obsess over: what else would one want?

Score: ****1/2

The menu screen for the Bluray release of High Rise

Extras: There is only one extra but it is a fantastic little 15 minute look at the making of the film. It left me wanting much more.

Score: ***

WISIA: Oh yes, there will be more views!

Yikes! One can almost see Hiddle’s Diddle!