The Pact – a review

Whoa, get back! Just keep your distance. Figures I have to get one of these touchy-feely ghosts....

Whoa, get back! Just keep your distance. Figures I have to get one of these touchy-feely ghosts….

The past few months I’ve been seeing this horror movie that’s been bouncing around here and there. It’s called The Pact, and it was released in 2012, which may explain why I haven’t heard of it since now, because 2012 turned out to be a very bad year in my life (I suffered a death in the family). The poster for this is a screaming face that’s coming out of a wall that’s covered with garish wallpaper, which made me avoid it because I thought it looked cheesy–that, and the fact that Casper Van Dien co-stars in it. The dude never turns down a cheesy flick, ever, and his mere presence in a movie has caused me to steer clear of many a straight-to-video disaster.

But late one night, I decided to see what The Pact was all about, figuring I wouldn’t get past the first ten minutes of bad acting/writing/gore effects before turning it off. To my pleasant surprise, I not only kept watching to the end, I enjoyed very second of it. Caity Lotz, better known these days as the Black Canary on Arrow, stars here as Annie, who’s dealing with the death of her domineering mother, also has to deal with the abrupt disappearance of her sister at the same time. Finding herself taking charge of her deceased mother’s home, Annie begins to experience some very creepy sensation that she’s not completely all alone–that there’s another, malignant presence there with her.

Hello...I'm the psychic, I'm just here to listen to what you  have to say, OK? Some rules: no hitting, and definitely NO LICKING!

Hello…I’m the psychic, I’m just here to listen to what you have to say, OK? Some rules: no hitting, and definitely NO HAIR PULLING!

Written and directed by Nicolas McCarthy, The Pact is a wonderfully slow burn ghost story that manages to get even scarier as time goes on. The scares are very well done, with very little fake shock moments. Instead, every frightening moment, every glimpse of the spirits, manages to advance the story further as Annie learns more about not only who or what is haunting her mother’s house, but why. McCarthy wisely creates a mystery at the center of his story, one that still remains scary all the way to its nerve-wracking end.

And what do you know, even Van Diem is very good here! This may be a low-budget film, but it doesn’t feel cheap, and its smart script and sturdy cast will certainly impress viewers. The low-key approach may annoy some horror fans who want their terrors straight up in their face, but if you’re looking for a great modern day ghost story/mystery that’s a real finger nail biter, then give The Pact a try. –SF

Hercules (2014) – a review

Wait, is he leading us into battle, here? I thought we were all going to the pub....

Wait, is he leading us into battle, here? I thought we were all going to the pub….

Did you know that Dwayne Johnson, this generation’s answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, has done a Hercules movie? Neither did I until I saw it pop into existence on Amazon Prime, almost as if Zeus himself waved his hand and willed it so. It stars the former wrestler known as The Rock, along with Ian McShane (Deadwood ), John Hurt (Alien, The Day of the Doctor) and Rebecca Ferguson (The White Queen). Johnson has a legitimate excuse to flex his muscles as he leads his merry mercenaries from battle to battle, collecting a huge bounty from those who would pay for his services.

And, what do you know, it’s pretty good!

Despite being directed by Brett (“I f**ked up the X-Men”) Ratner, this version of Hercules stands apart from the rest because it eschews the more fantastical elements of the myth. Johnson plays Hercules as a regular man–albeit one who’s very strong–who creates a larger than life myth about himself as a way to scare up new mercenary jobs, as well as to scare his enemies on the battlefield. But where you would think they would encounter a real fantastical enemy (like the centaurs hinted at throughout the film), the real twist comes where Hercules discovers he has to choose between money or doing the right thing.

That's the last Xena joke you'll ever make!

That’s the last Xena joke you’ll ever make!

The whole thing works because of a good cast of actors who take everything seriously. But the stumbling block here is…Dwayne Johnson. The Rock is looking very tired in some scenes, and I don’t know if that’s a result of Johnson trying (and failing) to act world-weary, or maybe he was really tired during this shoot. Among the standouts in the cast are Rufus Sewell as Autolycus, the always good Ian McShane as Amphiaraus, a seer who has foreseen his own death, and Rebecca Ferguson, who makes the most of her damsel in distress role of Ergenia.

The CGI effects are well handled (meaning they don’t take over the whole movie) and thanks to the big plot twist, the last half hour winds up being very gripping. While the 2014 Hercules is far from being the greatest movie ever made, it’s still an enjoyable flick that action/fantasy fans might dig. One wonders how much of an improvement this film would be if it had a lead actor who didn’t seemingly sleepwalk his way through the film. –SF

Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey… — A Review

Richard Stanley showing the remnants of the mask he wore as an extra on Island of Lost Souls.

Richard Stanley showing the remnants of the mask he wore as an extra on The Island Of Dr. Moreau.

While I was never one who thought that the 1996 version of The Island Of Dr. Moreau was truly the worst movie of all time, it was pretty bad. It’s main offense for me was that it was boring to the point of feeling overlong–and this was a film that was just over 90 minutes in length. But watching David Gregory’s fantastic documentary, Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey Of Richard Stanley’s Island Of Dr. Moreau, I saw for the first time just how really f–ked up this movie was, at least on the ‘behind the scenes’ end of it.

Back in the 1990s, Richard Stanley was already a hot commodity as an indie filmmaker, with Hardware and Dust Devil under his belt (and both are excellent films that you should seek out, too) and so when he pitched a remake of Island of Lost Souls to New Line (the House that Freddy built–and which would also produce the Lord Of The Rings films), they jumped at the chance. But what was originally going to be a low budget horror fest soon ballooned into a mega-budget monster, thanks to the addition of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer to the cast. And that was when Stanley had been fired from the film–but the documentary wisely gives both sides of the story by also interviewing the studio executives who were involved (they sincerely felt that Stanley was way in over his head).

But the documentary continues to examine what life was life on the set of Lost Souls even after Stanley left (at least, officially…he secretly returned to the set as one of the masked extras), and this is where it really gets good. Marlon Brando was famous for his eccentric behavior on film sets, but he was an angel compared to some of the antics that Val Kilmer pulled. And soon, both of these stars (Kilmer was at the height of his fame back in the ’90s–not so much today) were warring with each other, holding up the production, and giving John Frankenheimer (who replaced Stanley) ulcers.

It's been a helluva long, rocky road from Oz....

It’s been a helluva long, rocky road from Oz….

The cast of Australian extras don’t hold their punches in describing what went down on the set–as well as what went down off the set, as well (let’s just say they really had a nice time). Fairzua Balk is the only star of the film who is interviewed (Brando’s dead, Kilmer probably didn’t want to pick at an old wound, and David Thewlis didn’t want to be involved) and she is wonderful; offering more fascinating insights about what happened, including a funny anecdote where she discovered first hand just what Brando thought about working on the film. This is literally a case where the behind the scenes stories were better than the movie itself, and the documentary does a great job at bringing them to light. Don’t miss it. –SF

X-Men:….The Rogue Cut — A Review

You were saying...?

You were saying…?

I held off on writing about X-Men: Days Of Future Past last year because I had heard there was a director’s cut coming down the pipeline. I didn’t think I’d have to wait a year for this to come out, but there you have it, and personally, I think X-Men: Days Of Future Past: The Rouge Cut was well worth the wait. The movie’s storyline is based on the classic Uncanny X-Men comic issues #141 & 142 by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, which has the X-Men being hunted down like fugitives by an army of scary robots called Sentinels in a nightmarish future.

I will be happy to help you with anything you don't understand, citizen. Just hold still.

I will be happy to help you with anything you don’t understand, citizen. Just hold still.

The film version has the same basic story as the comic, but instead of sending Kitty Pride back into the past to correct the timeline, the film sends back Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to the year 1973. He doesn’t go back physically; his mind, or soul, is sent back to inhabit his younger body in that age. The reason the year 1973 is so special is because that was when Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the creator of the Sentinel program. But what Mystique doesn’t count on is her killing Trask only helps to create the nightmarish future where mutants are hunted down and killed.

Ironically, it’s the assassination of one of their most hated enemies, Bolivar Trask, that Wolverine is sent back to stop in the hopes of creating a brighter future. X-Men: DOFP wound up creating a much brighter future for the fans of the cinematic X-Men series just by existing. With Bryan Singer, the director of the first two X-Men films, back at the helm, DOFP is an incredibly self-assured movie that grabs you by the throat from the first frame and never lets go. Singer manages to juggle a large cast of characters within a coherent storyline, all while ramping up the ’wow’ factor as much as he can.

For the last time, we're not interested in your Amway products!

For the last time, we’re not interested in your Amway products!

One such ’wow’ moment is the use of Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to help spring Magneto free from prison. When the guards are called out, Singer sets up a magnificent sequence showing Quicksilver using his super speed powers on the guards, who never had a chance. The added scenes include Magneto and Iceman breaking into the old X-Men Mansion (now held by the Sentinels) to rescue Rouge to serve as back up for a badly wounded Kitty Pride (Ellen Page) who’s overseeing Wolverine’s excursion into the past. This added scene gives Ian McKellen’s Magneto some much-needed moments to show off his powers, which are now nicely intercut with the younger Magneto (Michael Fassbender) breaking into a government vault in the past.

You the X-Men guys? No, you're on the wrong set, we're shooting Hostel 15 here.

You the X-Men guys? No, you’re on the wrong set, we’re shooting Hostel 15 here.

There’s also a nice added scene with Mystique and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) together again at the X-Mansion that recalls their budding romance from X-Men: First Class. The Rouge Cut should be considered the definitive edition of this film, since the restored scenes help to flesh out an already great movie. Plus, this version of the DVD/Blu-Ray also contains the original theatrical version of the film, as well as a nine part making of documentary that’s very informative. X-Men: Days Of Future Past: The Rouge Cut may have a long title, but this riveting and fun film is well worth your time. –SF

My Spinosaurus model from Pegasus

Who's disturbing my lunch?!

Who’s disturbing my lunch?!

Pegasus Hobbies came out with this really cool model kit of the Spinosaurus dinosaur.

Keep it down over there, huh? Sheesh!

Keep it down over there, huh? Sheesh!

It was larger than the T-Rex, with bigger front arms that could actually reach out and grab things, and it had a fin on its back.

Anybody up for sushi?

Anybody up for sushi?

As I was working on this, I couldn’t help but notice its similarity with the crocodile. The Spinosaur looks like the croc’s distant cousin.

I'm outta here!

I’m outta here!

The model is very well done–Pegasus did a fantastic job with the pose, which is very dynamic. You can’t take a bad picture of this creature, no matter what angle you shoot it from.

I'd hate to be standing this close to him in real life.

I’d hate to be standing this close to him in real life.

The model is 1/24 scale, which makes it roughly 14 inches long (taking into account its curved tail) and almost a foot tall. The detail work in the sculpting makes this a dry-brush painter’s dream, but the Spinosaur is just a fantastic kit all around.

Personal — a review

This looks pretty personal.

This looks pretty personal.

The French president just barely survives an assassination attempt by a sniper with a high-powered rifle and Jack Reacher is called onto the case. How could this possibly be Reacher’s problem? After all, he’s a retired Military Police Army officer who’s presently drifting his way around the U.S. But after his former commanding officer, General O’Day, manages to contact Reacher, he reveals that one of the top suspects in the attempted assassination of the French President is a man named John Kott.

Reacher arrested Kott years ago back when he was still working in the military police. And Kott, having served his time of fifteen years, is back out in the world and is apparently already up to no good. In addition to trying to kill the French president, the vengeful Kott also has Reacher in his sights, making this adventure very personal.

Lee Child creates another great, rip-roaring adventure for Reacher by changing things up in Personal. This time, instead of bumming around the United States, Reacher is stalking Kott first in Paris and then in and around London. He’s accompanied by Casey Nice, a rookie CIA agent who may or may not be up to this assignment. But while the locales may have changed, Reacher hasn’t; he’s still using his fists–when he doesn’t have a gun–to deal with whatever gets thrown at him. He’s also still buying his clothes off the rack every few days and throwing away the old ones–it’s because of his drifter mentality that Reacher is referred to in the book as ’Sherlock Homeless’.

Personal is still relentlessly exciting, with Reacher and Nice being a very sympathetic pair of characters whom Child makes you care about. The paperback has an extra short story at the end, Not A Drill, as well as a sneak preview at the new Reacher book, Make Me. Recommended. –SF

Terminator Genisys — a review

Hello, and welcome to my Uber car! Where can I take you tonight?

Hello, and welcome to my Uber car! Where can I take you tonight?

It’s got to be a pretty bad movie that makes Terminator: Salvation look halfway decent in comparison. After all, Salvation, that misbegotten wannabe Terminator film that desperately tried to restart the time-traveling-killer-robot franchise, was directed by McG, for crying out loud! But the new film, Terminator Genisys–yet another misbegotten attempt to revive the Terminator series–is just a waste of film (assuming they even used film to shoot this).

Oh well, the body’s been prepped on the table, so let’s start the autopsy, shall we?

The first fifteen minutes or so of Terminator: Genisys is basically a remake of the classic 1984 film written and directed by James Cameron. We see Kyle Reese (a really bland Jai Courtney) get recruited into the human resistance by John Connor (an even blander Jason Clarke), who then leads the resistance to victory over the killer robots in a final battle–only to have the robots send the original T-800 Terminator back trough time.

Alas, poor hand...I knew it well....

Alas, poor hand…I knew it well….

As expected, Reese volunteers to go back to save Sarah Connor, but when he gets back there, he runs into the T-1000 liquid metal guy (played here by Byung-hun Lee), who tries to kill him. Oh wait, what’s this? Yes, the Genisys filmmakers try to be cute by altering the timeline by having Kyle encounter a Sarah Connor who’s already a kick ass super warrior back in 1984, thanks to a T-800 that’s been sent back even further to protect Sarah when she was a child. Nice idea, but the stupidity shows through even here.

Case in point is the scene where Sarah and Old Arnie take out the original Terminator (New Arnie) who shows up at the observatory and steals the punks’ clothes (“Nice night for a walk, huh?”). Old Arnie shows up before the New Arnie can even kill the punks and they have a knock down, drag out fight where New Arnie very nearly destroys Old Arnie until Sarah takes him out with a large caliber rifle.

Looks like we missed the bus!

Looks like we missed the bus!

Why is this stupid? Well, Sarah later tells Kyle that she and Old Arnie had been preparing for the arrival of the time travelers for the last ten years. If this is true, then why should Sarah even bother sending Old Arnie to fight New Arnie at the observatory at all? She had a high powered cannon with which she could take out the bad Arnie with from afar. If she simply shot him from long range the moment he shows up and then swiftly moved onto her next objective, it would have been cooler, as well as smarter.

Another example of the raging dopiness in this movie are the scenes where the villain shows up and everybody–who are all armed–just stands there and stare at him like idiots while he either morphs into something deadlier or just babbles on about his grand scheme to change the world. There’s no sense of urgency in this film that the two Cameron-directed Terminators had, nor is there any real hard driving suspense.

This movie is just another committee-approved product that doesn’t tell a story so much as it just goes by the numbers, dutifully hitting all of the beats (action scene; exposition scene; CGI scene; more action scenes; another exposition scene, etc) that they think will thrill the viewers. But the movie winds up being a dull and lifeless waste of time that’s obviously a cash grab from a franchise that would probably be better off left dormant at this point.

Hey, where'd that dragon come from?

Hey, where’d that dragon come from?

And while I tried very hard to like Emilia Clarke (I love her as Daenerys on Game of Thrones), she falls short here as Sarah Connor. She lacks the screen presence that Linda Hamilton had in the first two films. Hamilton wasn’t just tough in T2, she was an outright badass; I don’t get that vibe at all from Clarke. But Hamilton was also working from much better scripts in those two movies that gave her a character arc to work with. While Clarke is stuck with such a lackluster and idiotic script that I suspect it must have been written in crayon.

All you really need to see is Terminator, Terminator 2, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (yes, I thought even that was better than Genisys) and the TV series Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the last having done a fantastic job of taking the basic premise of Terminator and running with it. Interestingly enough TSCC starred Lena Headey, Clarke’s castmate from Game of Thrones, who did an admirable job of playing Sarah Connor with a confident war-weariness. Terminator Genisys joins Terminator: Salvation in the list of Terminator films to avoid. Here’s hoping that list of bad Terminator flicks doesn’t get any longer. –SF