Film review – Alien (Director’s Cut) (Ridley Scott, 1979)

I’m not sure exactly when I first saw Alien. I’m sure I was far too young. I know this because I remember I was really sad I couldn’t see Alien 3 at the cinema. I’ve calculated that I was eight years old at the time. Why was I gutted? Because I’d already seen the first two films and didn’t want to wait.

Yes, that’s right. Somehow either my mum was supremely lenient or we pulled a fast one on her and managed to get a VHS copy of both films.

Looking back on the 1979 debut, it’s easy to see what the appeal was for a eight-year-old. Sure, the heart of the film lies in a character-driven plot and it’s powered by Scott’s unwavering ability to build suspense. At the time I wasn’t sat there thinking “Well, Parker and Brett have an agenda now because of this pay dispute, so this is going to get really interesting.” No. I was looking at the alien, the guns, the space travel and the explosions.

All of these things are, unquestionably, of great appeal to a child. Or, at least, they were to this child.


It was great, then, to finally see this masterpiece of cinema on the big screen as part of Alien Day. As an adult. And, completing the circle, with my mum as well. 

It’s a film that deserves to be seen on the big sceeen, away from disturbances that home viewing might detract from the experience. 

The film was originally released in 1979, in the midst of the wave of hysteria for space-based films created by Star Wars. However, it is very much the antethesis of the 1977 space opera. The distant past setting is replaced with a not-too-distant future. The bright and open planets are replaced with a singular, isolated spaceship. The droids played for light relief are dropped in favour of a malfunctioning synthetic human with a hidden agenda.

Indeed, whilst the film may have seemed like a lucrative prospect for 20th Century Fox after Star Wars, Alien owes a lot more to films like Jaws or Forbidden Planet in both tone and pacing.

It is a film about isolation, playing on the claustrophobia of being trapped in the middle of nowhere and allowing your survival instincts to take over. 


Jerry Goldsmith’s score, conducted by Lionel Newman and performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, may be one of the most perfectly-suited film scores ever crafted. It starts off exactly where the audience do at the beginning of the film – somewhere between romanticism and intrigue. As the horror unfolds, the score increases in intensity and loses any sweetness it ever had, heightening every moment we see on screen.

The set design and the Alien itself was famously designed by surrealist artist H. R. Giger. It’s as iconic as the film itself, critical to the story and heightening the horror when we eventually see the creature fully formed in the final act of the film.

It was a hard act to follow and they’ve spent 38 years trying to reach the heights of the original film. James Cameron’s sequel may be preferred by some, but for me you simply can’t compare that to the original. They are in the same universe but are completely different genres, one wrapped in suspense and the other all-out action.

Film review – Wings (William A. Wellman, 1927)

For all its technological achievements and successes as a great tale, William A. Wellman’s 1927 cinematic epic is remembered for one thing – it’s the first film to win the Best Picture Academy Award.

The ceremony was far removed from what we know today. The winners were announced three months before the ceremony and it was a much smaller affair than the modern interpretation, with the awarding of prizes taking around fifteen minutes to complete. Wings actually won a prize called “Outstanding Picture”, later renamed to Best Film, making it famous at the expense of F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise. The latter won the similarly-named “Unique and Artistic Picture” on the same night, though on the night it is unlikely this was treated as a runner-up prize.

Wings concerns two love rivals – Jack Powell (Charles “Buddy” Rogers) and David Armstrong (Richard Arlen) – who are fighting for the attention and affection of Sylvia Lewis (Jobyna Ralston). Jack’s persistence is so committed that he fails to notice his tomboyish next-door neighbour Mary Preston (Clara Bow), despite her continuous effort to get him to notice her. They enlist in the Air Service as trainee fighter pilots. It covers their time in World War I as they complete training, launch into their first battles and become close friends.

It is perhaps a simple plot by today’s standards, but it’s often not the premise that makes a film great but the delivery. This is close to perfection.

Films like this may have been wonders when they were released, but few stand the test of time and allow enjoyment and excitement for the viewers today. Indeed, we are now 90 years further on in cinematic technological advancements and there isn’t a single person involved with the film that is alive today.

The world of cinema should be eternally grateful that Paramount decided to invest £900,000 in restoring this picture. The results are worth considering so you know exactly what you’re seeing and hearing.

On the positive, the picture is absolutely crystal clear. Many segments of the film were unseen for years by the general public, and whenever Wings did surface it was in a severely compromised form. A duplicate negative was found in Paramount’s archives, though this too suffered from significant damage baked into the print. However, digitising the original negatives and painstakingly restoring the film has done wonders for the visual experience. Credit must be given to Executive Director of Restoration Tom Burton and the team at Technicolor Creative Services for such a wonderful result, utilising tinting techniques of the era for added authenticity.

This has been matched up with a new recording of J. S. Zamecnik’s original score by Dominik Häuser and Michael Aarvold. The score was for a 14 reel version of the film that was edited down to 13 reels for the theatrical and roadshow release. Therefore there was a portion of freedom given to the scoring pair, but it is clear the right decisions have been made at each step, as evidenced by the moving results contained on the restored masterpiece. 

Controversially, the sound features sound effects that match to the visual image. Will McKinley has written a fantastic article about the positives and negatives of this, arguing both sides of the toss in a far more eloquent way than I could manage. It’s well worth a read. For me, these additional sounds are 100% in the score and I can see the restoration team’s predicament. If they omitted them it would sound more “authentic”, but only in as much as it’s what a modern audience expects from a 1920s sound film. This score was steeped in innovation and, like the technological risks taken in shooting the visuals, was way ahead of its time. I’m happy the music sticks to the original score, and if you don’t like it you can try an alternative option on the disc (provided by Gaylord Carter), or even mute the whole thing!

Utilising the trainee pilot angle, director Wellman was able to draw on his experience as a First World War pilot to create some absolutely astonishing sequences. They were all filmed on brilliantly blue but cloudy days, which gives the planes some scale and improves the dynamic nature of the dogfights. 

There is also a cinematic first in the film, with the first onscreen man-to-man kiss. It comes in one of the most heartbreaking scenes I’ve ever seen in a film. David has become stranded behind enemy lines and steals a plane to return home. Jack, already believing his friend has died, is on a suicide mission to take down as many enemy pilots as possible to help the war efforts, in careless abandonment of his own safety. Miraculously he survives his plan, shooting down innumerable enemy aircrafts. On returning, he spots one last pilot heading towards the Allied base. He goes in for the kill, without knowing that it is in fact his best friend David. When he lands and seeks the enemy to seal his victory, he realises what he has done. As David dies in Jack’s arms, the complex emotions get the better of them and there on screen is the first same-sex kiss, albeit perhaps accidental. It simply couldn’t have been cut or reshot – it’s integral to the plot and seals their respective positions in their friends’ lives.

The Masters of Cinema team are the perfect choice to take control of such a historic release. There are three bonus features on the Blu-ray disc: one covering the restoration, one that puts the flight aspects of the film into context and one that covers the legacy of the film. The accompanying booklet is full of additional information and essays on the film and director. It just fits the gravitas deserved of the film.

That we can now sit in our front rooms and see a film of this importance in such high quality is a wonderful feeling. The history of cinema is too important to simply let go. It’s fantastic that an entire new generation have the opportunity to see where cinema started and Wings certainly represents a significant piece of the puzzle.

Film review – Logan (James Mangold, 2017)

THIS ARTICLE IS FULL OF SPOILERS

Hugh Jackman is, in the superhero film world, a living legend. There has never been a single actor or actress that has achieved relentless success across so many different films in this genre, making a character his own and developing it into one of the big guns instead of just part of a team. Like the character Wolverine, the actor behind him seems like he’ll play the part forever.

And yet we come to Logan, a wisely-timed and fitting ending to the franchise and Jackman’s input into the character. It’s hard to believe it but this is the tenth time we’ve seen the character – seven X-Men films have now been made, along with three Wolverine-focussed standalone films. It seems impossible to think anyone will fill the role, meaning this could be the last time we see the character for many years, possibly ever.

It could well be the best superhero/mutant-hero film ever made.

Set in the world 2029, the film finds Logan worlds apart from his former self. Hiding out in a disused smelting plant in New Mexico, he is working as a chauffeur whilst hustling for prescription drugs for Professor X (Patrick Stewart), whom he lives with alongside Caliban (a surprisingly sincere Stephen Merchant). He is tracked down by a mysterious woman named Gabriella (Elizabeth Rodriguez) who is trying to get him to take a young mutant girl named Laura (the brilliant Dafne Keen) to specific co-ordinates in South Dakota before Transigen finds her to either kill her or take her back into their shady mutant development programme. The company, which we have previously glimpsed in X-Men: Apocalypse, is headed up by Zander Rice (Richard E. Grant), whilst they are hotly pursued by head of security and leader of the Reavers Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).

Jackman reportedly took a pay cut to ensure this film received an R-Rating in USA. The result is certainly the most brutal cinematic portrayal of Wolverine yet, with no holding back on any of the gruesome details. It is certainly not a kids’ film. Jackman looks battle-worn from the start, the reasoning given that the adamantium is now poisoning his body and losing its regenerative abilities. His best cure is to drink alcohol, which may mask the pain but won’t cover the endless scars across his body.

The perfect muse for Jackman’s final turn as Logan is Patrick Stewart, reprising one last time his Professor X character. Now in the midst of a horrific battle with dementia, he struggles to keep control of his telepathic abilities. What is really interesting here is that it is a study of people at the end of their life who are losing their usefulness to society. Okay, this is shown in the most extreme manners when someone has superpowers, but the poignancy is still there for everyone to see.

To add extra emotional weight to the film, the young girl is revealed to be the kind-of-daughter of Wolverine, in that she shares some of his genetic make-up. In the greater comic book storylines she is X-23, who first appeared in 2003. Whilst not strictly his daughter, this is a clever plot device as it means the two characters are immediately drawn to one another, despite their tendency to mistrust those around them.

It may be masquerading as a film about mutants but this is so much more – a character-driven drama about old age and retirement.

Inevitably, the ending is upsetting, as we see our titular hero sacrifice himself to ensure the safe passage of his daughter. The final scene, especially the final shot, is absolutely perfect.

A fitting end to one of the greatest film characters of our time.

Film review – Free Fire (Ben Wheatley, 2017)

Ben Wheatley returns this month with his latest feature film Free Fire, which blends brutal action and sharp humour to create a roaring success of a film that will keep audiences entertained way beyond the 90 minute running time.

The premise of the film for Wheatley stemmed from Wheatley reading online of various police stand-offs throughout history. He found one that lasted 45 minutes because neither party could hit their targets, despite years of training to do precisely that (sadly I can’t find the article to link to). This tickled a nerve with Wheatley, who thought it would be brilliant to see it on the big screen – especially since most stand-offs in films last no more than a minute.

Set in the 1970s, the story revolves around two gangs meeting in a warehouse to make a trade for some arms. One group includes Chris (Cillian Murphy) and Frank (Michael Smiley), both presumably sourcing their weapons for IRA-related activities (though this is never explicitly mentioned), along with headstrong Justine (Brie Larson), idiotic junkie Stevo (Sam Riley) and even-more-idiotic Bernie (Enzo Cilenti). Providing the weapons are a group including bearded negotiator Ord (Armie Hammer), the sharp-tongued South African Vernon (Sharlto Copley), the intelligent Martin (Babou Ceesay), driver Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor) alongside a handful of support characters.

Speaking after the film at a preview at Broadway Cinema in Nottingham, Wheatley offered a brilliant insight into some of the production decisions on the film.

Hilariously, to get a feel for the environment and ensure the people were in realistic positions throughout to communicate properly, he had the entire set built in video game Minecraft. This allowed him to walk around the factory and get a feel of where he’d be once production started. A simple but brilliant solution, but also necessary as he stated this is the only 3D modelling tool he knows how to use.

On a similar note, the shoot-outs themselves were partly inspired by Wheatley’s experience of playing video games, a medium he is a fan of enjoying even though he is yet to be involved with the creation of one (sadly his comment about writing an adaptation of 1980s video game Gauntlet was probably tongue-in-cheek).

One issue they could have faced was in the continuity for the bullet shots. Clearly with 1000s of bullets flying around, there was a risk of wounds being out of place, or disappearing and reappearing between shots. The simple solution was to film it in sequence, which also plays into the building of tension at the start and exhaustion for the characters as the story plays out.

Learn from Vern

Of the many great performances here, the highlight is Sharlto Copley as Vern. Initially annoyed about his Savile Row suit getting damaged, his whitty one-liners had the audience in creases. He’s a complete jerk and Copley plays it brilliantly, his irritating mannerisms making the heightened-tension all the more believable. 
The result is a film that consists almost entirely of a shoot-out that feels far more realistic than anything we’ve become accustomed in Hollywood films. People aren’t simply experts in shooting guns and it takes practice and skill to be any good at it. The characters in this film aren’t experts and that’s why the film plays out as it does. It’s grim, gritty, exhausting and hilarious.

Seek it out and watch it.

Film review – Wake of Death (Phillipe Martinez, 2005)

I was recently enjoying a holiday in a Spanish beach resort. It was a great week, with brilliant weather and loads to do. One quirk of such holidays is the small selection of English-language television channels available. They’re always different and always extremely limited. This holiday was no different: BBC1, BBC2, BBC4 and ITV. And then there was movies4men.

Movies4men is a channel I steer clear of. Why? Because frankly it sounds like a pornography channel. It’s actually a terrible name for a fairly reasonable channel, with war and western genre films throughout the day and some action films in the evening. The name is, at best, a little sexist. But it sort of makes sense once you get used to it.

Anyway, if you turn it on at around 11pm on any night there is a fantastic chance you’re going to be stuck watching a poorly-executed Jean Claude Van Dämme film. And that’s where I was every night at 11pm. And that is how I came to watch Wake of Death.

It’s okay darling. It will be over soon.


“After his wife is brutally murdered, an ex-cop wages war against the Chinese triads,” reads the brief plot on IMDB. It tells you pretty much everything you need to know. It may well be one of the worst films I’ve ever watched.

The acting does nothing for a script written by a group of screenwriters – there were four – that probably knew that the script wasn’t particularly important for this film. Why? Because there would be no sequels. Because it had JCVD on the poster and the people who watch it will tend to only care about the action, fighting, martial arts, car chases and explosions. Because it’s hard to screenwrite “JCVD does typical JCVD stuff” without sounding nonchalant about the whole affair.

No matter what the result of the filmmaking process was, the audience would come. They would have been satisfied, albeit devoid of any kind of betterment.

They will have also been treated to a surprising number of JCVD sex scenes, which would probably have been more than they bargained for.

Van Damme has never been a great actor. Heck, he even used it as a defence in a lawsuit back in the 1996. Coincidentally, he has acted in 39 films since that comment from his lawyer was made. None of them appear to have really challenged the notion. 

The only time he tries to really act in ‘Wake of Death’ is a scene where he has to cry as he drunkenly remembers his dead wife. It’s as poorly-executed as that scene in one of the Taken films where Liam Neeson jumps over a fence, with about 10 different camera cuts along the traumatic rollercoaster ride. Someone is kind enough to throw water on Jean-Claude’s face between shots, but that’s still not enough to stop the director giving up and breaking the tension with a random Chinese triad bursting through the window and having a quick fight before running away.

If Van Damme has done some great cinema this millennium I am yet to see it. But his fans will seldom have been disappointed. 

Film review – Ghosts of Mars (John Carpenter, 2001)

John Carpenter’s history as a filmmaker may have many blemishes on it. For every Assault on Precinct 13, there was a Village of the Damned. For every time Kurt Russell escaped from New York, he also escaped from L.A. Yet few of his films have stunk as badly as Ghosts of Mars, which, unlike most of his other films, hasn’t got better with time.

Set on a remote Martian mining town, the plot concerns police woman Melanie Ballard (Natasha Henstridge) transporting dangerous criminal “Desolation” Williams (Ice Cube). However, upon arrival she realises that the planet has become infected, essentially, by zombies. She has to team together with a group of survivors including Jason Statham, Pam Grier and Clea DuVall.


The film was a box office bomb, making back just $14m of its $28m budget (global sales, according to Box Office Mojo). It’s hard to see why. Why it cost so much, that is. Conceptually, the mining town should look gritty, desolate and run down. It actually ends up looking more like a half-baked Crystal Maze set that was abandoned half-way through.
The plot isn’t terrible, and good movies have been carved out of much worse starting points. The soundtrack, provided by John Carpenter, is brilliantly varied.

What lets it down is dated visuals – they’re very 2001 – and an unreliable script. The actors do their best with it, but it simply doesn’t hit the marks.

It must be tough to turn down an offer to work with someone as great as John Carpenter. One can only assume that those involved looked at the script and were reminded of his best work. 

[Note] I hated all the official posters for this film, but unearthed the brilliant poster by Ralf Krause on the website AlternativeMoviePosters.com. Check out the website for more great alternative movie posters and order some to decorate your wall with something wonderful!

Film review – Passengers (Morten Tyldum, 2016)

It’s fun to slam a bad film, isn’t it? Hand us a terrible film and we’re all there ready with our sticks to beat it down. It’s funny, because the filmmakers have no control over it and we get away with having a good laugh at their expense.

Passengers has been that film for the last couple of weeks.

I’ve had an article shared to me with some photos that prove how creepy Chris Pratt is in it. I had another one sent over about how it had failed at the box office after poor reviews. Generally the early reviews were positive, then the consensus changed and everyone has now decided it’s a poor film, so that’s the stance everyone has taken. Even positive reviews have misleadingly negative titles to ensure they don’t buck the trend (News.com.auhad a favourable review but they titled it “What was Jennifer Lawrence thinking?”).

The three people who sent me the above articles have no intention of watching Passengers. That is entirely their loss.

Passengers is an excellent film.

There’s more to this than the reviews have suggested

Spoilers now follow.

At its heart, it is a romantic drama that explores the relationship ship between James Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), who are trapped in space on the Avalon spaceship, en route to the planet Homestead II. To make the 120-year journey, the crew and passengers are in hibernation pods, but Preston’s pod opens early and he is forced to fend for himself, physically and mentally.

Trapped in space alone, he eventually starts to consider waking up fellow passengers. As an electrician and mechanic, he can navigate the user manuals of the hibernation pods and is able to select who he wakes up based on video messages left on their personal profiles onboard the ship’s communication devices. He chooses writer Lane, a woman he has fallen in love with, and makes the unforgivable choice to wake her up, sentencing her to the same fate as him – certain death before anyone else wakes up.

The critics have centred on this decision as a blocker to any enjoyment. That is truly unfair. If they were handed the film to edit, presumably it would finish after forty minutes and we’d have a shot of Pratt’s character dying alone as an old man, trapped and miserable, yet having made the morally correct decision. 

In Mark Kermode’s book Hatchet Job, there’s a brilliant passage on how Casablanca would have turned out if it had been shown to test screenings, with one of the greatest love stories of all time likely being changed to a happier yet implausible conclusion. 

The same applies here.

This is a plot that is deliberately divisive, meant to create discussion. Some will argue that Preston was insane, on the cusp of suicide, and his relationship with Lane sustained him long enough to figure out there was a critical error with the ship, this saving the entire ship (with her help – it was a two-person job). Others will side with Lane’s stance immediately after she realises the truth; also quite justifiable due to the fact their entire relationship is based on a fundamental lie.

Either way, director Morten Tyldum fully explores every possible line of thought enough to allow the viewers to make their minds up, with enough space in the pace of the film for those thought processes to go to fruition during the film.

Pair this complex romance with some beuatiful visuals and some stellar performances from the two leads, and you get a film much better than the critics will have you believe.

You will be robbing yourself if you believe the negativity and don’t see this film for yourself.