Category Archives: Creature Feature

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Jurassic World (2015) 2.37/5 (7)

 

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Rating: The Good – 69.5
Genre: Adventure, Action
Duration: 124 mins
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Stars: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Ty Simpkins

Just when you thought it was safe to buy the box set, Universal go ahead and repackage the merchandise in a whole new brand that promises bigger, better, and lots more teeth. The plot is basically a re-hash of Michael Chricton’s original story as Bryce Dallas Howard stars as the no-nonsense manager of the new park that, in an attempt to wow their jaded consumer base, is about to unveil a monstrous genetic splicing of every lethal dinosaur they could think of. Regular dinosaurs it seems are no longer any more exciting to Jurassic World’s fictitious fanbase as they are to this movie’s actual fanbase. Once again, it’s not long before everyone is running for their lives including Howard’s vacationing nephews and it’s up Chris Pratt’s Raptor Whisperer to save the day.

The visual effects reflect what you’d expect from a 21st Century upscaling of the franchise but without the tingling sensation that comes with having never seen such effects before – as was of course the case in Spielberg’s classic. The action sequences, though capably constructed, are similarly missing the metronomic mastery of the great director while the script, though rather funny at times (courtesy largely of Pratt’s leading man’s wit), cries out for the intellectual ribbing of Goldblum and Attenborough. The biggest disappointment however is in the big nasty that they unleash on us. With no reputation preceding it, it was left up to the writing and concept design guys to terrify us with some creature of barely conceivable malice but all we got was kind of a big Raptor. The “Spinosaurus” of Jurassic Park III was more formidable than this thing plus it kicked the T-Rex’s ass! Given the former’s absence from this film, we just don’t seem to be getting an upgrade in the teeth and claws department. Perhaps they should’ve made this an aquatic disaster movie so that the far more fearsome “Mososaurus” could be the central monster – of course, there’s probably going to be a sequel for every year the dinosaurs have been extinct so maybe they’re pacing themselves!

In the end, however, there’s more than enough adventure and monster mayhem to provide a satisfactory level of entertainment and even if it fails to live up to its promise of “bigger and better”, Jurassic World has all the box-office polish of the first two instalments. It also maintains the magic that the first movie had, finally fulfilling the dream of bringing a paying public together with awe-inspiring dinosaurs. Director Colin Trevorrow’s directing comes into its own during these moments as “Jurassic World: The Spectacle” gets juiced up with all the childlike wonder of Spielberg’s park. In this regard, one shouldn’t overlook Michael Giacchino’s score as it keeps up with and even builds on John Williams’ original in a rather pleasing manner. Good fun.

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AVP: Alien vs. Predator (2004) 2.71/5 (7)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 64.5
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Stars: Sanaa Lathan, Lance Henriksen, Raoul Bova

Sanaa Lathan stars as a crack mountain climber who agrees to shepherd Lance Henriksen’s “Mr. Weyland” and his team of scientists to a desolate corner of Antarctica to investigate a newly discovered pyramid. As they move deeper into the recesses of the structure, they trigger an age-old battle between the two seminal sci-fi monsters (a rivalry that first arose in a comic and then playfully alluded to in Predator 2). It may be considered sacrilege to fans of both the Alien and Predator franchises and the sight of Lathan and a fierce predator exploding into the night air on a shared sled may just be one of the silliest sci-fi images ever committed to screen. However, *if* you can forgive those indiscretions, AvP can be cracking fun. At its core, the movie was sold on the idea that an AvP showdown would be a cool thing to see and, in fairness to that other Paul “middle initial” Anderson, he achieves that goal in style. The battles, a series of impressive and slickly conceived duels between the heavyweight bad guys, are as epic as they deserve to be and as rousing as the best action sequences from either of their franchises. They’re bolstered by some superb creature effects too (not counting those lumbering, out of shape predators) and, to their periphery, is a decent array of reasonably fleshed out support characters. Lathan proves a worthy action heroine and carries the movie’s final act largely between her and her predatory comrade. But best of all, the movie is replete with some really nice touches such as the Predators’ disgust for the Aliens not to mention the oblique reveals of the former’s culture. Of course, the premise is the weak point. Though fine for a stand alone sci-fi, in the context of the two mythologies, it veers unavoidably towards the ridiculous. Sure, it’s exciting fun but it ultimately takes the sheen off both mythologies.

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The Beast (1996) 1.07/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 63.1
Genre: Horror
Duration: 186 mins
Director: Jeff Bleckner
Stars: William Petersen, Karen Sillas, Charles Martin Smith

It’s one of the most overploughed terrains in B-movie cinema but, when the mood strikes, you could do worse than this TV adapted version of Peter Benchley’s “Beast”. William Peterson plays an old school fisherman trying to make a living in fished out waters who begins to suspect that a giant squid with a taste for people has staked a claim off his peaceful island. Joining up with local coast guard lieutenant Karen Sillas, he sets about proving it but a local business man in the form of Charles Martin Smith thinks he sees a profit to be made. As was often the case for a TV miniseries back in the 1990’s, the production values are low and so any thrills The Beast delivers are largely a function of Benchley’s concept which, on the scale of marine monsters, features quite highly. The cast are solid so, beyond the production quality, you won’t be constantly reminded that you’re in the “bargain basement” of movies and with an always watchable and safe pair of hands in the lead, there’s even a bit of charm there too. There are some originally conceived action sequences that director Jeff Bleckner takes his time to buildup and J.B. White’s teleplay contextualises the entire thing with some modestly engaging sub plots. Sure, a lack of expertise behind the camera ensures that the movie isn’t the sleek thrill-delivering device that Jaws was (despite borrowing heavily from its tool-shed), or even Jaws 2 for that matter, but it chugs its way comfortably over the finish line. As is often the case, there are a few versions of this movie floating around on DVD so be sure to get the full extended version rather than the abridged one as a significant amount of good stuff has been omitted in the truncated cuts.

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Monsters (2010) 3.86/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 76.9
Genre: Drama, Science Fiction
Duration: 94  mins
Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Scoot McNairy, Whitney Able, Mario Zuniga

Writer director Gareth Edwards announced himself as a filmmaker of note with this subjective approach to the monster movie, which became the basis for his less successful attempt at Godzilla (2014). Whereas most movies of this type sacrifice the personal drama at the expense of big budget monster carnage, his laudable independent feature takes entirely the opposite approach by making a highly personal drama about two lost souls who are thrown together in a near future Mexico which has been overrun with giant creatures from outer space (don’t worry, it works!). Scoot McNairy is a photographer who shoots the disaster left in the path of the creatures and Whitney Able is the daughter of his rich boss who, for her own reasons, has been hiding away in Mexico. However, at her father’s request, she must now return to the US under the care of his initially begrudging employee. But as the airports and ports close due to the encroaching monsters, the pair end up having to make their way through the infected zone and over the border.

The monsters are kept very much on the periphery of the drama and there are no action set pieces in the traditional sense as Edwards chooses instead to use the unusual context to contrast and therefore accentuate the authenticity of the relationship that develops between the two characters. And in truth, he brings us remarkably close to them and keeps us intimately engaged with their struggle. Real life couple, McNairy and Able share a palpable chemistry but are excellent in all other respects too and, of course, this was crucial because we are only too happy to leave the monsters in the background and focus on the couple as they work out their own problems amidst their burgeoning friendship. The movie glides forward thanks to smoothness of their acting, Edwards equally intimate photography (he was DP too), and Jon Hopkins serenely cool score. The threat of the monsters helps ratchet the tension when needed but if the movie has a failing, its that the danger never really materialises in the manner most will be waiting for. This would be fine if Monsters was a straight up romantic drama but the presence of monsters in the first place makes certain promises that will let many a moviegoer down. For the rest of us, there’s more than enough to justify Edwards’ fascinating project and ensure it becomes a cult favourite in the future.

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Godzilla (2014) 3.27/5 (9)

 

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Rating: The Ugly 66.8
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Duration: 123 mins
Director: Gareth Edwards
Stars: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Bryan Cranston

A big budget attempt to rectify Hollywood’s attitude towards Toho’s most famous monster shows the right intentions and some of the right ideas but is ultimately crushed under their weight. Bringing Gareth Edwards in to steer this reboot towards Toho redemption was in and of itself a brave move. The director of the critically acclaimed Monsters had recently demonstrated that the monster movie wasn’t the purview of the big studios by making a compelling emotional drama that kept the monsters on the periphery of the action. That he was going to be permitted to similarly sideline the Big Fella was the second surprise! Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and David Callaham thus built this tale around Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s attempt to reunite with his family amid catastrophic destruction as Godzilla resurfaces from his primordial rest to tackle a couple of MUTO’s (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) who are laying waste to the central pacific. It’s a good idea as the battles get to play out in the background through oblique glances and character PoV. And when combined with the stunning visual effects, it paves the way for some electrifying images and action scenarios.

Unfortunately, two major shortcomings prevent those images from manifesting into the emphatic release they should’ve become. Firstly, Taylor-Johnson’s story is only really nominally central. It seems the executives got their grubby mitts on the script after all because just when the movie should be aligning itself with his travails, it keeps darting off to a bunch of faceless military types who are orchestrating the defence against the monsters (and it takes some doing to nullify David Strathairn and Ken Watanabe’s faces!). This repeated marginalisation of the human lead ultimately negates all the decent attempts at character construction to the point that we become completely apathetic to his plight. With the elimination of the human interest, the monsters which continue to be revealed in side-glance, half light, and shadow aren’t enough to salvage the movie as they become a sideshow with no main event. Therefore, as is typical with so many big budget movies these days, it seems the multiple interests were pulling in different directions and the movie fell between two (or three) stools. If the human drama was nourished in the manner it was in Edwards’ previous outing, his Godzilla battles would’ve been an ever building release of large scale monster carnage, a gleaming red cherry on top of the cake. If the human drama was abandoned from the start and we got more than just the five minutes of Godzilla vs MUTO’s, then at the very least, we would’ve had an albeit unoriginal but reasonably distracting “brain-at-reception” popcorn movie. As it is, all we have is a laudable uneven monster drama that fails to build up enough steam on either stage to engineer anything but the most impotent of drama.

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The Village (2004) 4.29/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 66.8
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Duration: 108 mins
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, William Hurt, Joaquin Phoenix

An isolated old time village of people, hiding from the cruelty of the towns and cities, share an uneasy truce with a species of carnivorous creatures living in the surrounding woods. When one of the young folk breaches the border, the creatures begin entering the village to seemingly offer a fresh warning. However, when that same man is injured, his fiancée decides to cross those same woods in the hope of reaching a town and bringing back medicine, an action that challenges the village elders’ reasons for their isolation in the first place.

The Village is a deeply curious film that arguably defies its ultimate betrayal thanks to remarkably polished direction and a story that bears all the texture and resonance of a hardened mythology. First thing that needs to be said here is that M. Night Shyamalan initially concocts an elegant fairytale that comments on society and its traditions with the same grace and primal fear that has defined the classics. Strongly influenced by the folk tales of his Indian background, his creatures in this film are inspired devices in both conception and depiction. The sounds they make and the half glimpses that we are treated to all promise to add richly to the lexicon of horror, a genre in desperate need of new form lest we be left with the continued flogging of the vampire, werewolf, and zombie staples. Being savage and monstrous, yet possessing the outward trappings of a society or culture that has emerged in parallel to human culture, these creatures play so delicately on our archetypes of terror and so deeply in the recesses of our minds that they invigorate in a manner that recalls the chills of Harryhausen’s Medussa. All clicks and unbearable hideousness. The corners and bends to the mythos realised in striking colour contrasts upon Roger Deacons’ otherwise starkly painted canvas. In the haunting violins of James Newton Howard’s softly beautiful score. A remarkablly visceral piece of filmmaking.

The screenplay struggles (even contrives) to live up to the weight of this singular achievement but Shyamalan’s cast, the kind of that would normally bedeck a Spielberg epic, still manage to act their socks off. Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver and Adrien Brody are all excellent, Howard and Brody especially. They are helped ably by the director’s extraordinary ability to capture subjectivity in dialogue not to mention frame significant moments or build to powerful crescendos. There are also more of those lovely moments of innocent humour that have marked Shyamalan’s previous movies.

Unfortunately, at the final hurdle this undeniably talented filmmaker falls victim to his reputation and quite literally undoes the entire fabric to his film. In the end, storytelling is paramount and he appears to betray that for no other reason than to add a fairly insipid twist. It’s feels like a body-blow to the audience, counting surely as one of the more disappointing reversals ever and if you’ve managed to avoid hearing of this twist, you’ll probably guess it far in advance.

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Alien: Resurrection (1997) 1.43/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 65.1
Genre: Action, Science Fiction
Duration: 109 mins
Director: Jean-Pierre Jeunet
Stars: Sigourney Weaver, Winona Ryder, Ron Perlman

200 years after she threw herself and the alien growing within her into a molten pit, military scientists genetically re-engineer Ripley and her parasite back to life in order to harvest the alien embryo. Fortunately for the surviving crew of the inevitably doomed ship, the mingling of the two species’ DNA left her with a few special abilities. First things first. Alien: Resurrection backtracks on the finality of Alien 3. It introduces an overtly comic-bookish plot and a host of caricatured personalities into a series of movies that were always defined by tight plots and layered characters. The genre defining set-pieces of Alien and Aliens and the admirable attempts of Alien 3 are replaced by contrived, blockbuster, slow-motion explodathons. The most interesting aspect to the story, writer Joss Whedon’s notion of Ripley’s ‘rebirth’, is completely misinterpreted by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet. The incisive dialogue of the first three instalments replete with its organic wit and charm is replaced by a one-liner infested script which plays to the sound bite. The lavish production design jars completely with the more elegantly simple aesthetic of the first three. Similarly, the sleek and dark naturalism of H.R. Giger’s creature design is ultimately replaced with a quasi-surrealist Cronenberg-esque body horror. And lastly, and perhaps most unforgivably, the steely fear and breathless tension that so defined Scott’s, Cameron’s, and Fincher’s movies is relinquished in favour of gore, gore, and more gore resulting in yet more outlandish events that feel so ‘alien’ to the series.

With all this in mind, if one is going to enjoy Alien: Resurrection, one must take it entirely on its own merits and treat it as a standalone feature. For those who can do that, there’s a fairly enjoyable action/sci-fi/horror romp lurking beneath the ashes of the great series. Sigourney Weaver is back in her darkest Ripley incarnation and she eats up the opportunity to play with the well worn role. The movie comes alive when she’s on the screen and she is the most important factor in its partial redemption. There are also a host of fantastic character actors (e.g., Brad Dourif, Ron Perlman, Dan Hedaya, J.E. Freeman) playing the various secondary roles and caricatured as they are, the quality of the actors inhabiting them makes them fun to watch. The creatures look better than that which most sci-fi horror movies offer up and can even be enjoyed from the perspective of the franchise. As mentioned above, inappropriate as it may be to the Alien series, the production design and creature effects are still first rate and when combined with the motley gang of badasses led by the gnarly Ripley, the whole thing becomes quite entertaining.

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Evolution (2001) 2.93/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 67
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 101 mins
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: David Duchovny, Orlando Jones, Julianne Moore

Hugely entertaining sci-fi comedy about a meteor that hits the earth and brings all sorts of nasty single-cell organisms with it that quickly begin evolving into ever more complex creatures bent on human destruction. David Duchovny plays a former military scientist turned community college professor who together with his colleague (played by Orlando Jones) begins studying the creatures until the nasty military show up and take control. Lots of fun is had winking to Duchovny’s X-Files persona but most of it ends up adding to the plot. Ivan Reitman is a dab hand at these types of comedies and he always builds his films around great screen chemistry. Evolution is no different in that sense. Duchovny (who tends to work well with everyone) and Jones complement each other perfectly. Rarely is one funny without the other’s involvement and together they are responsible for many a side-splitting moment. Even with the addition of Seann William Scott and later Julianne Moore to the main story line they don’t skip a beat and if anything the chemistry is improved by the latter’s involvement. The special effects are typical of Reitman films in that they’re quite well done but replete with bright colours and fake goo. And it’s this last point that makes Evolution a guilty pleasure movie. Reitman has never known how to close out a movie and his instinct to go bigger always brings him firmly into the territory of farce. In Ghostbusters 2 he had a goo-powered Statue of Liberty, in this he has a giant blob crawling around a desert. Even the acting starts getting cheesy towards the end suggesting the cast didn’t believe in the ending either.

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Eight Legged Freaks (2002) 2.57/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 61.3
Genre: Comedy
Duration: 99 mins
Director: Ellory Elkayem
Stars: David Arquette, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Terra

Exactly what it says on the can. A town full of giant mutant spiders, wise-cracking and/or fleeing humans, and paper thin plots. The result: a totally enjoyable and sometimes genuinely funny horror spoof. David Arquette leads the cast as a man who has recently returned to his hometown only to find it being overrun by a swarm of creepy giant arachnids. Kari Wurher is the town sheriff with whom he has some history and a young Scarlett Johansson fleets in and out as her daughter. The CGI is fine but this movie is all about the the well conceived and executed set-pieces in which the spiders find new and imaginative ways to kill the blundering townspeople. Not the worst way to spend a lazy night in front of the TV.

Predator (1987) 3.79/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 84.3
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Duration: 107 mins
Director: John McTiernan
Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall

As is often the case, the original Predator stands head and shoulders above the sequels even though in the case of Predator 2 and Predators, the sequels are decent fare in their own right. What makes Predator so good is that it has one of the truly great action directors behind the camera (John McTiernan) and the most iconic of all action stars in front of it (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Having a totally original premise, a white hot script, great special effects, a supporting cast full of well known 80′s tough guys, and Joel Silver as a producer didn’t hurt it either! Arnold is immense (in what is easily his second best role) as the leader of the crack special forces unit who are sent into a South American jungle to rescue some political dignitaries only to come under attack by an alien hunter who hides in the trees and can appear and disappear at will. McTiernan handles the action with aplomb as you’d expect but he outdoes even himself in the set piece scenes which are a veritable masterclass in pacing and co-ordination. This is sci-fi action at its very best so just sit down and strap yourself in for two hours of pure entertainment.

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Grizzly (1976) 2.14/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60.4
Genre: Horror
Duration: 91 mins
Director: William Girdler
Stars: Christopher George, Andrew Prine, Richard Jaeckel

Grizzly was never meant to be anything other than “Jaws in the Woods” as the producers were fully intent on exploiting the market which Spielberg’s classic identified with as cheap, fast, and loose an imitation as possible. More than likely, the last thing on their minds was the construction of a decent horror but that’s sort of what they did. The plot is obvious: it’s the height of camping season when a couple of campers get killed by what the local ranger and his naturalist friend are convinced is a grizzly even though they’re smack in the middle of brown bear country. Naturally, nobody believes them, especially the owner of the mountain resort whose business would be threatened by a rampaging grizzly. Familiar? You bet. The production values are as low as the mid 70’s could get and the acting is straight out of the bottom drawer. The script provides the bare minimum of dialogue they could fit in between bear attacks and when those attacks do occur, we see nothing more that flashes of fur and what we must assume are claws. That said, there’s plenty of gore thrown about and it’s not entirely unrealistic.

Despite these major shortcomings, Grizzly remains an enjoyable piece of exploitation cinema. Maybe, this is merely a testament to the strength of Benchley’s rehashed plot but there have been plenty of similar imitations over the years that can’t be enjoyed on the same level. The fact is that Grizzly emerges from the rubble of low production knock-off hell with its own distinct personality and plenty of charm. One can’t help but smile as they try to pull of the various set pieces nor buy into the dilemmas of the protagonists. The actors were far from scooping up any award nominations but they seemed at ease with their characters and gave it their all. That combined with Benchley’s million dollar plot makes for 90 mins of decent movie. On top of all that, there’s something very attractive about the woods in a film even if they are acting as the background for the bloody antics of a man-eating bear.

Mimic (1997) 3.22/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 69.4
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror
Duration: 95 mins
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Stars: Mia Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, Alexander Goodwin

Mia Sorvino stars as an entomologist responsible for curing a dangerous cockroach-spread disease by releasing a genetically modified predator (a cross between the termite and the mantis) into the New York underground. However, three years later people begin disappearing and she begins to suspect that her bug or some evolved progeny is the culprit.

Mimic is an interesting and honest attempt to give us something different from the sci-fi/horror genre. It favours an X-File like set up where the creatures are less intuitively obvious in their conception and where much of the film is dedicated to finding out exactly what they are. The early stages are genuinely gripping thanks to Guillermo del Toro’s clever direction and general teasing of the audience. In the same way that Cronenberg forged the notion of “body-horror” from his own original and idiosyncratic imagination, del Toro has tended to do the same with insect like incarnations or “things-that-go-click”. Mimic is an excellent example of this (though nowhere near his Cronos best) and he uses the general ickiness of bugs to only heighten the chill factor.

Sorvino is strong in the lead and Jeremy Northam is decent as her husband and CDC big wig. The movie resists the temptation to go formulaic for longer than most and never descends into the “hero-shepherding-crowds-of civilians-out-of-harms’-way” scenario. However, it does seem to run out of ideas in the final sequence and fall back on the time honoured showdown. However, for the most part, Mimic is a dark and atmospheric horror that will keep most horror fans interested throughout.

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