Blood Beach (1980) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Blood Beach (1980) Directed by Jeffrey Bloom. With David Huffman, Marianna Hill, Burt Young and John Saxon.

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The influence of Jaws casts a large shadow over this distinctly B-movie offering from writer/director Jeffrey Bloom, which even goes so far as to use a poster tagline that riffs on that of Jaws 2. With this in mind, you’d expect Blood Beach to be a certain amount of fun, and occasionally, it just about is, albeit unintentional.

After the uninspired opening credits, which boast a few reassuringly familiar names – such as John Saxon and Burt Young – the film gets down to business by mimicking Jaws in showing a random person becoming victim to the terror beneath the sandy surface. Just like Chrissie Watkins in Speilberg’s classic, the focus stays on the terror and panic, keeping the creature off screen and allowing our imagination to do the work. To be fair, although the film itself is left wanting in most every other area, the actual effect of seeing someone being sucked through the sand isn’t half bad. Clearly the director felt the same way, as it’s repeated enough times to begin to wear thin.

As I mentioned, there is some fun, in amongst the endless lip service to Jaws, but enjoyment comes mainly from the daft script and the sometimes wayward delivery of the actors. Between John Saxon using phrases like “as useless as whiskers on a sausage”, and Burt Young seeming like he’s just making his own dialogue up, it’s hard not to raise a smile.

In the end, there’s nothing new about Blood Beach. Its attempts to capitalise on the success of Jaws, by making the beach the danger zone, isn’t such a terrible idea, but the overall execution feels so third rate, that it manages to make some of the poorer shark sequels look half decent. 1.5/5

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A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

A Good Day to Die Hard (2013) Directed by John Moore. With Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch, Yulia Snigir, Cole Hauser and Mary Elizabeth Winstead.

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The Die Hard series, while ‘up and down’, in terms of quality, has nevertheless always been an entertaining ride, thanks mostly to Bruce Willis’ willingness to play along with the fun, wisecracking one liners while simultaneously cracking skulls. For this fifth instalment in the series, the action moves to Russia, where Willis’ John McClane is reunited with his estranged son, Jack (Jai Courtney), for a bit of father/son bonding time with automatic weapons.

Sadly, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a series that has long since run its course. In the central role, Willis looks completely fed up. His peculiar behaviour promoting the film suggests that his heart was never in it, and his flat performance does nothing to dispel that overall feeling. Given that Willis is so disinterested with the material (what there is of it), Jai Courtney too struggles to gain any kind of traction for his character within the mayhem.

This is the sort of film that ought to come with a pair of earplugs, for amid the frankly trivial plot, all that seems to exist is a barrage of clattering noise that aims to batter you into submission, accompanied by shaky-cam, sickly greeny/brown visuals, with characters mostly hidden in shadows, mumbling out the plot, almost apathetically.

Considering just how much the film must have cost, and just how much effort much have gone into staging some of the set-pieces, the end result is about as boring as mainstream cinema gets. Shit. 1.5/5

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Aliens (1986) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Aliens (1986) Directed by James Cameron. With Sigourney Weaver, Michael Biehn, Carrie Henn, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Paul Reiser.

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James Cameron is a man of many notable achievements. Not only is he an Oscar winning director who can boast to have made the top two, biggest grossing films of all time, in Avatar and Titanic, his own exploration of the Earth’s oceans made him the first person ever to reach the bottom of the Mariana Trench, on a solo mission. All that said, many people might still consider his 1986 film, Aliens, to be one of his landmark achievements to date.

A sequel to Ridley Scott’s seminal masterpiece, Aliens manages the clever trick of changing the overall tone, while retaining elements and building on much of what had come before. We rejoin Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) after the events of the previous film, adrift in deep space, frozen in cryosleep. After being rescued just after the opening credits, what then occurs is a military search and rescue mission to the planet LV-426, taking Ripley back to the scene of her horror.

While Aliens has more action scenes, than its predecessor, Cameron, with help of James Horner’s haunting and suspenseful score, does a first rate job of keeping the Alien universe mysterious and creepy, but with a script that pays close attention to even its most peripheral of characters, providing endlessly quotable dialogue. Without giving the game away, the film expands brilliantly upon what we learned about the ‘Xenomorph’ in the ’79 film, adding an inspired new layer of depth to the continuity. Sigourney Weaver is, once again, excellent as the picture’s leading lady and is supported and complimented by some memorable performances from Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton and Lance Henriksen.

With themes that recall the Vietnam war, coupled with the instinctive protectiveness of the mother/daughter relationship, woven into a species vs species right to survive, Aliens is nothing short of fascinating, breathtaking science fiction/horror at its absolute best. A classic in any genre, not to mention a more than worthy sequel to one of the most nightmarishly vivid concoctions in the history of film-making. Masterful. 5/5

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RoboCop (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

RoboCop (2014) Directed by Jose Padilla. With Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish and Samuel L. Jackson. 

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It’s becoming a bit of a trend to remake, or should I say, water down, Paul Verhoeven science fiction. 2012 saw the tepid re-do of Total Recall. Now, two years on, Hollywood is at it again, diluting RoboCop, Verhoeven’s cult hit about a Detroit policeman critically injured in the line of duty, given a second life, of sorts, as part man, part machine. 

If anything, the most notable element that is shaved off this re-telling, is Verhoeven’s signature violence. The 1987 RoboCop was, at times, shockingly violent, but it was also joyfully satirical. Released as a ’12’ certificate, this updating is a more sanitised version of the story (presumably for maximum box-office) taking full advantage of the now limitless CG technology. Where the ’87 film was a more flippant stab at advertising and news, this version takes a swipe at 24hr rolling news – ahem, Fox News – to hint at the often insidious relationship between news outlets, big companies and politicians. 

Before you begin, remaking a much-loved film is always going to be an uphill battle. Creatively, I’m at a loss as to why anyone would bother. In the case of RoboCop, it’s perhaps understandable why a studio might think the character could be marketable to a younger audience, but those are motivations that have more to do with financial gain, than creative fulfilment. And well, that’s just it. RoboCop 2014, for all its impressive visuals and technological enhancements, is a very businesslike experience. 

On the plus side, the film has some rewarding screen presence in Gary Oldman, who brings a welcome air of humanity to proceedings, while Michael Keaton is well cast in a villainous role. Joel Kinnaman is ok, in the central role of Alex Murphy, a part that admittedly, doesn’t give him a great deal to do, aside from looking stern faced and occasionally showing emotion toward his estranged wife (Abbie Cornish) and son. 

Make no mistake, this incarnation of RoboCop is by no means a stinker. For the uninitiated, it will play as an energetic slice of hokum, in all likelihood, forgotten a few days after consumption. For those fond and familiar with the Verhoeven version, this will feel like a film made by accountants, ticking every box for maximum return. 3/5

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo. With Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford, Anthony Mackie, Frank Grillo and Cobie Smulders.

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Thanks, in part, to Joss Whedon’s raising of the bar that was, 2012’s Avengers Assemble, this ‘second wave’ of Marvel Comics’ screen adaptations are getting rather interesting. The brothers Russo take the distinctly one dimensional character of Captain America, and turn out a pleasingly multi-dimensional film, influenced heavily by 1970’s conspiracy fiction with double crossings and false identities, amid an exciting collection of highly impressive action set pieces and the now trademark witty dialogue.

Chris Evans reprises his role as ‘Cap’, and is complemented brilliantly by Scarlet Johansson’s ‘Black Widow’. This pairing works so well for exactly the same reason that Whedon’s Avengers team-up played so invitingly. Both characters are the antithesis of each other. Cap is the do-gooder, American dreamer with a life spent telling the truth and rooting out the bad guys. Black Widow is a character who trades in seduction, lies and deception, as her strongest weapon. It’s a smart move to buddy them up, and makes for some great moments, not only of flirtatious dialogue between the pair, but also for an added facet of intrigue to a plot filled with twists and turns.

There’s something vitally refreshing about this instalment of the Marvel series. Not only does it take the entire plot forward, it does so while being its own film at the same time. Of course, it can’t scale the same emotional heights as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, but there is occasionally, amid the fun, a sense of peril and suspense for the characters. Adding further gravity to proceedings are seasoned veterans Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) and Robert Redford, both of whom, contribute vastly to a plot that makes the most of their presence.

After the disappointment that was Captain America: The First Avenger, all is well and truly forgiven. Not only does this sequel do a great job of furthering the interest in the story of Captain America, it makes the overall Marvel Universe a more exciting place. 4.5/5

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Grabbers (2012) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

Grabbers (2012) Directed by Jon Wright. With Richard Coyle, Ruth Bradley and Russell Tovey. 

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Written and directed with a great degree of wit and affection, John Wright’s ‘Grabbers’ gleefully embraces its influences and origins on the way to being a warm-hearted, deftly romantic monster invasion movie set on a remote Irish island. Straight away, it’s hard not to recall John Michael McDonagh’s The Guard, as we’re introduced to a local Garda (Richard Coyle) with a drink/attitude problem. 

What’s initially pleasing, though, is just how beautiful the cinematography and musical score are. So much so, that at times, it could be easily mistaken for a tourism advertisement. Wright wears his influences on his sleeve with one big, early visual signpost (literally) to Jaws. From then on, the film remains mostly formulaic and fairly generic, but stuffed with an abundance of neat tricks and humorous quirks that hold it aloft, playing on a higher level than the standard fare that overpopulates the bargain basement roots its title suggests. 

Revealing the said neat tricks, as many reviewers have, is going most way to spoiling the finding out of what makes Grabbers so much fun. Of course, a monster mash like this is only going to stretch so far, and although the film isn’t shy of declaring its love for Spielberg’s shark or James Cameron’s Aliens, it’s not in the same league, but, in all fairness, it does know it.

In the end, Grabbers is good, old fashioned fun. Its a perfect cousin to the likes of Tremors or Shaun of the Dead, and its willing cast embrace the daftness, providing some good laughs to go with the eye catching photography and visual effects. 3.5/5

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X-Men (2000) Film Review by Gareth Rhodes

X-Men (2000) Directed by Bryan Singer. With Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Halle Berry, James Marsden, Anna Paquin.

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There might come a day, when Bryan Singer is called the wise old Grandfather of superhero cinema. Of course, Richard Donner might have something to say about that, but there’s no denying Singer’s influence on the modern boom of comics on film.

His X-Men film, while maybe not as revered as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, or as much straight-up fun as Joss Whedon’s Avengers, nevertheless set the blueprint for the modern age. Dark and full of dry humour, with equal servings of spectacle and drama, Singer created a blockbuster tradition, aimed to engage not only comic book devotee’s, but made in a way that was accessible to everyone.

Anyone familiar with the X-Men comic series, won’t be surprised to discover Singer’s film employs a big, ensemble cast – plus Stan Lee. Not only is Singer successful in balancing a broad range of characters, in just 104mins, it could be argued that film is told from four different perspectives. The film begins as the back story of Magneto (Ian McKellan), but then shifts to the modern day story of Rogue (Anna Paquin) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) by way of Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Narratively, it’s a very ambitious move, but then again, Singer is the man who brought the twisty brilliance of The Usual Suspects to the silver screen, with such certain aplomb.

The good news for die-hard fans, is that the film is produced and directed with a tone that takes the subject matter seriously. It also features three fine central performances from Jackman, McKellan and Stewart. What’s more, the central plot thrust, dressed with engaging action sequences, is the adaptation of ideas stemming from persecution and racial intolerance. Being an ‘X-Man’ isn’t as plain sailing as you might guess. Not only does it add a fascinating undercurrent to the narrative, it also shows how intelligent and thought-provoking superhero films can be.

While the musical score might not raise the same iconic images to mind as John Williams did so well with Superman in the 1970’s, this is a film that aims to score big by creating a harder edged tone, with the deep-set human problem of racism posing as the films dividing, overarching enemy. The climax might feel a little muted, but then Singer does such a fine balancing act throughout, that you have to work hard to feel let down, and when the end does come, there is a distinct feeling that it is just the beginning. 4/5

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