Breaking the Bank (DVD Review)

12 – 101mins – 2014


 

PLUMMETING PORTFOLIO

Forever known for playing erudite talk show shrink Dr. Frasier Crane over the course of twenty years and two hugely popular US sitcoms, Kelsey Grammer crosses the Atlantic to surround himself with a smattering of UK sitcom stars as brainless, out-of-touch banking titan Charles Bunbury in this straight-to-DVD fiscal farce from director Vadim Jean, best known for his three glossy Terry Pratchett adaptations for Sky1.

“Run a bank? You couldn’t run a bath!”

Affecting a snooty, upper class disdain and throwing in phrases like “chap” and “old bean” is not enough to convince me that Bunbury is a Brit. Likewise, growing a beard, trading loafers for dirty trainers and looking a bit glum is not enough to convince me that Bunbury is suicidal, following his naïve trust in shady shark Matthew Gavin & Stacey Horne’s bogus insider trading tips.

The problem resides in the bubbly, carefree tone, which never confers enough gravitas on “Charlie Chuckaway’s” life-destroying dilemma; from Pitch Perfect’s John Michael Higgins’ smarmy “yank” takeover tease to Tamsin Episodes Greig’s frustrated-but-floundering wife, there’s not a cent of integrity in any of the cavalier, OTT performances – and ultimately, this makes Breaking the Bank subprime stock which is impossible to invest in.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

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Independence Day: Resurgence (Cinema Review)

12A – 120mins – 2016 – 3D


 

CORE BLIMEY!

Two decades after the “War of ‘96” as depicted in high-concept multi-billion blockbuster Independence Day, Master of the disaster epic Roland Emmerich’s long-stewing, highly-anticipated sequel, Resurgence, leant heavily on the nostalgia factor in its largely-returning ensemble cast and iconic poster-riffing marketing campaign.

For those reasons, I was fully expecting a template-adhering rinse-and-repeat viewing experience this time around, with mankind once again forced to unify and fight back against the landmark-flattening, national holiday-interrupting, seemingly-invincible alien invaders. While that does happen (of course), I was pleasantly surprised to find Resurgence not resting on its laurels by offering up a surprisingly progressive status quo for humanity, post-first contact. Our close encounter has lead to a technologically-advanced society which has implemented dedicated Earth Space Defence programs both on our planet and the Moon.

While a lot of familiar faces – or at least names, in the case of now-matured offspring, Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe) and Dylan Dubrow-Hiller (Jessie Usher) – are back for more alien ass kicking, it was admirable to see that the intervening 20 years hadn’t been an easy ride of whooping and back-patting for the heroes of the resistance. Former President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) has noticeably deteriorated into a confused, frail state, while Dr. Brackish Okun (Brent Spiner) has been preserved in a coma ever since being used as an alien ventriloquist puppet. Will Smith’s unfortunate absence is explained away as a test flight tragedy, upholding Captain Hiller’s legacy.

Considering ID4’s optimistic sunshine tone, such doom and gloom is a refreshing change of gear, adding character-enhancing levity to the smashing CG-spectacle. Even headstrong new boy, Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth) hasn’t had it easy: orphaned, frustrated and fearful of being reacquainted with best mate, Dylan, following an air force training mishap nearly killed Hiller Junior.

This is not to say there isn’t still spades of the original film’s memorably amiable banter and chucklesome asides, with motor-mouths Charlie Ritter (Travis Tope) and Floyd Rosenberg (Nicolas Wright) providing their fair share of giggles by bouncing off their straight-men supporting cast. Plus Jeff Goldblum’s assured return and wry delivery never fails to raise a smile every time computer expert David Levinson is on screen.

Sure, you could argue that Judd Hirsch’s school bus-stealing subplot is strictly superfluous, while Vivia A. Fox is given desperately short shrift. Plus not every gag lands, but you cannot write Resurgence off as unentertaining – especially not when it is so willing to jovially tip its cap to its own history with its tongue firmly in check (“You’re even saving the dog?!”).

Since its release last Thursday, I have read a fair few less than complimentary reviews attacking Resurgence’s shallow and repetitive nature and I really couldn’t disagree more! I’m sure even Emmerich and his story writers will concede that the science jargon is bunkum, but this is not lazy or unintelligent filmmaking by any means, with an advanced aesthetic (often evoking Prometheus), resource-stealing motivation for the antagonists and an additional enemy-of-my-enemy tributary teasing a tantalising intergalactic threequel.

It’s busy, bombastic, stakes-raising, speaker-shattering, large-scale eye candy, but if you had a blast cheering on Will Smith and co. through mouthfuls of popcorn and fizzy pop in 1996, I guarantee you’ll still find plenty to love here in this steady and spectacular sequel. Don’t listen to the naysayers who are determined to convince themselves this is a wipe-out: I hereby declare Independence Day: Resurgence a triumph!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.1 (TV Review)

BBC 1 – 28th June 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Ashley Pharoah

Directed by: Alice Troughton


 

SHAKEN TO THE CAW

The Beeb boldly takes a leaf out of Netflix’s binge-watching (e-)book with the box set debut of its latest six part drama series on iPlayer, ahead of episode one’s terrestrial premiere on the flagship terrestrial channel tonight.

With a foot still firmly rooted in the fantasy field, Colin “Merlin” Morgan (most recently seen briefly in The Huntsman sequel) leads the cast as forward thinking psychologist Nathan Appleby in this Somerset-set Victorian period drama which explores the tension between life’s extremes: the past and the future, tradition and revolution, rural and urban, adolescence and adulthood, the occult and science, ignorance and knowledge, and – as the title makes abundantly clear – the living and the dead.

“An exciting but very, very awkward phase…”

In this opening chapter, London-living Nathan and his caring second wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer), inherit Nathan’s family farm, Shepzoy House, and move back to the country after his mother’s passing during the Summer solstice celebrations. How will the rigid and resistant household – led by farmhand John (Steve Aaaaaaaah! Oram) – react to this new beginning, with the young generation of Appleby’s determined to modernise the operation and turn the farm’s fortunes around?

The series’ strong theme is so deeply ingrained as to be almost overwhelming, especially when Nathan’s pioneering expertise is called upon to deal with the vicar’s child, Harriet Denning (Tallulah Haddon), who is morphing from a “dream daughter” into a remote and troubled young woman with a disturbing tendency to talk in a gruff manly voice. Is her mind being warped by the “dangerous” books she is reading; is she frightened by her own sexuality into creating a splintered alter ego; or is she possessed by the spirit of dead down and out, Abel North (David Sterne)?

“Fresh fruit waiting to be plucked…”

With the locale and musical score provided a folksy, Wicker Man-esque atmosphere (further aided by flickering candle-light and shadows highlighting a sense of otherness), The Living and the Dead is more successful in conjuring a slow, macabre air of tension and dread than it is at shocking set-pieces. Tallulah Haddon’s competence at creepy impressions is chillingly unnerving – particularly when she starts needling at Nathan’s tragic past – while John’s ominous fate is filmed in too delicate a manner to leave an impact.

I was fully expecting this scene-setting first hour to do little more than establish the characters and arching themes, so was mighty surprised when Nathan resolves Harriet’s case. Clearly future instalments will see the psychologist tackle other instances of supernatural manifestation, while his haunting past continues to plague his present state of mind. If episode two can continue just as expertly in its tension-ramping storytelling, then The Living and the Dead will continue to mesmerise – but it could perhaps do with taking its foot off the thematic throttle a bit; subtly over transparency will see this spooky series soar.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

Tuck Everlasting (DVD Review)

PG – 90mins – 2003


 

I WANT TO LOVE FOREVER

From Jay Russell, the director of My Dog Skip (2000), comes this sweet but conservative family-friendly fable about the romance which blossoms between an immortal son (Jesse Jackson) and the upper class socialite (Alexis Gilmore Girls Bledel) who discovers his family’s long-hidden secret.

Set in 1914 and largely based in a timeless woodland homestead, Tuck Everlasting’s unpretentious plot is undeniably charming and chock-full of rose-tinted awe, but ultimately this A-to-B adaptation of Natalie Babbitt’s beloved children’s book doesn’t play around with its magic-infused, era-spanning narrative enough.

Ben Kingsley is sufficiently stuffed with smarm as an enigmatic yellow-suited profiteer of the Tuck’s blessing/curse, but his menace – and the ramifications of his fate – are dulled down for a Disney demographic. So too is the fact that baby-faced Bledel’s protagonist Winnie is kidnapped by William Hurt’s age-defying brood in order to hold her tongue from babbling about their magical spring of youth.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

They Live (Amazon Prime Review)

18 – 94mins – 1988


 

OBEY… OBEY… OBEY…

“Brother, life’s a bitch and she’s back in heat.”

While the social media meltdown continues apace and I attempt to get my head around the ramifications of last night’s EU Referendum here in the UK, some might consider it hugely ironic that I sat down yesterday for my first ever viewing of John Carpenter’s cult sci-fi/horror adaptation of Ray Nelson’s short story Eight O’Clock in the Morning.

If Cameron and the “Remain” camp thought they were having a bad day, just spare a thought for homeless drifter John Nada (late WWF wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper). He is shot at, thrown from a first floor window and beaten to a swollen pulp by his best mate, Frank (Keith David), in a bare-knuckle brawl which lasts longer than Peter Griffin vs the Giant Chicken – all on the same mind-melting day he stumbles upon a yuppie alien takeover bid which only materialises whenever Nada puts on a pair of sunglasses! If that wasn’t enough, to top it all off: he’s all out of chewing gum, too!

While the satirical social commentary implied by humanity’s greed-motivated subservience to an extraterrestrial “power alliance” hidden in plain sight is as strong and as stinging as a George A. Romero subtext, I found They Live’s narrative and its genre elements to be sadly lacking. The skeletal “formaldehyde faces” of the alien’s true eye-bulging form are laughably ropey, calling to mind a 50s B-movie (perhaps intentionally?), while the drifting plot was high in meandering and low in narrative finesse.

Product DetailsNada’s journey from bum to hero is achieved by wandering in an inviolate haze through first a police raid at a homeless camp, then through the alien-infested streets of LA. When he does eventually coerce Frank into believing the conspiracy, the pair have no set plan and simply bumble along cluelessly until they happen upon a band of freedom fighters and the plot is finally focused on shutting down the signal which is hypnotising the human race to the subliminal propaganda.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Independence Day – Extended Cut (Blu-ray Review)

12 – 145mins – 1996


 

THE BIG TAMALE

“That’s what I call a close encounter!”

From travelling through time and space in elaborate wormhole-conjuring alien artefacts in Stargate (1994), to stomping all over New York City in Godzilla (1998) and flooding entire continents in The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and 2012 (2009), it’s fair to say that German-born Hollywood “Disaster King” Roland Emmerich isn’t known for his intimate philosophical character pieces. 1996’s box office phenomenon Independence Day is perhaps the director at his LARGEST and most bombastic – but as iconic, fondly-remembered calling cards go, it’s a doozy.

With belated sequel Resurgence landing in cinemas today (“We had 20 years to prepare…” the tagline duly acknowledges), last night was the prime time for me to reacquaint myself with the original explosive earth vs. extra-terrestrials invasion flick – courtesy of the recently released extras-rammed 2 disc blu-ray re-release by 20th Century Fox.

I say reacquaint because back in the day ID4 (as it is sometimes shortened – although I’ve always been confused by the numeric allocation… July 4th, perhaps?) was a go-to video favourite for this young CR@B. Curiously, I never upgraded to DVD. Therefore I would estimate that I last saw it on VHS in the late 90s, or stumbled across it on TV back in the day when people still eagerly anticipated terrestrial premieres.

I was also intrigued by the blu-ray boast of an “Extended Cut,” for I have never viewed that. So as much as this was a nostalgic popcorn fest for me, it was also bizarrely like watching the film for the first time all over again. At least, it would have been if any of the additional footage jumped out at me as previously unseen, but at no time was I actively aware I was watching inserted scenes until I paused it for loo breaks (the film is a bladder-bursting 2.5 hours long) and the bookmarked time-lapse bar informed me so.

“Guess who’s coming to dinner?”

So, did I still enjoy Independence Day, almost a decade and a half after I last watched it? In the words of my generation: FUCK YEAH! From a time before blockbusters had to be dark, gritty and intense to be considered mature, Emmerich and co-writer Dean The Librarians Devlin delivered a light, frothy, overblown whizz-bang extravaganza which entertains throughout. Such consistency is admirable considering it takes over 20 minutes for Will Smith’s cocksure hero, Captain Steven Hiller, to appear on screen and near-on an hour before the alien’s strategically-placed chess pieces execute their checkmate manoeuvre on Earth’s landmarks!

No-one dies a brutal death unless it is a supreme sacrifice for America (not even the dog!) and an inherent optimism and buoyant feeling of patriotic hope is underlined by David Arnold’s rousing score. As Senator (Bill Pullman), soldier (Smith), satellite technician (Jeff Goldblum), stripper (Vivica A. Fox) and sozzled crop duster (Randy Quaid) converge to fight for Earth’s freedom, you are swept along on the ride and end up almost shouting “up yours!” to the invading ET’s as the Star Wars-esque counterattack dog fight reaches its firework crescendo.

While the $75million budgeted blockbuster still looks and feels epic (infiltrating the mothership is a particularly jaw-dropping sequence), the Academy Award-winning 90s special effects have dated in some places (comped explosions; green screen; jerky locust-like alien movements; any computer read-out), but this never detracts from the experience and the barrier-pushing scope is always commendable, even if they aren’t reinventing the wheel with the trope-heavy invasion narrative.

But for all of the large-scale big money shots, Independence Day triumphs most spectacularly in its characterisation. As unsubtle as I earlier branded Emmerich’s ethos, his motley ensemble of Earth’s finest do receive flashes of pathos amongst the flashy destruction (“I haven’t spoken to God since your mother died”; Hiller’s wedding; “If we’d got to her sooner…”), while the banter – particularly between Goldblum and Smith, and anything Brent Spiner’s excitable Dr. Okun utters – is simple but sparky. It will be interesting to see if Resurgence manages to retain this amiable and endearing element in our post-The Dark Knight era of grim grunting, especially with Smith sadly sitting the sequel out.

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars

The Moth Diaries (DVD Review)

15 – 79mins – 2011


 

SEX, BLOOD, DEATH… & LESBIANISM

“Sickly sweet but rotten…”

Alabaster-skinned British model Lily Cole (St. Trinians, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) conjures a haunting otherworldly peculiarity which makes her sublimely cast as Ernessa Bloch, the enigmatic new girl with a dark secret at an exclusive all-girls’ boarding school.

Sarah Bolger (Emelie, TV’s The Tudors) plays bright-but-obsessive student Rebecca who grows increasingly concerned at the intense control Ernessa seems to hold over her increasingly-frail best friend, Lucy (Sarah 11.22.63 Gadon). Is the enigmatic flame-haired wraith a coffin-slumbering vampire, or does Rebecca’s jealous simply know no bounds?

Suicide, suspicion, strangely strong shisha, sex and the supernatural are all spun together in this diminutive but evocative conspiratorial horror, based on Rachel Klein’s Y.A. novel. There are some truly impactful standout scenes – including a Carrie-esque dream sequence and a troubling peek inside Ernessa’s dusty room – but the story is compromised by some atrociously heavy-handed editing which brings up numerous plot points (swimming lessons, period pain, inappropriate kiss, outdoor sex) only to mothball any consequences.

There is some poetic flair in paralleling the inexplicable goings on with some of literature’s bloodsucking icons in Mr Davies’ (Scott Underworld Speedman) gothic fiction class, but the abrupt, sketch-like approach to assembling the narrative means The Moth Diaries ultimately fails to take flight. What is scarier than any shocks in this jump-free teen adaptation is that it was directed by the same acute eye as acclaimed thriller American Psycho, Mary Haddon.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars