World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles

The Resident

Wake Wood

The Silent House

Made In Dagenham


Source Code


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World Invasion:
Battle Los Angeles


The hype-machine has been rolling for World Invasion: Battle Los Angeles (shortened to Battle LA from now on) for ages. Youíd think it was the next Star Wars or Independence Day. It isnít.

Donít get me wrong, itís a good film Ė itís just not a great film.

We follow a squad of Marines as the Earth is attacked by extraterrestrials, hell-bent on pinching our water (always the same, isnít it?). Ordered to extract a group of civilians trapped in a police station which has fallen behind enemy lines, our team, led by Aaron Eckhart, make their way through alien-infested Los Angeles.

On the way, they pick up some other soldiers, one of whom is an Air Force Tech Sergeant on a mission to find the aliensí control centre.

Anyway, all hell breaks loose and there are battles with aliens on the ground, dodging aerial alien drones and trying to keep the civilians safe. Thereís a huge climactic battle scene and weíre left open for a sequel.

Sounds cool, huh? Well, it should be, but it isnít really. Despite spending a good chunk at the beginning of the film getting to know the Marines, I canít remember their names Ė not even Eckhartís or Rodriguezís (just had to look it up on IMdB Ė Nantz and Santos, apparently). They all have back stories Ė one had a brother who died under Nantzís command; another is, er, young; andÖ I canít remember. Doesnít bode well, does it?

The film, though, is really about the battle scenes. I mean, it has the word in the title, right? These are very well staged. Bullets zing all over the shop and stuff explodes. The aliens are well rendered (despite looking a little bit like the Smash Potato Martians (thanks for that, Mike!)) and the aerial drones zip over head menacingly. Speaking of the aliens, I read in an interview with the director, Jonathan Liebesman, that he wanted the soldiers of the invading army to have character too. They had different functions. They were alive. Well, it didnít work, because you just feel they are wave after wave of computer game baddies. To be fair, though, the only person in the film I felt any empathy for was an alien our heroes captured and then began to disembowel to find out how to kill them. Yay, for the good guys, eh? Sheesh!

It works, but it also doesnít. Itís a bit too much to take in. Sure, war is supposed to be confusing and scary, but weíre not watching a real war. Weíre watching a sci-fi war. Described as Black Hawk Down with ETs, the film does have the same sort of feel as Ridley Scottís movie, but at least that film, based on a true story, kept us up-to-date with the action. You never got confused as to where the characters were and what they were doing. Battle LA is all flash and no substance. You donít care where they are or if they are nearing their objectives.

I really wanted to love the film, but I didnít. I just liked it Ė a bit. You know what? I think I might have liked Skyline more and even that wasnít great.


© Steve JC Johnson - 2011


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Made in Dagenham


A review about a film based on a strike by female sewing machinists at a UK Ford plant in the 1960s might seem a bit weird on this website, but Made in Dagenham is worth a couple of hours of anybodyís time, whatever genre of movies you prefer.

An all-star British cast all give fantastic performances in a film funded by the BBC and the now-defunct UK Film Council (way to go Cameron!). While the story is loosely based on actual events, all the characters and scenes are fictional.

Sally Hawkins plays Rita OíGrady, a young mum who works at Fordís Dagenham car plant. Of the fifty-five thousand workers at the plant, only a hundred and eighty-seven are women and they are mostly employed in a dilapidated section, sewing car seat covers.

Immediately, we learn that the women are angry that they have been downgraded to unskilled workers and they earn far less than any of the men at the plant. A vote is taken and they decide to go out on strike. Rita emerges as the strike leader, casting off her shackles and finding a voice as the women demand equal pay and sexual equality.

Eventually, the strike affects the whole of the plant, forcing it to close down and sparking anger among the men. How dare these women take industrial action!

The script is brilliant and there are numerous memorable characters, from Bob Hoskinsí cuddly union rep, Albert, to Andrea Riseboroughís tart-with-a-heart, Brenda. The first half of the film is very comedic and there are plenty of laughs, but as the story progresses and the strike begins to take its toll on the families of those involved, it turns darker and youíll be reaching for the hankies.

Not to worry, though, because by the end, youíll be punching the air as justice is done and the women are victorious (not really a spoiler!).

Made in Dagenham is easily one of the best films of the last year and, in my opinion, right up there with The Kingís Speech.


© Steve JC Johnson - 2011


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The Resident


Hammer Films recently rose from the grave (pun intended) with the excellent remake, Let Me In. They have many more films in the pipeline, including The Woman in Black and Wake Wood. In the meantime, we have The Resident, a psychological thriller starring Hilary Swank and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Swank plays Juliet, an emergency room doctor, looking for an apartment in New York after splitting up with her former beau, Jack. Enter Morgan as Max, the owner of a building with incredibly inexpensive rooms to rent. Juliet is overjoyed and moves in, despite the fact that Max appears to be in the midst of renovations.

Immediately, we meet Maxís grandfather, August, played by Hammer legend, Christopher Lee, and while he is a little creepy, he appears to have Julietís best interests at heart. Max and his new resident grow close and it appears they may become romantically involved.

It soon becomes apparent that Juliet is being watched and itís no surprise that she is being watched by Max, who hides in the walls and watches through strategically-placed holes. When Juliet spurns Max and attempts a reconciliation with Jack, the landlord is pushed over the edge.

Jack is attacked by Max and even August is not safe from his mentally-deranged grandson. He begins drugging Juliet and enters her apartment, seemingly raping her as she lies unconscious (this is implied rather than seen).

Anyway, itís all pretty standard fare, but well-made and with decent performances from all involved (except Lee Pace as Jack, who seems just as drugged as Juliet at times!). Plot devices are sign-posted and either followed-up or discarded. Swank takes every opportunity to show off her athletic figure wearing as little as possible, while Morgan is adequately mental as he hides in the wall cavities.

The Resident is not a great film, but itís watchable and is a decent new addition to Hammerís catalogue.


© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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Okay, I got Skyline on blu-ray yesterday. You might ask why I would buy a film that got a critical mauling almost everywhere. The reason I bought it is that I thought it was pretty good.

Made on a budget of about $10 million, Skyline is the story of an alien invasion of Earth seen through the eyes of a group of people in a Los Angeles penthouse apartment.

Hang on, I hear you say. Los Angeles? Alien invasion? Isnít this Battle: Los Angeles youíre talking about? The answer is no. Skyline hit cinema screens four months before the hugely-hyped, $70 million disappointment that is Battle: LA. Hydraulx Entertainment, the company behind Skyline also did the effects for Battle: LA, much to the chagrin of Sony, who tried to get the former movie canned, claiming it ripped off their film and also accusing the directors, Colin and Greg Strause, of using Sonyís equipment to create their visual effects. The Brothers Strause deny this, of course.

Anyhoo, thatís all moot, because Skyline came out first and did reasonably well. So, whatís it all about?

Eric Balfour and Scottie Thompson play Jarrod and Elaine, a young couple with a baby on the way (dad doesnít know this at first). They head out from New York to Los Angeles, where his childhood buddy, Terry, is a successful businessman. As our group sleeps after a party, strange lights descend form the sky, mesmerising anybody who sees them. Jarrod gets an eyeful, but is saved by Terry.

Dawn breaks and huge spaceships descend from the clouds and begin hovering up the population of LA. Alien forms start flying or stomping about the city and it soon becomes clear that our heroes are trapped in the building. Jarrod gets several more doses of alien hypno-light and develops an immunity (I didnít realise this until I listened to the directorsí commentary on the disc!).

So, the upshot is that our group get whittled down. The US armed forces do their stuff to no avail. The world is doomed and we end up in the belly of the beast, setting things up for a sequel (a la what happens to Wikus Van De Merwe in District 9).

As might be expected from one of the top visual effects houses in the world, who have worked on some of the biggest films, such as Avatar and the aforementioned Battle: LA, the visual effects are terrific, if not entirely original.

The huge spaceships are cool-looking and very intricate in design, but the other stuff smacks of influences from other movies: the Hydras are similar to the Sentinels from The Matrix, while the Drones reminded me of the aliens in their bio-suits from Independence Day. It must be said, though, that the filmmakers admit to being genre fans and admit to various influences. One of the writers goes as far as saying that anybody who doesnít like Starship Troopers is a fool.

Anyway, back to the baddies. My favourite enemies were the Tankers, massive examples of bio-engineering, each one with a pilot, that stomp around causing mayhem or using their tentacles to rip helicopters from the sky.

So, while the movie isnít exactly bursting with original ideas, it does what it does very well indeed. It is also quite dark in tone. The producers wanted a certain amount of gore in key scenes, but the MPAA pounced on them, instructing the company to tone it down if they wanted their desired PG-13 rating (certificate 15 here in the UK). One of the writers expressed a desire to release an unrated version, with the gore reinstated. That would be cool, as the Ďblue brainsí looked bloody stupid to me!

So, while Skyline isnít the greatest film in the world, it is better that Battle: LA, it has a story that keeps moving forward, yet isnít so pacy that you get lost or left behind, and it has great visual effects. Apparently, a sequel is in the works, so if they turn it around like they did with this movie (eleven months from inception to it hitting the screens), it might be out by Christmas 2011!

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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Wake Wood


Remember the Hammer House of Horror TV series in the late Seventies? Most of the episodes were crap, but there were a few gems in there as well. Wake Wood, the first film to be produced by the newly-resurrected Hammer Film Studio, is a lot like an extended episode of that series. Not that Iím belittling the movie in any way. Itís very, very good.

Patrick and Louise (Aidan Gillen and Eva Birthistle) are devastated when their daughter, Alice (Ella Connolly) is attacked and killed by a dog. Making a fresh start, they move to the small village of Wake Wood, where Patrick becomes the local vet and Louise takes over the village chemist shop.

One night, their car conks out and they head towards some noises in the distance, hoping to find help. What they stumble upon is a gruesome ceremony of resurrection, conducted by genial local bigwig, Arthur (Timothy Spall).

After a tragic accident on a local farm, Patrick and Louise decide itís time for them to leave Wake Wood, but Arthur tells them that he can bring Alice back to them, but only if they stay. There are certain requirements to be met and if there is any deviation, the consequences could be terrible.

So, in a Pet Sematary-style manner, the couple get Alice back and all hell breaks loose.

Itís a terrific little film with some decent acting and a great sense of foreboding running all the way through. Itís not a film about good versus evil per se, but more about taking responsibility for oneís choices and living (or not!) with the consequences.

Timothy Spall is, as always, excellent as Arthur. He has been described in other reviews as being like the Christopher Lee character in The Wicker Man, but thatís not really the case. Arthur is not a bad man. In fact, you get the impression that heís a very good man, who only wants to help people be reunited with their loved ones, if only for a brief time, and long enough for them to say goodbye properly. It is not his fault that Alice Ďturned badí. That was down to her parentsí deceit.

Speaking of Alice, Ella Connolly is genuinely creepy as the little girl brought back to life. Her angelic face and hypnotic voice belie the terror she brings to the village. And she does bring terror, murdering several people and despatching animals in a number of gruesome ways.

The film does not revel in its gore (and there is a fair bit), but it shows you just enough so you go, ďEurgh!Ē

Wake Wood is out now on DVD and I highly recommend it.

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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Source Code


A couple of years back, this new director came along with a little sci-fi film called Moon. The film was very, very good, but more was made of the fact that the director was the son of a certain David Bowie. Yes, weíre talking about Zowie Bowie, although he prefers to use his birth name these days, which is Duncan Jones.

Moon was a small film and had a budget of only $5 million. It was the story of a man alone on a lunar mining station, the arrival of his clone and the problems that entailed. With a great central performance from Sam Rockwell, Moon showed us that Zowie, sorry, Duncan was a director to keep an eye on.

Jonesí second film keeps him firmly in science-fiction territory, although of an earthbound variety. He also got $35 million to play with and he puts it all on screen.

Source Code stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan and Vera Farmiga. It has been described as Inception-lite, but that is a little unfair. It is its own movie and though it isnít exactly an original idea, Jones has crafted an excellent, gripping and sometimes moving motion picture.

Captain Colter Stevens (Gyllenhaal) wakes on a train, only to find himself in another manís body. His travelling companion, Christina (Monaghan), is concerned when he begins acting strangely. Then the train explodes and Stevens finds himself in a small, dark chamber, conversing, via CCTV, with Captain Colleen Goodwin (Farmiga), who tells him that he is part of a secret program using something called Source Code to peek back in time. Stevensí mission is to find out who planted the bomb on the train (which exploded the same morning) and prevent a further atrocity. Each time he returns to the train, he has eight minutes to act before he returns to the chamber.

As I said, itís not exactly original. Groundhog Day ran with the concept from a comedic angle. Television series, such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Supernatural, have also dipped into the Ďreliving the same event over and over againí well, with great success.

Source Code takes the concept further. Even though he is told that he cannot change what has happened, Stevens is determined to save the passengers on the train, particularly Christina. How can he do this if the train has already blown up? He is not travelling through time, only looking back at a past event.

The ending is satisfying enough, if a little predictable, but I was left wondering about the man whose body Stevens occupied.

All the cast give good performances, particularly Gyllenhaal, who can easily swing from action to humour. The special effects are excellent, with the numerous versions of the train exploding all being powerful and shocking.

All-in-all, Source Code is one of the best sci-fi films of the last year and is well worth seeing.

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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The Silent House


Thereís this little film from Uruguay doing the rounds at the moment. Itís on a limited release, so check your local cinema listings to see if itís playing near you. The film is called The Silent House (originally called La Casa Muda).

Claimed to have been shot in one take (although it certainly doesnít look that way, as there are many moments when there appears to have been a cut), The Silent House is the story of a young woman, Laura, her dad, Wilson, and family friend, Nestor. Laura and Wilson are all set to begin renovations on Nestorís old house, which he plans to sell. They arrive one evening and settle down to sleep so they can get an early start.

Almost immediately, Laura starts hearing things Ė strange knocks and bangs and we see forms moving in the background. She wakes her dad and he goes upstairs to check out the sounds, but is seemingly attacked by unknown invaders.

Laura flees the house and is almost knocked down by Nestor, who is returning with food for Laura and her father. Against her pleas, he enters the house and is also attacked.

What follows is about an hour of creeping round the dark, old house, watching as Laura descends into madness and an ending that is effective, if not shocking. The plot also goes of at a tangent at the end. This happens very suddenly and has you going, ďOh!Ē when it occurs. Is it a haunted house movie or a revenge chiller?

There are some brilliantly creepy moments, such as a scene in a room filled with faceless portraits, where Laura must hide from one of the intruders. Another scene has Laura dropping her lamp, plunging us into darkness. All she has to illuminate her way is the flash from a Polaroid camera. Jump-out-of-your-seat City!

The use of the Ďsingle takeí method lends to some inventive camerawork. There must have been moments when the camera was handed to another person or doors were quickly opened out of shot to allow the cameraman to quickly pass through. One scene at the beginning has the camera following Laura into a car, then back out of the car through the window, all without a cut remember. That said, there do seem to be some points where cuts were made. That doesnít mean, though, that the movie wasnít shot in one take. Perhaps some portions were edited out, resulting in the Ďcutsí we see (or donít, as they tend to occur when the screenís black Ė which happens quite often). In fact, the Ďsingle takeí approach gives the movie the feel of a Ďfound-footageí film, a genre I love.

Iíve just discovered that there is an American remake called Silent House (dropped the The for some reason!), so Iíll have to check that out. No doubt it will get a wider release than the original.

Anyway, see if you can check out The Silent House. As I said, itís on a limited release. I suspect a DVD release will happen sooner rather than later.

© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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Not many films scare me these days. Mostly itís all gore or cheap shocks. But gut-churning scares are something of a rarity. Insidious, the new film from Saw director, James Wan, has chills and creeps a-plenty, with the obligatory jump-out-of-your-seat shocks thrown in for good measure.

Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have three kids, two young boys and a baby girl. Soon after moving into a new house, weird stuff starts happening: strange noises, glimpses of figures, the usual. When Rose is attacked by a spectral figure and their son, Dalton, ends up in a coma-thatís-not-really-a-coma, they decide to move house again.

Obviously this doesnít help and Joshís mum (Barbara Hershey) calls in a psychic, Elise, and her team to help. Turns out itís not the houses that were haunted, but Dalton. You see, the young scamp can astral project himself to a place Elise calls The Further. Unfortunately, heís strayed too far and got lost, unable to find his way back to his body, which is now an empty vessel attracting spirits and demons like flies aroundÖ you know.

Luckily, the ability to project astrally is genetic (hard science!), so Josh has to go in and bring back his son before the big bad can get his literal claws into him.

Doesnít sound too scary, does it? Actually sounds a bit like a rip-off of Poltergeist. Yeah, well, it is a bit. But itís a flippiní scary one!

From the outset, you are peering into dark corners, wondering if you saw something there. Was that a face at the window? Did somebody walk by that open door just then? Thereís plenty of that and allís well and good while thatís going on. Itís when the astral projection sub-plot arrives that things go a bit awry.

The movie is terrifying right until Josh enters his astral state and then it all gets a bit Twilight Zone. Sure, there are some scares to be had and the demon is petrifying to look at (kind of like Darth Maul on a really bad day), but it all seems removed from the main body of the film, as though they came up short in the writing and had to add another fifteen pages to pad it out. As I said, a bit too much like Poltergeist.

Apart from that, however, I really, really enjoyed Insidious and I donít mind telling you, it did creep me out so much that I contemplated leaving the landing light on (I didnít in the end and every tiny sound in the house suddenly became amplified a zillion percent!). One of the producers of the film was Oren Peli, he of Paranormal Activity fame, and there was more than a hint of that film in Insidious.

By the way, watch the film and try to guess the budgetÖ Iíll wait here until you get backÖ. Done that? Not bad, eh? Anyway, did you guess the budget? Me neither, but apparently, the budget for Insidious was a paltry $1.5million. A million and a half bucks!! That wouldnít pay for the bowls of M&Ms on a big studio picture. For that alone, I am willing to cut the film a whole bunch of slack and recommend it to anybody who wants the willies scaring out of them.


© Steve JC Johnson - 2011

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Updated 24th April, 2011