The Watchers

The Watchers

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Programme 16 - Snow White And The Huntsman, Prometheus and Jaws

Programme 16 is now available (click here to view at!

We take a look at fairy-tale fantasy Snow White And The Huntsman, Tez finally gives his opinion on Prometheus and Rhys casts his eye over the re-issue of original summer blockbuster Jaws.

Podcast versions are here and here - podcast subscribers can also get not one, but two, exclusive chats - Rhys' review done straight after a midnight showing of Prometheus and an extended, geeky spoiler-y chat where we both discuss Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi.


Thursday, 28 June 2012

Review: Red Lights (UK cert 15)

Red Lights is a psychic thriller, written and directed by Rodrigo Cortes. The advertising bills this, somewhat hyperbolically, as 'this year's The Sixth Sense'. Sadly, this film shows about a tenth of that film's style. What you have is a very neat episode of The X-Files hidden amongst a feature-length morass. 

Dr Margaret Matheson (Sigourney Weaver) and Dr Tom Buckley (Cillian Murphy) are scientists who spend their lives debunking the paranormal, providing rational explanations for irrational events. However, when reclusive medium Simon Silver (Robert de Niro) emerges from a thirty-year hiatus- after seemingly causing his fiercest critic to die of a heart attack- Tom decides he wants to go after Silver, despite Margaret's warnings.  As Tom's investigations proceed, strange things start to happen around him, driving him into a heightened state of paranoia. Is Silver a charlatan? Or does he truly possess paranormal powers? Will you much care by the time the film winds down to the twist ending?

Performances are pretty decent; Cillian Murphy basically carries the film and despite veering into overacting towards the end as the paranoia builds up, is a solid lead. Weaver gives what can best be described as a glorified cameo, but is absolutely great in the role of Tom's mentor. De Niro sadly seems to have turned into a bit of a parody of himself; however, the slightly hammy script does little to help him out. There's decent support from Elizabeth Olsen and Toby Jones in small and slightly thankless parts as a slightly unnecessary love interest for Tom and a professor who believes in the paranormal respectively.

There's a lot being made of the 'twist' (which I won't spoil for those who may want to see it). It doesn't come so far out of left-field as to be truly implausible; you kind of buy it as an explanation even if you don't truly buy into it. It's fairly neat if not exactly original but provides an interesting denouement to a mish-mash of a movie. Theer are some arresting visuals and several very well filmed and presented set-pieces; the investigation of a supposedly haunted house which opens the film and the elaborate take-down of a fraudulent clairvoyant especially stand out. 

All said, it's a decent enough movie, hardly groundbreaking but certainly worth a look.

Rating: 3 out of 5


Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Alien (1979)

With the release of Prometheus, it seemed a good time to take a look back to the very beginning of the franchise with Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi/horror Alien.

The plot is basic: the seven-strong crew of the deep-space mining ship Nostromo make a detour to a planet to investigate a strange signal. Whilst on the planet, a member of crew is attacked by an alien being and has to be quarantined when back on the ship. However, the true horror begins when it is discovered that a deadly creature has stowed away on board the Nostromo and it becomes a fight to the death for the crew. But, in the true traditions of horror movies, not all will make it out alive…

Frankly, Alien has no right to be as good as it is. It is, in essence, a B-Movie haunted house picture set in space. But due to skilful direction by Scott, a brace of terrific performances across the board and some truly masterful strokes of design, the film transcends its commonplace beginning to become one of the most influential and highly thought of films of the 1970s and a seminal work in the study of horror.

Rewatching it recently after many years, it is a pleasant surprise that the film still stands up. It’s painfully slow in places- there’s no dialogue for the first six minutes, for example, and the scene where Brett (Harry Dean Stanton) goes after Jones the cat and meets his end is almost unbearable in places- but rather than fostering a sense of boredom, you are absolutely riveted to the screen.

The film is responsible for some of the most iconic moments in horror movies, most notably the ‘chest-burster’ scene which (even now) is shocking. Much like the fake scare at the end of Carrie, I know it’s coming but I still jump every time the alien pops out of Kane’s chest. The atmosphere of terror and confusion is only part acting; the legend persists that only Ridley Scott and John Hurt (who played Kane) knew exactly what was going to happen during the scene. This seems to be true in part; the full extent of the blood and gore seems not to have been known, so when Veronica Cartwright (who played Lambert) gets hit by a spurt of blood, her reaction is accurate and unplanned.

Because the film takes its time to introduce the true terror (the chest-burster scene is approximately forty-five minutes in), you do find yourself empathising with the characters, which means their deaths carry much more of an emotional response. Similarly, the revelation that crew member Ash (a wonderfully cold Ian Holm) has not only been fully aware of the Corporation’s plans from the get-go but is also an android carries a real impact- his final line of ‘you have my sympathies’ is chilling.

This was one of Sigourney Weaver’s first films- following a small role in Annie Hall- and, much like Anthony Perkins and Norman Bates, has become synonymous with the character of Ripley (although she seems to have escaped the curse of being associated with a single character). Ripley is ballsy and certainly holds her own but is by no means truly macho here. The more kick-ass Ripley would be seen in the further films, especially James Cameron’s 1986 sequel Aliens, but here her performance is brilliant, evincing a fragile femininity without ever truly becoming a passive horror-movie cliché ‘victim’.

Alien was nominated for two Academy Awards and rightly won Best Visual Effects. Led by Swiss artist H.R. Giger (whose designs for the main Alien creature have inspired a generation of nightmares), the effects of the film and especially the effects of the creature are just awe-inspiring even thirty-three years down the line. Scott cannily decided against too many full shots of the creature (played by Bolaji Badejo) as he didn’t want to reduce the film to ‘a man in a rubber suit’, so we get a very impressionistic view of the creature initially- the tail, the jaws (and the jaws-within-the-jaws)- making it much more terrifying. Even the confrontation between Ripley and the creature in the escape pod at the film’s final act doesn’t fully show the creature. It remains almost elusive and therefore much more frightening.

The word ‘masterpiece’ gets thrown around a little too liberally for my liking, but for me Alien is a masterpiece. A strong visual style, a committed director, a cast at the height of their powers, real tension, real flair, a damn good script… all elements combined here and has created a film that has endured and will continue to endure.


Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Programme 15 - Men In Black 3, The Raid and The Dictator

Programme 15 is here (click here to view on!

We take a look at Indonesian action movie The Raid, summer blockbuster Men In Black 3 and outrageous comedy The Dictator

In the news, there's casting information for Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and the RoboCop remake.

Podcasts can be found here and here


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Review: The Angels' Share (UK cert 15)

Winner of the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Fest, The Angels' Share is equal parts comedy and gritty social drama- Whisky Galore meets Neds, if you like. Whisky Galore is a fairly appropriate comparison: the title comes from a term used in the production of whisky, for the amount that evaporates naturally during the maturing process. 

Spared jail for a vicious attack spurred on by an old family feud, expectant father Robbie (Paul Brannigan) is instead given community service. Genial community service supervisor Harry (John Henshaw) takes a shine to Robbie and, to toast the birth of Robbie's son, offers him a wee dram. To Robbie's surprise, he finds he has a discriminating palate when it comes to whisky- and when it is announced that one of the world's rarest malts has been found in a rural distillery and is about to be auctioned, Robbie and his community service mates plan a daring heist to liberate some and turn their lives around.

Ken Loach is one of the UK's most hard-hitting directors but he's in rare comedy mode here, although the script by Paul Laverty doesn't shy away from the harsh realities that Robbie and his mates face. Unfortunately the comedy and the social commentary don't always sit together well- an undeniably hard-hitting scene at a restorative justice meeting, where Robbie faces a young man he brutally attacked, is powerful but feels like we're being beaten round the head ourselves- we already know that Robbie has a tendency to violence so it feels slightly extraneous. There's also a fairly queasy joke at Robbie's flatmate's expense regarding the whisky tasting which is unpleasant and, rather than eliciting a laugh from me, made me feel a little sick.

There are a few bum notes but its generally a breezy and light affair, even if using The Proclaimers' '500 Miles' to denote a long journey is a metaphor too far. There's a nice camaraderie among Robbie and his mates Rhino (William Ruane), Mo (Jasmine Riggins) and Albert (Gary Maitland) even if Albert's stupidity is often the cause of an easy joke. The plan for the whisky heist is pretty clever, all said, and there is a sudden (if not exactly unexpected) twist towards the end which threatens to scupper the plan. 

Performance-wise, it's pretty good across the board. Brannigan gives a nice and very naturalistic performance in his first film credit and  Henshaw is great as Harry. All-in-all, an enjoyable alternative to more mainstream (Hollywood) fare. I'll drink to that!

Rating: 3 out of 5


Friday, 8 June 2012

Programme 14 - Dark Shadows, Safe and DVD releases

Programme 14 is available (click here to watch on!

In this show, we cast our eyes on Tim Burton's latest collaboration with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, the big-screen version of Dark Shadows; the crime action thriller Safe with Jason Statham; plus review Cowboys & Aliens and Zookeeper on DVD

In the news, the Cannes Film Festival gets underway, Suspiria gets a remake and (unsurprisingly) Marvel's Avengers gets a sequel!

Podcasts can be found here and here.


Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Mini-Countdown: Five Films You Won't Believe Were Nominated For An Oscar!

As we all know, the Academy Awards honour film-making and all its facets- direction, production, screenwriting, visual effects, music and so on- so occasionally a film that might be considered less likely to get an Oscar nomination will be nominated in one of these other categories (the sound mixing/sound editing categories of late read like the summer blockbuster lists for those years, for instance). Here then are five unlikely films that have been nominated for at least one Oscar:

1. South Park: Bigger, Longer And Uncut

Proof that occasionally the Academy voters have a sense of humour, this film was nominated for Best Original Song. Sadly not for the frankly jaw-dropping song about fornicating with your mother's brother, but for the rather epic 'Blame Canada'. Sadly, it didn't win (the honour went to 'You'll Be In My Heart' from Tarzan) but it was a special moment to see it even nominated.

2. Norbit (2007)

Never mind the eight Razzie nominations and three Razzie wins (all for Eddie Murphy), this irredeemable racist and sexist mess can officially call itself an Oscar-nominated film (which is surely against all laws of man and nature). Rick Baker and Kazuhiro Tsuji picked up the film's only nomination for Best Achievement in Make-Up, but were beaten by Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald for their work on La Vie En Rose.

3. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)

I don't know what was more of a surprise; that this film even got an Oscar nomination or the category that it was nominated in. Sacha Baron Cohen and his screenwriting team actually got nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay (presumably on the grounds that Borat originated in Da Ali G Show, rather than being a specially created character for the film). It was up against more 'traditional' Oscar fare- Children Of Men, Notes On A Scandal, Little Children and The Departed- with The Departed taking home the main prize.

4. Beverly Hills Cop (1984)

Who'd have thought that penning a line as eloquent as 'get the f*** out of here' could net you an Oscar nomination? Yet it's true; Beverly Hills Cop was nominated for Best Original Screenplay at the 57th Academy Awards. But no win; the award actually went to Robert Benton for the screenplay to Places In The Heart instead.

5. Basic Instinct (1992)

This film is probably best known for graphic sex, violence and a certain shot of Sharon Stone than its editing or original score, but these were the areas that Academy voters focused on when the film was awarded two nominations at the 65th Academy Awards. The awards went to Unforgiven (for editing) and Aladdin (for original scory).