Tobe Hooper, creator of the seminal 1974 horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, dies aged 74

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Tobe Hooper, the director of the horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has died aged 74.

Hooper, also a screenwriter and producer, directed well known films like Poltergeist (1982), and the much-loved TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Salem’s Lot (1979), which saw a limited cinema release in a shortened version across Europe.

Hooper’s will always be remembered and associated with creating the horror masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Made on a tiny budget and using a bunch of students and teachers as actors, Hooper crafted an enduring nightmare that not only became a huge success at the box office, but also became one of the most influential horror films ever.

The film depicts a group of students running into a family of sadistic cannibals, including the infamous Leatherface, a brutish killer whose grunts and savage methods of abattoir-style killing and creepy face mask became the stuff of nightmares for many moviegoers the world over.

Chainsaw… fell foul of UK’s draconian censorship rules back in the 1980s and was thrown into the so-called ‘video nasties’ category, until the up-and-coming VHS market rescued the film.

Hooper continued working pretty much until the end of his life, but never again attained the same success as in his early forays into the horror genre.

The cause of Hooper’s death has not yet been released.

Actor, director, and playwright Sam Shepard dies, aged 73

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Well known actor, director, and playwright Sam Shepard has died, aged 73.

Oscar-nominated and Pulitzer-winner Shepard became known to cinema audiences with his depiction of famous test pilot Chuck Yeager in the seminal 1983 drama The Right Stuff, based on an eponymous book by Tom Wolfe.

Shepard’s creative versatility kept him writing, acting, and directing for most of his life, turning him into a leading figure in the American stage also. His 1979 play Buried Child won the Pulitzer prize and was nominated for five Tony awards.

More recently, Shepard played Colonel Garrison in the gritty war movie Black Hawk Down, and had a role in the Netflix exclusive series Bloodline.

Shepard passed away due to complications of ALS, most commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, at the age of 73.

He is survived by his son, Jesse, from his marriage to actress O-Lan Jones, and two children, Hannah and Walker, from his relationship with Jessica Lange.

Ellen Ripley, or the epitome of female power

In the dying days of 1979, Ridley Scott’s Alien introduced a brand new mythos to the world of cinema. The alien creature soon became an icon of the relatively new (for 1979) sci-fi horror genre, spawning movie sequels, countless imitations, games, books, and a whole bunch of movie memorabilia.

Alien’s premise is simple enough. A Weyland-Yutani- (the ‘Company’) owned commercial freighter called Nostromo (a nod to Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness) is on its way back to Earth after a deep-space mining expedition (to the fictional, resources-rich planet of Thedus, for those who love their facts). Somewhere along the way, the ship’s central computer, Mother, intercepts a transmission, and in accordance with Yutani’s standard operating directives to investigate any transmission with a possible intelligent origin, wakes the crew up from hypersleep.

After setting down on the planetoid where the transmission came from, the crew discovers what appears to be a derelict spaceship with a cargo of thousands of egg-like objects. A crew member, Kane (John Hurt) touches one of these eggs and something leaps out from within, attaching itself to his face.

What follows is movie history. The alien life-cycle, the derelict spaceship, the Engineers, all entered the popular psyche and culture.

Alien is certainly notable for many things, and besides creating the whole mythology surrounding the alien creature, it also introduced the character of Lieutenant First Class Ellen Ripley, portrayed by Sigourney Weaver.

Weaver was barely 30 years of age when she accepted the part that would turn a largely unknown and struggling actress into a household name. Alien was, in fact, Weaver’s first major role, as she had only had a minor part in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall two years prior.

The character of Ripley as we know it today almost never existed, however, as Ripley was indeed a male character in early drafts of the screenplay. It only switched genders after a personal request by Scott.

Alien surprised pretty much everyone by having the seemingly lead male role, Dallas (Tom Skerritt), killed off early in the movie. This is a masterstroke, as it throws both the Nostromo’s crew and the audience into disarray. From that point on, anything is possible, and as the Alien picks off crew members one by one, Ripley emerges as the last survivor.

Ripley’s Journey: Alone in space, from surrogate motherhood to hardened warrior

Much has been written about Ripley’s endurance and resourcefulness while facing a superior foe. Our protagonist finds herself in a rather unenviable plight: Last one standing, alone inside a gigantic spaceship in the far reaches of the Outer Veil, with a monstrous alien creature stalking her. Where most women would have crumbled and broken down waiting for their inevitable fate, Ripley makes use of her cunning and will to survive, first by setting up the detonation of the spaceship and finally outwitting the heinous menace.

Ripley’s character stands out for many reasons, not least because a female lead was almost unheard of at the time of the movie’s release. Ripley contravenes all the rules of what a woman is supposed to be. She stands strong and determined in the face of adversity, facing off against a dark enemy. She refuses to give into despair by rising up to the challenge, on her own, and against all odds.

The character of Ellen Ripley would be further developed in the powerful sequel Aliens (1986). Under the expert direction of James Cameron, Ripley would evolve into a matriarchal role to the last survivor of Hadley Hope’s colony, 12 year old Rebecca “Newt” Jordan (Carrie Henn).

The relationship between Ripley and Newt is interesting. As both females grow closer throughout the events of the movie, Ripley becomes an accidental mother to the child, and there is a key element that explains this dynamic, though it is absent from the version of Aliens released in theatres.

It wouldn’t be until the release of Aliens: The Director’s Cut that we learned about Ripley’s own daughter, Amanda. After the events depicted in Alien, Ripley spent 57 years drifting through space on board the Nostromo’s lifeboat. She’s eventually picked up and taken to the Gateway Station, orbiting Earth. It is at Gateway that she learns of Amanda’s death in the intervening years.

This fact explains Ripley’s bonding with Newt, as Ripley perhaps attempts to redeem herself from the guilt of ‘abandoning’ her own biological daughter.

Get away from her, you bitch

Besides being a savior for Newt, Ripley’s character becomes a warrior of superior caliber, a fact that it’s perfectly epitomized in her final confrontation against the Alien Queen at the end of Aliens.

Using a Power Loader, Ripley takes on the Queen on her own terms, pummelling the monster into submission for attempting to take Newt from her. Once again, Ripley is the last one standing, empowered by her own resolution to save the child from the clutches of the cruellest of fates.

Once again, Ripley succeeds where a whole platoon of tough Marines failed. It is clear that a point is being made here. She represents the power of a female, the embodiment and pinnacle of Second Wave Feminism. Ripley may be armed and dangerous, using man-made technology to defeat a cunning adversary. Yet, it is a woman using a flamethrower to burn the Queen’s carefully laid eggs. And it’s also a woman emptying her weapons on all of the Queen’s unborn children, and later squaring off against Her in the Hangar Bay on board the Sulaco.

Conclusion: Ripley, icon of power and victory over male superiority

Early in Aliens, Company rep Carter Burke (Paul Reiser) asks Ripley to accompany himself and a platoon of Colonial Marines on their mission to find out why all communications have been lost with Hadley’s Hope. He refers to the Marines as ‘tough hombres’, adding that they’re ‘packing state-of-the-art firepower.’ But Ripley is not fooled by this. She has seen what just one alien creature can do, and initially refuses, perhaps believing that wars cannot be won by firepower alone, a fact painfully learned by the American army in a well known conflict in South East Asia.

But more significantly, Ripley stands up against a man’s world. Earlier on, while being grilled by a Company committee about her role in the detonation of the Nostromo, the almost all-male commission implicitly accuses her of blowing up the ship in a reckless act, dismissing her accounts of the alien creature. And when the only female member of the committee appears to back up the Company’s opinion that such creature is nothing but an invention (‘LV-426 is a rock. No indigenous life’), Ripley quips “I told you, it wasn’t indigenous. There was an alien spacecraft there. A derelict ship. We homed on its beacon…”

Later on, as the Colonial Marines platoon is decimated, largely because of its inexperienced commanding officer, Lt. Gorman, Ripley once again kicks into action and takes control. She turns the tables around and is chastised by it, but at least manages to save some of the Marines.

Ellen Ripley stands as an icon of female empowerment, both as a woman, a mother, a hero, and a kick-ass warrior.

 

 

 

 

 

Rings: Sadako’s vengeful spirit returns

Back in the late 90s, Asian horror was virtually unknown to Western audiences. The few titles that did reach Europe and beyond back then were probably bootleg copies with bad dubbing and even worse picture quality, perhaps contributing to an air of skepticism and meh attitude towards Asian cinema.

Indeed DVDs were somewhat of a novelty in those days. They had certainly not yet become as ubiquitous and commonplace as they are now, and thus VHS tapes were still in circulation. And for better or worse, a cursed VHS tape would become a novel way to kill by entities from the great beyond.

The long-running Ring franchise will soon be expanded with a new installment, due to premiere in a few days’ time, if not already in the cinemas.

Rings will broaden the series’ mythology, and Sadako’s implacable and shambling appearances will once again exact revenge on the living.

The film franchise began in Japan in 1998, with Hideo Nakata’s original Ring, though the mythos existed in printed form since Koji Suzuki’s 1991 book. The movie is undoubtedly a classic of the macabre, made even more unsettling by a method of killing which is terrifying and oh so personal, as the final blow is delivered via such an ubiquitous object as a TV screen.

The Ring draws inspiration from a number of sources and traditional myths from Japan’s own folklore, which was (and perhaps, still is )virtually unknown to all but the most hardcore of historians and fans of the supernatural.

Read on and learn how Sadako’s curse existence ties with the legends from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Okiku’s yurei

Okiku and the Nine Plates is one of the best known Japanese folk tales.

In the classic version of this tragedy of broken trust, abuse of power, and hauntings from beyond the veil of death, a humble and beautiful maid named Okiku works as a servant for a samurai lord called Aoyama.

The samurai is taken by his servant’s beauty, and attempts to seduce her multiple times. Okiku steadfastly refuses, however.
Enraged by the unrequited attentions, Aoyama crafts a plot to discredit Okiku’s worth as a servant.

The samurai owns a precious collection of ten Dutch plates, which Okiku is in charge of safekeeping. One day, after the maid cleans and puts the precious plates away, he sneaks into the kitchen, takes one of the plates, and hides it in his own bedchamber.

There is trouble in Aoyama’s mansion the next morning. When the other maids learn of the missing plate, Okiku is called to the samurai’s presence, as she was supposedly the last person to have handled the valuable crockery.

Okiku keeps counting the plates, one to nine, over and over again. The tenth plate is nowhere to be found. Okiku breaks down in front of her Master, as the plates were her responsibility.

Aoyama speaks in soothing tones, and says that he can forgive her, if she becomes her lover. But once again, Okiku refuses.

Aoyama plunges into a fit of rage, and in a moment of madness, kills Okiku with his sword. After slaying his servant, he throws the lifeless body into a well outside his home.

But when darkness comes, there is a stir at the bottom of the well. Aoyama goes to see, and up comes the sobbing sounds of a woman counting one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine… There is no ten. Instead, whatever dwells down in the well lets out a terrifying and otherworldly shriek.

Okiku’s vengeful spirit rises from the well, obsessively counting the plates that she was in charge of safekeeping in life. And in lieu of the missing plate, she utters a shriek to taunt her former Master, night after night, until the samurai plunges into madness, thus realizing her revenge.

There are different version of this tale, which has been told in Japan since the 12th century. As Western culture began influencing Japanese’s way of life -including its folklore-, certain elements changed, but the core of the story -the cursing- remains.

And if one jumps about 600 years forward, we find that many old wells and aquifers around Japan became contaminated with an odd-looking parasite that became known as ‘Okiku’s bug.’ The parasite’s anatomy looked as if its body was wrapped in black silk threads. Traditional folklore saw this as a reincarnation of Okiku. Ever since then, Okiku would be represented as a beautiful girl with long black hair, arms tied behind her back, and the lower body being that of a worm.

Dim souls: From Okiku to Sadako

We mentioned the word yurei. In broad terms, this concept is analogous to Western ghosts, though there are some local nuances.

Yurei is actually a compound name: Yu, meaning ‘hidden,’ or more commonly, ‘dim’, and rei, meaning ‘soul,’ or ‘spirit.’

In Japanese culture, every person has a rei, a soul. When the person dies of natural causes, or when his or her time is due, the soul simply awaits for the rites that will enable it right of passage and thus join its ancestors in peace. If the ritual is done in the right way, the rei passes on and cannot return to the land of the living.

However, if someone meets a violent or untimely end -through murder or suicide, for example,- the soul becomes a yurei that can find its way to the physical world. Murder or suicide victims are usually full of strong emotions at the point of death: Hate, fear, or sorrow, for instance. These emotions bind the spirit to the world it left behind, and the last thought at the moment of death will become an obsession that will lead to a haunting until such emotion is resolved. If it is not, the haunting will remain.

Traditionally, the lower the social rank of the person was, the more powerful and cruel the curse would be. Hence Okiku’s desire for revenge against the samurai who wronged her in life became so strong.

Japanese yurei are visually distinctive. Their manifestations wear long white garments resembling the traditional burial kimono. Yurei are usually represented without legs or feet, or at the very least, these are covered by the long kimono.

When they move, yurei’s arms hang outstretched close to their body.

And there’s one more trait that distinguishes a yurei. Their hair is long and jet black.Japanese women would normally wear their hair up, except during their own funeral, when the hair is allowed down.

Sadako’s curse: An onryo bent on vengeance

And so we’ve come full circle to this moment, just like in the iconic image that Ring takes its name from.

It is now plain to see how Sadako came to be. The ghostly pale hands, the white garment. That hair. And the well, of course.
The influence of Japanese folklore is strong.

The female name Sadako itself combines two words: Sada (chaste) and ko (child). This is an important clue. The original Ring book upon which the 1998 Japanese film version is based upon hints that Sadako was intersex, and thus could not reproduce. This allows the viewer (or reader) to infer that Sadako lived through the curse she bestowed upon the tape, and so her sentient essence could pass from one copy of the tape to another, enabling her to potentially live on indefinitely.

The entity known as Sadako is portrayed as an onryo, a vengeful spirit bound to the world of the living by a strong desire for revenge against those who did her harm.

Interestingly, onryos are almost exclusively female. Hailing from seemingly innocent, tame, and loyal humans while living, they become extremely violent and dangerous spirits from the world of the dead, and those who did them harm will pay the price.

Sadako’s motivations vary, depending on which timeline one looks at. In the ‘classic’ Ring, it is implied that she was murdered by her father and thrown down the well, where her onryo rose from, vowing revenge against the world. It is also hinted that Sadako’s true father was a sea demon.

But irrespective of the timeline, Sadako’s onryo always returns to harm those who wronged in life.

Rings: Sadako’s legacy lives on

The Ring franchise blends horror and rich mythology in an exhilarating cocktail of supernatural goings-on. The character of Sadako indeed features in plenty of ‘Scariest (moments, characters, etc.) lists around.

The legacy and the sheer visual power of the chaste child’s first appearance through a TV screen will linger in people’s minds long after we switch off our own televisions.

Rings hits theatres in early February.

Body Horror: Visceral Fantasies

Your body is your temple, right? Wrong.

The human body is a lab, a smouldering cauldron of fluids, muscle and sinew ripe for unholy modifications, a testing ground for the darkest and utterly twisted pseudo-scientific nightmares conjured up by that darkly pit of premeditated depravity that is the human mind.

Throughout the years, film makers and literary authors have regaled us with all sorts of body-related transformations, mutations, parasitic infestations, disfigurement, physical reconfiguration, perverse warping, and a whole lot more yucky and generally nasty physiological aberrations.

What exactly is body horror?

While a precise (clean?) definition is hard to come up with, the moniker relates to that sub-genre of horror cinema that shows, usually without sparing any gory details, the purposeful experimentation, alteration, contamination, plain deformation, and ultimate destruction of the human body.

The flesh is weak, and frail. It can be easily changed and corrupted, and the movie trope of the mad scientist with a bloody white apron and a grin on his face is no longer the sole source of our deepest fears. Experimental drugs, radiation, viruses, and weird parasitic creatures spawned from a godless place all conspire to taunt our will to be scared nowadays.

Unlike other, more popular horror sub-genres such as slasher movies, body horror is somewhat more intimate. The deeply invasive nature of the procedures being performed, and the sometimes openly sexual tampering with human flesh turn the whole body horror experience into a voyeuristic tour de force.

Also unlike most other sub-genres of horror cinema, the foe is usually not an external one. Rather, it comes from within, in the form of a disease, a microbe, or a parasite that infects the body and grows into a horrendous life form, or causes the body to transform into a monstrous thing. In body horror, we become witnesses to the horrific decay and breaking down of the flesh. The body turns into a canvas to bring someone’s dark obsessions into an organic and disturbing imitation of life.

The metamorphosis of the flesh heralds a catharsis, a change, as the body turns into something new. The old you has died, and you have become a brand new self, stepping through the veil of the flesh into a new dimension of existence. Such fantasy sometimes requires the total decomposition of your old form, as seen in the much loved 1986 remake of The Fly.

Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) in 1986’s The Fly. Photo credit: Fox

Here, we see loner scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldlum at his best) slowly evolve from human to a six-feet high insectoid through the second and third acts of the movie. Such transformation begins rather subtly, with Brundle showing a curious and intense craving for sugar. Superhuman strength and agility follow, making him believe that the experience of having your body structure systematically broken down and reformed again via the teleportation device of his own invention has bestowed god-like abilities unto him.

Brundle ultimately pays dearly for his hubris, after discovering that he unwittingly became fused with a furtive common house fly at a molecular and genetic level. Brundle’s body slowly decays into a pathetic and gruesome creature with cravings that go well beyond sugar. The Brundle character represents mankind’s misguided belief that technology and ego can rule over nature and bend the laws of physics to our own advantage. But nature always finds a way of expressing its inherent superiority over man, in this case via such a lowly creature as a common fly.

The Fly also serves as a reminder that body horror victims are rarely, if ever, willing participants in the nightmare unfolding under their very skin. Extraneous sources are usually at play, whether human, supernatural, or extraterrestrial, these dark forces use the victim’s body as a conduit for their own wicked desires.

Allegories in the Body Horror genre

Body horror is sometimes an allegory to sexual frustration or repression. In 1982’s The Entity, for example, single mother Carla Moran (Barbara Hershey), begins to experience increasingly violent episodes of sexual abuse by an unseen force in her own home. Some would postulate that the entity’s attacks were a manifestation of the woman’s repressed sexual fantasies.

The link between body horror and sexual activity is a pervasive one. The Fly was released in 1986, at the dawn of the AIDS era. Many saw the movie as an allegory of the sexually transmitted disease. In David Cronenberg’s first feature film, Shivers (1975), parasites introduced into the human body induce an uncontrollable sexual appetite on the host. Bizarre sexual activity in the context of body horror is epitomised in Society (1989). This (almost) forgotten classic by American director Brian Yuzna shocked audiences by featuring a final 30- minutes long so-called ‘shunting’ scene, that can only be described as a surreal orgy of kinky, melty, oozy flesh involving the rich and famous in a private American society literally feeding on the less well-off. Society was actually Yuzna’s directorial debut, and he delivered what he set out do in spades. The movie turned out to be as much as a horrific portrayal of depraved lust as a social commentary of the stark class divide so prevalent in modern day America.

Body horror movies, or books, or whichever media it is expressed through, tap into people’s primal fear of their own mortality, and also the fear of disease, of being unclean, eliciting that feeling of helplessness that an incurable and terminal sickness may bring to its sufferer. And it’s not a subtle fear, either. There is plenty gore and explicitness in body horror experiences. Slow, graphic transformations, gaping fleshy cavities oozing unspeakable fluids, limbs becoming impossibly elongated, and much more, are common sights. The unnatural birth of the alien creature in 1979’s seminal Alien is a prime representation of one of man’s primordial fears, that of giving birth. In the movie, Nostromo’s Executive Officer, Kane, is inseminated with an alien egg when the Facehugger inserts a phallus-like proboscis into his throat. The egg gestates inside Kane’s body and eventually bursts out through his chest.

Body horror usually attempts to provide an explanation for the horrifyingly grotesque decay of the body, though this is usually a thin justification to exponentially augment the gore level.  Whether the menace comes from within or from the further reaches of space, body horror shares a common goal: the utter destruction of the flesh. In 1982’s remake of The Thing, for instance, a group of scientist make the fatal mistake of allowing an extraterrestrial organism that had been frozen inside an Antarctic ice plateau for thousands of year to thaw out. Once freed from its icy prison, the creature runs amok, beginning to take over people’s bodies with its inherent ability to imitate life forms. Only sometimes, the extraterrestrial menace is interrupted mid-process, and the resulting stomach-churning monstrosity lumbers around with a mangled, perverse strut of stunted growth.

A fear of blood tends to create a fear of the flesh, some say. Body horror is the science of the insane, a kaleidoscopic circus of nightmarish visions full of gore and indelible and uncomfortable sights that will always remain off the mainstream due to its very nature. The body horror sub-genre has experienced somewhat of a revival in recent times, thanks to a new generation of film makers like the Soska Sisters, a pair of Canadian twins whose end-of-year project at film school, Dead Hooker in a Trunk, put them firmly on the horror map. They followed it with American Mary (2012), a film about a medical student-turned-body alterer for money. From the dawn of time, people have had a fascination about human flesh.

Whether it manifests in a sexual context, or pure voyeuristic enthrallment,flesh never goes out of fashion!

Legendary film-maker George Romero, the creative mind behind the zombie genre, passes away aged 77

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George Romero, the man who single-handedly created an entire sub-genre of horror film, has sadly passed away aged 77.

Romero was the creative force behind the seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968), an independently-made film that not only earned its creator a well-deserved lifelong reputation and a lot of money, but also heralded the arrival of the zombie genre.

Night… spawned several ‘official’ sequels, including Dawn of the Dead (1978) -re-made in 2004 by Zack Snyder-, and Day of the Dead (1985). These movies were gory, unforgiving, and savagely critical of a decaying American society obsessed with consumerism.

Romero’s credits include Martin (1971), an oddly intriguing vampire movie, and the Stephen King adaptation Creepshow (1982).

The film-maker’s legacy continues today, and contemporary films like 28 Days Later (2002) or World War Z (2013) would probably not exist without the precedent of Night of the Living Dead.

Tributes have been pouring for the legendary Romero, who has left us way too soon.

Sequel to smash hit 1986 movie Top Gun finally has a name

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Top Gun’s exhilarating mix of state-of-the-art fighter planes, rock music, and young and rowdy Navy pilots turned the movie into an instant blockbuster. It also launched the career of a hitherto relatively unknown Tom Cruise to international stardom, a status that the rather diminutive actor enjoys to this day. Even the US Navy, which had helped finance the movie -and enjoyed tight control over its script in exchange for a favorable rate to lease its aircraft and other assets to the filmmakers- benefited from Top Gun’s massive success. The Navy set up recruitment booths outside the theaters where the movie was being shown, to try and steer moviegoers towards a career in naval aviation.

All that was 21 years ago, believe it or not. Talks of a sequel surfaced every now and again, but the untimely death of Tony Scott appeared to shelve the project for good.

Nevertheless, the Hollywood machine has worked its magic, and the much-expected sequel to Top Gun is finally a go.

It isn’t unclear when filming will start, or who will star in it, apart from the leading man himself, who will reprise the role of talented but troubled F-14 pilot Pete Mitchell, callsign Maverick.

And in Cruise’s very own moniker lies the title of the sequel.

Tom Cruise had said that he ‘did not want a number’ accompanying the movie’s title, so the sequel to the 1986 classic will be called Top Gun: Maverick.

Little is known about the plot, or indeed who the director will be. Top Gun: Maverick will reportedly have a similar look and feel to the original, but it’s all guesswork at the moment.

Stay tuned for updates.

Seven times 007: Sir Roger Moore passed away today

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Ours is the loneliest profession, Mr. Bond. So uttered classic villain Francisco Scaramanga (Christopher Lee in one of his best performances) in 1974’s The Man With The Golden Gun. He was talking to Roger Moore, of course, who sadly passed away earlier today after a short illness.

Moore played the suave British Secret Service agent 007 seven times across a 12-year span, starring in some of the best known Bond films such as Live and Let Die (1973, Moore’s first appearance in the series), Moonraker (1979), For Your Eyes Only (1981), and A View to a Kill (1985, his last Bond performance.)

Moore’s take on Ian Fleming’s best known character departed somewhat from the novels’ traditional canon, and differed significantly from Sean Connery’s portrayal. Connery, in fact, was particularly vocal in his criticism about his successor in the part.

Moore’s Bond had a more debonair, almost playboy-ish way about him. These new traits were perhaps designed to conform to the changing tastes of cinema audiences throughout the 70s and 80s, but nevertheless, it became a polarizing issue. He was nonetheless voted as Best Bond in an 2004 Academy Awards poll.

Moore was already well known even before he was offered the part of 007, due to his role as rogue-ish, charming, Robin Hood-esque criminal Simon Templar in The Saint. Based on the long-running book series by Leslie Charteris, The Saint
ran for six series on TV, starting in 1962, and featuring 118 episodes in total. Aside from playing the main character, Moore also produced and even directed some of the episodes. Later, Moore would incorporate some of Templar’s traits and nuances into his portrayal of 007.

Beyond Bond, Moore enjoyed a remarkable film career in his own right. He played tormented city worker Harold Pelham in The Man who Haunted Himself (1970), for instance. Though the film was not successful at the box office, it remained a favorite of Moore’s, by his own admission, and has earned a cult following over the years. Moore also played a significant part in the military-themed The Wild Geese (1978), and featured in many more films.

Off camera, Moore went through a couple of well publicized marriages, two of which ended in tempestuous divorces. He also had several health scares in later years. Moore was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 1993, and underwent successful surgery. He suffered pneumonia in 2012 and was left bedridden for weeks.

Roger Moore passed away peacefully earlier today, aged 89, after a short battle with cancer. He leaves behind an immortal legacy as a somewhat divisive James Bond, for sure, and he will always be remembered as Simon Templar, the ‘good’ criminal from the classic TV series The Saint.

Rest in peace.

Alien: Covenant review

covenant

Photo credit: Fox

Of neomorphs and duplicitous synthetics

There is a moment in Alien: Covenant when David, after having taught his synthetic counterpart Walter how to play the flute earlier, hears him play a tune. David walks in and says “Whistle, and I’ll come.’

This is of course a reference to the classic ghost story ‘Whistle and I’ll come, my lad,‘ by English author M.R. James. Such reference is bound to be missed by all but the most hardcore of horror & classic literature fans, but it is a shining moment in the somewhat derivative and cliche-ridden script that underlies the latest chapter in the long running Alien story arc.

Covenant‘s main flaw is that a ‘seen-it-all-before’ sense pervades the entire movie. From the opening credits (a revisit of Alien’s original piecemeal lettering credits), to the final 20 odd minutes (a shameless reimagining of the classic final showdown scene in Aliens, where Ripley kicks the Alien Queen’s spiky ass with a Power Loader, replaced with a loading crane here), we can’t help by feeling that it’s all been done before. Scott played it safe, and used (perhaps overused) the most recognizable moments of the movie’s predecessors to convey his own story.

Bar Walter/David (by far the most interesting thing about Covenant), the characters here are unashamedly one-dimensional. Alien fodder, if you will, to be gruesomely dispatched one by one to whittle down the crew to the Final Girl (Daniels, played with great talent and intent by Katherine Ross). There are attempts to imbue some characters with an extra layer of depth. Oram, for instance, is a religious man (which is why the Company did not allow him to lead the mission, as his religious views might cloud his judgment). This also serves as a conversation point between him and David, after we learn of David’d activities since landing on this planet. But by and large, the crew is there to be offed by the alien creatures, deemed ‘neomorphs’ here. If you are seasoned enough, you can almost tell the order which they will each die in.

Covenant is full of common tropes of the horror genre, down to the ‘sex equals death’ one. I mean, when are people going to learn that nookie in deep space with an alien menace lurking around probably won’t end well. One could safely replace the classic line with ‘In space, no one can hear you come,’ (cause you will die before you do.)

We have touched upon the Walter/David duality, both roles played flawlessly by the solid Michael Fassbender.

As Walter, he is the Bishop-type. A synthetic tasked with looking after the ship and its crew, and prevent either from coming to harm. Crucially, this new-generation synthetic is purposely devoid of the willingness and ability to learn, instead being consigned to serve its masters and creators. David remarks upon this point during one of the movie’s best scenes, and a rather intimate one, too, as David teaches Walter to play the flute (I’ll do the fingering, David says,) while Walter blows down the pipe.

We also learn about the fate of Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, from Prometheus, and what happened when the Juggernaut reached the Engineers homeworld. David has been up to no good.

But Covenant’s most critical flaw is its final twist, which you can see coming from about the movie’s halfway point. It won’t be revealed here, but think of the switcheroo, and you won’t be far from the truth.

Overall, Covenant is a solid, if somewhat cliched alien-by-the-numbers yarn. It is much more cohesive than Prometheus’ disjointed proposition for sure. But it is also not a huge departure from the series as Aliens was to Alien, for example, which turned out quite the better for it. David Fincher’s Alien 3 attempted to be different and ended up disappointing because of immense production troubles, and the less said about Alien: Resurrection the better. Not even the presence of the wonderfully underrated Brad Dourif could save it from imploding.

Covenant’s ending nicely sets up the next instalment (sequel to Covenant, prequel to Alien), provisionally called ‘Alien: Awakening.

We might see something different by then. For now, it’s alien business as usual.

Top 5 movies for Summer ’16

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It has been a long, cold winter around the Emerald Island, hasn’t it. The long December evenings were dull and dreary, and every new storm hitting the country added that little bit of misery to already sodden and storm-weary souls.

Evenings are steadily becoming brighter and longer now though, and with a little bit of luck, Summer ’16 will bring some decent heat and lasting sunshine. Here’s hoping anyway.

The arrival of summer always heralds two things; regular runs from the ice cream van, and movie blockbusters. There’s a good few films looming large in the horizon, and this summer promises to yield quite a few big hitters.
Here’s a rundown of five selected summer 16 blockbusters. All these movies will premiere in Ireland between June 1 and July 30 2016.

Warcraft

Opens on: June 10

Are you a gamer? The kind with a pallid complexion, who spends nights on end battling orcs in the world of Azeroth? Even if you’re nothing of the sort, you’re likely to have heard of Warcraft.

Originally released for PC (in DOS version, if you’re old enough to remember what that is) way back in 1994, Warcraft took the gaming world by storm. Over the years, several sequels, expansion packs, novels, and all kinds of Warcraft-related merchandise and memorabilia has flooded the market.

A Warcraft movie was thus inevitable, really, but the technology to bring such epic fantasy world to life just wasn’t there at the time.

Warcraft: The Beginning, as its international release title reads, is based on the conflict between Orcs and humans, two opposing races with very different motivations to fight each other.
As its moniker indicates, it is intended to be the first movie in a new franchise. Whether it’s financially successful enough to warrant it remains to be seen.

Warcraft: The Beginning is one for the younger generation, perhaps, though fans of epic fantasy in general could do a lot worse.

The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Experiment

Opens on: June 10

The first Conjuring movie introduced paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively. In 2013’s The Conjuring, the Warren duo investigate a series of paranormal events taking place at a farmhouse in Rhode Island. It did moderately well at the box office, and was well received critically.

The inevitable sequel is almost upon us. Now, the Warrens travel to the United Kingdom, where a little girl living in a council house in Enfield is being plagued by supernatural occurrences.

The film takes its inspiration from the ‘true’ events of the Enfield case, which took place in the London Borough of Enfield from 1977 to 1979. The alleged haunting involved two young girls, aged 11 and 13, living in their mother’s council house.

Independence Day: Resurgence

Opens on: June 24

One of the big names of the summer, the sequel to the 1996 mega-hit Independence Day promises to deliver more of the same alien whoop-ass action, but probably louder, with a higher alien body count, and a hell of a lot more expensive.
Roland Emmerich takes the helm again, and though Will Smith will not feature this time round (he asked for too big a salary, if the rumours are to be believed), we do get Jeff Goldblum reprising his role of smart and slightly nerdy David Levinson, a satellite expert cum world savior, and Bill Pullman as President Whitmore. Liam Hemsworth of The Hunger Games fame joins the cast.

Independence Day: Resurgence takes place two decades after the original invasion attempt.
In the intervening years, the world has been largely rebuilt, and a brand new Earth Space Defence system, constructed with salvaged alien technology, now protects the planet against any extraterrestrial menace.

However, the invading aliens had been able to send a distress signal to their home planet before their final defeat, and a much larger battle fleet is on its way to finish Earth off.

In the first movie, the alien crafts packed an energy weapon that could devastate entire cities with a single blast. In Resurgence, the newer fleet uses some sort of anti-gravity piece of kit that can uproot a whole city and hurl it upwards into oblivion. How the good guys defend against this new hardware remains unclear.

What it’s pretty clear is that Resurgence will give you more bang for your buck, and if you liked the first one, with its cheesy one-liners, paper thin plot and even thinner characters, you are likely to fall head over heels with its sequel.
The original Independence Day became the first movie ever to make 100m bucks in a single week. Resurgence will likely top that, and then some.

And did I mention that Resurgence is but the middle chapter in a planned trilogy?

Ghostbusters

Opens on July 15

It was the summer of 1984 when the smash hit Ghostbusters hit the screens worldwide.

A supernatural comedy of sorts, Ghostbusters brought together the talents of comedian Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, a veteran from Saturday Night Live, and fellow comedian Harold Ramis, as a trio of eccentric parapsychology students who get more than their bargained for after starting a ghost-trapping business.

The movie exploded worldwide, going on to make in the region of $600m at the box office. It got nominated for two Oscars, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Song (who could forget such iconic tune?), but lost in both counts.
Ghostbusters kickstarted a franchise, and a sequel, Ghostbusters II, was released in 1989. Two cartoon TV series followed, with video games and other media also launched over the years.

Now, in 2016, we’ll see a reboot of the series with an all-female cast; Kristen Wiig, Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, and Leslie Jones will pick up the ghost-catching duties in this one, with Chris Hemsworth thrown in for eye-candy.

Plot wise is a rather standard fare. Four women from different backgrounds join forces against a supernatural entity that can exert control over humans. Not the most original or exciting of premises. Slime, the green blobby ghost is sure to put an appearance, if only for nostalgia value.

The trailer, released only three weeks ago, was viewed about 24 million times in 24 hours. It received mixed reviews, however, and it remains to be seen whether the movie simply hopes to cash in on the pull and undisputed charm of the original, or can it stand in its own right.

Jason Bourne

Opens on: July 29

The Bourne franchise kicked off back in 2002, would you believe, with now classic action thriller The Bourne Identity. Matt Damon took up the role of Jason Bourne, an operative working for a shady covert agency called Treadstone. Problem is, Bourne does not remember who he is or why people are trying to kill him, so he is forced to fight his way through assassins and other threats to find out the truth.

Based on material written by American author Robert Ludlum, The Bourne series would go on to meet great commercial success, at least the films with Matt Damon as the eponymous agent. The Bourne Legacy, a misguided reboot attempt with Jeremy Renner playing a Bourne-like operative, did not fare so well.

This summer, a new Bourne movie, succinctly titled Jason Bourne, will hit the screens towards the end of July. Matt Damon is back in the lead role, as is Julia Stiles as CIA worker Nicky Parsons. Veteran actor Tommy Lee Jones also joins the cast as a yet unnamed high ranking CIA boss.

The three Bourne movies with Matt Damon have so far grossed nearly $1 billion worldwide, and this latest sequel is sure not to disappoint fans of the series.

And that’s all she wrote. Something for everybody.

Enjoy.