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Movie Review: Splice (2010) July 24, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews.
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Splice opens in cinemas across Australia on 12 August 2010

I’ve always had an unheathy fascination with monsters, mutants and freaks of nature.  There’s just something about them that intrigues and yet unsettles me.  Unfortunately, the track record of such films have — let’s face it — not been great.

And so it was with some reserved excitement that I went to see a media preview screening of Splice (with an unprecedented full house), the latest sci-fi horror offering from director and co-writer Vincenzo Natali (the guy who brought us the excellent and innovative Cube) and executive producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy).  I thought, if anyone could pull off a worthy sci-fi horror about genetic experimentation gone wrong, it’s these two dudes.

So?  Well, I think they came very very close.

Splice tells the story of a hip scientist couple, Clive and Elsa (played by a pre-buffed, pre-Predators Adrien Brody and an older, post-hot Sarah Polley, you know, the blonde girl from Go and Dawn of the Dead), who have become rockstars of the scientific community for their breakthroughs in splicing DNA of different animals to create weird mutant hybrids.  The next step is to splice animal and human DNA, but of course their corporate sponsors don’t approve.  Just to prove they could do it, Clive and Elsa take their experiments underground…

As usual, the less known about the plot the better, but it’s not hard to guess what happens next.  Splice follows a familiar trajectory (a bit of Frankenstein with a touch of Species 2), but it doesn’t mean it’s still not a genuinely creepy, unsettling, and at times utterly bizarre film well worth your time.  Especially if you are into (extremely well-designed) freaks!

The film is anchored by the strong performance of Adrien Brody (having now seen him in back-to-back movies in completely different roles and physically transformed, I can only say I am impressed with this guy).  Sarah Polley picks her up her acting towards the end, but there was something about her dialogue in the first half of the film that didn’t ring true.  I’m not sure if it’s her or the script.  The other standout is their ‘creation’, Dren, played by newcomer Delphine Chaneac and spliced with terrific special effects.  She’s creepy.

Splice is not without its flaws.  It was difficult to connect with the protagonists who are supposed to be intelligent people but they keep doing incredibly stupid, unlikable and non-sensical things.  There were a couple of grossly over-the-top moments that generated more laughter than horrified gasps from the crowd, though that may have been intentional.  The ‘twists’ were also a little too telegraphed and obvious for my liking.

But these are relatively minor complaints because Splice doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not.  I’m glad Natali made it a straight horror/psychological thriller as opposed to some sort of deep philosophical contemplation about the slippery slope of genetic engineering, because that would have totally ruined it.

Splice is no masterpiece, but it’s rare to see a sci-fi horror these days that is actually scary, entertaining, well-acted and doesn’t completely fall apart by the end.

4 stars out of 5!

PS: I can’t think of many good sci-fi horrors depicting experimental freaks of nature off the top of my head.  I mentioned Frankenstein and Species 2, but I’m sure there are others.  I thought  Frankenstein (the one with Robert De Niro) was pretty good, but let’s be honest — we all know why people flocked to see Species.

PPS: Oh, forgot about the underrated The Island of Dr Moreau.

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Del Toro quits ‘The Hobbit’; now what? May 31, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Entertainment, Fantasy.
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Guillermo del Toro, man at the helm of films such as Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, The Devil’s Backbone and Blade II, has quit as director of The Hobbit, the planned two-part prequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Whilst calling it “the hardest decision” of his life, Del Toro simply couldn’t take the extended and continued delays in filming any longer as it impacted on his other commitments.  The Hobbit was supposed to be a 3 year commitment but it’s now looking like it will be 6 years or more.  Most of the delays stem from the financial struggles of studio MGM, which is co-distributing the film with New Line.

I was initially disappointed when I heard that Peter Jackson was not going to be directing The Hobbit films.  He had done such a fantastic job on LOTR that we all expected him to return to continue the legacy.  However, when I found out that Del Toro was taking over, it made me even more excited.  Del Toro’s incredible vision and creepy style has impressed me more than any other director in recent memory, and I thought his presence would shift the franchise in a fresh and exciting direction and turn Middle-Earth into an even stranger and unsettling place.

But with Del Toro gone, now what?  Is The Hobbit destined to suck, or will it simply never be made at all?

Jackson has reiterated that he will not be directing the films, even though he will continue to work on the script and try and facilitate a smooth transition to a new director.

I just don’t know who they can get with such short notice and the films being such a major commitment.  I’m sure plenty of lesser known and less capable directors will be lining up to prove their mettle, but if they pick someone bland and unoriginal who isn’t going to do the films justice, it will just be a complete waste of everybody’s time.  LOTR has built up such an incredible level of expectation that The Hobbit simply can’t be anything but amazing.

Classic Movie Review: The Orphanage (2007) March 31, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal.
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2 comments

Most of the posters for this film are very disappointing, but this Spanish one's not too bad

I’m a sucker for supernatural thrillers, and for the last couple of years I kept hearing about this Spanish film called El Orfanato (The Orphanage), the debut feature of director Juan Antonio Bayona, and produced by his good friend Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and soon, The Hobbit).

I finally got around to watching it, and admittedly, the hype is justified.

The Orphanage tells the tale of a woman who returns with her husband and son to her childhood home, an orphanage, which they intend to turn into a home for disabled kids.  Needless to say, stuff happens.  I don’t think it’s a premise I’ve seen before, but I’m sure it feels familiar.

Three things that tend to be common in ghost movies: big old house, weird noises and creepy children.  The Orphanage ticks all three boxes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s going to be a formulaic, predictable horror.  The Orphanage is multiple notches above your average supernatural story for a variety of reasons.

First, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy.  It’s a film that builds up the tension gradually, using a combination of eerie stories and spooky moments.  It unsettles you, makes you feel uncomfortable.  It rarely relies on the cheaps scares that plague horror films these days.  There are also some clever tricks that I won’t divulge, but they are freaking terrifying.  There are a couple of scenes in particular that are classics in my opinion, and they always give me chills when I think about them.

Second, you actually give a crap about the characters.  Laura, the mother and the main lead, is exceptionally played by Spanish actress Belen Rueda.  You feel her pain, her fears, and her desperation.  Rueda makes her a flesh and blood, believable character you care about.  The father, Carlos, played by Fernando Cayo, has less to do here, but he has his moments too in a subtle, controlled performance.

Third, it’s a great story!  Given the premise I described above, it would have been easy for the film to collapse into your run-of-the-mill haunted house story, but there is so much more to it.  There is mystery, intrigue, twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming.

In a way, The Orphanage shouldn’t even really be called a “horror” as that downplays the dramatic aspects of the film.  I think the main reason the movie has done so well (won 7 Goya awards) is because of how emotional and heartbreaking it is, in a way you don’t expect horror movies to be.

Watch it before the obligatory Hollywood remake comes out! (New Line has already acquired the rights)

4.5 stars out of 5!

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