Are You Doing Anything for Halloween?

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As we edge closer towards Halloween, I was wondering what everyone is doing for it. For me, I’ll be relaxing with sweets and horror movies.

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Don’t Breathe

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Director

Fede Alvarez

Starring

  • Jane Levy as Rocky
  • Dylan Minnette as Alex
  • Daniel Zovatto as Money
  • Stephen Lang as The Blind Man

Don’t Breathe is an economical home invasion horror with jolts of terror throughout. Best watch this movie with the lights off for the full effect.

In Detroit, a trio of teenagers are perpetrating a number of robberies. They are Money, Rocky and Alex. Each of them does it for different reasons. Money is a major hothead with a chip on his shoulder , whereas Rocky wants money so she and her sister can escape her mother and Alex is something of a tag along. When their latest heist and the things they procure don’t sell or bring in a profit, they think it’s time to step it up. Money hears of a possibly lucrative heist that should be easy enough. A former army veteran, who was blinded in conflict, supposedly got a big cash settlement when his daughter was killed by a driver some time before. Although Alex is resistant to the idea, he ultimately goes along with their plan. Once they get through the locks and evade the snarling dog, their plan seems to fall into motion. Just as quickly, the Blind Man wakes up and shows how deadly he can be by murdering Money. For Rocky and Alex, things have gone from bad to worse. What ensues is a terrifying night of attempted survival as the remaining two realise that the Blind Man is really not the person they should have taken for an easy target.

Fede Alvarez brings us an unrelenting ride of tension and heart-pounding horror. He is clearly a student of the genre who knows exactly the buttons to press to get a reaction from the audience. Alvarez gets that silence is golden and wisely limits dialogue, to really stress the situation if the character and how the tiniest noise will alert the Blind Man to their presence. And though there have been a whole host of home invasion movies in the past, (some good and some bad), Don’t Breathe is definitely in the former category. And by having the people invading the house being the unwitting victims who are terrorised, the usual formula is flipped and the power goes to the antagonist. And speaking of antagonists, one could argue that the larcenous trio who  break into his house are just as bad as the man himself. Though once they reach the basement, things switch rapidly and you’re back on their side. Night vision plays a big part in creating the claustrophobic setting for the film, particularly when the teenagers are forced into darkness with barely a light for them to follow. It functions to show that the Blind Man more often than not has the upper hand on them which they come to discover.  Don’t Breathe can get really nasty when the occasion rings for it and in one instance, it’s very unexpected ( and this is coming from a seasoned horror viewer.) Those who have seen Don’t Breathe will know exactly to which bit I refer, but I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t viewed this twisted cat and mouse game of a movie. All I’ll say is twists come in plentiful fashion here. Sound design is heightened to coincide with the acute senses of the Blind Man, so every little creak of a floorboard or scurry of a footstep reverberates with maximum scares. The music of Don’t Breathe blends beautifully with the sound effects to create real ambience.

The trio, specifically Dylan Minnette and Jane Levy, show that their characters while committing crimes, are not all necessarily bad people. In particular, Levy stands out for her work as the terrified and determined Rocky, who realises she must fight a hell of a lot in order to survive. But it’s the main source of tension and terror that takes the acting plaudits. Stephen Lang, although he barely speaks, resonates with deep rooted menace and surprising agility. There is even some pity that he evokes in the central threat, but he works best when showcasing his keen senses and viciousness that won’t give up.

With a high load of tension and credible atmosphere on show, Don’t Breathe is a lean, mean horror perfect for this time of year in the run up to Halloween.

Music Guilty Pleasure

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In this life, we are all entitled to guilty pleasures in movies and music. This had me thinking about my own guilty pleasures music wise. One of mine is the Spice Girls. Their music and personalities are so totally infectious. I’m not ashamed to admit to that I will sing along with Ginger, Posh, Baby, Scary and Sporty. Here’s some of their highlights.

 

But who are your musical guilty pleasures?

Xena: Warrior Princess Season 1

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A spin-off from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys that went on to eclipse its predecessor, Xena: Warrior Princess became a pop culture phenomenon thanks to its tone and iconic title character. So here I am ready to review the first season of this show. Let’s get on with it and be warned, spoilers may be in this review.

In Ancient Greece, former warlord and Warrior Princess Xena( Lucy Lawless) is travelling and attempting to rectify her brutal past and atone for the suffering she caused so many. She’s beginning to renounce her title of Warrior Princess, but she’s spurred into action when she encounters villagers being attacked by rampaging men. Taking back her sword and power, she vows to do good with her skills as a fighter. One of the girls she saved, an aspiring bard named Gabrielle( Renée O’Connor ), is bored with her life and wants some adventure. She sees Xena as her ticket to the wide open world some form of fun. Xena, who is used to being alone allows Gabrielle to come along with her. although skeptical at first, the two become very close friends in the long run . On their travels they encounter all manner of action and adventure as they come up against warlords, God’s and many things from Xena’s past coming back to menace the warrior and tempt her back to the dark side.

What immediately strikes you about Xena is the tonal diversity of the episodes. They go from serious dramas to tongue in cheek comedy and almost everything in between. There’s something for everyone to enjoy here. It’s best not to take most of it seriously because of the often goofy sensibility that colours a few areas, though there are deep moments of emotion to behold on the other end of the spectrum. Especially in the case of Xena and her search for redemption after her former darkness. I will say that Xena: Warrior Princess is a show that can be a bit like Marmite for some because of how oddball it gets. But it hits the spot for me with its multitude of tones and well-executed ideas. One of the main things that I’m aware of with this show is the endless debate over the nature of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle. They are very close and almost always together as friends would be. But many see something deeper to it and I can understand why some think of Xena and Gabrielle as a couple. The writers are canny enough to sly and ambiguously reference this in many instances with innuendo appearing a handful of times between the two and situations that put them closer together. There are only snippets of something more than friendship in this season, so it will be interesting to see how their relationship grows and how it will turn out.

On the visual side, the use of New Zealand as a filming location is inspired in how it stands in for Ancient Greece in all its beautiful splendour. And it’s pretty great how anachronistic the show is. It doesn’t purport to be the gospel truth about the mythology it references, instead running with it and having a blast. It plays by its own rules and is in my view, all the better for it. A rousing score that fits the shifting ups and downs of Xena’s life and can be so many things given the episode at play.

Great episodes abound in this introductory season. The opener cleverly sets up the title character as she begins her journey to some form of redemption while hinting at what will come. ‘Dreamworker’ has Xena entering a dreamscape to save Gabrielle from being sacrificed to the God Morpheus, which will happen if age spills innocent blood. Xena must contend sit her past here as it quite literally comes back to haunt her. It’s a very striking episode. In ‘Reckoning, we are introduced to the darkly charismatic Ares. He will, from what I’ve read, become a more prominent character in the series. I’m glad to hear that as he is very smooth and dark and the story of him trying to coax Xena back to the dark side is extremely watchable and Kevin Smith is ideally cast as the silver-tongued God. The episode in question does a great job of showing how Xena may be trying to right her wrongs but could easily go back to the dark side if swayed. In ‘Hooves and Harlots’ Xena and Gabrielle come into the middle of what could be a war between the resourceful Amazons and traitorous Centaurs. It is in this episode Gabrielle comes into her own a bit more and displays skills as a fighter that will come in handy. She may be the sidekick of the series, but we see that she’s no slouch either as evidenced by her willingness to learn.

‘Warrior … Princess’ is a fine comedy episode where Xena impersonates a damsel in distress that is far removed from her tough girl persona, leaving the other princess to attempt to emulate the fierceness of Xena. All of this has hilarious results for both and shows off the comedic chops of Lucy Lawless. Another standout ‘The Royal Couple of Thieves’ features Bruce Campbell as a thief with a big ego that teams up with Xena to retrieve a powerful object. The banter and chemistry between Xena and Autolycus is something to behold and makes the episode a particularly strong venture. On a more serious note, ‘Callisto’ introduces a vengeful nemesis for Xena who has dedicated her life to destroying her as it was Xena’s army that slaughtered her family. This episode makes an interesting case for Callisto being the dark side of Xena, like the other side of a coin. She embodies, thanks to the frightening and unnerving work of Hudson Leick, a psychotic evil that is taunting and won’t rest. The dynamic between them is fascinating as Callisto attempts to get Xena to kill her, putting the Warrior Princess in a dilemma over whether to kill what she has created  The episode also serves to introduce the comic character of Joxer( a very funny Ted Raimi), an incompetent wannabe warrior who is lovable nonetheless. And the season is closed out in emotional fashion when Gabrielle seemingly slips to the other side after being injured in the middle of a civil war. Watching as Xena screams and pounds her chest is heartbreaking, but thankfully Gabrielle is soon back with the land of the living and the two are soon on their way to new adventures. It’s a high point of the show that displays the close relationship of its protagonists.

The cast is a big selling point of Xena and one that makes you truly buy into it. At the centre is the sexy Lucy Lawless as the eponymous Warrior Princess. She projects a strong, intimidating but also sardonic and seductive image of a woman you wouldn’t want to mess with. Lawless has the athleticism and when the occasion calls for it emotion when discovering Xena’s pain and regrets that she has harnessed into a tough visage. Renée O’Connor has the innocence and pluckiness to counterbalance the seriousness and worldliness of Xena. And though she is often the main sidekick, O’Connor makes Gabrielle just as important as a character. Plus the chemistry between the two of them is exemplary. While best friends, Xena is the more hard-edged of the two. Gabrielle on the other hand has a thirst for knowledge and a desire to discover the world and all that it has to offer.

And now for my episode rankings:

  1. Sins of the Past – A
  2. Chariots of War – B
  3. Dreamworker – A
  4. Cradle of Hope – B-
  5. The Path Not Taken – C
  6. The Reckoning – A+
  7. The Titans – C-
  8. Prometheus – B
  9. Death in Chains – C+
  10. Hooves and Harlots – A
  11. The Black Wolf – B+
  12. Beware Greeks Bearing Gifts – C
  13. Athens City Academy of The Performing Bards – D-
  14. A Fistful of Dinars – B
  15. Warrior .. Princess – A+
  16. Mortal Beloved – B
  17. The Royal Couple of Thieves – A
  18. The Prodigal – C-
  19. Altared States – C
  20. Ties That Bind – B
  21. The Greater Good – B
  22. Callisto – A
  23. Death Mask – C
  24. Is There a Doctor in the House? – A

So so all I have left to say is that Xena Season 1 is a blast that has me gearing up for what follows. With a feisty and fierce leading character and entertainment galore, you can’t ask for more.

The Shallows

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Director

Jaume Collet-Serra

Starring

  • Blake Lively as Nancy Adams

An energetic, nail-biting horror thriller, The Shallows is entertaining in many ways. Originality is checked at the door and we are vibes a fun and at times terrifying fight for survival between woman and beast. This is the first entry into my Month of Horror.

Nancy Adams is a medical student who has traveled to Mexico in the wake of her mother’s death. She goes to a beach she knows her mum loved in order to honour her memory and avoid dealing with her father, who it seems is distant from her. She takes to the surf and is relaxing in the sun. After encountering a dying whale, a monstrous Great White Shark attacks her. Nancy’s leg is injured, but she manages to clamber up onto some rocks. Being a medical student, she treats her wound the best she can as terror sets in. Being miles from land and knowing that the tide will soon wash her away and her safety, she has to embrace an inner toughness and fight back in order to live in the face of the shark. The question is, just how long can Nancy survive as the tide turns and the shark comes looming?

Building on a simple prestige of the lone female being menaced by something horrible, Jaume Collet-Serra ratchets up the tension from the start. He drip feeds smidgeons of foreshadowing that something bad is going to happen among the glorious cinematography. The Shallows deserves kudos for its visual appeal, especially in the lighting and scenery. The lush surf is rendered gorgeously as a paradise before the predator comes calling for food. Plus, the technique of showing us the time and connecting Nancy with others, in this case a videophone, leads to some wonderfully nifty shots. Added to this are frequent close-ups on her face that display her resilience and terror in the face of horror. Now The Shallows isn’t a perfect movie, some areas lag, but it isn’t trying to be the best movie out there. What it wants to do is scare and excite, which it does with ruthless efficiency. It’s a B-movie with a little bit of that something extra. And it has touches of humour in the form of a Seagull that gravitates to Nancy and earns the nickname, ‘Steven Seagull’. The score is excellent at slowly carving out scares and the perilous journey that Nancy attempts to go on in order to survive the shark that is menacing her.

One of the best things in The Shallows is Blake Lively. Getting to grips with the physicality of the part, she also displays courage, heart and fierce steel as she does battle with the shark. Lively is a beauty and often her acting gets overlooked, but she shows here that she’s definitely more than a pretty face. In the hands of someone else, the part could have been just eye candy, but that’s not the case with Lively. It’s a commendable piece of work because the film largely rests on her athletic shoulders. Luckily, she is up to the task of it.

A tense and thrilling survival horror with a fine lead performance and terror at almost every corner, The Shallows is a movie that truly entertains and scares in equal measure.

I’m Focusing

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Lately, my focus has been lacking and it’s become noticeable. Not just in blogging but in other things. That’s why I’m going to focus more with a timetable to help me get some order. I feel like I’ve been a bit absent from all of you and for that I do apologise. I’m going to be back with sense of order very soon. I also want to expand my horizons with other things as well and spend more time with family and friends. This doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten you all. Hope you all understand.