Directed by David Twohy
When it comes to reinvigorating popular franchises, Vin Diesel seems to have it all figured out these days. With his recent revitalization of the Fast & Furious franchise, the action star has now set his sights on rebooting the modern cult franchise and intergalactic antihero that put him on the proverbial map back in 2000 with the latest sequel from him and writer/director David Twohy, simply entitled Riddick.
As a fan who immediately fell in love with Pitch Black, I will be the first to admit that Chronicles of Riddick left me in the cold, despite the fact that I am one of the few who will still defend that film on the merits of its story (and Diesel) alone, albeit not much else. When Riddick was initially announced, I had my reservations in check; then the announcement came that the franchise was gloriously returning to its R-rated roots and star/producer Diesel was literally putting everything on the line to get the sequel made outside the studio system and that’s what really piqued my interest as a fan, especially considering Diesel’s recent track record.
And thankfully Diesel, Twohy and the rest of the gang from Riddick really delivered on their promises to the fans out there, giving us another stunning action-packed horror/sci-fi adventure that proves there’s still a lot of R-rated fun to be had at the movies even if the studios don’t necessarily think that there is. Far more in line with Pitch Black than Chronicles of Riddick, this latest sequel also feels exactly like the kind of movie I would have spent my summer watching at the drive-in as a kid and there’s something to be said for a movie that feels new and yet also feels like it has classic 80’s sci-fi DNA coursing through its veins.
Riddick opens with Diesel doing voice-over and recalling what he says is “a legendary bad day”; he’s just been double-crossed and left for dead on a desolate planet by the Necromongers whom we met previously in Chronicles (there’s a quick Karl Urban cameo too) and he’s now faring against a planet filled with various hostile creatures that see Riddick as nothing more than a tasty treat. Realizing that becoming a king has dulled his own animalistic senses, we follow Riddick as he returns to his grisly roots (much like the series is doing) by training against the killer aliens around him and sharpening his own skills and reflexes in an effort to become the badass he once was before he got “soft” (again, some may argue this also could be paralleling Diesel’s own career after appearing films like The Pacifier).
Realizing that he needs to find a way off the mysterious planet he’d been left behind on, Riddick hatches a plan to trigger an emergency beacon which will alert every mercenary in the galaxy to his whereabouts, ultimately providing him with a ride off the god-forsaken planet. What ensues when the two mercenary teams show up is a gory and visceral cat-and-mouse game proving that Riddick hasn’t lost his deadly touch along the way. And of course, things don’t necessarily go according to plan for either Riddick or the bounty hunters on his trail as an epic storm looms in the distance and once it hits, it’s not only the wanted criminal that the mercenaries must fear but the darkness and the aliens around them that happen to be nocturnal and very, very hungry.
As a whole, there may not necessarily be anything all that new going on in Riddick, but that doesn’t mean the familiar shouldn’t be appreciated either. Rather than continue on a sort of Conan in Space tangent much like Chronicles ended up being, with their latest Twohy and Diesel smartly go back to basics and give the fans what they want- Riddick being badass and no hint of a PG-13 rating to be found (in the first 10 minutes Riddick earns its restricted rating on at least five different occasions).
It may seem on the surface that the story in Riddick is quite similar to Pitch Black but for those of you who think this latest film is going to be a rehash, watch a little more closely and you’ll notice Twohy and Diesel are not only breaking down and reconstructing their iconic character after their last venture but they’re also expertly expanding the mythology of this universe at the same time- no easy feat.
The film itself also manages to breeze easily between moments of action, horror and humor, even finding the time to give us quieter moments with Riddick as well (the first 15-20 minutes are simply like watching a really extreme episode of “Man vs. Wild” but instead of watching some dude drink his own pee, we watch Diesel transform from badass to super-badass); then, when our protagonist kicks back into his animal/hunter mode and the narrative perspective shifts towards the mercenaries who have arrived to collect their bounty, that’s when Riddick (the film and the character) starts to have a hell of a lot of fun.
Being fair, I would say that Riddick‘s pacing could have used a little straightening out but thankfully whenever the story begins to wane at all, Diesel’s back on screen with an infectious enthusiasm that you can’t help but be drawn into (seriously, watch Find Me Guilty if you haven’t already; he’s so great), making it easy to overlook any shortcomings this sequel may possess.
As far as the effects, both practical and visual, are concerned, Riddick looks pretty spectacular, almost like a Frank Frazetta painting come to life- extraordinary creatures and all (albeit the main alien “baddie” is nowhere near as terrifying as those freaking pterodactyl/bat things from Pitch Black) and there’s a ton of great gore to go along with the look of this fantastical world, including one gag in particular that should no doubt have everyone in the theatre clapping this weekend.
With its sci-fi-loving heart in the right place, Riddick is just a total blast and undoubtedly the sequel Chronicles of Riddick should have been; long-time fans of this series will go home happy, and for those of you who had your reservations after the last installment (and justifiably so), Twohy and Diesel’s truly infectious admiration and respect for this character and this world will undoubtedly win you over. Riddick may be far from cinematic perfection but it’s everything I was hoping for as a fan and my fingers are crossed for more from these guys.
4 out of 5
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On
Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston
Directed by Johnny Martin
When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.
Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.
Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.
Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility
Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita
Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita
The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.
The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.
The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.
From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.
The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.
Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.”
The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.
Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.
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