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Movie Review: Blair Witch


Blair Witch is comparable with Evil Dead 2 in as much as it's delivering what the first one did, with less novelty and more finesse. The original The Blair Witch Project was one of the first found footage horror films to emerge and while the hype exceeded delivery, managed to carve out a new genre of cinema, signalling a cross-over between high-end and commercially available video recording.

While the low budget horror was something of a shaky-cam pioneer, it received favourable reviews, tipping the hat to its mock-doc style shooting, genuine creepiness and the way it leveraged our imagination with an "invisible" villain. Since then, the reality camcorder genre has blossomed and it just seemed like a good time to introduce a new generation to one of the founders with a modern skin.

Blair Witch is a terrifying ordeal and a strong redux. The new version is cleverly refreshed and supplanted in the original with an X-Files style "missing sister" device. Instead of Mulder, we have James, who still believes his sister Heather is out there... in the woods. After another video surfaces of what he believes to show she's alive, he assembles a brave expedition party, including two strange locals.

Blair Witch has been updated to include contemporary technology with over-the-ear cameras and I loved the introduction of the untrustworthy guides. The filmmakers could have done so much more with the evil locals to the tune of Funny Games, but keep us guessing with their odd behaviour and off-balance with rising group tensions.

Blair Witch Movie

"Damn."

The cast is good, with James Allen McCune starring in a similar mold to Nicolas Hoult as James. He's the calm and steady hero, leaning on Callie Hernandez as Lisa with Corbin Reid and Brandon Scott playing fellow campers, Ashley and Peter. Wes Robinson is probably the most memorable act from Blair Witch as Lane, whose cold blue eyes make him seem almost possessed with the film-makers obscuring us from him and his partner, Talia, played by Valorie Curry.

Adam Wingard maintains this uneasiness by playing on a multitude of fears from claustrophobia to nyctophobia (dark), xenophobia (unknown) and even acrophobia (heights). Switching from one perspective to another and given access to multiple cameras, including a drone, gives him more options as a film-maker. He doesn't add polish or finesse, but keeps the spirit of The Blair Witch Project with shaky cam shooting, creepy situational dynamics and using what-goes-bump-in-the-night scare tactics.

Instead of going play-for-play, Wingard takes it up a notch by creating a hellish environment for his characters and audience, where being lost in the woods suddenly takes on a whole new dimension of terror. Blair Witch is a solid remake but also serves as a tribute to the genre, incorporating elements from all the best reality horror thrillers, including: REC and Paranormal Activity.

It probably would've been better, if Blair Witch had teased out the suspicion on the "guides" longer. As with most of these low budget found footage thrillers, the loose ends contribute to the uncertainty and fear, while the jerky camera motion is a strength and a weakness. It's not going to change the world, but it will immerse you in the pitch black nightmare just long enough to be utterly relieved to see the light of day again.

The bottom line: Terrifying


 
Talking Movies with Spling - Bridget Jones's Baby, Mechanic: Resurrection and Tumbledown


Spling reviews Bridget Jones's Baby, Mechanic: Resurrection and Tumbledown as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
Movie Review: Ben-Hur


The Ben-Hur of 1959 starring Charlton Heston is widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. A remake of a silent movie, the production took six months to film and six months of postproduction to complete at a cost of just under $15 million. Massive sets, thousands of costumes and long days, it was a colossal undertaking, inspired by The Ten Commandments. Originally, Marlon Brando was set to star but the iconic role eventually found its way to Charlton Heston with the film generating 10 times its budget in returns at the box office.

The story, penned by Lew Wallace, follows a prince falsely accused of treason who returns to his homeland after years at sea to take revenge on the adopted brother, who betrayed him. The new Ben-Hur of 2016 isn't as grandiose as its predecessor, making some drastic changes to the story. The central revenge plot between Judah Ben-Hur and Masala, played by Jack Huston and Toby Kebbell, is still a primary focus, however it seems that the film makers have made more room for Ilderim and Jesus Christ, played by Morgan Freeman and Rodrigo Santoro respectively. The effort seems divided between four characters, when it's really Ben Hur's film.

Jack Huston isn't your typical leading man and seems pretty ordinary when you contrast him with Charlton Heston. Huston pushes off Kebbell as their paths diverge and for a moment you're not too sure who is playing the lead. Huston is likable and goes through a number of transitions in terms of his appearance much like The Count of Monte Cristo. Kebbell has more of an embattled sneer and comparable with Joseph Fiennes's role as Clavius in Risen, a film which makes an interesting contrast in terms of production values and themes.

Ben-Hur 2016 Movie Review

"I feel the need... the need for speed."

The new Ben-Hur tries to elevate itself into the realm of Ben-Hur, Spartacus and Gladiator, which is such a strong influence that it almost becomes an undercurrent. However, it's a lesser film – leaning on CGI to create dazzling effects but failing to capture the same injustice, turmoil and sprawling majesty. Perhaps a stronger lead would have helped raise this historical adventure drama's profile, which seems more in line with the Orlando Bloom film, Kingdom of Heaven.

Timur Bekmambetov is a director best known for Night Watch, Day Watch, Wanted and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. These dark fantasy films make it seem strange that he was elected for the remake of Ben-Hur. Although when you look at Darren Aronofsky's Noah, it may help explain the decision. Bekmambetov excels in the darker moments, most particularly his vision of the hellish sea battles. He's also paid special attention to the chariot race, a scene which has left an indelible mark on Hollywood history. While he doesn't trump the original, it still functions as the film's climactic highlight.

Ben-Hur certainly doesn't have the same magic and power as the golden era films its trying to mimic, but it's still entertaining as we journey with a wrongfully accused man on a path to redemption. The quality of the production ranks alongside Ridley Scott's Robin Hood, yet it's restrained by its decision to try and parallel the story of Christ. Ben Hur did have some interactions with Jesus Christ, but the timing of both stories just seem implausible and convoluted rather than coincidental. The ending while touching is cheapened by Ben-Hur's hollow victory and change of heart. This heavy-handed approach just makes this mediocre... at best promising, biblical epic seem a bit cheesy.

The bottom line: So-so


 
Talking Movies with Spling - Sully, Nine Lives and Regression


Spling reviews Sully, Nine Lives and Regression as broadcast on Talking Movies, Fine Music Radio. Catch Talking Movies on Fridays at 8:20am and Saturdays at 8:15am every week on Fine Music Radio.

 
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