The Chamber – Review

by Ren Zelen

Writer/director Ben Parker’s debut feature, The Chamber, is a claustrophobic, character-driven thriller. Although Welsh-made and Devon-filmed, the movie is set in North Korean waters.

The story concerns Swedish submersible pilot Mats (Johannes Kuhnke) who is woken one night and told by the captain of his ship that he has been conscripted into taking a trio of American covert ops-agents on a secret mission. He surmises that they are desperate to recover something from the ocean floor.

Almost the entire running time of The Chamber takes place with just four characters confined within a tiny submarine roughly the size of a van – civilian Mats, military specialist Red (Charlotte Salt) and two of her subordinates, Parks, (James McArdle) and Denholm (Elliot Levey).

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Without giving out spoilers, we can say that, unsurprisingly, the mission does not unfold smoothly – partly due to a decision to blow up the item on the ocean floor in order to keep it out of enemy hands. Red is determined to follow her mission to the letter, ignoring Mats’s warning that setting off a bomb so near his ancient and delicate submarine is a very bad idea. In the event, the submersible is churned around in the blast, springs a leak and turns upside-down, blocking the only escape hatch. Denholm is severely injured, and Parks soon begins to twitchily demonstrate signs of deep ocean pressure sickness (see Michael Biehn in The Abyss). Meanwhile, their surface support vessel has been boarded by the North Koreans because it has strayed into their waters, effectively leaving the group stranded on the seabed.

Mats has to use his comprehensive knowledge of his submarine, his experience and his ingenuity to cobble together a kind of ‘Heath-Robinson’-style solution to their plight, despite having only two escape suits for four people.

Keeping this premise exciting in such a limited location for the film’s 90-minute run-time is a challenge, and ultimately depends on the interplay between the four characters. As the situation becomes increasingly tense and hopeless, they inevitably begin to turn on each other.

Ben Parker manages to build a thriller entirely around heated arguments and the group running out of time, fighting for their lives. He utilizes tense dialogue and focussed performances. It all rips along at breakneck pace as the crew go from one catastrophe to another and find solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems. If it wasn’t so fast moving and gutsy, we might be inclined to notice that the escalations begin to feel a little contrived.

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All in all, The Chamber proves to be a decent thriller, making use of its limited resources. The setting is made to feel even more confined as the camera keeps tight to the cast, even though it’s constantly in motion.

Apparently, the idea for the film came from Parker’s own fear of enclosed spaces, and he manages to instil a sense of claustrophobia and nervous energy.  The cinematography also conveys this atmosphere – the sub is suffused with blue and grey hues, enhancing the undersea feel, and the sound effects and humming soundtrack are immersive (music by James Dean Bradfield).

Although the tight script does a reasonable job of building intrigue about the mission, the eventual reveal of what’s going on is clouded in military-speak jargon. The characters themselves feel rather archetypal, making one’s engagement with the film more intellectual than emotional.

The only exception may be Kuhnke (Force Majeure) who delivers a pivotal role as a sympathetic civilian who proves himself more resourceful than the military ‘experts’ bossing him around – which makes the denouement all the more tragic.


The Chamber is out March 10th

Looking Back…King Kong (2005)

King Kong comes roaring back onto cinema screens this week accompanied by an all star cast in Kong: Skull Island. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at two of the most iconic films in the franchise. We’ve already covered the 1933 original that started it all, now let’s talk about Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, and why it’s one of the best remakes of all time.

Once again, if you somehow don’t know the story of King Kong yet, there will be spoilers.

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One of the biggest things people complain about when it comes to remakes is that they don’t add anything; why remake something if it’s just gonna be the exact same thing? Where’s the creativity? How do we benefit from this interpretation? Well, Peter Jackson apparently felt the same way, and made sure King Kong goes against all of that. I’ve never known a remake to expand and elaborate on so many things before, to the point where I actually don’t know where to begin. So let’s just do this in sections, and start with the character, in particular the characters of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). In the original film, Ann was just a penniless woman from New York, but in this interpretation, she’s a struggling actress with real talent, real passion and a real opportunity in her hands. Jack Driscoll is now an award winning playwright, as opposed to a moody first mate. This adds so much depth to each character, making them far more likable and easier to invest in. What does stay the same is that they fall in love, and what also sadly stays the same is that it never feels real. Keep in mind that in the original film, it literally happens with a few lines of dialogue, and thus isn’t worth caring about, so it’s kind of bad that this film puts so much more effort into it, but ultimately achieves the same result. It has to be said that Brody doesn’t give much of a good performance either, but Watts absolutely shines.

But the best performance in the film, and I’m probably going to get some flack for this, is from Jack Black. Black’s most prominent work up until that point included High Fidelity, School of Rock, and Shark Tale, so it’s strange to think that someone could’ve looked at those performances and thought that he would be right for the role, but God bless them for thinking it because he pulls it off beautifully. There’s a tiny hint of his Jack Black-ness in there, but most of it completely melts away as he transforms into this slimy, greedy, manipulative villain. His line delivery makes him so despicable, far more than the original Carl Denham ever was. It’s one of his best performances to date. The film has a great cast all around, including a young Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis in a dual role and exquisite character actor Kyle Chandler in a hilarious role. This film really knows who pay attention to and who not to; Serkis’ Lumpy and Chandler’s Bruce Baxter don’t get a whole lot of character development, purely because they don’t need it. They’re one note characters who fulfill their purposes within the film, but a lot of time is given to Ann, Carl, Jack, Kong etc. and it’s all necessary. Where this kind of falters is the actual relationships between characters; the dynamic between Carl and Jack is handled very well, with their somewhat friendship transforming into rivalry very nicely, but then the mentor/student relationship with Jimmy and Mr. Hayes is very weak, as well as the aforementioned Ann/Jack romance, and it makes certain moments within the film far less impactful.

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Next, let’s talk about the island; we know that Jackson is a visual filmmaker, so it’s absolutely no surprise that so much time and effort would be dedicated to Skull Island itself. We get a much deeper insight into the natives of the island, with some incredible make up work done, and then the island is thoroughly explored. It feels like such an open world, a daunting trek that very few could survive, which is exactly how it should feel. All the creatures that inhabit are a marvel to look at too; the visual effects are phenomenal, with so many of these weird and scary creatures feeling so real. If you have a fear of insects, then you may want to avoid this for the sheer purpose of keeping your cool. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to be praised, this exploration of the setting actually causes one of the film’s biggest problems. The extended run time of the film is three hours and 20 minutes, with only 13 minutes shaved off if you want the normal one, and that is just far too long. It may have worked wonders for Lord of the Rings, but it makes King Kong a strenuous watch at times. Half of the middle section is dedicated to the group meeting creature after creature after creature, and eventually it just feels like obstacles as opposed to a real adventure. There’s also some really weird editing in these scenes too, where it goes into a slow mo shaky cam that adds absolutely nothing to the scene. It’s quite distracting, but luckily there aren’t too many moments of it.

And now, let’s talk about the big boy himself…Kong. He is utterly incredible in this film; Andy Serkis is the motion capture king, and in this film he perfectly captures the animal aspects of the character, while also bringing a huge sense of humanity and gravitas to the beast. I know it’s not fair to compare the special effects in this film to the original, but it has to be said that Kong is so much more effective in this film. He’s scary, he’s huge, he’s dominant and he’s a force to be reckoned with. Absolutely no disrespect to the original animators but this was definitely the goal for the character and they finally nailed it here. All of his dinosaur battles are exciting, and the whole climax is exhilarating. Perhaps the best improvement concerning this character thought is the bond between him and Ann; in this film it’s far more two-sided, with Ann having real emotions for this beast and understanding him like the world doesn’t. It makes the whole thing far more engaging, and definitely makes the exhilarating ending a whole lot sadder.

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I have a fair bit of nostalgia towards this film; I was around seven or eight when this film came to DVD, and back then I knew nothing of film history, so to me this was the definitive King Kong. I always had it on (I also didn’t have a sense of time, so I had no idea it was three hours long) and watching it again for the first time in years, so much came back to me. Most iconic of all to me was Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, in her tattered dress and bare feet, being cradled by a gentle giant. Essentially, I felt the same way about it that others who grew up with the original did. It was weird watching it now, with how far I’ve come in loving and understanding film, and still loving it yet knowing about it’s flaws.

As far as I’m concerned, King Kong is absolutely a contender for best remake of all time. That’s not to say it’s better than the original; in fact, I don’t think it’s possible to compare the two. But this film is definitely a fully realised version of what the original laid out. The filmmakers took what they had and saw what was possible with it, in a time when these possibilities could come true, and jumped at the chance. I can’t think of another remake that expands upon it’s source material like this one, that adds to it, takes advantage of today’s resources to improve upon it as much as this does, or even pays homage to the original like this one does.

So whilst it does have issues with it’s length, character development and editing, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is admirably ambitious, and so much of it pays off. Some great performances, incredible visuals effects, a sense of wonder and some exhilarating set pieces. To a lot of people, it’s not the best version of King Kong, but it’s certainly the most complete.


Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas now

Looking Back…King Kong (1933)

King Kong is a staple of monster movie history; that 25 foot ape has been rampant on our screens for over 80 years, often with Ann Darrow, sometimes with Godzilla, once with Jeff Bridges. Yet another adaptation is hitting our screens this week with Kong: Skull Island, starring Brie Larson and Tom Hiddlestone, so what better time to revisit a couple of Kong’s most popular films. First, let’s take a look at where it all started, all the way back in 1933 with the ape’s debut.

Whilst I doubt there’s any of you out there who doesn’t already know the story, I will say now that there will be spoilers, just in case.

So yes, the story is one that pretty much everyone knows, at least, every film buff knows; Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is an adventurous filmmaker, setting sail for a mysterious island to shoot his latest picture. With lead actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), they come face to face with Kong, who takes Ann, thus leading the crew on a adventure to get her back.

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It’s not a question of whether or not King Kong is a good film; of course it is, especially for it’s time. It’s a question of whether or not it holds up, and that is debatable. There’s still a lot that’s quite clearly good, such as the performances, cinematography, and special effects. But sadly, the film is a tad dated. The plot and characters feel thin, and the dialogue especially dates it to the 30s, with all the “Oh we can’t have a woman on board, women are just nuisances, no place for a woman on this ship” Okay, women are terrible, we get it, but this was par for the course in this time. In fact, that statement applies to every questionable aspect of the film; what doesn’t hold up now was fantastic in 1933, and that’s why this film is hard to criticise. Looking beyond things like that, there aren’t really any internal flaws as such, or anything wrong with it on a film making level. Even if the story and characters aren’t fleshed out enough, that’s just how films were made back then. So it can be a little difficult to watch, but there’s really nothing wrong with it. Well, I say that…Kong’s face is impossible to take seriously. The ape is something to marvel at, with the stop motion technique being used extremely well, and all the far shots are great to look at, but the close ups…It strips the character of any terror or dominance.

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So the film’s watch-ability today can be damaged with some of it’s dated material, and some of it can be damaged by context. If someone today watches it for the first time, it’s almost certain that they already know the “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast” line, and so the set up for that dialogue will come off as bad exposition or foreshadowing, when in reality that’s not the case. Or it may be that the romantic subtext of the story is definitely underplayed in comparison to how other adaptations have gone about it. It’s not as obvious as, say, Peter Jackson’s version, but it’s definitely there from Kong’s perspective and does feel real, especially adding poignancy to the film’s iconic conclusion. That whole climax is masterful; there’s just something about watching film history in front of your eyes, a sensation that’s frankly unmatched. To see where it all started is just wonderful.

While King Kong may not hold up as well today, there’s no denying it’s place in the world of film, and ultimately is a film that you’ll appreciate more than you’ll enjoy, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.

Next, we’ll be having a look at Peter Jackson’s 2005 interpretation. Boy, is there a lot to talk about there…


Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas now

Power Rangers – Brand New Clips!

It’s always an irksome feeling when I remember that one of the seminal TV shows of my childhood existed ostensibly to sell toys. Of course that applies to practically any programme aimed at children, but it always seemed to be more prominent during the 80’s and 90’s than it is nowadays because of new laws that prevent marketing to children in such obvious ways.

That being said, whenever I see some piece of widely held nostalgia return as a new film film or other piece of consumable media, I can’t help but wonder how many new toys and tie-ins are going to come out alongside the main product.

Fortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case with the new Power Rangers film. Mainly because everything we see in the clips and trailers is either generic CGI action sequences or nonsensical expository dialogue, which ends before you get anywhere near comprehending what’s going on.

Regardless, I have little doubt that the new film will be a hit with the general public and spawn a brand new franchise for everyone to slowly grow tired of as they release a sequel every year from here to eternity.

 

 


Power Rangers is out in cinemas March 24th!

International Women’s Day: Our Favourite Influential Female Characters

Happy International Women’s Day to everyone!

Today we celebrate everything glorious about womanhood. From your mother and your best friend to the influencers and the ground-breakers. The kind, the generous, the loving, the ambitious, the fearless, the determined, the grand, the just, and the absolute glorious goddess we deal with day to day!

We urge everyone to celebrate a woman today and strive to make equality a GLOBAL thing in countries everywhere.

To bring to light how important women are, our writers have picked their most influential female characters in film and TV!

Clarice Starling
(Sarah Cook)

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Back when thrillers were often led by men and women were the damsels in distress, Silence of the Lambs made momentous waves. Based on a sterling character in Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter Trilogy, Jonathan Demme brought to the screen a fleshed out FBI trainee Clarice Starling who has to tackle the mind of everyone’s sinister cannibal. In an Academy Award winning performance, Jodie Foster encapsulates Starling’s world: A brilliant upcoming agent, she has to battle against everyday sexism whilst trying to catch a serial killer who brutally murders women across the country. Intelligent, strong-willed, and devoted to her work, Clarice was an inspiration in a man’s world and continues to be one of the greatest characters of all time.

 Leslie Knope
(Sarah Cook)

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If there ever was a character who captured the spirit of womanhood, then it was Leslie Knope. Played by the immutable Amy Poehler, this government employee who helps run the Parks and Recreation department in the titular show is a completely wonderful and earnest character that lead one of the best sitcoms of all time. Though her efforts are often intimidating, Knope is such a supporter of everyone and all of her female friends, going as far to invent a holiday in celebration (13th February – Galentine’s Day.) She blazes forward in crafting equality for all and showing that women can rule. Not only this but she is kind and loving, helping her friends in every aspect of their lives. You’d be lucky to have a Leslie Knope in your life.

General Leia Organa
(Robbie Jones)

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The end of 2016 was cripplingly heartbreaking as the world had to say goodbye to Carrie Fisher. There’s not a better day to remember her than International Women’s Day, and to remember the legacy she created on screen, the most iconic of course being the Princess turned General who fought for the galaxy. Her story started as a damsel in distress, and she quickly took charge and lead the Rebellion with the heart, strength, determination needed to win. She was strong, head smart, and beautiful; a leader in every sense of the word, even after losing her son to the Dark Side. The thought of a Star Wars film without her is stomach turning because to us, she’s royalty.

Buffy Summers
(Jennifer Drewett)

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“In every generation there is a chosen one. She alone will stand against the vampires the demons and the forces of darkness. She is the slayer.” Buffy Summers not only slayed the vampires and demons that threatened her town and her world, she slayed the hearts of millions around the world. Her ever increasing strength made us feel safe and her vulnerabilities reminded us she was as human as us. We could relate to her struggles growing up and feel inspired by her determination. She is the heroine we all need: a woman who reminds us that strength isn’t just a physical aspect.

Jackie Brown
(Jo Johnstone)

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Reservoir Dogs, the stylized and male heavy debut may have given the world director Quentin Tarantino, yet it was his third feature film that gave us one of the most empowered, feisty, and fearless female roles put to screen with Jackie Brown. To play such a woman Tarantino enlisted the great Pam Grier, known to audiences for her roles in Blaxploitation films and particularly Foxy Brown. Yet with this role Grier was able to use her full acting range, as well as her presence and charm. In her character, we get sass, empowerment, and a woman who refuses to be taken down by anyone. The film gave audience a new kind of female lead. As Grier’s director has once stated, you do not need to write woman as masculine characters, you write them as badasses. Because that’s a female quality.

Storm (Ororo Monroe)
(Jo Johnstone)

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Storm, or Ororo Munroe, is known to audiences for her role in the X-Men film franchise as well as the early 90’s cartoon. The character, a mutant who can control the weather as well as fly, uses her abilities to protect those in need. Despite audience’s familiarity of the character Storm is so much more than she has ever been portrayed on the big screen. Born in Africa and raised in America, she came about at a time when non-white characters were rarely ever given consideration. Yet Marvel created an all-powerful, beautiful, and fearless Black Goddess. Worshipped in her own land and easily the most powerful member of the X-Men team. Despite being portrayed by talented actresses (Halle Berry) she has not been given the scope and arc she truly deserves. Despite this, she remains a truly powerful and inspirational female superhero for women and men of all ages.

Annie Hall
(Larry Oliver)

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Until Annie Hall, actresses used to be dressed in movies. Diane Keaton changed all that, sporting her own trousers, hat, and waistcoat. The Annie Hall style briefly affected women’s fashion but Annie herself is more than that. Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) might have all the one liners, but Keaton’s Annie, loosely modelled on her own personality is the beating heart of the film. She is vivid and alive, insecure, tentative but ultimately transcendent. When she sings ‘Seems Like Old Times’, the film stops and, we, like the director, are magnetised. Keaton’s Annie sets the stage for actresses to introduce their own voices into roles, to stop being objects of desire and start being persons of wonder. Keaton inspired Allen to do his best work and her performance – and Annie Hall itself – stand the test of time.

Ellen Ripley
(Ren Zelen)

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As a girl raised by a father with a fondness for old sci-fi B-movies, I found Alien a revelation. As a kid, it came as a shock to see a female character, thanks to her mixture of ingenuity, practicality and luck – allowed to finish a movie as the sole survivor. I’d never seen that happen before – just as I’d never seen a face-hugger, a chest-burster or that outstanding Giger visualisation, the Xenomorphic alien (for which he won an Oscar).

It’s impossible now to approach Alien as a first-time viewer and feel anything resembling its original impact. Everyone knows too much about each of the iconic scenes of the movie, whether they like sci-fi or not. What was originally written as a role for a man was given to a woman, and it made an international star of Sigourney Weaver and of the Xenomorph she managed (against all cultural odds) to escape. She became a template for every kick-ass heroine we’ve seen since, and she was the first woman to lead a franchise, how many women still do that today?

Mrs Weasley
(Georgia Sanders)

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Where to start with Molly Weasley? She is the example we sometimes need that stay at home mothers are just as hardcore and bad ass as those in capes. Think about where we’d be without mums like her; strict when she needs to be but utterly devoted to those who rely on her most – and not to mention willing to take on the foundlings with nowhere else to go – and that includes readers/watchers. We have Molly Weasley.

And if that wasn’t enough (and in my opinion it is), she also joins the damn revolution – TWICE – because she knows that good must triumph. Molly Weasley is a mother, lover, fighter, and force for all things good. She’s our protector, and deserves a damn crown.

Miranda Bailey
(Georgia Sanders)

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Dr Miranda Bailey has overcome so much adversity without even batting an eye. Now you’ll have to excuse if I miss anything, I stopped watching Grey’s when the thing happened. Well actually I never watched the episode so in my mind it never did happen and he’s still alive. I digress.

Miranda Bailey. The Nazi. The teacher, confidant, advisor, friend, wife, mother, and life saver. I mean the woman digs around inside people and stops them dying, she’s a genuine bona-fide hero. But on top of that? She’s everything, to everyone. She’s the glue that keeps the other idiots together; she’s strong and incredible and honestly one of the best damn role models around.

Kaywinnet Lee Frye
(Graham Osborne)

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Kaylee may not be the strongest or the bravest of the women in the crew of Serenity, but she is most definitely the heart and soul of the ship. She is the one who keeps Serenity flying and does it all with a great big smile.

Throughout the show’s short run, Kaylee was often working in the grease and grime of the engine room, keeping Serenity aloft. Though she was often caked in dirt, there were still times where she was able to display her feminine side, such as the episode Shindig where she went to a fancy ball and got to wear a dress. Despite the more traditional feminine dress sense she displayed, she still enamoured fans with her shoptalk of various spaceship engines and their shortcomings.

Kaylee is by far one of the best characters in Firefly, she may not kick arse like Zoe or have a lot of contacts in high places like Inara, but she can fix a ship with spit and prayer and keep the rest of the crew’s spirits raised.

After all, like Cap’n Ryenolds said: I don’t believe there’s a power in the ‘verse can stop Kaylee from bein’ cheerful.”

What more could you want?


Happy International Women’s Day!