Film review – Flatliners (2017)

Flatliners (2017)

Starring Ellen Page, Diego Luna, Kiefer Sutherland

Joel Schumacher’s overly stylish med students-kill-and-resurrect-themselves-for-kicks thriller was one of the more original films of 1990.

Nobody was desperate for a remake, but with Ellen Page and original star Kiefer Sutherland on board, the going looked good.

Alas, the result looks like a straight-to-DVD thriller with Page, Sutherland and a barely understandable Diego Luna heading a no-name cast.

Once more eclectic med students decide to endure short-term death for the sake of hyper intelligence: the latter aspect a bit like Limitless.

Naturally there’s a price as demons from their past come back to haunt them.

It starts off well. But once the dream turns into a nightmare, it looks like every thriller from the past 30 years.

Flashes of The Ring and Final Destination will leave you rolling your eyes.

Director Niels Arden Oplev did a great job with the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but here he’s still sold short with a humdrum script.

Flatline it does.

5/10

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Solis – Movie Review

Solis (2018)

Writer/director Carl Strathie

Starring Steven Ogg, Alice Lowe.

Most of time when I see films I’ve visited the set of, it’s via a screener on my iPad where most of the effect is lost.

But occasionally I get invited to see the finished thing. Such is the case with new sci-fi thriller Solis.

I was there on day one of the shoot and had a good feeling about the production. I deliberately didn’t read the script (though probably could have done), as I didn’t want to spoil the finished thing.

Steven Ogg – Solis

Given the fact I’ve been hyped about the production for 19 months, finally seeing the movie at a cast and crew screening in London is a relief, then an edge-of-the-seat, pulse-pounding, breathless rollercoaster ride.

Imagine a mash-up of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, Gravity, The Martian, and Tom Hardy’s Locke and you get an idea of the tone and setting, yet it’s not a clone of any of those but very much its own beast.

Steven Ogg (The Walking Dead) gives a terrific performance as Troy Holloway, the sole survivor of an escape pod on a collision course with the sun. His single contact is Roberts, the crackly voice on the end of his intercom; the audio lifeline who will stop at nothing to save him.

Steven Ogg – Almost silent running in Solis

Alice Lowe is terrific as the lone voice in the darkness, and as Holloway encounters one problem after another, it’s not just Troy who clings to Roberts as the voice of sanity. The audience will no doubt use her as a checkpoint after each breathless hurdle.

Like Alien, the first act is a world-building exercise, even if that world is space and a shuttle for most of the movie. Solis was shot on a shoestring, but it looks like it cost a lot more because of the calibre of the cast and crew.

Had Hollywood shot the same film with a bigger cast and production team, and more lavish effects, I doubt it would have been any more effective. (The sun VFX alone are among the best I’ve seen).

The photography by Bart Sienkiewicz is terrific, while production designer Tony Noble (Moon) and his team do a great job with the old school look of the movie. (I’d visited their studio during my set visit at the tail end of 2016, so to see the fruits of their labours on screen is an honour).

By the third act I was utterly gripped as Solis reached its natural conclusion, yet it’s such a lean production, the bits you think will round things off don’t come. Not a bad thing as it left me hungry for more.

Yes I’m being deliberately vague because I don’t want to give anything away.

I have no doubt Hollywood will be banging on the door of Carl Strathie in the near future. And having been on the set of their next move Transience (aka The Encounter), I can’t wait to see how that plays out. (Alice Lowe also features in that offering for reference).

If you get a chance, see Solis on the big screen. It sounds great; the groaning metal and cracking glass are almost characters in their own right; a Greek chorus for what might be a Greek tragedy.

Music (or a lack of it) is crucial to any movie’s success, and David Stone Hamilton does a terrific job of adding a grandiose feel to the drama.

I’m reminded of James Horner’s score for Battle Beyond the Stars in 1980. Within two years he was working on Star Trek II, and have a feeling the maestro behind Solis will also be snapped up for a Hollywood epic within months.

I explain to producer Charlette Kilby after the screening that film makers are futurists, and reviewers are historians, examining the light from their star that was created years ago.

Solis Producer Charlette Kilby

It’s an apt analogy for any sci-fi movie. I have a feeling fans will be examining Solis’s aura for some time.

The author basking in the glow of a star.

8/10

Restaurant review  – Planet Hollywood, London

Life is strange. A day after listening to a podcast with make-up wizard Rick Baker, recalling how he discovered his wife had gone into labour while working on Gremlins II, I’m sharing a table with one of his masterpieces from that film.

I’m at Planet Hollywood, London during its 25th anniversary celebrations, and I already feel like a movie star.

My name has popped up on one of the huge video screens welcoming me to the restaurant. It’s up so long, I think some of the punters are wondering who this person is, whether he’s famous and should they Google him. A little like me with the bulk of most alleged celebrity reality shows.

I still recall Michael Aspel interviewing restaurant-founders Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone during one of his chat shows in 1993. It was less of an interview and more of a chance for them to plug the brand for an hour. Aspel wound up reading from the menu while they recalled a few anecdotes between them. Not great TV, but that’s Tinseltown stars for you. They have that habit of absorbing the attention without doing much, and successful US celebs are all about the hard sell.

I remember walking past PH a few months later, basking in the newness of it all, and expecting some of that showbiz glamour to rub off by osmosis.

It was years before I actually became a punter, fully expecting to be let down by the food.

However, Arnie, Sly and Bruce were right to be proud of their venture. It was a revelation. Along with a rival themed burger chain, Planet Hollywood became a must visit every time I was in Florida, Paris or New York.

Nine years after geeking out at the Big Apple branch on honeymoon, I order the same cocktail, a Dark Knight, and peruse the impressive menu.

I’m won over by the Celebrity Burger, not least because the meat is courtesy of the same company who provide for royalty. And what better seal of approval do you need? Fit for Arnie is one thing, but a royal seal of approval goes way beyond an Austrian screen icon.

The burger does not disappoint. There’s no gristle, it’s beautifully cooked, and comes with a skewer of shrimp, which is my idea of heaven. Plus, the obligatory brioche bun, a must for any posh burger venue these days. Iceberg lettuce is also essential for any quality burger chain. It’s a personal bug bear, but I hate those lacklustre restaurants which use more stalk than leaves, or tasteless excuses for lettuce such as rocket. No such problems here. The sweet potato fries are also outstanding.

Dessert is a Super Nova Shake, a milk shake like no other. Welded in chocolate to the side of the glass is an array of candy which is not coming off without some serious digging. Inside are more calorific treats, and the shake itself is terrific. Not so thick and glutinous that I suffer a headache trying to get it up the straw, and not so sickly that I feel ill by the end.

My partner Rachel’s veggie burger (literally called Veggie Burger) is equally terrific, while her strawberry Super Nova shake is a fine alternative if you don’t fancy chocolate.

Pottering around the restaurant, I grab a few shots of Han Solo in carbonite from The Empire Strikes Back (nirvana) and a huge model of the Enterprise from Star Trek (ditto). Seeing one of the actual T-Birds jacket from Grease is a nice touch as it celebrates 40 years.

If you’re a movie lover who also adores great food (yes, there are plenty of alternatives to burgers and shakes, including pastas, hot dogs and tempting Asian dishes), then PH is a must, especially if you’re in town to see a show. It’s in the heartland of London’s theatre district, and the prices are very affordable for those special occasions.

A quarter of a century after its inception, this is still the daddy of all movie-themed eateries, obeying that essential trilogy of checkpoints for any good restaurant: great food at a decent price, wonderful setting and outstanding service (take a bow Monika, our Bafta and Oscar-worthy waitress).

To paraphrase you know who: ’We’ll be back’.