The Divide

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Michael Biehn is a national treasure. Scratch that; he’s whatever the planetary equivalent is. Universal Treasure? Milky Way Treasure? Whether it be his most well known hits such as The Terminator or Aliens to cult movies like Cherry Falls, or even his own directorial work in The Victim he’s always a fully committed bad-ass. In short, I’ll watch anything he’s attached to, even something which was as critically slaughtered as this. Normally I would go in cautious, but a brief look at the rest of the cast – Rosanna Arquette, Milo Ventimiglia, Courtney B Vance raises hopes. The fact that it was directed by Xavier Gens, whose Frontiers is one of the best horror movies since 2000 cements it for me. The cherry on top is the premise – a group of New Yorkers are trapped in a basement after a catastrophic event. That sort of fixed location story is always intriguing to me, and a good director and writer can wring gut-loads of tension from a small budget. Is it as bad as everyone has claimed?

The film gets straight to the point – there is no build up or warning and within the opening seconds some sort of explosion rocks an apartment building in New York – as people run for cover, a small group decides to escape to the basement. The building superintendent Micky (Biehn) lives there and isn’t pleased that others have crashed his survivalist dream. We meet a girl called Eva and her boyfriend Sam, brothers Josh and Adrian and their friend Bobby, a young girl and her mother Marilyn, and another dude. Micky tries to enforce his will on the group and the various parties butt heads and discuss what happened. Just as it looked like this would be the continuing sequence for the rest of the movie, a group of dudes in Hazmat suits burst in with guns and kidnap the little girl before running out, but not before the group fights back and takes out a few of the intruders. Understanding that the air outside is infected they formulate a plan to get the girl back.

At this point in the movie I hoped the narrative would continue in this twisting manner but we quickly revert back to the group’s infighting and attempts to survive. It doesn’t take long for secrets to be uncovered, sides to form, and minds to slip towards insanity, all while the lethal air outside threatens to seep in. Rather than the descent into violence and madness feeling natural, it comes across as both abrupt and hardly surprising because several of the characters are dicks to begin with. The performances are fine across the board and quite a few of the cast go above and beyond, fully committing to the growing madness. The story and the colour palette grow continually grim and there is sporadic physical and sexual violence, though few surprises. Throughout, it seems unlikely that there is going to be a happy ending.

Horror fans looking for thrills and shocks won’t find what they’re looking for here, but they will find a fairly dark vision of people in an impossible position. Biehn, and most of the cast play generally unlikable people who progressively get worse, but their performances are strong enough to cover the issues which are inherent in watching characters we don’t like. Gens wallows in the filth and misery and doesn’t explore some of the film’s early surprises or obvious questions. Due to all of this, it’s likely that the film will only find fans if they enjoy the premise or the stars, but it’s worth a watch for those of us interested in humanity’s collapse.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Divide!

The Art Of War

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Michael Biehn is one of the best underrated actors in the world, often appearing in an unfair amount of pap, but even more unfairly missing out on acclaim in superb performances in films such as The Terminator, The Abyss, Tombstone, and Aliens, while Wesley Snipes has a powerful on screen presence which few others can match. Sadly, each man appears to have passed their commercial peak by the time The Art Of War was released. Strangely enough, the film still managed to gross over $40 million, but against an excessive $60 million budget it was a flop. One imagines that had this been made 10 or 15 years earlier when the genre was at its peak this would have been much more successful. As it stands, it’s an entertaining enough action thriller with a few decent pieces and strong cast, but never stands out from its peers or becomes more than a simple, forgettable series of explosions and gun fights.

Snipes stars as a James Bond type figure, working undercover for the UN to prevent terrorism or something. The convoluted plot sees Snipes arrested by the police, framed by the Triads, and having to avoid all manner of authorities and criminals to both clear his name and stop the bad guys. I can’t even remember what the bad guys were trying to achieve but no doubt it was something very naughty and disagreeable. Michael Biehn is his partner, mysteriously gunned down early in the movie, while the rest of an unusually strong cast includes Donald Sutherland, Anne Archer, and Carey Hiroyuki Tagawa. None of the cast really shines here, but as mentioned there are some fine moments of action which could pass the time reasonably. This is definitely only one for big fans of Biehn or Snipes, and it would be difficult to recommend to anyone outside of the action movie fanboy clique. It’s simply your standard action fare, bland but fine if there’s nothing else on.

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Have you seen The Art Of War? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!

Aliens: Not nearly as good as the First, very dark

Riply Scott’s prequel to this film was a tale of intergalactic terror. Seven friends and their Bumbling Side-kick Jones were travelling home after a long vacation when they encountered a monster. Hearing its distress call, they let it board their ship, but rather than show its gratitude, it decided to kill off the friends one by one in a terrifying game of cat and monster. The survivors from that film appear again here, namely Captain Ridley and of course Jonesy our heroic side kick. Ridley wants revenge for the death of her friends and recruits a team of super tough marines (that’s soldiers to the lay person) to go to their home planet and wipe out the monsters once and for all. This darker tone is in stark contrast to Riply Scott’s original, and it continues throughout. This leads to a series of let downs- Jones disappears without explanation early in the film, without explanation so much of the comedy from the first film is lost. Add to this the lack of Cyborg Ash, whose little dance was a hilarious highlight of the first, and there are few laughs to be found here. Bill Pullman’s marine Ernie ‘Dry Heat’ Hudson attempts some improvised one liners ‘Hey Vasquez- you look like a man!’ and tries some banter with his Sergeant. ‘Can I wear your slippers, Sir?’ he asks ‘LOOK AT MY EYES!’ Capone riplyies. I didn’t really understand this comeback, but I assume The Searg was in no mood for fun and games. This is obviously because the film was under the fierce stranglehold of famous control freak Jim Cameroon, known for a lack of humour in all his films. Cameroon reluctantly casts Paxman in all his films as they’re cousins and there is a definite tension between the comic genius of the actor, and the ultra serious ‘I’m The Daddy’ mentality of the Director.

Ridley and crew fly down to the planet to hunt down the monsters but are shocked to find a survivor- a little boy called Newt. This is a deliberate attempt to soften the almost unrelenting darkness of the film, and possibly bring in a wider female audience who may enjoy the mother/son relationship which develops between Ridley and Nuke. The child doesn’t talk much which in fact adds to the bleak tone, and the fact that he carries around a decapitated doll’s head is rather disturbing. I mean, everyone knows boys don’t play with dolls. Newt mumbles things like (in response to Ridley asking if he’s hungry) ‘I’m mostly scared. Mostly’ and the bizarre ‘Hi, Firmative!’. Presumably Firmative is some imaginary friend, or possibly futuristic slang. Throw into the mix the fact that among the marines is a geeky science geek who wants to steal one of the monster eggs to bring home and experiment on or sell or something. Indeed, he hatches a plan to impregnate one of the gang with the egg so that no-one suspects anything. I think if I woke up with an 8 foot monster mounting me in an attempt to give me its seed, I might suspect something was not right. But back to the film. The gang underestimates the sheer number of the monsters (at least 25) and the fact that their King is on the island too, and soon it is the humans that are on the run. Cameroon is clearly adding a subtext here about man’s destruction of nature and of other species, and that eventually it will turn around and we will be on the receiving end. I have studied film studies for at least a year, and have over a year’s experience in social anthbiology, so I know what I’m talking about. The last half of the film is really a series of chase scenes- in the alien base with tanks etc, in a bedroom with spider monsters, through the living quarters, and then into the sewers until The King wakes up. That’s not to mention the super robot fight at the end which was a precursor to Cameroon’s next film Terminator 2. So yes, there is much action and excitement, and lots of mistrust between characters which lends another level of tension.

Most of the characters are killed off, but all fight well and you really feel like you got to know them. Ridley is a true mother- fighting for her family and friends, strapping on a grenade launcher to take on the bullies, Hudson is a comedian but also a bit of a moaner, Capone, Hick, and Vasquez are all super tough and ultra cool. There is also Bishop, a cyborg who doesn’t dance but preaches the Gospel and does magic tricks with knives. Perhaps if Riply had directed this he would have let some more comedy in, and it would have been a stronger film. At times I wanted to jump into the TV, grab a gun and help out my chums, pumping bullets into skulls. ‘Come on, man! Shoot them! Here they come, quick, let’s blow them away and get out of here! ARRGH!’ I would have been shouting like that. Because the film is so dark and depressing though, I didn’t have the energy to jump in and help. So all I could do was sit back and watch each of my friends get eaten, killed, or worse. Overall this is an excitement film, but Cameroon needs to relax and let some light in. I mean what’s the point in having all these characters only for the planet to blow up at the end and kill them all?

Best Scene: When the soldiers are walking through the alien corridors, and all the bleeps are getting closer, but no-one knows where they’re coming from. It was quite scary, but would have been better if Hudson had jumped out with his underpants on his head and shouted ‘ONLY ME!!!’

GAME OVER, MAN!