Archives For Blog

Burke and Hare

Half the cast of Spaced get together with the director of An American Werewolf in London, John Landis, to bring us this black comedy retelling  of Burke and Hare, two men who were not only cold blooded killers, but also helped move modern science forward. This is by no means the best film in the world, but nor is it horrific. The titular characters, portrayed by Andy Serkis and Simon Pegg, are played for laughs than terror. Everyone seems to be having fun with it and, to be honest, the scenery and stage costume is sumptuous. However, with an uneven tone, and constant misses regarding humour and scares, Burke and Hare inevitably digs its own grave.

Storage 24

After Kidulthood and Adulthood, Noel Clarke changes tact in this straight to DVD schlocker which he co-wrote. Billed as a comedy-horror, this tale about a group of people getting trapped in a storage centre along with a flesh eating alien is, sadly, neither. The only real scares come from the film’s faint smell of misogyny that starts with a needlessly long shot of a Nuts centre spread and continues with its only two main female characters being nothing more than screaming harpies that need to stay close to Clarke’s frowny face.

Cradle of Fear

What were you doing in ’01? If you were Dani filth, lead singer of cheery, melodic death metal band Cradle of Filth, you were starring in this portmanteau film from director Alex Chandon. Several stories of blood and mayhem are linked together by ‘The Man’ (Dani Filth) as he seeks bloody retribution on behalf of Anthony Crowley’s illegitimate murdering paedophile son. No, really.

Chandon is pretty much all about equal opportunities when it comes to a massacre. Over the course of two hours, numerous goths, townies, gangsters and cops are ripped apart like so much jelly in a dog’s mouth. Sound fun? Well, it is. Kind of.  Only two of the stories – one which sees a one legged gangster search for a new leg, and the other about an IT worker who gets first hand experience of the snuff trade – really make much of an impact. Quite simply because they hark back to a simpler time when the likes of Amicus and Hammer Horror ruled the horror world.

Like a child let loose in an abattoir, Chandon flings gore at the screen till you become slightly desensitised to it all. It’s worth a go but you’re better off going straight to Chandon’s second, slightly more restrained film, Inbred.

Advertisements

After wading through the violent streets of Copenhagen with the Pusher trilogy, director Nicholas Winding Refn hands in a more meditative piece of work that also just happens to be incredibly violent.

Set somewhere around 1096AD, Mads Mikkelsen plays a one-eyed slave forced by a group of Pagans to fight for money across the Scottish Highlands. Seen as nothing more than an object by his captors, One-Eye (as he will later be dubbed) is an incendiary device waiting to go off. Finally finding an opportunity to unleash his furry, One-Eye murders his captors and escapes, only to be followed by the youngest member of the Pagans (Maarten Stevenson).

The boy and One-Eye develop a bond that isn’t close to being in the same stable as ‘father and son’, but it holds a smidgen of co-dependence. When the duo stumble across a group of Christians looking for a rumble with anyone who isn’t Christian, they’re invited to join the mob on their crusade to the Holy Lands. However, when things go awry, both the boy and One-Eye are seen as a curse sent to stop the Christians in their righteous mission.

Bereft of speech for the most part, Valhalla Rising feels surprisingly simple in its structure and visuals when stacked against the likes of Refn’s later work such as Drive or The Neon Demon. However, whilst its plot is as rigid as cobwebs, the film still manages to keep its audience at arm’s length for most of its runtime.

One-Eye is seen to be prone to visions and whilst the Christians’ course change halfway through the film – they end up in what appears to somewhere in America – could simply be an act of God, there’s also the suggestion it could also have been the act of a god. One-Eye could be, for all intents and purposes, an Old Norse Pied Piper leading the sinful and corrupt to their doom. For all their pomp and circumstance, the Christians are hardly the most pious of people. They bicker, they fight, and they rape each other just to gain the upper hand. Perhaps they deserve the punishment that they’re dealt by One-Eye.

On the other hand, One-Eye could just as easily be someone looking to escape their plight, leading him to passively follow those around him until he once again feels the need to escape. As the film moves forward, Refn suggests that One-Eye only has one real option in front of him and when it arrives, it’s both brutal and swift. Mikkelsen dominates the film with his stoic presence. Even when he’s befalling a group of soldiers in one go, his heart rate never seems to rise above a warm-up. It’s no wonder he was chosen to play Dr Hannibal Lecter later in his career.

Looping back to the visuals, Refn captures a beautiful melancholy in the Scottish landscapes that underlines the loneliness and lack of belonging that befalls all the film’s characters. Equally, these postcard moments help emphasise the shocking violence that raises its ugly head every now and then. The audience may be surprised to find themselves admiring a gorgeous backdrop before screaming, ‘he just disembowelled someone with his bare hands! WHY?! Why would he do that?’

Bleak, beautiful and liable to irritate some with its lethargic pace, Valhalla Rising highlights Refn’s desire to experiment with storytelling and setting. It’s a stunning piece of work and makes you wonder what he would have done with Agatha Christie’s Marple had ITV let him off his leash.

Valhalla Rising was chosen to be reviewed by one of my lovely Patreons. Thank you for your selection! If  you’d like to learn more about my Patreon and choose a film for me to review, click the link here.

Question: Did 2011’s Gnomeo and Juliet need a belated sequel? Perhaps not. Whilst retelling Shakespeare’s tragic romance, Romeo and Juliet, using garden gnomes wasn’t without its charms, it certainly wasn’t making Disney/Pixar bank.

Second question: Did the unasked-for sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet need to be a Sherlock Holmes pastiche? Whilst the consulting sleuth is still running strong in repeats of Sherlock and new series of Elementary, it’s surprising that anyone would be begging for an animated version aimed at kids.

And yet, here we are. Life can be funny at times.

Gnomeo (James McAvoy) and Juliet (Emily Blunt) are back and just as in love as they were seven years ago. However, the course of true love never did run smooth and, having been heralded as the new keepers of their garden kingdom, cracks are beginning to show in the porcelain.

Juliet wants to make their garden the best it’s ever been and in doing so, unwittingly starts to push Gnomeo away. ‘The garden can’t wait,’ she cries, before brutally adding ‘You can.’ Before this animated sequel can turn into a child friendly Kramer vs Kramer, a bigger problem lands in their lap. Someone has kidnapped all their gnome friends from the garden!

As the lovers search for their missing friends, they cross paths with consulting detective, Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) and his put-upon assistant, Watson (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Gnomes and Watson are also on the case of the missing gnomes and believe it to be the work of the insanely camp genius, Moriarty (Jamie Demetriou).

Effectively Sherlock Gnomes is an extended after school special about working together and appreciating what you have in life. Whilst Gnomeo and Juliet bicker about who is best put to take care of the garden, Watson feels wildly underappreciated by Gnomes, who, ironically, sees but does not observe his friend. It’s clear where it’s all heading to and, despite a third act twist, you can be sure that equilibrium will be restored, and everyone will be singing Elton John songs as the credits roll.

This certainly isn’t a bad thing. Sherlock Gnomes is perhaps lighter in tone and jokes than other animated fare that’s out there currently, but it doesn’t make it any less engaging. There’s a gentleness to the film that isn’t soured by a dependence on pop culture references that will be outdated by the end of the year, or a reliance on ensuring that the adults get a couple of blue jokes to keep them awake. Though admittedly, there are plenty of Holmes references for people to sink their teeth into.

Ultimately, this is a romp around London that just wants to make you laugh and it does so rather successfully. Heck, in this dark period of #metoo confessions, Sherlock Gnomes even manages to throw in a message about consent that is a welcome change from the ‘pursue your crush and you’ll eventually wear them down into liking you’ motif we’re all used to.

Admittedly the whole affair is so light it’s in danger of being taken away with the next breeze, but as an afternoon’s flight of fancy it certainly ticks all the boxes when it comes to charm and humour. It’s just a shame the whole affair is tinged by the presence of the problematic Depp. If you can ignore him, then you’re onto a winner.

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb

This 1972 entry in the Hammer canon seems to owe more to the Carry On series than anything else. Somewhat adapted from a story by Bram Stoker, Margaret Fuchs (Valeire Leon) is given a ring by her archaeologist father which, through the magic of something or other, possesses her with the spirit of an evil Egyptian Princess. When Hammer get it right, they really get it right. At other times, they give us this.

Yes, there were troubles behind the scenes (Director Seth Holt sadly passed away before filming was complete), but the film must be taken for what it is. A rather boring affair that no manner of camp or irony will save. Carry On Screaming is literally better and scarier than this.

She-Wolf of London

Directed by Jean Yarbrough (Hillbillys in a Haunted House), She-Wolf of London is often grouped in with The Wolf Man franchise that saw Lon Chaney Jnr running around in a jumpsuit and furry mask. In actuality, She-Wolf of London is less about shape shifting horror and more about a young woman, Phyllis (June Lockhart) and mental health. Think of it as a hairier Yellow Wallpaper.

Despite the potential for a gothic thriller, Yarbrough hands in a limp soap opera that fades into nothing once it’s all over with. A large fault with the film is how it spells everything out within the first ten minutes, leaving the audience confident in how it’s all going to end. With nothing to engage us for the rest of the film’s short run time, She-Wolf of London drags on for what feels like an eternity. Best to avoid if you’re ever doing a Universal binge.

Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead

Two words: Troma Films. If you’ve seen anything from Lloyd Kauffman’s diseased stable, then you know what to expect. Tromaville’s Native American burial ground has been ploughed over to make way for a new fast food restaurant and its deceased inhabitants are none too pleased about it. Billed as a musical horror, Poultrygeist is almost hypnotic with its low budget, copious amounts of gore and toe tappers.

The ‘musical’ numbers stir up memories of Little Shop of Horrors and Meet the Feebles but are soon forgotten about in the last third of the film. However, it’s very hard to care in a film that seems to happily urinate in the wind with regards to convention. When the undead rise, the bucket of blood is somewhat diluted, in a good way, by jokes that remind us of Peter Jackson’s Braindead. It’s hard not to be swept along and giggle as a chicken zombie strips the flesh from its victim, acknowledging to a fellow fowl that it knows the skin is unhealthy for it. Definitely one of Troma’s better offerings.

Here’s a round up of everything I’ve written in March.

Annihilation (2018, Dir: Alex Garland)‘A surprisingly deep film…’

Anti Matter (2016, Dir: Keir Burrows)‘A satisfying experience.’ 

Black Roses (1988, Dir: John Fasano) – ‘Death by stereo indeed.’ 

Death Note (2017, Dir: Adam Wingard)‘Death Note is a sluggish, tonally uneven film which cribs from the Donnie Darko style guide.’

Deliver Us From Evil (2014, Dir: Scott Derrickson)‘Should you see this in your partner’s Netflix queue, break up with them immediately.’ 

Game Over, Man! (2018, Dir: Kyle Newacheck)‘Unbelievably smug.’ 

Inside No 9 S4E1 Zanzibar (2018, Dir: David Kerr) – ‘A sparkling start to the series.’ 

Inside No 9 S4E2 Bernie Clifton’s Dressing Room (2018, Dir: Graeme Harper)‘Poignant piece of TV.’ 

Inside No 9 S4E3 Once Removed (2018, Dir: Jim O’Hanlon)‘…impish comedic behaviour.’

Insidious (2010, Dir: James Wan)‘…eerily like the dream world of Drop Dead Fred.’

Kangaroo: A Love Hate Story (2018, Dir: Kate McIntyre Clere, Michael McIntyre)‘A well-made and emotive film.’ 

Kangaroo: Love it or Cull it Interview with Kangaroo: A Love Hate Story director, Mick McIntyre 

Killer Barbys (1996, Dir: Jess Franco)‘It’ll be hard to find anyone who would wilfully cheer this one on from the sidelines.’

Leprechaun: Origins (2014, Dir: Zach Lipovsky) ‘No limericks, no green hats and no fun.’ 

Les Diaboliques (1955, Dir: Henri-Georges Clouzot) – ‘Buy it, treasure it, and never let it leave your side.’

Paranormal Entity (2009, Dir: Shane Van Dyke) ‘Boring.’ 

Prayer of the Rollerboys (1990, Dir: Rick King) – ‘I’d like to acknowledge the glacial romance between Haim and Arquette that is more comical than it is sexy.’ 

Prevenge (2016, Dir: Alice Lowe)‘The film manages to comfortably navigate through nihilism and comedy.

Red Sparrow (2018, Dir: Francis Lawrence)‘A rollicking spy thriller.’ 

See No Evil (2006, Dir: Gregory Dark)‘Thankfully, it ends.’ 

Serial Kaller (2014, Dir: Dan Brownlie) ‘Tepid Entertainment.’

Stepping Out of the Hundred Acre WoodInterview with Christopher Robin’s Director, Marc Forster

Straight on Till Morning (1972, Dir: Peter Collinson) – ‘Mean-spirited, gritty and with a gut punch of an ending…’ 

The Bat (1959, Dir: Crane Wilbur) – ‘They don’t make them like Vinnie anymore.’ 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, Dir: Yorgos Lanthimos)‘More accessible than The Lobster, but just as confronting.’ 

The Nanny (1965, Dir: Seth Holt) – ‘The Nanny demands a spot on anyone’s DVD shelf.’ 

The Open House (2018, Dir: Matt Angel) – ‘All the fast pace action of an iceberg.’ 

Unforgettable (2017, Dir: Denise Di Novi) – ‘Trundles along.’

Veronica (2018, Dir: Paco Plaza) – ‘Veronica is the kind of film you want to succeed, which makes its failure to do so even more disappointing.’

The Open House

One of the many films desperate for attention on Netflix, The Open House is a limp house invasion film. Directed by Matt Angel, the film sees Logan Wallace (Dylan Minnette, 13 Reasons Why) and his mother, Naomi (Piercey Dalton) housesitting a large manor in the mountains. It slowly – and I do mean, slowly – becomes evident that there’s someone else lurking in the basement.

With all the fast pace action of an iceberg and stacking up the clichés when it should be stacking up the tension, The Open House tries to have its cake and eat it with an ending that is both nihilistic and too little too late.

Paranormal Entity

The main criticism of films nowadays is, ‘We’ve seen it all before’. Often, this happens when a film’s ideas, themes and execution is so old, cave men gave up writing it on the wall. In the case of Paranormal Entity, we have literally seen this all before. A demon terrorises a family for 80 very un-fun minutes before throwing everything at with two minutes of gore, breasts and wobbly camera work.

Hawked out around the same time as Paranormal Activity, there is very little about this film that doesn’t make the whole genre of found footage bow its head and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ Inane, derivative and most criminally of all, very, very boring.

Insidious

A family is plunged into tragedy when their son falls into a mysterious coma and they become plagued by paranormal events. Directed by James Wan, Insidious starts off promisingly, before transforming into a party bag of shocks and jolts.

And like a party bag, it’s delicious in small bites but becomes overbearing in one go. It’s also hard to shake the idea that the third act is eerily like the dream world of Drop Dead Fred.

Red Sparrow (2018)

March 23, 2018 — Leave a comment

When trailers came out for Francis Lawrence’s Red Sparrow, there were thoughts that the I Am Legend director had beaten Marvel at its own game and released a Black Widow movie in all but name. To be blunt, any ideas about Natasha Romanova should be left discreetly at the door before entering to see Red Sparrow. There’s a chance that the film and the novel have been influenced by the character in certain areas, but this is far from something you can take the kids to.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Dominika Egorova, a Russian ballerina who is forced to end her career after a particularly heinous act of professional jealousy. Struggling to make ends meet, all whilst looking after her sick mother, Dominika’s Uncle Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), a high up member of Russian intelligence, offers to take his niece under his wing. Sadly for Dominika, Ivan’s goodwill is part of larger plan that sees her being forced to train as a ‘Sparrow’, an operative who uses their body to extract information from their subjects. Led by The Matron (Charlotte Rampling), Dominika and her classmates have their personalities deconstructed and their sexuality made clinical. When they’re spat out the other end, they’re good for two things: f**king and fighting. Dominika manages to maintain a part of herself and this is what carries her through her first mission as a Sparrow. Dispatched to Budapest by her dear uncle, she must track down CIA operative, Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and, through him, find out who in the Russia SVR has been selling secrets to the Americans.

Let’s be up front, Red Sparrow is remarkably problematic for several reasons. Many of these can be found in what should really have been the film’s short training montage. In front of her class of nubile men and women, The Matron instils the virtues of unemotionally giving your body over to others in the pursuit of Russia’s glory. A student is coerced into giving oral sex to a prisoner, we witness the students being forced to watch hardcore pornography and, in one of the strangest scenes, Dominika faces up to a student who tried to rape her by stripping naked and using his desire for power against him. The intent of the scene is clear, but it’ll take you a while to remove that frown.

Everything up to these scenes manages to subtly play upon the misogyny that taints Dominika’s world. If she’s not having her back rubbed by sleazy politicians in photo opps, her own mother is warning her against her uncle’s fondness for her. Stripped of her ability to dance, she is forced to believe that her body is the only useful for one other thing. And then the film turns into Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS for too long a period.

Thankfully, once we’re in Budapest, Red Sparrow settles down with its attempts to shock and becomes something more akin to Atomic Blonde, with Justin Haythe’s screenplay opting to play with the idea of whether Dominika is working for or against the Russians. The film continues to engage like it did at the start, and the prolonged stay at ‘Whore school’, as Dominika calls it, feels like the fevered dream of a teenager with a severe problem with nudity.

Even in tepid films like Joy, Lawrence never fails to impress, and, despite a rather iffy accent, she successfully plays Dominika as someone desperate to escape their new life, but too entrenched to do so. It could have been easy to have our protagonist Sparrow rutting around Eastern Europe like it’s some long forgotten erotic thriller. However, the film wisely allows Dominika to use her newly learnt talents without having to give herself over completely. It establishes a sense of humanity in her that overshadows the sex bot 3000 motif that the marketing department was hoping you’d go for.

Next to Lawrence, Edgerton doesn’t fare as well. Rightly, we know every little about Nash, but this plays in Edgerton’s performance in which he seems to be sleeping walking through most of it. It’s not distracting, but you do wonder what he was going for. Which is something that cannot be said about Mary-Louise Parker who throws some levity into the film as an alcoholic Chief of Staff. Somewhere in the multiverse there’s a cut of Red Sparrow that follows her and her binge drinking across Europe, and it’s amazing.

Smart and slick, but suffering from some serious misjudgements in tone, Red Sparrow is a rollicking spy thriller. This is not a misogynistic film, it’s a film about misogyny. It just doesn’t know how it wants to say what it wants to say.