Thursday, 29 December 2011

My Top Ten Films of 2011

Well the year is done and whilst I have seen many movies this year, I would still love to have seen more.  There may well have been movies that I didn't see that should be in this list.

Please don't berate me for this, it's my favourites of the year.  It doesn't mean they're yours and it doesn't necessarily mean they're the most technically well made films.  These are the ones that I enjoyed the most.

Number 10
Tucker & Dale vs Evil
When I saw this I had no idea what the premise was, outside of it being a horror comedy.  Some of the acting isn't great, some of the dialogue (especially the leader of the college kids) is a touch weak but this film delivered laughs in its droves.  On repeat viewing I found it just as funny.  A neat twist on the hillbilly killer films.

Number 9
Source Code
Groundhog Day meets Quantum Leap as we revisit the same 8 minute period to track down a bomber on a train.  Jake Gyllenhaal is superb as Colter Stevens in this high concept thriller.  He is able to be sent back in time to find a bomber of a train who is suspected of planting another device.  If they can find his identity they can find the bomb.

The only slight problem is they can only go back to the last 8 minutes of a person's life.  So Colter Stevens "leaps" into the last 8 minutes of a stranger's life to try and track down the man who has already killed the train full of people.  This is a well crafted, well acted, tense affair and ultimately thoroughly enjoyable.  The love story never becomes schmatlzy and it doesn't detract from the action.  The less you know about the film the better.  It's one of those, you know there's going to be a twist somewhere types.  But my view is why look for it, let the twist come to you.

Number 8
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Gary Oldman heads up this all star cast of the big screen version of the BBCs drama.  This film is all about the performances.  There are times when it's difficult to know exactly what's going on and who's involved in what but at the end it all kinda makes sense but even if it didn't you wouldn't care as you just seen an act off by some of Britain's best talent.  With the likes of Tom Hardy, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch, Mark Strong and John Hurt you really are spoiled for choice.  Whilst Oldman et al were all superb, it was Hardy for me who stole the show as he seems to be doing everywhere these days and also does in another of my top 10.

Number 7
We Need To Talk About Kevin
If you think you've had a crappy day then Tilda Swinton's character in this bleak and sometime harrowing drama will make you rethink.  The story of a child who never seemed happy and the incredibly portrayed love hate relationship he endured with his mother, this film was infuriating (John C Reilly's Franklin never managed to see the issues), distressing and moving.  Swinton has never been better as we see two periods of her life simultaneously, a before and after, play out.

Kevin (newcomer Ezra Miller) brings to life Teenage Angst as never seen before.  There is no motive to the way he feels and acts, he just is the way he is.  There's no understanding him and therefore little sympathy for him which I felt was intentional.  David Cameron's "Hug a hoodie" theory would be seriously put to the test here.  Sometimes kids are just mean.  And mean kids do mean things no matter how much attention you shower them with.

Number 6
Super 8
I thoroughly enjoyed JJ Abrahm's monster movie which took me right back to my childhood films of the 80's.  I came away with their sense of adventure as I did with such films like The Goonies and ET.  It's very rare you find a teenage ensemble that all put in a good shift with their performances.  Usually kids seem like their acting.  Every now and then, real talent emerges (Dakota Fanning, Chloe Moretz) and normally you find it's Spielberg unearthing it.  Whilst he did have a hand in the production of this movie, you have to admire how Abrahm's has managed to "do a Berg" and pull believable and likeable performances out of his young cast.

Number 5
A charming and funny tale about a guy with cancer.  Yep you read that right.  Based on the writer's own experience fighting the disease we follow the story of Adam (Joseph Gordon Levitt) dealing with the knowledge he has a 50/50 chance of survival.  Some of the better characters could have been given more to do and a weaker one a little less but this was all about Levitt and co-star Seth Rogan who played off each other with precision.  Rogan plays the friend who had as hard a time dealing with it as Adam does and this is explored brilliantly as outwardly we see Rogan using Adam's situation to his own advantage.  If you fancy a comedy with more intelligence in the wit rather than sight gags or jokes as well as a real emotional bang and genuine heart in the film making then look no further than here.

Number 4
Brad Pitt stars as Billy Bean, real life GM of Oakland A's baseball team and how he took on the big boys with endless bank accounts.  Normally baseball films don't travel too well to the UK as it's just not a sport that garners much interest here but as this one focuses on the behind the scenes rather than the game itself it stood itself a much better chance.  The subject matter, highly relevant in today's football scene with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City able to blow their opponents out of the water financially, will be far more appealing than your usual sports movie.

It is based on the chance encounter with an economics major, played brilliantly by Jonah Hill, that changed the architecture of baseball forever and brought sports science into the frame across the world.  The use of things such as Optica having benefited significantly from these two men.  Pitt is on top form, possibly his best performance since The Assassination Of Jesse James if not is career.  It's not showy a la Twelve Monkeys or artistic a la The Tree of Life but centered in reality and he brings so much to a very down to earth character.  In lesser hands the central performance could easily have been dull and unsympathetic.  A sports film

Number 3

Tom Hardy steals the show in the second film in my top ten that he appears.  Last year's The Fighter brought an attempt at gritty realism to the boxing world which hadn't really been done since Raging Bull.  The Wrestler before that.  Warrior, a story of cage fighting, tries to do nothing more than entertain you.  This is not about realism, the fight scenes are more Rocky than Raging Bull, but this is not a flaw in the movie.  You know exactly where it's heading and just enjoy the ride.

Hardy and Joel Edgerton spark off each other fantastically as warring brothers both determined to win a special world cage fighting championship.  You know which brother you're supposed to pick and root for but the sheer screen presence and sympathy Hardy brings to his role, you find yourself siding with his angrier and meaner one of them.  A great watch which proves you can mix pure Hollywood entertainment with intelligence, great writing, brilliant characterisation and performances to match.  Michael Bay please take note that it doesn't need to be all about close ups, super slow mo running and explosions every other minute.

Number 2

A measured, evenly paced, beautiful and exceptionally violent film with one of the most enigmatic lead characters of the decade that manages to put others to shame with barely a word uttered.  From the silent getaway at the beginning to the soon to be infamous lift scene, Ryan Gosling oozes with cool which practically drips off the screen.  Laden with 80's style and sound this is no easy feat.  The soundtrack provides an electronic audio backdrop of beauty, perfectly partnering the charm and feel of the visuals it accompanies.

The direction is precise and original.  Back to the opening getaway we see it entirely from the inside of the car.  I don't recall ever having seen this take on an escape before.  Yet it was captivating and brilliant.  As was everything about this film,  Including the evil turn from Albert Brooks who provides one of the most brutal killings I've seen yet it contains barely any blood or graphic violence.  This was done with words and genius framing of the moment.  It needs to be watched to fully appreciate.  This is a film that will sadly be overlooked by the Oscars but will be remembered long after most of what Hollywood chooses to acknowledge.

Number 1
Kill List

The full review for this film is on my site and I wholly recommend you read it.  This is a film that is best served going into without knowing too much detail, which I have tried to do whilst conveying how brilliant this film was.

Kill List swings from kitchen sink drama to violent gangster to out and out horror without ever becoming confused.  Like a fine dining dish the flavours are perfectly balanced.  The film delivered on all counts for me.  Character, acting, story, laughs, drama, violence.  I can honestly say I've not seen an overall film experience like this one  I was left open mouthed and stunned.  Not everyone is going to like it in the same why I have, I accept that, but if you are a fan of cinema then this is a must to see.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

INTERVIEW: Gillian MacGregor

Just prior to the release of the great short, Hit Girls, I met up with star and scribe, Gillian MacGregor.  After having only chatted to her via the medium of Twitter I had no idea what to expect from the version of her that could talk to me in more than 140 characters.  

She was as charming and pleasant as she is online but her picture doesn’t do her justice, she is more beautiful in the flesh.  She certainly possesses the movie star looks and hopefully this and her upcoming projects will provide her the springboard into the bigger projects she deserves.

Recently Gillian had also been involved in a charity project called Model Fight Night which, whilst Hit Girls was our reason for the meeting, was where we started……

Damon: How did you get into Model Fight Night?

Gillian: Hit Girls was the first action project that I did.  I learnt the action like it was a dance and found that I happen to be, you know, not horrendous at it and after that I got more action stuff. This was obviously good for me as it was something that I’d always been interested in but never thought it’d be something that I could ever get to do.
HIt Girls Pics

(Gillian, Rosie & Joey on set - picture by Zoe Ryan)

I was doing a job playing Claire Redfield from Resident Evil and I became very good friends with one of the other actresses, Hannah Farmer.  She took part in Model Fight Night last year.  The thought of actually having a martial arts skill that I’ve trained in and worked hard for was very appealing.  I was excited about what I’d potentially be able to do action wise at the end of the process.

Training sessions at the Boxing Clinic were awesome.  Well... until the first time I got hit in the face.  For a little while after that I just wanted to quit to be honest! The punch came right underneath my head guard to my jaw and it felt like my brain had rattled.  I thought fuck this I don’t wanna do this anymore, but I’d said I was going to do it, so I did!  We were raising money for the Katie Piper Foundation so there’s no way I would have backed out.

Damon: Would you do it again?

Gillian: It depends on what else I’ve got going on as the time commitment is huge.  When it actually came to the fight, I loved it.  There was a lot of crying and insecurity during the build up to the fight, but then on the day I was completely calm.  By the time I got in the ring I was so aggressive I was like an animal.  It was an amazing experience and I won so that was quite nice.  

Being a working actor requires you to be on the case all the time and I just found that everything suffered because you have to prioritise the training because someone’s going to be trying to take your head off.  So if you don’t train you could get hurt.

Damon: Has it affected you getting new projects?
HIt Girls Pics
(Gillian & Rosie take things up a notch - picture by Zoe Ryan)

Gillian: Well, since Fight Night I’ve been busy.  I’ve just shot my part in a new British feature, “Across the River” and, among other projects, I’ll be shooting a thriller feature “The Quiet One” in January.  Also, I’m back on stage again in November as well. I’m doing a show called Burlexe and it’s about the stories of the ladies who do burlesque.

Damon: Is that going to be in London?

Gillian: Yes (The Shadow Lounge, 5-7 Brewer Street,London, W1F 0RF)

Damon: So what was your inspiration for “Hit Girls”?

Gillian: I wish I had a good story for you!  I just had this idea of what if Rachel and Monica from “Friends” were evil, and “Hit Girls” is what came out.   The original script is quite different to the finished short because I wrote that 4 or 5 years before we actually shot it and during that time it had undergone different personnel changes including a different director.  I think Adrian was our fourth director!  Rosie, the producer and fellow Hit Girl, called me up and asked me if the script was available and off we went.
HIt Girls Pics
(Gillian ready to kick ass - picture by Zoe Ryan)

I was going through a really bad personal time just before the shoot and I’d try to leave the business but I just kept getting work, which is obviously nice.  When you want it you don’t get it, when you’re not looking for it, it comes your way. I told Rosie she could have the script but I didn’t think I wanted to be in it.  She said “No! You have to be in it. You must be in it.” So, of course, I was – thank God!

Damon: Where was it filmed? The opening shot looked fantastic.

Gillian: The flat belonged to a friend of Rosie’s.  It’s quite special.  We were really nervous using it.  

I’ve got an interesting story about the intercom scene.  That’s a live feed from the front door into the flat and not done in post production.  Joey (Ansah, her co-star) and I didn’t know each other at the time and we had to do this intimate scene, which is awful at the best of times!   With the live feed to the whole building, everyone could have been watching it. We were there shooting it for hours doing the same racy thing over and over.  I didn’t know that at the time!  

The view from the flat was amazing.  I was so worried about everything I even had to put tape on my heels so I didn’t mark the floor. 

Damon: So how did he survive getting a knitting needle shoved up his nose?

Gillian: Well you can.

Damon: Did you research that?

Gillian: I did research that.  People get shot through their head and as long as it doesn’t hit certain points then you can survive it.

Damon: Until you get hit in the head with a spade!!

Gillian: That was horrible.  That blood went right in my eye.  We only had one take of that and it was the last shot before we had to get the sunrise.  It was like pressure, pressure, pressure.  We had five crew members that were underneath the camera with the blood, ready to throw it at us and someone got their hand in the shot and so we had to crop it a little.
Damon: So are you going to be putting Hit Girls into festivals?

Gillian: For now the plan is we’re just going to release it online.  It’s not a festival piece, it’s too commercial.  We’re going to do quite a bit of press, starting from now! You’re the first one.

Damon: Excellent, thank you. I noticed you have a TV show in the works.  Ninety Eight Percent.  What is that?

Gillian: I’m a lesbian in that one which isn’t something I imagined trying in front of a crew of people, ha ha!  I have no experience of this.  This will be a new thing for me. It’s going to be shot later this year, beginning of next year and it’s set back home in Scotland so that’s really cool.  

It’s got a BAFTA nominated director, Frank McGowan.  I’m really excited to be working with such a young, dynamic Scottish company.
Damon: You mentioned being a lesbian in it….

I have a lesbian sex scene, oh my dear lord!! My dad is going to freak out, he’ll kill me. My family weren’t impressed with Hit Girls to be honest, with the wanking scene. I had to tell them you don’t actually do it you know; it’s a film.  Joey didn’t even have his willy out, I promise.  

Obviously there’s more to the show than the sexuality of the characters.  It’s a gritty crime drama.  So, I have got other scenes other than the sex scene but that’s the one that’s making me go “Holy Shit! Holy Shit!! Holy Shit!!”  Everything is local, the whole cast is Scottish as are the crew. Its good Scottish talent, we’re doing it for the Scots.  I’m nervous though.

Damon: I’d be nervous if I were doing something similar.

At my audition they didn’t ask me straight out if I was gay or straight but they warned me that there are sexual scenes with a female and was I alright with that?  I was like hey, whatever.  It’s just as bad doing those scenes with boys as it is with girls to be honest.

Damon: So it’s a drama?  Is it a comedy drama or straight up?

Gillian: It’s just drama.

Damon: Any plans to move into comedy?

No specific plans.  I just go with whatever fits, you know?  The thing with Hit Girls is it is meant to be funny.  We had a big screening at BAFTA with strangers and they laughed all the way through but when my friends are watching they just don’t know what to do.  They don’t know if they can laugh or not in case they laugh when they’re not supposed to.  I was like “It’s okay, I’m wanking a dead man, you can laugh at that”.   I think it’s quite hard to do comedy.  Poor Joey.  He’s ticklish so he had a hard time with that bit trying to be dead.  

Also we had to actually kick him into the grave.  The first time it happened I wasn’t expecting it.  Poor Joey.  To be fair to him he kept his mouth shut and he did it about five times.

Damon: So with you doing all the action stuff, were they your knife skills?

Gillian: Yes they were. They weren’t that good to be fair. Although it’s actually hard to chop a lime in half in one strike. I really enjoyed it.  It’s a good little short

Damon: And it’s yours.

Gillian: And it’s mine.  Sort of.  Ours.  There were loads of lessons that I learned. I’ve written stuff that’s been produced before and generally it’s been done as I wrote it but Hit Girls wasn’t because everyone has their input.  It became much more of a collaborative process between me, Rosie and Adrian.  

Adrian brought the boyness to it... you know, that masculine and feminine mix which seems to be what works in it.  It’s what people comment on.  

On the day we were faced with cutting some dialogue and I wasn’t happy.  Because of rain interrupting filming Adrian said we were going to have to.  I said that we’d gone over the whole script we can’t cut anymore dialogue.  But, actually, he was right and we could have cut quite a bit of that and it still would have worked but never mind.

Damon: So was the rest smooth sailing?

Gillian: No, ha ha. We actually dragged Joey through the forest, actually took his whole body weight and that was so difficult.   And we lost the sound and had to ADR the whole forest stuff.   Somehow they sorted it out and made it work. Joey even came into the ADR suite and actually put his weight on us so you could hear it in our voices.

Damon: Good thinking.

Gillian: That wasn’t my idea. Are you kidding?  I was like do we have to? Ha ha.

Damon: So do you want to make the move into big budget features or you did you want to keep doing more low key things?

Gillian: I’d like to be able to do both. If you could do the bigger stuff to fund the smaller stuff then I think that would be the best situation for all.  

I’d like to be able to do some more writing.  I’ve got a feature script that I’ve been working on for a while and would love to work on more but it’s so hard finding the time.

It feels like the industry has changed so much you need to be able to do all sorts of different things.  Otherwise you’ll just sink.  So I feel like, certainly with a lot of the lower budget films I get involved in my input is potentially more than just being an actor.

Gillian is certainly more than just an actor.  She has an enthusiasm of all aspects of creation that makes you want to go out there and make movies with her.  I am looking forward to seeing her in Burlexe and hope that she soon starts reaching to wider audiences and brings her infectious personality which is currently untainted by the Hollywood machine.  And to be honest I can’t see her falling into the trappings of the Hollywood lifestyle.  Whilst considering her home to be London she is a true Scot at heart and they’d never let that happen.  This is only a good thing.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Review: The Thing

Directed by: Matthijs van Heijningen
Written by: Eric Heisserer
Starring: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen

The Arctic, 1982, Winter. It's time to find out just what happened to those crazy Swedes.

Set just a few short days before Outpost 31 is ravaged by a deadly organism, we follow paleontologist Kate Lloyd (Winstead) into the Arctic after being requested to aid a group of Norwegian scientists that have just made the discovery of a lifetime.

The discovery is that of an alien ship that has been buried in the ice for 100,000 years and, not too far from it, the body of what must have been its pilot, also encased in ice.  It's no spoiler to suggest that the "thing" in the ice isn't destined to stay there long.

I'm going to be slightly pedantic for a minute, Carpenter's version was more of a sequel to and this one is more of a remake of, the 1951 film The Thing From Another World.  The '51 film centered around the discovery of the alien creature and it's ship, as well as flying in an expert to help out. Carpenter's focused on what happened to the next group an already thawed Thing finds.  He simply changed the first camp from American to Norwegian.

This prequel/remake had a lot to live up to.  Whilst some might say it is unfair to compare it to Carpenter's, it is inevitable it was going to happen and especially when the director seems Hell bent on recreating scenes from the 1982 classic.  

The film starts quite strong, creating the feel of Carpenter's without being the same movie.  Performances are good and the build up is well paced.  Whilst we await the creature's escape we are presented with a solid, interesting movie, with very good attention to detail in setting up the camp and where things take place to fit in with Carpenter's.  The main problems start to occur when The Thing begins infiltrating the group.

Carpenter managed to create a strong sense of paranoia and claustrophobia with his slow, lingering camerawork and lots of suggestive glances.  You never knew who it was and with a group of very diversified, and detailed characters it enabled a wonderful tension within the group.  Sadly the prequel misses the mark on this point and misses it quite substantially.  There are far too many peripheral characters and the fact the film chooses to center around the few Americans (who are just poor MacReady and Childs imitations - like what I did there?) in the Norwegian camp, it shouts "all American showdown" from the rooftops.  Yet this was supposed to be the Norwegian's story.

As for knowing who it was, they may as well have hung a sign around the necks of those it had copied with "It's ME!!" written on it.  There was very little deduction and guesswork needed.  The logic of the film is also confused.  From Blair in Carpenter's we are led to understand that it wants to get to populated areas so that it can take over and that it only really shows itself when under attack or in some way feeling threatened.  You even wondered if those that were it knew it themselves.  In this year's Thing it seems very overt about showing itself and even when it has the perfect opportunity to hide in the warmth of man and have itself taken to a populated area it strangely chooses to reveal itself in all its CGI glory and completely destroy it's method of obtaining its goal.

Here lies another of my pet hates when it comes to horror.  CGI and horror do not mix.  All the best horror films have the foundations of exemplary special and make up effects done by hand.  People such as Stan Winston, Rob Bottin, Tom Savini and, in my opinion, the current reigning champion, Greg Nicotero have made horror icky, fun and ultimately very realistic.  All CGI does it to make it look slightly less real.  To me this was a major downfall of the film, as soon as I saw that first piece of CGI I knew this is what I had to look forward to for the rest and whilst some of it was not too bad, some was just awful.  Think The Rock in The Scorpion King.

There was too much running, escaping, flame throwers etc.  It became very "Hollywood" during the second half with an exceptionally unnecessary large scale set piece ending.  It's not to say it didn't have plus points.  There were some good scenes such as the "test" scene.  Although this seemed to go against the logic in Carpenter's and again was far too influenced by what we had seen before.

Whilst some of the attention to detail to bring this is in line with Carpenter's was very well done, some was incredibly contrived and it felt as though they had to do it but couldn't really think of a clever way to do it.  Had they made a film to stand alone and been brave enough for it to be different I think the talent was there to make a really good horror film.  If the 1982 version didn't exist you'd probably think this was a pretty good solid monster movie (although it did lack any real scares and tension) but as it is they seemed to go for safe and formulaic.  Which in the end spoiled what could have been a great add on to one of modern horror's greatest films.

On its own I would have given this a 3 out of 5 but for me there was too much lack of identity and willing to be "their" movie.  Instead we got a lesser version of a movie we've already seen. So for that reason I've gone with


Monday, 31 October 2011

Review: Bad Meat

Directed By: Lulu Jarmen
Written by: Paul Gerstenbeger
Starring: Jessica Parker Kennedy, Elisabeth Harnios and Dave Franco

The premise of Bad Meat is a simple one and sometimes, where horror is concerned, simple is better.  A group of wayward teens are packed off to a boot camp, run by Hitler wannabe Doug (Mark Pelligrino - Lost).  They soon realise that this is not going to be an easy ride as Doug and his helpers are more depraved than the youngsters.

Fed up of the abuse that the fascist camp workers deliver to both himself and the inmates, the cook decides to serve up one last meal that they'll never forget with illegal, diseased meat that, instead of just making them severely ill,  turns all who it eat into vicious, flesh craving cannibals.  

Bad Meat is a fun, gory and odd film, filled with all manner of bodily fluids.  If you try to look into it too seriously you will find flaws all over the place but this film isn't one that takes itself seriously (at least I hope it was't).  The writer described it as "a horror romp" when introducing it for its world premier at London's Fright Fest Halloween all nighter.

So don't go into this with any misgivings of a high brow, intelligent horror film and you shouldn't be disappointed.  Some of the acting is a little shaky but for the most part it was surprisingly decent. There are still areas, even within it's predication of not being anything more than it says on the tin, where it needed some work.  The characters get fleeting moments of background but remain unexplored and therefore largely irrelevant.   Although you could say this serves to aid the film with the "anyone can get it" factor. 

However nothing spoils this gloriously gory horror than the horrific ending.  And I don't mean horrific in a blood lust way.  The film clearly ran out of money and/or time and sadly was unable to end it properly.  It went quickly from a decent set piece to an unconnected scene with one of the characters getting bits ripped off which, as a guy, made you cross your legs and then haphazardly to a final scene which made very little sense at all. 

However, if you feel like something that will serve up a deliciously gross meal and can forgo a fully complimentus ending then this will satisfy your hunger a treat.

If the ending had worked I'd be giving this a three star review but unfortunately it does serve to detract from what went before and therefore I can only give it


Saturday, 29 October 2011

Review: Hit Girls

Starring: Rosie Fellner, Gillian MacGregor and Joey Ansah
Written by: Gillian MacGregor
Directed by:Adrian Vitoria

The premise of Hit Girls is two femme fatales that share an apartment together and seem to have issues with keeping their other halves alive.  A potentially jealous, trained killer is not always easy to live with.

The short opens with a truly sumptuous view of London and one of our heroines, Rosie Fellner, stretching on the balcony to her beautifully lit back drop.  This is intercut with short, sharp bursts of a couple in grainy black and white in the beginning stages of a hot and passionate night. 

Gillian MacGregor is our other beautiful assassin, bringing home her night's catch with Rosie watching on through the building's intercom.  Both our leading ladies drip sex appeal right off the screen making it easy to believe they could get most anyone they wanted, which for the way they work is essential. You can sense Rosie's already not happy about the way this night is turning out.  Although her emotions towards this might run deeper than her housemate simply getting luckier than her. 

A darkly comic tale about how friendship can rise above anything, even killing your friend's new boyfriend.  The two women of the piece bounce off each other well building up the long term friendship and history between them in a short space of time.  It was important they managed this for the ending to work.  The director has made the most of using limited locations and minimal budget, bringing a look that could rival most British cinema.  I think we have a small array of future talent emerging all round here.  Don't be surprised if everyone involved moves onto bigger and better things.

They have created some superb set pieces, including a intelligently choreographed fight scene (far from your usual cat fights that women on screen have), even to Gillian hilariously masturbating the corpse of her newly dead beau.  

I recommend sparing a few minutes to watch this as it's a fine example of home grown talent and what you can do with the desire to get something made.  I look forward to seeing these guys lighting up the big screens soon.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Kill List - Fright Fest Review #6

Jay (Neil Maskell) hasn't worked in eight months and he is fast running out of cash and his spiraling mood swings and lack of work start to take a toll on his marriage.  Business partner and friend Gal (Michael Smiley) brings his new girlfriend to dinner and witnesses first hand that the demons which plague Jay are becoming uncontrollable.  Sensing his need to work again he offers him an opportunity for a job under instruction from a mysterious client with three assignments on their list. 

Jay starts to turn the kill list into a personal crusade with his controlled hit man style becoming increasingly a thing of the past with each hit becoming more violent and entwining the two of them into something neither could predict.

The film consists of three parts all equal in quality and all necessary to reach the terrifying conclusion.  What starts out as a Mike Leigh style character based drama, it moves into a tense crime thriller only to jolt you with an ending sequence fit for many of the best horrors made.

The performances are rich with a natural delivery and all are thoroughly convincing in their roles but Maskell and Smiley are a cut above as the pair of ex soldiers turned hitmen.  Only the dark nature of the material will prevent them from recognition come awards time.  Jay's slow descent into his personal Hell is crafted at a perfect pace, the fact that he feels he is on some form of mission to rid the world of bad people suggests he is looking for redemption for his own past misgivings.  It's this part of his character which allows to follow in his footsteps and understand the path he chooses to take.

The way Ben Wheatley directs this film manages to insert a sense of dread all way through its heart, keeping you on edge the whole time.  A simplisitic yet haunting score burrowing it's way through each more intense and bloody scene.  He creates a sense of realism with the docu-drama camera work during the opening sequences, fully focused on the family life and the devotion Jay shows to his wife and especially his child.  His need to support them by allowing his job to keep his darkness at bay is detailed within sudden mood changes from love to fits of anger and back to love again, which is also shown as a part of his fractious relationship with Gal.

Avoid reading anything which provides references to other films, details too much about the plot or show this film negatively because of it's violence.  This will only detract from your enjoyment of undoubtedly one of, not only the horror stand outs of the year, but also best British films I have seen in a long time.  Unfortunately the Full Monty's and Bridget Jones' will get all the plaudits and make all the money but they are devices in popular comedy made specifically to attract the crowds.  This is an intelligent, thought provoking, expertly crafted mix of genres that certainly has something to say.  It may not be a highbrow statement but it's a statement that you won't forget.

After seeing this at Fright Fest I tweeted a very simple summary of this film which I stand by.  This was...

Bleak, brutal, terrifying..... sensational.


Sunday, 4 September 2011

A Lonely Place To Die - Fright Fest Review #5

From Director Julian Gilbey comes this taught, tense thriller set in the highlands of Scotland.  A group of climbers make a startling discovery buried in a small chamber in the wilderness.  That of a small Serbian girl.  Not knowing why she was there or who put her there, they take it upon themselves to get her to safety.  This starts a chilling chase, putting them all in grave danger without even knowing why.  What would you do?

The film opens with stunning shots of the Scottish Highlands, beautifully captured and just dripping with the vast sense of disconnect from human contact.  This set up enables us to understand the degree to which these people are cut off which helps build the tension when trying to escape the attentions of the mysterious, unseen enemy that wants the girl back.

Melissa George is superb in her role as Alison making it easy for us to believe she would take the actions she chooses to take.  This is central to the film keeping us willing to go along with it.  Without that suspension of disbelief you lose the tension and excitement that this film delivers in droves. 

The plot is straightforward and this allows the film to concentrate on the characters and the action.  Both of which are handled expertly, persuading us to care about what happens to the climbers and the girl.  The action is never over the top and not filled with super slo mo running and an excessive amount of explosions.  Instead it keeps it grounded and uses the antagonists coldness and ease of taking a human life to ratchet up the tension. 

To the films credit, even when it enters a potentially formulaic ending sequence, it manages to keep the feel of the helplessness of our protagonists even when moving the action into a more populated area.  The side story of a money exchange could have detracted from the build up being created following Alison but it was inter-cut into the action at the right times meaning that both were able to run alongside each other until their inevitable and bloody interception. 

As I mentioned in my synopsis, this also raises a very interesting question... what would you do?

This is one of the best British thrillers I have seen, never finding myself bored or detached from the action I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this film.


Friday, 2 September 2011

The Theatre Bizarre - Fright Fest Review #4

Warning.... Graphic Trailer.

This is a horror anthology with six stories all brought to us via a storyteller residing in a mysterious theater.  A young woman obsessed with this theater one night sees the doors slowly open up, chilllingly inviting her to enter inside.  An invitation to which she readily accepts.  Inside it is empty save for some very humanlike puppets and their puppeteer - the storyteller (Udo Kier)  He leads us into the stories of The Theater Bizarre....

The Mother Of Toads (dir by Richard Stanley)
Having been absent from directing since 2006, Richard Stanley (Hardware, Dust Devil) returns to bring us the opening segment.  Following two young travellers in the French countryside, one looking for a relaxing vacation the other, naturally seeking the Necrinomicron.  Or at least this appears to be his only need seeing as the story develops it almost appears to be an obsession.  The motives of the character are unclear.. why he wants it, what does his background have to do with the ancient occult?  Unless he's just a huge evil dead fan.

The reveal of this story is less than scary, almost laughable.  Stanley's touch remains as it was with his earlier work.  I have always felt his direction is laboured and he struggles to bring any humanity to his pieces.  They always seem more about the scenery and cinematography rather than character and story.  He's like the Terence Malik of horror, trying to make it all feel very "arthouse" sometimes at the expense of entertainment.

I Love You (dir by Buddy Giovinazzo)
An engaging look at the dark places an obsessive love can take you.  It is the depiction of a marriage on the brink of collapse, brought about from the controlling nature of the husband (Andre Hennicke).  The wife (Suzan Anbeh) is emotionless as she explains she is leaving, even going to the point of detailing her multiple instances of adultery.  This is well acted seeing the husband slowly fall apart whilst his wife watches on stoney faced.  The sex scene is particularly eye opening to their relationship in which he wants to be gentle inside her whereas she keeps calling for it to be harder.  A total reverse to the emotional treatment of each other.

The story is told in a non linear fashion which didn't really serve to add much and the outcome was of particular surprise.  However the characters are well fleshed out for a short and provided us with an insight into these two incompatible people and the slow collapse of a man's fragile mind when he realises that he has lost his love but still unable to comprehend why.

Wet Dreams (dir Tom Savini)
The man behind some of the greatest make up effects ever put onto screen and the mentor of Greg Nicotero (who arguably is now the better of the two) brings us a twisted tale of revenge.  With Savini's love for the genre you know this was going to be nothing less than gruesome and on that count it didn't disappoint. 

An abused and cheated on wife (Debbie Rochon) seeks to take revenge on her despicable husband, Donnie, (James Gill) in the most horrific way possible.  Told through the dreams of the main protagonist (although on reflection he may not have been - a clever change in direction of who is delivering the story to us) Donnie, seemingly stuck on the idea his wife is cutting off his penis and feeding it to him, you are never sure if what you're watching is real or part of his sub conscious.  The segment certainly spends more time on the visual disgust rather than the human side.  But it's not trying to be high brow and Tom Savini is well aware of this. And the final reveal is all a bit familiar and by saying what film it is reminiscent of would only serve as a spoiler.   Whilst certainly better than the opening piece, the extremes to which the wife goes to exact her revenge seem a little over the top and only makes you wonder who was the more evil of the two.

The Accident (dir by Douglas Buck)
A short tale told told via the use of questions being put to a mother form her daughter about death after witnessing an accident.  The dialogue is used as a narrative over flashbacks to the titular accident with a haunting score by Pierre Marchand creating the feel of the piece.  Beautifully shot and s superb turn from the young girl.  The best of the segments.

Vision Stains (dir by Karim Hussain)

An unusual tale about how the eye's memory is stored within its aqueous humor (the clear fluid in the front part of the eye) and the attempts of one woman to reveal things about humanity by stealing this and implanting it into her own eye allowing her to see what the owner of the fluid saw.  No detail as to who this person was and how she came to be addicted to this activity and how seeing someone's memories gives the insight she needs.  The victims were generally junkies or people that wouldn't be missed as she has to kill them first as it's at this point the fluid stores the memories.  How she discovered this is anyone's guess.  The premise is intriguing but I felt the central character was far too motivated in her own needs over the preciousness of human life and without her journey to getting there it was hard to believe.

Sweets (dir by David Gregory)
A darkly comic tale looking at another break up.  The beginnings of the relationship told in flash back with the overriding use of food stuff depicting their growing love.  But for very different reasons.  The script is witty and the performance of the desperate boyfriend especially good.  You could look at this on a study of the addiction to food or just addictive personalities in general.  Is it just the food or is he addicted to her and not actually in love with her.

This is a sort of Hansel and Gretal story for the modern horror fan and the realisation of the relationships motives show that perhaps she really cared about this man by wanting to break up with him.  However, unfortunately for him, he persuaded her to give him another chance.  An enjoyable tale and well balanced with the horror and comedy.

Overall The Theater Bizarre is a mixed bag, with the exception of The Accident, never quite moving above okay.  It is too long and could have lost one or two segments to bring it to a more viewer friendly running time.  The puppeteer and theater parts were very uninteresting and only had me waiting for them to be over to get to the next part.  Sadly, even though I enjoyed parts of this, I was looking for it to end.  never a good sign.  As far as anthologies goes, whilst not terrible, it is a long way short of the likes of Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside and even Fright Fest's other anthology film, Chillerama.

Overall 2/5

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Deadheads - Fright Fest Review #3

Can you still love after you're dead?  This is the question Deadheads seeks to answer and through a blood drenched, gut achingly funny 90 minutes they manage to answer with a resounding yes!!

Mike (Michael McKiddy) and Brent (Ross Kidder) are dead.  Though this comes as quite a surprise to Mike and that it's been three years since his death.  The only thing on his mind is the love of his life, Ellie (the stunning Natalie Victoria) and getting the ring he was going to propose with, before his untimely demise, to her.  To tell her one last time that he loves her.  However as a zombie, things are never that straight forward seeing as they have some secret agents on their tail because experimental talking zombies need to be kept under wraps.  Oh and they also have to babysit Cheese, a kind of pet Zombie.

If that summary hasn't whet your appetite for this movie then I'll have to try and persuade you to go see it with this write up.  The movie spins the zombie genre on its head, giving us a story entirely from the zombie point of view and adds in a slice of buddy movie, romantic comedy with dashes of actions and plenty of limbs being removed, heads being decapitated and one penis falling off.  Yes you did read that right.

The chemistry between Mike and Brent is superb allowing you to really root for these guys to complete their adventure, with Cheese thrown in for extra (but not cheap) laughs.  All round this was brilliantly written and directed by two brothers with an obvious affection for the genre.  You can't successfully twist something on its head as well as this without knowing the constraints you are breaking free from.  Their knowledge of all things zombie allows them to become self referencing and manages to let them allow their characters play this straight faced.  No one liner style jokes here - its about funny dialogue, great visual gags and the cast playing off each other with expert timing.  If they played like they were in a comedy then this film would probably have failed from the beginning.  All credit to the Pierce brothers for pulling this off and giving us a rom-com-zom to rival Shaun Of The Dead.

Deadheads harks back to the films of the 80's in the same way Grosse Point Blank did with the Action/Thriller genre.  And thinking of it Kidder even reminds me of a young Cusack at his humorous best.

I unashamedly, thoroughly enjoyed this film and look forward to seeing it again, and again.  The cast and crew will undoubtedly go on to do more and I can only hope this film finds the wider audience it so richly deserves.  I wouldn't be surprised to see Victoria becoming sought after for love interest roles with her natural charm, and the camera obviously loves her, but hopefully we will see her in far more diverse material.  As for McKiddy and Kidder, again they could very easily get themselves pigeon holed into The Hangover type of movies but on this showing they both have far more to offer.  With the Pierce brothers I can only hope they do exactly the opposite and bang out more horror material.

Go see it will ya.


Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Final Destination 5 - Fright Fest Review #2

Just in case you don't know how this works......

A group of colleagues on a team building weekend get caught on a collapsing bridge.  One of the team has a premonition of them all dying on the bridge, freaks out and gets them off the bus.  Cue Tony Todd to tell them they cheated Death and it will be coming for them one by one.  Haven't gone through the plot in too much detail as it's more or less only there to engineer the way to brutally murder some good looking Americans.  Only this time there is a slight change to the rules.

Very slight!! This is essentially same film, different actors and different death defying set piece.  And all shot completely unnecessarily in 3D. An improvement on, certainly, the last one and probably on a par with 3, you get what you pay for with this film. 

The title sequence is nicely put together with imagery showing the instruments of death from this films predecessors and the film itself ties up quite nicely with them. 

The film, as you'd expect, contains more inventive deaths but as with the other sequels you get a long build up but the actual death is over very quickly.  I found the original's extended death sequences (shower strangulation, and the teacher's death for example) made the film far more intense.  When you know that you're going to get a few seconds of over indulgent CGI gore then the impact is dampened. That said, the deaths are gruesome with the laser eye surgery being one of the better ones.  I would expect a number of people cancelling their appointments after this.

But once again at the core of the film is weak dialogue and very little characterisation.  But then that's not what you go into these films for so it can be excused for overlooking these elements just like the previous films.  As for the slimline plot, well it simply feels like it merely gets in the way of getting to the next death sequence.

Overall an enjoyable film experience but don't expect anything highbrow or original as you get exactly what it says on the tin. 


Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark - Fright Fest Review #1

From producer Guillermo Del Toro, we are delivered a haunted house story, well, of sorts.

Alex (Guy Pearce) is a resotorator and he hopes his new project will place him on the restoration map.  Divorced and now living with Kim (Katie Holmes) in their restoration project, Alex has to take in his daughter Sally as his ex wife decides she can no longer handle her. However they are not alone in the house with an evil living deep inside it, trapped away in a long forgotten, sealed, basement.  When Sally discovers the basement skylight in the overgrown gardens no-one could foresee the danger this would put all connected to the house in.

The film begins solidly enough with an opening giving us some background on the history of the house. Unfortunately the problems lie with the present.  Undeveloped, selfish characters make it very difficult to actually care about what happens to them.  Guy Pearce's Alex, especially, doesn't appear to care much beyond the house and being famous. It is this main issue that prevents the film from delivering real scares. Also the continual desire to constantly show where the creatures are simply serves to lower any built up tension, the exception being a well executed sequence in the library.

The exposition as to what was happening was handled far too briefly and lightly considering we expect these people to believe they have ancient monsters living with them.  All brought out in a five minute conversation with a librarian.  It seemed the filmmakers were less interested in bringing us into the story as trying to deliver cheap scares.

Shallow dialogue and a far too slowly paced build up made it hard for me to remain particularly engaged in this feature.  However I will say that it was beautifully photographed and competently directed, making great use of torches an other light sources to light the certain scenes.  The creatures are too much of a mixture between Gollum and Gremlins for me but granted they did carry a certain sense of malevolence.  And a special mention has to go to Bailee Madison who plays Sally as, for such a young actress, she pulled off her part superbly.

Overall though this seemed more a horror film for the twilight horror audience than for those who like their horror horrific.  Or at least scary.  Unfortunately this was neither and felt a little like Del Toro was merely a figurehead marketing tool rather than someone who actually provided insight and assistance to a new director.


Fright Fest 2011 - The Overview

For the last two months, since booking my first Fright Fest, I have been experiencing child like excitement that was usually reserved for the build up to Christmas when I was young.  Along came Thursday 25th August and it began......

Walking into the Empire Leicester Square amongst so many likeminded horror fans was a treat in itself.  The foyer was packed and conversations about the good and bad of modern horror as well as the most influential horror films of days gone by filled the air.  The atmosphere of anticipation was immense and so I walked into Screen 1, located my seat and sat.  The lights went down and one of the festival organisers took to the stage.  It was time!!

Over the five days we were treated to films ranging from the good, the bad and the ugly.  There were John Carpenter tributes filmed especially for the fest (the They Live and Assault On Precinct 13 ones being my favourites), Trailer Trash, short films, special presentations of footage from upcoming horrors including Cockney's Vs Zombies, Q&As with cast and crews, giveaways and more. 

It lived up to every expectation I had.  The fans there were fantastic and met some really lovely frightfesters who hopefully I will see next year (or at the Halloween special event in October).  If you love your horror or even like it quite a lot then this is truly a unique experience and one you should grab with both hands.

My highlights of the fest were Kill List, The Glass Man, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, The Woman, The Innkeepers and the stunningly shot A Lonely Place To Die.  Lowlights consisted of Vile, The Wicker Tree, Saint and Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark.  Also recommended are the short films The Love Bug, Banana Motherfucker and Brutal Relax.

My reviews of all the films I saw will be up shortly.  Hopefully next year I will be seeing you there.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Super 8 - how super was it?


The story of a young boy coming to terms with the grief of losing his mother, falling in love and finding his way all set to the backdrop of a monster terrorising a small town.

JJ Abrams has crafted a spectacular piece of 80's based, Speilbergian storytelling with modern day effects.  The result is a superb, well paced film with eminently likeable characters and a young hero for whom you truly root for throughout.  Films with the main protagonists being kids whilst not a kids film is often a tricky problem for filmmakers and rarely do they manage to bring it together well enough that you forget it's badly acting kids your watching but sometimes they do. Stand By Me anyone?   JJ Abrams has pulled this off and that was vital to the success of this film.

Some of the things I loved about Super 8 will potentially be areas that people will be less enthused about.  I mentioned earlier about the pacing which is true, for me the film was well paced.  For a modern monster feature it may not bang along at the rate of knots we have become accustomed to in recent years but if it had I feel that it would have lost of what made this film stand out from the ever increasing crowd.  With few exceptions we were following the story from viewpoint of the kids and as they weren't seeing everything that happened, sometimes the film took its foot off the gas and allowed us to get to know the characters.  This is very rare in modern summer blockbusters and a quality I miss.  Anyone really know much about Sam Witwicky?  And yet that character has been through 3 overly long films.  By allowing these characters to develop organically and not being forced to come up with poorly scripted dialogue to move them forward in order to maintain a high octane pace, the film becomes significantly more likable.  I felt I took this short, yet exhilarating, journey with them.

The film has action, love, tension, good vs evil, friendship, loss but most of all it has redemption and forgiveness.  With everything getting as bad as it can be people put aside things which, in the face of total destruction and the loss of loved ones, no longer matter and become human to each other.  In the wake of the riots in the UK this is a telling story arc and one which when you saw the clean up the next day is one of the most real things in the film.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and would recommend you go see it.  If you purely want big explosions and lots of killings then perhaps this isn't the creature feature for you (although it does possess plenty of both - the train crash was an excellent example) but if you fancy a big summer blockbuster with a brain told through the eyes of innocence then you won't go far wrong with this one.  I have deliberately tried to avoid too much detail about the plot as I want to be able to persuade you to go see it without spoiling any story for you.  Whilst not full of twists and clever plot points it is one to enjoy being told in front of you than by me.


Monday, 15 August 2011

New Tunes

Had a need to find me some new music to soothe my ears with.  After some searching I have found a few things, some you won't of heard of and some you may (one you will).  Here is what is currently tickling my fancy

Mads Langer - singer songwriter with beautifully crafted songs.  Not my typical listen but the music is genuinely gorgeous.
Mumford & Sons - took me a while but heard Little Lion Man and White Blank Page and wondered to myself why have I not gotten into this before!!
Funeral Party - punchy, punky and dancy tunes from this New York based band.  Well worth a minute or two of your time.
Neon Trees - catchy as Hell.  Especially Animal and In The Next Room.  A brilliant slice of pop.
Metric - again late to the party with this one but been hard to stop listening to it.
The Joy Formiddable - I first encountered these guys backing up Silversun Pickups in the Borderline club in London.  Now they are playing main stages at festivals and sold out venues such as Camden Koko.  They have moved up at great speed but deservedly so.  And it certainly doesn't hurt with the sex appeal they're given through frontwoman Ritz Bryan.  Their live performance is truly outstanding bringing aggression, fun and banging tunes right into your face.

There is more but I'll leave that for another time :)

Blue Valentine

Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams the film portrays a couple at the end of their marriage.

The film opens to a little girl calling desperately for her missing dog.  Sadly the tone of the film doesn't get much happier than this yet somehow it manages to engage all the way through and provides a thought provoking and telling lesson of how true love can seemingly crumble away if you don't look after it.

Gosling and Ryan are on top of their game as the film intertwines the beginning of their relationship with the end of it.  They move effortlessly between falling for each other to not being able to be around each other.  Gosling especially provides his character with the ability to be likeable at the outset of their romance and, not without your sympathy, to a disdainful person who likes a drink or two with breakfast.

The pacing is perfect for the subject matter and although a very downbeat film, this was showcasing what low budget films and filmmakers are capable of.  Sadly more and more films like this don't get made due to the lack of investment in edgier material that, with the advent of internet piracy, the studios are less willing to gamble on.

I would recommend this to anyone that wants to see a beautifully played out romance (the tap dance in the shop entrance way by Williams while Gosling semi serenades her is particularly heartwarming) but can handle the inevitability of this love crashing down around the couple you root for. Definitely  not a date movie but absolutely one for films fans.

4 out of 5