Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Ritual

Don't take short cuts in a horror film....ever!

Following the violent death of one of his best friends in a convenience store Luke (Rafe Spall) and three of his mates (Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali & Sam Troughton) head out for a hiking adventure in Sweden to honour his memory.

But when the rough unforgiving terrain takes it's toll on the four guys who would rather be having a pint or could have gone to a significantly more sun drenched locale they opt to take a detour through a forest.

When the trees are filled with runes and fresh animal carcasses dripping with blood and offal signs are not good for these cheeky chaps the further they wander in. With their friendship already fractured due to the blame dealt to Luke for their mutual mates death being stalked by an evil presence seems to be only one of their woes.

Director David Bruckner gives all the usual visual and audio cues expected in a horror flick in The Ritual. Long shots showing foreboding landscapes, "quiet, quiet, bang" beats and the obligatory running around in the dark screaming. Which for the first two thirds of the film are pretty effective. The quartet of lads make for an interesting set of character to follow, there is banter between the bloodletting and the air of mystery is palpable.

Where things got a smidge squiffy is during the third act, no spoilers here, but much of the intrigue and build-up is deflated by the final twenty or so minutes.

Spall is great, he carries the film as Luke deals with the guilt he suffers from cowardice in not protecting a friend from harm. This is shown in an interesting way by Bruckner by bringing in elements of the store with all it's fluorescent lights and shop shelves with nature. 

Gore hounds won't get much to revel in but those who like a nice jump scare or three should manage to get their heart pumping a couple of times.

In conclusion, The Ritual is a straightforward, no frills chiller that should distract viewers from the real world horrors for 90 or so minutes.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Loving Vincent

Quite literally every frame is a painting.

Utilising the skills of over 100 artists directors Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman explore the life of artist Vincent van Gogh through the eyes of Douglas Booth's reluctant investigator Armand Roulin.

Armand is tasked by his father (Chris O'Dowd) to deliver a letter to Vincent's brother Theo which is somewhat hampered due to Theo having also recently died. 

Taking it upon himself Armand goes on a journey searching for a suitable recipient for the letter. He travels the last few places where van Gogh spent time before his tragic death meeting a variety of familiar faces throughout (John Sessions, Helen McCrory, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner, Saoirse Ronan and Jerome Flynn).

With each meeting of those whose lives were touched by the troubled artist a complicated series of events becomes even more complex and mysterious. Did a sane man end his own life or was there something more sinister afoot?

Loving Vincent is a living, moving (in both senses of the word) oil painting. Actors have their performances encased in paint but their emotions seep out of every inch of the 4:3 frame while a typically wonderful score by Clint Mansell adds to the charm, wonder and feels.

The drama takes mere minutes to get into the unusual visual style, fans of A Scanner Darkly and/or Waking Life will be in sorta kinda familiar territory.

There is an occasional oddness to the visuals, especially when a familiar face crops up on oil based form yet it is a subtle yet moving tale of art, madness and tragedy.

In conclusion, not just a film for art aficionados Loving Vincent is a wonder of sights, sounds and should not be missed. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

It (2017) - Review

Clowns are scary? Who knew?

1989, a year has passed since George, the younger brother of Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) went missing.

Well, not missing so much as the viewer is shown exactly what happened to him. He was a victim of an evil entity seen mostly as a sinister dancing clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) who preys on the youth of American small town Derry.

Bill and his friends of self named losers quickly discover they're all being targeted by sinister and attempt to fight their fears to defeat the evil clown.

Adaptations of Stephen King stories are to put it mildly a bit of a mix frickin' bag. For every Misery there is a Dreamcatcher, for every The Shawshank Redemption there is a Hearts of Atlantis and the bitter taste of disappointment of The Dark Tower still lingers on.

The tale of a town under siege from an evil murderous presence has obviously been made before in the form of the TV mini-series most remember, quite rightly, for the fantastic performance by Tim Curry but television at that time wasn't really the best place for horror and aside from a little bit of blood and death it was a rather sanitised take.

In this update director Andy Muschietti makes a creepy, funny, thrilling tale that focuses on childhood fears. His frame is filled with wonderful details that add to the unsettling nature of things. Derry as a place is odd and slightly off as if the evil from It has permeated into every corner of the town as this is reflected in Muschietti's film.

Much like the best of King's adaptations the key is in the casting and the characters.

The young kids are practically perfect, quality time is spent at the start with Bill, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) so that by the time things truly get bad for them they feel real and their peril is palpable.

Meanwhile Skarsgård is fantastic in his chilling portrayal of on a malevolent timeless every present entity fuelled by fear.

Shifting the timing of events from the fifties to the eighties is perfectly suited for someone of my (old) age. It harks back to those classic coming of age stories The Goonies and King's own Stand by Me feel like very strong influences. The innocence of youth is still very much there just with added references to films released by Warner Brothers and New Line. It is also difficult to dislike a film that throws in some nifty NKOTB references too, #HanginTough.

Pure horror fanatics may find the scares a little soft but as a self confessed wuss the well crafted jump scares and ratcheted tension work for me throughout and I cannot wait to see Chapter 2.

In conclusion, led by a brilliant cast of youngsters It blends those warm & fuzzy 80s nostalgia with an effective chiller by making clowns even more scary than they already are.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Boy and the Beast - DVD Review

Father figures come in all shapes, sizes and hairiness.

Orphaned and alone to roam the city streets young Kyuta accidentally discovers another world filled with beasts.

He meets Kumatetsu, a grumpy, angry warrior reluctantly looking for an apprentice, a role which Kyuta with almost equal reluctance accepts.

A bond grows between the two to the point where the line between teacher and student blurs as each is able to inspire and improve the other.

But with a darkness growing it could bring an end to both our world and the world of the beasts.

Written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, The Boy and the Beast is a charming and wonderfully animated tale that blends the real with the fantastical using traditional 2D animation enhanced with some nifty computer graphics.

The story moves and twists and turns in unexpected but always gripping ways as Kyuta grows from a young smart mouthed youngster to a strong willed tough young adult all the while Kumatetsu is bellowing and barking at everyone within earshot.

The DVD includes both the original language and English dub and the voice-work on both is great even though we all know #SubsNotDubs.

It has been a cracking few years for animation with the likes of Your Name, The Red Turtle and My Life as a Courgette and The Boy and the Beast sits nicely along with them.

In conclusion, warm, emotional and wonderfully animated The Boy and the Beast is out on DVD, Digital Download and Blu-ray from the 4th of September.

Monday, 28 August 2017

The Limehouse Golem - Review

Gothically grizzly.

1880 London and a series of gruesome murders are taking place with a mythical creature stalking the streets is presumed to be the perpetrator of these crimes and Inspector John Kildare (Bill Nighy) has been tasked to uncover the truth.

Meanwhile an actress Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke) charged with the murder of her husband could be the only person able to help Kildare with his case to uncover the identity of the so-called Limehouse Golem.

Directed by Juan Carlos Medina The Limehouse Golem has all the obligatory foggy, shadowy, dark moodiness required for this sort of Gothic yarn.

Played practically straight and poe-faced by a top notch cast only a smattering of moments of lightness shifts the grim tone in what should be a thrilling who-dunnit. Unfortunately it is closer to a mean and moody why-dunnit instead.

The story, almost cyclic in its telling and adapted by Jane Goldman, bounces back at forth from Kildare's search for the Golem and Cree's re-telling of her tragedy filled life that brought her to her current predicament via the bawdy London theatre with star of the show Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), sneaky Aveline Ortega (María Valverde) and the seemingly caring Uncle (Eddie Marsan). As Kildare digs deeper into events instead of uncovering the truth, more secrets and hidden desires of everyone involved is uncovered.

For all the melodramatic courtroom and prison cell sequences and nasty blood and offal drenched crime scenes there is something missing from The Limehouse Golem. Mainly a true sense of mystery. Red herrings are clearly red herrings, the resolution is pretty predictable for anyone paying attention or spent many an hour watching Columbo or practically any TV crime procedural.

A sub-plot involving Kildare's past hints at potential interest but it is seemingly forgotten in favour of watching his mind reconstruct the murders with almost every possible culprit. It becomes less a case of clever detective work and more running out of viable candidates for the Golem.

As ever reliable in watch-ability Nigh performance is subtle and engaging, his face rarely changes emotion as the put upon Inspector dropped into a case he is almost expected to fail at solving, set up as a scapegoat by his career minded superiors for their own ineptitude. Cooke gives yet another immensely watchable performance and gives a very mature and layered performance as a woman trying to define herself beyond her upbringing and gender.

It does offer an alternative at the muliplexes from all the loud, explosion heavy summer fare it is just a shame it is neither as mysterious or murderous as it could have been.

In conclusion, The Limehouse Golem is a great looking, well acted period yarn that won't tax the mind palace of most fans of murder mysteries.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Eat Locals - Review

New British vampire horror flick that doesn't suck.

A group of bloodsucking fiends meet in a cottage in a remote spot of the UK to discuss the future of their kind, feeding quotas and to sort out any issues between them since the last time they me many decades ago.

This is also an opportunity for fresh blood to join the group in the form of unsuspecting Sebastian (Billy Cook) brought into the gathering by the seductive Vanessa (Eve Myles).

Vanessa and moody vamp Henry (Charlie Cox), Daily Mail reading vamp Alice (Annette Crosbie), ancient a$$hole vamp Peter Boniface (Tony Curran), tough talking vamp Angel (Freema Agyeman) and gangster vamp The Duke (Vincent Regan) quickly discover that Sebastian isn't too keen to join the fang club.

Unfortunately while they have their own internal squabbles to sort out a small but heavily armed group of soldiers led by Larousse (Mackenzie Crook) are gathering outside and they intend to wipe out all of the cold blooded fiends before the sun rises.

Regretting not having just used Skype the vampires are left with no other choice but to fight for their very survival as they clearly don't like it up 'em.

Directed by Jason Flemyng and written by Danny King Eat Locals on the surface looks and occasionally sounds exactly like a dozen other low budget horror yarns. Yet Flemyng's debut as a director is a fun rough around the edges black comedy with a dash of horror.

With thankfully no delusions beyond its sub-genre what elevates Eat Locals significantly above lesser flicks is a killer cast complete with some nice cameos, an ambitious director and a script that has wit and intelligence to spare. Yeah it is nonsense but ruddy entertaining nonsense.

Eat Locals is worth seeing just to witness a gun-totting Mrs Meldrew. proving that between all the guns, blood and action there is also plenty of laughs along the way.

During the first ten minutes a discussion on the morality and logic in feeding off of asylum seekers arriving on the British shores adds an element of relevance and for all the undead malarkey grounds it a little in our world.

Making the most of the limited budget the film makes effective use of the talent on and off the screen with a cast that appear to be having fun hamming it up and a witty tone that is on the right side of silly. The Stath is even credited as helping out with the action sequences. In particular a small but well executed set piece featuring Lukaz Leong's Chen is a real highlight between all the carnage.

This isn't going to be a film for everyone, those expecting high art best look elsewhere. Those who like Netflix's Daredevil, Doctor Who, Torchwood or self aware horror comedies should have a lot of fun watching Eat Locals.

In conclusion, even with a couple of curious Dads Army references Eat Locals is cine-literate, funny, bloody and ......bloody funny and will be on limited theatrical release and PVOD from the 1st of September.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Batman and Harley Quinn - Review

Insert obligatory "Holy (something something) Batman" reference here.

When plant loving duo Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) and Floronic Man aka Jason Woodrue (Kevin Michael Richardson) plot to take revenge on humanity for ruining the planet Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Nightwing (Loren Lester) have only one chance of stopping them. Unfortunately that chance is in the form of the one and only Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch).

What could possibly go wrong?

Short answer a heck of a lot but in a very entertaining way.

The latest DC animated movie directed by Sam Liu and written by Bruce Timm and James Krieg will be a true treat and delight for fans of the classic Batman animated series from way back when. Once again the Dark Knight is voiced by Conroy and the animation style is very much in keeping with the original show. Fans of the other great series The Brave and The Bold should also get a kick out of the brilliantly played irreverence for the characters and the lore. There is even a fart gag. Yet it all works.

Tonally it pushes the limits of the 12A certificate with blood, violence and some lewd yet hilarious antics. Warning to parents when viewing this film you may need to explain some of the jokes and situations to your little'uns as the credits roll especially as you'll likely be laughing the loudest at most of Harley Quinn's antics.

Rauch is great as the former Harleen Quinzel, finding humour from practically every line while also giving her a sympathetic side and always ensuring her actions are unpredictable to everyone caught in her whirlwind of crazy.

Supporting characters even get a chance to give a LOL or two, yes - even Batman himself.

At an hour(ish) long the pacing is pretty tight and things move along at a fair rate of knots although a drawn out foot-chase seems to look a little too much like padding but has a witty pay off so it is sorta kinda worth the wait.

A pit-stop for the dynamic duo plus one at a watering hole for criminal sidekicks is practically worth the price of admission alone and filled with in-jokes and references for every Bat-fan to eat up.

The animated yarn doesn't take itself too seriously, yes there is a world ending McGuffin but it always remains secondary to keep focus on the characters and how they interact with each other.

Something the live action DC flicks really need to learn, Wonder Woman aside obviously.

Why Paul Dini and Bruce Timm the great minds behind some of the best movies featuring DC's finest have never been drafted to work on the DCEU is still one of the biggest mysteries to this so-called comic book fanboy. Although I should just be thankful that Timm and co are still able to produce wonderful romps complete with lewd behaviour and kick ass action like Batman and Harley Quinn.

In conclusion, crammed with wit and rude crude behaviour and significantly shorter than Batman Vs Supes, Batman and Harley Quinn make for a damn fun dynamic duo..