Saturday, 23 July 2016

Blair Witch trailer investigation

So Adam Wingard, what have you been up to down in the woods today? The director of You're Next and The Guest has finally put his cards on the table. His movie The Woods is now officially titled Blair Witch and IS a sequel to the original 1999 found footage horror.

The trailer takes us straight back into what looks like psycho hermit Rustin Parr's house way out in the woods of Burkitsville where the Blair Witch is known to lurk. If you don't know the backstory of the Blair Witch, (what do you live under a rock?) then check out the original film's website and the mythology section here.

The found footage point-of-view shot shows a frantic rush around the old house, before it is revealed that this is footage from YouTube which a guy called James is watching. The footage was uploaded by another guy who found a tape in the Black Hills woods. There is the distorted sound of screaming and at 11 seconds into the trailer, there is a person visible in the footage. That's all I can tell you about that.

But then James states to whoever is now filming him, 'I think that might be my sister'. I'm not the only one who immediately thinks.... 'You're sister???' Heather Donahue? Did Heather have a little brother in the original movie? I don't think it was ever mentioned, but then this girl's voice, who I assume is the off-camera camera operator filming this guy says, 'You really think you're sister could still be out there after all these years?' That's 17 years by the way if we're counting and assuming this sequel takes place in the present day.

Yikes! Please tell me Heather is still out there. I know the actress Heather Donahue has been busy growing weed and then writing books about it, but that means she's surely available for a cameo. God that would be a interesting development in the story... maybe.

So the Wikipedia page for the film states that this guy's name is James Donahue, so it definitely is supposed to be Heather's brother, but I don't know if this is 100% confirmed. It looks like James and his five college buddies head out into the woods to search for Heather after finding this YouTube footage. They know the legends, they know about the curse, they know about Elly Kedward a.k.a. The Blair Witch.

So then shit hits the fan as you would expect. Those creepy stick men; they're back and they're bigger. The kids start walking in circles again. Somebody (probably) kicks a map in the creek.

There is a shot of one of the girls with a camera in hand, suggesting that there must be at least two characters that will be carrying cameras, and in the great words of Cloverfield's Hud 'documenting everything'.  I wondered when I first watched this trailer if the film was all going to be found footage. The shot 7 seconds into the trailer suggests that either these college kids have a nice drone for capturing aerial shots (doubt it, though that would be awesome), or the film won't be all found footage, or it's just a nice shot to insert in the trailer but it won't be in the movie. I'm going with that last one.

Well anyway, then the kids start turning on each other and the woods start turning on them as the (hopefully still) invisible witch works her magic on them all. Looks like this film will have a lot more going on in it than the original. I suspect it will be gorier, more graphic and have more than just traipsing around in circles and arguing going on. There's a shot in the trailer that looks as though nature will attack them more than it ever did in the original. I'm talking Evil Dead style trees. And then there's the shots that remind me of The Descent with one of the girls crawling through a whole load of shite to escape from somewhere.

I hope they don't dare show us the Blair Witch and I hope this film keeps up the ambiguity. I'd love it if there was a link back to the original with Heather appearing in some form, but it needs to be ambiguous and it needs to be done well.

Also in the trailer: we have a person standing in the corner facing the wall, hand prints all over the spooky house and the voice of someone apologising. It sounds more like a bloody remake than a sequel when you put it like that.

More than anything, I hope this honours the original by limiting the gore, having no CGI whatsoever and being bloody scary. I don't want to see the witch, I don't want to know exactly what happens at the end and I don't want this to turn into a franchise that goes on and on and on with new batches of disposable teens. I'm already concerned that some of the six characters in the film are simply there to allow for a bigger body count.

I loved Adam Wingard's The Guest so I'm optimistic that this will have some good stuff in it. But I suspect that Wingard probably didn't go into original directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick's 'method directing' techniques and I think that is a huge shame. It will show in the performances, the cinematography and the dialogue and it will make Blair Witch a hell of a lot less believable than The Blair Witch Project is.

What do you think Blair Witch fans? Talk to me... I'm here for you! And please buy my book on The Blair Witch Project.

Here's the Blair Witch trailer:

Blair Witch Sequel Trailer is here!

Blair Witch fans... it's here! After waiting 17 years and ignoring a pretty poor sequel (Book of Shadows) that already came and went, The Blair Witch Project looks like it might be finally getting the sequel it deserves. Formally titles The Woods, it's now been made official. This is a Blair Witch sequel, and frankly it looks wicked!

Here's the trailer:

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Remainder Review

If you like your films a little out of the ordinary, then give Independence Day: Resurgence a miss this weekend and see if you can find a cinema playing Remainder instead. Think Donnie Darko meets Synecdoche, New York and you might be getting an idea of what an oddball little film this is.

Here's a snippet of my review from last year's London Film Festival:

Rushing through a city and pulling a black case behind him, an unnamed man (Tom Sturridge) is hit by falling debris from the sky. After awaking from a coma and going through extensive rehabilitation, he discovers that he has been awarded with £8.5 million to keep quiet about the incident. He is plagued by strange visions of a building, a boy, an old woman and some cats on a roof, and decides to hunt down these elements in order to piece together the fragmented puzzle forming in his head. His recreations are handled by helper Naz and become more elaborate, including eventually the staging of a bank robbery.

Sturridge's character becomes like a filmmaker, manipulating and directing these recreations from his mind, while an ever-expanding roster of 'actors' are employed to carry out the actions and scripts that he envisions. The surreal nature of his visions means he must dress extras in morph suits, have people repetitively play Chopin in the same building and an old lady constantly cook liver so that the smell will waft up to his apartment. He is obsessive in capturing the detail, repeating the process over and over again to the befuddlement of all others involved...

Here's the trailer:

More reviews from I Love That Film:

 The Measure of a Man
The Conjuring 2
Mon Roi
Green Room
Son of Saul
Louder Than Bombs

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Tale of Tales Review: Three Stories For the Price of One!

Do you really need three stories for the price of one?  Tale of Tales thinks so. I wouldn't mind, but apart from being set in the same world, these three have nothing to do with each other. Pulp Fiction this ain't. This film is completely mad, but not in the most satisfying of ways. Here's the synopsis bit of my review:

Based on a 17th century collection of tales by Italian author Giambattista Basile, the film features three different storylines, not all as engaging as each other and never tied together in any satisfactory way. First up, Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly take centre stage as the king and queen of a dusty kingdom where all the entertainers in the land can’t keep the queen from desiring a baby. After a visit from a mysterious hooded figure who offers them the chance of creating offspring, Reilly’s devoted king steps up to the plate and boldly goes to kill off a sea monster in order for his wife to be able to eat the heart and thus, magically conceive. Needless to say, things are never this simple and things soon turn awry.

Meanwhile, Vincent Cassel is a lecherous king who has seemingly used up all the women in his nearby kingdom and is looking for more playmates to be debauched with. After hearing a lone beauty singing beneath his castle walls, he ventures out to find the owner of such a sweet voice. Little does he know, the voice belongs to one of a pair of ugly old crone sisters who may or may not have found their way here after auditioning for Cinderella. Not wanting the king to see them in their decrepit state, they hide behind the door of their home but the king is nothing if not persistent. Then things get really weird.

Finally, Toby Jones is yet another king, whose only daughter he dotes on until the day he discovers he has a talented flea who has taken a shine to him. While the flea grows into his beloved pet, his teen daughter wants to find a prince, but gets more than she bargained for when her father makes a dubious choice by giving her to an ogre.

If you want to read what I really thought of all this, head to Tastic Film now to read my full review of Tale of Tales from the Cannes Film Festival.

Here's the trailer:

More recent reviews from I Love That Film:

The Measure of a Man

The Conjuring 2

Mon Roi

Green Room

Son of Saul

Louder Than Bombs

Hardcore Henry

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Measure of a Man Review

The film that won Vincent Lindon the Best Actor award at Cannes in 2015 is finally released in UK cinemas this weekend. The Measure of a Man is a challenging watch, but worth the effort. Here's a snippet of my review:

Last year in Cannes, it was Marion Cotillard and the Dardennes brothers examining contemporary workplace relations in Two Days, One Night. That razor sharp, but repetitive critique of the ills of modern corporate practices is bested this year by The Measure of a Man which finds its unemployed protagonist facing a moral dilemma when he finds a new job working in shop security.

We meet 51 year old Thierry mid conversation at the job centre, frustrated by the pointless course he has recently wasted his time completing in order to find that there are no jobs waiting for him at the end of it. Along with his wife, Thierry has a disabled son who he wants to put through further education. Money is tight, and after meeting with his bank manager, Thierry grows increasingly desperate to find employment. After rejections, humiliation and disappointment, he finds work in surveillance and security at a supermarket. But when required to spy on his fellow workers, Thierry may be pushed to act in opposition to his morals.

To read more of my review of The Measure of a Man, head to Tastic Film now.

Here's the trailer:

More recent reviews from I Love That Film:

The Conjuring 2

Mon Roi

Green Room

Son of Saul

Louder Than Bombs

Hardcore Henry

Friday, 3 June 2016

The Conjuring 2 Review

James Wan returns to horror after conjuring Paul Walker back from the grave in Fast and Furious 7. People loved The Conjuring, so it's no surprise to see a sequel. But as someone who found the original film a little bit average, I was surprised to find The Conjuring 2 so scary. It's great to have Wan back working in the genre that made him! Here's a snippet of my review:

"Never play with Ouija boards. Unfortunately, the kids in the 1977-set The Conjuring 2 will have been too young to see The Exorcist, so inevitably they unleash a demonic force in their home when they mess with a homemade hotline to unfriendly spirits. Janet Hodgson lives with her single mother and three siblings in a rundown house in Enfield. When Janet starts to go bump in the night by being lifted out of her bed and planted downstairs in the living room, paranormal investigators the Warrens travel to England to see if they can help.
This isn't supposed to be your average haunting. The fact that the Hodgson family are poor and English is supposed to make a difference. But actually, they still live in a typical house with large bedrooms full of things to smash, a living room with a spooky rocking chair in the corner, and the all-important set of stairs that can creak whenever anything (supernatural or otherwise) steps on them. The accents might be different and the walls could do with a lick of paint, but this is still your average haunted house movie..."

To read more of this review of The Conjuring 2, head to Starburst Magazine now!

Watch the trailer below:

More recent reviews from I Love That Film:

Mon Roi

Green Room

Son of Saul

Louder Than Bombs

Hardcore Henry

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Attack of the Werewolves - Blu-Ray Review

Feel pity for the low budget horror comedy.  Not only does it have to be scary, but it also has to make you laugh; it’s not easy to do either.  Evil Dead 2 nailed it where many others have failed.  Shaun of the Dead hits the funny bone, has a nice bit of gore but doesn’t try to scare you.  An American Werewolf in London balances mirth with mayhem like a professional but in general, horror comedies tread a too thin line between making us feel fear and making us chuckle; one is just bound to cancel the other out.

Following successful efforts of the last few years such as Tucker & Dale vs Evil, Rubber and Cabin in the Woods, comes a Spanish entry into the comedy-horror hybrid genre.  Re-titled from the original Lobos de Arga into Game of Werewolves (why?) and then finally to Attack of the Werewolves (does what is says on the tin), this film is almost as confused as the people tasked with giving it an English title.

Beginning promisingly with an explicit graphic novel style introduction featuring plenty of sex and death, the film then flashes forward to commence with the story of Tomás (Gorka Otxoa).  The animated opening sets up a small rural village and a gypsy curse that befell it a hundred years ago due to some raunchy hanky-panky and gratuitous murder.  In the present, Tomás is a writer from the village of Arga who left when he was fifteen to live in Madrid and is now returning for a celebration in his honour.  On arrival, Tomás learns that he has actually been invited back to the village so the locals can spill his blood and finally lift the curse.

The early scenes are slow and sadly humourless before the pace picks up, the sinister locals show their true colours and the film transforms into a jolly romp featuring more werewolves than you can shake a stick at (or throw a stick for, as one character tries to do).  The film fails spectacularly to approach scary but the comedy does emerge as the quirky characters find themselves under increasing threat.

The interplay between Tomás, his literary agent Mario and his old best friend Calisto is occasionally very funny with the relationships being strained even as the werewolves multiply. Their methods for dealing with the dangerous situation are comical at best, and silly at worst, but do raise frequent smiles. Watch out for a great scene involving alcohol, severed fingers and a dog. 

The introduction of new characters comes a little late in the game but one in particular, the Guardia Civil (Luis Zahera) manages to make a memorable entrance and despite limited screen time, gets the big laughs. It’s a shame he wasn’t introduced earlier.

The make up and effects are refreshingly old-school with the werewolves being quite impressive creations and the inventive gore being very effective. The transformations are skilfully shot and edited resulting in a package that often looks better than its budget deserves.

It’s just a shame the film takes a while to get going and the gag rate is so hit and miss. With a title like Attack of the Werewolves you know what to expect and if you’re just after a bunch of old-school hairy beasts that aren’t created through hideously bad CGI or turning into bare-chested pretty boys like Taylor Lautner every five minutes, then this might just be the film for your Saturday night with a six-pack. Then again it’s Spanish and subtitled so you might want to take it easy on that six-pack.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues Review

Knights of Columbus! The news team return in Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues after nine long years away. In keeping with the lengthy delay, this time it's the 80s; the hair is bigger, the music is arguably better and audiences of America are getting noticeably dumber. Can the second film be as instantly quotable as its predecessor?

Ron and Veronica are now married with an angelic little boy named Walter and co-anchoring the news from New York. Harrison Ford (in the first of one of many starry cameos) wades in as the station boss, quickly giving Burgundy the boot and Veronica a promotion. Six months later Burgundy has walked out on his family and is sozzled and suicidal at SeaWorld but soon called back into service by new 24 hour news channel GNN. Getting the old team of Champ, Brian and Brick back together is easy, but competing with the younger and better looking news teams at GNN is the tricky part.

In Anchorman 2, Burgundy, like Will Ferrell, is stuck in the good old glory days of the past and sadly often resorts to repeating himself. Scenes where he entertains kids while drunk, or ice skates suspiciously majestically or wrestles with vicious animals all feel familiar from previous Ferrell films. Anchorman 2 doesn't completely repeat everything that made the first film a success but it certainly doesn't feel as fresh as its predecessor. The anarchic delight of throwing any surreal improvised gag at the screen produces plenty of laughs but there are also plenty of lazy scraping the bottom of the barrel jokes.

While being incredibly silly, Anchorman 2 also dabbles with having something to say. With 24 hour news being the new name of the game and Ron desperate to gain bigger ratings than his new rival Jack Lime (a scene stealing James Marsden), the content of the show gets cruder, stupider and pointedly patriotic. Kittens, crack and car chases are the order of the day with Ron pushing the boundaries of what can be called broadcast journalism and helping to dumb down the entire nation Fox News style. The news team talk down to their audience and the flag waving patriots lap it up.

Anchorman 2 is actually best when  critiquing the decline of the news, parodying its graphics, stupidity and endless sensationalism, but on the other hand spends too much time in thrall to its idiotic central star.

Burgundy has a developing relationship with his young son, an extended period of blindness and isolation in a lighthouse and as a result the rest of the news team feel short changed. Burgundy's blundering ways with his African American boss (who inexplicably becomes his lady friend) and her family might give some good, if painfully obvious laughs, but the journey of Ron from selfish buffoon to responsible father detracts from the rest of the news team. Paul Rudd and David Koechner are underused and while Steve Carrell's loveable moron Brick gets a brilliantly silly subplot involving love interest Kristen Wiig, this is still very much the legend of Ron Burgundy, not the entire news team.

With Burgundy backed up by a supporting cast of crazy characters and cameos this good, it is a shame to waste so many moments on the pompous ass that is Ron Burgundy. If the legend continues in a 90s set threequel, more of Brick, Fantana and Champ and a little less Burgundy might not go astray.

Monday, 23 May 2016

My King / Mon Roi Review ( Starring Vincent Cassel)

There is a creeping sense of familiarity when watching Mon Roi, a drama that examines the complexity of the relationship between a husband and wife over ten years. Luckily though, Mon Roi never feels like ten years to watch, and in detailing the ups and downs of a modern marriage, it demands attention throughout. You can always depend on Vincent Cassel for a terrific performance and Mon Roi may just be one of his best yet, even to those with extraordinarily high expectations of the actor.

Mon Roi tells the story of the turbulent relationship of Tony (Emmanuelle Bercot) and Georgio (Vincent Cassel), as Tony reminisces on the high and lows of her marriage while recuperating at a physiotherapy facility with a broken leg. The pair meet (in flashbacks) after Tony has already freed herself from one previous marriage, and Georgio’s charm and charisma win her over easily. Much to her brother’s vocal disapproval, Tony and Georgio fall madly in love, marry and have a child together. While in the present, Tony makes slow progress in getting her leg working again, she looks back at what went wrong in her marriage and reflects on the love she may still feel for Georgio.

Mon Roi means My King and it is an apt title for this story of one woman’s inability to move on from the problematic love of her life. Tony can be a frustrating character for not being able to see Georgio for what he truly is, and for constantly ending up back in his bed, even after it is clear he is an arch manipulator. The strength of Mon Roi lies in making Tony sympathetic throughout, even if she does make some poor decisions. Her love for Georgio is unquestionable and to writer and director Maiwenn’s credit, it is almost completely convincing that Tony would keep coming back for more from Georgio.

Vincent Cassel’s perfect performance is fearless in its deconstruction of this character. Cassel excels at the beginning of the film, showing exactly why Tony would fall in love with Georgio. He is funny, successful and devoted to Tony; that is until one of his exes slits her wrists and cracks start to develop in their relationship. Cracks become fissures and soon, with a baby on the way, the compatibility of these once joyful lovers is called seriously into question.

Cutting back and forth between the past and present makes Mon Roi a well-paced and involving drama at just over two hours in length. The scenes of Tony having physical therapy are quick and concise, until later in the film when she develops some friendships with the other patients with leg injuries. Director Maiwenn flits through the relationship; it’s like having a peek inside Tony’s memories as she attempts to heal her leg and her heart. Watching these characters grow, and more worryingly, repeat their same previous mistakes again and again is never a chore. The concern for the child growing up between them is felt more keenly as the film progresses, especially as it becomes clearer just how calculating and cold Georgio can be. It’s impressive that Cassel manages to keep his character from being utterly and irreparably infuriating.

The flawed characters make Mon Roi very convincing. This is a relationship plucked straight from the real world and by the conclusion, Maiwenn's story has a brief but potent tug at the heart strings. In a final scene of the film, her direction, the cinematography and Emmanuelle Bercot’s terrific performance culminate in a heart wrenching moment of clarity. The message is clear; you cannot choose who you fall in love with, though life could be so much simpler if only there was an off-switch for these feelings. It’s not an outstanding film but it packs an emotional punch without resorting to tragedy.

Watch the trailer:


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

A Night in the Woods DVD Review

Fed up of found footage films?  Wish they would just stay lost in the woods?  Well this British Blair Witch from director Richard Parry isn’t going to do much to get you back on board as it’s more likely to leave your stomach churning from another shaky-cam extravaganza.  

That said, if you enjoyed the last couple of Paranormal Activity films or any other number of lazily shot and scripted found footage horrors from the atrocious The Devil Inside to 2010’s marginally better The Last Exorcism, you could do worse than this well-acted little shocker.

While A Night in the Woods adds nothing to the already saturated found footage sub-genre like, say, the super powered capers of Chronicle, it does have a vaguely interesting threesome of lead characters, admirably played by capable actors who improvised much of the dialogue.  We first meet brash American Brody (MonstersScoot McNairy) and his beautiful British girlfriend Kerry (Anna Skellern) as they prepare for a camping trip to Dartmoor’s Wistman’s Woods, stopping off along the way to pick up Kerry’s cousin Leo (Andrew Hawley).

The character dynamics are the most interesting element of the film and it feels as though more thrills, twists and turns and a far greater sense of dread could have been gleaned from the odd love triangle that develops between a boy, his girl and her cousin.  Yes that sounds weird but there are surprises in store as to the motivations of some of the characters and even who one claims to be.
Brody is amiable and amusing as the American belittling Britain’s Stonehenge in favour of his own country’s Grand Canyon and taking an instant dislike to the lothario Leo for reasons that become increasingly clear.  But as the woods grow darker and the night gets longer, it is clear that Leo isn’t the only one with things to hide.

The found footage technique is justified continuously by dialogue between the characters.  Kerry complains about Brody’s need to film everything.  Leo has even brought his own camera along for the trip allowing perspective to shift between the two characters’ cameras and finally to Kerry as she takes one of the cameras herself.  They watch previously filmed footage on laptops and an iPod, giving the film a clever way of showing revealing flashbacks about the characters.  It has to be said that this is actually not a bad looking film (for found footage) with the opening half particularly having some very attractive cinematography from DOP Simon Dennis.

It’s just a shame that it all descends into sub-Blair Witch running around in the woods, screaming hysterically, and getting bumped over the head by unseen forces, perhaps local legend ‘The Huntsman’.  These found footage films work best when a light on the camera illuminates the dark night, heavy breathing can be heard from the camera operator, and someone can be heard screaming in the distance. But when so many other films have done this to death, these scenes now drag and become quickly repetitive.  

It’s a blessing found footage films are so short as this one, like so many before it, fills most of the last twenty of its eighty minutes with shaky camera footage of the trees blurring past as a girl screams from behind the camera.  The first half’s interesting character relationships give way to something much less exciting but still a cut above many of the other found footage horrors of recent years.

See it if you like this sort of thing and you’re not looking for anything fresh, but if you’ve had enough of found footage, you’ll probably wish they never picked up the camera in the first place.