Sunday, 30 October 2011

Tucker and Dale vs Evil (Eli Craig, 2010) Review

 Surprisingly enjoyable silly horror comedy with nods to classics like Evil Dead and Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  When college kids meet hillbillies in the woods, chaos ensues.

But these college kids aren't your average bunch of slasher fodder.  And these hillbillies aren't trying to rape or kill anybody.

In fact Tucker and Dale are the nicest characters on offer and all genre cliches are flipped, reversed and mocked in this gory but funny film.

Sexist but sweet, the film clocks in at under an hour and a half but still manages to slightly outstay its welcome come the inevitable final showdown. 

Alan Tudyk is reliable as ever, but the real star is Tyler Labine as Dale.  The teens are adequate, but the actresses and female characters are severely short changed, with the exception of Katrina Bowden as Allison who at least gets some good scenes before being relegated to damsel in distress status.

Nevertheless it's fun and quite clever and does something original with the tired hillbilly, cabin in the woods, teen slasher sub-genres.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Bellflower (Evan Glodell, 2011) trailer

Is this the perfect movie trailer?

Cars skidding, cool music, a confident girl, quick cuts, cool quotes, slow-mo screeching and grubby but stunning cinematography.  And to top it all off, I've got no idea what the film's actually about!  Sweet!

Boy meets girl.  Boy likes flamethrowers and cars.  That's all you get in terms of narrative and quite frankly that's all I need.  How many times do you watch a trailer and feel as though you know the entire story, have seen all the best bits and really don't need to actually see the whole film?

But it's also the critics' quotes that are absolutely vital  in this piece of excellent marketing:

'I haven't been able to stop thinking about it'  from ''.
'Hallucinatory' from 'Rolling Stone'.
Comparisons with Fight Club(!), John Hughes and Mad Max from 'MSN'.
'An explosive, outrageous and dynamic first film' from 'Hammer to Nail'

From those little nuggets of critical gold, I've never wanted to see a film so much in my life!  The best films are those that I often say will 'change your life' but not being able to stop thinking about it is the next best thing and this trailers already firmly planted itself in my head.  Comparing it to Fight Club is obviously going to attract all those people who were blown away by that life-changing film and the revealing of Bellflower as the directors first film is also enticing.  How many first films have been the masterpiece that their directors are unlikely to ever top?  I'm thinking La Haine, American Beauty... even Citizen Kane!

Director (and star) Evan Glodell has experience as a cinematographer and there seems to be an interesting story to how the film got its distinctive look.  The film 'was shot on a homemade camera created by cinematographer Joel Hodge and writer/director/star Evan Glodell out of vintage parts'.  If you want to see the contraption they created and a brief video about how it works, go here.

Finally it's the use of music that I love about this trailer.  Great changes in tempo, mood and style at critical parts of the trailer and Secrets by Small Town Zeros is particularly fittingly filthy!

I don't know about anyone else but I prey this film gets a wide release in the UK.  If you're only half convinced by the trailer, check out the epic poster here!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Joseph Gordon-Levitt Rises

You might think I just saw a band wagon rushing past.  Is that the 'Loving Joseph Gordon-Levitt' bandwagon I cried as it shot by me bursting at the seams?  Yes it was and though it's been filling up rapidly for years now and picking up speed like it picks up passengers, it's definitely time I jumped on board and yelled his name from the rooftops.

But why now?  Well for me it's less the successes of the last couple of years.  Inception had him scrambling around in a revolving corridor in probably the best fight scene of the decade and 500 Days of Summer had him moping through probably the best romantic comedy I've ever seen.

But JGL's upcoming slate is the real reason I'm getting so excited now.  Nolan's trilogy-closer The Dark Knight Rises is obviously going to be huge but with so much secrecy surrounding it and JGL's character John Blake not being well-known from the comics, it's hard to know how big a role he'll be playing.  With Bane and Catwoman to fight against, and Commisioner Gordon out of action, perhaps JGL's cop will be a vital ally for Batman.  We'll see.  This trailer certainly doesn't have any answers:

Less exciting but still proving his importance and popularity in Hollywood right now is Gordon-Levitt's casting as Abraham Lincoln's son in Spielberg's long-awated biopic.  Lincoln is played by Daniel Day-Lewis and so it should be a huge treat to see these two multi-hyphenates perform together.

But I digress.  The real reason for writing here is that JGL is in two of the most exciting films of 2012.  Rian Johnson's Looper re-teams the star with his director on high-school neo-noir Brick.  This was the film that way back in 2005 really brought JGL to the attention of so many.  Released soon after the grim and critically-acclaimed, but far from mainstream, Mysterious Skin, these films cemented JGL as a new king of cool indie films.

Looper however sees the star and director go mainstream.  With Bruce Willis, time travel and a clever sounding premise that the director has compared to the Terminator films, this ones got me dribbling with anticipation.  The synopsis on IMDB sums it up as 'A killer who works for the mob of the future recognizes one of his targets as his future self.'  A few more details are available over at Dark Horizons.  As soon as there's a trailer, I'll be posting.  There is a pic here.

Then later in the year will be the release of Tarantino's Django Unchained where JGL will be starring with Leo DiCaprio and Jamie Foxx.  After Inglorious Basterds and letting the let downs of Kill Bill Vol.2 and Death Proof fade into distant memory, I'm super excited for this.  Tarantino and DiCaprio and now JGL for good measure.  This can't fail surely.  Apparently it's about 'a slave-turned-bounty hunter who sets out to rescue his wife from the brutal Calvin Candie, a Mississippi plantation owner'.  No trailer as yet.

But for those who need a JGL fix sooner, watch out for this one.  50/50 is released in the UK in late November and looks like a very funny but potentially very moving drama.  Starring Seth Rogen and JGL, it's about a young man diagnosed with cancer and given a 50/50 chance of survival.  It could be incredibly bad taste but judging by the trailer, it looks like a great comedy drama with a quality lead performance from Gordon-Levitt.  And here's the trailer:

So 50/50, Looper and Django Unchained.  If the JGL bandwagon has any room left, get on board now before it's too late.  2012's going to be huge.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Big Society

Sitting at the LFF yesterday listening to the discussion about Fact VS Fiction, I was desperate to ask the panel how they felt about the current horror mock-doc trend in cinema.  But I felt it might be a little far out of the topic as mostly the discussion had been about documentaries and fiction films based on real events/characters.  No mention of mock-docs or horror.

Luckily the guy next to me raised the question.  Wary of the term mockumentary, he asked what the panel thought about films that fake authenticity.  He mentioned that he had just completed his own short film and that it was similar to the form of Man Bites Dog

As this is one of the focus films of my PhD thesis, I thought I'd catch him at the end of the discussion and get his name and the name of his film.  I'm glad I did.

The guy sitting next to me was Jonathan Rhodes and his film which he starred in, produced and co-wrote is Big Society.  Directed and co-written by Nick Scott, it is a great little short.  Similar in form to films like Man Bites Dog, The Magician and The Last Horror Movie, it looks at one man's controversial approach to tackling social issues.  It has a vital, interesting message with an engaging central performance and lead character.  See it below and let me know what you think:

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Fact VS Fiction at the London Film Festival

Tonight I've got tickets to the BFI London Film Festival. In previous years I have been up to see a Q&A with notorious director of cinematic headfucks Irreversible and Enter the Void, Gaspar Noe to find out if he is more dribbling madman or groundbreaking artist. Another year I saw the lovely creator of Wallace and Gromit, Nick Park to hear about how he got into animation. But this year I'm heading to the festival to hear 'a discussion on the line between fact and fiction with filmmakers from this year's programme'.

'Panellists confirmed so far include directors Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void), Asif Kapadia (Senna, Far North), Carol Morley (Dreams of a Life, Edge) and Marc Evans (Hunky Dory).'

Kevin Macdonald is a bit of a hero of mine after Life in a Day.  I've banged on about it on this blog a couple of times now.  He's a great documentary maker but I'm not a massive fan of his fiction feature films like The Last King of Scotland.  I will be very curious to hear why he decides to shoot some films as documentaries and some as fiction films.

I'm hoping that the discussion may also touch on questions relevant to my PhD.  Why are so many recent horror filmmakers playing with the mock-doc format?  It seems like barely a month goes by without an addition to this sub-genre.  Most recently Apollo 18 took horror mock-docs into space and the upcoming Paranormal Activity 3 will likely show there is still high demand for films following this trend.

The director of Senna, Asif Kapadia, is also going to be there and I hear this is an excellent documentary.  It also ties into my interest in cinematic depictions of death.  Many horror mock-docs relish in killing the characters in front of and behind the cameras and presenting this as real footage.  This documentary presents the real footage of Senna's death, perhaps making it cinematic snuff.  Is real death something to include in films sold for entertainment?

Michael Moore has used the moment the second plane hit the WTC in Bowling for Columbine.  This was also a moment of murder.  Do documentary makers have more license to show the truth?  Even the truth of death?  Is it their responsibility to show reality?  Even the reality of death?  And are horror filmmakers capitalising on the increase of 'real deaths' in documentary and TV when making mock-docs?

Anyway it will be interesting to here from these filmmakers.  I hope the discussion will shed some light on 'what motivates the decision to present a story as documentary or fiction'.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Flawed Horse

I'm very very far from being the world's biggest theatre fan so when I heard Spielberg was adapting the play of War Horse into a blockbuster movie, I was thrilled to find out I wouldn't have to sit through two hours of puppets and thespians on a stage to see this epic story.  Ok so I could have hunted down the book but I'd heard it was y'know... for kids.

But then I was given tickets to see War Horse the play at the New London Theatre.  Initally I was skeptical.  But War Horse blew me away.  The puppets in this production are breathtaking, mind-boggling creations.  Along with with their devoted puppeteers who seem to be acting through the life-size puppets, the horses give astonishing performances, their movements right down to simply breathing are unbelievably realistic.  From a farmyard goose that gets big laughs to the young, old and starving horses that are at the centre of the narrative to the jaw-dropping tanks at the end, the theatre production is awe-inspiring, cinematic and incredibly emotional.

So in December, Spielberg releases his long-awaited adaptation and I can't help but worry.  The story was certainly not the best thing about the theatre production.  The puppets were.  This is one play that might just remain the definitive version of the War Horse story.

But perhaps I should stop being such a conservative soul and wait and see.  Spielberg is the master of cinema, rarely putting a foot wrong.  He's given us the horrors of war (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List), the emotinal connection of a boy and his non-human companion (E.T.) and plenty of great horse-riding action in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  He's surrounded himself with a great cast of mostly Brits and let's face it, it can't be anywhere near as bad as that last bloody Indy film.

It makes me wonder though, what other plays should have been left in the theatre.  With The Woman in Black out in February, will this be another flawed adaptation or just another reason to choose cinema over the theatre?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Real Steel (Shawn Levy, 2011) Review

Jackman’s a jackass but the boy and his ‘bot got real heart.

It’s commendable how much of an asshole a Hollywood star like Jackman is willing to play here.  Ok, so there are no points for guessing if Jackman’s down on his luck robot boxing promoter Charlie is going to change his ways by the end of the movie.  But for a good forty minutes of the film, you’ll probably find yourself wondering how the hell the director, screenwriter and star are going to make a single audience member give an ounce of sympathy for this most unsympathetic of schmuks.

But in good old Rocky style, you will undoubtedly be cheering on the underdog when it comes to the David vs Goliath robot boxing match that is the climax of the film. 

The central relationship between Charlie and his estranged son Max is believable as is the setting of the not-too distant or unfamiliar future.  Kids still have daddy issues (especially kids who have dads like Charlie) and all that seems to have changed is that robot boxing is the sport of the future.

The robots are a brilliantly seamless blend of puppetry and CG effects and when Max discovers a battered boxing droid discarded (as he once was by his own jackass dad), the plot kicks into motion.

It’s an enjoyable but predictable ride with Dakota Goyo impressive as the justifiably antsy kid.  Jackman carries the film with his detestable Dad and a surprisingly convincing character arc.  Lost’s ‘Freckles’ (Evangeline Lilly) is wasted in a very similar way to her recent cameo in The Hurt Locker.  She needs to find a new agent that won’t leave her cheering on the action from the side lines.

The robot fights are realistically rendered but it’s the father-son relationship that makes this film the real deal.  Great for families.  It’s out 14th October.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Centipede Unleashed

The BBFC have decided to reverse the ban on Human Centipede 2.  After making 2 minutes and 37 seconds of cuts, the film will be released in the UK.

Guess what?  Now the film has recieved countless words written on it in the press, all that free publicity will probably have doubled or tripled its potential audience.  The trailers have bigged up the fact it was banned and the next trailers will probably big up the fact its been cut.

So the damage has been done.   I'm probably the millionth person to comment on this and I'm sure I won't be the last.  Hardcore horror fans will no doubt still be scouring the web for an uncut version, but the rest will now be able to get a reasonable idea of what all the fuss is about when they see th edited version on DVD.

Reviews suggest it's a poor film that would have likely been seen by very few.  But after all this controversy, it's a film that so many like me will feel they have to see now if they want to consider themselves a credible horror connoiseur.

Well at least now it's got a release, perhaps we can all stop banging on about it!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Footloose (Craig Brewer, 2011) Review

I admit I went into this rehash expecting to hate it. I watched the trailer and cringed. I watched the 1984 original trailer and my heart went out to all the fans of Kevin Bacon and his classic 80s rendition of the film. I thought of how I would feel if some hack director for hire dared to remake 1985’s The Breakfast Club or The Goonies or Back to the Future.

Just think… if 1984’s Footloose can be remade in 2011, all these classics could be despoiled for 2012 audiences. That’s next freaking year! So if you want to avoid this (and the unleashing of Armageddon with it), don’t, whatever you do, pay to see this remake in the cinema. It will only encourage Hollywood to keep sacrificing originality at the altar of making a quick and (relatively) easy buck.

That said, I have a few admissions to make:
  1. I’ve never seen the original Footloose. Kevin Bacon is great but dancing movies just aren’t my thing so it was never really on my list of missed classics that I had to watch.
  2. Like I said I don’t particularly like dancing films or even musicals or teen romances. So I’ve never seen Save the Last Dance, Honey, Stomp the Yard, You Got Served or even West Side Story.
  3. I actually thoroughly enjoyed the Footloose remake.

Why? Well I’m sure most of these reasons extend to the original. The dancing’s great. The story (though a little ridiculous) is involving and the characters engaging. The forces of religion and the law versus the kids of the small town make for a compelling and righteous battle between order and chaos. In this age of the curtailing of civil liberties under the guise of protecting us from evil, perhaps this remake is actually rather relevant.

Dennis Quaid is always very good value, no matter how poor the script but his character here is well-rounded and sympathetic even when banning dancing and public gatherings.

The two leads look pretty and dance like pros and while Julianne Hough (how’s that pronounced???) spends much of the film looking like she’s on a modeling shoot, emotions run high in climactic conflicts with her father (Quaid).

Comparing the two trailers, it looks like the remake has slavishly stuck to the original’s template in terms of characters, narrative and even specific shots so this is probably another ridiculously pointless remake along the lines of Gus Van Sant’s Psycho. However audiences like me who have never seen the original will no doubt be sucked in by the good story, great dancing and even better music.

If your toes aren’t tapping by the finale, you’re either a fuming fan of the original or your feet must be nailed to the floor. It’s out October 14th and is definitely worth a watch. But before you shell out… please heed my warning. The Breakfast Club could be next.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Test Screenings

Touchy subject in the film industry this. Test screenings are happening more and more these days with producers insisting that filmmakers get feedback from audiences before releasing their films commercially.

Some filmmakers refuse. Terry Gilliam for example. Put some of his old films in front of an average audience and they may not have ever seen the light of day. Spielberg doesn't do them. His films always make money. The distributors of Paranormal Activity used footage of test screenings in the trailer for the film. They also changed the ending due to audience feedback.

What's the point? Audience research. Producers want to ensure the film appeals to the widest possible audience. So they screen the film early, get the audience to fill in a questionnaire and then they make changes. Maybe the film needs to be shortened to a more manageable length. Maybe some scenes are not working, some sub-plots are unnecessary or some effects look shabby.

But is this fair on filmmakers who shed blood, sweat and tears for the film? Has their soveriegnty been taken away unfairly? Does the film belong to a director or the investors? It's understandable that producers, financers, investors want to see a film make money and I'm sure most directors want everyone to get paid. But isn't the money being put into the filmmaker as much as the film? Isn't their some trust in the filmmaker's creativity and vision?

Are audiences really experts on film anyway? I'm sure many would argue that audiences are the perfect people to be giving the filmmakers feedback. After all we are the ones that are going to pay to watch the film. We watch films. We know what we like and what we don't like.

But looking at the questionnaire after attending a test screening on Tuesday (04/10/11), I started to wonder about the range of responses Revolver Entertainment would be getting from us. As a media teacher I like to think I know a fair bit about film, narrative, scriptwriting, production etc. I tried to make my responses reflect this. But I'm not sure that I'm even the target audience for this film so are my responses valid? And I found it very hard to fill out the form thoughtfully and carefully. I wonder if others had more or less trouble.

Anyway I signed a non-disclosure form without reading it so I'm assuming I'm not allowed to say anything about the film. I don't know if I can even mention that the film is being test screened. However the film in question will be released in February and I was told that that they are trying to cut the length of it down by around 40 minutes. I can't imagine what this is like for the filmmakers. I could only identify a couple of scenes that I felt were unnecessary. So I can't say much because the film will change.

All I will say is the music is unsurprisingly outstanding and the opening credits blew me away. So I hope they stay as they were. It's a grim, gritty film and an extremely promising directorial debut. The narrative structure and many of the stylistic techniques of the film were excellent in this early cut. The writer/director just added another talent to his already glowing career.

In completely unrelated news:

Ben Drew a.k.a. Rap/Soul artist Plan B says:

"there’ll also be my first full-length film, which I’m titling ‘Ill Manors’”, he adds: “Which is a hip hop, music-based feature film which has six short stories that all kinda mix together to make one BIG story - and each mini-story will be represented by a different hip hop track. It’ll all be narrated by me, and it’ll actually be the reverse of ‘The Defamation Of Strickland Banks’ - in that with ‘Ill Manors’ the film will come out first and the soundtrack will come afterwards. And again the soundtrack will be a film for the blind, in that you’ll be able to listen to it and it’ll tell you the story of the film…" (

Albatross Review and Q&A

Introducing a new mega-star: Jessica Brown Findlay. Some films are destined to remain in the shadows of the stars they create. Albatross is one of those films.

The story follows Emelia, a rebellious, seductive and intelligent teenager played by Brown Findlay. Taking a job as a cleaner at a guest house, Emelia befriends the teen daughter of the house, begins an affair with the husband and gets scowled at by the wife and mother of the family who live there.

Alternating between comedy and drama, the film has an awkward tone. The writer Tamzin Rafn claims it was written as a comedy but there are only occasional really funny moments. Instead, it is the drama that is more gripping with a range of characters who are trapped in miserable lives in a beautiful but dead-end location. Filmed with a great eye for scenery on the breathtaking coast of the Isle of Man by director of photography Jan Jonaeus, the narrative takes in the kids on the beaches, the family in the guest house and most notably Emelia and new friend Beth. But these disparate people all appear confined and resigned to unfulfilling and dissappointing existences.

Emelia's snarky way with words brightens and amuses what could be a depressing film. There are laughs to be had and there is hope for a better life for many of the characters, but the film is dealing with some serious issues like Alzheimers, suicide and unfulfilled potential. Perhaps director Niall MacCormick saw an opportunity to inject more drama into what could have been a fluffier lightweight British comedy and went for it.

The cast are all excellent, Sebastan Koch all guilty nervous ticks, Julia Ormond neglected, spiteful and probably the saddest character in the story. But Felicity Jones and Jessica Brown Findlay carry the weight of the film and are believable opposites, angel and devil, bookworm and loose cannon. Brown Findlay particularly shines with comic delivery of vicious put-downs but also scenes of more hefty emotional weight. It is the moments spent with Emelia's grand parents that help to explain the actions of this troubled young woman and will keep audiences sympathising with what could have been a one-dimensional typical teen tearaway.

See it for the scenery, the performances and for the drama. Witness the making of a star!

Writer Tamzin Rafn and star Jessica Brown Findlay attended a screening and answered questions from the assembled audience on Monday (03/10/11) night. Thanks to LoveFilm as always for another great opportunity to hear from the people involved.