Saturday, 30 April 2011

Insidious review - Need a scary movie? Look no "Further"!

Last week I bemoaning the lack of quality scary movies in recent years... so thank the maker(s) of Saw for Insidious which was a good old-fashioned scare-fest.
The horror genre has taken a lot of flak recently for producing nothing but a stream of torture porn films or PG-13 remakes of classic or Asian horror films, and whilst Insidious doesn't really break any new ground, it shows that what really counts when making a scary movie is the execution.
Insidious focuses on Josh (Patrick Wilson), Renai (Rose Byrne) and their three children as they move into a new house only for their son Dalton to fall into a coma after an accident.  They start to see strange things but it turns out "it's not the house that's haunted... it's your son".
Reviewers might scoff at the haunted house/possessed child storyline, saying its been done to death, or the appearance of such horror cliches as a screeching violin soundtrack, creepy children, randomly opening and closing doors, etc.
However I would argue that these complaints are unnecessary because I want to watch a horror movie that terrifies and unsettles you, and James Wan & Leigh Whannell deliver scares by the bucket-load because of the fact that they are fans of the genre and knows exactly what works and how to generate a good scare.
Hitchcock once said that "there is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it".  When done correctly, a good "jump" scare works because it is a release from the suspense that has been building in the scene.  Modern horror filmmakers seem to have forgotten this and focus on the blood and gore rather than building suspense and tension.  Wan and Whannell expertly manage to ratchet up the tension to the point that the audience are on the edge of their seat waiting for the scare.  We know its coming, they know its coming, its just a matter of time.
Darth Maul was pissed about the plans to release Phantom Menace in 3D!
With a horror movie of this type it is always important to remember that "less is more" and that what the audience can imagine is always ten times more terrifying than whatever you can deliver on screen, and after a great two acts, the finale of the film loses it way slightly when Josh has to visit The Further in order to confront the demons and rescue his son.  While it is infinitely more effective than a similar plot point in Joe Dante's The Hole, it does verge on the demented silliness that reminded me of Drag Me To Hell.
But every film can't be The Exorcist and occasionally you go to the multiplex on a Friday night to enjoy a genre film that is well made and Insidious is a Ronseal film, in that it does exactly what it says on the tin... scare the bejesus out of you.  And it certainly worked on the audience I watched it with.  There were screams, people jumped out of their skin, and the girl behind me threw her popcorn in the air.  Sometimes that's all you can ask for... and the fact she didn't order nachos with cheese sauce!

4 stars

I don't see what all the fuss was about... Kate Middleton looks pretty rough to me in that dress!

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows Part 2 Trailer - 2 minutes of money shots!

Last year we all had to sit through two and a half hours of Harry Potter And The One Where It Went A Bit Lord Of The Ringsy which consisted of a hell of a lot of exposition and wandering round forests looking for the one ring... sorry a bunch of horcruxes.
People at the time moaned that it was boring and not a complete film (duh, it was called Part 1 for a reason), but I compared it to having to go through several hours of foreplay before getting to 3 hours of one continuous orgasm.
A crude analogy perhaps but by the looks of the trailer, Deathly Hallows Part 2 will deliver the goods in a series of thrilling chase sequences and battles that should satisfy the most die-hard of fans and random members of the general public.
I have never been a squealing fanboy when it comes to the Harry Potter films but this trailer did cause me to go from six to midnight.  Roll on 15th July!!!

Friday, 22 April 2011

Where did all the scary movies go?

I went to see SCRE4M at my multiplex and it seems that there is not much of an audience for horror films at 10.30am on a Monday morning.  I was the only person in the screen apart from the cleaner, who was still doing her thing even during the trailers!
SCRE4M seemed content in pointing out how the horror genre had become nothing more than torture porn and remakes.  And what better (or meta) way to critique how modern horrors attempt to reboot tired and cliched slasher films than producing a tired and cliched slasher film that once again fails to have the guts to deliver what the audience (well, me at least) wanted to see.

"Bugger, I didn't mean to kill the horror genre.  Oops"
The catchphrase of Ghostface is "What's your favourite scary movie?" and it struck me as I left the cinema that it has been a while since I've seen a really good "scary" movie.  Not a horror movie, like the Saw movies where you are only really going to see people dismembered in inventive traps, or remakes which lack suspense as we have already seen it 20 years ago.  I'm talking about seeing a film that leaves with a feeling of unease, that gives you goosebumps and your spine tingle, that makes you think twice before switching off the light when you go to bed.
I honestly struggled to think of a great scary movie that was released within the last few years.  There was Paranormal Activity in 2009, The Orphanage and REC in 2008, or even The Descent which was all the way back in 2005 which for me contains one of the all-time greatest "jump" moments in cinema history (hint - night vision).
Other people on Twitter ranked Eden Lake, The Others and Martyrs quite highly too.  All of which are now on my Lovefilm list.
There is very little originality left in the horror genre at the moment.  Torture porn seems to have killed the genre.  The more Saw sequels that come out, the traps get more elaborate but the returns are diminishing.  If it isn't that (or The Human Centipede) then they find a successful breakout hit and start to sequelize it to death as well like Paranormal Activity 2.
The most interesting, scariest and original films that have been released over the last decade or so have been foreign language films from Asia, France or Spain.  But Hollywood then sees these films and decides to remake them and they, for the most part, lose some of that magic i.e. Dark Water, Quarantine, The Grudge, etc, etc, the list is endless... but I did like the US remake of The Ring.
The horror movie genre has always been cyclical.  In the 30's it was the Universal gothic monster movies, the 70's/80's was the Slasher film, then Body Horror, Scream briefly revived the Slasher film in the late nineties before Torture porn took over in the noughties and at the moment we are going through a cycle of remakes.
There is a glimmer of hope though in the form of Insidious.  The makers of the original Saw (but not the sequels) James Wan and Leigh Whannel have produced a scary movie that has been a hit at the US box office and delivers good old fashioned scares in a haunted house/possession type of horror that harks back to the days of The Exorcist, Poltergiest and the granddaddy of them all The Shining (my personal favourite scary movie).
I haven't seen it yet but Robbie Collin of the NOTW claims that it was "so scary I was whimpering in sheer terror".
I hope that this marks the return of the classic scary movie, the ones that work on the premise of "less is more" and that what the mind can imagine is much scarier than anything you can put on screen. So Hollywood, give the mutilation a rest and get back to having people appearing in mirrors after someone looks away for a second otherwise the next time I watch a horror movie will be in 2012 to see Hammer's take on The Woman In Black in which the scariest thing could turn out to be Daniel Radcliffe's acting!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Happy Birthday to the Picturehouse Podcast

A quick blog post to wish a very Happy Birthday to the Picturehouse Podcast which is 1 year old today.  The Picturehouse Podcast is THE film podcast to listen to (if you must listen to another one then Mayo and Kermode's is quite good too) and is hosted by the dynamic duo of Sam Clements and Simon Renshaw.
Over the past year they have cast their critical gaze over the latest releases, kept us up to date with movie news and gossip and even interviewed the odd special guests like Gareth Edwards, Edgar Wright, Richard Ayoade and even Dame Helen Mirren!
I have had the pleasure of donating my dulcet tones to the odd podcast, including an exclusive one recorded on the beach at Cannes, and you might often hear the voices of cool people like Chris Hewitt from Empire, Limara from Your Turn Heather, Charlie from Ultra Culture, The Incredible Suit, and the film reviewer I look up to the most (literally) Robbie Collin make the odd guest appearance to join in the hilarity.
Anyway, Sam & Simon are hosting a birthday party tonight to celebrate with a screening of The Big Lebowski (one of the greatest films ever made) at The Ritzy Cinema complete with party games, a live podcast recording before the film and plenty of White Russians.  "Just be careful man, there's a beverage here!".
To book tickets for the event, click here.  To subscribe to the excellent podcast, click here or visit Soundcloud to browse and listen to some blasts from the past.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Blog-A-Long-A-Bond #4: Thunderball

Relevance of pre-credit sequence: "That's not a widow, it's a man Baby!". Bond attends the funeral of an enemy only to discover that he's actually not dead and disguised as his grieving wife. Bond kills him and escapes on a jetpack for no other reason than to show off! Standard set piece opener but enemy had links to the continuing SPECTRE subplot running through Connery's Bond films.

Bond song: Thunderball by Tom Jones. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. After Bassey they stick with the Welsh theme and have Jones belting out about his Thunderous Balls!

Time elaspsed before we hear "Bond... James Bond": 1 hour 23 minutes. However it is said by a woman not Bond himself!

Attractiveness of Bond Girls: Bond continues his worrying trend of forcing himself onto women until they give in and sleeps with a woman at the health clinic and a woman working for SPECTRE ("My dear girl, don't flatter yourself. What I did this evening was for Queen and country. You don't think it gave me any pleasure, do you?"). But the prize for sexiest Bond girl so far goes to Domino who is absolutely gorgeous, if a little dim.

Best Innuendo: [Bond is standing in the doorway between their apartments as Fiona takes a bath] Fiona : Aren't you in the wrong room, Mr. Bond? Bond: Not from where I'm standing. Quick mention of the line "I hope we didn't scare the fishes" after we are supposed to believe that Bond and Domino have had sex underwater whilst wearing scuba gear!?!

Best One Liner when despatching a villain: [after shooting Vargas with a spear gun] "I think he got the point."

Best Gadget: The Aston Martin makes a brief reappearance but the best new addition was Bond's jetpack that was only used in the opening scene.

Evilness of villain:  While SPECTRE remains the constant threat, it was personified this time by Emilio Largo who poses not much physical threat (unless he is torturing a defenceless girl) but is backed up by dozens of nameless henchmen who Bond despatches with relative ease.

Feasibility of evil scheme: This one is the more traditional villainous schemes where SPECTRE hold NATO to ransom for, cue pinky, $100 million dollars after they steal two nuclear warheads. Of course, this is entirely plausible because if people leave laptops and USBs with security leaks on them lying around then it is possible that nuclear warheads can go missing.

Does Bond end the film on a boat in a romantic clinch: Of course! After Bond and Domino jump off a boat that is about to crash (along with another person who seems to have been forgotten about, left to drown in the ocean) they have a quick smooch in an inflatable liferaft before getting skyhooked up in the air. Yes, it seems that Nolan might have stolen that bit in The Dark Knight.

Overall I'm not quite sure what to make of Thunderball. I hadn't seen it in years and couldn't remember much about it except for the underwater fight and the fact that it was the one that was remade as Never Say Never Again (that was the Justin Bieber film right?). I was surprised to see that this was the biggest influence on Austin Powers: SPECTRE's lair and the method of dispatching employees who don't come up to scratch, No. 2 who wears an eyepatch and owns a pool of sharks (albeit without laser beams on their heads), etc, etc. However it is very slowly paced compared to the previous films and at 130 minutes it is too long.  Definitely my least favourite of the Bonds so far.

P.S.  Isn't it funny how Sean Connery's toupee differs with each passing film?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

KAPOW! Comic Con round up

This weekend I spent my time in the company of 2000+ nerds/geeks at the Business Design Centre in Islington. Why would I want to do such a thing? Because I was attending the very first Kapow! Comic Con, the brainchild of comic book writer Mark Millar, the man responsible for Wanted and Kick-Ass. When you think of British conventions, my first thoughts are of very minor celebrities from cancelled sci-fi shows charging £20 for an autograph, or being accosted by someone who is dressed up like The Borg. Millar wanted to bring the experience of the hugely popular and successful San Diego Comic Con to the UK. Did he succeed? While he certainly brought the San Diego weather (I felt sorry for the guy dressed as The Flash having to queue to get inside in 20 degree+ conditions), let's discuss the pros, "cons" and highlights of Kapow! (the exclamation was on the promotional material).


Top marks of the weekend have to go to the guys at the IGN UK Arena who were the most professional and had a great line-up of talent the whole weekend (by catching the guests before or after the main panels) and got interviews and signings with the likes of Danny McBride, Joe Cornish, Mark Millar and even Duncan Jones, who tried who best to be evasive when the Wolverine question came up.
Mark Gatiss took part in an excellent Q&A and was forthcoming about League Of Gentlemen (maybe an anniversary special at some point but difficult to get everyone together), Doctor Who (his episode will appear in the 2nd half due to screen in May, and his favourite Doctor is Jon Pertwee), Sherlock (another 3 feature length episodes including The Hound Of The Baskervilles and The Final Problem "but they won't be called that" and he joked about having to write himself out of that cliffhanger) and finally History of Horror (another series might happen, he hates remakes and torture porn, and loves a classic ghost story). That conveniently brings me to the Momentum panel on Sunday that featured the premiere of the teaser trailer for The Woman In Black which had the right look and spooky vibe and director James Watkins was on hand to assure us that most of the effects had been achieved in camera and that Harry Potter... sorry Daniel Radcliffe is old enough and good enough to play the lead. Also shown were a trailer for the bonkers looking Troll Hunter (with the tagline "The most important film of our time, is Norwegian") and James Wan and Leigh Whannel served up a funny Q&A to promote Insidious. Leigh Whannel is apparently terrified by Worzel Gummidge and Chocky. But the real surprise of the weekend was the Thor panel which included 20+ minutes of footage and a Q&A with Thor and Loki. There was always a chance that due to the nature of the comic that it could turn out a bit "Flash Gordon" but Branagh has found a rich vein of humour to contrast the two worlds, the visuals were impressive and the audience geeked out big time when we got a glimpse at the appearance of Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye.

I was completely non-plussed by the Green Lantern footage. Some of the CGI, including Reynolds costume, looks ropey and WB could have a very expensive turkey on their hands. The pilot for Falling Skies made it look like Terminator Salvation but against crap CGI aliens rather than robots. The SDCC is arguably now more known for the big movie previews than it is for the comic book stuff but film fans expecting something similar would have disappointed with the lack of presence for such big summer films like Captain America, X-Men First Class, Pirates, etc as the main focus of the convention was on the comic side of things. In fact movie geeks who thought that they were quite geeky found the whole cosplay and level of intensity of the whole thing quite intimidating (Ultra Culture only lasted 20 minutes before returning to the sunshine and a couple of fellow Forumites felt it wasn't really their thing). The major grumble that I was hearing around the convention was about the lack of organisation regarding queuing for panels and signings. There was always going to be disappointment due to time restrictions and 2000 people trying to go to a panel with 500 capacity. Even some of the panels themselves were chaotic and disorganised. Jonathan Ross managed to blag his way through a Never Mind The Buzzcocks style comic quiz between the pros (Millar, John Romita Jr and Dave Gibbons - and if you don't recognise those names then the Con certainly wasn't for you!) and some fans despite leaving his questions at home! And the much hyped Stan Lee awards however were a disaster that made Sam Fox and Mick Fleetwood presenting the Brit Awards look positively professional. I left half way through to go joining the queue for the Thor panel. Also the staff seemed keen to kick everyone out of the building very quickly at 4.00 on the Sunday when the tickets said it would run till 5.00.

It was always inevitable that not everything would run according to plan considering this is the first time an event like this has been tried. Hopefully the positive and negative factors will be analysed and discussed so that Kapow! 2012 is an even bigger success... but as a movie geek I hope that the major studios have a bigger presence next year.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Top Ten Films of 2011: First Quarter results

So we are now into April and a quarter of the way through the year already. The awards season is now over and we are gearing up for the summer blockbusters to hit, so I feel that now is a good time to reflect on what my top ten of the year is so far.

1. Black Swan - 5 stars
"Without a doubt, one of the best films I've ever seen. Aronofsky takes elements from films like Suspiria, Repulsion, even Showgirls to create a dizzying, disturbing descent into madness. Portman delivers the only performance to ever cause me to shed a tear. Astonishing stuff"

2. Rango - 5 stars
"Finally an animated film to rival Pixar. Think Fear and Lizards in Las Vegas, it is glorious to look at and delightfully subversive and all the more entertaining for the Chinatown references. Timothy Olyphant has the cameo of the year as The Spirit Of The West."

3. Submarine - 4 stars
"Moss from The I.T. Crowd delivers the British Film Of The Year (so far) on his first attempt with a beautiful and bittersweet rite-de-passage movie fuelled by top notch performances"

4. Animal Kingdom - 4 stars
"A cracking family crime drama that is the best thing to come out of Australia since Kylie Minogue's bottom"

5. Source Code - 4 stars
"Much more than 'Jakes On A Train' or 'Groundhog Day meets Inception'. This is a Hollywood thriller that is well executed, entertaining, thought provoking and has a lot of heart. Could Duncan Jones be the next Christopher Nolan? I hope so."

6. Confessions - 4 stars
"It would have been a 5 star film if it had ended after it's stunning 20 minute opening sequence. After a middle section that loses its focus, it comes back with a vengeance in a twisted finale. Proves yet again that no one does revenge films better than Asian filmmakers"

7. True Grit - 4 stars
"The Rooster abides in a seemingly effortless piece of genre filmmaking that is over far too quickly. Damon is usual underrated self but Steinfeld is 2011's Chloe Moretz"

8. Cave Of Forgotten Dreams - 4 stars
"I'm not that into natural history but Herzog's gravily narration combined with the stunning photography drew me into this fascinating documentary... and nice to see some lizards make an appearance"

9. The Adjustment Bureau - 4 stars
"Amazing chemistry between Damon and Blunt raises what could have been a confusing, muddled sci-fi thriller into a genuinely touching romance."

10. The Fighter - 4 stars
"The best boxing movie since Rocky IV"

Sunday, 3 April 2011

"Made it Ma, top of the world" - DVDs to avoid for Mothers' Day presents

Today is Mothers' Day and you may have left it late getting her that all important present. You are possibly heading to HMV to pick up the safe choice of Made In Dagenham because it was released on Monday just in time, is about female empowerment and equality and you have realised that your mum is indeed a women and you want her to feel empowered, despite the fact that she has spent many years cooking for you, cleaning your clothes, etc. 

However you may decide to go for something a little different. If this is the case then you must be careful as the displays in HMV can sometimes be counterproductive as you will know if a) you ever been in one of their stores or b) read the amusing article by The Incredible Suit about his recent shopping trip. So to help you all out, I have a quick list of five films to avoid buying her as a present as they may give off the wrong message:

1. Precious The major inspiration for this article, I too had an Incredible Suit moment when I was browsing the HMV at Trocadero and saw this film in the 'Love Your Mum' section (they also had Martin Lawrence movies under a section called Black Cinematic Icons!). Mary (in a terrifying and Oscar winning performance by Mo'nique) is everything you would not want in a mother (evil, abusive, uncaring, vulgar, etc, etc) and by giving this as a present it either says "well done on not being like her" or "Mum, we need to talk about your attitude with this social worker who looks like Mariah Carey". See also: Mommie Dearest, A Cry In The Dark

2. Bambi Bambi's mother gets shot!!! Note, not a spoiler as it happens early as it the event that sets the story in motion.

3. Psycho "A boy's best friend is his mother". The story of Norman Bates and his mother is one of the all time greatest cinematic relationships but not the most appropriate. She would start to question your motives, especially if her dresses go missing! See also: Throw Momma From The Train

4. Black Swan Barbara Hershey's matriach is up there with Faye Dunaway on the Mommie Dearest stakes but it also wins points for the awkward moment where Portman nearly gets caught practising the two fingered tango. Not one to watch with Mother!

5. Sex And The City 2 I just wanted to echo Incredible Suit's thoughts and tell you to avoid giving her a copy of SATC2 which is not only one of the worst films of last year but an affront to women everywhere! A film so bad that one female reviewer, was a fan of the show, wrote "if this is modern womenhood allow me to sew up my vagina"!