Saturday, 28 February 2015


chatroom is a british ... er ... film about chatrooms. i was going to say horror film as that's kind of how it was marketed, but it's not really. i guess it's kind of a thriller?

on the surface, the film is about this teenager played by aaron johnson (who is super hot in this film) who sets up a chatroom and uses it to manipulate and corrupt the people he chats with there. the gimmick is that rather than five kids typing shit for 90 minutes, the film uses a kind of grimy hotel-type location to represent the internet, with actual rooms representing chatrooms.

it's a really interesting idea and very well-executed by hideo nakata (director of one of the greatest horror films ever, ringu). the concept is set up quickly and we soon meet and come to know the main characters and their problems. the cast are great, particularly johnson who has gone on to bigger and better things. the problem is, i'm not sure it 100% works.

chatroom is based on a play, and despite nakata's best efforts to make it cinematic (which he pulls off) there is something theatrical about the way the film works. this is a slow-paced musing on the theme of online identity and struggles to really get into a full-on story. sure, i was a bit worried about what johnson's character was doing to the others, but i never really felt like anyone was in any real danger. i think part of the issue was that presenting the chatrooms in such a way meant that it just didn't feel real.

the other problem is that it's kind of outdated, even for 2010 when the film was released. i'm sure some people still use chatrooms, but really facebook and twitter have taken their place now and with them they have brought much greater dangers. the channel 4 special cyberbully with maisie williams covered this much better than this film does.

it may be a failed experiment, but it;s still interesting and there's enough here to make it worth checking out.

Friday, 20 February 2015

the babadook

i sometimes suffer from insomnia. right now is one of those times. watching the babadook last night did not help.

the babadook is about a widow trying to raise her troubled 6 year old son. at the start of the film we learn that her husband died in a car crash as she was on her way to hospital to give birth. when we meet her she is already finding her son's behaviour difficult, but things get worse when he finds an odd picture book called mister babadook about a creepy dude who comes to get you, although it's not clear at first exactly what he will do when he does get you. that will come later.

i don't want to give too much away, because this film is amazing and the less you know going in, the better. it's written and directed by jennifer kent, based on her short film, monster -

kent does an amazing job building the suspense in this film. it reaches a point where i was dreading nightfall as much as the characters because bad things start to happen to them at night. on top of this the two main characters are perfectly set up and very well performed, to the point where i would've remained interested whether the monster turned up or not. but the monster does turn up, and at that point it becomes really, really scary.

there is a real mix of horror techniques in this film, from classic jump scares to more subtle, creepier moments and the combination of both creates an atmosphere of ever increasing dread. by the end of this film i was searching every shadow in the frame for signs of the babadook, and it's hard not to carry that out into the real world once the film has finished. had i been able to sleep i would've slept with the lights on.

at the same time this is a film about how we deal with tragedy in our lives and what we do with our personal monsters. it's a film about the pain of living and on that level it really works.

now part of me thinks i shouldn't make a big deal about the fact that it's directed by a woman because in a way it shouldn't matter, but fuck it, i'm going to make a big deal about it because it's an amazing film and jennifer kent deserves the praise. along with the soska sisters i think that with this one film she has instantly become one of the most important filmmakers working in the horror genre today. i hope she makes many more films like it and i hope she inspires other likeminded women to do the same.

if you didn't get it from the above, i'm saying you should go watch this film immediately. you will not regret it.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

rock of ages/repo - a genetic opera

i've just been witness to a musical double bill. but this wasn't your regular top hat and tails, singing about true love affair. i decided to pair up rock of ages and repo - a genetic opera. you may be thinking these two films couldn't be further apart, and you'd be right. apart from both being classed as musicals.

rock of ages is your straightforward tale of boy meets girl/girl meets boy. if you just listen to journey's don't stop believing you're pretty much there. that's at the core of the film. they then throw in a troubled rock star, failing rock club, sleazy manager and strip club, (that doesn't seem to be in any trouble, nor do the public have an issue with it as they do with the rock club). oh and a rock singing women's church group who hate rock and what it stands for. i know right, contradictions all around.

as musicals go, it's not so bad, but isn't great either. there are no massive dance numbers, and the fact that everyone sings pre-existing songs, you start to question what the point is. also it's set in a world where most rock bands exists, but journey do not, so are they singing covers, or their own creations? am i over-thinking this? probably. as a live show I can understand the theatricality of it. as a film, it all seems a bit wasted. plus you really could have streamlined some of the storylines to reduce the running time a bit.

following this i went straight into repo, which happens to have been directed by darren lynn bousman, the same guy who made 11-11-11 that i reviewed last week.

immediately i found this film more interesting due to its bright colour style and comic book introduction. despite it being a "genetic opera" i didn't twig that no one would talk and everything would be sung. this does start to grate after a while. this one is a story about cosmetic surgery gone mad. you need a new heart; you pay for a new heart. fail to make the payments, the repo men will come for you. and you're off. the majority of the songs are just there to get you from a to b, but there are few more melodic examples.  however, due to the constant singing, it can be painful to listen to, either due to bad singers or bad content (there is a song about a girl complaining about contracting her mother’s blood disease). however the actual music is good and the look of the overall film is interesting. i thought i was going to hate it due to the inclusion of paris hilton and sarah brightman, but actually they weren't too bad. there is also an interesting twist that you're waiting for lead anthony head to realise and kick some arse, but it never fully comes out. which is a shame as toward the end, he could do with a bit of redemption. for some reason it reminded me a lot of house of 1000 corpses in some of it's design. and thinking about it, in the hands of rob zombie, i reckon it would be amazing.

looking at both these examples together, something did become glaringly obvious. in repo you could easily cut to the singing and you'd still have an interesting film. however take the songs out of rock of ages and you're left with just a dull story with too many storylines to get you invested in any single one.

so there you have it. alternative musicals for your eyes. of the two I'd actually recommend repo, if you can stand opera. as for rock of ages i'd advise just checking out music videos on youtube.

Monday, 16 February 2015

wild river

wild river is a kind of epic, political, romantic drama from 1960, directed by elia kazan and starring montgomery clift and lee remick. it's one of the most thematically complex films i've seen in a long time and it asks some pretty big questions.

clift plays chuck glover, a bureaucrat from the tennessee valley authority. the tva are tasked with controlling the tennessee river, which floods regularly causing mass destruction and devastating loss of life. in order to harness the river and stop the flooding they have to build dams along the river, but in doing so they will cause other areas to flood. people live in these areas and they have to be moved out. one person, an 80-year-old woman named ella garth, doesn't want to move and it's up to glover to convince her to move before her land is flooded. however, what he doesn't count on is falling in love with ella garth's granddaughter, carol, played by lee remick.

the film opens with some fairly shocking documentary footage of a particularly devastating flood, followed by a heart-wrenching eyewitness account from a survivor who lost his family in the disaster. this sets the scale of what is at stake perfectly and introduces the first of several interesting themes that the film deals with, man vs. nature. water is an ever-present antagonist in the film, from the water that surrounds the island where ella garth lives to the rainwater that pummels carol's house in later scenes. there is a real sense that maybe human beings weren’t meant to live in places like this, but there they are anyway.

perhaps the most prevalent theme in the film is that of progress, and whether it can be considered good or bad. ella garth has spent a lifetime maintaining her land and doing just fine without help from anyone else, and yet the government are insisting she moves because the country needs to progress, so it also becomes a story about government vs. the individual. then there’s social progress. glover tries to convince ella to leave by hiring her workforce for his land clearing project, but he runs into trouble with the townsfolk when they discover he’ll be paying black workers the same wage as white workers. trouble is perhaps an understatement as the situation soon escalates out of control, but glover will not be forced to change his mind. when it comes to social change and a moral standpoint he is as stubborn as ella garth, and that’s where things become complicated.

this isn’t a film that provides any answers. what glover does for the workers is clearly right, but there is a hypocrisy there, because when he turns up to ella garth’s house with the sheriff in tow it’s hard not to compare this scene to an earlier one where the townsfolk come to him to force him to leave town. glover changes from someone who thinks he’s doing the right thing by ella garth to someone who maybe isn’t sure anymore but can’t do anything about it.

it's glover's impossible dilemma and the journey to that dilemma that really made the film work for me. montgomery clift was part of a movement in hollywood towards a different kind of leading man, most memorably played out in red river in which he starred opposite john wayne. the rugged western star was on his way out and in his place came a more sensitive, introspective kind of screen icon. here, clift is so far to the left of the traditional male star he’s rendered completely ineffective. kazan shoots clift in a way that always shows him as being dwarfed by his surroundings, a righteous man shouting into the wind. he is beaten up several times in the film and fights back by simply standing up to take another beating, rather than causing any violence himself. to see such a passive and ultimately ineffective ‘hero’ on screen seems groundbreaking even by today’s standards, and clift plays it beautifully.

on a side note, i did a bit of research on montgomery clift before watching the film and his wikipedia entry almost brought me to tears. he was a complicated, misunderstood man who was perhaps born into the wrong era and suffered a terrible tragedy.

the real contrast to clift’s character is lee remick’s carol who has no hesitation in telling glover exactly what she wants from him. their relationship acts as a microcosm for the bigger situation of the dam vs. the old lady who won’t move; two powerful forces coming together each trying to force change on the other.  but even in the face of love, glover is paralysed into inaction and it’s carol who really has to fight for him.

i've been talking and protesting a lot about female characters in films recently, and in this, a film made 55 years ago, i had no issues. both ella and carol are fantastic, well-drawn characters who are given equal screen time to the men and really make their stories their own. remick plays carol as a woman on an emotional rollercoaster, going from accepting glover into her life to realising she has maybe made a mistake to then fighting to hold onto the man she loves. it’s breathtaking and really refreshing, which is surprising considering the age of the film.

it is worth pointing out that as a film from 1960, wild river does take it’s time and has a slow pace even for films of this era. in fact, it’s deliberately slow and makes a point about slow change being the only kind that works. and that’s what makes this film worth checking out; that behind every scene, every line of dialogue and every actors’ choice there are layers upon layers of meaning and intention. this is a tough film to unpack and i’ve barely scratched the surface, but there is much to discover here if you take the time to look for it.

wild river is released on 23 february 2015 on blu-ray and dvd.

for further details check out the eureka website.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

666: the prophecy (or 11-11-11)

666: the prophecy is the dumb uk title for 11-11-11, but whatever the title this creepy horror movie from saw sequel guy darren lynn bousman is actually pretty cool.

the story follows this author guy, joseph crone, who travels to barcelona to spend time with his brother and dying father. he starts to see the numbers 11-11 everywhere and on researching this discovers he may be part of a terrifying prophecy.

this is a proper, old school, slow-burn horror film. there are jump scares, sure, but most of what this film achieves is through the atmosphere it creates, and the atmosphere is super creepy throughout. there's something unsettling about the locations and the music, and when you add a pretty terrifying storyline it all adds up to a rather frightening experience. there are evil monk creatures in this film with awesome make-up effects, but they often turn up just at the edge of a frame or in the background of a shot, and then they disappear, making you wonder whether you saw them or not. it's not always this subtle, but the combination of full on scares and smaller, creepy moments really works.

the film reminded me of the works of a couple of other directors - roman polanski and dario argento. there are certainly elements of rosemary's baby and the tenant here, but the music and atmosphere reminded me of films like tenebrae and suspiria. it's a little too slow at times, and occasionally it feels like we're just killing time until the fateful day when things are supposed to kick off, but for the most part this is a fresh, original horror film that draws on some real classics for inspiration.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015


smiley is a film about a scary internet meme that turns out to be real and comes after a bunch of teens. except it's not really that. anyway, seeing as i'm being stalked by my own internet weirdo (check out the comments on this blog) i thought i'd check it out.

so the legend goes that if you're in a video chat and you type 'i did it for the lulz' three times, smiley comes to get you. the story follows ashley, a nerdy but nice college girl played by caitlin gerard. ashley falls in with a crowd of hackers and after discovering that the smiley legend is real she finds herself stalked by the killer himself.

the first half hour of this film is really strong. the kills made me jump and the premise is interesting. there are these philosophy lecture scenes in between the main storyline with roger bart, him off of hostel 2, being a creepy genius professor and through these scenes the film tries to be more than a run-of-the-mill slasher film. it tries to be a film about ideas, and you know how much i like those. there are lots of big questions in there, about the nature of evil and about how the internet ultimately represents the next evolutionary phase of humanity and our computers will eventually destroy us. these are great and almost slide into the main narrative, but it doesn't quite work as a whole.

the first problem is, once we've established that smiley is probably real and coming after ashley and her friends it kind of runs out of steam. the second act is mostly ashley trying to convince everyone she's not crazy, and that gets a bit dull after a while. the other problem is i guessed the twist twenty minutes in, and i never guess twists so it must have been heavily signposted. not just the twist, i guessed how the rest of the film was going to play out. it felt like the filmmakers had this great idea, but they didn't really have the confidence to fully commit to it, so the film really lags for about 45 minutes in the middle.

that said, there are still some really interesting ideas in smiley, caitlin gerard is fantastic in the lead and for the most part it is an enjoyable, if predictable ride. it's just a shame there wasn't more to it as this had the potential to be a really innovative horror film. maybe there will be a sequel.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

odd thomas

odd thomas is a supernatural adventure film based on a series of books i haven't read and directed by stephen sommers, who made the mummy films.

the film is about this guy called odd who can see dead people and helps them find whoever killed them or whatever. he can also see these weird cgi monster things that apparently show up at the scene of an impending disaster. so when he starts seeing dozens of these things in his home town he realises something big is going down and decides to do something about it.

i struggled with this film at first. while it's refreshing not to have to sit through another origin story, odd thomas throws you right into the middle of a story that makes you feel like you should've read the books. there are all these characters who aren't really set up properly, they just turn up and we accept everything is cool, like the fact that the cops know he can see dead people and are fine with it. most of this is done through voiceover, and every time odd is presented with a challenge he says something like, 'but of course i trained myself to be super awesome at fighting' or whatever and gets out of it. that started to bug me after a while.

speaking of things that bugged me, the way women are leered over by the camera in this film was full on michael bay territory. none of the women wear much and there was even a moment where a tall blond runs towards the camera in slow-motion with her breasts bouncing up and down. seriously, fuck off.

and speaking of women, odd also has this impossibly hot, intelligent and courageous girlfriend who feels like the masturbation fantasy of a teenage dean koontz fan. they have this perfect relationship where they are never anything but 100% in love and odd spends a lot of time telling us how amazing she is, although we don't see all that much of it other than her being hot. the thing about this is, in the voiceover he keeps saying he's never been normal as if he's some kind of freak but actually he has kind of a perfect life - he has a purpose, he has a perfect girlfriend, he even seems to enjoy his day job. it feels like there's no challenge to him, like he's too good at everything and doesn't have anything to gain.

but he does have everything to lose, and that, ultimately, is how the film won me over. i don't want to spoil anything, but i was practically in tears at the end.

at it's heart, this isn't a film about ghosts and solving supernatural crimes, it's a film about life and it's a love story. on this level it really works and i was happy i stuck with it. the performances are excellent, particularly anton yelchin in the lead who really sells odd as a realistic and sympathetic character, despite the unreal nature of what he's doing.  there's good support from willem dafoe and addison timlin is great as his girlfriend, i just wish she was wearing more clothes.

overall, i think it's a flawed film but there's enough heart here to make it worth your time and on an emotionally level it really works.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

bizarre states

bizarre states is a paranormal podcast on the nerdist network hosted by jessica chobot and andrew bowser. each week they talk about paranormal news and share fucked up stories and videos, usually with a guest (and the guests are pretty awesome - they've had stuart gordon and barbara crampton on in past episodes!)

i've been listening since episode one and it's a pretty awesome podcast. i love paranormal stuff but when i've tried to listen to other podcasts that cover this area i usually find they take it too seriously or make it really boring. chobot and bowser get the balance right between talking about genuinely spooky shit and having some fun with it at the same time.

i got so into this podcast that i decided to send in a story. the problem is, even though i've been interested in this stuff since forever, i've never actually seen a ghost or experienced anything even vaguely paranormal. the closest i have is something that happened to me when i was a kid that my cousin and i used to say was an encounter with a ghost, but ... well, i'll let you hear the story. they read it out on their latest episode when they were in the middle of a vigil at meltdown comics. it's a cool video but if you don't want to watch the whole thing my story is at around 07:38.

yeah, it wasn't that great a story and in hindsight i maybe shouldn't have sent it in, but the thing is when i was writing the e-mail i remembered it happening and really creeped myself out. i should've added a part at the end where i turned round and there was no one there, but that would have been a lie.

still, if you're interested in paranormal stuff go subscribe to bizarre states or check it out on the nerdist website.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

sophie's fortune

last month i reviewed a short film called moments, directed by chris cronin and produced by phil meachem. sophie's fortune is another short from the same team, and though it's hugely different in terms of ambition and story it's similar in that it's another attempt at emulating hollywood on a fraction of the budget.

sophie's fortune is about a young father desperate to prove himself to his daughter, the sophie of the title. he finds the opportunity to do so at a childrens' party where the dads are challenged to a treasure hunt. sophie's dad must do whatever it takes to win the treasure hunt and bring the prize back to his daughter.

from the moment the film opens it's clear that the filmmakers have really done an amazing job with the production value of the piece. the music, the look of the film, the camera movement all suggest a project with much higher aspirations than your usual festival-fodder short. this is a film made by film fans who want to replicate the experience of a big budget hollywood blockbuster as closely as possible, and they really succeed. it looks and feels better than most straight to dvd/vod genre films i've seen and would even compete with a few big screen blockbusters. i don't know what the budget was but i'm sure it wasn't hundreds of thousands and this film could easily pass for having cost that much.

but it's not just how good the film looks, on top of that the actors really sell the story and the whole thing is genuinely exciting. i should explain that from the moment the treasure hunt starts the film enters a fantasy world where the dads are essentially action heroes in a full-on indiana jones style adventure, complete with a double-crossing villain, an army of henchmen and numerous traps and pitfalls along the way. there are some great gags in there as well and it's nice that despite how serious the filmmakers must have taken the process to achieve this level of quality they aren't above making the odd joke here and there too.

there are a couple of problems, perhaps the biggest being the length. the central idea is perfectly suited to a short film and would have worked fine in a ten minute running time, but at nearly half an hour sophie's fortune does begin to outstay its welcome in places. i was also a bit put out by the fact that the mums weren't included in the treasure hunt and feel it reinforces a dangerous stereotype of dads as big, violent kids that i personally could do without. lastly, the tone is a bit off and for what felt like it should be for kids was way too violent in places. then again, my dad showed me the original robocop when i was 7 and i loved it, so what do i know.

overall, the issues i had with the film didn't get in the way of my enjoyment and i did get a real kick out of watching it. it's free to watch online at and i'll also post it below. if you like old school adventure movies and have wondered what a british indiana jones would look like i seriously recommend checking this one out.

Sunday, 1 February 2015


i saw birdman.

it was good. really good actually. i found i enjoyed it more than i thought i would, which surprised me as it was quite arty. i feel a bit guilty as i only really wanted to see it because of michael keaton (my favourite batman even though those movies are like really old). the similarities are quite obvious between him having played batman, and his character having once played birdman. as keaton tries to set up his new credible career on stage, the film tears apart what we class as "good" and "worthwhile" film and theatre, making you feel guilty about liking certain types of films or shows. however by the end it comes back around, settling on an idea that as long as you're making SOMETHING. that's all that counts. at least that what i think it meant, it all goes a bit meta in the middle. especially as you realise the only reason your're watching the film is because michael keaton was batman. if it was, say jeff goldblum in the lead, it would have been a completely different experience. i'd still probably go though, jeff joldblum rocks.

also it has an awesome jazzy drum soundtrack that sets the manic tone perfectly.