Thursday, 30 April 2015

dark touch

dark touch is perhaps the darkest, most miserable and at times most disturbing film i have ever seen. i loved it.

the film follows a young girl, niamh, who witnesses a traumatic event in which her parents and baby brother are killed. niamh moves in with some family friends and tries to readjust to a normal life, but whatever supernatural force killed her parents seems to have followed her. it doesn't get much brighter from there.

this is a bold, unforgiving film that uses horror to explore an incredibly controversial and sensitive subject. it's definitely a horror film, in that there are creepy houses and spooky goings-on, but at the same time it often has the feel of a serious drama about child abuse. more than that, it's also a film about evil, and about how at a certain point perhaps there is no redemption. it reminded me of carrie in parts, but in some ways it's the opposite of carrie. carrie is a film about a nice girl who wants to live a normal life but everyone in the world is horrible to her. in dark touch everyone wants to look after niamh, but...i don't want to spoil it.

let's just say i've seen a great many horror films and there was a moment in this film where i gasped with genuine shock at what happened onscreen.

dark touch is written and directed by marina de van, a french filmmaker who also made the amazing dans m peau, which is also one of the most disturbing horror films i've ever seen. having now seen two of her films she is quickly becoming my favourite director. there is a real talent in tackling the subject matter she chooses to tackle in such a way that her work remains in the genre but also manages to say something interesting. i have no idea what motivates her to make films this dark, but i'm really happy to see her making them.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

bad land: road to fury

bad land: road to fury is a post-apocalyptic western about a family struggling to survive in a dry, barren environment where water is scarce and society is struggling to piece itself back together.

the film is split into three parts and follows the trials and tribulations of the holm family - first the father, ernest, played by michael shannon, then nicholas hoult's character flem who marries ernest's daughter and finally ernest's son, jerome (played by kodi smit-mcphee) who must uncover the truth about what happened in his family's past. over the course of the film we see the family move from being struggling couriers to prospering farmers, but prosperity comes at a high cost.

while bad land appears to share much in common with post-apocalyptic sci-fi classics such as mad max (in fact the 'road to fury' subtitle appears to be an attempt to cash in on the hype for the soon to be released mad max reboot/sequel 'fury road') the story and structure actually has more in common with something more grounded like the place beyond the pines. like that film, the story is told from the perspectives of three characters in turn and shows how one traumatic event ripples through generations. there are also some clear nods to classic westerns, particularly in nathan johnson's score and the editing style. the epic, barren landscapes, more sergio leone than george miller, make for a truly awe-inspiring and equally terrifying location that often becomes a character in its own right. taking all that into account, i struggled to see why this film was set in the future at all. the story, essentially about family, opportunity and fortune, seemed timeless and other than the lack of water the only real sci-fi element is a robot mule that, while significant to the plot, doesn't seem a strong enough reason to set the whole film in the future.

that said, the sci-fi element doesn't detract from the story. director jake paltrow has pulled out three impressive central performances from shannon, hoult and smit-mcphee that really pull the strands of the plot together to form a powerful drama. the relationship between shannon's troubled father trying to make up for past mistakes and smit-mcphee's eager if physically inadequate son is heart-wrenching at times, and the moment when jerome finds out the truth had me in tears. i suppose smit-mcphee must be pretty used to post-apocalyptic environments and troubled father figures by now though, as he also played the boy in the road. hoult also does a great job playing against type as a slimy, opportunistic bad guy. what's great about having someone like hoult play this character is that you can totally see why the characters, including jerome's sister played by elle fanning, are taken in by him. speaking of the sister it's a real shame fanning isn't given more to do in this film. she has some nice moments and she plays them very well, but it's a pretty thankless role and to be honest the female characters in classic westerns usually had more going on for them than her character does here.

there are no real surprises here, bad land kind of does what you expect it to do and goes where you expect it to go, but it does so with some excellent performances and dramatic moments along the way, plus the sci-fi element does keep it interesting even if it ultimately doesn't go anywhere. definitely worth checking out, if only to see nicholas hoult nailing the slimy villain role.

bad land: road to fury is released in cinemas 1st may and dvd & digital hd on monday 4th may

Monday, 27 April 2015

chuck - soundtrack review

a few years ago there was this series about a guy who works for a buymore electronics store and fixes computers. except this guy then gets drawn into a load of super spy stuff and hi-jinks ensue. this guy, and series, was “chuck”.

even though the series has ended i’m now happy to relive it with the “chuck - original television soundtrack”. this soundtrack is mostly made up of the music from the series composed by tim jones. i wasn’t aware of his work before so looked him up to find he worked on a couple of series (human target and cult) and a few films (smokin’ aces 2, the death and life of bobby z, the forsaken)

when compiling the track list, the producers must have had a mammoth task ahead of them, having to select the best tracks from 5 seasons of shows. I’m happy to see that they have definitely delivered. of the collection, my stand out track is “chuck and sarah the beginning”. it starts simply enough with a piano led love theme, but soon takes us on a journey through the complicated relationship of the two leads. This is then followed up with “action theme”. putting these tracks back to back shows us that not only can tim jones bring emotion and character to a piece, he also knows how to bring out the fun, especially with what could have easily been a phoned in generic theme. instead we have something that is perfect for chuck and his character – a theme perfect for a fish out of water, wannabe superspy.

there are a few more straight forward tracks such as “mission time” and “backstories and secrets”, however even these don’t stay too safe for long, with a flamenco style theme scoring chuck’s latest mission, or even a few playful notes taking the edge of what could be a suspense filled moment.

as an added bonus to tim jones’ score are 3 tracks (5 in the digital copy) by the screen band jeffster  featuring vik sahay (the band on the show is formed of chuck’s two co-workers at the buymore). the covers of classics “take on me”, “fortunate son” and “fat bottomed girls” really help to round the album off, and pretty much help to sum up the fun in the score and the series as a whole.

the album is a joyous, action packed, suspense filled ride, that doesn’t forget to show it’s softer side when needed. tim jones has done an excellent job of referencing, rather than lampooning the spy theme genre (if there is such a thing). it’s great trying to pick up on the influences used to build what is such an interesting score.

for anyone who loves chuck the series, this soundtrack really is a must. perfect listening for anyone trapped in a dull 9 to 5, dreaming of the exciting life of a spy.

the chuck soundtrack is available now on cd and digital download

Sunday, 26 April 2015


v/h/s is a found footage portmanteau movie, sort of like the twilight zone movie but told via the medium popularised by blair witch project and paranormal activity.

there's a framing story involving a group of obnoxious guys who break into a house to steal a tape, and then there are like five short movies that don't share anything in common other than the way in which they are shot. unless you include the unnecessary nudity and casual objectification of the female characters that seems to thrown into each episode like some kind of box-ticking exercise. i won't bother summarising all the episodes here but they mostly involve unlikable characters doing unlikable things.

as you may have gathered, i wasn't overly impressed with this movie. normally, as per my rules, this would result in me not talking about the movie at all, but it's one of those occasions where i was kind of disappointed because it had so much wasted potential. first of all, three of my favourite people working in horror at the moment worked on v/h/s - ti west, adam wingard and simon barrett. none of them fare particularly well. actually, barrett's episode, 'the sick thing that happened to emily when she was younger', is one of the more interesting ones, it just doesn't quite deliver on the set up. as for west's 'second honeymoon' and wingard's framing story 'tape 56', i just didn't get why either of them would have chosen those stories. they were like entry level horror and contained none of the innovative and original elements i'm used to seeing from these filmmakers. then again, maybe they were restricted by the medium as both tend to make quite visually striking movies.

there are, however, two really great episodes. the first is 'amateur night' directed by david bruckner, which does suffer from the characters being so obnoxious that spending twenty minutes in their company is quite a chore, but at the same time has an amazing creature and cool effects. but my favourite by far is '10/31/98' directing by filmmaking collective, radio silence. in this episode the group of guys aren't actually all that annoying and again it's effects that really sell it. there are hands coming out of walls and rooms changing shape in a way that reminded me of japanese horror games like project zero.

as with all portmanteau films it's a mixed bag, but i would recommend v/h/s for those two episodes as they do some pretty interesting things with visual effects. at the same time, this has nothing on the classics of the found footage subgenre and i hope some of the filmmakers revisited some of those classics before moving onto to the sequel.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

the age of adaline - soundtrack review

the age of adaline is a kind of epic fantasy romance about a woman who never grows older than 29. and she's not a vampire. or a highlander.

the score is by rob simonsen who previously worked on things like the dollhouse tv series (which i always thought was underrated), (500) days of summer (awesome) and seeking a friend for the end of the world (keira knightley's best film?). at first glance it seems like an eclectic filmography but at the same time there is a common thread in that many of the projects he has chosen to work on are films that have a basis in reality but have a fantasy element as well. simonsen excels at capturing the sound of magic realism, and the score to the age of adaline is perfect example of this.

from the opening track, "adaline bowman", simonsen sets a tone that's somewhere between serious drama and epic fantasy. as the choral arrangement swells towards the end of this track we are given a sense that anything can happen in the world of the story. there is a definite sense of wonder here, notably in tracks like "january 1st, 1908" and "first resurrection". at the same time his more dramatic compositions, such as "twisted around the truth" and "no more running", work really well too and inject a feeling of urgency and severity to the atmosphere. there are shades of philip glass' score for the hours here and it certainly captures that same sense of the magnificent in the ordinary. the soundtrack ends with an upbeat and rather beautiful song by simonsen and faux fix with vocals by elena tonra that really sums up the experience.

overall, this is a really inspiring and at times truly beautiful soundtrack that really captures the sense of a real world in which magic can happen. i listened to it whilst walking the streets of brighton on my lunchbreak and it certainly made a familiar route seem much more exciting than it is in reality.

the soundtrack album for age of adaline will be released at the same time as the score. it mixes a number of artists and genres, from bob dylan and jefferson airplane to jazz great dexter gordon and more contemporary artists like little joy. this cocktail of artists and genres works in much the same way as the contrasting themes in simonsen's score and the two albums complement each other very well.

the age of adaline – original motion picture soundtrack is available now digitally and on cd may 12th, 2015.

the age of adaline – original motion picture soundtrack will be available april 28th and on CD May 19th, 2015. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015


automata opens with a sequence that looks like it could have been a deleted scene from bladerunner - a cop (played by dylan mcdermott of american horror story, who recently appears to be referenced in everything i review) in a plastic raincoat searches out a robot in a decaying future city where huge holographic ads tower above him. the scene sets a gritty, hardboiled tone that the film thankfully abandons halfway through when it mutates into a surreal beckettian thesis on the persistence of evolution.

the hero of automata isn't mcdermott's cop, but a downtrodden insurance investigator played by antonio banderas. banderas isn't the first performer who comes to mind when you think 'downtrodden' but he plays it very well here. he manages to perform every scene like he's on the verge of quitting it all and putting a bullet in his head, and yet is likable enough for us to will him to continue. his character, Jacq Vaucan, is responsible for investigating robot-related insurance claims in a post-apocalyptic world where much of the earth has been destroyed. He dreams of a better life for his wife and their unborn child, and his key to obtaining that life comes in the form of a high profile new case. robots are starting to repair themselves, which in this world is a violation of their protocols. vaucan is charged with unravelling this mystery, and in pulling at that thread he actually comes closer to unravelling the entirety of human civilisation.

automata has a rather odd but ultimately endearing tone, and once it hits its stride feels less like i, robot and more like richard stanley's cult killer robot film hardware (guess who was in hardware? that's right, dylan mcdermott). there are also elements of 70s sci-fi, particularly movies like soylent green and silent running. what these comparisons say to me is that this is a film about ideas; big ideas. it's a film that is quite at home spending it's latter half with antonio banderas being pulled around a desolate desert landscape by four robots (which is where it all goes a bit beckett). it's a film we've probably seen before, but rarely has it been done with so much grace and sincerity.

there is a key line in automata that sums up exactly what the film is about. vaucan is having an argument with his wife over their decision to bring a child into a dying world. his wife tells him 'life always ends up finding a way', referring to the fact that their child will survive no matter where they escape to. this line comes to represent how the robots have evolved, but also suggests that the replacement of the human race by something artificial is inevitable. the film then asks, would this be an entirely bad thing?

what really sells the concept at the heart of the film is the robots themselves. with the exception of a couple of moments all the robots are puppets, so they're actually there in real life, not computer-generated. they look clunky and their movements are slow and laboured, but this works with the world of the story. with the exception of the robots, there are a number of instances of characters relying on outdated technology such as fax machines, pagers and old cars. the industrial nature of the robots fits into this world perfectly, and yet it never detracts from their humanity. by the end the two main robots feel as human as the human characters, possibly helped by the fact that their leader is voiced by javier bardem.

the film is a little too earnest at times and the middle section does drag a little compared to the fast-paced first act, but overall it's refreshing to see a movie with robots that actually tries to make you think about ideas and never resorts to the robots hitting each other to get our attention. this is an impressive attempt at making a small-scale sci-fi with huge ideas at its core and definitely worth checking out if you want to see something a bit different.

automata is released on demand 27th april & blu-ray and dvd 4th may

Saturday, 18 April 2015

step up all in

i was watching step up all in with a friend, and about halfway through she turned to me and said, 'the problem is, it just doesn't have the grittiness of step up 3'. she had a point.

so in step up all in, the main guy from step up 4, sean, is abandoned by his crew, the mob, because they want to get proper jobs or something. so sean has to assemble a new crew made up of characters from the last four movies. there's a dance competition in vegas, some double-crossing and heartache and drama, way too many montages and sometimes there is dancing.

i like the step up movies (go here for proof). i know the plots are paper-thin and they're a bit ridiculous and over the top but at the heart of every step up movie is the same message - truly creative people will do the creative thing that makes them happy no matter what. in step up all in the main motivator for all the characters is being able to quit their shitty day jobs. i can totally relate to that! i don't really have an equivalent creative outlet yet (unless you count this blog but comparing street dancing to blogging is a stretch) but i do have a shitty day job. and it doesn't matter what the thing is, these films are about putting art and creativity above everything else. i think that's kind of amazing.

step up all in is probably the weakest of the series, let down by a ridiculous pantomime villain and dumb subplot. also, moose never gets to do enough. he's clearly the best character and he's always sidelined for some random pretty boy. then there's the fact that the theme of the movie is that sometimes just doing something for the love of it is more important than winning or being the best, but as with step up 4, the message is kind of lost because sean's crew win and are the best at the end, and sean never really seems to learn this anyway.

but does it matter?

not really. there are some cool dance routines in this one, including one based on frankenstein and, more surprisingly, a steampunk routine. yes, step up goes steampunk in this movie. i can't say it tells a great story or that it's not flawed but if you want to watch something that will put a smile on your face (if you let it!) then you should definitely check this out.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015


hostages is a ten-part israeli drama series that recently aired on bbc4. it was also made in the states under the same name with dylan mcdermott (of american horror story) and toni colette. the american version actually aired first as the producers had bought the concept and made it before the israeli series had been completed, which isn't at all relevant to this review but i thought it was an interesting fact.

hostages concerns a talented surgeon, dr. yael danon (played by ayelet zurer), who is taken hostage along with her family on the eve of day she is to perform surgery on the prime minister. the hostage-takers, led by ex-cop adam rubin (jonah lotan), want yael to poison the prime minister during the surgery and will kill her family if she doesn't comply. in a series that takes no prisoners when it comes to its audience this high-stakes dilemma is merely the start of the danon family's problems.

hostages is a fast-paced, high concept thriller that throws us right into the action from the opening minutes and raises the stakes with each new twist and turn. despite how quickly it moves, the series never loses sight its characters and both the hostages and the hostage-takers are given equal focus. each of the family members had their own issues to deal with even before they were taken hostage, from the father who owes a considerable amount of money to a loan shark to the teenage daughter who has just discovered she is pregnant. essentially, we meet the family at a point where all these issues are about to reach boiling point, but moments before they do the family are taken hostage. the writers really use this to their advantage and often the family's problems become desperate solutions in outwitting the hostage takers.

the hostage takers too are well-characterised and never come across as cardboard cutout bad guys. this is most true of rubin who at the beginning of the first episode is shown to be an expert hostage negotiator himself so we know he knows the tricks of the trade (kind of like sam jackson in that movie, the negotiator). there is also unrest within the group and they are soon fighting among themselves as much as they are fighting with their hostages.

dr. yael danon is by far the best character in the series and one of the most interesting female characters i've seen on tv in a long time. in the first episode she fights back against rubin almost immediately, threatening to cut her own hands open so she can’t perform the surgery. from there she devises increasingly creative and increasingly desperate ways to thwart the hostage takers, knowing that her every move is being watched. zurer performs this grim determinaton in the face of impossible odds with real sincerity and manages to make some of the more unbelievable moments work.

hostages does at times test your suspension of disbelief and there are moments when the escalation and excruciating timing of events stretches plausibility, but then it’s still nowhere near approaching the dizzying insanity of something like 24. it’s only because the performances are so good and the series plays the reality of the situation so well that these moments stand out.

overall, the tension is played out really well and the pace is maintained throughout, whilst at the same time there is a constant air of mistrust and a sense that you can never take any of the characters on face value, even the good guys. however, what ultimately holds all this together and keeps you watching is the implied question in every scene – what would you do in this situation? how would you get out of this? comparing your own solutions to those of the characters makes this an endlessly entertaining series and one that is definitely worth a few hours of your time.

hostages is available now on dvd from arrow films

Saturday, 4 April 2015

teenage mutant ninja turtles

i've never read the comics, seen the movies, watched the cartoon or played the videogames, but for some reason i decided to watch the ninja turtles reboot.

i didn't enjoy it, so i won't spend too long talking about it. i mean, it was fine, the turtles looked cool, everyone did a good job, but there was like zero characterisation. bottom line, i didn't care about anyone. the only person i started caring about was megan fox's character and she is completely sidelined as soon as the turtles turned up. it wasn't for me.

anyway, i found something else cool last night. i've been watching a lot of paranormal stuff on tv and on youtube. here's the thing - i don't believe in ghosts. but i'm still afraid of them. i know, i don't get it, but that's how it is. so i've been watching a few videos where people try out ouija boards and nothing ever happens. then i found this one.

i've not looked into it too much, but there seems to be a general consensus that it's fake. i can see why, i mean it is very well shot and as one person pointed out the people don't talk over each other, which they would do in real life but not if they were performing. it doesn't matter, this video still scared the shit out of me, to the point where i was too scared to turn out the lights. i'd been watching creepy videos all night so was in a frame of mind where it probably seemed more scary than it actually is, but still i can't bring myself to watch the whole thing again.

also, i googled 'zozo' afterwards and my laptop froze, so i shut it down manually in case demons came out of the screen at me. yes, at 1am this morning that seemed like a realistic possibility.

if anyone can point me to the full story on this video, please let me know. i am genuinely interested.