Thursday, 13 September 2012

A bit of a change...

Right, just a quick update to say that I've moved the majority of my reviews over to, and will be putting all of my new writings up on there.

I've not yet decided whether I'll still use this Blogspot site, but chances are that I'll put my stuff up on both sites for the time being. I've just found that the new site is easier to manage, better to look at, and is a bit more organised. The only downer is that on the new site the funky new banner that I've made has to be minimised. Big boo to that.

Anyways, feel free to let me know your thoughts on any of this :)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Possession

The Possession is the the latest in a long line of exorcism films to hit the big screen. It is also the latest film to have Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead series, Darkman, Spider-man series) atttached in a producer capacity. The focal point of the story is an antique box that isn't quite what it seems. The story opens up with an elderly lady having a bit of a 'moment' with said box; a moment that leaves her worse for wear. From there on in the film focuses on a former family unit, consisting of a father, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen, The Losers, and Texas Killing Fields), his ex-wife, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick of Phenomenon, Man on a Ledge, and Gamer), and their two daughters, Emily (Natasha Calis) and Hannah (Madison Davenport). Clyde and Stephanie share custody of their daughters whilst maintaining a civil, yet tense, relationship. Stephanie has moved on to a new man in her life, whilst Clyde is engrossed in his career. Clyde has just moved in to a new house, and one weekend he ends up at a yard sale. It's at said yard sale that his youngest daughter, Emily, takes a fancy to a certain antique box. Seemingly locked, once back home, Emily manages to open the box and awaken it's secrets. From here on in, things take a turn for the weird.

Clyde is awoken one night by the screams of his eldest daughter, Hannah, as she finds herself sharing the bathroom with several moth type creatures. It slowly dawns on them that the moths seem to be emanating from Emily's bedroom. As they enter Emily's room, they are greeted by the sight of the entire room being covered by the flying beasties, with Emily sat on her bed. Clyde quickly rescues her from the infested room, but this is just the start of the strange events; slowly but surely, Emily develops an unhealthy obsession with the antique box. It soon becomes apparent that there is something sinister about said box, and Clyde starts to delve into it's mysteries as it begins to take over his daughter. To make matters worse, his ex wife, Stephanie, begins to suspect him of beating Emily, only further adding to the tension between the formerly married couple.

If looks could kill...

What makes this film different from the other exorcism films out there is the fact that it is essentially a Hebrew horror film, with the box, that so much of the film focuses on, being of a Jewish background. Every exorcism film has to have some form of faith or religion in it - that's how the whole concept of an exorcism works. With this film, the leads of the film find themselves having to research into the Jewish faith, having to seek out Rabbis, and having to make themselves familiar with beliefs that they are otherwise unaware of. The box in question is known as a Dybbuk Box, a box that it is believed contains the spirit of a dybbuk - an evil spirit from Jewish folklore. Clyde manages to get the assistance of the Jewish community in the form of a young man called Tzadok (played by the charismatic musician, Matisyahu). As the film heads towards it's finale, Tzadok takes centre stage.

Lost in the moment

Whilst the Jewish spin on things is a fresh approach to the genre, the film ultimately falls down in many ways. The first act of the The Possession promises much; the characters are established and fleshed out, the subtle scares nod towards the ominous events that are to come, and the pacing of the film, whilst slow at times, sets the mood well. The main problem with the film is that it takes a little too long to get to the meat of the action. I'm all for subtlety and a slow build, but the build here is a little too laboured for my liking. Add to this an at times laughable finale, and the film falls flat on it's face. When Tzadok is carrying out the exorcism, whilst no doubt authentic, it comes off as comical. One would almost be forgiven for thinking that he was free style rapping in the spirit of Rabbit from Eminem's 8 Mile. As well as this, there's the small matter of the demon in question. The effects throughout the film are generally very good, but, when the demon does finally makes an appearance, it resembles a poor man's Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. I also found myself having several issues with the cut of the film, mainly with it seemingly skipping to another scene mid scare. The score would build up to a booming, unnerving point, somebody would start to scream... then the scene ends mid scream and flips to other events, leaving you feeling a little short changed.

Not to say the film is all bad, though. As mentioned, the slow build of the first act is well done. There are also some excellent performances on show, with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Natasha Calis, in particular, shining in their roles. It's just a shame that a film that showed so much promise, that took a unique, fresh look at a genre that has been done to death, failed to deliver. Genre fans will enjoy it, but general moviegoers will find plenty of flaws with The Possession. From my perspective, I'd give the film a 2 out of 5 - it's worth a watch if you're a fan of similar films, just don't get your hopes up too much.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Total Recall (2012)

So, another year, another remake. This time it's Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall that's getting the remake/re-imaging/reinvention (delete as applicable) treatment. Verhoeven's film itself was based on a Phillip K. Dick short story, which has now in turn joined the list of recent Hollywood remakes. These remakes, such as The Karate Kid, Halloween, Fright Night, Conan The Barbarian, Piranha 3D, and Footloose, have all achieved varying levels of success over the last few years. That trend doesn't look like stopping any time soon, with new versions of Hellraiser, Dirty Dancing, Logan's Run, Carrie, and The Bodyguard on the horizon. For every Karate Kid there is a Batman Begins. Studios are looking to lace their pockets by playing on people's affections for the films of yesteryear, the films that they grew up with. Each of these films already has an initial, established fan base. Even if these remakes turn out to be horrendous, people's curiosity in the subject will inevitably lead to some people paying out their cash to see what this new offering has to give. So, does the 2012 incarnation of Total Recall have enough to offer so that it makes it both appealing to the original film's audience yet fresh enough to bring in a new audience? That is, indeed, the big money question.

The latest version of Total Recall is helmed by Len Wiseman (Underworld, Underworld: Evolution, and Die Hard 4.0), and features Colin Farrell in the role of Quaid - previously made famous by a certain Governor Schwarzenegger - with supporting roles for Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale amongst others. The premise of the film is that Quaid, a quiet, married everyman that works in a factory, has reoccurring dreams of a strange woman (Biel) and being hunted down by the powers that be. He can't get these dreams out of his head, and, as a result, keeps tossing around the idea of going to what is known as Rekall. Rekall is a place where people go and have memories implanted into their brain, mainly to take themselves away from the mundanity of every day life. They can imagine that they are a professional athlete, a film star, a secret agent; whatever their heart desires. Quaid succumbs to his urges and visits Rekall. The only rule with Rekall is that you can't ask for a memory to be implanted that already exists, for example, you cannot ask for the memory of a mistress to be put in to your head if you already have a mistress. Quaid decides that he wants his Rekall experience to be that of a secret agent. All is running to plan until the Rekall system hits a snag - it recognises that Quaid is already a secret agent. From here on in, modern day enforcement officers break into the Rekall centre, with Quaid freezing in fear on the spot. Out of the blue, something in Quaid takes control and he ends up taking down these agents, leaving him with the question of what's just happened and who he really is.

Amongst all of this, there's an uprising going on. The world as we know it has been split in to two nations; one that was formerly Great Britain, one that is simply known as The Colony. The former Britain is looked upon as the more affluent part of the world, with The Colony and it's inhabitants looked down upon. Those that live in The Colony are trying to gain equality and to be given a fair chance, yet a power mad politician, Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston), is looking to wipe out The Colony and to essentially privatise it. Quaid goes on a roller coaster ride in order to discover who he is, what is real, and what is just a memory. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife, whilst Jessica Biel plays the woman he sees in his dreams. Both of these tug at his emotions, trying to persuade Quaid of who he really is. Is he the everyman with a mundane life or is he really an agent of the rebellion, living a life of secrecy unbeknownst to himself.

"This isn't Bruges!"

Wiseman's version of Total Recall is a more grittier, realistic offering when compared to Verhoeven's. Whilst it works on some levels, it falls short on others. A remake is always going to generate comparisons to it's predecessor - this is where some problems come up. The original was a big favourite largely due it's tongue being firmly in it's cheek and it's ability not to take itself too seriously. This charm is lost in Wiseman's film. He decides to play it straight. The cast rise to the challenge, with Farrell a convincing lead - just don't be expecting a direct replicate of Arnie's Quaid here. The film is good for what it is, there's the action scenes you'd expect, there's familiar plot points, there's a strong lead, and there's lots of CGI. The film follows the same pattern as the original, yet changes in it's finale, plus leaves out some characters from the original, choosing to merge their characteristics into other characters. The quips and one liners that were such a staple of Verhoeven's original are left firmly alone with this film. Wiseman's film sets you up for what you'd expect, then differs at the last minute. It's tries to be a little too clever for it's own good at times, not having the charm of the original to pull off what it's attempting.

Just casually taking in the view - good light work, sir

Total Recall (2012) is by no means a bad film. The action flows at a good pace, with the film borrowing at times from the likes of Blade Runner, Tron: Legacy, the Bourne films, Stars Wars: Episode II (mainly for the scenes set in Coruscant), and, of course, the original Total Recall. Whilst by no means being a Batman Begins, this film is certainly not at the level of the recent incarnation of The Karate Kid. It's action packed, it's gritty, it does it's best to keep things as realistic as possible, yet it fails to realise that it comes across as a parody that takes itself a bit too serious for it's own good. I'd recommend Total Recall for a casual watch, giving it a steady 3 out of 5 rating, just don't go into it expecting the humour and tone of the original film.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The Expendables 2

The Expendables 2 pretty much picks up where the first movie left off. Fans of that film will find plenty more here for them to fill their plate with. Action, blowing things up, action, knife fights, action, huge set pieces, action, and, as it happens, a bit more action. This film, as well as the first one, is very clearly aimed at a certain type of market; the type that grew up through the 1980's and the cheesy macho dialogue that came with it, the type that went for muscles over character development, the type that would rather see Sly Stallone win a knife fight than Robert De Niro win an Oscar fight. These people will be mightily pleased with The Expendables 2 and all that comes with it.

Come and 'ave a go if you think you're 'ard enough

The film brings back the majority of the cast from the first film; Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Randy Couture, Terry Crews, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger returning in their roles. If that wasn't enough action heroes to satisfy your needs, you'll be pleased to know that Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, as well as Liam Hemsworth (brother of Thor's Chris Hemsworth), have been added to the mix. One thing that is different as far as this film goes is that Sly Stallone has handed over directing duties to Simon West (best known for Con Air and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider). West's style is to flesh out more of the action, to let the audience see more of what is going on, as oppose to Stallone's muddled, intense, close up style for the action scenes in the first film. Sly does still have a hand in the writing duties, meaning that the film has a very similar feel to the original in other ways. The film basically follows the same principles as the first film, just with additional Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris, and expanded roles for Bruce Willis and Arnie.

The film starts off with a huge, testosterone drenched set piece, as Stallone's crew undertake a rescue mission. Not long after this, whilst celebrating their success, Bruce Willis' Church makes a proposal to Sly Stallone's Barney Ross. Stallone gets his troops together, and off they go in search of an airplane wreck, accompanied by Nan Yu's Maggie to oversee operations at the request of Church. Upon getting to the wreckage, they come across a rival group trying to salvage something from the crash scene; a rival group headed up by Van Damme's villain of the piece. Van Damme and his team escape with what they came for, as well as taking the life of one of the Expendables. Stallone and company then engage in a good old fashion revenge mission.

"That's not a knife..."

Van Damme and his team are enslaving and exploiting local villagers in mining for extreme plutonium, whilst generally just snarling at the screen and chewing up the scenery. It's Stallone and Co's task to track him down, free the miners, and take revenge for their fallen comrade... all while blowing up as much stuff as possible. The film doesn't hide from what it is. The dialogue is all very tongue in cheek, with various nods to action films and heroes of years gone by. Don't be surprised to hear an 'I'll be back' or a 'Yippee-Ki-Yay!' along the way, and don't be surprised to see certain heroes manage to dodge a barrage of bullets, yet manage to land every single one of their own shots. The action is full on from the get go, with no times spent developing characters. If you're sitting down to watch this film, then the chances are you are more than likely to know exactly what to expect. The violence is plentiful, the gore extreme, the acting minimal. That said, there are a few more subtle performances, such as Liam Hemsworth's Billy The Kid. Hemsworth's performance distances himself from most of the other performers, with him bringing an effective, emotional core to his ex forces operative. All of the other main players are great in their roles, doing exactly what you'd expect of them. The real standout of the film, though, is Jean-Claude Van Damme. Van Damme makes a brilliant first impression, then turns up fleetingly throughout the film, each time devouring the scenes and making himself the star of the piece. He has a cool, cocky vibe that's backed up by his infamous spin kicks. Whilst he could have done with more screen time, showing him in short, swift sequences leaves you wanting more. Also worthy of a mention is Chuck Norris in his role as Booker, who conveniently turns up to assist Barney Ross and team at just the right times. There's also a slew of Chuck Norris references thrown in, varying from nods to his past roles to flat out poking fun at the Internet craze of Chuck Norris facts - if you don't know what I mean, just Google the term 'Chuck Norris Facts'.

The joy of Chuck Norris facts

The film is fast, furious and pulls no punches. It's all compacted nicely into 90 minutes, and it gives you plenty of bang for your buck. The only disappointment for me was that Jet Li's role was greatly reduced for this film - if only there would have been a Jet Li and Van Damme face off. As mentioned earlier, this film is for a very particular audience, and those people will not be disappointed. The film is a lot more smoother than the first one, mainly down to getting a better visual on what is happening in the big action sequences. I'd give the film a healthy 3 bad one liners out of 5. For those people that are a fan of the '80's and '90's action genre, it may rank higher. All that's left now is to discuss who will be in the sequel. Already there's talk of Wesley Snipes, Nicholas Cage, Steven Seagal, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Don Johnson, Charlie Sheen, and even Clint Eastwood being involved in the sequel - and there will be a sequel. In typical Stallone fashion, he's shaped himself a nice little franchise again.

Thursday, 23 August 2012


Marley is a documentary that looks at the life of one of music's most iconic figures, Bob Marley. Robert Nesta Marley was born in St Ann, Jamaica on 6th February, 1945. This documentary charts his rise from the slums of Jamaica to becoming a musical and political leader; a symbol of peace across the world.

The documentary originally had Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York) attached to direct, only for him to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs, and various work with The Pretenders and Bruce Springsteen) then took the reigns, only to leave over creative differences. The film finally fell in to the hands of Kevin Macdonald (The Last King of Scotland), who looked to craft the definitive Marley story. Macdonald uses the near 2 1/2 hour running time to chronicle all aspects of Bob's life, for better or for worse. The film doesn't pull any punches, and highlights Marley's flaws as well as his genius. Macdonald really does cover all bases when giving his account of Marley; there's photographs, interviews, concert footage and more. A vast array of the key people in Bob's life are heavily featured here. There are interviews with several members of Bob's band, The Wailers, as well as interviews with various producers, friends and family, with his wife, Rita, given a large amount of screen time. Out of the reported eleven children that were reportedly fathered by Marley, only two are featured here, Ziggy and Cedella, with them giving varying thoughts on their father.

The film starts off by documenting Marley's upbringing, surroundings and family life in the slums of Jamaica's Trench Town. Born to a Jamaican mother and an English father, the young Bob struggled with his identity. Being neither white nor black, he struggled to fit in with his peers and was often left isolated as a result. It was only in his teenage years that Marley found an escape and optimism in music, using it as a tool to express himself and to connect to others. He started to collaborate with what would go on to become known as The Wailers, quickly picking up a following in Jamaica. From here, tours to the UK and the USA were on the horizon to see if the band could spread their message to a wider audience. Of course, this was achieved with a huge amount of success.

Whilst the film tells the well known tale of Bob Marley's musical ascendancy, it is the other parts of the overall picture that offer an insight into the lesser known parts of Bob's life and character. Whilst so often a sign of warmth, hope and celebration across the world, he was often distant and cold to those closest to him. This is discussed by those that truly knew the man, with he himself even describing himself as having the ability to be "as hard as stone yet soft as water". Ziggy Marley, the eldest of Bob's children, describes his father, whilst being loving, as not being overly tender and outward showing with his love for his children. That said, when a man has had eleven children by seven women then I'm sure the love can often run thin. The film makes no attempt to hide Bob's womanising ways, although those interviewed about the subject almost try to justify his actions, with his lawyer describing being faithful to one woman as a Westernised ideology. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, all events are openly and honestly discussed by those involved. At one point, Bob's wife, Rita, claims that she was happy for Bob to have relationships with other women as it kept him happy and didn't detract from the greater mission - to spread their message as far and wide as possible. Bob's daughter, Cedella, has differing opinions on this, though.

One thing that the film did open my eyes to was the Rastafari movement. Whilst being aware of Rastas and Marley's beliefs, I was relatively unaware of the exact nature of Rastafari and how deep an influence it was on Marley's music. The documentary elaborates on the Rastafari way and their worship of Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia, and their belief that he was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. The film delves into the Rastafari faith but without ramming any particular beliefs down the viewers throat. It is fascinating to see the influence that all of this had on Marley, himself somebody that is now revered as an almost mythical, God like figure to millions across the globe. He managed to become a symbol himself, introducing the world to the heavily Rastafari influenced reggae style of music.

Macdonald's documentary is simply the definitive Bob Marley story. It covers the good, the bad, the tragic, the extent of Marley's touch on the world, and all things in between. Bob was an extremely complex individual; driven, conflicted, free thinking, expressive, loyal, caring, selfish, and somebody who showed extreme determination and willing in trying to make his voice heard and to unite people. The film is heartwarming at times, heartbreaking at others. It transitions seamlessly through all of the key influences and events in Bob's life, accompanied by a soundtrack of some of Marley's greatest work. All Bob Marley wanted was to make the world a better place. The film documents his struggle to make this happen, from his early days, living on the poverty line, up until his premature death at the age of 36 in 1981.

One thing that you'll notice about this film is the amount of smiles on show. Literally, every person is happy in giving their thoughts on Bob Marley and his influence on the world around him. Even during the moments that put Marley in a less than favourable light, the people being interviewed still give off a radiancy whilst giving their anecdotes. Those who watch this will struggle not to do the same. Whether you're a Bob Marley fan or not, this is a brilliant, informative, no holds barred, definitive look at an artist that transcended music and became a symbol of positivity for all people. I'd give Marley 4 guitar strums out of 5.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

God Bless America

God Bless America is the latest film from the mind of Bobcat Goldthwait (best known by a generation for playing Zed in the Police Academy series). Since stepping away from acting and the stage, Goldthwait has sporadically mixed his directorial work between the big and small screens. Using his experience as a stand up comic, Goldthwait's writing style is best described as darkly humourous, with this latest offering easily labelled as a black comedy. The main focus of the story here is Frank (Joel Murray of Hatchet fame) and his realisation that America is falling to pieces around him. The country is obsessed with reality TV shows, objectifying children, making celebrities out of people with no talent, glamourising the purported perfect image that everyone should ascertain to, and the citizens are generally just plain rude, inconsiderate and materialistic. Frank dreams of cleansing the nation, mainly shown through fantasies he has of murdering co-workers, killing ignorant neighbours and the like. It's only when he suffers a number of setbacks in his life that he decides to turn these fantasies into reality.

Frank has a sudden implosion when he loses his job, his young daughter doesn't want to visit him, and he is diagnosed with a terminal tumour. He finds himself alone, depressed with the world around him, and sat in front of a television showing a 16 year old girl having a hissy fit because her father bought her the wrong sports car. It is then that he decides to embark on his cleansing mission, starting with the 16 year old girl on his TV screen. He sets off across country to kill her, upon which time he stumbles across another 16 year old by the name of Roxy (the excellent Tara Lynne Barr), who sees what he is doing, shares the majority of his opinions, and wants to become the Robin to his Batman. Frank's initial plan is to kill the 16 year old from the TV show, then to take his own life. Roxy persuades him that there are more people out there that deserve to be killed, and that by killing himself he would be killing the wrong person. So it is, they set off on the task in hand - to rid America of those who exploit others, those that give celebrity status to those with minimal talent, to those that have an unfounded sense of entitlement, to those that bully the less fortunate, to those that are just simply rude and not very pleasant.

Frank doing his best Kurt Cobain impression *Note: Courtney Love just out of shot

I picked up this DVD with thoughts of Bonnie & Clyde, Kick Ass, Hobo With a Shotgun and Natural Born Killers in mind. Whilst not outright copying any of the aforementioned films, it does borrow from each one of them at times. The partners in crime, cross country murder spree echoes Bonnie & Clyde and Natural Born Killers. The everyman cleaning up society by any means necessary screams Hobo With a Shotgun, whilst the foul mouthed teenage girl showing no remorse in merciless killings is easily relatable to Kick Ass' Hit Girl. All of these aspects blend together to form a snappy, witty, informative, satirical look at what today's world has become.

The McDonalds' drive-thru forgot her extra fries

God Bless America is by no means just a movie with a lot of bloodshed, although the blood is free flowing. The film has a very dry, dark underbelly to it. It points the finger firmly at what modern society has become; the fact that it is near impossible to have a conversation with somebody without it being interrupted by a text message, that it is unheard of to visit the cinema without your viewing experience being disturbed by others, the fact that children throw a temper tantrum because they've been bought a Blackberry instead of an iPhone. The film highlights the problems incurred when society allows a show such as The X Factor to be it's moral compass, to give an example of what is acceptable and appropriate in today's world. Frank and Roxy set out to write the wrongs of the new generation, a generation that seemingly lacks accountability for it's actions. The film also highlights the hate mongering caused by the likes of propaganda feeding talk shows and Fred Phelps style cults.

Not quite the duet that The X Factor expected

The film flies along at a rapid pace, lasting approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. Frank is established on edge from the get go, and Roxy comes along to justify his actions. She's his cheerleader, urging him to go through with his deepest desires, begging him to let her assist him. They strike up a kinship, with Frank becoming an almost fatherly figure during some of the more tender moments of the film. Golthwait manages to find tenderness in the horrific and brutal events of the film, yet still doesn't detract from the overall tone. The frantic, hate fueled first act slows down towards the middle of the film, fleshing out the relationship between it's two leads, before then flying full force into it's final act. The chemistry of the main characters is undeniable, with the smart, observational-yet-accurate dialogue helping the film flow fantastically. Add to this an expertly pieced together soundtrack featuring the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Kinks, Betty Hutton, and Alice Cooper, and the mood is set perfectly for what is a true blast of a ride.

I can't recommend this film enough, and it could be the hidden gem of the year so far. Whatever side of the fence you're on, you won't be able to deny the points made in the film. Society is eating itself, ridiculing itself, hating itself. Frank is a vessel for Bobcat Goldthwait, and surely a generation of others, to vent their feelings on the vitriol that is spewed from televisions sets, the need to put people on a pedestal for no reason, the need to live up to a supposed image, the act of being rude because you don't know any better. Goldthwait conjures up a fantastic, satirical piece of work that shows what we have become and what we are doing to ourselves. Whilst the likes of The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers might take the big box offices this year, receive the big promotional pushes and garner mass audiences around the globe, I urge you to give this film a chance; you won't be disappointed. I give God Bless America a fully flushed out 5 out of 5.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Haunting of Whaley House

The Haunting of Whaley House is set up as an atmospheric, tense supernatural tale. The story focuses on the house referenced in the title. The Whaley House is a real building, located in San Diego. It was home to Thomas Whaley and several generations of his family. The house is apparently haunted by the Whaley family and has been recognised officially by the US Commerce Department as one of only two haunted houses in California, and the most haunted house in the whole of the USA. All in all, it sounds like a pretty freaky place then.

I'm pretty sure this cover borrows just a tad from  Identity

The film's opening scene introduces you to the house, courtesy of a few curious teens. The story quickly turns it's attention to the ghostly tours that guests can go on during the day, focusing on a young member of staff, Penny (played by the effortlessly stunning Stephanie Greco). Penny is a non believer of all things that go bump in the night. She works as a tour guide at the property, regaling visitors with the history of the house and it's former inhabitants, so that she can pay her way through medical school. Whilst carrying out one of her routine tours, a visitor gets freaked out and suddenly has a seizure. The house is promptly closed up for the day, with Penny's seasoned co-worker, Bethany (played by genre veteran, Lynn Lowry - she of Shivers, Cat People, and The Crazies fame), giving her some sage advice on respecting the house and the spirits that rest within. We then swiftly cut to later that day, with Penny, her boyfriend, and three of her friends discussing the spooky, old house. One of her friends, Craig (Graham Denman), suggests that the friends all spend the night at the property, seeing it as a perk of Penny's job. Of course, as ever the case with films of this ilk, they end up persuading Penny to get them access to the house. Craig also brings along his 'cousin', who just happens to have all of the usual ghost hunting weapons of choice, such as EVP recorders, digital temperature readers, electricity field meters, yada, yada, yada. Craig's cousin happens to also bring along a television psychic, Keith Drummond (Howard McNair).  From here on in, the film gets to the meat of it's story.

The actual Whaley House

Within a matter of minutes, the strange noises start and the film heads in the direction you'd expect. The cast are mainly forgettable, the scares predictable. One major gripe of mine is the score, particularly when in relation to the scares. The score seems to be slapping you in the face, letting you know when you should be scared. Discreet and subtle, it is not. Whilst the characters are forgettable, the acting is fairly solid across the board, barring McNair's Derek Acorah style psychic. His performance is woeful. His staggered, unstructured delivery is painful to watch and is an instant turn off. I genuinely cannot think of a worse performance in recent memory, not even so bad it's good, not even so bad it's funny - just simply bad. So simply bad it's as simply bad as Simply Red. That's not where the shortcomings end though, unfortunately. The editing of the piece is also all over the place, lacking continuity massively at times, the cuts just badly timed and taking any emotion away from the film. As with the score, the spirits also seem a little overdone and a bit too loud and proud. They're shown often and firmly in sight of the viewer. There's no suspenseful reveals, no vaguely shot ghostly goings on. The spirits are just there, as clear as the victims of the piece, and rammed down your throat.

Make a note, this is one of the only times I'll ever say the use of boobs was totally unwarranted

Whilst it seems I'm completely down on the film, it wasn't without it's charms. As mentioned above, the acting is generally solid across the board, just McNair's performance standing out a mile for it's sheer awfulness. The rest of the actors fill their roles well, it's just that most of the characters are instantly forgettable. The shooting of the film is nicely done, with the colour scheme nicely played throughout - it's just let down by the editing. One big plus for me, is, being a big Shivers fan, it's always nice to see Lynn Lowry make an appearance on the big or small screen. She's had several hiatuses over the years, but I always keep an eye out for her as Shivers has stuck with me since I first saw it way back when.

Always a treat to see Lynn Lowry

All in all, the film will have a certain appeal to fans of the genre; to the casual fan, not so much so. The passing fan will likely just see this as a generic horror piece, predictable scares, bland cast, the usual haunted house formula. Fans of horror will find some redeeming features in the film, and it does have several, but it's not going to set the world alight. I'd give The Haunting of Whaley House a firm 2 spooks out of 5.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012


Let me first start off by saying, despite the cute, cuddly teddy bear lead, this is not a film to take the kids to. Ted is a crass, vulgar, very adult comedy from Seth MacFarlane, the creative mind behind Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show and Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy. If you've ever seen any of the aforementioned shows then you know his style of humour is very adult and often oversteps the mark with a lot of people. Ted is no different.

The ever charming star of the film

The basic premise is that John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg - The Fighter, The Departed, Three Kings and, of course, Boogie Nights) receives a teddy bear for Christmas as an 8 year old. The younger version of Wahlberg's John isn't very good with other kids, and finds himself isolated and in need of a best buddy. One night he makes a wish for his teddy bear, who he has creatively called Ted (played by MacFarlane himself), to come to life and be his best friend for life. Miraculously, when John wakes up in the morning, his wish has come true. Ted is now a walking, taking, breathing teddy bear. From here on, Ted becomes a celebrity and gains a following, even appearing on the Johnny Carson Show. Fast forward 27 years later and the best buddies are now all grown up and living in an apartment with John's girlfriend, Lori (Mila Kunis - Black Swan, Family Guy, Max Payne and, of course, American Psycho 2). John and Lori's 4 year anniversary is looming on the horizon, giving John the worry that she's going to expect something big, something wedding ring big. Whilst they're more than happy in their relationship, she's at the point where she's looking for her 35 year old partner of 4 years to put down his teddy bear and for them to get on with the more serious, settling down type stuff; largely prompted by a stripper, brought back by Ted, having a 'number two' on their living room floor. This is where Marky Mark has to bite the bullet and have the 'you need to move out' conversation with his best friend of 27 years.

The eternal question - which one farted?

And so it goes, Ted understands John's position and moves out to his own apartment and gets himself his first job, working as a check out attendant at a local store. There's some laughs along the way, most notably some brilliant responses to questions asked in Ted's job interview (mentally noted, ready to use in my next interview). The film pans out much as you'd expect, apart from Ted having a creepy fan, played by the always fun Giovanni Ribisi, that is offering to buy Ted as a toy for his young son. Ribisi's character has been obsessed with Ted since he was a child and will seemingly not take no for an answer.

As always with MacFarlane's work, there's lots of references thrown in for people of a certain generation; that generation being those that experienced their childhood in the '80's. There's nods and winks to the likes of Star Wars, TJ Hooker, Indiana Jones, Cabbage Patch Kids, Teddy Ruxpin, Cheers, Top Gun, Nintendo's NES, lots and lots of shout outs to Flash Gordon (including a cameo by the man himself, Sam J Jones), and many more. There's even a great scene with John and Ted lined up, in fancy dress, ready to watch Stars Wars: The Phantom Menace. Anybody of a certain age will be fully aware of the anticipation felt in the build up to that movie... and we all know what happened next.

Words fail me...

The film follows a relatively predictable path, but at the same time you often find yourself genuinely caring for a stuffed toy, albeit a talking, swearing, drinking, prostitute-liking toy. The characters are played out well, with Wahlberg again showing that he can do comedy when given the right material, and Kunis carefully walking the line between demanding, realistic, sympathetic and appreciative. The ending pulls on the heartstrings and there's lots of feel good moments throughout the film, in typical MacFarlane style - I'm just a little surprised that he didn't throw any show tunes or major dance numbers in there. That said, for the Boogie Nights nerd in me, there was a Wahlberg dance scene, not quite harking back to his Dirk Diggler or Marky Mark days though.

Sadly the dance scene didn't quite live up to Dirk Diggler standard

There is a chance that this film will offend certain people, but if you're familiar with MacFarlane's previous work, and are a fan, then chances are you will be firmly in your comfort zone when the expletives begin to fly (and fly they do) and the tone sharply begins to lower. I was a little surprised that the film only received a 15 rating, as some of the humour is definitely of an 18 certificate nature, but it is what it is. If you like MacFarlane's humour and tone then this is definitely for you and I'd give it a firm 4 cursing bears out of 5.

Friday, 27 July 2012

The Shrine

The Shrine is a film that has been floating around for a few years now but only got a UK release in February of this year. The basic premise is that an American tourist, Eric Taylor, goes missing whilst travelling across Europe, Poland to be precise, and nobody knows what has happened to him. The Polish police aren't very helpful and the American police are too busy to spare the man power to look into the case in any depth. The case is picked up by a reporter back in Eric's hometown. The opening few scenes suggest that the reporter, Carmen (Cindy Sampson), is in the middle of a career slump and needs a big story to help her get 'back in the game'. She goes to her boss with the story but he tells her to leave it alone and to focus on a local story involving bees. Being the brash, aggressive, 'eyes on the prize' type, Carmen completely ignores her boss. This is merely one of numerous mistakes that she makes throughout the film. It's established early on in the film that Carmen has a slightly strained relationship with her boyfriend, Marcus (Smallville's very own Jimmy Olsen, Aaron Ashmore - not to be confused with X-Men's Iceman, Shawn Ashmore). She doesn't seem to have time for him, acts on a whim and seems to be mainly focused on whatever benefits her.

That stain's gonna be a bitch to get out - where's the Vanish?

After meeting Eric's mother, Carmen borrows Eric's diary - his luggage having been returned home - and finds out his last recorded steps. This leads to a small, primitive Polish town that literally has a dark cloud hanging over it. The locals are depicted as basic, aggressive, secretive and wary of 'outsiders'. It's established that only a few of the locals, mainly the children, speak English. It's also established that the villagers aren't afraid of making visitors aware that they are not welcome. Carmen has managed to convince Marcus, conveniently a photographer, and Sara, an intern at the newspaper, to fly to Poland with her to get the real story on what happened to Eric. Following Eric's last steps, the group come across a large cloud that constantly floats above the woods. This is basically the last thing Eric saw, meaning that they go into the woods for a further inspection. The cloud is thick, dark and gives no visibility. Marcus holds back from going into the cloud, whereas the girls let their curiosity get the better of them and both go in, one by one, for a closer look. Once inside the cloud, the girls can see nothing at all until they individually come across a creepy looking statue. Sara is the first to find her way out of the cloud, followed by Carmen. The unhappy locals then turn up and a chase ensues. The film then gets into familiar territory, with the protagonists getting captured and tortured. The film then takes a largely refreshing change of pace and tone, with the real story becoming clear.

Carmen, Marcus and Sara - the 'victims'

I wasn't expecting much from The Shrine, but I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst it's not going to change the face of the horror genre, it is great little feature. It has some familiar plot points and some familiar characters but it manages to do something different with them than so many other films do. There's a sense of predictability during the most part of the film, then it changes things up and shows influences from the likes of The Wicker Man, The Exorcist and Sam Raimi. I was expecting the usual, standard, throwaway horror. Instead I got a genuinely freaky film with some standout moments. The one big gripe I did have was with the main lead, Carmen. She comes across as obnoxious, selfish, annoying, uncaring and insincere - not the traits I'd normally look for to get sympathy and concern for the supposed victim of the piece. Still, there's Aaron Ashmore to cheer for, and he does a good job as the more logical, rational and 'everyman' type. The rest of the characters are fine for what they are, with a nice appearance from Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer's Trevor Matthews as one of the villagers. The Polish spoken seems a little off to me, but I'm no expert in that and it's likely down to the fact that most of the villagers aren't actually played by Polish actors.

All in all, I'd say to give this film a chance if you're at a loose end one night. You just might be surprised by the not so formulaic twists and turns.

Not winning...

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Documenting The Grey Man

The first thing that grabbed me about this film, as with so many films of a similar nature, was the DVD cover art. It depicted a young girl, back arched, floating above her bed. It was an instantly creepy image and definitely piqued my interest. Maybe I'm just a sucker that gets easily drawn in by shock imagery.

Wouldn't fancy my chances against her in a limbo competition

The basic premise surrounds a South Carolina legend called The Grey Man. The Grey Man is a spirit that appears on the beach to warn the locals when a hurricane is on it's way - think Michael Fish but without the 'tache and glasses. As well as haunting the beaches, a local family claim that he haunts their family home. The film starts off with a documentary crew discussing The Grey Man. They are just a normal group of filmmakers but decide that they are going to pose as ghost hunters and investigate the spooky goings on. They plan to film their documentary in two parts; one where they purposely stage haunted events and one where they reveal the tricks they used to convince people of the ghostly occurences. They go in with the logic that the legend of The Grey Man is a myth, merely an urban legend. They want to expose how easy it is for the ghost hunters of the world to fake spooky goings on. The film is shot in the handheld, found footage style of predecessors such as The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, Cloverfield, Pamela & Tommy Lee, et al, with the cameras being on throughout the entirity of the teams' adventure.

The film starts slow, with the crew interviewing a few locals about The Grey Man. From there they move on to the house in question, a large, isolated, rural property way out in the sticks. Here you get introduced to the family, the Simms', that are apparently haunted by the spirit. There's the concerned and open wife, there's the private, non-believing, distant husband, and then there's the slightly creepy daughter. The house also has a Scooby Doo-esque caretaker type character. I was just waiting for Shaggy to try and remove the caretaker's 'mask', only for it to be real, Scooby to give out a "Rikes!" and then hiliarty to ensue. Sadly this was not the case.


As the crew are having sit down interviews with the family members and setting up cameras across the house, it becomes apparent that all is not as fake as they had anticipated. The film teases the tension well at times, not giving away too much too soon. This backfires though. The film only runs for just over an hour - I think 1 hour 4 minutes is the official running times, credits and all. That's a ridiculously short length for a feature film. Even worse is that the first real scares start to come at about the 40 minute mark, leaving just the final 20 minutes of the film for the spookiness to make itself known. The initial shock moments work relatively well, it's just the big pay off that disappoints. The final part of the film, the big finale, the part that everything thus far has been hinting at just falls flat on it's face. It leaves you shrugging your shoulders and mumbling "meh". It's just a throwaway, nothing ending. You know what's coming, it comes, it doesn't get entirely explained why, and then it's a case of 'la FIN!' and done.

The crew planning their hoax haunting

The general idea of the film had a lot of potential. The slow build up throughout the film works well, the tone is set, the action isn't rushed, the scares don't happen right off the bat... then the last 20 minutes just crams everything together. I can't even call it a case of pacing problems as so much as it's more the length of the film that has me scratching my head. The first 40 minutes would work fine if it was a 90 minute film. The fact that it's a 64 minute film just throws everything off. Another big flaw with the film is the acting. The majority of the delivery is horrendous. It can get away with this at times, especially when the crew involved are essentially playing the roles of over the top ghost hunter types. It's at the other times where the poor levels of acting stand out, even from the opening scene of the film.

If you're a fan of the recent found footage style film then you may want to give this a try. One of the plus points is that at least it is short, with you being able to get through it in basically an hour. When the scares do come then a few of them work well, the more subtle ones. It's when the supposed 'big scares' happen that you just don't get a sense of terror. It just feels inflated, over the top and poorly acted. As I've said though, and as a self confessed horror geek, this may be worth a watch for some genre fans. Lord knows I happily sit through films that I'm fully aware may be seen as trash by most, and even at times by myself. It's almost par for the course of being a horror fan.

Michael Fish - Could this be The Grey Man?