The Found Footage Festival (Live Show) Review


This week I had the pleasure of attending the Found Footage Festival, running downstairs in the Soho Theatre for 4 nights.

Two rules govern Found Footage Festival: 1) Footage must be found on physical format. No YouTube! 2) It has to be unintentionally funny. Whatever it’s trying to do, it has to fail miserably at that. And no YouTube!”

Joe Pickett and Nick Prueher are the doting and tireless masterminds behind The Found Footage Festival, a unique show that showcases footage from videos that were found at garage sales and thrift stores and in warehouses and dumpsters across the country (and this country thanks to the superb Leeds sourced VHS ‘Famous Tits & Arses’ the hosts proudly displayed). The show itself works very well, Tom and Nick gently lead the show admirably, their restrained and amiable Mystery Science Theatre-like commentary is never unwelcome or overtly snarky. The influence, homage and straight up ripping of these clips that we see in intentional comedy like Tim & Eric is apparent, its really refreshing to see the originals in all their earnest glory, managing to at times be pretty adorable and often damn eerie. The amusingly edited (but never over-tinkered) clips cram in hunk worship, instructional ferret-care, some of the most surreal keep-fit you’ve never even imagined, histrionic shopping networks hosts, creaky  infomercials, health and safety horrors that flit between the quite effective and the baffling and joyous levels of video tech wizardry, varying in tone but all warranting hearty laughs. My personal favourite is simply one middle aged man’s super focussed enthusiasm for weaponry, I can honestly say I have never witnessed someone going at a water cooler with a sword and I now question why I have never previously demanded to.

Our hosts give the audiences’ eyes a rest between the garish footage with funny tales of their footage sourcing and a friendly ease that pitches the event’s pace and length perfectly. Overall a nostalgic and hilarious praise of what is unique to the eighties and nineties. Through well worn VHS and questionable hair the show happily avoids being mean spirited, instead we share a charming nod at a time when everything wasn’t drowned in irony. This is pure affection for a period that was so wonderfully summed up by a simple homespun film format. Even the occasional technical faults on the night were fitting, truly suiting the VCR viewing experience with all its practical frustrations. At times, especially to the right Blu-ray ignoring nerd or trash aficionado (Guilty!), one gets a wholly warm feeling from the clips, presentation and the hosts’ personal efforts to bring these foraged gems to our shores.

In short the Found Footage Festival is AUTOMATICALLY OUTSTANDING!

The Found Footage Festival continues till 30th March:

Found Footage is also a gnarly way to kill hours online:

(March 2013)


ABCs of Death Review



26 film makers, each given $5000, 5 minutes and a letter of the alphabet…The ABCs of Death.

A: A semi effective opener, with a semi effective display of domestic violence that at least musters a semi effective context at the end. Dir: Nacho Vigalondo 2/5

B: This may be the least intense execution of a horror ever put to film. It’s certainly one of the most incompetent and during I suddenly became very grateful of the scant runtime. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

C: Managing to make 5 minutes feel like 5 hours, the creator appears to believe he has a mind bending concept on his hands as opposed to a rather dull concept on the bottom of his shoe. Timecrimes (2007) is the film this segment wants to be when it grows up, which was actually made by the director of the opening short. Dir: Adrián García Bogliano 0/5

D: Essentially a well shot music video, but impressively staged with overtures of Fight Club here and Gaspar Noe’s anally penetrative short Sodomites there. Dir: Marcel Sarmiento 3/5

E: Likeable actress Ms. Bettis may want to remain in front of the camera. Cheap CGI spiders? Is that it? Yep that’s it! From the off it is completely void of the adequate creep needed to provide anything in the way or interest. Dir: Angela Bettis 0/5

F: Right on cue the first Japanese entry shows up with its fists full of crazy and poised to smear that crazy all over our faces.  Vastly silly but most jarringly introducing a running theme of bowel based humour that near sabotages any tone that the whole project might be trying to establish. The only exception to this ill-advised pattern begins with the letter T. Dir: Noboru Iguchi 1/5

G: Brace yourself for some contemporary POV action. Or rather sit in calm anticipation through 5 minutes of scenic lead up to next to nothing. Dir: Andrew Traucki 1/5

H: One of the more unique efforts but also a strong argument for why cartoon aesthetics translated into live action are a bit too unsettling. At its best displaying some weird humour and accomplished FX. Not bad for a fetishistic Furry’s wet-dream. Dir: Thomas Cappelen Malling 2/5

I: Now we’re getting somewhere. An entry that is in a sense is the thinking man’s torture porn but is also effectively horrific in its minimalism. And not a moment too soon in the running to finally witness some deft skill. Dir: Jorge Michel Grau 4/5

J: Continued J-sanity with samurai, mercenary gurning and giggly gore, it also surely deserves some imaginary award for being the first entry to make me audibly laugh. Dir: Yudai Yamaguchi 3/5

 K: A cartoon non-hilarity that tacks on an ill-fitting ending and generally misses any mark. This skit notably risks ruining things especially being placed amid some of the strongest entries. Really disappointing when you realise it’s by the director of the solid Danish animation film Princess (2006). Dir: Anders Morgenthaler 0/5

L: Otherwise known as Indonesian-crass-contest-of-doom pushes the realms of taste like a trooper and wades around in vile lunacy along with some seriously dark humour. Easily one of the best segments (if not the best overall), near unrivalled in the impact stakes and assuredly not for the sensitive. Short, sharp shock at its best. Dir: Timo Tjahjanto 5/5

M: ‘’Really now Ti West with this and your V/H/S instalment I am really starting to worry about you.’’ A vapid visual gross-out that is supposed to be a bit edgy but just isn’t. Dir: Ti West 0/5

N: A note of levity that while not unwelcome isn’t exactly inspiring. A simple a comedy sketch that while sort of mildly funny is overwhelmingly un-horror. Dir: Banjong Pisanthanakun 2/5

O: Some pretence involving oddly subdued S&M innuendo and bubbles. Occasionally resembling something stylistically pretty (or should that be eighties) but an awkward fit in the run that leaves no impression other than a dated after taste. Dir: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani 1/5

P: A competent and refreshing break from some of the more puerile entries, not so much in complexity but in being a fair few notches up on the effective scale and having a far less by the numbers genre set up and conclusion. Dir: Simon Rumley 4/5

Q: Fellow V/H/S fault figure Adam Wingard goes all Meta with his effort, a dicey move that thankfully pays off in a vaguely satirical and satisfyingly funny manner. This will go towards you climbing off my anthology shit-list someday Wingard. Dir: Adam Wingard 4/5

R: An icky Cronenbergian art-house Frankenstein, hopefully those words make sense in some order as it’s basically what you have in this short. Either way its miles better than Spasojevic’s previous feature-length A Serbian Film. Dir: Srdjan Spasojevic 3/5

S: If there is one thing worse than terrible horror it is terrible exploitation, especially when aping an already derivative Robert Roderiguez on his laziest day. With an arsenal of self-conscious swearing and no vision, it appears leagues of people still believe that some celluloid reel after effect, stock girls with alternative hair, bad dialogue and plastic weaponry make for a wild ride. Embarrassing. Dir: Jake West 0/5

T: Managing to be quite funny and the most endearing. Partly due to its inclusion through winning a competition for the anthology and also being that it’s good old homely Claymation with a comically British approach. Dir: Lee Hardcastle 4/5

U: Regional zombie POV that doesn’t set the world alight but also doesn’t disappoint. It does provide a rare glimpse of empathy for the unseen ghoul and feels like a slightly fresher angle on the undead. Not bad after my none-more negative experience with Kill List (2011), especially with this seemingly filmed on location between Kill List’s scenes. Dir: Ben Wheatley 3/5

V: A weighty live action Playstation-4 cut scene with a few too many ideas than it’s able to convey in it’s short time. Robotic-pizazz and some interesting potential as either a superior video game or an average (or less than) genre film are positives but it does wind up feeling like a work in progress trailer for film investors. Dir: Kaare Andrews 3/5

W: Another attempt at being post-modern. Those behind the scenes step forward and aim for the chaotic charm of Troma but the results are a bit too scrappy and not quite funny enough. Dir: Jon Schnepp 2/5

X: Hooray for body horror, this holds as the most visceral entry and is every inch a Xavier Gans film namely with its innate ability to be stylish and graphically bleak, very in line with the current wave of French horror, explicit and evocative. Dir: Xavier Gans 4/5

Y: Eisener’s stand-out has a real glint in its eye, is unique and prods at taste levels with the Canadian’s vibrant signature style which we saw in the highly likeable funfair that was Hobo with a Shotgun (2011). Dir: Jason Eisener  5/5

Z: Dr. Stranglove meets Tokyo Gore Police meets Ilsa She Wolf of the SS, or Nazi-Yakuza-Mutant-Rice-ploitation to coin a phrase. Although I had little to no clue of what was going on I did get that it is roundly Nishimura, visually memorable and if nothing else a decently hi-energy note to end on. Dir: Yoshihiro Nishimura 3/5

Aside from the grindingly weak toilet humour ABCs was better than I’d anticipated, the flow through of the collection wasn’t too much hard work and although there are several duds those being so brief definitely helps matters. The project is undeniably ambitious but unsurprisingly inconsistent. Still it falls closer to the positive than many recent horrors have and the international variation and handful of fresh ideas make for very welcome elements. The ABCs of Death is definitely a step in the right direction as far as horror displaying some imagination, let’s just hold out hope for this year’s other anthologies V/H/S-2, Sanitarium and The Profane Exhibit, although as Uwe Boll is the headlining director for latter best not to get too excited.

*I chose not to name the titles of each short as several serve as crucial spoilers.

(March 2013)

Ted Review


As the result of a childhood wish, John Bennett’s teddy bear, Ted, came to life and has been by John’s side ever since – a friendship that’s tested when Lori, John’s girlfriend, wants more from their relationship. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlene tries his hand at live-action in his debut feature. Does MacFarlene’s erratic signature style translate here? Technically yes. But does it translate well? Definitely not. For less than 2 hours Ted is a grueling film once you quickly notice MacFarlene struggling within what he seemingly views as the ‘confines’ of a structured narrative, otherwise known simply as a story.

From the synopsis it would be natural to expect Mila Kunis’s girlfriend character to be a real threat to the central friendship, in fact it really isn’t, her demands for marriage are actually rational pleas for her 35 year old boyfriend to grow up a bit and reflect that in their long term relationship. She doesn’t whine or castrate him verbally; Wahlberg is the selfish one who consistently hands over his balls to an irritating toy bear that only seems fun to hang out with provided there are mind altering substances to hand. This really is the extent of the main storyline. Ted is the kind of annoying sidekick that is usually played by Vince Vaughn, putting aside he’s an inanimate object magically come to life (Ted not Vaughn) it’s the same insecure, foul mouthed man-child that gets high and holds nostalgia for eighties films above consideration for others. The CG effects used to create the bear are impressive but that’s where effort starts and firmly stops. The humour is consistent; in that it’s predictable and only shocking if your idea of edgy comedy is swearing without purpose, 9/11 jokes and referencing Justin Bieber. In fact strip away the stringing together of tiresome media nods and montages (sound familiar?) the film would last about 40minutes and essentially have nothing, even the kidnapping sub-plot appears grafted in at the last minute once someone pointed out the sheer lack of anything moving the film forward and that it may need more than a just beginning and a bit of a middle.

Wahlberg spends the whole time recreating his early scenes from Boogie Nights, no question he can play dumb with a heart well but you can almost see his brain struggling to multi-task: keeping up the Boston accent and having to emote opposite something that isn’t physically in front of him; something that sounds a lot like the director. Kunis, much like the female characters in MacFarlenes’ shows, is lazily relegated, a bit player on the fringes of a bromance in arrested development; one that we’ve seen a hundred times over albeit usually between humans. This is a particular shame as Kunis has the winning gift of being pretty, comically game and likeable, though in this instance she is pushed behind a litany of frat boy humour, complete lack of character and far too much eye makeup. There are so many things to dislike about the film and they all fall solely at the feet of MacFarlene. The man’s ego infects his work to an off-putting degree and no more so than here, what could’ve been at least a competent film considering the huge budget and potentially a break from his overbearing presence; winds up wholly obnoxious. Films solely concerned with repeating obvious pop culture commentary are hopefully not the way forward as frankly they add nothing to the increasingly derivative landscape of Hollywood, let alone much in the way of comedy value. Although the Flash Gordon scenes are somewhat endearing and the odd line or act of cartoon violence can raise a chuckle few would count lifting a scene (already spoofing Saturday Night Fever) from Airplane verbatim as fresh humour, a cheap move likely lost on a good proportion of Ted’s audiences anyway.

Ted is a film as flimsy as it is cringe-worthy, the characters are barely functioning, the premise is a mere one line whim and the laughs are tired, this kind of amusement can be found in several other low rent post-millennial spoof franchises or a decades’ worth of Family Guy re-runs.

(July 2012)

Magic Mike Review


Detachable thongs, baby oil and hoards of expectant six pack enthusiasts’ aside Steven Soderbergh’s strip-o-drama which places Channing Tatum fiercely front and center manages to provide a varied experience. The film struggles in its balancing the contrasting tones (and entertainment value) offstage and onstage.

Onstage Soderbergh presents events with apt flair; cameras slickly swirl and pound with every performer’s stage slide and gyration. For the most part these choreographed scenes are compelling until the novelty does start to slightly wane with the inevitable but likely realistic repetition. The troupe performances as a whole are impressive, whilst their perpetual bumping and grinding isn’t necessarily poetry it is undeniably well staged and frankly hypnotic. But in these somewhat infectious moments we fully understand why Warner Brothers have happily plastered our shirtless lead on billboards and buses throughout the land. It is damn hard to take a disliking to Channing Tatum in the titular role who is all heart beneath the Velcro-rip costumes and sculpted torso; I imagine it will be hard for anyone, regardless of their gender or preference, to not hand it to the once upon a time stripper for his physicality, the actor/producer becomes presence personified when he throws down on the main stage!

Cody Horn as the ‘pretty voice of reason’ is slightly grating, as a personification of the sort of good girl Mike finds unobtainable thanks to his career she falls a bit short in likeability even if some of her skepticism is well founded. Alex Pettyfer fits his role naturally carrying a wealth of youthful arrogance confused for hopeful swagger. Then there is Matthew Mcconaughey, returning to a form which may or may not have actually ever existed, I suspect his performance will make or break a lot of people’s enjoyment of the film. For anyone who backs his individual brand of laid back southern smugness come charm will have a field day as he glides across the screen, all charisma and almost over the hill regret, it is a spirited and highly amusing performance to say the least. Everyone else does their duty accordingly but don’t attain memorability beyond maybe providing a further choice of eye-candy or dance prowess.

It’s definitely not advisable to be swayed by any Boogie Nights comparisons that crop up here and there as Magic Mike doesn’t come within miles of it in tone or depth, factually the closest it comes to resembling Paul Anderson’s porn based epic (albeit in a vastly briefer sense) are the glimpses of the ‘’darker side of the sex industry’’ which here play out derivatively and frustratingly in a very tentative manner. The 2-D rather than 3-D approach to the characters, story and sparing of controversy leave events feeling rather meek. Some details hinder any potential credibility to, I couldn’t get over the majority of the ‘Xquisite’ club patrons seem odd or perhaps lazily cast as too many were young and Hollywood-like, breaking some of the believability that this is an accurate depiction of a male strip club demographic.

Almost a less camp and more aware Show Girls, but in a complete reverse of Paul Verhauven’s kitsch-fest it’s when off stage Magic Mike falters. The script is not great and aside from some mildly endearing bromance banter the chemistry is lacking too often between pivotal interactions, Horn and Tatum in particular only manage to generate a lukewarm awkwardness that ultimately hinders.

Considering the fun and engaging stage routines make up less than half of the movie (more’s the pity and not just for glistening man flesh) I don’t think it’s irrational to expect the ‘reflection and emotional’ parts of the narrative to hold interest, but Magic Mike is all too light on its exploration of its subjects, to the extent it breezes over and under the needed complexity to drive the drama. Channing Tatum will deservedly find a whole legion of new fans and some of us can remember why we like Matthew Mcconaughey so much, and though not as flippantly bawdy or alienating as one might assume still a shame the narrative muscle doesn’t match that of its stars.

(July 2012)

Young Adult Review


Newly divorced writer Mavis Gray (Charlize Theron) returns to her less than glamorous home-town in Minnesota, aiming to rekindle a romance with her high school sweetheart (Patrick Wilson), who happens to be married with a new born baby.
Apparently people who don’t like their lives always fall asleep on their front in a depressive and dramatically strewn fashion, this repeated detail sums up Young Adult as a rather pedestrian exercise in character led comedy drama. The attitude to a lot of the humour and dialogue is surprisingly dated; for instance a woman in her late thirties turning her nose up at a baby instead of weepily adhering to some biological clock isn’t that funny or a daring and hasn’t been for many years if ever. In fact for a current day indie film there is a general air of stale Sex and the City sub-plot about Young Adult, as if Carrie Bradshaw woke up on the wrong side of the bed one day and got sick of her faintly shallow existence as well.

As a character piece the film suffers, Mavis is a mildly dislikeable character and Theron does make some effort to make her appear as such though it still results in a low-impact performance. It is nice to see the actress look more approachable but was still a struggle to wholly except her as that run down. It could’ve been worse and could imagine Cameron Diaz being awkwardly shoe-horned into the role to claw at some instant indie credibility. The film would’ve stood stronger perhaps with someone more adept at conveying uncomfortable layers and mishandled sadness rather than just bitchy mean-girl, which is a lot less funny and a lot more uninteresting, then again this is a painfully underwritten character with a single dimension. Patrick Wilson’s is as safe (if dull) as ever as Buddy; the handsome and well intentioned new dad who can’t see imminent problems (Mavis’s none too subtle advances) until it’s a too late, it’s also a shame that this likable actor seems completely resigned to this interchangeable role. Thankfully Patton Oswalt is a welcome foil come sidekick for Theron’s sneery Mavis, on par in bitterness but far more justified in his. Oswalt’s Matt is actually a far more interesting prospect with a stronger backstory on hand with much further potential for uncomfortable humour and empathy as the nerd seriously beaten by jocks who assumed he was gay which earned him the moniker ‘the hate crime guy’.

During Young Adult it isn’t clear if the audience are supposed to join in mocking Mavis’ insincere bitch-speak or appreciate it ironically amidst the earnest small towns folk. Due to the reputations of Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman I was waiting for the moment where the dialogue would spark or at least slightly elevate but that moment never arrived, everything playing out in a decidedly average and uneventful fashion. There have been far better examples of this type of self-serving character; but Mavis simply isn’t a match for Enid from Ghost World or Miles from Sideways and although as arguably dislikeable her portrayal is sorely lacking their charisma or complexity. It can be rewarding to follow a flawed or dysfunctional character but when a protagonist is as flat as Mavis Gray it becomes frustrating and tiresome to sit through their self-important situations. Squandering any initial potential Young Adult is paper thin and needs a serious injection of verbal energy and backbone as without it all we have is a whiny wannabe anti-heroin who never really warrants our interest or laughter.

(June 2012)

Rock of Ages Review


Rock of Ages is the film adaptation of the successful Broadway/West End musical of the same name. The second musical from director Adam Shankman who previously adapted the Hairspray stage show, dabbled in a couple of Glee episodes and led some seriously questionable comedies. Set in 1987 L.A, we follow two young dreamers trying to make their way in the big city. With hopes of love and rock stardom they fall in love in the famed Bourbon Room but face obstacles and learn harsh lessons along the way. Yes Rock of Ages is that simple, that cheesy and while definitely spun out for the wide-eyed masses might still manage to raise the odd smirk from the uninitiated and sceptical.

The songs featured will naturally have some effect on a viewer’s overall level of enjoyment or torture, most of the bands involved aren’t exactly the most credible or least covered, all being eighties power ballads and upbeat hair metal, therefore it’s hard to decipher how many of the tunes were murdered exactly, with Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ practically defining the TV show Glee, Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has Its’ Thorn’ being previously covered by Miley Cyrus and Lord knows how many versions of Gun’s And Roses hits strangled out over the years on X-Factor. As with the performances, the songs and general approach to ‘’Rock’’ there is a day-glow Disney sheen covering everything. This works on one level keeping a lid on any earnestness and severing ties with any logic but on the other hand there is a frustrating lack of anything resembling edge, musical or not (see Rocky Horror, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the original Hairspray, Grease) when rock and comedy are at the centre there should be some bite. The only real attempt to shake things up is via some clinical sexuality that doesn’t even rival Chicago in raunchiness.

The performances are likely to be the most divisive depending heavily on personal tolerance, namely the young doe eyed leads, who appear to have stepped straight off the Disney Channel and onto probably the most daring thing they will ever do in their careers. Not to be cruel, again this is a musical and a 12A but Hough and Boneta will grate on a lot of people, thankfully their moments although sickly sweet and borderline preppy are at least played for laughs mostly throughout, they are there to be rooted for by people of a certain disposition (newly pubescent or who regularly watches Dirty Dancing I imagine). Then there is Tom Cruise, it’s undeniable that he is throwing himself into this part head first, actually providing vocals and bulking up to become the swaggering rock God/idiot/ego that is Stacee Jaxx, to the extent that every time he appears on screen (consistently shirtless) your head instantly finds it amusing and baffling that it’s actually Cruise. Frankly if you don’t enjoy him in this role you’ll likely still be somewhat mesmerised by his presence, it’s strangely similar to his hypnotic performance in Magnolia. Speaking of strange, thanks to most of the cast Rock of Ages proves quite a surreal experience, Alec Baldwin, who doesn’t come across as having as much fun as everyone else, is still humorous just by being there, Russell Brand manages to embody his role whole heartedly as he is once again playing himself, but this time he manages to mesh with the general tone sparing himself sticking out like a very sore thumb and sparing the audience from being too annoying. Paul Giamatti is reliable as less a loser and more a sleaze for a sort of departure, Malin Ackerman is a pair of legs, Bryan Cranston is underused to the detriment of everything and Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t so much chew the scenery as gnaw the faces off the people she shares scenes with, I’ll give her this she has energy and would be perfect for high-end panto.

All in all aside from the always annoying inclusion of a monkey for hysterics the cast is largely inoffensive and often quite likeable.
Rock of Ages is certainly not as bad to sit through as one might assume but it does have its odd moments of cringe; usually involving Brand’s accent, Giamatti’s few lines of song, the sheer abundance of Tom Cruise flesh, but most notably the two young High School Musical channelling leads. It would help by being condensed as it does feel like a slog if you’re not completely able to shut off and be swept away with the garish nostalgia and Disneyed down rock anthems. Rock of Ages is a lark though by no means a film that will convert musical-phobes, also beware if the mere thought of Tom Cruise’s sweaty torso sets you on edge.

(June 2012)

Casa De Mi Padre Review



Hoping for a way to save their father’s ranch, the Alvarez brothers (Will Ferrell and Diego Luna) find themselves at war with a feared drug lord (Gael Garcia Bernal). Casa De Mi Padre is an odd little parody of many a Mexican action film by way of Latina melodrama spoofing and vintage grindhouse nods.
Casa De Mi Padre essentially has no reason to exist outside of those involved being able to have a laugh. The cast members’ fun isn’t completely at the expense of the audiences’ but it does tread a fine line. Although occasionally humorous a fair few of the gags and 70’s pastiche fall flat, similar to the flair used in Planet Terror with the novelty wearing thin in bungled cuts, retro celluloid fails, overlong campy trip montage and the unfunny disclaimer apologising for a missing scene. In fact a lot of this film could serve as a Robert Rodriguez spoof with a distinctly Hot Shots via Telemundo feel.

Ferrell is still in man child mode, here to a calmer and lesser degree but those seeking a dramatic departure from the actor should instead head to his forays into mumble-core; Stranger than Fiction and Everything Must Go. If ever there was any doubt about his type of role there is even a ‘Jazz flute version 2’ (circa Anchorman) with an impromptu trumpet solo amid a camp fire musical interlude. Bernal and Luna are clearly having the most fun, revelling in the liberation of not having to be serious and credible; they are near earnest in their hamming it up. They are both quite funny but also enjoyable for their sheer glee at not playing it straight. A neat but bungled film that I suspect may struggle to find much of an audience thanks to its non-English, a slightly toned down Ferrell and less accessible niche genre referencing. Casa De Mi Padre is not quite funny or enough to be memorable or easy to recommend, though it does have some mild laughs, charm and impressive Mexican shoot out homage I highly doubt it warrants more than one viewing or a wide release in the here in the UK and likely would’ve served better as a Funny or Die sketch on line.

(June 2012)