V/H/S Review


As a whole V/H/S is pretty abysmal, as a collage of separate horror shorts it’s a patchy muddle of bad efforts. There is something infuriatingly regressive about the project that had potential to showcase a diverse group of horror creative’s who clearly have a love of the genre that made it a very tempting prospect. Regressive in the sense that a chaotic and obnoxious approach masquerades as an experimental and challenging one. A general air of atypical shallowness in horror is the most consistent element here alongside a blatantly lowest common denominator attitude.

While I am defiantly one of those horror fanatics who loves to wallow in the seedier DIY aesthetic, those films that shirk slickness in favour of a basement labour of love but I fail to see the labour or the love in V/H/S. Add to the disappointment the caliber of some of the people involved most notably Ti West who has impressed with his patient, empathetic and frankly refreshing takes on scary but here throws out a devoid entry that clearly pertains to be more innovative than it actually is; leaves V/H/S feeling lazier above all else.
Amateur Night is aptly titled, as it’s about as mindlessly teenage boy as horror gets. Some tits, some blood, a demon girl thing that happens to be all horny with some dudes with a camera that are all horny also. The issue isn’t with its simplicity but in its inability to surprise or scare. Its one saving grace is that it appears to be the shortest chapter and thanks to its own limitations manages to offend less than most of the others. 2nd Honeymoon is the afore mentioned bit directed by Ti West, assuming it elicits more empathy and intrigue than it executes; a vacationing couple are interrupted by a mysterious figure. Whilst feeling familiar isn’t necessarily make or break for a horror scenario being boring as hell is, especially when what the actions are leading up to is a numb reveal that seems to think it’s a deeply astounding twist.

Glitch Man, managing to be the worst chapter (not that there is much between each of them), sees a by the book horny youths in the woods slasher with a lone gimmick that falls almost humorously flat. The gimmick being a killer via technology that feels instantly dated (not throwback or homage) and plays out so dull and vague that is serves as an ugly 15 minute plot hole. Strange thing that happened to Emily is a great argument for why the Paranormal Activity series has done more bad than good ideas wise to the genre in recent years. All of V/H/S is roundly poorly acted but this short probably requires more acting skill (or at least some) than the others, played out through mind-numbingly insipid conversations between 2 video chatting lovers some eerie possibly supernatural stuff starts putting the frighteners on the girl of the couple. And then there is another exciting twist, except it isn’t exciting and for that matter it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, rendering it another standalone plot hole.

Haunted House is the only entry I could stand, being the only vaguely positive note of the anthology but still has that afterthought weakness that drowns the entire runtime. It manages one or two ‘blink and you’ll miss them’ flashes of flair but this was probably heightened due to it being the last entry and by everything that came before being so irritatingly predictable. The (Tape 56) interlacing found footage thread is just unconvincing frat-boyish static; incurring a vacuous strand of horror that often puts so many off and rightfully so as in this instance it provides next to nothing, warranting only eye-rolls and likely fast-forwarding to the individual events.
Overall V/H/S is barely coherent and left me feeling like I had thoroughly wasted two hours, its smug sensibility proving a void in fiendish creativity rather than a champion of it. A shame as in a landscape of glossy rehashes and safe generics horror made by horror lovers should provide an oasis of passionate ideas rather than a rushed and immature mess. I am frustratingly curious to see S-VHS which is the next jaunt later this year and wondering whether some different contributors (including excitedly and worryingly Gareth ‘The Raid’ Evans) might steer this formula in the right direction, in my view it can’t do much worse.

(Jan 2013)



Beasts of the Southern Wild Review


Beasts of the Southern Wild is a determined début from director Behn Zeitlin; Contending with her hot-tempered father and his fading health, melting ice-caps that flood her precious yet fragile bayou community, The Bathtub, and threaten to unleash destructive ancient beasts, six-year-old Hushpuppy must learn the ways of courage and love.

Beasts of the Southern Wild is bursting with expression, telling a streamlined and sincere fable through memorable imagery and performances that feel both commendably organic and skilfully considered. It draws upon an impressive creative confidence regardless of budget and so has a resourceful feel that compliments the narrative, characters and setting perfectly. This outcome and approach is frankly refreshing amid the myriad of bloated retreads and franchises currently weighing down much of the film industry. Although it has several notes of fantasy Beasts remains a performance lead film, in his protagonist director Zeitlin has sprung a mini-tour-de-force upon the screen with Quvenzhane Wallis as our heroine, Hushpuppy, essentially a 6 year old survivalist with huge burdens to bare. Wallis is simply brilliant, no notes of  John Hughes type cute kiddie in a tight spot, the actress plays her character rightfully strong, restrained and as a young but stark realist. Whether she is drawing her story so she is remembered after she is gone, flexing her ”guns” to a baying group of merry adults or is told she will be ‘King of The Bathtub’  Wallis believes it with tough charm and wholly convinces.

Getting a strong and convincing performance out of a child is no mean feat and Behn Zeitlin displays a deft hand at this. As adorable Wallis is, and she is to the tenth power, her hard headed idealism as Hushpuppy makes you admire her. She is ably supported by a passionate Dwight Henry as her temperamental but loving father Wink; in fact although the film rests so much on Wallis’ small but sturdy shoulders the scant supporting cast as a whole make scenes lively and empathetic with a reassuring warmth. With it’s themes the film evokes some other films in tone; notably The Neverending Story and Spirited Away, albeit with a less fairy tale aesthetic. The understanding for the natural world order also channels the Studio Ghibli ethos, as well as several of the anime studio’s efforts in marrying  mythology with a perilous coming of age tale. Beasts of the Southern Wild is vibrant and immersive with detail that elevates the power of it’s scenes, with aptly intimate hand held camera work, wonderfully textured set design and a beautiful soundtrack alongside a respect for natural sound and thoughtful silence. Audibly with well placed narration from Hushpuppy the film is reflective and moving without ever broaching saccharine.

The one flaw here is beyond the screen, the 12A rating is a genuine shame, as young children in the UK will be less able to view this wonderfully imaginative film, especially since there really isn’t anything in the film that has the power to corrupt or cause nightmares.

Putting aside the film’s inevitable wooing of art-house audiences, Beasts of the Southern Wild is best taken for what it is, a strong and imaginative experience that is heartfelt in it’s simplicity, often funny and unique and featuring a riveting central performance with just the right amount of edge. At once angry and romantic, sad and triumphant, I wholeheartedly look forward to seeing more from both director and its young lead.

(Oct 2012)

Paranormal Activity 4 Review


Paranormal Activity 4 is bland and limited, often feeling more like an exercise in ‘horror marketing how-to’ than a narrative film. As a franchise sold on a fun and jumpy night out it succeeds to a large and broad set but for a film which owes masses to a genre it borrows so heavily from it frustratingly offers next to nothing back by way of progression or interest.

The jumbled premise is set five years after the second film after the disappearance of siblings Katie and Hunter; when a woman and a mysterious child move into a suburban neighbourhood the family next door begin to witness strange and gradually frightening events. I am not entirely sure if only seeing the first Paranormal Activity much affected the frankly flat experience I had watching the fourth entry in what is the most lucrative horror franchise this side of Saw. But my lack of investment in the through franchise arcs were overwhelmed by my lack of reaction to the stand alone events and the one-dimensional format.

The film’s non-committal tone assures that explanations are minimal and characters are dispensable; serving only to drive brief events, essentially being lower down on the priority list than Apple products. The acting is competent, thankfully the teen and child protagonists only annoy as much as they are supposed to being young and all, but overall the performances hang in limbo like most aspects of the film; neither here or there in making an impression but merely functional. As for flare the only seeming attempts are so coupled with product placement that any atmosphere is quickly marred by the consistent assembly line feel. Similarly shoving an eerie child into scenes that simply do not hold any of the skill or intensity  of  the greats such as ‘The Shining’ or ‘The Omen’ is painfully generic in this decade of copy-and-paste horror, saying that if you are that shaken by creepy kids who stare a lot and mumble to unseen companions then you’ll be likely to be pleased. The churned-out feel is further enforced by the clear rush job most noticeable in the unsure editing. Certain scenes feel half finished, if this is a push for ambiguity it does not work and adds to the shrug-inducing, confused by itself results.

It’s a safe bet that the crew behind Paranormal Activity, who initially took several cues from (like every found footage film since) The Blair Witch Project in regards to it’s rigid sticking to the first instalment’s formula. Less we forget (and many have) Blair Witch had a doomed sequel that strayed from its path in attempting something not found footage and gratingly meta that subsequently failed, killing off any potential for a franchise. This lot seem to have regarded Blair Witch as a practice run rather than a blue-print for their annual approach.

Paranormal Activity 4 is a dull and looping 90 minutes, if you’re a fan of the series or susceptible to scares that are essentially blurred shadows in backgrounds and cranking sound effects to 11 after some meandering quiet time (otherwise known as lazy scares) then you’ll likely get some fleeting satisfaction but otherwise a wholly forgettable and fidget in one’s seat experience that near crushes itself with it’s own repetitive formula and vagueness. If Paranormal Activity fan’s patience weren’t already waning by this entry then I would imagine that come the fifth they will be decidedly looking elsewhere for their jump scares.

(Nov 2012)

Truth or Dare Review


A group of college friends play a game of Truth or Dare at a party that leads to the humiliation of a geeky acquaintance. A year later the four friends reunite at a stately home on the promise of a party, but the celebrations soon turn sinister when their host forces them to play an altogether deadlier game of Truth or Dare.

Truth or Dare is an awkwardly British take on the usual horror clichés that ultimately continue to set back the genre by decades. The film has little in the way of creativity with several scenes styled aesthetically to imitate bigger and better efforts; drugged up party scenes are sped up and blurred in the manner of a hundred other films but play out like a sixth form media project rather than Requiem For a Dream. Cameras are placed at off kilter angles here and there riffing on The Evil Dead but serve as misplaced and ineffective without the presence of intensity. A shame considering the film’s strongest suit is its relatively decent technical quality, though the slick look also manages to detract somewhat from the gritty tone the film is aiming for.

The up and coming cast appear to do what is required of them but with a patchy script littered with stunted conversations and rushed emotions the characters are decidedly unconvincing, not to mention dislikeable. It is disappointingly common for horror and thriller films to revolve around dispensable eye candy to the point of tradition, but when the all the players warrant no empathy to this extent there is a distracting void that causes an audience to lose interest in who wins, loses, survives or otherwise. Truth or Dare has a mixed up attitude lingering somewhere between smug and unsure. It revels in its almost camp heavy handedness but also expects an audience to take it as suspenseful and dark without offering anything unpredictable or creative ro react to. A film relying on a single gimmick and set piece is not particularly admirable, resulting in an extremely poor man’s latter Saw entry.

Some of the film is frankly cringe-worthy; especially a very odd preoccupation with the characters accusing each other of being gay. Half used as a strangely misjudged plot point that unnecessarily turns up at the last minute and otherwise used to no avail during threats and outbursts missing context to seemingly shock viewers. Constant uses of Americanisms like ‘queer’ and ‘faggot’ aren’t advisable from the mouths of characters with public school dialects; it just comes across forced and silly. The similar on several levels British film ‘The Hole’ wasn’t exactly a classic but did manage to work with its premise much better than Truth or Dare, proving that having hateful posh youngsters turning on each other in an isolated location can be entertaining and balance the lack of any heroes with some intensity and twists.

Truth or Dare isn’t any fun; only proving funny once or twice quite unintentionally, neither is it complex or cool. The attempts to inject some sex and jeopardy fail pretty badly. As for violence, though there is some low budget competence in the odd slap or stab anyone hoping for blood will be left short changed and those wanting subtle smarts in their thrillers will not be keen on the low road routes often taken. Many have done this better on straight to DVD and overall Truth or Dare is clumsy, unmemorable and boringly the same old thing with the same old flaws.

(Oct 2012)


Leave it on the Floor Review


Set in the ballroom world originally memorialized by the documentary Paris Is Burning, Leave It on the Floor is an original musical set in the scene in 2011. Brad is bullied by his dysfunctional mother; he flees his home and by chance tumbles down the rabbit-hole into the flamboyant LA ball scene where he finds a ragtag new family.

Leave it on the Floor is a wholly mixed up affair with a rich backdrop that should provide an array of vibrant characters and calls to be given some mainstream attention. Being a musical there are plenty of songs on offer; all with fairly slick pop production but varying wildly in quality and pay-off. The high energy numbers are notably more enjoyable than the ballads, the slower tempo songs are too often an awkward distraction. Many of these emotive numbers feel misplaced, looking and sounding odd amid the stripped-back, intimate spaces and interactions the story plays out amid. Considering it’s a sole simple premise there really isn’t enough time given to the ballroom scenes, disappointing when the glimpses of vogue and walk-offs are a feverish display of raw talent that would lend itself to this genre of film spectacularly.

Much like recent efforts Rock of Ages and Magic Mike; in following the hopes and trials of young disenchanted performers, this film also falters most when away from the glitter of the stage. With a patchy script and acting that leaves a lot to be desired. The cast is split pretty evenly between people who seemingly can’t act and a few who possibly could if given capable enough dialogue and characterization. There is some likeable young energy on display but only really given the room to maneuver under a very shallow spotlight. It’s only really the lead, Ephraim Sykes as Brad, who comes through as the one most likely to be seen again with his likeable presence and commanding yet graceful dance skills. Leave it on the Floor is much like the lost youngsters it alludes to, with masses of potential but crushed under the weight of its own unharnessed energy and lack of finesse. Perhaps with some diversely impartial talent behind the camera, several doses of confidence and depth it could’ve ended up a very popular and impactful musical. Here’s hoping some further skilled and astute people see said potential and create something fun, riveting and infectious for the stage, then it may be worth another outing as an adaptation after some well-earned re-writes and Broadway/West End success!

With awareness of the film’s clear budget restraints (respectfully a further a hindrance than in a non-musical) visually, aside from some of the very beautiful cast, the predictable camera work and surprisingly flat costume design show a distinct lack of innovation. This necessary creativity has been achieved with limited resources by the likes of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so while there is no questioning that those involved are trying they do not appear to be trying hard enough, merely expecting audiences to be swept up in the mere mentions of grand drag competitions, displays of camp attitude and a lone Beyonce song they’ve bagged for the soundtrack. Unwisely relying on either a viewer’s wonder of the unknown or familiarity with gay scene traditions.

Musicals sometimes are hard to judge and are no doubt a huge challenge to create, usually prone to pacing issues and huge dips in credibility and common sense, yet thanks to the occasional saving song or dance a musical film can often slide by easier by resting on ”fun”. Leave it on the Floor’s fun moments are too few and too thin, overall making for a weak film. Definitely a shame that an internationally released film representing a diverse LGBT sub-scene had to fall so flat for much of its runtime, but some sparkles of raggedy charm are sort of apparent and will likely grant Leave it on the Floor some sincere (if small) cult status, but also the frustrations of many who eagerly anticipated a contemporary take on a fascinating and kinetic scene.

(Oct 2012)


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)


A Simple Life Review


A Simple Life, directed by veteran Hong Kong film maker Anna Hui, centers on the tender relationship between an ageing maid Ah To (Deannie Ip) and her employer Roger (Andy Lau). After decades of dedicated service to Roger’s family Ah To suffers a stroke and chooses to reside in a nursing home, but as time passes her health fades and Rogers slowly turns from lone bachelor to devoted carer.

A Simple Life is an ornate experience that is thoroughly rewarding and the myriad of praise and accolades it has so far received are much deserved on all counts. Easy on the eye and almost meditive in its cinematography, aside a lovingly subtle score there is much delicate skill on display, but it is the performances of real life God mother and son that really shine. The well respected actors, Lau and Ip, have an organic and dignified chemistry that is likely aided by their off screen connection, but I would wager that this relationship wouldn’t always guarantee such seamless performances from other pairings. Andy Lau’s chicness is still quietly apparent but in this instance utilized affectively, Hui appropriately steering the actor’s most notable traits to convey the subtlety aloof level Roger initially operates on, this serves to give further unspoken gravity to his new found responsibility, Roger’s care is never played with predictable burden or impatience but calmly considerate gratitude and realism. Deannie Ip as Ah To is resilient and loveable, a woman who has committed her life to caring for generations of one family and in essence forsaking much of her chances at a family of her own. Though Instead of her role being cynically approached, as with many Asian domestic dramas; with her employers as cold and unappreciative or even tyrannical, they are nothing but grateful and recognize Ah To’s life long kindness as much as her mild stubbornness will allow. Without the need of monologues, flash backs or forced dramatics the role reversal in the leads relationship is a willing transition on Roger’s part and eventually Ah To’s, this makes their interactions all the more believable and moving.

Whilst never rip roaring hilarious the gentle humour that runs throughout resonates well and is always the right side of sweet. The balance in A Simple Life is struck well also, never shying away from the unnerving fragility of old age or the not particularly uplifting challenges in senior mental and health care, the scenes in the home aren’t without their moments of sadness but they also give way to touching moments of selflessness and amusement. Anna Hui shows an admirably restrained and well-judged direction especially with never resorting to dramatic U-turns or thrown in tension to derive cheap emotional pay offs.

Never feeling overly long with its careful pace, A Simple Life gives you the opportunity to empathize and enjoy a natural and superbly acted relationship without pushing or judging. A truly satisfying film, which puts aside the trappings of hasty modern film and allows the audience to appreciate a loving sincerity between two people. The film is much like the character Ah To herself; in being special, unassuming, kind and sensitively strong.

(July 2012)