A Dark Song

A Dark Song - Film Hub Wales | Canolfan Ffilm Cymru

A Dark Song is a film to be nerdy about and one which embraces its nerdy ways. It would be more precise to call the film detailed, committed to being authentic. It’s something rarely seen these days, unless said detail is Product Placement. It’s also another one of those films which I was touted as being ‘the scariest of all time’ which both intrigues and worries me, because horror is subjective and because that’s usually a blurb to cover the cracks of a shitty film. Luckily, it’s not a shitty film, nor is it the scariest ever. It’s a solid, grief driven horror movie more concerned with detail, foreboding, and creating a somber tone – and it largely succeeds in delivering on each of those points.

If you weren’t aware, I always enjoy limited scope films – films with a single set or a very tiny cast or some other limitation which tends to mean filmmakers are more creative to work around those restrictions. A Dark Song is essentially a two character, or two actor movie, and for the most part is set in a single location. That location is a large Country House in the middle of nowhere, and the performers are Catherine Walker (Sophia), and Steve Oram (Joseph). Sophia is a grieving mother who has sought out the Occultist Joseph in order to perform a serious of rituals which will allow her to eventually speak to her dead son. Joseph is angry, bad-tempered, distrustful, while Sophia is guarded and defensive meaning the two clash regularly. Part of the ritual means they must live together in this house for many months, without ever leaving or making any contact with the outside world, following various increasingly difficult rites which bring forth both demons and angels to torment and test the pair. The plan is that if someone is worthy enough to complete these rites, a guardian angel will appear and grant any wish.

The film almost plays out like a Mike Leigh film – if Leigh was concerned with the Supernatural and Occult Rituals. It has that kitchen-sink realism and gritty downbeat British tone, all wrapped up in the overall theme of the lengths we go to with grief and guilt, and propelled along by depictions and discussions of the various exercises one must perform to step through the various realms of Heaven and Hell. These involve sleeping in certain places, types of mental and physical torture, drinking blood, chanting, drawing arcane symbols etc. With the fraught relationship between the pair, and the months of punishing tests, tempers fray throughout the movie and the viewer is never sure if it’s all an exploitative joke.

I’m curious to see how viewers will react to this film – horror fans and non-horror fans alike. For horror fans, you’re made to wait until closer to the end before anything overtly horror related makes an appearance while the first half of the film or so is intriguing enough to me in exploring the characters’ relationship and snippets of the history and background of what is being performed. There is a pay-off, and it mostly worked for me, but I imagine others may be frustrated by the ending. I would argue that the ending is exactly what the character needed, and for the viewer it should be the journey that matters – some questions concerning the mother and son aren’t answered, and people may feel those should have been resolved.

Oram is his usual warts and all self – he’s a physical actor who always seems to be eating or scratching or gesturing, while Walker plays the exhausted woman well. Director and writer Liam Gavin shows a genuine interest in the rituals and mythology taken from the Abramelin books and adds enough open-ended intrigue to make me want to go down the rabbit hole. It’s an assured handling of tension and of whatever scares come later, but he does seem more concerned in the build up and the lore and the emotion, than making a scary movie. It’s his movie, and that’s fine, but the marketing may suggest it’s something that it’s not. For me, it was an enjoyable and thought-provoking film of the sort which is rare these days.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of A Dark Song!

Game Night

Movie Review: Game Night (Spoiler Free) | ReelRundown

It’s a pain trying a find a movie that my wife and I will both like. I follow tonnes of movie sites, blogs, fan pages, and am constantly updating lists of movies I want to see. She does none of these things and therefore generally won’t have heard of a lot of the movies I suggest. Of course, I’m constantly suggesting things no sane person would choose to watch, but when she essentially only knows the biggest, most recent blockbusters or whatever her friends have been talking about, reaching a compromise can be difficult. I’ll generally watch anything, though Romance and Musicals are at the back of that list, so I’ll let her decide and say yes to the first thing she picks. As I was putting the kids to bed one night recently, I came downstairs to see she had picked Game Night. Having vaguely heard of it when it was released, and given that it didn’t sound too irritating, I agreed, hoping it wouldn’t fall into the traps most modern mainstream comedies do.

Game Night sees a husband and wife, played by Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, organizing their weekly Game Night with friends. We’re introduced early to the film’s ongoing conflicts – husband and wife are competitive, but a team, and are planning to have a baby. The husband has unresolved sibling rivalry issues with his much more successful brother who just happens to be attending the upcoming Game Night, and they live next door to an unusual Police Officer who used to be part of their Game Nights until he got divorced and went a little weird. When the brother (Kyle Chandler) shows up, he suggests he hosts the following week’s festivities, which turns out to be a Murder Mystery Night. Things take a turn for the Hitchcockian when a genuine kidnapping takes place, leaving the three playing couples wondering what’s real, who’s winning, and spinning the plot off in different overlapping narratives filled with maguffins and red herrings.

I enjoyed Game Night a lot more than I was expecting. I hadn’t read any reviews beforehand and only loosely knew the synopsis. The blend of humour and mystery pays off, the characters are more than lewd walking one-liners and feel suitably threshed out for the most part, and while the twists and turns do leave themselves wide open for plot holes, I was too wrapped up in the story and shenanigans to overthink things. Rachel McAdams has an unfortunate habit of being used in Rom Coms – and while this could loosely fit that mould, it gives her a greater opportunity to show off her comedy chops. She has always been an engaging presence and deserves better material than she tends to be given. Jason Bateman does his usual straight-man shtick here, but again it works, and the surrounding cast each get a chuckle at some point. The Directing duo and writer keep the audience guessing, even if there is ultimately nothing overly surprising, and everything from the slapstick action to the tense moments are handled well. The most notable moments to me were the faux Tim Burton-esque miniature shots to make the world and the actors seem more like players on a board. Like an actual Game Night, this is a fun and diverting time and will only be as enjoyable and as memorable as you choose to make it. I was all in.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of Game Night!

Street Hawk

*Originally written in 2004

Another classic Eighties TV show in the vein of Knightrider and Airwolf, Street Hawk follows the exploits of Jesse Mach – a cop who also solves crime undercover using a souped-up black motorcycle. Although only 13 episodes were made, it remains one of the best shows of its type, with plenty of action and humour. And like those other shows it also has a great soundtrack, this time by Tangerine Dream.

The pilot tells the story of Mach, a cop with a love of motorbikes who is often getting in trouble for his reckless ways. When his partner is killed by the drivers of a mysterious black van reported as part of a crime spree throughout his city, Mach seeks vengeance. However, he has been suspended from the force, and warned against revenge. When he is contacted by a rather nerdy man with a new prototype motorcycle, Mach reluctantly accepts to meet. When he sees the bike though, and hears its specs, he wants to ride it immediately. They go for a trial, and Mach loves it, though Norman the creator is edgy, geeky and doesn’t want to see the bike mistreated and ruined. The unlikely pair and the bike set out to prevent crime, while Mach looks for that Black Van.

After the pilot, the series follows the usual formula of helping those in need, while Mach tries to hide his double-life. The banter between Norm and Jesse is charming, akin to KITT and Michael, String and Dom, BA and Murdoch etc. The performances are good from the central cast, as well as from the standard weekly guests. The action is high with plenty of chases, the bike is very cool, and it is a pity the series never continued, ending on a semi-cliffhanger – unfortunate when there was, and is so much rubbish about. While some may say it is cheesy, it has its charm and remains a cult show which should be visited by all fans of eighties TV.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Street Hawk!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2000!

It took me a longer time than it usually does to find a suitable list of movies to include for this post. Sometimes you get those years where very few films stink up the nose holes.

Kevin And Perry Go Large

More difficult than me finding ten movies I didn’t like this year, is finding a British sitcom which translates successfully to the big screen. In the case of Kevin And Perry – they came from more of a sketch show rather than a sitcom, though their particular sequences in the various Harry Enfield series essentially acted as a mini sitcom. Being in my early teens when the Harry Enfield series were prime time viewing, maybe I should have related more to Kevin and Perry, somehow, even though they were clearly mocking annoying teen culture and clueless parents. They weren’t my favourite sequences or characters though – I still liked them but I liked other parts more. Maybe what irked me most was the fact that these guys were held up as the ‘mascots’ of the series – everyone was doing impressions and one-liners of these guys to the point that it was clear they hadn’t watched any other part of the show. The movie itself sees the teenagers heading off to Ibiza for a steek-fest, in the hope of getting drunk and getting laid, and it sadly became a celebration of 90s Lad Culture instead of a satire. Plus, it isn’t funny, it’s badly directed, and the characters are too thin to sustain a feature.

What Lies Beneath

Big budget horror movies with big names, fully backed by a powerhouse studio? Honestly, these never work for me anymore – the recent attempts at classy horror like this, like The Others, lack the scares and don’t show me anything new. It wasn’t until A24 came along and pulled the same trick, but did it with authenticity and originality. What Lies Beneath sure looks the part – A-list cast, it’s pretty, it’s classy. But it has zero balls, it’s bland, it relies on a twist which is fairly obvious from the opening minutes, and it is painfully long.

Billy Elliot

It’s a British comedy about a boy who just wants to dance. Was there any way this wasn’t going to make my list? The only other question is why I ever watched it in the first place.

Book Of Shadows

As much of a divisive film as it is, I love The Blair Witch Project – not only for what it did and achieved, but because it was for me an extremely effective horror film with an ever increasing atmosphere, a crippling of characters’ mentality, just enough world-building to intrigue, and a wonderful finale. I fully understand those people it didn’t work for – different things scare different people. I fail to understand how anyone could enjoy Book Of Shadows, on anything more than a base level. It fails as a sequel, it fails as a standalone due to its general incoherence and amateur feel, and it fails as a horror film – we’ve seen it all before a thousand times better and worse. I only ever saw it once when it was released, so maybe my feelings will have changed if I saw it again now – doubt it.

Red Planet/Mission To Mars

Honestly, I can’t remember which one of these it was, or indeed if it was both. I think it had Val Kilmer in it, but then again Mission To Mars sounds like the film I remember him being in – which isn’t the case. All I remember is looking out the window more than at the TV. In truth, both weren’t great but one was particularly grueling.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas

I only saw this one during a recent Christmas break, as something festive to watch with the kids. A mistake on my part, and on everyone involved. This is the sort of monstrosity I assume that the Cats movie is, but I struggle to see how anything could be more painful than this. Now – like the previous entry, there’s every chance I’m confusing this or merging it with The Cat In The Hat movie with Mike Myers. In any case, both are abominations which should never be spoke of again, unless as part of some arcane incantation to invoke the undead holy power of Nzzgrprtkaghk.

Snatch

Guy Ritchie has yet to make a movie I’ve tolerated, never mind liked. This and Lock, Stock were all over ever twats’ walls in poster form when I went to University. I don’t get it. Of course, I can’t stand any of that Cockney shite that people seem to love – I can think of fewer things I like less than films set in London’s criminal underworld.

Ginger Snaps

This film angered me because it seemed to get a lot of plaudits and credit and acclaim when it immediately struck me as a try-hard Buffy clone. While nobody actually seemed to be talking about Buffy and how important it was, critics were fawning over the stuff that wouldn’t have existed without it. In the late 90s, a lot of Buffy clones made it on to our TVs – young, sexy, self-aware, smart teens quipping in school and juggling daily lives and some wider conspiracy or secret. Ginger Snaps is precisely this, but told in a more irritating way and without an ounce of the originality it is claimed to have.

Meet The Parents

Are any of these good? Actually, don’t answer that, I don’t care. The first was bad enough.

Let us know in the comments which films of 2000 you would slap onto the naughty list!

Bordello Of Blood

At some point in the early 90s, British terrestrial TV began showing the Tales From The Cryptkeeper cartoon. Monsters, horror, twisty gruesome stories? What more could I want from a cartoon? In truth, I don’t remember much about it now. It was my knowledge of that series though which alerted me to a Tales From The Crypt movie one night a few years later – that movie was Demon Knight. I can’t recall what I expected from it, but I do remember watching it in bed and being disappointed that it wasn’t scarier. Knowing what I do now about the whole franchise, it was foolish for me to expect anything other than a camp mixture of slapstick gore and comedy. Flash-forward a few more years and I found out that another movie had been made – Bordello Of Blood – and that it starred Corey Feldman, who I was a fan of, and Erika Eleniak who I knew from Baywatch and emerging topless from a cake. Flash-forward one final time a decade or so further and I finally had the opportunity to see Bordello Of Blood.

It’s a hoot. The film has an unexpectedly hilarious script – offensive 90’s material delivered in sardonic 1940’s PI style by Dennis Miller. I had no idea who Miller was – I had to search to find that he was a stand-up comedian – and that makes sense for is performance here. The plot isn’t important – an ancient vampire is holed up with her brethren in a brothel, trapping horny men inside for a feeding frenzy. Corey Feldman is one such horn-dog, and after a fight with his chaste older sister (Eleniak), he finds himself in the brothel. The rest of the film sees Eleniak trying to find her missing brother with the help of an asshole Private Detective (Miller), and them uncovering the centuries old vampire mystery. It’s all dumb fun, and an excuse for the cast and writers to drop as many one-liners as they can in the midst of a lot of boobs and blood.

And really, what more do you need for a late night Friday movie when you’ve had a sucky week of customers or managers or people getting all up in yo shit? Feldman doesn’t appear as much as I would  have liked – he’s really only a supporting characters in the opening and closing moments, but the parade of familiar faces is entertaining if you grew up during the decade of grunge. Chris Sarandon is back to his slimy best, and people like Phil Fondacaro, Whoopi Goldberg, Bill Sadler, and Aubrey Morris all pop up. Nowadays it seems to me that the film has an innocent charm, even though it is sleazy and offensive, but maybe I feel that way because it’s comforting discovering a 90’s movie which takes you back through the years. I wouldn’t go as far as calling it a must see for horror fans because it does fit into a nostalgic niche, and I don’t see many non-horror fans getting anything out of it beyond a series of eye rolls, but if you were a kid of the 80s or 90s and enjoy the sort of silly humour and gore which the Cryptkeeper franchise delivers, then you’re bound to get a kick out of it.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Bordello Of Blood!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2001!

In 2001 I started some genuine ‘study’ or ‘criticism’ with regards to Cinema, thanks to picking up a few Film modules in University. I say ‘genuine’, but what I really mean is ‘watched for more than mere entertainment’. This just happened to coincide with me fully branching out to watch everything I could get my hands on. Unfortunately it meant I watched a tonne of crap and discussed those with an honest critical hat on. I have long abandoned any hope or desire to being any sort of critic – I just call it as I see it, and reserve in depth discussion for those films I love. Today’s list – I don’t love.

Valentine

A few years too late to both the post-Scream horror world and post ‘David Boreanez is hot’ landscape. This is a by the numbers, contrived 90s slasher with none of the smarts of the best of its genre, and few of the scares. I lay in bed watching this when it first aired on TV, and that was the absolute best place I could have been to view such a snoozer.

Bridget Jones’s Diary

It’s a British big screen comedy, so that’s one black mark. It’s a romantic comedy, so that’s another. Hugh Grant and Colin Firth are doing their thing, so that’s two more. And there is nothing in the positive column.

Moulin Rouge

Your yearly musical, and really the first one to bring the Musical back to the big time. Perhaps its greatest travesty was ensuring that no matter where you went or what you did between 2001 and 2004, you were subjected to hearing that awful Lady Marmalade song – absolutely one of the most terrible creations in the history of music. The 70s version was bad enough, but throw in Aguilera’s uncomfortable gyrating and skin-tearing caterwauling and you have one of the purest torture instruments since the good old ‘grenade under foreskin’.

Jurassic Park III

The Lost World wasn’t amazing, but it still had ideas and felt like an adventure. Part 3 devolves into camp and converts a solid enough cast into a bunch of bumbling tools acting out an extended Scooby Doo episode, but without the sexual intrigue or fun.

Ghost World

It’s the movie that your annoying proto-hipster pseudo-friend wouldn’t stop harping on about because they thought it reflected them and their life (spoiler alert – it did; both are worthless). There’s one of these every year or so, and they’re never as good as what people claim they are. I probably got a couple of grins out of this, mainly because of Buscemi’s antics, but the whole ironic nerd-gazing anti-pity party tone in this sort of movie always irks me.

The Others

I wanted to like The Others as it claimed to be a throw-back to the good old atmospheric ghost stories of days of yore. And to a certain extent it is, except that you realize that that sort of movie with that sort of tone just doesn’t work anymore – we have progressed as a culture and as an audience to the point that films going for that tone and atmosphere need to bring something new to the table. Most of the movie hinges on a twist, which is glaringly obvious from round about the opening scene of the movie, and an atmosphere which always felt to me more detached and gloomy than foreboding and dread-inducing.

Zoolander

I have no clue why this was a hit at the time or why people still talk about it. Sure, I didn’t see it at the time and came to the party quite late (mainly because I’m not a big Ben Stiller fan), but when I did it confirmed everything I had anticipated – not funny, a chore to finish.

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone

I only watched this film for the first time last year, avoiding it and the novels all of these years. I had no desire to watch it upon release and then when my kids were born I thought it would be a great series to watch alongside them, given all the rave reviews and hype. So we watched it last year – wow, what a pile of crap. I appreciate the first in a series is all about creating a world and establishing characters – but the world depicting is bland and unimaginative, the characters are hackneyed and show no progress over those seen in something like The Worst Witch, and the central performances of the (then) child actors are uniformly terrible. I get that they’re child actors picking up this huge mantel, but man there is a monumental level of sucking here. The plot is very much ‘lonely boy realizes he’s special, and goes off to a new place to learn why he’s special’ but with no drama, no laughs, and no endgame. It has all but destroyed any desire I had of watching the others in the series, but more crucially, my kids have zero interest in pursuing it.

A Beautiful Mind

From Day One this looked and smelled like Oscar bait. From the late Seventies these Oscar Bait movies became increasingly prevalent. I almost never enjoy them, especially when they are Biographical in nature. Usually it’s because the biopics are based on people I don’t care about and whose life holds no great interest for me. It’s the same with  A Beautiful Mind – it’s by no means a bad film, it’s simply no different to me than a made for TV movie with a big name cast concerning a person and a story that I’m never going to care about.

Ocean’s Eleven

This one comes down to personal taste more than anything – though of course the same could be said for any entry. The fact is – I’m not a fan of the Rat Pack, at all; their movies, their music, the image – it’s all hateful to me. So when this was announced I was skeptical. It’s not the same as the 60’s outing, but it’s a similar enough exercise in style and dialogue and approach that this was never going to be for me. Credit to bringing together a cast like this, but the whole suit wearing, high life, wise-guy, shtick is to me what being hit in the face with a basketball is to toddlers.

I’m sure there are some favourites in there for any readers – feel free to tell me what I’m missing and add your picks of least favourite movies of 2001!

Children Of The Corn

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I can’t be specific on dates, but Children Of The Corn was one of the first horror movies I remember discovering. Like I mentioned in my Creepshow 2 review, posters can have a powerful effect on a growing, inquisitive, impressionable mind. Over time I somehow gained information about the story and the movie and began to form my own version of it in my head, but I didn’t get to see it until years later. There’s a danger of being let down after consciously or subconsciously hyping a movie, but where Children Of The Corn is concerned, the mystery and tone conveyed in the opening portions of the movie aligned with the picture I’d created in my mind. Watching again years later, it’s clear that there are better King adaptations and it that it has plenty of shortcomings. I still feel that it captures the essence of the unknown which juvenile and growing horror fans find so alluring, even if it doesn’t have enough bite to hold an adult audience in its thrall.

Adapted from King’s 1978 Night Shift short, Children Of The Corn is the first of (somehow) ten movies in a series which I can only assume grows increasingly <corny> as it progresses. King wrote the original screenplay, but as was normal for the time another writer would come in to usurp the script and focus more on violence than drama. The original story is a simple one – a bickering couple are driving through the US heartland, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, only to become lost and encounter a savage backwater. The key difference here being that the savages are a bunch of kids, creepy religious zealot kids who follow an unseen God known as ‘He Who Walks Behind The Rows’. The movie keeps the basics in check, albeit offering less in the way of marital distress and more in the way of heroic dads and wholesome family dynamics.

We open in pleasingly creepy fashion, as Isaac – moon-faced pre-teen leader of the group sends the crazed Malachi and friends on a poison and murder spree through their hometown, Gatlin. It’s a simple farming town, and the crops have been failing, which Isaac takes to mean their God is not pleased. And we all know how to appease an angry, malevolent God. Cut to a few years later and a ‘just about to be famous for Terminator’ Linda Hamilton (Vicky) and boyfriend Peter Horton (But) heading up river to start a new life. Driving through endless miles of nothing, their subdued fears about the future are disturbed by the sudden appearance of a child bouncing under the wheels of their car. After initially thinking they hit and killed him, they come to understand that he was already dead. The boy was trying to escape Isaac and his murderous ways, but ended up being sacrificed to the God of Buick. Should they leave him and go on their way? Should they drop the body off in a local town? Should they take him to a big city hospital, or the Police Station in local Gatlin? This being a horror movie, the pair make the wrong choice and quickly find themselves in a world of pitchforks and pasty teens.

The film isn’t as shlocky as some early King adaptations, surprising perhaps given the subject matter. Likewise, it isn’t anywhere near the level of his biggest films of the period – Carrie or The Shining. To its credit, it isn’t all silly surface scares – that sense of the unknown and of being lost permeates the atmosphere in the opening scenes and its an atmosphere which works for me personally having been a child with a heightened fear of being lost or left behind in a new place. Outside of personal feelings, the film is an obvious parable for religious fundamentalism and the dangers of allowing any cult to take power. I like this angle, as ham-fisted as it may be delivered here, and I’m sure a more dedicated experienced director and writer combo could do something stronger with the material viewed in this way. There are of course numerous departures from the source material, fleshing out the cult and delivering a less downbeat ending for example. It’s well enough shot, using the open and wide landscape to decent effect, and by and large the cast serve their purpose – all the more impressive given that many of them are kids. Hamilton doesn’t get to show off her later chops, but is more than the withering lead lady of the piece you might expect from such a film, and gets just as much screen time and action as Horton. They work well as a couple and spend much of the film apart dealing with various factions within Gatlin, again equipping themselves admirably.

Is it top tier King? No, but that’s generally reserved for his more classy material or when a classy director gets a hold of his work. But it’s serviceable enough for most viewers to get something out of it, and good enough that many King and horror fans might rank it as a second tier adaptation. In any case, in this strange time of locked doors and empty streets we find ourselves in it’s worth a watch to remind ourselves what the outdoors look like – and that what’s out there may want us for lunch.

Let us know what you think of Children Of The Corn in the comments!

February (The Blackcoat’s Daughter)

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Two things brought me to this film – beyond it simply being a horror movie. The first, is that I love Emma Roberts as an actress, and second is that the guys over on The Shockwaves Podcast wouldn’t shut the hell up about it. No-one else loves horror more than those guys and as well as being involved in the industry, their regular show features horror writers, directors, actors and more – with one episode featuring February’s director Oz Perkins (son of Anthony). I’ve watched it – is it any good?

Aside from what I’ve mentioned already, the film has two major things going for it – how it looks, and its atmosphere – both cold and distant, both interweaving, and that coldness blitzes its way into every other aspect. The characters speak and act in a disaffected way, there are long staring shots of emptiness, and the snowy landscape a la The Shining adds to a sense of unease and claustrophobia. It’s a frequently beautiful, startling movie which aims at the heights set by Let The Right One In, but doesn’t quite get there. The unease is shown to be formed by and coupled with an unraveling mystery and twists which, me being me, were fairly obvious. Unfortunately the film by its very nature will likely frustrate casual viewers and if Perkins has his heart set on loftier ideals and audiences the coldness emitting from the characters is one I reciprocated towards them – I just didn’t care about them or any of what was going on, as intriguing and watchable as it was.

February (or The Blackcoat’s Daughter) will find a cult audience but I don’t think it’s a movie which will demand the rewatches which cult movies often do. Certainly once certain reveals are made some may want to revisit to tie the various strings together, but for me a revisit needs to be fun. Ostensibly, the film is about girls in a secluded Catholic school, staying behind while most of the students and staff have left for a week. One of the girls is an unusual Freshman, the other a promiscuous older teen. It would be unfair to say more, but there are creepy figures, rituals, blood, and blades. It’s a film which has been marketed as a straight horror film but it’s not so simple dealing instead with mental illness, possible possession,  guilt, and loss.

The cast fare well with the material – Shipka, Boynton, and Roberts are each compelling performers, and the cast is rounded out by the likes of James Remar and Lauren Holly in minor supporting roles. There’s plenty for them to do but they are restrained by Perkins’s direction and vision for the film meaning that most lines are delivered as if from behind a curtain, most performances being more like a ventriloquist’s dummy. That’s what they’re going for and if you’re into the style then it’s perfect. For me, I felt like I was being asked to care about these people but being given no reason to. Unlike many horror films, the characters aren’t jerks – they’re just faceless shells who suffer some terrible shit. The film isn’t as good as it thinks it is, or as it needs to be, but what do I know – check it out for yourself.

Let us know what you thought of February in the comments!

Nightman’s Updated Favourite Films Of 2008!

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2008 was a great year for cinema – quite a few of my picks here made my end of decade post, and a number of the more obvious choices will appear on many critics’ best of lists. Lets get the almosts out of the way first:

Son Of Rambow is an early Will Poulter showcase – he continues to be a star in the making but hasn’t quite caught on the way he deserves to have yet. It’s a funny and charming coming of age film about two friends – both outcasts in their own way, and from different social backgrounds as tends to be the way with these films. The hook is that they’re both Rambo fans and decide to go make their own homage movie. The best moments are just the boys arsing about trying to do stunts and make an action movie. Director Garth Jennings would go on to make Sing but is perhaps best known in Britain for his various comedy performances and involvement with some of the biggest names. You know he’s respected when the likes of Edgar Wright, Jessica Hynes, Adam Buxton, and Eric Sykes all pop up here. Wall-E is, well you should know it by now. I didn’t love it first time around but came to enjoy it more when watching it with my kids later. A film of two distinct halves – the first being Wall-E alone on Earth and the second an ever more realistic vision of a future where we’re all fattyies 100% reliant upon technology and entertainment. Fred Willard even pops up later, so extra points there.

Equally charming is another Ghibli treat – Ponyo is the delightful tale of a boy and his… fish. A magic fish of course. It’s basically The Little Mermaid but without the forced romance and drag witch. It’s Miyazaki so you know you’re in for a beautiful, heart-melting experience. It’s just a sweet story with enough imagination to charm viewers of any age. The Informers on the other hand is not about charm. It’s all about disgust, malaise, debauchery. And it’s wonderful. I almost had this in my top ten, and in truth I feel like adding it in there instead of number ten, but why bother. I don’t really understand why this film has flown under the radar. For the sleaze balls you have any number of Amber Heard nude scenes, and for everyone else it’s a Bret Easton Elis story directed by the guy who made Buffalo Soldiers. If you need more, and I get why many will, just check out the cast – Brad Renfro, Kim Basinger, Billy Bob Thornton, Winona Ryder, Lou Taylor Pucci, Mickey Rourke, Chris Isaak, Rhys Ifans. The film received almost universal shrugs and derision with most people completely missing out on the fact that it is supposed to be one big nightmare – a satire on vapid existence, on wealth, and not so much the pursuit of fame or money – just the complete lack of meaning behind it all. It might not be for everyone, but it honestly deserves for recognition.

10: Johnny Mad Dog (France/Liberia) Jean-Stephane Sauvaire

Johnny Mad Dog is the film that I kept saying ‘Don’t you mean Johnny Mad Dog’ to when people began talking about Beast Of No Nation. It’s almost the same film – the main difference being the lack of an Idris Elba. If I can say anything to convince you to watch it, it’s just that – Beasts Of No Nation, but earlier. If anything it’s more gritty, more brutal, and the fact that almost all of it focuses on the kids makes it all the more upsetting. There’s also a definite sense of the bizarre given some of the antics the child soldiers get up to – not to mention their costumes.

9: Pontypool (Canada) Bruce McDonald

Even though I’ll watch any old rubbish horror movie, it’s the ones with an interesting premise that pull me in and stick with me. Pontypool has one of the most intriguing you’ll ever hear – a disease (?) is spreading and seems to be passed on via language – certain words – and those who succumb become slightly more sentient versions of the 28 Days Later creatures – manic, violent, and equally likely to kill themselves as batter you to death. On its own that’s enough to get me invested, but throw in the setting – an isolated radio station where a late night DJ and his skeleton staff suspect something is amiss as they  receive unusual calls. It’s still fresh now, and it plays admirably with its low budget and central ideas.

8: Cloverfield (US) Matt Reeves

The big surprise of the year, though looking back the biggest surprise seems to be that everyone was surprised by it. Buoyed by an excellent marketing run, Cloverfield also uses the hand-held fashion of the time to craft a literal Escape From New York. My problem with the film was always the characters – there isn’t anyone here you give a shit about and if we’d been allowed to feel an ounce of affinity with them this would probably be higher up my list. The story is simple – something crash lands in New York City and begins attacking everyone and everything. It’s some sort of gargantuan alien creature scene only in brief glimpses on news reports and through flashes between skyscrapers. I have zero problem with the shaky cam – this is the perfect film for it even though the whole ‘I have to document this’ excuse falls apart pretty quickly. The shaky cam heightens to war-torn confusion of it all – people don’t have any idea what is happening in the middle of a battlefield – you’re only concern is getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible, and that’s what we see. It’s a rollercoaster ride, wisely helped by the inclusion of smaller aliens and while it doesn’t live up to the promise, in reality could we have expected much better?

7: Rambo (US/Thailand) Sylvester Stallone

Who’d have thought it – the return of John Rambo? And who’d have expected it to actually be both good and faithful? When Stallone wants to, he can still pull it out of the bag. This is just ridiculous carnage – an 80s Action movie with an 80s Action hero, but with the violence blown up to 11. The plot is almost irrelevant – Rambo is helping out a bunch of missionaries who get caught up in an Asian war zone – but at least it isn’t completely vapid. The supporting cast contribute well – Julie Benz and Graham McTavish the obvious standouts. Stallone keeps the pace ticking along until the brutal climax and there’s simply something comforting about seeing an old character resurrected from your childhood, whether they’re standing on stage, swinging a lightsaber, or in this case, ripping out throats with their bare hands.

6: Ip Man (HK) Wilson Yip

From ripping out throats, to jabbing them 48 times in one second. Donnie Yen has been a beast for at least thirty years now, but the Ip Man series may be his crowning achievement. Beyond being a showcase for his badassery, and beyond hitting that personal sweet spot for me of being both a martial arts movie and telling a (sort of) history of Bruce Lee, you have Wilson Yip – the director who seems to know how to get the best performance from Yen. Yip and Yen have teamed multiple times and have a shared understanding of choreography and character to the extent that, and I know it’s a cliche, but that watching the fights are more akin to watching a dance – with the added benefit of it not being a fucking dance. The fights in Ip Man are so painstakingly practised and directed that each one is a thing of beauty – all heightened by the fact that we come to care for the guy and his family.

Ip Man is a martial arts teacher in a very large pool – at this place and point at time it seemed like every street in the vast city has multiple competing martial arts schools – each with their own styles, fighters, masters, and rivalry. Ip Man stands out by being almost invisible – he isn’t interested in getting into disputes or proving he’s the best, but simply wants to train, learn, and live out a peaceful existence. It’s not necessarily a unique story when it comes to the genre, but in Yen we get a sympathetic human we can stand behind rather than the standard faceless pile of fists and feet. When the Japanese invades, Ip and his family lose their home and business and he is forced into mining to make ends meet. It turns out that the Japanese are offering additional food to the Chinese if they take part in unsanctioned fights – except that the Japanese military have been killing some of the Chinese fighters when they lose. Ip is understandably enraged and wipes out a number of the Japanese fighters which attracts the attention of their General.

Plot is often secondary in Martial Arts movies which generally means ridicule for the more discerning critic. Placing this in a ‘genuine historical setting’ (seen from the Chinese side) helps matters and this becomes a standard enough story of heroism, patriotism, glory, and family values that you’ve likely seen before in Chinese Martial Arts. But it’s the fights, the nuances, and the performances which raise this above the myriad others. I’d probably recommend starting here for anyone interested in Donnie Yen and it’s a high budget, classy starting point for anyone keen to gateway into the genre. As someone who has seen the dregs on offer, this is light-years ahead and offers incredible, breathless action.

5: Let The Right One In (Sweden) Tomas Alfredson

So far the horror films on my list this year haven’t been out and out scare-fests, but have rather been subtle, introspective, or done something new with an old favourite. Let The Right One In captures each of those points – taking the vampire mythology and offering new twists, yet makes it a character piece, a romance of sorts, a coming of age story, and drip-feeds us dread, unsavoury pedophilia subtext, while being shot through the lens of abandoned beauty. This was one of the first modern horror movies which truly cared about how it looked and sounded and how both were portrayed – the current wave of so called elevated horror all owe something to Let The Right One In.

Like Ip Man, this is something of a sweet spot movie for me. I love vampire movies and horror, and I love coming of age films – especially ones which feel genuine, ones which I can relate to. I didn’t know too many vampires growing up, but isolation, bullying, looking for close friendships are things I know all too well as do many others. The film downplays much of the horror and mythology and the darker elements of the novel and focuses instead on the friendship and loneliness and need. Oskar is a boy with no friends, no confidence, bullied into fantasizing about bloody revenge. Eli is a vampire who needs to feed and tasks a familiar with killing on her behalf so that she can keep living. For much of the film Oskar doesn’t know the truth, and even when he does their established friendship works, even if it does take on some sour, manipulative notes. Hell, who wouldn’t want an all powerful vampire in their corner?

The film doesn’t take a jumpscare approach, rather relying on the horror inherent in its ideas – needing to kill, needing to protect a killer, bullying, abuse. It all looks gorgeous too – there’s something wonderful about snowy nights and landscapes on screen, about quiet moments shattered by sudden violence. It’s a horror movie for critics to appreciate, for non-horror viewers to get on board with even though they’ll brand it a thriller, and it should of course please horror nerds. With two great lead performances, a career defining directorial from Alfredson, and shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema who earned Her, Interstellar, and Dunkirk from this.

4: Departures (Japan) Yojiro Takita

As the 2000s went on I began to side more with South Korean cinema than Japanese. After the J-Horror bubble burst, only the obvious big hitters like Koreeda and Miike and Sono were repeatedly bringing the goods. Departures came out of the blue, surprising everyone to win the Best Foreign Oscar this year over some front-runners. It, and the three movies remaining on this list are covered in more detail in my end of decade favourites list. It’s a film which caught me off guard and may do the same for you – the director I only knew from the decent enough Hiroyuki Sanada vehicle Onmyiji, and out of the cast it was really only Ryoko Hirosue I knew – from her days as a Nintendo model and Wasabi. It’s tender, heart-tugging, funny, and has one of the best soundtracks of the decade.

3: Martyrs (France) Pascal Laugier

So, America had the whole Torture Porn market cornered. Then Spain came along and said ‘hold my scalpel’. Then France beheaded the lot of them with a baguette and farted in their general direction. There’s a reason why there is a whole movement called French Extremism, and Martyrs is the peak. It’s just brutal, exhausting, and difficult to get through yet utterly compelling, impossible to forget, and once its over you know you’re going to be drawn back to it again to experience the twists once more. It made my end of decade list, so read more there. Quite simply, if you’re a horror fan you need to see it. If you’re not… it might put you off the genre forever or become one of your all time favourites. There are those horror movies which even the most ardent anti-horror film critic can’t deny – this is one of them.

2: The Dark Knight (US/UK) Christopher Nolan

It’s one of the biggest, most popular, and best movies of the decade – of the last two decades. You know it, you love it.

1: Love Exposure (Japan) Sion Sono

There are some movies you want everyone to see. Each of us finds a small handful of movies each year that no-one seems to know about and you tell all of your friends and co-workers and anyone you can get your hands on because, dammit, those movies need to be seen. Love Exposure is near the top of that list for me. It’s just perfect and is everything I love about film, somehow. It’s… not really anything. It’s not horror, it’s not action… it is a bit of comedy, a bit of drama… it’s just a bit of everything shat into a blender and squirted out into a four hour long cup, whatever the hell that means. Sion Sono, like other madcap hero Takashi Miike, does whatever he wants it seems. There’s just no way any other person on the face of the planet at any other time in the history of the world could make the films these guys do. Sono in this case has dealt with suicides and cults in Suicide Club, revenge in Hazard, comedy in Into A Dream, horror in Exte, drama in Land Of Hope, musical in Tokyo Tribe, and brutal thrillers in Cold Fish and Guilty Of Romance. Love Exposure trumps them all, with its panty obsessed fetish ninjas, budgie-shouldered cult leaders, daddy-pleasing pervs, child-slapping religious nutcases, and all the rest. I suppose in the end it’s a romance – my kind of romance. It should have been at the Oscars for Best Picture, Sono should have been down for best director, and Hikari Mitsushima should have won Best Actress. But who cares about awards – if you love Cinema, even if you have a passing interest in movies, you have an obligation to see Love Exposure. I know most people hate it when someone one really pushes a movie onto you – I get that too – but believe me when I say that your life will be better with this in it.

Let me know your favourites of 2008!

Nightman’s Least Favourite Movies Of 2009!

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Greetings, Glancers! We kicked things off with the controversial 2010 and we now start moving backwards into the mists of time to have a laugh at my other misguided choices of least favourite films from each year. What does 2009 have in store for us? Have a look below.

Watchmen

Zack Snyder had been on a roll for me – Dawn Of The Dead is one of the all time great remakes, 300 is a silly, stylish slice of violent fun based on one of my favourite stories. It made sense that he would tackle a comic book adaptation, and adapt one of the less mainstream series. As you’ll see me say frequently in these posts – it’s not that it’s a bad film, it’s just not very good. Or more appropriately, it just didn’t work for me. On the plus side it looks great – not quite on par with the visu-shock of Sin City, but it certainly fits the bill of standing apart from the ‘realism’ of Marvels visual output. But like everything else Snyder has released since Watchmen, it’s so overfed on plot, so packed with stuff, that in the end I don’t care about any of it. I can’t remember any of the character’s names – Blue Cock – was that one? Outfit Girl? Running Dude? Wrong Face? Fuck knows. It’s another example of a film which should have been something I thoroughly enjoyed, but instead it was overblown and forgettable.

Wolverine

The X-Men movie series got off to a bang – the first two movies remain two of the finest comic book movies ever. Then some nameless twat got a hold of the series and ruined it for part 3 – one of the worst movies ever made. Luckily the series returned (and then subsequently fucked up again) and we got a series of spin off based on everyone’s favourite beardo, Wolverine. Like Watchman, this should have been something I enjoyed, but it’s drivel. If I can’t remember what anyone was called in Watchmen, I can’t remember anything that happened in Wolverine. I think there was snow in one scene. Maybe I was drunk when I watched it? In any case it went in both eyes, and straight out the back of my skull with zero recollection of what happened.

The Hangover

If the 2010s saw the rise of Alpha male bullshit, then the Noughties have a lot to answer for. I’m not saying The Hangover is to blame for a lot of the sickening sexual entitlement we see today across the entertainment industry, and up and down through politics… I’m not saying it’s even to blame for a rise in the absolutely terrible junk which passes for comedy in Hollywood these days. What I am saying is that it’s a pretty shitty movie, vastly overrated, and at least influenced a number of people to see the protagonists as worthy role models. It’s the ultimate bro movie, and for that reason alone, it deserves to be called out as the piece of shit it is.

The Hurt Locker

I was the first person to applaud when Katheryn Bigelow won her Oscar. But that was more as a sign of respect for her work on Near Dark, Strange Days, Point Break. She’s a terrific director. The Hurt Locker… I still don’t get why it is so acclaimed. A character study of little insight, a drama without tension. You notice how the acclaim for Renner’s performance seem to focus on his physical appearance – the fact that he’s not some Tom Cruise lookalike or hunk? You may as well start handing out Oscars for actresses based on how impressive their tits are. At best it is a very well made, good looking drama which was released at exactly the right time. At worst it’s an unrealistic Hallmark movie that just happens to have a master director in charge.

Halloween II

Ho-lee-shit. Listen, I didn’t mind the first Rob Zombie Halloween. He wanted to do his own thing, so by all means give it a go. The second effort is possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen in a theatre. Where to begin? There’s no sense writing a badly articulated diatribe about this – it’s so laughably bad that Police Academy 7 is ashamed of it.

Fame

That’s right, you can pretty much bet that if a crappy musical came out in any given year, it’ll be on my list – if I’ve had the misfortune to have seen it. The original is pretty terrible outside of the fact that it has some ripping tunes. This is the same, but worse, and without the ripping tunes.

An Education

Cripes this was banal, with a small disinterested ‘b’. The film which sadly unleashed Carey Mulligan on the world, it tells the story of… well I can’t really remember. It doesn’t matter does it? I don’t think I’ve yawned through a movie more than this – to its credit I didn’t fall asleep (that’s reserved for made for TV court dramas with names like Breach Of Contract or Justice For Bob, or Mrs Smith Gets A Divorce And Then Has A Custody Battle Over Her Infant Son, Jonas). 

The Fourth Kind

I’m a big fan of Milla Johovich. Sure the quality of her movies rarely goes higher than mindless action, but she’s always committed. The Fourth Kind seemed right up my alley until I watched it and wondered where are the scares that hardened horror fans seemed to be freaked out by. Remember that Ant And Dec movie Alien Autopsy? It had more scares than this.

The Lovely Bones

Peter Jackson had long been one of my favourite directors, from his early shlock, through The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures. The LOTR trilogy is peerless. King Kong was a good 2 hour movie, blown up to off-putting CG-worship proportions. Then came The Lovely Bones – a misguided and offensive mess which looks as if it was made by a team who had never worked with each other before and had no experience of working on film. I’ve never read the source material – it always seemed like one of those Jodi Picault books to give housewives something to cry about. The movie certainly gave me something to cry about – the fact that Peter Jackson could have ever made something so insipid.

Lesbian Vampire Killers

I mean, it was going to be this or one of the shitty Ricky Gervais romps, wasn’t it? As much as I am mystified by people who enjoy Gervais, at least his films are generally competent. This isn’t, and has the added flaw of starring James Corden, whose one high moment was appearing in a Tango advert. It also stars Matthew Horne, whose one high moment is having a funny surname.

Let me know in the comments which of the films above you think I’ve got wrong. Are there some you love? Which movies released in 2009 would be at the bottom of your pile?