Thursday, 30 December 2010

'Tis the Season to be Busy

So here is a smattering of slimline assessments – all the goodness of a regular CR@Blog, with half the inane prattling (not scientifically proven).

Film Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL (2009)
PG – 92mins – 2009

Robert Polar Express Zemeckis’s visually consummate CGI retelling of Charles Dicken’s Victorian ghost story sees rubber-mouthed Jim Carrey taking on a multitude of assorted vocal roles, including the misery Ebenezer Scrooge, and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.

Some of the landscape rendering is so masterful you’ll wonder whether you’re not looking at a photograph, while Colin Firth’s festive Fred and Bob Hoskin’s portly Mr. Fezziwig look so much like Colin Firth and Bob Hoskins that they may as well have done away with the pixels altogether.

Ultimately, other than some boastful ethereal effects – this was shown in 3D cinemas, after all – and a nightmarish shrink n’ chase scene with a demonic horse and cart, this umpteenth cinematic adaptation offers us nothing we haven’t seen copious times before, no doubt at a tenth of the budget of this overblown Disney retread. If that makes me a Scrooge then I say “bah, humbug!”

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

Film Review: THE DARK HALF
18 –122 mins – 1993

Creepshow collaborators and genre legends George A. Romero and Stephen King joined forces once again in the early ‘90s, with the Granddaddy of the Living Dead bringing the literary spinechiller’s pseudonym-exorcising 1989 novel to the big screen.

King waved goodbye to his own darker half “Richard Bachman” shortly before writing this terrifying tale of a pen-name-made-flesh, with Oscar winner Timothy Hutton (no, me neither) stepping into the dual role of Thad Beaumont/“George Stark”.

This is not a murder mystery, since the supernatural nature of Stark’s personification is never in doubt, so when Thad is accused of slaughtering those who were in on his pseudonym’s “death” we never once share the police’s suspicions.

Nevertheless, this is a polished and visceral horror (twin tumour!!) with a superbly ambitious and disturbingly twisted end for the evil Stark more than making up for any plot holes (like why prime suspect Thad was free to go about his day to day life during the investigation, besides the fact it would otherwise have been a very short film).

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

12A – 99mins – 2007

Everyone always tells you to read the book before you see the film; well here is an instance where I did just that and thoroughly regretted it. Character names aside, there aren’t many details from Susan Cooper’s 1974 fantasy adventure novel that the filmmakers didn’t alter.

The plot – involving teen “Old One” Will Stanton’s (Alexander Ludwig) search for six signs to stop the Dark from, you’ve guessed it, rising – remains broadly akin to its source, at least tonally, but faithful it sure ain’t: Ages, nationalities and character traits are needlessly altered, key plot points butchered, inexplicably moved or dropped in favour of weaker new additions, etcetera.

Viewed on its own accord, I’m sure this magical fantasy romp would more than satisfy young fans of the Harry Potter, Eragon, Narnia, Inkheart, Lemony Snickett and Golden Compass ilk, but when seen in light of the visionary novel, the only thing it leaves you seeking is an aspirin! The Dark is Rising purists beware.

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

From Swamp Thing to Swamp King?

U – 93mins – 2007
Written by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, Chris Miller, Aron Warner
Characters inspired by the novel by: William Stieg
Directed by: Chris Miller and Raman Hui
Starring the vocal talents of: Mike Myers, Eddie Murphey, Cameron Diaz, Antonio Banderas, Rupert Everett, Justin Timberlake, John Cleese, Julie Andrews, Eric Idle


I was in the minority who genuinely favoured 2004’s Shrek 2 to DreamWorks’s original fantasy-flavoured romp, yet I was in absolutely no rush to see this largely reviled threequel, for the very reason that it was largely reviled. In fact, franchise closer Shrek Forever After is already out on DVD before I belatedly caught up with this 2007 entry (recorded from BBC1 on Christmas Day). At this rate, expect the fourth film’s review circa Christmas 2013!!

Series director Andrew Adamson had already departed for Narnia prior to this entry, but otherwise all of your favourite fairy tale folk from Far, Far Away are present again. Unsurprisingly, most of them are totally superfluous and only on hand to provide brand familiarity, bolster toy sales and volunteer the occasional witticism. Nevertheless, they are joined by a veritable deluge of new-but-familiar mythological friends (Arthur “Artie” Pendragon, Merlin, Snow White, Rapunzel).

As rightful heir to the kingdom, the once-reviled-but-slowly-domesticated ogre Shrek (Mike Myers), accompanied by ever-loyal sidekicks Donkey (Eddie Murphey) and Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas), sets out to bring weedy student Artie (Justin Timberlake) back from High School to claim the throne after Frog King Harold (John Cleese), umm, croaks it.

While this cross country undertaking to (and then from) Worcestershire Academy provides the narrative’s driving force, there is rebellion afoot back home in Far Far Away, with vainglorious but down-on-his-luck Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) gathering together a host of e-e-evil pantomime villains (Ugly Stepsisters, Captain Hook, Cyclops) to seize the dead king’s crown in Shrek’s absence.

While not the complete disaster I was predicting, Shrek the Third does lack the “ogre the top” (ahem) sheen which breathed life into its predecessors – at times it feels more like a lesser, direct to DVD cash-in than a blockbuster of equal worth. The story felt flat and lacking inspiration, while the demographic-straddling humour felt less fresh and more reliant upon the audience’s recognition of past giggles (Puss’s kitten eyes, Donkey and Dragon’s “Dronkey” brood).

That being said, there are a few joyfully humorous gags (I am loathe to admit that I laughed out loud at Gingerbread Man shreking himself), and your heart must be made of dragon hide to not find the bumbling and banter-packed misadventures of the three spirited sidekicks charming, even if this isn’t their greatest adventure.

In a CR@B Shell: Nestled somewhere between Shrek the Turd and Shrek-tacular; the oddball characters we have come to know and love just about keep this saga-stretching second sequel afloat, even if it does feel like a lazier effort than its boundary-pushing predecessors.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Year of CR@Blogging

Twelve months after opening the CR@B Shack for business
I'm feeling creative and festive and a tiny bit reflective,
So between Christmas Day and my site's first jubilee
I present this gift to you in the form of poetry...

I may not always publish or post an awful lot
For life sometimes gets in the way of my blog,
But I’m proud of my writing and I enjoy it too,
And I’m ever so grateful to followers like you,
Taking time to digest my “expert” opinion,
Occasionally leaving a comment of (dis)agreement,
You let me know my voice is heard loud and clear
And I look forward to reviewing bounteous more this next year.

Snappy Holidays to all,
I trust you're having a good one,
Don't forget to keep checking back to

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Taming His Night Fury

PG – 94mins – 2010
Screenplay by: Adam F. Goldberg, Peter Tolan, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders
Based on the novel by: Cressilda Cowell
Directed by: Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois
Starring the voice talents of: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T. J. Miller, Kristen Wiig, David Tennant


Despite being initially discouraged by this fantasy adaptation’s overly stylised Lilo and Stitch-meets-Pokémon-esque animation style, a torrent of glowing reviews upon its theatrical roll-out in March roused my interest. Indeed, once you get past the cartoony Vikings and cutesy winged creatures, How to Train Your Dragon is a bright and witty coming-of-age tail which also packs a hefty dramatic punch.

The graphics are first rate, with the aerial shots of protagonist Hiccup (Baruchel) riding his overgrown “pet” Toothless rendered particularly beautifully. The attention to detail - wood grain, barnacles on the longboat’s underbelly, misty mountain ranges and the like - is stunning, even if the character designs are larger than life. But it is the characterisation of these wide-eyed, overgrown Norse warriors and their fire breathing foes which provides this film its flair.

Much to his chieftain father’s (Butler) chagrin, young Hiccup isn’t like all the other brutish dragon slayers in the village of Berk: he’s a designer – and a pacifist. So while his contemporaries – the delightfully named Fishlegs (Mintz-Plasse), Snoutlout (Hill) and twins Ruffnut (Miller) and Tuffnut (Wiig) – and the girl of his dreams, Astrid (Ferrera), are desperate to start combat training to bring down the winged scourge of their village, Hiccup is secretly befriending a “deadly” Night Fury in the forest.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice star Baruchel has a very distinctive vocal talent which suits weedy-but-endearing Hiccup well, while Butler lends fearless leader Stoick the requisite gravitas; father and son couldn’t be more different, and Stoick’s blatant disappointment in his quirky offspring provides much of the film’s poignancy, as Hiccup’s reverence for Toothless proves far more valuable than the Viking’s traditional “kill first, ask questions never” technique – but will they ever listen to the tribe pariah?

Were I to identify a couple of the film’s weaker elements, then Hiccup’s fellow trainees are effectively worthless, with any attempts at individual identities being more down to their recognisable voices than their minimal impact on the narrative, while love interest Astrid (a character not present in Cressilda Cowell’s source novel) is treated somewhat feebly, shifting from bantering and battling ladette to sweet love-stuck companion the minute Hiccup reveals his Night Fury (it's not as dodgy as it sounds…).

However, a game-changing revelation late in the second act sets up a dramatic and high-octane finale as Hiccup’s father recklessly sets out to undo the “shame” his wayward son has brought upon Berk, with an (un)expected hero swooping in to save the day. Naturally for a family film, many badly informed beliefs are turned around before the credits roll, but it is the verve with which How to Train Your Dragon delivers these life lessons that makes it stand out from the pixelated crop.

In a CR@B Shell: Humorous, adventurous and distinctive, How to Train Your Dragon flies high above the raft of analogous CGI ‘toons due to relatable central characters battling universal themes alongside terrifically flamboyant giant mythical reptiles.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Snow More Winter

PG – 137mins – 2005
Screenplay by: Ann Peacock, Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on the novel by: C. S. Lewis
Directed by: Andrew Adamson
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Tilda Swinton, Liam Neeson, James McAvoy, Ray Winstone, Dawn French, Michael Madsen, Patrick Kake, Shane Rangi, James Cosmo, Jim Broadbent


I fear my initial reaction to this epic fantasy adaptation – one I made upon leaving the cinema in December 2005, and stubbornly held until last night – was somewhat harsh. I far too quickly dismissed Andrew Adamson’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe as nothing more proficient than the late eighties BBC mini-series, albeit with superior CGI. But viewing the first film in the saga for a second time – and in the perspective of the successive entries in the series (reviewed HERE and HERE) – made my appreciation blossom. Either that or I’m getting soft in my old age…

True, the four young actors taking on the Pevensie children – for the first time, it must be noted, they do improve as the films progress – are at times frankly appalling actors (particular the lads Moseley and Keynes whose voices lack any kind of expressive tone or depth), but with so much magic and wonderment flurrying around them any faults are often blanketed over like the snow from Narnia’s eternal winter.

As I revisited Mr Tumnus’s (McAvoy) home for tea, crumpets and sardines, and trekked across frozen lakes with Mr and Mrs Beaver (voiced by Winstone and French respectively) on the way to meeting the mighty Aslan (Neeson) and joining his army to combat the White Witch, Jadis (Swinton), what struck me most about Lewis’s children’s fable is how bleak and frightening it all is: Narnia under the White Witch’s rule is not a pleasant place, with foxes being mauled by wolves, fauns being turned to stone and children being chained up and slapped for asking questions.

Indeed, even as the snow thaws and the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve (that’s human children, FYI) bring hope back to the whitewashed landscape, Aslan’s blatantly allegorical sacrifice upon the Pagan-esque Stone Table in place of traitorous Edmund (Keynes) is hardly family viewing, with all manner of grotesque demonic creatures (minotaurs, dwarves, giant bats, etcetera) all baying for the lion’s blood under firelight.

Of course it’s hardly much of a spoiler for me to reveal that good eventually conquers evil with Aslan making a magnificent return to defeat Jadis once and for all (though Swinton still manages to wangle appearances in both follow-ups to date), but not before Peter (Moseley) has done his fair share of sword fighting and Edmund has been stabbed. Thank heavens for little Lucy’s (Henley) gift from Father Christmas (Cosmo): a healing potion which makes all battle scars vanish – all except the ones imprinted on the adolescent audience’s brains, that is.

So, allegorical meaning or not, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe doesn’t escape representing some truly adult horrors, even if they do all happen in the back of a magical closet and feature a menagerie of talking critters. This may sound like a negative observation, but trust me it is not: I say bravo to Adamson and his crew for not bowdlerizing some of the more intimidating imagery and granting Narnia a truly visionary scope. I guess we’ve all got to grow up some time; we may as well do it in the comfort of a good film.

In a CR@B Shell: A multifaceted, uncompromising and surprisingly re-watchable treat for the whole family. What better time to indulge upon a second peek inside the wardrobe then at Christmas when we wish we had as much snow as Narnia. Turkish delight, anyone?

Friday, 17 December 2010

Splice Girl

15 – 100mins – 2010
Story by: Vincenzo Natali,
Written by: Vincenzo Natali and Doug Taylor
Directed by: Vincenzo Natali
Starring: Adrien Brody, Sarah Polley, Delphine Chaneac, Brandon McGibbon, David Hewlett, Simona Maicanescu, Abigail Chu

Faultlessly splicing* together the lowbrow thrills of a blood-soaked horror with the limitless possibilities of the science fiction genre, Vicenzo Cube Natali’s latest piece of visually-resplendent yet cerebrally-satisfying entertainment is a tense, shocking and fascinating creation the like of which David Cronenberg would undoubtedly be proud (if anyone has asked him, or, for that matter, if he’s even seen it).

King Kong’s Brody and Dawn of the Dead’s Polley head up the minimalist cast as Clive Nicoli and Elsa Kast, partners both in their field of genetic engineering and at home. When their corporate firm decides to pull the plug on their medicinal gene-splicing research in favour of a more profitable and less controversial direction, Clive and Elsa secretly take their work one step further and implement human DNA into their next animal hybrid… “Dren”.

As their scientific breakthrough rapidly grows and develops, so too does the swiftly evolving plot. With every scientific step Clive and Elsa conquer, a raft of ethical and moral dilemmas presents themselves: Is their research legal? Are they working out of scientific curiosity or for selfish personal gain? Could they ever reveal Dren to the world? Can they take a life which they created? Is Dren a lab rat, a pet, a child or an equal?

Indie director Natali implements these moral quandaries so fluidly into the pacey and progressive script that you never feel like you are being lectured at, and any inherent social commentary on the danger of crossing the line in our genetically and technologically inquisitive future never overshadows the horrifying, tense and unconventional action (yep, in both senses of the word). Also let me just clarify that, yes, curiosity does indeed kill the cat…

Brody and Polley’s performances are perfectly understated (and, thus, all the more convincing) without lacking the emotional brevity that a film as taxing and affecting as Splice requires, but Delphine Chaneac undeniably steals the show as the not-quite-human anthropomorphic experiment. She brings to the voiceless role a kind and trusting ignorance, whilst never betraying Dren’s alien characteristics (though the wings and tail-stinger certainly help!!).

Even in the downbeat epilogue yet another innovative twist is delivered which opens up yet more room for ethical debate (and the opportunity for a sequel). You may shriek, you may cringe, you may laugh it off as ludicrously far-fetched, but Vincenzo Natali guarantees that Splice will linger in your noggin long after the credits have rolled. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the sign of an all round damn good film.

In a CR@B Shell: A fascinatingly original, cerebrally compelling, visually entertaining and psychologically transfixing creature; Splice achieves so much on such a strict budget, without ever labouring its point or compromising its aim: a modern genre classic.
* Wow, I got that one in early!!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

On Stronger Tides

PG – 105mins – 2010
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Michael Petroni
Based on the novel by: C. S. Lewis
Directed by: Michael Apted
Starring: Georgie Henley, Skander Keynes, Ben Barnes, Will Poulter, Simon Pegg, Gary Sweet, Laura Brent, Liam Neeson, Tilda Swinton


Dragons, sea serpents, supernatural mists, invisible mansions, ancient spell books, mermaids, tempests, enchanted jewels – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader really is a phenomenal treasure chest of fascinating fantastical tropes; bright and fun enough for little 'uns to gawp at, but with enough substance to keep mum and dad emotionally engaged too.

This third visit to the magical realm of Narnia sees the youngest two Pevensie children taking to the high seas aboard the eponymous royal vessel with brattish cousin Eustace Scrubb (Poulter) reluctantly in tow. Like the choppy Silver Sea on which the ship travels toward the Eastern Islands in search of seven lost lords, there’s never a dull moment in this spirited and pacey threequel.

With Michael The World Is Not Enough Apted taking over directorial duty from series kick-starter Andrew Shrek Adamson (who stays on as producer) and a wisely tighter run-time, it seems like doubtful former co-financiers Disney jumped ship on this revitalised saga one instalment too soon: the magic has returned to Narnia with full force.

I will admit that I too was sceptical after 2005's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe offered nothing that the BBC adaptation hadn’t delivered nearly two decades previous, and 2008's Prince Caspian (reviewed HERE) was a bloated and battle-heavy curiosity which favoured excess over heart, but C. S. Lewis’s allegorical series is back on track with this far stronger pirate-flavoured escapade.

Most impressively, Dawn Treader perfectly implements character growth into the finely balanced mix of humour and wonder which enthralls without over-indulging: young Lucy (Henley) is conscious that she isn’t as pretty as older sister Susan (Popplewell), brother Edmund (Keynes) is sick of constantly playing second fiddle, while comic juggernaut Eustace’s reluctance to believe in this illogical wonderland manifests itself in insolence.

With a little help from the-now-King Caspian (Barnes, Spanish inflection now absent) and his multifarious crew, a wish-fulfilling spell, a magic lake, a transformative gold bracelet – and not forgetting wisecracking and courageous mouse Reepicheep (Pegg, replacing Izzard) – the trio learn a myriad of life lessons whilst also having the time of their lives locating the Narnian lord's seven lost swords to lay upon Aslan's (Neeson) table and defeating the haunting green mist which lures them to evil with nightmarish visions. It’s all go!

Whether it’s too late to save this (comparatively) underperforming franchise from a premature termination remains to be seen, but I certainly have faith that there are great adventures to be chronicled from Narnia’s plentiful shores – particularly given how skilfully they have tailored this rather conservative source novel into a pacey and action-packed extravaganza. And at the end of the day isn’t faith what these stories are all about anyway…?

In a CR@B Shell: A spirited and spectacular family friendly fantasy which sailed far beyond my expectations: Voyage is a bright and promising new dawn for Narnia; Lewis would be proud.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Faith, Hamlet and Shtick

PG – 148mins – 2008
Screenplay by: Andrew Adamson, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on the novel by: C. S. Lewis
Directed by: Andrew Adamson
Starring: Ben Barnes, Georgie Henley, Skandar Keynes, William Moseley, Anna Popplewell, Eddie Izzard, Sergio Castellitto, Peter Dinklage, Ken Stott, Warwick Davis, Liam Neeson, Tilda Swinton

Being granted the exclusive opportunity to see an advanced screening of Voyage of the Dawn Treader 24hours prior to its release this week (a minor perk of owning a Cineworld Unlimited Card; review to follow), I thought it only right that I should see the threequel in context by finally catching up with the second chronicle in the recently rekindled Narnia saga.

It has been five years since I was underwhelmed by The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe in the cinema, but that has such an enduring story that – thanks to the BBC adaptation which I rewatched repeatedly as a child – it will stay with me forever. In contrast, I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Prince Caspian, having ventured no further into either the novel series or BBC broadcasts, except that it took nowhere near enough money at the box office for Disney to desire to continue co-financing the remaining C. S. Lewis stories.

If the trivia section of IMDb is to believed, prior to the filming of this big budget follow up, there were worries from director Andrew Adamson and his co-writing cohorts Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely that the story of Prince Caspian was too talky and lacking in adventurous splendour when compared to Aslan’s (Neeson) Bible-riffing sacrifice and the epic battle against the White Witch (Swinton) in the well-known series opener.

Thus, the resultant feature film may differ vastly from its slimline prose origins, but it certainly doesn’t disappoint when it comes to blockbuster battle scenes, of which there are scores. Indeed, after a slow burn first half which sees the Pevensie siblings transported back to Narnia’s shore, Prince Caspian mounts towards a crescendo of titanic clashes for its final hour, with all manner of creatures showing their worth with a weapon as the submissive Narnian’s join forces with the eponymous Prince (Barnes) to reclaim their land from the invading Telmarine army.

There are definite shades of Shakespeare in the story of a young prince usurped by a jealous uncle who murdered the king to claim the throne (coughHamletcough). Furthermore, I’m not entirely sure why the Telmar’s are all Hispanic (even Brit Barnes adopts a Spanish accent which has apparently been dropped for film three), given that the fact they are humanoid already disassociates them adequately from Narnia’s animal populace, who have been thought extinct in the 1300 years since the royal Pevensie brood returned to war-time London through the wardrobe.
The immense passage of time is perhaps one reason why this return to Aslan’s domain feels entirely disparate to the preceding visit, despite the same cast and crew’s participation (even Tilda Swinton turns up for an ice-entombed cameo). Personally, I always favoured the snow-steeped eternal winter scenes in The Lion..., but the supernatural gloss of the ethereal white landscape all disappeared when the White Witch was defeated and summer returned to New Zealan- I mean, Middle Eart- NARNIA. Sorry, bad hobbi- HABIT!!

Aslan’s role is also far reduced in this sophomore entry, with the God-like lion nothing more than a fabled memory for the faithful to cling onto. Oh yes, Lewis’s “subtle” allegory of faith hasn’t been scarified in this twenty first century adap a la The Golden Compass, even in the midst of copious castle sieges and sword fights. But when you’ve got nearly two and a half hours to play with, you can squeeze a lot in, with numerous glances even alluding to a ludicrous underlying romance between elder sister Susan (Popplewell) and the Telmarine Prince!!

Sure, Mr. Tumnus and the Beaver’s may all have long since departed Narnia’s mortal plain, but the screen is now clear for a raft of new rabbiting mammals to provide some comic relief for the kiddies; in particular voice-of-reason Trufflehunter (Stott) the badger, and sword-wielding mouse Reepicheep (Izzard) whose persistently squeaky quips fire down many a derogatory comment aimed at his diminutive form. The dwarfs (one of which, naturally, is played by modest-for-hire Warwick Davis), meanwhile, still don’t exactly welcome trust, despite no longer being the White Witch’s minions…

I commend Adamson et al for their bravery and originality in expanding a treasured tome so indiscreetly. For this reason, Prince Caspian was always going to have its (purist) detractors. I was also pleasantly surprised by how little they pandered cringingly to their youngest demographic like the earliest Harry Potter films did – the Telmarine’s political backstabbing and warmongering, for instance, is likely to fly straight over the core audience's heads, but it is essential to setting up the civil war and Aslan’s noble return.

Yet for all the glossy effects, magical spectacle and humanizing themes there is still something about this updated series which doesn’t quite connect with me. Perhaps further depth to the characters and a more affectionate approach to the animal creations would invite viewers to bond more sincerely with the personal issues which affect the inhabitants of this world, instead of the overly cluttered approach which weighs down Caspian’s lengthy runtime and barely grants half of the cast more than a (snappy) line of dialogue.

In a CR@B Shell: Efficiently entertaining for its duration, but Prince Caspian’s appeal is as fleeting and shallow as the CGI effects which dominate Narnia’s bustling landscape. By no means an epic fail, but the warmth must be resurrected to stop The Dawn Treader from sinking.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Reopening the Fruit Cellar

Blu Review: EVIL DEAD II
15 – 84mins – 1987
Written by: Sam Raimi and Scott Spiegel
Directed by: Sam Raimi
Starring: Bruce Campbell, Sarah Berry, Dan Hicks, Kassie Wesley, Richard Domeier, Denise Bixler, John Peakes, Lou Hancock


A successful sequel is supposed to take what made the original film so popular and expand upon it to give the audience a fresh-but-familiar story in a universe they adore: bigger, badder and more extreme. By this logic, Sam Raimi's Evil Dead II should be a perfect follow up to his 1981 video nasty (reviewed HERE): bigger budget, badder demons, more extreme loonacy. And yet... *big sigh* I felt like I was watching a more hyperactive retread of The Evil Dead with very little innovation to warrant a return visit to the cabin in the woods.

From the very beginning things didn't sit well with me: the re-shot scenes from survivor Ash's (Bruce Campbell) first night from hell criminally watered down the original story, exorcised two of the main characters, significantly altered plot details and generally had me questioning why it was all necessary (a rights issue with the footage, I have since learnt). Not that it really mattered, however, as I was about to see it all again anyway...

From deadites trapped in the fruit cellar, to reanimated stop-motion corpses, floods of blood, chainsaw mutilations and female-stalking tree vines: everything which made The Evil Dead so horrific, so controversial and so iconic was shamelessly recycled in Part II – but with added lashings of crazy humour!!

So we are “treated” to a headless rotting corpse doing an erotic dance, Ash – his hand possessed and acting independently from his body – repeatedly walloping himself over the head with the china crockery (what is this, Laurel and friggin' Hardy?!!) and a room full of inanimate objects – lamps, books, chairs, Moose's heads – springing to life to cackle maniacally at our unhinged everyman.

The only time I genuinely raised a smile was at the use of Hemingway's novel A Farewell To Arms to weigh down the bucket which was trapping Ash's now severed five digit limb. At last: an original idea! But even as Ash was joined by Kandarian demon researcher (and daughter to the cabin owner) Annie (Sarah Berry) and three future corpses, Evil Dead II still didn't elaborate effectively. Prime example: Bobbie Joe (Kassie Wesley) is abducted by branches, dragged away to her doom, but even when the team reluctantly go looking for her she doesn't return as a deadite!

To Raimi and co-writer Scott Spiegel's credit, the finale did diverge from predictability and step things up: the living woodland turns on the cabin as Annie desperately recants a verse from the Book of the Dead which will open a portal to suck the demons into another realm – only for Ash to be pulled through too! But when the highest praise you can level at a film is “it set up a sequel splendidly” then you know you've been let down by everything that came before the epilogue.

In a CR@B Shell: More demonic mad-cappery in the worst possible taste from Raimi's twisted cranium, but I just found everything less fresh and thrilling second time around. At least Army of Darkness looks like a different beast entirely.

Smells Like School Spirit

15 – 87mins – 2009
Written by: Stephen Prentice
Directed by: Jon Wright
Starring: Tuppence Middleton, Alex Pettyfer, April Pearson, Dimitri Leonidas, Georgia King, Larissa Wilson, Olly Alexander, James Floyd, Calvin Dean


The age old morality tale of the underdog triumphing over the dominant alpha clique is given a supernatural makeover for the noughties teen market in this high school Brit horror-com. Thus, Tormented stars a raft of former Skins starlets in short skirts, an abundance of bad language, witty banter, sex, booze, blood and gore, as overweight loner Darren “Shrek” Mullet (Calvin Dean) is pushed to the brink of depression following years of bullying, and commits suicide.

Questionable subject for a comedy, you may think, and I certainly agree. There are times when the devastating enormity of the all-too-real situation – particularly when we watch mobile phone footage of his savage victimisation at the hands of the school's “cool kids” – does offset the sarcastic tone which underlies the slapstick horror, but it's hard to hold on to your principals when Mullet's reanimated corpse starts to exact revenge upon his tormentors in a number of fiendishly outlandish ways.

But as gore-iously inventive as they are, there's no real satirical slant to any of the murders, which does mean that things become a little repetitive as the runtime progresses: Death, panic, death, panic, death... etcetera. And as hurtful as their teasing was, whether the band of peer pressured adolescents *quite* deserve the fatal comeuppance they receive (does one wrong turn deserve another?) dissolves into a moot point as the body count spirals out of control and even Mullet's only friend falls foul of the hell bent zombie.

The film's moral commentary is further muddied when Darren's secret crush, cute-and-proper Head Girl Justine (Tuppence Middleton), is also targeted (and her punishment far more drawn out) because she “dared” start a relationship after the deceased shy guy who fancied her from afar never plucked up the courage to ask her out when alive. Is that fair? Really?

For all of Tormented's broad cultural stereotyping – jocks, sluts, emo punks, geeks, prissy virgins – it must be said that writer Stephen Prentice does a spot on job of depicting the power struggles which occur in Britain's state schools. I only hope that the same is not true of the horrendously inadequate teachers (one of whom is as big a bully as his pupils), or the suspiciously absent parents, but it probably is, and probably explains why the young 'uns are such first class idiots to begin with.

In a CR@B Shell: A confusing lesson in life, but for all of its ethical quandaries Tormented does deliver a wild n' wacky slant on an archetypal concept. Its teen demographic will find little to groan about as limbs and bras go flying and the laughter count is sustained throughout.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Pottering About

12A – 146mins – 2010
Screenplay by: Steve Kloves
Based on the novel by: J. K. Rowling
Directed by: David Yates
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Bill Nighy, Brendan Gleeson, Jason Isaacs, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman, Rhys Ifans, John Hurt, Robbie Coltrane… I could go on…


[SPOILERS*] With an adaptation as colossal and anticipated as Harry Potter – the concluding novel, no less – you are never going to please everyone. From exorcised scenes and streamlined plot points to suspiciously missing characters and limited screen time for big name stars, someone will always find something in director David Yates’s big screen interpretation which doesn’t quite align with their vision of J. K. Rowling’s mammoth seventh tome.

Prior to viewing the film last night, I had cautiously read a couple of reviews – both from reliably renowned mainstream publications, both with ruthlessly average final verdicts – which picked up on Deathly Hallows Part One’s lack of structure in comparison to the previous Hogwarts-framed instalments. Well, ummm, yeah, well spotted Total Empire, that’s kind of the whole point of this story!

Following the death of his wizened headmaster at Half Blood Prince’s downbeat climax, Harry Potter (with ever-loyal bezzie mates Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in tow) leaves behind the comfort of the enchanted School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to survive in the harsh terrain of a real world which is out for his blood, all the while searching for seven Horcrux McGuffins which contain segments of the soul of his deadly arch nemesis.

This isn’t a Quidditch match against Slytherin where no matter how awkwardly you fall off your broom Madame Pompfrey will be present to mend your broken bones: this is serious, this is dark and this is depressing. The kids have grown up (note the six o’clock stubble, hormonal outbursts, and – during one nightmarish divination – a topless clinch between Harry and Hermione), their guiding lights have been extinguished and their families far away – the cruelties and mysteries of the outside life are present for them to battle and demystify all by themselves.

Surely, if indeed there is a lack of structure then it is fully intentional: on the cusp of adulthood, these kids are thrust into the biggest challenge of their already taxing lives, totally unsure of how to progress. They’re outcast and running blind with no clue of where to search, what the Horcruxes look like or how to destroy them and weaken He Who Shall Not Be Named. It’s all luck and guess work, but still they soldier on against the odds.

Thus, tempers are rising, mistakes are made and wild goose chases ensue; but they still have a purpose, and with Voldemort’s evil army growing ever stronger and even the once impenetrable Ministry of Magic falling foul of his Pureblood propaganda, it is comforting to know that there are still two people Master Potter can trust – even if it clearly isn’t film critics…

I couldn’t help but smile knowingly at scripter Steve Kloves’s numerous call-backs to previous adventures, truly knitting the saga together like never before, none more so than when House elf Dobby reappears after four film’s absence, sporting a dirty pillowcase gown and pair of trainers. But parents of young Muggles be warned: this is not a cuddly and sweet tale and any humour and joy is soon overshadowed by darkness.

Brace yourselves for backstabbing, treachery, destruction, torture, disfigurement, bloodshed and more deaths than you can shake a wand at (one of which, in particular, upset me more on screen than it did on the page). The film’s colour palette is varying shades of grey and the atmosphere is cold, inhospitable and full of despair – even Bill and Fleur’s colourful wedding celebrations are marred by a Death Eater attack.

Yet despite the unrelenting fear and hopelessness, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One is still a thoroughly enjoyable experience. You become so caught up in this fully realised world that it never feels like the film is dragging, or that too little of the story is being stretched to breaking point. Ignore any mad-eyed and moody journalists who disagree. Indeed, a number of uproarious and high-octane set-pieces splendidly counteract the subdued consternation of the Horcrux hunt.

With the credits rolling on a cliffhanger which hangs in Voldemort’s favour, I for one cannot wait to see how David Yates surpasses this emotional extravaganza with Potter’s final bow next summer.

In a CR@B Shell: Bleak, gloomy and disquieting, but oh-so-entertaining nonetheless. Don’t listen to the critical naysayers; Death Hallows Part One is a gripping, exhausting and unrepentant adult fantasy adventure.
* On the off chance that someone, somewhere – perhaps holed up in Azkaban? – still hasn’t read the books yet…

Friday, 19 November 2010

Through a Glass, Darko

DVD Review: S. DARKO
15 – 99mins – 2009
Written by: Nathan Atkins
Based on the characters created by: Richard Kelly
Directed by: Chris Fisher
Starring: Daveigh Chase, Briana Evigan, Jackson Rathbone, James Lafferty, Ed Westwick, Zucay Henao, Elizabeth Berkley, John Hawkes, Bret Roberts, Matthew Davis


“There must be some connection between what happened to Donnie and Samantha…”
I’ve seen my share of redundant direct-to-DVD sequels over the years, but I think S. Darko truly takes the bunny-shaped biscuit. From phallic-shaped cones of time fluctuation, to nightmarish lagomorphic masks, suspicious house fires and objects falling from the sky – there really is little from Richard Kelly’s head-scratcher of a cerebral mind-fuck that hasn’t been recycled in this belated and lazy cash-in.

It’s 1995 and Daveigh Chase, now all grown up, reprises her role as Donnie’s little sister Samantha (clearly considered too long a word for the abbreviated title…). Leaving behind her family – who have fallen apart following her older brother’s death – Sam Darko and rebellious mate Corey (Step Up 2’s Evigan) are on their way to start a new life in L.A. when their car breaks down and they are forced to take up temporary residence in a backwater town while cool dude Randy (Gossip Girl’s Westwick) fixes their water pump.

A meteorite strikes nearby (evidently the smaller budget couldn’t stretch to a plane engine), a shy nerd (Twilight’s Rathbone) gets a “gnarly” rash and flips out, some Jesus loving adults in positions of authority have questionable opinions about some missing children (sound familiar?) and a shell-shocked war vet (One Tree Hill’s Lafferty) with a recognizable surname is ostracised from the community but haunted by the ghost of the still living Samantha, who tells him the world is going to end (again).

Basically, there is too much going on with too many characters, especially taking into account the fragmented nature of the plot with alternative realities, time travel and dream sequences aplenty. At one point halfway through I was questioning for about 10 minutes whether Samantha was even the main character!! It’s not necessarily confusing (if you’ve seen the 2001 original you can foretell what happens), just unnecessarily busy, with many subplots building up then all but disappearing before they’ve reached a pay-off.

Rathbone’s Jeremy, for instance, becomes infected by the radiation from the meteorite, morphing from a shy and retiring lad into an angry and violent maniac. This could have been a key plot point (even a film of its own), but it comes to nothing, and the truth of his transformation is never revealed – it could be alien possession for all we learn. Ultimately, Jeremy’s only major contribution to the narrative could easily have been offloaded to another character and the dead weight discarded. This is true of most of the film’s minor players, too.

Writer Nathan Atkins was clearly trying too hard to stay faithful to Richard Kelly’s iconic vision while simultaneously injecting his script with a myriad of original elements, without compromising, belittling or negatively impacting Donnie’s legacy. I’m afraid to say that this cowardly approach failed, as S. Darko – so packed to the rafters with nods and callbacks as it is – comes across as more of a distorted reimagining than a franchise-sustaining sequel.

In a CR@B Shell: A spinelessly unoriginal mirror image of Richard Kelly’s imaginative stand-alone time travelling conundrum. Pretty enough to look at, but S. Darko is far too reliant upon Donnie to stand on her own two feet.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Wiseman #Three

Released: 8th November 2011


When an artist as globally renowned as James Hillier Blount (that’s Blunt to you and I) releases a new album, you expect him to return to the limelight with an almighty bang: a flurry of high profile appearances, hyperbolic performances, grandiose costumes and a swirl of magazine covers and interviews; literally anything to get the word out that JAMES BLUNT IS BACK.

Yet, after three years away from the public eye, the “Wiseman” hit-maker has released his new LP in a rather muted and old-school fashion: he’s clearly letting the songs speak for themselves, which is a brave move when competing with the Rihanna’s, Lady GaGa’s and Cheryl Cole’s of the extrovert 2010 pop landscape.

And so it is that Some Kind of Trouble “only” reached #4 in the UK charts this week, after his two previous records both hit the top spot. This is not to say that this is a weaker collection of tracks – to go top 5 is by no means a failure – but three years is a long time away in this flippant and inattentive superficial age. You may require more than a guest slot on Never Mind the Buzzcocks next time, James. I’d book myself in for The X Factor results show in 2013 now, if I was you!!

Blunt has always been know for “nice” songs; inoffensive and harmonious ditties which let his soft voice soar on the choruses and can easily be played on acoustic guitar. They lack the almighty bang which I previously mentioned, relying instead upon capturing the public imagination to make an impact, much like “You’re Beautiful” did half a decade ago. It’s a shame that lead single “Stay the Night” didn’t quite manage this (peaking as it did at #37) as it is a joyful and happy track which evokes summer nights and camp-fire sing-alongs.

Alongside the warm and uniting glow of “Stay the Night”, “Superstar” (track 6) and “I’ll Be Your Man” (track 10) are my personal favourites from the album – upbeat and jaunty numbers which get your mouth humming and foot tapping. Track 2, “Dangerous”, starts off with a much heavier beat than you usually expect from a Blunt number, but that soon gets lost amid the tuneful layering – not that that’s a negative admission.

If you’re familiar with either 2004’s debut Back to Bedlam or sophomore effort All the Lost Souls (2007) then you know what to expect from Some Kind of Trouble. This album is by no means a reinvention; indeed a trio of tracks – “Best Laid Plans”, “No Tears” and “Calling Out Your Name” – retain the sombre melody of the musician’s more heartfelt ballads from previous releases. Perhaps they were written in the same sessions and held back, who knows?

From suspiciously similar songs to something spectacularly specialised: album closer “Turn Me On” is something of a unique peculiarity. More discordant in tone and with a rawer and jazzier feel than any of the album’s other tunes, this raunchy slap bass number sticks out like a sore thumb. It’s not necessarily bad, but it doesn’t feel like it belongs, either, which is perhaps why it was tagged on the end as an experimental bonus track, after the five seconds of silence which compose track 12.

In a CR@B Shell: A solid if unspectacular return for the former army officer. Playing to his strengths, Some Kind of Trouble repeats Blunt’s folksy formula, though he may have to change things up a little for future releases if he is to avoid being labelled bland.

Getting Even With Cad

15 – 102mins – 1995
Story by: Telsche Boorman and Josiane Balasko
Screenplay by: Josiane Balasko
Directed by: Josiane Balasko
Starring: Victoria Abril, Josiane Balasko, Alain Chabat, Ticky Holgado, Catherine Hiegel

Since when has adultery been funny? Certainly not in this French “comedy” where fighting affair with affair only leads to a flaming farce which blows up in everyone’s face. Gawky estate agent Laurent (Egon Spengler lookalike Chabat) has cheated on his sweet and neglected housewife Loli (Abril) with every tart in town, so we are meant to rejoice when butch lesbian Marijo (Balasko) turns up on despairing Loli’s doorstep and the two hit it off a little too well…

What follows is a ludicrously awkward and bizarre year-long ménage a trios where desperate Loli uses smitten Marijo to make her unfaithful sap of a sexist husband jealous by inviting the unfeminine, cigar-chomping DJ to move into her family home so she can sleep with her while grovelling sap Laurent snivels on the sofa. How immature… how totally fucked up!!

I’m sure there’s a message in their somewhere about feminist empowerment, but it gets totally lost in this unromantic Carry On style romp which forgoes the pain and heartache of real-life domestic drama for bed-hopping tomfoolery. Even the original French title, Gazon Maudit, is played for laughs: “Dreadful lawn” is a crude expression for a lady’s… well, I think you can guess!!

So Loli obtains the passion absent from her marriage from an outside source; but why is a happily heterosexual woman so easily swayed into a single sex relationship? Is writer/director/star Josiane Balasko trying to suggest that when looking for love it’s a free-for-all where you pick a gender on a whim?? This bisexual implication certainly isn’t put to bed by a laughable epilogue twist which suggests that even after everything Laurent still can’t keep it in his pants.

So the moral of the caper is a leopard can’t change his spots, but a human can change sexual persuasion? Hmmm…. A further irritation, for me, was that Loli was already happy for Marijo to kiss and grope her even before Laurent’s serial infidelities had been revealed by his repugnant best mate (Holgado). How can we sympathise with any of these characters if even the victims are lacking in morals?

Even headstrong wanderer Marijo – the only one without commitments, remember – far too readily and selfishly breaks up a family home where two young children must be utterly bewildered by this manly woman who is being overly friendly with their mother.

Filmed in 1995, this film already feels horrendously outdated – and not just because of the brick of a mobile phone Laurent heaves around or the fact Marijo plays a Game Boy before bed. The depiction of straight and gay lifestyles just seems far too loose and unrealistic and I can imagine some people being offended by the lack of restraint the characters demonstrate. I can’t help but feel that in an attempt to appear edgy and modern, French Twist just comes across desperate.

In a CR@B Shell: A questionable comedy which makes light of its devastating moral outlook by pushing every scenario to farcical extremes. It’s hard to warm to any of the characters, so destructive are their actions, yet we’re meant to accept that it’s all forgiveable in the name of “love”…

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

To Obsession, And Beyond!

7th November, 2010
University of East Anglia


I'm not ashamed to admit that some of my tastes in the visual arts incline towards what most may call geeky. Star Wars, Star Trek, Red Dwarf, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Dawn of the Dead, Jurassic Park... What can I say: I've got an imagination! And yet, in my 26 years upon this mortal coil, I had yet to set foot inside the ultimate nerdy grail: a science fiction convention. This was all about to change on Sunday November 7th 2010 A.D. when I attended the Norwich Sci-Fi Festival 2010.

I reluctantly decided to leave my lightsabre and Jedi robes at home, and so, kitted out in a slightly more culturally acceptable Kryten t-shirt, I set out to meet such genre luminaries as Chris “Arnold Rimmer” Barrie, Norman “Holly” Lovett, David “Darth Vader” Prowse, Kenny “R2-D2” Baker, Warwick “Willow” Davis, some shockingly questionable Doctor Who “lookalikes” and some guy in a union jack mask who wasn't afraid to flaunt what he had in a white lyrca bodysuit – oh dear god, that's one image I'll never be able to mind meld away...

Taking place in the LCR on the campus of Norwich's UEA, a multitude of stalls selling all manner of both new and second-hand memorabilia cluttered the main room like a Tattooinian market peopled by rubber-masked B-movie rejects, with the stage area being used sporadically for question and answer sessions throughout the day. The back room, adjacent to the cafeteria (classy), was where the meet and greets and autograph tables were situated.

As big a Star Wars fan as I am, I will admit that the main draw of the day, for me, was to meet two members of the Red Dwarf crew, and this was clearly a feeling shared by many an attendee as Chris Barrie's queue was about a parsec longer than any other celebrity. Who's the goit, now?!

I was a combustible combination of giddy and nervous as the queue edged ever-nearer to Second Technician Arnold Judas Rimmer Bsc. (Bronze Swimming certificate): after all, Chris Barrie had been sat at this table all day, forced into making pleasantries with all manner of crazed fanatics. Exactly what could *I* say that he hadn't heard a gazillion times before?

“Where's your H?”
“Alright, Smeeeeeeegggggggg Heeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaad?”
“If you're a hologram with a soft body light bee, how can you lay on a bunk?”
“You were great in Tomb Raider”
As it turned out, I simply made basic and polite conversation in a self-degrading fashion (“I don't have a clue what to say to you except: I love Red Dwarf...” etcetera) before chastising Norman Lovett for chewing on a digestive biscuit while posing for a photograph (highlight of the day? Methinks so) – I'm sure the senile sat nav loved me for that one...

I decided not to pay the extraordinary prices for getting a photo signed by David Prowse and Kenny Baker, instead making do with the mental picture of watching the man who is Darth Vader eat a ham salad from a paper plate with plastic cutlery – talk about destroying the movie magic!! I'll never be able to watch the Cloud City intervention scene from Empire again without imagining the Dark Lord of the Sith struggling to poke a cherry tomato through the grates in his mask...

I realise that this event was by no means in the same league as Collectormania or Comic-Con, but as a first taste of convention conventions, it was certainly an eye-opener – and not in a good way. Watching Warwick Davis (and his young and bewildered son) struggle to drum up crowd participation during his Q&A (read: biography promo) while a stall vendor stared daggers at a child for daring to touch his Thunderbird 2 toy (that isn't a euphemism, thankfully) just made me feel incredibly awkward.

I understand that these celebs make a tidy profit from schmoozing with their fanbase – some have clearly made a living from it since their 70's heyday – but I couldn't help but think that they must be monumentally bored by the benile “banter” and false, lifeless smiles as they pose for endless photo-ops. At least there's an element of surprise if you happen to bump into a famous face shopping in Oxford Circus, rather than the monotony of seeing them rush through a line of anticipating fanboys before their ham salad arrives.

It would be futile to give an event such as this an “out of five” rating as there was no product or performance for me to judge, but to sum up my feelings: I wouldn't go so far as to say I regret going to the Norwich Sci Fi Festival 2010 (it was only a fiver for a ticket, after all), and I had a real laugh (if for all the wrong reasons). I honestly did enjoy seeing some of my (greying) heroes of the screen in the (wrinkly) flesh, but it was all a bit too much for me. Perhaps I'm simply not the geek I thought I was...?

Bad Chavvy Trouble

Who? Imogen Heap
What? Leg 7(!) of the Ellipse World Tour
When? Sunday 7th November, 2010
Where? The Waterfront, Norwich
Why? Because this gal can’t stop touring!

Stopping off at the Waterfront in Norwich on the latest leg of her seemingly never-ending Ellipse World Tour (next stop: Europe, before finishing up in South Africa!!), the incomparable one woman band Ms. Heap may very well have delivered the best gig I have seen her play yet (this being the third time I have seen her live since early 2007).

I say “may” because the performance was spoiled for me by two incidents in the throng of the crowd. Neither of which were Imogen’s fault, but as any gig-goer will know: the venue's atmosphere can either make or break a gig, and when a trio of crude, ignorant and mouthy chavs are stood close by you drinking, swearing and mouthing off at anyone who would dare ask for quiet during an acoustic number, it doesn’t half wear your enthusiasm for the music down.

Thankfully, some five songs in, the three must-be-twats were either ejected or moved to a dark corner to question the logic in paying nearly twenty quid to attend an intimate gig only to yak disrespectfully over the performance. Alas, the damage had been done and it took me a while to get back into the spirit of the evening, only for another member of the crowd to faint on top of us some three quarters of the way through.

Please don’t misinterpret my irritation: I am in no way blaming the poor girl for blacking out (how inhuman do you think I am?!) and I’m sure her and her partner’s evening was thoroughly ruined by the unfortunate incident, but the flash of panic as someone lays unconscious on the floor a foot away from you takes some getting over – after all, this isn’t a Michael Jackson world tour where fainting fans being crowd-surfed to the safety of the security staff is a regular occurrence (seriously, check out the crowd shots throughout the Dangerous Tour in Bucharest DVD – the first aiders must have been rushed off their feet!!).

Getting back to last Sunday's on-stage activity, I was thoroughly impressed by the set-list, which Immi proclaimed was voted for by fans online prior to every stop of the tour, thus what she was playing was exclusive to Norwich. “Come Here Boy”, penned at the age of just 16 and committed to disc on 1998’s debut iMegaphone, and “Let Go”, from the oft-overlooked Frou Frou album and made famous by its inclusion in Zach Braff’s Garden State, gave a broader range to the song choices, although there was still room for firm favourites “The Moment I Said It”, “Just For Now” and “Hide & Seek”, which naturally rounded off the encore with a crowd sing-along.

Given the intricate depth to each of Imogen’s various compositions, she once again brought back her hard-working support acts – acoustic guitarist and "noise-maker" Ben Christopher and hauntingly inventive violin duo Geese, both of whom I can recommend – to lend a hand in bringing her multifarious recordings to life live on stage.

The perils of recreating such complex and technologically-reliant tracks were brought to the fore when an attempt to record (and then loop) a string melody for “Let Go” was thrice halted and only resolved when Immi’s wrist-mics were used in lieu of the more traditional handheld voice amplifier. Thankfully her (non-chav) fanbase are a patient enough bunch and were happy to listen to her scatty-but-amiable banter and random anecdotes while the technician’s scratched their heads under the sweltering heat of the impressive stage lighting.

Personal highlights for me were the impressively-layered construction of “First Train Home” from wine glass rim sound effects to complete track before our ears, main-set closer “Tidal” – for which Imogen donned a pair of Kanye West shutter specs and a white key-tar to rock out for a funky extended riff – and Speak For Yourself’s “Goodnight And Go”, likewise extended with a rock-fuelled middle eight replete with a heavy drum solo (and repeated with the lights out to showcase the temperamental instrument’s amazing touch-sensitive light show).

Never one to rest on her laurels, Imogen’s Norwich exclusive set-list was a perfect mix of crowd pleasers and fan favourite album tracks:

1. The Walk
2. Swoon
3. Come Here Boy
4. Wait It Out
5. First Train Home
6. Little Bird
7. Canvas
8. A Ha!
9. Speeding Cars
10. Let Go

11. Just For Now
12. Between Sheets
13. Goodnight And Go
14. Headlock
15. Tidal

16. The Moment I Said It
17. Hide & Seek

In a CR@B Shell: Crowd frustration aside, the musician’s musician put on yet another stunning and crowd-pleasing performance. This was an elaborate and diverse set with Immi in high spirits off the back of selling out the Royal Albert Hall 2 nights previous.
All photos from review of Imogen's Liverpool gig, which you can find HERE. All credit where due, no copyright infringement intended.

Friday, 29 October 2010

What Possessed Them?

15 – 90mins – 2010
Story by: Michael R. Perry
Screenplay by: Michael R. Perry, Christopher B. Landon, Tom Pabst
Directed by: Tod Williams
Starring: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ephraim, Tim Clemens, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat


[SPOILERS] Last year’s Paranormal Activity was a monster hit in both respects of the phrase. Made on a miniscule budget in one location with a tiny crew and unknown actors, Oren Peli’s supernatural psychological horror was a genuinely distressing affair which left audience’s utterly petrified, without depicting anything more than a crumpled old photograph and a smashed picture frame. God, we’re such wimps!

Given the overwhelmingly positive word of mouth and humungous box office returns, a follow-up really was a no-brainer, even if Katie (Featherstone) and Micah’s (Sloat) story had rather abruptly come to a close. But this wouldn’t be Hollywood if they weren’t able to find some “ingenious” way to capitalise on their properties and squeeze as much money from the brand name as was (in)humanly possible.

So just twelve months later Paranormal Activity 2 takes a bow at the Halloween 2010 box office, although it’s technically a prequel to the original (a bug bear of mine given the numeric implication it is second in the sequence…), expanding upon Katie and Micah’s woes by introducing us to Katie’s sister, Kristi Rey (Grayden), whom we are already aware was plagued by a supernaturally paranoid upbringing.

Presented in an identical handheld/security cam style of “recovered” footage (again without titles or credits, adding a chilling sense of realism by not taking you out of the diegetic reality), this sequel documents the homecoming of Kristi and husband Dan’s (Boland) newborn son Hunter with snapshots of his first months, but the pace slows when the family’s house is broken into (or so they presume) and surveillance cameras are installed to catch any future culprits.

What the hidden cameras detect is far more disconcerting than a random ransacking, however, as pool cleaners miraculously elevate out of the water, Hunter’s baby mobile spins of its own accord, Dan’s teenage daughter Ali (Ephraim) is locked out of the house by a phantom gust of wind and the family’s German Shepard, Abby, is hospitalised after an attack from thin air.

Ali is in equal parts fascinated and freaked by their haunted house as she scours the internet for answers which only hint at the bigger picture, while events take an unsettling slide into the demonic when Kristi is violently dragged by the malevolent spirit into the cellar and re-emerges vacant and unresponsive but with a worryingly protective attitude towards her baby son…

Okay, I’ll admit it: Paranormal Activity 2 was, like its predecessor, a truly tense and jumpy horror. It freaked the hell out of me for hours afterwards; particularly Kristi’s unsettlingly possessed bawls. It was also a remarkably unifying film in that the audience I saw it with seemed to react in harmony with one another. Strangers from across the cinema were calling out in agreement when people screamed or laughed at a faux-thrill. Normally this behaviour would irritate the crap out of me, but in this case it just confirmed that this horror was a resounding and unparalleled success.

But – and this is the crux – as competent as the scares were, at the back of my mind was the niggling query: is this film really necessary? It was clever to interweave the narrative with the original story, granted, but the reasoning for inflicting the original film’s events upon sister Katie was a tad laboured to say the least.

Ultimately, however, this sequel didn’t bring anything new to the table, either: things go bump in the night, again, household appliances move, fall and turn themselves on, again, doors spring open without being pushed, again, a character consults – but ultimately ignores – a ouiji board, again, someone gets pulled forcibly through the house by their leg, again... But other than the family’s housekeeper burning incense and chanting, nobody makes an exerted effort to exorcise the baby-fixated blighter!

Disappointingly, nothing is made of the iconic trailer climax with Hunter visible in the mirror but not in his cot. Furthermore, nothing is made of the creepy message scrawled on the glass, and the often-used image of a hooded Kristi (or is it Katie? Irrelevant now) standing ominously in the nursery doorway is also nowhere to be seen in the film. All this intrigue and mystery came to nothing; a fantastically tantalising trailer which did its job in getting the fans talking, but was ultimately packed with a raft of red herrings...

Surprise, surprise, the actual film’s conclusion was left open for more (and given the opening weekend gross, it is looking more and more likely), but I just hope that Paranormal Activity doesn’t become the new Saw with a new, ever-diminishing entry every Halloween. There are only so many times that an invisible enemy can freak out a cinema full of punters by dropping a pan from a kitchen rack before the paranormal becomes predictably normal.

In a CR@B Shell: Just as frightening as the original, if hardly breaking any new ground in expanding upon Katie and Micah’s story. A sleepless night will follow, but please, Paramount , don’t make a third…

Monday, 25 October 2010

Working Raves and Night

15 – 81mins – 2010
Story by: Evan Charnov
Screenplay by: Evan Charnov and Hans Rodionoff
Directed by: Dario Piana
Starring: Corey Feldman, Taint Phoenix, Jamison Newlander, Casey B. Dolan, Seb Castang, Stephen van Niekerk, Joe Vaz, Felix Mosse, Matthew Dylan Roberts, Porteus Xandau Steenkamp


Some 21 years after Kiefer Sutherland headlined Joel Schumacher's vampire/rock/punk classic, 2008 saw the release of Lost Boys: The Tribe. More an updated retread of the iconic original than an all-new story, this belated sequel met with mixed reviews, with many pouring scorn on a film which would dare slander the brilliance of the 1987 touchstone. Personally, I never had a problem with The Tribe, although any film starring The O.C. hottie Autumn Reeser is looked on favourably by this smitten CR@B.

Disgruntled fanboys aside, clearly The Tribe brought in enough moolah for the producers to recognise they had a serious cash cow on their hands, and it was inevitable that another instalment would soon follow. That instalment is Lost Boys: The Thirst, once more bypassing the big screen and released straight to home platforms in time for Halloween 2010. Umm... Yay?

Lifelong vampire hunter and comic book collector Edgar Frog (Feldman) not only returns for a third (s)take, but returns to the fore once more after standing on The Tribe's periphery, with Mr. Feldman signing up as Executive Producer, too. Clearly Corey feels strongly about the future of the franchise which not only launched but sustained his career through the deathly quiet lows, and he even had a creative hand in The Thirst's conception. With such enthusiasm at its core, quite how this threequel turned out to be one of the most ludicrous disappointments I have ever seen is beyond me...

It started so promisingly, too: the film looks great and has plenty of scope. It doesn't skimp on action or locations and even on flaw-enhancing Blu-ray the production values are surprisingly first rate. However, it all too quickly becomes clear that The Thirst is more comedy than horror, with everyone overacting like wide-eyed amateurs and delivering a rut of appallingly cringeworthy one-liners. Alas, Feldman is prime suspect with his nye-unbearable gravelly drawl making Christen Bale's Batman sound like Prince on helium, while Edgar dryly delivers such witticisms as “Vinyl still shreds” after slicing a vamp's neck with a snapped record.

The Lost Boys never took itself all too seriously, granted, but The Thirst ramps up the yacks to an embarrassing extreme where you almost question whether you're watching a spoof. Cheesy, self aware and supposedly satirical digs at Twilight-alike vampire romance novels, reality TV and social networking don't exactly help matters, with sour trailer tramp Edgar begrudgingly partnered with pompous faux-lebrity Lars van Goetz (van Niekerk) to hunt for author Gwen Lieber's (Phoenix) lost brother Peter (Mosse).

Plum-mouthed Gwen believes youngster Peter has been lured by vampires while at a rave in Ibiza, with DJ X (Castang) and his fanged lackey's distributing the blood of the alpha vampire masked as viles of the eponymous “drug” The Thirst to create a following of subservient half vampires who also know how to have a freakin' good time. Coincidently, DJ X's illegal party is on its way to the sunny beach town of San Cazador, meaning Edgar and his rag-tag cohorts don't have far to go to mash some monsters.

There are plenty of references and callbacks to absent characters from the original film – including an emotional graveyard tribute to recently departed Corey Haim – with director Piana incorporating vital 1987 scenes to great sentimental effect, especially given other Frog brother Alan's (Newlander) hallowed return to the series this time around. Alas, grown up Feldman and Newlander's obvious exhilaration and over-egged banter just comes across as desperate after over a decade in a career nadir.

True, the writers have been brave in pushing The Lost Boys in a new direction here – The Thirst is an original story which homages the past while also looking to the future – but it's a big risk with such a popular property which simply doesn't pay off: the modern-infusion of drug/rave culture just brings back bad memories of concert shots from Queen of the Damned and that much derided scene from The Matrix Reloaded, while the reworking of iconic rock track “Cry Little Sister” squeezed into two high-octane acts evokes a smile which not even an entire film full of techno beats and glow sticks can match.

There are just too many laughable flaws which make you lose interest in the horror at this vampire flick's core. For instance: van Goetz is hired to help save Peter from the undead, but he's so stubbornly certain that they don't exist that even when he and his ever-present cameraman Lars (Vaz) discover Peter sedated and chained up in the underground lair that he walks away, stating it's “too early” in this “roleplaying game” to rescue the teen before he's kicked some emo goth ass first. Y'know, for the camera...

Without ruining the climax for anyone brave enough to sit through the meagre 81 minute run time, my jaw hit the floor in utter disbelief at the frog-jumping, franchise-destroying epilogue tease which is ripped straight out of Lesbian Vampire Killers (seriously) and leaves you wondering exactly what the hell the creative minds being The Thirst were smoking (or drinking)... Watch this dire joke at your peril: The Lost Boys will never be the same again.

In a CR@B Shell: This third entry in the revived vamp-chise looks fang-tastic but lets itself down as soon as any of the dire cast utter a word of the pun-laden script. A lame mockery to the original's legacy which definitely won't leave you thirsting for more.