Thursday 31 March 2011

WKD Witches

18 – 98mins – 2010

Written by: Colm McCarthy and Tom K. McCarthy

Directed by: Colm McCarthy

Starring: James Nesbitt, Kate Dickie, Niall Bruton, Hanna Stanbridge, Ciaran McMenanim, James Cosmo, Karen Gillan, Christine Tremarco


If the cast of Shameless ever delved into the occult, Outcast would be the outcome. A pair of Irish travellers – introverted teen Fergal (Bruton) and his protective mother Mary (Dickie) – find temporary lodging in a deprived council estate in Edinburgh . They are in hiding from the inexorable Cathal (Nesbitt), a man who uses black magic to hunt his quarry. Meanwhile, the lowlife deadbeats wasting away in the concrete jungle are picked off by a mysterious beast with a taste for flesh…

Dark, visceral and lacking any cinematic gloss, Outcast adds a smattering of gritty social realism to its fantastical predator and prey plot. The Edinburgh estate is in a state of disrepute; a grey wasteland of smashed windows, graffiti-ed walls and uncouth chavs - among them Karen "Amy Pond" Gillan in a pre-Who supporting role - who doss about on the swings while their parents drink themselves into an early grave. It’s an unpleasant sight, but it at least makes a change from seeing all the prettiest young starlets getting picked off in their lush New York skyscrapers.

Much to his mother’s stern disapproval, emotionless Fergal starts an awkward romance with Petronella (Stanbridge), an independent girl from the estate with a sharp head on her shoulders. The pair have nothing in common and they seem to spend half their time together in awkward silence, but I can imagine these kind of desperate, chemistry-devoid unions take place all the time when there’s nothing better to do than hang at the park smoking.

Despite his star quality, Cold Feet’s Nesbitt delivers an unglamorous turn as the gruff and unlikeable Cathal, a mystically tattooed brute who snaps crows’ necks to work his wicca magic and locate Mary for a predictable climatic showdown which ties the film’s three key threads together: who is the monster, why is Cathal so intent on dispatching a woman long gone from his life, and what was the purpose of Mary keeping Fergal and Petronella apart?

The CGI beastie is often obscured in shadow (for budgetary reasons I’m sure), but when it does eventually grace the film in all its hideous supernatural glory, it looks like a long snouted, green-skinned werewolf. It’s too lanky to be particularly scary, but it does its job without being laughed off the screen. Elsewhere, Outcast goes all out to achieve a top shelf rating, splattering the pavement in as much gore as possible and even subjecting the game Dickie and Bruton to gratuitous nude shots. Blimey - these people really are Shameless!

In a CR@B Shell: Rough around the edges and not at all pretty, but Outcast is a gritty and atmospheric low budget effort which deserves more than the one star mauling genre fanboys SFX subjected it to.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

The Altor Limits

15 – 17hours 43mins – 1994-5
Created by: Gerry Anderson
Executive Producer: Gerry Anderson
Starring: Ted Shackleford, Rob Youngblood, Simone Bendix, Jerome Willis, Nancy Paul, Nick Klein, Megan Olive, Mary Woodvine, Gary Martin, Lou Hirsch, Kieron Jecchinis, Rob Thirtle, Tom Watt

“The name’s Brogan. Lieutenant Brogan. For twenty years I was with the NYPD. Now? Well, let’s just say I transferred to another precinct.”

Ah, now this takes me back! Master of the marionettes Gerry Anderson’s mid-90s sci-fi police procedural was avid weekly viewing for 12 year-old me some fifteen years ago. I even collected all of the Vivid Imaginations action figures and vehicles (and I’ve still got them all… though no longer out on display, I should clarify!!). 15 years on and having finally been released on R1 DVD in a complete series set (the double episode R2 DVD collections have long been deleted and sell for extortionate prices online), I was able to revisit this inventive mix of model work and life-action drama with a fresh pair of 26 year-old eyes.

As the above-quoted dialogue – which played as part of the title sequence every week – indicates, this future-set series sees its middle-aged New York-born protagonist, Lieutenant Patrick Brogan (Shackleford), and his cocksure young partner, Officer Jack Haldane (Youngblood), adjust to life in a new precinct; one which gravitates above the planet Altor and allows them to keep watch over the goings on in their main jurisdiction: Demeter City.

But it isn’t just human criminals the boys in blue are now chasing, for Altor is populated by all manner of weird and wonderful alien creatures. The two main species are bug-eyed Creons – such as their precinct Captain, Podly (Willis) – and telekinetic Tarns – such as fellow Officer, Took (Woodvine) – but the planet is also the stomping ground of various assorted beings from beyond the Rim. And as the 88th Precinct frequently discover, not all of them are the law-abiding type…

It is obvious that the show’s crew spent a lot of money on this project. The creons and tarns all wore extensive and technically complex face masks – many of which were created but few, it seems, were recycled – while the other extra terrestrials were kitted out in all manner of bizarrely inventive prosthetics. Furthermore, the sets and model work were numerous yet painstakingly rendered (and oftentimes blown to smithereens by the end credits), giving the streets of Demeter City a dilapidated Blade Runner vibe. It didn’t shock me to learn that each 43 minute episode cost over $1million to produce.

If my memory serves me correctly, the all-too-short 24 episode run was broadcast in the UK on BBC 2 in the 6pm slot which I have come to regard as the “Star Trek: TNG slot”. A family-friendly tea time transmission, coupled with the kid-centric merchandise, would give you the impression that Space Precinct is a bright, kooky show, but that isn’t necessarily the case: murder, assault, racism, hookers, corrupt politicians, foetus-napping, animal cruelty, religious cults and drug dealing are just some of the rather adult themes the show dealt with. Some of it is frankly scary stuff, and I’m sure Auntie Beeb must have edited the hell out of numerous episodes.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however; wisecracking duo Officers Orrin (Jecchinis) and Romek (Hirsch) contributed the humour, while the flirtatious undercurrent which sizzled between Haldane and the pretty Officer Jane Castle (Bendix) was always good for a smirk. The precinct’s R2 D2-alike RSA unit Slomo (Martin) was also clearly designed with a toy in mind, while Brogan’s two children, Matt (Klein) and Liz (Olive) gave a child’s eye perspective to proceedings – pets, gadgets and incomprehensible idioms (“prime elders”, “orbital”, etcetera) to boot.

But herein lies the rub: Space Precinct is very much a schizophrenic series. I’m not even entirely sure if the writers knew who their prime audience was – and it does often lead to many stories dawdling in an awkward middle ground. For instance, the eeriness of body-invader Enid Kmada (Richard James) in episode #14, “Predator and Prey”, is purposefully counteracted with a frankly asinine story about a goofy ape-like creature being found in a bin(!) and befriended by the bumbling Orrin and Romek.

Elsewhere, the mature storylines are spoon-fed to such a degree that they are immediately predictable, much to the detriment of any mystery. Primary culprit is episode #4, “Double Duty”, where a serial killer is “somehow” evading identification – but Haldane gives away the “third gender” twist of a green-haired alien in the opening line of the prologue! Also guilty: “The Witness” (#15), where newly transferred officer Morgan (Todd Boyce) is introduced and given far too much screen time to be anything other than the psychotic lance killer.

The episodes which stayed with me from my first viewing a decade and a half ago were “The Snake” (#5) and “Time to Kill” (#6). In both instances this is due to the distinctiveness of the villains. Having now rewatched them, I was disappointed by how little the eponymous blackmailing reptile appeared in his own episode – he is despatched far too early, making way for the tension of a bomb threat climax fit for Jack Bauer. “Time to Kill”, meanwhile (which I always remember garnered a 15 certificate in the UK), is a terrifically morbid and ultra-violent riff on The Terminator, even if the “reset button” outcome is all too obvious when all the main cast other than Brogan are killed off!

My favourite episodes are those which let a linear story unfold and there is no mystery to be spoilt: Episode #12, “Two Against The Rock”, which sees a flying Alcatraz fall foul to a prisoner takeover, is an edgy, enjoyable affair, while “ Hate Street ” (#16) is an astonishingly brutal look at racially aggravated crime. Special mention must also be made to “Smelter Skelter” (#18), which opened with a viciously tense bank robbery which put Liz Brogan and her mother (Paul) in peril, then documented their coming to terms with the shock, and the two-part epic “The Fire Within” (#20, #21), which covered a wealth of ground in a story remarkably diverse to any other told in the series.

In a CR@B Shell: Worth checking out, if only for nostalgia’s sake, but cop show savvy adults will grow weary of the all-too-apparent plot devices. It’s a shame because there was much promise in this short-lived sci-fi: Space Precinct’s affable characters are a force to be reckoned with and the visuals are lightyears ahead of their time.

Friday 25 March 2011

The Jig-Saw is Up

18 – 91mins – 2010
Written by: Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan
Directed by: Kevin Greutert
Starring: Tobin Bell, Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell, Sean Patrick Flanery, Chester Bennington , Cary Elwes


[SPOILERS] Seven years and seven films after The Jigsaw Killer first shackled Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes) to a *cough* cadaver in an abandoned bathroom and asked if he wanted to play a game, one of the most successful horror franchises of all time crawls to a long overdue close in Saw – The Final Chapter (aka Saw 3D if you saw it in cinemas; or Saw VII, if you’re keeping count).

Unlike other blatantly cheap cash-in sequels (The Butterfly Effect 2 and Revelations, for instance), I was always impressed by how the Saw series – despite being rush released on consecutive Halloweens – didn’t simply recycle cut-price clones of the original but kept feeding back into the enigmatic story of serial killer with a difference, Jonathan Kramer (Tobin Bell’s “Jigsaw”). Of course every follow up did offer another set of evermore sadistically inventive death traps, but a clever use of flashbacks and slick twists kept the interest factor high. What else would we discover about Jigsaw this time around?

Unfortunately, fatigue did begin to set in, somewhere around Saw IV or V, not aided by the premature decision to kill off the iconic trap-setter in III but keep his legacy alive through surrogate lunatics – such as his apprentice, Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor) – thus relying upon a deluge of newly recorded “flashbacks” to keep Bell in the picture. You could say they were squeezing blood from a stone-Saw *boom tish*.

Genre hounds and gore fans will still find plenty of grotesque set-pieces to marvel at (while their other halves hide behind their hands), but an over-reliance on cut-aways to the past does give The Final Chapter’s narrative a rather rough, staccato feel – it’ll take you a while to work out where, when and who you are watching before you can settle into a scene, only for another chronological jump to leave you none the wiser! Writer’s Melton and Dunstan have clearly put a lot of effort into the timeline, but Saw is popular for the torture porn and in my opinion they’ve over thought it.

Kudos, however, for the ruthless indictment of fame hungry wannabes, as Jigsaw survivor turned self help guru Bobby Dagen’s (Sean Patrick Flanery) tales of courage are put to the test in a hazardously renovated insane asylum, but main stars Bell and Elwes – the latter returning to the saga for only the second time – are criminally wasted, while any “shocking” revelations are minimal, making this final piece of the Jigsaw puzzle a rather muted and anti-climatic sensation.

In a CR@B Shell: Jigsaw can finally rest in piece (!!) as this increasingly rusty saga finally slams shut. The traps are as brutally creative as ever, but a fragmented, overly complicated narrative saps the sadistic fun out of the thrills. Game over.

My So-Called Sex Life

DVD Review: EASY A
15 – 92mins – 2010
Written by: Burt V. Royal
Directed by: Will Gluck
Starring: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Hayden Church , Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow, Stanley Tucci, Alyson Michalka, Malcolm McDowell


The old school alumni chillax in the courtyard with the new school freshers and the pair have a blast in this refreshingly self-aware teen comedy which openly pays homage to the classic John Hughes comedies of the 1980s (The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), infusing the retro references with the smart-mouthed indie cool of more contemporary gems such as Clueless and Juno.

Inspired by the 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter, Will Gluck's Easy A sees respectable-but-invisible high schooler Olive Penderghast (Stone) become the talk of the campus as a little white lie about losing her virginity spirals into a bogus reputation as a “dirty skank” – a reputation which Olive chooses to shamelessly embrace by stitching cloth “A”s onto all her clothes (akin to the acknowledgment of adultery in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s opus).

As her best friend (Alyson Michalka), fanatical chastity groups and teachers turn against her, Olive soon realises that her social experiment of not having sex but saying you are has its drawbacks – namely, she’s not actually getting any sex! And so Olive takes to her web cam (how very twenty first century!) to confess her sins and win back the respect she has spurned, and the affection of the one guy she really does want to wear an “A” for, Todd (Penn Badgley).

Undeniably it is the fabulous characters who make what could have been a crude, offensive film into a pocketful of sunshine. Superbad and The House Bunny’s red head Emma Stone is a fiery revelation of hip confidence in her first lead role as the candidly intellectual Olive; she’s peppy, witty and banters hilariously with her “clued in” parents – Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci – and favourite teacher, the nonchalant Mr Griffith (Thomas Haden Church).

Praise must be paid to writer Burt V. Royal for the zippy dialogue and abundance of cliché-averting winks and nods, making what could have been a lazy, piggybacking succession of riffs into a smart and original gem. Even a climatic pep rally musical number doesn’t feel gauche in the candidly inspired and unreservedly modern context; after all, what would Ferris do?

In a CR@B Shell: Stone shines in this admirably sharp addition to the teen comedy genre. Easy A knows what it is and thrives amongst its classmates, working hard to garner an honourable rep standing atop its peer’s lofty shoulders (boombox aloft, natch) without sulking in the shadow of their acclaim.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Blood Bath-ory

15 – 138mins – 2008
Script by: Juraj Jakubisko
Dialogue by: John Paul Chapple
Directed by: Juraj Jakubisko
Starring: Anna Friel, Karel Roden, Vincent Regan, Hans Matheson, Franco Nero, Antony Byrne, Bolek Polivka


With a budget of £10million, this lavish production charting the truth behind the legend of “vampiric” mass murderess Elizabeth Bathory is the most expensive Slovak/Czech movie ever made. Curiously, it has taken six years from when the cameras started rolling to emerge on region 2 DVD. Completed in 2008 (having replaced departing lead Famke Janssen with Anna Brookside Friel), Bathory’s staggered release schedule has seen it hit different markets at widely different times, but quite why its UK debut has been so delayed – especially given Ms. Friel’s nationality and celebrity – is beyond me.

Slovak auteur Juraj Jakubisko presents his infamous immortal countess in a softer and more sympathetic light than you may expect for a woman listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific serial killer of all time – a record Jakubisko clearly does not accept as true. He also contests that her renowned blood baths (a trait which many believe inspired Bram Stoker with Dracula) were in fact medicinal herbs, and not the blood of her virginal female victims. Furthermore, any accusation of vampirism is limited to one sentence – this is a more grounded depiction.

Well, as grounded as a film about murder, witch doctors and monk-inventors-turned-spies in 16th century Hungary can be… The 138 minute epic is certainly a rich and exotic affair, stirring a plethora of ideas, characters and genres into one sumptuous piece of romanticised art. Tonally, the film feels like a blend of French werewolf thriller Brotherhood of the Wolf and an episode of The Tudors: there’s dark and potentially supernatural hokum, political intrigue, war, bloodshed, royal deceit, rape and romantic whimsy – and the aforementioned Catholic duo even bring an (ill-advised) splash of Van Helsing into the mix with their comedic endeavours!

It’s certainly a grand gothic affair, even if it does take some following as the years speed by and the assorted threads extend ever-further as Bathory loses her grip on reality while her ever-youthful body betrays her cerebral spiral. Friel and Hans Matheson excel as the doomed countess and her fanciful artist, while the European locales provide an opulent visual backdrop. However, the sheer scope of Jakubisko’s ambitious vision is dizzying in its abundance and could have benefited from a little restraint. Less is more, Mr Jakubisko – unless you’re trying to break some kind of world record…?

In a CR@B Shell: A controversially considerate portrayal of a monstrous feminine, Juraj Jakubisko’s vision is a decadent concoction of fact and fiction, horror and drama, hallucinations and whimsy – making Bathory an intriguing potion which is hard to swallow in one mammoth gulp.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Ghost Writer

Written by: Diane Setterfield
Published by: Orion
Released: 2006


Devouring this novel’s last 250 pages in one mammoth session is probably the fastest I have ever read a book. Faster even than I read The Book Thief or The Girl with the Dagon Tattoo, two works I couldn’t consume fast enough and would unquestionably ordain as modern classics. I cannot proclaim quite the same level of adulation for debut author Diane Setterfield’s fragmented and revelatory gothic mystery, but I had a book club deadline to keep to and was determined to make it.

Of course any novel which holds your attention for that length of uninterrupted time must be doing something right; I was certainly never bored by the valiant tale-within-a-tale structure, with Setterfield building suspense by drip-feeding the story through a strict authorial narrator. The Thirteenth Tale introduces us to bookish amateur biographer Margaret Lea, hired by reclusive and secretive author Vida Winter to write a biography of the novelist’s extraordinary upbringing.

The novel drifts between Miss Winter’s vivid recounting of her family’s past and modern-day research Margaret undertakes to determine whether her storytelling interviewee is actually – finally – telling the truth, or merely spinning her scribe another yarn. The gravely ill Miss Winter has handpicked Margaret for a particular reason, and soon the author’s tale is impacting and intertwining with Margaret’s present.

Miss Winter’s storytelling expertise lends a masterful gloss to her history lesson. She knows when to end each session to tease a future plotline. You find yourself determined to read on to uncover every last detail of her story. But the fact that it is her story is the concept around which the entire novel wobbles: Margaret reacts to what she hears, guiding our reactions, and were Miss Winter more open with Margaret, the skill of the exposure would be lost and the truth too plainly – and painfully – laid bare. Vida Winter understands this because Setterfield understands this, which is why there is a beginning, middle and end to all good stories, even true ones.

This guiding of our reactions is laid on a little thick with a few too many nods and winks towards “ghosts”, “mists”, “twins” and classic novels with analogous themes – it is an attempt to endow the everyday with a supernatural quality which is hardly necessary given the complexity of the plot. We, the reader, can already ascertain that something is amiss (the fact that Vida has countless times previous told reporters a pack of lies about her past; her reluctance to say “I” when referring to herself; etcetera), so any further efforts to mystify the mysterious are completely superfluous.

Given the span of time covered by Miss Winter’s life story, there are a depressing number of deaths and disappearances in and around the catalytic Angelfield/March homestead (March being Vida’s christened name). Nobody is introduced who doesn’t have an impact upon the story, so their spirits may linger long after their corporeal shell expires, but the shadow of death does lend the novel a cheerless and morbid edge when practically every character you are introduced to grows old, loses their mind and dies – in astonishingly swift succession.

On the subject of death, Margaret’s deceased twin – a source of much uneasiness between herself and her selfish, absent mother – feels like an unnecessary addition. Sure, it gives Miss Winter – herself a twin – a connection with her “amputee” (as Margaret refers to herself; incomplete since losing her other “half”) transcriber, but it feels bolted on and never really embeds itself completely into the narrative, standing on the periphery until a flimsy and implausible post-script resolution undermines the previous 450 pages in a page and a half.

The same can also be said about the mystery surrounding the title: The Thirteenth Tale – a missing story from one of Vida Winter’s most popular publications which randomly gets mentioned throughout the modern day passages as a way of justifying the novel’s title. It enforces an importance on what would otherwise be little more than a fleeting query, so you expect its exposure to be monumental. When, many years later, Margaret finally reads the lost tale, its autobiographical nature seems to be the only reason for its omission, which is something of an anticlimax; all of the juicy revelations exposed many chapters prior.

In a CR@B Shell: Never stagnant, The Thirteenth Tale is easy to read but hard to love, given the austere and transitory nature of its ever-changing cast. But Setterfield certainly knows how to hook you in by tantalising many clues and half-truths throughout Vida Winter’s florid account of life as a twin, making for a curious and absorbing gothic unravelling.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Perry Bad Things

18 – 99mins – 1994
Written by: Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Kate Winslet, Sarah Peirse, Diana Kent, Clive Merrison, Simon O’Connor, Jed Brophy, Peter Elliott, Gilbert Goldie

Some background context for y’all: Some weeks ago I suggested the novel Bedford Square to an acquaintance. I had not read any of Anne Perry’s vast back catalogue of fiction before, but I know she is an incredibly popular author in the Victorian murder mystery genre. My acquaintance replied incontrovertibly that she would never read a word written by that author, because Anne Perry is a convicted murderer. I was dumbfounded to say the least, it was certainly the first I had heard of this revelation, but I was interested to find out more and set about researching Ms. Perry’s dark past.

My research led me to discover all about the horrifying real events which took place in New Zealand in the mid 1950s, in which the then school girl (born Juliet Hulme, Anne Perry being a pseudonym) conspired with her best friend, Pauline Parker, to murder Parker’s mother in a delusional attempt to stop the girl’s parent’s from keeping the friend’s apart.

Had the girl’s been but a few years older, they would have received the death penalty, but instead they served a sentence in prison and have subsequently been released – under the condition that they never communicate with one another again – with Hulme moving to Scotland and becoming famous for a completely unrelated reason: her talent as a writer.

When I found out that Peter Lord of the Rings Jackson’s 1994 film Heavenly Creatures was based on the controversial crime which shocked NZ, I was desperate to search it out, but even the 2004 region 2 DVD release has been deleted. Having asked about in ex-rental stores with no joy, I indulged my curiosity after (re-)purchasing a multi-region player and picked up a US copy for a bargainous price.

Based upon details made public during the court case and Parker’s diary entries, Heavenly Creatures proves to be disturbing viewing: Melanie Lynskey excels as the shy Parker, while Kate Winslet radiates confidence to the point of purposeful irritation as the prim yet outspoken Hulme. It’s the kind of shocking story which lends credence to the maxim “truth is stranger than fiction”, as the two best friend’s form a quick-but-concrete bond which sees them go off into their own fantasy worlds where they take on the characteristics of characters from medieval love stories they create.

A major departure in both style and tone from his “splatter” films such as Bad Taste and Braindead, Heavenly Creatures retains some of the amateurish qualities of the director’s early films, while also paving the way for his later, more accomplished blockbusters. Indeed, the film's ahead-of-their-time CGI effects – such as morphing landscapes, giant butterflies and animated pottery figures have definite shades of the limbo stage featured in Jackson ’s 2006 The Lovely Bones adaptation.

Jackson and co-writer Walsh seem to point the finger of blame at many a factor – the starkly contrasting reactions (and parenting styles) of the girl’s parents to their close-knit friendship, the breakdown of the Hulme’s marriage and Hilda Hulme’s (Kent) affair, Juliet’s reoccurring ill health, Pauline’s sexual experiences with an older man (Brophy) – the list could go on, and it makes for an intriguing spider web of cause and effect. I frequently found myself cringing and shouting at the screen, demanding why these people were acting the way they were. But at the end of the day, any teenager who would even consider murdering their own mother (Peirse) so they could spend more time with a school friend has serious issues.

Had this taken place in today’s world, Hulme and Parker would undoubtedly have been sent for psychiatric examination long before their horrendously excessive plan is hatched. Their bizarre make-believe alter egos, their obsessive natures (both with one another and stars of the time), their belief in cultish quasi-religions and their extreme jealousy would all have prompted far faster and more efficient treatment. As it was, they were considered to be lesbians in an era where such behaviour was feared, and this societal distancing only brought the outcasts closer together.

In a CR@B Shell: Simultaneously engaging and disconcerting, Heavenly Creatures is an examination of doomed friendship and irrational behaviour which is only occasionally let down by the economical production. It showcases stars on the rise in Winslet and Jackson, but leaves an uneasy after-taste when you apprehend it all really happened.

Friday 18 March 2011

Puppet Master(bation)

Who? Avenue Q
What? Sesame Street goes X-rated!
When? 17th March 2011
Where? Norwich Theatre Royal
Why? Part of the UK leg of the World Tour

Remember how hilarious it was hunting down the infamous lost “adult” episode of Rainbow when you were younger and sniggering at the usually joyous and innocent George, Zippy and Bungle acting like smutty, foul-mouthed goons? Well now you don’t have to – because Avenue Q delivers exactly the same culture clash in an adults-only musical stage show extravaganza!

The Broadway production’s plot is a real potpourri of personal and worldly issues played out satirically by products of our childhood. The titular locale – essentially a downtrodden take on Sesame Street – is in an outer borough of New York, where furry “monsters” interact with human residents as they learn many life lessons associated with growing up: leaving university, finding a purpose in the real world, coming to terms with your sexuality, juggling a career with commitments, racism, falling in love, etcetera. Porn also comes up a lot, too. Naturally.

The scores of musical numbers are catchy, wittily-worded clap-along treats: “What Do You Do with a B.A. In English” hit a real chord with me, while “It Sucks To Be Me” and “The Internet is For Porn” had the audience in stitches. “Schadenfreude” – about deriding amusements from other’s misfortune – was the funkiest number, however, some songs – such as “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” – seemed awkwardly shoehorned-in simply to make a point. It certainly makes for an interesting, if scattershot, “educational” experience.

Some characters are portrayed by puppets, held and performed by visible-but-ignored actors, who interact with other players performing their roles in the more traditional sense. It does take some getting used to, especially as the lead human Princeton (Adam Pettigrew) is a puppet, while other humans are not. Trekkie Monster (Chris Thatcher), who stays in his room downloading porn all day, is a vulgar riff on Sesame Street’s unruly Cookie Monster, while best friends Rod (Pettigrew again) and Nicky (Thatcher again) vocalise the latent homoeroticism forever associated with Burt and Ernie.

Most disconcerting for me was Avenue Q’s go-to handyman Gary Coleman (Matthew J. Henry). Yes, that Gary Coleman. A fictionalised representation of a genuine celebrity lampooning his fall from grace since his status as a child star faded. I wasn’t aware before the show, but I was fairly certain that the real Gary Coleman did not have a hand in writing the script (he did not), so I couldn’t quite work out why he was there; it didn’t really fit with the rest of the production. Considering the Diff’rent Strokes star died just last year, it was also uncomfortable sniggering at him, even if it is a sardonic exaggeration.

Kudos to the hard-working puppeteers who sing, act and emote via their hand-held characters fantastically. But given their visibility it does irk when puppets are traded to substitute performers while the puppeteers portray multiple characters – even if they do still throw their voices to retain continuity. Video screens intermittently slid down to screen childishly animated skits; they garner a minor chuckle but are ultimately unnecessary, as was an uncomfortable descent into the audience to coerce viewers into “raising funds” for lead female Kate Monster’s (Rachel Jerram) dream school.

In a CR@B Shell: Your inner child will laugh itself silly at watching puppets sing, swear and shag (!!) on stage, but the continuous attempts to parody a multitude of “enlightening” life lessons leads to a barmy, disjointed and uneven show.
* The photographs are not from the Norwich show and actors on the night differed from those shown.

Men Behaving Sadly

Cine Review: HALL PASS
15 – 105mins – 2011
Written by: Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Directed by: Pete Jones, Kevin Barnett, Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Starring: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate, Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Merchant, Larry Joe Campbell, Bruce Thomas, Tyler Hoechlin, Derek Waters, Alexandra Daddario, Rob Moran, Lauren Bowles, J. B. Smoove


[SPOILERS] Hall Pass is exactly what we have come to expect from Bobby and Peter Farrelly, the sibling duo that brought us There’s Something About Mary, Me, Myself & Irene and Shallow Hal: it’s a teenager’s idea of what is “hot”, “cool” and “hilarious” acted out by characters who should know better, and by the time of the end credits do know better. It’s the filmic equivalent of a mid-life crisis: American Pie for those whose crust has gone stale and filling decidedly mouldy.

Despite being happily married to two gorgeous women, best mates Rick (Wilson) and Fred (Sudeikis) are still obsessed with the independent living they enjoyed back in college: checking out every woman they walk pass, comparing real with fake boobs and debating over puerile fantasies during card games with the guys. But when their exasperated wives (Fischer and Applegate) decide the best thing for their marriages is for their men to have a taste of the freedom they so crave (the eponymous Hall Pass, as the gesture is known), Rick and Fred discover that they aren’t the young studs they once were, and their lives have actually changed for the better.
So the moral at the end of the exercise is admirable enough, if as obvious as Jack Black discovering beauty isn’t only skin deep, but Hall Pass’s honour is muddied by the wives actively enjoying the freedom their relaxed vows offers them as they party with Fischer’s dad’s baseball team. In fact, Applegate’s Grace comes out of the experience by far the least favourably. I must be a traditionalist to feel decidely uneasy about the “free love” subject matter, but it does come across as somewhat desperate and indecent, especially considering Rick has two young children!

Add a smattering of the Farrelly’s trademark shock humour into the mix and Hall Pass begins to look like a decidedly awkward affair. I’m not so uptight that I don’t find embarrassing bodily functions funny – I was laughing along with the rest of the cinema – but when the characters are pushing 40 it loses its charm. I’m not suggesting that adults are not allowed to have fun, but watching an OAP (Jenkins) parade around like a horny fresher, caked in fake tan and bling and chasing anything that moves is simply revolting – you just want to sake some real-world sense into the man who obviously has never found love or been truly happy.

Miles superior to Adam Sandler’s similarly themed groan-fest Grown Ups; the laughs in Hall Pass are heartier and more frequent, thanks chiefly to Stephen Merchant and Larry Joe Campbell, who bring their oddball personalities to the table as part of Rick and Fred’s gang. But when they suspect that their mates are all talk and no action, they all too quickly drop out of the antics, leaving the film feeling rather front-heavy, vanishing completely until a skit mid-way through the end credits. Older men just don't have the stamina!

In a CR@B Shell: Predictably juvenile fare from the Farrelly’s, with a moral bow tying up the close; Hall Pass delivers on the giggles but can’t completely shake the awkwardness of having middle-aged men acting like kids half their age.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Never Stop Pondering (a Reunion)

Who? Toploader
What? Intimate Live Gig
When? 14th March 2011
Where? Monto Water Rats, London
Why? In support of their new single release

For seven years I rued missing out on seeing the lads from Eastbourne perform at UEA on their Magic Hotel tour in 2002. Alas, it was the release of their accompanying sophomore album – which I personally adored (and still do) – which saw them dropped from their record label and fade into obscurity. But as the lads themselves advocate, “Just Hold On”, and after a lengthy hiatus, Toploader are back, with brand new single “Never Stop Wondering” released on Monday, and a short promotional tour of the UK to boot.

For a band who in their heyday were the last band to grace the stage at the original Wembley Stadium, a venue as small and frankly dingy as Monto Water Rats in Kings Cross must feel like something of a comedown, but the “Dancing in the Moonlight” hit makers will have to work their way up again, and sometimes intimate venues can work better than cavernous arenas – the band can interact with their followers and feed off our energy as we thrive off their vibes.

For just a tenner a ticket, the four-strong line-up was remarkable value for money, with the opening act – who we unfortunately missed – starting just after the doors opened at 7pm. Next on the bill was The Mars Patrol, who impressed with strong melodies from the female singer which reminded me of many an '80s power ballad. At 8.45pm classical strings fused with a rockier bass as The Fanclub graced the small stage. If I’m honest I wasn't impressed, but they certainly had strong support from the crowd.

At just after quarter to ten, some fifteen minutes later than billed, the headline act began their powerhouse set. The volume had clearly been raised – a marked improvement over the timbres of the support bands – which only added to the grandeur of their output. It was quite a statement: Toploader were back, and hopefully this time around they'll stick around for longer than they did at the tail end of the last millennium.

It’s never easy to do a live show which road tests new material, as the audience find it harder to lose themselves in music they have never heard before, but the Water Rats throng did a great job when presented with a plethora of previews from forthcoming third album Only Human (to be released in May). As it was, the fan-favourites were inserted into the setlist as “treats” amidst the exclusive new stuff, with “Let the People Know”, “Achilles Heel” and – naturally – “Dancing In The Moonlight” from debut album Onka’s Big Moka getting the most vociferous reactions.

“Never Stop Wondering” was the second track played, with surprisingly little fanfare given to the fact it was single release day, while the band’s biggest hit – which front man Joe Washbourn compared to a “boomerang” which keeps coming back no matter how much they try to distance themselves from it – was presented seventh. I’m sure many, myself included, expected it to be the encore, but that spot was reserved for my personal favourite “Time Of My Life”, the lead single from Magic Hotel. The rousing indie summer number went down an absolute storm, and I couldn’t stop smiling after thinking it was going to be ignored. The band did a great job of extending their songs into crowd-pleasing sing- and clap-along showpieces, which further added to the intimate atmosphere.

Without a setlist breakdown I’m hard pressed to recall vivid details of the fresh material, but needless to say it all sounded great live. The majority of the new tracks – such as single B-side “Shifting Sands” – sound more akin to the melancholic brooding of “Achilles Heel”, but there were a couple of jaunting anthems in the mix, too. Bring on May!

Despite fifth member Julian Deane dropping out prior to reuniting, the revived four piece of Washbourne, guitarist Dan Hipgrave, drummer Rob Greene and bassist Matt Knight sound as fired-up as ever, despite their time away, with Washbourne losing none of his leading man charisma (or trademark wild hair!). The pitiful and full-to-bursting location didn’t do them justice, but I’m so glad they’re back doing what they love, and look forward to many more albums and gigs in far grander venues over the coming years.

In a CR@B Shell: Toploader have made a powerful return to touring which got everyone at Water Rats dancing in the stage light, but if the gig had one Achilles heel, it was the diminutive venue’s distinct lack of space given the thriving crowd of nostalgic followers.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Evil In Its Many Forms

Below are reviews of three markedly different films. One is an animated joy, one a genuinely creepy horror, and one is just plain crap. But all three of them have one associated factor: the presence of e-e-e-evil. Read on if you dare, CR@B fans... *cue devilish laugh*

U – 95mins – 2010

I have such a soft spot for CGI ‘toons of the Pixar and Dreamworks ilk; so bright and entertaining are they, yet concurrently clever at appealing to everyone. They’re easy viewing without being brainless pap, and I really appreciate their wit and the relatable emotional core which lurks beneath the surface.

Speaking of things lurking beneath the surface (check me and my seamless segues), welcome to the underground HQ of dastardly supervillian Gru (Steve Carell, adopting a cod-Russian accent), who – with the help of an army of Oompa Lumpa-like minions and the technological expertise of maaaaad scientist Dr Nefario (Russell Brand) – is planning his most diabolically devious deed to date: to steal the moon.

But while the authorities are powerless to stop his wickedness and rival supervillians (such as the Jason Segel-voiced Vector) are outwitted by his treachery, Gru is about to be outfoxed by his biggest challenge to date: three cute little orphans by the names of Margo (Cosgrove), Edith (Gaier) and Agnes (Fisher). Aaaaaah.

The juxtaposition between hook-nosed Gru’s lair of macabre ornamentation, dead lawns and multifaceted weaponry and the girl’s innocent lives of pillow fights, fun fairs and ballet recitals is hilarious, while watching Gru’s blackened and lifeless heart slowly resuscitated by the girl’s verve for live is adorably sweet. Who needs the moon when you’ve got three stars at home?

Despicable Me is just further proof that pixelated features are legitimately engaging experiences with the range and depth to pack adventure, fantasy, giggles and heart into their bright, polished forms, and they can be enjoyed by all, irrespective of age or level of supervilliany.

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

Blu Review: LET ME IN
15 – 116mins – 2010

Such a hard film to review this one, because it indisputably is a mature and accomplished slow burn horror – I can’t fault it on a technical level – and the casting of Kick Ass’s “Hit Girl” Chloe Grace Moretz and The Road’s Kodi Smit-McPhee as two very different social outcasts who find strength in friendship, is perfect, but – and it’s a but of moon-eclipsing magnitude – Let Me In is so comparable to the Swedish original (Let the Right One In, itself only two years old) that its existence is completely futile.

Adapted and directed by Matt Cloverfield Reeves, this English language remake – despite moving the action from a desolate Swedish village to New Mexico – stays so close to John Ajvide Lindqvist’s source novel and original screenplay that it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference – even the sets look like they’ve been recycled! A big effort has been made to deliver an ‘80s atmosphere through the playing of popular music, but to such an over-exerted degree that its inclusion feels forced and false.

Reeves doesn’t take the creepy reveal of forever-pre-teen vampire Abby’s (Moretz) gender-less form to quite the same level of discomfort as Ajvide, but still the script feels the need to retain – repeatedly – the “Would you like me if I wasn’t a girl?” probing, which loses much of its potency when you know it isn’t leading to the almighty shock the 2008 film delivered.

Watched independently, I am certain I would be raving about Let Me In as a morbid yet refreshingly original take on the diluted vampire genre, but having already watched the original production, I know all too well that – as good a film as this undoubtedly is – it isn’t really down to Reeves’s writing or directing talent; the template was already in place. It’s the same argument that raged around [REC] and Quarantine, and Hollywood still haven’t learnt that we can read subtitles, as David Fincher’s Dragon Tattoo remake rears ever closer to its year-end unleashing, just 24 months after the Swedish version received international acclaim…

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

12 – 78mins – 2010

For the record: vampires do not suck, but this film definitely does. It's the latest disaster-piece from Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, two of the six writers who drained the spoof genre dry with the Scary Movie foursome before lampooning any other popular target with evermore puerile and lazy “gag” strewn idiocracy. Vampires Suck, however, is – if possible – a new low.

Sinking its fangs into the phenomenally successful Twilight saga, Vampires Suck does little more than present a slapstick retread of Stephanie Meyer’s original novel and its first sequel, New Moon. Characters names have “creatively” been altered by a couple of letters – thus Bella Swan becomes Becca Crane (Jenn Proske), Edward Cullen becomes Edward Sullen (Matt Lanter) – and the abridged plot adhered to far too rigidly.

To call it a spoof of vampire-themed entertainment is rather deceptive: True Blood, The Vampire Diaries and Buffy the Vampire Slayer get all of two seconds recognition, as does cultural icon Lady GaGa, before the writers revert back to their predictable Twilight comfort zone: Jacob (Chris Riggi) producing his contract to clarify he must be topless every ten minutes, Becca being an awkward and frigid newcomer (a trait which, I succeed, Proske nails perfectly), fans warring over which “Team” is best – it’s all been recognised before in much funnier and more dynamic ways.

At least the tagline – “Some Sagas Just Won’t Die” – acknowledges the scale of vitriol levelled at these vacuous wastes of time, but as long as they continue to send-up the trendiest targets, they know they’ll always attract an audience – regardless of what that audience says about the film after they’ve paid their money…

CR@B Rating: aaaaa

Friday 11 March 2011

A Fate Worse Than Destiny

12A – 106mins – 2011
Screenplay by: George Nolfi
Based on “The Adjustment Team” written by: Philip K. Dick
Directed by: George Nolfi
Starring: Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Anthony Mackie, John Slattery, Michael Kelly, Terence Stamp


This is exactly the type of film I usually adore, but even the trailer didn’t grab me as anything special. My primary issue was that I found the central premise of “being on the run from your own destiny” to be incredibly cheesy, and yet I went to see it regardless. You see, when you’ve got a Cineworld Unlimited card and you don’t hand over nearly £10 per visit, you’re less fussy about what you watch on the big screen. And taking a risk can sometimes change your life. Which in a roundabout way is what The Adjustment Bureau is all about…

For the majority of this loose George Nolfi adaptation of a Philip K. Dick short story I was adequately content, even though the science fiction element plays second fiddle to the love story between “people’s politician” David Norris (Damon) and playful ballerina Elise Selles (Blunt). The lead actors spark fantastically and their banter feels authentic; it’s love at first sight. However, fate has another agenda and portal-hopping, hat-wearing members of the eponymous team set about “correcting” destiny so the pair never sees each other again.

Why? Because everything happens for a reason in the grand scheme of things, provided the omnipotent “Chairman” (an unseen, God-like master) wants it to. Otherwise his bureaucratic “angels” are dispatched to make subtle but influential changes which will affect your life for the good of the scheme without you ever knowing. The predicament is, after not missing his bus and turning up to work ten minutes earlier than he should have – catching the bureaucrats in action – David now knows, and he’s a determined individual who won’t give up on the love of his life without a chase.

The problem with these mind-bending, intellectual thrillers (Inception likewise springs to mind) is that their fantastical, futuristic premises are so mired in their own rules, that they can all-too easily fall apart if you think about them too logically. The agents of fate are so unattached to humanity that they repeatedly send millions of people to their death – so why do they risk their entire covert operation by revealing themselves to David, instead of erasing his mind instantly? Other than the film ending after five minutes, it seems like an almighty risk for the sake of one life, regardless of his political potential.

Furthermore, agent Richardson (Slattery) warns David that if he ever utters a word of their existence to anyone, his mind will instantly be wiped. Yet even when David does eventually disclose all to Elise, all he has to do is knock one of them out, pop on a piece of portal-jumping headgear and go on the run. From an omnipotent power?! Hmmm… The team seem far too incompetent to wield such power, with a rogue agent (Mackie) even actively going against his orders and assisting David just because he feels bad for him!! And our lives are in his over-sentimental hands? Chairman help us…

In a CR@B Shell: The romantic aspect and “fate versus free will” debate sizzling under the thrilling surface are entertaining enough, but when the plot hinges on such loose reasoning, it’s hard to suspend disbelief and take the jump into The Adjustment Bureau.

Graveyard Slot

Written by: Catherine O’Flynn
309 pages
Published by: Penguin Books
Released: 2010


Never judge a book by its cover; perhaps the most well known piece of advice, and yet one which I never fail to ignore. Looking at the bright colours and twee portrait of a man and his daughter walking hand-in-hand through a blossoming park as a city spreads out in the distance, I was convinced The News Where You Are would be a light-hearted novel from an “awesomely talented” (so writes Tatler) “comic genius” (Daily Mail) I would enjoy. Indeed, Scotland on Sunday was positively gushing in their grab line:

“Seriously uplifting, hilarious. A funny, moving, acutely observed story about
family and loss. A pleasurable, satisfying gem of a novel”

Of course I’m not so easily swayed that I didn’t read the synopsis, too. The quirky blurb – outlining how a pun-machine of a regional TV news presenter becomes something of an amateur detective, investigating the mysterious hit-and-run death of his predecessor – reminded me of Mark Haddon’s A Spot of Bother (in tone more than plot, I must elucidate). A funny and moving study of mortality, family and friendship? I’m in!

O’Flynn’s prose is enrapturing in its precision, her dialogue free-flowing and naturalistic, but what quickly struck me about her sophomore release was how achingly depressing it is. Granted, there are flashes of comedy, particularly from protagonist Frank’s eight year old daughter Mo, but her aside every other character is so weighed down by melancholy worries that you wonder how any of the applauding publications could focus so narrow-mindedly on the “laugh-out-loud satire” (Independent on Sunday).

Frank’s aforementioned predecessor, Phil – his story gradually unfolded through intermittent flashbacks prior to his death – is a celebrity who is adored by his public and promoted to nationwide entertainments shows, but he is so consumed with vanity and his public appearance that he never seemed happy with his lot. Phil’s lifelong best friend, Michael Church, a lonely near-hermitised old man who fell out of contact with the local celeb for many years, has also recently passed, and Frank is saddened by the lack of fanfare for this passing life.

Closer to home, Frank’s female co-host is apathetic to the frivolous nature of their show, “Heart of England Reports”, while Frank’s mother is lonely and bitter and refuses to acknowledge any hint of joy to her loyal son, even when a care home friendship with a man called Walter flourishes, while Frank and his wife Andrea spend time educating Mo in the quickly disappearing legacy of Frank’s deceased architect father, who’s creations are being knocked down faster than anyone had hoped.

O’Flynn’s short, sharp chapters feel so contained that it is over halfway through the novel that the various character strands start to feel like they are leading somewhere climatic. Car journeys to destinations we never progress to and walks down corridors to rooms we never enter form fleeting venues for discussion but can’t disguise a random sensation when the following chapter jumps to another location, character or even year entirely.

For all of my criticisms, the book’s gloomy outlook does lend the motivating murder/mystery element an insightful and reflective edge. Should we mourn loss and fear progression or should we become obsessed with leaving a concrete mark of our existence? Does it matter? Will we be missed? However, such profound questions obscure any wit in a sentimental mist, leaving a bittersweet feeling which doesn’t prohibit me appreciating the prose, but does hinder me taking pleasure from it.

In a CR@B Shell: An acutely written polemic on existence with a host of well-rounded folks all contributing to the melancholic discussion, but O’Flynn’s satire will leave you unsure whether to laugh or cry. The News Where You Are simply wasn’t the “uplifting, hilarious” book I was lead to expect.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Like Moths to a Flame

15 – 88mins – 2010
Written by: Joshua Cordes and Liam O'Donnell
Directed by: Colin and Greg Strause
Starring: Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Donald Faison, Brittany Daniel, Crystal Reed, David Zayas, Neil Hopkins, Robin Gammell

Some films are so heavily documented during pre-production that you even know who the friggin' dish washer in the crew canteen was before you’ve seen a cell of footage or word of dialogue. The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises are two recent examples of overexposure caused by internet buzz. Sometimes, however, it’s nice to be caught off guard; to be wowed by a spectacular trailer to a film you’re completely clueless about. This was how I was introduced to Skyline; a smile flourishing across my face as what looked to be a union of Independence Day and Cloverfield played out in front of me.

Of course I’ve been caught out by this “tease(r) of hope” before. Indeed, Skyline’s directorial duo The Brother’s Strause previewed their debut feature Alien vs Predator: Requiem splendidly, only for the finished film to be overly-dark, legacy-soiling dross. But I had hope for their latest release – after all, it couldn’t be any worse than AvP2…. Right?

The critics, alas, were not kind to Skyline, and I feared another sci-fi dud from the sibling’s who made their name as special effects gurus before taking the leap to auteurs. But – hallelujah – Skyline did not disappoint! Okay, yes, so the alien invasion story told through the eyes of the “common man” does owe a debt of gratitude to Cloverfield, while the hovering motherships and techno-organic extraterrestrials do bring District 9’s “prawns” to mind, but Skyline is a slick genre production in its own right, regardless of comparisons.

The reason for the people-hoovering invasion is hinted at but never spelled out, while the military retaliation against the light-emitting, human enticing foes is only seen from afar, as a group of survivors – including Turk from Scrubs, aka Donald Faison, and Six Feet Under’s Eric Balfour – hide, plan, escape then retreat from the mysterious threat.

An underground car park getaway provides the jaw-dropping personal highlight in a story which trickles along agreeably, only stalling slightly as the group are forced back into their apartment yet again, while the climatic peak within the bestial Alien-alike chamber of semi-conscious bodies does feel like a bit of a stretch. However, I appreciate the risk for attempting a character arc between Balfour and girlfriend Scottie Thompson.

The forthcoming DVD and Blu-ray package includes a deluge of insight from the Strauss brother’s and the writing double act of Cordes and O'Donnell in a pair of feature-length commentary tracks, as well as bonus commentaries on a number of deleted and extended scenes. Personally, the added character insight these scenes reveals would have benefited the feature – which at just 88minutes including credits was hardly overburdened with flab – but Skyline still works as the sleek and streamlined treat it is.

In a CR@B Shell: The only way was up after the disaster that was AvP2, and Skyline is just that – both literally and metaphorically. Colin and Greg Strause have delivered a taut and glossy sci-fi mini-epic which is inspired without being derivative.

Monday 7 March 2011

Mash of the Titans

15 – 90mins – 2011
Written by: Jim Noble
Directed by: Karl Zwicky
Starring: Manu Bennett, Steven Grives, Holly Brisley, Jared Robinson, Pacharo Mzembe, Lily Brown, Brad McMurray, Derek Boyer, Terry Antoniak, Lauren Horner


Swordfights, sorcerers, sacred scrolls, sea voyages and sexy seductresses – Sinbad and the Minotaur is a feature length episode of Hercules and Xena in all but name. Ironically, given its excruciatingly pitiful budget, it also looks like it was made in the mid-90s, too. Not that this stops the Australian production from attempting an array of Clash of the Titans-esque fantastical and mythological concepts – demons, beasts, invisible cloaks – even if the results are often amateurish, if commendable for their ambition.

This cod-reimagining of Greek/Arabic myths is being released for one reason and one reason only: to cash in on the success of Starz series Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which features “Sinbad” himself, Manu Bennett. I can only assume he made this before he got his big break? His dashing rogue protagonist is on a mission to find the fabled golden head of the Colossus of Rhodes, which he and his hearty (but ultimately disposable) crew have tracked down to a mysterious island. But the treasure isn't that easy to acquire when he is pursued by a pissed off sorcerer (Grives) and a heavily-guarded labyrinth stands in his way...

A community of shapeshifting demi-god descendants and a vampiric blood-draining half-demon henchman (Robinson) stand out as admirably successful twists to the matinee romp routine, while the director's willingness to splash the claret is clearly an attempt to further appeal to Spartacus fans. Scripter Jim Noble's cocksure attempts at humour occasionally succeed (“Details!”), but ultimately this “fantastic voyage” is let down by shoddy production values, cheesy editing (watch out for the overused shaky-cam) and the overriding feeling that the whole thing has been overacted and overdubbed .

In a CR@B Shell: Not a colossus waste of time, but too corny to be taken seriously; Sinbad and the Minotaur has aspirations to be in the same league as The Scorpion King, but budgetary restraints mean that this is one treasure the legendary hero won't procure.

Day of the Woman

18 – 113mins – 2010
Written by: Stuart Morse
Based on the 1978 film, written and directed by: Meir Zarchi
Directed by: Steven R. Monroe
Starring: Sarah Butler, Jeff Branson, Andrew Howard, Daniel Franzese, Rodney Eastman, Chad Lindberg, Tracey Walter


“Sorry? Sorry isn't good enough.”

My mother has always been outspoken in her abhorrence of any film which derives entertainment from real life misery. Well known examples include Titanic, United 93 and pretty much any war film ever made. While I Spit On Your Grave may not be based upon an actual documented case, anyone with taste will be hard-pressed not to be repulsed by its all-too-horrifically-plausible set up. Is it really entertaining to watch a girl get brutally raped by a gang of lowlife degenerates, then set about exacting ghastly revenge on her attackers?

Needless to say my mother isn't even aware I watched this recent remake of the highly controversial (and for many years banned) 1978 Meir Zarchi torture flick. It definitely isn't for family viewing, the easily upset or quickly offended. Although in its defence, anyone who does decide to watch a film titled I Spit On Your Grave knows all too well what they are letting themselves in for and can hardly bemoan that it isn't The Last Unicorn.

From a technical standpoint it is hard to knock the film – it doesn't look as cheap as you might expect, the downcast colour palette compliments the tone ideally, and the actors do a disturbingly authentic job – but proficient editing is hardly what this film is going to be remembered for. While Meir Zarchi's prototype was all the more hard-hitting for its stark originality, this 2010 remake arrives in a morally-jaded society where it must battle for rental store shelf space alongside a raft of copycat offenders: Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes, Taken, The Last House on the Left are but four examples, and two of those have likewise had 21st century reboots!

Is I Spit On Your Grave guilty of “making light” of its subject matter? Not at all – this is in no way a glamorous production. Is it guilty of crossing a moral boundary in its desperate attempt to be ever-more extreme? Well, that's a different story, and one up for debate, particularly when you add into the controversy-touting mix a sinisterly corrupt Sherriff (Howard) and a mentally challenged gang member (Lindberg) who is bullied into taking part in the crime…

Putting aside all that “two wrongs don't make a right” malarkey – which doesn't quite stand true when you want to see these scumbags suffer – it's still hard to believe that victim Jennifer Hills (Butler) is *quite* up to executing the poetic justice she serves. Her karmic torture devices bring to mind Jigsaw's impossible contraptions in Saw and the vigilante vengeance witnessed in Law Abiding Citizen; they're too clever for a psychologically scarred person lying low in the forest to carry out and that jars because it breaks the believability of the stomach-churning extended rape ordeal.

In a CR@B Shell: With a relentless tone which never dips below tense, I Spit On Your Grave is a sadist, disgusting and vicious exercise in taking the law into your own hands. You'll wince, you'll look away, you'll curl your hands into fists in futile anguish, and you'll never rent a cabin in the woods on your own ever again.