Monday, 30 May 2011

Fisherman's Fiend

Written by: Chris Priestley
Published in: 2008
242 pages


Having been so enraptured by gothic anthology Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror (reviewed HERE), I was genuinely ecstatic to discover that it was just the first in a (hopefully not yet finished) series of Tales of Terror from Cambridge author Chris Priestley. Book two, Black Ship, follows Uncle Montague's winning formula of having an obscure storyteller narrating thematically-associated supernatural chronicles to a young protagonist.

This time around we are marooned by a ravenous storm in the isolated cliff-perched dwelling The Old Inn, where home alone siblings Ethan and Cathy Matthew's are the scare-hungry youngsters bewitched by shelter-searching sailor Jonah Thackery's nightmarish ocean-orientated fables. Waiting for their father to return with the medicine they need to cure their ailing sickness, Ethan is guardedly cautious of their yarn-spinning guest, while Cathy seems transfixed and eager to be spooked.

The reveal in penultimate chapter “The Black Ship” that there is both more and less to Thackery's own history is disappointingly predictable, but the absolutely superb and genuinely spine-chilling twist in the conclusive “Wolfsbane” was an unanticipated knockout which raised the bar and blew me away, totally justifying the back cover warning: “This is a seriously scary book – younger readers be warned!”

Regrettably, away from the superior climax, while I still found Black Ship to be a well written and atmospheric collection, I have to admit that the other short stories were not quite up to the high standard set by Uncle Montague. There's a motley medley of macabre monstrosities without doubt – from vampires in the slave cargo (“Piroska”) to giant flesh eating snails (“Nature”), paranormal tattoo's (“Irezumi”) and an escaped exotic creature devastating a crew of scavenging pirates (“The Monkey”) – but, ultimately, none of the tales are as dark, daring or deadly as last time around.

In a CR@B Shell: Lacking the emphatic bite which made Uncle Montague such a ghoulish treat, but nevertheless as engrossing and enjoyably digestible as the original; Tales of Terror from the Black Ship is saved from sinking by a devilishly remarkable eleventh hour shock in the spectacular final chapter. Shades of genius to be shore.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Room for Improvement

Film Review: THE ROOM
15 – 92mins – 2003
Written by: Tommy Wiseau
Directed by: Tommy Wiseau
Starring: Tommy Wiseau, Juliette Danielle, Greg Sestero, Philip Haldiman, Carolyn Minnott, Robyn Paris, Mike Holmes, Kyle Vogt, Dan Janjigian, Greg Ellery


A clear-cut contender for “Worst film ever committed to celluloid”, this self-financed 2003 travesty by unfathomably-accented auteur Tommy Wiseau is so inadequately appalling in every conceivable way that it has gained infamous cult status, receiving numerous midnight cinema screenings - including an upcoming exhibition at Christ's College, Cambridge on June 3rd - and (hopefully ironic) advocates from the likes of Hollywood A-listers Will Ferrell and Kristen Bell.

Clearly intended to be a profound and dark melodrama about the effects an affair can have on those close to you, The Room is more like a farce – none of the unknown cast can act (Wiseau himself the biggest offender), the same plot points are recycled ad infinitum while other more weighty developments (such as a drug money debt and breast cancer test) vanish without trace, the (often dubbed) dialogue is laughable, scenes take place in random irrelevant locations for absolutely no reason, the chronology is in absolute disarray, the camera often dips as if almost dropped while panning the room, characters come and go inexplicably lending no purpose to the story... I could go on!

It’s essentially a 15minute short film dragged over an hour and a half, with overlong location pans, impromptu “catch” sessions with an American football and excruciatingly long un-erotic sex scenes (one of which I have my suspicions was a repeat of earlier footage!) padding out the fluff. Wiseau can claim until he’s blue in the face that it was supposed to be laughed at, but it’s obviously not – it’s just an amateurish and inept product of a man whose ego (and wallet) is larger than his talent.

I’m literally stumped for a single redeeming quality to proffer The Room – even the title is preposterous, serving no relevance to the infinitesimal plot whatsoever. And yet, despite its multitude of faults, it is still well worth checking out, if only as an incredulous curio: seeing is believing – and even then you’ll struggle to grasp exactly how anyone could ever consider this abysmal train wreck to be worth making – but at least you’ll have an arsenal of excruciating quotes at your disposal.

In a CR@B Shell: Watch alone and you won’t make it beyond the first two minutes without tearing your eyes out, but watch with friends and you’ll derive much amusement from deriding this diabolical mess which, bluntly, doesn’t deserve even a single CR@B Howard tick.

Cowabunga Cousins

PG – 81mins – 2009
Written by: Rob David, Matthew Drdek and Lloyd Goldfine
Based on the characters created by: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird
Directed by: Roy Burdine and Lloyd Goldfine
Starring the voice talents of: Michael Sinterniklaas, Wayne Grayson, Sam Riegel, Greg Abbey, Scottie Ray, Dan Green, Johnny Castro, Tony Salerno, Sebastian Arcelus, David Willis, Load Williams, Bradford Cameron, Greg Carey, Darren Dunstan, Marc Thompson, Veronica Taylor


As a child of the eighties with a rose tinted appreciation for everything TMNT (except the appalling CGI big screen reimagining from 2007), this feature length crossover between heroes in a half shell old and new – commissioned in 2009 to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary but delayed until R2 release this year after Nickelodeon acquired the rights – caught my attention as a nostalgic nod to my youth.

Comparable to the fourth-wall breaking “Back to Earth” specials from the Red Dwarf crew (which were received with mixed acclaim two years ago), Turtles Forever sees a dimensional portal transport the fun-loving, pizza-munching party animals from the classic 1988 Mirage Studios cartoon series to the modern day, where the current crop of slick, hardened restylised anamorphic ninja-trained amphibians are keeping NYC safe from criminals human and mutant.

“They’ve got their initials on their belt buckles – they’re like superheroes!”

The production values and attention to detail are incredible, with the animator’s absolutely nailing the juxtaposing styles of illustration and humour. The script is packed full of winks to the audience with the jovial 80’s gang being affectionately ribbed about their unsophisticated technology (the Turtle Blimp is labelled “the lamest vehicle in the history of lame vehicles”) and less than serious nature (“It’s like having five Michelangelo’s!”).

I was howling with laughter all the way through, as the charmless 21st century Turtles continued to be embarrassed by their dimensional doppelgangers (“Can’t you guys be serious about anything?!”) and their less than competent foes in the bumbling old-school Shredder, Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady, who find themselves to be no match for the far fiercer “One true Shredder” from Utrom, who sets about upgrading the clumsy, weak and outdated technology aboard the Technodrome.

“A giant golfball on wheels? That’s your Shredder’s ultimate weapon?!”

It’s a shame that none of the original voice cast returned to their roles, but nevertheless the classic characters are present in spirit – even if the writers do take obvious glee in pointing out the light-hearted show’s flaws (with tongue firmly in cheek, of course), particularly Raphael’s cheesy asides to the camera (“Who are you talking to? There’s nobody there!”) and the elements which didn’t survive the transition to subsequent adaptations (“Oooo, maybe this dimension will have its own Krang?”).

Not content with lambasting just two incarnations of the high-kicking shellbacks, Turtles Forever bravely goes for broke and broadens its targets by having Utrom Shredder discover all the numerous depictions of the heroes (including the live action film trilogy and the forgettable CGI disaster) and realise that the secret to destroying his adversaries is to locate “Turtle Prime” and literally wipe the characters from existence. The third act jump back to where it all began is another painstakingly realised triumph in this radical shell-ebration which fans old and new will admire.

In a Half Shell: Proof that with a little love and affection they CAN make ‘em like they used to, this sublime union of a quarter of a century of TMNT history is the ultimate testament to a timeless and iconic franchise. Turtle Power indeed.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Flogging a Dead Sparrow

12A – 137mins – 2011
Screenplay by: Terry Rossio and Ted Elliott
Inspired by the novel “On Stranger Tides” by: Tim Powers
Based on the characters created by: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie and Jay Wolpert
Directed by: Rob Marshall
Starring: Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Ian McShane, Geoffrey Rush, Kevin McNally, Sam Claflin, Àstrid Bergés-Frisbey, Stephen Graham, Richard Griffiths, Gemma Ward, Keith Richards


Casting overboard the supposed deadwood of uptight lovies Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom, and reinvigorated by plot elements inspired by an outside source, hopes were high that the fourth instalment in Disney’s lucrative Pirates of the Caribbean series would be a return to the swashbuckling heights scaled in 2003’s vivacious The Curse of the Black Pearl.

Alas, On Stranger Tides – even with a new director in Rob Chicago Marshall – is simply more of the same overlong, overstretched gubbins which weighed down back-to-back sequels Dead Man’s Chest and At World’s End. Johnny Depp’s perma-drunk capt’n Jack Sparrow has gone from a comedic highlight to a farcical irritation, while Geoffrey Rush’s grisly Barbossa seems to have lost more than his leg betwixt instalments: he isn’t half the mad-eyed delight he used to be.

Rescuing his former first mate, Gibbs (McNally), from the noose in the most flamboyantly preposterous fashion, Jack is then charged by King George II (a grotesquely OTT Griffiths) to join forces with the reformed “privateer” Barbossa and locate the fabled Fountain of Youth – but first Jack is determined to upset everyone he comes into contact with by launching a roundabout investigation into the pirate who dares to imitate the illustrious Captain Sparrow.

Surprisingly, it is the bloated film’s first half – retro-fitting a back story which introduces Jack’s former flame Angelica (Cruz) and linking her to the dreaded scourge of the seven seas, Blackbeard (McShane) – which feels like more of a drag than the second, with the plot gaining momentum as the swollen cast are divided three ways in a race to locate the mythical age-defying aqua spring – before the Spanish generals do.

Positive additions to this tired third sequel include the enchanting Mermaids; sultry sirens of the sea who lure sailors with their lullabies only to sprout fangs and attack. It’s a neat ghoulish twist to the usually innocent fish-finned femmes, and Spanish beauty Bergés-Frisbey provides a wonderfully sympathetic portrayal as Syrena, who is captured by the pirates so her tears may be used in the ritual which will bring about the Fountain’s locale.

I was also impressed by the mystical gravity-defying effects which herald the locating of the ceiling-forming Fountain, but there is just too much else in On Stranger Tides which disappointed. It’s such a busy film that there’s barely any time for anything to sink in before another swordfight has erupted or Jack is being chased by another band of outraged folks. Indeed, the Spanish faction of immortality seekers are so underused that they’re all but forgotten, while Blackbeard is all the more menacing when he is off screen – McShane’s performance neutered no doubt by the family friendly rating.

Finally, the 3D presentation is a complete waste of time. I think I counted just three instances when something leered towards the screen, and for the other 135 minutes I was hard pressed to even discern there was an added dimension to the buccaneering frivolities. It’s no wonder this technology gets a bad reputation when it’s used as a gimmick on blockbuster films which don’t require it but feel they should simply because it’s available and it sounds good on the advertising – I sincerely hope that isn’t the case for the upcoming Harry Potter finale, but I have my doubts.

In a CR@B Shell: You can definitely have too much of good thing, and I fear four epic high seas adventures is three too many for Depp’s over-exposed cash cow. Of course, riches speak louder than reason, so expect to set sail yet again now that the Black Pearl is out of the bottle. Savvy?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Hollywood Tonight

12 – 119mins – 2010
Written by: Steve Antin
Directed by: Steve Antin
Starring: Cher, Christina Aguilera, Eric Dane, Cam Gigandet, Stanley Tucci, Kristen Bell, Alan Cumming, Peter Gallagher, Dianna Agron


“She gave up her life to follow her dreams,
Left behind everything for the movie scene,
Nothing more she could want, she was determined to follow her plan,
She wanted Hollywood, she wanted it bad.”

Following up her disastrous Bionic LP (reviewed HERE), twenty-first century pop idol Christina Aguilera makes her impressively charismatic feature film debut in this predictable but spectacular musical riff on the age old cautionary tale of the American Dream, as outlined in my opening quote by a verse from the Michael Jackson track I nabbed the title from for this CR@Blog review.*

Too attractive and talented to be wasting away waitressing in an Iowa diner, confident Ali Rose (Aguilera) makes the bold decision to quit her job, pack her bags and head to the bright lights of Los Angeles in the hope of becoming a star.

Enticed into the “greatest view without windows”, resolute Ali all too swiftly bags herself a waitressing gig in downtown revue venue The Burlesque Lounge, owned by retired dancer Tess (Cher) but on the brink of being repossessed. It’s a popular (if niche) attraction, but all those sequins, shoes and corsets don’t come cheap.

In the blink of a mascara-lined eye, Ali’s hidden talents have been revealed and she’s promoted to the stage where she upsets tardy diva Nikki ( Bell ) but makes fans of everyone else – including barman-come-musician Jack (Gigandet) and loaded potential business savour Markus (Dane). It's really that easy, gals.

I realise that I’m making it sound like I have a mountain of issues with Steve Antin’s Burlesque, but that’s only because I’m fully aware that the well-worn plot is the epitome of Cabaret conformity and this rags to riches tale is all too laden with fortune and stripped of seediness or misery – but that just makes the fact that I thought it was fabulous all the more astounding. I’m not going to hide behind a fan of feathers and pretend that this vivid extravaganza didn’t entertain me; because it did.

Sean: “What’s Ali short for?”
Ali: “ Alice ”
Sean: “Well, Alice , welcome to Wonderland”

Nikki’s tantrums and jealous glares aside, everyone in the dance troupe and behind the scenes is far too nice, far too accepting and far too accommodating. You never feel any threat to Tess livelihood, Ali’s dreams or Jack’s relationship quandary because you know everything’s going to work out okay by curtains up. It’s not in the least bit realistic, granted, but then neither are the clichéd characters. However it is spirited and inspirational, and if the grandiose musical numbers don’t knock you out then you don’t have a pulse.

In a CR@B Shell: If I’m being frank this is a 3 star film – a conventional plot dressed up in fancily choreographed numbers – but I’m not Frank; I’m CR@B Howard, and I had a whale of a time with this glitzy, ritzy hurly burly show. That’s right, CR@B fans: Burlesque impressed.
* I may as well take this opportunity to pimp my review of the King of Pop's 2010 posthumous release
Michael (LINKAGE).

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Life’s a Bitch (and then you meet the Girl of your Dreams)

12 – 108mins – 2010
Written by: Will Fetters
Directed by: Allen Coulter
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Emilie de Ravin, Chris Cooper, Lena Olin, Pierce Brosnan, Ruby Jerins, Tate Ellington


We are always told never to judge a book by its cover, and yet movie one sheets and DVD covers always try their utmost to be as bold, attractive and alluring as possible to get us to do just that – to persuade us to see the “GREATEST FILM EVER, EVER MADE… EVER!!! *****” based upon a single photoshopped image and some hyperbolic arse-kissing pull-quotes.

Curiously, the marketing and design bods promoting Remember Me systematically failed to do that (check out the wholly bland and unimaginative cover art below). Perhaps they were hoping that the in-vogue appeal of Robert “Edward Cullen” Pattinson and Emilie “Clare from Lost” de Ravin cuddled up looking off into the middle distance would be enough to sell the film?

To a certain extent I suppose they were (sadly) right, as Twi-hards flocked to check out their object of lust in something human and dramatic, but I was under the unfortunate misunderstanding that this film was just a by-the-numbers romantic comedy; a lightweight time-passer between Twilight instalments for Mr. Pattinson.

Boy was I wrong. I'm talking "thinking I’d detest Fast Five but really it was freaking awesome" magnitude wrong (check out my confessio- I mean, review HERE). But then it wasn’t as if this film’s "we've got hot actors" advertising did a great deal to paint a more comprehensive picture...

Remember Me is a film about living in the moment, making the most of life and living up to the memory of those who have gone before us. It is very much a character piece with some very engrossing story arcs delivering some rather astute lessons in life to a group of people who have all had their fair share of tragedy to contend with. On the downside, this does mean that some scenes are quite emotionally charged and some characters are really detestable graduates of the school of life.

The man the web refers to as R-Patz is at his most downbeat and least handsome (sorry, girls) as Tyler Hawkins, a volatile lad in his early twenties whose emotionally brusque father (Brosnan) is too involved with work to notice that his young art prodigy daughter (Jerins) is being bullied at school and their nuclear family is a mess following the suicide of Tyler’s older brother some seven years earlier.

At heart, Tyler is a good guy, but he takes his grief and aggression out on others and he has seen the inside of a holding cell more often than is healthy. Persuaded by his insensible dick of a roommate (Ellington) that the daughter of the cop (Cooper) who last bust open his face would be a great person to fool around with to get revenge, Pattinson starts dating Ally Craig (de Ravin) – a girl who knows a thing or two about tragedy, having witnessed the murder of her mother a decade previous – only for this bet to turn into an actual love affair which deeply affects both parties.

The drama is a little depressing at times, the colour palette a little too washed out and the characters’ choices a little frustrating, but Allan Coulter’s film does enough to keep well clear of twee, generic or predictable. The leftfield “twist” in the final act could be accused of using real life disaster for the purposes of entertainment, but there’s no denying it is a strong emotional blow which enforces the film’s redemptive message and guarantee’s you won’t quickly forget Remember Me.

In a CR@B Shell: Not at all the film I was expecting, but for all the right reasons. Remember Me isn’t a barrel of laughs, but it is an affecting and heartfelt drama which fulfils its purpose by teaching us about the peaks and troughs of the human condition.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Tales From the Decrepit

Written by: Chris Priestley
Published in: 2007
239 pages


Ostracised by the local children and detached from his cold-hearted parents, little Edgar has taken to visiting his reclusive and eccentric Uncle Montague for company. In his creaky and creepy dilapidated house in the woods, Uncle Montague entertains his young guest with a series of gothic ghost stories, each inspired by the curious artefacts which clutter the man’s living room: a brass telescope, a gilt frame with no picture, a wedding photograph from bygone times, a demon bench end…

Each chapter presents a new chillingly atmospheric story, but after each story is completed, Edgar and his withdrawn uncle’s own story is expanded too. Just where did Uncle Montague get all these bizarre collectables? Why does his butler, Franz, refuse to show his face? Who is it rattling at the windows and running across the upstairs floorboards if Uncle Montague lives alone? Is there any truth to these outlandish tales? All these questions accumulate as the collection continues, climaxing in a final bone-chilling tale of revelation: Uncle Montague’s own.

Some of the yarns are stronger than others – my particular favourites are “The Un-door”, “The Gilt Frame”, “Ghost Story” and “The Demon Bench End”, while “Jinn” and “Offerings” lack definition or intent – but all successfully evoke a macabre ambience and involve child protagonists who invariably meet ghastly ends in wickedly unforeseen twists. If these Tales of Terror are indeed meant for children (they are published by Bloomsbury, after all), the author doesn’t restrain from audaciously shocking deaths and grotesque descriptive passages:

“The features were utterly ruined and looked like something glimpsed in an
abattoir or a nightmare. One side of the face was a hideous mass of gristle and
torn flesh, like a sheep carcass after the rocks have worked it. An unblinking
eye look out from the other side.”

Chris Priestley’s taut but immersive raconteur-befitting prose is complemented by a selection of over-stylised line-drawn illustrations by David Roberts which bring to mind the gothic works of Tim Burton and really help to set the scene: angular tree branches, imposing buildings, never-ending shadows et al. Edgar Allen Poe would undoubtedly approve – and I can only assume Priestley’s protagonist was named as such in homage to the master of the macabre.

In a CR@B Shell: Reader beware you’re in for a scare… Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror is a remarkable anthology of campfire ghost stories which is delightfully presented and makes for a tense and morbid treat for all ages – just don’t blame me if you get goosebumps!

Friday, 20 May 2011

Galaxy Defenders

PG – 145mins – 1997
Based on the Malibu comic series created by: Lowell Cunningham
Executive Producers: Laurie MacDonald, Walter F. Parkes, Richard Raynis, Rafael Rosado
Starring the voice talents of: Ed O’Ross, Keith Diamond, Jennifer Lien, Charles Napier, Pat Pinney, Pat Fraley, Tony Shaloub, Eddie Barth, David Warner, Sherman Howard, Rino Romano


Getting maximum wear out of the last suit they’ll ever don, intergalactic Agents Jay (Keith Diamond) and Kay (Ed O’Ross) return in this animated spin-off of continued undercover adventures to keep the Earth safe from – and ignorant of – the scum of the Universe.

Much like 1997’s other franchise-emanated line-drawn supernatural enforcers, the Extreme Ghostbusters (Volume One reviewed HERE), Men In Black: The Animated Series by-and-large employs a “foe of the week” plot formula which works best when the capers reference or utilize the cache of oddball characters established in the blockbuster films.

For instance, Frank the Pug (Eddie Barth) and Jeebs the limb re-sprouting pawnshop clerk (Tony Shaloub – reprising his role from the films) make a couple of welcome appearances, while the coffee-slurping Worms and mainframe-operating Twins are ever-present in the background at MIB HQ.

Kay is as solemn and tight-lipped about his past as Tommy Lee Jones is on the big screen, while silver tongued rookie Jay is relentlessly optimistic about chipping away his partner’s austerity. Unfortunately, despite its colourful menagerie of alien adversaries, this series suffers from feeling too flat and being too smothered by Kay’s resolute gruffness – Jay is rarely given a chance to shine and any focus on his character is usually to highlight his naïve ineptitude.

This seven episode, single disc collection is simply too short and would have benefited from being packaged alongside Volume Two (available separately) – particularly as Sony have four seasons worth of adventures at their disposal! Nevertheless, a returning character in the form of cricket-legged bounty hunter Buzzard (Sherman Howard) does provide satisfying symmetry between episodes #02 and #07, capping off this slender set nicely.

In a CR@B Shell: The team of writer’s try valiantly to inject Agent Jay with Will Smith’s mischievous overconfidence, but Men In Black: The Animated Series feels too suppressed under Kay’s cloak of misery to come to life. MIB? More like DOA.


Blu Review: VAMP
18 – 93mins – 1986
Story by: Richard Wenk and Donald P. Borchers
Screenplay by: Richard Wenk
Directed by: Richard Wenk
Starring: Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Sandy Baron, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe, Grace Jones, Billy Drago, Brad Logan, Kayla Blake


The intimidating Grace Jones portrays a silent-but-deadly Vampire Queen in this cheesy 80s horror/comedy which plays like a prototype model for Tarantino's From Dusk 'Til Dawn. Desperate to prove their worth to the number one fraternity on campus, two cocksure college pledges (Makepeace, Rusler) persuade a wealthy-but-impressionable geek (Watanabe) to lend them his wheels to make a trip to the inner-city to scout out a stripper for the initiation party to end all initiation parties.

As well as making enemies of a gang of albino thugs (!) and nearly getting sawn in half by a “runaway elevator” (seriously), the lads also make the mistake of choosing the only gentleman's establishment in town run by fanged bloodsuckers: The After Dark Club. Preying on the lonely, the drunk and the unloved down-and-outs; you could say they're trading flesh-for-flesh, but Vamp eschews any overt seediness.

Director and co-writer Wenk definitely favours laughter over slaughter, although do not mistake this for an asinine Dracula: Dead and Loving It style spoof. The vampiric make up looks remarkable similar to that later made famous by Joss Whedon's Buffy, and the gory special effects have held up remarkable well over the years. Keep an eye out for the exceptionally explicit exposure to sunlight set-piece.

Vamp is a titillating enough post-pub road trip, but it's too bright to be scary (even the sewers are lit in psychedelic shades of purple and neon green which would give Schumacher's Gotham City a run for its money), and the lead characters never feel at all endangered (even when fangs *ahem* don't go their way) because the club owners (Baron, Logan) are too camp to be threatening and everyone seems to take all the supernatural atrocities in their stride.

In a CR@B Shell: Weird Science with added bite; Vamp is a vivid and kooky rite of passage movie which is both influenced by and influences plentiful cinematic perversions of these well-drained creatures of the night.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

And Then There Was Aslan

Written by: C. S. Lewis
Originally published in: 1955
HarperCollins edition printed in: 1995
171 pages


It has become so engrained in our cultural heritage over the last 60 years that it's fair to assume that everyone knows the story of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, whether because of the original C. S. Lewis novel, the new Disney film adaptation (reviewed HERE), or even (as is the case for this CR@B) the late 80's BBC serialisation (such nostalgia!).

For reasons unknown, however, the other (less celebrated) volumes which comprise the seven strong “The Chronicles of Narnia” completely alluded me until viewing the recent big screen reimaginings of Prince Caspian (reviewed HERE) and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (reviewed HERE). Upon hearing that Fox/Walden are next planning to eschew both the publication order and chronological order of the prose series by filming prequel The Magician's Nephew, I set about familiarising myself with the children's novella so I won't go in cold when the film eventually hits cinemas in 2014.

Written last but set before Lion..., The Magician's Nephew literally goes back to the very beginning by depicting the mythical creation of Narnia and its myriad of fantastical folk and talking animals. We are present at the very dawn of this new world, reading in awe as the great lion Aslan's song brings light then life to a void of nothingness. Lewis's renowned Christian allegory is pretty hard to miss: this is Genesis in all but name – with Aslan (God) even setting a “son of Adam” the task of plucking (but not eating) an apple from a sacred garden (Eden).

The slippery serpent's role is here taken by a familiar figure to the Narnia-verse: Jadis the White Witch, who is accidentally transported to Narnia and immediately sets herself up as Aslan's immortal foe. No catalytic cause is specified for the ensuing rivalry between the paradoxic pair, merely the corrupt Queen's malevolent lust to control everything.

Other welcome correlations to the classic series are provided by the reasoning given for the iconic lamp-post coming to be positioned in the middle of a Narnian forest, and the story's young human protagonist, Diggory Kirke, who will grow into the knowingly sympathetic Professor with the labyrinthine country mansion and magical Wardrobe.

Exploring the rafters of their semi-detached London homes one wet Summer, young Diggory and next door neighbour Polly happen upon the lad's eccentric Uncle Andrew's secret study, wherein the disagreeable old man fools the children into donning magical rings which transport them to a mystical woodland realm which allows them access to any number of universes.

Despite being understandably outdated (there are even a couple of instances of what we today would consider flagrant sexism towards women), Lewis's prose is so easy to read and so tantalisingly magical that it's hard to put down or find issue with. I was entranced from page one.

The fantasy does unfortunately get bogged down in unsubtle religious motifs; the Narnia-shaping centre-piece is so vivid in grandiose detail that it brings the book's pacing to an almighty halt. Nevertheless, uncovering the mysteries to this otherworldly realm keeps you engaged. In particular, the explanation behind Professor Kirke's mysterious wooden coat cupboard providing a gateway to Narnia is an acute retro-fit addition; the strawberry atop this already sweet cake.

In a CR@B Shell: Atmosphere and wonder take precedence over plot in this slimline children's fantasy, but The Magician's Nephew is nevertheless a charming and enchanting tale which succeeds in making Narnia all the more tangible but no less miraculous.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Lady of the Flies

18 – 110mins – 1985
Written by: Dario Argento and Franco Ferrini
Directed by: Dario Argento
Starring: Jennifer Connelly, Donald Pleasence, Patrick Bauchau, Dario Nicolodi, Dalila Di Lazzaro, Fiore Argento, Federica Mastroianni, Franco Trevisi

Other than his contribution to the Edgar Allen Poe double hitter Two Evil Eyes (which I really must re-watch to review at some stage), Phenomena is my first undiluted taste of Italian horror director Dario Argento’s cult cannon of surreal hyper-gory Giallo nightmares. Released in the US in 1986 with the title Creepers and with over 30mins of footage edited out (seriously, it must have made no sense whatsoever), cult enthusiasts Arrow Video have digitally restored the extended 110minute version for this recent Blu-ray edition.

The synopsis is a bit of a rollercoaster, so bear with me: Two years prior to her breakthrough in puppet fantasy Labyrinth, a teenage Jennifer Connelly plays Jennifer Corvino, the daughter of a famous movie star who is transferred to a Swiss girl’s boarding school while her father is on location. An insect-lover with a habit of sleepwalking, Jennifer is ostracised by the bullying boarders but befriended by a paralysed entomologist, Dr. John McGregor (Pleasence), whose lab assistant is a trained chimpanzee.*

The Scot doc believes Jennifer’s extrasensory affinity with creepy crawlers could come in useful in helping track down a diabolical serial killer loose in the area, and teams up “the two greatest detectives the world has ever known – or should I say: unknown”: Jennifer and a Great Sarcophagus fly (yes – a fly; specifically one which is drawn to corpses). Meanwhile, having run away from school after being diagnosed as mentally ill, Jennifer is offered refuge at the home of school mistress Frau Brücker (Nicolodi) while she waits for her plane to fly her back to her father in LA.

Visually, the film looks great. Top marks to Arrow for a great remaster, even if the English audio does occasionally slip back into the Italian track for snatches of (presumedly lost) dialogue. The synth-powered Goblin score is also fantastically atmospheric without being generic, although the injections of 80s Metal sounds totally out of place. Much like Fulci’s The House by the Cemetery (reviewed HERE), when gore is required, Argento doesn’t hold back, but – perhaps given the protracted runtime – there are lengthy periods of inactivity where you wonder whether this is actually a horror at all.

The identity of the serial killer is very well masked, and the climatic reveal is a genuine surprise, but what lets Phenomena down is its inexplicably ropey characterisation. A pair of macho boy racers knock a sleepwalking Jennifer down in their speeding car – and their response is to kidnap her until she fights her way out of the moving vehicle!! Jennifer’s roommate Sophie (Mastroianni) falls victim to the deranged killer, yet neither students nor staff appear overly upset that one of their friends has been slaughtered; they’re more interested in bugging Jennifer over her affinity with insects than staying alive!!

Heroine Jennifer is the most comprehensively fleshed out character, but even she isn’t immune from perplexing character choices. In an early scene she recounts sleepwalking to the scene of one of the murders – yet refuses to tell anyone but Dr. McGregor of what she has witnessed in case the haughty headmistress (Di Lazzaro) dismisses her as delusional! Surely the police should be notified of such a development…? But then it isn’t like this tough-as-nails fourteen-year-old seems even remotely distressed by witnessing somebody get a metal spike through the face.

Jennifer’s paranormal powers also feel underused, despite being the film’s main selling point. Her sleepwalking visions of long clinical corridors are never explained and quickly forgotten, while only twice does she summon a swarm of pests and once receive guidance from a firefly. Furthermore, her teaming up with a diminutive “detective partner” is brought to a swift end when she is scared away from the investigation by an Estate Agent (Trevisi), and the eventual discovery of the murderer is brought to her, rather than through any telekinetic skill of her own.

In a CR@B Shell: I hate to be a buzz kill, but Dario Argento’s outlandish creepy-crawler clairvoyant concept had such potential to be an uncanny delight, yet Phenomena is an overlong and uneven oddity which lacks the crucial sting in the tale which would have made this underdeveloped larvae fly.
*So that’s where George A. Romero got the inspiration for Monkey Shines (reviewed HERE) from!!

Battlefield: Brixton

15 – 87mins – 2011
Written by: Joe Cornish
Directed by: Joe Cornish
Starring: John Boyega, Jodie Whittacker, Alex Esmail, Franz Drameh, Leeon Jones, Simon Howard, Luke Treadaway, Paige Meade, Danielle Vitalis, Nick Frost


Newport-based rap outfit Goldie Lookin’ Chain must be brap, brap, brapping themselves stupid right about now. If only they had sung: “Guns don’t kill people, giant gorilla alien-things do”, their 2004 spoof megahit would have been an absolute shoe-in for the gangsta rap soundtrack to this genre-blending council estate sci-fi mash-up which. You get me?

Injecting the gritty realism of lower class city life with a triple shot of smugness, humour and blazin' honour, South London ’s concrete jungle plays hosts to a gang war on an intergalactic scale as the subhuman chavvie homeboys of “The Block” take on nonhuman invaders to their patch.

The stereotypes are out in full force as the ASBO delinquents tool up with all manner of switchblades, baseball bats and fireworks to fend off the black-furred, neon-fanged ET’s on this fateful Bonfire Night after gang leader Moses (Boyega) arrogantly decides to kill one of the meteor-carried “tings” in the name of pride. Big mistake, bruv.

Written and directed by Brit comic and feature film debutant Joe Cornish of Adam and Joe Show renown, Attack the Block is a meteor storm of culture-cussing comedy, explosive action, gross-out horror and creature-feature science fiction. Yet, the myriad of juxtaposing elements never feel out of whack and the cocktail concept never feels bloated. To Cornish’s credit: it works.

An obvious comparison would be to Anglo zom-com Shaun of the Dead (even more pertinent an association because both films share producers and star Nick Frost), but Attack lacks Shaun’s cosy charm, given the thuggish depravity of its main spliff-smoking, slang-spouting brats, who are introduced to us mugging student nurse Sam (Whittaker), taking her on 5:1. Ras-pect? Jog on, boys.

As their bluster bombs in the face of real danger, you will begin to warm to our posse of inner-city anti-heroes, as they team up with a reluctant Sam to fight the gremlins and evade the “Feds” (that’s the police to you and I) in between checking in with their curfew-administering ‘rents. The disparity between their public and private image is the source of much humour, particularly with two nine year old pipsqueaks who are desperate to join the adventure, arming themselves with cap guns, super-soakers and the laughably portentous pseudonyms “Props” and “Mayhem”.

As is often the case, the trailer all-too-successfully provides a snapshot clip show of the film’s funniest lines (“I just want to go home, lock my door, and play FIFA”), but at just under 90mins, Attack the Block never outstays its welcome, and most importantly never bores with its unrepentant onslaught. Nick Frost is criminally underused as pot-farming waster Ron, but the kidz are the real star of this show, even if you’ll leave the cinema still thinking they’re from another planet.

In a CR@B Shell: You’ll have initial trouble sympathising with the mouthy little shits, but you can’t deny their doggedness. Likewise, if you stick with Joe Cornish’s debut, you won’t be able to deny Attack isn’t a Block-busting tour de force which manages to be both great fun and bloody fierce entertainment. Boyakasha!

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

The Agony and the Ecstacy

Blu Review: MARTYRS
18 – 97mins – 2008
Written by: Pascal Laugier
Directed by: Pascal Laugier
Starring: Morjana Alaoui, Mylène Jampanï, Catherine Bégin


Bloody, brutal, savage, extreme, visceral, sadistic – all of these terms (and many more synonyms besides) could be thrown into a review of French horror Martyrs, and yet none of them could ever *quite* manage to best express just how fucked up this film is. It’s the kind of film you have to see, but you won’t want to. It’s powerful viewing, but it’s also unpleasantly hard viewing, and I can’t imagine anyone going back for seconds. Not because it isn’t any good (far from it), but because it’ll forever be engrained on the viewer’s subconscious.

Having escaped from an abandoned abattoir following a lengthy period of imprisonment, abuse and torture at just ten years old, traumatised Lucie (Jampanï) is still plagued by nightmarish visions of a truly terrifying primordial goblin-esque figure. 15 years later, and with the support and assistance of her only friend, fellow care home resident Anna (Alaoui), Lucie has tracked down the sick perpetrators responsible, and she’s intent on making them pay…

If my synopsis makes Martyrs sound a little familiar, a little generic, akin to I Spit on your Grave and its ilk of rape/revenge thrillers, then think again: the above is wrapped up within the first 45 minutes, and the film's second half plunges to new depths of depravity whilst transcending the binds of its oft-maligned genre and ascending to new heights of unprecedented originality, as Anna stumbles upon the dark-as-night secret behind Lucie’s juvenile imprisonment, and finds herself in a similarly unspeakable scenario.

I won’t ruin it for you, as stripping away the meat from Martyrs’ bones will greatly reduce the potency of its appalling revelations. Nevertheless, a warning: I’ve watched a flood of limb-slicing, gore-splattered, frankly deplorable horror films in my time, and I’m not being hyperbolic when I rank Pascal Laugier’s film as one of the most shockingly severe my eyes have witnessed. But unlike shallow schlockers like City of the Living Dead, in this case I mean it as an immense compliment.

In a CR@B Shell: Prepare to be in equal parts astounded and revolted by this extraordinary Euro example of extreme transgressive cinema. Martyrs achieves exactly what it sets out to, and for that must be commended, but it is not an enjoyable viewing experience. Not for the weak of heart (or stomach).

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Big Top, No Morals

12A – 120mins – 2011
Screenplay by: Richard LaGravenese
Based on the novel by: Sara Gruen
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Mark Povinelli, Jim Norton, Ken Foree, James Frain, Paul Schneider, Hal Holbrook

“Life is the most spectacular show on Earth” so advocates the strapline for this Francis Lawrence directed adap of Sarah Gruen’s 2005 historical circus novel. But for all the tight-rope walkers, coochie girls, bearded ladies and animal attractions thrilling audiences beneath the Benzini Brother’s Big Top, Water For Elephants’ main focus is on the shadow which falls behind the spotlight: human’s cruelty to one another in the Great Depression, and their subsequent cruelty to the animals they depend on for income.

Screen heartthrob Robert Pattinson sheds Edward Cullen’s supernatural shimmer for a sweaty brow and browning shirt and hops aboard a moving railcar as penniless orphan Jacob Jankowski, whose Cornell University-educated veterinary expertise saves him from being thrown straight back off by brutal circus master and all-round rotten bastard August Rosenbluth (Waltz), whose travelling troupe is failing to pull in the punters. Until, that is, he acquires a new star act: Rosie the Bull Elephant.

Charging his glamorous wife, Marlena (Witherspoon), with riding the majestic beast and Jacob with training and caring for it, the animal-admiring pair begin to fall in love, with Marlena torn between a man she in equal parts fears and reveres, and her growing feelings for the quietly dignified roustabout with the smouldering eyes who treats her like a lady.

Square-chinned Waltz is distressingly authentic as the volatile August, who will charm you with champagne and a tuxedo one minute then get his thugs to pummel you the next. Pattinson, meanwhile, pulls his own weight commendably outside the Twilight-verse, even if his love affair with Witherspoon is somewhat melodramatic (Their love is doomed! They can’t be together! He’s “beneath” her!).

Much has been made of the films old fashioned vibe, and Water for Elephants is certainly prone to plentiful period piece properties – the misty-eyed framing by a ninety year old Jacob (Hal Holbrook) who recalls his life story to an intent modern day listener (Schneider), the plight of the common man is showcased by roustabout Camel’s (Norton) prohibition-evading drinking problem, whilst August and Marlena live it up in luxury – but for all the “magic” and “spectacle” of the 30’s festivities, what will stick with you long after the circus has packed up and pulled away is the blood, grit and shit-shovelling which made this such a miserable era to live in.

In a CR@B Shell: Team Edward will swoon while animal lovers will squirm as Rosie and her bestial brethren are subjected to tortuous injustices in the name of entertainment. You hear more than you actually see, but nevertheless Water for Elephants better conveys the atrocities of the era than it does an “enchanting” romance.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Drowning Their Sorrows

15 – 106mins – 1973
Screenplay by: Allan Scott and Chris Bryant
Based on the short story by: Daphne Du Maurier
Directed by: Nicholas Roeg
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania, Sharon Williams


Savaged by grief at the loss of their young daughter (Williams) in a pond accident on their English estate, husband and wife John (Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Christie) pack their son off to boarding school and up sticks to Venice, a temporary haven for them to clear their heads, soothe their hearts and attempt to reclaim some semblance of a life after tragedy. But while John is working on the restoration of a historic church, Laura is baited by a pair of elderly sisters (Mason, Matania), one of whom claims to be psychic and alleges to have seen the spirit of their deceased daughter...

When I was but a nipper, I can remember switching on the TV late one night and being quite creeped out by the snippet of Nicholas Roeg's seminal meditation on grief which was playing before my innocent eyes. That image of the figure in the red mac has forever stuck with me, much like how some people are plagued by Dracula or Freddie Kruger. However, after catching up with the film as an adult and watching it from start to finish, what struck me most about this psychological horror is how unhorrifying it actually is. And that isn't a derision.

Eerie and disturbing, certainly, but this is no typical cheap-thrills genre flick. Brit director Roeg is skilled at using many artistic and unconventional editing techniques to accumulate an ever-growing feeling of disorientation, pulling the viewer in then losing them amid the labyrinthine Venice boulevards and back streets. It's a much richer and more rewarding sensation to the lazy jump-scares made pedestrian by today's less visionary scaremongers, and it makes that climatic revelation all the more staggeringly unpredictable; the thing of nightmares.

From the colour red subtly haunting the screen and seeping into our subconscious, to juxtaposing scenes intertwined in a fragmentary orgy of time and sense, Roeg's experimental, playful camera work demands respect, truly brining to life Du Maurier's printed word. The uneasy atmosphere is also bolstered by the ingenious decision to not subtitle the native Venetian's natter; by Dino Donnagio's fabulously frantic stringwork on the score; and the growing paranoia of objects moving out of the corner of your eye.

The irony isn't lost on me that a couple wanting to escape the memories of a drowning incident would choose to move to a city which is half-flooded; it's no wonder the pair start to lose their grip on sanity as their vision lingers mournfully on the choppy and unfaithfully reflective water, their belief systems confused by the peculiar sister's comforting/creepy claims and their nerves heightened as a series of murders plague the gondola-strewn waterways. Logic or faith? Superstition or convenience? Acceptance or denial? Alive or dead? Sane or insane? What certainly isn't up for debate is Don't Look Now's status as a quintessential viewing experience for all lovers of the artform.

In a CR@B Shell: A cornucopia of filmic techniques are married together to spellbinding effect in this rich, macabre masterpiece of (dis)illusion, ambience and the fragility of human emotion. Even nearly 40 years on, today's film-makers will still gawp in awe at Roeg's sublime adaptation. Do look now!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Hot Wheels

15 – 130mins – 2011
Written by: Chris Morgan
Directed by: Justin Lin
Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson, Tyrese Gibson, Chris Bridges, Matt Schulze, Sung Kang, Gal Gadot, Elsa Pataky, Joaquim de Almeida

I won’t bullshit you: I had no real inclination to watch this film. The plan was to watch haunted house horror Insidious, but that was showing at a ridonkulous hour, so I gave this boy racer’s wet dream a try (despite being beyond uninterested in modified race cars and having never watched parts one to four in this series), and what d’ya know? I frickin’ loved it!

Sure, Fast Five is little more than a brainless, hammy, over-the-top, logic-defying exhibition, but what undeniable joy this ride is, as former FBI agent Brian O’Conner (Walker) and his girlfriend Mia Toretto (Brewster) use their circuit skillz to bust the latter’s brother, Dom (a decidedly chunky looking Diesel), out of the prison transport bus he was being taken away in at the end of Fast & Furious. And that’s just in the first five minutes!

From then on, the law-evading trio agree to rendezvous in Rio de Janeiro , where they take on various black-market jobs which see them cross paths with old friends (Schulze, not seen since the first film) and make enemies of the lawless (Almeida). Before long they are wanted in Brazil , too, with special agent Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson; great value) and his crack team of gun-totters drafted in to round our anti-heroes up. With a badass like the "The Rock" on your taillights, you’d just surrender - surely?

Well, no; apparently not. I told you logic wasn’t on this beauty's specifications. Still undeterred, Dom and Brian decide to assemble a band of accomplished and trusted car-mad cohorts including 2 Fast 2 Furious’s Roman Pearce (Gibson) and Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) to perform a “mission in-freakin’-sanity”: steal the laundered fortune stockpiled by Almeida’s Hernan Reyes (Brazil’s most wanted crime lord). I don't even think Robin Hood would have had the balls!

All the men are muscle-pumped Adonis’s and all the women bikini-wearing Venus’s, but sexualised stereotypes aside, Chris Morgan’s script endows these characters with a cocksure invincibility which means they know they’re fit so live with it. After 40-or so minutes, a tremendous sense of humour also kicks in as the heist is formulated between bonding buddies old and new, enlivening the film’s spirit and perfectly complimenting the blockbusting spectacle. Fast Five knows it’s got little fuel in its tank, but you’ll be so busy drooling over the bodywork that you’ll scarcely notice that it’s running on fumes.

In a CR@B Shell: Well blow me down with a tank of nitrous oxide; I had an absolute blast watching a knuckleheaded film about automobiles! Fast Five revs up to top gear and never hits its brakes – I’m tempted to reverse back to the original and re-start this five-piece relay from the grid.

What the Fulci?!

18 – 82mins – 1981
Story by: Elisa Livia Briganti
Screenplay by: Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo and Lucio Fulci
Directed by: Lucio Fulci
Starring: Catriona MacColl, Paolo Malco, Giovanni Frezza, Ania Pieroni, Silvia Collatina, Giovanni De Nava, Dagmar Lassander, Teresa Rossi Passante


Well... it makes a modicum more sense than City of the Living Dead (reviewed HERE), but that doesn't mean that this final instalment in Italian cult director Lucio Fulci's "Gates of Hell" trilogy is a better film. Sadly, The House by the Cemetery seems like a more amateur effort and less adventurous endeavour than superior predecessor The Beyond (reviewed HERE); and it doesn't even have as many splatter-stuffed set pieces to fall back on, with the characters spending what feels like half the slimline runtime calling out each other's names!

That isn't to say that when the claret runs it doesn't gush unreservedly (just check out the rabid bat scene for proof of that), but the hack n' slash sequences are fewer and further between in this haunted house oddity. Medical researcher Dr. Norman Boyle (Malco) relocates to the creepy graveyard-adjacent abode, reluctantly accompanied by his anxiety-prone wife (MacColl), and frightfully dubbed son, Bob (Frezza). However, the creaky old mansion hides many dark secrets, including the zombified corpse of the maaaaad scientist, Dr. Freudstein (De Nava), who must feast on the flesh of the living to remain in his undead state.

Fulci isn't exactly renowned for his narrative coherence, but even with a plot as low-key as House's, still it is plagued by plot holes: Bob sees the spirit of Mae (Collatina), Freudstein's daughter, who warns him not to enter the cursed house, yet this friendly ghost does nothing to stem the horror except animate a beheaded mannequin (Pieroni) to be the child's live-in babysitter (despite his mother being at home the entire time)!! Whether as a red herring or simply to facilitate his eye fetish, Fulci demonizes Ann (as the babysitter is known) with frequent ocular close-ups and inferences that she is in line with the evil undead doc; until she gets beheaded. Again.

Furthermore, as Norman's research leads him to make shocking discoveries into Freudstein's unlawful history, he inexplicably burns the damning evidence rather than using it to help his cause!! What possible reason could he have for destroying the truth when his own family are in jeopardy? Freudstein's prolonged existence, also, feels like horror merely for horror's sake, with no reason given for his afterlife rages. He doesn't even leave the cellar for Fulci's sake!

Couple these narrative aggravations with less skilled direction and a modest story which is half-baked at best, and while you may not have the trilogy's worst effort, it says a lot about a cult horror film when the scariest thing in it is the terrible dubbing of a little boy's voice!

In a CR@B Shell: A lame finale after The Beyond delivered an epic middle chapter, The House by the Cemetery stretches a short story-sized script into a feature film yet doesn't bother to flesh out the fretful ruminating with more gore – and there's only one potato-headed zombie!! Romero's crown as “Grandfather of the Dead” was never in doubt.

Friday, 6 May 2011

In Sickness and in Health...

… I will endeavour to blog. This poor CR@B has been struck down by a flu-like virus for the past few days (pity me!), so until I’m back to full strength, here is a quick-fire roundup of my latest viewings:

PG – 273mins – 1997

Any ‘Busters lovers fearing a next generation takeover in the eternally-impending second sequel to everyone’s favourite 80’s supernatural comedy should surely be pacified by this animated 1997 dry run, which saw four college students strap on the proton packs and go phantom zapping in lieu of three-quarters of the original gang.

The Real Ghostbusters veteran Egon Spengler (Maurice Futurama LaMarche), secretary Janine Melnitz (Pat Musick) and gluttonous ghoul Slimer (Billy Futurama West) return to provide continuity between series, with paranormal proff. Spengler taking on the role of mentor to his new team of whizz kids: Kylie (Tara Strong), Garrett (Jason Marsden), Eduardo (Rino Romano) and Roland (Alfonso Ribeiro).

Some may complain that the emphasis on equality in the new members is pandering to contemporary equal opportunities (Kylie is a gothic girl, Garrett wheelchair bound, Eduardo a Latino and Roland African American), but the characters nonetheless have their own personalities and don’t fall back on lazy clichés (Garrett, for instance, is an extreme sports nut who has a self deprecating attitude towards his disability which borders on annoying).

The series’ greatest strength lies in its dialogue, which zings with banter between the misfit cohorts, who must learn to work together to save Manhattan from supernatural activity. The inundation of cultural references have quickly dated the show, but this is still a fun addition to the franchise which proves you don’t *need* Peter Venkman for ‘Busting to make you feel good.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa

Blu Review: THE GHOST
15 – 128mins – 2010

Based on a Robert Harris novel of the same name, and adapted for the screen by the author and director Roman Polanski, The Ghost is a drawn out, slow-burn thriller full of political intrigue. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it (particularly worthy of praise is the minimalist score by Alexandre Desplat which mimicks the character’s tuneful ringtone to tremendous effect), just that the bloated midsection could have done with a major edit to not make the conclusion feel so rushed.

Ewan McGregor plays a British ghost-writer who is drafted in to complete the memoirs of former Prime Minister Adam Lang (Pierce Brosnan), after his predecessor died in a ferry accident before the project was finished. The top secret assignment is clouded in privacy, and McGregor’s ghost is drawn into a dark secret concerning Lang which coincides with the ex-PM being accused of war crimes by the British foreign minister (Robert Pugh). Does his late predecessor’s error-strewn manuscript hide the clues to this mystery, and is their more to his death then accidental drowning?

The film exudes a composed, almost tranquil, ambience which makes it remarkably effortless viewing, but the mystery plot does drag on somewhat to little revelatory effect. The ending, also, requires a stretch of credibility, coming somewhat out of the blue after two hours of meandering amateur sleuthing. Nonetheless, this is an aptly produced thriller, even if the writer-turned-detective-on-isolated-island concept did strongly remind me of Steig Larsson's superior The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa

15 – 97mins – 2010

The fourth instalment in this never-ending zombie arcade series offers little that 2007's part three (Extinction, reviewed HERE) didn’t already bring to the screen, other than the en vogue 3D gimmick which inflated its box office gross.

Milla Jovovich returns as superhuman Alice, who takes her newly discovered army of clones to Tokyo to settle the score with Umbrella Corps. Chairman Albert Wesker (Shawn Roberts), before flying to Alaska to rendezvous with Claire Redfield (Ali Larter) and company at the infection-free haven known as “Arcadia”. Typically, nothing quite goes to plan.

Rolling on directly from Extinction’s conclusion, and setting up yet another follow-up with a frustratingly open-ended, ostensibly futile finale [sic] for the hero’s to undoubtedly escape from, what most annoyed me about Afterlife was how spectacularly it fails to stand on its own: this is less a self-contained sequel and more a mid-game level in the shoot ‘em up inspired franchise. Thus: wholly unsatisfying.

Wentworth Miller channels his Prison Break persona as Claire’s locked up bro Chris, but their relationship stalls from the off due to Claire’s amnesia, leaving him to be no more relevant than any other survivor, while unaccounted mutations nabbed from the fifth videogame mean that every zombie now has tentacles shooting from their face (!), while a hooded, axe-wielding bastard shows up out of nowhere with no explanation whatsoever. It may look pretty, but Afterlife fails on any level deeper than superficial.

CR@B Verdict: aaaaa