Autodidact: self-taught

Feb
24
2015

The Well (1997)

by V. L. Craven

The Well

Hester Harper (Pamela Rabe), a spinster living with her father on a farm in rural Australia, takes on Katherine (Miranda Otto) as a helper, letting go of the long-term help in order to do so.

The new girl finds the work too hard and decides to leave. But Hester has already become taken with the girl so she proffers a deal–she’ll bring back on the previous maid for the heavy work in order to keep on the younger woman. Her proposal is refused.

Katherine soon returns, though, much to Hester’s surprise. Long accustomed to being shut up on the farm she’s drawn to the young woman’s uninhibited energy.

The younger woman sees her opportunity and begins asking for gifts, which the enamoured Hester happily bestows.

One such manipulation involves the sale of the farm, the place where Hester was born, in order to afford a month-long trip to Europe and New York.

They wind up living in a lonely cottage which is the location of the titular well. Hester spent time there as a child and says the well has always been dry.

This is either a blessing or a curse, depending upon how you look at it, when Katherine accidentally runs over someone on the way back from a dance and they need somewhere to put said corpse.

And then things get…weird.

Pictured: Gold-digging, possible lunatic

Pictured: Gold-digger, possible lunatic

The Well is about obsession and greed. And jealousy and…insanity? It’s difficult to say at a certain point. I’ve watched it three times now and I’m still uncertain about the ending, but I have a high tolerance for ambiguous endings.

Folie a deux relationships are a personal interest so I found it enjoyable. It puts me in mind of Sister, My Sister in that it’s about an intense relationship between two women that leads to tragedy.

I’d give this one a 4/5. It’s a slow boil, but I really enjoyed it.

Personal thoughts for those who’ve seen it and want to know what I think:  I really have no clue. We see that Katherine has some of the money, but it doesn’t appear that she has all of it–there was far too much and her suitcase didn’t seem large enough to hold all of it. Also, we saw her in her bedroom alone and she seemed to really believe the guy in the well loved her, even though the fall alone would have killed him. So… yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to read the script and see if it’s clearer and if they edited it to make it more ambiguous.

Feb
17
2015

Hysteria

by V. L. Craven

Hysteria_Movie_Poster

It’s the 1880s in England and all of women’s emotional problems stem from their uteri. They must be brought back into alignment and this was done by inducing hysteria… which involved, um… manipulating the lady bits. You know .

[The filmmakers weren’t making any of this up–this was actual medical science of the day.]

After being fired from his job for believing in the clearly made-up germ theory–whoever heard of doctors changing bandages or washing hands, I mean, really–Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) has a difficult time finding new employment.

That is, until he’s taken on by Dr. Robert Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who is pioneering the new technique of digitally manipulation (see the first paragraph) in order to restore women’s uteri to their proper position. (People used to believe they moved around and cause all sorts of trouble. I swear to you.)

He calls this work ‘tedious’.

Granville would call it debilitating–he winds up with something akin to carpal tunnel, poor, giving soul.

Luckily, he happens upon an invention his great friend Edmund St-John-Smyth (Rupert Everett) is working on to make housework easier for women. Granville quickly realised that, with a few adjustments, it will make something else far easier for women, as well.

And it ain’t dusting, ifyougetmydrift.

In the midst of all this is Dr. Dalrymple’s two daughters. The eldest, Charlotte, (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a feminist trying to assist the down trodden in nineteenth-century England–so there’s no worry of her running out of people to help; the younger is obedient Emily (Felicity Jones) who will marry whomever her father says, including Mortimer, if he so wishes.

A contrived thing happens because it has to and we have a subplot.

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

Pictured: Anna Chancellor being underutilized

The film starts off with Anna Chancellor’s voice. So I had high hopes. Then she has one other, very short scene. This did not bode well.

For something that was about female ‘paroxysm’ it certainly wasn’t sexy. The two scenes that showed women having their uteri replaced to their proper locations were played for laughs (because female pleasure is funny). Though I swear I want women to say that now. ‘Honey…I think my uterus is out of joint. Help me out?’

It also showed how things haven’t changed. Women are stilled called hysterical when expressing an opinion–something men are never called–and if a woman is being a bit too forthright, well. She needs a good seeing to.

Oh, and you’ll love this. The reason what the doctors were doing wasn’t considered sexual was because women couldn’t receive sexual pleasure without insertion of the penis. Le sigh. So the bit on the front of the ladies–That’s just there as a sort of mechanical part to bring inner bits back in line. It’s nothing to do with anything else. I knew this was the received wisdom of the time going into it, but still.

But I digress.

The costumes were great. The acting was fine. Everything was somewhat interesting and pretty to look at. I’ll just sit here and damn with faint phrase, shall I?

It was typical Hollywood fare with the ending obvious a mile off. Still fun enough. 3/5. 4/5 if you’re interested in the period.

I was a bigger fan of The Road to Wellville , even though that one was more about the early twentieth-century push to keep people from touching their naughty bits.  They prescribed cornflakes and vegetarianism. (Again, no joke.)

Feb
10
2015

Calvary

by V. L. Craven

Calvary

Father James (Brendan Gleeson) is hearing confession when a parishioner reveals he was sexually abused by a priest from the age of seven. He informs him he’s going to kill Father James a week from Sunday, as killing an innocent priest is more shocking than killing a bad one. (This isn’t a spoiler–it happens in the first two minutes.)

The priest then goes about his week as usual–meeting with people, comforting the sick, etc. He does take advice from the local bishop on the situation, though decides himself how to handle it. He settles his daughter (Kelly Reilly), who returns from London for a rest in Ireland after another suicide attempt into his house.

The Father has truly philosophical conversations with a local emergency room doctor (Aiden Gillen) when called in to perform last rites. And does his best to help an aged, possibly dying parishioner, who wishes to end his life on his own terms.

He tries to mediate the marital conflict between Jack Brennan (Chris O’Dowd) and his wife (Orla O’Rourke), after she arrives at church with a blackened eye. That situation is more complicated than at first glance; as is everything else in this film.

Another person in the picture is a wealthy new landowner played by Dylan Moran, whose role offers a bit of levity, but it’s the dark sort of levity at which the Irish excel. There are other moments of humour but the overall tone is a grim one.

Every male becomes suspect to the viewer (Father James says he knows who it is). He vacillates between saving himself and sacrificing himself.

The week carries on with its joys and woes–no one else the wiser. The person who’s threatened the Father ramps up his campaign of intimidation.

The denouement is tense and startling and satisfactory.

Calvary Moran

Between the scenes of emotional tension, philosophical conversations and everyday interactions, we are treated to breath-taking shots of beauty–the Irish country-side is nearly a character in itself. Which was useful. ‘I can’t take anymore! Oh look, a beautiful cliffside.’

Many of the characters were stand-ins for the ills of the day. There was the cynical atheist (my personal favourite character), the cynical businessman who cared for nothing but money and whose life now had no meaning, there was a Buddhist, and a woman who embodied the randomness of the universe. In a film about religion–about a man who was choosing to die for his religion, that’s pretty thought-provoking.

But perhaps the most important lesson I learned from this film is that, if you decide to watch something based on the cast alone always,  always read a synopsis anyway. I recognised the majority of the cast and, from that, assumed it was going to be a comedy.

Then it was over and it was 2am and I wasn’t sure what to do because a person can’t go to bed after watching something that heavy.

The Irish take the comedy and tragedy masks far too seriously. There’s a spectrum, my lovelies. Everything isn’t either hysterical, goofball comedy, or kill-yourself, lie-facedown-in-a-ditch-after drama.

Always read a synopsis.

Still 5/5. Just watch it during daylight hours.

Feb
03
2015

Orgasm Inc

by V. L. Craven

Orgasm Inc

Men got Viagra, which gave them the ability to have sex whenever they wanted (though if they could do it for more than four hours they should see a doctor) and then, suddenly, it was annoying pathological that women didn’t want or weren’t as sexually responsive as men were.

And suddenly, wouldn’t you know it, 43% of women had some sort of sexual dysfunction.

That’s not hyperbole. The actual number was 43%. Left handed people make up 10% of the population. Redheads make up 2% of the world’s population. Gay people are 10% of the world’s population. None of those groups are deemed fixable (unless you’re a crazy person). If a number is nearly half of a group then it’s normal. You can’t fix normal. Because it’s freakin’ normal.

But the men could take a pill to be eighteen again and men have been taught that ‘real men’ can go all night (no one asks what real men’s sexual partners want, apparently). So they take the pill so they can be real men again. Then they tell 43% of their wives and girlfriends something is wrong with them and to take a pill or use a patch or a cream or have surgery to bring them up to par, too.

Pills and patches and creams and surgeries bring money in so the medical establishment said, ‘Well h’okay! We’ll get right on that!’

[Now, I fully believe that medicine can be a wonderful thing. Vaccines have saved the world millions of times over and anti-depressants have literally saved my life and migraine medication has given me the ability to actually  have a life. Drugs can be enormously useful when used to treat actual problems.]

Orgasm Inc is about the pathologization of the perfectly natural female sexual response. At the start of Liz Canner’s documentary there are five products trying to get approval in the US including pills, a patch and a cream.We follow the stories of some of the drugs, including the one that was most successful, as its pushers, I mean makers, attempt to get it approved.

We also meet a woman who has an experimental new surgery on her spine that’s highly dangerous but is supposed to allow a person to reach climax by using a remote control-like device. She can have orgasms, just not through intercourse with her husband. You know, like nearly every other woman on planet Earth. We follow the woman through the entire process of her spinal surgery; before, during the testing phase and the final result.

Canner also goes to a medical convention where she meets someone (a woman, which just…what) who advocates labioplasty. (This is a word my computer’s spell check doesn’t recognize and I refuse to add to my dictionary because it shouldn’t be a word.) The woman wasn’t comfortable showing before and after pictures of satisfied clients to the camera, but Canner saw them and said, ‘They look like little girls.’ The other woman’s response, ‘Oh yeah, I hadn’t noticed that before, but they do.’

This other person was a woman. A HUMAN WOMAN.

Finally, we meet a woman who had vaginal rejuvenation surgery in an effort to orgasm more easily. And we find out how that went for her.

On the upside there are also women’s health advocates who actually know how women’s bodies work as they age and explain what parts of the anatomy receive the most pleasure and which receive little to none. I wonder how many of these women would feel the need to consult doctors if the men in their lives talked to these advocates.

Orgasm Inc gets a 5/5 because more women should see this. Strike that, ALL women over 18 should see this. So should men over 18. Forty-three percent is normal. Bodies change, desires change. Pills can’t ‘fix’ what isn’t broken.

Learn about your bodies, ladies. Learn about ladies’ bodies, men and don’t expect them to work the way yours do. If you want to be with someone whose body works like yours then sleep with dudes. If you love the ladies then you have to love the ladies.

This post brought to you by the sounds RAWR and Big Feminist Feelings.

Jan
20
2015

American Mary

by V. L. Craven

American Mary

Brilliant surgical student Mary Mason (Katharine Isabelle) has some not not-so-brilliant bills that must be paid. After looking into some less-than-savoury options, she’s invited to practice her fledgling medical skills for cash. This leads to some very dark places, which leads to more cash and a more extravagant lifestyle.

Eventually she becomes involved in the extreme body modification community where she’s something of a celebrity. Unfortunately, not everyone has been completely happy with her work. In her new life she’s made powerful friends, but equally powerful enemies.

Isabelle will be familiar to fans of the Ginger Snaps films and Margot Verger on Hannibal. She’s excellent at playing creepy people, is what I’m getting at and does another fantastic job here.

Less gory than I was expecting–it certainly wasn’t in the realm of the currently popular gore-porn films–it also went in unexpected directions. It’s the first film written and directed by the Soska Sisters , Jen and Sylvia, who have cameos, as well.

Their production company is called Twisted Twins Productions  and the script is of the theme I like to call ‘Men underestimating women.’ It’s one of my favourite genres.

Trigger warning for a pretty brutal rape scene, though the rapist gets his just desserts.

5/5

Jan
13
2015

The Babadook

by V. L. Craven

Babadook

Six-years-old Sam (Noah Wiseman) has become increasingly erratic. He can’t sleep. He frightens the other children at school. He’s obsessed with a monster and builds machines and traps to defeat it. His mother, Amelia, (Essie Davis) is doing everything she can, but she’s been alone since the day he was born–her husband died in a car accident whilst taking her to hospital to deliver their son.

Not long before his seventh birthday, Sam spies a book he’s never seen before and requests it as his bedtime story. It’s a pop-up book called Mister Babadook.

And they lived happily ever after

And they lived happily ever after

After reading the story the figure of the Babadook begins to appear to Sam whose behaviour becomes even more disturbing and dangerous. (Writer/director Jennifer Kent gets an incredible performance out of this child.)

Amelia, her own sanity reaching a breaking point, tears the book to pieces and throws it away. But, as all possessed items do, it returns of its own accord.

Hello, Clarice.

Hello, Clarice.

After setting it alight, she goes to the police station to ask for help, but they don’t have an X-Files department in Australia, I suppose, so things just go from bad to worse.

This is the worse.

This is the worse.

At first watch, The Babadook appears to be a re-hash of several horror films. A little The Omen here, a smidgen Poltergeist there with a dash of The Exorcist. Then there’s an almost Home Alone bit. Just because.

My friends were raving about it and, in general, my friends have pretty good taste in films so I was perplexed. Then I read  this (very spoilery) article and suddenly it made sense. It was really well-done. My friends weren’t having me on my metaphor sensors were just off.

As mentioned, the child actor was incredible, but Essie Davis as the widowed mother trying to deal with her own grief and the grief of her child was mind-blowing. The creepiness factor was through the roof. Kudos to everyone involved. This is a good one, folks. 5/5

If you’re already a fan, they’re making a copy of the book , which is being produced by Insight Editions. I have their pop up book for the world of Harry Potter and it’s impressive. And the information on the Babadook book is hilarious–even if you don’t plan on ordering it I recommend reading the page in the link above.

Jan
06
2015

Concussion (film)

by V. L. Craven

Concussion

Abby Ableman (Robin Weigert) is in a solid but boring relationship with Kate Ableman (Julie Fain Lawrence), with whom she has two children. After receiving a mild concussion–when her son hits her with a baseball–she begins to reevaluate her life and realises her life of domestic bliss may not be as blissful as she originally thought.

Kate is happy with their life and seemingly gives Abby permission to ‘go breathe’ and Abby does so in the form of hiring a lesbian prostitute. She meets this person through her business partner, Justin (Johnathan Tchaikovsky), whose ex-girlfriend runs an escort ring. Said prostitute says Abby could make her own money with women ‘who want an older experience.’

And she’s off and running. In a lying down and naked sort of way.

Some experiences are good, some are…not. And then one of her appointments is with a woman from her town (she’s been meeting people in Manhattan). The woman is straight and Abby has found her attractive for some time. Complications arise and clothes come off.

The Red Band trailer which is entirely NSFW:

There are some problems with this film. More than a few, yes. The trailer isn’t accurate. Well, yes, there’s quite a bit of sexy lady time, which is really well handled. That probably had something to do with Rose Troche’s involvement, who co-wrote and directed Go Fish and was a writer and director of three seasons of The L Word.

Weigert does an outstanding job, as do all of the actresses. Janel Moloney (who played Donna on The West Wing) is a secondary character and does a great job as pseudo-therapist, but that couple needed a real therapist. And Emily Kinney did what she could with what she was given in her role as The Girl (the runner of the prostitution ring). Apropos of nothing–she looked so much like Luna Lovegood it was distracting. Or as a friend said Luna LoveREALgood.

Tchaikovsky is particularly excellent as Justin, Abby’s business partner–they buy ‘shitholes’, fix them up and flip them.

The problems are with the script. While there are some excellent moments and laugh out loud lines (that are intentionally amusing) there are plot points that don’t hang together. It’s never clear how the titular concussion affects Ableman’s decision to become a prostitute–I was extrapolating earlier–which is something of an issue.

Then there’s the ending, which will depend on how the viewer feels about unresolved endings . It’s unclear where the plot is going and it certainly doesn’t go where the average cinema-goer will expect. In a way it’s realistic, which isn’t typical of American-made films. But nothing about Concussion is typical of American-made films, so that’s par for the course.

If you’re interested in dramas about the emotional lives of women that doesn’t treat females over forty like sexless eunuchs then this one is for you. But for god sake, don’t watch it with your parents. 4/5

Dec
30
2014

Mama

by V. L. Craven

Mama

It’s 2008 and the financial crisis has just kicked off. Brokers and others involved in the industry are committing suicide, similar to the previous market fall in the Depression. One such person is Jeffrey D’Asange (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who kills his business partners and his wife before taking his two very young daughters and fleeing.

Distraught and driving far too fast on an icy mountain road, he loses control of the car, which goes down a hill and crashes. He finds an abandoned cabin and the three-year-old, Victoria, tells him there’s someone in there, but he dismisses her (never dismiss the children). They go in.

Victoria is extremely near-sighted and her father takes her glasses away so she can’t see the gun in his hand. She also can’t see what picks him up and breaks his neck.

Five years later, the girls are discovered in the cabin–the search has been on-going thanks to Jeffery’s identical twin brother, Lucas. They are feral, but healthy. Someone, or some thing has been taking care of them.

Victoria and her younger sister Lilly (Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nelisse) are assigned to a psychiatrist and eventually given to Lucas and his girlfriend, Annabel, (Jessica Chastain) whilst still being under the doctor’s supervision.

The elder sister, now eight, adapts to the civilized world well, but Lilly, who was one at the time of their disappearance, remains feral, sleeping under Victoria’s bed and behaving more like an animal than a human. When asked who took care of them they just say, ‘Mama.’

Mama did not remain in the cabin. And mama is jealous of Annabel’s relationship with ‘her’ children.

Mama wasn't a stickler for hygiene...

Mama wasn’t a stickler for hygiene…

Mama is a fairy story in the vein of original fairy stories in that horrible things happen to small children and there’s not necessarily going to be a happy ending. This isn’t surprising, given that one of the producers is Guillermo del Toro.

The acting is solid all round but the child actors are particularly impressive. Andres Muschietti did an outstanding job and this was his directorial debut so it will be interesting to see how he develops.

The visual effects are excellent and understated for the majority of the piece leading to some truly creepy moments. Muschietti doesn’t rely on jump scares, which automatically earns points in my book–he relies on story-telling and atmosphere to do most of the scaring.

There’s nothing particularly new about anything in the film but it’s still worth the watch. I definitely recommend it for people who like their horror on a slow burn and minus the gore. 4/5

Dec
23
2014

Clash of the Titans Comparative Review

by V. L. Craven

Clash of the Titans 1981

Growing up I probably watching The Clash of the Titans a dozen times, if not more. I loved Greek mythology. I loved Athena’s owl and the witches and Medusa and Caliban. I loved the entire thing. Then, in 2010, they decided to remake the film because Hollywood simply cannot leave well-enough alone. Out of loyalty (and the knowledge they would screw it up) I avoided it. But after recent assurances that it wasn’t ‘as bad as you’d think’ I decided to give it a go. Yes, years after the remake, but still.

The original Clash of the Titans had what now seems like the entire cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was written by Beverly Cross (Dame Maggie Smith’s late husband), which explains her involvement. Perhaps she brought everyone else with her. Whatever, I hope they all got second homes out of standing around in togas for five days of filming.

Speaking of togas–in the remake, the gods and goddesses are arrayed in clothes befitting their station. Which means Zeus (Liam Neeson) is wearing blindingly bright battle armour. If a toga was good enough for Sir Laurence Olivier I dare say it’s good enough for Mister I’ll-Kill-You-With-My-Fists. Gods and goddesses were generally depicted in togas carrying their assigned prop, but the costume designers weren’t having any of that. So we also get Voldemort playing Hades (perfect) but looking like Dracula.

Liberace would be jealous of this man's entrance-making skills, though.

Liberace would be jealous of this man’s entrance-making skills, though.

He even does a sort of Dementor’s kiss evil-power-transfer with Calibos at one point.

Which brings me to the characters. In the original I loved Calibos/Caliban. Here is a comparison between the two:

1981 (L); 2010 (R)

1981 (L); 2010 (R)

Not to be snide, but the original one looks like someone cursed by the gods (which is what happened). The second one just looks like he’s had a run in with a flaming machete. Or a first-semester special effects make-up student.

Then there was Medusa. Medusa was fantastic! I avoided the remake because I thought they’d CG Athena’s owl and I would have to burn the cinema down, but I wanted to see it to see the wonders they could accomplish with Medusa’s hair.

There she iiiiiis, Miss Americaaaaa... Anciiieeent Greeeeece

There she iiiiiis, Miss Americaaaaa… Anciiieeent Greeeeece

All of the characters had the builder’s in between the original and the remake–in the original our lady of the serpent-hair was living in the Chamber of Secrets–but in the interim she had apparently been playing loads of video games and asked to have her rooms in the Underworld made to look like those. There are fallen columns and lava and the whole deal.

Don't mess with a woman whose very *hair* has attitude.

Don’t mess with a woman whose very *hair* has attitude.

After Medusa, my favourite characters were the Stygian witches. Their eyes were clearly just sort of prostheticed down. I felt badly for the actresses, as they couldn’t see.

Meh.

Meh.

Whereas the remake make-up just…

Gah.

Gah.

I felt badly for my stomach, as it had nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.

So, this epic adventure, which involves lots of English people ordering around (or being rescued by) one buff American, culminates in the infamous ‘Release the Kraken!’ line, which is supposed to be a fearsome Titan. A Kraken is supposed to look like a giant squid.

I don't think the Kraken was related to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I don’t think the Kraken was related to the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

I don’t know how many squids you’ve  seen…

This is closer. Though I'm not sure where the legs came from.

This is more like it. Though I’m not sure where the legs came from.

Story-wise it is what it is. Neither film is true to the original myth of Perseus , though the first one is closer in that Hades isn’t involved. But, seriously, Hades’ ridiculous entrances (really, the man CANNOT just walk into a room) are worth watching the film.

As expected the effects are larger, though the claymation of the first one will always hold a special place in my heart if only because I saw them when I was young. The scorpion-fighting scene… nope. Nope nope nope.

Aaaaaaand nope.

Aaaaaaand nope.

And now we need to have a conversation about something. See that person in the foreground in the above photo? That’s a Djinn. Djinn have exactly nothing to do with Greek mythology. They’re from Middle Eastern mythology. And this Djinn not only doesn’t speak the same language of our heroes, but it turns out he’s a suicide bomber . But in a good way! So that makes it all right! What? No. Did someone think, ‘Well, they’re in the desert and the Middle East has lots of sand so…’ and then the obvious connections were made.

But in a good way! So that makes it all right!

I honestly have no idea how to segue out of that, so I’ll just say one of the other characters is played by Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Hannibal. But they gave him long hair, which makes him look like The Rock.

I could show you a picture of his face, but this one is better. You're welcome.

I could show you a picture of his face, but this one is better. You’re welcome.

It’s changed the way I watch Hannibal, that’s for certain.

Now that I’ve recovered from the Djinn debacle I can say that for the remake the filmmakers did bother to find some darkER people to play the Greeks than the first film, though I’ve been to Greece and… well, they might have tried harder.

If you’re younger and haven’t seen the first one already you should definitely see it, but it’s going to come off as very campy and the effects will be laughable. Just go with it. It’s a classic. I admit my prejudice when I say that one is 5/5

I know I’ve given the remake a difficult time, but I would recommend it–it was fun enough if you turn off your brain and don’t get too distracted by the disregard for the myth. 4/5

There’s a sequel to the remake entitled Wrath of the Titans, but this review has gone on long enough. I’ll give it a 4/5 and say that after you’ve fought the embodiment of a volcano you really should be a bit dirtier.

ps. I needn’t have worried about Athena’s owl; they way they handled it was my favourite part aside from Ralph Fiennes’ entrances.

Bubo is sceptical, but I promise it's true.

Bubo is sceptical, but I promise it’s true.

Dec
02
2014

The Cabin in the Woods

by V. L. Craven

The Cabin in the Woods

 

The title The Cabin in the Woods says to me, ‘Bunch of nubile youngsters go to a wooded area and somehow end up in a cabin–by choice or misfortune–and something picks them off one my one. Could be a malevolent force or it could be homicidal hillbillies.’ Or just unfortunate hillbillies a la Tucker and Dale vs Evil .

But Joss Whedon is a man who knows what he’s doing. Why did I doubt you, Whedon?

What really happens is:

Several nubile university students go to a wooded area to stay at a cabin owned by the cousin of one of their number (Curt, played by Chris Hemsworth) where they are picked off one-by-one by cannibalistic hillbillies who are also zombies. So, you know, there’s a twist.

But then we learn something about all horror films that should have been obvious. Something that explains why everyone makes the same mistakes–people split up, the girls who take off their tops die first, etc. It’s all being manipulated by a corporation in deference to higher powers. (This is not a spoiler, we learn this at the start.)

Watching the people behind the scenes (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins) is both hilarious and eye-opening. It will certainly make viewing subsequent horror films less infuriating knowing there’s an entire team of people manipulating teens into making poor decisions for the greater good.

There’s a great, split-second moment where we see the monsters at the disposal of the corporation. Thanks to pausing and screen-capping capabilities, though:

Cabin in the woods Whiteboard

If you want to know about everything on the board, there’s an unofficial, but excellent, fan-made wiki for the film that catalogs all of the monsters . That site is home to all of the spoilers. It lists the monsters available to torment whatever kids are up for grabs this time around, as well as what summons them. It includes monsters mentioned in the book but only glimpsed in the film. (Kevin is my favourite. Oh, Kevin.)

This is the part of the review where I tell you if the acting and writing was any good. It’s Whedon, people. The casting was excellent, the writing was hilarious and smart and didn’t go where expected (except when it had to, but then only so it could tweak the tropes of the genre). I wanted to make out with this film.

This is definitely one to own , as there are so many details that beg for further explanation and the physical versions have loads of extras.

If you (or someone you love) is already a fan, there’s an Official Visual Companion , which has the screenplay, interviews with Whedon and the special effects crew, lots of conceptual art and photos of monsters and sets, etc. I haven’t looked at this one myself so check the reviews before you order.

There’s also the official novelization by Tim Lebbon, which I’ll be reviewing on Friday. I wanted to read it after seeing some of the notes on the previously mentioned wiki.

The film is a 5/5 for definite. I watched it two days in a row because I had to show it to a friend posthaste.

Nov
25
2014

A Fantastic Fear of Everything

by V. L. Craven

Fantastic Fear of Everything

 

Jack (Simon Pegg) is an author who has been researching Victorian serial killers. His research is starting to get to him, though, causing the fantastic fear of everything from the title. His agent gets him a dinner meeting with someone interested in publishing his book, but that requires Jack to a) leave the house and b) go to the launderette to clean what appear to be his only set of clothing.

Jack has an absolute terror of launderettes for reasons that become clear later and have nothing to do with his research on Victorian psychopaths.

Meanwhile, there’s a very modern-day psychopath killing people and cutting off their fingers in the area of London in which he lives. This all ties together, sort of.

It does. On paper. All of the elements connect with one another and there is a beginning, middle and end. But I watched this with two other people and when it was over the collective response was: ‘What just happened?’

It wasn’t confusing–everything is very straightforward–the film just seemed to have no focus. I’ve never seen anything like it. There were a few laugh-out-loud moments and the viewer never knows what’s going to happen next, but then whatever  does happen next and then another thing happens and another and then it’s the end.

According to Wikipedia , Slate called it a ‘semicomedy’, which is correct, but I’m not sure what the other part of the film is supposed to be. It’s based on a novella (Paranoia in the Launderette) by the writer and director of Withnail and I, which I love, so one wonders how it would have turned out if Bruce Robinson (said author/writer/director) had handled the screenplay and direction.

There was one particularly clever sight gag that was … clever. There’s quite a bit of physical comedy and Pegg is as reliable as ever. But I would really only recommend it to fans of his work. That said, I’ll probably watch it again, as it has a certain dark tone that’s enjoyable and the music (90s rap) is great.

Sadly, I have to give this one 2/5 stars.

Nov
18
2014

We Are What We Are

by V. L. Craven

We Are What We Are

A woman goes grocery shopping in a downpour and suddenly begins bleeding from the mouth. She collapses into a ditch where she drowns, leaving her two daughters to carry out the religious duties for their father and younger brother. Due to the mysterious nature of her death, an autopsy is ordered and it’s discovered she had Parkinson’s. A teenage girl goes missing then the local doctor finds a human bone fragment in the creek, which leads to finding more bones. Things are not going well in the small town, is what I’m saying.

The daughters of the woman, Iris and Rose, have a difficult time taking over for their mother. Though they know the ritual has been carried out the same way for generations they have some objections and they discuss escaping their suffocating lives or upholding the tradition. Meanwhile, it’s discovered that Parkinson’s shares symptoms with a rare disorder called Kuru, which is only contracted one way and it’s not a good way. And it looks like the woman had Kuru.

As a commentary on extreme religious observance, it’s pretty much bashing you over the head and then gnawing on your arm. As a creepy horror film with nicely built atmosphere, it’s definitely one to watch.

The colour palette is particularly fine–it’s just lovely to look at–and the translucence of the girls’ skin and hair combined with them nearly always wearing white added to the effect. The younger daughter, Rose (Julia Garner) was especially good, though Bill Sage hit all the right notes as the stern patriarch of an extreme religious sect. (Though I’m not sure one family of five constitutes a sect.)

There’s relatively little blood or violence for a horror film (excepting one scene that was shocking in its violence if only because the rest of the film was so restrained). In this day of torture porn it’s refreshing to see films that rely more on story-telling than viscera to get the audience’s attention.

There is a sequel and a prequel planned and if they don’t turn both of those into gore-fests and retain the same level of plot and character development as the original, they could be interesting. Keep an eye out for those. Or pull an eye out for them. (Sorry. I’m so sorry.)

Overall I’d give We Are What We Are 5/5 because I like cannibals and I’d watch this one again. It’s definitely a step above most horror films. If you want fast-pacing or nudity or gore galore then this one isn’t for you, though.

Nov
11
2014

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

by V. L. Craven

Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Tucker and Dale are a couple of good ol’ boys who’ve bought a house out in the boonies of West Virginia as a ‘vacation home’  and they go out to start fixing it up. On their way there they stop to pick up some beer and other supplies and run into a group of nubile university students. Dale (Tyler Labine) takes a shine to a particular blonde, Allison (Katrina Bowden), and tries to talk to her. Self-awareness not being his strong-suit, he happens to be holding a scythe at the time and follows his buddy’s advice to laugh and smile a lot, as that puts women at ease. She does not swoon into his arms.

The two groups go their separate ways–Tucker and Dale to their cabin and the students to their camping area. That evening the men decide to do some fishing and the kids go swimming. They happen to be doing these activities at the same lake. When Allison slips and hits her head, rendering herself unconscious, our hapless heroes come to her rescue, pulling her into their boat and shouting to the others, ‘We have your friend!’ For some reason the students find this terrifying and run away to regroup.

The men take her back to their ramshackle cabin for the night, figuring her friends will come looking for her tomorrow. But that isn’t exactly how things go. Because, to their minds, they have to save their friend from a couple of insane hillbillies.

Tucker and Dale vs Evil is about miscommunication on a large scale. It plays with all the tropes of the killer hillbillies genre, as well as serial killer films like the Friday the 13th series. Labine’s ‘dumb as a stump’ Dale is endearing and genuine and Alan Tudyk’s Tucker, the brains of the operation, has some of the funniest lines and moments. He just wants to help his friend gain some self-confidence, but it will be at the cost of much physical pain and confusion.

Eminently rewatchable, it’s on par with Shaun of the Dead for laugh out loud hilarity both in terms of dialogue and physical humour. And don’t worry, nothing happens to the dog. 5/5

Aug
21
2014

Wonder Boys

by V. L. Craven

Wonder Boys

Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Chabon, Wonder Boys is one of my all-time favourite films. I’ve seen it close to a dozen times and it makes me laugh every time. The screenplay captures the feel of the book, I think, and that’s something, because I really loved the book.

And how could I not? It’s about a professor, it’s about writing. It’s about a writing prodigy. And many mad-cap adventures of a rag-tag bunch that’s throw together of a weekend. The book is profound and lovely and funny and human and the film handles all of that beautifully.

Wonder Boys is about middle-aged professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) whose wife has left him, again, though this time it looks like it’s going to take. His previous novel was a smashing success, but that was several years ago, and his editor, Crabtree, (Robert Downey Jr fresh out of rehab, this was 2000) really wants his follow-up novel. Luckily, it’s the weekend of Word Fest, where visiting authors and literary types descend on the Pittsburgh university, giving him all the reason he needs to show up. It’s also the weekend that Tripp’s most gifted but morose student, James Leer, (Tobey Maguire) decides he’d rather hang around his professor than go home. Crabtree is all right with this, as he takes rather a shine to Mr Leer.

During all of this Tripp is trying to deal with his crumbling marriage, as well as the fact that the student who rents a room from him (Katie Holmes) has a bit of a thing for him, all the while fending off his editor’s questions about the next book. And then Tripp gets some news from his girlfriend that probably isn’t going to go over so well with her husband… And the weekend just keeps on getting better.

And, as if going for some sort of trifecta–the film also has one of my all-time favourite soundtracks . Including two of my favourite songs by Dylan.

When I was doing research for this review I came across this review that compares Wonder Boys to another professor-has-midlife-crisis-in-Pittsburgh film Smart People. It’s a good review–give it a look.

 

Jul
10
2014

Russian Ark

by V. L. Craven

Russian Ark

At the beginning of Russian Ark , you wake up, somehow transported to … someplace unfamiliar. You discover you can speak Russian, though you’ve never spoken it before. Before you, you see a group of boisterous people alighting from horse-drawn carriages. They’re in elaborate dress on their way to some sort of party. And they cannot see or hear you. Perhaps you’ve died.

Then you are joined by someone else, visible only to you and dressed in clothes from a different century. ‘The European’ guides you through the rooms of this grand palace, commenting on various pieces of art. The palace, though never named, is the Hermitage Museum  and the European is meant to be the Marquis de Custine , who was quite the critic of Russian culture.

Each room or section of the film depicts a different era of Russian history, though not in chronological order. Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Nicholas II and his children all make appearances. It has the feel of a European dream-state novel–I often felt as though metaphors were sailing past my head, but then another piece of art would come into view and it wouldn’t matter.

The film itself is sumptuous. The art is beautiful, obviously, (there’s a wonderful 360 close up shot of The Three Graces by Canova) and the hundreds of costumes are breathtaking. Shot in a continuous 96 minute take and featuring over 2,000 actors and three orchestras, with an opera and an elaborate dance sequence it was no small technical feat, either. The documentary about the making of Russian Ark is called In One Breath (it’s available on the DVD, the first part of five is here  on You Tube) and it’s worth the watch to see how they did it.

The more you know about Russian history the more you’ll get out of the film (which I admittedly know very little) but it’s still gorgeous to look at and is probably the closest I’ll get to visiting the Hermitage. So I highly recommend it. 5/5.

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