Autodidact: self-taught

Apr
03
2014

Vampires in the Cold

by V. L. Craven

Vampire films, as a genre, don’t particularly hold my interest. Immortality seems boring–humans would whine about the same problems every century–and having sex with a room-temperature body (vampires are corpses) is stomach-churning, so their sex appeal is similarly lost on me. I’m not against watching a film about vampires, but there has to be some other draw.

In this case, it’s cold climates–the beauty of a frozen landscape will get me to watch a lot of things. So this week’s film review is a comparison of two films about vampires in cold climates: Let the Right One In and 30 Days of Night.

Vampires in the Cold

Let the Right One in is based on the Swedish novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist and is about a boy who befriends his unusual new neighbour–a girl of twelve. The girl advises him to fight back against his bullies and even offers to help. Much of the story is about the budding friendship between the two young people and the boy learning to stand up for himself.

The backdrop to all of this are the horrific killings that have been happening–one man was found upside down, drained of blood; and another was attacked and murdered in front of a witness, who swore it looked like the attacker was a child.

This film is much more atmospheric and subdued than most vampire films, which was refreshing. There was also very little blood and onscreen violence, considering the trend of horror films in general. Several tropes common to vampires were handled cleverly–trusting the intelligence of the audience rather than relying on special effects. I would recommend this to fans of vamp flicks who were looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, as well as to people who simply liked a good story. I’ll definitely watch it again.

Vampires in the Cold

The premise is that the town farthest north in the U.S. experiences thirty days of darkness once a year and someone (or something) has cut them off from civilisation even further by stealing and destroying all the mobiles amongst other things. Once no one can get in or out or can contact the outside world, things start picking off the humans. Yummy, yummy humans. 

I’m going to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this one. It looked like pretty standard fare so I just came for the pretty scenery. However, some genius in casting had Danny Huston as the lead vampire. And he had a sidekick who rather looked like Marilyn Manson, which amused me greatly.

Vampires in the Cold

‘Why do people keep asking me to sing Beautiful People?’

This one was better than I was expecting, but I’d only recommend it to people who like vampire films. It had plenty of blood and action and one very cool shot of the town that (along with Huston) made it worth the watch.

Feb
27
2014

Seven Psychopaths

by V. L. Craven

Seven Psychopaths

 

Hans (Christopher Walken) and his associate, Billy, (Sam Rockwell) ‘borrow’ dogs and give them back to their grateful owners after they’ve posted lost dog posters with rewards offered.

Marty McDonagh (Colin Farrell) is a writer working on a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths . The problem being that he only has an idea for one psychopath and that one is a Buddhist who doesn’t like violence. With the help of his good friend Rockwell he changes the idea to include, you know, seven actual psychopaths.

Farrell still has the problem of only coming up with other psychopaths, though. His buddy has a plan–he’s the sort of person who always has a plan. These people are really best to be avoided.

That would make for a boring film, though, so through his friend’s rather questionable methods, Marty meets psychopath no. 6, Tom Waits, who is just as spectacular as you’d expect.

Then psychopath no. 7 (Woody Harrelson) loses his beloved Shih Tzu, Bonny, to psychopath no. 3. It’s never a good idea to take the sweet doggy of a lunatic with a penchant for guns and henchman like Kevin Corrigan and Zeljko Ivanek.

Meanwhile, someone is killing criminals and leaving playing cards in his wake. Dun dun DUN.

From the first scene you’re drawn into this dark, twisted comedy (the best kind). The dialogue is sharp and witty (the real Martin McDonagh deserves a slow clap), the plot genuinely surprising with layers that will give the viewer something to think on days afterward. This is the kind of film you quote with your friends and watch when you need cheering up. Highly recommended. 

Feb
20
2014

Some Guy Who Kills People

by V. L. Craven

Some Guy Who Kills People

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) has recently been released from a mental hospital and his best friend has helped him get a job at an ice cream parlour. One by one, Ken’s enemies–the one’s who tortured him when he was younger are suddenly being knocked off in gruesome ways.

The sheriff (Barry Bostwick) is dating Ken’s mother and, as goofy as he is, isn’t a complete doofus, and begins to suspect Ken of the murders.

During all of this, Ken’s eleven-year-old daughter (Ariel Gade) from a one-week fling shows up and moves in, hoping to get to know her father. And a new woman, Stephanie (Lucy Davis) shows an interest. Perhaps Ken’s life is getting back on track.

So it would be something of a shame if he was  Some Guy Who Kills People . On the other hand… bitches gots to pay.

This was definitely a fun one. Well-written, well-acted, an all-round good time. John Landis was the executive producer and it shows–it’s a blend of horror and hilarity perfect for fans of Shaun of the Dead and Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Feb
13
2014

Threads

by V. L. Craven

Threads
In 1984, after rising tensions between the Americans and Soviets nuclear war breaks out.  Threads is a documentary-style film about the events leading up to the warheads, the chaos during, the nuclear winter and rebuilding efforts afterwards in Britain.

The plot initially revolves around a couple in Sheffield, Ruth and Jimmy, who have decided to marry after accidentally falling pregnant. It then expands to include the emergency operations staff, which has been sent down into a bunker.

The real story is about what would actually happen prior to and after a nuclear attack, should you survive. The writer (Barry Hines) clearly did his research–every step taken by the government before and after seems terrifyingly likely. The list of people consulted includes Carl Sagan, as well as loads of other very smart people so I’ve no doubt it’s as accurate as possible. Which makes this all the more terrifying.

If you’re looking for a horror film that has a very real basis in reality, then here you are. You may want to have something by Pixar in the sidelines for afters, though.

You can watch the entire film here  for free and I highly recommend it. It’s grim as hell, but thought-provoking. I’m glad I watched it, but will not be watching it again.

From the Wikipedia page:

[The director Mick] Jackson later recalled that unlike most BBC productions, which once finished airing would immediately result in phone calls of congratulations from friends or colleagues, no such calls came after the first screening of  Threads . Jackson later “realised… that people had just sat there thinking about it, in many cases not sleeping or being able to talk.”

Dec
26
2013

Misery

by V. L. Craven

Misery

Christmas was a special kind of hell for me as a child. I was expected to socialise for extended periods of time with lots of loud people who wanted to hug me and be in my personal space. As a young, raging introvert , severely lacking in the ability to express my feelings, this was not something I relished. So in 1990, when I saw the teaser poster for Misery:

Misery

I laughed and thought, ‘ Every Christmas there will be misery.’ Then I bought the poster.

The film is based on a Stephen King novel of the same name . It’s about a writer. I wanted to be a writer so that captured my interest straightaway. It had a woman named Kathy Bates in it. I hadn’t heard of her before, but I thought someone with a last name like Bates was perfect to play a psychopath.

Misery

I mean, right?

So Annie Wilkes (Bates) is a delightfully balanced woman whose favourite writer, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), is in a car crash and she nurses him back to health and isn’t at all obsessive or terrifying.

Misery

I mean, is that the face of a pure sociopath? I ask you.

Yeah, no.

Actually, she finds him after the car crash because she was stalking him in the first place. Then, while she’s taking care of him–he has multiple broken bones in his legs and a broken arm so he’s not going anywhere–the final book in the Misery Chastain series is released. When she reads it and discovers he’s killed off her favourite character she’s rather…displeased. Considering that her mood swings wider than an articulated lorry the man was lucky to survive her initial reading. After forcing him to burn the novel he’s just finished (because it has too many swear words in it) she has him to write another book in the Misery series that she loves and that he absolutely despises.

So, there’s mental and physical torture. Just like my Christmases.  This film spoke to me on such a level, I can’t tell you.

Then there’s, you know, the scene.

Misery

And now, Ms Bates will demonstrate the key features of the latest in our line of sledgehammers.

Certain scenes stay with you forever. That’s one of them.

For those of you who haven’t seen the film–Bates does an interpretive dance with the sledgehammer and a four by four. It’s remarkably moving and entirely unforgettable. Bring a tear to your eye, it will.

From what I’ve heard about James Caan, there were probably more than a few people in Hollywood who would’ve liked to have swung that hammer themselves. You know, in interpretive dance.

There’s also a deleted scene where Annie kills a policeman by running over him repeatedly with a lawnmower, but it was cut, as Rob Reiner thought it would make people laugh. Apparently Bates was disappointed by the removal of that scene, and holy moly would I love to see it.

Anyway, this one wasn’t so much of a review as a One of My Fav Christmas Films and Here’s Why. But you should see it.

I know today is the day after Christmas– Boxing Day in Commonwealth countries (which has nothing to do with pugilism)–but if you’re sick to the back teeth of your relatives for one holiday season, then pop this one on and laugh and laugh and laugh.

And think of me when you do.

Dec
19
2013

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

by V. L. Craven

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

If you’re not a huge fan of Christmas films then  Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale  may be the sort of thing you can stand. It’s about the real Santa Claus, who was from Finland and was captured by angry villagers (he kept killing the naughty children because Old Saint Nick used to take the ‘naughty’ part of ‘naughty or nice’ hella serious.) Once captured he was frozen and buried in a mountain.

In the present day, some Americans come along and get him out to bring him back to the States because America. This goes about as well as you’d imagine.

Three reindeer hunters go after their source of income only to find something else has got to it first. One of the hunter’s sons, Pietari, knows what’s going on, but no one listens to him because he’s a kid and because adults. Once the bizarre occurrences begin piling up (all of the radiators have been stolen for one), Pietari’s father takes him more seriously. He’s the one who has to save Christmas, by dealing with the real Santa Claus. And the real Santa Claus don’t play.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Pictured: Not. Playing.

Based and filmed in breath-taking Korvatunturi  in Finland, the setting is a character in itself. And for good reason. From the Wikipedia page:

Korvatunturi is best known as the home of  Father Christmas  (or  Joulupukki  in Finnish). According to Finnish Folklore, this land is the location of Father Christmas’ secret workshop, where toys, trinkets and gifts are made and eventually wrapped by  gnomes . Known for their good natured demeanor and their role as guardians of homes, these gnomes are also responsible for analysing weather patterns for the yearly gift-giving trip around the world.People have also said that the ear-shaped structure of the fell allows Father Christmas to hear the wishes of every child on Earth.

For post to Father Christmas Korvatunturi has postal code  99999 Korvatunturi , even though all post sent to this address will actually be carried to  Santa Claus Village  at  Rovaniemi .

So there you are. Google Earth didn’t need to go through the trouble of inventing Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, because it’s actually in Finland.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Still so incredibly Not. Playing.

Though there is definitely an overall sense of uncertainty of what’s going to happen, and kids are in danger at times, it’s still a Christmas film and it’s safe for kids to watch. Ten and over, I’d say, perhaps even eight and over. It is still darker than what American audiences are used to at the holidays, which is why I liked it (and I would have loved it as a child.)

If I had children, this would be a tradition in our house, definitely. Mostly because there are great moments of laugh out loud humour. At times, it’s only a few paces away from an Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film. I’m usually against English-language remakes, but if it does happen, that’s the team that would make me grumble least. So you guys have at it.

Dec
12
2013

Becoming Santa

by V. L. Craven

Becoming Santa

No, you’re not on the wrong site. Do not adjust your monitor. This is a non-ironic, non-horror related post about Christmas. Just occasionally, something that would touch a Normal makes it through and gets me. Fear not, tis but a blip. But what a wonderful blip it is.

Becoming Santa  is a documentary about Jack Sanderson who decided to be Santa for one holiday season. He grew out his hair and beard and dyed it white then had a suit specially made. He attends  Santa School  to be certain he’s doing it right. That section is hilarious. A great portion of the documentary is laugh out loud funny. Sanderson himself is very personable and insightful (if you’ve ever wondered what Phillip Seymour Hoffman would look like as Santa, here’s your chance to find out.)

After the physical preparation, Sanderson takes various gigs (not jobs, because it’s all volunteer) on the Polar Express, and at a surprise (to him) tree lighting, and being a rock star in a parade. He even does a few ‘sneak and peeks’ where families have him put presents down and they wake up their kids to see Santa in the house.

Another big part of the film is the history of Santa Claus, which is presented by various authorities on the subject and is interspersed between sections of Sanderson’s transformation process and Santa gigs around the country. They even get into Black Pete  which somehow  still exists in 2013.

One of the authorities is Ernest Berger from Santa-America , which is a fantastic organisation that provides highly-trained, committed Santas for unhurried visits to children with autism or in hospice or in other complex circumstances. Check out their site. They do good work.

Another group that came up later was Letters to Santa , which takes all the letters in a certain city that arrive at the post office addressed to Santa and helps kids get the gifts they need. One child asked for a special needs wheelchair that cost $20,000, their family couldn’t afford it, but the organisation put an ad in the paper and the next day they had the chair for the child for Christmas. The group originated in New York, but several other cities participate now, as well. The link above will tell you how to help if your city has one or how to set one up where you live.

I genuinely enjoyed it. At the very end some onion cutting ninja broke in for a bit because it reminded me of being small. When you’re young enough to believe in Santa you’re also young enough to not see all the things wrong at home, and for me it was just before my brain chemistry went doolally. So he signifies happy ignorance (which is generally happy, but go with me). I miss that sometimes. The expression on some of those kids’ faces, man… they’ll remind you. They are looking at the embodiment of happiness, of sheer joy and it shows on their faces. And if you’ve experienced that for yourself it’s difficult not to relive it when watching Becoming Santa. The experience changed Sanderson more than he expected and it’s easy to see why and how that happened. It would have changed even me.

Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

Nov
07
2013

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

by V. L. Craven
Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving by William J Wilgus (1819-53)

There’s a new show based on Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. I was going to give it a miss, but then I found out they shoot it where I live and it’s always fun to play spot-the-location. My introduction was a cartoon, which I’ll get to, but I wanted to compare some of the adaptions (cartoon, film and TV series) and realised I hadn’t read the story. So that came first. It’s available from Gutenberg  for free.

Irving’s writing is incredibly atmospheric and he captures nature beautifully. The characters are two-dimensional, though, and not likeable–particularly the protagonist and his crush, Katrina van Tassel. Typical of a short story, there isn’t a great deal going on–the descriptions and atmosphere are the selling points. Oh, and prepare yourself for the casual racism. This was written in the early 1800s. It’s pretty minimal compared to other things I’ve read written during that time, but it’s still there. Be warned.

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

This was the only scene I remembered.

As mentioned, my introduction to the story was the Disney cartoon , made in 1949. Which, upon, re-viewing, was rather disappointing. My young mind had glossed over the romance, greed, and singing and paid sole attention to the spookier aspects like the headless horseman and chase through the woods. The singing, however, does happen in the story. In fact, the cartoon is holds very close to the source material. They leave out the racism, thankfully, and they cut down on the general spookiness, but overall it’s quite accurate.

What was odd was that I could have sworn there was a bit where Brom Bones and his friends had pulled the prank where they chased Crane, pretending to be the Horseman. Because I was expecting it in the Burton adaptation. I have a very clear memory of this happening. The way the brain works, wow.

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

‘I swear, I’d lose my head if it weren’t screwed on… DAMMIT’

Many years later (as in decades) Tim Burton remade the tale with a bunch of spectacular actors, including Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman. This will probably always be the definitive version for me because it’s Burton, whose aesthetic pleases me greatly, and because of the aforementioned cast. He changed…nearly everything. Except he made two very minor characters mentioned in passing in the story into important characters in the film.

Burton’s version is visually dark–it’s Burton, what do you want?–though the story happens in Autumn in New England when everything would have been reds and golds and oranges. Ichabod was, indeed, a wimp, so that remained the same, but Katrina became a witch (something that would carry over into the TV series), rather than the vacuous flirt from the story and cartoon and there was blood and a real horseman. Something that’s left up in the air in the story and cartoon.

Sleepy Hollow and Its Various Incarnations

Eventually spring will come to Sleepy Hollow…that won’t be spooky…

So then Fox announced they were making a television show called  Sleepy Hollow  and I was sceptical. How could they take a short story and make it into a series? But after reading this review  I decided to give it a shot and I’m glad I did.

The first two episodes were the set up and people getting to grips with their roles in the battle with the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The third episode felt like the first ‘real’ episode, if that makes sense. The one where they work out who a baddie is and take it down, Buffy-style. The entire show is very Buffy-like–dramatic and supernatural and occasionally laugh out loud funny. They’ve already renewed it for a second series, which I’m very glad to hear, particularly since our landlord’s daughter is now working on the show.

And I get to pretend I live in a city like Sunnydale, but I’m not one of the stupid people who gets killed on a regular basis. Seriously, that place must have had a ridiculously high death rate.

 

 

Oct
31
2013

The American Scream

by V. L. Craven

The American Scream

Each year in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, three houses are turned into Haunts, where average people make their own haunted attractions that draw in hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors. The American Scream is about those three households.

There’s the father of two who loves spooky DYI, but who didn’t get to celebrate Halloween growing up and who has, perhaps, overcompensated by going overboard every year in October. His decorations are incredible, his spirit contagious, his family supportive even when the stress of trying to make everything perfect begins to wear on him.

Then there’s the everyday Joe who just likes to have fun with it. If it looks good and it’s scary it works. He adds things each year, but doesn’t go crazy and doesn’t get too stressed out.

Then there’s…the third one. Which really has to be seen to be appreciated. There’s a ‘specialness’ about the third family that’s difficult to describe. It’s a man and his dad. And they have their own peculiar take on what’s frightening. And they are not wrong–their decorations are unsettling, but more in a, ‘Have I just stumbled into the backyard of a deranged individual,’ than, ‘Clearly, this is a haunted house made for my amusement,’ sort of way.

All three people do what they do because they love it. They look forward to October the way some people look forward to Christmas, a sentiment I can absolutely identify with.

The documentary itself is well done enough. It’s really about the people–there are some excellent, human moments. I highly recommend this one–it’s on Netflix, if that’s available to you. And if any of you have been to any of the houses I would love to hear your stories.

Oct
03
2013

Stoker

by V. L. Craven

Stoker

After high school student, India Stoker’s, father dies suddenly her uncle, Charlie, arrives out of nowhere. He endears himself to Evelyn–his brother’s widow–straightaway, but India distrusts him. It’s odd that she’s never even heard of the man until her father’s funeral. However, the longer he’s around, the more intrigued she becomes. Other people are equally wary of the man, as well, but their objections aren’t heard, as they all seem to disappear rather quickly.

You want dark secrets? You can have them. You want a tense what-the-hell-will-happen atmosphere? Here you are.

Stoker  is sort of American Beauty for psychopaths.

The script is by Wentworth Miller (yes, the guy from Prison Break–it’s his first writing credit, as well–nice one.) The cinematography is gorgeous and the visual effects are stunning. The sets are appropriately elegant and the soundtrack is a perfect complement.

Both Matthew Goode and Nicole Kidman are good, but Mia Wasikowska’s India is fantastic. She reminds me of a cross between Wednesday Addams and Darlene Conner in all the best ways.

If you liked The Bleeding House you’ll probably like this and vice versa.

And the posters were great. Have another.

Stoker

Emily Wells’ ‘Becomes the Color’ is the song that plays over the end credits. I’m in love with it just a little.

Sep
19
2013

Ghost Story the Film – A Review

by V. L. Craven

Ghost Story the Film   A Review

After finishing Peter Straub’s masterful Ghost Story I decided to watch the 1981 film version.

On paper, it has promise. It stars Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (it’s their final film), as well as Alice Krige (who would go on to play Christabella in Silent Hill). But the Wikipedia page (which is full of spoilers) says: ‘The plot is taken from the novel of the same name by Straub, but greatly changes and simplifies it.’ Which just about sums it up.

Without reading the book, one of the main character’s breakdowns–which is moved straight to the beginning for maximum confusion–makes zero sense.

The film starts slowly (fair dues, so does the book)–and then picks up for a bit before a very unsatisfying ending if you’ve read the book and a predictable one if you’ve seen many horror films.

Then there are the make up special effects, which happen with regularity in the film and wouldn’t have occurred in the book at all. Film is a visual medium, but, good grief.

I watched the film with my husband, who had not read the book, and he didn’t understand who or what Gregory and Fenny Bate were.

Sep
12
2013

A Series of Unfortunate Events

by V. L. Craven

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I’ve recently rewatched Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and thought I’d share for those of you who perhaps meant to see it and forgot or put it off because you thought it was a kid’s movie, etc. Well, here’s a review.

The plot of the film is comprised of the first three books in the quite successful series .

Starting with:

The Bad Beginning

The Baudelaire children, Violet, Claus and Sunny find out that their parents have died in a fire that also destroyed their home. Their solicitor, Mr Poe (Timothy Spall) then informs them that they will be placed with a Count Olaf (Jim Carrey). A person they’ve never heard of before.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

He’s going to start chewing on that in about three seconds.

The moment they arrive he gives them various tasks, one of which is making dinner for his Goth acting troupe (including Luis Guzman, Craig Ferguson, Jane Adams, and Jennifer Coolidge) in what looks like the kitchen from Withnail and I.

The kids realise Count Olaf is after their money and try to tell Mr Poe, but he doesn’t listen and soon, Olaf is granted custody. Immediately thereafter, he sets about getting their inheritance one way or another. (One way is gruesome death, the other is also gruesome death.)

After one of these plots doesn’t work out so well Mr Poe takes the kids to another ‘relative’, which brings us to…

The Reptile Room

The orphans are then given to Uncle Monty (Billy Connelly), who is also not a blood relation, but this one is at least jolly and, aside from the plethora of reptiles in the house, seems to mean the children no harm. He’s very recently discovered the Incredibly Deadly Viper and knows there are others in the herptelogical world jealous of his discovery. So when a suspicious character Stephano ‘An Italian Man’ arrives, and the kids prove that he knows nothing about snakes, Uncle Monty puts it down to jealousy over his discovery.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

This guy. He’s lethal.

After some unfortunate events involving Uncle Monty and ‘Stephano’ Mr Poe steps in again and takes the kids to another non-blood related relative. And that begins…

The Wide Window

The children are delivered across lake Lachrymose to Aunt Josephine (Meryl Streep), who lives at the edge of a cliff just before a hurricane is set to blow in. And she is afraid of everything. Including doorknobs.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you.

Eventually, at the market, they run into Count Olaf in the guise of Captain Sham, who chats up Aunt Josephine. She has the children stay behind to buy food for dinner whilst they go back to her house to talk some more. By the time the children get back… well, more unfortunate events have transpired.

After which Mr Poe decides it’s perhaps best if the Baudelaire orphans return to Count Olaf. During this conversation, the lawyer reveals that Olaf would receive nothing if something were to happen to the children. There was only one way around it. Count Olaf, of course, tries to use that caveat as hard as he can and the kids try to outsmart him.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Lemony Snicket is portrayed by (though we only hear his voice) Jude Law. I spent the first half of the film thinking it was Martin Freeman. Whoops.

There are also delightful cameos by Catherine O’Hara, Helena Bonham Carter, Dustin Hoffman, and Jane Lynch.

Jim Carrey was Jim Carrey. His rubber face, over-acting schtick worked well for the role, but for me the appeal was everything else. The neo-Victorian sets, the Steampunky gadgets Violet invented, Sunny’s Cousin Itt-like ability to only be understood by her family, (but still had the funniest lines), and the cameos. CGI was clearly a huge part (ILM did over 500 effects) but there were very few moments where it was obvious.

It had a Tim Burtony feel (Burton was originally set to direct with Depp as Olaf, but when Burton left, Depp did, as well); and it had an almost Addams Family vibe (Barry Sonnenfeld and Scott Rudin were both briefly involved) and will likely please fans of either of those sorts of films. Or people who like Edward Gorey, particularly the  Gashlycrumb Tinies .

It was one of those films that was cursorily for kids, but would also appeal to adults. Just like the books. And it stood up to a second viewing, which isn’t something you can say about many ‘kids’ movies. And I will probably watch it again. Overall, I’d give it a 7/10.

And it has this fantastic end title:

The Gothic Archies also did an album of music called The Tragic Treasury: Songs from A Series of Unfortunate Events  which are songs from each of the audio books (most of which were read by Tim Curry because perfect casting does happen occasionally on this Earth) from each book. Daniel Handler (Snicket) is a member of The Gothic Archies. Which only serves to make me like him more.

And if you liked the film, please consider reading the books. They are great fun. A website for which is  here . It has games and information about upcoming books (currently prequels about Snicket’s life are being published), and videos and things. I feel jealous for children growing up now, as no one wrote things for Gothic little girls when I was little.

These kids today have no idea how good they have it. If you’ll excuse me, I have to go scare some kids away from Old Ms Craven’s house, as they keep daring each other to touch the front porch.

Sep
05
2013

The Winter Guest

by V. L. Craven

The Winter Guest

The Winter Guest was the original film I thought of when doing this series of reviews set in cold climates. It’s also one of my top five favourite films. Everything about it is perfect–acting, directing, set design, score, cinematography. It’s the sort of film that, every time I watch it, I’m surprised yet again at how beautiful it is and at how well all of the pieces work together.

That said, it’s always difficult to write about one of your favourite pieces of media, be it book, film, or music, as the way it moves you is as much to do with who you are as it is about the actual piece of art. Still, I’m going to give it a go.

The film is directed by Alan Rickman (yes, that one), who also adapted the screenplay from the play by Sharman MacDonald. Prior to making the film, Rickman directed the play–three of the eight actors from the stage version appeared in the film.

The Winter Guest

Set so far north in Scotland that the sea freezes, the film focuses on eight people; a mother and daughter (played by Emma Thompson and her real-life mother, Phyllida Law), two young boys skiving off from school (one of whom will go on to play Oliver Wood, the Gryffindor Keeper), two elderly women who frequently attend strangers’ funerals, and two teenagers who argue and flirt.

It’s a quiet film that feels very much like a play–most scenes are between two characters at a time. For people who are used to blockbusters it will feel like nothing is happening, but all sorts of things are going on beneath the surface. Not unlike the sea that is outwardly frozen, but is certainly roiling beneath the ice.

It’s probably the most character-driven film I’ve ever seen. The depth of each character is such that it’s difficult to sum up each one succinctly so, for fear of cocking it up entirely, I’m not going to try. Yes, that’s a cop out, but I’m not trying to sell people on Remembrance of Things Past , either, even though it’s my favourite book. I don’t think I could do it justice.

On top of the performances and directing and the stark radiance of Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography (which I could look at all day) Michael Kamen’s score is the perfect complement. And then there are Robin Don’s incredible sets. There’s a beauty and delicacy to everything in the film. It’s a masterpiece.

And now that I haven’t oversold it at all , find it and see it for yourself. Make a mug of hot cocoa, wrap  up in your warmest blanket, and enjoy this under-appreciated classic.

The Winter Guest

Aug
15
2013

The Last Winter

by V. L. Craven

The Last Winter

Indenpent environmentalists are sent to gauge the  possibility of a drilling operation in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in the middle of winter, where the temperatures are fluctuating wildly and it’s raining. In February.

Some members are more interested in getting rigs in to give America energy independence, whilst others would rather protect the environment. When one member is found naked and frozen near a test well that had been drilled two decades before one of the characters thinks it’s the Wendigo (which is the subject of a spectacular Algernon Blackwood story ). Another hypothesis is that it’s sour gas that’s seeping up because the permafrost is melting and it made their colleague insane.

After another character dies under odd circumstances they decide to go to the nearest hospital, but the plane coming to get them has some difficulties and they wind up stranded.

The Last Winter

Whatever the hell it is causes hellacious hallucinations and homicidal tendencies. One-by-one the members of the group get separated and Bad Things happen in different ways.

The Last Winter is one of those films that leaves a lot up to the viewer–it’s the sort of film you can watch with friends and discuss what it’s actually about. If you dislike ambiguous endings you’ll want to avoid this one. The ambiguity is what saved it from being typical Hollywood fare, however, if it had been revealed as being aliens or the environment or even an evil force bent on destroying humanity for no reason it would have been mediocre. Overall I’d give it a 8/10.

Oh yeah, and there are ravens. Always a good sign.

Aug
08
2013

The Ice Storm

by V. L. Craven

The Ice Storm

I’ve always loved the look of an unbroken plain of snow. The hush it gives the world. How, in the moonlight, it can be so bright. How, when you live some place unprepared for it, you get out of school for flurries. Cold weather clothes are my favourite, as well. Oddly, I do not care to actually be cold. I do, however, like that when it’s cold one can use that as an excuse not to leave the house. And I like looking at cold things. Like films set in cold climates or during cold snaps. And since it’s currently ridiculously hot and humid where I am I’m choosing to chill out with some cool films over the next few weeks.

If the idea appeals to you, here are some lists of suggestions:

Time:  Top 10 Freezing Cold Movies
Letterbox: Gloomy Movies Set in the Cold
A.V. Club: No Cure for Cabin Fever: 16 Memorable Films Set During Cold Snaps

The first film in this series of reviews is The Ice Storm by Ang Lee.

The Ice Storm

It’s Thanksgiving 1973 and it’s a groovy time. Except for the ridiculous amount of dysfunction running rampant in the Carvers and the Hoods, the households the plot centres around.

You’ve got all of the 70s–swinging, Nixon, casual drug use, marriage counseling is all the rage, etc. And every single character is having some sort of sexual problem. Either they’re sleeping with the wrong person (or trying to) or they’re frustrated in their marriage or they’re a teenager–and not the kind having easy sex. Everyone is trying to figure themselves out–adults and kids alike. It’s like a metaphor for the 70s, in a way. the rules were no longer hard and fast and people didn’t know where that left them.

The backdrop to all of this is cold, cold weather, culminating in the titular ice storm. Even though it was actually shot during the spring, the cinematographer, Frederick Elmes, did an excellent job of making it feel cold. The scenes outside even before the weather turns is beautiful; and once the weather does turn towards the worse, one of the characters takes a walk. And it’s gorgeous.

The Ice Storm

The Ice Storm is a character-driven, quiet piece, much like Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, which puts much of the weight on the actors.

Which brings us to the cast. The younger set are Christina Ricci, Elijah Woods, Tobey Maguire, Katie Holmes and David Krumholtz. This was released in 1997 so they were really young. It was Katie Holmes’ film debut.

The adults are Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Jamey Sheridan. Allison Janney has a great smaller bit. All of the performances were excellent.

Released in 1997, it was based on a 1994 novel written by Rick Moody, who, apparently enjoyed the movie so much he wept through the closing credits. I’m sure many other authors have wept through the end credits of film adaptations of their work, but I’m not sure how many of those tears were out of joy.

This is one of those films where everything worked together very well. The writing, directing, acting, soundtrack, etc. It would be good any day of the year, but it’s perfect for a sweltering day in August.

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