Autodidact: self-taught

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.

Apr
10
2014

Inside No. 9

by V. L. Craven

Inside No 9

Inside No. 9 is the newest show from two of the four members of the League of Gentlemen , Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.

Each episode is stand-alone and, being a British show, there are only six episodes. The action of each episode occurs in a different place with the address of No. 9. All are residences save one, which is dressing room number 9.

As you’d expect from these two, there are a host of creepy characters–some are in bizarre situations, others in are seemingly ordinary situations that turn surreal. All of them are original and surprising. The second episode was particularly creative, as there’s no dialogue.

Inside No 9, Sardines

The first episode ‘Sardines’, concerning a party game in a mansion that seems just a bit…off, dragged a bit, but turned out to be a nice start to the series. It fell firmly into the average people in a slowly devolving into a sinister situation sort of episode. It was also one of the funniest of the lot. Some of the guest stars in the episode were Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Katherine Parkinson and Anne Reid, which kept things interesting.

Inside No 9 A Quiet Night In

The second episode ‘A Quiet Night In’, as mentioned above, has no dialogue. Background music supplies all of the commentary about what’s going on. It concerns two hapless criminals (Sheersmith and Pemberton) who are trying to steal a piece of modern art from a house whilst the owners are in and out of the room and also in the midst of a domestic crisis. Tension is built nicely and the viewer finds themselves rooting for the ‘bad guys’, as their evening is definitely not going to plan.

Inside No 9 Tom and Gerri

The third episode ‘Tom and Gerri’ (‘her last boyfriend was Ben’) was the strongest both plot-wise and in terms of characterisation. Sheersmith is a teacher who really wants to be a writer. One day when his actress girlfriend, Gerri (Gemma Arterton), is at an audition, he has an interaction with the homeless man (Pemberton) who lives across the street. Then everything goes a bit funny and not in a ha ha sort of way.

Inside No 9 Last Gasp

This is followed by the weakest episode ‘Last Gasp’ about a little girl with a terminal illness who has asked the Wish-Maker charity for a visit by her favourite singer (David Bedella) for her birthday. When he dies while blowing up a balloon for her there becomes a power struggle between the adults (Pemberton, Tamsin Grieg, Sophie Thompson, Adam Deacon) over what to do with his last breath. This one never comes together. The characters felt incomplete. But I’ll forgive anything with Grieg in it.

Inside No 9 The Understudy

‘The Understudy’ was the penultimate episode. The titular character (Sheersmith) is hesitant to push his luck with the overbearing lead of the company he’s in (Pemberton). His girlfriend (Lyndsey Marshal) is more ambitious for him–knowing he has more talent than he gives himself credit for. When Pemberton breaks his long sobriety our man assumes his girlfriend is to blame, but as with the play the company is performing–Macbeth–things do not go well and there is blood indeed. Julia Davis is hilarious as the lesbian stage manager.

Inside No 9 Harrowing

I think my favourite episode was the final one, ‘The Harrowing’, which was of the extraordinary characters in a surreal situation type. It was about a teenage girl asked to baby-sit for an evening whilst two Poe-like characters (this is even acknowledged, much to my delight) have one of their very rare evenings out. The female character is played my Helen McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films and was perfectly cast in the Madeleine Usheresque role. The girl brings her friend along, which is fortunate because the house is absolutely terrifying, with art depicting all the torments of hell. The girl is informed that she’s really there to house-sit as their older brother doesn’t actually need anything most of the time. But she’s there ‘just in case’. It was somewhat less developed in some ways, and the only one that seemed like the main characters could go on to be in other sketches. Or perhaps that was my wishful thinking.

Whether they appear in the next series or not–bring on series two, please.

Feb
27
2014

Seven Psychopaths

by V. L. Craven

Seven Psychopaths film poster

 

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.

Dec
19
2013

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

by V. L. Craven

Rare Exports Official Poster

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.

Pictured: Not. Playing.

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.

Still so incredibly Not. Playing.

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.

Oct
05
2013

The Worst Witch

by V. L. Craven

It’s finally October! Let’s get this month started right with a classic Halloween film. Diana Rigg, Charlotte Rae, Fairuza Balk and the, always fabulously wicked, Tim Curry? Yes, please!

The entire film on the YouTube? Yes, thank you!

Sep
12
2013

A Series of Unfortunate Events

by V. L. Craven

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.

Scenery chewing in 3...2...

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.

Sunny hugs the viper

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.

Series of Unfortunate Meryl

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.

Series of Unfortunate Events Snicket

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
07
2013

The Kransky Sisters

by V. L. Craven

The Kransky Sisters

The Kransky Sisters are a musical group from Esk, in Queensland, Australia. Their names are Mourne, Eve, Arva and Dawn. Arva and Dawn have a different father than Mourne and Eve. Dawn took over tuba duties when Arva went off to join the Hornbell Military Marching Band. More information about their background here.

They live a very sheltered existence, but enjoy listening to music on the wireless and sharing dry, macabre stories before doing their versions of popular songs, which are always oddly applicable to the stories they tell.

I’m pretty sure they were the entertainment at the gathering in The Witches–we just didn’t stick around long enough to see them perform.

Basically, they’re my favourite thing at the mo. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever wished I lived in Australia.

From their website: In a quiet town in the middle of south east Queensland lives a huddle of strange sisters, whom, in between tending ants, knitting egg warmers, and hanging out cane toad skins to dry, travel around the country performing their popular musical shows to a growing following. With kitchen pot, toilet brush, keyboard, musical saw, tuba, guitar and duelling tambourines these three weird yet endearing spinsters present offbeat covers of songs ranging from Nana Mouskouri and Eurythmics to Talking Heads and The Bee Gees.

The sisters give us a bit more of their biological background in this video before they sing a bit of Highway to Hell:

The Kransky Sisters Banner

Until I learned about them, I had no idea a musical saw sounded so much like a theremin.

They also do hilarious print interviews, where they say things like:

EM: One of your covers ‘Pop Musik’ you heard in a disco at a night called Stark Raving Mad. Did you have a good experience? Would you go out clubbing again?

Kranksys: Those clubs are a bit strange. They look like one big dressing room, but no-one is putting their clothes back on. They are not kept well at all either. There was some sort of electricity problem the night we went to one, because the lights wouldn’t stop flashing on and off. They were faulty. Then there was a terrible screeching, scratching sound and smoke was everywhere. We left straight after we called the fire brigade.

I’ll leave you with a video of an interview:

Jul
20
2013

Ten Thousand Days

by V. L. Craven

Ten Thousand Days Still

In Ten Thousand Days, a man lives his life believing he’s going to die on his ten thousandth day. Things don’t go according to plan and that’s when his life really gets interesting.

Ten Thousand Days from Michael Duignan on Vimeo .

 

May
25
2013

The Passenger

by V. L. Craven

May
18
2013

How to Cope with Death

by V. L. Craven

Nov
29
2012

Come Sue with Me

by V. L. Craven

aaaaaaaall of the offensiveness

Come Fly with Me is a new sketch show by Matt Lucas and David Walliams, the people behind Little Britain.

This one is set in and around an airport in London with Lucas and Walliams playing all of the main characters.

Wow.

Just when I thought House doing black face was the most offensive thing British people could get away with that Americans could never do…

Lucas and Walliams show up and do their level best to offend everyone.

Starting with Precious Little, a black woman who runs a coffee shop. She’s lazy, hypocritical and always singing songs about Jesus.

My hypothesis is that, whilst writing the series, Lucas and Walliams had a giant poster reading, ‘Leave No One Unoffended.’ A good drinking game would be to take a shot every time someone says or does something that would get an entertainer in America sued blind.

Interestingly, there are no American characters, either being offended or being offensive. They get everyone else, though, including Welsh, Irish and Scottish people, so they’re not only taking the piss from those who have different amounts of melanin in their skin.

During the commentary of Little Britain in America David Walliams said he’d sometimes forget he was dressed as an old woman and would be trying to chat up girls between takes. So, in Come Fly with Me the actors had to stand around in public between takes while dressed as some staggeringly racist characters. There had to be moments when they were standing there thinking, ‘What the hell have I done… This seemed like a much better idea when we were writing it…’

Oct
19
2012

Fun Films for October 3

by V. L. Craven

Certainly, Battleship was a rather questionable idea for a film, but that doesn’t mean that game-as-screenplay is always a stinker of an idea. For example, the first film based on a board game was Clue (the game was called Cluedo in Britain, though the film was ‘Clue’).

An all-star ensemble in a mansion during a violent storm. No one knows why they’re there or who the other guests are and they’re not allowed to use their real names–having been given pseudonyms, ‘Mrs Peacock, Professor Plum,’ etc. It comes out that they do, in fact have something in common, though. They’re all being blackmailed by the same person–a person none of them have met. One of the ‘guests’ reveals he is the blackmailer and… If you’ve seen it you don’t need to read the plot synopsis and if you haven’t seen it then go. Go watch it now.

There’s thunder, lightning, power cuts, secret passageways, a rambling mansion with a creepy basement and spooky attic… It’s a great October film.

With its wordplay and physical comedy, it’s a cult fav, as some people think it’s awful but others find it to be utterly brilliant. Guess on which side I fall. This was one of my favourite films growing up–I can still quote large portions of it. But this, this is classic:

And a compilation of the 25 best moments by some kind soul on YouTube:

 

Speaking of an ensemble cast of characters invited to a mysterious house for reasons unknown, another very fun film is Murder By Death, written by Neil Simon. This time, everyone knows who everyone else is, as they’re the world’s best detectives (or spoofs of them, in this case). There are stand-ins for Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan, Sam Spade, and Nick and Nora Charles. Alec Guinness is wonderful as the blind cook, Nancy Walker is hilarious for the deaf and dumb maid and Truman Capote (of all people) plays the host of the party.

Lionel Twain (Capote) has invited the world’s best detectives to his house for a murder. If one of them solves the case they win one million U.S. dollars, but if no one can solve it then that will prove that Twain is actually the best detective and the rest are frauds. Within the universe of the film, it’s as though the detectives write about their own cases and leave out important facts or invent ridiculous plot twists so the readers have no way of working out the guilty. The weekend is a way of paying them back for those sins. No one scene really stands out in this one–though quotable lines abound.

Murder By Death was partially shot at Oakley Court, Windsor in Berkshire:

Which was Frankenfurter’s castle in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, shot the previous year. (RHPS is a great October film, but I don’t know what to say about it other than: Tim Curry** in fishnets.)

Are there ‘spooky’ films of this nature set in the present? Murder By Death is set in the 20s, Haunted Honeymoon is set in the 30s and Clue is set in the 1950s.

 

**Of the six films I’m posting about for October, Mr. Curry is in three of them: Worst Witch, Clue and RHPS. Apparently, the man likes giant castles in the murk as much as I do.

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