Reviews


In Trailer Trash (did you see what I did there?), I’ll be inspecting new trailers and explaining why I, and perhaps I alone, will be respectfully declining any opportunity to see more than the allotted two minutes of the movie on display. Today I’ve picked out this little treasure, I Kissed a Vampire. Yes, vampires again. Yawn.

Apparently, it’s the first feature length episode of some web series that’s been a hit among a large group of young, and seemingly undemanding, human folk. Or something.

Release The Curmudgeon!

I Kissed a Vampire

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/dBSSKsjPeEQ?rel=0

5 Reasons Why I Won’t Be Seeing This Movie

1. Fucking Teenage Vampires. Again.

Lord, give me strength. When will they stop? When did stringy, whiny teenagers manage to hijack an entire genre like this?  Vampires are supposed to be scary, menacing, creatures of the night, not ridiculous Justin Bieber wannabes who’ve been raiding their mum’s make-up. And where exactly does a vampire get the money for hair gel, anyway? ‘Half a monster and half a man’, eh? You’re neither, brat face.

2. Feeble Music.

Believe it or not, this is advertised as a ‘Rock Musical’. Oh, really? That piece of engineered, focus group approved teeny crap is what passes for rock these days? Not quite Hendrix, is it? ‘I Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ couldn’t be a more apt title for the song on the trailer since that’s exactly the condition the tune engenders. Trust me, you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night, begging for a lobotomy, with that irritating jingle lodged in your brain like a mocking tumour of mockery.

3. Awful Puns

‘You’ve really gotta get over your fang-ups and take a bite out of life’. Hilarious! We’ve hit comedy gold! Do you see what they did there? They said ‘fang’ instead of ‘hang’! I think my head just fell off. Where’s Kenneth Williams when you need him? One can only hope they’ve included the other classics, such as ‘He’s a real pain in the neck’, ‘Fangs for the memories’, and the immortal ‘How do you like your stake?’. Guffaw, snort, tee hee, etc.

4. The Walls are Closing In

Was this movie filmed in someone’s garage? Talk about micro-budget set design. It’s like a 1970′s BBC production or a student project. There doesn’t appear to be a set much larger than my kitchen, including the world’s most compact fairground. They’re hoping that if they shine enough coloured light bulbs around no-one will notice. But just in case, they’ll nip out to the beach periodically to relieve the claustrophobia.

5. Fucking Teenage Vampires. Again.

Yeah, I know I did this one already but, frankly, there’s so little going for this thing that I can’t even find five reasons not to see it. You’ve got four reasons and that beats me simply writing EVERYTHING in big letters under the video. And don’t think I wasn’t tempted.

Quod erat demonstratum.

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This is why we love cinema

Starring: Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Christopher Lee, Jude Law

Director: Martin Scorsese

Screenplay: John Logan (from the book by Brian Selznick)

‘I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured, if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.’ 

Orphan boy Hugo Cabret lives behind the walls of Paris railway station, keeping the station clocks going while attempting to fix a clockwork man found by his father. When he becomes involved with the old man who runs a toy booth, Hugo stumbles upon an old secret, and an opportunity to fix something long broken.

Martin Scorsese is full of surprises. The last thing you would expect from the man who brought usRaging Bull, Goodfellas and Taxi Driver is a whimsical children’s tale. And yet, Hugo turns out to be a movie that perhaps only Scorsese, the movie historian’s director, could have made. Indeed, it is glib to describe this a simply a children’s movie, since at its heart Hugo is nothing less than a love letter to cinema itself.

Adapted from the huge, heavily illustrated, book by Brian Selznick, Scorsese and his production crew work hard to faithfully bring Selznick’s words and pictures to life. Set in a fairy-tale Paris, and bathed in rich primary hues, Hugo is wrapped in a little bit of magic from the outset. Like the films of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet, or indeed Georges Méliès, whose presence is central to the film, Hugo exists in a sort of hyper-reality. Scorsese has always been a master with the camera, but almost every shot in Hugo looks like it was cut from an Impressionist’s canvas. It is a beautiful piece of film-making.

At the movie’s core is Asa Butterfield, affecting if not always convincing as the titular orphan, scurrying around the station and watching its array of oddball characters going about their day-to-day routines. Surrounding him is an impressive gallery of predominantly British character actors, including Christopher Lee as the enigmatic bookshop keeper and Sacha Baron Cohen, restraining himself as the station’s oafish Inspector. Chloë Grace Moretz affects an impressive English accent as the Granddaughter of Ben Kingsley’s surly, embittered Georges Méliès and it is the relationship between Méliès and Hugo, both lost and waiting to be fixed, that forms the warm heart and soul of the movie. Scorsese is adept enough to never allow the film to fall into easy patterns of schmaltz or cloying sentiment, nor does he bring on darkness for its own sake, rather striking enough of a balance to make the moments of joy real, welcome and uplifting.

It was all going so well until Little Jimmy said, ‘I loved you in Star Trek’.

Where Hugo truly succeeds is in the way it skillfully weaves a fantasy tale around the reality of Georges Méliès, one of cinema’s earliest pioneers, and his elderly years. Those who know nothing of Méliès are nevertheless presented with a wonderful fairy-tale, brimming with the kind of childlike innocence rarely found in modern cinema, and those who are aware of his work will find a loving, poignant tribute to cinema’s adolescent years. Never is this more entertainingly realised than during those scenes where Scorsese recreates the shooting of some of Méliès’s best known films, such as A Trip to the Moon. It is impossible not to be carried along with Kingsley’s childlike enthusiasm for his dancing skeletons, insect-people and the very earliest of special effects. “Everybody keep still!”

Ultimately, Hugo is a tale of innocence lost; the innocence of a boy who has lost his parents, the innocence of a nation returned from the Great War, the innocence of a man who believes his greatest triumphs are behind him. But also the innocence of cinema, a medium which once embraced, cherished and inspired only wonder and awe.

In the words of Georges Méliès himself, “If you ever wonder where your dreams come from, look around. This is where they’re made.”

At last night’s Oscars most of the big awards went to The Artist, another movie which casts a fond eye over the beginnings of celluloid. A little bit of a travesty, really, because for me it isHugo that is by far the superior movie.

5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Stubble of Men

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer

Director: James Watkins

Screenplay: Jane Goldman (from the novel by Susan Hill)

‘Please don’t go to Eel Marsh House.’

When young lawyer Arthur Kipps is sent to the remote village of Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of recently deceased widow Alice Drablow, he discovers a township gripped by fear. After spending a night in Mrs. Drablow’s Eel Marsh House, Arthur begins to unearth the truth behind a series of apparent child suicides and attracts the attention of a vengeful ghost.

Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black has enjoyed a wonderful shelf life since its publication in 1983.  An old fashioned ghost story in the spirit of M.R. James, it has spawned a successful stage play, now  in its 25th year, and numerous radio adaptations. In 1989 a British television movie was commissioned and broadcast on Christmas Eve which for many, myself included, remains one of the finest ghost story movies ever made. Now The Woman in Black has finally made it to the big screen, under the care of the newly reborn Hammer studios, with some big shoes to fill.

I was excited about this one since I am a big fan of the book, the play and the earlier movie. Of course, everyone else seems to be more excited about seeing Daniel Radcliffe without that stupid scar on his noggin and being all-grown-up-now, but whatever floats your boat or sells your movie. As someone left scratching his head on the dock while the great Harry Potter ship sailed off into history, I was able to enjoy The Woman in Black without that particular distraction. Unfortunately, I had a distraction of a different kind. My advice to you is go and see this movie in a cinema with good sound proofing. Or, failing that, go to a cinema that isn’t showing The Muppets in the adjacent screen. Nothing kills the atmosphere of a man quietly exploring an old, dark house like the distant sound of Gonzo’s singing chickens. Pretty sure they weren’t in the novel.

These days the simple ghost story is becoming something of an endangered species, mostly kept alive by Asian cinema and American ‘found footage’ movies, which is a shame. Modern audiences, happily fed on a diet of endless Saw and Final Destination sequels only seem to react to horror movies that beat them over the head, rather than something that takes the time to try and get under their skin. The YouTube generation aren’t interested in something that doesn’t shout or satisfy within three minutes. So James Watkins, whose previous effort, Eden Lake, had the far easier task of making teenagers scary, could easily have been tempted to betray the slow-build subtleties of the source material. Luckily, he hasn’t.

In a departure from the source material, Radcliffe’s Arthur is not a happy, eager young man with a loving family but a grieving widower, unable to let go of the wife who died giving birth to his son. It is a peculiar change but one that ultimately ties into the film’s resolution, also altered from the novel. It’s a bit of a stretch to accept Daniel Radcliffe as a father, no matter how much stubble he grows, but he wholeheartedly throws himself into a role which often requires little of him but to look miserable/tired/scared (*delete as applicable) at the appropriate moments.

Daniel discovers that the stairs don’t move here and Emma Watson isn’t going to save his ass.

The town of Crythin Gifford is smartly realised; small, gloomy and unwelcoming in the best tradition of the ghost story, and the central setting of Eel Marsh House is wonderfully spooky. It is within the confines of this house that The Woman in Black begins to do its work as Arthur is subjected to an escalating series of creepy encounters while he pieces together the story behind the haunting. Watkins builds the tension slowly, giving us only fleeting glimpses of the figure behind it all while never letting us forget that she is always present, if not visible. And, contrary to the novel, the apparitions are not limited to the woman herself, although this does sometimes seem a little like overkill.

Where The Woman in Black most falls down is in a third act that slips too much into needless sentiment, providing Arthur with a cozy, heart-warming character arc at the expense of what should have been the ghost’s unrelenting malevolence. In all fairness, it’s not a complete disaster and actually provides a pretty clever twist, but even so it stinks of a disappointing desire to provide the audience with a resolution to the story which won’t be too bleak for them. And I like my ghost stories with a sting in the tail.

All in all, The Woman in Black is a worthy attempt to bring the story to the big screen. However, my recommendation would still be to seek out the 1989 Granada Television version if you only intend to see the story once.

4 STARS

Starring:Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

“I drive.”

A stunt driver for the movies by day and a getaway driver for hire by nights, a solitary, nameless man’s life and psyche begin to unravel when he becomes drawn to the woman who lives next door.

Ryan Gosling should be careful. If he doesn’t start making superhero movies soon, people might think he’s an actual actor and everything. Having impressed in a series of indie movies, happily skirting the borders of fame for years, Gosling seems to have finally caught everyone’s eye with this Canne favourite. Which is odd because he has done a lot better.

Nicolas Winding Refn’s latest has won over many a critic with his stylish, deliberate exercise in cool. And there’s certainly no doubting the panache and gloss of Driver, which is more than accomplished visually. Refn clearly seems to have a particular time and place in cinema on his mind and with its retro soundtrack, sharp L.A. exteriors and central male enigma, Driver is more than a little reminiscent of 1980s Paul Schrader.

However, scratch beneath the surface of Driver and there is very little substance to find. In fact, it turns out to be a slow, pensive character study of a man seemingly without a character. Quite the challenge. The nameless driver is a strangely aimless, taciturn figure, almost to the point of being a vacuum. Occasionally he says something, every now and then he even smiles, but it is only toward the end, when his beguiling relationship with neighbour Irene and her son leads to tragedy, that the driver begins to show not just his true colours, but any colours at all. It’s a long wait.

It’s somewhat difficult to understand who Drive is aimed at. Fans of the usual car-based action movies such as The Fast and the Furious, or indeed the video games which many will find the movie resembling, could be disappointed by the paucity of actual driving scenes, although when they come they are impressively executed. On the flip side, lovers of more cerebral fare may find even their patience tested by the long silences and moments of sombre inactivity.

Ryan prepares for that superhero movie by lifting a car with one hand

Performances are almost all-round excellent, as far as they are allowed to go. Mulligan is quietly affecting as Irene and Cranston stands out as the driver’s boss and sponsor, Shannon. There is also a pleasing turn from Ron Perlman. The usually excellent Gosling, however, has centre stage and underplays it all a little too much. You neither like the driver nor dislike him, neither empathise nor really criticise (except perhaps toward the end when he finally snaps). There is simply nothing to work with in a character this banal. He’s like Rain Main but without the mumbling and amusing facts about air travel.

With some flashes of brilliance, there is an exceptional movie trapped somewhere in Drive but, ironically, drive is exactly what the end result is missing.

Rating – 2 Stars

Starring:Sean Rogerson, Juan Riedinger, Ashleigh Gryzko

Directors: The Vicious Brothers

 “I don’t know how much longer we can last. We’re not alone in here anymore.”

Paranormal investigation show, Grave Encounters, is now on its sixth episode and presenter Lance Preston and his team are locking themselves in the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital for the night. Expecting the kind of anti-climatic experience which has let the show down so far, the team find quite the opposite.

I’m a big fan of the increasingly prolific ‘found footage’ genre of horror movie. For some reason, its ratio of good to bad is unusually impressive. So I was very much looking forward to Grave Encounters, the debut from writer/director team The Vicious Brothers (who are not brothers and do not have the surname Vicious). Based on those often cheesy TV ghost-hunting shows which have found popularity over recent years, Grave Encounters simply takes the format and demonstrates what would happen if these people actually found something during one of their episodes. The filmmakers also expressed a desire to take a genre that is by nature often restrained to maintain realism and throw something a little more excessive into the mix. In this regard the filmmakers succeed, although not always to the movie’s benefit.

Grave Encounters takes it slow at first, giving us time to get to know Lance Preston, played with an amusing earnestness by Sean Rogerson, and his team of pantomime presenters and technicians as they settle into the impressive location for the night. The problem is that they are so convincing as they kind of people who usually front these shows that they are also, inevitably, rather irritating; all pretentious looks and solemn pronouncements. You are waiting for them to find out what being scared really is, and therefore never completely on their side when things go to hell.

It is when the hospital haunting begins in earnest that Grave Encounters both scales its heights and scrapes its lows. Those who have grown weary of the lack of incident in these types of movies will find much more going on during this one. In fact, the filmmakers seem at great pains to ensure that, if nothing else, their movie will never be accused of being boring. Where most other entries in this genre are content to tickle the back of your neck, Grave Encounters simply slaps you round the head. It is not subtle and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, with some very effective frighteners but also a few scares a little too heavily signposted to truly shock. It doesn’t help that one of the main scares appeared in the trailer.

Who ya gonna call? Art students!

There are a few inspired moments amongst the horror movie clichés and classics, particularly in the way that the movie plays with your expectations as morning arrives, very little has happened and you wonder where the movie will go next. However, one thing Grave Encounters can lay solid claim to is the fact that it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Once the action kicks off it barely relents and the last forty minutes provide a breathless ride that will have you either jumping, screaming, laughing, or all of the above, depending on how you take to the various shaky-cam assaults which the hospital throws at our not-so-intrepid TV crew.

Grave Encounters is probably not one for the high-brow horror enthusiast. Yes, there is the odd CGI embellishment. Yes, it wants to entertain rather than convince. It’s a bit of a crowd-pleaser with a hit-and-miss, kitchen sink approach that may grate with some. However, watch it on its own terms, don’t take it too seriously and the chances are you’ll have a blast.

Rating – 3 Stars

Starring:Mel Gibson, Jodie Foster, Anton Yelchin, Jennifer Lawrence

Director: Jodie Foster

‘You’re nothing without me, Walter. Nothing. I’m the only part of you that works.

After two years of severe depression, toy executive Walter Black retreats completely and begins communicating with his long-suffering family through a glove puppet. Meanwhile, his estranged elder son fights to avoid becoming his father.

Having been trapped in limbo for over a year, waiting for the dust to settle on Mel Gibson’s public meltdown, The Beaver is finally released into the world. And it’s hard to imagine a more fitting role for Gibson to have chosen, even if it was chosen and performed before the event.

Walter Black, so lost in a black hole from which he feels there is no escape that he is forced to hide within an alternative persona, is such a perfect fit for Gibson that it’s hard to believe that he was second choice for the part and equally hard to believe that original choice Jim Carrey could have brought half the pathos that Gibson delivers to The Beaver. With every flicker of his eyes, every hunch of his shoulders, Gibson portrays a man trapped in his own personal Hell, while still managing to mine the ridiculous premise for nuggets of comedy. Foremost in this regard is the English cockney accent Gibson utilises for the beaver puppet itself. Apparently coached by Ray Winstone, you would swear in several places that Winstone was dubbing the puppet himself, so accurate is Gibson’s delivery. It’s the ideal voice for a puppet that becomes increasingly sinister as the movie progresses.

The always excellent Foster who, like Gibson, is no stranger to acting and directing in tandem, turns in a solid performance as Walter’s exasperated wife, torn between wanting to escape her husband’s destructive condition and wanting to save him from it. Anton Yelchin is not entirely sympathetic as Walter’s teenage son, who keeps a list of similarities between himself and his father with the intention of ridding himself of each one. It’s a sub-plot that, like The Beaver itself, is weakened by skipping over the depth, never quite fulfilling its potential.

Where the movie as a whole fails is in its rather half-hearted exploration of Walter’s underlying depression, or analysis of why he chooses to disengage from himself the way he does. That he creates a persona through a glove puppet for his own rehabilitation is a fascinating conceit. It deserves to have been explored with a little more depth, rather than simply rely solely on Gibson’s nonetheless accomplished performance.

I was going to make a gag about hands in beavers but this is a family site. Sort of.

The Beaver is by no means a bad movie. Foster has an assured touch behind the camera and the movie has real heart at its core. It is also anchored by one of Gibson’s best performances, without which it would certainly have been less of a success. By turns heart-breaking, sinister and funny, rarely has an actor seemed more at home in a part. However, the titular character itself never quite manages to become more than a puppet on the end of Walter’s arm, which seems like a failing given the importance it plays.

Ultimately, The Beaver gets caught up in trying not to be too much of any one thing. Torn between the tragic and the comedic aspects of Walter’s tale, it never quite reaches the heights of either.

Rating – 3 Stars

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Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler

Director: J.J. Abrams

“She used to look at me… this way, like really look… and I just knew I was there… that I existed.”

Summer, 1979, in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. While 13-year-old Joe Lamb and his friends are making a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera they witness, and barely survive, a horrific train crash. Shortly afterwards, strange things start happening in the town and Joe begins to suspect that something less than human was on that train.

One suspects that J.J. Abrams always fancied himself as a natural successor to Steven Spielberg, and this collaboration with the Grandmaster of fantastical cinema really does go a long way to proving that assumption true. Abrams, of the same generation as this reviewer, grew up during the heyday of Spielberg and his ‘movie brat’ contemporaries and Super 8 is nothing less than a beautifully crafted love letter to those magical cinema experiences of the late seventies and early eighties.

In paying homage to his hero and, in this instance, mentor, Abrams gives us what almost amounts to a greatest hits of Spielberg themes. Small town Americana, broken families, kids who are much smarter than the adults, an oppressive military and a heart as big as the alien intruder abroad in suburbia. All are present, correct and served with the kind of loving nostalgia that could only be brought to life by someone whose inner-child was there at the time. And, in turn, it’s impossible for the inner-child of the viewer not to be carried back to that sense of wonder which permeated the movies of that time.

The young cast are uniformly excellent, and Abrams certainly seems to share Spielberg’s knack for bringing the best out of his adolescent actors. Joel Courtney, as the reserved, wide-eyed Joe and Elle Fanning, as the confident, sassy Alice are both engaging and sympathetic leads. And if the adults sometimes feel a little one-dimensional it’s only because this is not really their movie. They’re just there to make the kids look smart. Which, of course, they do.

Abrams manages to bring his own style to proceedings while still shooting the movie and moving the camera as if he were the young Spielberg. Indeed, it often feels as if you are watching Spielberg’s lost movie, made somewhere between Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., but with shades of Cloverfield thrown in.

You think these haircuts suck, boys. Be thankful the movie wasn’t set in 1985.

However, it’s this overwhelming nostalgia, and accurate imitation of a style of moviemaking long gone that will probably be the making or breaking of Super 8 for much of its audience. Many of a younger generation will doubtless find it a little too passive and a little too otherworldly for their liking, whereas those a generation behind them will be reminded of a time when movies didn’t need to smack you round the face, or leap out of the screen, to bring into their embrace, enthralled and enchanted, for two hours of whimsical fun.

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