Archive for May, 2011

In a nutshell: ‘Not now, Silent Singer, not now…’

Popcorn rating: 5/5

On a grey, miserable northern day, a traditional Victorian Gothic funeral cortege proceeds solemnly to the cemetery.

Only… the Funeral March has been replaced by low-tempo, gloomy circus music. And the mourners are clowns.

Grotesque, garish, dead-eyed clowns.

Hurrah! Welcome to Psychoville.

Comedy thriller Psychoville, created by Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, is even more influenced by horror than their previous project, The League of Gentlemen. Psychoville has all the hallmarks of an old low-budget British horror film, including a large cast of deeply unglamorous characters with secrets to hide, an old psychiatric hospital, and more twists than a Turkey Twizzler.

However, you couldn’t really call it a spoof. There are plenty of laughs, and plenty of subverted horror clichés. But it’s genuinely eerie and frequently gory, and it never exploits splatter for laughs. Shearsmith and Pemberton, even rendered unrecognisable by make-up, are good enough actors to play it straight when necessary, and the supporting cast includes reliable stalwarts like Dawn French, David Bamber and Imelda Staunton.

The first series of Psychoville revolved around the former inmates of Ravenhill psychiatric hospital receiving sinister letters saying ‘I know what you did’. Among these misfits were Mr Jelly, the embittered one-handed children’s entertainer, slackjawed David, whose mother tests him on his favourite serial killers while picking the eczema off his back, and Lomax, a wart-faced millionaire who sold his own eyes to Siamese twins for a rare Beanie Baby. As if these weren’t bizarre enough, there are plenty of others. I haven’t even mentioned the evil telekinetic dwarf.

Now, the letters have started again, and the mysterious Detective Inspector Finney is keen to find out what happened at Ravenhill. Not all the characters appear to have survived (although since this is Psychoville, they could be reaching Carrie-style from the grave as we speak) but there are some welcome additions. Reece Shearsmith’s Jeremy Goode is a particular gem: a meticulous librarian who, after the maddening non-return of 50 Great Coastal Walks of the British Isles, is tortured by visions of the monstrous Silent Singer.

Ah yes, the Silent Singer. This hideous, snaggle-toothed apparition in pigtails appears to Jeremy for reasons which, I suspect, might just turn out to be ‘because it’s dead scary’. And really, that reason is quite good enough. The Silent Singer, like The League of Gentlemen’s Papa Lazarou (‘Hello Daaaaaave?’) is funny because it’s terrifying. It’s like something you see in one of your weirder nightmares but can laugh about when you wake up… while inwardly praying you won’t see it again.

The Silent Singer just about epitomises Psychoville. Bafflingly weird, funny enough for the occasional belly-laugh, but gleefully creepy enough to make you sleep with the lights on.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: disturbing exploration of Facebook fakery

Popcorn rating: 4/5

There’s been much doubt about whether Catfish, a documentary about a Facebook relationship that proves to be not what it seems, is real or faked. Certainly the story seems too well-structured to be true at times: photographer Nev Shulman forms a Facebook relationship with Abby, a child art prodigy, and her family. His brother Ariel Schulman and friend Henry Joost decide to make a documentary about Nev, Abby and her family – and of course, when Nev begins to fall for Abby’s adult sister Megan over the phone, things only become more interesting.

Real or fake – I’m none the wiser – it’s compelling and sometimes heartbreaking viewing. Toughest are the moments where Nev meets Angela, Abby and Megan’s mother. Because oh yes, didn’t I say? Angela, a frumpy housewife nothing like her profile picture, made the whole thing up. Not only Megan and her network of wholesome all-American family and friends, but also Abby. Or rather, Abby does exist… but both her messages and her artwork are Angela’s. All of a sudden, those bold, striking paintings are just clumsy and naive.

The tense awkwardness of Catfish tips into chilling at times, particularly when Nev and Angela meet. Nev is aware that she’s a lying fantasist, but hasn’t let on. The skilled aplomb with which Angela continues the subterfuge is borderline sinister. Is it possible she honestly believes the people she’s invented are real? But just as I was wondering when the Facebook fabrications would start ‘talking’ to her and telling her to kill people, Angela finally comes clean.

And it all becomes desperately sad. It’s hard not to feel sorry for bored, unfulfilled Angela, married to the lumpen Vince and the fulltime carer for her severely disabled, incontinent, aggressive adult stepsons. It’s obvious to the point of being unwatchable that she’s irrevocably besotted with Nev and painfully aware that he’s out of her league. I also felt sorry for Vince, himself a victim of Angela’s dishonesty, and Abby, the unwitting cover for the whole deceit. Confronted with a total stranger, she’s expected without explanation to react to him like a close friend, which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Making clever use of the familiar visuals of Facebook, Google Earth and YouTube, this is a stylish and fascinating film. Genuine or not? I’m not sure I care. It’s all about fakery anyway; one more double-bluff won’t make a difference.

Reviewer: JoSheppard

In a nutshell: Camping it up with the gods of Asgard

Popcorn rating: 4/5

Some seriously dreadeful movies of late have, and I hate to admit it, made me  rather wary of the comic book based blockbuster. Sure, there’s been some good ones (Batman Begins, Dark Knight, X-Men Origins: Wolverine etc) – but amongst the jewels, there has also been a fair amount of shiny junk (Iron Man 2 anyone?). So, when I heard that Kenneth ‘Shakespeare’ Branagh was helming a new film based on the god of thunder and sometime super hero, the Mighty Thor (coupled with a frankly dreadful trailer) my hopes Thor was going to be worth the admission were low. And guess what? I was wrong.

Based on the Marvel comic story, Branagh’s Thor tells of a young and arrogant god prince (a bulked up Chris Hemsworth), who is banished to earth to learn humility by his kingly dad Odin (Anthony Hopkins) – leaving an opening for baddie brother Loki (a good turn from Tom Hiddleston) to step in and wreak some havoc. Can Thor save the day? Will his lady friend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) realise who he is? Will Thor take his top off again? Well, what do you think?

Let’s face it – can’t be easy to bring a golden haired, arrogant god-prince to the big screen. What with all that potential to be too serious, too stupid, too boring, too ridiculous, too complicated or just, simply, silly. It is a fine line and thankfully Branagh has achieved the right mix, injecting his Thor with some tongue in cheek humour, CGI which doesn’t look too CGI and a baddie with a nice tortured back story. He even gives a nod to Marvel’s old Iron Man himself, Tony Stark, when the giant Asgardian robot lands on earth to kill our hero (listen carefully folks).

That’s not to say Thor is without flaws – the love story is bit more miss than hit, The Warriors Three and Lady Sif look a tad too ludicrous when they land on earth and Thor doesn’t half find his humility and the love of his life quickly. All nit picking really. Sure, Thor won’t win any awards for its classic and intensely realistic tale of Norse mythology. It is what it is – a bit of camped up fun that may well remind you of the all out action blockbusters you enjoyed as a kid. Simply enjoy.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley


Posted: May 2, 2011 by curlyshirley in Film
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In a nutshell: Time to lay the this murderer to rest

Popcorn rating: 2.5/5

At heart I’m a pacifist – I even chase flies out of my flat with a tea towel, rather than squshing them. And yet, the best thing I can say about Scre4m is that lots of really annoying, smug, High School richies get offed. Says it all really.

The Scream franchise has so far been a massive hit, the first film, back in 1996, reigniting a tired genre with a fast paced, wry remix that hit just the right note. That was a while ago, however, fifteen years to be exact, and while Scream 2 and 3 have managed to keep some of the magic alive, the fourth instalment is showing signs of wear and tear.

The latest film is once again set back in the lovely, All American Woodsboro with heroine Sidney (Neve Campbell) back in town to promote her new book, her own memoirs of the horrific events which have happened to her. Cue movie loving geeks donning the now jaded ghost face mask and killing, well, pretty much everyone, armed with the now legendary big, sharp knife. Throw in that beloved Scream “postmodern” twist which see the local high school kids knowingly discussing who will be the next victim in line with the movie genre’s progression and you’ve got it – Scream 4 or, if you can stomach it this way, Scre4m.

Unfortunately, while it is not quite as woeful as it might have been, Scre4m is not quite good either. Sure, the  actors throw themselves into their roles with glee and there are some giggles along the way – it is even warming to see some of the staple characters from previous outings back on screen (who doesn’t love Dewey?). Unfortunately, given how many jumps and twists we have already seen down Woodsboro, number four soon starts to feel a little boring and, despite the stabbings coming thick and fast, it is missing that must have ingredient – fear.

Painstakingly, irritatingly determined to be modern (Facebook? Check. Twitter? Check. Webcams, Youtube, apps? Check, check, check) and about as scary as seeing your mum before she has her make-up on of a morning, when it comes to Scre4m the must I can muster is meh.

Reviewer: Curlyshirley

In a nutshell: Forgetting what made this franchise so great in the first place

Popcorn rating: 3/5

Set in the sweaty favelas of Brazil, Fast Five sees the old team of Dom (Vin Diesel), Brian (Paul Walker), Vince (Matt Schulze) and even drippy sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) reunited with some of their old running pals from previous flicks to take on the local bad guy – while being hunted down by a crack FBI team led by Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

So far, so rip off of Ocean’s Eleven – but was it any good? Well, what can I say? Er, not really.

Remember that movie you fell in love with when you were young? The one movie, maybe Star Wars or Indiana Jones, that you could watch again and again and again. The one that, to you, was what movies were all about. Well, The Fast and The Furious was the one for me, the one that ignited my love of film, of fast cars, of stupid, brainless action. Hoping to relive the innocent joy of my youth, I have welcomed each and every movie in the franchise with unbounded glee – all the fast paced dross that was 2 Fast 2 Furious, Tokyo Drift and Fast and Furious.

I just don’t know how much more disappointment I can take.

Okay, to be fair, Fast Five isn’t the worst of the franchise and it does have The Rock Johnson facing up to Vin Diesel in proper, old school hand-to-hand combat. That was pretty good. It has some fast cars too, including a great action piece involving stealing top of the range sports cars from a speeding train, and even a few (too few) car races, to get the blood pumping (though they completely and inexplicably omit one massive race where Dom wins a new car – did I mention my disappointment?).

No, Fast Five isn’t the worst film in the fast and furious CV, it just could have been so much better.  It could have been brilliant. It could have been a contender. Instead it sees the team getting twisted up in a frankly ridiculous heist, all the while warbling on about family, flexing their sizable muscles and forgetting what made the films so good in the first place – the cars, the races, the adrenalin.

On the plus side, a cliffhanger ending (stay till after the credits to see it) means there may well be a number six on the way – and come on, you know I’m going be right back there in the cinema with my popcorn and coke, hoping…

Reviewer: Curlyshirley