Archive for the ‘Dark Comedy’ Category

Do people in wheelchairs always interrupt? 

Year Released : 2015men-and-chicken.36041
Director : Anders Thomas Jensen
Cast : Mads Mikkelsen, David Dencik, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Søren Malling  and Nicolas Bro

A few weeks ago I moved to a new area of Leeds (hence a lack of reviews recently as I am STILL sorting out my things), and I recently started attending a cinema that is a 20 minute walk from my house to watch films that aren’t being shown at the ones I work at.

If you’re ever in the Leeds area then I’d recommend a trip to Hyde Picture House. You can find out more information about them and the films that they’re showing on their website.

Whilst this has proven to have mixed results so far as one of the two I’ve watched is currently third in my Top 10 for 2016, and the other is in my bottom 10, I am enjoying the chance to see smaller films in the cinema.

I read the programme of what they have coming on and noticed the name Mads Mikkelsen, one of my favourite actors, and from that point onwards I was sold on the film, even though I had no idea what it was about. It’s very rare I go to a cinema without having a clue what I’m about to watch, but that’s what is about to happen (I write this bit before I watch each film I review).

So can Mads make it a trio of positive reviews of his films for this site (the other two being The Hunt and Valhalla Rising), or will it go the way of a lot of films I’ve reviewed recently and steer well clear of my approval stamp?

Plot

Elias (Mikkelsen) and Gabriel (Dencik) are very different brothers. Elias is a self-obsessed and sexually obsessed person, where Gabriel is fair more practical and has a far more realistic view of the world. One day Gabriel visits their father at the hospital, only to see him die. Gabriel informs Elias and the two discover that their father had left them a video. The pair watch it and discover that he wasn’t actually their biological father, revealing the name of their real father.

Gabriel decides to go in search of his father for answers, and reluctantly agrees to take Elias along with them. When they arrive at the large house on a remote island, they are viciously beaten by three men who eventually turn out to be their half-brothers, Franz (Malling), Josef (Bro) and Gregor (Kaas). The brothers are initially horrified by the animal filled house and Gabriel in particular is frustrated at the three’s insistence that they can’t see their father.

Elias starts forming a relationship with the brothers, but nevertheless agrees to help Gabriel upstairs, but what they discover, followed by a later trip to the basement, raises more questions than answers.

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So was it better not knowing the plot going in?

I must admit that if I had read the plot before going in then chances are that I wouldn’t have actually gone to watch it in the first place, but I’m sort of glad I did it this way because “Men and Chicken” is a very enjoyable, if somewhat unusual look at five very different men that are simply trying to find their place in the world.

Let’s start with the story and whilst it might not sound that interesting, there is a genuine level of not really knowing where you’re going to end up. The story keeps evolving as time goes on and that is something that I rarely see in films these days. Often there will be a central plot and it won’t really develop much further, but that’s definitely not an issue for “Men and Chicken,” so much to the point where the title only really takes significant meaning in the final five minutes.

The comedy throughout may not be laugh-out-loud, but it is definitely enough to keep you to the odd chuckle every now and then, but that’s what I like in my comedies, jokes that aren’t obvious. You’ll notice when I eventually get around to my Top 10 of 2016, or indeed the top tens I produced in 2014 and 2015, that not only do I not place many comedies highly, but that I don’t watch many at all, but “Men and Chicken” found the right humour for me.

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Towards the end of the film there is an hilarious scene in which Gabriel has been trying to change the behaviour of his half-brothers by introducing them to the Bible, even though he is atheist himself. The brothers have only ever been exposed to non-fiction books and when reading the story of Abraham and Isaac they sit there summarising why it is ludicrous, rather than simply enjoying it, and the frustration that you feel from Gabriel is genuine and delightful at the same time, especially when you remember the part about him being atheist and a man of science himself.

The acting from all concerned is excellent, and it won’t come as any surprise that I’m about to praise Mikkelsen, who is taking on a very different role from what he normally does. He brings a great depth and level of sympathy to a character that isn’t really that likable, and is actually downright deplorable at times. But for me the highlight comes from the fact that whilst they have a genuine Hollywood star in their cast, the story doesn’t purely focus on him, and each of the characters are given plenty of time to develop, giving the actors concerned a great opportunity to shine.

With five very different characters, you get five very good performances that are very far apart from each other, and for me the surprise came from Nikolaj Lie Kaas, who plays the interesting character of Gregor. Gregor is much like Elias in that he is sexually starved, and he is desperate for love, but he practices by, and there’s no nice way of putting this, having sex with chickens. Much like Elias, you actually get a genuine liking for Gregor because Kaas plays him so well, and with a surprising level of emotional depth.

There aren’t really any negatives I can think of during the film. It kept me interested for 100odd minutes, never felt like it was dragging and just got pretty much everything right.

Mænd og Høns Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen Produced by Tivi & Kim Magnusson M&M Production Photo Credit Rolf Konow

Summary

It’s a rare thing for this site that I review a film that is at the cinema at the time of writing, but when I do they tend to be good, and “Men and Chicken” has continued to the trend. This should be an example to approvedHollywood that you can create a film that has zero special effects and still create a exceptional bit of film.

There is a chance that this will make my Top 10 for the year, so if you get a chance I would definitely recommend it, but be prepared for 100 or so minutes of one of the most unusual plots that you will ever see, especially in the final 20 or so minutes.

 

 

The cheese inspectors beat the crap out of us!

Year Released : 2007lars-and-the-real-girl
Director : Craig Gillespie
Cast : Ryan Gosling, Paul Schneider, Emily Mortimer, Kelli Garner and Patricia Clarkson

Another film from my Youtube playlist of films that I want to watch, “Lars and the Real Girl” is a comparatively well known film to the ones that I usually review for this site, and I’m pretty certain it’s the first one that I didn’t write as part of the Halloween special that has over 100,000 votes on IMDB.

To be fair, despite being on the aforementioned list, I was probably never actually going to watch this film. There a few films on there that whilst I would love to watch them, I just can’t ever see myself actually doing it, and there are a few that I imagine I won’t review even if I have seen them. The reason that I have done so though is that I was in a charity shop with one of my new housemates earlier and I spotted the DVD for a massive 50p. SOLD!

So I sat down and watched with the aforementioned housemate to enjoy what I hoped would be a wonderfully offbeat comedy as I was in the need of a chuckle following an incident at work on Friday evening.

As you can probably tell, I’m writing this bit after watching the film, which is a very odd occurrence for me.

Plot

Lars (Gosling) is a very shy young man who prefers his own company. He lives in the garage that is attached to the house he and his brother Gus (Schneider) inherited from their mother. Karin (Mortimer), Gus’ heavily pregnant wife, is very keen on Lars finding someone and is thrilled when he reveals that he has started a romantic relationship. That thrill becomes shock and dismay when Lars introduces them to a sex-doll and acts as though she is alive.

Gus is particularly appalled and struggles to deal with the realisation that his brother might be insane. He tricks Lars into seeing a psychologist (Clarkson), and as time goes on she theorises that he is compensating for something and just to ride it out until the doll, which Lars names Bianca, is no longer needed.

As time goes on more and more people become aware of the situation, but whilst everyone is supportive, a lot struggle with the concept. Bianca is given a job of teaching children how to read (via a cassette player on her lap) and is given make-overs, but it isn’t long before Lars grows jealous of the attention given to the doll, especially as he is now partially interested in co-worker Margo (Garner).

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Worth watching?

“Lars and the Real Girl” is one of the most original films that I think I have ever seen, and it is one of the more enjoyable efforts I have watched in recent weeks. For me, it’s not necessarily the dark comedy aspect of the film, but more the element of a family and community trying to deal with the mental illness of someone they love.

It makes you question how you would react in the same sort of situation, and there are two characters in particular who are very interesting to watch, Gus and Margo. Gus has the greater depth out of the two characters as he struggles to deal with the fact that his brother is in love with a sex doll, and more worryingly that he thinks it’s real. There is a brilliantly acted scene between him and Karin in which he finally breaks down and I love that unlike a lot of other films, the character isn’t really focused on how it will make him look, he genuinely cares for his brother.

The reaction from Margo when she realises that Lars is dating a doll is hilarious and very genuine. She stand there aghast as she sees that Lars has brought a sex doll into church and realises that Lars is in love with it. She stands there long after everyone around her has sat down and the look of horror on her face is exceptionally well portrayed by Kelli Garner.

But unquestionably the star of the show is Gosling, and he nails it. There are a few roles in Hollywood that are cast so perfectly that you couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role, with some examples being Heath Ledger’s taken on the Joker in “The Dark Knight”, Chris Pratt in “Guardians of the Galaxy” and Brad Pitt as Tyler in “Fight Club.” Gosling nails it so well that it’s hard not to like the character. He plays him so humbly that you actually see exactly why everyone in the town likes the character, he’s almost perfectly humble.

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The pacing is great, although it does start dragging a bit towards the end and it does become slightly predictable what will happen, but that is my only real complaint with the film. It feels very natural and could have the potential to happen in real life.

Visually the film is what you’d expect, there’s not really a lot going on except for the environmental shots that you see throughout, and the town that they are in is gorgeous.

If you a chance then I would definitely recommend that you watch this unusual black comedy, it’s one of the most unique films you’ll ever see and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

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Summary

“Lars and the Real Girl” is everything that you would hope it would be, and the feel a genuine connection to each of the characters, especially the “what the fuck?” look on theapproved face of some of the characters that can’t believe what they’re witnessing.

Whilst it will probably never get mainstream coverage like most of Gosling’s films these days, “Lars and the Real Girl” is about as close as you’re likely to see to an actor nailing a role perfectly, and to the point where you couldn’t picture anyone else doing it.

I would definitely recommend “Lars and the Real Girl”.

You just reached for my phone in a suspicious manner.

Year Released : 2016the_trust_
Director : Alex and Benjamin Brewer
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood and Ethan Suplee

If there’s one thing I like then it’s unpredictable actors, and by that I mean those in which you are never going to truly know what type of role that they’re going to take on next. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t enjoy films by actors such as Jason Statham (who I’m pretty certain plays the same character in every single movie), but and that is certainly isn’t the case with Elijah Wood and Nicolas Cage.

I’m not going to lie, whilst I find the criticism of Nicolas Cage harsh, I’ve never really been that bothered about most of his films, which are very hit and miss to say the least. He was excellent in “Lord of War” and “Kick Ass”, but the less said about some of his other roles, such as that in “Left Behind”, the better.

Elijah Wood on the other hand is definitely a very flexible actor. Since his acclaimed role as Frodo in the “Lord of the Rings” franchise, Mr Wood has chosen a variety of different projects in a variety of genres. One minute he’s a football hooligan in “Green Street”, or a psychopath in “Maniac”, and the next he is a poetry lover that meets his hero in “Set Fire to the Stars”.

They are two very diverse actors, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can pull off working together.

Plot

Stone (Cage) and Waters (Wood) are two cops that work in the evidence room at the precinct. They are exceptionally bored by their lives, that is until they realise that something fishy is going on down at a local company following on from a massive bail receipt for one it’s workers. They travel to the address listed and discover a building in which deliveries are always being made, but not once does a vehicle leave the building.

The two work out that there must be something worth hiding in there and they start making plans to break into the building, including buying a drill that costs $20,000, something that neither of them can really afford, but they do it anyway. Waters gains a copy of the blueprints and figures out that a specific room in the building must be a very large safe.

One night they break into the apartment directly above the location of the supposed safe. They eventually successfully get into the safe, but what’s in there is something that Waters hadn’t anticipated, and the pair should be more worried about what’s in the apartment.

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Do Wood and Cage work well together?

There is definitely a “buddy cop” feel to a large portion of this movie, which does work quite well thanks to the efforts of Wood and Cage respectively, but the problems with “The Trust” aren’t to do with the acting, it’s the lack of tension in the story and the way it’s pretty much a film of two halves.

The dynamic between Stone and Waters works well, and is probably the only part of the final act that I did actually like. Their relationship shifts and develops well throughout the story, and you can see where both are coming from in the final few scenes as things start doing against how one of them had planned. You never truly feel as though they’re acting out of more than just a common interested, and this is excellently evidenced in the final 20 or so minutes. That’s where the positives end.

Whilst the first half of the story feels like a dark-comedy set in a neo-noir style setting, the second half of the film feels very serious and is far less enjoyable. You see where both characters are coming from when they get further down the line in the film, but everything in the final act of the film, especially the final five or so minutes, feels very forced and unnatural.

I’m not going to sit here and claim that I was going to give it the approved stamp at any point, it isn’t that the film was that great in the first half of the film, but the second half is definitely weaker, and the way that the film ends just feels so “meh”. This is because of a character that is introduced in the final third of the film that doesn’t seem to really add any value whatsoever, except for having an impact on the fate of one of the two characters.

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Therein is the problem with “The Trust”, there aren’t that many characters, and those that are there aren’t really that interesting. Whilst Stone and Waters are obviously built well, they’re not supported in the slightest by other characters, especially Ethan Suplee’s character (simply called Detective in the credits), a character who has development that starts and ends with that he likes to play Russian Roulette with people he is interrogating. If you can’t be bothered to give your character a proper name then why should I be invested?

Visually the film is appealing in the early parts (I’m a sucker for neon), but as the film goes on it gets considerably grayer and less attention grabbing, and the soundtrack is similar in many ways, in toher words getting gradually less interesting as the film’s run time commences.

Overall, “The Trust” is ok, at best. I think of it in a way that had I seen it at the cinema then would it feature in my bottom 10 for a year? Probably not, but it wouldn’t feature on a list that resembled anything majorly positive.

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Summary

A film where the trailer didn’t really reflect the more interesting parts of the story is common place these days, but even then this whole film feels pretty disconnected from it, and it’s really worth the 90 minutes of effort you’ll put in if you’ll watch it.

Wood and Cage do a reasonable job, but are given a very distinctive lack of support from an underwhelming cast of supporting characters, and a film that loses a lot of it’s watchability factor as it goes on.

If you’re going to watch it, then don’t be surprised to not be enjoying yourself.

 

We might as well just put a bunch of no-hopers on TV and have the public decide who should be Number 1!

Year Released : 2015kill-your-friends-movie-poster
Director : Owen Harris
Cast : Nicholas Hoult, Georgia King, Ed Hogg,  Tom Riley, Joseph Mawle, Jim Piddock and James Corden

As time moves on there has been a noticeable lack of originality in Hollywood. This is somewhat understandable because films have been arguably the biggest industry over the last 100 or so years, and everyone writes based on what has inspired them in life. Some will obviously use ideas from films that they’ve seen or books that they’ve read, and whilst sometimes it comes across as a still somewhat unique idea with borrowed elements, some are blatant rip-offs.

There are those films that are just blatant rip offs of others and hope that no-one will notice, such as how the “Hunger Games” is a blatant rip off of “Battle Royale” (it is hilarious that the author claims not to have seen the latter before writing her books).

From most of the reviews I’ve read, plus the trailer, “Kill Your Friends” appears to be a rip-off of one of my favourite films, “American Psycho”, although set in the 90s rather than the 80s and with a central character that just isn’t compelling.

We’ll see……

Plot

Steven (Hoult) is a high up music scout for A&R music and he is desperate to climb the corporate ladder, and he is given that opportunity once his boss is sacked. However, he takes great offence when the role is offered to Roger (Corden), a bumbling mess of a man. Steven pretends to be happy for Roger, but he tricks him into having a drug-riddled evening to celebrate, and subsequently kills him.

Put in temporary charge, Steven struggles to find the next hit, and when his latest find in the form of dance-anthem “Suck my Dick” (yes, really) fails miserably, Steven is replaced by Parker Hall (Riley), a rival from another promotion and a man who Steven is forced to admit is better at the job than him.

The police are also knocking on the door, with DC Woodham (Hall) assigned to the case, but Steven is able to manipulate him due to his desire to be a professional musician, but as the clues mount up, along with the pressure from Parker and the realisation that his secretary (King) knows that he killed Roger, Steven is forced to take matters further.

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So is it original or is it the blatant rip off of “American Psycho” that I thought it would be?

“Kill Your Friends” is not so much as a blatant rip off of “American Psycho” as it is a seemingly glorified love letter to Hollywood, with the intention being that it would convince studios to allow Owen Harris to direct the rumoured remake of the Christian Bale masterpiece if it gets made. There are plot points that are outright stolen from not only the film, but also the Brett Easton Ellis novel that it’s based on, such examples include;

  • Long, drawn-0ut monologues.
  • Long, drawn-out monologues about taste in music.
  • A psychopatic professional that murders someone who is progressing faster than him, and then trying to cover it up.
  • The cop that investigates it treats that character as if he’s a friend, even ignoring blatant clues that the murdered is sat in front of him.
  • Sexual tension between the professional and his secretary.

The list could go on.

I couldn’t enjoy “Kill Your Friends” for two reasons. One is the aforementioned similarities to a far superior film, and that it’s a bit pointless. There’s not actually a point to the film. There isn’t a moral message. There is just no substance to it whatsoever and I was sat for 100 or so minutes just waiting to feel like the film was actually worth the effort that everyone concerned had put in….but it never came to it.

There is a growing trend in the film industry these days for movies to just be there, and to quote Agent Smith from the Matrix franchise….”it is without meaning or purpose”.

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The acting is fine from everyone concerned, no-one actually puts in a bad step at any point, and it was fun seeing Georgia King again after her role as a teenage bully in Tormented. Nicholas Hoult, as the star, is arguably the person playing their role to their biggest capabilities, but the presence of James Corden is yet again pointless. He plays the same character he plays in pretty much every film or TV show he does, the fat waster (the characters, not him).

And for those of you that liked “Deadpool” and were potentially excited to see Ed Skrien again, don’t get too excited because his character is barely in the film. He is in it for maybe four/five minutes at most, and much like the aforementioned Marvel film, he has precisely zero character development, or even that much of a character. Much like the film, he is just sort of there.

I’ve done some maths and based on the average life span you will live for around 377,395 or 408,844 lots of 100 minutes in your life (depending on your gender). Being transgender I can only assume that I will fall somewhere in between those numbers, but even then I am questioning why I spent even just one of those lots on this film, regardless of how many I get.

It’s not an awful film by any stretch, but it’s also not that great and the current rating of 6.1/10 on IMDB is probably about right. It is bang average.

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Summary

Whilst maybe not a blatant rip off of “American Psycho”, it is definitely inspired by that film, without ever even coming close to similar levels of entertainment. The lack of a compelling central character makes this a far inferior film to the one that it is obviously trying to pay homage to.

“Kill Your Friends” isn’t a fun movie, it’s barely even close to being enjoyable. It’s not awful by any stretch, but there are far, far better ways to 100 or so minutes of your life.

You’re

I couldn’t remember a reason for living, and when I did it wasn’t convincing.

Year Released : 2015irrational-man-poster
Director : Woody Allen
Cast : Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone and Parker Posey

After returning from holiday and struggling to find the time to watch films at home, I have decided to do something that I have only done twice before and that is to review a film that is still out at the cinema. I had decided to go and watch Irrational Man when I got back from the aforementioned holiday, only to find when I got home that the cinema I work at was going to stop showing it after less than a week, six days to be more precise.

Based on this I had to go and watch it and due to the lack of people in the screen (I was one of five), the low amount of votes on IMDB and various other factors, I just had to review it.

Just to clarify, don’t expect me to review many films that are released at the cinema because it is part of my contract to not talk negatively about films that are being shown whilst at least one Odeon in the UK is showing it, and most films I watch these days that are of a smaller nature are very poor.

Plot

Everyone at a New England university is excited when it is confirmed that Abe Lucas (Phoenix), an acclaimed philosophy professor, will be joining the faculty. Lucas has a reputation for influential and brilliant behaviour, albeit with an exceptionally erratic side. When Abe arrives, everyone is surprised by his morbid outlook on life and his belief that everything is ultimately futile. Despite his unusual behaviour, Professor Rita Richards (Posey) falls for him and the two start an affair.

Lucas is quickly impressed by the unusual thinking of Jill (Stone), a student in one of his classes. The two become friends and she invites him to a party, at which he decides to show a group of students the structure of chance by doing a one-man game of Russian Roulette. Whilst dining out with Jill, the two overhear a conversation between a woman and her friends in which she is reflecting on the realistic chance of losing her kids just to the judge in her custody case being friends with her ex-husband, and how he is constantly encouraging her to make costly appeals, only to reject them. Abe decides that this is the turning point in his life and decides to kill the judge.

Abe steals cyanide from the university’s labs and successfully switches out the judge’s drink, and he dies quickly. Weeks follow and the police struggle to nail down any leads due to there being no obvious connections between Abe and the judge, but Rita comes up with a theory that Abe did indeed kill the judge and that he was the only one capable of doing so. Jill initially dismisses the theory, but then as evidence comes to light she realises that it all makes sense, and she decides to confront Abe, but how will he react?

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So was it worth more than a 6 day run at the cinema?

Yes, definitely so. It’s remarkably fresh and unique to anything that I have seen in the recent past on screen, and I just didn’t see the ending coming at all.

The pacing of the film is perfect and it’s a very well executed slow build. At not one point was there a seeming deus-ex machina, everything seemed natural and free flowing, and even the convenience of overhearing the conversation that would eventually lead to the judge’s death doesn’t feel like it’s been shoved in there to give Abe meaning.

I didn’t know what to expect going into the screen as I have never seen a Woody Allen film and I feel that this is the best formula for going to watch a film at the cinema. I went to watch “Legend” before going on holiday and didn’t particularly enjoy it, probably because I went in with expectations too high, but because my expectation levels were non-existent going to “Irrational Man”, it meant that I could just sit back and enjoy the film, and that I did.

It spoke to me on so many different levels and at many times felt like a reflection of my life. I feel nihilistic on a regular basis and feel a great sense of futility when it comes to existence, but then the next day I can be one of the happiest people that you could ever meet, and in that way I related to the character of Abe on a personal level. Abe even reflects that it must be wonderful to be religious because at least you have some reason for believing that your life actually means something for longer than just the tiniest of tiny percentages of eternity. For me that is a perfect summary of why some people turn to religion and in many ways I do envy those that choose that path.

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As I mentioned above, I connected with the character of Abe on a personal level and it’s the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to say that, and part of the reason for this connection was the near perfect portrayal by Phoenix, the standout member of the cast.

It occurred to me midway through the film that this is only the second time I’ve ever watched a film starring Joaquin Phoenix at the cinema (the other being Gladiator) and there are many reasons for this, mainly because his self-imposed exile from Hollywood, and his preference for independent films, which this very much falls in the category of. The character of Abe is both wonderfully simplistic and unbelievably complex, and without giving away too much at the end.

The scene in which he kills the judge is done perfectly as you never actually see the judge drink the poisoned orange juice, your attention is focused on the reactions of Abe as he looks excited, in disbelief that he has actually done it and terrified at the same time. The confliction on his face is wonderfully reflective of the nature of the crime.

Emma Stone is also wonderful as Jill and she shows a great range of emotions in the scene in which she confronts Abe about the killing the judge. She perfectly captures the look of someone who is trying to forgive something that she loves for doing something unimaginable, and it’s yet another example of why Stone is becoming one of Hollywood’s most popular actresses.

However, despite all of the above, the thing that won me completely over and turned it from a film that I saw as pretty good into an excellent movie is the ending. Obviously I’m not going to reveal what the ending is but it took me completely by surprise, and rather unusually, despite coming out of nowhere it felt natural. It’s a very natural conclusion and one that you feel is perfect for the story. Normally if an ending comes out of nowhere, not having previously been hinted at, I will rant and rave about it, but not in this case. It made a pretty good film very memorable.

My only criticism of the film is the exceptionally poorly written character of Roy. Roy is Jill’s boyfriend at the beginning of the film and whilst he is barely in the film (which makes the choice to include Jamie Blackley as a main star of the film a bit bizarre), he is exactly the same in every scene. He is just horrendously one dimensional and there was no real need for him to be in the film at all.

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Summary

Not only did I love this film, it is a contender for my “Top 10” films of the year that will be coming out in December.

I loved pretty much everything about this film and no-one gives a poor performance. It is sapprovedlightly unusual that Jamie Blackley is advertised as one of the four main stars and yet he is barely on screen, but other than that I can’t think of a flaw with the film and it is wonderfully made.

If you ever get the chance to watch it then I would seriously recommend it.

 

Do you know me? Do you know me? I’m asking you a question. I’ll tell you who I am, I am a fucking wizard sent from the future in a mother-fucking time machine to tell you that you are an asshole. You’re the type of person that makes fun of fat, short little kids and makes them feel bad about themselves for the rest of their lives because you think you’re so special. Well do you know what? You’re not special. You’re not different. You’re not even particularly interesting. You’re the same, bigoted, homophobic, redneck, football loving, Martin Luther King assassinating, asshole face, son of a bitch redneck that you have spent your entire life rebelling against! And I know that that kills you inside.                

Year Released : 2014suburban-gothic
Director : Richard Bates Jr
Cast : Matthew Gray Gubler, Kat Dennings, Ray Wise, Barbara Niven and Muse Watson

There are some films that have won your attention before you even know what the film is about and whilst browsing a selection of what to watch and review next for this site, this stood out straight away due to it’s odd poster/DVD cover.

I have seen many odd films during my 30 years on this planet but after sitting through this for 90 minutes, I have been struggling to even comprehend most of what I have just watched. It’s hard to put most of it into context because of it’s exceptionally bizarre nature, the loose storyline, pacing which is all over the place and an unusual look. It’s hard to even categorise it as it fits in several different genres all at the same time.

What I would say about Suburban Gothic before we even start is to not go in with any expectations about what you are about to watch, not on any level whatsoever. I went into it expecting something completely different to what I got, and there is nothing that I like more than getting something I don’t expect when I start watching a film.

Plot

Raymond (Gubler) returns to his home town after failing to secure a job after college. His parents (Wise and Niven) seriously disapprove and aren’t welcoming to him at all. As time goes on he begins seeing old friends from school and develops a relationship with Becca (Dennings), who shares his unusual outlook on life.

Meanwhile, Raymond’s parents are having their garden re-landscaped but the works stumble across a wooden coffin with a long deceased girl inside. One of the workers steals a necklace before they all run away. This is followed by supernatural occurrences being noticed throughout the town and Raymond experiencing visions that he hasn’t had since childhood.

The supernatural occurrences turn violent and Raymond must find a way to help protect his family as the ghosts break their bones, all whilst he struggles to convince them that he is not insane.

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Sounds odd…..

It sounds odd because it is. I can’t quite put my finger on it at all but in many ways this is the most unique film I’ve ever seen in terms of it’s look, presentation, acting, dialogue and visuals. The film doesn’t look like a film, it’s vivid use of colours makes it almost seem like what would be a pilot for a TV show rather than a movie. I don’t mean that in a negative way, it’s just usually the case where you see TV shows films in one way and TV shows in another, but this falls very much into the latter. It is very similar in that sense to the TV show “Dead Like Me” and I wouldn’t be surprised if Richard Bates Jr took inspiration from the presentation style of that in preparation for this.

The first thing that I will give it a big credit for is that despite despite being low budget (probably), it’s done in a very professional manner with the camera work. I have pointed out in previous reviews that if a film has poor camera work then it looks me early on, but “Suburban Gothic” doesn’t have that issue. The picture and movement is very fluid, steady and focused, rather than the handheld and/or shaky cam approach of a lot of other low budget films. This “helps” (if that’s the right word) give it the look of a TV show pilot rather than a movie.

Away from the camera work, in many ways this was very similar to 1996’s “The Frighteners” due to the subject matter and the unusual visual approach, although I definitely preferred the Peter Jackson made horror film. There are several reasons for this and it certainly doesn’t help that the pacing is all wrong. At the moment of writing this I am 40 or so minutes into the film and despite the odd mention of what the actual plot point of the film is, the film has largely felt directionless and full to the brim with filler scenes, such as Raymond encountering his old bullies and they threaten to beat him up before he runs away, and they don’t even try and chase him. It adds very little.

That being said, the character of Raymond develops really well throughout, going from his feeling lost aura, right up until his berating a student after she suspects him of being homosexual. He launches into a great rant that I have put at the top of this page and it is one of the best rants I have seen in a film that I’ve reviewed since my look at Laurence Anyways.

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Although the unusual and eerie feeling through is obviously intended , the script, although enjoyable, does regularly feel like it’s odd just for the sake of trying to be odd without actually adding anything to the characters or story. For example, “you’ve just dug yourself a vagina grave” when referencing a bad tattoo, “next time you interrupt your mother sucking my dick then there will be hell to pay”, “I can’t tell you what a pleasure it has been masturbating to you” or even “I’ve just taken some painkillers just incase we have an accident.” It’s just a truly bizarre film based on the dialogue alone, but it keeps you wanting to keep watching just to see what new levels of bizarreness that they can reach next.

Whilst odd, the dialogue does feel like it has a high level of fluidity. Conversations feel largely natural and unlike the pacing of the film in general, the dialogue is spoken in a way and at a rate that is very true to real life. Talking to someone else isn’t always a perfect stream of conversation like you see in films, and through characters interrupt each other, talk over each other and respond in bitchy and sassy ways.

I’m going to finish this by talking about what was one of the biggest positives for me and that is the performance of Gubler. This the first time that I have ever seen a film with him in it and he suits the role absolutely perfect. He has that aura of being an oddball about him (and I mean that in a nice way) and he plays the role of Raymond with seeming ease. He is like a dark-comedy version of Zach Braff in Scrubs and this is one of those roles that had anyone else played it, then it probably wouldn’t have been as  convincing or enjoyable. The character is very likeable throughout and one of the few protagonists from a film I’ve reviewed on this site that I felt I could relate to.

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Summary

If you like bizarre films then this is definitely for you. I’ve seen many odd films throughout my life but this is up there as one of the oddest, and as I say it is remarkably unique. Although I can compare it on a very small basis to “The Frighteners” and the tv show “Dead Like Me”, those are only tiny comparisons.

I’m not entirely sure if I actually like it or not, and it’s obvious why reviews have been largely mixed, but it’s definitely memorable and that is probably the biggest compliment that I can ever give a film. It is certainly one that will stick in my mind for a while.

Just because you’re dead it doesn’t mean that I can’t move in with you.

Year Released : 2009Dead_Like_Me_Life_After_Deathposter
Director : Stephen Herek
Cast : Ellen Muth, Callum Blue, Jasmine Guy, Britt McKillip, Sarah Wynter, Cynthia Stevenson and Henry Ian Cusick

Here is a first for the website, a movie that very few people have heard of that’s based on a TV show that very few people have heard of. This intro is going to be slightly longer than normal because I have to really describe the premise of “Dead Like Me” so that the plot and the rest of the review makes a bit of sense.

During the early 2000s, one of my favourite TV shows was the dark-comedy that was “Dead Like Me”. It focuses on a girl called Georgia after she is killed by a falling toilet seat and she begins life amongst a group of grim reapers, all whilst having to watch her family try and cope with the death.

As well as Georgia’s initial refusal to play along with her new role, the show also focuses on a few other reapers, each with unique backstories, such as Mason, a Brit from the 1960s who tried to achieve a permanent high by drilling a hole in his head, or Rube, a gangster who’s crimes caught up with him.

“Dead Like Me” was a true gem of a TV show and although it only lasted for two series, it achieved so much in terms of character developed in those two series that it remains one of my favourite TV shows to this day. It is an amazing TV show not just because of it’s dark comedy, but because of some of the more serious moments when some people struggle to deal with the fact they’ve just died, and Georgia’s initial struggles with what she now has to do.

Below is a great clip from early on in the first series where Georgia has refused to reap someone and her boss is far from happy.

But anyway, I digress. The show finished in 2004 after two series and that was the last of it until 2009 when a movie came out, and had it been successful then they would have considered bringing the show back. It wasn’t successful for many reasons, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Plot

After performing his last reap, Rube (who doesn’t appear in the movie) has moved on into the afterlife and has been replaced by Cameron (Cusick) as the head of the reapers. He doesn’t care what happens to the dead after they pass away and things soon start falling apart. Because of this various members of the reaping team conspire to get rid of him via one method or another, made even more difficult by the fact that you can’t really kill someone who is already dead.

Meanwhile, Georgia (Muth) is fired from her job at Happy Times after she harasses a new employee. Things in her personal (after)life are far from simple either as she faces a dilemma that she never thought she would face as Reggie (McKillip) discovers who she is.

Despite Georgia’s desire to connect with her sister, she knows that ultimately they can never enjoy that relationship again, but Reggie struggles to understand.

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So why wasn’t it successful?

I think one of the main reasons that “Life After Death” wasn’t successful was not because the TV show was so relatively unknown, but because it departed so much from the tone and nature of the TV show that it had very little in common with it.

It almost felt like the director hadn’t watched a single episode of the TV show because so many factors of the TV show weren’t even referenced in this one. For example, earlier in this review I mentioned that Rube was angry at Georgia for refusing to do what she needed to do and the reason why was because if a soul wasn’t taken before the death then the soul starts to rot along with the decomposing body. This isn’t referenced once in the film on the numerous occasions that the reapers don’t reap someone’s soul before they die.

There were quite a lot of inconsistencies with the TV series and if you’re going to make a movie based on a TV series, it has to be largely still relevant. The character of Daisy is probably the biggest example of this though as the character is NOTHING like her counterpart in the series. Laura Harris did an excellent job in the TV series, bringing a lot of warmth and depth to a character that initially seemed conceited, whereas Sarah Wynter’s portrayal of the character seemed to just go back to being conceited and not develop from there. It could potentially have been because of scheduling conflicts but I think there is a very good reason that Harris didn’t return for this movie.

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I’m trying desperately not to compare it to the TV show but it’s almost impossible. The film almost has no centre to it, nothing that keeps you wanting to go back and watch more and more of it. In the 29 TV episodes there were a lot of reasons for keep going back, you developed an emotional connection with each of the characters, and you appreciated the moral lesson behind each episode, whereas the film doesn’t really seem to have a lot of point to it.

It’s not all negative though and what I especially liked about the movie was that it gave both Georgia and Reggie some closure when it came to their relationship. One of the key plot points of the TV show was Reggie trying to deal with Georgia’s death and the various different emotional issues it caused (such as gathering toilet seats and hanging them in the tree) and it’s nice to see a character that was broken and lost finally get some closure and get the chance to say goodbye to Georgia.

There is an excellent scene where Reggie is determined to kill herself because she doesn’t care anymore as everyone she loves keeps dying. She starts driving 85mph towards a shipping container and Georgia tries some reverse psychology by slamming her foot on top of Reggie’s and the car goes to 125mph, only then does Reggie realise that she wants to live and then the two have a frank conversation with each other and share what will probably be there final moments together.

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That was one of the few scenes that I truly liked from the movie.

I’m going to move away from comparing it to the TV show and talk about the performances. Ellen Muth is still remarkable as Georgia, she is delightful as the sarcastic and down to earth girl. Muth hasn’t really enjoyed a prolific career in Hollywood as she doesn’t really fit into any categories but she plays this character so incredibly well that you warm to her very quickly. Even early on in the TV series, where she is an immature, teenage girl, you still feel a connection to her character because she feels very real.

Blue is still as charismatic as Mason as he was in the TV series, and whilst his character is actually quite deplorable, Blue’s performance brings him to life and he represents a very reluctant anti-hero character so incredibly well.

I must admit that I was disappointed by the performance of Henry Ian Cusick though. He played Desmond in “Lost” and was one of the stand out actors from that TV show, and despite being the most famous actor to appear in “Life After Death”, he doesn’t really live up to his star billing as he doesn’t really seem to enjoy playing his character, although to be fair the character isn’t very well developed at all. Cusick played Desmond with such passion that he became one of the central characters of “Lost”, but in this it felt like he stumbled onto the set one day and thought “Ooooooh, I can do this!” He’s a poor replacement for Rube from the TV show…….

You know, I can’t continue this review without consistently comparing it to the TV show and I’m finding it very difficult not to keep going back to it, so I’m just going to leave it here.

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Summary

To be honest, even as a fan of the TV show I found it very hard to like the movie. It lacks a lot of what made the TV show so enjoyable. Whilst it wouldn’t have made an awful made for TV movie if it was a stand alone movie and not related to anything, ultimately it fails to deliver enough to keep fans of the TV show interested.

If you were going to watch the movie then I would recommend watching the TV show first because if you watched the movie first then you wouldn’t want to watch what it’s based on, and that is an injustice.

Is it awful? No,not overly, but I can’t go that much higher than being average, at best.

Strangers don’t fare well in these parts

Year Released : 2008cottagepostbig
Director : Paul Andrew Williams
Cast : Andy Serkis, Reece Shearsmith, Steve O’Donnell, Jennifer Ellison

I am a big fan of British cinema, being British myself it is only natural, but for me British cinema beats any other in the world for pure originality, great film making and actually making me want to watch films again. In the future I will be reviewing several other British horrors, such as Creep and possibly Severance, although I think the latter is too well known.

Anyway, I digress.

The Cottage is one of my favourite British films of the last 10 years and one of the most original horror films that I have ever seen, probably because it’s not really presented like a horror. Infact, I’m not even entirely convinced if you can class it as horror or a dark comedy, because it fits into both equally

Plot

David (Serkis) wants to escape a life of crime and decides that the best way to do this is to get his brother, Peter (Shearsmith), to kidnap the daughter (Ellison) or David’s boss and hold her to ransom. The only problem with the plan is that David and Peter have completely different personalities and David only manages to convince Peter to help via blackmail.

As the evening progresses David struggles to maintain order due becoming increasingly frustrated with his brother’s behaviour, that his prisoner is actually more dangerous than either of them, that his boss knows it’s him that kidnapped his daughter and is sending people to “sort him out” and various other things.

It soon becomes apparent that David will not only do well to get out of the situation with any money, but also get out alive as the evening continues taking a more sinister turn.

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So what sets it apart from other horror films?

Well as I mention in the top part of this review, this has many elements of a horror film but is actually presented as a dark comedy. The reason I say that is that the film isn’t presented as a horror until much later on in the film and only truly in the last ten or so minutes does it fully transition from dark comedy into horror.

The relationship between David and Peter dominates the story and it never feels overplayed or indeed underdeveloped. It is done perfectly and you genuinely believe that although they care for each other, they could easily break into a fight throughout and the way the relationship develops throughout the film feels natural as it is a situation that would prove stressful if you were involved, especially towards the end of the film when they meet the main antagonist.

Infact, the introduction of the antagonist introduces an interesting dynamic to the film as it doesn’t start really coming into the story until at least two-thirds of the way through and after developing the main characters, in one way they have are taken in another direction and you access other parts of their personalities that you rarely see in other horror, which I think sets this apart from other films with a horror element.

Horror is a genre that has become far too predictable in recent years and have far too many cliches, this film has none of them, and even at the end the main antagonist is unpredictable. Unlike most horror films, the characters are developed correctly and you actually begin to care what happens to them, rather than just being presented with 6 or 7 teenage characters (invariably played by 30 year olds) who die before you’ve even learned their names. Each character is excellently written.

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The best horror films are the ones where you actually care about the characters, such as the Jeff Goldblum remake of “The Fly”, the 1982 classic “The Thing” and various other films of a similar nature. If you’re going to make a good horror film then you really need to have decent characters, and “The Fly” proved that you didn’t need need a large cast of characters because if they are written well and, more importantly, well acted, which leads me neatly onto the excellent performances from the cast.

Serkis is absolutely fantastic as David and you really start to feel his frustration as the evening goes on due to being surrounded by the incompetence of others. One such example is when a third conspirator turns up and was supposed to buy ski-masks so that they can do the ransom anonymously, only for him to turn up with masks that reveal the entirety of the face, effectively nullifying the point of getting one. David ultimately phones his former boss and the resignation in his voice when he knows that he won’t get away with what he has done was done with such subtlety that you appreciate the effort that Serkis has put in.

In a filmography that includes excellent motion capture work on Lord of the Rings, King King and the reboot of the Planet of the Apes franchise, his performance in The Cottage is arguably my favourite performance of his as it shows almost perfectly how to make an antagonistic character seem very likable. For me this film actually made me respect Serkis a lot more (not that I disrespected him before) as he showed that he isn’t a one trick pony and can pull of roles where you actually see his face on screen.

Shearsmith is also excellent as Peter, a character with a far more varied range of experiences and emotions throughout the film, whether it be raging at this brother to being under-the-thumb when his wife phones him. I have not seen any of his other work before or since this film so I can only go off of his performance in The Cottage, and it was a genuinely enjoyable portrayal of a man whom is treading the line of staying sane on a regular basis.

The very fact that the character is terrified by moths means that Shearsmith would have to produce a feeling of dread in the several scenes where he is trapped with them, and the way that Shearsmtih plays it makes you think that he has a genuine fear of them, although it does feel a tiny bit slapstick. Below is one such scene.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Jennifer Ellison, even dating back to the days when she was in Brookside, however, she was remarkably believable as a gangster’s daughter. There is a genuine menace to her ability to scare Peter, even when she is completely tied up. Maybe it’s the scouse (a dialect from the area of Liverpool for those who don’t live in the UK) accent, or the threatening tone in her voice as she gives evil eyes to the main characters, but either way she does a very respectable job of making you believe

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Summary

The Cottage is an excellent horror/dark comedy that I would highly recommend if you’re looking to be approvedentertained for 90 minutes.

With excellent characters and development through it’s run time, it’s hard not to enjoy this film, especially when it starts transitioning between the genres, and whilst it will never be considered a classic in the genre, it certainly has elements that made the classics successful.

I must say it’s pretty much the only trailer I have ever seen for a film where it is clips from pretty much exclusively the final third of the film and it doesn’t reflect the nature of the first two thirds, which is strange.