Category Archives: Fantasy

Jurassic World (2015) – Another trip to the world’s deadliest tourist attraction…


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“Like its genetically modified star attraction, the Indominus Rex, Jurassic World is a strange hybrid of the franchise’s greatest hits, part sequel, part reboot and part homage to Steven Spielberg’s much-loved original. It capitalises on nostalgia and Chris Pratt’s likable presence, providing two hours of solid monster mayhem without ever getting beyond the pace of a spooked herd of Stegosaurus…” Click here to read the full article (Opens in separate tab)

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The Duke of Burgundy (2014) – A baroque S&M dreamworld…


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Like his characters in The Duke of Burgundy, writer-director Peter Strickland is a man with very specific tastes. Inspired by European exploitation flicks of the 60s and 70s, Strickland uses sleazy genre tropes as a jumping off point, creating his own peculiar world of heightened reality. Unlike Tarantino, who mashes all his influences together into a primary-coloured pop culture collage, Strickland’s vision is exactingly beautiful, highly strung, and very, very niche.

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Andělé všedního dne (Angels of Everyday)- Sucks Dick…


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Death comes to us all, and when that last moment stretches out to eternity, all men face the same questions. Have I lived my life to the fullest? Have I done the best for my loved ones? Was I man enough when circumstances demanded it? Did I dare disturb the universe? Did I get enough blowjobs?

Andělé všedního dne, the latest film from Alice Nellis (Some Secrets), focusses on this last question. It’s a meaty topic, and she really gets her teeth into it.

Not really, I’m lying. I just wanted to use a few cheap gags as crass and tasteless as the movie itself. Andělé všedního dne is an ugly, depressing film. It tries to say things about mortality and kindness, but is basically about a man who thinks his life is rubbish because he’s never been sucked off before.

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Holy Motors (2012) – Who Were We?


“Surreal” is one of the most popular and misunderstood words at work in Britain today, often mis-used by footballers and reality TV show stars when grasping for adjectives to describe their experience.

X Factor winner James Arthur described his experience as surreal, while returning West Ham hero Joe Cole also felt his return to the club of his youth matched the description.  Assuming Cole’s contract signing wasn’t overseen by a dwarf talking backwards, or Nicole Scherzinger’s head didn’t turn into a lightbulb while singing him a lullaby, what they actually meant was the events were a bit surprising or unusual.

One thing genuinely surreal in 2012 was Leo Carax’s Holy Motors, a wilfully bizarre, gross, funny and melancholy headfuck that is likely to drive some regular cinema-goers to experiment with other examples of arthouse and avant garde cinema.

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Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) – Half-Baked, Muddled & Sanctimonious Deep South Fantasy…


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A joke: Today, a bomb went off in central Ipswich, England [delete and apply any shitty town/district/neighbourhood of your choice], causing millions of pounds worth of structural improvements.

I’ll come back to that joke in a minute.  Christmas is over and I’m not feeling charitable, and as much as I admire the independent, amateur, can-do ethos behind Benh Zeitlin’s first feature film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, I can’t pretend I appreciated it as much as many celebrated critics seemed to.

The film tells the story of a little girl, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis), who lives in squalor with her ailing father, Wink (Dwight Henry) in a ramshackle pre-post-apocalyptic community known as the Bathtub, separated from the modern world by a levee.

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The Cabin in the Woods (2012) – Crowd-pleasing Monster Mash, with Brains…


Horror has been in a dark place for the last decade.  When Scream 4 crawled out of the gate last year, with the tagline promise of “New Rules”, I hoped the writer-director team of Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven would apply the intelligence so freshly applied to the cliched stalk n’ slash sub-genre in the original movie to the depressing, sadistic trend of torture porn prevalent in the 2000’s.

While Scream 4 acknowledged the presence of grungy, industrial strength reboots of classic horror franchises and video nasties, and incorporated streaming live blogs and iPhones, the movie bottled out & played safe.  Instead, it came across as deeply anachronistic and twee – in the era of Hostel, Human Centipede and The Devil’s Rejects, there was something nostalgic and almost comforting about seeing good-looking, middle class kids disemboweled by a nutter in a mask.

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The Fisher King (1991) – Gilliam’s Fairytale of New York…


The Fisher King is Terry Gilliam’s attempt at a “Simple” movie, made after the excesses of The Adventures of Baron Munchaussen.  Gilliam’s idea of simple may differ from other people’s.  There is a quest for the Holy Grail in a fairytale New York, and he turns Grand Central Station into a ballroom, but apart from that, it is a low-key, simple story about human relationships.

A successful, self-absorbed shock jock, Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges), is about to make the jump to TV sitcoms, when an unstable caller takes his callous on air comments literally.  The result is a bloodbath in a trendy Manhattan bar.

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Midnight in Paris (2011) – Another Twenties Memory from Woody Allen…


Before I left for Prague once, I picked up a copy of Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude (Příliš Hlučna Samota).  It instantly became my favourite book, and Hrabal one of my favourite authors.

Arriving in Prague, I discovered Hrabal was once a regular of U Zlateho Tygra – there’s a picture of him on the wall, enjoying a few beers with Vaclav Havel and Bill Clinton.

Hrabal died in February 1997.  Damn it, if I’d only read that book and traveled to Prague nine years earlier, I could have met my new literary idol!

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Twilight (2008): Why Did The Vampire Cross the Road?


You think vampires are evil?  I had a girl like Twilight‘s Bella work with me once.  Her attitude stank so bad I gave her a special job to do.  I had a huge pile of old papers that needed shredding, and told her that the information was so sensitive, she needed to go through every page and black out every line with a marker first.  It took her four days.

I’ve been building up to actually watching Twilight for so long now, just so I could form my own opinion, and I end up starting with that non-movie related anecdote.  I guess I was just groping around to find a way to describe how much Kristen Stewart’s character irritated me.

The first act of Twilight plays like a less fun version of The Lost Boys, as morose teen Bella Swan moves from her hometown Phoenix to stay with her divorced dad in Forks, WA. a town so quiet, small and ordinary it looks like David Lynch’s worst nightmare.

The ungrateful sourpuss is quickly befriended by her new classmates, but her attention is grabbed by the mysterious Cullen clan, who swan around the school in a stately manner and keep themselves to their ultra-cool selves.

Bella is quick to spot hollow-cheeked hunk Edward (Robert Pattinson), although his reaction to her on first meeting in Biology class is unfortunate.  When he catches a waft of her scent, he looks like he’s about to lose his lunch.

Through a series of quavering, awkward conversations, the glum pair get the hots for each other. When Edward miraculously saves Bella from being flattened by an out of control van in the parking lot, she realizes he might not be quite what he seems…

Bella and Edward fall heavy for each other, but there is a problem – namely, Edward’s a vampire.  Bella’s not too fussed, though, even when he explains her scent  is like curry to a pisshead for a vampire.

Questions inevitably arise; Edward wants to give her a good old sucking, and Bella clears wants to be sucked.  What about sex?  Edward doesn’t eat regular food, or sleep, so does he get a boner?  Or does that only happen when two people are both vampires?

Or once they’re both blood-suckers, do they just waft around aesthetically together, gazing longingly at each other for eternity in a daze of deliciously fatalistic ennui?  Or do they just take turns ravishing each other, sucking one another dry?  I hope the rest of the Twilight Saga will answer these questions…

Other characters include Jacob (Taylor Lautner), a native American wolfboy (it’s only alluded to in this episode, but it’s hard to avoid the trailers).  The Native Americans wear durable materials, check shirts and jeans, and drive pickup trucks; the genteel Vampires nonchalantly flaunt the affluence of presumably Old World ancestors.  They also have lots of fast cars in the garage, although vampires need cars as much as Jaws needed a speedboat.

I enjoyed Twilight.  I deliberately disengaged the movie snob and let myself go with it.  I was disappointed to see what they’ve done with classic motifs of vampire lore – the vampires don’t live in the cloudiest, wettest part of the US by mistake.  But it’s not to prevent them bursting into flame, it’s to stop them twinkling like a Snoop Dogg tie pin.  What trauma!

They are also clearly visible in mirrors, which explains how they manage to keep perfectly groomed.

I resisted making any judgement about Twilight until seeing it, although based on the trailers, I did suggest it looked like a bit of a cheapo rush job.  The trailers mainly feature two sullen teens moping around in the woods, or else running away from bad CGI in the woods.  Of course, the woods, along with abandoned warehouses, are often a surefire location clue to a cheap production.

However, I thought the locations in Twilight were very atmospheric; plenty of moping in the woods, granted, but also stunning coastal scenery, lakes and glowering storm clouds.

Despite my initial desire to give Bella a sadistically large pile of mind-numbing paperwork to do, Stewart is relatively effective in the role, somehow suggesting a free spirit wanting to escape her awkward, morose exterior.

The real one to watch is Pattinson, of course.  I’d never seen the guy in anything other than a Twilight trailer, so I was eager to see what the fuss was about.  My initial reaction was he looked like an ultra-lifelike creation by Jim Henson’s Shop, with the bloodless line of an unsmiling mouth, a jutting nose and stern eyebrows.  But, when he smiles…yes, girls, OK I get it.

Some might say the Muppets are more expressive, but I get the feeling there’s a good actor in Pattinson waiting for better material.  Twilight is ultra-safe, sanitized and focus-grouped to appeal to the widest possible audience without offending anyone, and the script is hardly giving him the chance to cut loose.

There’s a couple of good lines – I enjoyed him talking about sucking on animals being like regular carnivores eating tofu.  Most of the dialogue is made up of ultra-sincere swooners aimed at lovelorn teenagers –

Edward: “That’s what you dream about?  Being a monster?”

Bella: “I dream about being with you forever.”

or

Edward: “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore.”

Bella: “Then don’t”

There is a disappointing lack of vampire action in Twilight, however, and I think anyone who by some miracle doesn’t know anything about it would be best approaching it as a straightforward teen romance rather than a vampire film.

If I was a teenage boy looking for a few scares and a good old vampire monster mash, I’d come away very bored indeed.

Despite all my criticisms, I got pretty engrossed.  I found a stand off between the good vampires and bad vampires surprisingly tense, and I found the thing quite romantic.  Bring on New Moon!

PS: Punchlines to the title joke gratefully requested…

Where The Wild Things Are (2009) – What it’s like to be a Kid…


Like many of you I’m sure, Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are is part of my childhood wallpaper – peel back the layers stuck to the inside of my skull, beneath the old horror movie posters and Italia ’90 stickers, and there, somewhere, will be those indelible, strangely peaceful monsters of Sendak’s original book.

I know I never owned a copy, but I recall it being one of the books being fought over in the reading corner at School when I was little – it was the book equivalent of the James Bond Aston Martin toy car with the ejector seat and the missiles. Then when I went to work at a Primary school years later, it was always Where The Wild Things Are the kids were scrapping over….

I’d heard about a film adaptation, which I quickly forgot about, thinking the usual pessimistic thoughts about how much of a mess they were likely to make of another childhood classic. It’s been over a month since I watched Spike Jonze’s effort, and it’s such a curious, affecting piece it won’t quite go away – I’ve been straining to think of another “kid’s” film it resembles, but it’s pretty hard. In some ways, I think the film it resembles the most is the animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ beloved The Snowman.

Sendak’s original tale tells of a young boy called Max, who gets into so much mischief that he is sent to bed without any dinner. In his imagination, he sets off on an adventure across the sea to a strange forested land, where he encounters the wild things, a tribe of huge fierce monsters. Max proves himself to be the wildest thing of all and becomes their king, and after the “wild rumpus”, he soon becomes lonely and heads back home to the comforts of his family life.

One of the most impressive things about Jonze’s adaptation is that he hasn’t tried to pad out such a slim story into a massive feature length adventure – rather, he uses the original tale to inform a realistic portrayal of a lonely young boy who’s imagination sometimes gets the better of him.

The Wild Thing Max, played by newcomer Max Records, is initially caught in a scene of such alarming anger and vitality it’s a bit of a shock – dressed in the book’s famous wolf costume and followed by Jonze’s handheld camera, he chases and wrestles the family dog which such ferocious abandon there’s no doubt who the wild thing is here.

These early scenes of Max’s childhood are among the most effective of the film. Max is not an abused or neglected kid – it’s just he’s a bit lonely. His older sister is off out with her friends all the time, and his single mother (played warmly by Catherine Keener) loves him dearly, but has now reached the point when she now wants some new male attention in her life.

Some purists may be upset that the book’s transmogrification of Max’s bedroom into a jungle has been missed out, because it would certainly be within the realms of today’s special effects, but it doesn’t make too much of a difference.

Once Max’s journey has begun, he’s off across the sea and winds up in a wintry woodland, not unlike one he might find at the bottom of his garden – into his imagination, and Max is limited by what he already knows. Apart from the woods, the strange land is bordered by cliffs and beaches that recall the forlorn shoreline of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland.

Max encounters the Wild Things, huge lumbering creatures in the midst of smashing up their nests, led by the impetuous Carol, who is in a fury because his girlfriend-thing KW has left. Max tries to join in, and soon finds himself surrounded by a pack of looming, hungry-looking creatures threatening to eat him. Max is able to convince them he is actually a king, and after the “wild rumpus”, tries to bring order and harmony to the desolate group of monsters.

The creatures themselves are wonderful – I was initially put off by their “American” voices, but the vocal actors really bring the performances to the fore and do a brilliant job of voicing each creature’s foibles and insecurities. The creatures themselves are a seamless blend of CGI and animatronic suits designed by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. So often these days I find myself dragged out of a story by how fake the special effects look – Where The Wild Things Are is one of a few examples I can thing of where the effects look exactly right.

There is not much plot to speak of – the drama of the story is whether Max can really unite this band of fierce, lonely creatures into a loving group, and whether he can do it without getting eaten in the meantime. Because the creatures are figments of his imagination, the rhythms of their relationships has the same uneasy shifting of tantrums, boisterousness and shifting alliances of the playground…except this time, Max’s playmates are eight foot tall monsters who eat each other to settle disagreements.

There is an early scene which shows what can happen to Kings of the Wild Things who displease their subjects – it’s a brief, chilling moment, and again Jonze uses it wisely. While this is Max’s imagination, Jonze knows imaginations are deep and dark places, and sometimes people who immerse themselves fully into a fantasy world don’t always come back.

Where The Wild Things Are is a peculiar, moving and haunting film; I don’t think it is suitable for really young children, who may find it too slow or just plain frightening. Older kids, particularly those old enough to be allowed out to play on their own, should relate to it’s themes well.

If not, then the film is left to us grown ups – those of us with the knowledge that no matter how well we were brought up, there were moments when being a kid was a bewildering and lonely place. A beautiful film.

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