Monthly Archives: March 2014

Banshee Chapter

DVD Pile

banshee chapter 001I knew nothing about this film before I watched it but this turned out to be a creepy sort of found footage film with a story that really drew me in with its mixture of real events and the fictionalised events of the film. I say sort of found footage because while it’s all filmed using handheld cameras there is no-one obviously recording it and the camera operator is never acknowledged. It didn’t really matter because I was too busy getting into the story by the time that became obvious.

The film is supposed to be a record of the researches of Anne Roland (Katia Winter) a young journalist who is investigating the disappearance of her close friend James Hirsch (Michael McMillian), a writer she met when they were students at college together. James recorded his experience of taking a drug developed by researchers from the DMT used in the MK Ultra scandal but after that he seems to have disappeared and not long after that the guy who was filming vanished too. The authorities investigated but they came up with nothing so Anne is determined to find answers

Anne searches James’s house and find a box with a video cassette and letter signed “from your friends in Colorado,” and this is the path she follows in her investigation. She tells her friend/ boss Olivia (Vivian Nesbitt) at work about everything and she puts Anne on to  the signature being the title of a book by a burned out writer called Thomas Blackburn (Ted Levine) who seems to be based-on people like William Burroughs or Hunter S Thomson. The video turns out to be a recording of experiments on human volunteers with the modified DMT that James took.

On James’s computer is the video they made of James taking drug and there is a sound on the video that Anne can’t identify so she goes to see an expert who identifies it as a number station. These radio stations have been around since at least the Second World War and consist of a monotone voice reading out a series of numbers preceded by a musical jingle that sounds like ice cream van chimes. No-one admits to operating these stations so obviously they have become incorporated into conspiracy myths. The expert guy gives her a shortwave radio set and tells her where she needs to go to pick the station. he gets a bit cagier when Anne moves on to the subject of his work as a decoder for NSA

Anne tricks her way into Thomas Blackburn’s house and is introduced to Callie (Jenny Gabrielle), a friend of Thomas who shares his interest experimental pharmacology and is preparing her own recipe of the modified DMT. The freakishness starts not long after that with hints of Lovecraftian goings on and something seems to coming for them, signalled by the chimes of the numbers station. With Thomas Anne has to track down the source of the transmissions.

This was more interesting than the usual fake documentary style films and though it takes it time building up an atmosphere the climax itself is genuinely tense and creepy. The small cast is excellent and I thought the film made good use of the found footage in the film to lend credence to the story. This is also helped by use of the real scandal of the MK Ultra experiments and the ongoing mystery of the numbers stations. I think it’s an interesting film and I also like the soundtrack which is a bonus.

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on March 28, 2014 in Entertainment, Film


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For Those in Peril

The DVD Pile

for those in peril 001This is an indie film that somehow got put in the horror section at my local HMV and after watching it I am not sure that decision is correct as it is more of drama with elements of folklore and magic. It takes its title from the old hymn that’s popular especially in fishing communities for obvious reasons. There are parts that have documentary quality with camcorder footage mixed with interviews with villagers the soundtrack that help lend authenticity to the drama. It has style that reminds me of that type TV drama that verges on reality TV with long awkward silences that increase the viewer’s sense of voyeurism.

Aaron (George MacKay) is a young man living in a small village on the coast of Scotland and he’s the sole survivor of a fishing boat accident at sea that took the lives of his older brother Michael (Jordan Young) and five other local men. The grief at the loss is the prevailing feeling in the small village and his presence is like a living ghost, reminding people of those they have lost.  He has no memory of what happened out there which means the need for answers goes unsatisfied and some people blame Aaron for the deaths.

Aaron seems obsessed with the notion that just because they are missing it doesn’t mean they are dead and he believes his brother Michael is still alive out there with the others. He seems to seriously believe the old stories his mother told him when he was a child about the devil living in the sea in the form of a monstrous fish that cursed the village. This story includes a young boy who goes out to see to kill the fish and rescue all his loved ones from its giant belly. The parallel with Aaron is hard to miss.

Aaron was an outsider before the tragedy, not really interested in rough and tumble play with other boys his age but it seemed that he was tolerated because his brother was much more normal, popular and physically capable. With Michael gone there is open contempt for Aaron from the youths of the village who enjoy telling him the most lurid gossip about him.

While his mother Cathy (Kate Dickie) tries to be supportive all the time she can’t understand what he’s going through. Aaron confides in Jane (Nichola Burley), his brother’s fiancé and they start growing close but her father (Michael Smiley) is not happy about it. Jane realises she’s using Aaron to cling on to George and decides to stop seeing him. This leads to a confrontation between Aaron and Jane’s father and Aaron realising he is on his own.

This is good solid film dealing with the way a community deals with loss and we see them focus their grief and anger on Aaron. His method of coping is to turn to the stories of his childhood, the myths with happy endings that offer him hope. He was happy staying in background while his brother got the limelight but now has to cope with being the centre of somewhat hostile attention on top of his own sense of loss. The young actor playing Aaron really has to carry the whole film and I think he did great job and he did so well with the accent that I didn’t even suspect he wasn’t Scottish. The supporting cast are all excellent too. It is not a light film and it has very downbeat feel to it so it’s not really a fun film for an easy watch but I think it still worth a look even if just for the scenery.

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on March 25, 2014 in Entertainment, Film


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The Zero Theorem

Cinema Review

zero theoremI am one of those who grew up with Monty Python and have enjoyed many of the films of animator turned director Terry Gilliam from Jabberwocky to Brazil and Time Bandits so i was off to the cinema on the opening weekend of his latest film. I had an enjoyable time all right but it didn’t really have some of the emotional punch of his best films

Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz) is an entity cruncher at a powerful company called Mancorp. This is apparently like number crunching but more complex. Qohen has a strong dislike of commuting to work through the sensory overload of the city streets to the even more chaotic office where he works. He appeals to his supervisor Joby (David Thewlis) to be allowed to work at home but only Management can authorise that. Qohen is obsessed with the notion that one day his phone will ring and the person on the other end will tell him the meaning and purpose of his life and this is why he wants to work from home though he does really hate going outside.

The supervisor invites Qohen to a party where he can meet Management who turns out to be Matt Damon in suits that always match his background but Qohen finds little sympathy from the man. The party is just as chaotic as at the office with everyone bumping into each other as they manipulate phones and tablet computers. A young woman called Bainsley (Mélanie Thierry) tries engaging Qohen in conversation but Qohen just wants go home.

Next day Qohen gets examined by three doctors to see if he is sick and can work from home but that doesn’t seem to go very well so it’s a surprise when Joby tells Qohen that he is getting his wish to work from home on a special project called the Zero Theorem. This is long term project that has apparently been going for years burning out the minds of anyone working on it including Joby. This doesn’t seem to worry Quinn. He gets working on the project but every advance he makes seems to crumble away to nothing and he doesn’t really know what it is he is working on. It turns out that the Zero Theorem is proposition that the universe is meaningless. As he fails to make progress Mancorp send him Bob (Lucas Hedges) a teenage technical wiz to help with any technical issues and Bainsley is sent to help him with psychological emotional problems. The film really does a great job evoking a sense of the world where everyone is hyper connected by technology but Qohen is alone in his converted church. Gilliam likes playing with these ironies and another character later says of Qohen that he’s spent so long looking for the meaning of his life that he has led meaningless empty life

This is a very Gilliam film with a quiet unassuming lead being overwhelmed by a world dominated by trivia and noise. There is no real malevolence or deliberate in the politics of this dystopia, just a sense of decay through apathy, greed, vanity and selfishness. Advertising is intrusive and pervasive and Qohen is constantly being watched by Management. The world is like day-glo daytime version of the urban techno dystopia of Blade Runner but with technology that has a sort of leaky pneumatic feel of Brazil. There is quite a bit of humour especially with Tilda Swinton as a computer psychiatrist called Dr Shrink-ROM that Qohen consults and a pair of violent bungling henchmen who work for Management. It is not going to be a film that will have broad appeal but I enjoyed my visit to Gilliam-land even if the story felt a bit flat at times.

Rating 7.0/10

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Posted by on March 16, 2014 in Entertainment, Film


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Big Ass Spider

Video almost on Demand

1656281_586345511459484_2063871959_nThis one of those B-Movies that  parody the genre like many of the Troma films and the much of the output of Full Moon or Roger Corman. It is a creature feature with mad science, a giant deadly monster, gun happy military and a city in peril but it is also mainly a buddy comedy

Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg) is a pest exterminator that takes his work very seriously but despite his experience he still gets bitten by poisonous spider while helping a mad cat lady (Lin Shaye) with her pest problem. He goes the hospital get the bite treated and a dead body is brought in and taken to the morgue. The body turns out to contain the Big Ass Spider and it is already creepy enough at the size of a medium size dog. It bites the morgue attendant and the hospital manager sends Alex down the morgue with Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar) the security guard.

Jose really likes Alex, impressed by his knowledge and self-confidence  and bizarre little spider impersonation he keeps doing and Alex likes the way Jose actually listens to him. They track the spider down in the basement of the hospital and just as it is going jump on Alex Lieutenant Karly Brant (Clare Kramer) arrives and shoots at it. While Karly and Alex bicker and Alex tries to put the moves on Karly the spider gets away into the sewers.

The military are led by Major Braxton Tanner (Ray Wise) and they have tracked the spider to the hospital. They have a scientist Lucas (Patrick Bauchau) with them who has of course being doing mad science and created this spider by accident when trying to create giant tomatoes. They thank Alex and send him and Jose on their way though Alex does try to put some moves on Karly again.

Alex is about just walk away but his new buddy Jose talks him around and convinces Alex that he can find the spider. They figure out it is in the drainage tunnels in the LA river but when they get there the army are already there and it’s killed a mob of homeless people by webbing them up, dissolving their bodies with digestive juices then sucking them up. It is grisly but the film avoids showing too much

Alex and Jose track the spider down to the woods in a local park and get there just as the spider goes on a rampage slaughtering people and webbing others. The first victim is a lecherous old jogger that fans of low budget Troma films will recognise as Lloyd Kaufman and he gets eaten to the very obvious sound of someone munching celery. The spider is now as big as an elephant and killing everything in it path. Alex and Jose attract the spider with Alex’s truck and it chases them right into roadblock the army have set up.

There are few surprises in this film which has sees the army give it their best shot with guns and missiles but it  is up to Alex and Jose to actually take down the spider and rescue the girl.  I liked the comedy double act of Alex and Jose and the film reminded be of other films like Tremors though I can’t say the special effects or supporting performances were as good as Tremors. Some of the spider effects looked really creepy but there were times it just looked like a big cartoon.

Rating 6.5/10

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Posted by on March 9, 2014 in Entertainment, Film


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