Saturday, October 30, 2010

Most Terrifying TV/Film Characters

It is Horror Week over at Trespass, so I a sked contributors to pick the 3 most terrifying characters from either film or TV. Here are my picks...

Bob (Frank Silva) from Twin Peaks (1990-1991) and Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Bob is undoubtedly one of the most disturbing TV characters of all time. A demonic entity, Bob gains strength and pleasure from the fear and suffering of his victims. With the ability to possess humans who do his bidding, Bob’s character represented both the abstract notion of pure evil and also the idea of the evil within the human character. Bob’s status as a terrifying character is not only credit to the surreal visuals of the show’s creators- David Lynch and Mark Frost but also linked to the ambiguity of the character, was he real or imaginary- the catalyst for violence or the excuse?

Pennywise the Dancing Clown
(Tim Curry) from It (1990)

The TV miniseries It can be blamed for many a person’s fear of clowns. Adapted from Stephen King’s horror novel, the title refers to a creature that can take on many different forms, often using its victims’ worst fears and phobias to hunt and kill them. With a taste for children, It most often appears as Pennywise, a playfully sadistic dancing clown, who attack his victims with fang-like teeth and claws. Watching It at a young age, the character of Pennywise has stayed in my psyche, and I often find myself irrationally crossing the road when I came to a drain.

Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) from Psycho (1960)

I can’t count the numbers of time I’ve been spooked by a ‘movement’ behind the shower curtain. Perhaps I’m just a nervous bather, or maybe it is the indelible mark of Hitchcock’s horror classicPsycho and its infamous murderer- Norman Bates that is the cause. A man with some seriously scary mother issues, Bates is all the more terrifying because he doesn’t look like a monster, in fact he looks like your average Joe.

You can read the full list at Trespass

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Town

Following his critically acclaimed directorial debut, Ben Affleck’s (Gone Baby Gone) sophomore feature sees him returning to his beloved Boston, and its criminal underbelly. Adapted from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, The Town follows a gang of bank robbers who all hail from Charlestown, Boston- an area with more armed robbers per square mile than anywhere else in the world (a fact with which the film opens).

Not content with directing credits alone Affleck heads up the cast as Doug MacRay, a criminal with a heart and a brain. MacRay is part of a tight-knit group of bank robbers including the slightly unhinged Jem (Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker), ‘Gloansy’ the driver (Slaine, Gone Baby Gone) and (because you can’t have odd numbers of criminals) Desmond (Owen Burke). The gang holds up a bank, taking the manager Claire (Rebecca Hall, Please Give) hostage. After releasing Claire they discover she lives in their neighbourhood and could potentially finger them to the FBI.

While Jeremy Renner steals every scene he is in, other actors feel painfully out of place. Mad Man’s Jon Hamm overacts the role of Agent Frawley, the FBI man who will do anything to catch his target. Also falling into clichéd territory is Pete Postlethwaite (Usual Suspects) as the sociopathic florist Colm Fergus. Blake Lively (Gossip Girl) as Krista, Macray’s sometimes bed partner, seems terribly miscast. The actress is too pretty and too young (or perhaps Affleck is too old) for her backstory.

The Town is the classic one-last-job heist film. High adrenaline action sequences and the odd witty one-liner lift this film above what is essential a very average crime flick. While elements of the casting are questionable, aside from one poor performance, the actors do the best with what they were given. Unfortunately this story is not strong enough to handle the pathos being piled on it. Entertaining with enough intrigue to keep audiences’ attention, The Town is a good film despite its faults. Perhaps the film is most hampered by high expectations, which neither the plot, the cast nor the director could quite live up to.


First published in The Brag 18/10/2010

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The White Ribbon DVD review

Winning awards for director Michael Haneke and cinematographer Christian Berger (including the Golden Palm at Cannes) The White Ribbon has been one of the most internationally acclaimed films of the past year; and it is not hard to see why. This exquisitely shot exploration of ideology is unnerving and uncomfortable viewing, but it is also completely intriguing and utterly intelligent storytelling.

Set in a small northern German village in the years preceding the outbreak of WWI, the story of a series of strange incidences, escalating in violence and malice is narrated by the village’s schoolteacher (Christian Freidel, voiced in narration by Ernest Jacobi). Growing tension between the farmers and the village’s primary landowner- the Baron (Ulrich Tukur), and the oppressive authoritarian practices of the village’s parents, particularly the pastor’s (Burghart Klaussner) use of ritual to punish his own children- offer clues as the to the perpetrators of the crimes and their motivations. But The White Ribbon is not a film with resolutions, and Haneke’s story is filled with undercurrents of the horrors that are to follow in Germany, with WWI and WWII.

With an excellent cast of children, who range from the very sweet to down-right creepy, the film’s repressive atmosphere requires understated performances. Maria-Victoria Dragus and Leonard Proxauf are superb as the Pastor’s two eldest children bringing a powerful sense of intense stillness and internal rage. Along with the disturbing elements of the film, there is also a very gentle and lovely romance between the schoolteacher and the nanny at the Baron’s estate, Eva (Leonie Benesch), which makes a welcome contrast to the film’s sombre tones.


First published in The Brag 11/10/10

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Let Me In

Let Me In is the American remake of the 2008 Swedish arthouse hit, Let the right One In, adapted from John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel. This horror/coming of age vampire story focuses on the friendship between bullied 12-year-old, Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and his vampire neighbour, eternally 12-year-old Abby (Chloe Moretz). Coming so soon after the acclaimed foreign language original, is this an unnecessary remake?

While the original is a superior film, Matt Reeve’s (Cloverfield) remake is not without its charms. Wisely the American director has stuck close to the source material, with the snowy landscapes of a small New Mexico town standing in for the wintry Swedish countryside. Like its predecessor, Let Me In defies genre- avoiding the gothic romance and mythology of most vampire stories. Although there are scenes of violence, they are just as frequent in Owen’s world of school bullies as Abby’s world of blood thirst.

Let Me In’s ability to stand as a film in its own right is boosted by excellent performances from the two young actors who navigate the film’s dangerous world of prepubescence. Australian actor Smit-McPhee (The Road) perfectly transmits Owen’s sense of isolation and Kick-Ass star Moretz further proves her impressive acting chops. The film is buoyed by a fantastic supporting cast including Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) as Abby’s father/familiar and supreme character actor Elias Koteas (The Killer Inside Me) as the police inspector.

There is a certain heavy-handed sentimentality to Reeve’s film, which affects the film both positively and negatively. The closeness of Owen and Abby’s relationship is textured by the film’s sweeter moments, but the soundtrack is completely over-the-top and distracting. Surprisingly the film’s special effects are poor, Abby’s vampiric transformations jar with the surrounding action. However Australian DoP Greig Fraser (Bright Star) has done another incredible job with beautiful and exciting visuals, particularly some exceptionally shot car sequences.

Reeve can’t claim any originality with this film, but that shouldn’t take away from what has been accomplished. Respecting the nuances of the book and the first version, he has delivered a good film that will bring a wider audience to this superbly dark tale.


First Published in
The Brag (11/10/2010)

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Monday, October 11, 2010


Who’d have thought ninety minutes of Ryan Reynolds buried in a small wooden box would make for a clever and exciting thriller? Surprisingly this simple set up proves to be very effective. Running the gamut of darkly funny to claustrophobic, this kidnap drama builds up tension in both plausible and ridiculous ways. Highlighting the talent and inventiveness of all involved, Buried is griping and entertaining, making it perfect cinema viewing.

At the start of the film Paul Conroy (Reynolds), an American civilian truck driver working in Iraq, wakes up in a wooden coffin, buried underground. Not knowing who put him there, or why, and unaware of his location Paul’s chances of survival diminish with every breath he takes. At his disposal he has a mobile, a penknife, a pencil and an assortment of portable light sources- will he escape?

The film never ascends above the ground, showing the action from Paul’s POV throughout. Though this was probably as much an economic decision as an artistic one, it is still a brave choice- which has added to the atmosphere and power of the film. Both the audience and Paul are kept in the dark as to what is happening on ground level. Despite the role being contained, Reynolds’ physicality needs to be commended. Oscillating from sardonic wit to panic, anger to despair- Reynolds’ performance is probably his best to date.

With the stakes in this film ever increasing, the director Rodrigo Cortés builds suspense by setting up red herrings and distractions. The film introduces other voices to the story through Paul’s phone conversations. Paul’s efforts to get himself rescued highlight the darkly corrupt world of contractors in Iraq, amongst other problems with America’s involvement in that region. Handled without much subtlety the ‘political’ aspects of the script are probably the film’s weakest part, and the least original. However the film’s astute play on modern communication and accessibility is razorsharp-smart- never has a film better shown the terror of being put on hold.

Cinematographer Eduard Grau, whose previous work includes the sumptuous A Single Man(2009) does an amazing job making this film visually engaging. A range of light sources – flame, torch and light sticks- creates unique shadows and colours inside the coffin. The use of interesting shooting angles enhances Reynolds’ performance- framing his face as the focal point for the film’s action.

Buried is an example of a good idea (from scriptwriter Chris Sparling), well-planned and well executed. This film shows that massive pyrotechnics and expensive special effects aren’t necessary for a successful thriller. A tight script, inventive filmmaking and a good performance are enough.

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First published on Trespass

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eat Pray, Love

After the break-up of her marriage Elizabeth Gilbert decided to take a year out, travelling to Italy, India and Indonesia. Her year involved indulging in previously restricted carbs in Rome, a spiritual quest in Kolkata and romance in Bali. This reviewer hasn’t read the bestselling book- Eat, Pray, Love about the author’s journey of self-discovery, and thanks to Ryan Murphy’s (Glee) film version, probably never will. No amount of grinning Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco and beautiful scenery is enough to sell this pseudo-spiritual, completely dull travel log.

The idea of middle-class malaise that this film examines is a reasonably common theme for indie films. But while it is dealt with using humour, bitter sarcasm and guilt by the likes of Baumbach, Anderson or Holefcener, in this mainstream incarnation it is painfully serious, but ultimately disingenuous.

Watching the film, there are moments when you think it’s not so bad- the scenery is spectacular, and the acting is passable, but then it ramps up the platitudes. Eat, Pray, Love is like one of those novelty books of ancient wisdoms, digested and regurgitated for Western readers that they stack up around counters at bookshops. Without context these sayings are empty words. This is the same with the film- we are taken to three vastly different countries and are fed vapid truisms with no exploration or attempt at real immersion. This isn’t a criticism of the real Elizabeth Gilbert and her journey, but of the film’s structure and script.

Eat, Pray, Love provides characters that are not only uninteresting, but are also uninterested. The filmmakers seem to think that Italy and India are cities as opposed to countries made up of vastly different landscapes and cultures and make very little effort to distinguish specific locality. It is also kind of ironic that Gilbert spends most of her time with people outside the cultures she visits, a Swede (Tuva Novotny) in Italy, a Texan man (an actor who deserves so much better, Richard Jenkins) in India, and a Brazilian man (Bardem) in Bali.

Self-discovery is by definition a form of self-absorption, and never has this been more obvious than witnessing Gilbert ‘finding herself’. Middle class dissatisfaction isn’t meant to be this earnest; this is a film unable to laugh at itself, desperately reaching for importance but falling flat. This film has the vocabulary of day-time TV psychologists- using terms like ‘healing yourself’ and ‘forgiving yourself’, which both lacks honesty and is quite off-putting. Give me real emotions of guilt, embarrassment and confusion any day over the forgettable trite this film exudes.

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First published on Trespass