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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Tickled - A Spoiler Free Review

Now to talk about one of the weirdest, most intriguing, most amazing and just downright brilliant Documentaries I've ever seen.

It's one of those docs that plays like a fiction film. Like a delightfully odd, yet deep and intriguing fiction film but instead it's absolutely true. Which leaves you speechless and your mind well and truly boggled.

I am not even sure how to summarise what this film is about. I am both anxious not to give anything away but also confused as to where to start.

Basically it's about a New Zealand pop culture journalist who does odd little stories about quirky people in NZ. One day he stumbles across the internet video world of extreme, competitive tickling. When he reaches out to the tickling website for an interview he receives a litany of surprisingly bonkers, homophobic hate mail and then, when he decides to make a documentary about it, the personal threats and legal warnings start. That, and I can't overstate this enough, is JUST the beginning. The rabbit hole this leads the film-makers down reaches further and exposes more than you will ever be able to believe.

If I had to summarise it in a sentence, it's sort of like the Nic Cage movie 8mm, only true, better and about tickling videos.

Here's The Trailer:

Firstly, before I even review it, just go see it. Seriously. Go see it.

If you like mystery stories that manage to take in the whole scope of human experience in a way that is scarily relevant today, then you will love this.

The documentary covers, among other topics, homophobia, sexual fetishes, domination, masculinity, sports, power, the law, internet bullying, psychology, conspiracy, inherited wealth, abuse, intimidation, revenge and, of course, tickling. The story unravels beautifully with each question you may have after 40mins watching it, answered perfectly in the second half.

There are a couple of moments that feel fortuitous, or where the leaps in the narrative could use a little more explanation but apart from that I was on the edge of my seat throughout the 96 minute running time.

Nowadays we are all used to seeing photos and video content of other humans lives, homes, hobbies etc. but there was a point, back when the internet was first a thing, in the 90s, where it all felt strange, new, wild, seedy and bizarre to wade out into the vast and uncensored human experience online.

As the film goes on it can get quite unnerving and manages to put you right back in that place when you first used a chat room, full of weirdly named people (who could be anyone), or when you first saw someone's home made video online. Similar to when you saw your first horror or porn film on an unmarked VHS tape that your mate lent you. You can't quite believe that a person, possessed of the same biology as you, is doing what you're watching. It's very evocative and the late 90s/early 2000s technology is replicated effectively.

The directors, David Farrier and Dylan Reeve need to be applauded, not just for pursuing this story to the ends that they manage to (I am pretty sure I would've packed it in after the first e-mail threat) but for telling the story in such a fascinating, intriguing and guiding narrative.

They also perform the magic trick of wrapping it up in both a filmic way, reminiscent of a thousand straight-to-TV psychological thrillers but also, because this story is true, in a way that feels like some closure, revenge and justice has been had.

David Farrier, co-director of TICKLED, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Dylan Reeve, co-director of TICKLED, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The film stands as a bleak and desperately relevant reminder that the human animal is a confused, frightening, manipulative and powerful thing, especially when it doesn't have to want for food or money.

Tickled is out in theatres in Los Angeles and New York right now and expands around the country through June and July. Find out where and when HERE

Thursday, 9 June 2016

A Bloke Down the Pub Talks to You About Hammer Films - Evening Twelve – Night Creatures/Captain Clegg

In our continuing series of articles 'The bloke down the pub' will tell us all about his favourite Hammer Horror films. In his twelfth review he's thanking himself for letting 1962's Night Creatures play longer than 5 minutes and wondering if the alternate title of Captain Clegg works or not... Enjoy!

I watch most of my movies on the Netflix these days, but you know what I miss? Movies that you’re pretty sure are rubbish after only five minutes, but because you’ve paid good money you have to stick with them, at least for a while. Not like on that Netflix where there’s a thousand other films you could be watching. And I miss that because every now and then you’d get a movie that you think is not much cop to begin with, but slowly and surely it starts winning you over.

You take Night Creatures; it would have been a crying shame to miss seeing that just because after five minutes you thought ‘Ey up, these effects are a bit crap, laughably crap actually - the ghostly phantoms look just like blokes in cheap skeleton costumes riding horses…’ Because, you know what? It turns out that’s because they ARE just blokes wearing skeleton costumes riding horses - pretending to be phantoms to perpetuate a rather cunning plan. Just like with the people you meet in this here pub, your first impressions aren’t always right.

And I always think fondly of movies that take me by surprise. But how can you subvert expectations these days, if no bugger’s got the patience for anything except having their expectations met? It also depends on what the bloody thing’s called of course. That’s something else I miss actually, lurid retitling of movies for a bit of that sweet ‘cheated audience’ cash. Usually it just doesn’t work, and the original title is much better. And I don’t know how I feel about ‘Night Creatures’ to be honest. On the one hand, its original title ‘Captain Clegg’ is certainly more accurate, but if it had been called that I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half as much. Because here’s the thing, an old Hammer film called ‘Night Creatures’ about mysterious phantoms stalking an old English coastal village starring Peter Cushing as a priest, well… you have a certain expectation as to what that film is going to be. You are, let’s face it, unlikely to be too surprised by what happens, you just hope that they do it well. So when the aforementioned crap skeletons on horses turn up you think ‘Uh-oh, this doesn’t look good...’ But you’ve paid your money so you stick with it. And you see Cushing with a mad puritan hairdo with a silver streak down the middle, obviously having a lot of fun with his zealous preaching, and there are a few other Hammer stalwarts in attendance like Oliver Reed and a brilliant Michael Ripper who’s usually a crap comic relief but here he’s an excellent scheming undertaker, and who doesn’t love a well played scheming undertaker? But still, no horror. Where’s the horror? I mean you’re happy the unconvincing horse powered skeletons haven’t come back, but are we expecting more phantoms? Different phantoms? And then you realise that this isn’t a horror film at all, it’s a fun little period thriller with a horror movie’s atmosphere. That’s why Cushing is having so much fun - he’s not playing the last hope of good standing alone against a horde of evil - he’s playing a likeable cad, a reformed bad guy, a man so charismatic that a ship or even village full of people will follow him whether it’s good or evil. You don’t ask questions when the man in charge never does you wrong I suppose. It’s not much of a moral grey area mind, as it’s clear at the end that the village loves him because he gives them a share of the booty and protects them from government interference. It’s all rather Republican really.

It’s also very neat this whole village as ship thing they’ve got going on, complete with trapdoors to basements that feel like holds, narrow wooden passages connecting all the vital areas of the place, and of course a fiercely loyal crew.

But it’s all about Cushing this one, playing Clegg as he goes from enthusiastic preacher to head of a secret criminal organisation to blaggard of the high seas and finally to folk hero in one completely believable role all the while anchoring a movie that has to keep his true identity a secret until the end. How the bloody hell do you carry an entire movie when the audience aren’t allowed to know who your character even is! When you’re Peter bloody Cushing, that’s when.

So, alright, maybe the film should have been called Captain Clegg, strictly for accuracy. But then we would have known who Cushing was for sure, spoiling the whole twist of the movie - which makes me think Captain Clegg was a rubbish title to begin with. But more importantly, we wouldn’t have stuck around for more than the Netflix five minutes and been taken by surprise by a fun little Hammer movie about a village being run as a pirate ship by Peter Cushing having the time of his life.

So I suppose we should thank the sneaky marketing department that thought ‘Who cares about some guy named Clegg? But you know what people do like? Creatures of the night!’ Alright, maybe they’re swine... but even greedy swine have good ideas once in a while. Speaking of which…

Another pint?
The bloke down the pub is always three sheets to the wind, has the crumbs from an old pork pie on his lapel and smells of pipe tobacco and pickled eggs but he knows his Hammer movies and he wants to share his thoughts.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Finding Fanny - Bollywood Movie Review

Every week, the very awesome Kiva Ashby gives us her expert take on Bollywood movies.

Finding Fanny
September 2014
Director: Homi Adajania
Starring: Deepika PadukoneArjun Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah
Length: 1hr 46min

I took a leap of faith with this movie because it kept showing up in my Netflix queue. It stars Deepika Padukone, Arjun Kapoor and Naseeruddin Shah, all actors that I really have respect for. I was actually avoiding the film because it looked too American but I gave it a shot and I was pleasantly surprised.

The storyline is quite simple on the surface but harbors heavier themes underneath. An over the hill postmaster in a tiny village in the coastal town of Goa, sets out with a mismatched bunch of townspeople to find his long lost love of 42 years.

Here’s my take away from the film; the good, the bad and the funny:

The Good
I figured out at a young age that I really enjoy pastoral scenes. Whether it is in film, in pictures or described in books. This film is incredibly pastoral. It is super green throughout. Wherever the film was shot it was beautiful. The still below gives a great example of what I mean by GREEN! And we can’t ignore the beauty that is Deepika Padukone.

The Bad
The “Bad” for me may actually be a “good” for some. The entire movie is in English. No Hindi, no local dialect. It was just plain ole English.
Here’s why that's a negative feature for me: authenticity.
I could be wrong but it just seems that in a small town in Goa, India, the townspeople wouldn’t speak English to each other. Not that they don’t know how, but they wouldn’t consistently speak in English and only use their native dialect sparingly. I found this very odd and it ruined the authentic feel of the film. I would have preferred to hear Hindi (or whatever the language of the area was).

The Funny
I’ll leave off on a positive note. This movie is quite funny. It has a subtle humor that is also a bit dark. Naseeruddin Shah delivers a great performance and his every day kind of wit makes you want to be his friend. I’ve seen him in many different roles and this one was just as good if not one of his best performances. Arjun Kapoor didn’t deliver any jokes, but his somber performance as a heartbroken man was surprisingly good. I’m used to him playing the bad guy. However this just shows how versatile of an actor he is. His on screen chemistry with Padukone really shined through. The playful banter between the two brought out a faint humor that keeps the movie lighthearted.

Kiva Ashby is a true Bollywood fanatic trying to convert westerners one film at a time.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Venom - Blue Underground Blu-Ray Review

Release Date: May 31, 2016
Format: Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack
Starring: Sterling Hayden, Klaus Kinski, Sarah Miles, Nicol Williamson, Susan George and Oliver Reed as Dave.
Directed by: Piers Haggard

Sweaty, hyper, mad bastard Oliver Reed, simmering, goggle eyed, mad bastard Klaus Kinski and sweaty, mad, sex-pot Susan George attempt to swipe a posh, animal loving brat from under the nose of madly bearded Sterling Hayden but are scuppered at the last moment by a mix-up at a pet shop that causes, after an unlikely series of events, a deadly black mamba to be unleashed in a London town house. Mad, Scottish bastard Nicol Williamson is the policeman with the house under siege as tensions rise, nostrils flare and Kinski's wardrobe gets ever so flouncy and beige in Venom.

With a synopsis like that I wasn't quite sure how the movie came out to be quite so dull. Then I read the excellent booklet and listened to the commentary that came with this wonderful Blu-Ray and it started to make sense. Without going into too much hullabaloo and history here (go buy the Blu-Ray you cheapskates!), let's just say that both production and, more importantly, the script (based on the novel by Alan Scholefield) had a few complications.

Before you even get to Oliver Reed, Klaus Kinski and a bleedin' deadly Black Mamba snake tearing all over the set like lunatics, there were multiple re-writes, one even done by someone who ended up having a nervous breakdown during its completion, there was a partnership disagreement that also heavily impacted the final shooting script and, original director, Tobe Hooper left the project. To say Venom had a troubled birth is something of an understatement.

Then in walks the delightfully British and completely unrufflable, jobbing Director Piers Haggard who had a number of TV plays and miniseries to his name, not least of which was Pennies From Heaven, the heavily lauded Dennis Potter series. While, by his own admission, he wasn't able to make the artistic flourishes or script amendments he would've liked, it's a testament to him and cinematographer, the legendary Gilbert Taylor (Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Dr.Strangelove) that the film is as watchable as it is.

Sadly the script gives little for anyone to do, except sort of stand around and be tetchy, and if it wasn't for the sheer presence and screen power of Kinski, Reed, Hayden and Williamson, then Venom really wouldn't be worth much of anything at all.

It really is a case where casting, a solid, level headed director and an impressive cinematographer elevate what is a badly written, boring mess of a movie. All my enjoyment, and, to be fair, there was quite a bit, was derived from watching which bit of scenery someone would chew or inhale next, the rare occasion the ludicrous (and largely pointless) snake would make an appearance and noticing the odd well staged and well lit camera shot. It was pretty difficult though to shake the constant nagging feeling of "oh damn I wish this was better".

There was so much potential but it neither comes close to the fun shlock of, say, Alligator or rises above its B Movie stylings to become some mad, wonderful piece of nostril flaring performance art. It comes close and there are moments the film really glimmers with bonkers nonsense but all too often you're wishing someone would just do SOMETHING interesting.


As with most Blue Underground releases, the Blu-Ray really does help and add value to the existing movie. While there aren't a plethora of drool-worthy extras, for example a great Susan George interview would've been perfect, the film looks so very good and the companion booklet and director's commentary/interview more than explain the troubled production and gives an intriguing insight into Reed and Kinski's on-set madness.

As much as we love them, it is bloody incredible that Reed and Kinski were allowed to just run rough-shot over any set they were on. Who kept hiring them? As much as it is fun to hear about, all these years later, I imagine being there with them was the pits.

- Audio Commentary with Director Piers Haggard
- Theatrical Trailer
- Teaser Trailer
- TV Spots
- Poster & Still Gallery
- BONUS Collectable Booklet featuring new writing by Fangoria Editor Michael Gingold

- Color
- 7.1 DTS-HD; 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX; 2.0 DTS-HD / 6.1 DTS-ES; 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround EX; Stereo
- English
- English SDH, French, Spanish
- 1.85:1 / 16x9
- 1982
- 92 Mins
- Rated R
- Region Code: ALL

Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Haunting of Alice D Review

In which no Alice D's or anyone else really, for that matter, are haunted very much.

I would like nothing more than to sing the praises of The Haunting of Alice D. Made by an up and coming, multi-hyphenated, female horror director (of which there are far too few), Jessica Sonneborn, shot in an occasionally interesting and different way by cinematographer Eric Latek and featuring a small but awesome performance by Kane "His Name Was Jason" Hodder, there are definite elements about the film that I would love to support.

Even if I was to blame the illogical name of the movie and the poster image on the distributers desperately trying to capitalise on the never ending line of tedious 'Haunting' movies, that have plagued us horror fans over the last decade, I still couldn't forgive the movie for just being dull.

I have tried to see this as more of an "art-house" horror but even as a character study, or an indictment of the history of male abuse, or a comment on horror's objectification of women, or anything at all, it just fails, unfortunately. What substance it may think it has was lost on me amongst a see of unlikeable, thinly drawn, caricatures and supposedly difficult or horrific sequences that didn't have the strength of their convictions. By the rushed, inexplicable, confusing, sudden and nothing ending I was absolutely numb.

The plot, such as it is, concerns an old house, once a brothel, in which young Alice D was sold, used and abused by fat, old, ugly, despicable white men. Cut forward a hundred years or more and the relation of the man who used to run the brothel, an obnoxious, unredeemable, egocentric, arrogant and unlikable bro-dude ass-clown, is hosting the least exciting party since your smelly Uncle Harold invited the family around to look at slides of that week's toenail clippings.

Him, his horribly unpleasant friends, some token prostitutes, a woman who's there by mistake (because she just needs the money) and the token 'nice guy in a bad pack' proceed to wander aimlessly around the house, occasionally making out in the most unpleasant and noisy ways and talking about nothing at all. These vapid, vain, vacant and unforgivably bland crew have so little to offer anyone, most of all the audience, that watching their behaviour should be treatment for insomnia. It was like one long, tedious episode of Entourage without a script or the occasional outburst from Matt Dillon's, less talented, younger brother.

Into this unbearable banality comes Alice D's ghost, who does very little for the majority of the running time except occasionally show up in a white dress and goth make up to hide behind a pillar or shut the odd door. It's mildly more interesting than one of those 'Paranormal Activity' movies, that make me want to severe my retinas and slam my head into a cartoonishly large anvil with boredom, but saying that is like saying watching coloured paint dry is mildly more interesting than watching white paint dry.

By the time Alice D's ghost does anything that could be considered at all interesting or shocking, it is in the last 5 minutes of the film and despite being too quick and too confusing, it is, at the very least, something. It's not scary exactly and would certainly be more satisfying if I understood anything that was going on, but it's effective in its own way.

Then it ends.

Just as it begins, it ends and not with a bang, a whimper, or even a muffled fart but with a blank screen and the credits rolling. You might then spend time trying to decipher what you just watched but sadly you weren't encouraged to care at all and instead you press stop, sigh and go about your evening. I am sorry to say that the film is so unaffecting that it didn't even confuse or bother me sufficiently that it just ended. There have been episodes of crappy ABC Network procedurals that have left me frustrated for hours because I missed something or because the plot seemed confusing but, sadly, The Haunting of Alice D didn't even engage me enough to the point of caring.

I'd, usually, be more than willing to accept that this is somehow all my fault and I didn't fully understand the film and its complexities but the job of a filmmaker is to communicate and successfully translate the script to an audience, via the actors, set decorator, cinematographer etc. so unless I am just stupid, which I don't think I am, that job just wasn't achieved.

I said, at the beginning of this review, that the cinematography had its moments. Well it did! It was high contrast, fairly grainy and had some interesting focus points but it was at least something different than I'd seen before. I read a review criticising it but of all the things I took away from this film that were positive, it was contained within Kane Hodder and the look of the piece.

The sound was atrocious, though, amateurishly picking up shoes clomping noisily along wooden, creaky floors and lips smacking during kissing scenes that sounded like someone blowing up a rubber raft with their highly greased buttocks but that had difficulty picking out actual dialogue. Also I don't remember a single thing about the score, if there even is one.

I don't like to tear a film down and it is not my habit to be an angry, nerd blogger railing against films he'd have no talent or ability to make himself but, unfortunately, in this case, I had no other choice.
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