Sunday, 15 December 2019


15 years after taking on McDonald's and the fast food industry in Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock returns to take on the intensive chicken farming industry, AKA Big Chicken.

In the original Super Size Me, Spurlock uncovered how unhealthy our fast food chains really are by eating McDonalds for every meal for a month, leading to changes to the McMenu and other restaurants following suit to promote a more healthy range of foods. What he hopes to show in this belated sequel is just how successful he actually was, in particular focusing on the chicken farming industry, the bird seeing a huge surge in popularity in the intervening years. To do that he doesn't plan to eat an exorbitant amount of chicken; instead he's purchasing his own chicks, rearing them on his own "Morganic" chicken farm for weeks, then sending them off to slaughter so he can feed them to others in his own fast food restaurant.

I'm sure that Spurlock, who gained notoriety and celebrity after the Oscar nominated success of his first film, never thought for a moment he would legitimately be able to pull the feathers over people's eyes that he of all people was genuinely going to open a fast food restaurant; but the ruse doesn't take up too much of the runtime of this film, instead taking on the myths of so called "healthy" menus, and the language that is used to convince the consumer they're actually eating good food. To do this he wades through the chicken shit and into the bullshit, visiting various US eateries (including a return to his nemesis, McDonald's) and taking apart their claims by reflecting them back on his own chicken filled "grow house". Free range? The definition is so vague that Spurlock installs a curved grate the width of the grow house doorway in order to qualify. The chickens might never see daylight and spend all day in the crowded barn, suffering broken legs due to their weight and heart attacks due to stress, but technically the option for them to step out into less than a square metre of outdoors is there, so free range they are.

The most entertaining aspect of the film is this dissection of the language being used to dupe us into thinking the fast food industry has actually changed in the wake of Spurlock's original outing. It's depressing to see how easy it is to manipulate the facts to make the consumer think they're being a conscientious buyer, opting for "all natural", "humanely raised", "hormone free" chicken, without actually knowing what that all means. Likewise, i'll never set foot in a fast food eatery again without analysing the decor for inspirational but ultimately nonsensical messages written large on the walls, something Spurlock parodies to great effect at the finale of the film with the grand opening of his new chicken restaurant.

Heck, even this film, with this title, is a product of that same marketing strategy, with Spurlock being a canny showman who knows how to sell a film that's only tangentially related to the original Super Size Me. Even if the message doesn't have quite the same impact, Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken! is still a dizzyingly fun documentary that moves at an incredible pace to fit everything in, edited to within an inch of its life with an average shot length well under a second. Like Michael Moore before him, Morgan Spurlock has become a master of this style of documentary and knows all the elements he needs to include in his film, even if they don't go anywhere.

There's a diversion where Spurlock tries to talk to one of the bigwigs at the National Chicken Council that's ultimately fruitless, but features a spicy interaction with an office worker, so makes the cut. Undoubtedly more effective is the real world impact these intensive chicken farming contracts are shown to have on the farmers and their families. They could easily have been the villains of the film (with one farmer shown to be incredibly blasé about hearing a popping sound as he accidentally steps on a baby chick), but up against the corporate might of American industry and a bizarre payment system rigged to penalise them, they're the everyday Joe fighting the man.

Not unlike the chickens Spurlock raises in the film, the narrative is forever in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own body, but just about holds out until the end; and just like the honest propaganda Spurlock decorates his restaurant with, this film might not have the shock value he's hoping for, but it's smirk-worthy fun whilst also being quite a tragic tale.


SUPER SIZE ME 2: HOLY CHICKEN! is released on iTunes and On Demand from 9th December 2019

Tuesday, 10 December 2019


Following the suicide of her best friend, Liusaidh (Karen Gillan) strives to find comfort by pushing her lifestyle to its limits, hooking up with random strangers and drinking herself into oblivion. Haunted by the image of Ali's (Matthew Beard) death, she tries to come to terms with what happened by replaying the months leading up to his death in her mind.

Stuck in a depressing supermarket job behind the cheese counter and living with her exasperating mother and comatose father, Liusaidh looks for her own kind of solace and relief, usually from casual sexual encounters she has with strangers, followed by a chip supper on the way home. Her biggest step forward comes when answering her phone, often misdialled as a helpline number one digit away, she decides to start talking to an elderly gentleman about his problems and finds strength by supporting someone else; just as she hoped and failed to do for Ali.

The feature directorial debut of Karen Gillan, thematically The Party's Just Beginning shares a few elements with Phoebe Waller-Bridge's magnum opus Fleabag and Sophie Hyde's Animals (starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat), although there's very little in the way of fun or comic relief here to balance the tone. Whereas those "wayward" women lived their lives one night at the time, for Gillan's Liusaidh, you don't get the same feeling that, eventually, everything's going to be okay. There's very little in Liusaidh's life that isn't gloomy, so the optimistic appearance of Gillan's Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Lee Pace as one of her conquests offers some glimmer of hope.

It's a bold, brooding story for Gillan to deliver, and with her star very much on the rise in family friendly Hollywood fare like the Jumanji and Guardians of the Galaxy franchises, it's clearly a passion project she's needed to get out of her system. There's obviously a truth to this unflattering slice of life that can only be properly expressed by a native, with Gillan returning to her old hometown of Inverness for a film that isn't going to do much for tourism of the local area.

There's a slight dramatic disconnect in that it's Ali's story that has the weightier themes but is the secondary story behind Liusaidh's, with the structure a little jarring as we flit between present day and flashbacks to Liusaidh's time with Ali with reckless abandon. And it's not exactly the rollocking good time you might be expecting from the (ironic) title; less of a party and more of a "wake up in a bush" morning after hangover that ventures to some extremely dark (but very well-handled) areas towards the finale. Dark and depressing it may often be, but on the whole it's a solid performance by Gillan on both sides of the camera that shows the potential for bigger directorial projects to come.


Monday, 11 November 2019

MAN MADE review

Now available on demand to coincide with Trans Visibility Week, Man Made follows a group of transgender bodybuilders as they prepare for the only competition in the world open to transgender men, Trans FitCon.

Following four of the contestants as they prepare for the event whilst also living their day to day lives as transgender men with vastly different stories to tell, director T Cooper (a writer and producer on The Get Down and The Blacklist) gets intimate access to their struggles and fight to be recognised as the people they always wanted to be. The Trans FitCon event is not one that is solely judged on mass or technique, but rather encourages its participants to express their physicality on stage through body building poses, no matter what their physical form is (the event is open to anyone who self-identifies as a transgender male).

Aside from the last act of the documentary when we arrive at the competition, Man Made is hardly about body building at all. What drives this documentary is much more personal, spending a long time getting to know each of the four main subjects and the different struggles they all face on a daily basis. Dominic is the first bodybuilder we're introduced to just as he's preparing for his top surgery, allowing Cooper to film some of the procedure, along with his recovery afterwards. Dominic competed at the previous Trans FitCon event before top surgery, and plans to use this year to show off his scars and how pleased he is with the results. In a film that is all about self expression, Dominic, a lively 26 year old rapper, is very much the voice of the film. His trans story is the most eloquently expressed, along with his search via Facebook for his birth mother.

If Dominic is the voice, the next body builder, Mason, is the heart of the film. Mason, as well as Trans Fitcon, has competed in mainstream body-building events but has recently learned that he is barred from competing in a local event due to his transgender status via a passive aggressive email that starts "Hello Mr/Ms". With 4% body fat and a strict eating regimen, he is focused on winning the competition with a dedication that may border on obsessive; but over the course of the film reveals some of the darker, more confusing times in his past when he contemplated suicide, and also thanks to the magic of videotape, a surprising and very moving segue to when he was younger and got to tell Ellen DeGeneres how inspired he was by her story.

The two remaining key subjects, Rese and Kennie, have incredibly touching stories that hammer home how making the decision to transition has affected their families and loved ones. Rese no longer has contact with his mother, and after a spell being homeless, is now hoping to move his son along with his new wife to pastures new. Kennie's story is a unique one in that it has impacted his relationship with partner DJ, who as a proud lesbian is now unsure if the romantic relationship will withstand both a change in Kennie's appearance after starting on testosterone, but also her own status as a gay woman.

Cooper's documentary has plenty of human interest boxes ticked, and offers a unique and interesting look at how the world of body building and self expression have clear correlations with the trans journey. All four main subjects have inspiring and vastly different stories that mean they are all driven by different things, and although success at the event clearly means more to some than others, the fact they have a place to participate and express their physicality is important to everyone. Towards the end of the film some of the contestants take part in the Atlanta Trans March on the morning of the competition and have to face off against the bigotry of the uneducated transphobes. Although the film doesn't often stray into darkness and it's encouraging to see that through events such as Trans FitCon that strides have been made to promote inclusivity, Cooper's film doesn't want us to forget that it's still a dangerous world out there for the trans community.

What Man Made makes abundantly clear is that there is no one single trans story. This film just about manages to include four, but from the 12 men who have entered the competition and the voices of some of their families, it's clear that every single person has a different story to tell. Although success at the Trans FitCon event is a common goal, it's the acceptance rather than the trophy that they're after.


Saturday, 2 November 2019


Featuring acclaimed sound designers Walter Murch, Ben Burtt, Gary Rydstrom and countless more, now in cinemas and on demand is Midge Costin's documentary about the journey of sound at the movies.

Making Waves starts with a big idea that is hard to dispute. Sound is the first thing we're exposed to, in the darkness of the womb, making what sense we can of the world with the information we're given. It's not too big a leap to equate this to the experience of cinema, with storytellers like Spielberg, Lucas, Kubrick and Coppola name checked as creative pioneers who understood the importance that sound was to their films. That might sound like an obvious statement (as Ang Lee states in the film "movies is sight and sound"), but by charting the history of cinema this film digs deep into how the art of cinematic sound has expanded its role.

Within the first few minutes of Making Waves, we're introduced to talking heads from Walter Murch, Ben Burtt and Gary Rydstrom, three hugely important contributors to how we experience sound at the movies; and they're just the tip of the iceberg for this film, which has an astonishing line-up of key industry figures on show. The film is largely split into two distinct chapters, firstly following the emergence of sound in cinema from the days of silent film to the introduction of sync dialogue and "talkies" in 1927's The Jazz Singer, and right up to the use of digital sound editing techniques in The Matrix and Pixar films that use numerous layered tracks to create this orchestra. Then the film pivots to be an in depth breakdown of every facet of the "Circle of Talent" that creates what we hear when we go to the cinema; so if you've ever wanted to know what ADR is, here you go. Understanding all these different areas of expertise can be a bit overwhelming, so the film uses some helpful on screen graphics to illustrate each discipline which seem daunting enough to make you wonder why anyone would want to make anything as labour intensive as a film, let alone a big budget blockbuster.

During the first half of Making Waves, there's a sense that with the focus on Walter Murch and his work with Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas at American Zoetrope, that we're headed to one film in particular; Star Wars. This actually comes surprisingly early into the film, with the Oscar winning achievements of Ben Burtt well documented (answering the question of what a Wookie sounds like by recording and manipulating the many noises of a bear). It was a given that Star Wars and the Star Destroyer roaring into frame was going to be a feature of this film, but what's surprising is the other films that played an important role in how we experience sound at the cinema today, chiefly the pivotal role Barbra Streisand and her version of A Star Is Born played in introducing stereo sound to cinemas.

There's a danger to films of this ilk that they become 'Film Studies for Beginners' whilst also largely appealing to people who've already studied it. Although there's a certain degree of that when covering the history of the medium, there's also genuine insight from professionals that you won't hear anywhere else that's sure to leave you with the burning desire to immediately re-watch an ever expanding list of cinematic greats. The enthusiasm for their craft is clear, and it's easy to be in awe of their achievements.

Listen up. Making Waves is not only a must see for film fans, it's a must hear.


Wednesday, 30 October 2019


Now in cinemas is Harmony Korine's follow up to Spring Breakers, the Matthew McConaughey starring stoner comedy, The Beach Bum.

McConaughey stars as Moon Dog, a one time respected writer who know lives his days in Florida with wife Minnie (Isla Fisher) and hanging out with his best friend Lingerie (Snoop Dogg). When events take a tragic turn, Moondog hits the road looking for inspiration for his next novel, meeting up with friends and like minded miscreants along the way.

McConaughey is no stranger to playing people under the influence of drugs. Never mind the naked bongo playing of his personal life that became the talk of the tabloids, he played one of the all time classic stoner characters as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused. That character was a cool guy who found common ground with those a few years younger than him through recreational drug use, exuding that natural McConaughey charm with his now ubiquitous catchphrase "alright, alright, alright". Here McConaughey plays Moondog, a character that can only be seen as a de-evolution of Wooderson, waxing lyrical and pontificating like James Franco's Alien in Spring Breakers. That's fine, and Wooderson is a hard act to top, but whereas that character seemed wholly believable, Moondog can only exist in this bizarre world that Korine has created, full of obnoxious, entitled people with no regard for how their choices are effecting those around them. As an uncredited Jonah Hill states, "d'ya know what I like most about being rich? You can be horrible to people and they just have to take it".

Korine has clear designs for The Beach Bum to be some sort of stoner odyssey as Moondog wanders around with his typewriter hoping to find stories to include in his next book like some sort of whacked out Kerouac, and so McConaughey has many short, sweet and seemingly improvised interactions with a variety of larger than life characters played by a roster of famous faces with mixed comedic results. Martin Lawrence's Captain Wack struggles to land the (admittedly wayward) tone of the film, resulting in a ship's captain who doesn't know the difference between a shark and a dolphin, whereas Zack Efron's stripey bearded, Christian rock loving arsonist Flicker leaves an impression as unforgettable as his fashion choices. The most memorable of the supporting cast is Lingerie, a ladies loving rapper and stoner played by Snoop Dogg. Yes, I know he's hardly stretching himself with this role, but he's a welcome grounded presence among some of the more ridiculous posturing in the film.

Shot fast and loose by Benoit Debie, Korine's (and Gasper Noe's) regular cinematographer; it's a vibrant, colourful, almost psychedelic film that never looks less than beautiful. It's perhaps a credit to McConaughey that he feels comfortable enough in his career to start making bold choices again, and although Moondog shows some sort of direction in life and depth towards the finale with his credo that "this life gig's a rodeo, and I'm going to suck the nectar out of it and fuck it raw dog until the wheels come off", most of his actions in the course of the film make him appear to be a largely unlikeable clown with a complete disregard for anyone else. It never appears that Korine wants us to dislike his fantastical characters, that I would worry aren't too much of an exaggeration of people he's encountered in his own life. One thing's for certain; by the end of the film you'll be sick of hearing people say the name Moondog.

The main fault with The Beach Bum is that it aims to be an aspirational, if juvenile, experience, but instead comes over like a fever dream of relentless misogyny, debauchery and abuse of privilege that even the cast of Jackass would say had gone a bit overboard. The party soon turns into one you wouldn't want to see through to the end, even if Moondog has promised you some of his best drugs once the sun has set. Fans of Korine's previous film may find moments to savour amongst all the madness, but on the McConaughey scale, this one is just "alright".


Friday, 25 October 2019


Grieving over the unexplained murder of her husband, Sarah (Sarah Bolger) continues to raise her children in a rough neighbourhood whilst forever under the judgemental eye of the locals. When small time thief Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into her house and uses it as a place to store the drugs he's selling, Sarah is forced to defend her family in an extreme way. One of the hits of this year's Frightfest, Abnor Pastoll's A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is out now.

Sarah is a typical mum, trying to stop her kids from eating the sweets as they go around the supermarket and taking apart her kids toys to get batteries for her vibrator, just for a moment of relief from the pressures she's under. Her son Ben hasn't spoken since witnessing the murder of his father, with rumours around the community that it was drug related something Sarah is eager to quash. Her problems only worsen when after stealing a stash of drugs from the boot of some local dealers' car, hoodlum Tito decides to prey upon this vulnerable woman and use her house as a base for his nightly drug dealing operation. Sarah hopes Tito might be able to offer some information about her husband's death, but when the situation becomes too dangerous, she takes drastic steps to ensure the safety of her children.

The closing night film at this year's Frightfest, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is categorically not a horror film in the traditional sense, but is a thriller that pushes the boundaries of what an audience might be able to handle. Once Tito descends upon Sarah's world it's edge of your seat stuff that will probably have you sitting on the seat in front by the end of the film, although there's also plenty to make you look away due to its stomach churning moments of graphic detail.

As the young mother at the centre of the film pushed to do unimaginable things to protect her family, Sarah Bolger is fantastic throughout. Able to express so much frustration about her life with just a look, it's one of the performances of the year, and when pushed to extreme lengths and revealing unexpectedly dark depths, Sarah remains an empathetic and engaging character. Edward Hogg's local gang boss on the hunt for Tito is a little bit larger than life, but the threat he offers is still shockingly believable.

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find is a dark, disturbing and pleasantly grisly thriller with an astonishing lead performance from Sarah Bolger, a definite star in the making. Well worth seeking out, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find will chill you down to the bone and then keep on going.


Wednesday, 23 October 2019

NOCTURNAL - London Film Festival review

One of two films at the festival that starred Cosmo Jarvis, Nocturnal follows Pete (Jarvis) as he forms a close bond with school girl Laurie (Lauren Coe). But what are Pete's motivations behind his obsession with her? A labourer and all-round handyman at the school where Laurie goes, Pete starts to watch her beyond the fence of the running track where she trains. As the new girl at the school with few friends, Laurie latches onto the attention being paid to her by this older man, befriending him and agreeing to meet up with him after school for drinking late into the night.

I'll preface this review with a warning that potential spoilers may follow about the plot of the film. I say 'potential spoilers' as I'm not sure whether the big reveal of the film is meant to be a mystery to the audience at all, because to me it was blindingly obvious from the moment Pete set eyes on Laurie that he's the father that wanted nothing to do with her when Laurie's mother (Sadie Frost) fell pregnant. It's something that isn't "revealed" until then end of the second act, but every preceding scene between Pete and Laurie is spring-loaded like a jack in a box with Pete desperate to tell her the truth but without the emotional maturity to do so.

I would say that despite this frustrating element of the film there's still plenty to recommend, chiefly the performances of the two leads. As a show of acting skill, both Jarvis and Coe should be commended for delivering compelling performances that are better than the material they're working with. With this and Calm with Horses, Cosmo Jarvis is carving out a niche as a loveable lunkhead with questionable decision making abilities. He's fantastic in the film, as is his co-star Lauren Coe, but it's a shame the film is plagued with logic issues that render some of the more dramatic scenes a bit laughable. The film builds and builds towards the reveal you know is coming, but boy, the way Pete reveals his big secret to Laurie is staggeringly thoughtless, even for a character who's unable to articulate his feelings.

Worth seeking out for the performances, Nocturnal has all the hallmarks of a gritty relationship drama and is attractively shot for the most part (don't film your characters in front of a huge window and not expect the camera crew to be visible), but has flaws in its believability and execution that are hard to ignore.


Tuesday, 22 October 2019

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA - London Film Festival review

One of the weirdest films shown as part of the cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, Johannes Nyholm's Koko-Di Koko-Da sees married couple Elin & Tobias (Ylva Gallon & Leif Edlund Johannson) embark on a camping holiday in order to salvage their relationship after a tragic loss that has affected them both deeply. But when a trio of murderous oddballs appear from the woods, Elin & Tobias find themselves trapped in a bizarre recurring nightmare from which there appears to be no escape.

During one night of camping in a wooded area just off the main road, Elif wakes in the night in desperate need of a pee. When her husband Tobias rejects her idea of peeing under the tent flooring, she ventures into the trees and encounters a trio of psychopaths merrily sauntering by, singing "Koko-Di, Koko-Da" over and over again. Elif and her husband are both attacked and killed, but the film then returns Groundhog Day style to the moment Elif wakes Tobias needing a pee, with Tobias assuming what he's just experienced to be a dream.

It may share a basic plot function with Groundhog Day, but this is a very different animal, offering a very real and poignant study of grief and marital breakdown and very little in the way of joy. There's plenty to dissect about what it all means and what the three characters represent (a large mute man dressed like a lumberjack and carrying a dead dog, a lank haired woman with pigtails and lead by Peter Belli's jolly little man who resembles Lyle Lanley from The Simpsons), but at times there's an overwhelming feeling that Koko-Di Koko-Da is being weird for weird's sake.

I couldn't tell you how many times the film cycles through the same scenario with very little learned from the previous go around, which does test your resolve to see the film reach something akin to a logical climax. To be fair, there are occasional breaks away from the repetitive nature of the story with some kabuki theatre segments that are undeniably gorgeous to look at, and the final act does offers a jarring conclusion that will make you think back over everything you've just seen. There is an issue with the focus of the film which, although the story is spurred on by the shared trauma this couple has and always returns to the same jumping off point of the wife needing to take a leak, the film is solely told from the point of view of the husband. It's a cyclical film so it's more of a case of a minor grievance being amplified due to repetition, but on one of the goes around could they have not given the wife a bit more agency on what is going on?

At times a frustrating watch due to being SO F**KING WEIRD that may make you wonder if the experience is worthwhile, but like the infectious little nursery rhyme ear worm the characters sing as they appear out of the woods, the surreal scenario of Koko-Di Koko-Da will by cycling through your brain for a long while after the film ends.



The feature directorial debut of Dolly Wells sees an aimless young woman, Lilian (Grace Van Patten), move in with some of her father's friends after a break up. The home of famous author Julia Price (Emily Mortimer), Lillian forms a combative bond with her reclusive benefactor via notes left in her journal that leads her to think Julia might be the perfect subject for a documentary.

Formerly a regular face on British TV screens in the like of The Mighty Boosh, Peep Show and The IT Crowd, not forgetting big screen appearances in the Bridget Jones series, Dolly Wells is perhaps best known for the TV series she co-created and starred in with her long time best friend Emily Mortimer, Doll & Em. Here she takes on the role of writer/director to tell the story of Grace Van Patten's Lilian, enlisting Emily Mortimer as a famously reclusive novelist forced to house this young woman in search of a direction in life.

Grace Van Patten has slowly been building a career as an in demand indie darling, appearing in Noah Baumbach's The Meyerowitz Stories, Adam Leon's Tramps, and from earlier this year, David Robert Mitchell's Under The Silver Lake. Here she's front and centre, appearing in nearly every frame of the film as a spirited Lilian, unsure of what direction to take and waiting to start looking for a new apartment with her father, currently in France with his new girlfriend. There's a risk that some of Lilian's social flaws that lead to the break up of her relationship with Nate (Gary Richardson), like always forgetting to take a towel for after a shower and using other people's toothbrushes, could have been presented as cutesy manic pixie dream girl foibles to be cherished and adored, but the other characters around her, namely Mortimer's Julia and Timm Sharp's dog walker, George, can barely tolerate her presence at the start of the film. Julia even dubs her "the entitled oaf", a title Lilian is keen to prove Julia wrong about.

Good Posture is one of those delightful little indies that makes you realise how inherently cinematic New York is. Filmed in and around the Bed Stuy neighbourhood Dolly Wells now calls home, there's lingering, static shots of the beautiful houses with the steps leading up to the front doors and tracking shots of the local streets and their inhabitants, staring back at the ethereal spectator of the camera. If Lilian isn't in a situation you would want to experience, at least hers is a world you would like to visit.

Having said that, a lot of the action takes place within the four walls and garden of Julia Price's house, with the majority of Julia and Lilian's interactions delivered via snippy notes they leave for each other in Lilian's journal as they argue over dinner (helpfully narrated for us). Mortimer's Julia is an ever present character, but she doesn't actually appear in the film very much, leaving Julia Price to be something of an enigmatic figure mostly hidden behind a closed door, right up until the end of the film. This is partly offset by a device the film has of having real life well known authors such as Zadie Smith, Jonathan Ames and Martin Amis waxing lyrical about their love for (the fictional) Julia Price's work. It's a little jarring at first, but once it's apparent this is footage collected by Lilian and her cameraman Sol (a hilariously on form John Early) for their unauthorised documentary, it makes a lot more narrative sense.

Owing a debt to some of the big hitters of the independent movie scene like Noah Baumbach and Daryl Wein, it's at times a little rough around the edges in its presentation but thanks to its witty, engaging script and hugely likeable cast, Good Posture is able to stand up straight and hold its head up high as a delightfully charming little indie. Expect great things from Wells and Van Patten in the future.


Sunday, 20 October 2019

LITTLE MONSTERS - London Film Festival review

Dave (Alexander England) is a failed musical and man-child struggling to deal with the end of his relationship and forced to move in with his sister and her young son, Felix. Helping out to earn his keep, when Dave takes Felix to school he becomes enamoured with his teacher, Miss Caroline (Lupita Nyong'o), offering to help out on the school trip to a local farm. Unfortunately, this wildlife park is situated next to an American army research base, and a zombie virus is infecting the soldiers. Teaming up with Miss Caroline to protect the children, they face off against an ever-growing zombie horde and the tantrums of a diva-ish children's TV personality, Teddy McGiggle (Josh Gad).

Little Monsters sets out its stall early, with Alexander England's Dave dressing his nephew Felix (Diesel La Torraca) as Darth Vader in an attempt to woo back his ex by proposing to her. But when they walk in on her having sex with another man, Dave doesn't even consider how inappropriate the situation is for a young boy to be in, leaving Felix standing there for an extraordinary long time in front of two naked people. It's this kind of joyously uncomfortable situation the film thrives on, putting children in front of adults struggling to deal with grown up problems, using foul language to express themselves.

The action begins proper when Dave arrives at Pleasant Valley Farm for what should be an enjoyable, educational day out with his nephew and his classmates, but what Dave hopes will be a chance for him to woo the caring Miss Caroline by showing her how great he is with the kids. Except he isn't. Also competing for Miss Caroline's affection is Josh Gad's Teddy McGiggles; a man dressed in a green polka dot suit with a sock puppet for a sidekick, who it's clear is using his fame and popularity with the kids to bed as many mothers as possible. Gad is having an absolute ball playing against his family friendly persona, and when the shit hits the fan and his life is under threat, there's an undeniable joy in seeing the voice of Olaf from Frozen shout obscenities in front of little children. Juvenile? Maybe. Fucking funny? Yes.

England, who resembles a Chris Hemsworth stunt double in the vein of Ben Stiller's Tom Crooze, is  a funny, likeable lead, despite his character's arrested development rendering him somewhat of a doofus. Still, the indisputable shining star of the film is Lupita Nyong'o, as a positive bundle of energy forced to deal with the idiotic man-children around her whilst caring for her brood of school children, and that's before the zombie outbreak occurs. When the zombies do attack, she's forced to think on her feet, leading a conga line through a field of zombies to help up in what best represents a safe house for them, the nearby souvenir shop.

Although the basic survival set up may be nothing new with the film owing a clear debt to everything from Return of the Living Dead to Shaun of the Dead, it's the likeable cast and uniquely Australian comic sensibility that sets it apart. One of the comic highlights of the London Film Festival, Little Monsters is a gory, delightfully funny and surprisingly sweet zombie film with great turns from Gad, England and Nyong'o. Seek it out when it hits cinemas in a few weeks time, as this might be your new favourite zombie comedy.


THE EL DUCE TAPES - London Film Festival review

From hours of VHS footage filmed by a friend, The El Duce Tapes follows the lead singer/drummer of hardcore band The Mentors, El Duce, known for his shocking on-stage persona where he wore a black executioners hood, and as the poster boy for the sub genre of music he dubbed "rape rock". Spliced together with vintage recordings of other examples of early 1990s debauchery (Roseanne singing the Stars and Stripes at a ball game, Milli Vanilli, and appearances by a hooded El Duce on the Jerry Springer show), this shock doc tries to uncover more about the man underneath the mask.

Early on the film shows us how El Duce, AKA Eldon Hoke,  was able to provoke the audience with raucous appearances on talk shows like Hot Seat with Wally George and Jerry Springer, where, on an episode about the effect his music might have on young minds, he tells the rape victim on stage with him that she "look(s) kinda familiar". After this shocking introduction to the persona of El Duce, directors Rodney Ascher (Room 237) and David Lawrence (also serving as editor) use the assembled footage recorded by Ryan Sexton (in the early 90s an up and coming actor and fan of El Duce's band) to soften our view of El Duce. Described by his The Mentors bandmate as a comedian, Eldon, via on camera interviews recorded by Sexton, is clearly a troubled soul battling a serious drink problem, but not quite the monstrous, misogynistic provocateur his on stage alter ego would suggest.

Although the film may successfully show Eldon to be more than an obnoxious caricature designed for shock value, it also shows the increasingly blurred line between the monster and its creator, as Eldon is confronted by Sexton to justify his band's misogynistic and anti-gay lyrics (the doc helpfully displays the lyrics on screen for songs such as 'Suck, Fuck, Cook and Clean") and conflict on whether or not to play at a concert promoting the white power movement, something Eldon states on camera he does not believe in.

There's a sense that although Eldon knows his songs are hurtful to some, his desire to entertain and provoke a reaction, for want of a better word, trumps that. El Duce may only be a familiar figure to fans of 90s hardcore music and his outrage-baiting act well worn territory by now (at one point he states he should become America's first dictator and build a wall at the Mexican border), but it's surprising to find out how far his influence and infamy reaches, not least towards the end of this film when we discover El Duce's involvement in one of the most talked about conspiracy theories in rock and an appearance in a certain documentary by Nick Broomfield.

Presented in an attractively lo-fi way with on screen fonts ripped straight from a VHS tape, it's almost like this doc is designed to be one of the videos El Duce appeared in during the 90s; mail ordered from an ad in the back of a music mag, to be passed around between friends and put on at parties to shock and disgust people. Directors Asher and Lawrence give shock rock the shock doc treatment and do ultimately paint El Duce as a tragic figure, but a compelling one to uncover.


Friday, 18 October 2019

HARPOON review

When three friends take a boat trip to celebrate one of their birthdays, things take a drastic turn when rivalries and long held resentments soon rise to the surface and they have to find a way to work together in order to survive. One of the surprise hits of this year's Frightfest, Rob Grant's Harpoon has now premiered on the Arrow Video Channel.

The tone of the film is set out early on, thanks to the irreverent voice-over provided by Fleabag and Stranger Things actor Brett Gelman. Although this has obvious elements of horror throughout, the story is told in a comic fashion (as can be seen in the trailer above), with its set up and limited locale milked for all its worth. At the top of the film we meet Jonah (Turbo Boy's Munro Chambers), his best friend Richard ( Christopher Gray) and his girlfriend and object of Jonah's affection, Sasha (Emily Tyra). After Jonah and Sasha purchase Richard a harpoon for his birthday, all three of them head out to sea on Richie's pleasure boat "The Naughty Buoy" to test it out, only for secrets to rock the boat and have all three passengers fending off verbal and physical attacks from the other two.

Made with no major stars and on a minuscule budget, although it's a shame this slice of nautical nastiness won't get a proper theatrical run, it's something of a 'get' for Arrow to release on their platform as there's plenty in Harpoon that should see it sail into the minds of genre fans. Gender and class politics, unrequited love, the drinking of seagull blood and the nastiest looking arm injury this side of Green Room; it's all here. There's also plenty of double-crossing to keep you guessing and, despite the cast being likeable and watchable enough, there's enough flaws evident in their characters that should any of them not survive the ordeal, there's a feeling that they probably deserved it.

In its pared back, adrift in the Atlantic, close quarters setting Harpoon provides a thoroughly effective and claustrophobic little thriller, and something different to the danger coming from the water as you might expect. In fact, the only jaws you'll see here will be the audience's hitting the deck as we reach the gory, shocking finale. Prepare to feel a little queasy.


HARPOON will be available on the ARROW VIDEO CHANNEL (and also Amazon Prime and Apple TV) from 18th October

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

DEERSKIN - London Film Festival review

Part of the Cult strand at this year's London Film Festival, Quentin Dupieux's latest film sees Jean Dujardin's Georges become obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket, posing as a filmmaker and turning to crime in order to complete his outfit.

Dupieux, also known as Mr Oizo to fans of 90s Levi's ads, returns to behind the camera with this pairing with The Artist's Jean Dujardin to tell the story of a man who, following his separation from his wife, becomes obsessed with his new Deerskin jacket. While staying in a small French village Georges meets Denise (Adele Haenel), a bartender and aspiring film editor. Together they collaborate on Georges video diary that shows him forcing strangers to give up their outerwear so that his deerskin jacket is the only jacket left in existence, with Georges turning to murder to make sure the job is done.

Dujardin is fantastic as the pompous, preening Georges, forever enthusiastic about adding another deerskin piece to his outfit and looking ever more laughable along the way. The jacket in itself is a horrible looking garment, even if it does have all of its tassels intact. But Georges's cocksure belief that he's standing out from the crowd as a new fashion icon is never undersold by Dujardin, delivering a great comic performance that's tapping into the rich vein of ridiculousness that exists in fashion for men of a certain age, always ripe for parody. Admittedly, dressing head to toe in deerskin isn't a fashion choice you often see, but is it really so different than wearing a James May-esque bold print shirt?

There was perhaps an expectation that Dujardin would make a leap to Hollywood films after his, some would say, surprising Best Actor Oscar win for The Artist, but as fans of his work in the OSS 117 series will attest, he's completely at home and in his element here in this smaller, bizarre film that plays up to his charming doofus-like strengths. Dujardin plays Georges with so much un-earned confidence in himself, portraying such a clueless, self-important lunatic who's so sure that everyone is jealous of his jacket, or as Georges would put it, his "killer style".

Fans of Dupieux's previous work, in particular his sentient killer tyre film Rubber, will know what sort of humour to expect from him. This is a dark, often ghoulish comedy that revels in its unpredictability and shock value, generating lots of laughs from the sheer boldness of its character choices. As Georges falls deeper and deeper under the spell of the jacket which may slowly be exerting some sort of psychic power over him (or it may all be a figment of his imagination), with murder seeming to be the only logical next step, the weapon Georges crafts from a ceiling fan is disturbingly efficient in its creation and delivery.

There's a lot in Dupieux's work that goes far beyond the surface thrills, and Deerskin is no different. Not only is the dynamic between Dujardin's deluded killer and the much younger Denise mocking that stereotype of a man who has hit a certain age and then found himself a younger woman, the choice of Dupieux to have Georges wait outside a cinema to kill off its patrons as they leave is a comic assault on his audience, saying that if you think you're going to be safe and free from his pervasive ideas when you leave the cinema, think again.

A delightful new addition to the "killer clothing" sub-genre, Deerskin is In Fabric for men in the throes of a mid-life crisis. Less off the rack as it is off the wall, it's an absolute gem of a film.


Tuesday, 10 September 2019


When new girl Faith (Jordan Stephens) starts as a performer at a Brighton drag club, ageing Queen Jackie (Derren Nesbitt) takes her under his wing. Having recently discovered he only has six weeks to live, Jackie enlists Faith to help tick some life experiences off his bucket list, and hopefully reconnect with his estranged daughter, Lily (April Pearson).

The world of drag is one that has seen a huge boost in popularity in recent years, in no small part thanks to TV shows like the hugely popular Ru Paul's Drag Race, but until now UK drag has been under explored. Brighton is one such place that has a thriving drag scene, with a mixture of old school cabaret clubs and newer, edgier comic performers bringing in the crowds. In Tucked, the grand old dame of the club, Jackie, sings Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive, and walks the floor telling dirty, innuendo laden and self deprecating jokes like "I'm not fat, i'm just easier to see" and "do you know the difference between your wife and your job? After 5 years, your job will still suck", followed by the newer, glamour-puss queen Faith, whose act relies as much on beauty as it does biting wit.

Tucked may draw you in off the strip with the promise of a story about drag queens of different generations, but it's really not about that at all. This is a story about Jack 'Jackie' Collins, an old, straight man who in the evening enjoys dressing up in women's clothes and performing to a crowd, but who in the day is lonely, and haunted by past decisions that have cost him his family. His life only changes upon the arrival of Faith at the club, who after Jackie discovers she is sleeping in her car, gives her place to stay. After learning about Jackie's illness, Faith hopes to repay Jackie's kindness by helping him tick some things off his bucket list like getting a tattoo and doing drugs, leading to an awkward but funny interaction with drug dealer Steve Oram.

Brighton native Jordan Stephens, AKA one half of Rizzle Kicks, puts in a solid performance as Faith, a young queen who doesn't "think that what's between my legs defines me". This unwillingness to conform to a specific gender identity hints at aspects of Faith's life that are ripe for drama, but despite Stephens receiving top billing, I'm sure even he would concede he is the supporting player here, rightfully making space for his co-star Derren Nesbitt. A veteran actor with credits as far back as 1956 and roles in films ranging from Where Eagles Dare to The Amorous Milkman (which he also wrote and directed), he's been relegated to occasional Grandad roles in recent years but is astonishing here.

Jackie is a complex, damaged man, and the performance from Derren Nesbitt is why you should see this film. He's in almost every frame of the film and completely dominates the story with this empathetic, wholly believable character he's portraying. Although the dichotomy between his character and the much younger Faith is only touched upon briefly, and Faith's story is under-explored to say the least, the story this film tells, albeit probably not the one you were expecting, is still a compelling one.

There's a charm about Tucked that's exemplified by Jackie's club routine. Yes, some of the jokes are old hat and have punchlines you can see coming a mile off, but they're delivered with real heart and conviction, the material being elevated by the performer to another level.


Wednesday, 4 September 2019


A 1980s classic given the special edition blu-ray treatment it deserves, out now is Flight of the Navigator.

Flight of the Navigator will hold a special place in the heart of many children of the '80s, and although there's often a fear that revisiting these older films will lead to crushing disappointment, as soon as this film's opening UFO fake out is revealed to be a dog frisbee catching competition and Alan Silvestri's jumpy electronic score kicks in, you know you're in for fun. 12 year old David (Joey Cramer) has the usual things to worry about like how to talk to girls, taking his dog Bruiser for a walk in the woods and his bratty younger brother being a constant annoyance. All this changes when, after falling in the woods, he returns home to find his parents no longer live there and that he's been missing for the last 8 years, his whereabouts a complete mystery. More peculiarly, he hasn't aged a day in that time, his little brother is now a foot taller than him and his parents thought he was dead. Oh, and NASA are very interested in the star maps that now appear to be in David's brain, and what they might have to do with the giant spaceship they've found.

It's one of the all time great kid's horror "what would you do?" scenarios that's only the first act of this film. A Disney co-production released by Buena Vista but deemed too dark a set-up to bear the Walt Disney logo, in their hands Flight of the Navigator could have been a sanitised family comedy called something like My Big Little Brother, but instead it's closer in tone to an Amblin movie, full of childhood trauma, shady government officials and conspiracies. And let's be honest, the title is awesome.

About that aforementioned flight, this is very much a film of two distinct halves, firstly with David encountering this brave new world of 80s things like MTV, a robot named RALF and Sarah Jessica Parker, before his psychic bond with a super cool looking silver spaceship leads to the second half of the film, which literally soars when it kicks into gear. With effects that still look great, the mixture of practical and photographic morphing effects really make the ship come to life. Watching this now, it's surprising how clearly divided down the middle this film is, as fond memories place the scenes of David flying around in the spaceship talking to Max (the onboard computer that sounds suspiciously like Pee Wee Herman after downloading the star maps from David's brain) as the bulk of the film. That's not to say the first half is forgettable and doesn't set up an enjoyable mystery scenario, but as the title suggests, it's the Flight of the Navigator that we want to see. Boy, is it fun.

It's a film ready to be enjoyed by audiences young and old, and this new blu-ray edition from Second Sight (in a beautiful looking slipcase) has been given a plethora of extras that will answer your questions like, "how did they make the spaceship look so cool? and "I wonder what the kid in it looks like now?". Don't wait for the often threatened remake, invest in the original and go for a wild ride.


Special Features-

- New 4K scan with restoration supervised by Randal Kleiser
- Directing the Navigator - Interview with Randal Kleiser
- Playing the Navigator - Interview with Joey Cramer
- Mother of the Navigator - Interview with Veronica Cartwright
- Brother of the Navigator - Interview with Matt Adler
- Art of the Navigator featurette
- Commentary by Randal Kleiser and producer Jonathan Sanger
- Reversible sleeve with new and original artwork

Limited Edition also features-

-Rigid slipcase with new artwork by Rich Davies
- 100 page book with original storyboards, behind the scenes photos and a new essay by Kevin Lyons
- Reversible poster with new and original artwork

Tuesday, 3 September 2019


Director Alexandre O. Philippe employs interviews from those involved to surgically dissect Memory, screenwriter Dan O'Bannon's original title for Star Beast, his script featuring one of cinema's most indelible monsters, that eventually became known simply as Alien.

This documentary starts off in a truly bizarre way, with a dramatic interpretation of worshippers at the Temple of Apollo, somehow linked to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi horror in a way that isn't immediately clear. It's a bold opening, and one that fittingly reminds of the opening sequence of the Ridley Scott created story for his Alien prequel, Prometheus, albeit in a way that might be off putting for some viewers who aren't fans of the mythology he grafted onto the story later on. Philippe's documentary has grand ideas of being a quintessential psychological study of the Star Beast and the men behind her, employing the use of lofty, literary talking heads speaking of the Lovecraftian influence on O'Bannon's work, with mixed success.

This doc largely concerns the pre-production stage of the classic film and how it came together to form the Alien film we know and love, so the absence of future lead Sigourney Weaver from the talking heads is not detrimental. Some of the contributions are archive footage, most notably from director Ridley Scott and Dan O'Bannon, but these are presented in an original and ingenious way via monitors that would form part of a control console, not dissimilar to how Dallas and Ash consult with MOTHER. Thankfully the film is not solely made of re-used interviews, with actors Tom Skerritt & Veronica Cartwright offering new material for the film (Cartwright's recollection of the Chestbusrter scene is a highlight), as do art director Roger Donaldson and, most importantly, O'Bannon's widow, Diane.

With her help, the key figure this film tries to studiously examine is Dan O'Bannon, the originator of the Star Beast and frequently unheralded figure in the creation of the Alien franchise. This doc goes some way to righting that wrong, deep-diving into his personal history (his health issues, obsession with sci-fi) that shaped the beast's story. Not all of this thorough examination makes complete sense, as the list of possible films that may have influenced O'Bannon's script are a bit tenuous, like Queen of Blood featuring a dead alien in a chair, just like Alien does in the form of the Space Jockey. In this regard the film reminds of Room 237, a fantastic look at the creation of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, but a film with some incredibly outlandish theories about what hidden symbolism is contained in the film. Here it's a similarly myth building exercise that is maybe a touch too conspiracy theory heavy, but that will undoubtedly give fans of the Alien franchise new material to repeat down the pub.

It also takes an extended look at the work of artist H.R. Giger and O'Bannon's obsession with his work after discovering his bizarre, sexualised, industrial portraits when working on the ill-fated Jodorowsky version of Dune. Both O'Bannon and Giger are presented as tortured artistic geniuses, and although it's worth noting that both of their spouses have executive producer credits on this documentary (I am completely speculating, but I would assume their co-operation was essential in order to get the film made), they don't shy away from revealing some of the shenanigans that lead to O'Bannon's reputation as a loose cannon, a reputation that undoubtedly fed into his battles with original Alien director Ridley Scott over the vision for the film, and his later issues in finding regular work in Hollywood.

Although this doc, with its foreboding industrial soundtrack and leisurely pace, is often presented as a dour experience, it's often raises a chuckle or two. Chief among these moments of development hell fun is imagining the versions of the film that could have been, like the low budget version from 'The Pope of Pop Cinema' himself, Roger Corman, who saw the script pass over his desk, but graciously told O'Bannon to go after a studio with a bigger budget (but to come back to him if he had no luck).

Memory undoubtedly contains compelling insights into the production for both newcomers and older fans of the franchise, but despite providing a lot of material over which to speculate, it never convincingly lands on who to credit for the creation of the Alien franchise. It's worth noting that the only other films Alexandre O. Philippe chooses to include are brief mentions of Prometheus and Alien Covenant, both also directed by Ridley Scott, so perhaps he's making his position clear as to whose vision wins out for him. What's certain is that for fans to make an informed decision of their own, Memory is essential viewing.


Monday, 2 September 2019


One of the late night screenings at Frightfest, Porno was appropriately shown in the downstairs screen at the Prince Charles Cinema, itself reportedly once one of the West End's cinemas that screened *ahem* adult erotica.

One night in 1993 when both A League of Their Own and Encino Man (AKA California Man for UK residents) were screening in a small town American cinema, the manager, Mr Pike (Bill Phillips) is leaving the cinema in the hands of his newly promoted assistant manager Chaz (Jillian Mueller). Ushers Abe, Todd & Ricky have an uneventful shift with the promise that they can watch the film of their choice once the cinema is closed. That is until a crazed old man invades the cinema, leading the ushers through a secret doorway and into a hidden auditorium none of them knew about. As they try to find the old man they uncover a secret storage room, with a mysteriously labelled film inside. Deciding to watch whatever is on the film, they accidentally release Lilith (Katelyn Pearce), the evil and naked demon contained within.

In the world of trashy independent film, the title of Porno is bound to raise a few eyebrows, and if nothing else, raise expectations. I suppose it's necessary to get it out of the way at this point, but if you're going into this film expecting a high level of nudity, you're probably going to be severely disappointed by the body parts presented to you. The 'Porno' of the title is more accurately described as an Argento-esque European art film, with a giallo hued setting and a beautiful naked woman (with a 70s merkin) as its lead. Oh, and she's demonic and wants to escape the film and devour as many of the ushers as she can.

Porno has a lot going for it in the initial set up; a cool setting, a fun & lively cast, even nostalgia for a forgotten golden age of slightly crappy films (I'm looking at you, Pauly Shore), but despite some fun moments and the most hilariously graphic scene of testicular torture you (n)ever wanted to see, the film isn't able to deliver the thrills and spills you might be looking for. The frustrating thing is that there's clearly potential for greatness within, with born again Christian/projectionist Heavy Metal Jeff standing out as a great character, and an interesting new spin on the group of horny teens/demon fodder. But given too many scenes where nothing happens and opportunities to question the logic of the film (like how could a gigantic 300 seater auditorium be hidden all this time?), there's a strong chance you'll be popping out to the concessions stand, just to have something to do.

Sharing some DNA with trashy classics like Sorority Babes at the Slimeball Bowl-A-Rama (hapless teens unwittingly unleash a demonic entity that plays deadly tricks on them) & Intruder (minimum wage workers confront a killer at their workplace), despite one fantastically gory money shot that will have you squirming in your seats, Porno doesn't deliver enough of the genre goods but will undoubtedly garner some notoriety and an inquisitive audience thanks to its title. 


Saturday, 31 August 2019


When Freddy McConnell decided he wanted to have a child, as a transgender man he decided the simplest option would be to carry the child himself, coming off his prescribed testosterone and onto folic acid to prepare himself for potential pregnancy. Director Jeanie Finlay follows Freddy as he confronts issues with his biology, self belief and societal expectations of what he's allowed to do.

The basic logline for Seahorse (and its subtitle "The Dad Who Gave Birth") would undoubtedly have the heads of some Daily M@!l readers spinning, but as sensational a headline it may make, that is not the aim of director Jeanie Finlay or the film's subject, Freddy McConnell, who has gamely allowed intimate access into the process of being a trans person wanting to conceive a child, hoping to provoke nothing other than discussion and offer hope to others.

Finlay's films have always been notable for the willing contributions of her subjects (The Great Hip Hop Hoax, Sound it Out and the excellent Game of Thrones documentary, The Last Watch that managed to silence some of those disappointed in the finale but showing the sheer amount of work and love that went into making the show), and it's no different here. With complete access to his life and interactions with Freddy's family & friends, and it's an important part of the film that his family don't all come across as the open, liberal people you would hope or expect them to be. Much like the audience for this film, they are real, inquisitive people who often clumsily try to navigate their way through this experience by asking Freddy awkward questions. The film isn't trying to vilify them, but as a document that may be of help to viewers who may encounter such a scenario in the future, show what questions don't need to be asked. This is evident at a dinner populated by Freddy's mother's friends aimed at imparting wisdom of "motherhood" onto Freddy, when one woman has to ask "so are you going to be called Dad?", before the group starts to list heteronormative ideals of masculinity and conjure up images of Demis Roussos as something for Freddy to aspire to.

Although this story has plenty in common with any story of someone hoping to start a family and conceive (expensive trips to the doctors, the near misses, the pregnancy tests), it's crucial that the specific journey of Freddy as a transgender person is captured, something that a talented filmmaker like Jeanie Finlay understands could not accurately be told be a cisgender person. Luckily, Freddy is an articulate video diarist, recording late night thoughts and important steps in the journey, like when his prospective co-parent CJ who had been an important part of the early stages, has second thoughts about the arrangement for unclear reasons and walks away. It's here that Freddy's mother steps in to become a big part of the film, sharing her own stories of being a single parent, including the absolute killer line "I loved being pregnant. Everyone should experience it, especially men". She's also able to share photos and videos of Freddy's childhood, a potentially tricky resource for Finlay to mine, but treated respectfully and with Freddy's consent.

The film does a great job of documenting the unconscious bias Freddy faces at every step, something that won't survive Freddy's strong attitude, changing the M to a P on every page of the Maternity paperwork he is asked to fill out. This is done not as an act of defiance but in order to point out how unprepared the established systems are to deal with trans rights in something as basic as starting a family, a luxury cisgender people have no barriers in doing. One of the threads that runs through the film is Freddy's relationship with his own father, a figure absent from the film and notably from Freddy's everyday life. Their exchanges occur via polite but strongly worded emails, his voice only heard in the home video footage of Freddy as a child.

Seahorse is a thoughtful film that tells a deeply human story of one person wanting to bring more life and love into the world, and why them being trans should not prevent them the opportunity to do that. Culminating in a beautiful scene that is profoundly moving and joyful, Seahorse questions what it takes to be a parent and offers a tremendous amount of hope and optimism for the future.


Thursday, 29 August 2019


Children of the 1980's will be well versed in films with tiny monsters running around small town America. On the top end of the scale is Joe Dante's Gremlins, a Spielbergian family horror with cute, marketable furry monsters as well as the hideous ones; the bottom end of the scale occupied by Ghoulies, best remembered for its toilet dwelling monster on the VHS box art. Somewhere in the middle of that scale is the Critters franchise. Not a complete rip off of the spawn of Gizmo, but I think it's fair to say the Crites wouldn't exist without the appearance of Gremlins on the big screen in 1984.

The Critters films existed in a brief bubble between 1986 and 1992, in an era where practical puppetry ruled, just before they were summarily trampled by the CGI dinosaurs that were to come. Now, after a small screen revival at the start of 2019, the Crites are back in film form, with a (mostly) new cast of characters and some interesting developments in the Critters canon.

The film introduces us to Drea (Tashiana Washington), a young woman dreaming of attending Leroy College, the alma mater of her deceased mother, but can't seem to catch a break with the admissions board. Hoping to make herself known, she takes a job as babysitter to one of the professor's children. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, two mysterious objects have crash landed, one containing the Crites as we know them from previous films (and quickly making a meal out of a takeaway delivery boy), the other housing a new, mysterious white creature the Crites seem to be looking for.

There's so much to enjoy about this reboot of the franchise, 27 years after the last big screen instalment. Wisely, they've opted to avoid the introduction of CGI Critters, maintaining the practical puppets that resemble evil little hedgehogs. That may well have been a budgetary decision, but it's worked in the film's favour. Sure, there's times when in the cold light of day the lighting does the look of the puppets no favours at all, but when they're put into darkness (as the previous remote farmhouse, inner city block and, er, outer space settings did), the little beasties look much more menacing.

The filmmakers also know that a Critters film needs to deliver a healthy amount of fun, so the introduction of the (minor spoiler) white Critter Queen, later dubbed Bianca, lends a new element of bizarre world building. She's a character that clearly takes some inspiration from the introduction of the female Gremlin in Gremlins 2: The New Batch (bonus points if you know her name is Greta), standing apart from the almost identikit design of the other (male) puppets. Also, no spoilers for the plot of the film, but it helps that she's kinda badass.

Of course there are also humans in the film, lead by Tashiana Washington's Drea. As a young woman eager to fulfil her dreams whilst also caring for her younger brother Phillip (Jaeden Noel), her drunk uncle Sheriff Lewis (Stephen Jennings) and now professor's kids Trissy & Jake (Ava Preston & Jack Fulton), she's a likeable character that, crucially, you don't immediately want to see get eaten by the Critters.

35 years into the franchise and operating with a low budget, director Bobby Miller should be commended for offering the Critters series a new lease of life. Sure, it's corny, ridiculous and not the most original film you'll see this year, but for nostalgic fans of the original series, this more family friendly iteration is pitched about right, offering some characters you can root for, some you can't wait to see get eaten, and plenty of ridiculous Critter action.

Hey, I managed to get all the way through this review without mentioning the only piece of Critters trivia anyone knows, that Leonardo DiCaprio was in Critters 3! Except for now.