Saturday, 28 March 2020

BFI FLARE 2020 - DISCLOSURE review

Using interviews with a number of key trans voices working in today's entertainment industry, Sam Feder's Disclosure looks at the history of transgender representation on the big and small screens and asks how society's negative conceptions of trans men & women have been informed by what they've seen.


Going all the way back to the birth of cinema up to the present day, the contributors speak from their own personal experiences about what it felt like to them to see transgender characters on screen, although more often than not in a negative light. It could be quite easy to look back on these shows through a 2020 lens and pass judgement on their failings, but the contributors here are remarkably fair and balanced in their appraisals of representations. It's quite damning on the lack of representation that they can look back on the countless depictions of trans characters in hospital dramas like E/R and Grey's Anatomy being slowly killed by elements of their transition, or police procedurals like NYPD Blue where trans people are often portrayed as sex workers and think, at least it's something. The same goes for talk shows like Jerry Springer and Maury, out for shock value with dramatic revelations of birth genders, but that also allowed trans people to see something approximating their own feelings and frustrations reflected back on them from the TV screen.

What comes across in these interviews (with actresses like Laverne Cox, Candis Cayne and Trace Lysette, and actors like Michael D. Cohen and Marquis Vilson) is how eager the trans community are to having an open and honest conversation, but also how exasperating it is to see themselves continuously portrayed in a negative light, just for existing. There's a large section of the film that might has well have been subtitled "the problem with The Crying Game". A film that can be applauded for igniting a debate in the early 90s, it ultimately is defined by the negative convulsive reaction the straight white cis man lead character has to discovering the 'twist' (leading to Stephen Rea vomiting in the bathroom), and the way the shock factor of that film's plot device was then re-used for comic purposes in films like Naked Gun 33 1/3rd and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

There's a key moment halfway through the doc where, having discussed and seen clips from countless problematic films and TV programmes like Dressed to Kill and Silence of the Lambs (actress Jen Richards recoils when telling the story of coming out trans to a friend, and their only point of reference was Jame Gumb), when talking about a scene of rape involving Famke Janssen's trans character Ava Moore on Ryan Murphy's supposedly progressive show Nip/Tuck, Laverne Cox has to break from being another worn down talking head in complete despair to ask "did they stop to consider a trans person watching?". Of course the answer is almost undoubtedly no, as for even in films and TV aimed towards a queer audience, the trans community has been othered and depicted as something to gawk at, often in Hollywood films where cisgender actors like Eddie Redmayne and Jared Leto can portray trans characters with award winning results due to their on screen transformation; something that has always reverted back by the awards ceremony.

It's impressive that in a conversation that's continually evolving, this film feels incredibly up to date. The inclusion of shows and characters that are from only a few years ago (Laverne Cox in Orange is the New Black a prime example) does allow us as the audience to reassess our opinion of what's acceptable, and also of what we want to see on our screens. There's footage of interviews from not so long ago with hugely influential people such as Oprah Winfrey and Katie Couric saying outrageously inconsiderate things that you would hope would not be accepted today, and it's clear that the visibility and voices of outspoken people like Candis Cayne, Trace Lysette and Chaz Bono are having a positive effect.

If I'm picking faults, it is weighted more towards the stories of trans women than trans men with only a cursory mention of non-binary people, although this is also something that's acknowledged in the film to be a problem within entertainment as a whole, and perhaps is simply too big a discussion to fit into one film. As a document of where we are now, Disclosure is a fascinating, well-rounded statement that a change in perspective is a positive thing. We are at a tipping point in the trans "debate" socially and culturally, and this film's purpose is not to shit upon poor depictions and name and shame those who do so, but to ask its audience to consider why trans lives are being portrayed this way and what could be done better.

It's encouraging to see how far we've come in a short space of time in increasing trans visibility on screen and that, as evidenced in this documentary, there's strong voices out there to encourage the continued progress. Disclosure is a fantastic piece of documentary filmmaking that will hopefully reach a wide enough audience to add more voices to that fight.

Disclosure is now screening on BFI Player as part of its BFI Flare at Home season, and more information can be found at disclosurethemovie.com.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

BFI FLARE 2020 - DON'T LOOK DOWN review

In a stylish apartment overlooking the streets of Paris, a group of five strangers meet to discuss the one thing they have in common; the man who is locked the room next to them. A parasitic and controlling presence in their lives, in some way or another they have all been mistreated and manipulated by him. As they collectively try to work out why he was able to effect their lives so much, they go into the room one by one to confront their problems, and him.

With topics of discussion ranging from politics to secret desires, the five young, attractive, but narcissistic and damaged people (Manika Auxire, Geoffrey Couet, Simon Frenay, Francois Nambot & Lawrence Valin) cook, eat and flirt with each other, building a steady stream of tension, and not just sexual. Directed and written by Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau (of Theo and Hugo fame), due to the confined nature of the single setting it wouldn't surprise if this project originally started out as a play, although that doesn't seem to be the case here. It certainly draws from similar single location narratives, like Alfred Hitchcock's Rope and Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men, although in this case they know the accused is guilty of the social and emotional crimes against them. The why is the real mystery here. Rope is an interesting film to compare this to, as similarly, the person the party is based around is never seen on screen, but is never not a topic of discussion. And boy, there's a lot of discussion.

All five of them have different reasons to feel aggrieved by their common enemy, and this film is in no real rush to tell us why. It's a purposely talky piece, finding its human drama in the commonality they find between the hitherto complete strangers they are in a room with; but it's also an incredibly self indulgent film that's not averse to a sing-a-long interlude and a stress relieving dancing scene (complete with flossing). There's a lot that adds genuinely interesting flavour to the plot, such as the debate as to how to cut an apple tart into five equal pieces when it would be much easier to cut it into six; something Lawrence considers bad luck considering the scenario they're collectively faced with. But sadly, the exploration of the decisions and conclusions they are making over the course of the night does hit fallow ground occasionally, making the (not extensive) runtime of 89 minutes seem overly long and, once again, self indulgent. It's a visually striking film, with the apartment bathed in neon hues, but at the end of the day there's only so much you can do to make a kitchen/diner look exciting.

It's certainly not without merit, offering frank and revealing discussions of sexuality (something that could only be presented as subtext in Hitchcock's Rope), and the cast are all uniformly solid in their varying roles, given a chance to bounce off each other in a variety of pairings in the oddest group therapy session you'll ever see. Unfortunately the stagey set up turns out to be a drawback the story can't overcome.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

BFI FLARE 2020 - FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO review

Dodging the coronavirus by finding a new venue online as #BFIFlareAtHome, this year's festival continues on the BFI Player with For They Know Not What They Do, Daniel Karslake's documentary about the intersection and difficulties families have faced in finding the balance between their religion and their children's sexual and gender identities.

In frank interviews with Karslake, evangelical christians like the Robertson's tell of their reaction to finding out their 12 year old son Ryan was gay. Telling him that he was putting his soul in jeopardy, to appease his parents Ryan went into years of conversion therapy in an effort to fight his feelings, before spiralling into a drug habit and homelessness. Ryan's parents, Rob and Linda, are upfront about their initial reaction and their failure to support their son by believing in the vitriolic hatred of homosexuality that was preached at their church and spread through their community.

A follow up to Karslake's previous film For The Bible Tells Me So (that also covered similar themes and also featured Bishop Gene Robinson of the Center for American Progress), the title here, For They Know Not What They Do, evokes a need for forgiveness and understanding of why these religious are so against these marginal groups, and it's clear from the documentary that what most of the objecting parents and grandparents suffer from is a lack of education on the matter, or perhaps it could better be described as mis-education. The film continuously cuts to disturbing video footage of pastors and preachers encouraging violence against homosexuals and transgender individuals, leading into Vico's story. Raised as Catholic and fearful of his father and grandmother's reaction to his homosexuality but met with acceptance and love, his world changed when he encouraged his friends to go with him to the Pulse nightclub in Florida on the night of the mass shooting in 2016.

The other two key subjects offer a glimmer of hope for the acceptance of transgender people, with the inspiring story of Sarah McBride who, after coming out as transgender in her last year of college, has continued to pursue the career in politics she wanted, including an internship in Obama's White House and speaking at the Democratic National Convention as the first openly transgender person to do so. Her story is not without its hardships, but there's something so moving about how her father smiles as he talks about her achievements. It also goes to highlight how much has changed since 2016. The last main focus of the film is on Elliot, a mixed-race teenager about to go to college. Despite knowing early on that he was transgender, Elliot fought back against his identity and tried to present as female, leading to a personal crisis and self harm, something that is all to common among transgender people. His parents are also quite open about their initial confusion about what to do; but its fair to say that the aim of the film is not to chastise those who were scared about their children's identities, but to tell their stories in order to help others react in a better way.

Karslake's documentary tells four wildly different stories of people and families from all different backgrounds. It doesn't hold back from showing how the current White House administration has done immeasurable harm to LGBTIQ communities, with a sharp rise in the murders of transgender people of colour in 2017, the barring of transgendered people from joining the armed forces and the continued acceptance of conversion therapy in 41 states where they are still legal. For They Know Not What They Do succeeds in giving each story the platform it deserves, featuring some traumatic stories but is ultimately an inspiring and uplifting experience. It should be seen be the friends and family of anyone in the LGBTIQ community, and hopefully by more too. Easily one of the best films of the festival.

For They Know Not What They Do is currently available on the BFI Player until March 29th as part of their #BFIFlareAtHome content, along with other features and a whole host of short films too. Catch them while you can.

BFI FLARE 2020 - KEYBOARD FANTASIES: THE BEVERLY GLENN-COPELAND STORY review

Best known for the 1986 album Keyboard Fantasies, Posy Dixon's documentary charts Glenn-Copeland's re-emergence as an artist after his definitive album was re-discovered by collectors in the last decade, leading to a new tour to a new generation of fans.


After going to Montreal to study music in the early 1960s, Glenn-Copeland soon found that being the only openly non hetero-normative person on campus was too big a barrier, and so after a run in with his parents and a close call with electro shock therapy, he fled the school to pursue a career as a musician, ending up in rural Canada. Releasing folk and jazz infused albums that were difficult to market, after a period of failures in releasing new material this lead to him self releasing an initial run of 200 cassette tapes of Keyboard Fantasies (recorded with the help of an Atari home computer) in the mid 1980s to little cultural appreciation. Flash forward 30 years and thanks to the collective power of music aficionados, Keyboard Fantasies is in demand across the globe and finally getting the respect it deserves.

I'll be honest that I wasn't familiar with Glenn-Copeland before this documentary, but it's a great introduction to his work in a similar vein to Searching For Sugarman, albeit with the artist upfront and centre in talking heads and live performances. The film is a compact 59 minutes long, but there's some fantastic performances peppered throughout from a recent tour, accompanied by the band Indigo Rising. The highlight of the documentary is seeing how these two generations of musicians, one in his mid 70s and the others in their early 20s, learn from each other and how they so easily blend together during the live shows. It's also incredibly moving to see how much fun Glenn-Copeland is having, playing for a much larger and also younger audience, engaged in the story he has to tell.

What's refreshing is that Glenn-Copeland's gender identity is treated as largely inconsequential for the majority of the film, only becoming a topic of discussion in the last 20 minutes, perhaps as his gender realisation happened after the release of Keyboard Fantasies and before its cultural re-appreciation occurred. It's interesting that director Posy Dixon didn't try to give this aspect of Glenn-Copeland's life a closer inspection for dramatic reasons, but from his own admission, despite growing up black and queer and then having the realisation that he was male later in life, due to his family life and quite possibly due to living in Canada (which from the tour footage seems like a joyous place to live), he didn't receive the same level of abuse that others did.

Capturing Glenn-Copeland's feelings that he has found his purpose, this is a touching documentary that offers a captivating story with a beautiful musical backdrop. Keyboard Fantasies: The Beverly Glenn-Copeland Story is now playing on the BFI Player as part of the #BFIFlareAtHome season.


Tuesday, 24 March 2020

BFI FLARE 2020 - Five Films For Freedom

Despite the best efforts of the Coronavirus to cancel every major film festival over the next couple of months, the BFI Flare LGBTIQ+ Film Festival team have adapted as best they could in these difficult times, moving some of the features and tons of the shorts over to the BFI Player so that people can enjoy them in the comfort of their own homes as #BFIFlareAtHome.

Among the short films is a collection they've dubbed Five Films For Freedom; a collection of dramas and documentaries from LGBTIQ+ filmmakers, telling stories that could only be told by them. Here's a brief overview of what they have to offer.

When Pride Came to Town follows Bjorn-Tore who left his rural hometown of Volda after coming out to move to Oslo to find acceptance. Decades later he's now returning to Volda to attend their Pride parade, the first of its kind for a rural Norwegian town. The film sees Bjorn-Tore find a town much different to the one he left, with his neighbours proudly hanging a rainbow flag outside, although the documentarians do explore the opinions of those locals whose attitudes haven't caught up yet, including one woman who states that "my best friend is gay and I'm okay with that. He's living in sin, of course", and the words of Hans Reite, a pastor who is against Pride parades happening anywhere. The reconciling of sexuality and religion is a common one in films at Flare, and When Pride Came to Town is just the tip of the iceberg for this year. Well structured and presented, this is an uplifting and moving doc that can see the visual power of the rainbow flag and uses it to its advantage.

134 is a short Irish drama that shows a young transgender girl as she competes in an Irish dancing tournament. Largely told from the point of view of the parents as her mother plays scenes from the past in her head from when she was unsupportive of her child's gender identity (something her father is still struggling to do), it only hints at the intolerance her daughter is facing in pursuing their dream, but there's an interesting idea in the exploration of Irish dancing (and competitive dancing as a whole) as an acutely gendered activity that needs to move away from its traditional definitions.

Flare is an international festival that screens films from across the globe, including the Brazilian short After That Party. Leo seeks the help of his friend Carol in working out how best to speak to his supposedly straight father after witnessing him kissing another man at a party. It's a premise that could have been mined for gritty drama, but instead After That Party is pleasantly light, fluffy and comedic in its presentation. It's a sweet natured film that's not interested in digging for drama in Leo's discovery, and is more interested in showing a story of acceptance, albeit with some comedy from the social awkwardness of it all.

The final documentary in this collection is a very short snapshot of Pxssy Palace, a monthly club night in Hackney that champions queer people of colour. In the doc there's a lot of voiceover explaining how they started with house parties before finding a fixed venue (a studio space in Hackney), with footage of them in fashion shoots and as photographers creating "an archive of queer nightlife". What's most surprising is the lack of footage from an actual club night to convey the real atmosphere. Instead the documentarians have given their subjects better lighting and a glittery back drop for them to dance in front of in slow motion, all the better to control their image. How very Hackney. It's a stylish and slick looking film, but plenty of room has been left to expand on the subject.

The final short in the collection is probably my favourite, and a rare genre short for this festival. Something in the Closet isn't shy about its subtext, when after a game of spin the bottle two teenage girls kiss in a closet for the first time. Struggling to know how to respond to the realisation of her sexuality, Madi avoids talking to her mother and faces the bullying of her friends, all while a malevolent force with glowing red eyes appears in her bedroom closet. A mini horror filled with teenage angst, forbidden love and a compelling story; it's a visual metaphor writ large, but done very well.

The Five Films For Freedom are available now on the BFI Player without a subscription, with plenty more shorts and features available to those who sign up. It's well worth taking advantage of a free trial membership just to catch some of the BFI Flare 2020 features that are being added during the festival.

Monday, 2 March 2020

COME TO DADDY review

After a successful festival run including last year's Frightfest in London, Ant Timpson's Come to Daddy now arrives on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on the "Frightfest presents..." label. Elijah Wood stars as Norval Greenwood, a self-described music exec and wannabe influencer who, after receiving a letter from his estranger father, travels to his remote shorefront house in the hope of reconnecting with him. However, instead of being welcomed with open arms, he finds his father (Pontypool's Stephen McHattie) to be a cantankerous old drunk who can barely hide his distain for him.


Norval arrives at his father's house dressed like a Shoreditch hipster with a haircut and moustache combo that's hard to understand, wearing an oversized hat and carrying a limited edition gold iPhone designed by Lorde (that he promptly loses into the sea). Despite his efforts to sell himself as a success and impress his father with claims of knowing Elton John, shot down in flames by a deliciously spiteful turn from McHattie, Norval is a loser, but a likeable one. There's a combative nature to these early scenes of two men trying to finds common ground between each other; like the Lighthouse but with added Nathan Barley. McHattie often plays men who are skirting between good and evil, but here he's playing an absolute bastard who's relishing the opportunity to knock the posturing Norval down a peg or two. So, I hear you ask, why would Norval's father invite him all this way just to abuse him? Well...

As Norval starts to lift the lid on family secrets and character's real intentions, the film completely flips itself from a tense two-person family drama into something a lot darker, seedier and blackly funny. More characters are introduced to the story, notably Michael Smiley's Jethro with his unique take on inflicting violence, causing Wood's Norval to react in kind to incoming threats, including a brutal attack on someone's groin that will have you wincing as you cross your legs. The violence is both graphic and hilarious, meaning you'll feel their pain, but laugh about it too and be thankful it wasn't you.

As surprising a fact it may be, over the last few years Elijah Wood has become one of the strongest voices in modern horror and genre cinema as part of the SpectreVision production company that he is a co-founder of. Although this isn't a SpectreVision release, it might as well be, occupying the same colourful, anarchic space as The Greasy Strangler, Mandy and this year's Daniel Isn't Real. In fact, Come to Daddy sees Wood re-teaming with one of his producing partners for The Greasy Strangler, Ant Timpson, here making his feature film directorial debut with a story that, bizarrely, has some basis on his real life experience with his father. It's a great debut that fans of Timpson's filmography as producer will adore, delivering his grisly comic sensibilities in a story that's impossible to second guess what direction it's going in.

Come to Daddy is an odd beast that is hard to categorise without revealing too much. Yes, it's a black comedy, but one with a real heart to it. It's hard not to feel for Norval, who, despite his hipster braggadocio, just wants to find a real connection with his father. A lot of this is due to the incredibly uninhibited performance from Wood, with his permanently bewildered eyes reminding us how great a screen presence he is. The weight of the film is on Wood's shoulders as he's in virtually every frame of the film, but that's not to discount some deliciously deranged turns from the supporting cast.

Worth tracking down and making a new connection with, Come to Daddy is not one to watch with all the family... unless you've got one seriously messed up family.

Verdict
4/5



Friday, 21 February 2020

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON review

Out on Blu-ray, DVD and digital from 24th February, The Peanut Butter Falcon continues the resurgence of Shia LaBeouf as an actor of merit. Here he plays Tyler, a down on his luck fisherman who teams up with Zak (Zack Gottsagen), a young man with Down's syndrome who has run away from the care home he's forced to live in. Together they embark on an odyssey to help Zak achieve his goal of becoming a wrestler just like his idol, The Saltwater Redneck.


After finally managing to flee the old folk's home he's been forced to live in by the state, Zak has just one goal; track down his favourite professional wrestler, The Saltwater Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), and train with him at his wrestling school. Before his carer Eleanor (Dakota Johnson) can catch up with him, Zak meets Tyler (LaBeouf), also eager to get out of town to avoid the wrath of Duncan (John Hawkes), the rival fisherman whose crab pots he's been raiding. Travelling with the credo of "you keep stirring up shit, you're going to get yourself killed", they stick to the back roads and bayous that provide the safest passage to their destination.

It's impossible to deny that The Peanut Butter Falcon is a joyously sweet film, the highlight being the genuine bond that can be seen to grow between LaBeouf and Gottsagen, and not just their characters. LaBeouf has gone on record to state that his friendship with Gottsagen is one of the key factors in his return from the brink of becoming another former child actor cliche, and has helped him turn a corner away from some of his dark times. He even went so far as asking if Gottsagen could accompany him on stage at this month's Oscars; a generosity that seen Shia take some criticism for how he encouraged his friend on stage, but largely from people who aren't aware of the context of their relationship. Hopefully more will now track down this film to see how great an actor LaBeouf can be, and also how genuine their friendship is. One of the highlights of the film is a campfire bonding session between Zak and Tyler, as they drink moonshine and work on wrestling training, eventually giving rise to Zak's wrestling alter-ego of The Peanut Butter Falcon. It's a scene that in the wrong hands could have erred on the twee side, but it's a credit to first time feature directors Tyler Nilson & Michael Schwartz that it rings true.

LaBeouf is perfectly cast as the hot headed Tyler, angry at his brother's death and the system that's preventing him from earning a living, but also able to turn on the charm when he first meets Eleanor. He's an actor that not only bears physical scars from his dark period (two unignorable scars under his right eye, the result of self inflicted wounds he made during the production of Fury), but also carries with him a weight of trauma that's still not been properly unpacked (see Honey Boy for more on that). Tyler is a commanding character who, with Zak, sees the opportunity to be someone's big brother and the chance for him to help someone in need. Gottsagen is a solid performer drawing on his own life experiences, and Zak's position as a person with Down's syndrome is respectfully and movingly covered. Whereas Zak believes that achieving his dream of being a professional wrestler is possible, he thinks that people would only accept him as a bad guy due to his Down's syndrome. Although not a film that is trying to beat us over the head with a message, there's some questions you'll be left thinking about after the credits roll.

The tone shifts as the film moves from a two-header buddy movie into a makeshift family drama, with Johnson's Eleanor finding more comfort in being Zak's surrogate sister than reluctant mother figure, but this allows a healthy family dynamic to form ahead of the film's wrestling led finale. It's here that the film does dip its toe into magical realism territory, but hey, isn't that kinda what professional wrestling's all about anyway?

Verdict
4/5

Thursday, 13 February 2020

DANIEL ISN'T REAL review

Now in cinemas and on VOD, Daniel Isn't Real sees Miles Robbins' Luke reconnect with his childhood friend, Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger). An encouraging but also toxic influence on Luke's life, Daniel pushes Luke into dangerous situations that he may not be able to come back from. Oh, also Daniel Isn't Real.



After a brief introduction to them as children where prankster Daniel arrives like a 21st century Drop Dead Fred before being locked away in a creepy doll's house (the result of trying to kill Luke's mother with an overdose of pills), the story picks up proper with Luke, now as a young man, trying to navigate his way in life whilst also caring for his sick mother (Mary Stuart Masterson). As his mother is institutionalised, he is advised by his psychiatrist to face whatever is haunting him from his past, leading to the re-emergence of his "imaginary" best friend, Daniel.

The temptation to liken Daniel Isn't Real to Fight Club is obvious, and there's clearly something of a demented Tyler Durden in Schwarzenegger's Daniel; all cocksure, confident and cool as fuck. He is everything Luke thinks he wants to be. But the film has more in common with the grimy, psycho-sexual world of Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case, the less-than-subtle conjoined twin shocker from the early '80s. In this, Daniel is Luke's very own Belial - a caged, impotent, rage-filled being, desperate to have the life his other half has.

Miles Robbins, first seen in Blockers and other supporting roles in Halloween (2018) and The Day Shall Come, has largely focused on comedic roles so far, but with his boyish looks he was destined for a lead role in a teen horror film (if that's what this is), and even bears something of a resemblance to Frank Henenlotter's lead from Frankenhooker, James Lorinz. His Luke is a likeable everyman character, and his pursuit of a romance with Sasha Lane's Cassie gives the film a much needed sweet side. Cassie is essentially an updated Marla Singer with a trendy boho loft apartment meets artist space, asking Luke important questions like "do you ever feel like you have no idea who you are?" at a modern art gallery before they destroy the art they find contemptible. In a film that is essentially about toxic masculinity against other men, Lane's character might struggle for screen time but is still the best she's been since American Honey.

As the flip side to Luke's character, Patrick Schwarzenegger's Daniel is the cooler, more attractive part of him, but also is a voyeuristic control freak, watching on as a romantic moment between Luke and Cassie turns into sex. Daniel is the incel inside who wants these moments for himself, eventually leading to a passing of conscience that gives Daniel an opportunity to act out his desires for sex and violence. Any questions you had about whether Daniel is just a part of Luke's psyche or a manifestation of something evil, allowing Luke to act how he really wants to act, are put to bed here; and this passing of conscience is in itself something near sexual, as Luke and Daniel's faces meld together before they break away, gasping.

As the good looking prankster Daniel, it's a strong turn from Schwarzenegger. Still on the verge of breaking out as a star of his own from under the weight of that surname, he's got the arrogance the son of the Austrian Oak and a member of the Kennedy clan should have. It's a great piece of casting that should act as a calling card for him going forward in his career.

As you might expect from SpectreVision, the production company who also gave us Panos Cosmatos' Mandy, there's a psychotropic quality to director Adam Egypt Mortimer's visuals that really work well for this film's big ideas. On top of some nasty body horror (there's that Henenlotter influence again), the film takes a trip into a nightmarish mind prison that's part Hellraiser and part A Nightmare on Elm Street, but also something completely different.

Daniel Isn't Real might owe a debt to some genre fare that has come before it, but it's a film packed full of ideas, and thankfully, most of them work.

Verdict
4/5

DANIEL ISN’T REAL will be released in UK Cinemas 7th February 2020, and on Blu-ray and Digital HD on 10th February 2020. For cinemas visit: https://www.ourscreen.com/film/Daniel-Isnt-Real
Order via iTunes here: https://apple.co/2FugjAo

Friday, 17 January 2020

A SERIAL KILLER'S GUIDE TO LIFE review

When self-help fanatic Lou (Katie Brayben) meets wannabe guru Val (Poppy Roe), the pair go on a road trip to experience different therapy sessions, leaving an unexpected trial of dead bodies in their wake. One of the crowd pleasers from last year's Frightfest in Leicester Square, A Serial Killer's Guide to Life in now available to rent.



Lou is a simple young woman who spends her time caring for her ungrateful mum, preparing her meals and washing her in the bath. She spends her days listening to self help CDs and attending seminars that are really nothing more than sales pitches for shysters trying to take advantage of the naive and vulnerable. It's at one of these seminars that Lou meets Val, an exorbitantly confident sociopath whose biggest ambition is to be the greatest life coach the world has ever known. Seeing in Lou someone whose life she can help turn around with her unorthodox methods, Val takes control of Lou's life and tries to mould her into a more confident, altogether deadly woman.

Following the trail blazed before them in films like Badlands and Thelma and Louise, there's something so appealingly British about A Serial Killer's Guide to Life that only adds to the charm. Comparisons to Sightseers (another British, coastal murder spree), are obvious, but the dynamic at the core of the film is different, and the story is laced with a not-so-slyly satirical dig at the self help industry. Split into chapters, the start of each accompanied by a monologue by Lou's favourite guru, Chuck Knoah (Ben Lloyd-Hughes), the target of the film (and Val's victims) is the self-help entrepreneurs with their "alternative" medicinal therapies, and the middle class suburbanites who prescribe to them.

It's at these therapy sessions when ASKGTL (as no one's calling it) raises the most laughs, with a fantastically wanky married pair delivering "Sound Therapy" sessions and tuna sandwiches for the journey home the sort of people you can't wait to see killed. A Serial Killer's Guide (as most people are calling it) never pushes too hard for laugh out loud comedy, instead using the absurdity of its premise to raise the odd chuckle, as well as funny performances from the leads, innocent Lou (Brayden) and the icy cool Val (Roe).

Poppy Roe is a real star in the making with cheekbones sharp enough to kill. As well as co-starring, she's a credited producer and was co-editor alongside her husband Staten Cousins Roe; clearly a couple to keep an eye on. In fact, if any evidence of their dedication to their craft was needed, Cousins Roe was nearly late to the Frightfest world premiere of this film due to his wife giving birth the night before. Multi-taskers indeed.

A Serial Killer's Guide to Life is a road trip that might visit a few thematic places we've seen before, but they've packed a boot full of charm and wit to go next to the dead bodies. If you're looking for personal growth don't expect to find a new way of life here, but if you like a bit of senseless killing as a cathartic exercise, this could be the film for you.

Verdict
3.5/5

A SERIAL KILLER'S GUIDE TO LIFE is out now on iTunes and Digital HD
www.aserialkillersguidetolife.com
https://apple.co/2RGlh4g

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

ASYLUM & THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD BLU-RAY reviews


Out now on blu-ray is two classic portmanteau horrors from the legendary British studio, Amicus. Starring a slew of British TV stars alongside more established and iconic genre actors like Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, both Asylum and The House That Dripped Blood follow a similar structure in having a selection of short stories presented with one over-arching story to tie them (very loosely) together. Both of these titles were written by Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, which should give you some idea of what to expect.

In The House That Dripped Blood, a Scotland Yard inspector arrives in town to investigate the disappearance of renowned horror actor Paul Henderson (Jon Pertwee), only to discover that his residence has a long history of mysterious deaths with no apparent link between them; and in Asylum, a young doctor must prove his eligibility for a vacant position by deducing which of the patients on the ward is his predecessor and would be employer, Dr. B. Starr, now also one of the "incurably insane".

They're hammy and Hammer-y in a number of great ways that the modern British film industry could learn a lot of lessons from. Firstly, the cast in both films in incredible, tapping a rich vein of British TV stars eager to make a move into films, rubbing shoulders with established names and those whose star was on the wain. Charlotte Rampling, Ingrid Pitt, Patrick Magee, Denholm Elliott, Geoffrey Bayldon (one of these films features Catweazel, whilst the other has Worzel Gummidge, so, something for everyone); I'm just scratching the surface of the talent that appears. Genre legend Peter Cushing features in both films in small roles, with his Hammer co-star Christopher Lee also popping up in The House... as a strict father whose sweet little daughter might be trying to kill him with voodoo. What is most enjoyable here is that given a role he can really (and thematically) sink his teeth into, both men are overshadowed by an incredibly fun performance by Worzel Gummidge and Doctor Who star Jon Pertwee as an ever so serious thespian who starts to become a vampire. His segment, the grand finale of The House... is the campest and funniest one across both films which do have wildly differing tones from sequence to sequence, the effect best described as chilling rather than outright scary. Still, for films fast approaching 50 years old they still are remarkably effective at planting an idea in your brain that will linger for a long while. Of the two films, the fun of the Jon Pertwee story gives The House... the slight edge over the much more dour Asylum, although they work well as a double bill due to their fragmented structure.

It's been said countless times before about portmanteau horrors, but they're often wildly inconsistent from act to act and can (usually) be fairly judged by their weakest sequence. Thankfully, neither film attempts to wow us with a ridiculous number of stories (hello, ABCs of Death), keeping it down to four or five smaller films and one thread to tie them to each other. It's part of the fun that these stories clearly have nothing to do with one another and the writers have gone to very little effort to find thematic links (the stories in The House... all take place in - drumroll, please - a house), but there is an enjoyable layer of mystery to Asylum's wraparound, as Robert Powell listens to the story of each patient to work out who among them was once a renowned psychiatric doctor, now just another potential killer. It's a ridiculous premise and as over the top as you'd expect from the author of Psycho, but it's a guessing game you'll find yourself playing along with all the way to the demonic toys filled finale.

The special features on both discs are a beaut, a particular highlight being the short archive documentary on the Asylum disc that shows how Amicus was operated out of what was essentially a shed on the backlot of Shepperton Studios by two men with big ideas and tight purse strings, clearly a precursor to the Blumhouse model of filmmaking. Both discs not only come with director commentaries and a surprising amount of extras, but also come with reversible sleeves with fantastic new artwork from the legendary artist Graham Humphreys, although it's hard not to spin the cover of The House That Dripped Blood, if only for the incredible tagline "Vampires! Voodoo! Vixens! Victims!".

Clearly the work of madmen with a touch of genius guiding them, both of these Amicus blu-rays offer some genuinely creepy chills and thrills and are essential for anyone interested in the history of horror.

Verdict
The House That Dripped Blood 3.5/5
Asylum 3/5

Special Features
The House That Dripped Blood
- Reversible sleeve
- Audio commentaries
- A Rated Horror Film - vintage featurette and interviews with director Peter Duffell and stars Geoffrey Bayldon, Ingrid Pitt & Chloe Franks
- Radio spots
- Stills gallery
- Trailers

Asylum
- Reversible sleeve
- Audio commentary
- Screenwriter David J. Schow on writer Robert Bloch
- Two's A Company - vintage featurette that visits the Amicus office at Shepperton Studios
- Inside The Fear Factory - featurette with directors Roy Ward Baker, Freddie Francis and producer Max J. Rosenberg
- Trailer