“We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.”

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Review: Midsommar

midsommar_teaser_ari_asterAri Aster’s last slow burn horror movie ‘Hereditary’ (2018) was a film that divided audiences, and I strongly suspect that Midsommar will do the same. Where Hereditary’s major touchstone was (in my opinion) Rosemary’s Baby, Midsommar leans into The Wicker Man as its primary inspiration. I really liked Hereditary, and I love folk horror in general, so I had high hopes for Midsommar.

I was not disappointed.

The film opens with Dani (a fantastic Florence Pugh) going through what can only be described as an ultimate family nightmare, depicted in an emotionally visceral tumult of horrible events. Dani is left broken, rent by trauma.

Six months later, we return to Dani, her boyfriend and his somewhat annoying friends. (One of whom is played by the awesome Will Poulter, who is literally great in everything he’s in. Cast him in all movies always, please.) It turns out that they have from their Swedish friend Pelle finagled a trip to Sweden to witness a once-every-90-years midsummer at his family commune, the Hårga.

The events in Sweden are where we enter prime Folk Horror territory. The film hits several plot beats and some of the aesthetics of The Wicker Man, but for the most part is its own thing. The brightness of the land of midnight sun means the vast majority of the film takes place in clear, strong daylight, a bold choice for a horror movie. I don’t want to talk about the plot in detail as almost anything I say could be a spoiler, so I’ll try and talk about the movie in general terms.

Firstly, the film is beautiful to look at. Bright blue skies, flowers, comely maidens running hither and thither in floaty white dresses and floral garlands. Stones carved with runes. Artwork on the interior walls of the buildings. It looks like the sort of place where you really would love to spend a midsummer. The cinematography is almost overwhelmingly lovely.

The soundtrack, from Bobby Krlic of The Haxan Cloak adds a lot of atmosphere and tension. Eschewing the lively songs of The Wicker Man, it instead concentrates of drones and reels for the most part, adding a wonderful sense of history and place.

In terms of the horror, Aster doesn’t really do jump scares (thank goodness), but instead builds tension over and over, leaving the viewer constantly anxious. The moments of horror are sudden and brutal, and Aster manages to both show intensely gory scenes whilst balancing them with more ‘inside your own head’ horror. Some of the images are extremely disturbing and are likely to stick in the mind for a long time. There are moments of levity, however, which break (and occasionally enhance) the tension.

In many ways, it’s a less ambitious movie than Hereditary, but that is a strength. Aster has described Midsommar as a ‘break-up movie’ and when you’ve seen it, that description makes total sense. In my opinion, it’s a future classic of folk horror, a worthwhile addition to the genre. If you like slow burn horror, it’s a must. 

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Review: Book of Monsters

bom1I didn’t know exactly what to expect from Book of Monsters. I knew it was low budget, and was British, and had monsters in it. I knew it was a horror comedy, which can be excellent (Shaun of the Dead) or execrable (Lesbian Vampire Killers). I didn’t have high hopes.

Thankfully, Book of Monsters is a fun movie. It starts of with a cute little ‘nightmare’ sequence where we meet a young girl, her mother, and her mother’s huge and terrifying ‘book of monsters’. Needless to say, things go badly.  After this we are introduced to our hero, Sophie (Lyndsey Craine), the young girl from the initial sequence. Sophie goes to a school where all the girls wear very tight shirts and look about thirty. Sophie is having an eighteenth birthday party and once the school’s head bitch hears about it she decides to come along to liven it up.

She’s not the only one who has decided to liven up the party. A mysterious woman uses Sophie’s big evil looking book to summon up some evil creatures, and this is when the deaths pile up. Sophie and her friends (there’s a ginger one and a goth one and a random boy) must try and work together to defeat the EVIL.

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To it’s credit, BOM uses mostly practical effects and generally they’re quite good. There’s some rather wooden acting, which is what you expect at this kind of budget, but the main cast are actually pretty solid. The gore and comedy come much more from the Peter Jackson ‘Bad Taste/Braindead’ camp, and that works in its favour, rather than trying to ape the previously mentioned Shaun of the Dead. It’s fun, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and it manages to be solidly entertaining while having some genuinely laugh out loud moments. I’ll keep an eye out for what the team who made this do next.

Review: Happy Death Day (2017)

The premise of Happy Death Day intrigued me – I’d heard it described as Groundhog Day meets Scream, and while that description is reasonably apt, it also does an injustice to the film, which happy-death-day-moviemanages to be better than the ‘high concept’ pitch makes it sound. This is partly due to the production and direction team – produced by Jason Blum (of horror juggernaut Blumhouse-  who really know how to put out and market professionally made low to medium budget horror movies), and directed by Christopher B. Landon, the director of several ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies (which I haven’t seen, as the first PA movie left me cold) and ‘Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocolypse’, which I greatly enjoyed.

But on with HDD. It begins with Theresa “Tree” Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) waking up in the dorm room of nerdy fellow student Carter Davis (Israel Broussard) after a heavy night of drinking and then undertaking the ‘walk of shame’ back to her sorority house. As the day goes on, we learn several things about Tree – she’s not a very nice person, she drinks, she fools around with a friend’s boyfriend, she’s having an affair with a married professor at her university, she’s rude, arrogant and selfish. It’s also her birthday, and she doesn’t really want anyone to know about it. That evening, on the way to a party, she is brutally murdered by a hoodie wearing figure in a sinister ‘baby-face’ mask.

maskShe then wakes in Carter’s dorm room again, and the day begins once more.

This movie has several strengths; it presents an interesting line-up of supporting characters who all might want Tree dead, which makes it almost like an Agatha Christie-esque murder-mystery. It layers on the scares as effectively as a PG-13 horror can, including a section featuring a wonderfully disturbing musical ornament, and another with a sinister birthday card. The masked figure is both creepy and, amusingly, slightly incompetent (which is where the Scream comparisons come in, I think – also the baby-face mask was created by the same person who made Scream’s Ghostface mask). The script is witty, the action well paced. Jessica Rothe is also a huge strength of the film, convincingly portraying a variety of emotions; fear, shock, understanding and wry amusement at her situation. I particularly enjoyed the way Tree tries to proactively solve her own murder before it happens, while at the same time realising the kind of person she is and resolving to change. In fact, the arc of Tree’s character evolving even as the world stays forever the same is one of the most satisfying aspects of the film. There is also a clever bit of plotting that brings in a bit more tension – meaning Tree doesn’t have unlimited attempts to deal with her recurring murder issue.

In terms of weaknesses – there are a few plot-holes (although some things that appear to be plot-holes are explained away by the end of the film), some of the twists are reasonably easy to figure out if you’re paying attention (although there a few clever swerves the script takes to continuously make you uncertain) and due to its PG-13 rating it’s a bit bloodless.

All in all, though, it’s a satisfying, entertaining romp that doesn’t outstay its welcome and showcases a young star that could, based on the success of this film, definitely break through into the mainstream.

(Up Next: I Am The Pretty Thing That Lives In The House.)

 

Writing Again!

I’m writing again! I’m thrilled to announce that I’m currently working on the fourth Cogkneys story, which will probably be novella length. So, basically, the longest one so far. It will contain roughly the same level of innuendo, Carry On-esque humour and general filth as the other three. Consistency!

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This time I will be be ripping off paying homagto H. G. Wells’s seminal First Men in the Moon. It will be entitled ‘Cogkneys in the Moon’ (creative, right?) and should be done – oooooo – early 2018?

This is marking my first excursion into science-fiction (or as Arthur calls it, fictionscience), as opposed to horror. Which is appropriate I suppose, as that will make it more steampunk? I am happy to provide a mock-up of the cover, as I’ve already designed it because my priorities are all wrong. Perhaps, however, this will force me to ensure I finish it! Ahahaha! Hmmmm.

Haven’t read any of my other Cogkneys stories? Lawks, but are you missing out! (It is my opinion you are, that was a rhetorical question.) Fear not, however, as you can purchase all three previous stories in a compact and handsome (like me) softcover book from Lulu! You can also buy it from Amazon (on Prime!) but I make less money that way so, like, don’t. (I jest, I don’t mind where you purchase it from.)

 

 

Wonder Woman

I had a date with a Wonder Woman today. I refer, of course, to my beautiful wife, but we also checked the boys in to Nana Day Care and had a husband and wife date to see the movie Wonder Woman.  It was ace because it featured actual hot drinks that were drunk while they were hot, snacks that no one nicked off us and sitting down for more than ten minutes before someone needed a drink/the toilet/a toy finding/misc.

But what of the film, you cry? Or not, I don’t know.

Well. I have been a fan of Wonder Woman since I was a child (my feelings for Lynda Carter became less and less pure* as I got older, I’m slightly ashamed to say) and so I have been looking forward to a Wonder Woman movie for a long time. I was heartened by the fact that Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was a bright spot in the overlong, over serious and terribly confusing (in so many ways) Batman Vs. Superman. A whole movie, however? Would I enjoy that?

Yes, is the answer. Yes, very much. 

Gal Gadot is perfectly cast as WW. Exotic, athletic and yet possessing of a mixture of wide-eyed naiveté and compassionate strength, goodness radiates out of her. The film in general is very well and interestingly cast. Chris Pine is playing the sort of character he can play in his sleep, but still he does it with wit and charm and provides comedy and heroism without stepping on Gal’s toes. Robin Wright is fantastic and gloriously tough and steals much of the beginning of the film. Wonder Woman’s sidekicks are a diverse and interesting bunch, and Lucy Davis as Etta Candy creates a lot of fun in her scenes. More Lucy Davis, please.

The story is rather generic but the performances and the settings help to make the film feel original. The villains are a touch underwritten and bland but the actors do their best to make them more interesting and for the most part succeed. The scenes set in the trenches and towns of Belgium are fantastic and the movie really shines here. The action sequence set in No Man’s Land (featured heavily in the trailers) is a fantastic highlight of the film. The attention to detail is very good (speaking as someone with a very strong interest in The Great War) and I spotted very few errors in the historical sections (apart a sound effect of a trouser zipper which made me grit my teeth slightly). Really, given WW’s PG13/12A rating the war scenes were about as hard-hitting as they could be given the restrictions of the rating.

The opening of the film is perhaps a touch too long but does serve to introduce the characters well, everything at the end resolves in a satisfying way and there were moments where I felt quite emotional, which is always a good sign. (Although I cried at the end of Dragonheart, so perhaps my emotional state is a bit to delicate to really use as a guide!)

So yes. I loved it. A movie and actress worthy of Wonder Woman, the best DC film since The Dark Knight, a superhero film that managed to avoid a lot of the things that make superhero movies feel a bit samey, and an uplifting, enjoyable experience. Is it a bit cheesy to say it was ‘wonderful’?

I suppose so, yeah. But it was, so there.

*Lynda Carter was one of my three great loves as a boy becoming a man, the other two are Kate Bush (the Babushka video) and Madeline Smith (Up Pompeii). I am actually not ashamed, it turns out. An honourable mention also goes to Janet (Blue Peter and mother of Sophie Ellis-Bextor) Ellis.

Update

So, it’s been a while. Most of this relates to the fact that last year we successfully adopted two little boys. We’re actually coming up to the sixth month anniversary of them moving in!
The six months previous to that were a hotbed of activity too. There were adoption panels, meetings, family finding (a brutal and draining process that pretty much took over our lives for three months) and, once matched, a further approval panel and many, many meetings.

This, unsurprisingly, eats into reading and writing time. Not that I mind! However, my mind has still been burbling, coming up with vague ideas. I’ve been rolling around the notion of another Cogkneys story (Cogkneys in Space?). I’d love to do a deluxe collected edition of the Ribald For Your Pleasure books, possibly fully illustrated by me. (With the Cogkneys stories added? I’ve not decided.) That might be something I do as a Kickstarter in the future. I’ve also been considering a podcast set in a whole new world, the world of Grimmswich. I have started scripting that, with assistance from Andrea. Trying to decide if I will do it solo or bring in other people. I’d really like to start reviewing things again too, just to re-sharpen both my writing skills and my critical faculties.

Hopefully, then more writing will happen in the future. Mind you, I’ve said that before!

Ribald for your Pleasure.

So… There will be a NEW Ribald For Your Pleasure – the third in the series. Aiming to have it out in 2016…

Here’s a mock up of what the cover may well look like…

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