Thursday 31 October 2013

Five Scariest Horror Villains

I've never been the biggest fan of Halloween, but it has been a tradition since my blog began in 2011 to post a movie review of a scary film on the day. The Woman in Black in 2011, Batman Begins in 2012...but what next? Rather than do what I've already done, this time I shall present a small list of some of my favourite horror movie villains! From the good to the great, here they are!

#5 - Jaws

In what way is this guy scary? The model shark is beyond outdated, and looks especially ridiculous when the tubby fish leaps onto the SS Orca to devour a terrified Quint in the epic climax. The crew faced continuous problems with getting the model to work and so it was much preferred to suggest the animal's presence instead of showing it on every occasion. The appearance is a little odd, but the idea is a classic toying of people's fears: sharks in the water. Jaws is generally regarded as a film that spearheaded the immense fear of Great Whites, which are terrifying enough without the idea of them infesting beaches and eating everyone. The shark in Jaws remains a terrifying signifier of this paranoia, and the amount of tension conjured whenever it arrives in a scene is sometimes too intense to handle.

#4 - The Bride in Black

More of a secondary villain than the central antagonist, Insidious' mysterious female ghost appears in several frightening segments of the film, including the unveiling of protagonist Josh Lambert's childhood photos, showing glimpses of her lurking in the background. She then returns in the climax of the film as a silent spectre hidden in the shadows, eventually consuming Josh's body when he tries to make it back from the Further. Though she doesn't contribute much to the overall plot, the woman is still extremely spooky in appearance, and the concept of her creeping up on Josh in his past photos is rather disturbing.

#3 - The Thing

A terrifying alien from god knows where, The Thing is a strange creature that leeches off unlucky hosts and alters its appearance accordingly. It launches its threatening attack on an Atlantic research base by dwelling inside a dog; a dog which hideously mutates when the alien emerges and becomes a deformed beast with an arsenal of gooey tendrils. As the film continues, the alien begins to move on to other hosts which causes a great deal of tension to emerge between the protagonists, who can never be sure where the creature is hiding. The very idea of that the creature lives within you and completely deforms your body upon emerging is bad enough, but seeing the extremely convincing prosthetic effects rip humans to pieces, bite off heads and arms and emit spooky roars is what truly makes the film such a terrifying ordeal.

#2 - Pennywise

Though the television film sucks overall, Tim Curry's portrayal of the sinister Pennywise in Stephen King's It stands out as one of its most impressive factors. Clowns are scary enough, but imagine one who eats children with spiky brown teeth and has a freakishly innocent theme tune, a rather deep tone of voice and a dark sense of humour. Tim Curry's performance as the villainous clown who haunts children into their adolescence is extremely unsettling; say what you want about the crappy film, but Pennywise is still one scary dude.

#1 - Jennet Humfrye / The Woman in Black

Though the character was reasonably freaky in the 2012 adaptation of the novel, the 1989 rendition of The Woman in Black perfects her character as one of mystery, subtlety but downright scariness. Renamed Jennet Goss in the film for some stupid reason, her story begins with the birth of her only son Nathaniel whom she gives to her sister when it is evident she is unable to care for him herself. Jennet initially accepts the decision to have Nathaniel know nothing of his true mother, but eventually concedes and kidnaps the boy from their remote house on the causeway, drowning with him in the marshes when the frightened pony pulling their trap veers off course in the intense fog.

She is reborn as a menacing spectre known as The Woman in Black, haunting the small English town of Crythin Gifford and causing the random deaths of many children. Protagonist Arthur Kipp's becomes tangled in her affairs when he is tasked with retrieving legal documents from the haunted Eel Marsh House, leading to a series of terrifying events and his eventual death. Not only is her ghostly look perfect, but The Woman in Black's sporadic appearances and monotone facial expressions make her an extremely unsettling and perfect horror villain. You're never sure when she's going to show up when viewing the film for the first time, and the emphasis on placing her in the background makes it even more chilling.

Thanks for reading, happy Halloween!

Wednesday 30 October 2013

Movie Review - Thor: The Dark World

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has past its ultimate performance with Avengers in 2012, and Phase Two began this year with the incredibly disappointing Iron Man 3. I'm not gonna dress it up: superhero movies are slowly getting dumber. The Marvel films are developing an intertwining plot in this expansive universe that doesn't quite get the attention it deserves, turning it into a convoluted mess with more holes than swiss cheese. And this, my friends, is exactly where Thor: The Dark World begins to slip up.

A year after the events of Avengers, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) continues to protect Asgard and the Nine Realms from evil alongside his father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and the Warriors Three; but even they struggle to keep the peace when Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) of the Dark Elves casts a reign of terror over the Nine Realms using a mysterious magic, with his ultimate goal being to claim the universe as his own. Facing a new peril, Thor must unite with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) and counter the threat before it's too late.

There is nothing wrong with a film that embraces its lack of complexity, as proven with Avengers which was hardly the most substantial film of the year. But Thor: The Dark World can seldom match this appeal of brainless action fun, for its plot is thin as paper, its characters as two dimensional as an 8 bit video game and its pacing a complete mess. Rarely does the film embrace its characters or develop its aesthetically badass villain who, despite being portrayed brilliantly by Eccleston, lacks any depth whatsoever; his character can be summed up as a simple evil guy who wants to destroy the world with evil death stuff. Nothing more.

The Dark World boasts a script full of superb jokes - most of which are completely misplaced. There are many scenes that demand a powerful emotional response, but they are simply denied it in favour of endless gags hurled at the audience at a ridiculous pace. Even during heavy climactic battles, or during important character arcs, there is always an overdose of badly timed comedy. Examples include Stellan Skarsgård's characters sudden obsession with not wearing clothes, or perhaps Darcy's inability to remain quiet for at least five seconds. What happened here?

Loki's character throughout the film also leans towards his fangirl appeal. His threatening villainy from Thor is long gone, and he has become naught but a comedic sidekick with some evil intentions and endless one liners. Thor: The Dark World boasts some excellent performances (especially Hemsworth) and thrilling set pieces, but little else. The story, the characters and the pacing all feel completely unfinished, and the end result is a new low for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Monday 28 October 2013

The Best of Thorpe Park

When opened in 1979, the UK's legendary Thorpe Park was far from the thrill-seeking madhouse it is today - it wasn't until the 1990s that the land fully began to develop into a theme park for family audiences, and as the 2000s began the place was only getting better with record breaking rides and attractions.

As a huge fan of the place, I have decided to draft a small list of my five favourite rides at the park. They're mostly coasters, but hey, coasters are awesome.

#5 - Rush

Rush was added to the park in 2005, constructed over a period of four months to replace Thorpe Park's retired Ferris Wheel. The ride straps you in to one of two swings which gradually sway back and forth at a gently increasing speed. After around four or five swings, riders reach the maximum height of around 25 meters at a speed of 50 miles per hour. A simple premise and a short duration, but Rush still remains a unique ride that's both thrilling and strangely soothing.

#4 - Stealth

With the top hat reaching around 205 feet, Stealth is barely half the height of similar US counterparts such as Kingda Ka and Top Thrill Dragster but still remains one of the tallest and fastest coasters in the UK. When all strapped in, riders are launched at 80 miles per hour in around 2 seconds and immediately climb the top hat. You have just enough time to soil your undies upon seeing the park around you at the peak of the ride, before you shoot down the other side and glide smoothly into the station. Short, but intense.

#3 - The Swarm

The Swarm is Thorpe Park's most recent project, opening in March 2012 after much anticipation under its tentative LC12 codename. The ride's theme is an alien invasion, with the track surrounded by smashed vehicles, ruined buildings and derelict landscapes, all of which riders speed around at about 60 miles per hour. For the 2013 season, the rear two trucks were reversed to allow guests to endure the ride backwards, which is fun but perhaps not as thrilling. With that said, The Swarm is a welcome addition to the already fantastic lineup of Thorpe Park roller coasters and easily one of their best.

#2 - Nemesis Inferno

Any avid fan of The Inbetweeners has probably heard of this ride, which is based off a 1994 roller coaster that originally opened at Alton Towers. Riders are harnessed in seats that allow their legs to dangle as they swing around the ride, which plunges into a dark tunnel as it begins and then races around a claustrophobic track full of inversions, twists and sudden drops. Though many consider the Alton Towers version to be superior, Inferno is still a fantastic ride from beginning to end.

#1 - Colossus

Built in 2002 at a cost of £13.5 million, Colossus held the record for the most inversions in a roller coaster until Alton Towers' The Smiler topped it in 2013. The ride boasts 10 loops throughout its 850 meter long track, including four intertwining twists as a climactic finish. Inversions are exploited in the best possible manner - the ride features 360 degree loops, corkscrews and a classic cobra roll as it thunders along the rails. Bumpy and loud, but definitely Thorpe Park's best.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday 10 October 2013

Disney Slump - Worst to Best

After the Renaissance era ended with 1999's Tarzan, Walt Disney Feature Animation landed in a bit of a pickle. Both Fantasia 2000 and Dinosaur were fairly successful, but in 2000 the hugely overbudget Emperor's New Groove arrived in cinemas and pretty much flopped: spearheading the infamous Disney slump of the 2000s. The studio had not seen such horrible returns since their depressing loss of fame in the 1970s, and it would not be till 2010's Tangled that Disney would release a massive blockbuster in the style of their Renaissance hits.

But still, a film that generates huge profits isn't automatically good, nor is it automatically bad. We must examine the content itself, and so we shall in this list of the very worst to the very best of Disney's 2000s slump.

#10 - Chicken Little (2005)

Seriously Disney, what happened here? WHAT HAPPENED? Chicken Little is the first CGI animated film from the studio, and grossed $314 million worldwide which, sadly, makes it a pretty decent success. Often viewed as the worst Disney film ever made, Chicken Little is highly deserving of its bad reputation because of how bad the entire premise is. Theres too many corny jokes, a lack of real depth and it does not feel like a Disney film at all. Disney let the whole 'CGI animation is successful' mantra get to their heads and the end result was this abomination that sadly remains part of their animated canon. For shame.

#9 - Meet the Robinsons (2007)

On an undisclosed budget that's rumoured to be around $100-120 million, Meet the Robinsons pretty much bombed with global earnings of $169 million. It's always sad to see a Disney film bomb, but Meet the Robinsons feels like it's using a very creative story for its own portrayal of modern animated film clichés, including pop culture references and humour that doesn't know its limits. The narrative comes together very nicely and, don't get me wrong, it's very funny sometimes; but perhaps it could've told the interesting premise a little bit better. As it is, the strong ending is the only part of the film that conveys a genuine Disney vibe.

#8 - Brother Bear (2003)

Brother Bear's premise had a lot of dramatic potential, but this is rarely utilised to full effect. The animation is vibrant and the soundtrack has some strong efforts by Phil Collins, but Brother Bear still suffers from throwaway characters and a paper thin storyline. It's decent, far from Disney's worst, but could've been a lot better. Its mixed reputation didn't affect audiences, however - the film earned $250 million worldwide and was considered a decent success.

#7 - Home on the Range (2004)

During its four month theatrical run, Home on the Range earned $103 million worldwide on a bloated budget of $110 million. Considering Hollywood films need to earn at least double their budget to begin generating profits, this made the film one of the biggest Disney flops of all time and lead to the studio's scrapping of 2D animation for the foreseeable future. I used to despise this film as a kid, but I've given it another chance in recent times - and while the story is offensively by the numbers, some great voice work and animation make this a Disney flick that's decent at best.

#6 - The Emperor's New Groove (2000)

Animator income excelled to an all time high when the 2000s began, explaining why the playful looking Emperor's New Groove had a $100 million budget, costing more than most Disney Renaissance films. Its budget ultimately lead to trouble, as it earned $169 million worldwide when released and thus became a box office flop. It's not Disney's most compelling effort, but as a comedy things really work; every viewer is sure to laugh on numerous occasions throughout. 

#5 - Lilo & Stitch (2002)

Released in the summer of 2002, Lilo & Stitch earned $273 million worldwide against an $80 million budget to become one of the most successful films of the Disney slump. Part of its success was attributed to excellent marketing, which featured trailers mocking past Disney hits such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, as well as emphasis on Elvis Presley within the film's soundtrack. Lilo & Stitch is a little bit forgettable, but still succeeds with a strong moral, loveable characters and a charming art style spearheaded by director Chris Sanders.

#4 - Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

Altantis: The Lost Empire is yet another box office bomb for the studio, earning a meagre $186 million compared to an enormous $100-120 million budget. It's definitely sad to see this one bomb, because the story is actually rather enticing and only a rusty third act and some contrivances bog it down. A surprisingly strong Disney effort lies beneath the surface, and even the initially cartoony animation proves to be some of Disney's best.

#3 - Bolt (2008)

Bolt started Disney's return to success but it still didn't make any records, earning $309 million against its $150 million budget. Quite unusual of Disney at the time was the marketing, which focused heavily on stars John Travolta and Miley Cyrus; Disney seldom advertise their films based on the cast, even with ensemble lineups, and it seemed rather desperate considering Miley Cyrus' role wasn't as huge as it was made out to be. I always thought she was voicing Mittens the cat, but that role goes to Susie Essman - whose name is never mentioned at all in any trailer or poster. Weird. But I digress; Bolt is definitely one of Disney's best, and a return to form for the studio after their focus on nothing but lame gags. It's funny, visually stunning and boasts a nice layer of complexity with its relationships, making it a great watch from beginning to end.

#2 - The Princess and the Frog (2009)

Though considered successful, The Princess and the Frog still failed to match the Renaissance era with a worldwide gross of $267 million, which could've been better when compared to its $105 million budget. The project was born when John Lassester strived to bring hand drawn animation back to the studio, and what better way to do so than with a classic fairy tale to harken back to Disney's prime? The Princess and the Frog is visually astounding, matching the fluidity and vibrancy of classic Disney animation - the same can be said for the music and characters. Everything works well and, some plot inconsistencies aside, this is definitely one of Disney's strongest films to date.

#1 - Treasure Planet (2002)

Lilo & Stitch made 2002 seem like the light at the end of a dark tunnel for Disney, but a few months later Treasure Planet hammered down on that prospect. Budgeted at $140 million, which officially makes it the most expensive hand drawn film of all time, Treasure Planet earned a pathetic $38 million in the United States and an abysmal $109 million worldwide. Popular as it was, the Disney brand was clearly not strong enough to prevent the film from becoming one of the company's biggest failures. Many reasons for its failure were explored; some assumed young audiences just didn't connect with the Treasure Island basis, others believed the release was too close to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, which hit cinemas just two weeks earlier and continued to plough through competition. Some even disputed that Disney purposely rigged the films failure in order to lay off hundreds of overpaid 2D animation staff, though this has often been debunked as a rumour.

Treasure Planet was released during a time where CGI animated features had risen as the new hot thing in cinema, particularly as Dreamworks had become a prime competitor to Pixar. Here we have a combination CGI animation and hand drawn characters to seem like the best of both worlds, much like with Tarzan, but audiences and critics weren't one over; Ron Clements and John Musker (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Hercules) wrote and directed a screenplay with some severe plot holes and a difficult to determine target audience. But, I can't say I didn't enjoy it; the polished combination of CGI and hand drawn animation was just one of many pros. Jim and Silver share a strong chemistry to pack an emotional punch into the storyline, but there's still a healthy dose of comedy thanks to fun lineup of supporting characters. Overall we have a gorgeous visual style, some excellent sound design and, of course, a classic Disney vibe. I can see why it didn't quite click with mainstream audiences, but it still remains one of my favourites.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday 5 October 2013

Movie Review - Filth

If you thought Trainspotting was intense, then prepare for something even more delightfully fucked up. The bizarre design of the poster you see here is a great signifier of things to come, exemplifying just how messed up we British really are when it comes to filmmaking. Strangely, and for reasons unknown, it proves to be some of the best in the industry.

Filth depicts the misadventures of Detective Sergeant Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy), a gleefully corrupt copper who embraces opportunities to snort drugs, fondle women and screw up the lives of others. His dangerous attitude ends up fuelling his mission to achieve a promotion within his force, but his decaying state of mind begins to take its toll and render the promotion the very least of his worries.

When Filth strives to delve into the complex mindset of the antihero and thrust the chaos onto the audience, it really works. Freaky, disturbing yet vastly enthralling, Filth flawlessly relays the negative energy empowering Bruce Robertson's thought process onto the audience to great effect - there are moments that make you jump, moments that make you cringe and plenty that make you laugh. The fusion of genres is handled perfectly and the end result is an enjoyably unsettling narrative.

All the cinematic and genre techniques are hit firmly on the head; but when it comes to dialogue and telling a story, Filth is sometimes hard to connect with. Lightning fast speech, some of which very vaguely explains crucial plot details, as well as an occasionally confusing structure cause the story to be lost in translation. The narrative setup as the film begins is only really to get things going, for the main focus is Robertson and his unhealthy state of mind. But the story is often difficult to fully understand, and as the film begins to conclude the direction feels slightly clumsy and misplaced. Despite this, every scene is still made better with well timed comedy and a flawless performance by McAvoy.

A boring third act also detracts from the overall quality and everything wraps up in a very loose manner. The level of subjectivity within the film's content makes interpretation amongst audiences vastly entertaining, but sometimes the lack of solidity within the concepts explored weakens the emotional punch some of them intend to exude. Filth works as a whole and proves to be a disturbingly satisfying experience - it won't have the biggest fanbase ever, but anyone willing to explore the madness within should definitely give it a watch.