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Film Review: Paranormal Activity 3

Monday, 5 December, 2011 1 comment

Three Star: ***

More things go bump in the night, but did that include the writer’s head? Prepare to go parallel to the series, in this paranormal prequel

In the 1980s the concept of home CCTV was a brave new world powered by shoulder mounted cameras and VCR tapes limited to six hours’ running time. However, after hearing strange noises in the night, such a niggle does not deter Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith) from setting up his own amateur system to watch over his family in Oren Peli’s third installment of the supernatural shocker series. This bare bones prequel might reuse the same old formula to get its scares, but a creepy atmosphere is present as always and you will find yourself scanning the screen for the slightest anomaly, with your chest tensed against the inevitable moment of terror.

Of course, two movies later, many of us have grown accustomed to these scare tactics: easy-to-believe shocks, such as a moving curtain or pan falling from its hook, or even someone jumping out of a closet with a mask on and shouting “Boo!” These cheap thrills still have their place though. After all, they continue to work extremely well! It caused the two girls to the left of me to whimper into their popcorn for much of the film. In fact, they were flinching so much, they even ended up booting the row of seats in front of them. That said, the frights are a little more fun this time, with some innovative efforts having been made (including an ingenious modification to an electric fan) in order to give us something new to see. In one scene the tension is achieved with a single simple sheet. The violent undertones are heavier than ever too, and the being itself seems to appear at moments, suggesting evil energy in its rawest form. Flitting shadows are an unnervingly believable manifestation and is by far scarier than falling furniture.

The bulk of the plot focuses on the friendship between Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and an entity named ‘Toby’, which, obviously, takes a sinister turn for the worse. As before, the spirit becomes malevolent towards her and sister Katie (Chloe Csengery), to the extent that this likable family has to flee their home. However, this is where the unexpected occurs and it deviates from the original plot devices. Even though PA3 is about the same two sisters, nothing is explained from PA1 and PA2. In fact, the saga is actually complicated by having things added to it instead. In some ways, it almost becomes another film entirely, and there were traces of The Last Exorcist in its rather disappointing ending. Even the demon seemed to be different to the original and I was unable to decide whether this was intended, or not. If the film had been a stand-alone picture, it would have made little difference. The big questions remain unanswered.

And so this apparent reinvention of the plot seems to suggest that there will be several sequels before we get our answers. Such a notion leaves me feeling a little concerned for the series. It would be a shame if it ended up like the Saw franchise, done to death and relying on upchucks of the same old shocks in order to get a cheap laugh.

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Review: Fortress (DVD) – Borrow or Buy?

Wednesday, 30 November, 2011 52 comments

Four Stars: ****

“No B-17s were harmed in the making of this film!”

It is a war story which has been retold many a time, and yet it never gets old! The tale of a bomber crew up against all odds, who yearn to trade the flak-blackened skies for the comforts of home, as they struggle to complete their tour of duty. And there is no better example of this than the crew of the Flying Fortress Lucky Lass, operating from a sandy strip in the Algerian desert, during the 1943 bombing of Rome.

Despite having a pretty much unknown cast (Bug Hall, Donnie Jeffcoat and Sean McGowan anyone?), as well as the fact that it relies completely on CGI for the battle scenes, the quality of this B-movie was a pleasant surprise over the usual straight-to-DVD releases.

Seeing as there are only 12 flying B-17s left, the film-makers can be forgiven for not being entirely authentic (this is even addressed in the credits, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner) although only extreme levels of scrutiny will reveal any flaws. In other words, you would need to be the ultimate spotter, who can identify incorrect rivets on a gun turret window frame, to notice and/or be bothered by it.

For the rest of the time, the rapid pace of an air war makes us forget that we are looking at a digital rendering, persuading us that the Lass is airborne once more! She looks and sounds just as she should. The attention to detail is not just limited to the aircraft; it would have been so easy for the makers to use generic patch-work quilt landscape scenery, but when we find ourselves peering down the bomb-sight we see an actual rendition of the city of Rome, complete with Coliseum.

Much has been said about the inauthentic dialogue too. Some scenes go as far to suggest the crew are none other than the grandfathers of the lads who star in American Pie, because of the way they speak of birds and boozing during their down-time.

A side-plot even involves a home-made (and thoroughly illegal) still, in which the characters extract alcohol from aviation fuel to make their own moonshine. Fittingly, the still’s owner is a red-haired lad called Bert (Chris Owen), who was none other than the Shermanator in the teen romp comedies! He even speaks of his still in the same way his adolescent alter-ego might talk of an elaborately constructed beer pong game many years later.

But, while this portrayal has been criticised by some, I actually found it strangely authentic. So perhaps they do speak in a fairly modern way … apart from the odd moment, it is not at all that noticeable! Considering the grim reality of fighting in the skies, it is not surprising to learn that crazy hijinks were not an uncommon way to unwind on an airbase. To quote one of the actors: “There’s more to being a bomber pilot than just flying.”

As for the crew’s actual fate, well, just remember that their moment of glory will come at a time when there was still no end in sight for the war. Whatever they achieve now will soon be buried under more bloodshed, and many more young men will be sacrificed before peace is won. Watch this in memory of these magnificent flying machines and the people who flew and fought in them. It might not carry the same impact as Memphis Belle, but I’d certainly watch this one again.

Image courtesy of Pete Markham, Flickr.

Update: Pint-of-whisky groper faces jail

Friday, 18 November, 2011 2 comments

Katherine Goldberg has been told by a magistrate that she could face 10 years in jail for her whisky-fuelled sexual assault on a male Virgin Atlantic steward.

The 25-yr-old teacher faces a prison sentence despite pleas from her lawyer that it would be in the “public interest” to let her off with a police caution.

Uxbridge Magistrates’ Court decided that Goldberg’s crime was too severe for the maximum 6-month sentence that magistrates can impose. Goldberg will be released on bail for a month before returning to Isleworth Crown Court for sentencing.

Mary Petley, the bench chairwoman, said: “If you were drunk on an aircraft and you were sleeping and snoring a bit we could sentence you here. But this is rather more serious.”

The case stems from an incident on a flight between Johannesburg, South Africa, and London Heathrow in August, when Miss Goldberg made “strong sexual advances” and grabbed “the groin and testicular area” of a male steward. Based on comments left on the Daily Mail website, many believe the jail term to be far too harsh for such an incident.

Previous headlines claimed that Goldberg drank a pint of whisky. While technically accurate, one pint is 568ml of liquid – the approximate contents of a hipflask-sized bottle of the spirit. It is highly unlikely Goldberg was served a pint glass full of whisky.

Update: Man pleads guilty to Wembley Stadium death

Friday, 18 November, 2011 2 comments

Ian Mytton, a 41-year-old man from Redditch, Worcestershire, has pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of a Cardiff City football fan in September.

Michael Dye, aged 44, died following a scuffle outside Wembley Stadium’s Gate C. On the night of the incident Mr Dye, a stonemason and father-of-three, was rushed to Northwick Park Hospital with a fractured skull, but succumbed to his injuries soon after.

Mytton appeared at the Old Bailey via video link from prison to enter his guilty plea.

While the attack was initially claimed to be a result of in-fighting between Welsh fans, there is a great debate on the Cardiff City forum over Mytton’s motive. It is being argued that he is actually an England fan and supporter of Aston Villa.

If this is true, then one poster suggests that Mytton might have deliberately gone to the Welsh fan’s turnstile to launch the attack. Another poster claims he knows of Mytton’s allegiance to Villa because he has “two good mates serving time with him at Blakenhurst”, while a third states that he was thought to be “of previous good character.”

Mytton is due to be sentenced on 21st December.

Opinion: Why I’ll lose interest once Kitty goes the way of Cocozza

Sunday, 13 November, 2011 2 comments

Silence envelops the arena. The audience, hungry for someone to hurry up and get the chop, watch the panel of judges with eager anticipation. The process of elimination sifts through the dwindling group, eventually whittling it down to just two. One will stay, and one will go. And, after a brief musical number, one gets sent packing by a landslide … Frankie! At least, that is what could, and in many ways should have happened. A precocious, cocky 19-year-old being taught a valuable lesson about respect and life in general, on live TV! How many of us would have cheered then. It might also have taught countless 16-year-old girls a lesson about wasting their money on mobile phone votes. But I digress…

This does mean that there there will now always be a debate over whether it was fair or not to throw out Frankie! A legion of youths will bewail their support for him, after a seemingly unjust ejection. After all, he only boasted about the drugs. It’s not like he was snorting lines off of Gary Barlow’s glass table…

Of course, what is really unfair is the fact that everyone else who cannot stand him, whether for his attitude, his hair or because he was a bloke wearing skinny jeans, will never get to see the nation grow tired of him and tell him he isn’t big or clever anymore. Ever since he literally talked his way through his rendition of The Black Eyed Peas’ song “I Got a Feeling”, which was worse than some of the material in the auditions, it was clear he could not possibly win this.

He was a farce, funny to watch, but one to drop as soon as the semi-finals arrived. A bit like Wagner. But, now that his fate has been decided by the powers-that-be, he thinks he can actually sing! He has been given an excuse by the show’s bosses for his dismissal, and leaves with Z-list celebrity status, evading his pending lecture on the harshness of life like a naughty schoolboy. It has even been stated that he is actually “going to take some time out before continuing his career as a singer.” Well, I bet Malia has a cracking karaoke scene anyway!

So why so soon ITV? With great pride comes a great fall, and all that. It would have been far more entertaining to have him stay until the final three, and then see him ditched like one of his conquests. You wanted him in because he was “a cheeky chappy” with “charisma”, and now he has behaved like one you’re letting him go, on the grounds he broke a “golden rule.” That’s like having a pet lion in order to make you look tough, but then getting upset because it attacked someone.

I would not be surprised in the slightest if the show’s already-suffering ratings take a nose-dive after this. At the end of the day, does anyone really get drawn into the X Factor because the people are genuinely good? Craig Colton and Misha B are certainly gifted. Yet, they are pretty boring to watch. It’s no fun watching a serial talent contest if the contestants are already talented and don’t really develop along the way. Maybe the latter could jazz things up by bringing back those outfits and hairstyles which make her look like an exotic bird? Unless something radical happens I, and I am sure many others, could very well lose interest in the show.

Which brings us to Kitty Brucknell. How obnoxious she is, with her me, me, me attitude and her over-the-top dramatics. But can you honestly say you aren’t the slightest bit entertained by her antics? Did you see that scowl she had on her dolly face last Sunday night, when she was voted so near to the bottom? It was the sort of look a princess might have, after being told she couldn’t have her way. Are these not the reactions we tune in for? And unlike Frankie, she does have an amazing voice! Seriously, if I was listening, and didn’t know anything about her personality, I would enjoy her singing immensely. The only reason she is bound to be next for an axing is the fact that she put obstacles in her way by alienating her audience in the earlier shows, with unnaturally confident showiness. No-one likes an attention seeker!

And that’s just what The X Factor is. A popularity contest. How else could someone like Frankie have managed to cruise through it while a genuinely talented singer like Kitty be subjected to the stress of a survival song? The latest twist, of course, is to have a previously rejected singer return to fill the void the mop-head has left. And who better than 16-year-old Amelia Lily, who is no stranger to Frankie’s ways. Is this the radical change the show needs though? Can she break the predictable and mundane routine that has settled, and prevent us reaching for the remote? Only time will tell, I suppose.

For now, I guess we wave goodbye to Frankie…his crapness will continue in various MTV interviews and next year’s Big Brother, I am sure. And he will continue to address the never-ending queue of besotted and sozzled fans with undergound liasons, while his dad tallies them off like many other dads do when their sons score goals throughout a season. It was unsettling to watch his farewell though. As he exited the house, the shadow of Doherty seemed to fall across his departure. It will not be the last we hear of him, and he will still be dancing with the devil who takes the lives of many pop stars, for years to come.

Opinion: A tax on the greedy … and I’m not talking about the 1%

Friday, 11 November, 2011 Leave a comment

A tax, a tax I say! This has been a cry in Parliament within the past few months, and now it seems that tasty treats are on the government’s big list of things to area bomb with extra charges. Since a recent statement, claiming that by 2030 about half of us will be fully fledged fatties, struggling to breathe through lungs encased in a coat of blubber far better suited to a marine mammal, then perhaps it’s about time. A burger embargo could be just the thing the nation needs to stop our island from sinking into a sea of lard. Or is it?

Doboš Torta

Image via Wikipedia

As far back as 2004, there were Parliamentary bleatings to bring in such a thing, in the belief that it will banish obesity forever. Of course, there wasn’t a recession on then, and it would not have been such a big deal for the majority to give up a little extra from their earnings in order to obtain such sinful food.

But, tax or no tax, people are still going to go out and satisfy their cravings by bulk buying chocolate oranges. Evolution has hard-wired gluttony into our genetics after all, and that cannot be altered by the threat of financial loss. Considering the current threat of a double-dip recession, it doesn’t seem out of place to say that such an idea cannot come at a worse possible time.

The general notion is well meaning. All the extra money that is inevitably raised will go towards the nation’s struggling healthcare, which should in turn help deal with the overwhelming crowds of obese Britons clogging the corridors of NHS hospitals like so many cholesterol laden arteries. But will it actually work, or is this farcical fudge made from the milk of your wages?

A couple of case studies from elsewhere in the EU, where these taxes have already been implemented, are enlightening. Denmark adopted it since the 1st October on any foods which have a saturated fat content greater than 2.3%. But then, the Danes have also been taxing sweets for almost 90 years. So such a concept is probably taken in their stride.

On the other hand, it makes little sense, seeing as unsaturated fat and other health harming nutritional values such as excess sugar and salt remain unaffected. In fact, seeing as butter, cheese and bacon are major Danish exports, it seems their government didn’t think this through at all. It might very well limit their intake, but then there is a danger it could also limit production. Currently there are 40% fewer obese Danes than obese Brits, but their numbers have continued to rise over the years regardless. It appears they like to hoard treats as much as the rest of us.

In aptly-named Hungary, a nation famous for its fatty cuisine, a similar tax on high levels of sugar, salt and carbohydrates has been in place since 1st September. Any of its citizens wishing to enjoy a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar can be expected to pay a surcharge for the privilege. Curiously, fast food restaurants and traditional dishes like the Dobos Torte, a dessert consisting of five layers of sponge cake, chocolate butter cream and a caramel topping, have escaped taxation.

The original Monster Munch monsters as feature...

So, one might be paying monster prices for Monster Munch, but at least deep fried goose lard won’t burn a hole in your pocket. I find it difficult to believe that Hungary will see any positive changes from this. The average Hungarian, who is no stranger to smoking and a diet rich in fatty, salty pork, will likely continue to contribute to the country’s health issues.

With Hungary and Denmark leading the way, more European countries seem set to follow. Finland, which already taxes sugared products, have expressed an interest in broadening it to cover saturated fats. We might very well be on the verge of a gastronomical domino effect. And, seeing as Britain’s obesity rate is at 24.5 percent, while Hungary’s is at a meagre 18.8 percent, perhaps the nation’s over-indulgers would be wise to seek out a Costco card.

Referring back to the general economic atmosphere, consider this: families are already suffering from higher food prices, and the honest truth is that it is far easier to hand over 99p for a McMeat-wich, than stand in supermarket aisles for hours, painstakingly sifting through all the greens, and things that are classed as green but are in fact not green, to ensure they are free of all insidious elements.

Not everyone can afford products emblazoned with the organic logo, and it’s not like there are many alternatives readily available. Even processed fruit is subject to VAT, so perhaps a better solution would be for the government to forget their love of using taxes to try and solve a problem and just cut them instead. But for now, can you really blame people for bypassing a 100ml bottle of elderberry juice at £4.59 a pop, when there is a well stocked row of own brand lemonade next to it, at 28p each?

If additional money needs to be raised that badly, then they might as well go all out: perhaps deep fat fryers could require a license, with special license agreements to go with them. They could feature warning labels similar to the ones found on parachutes: “Use of this equipment could result in obesity and greasy skin.” Perhaps that’ll deter the Scots from coating everything in golden crispiness… It might also stop people popping down to Argos and wasting their money on an impulse buy. That DeLonghi won’t make you any more friends unless they especially love burnt potato slices, and you’ll end up never using it anyway.

Of course, I am not being serious, but it does seem like a better idea than punishing all the moderate eaters in the UK for the actions of their more spherical countrymen.

However, there does remain a single ray of hope. It shines out from Romania, a nation where the average citizen spends 40 percent of their income on their food bill. Having weighed the pros and cons, its government scrapped the idea on the basis that it was too risky, and that the poor were under enough financial pressure already. Hopefully Britain’s government will also see this logic.

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Book Review: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: Blackwood’s Guide To Dangerous Fairies

Saturday, 5 November, 2011 1 comment

Three Stars: ***

An eerie Gothic tale, and not one to tell as a bed time story…

For centuries the ‘Hidden People’ were confined to fairy tale and legend, often told to entertain and scare children into obedience. But in this pseudo non-fictional prologue/field guide to the recent film release of the same name, the very origin of such stories is questioned. Based on the journal extracts of one Emerson Blackwood, we learn the fate of a man plunged into an increasingly insane world defiant of the rationale that he came to know as a naturalist, after he discovers an ancient link between science and folklore. Leading up to the chilling point which starts the movie, anyone who has watched it with a curious disposition towards the eerie ash pit the creatures spring from, would be well advised to indulge in this tale of obsession and destruction.

Guillermo Del Toro is a highly esteemed monster maker, and he has created a variety of hideous creations for the film industry, most notably in the Hellboy series and in Pans Labyrinth. Indeed, the child-eating ‘Pale Man’ from the latter, a demented figure with its eyes in its palms, is something from the worst of active imaginations. Here, his hungry horde of tooth guzzling goblins do not disappoint, although the pages of the guide itself conceal a whole host of horrific beings.

The bulk of the narrative is just as the title suggests, a guide cataloguing unpleasant creatures world-wide, in order to warn the unsuspecting of their dispositions. The names of these ghouls, such as Trolls, Pixies and Boggarts, will already be familiar to some, likely recalled from their own childhood or Harry Potter. Of course, the gruesome details of why these foul beasts should be avoided, are perhaps not. And some, like the French Croque-Mitaine and Chinese Xiang Yao, are even pictured, their spooky forms sketched in 19th Century style etchings. They are truely the stuff of nightmares and the images alone would be enough to deter any traveller!

It was a pleasure to find that the text mirrors a 19th Century format too, including traits such as a strong attention to detail, which helps build up a picture of the events going on around us. Of course, it is written in the first person perspective, but this only adds to the supposed authenticity. There is almost a Bram Stokeresque quality to it! The presentation is also to be applauded, the hardback cover adorned with the creepy mural of Emerson’s son being dragged to his horrific fate by the underground monsters. Such an image makes it look like a book you would expect to find only in the darkest corners of a library. It has a very Grimm feel to it indeed. Even the pages are pitch black.

While the back story of the Fairy Folk is explained in some detail, the narrative largely focuses on Emerson’s character and his mental status, as the years pass by and he inevitably arrives at his great tragedy, which is incidentally what this story is all about: a man succumbing to his own hubris, his thirst for knowledge. The field guide itself is really just an overview, and those who wish to know everything about the fairies and their Netherworld, might be a little disappointed to find that a lot is still left open to speculation! At the end of the day, we are limited to Blackwood’s own knowledge, and such questions can only be answered by his theories. For now.