Thursday, 23 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Twenty-Three


Best of the year:

1. Party: our housewarming party was not only one of my favourite events of 2010 but one of my favourite events of EVER. It’s very rare to enjoy myself so much that I never want it to end. So much nostalgia, and the joy of seeing old faces, and so many things going on that my head was spinning with happiness. I want to do it all over again next year!

2. Show:  hmmm, most have been the shit this year, but exceptions: Lost made me cry buckets when it ended in May; The Walking Dead impressed me no end;  Pretty Little Liars has been my guilty pleasure; I LOVE WE NEED ANSWERS SO MUCH

3. CD: Band of Horses “Infinite Arms” (to be predictable!)

4. Film:  films have also been poor this year. “Inception” was probably the best, with close runners up being “Up In The Air”, “Going The Distance” and “A Town Called Panic”. But my favourite film of the year was actually one we downloaded that came out in 2009 – “Triangle”. I made everyone watch it at Halloween because it’s so ace! There’s just so much to discuss when it finishes, and it was unexpectedly so clever I am still in awe!

5. Song: I’m not even gonna lie, it’s “Nothing In Common”! HA!  One of the best things a1 have ever done! I can unashamedly listen to it on repeat.

6. Experience:  buying a house. Not the stress of moving out of the flat, and living without gas for two weeks, and discovering we had dangerous electricity – but shopping for carpets, painting walls, making button lampshades, browsing secondhand furniture shops... I loved all that. I didn’t want to go back to work!

7. Concert: either Band of Horses where I danced around like a loon (and sang badly on videos which cannot be posted to Facebook) or Iron & Wine at End of the Road, because it was outside and just turning dark, and when Sam Beam came on it stopped raining. He did beautiful acoustic versions of Ressurrection Fern and Such Great Heights, and it was one of those moments where you want to hold up a lighter flame and sway.

8. Book: God, I don’t think I’ve read very much this year to my utter embarrassment. I keep starting books and then losing interest (Super Sad Love Story, The Book of Lost Things, One Day, The Shadow of the Wind – although I did finish that).  *pause* I’ve just gone to look at my bookshelf to see what books I have read and realised that the reason I can’t recall many is because 7 of them were Pretty Little Liars books – ha ha!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Twenty


One of my favourite Christmas tunes - just about sums up how I feel about the event!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Nineteen



It's nudging towards end of year review time - here's TWOP's take on the TV of 2010.

I must say I agree with a few of their 'disappointments'...

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Thor Trailer, and a Golden Globe Nomination

Hi Folks.

Meant to post the official Thor trailer last week, so sorry for the delay! Here we go, and it's as unsatisfying as the teaser from Comic Con:




3D? Meh. Natalie in 3D? Argh, dilemma!

In more exciting news, Natalie has secured a Golden Globe nomination for Black Swan - her first for Best Actress. Squee! It's also more exciting as Annette Bening - her only real rival in the awards race for the overrated The Kids Are Alright - is in the Comedy/Musical category, leaving Natalie free to reign supreme in Drama. Well, we hope so anyway.

The awards take place on January 16th - five days before Black Swan is released over here. I CAN'T WAIT!

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Eighteen



Ahhh, Boxing Day (wait WHAT! It's only the 18th!) - the day when everyone is bored of their presents, bloated from crazy combos of food (a selection box, a Christmas dinner, half a tin of Roses, some crisps, Christmas pudding, some sweets... barf) and everyone is bored to tears by the whole festive thing. A perfect day then, for BOARD GAMES.

I am somewhat of a board game geek - even though I don't own very many, I can spend hours playing them and looking at them in shops (especially in Travelling Man where my heart does a spinny dance every time it sees the wall to wall of boxes filled with die, counters, cards and other delights). Here are my top five board games to play this Boxing Day.

1. Trivial Pursuit - always a good one to test those brain cells, but try and get an up to date one and not struggle like us with a 1970s one from a charity shop

2. Hero Quest / Dungeons and Dragons - either or, they're both as good as each other. Even better when someone voluntarily WANTS to be the DM (!)

3. Scene It? - one of my favourite games ever, as I love the interactive element to it, and of course, it's all about FILMS! I must also cheat a bit here and throw in a good word for Buzz as well, even though it's not technically a board game, it's still brilliant fun

4. Dread Pirate - one we play every year, to name our ships stupidly if not collecting all the sparkly gems

5. Arkham Horror - this had to be included as it's all I've been doing since I got it for my birthday about three weeks ago (whoooops to the blog updates!). It's just the most complete board game experience I've ever had, and play can stretch up to a whole day - bliss when you have endless amounts of tea and foodies. I urge you to play it, and when you have it, try and refrain from buying all the expansion packs - I DARE YOU

PS - this is my 100th post! Hurray!

Friday, 17 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Seventeen



The Best thing Family Guy have ever done.




"I'm not really following the story arc, here..."
"SHUT UP!"

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Sixteen



A lil giggle, and a turning point of 2010 - or at least in the way I say "owl":


Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Fourteen



God, don't you just love Philippe?



He writes the best novels.


He tries his best to please everyone.


He tells it like it is.


He's got the cutest button mouth.



 AND HE DOESN'T DESERVE TO BE TREATED THIS WAY.


Monday, 13 December 2010

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Twelve


For those still struggling with Christmas present purchases (cough, cough) here are my top five online shops where goodies await your pennies:

Not On The High Street: one of the first places I go if I'm just looking for a quirky gift

Bombay Duck: Good, and very pretty, for the home

Play USA: For all those Region 1 DVDs and newly released CDs in America

Folksy: A place to buy handmade gifts, support amateur talent and sell your own creations

Montezuma's: yummy yummy chocolates, and it's all Fair Trade!

FILM REVIEW: Monsters


Once again, sucked in by the good reviews. Monsters has to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year.

It's not as if I was going in thinking that this was going to be an action film with spectacular set-pieces and special effects, but I thought at least it would be on a par with Cloverfield: lots of tension, lots of mystery, lots of twists and turns. Monsters had none of this, and even if it was trying to be more of a love story stroke road trip movie, at least make the characters likable for God's sake, or throw up the odd surprise.

Photographer Andrew is asked by his boss whilst in Mexico to bring back his daughter after she is injured in an attack by one of the inhabiting 'creatures'. Annoyed as he wants to stay and capture some images of the otherworldly beings, his job is a priority and so after finding Sam they set off to go back to America. However after being robbed in a cheap hotel, the two can no longer afford a ferry back to their homeland and have to risk being chaperoned by locals across the 'infected zone' - the home of the monsters.

So many lacklustre things I'm not sure where to begin. The poor (deliberate?) lighting and sound of the film made a lot of dialogue inaudible and many of the scenes impossible to decipher - the most exciting moment of the film when their entourage is attacked in the infected zone was in almost pitch darkness, so the affect of teasing the audience with little snippets of action wasn't even achieved. I could understand what the director was trying to do - sometimes the scariest thing can be when you can't see but can only hear the danger - but it doesn't make for a very thrilling experience for the audience. Perhaps they should have thrown in a few more blood curdling screams or inhuman noises and taken out some of the octopussy tentacles.

I could not have cared any less about the main characters of Andrew and Samantha - both were bland, selfish, contrite, arrogant. Considering the two actors are now married it's astonishing their chemistry was so weak. The predictability of their 'romance' only exasperated me further (they hate each other but will soon love each other) and their coming together at the end after sharing the magical moment of a sexy monster cuddle (ahem) was just ridiculous. Just kill them both! Selling her engagement ring to buy them both ferry tickets...zzzzzzzz. I could not root for them one iota. The scene where Sam runs off to the harbour after believing Andrew has slept with a girl was completely absurd:

"What are you doing?"
"Getting on the ferry."
"Then why aren't you?"
"Because you have my passport."

WHAT? Why did you run off then, you silly mare? It was so ludicrously off-kilter it made me wonder if Gareth Edwards had had a little snooze during editing. The monsters themselves didn't rise to the challenge either - they weren't powerful enough to be terrifying, and they weren't victimised enough to be sympathetic.

I'll concede it was beautifully arty (when you could see what was going on), and I liked the way the monsters had integrated themselves into everyday life, so all that was happening around them was almost normal. But this also worked against the film as the blasé attitude of the characters meant the suspense level never shifted from zero.

Certainly a different take on the genre, Monsters is only interesting on paper. The five star reviews baffle me, as this is a film that deserves only a shrug and no recommendation from me. A sad waste of money.


Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Eleven


Brrrr, it's cold out. How about one of my favourite drinks to warm us all up?


Not just for Christmas, but FOR LIFE! AMT Coffee is just beautiful at this time of year, and that's because of their milk steamers. They are the sweetest drink that my mouth ever doth come across. I've had nearly every one now (barring coconut, that just doesn't count) with only caramel to go - I think you need to be in a very sugary place to try that. Favourite is still Gingerbread: sprinkle on a bit of cinnamon and away you go.

Try them today!

Friday, 10 December 2010

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Eight



For Day 8 I thought I'd shine the spotlight on one of my workplaces - The West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds - and run through some of the upcoming events in the new season calendar. A comprehensive guide is here, but I'll highlight the ones I'm looking forward to the most. Perhaps a day trip to Leeds may be in order..?

Now

A Christmas Carol: Charles Dickens' classic tale of bah humbug (there's a few of those around here...) in the Quarry Theatre upstairs. This is the Christmas musical spectacular of the Playhouse, and always more enchanting and memorable for the ones who don't have to work it for 2 and a half months... (Until January 15th)

Aladdin: my favourite of the Christmas shows, I'm always amazed by how the cast and stagehands manage to construct all the props out of the scenery. Last year's pumpkin coach for Cinderella was breathtaking! This year it's Aladdin, and is sure to be just as delightful. It's for the little 'uns in the cuter Courtyard theatre, but I always make sure I see this (Until January 15th)


February

Lost and Found: another kids play, but I am so pleased the Playhouse is putting on a production of this as it's such a beautiful story and the TV adaptation made me cry! Looking forward to seeing how they play the penguin, and also create the vast, blue sea. (24th - 27th)


March

Stewart Lee: Vegetable Stew: definitely highlighting this show, because as well as it being Stewart Lee and guaranteed to be laugh out loud funny (and clever), it's also the show I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe this year so I KNOW it's good! Go for the crisp jokes (14th)

South Pacific: sometimes a full blown musical is just what you need - and this is a classic which I'm actually really looking forward to seeing. The same company put on Fiddler On The Roof earlier this year, and whilst that wasn't really my idea of a night out, I think this is a real escape (26th March to 2nd April)


April

Goodnight Mr Tom: probably best known for the TV series with David Jason (and less the book!), this is going to make everybody cry. As the characters are so synonymous with the TV actors it will be refreshing to see them brought to life a different way, and on the stage as well. A definite one to go and see, and only for a few days as well! (6th to 9th)


May

'Tis Pity She's A Whore: one of the most controversial plays in history, and something bold and exciting for the Playhouse in May. This is something I really want to big up - you know what to expect from a lot of shows but this is going to be different. It has a real quality about it, and whether I'm working it or not I'll be securing a ticket. My most eagerly anticipated event of the season. (7th to 28th)

Connections: sorry to be so blunt as to say it but ignoring all the school stuff here, new work from up and coming theatre companies and scriptwriters is always a treat to watch. They're pushing the most innovative ideas, and there could be one that blows us away. Plus there's a company called Duck Egg Theatre involved - I'M THERE! (11th to 14th)

Hugh Hughes: I'm not sure who this guy is, but he's merited having four of his productions playing at the Playhouse over one month including his latest as of yet undeveloped new piece which relies on improvisation and input from the audience - sounds like the Edinburgh Fringe coming to Leeds! But he's won me over as the blurbs for each of his shows sound wonderfully quirky, as does the man himself.
Floating: 17th, 21st
Story Of A Rabbit: 18th, 21st
360: 19th, 21st
Stories From An Invisible Town: 20th

Bronte: bringing some local culture and history to the stage, a new fictional telling of the lives of the Bronte sisters growing up on the Yorkshire moors and putting to paper some of the most recognisable and classic books today. This will be an interesting watch for me as I don't know a great deal about the sisters and this may make my much talked about trip to Haworth a reality. (24th to 28th)


June

Transform: I have absolutely no idea what this is going to entail, and neither does anyone else (except of course the WYP insiders). It sounds like a premise for a Light Night event: "work inside and outside of the building; pieces that last one hour and others that last two weeks; interactive installations and performances in the dark." I just hope it's not as disappointing as that Night always turns out to be. Still, I like this new throw caution to the wind Playhouse. (3rd to 25th)

The Wiz: I LOVE THE WIZARD OF OZ. Whilst I wish this was more of a straightforward adaptation/musical, I'm open to it being done in the style of Motown. I haven't seen any of the original Broadway production or film so I have no idea what to expect - just hope it's a lot of fun and not too off the course of this fabulous story. (June 24th to July 16th)


 

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Seven








Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Six



Dear Santa (the nice one, not the Rare Exports one),

All I'd like for Christmas are these lovely schuhs. Make it happen please! For even a mouse needs heels that look like screws.



Lots of love,

culturemouse
 

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Five


Total giggles today - enjoy! And if you haven't read anything by him before, I suggest you have a wander around the rest of the site.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day Two


What's behind door number 2? Some tasty Christmas treats!

When I think of Christmas Cake I think of the horrible dense, slightly stale fruit cake that people lap up after their lunch. But in Japan, their Christmas Cake looks like THIS:


A sponge cake filled with cream, topped with strawberries and a sign to say 'Merry Christmas'. It's 100% better and I want it!

I've just learned about an old French tradition in the Provence area - the 13 desserts of Christmas. Sounds amazing, but 'desserts' is really a loose term. The 13 foods are supposed to represent the 12 apostles and Jesus Christ, and are consumed by families on Christmas Eve.


I'm not sure if this is in the definitive order, but it goes something like this:

  1. Le Pompe a Huile (bread made with orange flower water and olive oil)
  2. Black 'evil' Nougat made with honey and almonds; White 'good' Nougat made with pine nuts, pistachio and hazelnuts
  3. Yule Log
  4. 1st beggar: Hazelnuts; 2nd beggar: Almonds; 3rd beggar: Raisins; 4th beggar: Dry Figs
  5. Oranges
  6. Quince Jellies
  7. Dates stuffed with Marzipan
  8. Green Melon
  9. Candied Melon
  10. Apples and Pears
  11. Prunes
  12. Grapes
  13. Calisson d'Aix (Marzipan sweets)
Actual items vary depending on the region, and can also include biscuits, waffles and fried pastries.

One of the more common Christmas sweets enjoyed by many countries is gingerbread. A couple of years ago, the man and I had a go at making a gingerbread house. It was the most fun ever, EVER.


It's made me want to do it all over again - but maybe this time a train, or a castle. Or anything from here.

Aiden Grimshaw - lost on The X Factor


I didn't really have time to endorse Mr Grimshaw before he was outrageously voted off the show a few weeks ago. I didn't really notice him during the auditions, but his first performance on the live shows doing Mad World was just incredible. Over the next weeks I began to realise that my main reason for watching the programme was to see what Aiden would be singing - everything else was just decoration.

When he ended up in the bottom two in Week 6 I was shocked beyond belief - but it was alright because he would still be saved. And then he bloody left. I had a bit of a tantrum (bring back Fame Academy!, etc) and suddenly my whole interest in this year's series vanished.

Hopefully Aiden will continue to pursue a music career - I think he has a stunning voice and amazing stage presence for someone so young - and an album will one day appear on the horizon. Until then, so I don't forget, here are all of his performance's from this year's The X Factor including the sing off which should have kept him in.

Week One - Mad World


Week Two - Jealous Guy


Week Three - Diamonds Are Forever


Week Four - Thriller - my favourite! He did the Imogen Heap version!


Week Five - Nothing Compares 2U


Week Six - Rocket Man


Sing Off - Don't Dream It's Over


It's still a bit upsetting he's not in the finals :-(

Yay Ann!

The only winner, really. Chelsey's throwing a hissy fit somewhere...





Ann Ward - winner Cycle 15

Through The Grater Catch Up


Well there's one good thing about all this white stuff falling from the sky and creating chaos on the roads - a day off work so I can catch up on culturemouse and all the gossip from tinterweb. For those of you who think I've been slacking off - I HAVEN'T - I've been busy at the Leeds Film Festival and you can read all the reviews over at sister site screenmouse. But now that's all over, and I've celebrated being a year older, it's back to the old faithful, and as a special treat the culturemouse advent calendar has begun, with 24 treats to keep you occupied for at least a couple of minutes a day. How marvellous!

Now onto what's been happening in the world of moving images and the loike - but first, I've been meaning to put up the trailer for the Coens' new flick for a while now, so we best get on with it.



You're in safe hands with these two - an amazing film always guaranteed. True Grit is out on January 14.

So let's start with TV news.

Firstly there's word of many a new show being developed over the pond. Two have caught my eye - JJ Abrams' Alcatraz which has begun naming its cast, and a yet untitled supernatural thriller from Kevin Williamson, he who wrote Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer and Dawson's Creek and The Vampire Diaries for TV. Now JJ Abrams I can take or leave - he either creates the good shows with a lil bit of mystery sci-fi (Lost, Fringe) or the boring spy thrillers (Alias, Undercovers) - I just hear the word 'CIA' and phase out. But this new one sounds an intriguing mix of the two: a group of missing prisoners and wardens from the island prison reappear in the present day with a team of FBI agents on their trail (not so hot on the FBI). The acclaimed producer has taken one of the Lost alumni with him - Jorge Garcia - and has just cast the main female lead with Sarah Jones. It'll probably be a good year or so before we see the fruits of this project, but with the recent cancellation of Undercovers he'll be wanting his own piece of the small screen back. The Kevin Williamson project I'm interested in, but not so much for the "companion to the Vampire Diaries" description that's being bandied about - hopefully it will stand alone - and to be honest, it sounds like the CW lining up a successor for when Supernatural is bound to depart into oblivion next Summer.

Something definitely worth a gander - Armando Iannucci's US version of The Thick Of It coming to HBO under the name Veep. Although the comic writer is stressing that it's not a remake ala The Office, but rather a "cousin" to the BBC 2 show, and will have the same feel of the American political system and dealings in In The Loop. But he's writing the script so it doesn't really matter, right?

Another project that may be worth keeping a wandering eye on: ABC Family have green lighted the pilot for The Lying Game, which sounded familiar and after a bit of reading realised it was the new series of books from Sara Shepard, whose Pretty Little Liars grace the same channel. They must be pretty confident in its success as the book has only just been published in America. It sounds a little samey to me, so it's not yet on the list of things to watch.

For a good round up of other babes in the melting pot, go here.

Time for a crappy trailer, me thinks.



Dear God it looks awful. Is it trying to be Angela Carter?

Back to TV briefly: Damages is back next Summer for a fourth series. I had thought it would return in January as always but I suspect the to-ing and fro-ing over whether it still even existed has delayed things somewhat. Still, it will be here before we know it. No word on the plot just yet, or any star cameo castings.

And a shout out to all you crazy people who have not yet tuned into AMC's The Walking Dead - you're just crazy! The final episode of Season 1 airs this weekend, and then we have to wait a whole year for more Andrew Lincoln being a sheriff. Sob, sob.

Onto film!

If you've been on the blog and Nataliedar recently you'll know that a couple of Ms Natalie's upcoming films have had their trailers released, and everything is moving along nicely. 2011 is set to be a very busy year with Black Swan, No Strings Attached, Thor and Your Highness all within six months of each other! Natalie is currently being linked with a number of new ventures including a new Alien reboot, the next Batman film, and more seriously, an adaptation of Cloud Atlas. Whilst nothing has been confirmed yet, Halle Berry herself has mentioned that Natalie is involved, so there must be some truth to the rumours. Whether it will be a major role or a little sojourn to get her teeth stuck into whilst she searches for something meatier is still unknown.

She's also busy producing and developing her own material at the moment - as well as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which she now won't star in, she also has Bring Your Own in mind - a raunchy comedy about two girls on the lookout for a boyfriend. Anne Hathaway has also been linked to this, so perhaps she and Natalie will be playing the two main characters?

Easy A, so very pleased that Emma Stone and director Will Gluck will be teaming up again for another film. One of the delights of the last film was the sharp, sassy script (delivered so well by Stone) so here's hoping writer Burt Royal will also be in the mix.

Lastly, some news about Wes Anderson's new film Moon Rise Kingdom - always exciting to have a new Wes Anderson project to grin about. In a departure from his usual regulars (although the ever loyal and watchable Bill Murray is present) the film is courting Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton and will focus on a small town in the 1960s where two teenagers in love run away together, and the neighbours unite to try and find them. It's going to be good anyway (he's never made a bad film), but this premise looks super good, and right up my, er, cul de sac. I think he could make this brilliantly farcical in that quirky eccentric way of his. It sounds kind of magical, doesn't it? No news yet on who will play the lovestruck teenagers.

To finish, here's the slick new trailer for Source Code - Jake Gyllenhaal's new film from the director of Moon. It looks like something we've seen before...



Oh yeah - Quantum Leap.

Over and out!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Culturemouse Advent Calendar: Day One



Door One of the Advent Calendar finds us a picture of culturemouse's favourite Natalie Portman at the New York premiere of Black Swan. But what was she carrying around with her pretty dress all evening?


Cheeky!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Risque Natalie Is Just... Well... Getting Funnier

Sorry for the delay - I saw this late one night last week in surprise and then forgot to post it! Actually I'm glad I didn't post it then because I thought it looked bloody awful. Watching it again tonight, it actually made me giggle a bit. Kind of a Holy Grail/Willow crossover, this is certainly very different and could be amazingly funny in a packed cinema. See for yourself.




A tiny part of me wishes it was straight fantasy though...shhhh.

Your Highness is out June 24.

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Invisible Eye


The Invisible Eye will always be a memorable film for me – not because of its quality, but for the fact that the whole screen sold out and in my desperate need to watch it I chose to sit down ON THE FLOOR on the cinema at the front and watch the whole shebang from there. I do not recommend anyone ever try this. It made me feel physically ill. Never slag off being on the front row in a cinema again because believe me there is WORSE.

And if this film had been an absolute howler it probably would have been the worst experience of my life (although I like to hope I would have had the sense to walk out of it halfway through). But thankfully it wasn’t. It was a grim watch though, with no sweet and light to take away the neck pain and bile in my throat that came with my seating position. Set in 1980s Argentina, Marita is a young teaching assistant in a school where every miniscule action made by any one person is being watched by the thousands of eyes around them. Marita must be that ‘invisible eye’ – survey the pupils she is guiding, and report any irregularities or blatant misbehaviour to the headmaster, Mr Biasutto: “call me Carlos.” – the creepiest and most hateful character I’ve seen at this year’s LIFF.

It’s clever in the fact that everyone is watching each other. In her zest to be a model employee Marita’s surveillance of the pupils becomes tainted when she becomes attracted to one of the young boys. Clearly inexperienced and confused by her feelings (she is identified as a virgin at a party because her skin is like paper) she begins to slide down the slippery slope to infatuation, and does things out of desperation which are degrading and quite uncomfortable to watch – you don’t know whether to laugh uneasily or just turn away from the screen. Whilst all this is happening Biasutto is watching Marita. At first he tries to coax and charm her, but when he realises she has been ‘spying on young boys in the toilets’ his actions and behaviour towards Marita becomes abhorrent and leads to a devastating climax.

There is something empty about The Invisible Eye. It’s not something I could tell when watching the film (I was too preoccupied with being ill), it dawns upon you afterwards when you’re struggling to find words to describe and rate the film other than, “well that was a bit grim.” Marita is quite a meek character, and so other than a few bedtime convos with her grandma we don’t see her express herself other than by her appearance and her actions. She’s a hard one to crack, to get involved with (although by the end you are completely on her side). The atmosphere of the school feels very sterile as well because of the forced oppression and obedience. It’s shot very well (use of the black and white chequered marble courtyard stands out) but it doesn’t come together in a completely satisfying way.

A good film if it does come your way but not remarkable. I do hope you get to see it on a comfy sofa, too!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: Catfish



Catfish still has me in a quandary – was it a documentary? If so, was it authentic and filmed as things happened, or did they script some of it and re-film shots? Did these events happen or have they just staged them as if they did? In that case is it a docu-drama, and it’s all made up for story?

Whatever the case, this was one of the best films I have seen at LIFF this year. Constantly intriguing and then at times veering between creepy, uneasy, tragic and funny this film had a lot to offer, and a lot to say as well on the way we operate our lives today in a world motored by the internet. Whether the events are true or not they have explored an area of web life that is so often merely judged as being paedophiles posing as young boys to attract the attention of underage girls for grooming purposes. There have been countless horror stories in the press about this, and the upshot of that has been a real wariness amongst parents, and a crackdown in schools with comprehensive lessons and talks about the dangers of the internet and the importance of knowing who you’re talking to. But paedophilia while present isn’t the only force in these ‘relationships’ – people can pretend to be someone else for entirely benign and harmless reasons – boredom, one – or it can be the result of a deeper psychological issue, which is what manifests here in Catfish.

Young photographer Nev strikes up a relationship online with 8 year old Abby after she sends him a drawing in the post of one of his photos. Immediately you think you know where this is going, but as Nev starts to have contact with other members of Abby’s family – her mother Angela, her brother Alex and her sister Megan – this interest wanes and Nev begins to concentrate on other things: Megan. He is attracted by her photos on Facebook, and slowly they begin flirting. Meanwhile while all this is going on, Nev’s brother and flatmate have decided to start filming and documenting Nev’s relations with the family out of curiosity. In personal confessions to the camera Nev starts trying to find reasons why he and Megan might be really good for one another – it’s very candid stuff. But then things start to become suspicious.

Megan claims to be a singer, and starts posting recordings of songs onto Facebook for Nev. But after doing some – just basic – investigating, he realises that they are recordings taken from sites such as YouTube that she is claiming to be her own. Outraged, but in an incredulous fascinated way, Nev and his filmmakers start wondering about how to tackle this. By this point Nev and Megan speak on the phone and text regularly, and Nev begins to wonder if all of his outpourings of desire have been aimed at a 50 year old man – this is the first conclusion he jumps to.

They decide the only way to get to the bottom of this is to do some proper detective work, and travel all the way to Michigan to see the family in person. At this stage you’re so invested in the film and wanting to know what the hell is going on, you’re practically sat on the edge of your seat as they pull up to Megan’s house in the dark to peer through the windows. Catfish in some media has been described as a ‘thriller’ – well this is as close as you’re going to get in these few scenes where they discover the house Megan claims to live in is empty.

The next day they visit the main house belonging to Angela and her husband and where Abby lives, and discover that none of the people living there look like their pictures on Facebook. Only Abby it seems is real and consistent, but only to a point – she’s not a talented painter at all, just a normal fun-loving eight year old girl who likes her dolls. It all begins to become apparent that the culprit in all of this is Angela. Nev is torn over whether to confront her or not and get the truth – there’s no sign of Megan, and his continued presence at the house is becoming uncomfortable. So he tells her they need to sit down and have a talk about what’s happening – and then she bursts into tears and reveals to him the truth: nearly all of the people Nev has been speaking to over the past few months have been Angela – including Megan. He discovers her numerous fake Facebook accounts, how she used photographs of family friends and photos off the internet to put faces to these people, how she has a mobile phone for herself and one for ‘Megan’… it all sounds creepy as hell, yet Angela is a tragic figure: in reality she lives with her husband, Abby and two severely disabled sons and what started as a lie – she painted the photograph – has spiralled into a whole other life, filled with different projections of Angela as different personalities, and an escape from her normal life into a fictionalised one no-one else is aware of and one Nev has been fully duped by. The grim reality of Angela’s life makes you realise how this could have happened – and was she to know Nev would turn up at her door one day?

It’s all very sad, and a sobering climax to what was an adventure for the three young men. It’s not a paedophile or a psychopath posing as a young woman – it’s a middle aged mother trapped in her own life, wishing to be all of these people she has created. It’s only when Nev asks Angela to do the voice of Megan – then things become slightly unbearable to watch and even Nev and his crew take their cue to leave. He doesn’t question her about the ‘phone sex’ they had – I think that’s better left forgotten!

It’s only after the film has finished that you start to think about the questions I posed in the first paragraph. What actually happened here? Is Angela real? Did she really not question why they were filming her as soon as they arrived at the house? There’s quite a good breakdown on the real/fake debate here, but the filmmakers themselves stress everything is real. The thing which makes me slightly support the latter is the fact that the ending is so different. My belief is that these events actually happened, but the filming was done at different times and edited in a way to make it look like real-time. They would have had to have cleared with Angela before they filmed her and got her consent to use her real name and expose her in the film – it’s just madness otherwise.

All of this doesn’t detract away from Catfish being an engrossing and involving experience. What will come of this who knows, and what you get out of it is up to how much you buy into it. But it’s definitely one to watch as it’s a worthy example of a new generation of films about a web-obsessed society and online connections – expect upcoming features Chatroom and Trust to have more to say, but with more melodrama on show.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

LEEDS FILM FEST REVIEW: The Last Employee


I think I must be having a mid film festival crisis/breakdown. Not only has the mind-numbing Tuesday After Christmas been awarded this year’s Golden Owl Award for Best Film – WTF! – but the Silver Méliès award has also gone to a film with very little merits: The Last Employee. Plugged as a German film playing up to the Japanese horror style, it was neither scary nor clever. But I think I’m going mad. Everyone else in the screening (including my other half) seemed to enjoy it so I wonder if I’ve become too hardened in all my years of churning out reviews. Maybe I can no longer appreciate a simple, well-made, effective film without wanting the extra mile. But NO, I cry! This film was well below par, especially for a horror, and I’ll tell thee all why.

The general set up had potential: psychologically frail lawyer David (Christian Berkel – Downfall, Das Experiment, Inglorious Basterds) has to make a whole workforce redundant, but one of the employees takes it harder than the rest and naturally she’s the creepy, smashing her head against the wall for no apparent reason type who then hangs herself. Or in turns out, has hung herself before he took the job, meaning he’s either being haunted by an angry spirit, or he just thinks he is. In fact I was quite enjoying the first 20 minutes or so, and thought I was going to be in for a right scary time with the woman moving about Ringu like, and slowly infiltrating his life. I think the problem was man at the helm Alexander Adolph doesn’t have the confidence in executing a horror – you could see what he was trying to do, but it all felt so amateurish. In fact at one point the audience started giggling at how bad it was – David discovering the dead woman lying next to him in the bed and his subsequent WAHHH WAHHH WAHHHH screams were not in the least bit convincing. That trick failed a few times – he also finds her in his son’s bed, but it’s an instant ‘scare’, there’s no tension in him creeping up to the sheets and slowly pulling them back to reveal her horrible face. Her face isn’t even that horrible – just a bit pale and bumpy.

Sooo many wasted opportunities. The flickering lights and distorted music in the empty office – why was nothing made of this? It got to a point where I barely noticed it anymore because nothing of any relevance happened. I liked him speaking with Greta the grandma and the long shots of her standing against the wall as you expect her to turn around as the ghost, but that doesn’t happen. It was a nice bluff, but he could have pushed it further. How about following it up with a big jumpy moment just when you feel safe again? More could have been made of the hide and seek/scary monster game the family played too, although it did generate the best scare of the film (ghost’s eyes in the blinds). There were a few ‘hints of dread’ that were dropped by the characters – David talking about the scary creatures living in grandma’s back garden which she catches and keeps in the freezer – that I was anticipating coming into play later on in the film but instead were just left hanging. Again I don’t want Adolph to be too clichéd about the story, but it felt like it wasn’t all tied together as tightly as it could have been and that’s down to a lack of experience and a lack of vision.

The ending was also a huge let down – no twist, no revelation, no explanation. Just lots of blood and characters making foolish decisions. The whole thing felt very going-through-the-motions for me, and that’s not what I want when I go to see a horror movie – I want to be entertained, impressed or just too plain terrified to care – get it off my screen! I didn’t feel anything towards The Last Employee other than a big, fat meh. Quite what everyone else was watching is beyond me.