Down On The Farm is a short documentary commission from North Devon Moving Image. With farming so little known and so integral to the region, the aim was to help emerging doc filmmakers create a unique collection of short films.[Read more…] about Down on the Farm: insights into farmers and farming
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Florence Browne is a documentary filmmaker based in Cornwall whose films peer through ‘a window into all sorts of different worlds’. We caught up with her about her Down on the Farm documentary and asked about her passion for exploring the emotional connections with farming[Read more…] about Window into different worlds: Florence Browne Down on the Farm
Down on the Farm is a short documentary commission run by the community filmmaking organisation North Devon Moving Image (NDMI). The aim is to help emerging documentary filmmakers create a unique collection of short films about farming in North Devon.[Read more…] about Down on the Farm documentary short film project puts focus on North Devon farmers
The community filmmaking organisation North Devon Moving Image CIC (NDMI) is calling for filmmakers to apply for their inaugural £1,000 documentary short film commission, Down on the Farm.
This is news about a short film commission in North Devon, it’s been politely sitting in the corner of our inbox for a bit, so we could have been more urgent in getting it out. But if you’re a filmmaking, potential volunteers, heritage organisations or part of the local community take a look and get involved in this new commission.
The Down on the Farm documentary film commission project from North Devon Moving Image supports filmmakers and highlights the real stories of what it’s like to be a farmer. We caught up with filmmaker Michael Balsdon, who is making a film about his family of farmers, and it’s opened his eyes to the work they do.[Read more…] about Farm doc filmmaker Michael Balsdon gets a new level of respect
Tom Leins casts a critical eye over a coming of age drama The Kings of Summer, a backwoods horror movie, No One Lives, and an enigmatic revenge thriller, Dead Man Down, in this week’s DVD round-up.
Generations have been sheep farming on the edge of Taw Torridge Estuary. Jo Ryan has been exploring how connected a farming family is to the land and the way for life in her For Down On The Farm, for North Devon Moving Image. We caught up with her for ask about her experience of making the documentary[Read more…] about Jo Ryan: Film has the power to key into emotions
Linda Mason is capturing an intimate portrayal of British farming life in her film Lifelong Farmer, part of North Devon Moving Image‘s Down on the Farm commission. We caught up with her to find out about the importance of keeping a film record of life and how hard it is to make a film in the midst of cows[Read more…] about Linda Mason: documentary humanises and builds empathy
By exploring traditional, sustainable farming in his documentary, James Cox is also highlighting the challenges ahead for farmers. For his Down on the Farm commission from North Devon Moving Image (NDMI). James got in touch with a farming family of 5 generations. He tells us about what he’s learned and how Brexit was broached.[Read more…] about James Cox: ‘Documentary storytelling relies on human emotion’
Plymouth Arts Cinema is working with Plymouth City Council to present a series of films over the next 12 months to raise awareness of the great work that co-operatives do. Plymouth City Council wants to double the size of the co-operative economy in the city by 2025.[Read more…] about Classic films support Co-operative push in Plymouth
The British public love animals and films, so combining the two means we’re onto a winner, right? It doesn’t matter what the animal is, we fall in love. However, for movie makers, getting a creature to play the lead role can prove a difficult task. While you can send a human away to learn their lines, it’s not quite as simple with animals.[Read more…] about The 7 best movies featuring animals
One of the many great thing’s movies have the potential to do is place unknown gems on the global map, for good or for bad, transporting them to new settings and giving them the feeling of entering the movie itself. Quite often, movie producers scout real-world locations in an attempt to increase the authenticity of the motion picture, implementing the natural backdrops into scenes that can often be seen in action-adventure films.[Read more…] about The impact of blockbuster films and big budget shows on towns and cities
With the title taken from the name of a jingoistic German hate poem, Hymn of Hate is the debut short film by Matt Kennard.[Read more…] about Propaganda, xenophobia and oppression, Hymn of Hate by Matt Kennard explores the tools of the elite from the perspective of WWI
Consider the value of pop culture property… how many of you watch TVs and films, see where the characters live and say to yourself ‘how much would that be in today’s money’? Well, now you don’t have to ponder, because a new website can provide you with the answer.[Read more…] about Pop culture property: what does Ross Poldark’s house cost?
We’re suckers for bigger-ers and better-ers, which is why when the Unrestricted View announcement of the 2018 programme for its North London Film Festival popped into our in-box we pricked up our ears… in the form of reading and reproducing it here for you.
Two films that chronicle the struggle to maintain traditional ways of life in Cornwall will screen at Plymouth Arts Centre in July.
The Last Fisherman + introduction and Q&A with producer Leo Kaserer
Wed 12 July, 2.30pm & 8.30pm (with intro + Q&A)
Dir. James Stier, Austria/UK, 2017, 76 mins.
A feature-length documentary made in Kingsand and Cawsand, Cornwall, Last Fisherman tells the story of the last traditional fisherman of Rame. Still fishing like generations of fishermen before him, Malcolm Baker relies on traditional tools, techniques and knowledge of the sea.
Malcolm is the last traditional fisherman in the Rame Peninsula, fishing with handmade pots, a wooden boat and nets, keeping a tradition alive with skills passed down from generations before. The world around him has changed and his occupation, his village and his community are evolving at a rapid pace. When an unlikely friendship with an Austrian youth worker begins it has unexpected results for both of them.
This lovely documentary is a celebration of one man’s life and a poem to the strength of community.
Producer Leo Kaserer will provide an introduction to the evening screening of the film. Leo has a background in youth and social work. Leo and his partner moved to Britain as part of his work.
Through a chance meeting with the last traditional fisherman in the Rame Peninsula, he began to learn about traditional fishing methods and embraced a new, simpler way of life that relies on community spirit, hard work and determination.
Leo lives in Tirol, Austria with his family, but frequently can be found fishing of the coast of Cornwall, UK.
Dying Breed + Introduction and Q&A with director Mick Catmull
Tue 25 July, 8.30pm
Dir. Mick Catmull, UK, 2017
Dying Breed provides a graphic yet intimate record of a way of life once taken for granted but now in serious decline. The small farm has been a Cornish constant for countless generations. But for how much longer?
This is filmmaker Mick Catmull’s love letter to a disappearing way of life. Mick spent a year filming three small cattle farms in west Cornwall. 100,000 small farms have disappeared from the UK in the past decade, unable to compete in a world dominated by retail giants and agribusiness.
This is a poignant and at times tragic portrait of a way of life in steep decline -the small farm has been part of the South West landscape since time immemorial.
Director Mick Catmull will be present at the screening to give an introduction and hold a Q&A with the audience.
Tickets are on sale from 22 June from Plymouth Arts Centre’s website at www.plymouthartscentre.org
To celebrate the DVD release of the enjoyably twisted I Am Not A Serial Killer – starring Christopher Lloyd and Max Records – Tom Leins caught up with the film’s Devon-based filmmakers: director Billy O’Brien and master puppeteer William Todd-Jones.
* Firstly, I believe that you both live in Chagford -how did you first cross paths, and how did this particular collaboration come about?
TODD: Billy called me in 1998 for a short film called ‘The Tale Of The Rat That Wrote’, he was writing and directing. He was looking for puppetry advice. It was a crazily ambitious project: Victorian London, puppet rats, big scale and fictional world. It’s a good example of not being afraid to pick up the phone to the right people. The finished film went on to win festivals all over the world, as well as being BAFTA nominated, so a good call!
BILLY: That was a freezing cold shoot in December ’98 at Chatham Docks in Kent so naturally I thought of Todd when we decided to make I Am Not A Serial Killer in the freezing cold of Minnesota in winter! Over the years we’ve worked on several projects together, we now live down the street from each other and so pop in to talk about the latest mad ideas!
* How has being based in Devon affected your respective careers -either positively or negatively?
TODD: Growing up in Wales, I found landscape and the secrets it has to tell inspirational and here on Dartmoor, it’s clear that each tor might have a tale poetic and epic in scale, with nature as an ever present, hugely powerful character. In the projects I get involved with, often it’s only the location that’s changed -it’s as much about people interacting with the environment, as it is about their personal stories they just happen to be set in Hogwarts, Narnia, Fantasia, or Outer Space.
BILLY: Coming from a farm in Cork I am well used to the rain here! And after ten years and my kids growing up here I love the wildness of Dartmoor and the community in Chagford. There is a great group of writers and artists living here, inspired I guess by the moor -Alan Lee, Brian and Wendy Froud and David Wyatt to shamelessly name drop a few amazing artists.
* I Am Not A Serial Killer is pure Americana. Have you considered working on a project closer to home, or have the number of lacklustre Dartmoor horror movies put you off that kind of endeavour?
BILLY: That’s funny, as I’m in the middle of writing a pretty crazy folk horror musical set on Dartmoor. I follow story -I Am Not A Serial Killer was adapted from a book of the same name and set in the Mid-West. It was great to go over there and help make it come to life. Similarly ever since I moved to Dartmoor I’ve wanted to shoot something here but as you point out, it’s pretty unforgiving on films. Somehow Dartmoor shows up the weakness in films shot here. I suppose what I mean is, it’s hard to capture the magic and your story better be bloody good. This crazy one I’m working on does it for me.
TODD: As with Billy, it is characters and story that are key for me. When the right story emerges from the moor mists, I’ll be there.
* Which films -if any -were an influence on the look and feel of I Am Not A Serial Killer?
BILLY: Well we spent six years getting this off the ground and over that time I scouted a lot of the Mid-West on various trips. In our van myself the producer and cameraman all old friends for whom this was a passion project, we must have discussed dozens of films driving around. Ones that stand out were Rivers Edge, Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Let The Right One In, and anything from the 1970s really.
* What were the biggest challenges in getting the film made?
TODD: The appalling cold that made the black goo freeze onto Christopher Lloyd’s glove-less hands, meaning that I had to chip his fingers out before we could go for another take.
BILLY: I didn’t mind the cold because at long last we were making the film – all those days and nights waiting for finance to click, that was terrible. And hanging on there, hoping the money came, none of us giving up -including Todd -that was the biggest challenge. Being on location in this beautiful place, the Iron Ranges, about a hundred miles from the Canadian border in the middle of the continent and in blinding white snow with the temperatures about minus 20C, well that was fun. You don’t get to experience that every day of the week. It is what we do this business for.
* Conversely, what were the high-points?
TODD: Becoming a fully endorsed member of The Wolf Club. (Maybe not.)
BILLY: That. is not even funny! Put it this way Rural Minnesota in the depths of winter has some scary clubs you do not want to get involved with. I think we all ran away fast!
TODD: Wheels of cheese.
BILLY: Oh yeah, I forgot them. On Sundays, nowhere was open except one Saloon where we’d play pool and watch the local drunk fights kick off. If peckish there was always the frozen pizza selection. Including the infamous Wheel of Cheese.
TODD: Being able to point a camera in any direction in Virginia Minnesota and have it be perfect. And when as Chris stand-in, I was driving Crowley’s Cadillac for scenes for which Mr Lloyd didn’t need to be visible, I had the local police wave me through stop lights when its brakes failed.
BILLY: The Caddy was like a large boat, swaying gently over the snow, and that first morning, when you pressed the brakes and it continued to sway gently straight through the red light
* Perhaps unfairly -I hadn’t realised how active Christopher Lloyd was these days. How did he come to be involved with the film?
BILLY: He loved the script, said he hadn’t been offered such an interesting role as Mr. Crowley before. Lovely man. Threw himself into it, never complained about the freezing conditions once.
TODD: I’d worked with Chris on Who Framed Roger Rabbit years ago and knew of his ability to create characters that were larger than life. We knew that for Crowley, Chris would need be much closer to himself than his usually asked for Back to the Future, Doc Brown-type performance. Billy kept pushing for the real Chris and I worked with him to keep the moments where the monster manifests as similarly real.
BILLY: Yes that’s right, at the London Film Festival in October Chris on stage reminded me of this! I’d forgotten I kept telling him to ‘Drain it out!’. In fairness to Chris, by day two of the shoot he’d completely clicked the realism we were after and loved that we didn’t just want an echo of his earlier famous performances.
* I was very impressed with Max Records in the film -he seems like he has a bright future ahead of him. It is a pretty intense role for a young actor -how difficult was it to cast?
BILLY: Well we met Max when he was 13 and gave him the role then, even though he was too young. He’s incredible and when we met him it was immediately obvious why Spike Jonze had plucked him from nowhere to play Max in Where The Wild Things Are.
TODD: To walk the line of a diagnosed sociopath, who also has normal levels of teenage angst, whilst dealing with the corpses coming through your single mum’s mortuary, plus being conflicted about the attention you’re having from girls, and withstanding the desire to react to the bullies could easily have gone into cliche. Instead Max found the centre of John Wayne Cleaver and held onto it even when (as has to happen) we shot out of order. This is why he was rightly nominated in the Best Actor category at this year’s British Independent Film Awards. Max is a also a fan of Dartmoor, having stayed here a couple of times. The outdoors is a place where he can leave behind the characters he so deftly plays and explore the Wild Things in nature. He also rather likes the ale to be had in the local hostelry.
* What projects are you working on next? Are further collaborations on the cards?
BILLY: Yes, we’re chatting all the time about quirky, odd ideas. Always great to brainstorm with Todd over a beer.
TODD: I think there’s something in the beer!
* Finally, what advice would you give to other filmmakers based in the Westcountry?
BILLY: I think really there are few excuses today, you can shoot, record sound and edit to a professional level very cheaply. So the key is as ever, story. After that directing is two simple questions: where do I put the camera? And what do I say to the actors? That’s your job. Just get out there and shoot. As Beckett said ‘Try. Fail. Try again. Fail better.’ You learn every time. Years ago, I guess you’d have had to go to London from Devon/Cornwall. I ended up there from Cork. But today you have it all at your fingertips via the internet. If you’re a more experienced shooter then I would put in a plea to try shooting some film. It’s special, and can make your film special. Digital is here to stay but it’s worth experimenting with 16mm and 35mm, before it’s all gone. Labs like iDailies near London will be pleased to help, I’m sure. Personally I love it.
TODD: The boundaries are only the ones you build.
The creature shots we needed for the conclusion of I Am Not A Serial Killer required a scale version of the mortuary set, so we built it in Billy’s garage. I’ve built creatures and puppets that have been performed across the world, before millions of people, from materials supplied by the local hardware stores.
Put down the glass and get on with it.
I Am Not A Serial Killer is out now on DVD via Bulldog Film Distribution.
The rounding up of Dartmoor ponies on horseback for what could be the last time is beautifully captured in a documentary by natural history filmmaker Kathy Stringer in her film Dartmoor Ponies: The Final Round Up. But as with all filmmaking, the evocative close to her movie on the plight of Dartmoor ponies was not without its problems.
Writer/director Gareth Jones, talks about Delight, the second in his D-trilogy. Delight won Best Film at the Moscow International Film Festival 2013, and will be screened at the Exeter Phoenix. Take it away Gareth…
Intrigue in Seattle, murder Down Under and a backwards-looking family movie -this week’s best DVDs reviewed.
Based on the Danish crime drama of the same name (well, Forbrydelsen, technically), the US remake of The Killing first hit our screens in 2011, but enjoyed mixed fortunes, getting cancelled not once, but twice -only to be bailed out by Netflix on both occasions. With a fourth and final series now poised to air on the online streaming service, The Killing -The Complete First, Second and Third Seasons (MediumRare) is available to buy, with seasons two and three available on DVD for the first time.
Brit-grit is the order of the day in this week’s DVD round-up.
Written by Broadchurch creator Chris Chibnall, The Great Train Robbery (Acorn Media) is made up of two overlapping films: A Robber’s Tale, which tells the story of the men behind the audacious 1963 heist led by Bruce Reynolds (Luke Evans, The Hobbit); and A Copper’s Tale, which focuses on the team of detectives assembled by DCS Tommy Butler (Jim Broadbent, Moulin Rouge) to bring the criminals to justice.
Meticulously pieced together by Chibnall, The Great Train Robbery is an impressive undertaking, even if the dual narrative format does cause the pace to slacken as the exhaustive investigation takes hold. A Robber’s Tale -directed by Julian Jarrold (Red Riding, The Girl) -is easily the most satisfying segment of the drama, with an ensemble cast led by the charismatic Evans delivering the goods as the cunning plan comes together. Opening with a gripping pre-heist robbery in which a scaled-down version of the crew bludgeon their way through Heathrow Airport wearing balaclavas and bowler hats to the sounds of Nina Simone’s Sinnerman, the film gets off to a thrilling start, and the edgy mood prevails as the crime unfolds.
The second film, while no less impressive in terms of attention-to-detail, suffers in comparison to its glamorous, violent predecessor, with Butler’s no-stone-unturned investigation feeling like a bit of a slog. The ever-impressive Broadbent exudes no-nonsense attitude, and he refuses to give up on the investigation until he tracks down the slippery Reynolds. As the film draws to a close, their climactic showdown -in Torquay of all places -crackles as their contrasting approaches are laid bare. What A Copper’s Tale lacks in narrative flair it makes up for in arresting details, and the film will fascinate true-crime fans. Happily, The Great Train Robbery is enough to banish memories of Phil Collins in Buster once and for all!
In Vendetta (Anchor Bay) new Albert Square resident Danny Dyer (Football Factory) stars as Jimmy Vickers, a former Special Forces interrogator who goes AWOL from Afghanistan after discovering that his parents have been murdered by local criminals. Using his unique skill-set, Jimmy tracks down the culprits one by one and makes them pay for their actions. However, with the police closing in on his trail of mayhem and his commanding officer Colonel Leach (Vincent Regan, Strike Back, Lockout) desperate to track him down, Jimmy has to use all of his military training to evade capture long enough to complete his increasingly grisly mission.
As a regular visitor to Poundland, I am all too familiar with the downward spiral of Danny Dyer’s career in recent years (Freerunner, Deviation, 7 Lives, Basement, Pimp, The Last Seven), so Vendetta is a refreshingly abrasive return to form. Interestingly, rather than produce a slick Taken-style thriller, the filmmakers have concocted a wilfully vicious revenge movie that cranks up the nastiness at every opportunity. Although Vendetta lapses into amateurishness too often for comfort, it is a step in the right direction for Dyer after years of unadulterated dross. The ending hints at a shoddy-looking US sequel, but whether Dyer will attempt to get his movie career back on track or realise that he is onto a good thing and churn out a series of Death Wish knock-offs is anyone’s guess…
At the outset of Lords of London (Kaleidoscope) cockney gangster Tony Lord (Glen Murphy, London’s Burning) wakes up in an abandoned farmhouse, splattered in blood, with no memory of how he got there. He stumbles towards civilisation, only to find himself in an Italian village that seems to be lost in time. Ignored by the villagers, Tony gravitates towards a kindly older man named Francesco -a man with a tale to tell. As Francesco’s story unfolds Tony realises that his very existence is rooted in that village, and he has the opportunity to rewrite the course of history with his actions.
Previously titled ‘Lost In Italy’, Lords of London arrives on DVD with ludicrous photo-shopped artwork featuring a gun-toting Ray Winstone in a pose that has no connection to the film itself. Winstone and leading man Glen Murphy are childhood friends, and have worked together numerous times over the years, on the likes of Tank Malling and Robin of Sherwood. In Lords of London Winstone appears in an extended cameo as a young Tony’s father, and although his presence is arguably integral to the film, his involvement has been grossly exaggerated in an effort to shift DVDs.
The movie itself is a clumsy -ultimately forgettable -fusion of Nil By Mouth and the Butterfly Effect and ranks as a bizarre footnote in Winstone’s career at best. Aside from an unwatchable scene of teeth-ripping gangland torture, Lords of London is a strangely forgettable film.
Tom Leins reviews a pair of true-crime inspired DVD releases.
Based on an audacious true story, The Bling Ring (StudioCanal) depicts what happened in 2008/09 when a group of celebrity-fixated LA teenagers embarked on a crime spree in the Hollywood Hills. After tracking the whereabouts of their idols online, Rebecca (newcomer Katie Chang) and Marc (Israel Broussard) targeted the homes of a series of careless celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom and Lindsay Lohan. Accompanied by their friends Chloe (Claire Julien), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Nicki (Emma Watson), the self-styled Bling Ring went on to steal more than $3 million worth of clothing, jewellery and luxury goods before their shameless scheme eventually caught up with them.
Law and disorder dominate this week’s DVD round-up.
End of Watch (StudioCanal) tells the story of Officer Brian Taylor (Jake Gyllenhaal, Source Code) and Officer Miguel ‘Mike’ Zavala (Michael Pena, Observe & Report), two cops who patrol the mean streets of South Central Los Angeles. Caught up in the middle of a gang war between the Bloods and an unhinged posse of Latino gangbangers, Taylor and Zavala are keen to earn the respect of South Central’s criminal fraternity, even if it means taking off their badges and going toe-to-toe with the bad guys. Their fearless, occasionally downright reckless, behaviour means that they get results, but it also succeeds in putting some of their colleagues’ noses out of joint back at the station house. Determined to make a name for themselves, the duo go above and beyond the call of duty after following up a drug-bust, and quickly discover a dark secret that makes them the target of Mexico’s notorious Sinaloa Cartel.
Over the last decade writer/director David Ayer has explored LA’s grubby underbelly on numerous occasions, whether as a writer (Training Day), a director (Street Kings), or as in the case of End of Watch, both. Happily, in many ways, End of Watch is his best movie yet. The stodgy Street Kings failed to deliver on the promise of his directorial debut Harsh Times, but End of Watch strips away the earlier movie’s clichÃ©s for something far more involving. The always-impressive Jake Gyllenhaal has never been better, and the perennially underrated Michael Pena offers top-notch support as his fearless partner. As much a film about friendship as a film about cops, End of Watch is utterly compelling and entirely convincing.
However, considering how integral it is to the film’s aesthetic, the found-footage aspect of the film strikes a weirdly hollow note. The technique may be a well-established horror movie trick, but it is rarely used in crime filmmaking, with good reason. A mumbled, unconvincing aside that Taylor (an ex-Marine) is working on a ‘film project’ is deemed justification enough for his omnipresent camera, but it seems churlish to complain too hard, given the overall quality of the film. Heavily recommended.
The events depicted in The Bay (Momentum) unfold in the quaint coastal town of Claridge, Maryland, which is situated on the shore of Chesapeake Bay. When two scientific researchers discover a staggering level of toxicity in the water, their attempts to alert the mayor to the possible dangers fall on deaf ears, and he refuses to create a panic, lest his dirty little secret involving undiluted chicken excrement being pumped directly into the bay from a nearby battery farm be discovered. As a result, during the town’s annual Independence Day celebrations, a gruesome waterborne plague is unleashed, quickly infecting the residents and plunging the idyllic small town into abject terror.
Presented as a series of excerpts from CCTV, camera phones, TV reports, web-cam transmission and 911 recordings, The Bay is ostensibly helmed by Donna Thompson (Kether Donohue), a novice TV journalist who unwittingly finds herself in the thick of the action as the virus breaks. Improbably directed by Hollywood veteran Barry Levinson (Good Morning Vietnam, Rain Man), The Bay is a genuinely creepy little movie, full of nervy edge-of-seat moments, and its bedrock of disturbingly plausible science gives the film a strangely prophetic quality. As unpalatable as the thought of a big-name director slumming it with a found-footage horror movie is, Levinson has delivered his best work in over a decade, and saved himself from TV movie purgatory in the process.
In Small Town Murder Songs (Soda Pictures) the quiet pace of life in a rural Mennonite community is ruptured when the body of a young, unidentified woman is found dead by the lake. The investigation falls to Walter (Peter Stormare, Fargo, Prison Break), an aging cop with a violent past. Tormented by his ambiguous history and finding his investigation thwarted by the mistrust of the community at large, Walter begins to suspect the involvement of his ex-partner Rita (Jill Hennessey, Law & Order) and her scumbag boyfriend Steve (Stephen Eric McIntyre). Under the watchful eye of state police officer Washington, Walter is at pains to prevent the investigation from spilling over into his carefully constructed new life, but finds himself on a violent collision course with the culprit.
Canadian director Ed Gass-Donnelly has long been tipped as ‘one to watch’, after carving himself a niche as a director of intriguing short films, and Small Town Murder Songs arguably represents his largest canvas to date. Not that it is an epic: with a brisk 75-minute run-time, Small Town Murder Songs trims the flab off its deceptively simple storyline, filling in the blanks with the rousing soundtrack by Canadian indie band Bruce Peninsula. With his next feature -The Last Exorcism Part2 -already in the bag, Gass-Donnelly looks set to go onto bigger (if not necessarily better) things. Powered by a quietly intense central performance from the always-watchable Stormare, this is an unsettling art-house cop-drama that lingers in the memory.
Trick or treat? Tom Leins reviews a disturbing selection of Halloween horror DVDs.
Created and produced by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, who previously collaborated on hit shows such as Nip/Tuck and Glee, American Horror Story: The Complete First Season (20th Century Fox) tells the story of the Harmon family, who move into a restored mansion in Los Angeles, unaware that their new home is haunted by its numerous former inhabitants.
After suffering a miscarriage and nearly breaking up, Ben and Vivien Harmon (Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton) move from Boston to LA with their daughter Violet (Taissa Farmiga) to start a new life. While adulterous psychiatrist Ben and long-suffering Vivien struggle to rekindle their relationship, tormented Violet finds solace with enigmatic neighbour Tate (Evan Peters), much to Ben’s chagrin. Meanwhile, as the house starts to show its true colours, over-sexed next door neighbour Constance (Jessica Lange) and deformed Larry Harvey (Denis O’Hare) preside over the whole twisted circus, with a suspicious amount of inside knowledge.
After a deliciously twisted pilot episode -arguably one of the finest series openers in recent memory -American Horror Story wastes no time in cranking up the sleaze, intrigue and, importantly, horror -delivering some of the freakiest TV moments of the year in the process. With dark sub-plots galore bubbling under the surface, AHS boasts an embarrassment of riches, although the writers struggle to keep all of the balls in the air as the series progresses, and the cast end up jostling for screen-time.
Although it loses its way during the second half of the series -when the ensemble cast congeals into an incestuous dramatic mess -American Horror Story is easily one of the most striking TV shows of recent times. With top-notch support from the likes of Jessica Lange -who snagged a deserved Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy for her first regular TV role -American Horror Story is a skilfully made, addictively creepy series. A second series, American Horror Story: Asylum has just started airing on FX, and if the writers can manage to iron out the smattering of flaws in this first outing then it could be pretty special
After scoring a big hit with his 2007 debut feature Paranormal Activity, Israeli filmmaker Oren Peli has seen a number of projects given the green-light, including hastily cancelled supernatural series The River, and Chernobyl Diaries (StudioCanal). The film, co-written by Peli follows a group of six intrepid travellers who decide to head off the beaten track while in Eastern Europe, and hire an ex-military ‘extreme tour guide’ to take them to Pripyat, the ghost town which had previously housed workers from the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, which was abandoned in 1986 following the notorious nuclear disaster. Although security personnel guarding the exclusion zone refuse to grant the tourists access, resourceful guide Yuri navigates a route through the surrounding forest to give his guests what they paid for. However, after a brief exploration of the abandoned city, the group’s van breaks down, and they find themselves stranded -and far from alone…
After an identikit horror movie opening in which Chernobyl Diaries introduces its reliably tiresome cast, the movie hits its stride as the crew arrive at Pripyat. The ravaged backdrop, which was understandably filmed in Hungary and Serbia, bears a striking resemblance to the ill-fated Ukrainian town, and is arguably the film’s most compelling presence. Unfortunately, Chernobyl Diaries falls into the same trap that so many films of its ilk have fallen into before it, by frittering away the kudos earned from its ominous opening and degenerating into a by-numbers slasher-esque chase thriller. In conclusion: great set-up, shame about the derivative ending. Approach with caution -Pripyat style!
Cockneys Vs Zombies (StudioCanal) commences with contractors at an East London building site unlocking a 350-year old vault full of ravenous zombies. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the East End a posse of well-intentioned but decidedly inept would-be bank-robbers sees their plans to make away with the swag from a local bank and save their granddad’s retirement home backfire. Armed to the teeth, and confronted with London’s zombie hordes, the gang decide to take matters into their own hands and save their manor from the flesh-eating undead.
The daft-but-appealing title paves the way for a silly -but sporadically charming -zom-com romp, and Cockneys Vs Zombies plays out exactly how a seasoned genre fan might anticipate. The well-judged young cast (including Michelle Ryan [Bionic Woman], Rasmus Hardiker [Saxondale] and Harry Treadaway [The Disappeared]) elevates the proceedings above cheesy nonsense, but the oldâ€“timers (including Alan Ford [Snatch], Honor Blackman [The Avengers] and Dudley Sutton [Lovejoy]) give the film its heartbeat. Even doddering Richard Briers from Ever Decreasing Circles pops up for a surreal zimmer-frame-based sight-gag! Despite an engaging mixture of gore and gags, Cockneys Vs Zombies never really comes close to Shaun of the Dead territory, and feels too lightweight to achieve true cult status. Fun, but utterly disposable.
In Dark Tide (Revolver) Kate Mathieson (Halle Berry, Die Another Day) is a shark expert whose tour business went into terminal decline after her mentor was killed in a shark attack. Once dubbed ‘the shark whisperer’, South Africa-based Kate is haunted by the memory of the incident and unable to get back into the water. With bills piling up, Kate’s estranged husband Jeff (Olivier Martinez, SWAT) presents her with a lucrative opportunity to lead a thrill-seeking millionaire and his son on a dangerous shark dive -outside of the cage. Against her better instincts, Kate accepts the proposal, and after a tumultuous day on the water sets course for the notorious ‘Shark Alley’ in search of the ultimate thrill for her obnoxious pay-master.
Director John Stockwell (Blue Crush, Into The Blue) is never happier than when frolicking in the water, and Dark Tide sees him splash down in his cinematic comfort zone once again. Unfortunately, unlike nail-biting shark movies like Open Water and The Reef, both of which see their characters plunged into the deep blue sea almost straight away, Dark Tide wastes far too much time on the build-up, and only really comes into its own during the nervy final third. The chemistry between real-life couple Berry and Martinez is similarly lukewarm, and Brit actor Ralph Brown (still best known to viewers of a certain age as Danny the Dealer in Withnail & I) delivers the movie’s most memorable performance as the morally repugnant tycoon Brady Ross. Unfortunately, despite an engaging premise and a decent cast, Dark Tide is dangerously dull, and seems destined to end up in a watery grave, along with most of Stockwell’s other B-movies!