Thursday, 31 December 2015


So here it is, folks, my Top Ten Films of 2015. Some of these films may not have been made in 2015 but I saw them in 2015 and that's what makes them eligible for the list.

The films are listed in purely alphabetical order. It was hard enough to pick a Top Ten, let alone rank them...


Asif Kapadia's heartbreaking documentary shows the young Amy Winehouse as a pleasant, funny and talented individual who loves to hang out with her friends, wants to sing the songs she loves and doesn't care about fame. Knowing how the story ends makes these early scenes particularly poignant and it shows what Amy could - and should - have been if her sudden rise to prominence had been handled differently.

The second half of the movie becomes more and more difficult to watch as the paparazzi descend on the poor girl, her lifestyle somehow having been deemed public property when she probably should have been left alone. The constant flashes of dozens of cameras are hard enough to take when watching on a screen so I can't even begin to comprehend what it's like when you're the subject. It left me with the feeling that the public's need to scrutinise every aspect of a celebrity's existence means we were all complicit in Amy's tragic demise and I left the cinema both upset and angry. Skilfully done, Mr Kapadia, that's the sign of a powerful piece of work.


Dominic Brunt's follow-up to relationship drama/zombie infection hybrid (I will never tire of typing that) Before Dawn sees best friends Bex and Dawn (Victoria Smurfit and Joanne Mitchell, both excellent) pursuing their dream of opening their own cafe with a little help from benefactor Jeremy (Jonathan Slinger) who agrees to invest some of the cash upfront to get them started. Problem is, Jeremy's a loan shark and, as his intimidation tactics become more and more violent, there seems to be no way out.

Uncompromising, brutal and with 2015's most despicable bad guy in the shape of Slinger, Bait is an accomplished horror/thriller which features two well-developed central characters we genuinely fear for when bad things begin to happen. Even Slinger isn't a one-dimensional rent-a-psycho, demonstrating a calm, calculating, businesslike approach to even the most hideous acts of terrorisation. You'll still be absolutely desperate for him to get his comeuppance though.

With genuine thrills, a story that gets straight down to its grimy business and a memorably bloody climax, Bait delivers on every level. And for a fraction of the cost of your average Hollywood attempt at something similar. Which would be nowhere near as good, by the way. 


Whizkid programmer Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) is invited by the CEO of his company (a to spend a week at his private estate in order to fully test the artificial intelligence of state-of-the-art robot Ava (Alicia Vikander) in Alex Garland's sci-fi mind-bender, offering up big questions about what it means to be human and whether a machine could ever come close to replicating that experience.

Vikander excels as Ava, delivering a subtly off-kilter performance which is supplemented by absolutely beautiful effects work, painting a thoroughly credible picture of the next step in A.I. It's thrilling, it's funny and its payoff was something I wasn't quite expecting. You will probably be asking yourself an inordinate amount of questions, as I was, once the end credits begin to roll.


Joel Edgerton writes, directs, produces and acts in this smart, suspenseful tale which sees married couple Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) relocate to California in search of a fresh start where they run the into the somewhat odd Gordo (Edgerton), an old acquaintance of Simon's. At this point you'd be right to expect the familiar stalker movie playbook to be run but proceedings take an unexpected turn and the plot evolves into something far more intriguing and satisfying whilst still delivering a couple of quality scares.

Edgerton is excellent, constantly keeping the audience off-balance by having Gordo be unrelentingly awkward and downright strange throughout so you're never sure if he's harmless or just very good at pretending to be that way. Acting honours here though go to Jason Bateman whose facade slowly, surely begins to crack over the course of the movie and reveals something much darker and disturbing underneath. The nicest gift of 2015, a thriller that subverts expectations and delivers a fine conclusion that doesn't descend into the gorefest so many other directors would have opted for.


My favourite movie from this year's Celluloid Screams festival features Henry Rollins as Jack, a curmudgeonly type with a very, very, very long list of previous jobs, a murky secret and a daughter he never knew he had showing up out of nowhere to disturb his routine of watching TV, playing bingo and frequenting his local diner, where potential romance with caring waitress Cara could blossom if only he wasn't so bloody morose. Well, that and the fact that....but we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Comedy horror is notoriously difficult to get right but He Never Died is adept at wringing both the yuks and the yucks out of its premise. There are plenty of hilarious moments (Rollins' deadpan reaction to almost everything that befalls him - be it mundane or extreme - is particularly amusing) but the laughs are never allowed to undermine the genuinely nasty twists and turns of the story. More adventures of Jack, please!


Certainly not to everyone's taste - if you're not a fan of the Aaron Sorkin's trademark rapid-fire walk/talk schtick then two hours of it isn't going to win you over, nor is its overtly theatrical three act structure, each act a different product launch (Macintosh, NeXTcube, iMac, in that order) and portraying a different crossroads in the life of Steve Jobs. Then there's Steve Jobs himself of course, complex, controversial and possibly not the most sympathetic of characters at the best of times. In fact, there are more than a few things about this film that appear to be putting you off watching it.

Don't be put off. This is talky, but the dialogue is snappy, it's barbed, it's funny. You'll need to keep listening as well for seeds that are planted in Act One but don't bear fruit until Act Three. So you're not convinced by the clever-clever script? Well, I don't know why you wouldn't be but, in that case, see it for Michael Fassbender's performance. His portrayal of Steve Jobs shows a man who doesn't need to be adored as long as he fulfils his vision. Yes, he's a dick quite a lot of the time but you can see why. You won't come away from this hating Steve Jobs - you might not love him but you'll certainly understand him. You want a more sympathetic character? Kate Winslet plays someone nice in this. You'll like her. Come on guys, Danny Boyle directed this! He's great! Just watch it, okay?


Linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease in a movie that have been an easy target for criticism regarding Oscar bait but treats its story and its characters with a credibility and sensitivity that I hope would have won over most of the cynics. The performances are great across the board in this, but Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart and, of course, Julianne Moore herself are worthy of a special mention.

Free of the soapy histrionics that plague too many movies of this kind, what you're left with is a warm, resonant and profoundly affecting look at how Alice and her family tries to come to terms with such a life-changing event. There are no easy answers nor does this film suggest so.

I'll admit that I sat in my car after the screening and couldn't drive away for several minutes because I was sobbing into the steering wheel. To whoever waited for that parking space until I got my act together, your patience was appreciated. I'm sorry couldn't see who you were, everything was still a bit blurry.


Perry Blackshear's micro-budgeted tale of rekindled friendship and suffocating paranoia is a masterclass in using limited resources to their absolute maximum. A cross between an indie bromance and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, best buds Christian and Wyatt find themselves hanging out together again after a long time apart. Christian listens to a lot of self-help advice on his media player. Wyatt listens to people on the phone telling him that the apocalypse is coming and he is one of the chosen few who will battle the evil creatures intent on taking over the planet...

If I've made this sound a little wacky let me assure you that TLLP plays it absolutely straight, steadily cranking up the feeling of dread and throwing in the odd unexpected jolt to really set the nerves jangling. The final fifteen minutes delivers tension like nothing else I've experienced in a long while, building to a moment which had the entire Celluloid Screams audience holding their breath. The conclusion is brilliantly handled but that's all I'll say, there's no giving the game away here.

It's possible that you may watch this and wonder why I was waxing so lyrical about it but you should seek this out because it's something truly different. Personally, I thought it was wonderful and shows that horror has far more to say as a genre than just having a bunch of college kids being killed by an axe-wielding maniac (although, done well, there's nothing wrong with that either).


A movie about drumming that's shot as if it was a thriller. complete with a towering, terrifying performance from J.K. Simmons as Fletcher, the tyrannical conductor of a music conservatory's jazz band who will stop at nothing to unlock the potential he sees in student Neiman, played by Miles Teller.

Simmons, as Fletcher, is simultaneously horrible and hilarious, barking blistering criticism at his stumbling charges all in the pursuit of ultimate greatness. It would be easy for Teller to be overshadowed in what is a much less showy role but he plays off Simmons well and when push comes to shove Neiman isn't exactly the most likeable of people either. He's just a sweetheart next to Fletcher. Hell, anyone's a sweetheart next to Fletcher.

Exhausting, intense but ultimately uplifting and chock-full of great music, Whiplash provided an early 2015 treat which was seldom bettered.


Just outside the Top Ten but still a must-see. Again, they're listed in alphabetical order as follows:

Ant-Man - A lower-key Marvel superhero movie, played as a comedy heist thriller? Yes, please.

Foxcatcher - Superb performances from Carell, Tatum and Ruffalo in a shocking true story.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night - Ana Lily Amirpour's striking, stunningly shot black and white vampire tale with an iconic performance from Sheila Vand.

John Wick - Action nirvana as Keanu Reeves almost makes me forget he was in Knock Knock by kicking some serious arse. And Lovejoy's in it!

Mad Max: Fury Road - It's a two-hour chase. But it's an AMAZING two-hour chase with some truly bonkers stuntwork.

The Overnight - Patrick Bryce's offbeat, chucklesome tale of a family playdate that turns very odd very quickly.

Straight Outta Compton - Great, energetic N.W.A. biopic that only sags when contract wrangling comes into it. Peerless tunes though.

The Voices - Ryan Reynolds as the world's nicest murderer with talking pets and a couple of talking heads in his refrigerator. See it for psychotic, misanthropic cat Mr. Whiskers if nothing else.

We Are Still Here - Ted Geoghegan's atmospheric, Fulci-inflected possessed house movie with Barbara Crampton, a ton of atmosphere and something unspeakably nasty in the basement. 

While We're Young - Fortysomethings Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts befriend twentysomethings Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried in Noah Baumbach's rather fine comedy/drama.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015


Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Brendan Gleeson
Writer: Charles Leavitt
Director: Ron Howard

Massachusetts, 1850. Author Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) is carrying out research for his latest book and is particularly interested in the ill-fated voyage of a whaleship called Essex which has led him to a boarding house and its proprietor Tom Nickerson (Gleeson), reputed to be the last surviving member of the Essex's crew. Initially Nickerson refuses to divulge any information to Melville but Nickerson's wife insists that her husband rids himself of the torment which has plagued him through the years and so the tale begins, with Nickerson as a 14-year-old greenhorn witnessing not only a battle between whalers and whales but between George Pollard (Benjamin Walker), Captain of the Essex and First Mate Owen Chase (Hemsworth)...

Despite the obvious CGI on display here, Ron Howard has delivered a resolutely old school seafaring saga in which men are men and whales are brutally slaughtered for oil. The hunting sequences have an undeniable sense of style and tension but I feel I should warn potential viewers that whilst the movie pulls back on the full gory horror it still shows enough to demonstrate what a tough and questionable job it was even back then. As far as I'm concerned, the movie is showing exactly how things were back then - whale oil was a commodity and there was never a shortage of men looking to profit from that commodity. I can't say I didn't feel uneasy watching those sequences but the reality is presented here, as difficult as it may be to take.

Of course, a voyage wouldn't be known as "ill-fated" if something didn't go desperately and tragically awry and the second half of the movie piles on the grimness for the crew of the Essex as things go from bad to very bad to even worse than that. Supplies dwindle and the previously unthinkable has to be considered. This isn't so much feelgood as feel worried then feel shocked and then feel slightly nauseous.

Given the rather bleak goings-on this is still a mostly engaging yarn due to its effective action sequences and some fine performances, notably Gleeson as the haunted Nickerson and Hemsworth as the unflappable Chase. It's a shame that we don't learn too much about Cillian Murphy's character, in fact we learn so little about his character that I was annoyed about the astonishing waste of Murphy's talent. Also, the clash between Captain Pollard and his spiky First Mate Chase doesn't possess the dramatic heft it should, taking a back seat when it ought to be front and centre. It also doesn't help that the character of Pollard is given very little depth, which makes the confrontations rather lopsided - Chase seems the very essence of seafaring knowledge and Pollard seems like a bit of a twit.

As a matter of fact, save for the parts played by Hemsworth and Gleeson, the characterisations are sketchy to say the least. And, if I'm being really honest, Gleeson's role isn't the most complex but he has more to work with than almost everyone else in the cast and he elevates the proceedings with some deft, sympathetic playing.

So what we have here is an old-fashioned adventure yarn with a somewhat less old-fashioned darker edge, crafted by a director who's shown time and again that he knows what makes audiences tick. It teems with quality thesping talent. Who knows, with a favourable prevailing wind, ITHOTS could have been something special but it finds itself in the doldrums too often to make it the voyage of a lifetime. Having said that - and pausing to apologise for my dreadful nautical punnery - there's still enough here on balance to make it just about worth your time but it's a long way from being one of Ron Howard's best.

Monday, 28 December 2015


Starring: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph
Writer: Paula Pell
Director: Jason Moore

When Maura (Poehler) and Kate (Fey) discover that their parents are about to sell the family home in which they grew up they decide to throw one last party there, a throwback to the boozy, carefree shindigs of their younger days. Surely nothing's gonna go wrong, right? Especially with Kate's childhood enemy Brinda (Rudolph) hovering on the periphery...

If you really don't want to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens and would prefer to sit in a cinema where the audience isn't making lightsaber noises (unless you saw Sisters at the same time I did, in which case I apologise for the lightsaber noises I was making, I was still excited from seeing TFA), Sisters provides a generally chucklesome and occasionally hilarious alternative to a galaxy far, far away.

The main reasons that this comedy works are, of course, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey, who could wring laughs from a reading of a microwave oven's warranty details. There's material here that would struggle to raise a smile in normal circumstances but Poehler and Fey are gifted comedy performers who play off each other brilliantly, often elevating the ho-hum to ho-ho.

Their characters make for a pleasing contrast too, Poehler's sensible, organised Maura providing the perfect counterpoint to Fey's spontaneous, chaotic Kate. And yet the film isn't full of OTT bickering between the pair, instead their relationship is warm and believable and any moments of snark evolve in a natural way given the escalating craziness of the plot.

Although the movie does belong to Poehler and Fey they are given suitably fine support. Rudolph has a lot of fun as Kate's uptight, Game of Thrones-loving nemesis, Ike Barinholtz makes the most of his role even if he's just there as a potential suitor for the recently divorced Maura and John Leguizamo totally nails it as a sleazy yet somehow affable ex-classmate. James Brolin and Dianne Wiest, as the parents of our titular twosome, really ought to be given more to do here but they're enjoyable to watch (although hearing Wiest drop the film's single c-bomb took me aback slightly).

For me, it's John Cena - yes, that John Cena - who walks off with the supporting honours for the second movie in a row, having sent himself up very nicely in Trainwreck and now bringing the funny here as mysterious, stone-faced drug dealer Pazuzu. It's a character which plays to Cena's strengths and the fact that his apperances are carefully rationed throughout the second half makes it even more of a treat.

Sisters doesn't quite deliver on the comedic promise of its stars but the Poehler/Fey double act is finely honed and there are far worse ways to while away a couple of hours. Yes, there were clunky moments and far too convenient resolutions but I was quite taken by its sweet nature - Dianne Wiest using the c-word aside. Dianne, you're so lovely as well. I couldn't believe my ears.

Saturday, 12 December 2015


Starring: Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie Pitt, Mélanie Laurent
Writer: Angelina Jolie Pitt
Director: Angelina Jolie Pitt

Roland (Pitt) and his wife Vanessa (Jolie Pitt) pitch up in a secluded French coastal town where Roland hopes to get the creative juices flowing for his next novel. It's far from plain sailing though as he struggles with the ghosts of his previous literary failures and his wife struggles with the ghosts of something terrible in the recent past. As if that wasn't enough, the arrival of another couple (played by Laurent and Melvil Poupaud) threatens to shake their world even more...

From the very first second of By The Sea it's clear that Angelina Jolie Pitt set out to make her version of a Euro arthouse flick and to be fair it has the beautiful scenery, the languid pace, the tortured characters, the long silences and the portentous dialogue. However, whereas the best examples of the genre take all of these elements and spin them into something magical, this movie only serves to highlight what happens when the hoped-for alchemy produces something far from gold.

For starters the dialogue, although delivered with admirable conviction by an undoubtedly talented set of performers, borders on parody. I know that art films are littered with lines that no person would actually say but there are entire scenes full of them here which a) jolted me out of the piece and b) had me (and others in the cinema) stifling giggles on a few occasions.

Secondly, Roland and Vanessa aren't that likeable a pairing, which wouldn't be a problem if their trials and tribulations were enough to sweep the audience along. Unfortunately that isn't the case. Roland gets drunk a lot, which makes him babble on (and on, and on, and on) about his crumbling marriage and inability to write. Vanessa spends a lot of time either in bed or on a sun lounger and cries a lot. Oh, she goes food shopping as well. They meet up in their hotel room of an evening and say cryptic things to each other. Next day Roland's back in the bar and Vanessa's wondering if they need more groceries. Contain your excitement, folks.

Actually, there is one genuinely interesting character - Michel, the "patron" of the local bar. Played by Niels Arestrup, he's a delight to watch even if he's relegated to dispensing advice to the increasingly pissed-up Roland. It's good to see Pitt and Arestrup talk in French rather than have them revert to English but even then things don't work out as they should because their verbal back-and-forth seems to have been stripped from a Linguaphone Conversational Arthouse Movie tape - "I'd like a gin, please", "How long have you been married?", "How do I get to the railway station?". Actually that last one isn't in the movie but I was ready for it, along with "Qu'est-ce que vous faites le week-end?".

As for Laurent and Poupaid, their newlywed couple is there to provide the obvious sparks, to allow Pitt and Jolie Pitt's characters to indulge in some odd, voyeuristic behaviour and to suggest potential infidelity on all sides. Some of the symbolism here should really have been accompanied with a klaxon, especially the point at which a card game for two played by Laurent and Jolie Pitt switches to a card game for three when Pitt joins the proceedings. You see, the first game can't be played by three, but the second game can. Hmmm, could that be suggesting something else other than a card game? Let me think...

I was at least expecting this would rally at the end as the drama reached its peak and something finally had to give but I should have been prepared for yet another disappointment. The ultimate revelation about Jolie Pitt's character, which should have been the explosion of everything the story had built up to, was sadly lacking in drama and the film fizzled out from that point, leaving me almost none the wiser than the point at which I'd joined things two hours earlier. Roland's Citroën was very nice though.

I applaud Angelina Jolie Pitt's decision to write and direct something so unrelentingly uncommercial so it gives me absolutely no pleasure to report that this is bloody awful, pretentious nonsense with a plot that is obstinate in its will to go nowhere and two tedious, navel-gazing main characters you'd cross the street to avoid. Even the artistically-justified nudity and sex is dull. If you're going to see this just to get a look at Angelina's boobs then you deserve everything you get.

By The Sea could have been a memorable voyage into enticingly deep and dangerous waters. As it is, it never gets out of the shallows and you might very well have had enough of wading around them before its 122 minutes is up.

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Wednesday, 9 December 2015


Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth
Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Director: Francis Lawrence

*** WARNING: Team Peeta or Team Gale? There's a pretty big hint about what goes down in this review but surely most of you guys will have seen this by now ***

Picking up from where the somewhat underwhelming Mockingjay - Part 1 left off, Katniss (Lawrence) is still reeling from the surprise murder attempt by the brainwashed Peeta (Hutcherson) and has designs on making her way to the Capitol to take out President Snow (Donald Sutherland), the man responsible for Peeta's torture. Meanwhile, rebel District President Coin (Julianne Moore) has her own endgame in mind...

After the arena-free opening part of Mockingjay, the continuation of the story does give the audience a new type of Hunger Games, this time as Katniss and her band of soldiers tries to make their way to Snow's mansion through a heavily booby-trapped Capitol with all manner of lethal devices ready to dispense instant death to anyone foolish enough to trigger them. If that wasn't enough, there's the threat of the "mutts" - nightmarish, murderous creatures whose appearance is teased for an almost unbearable length of time in the film's standout sequence. This is tense, brutal stuff and although it's cleverly edited to make the audience believe they've seen more than they have it's right on the limits of the 12A certificate.

Mockingjay - Part 2 is without doubt the most downbeat ending to a blockbuster series I can remember*. Even Nolan's Batman trilogy hauled itself out of its oxtail soup-lensed grimness to deliver a cheery conclusion. Here, political machinations result in a grim gut-punch of a climax as all parties converge on the Snow mansion leaving you wondering just who the good guys are - Katniss aside, of course. It's a brave decision to end the series in this way and even the fresh hope offered in the final scene doesn't erase what's gone before.

That said, it's far from a great movie. The plot is pretty much focused on the mission to get through the streets of the Capitol to the ultimate target and not much else. Something major happens at the end which potentially could have sparked anarchy but is dealt with very neatly - bit of expository chat with Haymitch, job done. Although there are effective moments (the aforementioned battle with the mutts is a genuine seat-grabber) there are also far too many flat spots, a lot of them to do with Peeta's struggle to regain his memories of Katniss before Snow messed with his mind.

Fair play to Josh Hutcherson who does what he can with a pretty duff character but it's hard to feel a lot of, well, anything much for Peeta and his romance with Katniss never really convinced across any of the movies. Hemsworth fares better because he has more to work with and it does seem on the face of things as though he and Katniss are somewhat better suited but fate intervenes to cause irreparable damage to Team Gale.

Julianne Moore, Donald Sutherland, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson and the much-missed Philip Seymour Hoffman turn in their usual high standard of work (Harrelson, in particular, could have done with much more screen time) but the movie belongs to Jennifer Lawrence whose portrayal of Katniss proves that you can build a franchise around a strong role model for women and still have it be commercially successful. She has carried four movies effortlessly and deserves all the plaudits she receives.

And so The Hunger Games ends on almost as sombre a note as it began. As a series of movies, the quality has been uneven - my favourite by a long way is the terrific second instalment Catching Fire - but even at its low points the refusal to pander to the lowest common denominator was refreshing in such a commercial endeavour. This final episode does fall foul of the "too many endings" syndrome but I'll forgive it that in order to give Katniss Everdeen the send-off she richly deserves.

* Okay, the conclusion to Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith was pretty grim but, by the time I'd slogged through Episodes I and II, my reaction to Hayden Christensen's legs being lightsabred off by Ewan McGregor was more of the "that's what you get for boring me rigid for two whole movies!" type. Harsh, yes, but fair.

Saturday, 21 November 2015


Starring: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl
Writer: Steven Knight
Director: John Wells


Adam Jones (Cooper) is a chef who had it, lost it (thanks to a drug- and alcohol-fuelled lifestyle) and now wants it all over again, his goals being in charge of his own world-class kitchen and gaining a coveted third Michelin star. Trouble is, who's going to take a chance on him given his chequered past? Well, obviously someone is or there wouldn't be much of a movie.

Movies with anti-heroes as their main focus can work incredibly well. Imagine Escape From New York with a white knight sent in to rescue the President. Wouldn't have been a tenth as good. Personally, I don't have to love a character to be invested in them as long as they're interesting and a little unpredictable. Unfortunately, Burnt serves up an arrogant, shouty dick whose spends most of the movie being arrogant, shouty and a dick that's about it.

Even an actor of Bradley Cooper's considerable charisma couldn't make me give a toss about Adam Jones. The script makes several plays for sympathy by mentioning his troubled upbringing, how his quest for perfection is bound to rub people the wrong way blah blah blah. No, he's a monumental arse who treats people like dirt and the frequent references to the ways he's trying to make amends seem hollow when he behaves like a petulant kid to all and sundry.

He's a monumental arse to long-suffering friend Tony (Brühl, looking permanently constipated). He's a monumental arse to talented, caring sous chef Helene (Miller). He's a monumental arse to rival chef and pantomime bad guy Reece (Matthew Rhys) who, by the way, is a monumental arse himself and given to the same plate-smashing hissy fits indulged in by Adam Jones several times over the course of the film. Jones cares about the dining experience, you see, and if it isn't out of this world then plates have to be broken to show how torturous their culinary quest is. Come to my place of work and see how many PCs I break in one day. We artists are so misunderstood.

It's not as if everything about this movie fails to deliver. The food itself, created by ace chef Marcus Wareing, looks stunningly beautiful and mouthwateringly delicious. I was going to say the same about Sienna Miller but her character is a stressed-out single mother so the film makers have made her a tiny bit dowdy (but big-screen dowdy, they haven't turned her into Quasimodo). Still, it's her performance that's worth noting here and she's certainly the best thing about Burnt. Of late, Ms Miller's turned in some sterling work, she continues to grow in stature as an actress and I'm sure she'll go on to shine in movies which are many times better than this.

Elsewhere, the prep sequences in the kitchen are fairly interesting even if, arguably, there are too many of them. The shots of London - especially those at night - give the city an attractive, vibrant look. Okay, I'm running out of positives now...

I find it genuinely frustrating when there's obviously a huge amount of talent on both sides of the camera and the result is something as predictable and plodding as Burnt. I mean, look at the cast, it's chock-full of people I like to watch, people who have carried other movies effortlessly, people given zero to do here.

Alicia Vikander, amazing in Ex Machina, shows up an as ex of Adam's to absolutely no effect whatsoever. Yes, the sudden appearance of the old girlfriend is a well-worn dramatic device but it could have worked here quite well. Instead, poor old Alicia is used to a) get Miller's character to flounce off for a couple of minutes and b) conveniently tie up a plot thread. Why does Miller's character flounce off? Well, she's kind of got a thing for Adam Jones, even though he's a bit of a tool. Twist or what?

Emma Thompson gives quirky support as a doctor assigned to conduct regular blood tests on Adam in order to make sure he's still clean. I looked forward to an entertaining clash of perspectives between her medical professionalism and her client's total disregard for authority but their sequences together are brief, dull and forgettable. Her dialogue doesn't even point up her quirkiness so the movie tells you she's a bit different by having her wear dresses with wacky patterns on them. This is a movie where lots of things are POINTED OUT TO YOU. JUST. IN. CASE. YOU'RE. NOT. GETTING. IT.

Oh, and Uma Thurman's in it too but don't be tempted to pop to the loo when she appears because she'll have disappeared from the proceedings by the time you get back. Here, Uma dusts off the English accent, spits a couple of waspish lines at Cooper, turns up at Brühl's joint for lunch and then promptly vanishes from the story. I was kind of hoping that she'd come back in a yellow jump suit and take out Adam Jones with her Hattori Hanzo sword but no, Jones is left generally unharmed and gets to be a miserable, unlikeable git for the rest of the movie. Even the drug dealers to whom he owes money don't do too much damage to him because, as Brühl mentions, well, they just wouldn't. Huh?

To be fair the script does provide a couple of zingers but much of it is unintentionally hilarious and there are some glaring inconsistencies in the behaviour of some characters which are difficult to ignore. There's one particular line delivered by Jones' nemesis Reece towards the end that is both utterly ridiculous and requires him to do a swift, brief, thoroughly unconvincing 180 in terms of attitude but it's there only to service the plot so that's what he says. Plausibility's overrated anyway.

If you're expecting Burnt to provide you with a feast then you're likely to be disappointed with the reheated leftovers you're given. It could have been a tasty, spicy treat but it's bland and ultimately unsatisfying. I'll stop with the foodie descriptions now.

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Saturday, 7 November 2015


Starring: Lucy Goldie, Nicholas Burman-Vince
Writer: Andy Stewart
Director: Andy Stewart

In the early days of this blog I waxed lyrical about Glaswegian director Andy Stewart's wonderfully disturbing trilogy of short movies - Dysmorphia, Split and Ink - each with a body horror theme. The good news is that he's back with a new short film which still gives a sizeable tip of the hat to the body horror subgenre but throws in a few new and welcome surprises.

Firstly, let's deal with the amount of gore in Remnant. If you've seen the movies mentioned above then you'll more than likely be preparing yourself to be swimming in the stuff by the time the end credits roll. Well, I can categorically state that there isn't any. Yes, that's right - it's an Andy Stewart film with no gore. Intrigued? You should be.

Although none of Stewart's previous work ever fell back on the carnage, using it instead to give a dash of extra colour (most of it blood red or pus green, it has to be said) to the proceedings, this film has none of the show-stopping grue of its predecessors which always made me a) recoil in disgust and b) think "Well, okay, you got me" immediately afterwards. Remnant's tactics are more refined but no less effective. Don't be thinking Stewart's gone all commercial and soft-pedalled the terror though - he hasn't.

So, down to the plot, which follows office worker Claire (Goldie) who is plagued with increasingly disturbing visions as she struggles initially to sleep and subsequently to hold on to her very sanity. As Claire's ability to do her job properly suffers, her boss Ian (Burman-Vince) becomes increasingly concerned about her well-being but is there anything he, or indeed Claire herself, can do?

Gorehounds take note: this is still an Andy Stewart film. Just because characters don't hack off bits of themselves or ooze gunk from every orifice doesn't mean that you won't enjoy this. There are a number of reasons why you should see this post haste. Topping the list is an utterly astonishing performance from Lucy Goldie as Claire. Never less than a hundred per cent believable as our heroine, we feel for her as she breaks down in front of her colleagues, we worry for her as she is confronted by dreadful visions, we share her confusion as she tries to separate fantasy from reality.

In a role that could have been turned into shrieking hysteria in the hands of others, Goldie gives us a marvellously rounded portrayal of an ordinary person dealing with extraordinary circumstances. And, of course, there's Hellraiser alumnus Burman-Vince giving reliably strong support in the smaller role of Ian.

Remnant is also beautifully shot, capturing the strange, otherworldly haze of Claire's visions perfectly, simultaneously enticing and sinister. Just watch for the sequence with the feathers and tell me that horror movie directors don't understand what art is. Allied to the mind-bending visual hit is spot-on sound design, the creepy audio effects adding to the general feeling of unease.

Is this another Ink? No, it isn't, and nor should it be. Remnant treads a different path and showers of gore would have been superfluous here. This is all about the atmosphere and this short film delivers it in spades, culminating in a resolution that's all the more terrifying because it plays upon a real fear (of course, I'm not going to reveal what that fear is). The combination of uncanny shocks in a commonplace setting is a winner, enhancing the claustrophobic tension as both Claire and the audience are presented with the prospect that there genuinely could be no way out of the situation. Is there? Come on, do you think I'd give that away?

So, there you have it: a goreless Andy Stewart film, which I have to admit was something of a surprise. What isn't a surprise is that it's delivered with all the deftness and panache I'd expected and it stands up well to repeat viewings (I've seen it three times now). I was taken in totally by its subtle, skin-crawling scares and in Lucy Goldie it has an acting talent to watch with some interest.

Monday, 2 November 2015


Two days down, one to go. Did the third and final day of feature films at Celluloid Screams 2015 deliver the gory, glorious, giallo-rific goods? Read on...


Day Three began with Michael Thelin's "bad babysitter" movie starring Sarah Bolger as perhaps the last person you'd want to leave in charge of your kids (although, of course, the parents have no idea what's about to go down at the beginning of the movie). What starts as an adventure for the children at being told the usual boundaries don't apply soon spirals into something rather more sinister and after a chilling bit of business involving a family pet we're left wondering exactly how unhinged Bolger's character is and how she came to be that way.

While this is not going to win any points in terms of breathtaking originality it's eminently watchable, entertaining fare with good performances from not only Bolger herself but the child actors in the cast, notably Joshua Rush as Jacob, the oldest of the kids and the one who realises that it may be up to him to save the day. It also scores points in taking a scenario that could have been an excuse for a tedious succession of contrived jump scares and instead playing up the unsettling atmosphere.


Beginning with a familiar looking countdown which graced a whole era of ITV's Schools and Colleges programming (as you can see above), Scared Safe was a collection of vintage Public Information Films curated by the Celluloid Screams team themselves. Somehow grim and shamefully funny at the same time, we were treated to such highlights as the cover-your-eyes (and ears) 70s stylings of Never Go With Strangers, complete with its game of "spot the paedophile" as various archetypes of the era were shown sitting on a park bench one after the other, including one bloke who seemed to have stolen some of the wardrobe from one of the pimp characters in a Pam Grier movie. The conclusion from this one: some people are "odd in the head". Their words, not mine.

Elsewhere, several Protect and Survive films showed just how easy it is to survive a nuclear blast with the correct preparation and dished out several handy hints on what to do with dead bodies in your fallout shelter. The compilation also featured The Finishing Line, a British Transport movie showing the dangers of playing near railway lines by means of a school sports day where the events were running across the line, walking through tunnels etc. It ended with an enormous body count and the sight of youthful corpses being lined up. You'd never get away with re-making that today.

In addition, there were electrocutions, people coming to grief on polished floors, prams falling over in a Edvard Munch-style tableau and my personal favourite The Spirit Of Dark And Lonely Water, luring unsuspecting kids to a ghastly aquatic death and promising that he'd be "back-ack-ack-ack-ack....". As if this wasn't enough, to the delight of much of the audience, a certain "scary picture" from the brilliant Look Around You (and also the hilarious Serafinowicz/Popper short Intermission) made an unexpected appearance. You know the one:


Predicted to be the Celluloid Screams screening that would see the most walkouts, this Spanish movie sets out its stall within the first few minutes - famous actress and media darling Anna Fritz (Alba Ribas) dies and is brought into the morgue where hospital orderly Pau (Albert Carbó) works. Pau's mates Ivan (Cristin Valencia) and Javi (Bernatt Samuel) convince him to allow them into the morgue where they can - let's be honest - ogle a dead celebrity. Here things take a pretty revolting turn as Ivan and Pau decide that this is an opportunity to have sex with one of the most well-known people on the planet. Well, you know, it's a horror movie...

...and this is the point at which the urge to leave the cinema was at its strongest, director Hèctor Hernández Vicens giving us a button-pushing, almost unwatchably vile opening act, its effect only slightly diminished by the clean, glossy cinematography which puts a tiny but crucial amount of distance between the audience and what's happening on the screen. It's still bloody difficult to watch though, be warned.

From here the plot takes an unexpected turn and TCOAF moves into more conventional suspense thriller territory, which should provide relief for most of its viewers (unless you were expecting it to riff on something like Nekromantik, in which case I'll tell you right now - it doesn't). Although the characters slot into particular archetypes of the horror/thriller the performances serve the story in an efficient way and Hèctor Hernández Vicens wrings every last drop of suspense out of its limited plot and locations. In the final analysis, this movie isn't what it could have been given its subject matter - whether that's a good or bad thing is up to you.


After the grim goings-on of Anna Fritz, some light relief was needed and Jason Lei Howden's Deathgasm was just the ticket. Downtrodden heavy metal fan Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) discovers a piece of music called The Black Hymn which could give him the power to solve his problems and succeed in his romantic aspirations regarding the lovely Medina (Kimberley Crossman). What he doesn't count on is the Hymn turning most of the inhabitants of his small town into demons, which he must then battle using the power of metal - and anything else that's handy as a weapon.

With its playful skewering of heavy rock culture, a clutch of smart one-liners and with classic gorefests such as Evil Dead and Braindead as its template, Deathgasm is a lot of fun and the running time is short enough to ensure that it doesn't outstay its welcome. Yes, the odd gag is somewhat laboured (did we have to see a slow-motion dildo attack so many times?) but the splattery set-pieces are mounted with so much glee that it seems churlish to be too negative. Deathgasm may not linger too long in the memory but it's an enjoyable, gruesome romp that wears his heart (and influences) on its bloody sleeve.

Death to false metal!


And so to the final movie of the festival, a screening of Dario Argento's classic 1975 giallo starring David Hemmings as Marc, a pianist who witnesses a murder and then resolves to find the killer with the help of sassy journalist Gianna, played by Daria Nicolodi. I'll fess up here, I'm totally in love with Daria Nicolodi in this movie, I love the bizarre plot, I love the prowling camerawork, I love the striking set-piece killings. I even love the running gag about Gianna's beat-up Fiat 500. How could this movie get any better?

By having Claudio Simonetti's Goblin in the cinema, performing a live rescore of the music, that's how. The wall of sound that pushed itself to the back of the cinema as the main theme music kicked in was nothing short of astounding and as an enhanced Argento-viewing experience I can't see how it could be beaten. How could the end of the festival get any better?

By having Goblin then play a set which began with the opening title music from Demons - which is one of my all-time favourites and turned me into a gibbering fanboy hearing it played live - and then gave us choice cuts from Dawn Of The Dead, Suspiria, Tenebrae and Phenomena. It was a phenomenal end to an amazing three days of mayhem and madness.

A massive thank you to Robert Nevitt (Festival Director), Polly Allen (Festival Programmer), Sarah Williamson (Festival Programmer) and all of the volunteers who make Celluloid Screams such a joy to keep coming back to year after year. If you haven't experienced this amazing weekend for yourself, Celluloid Screams will be back in 2016. Keep Friday 21st October to Sunday 23rd October free and be ready to get your tickets. Oh, and you'll need the Monday off as well. That's all I'm saying.

Follow me on Twitter: @darren_gaskell


So I got through Day One of Celluloid Screams 2015 relatively unscathed (although still unsure about what to make of Yakuza Apocalypse). How did the feature films of Day Two pan out? Read on to find out...


Day Two's opening flick was Perry Blackshear's impressive tale of claustrophobic paranoia on a microbudget. Christian (Evan Dumouchel) bumps into old friend Wyatt (MacLeod Andrews) and, even though Wyatt doesn't seem keen to put down any roots, Christian persuades him to stay for a while.

It's established early on that Christian "isn't the guy he was ten years ago" and he's keen to impress all those around him, working hard and psyching himself up by listening to a friendly, motivational voice on his media player in. Wyatt, on the other hand, is withdrawn, edgy and socially awkward. Turns out that Wyatt is receiving messages from voices too but they're on the end of a phone, telling him that people are turning into evil creatures and, as one of the chosen ones, he needs to prepare for battle. Are the voices real and, if so, can he save Christian as well as himself?

This is a fine example of how much can be achieved for a budget that was probably far less than a day's catering bill for a big studio blockbuster. It's a triumph of on-the-nose scriptwriting coupled with an eerie, unnerving atmosphere and I was gripped throughout. The dialogue between the leads is never less than convincing, whether they're having drunken, late-night conversations about any old rubbish or confronting potentially life-changing situations. The sound design is worthy of praise too, the insistent ticking of a clock or a swarm of bees used to ratchet up the tension.

The final quarter of an hour is one of the most tautly-wound I've experienced in a long while, building to a crescendo which I suspect had most of the audience holding their breath. I'll happily admit that I was genuinely, deeply scared - bravo, Mr. Blackshear. In short, TLLP combines expertly-crafted chills with an affecting storyline and I urge you to seek it out.


My favourite film of the whole festival starred Henry Rollins as Jack, a man who's been around for a long time. And I mean a long time (he missed the American Civil War but only because he was in Rome at the time). You'd think that immortality would be a blast but he's thoroughly fed up of it all, whiling away his days sleeping, watching mindless television shows, playing bingo at his local church and frequenting the nearby diner where there may be a hint of romance in the air with waitress Cara (Kate Greenhouse). Well, there might be if Jack wasn't so closed off and grumpy all of the time.

Comedy horror is notoriously difficult to get right but when the combination clicks into place you're rewarded with something as wonderful as He Never Died. The laughs are never unintentional, the horror is sufficiently nasty and one never undermines the other. Rollins is so good as Jack I was left wondering how close to the character he is in real life - okay, so the guy isn't immortal (well, as far as I know he isn't) but when Jack reels off a long, long list of the jobs he's had up to that point in his life it seems as though Rollins himself may also have had that amount of life experience.

Smart, wryly amusing, bloody fun with tons of quotable dialogue, pleasing performances across the board and a refusal to twist the plot in knots just to give everyone a happy ending (although the climax isn't nearly as grim as it might have been), He Never Died is fresh, entertaining, essential viewing with Henry Rollins' hilariously, reluctantly lethal curmudgeon staking a claim for one of the most memorable characters in recent horror cinema.


And from my favourite of the festival to the only movie in the festival I thoroughly disliked, a problematic tale of two roommates trying to make it in Los Angeles. Jennifer (Mary Loveless) is a super-thin, successful model and Jill (Bethany Orr) is not so thin and not so successful. The growing tension between the two women leads to Jill imprisoning Jennifer in their apartment in a thoroughly misguided attempt to salvage their friendship.

This reminded me, in tone at least, of Starry Eyes, which played at Celluloid Screams 2014 and which stuck the boot into the LA acting scene where Excess Flesh sets its sights on the modelling industry (again, LA-based). However, where Starry Eyes largely succeeded in its portrayal of a young actress who will stop at nothing to get what she wants, Excess Flesh trots out a bunch of tired old cliches about the idea of beauty and how women are jealous creatures who are generally horrible to each other.

Its portrayal of eating disorders, to me at least, was offensive and trivialised a very serious issue. If you want to see women forcing themselves to be sick or chewing food just to spit it out, there's an awful lot of that going on here - too much for it to be genuinely effective. There were a number of walkouts during this screening - having talked to a few of the people who did leave some said it was because of the offence caused but others were just bored by its thuddingly repetitive nature. I stuck it out to the end and I'm glad I did if only to have it confirmed that Excess Flesh improved not one jot as it lumbered along. The final moments, complete with eye-rollingly clumsy twist, were just as awkwardly wrought as anything that came before.


A 2013 screening at Cannes, this Aussie end of the world drama finally made it to Celluloid Screams and yes, it was worth the wait. A meteor is about to hit the Earth and destroy mankind but before that happens the hedonistic James (Nathan Phillips) is driving to the party that will end all parties, ready to go out in a blaze of dance music, drink and drugs. That is, until he finds himself in a situation which ends with him saving the life of a young girl called Rose (Angourie Rice) who is trying to find her father. Now he has both a passenger and a dilemma...

Although this apocalyptic drama has many of the elements you'd associate with this type of movie (murderous types roaming the streets, wrecked cars everywhere, buildings on fire and so on) it doesn't overdo it with the tropes and instead it packs an unexpected emotional wallop as James spends more time with Rose and comes to re-evaluate his priorities on his final day on the planet. Thanks, Celluloid Screams, for programming a movie which made me sob uncontrollably through its last ten minutes.


A real coup for the festival, Robert Eggers' folktale of a family banished to the wilderness in 17th century New England was certainly the subject of much pre-screening chatter and not just for the security surrounding its screening. It was also a chance to see a movie which had already generated its fair share of positive buzz and, as of this moment, isn't currently slated for a wider UK release until March 2016. Unsurprisingly the screening was sold out, but was it a mass crowd pleaser?

Considering the movie won the Audience Award for the Best Film of the Festival, I'd guess that the answer had to be yes. And yet it's another slow-burner, eschewing jump scares for an air of almost constant dread and bravely keeping its gore to a minimum. The dialogue of the period, replete with its use of "thee", "thy" and "thou", takes a little while to get used to but it adds to the overall feel of the piece, as do the olde-worlde motivations and superstitions of the various characters.

If you can banish thoughts of the numerous ads to which he lends his voice, Ralph Ineson is terrific as the father, frustrated in his efforts to build a better life for his family but possessing unshakeable faith that God will provide despite their trials and tribulations in an inhospitable environment. Kate Dickie lends fine support as his wife, her character developing more in the movie's second half as the plot attempts to unravel the tightly-knit family unit by putting them (and the audience) through the psychological wringer.

Stealing the movie for me, however, is Anya Taylor-Joy as eldest daughter Thomasin, who is blamed for the supernatural wrongdoings and whose performance is finely tuned to say the least. You feel there's always something behind her eyes but it's tantalisingly out of reach so you're left with no clue as to whether she's victim or villain. Ms Taylor-Joy is certainly a name for the future.

Robert Eggers has crafted a movie which, although bearing the Universal banner, has not been made with universal appeal in mind. He's told the story he wants to tell, in a very specific style, incredibly well, with moments of stunning imagery and a subtly nerve-jangling undercurrent of tension which runs throughout.


Every year Celluloid Screams deems one feature the "Secret Film", so you have absolutely no idea what you're going to be watching until you're in the cinema and it's about to begin. This year's Secret Film, as a filmed introduction by lead actress Lauren Ashley Carter revealed, was Mickey Keating's Darling, all about a young woman invited to house-sit a place with a haunted history.

Not for the first time in Celluloid Screams 2015, this was a movie which divided the audience and quite a few people seemed to think it was arty, pretentious cobblers with no real drive to the plot. Although I can see where people were coming from when they said it was all style and no substance, when there's this much style I'm willing to overlook the substance.

Shot in black and white with several long, dialogue-free sequences featuring only the main character exploring her spooky new digs, this is a movie that's unlikely to play well in multiplexes. If you're clamouring for a high body count, you ain't going to get it. It's a film with an atmosphere that demands to be soaked up and for me the tension dripped from the screen, horror clichés such as a slow creep down a corridor towards a closed door given a fresh and terrifying dimension.

Which brings me to the best thing about Darling, which is Lauren Ashley Carter, putting in an absolutely incredible performance as the lead. The sheer range of emotions that play across her face are amazing and she totally commands the screen. For anyone that thinks horror movies don't attract a high calibre of acting talent, point them in the direction of this. Is Lauren Ashley Carter's the horror genre's Audrey Hepburn? It's not an unjustifiable claim, especially on the evidence here.

And with that Day Two came to a close. Well, it did for those of us who couldn't face the all-nighter of four classic horror flicks but wanted to get a good night's sleep to ensure they were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Day Three.

Okay, you got me, I stayed in the bar until 4am (5am if you count the extra hour we gained from putting the clocks back). I did try to rest my eyes though.

Follow me on Twitter: @darren_gaskell