Home Movie – 4/10.

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I have seen actual home movies that I enjoyed more than this…

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The huge financial success of Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity opened the door for anyone with a video camera to have a crack at the big time. Home Movie is another distinctly average addition to a bloated genre.

The two adults leads have no chemistry and are both obnoxious and difficult to like. The message of science vs religion is clumsy and too ostentatious and the plot is unrealistic. The only thing that saves Home Movie from Mothman territory is the performance of the two young leads who terrorize their beleaguered parents and provide some genuinely chilling moments.

I have been hyper critical about found footage films in the past and Home Movie proves that for every great film in this genre there are 20 shit ones. Home Movie falls squarely into the latter camp.

Poltergeist – 5.5/10.

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Pointless remake offers nothing new…

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When Paranormal Activity dropped in 2007 it sparked a revival of the ‘haunted house’ genre culminating in the 2012 masterpiece Sinister and also taking in minor classics such as The House of the Devil and Insidious. Five years on and as Insidious limps into its third chapter following a truly awful sophomore effort, director Gil Kenan brings us a remake of the film that started it all – Poltergeist.

The original Poltergeist is of course a classic and it’s influence stretches far and wide across the horror landscape. Staples of modern ghost stories such as spirits inhabiting technology and Indian burial grounds were brought into the public conciousness by Poltergeist. All this familiarity renders the 2015 remake predictable and groan inducing for the most part.

Insidious and particularly Sinister have taken this genre to the next level and whilst the original Poltergeist is still an enjoyable film today due to the direction of Tobe Hooper, the writing of some guy called Stephen Spielberg and a haunting performance from the tragic Heather O’Rourke, there is nothing to separate this remake from countless other horror remakes and other films in this genre.

Similarly to Ed Norton, Sam Rockwell is a brilliant actor whose career has stalled from making awful choices. Poltergeist is the latest in a long line of average films in which Rockwell has appeared and it is difficult to think of what motivated him to appear in Poltergeist.

The original Poltergeist is timeless and will be enjoyed by new generations of horror fans for decades to come. Gil Kenan’s remake will have been forgotten by everyone this time next year.

This Is England – 8.5/10

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If Shane Meadows directorial breakthrough Dead Man’s Shoes was about loss of innocence, the follow up This Is England portrays what comes next…

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Set against the backdrop of the Falklands War during Thatcher’s Britain, This Is England is a coming of age tale of both a troubled boy named Shaun and the country as a whole. Meadows perfectly captures life as a 12 year old boy in a Northern town. No matter what the era or the place, there are always similarities to be drawn and recognized which is why films like Kes still resonant so strongly.

Meadows’ great strength as a director and story teller is to search for a certain romance in the terraced houses of Northern England. However, romance and beauty often go hand in hand with pain and anger and to show one without the other would be doing a great injustice to the Northern soul that Meadows so prides himself in portraying. Unlike the irrepressibly bleak Dead Man’s Shoes, This Is England is actually a warm and light hearted film for long stretches but it builds to a powerful and jarring conclusion that is uncomfortable to watch. This stark ending is in no way gratuitous though. In much the same way as the Star Wars films are revealed to be about Darth Vadar and not Luke Skywalker, This Is England is actually more about charismatic and violent gang leader Combo than main protagonist Shaun.

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Stephen Graham as evil but vulnerable Combo

Meadows not only has an eye for authenticity when choosing often inexperienced actors for his films, he also has a knack for getting the best out of his more established cast members. Paddy Considine’s performance in Dead Man’s Shoes was worthy of an Oscar nomination that of course never came. Surpassing even Considine’s master class though is Stephen Graham as the aforementioned Combo. It is a terrifying and visceral performance from Graham who perfectly captures the manipulative bully we have all encountered at some point in our life. His central speech about immigration is a thing of beauty and it is a brave move from Meadows to have such an articulate and on the face of it fairly logical argument about race coming out of the mouth of such a vile character.

It is so easy to make a film about racism and have the antagonist be an ignorant straw man who it is easy to hate. As shown with Ed Norton’s Derek Vinyard from American History X however an eloquent racist makes for a much more compelling story than a stupid one.

This Is England is an unflinching look into the life of millions of people across Great Britain. It is a love letter to the British Isles but also a warning sticker. Ultimately it is a film that hopes we can all do better.

Unfriended – 6/10

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Is making a film that will be horribly dated in five years brave or just stupid?

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Cyber Horror (as I have chosen to dub it) is the logical next step from found footage now that that particular horror sub-genre is beginning to become moribund.

Like recent Maisie Williams starring TV drama Cyberbully, Unfriended takes place almost entirely on a computer screen through Skype, Facebook and various other mediums of social media. Where Unfriended differs from Cyberbully is it is much more nasty and has a more supernatural angle rather than being ground in reality.

Unfriended is actually a genuinely brilliant and chilling concept that is unfortunately executed quite poorly. The problem with having all your characters in their teens is the performances are bound to be patchy and while the young cast copes well in the beginning, as the tension rises the acting becomes a bit embarrassing which totally takes you out of the story. As the film races to a fairly predictable conclusion, a few scenes that should be shocking end up of just being a bit daft as the clunky direction and hysterical acting fail to do the story justice.

If Unfriended sparks any kind of debate about online bullying it would be purely coincidental as there is no message here. This is a dumb teen horror movie that feels like social commentary due to the subject matter but don’t be expecting Black Mirror.

Unfriended is surely indicative of what the next major horror craze will be. It will take a better film than this to break it, but Unfriended is an important footnote in horror history and perhaps the moment that found footage died.

Upside Down: The Creation Records Story – 8.5/10

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Noel Gallagher: ‘The first day going into Creation, scrawled on the wall behind Tim Abbott’s desk in big black felt pen was ‘Northern Ignorance’ and I thought, ‘That kind of describes me, I fucking love this place already, I’ve not been here two¬†minutes’

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Following the death of Factory records founder Tony Wilson in 2007 praise was correctly lavished on both Wilson and the effect his bands had on the musical landscape. There is an argument that Creation Records have been just as instrumental. The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Ride, Super Furry Animals, My Bloody Valentine, Teenage Fanclub and of course Oasis all found their feet on a record label that was mostly run out of a tiny office in Hackney by ‘President of Pop’ Alan McGee and a bunch of other lunatics. Upside Down is their story…

When you have such charismatic talking heads as Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Noel Gallagher, Jim Reid (Mary Chain) and McGee himself it would be impossible not to mine some interesting stories. Danny O’ Connor does a brilliant job in piecing all the interviews together to tell what is an incredible story.

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Noel Gallagher with label boss Alan McGee

One minor criticism is it would be interesting to have more of an outsiders perspective as Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and Joy Division bassist Peter Hook only have very brief moments on camera. The flipside to this is having read Alan McGee’s excellent book Creation Stories it becomes clear that Upside Down only tells half the story in nearly an hour and three quarters so to expect even more interviews is perhaps a bit unrealistic.

I must admit I didn’t know a huge amount about the early Creation bands until I watched Upside Down upon it’s release in 2010 but I have discovered so much great music from this documentary and it is safe to say the main draw of this project is the quite frankly astonishingly brilliant soundtrack. Which is how it should be with a film about music.

Fucking mega.

Dark Places – 1/10

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Unfortunately no Garth Marenghi in sight…

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Chloe Grace Moretz desperately trying to show everyone she is an adult now.

Where to start?

Dark Places borrows heavily from the real life story of the Amityville murders as well as Truman Capote’s true crime novel In Cold Blood. Other plot points such as a nod to the hysteria around devil worshipping in 1980’s America and child abuse are seemingly thrown it at random.

Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl (another film I hated) is also behind the book from which Dark Places is based and it massively shows. Like Gone Girl almost every character is a cliché and none of the increasingly bizarre story rings true. Gone Girl and Dark Places must be two of the most ridiculous, far fetched films released in the last ten years.

Instead of Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike we have Charlize Theron and woefully miscast Nicholas Hoult. Alongside them and doing nothing to improve matters are Chloe Grace Moretz playing a cow murdering, pouting maniac and Christina Hendricks who is the only person to come out of this mess with any credibility.

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Charlize Theron wanders around glumly in a hat throughout.

Dark Places is nasty, predictable and in some places totally fucking laughable. The idea that the events leading up to the home invasion and murder that drives the plot could ever happen is completely absurd. I am actually offended that Gillian fucking Flynn and director Gilles Paquet-Brenner would serve up such a trite, daft and embarrassing piece of work. There is barely a single scene that didn’t drive me further away from the unintelligible and banal story and by the end I would have been laughing out loud had I not been consumed with a white hot rage.

Without a doubt the worst film I have seen this year.

Soaked in Bleach – 5/10.

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Smells like bullshit…

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)

Interest in Nirvana and Kurt Cobain has never been higher following last years induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll fame and the release of illuminating documentary Montage of Heck earlier this year. I enjoyed Montage of Heck but on reflection it left me hungry for a NIRVANA documentary rather than a KURT COBAIN one. Soaked in Bleach barely mentions Nirvana or their music at any point.

A lot of an audiences ability to enjoy Soaked in Bleach will depend on whether they believe the theory that Cobain’s suicide was in fact a murder. I have always found this a little far fetched and to be honest nothing in Soaked in Bleach convinced me otherwise.

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The film revolves around the hours of recordings and testimony from private investigator Tom Grant who was hired by Courtney Love to try and locate the missing Kurt Cobain. Grant plays numerous tapes of his interactions with Love and with other Cobain associates and points out a number of inconsistencies. The problem with this is that Cobain and Love were drug addicts. Their associates, friends and employees were drug addicts. Drug addicts are liars, they are unreliable and they are self serving. They are not known for their logic or memory retention. This makes any form of investigation into the days leading up to Cobain’s tragic suicide almost impossible.

Alongside the recordings and interviews are reconstructions of conversations that Grant had with Love. This is a bold move to pull in a feature film as reconstructions are generally the reserve of terrible exploitative American TV shows. Surprisingly this doesn’t derail the entire project but it also doesn’t really add anything either.

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PI Tom Grant was hired by Courtney

One thing that isn’t in question is that Seattle P.D fudged the investigation into Kurt’s death and if they had done their job properly this film wouldn’t exist. This and Tom Grant’s tape recordings are the basis for the entire argument. The burden of proof is firmly on the camp screaming ‘murder’ however and there just isn’t enough here to merit a feature length documentary.

There is so much great Nirvana footage and music out there. A much better Kurt Cobain documentary has been released this year. Don’t waste your time on Soaked in Bleach