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Wednesday, 24 February 2016


More and more over these last six months, I'm finding myself significantly affected by films, TV shows and books with an emotional weight. You might think that's an obvious thing to say, but what I mean is, whereas before I could appreciate if something had an emotional storyline, nowadays it actually has an emotional effect on me. Perhaps unsurprisingly (given that I currently live in a different country to my wife) stories involve love, or lost love, have the most profound impact (case in point: VENISS UNDERGROUND by Jeff Vandermeer). Which is all a lead-up to say that SPRING (2014) is about love and it got me right in the feels.

The film follows a Californian man named Evan, who, after the death of his mother, jets off to Italy to clear his head. There he encounters Louise, an intriguing European woman fascinated by evolutionary genetics. Before too long, it becomes apparent there is something unnatural about her, and the question becomes one of: when will Evan find out, and how will he respond?

Film-makers Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead garnered attention with their debut RESOLUTION (2012), a seriously weird film about a man helping his best friend go cold turkey in a cabin. Before too long it becomes apparent that they're being watched, possibly by something deeply sinister. RESOLUTION plays with perception in a manner akin to Michael Haneke's excellent HIDDEN and spirals into one of the most WTF endings I've ever seen.

With this, their second feature, they toy with perception in different ways. Is Louise playing hard to get? Is she actually dangerous, or controlled by her strange nature? It asks questions of love, of lust, of whether we can truly claim to know or feel something for someone we've just met. The obvious answer is 'of course not' but what about that that ineffable sense of truth that accompanies real love? When we know on an emotional level that can't be measured that this relationship, this person, is right...?

This desperation, this need to be with someone, to know, to prove they're the right person, flows throughout the latter half of the film. Evan understands it's crazy to tell someone after only five days he loves them, and Louise suggests his recent grief is clouding his judgement, but what if it took the death of a loved one to make him realise what he wants/needs from life, from a partner?

Grief underpins SPRING. Throughout, we're reminded that Evan is lost, emotionally, and that grief affects people differently - there is a poignant side story involving an elderly Italian farmer Evan finds work for, who himself is dealing with the death of a loved one (in a very quiet, dignified way). , Though it sinks into the background, death and its repercussions haunt the film in subtle ways; at one point, Louise and Evan head to several ancient graveyards, including one with mummified remains on clear display. It's eerie and fascinating in equal measure, like Louise herself.

It's not spoiling anything to tell you Evan discovers Louise's monstrous secret - after all, the point of the film is he finds out - but how he does, and how he reacts, are what makes things interesting. The film then hinges on the question: how willing are you to accept another person for what they are, if you truly love them?

This is a particularly interesting question to raise in the context of a love story. Plenty of romcoms and dramas answer it, of course, but rarely in such an intriguing or realistic way. Usually, there's the 'acceptance' of a person's 'faults' but no actual acknowledgement of what this acceptance really means. If the issue is so dark, so terrible that even thinking about it is difficult, what does 'acceptance' mean in this regard? It means acknowledging that the issue might fade from thought but never from memory, that its implications and/or consequences may well last the rest of your life. And that you are prepared to stand by that person, to support them in any way you can. It is a chance to show that love is/should/can be unconditional/non-judgemental.

The fx in SPRING are almost all pleasingly physical, with the CGI looking uncanny in the right way (an early shot of Louise's transformed form, with its uncomfortable bone structure and staccato movements, is unnervingly creepy). I thought after the first few times I'd seen all there was and, after hearing Lovecraft mentioned (and seeing the recurrent use of certain animal parts in publicity material) I was a little disappointed. But stick with it and you'll be rewarded with a suitably unique "monster" design.

Lovecraft isn't too bad a touchstone, in that Louise's condition has physical characteristics of some of his creations, there are plenty of shots of the ocean, and it all appears to take place in a small seaside town. There is also the terror of the unknown, of what is the actual cause of Louise's condition, though don't go in expecting huge inter-dimensional gods to pop up and everyone to go mad.

As much as I enjoyed all this ^ what I really liked, and took me by surprise, was the sense of humour in SPRING. Evan's best friend is a drunk/stoner but supportive in his own way and very quick to remind Evan that he loves him, which was a really sweet touch. Once Evan reaches Italy he tags along with a couple of boisterous English lads who are all about "booze and birds" - I've known plenty of lads like them and their characters were spot on, though thankfully lacking the (easy) hooligan aspects of typical wideboys. There are some genuine laughs in SPRING, which helps make it all feel grounded and real - it's a dark, sombre film but clearly set in our reality (despite all the weird stuff).

Why exactly SPRING works is easy to quantify: it treats all its themes (think about what the season of 'spring' typically means) with respect and blends styles so that no one genre has precedence over another. There are plenty of nice story touches (such as the apparent supernatural aspects of Louise's condition and her logic against them) and sweeping camera shots that speak of a confidence in the film-makers that they knew exactly what they wanted to make so they damn well made it.

(I was actually reminded quite a bit of the James Earl Jones b-movie BLOOD TIDE, so here's a song referencing that film:)

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


Ahoy-hoy. Surely by now every man and his dog's given DEADPOOL a good old eyeball? Wait, you haven't? What is wrong with you! Are you as crazy in the coconut as our eponymous anti-hero? Or maybe you look like 'two avocados had violent sex' so don't like to go out in public? In any case, there is something seriously wrong with you.

From the frankly brilliant marketing campaign it was apparent everyone involved knew what they were doing. Deadpool the film and Deadpool the character know exactly what they are and run with it until their legs drop off (but then grow back). The trailers and word-of-mouth may have convinced you this is a film by and for 13 year old boys, but I say to you, don't listen to that easy and cheap insult/compliment! True, there're plenty of boobs, guns and swears but it's important to note that there is also an actual story here.

After mercenary Wade Wilson finds out he's riddled with cancer, he decides the most heroic thing to do would be to save his fiancée from all the grief and pain of dealing with it, by leaving her. Cue a trip to an experimental "superhero camp" and a few revelations about the place, and before you know it Wade Wilson's reborn as the fourth-wall breaking anti-hero who just won't shut up.

To say too much more would spoil things, not because there are any particular plot twists but rather, this is a film whose exuberance you're best experiencing for yourself. Everything is delivered with exceptional style and wit, so much so that you might be too busy admiring how nuts a particular fight scene is you miss a few one-liners—I recently watched it for the second time and caught a few jokes and visual gags I missed the first time.

It's true that the copious trailers and excellent marketing have given a fair bit of the film away, and part of me wishes I could go back in time and pay very little attention to these, so if you can avoid them I'd recommend it. Save as many of the jokes as possible for your first viewing. If you're not keen on bum and willy jokes, maybe this film's not for you, but there's undeniably a sense of demented charm in immersing yourself in a world populated by a foul-mouthed and excessively violent anti-hero. There are insults and deaths in this film I guarantee you've never heard or seen before. Probably. I don't know what you've watched, do I? Give me a break.

Are the villains a bit boring? Yes. Do some jokes miss the mark? A few. Does it get as irritating as people tend to find Deadpool himself? Absolutely not. 

I think the best recommendation I could give is that my mum  really enjoyed it. The second-best recommendation I could give is that DEADPOOL is smart at playing dumb. It also has the BEST superhero rap song I've heard in a long time. 


And to end, here's the second-best superhero rap song I've ever heard:

Thursday, 11 February 2016


Hello there. I don't have an awful lot of internet access so I don't get to update this as much as I want. However, here I am right now so make the most of it, like I'm your partner and you haven't spoken to me in weeks. Cherish me, Internet. CHERISH ME AND MY WORDS.

I like to read. Of course I do. What sort of writer doesn't? A TERRIBLE ONE, that's what! I mean, who! In order to broaden my horizons, I started to actively pick random books from my local library to read. Some were so mundane I can't even remember them, but others were a lot more intriguing. Case in point: the work of John Connolly. Or more precisely, his Charlie Parker series.

I stumbled across this author by searching on the library's database for 'horror anthologies' – they didn't have his Nocturnes collection checked in, but they did have THE WHISPERERS, so I gave that a go. The premise sounded a little dull – someone's smuggling artefacts stolen from the Middle East – but the promise of 'unnatural' horror reeled me in none-the-less.

The book itself took a little getting into, as it takes several chapters before it turns to the point of view of ex-cop Charlie Parker – in this book, he's lost his PI licence after the events in a previous book, and is trying to figure out quite what to do. And then he's asked to look into the suicide of a former soldier, which sets him on a path that ends in very explicit supernatural horror (though not a gratuitous amount). All the stuff in the Middle East was a bit boring, but as soon as we're in Parker's head the story comes alive. He's a man transformed by past tragedy into a relentless machine fuelled by the pursuit of justice, but this is leavened with a sharp wit and down-to-earth approach to the more macabre elements of the story/his world that really appealed to me.

THE WHISPERERS is the tenth Charlie Parker novel and has plenty of mentions of past adventures, and those he encountered. One such character in particular plays an integral (though low key) role in this story. I enjoyed the book but only really when Parker's narrating events – this was a character I wanted to spend more time with. So, back to the library where I found THE LOVERS (as luck would have it, the ninth book in the series).

This was a lot better. Some chapters still abandon Parker's point of view in order to detail events, but the overall plot of two, apparently resurrected, killers with ties to Parker's familial past was far more engaging than the follow-up book. Was this a sign that John Connolly's work is better earlier on? I wanted to find out (as well as learn more about the various cases touched by the unnatural that Parker finds himself embroiled in).

This time the library had THE KILLING KIND and THE WHITE ROAD available. Both from earlier in the series and, as luck would have it, the third and fourth Charlie Parker novels, respectively. I've just finished THE KILLING KIND and, although there are touches of the supernatural, it's more about twisted humans than any kind of demonic entity or group – yet, it still felt refreshing and exciting to read. Basically, when a load of human bones are uncovered by a remote lake, it sets off a chain of events involving a 1960s religious commune, a conspiracy, and a creepy maniac obsessed with deadly spiders and insects. There are very few interstitial chapters removed from Parker's POV, which I think greatly helped the flow. Not that I think John Connolly's writing suffers when he turns to a typical third person omniscient view, but when you're leaving behind someone with as much character as Parker, you feel it.

In any case, it's exciting (for me) to have a new series worth checking out and hunting down, especially considering it's classed as a contemporary 'thriller/crime' series, which typically I find quite boring (though I enjoy older pulp crime stories). I'm going to start on THE WHITE ROAD today, and have just picked up THE REAPERS (which is set just before THE LOVERS) and EVERY DEAD THING (the very first Parker novel) so have those to get stuck into, too. Watch out for more opinions! WATCH OUT!