The Moth Diaries (DVD Review)

15 – 79mins – 2011



“Sickly sweet but rotten…”

Alabaster-skinned British model Lily Cole (St. Trinians, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus) conjures a haunting otherworldly peculiarity which makes her sublimely cast as Ernessa Bloch, the enigmatic new girl with a dark secret at an exclusive all-girls’ boarding school.

Sarah Bolger (Emelie, TV’s The Tudors) plays bright-but-obsessive student Rebecca who grows increasingly concerned at the intense control Ernessa seems to hold over her increasingly-frail best friend, Lucy (Sarah 11.22.63 Gadon). Is the enigmatic flame-haired wraith a coffin-slumbering vampire, or does Rebecca’s jealous simply know no bounds?

Suicide, suspicion, strangely strong shisha, sex and the supernatural are all spun together in this diminutive but evocative conspiratorial horror, based on Rachel Klein’s Y.A. novel. There are some truly impactful standout scenes – including a Carrie-esque dream sequence and a troubling peek inside Ernessa’s dusty room – but the story is compromised by some atrociously heavy-handed editing which brings up numerous plot points (swimming lessons, period pain, inappropriate kiss, outdoor sex) only to mothball any consequences.

There is some poetic flair in paralleling the inexplicable goings on with some of literature’s bloodsucking icons in Mr Davies’ (Scott Underworld Speedman) gothic fiction class, but the abrupt, sketch-like approach to assembling the narrative means The Moth Diaries ultimately fails to take flight. What is scarier than any shocks in this jump-free teen adaptation is that it was directed by the same acute eye as acclaimed thriller American Psycho, Mary Haddon.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Cedar Rapids (DVD Review)

15 – 86mins – 2011


Maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind, but I was expecting far more from indie comedy Cedar Rapids . From the director of Jennifer Aniston’s The Good Girl and produced by Alexander Sideways Payne, I knew to expect drama, character friction and insecurity along with the laughs, but I found myself more frustrated than enamoured by the highly-strung characters.

The Hangover’s Ed Helms plays sheltered and naïve straight-living insurance salesman Tim Lippe, a man who had a big future ahead of him before he squandered it away in the sleepy little town of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. His sad, stalled existence going nowhere, Tim reluctantly accepts a chance at the “big time”: to represent BrownStar Insurance at an annual insurance conference in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and hopefully bring home the company’s third Two Diamond Award in a row.

The small, clueless fish in a big modern pond template has been used before, but I struggled to engage with frigid Tim. Nice and polite though he may be, everything about him screamed “square” and I failed to accept that unconventional conference veterans like vulgar loudmouth poacher Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) or innuendo-slinger Joan Ostrowski-Fox (Anne Heche) could so instantly befriend such a dull, pitiful man.

Although it’s slightly more believable that hotel hooker Bree (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat) – desperate to escape her less-than-favourable occupation as she is – may gravitate towards Tim’s more grounded and sterile nature, the fact that he was so easily persuaded to attend a nefarious house party, smoke weed and get high on crystal meth seemed completely out of character. Would it not have been nobler of Tim to stand by his morals and refuse the drugs rather than find fun and freedom through illegal means? What sort of skewed message is that?!

Maybe I’m looking too deeply into all this, but Tim also far-too readily jumps into bed with lonely-but-married serial-shagger Joan, despite being beyond-obsessed with his “pre-engaged” partner back in Wisconsin (astutely played by no-nonsense Sigourney Weaver). One night he walks off offended because Joan dares to jokingly slap his arse, the next he tells her how milky her skin is while skinny dipping in the hotel pool before going back to her place to make love. Sure, he was drunk, and yes, he regrets it the next morning, but it felt like his character didn’t stay true to himself for the good of plot progression.

By the end credits, Tim comes good by plucking up the confidence to publicly “out” the bribe-taking “honourable” conference chairman Orin Helgesson (Smith), before taking steps to stand on his own two feet for once in the big, wide world, but whereas Sideways and other hero-to-zero comedies like Napoleon Dynamite had me in stitches, Cedar Rapids’ corruption of a vulnerable soul just left me embarrassed to the point of depressed – and surely that wasn’t its intention?

In a CR@B Shell: A pathetic loser has his eyes opened to twenty-first century living by having an affair, bribing his way to success and getting into a fight while off his ass on hard drugs at a house party with a prostitute – and we’re meant to laugh/be charmed?! Sorry, but for all its critical praise, Cedar Rapids completely failed to win be over.
2 stars

Lady Gaga Presents The Monster Ball Tour: Live at Madison Square Garden (Blu-ray Review)

Lady GagaExempt from Classification – 114mins – 2011
Produced by: Steven Johnson, Nicole Ehrlich
Directed by: Laureiann Gibson
Starring: Lady GaGa


When artists become so stupendously famous that ticket demand to their tours far exceeds availability, they feel a certain responsibility to the consumers to quench that thirst with extra dates. This is the case with pop queen du jour Lady GaGa who was still taking her “Monster Ball Tour” around the globe after her sophomore album (the bloated Born This Way) had already been released.

Having seen the show first hand when it hit London’s o2 Arena back in February 2010 (you can read my review – to this day still one of the most viewed on my old site – HERE), I was still interested to check out this HBO DVD/Blu-ray release filmed at Madison Square Garden on February 21st and 22nd 2011; firstly to see how the show matured over time, but mostly to see if my mixed opinions of the vivid spectacle were still valid.

Well, they are. Without repeating myself too much: the music is still gloriously fantastic, the costumes still stylistically bonkers and the sets still vibrantly impressive, but GaGa’s attempts to be genuine and heartfelt about her love for her “Little Monsters” and her strong feelings about individuality in an intolerant society feel contrived to the point of cringeworthy as she chops midsentence from speaking to the sold out crowd in a emotionally-tinged speaking voice to SHOUTING ABOUT GAY UNICORNS AND GETTING ALL YOU BEAUTIFUL MOTHERFUCKERS TO PUT YOUR PAWS UP!!!!

Speaking of contrived, the black and white introductory video showing a fully made-up GaGa enter a small downtown newsagent to buy coffee and gum en-route to MSG while making muttered asides about how she can’t believe she’s about to play her hometown venue seems horribly staged, insincere and frankly rather pointless, while at least the mid-gig backstage cutaways which intersect the energetic onstage activities add to the atmosphere by showing quick-sharp costume changes in the blink of an eye.

There’s no denying that the woman isn’t immensely talented both as a writer and performer, but I’m still not sold on the convoluted-yet-feeble “breaking down on the way to the Monster Ball” concept with GaGa acting as a flamboyant roadside assistance to her stranded backing dancers along “Glitter Way”. It’s not like the music needs padding, but padding you get both scripted and ad-libbed, and at times all you want to do is hear the choons rather than GaGa’s every thought made vocal.

The Monster Ball TourObviously the bulging set-list is more tilted towards The Fame and The Fame Monster, but “Yoü & I” and “Born This Way” have been added to bring things up to date for the demanding audience. But whether you’re a fan of the worldwide smash hits (“Just Dance”, “Poker Face”, “Bad Romance”, “Telephone” etc.), the album tracks (“Dance In The Dark”, “Speechless”, “Money Honey” etc.) or even unreleased rarities (“Glitter and Grease”), The Monster Ball Tour has something for you.

In a CR@B Shell: Despite my qualms about certain aspects of genuineness, it’s still a gloriously extravagant – if sometimes madcap – concert experience, even second time around, and every camp, exotic, superfluous detail is brought vividly to the fore with a very decent hi-def transfer. Little Monsters everywhere will lap it up!
3 stars

The Woman (Netflix Review)

The Woman18 – 101mins – 2011
Screenplay by: Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee
Based on the novel by: Jack Ketchum
Directed by: Lucky McKee
Starring: Pollyanna McIntosh, Sean Bridgers, Angela Bettis, Lauren Ashley Carter, Zach Rand, Shyla Molhusen, Carlee Baker

I don’t shy away from horror; I’ve seen a lot of sick and twisted films in my time. Most no longer bother me. But every now and again a film comes along that even jaded ole’ me is taken aback by. I can still remember my revulsion at chav-killer thriller Eden Lake ; appalled at how this kind of inhumanity actually could/does take place in our supposedly civilised twenty-first century society. Controversial kidnap flick The Woman left me with the same feeling of nausea; revilement.

Small town lawyer and father of three, Chris Cleek (Bridgers – think a thinner Will Ferrell), is out hunting in the woods at the back of his isolated country house when he spots a wild, feral woman (McIntosh) living rough. Whereas most peoples first thought would be either: (a). Run!!! Or (b). Call the authorities, Chris Cleek hits upon the, umm, novel idea of capturing the savage, chaining her up in his family’s cellar and going to great lengths to “civilise” her.

Within moments of awakening confused and shackled in a strange place, the instinctive hunter defends herself in the only way she knows how by biting off one of Chris’ fingers; surely an omen that this little venture is destined to fail? But, undeterred, the nine-fingered patriarch introduces the reluctant guest to the rest of his family, whom he hopes to bring on board this less-than-legal project.

Wife Belle (Bettis) is unwilling, but too fragile and meek to stand up to her bullying husband; oldest daughter Peg (Carter) is also dead against it, but the teen is preoccupied by worries of her own; youngest daughter Darling (Molhusen) is too young to know better; whilst middle kid Brian (Rand) is as worryingly enthusiastic as his father.

As disturbing as the torture scenes are (for, let’s face it, no matter how you dress up the family’s course in “refinement”, that’s what it is), it was the supposedly happy Cleek family who left me more unsettled. Even before hitting on his maaaad idea, Chris comes across as a smug, unlikeable jerk. His wife desperately needs a backbone, and it’s no surprise to find that Chris all too often lashes out to suppress the merest suggestion of insurgence from his ever-loyal bride. Brian appears to be like any normal kid his age, but he has a deviant streak – watching unmoved as a group of boys bully a little girl, getting revenge on a friend after losing in a basketball game – his father has clearly had a less than positive effect.

But it is Peg’s problems that leave you most alarmed. There is clearly more to her sudden personality transplant than an emo phase; but the delicately hinted truth behind her introverted nature, frequent trips to the loo and emotional sensitivity is truly troubling; even worse is the fact that Belle seems to have an inkling but is too afraid to speak up. What happens when Peg’s teacher (Baker) makes a house call to discuss her concern for her student’s health is when the situation swiftly deteriorates into a living hell.

Undoubtedly an effective horror picture (and devastating statement on the darkness and injustice prevalent behind closed doors), The Woman is far from an enjoyable viewing experience. Chris Cleek is just a monster and far more grotesque than the snarling, dirt-encrusted primitive he has chained up for his own twisted amusement. I felt genuinely uncomfortable whenever he was on screen, knowing that an erratic fiend lay beneath the smiling exterior of a content family man.

The Woman PosterFrom the director of similarly warped cult horror May, The Woman isn’t a faultlessly perfect film (the final shot and the character’s logic behind their decision is crazy-weird, there’s a from-nowhere twist in the dog pen and the appearance of a baby during the eponymous character’s introduction is a plot strand which is immediately dropped and never returned to), but it is a film which leaves a lasting impression, and for that it must be applauded; job done.

In a CR@B Shell: If I were to judge Lucky McKee’s The Woman on shock-factor alone, than it’d definitely get at least four out of five, but it’s predilection for domestic drama brings an implausible shocker into disquieting probability, and that leads to an excruciating watch which I don’t think I could put myself through again.
3 stars