The Ritual (Cinema Review)

15 – 94mins – 2017


 

FEAR THE FOREST

While big money genre tentpoles like Blade Runner 2049 and It will always garner the most fanfare, sometimes the real cinematic gems are the smaller features released with only minimum fuss and which, sadly, often leave theatres before word of mouth has had a chance to take full effect. Say hello to The Ritual, which at time of typing is clinging on at my local Cineworld with just one late screening in only its second week. However, if you read this in time I cannot recommend this creepy chiller enough, so please hot-foot it down to your local picture house and take a walk in these woods…

… Keep Scuttling!

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Mindhorn (Cinema Review)

15 – 89mins – 2017


 

YOU CAN’T HANDCUFF THE WIND

“It’s truth time!”

In the late 80s, Richard Thorncroft (Julian Aaaaaaaah! Barratt) had the world at his brogue-wearing feet. As the star of crime-fighting action/adventure series Mindhorn, he had money, fame and the show’s hottest “totty,” Patricia Deville (Essie Davis), on his arm. But a quarter of a century on the actor has fallen on hard times. While his co-star, Peter Eastman (Steve Alan Partridge Coogan) has flourished in his own hit spin-off, Mindhorn is little more than a nostalgic memory, with a balding, out-of-shape Thorncroft reduced to embarrassing himself in scarce auditions and hocking cheap tat in adverts. Hollywood never called.

… Keep Scuttling!

Swallows and Amazons (DVD Review)

Image result for swallows and amazons 2016

PG – 93mins – 2016


THE UNDISCOVERED ISLAND

Following a beloved 1974 adaptation, Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book gets its second silver screen outing courtesy of screenwriter Andrea Gibb and TV director Philippa Lowthorpe, in her feature film debut. Andrew Sherlock Scott, Rafe The BFG Spall, Kelly Special Correspondents Macdonald, Jessica Bridget Jones’s Baby Hynes and Harry Upstart Crow Enfield add star clout in supporting roles, but the plucky kids are the real driving force here.

… Keep Scuttling!

The Man Who Knew Infinity (DVD Review)

Image result for the man who knew infinity

PG – 108mins – 2016


GOOD WILL COUNTING

“Change, gentlemen, it’s a wonderful thing. Embrace it.”

Slumdog Millionaire’s Dev Patel headlines this austere adaptation of Robert Kangiel’s 1991 biography of mathematical prodigy Srinivasa Ramanujan, whose pioneering self taught prime number theories see him admitted into Cambridge University’s Trinity College after growing up underprivileged in Madras, India.

… Keep Scuttling!

Gothic (DVD Review)

18 – 87mins – 1986


 

CARNIVAL OF CHAOS

“As long as you are a guest in my house, you will play my games…”

Embellished with his signature idiosyncratic fusion of grotesque surrealism and indulgent eroticism, acclaimed-but-controversial visionary British director Ken Russell (Altered States) turns his fevered eye toward the fateful night in 1816 upon which young Romantic artists Shelley (Julian Sands), Mary Godwin (Natasha Richardson), her stepsister Claire Clairmont (Miriam Cyr) and the doctor Polidori (Timothy Spall) gathered at the menagerie-esque madhouse of Lord Byron (Gabriel Byrne) to tell ghost stories – with the future Mrs. Shelley’s classic horror novel Frankenstein being the enduring outcome.

Enhanced by the eerie tones of a pheramin-lead score, and with thunder and lightening clashing outside, the dark and largely empty rooms of Byron’s uninviting Swiss sanctuary is chock-full of eccentric ambiguities and stock genre tropes – from cobwebs, rats, candles and ornamental skulls to bell jars, clockwork mannequins, suits of armour and all the ingredients to conduct a séance! Its an eclectic cluster which in the wrong hands could have appeared too busy, but Russell successfully manages to juggle all the elements into an elusive and evocative almost poetic fever dream.

The hired help merely roll their eyes at the surreal circus parading around them, but there is a frightening heightened intensity to even the artist’s frivolity, with their virtuous tempers giving way to an almost rabid frothing obscenity the longer the night goes on. There is a fine line between genius and madness and I do believe that Gothic sits pretty atop that very line!

Sex, drugs and creativity clash violently with perverse and wanton abandon in this trippy and stirring madhouse. “I never plan anything” Byron cries – and never a truer word spoken as Gothic is often maddeningly confusing (a severed pig’s head lies on a bedroom floor, a goblin-like creature watches the girls as they sleep fraught dreams, and just what was that alien-like head in the barn?!), but never anything less than gripping and evocative.

As the night races towards day, the imagery takes on even deeper metaphoric meaning, the fears and anxieties of the decadent author’s each contributing to the jigsaw-like monster they have created (“our creature”). The elements which run through Frankenstein are cleverly planted throughout this uneasy viewing experience which often leaves you – like the characters – feeling like you are “trapped like a dream in human form.” But unlike the characters we know we can escape simply by pressing “pause” – except we are so enraptured by the lavishly grotesque delights dancing before our eyes that we don’t want to.

Gothic [DVD]Indecent, erotic and eerily surreal, Ken Russell’s historically inaccurate Gothic won’t be to everyone’s taste, but those looking for an orgasmic sensory overload need look no further. Come the end credits you’ll be sweating, shivering – more than likely confounded – but ultimately satisfied by this lavish macabre mindfuck.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.6 (TV Review)

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BBC One – 2nd August 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Simon Tyrrell

Series Created by: Ashley Pharaoh

Directed by: Sam Donovan


 

A GHOST OF HIS FORMER SELF

This is it. Six weeks later than fans who binge-watched it all on iPlayer, BBC One has completed its weekly Tuesday night transmissions of Ashley Pharaoh’s haunting historical drama, The Living And The Dead. By tying together the glimpses and clues which have peppered the six hour run, explaining the escalating mysteries and hinting at more, episode 1.6 was a perfect conclusion to a superior series.

“Stay with me, Daddy.”

Haunted by his “insoluble guilt” following the death of his first child, Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) has lost himself in a spiral of depression which has mired him in an unhinged purgatory where the past, present – and future! – intertwine in a sanity-testing fug. Can his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) warm his “cold eyes” and save her husband’s “lost soul”, or will the ghost of young Gabriel (Arthur Bateman) get his way and lead his father to the afterlife…?

After weeks of the briefest hints and teases (headlights, iPads, red coats), we finally spend some sustained time in the present day, with the “book of light” carrying “guardian angel” who Nathan suspected was attempting to steal Gabriel away at last revealed to be his great-great-granddaughter, Lara (Chloe Pirrie). Self-admitted herself to a psychiatric ward, Lara has likewise been haunted by Gabriel’s ghost since giving birth to her daughter, Lottie.

When her visiting grandmother (Diana Quick) reveals Lara is not the first in her family to see Gabriel’s ghost, the suspected postpartum psychosis-sufferer escapes hospital and heads to the abandoned and dilapidated Shepzoy estate for answers…

“I know I’m somehow part of this…”

With her iPad chock full of photographed mementos of Nathan’s bygone era, Lara offers viewers a whistle-stop recap of the series so far, with pictorial reminders of the ghost miners storyline from 1.2, Nathan’s evermore frantic scribblings and the tragic love affair from 1.4. I love the wicked irony that a series so ingrained with a theme of progress has its dual leads (Nathan in 1894 and Lara in 2016) stalled in their attempts to move on from the past.

“The essential thing is timing…”

“… and the amount of light.”

Paying heed to its own advise, I must give credit to the series’ lighting directors. I watched this final episode during the day with the curtains open and still its evocative tone, use of both natural and artificial light and shadow and creepy concessions to the supernatural genre (faces in windows, lullabies chanted through walkie-talkies, glimpses of blood-stained victims through shaky-cam perspective) elicited goosebumps on innumerable occasions!

With a horse-drawn reveal which shatters the temporal line more than it already had been, The Living and the Dead 1.6 manages to leave viewers simultaneously satisfied and still with plenty to ponder. I could nit-pick why Gabriel still required parental company when Lara’s grandmother had already revealed that Lara’s mother committed suicide shortly after giving birth, but this is a minor quibble in an otherwise exemplary timey-wimey narrative jigsaw plot.

The closing scene, posing a question still unanswered, gives me high hopes that this isn’t the last we have seen of the “notorious” Nathan Appleby. Hopefully the BBC listen to their guardian angels and commission a second series of this progressive and perplexing drama – please don’t leave us hanging over that juicy cliff!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

JOSH, 1.1 – “Swimming and Kissing” (TV Review)

JoshBBC Three, 10.30pm, Wednesday 11th November
Written by: Josh Widdicombe and Tom Craine

Josh Widdicombe has gone and done a Jack Whitehall; working his way up from stand-up comedian and UK panel-show regular to (co-)writer and star of his own sitcom. Like Bad Education before it, Josh also sees the youthful leading man ostensibly playing himself. And it’s broadcast on BBC Three – a station surely no longer in danger of going online-only, given how many new shows they continue to green-light?!

“Smoking and Kissing” was an interesting opener, insofar as it felt very much like a comfortable middle-of-the-run show rather than a concept-solidifying debut. Not that there is much to “get” from the situation – three single 20-somethings share a flat which is regularly visited by their sad-sack landlord – but it wasn’t until I did a web-search that I discovered that Josh received a 15minute pilot episode last year as part of BBC Comedy Feeds.

Personally, I would have liked to have seen this introductory short either repeated or expanded into a “proper” first episode, if only to re-instate the premise that Josh is stuck living with childhood best friend Kate (the cute Beattie Edmondson) and fact-loving Welshman Owen (Crims’ Elis James) because he was kicked out by his fiancée – a topic which was never raised in this episode.

Set-up quibble aside, the premiere’s plot – that Josh is nervous of attending a pool party because he never learnt to swim, while Kate is bewildered to discover she has a reputation as a bad kisser – was simple but not bad; the two disparate narrative stands paralleling nicely rather than intertwining as sitcom storylines often do.

Things occasionally felt a mite contrived (a chlorine allergy is a perfectly sensible medical reason for not learning to swim, rather than embarrassing due to ineptitude), but not to the determent of the machine-gun-style humour.

Much like Josh’s unrefined, natural approach to acting, the banter-driven nature of the comedy does grow on you as the episode progresses; Welshman Owen’s random factoids and Kate’s university nicknames being two prime examples of repetition and the building of jokes to laugh-out-loud crescendos.

Jack Dee’s turn as irritating landlord Geoff wasn’t really given enough time to convince me his inclusion is essential to the show’s dynamic, his kitchen-based swimming lesson feeling a little crowbarred in, but it also didn’t put me off from tuning in again next week to see how these hapless characters continue to amble through their days.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars