Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (Cinema Review)

12A – 129mins – 2017 – 3D


 

THE POWER OF THE SEA

After six years on dry land – the longest gap between installments in Disney’s “savvy” saga to date – Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny “Mad Hatter” Depp) has set sail on blockbuster seas for the fifth time in Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (or the mouthful that is Dead Men Tell No Tales, as it is known Stateside), after both script and budgetary issues blighted initial 2015, then 2016, departures from dock.

… Keep Scuttling!

Fire Witch (Book Review)

Written by: Matt Ralphs, 2016

Published in the UK by: Macmillan Children Books

Pages: 276


Image result for fire witch book

NO ORDINARY GIRL

In the Acknowledgements at the rear of Matt Ralphs’ recent sequel to his 2015 breakout hit, Fire Girl (which I reviewed HERE), the blossoming children’s author openly acknowledges the “breakneck speed” at which his editors at Macmillan Children’s Books dictated he write the follow up. Whereas he was able to spend close to five years “scribbling feverishly” on his debut during his spare time, following a publication deal he had a turnaround period of just one-fifth of that time in which to spin a successive yarn.

… Keep Scuttling!

Macbeth (DVD Review)

15 – 113mins – 2015


 

IMPERFECT SPEAKERS

“Fair is foul and foul is fair”-ly off-putting in this latest big-screen adaptation of the Scottish play. Despite receiving a slew of award nominations and critical praise aplenty, director Justin Kurzel – currently filming the Assassin’s Creed movie with his Macbeth leading man – has arthouse aspirations for Shakespearian theatre which simply put me in mind of the overblown disaster that was Darren Aronofsky’s biblical epic Noah (2014).

Haunting orchestral music strong with strings soundtracks artistically choreographed, slow-mo heavy battle scenes in near-silhouette, with much of the action played out on what look to be soundstages backed with beautifully picturesque landscapes.

Steve Jobs’ versatile Michael Fassbender does an admirable job as the troubled Thane of Cawdor with murder on his mind, but this lofty retelling just feels far too obviously staged and unnatural, leaving me cold to the verbose human drama and “supernatural soliciting” which follows the grimy, mist-shrouded battlefields.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

Friend Request (Cinema Review)

Friend Request

15 – 92mins – 2016


 

THE SATANIC NETWORK

Failing to learn from the fates which befell the screen-obsessed teens in Unfriended and Ratter, here’s yet another – albeit superior – slice of e-horror which taps into the zeitgeist’s paranoia of online privacy.

Beautiful and popular Psychology student Laura (Fear The Walking Dead’s Alycia Debnam-Carey – who continually reminded me of a young Vera Farmiga) rues the day she ever accepted the Facebook anonymous social media poking of lonely newcomer Marina (Liesel Ahlers), who morphs from profile stalker to vengeful techno-phantom when she takes Laura’s less-than-fervent reciprocation to heart and commits suicide after her sole follower clicks ‘unfriend’.

Beginning in a lecture on “Internet Addiction Disorder” and decking the pale, make up-less shy girl out in a drab grey hoodie and gifting her with a macabre love of posting gothic, nightmarish giffs, it could be argued that German director Simon Verhoeven’s topical horror is a little on-the-nose (or should that be ‘button’?), but Friend Request is more than proficient in delivering a rising sense of fear amongst Laura and her dwindling group of followers, successfully balancing narrative creepiness with some decent jump-scares.

As Marina’s ritualistic suicide video is mysteriously spread through Laura’s horrified network and her (physical) friends struggle to crack the code and work out exactly who the mysterious outcast was and why – or how – she is continuing to haunt them from beyond the grave, the body count begins to rise in spectacularly grisly fashion. It seems the waspish witch is determined to show Laura exactly what it means to be lonely…

“Unfriend that dead bitch!”

Impressively linking Marina’s creative – if creepy – cyber-animations into her sad and spooky cult-related backstory, Friend Request continued to impress the horror hound in me with some grotesque visuals and sympathising characterisation, sadly it is one CR@B follower shy of a four star film due to an unsatisfactorily cursor-y climax which sent the exponential narrative build-up to the Recycle Bin in favour of a final, lazy staccato shock.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Fire Girl (Book Review)

Written by: Matt Ralphs
Published in the UK by: MacMillan Children’s Books, 2015
272 pages


 

SEARING EXCITEMENT

Set in an alternative seventeenth century England over a decade after a Witch War where all Wielders were purged by Cromwell’s army, 11 year old Hazel Hooper has been brought up by her magic-using mother in an isolated enclave of Wychwood Forest. When her sole guardian is snatched by a vicious demon, Hazel must leave behind all that she has ever known and set off into the big wide world with only a grumpy dormouse called Bramley for company, to bring her mother home.

First time author Matt Ralphs has constructed a dense and well-realised (if hardly original) olde worlde universe for his characters to inhabit. The world-building fusion of historical research with fantastical embellishments helps to ground some of Fire Girl’s more out-there aspects into a more relatable read for its young audience.

Discovering she is endowed with a fiery ‘gift’ she has yet to adjust to, much less hone, young Hazel has not only demons and wicked adversaries to contend with, but also the Witch Hunter’s who roam the land hoping to collect a bounty for any Wielder’s who escaped the purge. Desperately alone in a strange and dangerous new world with no plan and no-one to turn to, Hazel’s never-say-die spirit in the face of persistent adversity is commendable and makes her an endearing and heroic protagonist, whilst her sharp-tongued familiar Bramley makes for an amusing and spunky, scene-stealing counterpart.

As Hazel ventures beyond the hedge and enters the communities of Wychwood and Rivenpike, she must choose who to trust and who to flee from as all manner of supernatural dilemmas threaten to derail her quest, from poisonous Spider demons to doll-trapped souls calling out to their zombified mortal remains! As diverse and dynamic as these scenarios are, I did start to lose faith in Ralphs’ overtly sequential structuring as the chapters began to rack up in a rather episodic fashion.

However, as Fire Girl progressed, the sense of peril becomes palpable and the scale escalates to a scintillating climatic apex, with elements established in earlier chapters reappearing to find satisfactory relevance to the greater story arc (the grieving Woodsman and the abandoned cabin in the woods being prime examples), rewarding eagle-eyed readers who pay attention.

With this first novel concluding with a heart-rending sacrifice and a shocking twist, we are left with a clear signpost for where Hazel’s ripening adventure will take her next – down into the Underworld. It’s an enticing prospect and a journey I will certainly be joining her on when the sequel Fire Witch bursts onto bookshelves in August.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

The VVitch (Cinema Review)


15 – 95mins – 2016


A HARE-RAISING EXPERIENCE

Complemented by an unsettling score of whining, dissonant strings, this washed out, slow burn olde worlde folk tale about the paranoia and hysteria which bubbles between the depleting members of an exiled family of New-England Puritans is an absorbing, affecting, pitch-perfect exercise in ominous horror and suspense, made all the more astonishing by the fact it is written and directed by a debut filmmaker in Robert Eggers.

Ralph “Finchy!” Ineson is patriarch William, determined to keep his unravelled brood together through the hardship of being excommunicated from their Christian plantation. Setting up home in a solitary farmhouse on the edge of a looming forest, the family struggle to make ends meet harvesting crops and milking livestock, however the mysterious loss of newborn Samuel when in the care of eldest daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy) begins to drive a wedge between devastated mother (Kate Prometheus Dickie) and child.

Did an invisible witch snatch Samuel and scamper off into the trees to sacrifice the baby, as Thomasin vehemently proclaims? Or was it a wild wolf, as William grimmly believes? And where has oldest son Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) vanished to while out hunting in the wood with his sister, who conveniently blacked out when her horse bucked and threw her to the ground after encountering a hare…?

As mistrust and rumours build to a tragic and frightening crescendo – a taut situation not aided by William’s covert pawning of his wife’s precious silverware, or the loose-lipped meddling of playful young twins Mercy (Ellie Granger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) – the chillingly tense and palpably unnerving tone, which is masterfully crafted despite a near-absence of jump-scares or CGI trickery, play into a well-constructed parable against religious hysteria and scaremongering.

But beyond this, I also detected an additional subtext in the shadowy undergrowth of this deceptively simplistic film, encapsulated in childhood fears of growing up and leaving your imaginative and carefree days behind. Thomasin is being pushed prematurely into adulthood by her money-conscious parents. She doesn’t want to leave home, so does this fear of responsibility spur on her stubborn, rebellious nature and her dangerously frivolous winding-up of Mercy and Jonas, who blindly frolic with the lively goat Black Philip?

Caleb, meanwhile, is a young lad who has just started to notice the appeal of his sister; he is tempted by the flesh and equally concerned by his budding feelings. When he returns to the homestead following his woodland disappearance, he is naked and incensed, an apple clenched tight in his mouth… is this a subtle reference to the innocent fruit of youth proffered to a naïve Snow White in the Grimm fairytale?

Robert Eggers presents a twisted, loaded vision which taunts us with a myriad of questions but answers few. For the majority of the film you see very little, which makes the power of what you do see all the more sinister and hard-hitting. At times you have to look away it is so shockingly unbearable. Like the family, you begin to doubt your own sense of logic and wonder whether the witch really does exist or whether it is all a product of their hysterical imaginations…

While the conclusion will be contentious for some in its overtness, I have no issue with its devilish delivery and still think you could argue against what is presented as the product of satanic mania. After all, you never see Black Philip’s mouth move – the camera stays focussed on a wide-eyed Thomasin throughout.

When the sight of a hare twitching its nose, or a beautiful young maiden (Sarah Stevens) silently flashing her cleavage in a doorway can unnerve you, then you know a film has you knotted in its gnarled branches. Ultimately, The Witch makes for uncomfortable but rewarding viewing, and like any sustainable folk tale, it will have you debating its message and bewitching nuances for long into the night.

CR@B Verdict: 5 stars