Monday, 28 April 2008

Film Review: [Rec]

Spanish shaky-cam horror movie [Rec] is uncomplicated, clichéd and derivative.

It’s also the most terrifying film I've ever seen.

The set-up is deliciously simple. A film crew – peppy blonde reporter Angela (played by the unfeasibly sexy Manuela Velasco) and unseen cameraman Pablo – are following a fire crew around for a late-night Spanish TV show.

The night begins uneventfully and Angela alleviates her boredom by playing basketball, laughing at the firemen’s trousers, fiddling with her hair and generally behaving like the beautiful Catalan temptress that she is. Her wish for some excitement is soon granted as the station receives a call about an old lady trapped in a Barcelona apartment.

Manu (Ferran Terraza) and Alex (David Vert) are the firemen who respond to the emergency, with Angela and Pablo hurriedly tagging along behind. When they arrive, they find police already at the scene and the tenants anxiously gathered in the lobby. Breaking into the old woman’s apartment, they find her rabid and covered in blood.

The old woman bites one of the policemen and no sooner has the entire building been quarantined by a silhouetted biohazard team than we're in familiar zombie survivor movie territory – people run from the zombies, occasionally fight back (notably with a sledgehammer) and more often than not, get bitten and become zombies themselves.

Okay, so there’s little that's new here; the shaky-cam spin has already been brought to the zombie genre reasonably recently by Diary of the Dead. But neither George Romero’s film nor The Blair Witch Project used the immediacy of the format to such emotional effect. Diary of the Dead eschewed scares in favour of a social commentary, while Blair Witch sought to unnerve the viewer with the power of suggestion alone. [Rec], on the other hand, supplies its horror in frenzied and visceral shocks, as directors Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza use the wobbly first-person point of view to plunge the audience straight into the chaos.

[Rec] also manages to eliminate all the usual flaws associated not only with survivor movies but with shaky-cam films. We’re told why mobile phones don’t work. Threatened with death if they attempt to leave the building by the unseen biohazard team, it's clear why the protagonists don't just smash through the front door. And, in an unusual step for the genre, a health inspector is even introduced to proceedings, giving us the sense that the authorities are actually attempting to understand what's happening inside the building. [Rec] even resolves the 'why is he still filming?' issue that bugged Cloverfield and Blair Witch by having Pablo as a professional cameraman.

And then there’s the ending. While [Rec] serves up standard albeit accomplished zombie thrills for the most part, in the final twenty minutes, it twists towards a claustrophobic night-vision climax that is among the most terrifying and nightmarish ever conceived. Not only is it one of the most masterful, petrifying sequences in movie history, but it also implies doubt as to what the monsters are.

[Rec] will reappear in cinemas in a couple of months as the Hollywood-ised Quarantine, which looks from the trailers to be a shot-for-shot remake, albeit without the subtitles that Americans clearly struggle with.

Whether Quarantine is any good, and the treatment meted out to The Ring and The Grudge suggests it almost certainly won’t be, its existence is utterly unnecessary and you're encouraged to seek out the original before it disappears from its limited cinema run. [Rec] is tense, shrill and sweaty, and even with a curt 80 minute running time, accomplishes absolutely everything a horror film should.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Trapped in a lift for 41 hours

This is one of the harrowing things I've read for a while.

Nicholas White was trapped in an elevator for 41 hours.

"Eventually, he lay down on the floor, intent on sleep. The carpet was like coarse AstroTurf, and was lousy with nail trimmings and other detritus. It was amazing to him how much people could shed in such a short trip. He used his shoes for a pillow and laid his wallet, unfolded, over his eyes to keep out the light. It wasn’t hot, yet he was sweating. His wallet was damp. Maybe a day had passed. He drifted in and out of sleep, awakening each time to the grim recognition that his elevator confinement had not been a dream. His thirst was overpowering. The alarm was playing more aural tricks on him, so he decided to turn it off. Then he tried doing some Morse code with it. He yelled some more. He tried to pick away at the cinder-block wall."

Link to the New Yorker article

Link to the time-lapse video

Friday, 11 April 2008

Disneyland Dream

This is special.

"In July 1956, the five-member Barstow family of Wethersfield, Connecticut, won a free trip to newly-opened Disneyland in Anaheim, California, in a nationwide contest. This 30-minute amateur documentary film tells the fabulous story of their fun-filled, dream-come-true, family travel adventure, filmed on the scene at Walt Disney's "Magic Kingdom" by Robbins Barstow."

Watch it here

Cat struggles with screen door

Thursday, 10 April 2008

TV Review: The Apprentice

Sir Alan Sugar has toughened up ahead of this year's edition of The Apprentice, reminding us, "Mary Poppins I am not. I'm not going to hold your hand, I'm not going to tell you what to do. You're on your own two feet."

He needed to. Last year's edition, while entertaining, ended in farce, with Sugar selecting a doltish twerp with tendencies towards casual racism to be his apprentice.

Aside from the fuckwittery of the decision to crown failed investment banker Simon Ambrose as the competition's winner ahead of at least two more qualified candidates, The Apprentice descended into some sort of post-modern hubbub as Jadine Johnson was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and the show was investigated for breaching the Sexual Discrimination Act after Sugar's intemperate ghouls interrogated Kristina Grimes and Katie Hopkins (Alf as reimagined by Mills & Boon) about their child-care arrangements.

After the tumultuous third season, it's difficult not to think that The Apprentice may have passed its best; partly because the format is now so well-worn, but mainly because with each passing week, the manipulations of the production team are becoming increasingly obvious.

While you’d be an idiot not to expect an element of artifice in any of Mark Burnett's programmes, the absurdity of the contestants' behaviour smacks of the urgings of a desperate production crew. It's impossible to believe, for example, that in week two the girls would have attempted to charge five grand for doing two hundred quid's worth of laundry.

So far in season four we've been left to watch people flounder and fail not because they’re incompetent chumps, but because it's a semi-scripted business soap. It's the audience that's being taken for a ride by the show's cynicism, not the contestants.

There's still some enjoyment to be had, of course. After watching Jadine, hopeless kilt-wearing bloater Andy Jackson and brick-breaking loon Ifti Chaudhri surrender to varying degrees of mental breakdown last year, unconscionably supercilious snob Nicholas de Lacy Brown has already succumbed to the pressure, admitting to the former Tottenham chairman, in the season's hitherto highlight, that he finds it "very difficult to have conversations about football."

Others will surely follow. After claiming that it requires ten tomatoes to make four bowls of soup but one hundred and fifty tomatoes to make fifteen bowls, it's difficult not to imagine Matt Lucas lookalike, bank manager Kevin Shaw breaking down after a typical Nick Hewer glare. It's also not beyond the realms of possibility that, by week six, the painfully out of her depth Sara Dhada will have suffered an irreversible psychotic breakdown while furiously attempting to butter four hundred ham rolls.

As ever there are a couple of likeable contestants and I've developed an early fondness for hard working, ex-army geezer Simon Smith and dead-eyed Irish vamp Jennifer Maguire, but I'm very much looking forward to ruthless, spade-faced single mum Jenny Celerier attempting to increase Alpha's revenue by installing a cigarette machine in the children's cancer ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

The Apprentice is on BBC One, Wednesday at 9pm. Of course, if you miss it you can always use your Amstrad computer and watch it on iPlayer.

What, you haven't got an Amstrad computer?

Oh, that's right, it's because Alan Sugar is shit, and has done fuck all of any use since he flogged Gazza to Lazio.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Album Review: Magnificent Fiend

A glorious and gritty free-wheeling rock maelstrom, Howlin' Rain's self-titled debut was one of the most slept-on albums of 2006, wonderfully combining the sonic damage of Comets On Fire's Ethan Miller's guitar and the insane rhythmic pounding of Sunburned Hand Of The Man's John Moloney.

Sadly, the original three-man line-up of Miller, Moloney and bassist Ian Gradek is no longer in place. Moloney and Gradek are gone and Miller is now joined by Joel Robinow and Eli Eckert (both from Drunk Horse), Garrett Goddard (Cuts and Colossal Yes) and Humboldt guitarist Mike Jackson.

By adding a second guitar, bass, keys and horns, Howlin’ Rain have created a far more nuanced, far richer, record than their debut, but a record that’s much less gritty, much less frenetic and much lighter. It never quite rages in the same way that their debut did. Miller's hoarse vocals are more velvety than vicious.

El Rey is practically tranquil, and while Dancers At The End Of Time – a homage to Jherrek Carnelian (a creation of Hawkwind collaborator and sci-fi writer, Michael Moorecock) – offers the album's most exciting riff, it's still a shadow of the kind Miller was pranging out on the last Comets album.

Jackson's rhythm guitar and Robinow's organ should free up Miller's guitar to enter overdrive, but it never happens. Calling Lightning Part Two – a sunny sequel to Calling Lightning With A Scythe – lacks any of the clatter of its prequel; the guitar on the Grateful Dead-aping Nomads verges on subtle. At the album’s conclusion Miller cries, “Furious misfortune is upon us.” It should be an apocalyptic warning. It's not. Album closer Riverboat is massively uplifting, warm and joyous.

Howlin’ Rain have obviously fought hard to find great songs at the heart of their freak-outs, but the freak-out weren’t merely embellishments; they were the songs. It may be churlish to criticise Miller for proving his range, but anyone expecting an overdriven psych cacophony will be disappointed.

This review is up now at Popmatters

Friday, 4 April 2008

Middlesbizzle vs. Da Red Devilz

"Big Snoop ain’t want to create no beef where there ain’t one, but shit, dis Alvizzle motherfucker must be one of the shittest motherfuckers I ever did see. He addicted to hitting the bar like Lil’ John and The East Side Boyz."


A monkey on a motorbike