Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark: Old Fashioned Tales That Satisfy – Review

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, based on the books of the same name, is the latest offering to come from Guillermo del Toro. He shares credits of both producing and co-writing the screenplay and the story is as old fashioned as it is satisfying. It is, in short, a visual treat.

Directed by André Øvredal (Trollhunter, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) the film looks brilliant. If one is of a certain age, the tones, hues, and overall colour of the film looks like all those old photographs from childhood. Every frame reeks of nostalgic melancholy that feels at home with bell bottom jeans and cars that all came from Detroit.

The film offers nothing new. It does, however, take one right back to their childhood. Tales told breathlessly around campfires or, in some instances, around Ouija boards, that invoked disbelief, at first, and then, at last, a sense of dread and acceptance. It is not the tales themselves that impress so much as they way that they are presented.

Each vignette offers a sort of variation on original tales that have been updated or altered to fit this particular theme. Not having read the books, which is now on my list of things that must be done, it is not clear how well the filmmakers managed to capture the spirit of the source material.

Regardless of whether the film manages to capture the intent of author Alvin Schwartz or not is not up for discussion. It should be noted that the first iteration of these books caused an outcry amongst concerned parents. (Apparently the illustrations of Stephen Grimmell were considered quite unsuitable for the targeted age group.)

Gore factor aside, which the film manages to control rather admirably, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark entertains without offending anyone. Deftly mixing urban myths with some original myth making, the movie does produce a few jump scares. Sadly, most of the “scares” rely on the rather tired device of cranking up the sound to Boeing 767 level, but some do work without the volumetric control used too often.

There are some nice touches for the horror fan. One of the male characters (Auggie, played admirably by Gabriel Rush) sports a Halloween costume that could be right from the frames of the 1978 film Halloween. The “clown” outfit; “It’s a Pierrot,” argues Auggie repeatedly, feels like a deliberate homage to Michael Myers’ outfit in the original horror film. (While the two outfits are nothing alike, there is an odd resemblance. Enough of one, at least to this viewer, that it seemed glaringly obvious.) It should be said that there are other nods and winks to classic horror stories throughout.

The cast of the film; Rush along with Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn,  give it their all. Each convinces admirably and at no time does one ever doubt their character’s veracity. (Colletti will obviously go far in her chosen profession. She knocked it out of the park easily.) It was lovely to see firm favorite Dean Norris as the father. More of Norris would not have gone amiss but one obviously has to draw the line somewhere in terms of running time.

The cinematography is brilliant and the use of hues and tonal shifts in terms of colour works wonderfully to establish mood and direction. While it would have been interesting to see a much darker version of this movie, in other words if del Toro had directed the feature, Øvredal does an excellent job.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is not, overall, frightening. It delivers a great storyline reminiscent of Dr Terror’s House of Horrors or Asylum and does so with a certain juvenile panache. This is a kid’s film, after all, but it entertains very well. It earns a full 4 out of 5 stars for delivery and one should see it in the cinema.

One Voice, One Mic: The Rise of Podcasting Ben Gummery on the Importance of Me

One Voice, One Mic: The Rise of Podcasting Ben Gummery on the Importance of Me

One Voice, One Mic, a 2019 documentary by Ben Gummery is all about the rise of the podcast. Narrated by the man himself, the short film could be said to be all about the importance of me. In today’s society it is all about the big “I am.” Podcasts, as pointed out in this short feature, are all the rage. Some are more popular than others, for example, Kevin Smith’s work is beyond well known, but according to Gummery and his subjects, there is room for everyone.

This documentary will be hitting Amazon on 30 September and it is one to check out. Using clips from Smith at the start, Gummery turns the camera on a number of known and unknown Podcasters. Many of these are English and, for the most part, unheard of by this reviewer.  This is not to say that they are not significant, nor important in their own way.

Podcasting has indeed been on the rise, as aptly pointed out in this documentary, and, as also pointed out, becoming a popular way for folks with clean diction and a unique take on things to build an audience. Some of the participants in this film downplay the requirements and the time consuming edits needed to sound professional, or at the very least not sound gormless to the nth degree, but this is an interesting look at a booming industry niche.

Podcasting has been around for a while now, as pointed out by Gummery and his Podcasters. This reviewer has even guested, several times, on ChasingCinema.com, that started out on Apple iTunes and can now be found on YouTube. It is a comfortable medium that does indeed feel up close and personal. Intimate without being intrusive, the format is one that becomes almost addictive to its listeners.

It is also a means of getting one’s own opinion and voice out to the masses. In this time period of “the importance of me” it trumps YouTube, with its excessive need to regulate. Podcasting also neatly sidesteps Google with its anally retentive attention to marketing, copy-write infringement and annoying algorithms. As one caster states, “you just upload to Apple” and bang you’re a Podcaster.

This is an interesting look at the rise of Podcasting and Gummery does a good job of showcasing a varied group of folks who take this world serious enough to put their mouth where their money is (pun intended).

Gummery, whose next project will be on Kevin Smith “fan-art” is a capable craftsman. He is able to provide the viewer with a diverse arena of spokesmen for the art form of speaking into a mic. His passion for the medium shines through clearly as does the passion of the various folks who love it. (It is interesting to note that there are no female Podcasters involved with this project.)

Keep an eye out for this One Voice, One Mic September 30, 2019 on Amazon. It may just inspire you to pick up a microphone and have a go yourself. A 5 out of 5 for presentation and the inclusion of “we are not worthy” Kevin Smith.

 

Some Girls Wander: Geoff Woodbridge’s Ode to the Lost and Broken

Some Girls Wander: Geoff Woodbridge's Ode to the Lost and Broken

Made in 2017 and released in 2018 via the festival circuit, Some Girls Wander is an ode to all those “lost and broken” occupants of planet Earth by Geoff Woodbridge. Starring Jade Mark (Dandilicious, Last Day of Summer and Greener Pastures) and Keith Parr as Ken, the film chronicles the meeting and bonding of two disparate souls who find themselves on the streets of Liverpool.

In the beginning these two strangers have nothing in common apart from their social predicament. They start a dialogue that moves along in fits and starts until, at last, No (Mark) learns about Ken’s past. Filmed in black and white Some Girls Wander offers a bleak look at Liverpool and it manages to pull off a pretty clever parlour trick.

The film is a long and varied word-fest. Dialogue heavy with minimal action it offers a languid pace that feels like a good fit to the story. Despite feeling that this would have made one hell of a stage play, the film works well in this “format.” No’s compulsive nail biting, Ken’s rambling, yet spot on, recitation of 1970’s films, (although he does come screaming into the “present” with a nod to Tarentino’s Kill Bill films) and the odd reference to early British telly, The Sweeney, and a “Bum Fight” all work to give this tale depth and a touch, at times, of humorous pathos.

There is much to love about this film. Even if one is not from England, or lived there for far too many years, the setting and the dialogue evokes a sense of nostalgic yearning that goes beyond the odd glimpse of “Marks and Sparks” and the omnipresent seagulls and pigeons. The language is Liverpudlian, “bevvies” not withstanding, and the Jimmy Nail reference is brilliant.

What the film does best, albeit somewhat obliquely, is to show us a slice of life in a park in Liverpool. While we learn of the two very different backstories of these characters we are treated to the odd intrusion of real people in the park. St John’s Gardens, where the vast majority of the film takes place, has a number of bystanders who, in typical English fashion, merely ignore the action and carry on reading, feed the pigeons or wander by as these two interact.

Geoff does relate, however, that there were those who did interrupt proceedings. The police and real-life homeless population both came in contact with the film crew but these are not part of the story, just an interesting antidote.

Some Girls Wander (Some Men Leave) makes an effort to show us that the homeless are people at the end of the day. Their stories are varied and a combination of the tragic and the misunderstood. It is commendable that the filmmaker has taken time to show us the normalcy of the flotsam and jetsam of the world and how easy it is to relate. Even if that relation is in the terms of the films that Ken so loves.

Mark gives a splendid performance and manages to convince as the youngster finding her feet on the street. This is an actor to keep an eye on as she almost effortlessly filled the shoes of her character. The late Keith Parr (sadly the gentleman passed on before the film’s first screening) does an excellent job portraying the multifaceted Ken. Both actors  did a brilliant job interacting with one another and pulled off a believable double act that never feels forced.

The music fits like a glove and moves things along nicely. Like the cinematography and the writing it allows things to move into view with a minimum of muss and fuss. It accents the story rather well, despite the odd times it overpowers the proceedings.

This offering earns an easy four out of five stars. It is a tad too long, rambling on a bit in the middle, but, in terms of characterization and storyline, the film makes up for its meandering style of presentation. There are small irritating things about the film, such as continuity errors and a few places where the sound drowns out the actors but these things do not spoil the story.

Some Girls Wander feels like a real labour of love and we have fallen in love with the story itself and the filmmakers who put the whole thing together. Definitely worth a look this one.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood: Tarantino’s Ironic Nostalgic Twist

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quintin Tarantino’s latest offering…

once upon a time in Hollywood: Opinion

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering. It is a slant on a nostalgic tinseltown that no longer exists, if it ever really did in the way that Tarantino depicts it, and the film’s ironic ending leaves one wondering just what his motives truly were.  Critics have complained that the movie spends too little time on the Manson family and its tragic victims but this is the purpose of the entire film, to give a “Hollywood finish” to reality.

The film, starring Tarantino semi-regulars Leonardo DiCaprio (Django, and Brad Pitt (Inglourious Basterds) Kurt Russell (The Hateful Eight, Death Proof) and Bruce Dern (in a blink and you will miss him cameo as a last minute replacement for the late Burt Reynolds) is a long, somewhat meandering affair. **It should be pointed out that along with Russell, Dern has the most credits listed under Tarantino.**

Margot Robbie is the tragic Sharon Tate and there are a number of familiar faces, some more special that others, who fill out the cast list of this odd offering. Please do not misunderstand, this is a visual treat for the viewer, it offers much in terms of interest and threatens to become a brilliant character study. Although it never really delivers in term of character but it teases in other ways and provides a few laughs along then way.

I was 11 years old when the 1960’s ended, along with the lives of Tate, Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Voytek Frykowski, and Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood brought the sixties screaming back into glorious discordant life. The sounds of the radio advertisements, the television clips, the colours, the clothes and the cars all threw me right back into a pre-pubescent memory lane. This was both enthralling and somewhat, rather oddly, disturbing.

Tarantino gives us his version of ’60’s Hollywood. He also, by design, gives us the “Hollywood” ending to the entire “Helter Skelter” true story that the film is based around. (Not upon, as his tale is, to paraphrase a line from 1969’s The Wild Bunch of the event, not from it. In other words, it is the frame he hangs his work on.)

Once Upon a Time… focuses on Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth. Tate is in the periphery as a reminder of the impending tragedy. She flashes on the screen in small glimpses that are designed to show her as a sympathetic character, all the more to make the ending hit that little bit harder. This is, however, a ruse. A MacGuffin if you will. A tactic that sets us up instead for the “Hollywood ending.”

Tarantino lets fantasy intrude at the tail end of the movie and here the discussion will stop in order to keep spoilers from appearing in this review. In many ways, the ending is a disappointment until one realizes that the fantasy is what Hollywood studios would have ordered were the real life murders a movie.

Hollywood has long had a fixation with endings that allow the hero to ride off into the sunset with the girl on one arm and a fistful of money clenched in his fist. The bad guy gets his just reward, a bullet or a grave, or both, and everyone lives happily ever after.

There are enough nods are “real” Hollywood to allow this to work. Booth’s besting of Bruce Lee on the backlot is based around Lee’s time on The Green Hornet. He was also training many celebs and newcomers on martial arts for both onscreen and off. Lee trained Tate for her role in the Dean Martin “Matt Helm” movie The Wrecking Crew. (Coincidentally, this was the last Matt Helm picture made, despite another being touted at the end credits.)

Dalton’s foray into Spaghetti Western territory mirrors, to an extent, Clint Eastwood’s own journey into the Leonesque world of Western Opera. While the connection is tenuous as best, unlike the Bruce Lee vignette, it is there for the film fan to notice and appreciate.

Once Upon a Time looks luscious and real, except for the odd continuity issue, as the hippies all have filthy feet, legs and hair. Dakota Fanning plays stunningly against type as the “momma bear” Squeaky Fromme and Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is all scabby legs, black feet and sexual promiscuity wrapped in a teen drugged up dream. Qualley does such a convincing job as a Manson minion that one can almost smell the scent of eu de rubbish skip that must permeate her entire essence.

The violence in the film is convincing yet, strangely, funny in the way it is presented. All except the scene at the Spahn Ranch, the blood looked as real as the Korean cinema’s blood work, which is head and shoulders above the rest of the industry.

DiCaprio’s performance as Dalton is convincing and his suffering artist makes us feel for him. I will admit to being moved to tears when the child actor – Trudi (played exquisitely by Julia Butters ) leans over and tells a teary eyed Dalton that this is “the best acting I’ve ever seen.” Truth be told, Butters comes damn close to stealing the film from the entire cast. This is one young lady to keep an eye on.

Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is one to watch. Perhaps not at the cinema, streaming or DVD may just suffice as despite looking brilliant and providing a magnificent nostalgic treat, it left me, at the end of the film, feeling a tad disappointed.  However, it is an excellent example of Tarantino’s skill at hiding a genius move in plain sight. Like Inglourious Basterds he gives us a fictional version of an awful reality, one that equals, to a degree, a happy Hollywood ending. This then, is the ironic twist to Tarantino’s nostalgic Hollywood tale…

Captain Marvel – An Old White Critic’s View

Captain Marvel

Captain Marvel is well placed in the verse to help build up the ever increasing frenzy of anticipation for “Endgame” and if one old white film critic may be so bold, it is a fine addition to the ever increasing list of Mar-vell films on offer for fans of the comic universe to view. (And yes, this is one hell of a long sentence …) Starring Brie Larson as the title character/Carol Danvers with computer ‘air-brushed’ versions of Samuel L Jackson and Clark Gregg and a pretty decent cameo by Annette Bening, the film; a jointly directed effort by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, is a bit of enjoyable, female empowering, fun.

Jude Law, complete with yellow coloured eyes, does a brilliant turn as fellow Kree warrior Yon-Rogg and it is difficult not to fall in love with Brit actress Lashana Lynch character Maria Rambeau. This final piece of the ‘Endgame’ puzzle fits in nicely with everything leading up to the final battle of The Avengers v. Thanos and gives us a feel good factor of 100.

One does not have to be a Captain Marvel fan to appreciate this new and improved version of the superhero and if the viewer was not a Brie Larson fan going into this installment, it is almost guaranteed that they will be by the time the end credits, and the final teaser trailer roll.

One melancholic note was the opening montage of Stan Lee Marvel cameos that reminded us of the heart of Marvel’s passing. Later in the film, Stan is reading the Mallrats script – circa 1995 – a fact pointed out in other reviews, and it is a bittersweet moment indeed.

The plot is a tad convoluted, it has to be though as it is a necessary addition to the verse (film-wise) thus far and it ties everything in very nicely to the overall story-arc. But as a standalone film, Captain Marvel overachieves in terms of powerful female role models. Everyone of the feminine gender is strong and self actualized, even the baddy – Gemma Chan as the Kree warrior who ‘has never liked’ Marvel, aka Vers…

Marvel looks stunning, the film, not the character – although Larson is beyond impressive as the title character. The set pieces and the scenery, which is most likely CG but looks brilliant in spite of its computer origins, are gorgeous and the characters all step out smartly to add a lot to the existing story.

(It has to be pointed that “Endgame” intrudes through the entire film, one cannot help but overthink the entire installment and wonder just how, or when, the timeline will marry up with the whole Thanos storyline. It takes the time-travel theory and stands it on its head but also makes one wonder if this is even a factor when the cinema airs the latest installment of the Spiderman franchise trailer after he “dies’ in “Infinity War.”)

At two hours and three minutes the film does drag a bit at the start, but, and this is a big but, it is necessary to set up the main character’s personality and to show what a prig Jude Law’s character is. (Without revealing too much about the plot, it is sufficient to say that Yon-Rogg is an insufferable arse…)

Captain Marvel takes a lot of nods and winks, not least of which is Nick Fury’s “Marvel” line, and one can literally see a load of homages in the film. Groot-like death dealing by the cat is only one of the nods given to other films in the verse. It is all good fun and while there are some extemporaneous and downright slow bits in the film, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

This is a full five star addition to the Marvel-verse and one that must be seen prior to the final installment of Infinity Wars – aka Endgame. Check it out before April 26 and the big battle between our Marvel heroes and Thanos…