Sunday 30 April 2023

Blood (2022)

This is basically a vampire film, wrapped up in a family drama from Brad Anderson, previously responsible for Transsiberian and The Machinist. It struggles with identity along the way, confusing itself and the audience to some degree, but turns out to be certainly very interesting.

The family is made up of two households - mum (Jess) and dad (Patrick) splitting up because mum had previously been a junkie (for reasons the film never really goes into) and dad having started a new life with the family Nanny (Shelly). There's a girl (Tyler) and boy (Owen) being passed back and forward within a framework of legal access times and days.

The details of that last paragraph could well have made a stand alone film, family drama, in-fighting, difficult lawyer/client meetings, courtroom decisions about custody and so forth. There really was enough to work it like that - without making it into something of a Let The Right One In clone! Which is pretty much where it ends up.

The active part of the story involving vampirism is that the family's lovely cuddly dog heads off into the woods surrounding the new house that mum and kids have moved into, has an apparently strange experience out there (possibly involving a knackered old tree in the middle of a dried-up lake) and comes back a day or two later looking like a Cujo style monster-dog! He bites Owen. The dog is battered to death by mum - and Owen, whisked off to hospital.

Turns out, you guessed it, that Owen is now only interested in consuming blood, warm blood, human blood - preferably from living people (as it's warmer, presumably). However, much like in Let The Right One In, mum (and eventually daughter) work out what's going on and help Owen (blood is thicker than water!) to ensure that he ongoingly gets what he craves and needs to stay alive. Mind you, unlike Let The Right One In, he doesn't seem to have much of a problem with being out in sunlight! And that's about the bones of it really as we follow the family drama, interspersed with scenes relating to the goal of the nuclear family and some of the grizzly stuff that goes on in order to maintain the supply.

Michelle Monaghan (Black Site, Mission: Impossible) plays Jess very convincingly and is clearly the talent on show. The two kids aren't far behind, Finlay Wotjak-Hissong (The Banana Splits Movie, Land) and Skylar Morgan Jones. Skeet Ulrich (Scream) as angry dad doesn't have much to do and less so again, Nanny Danika Frederick. It's clearly a half-decent production though, so no low-budget cheapo horror/thriller like the recent Humpty Dumpty and Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey horror outings! It has some bite(!) and makes for good viewing. Slows down here and there when dealing with the family drama bits, but soon picks up again and back into the thick of it.

It's got lots of inconsistencies in the story - for one thing, we never really find out about the tree and what the mystery is surrounding the origins of all this - and Jess, who is a nurse, gets involved in some very dubious practices at work in order to feed-the-need (perhaps displaying some of the previously not covered addictive/obsessive tendencies) but I won't spoil that eye-opening stuff here! But OK - it's a story! It's certainly not fun - I don't remember a single laugh from any of the characters in the whole runtime, getting on for two hours - more like dark and menacing, by intent at least.

The direction was good, cinematography engaging with lots of scenery shots in and above the woods, inside and out of buildings - good use of light and shadow to add creep and suspense here and there. It's certainly worth watching, especially for the three main performances. And don't switch off too quickly at the end as there's a post-credits final scene!

Saturday 22 April 2023

Gold (2022)

This is an interesting film focusing on survival-against-nature (human and otherwise) set in the outback of Australia somewhere (we think, right-hand drive truck, though accents seem to be American) in the near future. It's a two-man show, pretty much and one of the actors is also the writer/director, Anthony Hayes.

The story starts with an apparent drifter, looking for work, and finds it - but needs Anthony Hayes' character to get him there. A days-on-end drive in a beaten-up, just about working, truck is needed. The drifter is not interested in entering into any dialogue or friendship with the driver and the journey is hard work for both of them. It gets hotter and hotter, the air conditioning in the truck doesn't work properly and you can feel the arid atmosphere in the car, between them, and in the climate they have to endure.

When they make camp for the night, the driver, who seems to be more knowledgeable about survival in these conditions, warns about the wild dogs which will try to attack and eat humans (or anything that is alive), particularly during the night, if they are not vigilant. Fires are set while they sleep to keep the risk at bay.

Someway into the journey, whilst the driver is tinkering with the truck, our drifter finds a huge lump of yellow-looking metal in the ground. The driver confirms that it is, indeed, gold. They do a jig! The drifter won't need a job after all! Trouble is that it's so huge, they can't shift it out of the ground, try as they do by digging, dragging and using the truck's power to try and wrench it out. None of us know how big it is, but clearly it's huge.

They take stock of the situation and decide that one of them needs to stay there to 'guard' their treasure whilst the other goes and gets a digging machine to get it out. The driver says that he is used to these conditions, so he will stay. The drifter disagrees and so they swap roles. The driver goes off for the truck and the drifter stays on guard.

We stay with the drifter throughout the days it ends up taking the driver to get to where he needs to go, get the truck and come back. In the meantime, the drifter is running out of water, food and sandstorms wreck his encampment amongst other difficulties. A series of mini survival adventures. And so that's where the rest of the film is played out. Watching the drifter get sicker and drier and more dehydrated whilst he awaits the return of the driver and truck.

He is far too far from civilisation to change his mind and start off on foot - and even so, the driver assures him that he's coming (via a satellite phone he's left with the drifter). At one point he is approached by a travelling desert woman, or two, and works hard to refuse her help and not reveal the gold or it's location - with traumatic outcomes.

Zac Efron plays the drifter and as time goes on, he looks more and more battered by the climate, flies, dogs and the events which occur. He is made up to look dreadful, but presumably in keeping with how somebody in that situation would end up appearing. Most of the film is actually a one-man show and he pulls it off very well. He's engaging and convincing in what he has been asked to portray.

There are some twists and turns to enjoy in this very capable, if slow-burning (in more than one meaning) thriller. It is slow, with dialogue limited, in order to help the audience get a little feeling of how the experience was for him - so you need to be alright with that. There are tragic events and surprising outcomes with messages about trust, the darker side of human nature, greed (of course) and the price of taking risks with one's life for money. I thought it was well worth sticking with and ended up enjoying it very much. Recommended.

Monday 10 April 2023

Luck (2022)

This is a charming film from Skydance Animation (largely staffed by ex-Disney artists, it seems), perfect for kids and family entertainment with lovely animation, characters, voices and an interesting storyline. My only real complaint is that it's about 15 minutes too long.

It's a story about good luck and bad luck and how that is managed for humans by the creatures in charge of it over at the Land of Luck! Leprechauns, unicorns, dragons and many other beings do their best to ensure that the flow of luck, good and bad, gets to the humans on earth in order to keep the equilibrium.

Sam was an orphan and we join the tale as she faces her last day at the Home for Girls in New York and has to make her way in the world, now 18, with a new bedsit, job and learning schedule. She's unlucky. She never got assigned a Forever Family in all the years there and everything she does or touches, goes wrong! She's determined though that little orphan Hazel will not end up the same as her, so heads off to change her luck - and pass it onto her.

Which she seems to do by bumping into a talking black cat who floats around between earth and the Land of Luck! Sam finds a 'penny' on the ground and reels off the old saying 'find a penny, pick it up, all day long you'll have good luck'. Which then forms the infrastructure that the Land of Luck (kind of) works on! Anyway, she loses it - then has to rely on the black cat to get her to the Land of Luck in order to get another.

We then enter the middle of the film and stay there, mostly, as Sam tries to hide the fact that she's a human and passes herself off as a giant leprechaun from Latvia! The Land of Luck is a virtual machine, with all the cute creatures doing their bit towards the common goal - a bit like Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory or the Magical Workshop at the North Pole in Santa Claus: The Movie. You get the idea. So, the adventure begins, ducking and diving between good luck and bad luck, trying hard to do the right thing and rescuing each other from perilous situations and events. It's all good fun, but just goes on too long!

Sam is delightfully voiced by Eva Noblezada, Bob the cat by Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, The World's End, Guest House Paradiso) playing with accents, Babe the dragon by Jane Fonda (Barbarella, 9 to 5, Klute) and the Captain by Whoopy Goldberg (Ghost, Sister Act, Star Trek). They all do a fine job and add to the magic, fantasy and fun of the whole outing.

Those looking for a 'message' from the film won't have to think much - how luck influences our lives, how people can overcome not having it - or worse having the bad stuff - how, by maintaining a positive attitude you can overcome life's challenges, lucky or not, the importance of friendships and loyalty, altruism - and how we can rise above obstacles in our way, regardless. The usual 'Disney' kind of heart-warming, fluffy stuff you'd expect! It's a reasonable enough film, pretty well put together with, of course, an unfeasible storyline, but it's sure to charm the sock off little blighters on many Boxing Days to come, who will be glued to the screen.

Sunday 9 April 2023

The Vanishing (2018)

The mystery of the Flannan Isles is a fascinating one, as are most mysteries! Three lighthouse keepers, a century ago, disappeared. No explanation ever discovered, only clues as to what was left behind. Obviously, as there nobody left to tell the story, this drama is just that - a creation by story writers and chain of events that might have happened. I guess any one of us could cook up a story of our own on this basis, but here, I think, it's been done pretty well - making for an often tense thriller.

If you want to read the background to the actual incident, there's a deep-dive over at Wikipedia, well worth a visit. The writers here have made this one into a tale of greed, theft, regret, violence, revenge, mental illness and opportunity. The opportunity being that the three of them stumble over something very valuable which washes up ashore on their wind-swept, storm-battered rock. The initial negotiations between them are very much about what they are going to do about it, how they could keep it and not be uncovered, establishing the seniority and pecking-order between them for us. We've seen this before of course, in excellent films like Shallow Grave (1994), Fargo (1996), A Simple Plan (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007) and many more. The audience initially feels the euphoria of good fortune with the characters which often turns to reality orientation followed by anxiety, paranoia, mistrust and danger amongst friends in these films.

We get a brief background of the characters prior to the action and the first quarter of the film is rather slow because of that. Getting a feel for the isolation of the job, the people left behind for their 6-week stint and the financial strife that most families in the community endure, often not having enough to feed themselves. We find out about disasters and trauma in the lives of the three and how events have made them what they are - and where they have ended up.

Thomas, James and Donald are played admirably by Peter Mullan (Ozark, Tyrannosaur), Gerard Butler (Plane, Hunter Killer, Greenland) and Connor Swindells (Barbarians), each turning in convincing performances, stretching the actors for our benefit. Director Kristoffer Nyholm (Taboo) keeps things tight for most of the film with occasional forays into scenic appreciation - with a lovely isolated, atmospheric set - and everyday drama too. The middle section of the film is where the action happens and the introduction of a couple more characters, played with equal conviction by Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Entrapped) and Søren Malling (Men and Chicken).

These new characters bring trouble to our trio and we witness a series of unsavoury scenes in which much unpleasantness is dished out with shocking outcomes. These events lay the groundwork for the remaining quarter of the film as we observe first hand the impact on the people who remain. The bleak trauma of the events has a big impact on them all, with tragic consequences, bring the story writers' idea together - as to how the real-world mystery may have come about.

There were some clues left behind, some of which feature in the film and become weaved into the tale, but much meandering and freehand is also employed for dramatic effect. Still, this idea is as good as any and I really enjoyed this film, story and take on what really might have happened in amongst this mystery. Highly recommended.

Monday 3 April 2023

Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey (2023)

This low-budget thriller/horror is really quite a scream! It would be easy to criticise it and throw it straight into Flop of the Fortnight, but for what it is, it's a bit of a hoot. And what it is, is another of those Friday night, after the pub films, which everyone with a few beers in them will half-watch, then pay attention to the occasional nudity, gore and violence!

Don't get me wrong, the acting is terrible, the handheld camerawork lousy and the story is incredibly similar to the previously mentioned Curse of Humpty Dumpty 2 - in fact, I'm completely convinced that it's the same set, same forest location, same props and even same caravans! So much so, that I'm looking through for common actors or crew - and sure enough, half the cast is the same! They probably made them at the same time!

Anyway, back to the film and we get a 5 minute background summary animation to set up the plot - Christopher Robin has deeply offended Pooh, Eeyore (who gets eaten by the rest of them), Piglet and Rabbit by abandoning them having previously fed them in the forest (and they are starving). They seek revenge for this on any humans who happen along.

And guess what? Five 17 year-old teen girls happen along. They need to 'get away from it all' so plan a cabin holiday with no mobile phones allowed! And so the grizzly violence begins as one-by-one the teens, between some brief nudity and bikini titillation scenes, end up dead in all sorts of gory and bloody ways! Some of it is actually quite well imagined and executed - most of it not!

The creatures, at the outset agree never to talk again, so that saves them having to work out voices, though Piglet's squeal is hilarious! The costumes, not so, I'm afraid (just like Humpty Dumpty). All very silly and looking like pantomime (man in a suit with mask).

The message, if it needs one, is about broken promises. If you make a promise, keep it. If you don't, you'll get your comeuppance - and going by this, everyone around you! So yes, have a beer, fire it up and enjoy - for what it is! And good for them, making a fast-buck from very little. Probably a bunch of students!

Saturday 1 April 2023

PodHubUK Podcasts for the Month of March 2023

...a roundup of our month of podcasting. Links to the team, communities and podcast homes on the net at the foot, so scroll down!

Whatever Works
Episode 181 - The Sexagenarian!
Friday 3rd March
Aidan and I are back again to pound your eardrums with a probable potpourri of pentinculated planktitudes! Hope you enjoy our blend of claptrap again as we discover Whatever Works for us and you! Ninja kitchen gear, TikTok Vices going both ways(!), clever clocks, Otoscopes and much more! How could you miss the fun?!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 738 - Cracking Open a Fold
Saturday 4th March
Another two-header this week as Steve and I launch headlong into our first real look at a Samsung Galaxy Fold. I compare with my Flip3 whilst Steve compares too - his Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max with the Sony Xperia 1 Mk.IV. Loads of other stuff too, so do dive in!

Projector Room
Episode 133 - Living in Slumberland
Wednesday 8th March
Gareth, Allan and I are back again for our fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we take a Fall doing Jui Jitsu, visit Hangar 18 with Robert Vaughn, go to a screening at the Empire of Light and hang out Where the Spies Are! Plus loads more, as always!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 739 - Chipset Masterclass
Saturday 11th March
This week Steve and I welcome back the ever-popular Mike Warner, so we get all techy, nerdy and geeky with all sorts of under the bonnet goodies in mobile - cracking stuff. Plenty more too for mere mortals, as always! It's a bit long, so forget the coffee - make up a flask!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 12th March
Gareth and I are here again this weekend with yet another trail through tech! This time we look forward to new Pixels, reflect on MWC, think about the Razr and Rizr, go 2400nits, 300W Charging, learn more about PWAs, iSIMs and even CryoFlux! Loads more, as always, so do join us!

Whatever Works
Episode 182 - A Load of Balls!
Friday 17th March
Ailin' Aidan and I are back again with another of our fortnightly roundups of Whatever Works for us and you! This time we Inhale and Purify, go Boxing Bamboo, play Extreme Golf with Gareth and even have time to lust over Lanterns and Lights! Plus loads more as always!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 740 - A Z Fold4 for Mum?!
Saturday 18th March
Steve  and I are back with another weekly roundup of what we're up to with phones and related gear! This time we're joined by PSC first-timer Irfan Ali, hear about his path through mobile and what he uses now. I'm still transfixed by the Fold4 and Steve tinkers with the Flip4 too!

Projector Room
Episode 134 - The Last of Us
Thursday 23rd March
Gareth, Allan and I are back again to once more natter about all things film, cinema and TV. As Wiseguys, we screen Luther, are treated with Rutger Hauer, Flop out with a Nymph - and with more coming soon! Loads more as always, so do join us!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 25th March
Steve and I welcome back Ian Furlong of CoolSmartPhone to natter for an hour about what he's up to and trying out. Lots covered, heavily Samsung with Folds and Flips but also a sprinkling of Magic too!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 26th March
Gareth and I are back for another fortnightly roundup of stuff in tech that's caught our eyes. This time it's loads of Rugged Tablets, Retroid Gaming, aCropalypse confusion and one of us at least becomes a SuperFan! Loads more as always, so do join us.

Whatever Works
Episode 183 - Ping Aidan's Bell!
Thursday 30th March
Here we are again then, Aidan and I with a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down! Loads of stuff as always, from Tesco Robots to UFOs, Quad Locks to Time Projection, Contemplation to Grating with Good Grips and oodles more! Just come and dive in for an hour to cheer up your day.

Abigail (2024)

A bunch of lowly hoods are brought together in the typical nobody-knows-each-other style, not supposedly sharing anything about themselves, ...