Tagged: film

Short documentary, Johny Midnight

Beautiful short documentary following Johny Midnight, a south London based artist, as he completes a painting, from start to finish, of Battersea Power Station.

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Johny’s gallery/studio is in Balham, south west London, gallerymidnight.com

Midnight from James Stittle on Vimeo.

Director: Andrew Grayshon
Cinematography: James Stittle, shot on Sony FS7 using Canon Lenses
Editor: Olli Abbott

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Film Review: The Girl on the Train

Casual film viewer Harry Casey-Woodward investigates the psychological thriller of The Girl on the Train, based on the bestselling novel.

The Girl on the Train, 2016, cert 15, dir Tate Taylor, 2/5

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Naturally a lot is expected of a cinematic adaptation of a popular book, especially when it’s released so hot on the heels of said book. There is the assumption that just because the book was a success, the film will be just as good. Unfortunately this is not often the case.

Before I talk about one of this year’s most hyped book adaptations, The Girl on the Train, I better admit that I have yet to read the novel by Paula Hawkins, so this isn’t going to be one of those reviews where I list point by point what the film gets wrong. Nevertheless there is one fact I learnt about the film that bothered me.

I was informed that the story has been transferred from the UK to Manhattan. Not only do I feel it a bit much to adapt a bestseller a year after publication, but it also feels like extra cashing-in for DreamWorks to Americanize the story for bigger US audiences. There’s no denying however that its dark story is gripping.

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Emily Blunt plays Rachel, the woman who likes to ride on trains. We gradually learn some unpleasant facts about her life, such as her alcoholism and her obsession with her ex-husband (Justin Theroux), his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson) and baby. One night their young neighbour Megan (Haley Bennett) goes missing and Rachel is terrified that she was somehow involved, but can’t remember due to a drink-induced blackout.

The film’s strongest feature is Emily Blunt, who gives a convincing portrayal of a woman on the constant verge of emotional and mental breakdown. This doesn’t mean she acts so mental that we don’t feel sorry for her, but when she does fly off the handle she’s genuinely scary. She is also a fascinating protagonist since we can never trust her view of the plot, for she has no firm grip on reality or even her memories.

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The remaining cast’s performances are also good, but they are too good-looking to be believable as ordinary people. This is where the Americanization of the plot rears its ugly head. I feel if the film had been made in the UK, it would have felt much grittier. Instead it has this slick sheen of beautiful actors and glamorous sets that makes it feel like an episode of some glossy US drama.

In fact the whole film, despite its fine performances and dark, occasionally moving story, feels like a formulaic thriller, which would be fine if there hadn’t been so much hype. As it is it feels underwhelming, a familiar helping of suburban strife and domestic depression. It’s a maze of twists, flashbacks and awkward sex scenes that tries to be some menacing film noir but cinematically lacked ‘oomph’. Blunt’s powerful performance deserves to be in a better film.

Film Review: Ava’s Possessions

Casual reviewer Harry Casey-Woodward reviews a new breed of exorcism film, Ava’s Possessions.

Ava’s Possessions, 2015, dir Jordan Galland, 4/5

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This movie answers the question: what does a person do after they’ve been possessed by a demon? The Last Exorcism Part II tried to give an answer in 2013, but its main character was some delicate flower who floated around, trying not to bother anyone. Ava’s Possession is the first exorcism film I’ve seen which shows a down-to-earth person struggling to piece back the nuts and bolts of her old life after a traumatic supernatural experience. It also has a sense of humour.

Apart from The Exorcist, I generally dislike films about demonic possession since they tend to be Exorcist rip-offs that take themselves far too seriously without any of the power of that classic pea-soup-spurting original. Ava’s Possessions is the first I’ve seen with an original and refreshing approach. It focuses more on the aftermath of an exorcism rather than on the event itself.

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The opening credits are interspersed with distorted shots from the point of view of a girl tied to a bed while a priest chants above her. The audience is forced to see the world through the eyes of someone possessed, which is quite creepy. The film opens with said priest sitting on the bed of said girl (named Ava, in case you hadn’t guessed and played by Louisa Krause), matter-of-factly informing her that he has saved her from a demon.

It doesn’t take long for Ava to discover that the possession has completely ruined her life. The actions she committed while possessed, including wild sexual behaviour and violent assaults, have driven away her friends, her boyfriend and even her family, none of whom seem very understanding or sympathetic. Even worse, the law is looking to prosecute her for her crimes, even though she can’t remember committing them. Her lawyer informs her that the charges can be dropped if she takes a possession therapy course.

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Her moustached therapist encourages her to seek out people she wronged while possessed and make amends, which will also help her realise everything she did. In the process however, she discovers evidence that suggests she committed crimes much worse than she can imagine. She is also troubled by weird, terrifying visions as the demon tries to return and there’s also a girl she befriends in therapy who is far too eager to be reunited with her own demon.

This tangled mystery is more like a neon-lit film noir than your typical exorcism movie. For one thing, rather than going for that muted Gothic look most horrors go for, Ava’s Possessions uses a lot of bright, trashy colours and stylised, disorientating shots to create a misleading, glamorous look. Also, as I’ve mentioned above, this movie thankfully focuses more on messy human relationships and frustrations, rather than on horror clichés or showing off the demon with bad CGI. Overall this is one of the coolest, sexiest and most blackly comic horrors you could see. While it may not be as gut-wrenching as The Exorcist, it maintains some degree of realism and still has the ability to chill.

Images from frightday.com, thehorrorhoneys.com and imdb.

Film Review: Jurassic Wars

Hobbyist reviewer Harry Casey-Wooodward enters B-movie heaven with this year’s attack of the pterosaursJurassic Wars.

Jurassic Wars/Terrordactyl, 2016, cert 15, dir Don Bitters & Geoff Reisner, 2/5 

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Horrors and monster movies are some of the few film genres that can get away with being bad. The popularity of such films as the Sharknado series is evidence of our generation’s continuing obsession with tasteless horrors, despite their terrible plots, terrible effects and terrible performances. In fact, it is all these terrible features that make these movies so appealing, so much so that I think some recent horrors are deliberately bad just to cash in on our guilty love for pulp trash. Admittedly, there’s few experiences in life more relaxing and enjoyable than kicking back with some mates to laugh and mock some bad horror, even if we’ve paid for it.

Jurassic Wars, originally known as Terrordactyl (perhaps they changed the title to cash in on some association with Jurassic World) is no exception. A cluster of meteorites (or meteors, I can’t remember which) land outside of Los Angeles. Two gardeners named Jonas and Lars (played by Jason Tobias and Christopher John Jennings) drive out into the night to find one of the space rocks and strike it rich. They take it back into town for bargirl Valerie (Bianca Haase) to offer her ‘expert’ opinion, since she admitted an interest in space rocks when Jonas was trying to hit on her.

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Unfortunately for them and the rest of the city, flocks of pterosaurs (winged reptiles that flew over the heads of dinosaurs, in case you weren’t sure) have swooped in with the meteors and, thanks to an odd lack of police and military presence, now blitz the city with lots of stabbing beaks and grabby claws. Think of the pterosaur attack scene in Jurassic World, except for the length of an entire film and with worse effects.

The pterosaurs themselves are rather badly animated and designed throughout the movie. Little consideration has been given regarding palaeontological accuracy, with most of the pterosaurs up close looking more like dragons, while in the distance I’m pretty sure some of the pterosaurs flying looked as static as toys.

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If you don’t want to watch this for accuracy, don’t watch it for gore either. There are a few bloody beak-stabbing scenes, but other scenes you’d expect to be messy are not shown, either for the power of suggestion or to cut down on the effects budget.

Of course, there’s no reason to watch this expecting a good movie. Watch this for impressively bad-looking monsters, plenty of action and enthusiastic actors armed with guns, flame throwers, homemade explosives and booze. The dialogue is entertaining at times, even if at others it tries too hard to be funny. Bargirl Valerie also turns out to be a kickass heroine, even if she falls for the old cliche of fancying the unlikely geeky hero.

Images from flixist.com, moviesmug.com and dailydead.com.

5 Best Tom Hanks Films

On the occasion of a new film starring the grand Tom Hanks, political comedy Hologram for a King, casual reviewer Harry Casey-Woodward has ranked his five greatest films (in his opinion). He always plays the dependable good guy in emotional dramas, yet he puts his sweat and soul into every role. Time to Hanks it up…

5. Philadelphia, 1993 

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Probably the saddest role Hanks has ever done and that’s saying a lot. It’s also his most topical: a gay lawyer who’s fired by his firm after they discover he has AIDS. Denzel Washington plays his defence in the resulting trial, who happens to be homophobic. To watch Denzel overcoming his prejudices and Hanks’s character succumb to AIDS while surrounded by his loved ones is truly touching. Better bring tissues.

4. Saving Private Ryan, 1998 

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Possibly one of his most reserved roles in one of his most intense films. Private Ryan somehow blended realistically brutal combat scenes with an unrealistic, patriotic plot, setting a template for hordes of WW2 films, shows and games. Hanks plays the squadron leader you’d want to be ordered around by, the strong and quiet Captain Miller who always keep his head under fire even while everyone else is literally losing theirs.

3. Road to Perdition, 2002 

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Based on a comic believe it or not, this may be one of the most original and gripping gangster epics you could see. Hanks plays a mobster whose son witnesses him killing someone. If that wasn’t traumatic enough, Hanks’s partner in the crime (a slimy pre-Bond Daniel Craig) attempts to tie up loose ends by slaughtering Hanks’s family. Hanks is forced to go on the run with his surviving son, teaching him how to drive cars and rob banks while being stalked by a creepy killer played by Jude Law, who has an unhealthy obsession with cameras and corpses. It’s a moving father/son relationship road movie, with guns.

2. The Green Mile, 1999 

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One of the jobs on Hank’s varied CV is prison guard on death row in the 1930s. In this adaptation of a Stephen King book directed by Frank Darabont (who also directed two other King adaptations, Shawshank Redemption and The Mist), a new prisoner is brought onto Hanks’s block, a huge black man in dungarees who’s scared of the dark but apparently murdered two girls. He’s also able to perform miracles of healing. The film is very black and white in its presentation of heroes and villains and it’s portrayal of race relations throws up interesting questions. But it never fails to be gripping and moving. This is definitely one of his most emotional roles.

1. Forrest Gump, 1994 

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French/American actress/director Julie Delpy says she hates this film and that it helped lead to the election of George Bush. While I can kind of see what she means, as this is one of those very sentimental and patriotic American films, the plot is still very varied and takes the audience through a maelstrom of emotions. Gump is celebrated as a simple Everyman who does a lot of great things, but he also experiences the dark side of America’s history in his Odyssey through the late twentieth century. It’s somehow still a naive but very grown-up movie. To me, this is Hanks’s most lovable role in one of the most lovable and inspiring films of all time.

Images from entertainmentfuse.com, baldmove.comrosiepowell2000.typepad.com, mentalfloss.com and forrestgump.com.

Film Review: The Revenant

Writer and hobbyist reviewer Harry Casey-Woodward reviews The Revenant, the Academy-award winning survival/revenge epic starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The Revenant, 2016, cert 15, dir Alejandro G. Inarritu, 4/5 

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I tend to avoid Leonardo DiCaprio films. Not because I don’t think he’s a good actor, but there’s something about him that puts me off; either his golden Hollywood looks or I just wasn’t interested in the films he picked. His firery role in Django Unchained, however, as the charming but unhinged villain Monsieur Candy surprised and entertained me. So when I heard he was taking the lead in another western-style film he certainly had my attention.

In The Revenant, he plays real life, big-bearded American frontiersman Hugh Glass. He and his half-Pawnee son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) have joined a band of trappers on a pelt-gathering expedition in some remote forests. After a savage attack by the natives, the survivors hike through the woods back to base camp. On the way, however, Glass is brutally mauled by a bear.

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When the men realise they can’t haul Glass’s paralysed body back to camp, Hawk, another boy named Bridger (Will Poulter) and a man named Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) agree to stay behind and take care of him in the woods. Fitzgerald, who has already proven himself to be a bit of a cad, stabs Hawk and persuades Bridger to leave Glass for dead; just so he can get back quickly and get paid. Glass, however, refuses to die and drags his mangled body across the frozen wastes thirsting for revenge.

The film may follow a traditional revenge western formula but the way it’s shot makes it a unique experience. I haven’t seen any of the director’s films, like Birdmanso I had no expectations of his style. The gritty violence of the film and its characters is contrasted with its beautiful shots and scenery. I don’t know how they managed it but most of the action was filmed in long, smooth tracking shots, often with a fisheye lens. Such striking filming gets over-used but it never fails to portray the sweeping majesty of the epic plot and scenery.

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The film never loses sight of its brutal realism though. The hunky Tom Hardy has been transformed into a selfish hillbilly rat who isn’t afraid to lie and kill for survival or money. DiCaprio obviously deserved his Oscar for his challenging performance, although I’m not sure if performance is the right word. Does putting yourself through hell for a film count as good acting or just dedication? When he’s not eating raw bison liver, he is good at being haunted and intense. But you could argue this film is two and a half hours of DiCaprio being cold, starving and suffering in general and of course being very serious about it. As gripping as this is, it might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

If I’m honest, though, I can’t think of any valid faults for this film. It’s an historical epic unlike any you’ve seen, a thrilling blend of old fashioned storytelling and striking filmmaking. It offers a bleak view of humanity, but somehow I didn’t feel greatly depressed by the end. This might have been due to a combination of awe-inspiring natural scenery and DiCaprio’s sheer bloody will to survive.

Images from foxmovies.com.

Film Review: The Danish Girl

Our resident film reviewer is writer Harry Casey-Woodward, who will be commenting on things he has watched.

The Danish Girl, 2016, cert 15, dir Tom Hooper, 3/5 

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Einer Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) and his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) are young painters living together in early 20th century Denmark, with their terrier Hvappe. Both are living in paint-soaked marital bliss, until one day Gerda asks Einer to pose as a woman for one of her portraits. The feel of women’s clothing on Einer’s body awakens something inside, something he has been repressing his whole life.

He indulges further in women’s fashion, at first as a joke between him and Gerda. But soon they both realise that another identity is struggling to break out of Einer: Lili, the woman he was meant to be. While Einer struggles with the conflict between his two personalities, Gerda is forced to watch the gradual fading of the man she loved, although this is tempered somewhat by her portraits of Lili winning her artistic success.

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I’m not in any doubt that I’ve seen a good film. How can it not be good, based on the true story of a transgender pioneer and the fact that its director and main star have each won Academy awards? It certainly reminded me of one of the director’s previous films, The King’s Speech. Both films are sensitive dramas based on true stories, focusing on characters struggling with issues that still affect our society. In the case of The King’s Speech, it was the physical handicap of his stammer while The Danish Girl is a woman trapped in a man’s body, wishing to live her true life in the face of social prejudice.

Yet I’m surprised to find I enjoyed The King’s Speech more than The Danish Girl. This feels weird since The Danish Girl is the more groundbreaking and emotional film. However The King’s Speech had certain aspects that gave it appeal, such as the Royal family being given a human treatment and Colin Firth being so suited for the humble but heroic character of George VI.

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In The Danish Girl, our main characters are beautiful, sexy artists who all seem to live surprisingly well despite just painting. So although they go through a great amount of emotional pain I just couldn’t find them relatable or realistic.

The fact that this film just used stock techniques and scenes I’ve seen in many serious dramas before also stunted its emotional impact. I think it’s important when analysing such an issue-driven film to step back from its subject and judge whether it’s good cinematically. Although this is an important film for depicting transgenderism, I wouldn’t say it offered anything revolutionary cinematically. It just felt like another over-dramatised, over-romanced true story film, or maybe I’m just biased against such films, not being a huge fan.

That aside, it’s the performances that make this film worth watching and its depiction of transgenderism so powerful and gut-wrenching. Vikander won an Academy award for her supporting role as Gerda, and she certainly gets our sympathies. However good she is at acting hurt and confused, Redmayne surely should have won something for fully throwing himself into the psychological torment of his character, so much so I worry if he doubts his own identity afterwards.

Images from the Telegraph.

The Five Best Cats in Film

Hobbyist reviewer Harry Casey-Woodward compares some of the fluffiest, scratchiest performances in cinematic history….

Cats have dominated our media- acting cute and idiotic before cameras was surely a key part of their world invasion plan, and nowhere have they been more amusing and beguiling than on film. So here is a short list of the best cats to claw, spit and hiss their way across our screens. Possibly an idea for an Academy Award category?

5. The alley cat swingers from AristoCats, 1970

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It might not be correct to feature animated cats but I couldn’t pass off the most feline of all family films. This classic has a gallery of colourful cat characters, but the most enjoyable are the controversially named ‘swingers’ or alley cats, musical squatters who play raucous swing music in abandoned Paris buildings. Their most famous ditty is about how every individual desires to attain feline status. They may be threatening to the mouse character, one of them is a racist Asian stereotype and who knows what street crime they indulge in to fund their catnip habits. But dang, do they know how to have a good time.

4. The Siamese twins in Lady and the Tramp, 1955

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A couple more Disney characters in one of the studio’s most bizarre and racist scenes. In this canine romance, a dog hating old matron takes over Lady’s house and leaves a basket in the lounge. Out of it slither a perfectly choreographed pair of head-bobbing Siamese cats singing in high pitched Asian accents. In typical feline fashion, they go on to cause as much trouble as they can find, with Lady frantically chasing after them. They even manage to frame her for their mess. As fiendish as these negative racial stereotypes are, their song is still damn catchy years after viewing.

3. Spiteful farm cat in Babe, 1995

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An actually villainous cat this time, rather than just comically evil and none get more evil than the fluffy farm cat in Babe. She scratches our porky hero’s nose simply for trying to make friends with her. She’s put outside in the rain by the angry farmer, but she slips back in and at first appears to be kinder to Babe. Then she lets slip that people eat pigs, causing him to run away from the farm. Not only is her behaviour viciously spiteful for no reason, it also feels horribly cat-like. Plus she sounds like she’s voiced by some psychotic grandmother.

2. Mr. Tinkles from Cats & Dogs, 2001

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Everyone knows the white fluffy cat essential for the lap of every spy villain. But what if the cat was the villain? The result is horror and hilarity, as the power-hungry white fluffball in Cats & Dogs finds the megalomaniac image he wants to build for himself somewhat spoilt by his name: something his adoring nanny never refrains from reminding him of. Nevertheless, it is funny and scary to see the villain’s lapcat making ridiculously genius plans for world domination. Let’s not forget his most adorable and deadly henchman, the Russian kitty. There’s something unnerving about an armed kitten with a thick Russian accent who can cough up dog poo.

1. Yzma from Emperor’s New Groove, 2000

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Is Yzma, the power-hungry bad-tempered crone from Disney’s Inca comedy The Emperor’s New Groove, one of the best Disney villains ever? She gets even better at the end of the film, when she literally gets a taste of her own medicine and is transformed into a cute, cuddly cat by one of her potions. Turning into a fluffball does nothing to affect her diabolical personality (although she is disgusted at her new squeaky voice). It does, however, make hilarious viewing.

Images from disneywiki, cinemacats, TNTforum, saygoodbyetoto, and ohmydisney.

Film review: The Homesman

Our resident film reviewer is writer Harry Casey-Woodward who will be sharing his opinions on things he has watched.

The Homesman, 2014, cert 15, dir. Tommy Lee Jones, 4/5

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In 1850s Nebraska, three farmers’ wives go insane. Not surprising when they’re stuck in the middle of nowhere surrounded by death. The local preacher (played by John Lithgow aka Lord Farquaad from Shrek) is wondering what to do with these women, since their husbands are either incapable of looking after them, or just plain abusive.

Enter Mary Bee Cuddy, an unmarried lady farmer played by Oscar winner Hilary Swank. She volunteers to round up the three madwomen and take them back East by covered wagon across the untamed plains of the Western frontier, to a minister’s wife in Ohio (Meryl Streep). Along the way she meets a man who calls himself George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), hanging from a tree for the crime of claim-jumping an abandoned farm. She agrees to save him in return for his assistance on her quest.

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This western stuck out at me for two reasons. For one thing, Tommy Lee Jones not only starred in but also directed this picture and I was intrigued to see what an actor with such a varied career (Men in Black, Natural Born Killers and No Country for Old Men to name a few classics) could bring to the directing table.

The second attractive aspect of The Homesman was its depiction of a subject never really covered by westerns: what to do with mentally ill women. The film’s depiction of madness is very sensitive and mature. The women’s behaviour is often child-like and animalistic, and there are some extreme scenes. But the actresses playing them (one of whom is Miranda Otto aka Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan from Lord of the Rings) put so much into their performances there’s no forgetting the humanity behind the empty staring and occasional screaming.

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The film’s focus is the growing relationship between the two carers, Mary Bee and George Briggs. At first they appear to be different people with different motivations. Cuddy has taken on the quest out of her goodness and courage, while Briggs claims he’s only interested in the $300 promised to him at the end. However, it becomes apparent that both are hiding their cares and vulnerabilities under hardened exteriors, and their difficult journey takes a heavy emotional toll on them both.

The Independent claimed this was ‘the best western since Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven‘. A lot of westerns since 1992 have been compared with this Oscar winning masterpiece, but I think so far Homesman is the one that deserves the mantle. Tarantino’s recent westerns may be more entertaining and striking, but The Homesman balances action and humour with a mature depiction of human relationships and historical attitudes to women and madness. Not only has Tommy Lee Jones given an entertaining, John Wayne-like performance as George Briggs, but he has also crafted a minimalist but powerful epic that deserves a place in the canon of western classics.

Images from pulpcurry and indiewire.

Film Review: What We Do in the Shadows

Our resident film reviewer is writer Harry Casey-Woodward who will be sharing his opinions on things he has watched…  

What We Do in the Shadows, 2014, cert 15, dir Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, 3/5 

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There are two things that bug me about the horror genre. One, vampires are sometimes taken too seriously and two, horror parodies are often overly crass. New Zealand horror comedy What We Do in the Shadows solves both issues.

One thing that attracted me to this film is that it was co-directed, co-written and starred New Zealand comic actor Jemaine Clement. You may have seen Jemaine in HBO comedy show Flight of the Conchords, in which he and fellow star Bret McKenzie played two struggling folk musicians trying to hit the big time in New York. I liked the show for its absurd, awkward humour and the hilarious songs which peppered each episode.

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In Shadows, Jemaine and some fellow New Zealand actors play some vampire mates who live in a flat in Wellington. There’s Viago (Taika Waititi, who also wrote and directed), an 18th century dandy who is the most civilised and foppish of the group, often holding house meeting to get his flatmates to do the dishes. There’s Deacon (Jonny Brugh), who fancies himself as a stud but just comes across as creepy. Jemaine plays Vladislav, a medieval vampire who is a shadow of his former tyrannical self. There’s also Petyr (Ben Fransham), an ancient Nosferatu-like creature who lives in the basement and hisses rather than speaks.

The film is a mockumentary, as this band of bloodsucking bachelors are being filmed by a documentary crew who wear crucifixes and the vampires have promised not to attack. The vampires are filmed getting into various misadventures. They hit the town and try to get invited into clubs. They order their servants to bring virgins to the flat. They make a decent attempt to include Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer), one of their recently changed victims and his human friend Stu (Stu Rotherford), who they end up liking more than Nick.

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I enjoyed watching this film more than I enjoyed Flight of the Conchords. I would even go so far to say as this would make a better TV show. As much I like Conchords, the jokes are mostly about being poor and single. Here, the humour is more creative as the vampire condition is hilariously and cleverly picked apart. The creators have managed to get great jokes from various aspects of vampire mythology. Their vampires are not tortured hunks, but creepy losers who are still painfully human.

While being a hoot from start to finish, the movie is also a good tribute to the horror genre. Not only are the costumes and sets suitably Gothic, but there are moments in the film that are quite horrific and even scary. There are two chase scenes in particular, one in the vampires’ house when they pursue Nick and another where they are chased around a park after antagonizing some werewolves. The use of hand-held camera in these scenes is more effective and unsettling than anything most serious horror mockumentaries have attempted with the technique.