31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dream Home”

The body count isn't an exaggeration...
The body count isn’t an exaggeration…

Buying a house can be murder.

We’ve all been there, even before the global financial meltdown made the idea of owning your home something akin to science fiction for many people.  In Pang Ho-Cheung’s satirical horror movie, “Dream Home”, Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho) endures hardships and horrors which would dissuade most people from pursuing their dream of owning an upscale apartment with a view of Hong Kong’s harbour.

Cheng works two jobs and cares for an ailing father, having saved relentlessly since her youth to afford a flat which would give her family a better standard of living.   She has a loveless affair with a wealthy married guy and has friends who are so resigned to renting rather than buying in one of the world’s most populous and expensive cities that they’d sooner blow their cash on lavish trips to Tokyo than save for a deposit.

Our anti-heroine’s tale of property-induced madness is told in a non-linear style, with the present of 2007 juxtaposed with episodes from Cheng’s youth which show us roughly how she came to be the hammer-wielding, single-minded one-woman harbinger of death we see on screen.

And here we get to one of the issues with the movie – and it’s a biggie.  Whilst the privations and suffering which Cheng undergoes are numerous, they still seem out of proportion to the level of bludgeoning violence she metes out to the inhabitants of the apartment building she visits.  One killing – of a pregnant woman – is so particularly vile that it unbalances the film and could be a deal-breaker for some viewers.  You might say that it was for me, as it became impossible to sympathise with Cheng after this point.

Nonetheless, I watched the whole film and found “Dream Home” a confused movie.  The tone ramps between syrupy, sepia-coloured memoir, acid-tongued economic satire and bloody slasher black comedy without ever sticking the landing.  We get one particularly gruesome bloodbath in a hipster flat where a character has their intestines abruptly removed and sits enjoying a calming cigarette as friends and a pair of hookers are messily dispatched.

I get the sense that this film was swinging for the kind of horrific intensity and jet-black humour of “American Psycho”, blending commentary on the banal cruelties of climbing the career and social ladder with the over the top carnage of a prime 1980’s slasher flick (albeit with a Final Girl who’s also the murderous villain).  That’s all very well, but the literal blood & guts on display seem to override everything, becoming the focus.  And our leading character Cheng feels like a sketch, rather than a fully-realised protagonist.

I can’t say that I enjoyed “Dream Home” at all.  Gore in place of plot, a cast of mostly detestable knife fodder and satirical underpinnings which seem like an afterthought – none of these factors add up to a compelling film for me. The final moments of the movie, which seem to offer a comeuppance for our anti-heroine, come rather too late and seem like an attempt to provide a rap across the knuckles for somebody who deserves somewhat more punishment for her crimes.

 

 

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria:”Cold Prey: Resurrection”

She's back and she's brought a friend...
She’s back and she’s brought a friend…

Life has a funny way of messing with your plans, and this weekend was no exception.

My steady progress of watching a horror flick a day during October went awry on Friday when my Mum was taken ill. What with one thing and another,  it took me until Monday the 20th to get back on the scary wagon, unless you count watching the “Strictly Come Dancing” results with Mrs Rolling Eyeballs as suitable horror fodder.

With a semblance of normality restored, I sat down to watch the sequel to “Cold Prey” – “Cold Prey – Resurrection”.  Following a model established by “Halloween 2”, this follow-up to the 2006 fright-fest is set almost entirely in a due-to-close hospital.  Jannicke (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is brought there after being found wandering in the snow, having killed the backwoods mountain man who murdered her friends in the first movie.  Traumatised by her experiences, she’s horrified to learn that police have recovered the bodies of her friends and the killer, who awakes in the hospital determined to finish what he started.

“Cold Prey” wasn’t a horror film which reinvented the genre, but it showed a commendable commitment to establishing character and location, a trait which this sequel also displays.  It’s at least half-an-hour before the mayhem truly begins, with the stories of the hospital staff, patients and local police force all having moments of character development before the Mountain Man rises from his slumber and stalks the corridors anew.

The second movie in the series – a prequel, “Fritt Vilt 3”, came out in 2010 – builds on the strong points of the first film and concentrates on delivering a series of tense set-pieces.  There’s a particularly effective police breach sequence in which the characters actually behave like sensible rational people (before getting diced six ways to Sunday).  If you’ve ever shouted at the screen whilst watching a horror flick, wondering why people going into the big scary house don’t wait for back-up, then this film will satisfy your desire for protagonists with two brain cells to rub together.

That said, there are certain inescapable tenets which the slasher sub-genre has to adhere to and the climactic showdown in “Cold Prey 2” is no exception.  Having spent the majority of the running time in civilisation, the end of the film sees the villain and our heroines – we get two Final Girls this time, Jannicke and hospital doctor Camilla (Marthe Snorresdottir Rovik) – hopping on a snowmobile and tracking the Mountain Man back to his remote hotel lair to finally vanquish their warmly-clad foe.

As a sequel, “Cold Prey 2” does a decent job of providing a briskly delivered cocktail of scares and thrills, also finding time to pencil in some of the back story hinted at by the first instalment.  Fans of Nordic Noir might even enjoy the sequence where the local chief of police pieces together how come so many skiers and snowboarders seem to disappear in the mountains – I thought that I was watching a cop procedural drama for a couple of minutes.

Overall, this is a satisfying horror movie, albeit one which seemed to ramp up the violence and gore in a way that the original movie didn’t seem to feel was necessary.  If that’s a turn-off, please feel forewarned, but don’t miss out on a decent example of the modern European horror thriller.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria: “Dawn of the Dead” (2004)

Black Friday 2014
Black Friday 2014

2004 saw two contemporary zombie movies released which owed a great debt to George A. Romero’s pioneering trilogy of undead horrors.  This is the other one.

Whilst “Shaun of the Dead” won over audiences across the globe with it’s witty take on a zombie apocalypse in suburban London, Zack Snyder’s directorial debut “Dawn of the Dead” is now more a footnote to his career as an A-list director of “300”, “Watchmen”, “Sucker Punch”, “Man of Steel” and the 19 DC Comics adaptations he’s currently linked to.

Snyder’s movie sets out its stall from the get-go with nurse Ana (Sarah Polley) having a crap day at work before the world as she knows it ends.  After surviving an attack by her freshly zombiefied husband, Ana barely escapes an apocalyptic sub-division in her car before being run off the road and careening into a tree.  All this mayhem occurs before the titles kick in with a perfectly chosen Johnny Cash song  soundtracking  the end times.

Finding fellow survivors and temporary respite from the undead in a shopping mall, Ana’s group find themselves imprisoned when the Mall’s rent-a-cops start playing God and enforcing  compliance from behind a pistol.  The power struggle continues throughout the rest of the movie, with a makeshift society within the mall constantly threatened by infected newcomers and the surging horde outside.

Whereas Romero uses action in his movies, it clearly isn’t his focus.  Snyder, by contrast, is all in.  This is at least as much an edge-of-the-seat action movie as a horror film, with the scale of the set pieces elevated in accordance with the vastly increased, studio-backed budget of this version.

Snyder’s zombies are not the shuffling, tireless ghouls of Romero’s version but are sprinting, feral, and utterly lethal predators.  The tone of the film reminded me back in 2004 of James Cameron’s “Aliens”, and a decade has done little to change that view.

Whilst the film is undoubtedly a thrill ride, I do miss the underpinning sociological concerns of Romero’s film – where his zombies gravitated to the mall as it represented some kind of still extant collective memory from a time before the fall of mankind, Snyder’s zombies seem to treat the place as an all-you-can-kill buffet.

We might reasonably have expected a sequel to have followed by now, as this was quite the global hit, but Snyder’s skyrocketing career killed any chance of him returning to this material. A planned sequel was quietly shelved – perhaps sensibly, as studios wouldn’t touch an R-rated movie on this scale in these times of austere, micro-budgeted possession/paranormal PG-13 horror fare.

Snyder’s cast is more than solid, with the always excellent Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames and Jake Weber registering particularly in the leads – a pre-“Modern Family” Ty Burrell is also good value as an eminently slappable rich guy and Mekhi Phifer is particularly tragic as a petty criminal and expectant father.

A muscular, loud, brash blockbuster with many of Snyder’s stylistic touchstones – slo-mo violence, graphic sex and underpinning nihilism – present and correct, “Dawn of the Dead” isn’t particularly frightening but it is a gripping and expertly staged film.

It’s best described as a cover version of a classic horror movie, content to do it’s own thing.  Just be glad that Michael Bay didn’t get his mitts on it.

 

31 Days of Halloween Hysteria – “30 Days of Night”

Out for a night bite...
Out for a night bite…

So, Halloween, eh?  The season of pumpkin-flavoured everything and dubious costumes returns anew and gives me ample excuse to watch a month-long festival of fright-based flicks on your behalf.

Everybody wins, I guess?  Except for Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, that is, who doesn’t do horror, despite being an avid viewer of “Grimm”, “Fringe” and other telefantasy shows which dabble in things that go bump in the midnight hour.

Our first example of horrific entertainment this October is “30 Days of Night” (2007), adapted from Steve Niles’ grisly comic.  It concerns a plague of feral, ancient vampires laying siege to the snowy, isolated Alaskan town of Barrow, where the sun never rises for the titular period each year.

“30 Days” is a classic, almost Western-like tale of law-enforcement folk and assorted survivors joining forces to ward off evil whilst struggling to prevent internal discord from letting the bad guys in.  Josh Hartnett stars as fresh-faced sheriff Eben Oleson whilst Danny Huston plays the alpha bloodsucker Marlow, whose ferocity is only matched by his intelligence.

These are not your romantic vampires of the Lestat/Edward Cullen school – they’re more akin to vicious apex predators, using the geography of the town to hunt, grab prey and then return to the shadows to feed.  Equally, the accepted touchstones of fiction are almost wholly ineffective – wooden stakes don’t work, garlic is a bust and even dismemberment provides only temporary respite from the fangs of the un-dead.

As the film draws to a climax, it seems that there’s little which can stop Marlow’s powerful horde from doing their grisly work unless the survivors are prepared to make an ultimate sacrifice to prevent the spread of this virulent vampiric cabal.

Director David Slade’s film is at it’s best when it shows the hopelessness besetting Barrow’s townsfolk – there’s a wonderful overhead shot from the air which follows the vampires cutting a bloody swathe through main street and overrunning the unprepared civilians.  It’s an operatic moment which is never quite matched by the rest of the movie, which is more contained and content to focus in on the cabin fever which besets the ever-dwindling populace as the month draws on.

That’s not to say that it’s bad – rather that this is a horror movie with most of the sharp edges left on:  Heroism goes unrewarded and a happy ending is conspicuous by it’s absence.

The best performances come from the dark side of course – Danny Huston is a fantastic antagonist, giving Marlow an aristocratic, old-world air, as though this vampire has lived for centuries and spilt more blood than he knows what to do with.  He is matched on the creep scale by Ben Foster, wholly memorable as the mysterious newcomer to Barrow whose arrival is a cue for very bad things to start happening.

If your October fancy is for night-crawlers and be-fanged horrors of the darkest kind, the pervasive dread and desperation of “30 Days of Night” is hard not to recommend.

 

 

A Grand Tour

Since last we spoke, my fair city was besieged by a bizarre two-wheeled circus.

The Tour De France comes to Sheffield
The Tour De France comes to Sheffield

Yes, the Tour De France had its Grand Depart from Leeds on Saturday, sped towards Harrogate and then sailed forth from dear old York before fetching up in that most hearty and joyful of cities, Sheffield, on Sunday afternoon.

Never ones to miss the up-close thrill of city cycle racing in our proverbial backyard, crafty cycling nerd Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and your humble scribe set out on Sunday 6 July, picnic in tow,  to behold the greatest cycle race on earth.

Rather than risk a journey out to the World’s Most Terrifying Cycle Climb on Jenkin Road (cheers, hypebolic ITV 4 folks), Mrs Rolling Eyeballs decided that we would be best situated by going to the Fan Park at Don Valley Bowl and watching the start of the race on the big screen.

The City’s transport high-ups had gone all in, ferrying fans, families and the vaguely interested to points along the route, with a plethora of extra trams laid on.  I’ve never seen trams as busy as they were on Sunday – even at 10:00am, it was standing room only, with giddy Heeley, Gleadless and Manor folk piling in together and heading for the big race.

Alighting at the Bowl, Mrs Rolling Eyeballs and I found a comfy deckchair in the middle of the bowl and took in the scene around us:

When do the crowds get here?
When do the crowds get here?

At the risk of stating the obvious – that isn’t me and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs – but those were lovely, comfy deckchairs and no mistake.

Later on, as the Tour hurtled across South Yorkshire towards us, things got a bit busier:

People!  Where did they come from?
People! Where did they come from?

Going to the Fan Zone was like going to a really big park on a warm summer day and finding it full of your neighbours, who all want to watch the world’s greatest two-wheeled tyros (minus an incapacitated Mark Cavendish) duke it out with the biggest hills and dales that Yorkshire had to offer.   As once-in-a-lifetime events go, it was without peer.

Watching the action on a screen wasn’t going to be enough for Mrs Rolling Eyeballs – she had plotted a suitable place on route for us to behold the Tour up close and personal-like.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ever-so-slightly dizzying sight of Chris Froome belting past you at 50 KPH:

Yep, that blurry blue-and-black figure is possibly Chris Froome...
Yep, that blurry blue-and-black figure is possibly Chris Froome…

Should you find yourself given the opportunity to take in the greatest bike spectacle of all, I highly recommend doing so.  A Tour stage doesn’t just go through your city – it takes over, galvanizes the populace into engaging with it and leaves you breathless and slightly stunned in its wake.

I've just finished a race and you want me to ride a bike again?
I’ve just finished a race and you want me to ride a bike again?

There’s the circus of promotional vehicles, tour cars, Gendarmerie on fast motorbikes and miniature village support vehicles parked up by the finish line.  The breathless commentaries on local radio stations as the racers fly ever nearer and speed through neighbourhoods which become somehow more exotic as they are juxtaposed with the glamour of the grand race.

I loved it for what it was – a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

 

Where was I?

Misty Mountain Hop
Misty Mountain Hop

It’s a long story, the woeful tale of my continued absence from the interwebs.

A narrative of no small import could very well be woven from these events, were I of a mind to do so and were you, as a reader, keen enough to read of them.

Suffice is to say that my not posting updates during the last few months is firmly the result of every blogger’s enemy, that foul villain, Real Life – a foe sometimes best ignored.

To normal business, then?  Very well.

 

Me Made May 2013 – Local Man Wears Shirt, Looks Shifty…

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Oddly enough, I’ve never modelled…

Never underestimate the influence of your better half.

Mrs Rolling Eyeballs – for it is her work – has enlisted my help in spreading awareness of Me Made May (Yes, it’s the fifth month of the year already.  Let’s try not to think about what this means for the increasing flow of sand cascading remorselessly through our personal egg timers and beckoning ever closer the dread fingers of Death…).

Mrs RE has been taking part in this celebration of upcycling, clothes fabrication and fashion-based frugality for a few years now and has been decent enough to make me clothes and accessories of a hand-made and artisan nature, so it seems only fair that I do my bit to show that you don’t have to buy expensive brand names and stoke the fires of globalisation.

Henceforth, for one month only, please expect a smattering of pictures of your humble blogger looking awkward and wondering why the camera appears to add not only ten pounds but a whole mess of existential angst to boot…

The garment depicted above is a baseball-style jersey, which comes replete with bespoke tag at the collar and is superbly comfy.  There’s also lovely sewing details at the collar and cuffs which adds subtle visual interest.  I really do like it – and you’ll be seeing similar entries rendered into being by my wife’s DIY sewing talents in posts to be named later…

Hagrid’s Holiday

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Hagrid, being the considerate Doggie lad that he is, has just taken us on holiday to the Isle of Arran – which has led to a disagreeable downturn in blog productivity of late.  Many apologies, but the perambulatory requirements of a splendid Saluki/Standard Poodle mix must be taken seriously, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As you can see from the image above, he was very taken with Scotland, this being his first visit since coming to live with us last Spring.   Lots of beaches, very few other dogs out for walks at the same time as him and weather which was mostly on our side – what canine could ask for more?

Hagrid and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs on Kildonan Beach, Isle of Arran, February 2013
Hagrid and Mrs Rolling Eyeballs on Kildonan Beach, Isle of Arran, February 2013

He was very taken with the scampering opportunities offered by the likes of Kildonan beach, Sannox and Blackwaterfoot Beach on Arran – as any doggie of distinction and taste would be.  If your dog likes to stretch their legs and go for a good old run, Arran is a fine place to consider for their next family break – if they are sufficiently generous, they might even allow you to tag along.

Word to the wise - if Hagrid is running like this at you, getting out of the way is a given...
Word to the wise – if Hagrid is running like this at you, getting out of the way is a given…

It was a particularly lovely holiday, especially as living in a city doesn’t allow you to let a big dog like Mr H. off his lead every day – particularly as some of his more challenging behaviour traits mean that he’s on a lead for the vast majority of his time.  It’s inspired us to be braver with him and find places local to us where he can have a run and stretch out his paws to the fullest of their capabilities, as well as investigating dog-appeasing pheramone collars to see if they can stop some of his overly reactive behaviour to every dog he sees.

Wish us luck, won’t you?

Rogue Failure. Or ‘How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love the Paragon’

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I am not and never have been a rebel.  In life, as in gaming, I tend to follow a path of general decency and behaving unto others as I would wish for them to treat me – it isn’t cool, it rarely yields great rewards and marks you out to others in the world as being even more of a nerd than they expect you to be.  Thankless existence, unto eternity?  You said it.

I am, dear reader, a Paragon, a Paladin, a White Hat – and I’m ok with it.

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My current favourite gaming experience, the omnipresent “Kingdoms of Amalur”, gives me the chance to play as a rogue class ranged fighter and what I’ve discovered from my now 52 hours of game play is that I’m absolutely useless when given the choice to exercise bad behaviour in games.  ‘Amalur’, for example, gives your levelled-up Rogue class the chance to use your stealth ability to sneak up on adversary and ally alike and either shank them assassin style or simply pickpocket them for nifty loot.

Curiously, I find it more morally acceptable and preferable to sneak up on humanoid aggressors and slice them six ways to Sunday than to go creeping around the game world and cut purses or rifle through wallets – how’s that for a bizarre reaction to choices that a game designer provides you with?   I’d like to think that it doesn’t prove that I’m a sociopath-in-waiting but it does give you pause.

It’s this odd disconnect between real world personal conviction and the options inherent in a video game environment  which has kept me from playing sandbox gangster titles like “Saints Row”, “Mafia” and the grand-daddy of them all, “Grand Theft Auto”.  If I can’t envisage ever wanting to be the characters or inhabiting their world, there’s no way that I’m going to play the title – it’s probably a Boy Scout reaction to the criminal anti-hero archetype but there you go.

That’s not to say that I require characters in-game to be Peter Pureheart and impossibly, impractically noble as that option offers as much of a game-breaking flaw as glitch code or poor design decisions but I don’t want to play games where the protagonist’s raison etre is slaying innocent bystanders and arbitrarily causing car crashes.  It’s just not how I’m wired, folks.

I suppose the point that I’m grasping towards is that I like being offered choice about what I do in games – perhaps I should make 2013 the year that I start to take advantage of those choices and see where they take me in games?

Hagrid’s Feeling For Snow…

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We took Hagrid for a walk in the overnight snow which blanketed the UK on Monday morning – he wasn’t that keen, you’ll be surprised to learn.

Sure, he pads about in the curious white carpet which has unceremoniously deposed his normal pavements and parkland, and he has a sniff about, but he’s just not that into it.

Where are the smells?  And why do his paws not have as much traction as normal?  What’s this cold stuff on the end of his nose?  And why is it drastically reducing my daily walks from two to one longish one?  So many canine questions, so very few answers…