Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Film Review: The Hate U Give (2018) ★★★★★

Amandla Stenberg and Algee Smith in The Hate U Give (2018)

Two teenagers in a car, discussing their shared past and a future that only one of them will get to see. They don’t know it yet but tonight everything will change when they are pulled over by a policeman and one of them is killed. This is the premise of Angie Thomas’s astonishing debut The Hate U Give which comes to the big screen this week care of 20th Century Fox.

Having read the novel and given it a five star review, I knew that the film wasn’t going to be easy to watch but was nevertheless unprepared for the emotional onslaught. This is a powerful film with superb performances and a damning indictment on poverty, underprivileged communities and drug culture.

Amandla Stenberg (The Hunger Games) plays Starr Carter, a young girl whose life is turned upside down when she witnesses the murder of her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith). It was interesting to see the portrayal of how Starr handles her two separate identities as a privileged student in a mostly white prep school and a Jordan-obsessed teen in a poor, mostly black neighbourhood. Director George Tillman Jr is already seeing wins and nominations for awards but I predict that Stenberg will soon see Best Actress nominations because she gave an Oscar-worthy performance.

Stenberg was supported by a strong cast, most notably Regina Hall and Russell Hornsby (Grimm) who played her parents Lisa and Maverick Carter. Lamar Johnson gave a standout performance as Starr’s half-brother Seven and I was delighted to see KJ Apa (Archie, Riverdale) in his role as Starr’s boyfriend Chris.

Amandla Stenberg and K.J. Apa in The Hate U Give (2018)

There was so much in the novel relating to the lives and personalities of the people around Starr and in the end, it was impossible that the film could have tackled all of that material. Nevertheless, the plot in the film doesn’t deviate too much from the book, except at the very end. One of the surprising aspects of Angie Thomas’s novel was how abruptly it ended and I can imagine that this wouldn’t have translated well to film. To this end, there is a scene featuring Starr’s brother Sekani (played by TJ Wright) which wasn’t in the book and there is an epilogue of sorts which was also new to the film. Ultimately, I think these deviations were necessary and helped the film in its resolution of the main themes.

The Hate U Give maintains the tone of Angie Thomas’s book and I am thrilled that it was brought to film by such a talented cast and crew. It is a challenging and difficult film and one that has remained in the forefront of my mind for days after viewing. One scene which stands out to me was where Starr’s uncle Carlos (Common) tries to explain what goes through the mind of a policeman during a traffic stop and the anxiety, fears and thoughts that go through their minds as they try to interpret the actions of those in the car. I appreciated the attempt to tell both sides of the story and as Algee Smith said in his interview with blackamericaweb.com, it is a real fear but “unfortunately when you’re Black, it’s just a bigger fear”.

I give The Hate U Give a superb five out of five stars and, like the book, recommend that absolutely everybody watch it.

★★★★★

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Sunday, 14 October 2018

A Frightfully Good Evening at Screamland, Margate

Screamland at Dreamland Margate

I learned something about myself last night; when I’m extremely nervous, I emit a high-pitched giggle and this does not go down well with other terrified people around me. And if you’re at Screamland, Margate on an October night, chances are you’re very, very scared indeed. Dreamland’s annual Halloween scare fest is back for the fourth year and it is bloody brilliant.

The Screamland ticket features entry seven scare mazes plus unlimited rides. We wanted to visit all seven mazes and made sure we were there at 6pm sharp. Our first maze was Screamland’s Sleep Experiment which featured a sleep deprivation experiment gone wrong in a psychiatric facility. This is where my insane giggling started and my only complaint was that we went through far too quickly. By the time we went through our second maze, we’d learned to take it slowly and savour the scares.

Festino’s Funhouse was up next and I thought this was one of the best designed mazes in terms of props and makeup. Just a warning, don’t go into this maze if you have a clown phobia; I love clowns and it creeped me out. The Upside Down was next, with a definite nod to Stranger Things and my so-called friend made me go first!

Screamland at Dreamland in Margate

After a stint on the rollercoaster where I exercised my scream function, we headed off to the Punch & Judy Horror Show. This was the maze I was least looking forward to but the size of the queue going in should have given me a clue. It was scary and I’m not sure I can ever watch a Punch and Judy show again; those puppets were disturbing!

Next up was the double maze, Dead & Breakfast which lead into the Tunnels of Terror. This was a nice, long maze and it definitely got the better of us. At one point I was screaming to Maria, “you need to move, there’s someone behind us!” to which she replied, equally fraught, “I can’t! He’s still in front of me!” I know this is a spoiler but we did survive, just, and soon emerged back into the park with a bunch of belly laughs.

Professional scare giver at Screamland in Dreamland Margate

By the time we entered the final maze, HMS Mary Decomposed, our adrenalin was at its peak. Based on the infamous passenger liner the Mary Rose, this maze had the disturbing feeling of being under water. I think I was coming undone by the end because it wasn’t the props or scares that got to me but the actor standing right behind me and chuckling into my neck. It really creeped me out!

Finishing off our visit, we revisited our childhoods and took in some more of the rides. My favourite was the Dreamcatcher, a kind of vertical carousel that felt like flying in the moments when I wasn’t convinced I was going to fall out of my seat and die.

Dreamcatcher Screamland in Dreamland Margate

We loved Screamland and I have to extend a very big thank you to the actors and professional scarers. Every one of them was horrible, disturbing and authentic, staying in character whether we were giggling at them or screaming and running away from them. Many people have asked me why we’d go to a Halloween festival at all but it’s in the laughs and the exhilaration. There were definitely scary moments but we spent the whole two-hour train journey home laughing about it.

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Sunday, 7 October 2018

TV Review: Doctor Who - The Woman Who Fell to Earth

Jodie Whittaker is Doctor Who

I feel like I’ve been the worst Doctor Who fan on Earth. In fact, I hadn’t property watched an episode since the one where Clara died and I just felt the writing for poor Peter Capaldi’s tenure as The Doctor was shoddy. That’s not me – the world used to grind to a halt when Doctor Who was on and for years I blogged about every episode. But we kind of broke up and that made me sad.

Despite that, I went into tonight’s episode with an open mind and I absolutely loved it.

What I Loved

I immediately fell in love with Jodie Whittaker as The Woman Who Fell to Earth. In a word, she is brilliant. She is funny and silly yet kind and just and everything a Doctor should be. I enjoyed her memory lapse and not quite knowing who she was but loved that moment when she finally remembered: for she is The Doctor. I also quite loved her Doctor Martens boots.

I’d very specifically kept away from any spoilers so only had a vague idea of who the companions might be. That was very cool because I got a nice big surprise at the end of the episode.

Yaz, Ryan, The Doctor, Graham and Grace

The Woman Who Fell to Earth was written by Chris Chibnall who has written four more episodes this season as well as several episodes of both Doctor Who and Torchwood. He was also notably the writer on Broadchurch so has worked with Jodie before. This makes me cautiously optimistic for the writing this season and I hope we have moved past the nonsensical and plotless stories of the Steven Moffat era. Disclosure: it is no secret that I hate Steven Moffat and in addition to Doctor Who, he made me break up with Sherlock too.

Whatever the case, I enjoyed this episode. It had a cohesive and interesting plot and a most satisfying outcome. I cannot wait for the next episode of The Doctor and her sonic Swiss Army Knife.

The Doctor in Her Workshop

As much as I loved the episode, my very best moment came in the closing credits. Segun Akinola’s new theme tune includes recordings of the original 1963 theme tune. His arrangement features the deep bassline of the 1963 original as well as bridge which modern versions often leave out. And it is that bridge that is my absolute favourite part of the theme.  

Verdict

So, does this mean that I’ll be reviewing every Doctor Who episode again? I doubt it. It’s a lot of work, especially for a Sunday night and I think I’d rather simply enjoy it. I might though, we’ll see. But most importantly is that I predict that I will enjoy it and I can feel myself falling in love with Doctor Who again.

Doctor Who returns with “The Ghost Monument” next Sunday evening, 14 October 2018 at 6.55pm on BBC One.

All images © BBC

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Sunday, 16 September 2018

Horror Film Review: The Toybox (2018) starring Mischa Barton ★★★★☆

Mischa Barton in The Toybox

Evil, like secrets, lurks beneath the surface, gone but never quite forgotten. All it takes is the turn of a key to unlock it all. Mischa Barton and Denise Richards star in The Toybox about how a family’s dream to travel across America in an RV becomes the embodiment of a nightmare.

Before his wife’s death, Charles made plans with her to take their estranged family on a trip across America that she knew she’d never make. Now that she is gone, Charles has finally bought an RV and is making that trip. He is joined by his sons Steven and Jay, Steve’s wife Jennifer (Denise Richards) and daughter Olivia and the family dog.

Tensions are high, this is a family with a past and no one quite trusts anyone else. Suddenly, Charles is slowing down to stop at a broken down car where he picks up siblings Samantha (Mischa Barton) and Mark.

The Toybox (2018)

All they need to do is make it to the next town to drop Samantha and Mark off, before they continue on the family trip of a lifetime. But what evil resides in the cracks and tears of the RV, waiting to surface and destroy the lives of its passengers? After taking a detour into the desert, the group soon finds themselves at the mercy of the elements and in increasing peril from the evil that lies beneath.

The Toybox is good and is a mobile take on a classic haunting story. The scares are plentiful as are moments gory and grim. It was interesting to see the characters cross into awareness of their situation and become divided between those who’d seen enough horror films to know that this couldn’t possibly be a haunting and those who absolutely recognised that it was.

The film is buoyed by good performances all round. I especially enjoyed Mischa Barton’s performance as the independent and sassy Samantha, who for most of the film was the only competent adult on the RV. Barton really can act and I’m glad to see that she had a greater role in this film than The Basement which I reviewed last week. Special mention must also go to Jeff Denton and Brian Nagel, who star as brothers Steven and Jay in the film. Denton was especially good as Steven began to unravel towards the end of the film.

Brian Nagel and Greg Violand in The Toybox

My only complaint about The Toybox was the very last scene. Given the drama in the penultimate scene, I expected a different outcome and would have much preferred that. Still, you can’t always get what you want with films of this nature.

The Toybox is an independent film directed by Tom Nagel who also wrote the story along with Jeff Denton, Brian Nagel and Jeff Miller. It won three awards at the 2018 Northeast Film Festival for independent films with best director for Tom Nagel and best actor / actress for Jeff Denton and Mischa Barton respectively.

The Toybox is one hell of a ride and I give it four out of five stars. I'd recommend it to fans of independent horror.

★★★★☆

The Toybox will be available nationwide September 18th on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD, including Amazon Instant, iTunes, iN DEMAND, DirecTV, Comcast, Optimum, Dish, Google Play and more.

_ToyBox 3D Cover   Disc





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