Sunday, 27 September 2020

The Must-See Film This Autumn: David Mclean's Schemers (2020) ★★★★★

It's been a long, long wait to see David Mclean's Schemers. Originally set for release in May 2020, the world turned upside down and we had to wait for cinemas to reopen again before we could see this gem of a film. Set in Dundee in the early 1980s, Schemers is the true story of the set of very ambitious gigs that Davie (Conor Berry) and his friends put on that nearly cost them everything. The list of bands is eye-watering, featuring some I've seen (Simple Minds, front row, Glastonbury 1995), some I would love to see (The Specials) and some that were heartbreakingly before my time (Thin Lizzy and Ultravox, "Whiskey in the Jar" and "Vienna" were two of my earliest musical loves).

Schemers (2020) | Conor Berry is Davie Mclean | Independent Film Review

It seems obvious from the beginning that Davie and his friends are in over their heads. Hailing from the council schemes, Davie knows university isn't for him but decides to try impress his trainee-nurse girlfriend Shona (Tara Lee) by putting on a disco. (Note: you have not lived until you've heard the word 'disco' uttered in a Dundonian accent).

Schemers beautifully captures the chaotic atmosphere of the early 80s music scene. As the film progresses, it becomes increasingly surprising that Davie, Scot (Sean Connor) and John (Grant Robert Keenan) stayed alive, never mind able-bodied, because the stunts they pulled off were astonishing. One less stroke of impossibly good fortune could have resulted in a very different outcome for the lads and the stakes are higher than ever when they secure an Iron Maiden gig at Caird Hall, Dundee.

Schemers (2020) | Conor Berry is Davie Mclean | Independent Film Review

I'm not going to spoil it for you - although I'm dying to talk to someone about how a series of monumental blunders somehow synergised into that night at Caird Hall - but if you loved rock music in the late 70s and 80s, chances are you're going to love Schemers. The film won the Audience Award at Edinburgh Film Festival and both Best Director & Best Actor at the New York Winter Film Awards. I can see why, shot in Dundee and featuring local talent, Schemers features fantastic performances all round.

David Mclean worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry including Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam and Green Day before going on to manage Placebo. He's a true rock 'n' roll superhero and Schemers is his origin story.

Schemers (2020) | Conor Berry is Davie Mclean | Independent Film Review

I give Schemers a superb five out of five stars. If you love indie music or Trainspotting, you'll love this.

★★★★★

Schemers (2020) Trailer

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Sunday, 23 August 2020

TV Review: NOS4A2 - "Bats" (Season 2 finale)

The final episode of NOS4A2's second season is here. The events in "Bats" take us to the end of Joe Hill's novel, with a few notable differences, some of which you may have already picked up in previous episodes.

I was very wary of whether the season was going to finish the story or whether we were simply going to be set up for another season. I’m very happy with how this episode played out but it will be impossible to discuss further without divulging spoilers. I’m therefore going to split the post into spoiler-free and spoiler-heavy sections.

Spoiler-Free: NOS4A2’s Second Season Rocked

NOS4A2 - Bats - Jahkara Smith is Maggie Leigh and Ashleigh Cummings is Vic McQueen

Building on the false victories of season one, NOS4A2’s second season has been strong throughout. Characters such as Chris and Linda McQueen (Eben Moss-Bachrach and Virginia Kull) showed great character development, moving on from being abusive, alcoholic teen parents to being towers of strength when Vic needed them most.

A common theme in this season was generational grief, pain and anger and the possibility of redemption. The McQueen family had a heavy burden to bear but each of them showed that you can both escape and build upon your past.

For her part, Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) struggled with her demons, going on to repeat many of her parents’ mistakes as she fought to come to terms with the trauma that Charlie Manx has created. The one major change was the birth of her son Wayne McQueen (Jason David) and her determination to protect him from Manx.

Much time was spent this season on the origin of Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto). Have no fear, it didn’t make anyone dislike him any less but it did introduce some interesting characters to the show, most notably his wife Cassie Manx (Celeste Arias).

In a deeply moving and emotional season, two beacons of light were the love Lou Carmody (Jonathan Langdon) had for Vic and Wayne as well as the love between Maggie Leigh (Jahkara Smith) and Agent Tabitha Hutter (Ashley Romans).

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here: Significant Spoilers Ahead

NOS4A2 - Bats - Jahkara Smith is Maggie Leigh

Seriously, if you somehow missed the spoiler warning above, the next section is absolutely drenched in spoilers, partly because I really need to speak about the events in “Bats” and partly in the hope that there will be a third season of NOS4A2 and we’ll want a season 2 recap.

The situation is pretty dire in Christmasland. It may very well be too late for Wayne who is rapidly succumbing to the dark side and stabbed Vic with a pair of scissors and Maggie Leigh is seriously wounded after her encounter with Manx. Vic has to make the most painful decision of all and decides to rescue Wayne, dropping him off with Lou Carmody by the Christmas trees, before going back for Maggie.

Somehow Charlie Manx is driving the Wraith again after Vic nearly destroyed him in the ice maze. As he guns for Vic and Maggie in his Wraith, Vic rides the Triumph with all she has and heads for her bridge. The scenes on the bridge are spectacular. Realising that they cannot lead Manx through the Shorter Way to Lou, Tabitha and Wayne, Vic harnesses the full power of her mind and brings her Inscape crumbling down around the Wraith, sending it plummeting into the static below.

NOS4A2 - Bats - Zachary Quinto is Charlie Manx

Destroying the Christmas Ornaments

Meanwhile, Lou and Tabitha realise that by destroying the Christmas ornaments, they can release the souls of the children and suddenly all of them appear in the real world from Christmasland. Gone are the demon teeth and evil ways, except for one particular demon child who I knew we shouldn’t trust! Millie Manx watches from the trees, hanging on to her intact ornament and pointy teeth for dear life.

Wayne McQueen and Millie Manx

One month later and Wayne McQueen is subsisting on sugar alone. He escapes to the Christmas trees to find Millie Manx (Mattea Conforti) subsisting on live bunnies and bambis.

Wayne admits that he desperately misses Christmasland and that he never wants to grow up.

Wayne (on adults and growing up): "They pretend they're happy but they're really just tired" .

Millie Manx blames Vic McQueen for the death of her father and vows to rebuild Christmasland, neatly setting us up for a third season. (Yes please, pretty please AMC).

The Destruction of Charlie Manx

Meanwhile in Haverhill, Massachusetts, Charlie's body is discovered in the Merrimack River amongst the ruins of his wrecked Wraith (I’ve been waiting 20 episodes to say that). Just in case you’re expecting a repeat of the previous season, I can confirm that this is it. They've cremated his body, crushing the Wraith and by doing so have successfully destroyed the strong creative, his knife and his Inscape.

The Legacy of Chris McQueen

Linda and Vic are packing up Chris’s stuff and Linda remarks that she has been cleaning up after Chris McQueen her whole life. While he may be gone, his sacrifice and legacy remains and just for today, Vic manages not to take a drink.

She works on her art, a legitimate creative outlet that doesn’t drive her towards an aneurism and Wayne is working on art of his own - creepy, disturbing, weird art – but art nonetheless.

Vic: “No more running away for either of us. Hmm? No more pretending like we feel okay when we don’t, Dad included. Team McCarmody, alright, yeah? We’re staying in the real world”.

An Addict Cannot Stop

While Vic may have her addiction under control, Maggie does not. After failing to convince Vic to explore other Inscapes with her, Maggie asks her tiles how she gets into the World of Thought and lands up at the hotel where she dispatched The Hourglass. I suspected he’d be back! His demise was far too simple and easy and even if he is indeed truly gone, there is a lot in store for another season.

One vital thread that ran through the episode was the inevitability of it all. Maggie Leigh lost her tiles in Christmasland when the demon children robbed her of them but ultimately they found their way back to Maggie. As Maggie tells Agent Hutter, they would have found their way back whether Hutter had brought them back or not. The significance is that while Vic (and Lou and Hutter) want to move on in the real world, fate (and Maggie and Wayne and Millie) are going to drag them right in again.

I am so pleased that we reached a proper ending for Charlie Manx’s story arc. I love it when shows get to end and I’d be equally satisfied if NOS4A2 ended here or if it went on for a third season. I’m also thrilled that Maggie Leigh and Vic McQueen reached less horrible endings in the TV version of the NOS4A2 compared to the book version and am excited that the alternative-book-ending featuring a still-alive Millie Manx is being explored.

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Saturday, 22 August 2020

Graphic Novel: Moon Lake by Dan Fogler ★★☆☆☆

Moon Lake by Dan Fogler | Graphic Novel Review

Horror is meant to push you out of your comfort zone. It's meant to be creepy and unsettling and often toes the line between exhilaration and plain fear. Sometimes horror skirts too close to your own fears; I will never forget the scene in The Basement where Cayleb Long's Craig is forced to swallow his own teeth.

So it's not the discomfort and sheer inappropriateness of Dan Fogler's Moon Lake that offended me. It reminded me of a subpar MAD magazine issue but whereas I subscribed to MAD for many years and am a big fan of Dan Fogler's, this just isn't very good.

I get the feeling a lot of people are buoyed by Dan's increasing popularity (or have been drinking the same Kool Aid as him) but this should not be receiving a reissue with a brand new cover.

I give Moon Lake a disappointing two out of five stars because some of the artwork is good but if you're a fan of Dan-and-horror, I'd recommend just viewing his The Walking Dead episodes again.

I received an advanced copy of the 2020 reissue of this graphic novel from Netgalley.

★★☆☆☆

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Thursday, 20 August 2020

Horror Film Review: Random Acts of Violence (2019) ★★★★☆

Question: if you create a violent and disturbing piece of art, depicting a gruesome murder, and a crazed fan goes on to re-create your art on real, live human beings, who is in fact responsible for murder? In Jay Baruchel's Random Acts of Violence, life imitates art imitates life as comic book genius Todd (Jesse Williams, Grey's Anatomy) takes a road trip to New York Comic-Con with his wife Kathy (Jordana Brewster), assistant Aurora (Niamh Wilson) and best friend Ezra (Jay Baruchel).

Random Acts of Violence | Horror Film Review

The only problem? People start getting killed in scenes that look suspiciously like the pages of Todd's graphic novels.

Based on the graphic novel by writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and illustrated by Giancarlo Caracuzzo and Paul Mounts, Random Acts of Violence is as meta as it gets and the only person who can solve the murders is Todd because he created them. Or did he?

Random Acts of Violence | Horror Film Review

Random Acts of Violence reminds me of the comic book films of the 80s (if they were hyper-violent and incredibly gory). Shot in lurid colours with comic book intensity and driven by a pulsating punk-EBM score from Wade MacNeil and Andrew Gordon Macpherson, watching this film is like being drenched in ink and blood and intestines.

Aside from the audio-visual onslaught, Random Acts of Violence continues to ask questions. What do you do when the stories you create come back to haunt you? Do writers suffer as much as their audiences from the traumas they commit to page?

There is also how we perceive violent crimes and victims, with Kathy's insistence that they focus on the victims and claiming that Todd "fetishises violence".

Jordana Brewster is Kathy | Random Acts of Violence | Horror Film Review

Ultimately, Random Acts of Violence snares the viewer in a giant ouroboros ring of a plot and takes you crashing into a shocking, very gory and inevitable conclusion.

The best part of all of this? The horror as it plays across Jesse Williams's face as all is finally revealed to Todd.

Jesse Williams  is Todd | Random Acts of Violence | Horror Film Review

I give Random Acts of Violence an excellent four out of five stars. I thoroughly enjoyed this graphic novel slasher movie and am reminded that I really do need to watch The Cabin in the Woods which also stars Jesse Williams.

★★★★☆

Random Acts of Violence is out in the UK, US & Ireland on AMC's horror streaming platform Shudder from August 20th.

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Sunday, 16 August 2020

TV Review: NOS4A2 - "Welcome to Christmasland"

As we reach the penultimate episode of NOS4A2's second season, I'm starting to realise that I don't like Charlie Manx very much. This isn't helped by the fact that Zachary Quinto does smug so well and by the middle of "Welcome to Christmasland", I just about want to strangle Manx. Fortunately, it's not just me.

NOS4A2 Welcome to Christmasland | season 2 episode 9

Vic McQueen is not alone

It's all pretty dark on NOS4A2 after the devastating events in "Chris McQueen". Try as she might to push people away, Vic McQueen (Ashleigh Cummings) is not alone.

Maggie Leigh: "I started hunting the Wraith, before you, so I'm going to finish it, with you".

I always did love Maggie Leigh (Jahkara Smith) from the moment I met her and Maggie is one of my favourite characters ever. I suspect this is not going to end well for me.

Speaking of which, I don't think things are going to end up quite like Vic and Maggie planned but more about that later.

Welcome to Christmasland: can we leave yet?

I judged Millie Manx (Mattea Conforti) for sixteen episodes for her demonic ways but even Charlie Manx can't rob her of her humanity. Or is it childlike aspirations? Whatever it is, she wants something and daddy dearest isn't providing it anymore.

Once again, Charlie finds himself in the Sleigh House, with Mr Tim banging to be let out of the closet. The question is, who created the Sleigh House? While Manx is extremely uncomfortable, Millie Manx is not. It's clear that the Sleigh House is Manx's own creation, his superego, his conscience.

Cassie Manx: "You say that Christmasland is a safe haven for children but really it's a place for you to escape yourself, a place where you are not a failure, where you are not a coward who devoured his own family to feed his insatiable ego".

Millie is really growing on me.

Carmody and Hutter

While Vic and Maggie breach Christmasland, Lou Carmody and Tabitha Hutter keep showing up. This scene with the two people who support our powerful creatives is long overdue and underlines the challenge of loving someone who is (literally in this case) single-mindedly destroying herself.

Scissors for the Drifter

Things are pretty dire in Christmasland with Wayne too far gone to be of any help at all. Millie Manx shows incredible resilience to Manx's charms; oh, how strong must her spirit be to throw off the shackles of Manx's thrall! Yes, I'm aware that she's likely to turn around and prove herself to be the ultimate demon child but she is not impressed with Manx.

Millie Manx: "I'm not enough. I never was"

Jahkara Smith is Maggie Leigh and Ashleigh Cummings is Vic McQueen | NOS4A2 Welcome to Christmasland | season 2 episode 9

Explosive Finale

"Welcome to Christmasland" is a pretty explosive episode but as we hurtle towards the finale next week, I can't shake the feeling that this is not going to end like Maggie and Vic think it will end.

NOS4A2 returns next week with the season finale "Bats". I haven't read Joe Hill's novel yet but anticipate that the final episode will destroy me. You can catch NOS4A2 on AMC and BBC America (US) with new episodes added every Sunday and AMC UK (BT TV 332) with new episodes every Thursday.

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Saturday, 15 August 2020

Invisible Differences by Julie Dachez and Mademoiselle Caroline: A Graphic Novel About Aspergers ★★★★★

It was the cover that caught my eye on Mademoiselle Caroline and Julie Dachez's graphic novel Invisible Differences, translated from French and now available in English for the first time. A lone figure, Marguerite, stares out from the cover, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Invisible Differences tells Marguerite's story, from working in an office completely oblivious to her needs, to receiving an Asperger's diagnosis in her late 20s, to living her best life and finding a fulfilling career.

Invisible Differences by Julie Dachez and Mademoiselle Caroline | Graphic Novel Review

Despite being an introvert, I am neurotypical yet I saw so much of myself in Marguerite. This is why books like Invisible Differences are so important because it enables us to reach a common ground where those who are neuroatypical can be accommodated and live in a world less full of overwhelming stimuli and ignorant interactions.

Invisible Differences by Julie Dachez and Mademoiselle Caroline | Graphic Novel ReviewInvisible Differences is beautifully written, a semi-autobiographical account by YouTuber and activist Julie Dachez of the road she travelled and the liberating impact of the diagnosis on her life. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the novel is learning how hard-won advancements in Asperger's Syndrome and autism awareness were in France, how common late-life (as opposed to early) diagnoses are, and how clinicians still doggedly insist on psychoanalytic treatment, despite autism being genetic not psychological in nature.

While set in France, this graphic novel has universal appeal and I would absolutely recommend this as an educational tool for both young adults and adults. Through Mademoiselle Caroline's superb graphics, we experience the difficulties and over-stimulation Marguerite experiences at work, the lack of empathy and understanding from her superiors, and the draining impact this has on Marguerite's life.

Invisible Differences by Julie Dachez and Mademoiselle Caroline | Graphic Novel Review

The section at the end of the story was especially helpful, containing notes on the history and facts of autism, the impacts and challenges facing those on the spectrum and tips for how workplaces can support Aspies and ensure they succeed.

Most importantly, Invisible Differences is a fun, heart-warming graphic novel where the heroine most definitely overcomes her limitations in the end and I thoroughly enjoyed both the story and the graphics.

I give Invisible Differences a superb five out of five stars. You can discover more of Mademoiselle Caroline's work on her Facebook page and Julie Dachez vlogs in French on YouTube.

★★★★★

I received an electronic copy of this graphic novel from Netgalley. I will always provide an honest review, whether books are provided to me or purchased by me.
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Sunday, 9 August 2020

TV Review: NOS4A2 - "Chris McQueen"

This week's NOS4A2 is all about Vic's father and is aptly named "Chris McQueen". We begin the episode with a flashback to Larry McQueen's funeral, a Vietnam vet who spent a lifetime chased by the ghosts of war. Eben Moss-Bachrach is such a good actor and you truly believe it when Chris says that being a Gulf War veteran made him understand his father's violence, anger and alcoholism.

Please tell me this isn't Chris McQueen's final episode.

Virginia Kull and Eben Moss-Bachrach are Linda and Chris McQueen | NOS4A2 Chris McQueen | Season 2 episode 8

This week is all about forgiveness; can Vic forgive Bing, her parents, herself? Can Vic ever get over her parent's past actions without acknowledging that her same actions have put Wayne in danger?

There are mild spoilers in what follows, focusing on situations but not outcomes. Proceed with caution!

The Junk Yard

Ashleigh Cummings is Vic McQueen | NOS4A2 Chris McQueen | Season 2 episode 8

Magical Lou Carmody has fixed Vic's bike and Vic and Chris McQueen are off to the junk yard after Wayne. Except that Chris loses his temper, costing Vic precious time in saving Wayne.

The Interrogation

The good news is that despite Chris's violence, Bing (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) survives and is brought to interrogation and Vic gets five minutes with him. Typical of Bing, he shows absolutely no self-awareness, believing that if he'd not met Manx it would all be different and he could still be friends with Vic. Because, as we know, Vic definitely needed a violent murderer and rapist in her life. Luckily Vic is quite aware of just how poisonous Bing is.

Vic: "I miss the person I thought you were"

Burn!

Maggie Leigh

Jahkara Smith is Maggie Leigh and Ashley Romans is Tabitha Hutter | NOS4A2 Chris McQueen | Season 2 episode 8

I love Maggie Leigh (Jahkara Smith). We all need a friend who'll tell you they'd "shake a thousand assholes for your mopey ass".

The problem is that the more vital Maggie is to a positive outcome for the McQueens, the further it drives her from Tabitha Hutter (Ashley Romans).

The Christmas Trees

Before they enter Christmasland, the children must all hang their ornament on a tree and this is where it gets exciting. We're teased with the tantalising possibility that the children in Christmasland could be saved and Millie Manx (Mattea Conforti) herself appeals to Vic McQueen.

Right on cue, Charlie Manx (Zachary Quinto) arrives in the Wraith with Wayne (Jason David). Manx is looking dubiously dapper and young, while Wayne definitely isn't.

Is it too late for Wayne?

The last five minutes of the episode are pretty devastating, so much so that I found it hard to write about "Chris McQueen" through what felt suspiciously like genuine grief. Kudos to the NOS4A2 team and Joe Hill for writing a story that destroys but man, I feel pretty raw right now.

All the Feelings

I have so many mixed feelings now and a lot of that has to do with the possibility of a third season. I would really like the current story arc to wrap up over the next two episodes. The final two episodes of the first season were not my favourites because they so clearly did not resolve the story and simply set up for the second season.

On the other hand, I'm not sure my heart can stand the next two episodes because I suspect we're going to lose some characters we've grown to love. Conversely, I'd also really like a third season because that's a win for the show, hence the abundance of feelings.

NOS4A2 returns next week with the chillingly named episode "Welcome to Christmasland". You can catch NOS4A2 on AMC and BBC America (US) with new episodes added every Sunday and AMC UK (BT TV 332) with new episodes every Thursday.

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© 2005 - Mandy Southgate | Addicted to Media

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