Movie Review: Horns (2014)

November 15, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

horns350

I’m just going to come out and say it. I think Horns is awesome. It’s weird and surreal, and it’s a little all over the place, but it’s also original, devilishly twisted and wickedly funny.

Daniel Radcliffe stars as Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, a young man who has been shunned by his small town after being fingered as the prime suspect for the rape and murder of his lovely girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). One morning, Ig awakes with two horns protruding from his head. He has no idea where they came from and he can’t get rid of them, but there’s clearly something supernatural about it all because the horns seem to come with certain powers — powers he will exploit in an effort to clear his name.

The story is based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill. Some of you might not know this, but Hill is Stephen King’s son, and he displays a lot of the same wicked sensitivities as his old man. The central idea of the film may start off as a gimmicky concept, but Hill manages to infuse the tale with a sharp satirical edge and plenty of dark humour to firmly distinguish himself from his old man.

The film has received mixed reviews from critics largely for its tonal inconsistencies, and I agree to some degree. It has been marketed as a horror, though it also has elements of comedy, fantasy, family drama, mystery and romance. You could even call it a part-religious satire or allegory for the way it takes on religion and religious symbolism. Either way, the shifts in tone are far from seamless, and as a result viewers could find themselves questioning what the film really wants to be and what it is trying to say.

For me, Horns is first and foremost a black comedy because its hilarity is what stands out the most. I laughed more times in this movie than pure comedies I’ve seen in years, though that might say more about my twisted sense of humour than anything else. The film does become less funny and more dark as it nears its conclusion, but for me it will always be a black comedy at heart. And besides, there are very few attempts to scare the audience for the first three-quarters of the film, and even when it started veering into horror I found it more unsettling than frightening.

I can’t think of another film quite like it. The one that pops up in my mind, strangely, is Jennifer’s Body (the Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried flick from 2009). That one was sexier and much scarier, but it has the same type of twisted, surreal tone and satirical wit.

Director Alexandre Aja has a bit of a mixed-bag career — he rose to stardom with Haute Tension in 2003 and did a fine job with the 2006 remake of The Hills Have Eyes, though he followed those efforts up with the clunky Mirrors and the campy Piranha 3D. In my opinion, Horns may actually be his best film to date.

Daniel Radcliffe has been busy trying to reinvent himself since Harry Potter ended, starring in a range of flicks from The Woman in Black (straight horror) and Kill Your Darlings (biographical drama) to The F Word (rom-com). Horns is arguably his most daring post-Potter venture to date, and I also believe it’s likely the best performance of his career — and that’s even with him putting on an American accent. Radcliffe is proving himself to be one of those rare actors who couldn’t act for shit as a child but has gradually developed into a quality thespian with a bright future ahead of him.

The rest of the cast is not too shabby either. Even though she’s supposed to be dead, Juno Temple appears more than you’d think through flashbacks, and she does a fine job of convincing audiences that she’s someone all the boys in town would pine for. Max Minghella is solid as the best friend-slash-lawyer, while Joe Anderson plays the quiet brother. Veterans such as Heather Graham, Kathleen Quinlan and David Morse round out the impressive ensemble.

My main problem with Horns is not the tonal inconsistencies, but rather, the predictable nature of its central mystery. Maybe it’s just me, but I figured out the real killer about 10 minutes into the film. Fortunately, there were plenty of other little curve balls and surprises to keep the film intriguing for the remainder of its 2-hour running time.

The best black comedies always say something about the darkest aspects of human nature. Horns is about our constant judgments of others. It’s about living up to the image we think society has carved out for us. It’s about the hypocrisy of thinking one way and saying or doing another. It’s about selfishness and self-preservation. That’s why I think it is a stroke of genius for Hill to bring out all of these nasty sides of human nature in a story about a guy demonized by his community appearing to be literally turning into the devil, and to do it in such an original, twisted, and intentionally unsubtle way.

And so, despite recognizing its flaws, I had an absolute blast with horns. I think it is a unique genre-bender and one of my Darkhorse favorites of the year.

4.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Carrie (2013)

January 6, 2014 in Movie Reviews, Reviews

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I guess it was only going to be matter of time before they attempted another remake of Carrie, the classic 1976 horror film based on Stephen King’s first published novel of the same name. Technically, this is just another adaptation of King’s novel (there was another TV movie version made in 2002, and an ill-advised “sequel” in 1999), though the standard it will be compared against will always be the version that made Sissy Spacek famous and boosted the careers of Nancy Allen and John Travolta.

This time, the film stars Chloe Grace Moretz as the bullied but “gifted” school girl Carrie White and Julianne Moore as her religious fanatic mother. Judy Greer plays Carrie’s sympathetic gym teacher, which is unfortunate for a horror movie because I will always think of her as the crazy secretary in Arrested Development.

Anyway, it’s hard for me review this new Carrie objectively as a standalone film because it is so close to the original film and fails to offer anything genuinely new apart from improved special effects and some updated technology in the lives of the students (such as smartphones and YouTube). This is not to say it’s a bad film, because it’s actually a pretty good remake driven by excellent performances from the two female leads. Moore, in particular, was absolutely freaky and helps you understand why Carrie turned out the way she did. The real question is why they felt the need to make it again when the original was so iconic and still remains effective. 

If you have not seen the 1976 film and don’t know what happens in the story then you could find Carrie a terrifying experience. There are some effective horror moments executed craftily by director Kimberly Peirce, whose previous works include Boys Don’t Cry and Stop-Loss. For me, however, it was difficult to truly enjoy Carrie because I knew what was coming. Everything that happens in the first half of the film boils down to that one pivotal moment, that one key scene — and most people should know what I’m talking about here — so there was a sense of inevitability throughout the whole thing. It’s just not the same when you are expecting it.

I do have a few other problems with this version as well. For starters, Chloe Grace Moretz is just too damn pretty to be the Carrie White, even when she’s “uglied up”. Even if she’s brought up by a lunatic and socially inept it’s difficult to imagine her being such a target. Secondly, the “villain” of the movie, a girl named Chris, was too one-dimensional and evil, while her friend Sue, was too “nice”. I know that’s how the story goes but a little more nuance would have been welcome.

Carrie 1976 is widely regarded as a landmark horror film and garnered Oscar nominations for the two leads. Carrie 2013 is still a decent horror movie and a pretty good remake, but that’s all it can hope to be.

3.5 stars out of 5

800th post snapshot!

August 30, 2011 in Best Of, Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, Movie Reviews, On Writing, Reviews, Travel

A charm celebrating the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge (2009) -- which just happens to be the year I studied there and started this blog! (I got one of these when I graduated)

Congratulations to me!

This is the 800th post on this blog.  I thought long and hard about what to write about for this monumental occasion, but I had my usual brain freeze…so instead I decided to write about the fact that I am writing a post about my 800th post.

Today is the 30th of August, 2011.  I started this blog on the 11th of January, 2009.  By my calculations that’s 962 days.  That’s a lot of writing!

On average, that’s 1 post every 1.2025 days, 5.821 posts per week and almost 25 posts a month.  As at the time of writing I have 833,486 blog hits, which translates into an average of 1041.8575 hits per blog post and 866.409 hits per day.

When I started this blog I was happy to get around 10-20 hits a day, and certainly for the first month or two that was the norm.  Now the blog hovers around 1,000 hits a day, with occasion dips and spikes (like the current one courtesy of StumbleUpon, which is giving me around 2,500 a day).

I currently have 2,601 comments, which equals roughly 2.7 comments per day.  I’ve also been bombarded by 26,754 spam comments (I believe more as some slipped through the keeper), or a whopping 27.81 per day!  I find Akismet has been doing a much better job as of late, meaning less penile enlargement advertisements.

My top post remains My European Adventure Round-Up, which has amassed 66,273 hits, though it is almost certain to be overtaken shortly (in the next couple of days) by The 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time.

My top movie review?  Shock horror, it’s Ninja Assassin (with 12,825 hits), probably because no one else has seen it — or maybe it’s that topless shot of a ripped Rain that has web surfers flocking to it.  My top book review and writing-related post is the same one — Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing (with 12,766 hits).

Moving forward, I’m not sure if I can keep up with the same pace (pun intended).  I love to write, and that’s why I continue to write on this blog without compensation (apart from the occasional free movie, DVD or book).  Even though at some point I’ll likely be swallowed by the demands of work and other responsibilities I hope this blog can remain my sanctuary, a place I can come back to to express and rant and be creative.

Is it ever too early to start re-writing?

July 26, 2011 in Fantasy, Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study

Source: http://blog.articlestorehouse.com

I’m trying to put my focus back into writing starting this week, and one aspect of that is to revisit my dormant fantasy novel which I have been thinking about a lot these past couple of months.  I still think the book as potential and I like the story it has to tell, but having written significant chunks of it around 2 years ago, I know it will require plenty of work.

Conventional writing wisdom suggests that rewriting comes after completion of the first draft.  The primary goal in the first attempt is to just get the words of the story out of your mind, out of your system and onto the page.  Anne Lamott, who wrote the popular writing book Bird by Bird, discussed at length the unavoidable ‘shitty first drafts’ even excellent and seasoned writers churn out on a regular basis.

The idea is that if you worry and procrastinate over every paragraph, sentence or word, you’ll never generate any momentum and it will take you much longer to finish the story.  And often it’s when you are in that ‘zone’ of pumping out a copious amount of words at a frenetic pace that some of your best writing is generated (though it has to be ‘unearthed’ from all the crappy stuff).

However, although I am not even at the halfway line of the first draft of my fantasy epic (around 150,000 words), I’m highly tempted at the moment to go back to the beginning and rewrite a few of the first chapters.  One of the main reasons is that I realised my beginning lacked a serious punch.  After an action-packed prologue, I started with the usual boring ‘fantasy world introduction’ chapter where I introduced the characters and the world in which they lived in a methodical fashion.  It occurred to me that it would have made a lot more sense to start in the middle of the action, beginning with the final of a tournament in which the protagonist is involved in.  In the current version, the tournament was already over by the time the story began.

But would rewriting before I’ve even finished the first draft be a waste of time?  What if I later change my mind and come up with a better intro?  What if later on I decide to change characters or events?

I read in an interview with Philip Pullman (author of the His Dark Materials trilogy) that he doesn’t have a particular method when it comes to writing and rewriting.  Sometimes he waits until the end and sometimes he does it as he goes along.

In Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing (my review and summary here), he says that first drafts should be completed within 3 months, which is pretty much supernatural for most people out there, but even for him, this essentially means no rewriting until the first draft has been completed.  King also recommended putting the draft aside for a while before coming back to it with fresh eyes.  That said, King might be an anomaly because he seems to churn out pretty decent first drafts.  I say this because he suggests that a second draft should tighten a first draft by 10% and that he usually only does two drafts and a polish for a novel.

Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, said in an interview that he did literally 150-200 drafts of the first 90 pages just to get it right.  Can you imagine that?  I did about 5 or 6 drafts of the first chapter of my Masters writing project and I found it to be brutal already.

In the end, my gut tells me that I should just do whatever I feel like, whether it’s keep going or go back to the beginning.  It’s been so long that anything is better than nothing.

Rekindling the passion with old writing projects

June 27, 2011 in Misc, Novel, On Writing, Study

Have you ever started writing, got halfway through, or almost finished a piece of writing, but for whatever reason never saw it through to the end?  Have you then, days, weeks, months, or even years later, tried to pick it back up again to see if you can finish it off?

That’s what I’ve been trying to do the last few days.  I have no less than three ‘old’ projects that I’m trying to get back on track, with the time off being from a couple of weeks to almost a couple of years.  And you know what?  It’s really really hard.  Ridiculously hard.

What I’ve been trying to do is rekindle the passion I once had with these projects, to recapture the flame inside me that made me want to write all day, work on it all night, think about it as I’m drifting off to sleep and getting right back into it the moment I wake up.  I’ve had those moments with all three projects, but whenever I stop (due to a plethora of reasons, including laziness, procrastination, holidays, other work and unforeseen circumstances outside of my control) I find it difficult to regather that momentum again.

I ask myself why that is the case.  Do I still want to finish them off?  Of course, more than ever — in fact, now is the best time because I actually have the time to work on them.  Do I still think they are good ideas?  Yes.  Perhaps not as brilliant as I originally envisioned, but good enough.  So why, dammit?  Why?

I guess part of it might be because I fear that I’ll pick up the old project, have a look at it, and be stunned into depression over how crap it is and how much work I’ll need to do just to fix it up.  That almost always happens when I look back at my old work.  But surely I’m not alone in that, and others have gone on to put in whatever work was necessary to finish it off.

Having a zillion distractions around you certainly doesn’t help.  That’s why I am so enamoured of full-time writers who work from home, people who can just sit down at the table X number of hours a day and work on their shit rain, hail or shine and no matter how much they don’t want to do it — like a real job.  I remember Stephen King said something like that in On Writing, that you have to take your writing seriously or else no one will.

That’s it.  I’m going to give it a try and see what happens.  Work on my shit like a 9-5 job on the days where I can.  I’ll report back with the results in a couple of weeks.