Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Film Review - Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Take two opposites, place them together and you’ll get an original, over-the-top result. Scouts – those young, energetic lads preparing for the adult world – and zombies – desperate to sup on living flesh – battle to the death in this fresh, hilarious take on the genre. And if scouts and zombies aren’t enough, throw in a badass stripper (sorry, courageous cocktail waitress) and you end up with a recipe for success. Scouts Guide contains the perfect mix of romance, comedy and horror.

Ben, played by rising star Tye Sheridan, is on the verge of leaving his scout troop, ready to take on the world as he prepares for senior year. His friend Carter (Logan Miller) has already fired the starter gun on leaving the scouts in pursuit of girls. To complicate their friendship, Ben is secretly in love with Carter’s sister. Their friendship is rocky but close and it faces test after test as they find themselves killing and maiming zombies to survive.

Meanwhile, the third part of this team – sweet-tempered Augie (Joey Morgan) – clings to the family and camaraderie provided by the scouts since the death of his father. He is the stereotypical boy scout: skilled, loyal and always prepared. Augie’s relationship with his Dolly Parton-loving Scout Leader Rogers is comically tested throughout the film. The characters bounce off each other with perfect timing, the pair striking the right chord every time.

Every moment is explored with amazing imagination. Pausing in the middle of any mass-zombie sequence will show a story in every one of the undead: where the zombie worked, or what their pre-zombie-infection-spread life was like. From costumes to zombie behaviours, the director gets it right with amazing attention to detail.

Scouts Guide is not all maggot-infested lollipops and silvery-midnight moons, though. The structure of the film feels squeaky clean. It’s almost too perfect if that’s any criticism. It’s all very linear and every moment is foreshadowed. The originality lies in the comedy and the scout/zombie/stripper cocktail.

The performances from the three leads are spot on. Characters are portrayed with skill, energy and heart. This film could easily have meandered, arms outstretched in the search for human brains, down the dark lane well trodden by zombie comedy (zomedy, if you will), but the characters yank it back with every original beat they pursue.

Scouts Guide is gore-soaked fun. From the skin of a dancer’s neck ripping on a stripper pole to scouts preparing for battle in true A-Team style, this film is highly recommended. But make sure you love the sight of blood...and Dolly Parton.

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Film Review - Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice

Superman has a Difficult Knight

Being a childhood fan of the 1960’s Batman series and a keen follower of almost everything Batman since, it pains me to give Batman’s latest outing, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, a lower-than-full score. But there are some key issues that could be ironed out in preparation for the next Justice League film and the sooner Zack Snyder hears all the constructive criticism without too much suffering, the better the sequel will be.

First of all, sort out the soundtrack. The constant pounding music at every dramatic moment is almost too much to bear. The music adds a great deal to the tense excitement at first, but it soon becomes monotonous, lessening the impact at key moments later in the story.

The performances are amazing. Haters of the announcement that Ben Affleck would play Batman/Bruce Wayne can now be much derided. He captures with ease the broody depth of Bruce Wayne and the power behind the Bat. His eyes alone speak volumes. Henry Cavill portrays well the emotional pain behind Superman and the romantic heart of Clark Kent.

In addition to the main characters, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman is a welcome addition to the team, surprising us with her first entrance and the eventual reveal. Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) does his best with the character, but there’s a casting issue: he would make an excellent Riddler, but Luthor is beyond him. Other DC characters make appearances – the Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg – building up to the team that will become the Justice League.

The much-anticipated showdown between the two heroes is colossal. Buildings crumble, stone shatters like glass and every punch thrown is monumental. You start to feel like this is what you came for; this is what the months of anticipation have built towards. As quickly as it comes, though, it goes, and the disappointing aftermath is significant.

The movie is mostly predictable. We’re not taken in any new direction. It feels like a rollercoaster we’ve been on before, but with a few different twists and turns to jolt you in your seat. There’s no loop-the-loop to send your stomach churning and excitement soaring.

At the moment, DC is not standing Doomsday’s head and shoulders above the rest of the superhero movies out there. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is winning this war. Hell, even DC’s own television shows – The Arrow and The Flash – are doing better. We’re on your side, DC, so make the Justice League’s next outing something to rival The Avengers. We know you can do it!

Monday, 14 March 2016

Lifelong Love

Like a green bud on a branch
love begins small,
but grows quickly
with nourishment and light.

A leaf develops,
growing strong veins,
so that energy – power –
course through it.

Spring becomes summer
when love and leaf
are brightest and boldest:
love’s form perfecting.

Summer turns to autumn.
Leaf and love, in their autumnal years,
strengthen and fall
to meet permanency.

The leaf browns and crumbles,
crunching into the earth,
forever part of it -
eternal enrichment,

like a glimpse of heaven.

Monday, 7 March 2016


At twelve, a trip to the optician
told me I needed glasses.
Two weeks I waited for them,
looking at the world as I'd never see it again.

Sliding the glasses onto my nose,
I gazed around me, swinging my head
like a periscope. Kaleidoscopic colour
flashed in front of me; a distant, clear grey gull.

The black frames caught my attention
and the sun's glare distorted my view.
Slowly and surely, the world became sharper,
clearer, defined. I could see.

When I returned to school, I was nervous.
I kept them in their case. Hidden.
During the walk I missed the redness
of the bus, the bright yellow of the grass.

I crossed the line I'd dreaded, into the
playground. Through the doors. To my desk.
It was time to take them out and show
them to the world. I swallowed the

nerves back to my stomach,
slid them onto my nose,
and stared at the chalkboard.
Whispers and giggles pricked from each side.

Felt magnified. I was at the centre of the classroom
and the centre of the playground
as they all tittered and teased,
a strong feeling of unease.

Even Tommy laughed! Like Caesar
we studied, stabbed by a friend.
Someone knocked them off and a sharp
fingernail scratched my face. The lens cracked.

After finding my sight, the crack stood
in my way, like a hurdle ahead.
The kaleidoscopic colour became
black and white. I could see.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Book Review - Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

I’ve read this book a number of times. Every time I read it, I’m left with new questions – not the kind of questions that irritate, but questions about humanity and where society is heading. The power of this novel remains with you long after you turn the final pages.

Kathy H is the narrator and we join her on a journey through life in a dystopian England. The world has moved on in such a way that cancer has been cured and diseases no longer plague humanity. But there is a considerable price to pay in maintaining that new existence. Kathy and her friends come to realise they exist for the sole purpose of donating their organs. As clones, they are hidden away from the world with little sympathy from those who fear them and the science that brought them into existence.

We can never be sure of Kathy’s narrative. She’s candid about the world she sees, but you can never be sure she’s completely honest or unbiased. As a result, her friend Ruth is a selfish delight. She stands up for herself but comes across nasty and self-centred. Tommy, the love of Kathy’s life, is both scared and ignorant. They’re wonderfully rounded and believable characters, but you must make up your own mind about them, trying to avoid the beautiful but highly leading language of the protagonist.

Our times are changing so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up. In Never Let Me Go, the characters and the world has slowed down, having cured the ills of the world and unwilling to go back to the way things were, no matter what the cost. Could our world as we know it end up in the same predicament? The novel will force you to consider it. If you could cure your cancer at the expense of another’s life, would you do it? Would you allow a clone of yourself, with all your feelings, heartaches and passions, die for you?

You see: that last one’s a brand-new question that I’d never considered before. If a novel can make you see the world in a different way, it needs to be read and soaked up.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Diary

We married in the spring. It was everything she wanted. And I knew that because I read her diary.
I know I shouldn’t have, but I made the bed one day and found it under the mattress. She was asleep on the sofa with one of her headaches.
I wouldn’t have known what it was, but it fell open to the first page. I thought diaries had locks on them. This one was literally an open book.
I admit I hesitated before picking it up. I knew instantly it was hers. I recognised her handwriting – neat and slanted, like a calligraphy master’s. She’d written like that since secondary school. Her private notes to me were always perfectly legible compared to my scruffy hand. One of the teachers even commented on it when we were caught during maths.
On the 10th June last year, when we’d been engaged for a week, she wrote the name C. Charles. It was scrawled in the corner, as if it didn’t belong. It might have been written by somebody else, but the black-ink blots matched the pen she’d been using that week.
I read on a few more pages. There it was again – C. Charles.
She interrupted my read. She called to me and I was startled. She needed water so I lifted the mattress and threw the diary beneath it, reburying the treasure. I took her what she needed and placed my hand against her forehead. Her hair, dyed black from her usual brown, was pulled alongside her face and she wrapped herself tightly in her dressing gown after sipping from the cool glass. It seemed to send a chill through her, although the room was sweltering. Her skin had lost its colour a few days ago.
Her head began to loll and she drifted off. I didn’t make sure she was comfortable, which I regret.
I marched back to the diary and flicked to the date I wanted: 11th August. C. Charles written in the corner again, but this time his name appeared in her entry. She saw him that day. He wanted her to stay overnight.
My life shattered. Turning pages, his name occurred more and more regularly. Each time, another piece of my heart broke. How could I not know?
While she slept, a letter arrived for her. I picked it up and stared at the postmark. I’d already invaded her privacy; what would once more matter? I ripped it open, with a little more anger than I expected. I wanted to question her over this C. Charles. How long had it been going on? Did she still love me?
I had to read the letter twice. It confirmed the start of her treatment. I didn’t know a thing about it. It was never just a headache and a high temperature. The letter was from Dr. Montgomery Charles of the NHS Trust.
The C. wasn’t his name at all. She never wrote it fully.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Theatre Review - The Woman in Black

The film is so-so. The book is amazing. The play is unforgettable. If you think theatre can't scare you, think again.

The play is performed in an intimately old-fashioned theatre - The Fortune Theatre near London's Covent Garden - and this adds to the eerie atmosphere of the event. There is a sense of dustiness and ancient horror to the set. Buckets are dented, the curtain ragged and the air feels thick with ghostly oppression. It's not a bad way to spend an evening.

All the characters in the story are played by two actors. This is no easy feat and only the most skilled actors could handle it. The two performers in the latest production are hypnotic and inject the show with their energy from the beginning.

The audience is taken through the story whilst being narrated by Arthur Kipps. The fourth wall is broken as Kipps speaks directly to an audience that isn't there yet - the characters are in rehearsal for a performance that will rid Kipps of his nightmares, exorcising the ghosts from his past. Talking directly to us is a neat touch; it adds a sense of intimacy that makes the fear and energy so much more intense later in the play.

The sound effects take centre-stage, not only for Kipps himself - he's fascinated by the use of sound in an early-1900's theatre - but for the audience as well. Be prepared for the haunting sounds of a pony and trap, the unmistakeable sound of a rocking chair on floorboards (or is it the sound of the woman in black's broken heart?) and bloodcurdling screams that will ring in your ears for hours afterwards.

The only drawback to the show is that it can be slow paced in places. But this could be linked back to Susan Hill's novel and her desire to create a slow-burning ghost story. Would the play be as frightening if the pace changed and there wasn't enough time for our expectations to build?

This one's not for the faint-hearted. For the biggest scares, get a seat in the stalls. And keep a look over your shoulder.

For more information, visit the official website: The Woman in Black