Monthly Archives: September 2012

Why the Hell is this Taking so Long?

It has now been exactly one month to the day that I experienced my ‘life changing’ day of pain and two (count em, two!) surgeries. One which  is often referred to as the ‘lunch hour op’ and the second which was emergency surgery and pretty damned serious.

*Although to be honest, the seriousness of the second surgery still has not really kicked in. I still keep looking around to see who the doctor is talking about when they get to the serious part. In my mind if it was that serious, I’d still be bed-ridden and hooked up to about a trillion tubes.*

I do have to keep reminding myself that is has been just one month since my ‘new life’ started. The parting words of my cardiologist were, “Get ready for your new life.” I still cannot figure out if she was being facetious or not. But new it most certainly is.

2012 has been a year of recovery for me. An accident in February caused so much nerve damage to my lower back that I still had not returned to work full-time when the heart attack decided to ‘kick me while I was already down.’  Of course the recovery for a heart attack and two surgeries is a lot different from recovering from lower back nerve damage.

As frustrating and painful as the nerve damage was, it was never going to kill me. Oh it might aggravate the living hell out of me but it definitely would not put my life directly in danger.

*Unless of course, my back decided to freeze while I was crossing a busy motorway. In that case I think all bets would be off.*

The other parting words from the cardiologist was that, “You need to completely rethink your life style and your attitude.” I was a little insulted. While in the hospital, I was so grateful to everyone who had made the galvanizing pain disappear that I had a permanent grin pasted on my face. Of course they may have misconstrued that as a grimace which, in all fairness, does look an awful lot like a grin.

But I got her point. I am by very nature, a little grumpy (A little grumpy?? I hear some of my colleagues say. That’s like saying Hitler is a little dead! I maintain, in my defense, that applies only to work. Not all the time.) and very impatient. Living in England I have always been able to pass this off as a less than attractive American trait. But to be completely honest, I am so impatient that even my fellow Americans disown me.

Mr Fredrickson from Pixar’s Up…Even he’s not as grumpy as I am.

I know that I have to slow down, chill out and be more cheerful. Unfortunately, knowing that I have to do this does not make it happen spontaneously. I still get impatient at the amount of time everything takes.

For example: I will walk to the post box, which is about 100 yards from my back door. I take my time and still have to stop halfway there. Not because I am winded or tired. No the reason I stop is because of my damned back! This pain in the buttocks ailment that I have been recovering from since February this year! It seizes up and I have to stop and stretch and rest it for ten minutes before I can resume my slow snail-like crawl to the post box.

Then, because of the seizure, I have to stop several times on the way back. Embarrassingly, the first stop is after I have posted what I needed posted and I limp slowly  to the fence right by the post box. I always wear a floppy hat and sunglasses in case someone I know is driving by.

I know that I am getting better though. Yesterday I cut the grass in my back garden. Now before you get too excited, I need to explain that my back garden is not that big and my mower is not that heavy. I also really took my time and besides dragging my right leg a bit, finished pretty much pain-free. I am having to wait to cut the grass in my front garden, which is considerably smaller than the back garden. I’m waiting because I don’t want to over do it.

I have gotten used to my right calf looking like an over-ripe banana and finding the odd bruise in places that don’t make sense. *The oddest one is right in the middle of my right foot’s instep.* I am also learning to walk that very fine line between hypochondriac and really knowing when something isn’t right.

I have learned not to panic when I get pains in my hands or forearms (both of which hurt beyond belief during the heart attack) and I’ve learned to stop worrying about getting fit for work, although that one is a bit harder.

We run a fitness test for my job. It is called a ‘bleep test‘ and it was obviously invented by a sadist. I have never really had too much of a problem passing it in the past. Not too shabby for a smoker of too many years to count. But now? I’ve quit the nasty weed and I am on the mend, but, the idea of running that test makes me feel nauseous.

Invented by the Marquis De Sade
Buzz Lightyear and Meg. My two guardians.

But the one thing I have learned from my recent ‘life changing’ experience is this: While I sit here and roll my eyes to the heavens and shout, “Why the hell is this taking so long!” I am, mentally at least, accepting that this is going to take a while and that I’m pretty damn lucky to still be here and if I ever forget this fact, my daughter will remind me.

Urban Exploration and Industrial Estates: The New Ghost Towns?

All painted up and no where to go.

My daughter has had a fascination with old dilapidated buildings since college. I remember taking her out on photo shoots of the many Industrial Estates around the area that had lost a lot of business to a continuing economic downturn.

Considering that I used to patrol a lot of these estates when I worked in Security, it felt strange to pass these same buildings that only a few years previously had been bustling businesses.

Only the weeds are growing.

A lot of these places I’d delivered office supplies to in a previous job. At no time during my office supply days did any of these thriving places seem close to financial ruin. I remember smiling faces at the reception desk and helpful hands taking the supplies from the back of my van. A cup of tea or coffee would be offered and if I had time, I’d accept. Coffee, biscuits and gossip then on my way.

No cars, no security.

My daughter would always ask what building housed what business. When was the last time I’d been there. Did I know anyone who still had access to the buildings so we could take pictures inside. The answers varied, but, in each case I knew of no-one who could let us inside. It seemed a shame then and does now. I would have liked to have seen if they all resembled the deserted place I’d been in before.

Not down yet.

I remember when my daughter (Meg) finished her last year at University, we collected all her things from her shared house and put them in the handy HomeStore Self Storage warehouse in Ipswich. It sat at the end of Ransomes Europark and we had to drive past a lot of ‘dead’ businesses to get there. Because of the ease involved with entering and leaving the place we went there a lot.

We passed the old business where I had collected old office furniture years before. The one that was so disquieting and surrealistic. Each time we drove past I wondered who, if anyone, ever went into the building now.

Still empty after all these years.

As times continue to force more and more businesses under the hammer. Industrial Estates are becoming the new ghost towns of this millennium. All that’s missing are the rolling tumbleweeds and the lonely blowing wind.

Tumbling tumbleweed.

Silent House (2011): All the Subtilty of a Brick


I only just watched the original version of this film the other day. A Spanish Uruguayan film shot on the Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, it had the distinction of being the first horror film to be filmed on a professional photographic camera. It was also touted as being a ‘continuous’ take film for the 88 minute duration of the movie. It has been pointed out that this is not possible as the camera has a 15 minute limit on filming.

Despite these claims and counterclaims on the continuity of the filming process, the original La Casa Muda was a brilliant little low-budget film that delivered more than adequately. Unfortunately despite an increased budget and a ‘name’ star (Elizabeth Olsen) the remake has lost a great deal in translation. The original has a subtile style while the remake is as subtile as getting hit in the face by a brick.

Directed by Chris KentisLaura Lau from a screenplay adapted from watching the original film, versus reading the screenplay, by Laura Lau this adaptation of the superior original has lost all the subtle nuances and the surprise ending of the first film.

The plots start off virtually the same. A young girl and her father are asked by her uncle to help clean the family summer home for re-sale. That is the only part of the film that stays the same. From the moment they step into the house, new elements are included in the film.

A sort of toxic (?) mold is found in the kitchen and it is assumed by the uncle and the father that it has spread throughout the house. Daddy tells Sarah (Olsen) to stay well back so that she does not breathe in any of the spores. I don’t know whether this was an attempt to introduce another plot device into the story. It did have the feel of a possible explanation of what happens next.

It was a complete waste of time.

While dad and uncle are searching for mold in the rest of the house, Sarah hears a knocking on the front door. She opens it and sees a girl of her own age on the porch. The girl is Sophia (Julia Taylor Ross) and she rushes to hug Sarah and tells her how much she has missed her. After Sarah reveals that she doesn’t really remember Sophia that well, Sophia makes a ‘date’ to come over later and reminisce.

Sarah’s uncle goes into town for more tools leaving her and dad to start cleaning the house. Sarah hears a noise upstairs and dad volunteers to investigate. Sarah joins him and they go through the first floor together. In one room there are a few Polaroid instant photographs that dad hurriedly stuffs into his pockets. When Sarah asks about them he says they are of the mold damage.

Almost from the first frame, the directors have chosen to play the child abuse and incest card. Even before the scenes where Sarah has ‘flashbacks’ to events from her childhood, they have signposts the way.

The fact that the two male figures bring in the Polaroid Instamatic instead of it being found (as in the original film) combined with all the   Polaroid photo’s lying around and that both the men can’t hide them quick enough when they have been found just screams ‘naughty’ pictures.

When we finally get to the part where Sarah starts remembering what happened to her in the house at the hands of her dad and uncle  it is absolutely no surprise. It’s been signposted way too well. In the original film it was one hell of a shock. Well, to me anyway. I did not see it coming until the character found it out herself at the end of the film.

Another major complaint with the re-make is the quality of the film. It was publicized that the re-made version was using the exact same filming equipment that was used on the original. Kudos points for them for experimenting with the digital medium. But, the new film has nowhere near the crisp quality of the original.

The film is blurry and feels so out of focus that I began to wish for glasses one third of the way in. Sure it helped to make the movie a bit more disturbing, but honestly, an elephant could have been stalking Olsen around the house and you would not have been able to see it. And I was watching a Blu-ray copy.

For all the speed that went into getting the re-make done and distributed, I really expected a better film. It was, in my honest opinion, a true waste of Elizabeth Olsen’s talent and almost an insult to the original, more superior film.

I would highly recommend seeing the original The Silent House and bypassing the remake. Unless of course you are a huge Olsen fan and you can’t bear to miss a film she’s in.

I can only despair over the amount of HD film cards that had to give their lives for this project.

English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Can...
English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens (fitted with a B+W 010 UV-Haze 58mm filter). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atrocious (2010): A Horror Film by any Other Name…

Written and directed by Fernando Barreda Luna, Atrocious opened to mixed reviews most notably from Rotten Tomatoes. I will admit to having passed over this particular film several times on LOVEFILM. The thumbnail combined with the films short description did nothing to peak my interest. The film’s title also did nothing to help sell the film. I am still at a bit of a loss to understand why it was titled Atrocious.

Finally curiosity forced me to give the film a try and I’m not sorry I did. The film was edited very well and the guerilla style of film-making helped to bring the events to life. I was afraid that the film was going to be another ‘Blair Witch‘ or ‘Paranormal’ or even ‘Cloverfield‘ and that it just would not be worth the time it took to watch the film.

Wrong, wrong and wrong. The film may have borrowed a little from each of the three mentioned titles, but they borrowed so little that it wasn’t readily noticeable.

The film’s plot is quite straight forward. The Quintanilla are going to their summer home for a holiday. Once there the two older children, Cristian and his sister July, continue to work on a video they started making before they arrived at the summer home.

Intrigued by an urban myth about the forest surrounding their summer home, they decide to focus their video on the woods and the myth itself. The myth says that if you are lost in the woods the spirit of a girl called Melinda will guide you or show you the right way out of the woods.

Cristian and July decided to explore the forest and see if they can get to the heart of the myth. In the meantime their younger brother Jose must keep himself entertained and mother keeps busy doing things around the house. Their father has been called away on business.

When mother finds out that they have been filming in the woods, she freaks out and forbids them from entering the forest. They pretty much ignore this new rule and when the family dog goes missing, the first place the kids go to look is the forest.

Despite the fact that this is Luna’s first feature length film, he proves that he is more than capable of using suspense in the best way possible to make some of the scenes excruciating to watch. As the suspense mounts up, it takes very little for your imagination to take over and send you into a child-like state of fear.

Luna has also opted to use the absolute minimum of music in the soundtrack. The absence of ‘mood’ music helps to build the unease that we feel watching and puts the audience into an almost ‘fly-on-the-wall’ position.  When the final twist is exposed to the kids and us, we are shocked, confused and left slightly breathless. I certainly did not see the twist and it took me completely by surprise.

The film opens stating that what we are watching has been compiled from a police evidence tape. The entire family was found murdered and this the only footage of what happened. So even though you fully expect the family to die, when it happens, you are still surprised.

I  kept expecting the victims to get killed off much earlier. So that there was a ‘building’ body count. Luna decided not to take that route and chose instead to shock us all at once.

The scenes in the forest at night were extremely well done and even had the odd bit of comedy thrown in which helped to make the footage seem more real. The young actors playing Cristian and July (Cristian ValenciaClara Moraleda) really felt like a brother and sister with the way they interacted with one another.

Overall this film was a lovely little surprise that, despite the somewhat confusing title, really delivered as a horror film. I can say that Atrocious is one of the better horror films I’ve seen this year.

If you go into the woods today…

The Loved Ones (2009): Oddness in the Outback

Every once in a great while you bump into a film that shows not only the underbelly of its protagonists but does it so well that the film becomes unforgettable. Written and directed by Sean Byrne, The Loved Ones is his first feature length film. Considering that this is his first time at bat, he has hit a home run that equals the performance of the legendary Babe Ruth.

Starring Xavier SamuelRobin McLeavy and John Brumpton the film shows three dysfunctional families and their problems. Firstly, we have Brent (Samuel) who is driving home with his dad after just getting his license. As he and his dad exchange banter, Brent takes his eyes off the road and when he looks back up he sees a bloody man standing in front of their car. Swerving he crashes into a tree.

Six months later we learn that Brent’s dad died in the crash and that Brent is planning on attending his high school prom with his long-term girlfriend Holly (Victoria Thaine). We also learn that Brent’s mother is still trying to cope with her husbands death. At school while Brent is getting things out of his locker a girl named Lola (Robin McLeavy) asks him to the prom. Replying that he will be going with Holly, but “thanks for asking,” he then goes out to meet with Holly in the car park.

It turns out that Brent is having a hard time dealing with his father’s death. He wears a razor blade  around his neck for self harming and he likes to feel close to death. It is while he is rock climbing that someone comes up behind him and knocks him out. The same person breaks his mobile phone and tries to kill his dog.

When Brent regains conciousness he is tied to a chair and Lola, who is now called Princess by her father, is having her own private prom at home and Brent is her unwilling date. After injecting him with bleach to freeze his vocal cords, she and her doting father begin a long night of torture.

In the meantime, Brent’s friend Jamie (Richard Wilson) is taking ‘goth chick’ Mia (Jessica McNamee) to the Prom. Mia’s dad is the local police constable and she is uncommunicative and seems to exist to only take drugs, drink alcohol, and have sex. Jamie is about as socially inept as they come and the two provide a lot of the movies lighter moments.

This film has some of the most cringe worthy moments I have ever seen in a film. It also has about the best cast possible. Princess’s father manages to repulse you and then make you feel pity for his character. Princess, aka Lola, just oozes insanity that has been brought about from her father not being able to say no to any request she makes.

Brent manages to make the damage that Bruce Campbell as Ashe goes through in the Evil Dead trilogy look like a walk in the park. The fact that he makes his suffering look all too real really helps to sell the film.

Special kudos to John Brumpton as Lola’s Daddy. This man manages to almost steal the show with his performance.

John Brumpton as Daddy.

By the end of the film Byrne manages to tie all the families together as we the audience realise that Princess’s madness has touched them all.

I rate just how good a film is by how I feel after I’ve just watched it. The Loved Ones fell into the category of ‘I need to see this one again!’ Australia has a brilliant knack of making horror films that stick with you. The cast lists are small and intimate and the characters so richly developed that you bond with them and really care about what happens to them.

I cannot wait to see what Sean Byrne has planned for us next.

Director Sean Byrne.

Glimpses of Childhood: Tornado Drills, A-Bomb Drills and Bat Guano

Being born in the latter days of the 50’s. I was the very essence of a 60’s child. I was too young to ‘tune out and turn on’ and I missed the ‘free love’ thing altogether.

Still growing up in the 60’s was an interesting journey to say the least. It was the era of the Cold War and the images of atomic bombs and the devastation that they entailed were scary. The ‘child friendly’ film above was still being shown in schools and was intended to help us youngsters know how to react when the bad guys dropped the big one on us.

Oddly enough, if you were in school and a tornado hit, the drill was almost exactly the same as in the film. As this 2010 news clip shows, the drill has not changed much from the one that we practised when I was in grade school:

In the 1960’s the bad guy was Russia and the threat of them dropping a bomb on us was a daily threat. We were urged to have a ‘fallout’ shelter. If you were a frugal family, you used your tornado shelter (aka storm cellar) as both a place to hide when the twisters came to flatten your home and the place to hide from the after effects of the nuclear explosions.

A bit fancy, this one could have been for the Rockefeller family.

If my family ran and hid from either the bomb or a twister, our shelter was a bit more ‘down-to-earth’ and we shared our ‘safe space’ with the canned preserves and spiders and other creepy crawlies that loved the dark dank shelter.

“Just pass some canned tomatoes while we’re waiting, will you?”

Of course growing up in the rural south as a child we never really bought into the whole ‘Ivan-the-Terrible‘ Russian is going to drop a big, bad bomb on our heads. We did, though, believe whole-heartedly in the chances of being blown away by a tornado.

The schools did show us many films on the dangers of the atomic bomb. I remember vividly the film that they used to show prior to the Duck and Cover film. This was a very short film and it had been made at one of the Nevada test sites. It showed cinderblock buildings being turned to dust and cars being thrown about like Tonka toys.

It was terrifying to a 7-year-old. But it was still just a movie. We only had to look out our school windows to see the damage that the last  tornado did to Old Man Jones’s barn. I’m sure he would have come in and told us about it but, unfortunately for him, Old Man Jones went the same way as his barn.

The visceral reality of the tornadoes damage which could be witnessed personally far outweighed the terror of the ‘filmed’ atomic destruction.

As I write this I am reminded of a school I attended in Springdale, Arkansas. It was in the 60’s and it was huge. The school boasted three floors (one of which was under ground level) and if you were on the top floor you had to go down a circular slide as part of the schools fire drill.

Now a historical building and it’s been re-designated as a High School.

I was in the school when I was in the fourth grade. The time I spent there was marked by two events. One was the day I went to school in the morning and it was drizzling rain. By noon the rain turned to sleet and then snow. By two o’clock in the afternoon the snow was so deep that the basement windows were covered and school let out early. That marked the beginning of one of the worst snow/ice storms in Arkansas history.

The second event was the initial trial run of the fire escape. On the back of the school was a tower that housed a circular slide. It had sat unused throughout the summer months and it was decided to give the tower a ‘trial run’ when school started up. Unknown to the school authority’s, a family of bats had made the tower their new home.

The first person who went down the slide was a teacher (presumably showing how safe it was) whose backside was immediately covered in bat guano. The fire escape was closed for a long time while the school got rid of the bats. Not to mention the guano.

So growing up in the 1960’s was pretty cool, if not a bit scary. You just needed to know what to do when the A-bomb hit or when a tornado was barreling down on your town. Oh and the necessity of avoiding bat guano.

Okay, who forgot the toilet paper.

Gangnam Style: South Korean Music and Humour is a Winning Combo

I pretty much follow a routine with my blog. Before I even think of writing anything I read the blogs I follow (well skip read if truth be told, I follow a lot of blogs) and I always read the latest entries in the Freshly Pressed arena.

I will admit a certain puzzlement as to why some of the blogs that are ‘pressed’ have received the honour of being singled out (this includes my own blog which was freshly pressed not so long ago). But to be very brutally honest, I don’t really care. It is nice just to read other folks blogs and learn new things or learn old things presented in a different light.

I read the Freshly Pressed today and right at the top of the list was I Grew up Gangnam Style. Because of the thumbnail I realized that I had seen this chap before. In fact the most recent image of this fellow and his natty outfit was a Lego rendition of his music video.

Now the blog post that had been Freshly Pressed did not go into the music video or the chap who made it (PSY if you’re interested). It did give a brilliant parallel reveal of what life in South Korea was like living in the province where the video was shot. It’s a good read, if you didn’t follow the link before, have a look now. It’s in the first paragraph.

But on to the video. I had seen the odd reference to Gangnam Style here and there and it did not arouse enough curiosity for me to look it up. Then the article today appeared and I just had to look this phenomena up. I’m glad I did. It is brilliantly funny and vastly entertaining. Don’t believe me? Just have a look:

Until now, the only other musical artist from Korea who delivered so much humour with his videos was M C MONG. In case you’ve never heard of him, here’s a sample of his music video humour:


Not to your taste? Then have a look at the Korean film The Fox Family. Made in 2006, this supernatural fantasy musical (that’s right, I said musical) is funny, and the musical numbers are brilliant. Just look at the ‘Money’ song:

Money – The Fox Family

So you can see that Korea has been blending music and humour for a while now. It took PSY and his music video to make the fact known world-wide. At over 290 million views the video now holds the record for viral videos. It is interesting to read the blog  post and the authors assertion that South Korea has just discovered irony. That may well be true, but, I think that South Korea has always had a sense of humour.

If you watch their TV shows, it appears that all the participants (especially those in the entertainment business) love to laugh and make fun of themselves. Not everyone of course, but a huge amount do appear to enjoy not taking themselves too seriously.

I review Asian horror films on YouTube and I’ve had a few people tell me that they don’t get ‘Korean humour’ citing it as being too slapstick in origination and ‘over the top.’ I did not then and still do not understand that statement. South Korean Humour is more than ‘3 stooges slapstick’ it can be sly, surprisingly subtle and in the case of the PSY video, funny and ironic.

The message of the PSY video is that South Korean’s are incredibly concious of how they look when they intermingle with one another in a social setting. Clothing, hairstyle, fashion sense, body weight and plastic surgery are all important facets of Korean social life. I’ve watched a huge amount of YouTube videos (mostly Eat Your Kimchi – Simon and Martina Rule!) that explain what living in South Korea is like.

These informative videos made the Gangnam Style music video all the more humorous. The word on the street is that South Korean’s are well aware of their cultural foibles and this self awareness is what has made the video both ironic and just downright funny.

My daughter has been a fan of KPOP for years and has shown me just about every boy and girl band manufactured over the last ten years in Korea. I have also discovered, through my daughters influence, M C Mong and other solo artists. PSY I discovered via Freshly Pressed and Quartz’s fine post about growing up in that area of Seoul.

Humour is a world wide common meeting ground. Sure some places in the world practise a different sort of humour. A sort of ‘home-grown’ or topical humour that doesn’t always translate well into other countries or languages. But laughter and the ability to laugh at ones self crosses all language or topical restrictions.

It is amazing to think that a music video can become the worlds most viral video until you factor in that is was a funny music video. It’s a shame that the whole world and it’s leaders cannot learn a lesson from these humorous videos. Like the old saying goes, “Laugh and the world laughs with you.”

What a nice thought.

The Cabin in the Woods (2011): Wolfram and Hart go Big-Time

It may just be me, but the whole film kind of felt like a huge Angel episode. One where Angel and co have already been defeated by ‘Wolf, Ram and Hart’ and are now running the entire world to their own set of skewed rules. It felt like the ‘bad guys’ had won the battle, but in order to win the war had to keep sacrificing a certain amount of people to hold the ‘ancient ones’ at bay.

It was like this was really the series end of Angel and it showed us that the demonic law corporation was alive and well and holding back the evil gods by the skin of their demonic teeth. Having Whedon regulars like Amy Acker (never a bad thing) and Fran Kranz (a personal favourite after his brilliant role in Dollhouse), not to mention Tom Lenk (it was nice to see him in something other than the Pepsi Max commercials he’s been trapped in), sort of made this film seem like ‘old home week’ already, but add in the massive plot device and the twist at the end of the movie and it still felt a little like an Epilogue to Angel season 5.

But despite the niggly feeling that Eliza Dushku was going to suddenly show up and save the day, I enjoyed the film. The very presence of Richard Jenkins(who gave a star turn as the father figure in the film Let Me In) ensured that the calibre of acting was going to be top notch and it was. I adored the explanation of how the whole thing worked. The ‘participants’ had free-will going for them. Okay the cards were pretty much stacked against them from the get go, but they still had the liberty to misbehave or not. The entire feel of the ‘behind the scenes’ guys was brilliant. Right down to the betting pools on which ‘big bad’ was going to dispatch the group.

The writing was pure Whedon and Goddard gold. The scene where the gas station attendant rings the control room for a strange almost biblical rant. He  stops mid-rant and asks, “Do you have me on speaker-phone?” With much choked back giggling and gestures to keep quiet, the controller talking to the gas station guy says, “Yep, I did. Sorry about that.” He then makes a knocking noise and says, “Okay, you’re off.” Of course gas station guy isn’t off the speaker phone and the giggling and laughing clues him into this. The entire film was worth the price of admission just for this scene alone.

“I told you! I don’t want to talk about Dollhouse!”

It was these type of scenes combined with the subtle action that made the film worth watching. Wendy Lin (Amy Acker) turning up her nose at the office pool and then at the last minute placing her bet. The slow realization that everything is resting on their televised sacrifice show and the pressures and tension that entails. The premature celebrations when they think they’ve won. I could go on but what would be the point?

The film was a brilliant attempt at satirizing the horror/slasher genre that just doesn’t quite work. The film has stand out moments and for my money Fran Kranz stole the show. The Cabin in the Woods was plagued with problems from the get go. The studios who had given the film the green light, then turned around and wanted to first change the format to 3D and then just wanted to get rid of the finished product.  *Interesting to note that the other film the studio was desperate to get rid of was the re-make of Red Dawn. Red Dawn also starred Thor aka Chris Hemsworth. It makes you wonder what the studio was thinking.*

I did also get the feeling that Kristen Connolly was a replacement for Felicia Day who must not have been available for the shooting schedule. I was desperate to see this film and was gutted when I missed it’s cinema run. Watching it last night, I was actually glad that I didn’t see it on the big screen as I don’t think it would have enhanced the experience at all. I am now waiting for the blu-ray copy to come in so that I may see the making of featurettes that I live for.

Goddard, Thor and Whedon

My final verdict is that the film is a must see for Whedon fans, or indeed Goddard fans,  and it’s still very entertaining. It is not a horror film (I thought I’d better warn you) and it only just misses the satire genre. The film is still clever and what we have come to expect from Mssrs Whedon and Goddard.

The Silent House (2010): The Little Film that Could

We watched this the other night out of curiosity. The film itself is a bit of a ‘one-off’ in that the director and producers claim that the film was made in a continuous take of 88 minutes. However if you look at the equipment that they used, a Canon EOS 5D Mark II which can only film up to fifteen minutes of continuous footage, it does bring a bit of doubt to the producers veracity.  I’m not doubting the producers intent though. Like most digital photographic cameras, there are ways to bypass the 15 minute limitation, not least of which is just having enough memory cards or disks to pop in after you’ve filled up the current one.

I have noticed a certain amount of snobbery and downright aggression against the ‘continuous’ claim and I can’t really understand it. The film is the first ‘horror film‘ to use a professional photographic camera to shoot the entire movie and despite claims and counter claims to the contrary, is the first to use a continuous take approach. All this means is that the film has a ‘real-time’ feel to it and that this enhances the tension we, the audience, feel while watching it.

Considering that the films total budget was in the region of seven thousand dollars, this is not a film to be scoffed at. It delivers well enough and the effects, though minimal, work well enough. In fact the film delivers well enough that before the digital dust had settled on it’s world premier, a Hollywood re-make with Elizabeth Olsen was in the works. So the film makers must have done something right.

Directed by Gustavo Hernández (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Oscar Estévez and Gustavo Rojo) The Silent House is based upon ‘true events that occurred in Uruguay in the 1940’s. If you Google this long enough, you’ll eventually find an oblique reference to the discovery of two horribly mutilated corpses that were found in a semi-derelict house in the country.  That’s all you will find. Still it was this story that provided the kernel of the film and it’s plot.

The film has a cosy feel to it cast wise as there are only really three players in the film.  Florencia Colucci as LauraGustavo Alonso as Wilson (Laura’s pop) and Abel Tripaldi as Nestor. There is another actor in the film, but as they only show up briefly towards the end, I don’t really count them as part of the main cast.

Nestor has employed Wilson and Laura to ‘clear up’ an old farmhouse that he owns. He wants to sell the old place but realizes his chances of doing so are pretty poor with the property in its current state. He shows Wilson and Laura what he wants done and before he leaves he tells the both of them to stay on the ground floor. The top floor of the two story property is unsafe with loose tiles and floorboards.

As it is quite late in the day, Wilson and Laura decide to sleep before starting their work in the morning. Literally seconds after Wilson enters the land of Nod, Laura begins to hear noises from the floor above them. After finally waking Wilson, who appears to have the ability to sleep through a major world war, Laura tells him that someone has entered the house and is moving around the top floor. He agrees to investigate, but before he goes he tells Laura that he expects her to be asleep when he returns.

As he heads up the stairs, Laura waits anxiously. We hear a scream and a thud and it appears that Wilson has encountered something bad. The film then spends a good portion of time building suspense and throwing in the odd ‘timely’ scare.

I won’t lie to you here. I don’t really see what was so great about the film that it warranted an almost instantaneous Hollywood re-make. On a scale of movie making where a score of 1 equals unimaginative and 10 equals revolutionary breathtaking originality. I’d have to place The Silent House around the region of 6 or maybe at a push 7.

Of course I don’t make films for a living, I just enjoy watching them and then talking about them. Perhaps the producers of the re-make (already out there by the way re-titled somewhat imaginatively as Silent House) saw what having a larger budget and a better known cast could do with this interesting little film. Who knows?

Still just in the area of the new digital trend in the movie making business the film hits a few resounding notes. The entire film was (regardless of whether it was done in continuous takes or not) shot with a professional photographic camera. It was shot as continuous as possible (taking into account the technical restraints of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II) and it did so on a budget so small that the phrase ‘shoestring’ budget seems almost too grandiose a term.

I would recommend seeing it, especially if you haven’t seen the re-make yet. It is always interesting to see the original films before Hollywood gets hold of them and ‘jazzes them up.’ It is also worth a look just by benefit of budget alone. When someone can make a movie for less than it costs to buy a used car, that sort of ingenuity is worth a look or two.

Canon EOS 5D
Canon EOS 5D (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bravery, a State of Mind or Being…

Lieutenant Mamo Habtewold

I read an article today about an Ethiopian soldier who was awarded the US Award for Gallantry. In 1951 he was part of a force sent by the Ethiopian King Haile Selassie as a show of support for the American lead United Nations force that was fighting in Korea.

Selassie was a man who practised what he preached. He had in the past poured scorn on the UN when it failed, as the League of Nations, to send help when his country was invaded by Italy in 1935. Being a staunch ally of the US King Selassie thought that the ‘call to arms’ sent out by the UN to help South Korea in it’s battle against North Korea and the Chinese was the perfect opportunity to show how support should be given.

King Selassie sent in excess of 3000 troops. Most of whom were drawn from his own imperial guards. After speaking to the men and telling them that he expected them to bring their flag back with them. The three battalions left to become part of the US 7th Division.

These battalions fought in a large number of battles in Korea including the infamous ‘Pork Chop Hill‘ which claimed so many lives from both sides.

The soldier who received the US Award for Gallantry was, then, Lieutenant Mamo Habtewold. He says that when the first Ethiopian troops returned in 1951, they all spoke of the battles they’d taken part in and pretty much boasted about their time there.

When the Ethiopians joined the newly ‘de-segregated’ 7th Division they were given an elevated status from the US black soldiers already there. Mama said that discrimination was not an issue.  “You know Ethiopia has a 3,000-year history as an independent country. We Ethiopians were proud and boasting that we were Ethiopians. We don’t care about any colour. The Americans didn’t call us ‘Negro’ as we would be angry,” he says.

Mamo went on to say, “We were the best fighters. The three Ethiopian battalions fought 253 battles, and no Ethiopian soldier was taken prisoner in the Korean War,” he says. “That was our Ethiopian motto: ‘Never be captured on the war field.”

Peace talks were stalled and Mamo and his men were part of the Division that was assigned to the hilly territory that included Pork Chop Hill. The fighting was long, bloody and fierce. On one night in May 1953 Mamo lead a 14 man patrol down the hill to scout out the land below. They had one American soldier along and very soon the 15 strong patrol was surrounded by Chinese forces that were 300 strong. A ratio of twenty Chinese soldiers to each one of the Ethiopian patrol.

Four Ethiopians were killed along with the American Corporal. Everyone else was wounded. Using weapons taken from dead Chinese soldiers, Mamo searched throughout the night to find a working radio so he could call in the Artillery units for support. After a long search, Mamo found a radio and Artillery was called in and support came from other troops.

When the remainder of the 14 man patrol came back to their base camp, only Mamo was able to stand. He alone walked back to their bunker while his comrades were sent to the medical units for treatment.

When the war ended, the Ethiopians returned to a heroes welcome. Through the entire conflict they had only lost 120 men and had no men taken prisoner.

Mamo says that at one point during the long night of battle with the Chinese, he thought of killing himself. He had given his pistol to another soldier and when he asked for it back, the soldier refused. That action was what prompted Mamo to search for Chinese weapons to use against the forces attacking them. He did not, apart from that one moment, think of suicide again.

All of which begs the question: What exactly is bravery? I’ve heard it described many ways. The best I’ve ever heard is this, ‘Bravery is knowing that all the odds are against you, but you carry on anyway.’

Of course the above definition of bravery suggests that the individuals being brave are aware of it. In other words they are aware that they are being brave. I don’t really feel that this is the case.

In Mamo’s story, at one point he wanted to end it all. It was only when his soldier refused to return his gun that he changed his mind. But the way he tells it, it was a ‘moment’ an instant of decision that came and went just as quickly. He then continued his battle against incredible odds until they were rescued.

A rescue only possible because Mamo found a radio that worked. So in his instance at least the bravery he exhibited was more a combination of a state of mind and being.

I think of men in battle like Mamo and wonder at their courage and bravery. I wonder if I could or would have acted so well under fire.

I had a great uncle who was a runner in the WWI. He was a message runner for Col MacArthur (later General MacArthur). My uncle would take the message and put it into the dispatch case and head out through the forest towards his objective. By the time he would reach his destination, he had been through his own personal hell.

General MacArthur circa: 1930

My uncle would arrive with the case clutched firmly in his hands. His uniform had been blasted off his body by bombs and shrapnel. He was numb and deafened by the sounds of the explosions. He would hand his message over and after resting and getting re-outfitted he would head back with the reply. I cannot imagine such bravery as this.

He had to know that each and every time he was used as a runner that this would be the likely result. Yet as far as I know, he never refused. This bravery cost him dearly. By the time he was mustered out of the army, he was shell shocked and obviously suffering from post traumatic stress which was not understood in those days.

To get him through each day, he drank. Copious amounts. It was thought that he was just a ‘rummy’ a drunk and he was looked down upon by a lot of people. It was only years later that the family learned of post traumatic stress syndrome and it’s toll on the people who suffered from it.

The fact that this man would get up everyday and face his inner demons with the help of alcohol is another form of bravery. He had no one to help him and no one who understood. Yet, like the running he’d done in the war, he still did it.


Is it because  he felt a sort of duty or because he could not think of any alternative?

What do you think? Is bravery a state of mind or is it a state of being. Do we consciously decide to be brave, or is it something we just do?  I’d be willing to bet that neither Mamo Habtewold nor my great uncle could tell you.

*For more information on Ethiopia’s role in the Korean War follow this link:  An Ethiopian hero of the Korean War*

During battle, soldiers ran the messages, instead of ‘calling it in’