Oculus – Film Review

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Oculus is an American horror film about a brother (Brenton Thwaites) and sister (Karen Gillan) who reunite to destroy the haunted mirror that took the lives of both their parents (Katee Sackhoff & Rory Cochrane) and resulted in the brother spending his childhood in an institute. While the siblings battle to destroy the mirror in their old family home the past and present mirror (PUN!) each other as their childhood counterparts (Annalise Basso & Garrett Ryan) battle the same mirror in the same house 11 years earlier.

The idea of a haunted mirror might sound a little silly but most horror synopses suffer a similar flaw and whether or not this leads to the film’s failure or not is all in the execution. Oculus works best when showing the mirror’s powers in a non-corporeal way. Let me explain… The mirror can alter a person’s perception of reality so when they are eating an apple they actually eat a light bulb or remove their fingernail thinking it is a plaster. Little moments like this are genuinely creepy and aren’t signposted in advance like most scares in a modern horror.

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Scares work less well when we see a physical representation of the mirror’s evil which takes the form of slightly ill-looking people, actually dead, who have shiny eyes. At first they make you jump but the longer the camera lingers on an actor in makeup the more they start to look like an actor in makeup. For the most part though the film does it job of creepiness and scares well enough and I had to hide behind my hand on at least one occasion.

Also managed well are the transitions between the two eras. Actors from the past and present day will pass on the stairs or a scene will cut suddenly and grown-up Karen Gillan will be replaced by the much younger Annalise Basso. The effort put into these moments shows an extra nugget of consideration and helps raise the film a notch in quality and above the noise of low budget horrors coming out each week. The ending too should be praised for showing a real commitment to the premise and integrity of the plot over what an audience might want.

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It has been a week now since I saw the film and this allows for Oculus to be put to a real test for any half decent horror; has it stayed with me? The answer is sadly no. While scary while I was watching the film easily slipped from my mind as soon as I stepped outside the cinema and my sleep hasn’t been troubled by the sight of a mirror from my bed. While enjoyable spooky Oculus is probably not going to be held up as a classic in years to come.

Slick direction and editing really make this film and the fact that the director (Mike Flanagan) resists the temptation to make a found footage film despite the presence of technology is a real saving grace. Oculus is good, not great, and should make for a nice distraction on a wet summer evening.

Or maybe…

But probably just…

Oculus is in UK cinemas this Friday 13th June.

Doctor Who Series 6 DVD Review

There was a time when the idea of owning even a single episode of Doctor Who on DVD would have been laughable. For me the series was a bit of fun but nothing worth dwelling on, certainly not worth revisiting or spending money to own. This all changed the day Steven Moffat took over the reins and brought in Matt Smith as The Doctor. Suddenly the series had an extra level of quality and complexity to it. Finally I understood what people had been going on about and finally I had found my Doctor.

While series 5 was the best the show had ever been with a finale that made every episode worth a re-watch as new information came to light, series 6 was slightly less awe-inspiring but remains a funny, scary and downright brilliant piece of TV.

The box set starts off on a strong footing with last year’s Christmas special A Christmas Carol which will be hard to beat this year and which I raved about last December. The rest of the series never quite matched the joy of this special and covers The Doctor’s potential demise, the battle against The Silence, one mysterious pregnancy and a classic sci-fi plot twist involving the identity of River Song.

Without a doubt this is the best Doctor Who cast and crew there has ever been. Steven Moffat is the best writer, Matt Smith is the best Doctor, Karen Gillan is the best companion and Arthur Darvill is the best husband of a companion. I love them all to pieces.

The DVDs certainly don’t skimp when it comes to the extras. Some episodes come with either short teaser prequels or commentaries but these are not what get me excited. Exclusive (possibly) to the DVD are five extra Night And The Doctor scenes which show what goes on in the TARDIS in between episodes. It was lovely to see Amy and The Doctor share a quiet moment and The Doctor struggle to juggle three different versions of River Song as they each turn up unannounced. These are complemented by the Comic Relief sketches in which the TARDIS lands within itself, caused by a short skirt and a glass floor and resulting in Amy flirting with herself.

The only place these DVDs let themselves down is with the inclusion of Doctor Who Confidential. Confidential is the complimentary TV series looking in-depth at the filming of each episode, a series I love and which was tragically cancelled at the end of this series. What the DVD does wrong is to cut these down to 10 minutes from their original 40, so much footage has been left out. Some of this footage is included in four Monster Files but it isn’t really a decent substitute.

If you are stuck for ideas for the nerd in your life, Doctor Who would be a great gift and is on sale now on DVD and Blu-ray. Doctor Who no longer needs to be a guilty pleasure.

Doctor Who Series 6 DVD provided by BBCShop.com

Inadmissible Evidence – Theatre Review

Excuse me while I try to talk about theatre…

Inadmissible Evidence is a 1964 play written by John Osborne in which William Maitland plays an alcoholic, womanising solicitor who puts himself on a metaphorical trial for his failed life and sordid behaviour. Normally performed as a drama, for obvious reasons, but the Donmar production directed by Jamie Lloyd instead presents the play as more of a comedy; Douglas Hodge in the lead role brings a huge amount of energy and humour to the stage, contorting his face and throwing his body around.

In the first act Maitland is full of fun, tormenting his staff and avoiding calls from his wife and mistress. After the interval the tone shifts to one of despair as the people he has surrounded himself with start to desert him and Hodge is given the opportunity to show the full range of emotions. In true theatrical style there are monologues galore; Al Weaver performs a moving speech as a gay man refusing to deny his sexuality and Serena Evans plays a series of women suffering at the hands of their husbands. Born from such a vibrant beginning the dark and dramatic conclusion to the play is all the more effective.

Karen Gillan, surely a huge draw after her role in Doctor Who (I admit to nothing), plays a small but key role very well in her theatre debut. It was hard to keep my eyes off her even when she wasn’t directly on-stage, made possible by some clever staging allowing “off-stage” actors to be visible through frosted glass in the back office. The Donmar Warehouse certainly knows how to put together a good set. With such a small auditorium, the stage felt less like a solicitor’s office built in a theatre but more a theatre built around a solicitor’s office. The whole stage was wonderfully grimy and cluttered.

Daniel Ryan was solid as Maitland’s right hand man whose loyalty is slipping, as was Amy Morgan as the fun new secretary willing to put up with Maitland’s lecherous advances. The real star of course is Douglas Hodge, the poor man never leaves the stage and gives the role such energy and charm it’s a wonder he manages 8 shows a week.

If theatre, cinema and TV are good for anything it is to make you feel something, and Inadmissible Evidence built me up and knocked me down. Well worth the reasonable-for-theatre ticket price.

Inadmissible Evidence is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 26th November 2011.

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol – TV Review

Monday night saw Mild Concern sitting amongst children and stars at the premiere of this years Doctor Who Christmas special A Christmas Carol.

I’ll try not to give anything away in reviewing this brilliant episode of Who, though I’d say it is a slightly more low key affair than in previous years. I don’t think a single thing exploded and after last years epic mess a quieter, better crafted story was a welcome relief.

The first half of the episode was pure comedy as Matt Smith expertly delivered Stephen Moffat’s witty dialogue so naturally it was like he was an actor or something. Karen Gillan was sadly in a smaller role than usual but during her brief appearances was in her police uniform keeping the grown up men plenty happy.

Supporting Smith were guest actors Michael Gambon and Kathryn Jenkins who brough different qualities to the show. Gambon was a total powerhouse, playing both the good and evil of the episode and clearly revelling in the fun of being in Doctor Who. Jenkins however shows much lighter acting talent, mostly just looking pretty and doing the occasional song, thereby demonstrating what really got her the job.

What really came across watching Who on the big screen is just how cinematic the show has become. Toby Haynes did a wonderful job of directing, as the TV budget was well and truly stretched to create some stunning shots. The CGI is at its peak here too making for a perfect storm of good TV.

So the writing was great, the acting was (mostly) great and the directing too was… great, but what of the story? I’m glad you asked, the story is really Christmassy and imaginative as we get a truly Who version of a classic tale complete with snow, carols, sharks and time travel.

After the screening Caitlin Moran, everyone’s favourite TV critic, chaired a Q&A with Smith, Moffat and Jenkins which brought no real insights beyond Jenkins being nervous and Gambon having plenty of anecdotes. The main highlight came when “superfan” Karen Gillan asked the panel about their favourite types of fish before shouting out “I like blowfish” for no good reason.

You had to be there really… and you weren’t. Ha!

Tune in on Christmas Day and enjoy a family friendly Christmas treat.

OMG. Doctor Who FTW.

Ever since Doctor Who was rebooted with Eccleston earnestly dashing about I have listened to people marvel at The Doctor and his antics while I simply didn’t get it. I found it all poorly done, the acting was often a bit off, more for one particular assistant, the lighting far too bright and the aliens far too fake to ever be truly scary. That all changed this year as Stephen Moffat took the reins and made Doctor Who the show I had always been told it was.

In this series Moffat has made an engaging, intricately plotted and at times cinematic show. The Doctor is wonderfully played by Matt Smith as a slightly tactless kind-hearted genius accompanied by a strong, exciting and not to mention beautiful Amy Pond who has risen above companion status thanks to Karen Gillan.

Doctor Who has been better from every angle this year and the two part finale proved all that with laughs, scares and more wonderful Pond based pouting. I’m no longer ashamed to say I watch and waiting for the next series isn’t going to be easy. In just one short series Doctor Who has made it from being a show I occasionally watch to a show I spend my week looking forward to… or would do if it were on before Christmas.

Gush, gush, gush.