Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2020 – Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Christmas films are often associated with warmth, family, togetherness and a general infusion of the joys of the festive season, not horror. However, there are a number of horror films set at the festive season, a time when you would least expect the evils of the world to be on display. Therefore, this year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar, inspired by last year’s selection of Anna And The Apocalypse, takes aim at Christmas horror films.

Today marks the day before the week of Christmas. People may be beginning to properly prepare for the festivities and embracing them as the home stretch arrives. And so behind today’s calendar door is a true Christmas film. One that embraces the magic of the season with its fantastical elements. Fantasy that stems from eeriness and horror in the rather great cult hit Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale.

Set in the build-up to Christmas this film sees a British mining expedition in Lapland impact a nearby village of few people, including three reindeer slaughterers. However, when the expedition discovers something dark within the mountains all the nearby reindeer are murdered overnight and it’s believed that Santa Claus has been awoken. As the children in the area begin to disappear one by one the one left is perhaps the most inquisitive about Santa – Pietari (Onni Tommila). After capturing the dishevelled lanky figure of what appears to be the face of Christmas himself Pietari’s father (Jorma Tommila) attempts to hide what he has captured, alongside his two co-workers. However, it’s not long until darker forces come into play and the Christmas Eve that the story plays out over could very well be the last.

Throughout the film many fantastical elements are played with, especially when it comes to the folklore of Santa, at times mixing it with the figure of Krampus. Either way as the situation becomes increasingly desperate and the threatening hoard of elves being to play their part there’s uncertainty as to what should be done – especially when thousands of dollars are wanted for the damages that will have been done by the unleashing of the figure trapped in a butchery. Yet, the spirit of Christmas and time of year are never forgotten about – even if they are slightly twisted for a horror effect.

Rare Exports can certainly be viewed as a film with its festive conventions – and not just because of the presence of a quasi-Santa – mostly in the form of people coming together during the festive season, even if it is to defeat an evil presence. The cold sheet of snow that surrounds all landscapes in the film push the harsh scenarios, yet when the film plays with its fantasy and moments of effective, and not overly dark, black comedy there’s a slight bit of seasonal cheer held within the twisted conventions.

By not going into the mountains to find Santa or solve the problem all action is kept above ground. While this may have been done for budgetary reasons; this is a film relatively free of any major CG shots, it’s something that helps the film feel unique and original. By staying above ground and following all the actions there, allowing for the unknown creatures to come to the protagonists, there’s a level of suspense and extra threat added – while allowing the characters to plan how they may respond, with limited resources. It all might be a build-up to a punchline, although better than one found in any cracker, but it all works and clicks rather well. This is a creative and well-formed film that manages to have a slight, if darkly subverted, Christmas feel to it – while never forgetting its fantasy infused moments of horror.

A dark tale about the Santa that we never get shown, the one that’s a threat to children, Rare Exports truly is something different. Helped by its black comedy, and of course elements of horror, there’s a a lot to like about it. All while being a twist on the genres and formats which it holds. Yet, the idea of people coming together, especially family, to save Christmas, although initially their business and livelihood, in this circumstance holds something rather entertaining to see. It’s no surprise that this has gained a growing cult status over the years since its initial release in 2010.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale can be watched in the follow places:
Amazon/Prime
BFI Player
Shudder
iTunes
YouTube
Sky Store
Alongside a number of other places, including being available on physical formats such DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s always worth checking JustWatch in your country to see where the film is available to stream, rent or buy.

Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2020 – The Day Of The Beast

Christmas films are often associated with warmth, family, togetherness and a general infusion of the joys of the festive season, not horror. However, there are a number of horror films set at the festive season, a time when you would least expect the evils of the world to be on display. Therefore, this year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar, inspired by last year’s selection of Anna And The Apocalypse, takes aim at Christmas horror films.

Day two of this year’s calendar and after delving into a Santa Claus home invasion let’s take a look at another big figure of the festive season. For many Christmas is marked by the birth of the baby Jesus, not the antichrist. Yet, in The Day Of The Beast on Christmas Eve the presence of the devil and the antichrist are felt by a Catholic Priest intent on stopping them from bringing about the apocalypse.

Christmas is largely known as a time for kindness and generosity, however Father Ángel Berriartúa (Alex Angulo) announces in the opening scene to his fellow priest that he intends to commit as many sins as possible. Away he goes stealing, pushing over street performers and committing all sorts of minor crimes and grievances. Once meeting record store owner José María (Santiago Segura) the two form a partnership intent on fulfilling Ángel’s aim of ridding the world of the soon-to-be-born antichrist – on Christmas Eve of all nights, when the streets are packed with last minute shoppers. Throw in an alleged TV psychic (Armando De Razza) and the horrors of communicating with the devil begin to properly come into play.

Yet, before any actual confrontation with the face of evil; and even after the first effects of a summoning circle are witnessed, a lot of the potential fear, and some of the dark comedy that’s prominent throughout the first half of the film, Ángel’s mental state is almost questioned. Is everything he claims true, or is it all simply part of a descent into madness and delusion? Has he an ulterior motive that links to darker intentions? As the film plays out and the three central figures become increasingly battered and bruised by their investigation this question is asked more and more.

While it could be said that the central team come together at Christmas and there are bonds formed many of the films themes and ideas, in fact the base plot as a whole, are almost the antithesis of what most people associate Christmas with. Rooted in tones of darkness, fear and the potential end of the world there’s a lack of peace and harmony as the desperation of the characters heightens. The horror conventions are well and truly in place throughout, even if the film itself isn’t exactly the scariest, although playing more as a horror in the second half.

Black comedy is a key tone during the first half of co-writer (alongside Jorge Guerricaechevarría) and director Álex de la Iglesia’s film. His central figure is unsure as to how he should sin, and what crimes he should commit – finding himself listening to extremely heavy metal about Satan and asking for records to be played in reverse for devil worshipping messages, while the man behind the counter worries about it breaking the record player. The film initially pokes fun at the frantic situation that the narrative is made up of, as it seems that the priest may be foreseeing things that aren’t really there/ won’t actually happen.

Throughout the elements of horror and dark comedy the question about the visions and alleged foreseen future is, is it just in his mind, or is it real? Either way there’s a chance that it can help everyone have a better and more peaceful Christmas, and potentially save the world and prevent the apocalypse – perhaps there is a bit of festive cheer present after all.

The Day Of The Beast can be watched in the following places:
Amazon
Or, you may have a physical copy on DVD or another format. There may be other streaming options available, it’s always good to check JustWatch to see where you can watch the film in your country.

Wonder Woman 1984 – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 31 minutes, Director – Patty Jenkins

Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) secretly acts as Wonder Woman, stopping or preventing small crimes, however she has to use all her power to stop business-owner Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) from gaining world-threatening power.

Is Wonder Woman here to save 2020? Perhaps. However, the person more responsible for having cinemas backs may potentially be Patty Jenkins. Having initially fought for a summer release spot for her sequel to 2017’s Wonder Woman, facing multiple delays of almost over a year since the initial release date, Jenkins ended up fighting for a proper cinema release – with a simultaneous theatrical release and opportunity to stream on HBO Max available in the States. Her plan is clearly set out in Wonder Woman 1984, a film that tries to show traditional hope through heroism. Perhaps its how heavily the film is infused with it’s 80’s setting but there’s a feeling of Christopher Reeve Superman films that. In one of the opening scenes we see the leaping figure of Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman stopping a theft in a shopping mall, alongside other accidents in the nearby street. Her stances are clearly set out, rolling her eyes as she disapprovingly states “I hate guns”. Yet, all of this happens while her alter-ego Diana Prince lives an almost happy quiet life.

A quiet life which is soon interrupted when struggling business owner Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal) finds a way to vastly increase his power, to a world-threatening degree after having a wish-granting stone fall into his possession. Pascal is having great fun throughout the film, truly capturing the classic-superhero-flick honouring villain he’s portraying. In fact, it seems as if the entire cast is having fun being a part of this feature, however perhaps the person most people were looking forward to seeing is Kristen Wiig’s Barbara Minerva. Initially a shy, nerdy Smithsonian worker over the course of the film she gains a dark confidence that flips her initial friendship with Diana to a selfish antagonism on her side. This kind of role is something different for Wiig and she pulls it off well, especially during the earlier changes of her character.

With all this going on plot-wise there’s still room found to explore Diana’s relationship with Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), somehow making an unaged return, despite his arc in the previous film set during World War One. While the arrival of Pine’s pilot does bring in some comedic attempts – some more successful than others – the focus is certainly shifted to his bond with Gadot’s Amazonian warrior. Taking away from her trying to investigate and track down Pascal’s increasingly powerful threat before his parallel madness leads the world to destroy itself, and even the development of Wiig’s sometimes sidelined figure. At one point the pair are meant to be rushing somewhere as fast as possible to avoid life threatening consequences and yet they take a moment to slow down and admire conveniently placed 4th July fireworks. It almost feels at times as if the film is nearing being put on pause to show something different, or as if a sub-plot to show Diana’s emotional pain takes major priority over the potential end of the earth, instead of being more woven into it. While she may feel in such a way the impact on the audience is unfortunately not quite the same.

At 2 and a half hours this is a long film. Partly because it frequently tells and repeats information instead of simply showing it, meaning that when action does kick in it sometimes takes a second or two to properly realise it in the later stages of the film. There are certainly third act issues, feeling somewhat more like a conventional/ mid-2000’s superhero flick than the rest of the film, as was the case with the first Wonder Woman feature, which at just over 2 hours and 20 minutes felt somewhat lengthy. This isn’t to say the action is bad. There are certainly a number of thrills to be found within this film – particularly in a number of close-combat fights and a particularly brilliant car chase sequence; which is excellently captured by Jenkins direction.

Yet, despite its slight flaws, this is ultimately a film or hope and heroism. A respectful look back to the classic Superman films that shaped many childhoods. Those which inspired a generation. And this Wonder Woman may likely have the same effect on a new generation. The character is very much still DC’s guiding light, thanks to the collaborative force of Gadot and Jenkins who have worked hard to create a character that people can be proud of. Strong yet not without their flaws, sometimes becoming a key focus over the narrative of defeating evil, and one who shows emotion – rarely do we see a hero actually display sorrow, loss or upset in a way that isn’t anger or revenge.

Wonder Woman continues to be something different amongst DC’s current catalogue, and a number of recent increasingly large-scale features from other studios. Venturing into new bright and hopeful reaches, while managing to capture the unmistakable feeling of classic 80’s grit-free heroism throughout, not just through the setting, but the style and character of the piece too. Don’t go for a huge superhero blockbuster with insane budgets, epic fight scenes and masses of visual effects, go for a true big-screen tale of good overcoming evil.

At times more Lester than Donner this is a well-told tale of good vs evil. There are some sidetracks that choose to tell rather than show, but this is still an enjoyable and mould-breaking flick. Holding well-captured action and most of all a character of hope powered by a united force, led by the passion of Jenkins and Gadot.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar 2020 – Dial Code Santa Claus

Christmas films are often associated with warmth, family, togetherness and a general infusion of the joys of the festive season, not horror. However, there are a number of horror films set at the festive season, a time when you would least expect the evils of the world to be on display. Therefore, this year the Alternative Christmas Film Advent Calendar, inspired by last year’s selection of Anna And The Apocalypse, takes aim at Christmas horror films.

This year’s calendar begins with a film that covers one of the scariest elements of Christmas, intruders. Every year people celebrate a complete stranger who breaks into your house in the middle of the night, this figure more commonly known as Santa Claus. It’s this route that home invasion action-horror Dial Code Santa Claus (sometimes called Deadly Games, Game Over or 3615 Code Père Noël) travels along.

Eight year old Thomas (Alain Musy) is labelled as a child genius. However, he seems to be the only person he knows who still believes in Santa Claus. After finding a way to message Santa Thomas is certain that on Christmas Eve he’ll have proof that Santa is real. However, it turns out that the person that he messages is a lonely man (Patrick Floersheim), turned away from by people in the streets and seemingly craving attention. When the stranger, dressed in bright red Santa costume, although looking more like he’s prepared for rainy weather, with his hair spray-painted to look like fake snow, arrives at the expansive mansion that Thomas and his family reside in his intentions are revealed to be far more murderous than they initially seemed.

Soon there’s a battle for survival, with his Mum (Brigitte Fossey) out of the home, as Thomas is left to use his Arnie-style skills and weapons – brought about by a convenient love for action films – to fend for him and his frail grandpa (Louis Ducreux). Yet, with all the twists and turns of the expansive house, and its steep, snow-covered roofs, there are little places to hide and stay safe within. The hooded anti-Santa finds ways to catch up with the pair, continuously battling up close with them and ending up in Home Alone style fights – if Home Alone was made in the style of Commando; director René Manzor threatened legal action against the actual Home Alone, released the year after this film, for plagiarism. As blood begins to be shed and the deadly figure behind this home invasion causes a separation between the only other two people on the grounds of the building and puts them at various, potentially deadly, disadvantages.

While it might not feature conventional Christmas film styles and themes Christmas is still featured rather heavily throughout the film – not just because the antagonist is a man in a Santa costume. The film watches Thomas as his faith and belief in the magic of Christmas – briefly discussed by his Mum while she’s at work during the gradual build-up of the film’s ideas – quickly fades away. Once Santa strikes for the first time there’s no going back, his idealised image of the festive season is destroyed. Instead of being given gifts he has things taken away from him.

However, there’s an emphasis on his relationship with his grandfather. Their bond is a key focus throughout the film, time is certainly taken to cement it over the first half hour or so. Thomas does his best to ensure that they both survive, putting his grandparent in safety before himself, hiding him before coming up with plans on how to defeat the murderous intruder. Is this a film about family? Not completely, however the relationship between the two is certainly a key feature of the piece that truly captures what’s at stake – the fact that film is set on Christmas Eve pushing this idea even more.

There’s a lot that goes on within Dial Code Santa Claus, and certainly enough to make it an enjoyable little action film with some slightly fun moments above anything else. Although there are certainly still a number of horror ideas there, especially within the slasher style and the threat that’s faced by Thomas throughout. This may cause him to have a shattered view of not just Santa but Christmas as a whole, but when looking at this in the real world it potentially makes us more thankful that we at least allow a nice guy to break into our homes once a year.

Dial Code Santa Claus can be viewed in the following places:
Shudder
Or you may have a physical copy of the film, perhaps on DVD. It might be able to stream, rent or buy on other platforms depending on where you are in the world, it’s always good to check JustWatch just in case.

LFF 2020: Wolfwalkers – Review

Release Date – 11th December 2020, Cert – PG, Run-time – 1 hour 43 minutes, Directors – Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart

An English girl (Honor Kneafsey) living in 1600’s Ireland befriends a shapeshifting Wolfwalker (Eva Whittaker) while her father (Sean Bean) and the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) try to rid the woods of wolves.

Since their debut feature, 2009’s The Secret Of Kells, Irish animation studio Cartoon Caloon has proudly rooted each of their tales in folklore. Their most recent feature, Wolfwalkers, is no different. Set in 1600’s Ireland Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) is a young English girl becoming increasingly curious about the world outside of the highly guarded town in which she lives. After escaping one day she encounters Mebh (Eva Whittaker), an excitable young girl, with bright orange hair about twice the size of her, who seems to be living in the woods. Mebh is a wolfwalker, described as “half wolf, half witch, half people”. They have the ability to shapeshift from human form into that of a wolf, while also being able to heal people. Robyn and Mebh quickly form a closely bonded friendship, exploring the woods and getting to know about each other’s lives – one much freer than the other.

However, Robyn’s father’s (Sean Bean) duty is to hunt wolves, placing traps in the nearby woods to capture and kill them. Led by the Lord Protector (a truly slimy voicing from Simon McBurney) the aim is to rid the area of wolves so that the people can live in ‘peace’. McBurney’s voice for the character matches the general tone and style of the film perfectly. The Lord Protector is a true ‘boo hiss’ nasally villain, almost perfect for the film. When matched with the wonderful animation style, that looks like it’s been taken directly from a children’s book. It’s a traditional folk tale in many ways and that just adds more to the charm of the piece. This isn’t to say that it’s without its darkness. There’s certainly a deal of it in the final stages of the film, where the drama is pushed up and another side of the film is shown, yet not one that detaches you or makes you feel as if you’re watching something completely different.

Drama is scattered throughout the lightness of other scenes where the central pairing . Mebh worries about her Mum, who throughout most of the film appears to sit in a meditative sleep. Meanwhile, Robyn finds herself distanced from the Irish kids in the town, who aren’t best pleased by the presence of the English. And yet as the two glide through the woods with the pack of wolves that reside in the cave with Mebh and her Mum all these cares simply melt away. You’re caught up within the bright fantasy world that Cartoon Saloon have created. A story rich with detail, heart and charm. One so passionately told with care and knowledge that the studio proves it’s earned the label of the Irish Studio Ghibli, although after the successful streak they’ve had so far it’s highly likely that the studio will be the comparison for others in not too long.

When you throw into the mix Bruno Coulais and Kila’s fantastic world-enhancing score the piece is brought further to life and you find yourself further seated in the world. It’s bright, engaging and enjoyable. With characters that feel genuine and pushed further by the fantastical folklore tone and nature of the piece everything gels together rather nicely to create one of the best animated films of the year. This is another truly unique, original and thoroughly entertaining gem within its deeply rooted traditional folklore style from the passionate minds at Cartoon Saloon.

Filled with a traditional folklore style and a look like a children’s book, and not without its moments of darkness and emotion, there’s a great deal of detail and charm within Wolfwalkers. Caringly made and filled with heart it’s another hit from Cartoon Saloon.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Prom – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 12 minutes, Director – Ryan Murphy

A group of struggling Broadway performers (Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells) team up to better their image by helping a young girl (Jo Ellen Pellman) excluded from her prom because of her sexuality

The movie musical has very much made a full comeback over the last decade or so, however nothing has been quite like The Prom. Based on the Tony nominated musical of the same name this is an energetic, glitter-filled dance mob, spontaneous musical number belting MUUUUUSSSSIIIICAAAALLL! One where, to quote one of the film’s songs, it truly does “give it some zazz”. This is a film about struggling Broadway actors, whether pushed back to the chorus, struggling to get work or simply starring in successive flops the four central figures core problem is that their narcissistic personalities have got in the way of their careers. Therefore they search for causes they can get behind to make it seem like they care, to boost life back into their public personas. After browsing Twitter the quartet discover a story about high school student Emma (Jo Ellen Pellman), who has been excluded from her prom by the PTA because of her sexuality. ‘Outraged’ by this the group travel from Broadway heights and lights to rural Indiana, where the hotels don’t even have spas.

For much of the duration the one joke is the fact that these characters only think of themselves and their believed high-lives – Meryl Streep’s Dee Dee Allen shows off her two Tony awards in the hope of securing a non-existent hotel suite. It wears thin at times but there are still one or two laughs to be found along the way. This single gag even takes up some of the earlier songs in the film, including one called It’s Not About Me. And yet, amongst it all there’s something rather enjoyable about a number of the musical numbers. Overdone, overpowered and overflowing with lights, colour, glitter and dance it’s very much a direct Broadway adaptation – although featuring some added elements and camera movements/ trickery to warrant the film format. For the most part it’s some of the musical numbers where the feeling of ‘this almost feels like a stage recording’ is in play.

It does feel as if not much has been cut out from the original stage productions. At 2 hours and 12 minutes the film does feel somewhat lengthy. Particularly as the songs die down and the plot comes more into play in the second half the run-time begins to show. Other characters, aside from James Corden’s Barry Glickman – (proudly describing himself as “as gay as a bucket of wigs – A bucket of them!” – while Corden does seem miscast, and his labelled ‘gayface’ has come under fire, although having been defended by castmate Andrew Rannells, begin to get more screen-time during this period as Corden appears to act as the ringleader for much of the run-time. And yet, the film tries to keep in frame, as much as possible, the character of Emma; who simply wants to be able to take her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose) – who hasn’t yet come out – to the prom. However, Alyssa’s Mum (Kerry Washington) is the head of the PTA, who said that all dates must be of the opposite sex, coming up with multiple rules simply to prevent Emma from being at the prom.

While the Broadway stars belt out powerful energetic numbers Emma and Alyssa’s songs are much more reigned in. Not quite ballads but gentler personal songs to themselves and each other. Revealing themselves instead of powerfully trying to better their own image for those around them. You feel their connection and it simply boosts the overall traditional musical feel of the film. Not just this, but it also provides good breaks from the heaps of exuberance in all other scenes of the film – which if held throughout could potentially become tiring, especially with the run-time that the film holds. However, for what it does do, despite seeming a bit long, there are some great moments of energy within this full-on Broadway musical. It spreads an infectious smile and you can’t help but go along with it, being amused by the actions of these characters who are so obsessed with themselves that at times the only possible joke is just how out of place they seem in this small town in Indiana. Yet, with that are some good chuckles and laughs and enough to make for an entertaining song-belting prom that eventually gets round to celebrating people recognising each other and coming together.

Powered with energy and a cast that truly can belt out a numbers of songs The Prom isn’t without its more refined moments, saving it from feeling a bit too much during its rather lengthy run-time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Host – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 56 minutes, Director – Rob Savage

A group of friends find themselves attacked by angered spirits when a Zoom séance goes wrong.

It’s undeniable that at some point a horde of films are going to drop relating to lockdown and the pandemic – Ben Wheatley is already preparing to release one. Host – the directorial debut of Rob Savage – was one of the first to drop earlier this year on streaming platform Shudder, becoming a quick hit it now finds itself with a cinema release – plus pre-recorded Q&A, due to the short run-time. Taking a similar line to the likes of 2015’s Unfriended all the action takes place on a screen, throughout the border of a Zoom call surrounds the frame. What starts off as an amusing night for a group of friends soon turns into terror as they find themselves attacked by angered spirits.

It’s impressive that the practical effects of the film were all setup by the cast in their individual homes during a pandemic. But, more impressive is the fact that they’re genuinely scary. As the film goes along the spirits that attack – due to one member of the group lying about a ghost communicating with them – seemingly get more and more enraged. Tormenting the central group. Through jump scares, tension and the occasional haunting Zoom filter and background the piece becomes more and more intense as it goes on. 

You feel the genuine fear and tension of the girls, all relatively new actors who give great performances, who initially just wanted to have a fun evening and instead find themselves fighting for their lives restricted to their homes. While only 56 minutes long Savage wastes no time when the horror properly kicks in. This is a rare film where you’re left wincing, hiding behind your hands, you won’t trust anything close to you afterwards, in terror at what might happen next. Meanwhile, at other points you find your eyes glued to the screen in pure, seat-clutching fright.

You know jump scares are coming yet they’re still effective. Otherwise the film subverts expectations, with a bigger impact from somewhere else. All acts become a worst case scenario as you too feel trapped and helpless, trapped on the screen of a Zoom call. A feeling pushed even further by Savage’s finely tuned pacing, never missing a beat throughout. Add to the mix a fairly realistic feel, the film plays out in real-time, and a bit of humour at the start as the film settles itself in and it feels uncomfortably genuine. Boosting the scare factor and making for the scariest film of 2020, and a strong contender for one of the best of the year.

Savage turned this film in, from short film to finished product, in 12 weeks. 12 weeks to make a film that has all the marks of a finely crafted, carefully thought-through, layered horror. It’s tense, terrifying and will leave you wary of everything around you long after the credits, which have their own unsettling feel, are over. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Mank – Review

Cert – 12, Run-time – 2 hours 11 minutes, Director – David Fincher

Alcoholic screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) finds himself bedbound with 60 days to write a screenplay for Orson Welles (Tom Burke), which would go on to become Citizen Kane.

“He likes the way you talk, not the way you write, the way you talk!” Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) finds himself being shouted at late in David Fincher’s Hollywood throwback Mank. He’s a charismatic screenwriter jumping through the studio system of the 30’s and 40’s with a wry wit. Fincher’s film, written by his late-father Jack Fincher, is about words and the relationships and reputations that they can form or destroy. Through elections, scripts and disagreements with studio executives there’s a lot to unpack within Mank.

The core of the film sees a bedbound Herman – with a broken leg as a result of a car accident – with 60 days to write a screenplay for a 24 year old Orson Welles (Tom Burke), who has just been given free reign over a motion picture project of his creation by RKO Pictures. A film that would turn out to be Citizen Kane. Oldman’s drunken writer dictates his screenplay to Lily Collins’ Rita Alexander as his past, which inspires much of what would become what many regard as the greatest film ever made. The narrative taking a form much like Kane in that it jumps back and forth to flashbacks and back – typewriter text spelling out when and where we are at each point. While becoming a part of the heap of bedsheets he’s a part of a sea of partially crumpled paper surrounds the central figure as gradually realises that he’s writing something more like an opera than a standard feature film.

While perhaps a bit too long there’s plenty to like about the detail of this piece. No expense has been spared on creating an authentic look and feel – even a black dot appears in the corner at the end of some scenes as is the case with a number of old prints of films when the reel had to be changed. However, it’s Oldman’s fantastic central performance that acts as the biggest connection to the viewer. Oldman initially suggested to Fincher that he should wear heavy make-up to make himself look more like Mankiewicz, however Fincher decided against this in the hope of showing a more personal, human story – allowing for a greater connection with the protagonist. Thanks not only to Oldman’s brilliant lead performance but by those of the supporting cast too – including the likes of Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance and Tuppence Middleton, all capturing the flair and feel of the workings of a classic Hollywood studio system.

You’re easily caught up within the pacey drama of it all. As Mank clashes with the studio executives of MGM and Paramount, and battles with Welles and John Houseman (Sam Troughton) about his screenplay. While feeling a bit long around the 100 minutes mark there’s still plenty there to enjoy – especially within the performances. Held by a precise, fantastically written screenplay this is an ode to classic Hollywood, even if a number of elements aren’t quite shown in a good light, and perhaps a personal one from a son honouring the work of his father – this has been in the works in some form or another since the late-90’s. Yet, even with the grand style and feel of the piece – all finely tuned and crafted for the best possible effect – the thing that works the most is the way that the film uses language. Whether for argument, reason, humour or persuasion the clever use of words is truly impressive. Never too much to disengage you but certainly enough to be clever and certainly enjoyable. Some moments may be more entertaining than others but there’s certainly enough coming through David Fincher’s vision to make this a large-scale tale of classic Hollywood filled with the ins and outs of the studio system that all led to Citizen Kane.

Mank delights in the words of its expertly written screenplay. Brought to life by an array of great performances, especially Oldman – likely to be in Oscar contention – this is a detailed piece that takes delight in the world of classic Hollywood, its features, its workings and the conversations and screenplays that made it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula – Review

Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 55 minutes, Director – Yeon Sang-ho

A group of survivors are sent back to a zombie infested South Korea to find a truck holding $20 million in cash

For my money the opening to 28 Weeks Later is one of the greatest film openings ever. Robert Carlyle furiously runs away from a zombie attack in a countryside house, leaving his wife behind to be overcome by the infected. The score swells with rising tension, getting louder and louder, as do the sounds of the hoard of attacking undead. It’s tense, emotional and deeply unsettling, if not terrifying. There’s a feeling in the opening scenes of Train To Busan Presents: Peninsula – the sequel to 2016’s fast-paced horror hit – that a similar emotional punch is being aimed for. Soldier Jung Seok (Gang Dong-won) watches his sister and nephew become infected when it turns out that a safety ship out of South Korea is carrying a man who turns into a zombie on the way to hopeful freedom from the devastating outbreak that got out of control within hours.

Set four years after the events of the first film this is a loose sequel – likely the reason behind the decision to simply put “Presents” in the title instead of calling the film Train To Busan 2. The only major links are the fact that the initial infection is that the action mostly happens in Korea and Busan is mentioned once or twice. Instead of fast-paced zombie attacks we’re introduced to an almost post-apocalyptic world, like Mad Max with zombies. Gangs have been formed, some for survival, others for entertainment. The various members of the central group – including Jung Seok and his brother-in-law Chul-min (Kim Do-yoon) – are sent back to South Korea, by a gang in Hong Kong, where they have been in safety since the infected struck, to find a truck holding $20 million in cash.

However, the group quickly find themselves either split up or killed. Jung Seok is taken in by a family who have managed to survive on the streets while trying to find some form of radio help out of the country. Meanwhile Chul-min is captured and entered into various trials where he faces off with other victims in battles against the undead. Initially starting out as a heist film before changing into something more of the survival and then action genre the horror tone isn’t quite there – distancing this more from the original. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Where the film does fall in this respect is the fact that its jumping between characters, locations and ideas makes it feel rather clustered. As if there were so many ideas thrown around at a meeting that the writers (returning director Yeon Sang-ho and solo-writer of the first film Park Joo-suk) decided to go with multiple instead of one or two direct potential narrative points. Because of this jumping back and forth the film does occasionally feel as if it stops, or takes a step back every now and then to reacquaint the viewer with certain films. Add to the mix the more westernised feel to the film – there’s certainly a fair deal more speaking of English during a handful of patches over the course of run-time.

Yet, despite this there are still some decent moments of action throughout the film. The CG featured in a number of scenes – particularly in the extended finale/s, none of which quite hit the emotional punch that the film aims to copy from the original – isn’t best, but it doesn’t completely distract from what’s happening in the scene. Tension certainly isn’t there, and there is something a bit basic about the more traditional apocalypse survival feel to some moments, but there’s still a mild entertainment factor. Despite the stammers, the pauses and the varying tones throughout there are some interesting points throughout – especially within the gang underworld and the various trials they put people through. It’s all a bit Mad Max at times, but there are points that just about click and work amongst the faults and flaws. Just about enough to keep the film’s head above the zombie swarm and keep the interest of the viewer for enough of the share of the run-time to make this worthwhile. And who knows, this could be a film that improves on re-watches. It feels like it has the potential to. But for a first viewing, it’s good enough – even if it does try to cater to audiences it might not have aimed towards the first time around, although this is a very different film overall.

Less express bullet train more traditional steam train that needs to occasionally stop for fuel and water. Different and a bit jumpy, but not without its moments.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Happiest Season – Review

Cert – 12, Run time – 1 hour 42 minutes, Director – Clea DuVall

Abby (Kristen Stewart) is visiting her girlfriend Harper’s (Mackenzie Davis) family for Christmas. However, Harper’s family don’t know that she’s gay.

Nerves often rise when it comes to meeting a partner’s parents. However, for Abby (Kristen Stewart) her nerves stem from somewhere else. Initially she’s calm and relaxed when her girlfriend Harper (Mackenzie Davis) invites her round for Christmas, to prevent her from spending it alone. However, on the journey to her family’s large, quiet home Harper reveals that her parents don’t know that she’s gay, and she doesn’t plan on telling them for a few more days. Her father (Victor Garber) is running for mayor, and any alleged rifts or controversies within his family could damage his campaign, especially at this festive time of year when everyone’s meant to be united. This family’s unity is something that all should witness, as his wife (Mary Steenburgen) seems to live by, documenting everything on Instagram; frustrated that she can’t get the perfect family photo.

The family, while trying to look perfect at various festive gatherings, seems far from it. They’re each distanced with their individual secrets and behaviours. Alison Brie’s Sloane tries to show her perfect family lifestyle and business success, but is often told by her parents to simply stand to the side and mingle. Meanwhile other sister Jane (Mary Holland – who also acts as co-writer with director Clea DuVall) allows her mind and energetic nature to often carry her away – when she’s not working on an extensive fantasy novel, often telling others of the various layers and details which it holds, making for a rather amusing running joke. Jane feels almost excluded from the rest of the family and simply wants to get some form of attention, or rather recognition; especially with more people in the house for Christmas this year. What is meant to be the happiest season turns out to be a rather stressful one of twists and secrets for everyone.

Harper and Abby’s relationship is tested as they try to keep it a secret, Abby herself living on a lie of being straight. However, things truly heat-up when ex-boyfriend Connor (Jake McDorman) arrives on the scene, still with feelings for Harper; which her parents support, thinking that they’re relationship would be good for the campaign and general look of the family to potential voters. Throw in the figure of Riley (Aubrey Plaza), someone clearly key to Harper’s past, although the relationship of which is ambiguous to Abby, and there’s a swirling pot of potential rifts and clashes. Throughout the film Stewart’s protagonist becomes increasingly uncomfortable with hiding herself, and seeing her partner do the same thing. She was planning on proposing on Christmas Day, but with her plans thrown into the air, and at times thrown aside as the people she was invited to spend the festive season with seem to be more concerned with publicity than anything else.

As this happens Riley becomes more of a recurring presence, Abby bumping into her in the street while shopping and simply spending the evening with her. There’s good chemistry between them, however you still feel the strong central relationship of Stewart and Davis which truly sells the piece. Even as the opening credits depict various different holiday scenes and their relationship growing through Christmas card style drawings you’re set up and ready to go, believing the authenticity of this relationship. From there the film settles you in, assuring you that there is a good time to be had over the next 100 minutes or so. There are a couple of chuckles along the way, never really at the expense of any of the characters or the situations that they find themselves in, and it wraps up rather nicely. Admittedly, some elements of the narrative do feel somewhat predictable, or at least as if you can roughly guess where they’re going, but for the most part that doesn’t get in the way of your enjoyment of the film. Hooking you early on with the central relationship, brought to life by two enjoyable central performances, and introducing you to an equally good supporting cast. Relationships and chemistry click, allowing for the laughs to be brought in and by the end it’s all been a rather good Christmas rom-com.

There are some points where you feel you know where Happiest Season is going, but there are also some pleasant surprises along the way. The central relationship clicks and works, bringing you in for an enjoyable time with some equally engaging supporting characters for a nice, mild festive feature.

Rating: 3 out of 5.