Thor: The Dark World review

Another month, another Marvel movie. Funny how quickly one can get jaded to incredible characters carrying out unbelievable feats of heroism and daring. Still, of all the comic heroes brought to the cinema screen by Marvel Studios so far, Thor seems the most unlikely candidate for a movie, let alone a sequel. Even as a comic-obsessed kid, the character always seemed dull and ridiculous to me; the naff costume, the cod-Shakespearian dialogue, the endless Norse mythological waffle, so at odds with Marvel’s more grounded, street-level creations.

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So how do you turn Thor into a film franchise? Not having seen the first instalment, I have no idea how this compares, but apparently by aping Mike Hodges’ bombastic Flash Gordon (albeit with the camp factor heavily dialled down). A bizarre hodge-podge of science fiction and swords and sorcery? Check. Tacky, wacky production design? Check. Stolid blond hero? Check. A roll-call of English thesps hamming it in supporting roles? Check.  (The only thing missing is the Queen soundtrack,sadly.)

Is it as much of a guilty pleasure? Not really. Admittedly Marvel have this kind of thing down to a fairly fine art by now, and the preview audience I saw it with laughed and applauded in all the places that a marketing exec might hope a preview audience would. And there are some decent gags along the way; most likely added via an uncredited script polish by Joss Whedon (nothing to compare with the ‘puny god’ moment from The Avengers, but doubtless he’s saving his best material for the sequel). There are also some less decent gags involving Stellan Skarsgard losing his trousers every five minutes that might have been the result of an additional polish by legendary English farcester Ray Cooney, but maybe everyone else was busy on the Captain America sequel.

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However, it all feels so familiar. With over 50 years of comics history to draw upon, why does every Marvel movie seemingly revolve around a villain discovering yet another Device That Will End The Universe and ripping a big hole in the sky? What originally gave Marvel comics their edge was the fact that these were superheroes who had the same problems as the rest of us; meeting girls, passing exams, paying their rent on time. Yes, there were massive fights and thrilling heroics and awesome spectacle, but it was all rooted in whether Peter Parker was going to get a date, or if the Fantastic Four were going to be evicted from the Baxter Building because Doctor Doom smashed all the windows. Thor gets some mileage from the fact that the titular character is apparently two years late for his date with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster, but beyond that the only interest in actual humanity it shows is in a secondary romantic subplot that seems lifted from a bad (is there any other kind?) Richard Curtis film.

There is fun to be had around the margins, with colourful supporting turns from Kat Dennings, Rene Russo and the ever-reliable Tom Hiddleston as Loki. But Chris Hemsworth’s Thor does nothing but play dutifully dull straight man, Anthony Hopkins makes yet another payment on his pension plan, Natalie Portman must be wondering how she stumbled into another boring girlfriend part after the horrors of the Star Wars prequels, and poor Christopher Eccleston has possibly the most thankless role of his career as the villain Malekith, unrecognisable under prosthetics and saddled with sub-Tolkien Elvish dialogue to spout dramatically at every turn. Seriously, Hiddleston’s Loki isn’t even the villain in this film, so how does he still get all the scene-stealing lines and moments whilst Eccleston gets nothing but subtitled exposition and a 7-foot tall CGI henchman?

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No doubt Thor: The Dark World will go on to make several hundred million dollars and pave the way for yet another bout of fraternal squabbling with his badly behaved sibling (the last scene is a shameless sequel hook, and the credits offer a Bond-style promise that ‘Thor will return’). But as much as Marvel undoubtedly know their market, it does feel as though familiarity will soon give way to contempt, and that it could be time to start ringing some changes and taking a few risks with their undoubtedly rich stable of characters. Otherwise Ragnarok might be coming around a lot sooner than the company accountants would hope.

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James Wan’s ‘The Conjuring’ (2013) review

Think of recent supernatural films and chances are that you’ll initially picture the latest entry in the Paranormal Activity  series, or one of its many rip offs, or one of the many recent horror films that have tried to be scary and really, well, haven’t been. Mention Amityville and the likelihood is that you’ll think of the infamous real-life haunting (or was it real…?) and the many films that have rolled off the back of the famous account (including that terrible 2005 remake). For some people, James Wan’s latest feature The Conjuring might sound like another Amityville inspired waste of ninety minutes, but in reality Wan manages to craft a pretty decent modern haunted house story that puts many recent efforts to shame.

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The ‘based on a true story’ moniker doesn’t always work for some films, but for The Conjuring this is actually a reality. The film is based on one of the cases that real-life paranormal investigators and demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren dealt with. More famously known for being some of the first investigators to look into the Amityville Haunting, Ed and Lorraine have investigated over 10,000 hauntings in their career, one of which involved the Perron family…

Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move their family, including their five daughters, into a run-down house in Harrisville, Rhode Island.  The illusion of the perfect new spacious family home is shattered when strange things start happening and the young girls start seeing and interacting with spirits. As the incidents escalate, Carolyn seeks out Ed and Lorraine, well seasoned investigators and demonologists (and gifted clairvoyent in the case of Lorraine), in the hope that they can provide some answers. Once the Warren’s start scratching at the surface of everything, they soon uncover that they are in for more than they bargained for…

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First off, reactions to The Conjuring have been a little mixed. Whilst its done well with critics and is taking the US box office by storm, I have read comments from viewers who, having seen it, weren’t massive fans and it’s easy to understand why. When it comes to action, the film is a bit of a slow burner, and when the action does eventually start to kick in, it does feel a little familiar. Despite the 1970s setting (which is perfectly captured and maintained through some great costume work, ace hairstyles and a few knowing lines in the script), a few of the bedroom scenes feel a bit Paranormal Activity, the location and family sometimes feel a little Amityville Horror and no matter how hard it tries to steer clear of it, there’s no denying that the exorcism scene feels very reminiscent of none other than The Exorcist (whilst not as extreme, its easy to see the influence of the film on the make up). Hell, even the house feels a little Elm Street with its green, white and red colour scheme. Admittedly, some of the scares are predictable in their timing meaning they lose a little of their scare factor, and when it finally comes down to the link between the Perron’s and the Warren’s, you can’t help but feel like the emotional cliché dial has been cranked up to eleven.

That aside, Wan has managed to create a tight little haunted house story for the modern audience, that rightfully shows film makers how its done. Focusing more on character, Wan doesn’t need to rely so much on outrageous set pieces, gore and overuse of special effects (although the hair pulling scene is the perfect case for The Conjuring over doing it) making the picture feel more balanced. The atmosphere is eerie, the scares are jumpworthy (even if ever so slightly too reliant on sound) and when its time to get creepy, it gets creepy quickly and uncomfortably (the film has without a doubt one of the creepiest dolls I’ve ever seen in a film). The film also has some great steady-cam shots, making the audience very familiar with the house itself, giving it its own identity and making it as much a player as the human cast.

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The main thing that makes the film work so well though are the cast. With a few supporting characters aside, the film really does just focus on the Perron family and the Warren’s, siding you with both the fear of Carolyn and her girls and the initial scepticism-come-solve-it attitude of Ed and Lorraine. Patrick Wilson (who has another outing with Wan scheduled for this year, Insidious: Chapter 2) and Vera Farmiga are both terrific, playing off an apparent chemistry with absolute ease and really making their versions of the Warren’s human. Nothing feels clichéd or overly dramatic about their performance which, in the realm of supernatural films and some of the portrayals of psychics and mediums I’ve seen, feels really fresh and enjoyable to watch. Lili Taylor also comes off well, finally doing the haunted house movie she deserves to do after being in the awful mess that wasThe Haunting remake. Concerned, confused, possessed, terrified, loving, she does it all and it’s all underplayed to precision. As for Ron Livingston and his on-screen daughters, they all play scared very well, but ultimately the film belongs to Taylor, Wilson and Farmiga’s perfectly crafted sympathetic portrayals.

For a film which started developement nearly twenty years ago, it seems that the wait was worth it, just in finding the right crew and cast alone. When it gets to the very end and the inevitable but very subtlety well done Amityville reference has passed, you can instantly see why New Line are keen to get a sequel going. When it comes to Amityville, so much is often heard about the house, the Lutz’s and the DeFeo’s that it’s really nice to have a film that actually shows Ed and Lorraine themselves for once (Lorraine even has a cameo). Whilst Amityville has been done numerous times, and The Haunting In Connecticut been and gone (based on another case of the Warren’s), here’s hoping that another one of the many thousands of cases they investigated that isn’t well-known makes it to the screen also.

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It’s not the greatest film ever made, but it certainly doesn’t hide what it is. Wan proved he could do haunted and possessed with Insidious and this just cements his talents as a filmmaker. For a studio release, The Conjuring is an original horror that entertains, even if it leaves you feeling more interested in the Warren’s themselves than being scared.

Happy 10th Ashtray Dirt

A bit of a busy week this week thanks to a certain convention, but here we go! Cast additions have been announced for Adam Wingard’s new project The Guest which is currently in pre-production. Names attached include Maika Monroe (The Bling Ring, Bad Blood), Brendan Meyer and Alex Knight who will star alongside Downtown Abbey‘s Dan Stevens…

Ti West’s latest offering The Sacrament will have its world premiere at this years Venice Film Festival

A new poster and short clip have dropped for James Wan’s Insidious Chapter 2. The very short, and sweet, footage (which you can watch over at IGN) looks like the film will continue to keep the creepy and jumpworthy tone of the original which is promising…

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Dario Argento is apparently preparing an operatic version of Guiseppe Verdi’s Macbeth for the stage. Opening night is currently set at October 4th at the Teatro Coccia in Northern Italy with plans for the opera to be toured at other Italian theaters…

Arrow have announced they are releasing Larry Stewart’s The Initiation on August 5th…

Big news to come out of this years San Diego Comic Con was the confirmation by Zack Snyder that the sequel to the latest Superman film Man Of Steel would indeed see Superman face off against Batman, in a move that feels very reminiscent of Frank Miller’s cult classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (an influence according to Snyder). Christopher Nolan will return as an executive producer alongside Henry Cavill as Superman, whilst Christian Bale has shot down any rumours of him appearing as Bruce Wayne (go here to watch the video of the panel crowd going nuts at the announcement). The film has a current release date of 2015…

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Synapse Films have announced they are restoring the original negatives of 1980 slasher Prom Night for a HD release…

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Director Robin Hardy has announced that he has found the missing The Wicker Man footage he had been searching for and a UK Blu-ray and theatrical release of a ‘final cut’ version of the film will happen this September (theatrical) and October (Blu-ray). Hardy announced that “StudioCanal contacted me last year in their search for the original materials that have been missing. I’m very pleased to announce that StudioCanal have been able to find an actual print of The Wicker Man, which is based on my original cut working with Abraxas, the American distributors, all those years ago. They plan, and this is the exciting bit, to actually release it. This version has never been restored before, has never been shown in UK theatres before, has never been converted to Blu-ray before. This version will – optimistically – be known as the Final Cut.”…

Fans were lucky to grab a peek at a teaser trailer for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla remake at SDCC this week. Word is it looks amazing and Edwards and his team have done a great job so far but no footage has surfaced as of yet (or it has but has been taken down from YouTube). Shooting wrapped this week on the film which is released next year…

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Scream Factory announced their latest release plans at SDCC, with the biggest coup being Nightbreed: The Cabal Cut for 2014. Other releases include John Carpenter’s Assault On Precinct 13 for November this year, Saturn 3 and Darkman for December this year and the 1982 version of Cat People for 2014…

Horror festival FrightFest have announced their short film programme for this August’s Bank Holiday weekend. The nine films, all worldwide premieres, will play at certain times ahead of certain films, details of which can be found on the website

Joss Whedon confirmed at SDCC that the sequel to The Avengers would be called Avengers: Age of Ultron. Whedon also dropped the news that the characters Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch will also appear. The film will start shooting in London in March…

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Lastly, New Zealand has banned the 2012 remake of Maniac, which stars Elijah Wood, from theatrical and home format release. The Kiwi response is that the first person POV style in which the film is shot makes it too graphic. Under the ruling, this restricts viewings of the film to festivals only….

Ashtray Dirt Part 8

First up, the first theatrical poster for Israeli revenge thriller Big Bad Wolves has dropped. The film will be closing this years Film4 FrightFest in August…

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Hot on the poster news comes the first one sheet image for Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake. Not quite the poster I’m guessing many fans were expecting (it does look rather like a Robbie Williams album cover, no?), the image is apparently an actual shot from a film and not a composite image. This week also saw the first red band trailer for the film released which you can see below and judge for yourselves on whether you think it’ll stand up to the original film. Starring Josh Brolin, Sharlto Copley, Samuel L. Jackson and Elizabeth Olson, Oldboy is released in the UK in December…

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Eli Roth’s year round haunted house attraction Goretorium has filed for bankruptcy…

Manchester horror festival Grimmfest have announced this years festival dates and two of the films they are playing. The festival will run between 3rd and 6th October and playing so far will be Hansel and Gretel Get Baked (starring Lara Flynn Boyle and Yancy Butler) and Jugface (starring Sean Young and Larry Fessenden, exec produced by Lucky McKee). The festival’s full line up will be released soon…

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Arrow have announced they will be releasing Brian De Palma’s Dressed To Kill on Blu-ray on July 29th. Restored Blu-ray editions of Sisters, Phantom Of The Paradise and The Fury will follow later this year and early next year…

The Barbican have announced two Live Live Cinema events for October 20th this year. Herk Harvey’s zombie classic Carnival Of Souls and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dementia 13 will be screened with live music and sound effects courtesy of New Zealand musician Leon Radojkovic and his band of actors and musicians. Tickets are currently on sale and can be bought here

A trailer has dropped for documentary Birth Of The Living Dead. Directed by Robert Kuhns, the documentary will follow how director George A. Romero gathered together a bunch of people in Pittsburgh and made the legendary Night Of The Living Dead, drawing on ‘immersing audiences in the singular time in which Night was shot‘. No word yet as to when the film will be released…


The National Theatre of Scotland have adapted Swedish novel and film Let The Right One In into a stage play. The production will open at the Royal Court in December prior to a West End run. What will no doubt be an interesting experience, tickets can be ordered here

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Ashtray Dirt the 7th

First up, today see’s the release of Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England. Available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray and in cinemas, the film will also play tonight on Film4 at 10.45pm…

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Arrow have announced their latest Blu-ray releases for this month, The Car and Runaway Train…

The line up for this years Film4 FrightFest has been announced. Films playing include You’re Next, Curse of Chucky, V/H/S/2, Rewind This!, The Borderlands and We Are What We Are. The full line up and links to buy tickets can be found over at the official website

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You’re Next writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard have announced they are prepping their next project, The GuestDowntown Abbey star Dan Stevens has reportedly been cast in the lead role. The Guest follows an ex-marine who is taken in by another fallen comrade’s family until he becomes unwelcome in the new home. Shooting begins this summer…

For anyone concerned that Gareth Edwards would follow Roland Emmerich’s suit and not have his Godzilla breathe fire, these latest on-set pictures would hint otherwise…

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Universal Halloween Horror Nights have announced their first scare house for this year’s Orlando events – Cabin In The Woods…

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Enter The Dragon star Jim Kelly has sadly passed away after battling cancer. A skilled martial artist, Kelly went on to star in Black Belt Jones, Three The Hard Way and Black Samurai, but is best known for playing ‘Williams’ opposite Bruce Lee. Kelly was 67…

The latest trailer for James Wan’s The Conjuring has been released and features the real-life Perron family whose experiences inspired the film. Effectively creepy, it’s certainly a new way to market films ‘based on a true story’. The Conjuring is released August 2nd…

Eastbound and proud – East End Film Festival Cult round up.


In addition to our own little contribution to The East End Film Festival’s Cine-East fringe, the EEFF has gone and programmed a slew of other interesting genre films including the must see TETSUO Double Bill. 
Without doubt, London’s cinematic landscape is becoming more and more exciting, relevant and challenging with every day that passes. Get on board, go outside the confines of whatever you think film is, and support those that work to bring you cinemagic. 
THE CINEMA OF TSUKAMOTO AT EEFF 2012

EEFF 2012 is delighted to present restorations of Shin’ya Tsuakamoto’s twisted cyberpunk classics
Tetsuo: The Iron Man and Tetsuo II:Body Hammer, as well his latest film: the stunning, disturbing
Kotoko. The work of a singular filmmaker often compared to David Cronenberg, not to be missed on
the big screen.

TETSUO DOUBLE BILL 

TETSUO: IRON MAN (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 1989, London Premiere)
A strange man known only as the ‘metal fetishist’ is hit and seemingly killed by a Japanese ‘salaryman’, who then begins to be slowly overtaken by a strange disease that transforms his body into scrap metal, a process guided by his own rage and frustration. Shin’ya Tsuakamoto’s cyberpunk classic is presented here in a brand new restoration.
Screening from 6pm, Saturday 4th July, Hackney Picturehouse.
Details Here

TETSUO II: BODY HAMMER (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 1992, London Premiere)
Tsukamoto’s sequel to Tetsuo sees his Iron Man transforming into a cyberkinetic gun after a gang of vicious skinheads kidnap his son. Eventually captured himself, they begin experimenting on him only to speed up the mutative process. As powerful, twisted and singular as the first instalment, ‘Tetsuo: The Body Hammer’ is again introduced in a brand new restoration, with Tsukamoto in attendance, in an unmissable double bill.
Screening from 6pm, Saturday 4th July, Hackney Picturehouse.
Details Here

KOTOKO (Shin’ya Tsukamoto, 2011, London Premiere)
A single mother, played by Japanese singer Cocco, suffers from double vision that speaks of wider instability, and as she slowly loses grip on reality, struggles to protect both her child and herself. Or perhaps they really are out to get her. Legendary provocateur Shin’ya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo: The Iron Man, see page 20) returns to his best with another tale of dizzying psychological descent.
Screening 8.30pm, Sunday 5th July, Rich Mix.
Details Here

THE LEGEND OF KASPAR HAUSER(Davide Manuli, 2012, UK Premiere)
Kaspar Hauser is reimagined as an androgynous woman washing up on a Mediterranean island,
kicking off a war between the Sheriff and the Pusher, both played by Vincent Gallo. Davide Manuli’s
barmy Techno Western is a tale of faith, suspicion and flying saucers set to the thudding beats of
techno behemoth Vitalic; the sort of astonishing experience modern cinema rarely manages anymore.
Screening 9pm, Friday 6th July, Hackney Picturehouse. 
Details Here

CARRE BLANC (Jean-Baptiste Leonetti, 2011, UK Premiere)
Jean-Baptiste Leonetti’s debut is a gravely stylish vision of a dystopian future France; a society
run by a mysterious caste system that turns those who fail in an arbitrary, Kafkaesque “game” into
hamburgers. Phillipe, a man on his way up, is ultimately forced to choose between his meteoric rise
and his marriage in this cult classic in the making.
Screening 11.30pm, Friday 6th July, Rio Cinema. 

PARANORMAL ACTIVITIES (Various)
Welcome the the EEFF’s very own X-Files – an unsettling selection of 8 shorts about all things supernatural and uncanny. We’ll be opening our secret vault to unleash invisible demons, abductive aliens, cursed children, zombie mums, possessed walls, haunted submarines, Canadian goat people and a lady who swears she sees dead people. Join us – the truth is out there.
Screening 11.30pm, Saturday 7th July, Rio Cinema. 
Details Here

See you folks East.