The Children (2008) Have a Holly Jolly Christmas…Not

 

The Children (2008 film)
The Children (2008 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There were sixty horror films released in 2008 so it is not surprising that yet another low budget Brit-Horror got short shrift from the viewing public. That is a shame because The Children is a cracking film that is relentless in piling on the pressure and making you feel increasingly uneasy.

 

Directed and co-written by Tom Shankland (with Paul Andrew Williams ) The Children is about two sisters and their families who get together in the country to celebrate Christmas. Sister Elaine, played by Eva Birthistle has brought her two children and new hubby Jonah (played by Stephen Campbell Moore), Elaine’s oldest daughter Casey  (Hannah Tointon) is a teenager from Elaine’s first marriage who doesn’t like her new step-dad or her step sister and would really rather be out with her friends. Elaine and her smarmy second husband Jonah are the modern couple. Jonah speaks Chinese and is teaching Casey’s little sister how to speak the language.

 

Elaine’s sister Chloe (Rachel Shelley) and her husband Robbie (Jeremy Sheffield) live with their three children in a huge house. Every inch a “new-age” couple they treat their children with a “Dr Spock” mentality and don’t like vaccinations or modern medicine.  Chloe and her husband are very laid back and casual parents and as an aunt and uncle they are the kind every kid in the world would like to have. They are almost the  polar opposite of  Elaine and Jonah.

 

Elaine and her little family arrive at her sister’s spacious house at the start  of the film. We get a short introduction to all the players in the film. At the first meal in the house it turns out that Elaine’s youngest child has some sort of cold. Elaine explains that something must be going around. Chloe is very annoyed that Elaine thought it was okay to bring a sick child into the house on Christmas.

 

We find out that Chloe is something of an “Earth Mother” she doesn’t believe in giving her children inoculations against the common childhood diseases. She also home schools her kids, apparently in a bid to keep her children away from the other ‘diseased’ kids. After an unsettling night, everyone goes out in the snow to play and sledge down a hill conveniently across from Chloe and  Robbie’s house. Casey takes little part in the festivities, choosing instead to phone her mates and arrange to meet them so she can leave.

 

The second night is even more unsettling than the night before. Chloe and Robbie’s pet cat disappears. The younger children have all been acting strangely since their day outside and they seem to have some sort of cold. Chloe has another go at Elaine. The next day Robbie has gone out with the kids to play on the hill again. Casey has gone to meet her friends, She finds a bloody cat collar in the woods; while she is waiting for her friends she hears screaming and she runs back to the hill. Once there she finds that Uncle Robbie has been killed in a horrific accident. The sledge he rode down the hill has crashed into the play tent at the bottom of the hill and his head has been cracked open by a gardening tool.

 

Unfortunately we know that this was not an accident. When the children started exhibiting cold symptoms they also started exhibiting some very strange behaviour. This behaviour soon turns murderous. Amazingly the parents either don’t act or act too late to save anyone. Casey is the only proactive member of the group.

 

This film does more to argue the case of children getting vaccinations than any pamphlet I’ve ever seen in a Doctor’s office or school. It is never divulged in the film what has turned the little children into homicidal maniacs but it does show how ineffectual the average grown-up is in handling it. Despite being one of the best Brit-Horror’s of 2008 it did very poorly at the box office. It was not because the film was a low budget production, it definitely did not look like one and the acting in the film was very high calibre.

 

I think the reason the film did so poorly was because it dealt with violence to children by adults. Never mind that the little buggers had just gotten a huge dose of an evil virus. Never mind that it looked like they were going to kill everyone over the age of thirty. Never mind that it was just a film. It is very hard for the average film goer to respond well to violence against children.

 

So if you can’t bear to watch evil kiddies hurting and killing adults and have the same done to them, do not watch this film. If, however, you have the ability to recognise that this is a well made, brilliantly paced film, don’t miss it.

 

 

 

Cover of "The Children [Blu-ray]"
Cover of The Children [Blu-ray]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eden Lake (2008) A White Knuckle Ride

Eden Lake

Directed by James Watkins (My Little Eye, Gone) this tale of two young professional urbanites going to the countryside and running into “hoodies from Hell” is a tour de force of white knuckle moments and wincing violence. Watkins uses the film to make a topical statement about juvenile crime‘s increase in the UK and who is responsible for it.

 Kelly Reilly and  Michael Fassbender play the young professional couple Jenny and Steve. Steve has set up a romantic weekend at a lake he remembers from his childhood, It is secluded and a perfect spot for him to propose to his nursery teacher girlfriend. Arriving at the lake, Steve finds that the whole area is to be bulldozed and turned into houses for the “Yuppie” market. He also finds the the secluded area is obviously not so secluded as a gang of local kids seem to be using the area to hang out.
Steve is not best pleased by the appearance of the noisy neighbourhood kids and their dog. Jenny wants to move to another quieter area, but Steve is adamant that they are going to stay. He goes over to the group and asks them to move on. This idea is met with derision and hostility. It is also an open invitation for the youngsters to start harassing the young couple.
Little darlings...not.
Little darlings…not.
The harassment starts with the group just being noisier, before moving off sometime in the middle of the night.  After waking Steve and Jenny find the food they brought has been invaded by insects. They decided to go into town for a meal and to buy provisions. As the couple drive off, they run over something left by the kids and get a flat tire.
Steve replaces the tire and they drive to a cafe in town. While eating their meal they see the kids from the lake in town. Steve asks the waitress if she knows the kids as he wants to talk to their parents about the tire. The waitress becomes very defensive and says, “My kids would never do that.”
Things between the kids and the young couple escalate. Steve angrily confronts the children and one of them takes out a knife. Steve struggles with the boy and during the struggle accidentally kills one of the boy’s dog. The leader of the pack, a lad called Brett (played brilliantly by Jack O’Connell) who is visibly upset, tells Steve and Jenny to go. Steve tries to apologise for the killing of the dog, but the children ignore him.
Steve and Jenny decide they have had enough and start to leave. Brett, however has had a change of heart and has now decided that his gang are going to exact retribution for the death of the dog. So begins a heart pounding, cringe making attack by the children and Steve and Jenny’s attempt to escape.
Deadly hide and seek.
Deadly hide and seek.
James Watkins is another of those British directors that specialises in writing and directing low budget films that grip you. Made in 2008. Eden Lake takes a look at what was considered by  many to be a frighting increase in juvenile crime. The new millennium saw the emergence of the hoodie.
These hooded sweatshirts were the common uniform sported by gangs and other juvenile delinquents who had no problems breaking the law. Their emergence coincided with the courts in England becoming so lenient in terms of punishment for juvenile offenders that law abiding citizens started to fear these young criminals. Watkins’ message seems to be that it is the parents who are to blame.
This film is not easy to watch. I found myself repeatedly getting angry at the “grown-up” characters and their annoying combination of naivety and belief that, until the end, they could solve it all by talking. The calibre of performances was top notch. The location they chose for filming was spot-on, it looked like your average English town.
In fact there is a pub in the film that is a spitting image of a pub outside of Norwich, Norfolk. My daughter and I shiver every time we drive past it and I can’t help but drive a little bit faster.
Not your local friendly village pub.
Not your local friendly village pub.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins Appetizing Fare

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is the story of sixteen year old  Katniss Everdeen, the sole provider for her family; a family of three since her father died in a mine accident. Set in the ruins of North America, is a country called Panem and it is made up of twelve Districts ruled by the  harsh dictatorship of the Capital. The Capital equals rich extravagant lifestyle and power. The Districts are the metaphorical workhorses of the country and they must follow the orders of Capital or face severe punishment.

There were originally thirteen Districts. They banded together to revolt against the Capital. District 13 was completely obliterated by the Capital. The remaining Districts now must participate in The Hunger Games. The Capital requires all young people in the Districts to register for a lottery. Two children, a male and a female are then chosen by a draw called ‘The Reaping.’ They are then transported to the Capital, wined, dined, trained and interviewed. The purpose of these Games is twofold, to constantly reinforce the dictatorship of the Capital and to provide entertainment to the citizens of the country.

The young people from each District attempt to impress the rich people of Capital to get sponsorship for themselves and also for their District. Some of the “richer” Districts train their young people for the games.When Katiniss Everdeen’s eleven year old sister Prim gets chosen to attend the games, Katniss volunteers to go in her place. Katniss comes from District 12. The Districts are separated into what they provide for the Capital, District 12 provides coal. It is a  poor  district that has had only one winner of the games since they started.

The rules of the game are simple, the children must kill each other until there is only one survivor. The survivor is that year’s winner and they and their District are rewarded. The entire game is televised and the Capital populace make bets on who will win. If they are lucky the participants will gain a sponsor who gives them things during the game to improve their chances of winning.

For four hundred and fifty-four pages I was Katniss Everdean. A sixteen year old girl who had been taught by her father to hunt and by her mother to gather herbs. Hunting illegally in the off-limits woodland surrounding her District she keeps her family fed. A girl who volunteers immediately when her younger sister’s name is called on the day of the Reaping.

Suzanne Collins has written a book that literally moves with so much speed that I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough. From the moment I sat down, opened the book and read the first page, I was hooked. I finished the book in one reading and immediately wished I had purchased the other two books in the trilogy. Through her skilful writing, Collins has created a world so real that it seems to leap off the page alive and breathing.

The book has been made into a film and I am almost afraid to see it. The images that filled my mind while I read the book can never be captured fully. The scene where the two children enter the Capital on chariots was so moving that I got goose bumps while reading it. I can only say, “Welcome Suzanne Collins to the world of literature. May you be here for a long time.”

Battle Royale (2000): The Original Hunger Games

Set in the future, Battle Royale is a law that has been passed by the Japanese government. The law allows for a lottery process which picks a random class of ninth grade school children. This class is then flown to an island, given numbers and are issued with two bags. One bag contains water, food, a compass and a map. The other bag can contain a weapon or a “booby prize” like toilet paper or a pot lid for example. After receiving their bags the children are released onto the island and told that they must kill each other off. There can be only one survivor or winner. The results are followed by the media and the winner is mobbed by reporters at the end of the game.

In order to insure that there is only one winner, each student is fitted with an explosive collar which their  Battle Royale instructor demonstrates with  curiosity and amusement. The collar can be used the kill students who stray from established “kill zones” and anyone who attempts to cheat the game out of it’s required solo survivor.

Based on the novel by  Koushun Takami  (published in 1999) this film was roundly criticized in Japan when it was released. Condemned as being too violent and focussing on school children killing each other.  The film’s tag line was “Could You Kill Your Best Friend?”

Directed by  Kinji Fukasaku when he was sixty-nine years old, Battle Royale is nothing short of a masterpiece. Of all the forty-two “school children”  most had never acted before, one – Tarô Yamamoto wasn’t even a young teen, he was twenty-nine years old and an established actor. Kinji had a brilliant rapport with the mostly  inexperienced cast, getting the most out of them.

There were some members of the young cast that were professional actors,  Tatsuya Fujiwara (Shuya Nanahara) – who is perhaps best known for the Death Note films,   Aki Maeda (Noriko Nakagawa),  Chiaki Kuriyama (Takako Chigusa) better known for playing  Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill Vol 1, and Tarô Yamamoto, mentioned above as Shôgo Kawada .  Both Fujiwara and Maeda won awards as best newcomers after working in the films.

The games are overseen by the military and the ninth grader’s old teacher, Kitano-sensei. Kitano is played by the iconic multi-talented Japanese actor Takeshi Kitano aka Beat Takeshi. Kitano is huge in Japan and has quite a following worldwide. He started as a comedian but moved into acting with the film Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983). Kitano’s being  cast as the children’s old teacher was pure genius as his dead-pan delivery and still face, punctuated with nervous tic’s, help make him both a kind and stern character, one that we like immediately.

This film was destined to become a classic, it has a devoted world wide fan-base . Battle Royale and it’s sequel Battle Royale II have a film website. These ‘film sites’ and other websites have provided Battle Royale themed merchandise for the many fans.

Kinji masterfully got the actors  to project the mixed emotions, reactions, and motivations of the students forced to kill each other. Disbelief, denial, excitement, anger, reluctant participation and subterfuge just to name a few. Three students are very active participants in the battle. Mitsuko played by Kou Shibasaki kills her opponents with a mixture of deceit and deadly savagery. Kou impressed Quentin Tarantino so much with her performance, that she was who he originally wanted to play GoGo in Kill Bill Vol 1. Shôgo Kawada is one of two ‘ringers’  brought in from outside the ninth grade class. Kawada is a winner from a previous Royale and is methodical and cool.  Kazuo Kiriyama is the other outsider. He is nothing short of terrifying. Kiriyama, who volunteered to play the game, is a homicidal machine, cold and deadly he very much enjoys the killing.

The film follows all the students to a degree, but the main protagonists are Shuya Nanahara and Noriko Nakagawa. These two band together and vow to survive the game that they have been forced into. Shuya is a very reluctant participant in the killings and stays with Noriko  to help her. These two then bump into Kawada when Noriko falls ill and Shuya tries to help her. After Kawada helps Noriko the three form an alliance and work to find a solution that will see them all ‘win’ the game.

Battle Royale is a masterpiece. The screenplay was written by the directors son Kenti Fukasaku and he deserves full credit for adapting the book. He managed to lose a lot of the political statements that were in the book, which could  have slowed the film down.  The film contains many scenes and images that have become almost iconic in cinema. Chigusa’s track suit with it’s yellow and orange colour scheme was reproduced in the film Kill Bill as the outfit that ‘the bride’ wears in both volumes. Also keep an eye out for the lighthouse scene, it contains one of best cinematic shoot outs in the history of cinema.

If there could be only one  world cinema film that I could suggest that is a must see, Battle Royale is that film, hands down.

The Glass House (2001): Teen Troubles

Cover of "The Glass House"
Cover of The Glass House

Teenager Ruby Baker is out on the town and past her curfew. As she says goodbye to her friend and explains that she is going to be in trouble again for being late she hurriedly leaves. While this is going on, her parents are in a car crash and both of them die. She arrives home to find two policemen in her home. When they try to tell her about her parents, she faints.

The beginning of this film leaps into action. Before the first reel has been changed over by the projectionist, Ruby and her younger brother Rhett have been orphaned and now must live with their old neighbours acting as their guardians. The ‘best friends’ have moved to a huge glass house in an exclusive area. This will be their new home.

Once the two children move into the glass mansion, things  start getting strange and it seems the ‘old friends’ have changed from the nice people that used to live next door.

While not anywhere near blockbuster territory, The Glass House delivers very well. For a start Tom Hanks‘s missus Rita Wilson is in an uncredited cameo that must surely classify as the smallest in the world. Ms Wilson plays Ruby and Rhett’s mother and dies roughly about ten minutes into the film with her husband Michael O’Keefe the other candidate for the worlds smallest cameo award. Both Wilson and O’Keefe are seen later in the film when their daughter Ruby visualises their death, over and over.

Ruby is played by the very capable Leelee Sobieski a young actress that make me think of a young Helen Hunt. With two awards under her belt and quite a few more nominations this young lady is not lightweight. She had no trouble convincing me that her character was grieving, confused, and finally suspicious about this couple that she and her brother were wards of. When she takes action, it does not jar or stretch belief.

Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit...
Diane Lane attending the premiere of True Grit at the Berlin Film Festival 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Glass couple that take over as the children’s guardians are played by Diane Lane and Stellan Skarsgård. My only complaint about the film has to do with the fact that I felt that Ms Lane was not used enough. That is most likely my problem only as I have been a huge fan of this talented lady’s work for years. Stellan Skarsgård does a great job as the devious and slight scary Mr Glass. Glass, it seems, can only afford the grand lifestyle he and his wife have by less than legal means.

English: Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård.

The nicest thing about the film was seeing Bruce Dern as  Ruby’s family lawyer. Dern has been acting since grass was green it seems and the old boy has still got the chops. Although it was a change to see him playing a ‘normal’ good guy part instead of the usual eccentric parts he is famous for.

Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, Cali...
Bruce Dern at Super-Con 2009 in San Jose, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All in all a film worth watching. Released in 2001 it is recent enough that it doesn’t suffer from being too outdated. Add the fact that the film is easily available via Netflix and other streaming film sites, it won’t cost you the earth to give it a look.

Cameras in Your Home, Could You?

My daughter and I were talking about the reality television show The Family. I have never seen the program…Nor do I want to. If you look it up on IMDb, it states that this is the program  that started the reality TV invasion. Well, IMDb didn’t say it was an invasion, that word was mine. I actively despise reality TV. And to think that the first iteration of this ‘reality’ show began originally in the ’70’s. But I digress.

What we were talking about was the idea of having cameras in your house. Not just a few, but as many cameras that can be placed without intruding (if that is possible) on your lifestyle. When The Family was re-done in 2008, the family themselves acted differently when they first started “living” in front of the cameras. Then as they became more accustomed to having them there, they relaxed and began to act more naturally. According to my daughter Meg, it was interesting to see.

We then started speculating about what we would do and how we would act if cameras were put in our home. The first thing we decided was that it would be a comedy. My daughter and I have a brilliant repartee. A lot of good natured piss-taking and a lot of amusing idiosyncrasies. We don’t clash very  often, if we do we apologise and just get on with it. We laugh quite often and row very little, in essence we are very good at sharing our house, our space and our opinions.

But in reality (no pun intended) I would not like to live my private life in front of a load of cameras. Cameras that would be letting the world see me and my family going about our daily business of living. Both my daughter and I are very private people. We only let people ‘past the wall’ when we get to know and trust them. I can not imagine ever getting used to having the things in the house and I’ve worked in front of them.

Working in front of the camera is very different from living your private life in front of one. Working entails being someone else, playing a part; not being you but a different part of you. I even have trouble relaxing and just being me when I do my YouTube videos. I am getting better at relaxing and enjoying myself rather than feeling that I am working. But, again, I am choosing which part of my ‘private’ life I want to show while in front of the camera.

I would not want the world to see me at my worst. I have a cornucopia of bad habits, bad attitudes and other foibles that I am aware of and accept as part of my personality. That is not to say that I would be comfortable with the whole world knowing about them. In private when I act like an idiot and lose my temper or swear like a twenty-year sailor (no offence intended to those Naval folks out there) the only other person who observes this behaviour is my daughter. She knows who I am and generally laughs at such improper actions or tells me off. I may or may not listen. But, if I have been an ass, I usually apologise and then we can both have a laugh.

When I was in the USAF one of my jobs was to watch other people work. Not as easy or as much fun as it sounds, believe me. When I first entered the work centre everyone was very busy. There was not a lazy or unproductive person to be found. After I had been there for a while and the folks I was watching got used to me. It was a different story. All those lazy, unproductive  folks came out of hiding and the people I was watching started relaxing and acting like they normally did. The old story of familiarity breeding contempt is true. And that is why I would never want anyone to film my private family home life.

I don’t want to discover any bad parts of my personality that I am not already aware of.

I’m Doing this Right Now…..Not

 

Cover of "Bring on the Empty Horses"
Cover of Bring on the Empty Horses

I am writing a book! Well…I’m trying to write a book. It should be really easy, but… The problem is with me, amazing how much that sounds like the classic break-up line, “No really! It’s not you, it’s me.” I love writing; always have. But I’m suffering from the ‘David Niven‘ syndrome.

David Niven (1910 – 1983) was a wonderful actor. He won an Acadamy Award for his role as the faux military man in Seperate Tables. Niven was an extremely articulate and intelligent individual. I have always admired the man, even when he worked in some of the most execrable films ever made. He had that certain something that set him apart from the other folks in the film.

Niven was a brilliant story teller. He was at his best when regaling people with amusing stories of people he had met, or worked with, or knew. It was these stories that he finally, after much prodding from friends, wrote down and they became – The Moons a Balloon and Bring on the Empty Horses. Faintly auto-bigraphical in nature and wonderfully funny and sad, these two books stayed on the bestseller list for ages.

It has been argured that David cribbed a lot of the stories in his books. It has also been said that he embellished the tales to make them more interesting or funnier. How tiresome. I really, and I don’t think any other fans of the book do either, care. What he was good at was both telling stories and then (later) writing about them.

I am sure he embellished a lot, if not all, of his of his “cocktail party” stories. I remember reading in another book on Niven’s life. Someone famous (don’t ask me who, please don’t, because I’m damned if I can remember) listened to Niven recount an amusing episode at a cocktail party. At the end of the story, he scratched his head and said, “I was there! And I don’t remember it being that funny!”

The point is, as I said earlier, that Niven was good at the telling of and later the writing  of these wonderful stories. *Yes, I know that I’ve called the stories wonderful several times now*  But, where the stories were easy to tell, they were much harder to write about. He liked writing in the garden, but this favourite spot was filled with diversions. Niven himself mentions in one of the books that: “I can always find something else to do. ‘Oh look at that bird.’ ‘Oh what a lovely butterfly.’ Even the sight of an aeroplane passing overhead can take up huge portions of my time.”[sic]

Now I am not saying the book I am writing is going to be anywhere near as good, or amusing, or popular as Mr Niven’s. I do suffer, though, from the same problem. If I listen to music for “inspiration” whilst writing, I have to be careful to not really listen or I will get caught up in the music and stop writing. I also suffer the same problems in the garden; not secluded by any means, but it can offer a lot of quiet. It also offers – birds, bees, wasps, butterflies (although not many), planes, or helicopters flying overhead. All good for allowing my grasshopper mind to wander. It seems that my brain cannot wait for the chance to stop thinking about the things I really want to write.

I have two books going on at the same time, I like to write the same way I like to read, one short story and one book with a collection of short stories. Not a problem. But…But… I also have three blogs. don’t get too excited, I usually write the same item and copy and paste it to the other two sites. I also follow a few blogs and I have to comment on the ones I’ve read and liked. Oops, my coffee cup is empty, must go and refill the kettle and make another one. Oh look how filthy that television cabinet is looking, I’ll just go sort that out. Oh look, someone else has subscribed to my small channels on YouTube, I must thank them. Ah! Someone has commented on: my channel, my facebook page, my Twitter, my…Well you can get the idea, I am sure.

My daughter (Meg) is a great Dad cheerleader though. She keeps reminding me that I am supposed be working on the book(s) and not mucking about with all these other things. It helps. And I figure if David Niven could combat the distractions, so can I. I seriously doubt that anything I write would even be published, but I will have the satisfaction of finishing it and having at least one person love it as much as I do.

But first I just have to post this blog and then copy it…