Housebound (2014) Hysterical New Zealand Horror

Poster for Housebound
It is no secret that I adore both Australian and New Zealand cinema, specifically horror. An eternal favorite of straight horror is the 1978, and its 2008 remake, Long Weekend. While the Aussies are adept at making scary films that get right under your skin, the Kiwis have a knack for comedy horror that will make you jump, but more importantly, will make you laugh till the tears roll. Black Sheep, the 2006 film that made genetic experimentation with sheep scary and funny, has now been joined by Housebound.

This urban setting, versus the rural one of Black Sheep, deals with troublemaker Kylie Bucknell who is placed under house arrest, or more accurately confinement, after being caught stealing a cash box from an ATM with her boyfriend. The film promises to be funny from the first few frames when Bucknell’s accomplice knocks himself out with the recoil from a sledgehammer that he ineffectually smacks the money machine with.

Kylie must return to her mum’s house for eight months whilst tagged. The tag monitor, Amos comes to her house to fit the device to her ankle and explain how the whole thing will work. While she must come to terms with living at home again and coping with her annoying mother Miriam, Kylie learns the house is haunted and that the place she grew up in was the scene of a brutal murder.

Amos initially helps the two women try to solve their ghost problem and then tries to help Kylie solve the 14 year old murder.

Morgana O’Reilly, an alumnus of the long running Australian soap Neighbours turns in a brilliantly diverse performance as the teen tearaway with mum issues. Her Kylie can make the viewer crease up, as when she acts completely gormless when Amos explains how he will help the family solve their ghost problem, or keep the audience on the edge of their seat during the more tense moments.

The comedy in Housebound is outstanding. Taking a dental plate from a sleeping suspect’s mouth, a murderer being attacked with a cheese grater, and a tag monitor being caught by what looks like a bear trap are all just part of the comic events in this film.

Rim Te Wiata from another long running Aussie soap, Sons and Daughters, as well as Full Frontal and Shortland Street plays mum Miriam and also turns in an admirable comic performance. Glen-Paul Waru is spot on as Amos, the tag monitor, ghost hunter and all round helpful official who lends a hand to the family.

The film shifts easily from one event to the next. At one point in the film, Miriam and Kylie are explaining that the house is haunted. Amos has turned up because the ankle bracelet alarm indicated that the teen had left the premises. The second that the tag monitor learns of the haunting, he immediately switches to paranormal investigator.

A big shout out to Cameron Rhodes as Dennis. This experienced actor, who boasts credits in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring as well as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, turns in a brilliant performance.

Housebound is the feature length debut of Gerard Johnstone who wrote and directed the film. He has managed to subtly shift comedy, mystery and horror almost efortlessly in what is one of the best comedy horror films I have seen in ages. It is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and I cannot recommend this movie enough. A real 5 out of 5 stars as all concerned hit every mark.

31 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

All Reality Television Scripted Not Just Married at First Sight

Marriage at First Site screenshot
It is amazing that in this day and age there are people who believe that reality television is not scripted, the recent “outrage” about Married at First Sight using actors or at least “aspiring actors” is the perfect case in point. This is not, however, the first time that fans of a “real” series have been shocked to learn that the participants are, in fact, actors who follow a script.

Read entire article at Viral Global News…

31 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Dustin Diamond Stabbing: Screech Not Recognized by Victim

Police mug shot of Dustin Diamond
Dustin Diamond, aka Screech from the 1970s kid’s show Saved by the Bell, has been cleared of the felony charge that was the result of a Wisconsin bar fight that ended in a stabbing. The 38 year old actor was found guilty on two misdemeanor charges of carrying a concealed weapon and disorderly conduct. Rather interestingly, Diamond was not recognized by his victim when initially questioned by the police at the time of the incident.

Read the whole article on Viral Global News…

‘Stitchers’ ABCs Answer to Scorpion?

Promotional still from Stitchers
It may seem a bit unfair to maintain that ABCs Stitchers is the network’s answer to, or version of, Scorpion especially since the premiere has apparently taken several things from other shows as well. Scorpion, with its cast of socially inept geniuses, including the real life leader of the group Walter O’Brien (played by Elyes Gabel), is the closest match in terms of characters. It could also be said to borrow heavily from The Bridge with its “autistic” female lead, played very well by Diane Kruger, who is another social inept because of her mental issues.

Stitchers stars a group of relative newcomers with Allison Scagllioti (Warehouse 13, Redemption) being the most senior member of the cast in terms of experience. Emma Ishta (I Smile Back, Manhattan Love Story) is the incredibly attractive lead, Kirsten who suffers from “temporal dysplasia” which does not seem to really exist at least not according to Google. In the series it is an inability to sense time and also appears to prevent the individual suffering this mental problem unable to “feel” normal emotions, e.g. love, despair, grief, et al. There is a similar affliction which is a common symptom of ADHD but that is not mentioned in the show.

After the premiere’s teaser, or open, we meet Kirsten who is being accused by her housemate Camille (Scagllioti) of tampering with her PHD project. Unsurprisingly, Camille is also a brilliant student, again along the lines of Scorpion, with its genius level IQ cast of characters, and as Kirsten cannot prove her innocence she is suspended from the PHD program until she can be cleared.

She is approached by the local police about her “father” who apparently killed himself. She claims he was murdered, but never really explains why she knows this. After Camille suggests, sarcastically, that Kirsten should hack the police computer via the Head Instructor’s office computer which she then does, the temporal dysplasia suffering PHD student is kidnapped.

The upper graduate learns that her abductors are a “secret” government agency that puts or “stitches” someone’s consciousness into the brain of a recently deceased individual to pull out memories and help solve crimes. Not just who murdered the victim but, as in the first episode’s plot, other information that can solve other problems/crimes.

Ayo, the head of this secret agency’s LA branch (played by Sola Bamis) recruits Kirsten and the man who runs the stitchers program, Cameron (Kyle Harris) immediately fills the slot reserved for a “will they, won’t they” type interaction.

While the overall plot may seem new, it does appear to borrow from a lot of other shows, at least two of which were Eliza Dushku vehicles; Dollhouse and Tru Calling especially the latter show where the recently deceased were aided by the show’s heroine.

As mentioned above, the CBS summer replacement show Scorpion is the most obvious influence on the series as all the incredibly intelligent leads are socially inept, although heavier on the geek ratio, “Star log date…” It also seems to borrow a little from Prometheus where scientists “trick” the decapitated head of an alien into believing it is still alive in order to harvest its memories.

The show even appears to borrow from Avatar to a degree in that the protagonist enters another’s consciousness via similar methods as in the James Cameron film. This show could still prove to be entertaining and interesting enough to revisit as the season continues. Certainly all the main actors are attractive and if the writers can control their attempts at clever topical and pop culture references the series could be successful.

After all, who does not want to watch a beautiful blonde heroine waltz about in a skin-tight “cat-suit?” Joking aside, it would be nice to see more of Scagllioti, and not in a cat-suit sort of way, as this actress was brilliant in Warehouse 13. Yet, another “time will tell” new show that may not overcome their apparent lack of originality. Stitchers airs on June 2 on ABC Family.

30 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Aquarius: David Duchovny in Search of Manson

Promo shot of Aquarius

Period drama used to mean anything that dealt with the time of Jane Austin, pantaloons, Mr. Darcy and Tara. With the long running success of AMC’s Mad Men, it now seems that the 1960s has replaced the earlier horse drawn romantic boilers. Consider, if you will, that the only other period piece to come from AMC, apart from Halt & Catch Fire set in the 1980s (which some people must like since it has come back for a second season) is the network’s nod to patriotism Turn: Washington’s Spies which is another of those dismal attempts to look back at America’s Revolutionary War which has also been brought back, rather inexplicably, for another season. Aquarius, stars David Duchovny as the “hip” detective in search of Charlie Manson “pre-Helter Skelter.

Once again, the 1960s have been revisited and unlike Mad Men, which really celebrated the “good old days of endless cigarettes and three martini lunches,” Aquarius looks at the more unpleasant side of the time. Sure this was the era of “free love” dropping acid and “tuning out and turning on” but it also had the Black Panthers militaristic movement, enough racial prejudice and hatred to sink a far few battleships and the “establishment” vs the hippies.

In one scene, the undercover narcotics officer, referred to as a “Narc” (and you will really show your age if that term means anything to you at all), becomes an underling for Detective Hodiak and one of the other cops asks if Shafe (played by Grey Damon) is going to get a hair cut. The Vietnam war is in full swing and a lot of protestors are heading for countries outside the US borders in order to avoid the draft.

On a side note: Has anyone else noticed that “Hodiak” rhymes with Zodiac as in the killer who tormented the police through the 60s and 70s? Surely this name choice is no coincidence.

NBC has opted to run the show on Hulu where one can “watch the full event series.” A bold move that either signifies supreme confidence in the show or just the opposite. Thus far, several sites have reported that the viewing figures for the show are “disappointing.” Rather an odd prognosis for a show that just opened on 28 May via the network but can be viewed in one fell swoop on Hulu. How are audience figures adequately counted in this instance?

The network advertises that the entire season can be watched, not only online via Hulu, but via on-demand and “on the NBC app!” Surely it is too soon to really say whether the figures are good, bad, or indifferent.

Aquarius does seem to be fairly interesting, combining real people, Manson for example, with fictional ones in order to take a look at the “run up” to the Sharon Tate murder (as well as Jay Sebring and a number of others) and just how “Charlie” got started. The show features a cop who may, or may not, be an recovering alcoholic, an undercover officer along the lines of Frank Serpico and a black “militant” Muslim in the stamp of Malcolm X.

Not wanting to watch the entire series in one go, I opted to take in the first two episodes via Hulu. Overall the show is not bad and of course it goes without saying that Duchovny is incapable of giving a bad performance. Casting Brit actor Gethin Anthony as Charles Manson has annoyed some but, to be fair, it is early days yet and he may still fit the bill.

As this is a fictional telling of Manson’s journey before he got the world’s attention for the murders committed by his “gang” the tale can go pretty much where it wants. Never mind that in reality, Charlie was a short (5’2″) scrawny, and unattractive, psychopath who used drugs and his delusional belief that he was a prophet of doom to rule a group of misfits and antisocial teens and young adults. By the time the murders took place Manson was a 32 year old institutionalized career criminal who discovered music, instead of religion, while in prison and was “really quite good” on a guitar.

The show is entertaining to a degree and it can be seen in its entirety on Hulu, on-demand, and on the NBC app, as stated above. The actors all turn in some satisfactory performances and the series does have a pretty decent “60s feel” to it. For those who do not want to watch the whole “period” drama at once, or who do not have the time, it can be seen on the network on Thursdays.

30 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

‘Between’ Episode 2: Who’s the Boss (Recap/Review)

Between Tumblr page header
Episode 2 of Between, titled Who’s the Boss, starts on day 14 with almost 7,000 dead adults. The Canadian Prime Minister tells the children in the quarantine zone that they must burn the bodies before the fence comes down. Adam survived the soldiers shooting at him when he attempted to escape and Wiley is not interested in the baby at all.

As interesting as this series could be, thus far it fails to convince. The “poor kids” are in a feud with the rich family who apparently own every big business in Pretty Lake. In the fortnight that things have fallen apart in the community, the streets look like a war zone. Abandoned vehicles, bicycles, rubbish, and shopping trolleys fill the streets.

The kids still text, tweet and Facebook each other in order to meet and exchange information. There is a murderer running about and Lana; the rich kid’s sister, has been shot and left in the woods. The killer tried to make it look like a suicide but M.I.T. Adam quickly worked out that it was not. Someone hacked off Mrs. Marshall’s finger to remove an expensive ring and Amanda almost burns down the supermarket.

Despite all the things going on peripherally; murders, theft and bad feelings between certain factions, Wiley is almost burnt to death after mistakenly being put in the “dead” pit and Adam finds what he believes to be the start of the killer plague, the dead are collected and set on fire per the PM’s mandate. According to her, the fence will come down as soon as the dead are disposed of.

Mark (played by Jack Murray), apparently the only prisoner under the age of 22 in the local jail, has been let loose and he repays the equally young prison guard by knocking her out cold. The Pretty Lake kids all help in lighting the “adult” bonfire. The viewer is meant, by this time, to feel badly for the surviving children but instead, one wonders about the lack of cohesion in the story.

There are too many questions unanswered that no one really cares about. The inclusion of a murder in the mix, signposts clearly that the newly released Mark will be accused. Of course the two “redneck” brothers may become the first suspects considering the existing animosity between the two families.

It seems that communication is beginning to be shut down, or at the very least controlled, when Frances gets a call from her auntie (who is outside the quarantine area) and mid-conversation the signal breaks up and fails. The main problem with Between is the lack of agency interaction. There are no CDC types running around (or the Canadian equivalent), no biohazard suited technicians ever appeared to help the locals deal with all these unexplained and age targeted deaths.

Sadly for Jennette McCurdy, her character was saved from a hideous death and now she will have to limp along with this show until its conclusion. The one thing that could save this series would be characters that one can really get behind and empathize with. Annoyingly, everyone, even Goody-Two-Shoes Gordy, are not given the chance to be fully developed and become someone we really car about.

The rich kid’s family, even with the seemingly obligatory “handicapped” sibling just seem like a variation on a stereotype. The best that can be said of the show so far is that McCurdy has been allowed to cease her Juno impression.

29 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Familiar (2012) Extreme Passive Aggression

Film Poster for Familiar
Written and Directed by Richard Powell, Familiar is a look at passive aggression in the extreme. Starring Robert Nolan (Worm, Heir), Astrida Auza (Feed the Devil, Return) and Cat Hostick (Ejecta, Three’s a Crowd) we learn that in the Dodd household, all is not well.

Rather interestingly, John is the twin brother of Geoffrey Dodd from Worm. In the earlier 2010 film, Geoffrey is portrayed as being psychotic; so in no small way this mental problem could be said to be a “family tradition.”

Powell (Consumption, Worm) is a master at showing the less pleasant things in life, whether it is a relationship gone sour (Familiar), dissatisfaction about the job (Worm) or hidden desires (Heir) he skews the material into moving and dark glimpses into the human psyche.

In this tale, John Dodd is a man fed up with his relationship; a wife he detests and a daughter whom he refers to as a “parasite,” this leaves him feeling trapped and desperate. Nolan, as Dodd, gives an exceptional performance as a man driven into apparent madness. His internal dialogues and the increasing panic at being unable to escape are brilliant.

Auza plays the passive aggressive partner to perfection. The whole film actually depicts this mental problem with disturbing reality. The long silences at meal times, the body language and having to “pry” information out of the non-communicative spouse are all experiences suffered by those who have been in this type of relationship.

Dodd decides that he must rid himself of the wife who is driving him insane and begins to work on removing her via drugs after successfully using steroids to solve another problem with the woman. After the steroid episode John begins to notice that what he thought was an internal dialogue is, in fact, more of a dictatorial rant.

The man’s battle then becomes focused on his sanity and the loss of control he believes has occurred. Powell’s tale feels like a Henry James plot. Think A Turn of the Screw here, and all the elements of the film click neatly into place like well crafted puzzle pieces. By the end we ask ourselves just how much of what happens is in John’s mind and how much may be real.

Cinematographer Michael Jari Davidson once again shows the mastery of light and shadow which makes his work so brilliant. The contrasts of crisp clear camera work with the element of darkness applied are perfect as in his other films.

Familiar is available on iTunes right now and this is a short film not to be missed. Easily as powerful as any of Powell’s other films, but the title is evocative of the feeling one gets when watching the movie. Anyone who has been in a marriage like this empathizes with John Dodd immediately and the whole thing does indeed feel familiar. A 5 out of 5 stars for an excellent snapshot of the madness behind passive aggression.

29 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith