Tagged & Bagged: A The Autopsy Of Jane Doe review.

Directed by: André Øvredal.

Starring: Brian Cox, Emile Hirsch, Opheia Lovibond, Olwen Kelly.

Plot: A body of a young, Unidentified woman arrives in the father & son coroners office of the Tildens. She was discovered buried in the basement of a house whose occupants were all found dead. As they begin the autopsy of this ‘Jane Doe’ a series of strange and unaccountable things begin to occur.

It is something I have said before in my reviews, it is hard to find something truly original to be presented to you in film these days, doubly so in the horror genre. A little while a go I heard word of mouth on an upcoming horror film that piqued my interest in that is sounded like a pretty original concept, that film was The Autopsy Of Jane Doe.

The concept is a sound one, hitting all the right notes to intrigue, revolt and unnerve. The autopsy scenes require a strong stomach but add to the mystery of the film superbly with some very impressive physical effects work on ‘Jane Doe’. As things in the morgue start to take a turn for the unusual, the film really stakes it’s place as an effective modern horror. As the strange incidents rack up, your nerves will become more frayed, held together by the compelling mystery evolving onscreen and some wonderful performances. The minimal cast shoulder the burden of carrying the film well, the ever wonderful Brian Cox bringing some class and gravitas to the proceedings as the probing coroner, ably backed by Emile Hersch as his trainee and son. Olwen Kelly as ‘Jane Doe’ does nothing more than lie prone for the duration of the film but provides a presence that is mesmerising and unnerving as events start to unfold.

The Autopsy Of Jane Doe ticks all the boxes for me, it is sufficiently original in concept, has an ongoing mystery that keeps the film compelling throughout its duration and along with some strong performances and impressive effects work adds up to an effective chiller that I would wholeheartedly endorse, may not be one for those of a sensitive disposition and weak stomach though.

So Long Astoria: The Goonies at 32.

In 1985, Richard Donner in collaboration with screenwriter Chris Columbus and producer Steven Spielberg gave to the world a group of lovable misfits and their search for hidden pirate gold. They didn’t just give the world some throwaway, brainless kids film, they gave the world The Goonies.

Set in the town of Astoria, Oregon and centring on the lives of a group of young kids, Mickey, his older brother Brandon and their neighbours Data, Mouth & Chunk who live in the towns poor “Goon docks” district. Collectively they refer to themselves as The Goonies although Brand more often than not acts as defacto parent to the group, chastising their shenanigans. When Mickey finds a Spanish map in the attic of his house believed to lead to the treasure of legendary pirate One Eyed Willy, he gathers the group together for one last adventure to save their ailing neighbourhood from property development. 

The Goonies was a collaborative effort between 3 huge names in cinema in the mid 80’s, Donner, Columbus & Spielberg combining the strengths of all 3 directors, each renowned for their traits in delivering thrills, witty and humorous dialogue and warm coming of age tales respectively. Featuring early screen appearances from the likes of Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Corey Feldman, The Goonies was shot in the real life town of Astoria and its surrounding woodland and along the Oregon coastline, many of the locations now becoming places of pilgrimage to fans of the film who flock to Astoria year on year to catch a glimpse of Mikeys house, so much so that the occupiers of the house have had to seek restrictions to people visiting. All interiors, including the pirate caverns were filmed on the Warner Brothers lot in California which also included a full sized mock up of One Eyed Willys pirate ship which was only seen by the cast when they filmed the scene where they find the ship, this was to get as genuine a reaction as possible from the young cast. Severeal scenes were cut from the film’s lengthy shooting script but the most notorious is a sequence that was deleted from the film that featured a giant octopus, the scene is referenced at the end of the film when the gang talk to the police about what has happened in the cut that went to cinemas.

The Goonies is a film that has aged very well thanks to it universal message of friendship & triumph over adversity, it’s a film still viewed by its original audience today with a warm nostalgic glow, ready to be shown to and taken to the hearts of their own children because let’s face it, no matter how old you are, a film that features adventure, booby traps, pirates and hidden treasure speaks to the child in all of us, even those of us the wrong side of 30.

Top 5 Director Series: Sam Rami.

He may be a director renowned widely, depending on your generation, for one series of films but Sam Rami has enjoyed a varied and impressive career. From horror to comedy via pit stops in the genres of Westerns & Neo-noir, Rami was not afraid throughout this career to scratch any genre itch that took his fancy and with predominately positive results. Here is my personal Top 5 Sam Rami films, but first my honourable mention is….

Honourable Mention: The Quick And The Dead.

Sam Rami’s obvious love of Westerns shines through in this daftly enjoyable offering from 1995, not perfect by a long shot but it is a lot of fun.

5: Darkman.

Rami tried his hand at comicbook-style superhero shenanigans long before he directed Spider-Man, evidenced by this dark slice of pulp noir from 1990. Also boasts Liam Neeson on bad-ass duties long before the Taken franchise.

4: Drag Me To Hell.

Rami pops his Evil Dead hat back on for this effective slice of demonic horror from 2009. The ever inventive scares are present but feel really fresh after a sustained gap from directing a horror flick.

3: The Evil Dead.

The one that started it all. This shoestring horror from 1981 is one of the most notorious and revered horror films of the latter part of the 20th century. Tied into the “video nasty” witch hunt didn’t do it any damage, it helped to make it legendary.

2: Spider-Man 2.

Rami returned to the webslinger with this offering from 2002. Everything he learnt from his first outing was refined, polished and all around improved for what still stands as one of the best superhero films of the early 00’s in my opinion.

1: Evil Dead 2.

Rami made a return to the Evil Dead in 1987 with this sequel to or some may argue, remake of his original film. Instead of solely going down the horror route, Rami instead played up to his strengths and those of his leading man, Bruce Campbell by making Dead By Dawn a slapstick, almost screwball Horror-comedy. It was the right choice.

Say No More: A look back at Empire Records.

A cheesy teen comedy, the launch pad for Liv Tyler & Renée Zellweger and of course THAT soundtrack, Empire Records may not have been a particularly great film but it still managed to hold some thrall during the teenage years of many Gen X-ers, kinda like Singles dumber, prettier, uncomplicated cousin. Set over the course of a day in an independent record store in an undisclosed American location and concerning the up’s & downs of it’s misfit staff, coping with the perils of being a mid-90’s teenager whilst also fighting to keep their jobs as the store is faced with closure from an unscrupulous property developer. It was dumb, it was embarrassingly right-on and trite but despite all those things, I still kinda dig this film.

Facing a series of truncating cuts in post-production that omitted large amounts of footage for certain characters and the same cuts rendering portions of the story incomplete and non-sensical until some of the footage was reinstated in the release of the directors cut in the early 00’s, Empire Records had its work cut out for it from day one, suffering from the studio interference which translates to a muddled and inconsistently messy teen flick that bombed in the box office and received scorn from the critics. It has in subsequent years developed something of a cult following due to its young, likeable cast and exceptionally good soundtrack.

This film marked early notable appearances from many actors that would go on to carve careers of note in the years to come, most notably Liv Tyler & Renée Zellweger but also the likes of Robin Tunney, Rory Cochrane, Ethan Embry all made early career appearances in Empire Records, each making an impression on even the most cynical of critic, many of which agreeing that great things awaited a good portion of the cast.

Any written piece on this film couldn’t pass without mentioning its soundtrack, no doubt a CD that was owned by a great many teens of the mid-nineties, a remarkably well assembled collection of songs from the likes of The Gin Blossoms, The Cranberries, Pixies side project The Martinis, Better Than Ezra, Toad The Wet Spocket, Evan Dando and more. There were some notable omissions from the likes of Daniel Johnston, The Buggles, Dire Straits, GWAR and Bodycount that were featured in the film but did not make it to the soundtrack album. It was a collection so well assembled despite the reviews the film received that it was dubbed ‘a soundtrack in search of a movie’ by Variety magazine.

Despite the degree of naysay and derision levelled at it upon release, Empire Records found its audience eventually, it found its cult following, it even spawned it own meme on April 8th each year to mark ‘Rex Manning Day’, a sure fire sign in the 21st century of finding a cultural status befitting of it.

The Animals: An Orange Is The New Black Season 5 review.

*ATTENTION* this is a review of season 5 of OITNB and will contain plot spoilers from previous seasons as well as season 5, please read on if you are up to date or don’t mind plot points being revealed.

Orange Is The New Black is a show that has gone from strength to strength since its inception in 2013, spearheading the phenomenon of on demand streaming through its parent service Netflix and been the very definition of a show one binge watches to completion within days, I can safely say that OITNB season 5 is no different, it may not be the shows strongest season but it is certainly it’s most ambitious.

It’s all change at Litchfield penitentiary in the aftermath of Season 4’s finale which saw the inmates retaliate against the death of fellow inmate Poussey Washington at the hands of an over zealous and undertrained guard resulting in an all out riot and the inmates taking control of the prison, taking guards hostage and making demands for change at Litchfield. The change of direction with the inmates in control is a refreshing, the principal characters now in the seat of power effectively running the prison, now almost broken into little fiefdoms with the Spanish prisoners invoking a Spanish Harlem in the bunk room with the guards held captive in ‘the bubble’, Leanne & Angie embark on a pantsing odyssey, Vause & Chapman staying clear with a bunch of other prisoners in the yard whilst Taystee, Black Cindy & Janae lead the pursuit of justice by trying to open dialogue with the outside. It is an interesting and compelling dynamic to have all these disparate groups embarking on their own quests for personal freedom. 

The performances from the cast are as strong as ever, particular praise is owed to Danielle Brooks who’s role as Taystee takes more of a front seat this season, deservedly as she has increasingly become the heart and moral compass of the show. The phenomenal Uzo Aduba is as strong as ever with her massively sympathetic, humorous and heart-rending performance as Suzanne and the likes of Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Kate Mulgrew all lend excellent support as in prior seasons.

It’s not all positives for this season, the usually constructive flashbacks feel throwaway and needless this season offering no real insight to those they are about with the possible exception of Piscatella’s flashback, the episodes of prior seasons focused on characters each episode using the flashbacks to place context on their actions & motives, this season suffers I feel from a lack of focus in this department. There are a few instances also this season where the usually spot on juxtaposition of humour & drama don’t quite work as well as in prior seasons, the humour feels a little more forced on occasion and at times doesn’t sit as well next to the more serious moments. 

It was a brave move and I believe the right move to try and play with the formula this season, some of it worked, some of it didn’t. Too many shows in a similar position as OITNB coast by doing the same thing each season without taking risks and with OITNB doing this at the height of its popularity, it should be applauded for its guts. Where the show goes from here after its Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid-esque cliffhanger is anyone’s guess, things have changed and it’s pretty hard to see how they can ever go back to how they were with any kind of believability. I can only hope the showrunners have a long game planned because going forward we are going to be treading in uncharted climes.

All seasons of Orange Is The New Black are currently available to stream via Netflix.

They’ve Gone On Holiday By Mistake: A Camping review.

Written & Directed by: Julia Davis.

Plot: A group of middle aged friends reconvene for a camping trip to celebrate one of the groups birthday. Pretty soon however, cracks in their friendship start to form.

Starring: Julia Davis, Steve Pemberton, Vicki Pepperdine, David Bamber, Elizabeth Berrington, Johnathon Cake

Julia Davis has been responsible for some of the darkest and fitfully funny TV comedies of the 21st century. From her acting work with Chris Morris on Brass Eye & Jam to her writing of the excellent Nighty, Night and the more recent and equally great period piece Hunderby. Davis’s clever pitch black humour and deadpan delivery have become calling cards of comedic excellence, Camping is no different.

Camping has a great script but is nothing without the tremendous assembled cast who, as in a lot of Davis’s work, all pitch in and are freely welcome to ad-lib. Steve Pemberton gives a reliably solid performance as the Birthday boy Robin and downtrodden husband of Vicki Pepperdine’s unpleasant control-freak wife Fiona who’s constant henpecking and worry for her son’s possibilty of contracting airborne homosexuality and his “elongated anus” are equally excruciating and hilarious. There is also a note perfect turn by Rufus Jones as Tom, a man going through what can only be described as the 21st century equivalent of a mid-life crisis. From his carrot-cut Top Shop jeans to his conspicuous hair transplant and his ridiculous, wretch-inducing fawning of his new vacuous, nymphomaniac girlfriend played to irritating perfection by Davis. Davis has an unnerving talent for creating weird, slightly sinister, socially inept grotesques and in Camping she created a doozy. David Bamber’s nervy campsite owner Noel who constantly skirts the line of being sympathetic and thoroughly creepy in his sheltered existence looking after his unseen invalid mother before tipping over the scales into full blown scary for the series deliciously WTF denouement.

Davis has made a career as a writer & performer of considerable talent and with Camping she has excelled herself once again. It is a perfectly characterised, gloriously dark and hugely funny series that I would highly advise you track down.

Camping is currently available on Sky Atlantic on demand.

Baby Knows Best: A Prevenge review.

Directed by: Alice Lowe.

Starring: Alice Lowe, Jo Hartley, Gemma Whelan, Kate Dickie, Kayvan Novak, Tom Davis, Dan Skinner

Plot: Heavily pregnant and grieving Ruth embarks on a killing spree spurred on by the voice of her unborn child.

To see an original Comedy-Horror film these days is one thing, for it to be written, directed & lead by a heavily pregnant lead actor is a pretty spectacular feat. Prevenge is a fiercely original, funny, coal-black, violent, postpartum revenge picture written by, directed and starring the brilliant, and at the time of filming, heavily pregnant, Alice Lowe. Lowe’s character Ruth receives instruction from her gestating offspring to kill a slew of variously unpleasant people for reasons yet to be revealed.

A gloriously subversive spin on postpartum anxiety taken to murderous levels, Prevenge is a remarkable piece of work by Alice Lowe across the board. A witty, darkly humorous and intelligent script with a note perfect deadpan delivery and remarkably assured direction for a debut behind the camera, all whilst being a month away from the due date of her own child makes the achievements yielded from Prevenge all the more impressive on Lowes part. With some strong support from the likes of Gemma Whelan, Dan Skinner, Jo Hartley & Kayvan Novak, Prevenge has a strong lineup of talent to work with the equally strong material.

If you are a fan of slasher movies or revenge pictures and want to try one with fierce originality, lashings of blood and the blackest of black humour at its heart, Prevenge is certainly worth your time.