DVD Review

DVD Review: A Wrinkle in Time (Dir. Ava DuVernay)

Word of mouth can make or break a film and (some) reviews have been less than kind about Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time. Her earlier work has consisted of documentaries This is the Life (2008), and 13th (2016), indie drama I Will Follow (2010) and romance Middle of Nowhere (2012) before using the historical biopic to really make her mainstream mark with Selma (2014). Her current Netflix smash is the absolutely stunning mini-series When They See Us (2019). Aside from the occasional repeat casting (namely David Oyelowo who voices The It here) the commonality of these films is their setting deep within the African American experience – and this is only set to continue as Hollywood has the overhaul it so desperately needs, and the world gets to embrace the work of Barry Jenkins, Ryan Coogler, Jordan Peele and DuVernay.

Tackling Madeleine L’Engles much loved children’s novel of the same name and deemed unfilmable (though attempted for TV in 2003), DuVernay brings it to the big screen – with a reported $100 million budget – amid fantastical imagery and visual effects (and some occasionally weak CGI), however, the themes it tackles feel particularly relatable and relevant regardless of the fifty-six year old story.

Meg (Storm Reid) is a social outcast at school, made all the weirder by her father’s disappearance four years previously. Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) in his search of travel via a Tessaract vanished without a trace leaving fellow physicist (and wife) Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to raise their children – Meg and her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) – alone. However, upon a visit from Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), encouragement from Mrs. Which (Mindy Kaling) albeit through inspirational guidance from Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Meg decides to take Charles Wallace and school pal Calvin (Levi Miller) and go look for her Dad and bring him back home if she can. She only needs to journey across time, space and several dimensions, and most importantly believe in herself.

Okay, so there’s little here that you haven’t seen in some form before – not least that television adaptation from 2003. There are some nice touches, Paco Delgados’ costumes for one and it certainly looks pretty, reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz/The Wiz. Definitely a personal preference but André Holland as Principal James Jenkins (a possible reference to activist/writer Baldwin and filmmaker Barry) isn’t in it nearly enough, nor Michael Peña (sporting splendiferous facial hair as Red). For all the lack of subtlety, it wears its heart on its sleeve – a very simple, powerful message at its core.

It seems a shame that Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell’s screenplay includes such heavy handed bombastic dialogue (along with some meandering camera work which can prove distracting), I’m sure its genus has likely come from the pages of the book but one wonders if small children would grasp some of the more complicated terminology. There’s little doubt that its scientifically viable, there was even a scientific advisor – Dr. Stephon Alexander – on set, but the film is so thematically broad that it ambles to a conclusion which feels more like the end of a series of visually impressive vignettes rather than one completed feature.

Much like that other big budget Disney production Black Panther, it takes its cues from the Afro-futurism genre, vibrant in colours and thematic similarities like the absentee father and embracing the warrior within. It is after all a Disney film so there are certain expectations. While it may not be to the taste of the adults, there’s plenty for children to enjoy not least the “greatest mind of our time” belonging to the squeaky voiced six-year-old Charles Wallace. Deep and meaningful monologues seek to empower the tween generation and why not? Love triumphs over evil, facing darkness can bring the light, a young person embraces their inner strength to rescue their missing parent… certainly plenty of films check this list, however, few of these young protagonists look like Storm Reid and Deric McCabe.

A Wrinkle in Time is nowhere near as dire as you may have been made to believe – despite its budget and subsequent box-office loss – the second half improves on the first, just suspend your disbelief a smidge more. A young girl who realises her strength, intellect, courage and beauty, ignores the bullies and believes in herself is to be celebrated.

Be a warrior.

DVD Review

DVD Review: The Secret of Santa Vittoria (Dir. Stanley Kramer, 1969)

Fermented grape juice is a special kind of elixir, even Shakespeare was a fan of crushing a cup and some, one could argue, might go to extreme lengths for a glass of vino, maybe even a bottle… or million. Stanley Kramer’s The Secret of Santa Vittoria opens with Fabio (Giancarlo Giannini) rushing home to deliver good news, il Duce has been ousted from the NFP. Sadly, the young man’s enthusiasm isn’t met in quite the way he was hoping as most of Santa Vittoria does not understand what the end of Fascism means for them but Mussolini has gone and the Germans are on their way, led by Captain von Prum (Hardy Krüger) and will take whatever they like.

The film is set in a generic wine-producing region of Italy (in approximately 1943 although made some 25 years later) where the men drink and their wives are seen but generally not heard, a real “Boys Club”. Bombolini (Anthony Quinn) is one man whose wife, Rosa (Anna Magnani) insists on being heard. She runs the inn with her husband and is at the end of her rope; she loved him once but cannot remember exactly when. He’s well liked amongst the other hard-drinkers and they encourage him to put “a fist in her mouth” mainly because “it’s a sad house when the cock is silent and the hen does all the crowing.” Ah, domestic violence is hilarious, isn’t it? Especially when a film normalises women hitting men but the threat against women is somehow more shocking. To be fair, in this film, neither gender comes off particularly well. Fragile masculinity is personified in Quinn’s Bombolini, he is – not to put too finer point on it – an idiot and the townspeople make him Mayor *because* he’s a fool which bodes well. Predictably, the title and gold medallion leads the clown to think he’s arrived, and Rosa will suddenly become obedient. Almost immediately, we realise this is not the case but he does cease drinking and successfully hides the bulk of the fruits of their labour/vinification.

There are a couple of subplots which largely deal with the love lives of three female characters: Signora Rosa, Caterina (Virna Lisa) – who returns to the village after the death of her Fascist husband but then falls in love with injured soldier Tufa (Sergio Franchi) who she nurses back to health, and who also happens to be a Fascist. However, as he’s a peasant from Santa Vittoria she’s willing to turn a blind-eye. Rounding off the trio is Rosa and Italo’s daughter, Angela (Patrizia Valturri). She’s in love with Fabio but is only interested in sex, not marriage.

One of the major niggles with The Secret of Santa Vittoria is it hasn’t aged well. Its politics are muddled and archaic, it never leads with a message or knows exactly what it wants to say, it does pick up pace – how the townspeople shift the million bottles of wine is quite something albeit disbelief suspending – and the jaunty and affable score is enjoyable but none of it is affecting, surprising or particularly spontaneous. It functions as a huge Hollywood production, structured to within an inch of its life. It isn’t a musical but would have worked very well as one.

The saving grace is Anna Magnani, in her last English-speaking role. Her powerful demeanour and beautiful imperious face never falters; it’s worth watching all the way through just to see that world-class grimace break into a grin. She was a stunning actress and here makes the most of the material given – by no means a stretch – she’s wonderful as the tough and feisty Rosa, the only downside is she’s not given nearly enough screen-time.

The Secret of Santa Vittoria is a pleasant, mostly entertaining fare; perfect Sunday afternoon viewing, with, of course, a quaffable glass of red.

DVD Review TV

DVD Review: Channel Zero: Candle Cove

Based upon Kris Straub’s creepypasta short story, Candle Cove was the first anthology in Syfy’s Channel Zero series with the second No End House, Butcher’s Block (S3) and The Dream Door (S4) swiftly following before announcement of its cancellation. Its creator Nick Antosca and producers Don Mancini (Child’s Play) and Harley Peyton (Twin Peaks) brought a unique experience to the small screen, most of which are now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Candle Cove opens during two months in 1988, five children: Jacob Booth, Sadie Williams, Carl Cutter, Gene Hazel and Eddie Painter go missing with four later found murdered. Only one – Eddie – was never returned nor remains discovered for burial. The Iron Hill Murders were never solved and now, 28 years later, Eddie’s identical twin brother Mike (Paul Schneider) a child psychologist is recovering from a breakdown and plagued by nightmares that eventually make him head home to mother Marla (Fiona Shaw) and the childhood home and friends he left behind. Once there, he realises that a TV show has started to air again called Candle Cove, an eerie puppet-led programme that only children seem to be able to see and which brainwashes them into participating in some deeply disturbing antics.

As more children go missing and start acting strangely, losing teeth along the way, Mike, – even finding himself a suspect at one point – must embrace his repressed memories, childhood traumas and nightmares head-on if he is ever going to discover the truth about Eddie. His creepy journey will see him recollect the bullying, the paralysing fear, and meet the mysterious Jawbone, its merry band of shipmates aboard the happy ship on the way to Candle Cove, and prevent history repeating itself.

While some shows tend to tell their stories from the child’s perspective, the world between adults and kids separated, here they interlink; childhood fear enforces adulthood and that trauma never leaves – all those things that grown-ups dismiss as an overactive imagination manifest and are all the more real and frightening. What makes Candle Cove so effective is its thoughtful and understated – even mundane – approach to horror. Yes, it uses tropes familiar in the world of Stephen King but there are also elements of The Twilight ZoneThe X-FilesAmerica Gothic and even Mystic River (2009), with additional (and repetitious) layers of intrigue. The fact that Winnipeg (doubling for Iron Hill) is so green, lush and naturally shot only enhances the supernatural.

There are nods to Treasure Island, The Muppets and an all-too terrifying version of the tooth fairy but not like you’ve ever seen. Childhood fears are its emotional backbone but it uses guilt, grief, dream logic and some surreal and whimsical imagery to really sell the deeply unsettling. The performances particularly those of Schneider, Shaw and two of the children, Abigail Pniowsky (Arrival) as Lily Painter and Luca Villacis, who portrays the Painter twins beautifully and skilfully relays two very separate personalities, elevates the subject matter. The thing about murderous children is that they are utterly terrifying; corrupted innocence disturbs and distresses on such a profound level. The lack of gratuitous violence is refreshing also, it’s not completely absent but tends to be distancing, quick and almost always off-screen.

Told over six episodes this anthology is an atmospheric and quietly unique experience, it builds the dread and truly unsettles staying with you long after the denouement. It’ll haunt your dreams especially the child made entirely of human teeth but never fear, head to bravery cave, all your secrets will be safe in Candle Cove…

DVD Review

DVD Review: The Babymakers (Dir. Jay Chandrasekhar, 2012)


I generally dislike romantic-comedies. I am not dead inside nor devoid of humour; my aversion stems from the fact that they are rarely romantic or indeed comical. Within the first five minutes the narrative is pre-supposed and plot formation obvious. I despair of the conclusions, of which there are many, that are tied together with a big pink bow (it has to be pink – all girls like pink, right?) The representations of the sexes truly baffle as neither rarely have any redeemable qualities beyond their James Marsden-white teeth or shallow, uninspiring Katherine Heigl-perfected existence thus leaving this viewer with the dilemma as to whether to waste a couple of hours watching spookily-accurate predictions unfold on screen or do something constructive. So an open mind approached The Babymakers which offers the amusing, unassuming and charming Paul Schneider (Lars and the Real Girl, Parks and Recreation), the one-time ubiquitous Olivia Munn (Magic Mike, The Newsroom) and the premise of a rom-com-heist hybrid – how bad can it be?

A promising opening introduces Tommy (Schneider) and wife, Audrey (Munn) celebrating their third wedding anniversary and following some brief, humorous, banter about anal sex they decide to start a family. After nine months of energetically having sex in every place possible, they are still without child and so visit a fertility doctor to see what their problem may be. The reproductive expert confirms that Tommy has “slow-swimmers” and advises the couple seek a sperm donor in order to fulfil their want for a baby. Tommy refuses to believe he has any biological issue, specifically due to the twenty week’s worth of large donations he contributed to the Pasadena Sperm Bank five years earlier. Payment of which was used to buy Audrey’s engagement ring. Not completely sold on the adoption process, Tommy decides to locate the remaining deposit of his sperm and attempts to buy the vial back from a gay couple. When that falls through he and his two best friends; obnoxious Wade (Kevin Hefferman) and stoner, Zig-Zag (Nat Faxon) enlist the help of Ron Jon (the film’s director, Jay Chandrasekhar) to break into the clinic and steal what is rightfully Tommy’s.

Okay, so the film’s premise may have worked if Judd Apatow had have directed or if this one had employed a different cast, or the sperm-bank robbery had been dropped in its entirety from the script. The screenplay, written by Peter Gaulke and Gerry Swallow (I kid you not), is flawed, shoddily written and generally, over-egged. Clearly, given the subject matter there is still a huge stigma surrounding infertility and one that can, allegedly, be made comedic – slow sperm can be the result of testicular trauma – cue a montage of footballs, pool cues and stools smacking into Tommy’s scrotum. According to this film, adopting a baby is as easy as ordering from a take-away menu, as the leading lady crassly describes: “Chinese babies are the easiest to get. American(s) are ridiculously expensive, Russians can turn out a little crazy or we could go Ethiopian.”

The male characters laze about, drinking beer and objectify women; one even carries topless photographs of an ex-girlfriend around in his pocket while the female characters fare no better, they are all depicted as spoilt, passive-aggressive nags who either sit around complaining or shop. Schneider and Munn, who are ordinarily likable in their respective television series’, are mediocre at best and appear to have zero chemistry, unfortunately, they are just not convincing as a couple. She is vapid and a little dull and he, is clearly, not a physical-comedy kind of actor. With the amount of idiocy and deceit perpetuated by the main protagonists, procreation really shouldn’t be the answer and as a side-note: the image of a grown man writhing around on a floor covered with ejaculate is just not amusing.

Why then, did I watch it? Well, I wished to approach a film I would ordinarily turn my nose up at and… honestly, if I had know then what I know now I would not have bothered.

DVD Review

DVD Review: Gipsy Blood (Dir. Cecil Lewis, 1931)


Pre-production code females were given carte blanche when it came to committing their ‘crimes’ against men/society, without veritable punishment, leaving the likes of Theda Bara, Pola Negri and Ida Lupino free to vamp it up, transgress, and use their feminine wiles as they chose, with little condemnation or repercussion. Post-code ladies like Marguerite Namara, for example, in 1931’s Gipsy Blood (aka Carmen), is not quite so lucky. Adapted from the novel Carmen by Prosper Mérimée and informed by the subsequent opera, Gipsy Blood tells the tale of a cigarette factory worker caught up in a love quadrangle. Directed by Cecil Lewis and music arranged and conducted by Malcolm Sargent, this Elstree Studios production is the first filmic rendering of Georges Bizet’s libretto.


Set in Seville, ‘betrayer of all men’, Carmen (American soprano Namara) is striking and clearly, the star, with her alabaster skin, black hair and saucer-like eyes framed with dark lashes. She’s the quintessential Spanish woman in her flamenco dress, hooped earrings and headscarf, standing with her hands on her hips, emitting an air of authority and accentuating her breasts and hip. She’s a seducer, capricious, even duplicitous and when stiff upper-lipped, innocent (and quick tempered) officer Don Josè (Thomas Burke), caddish, lecherous moustachioed corporal Zuniga (Lester Matthews) and charming Toreador Escamillo (Lance Fairfax) fall for her ample charms, it can’t end well. It’s the usual story: woman wrongly labelled ‘harlot’ because she exudes passion, sexuality and confidence leads to murderous jealousy all the while depicting the proletarian life amid immorality, and lawlessness (and xenophobic/sexist stereotyping).

Displaying stark cinematography, replete with chiaroscuro tones, Gipsy Blood is a delight albeit archaically put together. It won’t be for everyone, especially given the histrionic acting and, at times, stilted, awkwardly delivered dialogue. Sadly, the singing ability from the main mezzo-soprano, baritone and tenor does not quite match the acting style but in its deliciously camp and melodic story there is joy to be found. Granted, you probably have heard the arias sung far more proficiently in the 70 years since but Sargent’s arrangements still shine, no mean feat given the audio recording limitations of 30s cinema. A word of advice, never trust a dark, exotic temptress; they’ll break your heart!

DVD Review

DVD Review: Chernobyl Diaries (Dir. Brad Parker, 2012)

The Chernobyl disaster of April 1986 is considered to be the worst nuclear power plant accident in history and its alienation zone in Pripyat is the setting for Brad Parker’s, distasteful, Chernobyl Diaries.

Following a tour of Europe, friends Chris (Jesse McCartney), Natalie (Olivia Taylor Dudley) and Amanda (Devin Kelley) travel to Kiev to visit Chris’ older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski). After sampling the nightlife and encountering some contrived Russian male stereotypes, Paul persuades his kid brother to sample “extreme tourism” and along with Michael (Nathan Phillips), Zoë (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and their tour guide Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), they try their luck through the guard-patrolled Pripyat exclusion zone.

When they are refused entry, the tourists choose an alternative route and soon find themselves stranded, trapped in a van, surrounded by the vast, desolate waste ground. Predictably, they are not alone, the only sound breaking the silence – aside from their occasional yells – is a Geiger-counter that crackles within the diegesis reminding them, and the audience, that they are inhaling radioactive fumes. This narrative may have had the potential to be a rational premise if, in fact, the “othered” being (in addition to the invisible, ionizing radiation) that is tracking them is actually revealed at a reasonable moment. Alas, it is not and we have to wait until the last five minutes and by this time any interest has completely waned. The premise of a horror film usually is for it to actually scare, or at the very least, make a viewer’s heart-rate pulsate – again, something which is severely lacking here.

It is increasingly difficult to summon enthusiasm for films such as this one especially since the runaway success of [Rec] (2007, dir(s). Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza), which was excellent and clearly the inspiration for this, with its handheld cinematography, low-key lighting and similar plotline. Unfortunately, an aspect within the mise-en-scène is where the similarity ends. This film is just 84 minutes which should give some indication as to how woefully under-developed the screenplay is (co-written by Paranormal Activity’s writer / director Oren Peli; Carey and Shane Van Dyke – grandsons of Dick). Perhaps, had the audience been made to care for these characters then greater empathy would have been experienced when they are picked off one-by-one. Or perhaps not, as the case may be.

There is nothing new here just more clichéd drivel which Hollywood insists on recycling – specifically using found footage as a plot reveal (a mobile phone fills in the gaps when two characters disappear) if this mode of representation is to be utilised then at least make it somewhat credible and not as a further display of writing limitations. At one point a main protagonist actually narrates so, it would appear, to avoid confusion.

This film is dull, tedious and despite its generic label of horror it is anything but scary. All moments which are included to make the audience react are cued so minutely that predictability and mediocre acting prevent any viewer participation or interaction.

Chernobyl Diaries is about as authentic as the Van Dyke Snr’s Cockney accent in Mary Poppins (1964, dir. Robert Stevenson).