Month: November 2015

No Ghosts Just Gravity: Science and Spirituality Reconciled in Interstellar

‎The problem when making central characters scientists, or at least defining them by their rationality, is that in order to abide by the format of Hollywood cinema, they’ll have to step down as hero or cave to the pressure of the spiritual or supernatural. Director Chris Nolan goes one better in Interstellar, attempting to explain away the mysticism of the narrative through science.


The conflict is introduced early on when ex-NASA pilot and apparent rationalist Cooper (McConaughey) dismisses his daughters claim that there is a ghost in her room – knocking books off the shelf, and parting dust into piles on the ground. This poltergeist isn’t like most others, acting arbitrarily and making shit move to be spooky; this one has a message.

Granted this message changes from the word ‘STAY’ to the missing quantum data of the gravitation problem, communicated in binary on the second hand of a watch. Pretty much the opposite of stay. And a tad more complex. But our hero of the third act is the little girl grown up, daughter Murphy Cooper: scientist and ghost-whisperer. She embodies both the religious and the rational, reconciling the faith-driven attitude of Hollywood with the scientific method by eventually providing proof of her own spiritual experiences.


The Hallow (2015)

Written for Film and TV Now Nov 2015 (Available here)

As a family drive down to their new home in the Irish countryside, a radio broadcast tells us that Ireland is one of the last countries to have publicly owned forests – they will soon find out that the locals are protective of their land, but not as much as the creatures hidden within.

Father of the family Adam (Joseph Mawle) is a conservationist, having moved from London to inspect the trees. On his first expedition with his baby boy on his back he stumbles upon a deer, mutilated in an abandoned shelter and dripping with a suspicious black substance. As warned by a local policeman played by Michael Smiley, local legend tells of mythical beings in the woods, banshees and baby-stealers, “This isn’t London. Things go bump in the night”.

As much as The Hallow is about people from that London moving where they don’t belong and interfering with nature, it becomes a platform for all different kinds of genre tropes. It feels like an amalgam of horror films of different styles. It splices them together but spreads itself thin in doing so. The seclusion of the town and it’s inhabitants feels a little like An American Werewolf in London, their twisted spiritual beliefs like an inversion of the pagan cult in The Wicker Man. The Irish folklore, as detailed in the Evil Dead-like Book of the Dead, gives way to fantastical creatures that have a touch of Pan’s Labyrinth.

For all of its high reference points it doesn’t land as hard of a punch as it should. The preference of practical effects for the monsters is admirable, but as the story progresses and they come to the fore, their scariness fast diminishes. It is the atmosphere that remains unsettling in The Hallow, the creatures, whilst impressive, are not on the Guillermo Del Toro scale of production value and so are best when glimpsed in darkness. This is after all the directorial debut of Corin Hardy, and an impressive one at that.

Whilst some of these ideas can be seen elsewhere it is this certain combination that fits so well, but in trying to fulfil the style of each type of horror (from house invasion, to creature feature, to body horror and psychological thriller) it doesn’t feel as effective as it might have done if it narrowed it’s focus. The disintegration of trust between Adam and his wife Clare (Bojana Novakovic) leads to a harrowing idea late in the film as they fight over the baby, but with all these plates spinning it’s hard to appreciate how scary this really is.

Undercover Brother (2002)

DVD Review – Written for RAF News Nov 2015

Undercover Brother (Eddie Griffin) is a secret agent with soul, a superfly Austin Powers… Macy Gray with pork-chop sideburns.

Hired by an underground collective known as The Brotherhood, his mission is to find out why black military general and promising presidential candidate Warren Boutwell (Billy Dee Williams) has decided to drop out of the running and set up a chain of fried chicken restaurants.

Sharing a writer with Austin Powers you can see the similarity in the way that it plucks it’s sexually confident hero from a different time and uses him to parody a film genre, though change swinging 60s espionage for straight up 70s Blaxploitation – using music cues and editing to push home the point, much like the more recent Black Dynamite.

The film is full of one-liners, visual gags and slapstick – not leaving much room for anything else. It feels pieced together around a few sketches, but what it lacks elsewhere it makes up for in the sheer number of jokes so it doesn’t matter that they’re not all that funny.

The supporting cast all serve their purpose – Chris Katan as the villainous underling of The Man, Denise Richards as double agent White She Devil and fellow stand-up comedian Dave Chapelle as the stoner conspiracy theorist who finds racial arguments in a one word greeting. Everyone chips in with jokes but Griffin is the soul of the film and the funniest thing about it.

Undercover Brother is self-aware to the point of almost looking at the audience after each punchline (guilty of using a needle scratch multiple times). For the most part though it shows that the film is aware of it’s tackiness and embraces it as part of it’s tongue in cheek style. Overall it’s not great, a little dated but has style for sure.