My review of this entertaining and enlightening documentary film Hail Satan? is over at Flickering Myth now.
I do hope it gets a decent international release for outside the US. Anyway, my review is also below…
The division between church and state, and religion and politics, is seen by many as a key cornerstone in the foundation of democracy. When you have government policies and state decisions influenced by religious affiliations, there’s bound to be confusion and room for abuse of power. The need to keep the distinctions between the two concepts absolutely clear is at the heart of this entertaining and provocative documentary.
Focusing on the non-theistic religious and activist group The Satanic Temple (TST) as they strive towards a greater understanding of their work and promotion of advocacy for social justice and religious freedoms, Hail Satan? brings an energetic intelligence to questions of identity and society. Probing far deeper into America’s history of belief and religious freedoms than might have been expected, the film presents TST’s arguments as a pretty rational approach to take.
Central to TST’s modus operandi is the use of high-impact pranks to make a serious political point. Constructing a large scale statue of the deity Baphomet and placing it on the steps of an Oklahoma Government building just next to a Christian monument to the Ten Commandments is a stunt the film hinges on visually.
Pointing out the ridiculousness of a State building effectively promoting Christianity, the action creates real debate and a recognition of religious freedoms. As the film documents, rather than sharing space with Baphomet, the state is forced to remove the Bible touting marker from the area.
In the production notes, director Penny Lane (Nuts!, Our Nixon) admits that she came to the project supposing Satanists to being a bunch of devil-worshiping fanatics intent on doing evil. During the course of the film, she and the audience discover that the group have been successful mainly because they connect people to the source of community without undue fear of judgement.
The main guide through this amusingly chaotic tale of protest and activism is the group’s co-founder and spokesperson Lucien Greaves. Greaves comes across as someone fond of a dark joke, while also being completely sincere in the TST’s activities. He presents the fundamentals of what Satanism means to him with a discussion of the groups’s Seven Tenets; a thoroughly modern and socially conscious set of directives to consider.
A wickedly entertaining and memorable feature doc, Hail Satan? is a smart look at the nature of belief and how long held notions can be challenged and, as was the case with the filmmaker and probably many audiences, completely reversed.
Magnolia Pictures will release Hail Satan? in theaters on April 17th, 2019 (NY) and April 19th, 2019 (LA).
My review of The Happy Prince – a dramatisation of Oscar Wilde’s last few years from Rupert Everett is at Filmink and below. . .
Rupert Everett takes centre stage in a role he was born to play, in this lustrous dramatisation of the last days of Oscar Wilde. Everett scripted and stars in his directorial debut, and clearly has much invested in it. He’s certainly had preparation for the role, having played the poet and playwright in the 2012 British play, The Judas Kiss. Happily for him, and the audience, The Happy Prince doesn’t disappoint.
The film focuses on Wilde’s exiled life in France and Italy after serving a prison term for ‘gross indecency’; a charge brought about by the Marquess of Queensberry, the father of Wilde’s paramour Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas (Colin Morgan). Wilde never fully recovered from his time in prison, either physically or emotionally; his poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written after his release, calls attention to the grim sights witnessed and heard of, while incarcerated.
Capturing a dream-like state of memories and regrets, the film begins with the words of the titular Happy Prince, a fable Wilde wrote for children, and in Everett’s film displays the contradictions and unjustness of late 19th Century European life.
Wilde reads from the tale to his two young sons, later kept apart from him by estranged wife Constance (played with a sorrowful, almost ghostly, distance by Emily Watson), and we see a hazy and melancholy vision of London’s street life. The line, “there is no mystery so great as suffering”, serves as an introduction to both the film and the creator’s tormented state of mind.
Wilde, using the alias Sebastian Melmoth, taken from the lead character of Melmoth the Wanderer, a novel by his great-uncle Charles Maturin, wanders through a squalid hand-to-mouth, or drink and drugs to mouth, existence in Paris and Naples. Everett brilliantly displays the pain that Wilde suffered, with constantly animated features shifting from radiant smile to anguished grimace.
The pain is only added to by the mysteries of love. Still besotted with Bosie, despite his dependence on the father who betrayed him to the prehistoric laws of Victorian England, the two spend time together in Naples. It all ends abruptly when Bosie’s family, as well as Constance, who had been sending Wilde a little money, threaten to stop the allowance if the relationship continues.
At the crux of the film is the trio of Wilde, Bosie, and Robert Ross (Edwin Thomas), a friend and lover, and later the agent who cared for Wilde’s literary estate. The jealousies and rivalries between the dashing, vain and ultimately unforgiving Bosie and the loyal and kind Ross are dramatically brought out, particularly at a chaotic dinner drinks meeting between the three in France.
An imagining of Wilde’s dying dreams are the real point of reference at work; the film is literally an account of his last three years, so the events that are factually accurate are entwined with the personal moods and feelings that he may have thought of on his death bed in Paris. This darkly romantic vision is a world away from the entertaining storyteller of a thousand legends, but it is one that it is inextricably linked. Everett does justice to both man and story.
The fantastic Icelandic film Woman at War is over at Filmink and below. . .
A joyous and warm-hearted comedy drama taking on essential contemporary issues such as ecological activism, modern motherhood and community identities, Woman at War is a captivating examination of a bruised world in need of repair. Somehow managing to find optimism and positivity in a script focusing on climate change and societal chaos, the film has a fairy tale like quality about it; an effect only enhanced by a Nordic absurdity and surreal camera play.
Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir), a woman in her forties, has declared war on the aluminium industry at work near her home town. An eco-warrior hell-bent on shutting down power supplies, she employs military style tactics and a steely determination. Putting everything at risk to curtail the damage being done to her Icelandic homeland and the world at large, she wages a one woman war to put a stop to the unrestricted threat of big business and manufacturing.
Halla’s endeavours lead to her fellow townsfolk wondering just who is behind the shocking power outages. Known only by her alias of ‘The Woman of the Mountain’, she goes from stealthy saboteur moves by night, to teaching local choir classes by day. Her cover is complete, and no one suspects a thing.
Aided by remote farmer Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson) – who may or may not be her cousin – she takes to the remote country, watching out for drones, helicopters and all the powers of the state as they focus their attention on what they believe to be an overseas terrorist threat.
But just as she is about to launch her biggest operation yet, a surprise letter arrives informing her that her four-year-old application to adopt an impoverished child has been successful.
Effectively forcing her to choose between her fight against unfettered capitalism and a lost little girl in need, Halla must show all of her courage to conquer a crisis on all fronts. She also needs to win the trust of her twin sister Asa, a yoga instructor (also played by Geirharðsdóttir) with her sights set on a meditative retreat in India.
Featuring a superb lead performance from Geirharðsdóttir, Woman at War is a startlingly original piece, mixing up Icelandic humour and weirdness with grave dilemmas currently being faced all over the world.
Erlingsson creates an attractive picture cinematically, showcasing the striking sights of Iceland’s countryside in a fashion that certainly won’t do their tourism industry any harm. He also decides on using a whimsical take for the film’s score by bringing the brass band and trio of traditional singers onto the screen, occasionally sharing a knowing glance or nod with Halla as she goes about her own personal business of saving the world. A strange and beautiful film, this is an Icelandic delight to savour.
My review of the haunting micro-budget indie Feral is over at FM and below…
An eye-opening study of a side of New York rarely shown on screen, Andrew Wonder’s Feral is a haunting story that forces a confrontation with the realities of homelessness.
With a subterranean, underworld setting echoing themes in films as diverse as feature documentary Dark Days (2o00) and recent Jordan Peele hit Us (2019), Feral is an examination of stark loneliness and the masks everyone wears to deal with reality. Bringing a focused gaze towards the dangers homeless people face every day, the film is at once unsettling and impossible to ignore.
These dangers are not limited to being out on the streets. Serious problems in the entire infrastructure of aiming to help homeless people are addressed with a fixed eye. The additional abuse problems that homeless women contend with – even when off the street – are displayed too. Whether as part of government bodies or religious charitable organisations, for homeless women there are always sexual predators looking to take advantage of the most vulnerable.
The film tells the story of Yazmine (powerfully played by Annapurna Sriram), a young woman living in the vast network of tunnels underneath Manhattan. Left on her own from the age of 16, following her mother’s deportation, Yazmine exists from day to day. Navigating her way through the underground tunnels of Manhattan, she emerges to attempt to find food and sustenance wherever and however she can.
The film never backs away from the harsh truths of what surviving on the streets means. For Yazmine, it sometimes involves picking up guys in order to get away from the freezing New York winter nights. A complex and moving scene shows her meeting up with a sensitive musician (Kevin Hoffman), and enjoying a drunkenly romantic evening as young New Yorkers. However, the great distance between their two internal worlds can’t be bridged.
Other encounters show how the kindness of strangers can be misguided. This is the case with the elderly lady who invites Yazmine into her home and offers her food and drink and talks to her about her past in the city. The two dance together in a beautifully realised capturing of movement and feeling. The outcome of the lady’s best intentions is far less uplifting.
Ultimately Yazmine’s journey is a mysterious and lonely one. She is able to don different guises and play various roles as a key to survival; we are left with the impression that after performing for so long, surviving is the defining factor in who she is. It’s an incredible showcase for Annapurna Sriram, an actor bound to gain a lot of attention from this role.
Feral covers a complicated and serious issue. It’s clear that with a strong creative vision and a talented cast, films on a micro-budget can make a memorable impression.
It’s oh so easy
And it don’t cost you a single dime
Or do anything drastic
Like waste all your time
It’s custom built
To lock away your pain
And fully shrink wrapped
To be one and the same
As all of the things
You were hoping for
When you put on your chains
And bolted up your door
When you ordered plastic friends
From far away towns
To help with the parties
And the smiles and the frowns
To take away the thinking
That led you astray
That asked all the questions
That weren’t black or white
A fresh Spring-clean and a major Fall-out
These seasons turn to mush and are one and the same
Doppler effect caught on camera
Stuck in a loop from one to the next
A smile in the mirror says it’s time to think different
To turn off the ongoing repeats
To mute the direst of diatribes
And bring a new mic to the listening booth
Amp one and amp two broadcast the news
The state of this union; ugly and bruised
Loaded with trauma from point A to Z
Directive: remember, learn, don’t forget
My review of Through the Fire (Sauver ou périr) is over at Filmink. Avaliable to see at the French Film Festival here in Australia, it is a powerful and emotional story…
Playing as part of the French Film Festival here in Australia, At War (En Guerre) is reviewed by moi over at Filmink.
My review of the great new doco Waiting: The Van Duren Story about the Memphis singer-songwriter Van Duren is over at Filmink now.
Spoiler… I really enjoyed it!
Review of Possum over at Flickering Myth…
A memorable, surprising and darkly disturbing feature debut from Matthew Holness…
Anyone expecting any sort of light relief from Matthew Holness’s debut feature will be sorely disappointed. The writer director, best known for his comedic parody work on cult-comedy masterpieces Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace and Man-to-Man with Dean Learner, takes a step into full-on bleakness with Possum, the deeply disturbing story of a man forced to deal with long buried memories.
Focusing on the travails of Philip (Sean Harris), a children’s puppeteer forced to return to his quiet Norfolk childhood home after something awful happened at work, the film is an abstract rumination on suppressed memory and the pain of dealing with abuse. Possum refers to the hideous spidery puppet Philip keeps hidden away in a brown leather bag. He is intent on destroying Possum, but is forced to confront his sinister stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong). The old man is an unsettling presence never far away, either in the home or in the back garden, where the flames of a fire can do little to quieten the intensity of the puppet’s malevolent power.
Holness brings his detailed knowledge of and affection for vintage British cult programming and film-making to the fore on this journey of dread and painful confrontation. A fantastically realised soundtrack composed by the legendary sound studio The Radiophonic Workshop layers on the creepy, weird effects, and helps to hark back to partly remembered cult-classic TV and films.
It is in the long shots of the East Anglian countryside that that the film finds its true visual sense. There are shots of our lead wandering along paths and bridges that recall 1970’s public information films – the kind of Government ads that often followed a group of kids playing near a construction site, a railway or a body of water. A menacing voice-over would intone of the children’s foolishness in not paying enough attention, and something tragic would then inevitably occur.
There are also whispers of the classic ghost stories of M.R. James and the excellent Christmas Ghost Story BBC adaptations of them. One of those stories, Whistle and I’ll Come to You (filmed in 1968 and 2010), is beautifully invoked in the land and surroundings of the Norfolk location. The loneliness and sense of something monstrous on the horizon is there in hazy day-lit terror for all to see.
Possum has this sort of fear factor running throughout its running time, and Holness has spoken of his desire to create a modern ‘silent’ horror film. Harris’s work brilliantly fits in with this; the display of raw emotion and tortured memories sketching their insidious lines over his face and body language, expressing the pain of an abused child/disturbed adult in full view. As Holness says himself, real life horror is more frightening than any supernatural monster. The monster here is all too real, and Possum expertly works through it, leaving behind a ghostly memory of a tragic story beautifully told.