J.D.’s Revenge

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This review also appears over at Flickering Myth.

An entertaining slice of genre horror that moves away from and surpasses its Blaxploitation roots, J.D.’s Revenge takes a sure-footed look at supernatural possession, inner city crime and religious propaganda.

The calm and thoughtful law student Ike (Glynn Turman) is enjoying a night on the town with his friends, taking in New Orleans bars and night spots before venturing into a nightclub hosting a hypnosis act. The violent personality of a 1940’s mobster (portrayed with a haunting intensity by David McKnight) becomes embroiled with his own, gradually taking over and leading to a series of brutal attacks as the spirit in the body of Ike searches for those who led to his murder.

J.D.’s Revenge is a powerful mix of horror and social commentary that brings a surprising view of New Orleans life into play. The mysterious angles and architecture of the place combine with its unique religious history and imagery to provide a powerful backdrop for this unusual and affecting story. Becoming more complex and psychologically moving as it plays out, this is an urban thriller that offers far more than it initially promises. Fantastic suits and funk music too, natch.

Special Features on the Arrow Video release include interviews with producer-director Arthur Marks, star Glynn Turman, audio interview with actor David McKnight and Arthur Marks trailer reels.

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The Voice of the Moon Review

The following review also appears at Flickering Myth.

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Federico Fellini’s last film is a jaw-dropping experience.  Bringing together a surreal template of dream logic with wry humour and sardonic swipes at society, The Voice of  the Moon – or in ItalianLa Voce Della Luna – provides the magical realism and wonder of life that the Italian filmmaker is best known for.

Adapted from Ermanno Cavazzoni’s  poetic novel, the story follows the recently released mental patient Ivo Salvini (Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful) as he navigates his way around a strange and compelling landscape. He encounters the entrancing Aldina (Nadia Ottaviani) by accident and falls in love immediately. As he attempts to win her heart, he finds himself in all sorts of weird, fantastic and phantasmagorical situations, surrounded by various peculiar characters all motivated by unknowable forces. These include Gonnella (Paolo Villaggio), an old man given to wildly paranoid conspiracy theories and also a group of demented brothers determined to capture the moon. This, plus a stirring nightclub dance-off to Michael Jackson’s ‘The Way You Make Me Feel’, highlight the bizarre offerings in place from this incredible tour-de-force. Salvini asks no questions of this alternately nightmarish and inspiring backdrop, simply going about life searching for love and contentment while sharing an infectious enthusiasm for the world’s – and the moon’s – oddities.

Initially emerging in 1990 without the attention it deserves, Fellini’s swansong appeared at Cannes out of competition and did not receive any distribution deals in North America or the UK. An influence on filmmakers such as Terry Gilliam (The Fisher King12 MonkeysThe Voice of the Moon is further evidence of Fellini’s prowess at experimental styles and techniques that help to create an enchanting and beguiling atmosphere. The director’s earlier works including La StradaLa Dolce Vita and 8½ cemented his place as one of Europe’s most pioneering cinematic artists – this release provides a fresh impetus to reaffirm that status and to celebrate a triumphant career finale.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
• Towards the Moon with Fellini, a rarely seen hour-long documentary on the film’s production, featuring interviews with Fellini, Roberto Benigni and Paolo Villagio
• Theatrical trailer
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Peter Strain

Zoology review

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The following review appears at Flickering Myth

Writer director Tverdovsky’s second film (following 2014’s Corrections Class) is an attention grabbing mixture of Kafkaesque dead pan surreal humour and modern social problems.

Natasha (Natalya Pavlenkova) is a middle-aged admin worker at a coastal town zoo. She is constantly bullied by her colleagues, lives at home with her elderly religious mother (Irina Chipizhenko) and appears to have little or no interest in anything much apart from interacting with the creatures in the zoo. Nothing much seems to be happening for Natasha, until the unexpected happens. She grows a tail. X-rays and medical examinations follow soon after, and at the town hospital she meets Peter (Dmitriy Groshev), a young radiologist who shows compassion and sympathy towards her and her situation. Natasha’s life is transformed – both physically and socially – and a rush of new experiences and ideas await her.

Zoology is an intriguing  illustration of loneliness and depression and how the unexpected can turn life around. From the opening scenes when Natasha hides her cigarette smoking by using a spray to mask the smell, we are introduced to her capacity to hide and stay in the shadows. She is hidden from view by her closeted existence and her mother, whose religious influence becomes clear when Natasha resists taking off her cross necklace even when undergoing an x-ray exam. Her only reason for happiness seems to be the zoo animals (they are ‘all beautiful’) that she chats to at work. Her colleagues on the other hand are horrible examples of the human animal, bullying her and tormenting her at every opportunity. The religious aspect of the story is provided by the mother and two older patients at the hospital who talk of a woman with a tail possessed by the devil. Natasha listens to this superstitious gossip in silence, not once letting slip the truth of her own troubled existence.

Special features include an interview with the actor Dmitriy Groshev about his role and the making of the film. The Arrow Academy disc also features a critical appraisal of the film from the film historian Peter Hames.

 

Ink Sweat and Tears

I am featured over at Ink Sweat and Tears poetry webzine today.

The poem is The Paperboy Whose Mind and Paper Round Expanded.

It will tell you a bit about growing up and suburban paper round routes.

Blu-ray Review – George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn

Review of George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn box set over at Flickering Myth and below…

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When George Romero passed away in July this year, the film world lost one of its true innovators. A film maker not afraid to try different styles and forms, Romero was best known as the ‘King of the Zombies’ with 1968’s mixture of horror and social allegory Night of the Living Dead a starting point for generations of horror aficionados and independent film makers.

As this collection clearly displays, Romero was equally proficient in other genres. Providing an illuminating lesson in the director’s output between his breakthrough film and 1978’s Dawn of the Dead (the second of his Zombie films), this collection showcases an eclectic storytelling ability and talent at home with a variety of narrative and production techniques.

The first instalment There’s Always Vanilla (1971) is a product of the late 1960’s hippie/free love world view and the implications that has for relationships and inter-personal dynamics. Set up as a comedy romance featuring charming performances from Raymond Laine and Judith Ridley, the film can’t completely escape Romero’s slightly off-kilter vision and disquieting social commentary. This is heightened by the possibility that the lead is possibly communicating from beyond the grave. The film has a disorientating style seemingly borne of the trippy psychedelic movement and also serves to provide insight into the fashion and advertising industries as both shallow and exploitative to women. The lead character may rambles on about ‘chicks’ in a hip kind of way, but this offers more of a shock when the two actually form a real connection beyond that of superficiality and ‘groovy times’.

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The second part Season of the Witch (1972) is further evidence of Romero’s gift for producing unsettling truths about social structures, this time in a psychological thriller format. Drawing inevitable comparisons with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby – indeed that film is even name-checked in the script – and also the Hammer film The Witches, the film is a dark exploration of middle class suburban values and attitudes, particularly in the husband and wife dynamic. In one of her few acting roles before retiring from the industry, Jan White portrays a haunted and bored hausfrau driven to extreme distraction by her teenage daughter’s professor/boyfriend (Raymond Laine, making another appearance) and the introduction of a new craze amongst her fellow wealthy suburbanites; namely, that of witchcraft. In my opinion this is the strongest of the three tales, mixing a genuinely weird and disquieting voyage into the female psyche with strong social observations about middle America. Some of this certainly looks familiar to anyone who caught the recent top example of excellently produced psychological (and psychedelic) horror/drama The Love Witch.

Lastly, is the mixed bag of The Crazies (1973). An interesting premise is let down by a lacklustre second half that dilutes its ideas into a generic 1970s macho action survival movie. Definitely the closest of the three to the later zombie formula that he would perfect, this feels like something of a blueprint. Basing its story around a military virus that has accidentally been released, the plot loses direction about mid-way in and feels slightly confused at points. This could either be seen as imaginative working of the concept – with the idea being that we can never be too sure who is infected and who is not. On the other hand this may be being overly generous and the uncertainty could be the result of below-par acting and unpredictable camera use.

The six discs by Arrow Video compile a wealth of extras and features. Commentaries, new documentaries, interviews, alternate title and artwork are amongst the delights on show.

Film Review – Le Plaisir

Review of Le Plaisir at Flickering Myth and below…

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In this elegantly crafted piece, Max Ophüls draws inspiration from France’s best known short story writer Guy de Maupassant to concoct a wistfully philosophical examination of the human experience of pleasure.

The three part film begins with Le Masque, a look at an ageing dandy’s attempts to stay young and desirable through dance and socialising. Ophüls captures a dream-like fantastic world of nightlife here, with the camera responding back and forth to the most expressive and extravagant dance moves. The dance of the man, who goes each night to the club wearing a mask to hide his aged visage, is modern in style and could easily fit in to a venue of today. Behind the blurred lights and disorientating music hides a bitter-sweet pleasure; the dancer cannot slow the ageing process, any more than his resigned wife can halt her husband’s quest for never-ending pleasure. A haunting and effecting story that opens up the film in memorable style.

The next segment serves as the film’s longest and most complex. La Maison Tellier follows a day out to the country for the workers at a local brothel after Mme Tellier decides she wishes to attend her niece’s first communion. From that premise itself, we can see various themes of innocence, religion, sexual awareness and, pleasure, all appearing into view. The women are away from the town possibly for the first time ever and see with fresh eyes the workings of country life. The scenes highlighting both the differences and similarities between the niece and the women are profoundly drawn. While the bordello is closed for the day, the Normandy town is thrown into disarray, with local menfolk disturbed by the turn of events. They soon fall into arguments and fights to quell some of their boredom. When the women return, the previous order is resumed, but perhaps with some greater insight.

The last part of the film Le Modèle is the film’s briefest and saddest. An artist becomes captivated by a model (Simone Simon) and the two fall in love passionately and quickly. After they build a life together things begin to dismantle just as quickly, and the artist grows distant and non-communicative. He eventually moves away into a house-share with another artist and the model feels compelled to prove her love. This ends disastrously and she ends up disabled and in constant need of attention. This ‘succeeds’ in keeping the artist at her side as he is now a constant companion/carer.

Le Plaisir is a wonderfully thoughtful film, reworking some of de Maupassant’s primary concerns to fit into a 1950’s cinematic audience. In any case, human wants and desires and quest for pleasure does not essentially change. This film provides a look at the timelessness of the human heart.

Deliver Us (Liberami)

Review of exorcism documentary Deliver Us is over at Flickering Myth now and below…

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Exorcism. To most of us that spells out unlucky priests gripping onto their crosses, noisy demonic activity and sweary puking possessed kids. In short, horror movies.  But as this skillfully produced documentary shows us, the religious practise of exorcism is fully alive and, sort of, well.

Federica Di Giacomo’s startlingly original film presents Father Cataldo as our guide through this fascinating world of hope, faith and hysteria. Thousands of people believe that all sorts of problems and ailments are directly caused by demonic possession. Cataldo, through his weekly mass of liberation, offers a surprisingly frank and self-aware approach to the procedure and an alternately calming and cantankerous hand of assistance to those suffering for non-specific malaise.

The exorcism itself appears to be something like a drop-in therapy session, with a number of different characters from different backgrounds introduced specifically through their connection with the church activity. Some are regular churchgoers and some are assuredly not, drawn to the sessions instead because, literally nothing else works. This kind of helplessness and often sad reality is counterbalanced with the dry Sicilian wit and humour of Cataldo, who brings out the reality of working in this social enterprise.

The film also takes on the wider picture of how the Catholic Church has responded to the growing claims of possession and demonic influence. The number of fully accredited exorcists have gone up worldwide, partly due to a Rome based exorcist-training camp for Catholic priests. These disarming facts and scenes are treated with a journalist’s eye, and no one is made to look foolish or silly.

The audience is left to make its own mind up. One thing is for sure, the presence of a shared community and regular social activity appears to be the real saviour here.

 

DELIVER US (Liberami) is in cinemas 27th October and on DVD 30th October #DELIVERUSFILM

Miracle Mile Review

Review of Miracle Mile new BluRay over at FM.

School Life doc out now

School Life review over at Flickering Myth

Night is Short, Walk on Girl

Review of Masaaki Yuasa’s ‘Night is Short, Walk on Girl’ is over at FM

Night is Short, Walk on Girl