Monthly Archives: October, 2016

In Pursuit of Silence

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Review of a truly remarkable film, In Pursuit of Silence is over on Flickering Myth and below…

How noisy is the world these days? And how often do we really get the chance to experience silence – or at the very least, a quiet absence of loud? Not very often this impressive and exquisitely created film would suggest.

Patrick Shen’s superbly produced documentary takes the audience on an exploration of the ins and outs of modern sound levels, with a suggestion that the current trends of metropolitan soundscapes are damaging in a variety of different ways. Bringing out a number of personal stories, alongside professional scientific research, the film is a powerful encapsulation of a new-world dilemma.

Shot in a number of different locations around the globe – from the streets of the loudest city in the world, Mumbai during the festival season, to a lonely tree in Iowa, the film is much more than a traditional science and nature documentary. It takes in a whole range of subjects, with the visual language playing an integral part. In fact, the dialogue is kept to a minimum and there is no traditional narration, instead offering the insight of experts and intellectuals who have looked into sound-pollution and its impact.  Each part of the film features beautifully realized representations of the natural world and our place in it, and this alongside philosophical and psychological analysis establishes exactly why this is such an important study.

John Cage’s work 4’33 could be said to be the film’s theme song, and the creator of that silent masterpiece provides thought provoking detailing of what led him to come up with the piece’s complete silence (or near silence, depending on where it is being performed). The composition is mentioned throughout the film, and how its reputation has shifted through the ages since its creation could be said to highlight our changing attitudes towards silence. Nowadays it seems to be a rare resource, and its stock could be said to to be on the rise…

The scale of the value of silence and just how striking it can be is brought out in scene after scene. A particularly striking one is recorded during a Remembrance Day two minutes silence in the Lloyds of London Building. The trading room floor falls fantastically quiet and then just as suddenly reverts to the high-octane clamour of the financial world.

Another memorable part of the film is provided by Greg Hindy, a man searching for calm and well being through a self-imposed vow of silence. He embarked on a walking quest from New Hampshire to Los Angeles and shares his thoughts with the filmmakers throughout the film. The effective display of simply holding up his notebook detailing his thoughts to the screen allows us into a private world, full of sights and intensity without the need for dialogue. He sums up the process beautifully in the following lines: “Sometimes to really see things the way that they truly are, you have to take a step back, and then another step, and then a few more.”

A meditative study, both intriguing and frightening – as quiet contemplation becomes more of a rarity –  In Pursuit of Silence raises awareness in hauntingly beautiful fashion. Strongly recommended.

Train to Busan – Get on Board

Train to Busan is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Long distance train journeys are pretty frustrating at the best of times. Crap wi-fi coverage, uncomfortable seats if you can find one, undrinkable coffee; the list goes on and on. Let’s face it, adding a horde of marauding zombies could almost be seen as something of a relief from the unremitting tedium of staying awake for the last stretch…

Thankfully, Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan shares none of the failings of regular cross country rail services. Serving up a classic horror concoction of non-stop action alongside socio-political allegory, the film manages to inject some fresh new life into a horror sub-genre that has recently become over-exposed and under-developed. This is a film that builds on its straightforward concept to incorporate smart humour, jump scares and apocalyptic horror. Unlike say, 2013’s Korean sci-fi train epic Snowpiercer, it is all done without any pretension to art-house sensibilities and keeps a clear head for the serious business of zombie mayhem. However, far from being just another throwaway infected flick, the film gradually draws its audience in to feeling genuine sympathy for (most) of the passengers on board and succeeds in crafting a high-octane adventure with something to say beyond the screaming.

 

Morbidly funny to begin with and gradually becoming more profound as it moves on, the film focuses on the passengers of the high-speed bullet train from Seoul to Busan as they attempt to stay alive. Among those on the train are the recently divorced Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) who are desperate to reach Busan to see her mother. These two are joined by a small group of uninfected including the impressive Ma Dong-seok as a likable but quick-tempered man devoted to protecting his pregnant wife.

As the struggle for survival goes on, this group, also including a pair of young lovers and two elderly sisters, becomes split from another collection of characters who are also battling the infected in a different part of the train. This other group counts a ruthless unscrupulous businessman at its head, and the fight for moral judgments and doing what’s right on a human level is at the film’s heart.

It is really the young father’s internal quest to protect his daughter while struggling with his own problems that brings the film onto another level of enjoyment. A raw emotional underbelly becomes ever more exposed, until the audience experiences a heartfelt message to trust and love. It’s a difficult pitch to get right and one that could have stumbled if dealt with in a more po-faced manner, but happily Sang-ho Yeon gets it just right. Mixing up impressions from movies as diverse as The Raid, 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead, this is a beautifully crafted mix of horror and sociological morality play. All in all though,  it is  pure entertainment with a side-order of allegory. Go for the scares and stay for the ideas.

Tales of Poe (2014)

My review of Tales of Poe, an enjoyable anthology film taking three Poe works as inspiration, is over at Flickering Myth and below…

 

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Anthology films are well loved among horror aficionados, with the technique of bringing short stories out in segmented films stretching back to the very start of cinema. Edgar Allen Poe readers have been well served in the past, with 1962’s Tales of Terror striking that vital spot somewhere between black comedy and horror wonderfully well.

This film from Mastronardi and Kelly also manages to pull off the difficult trick of providing out and out bloody horror alongside a thoughtful and wryly humorous take on three of the master storyteller’s works.

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Opening the show is an exquisitely grim retelling of possibly Poe’s best known story The Tell Tale Heart.  The fantastically stylized piece focuses on just how far guilt – and a beating heart – can lead to trouble, and in this case, being put away in an institution. It’s a well crafted production, with the variation in tone between dreamlike intonations of threat and disturbance and full on screamadelic blood rush. It goes for the jugular right from the offing, but also contains a wistful sense of desolation and lost love, making it the perfect start to an eye-opening updating of Poe.

Next up is The Cask of Amontillado. This is concerned with that most human of frailties, greed and lust. The exotic locations and fine displays of wealth go some way to showing off just what is at stake, and that plus fine performances allow us entrance into a very dark world indeed. Unlike the protagonist though, we can get out! Another enjoyable chapter, with horror and humour mixing together well like a fine and bloody wine.

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Closing the film is the most surprising element of all. Poe’s long poem Dreams is captured here in a superbly realized psychedelic display of light and shade. The writer’s essentially romantic soul is allowed the freedom to roam, and the non-narrative structure of the short film suits a platform that amounts to an elegant and memorable tribute to him and his work.

Surprising in its artistry and intensity, Tales of Poe serves up an intoxicating feast of nightmares…