Shut out and shut in
Generate a new password
And let the wonder begin
This morning starts off with the rain
Blistering sun-light will arrive on the train
Gazing at the darkened arch
Murmuring with cogent intent
But thoughts remain clouded
Until eyes lock
Door opens an inch
Sunshine creeps in
Testing the ground
Review of low-budget horror/crime film The Basement over at Flickering Myth and below…
Taking elements from crime and horror movies such as Silence of the Lambs, Hostel and Saw and putting them all together in a sickly grim stew, at first look The Basement doesn’t appear to be doing anything too original. Horror fans have seen a setup of character gets abducted by a lone nut and tortured in different ways countless times. However, with strong performances from its two leads and a collection of disturbingly entertaining scenes plus a strong resolution, the low-budget flick is worth sticking with.
Focusing on the interplay between imprisoned wealthy rock guitarist Craig (Cayleb Long) and serial killer Bill Anderson (Jackson Davis), most of the film is set in the basement of the title, where the two perform their bizarre psycho-therapy session.
The film has a good line in bleak humour, thanks to Long’s skill at bringing in different characters from his past and playing them out to Craig, who in turn is forced to perform the part of Bill. The ongoing session is alternately funny and tragic, with a few moments of close-up gross out torture.
The other sections of the film fare less well. Mischa Barton, the best known name in this film, is good as Kelly, but has less time to develop her role as the wife of the missing Craig. She does well with the scenes she is in, however, and is part of the wider story that elevates the film over a purely simplified shock and horror plot. Her scenes with best friend Bianca (Bailey Anne Borders) in the high luxury of her LA mansion are nicely put together and contrast well with the horrors that her partner is undergoing in the basement.
While the film is noticeably low-budget, it is put together professionally and features some good cinematography and edits. The pace mostly switches from extended scenes in the basement back to Kelly and Bianca trying to decide what to do next. Effective music and sound design also work in amping up the tension bit by bit.
Overall, given the pretty common start off for the movie, it turns out to be a surprisingly decent film. While baring some surface similarities with the M. Night Shyamalan movie Split, it turns out to be a very different beast, and is more in keeping with crime and suspense tales rather than anything more fantastical. What we have with The Basement is a horror designed to shock and surprise. It passes the test.
Review of post-global virus thriller What Still Remains is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Oh, the apocalypse. Edging ever closer it seems, and in the thriller What Still Remains it’s there in all its grim glory. Desolate mountaintops and lonely valleys are captured in fine detail, bringing home a real sense of fragile isolation in this post-global virus world. The hunt for edible food, while also avoiding the scarred zombie-like ‘berserkers’ proves to be a quest in itself for anyone attempting to live more than five minutes.
Amidst this backdrop recently bereaved of her family Anna (Lulu Antariksa), has to decide how much she can trust Peter (Colin O’Donaghue), a tough warrior type who promises her safe passage to his community across the wilds.
Both Anna and the audience soon have their doubts, not least when Peter proves to be just a little too trigger happy. But he seems a far better bet than the survivors marauding around at every turn. Plus, he has nicer hair.
But in all seriousness, this gets to the heart of this moralistically ambitious film. It asks the question ‘who’s the most human?’, the good looking ones who speak properly and have all the right survival equipment, or the ones who howl and whistle and wear animal masks?
The two leads play against each other well enough, and there is a palpable sense that something horrible is just around the corner. And being a post-apocalyptic landscape, that is an entirely reasonable guess.
Also without giving too much away, there is also a good link between survivalist communities and cult religions of the kind that would undoubtedly spring up in such a situation. In this community Mimi Rogers’ character provides some icy tension of life in a home constantly under threat from outsiders.
All in all, the film provides a disturbing enough look at what could be in store for a badly messed up Earth. But with too much of the weight of humanity – and the film itself – specifically being carried by the lead, it doesn’t really have enough to go truly viral.
My review of French comedy C’est La Vie is over at FilmInk and below…
The high stress, anxiety and emotion of planning a wedding reception is explored in this French comedy of manners.
Nakache and Toledano’s (The Intouchables, Samba) film follows experienced caterer Max (Jean-Pierre Bacri) as he attempts to throw a lavish wedding reception for Helena and Pierre in a grand 17th century chateau. He has delivered hundreds of wedding receptions in the past, all without a problem. What could possibly go wrong?
Pretty much everything as it turns out. Max and his team have been tasked with creating an event that is ‘sober, chic and elegant’. But we wouldn’t be left with much of a story if that was the outcome. Instead, farcical moments keep coming thick and fast, as we go from one pratfall to another. Max’s face displays a fixed grin at times, with the tension of the night threatening to explode at any moment.
He constantly instructs the staff to ‘adapt’, even when there are power outages and the only way to stave off guests’ hunger is with pastries and sparkling water.
Although the film is humorous by nature, with elements of slapstick tied in, it also has a sensitive humanitarian value at its heart. The stories of the players allow for a good measure of social realism to tincture the laughs, with Vincent Macaigne’s nervous-breakdown recovering teacher, Alban Ivanov’s clueless cook and Jean-Pierre Rouve’s lost photographer all played with heartfelt compassion.
A key feature of the film is that all the characters are largely sympathetic. Even when they are lashing out at each other, there’s always a perceivable reason why. So, when the party entertainer James (Gilles Lellouche) and Max’s assistant Adele (Eye Hadira) are sniping at each other in ever more comic and snarky tones, we always know why and appreciate the characters of both.
The element of reality keeps even the more absurd comic scenes firmly grounded, with subtly deployed scripting and cinematography offering the audience an insight into the characters’ inner lives. Dramatic internal struggles are touched upon and artfully hinted at, and we are left with a story of believable people with realistic concerns and aims.
Ultimately though, it’s a roaring good comedy which does far more for French film than it does for the wedding reception industry, which looks like bloody hard work. Still, c’est la vie…
Hot squash always helps
Or perhaps cordial would be ideal
For a day looking out the window
Why are there no painkillers in the rainforest?
Because the Parrots Eat ’em All
No they don’t
They just fly away and chatter in colour
Why has the common cold not been cured yet?
Blame the wrestling master called Big Pharma
I remember Tunes and Lockets and that nice tasting
Cough mixture that made you feel slightly sozzled
Ruminate, meditate or detoxicate
Ambient chill music and tea
The future looks a little clearer
I can see it in the mirror
More hot squash needed, it says.
My review of the fantastic Swedish film ‘Amateurs’ showing at the Scandinavian Film Festival across Australia is over at Filmink and below:
A standout in this year’s festival, the Swedish film Amateurs is a delightfully crafted drama embracing community spirit and small-town activism.
Gabriela Pichler’s second feature (after her 2012 film Eat, Sleep, Die) focuses on the fictional region of Lafors, as its townsfolk have a month to produce a film to herald a low-cost German supermarket chain opening a new shop in the area.
This great premise allows Pichler to explore the small town in detail, both through the town council’s approved PR film as well as films submitted by local high school kids. These range from a Tarantino style shoot out to a wistful emotional fragment of tormented verse captured shakily on camera.
Two of these high school students, Aida (Zahraa Aldoujaili) and Dana (Yara Aliadotter) both children of immigrant families, are the shining lights of this fantastically effective film, showing us the true Lafors experience, as opposed to the diluted and sanctioned version.
The film brilliantly uses the handheld process of the girls’ filming and interposes it with the ongoing film of their parents’ reactions to them getting into trouble by being too forthright in their interviewing techniques. While Dana’s well to do family are supportive of her creativity, Aida’s mother is fearful of losing her cleaning job because of the girl’s hijinx. Class differences and the threat of racial prejudice hangs in the air, and the further we go into the realities of the place, the more this comes out.
Aida’s mother’s view of the town and Sweden is caught on her daughter’s camera as she takes a brief break from cleaning the council offices. Her daughter asks her what the most Lafors thing is to her and she answers poignantly that it is ‘the air, the wind, the sound of the water’. It is just another remarkable moment in this compelling feature that has so many affecting scenes.
The councilman entrusted with the film’s production is Musse (a fantastic Fredrik Dahl, in his first screen performance), also the child of an immigrant. His mother is suffering from a form of dementia and has forgotten the Swedish she was once fluent in. As it was the language Musse’s family spoke at home, he never learned Tamil, the only language his mother can now speak. Their scenes together beautifully pinpoint the importance of communication, and how some things cannot be expressed with words.
Even when the film gets into the murky territory of local politics and identity, it succeeds in creating a show of how there are universal problems and universal solutions to all kinds of difficulties. From the economic hardships experienced by small towns everywhere as industries die and unravel, to the challenges faced by new arrivals to distant lands, Amateurs is a skillfully wrought depiction of a modern fable. It is a heart-warming and energetic show of humanity, taking in the power of art and film, culture and language, and more than anything else, friendship. It’s a film to treasure.
My review of Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr’s poetic film The Swan is over at Filmink and below :
A girl alone in the wild nature of the world and a girl alone with her thoughts in a beguiling and disruptive atmosphere. Two sides of the same coin in this magical debut feature from Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr, which draws on Icelandic folk tales and dreamworlds to produce an enchanting film of subtle intensity.
The ethereal landscape of rural Iceland is beautifully captured in a film seen almost exclusively from the point of view of the girl in question, rebellious nine-year-old Sól (Gríma Valsdóttir). She has been packed off to her great aunt and uncle’s in the countryside after being caught shoplifting.
“You don’t have the eyes of a thief,” are her great aunt’s welcoming words on her arrival, and the tone doesn’t get much easier for Sól, often preferring to converse with the farm animals rather than the local villagers.
One person she does find a connection with is seasonal farmhand Jón (Thor Kristjansson), a troubled young man who spends his nights penning extended diary entries that Sól can only begin to guess at the meaning of. Both characters feel hard done by the world and uncomfortable with the day to day business of the farm. It is in the untamed and enchanting surroundings of the hills, valleys and waterside that they find some brief respite from the pain of normal life.
Further disturbance to Sól’s reading of the day-to-day is brought with the appearance of her cousin Ásta (Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir). Pregnant and harbouring secrets, she becomes a muse for Sól’s more poetic and dramatic thoughts. The girl empathises with the young woman’s dilemma of whether to give birth to a fatherless child, even as she struggles to comprehend the full implications of it.
All across the film, Sól is given a crash course in just how tough adult life can be. Blood spills onto the flowers and in the farmland, where life is merely surviving and things either have a usefulness and purpose or they don’t.
The film blends the internal thoughts of Sól with dramatic shots of the impressive vistas of Iceland’s rural beauty to great effect. Even when the tone of the story threatens to get too bleak, there is always the idea of the unconstrained natural world coming to the rescue. The darkest of human thoughts and activities can pale and lose their power in the face of the power of nature. A sobering thought, brought to bear by this unusual and memorably reflective drama.
My review of ‘A Horrible Woman’, part of the Scandinavian Film Festival is over at Filmink now.
My review of new Brit flick Eaten by Lions is over at Flickering Myth and below:
Jason Wingard’s movie Eaten by Lions (written with David Isaac) is a sweetly funny movie with much to recommend about it. With its fast pace, likable characters and laugh per minute ratio, it scores highly in the entertainment stakes.
It also has the capacity to be emotionally engaging, which is a credit to the whole cast and writing team who bring the required personality to a story which always seems real and grounded, even in the most bizarre segments. It also keeps any cliched sitcom style elements at bay, and keeps a few surprises up its sleeve throughout the entire running time.
Following half-brothers Omar (Antonio Aakeel) and Pete (Jack Carroll) as they travel from Bradford to the bright lights of Blackpool to find Omar’s birth father, the film keeps their relationship at the forefront. The lead actors give tremendous, heartfelt performances, both amusing and warm. It is their interplay between each other and with the rest of the cast that propels the journey and the film onwards.
Johnny Vegas shows up in a hilarious role as Ray, a local hotel owner who lets the boys stay while they attempt to find out more. Tom Binns also brings plenty of laughs as a spaced out pier-side fortune-teller, who, with a little bit of mystic internet power, manages to let them know the address they need to visit.
When the boys visit Omar’s alleged blood relatives the main story really moves forward. The named father on the mysterious letter they found at their Gran’s is Malik Chaudhry (Nitin Ganatra ) but when they go to his house the response is not immediately overwhelmingly friendly. The facts soon become clear and the film continues on its lighthearted and often very funny way.
Matt North’s cinematography brings a vivid view of the seaside town of Blackpool, with a bright and clear look at the place. Music is used sparingly, but when it is it makes the right kind of impact – such as when one of the boys and their love interest goes on an unexpected joyride around the streets in the Choudhrys’s car, with music blaring out at top volume.
An entertaining film that is funny and heartwarming without being cheesy, Eaten by Lions is top fun for many different kinds of audiences.
My review of Jonas Carpignano’s The Ciambra is over at Flickering Myth and below.
In a small Romani community in Calabria, Italy, Pio Amato is desperate to grow up fast. Amidst a backdrop of tensions between the local Italians, recent arrivals from African countries and his fellow Romani, Pio must decide what route to go down in his quest to become an adult.
There is a wonderful moment in The Ciambra, Jonas Carpignano’s haunting depiction of a boy’s struggle with adolescence, where our lead character witnesses a vivid waking dream of a horse walking around the city streets. This vision of freedom beautifully juxtaposes Pio’s ideas of his community’s past with his own more tightly constrained present on the streets of Gioia Tauro, Calabria.
The film follows Pio (Pio Amato) as he tries to figure out how best to prove himself to his family as a responsible provider. This need only intensifies after his older brother and role model Cosimo is arrested by the local Carabinieri. We see Pio smoking, drinking and fooling around in nightclubs and taking on small-time hustles with little direction. His lack of motivation in life and problems with finding any kind of meaning are powerfully displayed and point towards a future that is not yet decided, but one that is, we suspect, potentially full of further sorrow and difficulty.
The film uses non-performers as its cast and the effect is an increase in the natural documentary style of the feature. The scenes featuring Pio and the whole extended Amato family have a tumultuous rhythm and flair that appear largely unscripted, as if the audience has just been admitted to a place at the chaotically boisterous dinner table.
The film’s writer and director Jonas Carpignano (Mediterranea, 2015) spent years based in Calabria, and his knowledge of the region has certainly paid off for this feature. There is an authenticity about the backdrop and the tense atmosphere of everyday life, as different communities of Italian, Romani and Africans live around each other with an abiding level of mistrust.
The film is specifically about Pio though. And taken purely on this level it is a successful and emotionally rich depiction of a boy growing up. The relationship between Pio and Ayiva (Koudous Seihon), a newcomer to Italy from Burkino Faso, is central to the story, which is less about plot and more about the turbulent emotions behind feelings of family loyalty and identity.
Ayiva is really the boy’s only true friend, and the film’s potent insight into how people from different cultures and backgrounds can understand each other- if only for a brief segment of time- provides some small piece of light in an otherwise bleak, yet compelling, outlook of a life on the fringes. The Ciambra is a difficult film to experience, but an important one, with much to say about desperation, hope and society.
THE CIAMBRA is released in UK cinemas on June 15th