My review of the brilliant Videoman is over at Flickering Myth
It mixes social issue drama, giallo horror and 80’s pop to phantastik effect – bloody loved it. Strongly recommended.
Smartly funny You Might Be the Killer reviewed over at Filmink.
Taking its cues – and one of its stars – from meta-slasher comedies such as the Scream films and Cabin in the Woods, this is a clever and entertaining indie-flick perfectly suited to the geekier end of the horror-comedy spectrum. Offering a sideways take on the summer camp style of horror film – a mini-genre all of its own – the film scores highly for sardonic laughs and horror fan reference points.
Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods) stars as camp councillor Sam, a guy with a serious blackout and memory loss problem. He wakes up in the great outdoors, which soon become not so great as he discovers corpse after corpse. Luckily for him, he has a phone to connect with best friend and horror movie expert Chuck (Alyson Hannigan). Chuck runs through the various possibilities with Sam, including the fact that, yep, he might be the killer…
With lots of entertainingly envisaged death scenes and a few jump scares, this movie certainly has the requisite nods to the glory (and gory) days of summer camp slashers. But more than that, it has plenty of witty lines examining the state of play of that particular type of film. The tropes of cursed masks, lost loves and of course the ‘final girl’ are all closely looked at by Chuck – who just happens to be working at a comic book and video store – and calmly delivered to a bloody and near-psychotic Sam.
What initially sounds like an uninspiring premise scores highly for laughs and sheer entertainment. Simmons gets the tone just right, with a succinct and always funny script offering lots of scope for the performers to get the best out of it. Good support to the main duo comes from Brittany S. Hall as Sam’s romantic interest Imani and Jenna Harvey’s sweet natured Jamie. A repeated joke involving Steve ‘the Kayak King’ (Bryan Price) is also far funnier than it probably has any right to be.
On the surface, You Might Be the Killer takes simple ideas, jokes and scares and builds on them to create a highly accomplished horror-comedy. A top treat for any horror fan, the film is sharp, snappy and executed with a killer touch.
Review of The Plan… over at Flickering Myth and below…
The Plan That Came from the Bottom Up is an engrossing visual essay, documenting the never before seen inventiveness and energy of a group of factory workers who saw a different way to invent and engage. Rather than being a straight up historical documentary, filmmaker Steve Sprung conducts the whole project with a stimulating artfulness.
The film deploys edits of news footage, advertising and various media alongside personal interviews with those involved to offer a film that goes beyond a specific time and location.
That time that we’re going beyond is the 1970s and the location is Lucas Aerospace in the UK. It was here that a group of skilled engineers, when faced with redundancy, joined forces to suggest new ways to do business and new projects to concentrate on. These new designs included products made to be ‘socially useful’ and to offer ‘environmentally sustainable alternatives’.
Wind turbines, hybrid cars and an energy efficient home were all blueprinted and put forward as a responsible and effective alternative to the military projects the factory had previously been manufacturing. The Plan asks in two parts why the world is not more aware of the engineers’s story and why it was not taken further by the authorities of the time.
But the film doesn’t just stay in the 1970’s UK. It also contrasts that time with the present. Contemporary media of our own war-ravaged and environmentally fragile times highlight the need for different forms of thinking on this subject. And it asks, how might life have looked the group’s ideas been put into action?
It’s a compelling question, and The Plan also puts forward many others, asking the audience plenty of uncomfortable questions about the current climate (political and environmental). One such question never far from the core of the film relates to economics and capital. It could be summed up as ‘is the constant need for profit above all else an ultimately reasonable way to go forward?’
Almost all of the political establishment at the time – and a fair amount today – would say yes, growing profit is always desirable and essential. The Plan examines this notion closely with clear sighted view, and effectively and eloquently dismantles it. There was – and still is – a better way forward.
My review of WW1 drama Journey’s End is over at FilmINK and below.
The sheer horror of the first World War is captured in sobering detail in this quietly moving adaptation of a powerfully emotive play of the same name. First performed in 1928, just ten years after the end of the war, R.C. Sherriff’s drama brought the reality of the anxiety and claustrophobia of trench warfare to theatre-goers.
This film is the fourth cinematic outing for the story. Directed with intensity by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and featuring a collection of memorable performances, Journey’s End is the story of a contingent of British soldiers in France waiting for a German attack.
The young and inexperienced officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) is keen to see the war for himself. He also wants to meet up with former school house-master and potential brother-in-law Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), a leader with rapidly diminishing coping skills and a perspective overwhelmed by anger and alcohol.
Raleigh is soon introduced to the other members of the group, including the wise and peacefully dejected former school teacher Osbourne (Paul Bettany) and the no-nonsense plain speaking Trotter (Stephen Graham). Some brief moments of gallows humour are also provided by the less than 3 hat culinary offerings from the trench cook Private Mason (Toby Jones).
While the jumping off point for the story is undoubtedly Raleigh’s swift education in the ways of the war, and the blood, mud and scent of death that accompany it, it is as the film moves on to the unbearable wait for the attack that it really comes into its own. The mental unravelling of Stanhope is agonising to watch. Claflin does an excellent job in creating this eminently believable character of a man as close as can be to absolute breaking point.
The injustices of how soldiers were contemptuously treated as little more than statistics by the ruling elite is also strongly focused on. While the soldiers dine on tinned fruit and tea with bits of onion in it, the generals are served formal dinners and fine wine. Food and drink becomes an obsession with the men, as the torturous wait goes on with little to alleviate it but more alcohol.
The timeless story of conflict and assessing the value of life and death is shown in all its power. Asking all sorts of questions of nationality and patriotism 100 years after the culmination of World War One, Journey’s End provides a stark retelling of the grim truth of that most senseless of conflicts.
Review of A Prayer Before Dawn is over at FilmINK and below.
Based on the real-life accounts of boxer Billy Moore, A Prayer Before Dawn delivers a powerful message on the dangers of drugs – and more importantly… getting caught with them in the wrong place.
The place in question is Thailand, where Moore – portrayed with vigour and sensitivity by Joe Cole (Peaky Blinders) – has been working as a bodyguard in between boxing matches. He also spends time partaking in the smoking of local drug yaba, a crushing addiction that leads to him being busted and thrown behind bars.
Billy’s confusion in the prison is well brought out. The Thai spoken by guards and inmates is not subtitled, meaning the audience is in much the same position as Billy, relying on context and body language to discover what is being said. Luckily for us though, we don’t experience first hand the slaps and kicks.
The young Englishman’s rage at being imprisoned needs to have an outlet, and he begs to be allowed to train with the kickboxing team. His prowess is quickly recognised and a chance at survival and even release from prison hell is offered when he is allowed to compete in the inter-prison Muay Thai boxing tournament.
Billy is then packed off to another prison, where they swap subtitled stories of the grim deeds they did to end up there. Some of these conversations are delivered by real life ex-cons, so there is a provocative and alarming documentary quality about these scenes.
The fights themselves have a demonic circus atmosphere about them, with intensely maddening pipe music played over the speaker systems to accompany the blood and sweat. The close ups of whirling heads and flying fists (and feet) launch the spectator right into the heart of battle. It’s anything but a pretty sight.
The fights in the ring are gruelling enough, but the real challenge for the viewer is when the film details the violence in the prison itself. Painful and at points almost unwatchable, the film illustrates the suffering experienced by the prey of predators within a deeply flawed system.
Calling to mind something of the torment of ‘70s prison drama Midnight Express, but with the added confusion of blistering kickboxing bouts, A Prayer Before Dawnis a resolutely tough watch. But it’s also one that rewards, with the hope of redemption and rebirth.
My review of the haunting feature documentary film Three Identical Strangers is over at FilmInk and below.
The remarkable story of Three Identical Strangers presents an almost unbelievable tale of coincidence, family and scientific conduct. While it’s true that the compelling documentary has the age-old ‘nature vs nurture’ debate at its core, it also takes a wide-angled view of modern society in detail; bringing a clear focus to the world of media, advertising and science.
The film opens with a close-up of Robert Shafran, a man in his 50s, recounting his first day on campus at Community College as a 19 year old back in 1980. It was unusual, to say the least. Kids kept on coming up to him as if they knew him. Girls kissed him on the cheek. He was an all-round popular guy, not the kind of thing the slightly reserved Shafran would have expected at a new place where no one knew him.
Except they did know him, or at least someone who looked exactly like him. As it turned out Robert soon acquired some help from a fellow student named Michael Domnitz, who believed he had the answer. His best friend Eddy.
And from then on, it’s one explosive revelation after another, as the film takes in the fascinating story of Robert, Eddy, and a third identical brother, David. Told in a combination of narrative exposition to camera and recreated dramatic scenes, the film is a masterclass in how to tell a story that seems too strange to actually be true.
The film brilliantly takes the audience through what happened after the reunion of the three brothers and the media fame of the early 1980s that followed. Chat show appearances, a cameo in the Madonna starring Desperately Seeking Susan and a rock and roll New York lifestyle is all depicted energetically.
This first section of the film is jovial enough. The boys all seemed happy to be part of a triple set and loved living the high life of tabloid celebrity in the big city. They also tended to act in similar ways and have the same likes and preferences. Reality begins to set in after a while though, and things take a far darker twist.
Everything about the brothers is all captured in close-up and in sharp detail. Not only all of the similarities that they share, but also the differences. The expertly drawn film includes emotional accounts from everyone involved and has a journalistic thoroughness in going about every aspect of the background of how such an odd occurrence as this should happen. How did the boys get separated at the adoption stage, and why?
Director Wardle steers a film of emotional depth backwards and forwards on the central debate of whether an individual is shaped by upbringing and experience, or by genetic makeup. The film has a true crime detective story approach about it that maximises the tragic and alarming aspects of this deeply strange and ultimately perplexing story.
My review of The Insult is over at FilmInk and below…
The tension and resentments of opposing political and religious viewpoints are taken down to everyday street level in The Insult, an impressive overview of the political and religious arguments in Lebanon and the Middle East.
The film takes a petty argument between two men as its central starting point, an argument that becomes far greater and serves as a distillation of conflicts between Christians and Muslims, Lebanese and Palestinian, and pretty much everything in between.
The problems all start in Beirut, where Lebanese Christian garage owner Tony (Adel Karam) is watering his plants on his balcony garden. Some workmen, including the Palestinian refugee Yasser Salameh (Kamel El Basha), happen to be nearby on the road below. When some water drips down onto Yasser, he demands that the drain is fixed straight away. When he sees that it hasn’t been, he calls in his team to fix it properly.
Tony lives in the apartment with his pregnant wife Shirine (Rita Hayek) and does not want any work to be going on while she is there. The workmen are modifying the faulty guttering system on the building and claim every right to be there. Tony disagrees and smashes up the gutter in a fit of rage. Yasser calls him a ‘fucking prick’ (or words to that effect) to which Tony demands an official apology.
Yasser’s employers eventually manage to persuade him to go to Tony’s garage to apologise for the insult. But once he gets there, he finds a riled-up Tony listening to anti-Palestinian diatribe on his radio. Yasser grits his teeth and nearly gets the sorry out, but then Tony drops the verbal bombshell: “I wish Ariel Sharon had wiped you all out.” And in that line, all of the animosity and ill-feeing of decades between opposing states and religions is boiled down to its core. The film in effect then asks the question, how did it get to be so?
Ziad Doueiri, a former camera assistant who worked in the US on movies including Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, gets the escalating threat and feel of the courtroom drama down perfectly.
Nominated for and just missing out on a Best Foreign Language film at this year’s Oscars, The Insult is a gripping drama that offers plenty of food for thought. While there are more questions than answers, the audience is at least left with the sense that, for better or worse, real individuals with their own motivations, prejudices and private histories will make the decisions that create or destroy peace and understanding.
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.
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…