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…
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
Island Zero is a decent low-budget paranoid suspense thriller. My review of Island Zero is over at Flickering Myth now
My review of the short film The Energy Within is over at Flickering Myth. Starring Paralympian Stefanie Reid in her debut film performance, the 17min film is an inspiring take on focusing mind and body through sporting endeavour.
Based on her own real-life experiences, The Energy Within stars Paralympian Stefanie Reid in her debut film performance.
Across its 17 minute duration, the short tracks the progress of Julie Bennett (Reid) as she attempts to get back into racing competition despite losing a leg in an accident. After finding the courage to approach respected coach George Hart (Daniel Adegboyega), Julie asks to join his team of professional runners. It’s a difficult thing for her to ask, as she has never raced since her accident.
Afraid of what he and her fellow runners (Marie-Helene Boyd and Suzy Bastone) will think of her if she reveals her disability, at first Reid tries to hide her situation by running on a weaker prosthetic limb. The startling realisation that she has to come to terms with her disability in order to become stronger is a powerful message, and it’s dealt with brilliantly in this short film.
The story also sees Reid encountering her next door neighbour (Aasiya Shah), a teenager struggling with her violin practise. An exasperated Reid shares some choice words with the brash youth, guiding her onto trying harder and putting her mind to the job at hand. In her own words, ” The only one who actually cares is you. So if you think you suck, then, yeah, you probably suck…”
It seems to do the trick, as after a brief scene switch the next we hear is the girl trying the notes on the violin again. It’s a well done part of the film, and isn’t over done. It just goes to show that all of us have challenges to over come and how we address them forms part of who we are.
As a whole, the film rapidly showcases the power of sport in focusing the mind and the body. Reid does a great job at bringing her own personal experience of competing with a disability to the screen. She is a strong lead in a story that inspires and informs in equal measure.
THE ENERGY WITHIN will premiere online in March, during the 2018 Winter Paralympics in South Korea.
Review of women’s liberation in Switzerland film The Divine Order over at Flickering Myth and below.
An informative and entertaining drama, The Divine Order tells a serious story in easily watchable fashion, focusing on strong performances from the two leads (Marie Leuenberger, Maximilian Simonischek) as the couple at the heart of the film.
Showing how Switzerland’s female population won the right to vote in 1971, the movie does not barrage the audience with political theory or facts and figures. It simply shows, in a surprisingly light but resolutely inspirational tone, how and why the country’s women did not enjoy political suffrage earlier and what needed to happen in order to gain it.
Nora (Leuenberger) has a peaceful and secure existence in her small Swiss village. Her days are spent looking after her two sons, unimaginative husband (Simonischek) and cantankerous father-in-law. As the contrasting documentary style news images that play in the opening credits remind us, the year is 1971 and major political change is happening throughout the world. And yet, here, in Switzerland the contrast is as clear as the snow peaked mountains in the distance.
The story plays around Nora’s gradual empowerment as she realises that things can’t continue as they always have done. She wants to work, and her husband flat out refuses. He is not even entirely sure why himself; it is just not the done thing in those parts. There are many moments in the film just like this, where received wisdom and old-fashioned ‘tradition’ become embroiled in plain misogyny shock with a potent force. The film is not a difficult watch, it’s true, but that shouldn’t be seen as a criticism. In fact, it manages to get across the central ideas clearly, which when you’re talking about more than half of the population’s right to vote can only be welcomed.
There is humour within the film as well. A travelling workshop taught by a Swedish hippie (TV series The Bridge’s Sofia Helin) shows the local women the philosophy of yoni power and the importance of loving their vaginas. The almost slapstick comedy of this and other scenes broadens the film’s appeal somewhat, and brings the important points it has to make about political identity and power home in clarity.
There are also moments of real violence and infuriating diatribe from the local men, as well as the female head of the anti-women’s right to vote society. These real dangers show exactly why women in remote areas found it difficult to make their voices heard on issues such as this.
Through self-education and determination Nora manages to make a difference to the village, and to the other women, because she is someone. She is herself, and not only a wife and a mother. The basic points are what needed spelling back in the 1970’s, and they retain their urgency today. Petra Volpe’s film does that in an audience pleasing way, and manages to be both insightful and motivating.
My review of the deeply strange fairy tale/folk horror is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Rainer Sarnet’s beautifully strange rumination on love and loss set against a pagan backdrop of fairy-tale and mythological themes is a compelling journey through an unsettling dream landscape. The intense black and white cinematography calls to mind the work of filmmakers as diverse as Bergman, Lynch and Carl Theodore Dreyer, but Sarnet’s film is completely of itself, and manages to create its own fully formulated world.
Set in a surreal version of 19th Century Estonia, local peasant workers survive hunger and the cold through a mixture of begging, borrowing and stealing. Sometimes, in order to cheat death or the Devil, they are even persuaded to give up their souls to the animistic kratts; odd work constructs made from scrap metal and animal bones. These proto-robotic creations bring a sense of dark humour to the film, ambling along and calling out in disembodied voice cantankerous instructions and bleak warnings. The film brings out this working life clearly and in explicit detail. It is as if the day to day concerns of keeping the village in order just happens to involve these jumbled up combinations of souls and objects.
Cinematographer Mart Taniel handles these oddities in entrancing tone and style, with the detail informing the greater world in complex and bewildering beauty. The film places the viewer knee deep in the muck and the mire of the ancient forest village, perfectly bringing to life a place of intoxicating wonder. There is a profound tone of phantasmagoria working alongside the grotesque that makes the villagers reactions to life in the world complete and, in some sense, real and understandable.
Amidst this deeply strange backdrop is what at first sounds like a traditional folk tale. Liina (Rea Lest) is in love with local village worker Hans, who is in turn infatuated with a visiting German baroness. Liina is willing to go to any lengths to win her love, as is Hans, and the whole plot of unrequited love gets mixed up with the greater goings on of life, death and metaphysics. Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England also managed to create this mix of the workings of daily activity with magic and belief interacting in the foreground, and November shares that film’s trippy observation of dream reality from the bottom up.
Pagan philosophy and Christian theology both have sway in this world, as does the threat of the mysterious Plague, an ever-present force, able to take on different forms – at one point appearing as a goat, fans of The Witch will be pleased to see – and keeping the environment on constant edge. The presence of Dieter Laser (The Human Centipede) as the father of Hans’ crush is an archly amusing cue to genre and horror fans that not everything is to be taken at face value. Laser, for his part, plays the role with a wry remove, seemingly always on the verge on a raised eyebrow, but never distracting from the greater show of the dreamscape at large.
In terms of storytelling, Sarnet clearly takes cues from Expressionism, with a disorienting visual style of greater import than dialogue or structure of scene. This combined with the evocative music by Jacaszek and a distinct use of sound, makes the film as beguiling and enticing as any darkly furnished vision of both the up-close and personal, and the beyond.
In the park I feel able to relax, to experience a calm and peaceful tranquility away from the pressures and demands of my desk. The park is a new place to me, being as I am a newcomer to Sydney, but I have found it and the surrounding area to be extremely welcoming and inspiring.
Most days I will take a stroll around the parkland, stopping to notice the various plants, trees and brightly hued birds swooping around the foliage or pecking on the ground’s surface. I sometimes sit with notebook and pen, scribbling down new ideas for stories or poems. But I don’t force them out of my head-space. I am soon drawn back to my present area and the park, and can feel happy and content to be a small part of something much bigger than myself.
My own culture is a mixture of things, but the concept of parkland originated in Europe, as I did, so I suppose we have that in common. More than anything else though, the idea of an urban park is a place in the city that everyone can enjoy equally and respectfully. And that is certainly something to get behind, I think…