Category Archives: dvd review

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

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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.

 

Volumes of Blood : Horror Stories

Review of Volumes of Blood : Horror Stories is over at Flickering Myth.  and… below…!!!

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Anthology films are great in the horror genre. Offering up short, sharp bursts of grim entertainment without too much need for character development, plotting or any of that boring stuff, a collection of horror chapters can really set the scene for a fun – and possibly enjoyably scary – night in. As with this release, they can also show off a variety of different directorial and writing styles and inclinations. Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories allows six directors to present exactly what they can – and can’t – do.

The only rules that the group seem to have been given is that most of the stories are held together by the ongoing story of a couple being shown around a house by a mysterious estate agent. The first introductory segment is itself a film being watched in a movie theatre, which then becomes another story. So far, so meta. But in any case, every one of the other short stories seem to be associated with various rooms in the house that is being viewed. However, it should be warned that the linking formula in this release is fairly chaotic. The wild attempts at humour don’t always sit well with the gross out style segments, and often stories appear undeveloped and underwritten. Given the almost 2 hour running time, this leaves one feeling that some more productive editing and a better worked out central idea would have been useful.

Having said that, there are some stoner-esque laughs to be had with Volumes of Blood: Horror Stories. The writers seem to have a core viewer in mind and to play to the crowd, offering up some fairly dumb, unmemorable but occasionally funny entertainment.

For what it’s worth, the first story – the one showing in the cinema – Murder, Death, Kill is a gross out horror/comedy. It concerns a bungled robbery and introduces in gruesome style a recurring character; the killer Atticus Crowe.  The film then abruptly cuts to a cinema, where the movie is revealed to be a remake of an underground horror classic. A couple of goof balls riff on modern cinema culture and the film proper starts off. As mentioned previously, the linking ‘plot’ is not all together clear and it gives the whole production a pretty messy feel. Still there is fun to be had with some of the stories, most notably Deathday Party, which has a premise of an older couple being rudely interrupted by their neighbours. It becomes the opportunity for some suburban slaying, and this at least is fairly amusing.

Some of the other films are also linked by references to holidays, such as Halloween and Christmas, but as remarked previously, there just isn’t a strong enough linking theme to the whole. That and the fact that it’s all a bit too ‘knowing’ – making disjointed jibes at horror film culture, while presiding over a sub-standard film isn’t the best way to go – are the main problems with this release. Everyone involved – and it’s a huge group of cast and crew – are clearly doing it for the love of horror films in general, but much as we might want to like it, sometimes that just isn’t enough. It finishes up by doing a good impression of an overstretched student film idea that ultimately outstays its welcome.

Aquarius review

The fantastic Brazilian film Aquarius is out on DVD/Blu-ray now…
Here’s my review over at FM and below…

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Aquarius is a resolutely intelligent work detailing a whole lifetime of experience, passion and commitment to the things that matter most in life (not in any particular order): art, family, love and community.

Sonia Braga gives an intensely radiant performance as Clara, a 65-year-old retired music critic and widow born and raised into a well to do family in Recife, Brazil. While enjoying a comfortable life of leisure amongst friends and neighbours, it becomes apparent that a development group has its eyes on the home that has been an integral part of her life for so long – the original 1940’s building the Aquarius. All of her neighbours apartments have been rapidly bought up, leaving her as the only resident left. The unscrupulous modern developers – personified by the young graduate of an American business college Diego (Humberto Carrão) – are dead set on acquiring the whole building and will stoop to any means in order to do so. Clara soon realises she has a fight on her hands, and must incorporate her considerable powers of determination in order to see that a semblance of justice prevails.

As a detailed pinpointing in miniature of many of the demands facing communities across the world, regardless of class, nationality or background, on a social level Aquarius provides an assortment of talking points. Most obviously is the modern fact of neighbourhoods and areas becoming redeveloped creating tensions amongst neighbours and families, often coupled with greed, opportunism or both. The film constantly portrays this threat and the paranoia inducing tension it has on Clara in a creepy ways. This psychological thriller aspect of slamming doors, mysterious noises from upstairs and strangers or workmen encroaching on the privacy of home all leave their mark. Clara has to display a steely toughness in order to stay put and the film is great at chronicling her trials and tribulations while displaying the daily activity of her interactions with family and neighbours. This plus a healthy sexual appetite only strengthen Clara’s formidable realness and humanity.

The passionate encounters – in Clara’s case one very successful and one not-so – serve as a reminder of her aunt Lucia (who we meet in the first chapter set in 1980) who linked a dresser piece of furniture with intense and memorable love-making. Part of the success of Aquarius as a film is this ability to traverse different times through memory and feeling. It is a singularly powerful and poetic film, and has quite rightly already won itself top plaudits in the minds of anyone interested in place, memory and identity.

 

 

Neruda review

Pablo Larrain’s Neruda is out on home release now.
Here’s what I thought over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Taking the conflict between poet and political senator Pablo Neruda and the anti-communist Chilean government as its background, this latest from Pablo Larrain (NoThe ClubJackie) plays out like a metaphysical chase movie, with the rich imagination of the writer being harnessed as a creative suit of armour to protect him and his interests.

During political congress in 1948, Senator Neruda (Luis Gnecco) accuses President González Videla’s (Alfredo Castro) government of betraying the  Communist Party and is then impeached and a warrant put out for his arrest.  Police Prefect Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal) is assigned to arrest the poet.  Fearing for his safety, Neruda tries to leave Chile with his artist wife Delia del Carril  (Mercedes Morán) but they are turned back and forced into hiding.  This new life of refuge and uncertainty inspires the poet to create new work new myths and new legends.

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While the setting and mood of the piece is beautifully represented and there is genuine tension built up with Peluchonneau’s determination to ‘win’ his arrest, the film as a whole is starkly unconventional and all the better for it. Without giving away too many details, the story is partly based on Neruda’s private imaginings, and how much is fact or fiction becomes increasingly unimportant. What is necessary is the power of belief, memory and poetry itself, to build up a workable formation of reality. So, we have a deconstructed – and then re-constructed – biopic.

Tower of London (1962)

Just released new Blu-Ray/DVD pack of the Corman/Price Shakespearean vehicle Tower of London

Find my review over at Flickering Myth and below…

What’s the best way to liven up a bit of Shakespeare? Get Roger Corman and Vincent Price involved of course!

Following the pair’s successful experiments with film adaptations of stories and poems by Edgar Allen Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher, Pit and the Pendulum and Tales of Terror) the idea seemed like a pretty good one. It’s certainly one which details many of the reasons why classic chiller fans are so devout to Corman’s genius ability to wring dramatic action out of every available space and dollar, alongside Vinnie Price’s wonderfully entertaining mixture of camp and maniacal performances.

Shot in a sharply focused black and white, the film is a loose remake of the 1939 film of the same title and the English playwright’s Richard III. There’s a bit of the Scottish play in there as well, as Price’s Richard of Gloucester – brother of a dying king – sets about taking out all of his rivals for the throne while also dodging the ghosts of those already slain. Price is, of course, the prime selling point of this movie with the actor at his nefarious best in this ‘drive-in Shakespeare show’.

But does it work? Well yes and no. The film does indeed feature a transfixing Price who is always worth watching and the pace is (usually) high tempo – which was presumably something of a priority when re-imagining Shakespeare. However, some of the scenes seem a bit rushed and conversely far too much time is given over to a disturbing rack torture scene that doesn’t sit too well with the tone of the rest of the film. Horrible yes, and it does set out the ruthlessness of Richard’s pursuit of power but doesn’t fit too well with the pace and takes up a large segment of the total running time.

That aside, much of the film is better judged and aside from a fairly abrupt ending and the scene already mentioned, Tower of London is another release from the Corman/Price stable well worth seeking out for anyone fond of devilish literary inspired goings-on in not so merry olde England.

Abbey Grace -DVD Review

Review of Abbey Grace over at FM and below…

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Effectively acting as a merging of two classic forms of horror story – the haunted house and the possession – Abbey Grace is an enjoyable piece of home spun terror. Bringing out good performances from its cast, most notably the two leads of Sheridan and Hobbs, the movie is worth a look for fright fans after something a little different. The film plays with different genres and manages to make some solid points about sibling relationships and psychology, while also building up a reasonably tense atmosphere of unease and fear.

Debbie Sheridan (actor and also the casting director) plays Stacey, a successful psychiatrist who returns home to look after her agoraphobic brother Ben (Jacob Hobbs) following the death of their mother. Ben has not left the family home in over twenty three years, and is pretty difficult to deal with to say the least. Our early introductions to the brother and sister’s relationship is one of animosity and mistrust, often centered on Debbie’s pet dog Duke. As an OCD sufferer, Ben is not overly taken with the lively canine, and makes his feelings on the subject known in great depth.

After Stacy finds a strange headstone marked as the burial place of a child named Abbey Grace and Duke digs up the mystery items of a shoe and a box, the tension between the siblings becomes even more fraught.  When Ben’s behaviour starts to become unmanageable and he complains of seeing a strange girl around the house, Stacy seek help from friend and co-worker Bridget (Amber Gallaway). She helps the two delve deeper into the history of the house and the eponymous Abbey who, as an unquiet soul has plans for all of them…

Overall, the film manages to pack a decent amount of scares in within its low-budget horror construction. It also allows a nice line of dark humour to be drawn out in the bickering siblings dialogue, something that marks it out as slightly different from a purely run of the mill shocker.

DVD Review – The Code S2

Review of Season 2 of Aussie tech neo-noir The Code at FM now…

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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…

Dark Exorcism (2015)

Review of indie psychological horror Dark Exorcism is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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The subject of demonic possession has been a huge deal in the horror genre for ages, with 1973’s The Exorcist often cited as the scariest thing since sliced bread (or was that sliced head?, anyway pretty scary) and a stream of new pretenders constantly waiting in line. It is however, a difficult topic to do justice to. On one hand you have The Shining or Burnt Offerings showing the true psychological horror of possession. On the other you might have REC3 or worse, something like The Devil Inside or the worst excesses of the Paranormal Activity franchise.

In any case, Dark Exorcism – formerly titled In The Dark – is an intriguing addition to the possession style of movie and another impressive notch on filmmaker David Spaltro’s catalogue.  The filmmaker specialises in thoughtful and emotional indie dramas (Around, Things I Don’t Understand) and bring this cerebral quality to the possessed horror movie sub-genre. With an impressive lightness of touch, the film stands well above most of the indie horrors making their way around the festival circuit and beyond. There is a neat theatrical edge to the production, allowing the cast to bring out the complexities of the script without relying on stock jumps and scares. More than anything else, this is about the personalities on show, and how each one copes with the ramifications of a potentially unexplainable situation. In effect, it’s not a standard low budget horror.

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The strength of the largely female cast is shown in a three part psychological battle. Firstly there is the clash of ideas between the purely rational grad student Veronica (Lynn Justinger) and the experienced paranormal expert Lois Kearne (Fiona Horrigan). These two represent the opposite sides of the argument for and against the paranormal and for any evidence of ‘possession’. As the film progresses, another strong performance is sourced in Grace Folsom’s Bethany. Bethany is distinctly unwell, but exactly how unwell only becomes apparent after a few meetings. All three of the actors display a confidence in the work, and provide the depth to keep an audience second guessing.

The film keeps special effects to a minimum, thus making sure the audience concentrate purely on the performances and the dialogue. This works up to a point, although a little more mystery in regards the eventual outcome would have been welcome. All in all though, a well written and produced psychological possession movie.