Review of Possum over at Flickering Myth…
A memorable, surprising and darkly disturbing feature debut from Matthew Holness…
Anyone expecting any sort of light relief from Matthew Holness’s debut feature will be sorely disappointed. The writer director, best known for his comedic parody work on cult-comedy masterpieces Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace and Man-to-Man with Dean Learner, takes a step into full-on bleakness with Possum, the deeply disturbing story of a man forced to deal with long buried memories.
Focusing on the travails of Philip (Sean Harris), a children’s puppeteer forced to return to his quiet Norfolk childhood home after something awful happened at work, the film is an abstract rumination on suppressed memory and the pain of dealing with abuse. Possum refers to the hideous spidery puppet Philip keeps hidden away in a brown leather bag. He is intent on destroying Possum, but is forced to confront his sinister stepfather Maurice (Alun Armstrong). The old man is an unsettling presence never far away, either in the home or in the back garden, where the flames of a fire can do little to quieten the intensity of the puppet’s malevolent power.
Holness brings his detailed knowledge of and affection for vintage British cult programming and film-making to the fore on this journey of dread and painful confrontation. A fantastically realised soundtrack composed by the legendary sound studio The Radiophonic Workshop layers on the creepy, weird effects, and helps to hark back to partly remembered cult-classic TV and films.
It is in the long shots of the East Anglian countryside that that the film finds its true visual sense. There are shots of our lead wandering along paths and bridges that recall 1970’s public information films – the kind of Government ads that often followed a group of kids playing near a construction site, a railway or a body of water. A menacing voice-over would intone of the children’s foolishness in not paying enough attention, and something tragic would then inevitably occur.
There are also whispers of the classic ghost stories of M.R. James and the excellent Christmas Ghost Story BBC adaptations of them. One of those stories, Whistle and I’ll Come to You (filmed in 1968 and 2010), is beautifully invoked in the land and surroundings of the Norfolk location. The loneliness and sense of something monstrous on the horizon is there in hazy day-lit terror for all to see.
Possum has this sort of fear factor running throughout its running time, and Holness has spoken of his desire to create a modern ‘silent’ horror film. Harris’s work brilliantly fits in with this; the display of raw emotion and tortured memories sketching their insidious lines over his face and body language, expressing the pain of an abused child/disturbed adult in full view. As Holness says himself, real life horror is more frightening than any supernatural monster. The monster here is all too real, and Possum expertly works through it, leaving behind a ghostly memory of a tragic story beautifully told.
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.
The following review also appears at Flickering Myth.
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 Italian, La 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 King, 12 Monkeys) The 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 Strada, La 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
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.
Review of Volumes of Blood : Horror Stories is over at Flickering Myth. and… below…!!!
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.
The fantastic Brazilian film Aquarius is out on DVD/Blu-ray now…
Here’s my review over at FM and below…
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.
Pablo Larrain’s Neruda is out on home release now.
Here’s what I thought over at Flickering Myth and below…
Taking the conflict between poet and political senator Pablo Neruda and the anti-communist Chilean government as its background, this latest from Pablo Larrain (No, The Club, Jackie) 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.
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.
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.
Review of Abbey Grace over at FM and below…
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.