Category Archives: dvd review

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.

The Killings of Tony Blair

My review of The Killings of Tony Blair is over at Flickering Myth and below…

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For many people outside of the political classes George Galloway has been something of a perplexing figure. Someone with the ability to lucidly draw attention to the many problems of world politics – he defended himself memorably in front of the US senate – he is someone with a gift for soundbites and pithy responses.

However, the decision to front this feature documentary himself is a big mistake. Despite having the ability and the credentials to bring necessary discussion post-Chilcot on Blair’s career, Galloway is also someone with the potential to draw attention away from the facts. Many who remember his ill-judged reality TV appearance  see him as a fame-hungry provocateur, not really an attribute needed for a serious investigations of Blair’s money making activities and alleged war crimes.

The documentary would therefore have been far more hard-hitting without Galloway at its centre. Maybe it would have been better if he had just acted as the narrator? But no, he’s there every five minutes, usually at the centre of talks with a long list of political and cultural figures. Showing off his resplendent overcoat for all to approve of, or door stepping political figures in roving reporter mode.

Galloway is without doubt a smart and critical thinker, but making yourself the focus when the point is an analysis of someone else’s decisions makes the final product lost and confused.

This is not the only problem. Hurried looking satirical animation just looks amateurish and the variety of talking heads popping up just stretches out the running time. All in all then, not the best stick to beat old Tony with. I’m sure the facts speak louder than George on this occasion…

The Killings of Tony Blair is available on DVD and digital HD now.

 

Suture review

Review of Blu-ray review of Suture (1993) over at Flickering Myth and below…

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Suture is a resolutely smart film. The title refers to the film theorist’s view of a film stitching ideas and themes into an audience’s perception of a film so wholly and completely that all sorts of things can be accepted. We as humans love to look for order in chaos, to find patterns where there may be none and to create plausibility for all kinds of bizarre outcomes.

The neo-noir crime story takes this view of film and uses it to explore a variety of moral and philosophical questions. How far can an audience be led down one path – and how great is their desire to be fully immersed in the story, despite logic threatening to shatter the suspension of disbelief?

The central problem that the film’s makers teasingly hope that the audience will put to one side is that the two brothers, Clay (Dennis Haysbert) and Vincent (Michael Harris) are clearly of different ethnicity. However, in the world of the story itself they are half-brothers with the same father and are frequently said to look so alike as to be practically indistinguishable.

The film is so well made that it goes beyond simply being a film professors idea of an experimental joke and showcases a stylish and captivating crime mystery.

Without giving too much away – Suture is a film to be experienced best with little or no prior knowledge of the plot – Siegel and McGehee have created a remarkable film. With influences ranging from Hitchcock and Frankenheimer to the crime sagas of the 40’s, this is a film wholly deserving to be seen by a fresh new audience.

Blu-ray/DVD Extras

Audio commentary with writer-directors David Siegel and Scott McGehee
All-new interviews with Siegel, McGehee, executive producer Steven Soderbergh, actor Dennis Haysbert, cinematographer Greg Gardiner, editor Lauren Zuckerman and production designer Kelly McGehee
Deleted scenes
Birds Past, Siegel & McGehee’s first short film, about two young San Franciscans who journey to Bodega Bay along the path set by Tippi Hedren in Hitchcock’s classic, The Birds.
US theatrical trailer
European theatrical trailer
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by maarko phntm

The Here After

Review of The Here After over at Flickering Myth  and below…

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With The Here After, Magnus von Horn creates a disturbing vision of controlled chaos of judgement and retribution. Starring Swedish pop star  Ulrik Munther, the film relates the social reaction to a crime committed in rural Sweden. Von Horn takes a minimalist approach to the story, only allowing key elements to trickle out as the tension steadily amps up.

The non-mainstream approach of only letting the audience in bit by bit works well for the most part, with a good deal of sympathy for the central character’s plight being built up before all the cards in the pack are dealt out.

The main figure in all of this is John (Munther) who we meet at the start of the film leaving an unnamed institution in the care of his father (Mats Blomgren). The two travel back to their home town, partaking in the traditionally stifled conversation between teenage son and mildly stressed dad. Back at home, John play fights with younger brother Filip (a smartly funny show from Alexander Nordgren) and helps out with the household chores. No mention is made of where John has been or why he was there.

Aside from John’s shell-shocked attempts to settle down into family life (which, with the addition of a sickly Grandfather, is wholly and tellingly comprised of male characters) the early scenes convey an odd but superficially calm exterior.

The first clear sign that something far darker is under wraps is an encounter with a member of the town’s folk at the local supermarket. The shocking event acts as a trigger to the uncovering of the truth. There won’t be any spoilers given away here, suffice to say that the machinations of justice, moral judgement and social pressures loom large over the whole piece.

A fantastic performance from Munther showcases the difficulties communities face in the aftermath of tragedy and violence. Exactly how to come to terms with the realities of repressed anger and unresolved emotional activity is a problem laid out here in all its grim detail.

Drawing inevitable comparisons with Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, this tale of alienation and social exclusion is a tense, visually striking film displaying a quiet, studied gravitas.

The DVD includes two short films by Magnus von Horn, Echo (2008) and Without Snow (2011)

The Seventh Fire

My review of the feature doc The Seventh Fire is at The Metropolist and below.

The Seventh Fire is a drama documentary concentrating on the poverty and social deprivation of the Native American Ojibwe tribe living deep within Minnesota’s White Earth Indian Reservation. The very fact that the reservation is still referred to in some areas as the ‘Indian’ reservation goes some way to showing the cultural, political and sociological barriers still in evidence.

Jake Pettibone Riccobono’s feature debut provides a far reaching view of the deep rooted problems facing these people. Concentrating on two men, the older Rob Brown and 17 year old Kevin, the film charts the trials of living in a community where crime and violence is part of the natural order of things.

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Brown, a complex character in his early 40’s, is about to face prison for the fifth time. Throughout the film he struggles to understand his responsibility in continuing down a path of destruction and abuse. The sharpness and wit of Brown’s self-reflection is brought out in sympathetic detail, and a character emerges of both victim and anti-hero fighting back against a repressive system. This is granted extra emphasis on the soundtrack, with Brown’s style of rap-poetry, worked on during long hours in the cell, given the space and room to impress.

The character of Kevin is more troubling. The teen meth addict and dealer aims to be the biggest drug lord on the reservation, and is clearly inspired by Brown’s prison exploits. He seems to have his life mapped out already, with a desire for more cash, drugs and power the only thing keeping him going. But underneath the tough guy exterior however is just another lost young man.

The script doesn’t hold back, and is not interested in showing the men in their best light. Indeed, this is a tough watch, with hard hitting points to make about American society and crimes of the past. The men are, in effect, victims of an abusive society and have been marked by their experiences just as clearly as the intricate tattoos they are so eager to display.

The Seventh Fire is a profoundly moving film, with haunting lessons to teach and difficult questions to ask. The executive production team, including Terrence Malick and Natalie Portman, clearly saw something in the original screenplay more than worthy of attention, and one can only applaud their decision to triumph the work.

Our Little Sister DVD Review

The beautiful Our Little Sister is reviewed over at Flickering Myth and below.

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An intimate and warm story of sisterhood and familial ties, Our Little Sister  explores the drama of sororal relationships in a graceful and sensitive style.

Adapted from the best selling graphic novel Umimachi Diary by Yoshida Akimi,  this is a drama that plays with subtlety and intricacy, ultimately creating an uplifting and spirited mood. It does not shy away from pain and darkness, with troubled histories and parental break-ups creating a generational fall-out felt for years afterwards.  Yet it remains a bright and hopeful document – an affectionate look at how family of all kinds can help each other through life.

Three young sisters, Chika (Kaho), Yoshi (Masam Nagasawa) and Sachi (Haruka Ayase) all live together in their grandmother’s beautiful old house.  Chika is the youngest of the group and works in a sports shop and has a playful relationship with a boyfriend into sports and outdoor activity.  Yoshi is a banker who shelters from the stresses of work with a busy social life and more than a passing affection for alcohol. Sachi is the oldest of the sisters who manages a hectic work schedule as a nurse at the hospital alongside an unhappy affair with a married doctor.

 

The three have been estranged from both parents for years and  grudgingly decide to attend their father’s funeral on the news of his death. Just before they are all set for a quick departure, they get to know the 13 year old Suzu, who it transpires is their half-sister. On something of a whim, Sachi invites her to come and stay with them. A few days or weeks later – time is not exact in this dreamlike picture – Suzu arrives and the sisters form a close knit bond of humility, respect and care.

The quartet adapt remarkably well to the situation,with the group creating a powerful barrier against the pain of the past. Ayase’s portrayal of Sachi is key to getting this strength across; her expressions of respectful care communicate the commitment to love that she and the others have made.

Overall this is a moving film, providing a template of sincere and honest reflection that goes beyond mere words. It is telling that the source material is a manga book- the colour and vibrancy of the locations are captured by director Koreeda in stunning detail. There is a flowing of ideas and imagination that bring a sense of soulful enlightenment; from dejection and darkness, hope can rise up anew.