Category Archives: Film News

J.D.’s Revenge

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This review also appears over at Flickering Myth.

An entertaining slice of genre horror that moves away from and surpasses its Blaxploitation roots, J.D.’s Revenge takes a sure-footed look at supernatural possession, inner city crime and religious propaganda.

The calm and thoughtful law student Ike (Glynn Turman) is enjoying a night on the town with his friends, taking in New Orleans bars and night spots before venturing into a nightclub hosting a hypnosis act. The violent personality of a 1940’s mobster (portrayed with a haunting intensity by David McKnight) becomes embroiled with his own, gradually taking over and leading to a series of brutal attacks as the spirit in the body of Ike searches for those who led to his murder.

J.D.’s Revenge is a powerful mix of horror and social commentary that brings a surprising view of New Orleans life into play. The mysterious angles and architecture of the place combine with its unique religious history and imagery to provide a powerful backdrop for this unusual and affecting story. Becoming more complex and psychologically moving as it plays out, this is an urban thriller that offers far more than it initially promises. Fantastic suits and funk music too, natch.

Special Features on the Arrow Video release include interviews with producer-director Arthur Marks, star Glynn Turman, audio interview with actor David McKnight and Arthur Marks trailer reels.

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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

Blu-ray Review – George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn

Review of George A. Romero Between Night and Dawn box set over at Flickering Myth and below…

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When George Romero passed away in July this year, the film world lost one of its true innovators. A film maker not afraid to try different styles and forms, Romero was best known as the ‘King of the Zombies’ with 1968’s mixture of horror and social allegory Night of the Living Dead a starting point for generations of horror aficionados and independent film makers.

As this collection clearly displays, Romero was equally proficient in other genres. Providing an illuminating lesson in the director’s output between his breakthrough film and 1978’s Dawn of the Dead (the second of his Zombie films), this collection showcases an eclectic storytelling ability and talent at home with a variety of narrative and production techniques.

The first instalment There’s Always Vanilla (1971) is a product of the late 1960’s hippie/free love world view and the implications that has for relationships and inter-personal dynamics. Set up as a comedy romance featuring charming performances from Raymond Laine and Judith Ridley, the film can’t completely escape Romero’s slightly off-kilter vision and disquieting social commentary. This is heightened by the possibility that the lead is possibly communicating from beyond the grave. The film has a disorientating style seemingly borne of the trippy psychedelic movement and also serves to provide insight into the fashion and advertising industries as both shallow and exploitative to women. The lead character may rambles on about ‘chicks’ in a hip kind of way, but this offers more of a shock when the two actually form a real connection beyond that of superficiality and ‘groovy times’.

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The second part Season of the Witch (1972) is further evidence of Romero’s gift for producing unsettling truths about social structures, this time in a psychological thriller format. Drawing inevitable comparisons with Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby – indeed that film is even name-checked in the script – and also the Hammer film The Witches, the film is a dark exploration of middle class suburban values and attitudes, particularly in the husband and wife dynamic. In one of her few acting roles before retiring from the industry, Jan White portrays a haunted and bored hausfrau driven to extreme distraction by her teenage daughter’s professor/boyfriend (Raymond Laine, making another appearance) and the introduction of a new craze amongst her fellow wealthy suburbanites; namely, that of witchcraft. In my opinion this is the strongest of the three tales, mixing a genuinely weird and disquieting voyage into the female psyche with strong social observations about middle America. Some of this certainly looks familiar to anyone who caught the recent top example of excellently produced psychological (and psychedelic) horror/drama The Love Witch.

Lastly, is the mixed bag of The Crazies (1973). An interesting premise is let down by a lacklustre second half that dilutes its ideas into a generic 1970s macho action survival movie. Definitely the closest of the three to the later zombie formula that he would perfect, this feels like something of a blueprint. Basing its story around a military virus that has accidentally been released, the plot loses direction about mid-way in and feels slightly confused at points. This could either be seen as imaginative working of the concept – with the idea being that we can never be too sure who is infected and who is not. On the other hand this may be being overly generous and the uncertainty could be the result of below-par acting and unpredictable camera use.

The six discs by Arrow Video compile a wealth of extras and features. Commentaries, new documentaries, interviews, alternate title and artwork are amongst the delights on show.

Film Review – Le Plaisir

Review of Le Plaisir at Flickering Myth and below…

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In this elegantly crafted piece, Max Ophüls draws inspiration from France’s best known short story writer Guy de Maupassant to concoct a wistfully philosophical examination of the human experience of pleasure.

The three part film begins with Le Masque, a look at an ageing dandy’s attempts to stay young and desirable through dance and socialising. Ophüls captures a dream-like fantastic world of nightlife here, with the camera responding back and forth to the most expressive and extravagant dance moves. The dance of the man, who goes each night to the club wearing a mask to hide his aged visage, is modern in style and could easily fit in to a venue of today. Behind the blurred lights and disorientating music hides a bitter-sweet pleasure; the dancer cannot slow the ageing process, any more than his resigned wife can halt her husband’s quest for never-ending pleasure. A haunting and effecting story that opens up the film in memorable style.

The next segment serves as the film’s longest and most complex. La Maison Tellier follows a day out to the country for the workers at a local brothel after Mme Tellier decides she wishes to attend her niece’s first communion. From that premise itself, we can see various themes of innocence, religion, sexual awareness and, pleasure, all appearing into view. The women are away from the town possibly for the first time ever and see with fresh eyes the workings of country life. The scenes highlighting both the differences and similarities between the niece and the women are profoundly drawn. While the bordello is closed for the day, the Normandy town is thrown into disarray, with local menfolk disturbed by the turn of events. They soon fall into arguments and fights to quell some of their boredom. When the women return, the previous order is resumed, but perhaps with some greater insight.

The last part of the film Le Modèle is the film’s briefest and saddest. An artist becomes captivated by a model (Simone Simon) and the two fall in love passionately and quickly. After they build a life together things begin to dismantle just as quickly, and the artist grows distant and non-communicative. He eventually moves away into a house-share with another artist and the model feels compelled to prove her love. This ends disastrously and she ends up disabled and in constant need of attention. This ‘succeeds’ in keeping the artist at her side as he is now a constant companion/carer.

Le Plaisir is a wonderfully thoughtful film, reworking some of de Maupassant’s primary concerns to fit into a 1950’s cinematic audience. In any case, human wants and desires and quest for pleasure does not essentially change. This film provides a look at the timelessness of the human heart.

Deliver Us (Liberami)

Review of exorcism documentary Deliver Us is over at Flickering Myth now and below…

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Exorcism. To most of us that spells out unlucky priests gripping onto their crosses, noisy demonic activity and sweary puking possessed kids. In short, horror movies.  But as this skillfully produced documentary shows us, the religious practise of exorcism is fully alive and, sort of, well.

Federica Di Giacomo’s startlingly original film presents Father Cataldo as our guide through this fascinating world of hope, faith and hysteria. Thousands of people believe that all sorts of problems and ailments are directly caused by demonic possession. Cataldo, through his weekly mass of liberation, offers a surprisingly frank and self-aware approach to the procedure and an alternately calming and cantankerous hand of assistance to those suffering for non-specific malaise.

The exorcism itself appears to be something like a drop-in therapy session, with a number of different characters from different backgrounds introduced specifically through their connection with the church activity. Some are regular churchgoers and some are assuredly not, drawn to the sessions instead because, literally nothing else works. This kind of helplessness and often sad reality is counterbalanced with the dry Sicilian wit and humour of Cataldo, who brings out the reality of working in this social enterprise.

The film also takes on the wider picture of how the Catholic Church has responded to the growing claims of possession and demonic influence. The number of fully accredited exorcists have gone up worldwide, partly due to a Rome based exorcist-training camp for Catholic priests. These disarming facts and scenes are treated with a journalist’s eye, and no one is made to look foolish or silly.

The audience is left to make its own mind up. One thing is for sure, the presence of a shared community and regular social activity appears to be the real saviour here.

 

DELIVER US (Liberami) is in cinemas 27th October and on DVD 30th October #DELIVERUSFILM

Miracle Mile Review

Review of Miracle Mile new BluRay over at FM.

School Life doc out now

School Life review over at Flickering Myth

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.

Movie Review – Destination Unknown (2017)

Review of Holocaust Survivor doc is at Flickering Myth and below…

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An in-depth and personal look at one of the bleakest points in history, Claire Ferguson’s Destination Unknown surveys the human stories at the heart of the events of the holocaust.

Skillfully inter-playing the stories of 12 survivors with archival footage from during wartime, the film allows an insight into the memories, passion and courage of these individuals. The film documents their various routes to escape the confusion and systematic evil of Nazi work camps such as Kraków-Płaszow, Mauthausen and Auschwitz-Birkenau. Amongst those interviewed by producer Llion Roberts is Mietek Pemper, who helped Oskar Schindler compile the famous List and save thousands of people. Also featured is a survivor’s tale of meeting the fearful Amon Göth, the sadistic commandant of Kraków-Płaszów.

The struggles to survive did not simply end with the closing of the war.  One of the things that the film does so well is highlight the tragic psychological damage that was done to these people, and the pain that does not simply go away after escape, survival or victory. Indeed in the case of Ed Mosberg, who gives lectures dressed in prison uniform, the past and pain of it does not seem to have dissipated very much at all. There is the sense that there is some power in keeping it where you can still see it.

The post-liberation period of the war is dealt with in some detail. The sheer chaos of Europe trying to come to terms with itself in the fallout of the war is given personality and intensity through these people’s stories. Mostly all in their eighties and nineties, the film lets them speak and does so with clarity and vision.  A wonderful feature of the film is the energy given off by these survivors. When they have been through so much, it is amazing that they can still laugh and smile and dance. Yet, as evidenced through home video footage and photographs some can and do. And that tells us so much about human strength and resistance.

Destination Unknown is a powerful film and, ultimately, a profoundly moving one.