“In today’s ever-changing world it is not always easy to remain consistent. One day I could be a bird, the next a pocket-sized calculator. The opportunities stretching out before us do not stop or have any discernible boundaries. The chance for things to change remains ever-present.”
So sayeth the tree, stuck into the ground, by its ever-strengthening roots.
Review of Sarah Jacobson’s 1993 short over at Filmink and below.
A wild mix of fired-up feminist rallying and pitch black humour, this early ‘90s short from influential filmmaker Jacobson still packs as much of a punch as it did back in Riot Grrrl’s hey-day.
The ground-breaking underground film cost an estimated $1600, and has a grainy sliced-up look perfect for its gritty subject matter. Featuring ultimately serious comment and inquiry into patriarchal society (along with gruesome laughs amidst some decidedly non-professional acting) that is as relevant now as it was then, the 27min film is far more than merely a museum piece or passing curiosity.
To reinforce the darker dreams of the film, the grungy soundtrack features a song from the notorious cult leader Charles Manson. That piece plus tracks from ‘90s punk rockers Heavens to Betsy and underground stalwarts Gas Huffer merge sound and vision for a short, sharp shock to the senses.
This was Jacobson’s debut in a career tragically cut short by illness that also included the feature Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore (1996), which will screen with I Was a Teenage Serial Killer at the inaugural Paracinema Fest.
A memorable intro to her work, the film shows how a lasting statement can be made with a purely indie DIY approach to filmmaking.
Smartly funny You Might Be the Killer reviewed over at Filmink.
Taking its cues – and one of its stars – from meta-slasher comedies such as the Scream films and Cabin in the Woods, this is a clever and entertaining indie-flick perfectly suited to the geekier end of the horror-comedy spectrum. Offering a sideways take on the summer camp style of horror film – a mini-genre all of its own – the film scores highly for sardonic laughs and horror fan reference points.
Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods) stars as camp councillor Sam, a guy with a serious blackout and memory loss problem. He wakes up in the great outdoors, which soon become not so great as he discovers corpse after corpse. Luckily for him, he has a phone to connect with best friend and horror movie expert Chuck (Alyson Hannigan). Chuck runs through the various possibilities with Sam, including the fact that, yep, he might be the killer…
With lots of entertainingly envisaged death scenes and a few jump scares, this movie certainly has the requisite nods to the glory (and gory) days of summer camp slashers. But more than that, it has plenty of witty lines examining the state of play of that particular type of film. The tropes of cursed masks, lost loves and of course the ‘final girl’ are all closely looked at by Chuck – who just happens to be working at a comic book and video store – and calmly delivered to a bloody and near-psychotic Sam.
What initially sounds like an uninspiring premise scores highly for laughs and sheer entertainment. Simmons gets the tone just right, with a succinct and always funny script offering lots of scope for the performers to get the best out of it. Good support to the main duo comes from Brittany S. Hall as Sam’s romantic interest Imani and Jenna Harvey’s sweet natured Jamie. A repeated joke involving Steve ‘the Kayak King’ (Bryan Price) is also far funnier than it probably has any right to be.
On the surface, You Might Be the Killer takes simple ideas, jokes and scares and builds on them to create a highly accomplished horror-comedy. A top treat for any horror fan, the film is sharp, snappy and executed with a killer touch.
My review of the beautifully moving Lean on Pete is over at Filmink and below.
Andrew Haigh’s poetic vision of growing-up poor and neglected is a haunting and deeply moving look at a side of American life rarely given such detailed attention.
The film is a slow-burn of intense emotional upheaval, and brings a studied approach to its subject that makes the impact of the experience even more rewarding.
Going for careful and deliberate dramatics, rather than overplayed fireworks, the story is reserved, contemplative and, ultimately, heart-rending.
Featuring a powerful central performance from Charlie Plummer as the 15 year old Charley, Lean on Pete is a coming-of-age story delivered in the most compassionate of tones.
Charley, a likeable innocent, is tasked with survival on a daily basis. His father Ray (Travis Fimmel) loves his son, but is not exactly reliable. He has a habit of going from job to job and shacking up with new partners – including the married Lynn (Amy Seimitz) – as and when it happens.
As we are introduced to father and son – and Haigh deliberately allows us a semi-documentary view of their hand-to-mouth lifestyle – we see the ramshackle rooms, missed meals and unhealthy living arrangements that make up their life. It’s not played specifically for sympathy – although that is there in abundance – it is more about showing the reality of young Charley’s existence.
This reality makes the discovery of a local horse track and the appearance of irascible trainer Del (Steve Buscemi) more of a bright note in Charley’s disjointed life than it otherwise might have been. The cantankerous old Del shows the boy how to work the stables and get the horses ready for racing.
It’s here that the eponymous horse Lean on Pete connects with Charley. The relationship between ageing animal and young human is showcased beautifully and simple scenes of the two walking back and forth with the boy intoning softly about whatever’s on his mind is quietly emotive.
Chloë Sevigny also has a role as a jockey who candidly warns Charley about getting too close to Pete. Both she and Del see the horses as little more than tools to make use of. When they become too old and too slow, they are cast aside and replaced. For them there is no other connection to make. Not so for the adolescent in need of a friend.
Plummer is on screen for nearly the entire two-hour feature, and manages to hold the episodic story together with his brilliant portrayal of youth in search of answers. It is his character and the cruel effects of impoverished despair that lend an epic struggle to the plot. This, plus the fantastically shot views of the American countryside help to put everything into clear perspective. The film offers a memorable viewpoint of a world seldom shown in such heightened and vivid colour.
“What’s your superpower?”
“Your superpower. What is it?”
“Oh. Well, if I concentrate really *really* hard I can create an even more intense level of personal discomfort. What’s yours?”
“I have the power to make the news both horrible *and* distressing. Every time a new nightmare.”
“Neat. Let’s have a cup of dreams.”
My review of WW1 drama Journey’s End is over at FilmINK and below.
The sheer horror of the first World War is captured in sobering detail in this quietly moving adaptation of a powerfully emotive play of the same name. First performed in 1928, just ten years after the end of the war, R.C. Sherriff’s drama brought the reality of the anxiety and claustrophobia of trench warfare to theatre-goers.
This film is the fourth cinematic outing for the story. Directed with intensity by Saul Dibb (The Duchess) and featuring a collection of memorable performances, Journey’s End is the story of a contingent of British soldiers in France waiting for a German attack.
The young and inexperienced officer Raleigh (Asa Butterfield) is keen to see the war for himself. He also wants to meet up with former school house-master and potential brother-in-law Captain Stanhope (Sam Claflin), a leader with rapidly diminishing coping skills and a perspective overwhelmed by anger and alcohol.
Raleigh is soon introduced to the other members of the group, including the wise and peacefully dejected former school teacher Osbourne (Paul Bettany) and the no-nonsense plain speaking Trotter (Stephen Graham). Some brief moments of gallows humour are also provided by the less than 3 hat culinary offerings from the trench cook Private Mason (Toby Jones).
While the jumping off point for the story is undoubtedly Raleigh’s swift education in the ways of the war, and the blood, mud and scent of death that accompany it, it is as the film moves on to the unbearable wait for the attack that it really comes into its own. The mental unravelling of Stanhope is agonising to watch. Claflin does an excellent job in creating this eminently believable character of a man as close as can be to absolute breaking point.
The injustices of how soldiers were contemptuously treated as little more than statistics by the ruling elite is also strongly focused on. While the soldiers dine on tinned fruit and tea with bits of onion in it, the generals are served formal dinners and fine wine. Food and drink becomes an obsession with the men, as the torturous wait goes on with little to alleviate it but more alcohol.
The timeless story of conflict and assessing the value of life and death is shown in all its power. Asking all sorts of questions of nationality and patriotism 100 years after the culmination of World War One, Journey’s End provides a stark retelling of the grim truth of that most senseless of conflicts.
Review of post-global virus thriller What Still Remains is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Oh, the apocalypse. Edging ever closer it seems, and in the thriller What Still Remains it’s there in all its grim glory. Desolate mountaintops and lonely valleys are captured in fine detail, bringing home a real sense of fragile isolation in this post-global virus world. The hunt for edible food, while also avoiding the scarred zombie-like ‘berserkers’ proves to be a quest in itself for anyone attempting to live more than five minutes.
Amidst this backdrop recently bereaved of her family Anna (Lulu Antariksa), has to decide how much she can trust Peter (Colin O’Donaghue), a tough warrior type who promises her safe passage to his community across the wilds.
Both Anna and the audience soon have their doubts, not least when Peter proves to be just a little too trigger happy. But he seems a far better bet than the survivors marauding around at every turn. Plus, he has nicer hair.
But in all seriousness, this gets to the heart of this moralistically ambitious film. It asks the question ‘who’s the most human?’, the good looking ones who speak properly and have all the right survival equipment, or the ones who howl and whistle and wear animal masks?
The two leads play against each other well enough, and there is a palpable sense that something horrible is just around the corner. And being a post-apocalyptic landscape, that is an entirely reasonable guess.
Also without giving too much away, there is also a good link between survivalist communities and cult religions of the kind that would undoubtedly spring up in such a situation. In this community Mimi Rogers’ character provides some icy tension of life in a home constantly under threat from outsiders.
All in all, the film provides a disturbing enough look at what could be in store for a badly messed up Earth. But with too much of the weight of humanity – and the film itself – specifically being carried by the lead, it doesn’t really have enough to go truly viral.
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
Since moving to Sydney, I have started working with the film collective Knowledge Variable.
We are producing art films with a focus on the experimental and strange, the avant-garde and the poetic and the mysterious and the magical.
I’m looking forward to writing, acting in and producing new films and ideas.
Check out our youtube channel here.
My review of Mary and The Witch’s Flower, the first anime from Studio Ponoc, is over at Filmink and below…
Mary, an imaginative and inquisitive young girl, is spending the last week of the summer break with her great aunt Charlotte at the village of Redmanor. Bored at home with no working TV set or friends of her own to play with, she tries to help out around the house, but constantly drops things due to her clumsiness. This boredom, plus anxiety over her self-image and red hair, brings out a multitude of worry and stress ahead of the new school year. After not immediately seeing eye to eye with local boy Peter, she meets his two cats Tib and Gib wandering through the misty woods. Following the cats directly leads to the discovery of a bunch of eerie fly-by-night flowers growing in the wild. She takes them home and before knowing too much about it, Mary and Tib are whisked away into the sky on a broomstick.
Eventually crashing into Endor college (no relation to the Forest Moon in Return of the Jedi, Star Wars fans), a training camp for would-be witches and magic users, Mary (voiced by Ruby Barnhill) is immediately enrolled as a student on the strength of her impressive powers. Unbeknowst to headmistress Madam Mumblechook (voiced by Kate Winslet) and head scientist/mage Doctor Dee (voiced by Jim Broadbent), all of Mary’s magic comes directly from the fly-by-night flowers. With some quick thinking and a little deception, she manages to keep the unexpected untruth going for an entire day, impressing the college with not only her magic skills, but also her red hair, which is a sign of tremendous power. However, when the untruths begin to mount up, Mary indirectly puts her new friend Peter in danger. She begins to discover exactly what kind of experiments Doctor Dee is undertaking, and just why he and Madam Mumblechook are so obsessed with the so-called witch’s flower.
The first movie from Studio Ponoc, this new anime is directed by Hirmoasa Yonebayashi, an acclaimed graduate of the famous Studio Ghibli. Known for When Marnie Was There and Arriety. Released in both the original Japanese with English subtitles and a dubbed version featuring well-known actors, the film creates a spellbinding atmosphere of classic wonder with a lively script that zips along at a fast pace. While not veering off so far into the fantasy (there is only one non-human with a speaking part, the fox or dog-like Flanagan, the caretaker of the College’s broomstable) of Spirited Away style-surrealism, the world is exceptionally well-drawn and creates an energetic and transporting fairy tale.
Based on Mary Stewart’s children’s novel The Little Broomstick, the film takes rural England as its setting and conjures up the country landscape vividly. Drawing comparisons with Ghibli favourite Kiki’s Delivery Service as well as the Harry Potterseries of books and films, Mary and The Witch’s Flower can hold its head above the magic lava with the best of stories about young witches. With a powerful message of trusting animals and the natural world above and beyond science and technology – sometimes referred to as ‘magic’ – this is a delightful film that kids – and adults – of all ages will enjoy and remember fondly.