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.
Review of Black Orpheus over at Flickering Myth and below…
Featuring an energetic burst of colour, vibrancy, music and dancing, Marcel Camus’ exhilarating take on the Ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice is a pure joy to experience. Winner of the 1959 Academy Award for best foreign language feature as well as the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Black Orpheus (Orfeo Negro) was a huge success and created a surge in popularity for the Brazilian music style the Bossa nova. The film is filled with beautifully choreographed dance pieces and the whole picture is one of festivity and party. This enchanting energy translates wonderfully well to Blu-ray, with Criterion issuing a restored and enhanced release completely worthy of this dream of a film.
Focusing on the favelas of Rio and the upcoming famous carnaval, the film tells the story of Orfeo (Bruno Mello), a local bus driver and Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn) who arrives in Rio on the run from a man who is pursuing her. Orfeo, also an accomplished singer/poet and something of a ladies man, falls for Eurydice immediately and vows to protect her. In the process, he risks the anger of his quick tempered fiancee Mira (Lourdes de Oliveira), a woman easily provoked and thankfully for Orfeo, also easily distracted. An even greater risk to the potential happiness of the two new lovebirds is the individual stalking Eurydice, portrayed in the film literally as Death himself. Any one who knows the original myth – and countless tragic love stories the world over – can be pretty sure this isn’t going to end too well.
But even with this figure of Death hanging around though, there is nothing remotely bleak about the picture. It is firmly optimistic, as even with the inevitability of death, life, and the dance always continues. Life affirming is a phrase seemingly created for such a film as this. Eminently beautiful and profound.
Criterion have put together a whole host of features for this release including:
New restored high definition digital transfer.
Optional English dubbed soundtrack
Archival interviews with Marcel Camus and Marpessa Dawn
New interviews with Brazilian cinema scholar Robert Stam, Jazz historian Gary Giddins and Brazilian author Ruy Castro
Looking for Black Orpheus documentary about the film’s cultural roots in Brazil and its continued relevance today.
Train to Busan is over at Flickering Myth and below…
Long distance train journeys are pretty frustrating at the best of times. Crap wi-fi coverage, uncomfortable seats if you can find one, undrinkable coffee; the list goes on and on. Let’s face it, adding a horde of marauding zombies could almost be seen as something of a relief from the unremitting tedium of staying awake for the last stretch…
Thankfully, Sang-ho Yeon’s Train to Busan shares none of the failings of regular cross country rail services. Serving up a classic horror concoction of non-stop action alongside socio-political allegory, the film manages to inject some fresh new life into a horror sub-genre that has recently become over-exposed and under-developed. This is a film that builds on its straightforward concept to incorporate smart humour, jump scares and apocalyptic horror. Unlike say, 2013’s Korean sci-fi train epic Snowpiercer, it is all done without any pretension to art-house sensibilities and keeps a clear head for the serious business of zombie mayhem. However, far from being just another throwaway infected flick, the film gradually draws its audience in to feeling genuine sympathy for (most) of the passengers on board and succeeds in crafting a high-octane adventure with something to say beyond the screaming.
Morbidly funny to begin with and gradually becoming more profound as it moves on, the film focuses on the passengers of the high-speed bullet train from Seoul to Busan as they attempt to stay alive. Among those on the train are the recently divorced Seok-woo (Yoo Gong) and his daughter Soo-an (Soo-an Kim) who are desperate to reach Busan to see her mother. These two are joined by a small group of uninfected including the impressive Ma Dong-seok as a likable but quick-tempered man devoted to protecting his pregnant wife.
As the struggle for survival goes on, this group, also including a pair of young lovers and two elderly sisters, becomes split from another collection of characters who are also battling the infected in a different part of the train. This other group counts a ruthless unscrupulous businessman at its head, and the fight for moral judgments and doing what’s right on a human level is at the film’s heart.
It is really the young father’s internal quest to protect his daughter while struggling with his own problems that brings the film onto another level of enjoyment. A raw emotional underbelly becomes ever more exposed, until the audience experiences a heartfelt message to trust and love. It’s a difficult pitch to get right and one that could have stumbled if dealt with in a more po-faced manner, but happily Sang-ho Yeon gets it just right. Mixing up impressions from movies as diverse as The Raid, 28 Days Later and Night of the Living Dead, this is a beautifully crafted mix of horror and sociological morality play. All in all though, it is pure entertainment with a side-order of allegory. Go for the scares and stay for the ideas.
My review of the incredible Remainder by Omer Fast is over at Flickering Myth and below…
1. The faculty by which the mind stores and remembers information.
2. Something remembered from the past.
3. A potentially faltering and problematic thing with the capacity to occlude and confuse.
In Remainder, the feature film debut from Omer Fast, an intricately woven web of ideas and codes is constructed, both on-screen and off. The viewer is lured into a perplexing thriller that brings philosophical vision into a detailed run through of noir-ish themes and psychological horror plays. Adapted from Tom McCarthy’s cult novel, the movie shares the disturbing nature of films as diverse as Memento, Mulholland Drive, Pi and Spellbound.
Fast is an acclaimed visual artist well versed in the mind’s potential for playing tricks on an individual. Much of his work has focused on the subjective nature of reality, with video pieces asking questions of conventional storytelling and the erratic blurring of appearances. A picture never lies, we once learned. Fast has always been intrigued by showing how they frequently do, and providing insight into exactly how this can be.
In Remainder he uses a random event to explore how identity and reality is created. When an unnamed man (Tom Sturridge, Far From the Madding Crowd) is hit on the head by a falling object he awakens from a coma to find his memory erased and a compensation package for £8.5m. His lawyer instructs him that the money is his on the condition that he says nothing about the accident. This isn’t a problem; he recalls nothing. The only thing he can remember are tiny snapshots of images which he obsessively reconstructs into physical form, hoping to unlock further clues about his past life. As he delves deeper into the mystery surrounding him, he becomes embroiled in intrigue, suspense and immediate danger.
Remainder is a fascinating film, full of the real personal horror of losing one’s footing in the reality of life. Fundamentally it is concerned with trauma, an area that Sturridge brings out wonderfully well in his portrayal of the unknown protagonist. He manages to play the lead as a victim who is facing a profound internal struggle – while also imbuing him with a grim determination. There’s a strange sense of optimism in this, that the human spirit is so proud it will fight against debilitating events, looking for understanding and meaning.
The protagonist – an anti-hero really – is certainly not there to invite sympathy. At times he comes across as a rich kid spending his new found wealth on frivolous and speculative activities. There is method in his memory problems, though as he expends more and more effort – and cash – on bringing his memories back to life. In the reconstruction of various homes and property, Fast appears to be making a side comment on the gentrification of urban city areas (the film is based in London but the filming locations are as hared with the German capital Berlin).
Fast is also clearly concerned with the obsessions of film. There is more than a sense of Kubrick about Sturridge’s character; he tries to rebuild his memories with a huge team of assistants deliberating on exactly how to get the right sound, precise smells and accurate colour to the documenting of internal pictures. As well as his striking central performance, there is fine support from Cush Jumbo (The Good Wife), Ed Speleers (Downton Abbey) and Arsher Ali (Four Lions).
A remarkable movie, Remainder is a spectacular and mind-mangling trip.
Remainder is in UK Cinemas and on demand from June 24th.
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.
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.
The beautiful Our Little Sister is reviewed over at Flickering Myth and below.
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.
My Darling Clementine Blu-ray Review at Flickering Myth and below…
John Ford’s classic Western gets a prestigious release on Blu-ray containing a stagecoach load of extras and features uncovering the legend of Ford and his personal vision of the Wild West.
My Darling Clementine is a perfect example of Ford’s brand of pure Western, containing elements of gun-toting action, wry humour and episodic tragedy. An overriding bleakness informs the film, which at its heart is an examination of the relationship between the Marshall of Tombstone, Wyatt Earp (a definitive role for Henry Fonda) and the morally ambiguous, tuberculosis suffering Doc Holliday (Victor Mature).
Focusing on the events that inspire the famous battle, the film takes us on the route taken by the Earp brothers as they lead a herd of cattle to California. Tiring from the heat, and with the animals in dire need of food and rest, they hear about the nearby town of Tombstone. Deciding to take a look, the older brothers leave youngest James with the cattle, while they check out the opportunities.
Wyatt soon realises what kind of a town Tombstone is – if the name itself wasn’t enough of a hint – when a drunk wild-man starts randomly shooting at locals. Wyatt takes him on and easily defeats him. Returning to the cattle, he and his brothers find James dead, and the animals gone.
Wyatt agrees to become Marshall to uncover exactly who murdered his brother and in order extract revenge. Along the way he meets Doc Holliday, Clementine Carver (Cathy Downs) and local saloon entertainer Chihuahua (Linda Darnell). The grim vagabond band of the Clanton gang are also an integral part of the ensemble.
Ford’s film was partly based on a fictionalised biography of Wyatt Earp named Frontier Marshall, which is also the name of a 1939 film included in this deluxe edition.
The stirring movie is an undisputed classic and a touchstone both in Ford’s career and in American cinema in general. A terrific starting point for anyone looking for an education in American folklore and mythology, My Darling Clementine stands alongside Stagecoach and The Searchers as one of the directors best-loved movies.
My review of Cemetery Without Crosses is over at Flickering Myth now. . .
Cemetery Without Crosses (Une corde, une Colt), 1969.
Directed by Robert Hossein.
Starring Robert Hossein, Michèle Mercier, Guido Lollobrigida, Daniele Vargas, Serge Marquand, Pierre Hatet, Phillipe Baronnet, Pierre Collet, Michele Lemoine and Anne-Marie Balin.
This bleak homage to Sergio Leone and the cult of the spaghetti-western is a stylish and atmospheric take on the genre. Bringing a philosophical depth to proceedings, the French/Italian/Spanish production provides enough intriguing ambiguities for a worthy slice of realism. Essentially amoral, it sets out to present the universal truth that people of all kinds are capable of both good and bad.
The stirring central theme (with vocals by Scott Walker) is probably the most typically Western thing about the movie. With long takes of no dialogue, and a stripped down narrative and languid pace punctuated by extreme violence, the film holds up well to modern audiences used to existential trips through the desert.
Focusing on Maria’s (Michèle Mercier) quest for revenge on the family of ranchers that strung up her husband, the world presented is extremely dark indeed. She seeks out gun slinger and friend Manuel (Robert Hossein) to help her make the wrongdoers pay. The fact that the late husband stole from the Rogers family further complicates matters; in their minds they were simply administering traditional wild west justice. In any case, Manuel saves one of their family from being murdered in a bar, and joins up with them after they bribe him out of gaol.
The central celebratory dinner when Manuel has been officially hired by the Rogers gang as a new team leader is the stand out scene. The long take contains no dialogue and presents the banqueting table of Rogers family members staring at their recruit in a paranoid melting-pot of evil eyes and hard-edged glares. When the surprise of a jack in the mustard jar pops out, the nervous laughter contrasted with Manuel’s deadly set features set the tone for the rest of the story. From then on, you can see that his mind is set on complete destruction.
Manuel bides his time waiting for the right moment to strike. This strike, starts off by setting free the ranchers’s horses and culminates in the kidnap of their daughter and sister (Anne-Marie Balin). Manuel then goes well beyond anti-hero territory as he sits by while the hanged man’s two brothers administer their own form of barbaric revenge on her.
At the heart of Cemetery Without Crosses is a desire to evoke a pitch black response to life at the limits. There are no goodies or baddies in this, just mystery and the grim realisation that most character’s fates have probably already been mapped long ago. The philosophical nature of the work lends it an authoritative air, and offers a rewarding – if uncomfortable – watch.
The Blu-Ray includes: Remembering Sergio – exclusive new interview with star and director Robert Hossein
Archive French television news report on the film’s making, containing interviews with Hossein, and actors Michèle Mercier and Serge Marquand
Archive interview with Hossein
Original theatrical trailer
My review of Rabid Dogs (Cani Arrabbiati) is over at Flickering Myth…