Archive for August, 2013

Image

A young woman who works translating Chinese films into her native Italian is offered a great deal of money for an unexplained job. Blindfolded and taken deep into the bowels of a nondescript building in Rome, she is tasked with being the go-between in an interrogation between the fierce Dr Curti and the mysterious Chinese speaking Mr Wang.

A science fiction thriller, “The Arrival of Wang” (L’arrivo di Wang) has an interesting premise which it is probably best not to describe in too much detail. The plot is simple and effective, but also somewhat contrived with numerous glaring plot holes that are hard to overlook.

Dealing with themes of trust, the film seems to ask questions about what right and wrong might be in certain extreme circumstances. As with much of the best science-fiction “The Arrival of Wang” uses it’s fantastical concept to address real world issues, although many are bound to be unhappy about the conclusions it draws and any pretence of deeper thought is discarded well before the end.

For the majority of the film the spotlight is squarely on the two leads and they carry the weight fantastically. as Curti, Enzo Fantastichini is excellent, at once the obvious antagonist but also a man who is driven by a desire to do what he believes is right. Francesca Cuttica is solid and sympathetic as Gaia, the trusting translator, although her performance is at times overly melodramatic.

A lot of the film takes place in one room and these interrogation scenes are where the film really shines, cranking up the tension and playing with your sympathies. Is Wang what he claims to be, or is Curti right to be suspicious about his motives? These sections recall an episode of the classic “Twilight Zone”; a moral conundrum playing out on a single set, driven by performance and script. Although the film is never great to look at, these scenes are solidly directed, with a tight focus on the conflict between the leads.

However, when we leave those confines the film deteriorates badly and the final third sacrifices what had made the film interesting up until that point with a more conventional narrative turn which really doesn’t work, feeling both needless and contrived. The look of the film suffers too as the camera wanders, and some scenes wouldn’t look out of place in a student film, being both carelessly conceived and poorly executed.

As this was clearly made on a small budget it is possible to be quite forgiving of the low quality special effects for much of the film’s runtime, as the premise and performances are convincing enough to make up for the slightly poor execution. But some late moments are almost completely ruined by laughable CGI, leaving you to wonder if the the makers wouldn’t have been better served leaving more to the imagination.

Although it has it’s flaws, “The Arrival of Wang” does many things well. The central conflict is an interesting one and the mystery at the heart of the film is largely well executed. However, the film essentially abandons these elements late on, in favour of a lazily staged final reel that leaves a distinctly bitter taste.

Advertisements

The-Last-Will-and-Testament-of-Rosalind-Leigh-2012-Movie-5

Leon (Aaron Poole) inherits his late mother’s house and moves in, finding it filled with a litany of bizarre religious iconography and antiques. As day turns into night he is unsettled by increasingly bizarre events that force him to confront the demons of his childhood.

A psychological ghost story, “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh” takes place in one location over the course of a single night, mainly focussing on one lone character. This creates a tight, claustrophobic feel, which is added to by the creepy statues and icons that oppressively clutter every shot.

Director Rodrigo Gudino unashamedly wears his influences on his sleeve. Several shots recall Kubrick in their framing, although the chief touchstone appears to be the work of Dario Argento. the camera here, like Argento’s, swoops and glides through scenes in long takes, often lingering on seemingly inconsequential objects. One recurring shot in particular strongly recalls a scene from “Suspiria”, as yellow eyes gaze ominously out of blackness. Almost every shot has been thoughtfully composed and at times the camera acts as another character in what is essentially a one-hander.

This is a film that chiefly relies on building tension rather than cheap scares or gore, which is probably a good thing as the few instances of CGI are laughable, with one moment late in the film coming across as silly rather than scary due the ineptitude of the effects work.

There is very little dialogue in the film, with a lot of the tonal heavy-lifting being done by sound effects and atmospheric music. although these are undoubtedly effective, they are also incredibly derivative and at times border on horror movie cliche.

Despite being suitably creepy for the majority of it’s runtime, the film begins to lose it’s way toward the end. Along with the introduction of bad CGI, the final showdown lacks punch, being incredibly rushed and underwhelming. The film’s grand reveal also feels like an astonishing cop-out, seemingly cheating you out of any emotional investment you may have made.

Those in the mood for a creepy ghost story will likely find a lot to enjoy here, although some may be put off by the slow pace. “The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh” is largely accomplished, visually impressive and well made. Sadly, it’s initial idea is better suited to a short story rather than a full-length feature and although there is a lot of promise here, it isn’t fully delivered upon.

autopsy (1973)

Posted: August 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
images

A heatwave leads to a spate of suicides and unusual behaviour across Rome. Working in the morgue, a young pathologist begins to feel the strain while being drawn into the investigation of an apparent suicide that may well be a murder.

“Autopsy” (also known as “Macchie Solari” or “Sunspots”) initially attempts to disguise the fact that it is a standard whodunnit by striving to seem disjointed and dreamlike before slowly unveiling it’s true colours. The film aims to project the effects of the heatwave onto the audience, trying to confuse and discomfort the viewer from the outset, opening with a montage of suicides and a bizarre scene as the female lead suffers vivid hallucinations in the morgue. Every character oscillates between serenity and mania almost constantly, and numerous sudden explosions of violence are completely forgotten by everyone involved by the the next scene. While the intent may have been to unhinge the viewer, the effect is that the characters seem like placeholders with no actual personality, just there to act a certain way in order to steer the film forward.

The plot is likewise jumbled, presented piecemeal like a jigsaw that hasn’t been put together yet. the main problem with this is that the film doesn’t really make any sense. It seems that everyone is under suspicion at one point or another, often for little reason other than they are a character in this film and if they aren’t a suspect there is no reason for them to be there. The final reel exposition makes everything clearer but stretches credulity and is reliant on a lot of story suddenly being told, primarily as dialogue, in a short space of time.

Those expecting the dazzling cinematography and inventive kills that Italian Giallo cinema is remembered for will likely be disappointed. In their place there are a lot of zooms, an absolutely ridiculous amount, in fact. It is as if the director had been given a zoom lens for christmas and couldn’t stop playing with his new toy. If there were a drinking game where you had a vodka shot every time there was a zoom in or out you would be passed out on the floor by the half hour mark.

There are some reasonably effective scenes, mostly those that try to build tension and make the best use of the score by Ennio Morricone but these are not only rare but also generally over too quickly. The editing is also incredibly choppy, which, although probably a stylistic decision, feels incredibly amateurish and occasionally makes the film hard to follow.

This is also quite possibly the most astonishingly misogynistic film ever committed to celluloid. The standard male seduction technique is basically attempted rape, while a woman attempting to seduce a man does so by lying prone and adopting an attitude of complete submission. Morgue workers even cop a quick feel of any pretty corpses that come their way. Because, well, dead girls have boobies too. The leering attitude extends to the director, who never misses a chance to stick his camera up a skirt, down a blouse or, failing that, just getting a female cast member naked for no real reason. Even familial relationships are sexualised, with one kiss between a father and a daughter lingering uncomfortably.

Even more so than most trash cinema, it feels like little care went into the making of this film. It would be easy to say it has aged badly but the truth is that there was never anything decent here in the first place. It isn’t thrilling or frightening, the plot isn’t especially interesting, and even if you haven’t worked out “whodunnit” the end of the first reel, it’s unlikely you’ll care.

anguish (1987)

Posted: August 15, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
Image

Using hypnosis and a psychic bond a domineering mother controls her son as he kills strangers in order to take their eyes…

Initially “Anguish” (or “Angustia”) feels like an over-the-top eighties horror film. Professional oddballs Zelda Rubenstein and Michael Lerner ham it up as the mother and son who appear to be the film’s main characters, their performances wonderfully creepy caricatures.

All of the tics and tropes you would expect of the genre are also present and correct. The colours are bold, the direction stylishly unsubtle and there are buckets of gore. The film opens with a nod to William Castle style hype, a warning that you will be subjected to hypnosis and subliminal images, clearly designed to make you even more ill at ease when these bold and surreal sequences occur.

At a certain point there is an audacious pull back and reveal, and the over the top nature of what has happened so far begins to make sense.

“Anguish” is a meditation on the effect horror films can have on the minds of the already traumatised, hypnotism merely a metaphor for the way certain imagery and themes can seep into a damaged subconscious. The film changes gears constantly, oscillating between cheesy bloodshed and cold, naturalistic brutality until the two bleed into each other in a crescendo of violence, leaving you questioning what is reality and fantasy.

This is an incredibly clever film, not just in it’s intent but in it’s execution. Director Bigas Luna uses colours and lighting brilliantly, creating a spot-on pastiche of eighties horror and then stripping it bare to show you that nowhere is safe, before subtly blending the two as the film reaches it’s climax.

The message of the film certainly stands up in the present day, perhaps even moreso than it did at the time. However, as with most bold experiments, it doesn’t succeed at everything it does. Certain aspects are breathtakingly brash and surreal, while others are truly tense and shocking, but at times the film seems to tread water, waiting for the different elements to catch up with each other. The film also suffers from trying to realise it’s grand ideas on such a small budget, and the constituent parts don’t always function quite as well on their own as you would hope.

Although it is in some ways unsatisfying as a horror, “Anguish” is an imaginative and unsettling film with something to say about the genre. It has become so easy to say “It’s just a movie” but here the question seems to be “What if it isn’t?”.

zombeak (2006)

Posted: August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,
Image

A ragtag group of satanists kidnap a waitress and attempt to bring about the birth of the antichrist. A rescue attempt disrupts their ritual and the soul of Satan ends up trapped in the body of a chicken, leaving them all fighting for their lives.

“Zombeak” is a micro-budget horror film, and it shows. It does the right thing in never taking itself seriously and not just because it is about a possessed chicken. The effects are shoddy, the acting appalling and the locations limited. Even the foley work is slightly off.

Despite this, the makers have tried hard to create an amusing piece of trashy cinema. There is real pleasure to be gained from some of the ridiculous one-liners (“Little bro, what have I told you about associating with zombies?”, “Finger licking good-bye!”) and the occasional reasonably effective jump-scare. Some shots make good use of lighting and are well framed, but many are flat and the film mostly has a dull look. There are also times where the frame is cropped during long takes in an attempt to give the impression that the scene was shot from multiple angles, and although it is laudable that an effort was made to pick up the pacing, it just looks incredibly amateurish.

Where the film really falls down, like so many low-budget flicks, is that none of the characters are even remotely likeable. The players here are so genuinely reprehensible and one-dimensional that you genuinely couldn’t care less if any or all of them die.

“Zombeak” is a bizarre little curio. The premise is suitably wacky and there are some good one liners, but the pace drags despite it’s short run-time and even real lovers of trash cinema will find it incredibly hard to look past the multitude of flaws. The film only aspires to be on the same level as the most mediocre of Lloyd Kaufman’s Troma output, but still falls short.

tenebre (1982)

Posted: August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,
Image

 

Novelist Peter Neal touches down in rome and walks straight into the twisted plans of a murderer obsessed with his work. Warned off by the local police he begins his own investigation, which leads him to a darkness he thought he had left behind long ago…

Dario Argento is a director who polarises opinion. His attention is almost entirely focussed on creating distinctive visuals, often neglecting pacing, the performances of his cast members and (at times) sensical plots. His films are an expression of exactly how he was feeling at a specific moment in time, for better or worse. It is rare that a film maker leaves so much of his true, undisguised self on screen and that perhaps explains why some are so drawn to his work, while others revile what he does.

Thematically “Tenebre” seems to be a riposte to those who criticise Argento’s films. It contains characters who openly ape the positions of his staunchest critics, pulling him up on his misogyny and bloodlust. As if to prove his doubters completely correct these characters are presented as the basest caricatures; feminists are just lesbians and those who psychoanalyse his work are closeted homosexuals looking for an outlet onto which they can project their own neuroses. Not content with proving them right, he openly says they are right; what you create is a reflection of who you are and he is a sick man, openly encouraging the sickness in others.

He plays games with the audience, daring them to judge him. One female character, abused and abusing, is played by a transexual, explicitly asking critics if the issue they have is with the reality or the image. Alongside this, possibly the director’s most unapologetically misogynist scene, a brutal chase involving a rottweiler that ends with a mini-skirted girl stumbling into the hands of the killer.

There is no hiding place for Argento in this film and he knows it.  Stepping out of the shadows he inhabited in his earlier works, here his trademark murder set-pieces are brightly lit and explicit,  a bold white canvas for the vivid red sprayed across the screen.

In terms of his whodunnit Giallo plots, this is his most bold and complex. There are references to Christie and Conan Doyle, as if he is daring you to solve the mystery before the characters do. Even if you do manage to untangle the web being spun, the skill at work is so deft that the final reveal still maintains it’s power, with one shot being among the most “borrowed” in cinema history.

The soundtrack by (most of) Goblin is arresting, but not among the best they have done for an argento film. In striving for a futuristic feel they have dated the sound more than the contemporaneous music they provided for some of his other works. Despite that, it still provides a haunting and distinctive backdrop for Argento’s trademark audacious visuals.

While maybe not the most ideal entry point into the dark mind of Dario Argento, “Tenebre” remains one of his best films. It is always engrossing, with an extravagant baroque beauty that is unique to the director and his work.

sharknado (2013)

Posted: August 8, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Image

Straight-to-DVD kings The Asylum have made a livelihood out of flying just under the radar. Their main forte is the “mockbuster”, films designed to fool short-sighted grandparents into thinking they have picked up a bargain present for the young ‘uns, when they have really been conned into buying a cheap knockoff of a summer tentpole. They have spent the last decade churning out copyright dodging titles like “Transmorphers”, “The Terminators”, “Almighty Thor”, “Atlantic Rim” and “Titanic 2”. “Sharknado” isn’t the first original film they have released but it definitely represents a departure for the studio.

Freak weather conditions that may be to do with global warming, or possibly the government, lead to a cluster of tornadoes bristling with sharks descending on the coastline of california. These are no ordinary sharks either, being incredibly blood-thirsty and seemingly able to swim comfortably in mere inches of water; even those exactly 6.6 miles from the coast aren’t safe.

It is safe to say that this is a movie that does not take itself seriously, seeming more like an extended internet skit than an actual film. Clearly, the point was to create as cheesy and over the top an experience as possible, and it does succeed in it’s aims. It becomes apparent very early on that plot, logic and scientific accuracy are irrelevances.

The casting is suitably obscure and the majority play this high camp dead straight. The most recognisable of the motley crew of has-beens & never-weres include someone who used to be in Beverly Hills 90210, a guy who was once in Baywatch, the dad from Home Alone and Tara Reid.

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, including one character knocking out a shark by braining it with a barstool and quite a lot of fun towards the end with a chainsaw. The CGI is ludicrously amateurish with the make-up effects not much better; although these deficiencies add to the film’s unique charm and provide a certain enjoyment in their own right. Only when the pace lets up do you realise how truly inept the film-making is, with the few slower moments feeling incredibly tortuous.

Whereas previously you sensed that The Asylum had hoped to be taken at least a little bit seriously, they have clearly decided to go with the tide and accept that the best they can hope to be is a 21st century Troma-lite. By embracing their position they have done more for their brand identity than any of their feeble attempts to cash in on the success of others. A studio that was once nothing more than a cineast’s punchline can now look forward to a rich future of viral success and frat house screening marathons where people whoop along “ironically”.

“Sharknado” is a fun fluff piece, although true aficionados of exploitation cinema may feel that it doesn’t go far enough with it’s trashiness. It is enjoyable precisely because it is so laughable, and although this was the intention, you sense that the makers are only half in on the joke.

survive style 5+ (2004)

Posted: August 7, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags:

Image

A man buries his dead wife and returns home to find her sitting at the dining table. A family attend a live hypnotism show and an unfortunate event leaves one of them thinking they are a bird. A woman makes commercials that no-one, but her, thinks are funny. A trio of thieves go about their lives while two of them share a love that dare not speak it’s name. An overseas hitman and his translator arrive in town, leaving destruction, and philosophical questions, in their wake.

“Survive Style 5+” skilfully weaves these disparate plot-lines into a kinetic, multi-coloured tapestry incorporating just about every genre imaginable. This is a riotous celebration of a film, an astonishing melting pot of the weird and the wonderful. Primarily this is a comedy, but it has elements of horror, action film, family drama, love story & even christmas movie, tossed into a cauldron and pulped to create an intoxicating witches brew of styles.

This may be a wild and crazy ride but that just makes it more effective when it settles down into moments of true soul searching. There are themes of loss, regret, acceptance and a strange meditation on the role of fate as personified by Vinnie Jones; seemingly deep and profound but actually just incomprehensible, random and life altering.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with everyone seeming to understand the exact tone needed for each of the diverse range of characters. Tadanobu Asano, ostensibly the lead, brings a real stoic charm to a part that could have been unsympathetic in lesser hands. The real standout is Ittoku Kishibe, taking a silly, almost throwaway, role that could easily have fallen flat and attacking it full tilt, leading to some of the films funniest scenes as well as some of the most touching.

Director Gen Sekiguchi cut his teeth working on adverts, and it shows, as he is able to perfectly ape every stylistic touchstone the film requires. Oddly, it is the segment of the film probably most personal to him and writer Taku Tada that comes the closest to falling flat, with the ad director’s storyline being the weakest.

Some may find the idea of a big wacky Japanese comedy rollercoaster a bit off-putting, but this is well worth a watch. “Survive Style 5+” is a delirious acid trip with real heart, a joyous affirmation of life and all it’s vagaries that is non-stop fun for the entirety of it’s, all too brief, 120 minute run-time.

hausu (1977)

Posted: August 6, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags: ,

Image

A young girl, feeling betrayed by her father taking a new wife, arranges a holiday trip to stay with her widowed aunt and takes 6 of her friends along with her. Once there, strange events begin to occur and, one by one, the girls end up being picked off in inventive ways.

The plot clearly belongs to the horror genre, but “Hausu” (or “house”) makes little attempt at frightening you, instead striving to be as weird and hallucinatory an experience as it can possibly be.

This is essentially a coming of age story, seeming to have a lot in common with Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories, including some fairly obvious symbolism. However, where Carroll had a relatively sweet image of the transition from girl to woman, learning the rules of society and challenging them; “Hausu” is more about how terrible events strip away youthful innocence and childhood joy leaving the bitter, bruised adult behind.

Like Carroll’s Alice works, this film has a lot of strange & bold imagery, albeit coloured more by tropes from Japanese ghost stories rather than the world of nursery rhymes and childhood games.

Painted from a palette of vivid primary colours, this is a film that constantly reminds you that you are watching a film. There are ludicrously colourful matte backdrops, almost every type of screenwipe you can imagine, and special effects that at times look like they have literally been drawn onto the film stock in crayon. Flashbacks and cutaways are stylised to look like extracts from another film, as if you are watching the dream of an introverted child who only understands life through the prism of cinema.

The bizarre tone of the film is heightened by the weirdly hyperactive editing and wacky comedy segments, such as a man falling seated into a bucket and proceeding to move around the street avoiding cars in stop-motion. There is even a train journey that recalls the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine”. The soundtrack is equally as strange and incongruous, veering from mild funk to spooky variations on nursery rhymes to cheerful soft rock songs that wouldn’t have been out of place in “Monkey Magic”.

It is easy to say a film like this feels dated, but it is hard to imagine this feeling any less bizarre when it first came out, such is the strange collage of styles. These were, for better or worse, choices that were made when producing the film, and they do give the film a unique identity, somewhere between horror and low budget children’s television.

“Hausu” is definitely a one off. It is difficult to say whether it is good or bad, but it is certainly an experience. If Sid and Marty Krofft had moved to Japan in the mid-seventies and made a horror film, it would have looked something like this.

macgruber (2010)

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized
Tags:
Image
“Macgruber” is a rare starring vehicle for SNL alumni Will Forte, an actor who seems destined to join Tom Lennon as “that guy from that thing” rather than a being a star in his own right. This is essentially a spoof of “Macguyver”, Richard Dean Anderson’s bafflingly iconic 80′s tv character and that is just about all you need to know about the plot.

What we have here is an unabashed scattergun spoof, similar in tone to the myriad of ZAZ knock-offs from the late 80s/early 90s, like “Repossessed” or “Spy hard”. To give you an indication of the level we’re at, one of the chief running jokes is that the main antagonist’s name sounds like a naughty word for lady parts. Yup. They went there.

There are some early highlights, including a surprisingly good cameo from WWE wrestler Chris Jericho, who really deserves more screen roles based on his few scenes here.

As the film rolls on it becomes somewhat tiresome, with increasingly long stretches going by between the laughs, and the best jokes are generally when the film gives up any pretence of taste and aims incredibly low. Some of the running gags miss the mark significantly, notably the celery set piece and macgruber’s obsession with a car whose driver has wronged him.

at times “Macgruber” is incredibly funny, but given the talent involved you would have hoped for more. Overall this is a fun flick that, appropriately for a film so reliant on dick jokes, shoots it’s load early on.