Saturday 30 December 2017

Top 10 of 2017

The Twin Peaks The Return is a film/isn't a film furore, the Netflix Cannes drama, the Oscars mixed envelopes... 2017 has been anything but dull in the world of cinema. Forget the predictable "Cinema is dead" think pieces, cinema is alive and kicking, and it has been a particularly interesting year, where we revisited universes we never thought we would see again (Twin Peaks, Blade Runner), where a few established talents arguably made their best films, where kween Laura Dern slayed, and where a runaway indie film was in every conversation. We are giving you our favourite films of 2017:

The Anti-Star Wars of The Last Jedi

Posted by Andy Zachariason

SPOILERS AHEAD! Early on in Rian Johnson's Star Wars: The Last Jedi, we finally meet the reclusive and legendary, Luke Skywalker. Rey hands him his lightsaber and Johnson holds for a moment as we lean in to see how our hero will react. Luke comically tosses the lightsaber over his head down a cliff, and walks away. Star Wars: The Last Jedi is deconstructionist Star Wars; a film that rejects its past and the very idea of being a Star Wars film until it can find its way through the wreckage and forge a new future. The Force Awakens was an album of greatest hits that was about stumbling into the footprints of myth and then turning around only to realize you've become that exact myth. Johnson's The Last Jedi follows this thread of myths and legends in thematically exciting manner that breaks down the structures of Star Wars (the Jedi, the Sith, the Resistance, the First Order) and playfully subverts the moments and iconographies that make up this saga.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

You Should See This: The Final Girls (2015)

A quick note before we begin. You’ve probably noticed that this feature is no longer going under its original name, Why Haven’t You Seen…? This is because a reader who is also a friend on Twitter pointed something out to me about that title. He said that it was making an assumption and that “I love this and think you might too” is a better message than “catch up”. He was correct. 

To be clear, WHYS was always supposed to be a series enthusing about things that I suspected readers might not have seen yet, but I never wanted that to come across as me scolding you. If it ever has I apologise. That’s why I’ve changed the title of the series; I want to invite you to movies, not tell you off for not having seen them yet. 

So, without further ado… You Should See This

The Final Girls (2015)
What’s It All About?
A parody of and commentary on 80’s slasher films, The Final Girls sees Max (Taissa Farmiga) and her friends sucked into Camp Bloodbath, a cult slasher film that Max’s late mother (Malin Akerman) starred in in 1986. Inside the movie they must survive being pursued by Billy Murphy while Max tries to rescue Nancy, her mother’s character.

Tuesday 5 December 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Three Wishes For Cinderella (1973)

What’s It All About?
The story is, but for a few details, the Cinderella story that we’re familiar with. Cinderella (here called Popelka and played by Libuse Safránková, who was also in Karel Kachyna’s The Little Mermaid, which I reviewed for this column a few months back) remains an orphaned girl, treated as a slave by her stepmother (Carola Braunbock) and stepsister (Daniela Hlavácová). There is still a royal ball, still a slipper that must fit the girl the Prince (Pavel Trávnícek) is going to marry but this version has no fairy Godmother, no Pumpkin coach and no ticking clock to midnight. Instead, Popelka wishes on magical hazelnuts and her wishes manifest as new clothes for each occasion. It is, essentially, a version with much of the Disneyfication stripped out.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Assassination (2015)

What’s It All About?
There’s a LOT of plot here, but essentially Assassination is a fact based action drama full of twists about the Korean resistance to Japanese occupation. A team of resistance fighters (Gianna Jun, Cho Jin-Woong and Choi Duk-Moon) is sent to assassinate a high ranking Japanese general and a Korean aristocrat who has thrown his lot in with the occupying forces. What the team don’t know is that their handler Yeom Seok-jin (Lee Jung-jae) is also a Japanese spy and has sent a hired gun named Hawaii Pistol (Ha Jung-woo) and his partner (Oh Dal-su) after them.

Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Like so many foreign language films, Assassination has, at least thus far, entirely missed out on a UK release (despite the fact it seems an ideal fit for several distributors). This is just another case of, unless you’re already a fan of the cast and on the lookout for their next project, a movie that can all too easily slip through the cracks.

Why Should You See It?
As I’ve mentioned before, I often find myself despairing the state of action cinema or rather of mainstream US and other English language action cinema. Action filmmaking is a very particular skill and, for my money, there aren’t many people working who have mastered it. Assassination shows that Choi Dong-hoon has.

Choi takes his time setting the pieces here, but he weaves the complex web of double and triple crossings through a series of action setpieces that begin with a high energy prologue, set in 1911, in which Yeom Seok-jin attempts to assassinate the politician who, 22 years later, he’ll be covertly protecting. As well as being an exceptional sequence that establishes the ruthlessness of the collaborator Kim Goo (Kim Hong-fa) and the deadly conviction and will to survive of Yeom Seok-jin, it demonstrates that Choi has a firm grip on the geography and the pacing of his action. You’re confident, minutes in, that if you’re ever lost in an action sequence in this film it will be because Choi wants you to be disoriented for a moment, not because his shooting or cutting are shoddy.

The cast are excellent all round. My memory of Gianna Jun (or Jun Ji-hyun) is as the lead in the rather grating, but very well liked, My Sassy Girl. She buries that memory here, with a no nonsense turn as resistance sniper An Ok-yun. Ok-yun is designated as the leader of the group of assassins and Jun gives her a steely resolve, but also lets us see the emotion under that exterior, especially when Ok-yun learns a key twist, setting up the film’s third act for a confrontation that has suddenly become more personal. Jun is great in these scenes as sadness and regret give Ok-yun even more drive. Cho Jin-Woong and Choi Duk-Moon provide some comic relief, which lends poignancy to Cho’s role in the film’s massive climactic shootout.

The standout performance comes from Lee Jung-jae. The physicality of it is interesting, every move seems purposeful and calculated, as if Yeom Seok-jin considers everything, even down to the way he walks into a room. It’s striking in the contrasts of his work, for instance, the way he moves furtively to meet Hawaii Pistol for the first time but even putting a coat on after he’s promoted towards the end of the film feels performative. Lee lets us read Yeom’s every calculation, we can almost he the gears turn as he tries to find a way to position every person, every situation, to his advantage and the quick way that he re-calibrates, he does this right up to the film’s coda, and it’s this aspect that makes a scene that could otherwise be dealt with as a caption compelling.

Ha Jung-woo and Oh Dal-su have fun as Hawaii Pistol and his older, more mercenary, partner Young-gam, but they give the two a convincing connection and you get a sense of the adventures they’ve had before, as well as the respect between them, from that. The connection between Hawaii Pistol and An Ok-yun, by comparison, feels a little perfunctory.

For all the historical detail (and the production design is excellent) and the refreshing depth of the characters and their motivations, this is primarily an action film, and it succeeds brilliantly in those sequences. Choi Dong-hoon keeps the film moving at a fair pace for the entire near 140 minute running time, never letting the pace flag for too long without an incidental beat of action (an especially good one comes when An has to leave her platoon, but won’t do so before taking out the machine gunners about to launch a surprise attack on them). There are also several large scale action sequences, which fall one in each of the film’s three acts. The wedding shootout where the film climaxes is outstanding, with Choi keeping track of a wide array of characters who are sometimes fighting their own individual battles, before drawing things together several times and revelling in the chaos of the moment.
The standout action scene, however, comes mid-film with the first attempted assassination, which takes place at a petrol station. Things go awry and an incredible chase ensues, which ends up in a moment that visually quotes Raiders of the Lost Ark, if you can imagine the truck sequence with Indy handcuffed to Marion. It is an awesome sequence, mobile and breathlessly exciting sadly, but only slightly, marred by some distractingly ropey CGI fire.

I suspect that Korean audiences and those who are more au fait with Korean history than I am will find Assassination easier to follow, and get the most from its historical detail. For me it was simply a great entertainment with a welcome amount of character depth and some of the best action sequences I’ve seen in ages.

How Can You See It?
As I noted earlier, there is no UK release to date. However, the film is available on (bare bones) US blu ray. Unfortunately the Spanish Region B blu ray appears only to be subtitled in Spanish. 

Thursday 23 November 2017

Brakes By Mercedes Grower

Reviewed By Andy Zachariason

Actor-writer-director Mercedes Grower has countered Hollywood’s holiday rom-com films with a nifty little improv film set in London. It has the pieces of a romance film told through multiple relationships but it’s more daringly put together and created than the traditional romance or comedy you might see at your big theater chain.

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Mirror Mirror (1990)

What’s It All About?
17 year old Megan (Rainbow Harvest) and her mother (Karen Black) move into a new house, 3 months after Megan’s father has passed away. Megan takes a liking to an old mirror that has been left in her room, so they buy it. One night Megan wishes, while looking at her mirror, that her father would come back, that night she has a dream about him. Soon she comes to realise that asking for things in her mirror has a tendency to make those wishes come true, and she uses this newlyfound power to become more popular and to take revenge on the people who victimised her and her only friend at school (Kristin Dattilo).

Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Mirror Mirror is one of many thousands of films that I can understand getting lost. It’s a teen horror movie from the wilderness years between the boom of the 80s and the genre’s mid 90’s revival. A low budget and lack of big names - at least beyond Karen Black and the always welcome William Sanderson - probably didn’t help its position among a raft of other choices on video rental shelves.

Why Should You See It?
Rainbow Harvest. That’s her real name, and that’s almost as much as I know about her. She has only 11 credits and 3 feature films to her name and I’ve only seen one of the others, her debut, the wonderful Old Enough, a great teen movie from 1984 that we’ll definitely get to in this series. Since making a TV movie called Pink Lightning in 1991 she has, in effect, dropped off the face of the planet. It’s fair to say that’s a pity, because Harvest definitely had something about her.

As Megan, Rainbow Harvest definitely fits the mould of the high school outsider. With her jet black hair, blonde undercut, heavy black eyeliner and especially individual taste in hats, Harvest is an arresting sight, but beyond the look you buy Megan as a shy girl who both craves to have more friends and uses her outsider status to push them away and protect herself. The look shifts during the film - from Bettlejuice Winona to Heathers Winona - but Harvest is always an intriguing presence.

The film itself draws influence from the likes of the Amityville series (I’m sure there’s one about a haunted lamp. Hell, there’s probably one about a haunted mirror) in its high school sequences it looks to Heathers as well as Carrie (which gets a nod in the dialogue) and, to some degree, anticipates The Craft. The bullying that Megan goes through is fairly standard stuff, and few of the characters, even Megan herself, develop that much depth, but as the mirror’s powers become clear Harvest is great when Megan, rather than be shocked or frightened by what she can now do, instead embraces it and uses it to enact a brutal revenge on popular girl Charlene (Charlie Spradling) for what are ultimately rather small slights against Nikki (Kristin Dattilo), the only girl who has even tried to be Megan’s friend. 

This and other sequences involving the mirror (especially one where Megan uses it to make sure that if she can’t have the popular guy in school, nobody can), are solidly shot by director Marina Sargenti and reasonably scary, particularly as Megan's powers become more extreme, slipping out of her control. The film also scores points for hitting on a genuinely haunting ending.

There is fun to be had with a supporting cast full of cult names. Karen Black is restrained, but good value, as Megan’s mother and William Sanderson, even in a benign role as Black’s new suitor, still has a creepy vibe to him that underlines Megan’s discomfort with her mother dating again so soon after her father’s passing. There are also small parts for Stephen 'Ned Ryerson' Tobolowsky and Lily Munster herself, Yvonne DeCarlo. Like her star, director Marina Sargenti did little work after this film, though her immediate follow up, a TV movie called Child of Darkness, Child of Light, sounds interesting. She hasn't directed since an episode of Xena, 20 years ago.

Mirror Mirror isn’t a great lost film, but it’s never less than fun to watch and at its centre there is Rainbow Harvest. The 90s appear to have decided that we only needed one Winona Ryder which, much though I love her, I question. Harvest clearly had talent and, despite their physical resemblance, a presence that was offbeat and individual even next to Ryder’s. In the two films I’ve seen her in, she steals just about every moment she’s in just through that presence and I really wish there were more for us to see. I’d recommend Mirror Mirror just for her, but also as an entertaining, if not wildly original, teen horror movie in its own right

How Can You See It?
To my surprise, there is a UK DVD. It’s a poor quality transfer from Hollywood DVD, but at least it’s out there. It’s 22p on Amazon UK. In the US the news is even better: both Mirror Mirror and Old Enough are available on Amazon Video for free streaming.

Suburbicon By George Clooney

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Despite knowing exactly what its makers are getting at, it is hard for anyone to regard Suburbicon as anything else but deeply flawed. Directed by George Clooney from a Joel and Ethan Coen screenplay, the film which is set in the 1950s and deals with issues relating to preconceived notions in white America, attempts to be daring in more ways that you can imagine, but ultimately fails to fully convince even those of us who were rooting for it from the start.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Anita (1973)

What’s It All About?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. A nymphomaniac (in this case Anita, played by Christina Lindberg), finding herself isolated, takes shelter at the home of Erik, a psychiatry student played by Stellan Skarsgård. In flashback, she tells him about her many sexual encounters and how her compulsive sex drive has never made her happy. He, of course, falls in love as he’s trying to treat her.

Why Haven’t You Seen It?
Vintage Swedish sexploitation is, it’s fair to say, something of a niche interest. I discovered this film (and some others that we may cover in the future) because of Christina Lindberg, who I discovered in the brilliant and hugely influential Thriller: A Cruel Picture. Unless you’re an obsessive fan of exploitation cinema, Lindberg or Skarsgård I’d be surprised if Anita has ever come on your radar.

Why Should You See It?
Anita is an unusual exploitation film. It’s full of the basic ingredients you’d expect, chiefly the stunningly beautiful lead actress, the copious nudity and the one lesbian scene, thrown in purely for the enjoyment of the male audience. What sets Anita apart is tone. This is both a more serious and a more downbeat film than much seventies sexploitation (contrast it, for instance, with the lightness of Felicity). It’s not pretending to be anything other than sexploitation, but writer/director Torgny Wickman’s screenplay does at least aspire to offer some psychological depth to Anita and her compulsions, and the writing and visuals both have a certain grimy realism that sets the film apart.

Christina Lindberg is a good reason to watch just about anything. She is impossibly beautiful; a delicate face with huge eyes. She's well cast here, given her capacity to look like a confident, seductive woman one minute and an innocent who desperately needs protecting the next. A year after her brilliant mute performance in Thriller, she again excels at putting across what her character is going through purely with her face and body. One striking moment sees Anita pick up a man as he gets off a train at the local station. She takes him to an apartment and they have sex. Wickman portrays their encounter quite explicitly, but this isn’t a titillating scene as, in common with many of the other sex scenes, Lindberg’s body language here expresses need rather than desire, something only underlined when, after the brief sex is over, she turns over and cries. 

None of this is to say that Lindberg isn’t also very good in her dialogue scenes, indeed she holds her own with a young Stellan Skarsgård, who seems to bring his customary dedication to the part of Erik, you get the sense that he saw this was a richer piece of character writing than was typical in the genre and he plays Erik’s earnest dedication to helping Anita well, while also letting us see the desire that lies behind it. This is perhaps the best point to note the similarities to Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. Indeed if the ending were different it would be easy to suggest that Erik might actually be a young version of that film’s Seligman. At the very least one has to wonder whether Skarsgård reflected on this film, and his performance in it, before making Nymphomaniac. The similarities in plot and tone are certainly too marked to imagine that Von Trier wasn’t influenced by Anita and there’s a mischievous twist to the casting of Skarsgård if that’s the case.

The film takes a genuine interest in the psychology both of Anita’s nymphomania (though it defines it pretty broadly, as a reaction against the repressive parents who favour her younger sister, or as a quest for the orgasm she’s never had) and of the way that people react to her. The film definitely regards Anita as someone with an illness, but the people around her don’t and the script seems to posit that the abuse she gets, both verbal and, on occasion, physical, only strengthens her compulsion. There are definitely times at which Wickman is using this as a framework on which to hang the film’s sex and nudity, but he does at least have some serious intent, and it’s matched by Lindberg and Skarsgård's work.

For all its nudity (and there may be as much in 90 minutes here as there is in the 4 hours of Nymphomaniac), Anita is seldom conventionally exploitative. This, along with the lack of reaction from the other people in the room, is probably why Anita’s impromptu striptease at a party given by her parents feels so out of place in the film. The reactions are so muted that it almost seems like a fantasy, a story she’s made up for Erik. That’s emphasised, perhaps accidentally, by the tinny sound of the scenes at home. There may be a technical reason for this, and for why these scenes seem dubbed when the rest of the film is obviously using live sound, but it does give an edge of surrealism that could lead you to question how honest Anita is being about her relationship with her parents.

Visually, Torgny Wickman gives the film a gritty feel. Everything has a grimy look to it, from the shared student apartment Erik lives in to the roadside tent that Anita has a couple of her sexual encounters in. Only the scenes in Anita’s parents home feel clean and put together, another thing that sets them at a slight remove from the rest of the film.

Overall, Anita (best known under the title Anita: Swedish Nymphet, though the on screen title is Anita: The Story of a 17 Year Old Nymphomaniac), is a cut above for sexploitation. If you’re just in it for the sex and nudity then Christina Lindberg made lighter films that are probably more up your street (and also well worth watching), but here we get to see her deliver a strong performance in a film that at least aspires to have ideas and to be taken seriously. 

How Can You See It?
The UK release is in the Swedish Erotica boxset, which is a highly recommended set of six films, including two others with Christina Lindberg. Unfortunately the set is now out of print. The print is 4:3 and battered, but there’s something about the streaks and marks on the film that make it feel all the more authentic. I wouldn’t say no to a proper Blu Ray upgrade though, the film deserves it. There does seem to be an (out of print) Region 1 release on Amazon as well, but it doesn't look very official.

Tuesday 7 November 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Mr Vampire (1985)

What's it all about?
A hybrid of comedy, horror and martial arts, this franchise spawning Hong Kong classic is about a Taoist priest (Lam Ching Ying as Master Kau) and his two rather inept assistants Man-choi and Chau-sang (Ricky Hui and Chin Siu-ho) and their attempts to help contain and, if required, fight the undead. When they are asked by Mr Yam (Ha Huang) to arrange the re-burial of his father they discover that the body has become a vampire and that they must protect Mr Yam's 18 year old daughter Ting (Moon Lee).

Why haven't you seen it?
When talking to movie fans I find that they go one of two ways on martial arts cinema, either they love it and immerse themselves in the genre or they've seen Enter The Dragon and some of Jackie Chan's US films. Mr Vampire is a film I suspect won't have crossed over to that second group, but it should and could be an interesting gateway drug for them.

Why should you see it?
It's a comedy martial arts movie with hopping vampires. So, I'm done with this section, right?

In all seriousness, the challenge with any genre hybrid is getting the balance of elements right and this is one area in which Mr Vampire excels. Not only does it manage to balance the levels of action, comedy and horror but it combines them well in many of its setpieces. The opening is a good example of this. As well as establishing a creepy mood with its slowly but inexorably hopping vampires it shows us the kind of graceful slapstick kung fu that we'll be seeing throughout the film and introduces the different styles of the cast. It also gives us some laughs thanks to Chau-sang appearing dressed up as a vampire to scare Man-choi and gracefully introduces many of the elements of Taoism that will come into play during the film, without a massive exposition dump.

The directorial style of Ricky Lau shifts a little depending on what kind of scene he's doing. The martial arts scenes are clearly influenced by the kung fu comedy of producer Sammo Hung and by his opera brother Jackie Chan, but when the storyline of Chau-sang falling for a ghostly woman (Wong Siu-fung) the smoke filled and otherworldly atmosphere strikes closer to something like John Carpenter's The Fog, at least until the wire work begins.

Comedy can be very geographically specific and, with much of this film tied up with intricacies of Taoist belief that won't be familiar to most Western audiences you might expect that to be an issue, but slapstick needs little translation and, while it might be a bit broad for some tastes, the comedy translates. The martial arts aren't the most intricate in Hong Kong cinema history, but Chin Siu-ho's choreography is interesting for the way it mostly seeks to block or deflect rather than to attack (the priests often have to protect the undead as much as they do the living). One of the more ingenious moments comes from a bit of Chinese vampire lore, that they detect you by your breathing, so Man-choi and Ting, trapped in a wardrobe, use a bamboo pole to redirect their breath.

Lam Ching-ying is for me one of the great unsung kung fu movie stars; a charismatic and versatile actor as well as an incredibly gifted martial artist. He became iconic as Master Kau, reprising the role many times before his premature death, 20 years ago tomorrow. You can see why, it's an assured performance, the whole thing summed up in the tidy movements that his fighting style consists of, even when he's on the losing end of the battle. Lam radiates confidence, knowledge and authority, but he's also able to play the comedy of his frequent irritation with his hapless assistants in a way that feels in keeping with the character. Ricky Hui and Chin Siu-ho start out with essentially the same role; comic relief, but it's clear that the more classically handsome Chin is going to be the one who gets to expand from that. It's the right choice, the comedy is broad, but Hui plays up to it and gets laughs while Chin gets to show the prowess that allowed him to choreograph this and many other films. 

It's also worth mentioning, though you don't see his face, Yuen Wah, famed as the bad guy with the staccato kung fu style in Dragons Forever and Eastern Condor, plays the main vampire. The other notable name, making her debut here, is Moon Lee. In this role Lee is cast as a demure beauty for Hui and Chin to fall for – something she does essentially effortlessly – but she would later carve out her own niche as a star in many of Hong Kong's 'girls with guns' action movies. It's interesting to see her in a different context here.

Mr Vampire is an ideal introduction to the wider world of kung fu cinema. It deliberately makes clear the more esoteric cultural references and it combines generic tropes to entertaining effect, all of it anchored by an underrated actor in his defining role. I urge you to give it a go.

How can you see it?
There is a US DVD, but the definitive edition is the UK DVD by Hong Kong Legends (which, happily, was one of the few titles re-released by Cine Asia). The picture quality is about as good as you could hope for, given the age of the film and the transfer, but it's the exceptional commentary by Bey Logan that makes it the only version worth owning.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

78/52 By Alexandre O. Philippe

Reviewed By Andy Zachariason

In the current cultural climate of fandom, clickbait, and fan theories it feels like genuine film criticism and worthwhile analysis is being drowned out. Obsessions over plot and character theories and “what’s going to happen in the sequel?” feel misplaced and stray away from appreciation of art. The new documentary 78/52 is an hour and a half analysis and ode to the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal film, Psycho. The 78 and 52 refer to the number of setups and edits in the scene that took a week to film. It’s fanatical and analytical in a way that feels meaningful and offers a glimpse of what film analysis can and should be rather than the current superficial fandom fads.

Tuesday 31 October 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1986) and Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3 (1990)

What Are They All About?
Tobe Hooper’s belated sequel to his 1973 classic is a very different film to the original. Leatherface and his family now live under a disused theme park, where they make award winning chilli (the secret is it’s made of people). One night a DJ named Stretch (Caroline Williams) records a call from two college kids, which ends in their murder by the Sawyer clan. This leads to Stretch meeting up with Lefty Enright (Dennis Hopper), the uncle of Sally and Franklin from the original film, who has been pursuing his family’s murderers for years.

The third film goes back to basics, with a young couple (Kate Hodge and William Butler) ambushed by Leatherface and family. They fight to survive, with the help of a survivalist ‘Nam veteran (Ken Foree).

Thursday 26 October 2017

Call Me By Your Name By Luca Guadagnino

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Adapted from Andre Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name offers one of the most expertly crafted and beautifully told love stories of the last decade. With a masterful score and some genuinely impressive performances, the film manages to immerse its audience in its gently melancholic world from the offset, and when it’s over you will find yourself completely and utterly mesmerised by its protagonists and its beautifully ephemeral nature.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? The Stepfather (1986) and Stepfather II (1989)

Posted by Sam Inglis

After a few weeks off to attend and then recover from the London Film Festival, Why Haven't You Seen...? is back and for the next couple of weeks I'll be featuring some Halloween double bills.

What Are They All About?

In The Stepfather, Jerry Blake (Terry O’Quinn) is in his late 30’s, he lives with his new wife Susan (Shelley Hack) and her troubled 17 year old daughter Stephanie (Jill Schoelen) in a middle class home in a safe neighbourhood. Jerry wants to create a perfect family life, in fact he’s so obsessed with this that  Stephanie begins to suspect that Jerry has a sinister secret and begins investigating his past.

The sequel performs some plot gymnastics to open with Jerry (O’Quinn again) in a mental hospital. He soon escapes, becoming Gene Clifford, a psychiatrist. He targets Carol (Meg Foster, a divorcee with a 12 year old son (Jonathan Brandis) and soon they’re engaged, but Carol’s friend Matty (Caroline Williams) has a bad feeling about Gene.

Friday 20 October 2017

Marshall By Reginald Hudlin

Reviewed By Linda Marric

As courtroom dramas go, you can’t do much better than Reginald Hudlin's brilliantly understated new feature film Marshall. This mid-budget surprise hit is everything you would want from the genre and much more; and the fact that it is based on a true story makes it all the more gripping. Chartering an early case in legendary civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall’s career, the film does a commendable job in reacquainting those of us who were less familiar with the man and his tireless fight against institutional racism against black people in the American justice system.

Monday 16 October 2017

London Film Festival 2017 - Cult

The Cult section was a welcome addition to the London Film Festival 5 years ago, a further proof that genre cinema is becoming more accepted (although certainly not more mainstream!). Bloody, unusual or just downright weird, this year's cult strand was a big hit.

The Endless by Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead

Directing duo Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead made a big impact with Lovecraft-esque romance Spring (2014), which was already presented in the London Film Festival cult strand, and was called one of the best horror films of the decade by Guillermo Del Toro. Before that, the two indie directors' debut, Resolution, a lo-fi oddity, had become a cult classic among the most enlightened cinephiles circles.

Thursday 12 October 2017

London Film Festival 2017 - So Help Me God by Yves Hint & Jean Libon

Unlike the heavy hitters of the festival circuit such as Cannes and Venice, the London Film Festival has a much wider selection of films, serving as a digest of the best films shown in various festivals of the year, including some lesser knowns one and real discoveries.

A fly on the wall documentary by the team behind Belgian TV sensation Striptease,  So Help Me God follows a middle-aged female judged in her day to day work, as she tackles some of the most unusual and brutal cases, including a cold case involving some savage murders.

Sunday 8 October 2017

London Film Festival 2017: Elephants and Lady Bird

The London Film Festival is committed to gender parities, and female directors had an impressive showing in this year's edition, throughout genres and countries, as proven by two very different films, Pop Aye by Kristen Tan, and Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig.

There is more to Thai cinema than Apichatpong Weersathakul and its seductive blend of dreamy spiritualism. In Pop Aye by Kirsten Tan, a middle aged man unexpectedly bumps into his long lost elephant in the streets of Bangkok, and makes it its quest to bring its childhood home in the countryside.

Tuesday 3 October 2017

The Reagan Show By Pacho Velez And Sierra Pettengill

Reviewed By Nick Tesco

The Reagan Show Directed by Pacho Velez and Sierra Pettengill this portrait cum documentary of Ronal Reagan unfurls solely through film clips from TV news programmes and White House archive material. There’s no new footage, no portentous commentary so the viewer is left to judge for themselves what substance, if any, Reagan actually possessed.

Focusing on the narrow topic of the arms reduction negotiations and treaty with the USSR, but not exclusively, the realisation slowly dawns that here was a man acting a role for some unknown body. As is always the case there is no obvious conspiracy, merely the understanding that vested interests were acting with impunity. All the familiar tropes are there for the aspiring right wing putative “leader of the free world” (© any right wing American), the use of simplistic language, evil, empire, freedom ad infinitum, the equating of freedom with the right to make money and the vacuity at the heart of the beast.

Saturday 30 September 2017

Goodbye Christopher Robin by Simon Curtis

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Simon Curtis’ Goodbye Christopher Robin might not be one of the most perfectly executed films, but what it lacks in the direction stakes, it definitely manages to make up for with its genuinely heartwarming and deeply affecting storyline. Written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Simon Vaughan, the film offers a beautifully nuanced account of the story behind one of the most loved children’s books in history and the boy who became symbolic of an idyllic childhood in the English countryside in A.A Milne’s Winnie The Pooh books. Recounting the story behind the creation of all the characters who became part of most people’s childhood, the film present a flawed yet charming story arc which is certain to move its audiences to tears despite its obvious shortcoming.

Thursday 28 September 2017

The Exception by David Leveaux

Reviewed By Nick Tesco

History is told through the prism of the Jeffrey Archer School rather than Hilary Mantel’s in this waste of a great cast. If you had the likes of Cristopher Plummer, Eddie Marsan and Lily James available to you surely you’d ensure that the story you told maintained some vague grip on historical reality. Yeah, I know this is escapism but puh-lea-se! Add Jai Courtney and Janet McTeer and the idea that a terrible waste of effort and talent takes root.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? The Little Mermaid (1976)

What's it all about?
You probably know, or think you do. This is a relatively close adaptation of the original Hans Christian Anderson fairytale of The Little Mermaid.

Why haven't you seen it?
I'm not sure whether I should credit the Disney film with being a help or hindrance in this case. On the one hand its popularity keeps the story in the consciousness, on the other, it has a tendency to eclipse other versions. I only heard of this film having become interested in Czech surrealism after seeing Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders, and let's just say that The Little Mermaid isn't a film you're very likely to stumble upon

Why should you see it?
As I alluded to above, Disney has, thanks to its position in popular culture, a way of taking ownership of the fairytales it adapts, and that certainly seems to be the case with The Little Mermaid. On the one hand, it's fair enough to lighten up what is a dark and sad tale for a young audience, on the other it's good to have a version that gets closer to the original intent of the story.

This isn't to say that Karel Kachyna's take on the tale is relentlessly grim, indeed it can be quite enchanting and beautiful. The film's first half hour takes place almost entirely under the sea, as the King of all the seas prepares for a birthday celebration marking one year before his daughter (Miroslava Safránková) is married and her husband will inherit the throne. The film doesn't exactly look as though it was hugely expensive, but whatever the budget the design is beautiful and intelligent. The Mer people wear flowing robes, have blue make up on the top halves of their faces and wear their hair up, with ocean debris sticking out in all directions.

Sets are adorned with sunken treasures from the human world, some the Mer people seem to understand (the King knows what swords are), but others are more obscure (“It's full of yellow circles” is the Little Mermaid's reaction to a chest of gold coins). Kachyna makes great use of these design elements as well as of very slight slow motion, which gives some key moments in the underwater kingdom a quality of movement that matches the design's creation of an otherworldly space.

It is only in the film's last half hour that the Little Mermaid (who is never given a name) trades her voice for a chance to go to the human world and have a Prince she rescued from drowning fall in love with her. The scene of the spellcasting is well done, with the witch laying out in detail the pain that the Mermaid must endure for this chance. Without playing up to it, it becomes a creepy moment. On land the film is rather more ordinary than it is underwater. The design isn't as inventive and while the acting is solid enough only  Safránková stands out. The ending does deliver on its tragic intent though and the story is well told throughout, it's just that the film marks itself out much more in its first hour.

The Little Mermaid isn't the masterpiece that Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders (whose star, Jaroslava Schallerova, has a small part here) or Jan Svankmajer's Alice are, nor even as distinguished as Three Wishes For Cinderella and lacks their surreal edge. That said, it tells its story faithfully and, through its design, transports us to an underwater kingdom that feels truly like something out of a fairytale. It's well worth seeking out if you've seen the films mentioned above and are curious.

How can you see it?
This is strange. While researching this section I couldn't find a DVD release of this film, nor is it available on Amazon or Netflix, to my knowledge (if you look on a certain well known video site though, you'll find it easily enough). What I did stumble on is a RUSSIAN telling of The Little Mermaid, also from 1976, on Amazon's Prime streaming service. I've never seen it, but will be correcting that soon.

Saturday 23 September 2017

London Film Festival 2017: Shorts

Real Gods Require Blood

This year's London Film Festival is playing well over 200 feature films, but often lost in the shuffle among the coverage of those are the short films that accompany each strand of the festival and which are often goldmines for spotting new talent. I'll be reviewing some of these over the course of the festival and here, to begin with, are four films, each from different strands.

The Artificial Humors [Short film award programme 1]
Dir: Gabriel Abrantes
The premise is kind of irresistible. Claude (Gilda Nomacce) creates a robot, which she names Andy Coughman, designed to test the limits of artificial intelligence. While learning to socialise, Coughman falls for Jo (Amanda Rodarte), a girl from a remote part of the Amazon but on the suggestion of a friend Claude decides to reprogram Coughman, making him the first AI standup comedian, but in the process he loses the memory of his love for Jo.

Almost Heaven By Carol Salter

Reviewed By Andy Zachariason

Good films drop an audience into a crevice of the world and show us how they reflect something larger that exists in our own lives. First time director Carol Salter has done just that with Almost Heaven, a documentary following Ying Ling, a seventeen-year-old who’s training to become a mortician in China.

This is a film that’s filled with dead bodies and mention of ghosts, yet it’s calm, gentle, never forced – comforting even; like a spa treatment for the soul. This observant and relaxed approach mirrors Ling’s own professionalism as she learns to prepare the deceased for their final moments in this world.

Friday 22 September 2017

Borg Vs McEnroe By Janus Metz

Reviewed By Linda Marric

In the summer of 1980, one of the greatest tennis matches in the history of the game took place when two of the most accomplished players met in the Wimbledon final. In Borg McEnroe, Director Janus Metz brings the story of the two men to life in this beautifully crafted biopic and takes a look at the dynamic which existed between them on that fated fortnight. Staring Shia LaBeouf in the McEnroe role, and Sverrir Gudnason as the great Björn Borg, the film not only does a fantastic job in keeping the suspense going till the very end, but also manages to recreate the era almost perfectly, right down to the dodgy haircuts and questionable fashion sense. And it is even better if like yours truly, you had no idea who had won the infamous match all those years ago.

Tuesday 19 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? All About Them (2015)

What's it all about?
Micha (Félix Moati) and Charlotte (Sophie Verbeeck) have been together for several years, and while they've had a strong relationship, they're going through a tense period. This isn't helped when they both separately begin affairs with Charlotte's friend Melodie (Anaïs Demoustier).

Why haven't you seen it?
IMDB lists a late 2015 release date for this film in the UK, but that release must have been tiny, because even as a big fan of Anaïs Demoustier, I only discovered this film by accident when it popped up in my Amazon suggestions. It clearly didn't gain much momentum from what cinema release it had, as the DVD release followed a full 16 months later. Unless you're an even bigger Anaïs Demoustier fan than I am, you probably never realised this came out.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

mother! By Darren Aronofsky

Reviewed By Linda Marric

The best way to describe the experience of seeing Darren Aronofsky mother! is like being forcibly thrown into a giant washing machine in which every cycle is as fast-paced and as raucous as its predecessor, and where you are tossed about, wrung out and hung to dry without ever having a say in what’s coming next. If this sounds like the kind of thing you might be into, then buckle up because you’re in for a hell of a ride.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Blood and Bone (2009)

What's it all about?
A martial artist known only as Bone (Michael Jai White) gets out of prison and immediately gets himself into underground bare knuckle fighting. What he really wants is to take on a fighter who works for local gangster James (Eammon Walker), whose moll (Michelle Belegrin) Bone seems to have taken a dangerous interest in.

Why haven't you seen it?
Despite the fact that more and more films are bypassing cinemas there was until very recently, in many viewers minds, an implied seal of quality, that comes with a theatrical release and not with a direct to video film. Netflix and other streaming platforms with original content are addressing this perception, but even they aren't often doing it with action films. Unless you're into action cinema enough to dig into the direct to video part of the genre it's likely you never came across this film or many, many others.

Why should you see it?
I didn't mind The Bourne Supremacy at the time. I suspect I might still like it if I get round to rewatching it. It's that film's legacy that bothers me. I think we can trace the current awful state of most mainstream American action cinema back to Paul Greengrass' first take on the Matt Damon led franchise. With that film the trend for shakycam, fast cutting and close up shooting in fight sequences really began to take hold, and I still see far too much of it. For me, that style makes action meaningless. It destroys the choreography, messes up the geography of a scene and often makes it unclear exactly what is even happening from moment to moment. Happily, films like Blood and Bone and other direct to video titles have kept action movies alive.

This film suffers from none of the problems of shakycam action. The fights are, like most of the rest of the film, simply shot. The emphasis is put on showing us what Michael Jai White and the other accomplished martial artists he is paired with during the film can do. The speed comes from White's movement, the impact from the force of his punches and kicks, director Ben Ramsey and editor Dean Goodhill simply don't need to use cutting to force either rhythm or impact into those moments. The fights build well, with White easily despatching early opponents, but more challenged as the film goes on. A highlight comes in a mid film bout with Bob Sapp, who plays a huge fighter named Hammerman, but the best really is saved for last in the fight with Matt Mullins, which starts tentative but evolves into both a great fight and an interesting story moment.

The script is never the main point of these films, but Blood and Bone's simple writing is given a lift by a clutch of decent performances. Michael Jai White knows this is a great showcase for him and he grabs hold of what is a cliché part (noble martial artist fulfilling a promise) and invests it with great presence if not immense depth. Eammon Walker, who I first saw on Oz is an exceptional actor who has never really got a film role that shows what he can do. His character here isn't the most consistent – the moralising gangster of the first half who won't tolerate foul language is more interesting than the more standard writing of the second half – but Walker is great; all simmering ambition and rage. When Walker and White share scenes it makes you wish the screenplay was a bit better, because these two face off as well in dialogue as they do in their fight. Unfortunately the film's true 'Big Bad' is Julian Sands, who still can't act.

Whatever the shortcomings of the script, I don't mind them. Sure, it's thin and predictable, but I'll take that plus a series of hard hitting fights (one of them featuring a pre-Haywire Gina Carano) I can actually see rather than most of what Hollywood was churning out and calling action cinema at this time. Blood and Bone is a great jumping off point for exploring the world of DTV action movies, which can be surprisingly rewarding.

How can you see it?
There are UK, US and European DVD and Blu Ray release available. The UK edition has a few features, including a commentary.

Friday 8 September 2017

Insyriated by Philippe Van Leeuw

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Belgian director Philippe Van Leeuw may not seem like the most obvious person to direct a film about the Syrian war, but then again the same could have been said about Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo and his seminal film about the the Algerian war of independence,  The Battle Of Algiers (1966), a film which remains to this day one of the most powerful features ever made on the subject.  Set inside a solitary apartment in a building in Damascus, Insyriated is certainly not for the fainted hearted, but remains nevertheless essential viewing for anyone wanting to make sense of the horrors taking place daily.

Thursday 7 September 2017

The Vault By Dan Bush

Reviewed By Linda Marric

Directed by Dan Bush (The Signal, The Reconstruction of William Zero), The Vault is a fast-paced, violent and at times simply baffling heist movie with a twist. Mixing the supernatural with the usual heist narrative fodder, the film attempt a new approach to this tried and tested formula, but ultimately falls at the first hurdle by its inability to offer a compelling or coherent enough story.

James Franco, Taryn Manning and a whole host of brilliantly talented young Hollywood actors are  wasted on this deeply confused small budget production, which sadly for its makers can’t quite decide what it wants to be and ends up looking messy and rather confused.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Why Haven't You Seen...? Keeping Rosy (2014)

What's it all about?
Charlotte (Maxine Peake) is laser focused on her career, but when she resigns from her job after failing to get a promotion she feels is due her she takes her frustrations out on her cleaner Maya, accidentally killing her. Disposing of the body, she discovers Maya's baby daughter in her car and decides to keep the child while covering her tracks.

Why haven't you seen it?
Like so many of these entries, this is another story of a low budget film getting a low key release and, unless you're deliberately seeking it out, being very prone to getting lost in the stacks of new discs on the shelves each week.

Moon Dogs By Philip John

Reviewed by Andy Zachariason

Every summer offers up a new crop of coming-of-age films. Audiences can sit down and travel down avenues of youth completely unrecognizable to them on the surface, but cut through emotionally because growing up is a universal story. It is perhaps the most overtly relatable genre that there is. The coming-of-age film, at its best, is less of a genre and more like a home movie showing you memories that you’d forgotten.