V/H/S

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A number of obvious positives came from the onslaught of found footage films – it opened the door for new voices in genre cinema who could make a legitimate movie on a shoestring and cash in on the trend (counterpoint being every fool with a camera thought they could do it); studios and directors could make movies with little budget and almost guarantee a considerable profit (counterpoint being that it encouraged a host of copycats with a reduction in quality); it offered both long-standing and original voices a new creative outlet along with near full creative control thanks to the money involved being so low and the inherent restrictions forcing filmmakers to think outside the box (this didn’t last long). VHS came in the middle of the Found Footage run of infamy and ticks each of the positives above in some way. Up and coming directors such as Adam Wingard, Ti West, David Bruckner, and Radio Silence had a podium to shout from, showing us what delights and horrors lurked under their kilts, and a near certainty that they would reach a larger audience than they had up to that point. Did they use that power for good?

VHS is an anthology film, and as such there is a mixed bag; different stories, different styles, some segments good, other segments not so good. The gristle tying it all together is the use of found footage, each story peppered with gore and shocks. The wraparound conceit follows a group of hoodlums who, Henry: Portrait Of A Serial KIller style film their adventures. Their latest mission is unusual – an unseen benefactor pays them to break into a house to steal a single VHS tape. The gang discovers a corpse in a room filled with screens, and videotapes by the box load scattered around the house. While they start collecting the tapes, one guy decides to pop one in and watch. Each tape reveals a new story, and at the end of each new story one of the gang members vanishes – maybe that corpse isn’t so dead?

As with most wraparound stories, there isn’t much substance or payoff, but given the short running time there’s still intrigue and scares. It’s far from the worst wraparound, and it actually tonally fits with the rest of the content. The first story – Amateur Night – follows a trio of scumbags who bring a couple of young women back to a motel room with the intention of secretly filming them having sex. They quickly find their chauvinist ways turned back upon them as one of the women has plans of her own. It’s a fun, masochistic twist on the ‘boys will be boys’ events of recent history, it’s a sleazy tale with a sting. Ti West, probably the most accomplished director of the bunch, gives us a simple near – one room story as a married couple head on a Second Honeymoon. In their motel room, a disoriented woman knocks and asks the husband if he can give her a ride the following day – he refuses. Later that night the woman breaks into the room, turns on the camera, and films herself on the sleeping couple’s bed with a knife, before stealing some money. The next night she has followed them to their next destination. Again, there’s not much to it, but Ti West makes anything watchable and as always there is a twist of sorts.

Tuesday The 17th may be my favourite of the bunch – a camping trip gone wrong like so many others in Horror history. A group of friends has been convinced to go on the trip by a new friend and on the trip the new friend begins to tell them of how all her friends were killed at the same place one year earlier. Before long, a near-invisible killer, cloaked almost like the Predator begins picking them off. The killer is called The Glitch, and it’s a great idea, a figure which literally glitches across the screen, appearing suddenly behind characters, wobbling in and out of vision in static waves. The plot is light, but the idea and execution of the creature is good fun. The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger is a Joe Swanberg helmed Skype chat style short. It details the chats Emily has with her boyfriend James as she becomes increasingly unhinged – believing her room is haunted and that the lump in her arm is something sinister. I’d forgotten about this segment more than any other, but it has its moments.

The final story is the effects and tricks bonanza. Radio Silence’s 10/31/98 follows four friends heading to a Halloween party, but ending up in the wrong place. Stumbling upon some sort of, what they believe to be, demonic ritual or exorcism the boys fight back against ghostly arms and unseen forces. It’s a lot of fun but again there’s some sort of ‘women cannot be trusted’ vibe going on –  running theme in a number of the shorts. The wraparound concludes and the film ends. As a whole, I didn’t find any of the segments notably weak – each has a charm and each is solid, with some being more inventive or interesting than others. I don’t know if the woman thing was intentional or sub-conscious or me reading too much into it, but it becomes noticeable. Now that I’ve mentioned it, you’ll probably see it or go looking for it. On the flip side, the men in several cases are portrayed as dicks or morons too, though each segment is brief enough that the strength of the idea overrides the dislike of any character. The Found Footage approach is used differently in each piece and it doesn’t becomes tiresome or nauseating, each director making sure there’s a stylistic and relevant reason for it. Anthology films are quick and easy watches and can make for a decent introduction to horror. Also, you shouldn’t get through Halloween without watching at least one or two. If you haven’t seen V/H/S, it’s one of the stronger recent efforts.

Let us know in the comments what you think of V/H/S!

The Sand

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I know I’ve been posting reviews of shark movies quite a bit recently so just to change things up a little I thought I’d take twenty paces backwards onto the beach and talk about The Sand – a strange little movie which merges the slasher tropes inherent in many shark movies with the tongue in cheek laughs of Tremors. It’s another low budget film which relies on its premise to suck you in (pun not intended, actually) and thanks to some not terrible performances and effects, it’s quite fun.

For horror fans that is. People not interested in horror or shlock will steer clear; anyone who doesn’t find the idea of a bunch of pretty young things stranded on a man-eating beach hilarious won’t ever find their way to the film. That’s right folks, in The Sand our antagonist is the title character, sand with the strength to suck you down like a Sarlacc, sand with an unquenchable thirst for blood. Sand which surrounds a group of college students as they wake up from a drunken beach party and begins to pick them off like a post-college job picks off your dreams. You’d think this was produced by Roger Corman.

I didn’t recognise any of the cast beyond a late cameo by a familiar face, but by and large they do the job of ‘person about to be eaten’ or hero quite well. Naturally we have to have a pile of dramatic conflict thrown in – there are boyfriends and girlfriends, there is jealousy, unrequited love, all the stuff you would expect. There’s also a dude trapped in a barrel. The characters wake up scattered about the beach – one in a barrel, one on a picnic table, some in cars, some in a lifeguard house. It’s not long before one of them has touched the sand and is sucked in, in pleasingly gory fashion. It’s hundreds of metres to the nearest road and (you have to suspend your disbelief for this one) all of their phones are either dead or packed away beyond reach. It’s hard making horror movies these days, as so much could be resolved with a simple phone call.

As the film saunters along, the gang explore various ways to escape and survive which lead to some tense enough moments, particularly a couple of scenes involving the hood of a car. You’re not going to chew your nails, but it’s much better than what you would expect from the type of film. The effects are by and large very good, at least until we get to the finale – the make-up and gore providing the sorts of moments us horror fiends love to see. It’s cheesy, but the fact that it is self-aware without being ridiculous increases its charm. It doesn’t patronize the viewer while admitting it’s nonsense. While the ending feels a little lazy and set up for a sequel which never came (yet) the story runs its course by the time we pass the 80 minute mark. With obvious parallels to Blood Beach, The Sand is a fun B-Movie which revels in blood and boobs without tipping over the top into lunacy, and would make a good party movie.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Sand!

Sanctum

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It seemed like a good idea. An adventure movie with input from James Cameron, set in the claustrophobic world of underground caves and which promised unique visuals, thrills, and realism. That world is not one we see nearly enough of, and you can count the number of good films with such a location on one finger – hint – it’s called The Descent. So what the hell went wrong with this then?

It’s pretty clear early on what the problems are and that they’re unlikely to be overcome. In the opening scenes we are treated to the terrible delivery of some pretty bad dialogue and it becomes increasingly apparent that we’re dealing with a shoddy screenplay and some less than desirable actors – either that or they’re horribly miscast. It’s not hyperbole for me to state that every line in the opening 20 minutes is stilted and delivered in a knowing, winking way, almost as if it’s a first read through. In fact, it felt like a porno or a Carry On movie, but without the sex. We meet a group of explorers who are investigating a labyrinthine subterranean cave system. There’s the fun-loving billionaire who…. likes caves? He brings along his girlfriend – an avid something or other, and a teenager called Josh who looks like he walked out of a gnarly amateur skateboard video – fish-eye lens and all. Josh’s dad is the world renowned, never heard of him, diving expert Frank McGuire – a man so dedicated to fingering caves that he has had no time for fingering (hugging) his son. He’s a complete asshole. There’s a bunch of other explorer types helping out. You can already tell how these relationships are going to go, and the beats they’re going to take along the way. There isn’t an ounce of originality in the script when it comes to character or drama. The stupid thing is – nobody in the real world speaks, acts, or behaves like any of these buffoons. Early on one character says to another ‘Promise me you won’t let me fall’ – I wonder if that’s going to come back and bite them.

It all feels more Congo than Jurassic Park. Those movies at least had a sense of fun – this is all very po-faced or making jokes in that self-aware manner. So, they’re down this cave, hole thing, and – wait a minute – all these guys are divers? So that’s where Jimmy Cameron comes in. In order to explore the cave system they have to dive, so we get all of this wonderful dialogue about diving equipment and safety and fuck it there’s a giant storm coming so rather than climbing out lets forget all about that and plow ahead. Oops, now somebody’s dead. Seriously? I’ve no idea why or how this woman dies – I know nothing about diving – but basically she is swimming along, something happens and she immediately freaks out. She tries to share air with Frank, but this is beyond her abilities and Frank takes the breather from her and watches her drown. This kind of makes sense, but it’s filmed so horribly that it’s not clear what happened. Everybody blames everybody else. Josh decides to climb out before the storm blocks them completely. Why anyone decides against this is a mystery. Why some of the group do leave, never to be heard from again is a mystery. Why Josh decides to turn back and join his father is a mystery. You’ve just accused each other of murder and hated each other your entire lives, but maybe sudden death will bring us both together.

You can guess how the rest goes – the cave picks off the group one by one in increasingly pointless ways and arguments continue to get heated. Someone gets the bends, not sure why, someone refuses to wear a wetsuit, someone cracks their skull, someone’s hair gets caught and everyone freaks out inexplicably because they try to free themselves, someone drowns, and as expected, someone falls on a stalagmite. It’s all very very silly. It is watchable, barely, thanks to some great visuals. Not amazing, not what they are hyped to be, but certainly not the sort of thing we’re exposed to frequently. The action is sparse and lacking in threat, the film moves slower than a bubble on a lake, and we’re given no reason to care about anything that happens. Some day, someone will make a good film set in this sort of location – with the claustrophobic tension and characters it deserves, while retaining realism. As it stands, this is mostly a shambles and one to skip.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Sanctum!

Honor And Glory

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Well there you have it. I’ve finally done it; I’ve watched the greatest movie ever made. Honor And Glory holds that title and it is a film of many contradictions – an 80s action movie made in the 90s; a Cynthia Rothrock vehicle which she is barely in; a martial arts film in which it looks like the fights were choreographed by a Tory MP; a film which made me laugh more than any comedy of the last ten years; a film made with such ineptitude that those who made The Room watched it and shook their heads in shame. Stop whatever you’re doing now and find it. Go, watch it now. I’ll wait.

See? What did I tell you? WTF was that? Where do we even begin? I watched Cynthia Rothrock movies when I was a kid, though I really only remember the China O’Brien series. She was hot, cool, and could kick ass – pretty much the only things I was interested back then. She made a bunch of films with similar titles to what JCVD was making in those days, if not outright sequels – Rapid Fire, Tiger Claws, No Retreat No Surrender 2. It must have been difficult trying to make her way in those days, to make a legitimate case as a leading lady, an action heroine. If there hasn’t been a documentary made about her, then someone needs to get on that. Honor And Glory opens with a very unusual scene – one which seems less strange as the movie moves from weird to bizarre to buck nuts with each passing minute. Starting out in Hong Kong, where Rothrock is on some sort of FBI mission (is that even allowed), she is attacked by some guy while getting a drink. Hey, isn’t that Liu Kang? Yes, yes it is, but it’s okay he’s a good guy in this film too, he was just keeping Rothrock on her toes. Turns out he’s a detective called Dragon Lee, because Bruce Nunchucks was already taken. After watching this I just had to start taking notes about all the wonderful, ludicrous crap which was happening. Those notes make up much of what follows below, but it got to the point where I was pausing the movie every thirty seconds to write something down so I eventually gave up. If it hasn’t been done already, someone needs to do a scene by scene essay on this monstrosity.

What was the budget of this thing – twenty bucks? It looks like it has been shot with the sort of home camcorder my parents got so they could record me refusing to take part in any of the party games at my 8th Birthday. The film moves to America for one of the most hilariously bad acted scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing – and it was a pleasure. There’s a group of, I think, military top brass meeting to discuss a major security incident which could have world-destroying consequences, yet they appear to be conducting this game-changer in a reconstituted broom closet. Believe me, I wouldn’t trust any of these guys with closing my fridge properly, never mind the safety of the free world. Each actor seems to have the same voice, the same delivery. I wouldn’t be surprised if they realised they needed some plot establishing scene and literally grabbed the first 6 guys they found walking by, stuck them in a room, and got them to read the lines.

We then get an even funnier scene where some random disgruntled onlooker attacks a News Reporter by throwing a can of Dr Pepper at her. Why couldn’t she be like everyone else and just yell ‘fuck her right in the pussy’ like everyone else? The ill-flavoured soda tin flies through the air, going nowhere near Joyce The Reporter, yet Joyce somehow kicks the can without looking behind her and it flies back and hits the perp in the face. I rewound five times and laughed every time. Then they have a full blown ninja-off in the parking lot, complete with hilarious sound effects – each blow accompanied by a tornado woosh of air and landing with a boom John Bonham would have been proud off. Why the hell aren’t her friends helping her out? Once the fight is over they nonchalantly appear and say something like ‘lets go Joyce’ as if these brawls are a daily occurrence. Oh, Joyce and Rothrock are sisters – we know this because they also have a fight in a parking lot, juggling a set of car keys enthusiastically between each others’ ankles.

Next we meet the big bad, whose first appearance I annotated with ‘who’s this coked-up loon-bag’? It’s another boardroom scene, but somehow worse (better) than the previous one. Here is the next section of notes I jotted down – they speak for themselves: WTF is wit the jaunty kids sitcom soundtrack. The ‘World’s Greatest Bodyguard’ looks like a rejected MC Hammer dancer – why is he cupping his cock, scared it’s gone AWOL again? The bad guy praises him, then admonishes him in the quickest cock tease to cock block switch I’ve ever seen. We’re 13 minutes in and I’ve already laughed more than I did during the entire Hangover Trilogy. So Rothrock is looking into illegal arms dealing, Joyce is a reporter investigating the corrupt loonbag Jason Slade, and their dad in somehow involved too? Fuck knows.

As terrific as all this is, we haven’t yet met Mickey – taking over from Burgess Meredith as ‘best character ever called Mickey’. Why isn’t Mickey in every movie ever? I no longer care about whatever story this film is failing to tell, I just want The Adventures Of Mickey, as he stumbles from one well-meaning mishap to the next, getting the shit beaten out of him by whoever he meets. He even drives a KITT! Why there wasn’t a spin-off series about him is the greatest crime of the 20th Century. This was his only film-role? For shame. After his introduction, surely the film will go downhill. No, we get some scenes of the top brass being killed along with bizarre dialogue like ‘consider this your resignation’. Did that guy even work for you? Why even say that, just pull the trigger. Why refer to these guys as The Three Stooges – there’s only two of them! We are treated to the most caring, relaxed neck-break in cinema history – the dude’s just sort of nuzzled and has his throat caressed for a few seconds, then he’s dead. He blinks after he dies too.

We get some more vital time with Mickey as he sits eating lunch, talking to himself, but getting the words wrong. He grabs a camcorder, hops into KITT and goes to do his own bit of sleuthing for reasons unannounced. I hope he doesn’t get caught because he sure as shit won’t be able to talk his way out of it. Then again, he’s an amateur and seems to be filming a gate closing. More scenes and notes: There’s a sped up kata scene, the most awkward doorstep scene I’ve ever been party to (and I’ve kissed girls on their doorsteps in front of their dads). Cynthia beats up Mickey (!) only to be reminded that she actually knows him (!) and says ‘oh, sorry Mickey, lets go inside for a party’, to which he replies ‘that’s ok’ in super chipper mode. Have any of these writers or actors ever actually met a human? Look at Slade, standing there fondling his balls and drinking a Heineken. Ooh, an original Q-Bert arcade machine, that’s probably worth a few bob. We get to the final showdown, and it’s Slade and some Japanese guy whose entirely personality is encapsulated by the fact that he holds a coin, but they’re fucked because they’re up against Cynthia Rothrock, Liu Kang, fake Eddie Murphy, and a woman in a blue trenchcoat. There’s fisticuffs. It ends. The film features neither Honor nor Glory.

Just in case you were thinking all of this magic was the product of an untrained director being let loose on the streets with a bunch of cameras and equipment he’d never seen before, a quick look at Imdb provides some startling results. I didn’t recognise the director’s name – Godfrey Hall is a name more reminiscent of a Key Grip from the 60s who’d worked his way up on British crime capers. But it’s a fake – it’s really Godfrey Ho, a name I did recognise as someone who made a tonne of action movies in the 80s, especially dubious knock-offs. Just to give you an idea of his pedigree – in 1986 he made the classic Ninja Terminator and followed that up with 16 more movies. In 1986 alone. Yes, 17 films in one year, 14 of which have the word Ninja in the title. In other words, 1986 was a slow year for Ho so in 1987 he completed 24 features, and not to be outdone,  in 88 he was particularly inspired and made 39 films. Fellow movie bloggers out there – why not run a Godfrey Ho blogathon? I fucking dare you.

Well, that about does it. I’m fairly positive that is the most that anyone has ever written about Honor And Glory – this review is probably longer than the script. Though I imagine this is the sort of film which will have a dedicated fanbase who write and vlog about it all the time.

 

The Innkeepers

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Ti West has been making ripples in the horror world for almost twenty years, with a number of low budget indie entries being well received in the horror community – with The House Of The Devil the praise went farther afield. With The Innkeepers, Ti West tells an updated version of the classic haunted house story, moving the action to a hotel in the midst of closing down, and featuring much of his trademark humour, character focus, and building of tension.

Sara Paxton and Pat Healy are the two leads and take up most of the running time together. They have a certain chemistry which will be familiar to anyone forced to work in a confined space day in day out with the same person or group of people. As characters, they hit if off and clash like an affable old married couple, and as actors we believe that they have been through some boring shit together. They are twenty-somethings working purely to pay the bills and for something to do, with marginally grander schemes and hopes, biding their time in an old Hotel in its final weekend before closure. Aside from their shared flitting aimlessness, both are amateur ghost enthusiasts and have been hoping to record some paranormal activity in their last night on the job – the hotel having a history of spooky encounters and a sordid past. Stumbling upon their relative seclusion and ghost-hunting is a faded Hollywood starlet played by Kelly McGillis (in another interesting horror role for the actress). She just wants a room for the night and doesn’t want to be disturbed, especially by Paxton’s Claire who is a bit of a fangirl. Luke (Healy) and Claire use their ghost-hunting equipment and soon begin to pick up creepy voices and music before the apparitions reveal themselves.

While not West’s breakthrough movie, this is the one which garnered him the most critical attention and became his biggest hit. The film has an old-fashioned horror feel, a subtle, creeping approach to scares, and using atmosphere over jumps and gore. The script and direction are light and playful both honouring the history of haunted house movies while giving them a modern gloss and respect. Once the second half reveals come and the mythology of the house is made known, the scares come faster after the largely comedic, slacker style first half. The three main performances are solid and likable, Paxton and Healy are easy to relate to, and even though there’s nothing new here it feels fresh, especially in an era of loud bang scares and CG blood spatter. It isn’t going to change anyone’s life, but it’s a fun movie for those who don’t mind a bit of backstory and set up before the pay-off.

Let us know in the comments what you think of The Innkeepers!

 

Scream

*Originally written in 2004

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Wes Craven proves he’s a master of horror and innovation with Scream, over 10 years since his last smash which pulled a similar trick – A Nightmare on Elm Street. Craven had been a legend for 3 decades, but with this he made possibly his best known film, reinventing a dead genre for better and worse, making horror films profitable again. More importantly it gave horror fans something to cheer about – a smart, funny, sexy, but above all scary film.

Scream’s intro has already gone down in movie history as the benchmark of a shocking and effective way to start a film. Take an established actress, and eventually butcher her to set the tone. The phone, the knife, shocks, inevitability of death, blood, helplessness, and a love of scary movies. Craven turns what we expect on its head, and we know we are in for something special.

We are introduced to Sydney Prescott, a teenager whose mother was murdered a year ago, trying to get on with her life – coping with school, a boyfriend, the court case involving the man (Cotton) who has been charged with her mother’s murder, and intrusion from journalists. She has become strong through this ordeal, but is still vulnerable. Her boyfriend Billy wants sex, but isn’t pushy. The news of a new murder comes as a shock to the whole town though because of the town’s recent history, journalists flock in including Gail Weathers, who had previously accused Sydney of lies. In school the news spreads, and the cops question the students. Sydney’s tight group of friends try to work out who the killer was, believing everyone’s a suspect. Her friends are Tatum, feisty, strong whose boyfriend is similar yet comically manic, and Randy – movie nerd who secretly loves Sydney. When Sydney is attacked, it seems the killer is not done and may have a larger plan. The teens of the town gather together for a curfew-baiting house party all the while debating who the killer is, and who could be the next on their hit-list.

This is clearly one of the best horror movies of the decade, not just an excuse for gore, but clever on many levels, and self-referential. It is more than that, being one of the best looks at teenage life in the last few years. The characters are extremely well drawn, taking stereotypes, but changing them against our expectations, enhanced by some brilliant performances. Every cast member performs well, with special mention to Kennedy, Arquette, and Lillard for bringing the laughs. Cox is good, but Campbell is excellent, going through a myriad of emotions and proving that her character does not have to be stupid like most final girls are typically shown to be.

Craven is in control, feeding us clues as to the identity of the killer, but ensuring that by the end we are surprised. Gore is used effectively, the scares and jokes come thick and fast, but it is the story of Sydney which makes it a classic. She is strong willed, smart, and we go through every emotion with her, aided by Neve’s performance. We feel for her, and are frustrated we cannot help. The film is shot beautifully, with Woodsboro shown as an idyllic place to live, but with dark secrets. I love near-Leone style facial close-ups, and the care given to each character so that we are hurt when one is killed, but suspicious of each. The script is sharp, with many references to horror movies which fan will try to recognise.

Thematically we return to Elm Street territory; We must fight for ourselves in the world, and while our friends are the most important people in our lives, they may not be around forever and we must be able to cope with their loss. Parents are either not around, don’t care, don’t understand, or are to blame. Sydney’s mum seems to be the catalyst for the deaths, the only authority figure to gain respect is Dewey, who isn’t much older than the teens. The opening scene as Casey crawls towards her nearby parents, with the killer behind her highlights this, that the older generation will not always be able to keep us safe. The Headmaster, played by Henry Winkler hates kids, but he cannot organise or gain respect from them either.We are never certain of Gail’s intentions, another point to do with the media’s involvement in society today. Death has become trivialised, the victims just a ploy for ratings or power for those who tell the stories. Our thoughts on violence, on violent movies are challenged – Craven a veteran of criticism over use of violence. In the end it’s up to us as individuals. The film shows that places we believed to be safe -our homes, our schools, have become dangerous places today too, that we are not safe anywhere. In a group, or by yourself, we are still vulnerable. The scene in the school toilets emphasizes this point, and is another beautiful scene. However, the film teaches us that rather than being overcome by fear, by the fact that we are not always safe, we should fight.

I wanted to mention a few of my favourite scenes – Sydney on her porch, staring over the hills; Sydney and Billy in her bedroom while Gus’s cover of Don’t Fear the Reaper plays in the background. It gives a perfect glimpse of what it is like to be in love at that age, and together with Campbell’s beauty makes an odd atmosphere, especially when viewed again, having watched the other 2 films. We become intimate with Sydney, wishing we could save her from her pain.

With the combination of genres subverted, a brilliant script and score, some excellent acting, good scares and jokes, Scream paved the way for a new breed of horror films, none of which, like Halloween and Elm Street, have matched it. We should be thankful for Craven, as he has provided the world with another film which should be watched and talked about as much as those felt to be the best movies of all time. This is certainly one of the best of our time.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Scream!

Seul Contre Tous

*Originally written in 2003

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The follow-up to Noe’s 1991 brutal short Carne begins with a quick recount of what has happened – lead character ‘The Butcher’ has grown up hating the world after becoming an orphan because of the war. He owns a butcher shop and has a daughter, but everything else is sickening to him. He hates everyone and wishes they would all die, as we all die alone in the end. It is him against the stinking world he despises, everything is pointless, nobody cares. These ideas have been done countless times before, but never has effective, cold, or hard-hitting as here although the mood of Taxi Driver comes close. The Butcher kills a man he believed attacked his daughter, but it was the wrong guy, and goes to prison. Eventually he is let out.

Now The Butcher has found a new girlfriend, with her only because she gives him a room, sex, and promises to buy him a new shop. His daughter has been taken away from him and placed into foster care, and he only sees her for short spaces of time. She is the only one who can hold back his anger, and stop him from killing everyone on sight. However, his girlfriend repulses him, her mother is even worse in his eyes, and his grim surroundings only add to his growing hatred and rage. Like Carne, we hear his inner thoughts, how he sees everything as hopeless. Soon his inner monologue mixed with despair and fury causes an unreality and he, along with the viewer become uncertain of what is real, if the actions he takes are just his imagination or not. Soon he explodes with pure rage, beating his pregnant girlfriend on the floor and takes a gun with 3 bullets, intending to get his daughter and destroy everything. As he walks the streets his thoughts continue, and we wonder whether the people we walk with on our streets may be like this.

He is alone. Only the gun keeps him company. Several further shocking and brutal scenes are shown and they are made all the more unbearable because of the relentless pounding of words such as HATE being fired into our heads. That BOOM effect is useful in making the viewer uncomfortable, guns going off as the scenes cut. Our senses are assaulted by Noe’s direction, and Nahon’s performance is extremely impressive, easily worthy of any award. The scene where he repeatedly punches his girlfriend seems to go on forever, with all too real acting from her (Frankye Pain) adding to the horror. One scene with his daughter involving the gun is horrifying, but filmed so oddly beautifully and tenderly that we cannot look away, no matter how much we know we should be. If The Butcher escapes one harrowing act, he quickly replaces it with another. Characters like this are typically only seen in the realms of over the top horror, but Seul Contre Tous is entirely grounded in the real world.

Blandie’s performance as The Daughter is excellent, her vacancy ironic, he passivity revealing. With so much going for it, the film should rightly be seen by all self respecting movie fans, but beware that it won’t be easy. The film would be almost unwatchable if not for the beautiful cinematography, as well as some humour. However, the humour is so tongue-in-cheek that many people simply may not see it. It may leave you depressed with the world, or act as some skewed catharsis and give you hope because of your ‘better’ position. An extremely impressive film that deserves much more notice than it has received, but then again it is not the type of film you would take your partner, parents, or kids to see. Watch it on your own and let the pure emotion, and complete lack of love seep into you. One of a select breed of utterly harrowing films which will stay with you forever.

Let us know what you think of Seul Contre Tous in the comments!

Frenzy (2018)

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Another day, another low budget shark movie. Hey, at least this one tries to be serious, at least this one doesn’t simply slap two scary or amusing things together and get the local drunk to write the script. “Hey Bruce, I have a pitch for ya – ‘SpiderShark’ – has anyone made that yet? Or wait, ‘WereShark – it only comes out when the full moon is high’ – we could probably put together a script for those in a weekend, with names like those they write themselves!” These are precisely the sorts of conversations which go on in Production meetings – I should know, I’m an idiot.

So yes, Frenzy tries to be serious, but in doing so it makes many, many of the things which happen seem all the more ridiculous. Why do the plane’s wing spontaneously drop off? Why doesn’t the dude just gently land the plane when he was gliding about 50 foot above the very calm water? Why do the sharks travel in a pack of three? Why do they attack like that? Why do they look like that? Why can’t the shark rip the dinghy to shreds in two seconds but yet easily knocks two idiots out of a large boat? Why do the two idiots suddenly abort their rescue attempt to attack the sharks? Why did the sister jump in the water when the other sister was probably safe? How the hell did the sister do that counting backwards stunt when the shark was heading straight for her and how did the shark not simply adjust itself and get her anyway? How the hell did that boulder trick work? Why didn’t the shark simply swim further under water away from the fire? Why didn’t they cut the rope from the wooden raft and paddle over to the boat? Why can’t they use a radio? Why don’t they try to climb onto the mushroom shaped island? Why didn’t they throw the ‘distraction rocks’ further than three foot from the raft? Why am I watching this?

To summarize as briefly as possible, a group of friends travel the world making vlogs about the exotic places they visit, and they’re exactly the sort of people you wouldn’t want as friends – always smiley, happy, and gawping about how amazing their lives are. But look – is there… is there something going on between the sister’s boyfriend and the other sister? Ooh, intriguing. No wait, that’s not what I meant – I meant oooh, we haven’t seen that device before, and oooh it’s completely irrelevant anyway and goes absolute nowhere. They are travelling to an off the beaten track excuse for an island – more like a tumor slumped in the middle of the ocean. You can guess what happens next.

The main character is played by Aubrey Reynolds, who looks like someone I can’t quite place. It’s annoying. She does as well as she possibly can. Her, and everyone else in the cast I don’t recognise from anything else and based on the performances here I don’t think that will change in the future. In fairness, they aren’t given a lot to work with. It’s weird how so many films get the ‘I’m trapped in water and surrounded by sharks’ idea so wrong. I can’t be that hard to do it, right? Still, it’s a movie to half-watch with friends, only paying attention when something stupid happens or when the sharks arrive. In the pantheon of shark movies, it’s not the worst but it languishes with all the hundreds of others in the murky depths of mediocrity.

Let me know what you think of Frenzy in the comments!

Birdy

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Man, Nic Cage looks really young here. No wait, Nic Cage looks really old here – what is he supposed to be, sixteen? But he looks like he’s in his twenties. Same with Matthew Modine. It’s all the more strange given the kids they’re playing with are a good two feet shorter and clearly much younger. ‘Nam man, it made weirdos of us all.

Birdy is a film I’d known about since I was first obsessed with the Manic Street Preachers. When you get obsessed with a band (I’m sure this still happens today with current artists but in a much different way), from an era gone by you have to do a lot of work to learn as much about them as possible. It’s not enough to simply buy the albums and learn the songs and know every single lyric. It’s not even enough to see them live and buy the shirt and tell your friends. No, you need to chase down every TV and Radio and magazine interview or quote they ever gave. Before Tweets and Blogs we had fanzines and paper. It’s there that I learned that the Manics were as much consumers of pop culture as they were detractors of it. It’s like the old saying about a rock star teaching you more than school ever did; the Manics certainly opened my mind to stuff I’d never thought about, music I’d never cared about, and movies and books I’d never heard of.

Birdy was one such movie. When you become a Manics obsessive, most people tend to become a Richey fanatic. As the band’s lead lyricist and a central part of their creative vision, he was as seductive and humble and intelligent a mouthpiece as a rock band could ever have. Most interviews he gave (as well as the rest of the band) were a treasure trove of quips and quotes and the media loved him as they knew he would be good for a soundbite – controversial or otherwise. Richey and the band understood this as well as any professional businessman, the difference being that what Richey said came from a place of honesty and understanding. Throw in the tragedy of his mental and physical state along with the mystery of his disappearance and you have a rock and roll, human story as alluring as it is heartbreaking.

It’s no surprise then to those fans who get around to checking out some of the well publicized ‘Richey’s Favourites’ lists discover that many of his most treasured works of fiction deal directly with subject matter he was obsessed with, or dealt with, or displayed, or despised. From Concentration Camp survivors texts, to stories concerned with violence and war, from the collapse of the human spirit and the chaos of a broken mind, to authors who killed themselves or vanished entirely. Humanity’s darkest innards are where Richey rent his most tortured lyrics from, inspired in part by the master works he knew inside out. It’s easy to draw a line between the works he coveted, the works he made, and the life he led.

Birdy is a 1984 movie based off the William Wharton novel of the same name. Both concern the lasting friendship between two men – their adolescence, their harrowing war experiences, and their struggle to adjust back home. When describe like that it sounds like any number of other Vietnam movies – if I can set this one apart from the others I would say that this one has a little more in the way of heart, hope, and comedy. In the book, the War in question is WWII, but in the movie it is Vietnam – a small change, but an important one nonetheless – each war is both the same and different from the next. Nic Cage stars as Al – a typical teenager in a rundown area of Philly, while Matthew Modine is the title character – a bird obsessed, socially naive kid who Al befriends. The film jumps liberally between different time-frames – the mishaps and adventures of the mismatched youths and how their home-life and charms somehow brought and kept them together, to some point after their return from war when Al is facially disfigured and Birdy is mute and unresponsive in an Army psych ward. Interspersed later in the movie are very brief scenes of what happened in Vietnam, relaying how the relate to both events from their youth and of their current state.

I was surprised by the lack of war scenes when I first watched Birdy. That’s another key difference between it and the more famous ‘nam movies. Directed Alan Parker, known more for his musicals, prefers to focus on the friendship and the internal struggles instead of the visceral reality of what happened on the battlefield. It’s a coming of age film as much as it is a portrayal of war horror, and it feels honest and authentic in both to the extent that it gave me some nostalgia for a time in which I didn’t exist. That’s not accurate – it’s the friendship I was nostalgic for, not the time, and it strikes a similar balance to something like Stand By Me. While Cage and Modine are good, and while their friendship is something I enjoyed watching, it lacks some of the fun and camaraderie of Stand By Me, probably because the latter focused on four central characters and on a different point in their lives.

While Birdy is a fairly unique character, the film is smart enough to send a more universal message – one which it is difficult to write about without avoiding the trite metaphors about birds and freedom and cages. At points in our lives we do feel trapped and we do yearn for freedom and flight and friendship – it doesn’t matter that not all of us have experience war or abuse or social scapegoating or growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. Birdy shows us what it was like for these characters and shows enough of the characters that we recognize certain traits within ourselves. Whether we deal with hardship by tackling it face on, by indulging in obsession, by ignoring it, or by falling into fantasy – hardships are going to hit us, and Birdy tackles the subject by showing each of these responses and how friendship is one of our greatest defenses.

Peter Gabriel crafted a thoughtful score for the movie – I haven’t listened to a lot of the man’s music beyond the obvious, but his score for Birdy (which is mostly instrumental) aptly conveys both heart and panic, fear and hope. From pounding drum interludes to inspirational synths, the music can be in your face and drift quietly on the outer reaches. Parker’s film uses ‘Skycam’ heavily to simulate bird flight as well as Birdy’s imaginings and some of the flashbacks. It seems a little silly today but it works well enough for 1984 and probably raised a few eyebrows from a stylistic perspective. The important thing is that the technology serves both character and plot and isn’t just there to show off.

I went into Birdy expecting a heavier drama than what I got, based on my own assumptions of what Richey liked. A war movie about a bird obsessed man on the fringes of society, scarred and left to a careless world? How could that not be a dark and gritty story? I forget than Richey was also defiant and human and hopeful, and in the end that is more what Birdy is about.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Birdy!

Bait

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Why do we do it? Or more specifically, why do I do it? You can count the number of good, truly good shark movies on one hand and yet I watch as many of the bad ones as I can, knowing full well they are going to be bad. Is it my inherent love for the mysterious creatures? Is it because most shark movies are horror movies and an excuse to watch annoying people get chomped to pieces? Is it the hope that maybe one day someone will make another truly good one? I think it’s all of those things – I’ve always loved sharks and horror movies, and I always hope that another good one will appear. Reading the synopsis of shark movies, and knowing the companies and money involved before hand is a valid way of anticipating if the film will be good, but as I’ve said, that won’t put me off; it may not be good, but it could still be entertaining.

Bait has the following synopsis:

‘A freak tsunami traps a group of people in a submerged grocery store. As they try to escape, they are hunted by white sharks that are hungry for meat’

Aren’t most tsunamis freak events? Also, that kind of makes it sound as if the grocery store was already submerged. I assume they mean Great White Sharks too, and the fact that they’re hungry for meat goes without saying. If I was trapped in a grocery store, you’d better believe I’d be looting it to the bone. And I wouldn’t be starting with the meat, no, I’d be filling my face with sweets and crisps first – all that top shelf stuff (matron). Plus, that synopsis makes me think of two other movies I’d like to see – one set in a world where all shops are underwater, like The Jetsons but with water instead of space. So.. Spongebob, I guess. Secondly, a movie about a freakshow tsunami – a giant supafly wave which does funky dances and wears an afro.

All in all, I don’t mind the idea for this – it has potential, merging survival horror with loose disaster movie and siege movie tropes. I imagine John Carpenter having a go at this – it’s basically Assault On Precinct 13 but with sharks instead of gangstas and crap instead of goodness. Honestly, it’s not all that bad. In terms of being a cheap B movie, it’s perfectly watchable and gives enough attention to its characters that we have a passing interest in their fates, if not care. The acting is a notch above what you would expect from these things, with famous faces like Sharni Vinson and Julian McMahon providing the ‘oh, I know that guy’ moments. The film also spends time building up to the main scenario, introducing various characters and conflicts before releasing the sharks. It begins with a tragic event as lifeguard Josh watches his friend Rory be killed by a shark during a rescue. Rory was brother to Tina, Tina was engaged to Josh. Flashforward a year and Josh and Tina have split up, with Josh now working in a supermarket. Tina shows up with her new boyfriend – uh oh. Worse, a couple of criminals show up too in a botched armed robbery – oh no. Worse still, a tsunami drops, trapping the staff, shoppers, and criminals together – oopsy. Then to spice things up further, some sharks have been washed in by the tsunami, and I have a feeling they like the taste of young pretty flesh.

At times it feels like there are too many characters, each with their own crap. There are security guards, criminals, managers, shoplifters, couples galore, dogs, and some are revealed to be intertwined and some are revealed to be dicks. There are a couple of ‘twists’ though I pissed off my wife by calling them out long before they were revealed, as I always do. I won’t spoil them here, but they seemed fairly obvious even to me. There was a great moment where it looked like the dog was killed, only for a later cop-out. Hey, I love dogs but I love it just as much when people who moan about dogs being killed in movies (which almost never happens) are frightened that the dogs will be hurt. The dog here especially is more than deserving of being gobbled. But as mentioned, there is a lot going on, characters trying to resolve their differences all while working together (or not) to try to survive and escape. Certain characters are split off from the main group, some have selfish motives, others are fish fodder.

The gore and kills are as you would expect – a lot of improbable shark action and even more improbable attempts to hunt and kill the sharks. The CG isn’t great but it’s still a level or twelve above Sharknado – you’ll get a laugh out of it but can still suspend your disbelieve enough to not let it get in the way of the story. The film is actually known as Bait 3D – so you know you’re going to get some of those scenes to make the 3D stand out. Naturally I watched in 2D, so these scenes added to the ridicule. In terms of pacing and action, the film rattles along nicely and while it hits all of the expected notes, it does so in a fun way. I was never bored even though I’ve seen it all before. It’s much better than the ‘so bad it’s good’ shark movies, but still a way behind Jaws and… Jaws 2. Thanks to an interesting premise, a decent cast of recognizable faces, and actual attention to building story and character (somewhat), Bait is a film for anyone who enjoys shark movies or animal attack movies in general.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Bait!