Nightman’s Introduction To Foreign Cinema

Greetings, Glancers! A question I am often asked is ‘What the hell is wrong with your hair?’, quickly followed by ‘and what’s up with your face?’. Another more pertinent question, though asked with an equal amount of disdain and mewling voice is ‘why do you watch all those weird foreign films? Aren’t they all full of kinky sex, boring talking, and subtitles? Why can’t you just watch Fifty Shades Of Gray like the rest of us? And while I’m at it, seriously, what is up with your face? Cut your hair and get a job, you weirdo’.

You see, all of you big city fat cats who live in a more multicultural society probably have had greater access to more diverse areas of culture – cinema, music, art, and generally meet more interesting people. I, on the other hand, live here:

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It’s your typical 90% white, 90% Christian, 90% every other majority you can think of. Diversity – cultural or otherwise – isn’t exactly its strong suit. I’m being a little unfair though, as my town is one of the most absurdly friendly places you could dream of. Everyone says hello to me – for someone who could happily go for weeks without speaking to another soul, it’s quite a surreal ‘burb. Getting closer to some sort of point – for most of my life I have always been interested in stuff outside of the mainstream. I’m not saying that in some hipster way, and the movies and music I prefer are not really that far from centre because almost all of them have popular followings – it’s just that the stuff I like isn’t spoken of in my immediate social circles.

It all started, as most things do, with Bruce Lee. I’ve mentioned it before, but I have always loved martial arts movies, and when I grew up in the 80s the best movies of the genre did not come from Hollywood. I was therefore exposed to Asian cinema – Hong Kong, China, Japan, Thailand and more – at an early age. As time went on I branched out with different countries and genres. I’ve always loved Hollywood movies, but crucially I haven’t been afraid of looking beyond. And there is so much more. 

It’s frustrating to me that I follow multiple blogs by otherwise knowledgeable film fans who outright ignore movies outside of the US. Sure, every so often a big film will get a widespread US release and then everyone jumps on it. But then they move on to the next slice of Superhero skyscraper destructo-porn. I get that we all have limited time to watch movies and you want to spend that time either on movies you think you’ll already like or, if you’re one of these bloggers in it for the Likes and Followers, then you only watch whatever crap is in the charts – in which case I pity you. But every so often you have a blogger, or a Youtuber, or someone in a Facebook group who clearly and dearly loves Cinema and knows their John Ford from their John Hughes, yet when the subject of Foreign Film comes up they dismiss it entirely. Subtitles? Pah, if I wanted to read I’d go buy a book. You may as well say ‘if I wanted to learn I’d glue myself to the windows of the local Convent’.

I’m not saying Foreign movies are better and I don’t mean to sound condescending or superior, believe me I’m just as crap a person as you, I’m simply making a genuine plea for those people (bloggers or otherwise) who claim to love movies to widen their horizons. Don’t put yourself in a box, never limit your own experiences, and experiment as much as you possibly can to enrich your own life. Some of the most beautiful, heartbreaking, funniest, terrifying, evocative, influential, skillful, breathtaking movies ever made come from outside the US. If you love movies, why would you deprive yourself of those?

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Basically, to get into foreign cinema you need to find your own personal niche – one movie, one performer, one genre that you can get into which acts as a gateway drug to a large and crazy cache of fantasy and wonder. Like West Coast Cooler leads to a pint of Absinthe, like a puff of pot leads to naked desert meth production, like masturbating leads to grand larceny or something, you can’t dive into the hard stuff without first wetting your beak with a treat you already enjoy, albeit with a slight twist. So for anyone asking those questions at the top of the post, or for anyone curious about foreign films, feel free to have a gander at my posts. Today I’ll give you some basic pointers, and later I’ll expand with some examples.

Lesson 1: Don’t Start With The Award Winners

An easy place to get stuck and disheartened is by Googling for Best Foreign movies and working through the list. Almost every such list will be filled with great movies, but they will likely be on the more dramatic or critically acclaimed side – not necessarily the sort of things someone new to Foreign Film will want. Better lists will give a blurb on each movie and if it sounds like you’ll like it, by all means give it a go. Another mistake people make is by checking the Best Foreign Film winners at the Oscars. Again, if you’re the sort of person who hasn’t watched Foreign Films before then there’s a chance you’re not the sort of person who even watches the Best Picture winners at the Oscars. That’s fine – I’d much rather watch a bunch of zombies get shot up than watch Emma Stone sing and dance. Oh yeah, that didn’t win. Looking at the Best Foreign Language winners of the last twenty years, there aren’t many which jump out as something which would suck in the average mainstream movie goer (and you’d be better served by looking at my Oscar Post nominations for Best Foreign Film anyway – ha).

Lesson 2: Don’t Listen To Assumptions

Boring. Slow. Cheap. Weird. Subtitles. Bad acting. A bunch of nobodies. Confusing. Artistic. Porn. These are all things I’ve heard people say, both to my face and in my years of reviewing, blogging, posting, and reading. The simple answer is both yes, no, and so what? Any movie from any country can be boring, slow, ‘weird’, and have bad acting. The assumption that this is somehow widespread throughout foreign movies is nonsense. Movies are subjective, so find what you like – see Lesson 1 and Lesson 4. Personally, I like ‘weird’ movies. If something doesn’t sound like it will be to your tastes, don’t watch it but don’t make the assumption that every other movie will be the same. Foreign films, depending on the Country, have just as many big name actors and directors as Hollywood – you just don’t know them yet. Subtitles are the best way for me to watch a non-English language movie, but if you really are that dim that you can’t read at a faster rate than 1 word every few seconds, then you probably don’t have mental capacity to watch any movie. I don’t like dubbing because I find it a more jarring experience than subtitles – taking away from the performance of the cast. Sometimes dubbing makes the movie better, though this is typically from the viewpoint of unintentional hilarity.

You will find films from a Country other than your own, on average, more confusing than films from your own Country – there’s no escaping that fact. This doesn’t mean you will be utterly dumbfounded or lost. There are just as many ‘easy’ films and mainstream films as in Hollywood – just different. Sure there will be films that you just won’t get, but again you could say the same for Hollywood. You think foreign films are more artistic – I would say that’s not a bad thing. It’s another misconception too. Foreign films make less money – less people see them, and perhaps that means there is less of a sense of Business surrounding them meaning that ‘anything goes’. Everything considered, it sounds like only toffs, hipsters, smart-asses, and weirdos watch foreign junk. You don’t have to be smart, or weird, or sophisticated, or false, or anything to enjoy a foreign movie – you just have to find the one that’s right for you. Foreign movies have sex. Non-foreign movies have sex. If you think sex is evil, don’t watch.

Lesson 3: Understand What ‘Foreign Film’ Means

For the purposes of my posts, I am calling out Foreign movies as anything not made in Britain or the US. I could even limit it to anything outside of US, but that would be weird given that I’m not American. There are a tonne of other movie markets around the world, some English speaking, some not. For any Americans looking to branch out but keeping to English Language – try UK Cinema, try Australian cinema. Foreign cinema as a whole deals with the same issues and genres as American mainstream and indie cinema. You want car chases, slasher movies, slapstick comedies, tragedies, romance, war epics, these are all things which exist around the world. You don’t need to know much, or anything, about the country of origin, but any knowledge might help your appreciation or increase enjoyment. Each country does have their quirks and very loose, very high level style based on decades of movie making and centuries of culture, and the more you watch the more you will catch these. If such things exist, a ‘generic’ French drama has inherent differences from a ‘generic’ Spanish drama, a Japanese action movie will have different trademarks than a Hong Kong one. I’ll focus more on these in my next posts.

Lesson 4: Think About What You Already Like

As alluded to above, Foreign Cinema is essentially the same as Hollywood Cinema – it just comes from a different place and culture. If you’re strictly a horror fan, then the world is your oyster. If you only like bloody and gruesome horror movies, then head straight for France, Italy, or Spain. If you like action movies, get over to Hong Kong. If you like musicals, Bollywood is waiting. You may already like a film by an actor or director who is primarily or partially known for Foreign movies – if you like their Hollywood work, chances are you’ll like their other stuff too. By far the best way to get into Foreign Cinema is by branching out from your existing preferences. All it takes is one movie, or even one moment, to make it all click. You don’t have to worry about being a connoisseur, you don’t have to worry about sounding smart or cool in a crowd, although you can do those things. Watching movies should be primarily a selfish experience – ask yourself what you want from a film and what you’ll get from it. As a secondary item, you will want to share your experience with like-minded people, and eventually even try to convert others, but that all starts with you and that first step of finding something you like.

Lesson 5: Behold Now Is The Accepted Time

It has never been easier to get into foreign movies, or movies in general. Since the mid nineties, foreign cinema saw a boom in the UK and US with a number of high profile films from around the world making a tonne of money outside of their own markets. A tonne of DVD companies popped up specifically to bring you the best in World Cinema, anime became a global monster; nerds and things nerds like became cool, encouraging others to come out of the woodwork. Streaming happened -all you have to do is stick in Netflix or Hulu or Amazon or some of the less legal alternatives, and find the foreign section. Everything is available at the touch of a button, a far cry from asking your local video store owner if he’s getting in any more Dario Argento movies and waiting 6 weeks for an answer. Scroll through a few Streaming Services after reading my posts, and you should find something to try. Just don’t come moaning to me that you lost 90 minutes of your life – what else were you going to do with that time – larceny? Masturbate? Yeah, I know all your dirty secrets.

In my next series of posts I’m going to cover some of my favourite movie making countries and why I love them, and I’m going to give some examples of gateway movies for specific genres. Maybe it will take the format of ‘If you like Hollywood’s then you’ll like Russia’s Y’. I’ll talk a little bit about the biggest stars and directors past and present from a variety of countries, and hopefully a few of you will take the plunge or use these examples and on-the-spur advice to win your own friends and detractors over. It’s a big world out there, people, and it’s all there to be enjoyed!

Let us know in the comments your struggles with watching foreign films or converting others to watching them, and point out some of your favourites!

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!

The Highest Rated Movies I Don’t Like – IMDb Edition!

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Greetings, Glancers! It’s me again, back with another rambling ramble about movies. In previous posts I visited famous film graveyard Rotten Tomatoes and harped on about the fact that too many modern (last 5 years) movies occupy their most highly rated spots, and how some of my favourite films ever were slapped with a rating less than 50%, 40%, or in some cases 1%. That’s fine – everyone knows scoring is a nonsense, as subjective as the movies themselves. Everyone knows that my scoring system (click the link, you know you wanna) is better and will become the gold standard once I’m dead and no-one can pay me for it.

There’s me rambling again. It’s a problem. And a charm. A Charmblem? There you go, a new word which describes an action or behaviour which is at once charming and problematic. I bet I don’t get credit for creating that either. On to the much more reputable Internet Movie Database, a site I have been using and abusing since 2000. Remember the forums? Those were great. One of the IMDb’s most popular pages has always been its Top 250. There used to be wonderfully pointless fights in the forums over keeping either The Godfather or The Shawshank Redemption on the number one spot. It’s hilarious that people would spend so much time on such trivial matters (he says while furiously typing yet another post on the subject) and it’s all so silly – it should be Terminator 2 at Number 1. People would argue over scoring campaigns, people giving deliberately bad scores to great movies just to see it drop down some arbitrary ranking. People get so defensive over these products which don’t care about them. It’s the same way with videogames – Nintendo versus Sega, Sony vs Microsoft, Spectrum vs Commodore. My response has always been the same – what brand of toaster/microwave do you have? Do you care if mine is better/faster/cleaner than your one? No, so why should you care about this? You’re a consumer, nothing more. The Product and the Business and the Owners don’t give a shit about you.

Having said that, I did always enjoy pissing off the Fight Club and The Usual Suspects fans. They were so easy to troll and they were so precious and defensive about their films that they would threaten with death anyone who dared to give a score less than 9. Kevin Spacey fans were the worst… well who’s laughing now? Certainly not Mr Spacey – he of See No Evil, Hear No Evil fame. It has been a while since I checked the IMDb Top 250. I can only imagine there are a lot more Christopher Nolan and Marvel movies there now, but I imagine there will still be more older, more foreign movies. I don’t think the frothing rabid geek army cares enough about the IMdb to ruin it – they only like their ‘new toys’, and ‘new’ the IMDb ain’t. So in this post I’m going to look at the movies in the IMDb Top 250 which I don’t like. Then I’ll do the same (opposite?) for their lowest scoring movies. Why? Why do you think – I’m drunk.

I had a moment there where I wondered if they even had a Top 250 anymore, but phew, they do. Maybe they don’t have a low rating list anymore? Lets worry about that later. What immediately strikes me at first glance is that there is a whole host of movies I haven’t seen and probably never will. There seems to have been an influx of Indian movies onto the list. Gangs Of Wassypur is at 250 and I’ve never heard of it. Bollywood or Indian movies in general I know almost nothing about, beyond the fact that the few I’ve seen I haven’t liked. 247 is another Indian entry I know nothing of, while another – Rang De Basanti is in at 218 – above the likes of The Terminator, The Wizard Of Oz, Jaws, and The Exorcist. Interesting.

Okay, at number 189, one place above Stand By Me, is the overrated and underrated Into The Wild – the true story of a privileged bin-lid who decided to decided to go ‘On The Road’ into the wilderness in search of… himself? Something? Either way, he gets eaten by a bear, so it’s all good.  Or maybe he ate a leaf and got poisoned? All the same. I say it’s overrated because this gets a lot of critical and cult acclaim, but it’s just not very good. Good performances and soundtrack, nice scenery, but man what a knob the central character is. It’s underrated in that I don’t think many people know it exists and it should be seen so more people can form an opinion of it, but it’s just not for me. It annoyed me too much and I see the central story as little different from those click-bait articles about people taking a selfie while hanging over the edge of The Grand Canyon before falling to their deaths.

At 181 is David Fincher’s comedy Gone Girl. Yes, I think it’s a comedy. That’s the only way I can take it seriously. For a director as brilliant as Fincher, it takes all of my favourite hallmarks of his and flushes them down the drain and replaces them with monotone visuals, insipid characters, and bland drama wrapped up in a mystery less engaging than me wondering where my other sock is (spoiler alert – it was in the drawer ALL ALONG). I get why people like it – it’s mainstream. But to the extent that it’s included among the best movies ever? Nope.

In an incredibly similar vein are my feelings towards Shutter Island. I was excited when I saw Scorsese was making a horror film and after watching Shutter Island I’m still waiting for him to make a horror film. This was nothing more than an extended Tales From The Darkside episode, with added blandness and an ending I’d already predicted before I’d pushed the play button. I could ‘go there’ with Gone With The Wind but I think that would be pointless – it’s undoubtedly a great achievement and a significant moment in history which I respect – it’s just not a favourite. I could go into No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood – both films I think are impressively overrated but I can probably wait until I get around to their Oscar posts in the future.

At 152 is Room, a film I believe I reviewed here, the basic summary of which being that it’s good, but a little meh, and I don’t believe in any way it needs to be considered as one of the best 200 movies ever. At 151 is V For Vendetta – a film which I consider to be more or less a complete mess. Beyond some select visuals, there’s nothing here of interest. At 142 is Lock, Stock, And Two Smoking Barrels, another film I can’t stand but then I’m biased against all that Cockney Gangster wank. A Beautiful Mind at 141 I didn’t care for, same goes for Some Like It Hot at 117. I really don’t like that one, in fact. Snatch is at 104 – more Cockney gangster wank. At 87 is Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind – a film by all accounts I should have enjoyed, but again think it is an overrated heap. American Beauty is at 69, a film I liked, but not nearly enough to consider it within even my top twenty movies of that year. The Dark Knight Rises is at 67 – seriously? It’s clearly the weakest of the trilogy and nowhere near on a par with Burton’s first film – did I enjoy it? Hell yeah, but no chance this is one of the best films ever – and it’s one spot higher than Aliens? Da phuk outta here.

Django Unchained didn’t do much for me – it’s at 61 for some reason. Then we get a pile of other Indian movies and recent movies I haven’t seen yet, but can only assume they are not ‘better’ than Alien, Vertigo, or Full Metal Jacket. Into the top thirty and there’s nothing I don’t like. There’s plenty I don’t agree with – Inception is not the 14th best movie ever, Fight Club is not the 10th best movie ever, City Of God should not be above A New Hope, but that’s not why we’re here. Hopefully a few of my outbursts have made you angry. Or surprised you. I don’t know. Like I said before, feel free to like what you like. Even share what you like and encourage others to check those films out. But don’t force your opinion upon others and expect them to feel the same way. There is no Best Movie Ever, only what made a lot of money, what was liked by a bunch of people, what is still talked about years after the fact, what had an influence on something or someone else.

Let us know in the comments what popular or critically acclaimed movies you don’t like. Next time, I check out the lowest rated movies. It’ll be fun.

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!

Aftermath

aftermath

The big man is back, this time he’s gunning for revenge against the bad guy who murdered his family…. except it’s not the 80s anymore and this isn’t an action movie. Aftermath takes the true life story of a mid air collision between two airplanes, and one man’s quest for justice in the (insert title). Those looking for scenes of Arnie gunning down hordes of terrorists and quipping one-liners will be disappointed, but for more dedicated Arnie fans like me who are just happy that he’s still working, this is a unique oddity in his filmography.

Since stepping down as The Governator, Arnie has been expanded his dramatic chops more. He still throws down in old school Action flicks such as Sabotage and The Last Stand, he has made smaller films in quieter dramas such as Maggie or notable cameos like in Killing Gunther. Aftermath sees him star as an unassuming builder looking forward to the arrival of his wife and pregnant daughter, only to receive the news that they have tied in an air traffic accident. The film isn’t only his story, his is paralleled (just like the intersecting paths of the airplanes, get it?) by the air traffic controller who is ostensibly blamed for the incident. The film follows both characters, one racked with guilt, the other fueled by a need to hear someone apologize for what has happened, both suffering from different losses in different ways.

The film is well acted though strangely uneventful. There is a quietness to the emotional content which never wallows in grief or in breakdown, instead showing the simple void of shock and misunderstanding which surrounds loss. It is almost played like a TV drama – in terms of music, direction, writing, there is nothing out of the ordinary beyond the big name cast. It seems like a strange choice for Schwarzenegger as this was never going to be a money maker or raise his profile in any way, so we can only assume it was the story and character he was interested in. Just one side note – while the film ended essentially how you expect it to once its big shock is out of the way (I didn’t think the film would take the turn that it did), it did leave me wishing that one side character got his comeuppance. It’s immature and fruitless, but when dickish characters get away with their dickish behaviour in movies or TV, it pisses me off because I know that’s what tends to happen in real life. We like seeing these scumbags getting tossed off buildings or arrested etc because its escapism. There is a textbook smarmy lawyer in the film (played by good old Terry from Dawn Of The Dead) who refuses to look at a photograph of Arnie’s family, instead smirking with his Gordon Gecko hair and sitting smug in the knowledge that Arnie will never succeed in court. It would have been nice to see Arnie ram his fist into this guy’s stomach and break his Goddamn spine, but alas. The main issue with this is, there’s no way this character is a real person – for such a sensitive event, no firm in the world is going to send such a repugnant asshole – every firm in the world would be bending over backwards to make you feel good and freaking the hell out that they could lose.

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

Dark Tide

shark

Well. Well, that was a piece of shit, wasn’t it? I’m not usually interested in criticizing a film when it’s bad or ripping it to shreds for comedy purposes, but when I’ve already stated that I watch a lot of bad, deliberately bad shark movies, and a lot of low budget, made for TV shark movies with the worst CG this side of me and Microsoft Paint, to say this is worse than those should be everything you need to know.

Halle Berry stars as Kate, a shark whisperer who likes to free dive with Great Whites. Fair enough. I don’t think she’s necessarily miscast and I usually like her, but she has no business being in this film beyond being as a vanity project for her and her husband and co-star Olivier Martinez. Note – I had no idea they were married or together or anything until my wife told me. Note – Olivier Martinez has never been good in anything. Ever. Some other people are in it – doesn’t matter. They are married in the movie and are making self-involved ‘movies’ about swimming with sharks, which involves jumping into the ocean and tugging on their fins. I… I sense something might be about to go wrong. Yes, Quarrel is gobbled by a shark and we flash-forward 12 months to see that Kate is… continuing like nothing ever happened. She doesn’t make the movies anymore and she doesn’t see her husband, but she’s still out on the water, now giving tours which isn’t bringing in much money. Her husband appears on the scene again with an offer to take some billionaire out on a special tour so he can swim with the sharks like she used to. I… I sense something might be about to go wrong…

This movie cost $25 million. Here are some things which could have been done with $25 million instead of making this movie:

Donate to Shark Preservation charities

Donate to me

Go to Space with you and all your friends

Buy your own island (and shoot your own shitty movies there)

Hire a hundred teachers

Buy 25 MRI machines

But 10 CAT machines

Give a hell of a lot of starving people a hell of a lot of food and water

Give a hell of a lot of homeless people a hell of a lot of shelter

I don’t know… a bunch of monkeys to play with.

Yet they decided to go ahead and make Dark Tide. I honestly have no idea why or how this was released in its current state. Filmed in 2010 it flapped around until a limited release in 2012 – clearly no-one (rightly) had any clue what to do with it and decided just to chuck it out there and maybe get a few bucks back on their investment. It is a completely incoherent mess. Halle Berry’s character, we assume is supposed to be traumatized by the death of her friend, yet spends the whole movie smiling and joking like she’s parading down a red carpet. She has spent a year away from swimming with sharks, but dives on in with zero hesitation or post traumatic stress. The wife of the guy who was killed at the start – far from blaming the sheer stupidity of her husband and Berry’s character, she just shrugs it off like ‘meh, he lived his life like he wanted – being eaten’. Berry is meant to be estranged from her husband, has removed his number from her phone, and hasn’t seen him in a year, yet spends the entire film flirting with and fondling him like they’re horny teens on their first date; even though he’s a complete dick the entire time. Later she finally comes to her senses and decides that no, they’re not going to take their clearly falling to pieces ship into the most shark invested part of the world and let some asshole swim outside a cage with sharks, only for the husband to slap her around about, to which SHE apologizes for, and then goes ahead and takes them to dive with the sharks.

Oh, we’re not finished folks. There’s a scene – a completely irrelevant scene early in the movie which… I have not idea why it exists. It sets up a bunch of shady characters who seem to be going poaching? They’re in a dodgy van, they go to a stretch of water, then go diving for oysters, or abalone, or doubloons or something. Right, so these are bad guys and they’re going to show up later and attack Berry’s boat or Berry will have to save them from being eaten. Nope, we see them swim around the water for a minute and then… nothing? They are never seen again, there is no mention of them again, they aren’t attacked? No idea. The dead guy’s wife is apparently psychic, calling the coastguard to tell them that she ‘knows something has gone wrong’ on Berry’s boat and to get a search party out there. It’s okay, she isn’t seen again either. There’s a 10 minute stretch where Berry takes a random family out on a trip – so these guys are going to get attacked and eaten? Nope, she just takes them out, comes back, and then takes out the next group who do get attacked. It’s almost like they filmed the first family and decided they weren’t interesting enough to spend the rest of the film with, but we’ve filmed the scenes so we may as well keep them in the movie.

Oh yeah, the boat keeps breaking – in the character’s own words beyond repair – then is suddenly fixed and working in the next scene. This happens more than once. Every character without fail has zero motivation for anything that happens or anything they do, everybody apparently hates everyone else yet spend most of their time joking and giggling. Berry’s character can hold her breath… forever? She’s down in that water as day turns to night, comes up for a quick puff, and then heads down again for a few hours. There’s a storm coming and their boat is already broken but why the hell shouldn’t they keep going for an hour and a half into the storm and further from shore to get to the sharks. Hell, it’s not like they could go home and come back the next day. They go out to an area which has literally hundreds of seals swimming around after telling us that sharks can’t resists seals. Then they get on the boat and say there are no sharks around so they tie a carboard seal to the back of the boat, drive forward a few yards, and lo and behold a shark attacks the fake seal? Eh? Why would it go for thi, and not one of the other thousand or so real seals around it? But wait – actually, it was a real seal the shark attacked because they put the cardboard on back on the boat, intact. So the fake one is used to attract sharks in an area full of real seals and make them attack the real ones? But wait – the footage of the shark attacking the seal is actually a fairly famous real-life clip of a shark attack that they edited into the movie. Believe me, I’m only scratching the surface here? Not a single moment passes in this movie without something entirely implausible, nonsensical, ridiculous, or pointless happening, completely without explanation.

As I said, it’s not like me to go harping on about a film’s shortcomings as I know how much effort and collaboration, and work goes into making a film to the extent that it’s almost a miracle anything ever gets made. But seriously, how did this ever see the light of day? Director John Stockwell seems to have a fetish for bikini clad women or deep blue seas, having also unleashed Blue Crush, Into The Blue, and the as yet to be imagined Blue Smurfs Have A Blue Old Time Playing The Blues In Blue Blue Sea (Part Blue). The film has a couple of things going for it – good underwater photography in places, and the use of actual sharks. Why bother choosing this over something on the Discovery Channel then? For the chumps being chomped of course, but unfortunately we only get that once in the opening five minutes, and briefly in the final ten. Everything else in between is completely bewildering. Anyway, I’ve watched quite a few shark movies recently but this is the first I just had to write about and publish immediately (having watched it last night). More shark movie reviews to come, and as not great as those movies were, I’d easily recommend those over this.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of Dark Tide, especially if you’re one of those weirdos who actually enjoyed it.

It’s All About Love

lov

You know, a lot of the time when I watch a movie I jot down physical or mental notes to use in my subsequent review, or so I remember what I thought and felt – many times I don’t write a review for months or years after watching the thing. As I was writing my notes and as the disjointed narrative sprawled out, I thought that hey, why don’t I just make my unfiltered jotted down notes the review. I’m no William Burroughs, but I’ve used this cut-up approach to reviews or discussions or pieces of work before – when the subject matter called for it. Plus, I’m lazy and can’t be bothered turning the words below into sentences and a format. So here it is – a pile of thoughts I had when I was watching It’s All About Love.

Thought it was a random romance, only recorded it because of Claire Danes. Then Joaquin Phoenix appears on screen and I wonder if the machine has recorded the wrong movie. Then it opens like some jaunty Coen brothers crime romp with unusual conversations, stilted vague dialogue, and a dead guy at the bottom of an escalator that everyone just ignores and steps over. Weird accents. Then Sean Penn appears, also with a weird accent. Then there’s a dead guy in a bin. What the hell is going on? Is this some parallel future? Background news reports of some deadly disease but no-one seems to care. People are randomly talking about flying. I’ll admit to being mesmerised. Always something going on in the background. Creepy kids singing soundtrack. Dimly lit Doppelgangers. Bridging Perfect Blue and Black Swan, by way of Mulholland Drive. Seems the world is failing because no-one loves anyone, though a lot of these people appear to love each other. Or is it obsession? I wonder what Wikipedia says. Claire Danes cried when she saw it – because it was bad, not because it was good. I’m not crying, but I’m still watching. There are bad guys and hinted at subplots. Now it’s Blade Runner. Seriously, why are they doing all these accents? Sean Penn is still on a plane. I have a feeling this isn’t going anywhere. There aren’t enough Claire Danes sex scenes in the world. Uh oh, everyone is getting killed. Why would you keep moving when the sniper is clearly only going to shoot you when you do. She’s still somehow alive. Now we’re going into a snowy wilderness. Is the whole world freezing? Everyone is having fun, then suddenly everyone is dead. Sean Penn is still on a plane.

What did you think of It’s All About Love? Let us know in the comments!

Eaten Alive

Tobe Hooper sure likes them weirdo, murderin’ yokels. As if he couldn’t get enough of all the dead skin wearin’, chainsaw totin’, blood suckin’ hicks in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre he takes us back into familiar territory with Eaten Alive – the loosely factual based story about an unhinged hotel (?) owner with a swamp instead of a backyard, and a croc instead of a dog. After the success of his breakthrough film it appeared that Hooper was safely giving the audience more of the same – but is it as good as its predecessor?

No is the short answer. There are many reasons why The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is held in such high esteem and many horror films are not. That doesn’t mean Eaten Alive isn’t worth watching – for horror fans it’s fairly close to essential viewing given the director’s pedigree, and it stars a varied cast making some interesting choices. The film starts with a lead character fake-out a la Psycho or Scream – a young woman called Clara is a somewhat reluctant prostitute working in a small town brothel. Her reluctance causes her boss to chuck her out, and she is advised to walk to a nearby hotel for the night. Lets back up – the film actually opens with a nice crotch shot as Robert Englund utters the Kill Bill inspiring ‘my name’s Buck and I like to…’ you get the idea. It’s not often that Englund gets to play a ladies man, but here we assume he has the stamina and libido of an adolescent rabbit, casting off Clara before having a threesome, before picking up a girl in a bar. The film takes place over the course of a single night – a few hours – so that Buck fella must hella fuck.

Clara finds her way to the hotel, run by the muttering unhinged Judd (Neville Brand), who recognises her as coming from the brothel. Ol’ Judd isn’t a fan of such things so he grabs his handy scythe and dispatches of Clara, feeding her to his pet crocodile. The remainder of the film is Judd’s night being disturbed by additional visitors – Buck and his girl, the local Sheriff, a bickering husband and wife and their daughter and dog, and Clara’s father and sister hot on her trail. There are quite a few comparisons to be made between this and TCM – there is a similar low grade, dirty look to the cinematography, although at times there are bizarre saturated reds and backlights. Both films feature women in peril, both feature an unhinged man using a farming tool to murderous ends, and both films are incredibly noisy, with screams and shrieks and a buzzing atypical score. The scares here don’t work nearly as well though and there is a more voyeuristic, lurid tone with plenty of boobs on display and a little more blood. The crocodile never feels like a threat and is mostly used as a disposal unit, and Judd pales as a villain in comparison to any of the TCM family.

Where the film at times surpasses TCM is in its performances. There are some truly WTF moments when it comes to the acting and some strange choices which hurt overall, but Hooper is in command of professional actors this time around. TCM’s heroine Marilyn Burns appears here too in a role that largely recalls Sally from that film. It’s the characterisation which lets the film and the performances down – Burns plays a wife and mother who moves between hating and loving her husband and giving him drugs? She is wearing a wig when she first arrives and it’s unclear if she is supposed to be some sort of criminal. It’s difficult to feel any sympathy for her then when Judd kills her husband and ties her to a bed for who knows what. Roy, her husband, is played by William Finley who gets the lion’s share of bad moments, wailing and stretching and overacting to the point of underacting. At first he is confident, then he has an inexplicable breakdown, before turning into some attempt at a vengeful hero. Judd all the while stumbles around the hotel, muttering and groaning to himself. Neville Brand has a great voice for Cinema, a deep, low tone which instantly grabs your attention, but it isn’t put to use here – hi mutterings mostly indecipherable. He’s never less than manic, hopping about on one good leg and displaying a range of tics but like his pet you imagine that a good stiff boot in the nuts would put him down easily enough.

The better performances come with Mel Ferrer and Crystin Sinclaire as Clara’s siblings. Ferrer aches with loss and guilt and a touch of manic desperation himself, while Sinclaire is the spitting image of Hilary Swank. Sinclaire doesn’t get a lot to do, but she has a confident presence and allure which makes you wonder why she never became a star. The Sheriff, as played by the ever familiar Stuart Whitman, adds his own brand of tainted understanding. Rounding out things are a young Kyle Richards as the annoying, screeching child who is chased under the house but won’t scream when there’s actually someone there who can help her, and Buck’s pickup Janus Blythe who brings another layer of amusing sleaze – both decent performances. The performance and appearance of the croc is underwhelming – it’s hidden for most of the film, but when it does pop out it doesn’t look the best – think Jaws but cheaper.

I never got around to seeing Eaten Alive until recently – it wasn’t the easiest movie to get a hold of and it never struck me as a must-see. For some reason I always assumed it was a cannibal movie and combined with it being hard to get a hold of I assumed that all meant that it probably wasn’t very good. There is an Italian cannibal movie with the same name, so somewhere along the way I merged the two in my own mind. It’s worth seeing, both as a follow-up to one of the greatest of all time, and as a quirky slice of Southern grime. Just why is there a hotel out there in the middle of nothing? Why does Clara have to struggle through a bushy forest to find her way to it – isn’t there a path? Should we assume Judd has been killing all of his guests? If he remorselessly wipes out several in this single night, then we have to assume he has done it before giving him a probably high kill rate and surely then the authorities would have been knocking on his door years before? In any case, it’s not a film you’re supposed to question – it’s played more to make you uncomfortable rather than outright scare you, and there has always been something about crazed loner hicks which has both entertained and put me on edge. While there isn’t anything a dedicated horror fan won’t have seen here before, it’s exactly the sort of film a dedicated horror fan should still get a kick out of.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Eaten Alive!

Come And See

Trawl any list of ‘Best WWII Movies’ and you’ll find everything from Award Winning masterpieces like Schindler’s List and The Pianist, to old school epics such as The Bridge Over The River Kwai and The Great Escape, and even notable modern movies including Dunkirk, Son Of Saul, and Black Book. Come And See is not one you often see included (if it is, it’s probably number 1), despite its near universal acclaim and almost every review calling it one of the best War movies ever. On the surface, it seems the primary reason is that it is a Russian movie which received little exposure in the West but in today’s world of instant easy access you can find the uncut film for free on YouTube. While the film shares similarities with many of the films above, it should be viewed as a standalone, because I’m not sure there is really anything like it out there.

In Come And See, we follow a young boy in Belarus during the Nazi invasion. The film opens with him and another child playing at war on a desolate endless beach. Flyora finds a rifle buried in the sand, and this discovery seems to be the final key in his decision to join the local partisan resistance group. His family do not want him to leave but when the army comes knocking at his door, he joins them on the march and soon finds himself task with menial jobs. He isn’t impressed, but he isn’t great at the work. The partisans decide to leave him behind and he heads home depressed, meeting a young nurse on the way. This kicks off a chain of events leading to increasingly grim encounters and discoveries as the we witness the true horrors of war through the eyes and mind of a child whose limited faculties are shell shocked beyond salvation.

There is an episodic quality to Come And See which made it feel to me like a series of shorts. This does little to temper the unrelenting nightmare of what is shown but to me it mimics the newsreel ending – these are snapshots of moments of war. They are simultaneously irrelevant and all important – moments that could be happening to anyone because they were happening to everyone, moments of increasing savagery with survival dependent on increasing reliance on the whims of fate. There is also an initially perplexing dreamlike quality, with long shots which seem to dwell on nothing only for some semblance of an answer to come a few scenes later. There is an ambiguous beauty with the destruction of the countryside acting as a metaphor and twin to the destruction of the self. Cliches are turned inside out and war is shown with no hint of glory – it is nothing more than pointless ugly death, hysterical, monstrous, and beyond understanding. There is a scene where Flyora forces himself through a muddy marsh, struggling to keep afloat as the stink drags him down – your typical movie would see the protagonist coming out the other side stronger and metaphorically ready to stare down any challenge with renewed hope. This is not your typical movie, and there is no hope to be found.

And yet, I had my problems with it. The film contains far too many close up facial shots and moments of uncomfortable laughter or grimacing which tread the line between unintentionally humourous and unwatchable, to plain annoying, to recalling Lynch. These tend to go hand in hand with unconvincing performances leaving the viewer unsure if the acting is too real or merely atrocious. As a seasoned viewer of foreign cinema I have encountered my fair share of films with similar moments and actors, but an audience too used to the gloss and budget of Hollywood will likely switch off. By the end, these early moments do feel more intentional and you will be more forgiving, and they contribute to the hallucinatory quality. Special mention must go to the editing and sound departments, as they too work off each other to make this clanging, scattershot din, with ringing sounds to echo the post-explosion numbness and off screen mumbles, laughs, and screams enforcing an all-encompassing maelstrom. Much of the violence happens off-screen or just in the background, with characters regrettably looking over their shoulders like Orpheus to catch a horror which will forever haunt them, or with the aftermath of events being stumbled upon by chance.

Come And See is not an easy watch. At times it made me wish I was watching Son Of Saul instead, and at others I couldn’t look away. While I’m not sure a cleaner look, a bigger budget, or more professional performers would have made the film better, I think those improvements would help the film reach a wider and more accommodating audience. Taken as it is, it remains as stark and harrowing a depiction of human evil as you’ll ever find, merging real life events with sequences and stylistic choices which disorient and serve to make you more than a mere observer, but feel and taste the disgust and revulsion we all should feel. I can’t say that it is one of my favourite war films, but it’s certainly unique, people more knowledgeable than me have proclaimed it a masterpiece, and given that it’s easily available to watch online it should be considered a must see.

What did you think of Come And See? Let us know in the comments!