Friday, 24 June 2011


First things first: The English title for this Israeli horror film has absolutely nothing to do with its content. There are no rabid dogs or people on display, at least in the literal sense. What we get instead is a dark comedy/gross out/horror hybrid with a decidedly nightmarish (lack of) logic to it. This gives the film an edge, in that we never know quite what to expect, but also makes it more difficult to identify with or care about any of the characters and what happens to them.

The story begins in a more generic fashion, as a brother and sister encounter a maniac stalker type in the woods. The sister is captured, while the brother escapes and seeks help. He encounters a group of four tennis players – well, they accidentally run him over – who have become lost. Recovering, brother persuades the two guys to go help him find his sister, while the two girls stay with their vehicle and call the cops.

Around about this point, the curveballs really start flying. The cops arrive, the older one being preoccupied by his own relationship issues and younger proving a creep who enjoys the opportunity to grope the girls on the basis of searching them...

At times it seems the bright, overly lit land land is itself inimical to the characters, that anyone who enters the area loses their grip on reality or encounters their own particular reality, a bit like the Zone in Tarkovsky's Stalker.

Maybe there is also an Israel-specific subtext to this – in most countries national parks you probably aren’t going to inadvertently wander into an old minefield, as happens here – but if so it is one that is likely to be lost on international audiences.

Still, at least the filmmakers have tried to do something different...


To be “ghosted” is to be secretly transferred from one prison to another. Is a move which incurs suspicion as to why the transfer occurred – was it for the prisoner’s safety, indicating vulnerability, or because they were an informer?

The term is also one of the few new things perhaps learnt from this British prison drama from cinematographer turned director Craig Vivieros, whose script relies heavily upon such well-worn prison film clichés as the vulnerable young inmate; the not-really homosexual wing boss; and the weights room work out, shower room male rape and courtyard blade shanking scenes.

Paul (Martin Compston, Sweet Sixteen) has just been transferred from a Young Offenders institute having become too old to stay there. Career-criminal and manipulative wing boss Clay (Craig Parkinson) takes a dubious interest in him. Older prisoner Jack (John Lynch), who is nearing the end of his sentence is persuaded by his own mentor Ahmed (Art Malik, who also served as executive producer) to take Paul under his wing. This obviously threatens Clay’s and puts them on collision course. Clay’s problem is that Jack is not afraid of him, while Jack's is that he's afraid of what he knows he could do to Clay if he ever lost it.

Jack explains that there are three rules to prison life. First, never ask or take anything from anybody – a prohibition Paul has already been forced to violate by Clay. Second, never lie, since you will always be found out. Third, never ask someone what they are in for.

As Jack and Paul's surrogate father/son relationship develops – Paul never knew his father, while Jack’s son died in a tragic accident during his time inside – they breach the second and third commandments, leading to a powerful denouement.

Again, however, while the actor’s performances and Vivieros’s visual sense are hard to fault in these scenes, the writing is decidedly less successful. While Ahmed muses on whether Jack and Paul have been brought together by coincidence or fate, the viewer may very well feel their real connection is contrived, improbable. There's nothing wrong with this as such, just that it does not easily fit with the kind of gritty, realistic approach Vivieros otherwise goes for.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Bleak Night

The Korean title for Bleak Night translates more literally as Lookout. It’s a word which works better than the English title, insofar as it both connotes a major theme within the narrative, in terms of the attempts by some of the characters to look out for the others, and the need for the viewer to pay attention.

The biggest complication in this regard is the film’s complex narrative structure, one which recalls other contemporary Korean classics such as Peppermint Candy and Poetry – the latter another film which suggests a Korean high school to be one of the most dangerous places on earth.

We begins in the middle of things with a fight between some schoolboys at a railway line. Who is fighting? Why? With what consequences?

The image is deliberately unclear, unstable. The physical location, however, is one that will be returned to time and again, as the narrative thereafter begins to jump both back and forwards in time and things gradually become clearer.

The key proves to be a photograph of three friends, namely Ki-tae, Dong-Yoo and ‘Becky’ .

One of the three is now dead. His hitherto distant father (mother is dead, likewise reduced to a photographic memory) wants simply to know why. The others, one of whom transferred to another school shortly before and the other who failed to attend the funeral and has since attempted to avoid contact, know.

To say much more about what is revealed, other than that things are not always as might be expected, would probably spoil things.

The direction is especially impressive, particularly when you consider that this is a first feature by a 29-year-old and started off as a film school graduation project. Almost every shot conveys something above and beyond what is contained in the dialogue and the performances, whether through the decision to use handheld camera; the use of a two-shot or shot-reverse-shot; or the careful deployment of mirrors, such that it will reward repeat viewings by revealing new subtleties.

Recommended, as long as you are up for the challenge.


At last year’s EIFF there was a film called SoulBoy, a coming-of-age drama set against the backdrop of the Northern Soul scene of the early 1970s. It was an utterly predictable and formulaic piece of work which benefited from the infectious nature of the music itself and the energy conveyed in its dance scenes.

This year’s EIFF has Weekender, which takes much the same story – including cartoon-like bad guy and romantic will they / won’t they subplot – and sets it against the backdrop of the rave scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

It suffers by comparison for the fact that the music and dancing aren’t that interesting unless you’re in the same state as the participants, namely tripping out on MDMA.

Worse, even when taken on its own terms, it never really manages to articulate its own would-be distinctions – MDMA and cannabis good, cocaine bad; acid house good, hardcore house bad; illegal raves for fun and profit good, illegal raves for profit bad – nor to generate much sympathy for its naïve bordering on terminally stupid protagonists.

It also feels like there’s one reel missing from the narrative because Europe-spanning scenes would have been too expensive to film, while there’s a glaring plot hole where you wonder why the sort-of good guy secondary character didn’t just kill the bad guy early on and save everyone a lot of bother; presumably that summer of love vibe affected his business sense.

The shame is that there’s the potential for a good film in here, one which avoided sentimentality and showy displays of vacant technique and that didn't pull its punches as much.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Meet Monica Velour

Tobe is a 17-year-old self-identified dork, with a fascination for the cultural detritus of past decades and an especial interest in late 1970s-early 1980s porn star Monica Velour (Kim Catrall), the star of such titles as Saturday Night Beaver (the title of a real-world porn film), New Wave Nookie and Pork and Mindy (both made up, though the former parodies another real-world porno rather than a mainstream production).

Though Tobe is a dork, even he considers his female counterpart Amanda as being too dorky – until, that is, he notices the Faster Pussycat Kill Kill and Switchblade Sisters posters on her walls.

However, by this time, they’ve graduated and Tobe has been given a somewhat unwelcome gift by by grandfather Pops Pops (Brian Dennehy), namely the family weenie van.

Not wanting it, Tobe puts it up for sale. Almost immediately he has a buyer, in the form of kitsch collector Claude (Keith David). There’s one snag, however: Claude lives in Indiana and would need Tobe to drive the van to him from his Oregon home.

At first Tobe declines, but then discovers via a Monica Velour fan site that she’s due to be performing in a nearby Indiana strip club.

Checking the map, Tobe he discovers that Claude’s and the strip club are not far apart and thus decides to go sell the van and meet the woman of his dreams.

Predictably things don’t go smoothly, before turning out all right in the end. The good guys are rewarded and the bad guys punished – the usual stuff.

Part road-movie, part coming-of-age story, part drama, part comedy this might well be summed up as one part Napoleon Dynamite, one part Ghost World and one part the Boogie Nights subplots dealing with Amber Waves’s custody battles with her husband and the characters’ struggles to live down the stigma of their porn pasts. (Those wanting a more obscure reference point may also wish to refer to the 2002 documentary Desperately Seeking Seka, in which Swedish filmmaker Christian Hallmann set out to track down his adolescent lust object, 15 or so years after her retirement)

The problem is that in terms of writing and direction it thus fails to do anything that hasn’t been done before or better.

The exceptions are the chance to see a distinctly de-glamourised Kim Catrall demonstrate her acting abilities as Velour and the sight of Brian Dennehy’s naked arse – the kind of once seen never to be unseen image that shouldn’t have been included, not out of any sense of propriety or gross-out value, but because with it he completely upstages the nominal star.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Almanya - Willkommen in Deutschland

Six-year-old Cenk has a problem, precipitated by a teacher’s unthinking questioning of where he really comes from: Is he German, Turkish, Turkish-German, German-Turkish or what?

Though more secure in her identity, Cenk’s cousin Canan also has a problem: She’s just discovered she’s pregnant by her British boyfriend. Her mother is not likely to approve

And now their entire family has a problem, as patriarch Huseyin unexpectedly announces that he has bought a house in Turkey and wishes to take all of them to visit and work on it...

Thus the set-up for this this comedy about ethnic (mis)understandings from sisters Yasemin and Nesrin Samdereli is established.

Thereafter, the filmmakers confidently interweave two parallel narratives, one taking place in the present as the family sets off on their journey to their old homeland, the other in a part-imagined past as Canan retells Cenk the story of how their grandparents and parents came to West Germany in the 1960s and encountered such strangeness as giant rats being taken for walks on bits of rope; that man on the cross whom the Christians eat every Sunday, and flush toilets.

Through these and other gags German and Turkish cultural stereotypes are paraded and gently mocked, although more substantive issues of the type addressed in Against the Wall are largely evaded or left implicit.

Nevertheless, it is undeniably well put together at all levels, particularly for a first feature from someone with a television background. The performances are credible, the child actors not too annoying, and a mixture of German, Turkish and made-up nonsense language cleverly used to telling effect to indicate the different levels of cultural assimilation and separation.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Troll Hunter

Seeking a subject for a project, three film students -- presenter Thomas, cameraman Kalle and sound recorder Johanna -- decide to investigate apparent incidents of bear poaching. To their surprise, the man they choose to follow turns out to be a member of a top-secret troll hunting team.

Comparing Troll Hunter to the likes of The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead is inevitable given that the filmmakers present it mockumentary style as having been constructed from found footage shot by their diegetic counterparts.

The conceit is believable, with the single hand-held camera based aesthetic working well barring a few moments where the cameraman’s point-of-view seems more about getting that shot than staying alive. The CGI trolls are seamlessly integrated, the human performers believable, and the illusion strengthened by the filmmakers avoidance of non-diegetic music.

While they don’t shy away from showing the monsters, much of the running time is spent searching for and learning about the trolls, with their ecology and the reasons no-one believes they exist surprisingly plausible.

This said, the film has certain essential problems: It isn’t doing anything that hasn’t been seen or done before, beyond the use of Norwegian locales and myths. This in turn may limit its acceptance by the sort of mainstream cinemagoers who might otherwise appreciate it, especially as it isn’t particularly scary or gory for a horror film. The chances for a Hollywood remake are likewise less likely because it is so culturally specific.

The Man in the White Suit

Whether any connection with the Festival's Martin Bell event was intended, this fashion-themed screening at Inspace was very welcome.

Alec Guiness is the title character, a chemist by the name of Sidney Stratton whose experiments with long chain polymers result in the development of a fabric which is incredibly strong – notably the pattern for his suit has to be cut with a oxy-acetylene torch – and repels dirt and stains.

Naively Streeter expects to be lauded as a genius and his fabric to sweep the world. He fails to reckon, of course, with the fact that once you have one or two such suits you will never actually need any more. Accordingly both the mill owners and their workers seek to suppress Streeter’s discovery before it becomes public and threatens their way of life.

Crucially director Alexander Mackendrick avoids taking sides and instead takes pot-shots at capital, labour and the ideal of the detached, disinsterested scientist alike.

It’s the last aspect that also makes the film rather unconventional in its avoidance of heroism and romance. While there is the woman who is interested in Stratton he never returns her interest, nor sees her as a viable substitute to his scientific goals.

Mackendrick takes a no-nonsense approach to his direction, leaving it the writing, Guinness and a brilliant supporting cast including the likes of Joan Greenwood – the two having also made a memorable double-act in that other Ealing classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets – Ernest Thesigner and Michael Gough scope to carry the film.

The director does however make the sound an unusually important part of the production through the amusingly musical nature of Guinness’s experimental apparatus.

If The Man in the White Suit has a flaw when viewed retrospectively it is that its too much the product of the post-war austerity period to foresee the possibility of a consumerist future in which advertising could encourage a desire for ever more everlasting suits, whether we needed them or not.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye

According to her self-penned IMDB profile The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye writer-director-editor Marie Losier makes unconventional films about unconventional artists and views the subject of this film, Genesis P-Orridge, as a “musical genius”.

If you agree with and Losier, then you will probably enjoy this documentary, although it may not tell you much you do not already know about the artist born Neil Andrew Megson, better known for his work with Throbbing Gristle in the 1970s and Psychic TV in the 1980s under his new legal name.

If you don’t then you are unlikely to have your opinions altered and will probably find the film somewhat tedious and self-indulgent, characterised by often-predictable experimental tropes and images.

Personally I’m somewhat in the middle: Some of P-Orridge’s work is certainly interesting, but like many transgressive artists there’s a tendency for shock for its own sake to override other concerns. The danger of exhibiting a used tampon as part of an ICA exhibition is of being forever labelled as that tampon artist and of having to constantly live up to your reputation c(o)um past.

Correspondingly the “pandrogyny” project, by which Genesis and his wife Lady Jaye had plastic surgery that made them look like one another, could be considered as creating a body (of) work somewhat derivative of if still recognisably distinct from that of the French performance artist Orlan.

Likewise, we might wonder about the limits Genesis and Jaye set for themselves, in that this pandrogyny seems more about secondary than primary sex characteristics.

Unfortunately P-Orridge doesn’t really raise these questions here, nor Losier ask them.

Part of the issue, one suspects, may have been that the film appears to have had a long and somewhat troubled genesis of its own, maybe beginning as a film about pandrogyny but then becoming more about Genesis and his/her relationship with Jaye after her 2007 death.

Best enjoyed while “drinking German wine”

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Project Nim

The title of this documentary from Man on Wire and Winconsin Death Trip director James Marsh refers to a five-year project into whether a chimpanzee could be taught to use sign language to communicate with humans.

Nim Chimpsky – the name is a pun on Noam Chomsky, whose ideas on language acquisition underlay the project, which began in 1973 – was the chimp, taken away from his mother at age two weeks and raised by a succession of human parents.

The director of the project was a Columbia University psychology professor, Herb Terrace. He however took a largely hands off approach, leaving the day to day work of rearing and educating Nim to a succession of research assistants, predominantly attractive young women, many of whom he had relationships with.

The first of Nim's parents was Stephanie LaFarge, a wealthy hippie type with a large family of her own. Lafarge treated Nim much like her human children, with considerable indulgence and little discipline, including letting him smoke marijuana and drink alcohol. Terrace soon decided that a more rigorous, disciplined and scientific approach was needed and transferred Nim over to the first of a number of students.

After five years the results were inconclusive. Terrace believed that all Nim was doing when he used sign language to say something like “give Nim banana” was effectively begging, whereas some of Nim's more hands-on teachers appear to believe that there was more to it than this.

Marsh uses a mixture of rich archive material, dramatic reconstructions and interviews with those involved in the project and with Nim. He tells his story in strictly chronological order, going from Nim's birth to his death in 2000. As such, a fair bit of the running time is actually devoted to Nim's post-project life, the research having had to end by the point he was fully grown and it became too dangerous to continue working; we're told that an adult male chimpanzee weighing 150 pounds is as strong as five or six men, while a number of the researchers bear scars from where Nim bit them.

By turns funny, sad, disturbing and thought-provoking, Project Nim's only weak point is a sometimes overly intrusive and insistent musical accompaniment.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Bobby Fischer Against the World

The trajectory of Bobby Fischer’s life is a difficult to put an upbeat fimic spin upon. In 1972, aged just 30, he was a national hero for defeating the incumbent Soviet chess champion Boris Spassky in their World Championship Match. But by the time of his death in 2008 his anti-US, anti-Semitic and other remarks had led to his being a zero living in exile.

That Fischer was able to find a home in Iceland in the 1990s, after an extradition warrant for his arrest was issued by the US government for his breaching sanctions against Yugoslavia by playing there during it civil wars nevertheless raises questions as to the objectivity of the film’s title: Was it really Bobby Fischer against the entire world, or was it ‘merely’ Bobby Fischer against the US government and – admittedly far, far more problematically – the international Jewish conspiracy that he perceived?

The filmmakers never really get to grips with this side of Fischer. Maybe they could not, but the formal approach they have chosen, that comfortable and familiar mix of talking head interviews and archival footage, frequently overlaid with period-setting music, does not help. Fischer’s grandmaster contemporaries like Larry Evans and Anthony Saidy are better at explaining his chess than their own responses to his eccentricities even in the 1960s, where there (and others’) pop psychologising is frequently in evidence. The musical choices also seem arbitrary – What does Gary Glitter have in common with Fischer, other than also becoming a pariah figure? Did Fischer listen to glam rock or to Booker T. and the MG’s or Isaac Hayes?

A contrast with another film about a troubled genius who retired at the height of his powers, namely 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould is instructive here: Its filmmakers seem to have had the sense that they could not explain everything about the enigmatic Canadian pianist, and so chose a more consciously fragmentary approach to convey an appropriate sense of otherness or even otherworldliness.

Here, by contrast, we belatedly learn of Fischer’s involvement with an Evangelical Christian group only at the point he decided to leave them in the mid-1970s, but not at the point when he first joined them over a decade earlier. It’s fragmentary, yes, but not in a clearly worked through, properly articulated way. Perhaps it could be a reflection of Fischer’s increasingly paranoid dislocation, but if so we again come back to the fact that the filmmakers make no attempt to explore how the ideas he came to hold made sense to him.

Two moments stand out here. The first is a talking head piece from Henry Kissinger. Undoubtedly his presence was a coup for the filmmakers and he was obviously a major player in the geopolitical chess games of the Cold War that form the backdrop to the Fischer’s story. But Kissinger’s presence also inadvertently makes it clear that Fischer’s anti-Americanism was never going to be seriously engaged with and also offers anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists proof of what they are looking for in that “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you” manner. The second, is a fragment from a US television news programme at the time of the Fischer-Spassky match. It is the first item on the agenda. Watergate is relegated to second.

Fisher may have been the greatest chess player ever and the man most important for raising its profile, particularly in the west, but ultimately I was left wondering how important chess itself is in the grand scheme of things and whether the tragedy presented might be attributed to too little rather than too much chess. Had Fischer literally lived solely for chess and shown absolutely no interest in anything else, most notably politics, would he have been okay? Obviously it would be wrong to expect the filmmakers to answer this question in a serious way, but taken on its own terms Bobby Fischer Against the World raises too many questions and offers too few answers.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Fase 7 / Phase 7

In a 1959 Cahiers du cinema essay entitled Little Subjects, critic and new wave filmmaker Claude Chabrol contrasted two imaginary films, on ‘The Apocalypse of Our Time’ and ‘The Quarrel Between Our Neighbours’, or on big and the small subject. Chabrol suggested that the two paradigms were structurally more similar than might first be apparent and that, contrary to appearances, the small subject was actually the richer, in that it allowed the filmmaker scope to explore form and content alike.

I mention this because Fase 7 could be taken as a test case for Chabrol's thesis some half a century on. For while being about a big subject, namely a mysterious plague sweeping the globe and bringing about the end of the world as we know it, it takes a small subject approach by focusing upon a young couple expecting their first child and four or five other families living in their Buenos Aires apartment block.

In terms of content, it thus has obvious affinities with the likes of [Rec] and Shivers, but downplays the horror angle and plays up the human drama. It is also somewhat more plausible in terms of the details of the plague itself: Those who contract it seem to sicken and die, but don't turn into homicidal maniac zombie-types in a matter of minutes.

This also contributes to the deliberate weakening of the horror film's traditional us/them human/monster division. These are all just more or less ordinary people trapped in an extraordinary situation, understandably suspicious of one another's equally understandable motives. Everyone has their reasons, as Renoir’s The Rules of the Game famously puts it.

The most interesting characters amongst the small ensemble are father-to-be Coco and the enigmatic Horacio. Depending on perspective, Horacio is either a conspiracy-theory advancing survivalist paranoiac or the one who best understands the situation and how to deal with it.Coco, meanwhile, displays an understandable scepticism at his neighbour’s seemingly far-fetched theories and is, particularly by generic standards, unusually reluctant to become a gun-toting survivalist type.

The relationship between Coco and his wife Pipi is less developed over the course of the narrative, however. Being heavily pregnant, she remains in the family’s apartment for most of the duration, deliberately kept apart from what is going on elsewhere in the block; here, however, it should be noted that no-one really knows what is going on in the wider world as communication quickly break down.

This is mirrored formally by the transformation of the interior spaces as they become increasingly dark and threatening, occasionally lit only with eerily glowing blue-purple ultraviolet and green glow-stick lights. While the film is not devoid of gore, the latter also allows for a nicely parodic action scene as characters blaze away at one another apparently ineffectually – or at least ineffectually by conventional film standards, if not those pertaining within the film’s particular world.

There are a few flaws. The opening scene of the couple’s quiet supermarket trip suddenly being replaced with panic-buying mobs seems a bit sudden, for instance, as does a jump of a number of days signalled by Coco's suddenly acquiring a beard. But thanks to the general levels of intelligence evident behind and in front of the camera, it works far more often than not.

The comfortable-enough middle class world presented helps internationalise the production, beyond its global pandemic narrative, while the presence of Guillermo Del Toro favourite Federico Luppi and a John Carpenter-esque soundtrack are further plusses.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Weird cover versions #190

The Ukelele Orchestra does the theme to The Good, The Bad and the Ugly:

Some spaghetti western badasses

1. Angel Eyes Sentenza -- Lee Van Cleef -- The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

"That your family? Nice Family" [Sneers]

2. Frank -- Henry Fonda -- Once Upon a Time in the West

"What are we going to do with this one, Frank?"
"Now that you've called me by name?" [Kills child]

3. El Loco -- Klaus Kinski -- The Great Silence

"Now say good-bye to your husband. Always respect the dead. Now pack your husband in the snow. That'll keep him fresh till I collect his bounty. So don't you bury him, you hear? What times we live in. Blacks worth as much as a white man."


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Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Japanese posters for Italian cannibal films

Cannibal Holocaust

Cannibal Apocalypse

Cannibal Ferox

The Cannibal Apocalpyse image, of Morghen's chest with a hole blown in it showing Saxon's character behind him, would make a cool T-shirt design.