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Smile

Director – Parker Finn – 2022 – US – Cert. 18 – 115m

***

After a psychiatrist witness a patient smile then commits suicide, she finds herself stalked by a malevolently smiling presence – out in UK cinemas on Wednesday, September 28th

A patient describes her condition to Psychiatrist Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) who then witnesses her apparently see something which drives her to suicide, smiling malevolently as she slices half of her own face off. The patient has previously described an entity which appears as people, sometimes people she knows, sometimes strangers. She can see it but no-one else can. And it’s always smiling at her. And now Rose can see this entity smiling at her, which suggests she’s next. Especially when it starts chanting, “you’re going to die” over and over again. (Spoiler alert: you’re going to die. We all are, sooner or later. So this really isn’t such surprising news.)

Just as she herself had done to her patient, those to whom Rose attempts to explain her plight come up with psychological explanations – childhood trauma, her genes, she’s been under a lot of stress lately and so on. There’s a certain daft pleasure to be had in such films that no-one ever takes the obvious explanation (here, that this woman is being stalked by a malevolent entity) seriously.… Read the rest

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Crimes Of The Future (2022)

Director – David Cronenberg – 2022 – Canada – Cert. 18 – 107m

*****

Even as two performance artists enact bizarre public rituals exploring the unlikely boundaries between sex, surgery and mutation, a young boy who eats plastic is murdered by his mother – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 9th

Back in 1970, underground filmmaker Cronenberg made a film called Crimes Of The Future, inspired by the title of an unseen poem in an art film he’d seen several years earlier. That 1970 film, consisting of a cast on a campus of modernist architecture shot in colour without sync sound and deploying a monologue voice-over alternating with blocks of weird, improvised sound effects, bears little relation to this new one, except that it likewise briefly and peripherally features a dancer. More significantly, it also features a character whose body produces new organs. We don’t see them in that film, we merely hear a verbal description.

Fast-forward to the present and Cronenberg has had a career from the late 1970s through the 1990s making cinema features packed with icky special effects about something called The New Flesh followed by a series of (arguably) more mainstream, arthouse movies. To those who know the whole body of work, they’re all of a piece; however, to the newcomer they can be overwhelming or potentially offensive.… Read the rest

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Animation Features Movies Shorts

Memories (Memorizu, メモリーズ)

1/ Magnetic Rose (Kanojo no Omoide, 彼女の想いで)

2/ Stink Bomb (Saishu Heiki, 最臭兵器)

3/ Cannon Fodder (Taiho no Machi, 大砲の街)

Directors

– 1/ Koji Morimoto, 2/ Tensai Okamura, 3/ Katsuhiro Otomo

– 1995 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 113m

*****

Executive producer Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime anthology adapts three of his dystopian-themed manga stories into animation – out on Blu-ray from All The Anime, Monday, 12th September, details below review

The film that made Otomo’s name and the one with which he’s most frequently associated is Akira (1988). It wasn’t his first film, though. Previously, he was one of nine directors who collaborated on the uneven portmanteau Robot Carnival (1987), a compendium of different animated stories based around robots of various types. One of the other directors was Koji Morimoto.

Memories is loosely similar – it only has three stories (and three directors), allowing each of the segments a bit more room. Its three episodes are very different yet perfectly complement each other. Otomo directed the third section Cannon Fodder.

Parts of the roughly two hour Akira drag, while Otomo’s later Steamboy (2004) gets lost within a massive set piece after a near perfect opening first reel or so.… Read the rest

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Features Live Action Movies

Wake Wood

Director – David Keating – 2009 – UK, Ireland – Cert. 18 – 90m

*****

Things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad and terrible prices have to be paid in a mysterious, close-knit village community – out in UK cinemas from Friday, March 25th, 2011

This review originally appeared in Third Way.

This presages the recent relaunching of Hammer Films, a huge cultural force back in the 1950s and 60s reworking such horror staples as Dracula and Frankenstein. So far UK cinemas have hosted (1) Let Me In‘s arguably pointless US remake of terrific Swedish vampire effort Let The Right One In and (2) predictable, New York tenant in peril outing The Resident. Wake Wood is not only far and away the best of the three, but also fits in with the Hammer ethos – here represented by a mysterious, close-knit village community where things are not what they seem, supernatural power is abroad, and terrible prices have to be paid for misjudged actions. A fair bit of blood and gore is added for good measure.

After their only daughter Alice (Ella Connolly) is fatally savaged by a dog, Irish city dwellers vets Patrick and Louise Daly (Aidan Gillen from The Wire and Eva Birthistle) move to the isolated village of Wake Wood to start over.… Read the rest

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Tremors

Director – Ron Underwood – 1990 – US – Cert. 15 – 96m

*****

Review from TNT magazine, June 1990, republished here on the death of actor Fred Ward, May 2022

If Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) was Jaws In Outer Space, Tremors is Jaws In The Nevada Desert. As such, the film represents a return to the production values of the desert bound sci-fi of fifties alien invasion staple It Came From Outer Space (Jack Arnold, 1953). In place of the shark from Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) is a species of malevolent giant worm which burrows under the earth like something out of Frank Herbert’s Dune (most recent version: Denis Villeneuve, 2021).

It’s never explained where these monsters have come from, but then you tend not to worry about such things when one of them is about to knock down your home. Hapless victims disappear into sudden holes formed in the sand like a rerun of Blood Beach (Jeffrey Bloom, 1980); then muppet-like snakes grab people, bite them, and tug them under the ground, finally the full-grown beasties get to attack.

Producer-writers Brent Maddock and S.S. Wilson plunder numerous other sources too, but the emerging whole is infinitely better than the sum of its parts.… Read the rest

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In Fabric

Director – Peter Strickland – 2018 – UK – Cert. 15 – 118m

*****

A red dress bought from and returned to a department store wreaks terrible fates on serial owners in a film much stranger and more worthwhile than it sounds – now on MUBI and Curzon Home Cinema

A wildly inventive and unashamedly British affair, Strickland’s latest film mixes tacky 1970s aesthetics with several workplaces – a department store, a personal loans company and a washing machine repair firm. Clothing emporium Dentley & Soper is run on a series of arcane regulations, obedience to the seemingly arbitrary rules for conduct of personnel at Waingel’s Bank is encouraged by smarmy middle management types Stash and Clive (Julian Barrett and Steve Oram) while washing machine repair firm Slaverton’s Wash insists any personnel who mend their own machines must do so on the firm’s books.

Although the film is constructed on the portmanteau template used in many horror films, whether it’s a horror movie as such rather than a very strange and stylish arthouse movie is open to debate. Loosely linked narratives are woven around serial characters – Waingel’s employee Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), Slaverton’s repair man Reg Speaks (Leo Bill) and his fiancée Babs (Hayley Squires).… Read the rest

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Europa

Director – Haider Rashid – 2021 – Iraq, Italy, Kuwait – Cert. 12a – 75 m

****

A young Iraqi migrant is hunted by mercenaries after he crosses the Turkish/Bulgarian border – out in cinemas and on demand on Friday, March 18th

A number of movies hang over this bold adventure thriller about Kamal (Adam Ali), a young Iraqi migrant who after crossing from Turkey into Bulgaria finds himself hunted by paramilitaries with guns and balaclavas. One is the gothic classic The Most Dangerous Game / The Hounds Of Zaroff (Irving Pichel, Ernest B.Schoedsack, 1932) in which the passengers of a luxury liner shipwrecked on an island find themselves in a deadly relationship with the big game hunter who lives there. The others are much more recent. Utøya July 22 (Erik Poppe, 2018) is a one take recreation of the Utøya teen camp Summer massacre in which kids attempted to survive a rampaging gunman while Son Of Saul (László Nemes, 2015) follows a Jewish worker-prisoner around a Nazi death camp.

The connection with The Most Dangerous Game may actually be coincidental rather than deliberate, since what inspired Rashid was stories of real life migrants’ experiences. The locations are a Bulgarian woods not a constructed Hollywood jungle set, yet it fits neatly into that lineage.… Read the rest

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The Shape Of Water

Loving the alien

The Shape Of Water
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Certificate 15, 123 minutes
Released 14 February 2018

There’s a tradition in horror films and fairytales that the monster is bad. The Shape Of Water is a fairytale that features a monster (Doug Jones) who is viewed very differently by different characters. To the military security man, Strickland (Michael Shannon), it’s an affront to the image of God, in which man is created, which must be brutally subdued. To the scientist and Russian agent, Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), he’s an intelligent being from whom our species has much to learn and who should be kept alive at all costs and treated with respect – rather than killed and dissected as the authorities suggest. And to the mute cleaning lady, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who subsequently falls in love with him, he’s someone who responds to hard-boiled eggs and Benny Goodman records, and sees her for herself rather than for her so-called disability… [read more]

Read the full review in Reform, February 2018.

Trailer:

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Woman Of Fire (Hwanyeo, 화녀)

Director – Kim Ki-young – 1971 – South Korea – Cert. 18 – 98m

*****

A married couple’s housemaid seduces the husband, ensnaring him in a love triangle from which there is no escape – 4K Restoration played at the London East Asia Film Festival (LEAFF) (European Premiere) and screens again 6.30 at the ICA on Friday, November 5th book here as part of a strand dedicated to actress Youn Yuh-jung (Best Supporting Actress, Minari) at the London Korean Film Festival (LKFF) which runs from Thursday, November 4th to Friday, November 19th

Kim Ki-young is probably better known for his breakthrough film The Housemaid (1960) than any other title. Not only did the film establish him as a maker of dark films about twisted relationships, it also inaugurated something of his trademark style. While a real watershed in Korean cinema generally and Kim’s career in particular, the material was something he felt he could do a lot more with: he remade it directly not once but twice as Woman Of Fire (1971) and Woman Of Fire ‘82 (1982). Where the highly effective original was shot in both black and white and the old 4:3 Academy format, the two remakes like many of his later films were both colour and scope, and made full use of both, giving them additional qualities lacking in the original.… Read the rest

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Invasion Of The Body Snatchers

Director – Don Siegel – 1956 – US – Cert. PG – 80m

*****

The classic, paranoid SF outing about the residents of a small, American town being replaced by conformist, emotionless duplicates – on BFI Blu-ray from Monday, October 25th

This is an incomplete review, currently in progress…

Made in the middle of Hollywood’s 1950s B-movie Sci-Fi boom, this movie was made by Don Siegel who previously made hard-boiled crime thrillers after cutting his teeth as an editor of montage sequences in, among other things, Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper, 1942) with a striking script and a strong cast headed by Kevin McCarthy and, in her first starring role, Dana Wynter, which also includes Carolyn Jones who would later achieve fame playing Morticia Addams in The Addams Family TV series (creator David Levy, 1964).

Based on a Colliers Magazine serial by Jack Finney, it’s built around the highly potent idea of human beings being replaced by emotionless duplicates who operate as a communal whole rather than individual people. It’s often been read as a metaphor for the anti-Communist McCarthy witch hunts of the period, but as noted in the fascinating documentary Sleep No More, Invasion Of The Body Snatchers Revisited (2006), the left thought it was a satire on the right while the right thought it was a satire on the left.… Read the rest