Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sydney Film Festival 2011


Rejoice! This year's Sydney Film Festival (running 8-19 June) is the most genre friendly in years. They're offering up a varied platter of cinematic goodness ranging from exploitation gorefests to metaphysical mindfucks and everything in between. Samurais, vampires, hitmen, trolls, hillbillies, mutants, paranoid survivalists and a shotgun toting Rutger Hauer... they're all here! Below you can find my selection of the best of the fest. I'll be lurking at 13 Assassins, Kill List, Take Shelter, Elite Squad, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Tree Of Life, Stake Land and Hobo With A Shotgun, so if you spot a guy with a very bald head and a horror, punk or metal t-shirt, come over and say hi!

Get all your info and tix at the SFF site right here, and BE THERE OR BE SQUARE!


13 ASSASSINS

Prolific Japanese movie maverick Miike Takashi shifts gears from his usual hyper-violent style with this classy remake of Eiichi Kudo's 1963 film, set in the twilight of Japan's feudal era. The sadistic brother of the Shogun, Lord Naritsugu, satisfies his bloodlust by brutally terrorising the people and gets away with it because of his political connections. Master samurai Shinzaemon Shimada (Kôji Yakusho of Tokyo Sonata, SFF 2008) is summoned to assassinate him and is pitted against his old friend and sparring partner Hanbei, who now leads the evil Nartisugu's personal army and must rigidly observe the samurai code regardless of his own principles. Shinzaemon bands together a motley crew of 12 men and begins to plan a complicated ambush. The meticulously designed slow-burn set up ultimately leads to a breathtaking 45-minute battle sequence that combines the mastery of Akira Kurosawa with the in-your-face excesses of Quentin Tarantino - and yes, the blood does flow!



KILL LIST

Jay's got problems. His marriage to Shel has descended into a screaming match, his £40,000 stash has disappeared and he hasn't worked in eight months. A former soldier who hasn't recovered from a 'stormy' mission in Kosovo, Jay's a hit man and he's hit rock bottom. Opening as a confronting domestic drama, director Ben Wheatley's stunning second feature spins off in strange, unpredictable and entirely pulse-pounding directions once Jay and best mate/army buddy Gal start working for a particularly sinister client. Pulling the tired old 'troubled hitman' formula by the scruff of the neck and propelling Gal and the increasingly unhinged Jay into a nightmare you won't soon forget, Kill List marks Wheatley as a talent to watch.



THE TREE OF LIFE

The elliptical narrative of Terrence Malick's rapturously beautiful, emotionally arresting film audaciously segues between the particular (the repressed desires and shimmering aspirations of the O'Briens, a middle-American family in the 1950s) and the universal (the continuous cycle of existence, from the age of the dinosaurs to the new world). "There are two ways through life - the way of nature and the way of grace," says the voice of Jack's mother in the opening moments, and while young Jack (Hunter McCracken) must choose a path - between father (Brad Pitt) and mother (Jessica Chastain), competition and allegiance, success and happiness - old Jack (Sean Penn) has lost his way and is searching for permanence in a gleaming, chaotic modern city. Dreams and memory collide in Jack's spiritual, emotional and intellectual journey as he seeks to reconcile with the past, to reclaim his relationship with his father and to properly mourn the loss of his brother. More densely labyrinthine than any of Malick's previous films (The New World, The Thin Red Line, Days of Heaven, Badlands), the slippery editing is in absolute collusion with Alexandre Desplat's soaring music and Emmanuel Lubezki's glorious cinematography. The result is a commanding cinematic paean to life - its intimacy, messiness and grandeur.



STAKE LAND

With a script as sharp as the fangs on the vampire hordes it lets loose, Stake Land is one mighty meaty and exciting horror pic. Striking the perfect balance of bloody thrills and pungent social commentary, ace director and co-scripter Jim Mickle (remember that name) centres his tale on teenage orphan Martin and his tough-as-nails vampire-slaying guardian, 'Mister', surviving on the road after America is overrun by bloodthirsty beasts. What separates this film from the pack is the added threat posed by Jebediah, a fanatical Christian fundamentalist whose followers believe the monsters have been sent by the Almighty himself. At once a crunching gore-shocker and a potent critique of intolerance and extreme right-wing conservatism, Stake Land keeps the pupils popping from get-go to fade-out. And if that's not enough, Kelly McGillis makes a fabulous return to features after a decade's absence - as a nun!



CORMAN'S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL

Before CGI-laden monster movies, high-concept horror films and cautionary tales of teenagers gone bad, there was Roger Corman. Now in his sixth decade of producing low-budget genre quickies like Monster From the Ocean Floor, The Wild Angels and Rock 'n' Roll High School, Corman is also noteworthy for giving early breaks to aspiring filmmakers Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. They join a substantial roster of the Corman faithful and beloved genre stalwarts - Dick Miller! Mary Woronov! Eli Roth? - in singing the praises of Corman and his utterly unique brand of soft-spoken pragmatism in this documentary tribute. Credit writer-director Alex Stapleton with pulling revelatory backstage stories from everyone (particularly Nicholson) and stuffing his film to the gills with astutely selected and remarkably well-preserved clips. For fans convinced true genre filmmaking died by killer shark and skywalking space operas, the King of the Bs welcomes your fealty.



MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE

Having already received a directing Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Sean Durkin's stunning debut feature is one of few films in history to be subsequently included in the Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival. Elizabeth Olsen (the captivating younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) plays Martha, a young woman who reunites with older sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) after she mysteriously escapes from a bucolic commune. Lucy's materialistic husband (Hugh Dancy) and their nouveau riche estate prove suffocating and oppressive but Martha (whose identity slips between each of the titular names) stays, terrified that the enigmatic leader of the collective (John Hawkes) will track her down. Rippling with a permanent sense of threat (Michael Haneke's Funny Games provides more than tonal reference) Durkin's filmmaking and Jody Lee Lipes' exquisite cinematography are perfectly attuned to both beauty within the frame and the power of what to leave outside it.



SEPTIEN

If Ingmar Bergman had wandered into rural Tennessee and downed a few too many shots of moonshine he might have made something like this bizarre and compelling family drama. Mixing elements of Southern Gothic, sports drama, situation comedy and backwoods horror with biblical overtones, Septien takes us to the very strange farmhouse of the Rawlings brothers. Cornelius (played by writer-director Michael Tully), a Christlike figure and brilliant sportsman, has returned after an 18-year absence. Amos creates grotesque art in the barn, while Ezra dons a frock and does the housework. Then there's Wilbur Cunningham, who lives in a tyre in the backyard. When a plumbing problem needs fixing the you-know-what really hits the fan. A disturbing, fascinating and darkly comic portrait of family ties, obsession and redemption, Tully's movie is an American original that's not to be missed.



HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN

Cult kingpin Rutger Hauer is baaaack! Starring in the sleaziest piece of gutter trash to hit the screen in years, the 67-year-old is dynamite as an unnamed Skid Row bum who arrives (on a freight train, natch) at the hellhole of Hope Town and doesn't like what he sees. Helped by hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold Abby, the pissed-off pensioner swaps his walking stick for a shotgun and points it in the direction of the nastiest crime family you're ever likely to meet. The second spoof 'trailer' from Grindhouse to evolve into a feature film, Hobo is a stylishly assembled, extremely violent and grimly humorous throwback to the glory days of 70s exploitation cinema. Is this the ne plus ultra of vigilante movies? Gather your guts if you dare and decide for yourself.



TAKE SHELTER

Jeff Nichols' daring psychological thriller stars Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon (who also gave a knock-out performance in Nichols' debut film, Shotgun Stories, SFF 2007) as Curtis LaForche, a working man living in small-town Ohio with his beautiful wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and their young, hearing-impaired daughter. When Curtis's recurring dream of an ominous storm becomes increasingly vivid, he fears for both his sanity and the safety of his family. Internalising his anxieties, his outward behaviour becomes progressively stranger to his wife and fellow workers, and then the hallucinations start to invade his waking life with terrifying consequences. Is Curtis experiencing deranged visions or premonitions? David Wingo's broody, foreboding score and Nichol's exacting script allude to the possible origins of Curtis's psychic malady - impending ecological disaster, economic uncertainty and threatened masculinity - all the while, like Todd Hayne's Safe, maintaining a slippery and perfectly measured ambiguity. As dramatic metaphor, his disruptive behaviour holds a mirror to the fears and contradictions pervasive in contemporary life. With a performance reminiscent of James Mason's in Nicholas Ray's Bigger Than Life, Shannon is totally transfixing as the unhinged everyman.



TROLL HUNTER

The legendary Scandinavian monster is the star of this scary and funny conspiracy chiller. Presented as surviving footage shot by a student documentary crew investigating the mysterious deaths of bears, André Øvredal's nail-biter goes deep into the woods to discover something at once scary and magical at play. The key to unlocking the activities of Norway's secretive Troll Security Service is Hans, a 'bear hunter' who reluctantly allows the ambitious filmmakers to chronicle his activities. The result is a captivating, frequently amusing and surprisingly touching series of encounters with monsters far more complex and formidable than the dim-witted creatures of Norse folklore. Exciting and hugely entertaining, The Troll Hunter is quite possibly the finest entry yet in the found-footage documentary cycle triggered by The Blair Witch Project.



ELITE SQUAD: THE ENEMY WITHIN

Now the highest-grossing Brazilian film of all time, José Padilha's (Bus 174, SFF 2003) high-octane follow-up to his controversial 2008 Berlin Film Festival-winner Elite Squad (SFF 2008) is also a nail-biting standalone thriller drawn straight from the headline news. More than a decade has passed and Nascimento (Wagner Moura) has been promoted from captain of BOPE - the rabid military police who shoot first and don't give a damn about questions - to Chief of Rio's intelligence bureau. His ex-wife is remarried to ambitious human rights advocate Fraga, and his relationship with his teenage son is faltering. In a narrative move that reflects the popular TV series The Wire, the professional and personal changes in the life of Nascimento broaden the perspective of the original film, shifting the focus from the drug wars in the favelas to police vice and political corruption, making for a film that is just as relentlessly paced as its predecessor and dramatically even richer.



TUCKER & DALE VS EVIL

In this rib-tickling reversal of horror movie conventions, Tucker and his best buddy Dale are sensitive, kind-hearted hillbillies. But try telling that to the college kids camping near the duo's shack deep in the Appalachians. Convinced they've stumbled into The Hills Have Eyes territory, fratboy Chad and his panicked pals decide attack is the best form of defense and launch a hilariously inept 'kill-them-before-they-kill-us' assault on their supposed enemies. A treat for dedicated gorehounds and serious film buffs alike, this terrifically topsy-turvy take on the 'spam-in-a-cabin' horror cycle of the 70s and 80s comes complete with the most eye-catching use of a wood chipping machine since Fargo. Winner of the Midnight Movie audience award at SXSW, this is splatstick of the funniest kind.



MUTANT GIRLS SQUAD

You've never seen a coming-of-age story like this before. On her sixteenth birthday, mousey schoolgirl Rin discovers she's part of a mutant clan at war with humans. Suddenly sprouting a Freddy Krueger-like hand and an attitude to match, Rin slips into a spangly silver jumpsuit and joins a fighting force of foxy mutant femmes in a blood-drenched battle for nothing less than the survival of her species. Produced by Sushi Typhoon, the geniuses behind Alien vs Ninja and Karate-Robo Zaborgar, this example of Extreme Asian entertainment proudly goes where X-Men dares not tread. Non-stop comic-book carnage doesn't get much better than this.


All film info courtesy of Sydney Film Festival

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Un Altro Giallo


Here's yet another upcoming European neo giallo that I forgot to include in the previous post! Masks is the second feature from German director Andreas Marschall, who previously helmed the reputedly quite gory occult horror flick Tears Of Kali. I'm attracted to directors who have a thematic concern that they revisit throughout their body of work, so it's interesting to note that both of Marschall's films so far revolve around violent cults. I always hope in such instances that we're seeing the emergence of a talented new auteur.

Masks is one of the new crop of retro-Italiana that's unashamedly flaunting it's influences - front and centre, and subtlety by damned. This looks very slick for a low budget effort, but if I have one criticism based on the trailer, it's that Marschall seems to be walking a very fine like between riffing off, and just plain ripping off, Suspiria (he also cites Sergio Martino's All The Colors Of The Dark as an influence). I'm fond of Lucky McKee's The Woods because I think he managed to craft a respectful homage to Suspiria, whilst injecting enough of his own ideas to give the film it's own life. With Masks, I'm not sure if Marschall is offering much more than Argento worship.

After watching the trailer, what say you? Am I being too harsh?



Sunday, May 22, 2011

Giallo 2000!

Although rehashing the past rarely makes for groundbreaking or progressive cinema, I'm personally quite pleased that the recent trend of revisiting the style and tropes of 70's and 80's gialli seems to be flourishing. The giallo was a wonderful, gorgeous, lurid and insane chapter of cinematic history - and until recently it looked like it was all behind us, the genre having petered out into such inferior entries as Al Festa's woeful Fatal Frames ('96) and Argento's exponentially worsening output (culminating in the absolute nadir of 2009's ironically titled Giallo). In my opinion, the last really worthwhile examples of the form were The Stendhal Syndrome and Deodato's under-appreciated The Washing Machine.

Around ten years ago I was so craving a revival of the genre that I eagerly handed over my cash to Trevor Barley/Roman Nowicki for the "pleasure" of watching the first entry in his notorious Fantom Kiler series. The enticing stills of what appeared to be the masked, fedora wearing killer from Mario Bava's Blood And Black Lace menacing naked women with a gleaming knife were impossible for me to resist. I actually watched it a few times, disliking it more with each viewing, until I finally had to admit to myself that I had been thoroughly duped. This wasn't the real thing... just an opportunistic appropriation of the fetishes of the genre, distilled into a sleazy and distastefully misogynistic fantasy. I'm no politically correct prude, and I'll happily admit to getting a few kicks and laughs out of it, but in the end I found Kiler to be little more than an unpleasant pile of shit, carefully dusted with a light coating of sugar.

Let's face it, it makes Giallo a Venezia look like a work of high art, and comparisons to other notorious films like House On The Edge Of The Park and The New York Ripper are an unforgivable insult to Fulci, Deodato and everyone else involved with those fine films. But enough about that.

One could argue that a revival of the giallo is impossible - that the form was entirely a product of it's time and cultural milieu and can't be anything but disingenuous now. If misfires like Chris Sivertson's I Know Who Killed Me (unfairly maligned, but a pretty poor flick nonetheless) were the norm, I'd probably agree with that assertion. However, it would seem that we're starting to see a number of European films emerge that aren't just aping the tropes of the Italian thriller, but building on it's conventions to further the genre in hopefully progressive ways. Let's take a look at some recently released and upcoming examples:



AMER

This French/Belgian co-production from 2009 is the only film on this list that I've seen, and it may well prove to be the best of the bunch. After helming a string of short films together, this is the feature debut of co-writers/directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, and it's an impressive first effort to be sure. Although unmistakeably a modern giallo, Amer is more suited to the arthouse than the grindhouse, and will no doubt frustrate some viewers who are expecting more of a traditional stalk and slash scenario, as suggested by it's poster (but what a poster that is!).

Nonetheless it is overflowing with recognisable elements, most notably it's use of otherworldly lighting gels; a fantastic score made up of classic tracks culled from the likes of Sergio Martino's Case Of The Scorpion's Tail and Paolo Cavara's Black Belly Of The Tarantula; and a scene involving a straight razor that you won't soon forget. Some reviewers have criticised Amer for being an exercise in style over substance, but I suspect that's likely due to it's rather obfuscating narrative style. The film is heavily reliant on arcane visual symbolism to tell it's story, and if misunderstood (or ignored) it's quite understandable that one would find find it all a bit bewildering. For an in depth analysis of the film's symbolic meaning and cinematic references see Cinezilla's fascinating review HERE.









JULIA'S EYES (LOS OJOS DE JULIA)

This Spanish film from last year, produced by the prolific Guillermo del Toro, reportedly plays as more of a traditional thriller than the previous Amer, perhaps making it more akin to some of De Palma's early films than the Italian directors who influenced him. Reactions have been mixed on this one, but most reviewers seem to agree that the lead performance by Belén Rueda - in a dual role, playing twin sisters - is excellent and worth the price of admission alone. A complaint common to many reviews is that the tension and dread built up in the initial hour is betrayed by a disappointingly incohesive finale. Quibbles like that won't keep me from checking this out however, as I've been reeled in by it's obvious style, atmosphere and creep factor. Coincidentally, this is screening in Sydney tonight as the closer for this year's Spanish Film Festival... get your tickets HERE!









OND TRO

From what I can gather, last year's Swedish thriller Ond Tro (Bad Faith) is less reliant on the more overt visual cliche's of the giallo than the other films on this list. Don't expect any garish colour gels here, rather a less superficial connection to the genre, embodied in a plot element familiar from movies such as Deep Red and Tenebrae - that of the witness to a murder becoming so immersed in solving the case, that they suddenly find themselves dangerously at the centre of it. I need no further enticement to get my ass in the seat for this than knowing that it was shot by one Hoyte van Hoytema, the brilliant cinematographer behind Let The Right One In.









LAST CARESS

Let's leave High Brow alone for now, and fix our lecherous gaze upon this sleazy and sadistic looking little flick. Upcoming French erotic shocker Last Caress doesn't seem to give a damn about the finer elements of the giallo, it just wants to exploit every gory, sexy fetish of the genre to maximum effect. Frankly, the trailers, stills and poster for this scream "Fantom Kiler with better production values", but I think I can live with that. To be fair, this does appear to be a lot classier than Kiler (not that that's much of a complement), but whether that makes me a complete sucker or not will depend on the quality of the final product. In the meantime, the trailers provide plenty of enjoyably carnal carnage, and if pillaging some of your favourite gialli isn't enough, these cinematic perpetrators (François Gaillard and Christophe Robin) are also teasing some nunsploitation and even a little imagery lifted straight out of The Beyond! Website and trailers HERE.







Finally, I had to include this awesome poster for an unrealised feature, from Argentinian indie director Daniel de la Vega, that went by the title of Necrofobia. It's such a perfect piece of giallo inspired art that I think it merits inclusion. I haven't seen any of de la Vega's work, but he obviously has an unhealthy fixation with Euro horror that traumatises him like a rabid cat in the brain. For proof of that obsession just look at the titles of some of his previous films: Jennifer's Shadow and Death Knows Your Name. Hmmm, talk about wearing your influences on your sleeve!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Maury & Bustillo Update


Anyone who's been following the EYE for a while should be well aware by now that I'm a huge fan of Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo's highly dramatic, art/gore masterpiece Inside (A L'interieur). Find the soundtrack HERE.

I've been frothing at the mouth in anticipation to see if they can repeat that magic on their sophomore effort, Livide, now in post production. There's still precious little info available online - a Wiki page HERE, and an earlier post of mine that points to a detailed behind the scenes video (in French) HERE.

A couple of days ago a few images surfaced online, scanned from French magazine Mad Movies. The two images of the bloody girl have been around for a while, albeit in lower resolution, but the image of the clawed crone below is new. If any of my readers speak French, you can find the whole article HERE, and I'd be eternally grateful if you could leave a comment regarding any juicy details therein.



Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hell's Gates: Long Weekend


In a concerted effort to finish something I start, here is the promised second installment of what I hope to become a regular column on Australian genre cinema, remembered through ephemera and promo materials. Find the first Hell's Gates post HERE.

1978's Long Weekend, directed by the late Colin Eggleston, was probably my first real exposure to a locally produced genre film. As a child, a viewing of Long Weekend on the big screen made an indelible impression on me, the legacy of which lingers to this day. This film was almost certainly my first experience of being made explicitly aware of the callousness and destructive myopia with which we humans treat our environment.

I can remember the events of this film disturbing me for weeks, the relentlessly advancing dugong carcass in particular, which creeped me out in much the same way that King's insidious topiary animals did in The Shining. But Long Weekend has more significance to me than as just an early horror experience - it was instrumental in steering me down a path that would eventually lead me to become actively concerned about our mistreatment of animals and the environment (the other catalyst being the Dead Kennedys' song "Moon Over Marin").

Penned by legendary aussie genre writer Everett De Roche (Patrick, Roadgames, Razorback, Storm Warning and the recent Long Weekend remake), the film garnered quite a lot of well deserved acclaim on the European festival circuit, picking up a number of awards in France and Spain (including Best Film and Actor at Sitges '78). As a serious ecological horror film it was well ahead of it's time, leaving it's contemporaries - such as John Frankenheimer's Prophecy, released the following year - flailing in their respective toxic sludge pits. I believe it paved the way for the more mature eco-horrors of the future, such as Larry Fessenden's excellent The Last Winter.

In broader terms, it's a good little movie however you slice it, and I was pleased to discover upon a recent viewing that it hasn't been hamstrung by the passage of time and it's modest budget. Over three decades on, Long Weekend is still an effective, chilling and thought provoking little thriller, well worth your time.

As mentioned above, a couple of years ago De Roche returned to write an aussie remake of
Weekend which was competently directed by Jamie Blanks (Urban Legend, Storm Warning), but seemed to get almost no attention whatsoever. As a remake it's quite slavishly faithful to the original, differing only in it's improved production values and the relative star power of James Caviezel. In the US the remake was saddled with the absolutely horrible title of Nature's Grave and a serious contender for ugliest DVD cover of all time, two factors that definitely didn't help the film's success stateside.


original Australian daybill


original Australian poster


beautiful French poster


Trans World Entertainment VHS cover


Interglobal Home Video VHS cover


an attractive one sheet for the remake


recent Synapse Films DVD release




Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Poster Ferox


Check out the striking poster above for Ruggero Deodato's upcoming sequel to House On The Edge Of The Park (locandine for the original at right). It was designed by none other than blog-buddy Jeremy, aka Silverferox.

The film is set to star Giovanni Lombardo Radice (who also co-wrote), although what this means for Deodato's other gestating sequel is anyone's guess. Given that the Holocaust sequel would require location shooting in the Philippines (and has been struggling to get off the ground for a while), logic dictates that we'll more than likely see this one materialise first.

Jeremy is a talented graphic artist who specialises in "re-imagining" poster designs for classic horror and exploitation movies. Recently he seems to be receiving increasingly more commissions for poster designs for indie film projects, and given his talent it's no surprise. I'd like to congratulate Jeremy on his poster above - a fantastic piece of art, and an obvious career coup.

Take a look at his blog
here. A few choice samples of his work below: