Race Horses’ Film Jukebox

Race Horses

Proud carriers of the Welsh Flag of Psychedelic Pop, Race Horses continue to play dream-washed danceable indie-punk-pop with exquisite charm. Expect lyrics in both English and Welsh on their mischief-laden songs and a nod to electronic, folk-rock, post-rock and pop styles. Following on from the release of their cracking debut album Goodbye Falkenberg, Race Horses have been busy recording a host of new songs, which you can expect to hear at their upcoming show at Proud Galleries, London, on November 9, together with their ace tunes like ‘Grangetown’, ‘Pony’ and ‘Marged Wedi Blino’. Fresh from a turn at the SWN festival and touring with British Sea Power and Villagers, Race Horses are not to be missed live! More information on their website. Below, Race Horses’ Dan Bradley lists his top 10 films. Delia Sparrer

1. Le Ballon Rouge (1956)
I have seen this film more times than any other (except maybe The Wind in the Willows). I know pretty much every line. I cannot help but admit that it is my favourite film although sometimes I keep this to myself.

2. Kes (1969)
One of the many astonishing films from Palme D’or-winning British director Ken Loach.

3. Antichrist (2009)
Lars von Trier’s film sparked a legendary press conference at the Cannes Film Festival [topped by this year’s Cannes press conference for Melancholia].

4. Fish Tank (2009)
Katie Jarvis is the lead in Andrea Arnold’s extraordinary film.

5. Io sono l’amore (2009)
Luca Guadagnino’s film feels so fresh. Tilda Swinton’s performance makes one wonder how she ever got mixed up in that whole Hollywood crowd.

6. Hable con ella (2002)
This is probably Pedro Almod&#243var’s most restrained film and the soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias is one of my favourites.

7. The Servant (1963)
One of several Harold Pinter/Joseph Losey collaborations for the screen – described as a masterpiece by The Guardian.

8. Code Unknown : Incomplete Tales of Several Journeys (2000)
Directed by Michael Haneke with Juliette Binoche. Before Haneke became more widely known thanks to Hidden (Caché), the Funny Games remake and White Ribbon.

9. Un Prophète (2009)
I remember seeing Jacques Audiard’s film for the first time at the Cornerhouse Cinema in Manchester. A special cinema and a very powerful film.

10. Four Lions (2010)
Chris Morris’s first venture into film after creating some of our favourite TV comedies – Brass Eye and Jam.

Raindance 2011: Hits and Misses

The Enemy

Raindance Film Festival

28 Sept – 9 Oct 2011

Apollo + Cineworld Haymarket, London

Raindance website

Mark Stafford, Thomas Grimshaw and Virginie Sélavy report on the hits and misses at this year’s Raindance Film Festival.

Dick Night

Months after being jilted at the altar, Rachel (Jennifer June Ross) has become a reclusive slob, surrounded by mounds of takeaway pizza boxes and unopened wedding gifts in her isolated home. An intervention by her mother shakes her up, but she decides that the only way to truly get over this hump is to get laid, pronto. She invites a likely candidate to come over but nothing runs to plan, the wrong people keep turning up at her door, a pizza delivery guy, an over-protective friend, her ex, a weird girl and, eventually, a horde of would-be vampires…

Andy Viner’s debut is an object lesson in making the most of limited resources (a house in the desert, a committed cast, a vehicle or two). It’s oddly constructed, being about 80% sex farce to 20% horror movie, pretty rough around the edges, and Viner doesn’t seem especially committed to having everything wrap up and make sense, but for the most part it works. It’s pretty funny and breezes along on ramshackle charm, as Rachel’s would-be seductions continually turn into discussions of her marital woes, and the vampires are motivated by a desire to join Team Edward in the Twilight franchise. What can I say? It’s fun! MS

War Games

War Games is the latest addition to the sub-genre of the survival horror film. Whereas films such as the classic Deliverance or the recent Eden Lake utilised the genre to throw up politically charged issues, War Games can make no such claim and exists purely as an exercise in cheap thrills. However, there is also a lot of fun to be had in this tale of young paintballers entering into a deadly game of cat and mouse with a trio of deranged military types. With little justification for their actions, except that shooting dogs just ain’t no fun anymore, the antagonists are painted in very broad strokes, delivering portentous monologues in a mixture of disparate European accents. The heightened display of tropes and stereotypes actually plays to the film’s advantage and creates a slightly innocent 1980s feel, eons away from the torture porn of Eli Roth and co. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t offer up its fair share of blood and guts, but it tastefully opts out of any sadistic voyeurism. The weakest links are undoubtedly the film’s young, peppy protagonists, who blur into one singular unit with slight gender variation. Despite the flaws in the plot and characterisation, War Games has a sly cheekiness that paradoxically wins you over to its way of thinking. Directed thick and fast by Italian music video director Cosimo Alem&#224, it makes great use of limited locations; the forest is a wonderfully labyrinthine nest that helps to compound the palpable sense of danger. War Games is by no means a defining horror film, but it does exude a perverse frivolity and has a lot of fun with its genre stylings. TG

The Box

The Box approaches the Yugoslav conflict from a seemingly quirky, tangential angle that makes the film all the more powerful. Serbian director Andrijana Stojkovic observes the beginning of the Bosnian war in 1992 through the lives of three young men who work in removals, packing the possessions of one ambassador after another as all diplomatic staff leave Belgrade. Billy is a football fan, Cvrle a musician with ambitions to be an international rock star, Vladan a gifted student trying to leave the city to study in the Netherlands. Shot in beautifully stark black and white with austerely composed images, the film cuts between their lives and documentary-style interviews with them and the various diplomats they work for. This device helps build a part humorous, part-poignant picture of the different, sometimes highly contrasting ways in which the conflict affects the lives of the young men and their foreign clients, shaping a subtle critique of Western powers. Strikingly original, intelligently written and visually accomplished, it was a definite highlight of the festival. VS

The Enemy

Serbia offered another interesting take on the conflict with The Enemy, a horror-tinged thriller set a week after the end of the Bosnian war. The film opens with a brilliant credits sequence that starts in total darkness; sounds are heard, then light shines through, revealing that a wall is being broken down, and a man appears, smoking calmly, inside the dark cavity. He is rescued and taken back to the Bosnian soldiers’ isolated headquarters in an abandoned house. Naming himself only as Daba (a nickname connected to the fact that he limps), he is an odd character who smiles enigmatically at everything, smokes and never seems to eat, unnerving some of the most unstable soldiers, who start to believe he may be a malign, supernatural being. As the soldiers wait impatiently for the order to go home, paranoia, distrust and superstition fuel a dangerously rising tension. Filming in muted, almost monochrome colours, director Dejan Zečevi&#263 creates a convincingly claustrophobic atmosphere, although the unnecessary, overly verbose literary and religious references weaken the narrative. The film is most successful in the way it uses horror elements to comment on the absurdity of war; the narrow perspective of the soldier, who only sees his corner of the war and not the bigger picture; and the idea that the enemy is inside, which is particularly powerful in the context of the Bosnian war. Remaining ambiguous to the end, The Enemy offers a great take on the figure of the interloper, whose mere presence reveals hidden feelings in the other characters and changes the dynamics of the group. VS



An isolated Bauhaus-style home deep within a maze of lakes and grasslands somewhere in Hungary: some local children have gone missing, and a creepy video has been posted on the web that appears to show their pursuit and sadistic murder. This is probably not the best time for two couples to enjoy a few days of wine and socialising, a short walk away from the possible crime scene. As the police helicopters circle, tensions within the house mount and suspicions form. Could one of them be responsible for the horrendous crime? Robert A. Pejo’s film is essentially a four-hander play, albeit one with a well-used location. While the shifting allegiances and antagonisms within the group are well handled and performed, I was never especially surprised by any developments in the story. None of the characters are particularly engaging. And anybody expecting a film with this title to do much with the camera, or play with point of view, will be disappointed. Meh. MS

Kingdom of Survival

In his latest documentary, director M.A. Littler sets out to uncover the multiple strands of dissidence still alive in the United States today, seeking out interviewees as diverse as Professor Noam Chomsky, outlaw historian Dr Mark Mirabello and gonzo journalist Joe Bageant. While the individual interviews are genuinely compelling, presenting a roster of passionate and articulate speakers, with Chomsky and Mirabello offering the most insightful critique of the United States entrenched capitalist system, the lack of narrative provides few key links between its commentators, and as a result the film feels episodic and unfocused. Littler himself supplies the only bond between these disparate elements. Driving from subject to subject, Littler, in regular interludes, mythologises and eulogises those who live outside the system and laments the scarcity of people keeping the outlaw ideology alive. However righteous his attempts might be though, his beat-poet, cowboy persona often threatens to derail the admirable attempts of his subjects, making him appear self-conscious and smug. That said, the film does offer a genuine attempt to present a complex subject matter in layman’s terms without losing the potency and complexity of its inherent ideology. TG

State of Emergency

There’s been an explosion somewhere outside a small town in Middle America, and something is in the air that’s turning normal people into crazed killers. We follow Jim as he loses his fiancée and tries to survive, first on his own, and then after hooking up with three other survivors as they hole up in a warehouse and try and stay sane, uninfected and breathing.

The early sequences of State of Emergency where Jim, in some abandoned stables, tries to make sense of what has happened, attempts to summon help and deals with an unwelcome intruder, clearly show that Turner Clay can assemble a suspenseful scene and create an atmosphere of eerie desperation. His creeps are pretty creepy, standing like scarecrows until they burst into snarling life, and, in an intriguing moment, one of them even talks (‘I’m looking for my daughter…’) But, for Christ’s sake, Mr Clay, you simply cannot make a zombie movie this straightforward and simplistic this late in the day, in this saturated sub-genre. Surely any filmmaker paying attention and raising money should realise that they have to ring a few changes, twist a few clichés, do something strange or difficult or alarming to lift themselves out of the shambling horde. State of Emergency‘s characters are dull, the dialogue is flat and perfunctory, and there is none of the subversive socio-political business that makes the key living dead films interesting. What’s the point? MS


Best seen as a piece of shameless exploitation, X is an Australian thriller set in the seedy, dangerous world of sex workers, corrupt cops and junkies in King’s Cross, Sydney. We have Holly, a high-class whore, pulling off one last job before she flees to Paris. We have Shay, a teenage runaway trying to survive her first night as a hooker on the mean streets. And we have a suitcase full of something that various nasty bastards are willing to kill for. Go!

X is gritty, glossy and grim, there’s plentiful use of split-screen, constant ambient noise and a general feeling of audio-visual overload, as Jon Hewitt takes us up and down the social scales of prostitution from a sex show for Chardonnay-sipping suburbanites to smack-addled wretches cowering in love motels, waiting to be raped by the owners. There’s an ever present sense of the vulnerability of tough women. It’s exhilarating and shocking in places, moves like a freight train, and has nothing especially original to say about its sordid little world. Still, the old ‘torn-from-today’s-headlines’ sensation-seeking aesthetic means that you’re unlikely to be bored. It fits a lot into 85 minutes, and ends on an ambiguous note that doesn’t leave you feeling cheated. MS

Lipsett Diaries: A Tormented Life Animated

Lipsett Diaries

8th London International Animation Festival

Dates: 26 August – 4 September 2011

Venues: Barbican, Horse Hospital, Rio Cinema (London)

LIAF website

Visiting the Barbican for a special screening of Lipsett Diaries (2010), Theodore Ushev’s much-praised 15-minute film about experimental filmmaker Arthur Lipsett, it was easy to forget the iconic concrete labyrinth was playing host – for the first time – to the London International Animation Festival. The monthly programme had a lonely, rather perfunctory, paragraph of blurb while the majority of the milling crowd seemed to be there for a new production of South Pacific. As I waited patiently outside Screen 1, I saw with some relief that word had clearly spread about LIAF as a large, high-spirited crowd streamed out of the festival’s British Showcase screening. Perhaps the throng was all showcased filmmakers with friends in tow; still, the lively festival-goers created a welcome buzz and, while many did not stick around for Lipsett Diaries, those who did attend (and the number was respectable) were rewarded for their attendance; the event was another example of thoughtful programming from the LIAF organisers.

Lipsett Diaries could easily have slotted into one of the festival’s regular screenings, lost amid the roster of impressive shorts; instead, it was used as a catalyst to introduce Lipsett’s work and as an ending to a comprehensive retrospective of Ushev’s work to date. It is certainly Ushev’s best film, although his animations have displayed technical virtuosity from the beginning. His first work – The Man Who Waited (2006) – re-tells a Kafka short story through a rapid, claustrophobic edit of images, hand-drawn in the style of German expressionist woodcuts. The fast pacing of Ushev’s filmmaking – something shared with Lipsett’s – is a real strength, and the retrospective included several shorts influenced by 20th-century art movements obsessed with mechanism and speed: constructivism, futurism and vorticism. Tower Bawher (2006) followed this pattern and re-trod a path pioneered in Russia at the start of last century. There was nothing new about the montages of newsprint, geometric blocks, architectural towers and saluting hands but the computer-generated speed did add a certain freshness to the images.

That Soviet typography and striking images appeal to Ushev should come as no surprise, given his background as a graphic artist. I saw a continuation of this profession in his filmmaking: not only in his use of striking aesthetics but also in the way he fits images to his films’ subjects, almost as if working to a brief. In the Q&A following the screening, he spoke of serving a concept; the key was making ‘a film, not my film’, he said. While commendable in many ways, this approach creates a certain passivity in his filmmaking; the image is applied to, and therefore at the mercy of, the text or idea. For me, the overly cutesy narration of Tzaritza (2006) made a sweet tale about families separated by emigration more throwaway and saccharine than it needed to be. It seems that Ushev creates his best films when working with rich personalities that provide a strong voice. As a case in point, Yannick Nézet-Séguin: No Intermission took an interview and performance by the eponymous conductor and created beautiful glowing visuals: lively flashes of Nézet-Séguin’s animated face and hands appear from extreme blackness to tame and direct an invisible orchestra.

Lipsett Diaries provided another strong voice and portrait of the creative spirit. The film was born out of discussions with fellow filmmakers, a series of talisman coincidences – including the discovery that Lipsett had previously lived in Ushev’s first apartment block in Montreal – and a script by writer Chris Robinson. Divided into three separate segments, the narrative tells Lipsett’s story, from a difficult childhood to his death. An exceptionally talented filmmaker, Lipsett created several astonishing shorts in the early 60s and committed suicide just before his 50th birthday. Composed of hundreds of acrylic paintings, the film’s animation is intense and extremely delicate, borrowing from the visceral style of Francis Bacon and Goya’s later paintings and occasionally nodding to Pop Art. These images play out as filmmaker Xavier Dolan narrates snatches of text and builds up an insight into Lipsett’s inner turmoil. It is only at the end of the film that the audience is told that Lipsett’s diaries were never found and that the film is a fictionalised account, using narrative texts from Lipsett’s shorts.

The non-linear approach of assembling text and images mirrors Lipsett’s own filmmaking technique, which cut up dialogue – often passages of cultural criticism – and playfully juxtaposed the words with images of everyday life, either shot by himself or his contemporary filmmakers at the National Film Board in Canada. The editing skills displayed in his debut film, Very Nice, Very Nice (1961), brought Lipsett to the attention of the Academy and also that of filmmakers such as Stanley Kubrik (who asked him – unsuccessfully – to work as his editor). Lipsett was a master of editing but, more than that, he offered a delightfully skewed way of looking at the world, which cuts through the noise and commercialisation of our normal existence. His work goes beyond surrealism’s random juxtaposition of images and, while it uses the everyday, it is not quite Pop Art either. Lipsett’s work does not propel commonplace objects to the position of High Art in such a straightforward composition; instead, it uses everyday experience to comment upon cultural criticism, political theory, religious belief and social observation. The strange juxtapositions of images are sometimes used to directly contradict the rhetoric being espoused and, at other times, to point out the futility of trying to contain and define the human experience in words. The grand theories are interrupted by phone calls, cut off in mid-stream and shown disintegrating into unintelligible burbles and nonsensical noises. The films create a collage of competing voices, snippets of text straining to make sense of the world.

There is despair in Lipsett’s shorts but there is also warmth and humour; traits that were slightly lost in the script for Lipsett Diaries, which preferred to emphasise a darker, more straightforward narrative of the artist as tortured soul. Lipsett’s work is full of humanity – laid bare for the audience in his every choice of image – and it was wonderful to sit in the Barbican watching his early shorts unfold on the big screen. For bringing Arthur Lipsett to new audiences, to the organisers of LIAF and the makers of Lipsett Diaries: bravo, very nice, very nice.

Eleanor McKeown

London Film Festival 2011: part 2


55th BFI London Film Festival

12-27 October 2011, various venues, London

LFF website

Sarah Cronin and Pamela Jahn report on the London Film Festival as it enters its final few days.


A slick thriller with hints of B-movie horror, Norwegian director Morten Tyldum’s Headhunters is an entertaining adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s bestselling crime novel. Aksel Hennie plays Roger Brown, a man who – on the surface, and despite his insecurity about his height – seems to have it all: beautiful wife, stunning home, flashy car. But none of this is really paid for by his job as a renowned headhunter. Instead, Roger is also an art thief, whose wealthy, high-powered clients are all potential victims, including Clas (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), an extremely successful executive with chiselled good looks and an inherited Rubens. While some of the early twists in this classic heist film might be predictable, the film soon shifts into some unexpected directions, as Clas turns out to be a terrifying opponent who mercilessly hunts Roger down, completely upending his life.

Some of the plotting does not hold up to close scrutiny, and sympathising with Roger is a stretch (he’s a womaniser as well as a thief), but it’s a well-executed, well-acted film that has enough going on to make it a fun watch. Occasionally gory, sometimes silly, it’s a cut above the usual crime caper. SC

Sleepless Nights Stories

Jonas Mekas’s latest offering is a weird and wonderful mix of short-film montage, essay and film diary that emerged out of a jet lag-induced insomnia. In 20-odd episodes, inspired by the tales of One Thousand and One Nights, the tireless Mekas strolls through the night, meeting old friends and random acquaintances and listening to their stories. Many of the people who appear in front of his shaky digital camera are prominent artists, including Patti Smith, Harmony Korine, Louis Garrel, or a lovelorn Marina Abramovic, who shares her inner feelings with the 88-year-old filmmaker. The more stories, both intimate and eccentric, the film reveals, the more it becomes clear that there is more than one Scheherazade at work here. The episodes, which are introduced by sometimes hilarious, sometimes philosophical, sometimes plain weird intertitles, build a series of devices to avoid desperation and death. But most importantly, what becomes manifest is the fact that sleepless nights don’t pass without a certain amount of alcohol. Mekas drinks, his friends follow suit and the camera totters, suggesting that you are better off picking up a glass of wine (Mekas prefers red) before going into the screening too, to be able to fully chime in with the admirably free spirit conveyed on screen. PJ


One of the most talked about films at this year’s festival, Steve McQueen’s Shame could have been a great movie. His follow-up to the acclaimed Hunger, it stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, a man who is pathologically addicted to sex, filling his need with an endless stream of pornography and prostitutes. His (outwardly) tightly controlled, orderly life begins to unravel when his sister, Sissy, played by Carey Mulligan, appears at his immaculate, minimalist flat, begging for a place to stay. While Fassbender puts in a terrifically compelling performance, Mulligan is given much less to work with – her character is the ditsy, manic-depressive blonde, needy and demanding, desperate for attention, leaving endless messages for men that she’s slept with, not understanding that all they wanted from her was sex. While she has a few great scenes – and one in particular, already notorious – her character is a cliché that’s been seen and done before. Predictability is the problem with the film as a whole. The nearly wordless opening and closing scenes that bookend the film are incredibly powerful, but there are times when the dialogue is frustratingly flat, and the depiction of corporate New York and its club scene are too reminiscent of the early 90s and American Psycho. There is real tension in the tormented relationship between Brandon and Sissy, while his uncontrollable, violent outbursts are a shock, but the screenplay just isn’t quite strong enough to make the whole a truly remarkable film – what’s frustrating is that it comes so close. SC

Walking Too Fast

Following hard on the heels of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s The Lives of Others, slow-burn Czech psychological thriller Walking Too Fast offers an equally compelling, if less original, glimpse into lives under a communist regime before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Set in Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s, the film draws heavily on the story of its predecessor: troubled agent Antonín Rusnák (Ondrej Malý;) is a loyal, and consequently savage, henchman of the official state security service, whose brutal façade starts to crumble as he develops an obsession with Klára, the young lover of the persecuted dissident Tomáš, whom Antonín attempts to force into emigration. Antonín’s motive, however, is less an urging romantic desire than a desperate attempt to overcome his inner struggle and despair, which makes his character thoroughly unlikable but, at the same time, more interesting and powerful. In fact, his gradual transition from faithful servant to ruthless maverick, who, in his pointless attempts to win Klára over Tomáš, gradually starts to fight on all fronts, is where the film is most gripping. Although the pace lags slightly towards the end, Malý; delivers a solid performance as the cold-blooded spy going astray, and thanks to the chilling electronic score and apt cinematography director Radim Špaček has crafted a film that is both absorbing and subtly unsettling in its own right. PJ



The debut feature from writer-director-editor Mark Jackson, Without was a personal highlight at this year’s LFF. It features an outstanding performance from newcomer Joslyn Jensen as an unstable young woman who’s secretly coping with a terrible loss. Joslyn takes a job on an island off the coast of Washington State, caring for Frank, an elderly man in a near-vegetative state who’s confined to a wheelchair. The set-up – it’s just the two of them, alone, in a remote house in the woods – suggests a thriller, but the suspense and mystery really revolve around her perilous emotional state. There are lots of (sometimes disturbing) comedic moments in the film, but as it unfolds, Joslyn’s charming, seemingly innocent character begins to evolve into something deeper and darker. Her transformation is mesmerising; her treatment of Frank at times shocking. The director hints throughout the film at her reasons for taking the job, but never gives away too much at once, leaving it to the audience to try and piece together the rest of the puzzle.

Jessica Dimmock and Diego Garcia’s cinematography is superb; much of the film is shot with a shallow depth of field, lending a rich, soft-focus look to the visuals, while the warm hues contrast with the darkening tone of the film. It’s a remarkable, original feature that will hopefully get the recognition that it deserves. SC


Gus Van Sant’s latest film seems like an unlikely choice for the director: a very twee romance about two adolescents who fall in love while coming to terms with both life and death. Enoch (played by Henry Hopper), struggling to cope with the loss of his parents in an accident, likes to crash funerals dressed in gothic attire. His best friend is Hiroshi, the ghost of a kamikaze pilot (why, I have no idea); they like to play Battleship together, but the pilot always wins. Annabel (Mia Wasikowska) is dying from a brain tumour, although she keeps this information to herself when she first meets Enoch at the funeral home.

It’s a classic teen love story, complete with the tragic but uplifting ending and added quirkiness. The problem is that the evolution of their romance is so sickeningly sweet it’s exasperating to watch, while their world is made up of elements from a nostalgic past that lends a painfully contrived air to the film (perhaps trying to recreate Harold and Maude for today’s generation, but failing). She reads books on Darwin and birds, they play Operation, and Enoch toys with a slinky while waiting in the hospital for news from Annabel. They’re completely removed from reality, and the result is that the film has little resonance, or anything believable to say about weighty subjects like love and death.

But despite the film’s serious flaws, I think it will have an audience: it’s the perfect sleep-over movie for tween girls who are too cool for the stuff that passes for romance in Hollywood, and not yet cynical enough to reject screenwriter Jason Lew’s blatant tugging on the heartstrings. SC

Restless is released by Sony Pictures in the UK on 21 October 2011.

Crazy Horse

For his 39th film, Frederick Wiseman has taken a close look behind the scenes of the famous Parisian cabaret club, which, since its foundation in 1951, offers a burlesque show billed as celebrating both beautiful women and the art of the nude. After a first glance into the dressing rooms, a gently moving camera follows a couple of catchy on-stage performances. However, much as in La Danse, in which Wiseman observes the dancers and choreographers of the Paris Opera Ballet as they break the most complex movements down into their component parts, the director’s primary interest here remains in revealing the hard work needed for choreographer Philippe Decloufé and his ensemble to revive and sustain the success of the show. Wiseman records the long, tiring hours of practices, staff meetings and heady discussions about lighting design and budget constraints, and costume-fitting sessions followed by more rehearsals and repetition. Working precisely with the curiosity of an anthropologist and the eye of an aesthete, Wiseman manages once again to achieve what any ordinary observer would fail to do: making the boredom of routine work captivating. Enriched by footage of the ensemble’s most compelling on-stage acts and moments of casual beauty, Crazy Horse is a vibrant, fascinating celebration of dance as a multi-faceted art form. PJ

She Monkeys

Nominated for the Sutherland Trophy at this year’s LFF, She Monkeys is an intriguing debut from Swedish filmmaker Lisa Aschan about the intensely competitive relationship between two young women teetering on the cusp of adulthood. Emma dreams of joining the local equestrian acrobatics team, practising diligently in her sparsely furnished bedroom in the house that she shares with her precocious seven-year-old sister Sara and their father (we never learn what’s happened to their mother, although her unexplained absence is clearly a disturbing factor in their lives). When Emma succeeds in making the equestrian team, she’s befriended by the attractive, worldly Cassandra. It’s soon clear who is in control; Cassandra is a bully, and the prank that she plays on a young man who’s interested in Emma is painfully cruel. But a fatal moment of vulnerability on Cassandra’s part leads to a twist in their power struggle, and the discovery that Emma is perhaps not as innocent and vulnerable as she first seems.

It’s an original retelling of the coming-of-age story, but what makes She Monkeys so remarkable are the performances delivered by the non-professional actresses, Mathilda Paradeiser, Linda Molin and Isabella Lindquist, who is simply astonishing as Sara, a child far too young to be grappling with her sexuality. It’s a compelling, disquieting watch that earned Aschan the top narrative prize at the Tribeca Film Festival. SC

L’Etrange Festival 2011

The Unjust

L’Etrange Festival

2-11 September 2011, Forum des Images, Paris

L’Etrange Festival website

The 17th edition of the Etrange Festival celebrated psychotronic and gore cinema with two nights devoted respectively to grindhouse and the Sushi Typhoon label. The geeky atmosphere was summed up by the screening of Jun Tsugita’s Horny House of Horror (2010), which must be seen for the sequence in which a penis is prepared sushi-style. The film was presented by the director and special-effects expert Yoshihiro Nishimura, a hilarious pixie who leapt onto the stage and ended his speech with ‘I’m bald because of radioactivity’. The festival lived up to its reputation, with the diversity of the programming remaining one of its strengths, especially thanks to its policy of ‘carte blanche’ (given to Julien Temple and Jean-Pierre Mocky this year) and its unique selection of filmic gems. Nicolas Guichard

The Unjust (Bu-dang-geo-rae, 2011, dir Ryoo Seung-wan)

An honest cop is forced to resort to the worse methods (including joining forces with a criminal) in order to make progress as he investigates a series of children’s murders. This dark crime thriller follows in the footsteps of Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder, but despite a script penned by Park Hoon-jung (writer of Kim Jee-woon’s I Saw the Devil), and director Ryoo Seung-wan’s talent for action scenes, it is not as inspired as its predecessor, nor does it share its sense of the absurd and its delirious ‘realism’. The main idea of the central character’s betrayal (of his principles and of his team) and his voluntary degradation to solve the case (the end justifies the means) is weakened by some longueurs and verbose scenes that tend to water down the dénouement. NG

The Unjust is the closing film of the London Korean Film Festival on November 17. The festival runs from November 3 to 17 and includes a Ryoo Seung-wan retrospective.

Meat (2010, dir Victor Nieuwenhuijs & Maartje Seyferth)

Surreal Dutch neo-noir Meat, a film concerned with the flesh in all its forms, owes its existence in part to the generosity of a local butcher with a passion for cinema, and to that of lead actor Titus Muizelaar. A famous TV actor in his native Netherlands, Muizelaar gave up his holiday time for three consecutive summers to play a part that has since won him a lead actor gong at the Deboshir film festival in St Petersburg. The former provided the lamb, beef and pork – as well as the hands that chop it on screen. The latter plays both a lugubrious detective, coping dispassionately with the sudden suicide of his former partner, and a butcher, grunting and rutting amid the hanging carcasses of his own cold storage like a randy bull. In between the two, Nellie Benner plays Roxy, a young girl seduced, abused and abandoned by seemingly every man she meets. But the real star is undoubtedly the meat itself: chops, steaks and cubed beef heart, filmed in loving close-up, as erotic as any living flesh on the screen. The narrative unfolds with the logic of a dream, drifting wantonly and waywardly into abrupt changes of time, pace and style. A carnal film, both literally and viscerally, with its heart not so much on its sleeve, as on its plate. Robert Barry

Salue le diable de ma part (Saluda al diablo de mi parte, 2011, dir Juan Felipe Orozco)

In this thriller that deftly exploits Columbia’s political reality (the amnesty offered by the state to the guerilleros who have put down their weapons), director Juan Felipe Orozco focuses on Angel (nicknamed ‘El Diablo’), a repentant revolutionary who is having difficulty reintegrating into society. He lives with his daughter in a somewhat shabby flat until one day one of his former victims kidnaps his daughter and gives him three days to eliminate the members of his ex-group. The contrast between Angel’s ghostly appearance and the stylised violence of the action scenes is not unoriginal, but the revenge set-up, in which the victim forces their torturer to avenge them, sadly soon loses momentum because of the plot’s strict linear structure. NG

Alone in the Dark (1982, dir Jack Sholder)

Sometimes the border is the best vantage point for viewing territories on either side. Jack Sholder’s 1982 psycho-shocker Alone in the Dark is just such a liminal case, poised at the very moment when the more politicised, sociological horror films of the 1970s (Dawn of the Dead, The Fury, Scanners, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) turn into the supernatural psycho-on-the-loose slashers of the 1980s (typified by the extensive sequels to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th). Alone in the Dark, the first film produced by New Line Cinema (A Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.) might have begun in the 70s, but from the entrance of Lee Taylor-Ann (in the role of nyctophobe Toni Potter) in her pink and black ra-ra skirt, inviting the other characters to go out and see a really cool band downtown (The Sic Fucks, as themselves), it is clear that we could be in no other decade than the 80s. In one particular scene we can see the crossover quite precisely. In the midst of a blackout, ordinary citizens are spontaneously looting and running amok. The blackout has caused the sophisticated electronic locking system of the psychiatric hospital to break down and release four homicidal lunatics who walk into this chaos, one of them wearing a hockey mask. It is as though Jason from Friday the 13th had wandered onto the set of Dawn of the Dead (Friday the 13th part III, the first of the series in which we see Jason Vorhees in a hockey mask, was released just three months before Alone in the Dark, so we can probably rule out any deliberate reference on either part). ‘Sure, they’re crazy,’ says Donald Pleasance’s pot-smoking shrink (based on R.D. Laing), ‘but isn’t everybody?’ It is perhaps a shame that the rest of the 1980s slasher films would tend to forget this second clause. RB

Viva la muerte (1971, dir Fernando Arrabal)

This film was presented as part of Jean-Pierre Mocky’s ‘carte blanche’. In his introduction to the screening, Mocky enthusiastically congratulated the organisers because he’d realised, after choosing the films, how difficult it would be to find copies (in particular John Ford’s The Last Hurrah).

Viva la muerte is one of the key works of Panic, the ‘movement’ founded nine years earlier by Fernando Arrabal, Alejandro Jodorowsky and Roland Topor. This autobiographical evocation of Arrabal’s childhood (based on his novel Baal Babylon) and of his memories of the Spanish Civil War moves between the ‘real’ life of Fando (whose father was denounced to the fascists by his mother) and his fantasies (in sequences filmed in coloured filters). But the boundary gradually becomes blurred and porous, as if the unconscious was pouring into reality. Even though Viva la muerte is not as impressive as Jodorowsky’s work, Arrabal recaptures the freshness of Buñuel’s surrealist imagery (Un chien andalou). Thanks to his sense of the baroque and his interest in confusion (a Panic key word), Arrabal invites us to a sort of orgiastic ritual that conjures the mythological figures of the sacrificial victim (the absent father) and the cruel ‘virgin’, both Eros and Thanatos (the mother, doubling up in the character of the aunt). NG

Super (2010, dir James Gunn)

This, perhaps, is what happens when Troma directors grow up – or rather, fail to: they make films in which grown men cry (and then brutally murder various inconsequential characters and cop off with girls half their age). Gunn broke into movie-making in his mid-20s, taking the director’s chair for Tromeo and Juliet. Following the success of this ‘no holds bard’ Shakespeare adaptation for the low-budget schlock stable (home of The Toxic Avenger), Gunn hit the big league with screenplays for two Scoobie Doo films and a big-budget Dawn of the Dead remake. Now he’s back doing his own thing, shooting his own original screenplay, and clearly having a whale of a time. Super follows the comic book life ‘between the panels’ of the world’s most pathetic super-hero, The Crimson Bolt. The film has all the yucks and irreverence you’d expect from a former Troma man – he even finds room to give his old boss, Lloyd Kaufman, a cameo – and it rattles along at a fine old pace. In truth, there’s little not to like here, as long as you weren’t expecting Tarkovsky – and if you were, then, my god, what were you thinking? Where the film falls down is in the moments where it tries to be a little more grown-up. The sentiment is weak and somewhat tacked on. In the end, it’s the bits where the film ‘exposes its real feelings’ that are the true mask, hiding the gleeful, anarchic face underneath. RB

Piscine sans eau (A Pool without Water/Mizu no nai puuru, 1982, dir Kôji Wakamatsu)

An outwardly dull man (played by the impressive Yûya Uchida) enters the house of young women at night, then chloroforms and rapes them. From this premise Wakamatsu creates a strange, oneiric film, a poetic parable on the relationship to the other in a fossilised society. The originality of the film lies in the manner in which the director uses the conventions of the erotic genre and the references to childhood (games with insects and dolls) to compose an ode to the common man’s quest for freedom. It is a freedom that is negative, just like the waterless swimming pool that gives the film its title, as if the relationships between men and women could only be created through transgression. A true moralist, Wakamatsu paints the picture of a man-child who has found the way to literally touch the object of his desire and liberate himself by giving free rein to his erotic madness. NG

Beyond the Black Rainbow

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010, dir Panos Cosmatos)

My pick of the festival by a country mile. Beyond the Black Rainbow is a highly stylised and oppressively atmospheric take on the kind of weird dystopian science fiction the 1970s did so well – Logan’s Run, Scanners, THX-1138, The Andromeda Strain, etc. – from which it picks up and exaggerates elements to the point of parody in a world of coloured lights and modernist set designs. The music is pitched somewhere between the mid-70s synths of John Carpenter and the ‘spectral’ sound of such recent electronic acts as The Focus Group and Boards of Canada. The story is set in a health-resort-cum-religious-community ‘in a beautiful place out in the country’, to quote the BoC track whose mood comes closest to capturing the spirit of this film. Indeed, it could be said that with its coloristic compositions and repetitive scenic plan, the film’s structure is more musical than novelistic, dovetailing neatly with the ‘hauntological’ moment in contemporary music pinpointed by critics such as Mark Fisher, Adam Harper and Simon Reynolds. What is perhaps most intriguing – and indeed most hauntological – about the film is its apt demonstration that, today, in order to present a future that is genuinely ‘other’ one must set one’s narrative not in the world ‘of tomorrow’, but in the recent past. RB

Beyond the Black Rainbow screens at Les Utopiales, the brilliantly ambitious science fiction festival that takes place in Nantes (France) from 9 to 13 November 2011.

Dementia (1955, dir John Parker)

Dementia is a true oddity, cited in Re/Search’s Incredibly Strange Films. Shot in the mid-50s, it is a black and white film with no dialogue, in fact no synch sound whatsoever (a voice-over was added later for the re-release under a different title), just an eerie, creepy score by one-time ‘bad boy’ of new music George Antheil. Tonight, Antheil’s score has been replaced (although ghostly traces of it remain, as distorted loops, somewhere in the mix) by a live soundtrack performed by Church of Satan councilman and occasional white supremacist pin-up Boyd Rice, along with Dwid Hellion from US hardcore group Integrity. Hellion and Rice make use of a bizarre selection of instruments, from the double bass harmonica (apparently recommended by Addams Family composer Vic Mizzy) and a curious brass-pronged device called a waterphone, whose sound is immediately recognisable from a thousand horror films. These instruments are then sampled and looped, punctuated by occasional bursts of distortion pedal guitar noise, in accompaniment to the oneiric narrative on screen. A woman wakes up, wanders the streets, meets a man, murders him, and runs away from the police – only to wake once more, the waves crashing over her dreams like ill-repressed memories. Dementia is usually credited to producer John Parker, but Wikipedia claims it was actually directed by actor Bruno Ve Sota (who plays the Rich Man, and also directed such classic 50s Bs as The Brain Eaters and Invasion of the Star Creatures). Most famous for being the film showing in the cinema sequence in Irvin Yeaworth’s The Blob (1958). RB

Take Shelter (2011, dir Jeff Nichols)

In the rural American south, a miner starts having dreams of a terrible storm coming. When the dreams start spilling out into his waking hours he begins obsessively taking precautions against what he is sure is a real storm to come. The second feature from Jeff Nichols makes more than a passing reference to Peter Weir’s The Last Wave, though thankfully with the magical-native-folk clichés excised. Instead, we are offered one of the more harrowing cinematic portraits of mental collapse since Nicholas Ray’s Bigger Than Life, with which Nichols’s film also shares more than a passing acquaintance. Curiously, the more I found myself nerve-wracked and devastated by the unfolding domestic catastrophe on screen, the more the rest of the audience in Paris started laughing. Actually, now I come to think of it, when I saw Bigger Than Life at the same cinema a few months back, everyone else was laughing too. Maybe Parisians just enjoy watching ordinary Americans lose their mind. Either way, as torment or farce, Take Shelter is stylishly shot and convincingly performed by its two leads, Michael Shannon (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?) and Jessica Chastain (Tree of Life). RB

Flesh+Blood (1985, dir Paul Verhoeven)

Before Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Trooper, Paul Verhoeven spent his first American film on an extended jaunt around the medieval castles of Spain, bringing along a few old friends from his native Netherlands – Rutger Hauer, Jan De Bont – for the ride. Flesh+Blood is a knights-on-a-quest epic with all the carnage and carnal knowledge one would expect from Verhoeven, playing fast and loose with accents and anachronism, and not a ‘forsooth’ or a ‘hey nonny nonny’ in sight. In a sense, the film is a kind of Once upon a Time in the West for the romance, an elegy for the end of the medieval era. All three of its principal characters represent the rise of a new order against the old feudal ties: Rutger Hauer’s Martin is the ruthless capitalist, who promises his fellows equality only to assume noble airs and graces when the opportunity arises; Tom Burlinson’s Steven could be the contemporary of Francis Bacon, turning science into technology subjugated to the war machine. They are of course one and the same, as Agnes (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh as a scheming opportunist, the very prototype of the modern footballer’s wife) realises only too well. One of the grimiest films about the era, Flesh+Blood is also one of the most insightful. RB

The Hitcher (1986, dir Robert Harmon)

The Hitcher has a great premise, and it knows it, exploiting some very basic fears that have doubtless been felt by any motorist who has ever seen an outstretched thumb on a lonely road at night. With that, the film has a confidence, an assurance that prevents it from taking too many wrong steps. The taut structure keeps the tension high when it needs to be, and always knows when best to diffuse it with a well-timed gag (a severed finger with your chips, sir?). The film’s star Rutger Hauer said in introducing the film at the screening that this is not just a horror film, but also a love story: from the moment his John Ryder thrusts his hand into C. Thomas Howell’s crotch, an erotic power play unfolds with several layers of complexity. One final thought on this film: towards the end, sitting in the back of a police van, Hauer’s hitcher is seen humming to himself the tune to ‘Daisy’, the song Arthur C. Clarke heard a computer sing at Bell Labs and decided to appropriate for Hal in 2001. At this point in the film, we have just discovered that this man has no records on any computer, no place of origin, and is almost impossible to kill. Might he, in fact, be reprising his role from Blade Runner, made four years earlier? RB

The Oregonian (2011, dir Calvin Reeder)

Of course, every festival has to have at least one real stinker, and The Oregonian, sad to say, is really, truly, irredeemably awful in every possible sense. The acting is pathetic, the shooting laughable, the script (there’s a script?!) even worse. The best I can say is that there is nice furniture in one scene. According to writer/director Calvin Reeder’s smug-as-chips IMDB page, he has been named one of Filmmaker magazine’s ’25 new faces of independent film’ – I can only presume they mean faces to run and hide from, faces not to trust with your production money, faces that seriously deserve a good kicking. How this film got accepted into this festival – let alone Sundance earlier in the year – is beyond me. I’d assume the people who made it were taking the piss, that this was some grand spoof on the pseudo-surreal, except this was probably the only film I saw at this festival at which nobody laughed once. I felt pity for the rest of the audience as we grimly endured this useless mess of a motion picture. I sincerely hope that no one involved in this production – from exec producer to set runner – is ever allowed to work in film again. RB

Decapoda Shock

Courts Métrages

Sudd, a short film by Swede Erik Rosenlund, shows a world of elegant black and white cinematography, gradually being eaten by a disease of animated scribbles. With the rise of high-quality computer animation software packages available off the shelf and capable of turning any laptop into a professional cartoon suite, the narrative of this film could be the narrative of shorts programmes at film festivals the world over, with the increasingly prevalent drawn-not-ray-traced style a kind of compulsory supplement, as much a product of the slick digi-style it seeks to countermand as anything else.

Paths of Glory, shown as part of the fifth shorts package, is little more than a boy’s own adventure dogfight story with some demons and lame-ass heavy metal tacked on the end, etched in the style of the contemporary comic shop. Condamné &#224 vie is more bande dessinée than Marvel Universe and at least raises a few laughs, but still uses the hand-drawn style as a sort of ideological screen to conceal its mode of production. Much better is the somewhat relentless Dutch fantasia Get Real! Here, the scribble is less a self-reflexive imitation pencil than the gleeful mouse-squiggle of a first-time Paint user, a chip-tune-soundtracked story about puppy love and arcade obsessiveness that takes every opportunity to emphasise its own cybernetic provenance.

Elsewhere, big-budget Brit animation A Lost and Found Box of Human Sensation starts off like a mournful, cautionary tale in a vaguely Hilaire Belloc sort of way and ends up as a car advert – it does, however, boast a voice-over by Ian McKellen, which is enough to redeem almost anything. Putain Lapin simultaneously satirises Jean Eustache and Donnie Darko, in a surreal take on the grainy 16mm of the nouvelle vague. As the title suggests, a prostitute meets a giant fuzzy bear, mistakes him for a rabbit, they fall in love. It’s all rather sweet.

The other British offering, Endless, steals from Antichrist and Douglas Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho installation with a super slo-mo bathroom murder story with a score that sounds suspiciously like the Handel aria used by von Trier (no prizes for guessing what their temp track was). A hint to Matt Bloom, director of this one: if you’re going to subject your images to the in-depth examination that slow motion inevitably induces, you’d better make sure you’ve got a good image, and not a rather clumsily lit home movie out-take.

The best films on the shorts programme I saw were Sudd (already mentioned) and Decapoda Shock, both of which mixed an inventive and articulate use of ‘real’ cinematography with the freedom of expression afforded by occasional intrusions of animation. The latter, a Spanish sci-fi movie with a man with a lobster’s head for a hero, got my vote for the audience prize in the festival’s ‘competition courts-métrages’. RB

Decapoda Shock screens at Les Utopiales, the brilliantly ambitious science fiction festival that takes place in Nantes (France) from 9 to 13 November 2011 and is curated by some of the people behind L’Etrange Festival. The programme includes scientific and literary talks, exhibitions, video games and films. The film selection includes premieres of Tarsem Singh’s Immortals and Nacho Vigalondo’s Extraterrestrial, screenings of Richard Stanley’s Hardware, Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain and Ren&#e Laloux’s Fantastic Planet + short films, documentaries and a conference on Satoshi Kon.

Nicolas Guichard and Robert Barry

Phase IV: Synthphony for the Ant Nation

Phase IV

Phase IV opens up somewhere between a 1970s educational nature programme and the ‘book’ sections of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy played straight, so it is apt that its music would initially recall the darker moments from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: the shimmering waves of Delia Derbyshire’s ‘Blue Veils and Golden Sands’; Malcolm Clarke’s blocks of ring-modulated dissonances for the Dr Who episode ‘The Sea Devils’; and Workshop manager Desmond Briscoe’s spectral driftworks for the soundtrack to the BBC’s original Quatermass and the Pit. So it comes as little surprise that Briscoe himself is credited as having provided ‘additional electronic music’, and much of the electronic realisation has been done by EMS synthesizers enthusiast David Vorhaus, who had worked with Delia Derbyshire on the first White Noise album.

Amid the almost constant bed of electronic drones provided by Vorhaus and Briscoe, the brief fragments of instrumental music are like floating islands of humanity in an increasingly alien world. With its mordant strings, chiming bells and distant brass doubled by distorted guitar, the score could almost be mistaken for a new version of Mahler’s Tenth Symphony, as completed by Scott Walker. Ten years later, the film’s composer, Brian Gascoigne, would provide orchestral arrangements and play keyboards on Walker’s album Climate of Hunter (Gascoigne is an ARP 2600 man), thus beginning a relationship that would continue up to his recent role, crafting sound treatments on Walker’s last studio album, The Drift.

As the film progresses, this latter music becomes ever more a means to encourage the audience to identify, not with the human protagonists, but with the rapidly evolving ants. One scene in particular in which a solitary ant walks solemnly down neat lines of fallen comrades is rendered especially tragic by Gascoigne’s arrangements. If at the start of the film the ants are a symbol for the Soviets, the invading utopian hive mind, by the end, as they struggle heroically to adapt and survive, it is the ants that represent America, one nation under God. For the humans, sound soon becomes itself a weapon, a filtered attack of white noise, not just upon the ant colony, but used equally offensively against the audience.

Electric Sheep and Strange Attractor are excited to present Phase IV as part of Scalarama. For more Information check our Events & Media section.

Robert Barry

Alastair Bruce is Fargo’s Marge Gunderson


Alastair Bruce was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in 1972 and studied at the University of Cape Town, where he started a science degree, but ended up with a major in English literature. His haunting dystopian debut, Wall of Days (Clerkenwell Press) has been described as a ‘post-apocalyptic Robinson Crusoe‘ and deals with guilt, historical revision and reconciliation. Eithne Farry

A character in a film I really admire is Marge Gunderson in Fargo, played by Frances McDormand. What I admire is how she reacts to the mayhem about her. Whether she is confronted by grisly murders or inept and uncomfortable attempts to chat her up, she deals with it all with a stoic demeanour and is unfazed by the insanity around her. She is the calm centre of a hurricane.

The film itself is possibly The Coen brothers’ best, though Barton Fink and No Country for Old Men run it close. William Macy and Steve Buscemi are fantastic in the movie as well. It’s the combination of the bleak snowy landscapes of Minnesota, the gruesome and quite shocking violence, and the black comedy that makes it so compelling. Add in a character who shows incredible bravery, especially since she is seven months pregnant, and maintains a polite and likeable mien in the face of everything that goes on around her, and it’s no wonder it is seen as a modern classic.

Marge is extremely self-effacing. She politely lets down an old acquaintance who hits on her. After solving a murder and bringing a killer to justice she gets into bed with her husband and listens to him talk about how a drawing of his has been selected to appear on a 3c stamp but not the 29c stamp. When she says that she is proud of him and that everyone uses the 3c stamp it shows that she is the sort of person we could probably all be a bit more like. The unfussy and unemotional way of reacting to events is not that of an uncaring rationalist. It’s the reaction of someone vested with unbound empathy. Politicians and tabloids take note.

And then there’s the accent. The melodious Minnesota accent, sounding almost Nordic, is almost the best thing about the film, and that’s saying something.

Alastair Bruce

When No Means Oh OK: A dubious return to 70s-style rape in film

Love and Bruises

68th Venice International Film Festival

31 August – 10 September 2011, Venice, Italy

Biennale di Venezia website

Love and Bruises, the new film by Chinese director Ye Lou, which premiered at the latest edition of the Venice Film Festival, is a rough-and-tumble love story between a French scaffold worker (Tahar Rahim) and a Chinese student (Corinne Yam). Taken from an autobiographical novel entitled Bitch, this is an uncompromising film that examines a self-abusive bad relationship from the point of view of the woman. Or does it?

The film begins with a humiliating scene of a very public split-up. Hua, the Chinese student, is dumped by her lover. She falls asleep at a bar, and when she then wanders past the market where some workmen are dismantling the scaffolding she is hit in the head by an iron bar being carried by Matthieu. He apologises and makes sure she’s OK. He helps her find a bank machine, then follows her and pesters her until she gives him her phone number. He phones her immediately as he walks behind her. They go for dinner. He walks her home. He tries to kiss her, and when she refuses he asks what the point of the dinner was if she isn’t going to agree to have sex. She refuses again, so he drags her into a building and rapes her. Thus love is born.

Retrospectively, we can rationalise this wasn’t really rape as in the end she, you know, enjoyed it. By the way, this film was made in 2011 and not the early 70s when enjoyable rape wasn’t ruined by political correctness gone mad. The 70s, and films informed by that mentality, often gave us two types of rape to choose from. Remember Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. We have the non-consensual sex with an ex-lover that becomes pleasurable (no means oh OK), softened by romantic music and a single tear, swiftly followed by the anal brutality of another workman, which is facilitated by the ex-lover. This version of rape says ‘well, it all depends on who is doing the raping’. Bongwater, in their 1991 album The Power of Pussy, had a lyric that ran: ‘It’s easier to accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour when he looks like Willem Dafoe’, and the same, according to Peckinpah’s logic could be said of rapists. Love and Bruises would be an altogether different film if Matthieu wasn’t played by the fantastic Tahar Rahim. OK, he’s a rapist, but look at his body and he has such kind eyes. In fact, his thuggish friend also has a go at raping Isako with Matthieu’s complicity (a test of her loyalty), but he doesn’t look like the guy from A Prophet (2009) and so this rape (whether he succeeds or not is left unresolved) is seen as purely nasty and violent. Nothing on the earlier rape, which after a night of drinking and dancing, the couple go back to the original building site to re-enact.

The other way of portraying/mitigating rape is to distinguish between victims. Just as some rapists are OK, so some girls can be raped with more or less impunity. Think of Sergio Leone’s Once upon a Time in America. Robert De Niro’s bank robbers are told about a teller called Carol (Tuesday Weld), who is in on the job – she is not to be touched – but when the robbery begins she starts screaming and bawling, and so Noodles (De Niro) does the right thing and rapes her on the desk, complete with ‘I’m coming’ joke when badgered by his fellow bank robbers to hurry up. This horrendous humiliation is later ‘justified’ because Noodles et al meet the teller again in a brothel where she’s now working as a prostitute. Not only is there no anger, but Carol plays a game of trying to pick out her rapist by identifying him from his cock. So Carol is readily characterised as a girl you can rape, a prossie, a whore. Someone who will be a good sport about it afterwards and in fact becomes the girlfriend of bank robber Max (James Woods). But that’s Carol. When Noodles rapes Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern), his lifelong love, it becomes apparent that he’s raped the wrong girl. Deborah is the romantic girl, the virgin, to be revered, not ravaged. Noodles’ tragedy is in mixing up the virgin and the whore. It might be easy to blame this Latin dichotomy on Italian Leone, who had form (see Fistful of Dynamite for another comedy rape scene), but WASP Clint Eastwood carried the idea over in its entirety for High Plains Drifter.

Of course, some might argue that I’m conflating rough sex with rape, but actually I think that is what the films are doing. A fight that turns into a clinch is a cliché that goes on and on: Blade Runner another example. It’s a way of showing feistiness in the woman, resolving a conflict into a relationship and making it all edgy. Sparks are going to fly. But at what point does this turn into a glamorisation of rape? Or at the very least, promote values in which rape (some rape) becomes less bad than other rape? It could also be said that I’m missing the point of Love and Bruises, which is about a woman who has low self-esteem, and who is throwing herself headfirst into an abusive relationship, which is no less abusive for her consent, but I’d argue this is basically Nine and a Half Weeks with shaky handheld camerawork. The rape scene is supposed to be to some degree sexy. It fits in with all the other sex scenes and stands in stark contrast to the ‘bad’ rape scene.

Rape scenes are notoriously difficult to make without there being the possibility of titillation. After all, some (hopefully small) part of the audience might get off on rape itself. A film that takes rape as an issue, like The Accused, tied itself in knots trying to imply the rape without actually showing it: a pinball machine banging against a wall. Gasper Noé’s Irreversible takes the opposite approach and eliminates all escape routes. In what is apparently a single take, we see Monica Bellucci’s Alex being accosted by her assailant and then raped and beaten to a pulp. It is a merciless ordeal to watch, the film dares us to look away because it won’t. There is no cinematic shorthand, no cutting away, no fade to black, it is crude, violent, disgusting, nauseating, repulsive. In fact, it’s rape.

This year’s FrightFest also featured a couple of films that had a fairly primitive, 70s view of women, sex and rape.

John Bleasdale

London Film Festival 2011: preview

This Must Be the Place

55th BFI London Film Festival

12-27 October 2011, various venues, London

LFF website

The 55th London Film Festival starts tomorrow and Mark Stafford guides us through the programme.

This Must Be the Place
Proof that you can have too much of a good thing comes in the form of this Paolo Sorrentino work. After the assured, note-perfect Consequences of Love and Il Divo comes this bloated English-language co-production. Cheyenne (Sean Penn) is a Goth rock star living in Ireland, whose music has made him money enough that he doesn’t need to work again. He drifts through his mansion and through his life, a vision in bird’s nest hair and lipstick, until a phone call informs him that his estranged Jewish father is on his deathbed. After the funeral, back in the US he finds himself energised, to a point, by a mission to track down the concentration camp guard his dad had spent much of his life unsuccessfully seeking. Driving a pick-up through Utah and New Mexico he encounters a series of characters on the way towards a final confrontation, and perhaps some kind of reconciliation with his demons.

This bare-bones synopsis will give you no idea how rich, funny, beautiful, wayward, twee and overloaded This Must Be the Place is. It’s like three or more films in one. There’s the True Stories-style wallow in scorched Americana road movie, the Burtonesque Goth detective movie, the sweet, sad character comedy of the first half hour. There’s Frances McDormand as Cheyenne’s wife doing Tai Chi, there’s Harry Dean Stanton talking about wheeled luggage, there’s a teenage romance subplot, there’s the business with the loaned 4×4, the business with the local Irish band, there’s Judd Hirsch’s Nazi hunter. It’s the kind of film where every conversation with a stranger at a bar or café will yield a little philosophical nugget. Every shot is a precise, louma-craned marvel of widescreen photography. A lot of it is terrific stuff, but there’s just too much here to be digestible, too much to be resolved satisfactorily.

Penn is wonderful as Cheyenne, and he is given great things to do and say. The soundtrack is by David Byrne (with lyrics by Will Oldham) and Byrne cameos in a magnificent one-shot live rendering of the old Talking Heads number that gives the film its title, a sequence that’s a reason to see the film in itself. I doubt any other single moment of cinema will give me as much pleasure this year. But it’s another cherry in an overcooked cake.

Martha Marcy May Marlene
Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) flees from a commune in the Catskills one morning and phones her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), whom she hasn’t seen in two years. Lucy drives her out to the lake house that she and high-achieving husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) are vacationing in. But any hope of reconciliation, or explanation of what the hell Martha was up to in the years she went missing, are frustrated by her clipped, evasive replies to any questions. Worse, something has changed in her, it’s like she has unlearned normal human behaviour somewhere along the way. And while tensions grow in the uptight lake house we see flashbacks to the life Martha has fled, a cultish, coercive, sexualised world of disturbing mind games, which may not be willing to let her go…

Sean Durkin’s debut is a creepy, tense and ambiguous piece of work. Camera sound and editing combine to admirable effect, and Olson is a bit of a revelation as Martha, in a nuanced study of fear and concealment. The slowly emerging details of the Mansonesque commune convince. The acoustic guitars, encounter group smiles and counterintuitive psychobabble (‘death is pure love’) spouted by indie favourite John Hawkes as the charismatic, controlling leader never trip over the line into the lurid clichés they could be in clumsier hands. Durkin makes smart choices about what to leave out of his story; the flashbacks detail the emotional and personal moments of life in the Catskills, but we don’t know what the cult’s religious or political aims (if any) were, and have to fill in the gaps. We wonder whether Lucy and Ted are in real danger, to what extent Martha has ‘drunk the Kool Aid’, and what she is capable of. But whether all this impressively sustained threatening atmosphere pays off to anyone’s satisfaction will, I suspect, be the cause of much argument.

This light, sun-dappled Richard Linklater film, based on a true story, tells the tale of Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), assistant funeral director and much loved pillar of the community in Carthage, East Texas, who, amid all the church fund-raising, junior league coaching and amateur dramatics theatre work, might just have committed a heinous crime. Black is terrific as Bernie, a mile away from his usual schtick, fey, fastidious, half-channelling the ghost of Liberace and surrounded by a coterie of blue-rinsed admirers, and Matthew McConaughey gives good asshole as a glory hound D.A. But the film’s real ace cards are the people of Carthage. In face-to-face interviews with a mix of actors and real townsfolk we learn the whole sad story through a rich array of Texan colloquialisms. It’s overlong, and not especially profound, but it’s fun.

Post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by military service, crack addiction, alcoholism, homelessness and crime-ridden tower blocks in a world bereft of glamour or romance. Hooray for British Film! Frank (Eddie Marsan) takes in Lynette (Candese Reid) off of the mean streets of, um, Brick Lane, and a frosty, combative relationship slowly develops into something sweeter, until Lynette’s nasty piece of work boyfriend (Tom Sturridge) turns up and humiliation and abuse follow. Tinge Krishnan’s first feature is occasionally affecting and benefits from committed performances, but, despite all the grit and grime, Junkhearts doesn’t wholly convince. There are odd gaps in the narrative, characters and situations disappear or resolve themselves, and it all feels too much like hard work, way longer than its 90 minutes.

Junkhearts is released in the UK on 4 November 2011 by Soda Pictures.

Curling King
Once a curling champion, Truls Paulsen (Atle Antonsen) was institutionalised 10 years ago when his obsessive compulsion about the sport tipped him over the edge. Now released, medicated into docility, he is supposed to stay well away from the ice rink lest his mania recur, but then his old mentor is revealed to be on his deathbed, and only the championship prize money can save him. Can he re-assemble his ageing team of misfits, and kick his medication without once again losing his mind? Uh, maybe. Essentially, a Norwegian riff on the likes of Kingpin, Dodgeball and the bowling segments of The Big Lebowski. Curling King isn’t anything new, says little of worth about the human condition and is unlikely to win any major awards. It is, however, really really funny, in a broad, riding-a-steamroller-through-your-objections kind of way. A feast of well-shot physical and verbal shenanigans performed to the hilt by a cast I can only assume are comedy gods in Norway.

Take Shelter
Michael Shannon plays Curtis Laforce, a blue-collar worker for a sand-mining company, father of a deaf daughter, husband to a loving wife. He’s a dependable, practical man, quietly self-reliant in the Western mode, used to solving his own problems, which is why it shakes him to the core when he starts to be plagued by apocalyptic visions – fierce dreams where a thick oil-like rain falls from the mother of all dark clouds, and people turn violent and crazy. The dreams warn him against his dog and his best friend, and fill him with a nameless anxiety that he has to do something to prepare for the coming storm.

Jeff Nichols’s sure-footed film is a psychological study bordering on horror film, with an admirably true-to-life scenario and a well-maintained sense of unease. Curtis knows that his own mother was diagnosed schizophrenic when she was younger than he is, and his taciturn agony as he begins to doubt his own perceptions is horribly moving. We begin to fear for his wife and child as he goes off the rails, starts becoming obsessed with the tornado shelter out back of the house, spending money they don’t have and risking everything they do have. Shannon is terrific, as is Jessica Chastain as his mortified and horrified wife. Recommended.

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

Black Power Mixtape 1967-75
A chronological compilation of clips culled from Swedish television archives, detailing their coverage of the Black Power movement in the US. So we get from Stokely Carmichael to Louis Farrakhan via Panthers aplenty. There’s a real star turn by Angela Davis in bright orange against a turquoise prison backdrop, fierce and eloquent with an impressive Afro. And an amusing segment where Swedish television is accused of anti-Americanism by TV Guide magazine. It is, by its nature, a mixed bag, some parts more vital than others, and that 1975 cut-off date seems arbitrary, leaving us in the middle of a heroin epidemic with the Nation of Islam on the rise. Still, plenty to chew on.

Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 is released in UK cinemas on October 21 by Soda Pictures.

Nobody Else but You
Fun noir-ish mystery wherein writer of thrillers David (Jean-Paul Rouve) finds himself investigating the death of model, weather girl and local celebrity Candice (Sophie Quinton) in the snowbound town of Mouthe in eastern France. The French title is Poupoupidou, as sung by Marilyn Monroe, and the central conceit of the film is that Candice’s life had odd parallels to the Monroe story. David is an engaging character, the script is witty and playful, and it all looks gorgeous. I enjoyed Nobody Else but You a lot, but ultimately it’s all too fluffy. There’s no real sense of threat, or darkness to make it matter. Disappointing.

Dark Horse
Abe (Jordan Gelber) is an overweight, balding man in his 30s, still living with his parents (Christopher Walken and Mia Farrow) and fitting in some work at his dad’s firm around buying Thundercats dolls on eBay. His life seems to be about to turn around when he proposes marriage to semi-suicidal Miranda (Selma Blair), a girl he has barely met, but this is a Todd Solondz film, so the odds aren’t in his favour.

This is Solondz’s most contained and controlled film since Welcome to the Dollhouse, focusing on one story about a particular type of American idiot. Abe is an overgrown adolescent, blasting out positive pop in his canary yellow Humvee, a fantasist full of self-motivation seminar bravado that collapses into resentful bitterness at the slightest setback. The first half of the film sets up his character and situation, the second half pretty much demolishes what has gone before in a series of hallucinatory revelations. There are, as you would expect from this director, a lot of painful truths and squirm-inducing situations set against a bright suburban backdrop. The performances are spot on, like a series of vicious Dan Clowes pen portraits filmed with Kubrick concentration. But where previous efforts were broadsides aimed at the hypocrisies and delusions of modern America, Dark Horse pretty much goes for one man’s jugular with no mercy. The result is a feeling of overkill.

Oslo, August 31st
Anders (Anders Danielson Lie) is a 10-month clean ex-junkie who is given a day off from his rehabilitation centre, ostensibly to attend a job interview in Oslo. We know from a failed attempt at the outset of the film that he is suicidal, but as he visits friends, tries to hook up with his sister, and attempts repeatedly to contact an old girlfriend it’s difficult to discern what his intentions are. Have the years on the needle cauterised his emotions, or was he always this way? It’s clear he once had better options than most, and it’s difficult to feel sympathy for a guy who has this many gorgeous women throw themselves at him to so little effect, but that’s partly the point of Joachim Trier’s film, which, while clearly not a barrel of laughs, is made compelling by note-perfect performances and superior, imaginative filmmaking. A sequence where Anders eavesdrops on the conversations around him in a cafe and knows, for a short while, lives which he can never have is particularly inspired. A class act.

Oslo, August 31st is released in the UK on 4 November 2011 by Soda Pictures.

The Future
Another idiosyncratic turn from Miranda July (Me & You and Everyone We Know). Sophie and Jason (July and Hamish Linklater) are the kind of couple you find in films like this. They wear a lot of thrift shop wool, somehow pay the rent on a thrift shop-furnished apartment with jobs (children’s dance teacher, tech support) that they don’t seem to do much, and have kooky conversations about, y’know, life and time and stuff. Their decision to adopt an ailing cat gives them a month to adjust to having some kind of responsibility for the first time in their lives. They react to this in differing ways; he becomes a door-to-door worker for an environmental campaign, she takes on an internet dance project, and later, infidelity. Chance, coincidence and random social connections take hold of their lives and the film shifts slowly into increasingly metaphorical territory. Some of it is narrated by the cat while we see close-ups of his puppet paws. How you get on with The Future pretty much depends upon your tolerance for the cutesy, the quirky and all variations thereof (the quirksy?). My patience bone started getting itchy around the time the crawling T-shirt showed up, but I’d be lying if I denied the film’s moments of singular beauty and invention. It’s up to you.

The Future is released in the UK on 4 November 2011 by Picturehouse Entertainment.

Let the Bullets Fly
1920s China. A bandit hijacks the train of a conman, and, finding no money, takes over the conman’s scheme to pass himself off as the new governor of Goose Town, where he hopes that the bribes and taxes will roll in. However, Goose Town is run by the warlord Huang, who has long had its myriad complicated corruptions sewn up in his favour, and a three-way battle of wills, and guns, begins.

For a film called Let the Bullets Fly, this is pretty low on action; there are a couple of well-staged standoffs, but that’s your lot. What we mainly get instead is a theatrical, broadly comic political farce, with lots of zippy back-and-forth dialogue, and a dizzying succession of twists and turns, bluffs and double bluffs. Everybody seems to be wearing a literal or metaphorical mask at one time or another. Chow Yun Fat chews the scenery in a villainous turn as Huang, Jiang Wen looks cool in shades as the bandit, and Ge You’s turn as the conman heralds the alarming return of the long-lost ‘wily oriental’ stereotype. It’s well over length at 132 minutes, but has an engaging late Spaghetti Western style, with an irreverent attitude to power and money, and a revolutionary pay-off. I enjoyed it, but be warned that the critical chatter after the screening showed that I was in the minority on this one.

The Awakening
A well-mounted, good-looking and solidly performed (by Dominic West and Imelda Staunton) ghost story from BBC films, in which sceptical rationalist Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) investigates spooky goings on in a gloomy boys’ boarding school in a very post-Great War 1921. I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, and if they slapped this on TV over Christmas I’d be happy, but, a couple of fine sequences aside (there’s a wonderfully creepy bit of business involving a dollhouse) this is all too familiar in story, look and tone to the likes of The Others and The Orphanage. It’s perfectly fine for what it is, I jumped out of my seat a couple of times, so it works, but a bit more ambiguity and madness would have worked wonders.

The Awakening is released in the UK on 11 November 2011 by Studiocanal.

Mark Stafford

Toronto International Film Festival 2011 – Part 1


Toronto International Film Festival

8-18 Sept 2011

Toronto, Canada

TIFF website

Colonial Report from the Dominion of Canada (above the 49th Parallel)

Toronto International Film Festival: It’s All about the Stars, but There Are Good Movies Too

Although a major city in Our Fair Dominion, Toronto bears the distinction of being the biggest, most pathetic provincial backwater to blight the massive landmass that is Canada – a country in which the majority of the population resides along a 100-kilometre strip just above the Canada-U.S. border, from, to borrow a line from ‘America the Beautiful’, ‘sea to shining sea’. That said, together with Montreal, Toronto is home to some of the more culturally significant events and organizations in the country.

This is the eternal dichotomy and a truly salient example of the two solitudes that have been an endless trademark of life here in the colonies. In La Belle Province, the divide between French and English is more obvious, but Ontario is quite another thing, as the real base of power remains rooted in the most repressive, pole-up-the-ass Presbyterianism – the reigning capital of which was and still is the city of Toronto.

This, of course, is what makes Toronto such an unlikely centre of culture in the Dominion. One of Canada’s true literary giants, Scott Symons, devoted his life and writings to exposing this dichotomy – railing against the country’s old-money establishment residing in Toronto’s leafy, affluent and decidedly ramrod-up-the-rectum enclave known as Rosedale.

Symons referred to these power brokers as the ‘Bland Men’ of Toronto. I, however, prefer Symons’s more colourful description of what rules Toronto. In his great novel Civic Square, Symons coined the indelible phrase The Smugly Fucklings. (Symons always regretted adhering to his publisher’s advice and NOT sticking to The Smugly Fucklings for the novel’s title.)

Symons, without a doubt, hit the nail on the head. Toronto, and by extension much of English Canada, is in the hands of the Bland Men, the Smugly Fucklings. What distinguishes them from the usual dyed-in-the-wool new conservatives of Canada (our own version of America’s woeful Tea Party) is that they are educated, erudite, purportedly liberal and imbued with a desperate need to be cooler than cool. Parading through the city with haughty, smile-bereft faces, their buttocks clenched within an inch of their lives and adorned in the fashion ‘styles’ of Hugo Boss – these are the gatekeepers of all culture for the Great Unwashed of Our Fair Dominion.

Is it any wonder then that the question I am asked most by ‘normal people’ about my experience at the Toronto International Film Festival is not, ‘Have you seen any good movies?’ but rather, ‘What movie stars did you see?’

Toronto is a city so desperate for acknowledgment that it is the centre of the universe that it will do anything to ensure this status. The residual effect is that culture of the highest order is on display in this city ruled by the Bland Men. It exists because of those who merely purport to be on the cutting edge. In fact, I suspect they desperately want to be the thing they’re most afraid of and it is precisely this lip service to alternative culture that inadvertently offers world-class events. The Smuglies have no idea how truly un-hip they are, but it is their desire to be seen as NOT what they are that gives so many of us a reason to hate Toronto, but at the same time, to not completely abandon it because we’d otherwise be bereft of culture.

And so it was, and so it remains, that the Toronto International Film Festival is one of the premier cultural events in the world. On one hand, it is a glorified junket for the American studios, while on the other, it offers hundreds of movies you might never see anywhere else. It is at once a film festival where the Great Unwashed of Toronto pathetically crowd around the police-patrolled barricades protecting the various red carpets – hoping that they might possibly snatch a glimpse of Brad Pitt or Madonna – and where the rest of us, thanks to the wide variety of motion pictures assembled by The Men Who Would Be Kings of Cool, are kept hidden for days on end in the dark, our eyes glued to the screens and dining at the trough of great cinema.

* * *

TIFF 2011 proved to be a pretty banner year for me. Between North American and world premieres of a wide variety of pictures, I was one happy fella.

Of course, there were many dubious inclusions that seemed to be on display for their star-appearance quotient, but thankfully, the accent was on the pictures themselves.

Here then, are a few highlights and lowlights of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.

* * *

A Dangerous Method (2011) *

When David Cronenberg is good, he is very, very good. When he is bad, he’s cerebral. A Dangerous Method is dour, dull and decidedly humourless, though the first few minutes do suggest we’re in for a hootenanny of the highest order. The score, oozing with portent over a twitching, howling, clearly bonkers Keira Knightley, thrashing about in a horse-drawn carriage as it hurtles towards Carl Jung’s Swiss nuthouse, initially suggested a belly flop into the maw first pried open by such Cold War wacko-fests like The Snake Pit or Shock Corridor. Alas, Cronenberg seems to have abandoned his pulp sensibilities and instead appears to be making an Atom Egoyan movie. Sorry David, Atom Egoyan makes the best Atom Egoyan movies. Cronenberg’s unwelcome return to the cold and clinical approach from his pre-Eastern Promises and A History of Violence oeuvres quashes all hope for a rollicking good wallow in lunacy. Come on, David, we’re dealing with psychoanalysis and sex here. A little oomph might have been in order.

Lord knows Cronenberg’s dealt deliciously with both before – most notably in The Brood. It starred a visibly inebriated Oliver Reed, crazily cooing about ‘the Shape of Rage’ amid spurts of horrific violence laced with a riveting creepy tone. Most notably the movie provided us with the indelible image of a semi-nude, utterly barmy Samantha Eggar adorned with monstrous pus sacks dangling from her flesh, licking globs of gooey, chunky afterbirth from a glistening mutant baby expunged from one of the aforementioned pus sacks.

No similar shenanigans are on view in A Dangerous Method. It’s pretty much a Masterpiece Theatre-styled period chamber drama with Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) jousting with his mentor-rival Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen) and Jung spanking Keira Knightley, a daft want-to-be-psychiatrist with Daddy issues. Sadly, no proper views of open palms connecting with buttocks or slap imprints on said buttocks are afforded to us.

We do, however, get an abundance of yammering.

* * *

The Deep Blue Sea (2011) ****

Keira Knightley is used much better here than in Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method. Oops, wait a second, I mean Rachel Weisz. OK, well, if Keira Knightley HAD been in this movie, I suspect she WOULD have been put to rather better use here, but she’s not, so she isn’t. I am indeed referring to the Knightley doppelgä;nger, or rather, the doppelgä;nger of Rachel Weisz, or rather, I mean…

OK, fuck it! In the parlance of Monty Python: ‘Start Again!!!’

Terence Davies coaxes an astonishing performance from Rachel Weisz in The Deep Blue Sea, a heartbreaking, sumptuous and tremendously moving adaptation of Terrence Rattigan’s great play of the same name. Rattigan’s theatrical explorations of class and sex have made for rich film adaptations, most notably The Browning Version, Separate Tables, The Winslow Boy and The Prince and the Showgirl. Rattigan, given the discriminatory criminalisation of homosexuality in England (his frequent collaborator, the closeted director Anthony Asquith, was the progeny of the man who signed Oscar Wilde’s arrest warrant) chose to primarily reflect on gay issues and culture by utilizing a critical dramatic look at the often troubled lives of straight couples.

Nowhere is this more powerfully rendered than in The Deep Blue Sea, which Davies has adapted with considerable homage to the play’s tone and themes while using the source as a springboard for his own unique approach to affairs of the heart. (While Davies oddly reduces the role and importance of the play’s one clearly gay character, one suspects he did this to focus more prominently on the trinity of its central characters.)

Davies might well be one of the most important living British filmmakers. Working in a classical style with indelible compositions, creating a rhythm through little, no or very slow camera moves and infusing his work with a humanity seldom rivalled, Davies recognizes the importance of cinema as poetry – or rather, using the poetry of cinema to create narrative that is truly experiential. (I doubt any audience member will forget the haunting underground tracking shot during the Blitz – as evocative to the eye, ear and mind as anything I’ve seen.) I’d go so far as saying that Davies might well be the heir apparent to film artists like Alexander Dovzhenko and Sergei Paradjanov – exploiting the poetic properties of cinema in all the best ways.

Here we feel and experience the tragic tale of Hester (Weisz), who leaves her much older, though loving husband, the respected judge Sir William (Simon Russell) when she meets the handsome, charming Freddie (Tom Hiddlestone), a former RAF pilot who allows her the joys of sex for the first time in her life. Alas, Freddie’s a bit of a rake and soon tires of domesticity, and Hester is driven to seriously contemplating suicide. Sir William wishes desperately to have her back. The eternal dilemma is that Freddie doesn’t love Hester as much as she’d like, nor does Hester feel as much love for Sir William as he does for her.

The triangle is played out with Davies’s trademark style and a welcome return to pubs thick with smoke and filled with songs sung by its inebriated denizens. Harking back to Distant Voices, Still Lives, the songs here are not so much a counterpoint to the drudgery of the characters’ lives as something indicative of an overwhelming malaise born out of repression and class.

Davies dazzles and moves us with his humanity and artistry. It doesn’t take much to give over to his stately pace, and when we do, we’re drawn into a world that can only exist on a big screen, while at the same time providing a window on the concerns of days gone by that are more prevalent in our contemporary world than most of us would care to admit.

* * *

Keyhole (2011) ****

Full disclosure: I produced Guy Maddin’s first three feature films, lived with him as a roommate (I was Oscar Madison to his Felix Unger – Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple sprang miraculously to life on the top two floors of a ramshackle old house near Winnipeg’s Little Italy district), continue to love him as one of my dearest friends and consider his brilliant screenwriting partner George E. Toles to be nothing less than my surrogate big brother.

Most importantly, I am one of Maddin’s biggest fans and refuse to believe I am not able to objectively review his work. Objectively, then, allow me to declare that I loved Keyhole. What’s not to love? Blending Warner Brothers gangster styling of the 30s, film noir of the 40s and 50s, Greek tragedy, Sirk-like melodrama and odd dapplings of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame and Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit, it is, like all Maddin’s work, best designed to experience as a dream on film. Like Terence Davies, Maddin is one of the few living filmmakers who understands the poetic properties of cinema, and this, frankly, is to be cherished as much as any perfectly wrought narrative.

This is not to say narrative does NOT exist in Maddin’s work. If you really must, dig deep and you will find it. That, however, wouldn’t be very much fun. One has a better time with Maddin’s pictures just letting them HAPPEN to you.

The elements concocted in Keyhole to allow for full experiential mind-fucking involve the insanely named gangster Ulysses Pick (Jason Patric as you’ve never seen him before – playing straight, yet feeling like he belongs to another cinematic era), who drags his kids (one dead, but miraculously sprung to life, the other seemingly alive, but not remembered by his Dad) into a haunted house surrounded by guns-a-blazing.

Populated with a variety of tough guys and babe-o-licious molls, Ulysses is faced with ghosts of both the living and the dead, including his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini – gorgeous as always and imbued with all the necessary qualities to render melodrama with joy and humanity), her frequently nude father (the brilliant Louis Negin – perhaps one of the world’s greatest living character actors, who frankly should be cast in every movie ever made), chained to his bed, uttering the richly ripe George Toles dialogue and Udo Kier (the greatest fucking actor in the world), whose appearance in this movie is so inspired I’ll let you discover for yourself the greatness of both the role and Udo himself.

Keyhole is, without a doubt, one of the most perversely funny movies I’ve seen in ages and includes Maddin’s trademark visual tapestry of the most alternately gorgeous and insanely inspired kind. For movie geeks, literary freaks and Greek tragedy-o-philes, the movie is blessed with added treats to gobble down voraciously.

Like all of Maddin’s work, it’s not all fun and games. Beneath the surface of its mad inspiration lurks a melancholy and thematic richness. For me, what’s so important and moving about the film is its literal and thematic exploration of a space. Strongly evoking that sense of how our lives are inextricably linked to so many places (or a place) and how they in turn are populated with things – inanimate objects that become more animate once we project our memories upon them – or how said places inspire reminiscence of said objects which, in turn, inspire further memories, Keyhole is as profound and sad as it’s a crazed laugh riot.

Of all the pieces about the movie that I bothered to read, I was shocked that NOBODY – NOT ONE FUCKING CRITIC – picked up on the overwhelming theme of PLACE and the SPIRIT of all those THINGS that live and breathe in our minds. It was the first thing to weigh heavily upon me when I first saw the movie. It has seldom been approached in the movies – and, for my money – NO MORE POIGNANTLY AND BRILLIANTLY than rendered by Maddin, Toles and their visionary young producer Jody Shapiro.

All the ghosts of the living and the dead (to paraphrase Joyce), the animate and inanimate, the real and the imagined, these are the things that haunt us to our graves, and perhaps beyond. And they all populate the strange, magical and haunting world of Keyhole – a world most of us, whether we want to acknowledge it or not, live in. We are all ghosts and are, in turn, haunted by them.

* * *

i am a good person/i am a bad person (2011) ***1/2

A dervish derives inspiration from God and does so with complete and total devotion, honouring the Creator with continuous, strenuous forms of physical manipulations, such as exercise or dance that involve literal whirling at breakneck speeds. Influenced by both John Cassavetes and Mike Leigh, Canadian filmmaker Ingrid Veninger is also developing an approach to her humanist form of dramatic cinema that is clearly all hers.

In fact, Veninger might well be cinema’s only living equivalent to a whirling dervish. Like a dervish, she honours her Creator (cinema), her prophets (Cassavetes, Leigh and others), then whips her creative concoction into a frenzy – literally living and breathing cinema – producing film from within herself, her devotion and life itself.

With her previous work and second feature as a director (she’s written, produced and acted in so many more), Modra, a personal dramatic exploration of her Slovakian roots, Veninger was on the cusp of embarking upon the film festival circuit. This got the dervish whirling. She wrote a script about a filmmaker taking a trip to Europe to present her film on the film festival circuit. She cast herself as the filmmaker Ruby, and her own real-life daughter, talented young actress Hallie Switzer (female lead of Modra) as Ruby’s daughter Sara. With ace cinematographer Ben Lichty and sound recordist/boom operator Braden Sauder, Veninger and Switzer blasted across the pond from Canada to Europe and made a movie. The screenplay, already workshopped and in final draft, accompanied the group who knew that as long as the structure of the story was adhered to, there would potentially be room for rewriting depending upon the exigencies of production.

The movie, i am a good person/i am a bad person, is funny and heartbreakingly moving, and while full of ‘realistic’ touches, it never descends into Canadian Cinema Dreariness 101 and is, in fact, imbued with a sense of scope to allow its tenderness and intimacy to shine in all the ways they should in movies.

The world is, of course, replete with father-son pictures, but mother-daughter relationships – in terms of numbers and quality – pale in comparison. This is a film that contributes admirably to this relatively rare tradition.

Ruby is a loveable scatterbrain. Her film, a crazed, seemingly political avant-garde celebration of – ahem – the penis, is set to premiere overseas at the – ahem – Bradford International Film Festival in dear Old Blighty. Eighteen-year-old Sara is dragged along on the trip to be her mother’s assistant, though one gets the feeling that deep down, Mom craves some one-on-one quality time with her burgeoning daughter.

Sara is decidedly serious – in general, but especially on this trip – and Mom’s carefree spirit is driving her up the wall. Mom, not totally oblivious to this, is still intent on having a good time. Things in Bradford reach a bit of a head and it’s decided that Sara will go to Paris on her own to visit with relatives and Ruby will forge on to a screening at the Arsenal Cinema in Berlin. As mother and daughter each face personal challenges, it also becomes glaringly apparent how much they need and love each other.

I suspect it might not be too much of a spoiler to suggest that hard decisions are wrought and events inspire more than a few tears from even the most hardened viewers. Those who stick with the seemingly freewheeling spirit of the picture are rewarded a thousandfold during the extremely moving finale.

Filmmakers of all stripes will, I think, get a kick out of the sequences shot in Bradford and Berlin. How many times have filmmakers heard the rather embarrassed words from festival directors – as Ruby does in the film – ‘It’s a much smaller house than expected, but they’ll no doubt be a spirited bunch.’

It’s also worth mentioning that i am a good person/i am a bad person is full of humour – gentle bits of human comedy and full-on Bridesmaids-style blowjob and scatological humour. Strangely, this doesn’t temper any of the sentiment, but in fact, enhances it. And unlike Bridesmaids, i am a good person/i am a bad person NEVER overstays its welcome. The picture is taut, trim, hypnotic and passionate.

Kind of like a whirling dervish.

* * *

Drive (2011) *1/2

This is exactly the kind of movie I hate seeing at major international film festivals – especially at TIFF. It clearly feels like a glorified press junket screening with its star trotted out every which way and the picture opening theatrically on thousands of screens one week after its festival screening, while the festival is still on at that. That said, I don’t usually mind if the movie is any good, but Drive most certainly isn’t.

Fast cars and existential male angst make for great bedfellows – or rather, they MADE for great bedfellows. The 1970s were full of them, the tent posts being Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop, Walter Hill’s The Driver and Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point. Drive comes closest to Hill’s nutty car chase thriller, but lacks that picture’s drive (as it were) and pulp sensibilities blended with art-house-style chic. Nicholas Winding Refn, who delivered up a compelling one-man-show with Bronson, falls too in love with his good taste. Besides, how could Refn even hope to compete with The Driver when it features cop Bruce Dern referring to the title character played by Ryan O’Neal and uttering in full-on noir-speak: ‘I’m gonna catch me the cowboy that’s never been caught. Cowboy desperado!’

Aside from choice scumbaggery from Albert Brooks and Ron Perlman as the gangster villains in Drive, we get too many eyefuls of Ryan Gosling staring soulfully at pretty much everything and everyone – adorned, no less, in a ridiculous Scorpion jacket.

Gosling plays a movie stunt driver who doubles as a heist getaway driver and who falls in love with his dewy-eyed, perpetually open-mouthed and equally soulful neighbour. He agrees to help out her recently released jailbird husband to pull a heist that goes horribly wrong and predictably leads to the aforementioned bad guys, who coincidentally are backing a stock car Gosling will be racing. It’s fine when a genre picture keeps it simple and stupid, but the plot of Drive is, well, just plain stupid.

The car chases are proficiently handled, but have none of the urgency of the true greats; some of the violence is satisfactorily shocking, but the movie – loaded with pretension and fake portent – seems even more disingenuous than, say, a Michael Bay movie.

At least, we all know Bay is a knothead. Refn clearly has more going on upstairs, but he’d have been far better off playing things with the same kind of relentless pulpiness he brought to Bronson instead of a preciousness that just drags the movie down to Dullsville.

* * *

Carre Blanc

Here are a few capsule rewrites of some of the films I covered daily during TIFF 2011 on The Daily Film Dose website.

50/50 (2011) ****

50/50 is a comedy about cancer. The incongruity of this might seem off-putting, but the fact remains that rendering cancer dramatically with humour seems to be the best medicine (artistically speaking and otherwise). 50/50 does so with utter perfection. It’s the laughs, the human comedy, the on-screen knee-slappers that are the very elements which render the drama with so much poignancy and yes, pain. Adam (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) is a public radio reporter with talent, commitment and a bright future. When he is diagnosed with cancer his life quickly unravels and everything he holds dear begins to dissipate – including his chances of survival. Before you get the impression this is a total downer, allow me to say two words: SETH ROGEN!!!!! One of the best young actors in the business, he plays Adam’s mega-pot-ingesting (‘natch) best buddy and offers friendship, company, support, endless laughs (for Adam, but by extension, the audience) and dope (a most convenient painkiller for cancer victims). Director Jonathan (All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) Levine’s exquisite direction covers the excellent screenplay by Will Reiser with the assured hand of an old pro. That said, Levine’s only in his 30s and this is his third feature film. One can only wonder what the ‘kid’ is going to generate when he actually IS ‘old’.

You’re Next (2011) **1/2

You’re Next is an energetic home invasion horror thriller crisply directed by filmmaker Adam Wingard, who delivers up the scares and gore with considerable panache. The picture is chock-full of babes including a mega-kick-ass heroine – an Aussie chick whose character, it is revealed, was raised in a survivalist compound Down Under. (I kid you not! An Aussie Survivalist Babe!!!) The killers wear ultra-creepy animal masks (like those really cute lifelike ones you can buy for your kids at Zoo gift shops) and dispatch their victims with considerable aplomb.

The first two-thirds of the movie proceed like a rabid bat out of hell. An affluent couple (the female half played by the still delectable Re-Animator babe Barbara Crampton) are celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary in a country mansion and have invited their kids and assorted significant others to join them. The characters share bloodlines straight out of some lower-drawer Albee or O’Neill play and the conversation round the dinner table plays out with plenty of funny, nasty sniping. Great stuff! Then the killing starts! Even greater! And then, a boneheaded plot twist one sees coming from miles away. Uh, this is not great! Not good! Not even passable! Thankfully, the carnage continues, but for this genre geek, the movie never quite recovers from a twist that was probably meant to be clever, but instead feels like a red herring that isn’t one at all, but the real thing that we’re supposed to be knocked on our butts by – NOT! Never fear, though, there’s still that Aussie survivalist babe. Now THAT is original!

Carré blanc (2011) ****

Harking back to great 70s science-fiction film classics like The Terminal Man, Colossus: The Forbin Project, A Boy and His Dog, Silent Running and THX 1138 – when the genre was thankfully bereft of light sabres, Wookies and Jabba the Hut, when it was actually ABOUT something – Jean-Baptiste Léonetti’s debut feature film Carré blanc is easily one of the finest dystopian visions of the future to be etched upon celluloid since that time. The tale rendered is, on its surface and as in many great movies, a simple one. Philippe (Sami Bouajila) and Marie (Julie Gayet) grew up together in a state orphanage and are now married. They live in a stark, often silent corporate world bereft of any vibrant colour and emotion. Muzak constantly lulls the masses and is only punctuated by announcements occasionally calling for limited procreation and, most curiously, promoting the game of croquet – the one and only state-sanctioned sport. Philippe is a most valued lackey of the state – he is an interrogator-cum-indoctrinator – and he’s very good at his job. In fact, with each passing day, he is getting better and better at it. Marie, on the other hand, is withdrawing deeper and deeper into a cocoon as the love she once felt for Philippe is transforming into indifference.

In this world, though, hatred is as much a luxury as love. Tangible feelings and simple foibles are punished with torture and death. Indifference, it would seem, is the goal. It ensures complete subservience to the dominant forces. Love, however, is ultimately the force the New World Order is helpless to fight and it is at the core of this story. If Philippe and Marie can somehow rediscover that bond, there might yet be hope – for them, and the world. It is this aspect of the story that always keeps the movie floating above a mere exercise in style (which it is in large part). Love becomes the ultimate goal of Léonetti’s narrative and thanks to that, he delivers an instant classic of science fiction. The best works in this genre ARE about individuality and the fight to maintain the incommutability of the human spirit, which might, after all, be the only thing we have left – not just in future times, but now.

God Bless America (2011) ***1/2

Frank is a very kind person. He kills people. But they deserve it. Played with pathos and deadpan humour by Joel Murray, Frank is a hard-working American. He’s been diagnosed with a fatal disease. His wife has left him. His daughter is a shrill brat who won’t visit him on custody days because he ‘forces’ her to do arts and crafts, visit the zoo and play in the park (instead of being glued to video games). After work he stays home. Alone.

Home is a man’s castle, but not this man, not this home. His neighbours are poster children for strangulation at birth. Night after night, Frank cranks the volume on his TV to drown out their Neanderthal conversation, a cacophony of verbal and physical abuse, wham-bam sexual activities and constant caterwauling from their genetically stupid infant. What he endures on TV is precisely what indoctrinates the feeble minds of America. Channel-hopping to reality TV, a white trash ‘hose’ digs a blood-soaked tampon from her vagina and flings it at another. An endless parade of wags dump on the disenfranchised and insist: ‘God hates fags’ while images of Barack Obama as Adolph Hitler and news reports of homeless people burned alive buttress ‘Bowling on Steroids’ or the reality TV star Chloe, a nasty teenage girl who treats everyone like dirt. On his drive to work, the car radio is an aural assault from Tea Party types.

At the office he has to listen to his simpleton colleagues moronically regurgitating everything he endured on TV the night before. A tiny bright spot turns dark when the receptionist openly flirts and files a sexual harassment complaint. He loses his job, returns home and turns on his TV to drown out his Jello-brained neighbours.

There is, however, a solution. Frank, you see, is a Liberal – a Liberal with a handgun. He does what all Liberals must do when civilization is on the brink, This is a mere 15 minutes into God Bless America and at this point I laughed so hard I ruptured myself. From here, the movie doesn’t let up for a second – especially once Frank begins a spree of violence against intolerance with a gorgeous, sexy teenage girl. They’re a veritable Bonnie and Clyde – fighting for the rights of Liberals who are tired of the mess America is in.

Director Bobcat Goldthwait makes movies with a sledgehammer, but it’s a mighty trusty sledgehammer. He has developed a distinctive voice that began with the magnificently vile Shakes the Clown, and with this new film he hits his stride with crazed assuredness. Some might take issue with the way he lets his central characters rant hilariously – well, beyond the acceptability of dramatic necessity – but I have to admit it’s what makes his work as a filmmaker so unique. He creates a world that exists within his own frame of reference, which, at the same time, reflects aspects, and perspectives that hang from contemporary society like exposed, jangled nerves. God Bless America fights fire with fire. It’s the American Way! Even for Liberals.

The Eye of the Storm (2011) **

I have no doubt that Nobel Prize-winner Patrick White’s novel – which this dreary movie is based on – is not without merit, but if your idea of a good time is watching a harridan spewing vitriol, then by all means feel free to partake of Fred (The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith) Schepisi’s rendering of The Eye of the Storm. For close to two hours we get to watch Charlotte Rampling chastise her spoiled adult children (the ubiquitous Geoffrey Rush and the wonderful, but wasted Judy Davis). With Mom close to horking out her final globs of life, the kids have made the trek to Australia from Blighty and Gay Paree respectively to ensure their inheritance will rightfully fall into their laps. We watch as this trio trudge through the turgid drama and seldom feel anything but contempt for all of them and wonder why it is we’re being dragged through this sludge at all.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a sucker for screen harridans. Mind you, I usually prefer them when they’re slugging it out with each other in melodramas like Robert Aldrich’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane – not dour British-Australian co-ventures we’re supposed to take seriously. One of the more sickening subplots in The Eye of the Storm involves Geoffrey Rush having his knob plunged and polished by one of Rampling’s caregivers – a comely young thing that (for God knows whatever reason) is genuinely charmed by him. We are also afforded endless flashbacks via Rampling’s dementia. In one of them, she seduces the buff young stud sniffing around Judy Davis. I know how this must sound ever so – ahem – appetizing, but I can assure you it is more than enough to induce major chunk-blowing.

Every year, it seems we get more and more movies like this – dull chamber dramas full of rich, old people with Commonwealth accents who crap on each other (and by extension, us) for two fucking hours, and we’re supposed to actually feel something for these miserable, privileged twits. I suppose they keep getting made because there’s always money available for such pictures. They’re relatively cheap to make, attract major actors, carry a veneer of respectability, are often based on acclaimed literary properties and can be directed for a song by filmmakers well past their prime. And, of course, they get programmed into major international film festivals.

Killer Elite (2011) *

What this lame duck action thriller is doing in a major international film festival like TIFF is beyond me. It’s the sort of movie that suggests festivals are little more than a junket opportunity for bad movies that need all the help they can get and/or an excuse to parade a bunch of stars into town. Though inspired by a not-so-manly-titled book called The Feather Men, it has chosen to rip off its title (sans the word ‘The’) from a solid Peckinpah action picture from the 70s starring James Caan and Robert Duvall. The Killer Elite is far from Sam’s best work, but I’d argue one frame of it beats this noisy, jack-hammering and ultimately leaden, meandering macho-man movie.

What will keep Bloody Sam from rolling in his grave is that this is, at least, not a remake of his movie. Basically we’ve got two old buddies – Jason Statham and Robert De Niro – who work as soldier-for-hire assassins. After a dull, contrived opening action set-piece, Statham’s character decides it’s time to retire. De Niro doesn’t. He’s kidnapped and used as ransom for Statham to take another job. The target is Clive Owen (sporting a stupid-looking moustache) as a rogue British operative. Cat and mouse ensues. The idea of an action movie starring these three thrills me to bits. Unfortunately, they’re wasted in an action movie directed by someone who clearly has no idea how to direct action – another contemporary genre picture with lots of bluster, far too many close-ups and/or boneheaded herky-jerky camera moves and attention-span-challenged editing.

W.E. (2011) ***

The King’s Speech gave me pathological haemorrhoids. Thankfully my piles receded after seeing Madonna’s W.E. This vaguely feminist fairy tale crossed with fashion porn is a wildly stylish, dazzlingly entertaining and sumptuously melodramatic flipside to the aforementioned horrendous Oscar-baiting nonsense. Instead of Colin Firth spluttering with nobility as King George VI in television director Tom Hooper’s painfully earnest snooze-fest we get an exuberantly acted reverie into the life of Wallis Simpson (Andrea Riseborough), the snappily dressed American divorcee who wooed King Edward VIII (James D’Arcy) into her boudoir, forcing him to abdicate for the woman he loved and thus allowing his stuttering, half-wit brother to mincingly don the Crown of Jolly Old England, hoist Blighty’s sceptre and eventually provide inspiration for the aforementioned haemorrhoid-inducer of a movie.

The love story in W.E. is told rather goofily through the eyes of Wally (Abbie Cornish) – named thus by her Wallis Simpson-obsessed mother. Wally is married to a philandering, alcoholic, abusive psychiatrist (Richard Coyle) and spends her days wandering through Sotheby’s public viewing of Wallis and Edward’s soon-to-be-auctioned worldly goods. There she meets the dreamy Evgeni (Oscar Isaac), a brilliant Russian musician moonlighting as a security guard. He’s an olive-skinned, high-cheekboned Fabio with a Slavic accent and a great Jason Statham dome. He tinkles the ivories with passion and reads Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s a catch! Instead of immediately plunging herself onto Evgeni’s schwancen, she mopes about wondering why her hubby dinks around on her while sticking herself with hypodermics full of progesterone – hoping that she’ll get herself a bun in the oven. And then there’s Sotheby’s. There, she ogles Wallis and Edward’s finery and slips into dollops of their passionate love story – even occasionally getting visits from the ghost of Wallis, who dispenses Miss Lonelyheart’s advice.

OK, I bet you’re thinking this all sounds kind of stupid. Well, it probably would be, but Madonna’s insane, passionate direction yields a movie experience that is pure romance. Via cinematographer Hagen Bogdanski, Madame Ciccone allows the camera to glide and whirl its way through the dress and décor of the filthy rich with such abandon that she creates a magical world that we’re very happy to be a part of. Many critics are pouncing on Madonna for this movie. In this day and age, when it’s harder and harder to finance a movie and next to impossible to get a movie directed by a woman off the ground, an easy target is someone who is as rich, famous and powerful as she is. There’s a reason she’s rich, famous and powerful. She has exceptional style, savvy and talent. Most of all, making a movie about Wallis and Edward and focusing on Wallis is – dare I say – something we’d ONLY see from a female director. So it’s Madonna. Why the fuck not? W.E. is one of the most entertaining movies I’ve seen all year. I feel like a virgin all over again.

Killer Joe (2011) ****

At one point during William Friedkin’s Killer Joe, an unexpected roundhouse to the face turns its recipient’s visage into a pulpy, swollen, glistening, blood-caked skillet of corned beef hash. Said recipient is then forced at gunpoint to fellate a grease-drenched KFC drumstick and moan in ecstasy while family members have little choice but to witness this horrendous act of violence and humiliation. William Friedkin, it seems, has his mojo back. We’re in Jim Thompson territory here as we delight in a tale of a white trash family living in a trailer park, who hire the services of a hitman to knock off a relative for insurance money. It’s nasty, sleazy and insanely, darkly hilarious. This celluloid bucket of glorious untreated sewage is directed with Friedkin’s indelible command of the medium and shot with a terrible beauty by ace cinematographer Caleb Deschanel. Friedkin, the legendary director of The French Connection, The Exorcist and Cruising, dives face first into the slop with the exuberance of a starving hog at the trough, and his cast delivers the goods with all the relish needed to guarantee a heapin’ helpin’ of Southern inbred Gothic. This, my friends, is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore. Trust William Friedkin to bring us back so profoundly and entertainingly to those halcyon days. Oh, and if you’ve ever desired to see a drumstick adorned with Colonel Sanders’s batter, fellated with Linda Lovelace gusto, allow me to reiterate that you’ll see it here. It is, I believe, a first.

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My capsule reviews above were all published in longer-form at Daily Film Dose along with several pieces by my colleague Alan Bacchus.

All in all, this proved to be a most satisfying edition of the Toronto International Film Festival. In addition to all of the above I managed to squeeze in over 20 movies in 10 days. Other titles I saw included Jonathan Demme’s final trilogy of Neil Young concert movies (Neil Young Life), a satisfying picture with All Neil All the Time and a stunning set-piece in honour of the victims of the Kent State Massacre; a moving and entertaining documentary on one of our great songwriters (Paul Williams Still Alive); Lars von Trier’s staggering Melancholia; Steve McQueen’s well-directed, but overrated Shame, a dramatic exploration of sex addiction that’s high on style, but lacks humour; a great Willem Defoe performance as a man tracking the Tasmanian tiger in the not-so-great The Hunter and a wretched low-budget post-apocalyptic thriller taking one slice out of the lives of non-cannibalistic survivors called The Day.

The city of Toronto and its major international film festival may well be too smug for their own good, but all is well in the colonies when so many great movies are on view.

From the Dominion of Canada, I bid you: Bon Cinema!

Greg Klymkiw