We Are What We Are

We Are What We Are

Format: Cinema

Release date:12 November 2010

Venues: Curzon Soho, Odeon Covent Garden, Screen on the Green, Vue Islington (London) and nationwide

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Jorge Michel Grau

Writer: Jorge Michel Grau

Original title: Somos lo que hay

Cast: Adrián Aguirre, Miriam Balderas, Francisco Barreiro, Carmen Beato

Mexico 2010

90 mins

When a middle-aged man drops dead in a shopping mall in urban Mexico, black blood exuding from his mouth, he leaves a terrible legacy. He has been the sole hunter for his wife and children who, like him, are cannibals. Jostling for position, they clumsily embark on the hunting for themselves. As we follow their exploits, Jorge Michel Grau’s debut feature is pulled in several directions; unearthly characters create subtle tensions that are cut through by caricatured cops and avenging prostitutes, Guillermo del Toro rubbing shoulders with Pedro Almodóvar. Some of the hunt scenes jolt along to a jazz soundtrack creating a West Side Story-ish fragmented hysteria, done so well in, say, Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris. Grau stitches together a Frankenstein’s monster of styles.

The family home is an artful, Gothic offering with dingy lighting and clutter that points to an obsession with time and repetition: a tin of strange ribbons incessantly counted by mother and hundreds of ticking clocks left by the departed horologist father. The uncanny continues with a soundscape that is full of intricacies that merge the everyday with the grotesque, such as the exaggerated sound of Mum’s (Carmen Beato) shoes clomping begrudgingly and curtly up the staircase. She is the one in the end who batters the human prey with matter-of-fact precision, and her deadpan performance evokes black comedy to add to the plethora of Grau’s styles.

The actual ‘rito’, the ritual dismembering, takes place on the family dining table surrounded by candlelit plastic crime-scene sheets: mother and daughter carve. The family are trapped in the cycle of performing these killings but it’s unclear whether this is fuelled by psychotic delusion or by a supernatural curse, where they will physically perish if they don’t eat human flesh. Their cult logic resurrects the Aztec obsession with carrying out protective sacrifice on a mass scale in order to ensure prosperity, and so Grau brings anxiety about literally putting ‘meat on the table’ into the here and now. Indeed the sacrificial victims are duped and lured in sites of poverty, trade and expenditure all elegantly picked out with lush cinematography and shallow depth of field; a traders market, a kerb-crawling zone, a flyover inhabited by vagrant children. The ‘dog eat dog world’ socio-economic metaphor here is heavy-handed.

Grau gets even more mileage out of the symbolic meaning of cannibalism as it also points to the psychic brutality families can inflict on each other. The exploration of these family dynamics is the strength of the film, take or leave the cannibalism. The father’s death is a catalyst for the eruption of drives that have been kept under wraps. As the family claim their victims their sexual orientations are revealed and these individual vignettes are sensitively played out, but teenage torment vies with the necessity of providing dinner for the family. The Bildungsroman elements of the film are the most moving and worthy of development and while the horror milieu is beautifully rendered, the social commentary comes with its own spoon.

Nicola Woodham

Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide

Bloody Moon

Format: DVD

Date: 8 November 2010

Distributor: Nucleus Films

Director: Jake West

UK 2010

540 mins

Just when you thought that the days of film censorship had been finally laid to rest, along come A Serbian Film (2010) and the remake of I Spit on Your Grave (2010) to prove the censors’ scissors have not rusted shut after all, with both films receiving significant cuts. The timing then could not be better for the release of Nucleus Films’ exhaustive three-disc documentary Video Nasties: The Definitive Guide, which seeks to both explore the historical background that led to a parliamentary act determining what an adult British public can and can’t see, and showcase the 72 films that were prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions, 39 successfully, which were dubbed by the media as ‘video nasties’.

While film censorship is not a peculiarity to British shores, the ‘video nasties’ phenomenon certainly is - US and European film aficionados must look on with a mix of bemusement and shock. It’s a complex story and one that’s difficult to understand in today’s easy-access, multi-format environment, where a film can be downloaded and watched on your mobile phone in a matter of minutes.

But, in a nutshell, before 1984 films did not legally have to be certified on video and so a whole mass of bloody, lurid and usually pretty low-quality horror films made it onto video rental store shelves. Children being children, they wanted to watch these gory films as a status symbol. Religious fanatics, Tory MPs and The Daily Mail didn’t like this one bit so set about stopping everyone, not just children, from having access to them - rather brilliantly claiming that they had watched ‘I’m Going to Spit on Your Bloody Cannibal Brains next to the Cemetery Ferox’ and although it didn’t deprave and corrupt them it most certainly would anyone not as morally upstanding as them. Thirty-nine films were banned - thus giving horror fans a list of films that they must track down and illegally watch uncut.

The decision is as perplexing today as it was back then, particularly as most of the films are now available uncut on DVD: but as John Hayward, editor of video trade magazine Video Business at the time, eloquently states in the documentary featured on this release, it was as much about ‘control’ as it was about ‘content’.

Which brings us to the content that can be found on the three discs of this release. Disc 1 collects together the trailers for the 39 films prosecuted and banned, including the good (Bloody Moon, 1981), the bad (The Beast in Heat, 1977) and the plain repugnant (Fight for your Life, 1977). These can be watched as one long trailer reel or interspersed with roughly five minutes of talking heads as various experts (critics, academics, directors) discuss each film’s content and context.

Disc 2 is a similar affair but covers the rest of the films from the DPP’s original list, which were initially banned but subsequently acquitted. The 33 films covered on this disc include The Evil Dead (1981), Death Trap (1977) and The Toolbox Murders (1978).

The best of the goodies on disc 3 is the rather fantastic new documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship and Videotape, produced by Nucleus Films’ Marc Morris and directed by Jake West of Evil Aliens (2005) and Doghouse (2009) fame. While the trailers featured on discs 1 and 2 are certainly fascinating to watch as a revelrous homage to visceral gore, accompanied by prerequisite dirty phone-caller voice-over, it’s this new documentary that is the real highlight of the package.

It’s true that the world of the video nasty has been covered extensively elsewhere, but possibly never so effectively. Anyone familiar with the whole sordid history will recognise the archive news footage of ‘civil morality’ campaigner Mary Whitehouse on the warpath or Tory MP Sir Graham Bright (the minister responsible for introducing the Video Recordings Act) explaining that such abhorrent films not only corrupt children but dogs as well, but it is the new interview footage, especially with the likes of anti-censorship campaigner Martin Barker, critic Kim Newman and various horror directors who were influenced by these films (including Neil Marshall [The Descent, 2005] and Christopher Smith [Severance, 2006]), that makes the doc so compelling.

As a fan of horror and an opponent of film censorship, it’s hard not to watch the documentary and feel: a) outrage that you’ve been deeply cheated by an elitist ‘moral’ few and the hysterical rantings of the media; and b) shock that it went so far. The documentary finishes with a cautionary message about future censorship that all film fans, not just horror fans, would do well to heed.

Read the review of Possession, which was initially banned as a ‘video nasty’ and is now available on DVD in the UK for the first time.

Toby Weidmann



Format: Blu-ray

Date: 29 July 2013

Format: DVD

Date: 25 October 2010

Distributor: Second Sight

Director: Andrzej Żuławski

Writers: Andrzej Żuławski, Frederic Tuten

Cast: Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill

France, West Germany 1981

119 mins

Since its initial release 30 years ago, Andrzej Żulawski’s daring depiction of a marriage falling apart has been hailed as a masterpiece and dismissed as pretentious trash.

Since its initial release 30 years ago, Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession (1981) has been hailed as a masterpiece and dismissed as pretentious trash. In the United States it was cut down from two hours to 80 minutes, turning an already confusing film into something incoherent, while in the UK it became arguably the most bizarre film to end up on the ‘video nasties’ list. It was removed the following year, but its presence on the list brought Possession to attention of a great many horror fans who mistakenly believed it was another gratuitous slice of Euro-splatter, with effects courtesy of Alien‘s Carlo Rambaldi. That assumption was probably dispelled by the time the lovely Isabelle Adjani - already known to horror fans for her roles in Werner Herzog’s exquisite Nosferatu remake and Roman Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) - started giving birth to a tentacled monster in a deserted subway tunnel. Shattered illusions aside, Possession did find some appreciation within the horror crowd - especially among lovers of David Cronenberg’s unique brand of ‘body-horror’ - although it remains difficult to assess in genre terms. It does include a monster, graphic gore and explicit sex scenes, but despite these elements the film remains a domestic drama at heart, albeit a twisted and somewhat disturbing one.

With their marriage reduced to a series of violent and bloody confrontations, Mark (Sam Neill) and Anna (Isabelle Adjani) begin to look elsewhere for affection. Anna gives birth to a monstrosity that she then takes as her lover, guarding it from the attentions of her jealous husband. He in turn begins a relationship with their son’s teacher, who appears to be an exact duplicate of his wife. In effect, both seem to have created a ‘perfect’ replacement: Anna has a tender and affectionate lover that possesses no part of her husband, unlike her human child; Mark’s new lover has the body of his attractive wife but with an entirely different personality. During the writing and shooting of Possession, Żuławski was going through a difficult and acrimonious divorce, and it is clear that despite the fantasy trappings, much of the film was informed by the director’s recent experiences. Thoughts that would normally remain unspoken - the desire to kill or physically injure one’s former spouse, for example - are given a physical form and acted out by Adjani and Neill, both of whom seem to live solely for the opportunity to hurt each other, ignoring their child in the process. Anna’s monstrous offspring is the physical realisation of both her guilt and self-loathing, and her repressed sexual appetites, but neither the monster nor the doppelgänger are realistic partners. In the end, Żuławski can think of only one suitable conclusion to his tale: the destruction of the entire family. It’s a downbeat, pointless ending, but it really is the only appropriate one.

Jim Harper

Watch the official trailer for Possession (1981):

Tears for Sale

Tears for Sale

Format: DVD

Date: 20 September 2010

Distributor: Icon

Director: Uros Stojanovic

Writers: Batric Nenezic, Aleksandar Radivojevic, Uros Stojanovic

Original title: Carlston za Ognjenku

Cast: Katarina Radivojevic, Sonja Kolacaric, Stefan Kapicic, Nenad Jezdic

Serbia 2008

86 mins

If you were to whisper words of reproof into the ear of Serbian director Uros Stojanovic, they would be: ‘Less sex, more hearse.’ His film, Tears for Sale, is darkly delightful - a fairy tale for grown-ups, lit by a constellation of candles, which mostly adheres to the Gothic sensibilities of Stojanovic’s wayward imagination. Except for the extended sex scene - which takes places in a hearse - but looks like it was filmed by someone else entirely; someone whose sensibilities are more aligned with rubbish soft porn than the witty, off-kilter work of Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Amelie fame) or Guy Maddin (Careful, The Saddest Music in the World).

Set in an isolated Serbian village at the end of WW1, Tears for Sale tells the story of two sisters - Ognjenka, with a blonde rope of Rapunzel hair, and her dark-locked, tempestuous sister Mala Boginja, who has a penchant for bathing in the cursed pool formed by her great-grandmother’s tears of grief. The siblings are professional mourners, paid to wail at funerals, and there’s a lot to cry about. Ravaged by war, the male population’s been decimated. The women are left on their own, bereft of male company, denied the chance of children and made madly melancholy by the intoxicating spider brandy that conjures visions of their dead loved ones, who re-appear with decomposing grace from behind the splintered bar mirror.

There is one man left on the mountain, decrepit Grandpa Bisa, a dead ringer for Herman Munster, but Ognjenka unfortunately kills him by the power of her screams, and to escape death the sisters must find a fresh man to replace him. If they fail, they will be cursed, and their granny’s dead spirit, newly awakened by the crow-head-dressed witch, will never rest.

The duo take the road, followed by a host of screeching CGI bats, and begin their quest, leaving behind their beautifully realised village with its mined vineyard, flickering shadows and pool of tears, for an adventure in the modern world, bright with sunshine and flapper hats.

The sisters met Arsa, a dissolute dandy and self-styled King of the Charleston and his cohort, Dragoljub, The Man of Steel, both blithely cast as sexual stereotypes by the ever-mischievous Stojanovic. The sisters, separately smitten - Ognjenka with the Man of Steel, Mala Boginja with the King of Charleston - decide not to take their conquests back to the village. Ognjenka heads towards Belgrade with the Man of Steel (who dreams of plummeting off a high-rise building unharmed), while Mala Boginja highjacks a hearse and embarks on that very regrettable sex scene. But no one can escape their destiny in Tears for Sale; the sisters and their lovers are inextricable drawn back to their Grimm home, with tragic consequences for all concerned.

It’s a tale told in broad emotional strokes, with characters that verge on the cartoonish, but there is a genuine poignancy to the visually gorgeous Tears for Sale - the smashed mirrors, the bloodied feet ripped apart by broken drinking glasses in a masochistic tango, the vine-twisted hair-band adorning the latest women to meet her fate in the deadly vineyard suggest the devastating consequences of conflict - loss, sadness, a fatalistic bravado. But none of that excuses the sex and death scene.

Eithne Farry



Format: Cinema

Screened on 1 October 2010 in London as part of the Raindance Film Festival

Director: Thomas Ikimi

Writer: Thomas Ikimi

Cast: Idris Elba, Eamonn Walker, Monique Gabriela Curnen

UK 2010

95 mins

It’s difficult to think of a current actor with more physical presence than Idris Elba, not least because he looks like a heavyweight boxer. Best known as the tragic gangster Stringer Bell in HBO’s The Wire (2002-2004), the east London-born Elba’s first substantial role was in Channel 4’s excellent, but 10 years too early, vampire drama Ultraviolet (1998), in which he played a brooding British soldier who had a unique form of Gulf War Syndrome in that he saw his entire squad wiped out by vampires. Elba’s physique lends itself to soldier roles and he’s played quite a few over his career as a character actor, including bit parts in Buffalo Soldiers (2001) and 28 Weeks Later (2007), as well as a lead role in the regrettable The Losers (2010).

However, more than just a physical presence, Elba is a great actor, and with the role of US Black Ops soldier Malcolm Gray in British independent film Legacy, Elba gets a long overdue fully developed and psychologically complex lead part in which he gives a tour de force performance.

When a mission in an undisclosed eastern European country goes wrong, Malcolm is captured and tortured. He escapes and returns to his native Brooklyn, where he holds up in an apartment and plans to expose his brother Darnell Gray Jr (Eamonn Walker), the Senator who sold him out to terrorists, while coming to terms with his own questionable actions during the mission. Here Malcolm is visited by a series of characters including his former team mates and his ex-lover Valentina (Monique Gabriela Curnen), now Darnell’s wife, and the audience begins to question Malcolm’s sanity while the film builds to a dramatic climax at the press conference where Darnell is going to announce that he is running for president.

Legacy is the second feature from the young British writer, director and, in this case, editor, Thomas Ikimi, and he’s definitely someone to watch at a time when even the big studios are looking for the lowest budget solutions for making features. By bringing Elba on board as executive producer, filming on location in Scotland and using a mostly British cast, having recognisable, but not A-list expensive actors such as Eamonn Walker from Oz and Monique Gabriela Curnen from The Dark Knight, as well as using the kind of economy of location seen in some of Alfred Hitchcock’s experimental films, Ikimi has created a tight psychological thriller that punches well above its low-budget weight.

Legacy had its London premiere at the Raindance Film Festival on October 1. The film is currently on general release in the USA.

Alexander Pashby

Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood One

Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood One

Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 23 August 2000

Distributor: Manga Entertainment

Director: Yasuhiro Irie

Writer: Hiroshi &#332nogi

Original title: Hagane no renkinjutsushi

Based on the manga by: Hiromu Arakawa

Japan/USA 2009

90 mins

The second serialised TV adaptation of the manga series Full Metal Alchemist starts in media res with cyborg brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric helping the military stop a super-villain with ice powers from terrorising a city. Almost immediately, the brothers find themselves fighting ‘Isaac the freezer’, a fight that reveals Edward’s metallic arm plus his power to create lighting and objects out of seemingly thin air. They subdue Isaac, but he escapes, and the brothers find themselves being debriefed at HQ before being invited back to the house of their commanding officer for quiche and a place to sleep as he’s a fan of their work. Meanwhile Isaac disguises himself as an officer to sneak into the Central Prison to give another rogue sorcerer the offer of work…

The above plot précis only covers the first nine minutes (including the long opening credits) of the first episode and makes it clear that this series is one aimed at fans of the franchise rather than newcomers to the experience. While the plot may be bewildering, there is an alluring cinematic style to the fight scenes, with the street lamp and moonlight penumbra of its city setting giving the animation an evocative feel that suits its ‘steam-punk’ aesthetic. However, while casual viewers who have enough experience of both Western and Eastern (super-hero) comics may take the script in their stride - expecting correctly that the back story and the thrust of the ongoing narrative will be revealed shortly enough - the odd schizophrenic animation style is much more off-putting: every engaging ‘camera’ angle and beautifully rendered scene that intrigues the viewer is offset by strange childlike drawings that accompany comedy moments and scenes where Edward reveals the more immature elements of his character.

If you haven’t seen any extract of Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood, the best way of describing this is as if the animation was suddenly handed over to a 10-year-old who was asked to do a more cartoony rendering of what’s going on in the scene, before the animation process was handed back to the professionals, a couple of hundred frames later. This is a style of drawing called ‘Q-version’, which isn’t unknown in dark fantasy animé, but is usually reserved for extras on DVD collections and not inserted into the main animation except where the entire endeavour is meant as a post-modern parody of the genre, such as Production IG’s mini-series FLCL. Production IG’s animation in general seems to have been the model for this series: the dark Gothic flavour of the art plus the enigmatic opening credits, which suggest various layers of reality and include a cameo by a hound, are all reminiscent of IG’s various Mamoru Oshii productions (Brotherhood narrator Iemasa Kayumi was also the voice of ‘The Puppetmaster’ in Ghost in the Shell). But unlike the animation produced by IG, this series takes more of a scattershot approach, including as many references and heightened emotions as it can to produce an overall effect that is neither one recognisable genre nor another.

I haven’t read the Full Metal Alchemist manga, but I did watch the first two episodes of the 2003 animated series to compare the new adaptation with, and found the previous version a lot more watchable than the new series. The animation of the 2003 series suffers in comparison by being a little less Gothic and cinematic, but while it shares the notion of having more comedic expressions integrated into the characters for moments of heightened emotion, these are shorter in length and limited to their faces - more akin to an actor pulling a comedic expression than the actor being replaced by a cardboard cut-out for a scene. The original Alchemist also begins with the tragic accident that turned Edward into a cyborg and Alphonse into a talking suit of armour, before jumping ahead to the present, and this is a more intriguing opening than the fan (only) friendly start of the new series. So, while the animation and score of the original series are more generic than that of the remake, the storytelling is more confident and endearing, and made this casual viewer want to watch more.

Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood treads an odd path: it could easily be a continuation of the first series, as it includes the same characters and narrative, and the same actors voicing those characters, but by remaking some of the same plots, it’s likely to put off fans who saw the 2003 version, when ironically they are the audience who will appreciate it most. The justification of this new series is down to both the lucrative nature of the franchise and presenting a more faithful adaptation of the manga, as the comic only finished recently so the previous animated series had to continue with new plots that diverted from creator Hiromu Arakawa’s strip when they ran out of instalments to adapt. That being the case, since Brotherhood drops viewers into the middle of the story, before revealing the characters’ origins in flashbacks, the animators could have started with the first issue of the comic not adapted the first time around.

Although the disruptive ‘Q-version’ interludes calm down by episode five of Brotherhood, other negative elements of this series still outweigh the positive: long, self-indulgent ’emo’ scenes, while possibly suitable for the story of an orphaned teenager with great power and responsibilities, bring the plot to a halt, and the over-dramatic score, though more memorable than the first series’, often distracts rather than supports the storytelling. At the risk of suffering Full Metal fatigue, I watched the first two episodes of the original version in-between the first two discs of the second series, and another element that wasn’t (yet) present in the original Alchemist but which blights the remake was the character of Alex Louis Armstrong, a caricature of a circus strong man who likes to strip off his shirt and profess his affection for Edward. This might be an example of Japanese humour that doesn’t translate well, but it adds a weird homoerotic element between a grown man and a young teenage boy.

The various elements of Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood that I found distracting from the ongoing narrative may be due to the series’ greater adherence to the manga than its predecessor; if so then this shows the problems in translating one medium too accurately into another. These elements may be unique to Brotherhood alone, but either way this seems to be a serial that exists mainly to satisfy an existing fan base. Newcomers to the range who may be intrigued by the early 20th-century setting and the mix of magic and technology on screen would be well advised to give the 2003 series a watch and only return to this if they’re then desperate for more.

Alex Fitch



Format: Cinema

Preview:16 October 2010 (334 mins version)

Venue: Vue 5

Part of London Film Festival

UK release date: 22 October 2010

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Venues: Curzon Mayfair, Picturehouse Greenwich (London) and nationwide

Director: Olivier Assayas

Writers: Dan Franck, Olivier Assayas

Cast: Edgar Ramírez, Alexander Scheer, Alejandro Arroyo, Ahmad Kaabour, Talal El-Jordi, Juana Acosta

France/Germany 2010

165/334 mins

It seems appropriate that Edgar Ramírez, who plays Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, known to the world as Carlos the Jackal, could easily be a regional finalist in a Val Kilmer lookalike competition, because Carlos often brings to mind the shape and feel of a rock biopic. We follow Sánchez from the early, punkier terrorism, as he kills cops with amazing sang-froid, through the increasingly hubristic world stage farrago of the OPEC kidnappings, to his decline into boozy, bloated obscurity. Anybody who caught Mesrine and The Baader-Meinhof Complex will find much of the setting, style and themes of Carlos familiar. We’re in a 70s radical chic world, a jet-setting, chain-smoking brown leather and knitwear milieu where radical politics are discussed in hotel bars, and Kalashnikovs are sexier than Fender Stratocasters. ‘Weapons are meant to be touched,’ says Sanchez, during a bit of alarming hand grenade-based foreplay with a London girlfriend, ‘weapons are an extension of my body’. Somehow I can’t picture Bin Laden saying that, mass murderers just aren’t fun anymore…

Olivier Assayas’s Carlos, or the cinema release version I saw, has been cut down to three hours from a 334-minute three-part French TV production, and feels like it. We skip through the edited highlights of a complicated life, starting from when Sánchez first allies himself with the Palestinian cause, and then move from country to country, through knots of casual acquaintances and key accomplices, with few recurring characters. It’s a wild ride, but you can’t help but feel that a lot of detail and nuance has been lost along the way. What we are left with is a series of scenes from an alien world, where Sánchez can get a good review from Saddam Hussein and attend a meeting where the KGB puts out a hit for tender. The OPEC kidnappings are a highlight, dealt with at length and moving from tense thriller dynamics to absurd farce as the powers-that-be in Algeria, Baghdad and Tripoli refuse to play ball with the terrorists, leaving the plan, and the plane they are in, stranded. This echoes the scenes later in the film when the fugitive Sánchez becomes persona non grata in state after state as world politics reshape the globe and he is moved on from Tripoli to Damascus, Iran to Sudan, yesterday’s man, a paunchy teacher reading TE Lawrence to a bored class. The OPEC scenes also introduce revolutionary pin up Nada/Gabrielle Kröcher Tiedmann (Julia Hummer), played here as a spitting cobra, one of the few supporting characters to really leave an impression, and given a fabulous exit, facing down machine guns to ‘Sonic Reducer’ by The Dead Boys.

Director Olivier Assayas, who also made Irma Vep and Demonlover, will be conducting a masterclass on Sunday 24 October as part of the London Film Festival. More information on the LFF website.

Sánchez himself remains essentially unknowable throughout, we see nothing of his life before he joins the PFLP, and any family connections are absent. What we do have is a portrait of an inconsistent and contradictory man. He is ruthless enough to kill two Paris policemen and an informant without mercy, but cannot bring himself to execute the OPEC players who were the point of the mission. He is full of high revolutionary rhetoric but prone to alcoholism and womanising. The film draws a link between his terrorist missions and his libido: any time away from the frontline makes the Jackal fat and listless, put a gun in his hand and he regains his mojo. How much he is actually devoted to the Palestinian cause becomes a matter of conjecture, he cannot follow orders, and the demands of his ego and his vanity often seem to take precedence over military or political concerns. He rejects wholly the idea of a suicide mission with the typically self-serving, ‘I am a soldier, not a martyr’. It’s a great, charismatic performance from Edgar Ramírez, who really goes the distance, gaining and losing weight, delivering dialogue in a variety of tongues, depicting a Jackal who is both dark icon and arsehole at the same time.

He is a fascinating character, and it’s a fascinating world in which he operates. The film moves at a fair clip, in an unfussy hand-held style, and it contains enough weirdness and intrigue to remain diverting, but the TV origins and a stretched budget betray themselves here and there, and following the events of the man’s life means that it feels baggy and shapeless in places, choppy and rushed in others. Maybe that’s just the cut I saw, but if Carlos sounds like your bag, I’d try to catch the full-length monster.

The 334-minute version of Carlos will preview at the London Film Festival on Saturday 16 October. More information on the LFF website.

Mark Stafford

A Town Called Panic

A Town Called Panic

Format: Cinema

Date: 8 October 2010

Distributor: Optimum Releasing

Venues: Curzon Soho (London) and key cities

Directors: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

Writers: Stéphane Aubier, Vincent Patar

Original title: Panique au village

Belgium/Luxembourg/France 2009

75 mins

I’m not the first critic to compare A Town Called Panic to the Toy Story franchise and I dare say I won’t be the last, but in a year that has seen the third instalment of Pixar’s saga released, the (probably unintentional) similarities between the two films are fascinating.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the Toy Story films are about the secret lives that toys lead when no one’s watching: when held by kids, their movements are unrealistic and jerky, but when alone, they move with all the convincing perambulation of live beings (with the exception of the vacuform toy soldiers, with their immovable feet). The lead characters of A Town Called Panic, Cowboy, Indian and Horse, move unrealistically like toys controlled by invisible children, but unlike the characters in Toy Story, they are not self-aware toys, simply living creatures in the Panic universe.

A Town Called Panic therefore is a film that could have been made by the human characters in Toy Story moving their toys about on stop-motion camera and dubbing on silly voices in post-production. The byzantine plot, with its non-sequitur twists and turns, shows a charming childlike approach to the storytelling, which reinforces the impression that the film was made by invisible children - by contrast, the Toy Story films feel written by nostalgic adults pining for their lost childhoods.

The film starts like any charming but simplistic children’s TV show: three characters share a house and have inoffensive misadventures. In this case, it’s Horse’s birthday so Cowboy and Indian, wanting to buy him a birthday present, choose a brick barbeque online, but press the wrong button on the keyboard and accidentally buy a million bricks, which eventually swamp the town, with hilarious consequences. However, after this initial half-hour of plot plays out, the film becomes gradually more fantastical with the arrival of underwater mermen (whose vast subterranean world exists beneath the town, accessible through ponds and puddles), mad scientists, a trip to the North Pole and a giant robotic Penguin… With these increasingly outrageous developments, the film turns into a surrealistic fantasy with roots in the Victorian silent era - recalling Mélií¨s’s adaptations of Jules Verne - as well as Nick Park’s Wallace and Gromit series.

The world and characters of A Town Called Panic first appeared in a series of 5-minute short films of the same title from Belgium, which have since been dubbed into English by Aardman animation (who produced the Wallace and Gromit series), screened on Nickelodeon and have been further disseminated on YouTube and other internet sites. The movie has been taken on by music video creators Hammer and Tongs and just like with Aardman for the shorts, this seems like a perfect fit as director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith were responsible for a Disney film, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Although it had CGI as advanced as Toy Story‘s, some scenes used simple effects such as the lead characters turning into knitted toys after a reality shift, or one planet’s defence system involving cinema’s oldest joke, a rake that hits characters in the face as they stand on it. Hammer and Tongs’ second film, Son of Rambow, took this interest in simple filmmaking one stage further, dramatising the attempts of a boy to remake Sylvester Stallone’s First Blood on video camera with schoolyard special effects.

Jennings and Goldsmith weren’t involved in the production of A Town Called Panic and, unlike Aardman, have decided to keep the original soundtrack, subtitled, for the UK movie release, and the film has already demonstrated its viral appeal on the internet. This is low-fi, fantastical story telling for the ADHD generation, who want to change genres and situations with the speed of the TV remote control. The unpredictability of the plot, which remains engaging as it lurches from one unlikely scenario to another, makes it perfect viewing for young children as well as adults who have ever thought of making movies with their children’s toys. In some respects, this makes A Town Called Panic more honest than the Pixar franchise as it uses tools available to kids and tells its story in a way that makes it feel collaborative with the target audience. This feels like a new kind of storytelling (which has also turned up recently in the field of comics with the web comic Axe Cop and in viral YouTube videos made with Lego), which as well as being fun to watch for all ages, has the tactile aesthetic that might inspire a new generation of filmmakers, particularly those who are savvy with internet marketing.

A Town Called Panic may be cheap and somewhat disposable in its storytelling and production, but it has enough unexpected qualities and joie de vivre to turn into as much of a cult hit as the shorts that preceded it, and hopefully it will be successful enough to warrant another cinematic adventure for everyone involved.

Alex Fitch