In the Fog

In the fog2
In the Fog

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: New Wave Films

Director: Sergei Loznitsa

Writer: Sergei Loznitsa

Based on the novel by: Vasil Bykov

Cast: Vladimir Svirskiy, Vladislav Abashin, Sergei Kolesov

Original title: V tumane

Germany, Russia, Latvia, Belarus 2012

128 mins

Based on the novel of the same name by Vasil Bykov, Sergei Loznitsa’s follow up to the wonderful My Joy is a hard-hitting, brilliant experience. The year is 1942 and the place is the Western frontier of the USSR – Sushenya (Vladimir Svirskiy) is suspected of collaborating with the Germans after he is let go when three of his co-workers are hung. Two partisans, Burov (Vladislav Abashin) and Voitik (Sergei Kolesov) are given the task of killing Sushenya in punishment for his crime. However, what awaits the trio is much darker than they could have anticipated…

Continuing his exploration of the dark heart of the Russian people, Loznistsa constructs a brutal but paced affair. Reminiscent of The Killers (1946) in its opening act, the film unravels to show exactly how the darkness operates – In the Fog can almost be considered a companion to Loznitsa’s previous work – the bleak landscape reminiscent of the road in My Joy, while the guilt the characters carry can be seen as being handed down through the ages.

Although the deliberate pacing might put off viewers, those willing to invest their time will find a film that’s dripping with atmosphere: eschewing the black-and-white morality of big-budgeted epics, Loznitsa constructs a personal journey to hell.

The cinematography washes the barren landscape out even to the point of indiscrimination – these places are beyond the audience’s imagination. The harsh winter is reflected in the way the light constantly bleaches the surroundings. The lengthy takes almost dare the audience to look away, while the performance of Vladimir Svirskiy is nothing less than mesmerising: his take on a man whose guilt has long been assumed before any proof is produced is both angry and laden with the weight of a thousand resignations.

The other mention must go to Grossmeier, played with aplomb by Vlad Ivanov, who is perfect at bringing the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ to life. His cruelty, the moving force of the tragedy on the screen, is indeed one of the most affecting performances anyone can hope to see on the big screen this year.

All in all, In The Fog is one of the most impressive films of this year, a brutal tale told in the most languid language imaginable. Unmissable and a terrific step forward for Sergei Loznitsa.

Evrim Ersoy

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Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: Park Circus

Director: Jerry Schatzberg

Writer: Garry Michael White

Cast: Al Pacino, Gene Hackman

USA 1973

112 mins

The road movie genre and the vast geographical and often turbulent social landscape of the United States of America have, over the years, proved endlessly fertile territory for filmmakers, writers and actors alike. Counter-culture dropouts, anti-heroes (and heroines), warring families, dispossessed loners and happy-go-lucky friends have travelled the length and breadth of the US on journeys always as emotionally affecting as they are literal, whatever the destinations or eventual narrative resolutions. The late 1960s and early 1970s in particular saw a spate of such movies, an entirely understandable outcome given the radical social upheavals of the era, with the likes of Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) and Five Easy Pieces (Bob Rafelson,1970) rubbing contemporaneous shoulders with Steven Spielberg’s The Sugarland Express (1974), Vanishing Point (Richard Sarafian, 1971) and Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973).

Amid these releases, Jerry Schatzberg, fresh from directing a young Al Pacino as Bobby in The Panic in Needle Park (1971), gave audiences his own take on the genre in the shape of the Palme d’Or winning Scarecrow. Again featuring Pacino, this time as Francis Lionel ‘Lion’ Delbuchi, a good natured but emotionally immature ex-sailor, alongside Gene Hackman as volatile ex-convict Max Millan, Scarecrow ‘s narrative journey follows the path of those on the margins of society. Working-class drifters rather than counter-culture rebels, Lion and Max, one a bundle of naïvety, energy and humour, the other ill-tempered, uptight and world weary, are both searching for something, anything, to give their lives direction. Hoboing their way from California to Pittsburgh, where Max dreams of opening a car wash, the apposite personalities (exemplified by Pacino and Hackman’s contrasting acting styles) come to have a profound effect on each other during their sometimes comedic, other times brutal, experiences. Lion and Max’s adult coming-of-age journeys become inextricably linked as their buddy-movie partnership is tested both by outside forces and their own, very recognizable, human foibles.

Dust bowl landscapes, railroad sidings, flea-pit bars, roadside diners, correctional facilities and industrial wastelands on the outskirts of cities are the environments inhabited by Lion and Max, aptly mirroring their outsider status. The spaces and places traversed and visited are peopled by non-professional extras and stunningly captured in widescreen by Vilmos Zsigmond, who would later shoot Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977), The Deer Hunter (Michael Cimino, 1978) and Blow Out (Brian De Palma, 1981) among many others. Issues surrounding the American Dream, adult responsibilities, social status and masculinity are filtered through Lion and Max’s changing relationship, with Garry Michael White’s impressive debut screenplay giving Pacino and Hackman plenty of scope for impassioned monologues and quick-fire, semi-improvised dialogue interplay. Schatzberg directs in a loose-limbed fashion that fits the unsettled, scatter-shot lifestyles of his central protagonists. Short snappy vignettes flow into longer, sprawling sequences with overt comedy interrupted by outbursts of violence, reflective melancholy, casual cruelty and genuine tenderness.

Now forty years after its original release, Schatzberg’s sprawling drama has been fully digitally restored and plays for two weeks at the BFI during April and May. With its two peerless leads delivering riveting performances, this snapshot of the landscape of early 1970s America – external and internal – is a fine entry into the road movie canon.

Neil Mitchell

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The ABCs of Death

ABC of death
The ABCs of Death

Format: Cinema

Release date: 26 April 2013

Distributor: Monster Pictures

Directors: Various, including Adrián García Bogliano, Marcel Sarmiento, Angela Bettis, Noburo Iguchi, Jorge Michel Grau, Yûdai Yamaguchi, Anders Morgenthaler, Timo Tjahjanto, Ti West, Bruno Forzani & Hélène Cattet, Srdjan Spasojevic, Jake West, Lee Hardcastle, Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura

USA/New Zealand 2012

123 mins

A high-concept portmanteau piece for which 26 modern horror directors were assigned with a letter of the alphabet and tasked with creating a short film. The resulting 123 minutes, from A for Apocalypse to Z for Zetsumetzu is, as you might expect, a mixed bag, with low-key, lo-fi naturalism next to cartoon expressionism, art house butting up against gross animation.

The batting average for the shorts is pretty high overall, with few outright duds. The problem is that most of the contributors come from a similar age, sex and mindset, resulting in a cumulative blokey, snarky chat-room feel as the film progresses – a battle to be more transgressive, freaky and cool, with surprisingly few films aiming to actually scare you. The viewer starts to feel somewhat numb, clocking up where they are in the alphabet and wondering how much more T & A, toilets, reflex post-modernism, bugs and Cronenbergian ickiness they can take.

For the record, Timo Tjahjanto wins the sickness race with Libido; Ben Wheatley delivers a sharp, subjective camera shock with Unearthed; Hydro-Electric Diffusion is agreeably bonkers; Quack and WTF are pretty funny, in a knowing, American smartarse way; Youngbuck winningly feels like a twisted loveletter to the 80’s high school movie and Fart and Zetsumetsu (both Japanese) seem determined to throw as much weirdness as possible at the screen in the hope that some of it might mean something. For my money, the real standouts were Dogfight by Marcel Samiento, a jagged little tale with a political edge that is scored, edited and shot to perfection, and Forzani/Cattet’s Orgasm, which is a beautiful, erotic semi-abstract nightmare unlike anything else around it. But hell, dive in, there’s something to upset everyone.

Mark Stafford

Evil Dead

Evil Dead

Format: Cinema

Release date: 18 April 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Director: Fede Alvarez

Writers: Fede Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues

Cast: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas

USA 2013

91 mins

Better than the dismal Texas Chain Saw 3D but not as brutal and affecting as Franck Khalfoun’s Maniac, Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead is the third remake of an influential American horror film from the 70s and 80s to be released so far this year. Produced by the star and the director of the 1981 original, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi, the remake is an undemandingly fun and instantly forgettable update that provides the required amounts of blood, gore and demonic possession, although no real scares or re-invention.

This time, the five who fall victim to the demonic forces unleashed by the reading of the flesh-bound book of the dead are a group of friends who have come to the iconic cabin in the woods to help drug-addicted Mia as she goes cold turkey. There is marginally more characterisation than in the original Evil Dead, with the difficult family history of Mia and her brother, and a parallel between drug addiction and demonic possession. Thankfully, this is not pushed too much, but just enough information is given for the film to play nicely with audiences’ expectations as to which of the characters may survive.

Some of the gruesome highlights of Fede Alvarez’s remake include possessed characters cutting off their own tongue or limbs, a nail gun attack, a crawlspace scene and a chainsaw showdown in blood rain set to an oppressive choral score – the sound design as a whole is one of the film’s strengths. The problem is that so much is lifted from other films (not just the original Evil Dead, but also most obviously Evil Dead II and The Raid, while The Exorcist is clearly an influence) that nothing feels very fresh or surprising. Alvarez respectfully and competently provides the expected motifs – the demonic POV, the tree rape, the gift of a ring, the cutting-off of the only access road, etc. – with a few minor variations, but without any new twist or angle.

For a truly madcap reinvention of the original Evil Dead formula, it’s better to revisit Evil Dead II, released on Blu-ray this month. While Sam Raimi’s uninhibited low-budget debut established some of the horror tropes that are now taken for granted, its 1987 follow-up was a surreally comic, exuberant, irreverent take on the story, influenced by the comic sensibility of Raimi’s friend and co-writer Scott Spiegel. Bruce Campbell is a hilariously hyperactive Ash, who inadvertently summons the demonic forces from the book of the dead while on a romantic weekend with his girlfriend in the fateful cabin. As he is driven insane by various supernatural occurrences, the previous occupants’ daughter and her companions turn up and come under attack from the demon.

The film is a succession of brilliantly offbeat set pieces, including the wonderful dancing corpse; the diabolically laughing house; the flying eyeball that lands in someone’s mouth; the terrific sequence, inspired by Spiegel’s short film Attack of the Helping Hand, that plays like a macabre early Disney cartoon, in which Ash cuts off his murderous possessed hand – said hand scuttles off, squeaking like a mouse, through holes in the wall and is caught in a mousetrap before flicking Ash the finger and disappearing; and of course, the insane ending set during the Crusades.

This non-exhaustive list is probably enough to convincingly demonstrate the different natures of this month’s two Evil Dead resurrections. For efficient Saturday night popcorn horror, see Fede Alvarez’s remake. For riotously fun, maniacally imaginative comic horror, get the Evil Dead II Blu-ray.

Evil Dead will screen in a special 35mm double bill screening with the sequel Evil Dead II at London’s Regent Street Cinema on 11 June 2017, presented by Cigarette Burns.

Virginie Sélavy

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Evil Dead II

To tie in with the theatrical release of the much anticipated remake of Evil Dead, Patrick Walsh revisits the 1987 follow-up Evil Dead II, re-released on a special edition Blu-ray this month.

Evil Dead II will screen in a special 35mm double bill screening with the original Evil Dead at London’s Regent Street Cinema on 11 June 2017, presented by Cigarette Burns.
Comic Strip Review by Patrick Walsh
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Dead Head

Dead Head

Format: DVD

Release date: 15 April 2013

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Rob Walker

Writer: Howard Brenton

Cast: Denis Lawson, Lindsay Duncan, Norman Beaton, Don Henderson, George Baker

UK 1986

191 mins

Come, come back to 1986, when the BBC, seemingly in a bilious reaction to the height of flag-waving Thatcherism, threw up a strange four-part fever dream of a show, a stylised class-war thriller aimed at the heart of a sick establishment. Shown once, it caused a bit of a fuss, and then was promptly shelved and never broadcast again, only to linger half remembered in the minds of a generation. ‘Remember Dead Head? What the hell was all that about?’

Denis Lawson, giving his best cockney snide, plays Eddie Cass, a booze-addled, whining toe rag who accepts an offer of a grand, simply to transport a hat box from one London address to another. But things go awry, the hat box is found to contain a severed woman’s head, and from that point on, Eddie seems to be the focus of a cruel game played by the powers that be, pursued, seduced, humiliated and tortured, up and down the social scale from one end of the country to another, until he finally determines to find out why.

Starting with a scene in a pub filled with smoke, Howard Brenton and Rob Walkers’s Dead Head flags up its anti-naturalistic colours from the get go – The Third Man (1949) via O Lucky Man! (1973), filmed on video and 16mm, and with a dry ice budget to kill for. The cast are significantly costumed rather than simply clothed, and characters and situations shift alarmingly as comedy is followed by pervy sexuality is followed by menace. This is a world of smacked-up debutantes and gun-toting SAS frogmen, emerging from rivers mid foxhunt. The upper classes are crazed and debauched, and their shady protectors are capricious and chaotic.

It’s flawed, of course, it’s built on sand, a series of vignettes that barely hold together. The third part loses momentum as it takes an awkward turn into subsidised theatre-group dynamics; the plot relies upon coincidences and illogical leaps; and of course the 80’s pop video stylings have dated alarmingly, but this, for my money, only adds to its nightmare charm. And the bare-faced audacity of the punchline is positively Pythonesque.

Lindsay Duncan vamps and fatales like it’s going out of style, Norman Beaton, Don Henderson and George Baker pop up along the way, and Simon Callow pretty much steals the second episode as a cracked spook of divided loyalties: ‘Once, for professional reasons, I joined the rather nasty little gay scene in Moscow.’ Really, Mr Callow? Highly recommended.

Mark Stafford

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You’re Human like the Rest of Them: The Films of B.S. Johnson

Fatman_on_a_Beach_(1974)_pic_3 (1)
You're Human like the Rest of Them

Format: Dual Format (DVD + Blu-ray)

Release date: 15 April 2013

Distributor: BFI

Directors: B.S. Johnson, Mike Newell, Michael Bakewell

Writers: B.S. Johnson, Alan Burns, Samuel Beckett

Cast: William Hoyland, Anne Hardcastle, Bill Owen, B.S. Johnson

UK 1967-1974

160 mins

Throughout the 1960s until his suicide in 1973, the author B.S. Johnson produced some of the most startling pieces of literature, using a unique combination of formalism and social realism. He has been described repeatedly as a ‘one-man avant-garde’, and his literary works have been slowly reintegrating themselves into the public and academic consciousness, thanks in no small part to Jonathan Coe’s biography Like a Fiery Elephant (2004). His film work, however, has, until now, remained obscure and mostly unobtainable. Influenced strongly by James Joyce in both literary and cinematic terms, Johnson followed his predecessor in the belief that cinema provided an opportunity to truly match form with content, and not only allow innovation in new media, but refresh the parameters of the old medium also. Now, the BFI have collected his extant film work for release on DVD and Blu-ray, with additional extras provided by the British Library.

The centrepiece is the titular You’re Human like the Rest of Them (1967). It is one of the more traditional narrative pieces contained in this collection, adapted from a previously-written dramatic verse piece. In order to maintain the poetic rhythm, Johnson uses a staccato style of filmmaking, with David Lord’s military drum-beat accompanying jarring cuts and abstract montage interpolations. The only young man in a physiotherapist’s clinic, the teacher Haakon (William Hoyland), watches with disdain as the matronly nurse (Anne Hardcastle) chastises the older men for not caring for themselves properly. The camera jolts between a blackboard illustration of the spine and the dour, resigned faces of the men, as Haakon realises and begins to rail against his inevitable slide towards mortality. Returning to an undifferentiated indifference from his colleagues and pupils, the title becomes a rallying cry: ‘You are human, just like the rest of them, and the only thing certain is that you will die.’

Paradigm (1968) also confronts issues of mortality, but is more daring in its exploration of the distinction between cinema and literature. It is a masterpiece of fictive linguistics, intended to show, as Johnson himself put it, how ‘the older you get, the less you have to say and the more difficulty you have in saying it.’ Hoyland once again gives the human face to Johnson’s theories, in characters analogous to the five stages of man. Atop various levels of an abstract pastel structure, a distorted Modernist staircase to nowhere, he gives an impressive performance despite the lack of an intelligible script, from a boyish, naked Hoyland, confidently addressing the camera with his gleeful babbles, to a pensive silence at the culmination of the piece, as an aged, drawn man on the cusp of death.

The collection also includes Johnson’s agitprop work, documenting TUC protests against the Industrial Relations Bill, in Unfair! (1970) and March! (1970). There are also numerous tributes to Johnson’s literary influences, from the animated calligrammes of Up Yours Too, Guillaume Apollinaire (1969), a montage piece set to Samuel Beckett’s work in Poem (1971), and a documentary, On Reflection: B S Johnson on Dr Samuel Johnson (1971). Johnson’s last film work, Fat Man On a Beach (1974), was completed shortly after he took his own life. An homage to Porth Ceiriad in Wales, it consists of little more than Johnson’s engaging conversation with himself, ruminating on his experiences with the bay, and slapstick asides. Contrasting the warmth and humour here to his manner of death, the last shot, of the crew departing by helicopter as Johnson walks alone into the sea, is little short of heartbreaking.

Emily Kawasaki



Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 15 April 2013

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Pang Ho-Cheung

Writers: Pang Ho-Cheung, Lam Chiu Wing, Luk Yee Sum

Cast: Chapman To, Ronald Cheng, Dada Chan, Lam Suet

Hong Kong 2012

92 mins

Neither as vulgar as the title or the trailer might suggest, Vulgaria, Pang Ho-Cheung’s follow-up to Dream Home, is instead a very entertaining satire about the Hong Kong film industry. The story opens in a lecture hall, where film producer To (played by Chapman To) is giving an interview about the business in front of a crowd of college-age students (it’s a seemingly strange framing device, but one that eventually makes very clever sense). To, divorced and down on his luck, tells the students a lengthy tale about his recent efforts to get a project off the ground, while Pang makes use of flashbacks to reveal To’s convoluted, absurd and often hilarious adventure.

The producer’s only lead comes via an introduction to a shady investor, a mainland gangster called Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng), who has a disturbing fondness for certain types of sex (perhaps the most classically vulgar element in the film). But he has money – and insists that To remake an old porn film using the ageing actress Yum Yum Shaw (Susan Shaw). Although Shaw agrees to star in the picture, she insists on a body double, who comes in the shape of a model nicknamed Popping Candy (Dada Chan), who eventually turns out to be not only much smarter than she first appears, but easily one of the best characters in Vulgaria.

There are genuine laugh-out-loud moments – some of the humour may be gross, some is definitely completely ridiculous. Yet, Pan certainly makes the case for the vulgarity of the industry by making fun of all the players involved – producers, directors and actors – and not to mention the audience.

Sarah Cronin

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The Place beyond the Pines

The Place beyond the Pines

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 April 2013

Distributor: Studiocanal

Venues: Key cities

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writers: Derek Cianfrance, Ben Coccio, Darius Marder

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, Eva Mendes, Ben Mendolsohn, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan

USA 2012

140 mins

For everyone who wasn’t into Derek Cianfrance’s eccentric, love and break-up story Blue Valentine (2010), the director’s latest offering starts off as a more thrilling, tense and ambiguous piece of work, not least in terms of making use of a fast-paced, crime-drama plot to explore the troubled mindset of his lead character, who finds himself confronted with his own actions and liabilities. Yet whether an abrupt genre twist in the second half of the film, and the decision to cast another of Hollywood’s currently most-wanted male actors as a co-lead, pays off to everyone’s satisfaction, may be the cause of some argument.

Ryan Gosling is Luke, a stunt-bike rider who learns that he has a son by one of his ex-lovers, Romina (Eva Mendes). All ready to man up, he instantly decides to swap his life riding the Cage of Death at funfairs for some time with his accidentally found family. Problem is, Luke doesn’t have the money to support the family in the way he feels he should, so it doesn’t take much for his new boss and drinking chum Robin (Ben Mendelsohn) to convince him that, instead of sticking to a decent, if underpaid, job as a mechanic, they are better off robbing banks, using Luke’s motorcycle and vicious driving skills to dupe the police. But soon Luke can’t get enough, a raid goes terribly wrong, and then that’s that. In a quarter of a second, the focus shifts to seemingly mild-minded but zealous street cop Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), who has his very own agenda, yet his life and Luke’s become inevitably entwined. After being injured during the raid, Avery plunges into a crisis that sees him dangerously caught in the system, while Cianfrance spares no effort pulling his new front man through every plot twist and turn that could possibly come out of such a premise, until all of the characters have finally revealed their true connections and colours.

Although the story becomes increasingly heavy-handed in places, and at times a little too clichéd, The Place Beyond the Pines benefits in no small part from Gosling’s contribution, delivering yet another convincing performance in a nuanced study of audacity and vulnerability. As long as he sets the pace, the film dazzles, surprises and amazes if, ultimately, it turns into a moody, meandering thriller-drama that falls slightly short of the mark and its bold, epic ambitions.

Pamela Jahn

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Simon Killer

simon killer2
Simon Killer

Format: Cinema

Release date: 12 April 2013

Venues: Key cities

Distributor: Eureka Entertainment

Director: Antonio Campos

Writers: Antonio Campos, Brady Corbet, Mati Diop

Cast: Brady Corbet, Mati Diop

USA 2012

105 mins

Simon Killer, Antonio Campos’s follow-up to his impressive debut, Afterschool, is a more sophisticated, technically excellent, yet hollow film that fails to involve the audience in the story of a seriously disturbed twenty-something American trying to get over a break-up with his girlfriend by escaping to Paris.

A university student who’s studying the link between the brain and the eye, Simon (Brady Corbet) takes shelter at the sophisticated flat of a family friend. It’s clear that Simon is from the same sort of wealthy, Upper East Side background that Campos drew on in Afterschool – privileged and fucked-up, too into porn and too incapable of seeing women as anything other than one-dimensional objects. But the problem with Campos’s film is that, as Simon wanders the streets of the city, using his broken French to try and pick up girls, it’s impossible to feel anything for him. Although Brady Corbet is a compelling actor and succeeds at times in capturing an almost boyish charm, he’s playing a nasty, unappealing and unredemptive character.

Isolated and lost, Simon is eventually drawn into a sex parlour, where he meets Victoria, played by the actress and filmmaker Mati Diop. She’s easily the best thing in the film, but unfortunately her performance is wasted by an overemphasis on sex and clichés. And while the film’s title is certainly attention-grabbing, it’s slightly misleading. Simon is not quite a killer (although Campos’s intention is to explore what would make him one), but as he manipulates his relationship with Victoria, eventually moving in with her after he convinces her that he’s broke and homeless, the appalling reason for his earlier break-up becomes very clear. It just seems a shame that Campos pays so much more attention to the perpetrator rather than the victim.

That is not to say that Campos isn’t a talent to watch – he clearly is a very proficient filmmaker who has crafted a movie that looks great, has the perfect soundtrack and features exceptionally strong performances throughout. Hopefully Campos will broaden his scope to see beyond this type of narcissistic being in his future films.

Sarah Cronin