Monday, August 30, 2010

When meetings get boring...


...the mind tends to wander to dark places...

Cool stuff...

...on the net is always a fun way to waste an afternoon at work with.
Jeremy Mincer over at SilverFerox is putting together some neat reworkings of posters for some very iconic movies. I was going to pose the question WHEN we will see his stuff on DVD sleeves in this post... ...when he posted an update on his latest gig for the one and only Mike Baronas over at Paura Productions.
Fate is smiling on Mr. Mincer and I'm still looking forward to seeing his stuff on future DVD's.
If we now could get Baronas to bring a roadshow to Europe...
But until then, get yer' self over to SilverFerox and check out Jeremys artwork, as I totally respect his wish that people don't nick his stuff of his site.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Good, The Bad, The Weird


The Good, The Bad, The Weird
Original Title:

Joheunnom nabbeunnom isanghannom
Directed by: Ji-woon Kim
South Korea 2008
Western/Action/Adventure, 125min
Distributed by: Njuta Films


Two men sit in a solitary chamber. There’s discussion about a swindle, a map that has been sold is to be taken back. Bounty hunter Park Chang-yi [Byung-hun Lee] smirks at his employer and heads of after disclosing his alternative plan to how the map can be reclaimed from Japanese business man Karemaru [Hang-soo Lee].

Moments later the full power of a steam engine blasts though the frame. The camera moves into the wagon and surprisingly it’s not Park Chang-yi we see but a second bandit raiding the train. Yoon Tae-goo [Kang-ho Song] moves through the wagons blasting soldiers in his way before he bursts into the moving office of Karemaru. With a plan to steal their money Yoon Tae-goo get’s more than he bargains for when Park Chang-yi’s men attempt to stop the train and Yoon by chance discovers the map. A third gunman appears, Park Do-won [Woo-sung Jung] and with an apparent aura of authority surrounding him, he starts to shoot the bandits in Park Chang-yi’s gang, which obviously leaves Yoon Tae-goo in the line of fire. Yoon Tae-goo manages to escape as does Park Chang-yi leaving Park do-won to, just like the other two, ride off in separate directions until their paths cross again – much sooner than they think.

This could have been the opening sequence of any great American or Italian western from the sixties or seventies. But it isn’t, it’s the vibrant and adrenaline inducing presentation of characters in Ji-woon Kim’s magnificent The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

The name being an obvious pun on Sergio Leone’s epic The Good, The Bad, The Ugly - The Good, The Bad, The Weird is more than just a smart play with words, as this movie is by far one of the most impressive modern made westerns of a long, long time. What stands out with the movie is that it’s not just a simple play with the genre, it’s taken the whole characteristics, tone and traits of the western and placed it all in a logic setting that has it feeling like a perfect fitting Stetson hat – a Stetson hat with a definitive taste of bibimbap.

After the very genre fitting opening the action toned movie takes a swerve into adventurous territory as Yoon Tae-goo and his mate Man-gil [Seung-su Ryu] start reading and fantasising what that map is all about. But they are not the only ones after the supposed treasure on the map, as this is why Park Chang-yi – infamous for always getting his man – also is after the map. To complicate it further, as the map has been stolen from the Japanese army, they too want it, and along with that the Manchurian bandits that Yoon Tae-goo and Man-gil once where part of, also want a piece of the action. On top of that there’s Park Do-won who wants’ to capture both Park Chang-yi and Yoon Tae-goo, as they are wanted and their incarceration will bring him a sizeable reward. It’s a complex weave, that spawns several subplots that all come to impact in an outstanding battle towards the end of the movie.

Set in Manchuria during the 1940’s Kim’s movie works solidly off that great genre the Western and their ever fascinating skill for bringing pretty sordid characters to the screen and despite all their flaws and bad doing, having the audience actually taking a liking to even the worst of the characters. That’s exactly what happens here. After a start up segment where the audience label the three characters of the title, the good, the bad and the weird, the movie starts heading into its action adventure mode. Yes there is a sense of the Indiana Jones films , or even Jackie Chan’s Armour of the Gods 1987 invoked, but the film never really get’s as cliff-hangery and fragmented as those movies tend to get. Instead it stays pretty clean and solidly to a “the first man to the X on the map” story, which makes for a more focused and straighter story.

You can’t talk about any spaghetti movie – or Kimchi Western as Kim has referred to his movie as – without talking about glorious gunfights and apocalyptic shootouts. There’s the tour de force of Franco Nero pulling out that Gatling gun and wiping out an entire army in Sergio Corbucci’s Django 1966, there’s the crushing impact of the violent shootouts in Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch 1969, and there’s the cynical fun of Enzo Barboni’s My Name is Trinity 1970 - The Good, The Bad, The Weird brings it all, and it’s a very entertaining mix that comes out of the grinder.

There are a lot of things that click to make this movie such a damned fine movie. Amongst them is the casting. I’m of the opinion that to some extent, typecasting is a great tool as it eases the establishment of characters as they bring their catalogue of work with them to the movie. A character who has always been a favourable kind of goody two shoes character will be easier to like, where as he will become much more disturbing if you cast him as an evil character. Just think of someone like Robin Williams in all those quirky good guy roles he’s played and then think of him in Mark Romanek’s One Hour Photo 2002 where he’s a complete psycho. William’s back catalogue and the kind of character we are accustomed to seeing him play adds to the tension, because we want Williams to be a good guy and it creeps us out on a deeper more subconscious level when we see him as the sinister Seymour Parrish – a cold blooded psychopath.

Apart from being a who’s who of hot South Korean talent, The Good, The Bad, The Weird uses it’s actors to bring subconscious baggage with them – even if all character positions are to be flipped head over ass in the last act – and it helps the movie in a great way, because you will never see it coming. Casting Woo-sung Jung as the good is fairly obvious as fans of his movies will know that he often plays headstrong and determined good guys in his movies. Just like he did in Sung-su Kim’s blockbuster Musa (The Warrior) 2001. Byung-hun Lee’s enigmatic and scarred character performance in Kim’s previous movie; A Bittersweet Life 2005 brings a enigmatic and scarred edge to his character, and obviously Kang-ho Song’s fantastic performances in Chan-wook Park’s grim and tragic Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance 2002, and as the mentally retarded, but still a hero Park Gang-du from Joon-ho Bong’s The Host 2006 help us feel sympathetic to his character from the word go.

After setting up the characters their arcs start to take their journey. It’s a damned fine ride and there is a surprise twist at the end. Staying true to the tone of the movie though, the rightful justice is neglected and the characters that have evolved the most are rewarded instead. Although it is a fitting conclusion as the outcome is determined buy the shifts in character value. HUH? Well yeah, it sounds odd, but take into consideration that the road to redemption is far more effective and motivating than the road to revenge. The road to the climax, and the final reel surprise is told though a healthy dose of effective subplots that deliver back-story and exposition. Sometimes this can harm a movie and make derail off track, but it works like a charm in The Good, The Bad, The Weird.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird showcases some highly impressive talent throughout the production. Characters are fascinating, the cinematography is stunning, the effects and huge set pieces are spectacular and the tempo is impeccable! The action packs a punch right from the start, that train sequence that opens the movie is awesome, and has some great moments, and then as we start to understand the constellation of characters the narrative draws us in. To further enhance the movie, there are some outrageous shootouts that challenge that jaw dropping awe that the eighties Hong Kong action brought with them. The final battle – where the three men, and the Manchurian nomads take on the Japanese army are riveting, and just when you think that it’s coming to an end you still have the climactic standoff to get through and the reveal of the map's secret.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a movie that easily will appeal to fans of Asian action, Bullet ballets, and good old Westerns with a spicy South Korean taste to it. I never really got the hype around Ji-woon Kim’s A Tale of Two Sisters 2003, as it always felt to me as a so-so movie and not really as good as others made a the same time. But I really liked his entry into the first Three series – Memories 2002, and A Bittersweet Life is mind blowing. So The Good, The Bad, The Weird comes as a pleasant surprise. It’s of the lighter nature than his previous pieces, and is without any exaggeration a d fantastic action adventure movie that you should make sure to check it out, because it is a magnificent movie.


Image:
2:35.1 Anamorphic Widescreen


Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1, or Dolby Digital dts. Korean, Chinese and Japanese dialogue, Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian or Danish subtitles are optional

Extras:
NjutaFilms trailershow.


The Good, The Bad, The Weird is also available on BluRay from NjutaFilms too!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Really damned cool contest...

...goin' on over att Amy from Brighton's hysterically fun site CRAP VIDEO ARTWORK.

Wonder if Amy was at the WorldHorrorConvention a few months ago when it hit Brighton?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Firecracker


Firecracker
Directed by: Steve Balderson

USA, 2005

Independant/Thriller/Drama, 112min

Distributed by: Njuta Films

This is one of those movies that you will want to see, or wait - need to see, if you like the oddish stuff that walks the thin line between classical film and abstract strangeness. Steve Balderson, writer, editor, producer and director of Firecracker brings some great images, themes and ambience to his movie that is reminiscent of Lynch, Argento, Jodorowsky, The Coen Bros, Hitchcock and film noir classics. This is a movie I know I’m going to be going back to more than once in the years to come.

Set in a 50-60’s Kansas, Firecracker tells the story of a frail and delicate family with some severe issues that definitely make them the antithesis of the nuclear family. Two brothers, soft mannered, tender Jimmy [Jak Kendall] and his rough guy blue-collar brother David [Mike Patton] both live at home with their religious mother Eleanor [Karen Black] and their elderly father.

When a carnival sets up their tents in town, as they do once a year, Jimmy is drawn into the vibrant world of the carnivals girly show, where the beautiful Sandra [Black again in a double role] sings her songs and seduces the men. Jimmy is taken in by her beauty and sees her as a way to escape the torment of living in a house with a fanatically religious parent, and a very menacing and abusive older brother. The carnival goons notice Jimmy peeking into the tent and send him on his way. Later that night we learn that even David, Jimmy’s much older brother, had a night of pleasure with Sandra the previous year which resulted in a child, a child which Sandra’s horrifically jealous partner Frank [Patton in his second role of the movie] had some severe issues with. This is the introduction to the character gallery - five characters played by three actors that give some fantastic performances.

This all leads up to creating an intriguing, mysterious and captivating drama/thriller that uses the missing man mystery as its core. Town sheriff Ed [Susan Traylor] starts looking into the missing person case and it’s all setting up a pretty traumatic ride. And for once here’s an independent movie with that uses all of it’s subplots without a couple of them becoming filler along the way. I really hate when that happens and movies that end up with subplots not reaching the main narrative or climaxing in their own way.

Firecracker is a capsule of the atmosphere found in some brilliant and innovative movies like Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz 1939, Tod Browning’s Freaks 1932 and the early works of David Lynch, especially the haunting audio ambience of Eraserhead and blends it into a unique cocktail that certainly is unlike any other movie out there. Add some provocative themes of anal rape, incest, genital mutilation, crowbar abortions, forced prostitution, murder, and burlesque dancing performed by archetypal carnival folk to that and you have some fantastic stuff on display.

Shot on Super 35, Firecracker showcases some marvellous cinematography by Jonah Torreano and shifts between black and white to colour and back again as the various threads and plots move towards the climax of the movie. The black and white is what we can refer to as the ordinary world where the main narrative takes place and the colour is what we can call the imaginary world, or perhaps even the alternative real into which the people of the ordinary world want to become part of, a place where dreams can come true. But even in the colourful sphere of the carnival world there’s terrifying reality hidden behind the facade of the bright colours. You could say a pleasant place to visit, but a nightmare of wickedness and betrayal to those within. There’s also a neat supernatural element in the movie with Pearl [Balderson’s sister Brooke Balderson], the puzzling woman who lives under the tree between the two worlds, another subplot that is significant to bringing the movie to its culmination.

The shift in colour/black and white also brings layers to the subplots. Eventually the “dream world” is shattered as the ordinary world catches up with the characters. It’s also precisely when the subplots come to their climaxes and connect with the main narrative and the colour schemes are flipped over to the opposite realms.

I’ve always said that a movie can get by just fine without a bombastic score telling it’s audience that “this is the shock moment coming up” or “it’s really exciting now”, if the director is telling his story in the right way. Firecracker holds one of those splendid moments where there’s a vibrant moment of suspense, and instead of bashing away with a score, Balderson uses the one key item in that scene that can bring it all crashing to the ground, the creaking sound of a washing line. It’s a fantastic example of how less is more in the best way.

Based on a true story – which it is, it’s not a cunning device to lure us in, but for real - Firecracker makes for a fascinating story, that instantly draws the viewer in through the use of a slow motion opening sequence that drops just enough plot to awaken that important initial spark of curiosity that is needed to sweep us up off our asses and into the story. At one time Balderson had several big star names onboard for his movies, but fate had other cards up its sleeve for him. After loosing people like Dennis Hopper, Debbie Harry and Edward Furlong as well as an offer to hand the movie to Gus Van Sant, Balderson took the bold, but definitely right decision to walk away from Hollywood’s razzle and dazzle and made the movie independently on his own Kansas turf, with his closest family in key positions. This was a great move, because the movie with out any doubts reflects the vision Balderson had in his head. There’s no compromising with the material or themes and it shows, because there’s not really anything that feels out of place in the movie. Also by turning his back on Hollyweird, Balderson ended up with a fresh and magnificent cast that definitely are one of the key ingredients to making this movie what it is.

There are some actors in here that lift this flick high above good performances and into award winning performances not to be missed. I have to mention Mike Patton’s part first because playing dual roles the first time you participate in a feature movie is a ballsy move. Even though his two roles are pretty close in character, he still manages to make them differ from each other. Where David is menacing, Frank is terrifying and Patton makes it work. I’m not sure but I get the feeling that all Frank’s dialogue is out of sync, which brings a really creepy effect to his scenes.

Jak Kendall is superb as the love sick, confused and guilt ridden Jimmy. He brings a vibe of James Dean, Chet Baker and that melancholic innocence of the fifties to the part. Susan Traylor is awesome as Sheriff Ed and each scene she is in is movie magic. I’d easily watch a spin off movie about that character, because there’ something fascinating about this small town sheriff who only has one gun in her department.

But the crown jewel of the movie is undoubtedly Karen Black. Black completely owns this movie completely. For me she’s always been the star of Dan Curtis Trilogy of Terror 1975 and Jack Nicholson’s object of hatred in Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces 1970, but from now on I’m always going to be thinking of her as the shining star of Firecracker. The contrast between her parts could easily have been two completely different actors, but it ain’t, it’s Black giving what might be the best performances of her whole career. The burlesque singer Sandra has an aura of faded flamboyancy to her character. She comes of as a strong character to start with, but progressively we learn that she’s a scarred, damaged woman who finds strength in Jimmy’s naïveté. Eleanor is frail and guilt ridden for several reasons, one being giving birth to that second child Jimmy so late in life. She's a complex character who is difficult to ignore when watching. On one side she is terribly empathetic, and on the same side feel her cracking at the seams and loosing it all. When she momentarily looses her faith and ignores the ritualistic grace before dinner, you can literally hear her world come crashing down around her. It’s a spellbinding performance that deserves more attention than the few festival awards that she got for her part.


This is a fantastic movie that comes with the most sincere recommendation. Balderson’s Firecracker really impressed me in many ways, and I’m definitely going to hunt down his later movies to see how he followed this masterpiece of independent cinema.



Image:
Anamorphic Widescreen [aspect ratio 2.35:1]

Audio:
Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. English dialogue with optional Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian or Danish subtitles.

Extras:
It’s actually wrong to call the second disc on this NjutaFilms release an extra feature, because it contains the full documentary WAMEGO that tells the story of how the movie came to be and how the journey was completed. There’s a commentary track with Balderson, and a bunch of deleted scenes and outtakes. Finally there’s the Njuta Films trailer reel that once again shows the versatility of this great company.


Saturday, August 21, 2010

Time is a locked door and only I have the key

OK here's some megalomanic ranting as I feel that something has to go up on here today...

All work and no play means that I don't have the time to squiggle on the old blog as often as I'd want to... but I will soon, as soon as I check stuff off that goddamn long list.

Until then here's a list of some of the stuff going down and in the pipe right now.

-Started writing a monthly column covering cult releases for the leading film magazine in Sweden.

-Writing a piece on the Swedish and English moral panic of the eighties, the Studio-S transmission and the Video Nasties list for a film festival catalogue. (Deadline midnight tomorrow)

-Scriptwriting and plotting drama structure of a documentary project for National TV that will pay my bills until the end of the year. (My regular daytime job that's taking more time than I prefer, as I cant writes stuff for the blog at the same time.)

-Researching a fascinating, but Top Secret, comic book project which is looking to be something completely unique.

-Top Secret proposal artwork project for a top secret dvd project that more than likely will fucking rock supreme.

-Approximately 300 posters, lobby cards and photo comics to be photoshopped, retouched and colour corrected for a second top secret book project.

-Outlines for four short stories to possibly fulfil if there's an interest in them: one about a adolescent boy in a world of zombies with a neat twist, one sleazy and depraved Cthuhlu inspired tale about a creepy John who get's what's coming to him, one about a semi deaf vampire hunter in Stockholm and finally a sci-fi thingy concerning The Nazis, Jewish Souls and Sternkrieg.

-Building up self-esteem to contact Giger's people again to ask if I can publish the transcript of the interview I did with him last year, as the producer of the show I did it for wanted something like everything else on Giger and not something that would tell more than the Alien bit.

-Preparing a ConstructingHorror seminar on the art of Horror Storytelling for a film festival in October.

-Outlining and preparing a second ConstructingHorror seminar on Sound in Horror for another festival in October, although that one seems to not be happening, but we still need to be prepared just in case it does come through.

-Bloody arrangement of DVD's that always seem to be piling up on the desktop and floor next to the old mac as they always seem to be falling over the keyboard all the time leaving no surface space at all. If ANYONE knows where I can get some of those super slim Malaysian dvd wallets so that I can clear up space please let me know.

-Trying to convince the office techie to run me a few copies of two documentaries that I want to send off to a couple of people. So far the promise of some Christina Lindberg Dvd's has worked wonders. I got him to go into the archives and pull out a master to an obscure old TV production the company I work for made some twenty years ago. Mats Helge's last production.

So there's a lot of fun stuff on the go, and as usual there's never an in between it's always nothing or way too much. But I hope to get some blogin' in there next week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dawn of the Mummy



Dawn of the Mummy
Directed by: Frank Agrama
USA/Egypt/Italy, 1981
Horror, 93min
Distributed by: Lazer Paradise OOP
(But Anchor Bay edition is the superior release)


Egyptian curses, a mummy, an army of zombies, hot models, exploitative photographers, sinister tomb raiders, gore galore and some grand location work in Egypt are just some of the finer elements in Frank Agrama’s delightfull low budget shock flick Dawn of the Mummy. One of those classics that I’ve been going back to over and over again in the last two decades as there’s something very satisfying with it, and for the nostalgic buzz it was one of the first tapes I bought from the Psychotronik Video in Camden back in the day.

Starting out with a set up in 3000BC, a band of horseback whipping bastards ride into a crowd of people and thrash the living hell out of them. Crash cut over to the funeral of Safirman who is being buried in a very royal fashion – mummification complete with entrails drawn out of stomach and all – although I’d have loved to see a rod up the nose to jiggle out the brain in there too, but no such luck this time. A high priestess [Laila Nasr] rambles out some chants and a curse upon anyone who disturbs Safirman’s tomb, as the slaves hang their heads and breath in the venomous gas that will take them to the land of the dead with their master… and seal them in the tomb so that they can come back as his army of the resurrected if his eternal rest is disturbed. It’s corny, but establishes two things. The whipping of unfortunate slaves in the opening hint at how frigging mean – as in feared - Safirman was when he was ruling, and the funeral preparations show us just how powerful and important he was as he’s getting the supersize treatment even in death.

Jump forward in time…something like four thousand nine hundred and eighty one years to be precise and a group of tomb raiding sons of bitches are trying to find the grave of Safirman and plunder it of all the gold that’s obviously going to be there. Despite the several millennia that have passed the high priestess is still warding off potential intruders as she now roams the dunes as a toothless old hag. But suave treasure thieving yank Rick [Barry Sattels] and his stooges are not having any of it and merely mock her warnings. They go about their search, and the old biddy manages to lure some sad native Egyptians to go down to the tomb and guard it, but obviously the curse gets the better of them and as one of them has his face torn of the others run to the hills. There’s no need to mention that this all makes us realise that the curse is a very potent threat and we know that somewhere along the line Rick and his cohorts are going to awaken the vengeance of what lies buried in the sand… and we can hardly wait.

But just when you thought things couldn’t get better a merry troupe of photo models and team arrive at the sunny location and start to snap of a series of shots for their fashion spread. After Rick and his cohorts start blowing stuff up in the tomb as they search for the treasure, the models curiosity is awoken and they rush up to the spot from where the blasts where heard. A conflict of interests is presented as the cynical photographer Bill [George Peck] sees the fantastic opportunity presented to shoot his images inside a genuine tomb complete with sarcophagus, mummy and all the trimmings set design could provide…

This sets up the movie and presents the two main arcs that are going to run through the movie: Rick’s obsession with looting the gold, and the malevolent photographer who despite injuries and scary incidents pushes his models and team harder and harder in his urge to make an imprint… and that’s all before the mummy has even flipped open his eyes for the first time.

Bandits lurk in the dark prying secret doors and the fashion crew’s lights heat up the wrapped carcass of Safirman, and the moment we all have been waiting for finally hits us. Safirman get’s up out of his sarcophagus and starts taking his violent and bloody revenge. No matter how poor the script may be, or dopey the acting is, this is a potent movie with a pretty funky ethno score by Shuki Levy (who later composed the theme to the Inspector Gadget cartoon) which still manages to entertain and once the vengeance is served up it’s a jolly old riot that keeps on rolling until the last shocking confrontation between ancient and modern times.

Dawn of the Mummy is a enchanting movie. It really is, there’s no denying it, and it’s a fantastic piece of low budget exploitation that provides some great entertainment value. Being a co-production between the US, Italy and Egypt it’s mysterious cocktail of influences and styles… yeah it is. Acting is pretty shoddy, and dialogue is if possible even worse, but at the same time there’s an attraction oozing from this piece. I’ve seen it several times before and it’s still one that I like, despite all its silly little flaws. Because there is a magical potency to this movie, a one that appeals to most fans of low budget horror, and that magic is found in the stern Italian flavour that the movie holds. But make no mistake about it; Dawn of the Mummy is primarily an American movie, financed by American dollars, starring American actors (well most of them at least) and holds several references to American culture. There’s even a Casablanca reference in there if you know where to look. Agrama is an American too, even if he has an Egyptian background, which most likely came in handy as he arranged all the catch22-esque paperwork to film on location in Egypt and yelled at the Egyptian cast and crew recruited from the area.

But it’s mainly those few Italian participants that shove the movie over the edge and gives it that significant atmosphere synonymous with Italian genre pieces. The cinematography of Sergio Rubini - who worked with directors ranging from Pasolini to Stelvio Massi and Michele Massimo Tarantini, and shot the Lucio Fulci produced Gianni Martucci movie I frati rossi (The Red Monks) 1988 – definitely brings the compositions up a notch. It wasn’t until this last time I noticed how detailed some shots are, but I’ll get back to that later. The cinematography is solid and reliable, and would probably have been something completely different if the Agrama had gone with an all-Egyptian crew. The same goes for the special effects and makeup departments. If not for Luigi Battistelli and Maurizio Trani – who together have a stunning resume and some solid exploitation gold on their back catalogue – I’m quite convinced that we wouldn’t be talking about this movie still thirty years on. There’s no doubt in mind when I say that everything Trani saw whilst working on those classic Fulci movies was brought to the table in Dawn of the Mummy and made those zombies and that mummy the visuals that they where. The head wounds, the bites, the monster makeup, the magnificent mummies rising from the sand, the gore drenched wedding buffet, they are all moments that simply reek Italian exploitation. Images that in all honesty make the movie what it is. In a humorous note it would be fair to say that the one vital ingredient lacking to sell the illusion of a full-fledged Italian exploitation fare completely is that there’s a painful absence of spontaneous nudity. But shooting a movie in a country restricted by laws and religion will obviously bring limitations, which Agrama clearly learned all about during the shoot, but the Italians wouldn’t have cared less and would have had all those babes in the flesh anyways.

On that cinematography by Rubini - there are some wonderful details that I noticed when watching this movie again this past weekend and that was the amazing attention to detail that is seen in the scenes taking place in the village. There’s no sloppily setting up the camera and shooting the actors delivering their lines, but instead the frame is full of activity and movement, the shots hold an aura of actually being in an authentic village where the villagers are going about their everyday life. There’s background action, foreground action and a striking amount of stuff going on, camels being paraded through the back of shots, kids chasing each other and shoppers walking through frame, and my favourite – as Ahmad [Ahmed Laban] invites Gary [John Salvo] to his wedding – the three blokes that park a bike, flip it over and start fixing the tires right in front of the framing. Brilliant! It’s some pretty neat details that I haven’t noticed until now. It gently shoves Agrama’s abilities as a director and the movie up a notch in my book.

Agrama also suffered a fate similar to that of Enzo G. Castellari and his L’ultimo squalo (Great White) 1981 which was barred by Paramount when they found it a close to comfort to their Jaws franchise. But Agrama actually had this happen too with the movie that predated Dawn of the Mummy, Queen Kong 1976. Queen Kong being another shameless multi European co-production that simply tried to cash in by tagging along in the wake of Dino De Laurentiis 1976 remake of the RKO classic King Kong 1933, was obviously stopped by Dino and RKO, making it more or less unavailable since they reached an agreement out of court. Never the less, a movie stopped by an classic movie studio and a perhaps even more infamous producer like De Laurentiis definitely doesn’t just vanish, even if it was kept off the cinema screens globally, it lives on in the sole of all fans of obscure cinema and the wonderful realm of bootlegging. Ironically the movie did play for a short while in Italy where they live by a complete different set of copyright laws, something that we fans of obscure low budget remakes have been thriving off for the last couple of decades.

More recently Agrama was one of twelve people charged by prosecutors in Milan for tax fraud and tampering the books of the Italian media company Mediaset. Amongst the dirty dozen charged was also Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi and the case was later partially dismissed… Mr. Untouchable strikes again.

So all in all, there’s a fascinating story in Farouk Agrama, not only as the COE of Harmony Gold USA (no stranger to controversy either), the producer of some marvellous TV serials and movies, or the director of five curious movies - but also a daring man who despite it all managed to make a name for himself and still to this day is highly active in the movies.

But Agrama’s legacy is superbly encapsulated in that guilty sin of a movie Dawn of the Mummy, a delightful piece of low budget exploitation that still manages to keep me in a great mood on each repeated viewing.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cinemusic #1


Who:
Nick Cave…


What:
John Hillcoat’s debut feature Ghosts… of the Civil Dead 1988. Not only did Cave star in the movie as the malign Maynard, he also composed the soundtrack with Bad Seed's band mates Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld. He even participated on the scriptwriting with Hillcoat and yet another Bad Seed, Hugo Race.

And:
Irish boy band Therapy? sampled Cave’s dialogue “Here I am Motherfuckers!” for the song Nausea on their 1992 album Nurse, making it one hell of an ominous opening track. And now you know why Cave had that short tight haircut for The Mercy Seat video!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grace


Grace
Directed by: Paul Solet
USA, 2009
Drama/Horror, 85min
Distributed by: SF (Svensk Filmindustri) Rental Only

A series of seemingly estranged images start off this curious movie. Close ups of flies, a shot of a fly crawling on a woman’s naked flesh, a quick cut to a pair of feet being splattered with blood, a cat watches on as a couple make love, the woman obviously in a completely different place as she stares blankly around the room. She takes a position anyone who has experienced the frustration of desperately wanting a child will recognize a position to let semen reach the egg and complete conception. The credits start to roll, and though the soft pastel crème colour an embryo is seen. Along with the audio of a Doppler we understand that Madeleine is pregnant… it’s a strange series of images that sets a strange mood for a very strange movie.

But it’s a good movie, an effective, haunting and in a strange way emotional one too.

Knowing that Madeline is pregnant it should be happy times, but that odd choice of initial shots keep us in doubt and the movie shifts into setting up characters and their traits instead. As in all good horror it takes the valuable time to establish the individuals we are supposed to feel with - or against. It’s obviously a drama using horror themes more than a classic generic horror at this point and in all honesty I don’t want it to step over into full horror mode, for that would be to predictable. Let’s face it, drama with its themes and narrative firmly rooted in the horror sphere is where some of the most impressive movies are coming from right now, Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) 2008, Ils (Them) 2006, Martyrs 2008, even classics like Jaws 1975 and Rosemary’s Baby 1968, Replulsion 1965 all play it for real and give an impression that this could actually happen because they establish the ordinary world in such a accurate way, with real characters, real life, real world.

There’s no superpowers or ancient threats, just a slightly alternative dark reality. It gets under our skin and into our minds much more effectively than the monster in the closet does, and the easier we can relate to being an outsider, being threatened in our own home, phobias and threats to our loved ones, the deeper it probes.

After dissecting the hierarchy of the family unit, we see that there’s a schism between Madeline and Michael’s [Stephen Park] mother Vivian [Gabrielle Rose]. She isn’t’ partial to Madeline‘s choices in life and the one to come, and Madeleine is an alternative girl, she is a devout vegan, goes to an alternative maternity clinic and has a back story that will separate her from the norm even further as the movie goes along.

But nothing lasts forever and after a shock car crash - that’s shock not shocking, because not much plays for punches here, it all just flows gently, gently but still disturbing slowly crawling into your head – Michael is dead and Madeleine is told by her midwife Patricia [Samantha Ferris] that her unborn child is dead… Letting go can be a hard thing and Madeline decides to carry the child full term and give birth to it anyways. And this is where this movie could have taken a different road, a typical hard ass conventional horror way and simply skip forward to the delivery filled with screaming music and sweaty doctors, because that’s what we are all building up to, but instead Solet lingers on emotions, and almost dwells on the morbidity and distressing despair that these women face. It’s a strong moment and definitely helps us empathise with Madeline and slip into the transition that soon will take us into the unusual world.
In an emotional birthing scene where both Madeline and Patricia share the birth tank as the child is delivered. It’s obviously stillborn, but the midwife and team go through the motions anyway to help Madeline with the closure. Patricia watches on monitors as Madeline, and as they later go back to check in on her, the baby is miraculously alive. She’s called Grace Madeline proclaims when Patricia says that its’ impossible. From here on the movie almost becomes a chamber piece as Madeleine and Grace start to get acquainted with each other. You know that there’s a twist coming along the way, and it certainly is delivered in a fashion that goes hand in hand with the mood and ambience of the piece. Again there’s no sudden frizzle frazzle effects and orgasmic burst of audio, it all plays for a smooth ride, which slowly builds the atmosphere of the movie perfectly.

Grace is a well-written, well-acted and well-made movie. I like it, I like it a lot, and I’ve been thinking about it for a few days now, and it definitely has something. It moves slowly and it’s not too obvious in its narrative. It also taps into the most primal fears of pregnancy, motherhood and parenting. Character wise Madeline is fascinating; she’s a anally retentive vegan who goes to the extremes to settle her child’s blood lust, now that’s a conflict of moral ethics if there ever was one. The supporting cast may be weak as far as characters go – with Rose being the second exception - but I see this as being due to the fantastic performance Jordan Ladd gives as Madeline.

There’s a great use of ironic subplots to be found if you keep your eyes peeled, one obviously being the constant “vegan horror” that plays on the TV screens which are hilarious metaphors for what Madeline is going through and relating to. If you know any woman who has breastfed a child, you will at one point in time have heard her complain that she feels like an animal with the only purpose being to feed that baby. Not to mention sore nipples, which the movie also manages to cover in a splendid fashion on several occasions.

There’s a lot of motherhood related threads at play, there’s the strong urge of Madeleine being determined to be a mother in her own way, there’s Vivian – Michaels’ mother – who is convinced that she is the better mother, and she has an aggressive biological reaction, and even though she age wise passed menopause a long time ago she starts to lactate. The emotional damage of losing her own child and Madeline keeping hers, her child’s child, are strong and her biological reaction is with the intent to take Grace as a replacement for Michael, her own lost child.

Grace also uses a fascinating amount of sensory repulsion that triggers sensations whilst watching. There are the obvious ones, like the flies that swarm the baby and crawl up its nose – flies repulse us and we don’t want them on our children. The sores and rashes that tarnish the baby – it’s not how we want to see this symbol of purity - all damaged and scabby. And perhaps the most advanced one, the odours that come with a child. There is a whole new world that opens up when you start life with a small child, strange previously unknown odours that at times can make you gag, but at the same time attract you. It’s fucking strange, most likely some primal shit rooted in our programming, but it’s there and Grace captures it every now and again. Which is fascinating, because there’s no real way of telling your audience what these odours are like. Anyone who has smelled an umbilical cord stump before it drops off will know exactly what I mean.

Finally I ask the question if Solet has with a Ridley Scott fetish? The theme of motherhood is the backbone of Scott’s Alien 1979, and even more in Cameron’s Aliens 1986 – just like Grace. The cat on the Nostromo is called Jonesy – just like Madeline’s cat. A cat that elegantly links Madeline’s past with Patricia in the narrative, and the final minutes of the movie definitely hold a Thelma & Louise 1991 vibe to them. That’s before the last subtle, but haunting reveal is exposed in a scene that would have Peter Bark crying with envy.

I’m convinced that Grace will disappoint a lot of viewers who go by the hype of the Sundance faintings and vomitings and expect to see a gore drenched grotesque fest, but at the same time I’m sure that its one of those movies that will earn a steady cult following and mature into a modern classic like the one’s mentioned above in the years to come.

Image:
1.78:1

Audio:
Dolby Digital 5.1. English Dialogue, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish and Icelandic subtitles are optional.