It was a year ago this week that I watched the then new Spanish horror film REC at the Glasgow Film Festival. Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s film was one of Spain’s highest grossing movies of the last few years, a claustrophobic and adrenalin fuelled shocker that left some indelible images in my mind.
I wrote a few months later about my growing dismay at the rash of Hollywood remakes of Spanish horror films, both REC and The Orphanage getting overhauls for the US market. REC was about to be remade as Quarantine and I noted that it deserved to be treated with care, its ability to chill even the most hardened horror aficionados that night in Glasgow something worth prizing.
Yesterday I felt a new kind of terror run through me when I got home from work: the DVD of Quarantine had arrived in the post. Would it be the travesty I’d feared, a soulless rehash of a minor genre classic? Or would it be better than the original, building on the good parts and giving a new spin to the script?
If Laurent Cantet’s vision of present-day schooling as captured in the Oscar-nominated The Class is anything to go by, I’m glad I’m out of it: I’d never have survived.
From 19whatchyamacallit to 19somethingorother I dutifully sat in class, doing quite well in my English, not so well in my Maths and so-so in Modern Studies, taking in just enough to pass the exams and generally not causing too much trouble for anyone. I was never bullied and, apart from detesting every minute of PE, it was a breeze.
Flash forward to 2008 France and The Class introduces us to an inner city Parisian school where teacher François Marin (played by the film’s co-writer François Bégaudeau) is trying valiantly to teach literature to his teenage, racially mixed, pupils.
François encounters problems early on when the children start to question anything even remotely unclear to them. While an inquiring mind is to be encouraged, François’ enthusiasm for engaging in banter with the students starts to blur the boundaries between pupil and teacher and it’s not long before events start to get out of hand, with unfortunate repercussions for everyone involved.
Using a semi-documentary style, director Laurent Cantet also introduces elements of improvisation to the adaptation of his and Bégaudeau’s screenplay, allowing a natural feel to the film that makes the viewer question what is real and what is not.
I’m still not sure what I saw during the two hours of Synecdoche, New York, Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut. I’ve either just witnessed a modern classic or it was the biggest waste of time since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. But I think I know how to pronounce it.
As husband, father and small time theatre director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) prepares to stage a new production of Death of a Salesman using young actors for the lead roles, his crumbling marriage is finally knocked off the rails by wife Adele (Catherine Keener).
At the same time as Adele takes 4-year-old daughter Olive away with her to Berlin for an extended “holiday”, Caden awarded a McArthur grant, a large amount of money that will allow him to mount the type of production of “brutal realism and honesty”.
Left on his own to consider his situation, Caden takes himself to New York to mount his next production, a play that will be like nothing seen before, using real people and situations for inspiration as life starts to take a turn for the worse.
In trying to come up with a decent opening paragraph for an overview of the Greek Film Festival 2009, currently taking place at Edinburgh’s Filmhouse, one that might reference some famous Greek movies and make me appear knowledgeable on world cinema, I quickly checked Wikipedia, the lazy journalist’s friend, for well known Greek films. The results weren’t encouraging.
While 1964′s Zorba the Greek is in there, I can’t say that Attack of the Giant Moussaka (1999) or The Last Mission (1950) ring any bells, though 1960′s Oscar winning Never on Sunday probably should.
Still, part of the reason for a film festival is to introduce the cinemagoer to something new and interesting that they may never have encountered before. Luckily the three films I recently watched to give me a taster of the country’s output offer a decent variety of styles that do its cinema justice.
Correction (or Diorthosi) (25 February), a 2007 film from director Thanos Anastropoulos, focuses on Yorgos, a man recently released from prison for an unspecified crime.
Yorgos soon starts following a young woman and her daughter, at the same time getting a job in the restaurant where she works. Keeping an eye on her as much as possible, Yorgos is also hassled by some local men who seem to have a grievance towards him.
Wearing it’s movie heritage like a badge of honour, elements of Highlander, Braveheart, Predator and Alien all seemingly thrown into a medieval melting pot and boiled down to their core constituents, Outlander is something of a throwback to 80s actioners.
The film tells of the arrival of a soldier from another world, Kainan (Jim Caviezel), on Earth in the time of the Vikings. Bringing with him an alien stowaway, the Moorwen, on his crashed ship, Kainan must convince his captors, Wulfric (Jack Huston) and King Rothgar (John Hurt), that he can defeat this seemingly unstoppable new enemy before it destroys them all.
During its opening moments, depicting the freefall of an alien spaceship through Earth’s atmosphere and into a Norwegian lake, Outlander impresses with decent FX, suggesting the high concept plot will at least entertain visually.
The introduction of Kainan is done with minimal dialogue and a dash of humour, allowing the story to get moving quickly rather than weigh itself down with exposition. Caviezel may not have too much charisma, but he certainly looks the part of the gung-ho warrior.
From here the film picks up pace, Kainan’s discovery of a destroyed Viking village soon leading to his capture by Wulfric and his introduction to his new home. Kainan’s lack of concern at being trapped in such a locale isn’t touched upon in the script and there’s a distinct lack of culture clash references that might be expected.
Although nobody knew it during production, Peter Sellers performance in 1979’s Being There would be his penultimate one, a reminder to audiences of the seemingly effortless acting he was capable of away from the crowd pleasing antics of the Pink Panther series.
Sellers is Chance, a simple gardener for a newly deceased Washington DC employer who has failed to plan for the event. With the house and garden taken over by lawyers, Chance’s time in the job comes to an abrupt end and he’s left to make his way into the real world that previously he’s only observed on television.
Chance is taken under the wing of Eve Rand (Shirley MacLaine) and her ageing husband Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas), a dying billionaire who has the ear of the US President (Jack Warden). With Chance’s gardening homilies mistaken for informed views of the country’s political situation, the once simple man becomes a key player in American policies and the centre of attention for both the FBI and Mrs Rand.
Although Sellers had already starred in one commentary on world politics, Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Dr Strangelove, this second foray is an altogether calmer affair. The first third of the film takes its time to set the scene, Sellers offering a sympathetic portrayal of a man who has been kept almost a prisoner by his employer.
Expecting cinemagoers to sit down to watch 90 minutes of prison-set violence, hunger strikes and political discussion is a big ask. Add to that a 17 minute static scene of two men talking about their past and in 2008′s Hunger you’ve got a film which is getting harder to promote by the minute.
Based on the 1981 Hunger Strike led by Bobby Sands in Northern Ireland’s Maze Prison, Hunger is written and directed by British visual artist Steve McQueen. McQueen lists on his CV a number of black and white films which sound quite similar in style to this Camera d’Or (first-time director at Cannes) Award winning film.
Opening in the bedroom of a typical Belfast house, as prison officer Raymond Logan (Stuart Graham) prepares for work, we’re introduced to this very different world in the first few minutes: as Logan calmly finishes his breakfast before checking his street for anything suspicious and under his car for explosive devices.
Making his way to work at the Maze Prison, Logan soon begins another day at the Maze Prison’s H-Block, new home to IRA prisoner Davey (Brian Milligan). Sharing a cell with Gerry (Liam McMahon), who is undertaking a so-called ‘dirty’ protest against British laws relating to prisoner rights. The subsequent hunger strike carried out by Bobby Sands (Michael Fassbender) soon puts the prison officers to the test and the Government under scrutiny.
It’s fair to say that remakes of old TV series have a patchy success rate. While Battlestar Galactica might currently be one of the best things on air, the recent BBC Survivors rehash played it far too safe. All things considered, the announcement of the release of a new version of classic 1970s Japanese comedy/adventure show Monkey, now called Monkey Magic, was a bit of a worry.
The original Monkey was a glorious attempt to bring the ancient Chinese Journey to the West story to the small screen via intelligent scripts (really) fantastic (for the time) special effects and high energy acting from a Japanese cast clearly delighted to be part of something this much fun.
Schoolchildren around the UK loved it and memories of kung fu-lite evenings spent watching BBC2 endure to this day.
A few years ago a Japanese TV station decided to bring the show back for a new generation, minus the ageing original cast. Quite what that version was like isn’t clear, but perhaps there’s some evidence to be found in this movie spin-off (though TV movie is perhaps more likely – it’s tricky to find a comprehensive history to this production online).
Given a higher budget and a weeks filming in China, this self-contained adventure sees the main cast of immortal Monkey King (Shingo Katori), Pigsy (Atsushi Ito), water demon Sandy (Teruyoshi Uchimura) and boy priest Tripitaka (played here by Eri Fukatsu, as in the original, a woman) continuing their quest for the scriptures as they travel from China to India.
Brotherly love is put to the test in new Scottish short film The Inheritance, the road movie at the heart of the tale spanning both the country and the past few decades.
Reunited for their father’s funeral after years apart, brothers Fraser (Fraser Sivewright) and Tim (Tim Barrow) are forced to head to Skye to retrieve their inheritance. On the way they discover more about each other and their family while offering a stranger (Imogen Toner) a lift.
With a budget of just £5000 and a tiny 11 day shoot around Scotland, Edinburgh-based director Charles Henri-Belleville has done the near impossible, putting together a cinema worthy, award winning film which is stands up there with some of its bigger brothers.
On screen for almost every scene, Sivewright and Barrow make an engaging pair, their relationship a believable one. As the brothers are forced to face more and more facts about each other, the mystery remains a genuinely intriguing one, the script offering up enough nuggets of information to keep the 62 minute run time zipping along nicely.
Writing this review of My Name Is Bruce just a few days after attending an appearance by Bruce Campbell in Edinburgh where he introduced the film, I’m still a little shell shocked. Watching a film where an actor plays a version of himself, only to have said actor stand in front of you minutes later discussing it is slightly surreal.
With his appearances in low budget classics such as the Evil Dead trilogy, Maniac Cop and Man with the Screaming Brain, Campbell has carved a niche for himself as one of the greatest living B-movie stars. Never taking himself too seriously, Campbell has also built up a strong fanbase who follow him from project to project.
My Name Is Bruce is something of an ode to Bruce’s fans and to anyone who has ever watched a horror movie or rented a DVD that clearly has had zero money spent on it.
Bruce Campbell plays Bruce Campbell, a star of low budget classics such as Cave Aliens and Cave Aliens 2, who has carved a niche for himself as one of the greatest living B-movie stars.
When Campbell is kidnapped by a young fan who needs him to help rid his small town of a recently reawakened Chinese demon, the actor must put all the knowledge he’s gained over the years from his many films to defeat the monster…or run away like a little girl.
Do you ever wish that your dreams could come true? Well, if you’ve ever dreamed of watching a dubious film based on such an occurrence you’re in luck: In Your Dreams is out now on DVD.
Made in 2007 and starring Dexter Fletcher as Albert Ross, a dentist whose dreams quite literally come true, In Your Dreams is one of those films which makes you wonder just what was going on in the minds of all involved, from scriptwriter to director to actors and in particular the financiers.
The press release mentions that this is a “touching British Comedy…the perfect gift or treat to a romantic night in”. That’s the Trades Description Act violated straight away, as if you were to give this film as a gift you’d probably get it given back to you in two halves and if it was for a romantic night in you’d be single before the evening was out.
Moving away from the publicity, the film itself starts in a 1980 English schoolyard, where young Albert is playing football (though there’s no attempt to make the kids look like they’re from the era and they might as well be off home that night to play they’re Wii).
A brief appearance from Susan George as Albert’s mum, who is clearly the same age in 1980 as she is in 2007, doesn’t do much to save the first few minutes.
It’s not every day that a Hollywood legend arrives on your town to introduce their latest film. And that didn’t happen tonight at Edinburgh’s Cameo cinema. What did happen is that Bruce Campbell, star of B movies, horror films and various cult TV series made his way to the front of Screen 1 and took time to speak to his fans over a 30 minute period. And I got to ask a question.
Preceded by My Name Is Bruce, Campbell’s self-directed homage to his own career that acted as a trailer to his appearance, Campbell took to the makeshift stage in front of the 300 or so fans gathered in the auditorium with the words “you’ll have that song in your head for months!” in reference to the films theme song.
A round of applause from the crowd and it was straight into the questions. Though slightly reserved at the start, they ranged from what it was like to play Elvis in Bubba H0-Tep (“I got training from an Elvis impersonator and he gave up after 20 minutes”) to what films he shouldn’t have made (he agreed Congo was bad but “it looked good on paper!”) to which of his leading ladies he’d like to sleep with (“I’ve slept with a lot of them”).
Opening with the kind of action scene that CGI and 3D were made for, Disney’s Bolt goes straight for the jugular and doesn’t let go, at least for 20 minutes or so.
As Penny (Miley Cyrus) and super canine Bolt try to outrun their enemies once more, taking out various baddies in an explosive sequence that is almost worth the price of admission, the film soon reveals that the dog isn’t quite what he seems.
As actors on a top-rated TV show, the pair may be inseparable on screen, but off they’re kept apart by parents and managers, a decision that will lead to Bolt taking to the highways and byways of America in search for his “owner”.
While the subject of female prostitution has been covered on celluloid in some detail over the years, films such as Klute and Pretty Women standing out as some of the more mainstream titles, male escorting, as depicted in 2006′s The Gigolos, is something of a rarity.
American Gigolo and Deuce Bigalow both come to mind as two examples of American film makers tackling the subject, but whether the lack of similar ventures in the UK is due to a perceived lack of public interest or simple distaste in the subject isn’t clear.
Judging by director Richard Bracewell’s take on the subject matter, there’s a goldmine there just waiting to be mined.
Focusing on experience escort Sacha (Sacha Tarter) and his valet Trevor (Trevor Sather), The Gigolos invites the viewer into a world of loneliness and insecurity as the two men go about their daily business of arranging dates with a series of older, single women.
As the two make their way through London’s nightlife to their various assignations, problems start to rear their head when Sacha is injured, causing the pair to re-evaluate everything they’ve worked for.
With a production history almost as protracted as the Roman Empire’s reign, Quo Vadis was at the time of its completion in 1951 one of the biggest movies ever made. The first major Biblical adaptation made after the Second World War, this was a chance for Hollywood to entertain the masses in glorious Technicolor while the world outside the cinema was still a little bit grey.
And entertain it did, and still does. Managing to retain its epic feel in 2009 is no mean feat, considering the amount of imitators it inspired in the years following its release.
While Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments would give the world a hero in the shape of Charlton Heston, Quo Vadis offered a slightly less heroic Robert Taylor as Marcus Vinicius alongside a glorious, scene stealing, Peter Ustinov as the terrifying-yet-childlike Emperor Nero.
The film begins as Vinicius returns to Rome after three years fighting abroad, his time in Britain a sly parallel to recent events in the war torn Europe of the 1940s.
Something of a curio in the long running series (11 films and counting including the upcoming Steve Martin sequel), 1963′s The Pink Panther was the cinema going public’s first glimpse of Peter Sellers as Inspector Jacques Clouseau, even if the film’s makers had no intention of him being the star.
Conceived as a vehicle for the talents of David Niven as jewel thief Sir George Lytton aka The Phantom (David Niven), as he tries to steal the infamous Pink Panther diamond, the film was set to become the first in an ongoing series for the character.
Enter Inspector Clouseau.
Although actor Peter Ustinov was originally cast as the bumbling French policeman, fate intervened and Goon Show star Peter Sellers ended up as the comic icon we all know today. Only in this film he isn’t quite the comic icon he would go on to become.
Minus the recognisable accent and confused diction – and the coat and hat that would later become so associated with him – this initial appearance of France’s least distinguished Gendarme is a more subdued one.
With only a few days to go until Edinburgh’s Filmhouse unveils the sixth Middle Eastern Film Festival, I’ve had a look over a few of the films on show to get a flavour of what will be going on from Saturday until Thursday 19 February.
While I like to think I’ve seen a good variety of films in my time, Middle Eastern output has never really been on my radar. It’s not a conscious decision, but, to state the obvious, the typical British multiplex simply isn’t geared up for such an unknown quantity.
This year the Festival aims to map the changing and evolving character of Iranian cinema, screening a number of examples of output from the last 20 years.
Sixteen films will be shown in total, so there’s much to choose from – I selected three at random to see what sort of thing will be on offer.
The opening film is 2008′s As Simple as That (Saturday 31 January) a look at a typical day in the life of Tahreh, an ordinary Iranian housewife who starts to wonder exactly what her place is in the home and the world.
Many scenes wouldn’t be out of place in a British drama, with scenes of Tahreh cooking or looking after her children recognisable to most Westerners.
Where the film differs from most of our experiences is in the depiction of the standards set for Iranian women by society.
One scene of Tahreh watching her daughter playing in the bedroom with her friends, her clothes and music quite different from her mother’s is particularly affecting, hitting home to both the character and the audience that her life is not what is could be.
A round-up of this week’s film news and reviews on itsonitsgone.com, tying into my weekly Reel Time column in the Edinburgh Evening News Guide:
Have a great film-filled week!
Warning: this review contains spoilers – if you don’t know the outcome of the Frost/Nixon interviews, please stop reading now!
The second television-themed movie of the year, Frost/Nixon, follows hot on the heels of audience favourite Slumdog Millionaire to reveal what went on behind the scenes of 1977′s infamous televised interviews with ex-President of the United States, Richard Nixon when he me British interviewer David Frost.
Ron Howard’s adaptation of Peter Morgan’s stage-play begins soon after Nixon’s (Frank Langella) impeachment for his involvement in the Watergate scandal.
While filming in Australia, David Frost (Michael Sheen), best known at the time for his appearances in satirical TV series such as The Frost Report and That Was The Week That Was, begins to formulate an offer for Nixon that he can’t refuse.
Frost suggests to Nixon’s press liaison Swifty Lazar (Toby Jones) that he should run a series of interviews with the disgraced politician. Lazar’s conviction that Frost will be a lightweight opponent will come back to haunt him and Nixon as the interviews take place over a number of days.
For a film whose UK audience will be made up of viewers perhaps most used to seeing David Frost on early afternoon ITV1 staple Through the Keyhole or the odd Sunday politics programme, the realisation that he was once famous worldwide as a heavyweight interviewer will be a surprising one.