Tokyo Ghoul (2017)

Tokyo Ghoul is a film based on a very popular anime and manga, and though I have since started on the anime, when I saw the film I knew very little about the series other than the brief synopsis. Bear that in mind then, when I say I enjoyed the film a great deal – no purist am I – and I acknowledge that a greater familiarity with the source material might have meant otherwise. The film is exactly what I both wanted and expected: kinda dumb, kinda melodramatic, delightfully over the top in its action and gore…in short, a lot of fun.

The film concerns regular university student Ken (Masataka Kubota), who likes reading, hanging out with his best friend Hide (Kai Ogasawara), and crushing on Rize (Yū Aoi). The world Ken inhabits is not so regular, however, as Tokyo has a ghoul problem – a humanoid species which survives on a diet of, well, people. A chance encounter leaves Ken mortally wounded, until a full organ transplant saves his life. Unfortunately for him, those organs were from a deceased ghoul, and Ken now finds himself existing as a rare creature indeed: half-ghoul, half-human, unable to live in the human world but disgusted by the ghoul world. He’s taken in by the staff of the cafe he used to frequent, Anteiku, which is in fact a safe haven for pacifistic ghouls, headed up by Yoshimura (Kunio Murai). There Ken is taken under the wing of hostile Touka (Fumika Shimizu) and he soon adjusts to his new life – only to have it all thrown into turmoil when he’s introduced to Agents Amon (Nobuyuki Suzuki) and Mado (Yō Ōizumi) of the CCG, the organisation tasked with wiping out ghouls once and for all.

Yes, that’s right, Tokyo Ghoul is basically a vampire story. Ghouls and vampires are not strictly similar – ghouls eat human flesh, can walk around freely in daylight, have elaborate hidden appendages known as kagune which are pretty nifty in a fight – but the story structured around these creatures and characters is fairly familiar. It’s nice, then, that the film still manages to be so entertaining, despite the sense of familiarity. That’s down, in part, to the earnestness of the performances, and the great sense of pacing – melodrama and action run along at good speed for its 2-hour run time.

The cast is all-round strong, and Masataka Kubota particularly does a great job as the perpetually conflicted Ken Kaneki, managing to never tip an emotional role into parody. Yō Ōizumi is immensely entertaining as the sadistic Mado, while the rest of the supporting cast is strong. Although the relationships in the story are portrayed with a healthy does of arch-melodrama, Tokyo Ghoul rather pulls it off, and interesting secondary – perhaps crucially human – characters such as Hide and Touka’s best friend Yoriko (Seika Furuhata) add a satisfying sense of depth and emotional investment.

Chances are if you’re going in cold you’re not necessarily watching Tokyo Ghoul for the story world – and, good thing is, the action more than holds up too. The ghouls’ kagune, tentacle-like appendages unique to each individual, make for imaginatively staged fight scenes – and if you think that sounds silly, wait ‘til you see what a quinque is. There is a certain element of camp to the film, particularly when you factor in the design of Ken’s ghoul mask, but it’s so well balanced that it never becomes overbearing. Even if it did, I dare say it would still be mighty enjoyable.

All in all, Tokyo Ghoul is unlikely to win you over if you’re not a fan of over-the-top manga adaptations in the vein of Attack on Titan or Parasyte, but if you are, then it’s just the ticket.

Tokyo Ghoul is in select UK cinemas from January 31st. Find out where it’s showing near you on the Anime Ltd website.

Nia’s Films of the Year 2017

To me, 2017 has been quite the bumper cinematic year. It helps that we’ve expanded our remit a bit here at Warped Perspective, so if you’ll forgive my indulgence, I’ve expanded my end of year list to fifteen films, plus special mentions. I’ve not been able to review or write about as many as I would have liked to this year, and there are still some major omissions simply because they’re films I’ve not seen (such as The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Destruction Babies, A Cure for Wellness, Antiporno, I Am Not Madame Bovary…or any number of other titles) – alternatively, some films might be on last year’s list (Raw, The Lure).

Hopefully it’ll soon become evident that this list really is a mixed bag of obscure things I’ve seen at festivals, so-called arthouse cinema and big budget nonsense you’re probably sick of. I am, at least, honest, but I’ve tried to keep the list to the broadly genre/arty/weird end of things, even if some of the entries are hugely mainstream.

On the strength of this year I’m hopeful 2018 will continue to bring high quality and interesting filmmaking, but I’m already particularly looking forward to Black Panther, Proud Mary, A Wrinkle in Time, Laplace’s Witch, Legend of the Demon Cat, Mary and the Witch’s Flower…and no doubt plenty of other titles that will grace a similar list to this next year.

These aren’t in a specific nor solid order of preference, but I have started with the ones that probably have no business being on a list on this website but that I just couldn’t not include…so maybe scroll the first few before getting to the genre meat!

Kedi (Ceyda Torun, Turkey 2016)

Look, I know this doesn’t really fit the WP remit at all, but there was no way I was not going to include this delightful documentary on my list. As much a film about the people of Istanbul as it is about cats, Kedi is an absolute treat. Stunningly shot and structured, Kedi is a gem of a film that really must be seen, even if you don’t count yourself as a crazy cat person.

Moonlight (Barry Jenkins, USA 2016)

Moonlight may have benefitted from all the awards-season buzz and fluffed Oscar announcement but it is without a doubt one of the most refreshing and stunningly made films of the year. The film offers a complex story told with remarkable simplicity and beautiful imagery. The cinematography is gorgeous, the performances are revelatory, and the soundtrack manages to be both melancholic and a bit of a banger. Believe the hype. (Moonlight is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Altitude)

Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd, UK 2017)

Lady Macbeth is a phenomenal debut for its director and a powerful calling-card for much of its young cast – an ice-cold period drama that’s anything but your usual bodice-ripper. Based on a Russian novel but adapted and transported to Victorian Northern England, the film is lean, sparse and a stunningly told tale of selfishness, complicity and self-preservation. In a year packed with nostalgic British heritage filmmaking, Lady Macbeth is anything but, and manages to be keenly modern while seeming to use the mode of traditional period drama. (Lady Macbeth is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Altitude)

Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts (Mouly Surya, Indonesia 2017)

Mouly Surya’s wonderful film is an under-stated celebration of female resilience and solidarity wrapped in a meditative Western casing. More Slow West than Bone Tomahawk, the two leads ground the film in a friendship forged through necessity, and Dea Panendra and Marsha Timothy give stunning performances. Not without its moments of brutality – both heart-breaking and satisfying – Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts is hugely impressive filmmaking.

Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi, USA 2017)

The Thor­-arm of Disney’s massive Marvel Cinematic Universe finally gets unashamedly silly, as it should, by handing the reins of the latest Space-Viking saga to brilliant comic and filmmaker Taika Waititi. Funny, colourful, big and brash, Thor: Ragnarok has a strange structure and pacing but manages to work through sheer force of fun.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson, USA 2017)

I’m not sure I was ready for just how polarising a film The Last Jedi has turned out to be. I enjoyed every meandering, joking second of it. There are flaws, certainly, but it truly felt like an epic – some films are meant to feel long, you know? And it did everything I wanted, from its characters, to its set pieces to its thematic concerns. I just hope handing the reins back to J. J. Abrams for Episode IX in 2019 somehow continues this upward ascent of the franchise…

Ben’s review.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S. S. Rajamouli, India 2017)

Scarcely has a film so genuinely blown my socks off the way Baahubali 2 did. Even with all the other big budget action films on this list…Baahubali 2 is still the one that most impressed purely on action terms. I’ve still yet to see the first instalment of the epic story, and even though there were elements of the story that no doubt made more sense or resonated with greater depth having seen the first, the second part is no less enjoyable going in cold.

My review.

Get Out (Jordan Peele, USA 2017)

Every bit as entertaining and smart as the hype suggested, Get Out managed to be one of the few ‘big’ horror films this year that did not end up a disappointment to me. Daniel Kaluuya’s hugely likeable central performance grounds a biting satire and wonderful horror film. (Get Out is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Universal)

Vampire Clay (Sôichi Umezawa, Japan 2017)

Sôichi Umezawa’s debut feature film is a gloriously weird film, with a lo-fi feel that’s already seen it garner a slew of 1-star reviews. However, Vampire Clay is without a doubt one of the most memorable and original films I’ve seen this year. There’s a real grotesqueness to the film, and its demonic clay is both silly and uncanny. There’s a look and feel of desaturated 90s grime to the film that’s gloriously retro and if you can forgive the film the immensely silly ending then it’s well worth a shot.

Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse (Lukas Feigelfeld, Germany 2017)

A film that’s easily going to slot into many a ‘if you liked The Witch you’ll love this!’ claims, Hagazussa is arguably an even more powerful depiction of witchcraft and the female psyche. Archly sparse and bleak, this German film is not going to be to everyone’s taste – it’s slow, it’s vague, and it’s miserable. But if that’s your bag then you will adore Hagazussa – and it’s all the more impressive considering this is a feature debut.

I Am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni, Zambia 2017)

A film that makes me happy just by its mere existence, I Am Not a Witch is the French-German-Welsh-Zambian co-production that marks a most stunning feature debut from writer-director Rungano Nyoni. Offering a coming of age tale of persecution and self-identity and is both moving and bitingly funny. The film features a stunning central performance from Maggie Mulubwa as the accused child Shula, and showcases Nyoni’s incredible directorial eye. (I Am Not a Witch will be released on DVD and Blu-ray in January by Curzon)

Shin Godzilla (Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi, Japan 2017)

I’m glad to say that my most anticipated film of the year did not disappoint at all. Shin Godzilla is a break-neck, nerdy, political satire with a massive god-like creature stomping all over people. It’s glorious. Godzilla’s iterations are wonderful, the massive cast of human characters is performed so well that characterisation is economical and effective, and the action set-pieces are thrilling – as are the political machinations. Weird though it is to see a film like Shin Godzilla on the DVD shelves in places like Asda, it leaves you with no excuse not to give it a go…! (Shin Godzilla is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Manga Entertainment)

Mon Mon Mon Monsters (Giddens Ko, Taiwan 2017)

Author-filmmaker Giddens Ko’s latest film, Mon Mon Mon Monsters, which has to go down as one of the most unashamedly nihilistic films I’ve seen in a long time, is an impressive fable about the cruelty of youth, the incompetence of authority and the ultimate, undeniable truth that, left to our own devices, we humans really are the monstrous ones. Cased in what might seem like a high-school horror, the performances are pitch-perfect, especially Deng Lu-kai as protagonist Su-wei and Bonnie Liang as Si-hua, and the humour is jet black, making this a perversely enjoyable tale of just how terrible we all might be.

Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, France/Belgium 2017)

I don’t even want to write too much about this one because it’s such a cinematic slap around the face that knowing very little about it is definitely best. It won’t convert anyone who hasn’t enjoyed Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s previous work, even though it’s arguably their most narratively coherent film. Even so, it’s still aggressively stylised, departing somewhat from their giallo-infused previous works to offer their take on a western – obviously, My Darling Clementine this ain’t. Phenomenally impressive on pretty much every level, with Let The Corpses Tan Cattet and Forzani have out-done themselves.

The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, South Korea 2017)

Out of all the films on this list this one might be the real contender for my favourite this year. Yes, it features some gratuitously graphic, male-gazey lesbian sex scenes, but it’s also a gleefully complex thriller, a triumphant love story, an incisive insight to a moment in history, a gorgeous soundtrack, a meditation on storytelling and it’s funny. From stunning sets and costumes to pitch-perfect performances, The Handmaiden is breathtakingly wonderful, and arguably even more satisfying in its longer, director’s cut.

Keri’s review. (The Handmaiden is out now on DVD, Blu-Ray and on-demand from Curzon)

SPECIAL MENTIONS:

Jackie (Pablo Larraín, USA 2016) – an ice-cold drama that somehow gets under the skin
Logan (James Mangold, USA 2017) – brutal and grown-up comic-book filmmaking done right
Dhogs (Andrés Goteira, Spain 2017) – a challenge to the audience on the nature of violence
Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow, USA 2017) – genuinely tense real-life drama
Colonel Panics (Cho Jinseok, Japan 2017) – a weird, neon-saturated and grim look at the future of VR
Canaries (Peter Stray, Wales 2017) – hilarious and good-natured Welsh sci-fi-horror-comedy
The Sleep Curse (Herman Yau, Hong Kong 2017) – grim and entertaining Hong Kong Cat III throw-back
Genocidal Organ (Shûkô Murase, Japan 2017) – heavy-going hard sci-fi anime
Tokyo Ghoul (Kentarô Hagiwara, Japan 2017) – tons of fun anime adaptation with just the right level of angst
Blade of the Immortal (Takashi Miike, Japan 2017) – gory yet somehow cutesy samurai epic
Top Knot Detective (Aaron McCann & Dominic Pearce, Australia 2017) – hilarious and authentic cult TV mockumentary

Most Beautiful Island (2017)

Most Beautiful Island is arguably one of this year’s most striking film debuts, perfectly defying classification as a clear-cut genre film and yet undeniably one of the most tense and horrific films I’ve seen recently. Straddling that always fine line between art and exploitation, and succeeding at both, Most Beautiful Island is certainly a challenge to fans of either.

Ana Asensio is an actress making her directorial debut here, as well as writing the script and starring in the lead role. The film entirely revolves around a day in the life of her character Luciana, an undocumented immigrant in New York City, as she takes on increasingly demeaning work to make ends meet, ultimately finding herself centre of a dangerous game that may be her path to redemption.

Most Beautiful Island is remarkably subversive for a film that is so simple and so seemingly straight-forward. For a film about the hard life of an undocumented immigrant, we’re not offered the angle we might expect – Luciana comes from a Western European country, escaping personal tragedy rather than war or persecution. In some ways, her plight might not immediately elicit sympathy in the same way as a more model, good immigrant might. And yet, her daily life is seen to be so unpleasant, unsatisfying and demeaning that it’s hard to imagine someone who would not sympathise on some level (admittedly, I’m a staunch lefty-liberal type, so I was easily won over).

The tension that runs throughout the film gradually builds from banal to out-right terror, as we are given space to project our own fears and expectations of the danger into which Luciana is knowingly entering. There’s an obvious presumption about what horror lies behind the closed and guarded door Luciana finds herself stationed outside of alongside a dozen other scantily-clad women, and it’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t necessarily take things where you expect them to go. When the film does reach its climax it’s simple, effective and genuinely horrific.

Chances are the film’s grainy, 16mm, verité shooting style won’t be to everyone’s taste, nor will its unresolved, art-house inflected ending. At a snappy 80 minutes, though, the stylistic choices of the film make perfect sense as well as, presumably, having made practical sense while shooting. Upon second viewing Most Beautiful Island brought to mind a film that is both quite a contrast in style and yet seems to tread a parallel path, that being The Bunny Game. Now, I don’t mean to set up wildly off-the-mark expectations – the films are very different to each other – but thematically and in some ways stylistically they’re recounting similar stories.

Most Beautiful Island is a film that’s well worth your time and attention, and certainly benefits from as little prior knowledge as possible. Ana Asensio has truly marked herself out as a filmmaking talent to watch with this intimate and genuinely frightening debut.

Most Beautiful Island is in UK cinemas and streaming now.

The Red Turtle (2016)

Reader advisory: this review contains spoilers. If in doubt, do not read beyond the warning midway.

The Red Turtle is a milestone in the history of Studio Ghibli, Japan’s most famous animation studio, in that it marks their first international co-production. Helming The Red Turtle is Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit, a name I was previously unfamiliar with. Looking up his other work, it’s clear there’s obvious precedent to the rather timeless themes of The Red Turtle in his Oscar-nominated short film, Father and Daughter. While there’s no denying the hugely impressive animation work of The Red Turtle, and the near-universal appeal of its almost parable-like narrative, there was something just that little bit not quite right about the film to completely, truly captivate me.

A man is near-drowning in a storm, and washes up on the shore of a deserted island. He finds creatures and sustenance but resolves to try to make his way home. His attempts are thwarted by a giant turtle that keeps breaking his raft. The man lashes out in anger at the turtle, frustrated that he’s trapped. Later, a woman emerges from the sea. The couple lives out their lives on the island, through good times and bad, growing old together.

While I’m not entirely sure I found The Red Turtle to be wholly satisfying experience, there’s no denying the absolutely stunning beauty of its animation. The opening sequence is really arresting, the enormity of the sea raging around the tiny body of the man is quite riveting and effective. On the island itself, the richness of the environment is rendered believable without ever becoming reliant on photo-realism. The humans are animated very simply, and it’s phenomenal to see the depth of emotion expressed in such simple character design, particularly as the film is dialogue-free and completely reliant on the strength of its animation to get the audience on-side. Assisting this is a very sweet score from French composer Laurent Perez del Mar.

So why, then, did this beautifully-realised, seemingly universal story leave me cold? It’s hard to explain without detailing too much of the plot, but, in short, my own take on how the narrative played out relied a little too much on the exploitation of both nature and the feminine in order to tell its ‘universal’ story of a – default male – human. Now, I am well aware that this stems from my interpretation of the film. This is not by any means necessarily there in the film, but, just as so many others seem to have been totally enamoured by it, I can’t deny my own response. So, with a warning for spoilers – here’s what I saw in the story that left me confused and uncomfortable. The man is enraged by the turtle, and strikes out at it – seemingly killing it. The suggestion is that the turtle reincarnates as the woman. The man and the woman live their lives together, having a child, growing old, and eventually succumbing to time – when the woman returns to the sea as a turtle.

Now, forgive me if I’m being a bit too SJW here, but I just can’t find myself won over by a narrative which sees a man’s journey to not being a short-sighted, self-preserving destructive force requiring a woman who he has essentially just quite cruelly killed to hold his hand and teach him how not to be horrible. The only satisfying interpretation of what I watched was that nature in fact confined him to the island by providing the companionship of the woman, but honestly that just doesn’t fly in the context of the film. It could be I’m missing some subtlety or metaphor in the narrative. It could be that I got too hung up on the man’s cruelty early on to adequately read the rest of it. Perhaps it says more about me that the manner of the man’s forgiveness and rehabilitation over-shadows the essential kindness of nature as depicted in the film.

Despite my relative discomfort with the film’s narrative, I would still absolutely recommend The Red Turtle. It’s a visual feast, and it is an effective story, taken at face value. Taken more deeply, it’s certainly going to make you ponder, positively or negatively, the nature of humanity and the potential humanity of nature.

The Red Turtle is available now on DVD and Blu-ray from Studiocanal.

Mayhem Film Festival 2017 releases full line-up

We’re heading straight into the UK horror festival season and Nottingham’s mighty Mayhem has just revealed its full line-up for its 13th edition of the festival. Taking place 12-15th October at the gorgeous Broadway cinema in the heart of Nottingham, the festival doesn’t just take on horror, but also, sci-fi, thrillers and cult classics.

There are some wonderful highlights in this year’s line-up, not least of all their specially produced Zeppelin v Pterodactyls, a live reading of an unproduced Hammer script. They’ve also got UK premieres (included the latest from Dick Maas, Prey), special guests (including Dick Maas himself!), and two incredible classic screenings, Suspiria and Friday the 13th Part 3 3D on Friday 13th Oct!

See below for the full line-up as well as that all important ticket info:

Early Bird passes will remain on sale at the discounted price of £65 until 10AM on Tuesday 12 September at which time individual tickets, day passes and full festival passes at the regular price of £75 will be made available. The live stage reading of Hammer Films Zeppelin v Pterodactyls is made possible with thanks to Hammer Films and CATH (Cinema and Television History) Research Centre at DeMontfort University. For more information, please visit www.mayhemfilmfestival.com 

THURSDAY 12 OCTOBER

7.30PM DOUBLE DATE + Special Guests

Dir. Benjamin Barfoot, 2017 (UK) with Danny Morgan & Michael Socha

10PM M.F.A.

Dir. Natalia Leite, 2017 (US) with Francesca Eastwood & Clifton Collins Jr.

 

FRIDAY 13 OCTOBER

3.30PM BITCH

Dir. Marianna Palka, 2017 (US) with Jaime King & Jason Ritter

5.30PM 68 KILL

Dir. Trent Haaga, 2017 (US) with Matthew Gray Gubler & AnnaLynne McCord

7.30PM HABIT + Special Guests Simeon Halligan, Rachel Richardson-Jones & Elliot Langridge

Dir. Simeon Halligan, 2017 (UK) with Elliot Langridge & Jessica Barden

10PM FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III: 3D

Dir. Steve Miner, 1982 (US) with Dana Kimmell & Tracie Savage

 

SATURDAY 14 OCTOBER 

12PM TAG

Dir. Sion Sono, 2015 (JAP) with Reina Triendl & Mariko Shinoda

1.45PM A DAY – UK PREMIERE

Dir. Sun-ho Cho, 2017 (ROK) with Myung-min Kim & Eun-hyung Jo

3.30PM MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND

Dir. Ana Asensio, 2017 (US) with Ana Asensio & Natasha Romanova

6PM MAYHEM SHORT FILM SHOWCASE

Dir. Various, 2017 (International)

8.30PM PREY + Special Guest Dick Maas

Dir. Dick Maas, 2016 (NL) with Mark Frost & Sophie Van Winden

11PM SUSPIRIA The CultFilms Tour of SUSPIRIA-4k (shown in 2k)

Dir. Dario Argento, 1977 (ITA) with Jessica Harper & Stefania Casini

 

SUNDAY 15 OCTOBER

12PM TOP KNOT DETECTIVE

Dirs. Aaron McCann & Dominic Pearce, 2017 (AUS/JAP) with Toshi Okuzaki & Mayu Iwasaki

1.45PM RIFT

Dir. Erlingur Thoroddsen, 2017 (ICE) with Björn Stefánsson & Sigurður Þór Óskarsson

4PM The Flinterrogation Hosted by author David Flint

5PM ZEPPELIN V PTERODACTYLS – A live stage reading of a legendary lost Hammer production

7.45PM MAYHEM

Dir. Joe Lynch, 2017 (US) with Steven Yeun & Samara Weaving

9.30PM DEAD SHACK

Dir. Peter Ricq, 2017 (CAN) with Lizzie Boys & Cameron Andres

 

The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh (1971)

Shameless have been spoiling us lately with Blu-ray releases of gialli in their catalogue, previously released as DVD only. The latest is another of Sergio Martino’s distinctive gialli, The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh, which not only marks his first foray into the giallo, but his first collaboration with the iconic Edwige Fenech. While Bava and Argento might most readily spring to mind as the earliest and finest purveyors of black-gloved killers, Martino puts his own stamp on the sub-genre with a dreamy (or rather nightmarish) approach and more than a fair share of nudity.

Politician’s wife Julie Wardh (Edwige Fenech) is haunted by her violent past relationship with a man named Jean (Ivan Rassimov) when she starts receiving cryptic messages, seemingly from him, while women all over the city are being viciously murdered by an unknown assailant. Fearing for her life and finding little comfort from her husband (Alberto de Mendoza), Julie turns instead to handsome George (George Hilton), cousin of her best friend Carol (Cristina Airoldi). As the murders increase and the threats intensify, Julie’s grasp of reality begins to crumble, and those around her struggle to help.

One of the delightful things about watching The Strange Vice of Mrs. Wardh is just how distinctively a Sergio Martino film it is. This is an incredibly stylish film, and it’s fair to say that, as often the case with gialli, that takes precedence over the substance of the film. The plot is thin, to say the least, and serves as a simple basis for the unravelling of a woman’s mind, the unearthing of her secrets and a lot – a lot – of nudity. Early on the formula seems simple – a woman is killed, Julie gets a note, Julie gets naked, a woman gets killed, Julie gets a note…Julie gets naked. This seems to, well, intensify, once she’s embarked on an affair with George, and honestly, I wondered when the murdering was going to start again. Thankfully, it did, and the plot at least continues apace toward something of a twisted ending. I’m particularly glad not to have, say, read the Wikipedia page for the film prior to seeing it, given that entirely ruins the entire plot, as the final reveals of the film unfold in an immensely satisfying way.

Fenech is, naturally, the star of the show here, but she’s ably supported by some very familiar faces of Italian genre cinema, with Hilton, Rassimov and de Mendoza making up her triumvirate of men. The soundtrack, too, is pure giallo, and it’s with some joy that I’ve been introduced to a composer I was previously entirely unfamiliar with, namely Nora Orlandi. Her score is perhaps subtle compared to the more familiar sounds of the subgenre, but nevertheless memorable. There are lengthy set pieces – both for murders and lovers – but I think by far my favourite segment of the film was the closing third, set in Sitges, which seemed to be an entire set-piece unto itself. Any misgivings I had about the earlier parts of the film were swiftly undone. If there’s still perhaps one thing lacking from the film that I would have liked to have seen more of, it would be a more thorough exploration of the titular vice – an apparent sexual quirk of our female lead which is only touched upon in flashback.

This release from Shameless features lengthy interviews with Martino and Fenech, which is the sort of extra feature I’m always pleased to see. All in all then it’s wonderful to see a milestone of the giallo get the HD treatment, and this release from Shameless is a must-have, whether encountering the film for the first time, or revisiting it as an old favourite.

The Strange Vice Of Mrs Wardh is out now on Blu-ray and DVD from Shameless Films.

Fritz Lang’s Der Müde Tod (1921)

I do claim to be quite the fan of silent German cinema, but truth be told I’ve barely scratched the surface, even when it comes to real masters of the time. Even so, I was very excited when Eureka announced their restoration and release of Der Müde Tod, also known as Destiny, an early outing from Fritz Lang, who’d arguably go on to be one of, if not the most famous director from the period. The film is a curious melodrama, wherein a young woman (Lil Dagover) confronts Death (Bernhard Goetzke), who has taken her fiancé (Walter Janssen) from her. Death is sympathetic, and weaves three romantic tragedies for her – set in Persia, Quattrocento Venice and ancient China – with the promise that if she can save the life of just one of the lovers from these stories, he’ll return her fiancé to the world of the living.

Der Müde Tod really is quite a remarkable film. What surprised me most was how outright funny it was – as much as I love silent German cinema I can’t say it’s often that these films make me really laugh. Despite the film’s overall tone being relatively sombre, the tales woven by Death, particularly the final story set in ancient China, have a real playfulness to them. The greatest joy, for me, of this was getting to see Lil Dagover play more than just a damsel in distress, and particularly playing the almost heroic – and hilarious – Tiao Tsien in the third chapter.

As one might expect from a film of this era, there’s a wonderful use of expressionist imagery throughout, although to me it never seems to be a, strictly speaking, ‘German Expressionist Film’. That said, there are a number of powerhouses behind the scenes in addition to Lang, namely in the form of production designers Hermann Warm and Walter Röhrig, best known, I imagine, for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, among many, many other wonderful Expressionist films. There are some quite breath-taking moments of camera trickery involved, too, such as when death summons and vanishes a baby in his hands. The other marker of its era is the near-delightfully out-of-date depictions of other cultures – Persia and Ancient China in particular – that, if put on screen like this today would cause outcry of the first degree.

Ultimately with a film such as this, if you’re easily bored by silent cinema, then I’m not sure it’s likely to appeal or particularly hold your attention. That said, I can’t help but feel that this is a film that requires a few viewings to get to the meat of what’s being said. The film certainly features visual and narrative elements that places it alongside other arguably anti-authoritarian films of the time, such as Caligari. The mere fact that Death himself is ‘weary’ (as per the title), and presented as sympathetic rather than malicious or frightening, speaks to the cultural context in which this film was made. A particular moment that stuck out to me sees the young woman beg a group of sick, elderly villagers to offer up their own life to save that of her fiancé, and their response is overwhelmingly negative – “Not a day! Not an hour! Not a single breath!”

The accompanying booklet that comes with Eureka’s release of the film features a wealth of fascinating writing, not least of all an essay by Philip Kemp about the film, which features some rather delightful trivia about the film as well as an in-depth history of its release. The set also features a full audio commentary by Tim Lucas and a video essay about the film. All in all, this release is well worth getting if you’re already a fan of Fritz Lang or of German filmmaking of this period, if not, then it’s not likely to win you over, and nor will it serve as an especially easy way into these films. For me, the release of the film is an absolute delight.

Der Müde Tod is available now in dual format DVD and Blu-ray, as part of Eureka Entertainment’s Masters of Cinema series.

Neruda (Pablo Larraín, 2016)

I confess to knowing very little about either the films of Pablo Larraín nor the poetry or politics, of Pablo Neruda. I daresay a little more knowledge of either might have increased my engagement with and enjoyment of Neruda, one two biopics made by Larraín released in 2016. I saw Jackie earlier this year, and felt rather swept away by it, but I can’t really say the same in the case of Neruda, although it’s an interesting construction of an almost unbelievable character.

In the film Neruda we join the titular poet (Luis Gnecco) in 1948, as a senator for the Communist Party in Chile. The Chilean President González Videla (Alfredo Castro) outlaws Communism, and forces the decadent Neruda into hiding, along with his wife, artist Delia del Carril (Mercedes Morán). Set on the case of keeping track of, but not necessarily capturing, Neruda is policeman Oscar Peluchonneau (Gael García Bernal), who narrates the film. As the cat-and-mouse game ensues, the line between Neruda and Peluchonneau becomes thinner, the two men dependent upon each other for continued – or potential – infamy.

Much like Jackie, Neruda is not a traditional biopic, and instead takes a look at a brief snapshot of the subject’s life. While Jackie was particularly focused on a moment in the First Lady’s life, it was also particularly hazy and dream-like. That sense of dreaminess is manifest ten-fold in Neruda, with the year in the poet-politican’s life seeming more a fictional representation of what could have been than any attempt to reflect true, hard-and-fast facts. And for that I think the film is to be praised, in some ways, it is indeed enjoyably meandering. However, for the most part, I found my attention meandering too, and even thought the film has moments of humour, and moments of intrigue, it otherwise lacked any real engagement with its characters, for me. Now, whether that’s due to my complete ignorance in all things Neruda, I’m not sure, but considering Peluchonneau is a semi-fictionalised creation, I found his character to be much more engaging than that of Neruda (was that the point?).

The most interesting aspect of the film to me was by far its form, which boasts a degree of pleasing artifice befitting its narrative. The use of light is striking, with an abundance of heavy flaring and glare (and not in a JJ Abrams sort of way), stark backlighting is an important contributor to the film’s dream-like quality. Meanwhile, the use of obvious back-projection during driving scenes becomes increasingly pronounced as the film goes on, a subtle support to the film’s general unravelling and tangling of the two characters, particularly Peluchonneau.

For me this was a film more about Peluchonneau than it was about Neruda, but I’m not confident enough to say that that’s not in fact a reflection on Neruda himself. It feels like a film I should re-watch, now that I have an ever-so slightly better understand of who Neruda was. Before seeing the film I didn’t even know that he was a politician, never mind someone who was on the run from the government he was once a part of. The film certainly isn’t an accurate introduction to the man in terms of historical fact, and neither does it aim to be so, but it does give a sense of the character: a champagne socialist in the truest form, it seems. More than anything, though, the film seems to use Neruda as a means to meditate on reputation and on art, and in that sense it’s very successful.

Baahubali 2: The Conclusion (S. S. Rajamouli, 2017)

Consider this review to be from the perspective of a total newcomer to the franchise, the filmmaker, the stars and the industry. While Baahubali 2: The Conclusion is not the first big-budget Indian film I’ve ever seen, it’s been many years since I’ve seen any, and I’m almost certain I’ve never seen a South Indian production. Just to really underline my uninformed standpoint seeing this film, I’ve not even seen 2015’s Baahubali: The Beginning. Despite being a direct continuation of that film, Baahubali 2: The Conclusion was nevertheless relatively easy to follow, though no doubt there were narrative intricacies and details that flew right over my head at the time of watching.

So why am I even attempting to write this review? Because even with minimal context the film is supremely freakin’ awesome, that’s why. It’s quite possibly everything I ever wanted from a historical fantasy epic action film wonderfully melded with arch melodrama. There is not a single subtle thing about this film, and it’s all the more magnificent for that fact.

Continuing from the end of the first film, Kattappa (Sathyaraj) narrates the tale of how Amarendra Baahubali (Prabhas) has defeated a vast army and is in line to become king of Mahishmati, while his brother Bhallaladeva (Rana Dagubatti) will be his commander-in-chief, as declared by the Queen Mother Sivagami (Ramya Krishnan). Baahubali and loyal guard Kattapa journey throughout the kingdom to assess the state and feelings of the people, and on this journey, Baahubali meets and falls in love with Devasena (Anushka Shetty), princess of Kuntala kingdom. Back home, treacherous Bhallaladeva, and his father Bijjaladeva (Nasser) conspire to make Devasena the Queen Mother’s choice for Bhalladeva’s bride. Returning home with Devasena, Baahubali learns of this treachery and chooses his love for Devasena over the throne. So Bhallaladeva is made king, and from there the continued decline of Mahishmati kingdom is told, through to the fate of Devasena and Baahubali’s son, Mahendra Baahubali – to whom Kattappa is telling this tale. The final part of the film rejoins the characters from the first, who, 25 years later, have freed an imprisoned Devasena and descend on Mahishmati kingdom to reclaim the throne from the tyrannical Bhallaladeva.

Alright, that’s the very short version of the plot synopsis. There are intricacies upon betrayals upon twists upon ‘who’s this, now?’ moments a-plenty (moreso if you’ve not seen the first film, naturally). I didn’t find the film particularly hard to follow, despite my limited prior knowledge of the characters. Even had the plot been more difficult to follow, I’m not sure I’d have minded much, because the story is entirely arch-melodrama, and a catalyst for spectacular action scenes. This is a near-three hour film, and yet it flies by in what feels like barely two – admittedly, maybe the mid-way intermission helped with this. The action starts from the very beginning, almost immediately launching into a spectacular introductory scene for Amarendra, wherein he soothes a rampant elephant. From therein it seems like every action sequence out does the last, leading into a climactic battle sequence which completely ups the ante into almost unbelievably giddy heights – I must have been gasping and laughing my way through the last 30 minutes of the film.

The action is wonderfully testosterone-filled, and I think it’s been accurately described as a ‘pornography of masculinity’ by some writers. I think what, for me, saves it is how damn beefcake-y it all is. There’s an inherent element of camp to proceedings that makes the more problematic elements of the story seem less important. (I should note here I’ve read that there are far more problematic sequences in the first Baahubali, but having not seen that one I don’t really feel I can). There are female heroes in this film too, but primary amongst those, Devasena, is soon enough wooed by Amarendra and thus becomes a more traditional – if strong-willed – princess character. However, I think the women of the film (not that there are many) at least get to be important and strong in a non-warrior capacity too, even if they are ultimately subservient, under-mined or manipulated.

It’s not just the action in the film that’s over-played and spectacular, of course. One of my favourite things about the film was the amount of wind being blown through various characters’ hair, even in sequences clearly taking place indoors. Coupled with telenovela levels of dramatic turns to camera and wide-eyed shock, the film is nearly exhaustingly dramatic. This isn’t a Bollywood production, but that’s not to say that music doesn’t play a large role – there are two or three explicit song-and-dance numbers (which are great, particularly one semi-fantasy sequence on a swan-boat-aircraft…seriously), but the soundtrack throughout features chorus-style songs which narrate and comment on the plot. The music is big and bold, just like the film, and is quite a significant part of the overall impact.

The performances in the film are impressive, physically, and there’s a certain endearing quality to lead actor Prabhas, who doesn’t seem to really be able to act, aside from looking a bit like a puppy – and he’s really quite hench, obviously. Shetty is wonderful as both young and older Devasena, and Bhallaladeva is a great hammy villain – though Dagubatti doesn’t chew the scenery as much as Nasser as his father, who puts panto villains to shame. These players all inhabit what is naturally a very CGI world, but it’s convincing. The film features a delightful disclaimer that action featuring animals made use of CGI and puppets, and frankly I’d rather see slightly dodgy CGI animals than worry that real animals were put anywhere near such remarkable scenarios. While some of the digital work is shonky, and the wirework is not always the smoothest, the action nevertheless is breath-taking.

All in all, diving headfirst into Baahubali 2: The Conclusion was absolutely a decision I’m glad to have made, and I can only imagine how much more entertaining the film is in the franchise’s context. If you’re a fan of superhero cinema, martial arts epics, or just wildly entertaining films, then I strongly recommend seeking out Baahubali 2: The Conclusion when it’s available to you – though maybe give the first film a watch beforehand.

A brief response to ‘Post-Horror’

I’m as guilty as anyone for bemoaning the ‘same-old shit’ of certain subgenres of horror films. In fact, I’m fairly sure I’ve bemoaned such a thing on this very website (or at least in its previous, Brutal as Hell, guise). I’ve come to realise, however, that if there’s one thing more tiresome than yet another babe lost in the woods or frat boy tied to a chair, it’s the dismissal of the horror genre by people who seemingly know nothing about it except for examples they themselves deem to be exceptional. Many a term has been used, from well-established notions such as terror, or the Gothic, through to made-up crap like Deathwave – yeah, remember that?

Today, The Guardian critic Steve Rose has thrown another contender into the ring, suggesting that, in the wake of films such as It Comes At Night and A Ghost Story, “what could be emerging here is a new sub-genre. Let’s call it ‘post-horror’.”

You know what, Steve? Let’s not.

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The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970)

Considering the calibre of the career that followed, it sometimes seems easy to overlook the sheer magnitude of Dario Argento’s game-changing debut as director. If Bava’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much and Blood and Black Lace lay the ground-work, it’s Argento’s debut that knocks it out the park. Lifting the best of Bava and infusing it with his own, career-making penchant for beautifully staged acts of violence, Argento’s film is rounded off with a
powerful central performance from Tony Musante and a memorable Ennio Morricone score.

To describe, in short, the plot of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, risks describing the plot of countless other films that have followed. A man witnesses an attack and, believing his memories to hold the key to a series of brutal murders, investigates. There’s the template, the prototype, the giallo-by-numbers outline that so many other films after would follow (including Argento’s own). Specifically, here, it’s struggling writer Sam Dalmas (Tony Musante) who witnesses a seemingly brutal but non-fatal attack on a woman, Monica Ranieri (Eva Renzi), in an art gallery. Now a key witness to what might be an attempted murder by a serial killer, he’s restricted from travelling back to the USA with his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall). Instead, as more women turn up dead, Sam finds himself drawn into the investigation as he desperately tries to recall a missing detail from that night.

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Review: The Shepherd (El Pastor) (2016)

Festival hit The Shepherd is a drama in the art-house mould that has received critical plaudits and yet has left me leaving quite cold. I suspect The Shepherd might make for a more interesting watch in a cinema setting, but watching it at home I mostly found myself very, very bored.

The titular shepherd, Anselmo (Miguel Martín) goes about his simple, daily routine of making breakfast for himself and his dog Pillo, tending to his sheep, visiting his local bar, and reading. He is visited by two property developers interested in the area, and they offer to buy up his land. Anselmo refuses, much to the annoyance of his neighbours who are willing to sell. And so an increasingly hostile stand-off begins, as greed turns seemingly normal men irrational, and Anselmo must decide how much intimidation he’ll take.

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