Thursday, 14 November 2013

Brighton Cine-City 2013: Jan Svankmajer: The Inner Life of Objects

To enter into the worlds of Czech surrealist Jan Svankmajer - onscreen or off - is to immerse oneself inside a singularly imaginative mind. Whatever the medium involved – film, puppetry, sculpture, collage, poetry or animation – Svankmajer has amassed a body of work as deeply engaging as it is wildly eclectic. As noted in this month's print issue of Sight & Sound, the 2013 edition of Brighton Cine-City Film Festival will be screening a complete retrospective of Svankmajer's short films and six features, many of which will subsequently tour the country. Alongside other special celebratory events, The University of Brighton Gallery is hosting the month long exhibition Jan Svankmajer: The Inner Life of Objects. Split into two sections – Natural History and Film – the exhibition encompasses three dimensional creations, posters, illustrations, puppets, film clips, sets and props that either act as a nostalgic treasure trove for those familiar with Svankmajer's work or as an enlightening entry point for those new to it. 

The Natural History (Historia Naturae) half of this compact but diverse exhibition captures the essence of the artist's work - alternately playful and disturbing, realistic yet fantastical, on the one hand evoking fairy-tales and on the other nightmares. Animal skulls and bones, feathers, watches, twigs, glass eyeballs, minerals and shells are just some of the materials Svankmajer has employed in the creation of a menagerie of fantasy creatures. Mostly skeletal in appearance, these fictitious beings feel familiar despite their obvious unreality, containing enough of a likeness to real species' to warrant their recognition as such. Wandering from cabinets of curiosity to the accompanying, richly detailed anatomical illustrations that line the gallery wall is to be educated in the ways of Svankmajer – his humour and childlike inquisitiveness, innate artistic talent and deep connection to worlds both real and imagined. There is a primitive, na├»ve quality to the assemblages that belies the skill of their creation, their lifelike quality forging a strong dialogue between Svankmajer's work in other mediums. He once said that 'I don't actually animate objects, I coerce their inner life out of them', and encountering these strange creatures goes a long way to affirming the statement.

Viewing the collection of film related pieces that make up the second part of The Inner Life of Objects is a no less tangible experience, for while numerous monitor screens show selected clips from Svankmajer's shorts and features, the space is dominated by many of the creations seen in those films. If the Natural History pieces are the, literal, bare bones of Svankmajer's imagination, the Film pieces are the meat on them. Little Otik is present, complete with the assortment of extra pieces used to animate the tree stump-baby, the mouse from Alice (1988) is to be found sat atop a wig, and a quite beautiful set from the same film – featuring a combination of puppets and cardboard cut outs – draws the eyes into its magical tableaux

Dominating the space, however, is a frankly terrifying crucified figure, hung high on one wall. A prop seen in Svankmajer's Lunacy (2005), the form is, justifiably, horrific. Nails protrude from almost every part of this tragic, sacrificial victim – the humour seen in much of the rest of the collection is decidedly absent in this depiction of an already brutal form of execution. The crucified figure is an unmissable reminder that while Svankmajer's work is often playful it is also as embracing of the repulsive. That the repulsion comes from the depiction, however exaggerated, of human cruelty and the playfulness comes in the shape of the bizarre creatures drawn from Svankmajer's own imagination says much about the man, his work and his worldview.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Carrie screening at Dukes at Komedia

With remarkably fortuitous timing, on Friday 1st November the Dukes at Komedia in Brighton is screening Brian De Palma's classic 1976 adaptation of Stephen King's debut novel Carrie to be followed by a prom themed after-party. I'll be there in the bar area before the screening selling copies of my monograph about the film which has recently been published by Auteur Publishing. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

To Die For...A Prophet (Jacques Audiard, 2009)

Many films spring to mind. I have nostalgic choices and ones based on favourite performances (Dreyfuss in The Goodbye Girl, Cotillard in Rust and Bone, Shoenaerts in Bullhead), but the film that sucker-punched me on its first viewing is Jacques Audiard's A Prophet. It's a frontrunner in contemporary cinema and ruins me every time I watch it. I went to see it with a couple of friends who wrote it off as being "violent' and "too long". I got that it was brutal and relentless but at the heart of the film is triumph and defiance. Malik El Djebena's (Tahar Rahim) departure from timid to invulnerable is effortless; Rahim is staggeringly good in the role. His character would never have behaved the way he does were he not in prison, and because of that he emerges a hero despite the heinous things he's forced to do. And I love a broken hero

As an audience member the relationship between Malik and Cesar Luciana (Niels Arestrup) is terrifying but engrossing. From an actor's perspective the central performances are flawless. From a girl who grew up watching gangster movies it ticks that box too. I'd seen Audiard's work before and been wowed, but, for me, A Prophet is his masterpiece. Audiard does't even use an overbearing score to manipulate us. Though I do always relish the burst of Nas in the kitchen/montage scene, reflecting Malik's change. The hero succeeds and the baddie crumples, which, after over two hours of anguish is just what the audience/me needs. The story, Audiard's understanding of what makes the perfect performance (I truly believe they are perfect) and the acute intimacy of the handheld shooting firmly cements A Prophet as my film to die for. 

Rebecca Callard

Rebecca Callard is an English actress based in London. Her credits include The Borrowers, Robin Hood, The Grand and Blackout with Christopher Eccleston.  Rebecca can be seen next year with Michael Smiley and Steven Graham in the film Orthodox (@Orthodox_film) and in Simon Stephen's (@StephenSimon) play Blindsided
You can follow Rebecca on Twitter here.

Flicks and the City: Sleepwalker (Saxon Logan, 1984)

My first review for Flicks and the City went live this morning. Click on the link below to read my views on Saxon Logan's 1984 horror satire Sleepwalker, released in dual format as part of the BFI's Flipside series.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Devil's Advocates: Carrie

My monograph looking at Brian De Palma's adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie is now available to pre-order on Amazon. It's a privilege to have written a book as part of Auteur Publishing's Devil's Advocates series, and especially on a film that scared the living you know what out of me as a kid. If you would like to pre-order the book, click on the link below. Devil's Advocates: Carrie will be published on the 10th of October, 2013.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

To Die For...L.A. Story (Mick Jackson, 1991)

It’s always tough to pick one thing and say 'Yeah, that’s my favorite'. Your response to works of art, more than anything apart from people, changes over time. You have to be careful not to select something merely because it struck a chord a long time ago, when you were a different person.

The movie I’m picking, however, suggested itself straight away, and partly because of longevity in my affections. I first saw it over twenty years ago; I most recently watched it just last week with my wife, who also holds it dear. It’s L.A. STORY, a funny, sweet and very silly movie about Los Angeles, and love. Yes, it’s kind of daft and is now becoming something of a period piece (both LA and people’s clothes look resolutely early 1990s), but that’s part of what I love about it. That’s the period when I was first visiting the city, and the movie captures the era perfectly, the bright sun, dappled patios, the sense of possibility and the chance of quietly momentous change.

The story? Well, it’s about a whacky TV weather guy (Steve Martin) who falls out of love (Marilu Henner), dallies with someone young and new (a fantastic early performance from Sarah Jessica Parker) and then, with the aid of a sentient freeway billboard, naturally, finds something far deeper and more magical, in the shape of a Englishwoman (Victoria Tennant) in town to visit her ex-husband (Richard E. Grant). There are moments in this picture that still make the hair on the back of my neck rise, moments that make me think 'Yes: when love comes to town, that’s what it’s like. It’s exactly that disconcerting, and humbling, and scary, and it arrives from outside, and you stand in awe.'

L.A. STORY is wistful and funny and romantic (not something I generally look for in my entertainment), and has stood the test of time for me in all departments. Not to mention that, in the shape of 'He can have the chicken' and 'Sorry, it’s my damned testicles' it’s produced two catchphrases that my wife and I are still using after two decades... to the utter bemusement of others.

Michael Marshall Smith

Michael Marshall Smith is a novelist, short story writer and screenwriter who also writes under the name Michael Marshall. His works include Only Forward, The Servants, The Straw Men and Killer Move. You can visit Michael's website here, and follow him on Twitter here.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Electric Sheep review: Les Revenants (The Returned)

To coincide with the airing on UK terrestrial TV of French supernatural series Les Revenants (The Returned), Robin Campillo's 2004 film of the same name has been released on DVD. I took a look at the original for Electric Sheep, click on the link below to read my thoughts.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

New Empress review: Akira

Having reached its 25th anniversary (where has the time gone?) Katsuhiro Otomo's ground-breaking anime Akira has been re-released for a number of select, celebratory screenings in the UK. Click on the link below to read my thoughts for New Empress on this landmark movie.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Eye For Film review: Burnt by the Sun II

The sequel to Russian drama Burnt by the Sun, Nikita Mikhalkov's 1994 Cannes Grand Prix winner, was released on DVD in the UK this week. A hugely ambitious five hour WWII epic split into two films - Exodus and Citadel - Burnt by the Sun II is not the write off its disastrous box office performance and critical mauling would suggest. Click on the link below to read my thoughts on it for Eye For Film.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Eye For Film review: The Invisible Man

Harve Bennett and Steven Bochco's mid-seventies take on The Invisible Man, which ran for one season on TV, was released for the first time today on DVD in the UK. Click on the link below to read my less than enthusiastic review for Eye For Film

New Empress review: The Parade

Srdjan Dragojevic's comedy drama The Parade was recently released on DVD in the UK. A tale of gay rights, culture clashes and socio-political upheaval, The Parade is by turns funny, harsh and touching. Click on the link below and read my review for New Empress

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

2013: The Halfway Point - part the second

Here's number 6-10 of my top ten UK theatrical releases so far in 2013.

6. Lore (Cate Shortland, GER/AUS/UK)

7. Gimme the Loot (Adam Leon, USA)

8. In the House (Francois Ozon, FRA)

9. Robot & Frank (Jake Schreier, USA)

10. McCullin (David Morris & Jacqui Morris, UK)

2013: The Halfway Point - part the first

As we're halfway through the movie-going year I thought I'd take stock and post my top ten UK theatrical releases so far. It's maybe not as fully rounded as I'd like but there's still a fair few movies I've yet to catch up with.

1. Beyond the Hills (Christian Mungiu, ROM)

2. What Richard Did (Lenny Abrahamson, IRE)

3. Mud (Jeff Nichols, USA)

4. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, USA)

5. Sleep Tight (Jaume Balguero, SPA)

Monday, 10 June 2013

New Empress review: Slice & Dice: The Slasher Film Forever

Over on the New Empress Magazine website you can find my review of Calum Waddell's Slice & Dice: The Slasher Film Forever. Click on the link below to see what I made of this low-budget, celebratory look into one of horror cinema's enduring sub-genres.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

The Big Picture Magazine issue 20: Escape

The Summer issue of The Big Picture Magazine is now available to download for free, and has 'escape' as its central theme. Print copies of the magazine will be circulated around arthouse and independent cinemas in the UK, USA and China in the next couple of weeks. Click on the link below for a direct download of the new issue.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

New Empress Magazine review: Bait (Kimble Rendall, 2012)

My latest review up on New Empress Magazine's website is of Kimble Rendall's Bait. Click on the link below to see what I made of this Australian/Singaporean B-movie.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Breaking the 4th Wall Movie Supercut

Thanks to the always sharp Anne Billson I was made aware of a compilation of fourth wall breaking moments in movies posted on Vimeo. As this blog's name is The Fourth Wall it's only fitting that I put up Leigh Singer's excellent work, Breaking the 4th Wall Movie Supercut. Enjoy.

Monday, 6 May 2013

New Empress review: Dead End Drive-In (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1986)

As a lover of Australian cinema, and Ozploitation films especially, I jumped at the chance to finally catch up with Brian Trenchard-Smith's Dead End Drive-In (1986). The good folks at New Empress Magazine have put my review up today, so click on the link below to read my thoughts on the movie.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Electric Sheep: Scarecrow (Jerry Schatzberg, 1973)

In advance of the BFI's screenings of the digitally restored version of Jerry Schatzberg's 1973 Palme d'or winning road movie Scarecrow I've written a piece about it for Electric Sheep. Click on the link below to see why I think this Gene Hackman and Al Pacino starring movie was well worthy of the award.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Eye For Film: I Didn't Come Here to Die

If you like comedy, horror and/or comedy-horror, then Bradley Scott Sullivan's debut movie, I Didn't Come Here to Die, will most likely hit the spot. Click on the link below to read my review for Eye For Film


Sunday, 14 April 2013

New Empress review: Billy Liar

Celebrating its 50th birthday, John Schlesinger's Billy Liar is due for an anniversary DVD/Blu-ray release in May. The adaptation of Keith Waterhouse's novel, starring Tom Courtenay, is the focus of my latest review for New Empress Magazine. Click on the link below to see what I made of this '60s British comedy-drama.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Eye For Film: Spring Breakers

Harmony Korine's latest movie, Spring Breakers, is guaranteed to be a talking point one way or another. Sex, drugs, crime, guns, former Disney princesses and James Franco as you've never seen him before are just some of the sights on offer, but does it all add up to much? Click on the link below to read my review for Eye For Film

Friday, 29 March 2013

To Die For...Street Trash (J. Michael Muro, 1987)

What's to say about this horror masterpiece that hasn't already been said? Sadly, that's not the case, no one really knows this movie. Street Trash is an overlooked, cult classic horror that deserves more love. I've taken it upon myself to become a lifelong ambassador for it, spreading the word and even giving away copies to friends and family who have never seen it (no wonder some of them don't speak to me anymore). I own two original big box VHS and two DVD copies in case of emergency.

I discovered this gem of a movie in 1987. My Dad's mate had a video van (remember those?) and he would often come to visit us and give me a chance to peruse the day's selection of titles before the customers got to have a look in. I remember spotting the fantastic cover art of a man in mid-melt practically leaping off the shelf at me. I was completely desensitized to horror by this point, having popped my horror cherry with Salem's Lot and The Exorcist 5 years prior, at the tender age of 7. Street Trash was just comic relief to a 12 year old horror veteran, but man was it fun.

The plot revolves around a bunch of down and out winos that get lucky when the owner of a liquor store finds a case of old beers (called Viper) in the cellar and puts them on sale for $1 a pop. The tramps hear the news and come running to get stuck in to the bargain booze. Some willing to part with a buck and others opting to thieve it from their bum brethren. The only downside being that the after effects are rather undesirable and cause a complete meltdown. A messy death awaits these unwitting destitutes.

There are a lot of films, specifically horror, that I loved as a kid but are devastatingly disappointing when revisited. Many Come across as dated, hokey or just not scary to this jaded, cynical old man. Street Trash however, always delivers. It's hard to say what I love so much about this film and why I consider it to be among my absolute favourites. The acting is awful (many of the cast never starred in another film), the plot is skeletal and the narrative wafer thin. I guess it just perfectly captures the feel of the '80s, the ultimate decade for horror. When watching you get the impression that they must of had a shit load of fun making it. The checklist includes tramps melting, gang rape, necrophilia and a game of catch with a severed penis. Whats not to love, right? The shoestring practical effects look great and hold up well. This is a film that could only of been made pre-CGI.

Street Trash is probably the best melt-movie ever made, so good in fact that Jim Muro never made another film. He retired from directorial duties at the top of his game. Troma only ever dreamt of making a film of such heights.

Lee Gaze 

Lee Gaze is a lead guitarist and one of the founding members of Lostprophets. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Eye For Film: Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan

It was an absolute pleasure to review Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan for Eye For Film. As I'm sure you've already guessed, I enjoyed Gilles Penso's celebratory documentary quite a bit. Click on the link below to see why.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

To Die For...A Serbian Film (Srjdan Spasojevic, 2010)

The word "favorite" implies (in the popular imagination at least) something enjoyable or pleasant. As a result, my choice of favorite film is something of a misnomer as Srdjan Spasojevic's A Serbian Film (2010) is not enjoyable in this traditional sense. I choose it as it is the film that makes me think and indeed wonder at the capacity of cinema. I love it because it makes me feel. A Serbian Film is the story of a fading male porn star who is dragged into a world of taboo film making on the promise of an idealized freedom for his family. It is hardly the stuff of Disney or even a well-loved, hallowed horror. In truth, I don’t give a rat’s arse about A Serbian Film's supposed allegory of life in Serbia. I’m interested in the human story. I want to know what Milos feels. The sheer damn nastiness of this film is what I love about it - it brutalises your senses visually, empathetically and intellectually every second that you don't press the "off" button.

The most obvious strength for me is Srdjan Todorovic's acting as Milos. Without his performance, the film could easily have dissolved into tawdry torture porn. I use the phrase on purpose as I believe that this sub-genre, if done well, can be bloody harrowing and tantalizing, as it is here. Alternatively, torture without emotional impact means nothing as the ghost flits the machine and we lose grip of aesthetic understanding of pain and are unable to contextualize it. Todorovic manages to convey incredible sexual aggression in the same breath as horror and absolute disgust at his own actions. His snarl, used on so many of the posters is, to me, the epitome of the film. It’s not a demonstration of emotions as much as a simple fact of a maelstrom of confused sensations and wants. He even looks perfect for the part in the eyes of many traditions, a classic hero with a chiseled jaw and a mane of golden hair rendered raging against gradually going to seed, a He-Man going hollow.

However, Todorovic on his own wouldn’t make the film what it is. The cinematography is in some places stunning. The scenes with son Petar are beautifully lit and lend a sense of hope to the narrative, taking it beyond the realms of pure horror into life in all of its shades. It really does remind you of balmy days where you try and feel at ease and try to enjoy having the sun on your skin yet have those inevitable close-but-awkward conversations. Nevertheless, this genuine attempt at tenderness is for me the vital counterpoint to the brutality. My favorite scene shows Milos, the human animal, enacting and enthralled in the orders of his director and following what he believes is the folk tradition of his land. What happens next is devastating and delicious all at once. It is also very erotic if - and until - you let yourself go.
As my students have said, you cannot 'unsee' or forget this film. I defy anyone to be left untouched at the end. It is the feeling of being altered and your body just taking over – what I really think terrifies and tantalizes us all.

Dr. Karen Oughton

Dr. Karen Oughton is a Lecturer in Media Communications at Regent's College, London. You can follow her on twitter here.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Eye For Film: The Amazing Mr Blunden

My latest review for Eye For Film is of Lionel Jeffries' 1972 family movie The Amazing Mr Blunden. Click on the link below to see what I made of the director's adaptation of Antonia Barber's 1969 novel The Ghosts.

Electric Sheep: Dreamscape

The latest monthly theme for Electric Sleep is sleep, and I immediately thought of Joseph Ruben's 1984 sci-fi/horror movie Dreamscape. Click on the link below to read my thoughts on a movie that's somewhat unfairly overshadowed by many of the eras other sci-fi/horror releases.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Big Picture issue 19 - Winter's Discontent.

The new issue of The Big Picture magazine is available now as a free PDF download. Themed under the title 'Winter's Discontent', the issue features pieces on The Great White Silence, Dr Zhivago, Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai, Let the Right One in and Ikiru among others. Guest writer Pamela Hutchinson, who runs the Silent London website has penned an enlightening article on Way Down East, and longtime contributor Scott Jordan Harris takes a look at the Rosebud sled from Citizen Kane, one of cinema's most evocative objects. Click on the link below to download the issue, we hope you enjoy it and share it with your film-loving family and friends. You can find The Big Picture on Facebook here and on Twitter by searching for @BigPicFilmMag.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

New Empress review: Nowhere to Go

Although forever associated with their comedies, Ealing Studios also had a darker side, as Nowhere to Go, recently released on DVD, exemplifies. Click on the link below to see what I made of this 1958 British Film Noir.

Eye For Film review: From Beyond

Stuart Gordon's riotous 80s splatterfest From Beyond, starring Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Ken Foree, was released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 25th February. Click the link below to read my Eye For Film review of both the movie and the numerous extras that feature on the Second Sight package.