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Posts Tagged ‘Eden lake’

Man About Dog: We all know by now that Guy Ritchie inspired a bunch of British films with his flashy editing technique and reworking of Kurusowa’s improvisatory narration. He grabbed the crime drama genre by its neck and sliced and diced through its modus operandi of storytelling. Barring the travesty of Sherlock Holmes and Swept Away, his other films have stayed clear of turning redundant; so much so that aspiring directors have generously borrowed his ideas to try and make it their own. Paddy Breathnach’s Irish comedy Man About Dog is ritualistic in its adoration for Snatch, right from the hare-coursing and gambling plots to malevolent old men and vernacular jokes. While it isn’t anything as entertaining as Ritchie’s, you have to love them for trying. Some of the gags in fact are blessed with exquisite timing, especially when they involve Cerebral Paulsy (Tom Murphy), the spaced-out hash enthusiast. Not that its funny to see people do weird stuff on drugs; just that their response to stimuli naturally slows down enough to qualify as being comedic, especially considering the kind of situations these four guys get themselves into. The other two – Mo Chara (Allen Leech) and Scud Murphy (Ciara Nolan) – aren’t as funny but adequate in their roles as the ambitious lads looking to make a quick buck. Unfortunately the plots and sub-lots that run wild during the course of the film fall flat many a times. Unpredictability was what kept us on our toes in Snatch; if I knew beforehand that Mickey was betting against himself, I wouldn’t have had that satisfyingly stupid grin when Mickey’s friends blow Bricktop’s head off with a shotgun.

In Man About Dog, you can sort of figure out how things are going to turn out but thankfully it has enough working-class entertainment (like this one, for instance) to make this worth a watch. I never understand when people say “that film had a heart” but if it has anything to do with a bunch of nice enough people creating a fun, harmless movie about prize dogs and mad Irishmen, well you can fake breakdancing moves with your friends to its hearbeat. You’d also be well advised to check out Paddy Breathnach’s The Long Way Home and I Went Down, two great examples of Nineties’ British films. RIP Tom Murphy too.

Summer Scars: Extreme urban violence seems scarier to me when perpetrated by kids. Maybe I’m a closet pediophobic or maybe everyone should be working harder towards distancing their children from sharp objects and flammable substances, whatever that is, I believe that innocent minds when manipulated can have far worse consequences than ones already corrupted. That’s why films like Eden Lake scared the pants off me, as did a few others in the British hoodie genre. Julian Richards’ little indie film Summer Scars turns the tables on the hoodies. It transports a few of them into gorgeously lazy woodlands and lets loose a volatile drifter.

Richards has created a taut low-budget thriller that builds tension so effortlessly that we get caught up in the dilemas faced by its characters. Kudos to the younger actors for not going Haley-Joel Osmont on us and instead playing down their emotions as real kids would when they’re seriously frightened. Amy Harvey and Ryan Conway are especially good in making us care deeply about what happens to them. I guess, obscurity and simplicity has given them an air of genuineness that couldn’t have been taught in any acting class. However it is Kevin Howarth, who plays Peter – a volatile drifter, who makes Summer Scars a true stand-out in the crowded UK indie genre. He reminded me a lot of Paddy Considine in Dead Man’s Shoes; understated, intense and always a cigarette away from going completely nuts. Sometimes you even wonder if he really is a psychopath or just a serious man with shitty luck. The director cleverly keeps us guessing until a series of uncomfortable moments towards the end of the film. Also get your hands on Jacob Aaron Estes’ Mean Creek, a toned-down, but better-looking version of this.

Lake Mungo: Yay. Another ‘footage found’ film with plenty of chills! While neither as eerie as Christopher Denham’s Home Movie nor as tense as John Dowdle’s Poughkeepsie Tapes, it has so many wonderfully creepy things that you get sucked into it atmosphere. Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo revolves around the strange, sudden disappearance of Ms Arnold Palmer, and the spooky consequences that would have any parapsychologist frothing at the mouth with joy, but given that the Palmers are your regular friendly-neighbourhood family, has them scared shitless.  The best parts of the film creep up from behind during the beginning and the end, with an unnecessarily extended middle portion. The faux sub-plot of the resident psychic’s role in the haunting seemed a tad unnecessary too; much like the lengthy interviews with Timothy Treadwell’s plutonic friend in Herzog’s Grizzly Man. The other twists and turns are cleverly woven in, and like most self-respecting low-budget horror films, it uses the shaky, grainy camera angles to raise the level of suspense. Director Joel Anderson even makes Lake Mungo’s lack of originality ( it is loosely based on David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Susan and Leland Palmer, remember?) seem less bothersome by giving it a perfect ending. This certainly isn’t some Discovery channel-produced “Unsolved mystery” . Lake Mungo is a faux documentary about grief and supernatural longing that could beat the crap out of Paranormal Activity in a fist-fight.

The Lookout: Joseph Gordon Levitt is getting really good really fast. Ever since he starred in Greg Arakki’s Mysterious Skin in 2004, he’s been on a roll, with his portrayals of downbeat characters. While his performances in films like Shadowboxer, Latter Days and Manic have solidified him as an actor who’s both consistent and talented, in films such as Brick, Mysterious Skin and now this, he’s so good that I worry for him. Young actors who show signs of greatness tend to fizzle out and lose themselves in mediocrity. I can only hope that he bypasses the Christian Bale phenomenon and stick to what he does best even when everyone else is telling him, oh man, you can do that in Hollywood too.

In Scott Frank’s moody thriller The Lookout, Joseph Levitt plays Chris Pratt – a teenager who has his life turned inside out following a terrible accident. Tragedy, pain pills and memory loss turn this once popular high school jock into a bumbling, insecure bank janitor. Brick meets Memento, anyone? Even Levitt’s ‘sad puppy look’ works to his advantage because he expresses it through his eyes instead of pursing his lips down or doing something silly. The story here is that he is conned into aiding a local gang rob the bank he works for. Sex, money and friendship are thrown at him in exchange for him playing a crucial part in their heist. Matthew Goode (as Gary), the brains behind the heist and the betrayal, Jeff Daniels (as Lewis), Chris Pratt’s older, much blinder roomie and Sergio Di Zio, who plays small-town deputy Ted, are really good in their roles. Lewis is a big ol’ optimistic mongrel, Ted’s a saturated do-gooder and Gary’s just an  asshole, all very believable and engaging to watch. Isla Fisher, unfortunately named Luvlee in this one,  deserves special mention. She plays the morally ambiguous girlfriend character and has figured out how to channel it on-screen, almost stealing the spotlight from Gordon Levitt. Almost. As for the young man, don’t you dare play Dick Grayson…ever.

The Descent Part 2: Something tragic has happened in the independent horror film circuit. Jon Harris has made its worst sequel ever (at least The Daring Dobermans made no bones about being silly). The first part of Descent was brilliant like few other modern horror films have been; claustrophobic visuals, fascinating thrills and flat-out great storytelling.  This one’s as bad as it can possibly be. Redundant visuals, predictable twists and awful dialogues. Worst of all, the clichés, good Lord, so many of them in this, right from useless cops, angsty Aussies to a bunch of storyline loopholes and frivolous false alarms. It is clear the director has opted for The Descent Part 2 to have wider appeal, and it might have been understandable if it didn’t eat so much into what made the franchise so great the first time around. Even the gore factor doesn’t help matters since the audience gets precious time in-between the running, the screaming and the freaking out to admire anything else. It even commits the ultimate crime that a sequel ever could, cheaply insinuating that Part 3 is right around the corner. Avoid this like a Chuck Norris’ high kick to the skull.

Next up, Crazy Heart, Home Sick, Leaves Of Grass, Delirious and City Island.

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Gritty films are like fine Yak cheese. Tough to chew on and harder to digest. They make you phsyically react. You flinch, make silly faces, bite your fingernails and queasily throw away the popcorn. You indulge in grand soliloquies about how depraved society has become and worse, the extent to which art has become immune to it. Of course, once we are done being assholes, we realize how much we actually enjoyed the stark realism portrayed. Granted that Hollywood is adverse to such when they aren’t generously sprinkled with kitschy emotions, I get my fix from British films. Now maybe I don’t know better, but fewer lands have been prone to cultural nihilism than England. Call it a subconscious colonial hangover, but I’d rather kick a pimp in the groin in Brooklyn without provocation than ask someone for the time in a London subway (unless I’m in Larry Clark’s version of America). Their Punks, Mod-heads, Skinheads and generic beer guzzlers over the decades have seemed much more imposing than their American counterparts. Recently, word is that a new species of juvenile criminals – the hoodies – have been spreading a culture of mindless violence in the night streets of London; so much so that Guardian has written a very nervous article about their impact on British cinema.

Daniel Barber’s Harry Brown brings the sights, sounds and smell of this hoodie culture. Kids in jumper suits do the darndest things in this film. When night draws its curtains, they lurk the subway and desolate streets, knifing elder citizens, throwing flaming dog shit, and purging on drugs, sexual contact and random acts of violence. Michael Caine (Harry Brown) plays a widowed ex-marine at odds with these hoodies. A quiet old man who wants little else in life than a game of chess, a few pints and the memory of his daughter. However, a senseless act of violence against his best mate drives him over the edge as Mr Brown turns into a lone vigilante seeking vengeance against the psychopathic delinquents.

Truth be told, the film takes a turn for the worse from then on. Predictability looms large in the name of street justice and a tiny bit of melodrama seeps in the form of Detective Frampton played by Emily Mortimer. Hell, I didn’t even sit through the end credits, which personally for me, is a litmus test. Still, Harry Brown is going to end up on my list of the best films of 2009.

It’s simple, really. Michael fucking Caine. From channeling his character’s graceful sorrow in the first half and seething rage in the second, the man hasn’t looked this good since Get Carter. Even more fantastic is the transition that takes place midway. Only a truly gifted actor could pull off a Steven Seagal-like Judo move during a pivotal moment in the film and not look like a total jackass.

The other actors also do their bit to save the film’s descent into predictability. Ben Drew (Plan B) and the other hoodies are mean as hell and make you flinch with their lack of sympathy. I’d totally expect the little psychos in Eden Lake to grown into these types. David Bradley is brilliant as Len Atwell, Brown’s best mate, with his doleful grandfather eyes perfectly capturing the fear and loathing that decent folks might feel in a dystopian environment. Only the last few minutes of the film has the actors messing around with cliches as though they have been given clear instructions to make sure that the we reach for the tissue papers. Even then, Michael Caine pulls it off and spouts obligatory one-liners with such dignified grace.

Now look, unless the universe is sucked into a black hole and spat out inexplicably before the Oscar nominees are announced for 2010, the Academy would, in all likeliness, ignore Caine’s performance and instead choose James Cameron in the Best Actor category for having meticulously played “film directors” for over a decade. So to hell with them, Harry ol’ boy…grab a rocking chair, and sit your ass next to Walt Kowalski.

When Cameron thanks his mom and God for creating a film that technically requires no acting whatsoever, lower your shotguns.

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last-house-on-the-left-732058Last House On The Left: Wes Craven’s 1972 classic ranks alongside the likes of James Watkins’ Eden Lake and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs in its propensity to scare the living shit out of me. Much like Straw Dogs and Eden Lake, Last House On The Left is a slumbering beast that works tremendously well based on how real it feels to us, the audience. Most of us spend time worrying about the safety of the near and beloved; this fear is an inherent part of our humanity that indicates both maturity and insecurity. The trick, many tell me, is to not let this fear metamorphose into paranoia, but rather to let to meander somewhere around an aura of cautiousness. Wes Craven doesn’t make room for such comforts; this uncompromising urban thriller about a family terrorized almost makes you want to sign up for the next NRA newsletter. Despite the bloodshed and exploitative violence, the film packs quite a realistic punch; and like Ebert says, it has more in common with Bergman’s The Virgin Spring than with any other film that we could rightfully expect from Wes Craven. Google tells me that the tagline for Last House On The Left warned the viewers “to avoid fainting by keep repeating to yourself…it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie”. Well, that was a tad dramatic but still, what really, really makes the film work is the frightening prospect that one day, one of us might go through these ordeals too.P.S: I have not yet seen the 2009 remake, so I shall reserve my comments on it for later

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Wild Blue Yonder: My love for Werner Herzog knows no bounds and lately, as I had admitted to the dude from Seventh Art, it has indeed become an obsession. With his dry German-Hungarian accent proving to be a perfect foil for the stories that twirl around his aesthetically tortured psyche, most of his films have left me in an almost drug-induced state of euphoric bliss. Quite simply put, Wild Blue Yonder is a science fiction mockumentary done Herzogian style. In fact, every so often during the course of the film, I was reminded of the track Faaip De Oiad on Tool’s Lateralus album. It was a paranoid mess of a monologue delivered by someone claims to be a former employee of Area 51 over feedback noise that took proper shape every 20 seconds. The thing is, as absurd as the track was, it was also strangely moving in its ability to throw the reins on the listener and to entice him with surrealistic allure. Much like the song, Werner Herzog’s Wild Blue Yonder is a work of art that takes itself seriously for the sake of absurdity. The storyline chronicles the events that led an extraterrestrial from the Water Planet to earth and then goes on to facetiously connect the dots between Kissinger’s diving expedition, the Rosewell incident and a bunch of CIA-led conspiracies. Reijsiger’s original music for this film along with Henry Kaiser’s cinematography hog the limelight as they provide little pockets of breathing spaces that are very necessary for films as fantastically surrealistic as Wild Blue Yonder. Not So Fun FactBrad Dourif, the actor who plays the extraterrestrial is also Billy Bibbit from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

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Born And Bred: Sometimes I get the feeling that films get irritated with me. I can visualize them clenching their fists and looking to hammer blows on my skull for not admiring them as they are, and instead criticizing for how I wanted them to be. Pablo Trapero’s deliberately moody Argentinean film Born And Bred must have been sharpening surgical knives on rusty iron by the time the end credits rolled. The story centers around Santiago, a successful interior designer whose life is thrown out of balance after a really bad accident. From then on, he embarks on a thinly veiled healing process that has Santiago dwelling in the nether regions of self-destruction. Relevant Quote From Random Movie: “Self-improvement is masturbation…self-destruction is the answer”. I really dug cinematographer Guillermo Nieto dreamlike photography throughout the film and actor Pfening’s performance as Santiago was riveting enough to evoke sympathy, but the rest fell sort of flat. Now if Mr Pablo had condensed all of this within a short film that ran for no longer than 15 minutes…now that would have been good stuff. Hmmm I can see why films hate my guts.

Twilight: Trashing films is my least favourite part of reviewing. But strangely and not very unlike some really good cough syrup that leaves a bad taste in my mouth, I keep moving towards such endeavors. And well, for certain reasons, the readers seem to get a good kick out of it…so what the hell, here goes. Director Catherine Hardwicke’s monstrously silly movie about emo-vampires is so bad and so after-school special-ish that rumour has it that the director’s cut version of the DVD would have Mrs Hardwicke reading aloud a list of Schedule H drugs that she had consumed in order to convince herself that making this film was a semi-good idea. I swear, the creepy uncle in my old neighbourhood who used to beat the shit out of his son all the time had more subtlety in his pinky finger than this idiot director has ever had.

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The difference between Charles Manson and Marilyn Manson is that one of them sells violence while the other propagates it. Granted, Charlie is probably the more despicable of the two but one could argue that at least he meant it. Marilyn is a marketing guru, a half-baked vocalist who knew how to market anger and gothic art. The sort I despise…not for fictionalizing violence (that’s quite alright), but rather for taking away the depth of emotions that make violence a very, very frightening proposition. I guess that’s the problem with violence in art; there’s no subtlety to it. Films are certainly no exception.

2007021304410201The only problem I had with Ameer’s Paruthiveeran (and Raam’s Tamil MA to a larger extent) came about during the climax. Ameer is a fantastic director and I can’t accuse him of being dependent on gratuitous violence to force this brilliant film to linger on in the minds of the viewers, but I do think the climax could have been handled with more finesse. It would have been far more intense and gratifying (in a messed-up way) if Muthazhagu’s final torment was insinuated rather than just bluntly translated. Left alone to our imagination, the situation could have been worse for her and the film ultimately more rewarding (again, in a messed-up way).

mahanadhi-shobana1Even though a few Kamal Hassan films fall prey to this abject translation, Mahanadhi is a great example of insinuations being used to further the effect. As disturbing as it was, the scene involving Shobana (Kamal’s daughter) and the seedy businessman was pitch perfect in its interpretation. He sports a devilish smile, as she innocently looks at him with perhaps a hint of suspicion. He reaches forward and brushes off a morsel of food from her chin. She tenses up. Camera backs off. A cackle of laughter is heard. Door closes. End scene. In that moment, there was no second-guessing as to what happened to little Shobana but the intricacies that were left out made the scene more intense. Ironically, it is with subtlety that B-grade south Indian porn directors (not sure if there is an A-grade category) include sleaze without pissing off the censors.

Out there in the West, such parallels exist in shapes and sizes that are far more corrosive to one’s senses. Unfortunately, Jaws is as good of an example as one can possibly find in Hollywood. As much as I despise Spielberg, it’s almost stunning how much attention he paid to the little things that made it a classic. The big, bad shark was certainly in the details. In other film industries, fantastic films such as Eden Lake, Cronicas, Cache, and Orphanage take the road less traveled and partially portray anarchism, horror and even misogynistic brutality and then hint at something far more terrifying. It doesn’t have a name, of course. It’s that feeling which makes the audience question the level of brutality that they are capable of thinking of.

I will admit that a lot films had to be blunt in their imagery. I am not entirely sure how great films such as Requiem For A Dream, Manhunter, Pithamagan, and Audition might have turned out if the directors had chosen to be subtle. I guess it has to do with knowing when to wield what.

marilyn-manson_000784_mainpictureI crave to choose what I feel at the end of the film or during the course of a song. I sure as hell don’t need Marilyn Manson singing about horrific abuses that society has committed on his fanbase and then expecting me to raise my fists and join him in during the chorus. Alan Parsons Project’s Tales Of Mystery And Imagination scared the hell out me with mellow Seventies progressive rock. It’s in the details, I tell you.

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Not many films rattle me. Even fewer leave me searching for words to summarize how I feel about them. Pratap Pothan’s Meendum Oru Kaathal Kathai. Parthibhan’s Thendral. Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream. Martin Blank’s Combat Shock and probably Kim Di Duk’s The Isle. Each of them for various reasons ranging from Oedipal issues and drug problems to losing loved ones and sexual depravity. Last night, Eden Lake took the top spot in the list of films that left me staring blankly at myself while the end credits rolled. Starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as a couple looking for an idyllic weekend and getting anything but that, Eden Lake tapped into some of my darkest fears.edenlake-uk-poster-tsrimg

It would be extremely presumptuous to pigeonhole Eden Lake as just another slasher film, which torments the protagonists and leaves them bloodied, bruised and abused. The difference between this film and a million others is that the tormentors are children; and I’m not talking about devilish kids born to the seventh son of Satan. These kids are merely an exaggeration of a few of the critters that I have mingled with as a child. I bet you know one or two just like them too.
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The film manages to avoid the idiotic fallacies that one would associate with this genre. Hell, it even sidesteps the depravity that Oliver Blackburn’s Donkey Punch could have done without. And the actors put on a great show as they perfectly convey the fear that is seemingly omnipresent thirty minutes into the film. A special mention to the child actor – Jack O’Connell. Congrats young fellow, you have replaced Cochin Haneefa in Mahanadhi as the most remorseless make-believe character I have come across on-screen.

Even though it’s definitely one of the best films I have ever seen, I cannot bring myself to recommend this to anyone I know. Delusional or not, I imagine that most of my friends are pretty content with their lives or at least hopeful enough to look forward to something pleasant in the future. I am just not too sure if Eden Lake’s brilliance is sufficient compensation for the terror it induces. And I am not saying James Watkins’s debut is disturbing enough to leave you nervously peeking over your shoulder at every single family vacation from now onwards. I’m saying it comes close to doing that.

I’m not going to reveal anymore of the story but I’ll tell you this much…the climax of Eden Lake is the most frightening two minutes I have been through while sitting in front of the television. Maybe next week, I can bring myself to recommend it.

Brilliant, pulsating and utterly devastating…all in one breath.

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