Monday, 15 March 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings: Part 3

Life gets in the way. Because of this, my belated final post on the Glasgow film festival now comes in at a time when everyone is bleating on about Awards season. Such is life. Such is life. 

A Brixton Tale:

This drama of black fears and white tears is a low-level mixture of The Shape of Things and What Richard Did, with a touch of Nightcrawler sprinkled in for good measure. A Brixton Tale finds ways to get under the skin with some of its themes but also frustrates with its lack of connecting tissue and shrugging resolution.

White Youtuber Leah meets Benji in Brixton by chance and decides to make the black teenager the subject of her video documentary. As they spend more time together, a romance forms between the two, as does a cultural clash between Leah’s cosy middle-class life and Benji’s inner-city background.

One of the things the film does exceedingly well is to highlight the power of white manipulation of male black masculinity. From the very start, something is unsettling on how Leah not only quietly observing Benjy through her lens but how she subtly influences situations to her whim. All the while conveniently removing herself from the line of fire. Leah’s camera, along with insert shots of CCTV cameras and crowded mostly white rooms, illustrate the feeling of a black male image always under surveillance. Particularly via white agitators. From Policeman to even best friends. The most effective example is the contrast between Benji’s mostly benevolent temperament and how he is represented by the champagne-sipping middle class in an exhibition of Leah’s art.

The film packs a lot within its short running time, but this seemingly comes at a cost. The films final third looks to elevate the drama but buckles slightly due to the weaker foundations underlying the earlier half.  The film starts reaching with certain outcomes and revelations falling flat as opposed to feeling justified. Then again, there are at points a couple of moments that may ask one to suspend belief to rationalise a young teenage girl holding a film camera.

The Mauritanian:

With its impressive cast and heavy subject matter, The Mauritanian has its sights on gaining some glittering prestige reception. The fictional feature explores the true story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s, the titular Mauritanian who was held captive in Guantánamo Bay for years without any formal charge. It is a film that comes at a time when the events of 9/11 mature into its 2nd decade, and the after shocks are still being felt, if albeit less pronounced. It is certainly a subject worth looking into as America moves forward into the Biden administration, the shadowy detention centre still casting a huge cloud over each presiding government.

The film has a ton of moving parts and director Kevin MacDonald does a decent job trying to keep all the plates spinning for the most part. It’s helped with a cast of reliable actors capable of making material such as this engaging.

Despite the shifts back and forth through time, and some affecting moments from Tahar Rahim, an actor who really should be talked up more, never elevates itself into anything truly memorable. As a fictional retelling, it never has the pull of something like Zero Dark Thirty or United 93, elsewhere documentaries such as Alex Gibney’s Taxi to the Dark Side have talked about the dubious practices seen in The Mauritanian with stronger provocation. This does not stop the film’s final moments – now with the commonly used real-life footage – from being holding a certain amount of poignancy.

Against The Tide:

I was invited to view Giulia Candussi’s delicately told short documentary Against near the end of the Festival, and personally feel it is worth it’s small run time.

Simply composed and capturing its Scottish scenery beautifully, Candussi’s short account on a woman’s trial membership with a remote, self-sustaining communion away from the relentless pursuit of modern life is a quietly warming journey. Much like Candussi’s Back to the Roots photo project (found on her website), the film timely highlights ideals of simplicity and finding deeper connections with ourselves against our chaotic modern world.  A fitting finish to the festival.

Friday, 26 February 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings - Part 2

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this festival for me has been a more enhanced feeling of discovery. My excursions to the London Film Festival have so often been hurried trips to packed cinemas, watching the more marketed films a few months before they are released to the awaiting public. Films by popular filmmakers are filled up quickly, and while that buzz of watching such films never truly leaves, patrons such as myself who do not have the luxury of absorbing all the fruits of the festival must economise what little time they have.

Glasgow Film Festival in its current form has given me a far more open stance on viewing opportunities. Save for Minari which I labelled as a must-see, I have found myself making a lot of choices at random. Decisions based on little else than I have the time and the film might have only a solitary element which I find worth investigating.

It may be a female director. It could be that I have simply not seen a film from that country. Hell, it might just be down to the blurb on the website. Hell with one choice, it was all these things. Either way, I took a divining rod approach to things to see if I found anything that I would consider worthwhile.

Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time:

With a running time much more merciful than its title, this mysterious drama takes place in the gloomy streets of Budapest. A doctor travels from America back to her home country for a date with another doctor in a pact reminiscent of the end of Before Sunrise.  She finds herself dubiously stood up by the supposed love of her life. When encountering the man soon afterwards, he claims to have never met her before.

Director Lili Horvát produces an intriguing premise to get one’s teeth into, and the blurb on the web site make grand comparisons to Hitchcock and Kieślowski. Oddly enough, this drama had slight feelings of Haneke’s The Piano Teacher, although far less cynical. The film becomes a quiet study of the irrational risks that love can produce. So much of the film harbours the kind of tension usually obtained in a more violent thriller, however, Horvát is far more interested in the light cracking of neurosurgeon Márta Vizy’s (Natasa Stork) icy veneer than delivering an overdramatic psychosis.

Vizy’s decision to leave her high position in America to pursue the doctor opens a world of perceived irrationality. She takes residency in an empty squalid flat. She takes a position in the same hospital as this stranger. Her choices lead to her work being scrutinised in spite of being the best in her field.

Holding its cards tightly to its chest, Preparations works for most of its brief run time. Stork’s impassive expression often leaves us to wonder if she is lost her mind, or something even more insidious. The film stumbles slightly as it heads towards it’s fragile yet hopeful finale, but this doesn’t stop Horvat’s impressive methodical drip-feed execution of the story from keeping everything on tenterhooks.


The type of film which deserves to find its audience. Sweethearts: a coming-of-age story of a socially awkward, environmentally conscious teenager forced to go on holiday with her family to a Butlins style park, is not a film with many surprises. It is by no means a reinvention of the wheel. Nor does it have to be. Instead, Sweetheart is a strong remainder type of film that the British can do well. Taking advantage of its beachside location and filling it with a fun cast of up and comers and character actors, the film nails the anxiety of the passage of time between leaving childhood and finding the beginnings of post-adolescence.  It works because it does the basic things well. The closest bedfellow to Sweetheart is perhaps Submarine, while the former is not as quirky as the latter. Nevertheless, Sweetheart should be seen for its sharp observations, tender moments of drama, and generally being a good laugh for most of its runtime.


Not one to lie to my blog readers. Seeing this as a Sky produced documentary filled me with a certain dread. A niggling feeling that this overview of Tina Tuners musical career would be a rather flat, uninvolving affair. I was happy to say I am wrong.

This is a comprehensive and appealing account of one of the most electrifying black female performers of Rock and Roll. Beginning with her modest, church-going beginnings and her breakthrough RnB success with her abusive musician Ike, to her astonishing pop music comeback decades later. This film is a perfect introduction to the queen of Rock and Roll for the uninitiated.

One would find it hard to believe that the likes of Beyoncé were not more than a little influenced by Turners headstrong shimmying and powerful vocals. The archive footage that is shown is certainly infectious. However, this documentary, possibly at the subject’s own trepidation, cannot really do the passion without the pain. While all the elements within Tina were agreed to by the singer, the films most telling, and distressing moments are the affirmation of how trauma recurs and routinely inflicts its pain. The media near-obsessive desire to connect her career with her ex-husband is a chilling reminder of how the media machine situates its lens.

However, Turner’s dignity and professionalism not only outlay her as a performer, but it is also among the highlights of the film itself. Watching her desire to perform, along with her decorum throughout the low points of her career, it’s difficult to think of any modern-day performers who will hold as much grace in a career as long.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Article: Glasgow Film Festival – Findings - Part 1

With many parts of the world still in the grip of the pandemic, Film Festivals have been forced to reconsider how they function as a main cog in the industry. The focus is now heavily based on streamed screeners and zoom interviews as the main approach. Something that festivals were aiming towards for a small while anyway. However, the acceleration of this possible new normal has allowed a broadening of scope which perhaps had not been tapped into in previous years.

With Glasgow film festival having to adapt to the situation at hand, it has allowed the likes of myself – unable to travel up to bonnie Scotland – to be able to take part in the proceedings in a way that I would have perhaps been able to before. If the new adaptation is adopted and improved upon even further, the fact that we may be able to see a flourishing of diverse opinion provides a profoundly optimistic outlook to the world of cinema and film writing. One hopes that when COVID-19 is no longer a mainstay of our news and lives, such broadening of horizons remains with us.

The Toll:

Set entirely in the sparse but photogenic Pembrokeshire countryside, The Toll casts Michael Smiley as the quiet yet sinister Tollbooth operator whose shady secret from his previous life sparks a whole manner of chaos in a remote Welsh town. Ryan Andrew Hooper’s loads his debut feature with a hefty amount of local colour and oddball characters. The film’s cast is filled with solid character actors that help deflect the purposely fractured storytelling, which may or may not convince viewers. However, the main strength of the film lies in the wryly comic observations on topics such as teen criminals asking for Instagram engagement and English ex-pats claiming Wales for themselves.  British cinema could do worse than have a few more attempts at what this Welsh Western is trying.


While we may only be in the second month of the year at the time of writing, I would not be surprised if Minari stays high up in my list of favourite films of the year. Lee Isaac Chung’s tender drama takes place in rural Arkansas in the 1980s following a Korean American family moving from California to a remote plot of land, to grow Far Eastern produce for immigrant vendors. With its naturalistic cinematography and warm performances, the film is quietly disarming in nearly every scene.

Semi-autobiographical in nature, Chung’s film eschews the kind of typical racial conflict which one could have expected from such a film. Instead, Minari is more interested in the frayed family tensions that come from Steven Yeun’s Jacob overwhelming desire to make his way through the American dream. The film is not overtly plotted and does not have to be to deliver its emotional gut punches. A film that delivers a strong wind with butterfly wings.


A myriad of interconnecting stories which meld within one another, the Estonian filmed Undergods is an eyeball hijacker from a production design standpoint. The stark, dilapidated landscapes perfectly capture the nature of this anthology of dour tales which centre around broken family values, mistrust, and isolation. Spanish director Chino Moya starts proceedings well. Opening with a snappy, spiteful story of a splintered relationship being suspiciously invaded by a too-friendly neighbour.  

However, the film becomes a bit too self-absorbed in its bleakness to be fully invested. The film falls down rabbit holes, telling stories within stories and punctuates itself with moments of dark violence. But by the time Kate Dickie starts wildly dancing to Conway Twitty’s Lonely Blue Boy, Undergods steers into David Lynch territory, but with none of the engagement.  

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Review: Paradise Cove

 Year: 2021

Director: Martin Guigui

Screenplay: Sherry Klein

Starring: Todd Grinnell, Mena Suvari, Kristin Bauer van Straten


Synopsis is here:

Every so often, a movie will have me thinking about Pauline Kael’s seminal essay about appreciating great trash. Watching Paradise Cove, always makes me wonder what she would think of a film like this or the many similar features like it. These off the beaten track thrillers which love to highlight their gaudy wares at the expense of logical plot.

This is the sort of Yuppies-in-hell type of movie that does not seem to be much of. Inequality is through the roof. People buy homes less to live but to profit from. Late-stage capitalism has left many in despair. It is the perfect time to update Pacific Heights (1990). Paradise Cove holds none of the financial muscle of John Schlesinger’s movie, but it should not need to. What Paradise Cove has going for it is relevancy. Its dog-eat-dog story brings a certain amount of connectivity to an audience. To have such a topic thrown into such an over-the-top thriller is usually enjoyable.

That said, Paradise Cove is seriously lacking in the type of craftsmanship which could turn it into an enjoyable pulp smothered tale. It is a film which lacks the guts or coherence to be as interesting as it could have been. Hampered by poor pacing, cardboard flat performances, and a patchy narrative which needed to be tidied up in the pre-production stage it is a film which far too happily enjoys its contrivance. Better films can often have its audience asking the same questions that one may do here. But Paradise Cove is deficient in having the ability to distract its audience. It would perhaps be beneficial if the film had characters who worth investing in.

Watching a young couple being terrorised by a disturbed, homeless women could be an intriguing premise if the screenplay cared about any of the people at play. However, Paradise Cove is a place where every person is annoyingly uncompelling and profoundly unsympathetic. A couple who seems uninterested in the memories within the house they cannot wait to flip. They go up against a middle-aged vagrant, whose tragic backstory never feels strong enough to tolerate her causal slip into needless violence. The film’s habit of playing fast and loose with plot strands, along with some tone-deaf characterisation ensures that none of these characters provides empathy.

The annoying thing is when you have the likes of Mena Suvari in the casting roster, you should allow her to be more than a shrill, hysterical wife. It is a role with no agency or sympathy and some of the most egregious pieces of dialogue. So much of what this character says makes whatever plight this couple may have unappealing. Kristin Bauer van Straten has a better time with things. Her performance as a jilted housewife is at one which knows what type of movie this could have been.

Unfortunately, this is not about what the film could have been, but what the film is. Folks like me may get a kick out of the unintentionally humorous set pieces and plot points that seemingly go nowhere (that shower sequence does what for the film exactly?). However, for those who are looking for a thriller with more…well thrill, it may be worth heading elsewhere.














Sunday, 17 January 2021

Article: Giving The Shunt a Punt


During this pandemic, the wish of many has been revisiting films which bring about comfort and losing oneself in safety. I, however, found myself routinely absorbed in more disconcerting material. I have gone back to reading Pet Semetery and re-watching warped texts such as Society. Escaping the bleak into the realms of cheerful escapism does not make it go away. Staring at the abyss may not bring warmth but it has helped me push away that sense of complacency which can arrive in the face of uncertainty.

Society deals with one teenager’s deep pit of uncertainty. Billy is unsure of his parents. On the face of things, in the eyes of those without certain privileges, it is difficult to see why. Growing up amongst Beverly Hill’s upper class, Billy’s increasing worries over his parents and sister should come across as the kind of growing pains one expects to face if your hill has one tree, or your creek has a Dawson in it. Billy’s fears deepen as he slowly uncovers indications that suggest his family are not what they may seem. As a horror film, it is best to keep quiet on the gory secrets, however, Bill soon learns the price of privilege can cost more than an arm and or a leg.

There is a somewhat twisted pleasure in watching Brian Yuzna’s cinematic attack on the ruling classes. Even now 32 years on, as a sickly satirical horror film Society is still notable for slapping its social commentary right in the face of those who watch it without a hint of subtly. The rich are different from you and me. They see the world almost as if they are a different species. By the much-commented end of the film, we find how just how different they are. This is a film with no room for subtext.

It is easy to dismiss society as a film because a lot of the film's runtime would not look out of place in a bland 80's teen romp. The film has so much wrapped up in its outrageous climax that the rest of the film can feel off. A little forgettable. Save for some of the other more absurd visuals and hints which keep prodding us to the grand reveal. Charlie Lyne writes about the film’s ending as an extraordinary yet laments the films first hour as tedious. An unfortunate response as while the film’s opening hour rolls at a deliberate pace, it is peppered with crude and surreal clues. Contorted spines are witnessed through shower screens. Bodies disappear and are quickly covered up. The impassive reaction to the death of a school colleague by Bill’s parents is ominous, made bleaker in watching the current events at the time of writing in which a global pandemic has had politicians and talking heads make blasé comments about fatality percentages. Often because of their desire to kick start the economy. But Society is also a film about building to a crescendo. Its finale is a fountain of viscera, yet it means nothing without the build-up. The reaction to the apparent death of Blanchard is grim. His actual demise is a fate worse than death. 

At the time of writing this global pandemic has highlighted how labour outside the ruling classes has kept our current system functioning.  Elsewhere people have weighed up the economy in comparison to the health of others. Placing terms such as underlying conditions under disturbingly vague terms. Only recently Conservative MP Esther McVey made comments regarding “tolerable levels of death".  Referenced in comparison to costs in a way which would fit snugly into a rough draft of Dr Strangelove (1962). Such statements are stated with conviction to express seriousness, yet the blasé nature of such remarks come to be quite unpleasant when you consider the commenter to appear disengaged from the reality of the words. Something often stated about the comfortable class. The indifferent way those who do not worry look upon those that do. Something that Society enjoys toying within the most sweaty, gruelling way. Fuel for pleasure.

Society is so memorable because the metaphor is so blunt and yet so remarkably pure. Horror films are often great features to craft social-political subtext within them. Brian Yuzna does away with any idea of subtlety. Recent current affairs only seem to make the film more potent. Ryan Lambie notes in Den of Geek that the film’s title song is the Eton Boating Song. A piece of music associated with Eton College. A university is known for not only known for its elite standing, but also for the fact that both ex-Prime Minister David Cameron and current leader Boris Johnson were both educated there. Kieran Fisher remarks the dubious statements made by America's 45th President, Donald Trump about his daughter. They unwittingly mirror the incestuous nature of Bill’s parents towards their female offspring. 

Conversations over the one percent have been drawn into sharp focus in recent times. Billionaires made serious bank during a time of great trauma for many areas of the working class and a film like Society is not the first film to highlight the riches ability to feed off the lesser advantaged. But within the purity of the film’s message lies its relevancy.

Reaching comparisons aside, in the film’s text, the rich are just rich. You do not need knowledge of the Eton Boating Song. There are no party-political lines drawn, yet the incestuous aspect of the film brings around the feeling that it does not matter whose president or which party leads. Those who have can dominate those who have not. Despite more recent comparisons being made in this piece, the film still leans to the anti-materialistic cult films of its decade. Paired with John Carpenter’s They Live (1986) both make a potent double bill about the rich v poor era they inhabit. One of the most unsettling aspects lies in their protagonists discovering the hideous plot by the ruling powers, only to have their journey end in partial disruption, not completion. Both film’s climax with the secret world revealed, but not quelled. The film gives us a basic resolution to the plot but never imparts full closure.

The opening third features scenes which seem to imply that Billy paranoia is not false but has been blindsided by materialistic culture. His sister maybe favoured but he gets the flash jeep. There is an element of being bought into the culture. The film still resonates due to that point of view being still quite deep-seated in the current culture. As the western world glorifies billionaires while demonising lower-wage workers on social media platforms, ignoring the manipulation of labour which has allowed such an uneven balance between the rich and poor, Society still holds a sense of potency. We all have smartphones. We blast off whatever opinion about those we deem lesser than ourselves while those in the upper echelons feed off the exploitation. In Society, the antagonists of the film have been with us forever.  Still feeding and shunting. In the present, dark humour exists. Watching the space race between the Musks and Bezos’ of the world, it is as if we have modern-day shunters. Seeking a way back home after a long feed.

Do we need more films that play in the same satirical playbox as Society? I feel we have them. Both Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and US (2019) load themselves with similar sinister underpinnings. The death cult which inhabits The Invitation (2015) may not be as macabre in its dealings or as blatant with its targets, yet the film harbours elements of bizarre cult ritual which work well with Society as a double bill of the west of America losing its mind. One does hope budding filmmakers go back to films like Society and take notes. From its modest openings of late 80s cheese to its perverse ending. A finish which must be seen to be believed.  Society is a cult film for a reason. It is doubtful that a consensus will be willing to give the Shunt a punt. However, in a pandemic like which with the ongoing discourse of current events being what they are, it is quite possibly one of the perfect times to watch such a film.

Society is available on Blu-Ray

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