Blu-ray Review: Kamikaze ’89 (1982)

Kamikaze ’89 was the subject of a crowdfunding campaign that I supported vehemently on this site. Were it merely one of Fassbinder’s final films, it would’ve earned my support regardless; however, there’s more in the film worth noting than just that. This newfound exposure is definitely warranted. As Film Movement Classics was in the midst of restoring the film and wanted some aid getting it up on the big screen where it belongs. That effort proved this film did have an audience and it saw both repertory arthouse, physical, and digital release last year.

This is a film based on the novel Murder on the 31st Floor by Per Walhöö, which has seen a number of cinematic adaptations first in the USSR in 1972 and 1980 respectively both on TV, then in 1981 in Hungary, then this version in 1982. The plot ostensibly revolves around a murder investigation the machinations and convolutions of which are giallo-like but it’s the underpinnings of a system on the edge of collapse and the portrait of a society in an uncomfortable middle-ground between dystopia and utopia that give it its emotional resonance, and its melange of capitalism and communism food for thought.

As something of an anomaly in Fassbinder’s filmography, he did not adapt or direct this film, but was lead actor. However, one thing you will glean from Nick Pinkerton’s wonderfully insightful essay on the film (preferably read after having watched it) is that Fassbinder directed by proxy through Wolf Gremm, which can be seen in a few ways. So, if you know Fassbinder’s work it will still feel very familiar.

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The score is a trance-inducing orchestration by Edward Froese of Tangerine Dream fame (for more on that score the Blu-ray booklet also features an essay by Samuel B. Prime about it), bringing its eerie familiar yet vacuous other-worldliness to life was Xaver Schwarzenberger the same DP who brought Berlin Alexanderplatz to life. The film also features a small role performed by the legendary Franco Nero, and Fassbinder mainstay Günther Kauffmann.

Kamikaze ’89 does feature the minimalistic futurism of films like Fassbinder’s own World on a Wire or Godard’s Alphaville one wherein the implication of future happenings is more about societal structure rather than awe-inspiring technological advancements. This tale is also cloistered in as much as it takes place in and around one particular edifice and its mysterious and unfindable 31st floor.

This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.

Bonus Features

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Aside from the aforementioned essays there is plenty of added viewing including:

  • A feature-length documentary by Wolf Gremm Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Last Year.
  • And an additional documentary Wolf at the Door, a filmic memoir by director Gremm.
  • Feature length commentary by Regina Ziegler
  • Radio ads voiced by John Cassavetes
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Blu-Ray Review: Once Were Warriors (1994)

Film

Once Were Warriors was a one of a flight of films I saw at the dawn of IFC. It was one of the films that most marked me in my formative years as a filmmaker. It’s one of a handful of movies that rocked me to my core – in a good way. I was younger than one ideally should have been to be watching such fair but the upbringing of those who end up in film in one form or another is likely not orthodox.

As I progressed in film studies this film continued to shine as a true independent film. It was raw but lacking sensationalism, emotional while avoiding manipulation, a first nation film for the whole world to see, a film prizing honesty over spectacle.

In many ways it quite literally shined a spotlight subgenre of Kiwi film focusing on Māori culture. It paved the way for the works of Taika Waititi, like Boy, and subsequent films starring James Rolleston to get more international notice.

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An interest in native cinema helps but is not mandatory when it comes to appreciating this film, The film starts off by plunging us right into the Heke family’s life as Beth (Rena Owen) need to keep everyone together against great odds based on the sociopolitical barriers the Māori face in modern New Zealand, but those things are unique in their details only and become apparent as the film moves on.

Clearly with the centrality of Beth’s character, Rena Owen is crucial to the success of the film, and she delivers and emotional cascade that radiates throughout the film. As such Owen’s was one of the most decorated actresses of 1994-1995 earning Best Actress awards at the San Diego International Film Festival; Montréal World Film Festival; Fantasporto; Nominations at the New Zealand Film and TV Awards and the Chicago Film Critics Association.

One thing that the behind-the-scenes materials help to underscore is how casting Temuera Morrison as Jake was an unorthodox, due to how he had become well-known and his persona, but it most certainly paid off. On the one hand you needed him to be a violent brute when his fuse runs out, on the other hand you need to see the jovial charmer who could win everyone over, and be the kind who could keep a family together despite his best efforts to splinter every one.

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However, his and everyone’s success is due to Lee Tamahori’s vision he weaves naturalistic performances, heightened emotion, camera movement, edgy environs, and a rock music score to create a tale about a modern dystopian existence for a people whom once were warriors.

As one who went into this film for the first time completely unprepared, I’d recommend nothing more than the bare minimum and save all the bonuses for after you’ve seen it.

Bonus features

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As far as the bonus features are concerned, there is the previously referenced vintage 1994 behind the scenes featurette on the film. It starts with a disclaimer stating the quality of the film is presented as is, and there was only so much that could be done. The need for the disclaimer is understandable but I’d always rather supplemental features be included rather than not even if they’re not in the greatest shape.

Aside from that Film Movement continues its tradition of including a newly written essay from a film writer well versed in the film at hand. The brief essay on Once Were Warriors by Peter Calder is most illuminating, and best left for after viewing especially if the film is new-to-you.

Conclusion

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This Blu-ray is a must-buy for admirers of this film (which are numerous) and should be a rental priority for enthusiasts of foreign films, especially indigenous cinema.

Review: The River Thief (2016)

The River Thief is a film that tells the story of Diz (Joel Courtney), a street urchin for as long as he can remember, who was abandoned by his mother and has long since lost touch with his father. Diz is the kind of character one could see as irredeemable, as he steals to survive and has no qualms about it. His solitude and lack of upbringing make him socially maladjusted to say the least. His worldview is challenged when he meets Selah (Raleigh Cain) whom is the first person he he’s longed to be closer to and ingratiate himself to.

N.D. Wilson helms this, his debut feature, in fairly assured manner with missteps few and far between, as he builds a somewhat unconventional tale methodically that manages to surprise without cheating and with a minimum of tonal dissonance. Wilson is a best-selling author whose previous directing experience include book trailers for his own titles, and short films.

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There are large portions of the second act where there is a sustained betterment of the film, which is almost entirely unlikely considering some of the hiccups of the first act. This crescendoing leads to a powerful, unexpected climax that fulfills the allegory, message, and meaning that was merely alluded to at the start. Much of the cohesion to be found among at first seemingly ill-fitting tropes and narrative facets is created through the scoring by Eli Beaird and music by Tommy Cash, whose musical aplomb is on display in one of the films more heart-rending scenes; and the rest is tied together by the lovingly sumptuous cinematography of Andy Patch.

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Joel Courtney assuredly turns in his best performance since Super 8, due in equal parts to his maturation as an actor, the material, and his rapport with Wilson. Raleigh Crane matches Courtney with a vibrant breakout performance as an average girl equally struggling to understand her enigmatic new admirer and her grandfather’s willingness to forgive and reach out to Diz.

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The River Thief is a film that is akin to Diz’s namesake, St. Dismas –the Penitent Thief of the Cross, so named in the Apocrypha- any of its sins either of omission or execution can be forgiven because of the way it ends, its earnestness, and persistence in reaching its final poignant moments. The River Thief has not been rated by the MPAA but I would recommend it for older teens due to certain themes and scenes.

It is available on VOD starting on Friday, October 14 on iTunes and in select theatres.

Review: Theeb

This is a film that represented Jordan as an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language film at the most recent ceremony. It’s a film which concerns a young boy named Theeb going on a transformative journey through the desert. It’s a story that plays like a transplanted western cum coming of age film. However, it always keeps its narrative structure in the forefront and does not make these allusions to western film styles overly-dominant such that the film is hampered in any way.

The film tells a simple tale, which relatively devoid of dialogue and nary is a word uttered that is unnecessary. It’s not a film that is visual by happenstance but by design as it revels in lush cinematography of the sandy, craggy Arabian landscapes the characters travel through.

It is set during the War to End All Wars but avoids the convolution of that barroom brawl of entanglements that came with that conflict, and tells an uncomplicated narrative fairly far-removed from the main battlefields though the threat of the Ottoman Empire does lurk beyond the borders of the frame.

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Musically the indigenous scoring that works emotionally and in terms of placement is always far better than a homogenized score designed solely to create the illusion of Hollywood product. A stirring score and the use of vistas in fully-exploited widescreen frames make the comparison between this film and Laurence of Arabia understandable but it is a facile and overly-simplistic allusion. While the impetus for the journey is a British character, Edward’s (Jack Fox) need a guide, but it is indeed the boy, Theeb (Jacir Eid Al-Hwietat), whose name means wolf, who is the focus and whom goes on a journey wherein he fights not only for his survival not only for his identity as a Bedouin but for his human dignity and future.

What Naji Abu Nowar has constructed in Theeb takes two well-known constructs as a foundation yet still has the capacity to surprise and enrapture viewers from the world over. The universality is in the techniques employed while the story is one that could not possible move. It paints a portrait of a populous at a crossroads in time, which is independent of and complicated by the war in the world outside, when adding these turmoils and exterior antagonizations with fairly common to all difficulties brought to us in the dusk of childhood innocence and it creates a fully immersive, transportive experience.

Rewind Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

Introduction

It was hard to know how to categorize this old writing. This was a lengthy reaction piece, not quite a traditional review, that I wrote after viewing the film in my Films of Spielberg class. Part of why I chose to post it here is how it ends, which (scout’s honor) I did not recall until I re-read it, not that it takes a clairvoyant to predict Jurassic World, but it is longer for here roundabout 12 years ago.

Jurassic Park (1993)

Yes, it was the box office champion of the world when it was first released, but in a way I feel that Jurassic Park did suffer from bad timing as it came out only a few months before Schindler’s List. If there had been more separation between the two or maybe if the Academy viewed ’93 like they viewed ’00, Spielberg would have had two Best Director nominations. Although, I’ll always think it’s underrated.
According to Spielberg he got on the project when working on ER as a film script. Spielberg asked Crichton out of curiosity what his next project was. Crichton was hushed, as writers usually are. Then he finally gave Spielberg only two words: dinosaurs and DNA. Spielberg got it immediately and wanted to be the first to read it. Crichton agreed but he said Spielberg would have to direct. The rest is history. Sometimes you’re good and lucky.
The concept of this film is so tremendous I don’t know how everyone wasn’t out flocking to make dinosaur films of every and any kind. The only thing I think that kept people away were budget concerns. Dinosaurs were quite big in the silent era but then faded away. What a lot of people fail to recognize is that this story is so tight; it’s so well acted and flat-out well done. It’s unquestionably a cinematic masterpiece that is as grand as it is great and here’s why…
In Spielberg’s renowned tradition the dinosaurs are kept out of view early on, so we’re not bombarded. In many action movies people are moving around so long and so much that all focus is lost. We get taken into Jurassic Park very slowly, first we’re on Isla Nublar and the tree shake and we get a subjective shot from inside the dinosaur cage the handler gets attacked but we see no blood nor any “monster.” And in the very beginning the issue of responsibility, which is a theme throughout, is raised.

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We then move to an amber mine in the Dominican Republic, the globe-hopping Spielberg loves to do in the Indiana Jones films only occurs here in the first 20 minutes. The atmosphere and setting of Isla Nublar is huge in this film. The purpose of these scenes is two-fold being to introduce the safety questions surrounding the park and also for the exposition of the fact that two experts will be needed to approve the park. Alan Grant is brought up and we only learn that he is a digger.
We then move to Montana. We see Alan Grant (Sam Neill) on a dig, there’s an annoying kid (Whit Hertford) to whom he demonstrates a raptor attack with his 6” fossilized claw. This also foreshadows the very last of the dinosaur attacks in the film. Not only is that introduced but also the notion that the T-Rex’s vision is based on movement. It also serves to establish the relationship between Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). They are then visited via helicopter by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) he asked them to come to the island, never really reveals the true nature of the park, and bribes them by offering to fund their digs for three more years.
We then move to San José on the Costa Rican mainland where Dennis (Wayne Knight) meets with Dodgson (Cameron Thor) and we see there is a conspiracy afoot, in which, he will be paid quite a bit of money for fertilized embryos. Knight, best known for his supporting appearances on Seinfeld and 3rd Rock from the Sun gives a great performance as a the nervous, over-anxious, bumbling conspirator.

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Upon arriving on the Island, Grant and Sattler are introduced to Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) he provides a lot of comic relief and also has his own unique scientific perspective juxtaposed with Sattler’s knowledge of plants and Grant’s knowledge of dinosaurs.
This is without a doubt some of John Williams’ best work in scoring. It’s definitely some of his most melodic and well-placed work. The main theme appears at the right spots and stays in your head long after the movie is over.
We’re shown a sign upon arrival reading “Danger!/1000 Volts” which is another piece of foreshadowing. Another sign that provides a little hint is “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth,” which is draped over the exhibit of skeletons.

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Another great touch is its timing. It’s 20 minutes before we see a dinosaur in its massive glory. Spielberg knows this is what we’ve come to see and isn’t going to throw it out too much or two quick or it might get stale. After this we move into the plausibility aspect and walk the audience how it could and did happen through a film strip and a little cartoon character named Mr. DNA.

The film shows its intelligence when dealing with cloning whereas most films just gloss over the issues that might make it more difficult or simply changes a few laws of natural science around to make it more convenient for themselves. In Jurassic Park one of the first things we see is that cloned dinosaurs are born where other cloning films might make them full size from the get go. Secondly, there are gaps in the DNA sequences which are filled by frog DNA which comes into play later.

When walking in the park we get some information in the Raptors which actually shows later films have kept the series consistent in that regard. One place in which there may be an inconsistency in parts 2 and 3 is that on Isla Nublar there is a plan called the “Lysine Contingency” in which, the dinosaurs are purposely engineered without the amino acid Lysine and if they are not given doses through injection or in food they will fall into a coma and die. If this is the case, how are they still even alive in parts 2 and 3?

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Another clever link-up is first Dr. Malcom uses water to explain Chaos Theory and then cups of water shaking is the clincher that tells us the T-Rex is after these people. This only occurs 63 minutes into the film; this is not what one would call action all the way. Case in point, the big chase with Dr. Malcolm looking back at the T-Rex and the famous “Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear” shot, doesn’t begin until the 82nd minute of the film.

We’re occupied with suspense elements with the plot to steal the embryos and Dennis’ encounter with a Dilophosaurus. Coupled with the attempt to try and get the systems back up and running after the virus made itself known with Dennis’ caricatured image in the scene repeating “Uh-uh-uh, you didn’t say the magic word.”

A major element of fear that these dinosaurs cause is that these people realize that there is only so long that they can run and outdistance these beasts before they are caught. There is a lot of hiding. Tim (Joseph Mazzello) is forced to hide under the Jeep when the T-Rex is stomping on it. Later on he is hanging in the tree and they rest for the night perched on a branch. The same holds true for the fear we feel when the tandem of Raptors are after the kids, during this part we also see a genetic sequence displayed in light on a Raptor which is quite an impressive shot.

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While waiting out the night Hammond tells of how he used to run a flea circus and how he used to love to make people happy. He said he wanted his park to be something real but is told it’s the same thing because there’s no real control over the animals.

The situation escalates when we find the dinosaurs are breeding even though they are all supposed to be female. The explanation there is that the gaps were filled with frog DNA. Frogs have been known to spontaneously change gender and it has occurred here. Life has found a way.

The dialogue in Jurassic Park is just great and I could go on an on listing smart and snappy lines that are funny and/or thought-provoking but it all just works. In this film Spielberg yet again showed his unique talent for having people and things that come out of nowhere and just scare you. What cements Jurassic Park’s greatness is when the Raptors meet up with the group on the museum/lobby. This element of Spielberg’s greatness comes when the Tyrannosaurus Rex, while the Velociraptor is the breakout species of the film, T-Rex is the star – and saves the day by knocking the Raptors aside allowing the people to escape as the main theme chimes in with perfect timing. As the banner rains down the T-Rex gets into the perfect pose and roars. It’s one of the most personally pleasing moments I’ve ever experienced and it was the work of a crowd-pleaser and a true genius.

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What marks Jurassic Park the most is how it ends. In this respect, it understands its own modesty. There’s no corniness at the end of the first or the third, I’m trying my best to forget the sequel. They got away. That’s what mattered in the end. There may have been a lot going on but that’s about it right there, they’re flying away.

Jurassic Park is a classic film which succeeds at something very difficult taking creatures many people loved as kids and showing the scary side of them and having us embrace that too. The anti-cloning sentiment won out quite easily, but with the T-Rex saving the day we see that these creations are victims of circumstance and not so unlike Frankenstein’s monster.

Paleontology is a science I devoted most of my childhood to. It’s also one that’s full of new discoveries and theories which provide unlimited amounts of material. Just one example is that in recent years many paleontologists through kinetics and computer simulation now support the T-Rex was a scavenger and not a hunter as believed since its discovery. This is a franchise I think has a lot to stand on and a built-in audience and I wouldn’t be surprised or disappointed if it were to continue.

Review: Glassland

Glassland concerns itself with John (Jack Reynor), a Dublin cab driver like his estranged father, who is struggling to keep his life together and care for his mother (Toni Collette) who is fighting a losing battle with alcoholism. As things come to a head, he has difficult decisions about how to raise money to make.

This is a film that relies heavily on visual storytelling and strong edit that moves the story along. It never says too much until it has to. It sounds counterintuitive but to have a film communicate this visually is rather unusual in this day and age where video equipment nears ubiquity and dialogue is still as cheap as its ever been.

To paint your story in moving images requires sumptuous cinematography with tremendous framing, and in seeking to dramatize reality make lighting and compositional decisions that are as visually compelling as they are unobtrusive. That’s what Piers McGrail brings to this work persistently for 93 minutes.

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A close second to visuals in terms of priority in Grassland are the characters who have to be fully understood and conveyed by the actors playing them, and they succeed in spades. While there can be a debate on the merits of a story-based monologue as a useful tool for actors, there’s no question, however, that Collete’s monologue of the story of her life is one of the most memorable in recent memory; and a standout in a supernova of a performance.

Jack Reynor is more than a worthy adversary and provides a star-making turn of his own, which in my estimation means I will also sit up and take notice when I see him in another film from hereon out. He is convincingly the conscience of the film whom feels the burden of the oldest child to care for his mother when she can’t seem to care for herself. His journey is his own, but being selfless is invariably tied up in the fate of others.

One tricky maneuver this film navigates well is that that it does not genre-shift when criminal activity becomes more involved in the plot. Grassland persistently subsumes the criminal element remaining focused on characters, decisions, and visuals rather than explosive set-pieces.

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Also taking part in this ensemble is Will Poulter, one of the finest young actors the world over who never fails to deliver. In this film he adds another weapon to his arsenal blending in seamlessly with the local actors with his own Irish brogue, which also acts and a warning to those who may need subtitling assistance.

Glassland presents all its characters at a crossroads. It doesn’t offer easy solutions or even closure per se, just a close to a chapter but there is a glimmer of hope in some of the third act developments, and at times, in life as in drama, that’s all that remains.

Review: Boy 7 (2015; Netherlands)

Boy 7 starts with title that introduces the world wherein the tale takes place, and it undoubtedly reduces the running time of this film somewhat. It’s a film that starts in medias res as the protagonist regains consciousness in a crowd and cannot remember a thing about himself, then before he has time to think on it at all he realizes he’s being pursued by authorities, and has no choice but to frantically run out of sheer instinct.

The film is set in a dystopian future in the Netherlands wherein the government takes absolute control of people’s lives owing to the great need they feel for safety they willingly sacrifice their freedoms.

Based on a novel by Mirjam Mous it features a number of familiar YA tropes, which can be good or bad depending upon your outlook on the genre. The book’s popularity is such that its spawned two adaptations produced in Europe and released last year.

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One of the better aspects of a film dealing with a society that devalues individualism and strips these criminals of name entirely replacing them with a number as they are retrained, is that there is a small population in this world. The focus remains on Sam (Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen) who seeks to piece together his past through a journal he wrote; Lara (Ella-June Henrard) whose memory he tries to jog with certain passages and Louis (Yannick Jozefzoon) who helps Sam in his plotting.

The score by Jorrit Kliejnen and Alexander Reumers is effective at underscoring the action and bringing the appropriate amount of tension to the proceedings. The edit is tight and brisk in technical terms but in story terms it seems to be a bit too abrupt and taut for its own good at the end and deadens the climax a bit.

The invariable links and comments that this futuristic tale makes between totalitarianism and corruption are valid, however, the balance between the macrocosmic and microcosmic insight is perilous at best. Much like the society it seeks to critique it lessens the individuals making theme mere pawns, archetypes that are supposed to engender interest and devotion by default because our plight would be theirs.

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There are the bones for what is more than just a middling entrant into the YA pantheon here. Sadly, much like many of the films in this genre things get a bit too boiled down to reach maximum efficacy.

6/10

Review: Der Bunker

Der Bunker is a film that almost needs to be seen to be conveyed but here goes nothing; I will begin by quoting the great John Waters in saying “Get more out of life. See a fucked up movie.” This one definitely fits the bill, and not just because the Blu-ray features a pull quote that alludes to Waters.

Der Bunker tells the story of a German family who live in a bunker. It begins with a Student, who goes solely by that moniker (Pit Bukowski), who is seeking a rental that affords him solitude to do his scientific research, which is just barely more tangible than things volunteered by Bergman in Scenes from a Marriage or Tarkovsky in Stalker. Quite quickly Mother (Oona von Maydell) and Father (David Scheller) rope him in to taking over the homeschooling duties for their man-child Klaus (David Fripan) whom they have designs on making the future President of the United States. His haircut, comportment, and lack of geographical knowledge vaguely allude to slightly more ludicrous real life candidate.

The labeling of the characters rather than worrying about them having actual names is certainly a fairy tale trope that fits in to the absurdist tone that the film seeks to establish. Further plot details will be spared lest all the fucked-upness is spoiled for you, however, I can advise those who would venture to see this comedy that they should definitely expect the unexpected and soon enough you’ll find yourself understanding the odd rhythm of this world.

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It’s one of the first films in a while that have really brought to mind the eternal conundrum which is: “What exactly is good taste and bad taste?” The film goes to there so to speak and is not overly concerned with explication but more so with revelation in stages of a curious world.

The comedy of the film works in simple examples. There are some book titles read where we see what the parents have tried to teach Klaus in the past. The Student observing a lesson noted that he can’t even memorize capitals so more profound things like “What is being?” will have to wait.

Nothing this off-the-wall has no chance of working if the cast is in anyway off, and most crucial in that function is the casting of Klaus. It is quite simply unimaginable that any one but David Fripan could have made this film in anyway believable. In many ways it’s a stroke of casting fortune akin to David Bennent in The Tin Drum. This does not detract from how well the other cast members perform but he clearly is the most pivotal.

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Der Bunker is a comedy that’s great for a laugh but it is of the far-too-rare variety in this day and age that makes you think as well.

Review: The Mirror (2014)

The Mirror ought not be confused with, Tarkovsky’s The Mirror; or in the horror genre: Oculus, which is great, nor with Mirrors, which is not. While the title and motif does not smack of originality there is a bit of worth to find in this British fright film.

The first thing that perspective viewers should be mindful of is that it is a found footage film. Found footage as an approach is one that offers opportunity but usually is used as a shortcut to lazy filmmaking – laziness squared. The rare instances of brilliance and the attractive aspect of low budgets keep this approach popular but frequently uninspired. This film is not one of those.

The Mirror concerns itself with three London university students who are entering a contest where entrants are asked to submit videos of the supernatural. The best one receiving a cash prize. Thus, the setup for the approach but this film finds some interesting things to do with it.

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Being in the found footage realm brings with it some cursory tropes in the opening act that must be borne. It is worth sticking out the slow burn, the mostly unsuccessful comedy and improvised dialogue, and machinations of setting up all the film equipment.

Thankfully, this is not a film that is reliant on slight visions in the corners of frames but rather the performances of its cast. Jemma Dallender, Joshua Dickinson, and Nate Fallows are all excellent. Particularly Dickinson who is the first to be affected, and thus takes the mantle of the lead. The drama of this story, the boyfriend-girlfriend-best friend triad is at the heart of this tale, it is what the story’s motivations and reactions hinge on, and having believable and likable characters in the positions antagonist, protagonist, doubter, and joker is a rare treat for those familiar with the genre.

One of the usual holes that comes with the found footage territory is filled in after the fact. It’s not entirely convincing, but ultimately things stay quite plausible. The third act concludes with quite a bit of oomph.

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Most refreshingly of all this film succeeds by removing some footage leaving some implied supernatural elements but nothing explicit, all implicit. Another thing this film doesn’t fall prey to is that it goes for it. Too many times after so slow a build the audience is left with the feeling that “That just wasn’t enough.” This does not leave you shortchanged at all.

The Mirror doesn’t reinvent the wheel but explores familiar terrain with a slightly canted vantage point that makes it engaging and chilling in appropriate doses. It’s not as shocking a move as it once was, but it does succeed in part because of the lack of scoring on the film.

7/10

Review: Observance

Observance is an intriguing enough concept that is technically astute but big on making promises and also failing to deliver on them.

It is a tale of a private investigator, Parker (Lindsay Farris) who is mourning the death of his son, William (Gabriel Dunn), but also saddled with massive debt from hospital bills. Due to that fact he goes back to work seeking some easy quick cash, and gets a lot more than he bargained for.

A film so focused on visuals, with such wonderful compositions, so willing to play into the implicit pleasure of voyeurism; is always welcome. The flashes are well-conceived and -constructed. The framing, and camera moves are precise, some of the vistas offered as a break of the claustrophobic environs are breathtakingly beautiful. However, when the film finally does speak and offer morsels, it ends up being sorely lacking.

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The audio mixing/editing, in a rare treat, is creatively involved in the storytelling. As his subject, Tenneal (Stephanie King), scarcely leaves her apartment he can set up video surveillance equipment but not audio. This allows us to look with him and not hear for a while. His opportunity to set up bugs offers some wonderful suspense as he has to get in an out unseen. After the equipment is in the mix remains creative as the audio is imperfect and he has to try to sweeten & filter it to hear them better.

All this makes the Observance engaging to an extent but a film cannot thrive on technique alone, the story has to do most of the heavy lifting and that’s where the issues come in.

Plot elements and details, as well as horror touches, are sparse. This is not to say that to succeed in the horror genre an excess of details are required. However, more than a few salient points about the protagonist’s trauma, and even fewer about the purported mystery he’s witnessing come forth. The tip of the hat to Rear Window is most certainly not coincidental. However, what most voyeuristic cinema deliver is what this film fails to do: increase clarity and suspense. While some scares are delivered and some details are revealed the curtain is never drawn back enough such that the opacity,  it fails to reach out from the narrative miasma it creates and draw you in.

observance

This is the kind of film that is designed to get vastly disparate reactions it would seem. While the effort is greatly appreciated the lack of specificity it offers is too much of an obstacle to overcome.

5/10