“ANTIBIRTH” 2016

A contextual mix between Baise-moi, The X Files and Rosemary’s Baby (pray for it), Danny Perez‘s Antibirth is a horror film, which attempts to use pregnancy and sexual promiscuity as its intimidation tactics and that is it (It Follows, anyone?) The entire film seems as if it has no acts or resolution to the plot devices that come up as matter of fact; nothing solid is actually built to keep the viewers intrigued throughout.

We watch as two women get smashed while partying at an abandoned warehouse. Something happens, Chloë Sevigny shows up (I can’t help but picture Sevigny with Vincent Gallo‘s ding dong in her mouth; It’s a good thing I watched Zodiac before I watched The Brown Bunny) and gets it on with one of the two mates repeatedly being shown to us from a crowd of at least 200 people.

The party is a catalyst to the film’s half-baked attempt at body horror. We watch surreal shots of an old holy man meditating to fucking Holy Mountain (go figure); we watch an oversized Oriental gent wearing a red bathing suit and dancing like a woman on the television; inter-cut with scenes of scabs being peeled off the neck and fetal development, in dog years. I mean Lou (Natasha Lyonne) goes from a flat tummy to the third trimester in just two scenes.

Then we have a scary as hell, weird as fuck advertisement playing on the TV, again, with two mascots in creepy masks dancing around kids and inviting the viewers to join them at the ‘Funhouse Pizza and Bowling’. Another woman enters the film and she takes Lou to the same hangout (as shown on TV) and then stays with her till the ridiculous Gozu inspired end, where everyone, the whole fucking team behind Antibirth, jumps in to see what Lou has given birth to.

This one is a tedious watch with a ‘devil may care’ attitude and it does not work one single bit except when I had to turn my face away at the visuals of Lou extracting pus from boils on her feat and picking at her skin. That’s all there is to that.

I’m not pregnant, I’m infected.” Uh huh?

“CHILD 44” (2015)

There is no murder in paradise

If you want to experience some high grade, top notch, brilliant and ethereal performances, this is where you must stop before you proceed to the next film town.

Tom Hardy is a force to be reckoned with. His mannerism, body language, the slouched and deliberate walk is as ferocious as a calm hungry lion bound in a cage.
Gary Oldman gets to shout at Bane and Bane shuts up. The Count has yet again managed to keep his own in the face of the acting behemoth. Oldman was god once.

I believe this is the film where viewers get to experience cinema in all its thespian glory.

From Vincent Cassel‘s Major Kuzmin to Joel Kinnaman‘s power hungry and sadistic MGB Agent Vasili to Noomi Rapace, whose character opens up during half-time and changes the tone of the film completely, tearing the mighty Achilles to shreds.

A period piece, Child 44 brings the Stalin era to such life that it makes the keen viewer paranoid of Uncle Joe’s ‘Collectivism‘ in Ukrain among other provinces and his lust for blood and helplessness to doubt everyone. Also the fact that ‘Murder’ was strictly made to believe as a capitalist deviancy. If the parent denied it, they faced the firing squad.

Child 44 is a carefully crafted film with Tom Rob Smith‘s novel and the child murders of Rostov as fodder for the screenplay that manages to connect the farcical political stance and the inner turmoil of a man dedicated to the ‘Gulag‘ cause; the fissure in his resolve to serve the Russian People and safeguard the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from monsters everywhere; from the highest ranking officials to a derated surgeon’s psychological plight to Stalin’s words echoing repeatedly in the mind, forcing us to take sides: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.”

Once again, Child 44 with its grand execution and even greater performances is one of the best films to grace the cinemas in these times.

My gripe with the film? It should have been in Russian with sub-titles to implicate the servitude, even more and to raise the performances to a level where only Method to the Madness counts – and, believe me, Hardy is more powerful in this than the entire Marvel Universe put together. I guess that is one of the reasons it bombed, so did Alien at its initial release in ’79. Ridley Scott is a producer for this picture, directed by Daniel Espinosa (Life, 2017).

There is no murder in paradise” is a recurring theme/ideology (among the top ranks) that fills the film with so much tension that you need Locke’s (2013) voice and accent to calm the fuck down.

Picture courtesy: MovieStillsDB.com

A must watch.

“10 RILLINGTON PLACE” (1971)

John Reginald Christie: Won’t you come in a minute…?
Beryl Evans: Well, I’ve got…
John Reginald Christie: I’ve just put the kettle on.
Beryl Evans: Oh.

Before there was Hannibal Lecter, there was John Reginald Christie.

While watching the film you can’t help yourself but think of Anthony Hopkins whenever Richard Attenborough appears on screen. However, watching it after more than 40 years of its release, it is apparent that Silence of the Lambs, 1991 had more source material to develop Hannibal the Cannibal than apparent.

Although almost half a decade old, the movie is way ahead of its time with extreme, tight close-ups, moody atmosphere and the ‘always closing in’ direction of Richard Fleischer (Conan the Destroyer, 1984). All this helps build 10 Rillington Place; the structure (and the eventual crumbling of it) is fascinating to watch specially with the knowledge of the case-file. The performances are water-tight and repressed, adding to the sudden and horrific show of deviant instincts that pour out from the walls and drop from the roof.

The whole package is a treat to watch. The movie intentionally spirals out of control towards the end, which is executed with passion. Finally the film ends abruptly, showing a close-up of Attenborough’s pudgy, innocent face with unadulterated desire in the eyes. There is no credit roll; no ending score, nothing; just a simple fade to black.

It is effective but in those days the credit roll happened before the film started, so a technicality makes the ending ever so potent and it stays with you thinking that if a baby in 1949 went missing, it just might be that he grew up at 10 Rillington Place and learned all the dirty secrets of the structure and went on to become a PhD who couldn’t help himself when he looked at a good rump; animal or human.

It is sad that the movie is based on true events and what is worse is what was to follow in the real world. Bundy, Rominov, the Rose Family Murders (what are you guys feeding them?) and what have you.
In the end, it is a classic crime drama that sets its pace – on a tight rope – at just about the right time and then keeps the balancing act on for the movie’s length.

In one scene Judy Geeson‘s character says to John Hurt that he resembles Gregory Peck, he dismisses it laughingly, “… he’s seven foot three for starters!

A powerful, retro punch in the nuts.

“TOP 5 BOLLYWOOD PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLERS” (2013-2015)

5. BADLAPUR (2015)

Too poetic for its own good, Badlapur finds redemption in its supporting performances and director Sriram Raghavan’s (Johnny Gaddaar, 2007) serpentine direction, which sculpts the brilliant plot for the audience and simultaneously suffers customarily, mainly because of eventuating a screenplay that is unalloyed impractical and leaning towards the absurd, specially when the lead Varun Dhawan is unable to share the screen with not just Nawazuddin Siddiqui (the best damned thing to happen to Indian cinema after Irrfan Khan) but also Huma Qureshi (the best damned thing to happen to Indian Cinema since Tabu and before Nimrat Kaur).

Dhawan as ‘Raghu‘ gives a downright abysmal and dwindling performance, unsure of himself in front of acting veterans like the superb Vinay Pathak, Divya Dutta and Ashwini Khalsekar and damaging the mood of the film in the process; a film that has much potential but sadly does not even manage to walk the rugged talk of Siddiqui’s ‘Liak‘ (“Can you get me weed? I can think even more clearly.”) nor move adequately to the sizzling number of Huma Qureshi as ‘Jhimli‘ the prostitute, where she is not even trying to put fire into her performance, for reasons of plot contrivance.
Do keep an eye out for a exchange between Zakir Husain and ‘Liak’. Also pay close attention to Pathak as ‘Harmaan‘ and his gut-wrenching disintegration on the steps leading up to the bedroom. The sequences elevates the film to a entirely hinterland and masterful level of unadulterated thespian play.

Watch it for every time Nawazuddin Siddiqui graces the screen with his presence and the powerful dramaturgy we get to witness; also watch it for Raghavan’s brilliance that isolates itself from the ridiculous screenplay (although rarely) and rears its consummate-elegance head every once in a coruscating while; however destroying the entire disposition of Badlapur with a song and dance ‘end-credit’ where we see a grieving ‘Raghu’ partake of a trademark mainstream musical sequence, complete with disco lights and ‘Raghu’ baring a chiselled upper torso and cramming (what he thinks are) sad emotions in to the camera as the electric guitar blares out a progression of befuddled chords. Ridiculous.

‘Liak’ after putting on a pair of sunglasses: “See? I went to Bangkok.” Beautiful.

4. “EK THI DAAYAN” (2013)

The last time an Indian movie scared me this much was Purana Mandir, 1984.

Ek thi Daayan, 2013 is not without faults, even though with names like Sippy, Bhardwaj and Gulzar associated with the project, the movie cannot give us closure as a film, as an ending maybe; but definitely not as a film.

However the scary scenes eerily and witheringly transform the mood of the set-pieces and increasingly regenerate themselves into your worst nightmares.

I liked it a whole lot. Didn’t even skip forward the song and dance sequences because of Huma Qureshi. I mean she looks hot-iron-awesome even with those ‘zombie’ lenses.

It could also be the fact that the idea of witches has been scaring me senseless since I was a kid, about a couple a hundred years ago, or so it seems.

There’s a disclaimer at the beginning, which says ‘…this film is a work of fiction and does not stereotype women as witches.’

No? Really? Then why do the filmmakers feel the need to put it there?

3. “DRISHYAM” (2015)

This review may contain spoilers.

Nishikant Kamat directs this thriller as if for television. That is not to imply that Drishyam is not watchable. On the contrary the performances and the rock solid plot keep the viewer engaged to the very last scene, which, could’ve been cut short by Salagon’s character (Ajay Devgn) simply asking for forgiveness. The explanation is how the 163 minutes it takes for the direction to move the fuck on and keep up with the solid performances, including the supporting character of Inspector Vinayak Sawant played masterfully by Yogesh Sonam who fluently puts on a terrifying skin after he’s given off enough evil vibes to fill two films called Vendetta 1 and Vendetta 2. He’s that good. Stealing screen from Devgn is not an easy task but the inspector kicks and slaps his way through like a motherfucker.

Tabu is not here, she’s lost in a “Roman wilderness of pain“.

A must watch, nonetheless, if only to watch the crossover from South of the border.

2. “UGLY” (2013)

A missing ten year old named ‘Kali’ (flower-bud); A ruthless, tall and towering, suave, extremely well-dressed and groomed, angry, and ‘more disciplined than necessary’ cop, played by virtuoso actor Ronit Roy who is also on the extreme right side of the law and who keeps his wife imprisoned in their home and his pistol in an unlocked drawer (never mind), a woman who is addicted to prescription drugs and alcohol and on the verge of squeezing the trigger on a Standard Issue Mumbai Police Pistol, whose barrel is snugly fixed in her mouth as the film opens; a reckless and aspiring actor and by now (film-time) a hopeless shadow of himself, Rahul (Rahul Bhatt); his friend and casting director, a sleazy motherfucker who dresses all shiny and pimp and acts super suspicious, the brilliant Vineet Kumar Singh from Gangs of Wasseypur, 2012 who no one can trust, not even the brilliant and virtuoso director, Anurag Kashyap and an annoying at first, cop with a love for selfies and iPhones, the brilliant Girish Kulkarni, who changes gears after becoming part of ‘the operation’ and becomes one of the best portrayals of movie khakis. All of the above comes together and explodes on the screen with the acute and harsh histrionics of the actors.

A neo-noir, Ugly once again has the Kashyap stamp of ‘gorilla-style-filming’ and a goddamn maze of a plot where no body can be trusted, although from which, everyone can benefit in so many ways.

Kashyap’s direction is non-chronological, making the viewer feel as if he’s watching one too many scenes in a single frame, however that is not the case if you pay slight attention to detail.
Everyone knows how but nobody knows where thanks to the sinuous editing by Aarti Bajaj (No One Killed Jessica, 2011); editing thousands of minute of footage to make sense of, because Kashyap refuses to stop and expects everyone to keep up, and keep up they do at the cost of everything, even if it means getting beat up for real. The house/techno compliments the angled shots and restriction of space in a country that is running out of real estate. It also does wonders for slow-motion scenes that are not meant to be shot reducing the FPS on the recorder. However, it works like the clogs on a Baume & Mercier

A fierce thriller, Ugly comes across as impressive and accomplished and improvised for realism and good reason. The film also shows us the opportunist in all of us, from the grieving mother to her soft-core actress friend, Rakhi.

Ugly is based on a true story and it sends chills up my spine whenever I think of the ending and put the entire 128 minutes of the feature in grim perspective.

A must watch, if only for the steely performance of veteran actor, Ronit Roy and the crack we witness in his resolve as he slouches in his seat after disconnecting a call.

1. “TALVAR – ALT. TITLE: GUILTY” (2015)

Ashwin, you have thirty two days to clean the rust off the sword

CDI Cheif Swamy (Prakash Belawadi) says these words to Detective Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan) as the cop takes small sips from a bottle covered in a brown paper bag and eats his spaghetti at a shabby, over-crowded road side restaurant and the Chief settles for tea. The sword he refers to is the one ‘Lady Justice’ carries in her right hand – the word ‘Talvar’ meaning ‘Sword’ in Hindi; although the English title for the film is ‘Guilty‘.

Talvar is based on the 2008 real-life murder of a fourteen year old girl, Aarushi Talwar that made waves in the media and spread panic among the middle-class community of Noida, Uttar Pradesh in India.

During the early hours of March 16th a double homicide was committed at the residence of the Tandon’s (actual name The Talwars) in a busy neighborhood of Noida. After discovering the 45-year-old servant Hemraj’s lifeless body on the roof, the domestic help was written off as a suspect. Immediately after, the pining investigative eyes all turn to the Physician couple and the parents of Shruti, Doctors Ramesh (Neeraj Kabi) and Nutan Tandon (Konkona Sen Sharma).

Aray sir (Oh sir), this is ‘Open/Shut’ case sir; yes sir… Case solved sir

After the initial, sloppy, incompetent, circumstantial, at best, investigation by the UP Police, led by the brilliant actor Gajraj Rao who plays the dismissive, tobacco chewing Inspector Dhaniram and whose phone keeps blaring vulgar songs whenever it rings at most inappropriate times/visuals; the case file is handed over to the decorated detective Ashwin Kumar (Irrfan Khan), a man who is in the middle of his own mid-life crisis and takes over the case reluctantly, all along playing Flash games on his mobile phone. Once the CDI enters, the evidence starts to change and many other suspects come to light.

Meghna Gulzar (Hu Tu Tu, 1999) directs her picture with the hustle bustle of a police station, she recreates the murder scenes as the investigators build different scenarios as more evidence surfaces. She lets Irrfan Khan do what he does best, however the trademark outbursts are few and far in between.
Gulzar uses intricate dialogue by the gifted Vishal Bhardwaj (Haider, 2014) to consort her sparse direction and wide-framing of shots, combining razor sharp wit with ground realities of a Police Investigation in a Third World Country, until Detective ‘Free Games’ shows up wearing Nicholson shades (that keep sliding off his forehead on to his nose); sporting a Sanchez and blends into the character’s quirks from the very first frame.

Khan is electrifying and his investigative techniques a tad bit debatable; he brings a sense of reason to the entire untrustworthy narrative of the film; the source material, which had all the potential to blow up in the face of a lesser director. Then there’s someone who lights up the screen with her small cameo and brought a smile on this preacher’s face, the ravishing Tabu (Maqbool, 2003) as Mrs. Reema Kumar, who wants a ‘trial separation’ from her infidel detective husband, not that she is faithful to him either; and when she confesses to that part, in court, I could not help but fall for her even more. Oh, Tabu, Tabu.

Talvar could’ve been more watertight; for instance the servant quarter placement is too convenient for a plot contrivance. Yes it was like that in real life but this is a film. We watch films to escape reality.

The characters are built upon at every new lead or revelation, the performances from some of India’s greatest actors really help the film from getting where it is (starting by becoming part of Toronto International Film Festival’s Special Presentations). The DP is just right at day time and when the sun goes down, the colours change, the mood changes, the atmosphere becomes soaked in moonshine.

At 132 minutes, Talvar does a tremendous job of showing all sides of the story, even going to the extent of reanimating and reviving the vital testimonies as set-pieces that play out differently each time with the same actors and the same location. Even then the mood keeps changing from confused to convinced to doubtful, again. This film means business, it wants to get to the bottom of the bloody mess, but there is a underlying theme running throughout that makes you wonder if the rust can actually be taken off the sword?

The third act shows us bureaucracy, farewell parties, a drunk ex-CDI Chief, who does not chew his words for shit. It also determines that Detective Rapid Fire (this guy is a wit machine) has become emotionally affected by the case and his separation and the fact that the case be given to an entire new team, dismissing all prior evidence. The screenplay also approaches faux-relief since the detective’s personal life seems to be settling down.

However, the best scene of the film is a sequence where all the big wigs of the law agencies are sitting together and presenting their cases to the CDI Chief/Director with opposing hypotheses. Here we watch an actor on the top of his game cutting the serious conversation with his razor tongue and Sherlock Holmes-type instincts. Khan does not raise his voice nor does he get angry, he keeps laughing, checking his phone for the high-score, and keeps refuting and dismissing the case put forward by the new person in-charge, Detective Paul (Atul Kumar) and his boss JK Dixit (Shishir Sharma).

The scene is soaked in dry-humour, controlled emotions, dialogues that cut you in half and also bring a smile to the face. It is a scene that can be studied for its composition and the way the characters interrupt each other in a light-hearted manner in a very big hall, with each of them knowing that this is no laughing matter but if they don’t laugh, all of them will go crazy.

Talvar is a cinematic tour de force, it is highly engaging and above all a winner in achieving what it sets out to do. Even though the viewer is aware of the outcome, Gulzar keeps us guessing till the end and if that isn’t enough to be called a triumphant directorial venture I don’t know what is.

Tabu is so lovely. Oh my sweet Lord, she is so alluring, irresistible. I think the kids should make way for the queen once again; the only problem being Tabu is a little cuckoo in the head, just check out her body of work to get an idea.

If there isn’t a reason to leave, there isn’t even a reason to stay.”

 

“EVILENKO” (2004)

By far the most uncanny and a highly conspicuous portrayal of a madman by another madman in a film filled with madmen.

Loosely based on the The Rostov Butcher, Andrei Chikatilo; who sent a high charge of carnage and bloodshed in to the nerves of a theoretically divided USSR, sending the Communist Party members and members of the Soyuz sotsial-demokratov, both, in a state of utter shock and hair-tearing frenzy. One mutilated body after another was discovered in forestation around the areas of Keiv, Rostov, Oblast and other parts of Ukrain. This was a time when the Russians had to chose between the Collectivization of Lenin, the state-terror and the Great Purge of Stalin and eventually the Brezhnev Doctrine by Gorbachev, during the Cold War. In the midst of the seemingly unrelenting political and ideological unrest, one man came out of a poor neighbourhood in Rostov. A teacher, a scrap metal sales-person, a frequent presence at the railway stations around Rostov and other major stations.


The KGB and the Secret Intelligence of the Perestroika Regime were unable to capture the killer for twelve years. The brutality and the frenzy of murders and the rising body count, eventually convinced the authorities to involve the KGB. Plus their desperation to catch the madman also drove them to seek help from one of the first Serial Killer Profilers in Russia, Dr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky.
The Kremlin even went as far, in a preposterous (for Russian authorities), attempt to contact the FBI in their desperation to catch the Red Ripper. Charged with Fifty Six murders (discounting those committed before 1978, that Chikatilo refused to speak of), the trial of the monster would turn in to a media circus with a crazed and hyperventilating Chikatilo, kept in a cage for his own protection. The madman had mostly killed children in the most harrowing ways ever. Multiple stab wounds, ligature marks, chunks of flesh bitten off, sexual organs consumed for some ‘fuck for peace’ reason – it probably had to do with Lenin’s Totalitarian policies, which left the peasants hungry and resulted in a famine, forcing the survivors to feed on the flesh of their own relatives.


Of the many footage I have watched of Chikatilo, he always appears to be talking to himself and then stops suddenly to stare at his victims’ families and his persecutors only to disrobe before a courtroom filled with grieving families of the victims.

Malcolm McDowell becomes the Butcher of Rostov. The film has an extremely powerful and deeply disturbing opening, thanks to him. His mannerism, the limp, the Carpal tunnel syndrome that makes his hand bend at the wrist and above all Alex’s facial contortions and those fish tank sized glasses make this actor portray the serial killer in all his depravity and the mass confusion on which the violent and false ideologies had taken shape over the years. Caligula is shown picking up young girls and boys from within inter-city trains or bus-stands, using his skills of a teacher (a profession he once belonged to), culling them and taking them along on their final rides to the crime scene, with promise of ‘imported chewing gum’ or by scaring them of their own parents, telling them the folks just do not give a shit; instead they should visit his ramshackle wooden structure to spend some time with a grandfather type.

Marton Csokas (Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, 2014) is the only other actor who comes close to the brilliance and contaminated and misconstrued yet sublime histrionics of McDowell. I believe McDowell is one of those actors who just want to put their demons on to the screen, no matter what the price. It could be obsessive, however it is always intriguing if not great, even if it’s Michael Myers he is after.


A chill goes up the spine and straight to the brain as we watch Evilenko stare in to the camera making faces while trying to relive his morbid experiences. That one shot, among many from the film, is by far the creepiest I’ve ever watched on film.

The viewer can also feel that the film is being led by the two actors and not director David Grieco (his first feature), however Grieco does a tremendous job of translating the horrific tale on to the screen, albeit flawed mainly because of being lost in translation (ironic) – in places – and failing to motivate some of the other vital actors to even attempt to act or speak their lines convincingly. Never mind, one look at Dr. Sam Loomis and you’ll be wishing this was a fabrication of an imaginative mind and not events that actually unfolded in Cold War Russia; and went unnoticed because of the tight-ass bureaucracy.

There are other films that directly deal with the case file, Citizen X, 1995 with Donald Sutherland and Stephen Rea and Jeffrey DeMunn as the serial killer with erectile dysfunction. Unfortunately, DeMunn played the character to a lonely (maybe dirty) old man who may have been responsible.
Nah, he’s too innocuous for that.

The nature of his crimes is such that it makes for some excellent and dark source material, with another film dedicated to Andre Chikatilo Child 44 starring Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman as the KGB. Shit just got serious ladies and gentlemen.

Seems like Chikatilo never died of that single gun-shot wound to the back of his ear (a Russian execution style for most death penalties) in 1992. Instead, as each generation goes by the people of this world are reminded of other people who are a little too human.

A must watch for McDowell and the interrogation sequence.
I’m still reeling from the watch (read McDowell’s performance).

Goodness!

“CACHÉ” (2005)

This review may contain spoilers.

Ed: “Do you own a video camera?”

Renee Madison: “No. Fred hates them.”

Fred Madison: “I like to remember things my own way.”

Ed: “What do you mean by that?”

Fred Madison: “How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.” – Lost Highway, 1997

 

I think I just got hit by a truckload of symmetrical framing, with lengthy shots and lingering camera and close to static characters (except Juliette Binoche) with superbly mystifying performances, perhaps to augment the style of Michael Haneke‘s satirical, darkly cynical working methods.

I think my boat just collided with a ship-load of inquiries that went unattended. But that does not mean my boat did not crash into another vessel full of strange, dead fish, something like what you’d find when you search for images on the internet for ‘Mariana Trench’. There is enough depth to drown an Everest and one-quarter; and nobody knows all the answers yet, maybe not even five percent of those. Like, who was behind the camera and the chicken drawings?

Having been called the best film of the 2000’s, Caché demanded that I pay full attention to every little detail from the first rule-breaking and swimming instructions to the hardly noticeable staircase encounter right at the end. Which I believe says a lot about who was filming the Laurents. It could be the subconscious as in Lost Highway, 1997, where Lynch uses VHS tapes to baffle us and Minority Report, 2002 where the ‘Precogs’ relay images to the futuristic cops. It could be Georges (Daniel Auteuilhimself or Pierrot or Majid’s son and Pierrot. Speaking of Majid, the scene is penultimate in engaging the viewers; the way it does. Everyone knows what scene! The number one spot would always go to Kubrick until they could somehow make the movies smell.

Anyhow, so on the one hand we have an intense film by an even more intense visionary with highly motivating and suspenseful compositions and dialogue that hints at the delayed but collective apology for the “Paris massacre of 1961” – even more reason to believe the Lynchian Tapes are in full effect here.

On the other hand we have a slow paced, rarely changing places or scenes and camera angles to avoid distorting the attempt of looking out the window at night followed by what Ebert calls the “smoking gun” scene; a single take manoeuvring its way through the childhood home of Georges Laurent and closing in on the disease, which may or may not be; memory is a tricky, picky thing. We have the long run-time and longer takes, which just might tug at you every now and then to check the time on the player.

I will re-watch it, if only to relish and be saddened at the same time by the POV of young Georges, towards the end and the frightened yet determined protests of one child, far away. That scene will keep me conflicted until I can manage to accommodate that as well and not have sleepless nights anymore.

A must watch

“THE ZERO YEARS” (2005)

What was supposed to be a true hand-to-heart scornfully dejected account of four government handled Greek prostitutes comes across as a vain, indolent, high brow artsy softcore porno by the neo-noir transcending, experimental artist Nikos Nikolaidis.

Overflowing with Nikolaidis’s trademarks like the mental and sexual disorder in this situation, the symbolism in the film is placed with lesser judgement using nudity, desolate set-design and audacity to appease the peer-auteurs, perhaps.

Blending film noir, where most characters are people who like to remain hidden behind shadows, walls, inside rooms and plain old existentialism, Nikolaidis seems to be working towards something that does not transpire, even marginally, even for all those hard-hitting and brilliant albeit unusual parables he is known to have carried the burden of – but not in The Zero Years, where unconventional themes are run down in plain sight.

The actors’ isolation is not effective enough, the anti-sex message is lost somewhere in between raw eggs being smashed on bare breasts, a leaking roof and superimposed imagery.

No love lost.

I cannot imagine comparing this film with Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), like how most are convinced.

“BETHANY” (2017)

Two things caught my attention as soon as I pressed play; the almost delightful, ghost-like, teleportive editing by Bobby K. Richardson that gives away the influences on, and the supposed passion of the filmmakers and the genuinely unnerving jump scares that make the viewers shift in their chairs; I was laughing at myself at times as an innocent enough ‘discovering an old piano’ sequence managed to startle the daylights out of me. However, sadly, that is it; both things noted above are pretty decent in isolation but do little to alleviate the film from a certain pedestrian level. The mundane tone of the film refuses to leave, even when a middle-aged Shannen Doherty shows up in character and an oversized top. Doherty as Susan the mum is intimidating in her psychosis and relentless in spewing hate all over the set whenever the camera closes in on her.

With a peculiar enough opening, which reminded me of A Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984 with its dutch angle zoom and symmetrical panning of a suburban house; the unwinding, vanity box tune; the fingers stretching the fabric of the wall; how the camera lingers on a single object, a door, in the room for hours it seems, without a substantial pay off. The Shining, 1980-like shot of a car maneuvering the serpentine mountain roads. It could be from Desperate Hours, 1990 for all the escapism in the world & as mentioned, for the ascendancy by virtue of borrowed works with even a semblance of predominance, but fails to add intrigue to the placid atmosphere of the film, which struggles hard throughout the ninety minute run time, despite the geography being carefully set and explained to the viewer in little doses of suspicion caused by a simple request.

Director James Cullen Bressack (Hate Crime, 2012), it appears, would like to spell the entire feature for its audience without making them wanting to think for themselves. This, again, results in an experience, which is mundane and rises a little in its credence of a horror picture only with its jump scares and a somewhat disquieting ending. The spoon-feeding gets to a point when the viewer is unabashedly made to wonder about guilt trips, beauty pageants for kids (similar in its essence to a real-life tragedy: the murder of Little JonBenet Ramsey in 1996) and a Penguin-like (of Batman Returns, 1992 fame) abandonment, and finally mental illness; the sure as hell shot at stigmatizing and making the keen viewer weary of conditions like manic depression, bipolar and suicidal ideation. But you see, here Bressack points all fingers to an unknown entity; an arm is slit vertically, a throat is slashed without thinking twice, all because ‘she made me do it’. Then there’s also a ragdoll in there, somewhere. A living breathing ‘Pinocchio goes to Japan and meets Samara’ doll with a Venetian mask stitched to her face. Ouch. Speaking of which, a sequence that hints at nudity unfolds in an anomalously unexciting manner: BAM, almost boobies moment followed by, BAM, face-off moment, BAM, threads coming out of face moment, BAM, scare imported from Japan moment. There comes a point when the film is all over the place, unable to move.

Bethany could have become a bonafide lost cause had it not been for the seriously creepy spoon trick – close up of the mouth as two characters eat breakfast and insects; we are shown a man making a mess by eating cereals with his mouth open, the crumbs stuck to the sides of his lower face and Doherty, who is evil now in a chronology gone to the dogs and then she plays a piece on the Grand. Plus, the ending (all six minutes of it) manages to elevate the film a little with its rabbit hole, constrained places that become even more claustrophobic as our damsel in supernatural distress enters a tunnel (covered in Blair Witch drawings of a child) leading to a crawl space and a sequence that actually works in what it sets out to do. Having said that, Bethany is not bold enough to carry a jump-scare through; it just leaves you high and dry. Well, if don’t count the piano sequence and how it lurches at the viewer, taking the ‘dry’ out of the equation. Yes, it is effective but segregated from the rest of the film, which precariously borders on unremarkable or downright boring.

Crazy chick Claire (Stefanie Estes) inherits a fortune as soon as she is discharged from the psyche ward, followed by an age-old, hackneyed cliché of ignorant but loving husband (the Uwe Boll regular, Zack Ward) not understanding or not willing to embrace his cuckoo wife’s claims, just for the heck of it, even when over-the-top actor; psychiatrist Dr. Brown (not that Doc Brown) played by Tom Green with a goatee comes into the picture with questionable acting chops that made me extremely suspicious of director Bressack also being in-charge of the casting.

All said and done and watched, Bethany is a below average film with moments of pure terror (mostly borrowed but terrifying nonetheless) and a final act that should have offered more than what this pilgrim had already predicted sixteen minutes before the big reveal. James Cullen Bressack really shocked and terrorized us with Hate Crime, here he seems to have gotten lazy or uninspired or both; and I do understand that working on a budget with a has-been (or never quite were) bunch of actors would’ve been tasking but that should not be in any case an excuse to manhandle what looked like a decent budget allocation.

From Brilliant Screen Studios and Grit Film Works and distributed by the B-grade powerhouse, Uncork’d Entertainment; Bethany is not entertaining nor scary if you take out the occasional, out of context jump scares and the daunting ninety minute run time.

Bethany hits theaters on April 7th.

“MISS VIOLENCE” (2013)

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” – Buddhism Quote

Yet another Greek import, Miss Violence although bland looking like its contemporary from four years earlier, Dogtooth (2009) is boiling with dysfunction below the mundane surface.

A family prepares to celebrate the birthday of a melancholic, eleven year old Angeliki (Chloe Bolota). They bring out the cake, take photographs, put on lively music. The scene should have come across as cheerful. Instead, the washed out colours, the slow pace with which the camera follows its subjects in long single takes; lingers on its perfectly framed subjects and the feeling that everything is not all sunshine in this household end up making the viewer uncomfortable. And the fact that the synopsis, everywhere, gives away the first plot contrivance. A scene made highly distressful by a wide-angle shot of a girl sitting on the balcony railings. And one other element that hammers the reality in, with Angeliki doing a little something startling before she jumps while the festivities continue in the back.

“Where’s Angeliki?”

Director Alexandros Avranas, does not give away the character quirks right away. He lets them build through the performances of the remaining household members. The mother who is under a regiment of pills that keeps her psychosis from blowing all over the place; the brooding elder sister who takes a ride to and from her school with Father (Themis Panou), who parks his car under a bridge, every time, after picking her from school.

Elini “the mother” (Eleni Roussinou) seems to have suffered from severe trauma even before her daughter committed suicide. Director Avranas’s direction is smooth and flows like a calm river, while the undercurrent threatens to take everything away to a very dark place. He reveals the plot to us in small dosages, mainly through silent shots and with moments of (almost) breaking the fourth wall. Thus making the film materialist and constricting our vision.

The anticipation of it is ripe in our heads and just when a crack appears, Avranas moves the camera from the subject, or the actor shies away. The scenes don’t fade to black, the frame just suddenly becomes pitch black with no translucence to let the previous frame/scene fade away. The sudden death editing by Nikos Helidonidis is one of the reasons the audience remains divided until the third act, or a little before that.

Grandmother (Reni Pittaki) seems intentionally oblivious in the face of blatant abuse of power. Her character seems docile but when its her turn to look us dead-in-the-eyes (with the use of clean-slate framing), she does it just enough to send chills up the spine but not long enough for the audience to grasp her motivation and try and make connections to the once malleable character.

Miss Violence has some of the most subtly executed and deeply disturbing scenes, something akin to the on-screen death of a major star, early in a film. Despite the absence of a score or maybe because of it the film alleviates to the astral and unhinged and mute performances of its actors. Coupled with precise sound editing and the incessant unvarying cinematography, which gives the movie its unremarkable tone; the film starts to pulsate at a subconscious level.

The flavour of the film does not waver from the dull atmosphere, only to let the director shock us time and again with acts that require intervention by the authorities. However, the authorities only sense something amiss when the family is falling apart.

A high-grade Greek Tragedy, the film made this viewer take his eyes off the screen for those few seconds when a despicable act is being shown to the audience. The act itself is not cringe worthy, it is an innocent act, however the circumstances and the plot augmenting the act make the scene one of the most unbearable in cinema history.

 

Depraved, dysfunctional, gloomy, shocking, sad and fiery, Miss Violence that bagged three awards at the Venice Film Festival, including best picture and director (Volpi Cup), is an extremely disquieting motion picture, which is an uneasy and intimate portrayal of ideologies shred to pieces and a family that is determined to take its secret to the grave.

 

Watch out for the scene when “Father” opens the fridge and we see the transition of a chary person into a man filled with sorrow and despair. A clean, narrow film that does not spell out the relationships of the family members clearly, resulting in tension mounting throughout the ninety-eight minute run time. Miss Violence hits hard, just where it hurts the most.

Grand and low-key with Helter Skelter playing in the viewers’ heads, Miss Violence is unforgiving and compromises only to give the final sequence an extra oomph. This is film-making at its formidable best.

“THE HOLY MOUNTAIN” (1973)

Your sacrifice completes my sanctuary of one thousand testicles.” – Axon

Alejandro Jodorowsky (El Topo, 1970) is revered as a mystifying director by his contemporaries and genre specialists alike for his puzzling and questionable films. The critics are a different story. His films follow the avant-garde method of narrating an intentionally disjointed plot, presented to the audience with grand imagery, dripping with concentrated surrealism.

Mountain has some of the best visuals I’ve ever watched on screen. The grand, symmetrical set-pieces, the superior set design and the terrific and sublime visualization/imagery that is downright bad or inexplicably breathtaking. The polarity kept this pilgrim going for some 109 minutes. No, I didn’t stop, the rest 7-8 minutes was the credit roll. I braved this one.

Jodorowsky has a lot to say about a lot of stuff; Lot (the Biblical gent) included. The Hebrew meaning for the word “Lut” is ‘to wrap closely or to envelop’. It also means ‘excess’, and Lut is an architect (Pluto being his association) with a solution to the problem of population growth versus real estate. He convinces the authority of his coffin like accommodation, where the workers will sleep at the workplace to conserve energy, among other politically incorrect reasons.

The film begins with a masterful & congruous shot that resembles a Rorschach, with the titles designed the way Sanskrit is written. It also reveals the influences of the Mahabharata on the director as we hear the ‘Ganesh Puja‘ being played in the back. The influences do not stop here. Later in the film we can see inspiration from the parables of the Koran, specially the story of Abraham and his son Ishmael.

From scenes that desecrate the Church in the most debasing ways possible to psychedelic inter-cuts of the acid-kaleidoscope variety, “Mountain” is on a crusade to anger the viewer, immediately followed by a hyperbolic image on screen; like the painting of ‘Madonna and Child’, being acted out by real people in the most embarrassing and absurd ways, ever.

Jodorowsky’s commentary is relentless. He has a view on everything; from frogs being blown by cherry bombs to castrations, The awful, oh so awful Socialist Germany, tourists, Mickey Mouse, organised religion, The Church, fascism, the ‘inversed third person benefits’ of Nihilism, The Unblinking Eye, LOTR, deconstructing Jesus (bad taste), genocide, Christ’s love interest, his loathing for fiber-glass Christ(s), procreation as Venus rises, post-modern art, commercialism, shit, gas chambers, gas schools, gas apartment complexes, gas universities, arms trade, the impotence of Uranus (Urin-enus; not that this sounds any better), brainwashing by comic books, pythons wearing hand-knit sweaters, George Orwell, Buddha, Sartre, selflessness, free-willy enlightenment, Maslow’s ‘Self Actualisation’ through a ‘per-rectum’, Dolph Lundgren, ancient Chinese martial art films, ‘mistakes of Christ’?, Timothy Leary, fake messiahs, tarantulas on buck naked woman, ‘man-boobs breast feeding’ and on breaking the ‘fourth wall’ of filming.

In films like these it is better not to delve into the directorial achievements or the performances for it serves no purpose. Even a long focus on a log can induce meaning upon empty meaning.

Plus, why do the ‘artists’ feel the need to use the Church in such ghastly and extreme ways to further their agenda? If anything, it is in bad taste. One cannot just go around pissing on everything sacred in the name of art. It is simply slapping decency and an extremely popular and personal belief, in the face. And if you cannot resist yourself at least put some back and some substance, a hard-hitting message and Willem Dafoe, Scorsese, Mel Gibson in to it. Something, anything except the dirtiest and greediest man alive to play Jesus.

I hated it more than I loved it; but that’s just me, a Rambo fan, wandering off territory.

Yes, “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” is still up there as one of the best films watched; although made two years after this atrocity/masterpiece, Salo says so little, shows even less (compared to other extrafilmic intertexualities being produced around that time) and makes the viewer lose himself in the infinite, crude, unflinching and unapologetic direction of Pasolini, whose Salò is one of the most barked at films ever, for reasons that cannot be deciphered by man, except Pasolini or The Marquis himself.

The movie is a strange beast, on a stranger hallucinogin and it is the influence that makes it cross borders into filth and prettiness resulting in conflict; making the highly talked about “The Holy Mountain” alluring, intriguing, disgusting, enchanting, geometrical, nonsensical, philosophical and everything in between.