Thursday, 5 July 2012

Eye Candy

Austin, Texas' Fantastic Fest is one of a number of North American and European film festivals that I've long considered to be the hallowed epicentres of genre fandom. I don't know if I'll ever make it to a Sitges, FrightFest, Fantasia, Midnight Madness, Toronto After Dark or Fantastic Fest, but I do know that as I read the programs for these legendary events each year I'll be filled with envy (and the usual longing for a bank account with more than three figures in it).

It's not all painful blue balls and a drool covered keyboard though, because every year Fantastic Fest does give me one thing that I can really appreciate... a nifty poster. Be it Kaiju, Cthulhu or tentacled alien demons, each year's poster is guaranteed to make me peer closely at my laptop screen and murmur "rad" under my breath.

I love the continuing motif of the cyclopean eye, but that in every other way each design is completely distinct from the others, both in illustrative style and palette. My favourite up to this point was the '09 poster featuring a very fucked up looking psychedelic demon... but I think this year's Mayan apocalypse design is the coolest yet.

Here's every FF poster going back to 2006, just in case you missed any. I couldn't find one for '05, the fest's inaugural year. Apologies to the artists for the lack of credits, it's late and I can't be bothered doing the research.

Friday, 15 June 2012

SFF 2012: Killer Joe

William Friedkin is a maniac.

It's a sad fact that as they get older, many great directors seem to lose the fire that once made their more youthful works so incendiary. Well, if Killer Joe is any indication of Friedkin's current psyche, it's proof positive that once vital directors can not only rediscover that flame, but reignite it into an explosive bonfire.

At 77 years young, Friedkin has made a film that many of today's Young Turks would do well to take heed of. Where 2006's Bug showed great promise, and an obvious desire to continue to grow as an artist, Killer Joe is, without reservation, a resounding success.

It shares an obvious kinship with other southern redneck thrillers like the Coen's Blood Simple (there's some Wild At Heart/Blue Velvet era Lynch at play here too), yet not once does it feel recycled or predictable. Killer Joe is wholly it's own beast... and what a depraved, blood-thirsty beast it is. This is black humour so utterly dark, that the only way I can describe it is Nihilist Comedy.

Speaking of which, it is without a doubt the funniest movie I've seen in a long time. When I wasn't picking my jaw up off the ground, during one of it's many completely insane what-the-fuck moments, I was just laughing my ass off (as was the rest of the packed audience... the entire theatre was roaring with approval). Thomas Haden Church in particular is hysterically funny. I was in stitches at almost every line he delivered.

Matthew McConaughey is pretty amazing in this. "Creepy" doesn't begin to describe his performance, and he joins Willem Dafoe's Bobby Peru as one of the most vile, menacing redneck villains of all time. Gina Gershon blew my socks off too. People always talk about "gutsy" performances, but hers here is the real deal. There's a lengthy scene in this that I can only imagine was very unpleasant for her to perform. You'll know it when you see it.

Then there's the violence. And the sex. And the shocking, horribly uncomfortable, sexualised violence. And Gina Gershon's bush. Killer Joe pulls no punches, and it's not hard to see why the MPAA gave it an NC-17 rating for "graphic aberrant content involving violence and sexuality, and a scene of brutality." Suffice it to say, you'll never look at KFC the same again (not that you should look at KFC anyway, it's gross).

The US distributor of this film should be applauded for refusing to bend over for the MPAA, choosing instead to support Friedkin's violent, nihilistic vision... no doubt at the expense of a larger take at the box office. Because of this, I encourage everyone to get out and support this one if it happens to come to your town. You won't regret it.

We just don't see many American movies like this one any more.

Monday, 11 June 2012

SFF 2012: Rampart

In Oren Moverman's Rampart, Woody Harrelson gives the performance of his career as Dave Brown, a late '90s L.A. cop whose modus operandi on the street is brutality and corruption, without the slightest twinge of conscience or remorse. This pig is so morally bankrupt that the Bad Lieutenant would probably rat him out to internal affairs.

If you thought Harrelson was menacing in Natural Born Killers, wait 'til you see him in this. The menace here is more internalised, but it never lets up for a second of his screen time, boiling away just below the surface, ratcheting up the tension to uncomfortable levels. It's a cliche, but Harrelson's officer Brown really is a walking time bomb. A spring loaded trap of barely controlled rage, imminent violence and universal hatred. In his own words:

"I am not a racist. Fact is, I hate all people equally."

Homophobe, misogynist, racist... this cop proudly wears his poisonous beliefs like a badge of honour. The trouble is, everyone around him is finally reaching the extent of their tolerance for his behaviour... and officer Dave Brown isn't heeding the warnings.

Rampart is an outstanding example of classic L.A. noire, solidly anchored by a sharp, caustic screenplay by James Ellroy - almost certainly his best to date (remember, he wrote the source novel for L.A. Confidential, not the screenplay). Harrelson deserves awards for this, but he isn't the only one to shine: Sigourney Weaver is also at the top of her game here in a relatively small part, and it's obvious that she's going to remain a force to reckon with as she moves into her senior years. The other star of this movie is the cinematography by Bobby Bukowski, which is just impossibly beautiful. Through his lens, the City of Angels has never looked better.

Rampart is powerful stuff. Highly recommended.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

SFF 2012: Despite The Gods

Penny Vozniak's documentary Despite The Gods sits comfortably beside its brethren Lost in La Mancha and Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse as a fascinating and poignant portrait of a passionate filmmaker struggling against the odds to achieve their dream. Except sometimes that struggle ends in something like Apocalypse Now, and sometimes it ends in... Hisss.

The film follows Jennifer Lynch's first foray into filmmaking since 2008's Surveillance (which was awarded Best Picture at Sitges), an Indian/American co-production called Hisss (with a working title of Nagin: The Snake Woman), which was shot entirely on location in India. Lynch is out of her element in an unfamiliar culture, and an even less familiar film industry, and it quickly becomes evident that she is struggling to cope with the pressures and stresses of this new environment. The production seems to be foundering from the very outset, and things only go from bad to worse as Lynch continues to slog through a grueling shoot that lasts many months.

Despite The Gods is often laugh-out-loud funny, providing a welcome counterbalance to the constant feeling that everything you're seeing on screen is about to implode in a very ugly way. I found Lynch to be very likable, in a good-humoured, self-deprecating sort of way. At the beginning of the film she speaks candidly of the cruelty she suffered at the hands of the press in the wake of Boxing Helena, and the tough years that followed, when amongst other things she cleaned houses for a living. Perhaps most poignantly, she also discusses her obviously painful memories of the time following her father's greatest failure, Dune (coincidentally his third feature too), when "he didn't speak for a year". Her fear of failure whilst recounting this is palpable and moving, and again, greatly endeared her to me.

As a consumer, it's easy to take the whole process of filmmaking for granted, so it's good to be reminded by documentaries like this that your two hours of enjoyment are often the end result of thousands of hours of painful, difficult and thankless toil for the cast and crew. Succeed or fail: hats off to them all.

Sydney Film Festival 2012

The SFF has kicked off for another year, and this time around I'll be posting a few quick capsule reviews of some of the films I see.

Unfortunately the fest got off to a lousy start for me when the screening of Maury and Bustillo's Livide turned out to be a complete fiasco. A word to the French distributors who provided the print: next time you send a film to a festival in a non-French speaking country, you might want to consider sending a print WITH FUCKING SUBTITLES. It was a theatre-full of righteously pissed off patrons who exited the screening five minutes into the film... but none more so than me. I've been dying to see this film for two years now, so needless to say I was LIVID with rage. Sorry.

Back tomorrow with reviews of Despite The Gods and Rampart!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Fight Or Die: THE RAID

Greetings friends, long time no see! Apologies for the lack of posts recently, but I've been under the weather and out of action. Turned out to be really bad timing too, as I missed out on the entire 2012 Sydney SF and horror film fest, including screenings of Beyond The Black Rainbow and the brilliant indie ghost shocker Skew. Needless to say, I wasn't impressed.

The other day I did manage to drag my rotting carcass out of the house to go see Gareth Huw Evans' The Raid... and holy shit, what a movie. The Raid is the kind of action flick that lends itself to a lot of hyperbolic statements, but unlike many of its brethren it deserves every one of them. This movie is pure, unadulterated badassery, distilled down to the very essence of macho, animal rage.

You know the plot - a Jakarta SWAT team executes a daring dawn raid on a run down tenement building occupied by some of Indonesia's toughest gangsters. As far as character arcs and other so called "essential" story telling elements go, there's a sub-plot dealing with the bonds of brotherhood, loyalty and betrayal etc, but I just found it to be a slightly annoying distraction from the real meat of the movie - the action. The Raid isn't about well-drawn characters or thought provoking messages. It's about violence, tension, fear, despair, death and unflinching courage in the face of all those things. It's about carnage, splattered plasma and screaming bloody mayhem.

Everything you've heard about the action in this film is true. Whether it be a fully auto fire fight or full tilt hand-to-hand combat, the violence in The Raid is as perfectly choreographed, staged, shot and edited as you are ever likely to see. I spent most of the running time looking something like this, and inadvertently yelled out "YEAH" several times. At one point I had to consciously restrain myself from jumping to my feet. Just pure bloodlust and glee.

Speaking of staging, another thing that impressed me about the film was the location and how well it was utilised. I like films that place you in a confined environment, the action moving through it in such a way that you become so familiar with the locale that the film turns into a kind of immersive experience. At a certain point you are so aware of the spaces "around" you that it feels like you are there (see also [REC], Rammbock, The Rocky Horror Picture Show etc). The Raid achieves this sense of a palpable environment very early on, thereby establishing an uneasy feeling of claustrophobia due to being isolated and trapped in a very bad place.

Once that initial tension is established, there's no turning back. Set piece after amazing set piece follow, in a mounting barrage of psychotic violence that will leave all but the most sadistic of viewers well and truly sated.

So, what about the fighting? The martial art featured here is called Silat or Pencak Silat, and is native to Indonesia and Malaysia. It's gnarly. The Raid is brimming with a number of skilled practitioners of the discipline, but one individual stands head and shoulders above the rest. Which is funny because he looks to be about five feet nothing tall. The diminutive killing machine of whom I speak is none other than Yayan Ruhian, and his cool-as-ice portrayal of Mad Dog in this film is the stuff of cult legend. Unsurprisingly, he also served as fight choreographer for the film, and I'm pretty sure we'll be hearing more from Yayan in the near future.

The Raid is a movie that wears it's influences proudly on its sleeve (perhaps Assault On Precinct 13 more than any other, right down to the Carpenter-esque score), but this is no mere pastiche of previous action classics. It stands on its own.

People throw the term "game-changing" around pretty loosely, but The Raid truly is the new benchmark by which the genre will be judged. Hyperbole? Fuck that.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Ralph McQuarrie

Ralph McQuarrie died yesterday.

His pre-production artwork for
Star Wars has become iconic, and rightly so, because it probably served to define the look and design of the Star Wars universe more than any other single factor.

As a kid, I would stare lovingly at his paintings in the SF film zines for hours. The above image - which graced the cover of Alan Dean Foster's
Splinter Of The Mind's Eye - is a particular favourite of mine.

May the Force be with you Ralph...

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Skeletal Hand

Cathedral are in Australia later this month to play their last two headlining shows ever. They're also making a number of festival appearances at a big, touring rock fest, with a lineup so cringe-inducingly bad that I'd rather do this to my ears than subject myself to a minute of it.

I'm not too crazy about Cathedral's recent output, but their earlier stuff is epic doom incarnate, and in my opinion some of the best the genre as a whole has ever produced, right up there with doom gods Pagan Altar, Saint Vitus, Corrupted, Electric Wizard etc. I don't know how much of their classic material Cathedral are including in their recent sets, but I'm hoping for a track or two off of Forest Of Equilibrium.

The blood sacrifice I'm offering you today is their long out of print and very rare Gargoylian 7". It's the obvious choice for the EYE, given its Blind Dead cover art, and b-side track that is pure, raging, early UK d-beat (completely out of character for the band, but not too surprising considering singer Lee Dorrian's earlier stint with Napalm Death).

Details for Cathedral's Sydney show HERE. Have a listen to the 7'' HERE.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Bill Hinzman

artwork: Chet Zar

Bill Hinzman, famous for his portrayal of the "cemetery zombie" in Romero's Night Of The Living Dead, has died. Some may consider him to be a minor player amongst the pantheon of modern horror cinema, but I think his contribution was a vital one, and certainly worthy of memory.

He was after all the original "modern" zombie. The ancestral progenitor to an endless horde of the walking dead that has been infesting our screens for the 44 years since he lurched out of that first cemetery.

In fact, the legacy of NOTLD is virtually immeasurable. Not only is it the forerunner of the modern living dead film, but many consider it to be the precursor to modern horror cinema in general. It heralded in an era of horror that would be more visceral, allegorical and thoughtful than anything that had proceeded it.

Viewed in that light, Hinzman's contribution to horror as the inaugural monster of the new era is a profound one indeed.

Bill also had minor parts in Romero's next three films - There's Always Vanilla, Season Of The Witch and The Crazies, on which he also served as D.O.P.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Looking Ahead

As we move into the second month of 2012, and the release schedule begins to gain momentum again, I thought I'd take a look at some of the flicks that are at the top of my "most anticipated" pile for the coming year. These are by no means the only films I'm looking forward to, but having given this some thought (and a fair bit of research), it's safe to say this represents the cream of the crop for me.

There's a few titles here that are listed on IMDb as being released in 2011, but I doubt they've been seen by many outside of festival screenings.

I'd like to acknowledge the tireless work of Garth Franklin at Dark Horizons whose "Notable Films of 2012" feature made my research for this a lot easier. He puts a huge amount of effort into compiling these exhaustive lists at the beginning of each year, and I'm glad he does because they're an invaluable resource.

So, in no particular order, here's 20 movies to get excited for over the coming months:

Dir: Don Coscarelli

The return of Coscarelli! Based on a cult novel by David Wong, this promises to be a psychedelic, multidimensional mindfuck of a movie - druggy, tripped-out and featuring a slew of practical monster and gore FX. After the hugely enjoyable Bubba Ho-Tep, Coscarelli seems to be in his creative prime at the moment, and arguably far more relevant now than many of his contemporaries such as Carpenter and Romero. It's getting good reviews out of Sundance, and I can't wait to see this. So much so that I ordered the novel yesterday. And Paul Giamatti is in it!


Dir: David Cronenberg

Hey Cronenberg fans, are you feeling spoilt? You should be, because we're getting not one, but two movies from the master this year (I finally saw A Dangerous Method earlier tonight!). This is another book adaptation (this time from a novel by Don Delillo), starring Robert "sparkly" Pattinson, and I'm actually intrigued to see what sort of performance Cronenberg pulls out of him. Cosmopolis' simple synopsis of "a multimillionaire on a 24-hour odyssey across Manhattan", coupled with reports that much of the action takes place within a single car, makes it sound like a very minimal affair. However, with an estimated budget of 20 million, who knows? I could be completely wrong here, but I'm wondering if this is going to be in a similar vein to Martin Scorsese's wonderful After Hours. More Giamatti here too!

Dir: Drew Goddard

I've never really been into Joss Whedon, but he is an undeniably talented genre writer, and this long-shelved horror (SF?) movie has got me psyched. I know very little about this, and will keep steering clear of all reviews and trailers to stay as ignorant as possible. I'm hoping for something different and surprising here.

Dir: Ridley Scott

What can I say about this? I'm one of those people who believe without reservation that Scott is responsible for the two greatest SF movies ever made, so his return to the genre is very welcome indeed (he also recently secured the rights to my most beloved SF novel, Joe Haldeman's The Forever War). Any doubts I had about this were immediately dispelled by the incredible first trailer, which teases an epic, beautiful, hard SF film. The cast is fantastic, the design & FX look spectacular, and I for one am glad that we probably won't be seeing the now quite redundant xenomorph. This looks like science fiction on a truly grand scale, the likes of which we don't often see anymore in this age of green screen sound stages*, overused CGI and recycled ideas. It could also be a huge disaster of self indulgent wankery. Either way, this is my most anticipated film of the year.

*Much of the film was shot on location in Iceland, the Scottish Highlands, the Jordanian desert and on enormous sets constructed at Pinewood Studios in England.

Dir: Joe Carnahan

Carnahan is a director that I haven't taken much notice of until now (Narc was watchable, but The A-Team can just go fuck themselves), however The Grey looks to be the kind of grim, realistic, man-against-nature survival thriller that really gets my blood pumping. See also Frozen and The Reef. I also really dig Liam Neeson. And wolves. This opens here in a couple of weeks, and I plan on being there opening day.

JUAN OF THE DEAD (Juan de los Muertos)
Dir: Alejandro Brugués

Cuba's first zombie flick is the sophomore effort for director Alejandro Brugués, and if the word coming out of various festivals is to be trusted, it may just be the best zombie film we've seen in a while. As with most great living dead films, the zombies here apparently take a back seat to an endearing and interesting cast of living characters. I've heard that it features some pretty tasty gore too. Brugués has stated that Juan was not intended as a satire of life in Havana under Castro... and I'll reserve judgement on that until I see it.

Dir: Quentin Tarantino

Really interested to see how Quentin follows up his masterpiece (and career highpoint) Inglourious Basterds. I personally think the man was born to make westerns, so my expectations are set very high for this. As usual he's hand picked an amazing cast, and I'm looking forward to seeing DiCaprio's Calvin Candie, but the big reason to get excited about Django is the casting of KURT MOTHERFUCKING RUSSELL.

THE RAID (Serbuan Maut)
Dir: Gareth Evans

Is The Raid the Assault On Precinct 13 of martial arts movies? This Indonesian/American co-production promises to be a wall-to-wall barrage of mayhem, ultra violence and hyper cool... all smashing into your cerebral cortex via the Indonesian martial art of silat. Apparently the hand-to-hand combat and firefights in The Raid are some of the wildest and most impressively choreographed in the history of the genre. Everything about this movie just screams badass. Really looking forward to this one.

Dir: Alfonso Cuarón

With Children Of Men, Cuarón gave us a modern science fiction masterpiece. A film as remarkable for its astounding technical and artistic achievements, as for its seemingly prescient vision of the most terrifying future dystopia since Blade Runner. As with Ridley Scott, Cuarón is a perfectionist, obsessed with detail, and therefore perfectly suited to creating supremely convincing SF worlds. I'm very excited to see what these talents and sensibilities bring to the space genre. So much so that I'll tolerate an entire movie of nothing but Sandra Bullock.

Dir: Everyone

The horror anthology is back in vogue in a big way, but I doubt we've ever seen anything like this. Angela Bettis, Bruno Forzani, Hélène Cattet, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Jason Eisener, Adrián García Bogliano, Xavier Gens, Noboru Iguchi, Jorge Michel Grau, Yoshihiro Nishimura, Simon Rumley, Marcel Sarmiento, Srdjan Spasojevic, Timo Tjahjanto, Andrew Traucki, Nacho Vigalondo, Jake West, Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Adam Wingard... and that's just the directors that I like! There's six more - 26 horror auteurs in all. This will be insane.

Dir: Nicolas Winding Refn

I love Refn. I can barely fault him for a single frame of his work, but his arthouse crime films - Pusher I-III, Bronson, Drive - are cinematic perfection and pure celluloid dynamite. Only God Forgives sees Refn reuniting with Ryan Gosling, but this time the beauty and carnage (and beautiful carnage) will explode not in the city of angels, but on the sweaty streets of the Bangkok underworld. Bring it on.

[REC]³ Génesis
Dir: Paco Plaza

Director Paco Plaza returns for the third entry in this unstoppable Spanish zombie series. Having been thoroughly creeped out by the first two movies, I'm definitely up for another serving. Believe me, I'm suffering from zombie-fatigue as much as you are, I'm fucking sick of the genre right now, but these films have cleverly skewed the old tropes in surprising and demonic directions. This time around we're getting a prequel, and I think I read somewhere that they've dropped the found footage gimmick in favour of traditional cinematography. The thing that will make or break this movie: they need to keep playing it dead straight. No winking at the camera, no satire. Just pure horror.

THE SQUAD (El Páramo)
Dir: Jaime Osorio Marquez

I don't know much about this Colombian horror film from first time director Jaime Osorio Marquez, but I'm champing at the bit to check it out. I don't think I've ever seen a horror film from Colombia (unless you count Cannibal Holocaust which was shot in the Colombian Amazon), and I wonder if this is maybe the country's first? The Squad is a military horror flick, an odd little sub-genre that I've always felt is ripe with possibility, yet rarely yields good results. According to reviews the film features loads of beautiful, misty, jungle atmosphere, also utilising a slowly mounting sense of dread and paranoia to good effect (think The Thing). I love atmospheric horror with an emphasis on chills over action, so I'm already there.

Dir: Raffaele Picchio

Who said Italian horror is dead? A couple of years ago I really enjoyed Federico Zampaglione's Shadow, and now I'm dying to be assaulted and traumatised by Raffaele Picchio's debut feature - Morituris. The plot of this little shocker seems to involve Roman gladiators coming back from the dead to rape, torture, mutilate and murder a group of unfortunate amateur actors. I truly hope that's all it is, because it sounds perfect. Morituris piqued my interest last year when I read that it pissed off some horror fans at a festival screening, because it took the whole rape/torture thing too far. Bloody Disgusting gave this movie "negative 100 million out of 5 Skulls". All milquetoasts apparently. Grue courtesy of Sergio Stivaletti.

Dir: Timo Vuorensola

It would seem that the world got really tired of waiting for Richard Raaphorst to get his shit together and make Worst Case Scenario and Army Of Frankenstein, so now we have this movie from Finland instead. I'm a real sucker for this kind of gonzo Nazi weirdness, and I really want this to be good, but... let's just say this could go either way. An over abundance of CG in the trailers is a bit of a worry. But regardless of the quality of the FX, this movie will sink or float on the standard of the writing and comedy. I think the choice of Laibach to score the film was a good one, I'd never heard them before, but the music works perfectly over the trailer. Sort of Wagnerian symphonic industrial or something. According to IMDb, Timo, Iron Sky's director, is in a Finnish black metal industrial noise band called Älymystö. Anyway, Udo Kier is in this, so even if it's terrible I'll probably still watch it.

Dir: Panos Cosmatos

This Canadian SF film (another directorial debut) is actually two years old, and is finally getting a DVD release from Magnet this year. Comparisons to Tarkovsky and Kubrick have me excited, as do reports that the film is visually stunning - described as a psychedelic experience - with a powerful, immersive sound design. The plot revolves around a captive girl being used as a test subject for a series of nightmarish drug experiments in a secret research facility. Beyond that the story and characters are supposed to be quite ambiguous, with a minimum of explanation for why this is all happening. I love genre movies that are almost more of a sensory experience than a narrative, and I'm anticipating that this will be along those lines. Beyond The Black Rainbow has cult science fiction movie written all over it.

Dir: Shinya Tsukamoto

After the disappointment of Tetsuo III, I'm looking forward to a return to form for Tsukamoto. The word is that this is a hallucinatory psychological horror film dealing with post-partum depression, and featuring an impressive performance from Japanese singer Cocco. I'm thinking that this film will deliver jarring contrasts of beauty and brutality.

Dir: Adam Wingard

This film has been getting raves out of festivals for months now, and it looks like Adam Wingard is on the rise as horror's next big thing. You're Next is reportedly a home invasion thriller that twists genre conventions in unexpected ways, serving it up with a healthy dose of very black humour. This is another movie that I've avoided trailers for, because I want to be surprised. And hey, Barbara Crampton is in this!

Dir: Quentin Dupieux

The followup to the dadaist horror insanity of Rubber! I'm really fascinated to see where Dupieux goes after that trip. Rubber was a love it or loath it affair, and I definitely fall into the former camp, so I'm salivating for this. This tale of a man searching for his lost dog looks to be another surrealist film that will continue to subvert the cinematic rulebook in weird and wonderful ways. Even the poster reminds me of a Magritte painting.

Dir: David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, Radio Silence, Joe Swanberg, Ti West, Adam Wingard

Another horror anthology, this time breathing new life into the tired found footage genre, and it's getting killer reviews out of Sundance right now. Some really interesting directors here. David Bruckner was one of the fellows behind the underrated The Signal, Glenn McQuaid directed the enjoyable Burke & Hare comedy I Sell The Dead, and Ti West and Adam Wingard should require no further introduction. I've read that this actually has some genuinely frightening moments. We'll see about that!

What movies are you guys looking forward to this year?

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Tutti il Colori del Buio

This here is some vile, horror-infused crust, served up with a tasty garnish of neanderthal death and doom metal, likely to please fans of Entombed, Asphyx, Bolt Thrower etc.

Washington D.C.'s Ilsa are a relatively new band (formed in '07 I think) who are a good fit for the EYE, not just for their punishing punk & metal assault, but also due to their obsession with quality cinema. Having taken their latest album title from Sergio Martino's stylish psychedelic nightmare Tutti i Colori del Buio (although they misspelt it, bless 'em), and with song titles like "120 Days", I'd say it's fair to assume that their favourite section of the video store isn't Disney classics. Not to mention that their name is borrowed from everyone's favourite sadistic S.S. bitch - yes, right down to the font.

To be honest their slower stuff leaves me a bit cold, but when they speed things up on tracks like "120 Days", "Butcher's Castle" and "Frostthrower", they unleash a vicious ferocity that puts a big shit-eating grin on my face. Drummer Josh is a particular stand-out for me, pounding out some relentless and infectious D-beat rhythms that have kept me wanting more. I believe he's also responsible for all their artwork which is none too shabby either.

They also have a split out with another degenerate band that's sullied the pages of this blog before, Finland's Hooded Menace.

Buy or listen to Tutti il Colori del Buio HERE...

A Dangerous Method

Here's one for the locals. Popcorn Taxi is starting off the year in style with a screening of David Cronenberg's latest, his take on psychoanalysis and sex in pre-World War I Vienna - A Dangerous Method. The film marks his third consecutive collaboration with Viggo Mortensen, his second with Vincent Cassel and his first with Michael Fassbender (so incredibly good in Steve McQueen's Hunger).

As with all of Cronenberg's recent films, it may seem like a radical departure from his early body of work, but a closer examination reveals that it's very much in line with his ongoing thematic concerns.

The screening features a Q&A with producer Jeremy Thomas, who previously worked with Cronenberg on Naked Lunch and Crash, as well as producing a number of other films that I'm very fond of, among them Bernardo Bertolucci's The Sheltering Sky & The Dreamers as well as Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins.

The screening is on January 30 at the usual Bondi Junction venue. Tickets and further info HERE.

Sunday, 8 January 2012


When I saw Ben Wheatley's Kill List at last year's Sydney Film Fest, I thought that it made the other horror films I'd seen there (Stake Land and Hobo With A Shotgun) look pedestrian by comparison. It seemed to me as I watched Kill List, with the memories of those other two films fresh in mind, that where they were treading some very familiar ground, this little English flick playing out in front of me was something original and exciting.

It was one of those rare times watching a movie when that little alarm goes off in your head... your eyes widen, and pulse quickening you sit up a bit straighter in your seat and think "wait a minute, I've never seen anything quite like this before". By the end of the fest it was not only my favourite horror entry, but favourite regardless of genre, beating out some other exceptionally good films such as Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins, Terrence Malick's Tree Of Life and José Padilha's Elite Squad: The Enemy Within.

That was back in June, and I wondered then if maybe I'd already watched the best movie I'd see that year. Six months later and Kill List has in fact turned out to be my favourite of 2011, and having seen it again recently I found it to be no less transfixing and haunting.

They say there's nothing really new under the sun, even in the realm of pure fantasy, where the sky's the limit and ideas should only be constrained by the extent of one's imagination (and in the case of cinema, the fatness of one's wallet). Where movies are concerned I think it's true to a certain extent, and there seems to be plenty of evidence around these days to support that claim, in the form of all the remakes, adaptations and sequels that are being foisted on us. In recent years, one method (or gimmick?) employed by a number of filmmakers seeking to inject some freshness into an original, but familiar story is the genre mashup, blend, crossover or whatever you want to call it. Sometimes it works, but often it feels too ham-fisted and ill-conceived to be really effective. Just because you clumsily shoehorn zombies and kung fu into your western doesn't mean it's going to be more exciting. To me the result is often that the whole is reduced to less than the sum of it's parts. Sometimes I'd rather just watch a good western... without the zombies. Or the kung fu.

And that's part of what makes Kill List so successful for me. I can't remember when I've seen a film combine disparate genres so seamlessly and with such a feeling of effortless fluidity. Especially given the nature of the film's structure - the different genres don't run parallel to each other so much as they are episodic, one following the other, almost neatly compartmentalised within each act of the film.

The first act is a classic example of British social realism, reminiscent of the "kitchen sink realism" of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. I quickly found myself so engaged by the seemingly mundane trials and tribulations of the main characters, that I honestly would have been more than happy for the film to continue in this direction, without veering into more fantastic territory:

Suburban couple Jay and Shel love each other, but in spite of that their marriage is rapidly falling apart. Shel is accustomed to a standard of living that they can no longer afford, because Jay hasn't been working. There's a sense that Jay is lost at sea and frustrated, despite the outward appearance of a stable, middle class home and family life. When the strain becomes too much, and comes to a very ugly head at a dinner party with Jay's old friend Gal and his new girlfriend Fiona, Jay is forced to reconsider his situation and take on a job that Gal is offering him.

This set up, which sounds mundane, is anything but. You see Jay and Gal aren't just old mates, they're professional hitmen, with a shady past that may include some very morally dubious mercenary work in other parts of the world. The two men prepare for their new assignment... but are unaware that Fiona may not be as naive and innocent as she appears.

From here the film shifts gears, turning into a gritty, deliberately paced hitman thriller, but the change isn't jarring at all, and in fact feels perfectly natural. It continues to feel fluid and natural even as events get more and more weird - eventually steering the film into it's third genre - outright horror. I'll give nothing else away, as I think it best to go into Kill List knowing as little as possible about the second and third acts.

I can find very little to complain about in Wheatley's second feature (I need to track down his first, Down Terrace). The performances are all virtually flawless, the whole cast of talented actors are obviously having fun, and really immersing themselves in their roles. Unsurprising, because as written by Wheatley and Amy Jump, the main characters are multi-layered, complex and endearing. The cinematography is right up my alley - carefully composed and framed shots imbued with plenty of stillness, giving the film room to breath and allowing each shot to sink in deeply.

Kill List isn't exactly bursting at the seams with action (again, think of my comparison to social realist cinema), but when the violence comes, you probably won't be ready for it, and it's likely to shock you. It's sudden, realistic and very, very nasty. It got under my skin and made me feel bad. Just the way it should.

If there's one complaint that I can level at this movie it's that I slightly preferred the tone of the first two acts to the overtly horrific climax, which is surprising considering my predilection towards horror. That said I still found the conclusion to be solid and memorable, so it's a minor quibble really, and didn't effect my overall enjoyment of the film.

With Kill List, Ben Wheatley has delivered a new and exciting cult classic. If you think so too, and if you ever meet Ben, maybe you'd like to say to him:


Some of the runners up for my top film of 2011 include Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive, Miguel Ángel Vivas' Kidnapped, Jee-woon Kim's I Saw The Devil, Lucky McKee's The Woman, Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins and Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene.