Monday, 21 December 2015

merry christmas...

sorry for the short video this week, it's like christmas and stuff so i'm suddenly really busy. i am working on something a bit special for the next video so hopefully that will make up for it. if i'm honest saying 'see you next week' may have been a bit optimistic too as i'll be in devon with jack and my dad, but you never know...

hope you all have a fantastic christmas and thanks to everyone who has been watching this year! i have some exciting things planned for 2016!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

nekromantik 2

nekromantik 2 is jorg buttgereit’s more measured and somehow classier sequel to his cult hit nekromantik, if you can describe a film that uses a rotting penis on a plate as a plot device as classy.

the film opens with a ted bundy quote and then replays the final moments of the first film between the titles. i'm still not going to explain what happens to bob, the main character, at the end of the first film, you really need to see that for yourself. this time the story focuses on a young woman called monika (played by monika m.) who digs up bob’s body for sex, but things don’t really work out the way she hopes. infatuated with bob, she keeps his corpse around while she tries to figure out what’s missing. around the same time she meets a young man, mark, who dubs porn films for a living. they start a relationship, but mark soon begins to suspect that monika may be hiding something.

it’s really hard to describe the plot of nekromantik 2, because it could be argued that there almost isn’t one. certainly for the first half of the film i  t feels like this is more a series of moments than a story, but as the film progresses it becomes apparent that this is what buttgereit’s style has evolved into. nekromantik felt like being constantly slapped in the face, usually with something sticky and rotten. it was loud, brash and shocking, both in what was on screen and the way those images were presented. of course, it had its slow-moving, naturalistic moments too, there was a hint of how buttgereit would develop, but the style of film matched the shocking nature of the subject matter.

nekromantik 2 almost feels like it was made by another director. there these incredible camera moves, where the camera travels the length of a table in a smooth arc, for example, and there are also moments of extreme naturalism, where we watch characters go about their business in minute detail rather than cutting for pace. this naturalism carries over into the more disturbing scenes, and as a result dismembering a human corpse begins to feel like carving up a chicken or something equally mundane. it seems buttgereit wants us to feel like these people and this world are the most normal they can be, and by extension so is what they are doing. it’s slow-moving at first, but the film does have a rhythm to it that kind of works, so much so that when the pace does pick up at the end the speed of what is happening is almost as shocking as what we are watching. there is also very little dialogue in the film, and buttgereit does a great job of showing the development of a complex romance without words.

like the first film, there is a theme running throughout the piece of desensitisation. mark mentions at one point the ‘monotony of pornography’ because his day job has completely desensitised him to it. there is also a sequence in a cinema like the one in the first film, but while that film seemed more concerned with showing how desensitised the audience were to gore and horror, this time the characters are watching a kind of parody of an art film. the scene almost plays in exactly the same way as the scene in nekromantik, except mark and monika are clearly enjoying themselves. like bob in the first film, monika is not desensitised; she is open to everything and anything, it's just that the thing she really needs is just out of reach. there are times when it feels like monika genuinely likes mark, and that mark may even understand her secret, but then there are times when it feels like mark never stood a chance. their relationship has a reality and a heart to it that really makes it work.

while i missed the frenetic, punk energy of the first film, nekromantik 2 is still an engaging and fascinating work. despite the slow-pace of the film, there is a complexity to it that will hold your interest as well as moments of real beauty. this is my favourite type of horror film, because like dans ma peau or eraserhead it explores the horror of being human; the horror of living. monika is not presented as being particularly depraved, she’s simply one of us and how many of us have had thoughts and perhaps urges that we would rather the rest of the world didn’t know about? there is a bit of monika in all of us, and we should be thankful to buttgereit for showing us that.

it's also worth pointing out that the blu-ray is full of fantastic extras, including some really insightful interviews with buttgereit and his team in which they all come across as warm, lovely creative people. in case you hadn’t gathered, i really liked this film so if you haven’t seen it you should probably check it out.

nekromantik 2 is available now from arrow video on blu-ray and dvd in a 3-disc set that includes the cd soundtrack

Wednesday, 16 December 2015


i'm supposed to be reviewing the blu-ray of nekromantik 2, but i hadn't seen nekromantik so i thought i'd try to watch both. here's what i thought of the first one.

i had a bit of an idea of what i was in for. a few years ago, i realised i was about to spend the night of my twenty-second birthday alone, so i decided to watch der todesking. der todesking is a kind of portanteau horror film about suicide and violent death, so perfect for watching alone on your birthday. it includes a segment in which a man kills himself by bashing his head repeatedly into his bedroom wall. it's great.

nekromantic is by the same filmmaker, jorg buttregeit. it's also a film about death. it's about bob, a guy who works for a cleaning firm that specialises in disposing of dead bodies. bob steals a corpse from a crime scene, takes it home to his girlfriend, betty, and together they fuck with it, literally. but when bob loses his job and betty leaves him, he is forced to seek other ways to satisfy his urges.

it's a film about necrophilia, obviously. except, it's more than that. it's about sex, and the relationship between sex and love and dependency. bob seems to need betty to be involved in the necrophilia for it to work, whereas the film makes it quite clear that betty doesn't need bob, only a corpse. it's about nature and the fact that really we're all just rotting meat. at the same time it's about the miracle of nature and of being alive and at times is actually kind of life affirming.

it also had a bit about jesus that i didn't get. and there's a moment in which it seems to be either criticising horror movies or challenging them. that was the thing, the tone bounces around all over the place and i could never tell whether buttgereit wants us to take this seriously or not. there are definitely comedic moments, and contrasting moments of depravity and horror, and yet at the same time some of the sex scenes are filmed in a way that suggests what is happening is supposed to be beautiful. is this a filmmaker fucking with his audience? or is he making the point that whatever we do in the bedroom, it's all the same at the end of the day. would he be laughing at me right now for over-thinking it? or cursing me for not looking into it deeply enough?

i don't know. i think jorg buttgereit is perhaps the german lars von trier. i can never tell whether von trier is fucking with me either.

whatever it all means, it has to be said that nekromantic features one of the greatest endings of all time. never before have i been so gloriously shocked by a moment in a film. it's the kind of moment that you can't stop watching even though you really want to turn away from the screen. i loved it.

onto the second one...

Monday, 14 December 2015

a new leaf

a new leaf is a kind of alternative romantic comedy that on the surface seems completely innocent but underneath feels more than a little subversive.

walter matthau plays henry graham, a trust fund playboy who only exists to spend money, until he discovers he’s broke. when he confesses as much to his butler, harold (george rose), he is advised to seek a wife, preferably a rich one, so that harold may continue to be employed and henry can go along living the life he has become accustomed to. henry’s search leads him to henrietta lowell (played by the writer and director of the film, elaine may), a geeky, socially awkward botanist with a huge inheritance. henry decides that she is the one, he just has to figure out a way to marry her and then kill her so he can take her money.

a new leaf is based on the short story a green heart by jack ritchie, which was originally published in alfred hitchcock’s mystery magazine. i haven’t read the story and don’t know whether it’s similar in tone to the film, but there is something almost poe-esque about henry’s determination to kill henrietta. there is a darkness to this film that you kind of miss while watching it, because it all seems so light and absurd. and yet this is a film about a man who so can’t bear to live without money that he’s prepared to kill the most innocent, unassuming, inoffensive human being he can find. on the surface, however, this is a fun romantic comedy and there is something spectacular about the way the tone and the subject matter are so perfectly balanced.

the film was the writing and directing debut of elaine may, who had previously been part of a stand-up comedy duo with mike nichols. may would later direct three more features and worked on the scripts for films like heaven can wait, reds and primary colors. it’s amazing to think that here, with her first feature as a writer, she had the confidence not only to direct for the first time as well but also to star in the film. that the result is so unconventional and subversive is therefore doubly impressive.

what’s interesting is that for a film made by a woman in the 1970s, this is really a film about men. women don’t feature in henry graham’s life at all, and he makes it very clear that this is through choice. despite the lack of female characters in the film, the men do not come off particularly well. while may’s character is awkward and gullible, she is also depicted as incredibly intelligent when it comes to her profession, plus there’s a suggestion towards the end that perhaps she’s aware of more than she lets on. by comparison, matthau’s character is vain, shallow and heartless, and the other men in the film don’t come off much better. the sequence that opens this film perfectly sums this up, with henry talking about the problems with his vintage sports car with a friend who has similar problems with his vintage airplane. these are not the men who rule the world, but rather they are the sons of the men who ruled the world and they have nothing of value to add to society as a result. at the same time, henrietta comes off as something of an anomaly and the other women in the film are as obsessed with wealth as henry. i wonder if perhaps gender was not a huge part of the discussion when may was working on a new leaf; maybe it is simply a film about wealth, but it’s hard for me to disassociate the gender politics of the 1970s from a work by a female director making films in that period.

the only issue with the above set up is that it does occasionally make henry really difficult to sympathise with. obviously we’re not supposed to sympathise with him, especially when he coldly researches methods of killing henrietta, but i think we are supposed to care enough to want him to change. that does work eventually, and where it does is down to matthau’s performance. matthau doesn’t play henry as particularly likable or charming but manages to make him appear as both anyway. aside from the ending, the way henry develops as a character is incredibly subtle, which is a bold move because we're forced to spend time with him in every scene and it's not always clear that he is going to develop.

while the blu-ray is a little short on extras there is a nice visual essay on the film that contains a lot of background information on may how the project came together. for all its silliness and comedic set pieces, a new leaf is a film that challenges the audience. from the casting of matthau in a lead role to asking the audience to sympathise with the motivations of a psychopath, in some ways it feels as challenging now as it must have been on its original release. it's hard to believe anyone would get away with having a character like henry graham leading a romantic comedy today, so a new leaf really stands out as something of an anomaly.

a new leaf is available now on dual format blu-ray/dvd from eureka entertainment

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

day of the outlaw

day of the outlaw is a minimalist western that grabs you in the first ten minutes and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

the film is set in a small, snow-covered town in the middle of nowhere made up of a small group of farmers who after years of toil are finally starting to prosper. then there’s robert ryan’s character, blaise starrett, a self appointed lawman without a badge who took it upon himself to protect the town and clear out all the bad men. except the townsfolk don’t feel he’s necessary anymore and they want him out.

the best way to describe the plot of the film is to tell you what happens in a fairly pivotal scene. it’s early on in the film but some of the tension may be diluted if you know what’s going to happen, so spoiler warning.

starrett is facing three of the townsfolk in the bar. they’re all armed. he tells his friend to roll a bottle along the bar, and when the bottle hits the floor they draw. the bottle rolls, and then just as it’s about to reach the end of the bar the door opens and in walks captain bruhn (burl ives) and his band of outlaws. it’s one of the most tense moments i’ve ever seen in a film and it’s an amazing set-up.

bruhn and his men take the town hostage, but he makes a promise that no one will get hurt. the problem is bruhn is dying so the townsfolk not only have to figure out how to survive, they have to keep bruhn alive too otherwise his men will be out of control.

no one plays world-weary gunfighter like robert ryan, and here he’s on top form. stripped of his gun early on, he has to figure out how to outwit bruhn whilst also keeping the townsfolk from getting themselves killed. in a way, this film is as much a deconstructive character study of the gunfighter archetype as it is a true western. starrett begins the film as someone with no place in the world and in the end he’s no better than bruhn’s men. like all the men in the film, starrett has to decide whether to evolve or die and seeing ryan play this out is fascinating.

evolution is a theme that plays throughout the story. there is a real sense of men as animals; that they can’t be left alone with the women for more than five seconds without forcing themselves on them. i found the treatment of the female characters in day of the outlaw troubling at first, as they almost immediately become commodity rather than people – something the men in the town must protect and that the outlaws consider playthings. there is a particularly uncomfortable bar scene in which the women are forced to dance with the outlaws and things get out of hand rather quickly. but at the same time, the men in the film come off way worse than the women. there is a sense that all men, even the good ones, are barely-evolved beasts and that this small town would not be prospering if not for the more civilised women. the script certainly considers the women equals – they all have names and they talk to each other about things other than men. while it’s uncomfortable to watch this is ultimately a film about failed masculinity more than it is about women being out of place in the world. by the end, it’s the men who are out of place and there’s a sense that they always were.

i don’t want to spoil the final act of the film because part of the enjoyment comes from seeing how starrett outwits the outlaws, but i guarantee it doesn't end the way you expect it to. it’s one of the greatest final showdowns i’ve seen in a western and yet it’s completely understated.

the blu-ray of day of the outlaw looks great and though it's short on extras this is worth checking out just to own the film. day of the outlaw is a classic example of a filmmaker pushing the boundaries of a genre and doing something truly different. the entire history of the western genre is played out then subverted in day of the outlaw and it’s worth seeing for that reason alone.

day of the outlaw is available now on dual format blu-ray from eureka entertainment

Sunday, 6 December 2015

a girl walks home alone at night

it's late, i've just finished a five hour drive in the rain, i have a billion things to do before i go to bed, but i have to write something about this film.

so it's about this ghost town that could be in america and could be in iran - it's like it's set in neither country and both of them at the same time and it doesn't matter. and there's this hipster/emo vampire on a skateboard who torments the people living there, apart from this one guy. there's not too much plot, it's one of those films that's full of silences and long, lingering shots of empty streets and forlorn faces. it's the kind of film my brother jack despises, and yet he insisted i watch it this weekend because he figured i'd be into it.

he was right. i loved it.

like most vampire stories it's about addiction, but it's more complicated that. ultimately it's about wanting to do the things that you know will hurt, and then doing them anyway. it's about ruined lives, and people escaping ruined lives. it's about decay and the end of everything. it's about a million more things that i've been thinking about all day and don't have time to write about here.

also, the soundtrack is amazing.

and the actors are great.

and ana lily amirpour is a genius. i hope she makes more films.

you should see it, if you haven't already. it's really good.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

ghost story

ghost story is a 1981 film based on a novel by peter straub, which stephen king rates as one of the scariest ever written. it stars fred astaire but he doesn’t do any dancing because he’s old, and douglas fairbanks jnr, but he doesn’t do any fighting because that was his dad. and over thirty years after its release it’s still pretty scary.

so there’s this secret society, the chowder society, made up of four elderly gentlemen living in the same small town they’ve lived in their whole lives and entertaining themselves with ghost stories. as the four old men start to experience nightmares they begin to realise that one of their tales might be more than a story.

ghost story is the epitome of the slow-build horror film. after a rather effective jump-scare early on (followed by an unfortunately dated effects shot of a man falling from a window), the film settles into some serious story set-up. while the four members of the chowder society are ostensibly the protagonists, the audience is given a younger character to identify with in the form of disgraced teacher and struggling writer don wanderley (craig wasson). don initially returns to his home town for the funeral of his brother but is soon drawn into unravelling a mystery that he feels he may be connected to.

the common element that binds the characters together is don’s ex-fiancee, alma mobley, played to spooky perfection by alice krige (who would later become famous as the borg queen in star trek: first contact. i totally imdb’d that fact, i didn’t just know it or anything, honest). what krige does that works so well is she manages to be sympathetic enough for the audience to understand why don falls for her and at the same time exudes a sense of mystery that gradually tips over into creepy territory.

the performances in the film are great, particularly from fred astaire and john houseman as the two strongest voices of the chowder society. the film also looks amazing and the blu-ray really brings out the best of legendary cinematographer jack cardiff’s work. but what really makes ghost story work is lawrence d cohen’s script. cohen also worked on another seminal horror adaptation, brian de palma’s carrie, and later adapt stephen king’s it. here, he clearly shows a talent for adaptation. having not read the source material it’s hard to say how faithful the film is to the book, but it feels like it has the layers of a novel whilst totally working as a film, and cohen manages to tell a story that covers two generations without ever feeling like he’s cutting corners. although the ‘twist’ in the tale becomes obvious early on, it’s the how and why that's important and cohen has the audience asking those questions from the opening scene. from a story-telling perspective it’s impressive work and is complemented by john irvin’s assured direction.

i also feel like there was more going on in ghost story than i have time to write about here. ultimately it’s a story about guilt, and it’s hard to really go into that without giving away the story. but there is something very masculine about the guilt and it seems to be connected to sex. there’s a key scene in which one of the men fails to perform in bed with krige’s character, and the suggestion is that the guilt he feels from this moment spirals into the big plot event that happens later. i wonder what the implication of that is? furthermore, i wasn’t as concerned as i usually am about the lack of female characters in the film and its failure to pass the oft-cited bechdel test. here, it seemed completely necessary that krige’s character is standing alone against the male characters. she came across as vulnerable and strong at the same time and that resonated with me. ultimately, i think this story belongs to her much more than it does to the men in the film; she is the protagonist, because despite having much less screen time, she is the focus of almost every scene.

the blu-ray comes with some great extra features, including some interviews and a commentary from director irvin. overall this is an impressive presentation of a compelling horror film that still stands up today, and definitely one worth checking out.

second sight release ghost story on blu-ray and dvd on 7th december 2015