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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Ragnarok (2013) Horror Monster Myth

Ragnarok (2013)  - The solid writing in this good old fashioned monster movie makes for good introduction horror for the kids. Scary with children at risk, but never so much that there is a a thought of death. There is nothing gory or too violent in this Norwegian film. It is a tale of a man who is failing at raising his kids since his wife died of cancer 5 years prior, who is failing at his job as an archaeologist seeking the location of the viking myth Ragarök. While attempting proving that myth has a location he reconnects to his family and what is most important in life. The myth which is not really a place but the description of a series of events in the Poems of Edda is the myth used but it is a way for the family to get to the location of the monster. Once there we can see the interpersonal story withing the family play out to a satisfactory conclusion.
The father in this film is Sigard (Pal Sverre Hagen) who plays a man emotionally crippled five years after losing his wife to cancer. He is still struggling with the little things like feeding the children, daughter Ragnhild (Maria Annette Tandero Berglyd) and younger son Brage (Julian Podolski), getting them to school and showing up on time to there events. He is also in trouble in work, arriving late to an investors meeting at the museum his boss gives him the ultimatum he probably should have had years earlier. Problem with Sigard is that besides letting his grief handicap him he is obsessed with the myth of Ragnarok and as things in his personal life fall apart he discovers a cypher for some ruins he thinks will lead him to a great discovery. Packing up the family and accompanied by fellow researchers Allen (Nicolai Cleve Broch) and Elisabeth (Sofia Helin) they head off into the Finnmark along the old Soviet border in search of a myth.
  Well constructed with the building of the interpersonal relationships, the main character's flaws and the plot of the discovery, all withing the concise scenes that set the stage for the adventure. We end up with several well plotted line going at once. Ragnhild and Sigard must reconcile his ineffective parenting as she moves from her tweens to teens.get to his daughter's concert at school. Later with his inability to put her needs for a real vacation ahead of his need to search for vikings. Set up early with his inability to  Sigard must reconcile finally having not moved on from his wife by being presented a love interest. He must also balance the desire to solve the mystery of  his archaeological finds with the safety of his family.  Then also are some nicely set up secondary characters, like the shady guide who helps then find the lake of viking lore. A partner Allen also is well set up as the overly enthusiastic one, with no children of his own we can see his behavior contrasted to that of Sigard. It all comes together to tell a complete tales with multiple facets.
  If there is a criticism to be made it is that the film is so well designed that it is inevitable. I is an example of screenwriting that takes all the time needed, but the limited budget means that the excitement and effects are not included until the climax of the film. Around the twenty minute mark the film finally gets a group heading to the Finnmark, Sigard and his kids, Allen and assistant and love interest Elisabeth and guide Lief head into the wilderness across the old Soviet border to find the "Eye of Odin" which turns out to be a lake with an island in the middle of it. Everything is tied up neat and tidy with each location used later in the film being introduced earlier. Each interpersonal flaw seen earlier is either a cause of later trouble or weakness overcome later. Each set to be used later is shown but not explored. Since this is really a family monster movie we know certain things like the family will come out of it changed but alive. We know that since it is set up early that Sigard needs to move on from his wife's death we know the only other female character next to his daughter will survive as his love interest. That leaves two characters who are in jeopardy. The first being the greedy guide is set up when we meet him so his turn is expected. That leaves Allen and his betrayal or stupid move is straight out of one of the Jurassic Park movies.
  Do not allow these small criticisms to stop you from seeing this film. It is a wonderfully entertaining little family adventure. Sure you will have to read subtitles, unless there is a dubbed version out there somewhere but still it is worth it. There is a definite recommendation for this one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Theatre Bizarre (2011) Horror Anthology

The Theatre Bizarre (2011) - Anthologies have been really making a comeback the last few years. The VHS films and the ABCs of Death are a couple more successful entries. The Theater Bizarre with some wonderfully strange stories, more of a weird tales than hard horror is the latest to be reviewed here. Search anthology on the site for more reviews. This one starts a fever dream of an artist, Enola Penny (Virginia Newcomb) obsessed with the old theater across the street from her. Seeming emotionally unstable and frigidity she is drawn from her apartment into the theater. A scattering of mannequins occupy seats in the audience. Her presence raises a puppet like master of ceremonies, Peg Poett (Udo Kier) who reveals some other mechanized puppet that leads into each of the stories of this anthology. The trick of the interwoven piece is as each time the master of ceremonies returns he is a bit more human. Enola at the end becomes one of the puppets deposited onstage to become part of the play for the next person drawn to the Theatre Bizarre. It was written by Zach Chassler and directed by Jeremy Kasten. There was a depth of clarity missing in this piece where it did not have meaning in a way that the viewer could see it as one of the parts of the whole. Sure it connected the stories giving a familiar place to come back to and a way into the next. It was not strong enough though to stand on its own. It's meaning not communicated strongly enough leaving it just a device and not a self supporting piece of the film. It did have the wonderful treat of having the renown actor Udo Kier, a veteran of genre film, extraordinary performer he brings an expertise that raises the piece and at 70 years old commands a frame better than most actors.
The first is Mother of Toads about an anthropologist Martin (Shane Woodward) and his girlfriend, Karina (Victoria Maurette) who come across an old star symbol at a market in an old French village . The Store keeper, Mere (Catriona MacColl) talks of it being part of her family traditions for generations. She invites him (a fact not lost on his girlfriend) to come to the french countryside to see a copy of the Necronomicon.  As someone who studies such things Martin starts fitting the trip into their schedule right away without really consulting  but more explaining how its going to happen. There is some nice simple character dialog in this piece that defines the characters and brings the viewer right into their situation. He obviously has been here for a longer time than she and his condescending attitude quickly brings up the cracks in their relationship. She arrives to join him, a vacation for her and he has his interests forefront in his mind paying less attention to her than he should. Slightly obsessed with the symbols on a marker near the road, that he sees as signs, the boundary between the real world and the spirit world. We are having him cross a boundary, it may not be completely clear to the audience as this transition is subtle and it is certainly not clear to Karina who just wants to get to the spa but there is a symbolic change.
  Martin arrives at the house of Mere and fails to notice the symbols on the floor below the table she sits him at. We begin to learn that she is a witch and follower of the Mother of Toads and through mostly musical queues we see that her intentions for him go beyond sharing her beliefs. It is a classic motif of a witch seducing a traveler on the road and is done with atmosphere and style by director Richard Stanley. Mere is played with, possibly overplayed by MacColl yet another veteran actor who known for some favorites from the seventies, The Beyond, House by the Cemetery and City of the Living Dead. Stanley also holds a place in genre hearts with his wonderful, Dust Devil, as well as directing the less acclaimed The Island of Dr. Moreau and Hardware. He pulls no punches with this story and it is appreciated.
 Seduced and condemned the couple could have been part of an elaborate fever dream but instead we get some harsh reality. Karina coming back to pick up her missing boyfriend discovers the drugged and in the throws of some slimy lust making with a younger more fuck-able version of  Mere. She runs off into the now toad filled countryside to meet her doom. He wakes staring at an old photo that could be him.It's some old magic that enchanted him. A creature with the desire for a former lover a role that he easily filled.  The Mother of Toads has found the love of her past in the present and his inevitable rejection of her will also mean he is short for this world. There are some excellent visuals at this point in the movie. Groggy Martin wakes and the first indication we the audience get that things are awry is the clawed amphibian are draped over the man. Then as he gets up we get the full view of the toad creature sleeping next to him, our view from above.
  A dark tale warning that one should never reject a god. Mere certainly gives Martin the chance to save himself. She offers him more of the wonders of a goddess if only he will stay and be hers. His rejection seals his fate.
  The second tale, "I Love You" opens with a man Axel (André Hennicke) waking on a bathroom floor of his bathroom with a gash on his hand and wondering why his wife, Mo (Suzan Anbeh) is not home. An obsessive man with a drinking problem he is a man losing the woman he loves. He wants to know everything about her life at all times. She has decided that the overly attentive husband is not what she wants, but is is more than that. There is an intimacy problem that they have where he thinks sex is for him and fails to meet her needs. As we learn more we start to wonder about whether this is what it seems or some sort of hallucination the broken man is having. The story unfolds and we learn more and more about how broken their relationship has been. They have a conversation but the whole time you can think this is his subconscious working out the reasons why he has sunk so far. As the memories come to him now back in the aftermath on his bathroom floor we see that things are much worse than previously presented. It is an incredibly sad take on the dangers of  beautiful crazy love and how we create the reality we want when in its thrall. Written and directed by Buddy Giovinazzo.
  In "Wet Dreams" we meet a man Donnie (James Gill) driven by his desire but where his fantasies that become horrible nightmares. A wife Carla (Debbie Rochon) with emotional and physical scars theirs is a relationship on the rocks. Donnie's therapist Dr Maurey (Tom Savini) tries to help him get to the bottom of it but that role does not seem professional in his interactions with Donnie, maybe this is the first hint of the twisty twist of this segment. Whose dream is this anyway? Sometimes the penalty for our actions can't be dispelled by recognizing it is a nightmare. Making it hard to tell what is fantasy and what is reality is a problem for this segment. Maybe its the writing by John Esposito or maybe its the Directing by Savini or editing by Douglas Buck, or even this viewer may have been the issue but this segment was hard to define. Certainly it is a revenge tale but what part of it is real?
  "The Accident" is a meditation on death, framed in the eyes of a little girl who saw death on the side of the road. Traveling in her car a motorcycle hits a deer and is killed. The child trying to understand what she has seen asked her mother a bunch of question. She sees the suffering deer still alive and her mother calling the accident in. Cut with Mother (Lena Kleine) and Child (Melodie Simard) discussing the incident later. Touching but these type of stories have a hard to pull off. The child seems too smart in her dialog and the explanations too simple. It makes you wonder who the audience the piece is intended for. It is well done and a topic anyone with children will at some time have to breach. Not really fitting neatly with the other pieces in this film as it is far from the bizarre threshold the film name implies. Still writer director Douglas Buck makes a emotional short about the fragility of life.
  "Vision Stains" A strange but enjoyable story of a women gone mad with visions of other peoples memories. This young woman (Kaniehtiio Horn), a psychopath really learns that the key memories of a person's life are captured in the fluid of their eyes. When they die all those memories come to the forefront and can be extracted using a needle. So this young woman kills homeless women and using a needle extracts the memories from their eyes in what is wonderfully done special effects. She then injects this eye fluid in her own eye and relives the victims life memories. She records all she sees into journals and sees herself not as an addicted killer but as a recorder of those women's lives. Her commitment is important to her next idea where she steps even a step further than she has. Not ready to settle for live that have been lived she wants to see the memories of someone who has yet to see. Then things go horribly wrong. Writer / director Karim Hussain has statements in the climax about predestination and lack of original lives and stories was cynical, first in its assumption of even a distracted God but second in that knowing we are predestined seemed unbearable. A side note that there are several stories about people coming out of the theater during Visions Stains and fainting from the eye damage special effects.
The final story "Sweets" is a sad and sorry tale of a relationship at its end.Written and directed by David Gregory it is centered around the gluttony of sweets. We see a fat (ish) man, Greg (Guilford Adams) struggling to come to terms with his attractive girlfriend Estelle (Lindsay Goranson) as she dumps him. The Excellent straight faced liturgy of cliche excuses she runs though are a great counter to his overly emotional almost child like whining. The disgusting room filled with rotting sweets is the perfect metaphor for the  crumbling relationship. Then the mixed in scenes of them in happier times is a perfect counter of then and now. Then when the turn of the story come it is so wonderfully evil that it makes the whole story. The truly grisly scene is worth the wait.
  Overall this was an interesting anthology. Like every anthology the opportunity to have hits and misses is there. This one hits more than it misses. Strange is what it is about and it lives up tho its title of Bizarre. Recommended.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Etheria Film Night (2014) Horror Sci-Fi

Etheria Film Night (2014) - Why does there have to be a organization collecting, choosing and promoting women in genre film making? It became very evident why during the event, after the shorts had played and before the feature. Put on by All Things Horror for the third consecutive time  Etheria Film Night at the Somerville Theater features women writers, directors, film makers, and women in the genre film making industry who most people have never heard of. They promote women working in the industry and try to get their films seen by a wider audience. Co-founder Stacy Pippi Hammon flew in from the west coast to represent the group and wanted to do a swag give away based on answers to trivia questions. All the answers were women who have done fabulous work in the industry but getting correct answers to the questions was a challenge. The small audience of 20 or so, myself included had a very hard time coming up with the names so much that Stacy needed to give hints. As she said in the session, if she were to ask you to rattle off a few Wes Craven films most people could do so; but if she was to ask you to do the same for women who have done equally solid work you could not. It is not that women are not doing great work in genre film making it is that getting noticed is difficult. Etheria works at celebrating and promoting their work trying to get a wider audience to see and appreciate it. The shorts and feature on this film night were chosen from more than 500 submissions and have been promoted by the organization for the entire year. The quality of the films was very good and it was a nice mix of horror and horror elements and some science fiction mixed in. This night consisted of seven shorts and a feature all worth the time to find watch, and enjoy.
 The Guest (2013) - Written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic is a only five minutes long but delivers a barrage of beautifully framed imagery while telling a story of a man paying a debt owed to a hidden demon. Wonderful to look at with stark contrasts we see the outcome of a deal made that must be paid. The framing of shots with focus on color and contrast work well if even at one point a clumsy blood spurting device pulls you out for a second. Shorts are interesting containers for ideas, often coming in late and leaving as soon as the idea is delivered works best and this dark little moment in the main characters life is presented with style. We will soon see more from Vuckovic as she starts her first feature an adaptation of Clive Barker's Jacqueline Ess (possibly) with actress Lena Headley. It's in preproduction so sometimes things change.
  Serpent's Lullaby (2014) - This 13 minute short does a good job in revealing, dropping hints and the filling out the picture with atmosphere and style. It is a story of an eccentric women (Jenimay Walker) at the moment of her greatest life decision. Watching this without knowing anything about it is a better experience than reading about it first. Pay attention to the hints along the way to discover the sad tale of desire for love but always having to deal with loss. The chtonic character coming into a modern world but holding onto the ritual of burial is poignant. Director Patricia Chica executes the story well and the script written by Charles Hall has emotional resonance. Leaving aside that the myth the lead character is based on has a definitive end, we can call this a what if... tale.
  Little Lamb (2012) -Written and Directed by Heidi Lee Douglas. A rear period piece in the short format which may be why it was stretched to twenty-three minutes. It succeeds in the things that make it a period piece, the settings including some haunting landscapes, the costumes and the wee bit of history shared that sets the period. What it does not do is particularly make that time period essential to the story.  It uses the 1829 women's prison in Tasmania to set up why the lead character Louisa, a criminal girl who see the job as a servant with the mysterious Mr Black as a better alternative to captivity in the prison.  It's the tales kicking off point; the rest of the yearn could have been anytime in history. The story is a simple one, once you get past the window dressings. It is a 'don't look in the locked room' warning story but with elements of the French Folktale Bluebeard. So we know what will inevitably happen to spur the climax which is well executed.This film looks great and is dark and foreboding and ends in fire.
  You Me & Her (2014) - Written and Directed by Sarah Doyle. A multidimensional story of how a woman named Anna (Shannon Woodward) breaks out of her mundane life no matter the consequences. Dimensional sci-fi stories are always a double edged sword. On one hand there is the wonder of the differences of like, but not the exact same dimension where character can either explore or like in the case of this find out about the other side. These stories can be anything from scary to strange to humorous but there is always the second edge. The benefit of having anything be possible by compare and contrast can also work against a story if the items being examined are too cliche. This story comes close to that but is saved by the turn. Funny and thoughtful it not only describes the situation but the mental state of the lead character so that her consequence filled decision can not be seen as negative or callous. As she says "I'm a human being, I have a voice and I deserve to be happy." As we all do.
  113 Degrees (2013) -  A woman scorned story? After over 500 days in space crew members  Francesca (Lizzy Davis) and Joe (Brian Groh) have developed a affair of convenience. Well at least that is how it could be seen, instead of talking with Brian about where there relationship will go once back on earth Francesca thinks she knows the harsh reality. While Francesca has to repair a coolant leak outside the ship she start getting ideas about how they can end their relationship. The consequences will mark them irreversibly. At twenty-one minutes the film feels a bit longer, the romance elements driving the film seem counter to the action taken. The lack of communication seems strange considering they have nothing but time to work things out. It seems in that time they would have at least broached the subject of  "What happens when we get back home?"
  Dawn (2014) -  Director Rose McGowan takes the imagined early 60's innocence, the simpler time where young love blooms between sheltered Dawn (Tara Lynne Barr) and gas station attendant Charlie (Reiley McClendon). Twisting this nostalgic time into a dark tale of hurtful malice. Written by M.A. Fortin, and Joshua John Miller it captures a time before the youth social awakening, when parents were still over bearing and in this case the character Dawn is too unexposed to the world to know how to save herself from the influence of Charlie. It is sad and shocking but well executed with each subtle turn fitting perfectly into the world that is created on screen
  Hide and Seek (2013) - Kayoko Asakura brings us this quick 11 minutes of grief fueled sadness laden story of loss and jealousy. Yohei (Keitarô Komuro) comes to the house of Hanao (Asaka Nakamura) to learn the traditional Japanese instrument the Koto. She sees Hanao's son running around playing hide and seek and mentions it off hand. What follows are some good horror elements and a twist to reveal what is really going on. Simple but effective.
  The Jelly Wrestler (2013) -Ending the shorts on a humorous note is always a positive at these events, and The Jelly Wrestler is just that. Bartender Eileen's (Elisa Taylor) best days may be past her but when she takes one last shot at fame with a jello wrestling contest at the bar she worked in. Years before she was the champ but an incident with a rival ended her rain. Now with manager Amy needing to be trained another shot at glory presents itself, but at what price. This film is kicks and really tells a yearn in its 15 minutes. Director Rebecca Thomson keeps the stakes high but the fun flowing from a script by Claire D'Este. They have us pulling for Eileen all the way through.
 Soulmate (2013) -Writer / Director Axelle Carolyn created a sad story of a widow who after a suicide attempt seeks recovery in the isolation of a small Welsh village in the country. An unexpected companion helps her to move past her loss and begin living again but at what cost? Taken for what you see on the screen its a ghost tale. One in which the connection between Audrey (Anna Walton) and Douglas (Tom Wisdom) is the energy put out by the thoughts of suicide, his years before resulting in his death and hers more recent where she survived. The film becomes about how his spirit strengthens her while at the same time giving him someone to interact with for the first time since his death. She also make him more real as seen by the change in makeup on the character as the film progresses. Through the characters of Theresa (Tanya Myers) and Dr. Zellaby (Nick Brimble) the property managers of the cottage we discover the history of Douglas and how he came to his haunting. There is some smart writing by Carolyn in making the expository characters be intrinsically tied to the story of the cottage. So often exposition feels like an information dump by making Theresa a player in Douglas' story it allows the exposition without the information feeling forced. Theresa organically shares the idea about like spiritual energies because her character is built in a way that she has a reason to know about it. It is brought home even further by making her part of both the turn and the twist of the story.
  The film is interesting in it is a story that can be read from different character and each will see something different. For Audrey it is a ghost story, where she actually has a relationship with him and they play out a storyline together about grief and loneliness and coming to a place where you have to choose between staying in the world of the living or seeking death. If looking at the story from the property managers they are tied to the history of the house. Theresa is trying to reconcile her guilt connected to Douglas' death and sees Audrey's validation of Douglas' existence as an opportunity she to this point has not had. Now there is a possibility that they are just getting caught up in the imaginings of Audrey's psychosis and maybe if Douglas is not real the events of the climax went differently than seen in the film. Its an interesting exercise to try to explain the outcome of the climax from the point of view that Audrey is psychotic and Douglas does not exist; that is a bit of speculation though. There is still another way to read this film and that is from the point of view of Audrey's family. They see a women who after a suicide attempt runs off to the Welsh countryside and then eventually is returned in worse condition than she left. For them she has left to finish what she started in the first scene of the film.
  The film looks good and the music is understated and fits well in the film. it's a well tied together tale with interesting juxtapositions between the characters. There was a wish that the pacing could have been a bit sharper.  It is also amusing that the dog's name is Anubis in real life, its fits so perfectly as a symbol. Still it is a fine film that tells an interesting story about grief and finding reasons to live after loss.
  The night of films were quite enjoyable and I was happy to support a group looking to advance the work of Etheria and thank them for putting such a high quality selection together. I was also glad to see Stacy Pippi Hammon supporting the groups that play the Film Night by coming in with swag. So people should check out there website and if you program film events consider Etheria for quality films. An a big shout out to All Things Horror who sponsored the event and continue to be such a vital leader for horror lovers in eastern Massachusetts.