30 July, 2010

Talleres Clandestinos (2010)

The European Film Academy (EFA) and the Curtas Vila do Conde International Short Film Festival offer their congratulations to the Vila do Conde Short Film Nominee for the European Film Awards 2010.

Talleres Clandestinos, by Catalina Molina, is an Austrian/Argentinian production and tells the story of Juana, a young Bolivian woman, who goes to neighbouring Argentina to work as a seamstress, while her husband and child remain behind. But it doesn’t take long for the illusion of financial gain to burst – Juana is being exploited and must produce textiles for a luxury brand. Her employer’s demands become ever more absurd, and working conditions become unbearable. When her son becomes ill, Juana starts making plans to return but, as far as her employer is concerned, leaving is not an option...

The film is nominated for the European Film Academy Short Film 2010 award. It was selected by the festival’s jury for the national and international competition which was made up of Portuguese director/photographer Daniel Blaufuks, Laurent Guerrier, festival programmer from Clermont-Ferrand, and directors Balint Kenyeres (Hungary), Manuel Monzos (Portugal), and Katell Quillévéré (France).

The short film initiative is organised by the European Film Academy in co-operation with 15 film festivals throughout Europe. At each of these festivals, an independent jury presents one of the European short films in competition with a nomination in the short film category of the European Film Awards.

When the annual cycle is completed in September, the nominees will be presented to the more-than 2,000 members of the European Film Academy, who will choose the overall winner: the European Film Academy Short Film 2010, which will be presented at the 23rd European Film Awards Ceremony on 4 December in Tallinn, Estonia.

This article first appeared on the European Film Academy (EFA) website, and is reproduced here with the EFA's permission.

22 July, 2010

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

And what rough beast…?

Director Roman Polanski was honoured with the EFA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 - and this is still his best film.

Can it really be already 40 years since Roman Polanski’s paranoia classic proved that big-budget, intelligent and truly creepy horror had a place in mainstream (even Oscar-honoured) cinema? Time for a tribute, then, to one of the very best fright films ever made.

It has been claimed that, such is the fidelity of Polanski’s vision of Ira Levin’s original novel, if you’ve seen the film of Rosemary’s Baby, you don’t need to read the book, and vice versa.

It is this reviewer’s opinion that you’re missing out if you miss either of them – but, Polanski’s film, which numbers among the very best cinema adapations ever (and it was produced, amazingly enough, by 1950s and 60s schlock-meister William Castle) amounts to so much more than Ira Levin’s (admittedly very well-written and gripping) original novel.

It’s happy times for young couple Guy (John Cassavetes) and Rosemary Woodhouse (Mia Farrow) – he’s a talented but as yet under-employed theatre thesp looking for his break into movies, and she’s a beautiful, broody housewife delighted at the prospect of moving into their suite of rooms in The Bramford, a gloomily gothic but beautiful New York apartment building. Their former landlord, Hutch (Maurice Evans), is sad to see them go and, over a ‘last supper’, entertains them with tales of The Bramford’s creepy, even diabolical, history, which involves Satanists, dead infants and cannabalism. Rosemary and Guy don’t take his warnings seriously, of course – they’re getting the apartment for a song and, besides, bad things have happened in every old building, right?

Well, the first bad thing to happen during their new tenancy is the suicide of a young girl, Terry (Victoria Vetri), that Rosemary had been getting to know at laundry time. She had been a guest of Minnie (Ruth Gordon) and Roman (Sidney Blackmer) Castevet, the Woodhouses’ next-door neighbours and, to help the Castevets get over their pain, Guy and Rosemary accept Minnie’s invitation to join them for dinner. The Castevets (and Minnie in particular) slowly become more involved in the Woodhouses’ lives and, when Rosemary falls pregnant after ‘Guy’ makes love to her when she’s ‘drunk’, things start to get really weird…

Forgive the somewhat vague synopsis – it’s there for the benefit of those who have not yet had the pleasure of seeing the film. And what a treat you have in store – a consummately brilliant, superbly acted study in (justified?) paranoia. Rosemary slowly becomes convinced that both her neighbours, and even her new gynecologist Dr. Abraham Sapirstein (Ralph Bellamy), who was hired for her at the insistence (and expense) of the Castevets, may have their own designs on her unborn child – when she discovers that Roman is the son of celebrated 19th-century Satanist Steven Macarto (‘the name’s an anagram’ – the message Hutch left Rosemary from his death-bed), it would appear that her worst fears are confirmed. She has no idea…

Ruth Gordon won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of a real neighbour from Hell (the first such gong to be awarded to a horror film since Frederic March scooped Best Actor in Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1931)), and the rest of the cast are exemplary but, what really makes the thing sing (or shriek) is Polanski’s profoundly witty and disturbing screenplay and direction.

As Stephen King wrote in Danse Macabre, Rosemary’s Baby can almost be read as an incredibly dark shaggy-dog story – ‘What have you done to his eyes?’, Rosemary shrieks at the climax. Roman’s response? ‘He has his father’s eyes.’

A marvel – and, as with classics such as Psycho (1960), The Great Escape (1963) or Jaws (1975), it’s the sort of film that’s always worth just one more view. And, if you’ll excuse me, that’s exactly what I’m going to do now. See you at The Bramford…

PS. The Dakota, located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West in New York City, was the actual building Polanski used for the exterior shots of The Bramford (and it’s been steam-cleaned since the film was made, which unfortunately makes it look a good deal less creepy). John Lennon once lived there with Yoko Ono – on its steps, on 8 December 1980, the Beatle was murdered.

Awards: Click here for details.

136 mins.

17 July, 2010

John Carpenter's The Thing (1982)

A thing of darkness...

In 1999, renowned Italian composer Ennio Morricone was honoured with an EFA Liftime Achievement Award - we pay tribute to a truly creepy film that featured one of his creepiest scores.

Late 2009 provided a rare chance for certain upper-echelon critics to admit they got it wrong at the time, as they tend to do (get it wrong, that is, not own up and retract) with all the very best horror (Peeping Tom (1960), anyone?) – in a master stroke, presumably to celebrate, erm, the 27 years that had passed since its original release, John Carpenter’s masterpiece of paranoia, suspense, still-incredible S/FX and terror, The Thing (1982), was briefly re-released in UK cinemas.

And those critics of the time? Virtually to a man (with the notable exception of horror historian Alan Frank and, more recently, Anne Billson, who wrote a superb appreciation of the film for BFI Modern Classics) they slammed it – to be fair, the last truly great horror boom was in full swing, and one might forgive some commentators for being a little jaded with the blood-and-guts excesses of films such as Friday the 13th (1980), The Burning (1981) etc, and it was the same year as Spielberg’s mega-smash ‘cuddly alien’ E.T. – The Extraterrestrial (1982), but they missed so much in what is now rightly regarded as one of the 20th century’s landmark horror films, with shape-shifting effects from Rob Bottin (accomplished way before the days of CGI) that are still jaw-dropping.

Bill Lancaster’s tight and spare screenplay, a brilliant adaptation of John W. Campbell’s 1930s sci-fi short story Who Goes There?, focuses on the paranoia of an enclosed group, facing the fact that one (or more) of their number is a monster in hiding, with remarkable characterizations from the all-male cast, each of which provides a nuanced, subtle evocation of their reaction to the deteriorating situation. Backed up beautifully by Ennio Morricone's haunting, singular soundtrack, this is the real deal.

Alcoholic ‘copter pilot R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell) becomes the group’s reluctant leader, gradually transforming into Everyman as the implications of the infection become apparent – basically, the thing has big plans, but it didn’t count on Mac…

Macready: I know I’m human. And if you were all these things, then you’d just attack me right now, so some of you are still human. This thing doesn’t want to show itself, it wants to hide inside an imitation. It’ll fight if it has to, but it’s vulnerable out in the open. If it takes us over, then it has no more enemies, nobody left to kill it. And then it’s won.

In fact, it is Dr. Blair (a wonderfully manic Wilford Brimley) who first realizes the enormity of what the group (Nauls (T.K. Carter), Palmer (David Clennon), Childs (Keith David), Dr. Copper (Richard Dysart), Norris (Charles Hallahan), Bennings (Peter Maloney), Clark (Richard Masur), Garry (Donald Moffat), Fuchs (Joel Polis), Windows (Thomas Waites)) is facing, but he quickly develops his own agenda (he goes stir-crazy), leaving Macready to take up the cudgels against their extraterrestrial ‘guest’.

The story was also the inspiration for the Christian Nyby/Howard Hawks/Orson Welles (?) film The Thing from Another World (1951) which, while still a thrilling sci-fi epic, reduced the monster to James Arness running around in a Boris Karloff-esque outfit and dispensed entirely with the paranoia elements essential to Carpenter’s vision.

The film forms part of Carpenter’s self-proclaimed ‘Apocalypse Trilogy’ (the other two being In the Mouth of Madness (1995) and Prince of Darkness (1987)), and, even though he is the director who redefined horror with works such as Hallowe’en (1978) and The Fog (1980), The Thing was without question his finest hour. Arguably the first film to incorporate horror and a ‘whodunnit’ theme, it’s full of intricate, ambiguous detail. Who was the shadow on the wall? Who was first infected? Who stole the keys? Who survives? Well, that would be telling…

Childs: What do we do now?
MacReady: Why don’t we just wait here for a little while… see what happens…

Horror of horrors, a ‘companion piece’ prequel is now being promised for 2011. Now, there’s a scary thought…

Awards: Click here for details.

109 mins.

10 July, 2010

The Ladykillers (1955)

Killing joke

The late, great Sir Alec Guinness was the recipient of the EFA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 - we pay tribute here to one of his finest films.

One of the cinematic sensations of the 21st century is that the Tom Hanks-led remake of this emblematic Ealing comedy, with Alec Guinness the mastermind of a brilliantly surreal blag featuring a gang disguised as chamber musicians, did not make fans of the original throw themselves under a train. Could there be a better testament to the muscle of the scenario and scripting of Alexander Mackendrick’s fine work?

The current writer confesses to being a devotee of railways, (for shame) a Londoner and a faint, one-remove remembrancer of the make-do-and-mend Britain ironically celebrated in Larkin’s Whitsun Weddings. Thus, this masterpiece weaves a special spell.

The film is shot in colour, yet you’d hardly know it. It is set, purposely, in what was once a hinterland of railway sidings, Scammell Scarab mechanical horses, inerasable smuts, gasholders, back-to-backs, north of the Euston Road; here rise the spires of St Pancras; there the exhaust of a departing loco of one of Gresley’s sublime A4 streamliners, up the brick-lined defile of a gradient from King’s Cross. We are in Britain, 1955; and the emphasis is less on the fact that nothing much seems to have changed rather than nothing can ever change. Hence the chintzy interior of Guinness and co’s hired lodgings, the end-of-terrace house owned by Mrs Wilberforce (Katie Johnson), whose parlour presents a gaily chromatic contrast to the black-pudding-coloured grime of the outside world. Few, if any, British movies have ever summarized time and place with more poetry. Halliwell called it ‘oddly dislikeable’. Takes one to know one.

Guinness’s cadaverous charm was never more unnervingly effective (his first appearance at the door of Mrs Wilberforce is one of the most gruesomely ingratiating entrances in all cinema); trigger-happy pro (Herbert Lom); there’s the edgy chancer/corner-boy (Peter Sellers), the doddering old lag who passes perfectly as a ‘Major’ (Cecil Parker) and aphasic thicko/Bernard Bresslaw-wannabe (Danny Green). So far, so predictable; but the sheer bizarreness of the plot, and the miraculous way in which it is made entirely believable – an early LP playing to reproduce the sound of the quintet the gang pose as and cover for their discussions – represents British film-making at its most powerful.

The slow, slightly bathetic unravelling of the heist, the inevitable betrayal of the crooks as perpetual losers – none of them are remotely ladykillers, figuratively or literally – comes to a climax in the steam and smoke of of the railway whose soundtrack is as omnipresent as a cold; clunking signals, tootling whistles, the susurrus of rolling stock. All is half-obscured by a pea-souper of what were then not called carbon emissions.

The Ladykillers is a very strange movie – it is simultaneously ultra-English but also, in its pacing and plotting, very un-English, i.e. unHollywoodized. It is, this writer contends, one of the ten movies a Brit should be in possession of to educate foreigners in our ways. That the word ‘discuss’ should be appended to this review is surely proof of its qualities. So go on. Discuss…

Awards: Click here for details.

Paul Stump
91 mins.

04 July, 2010

Extended Python

I was amused to discover, trawling through the European Film Academy archives, that the Monty Python team (surely the greatest British contributors to comedy?) were honoured with an EFA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. So, a small tribute to a little-known outtake from what is perhaps their funniest film, Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979).

What? Extended Python? And I thought this was a film site. Fear not, for despite the innuendo-laden title, I have some superb news. Many of you may be wondering why, at the end of Life of Brian, the self-proclaimed Suicide Squad stepped forward and promptly, well, committed suicide. I had wondered this myself for some time.

It seemed to me to be a complete non sequitur as far as the plot and general story line went. It turns out that there is something of a back story to this particular piece of silliness. The Suicide Squad actually appeared in a segment of the film that was cut from the final release. The reason? Well, it probably had something to do with the fact that the Suicide Squad were something of a bunch of hardline Nazis. Jewish Nazis to be exact: ("All dead good Jewish boys – no foreigners"). They were quite happy to share the Holy Land but only with people who were properly Jewish, and the fact that their initials were 'SS' was, I’m sure, entirely coincidental. I am guessing the Python team may have already been in enough trouble for having a well-aimed crack at organized religion by parodying the birth and life of Jesus, and thought better of it.

The piece itself could not be more ridiculous and I personally found it very amusing. When placed in the original context of the film, it does make sense; burlesque rather than offensive. You can judge for yourself by clicking here. The quality of the clip is very poor indeed in places but is still watchable – especially if you aren’t lucky enough to have seen it before.