Tag Archives: Foreign

Child’s Pose (2013)

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Ah, to be rich, dysfunctional, and morally bankrupt. In Child’s Pose, Cornelia (Luminita Keneres), a wealthy Romanian divorcee,  yearns to exercise control over her adult son Bardu (Bogdan Dumitrache)’s life. Ironically, it is when tragedy strikes and Bardu kills a young boy with his automobile while speeding and tailgating another car that Cornelia gets the ultimate opportunity to mommy him back into her grasp.

The child, a fourteen year old, is from a low  income neighborhood, and his enraged uncle threatens violence against Cornelia and her son, exclaiming, “They don’t care about us.” Who is he referring to? The poor, of course, those not fortunate enough to employ maids to clean their posh apartments and wear nice clothing and jewelry. And the sad thing is, he’s mostly right.

The fussy Bardu cares more about the needle he is injected with proceeding the accident than the loss of the boy’s life, while for Cornelia, it’s never been about the child. She just wants to keep her apathetic rich kid son out of a slam me in the ass prison and reassert her role as #1 woman in his life. Passing bribes around like hot potatoes should do the trick, right?

It’s not until Corneila, Bardu, and Bardu’s young wife Carmen (Ilinca Goia) really encounter the boy’s grief stricken family face to face that they really understand the damage that has been wrought, leading to a fleeting moment of redemption. Because it was really about the kid all along, not the money, not the rich family’s dignity, not Bardu going to  prison. Bardu was negligent and that negligence cost another family their oldest child.

This moment; when Cornelia faces the victim’s grieving parents, is heartbreaking without being overwrought. as the encounter causes both Cornelia and the parents of the dead kid to break down in tears and defeat. Along with the social commentary plot (the gap between the rich and poor in Romania, and everywhere,) we see  just how much the horrid yet tragic Cornelia needs validation from her son, who responds with hatred and practiced apathy.

 Child’s Pose is a film for patient audiences, audiences who are content to see a story unfurl, not burst forth with a crackle and a pop. There is no violence, no insane plot twists, no special effects. Instead we get a look at a diseased mother son relationship with a few clues as to how it came to be that way. The actors knock it out of the ballpark, Luminita Gheorghiu gives a mesmerizing lead performance as a woman desperate for love from her child for whom life is a series of draining barters and exchanges.

He speaks with her eyes, her face remaining an impassive mask until the film’s final minutes. The beauty in this film is although the leads are horrible people, the ending gives them a glimmer of redemption. The performances also lend humanity to people for whom money is love, and love cash to be bartered.

The washed out colors provide a grim visual scheme, as the camera lingers on the character’s faces, waiting for a reaction, maybe an outburst, in their dull, listless faces. Who is the child of the film’s title? The dead boy? The baby Bardu shirks having with his frustrated wife? Or maybe Bardu himself is the child, unwilling or unable to face up to his actions. Maybe too much exorbitant wealth and not enough real life experience makes children of us all.

Nothing shocking or tawdry here, just good dialogue driven drama about the price of thinking that since you have money and social status, nothing can touch you. For 3/4 of the movie, the victim is hardly mentioned, his name merely whispered and followed by talk of dollars and debts. Remember when Jesus said ‘it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to Heaven?’ I don’t pay much credence to these things, but the same is true here. But the corrupt, tangled family unit might be closer to heaven by the end of this movie than they were 112 minutes ago.

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Goodnight Mommy (2014)

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***Warning- This review contains spoilers. Read at your own risk,*** Ugh. I had such high hopes for this movie. The theatrical trailer promised creepiness, atmosphere, and a chilling amount of well-thought-out psychological horror. Well, it arguably has some of these things, except maybe the well-thought-out part. Disclaimer- Goodnight Mommy is visually beautiful and atmospheric, set in the scenic location of rural Austria. But as good as it looks, a movie like this needs a satisfying payoff. And that, my friends, is where the film seriously disappoints.

Beware, potential viewers, this is when I get into big spoiler territory- to comment on how Goodnight Mommy fails as a narrative and a horror film. The movie has a deliciously spooky premise, as two nine-year-old twin brothers Lukas and Elias (Played by Lukas and Elias Schwartz) wait for their mother (Suzanne Wuest) in their isolated house, only to have her return covered in bandages and not the same loving woman as she was before her operation.

Whether she’s literally not the same woman or just has suffered a drastic change psychologically is anyone’s guess. This woman-creature, however, is about as far from ‘motherly’ as it is possible to be, slapping her sons around, sleeping with the shades drawn all day, and gobbling cockroaches. Understandably perturbed, the boys decide to investigate.

Initially, we are treated to a visually sumptuous, intriguing build-up, with the boys simply occupying the exclusive,  enthralling, and slightly spooky and sinister world they share together. They wander into caves, run through cornfields, and and at one point enter a underground room which is inexplicably littered with human bones to retrieve a yowling stray cat. Mom’s not well, so they pretty much do their own thing, and this childhood drama laced with the uncanny and outright horror is weirdly compelling.

However, when mom starts addressing one boy and acting as if the other doesn’t exist, I had one fervent plea to ask of the script- ‘please don’t let one twin be dead and the other hallucinating him.’ That’s like, the biggest cop-out twist that it’s possible to incorporate in a movie like this. Well, the film devolves near the end into virtual torture porn, where the little boys brutalize their mother for information. She says she’s their real mama, but they don’t believe it. The long, lingering violence perpetrated by two little kids is unnerving, but not necessary or  crucial to the narrative either, like a sick joke with a pitch-black punchline.

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I sat through it, albeit in relative discomfort, hoping for a kick-ass twist that would exceed my expectations. But no, they insisted on going down that road. The road with the dead kid and his grief-stricken twin too traumatized, or too bat crap- crazy, to acknowledge his loss. Didn’t The Other by Thomas Tryon already do this to better effect? (the book, which was outstanding, not the movie, which is arguably worse than this one.)

There are a handful of creepy moments to be had here (just seeing the mother swathed in bandages is enough to give me the willies.) Mostly it is an overlong (even at 99 minutes) movie which stretches out it’s screen time by featuring unnecessary visits from unnecessary additions to a paper thin script. That would be okay if the twist was worth half a turd squirt. It isn’t. Many small horror films with ultimately little to say can achieve a near-perfect balancing act from their chilling sense of suspense and mounting dread.

Take the movie Honeymoon. it’s a small, modest, low-budget horror. It works at holding our rapt attention. The Living and the Dead has a tiny plot (a woman with cancer imprisoned in her house by her irrational son) and could certainly be cut down ten minutes or so but somehow it earns our grief and sympathy. Goodnight Mommy has a spectacularly Gothic atmosphere (despite being set in a modern-style pad) and is even chilling at times, but ultimately lets us down with it’s distinct lack of anything new, innovative, or original to offer.

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Mostly Martha (2001)

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When in doubt, let go of the inhibitions and prejudices holding you back. A high-powered career person’s heart melting after being given custody of an adorable orphan  isn’t the most  original premise, but “Mostly Martha,” with the help of a touching performance by it’s lead, Martina Gedeck, handles the somewhat been-there-done-that story line with surprising finesse.

Martha (Gedeck) is a neurotic, anal-retentive chef who is helpfully informed by her boss Frida (Sibylle Canonica) that the only reason she hasn’t been fired for her temperamental behavior and fiery outbursts is because she is an amazing cook. Frida wants to hire another head cook to help Martha in their posh restaurant, but Martha is quite insistent that she be the only one in the kitchen, as in life, to run the show.

When Martha’s sister Christin abruptly and tragically dies in a car accident, Martha is given  custody of her eight-year-old daughter, Lina (Maxime Foerste.) Martha has no idea to to connect with the depressed and unresponsive girl, especially when grieving herself for the sister she didn’t have the warmest relationship with. However, Mario (Sergio Castellitto), an eccentric new employee at the restaurant and potential love interest for the uptight Martha, may help give her and Lena the new lease on life they need.

“Mostly Martha” has it all- tragedy, love, romance, tension and lots and lots of food porn. It did think it was a little so-so as far as plot (especially with the big turning point where Martha just hands Lina over to a man who’s apparently her biological father (Diego Riban) on the basis of a letter and with no questions asked- never mind that this guy could be a sex offender, an addict, or just an all-around horrible dad… paternity isn’t everything folks!) Also, the ending seemed a bit easy, but it’s intention is clearly to be a romantic heart warmer, not a cut-and-dry realistic piece.

However, where the plot may falter, Martina Gedeck is completely convincing as Martha, the kind of woman who goes to a psychologist (August Zirner) and takes up their time together with talking and making metaphors about food. Martha loves food as much as a Trekkie love their Spock and Picard- it’s not as much a mere interest as an all-consuming obsession.

Gedeck makes us sympathize with a chilly, emotionally damaged woman that would probably be hell to be around in real life, and she never overplays her character or makes her a cartoon of compulsive behavior. We root for her to end up with Mario and maintain custody of Lina not because these things cure her of her frustrating tendencies but because they make her a happier person- and happiness seems to be a step in the right direction.

So, even though “Mostly Martha” is a mostly formulaic movie (see how I did that there?) , the acting and the undeniable chemistry between Castellitto and Gedeck make it a savory romantic comedy, if not a mind-blowing one. There’s no doubt in our minds what’s going to happen by the film’s end, but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t partake, unless of course your an incorrigible sourpuss. Plus, food porn! If you like foodie movies so you can sit back and undress the food with your eyes, this is the movie for you. “Mostly Martha” is ultimately more an appetizer than a banquet, but it’s a pleasant and charming diversion and by all means worth checking out.

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Paradise: Love (2012)

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  Pardon my French, but these old corpulent tourist cunts need a serious kick in the teeth. I haven’t been discomforted by watching a movie like this in along time. And considering the crazy – disturbing crap I watch on a regular basis, that, my friend, is saying something!

Controversial filmmaker Ulrich Seidl’s first installment  in the ‘Paradise’ trilogy takes a probing look into the world of sex tourism. 50  year  old Teresa (Margarete Tiesel ) yearns for love, but what kind of love can be found here  as a aging ‘sugar mama,’ travelling to Kenya to tempt young impoverished men with unspoken promises of material prostitution? She says at one point that she needs a man to see her for who she really is, past the saggy boobs and stretch marks and wrinkles, yet she dehumanizes the black men she shamelessly uses for sex as soulless slabs of ebony flesh.

Early on, she and a friend (Inge Maux) talk crassly and loudly about the black male as pure object in front of a young barkeep, carelessly assuming by default that the man can’t understand a thing they’re saying. In one fell swoop, a sensual, vibrant country which a rich culture and history is reduced to a kitschy tourist trap where unattractive old women go to get fucked and idly take in the scenery. This is reflected in the apparent belief by the tourists that they can learn a few trite words and phrases in Swahili and they’re fully assimilated into Kenyan culture.

The nudity and sexual content here is frank verging in a uncomfortable striptease scene as unnecessarily  pornographic  and the raw nakedness displayed on screen is not always flattering, especially as far as the women are concerned. I have to admit, the extended stripping/boner scene took this movie down a few notches for me, having crossed the line in my eyes and become borderline pornography, but the movie itself is a deliciously ambiguous portrayal of male objectification and casual racism.

The thing about this story is that these women, these fat horny lumps of pitiful desperation, probably don’t see themselves as racist. They think they’re being complimentary, reducing their boy toys to pieces of sex meat. But they’re not. They’re gross and repugnant and they don’t even know it. They’re not being any more complimentary than if an old man looked at a young black woman and called her ‘brown sugar’ and asked her to come into the bathroom for a quickie.

So that’s why I didn’t feel bad for Teresa when she was used by her Kenyan sex partner (Peter Kezungu)  for her hard-earned cash. Any sympathy I had for her initially was snuffed out by the last scene, where the story shoots straight down into a sexual and psychological hell. How desperate and hot to trot can one person be? Pretty desperate, apparently. And who says women can’t be predators? It might be harder to physically overpower a man, but that doesn’t mean you can have psychological power or fiscal power over him. Both kinds of power are bountiful in this disquieting film.

“Paradise: Love” ties into the two later films in the trilogy thematically, and it features Maria Hoffstatter as Teresa’s religious fanatic sister (the lead in the 2nd film) and Melanie Lenz as Teresa’s heavyset, sexually curious daughter (lead in the 3rd, and final film) in  small roles. There’s a lot of static shots, reminiscent of Michael Haneke, moments that seem incredibly quiet in contrast to the extremely emotionally painful things that are going on. There’s  hardly any violence, but there’s a barely contained sense of menace, of something terrible just waiting to happen in this outwardly sunny habitat.

Margarete Teisel is the perfect person to play Teresa, and I mean that in a totally complimentary way  my point is not just that she is dowdy and plump, but also that she conveys insecurity and desperation well, carries it in her shoulders. She’s not too pretty, but also she gives the impression of being ordinary in every way, even desperately so. Not too beautiful, not too smart– just a sad person struggling with her mediocrity, 

Even with minimal on-screen violence, “Paradise: Love” will make you squirm in your seat for it’s unique vision of subjugation and power play. It’s not my favorite film in the trilogy in fact, it’s probably my least liked of the three but it still has it’s ‘hey, this filmmaker is really getting at something here’ moments. And it doesn’t really matter that I saw the trilogy all out of order each film tells it’s own, desperate story, with minimal confusion plotwise. Watch it if you dare- it’s definitely a taboo shattering film.

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Paradise: Hope (2013)

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Raging hormones. Sexual frustration. Adolescent rebellion. A lot can go on during a summer at fat camp.

Cute, heavyset 13-year-old Melanie (Melanie Lenz) is dropped off at a weight management camp by her Aunt (Maria Hofstatter) when her mother goes off on vacation to Kenya. Not as bitter as you might expect, Melanie quickly makes friends with a more sexually experienced girl (Verena Lehbauer) and develops a heart-stopping crush on the camp’s middle-aged physician (Joseph Lorenz,) who is unnervingly receptive to her girlish flirtations.

“Paradise: Love” is the third in a trilogy, Ulrich Seidl’s thematic follow-up to “Paradise: Love,” focusing on Melanie’s horny sex tourist mother, and “Paradise: Faith,” following the daily life of the religious fanatic aunt (portrayed briefly in this film) who takes her love for Jesus into the realm of obsession. We fear for Melanie watching “Paradise: Hope.” Desperately hoping that she will not get over her head pining for this older man.

Never during the conversations between the fat camp teens do we get the impression that they are acting. They talk, look, and feel like real people- making themselves out to be more experienced then they are, discussing past escapades with a knowing air, playing spin the bottle giddily while drunk on cheap beer.

This is a movie that understands teen angst and desire and the mad contrast in the level of experience and sexual maturity of adolescent kids (while Melanie’s friend plays the part of an adult, wise in the ways of men, another camp girl still walks around clad in a pink Hello Kitty shirt and many of the kids remain hopelessly naive.)

The teens alternately understand a lot and see a lot more than the adults give them credit for and don’t know a damn thing- about love, about relationships, about the forbidden power a child can have over an adult. Melanie craves tenderness. She wants to feel loved and desired by this aging but virile man. Her instructor’s desire is less emotional, more carnal.

A bit of a dirty old man, he finds attentions from a virginal thirteen-year-old almost to much too resist. The viewer desperately watches events unfold, afraid for Melanie’s sexual and emotional health. Will the object of her affections play the part of a classic predator, everything your mother ever warned you about… or a blessing in disguise?

An almost complete lack of music reigns over this dark but tremulously hopeful story. There’s lots of shots of the teens trying to get into shape while their instructor (Michael Thomas) sternly guides them, eating low fat food in the dining hall, and chatting in their dorms, with few intimate close-up’s, giving an almost fly-on-the-wall feeling to the film. The performances are naturalistic and restrained, showing burgeoning promise in Melanie Lenz.

I wish people online would stop describing Melanie’s character as trying to ‘seduce’ her pediatrician. That man was sending Melanie signals loud and clear, in a playful but totally inappropriate way. Look at the scene where the man follows her hungrily into the woods, looming threateningly in the frame, predatory even as she casts looks upon him beseeching him to follow her. Melanie’s girlish ignorance of the consequences of her crush remain abundantly clear despite her pursuit of the much older man.

Melanie is a kid, for all intents and purposes, albeit a curvy, physically mature one. As far as I’m concerned this is a movie about a flirtation that wouldn’t have gone nearly so far had the adult acted in a grown-up way and gently rebuffed the child from the get-go.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about in this film was the ending. It seemed to end a bit too cryptically, even by European art film standards and I wasn’t wild about the strange and slightly creepy way it went down. Somehow a story revolving around sexual tension between an adult and a child manages to avoid being gross and exploitative- until that scene in the bar. It’s one of those films where you ask, is the hero-slash-heroine going to be okay?- and in this case you just don’t know.

Though slightly less dark than “Paradise: Faith” (I watched the trilogy all out of order, leaving the first installment for last,) “Paradise: Hope” has it’s share of uncomfortable moments and taboo subject matter. For the most part, though, it establishes director Seidl as less of a creepy old man with a camera and more as an observer of life- the discomforting parts, the parts maybe not everybody can talk about, even the ugly parts- to not sordid, but spectacularly real effect. It’s a story that couldn’t have been told in America, and are you really going to fault it there? Controversial, but more palpable that you might think considering the subject matter.

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Out of the Blue (2006)

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When a character in a mainstream film wields a gun, there is usually a method to his madness. Sometimes he’s a hero, protecting innocent civilians and upholding American values (not sure what that says about us, but whatever) against a villain. A baddie, on the other hand, uses the weapon as the means to an end. He has a plan for revenge, or world domination, or seeks to simply send a message to the good guy that yes, evil will triumph against the benign forces who seek to battle crime. Everything makes sense, at least on the level of indisputable action-movie logic. Everything is simple.

This assumption made by the mass media- that every act of violence has a reason, which can be dissected and fought by an opposing force, is what makes “Out of the Blue” so jarring. Because in the popcorn flick, kids don’t die. Victims are props to be used within the context of a bigger picture. It doesn’t seem so personal. “Out of the Blue” is a movie about a man who goes on a mass killing spree.

He plasters a number of residents in the seaside community of Aramoana, New Zealand; men, women, children, old people, for no fucking reason. He just goes off. That’s it. Now I’m sure in the true story this movie is based on, the shooter, David Gray, had more motivation than what what was initially evident. Family problems, money problems, relationship problems; all that crap. But “Out of the Blue” refuses to focus on the ‘why’ of what makes David Gray tick. Instead, it concentrates on the victims.

Aramoana’s police force’s biggest problem at the beginning of the film is rounding up errant dogs and investigating the apparent theft of ladies panties from David Gray (Matthew Sunderland,) the local weirdo. Kids go to school. Grown-ups go to work. Vacationers go fishing on the pier. Dogs and cats do whatever the hell pets do when their people aren’t home. It seems like a boring, regular day. But this is also the day where something inside small-town outcast David Gray’s brain snaps for the final time. He goes and buys a gun from a local shop, arbitrarily ranting and raving as he goes about his day. No longer will be remembered as David Gray, pervert and pantie raider. Things are going to go down in a big way.

It’s obvious that director Robert Sarkies has developed more of a sense of technical verve since his feature film debut, “Scarfies.” “Out of the Blue” is a taut, studied meditation on human nature, the good and the bad of it. Police officer Nick Harvey (Karl Urban) goes about an ordinary day, dealing with ho-hem pedestrian problems . Sweet old lady Helen Dickson (Lois Lawn) sees her grown son Jimmy (Timothy Barlett) off to work, completely ignorant of the fact that she will show uncommon bravery and soon be considered a hero by the media. Garry Holden (Simon Ferry) prepares to tell he and his girlfriend’s kids that they’ve gotten engaged.

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It would be easy to go for nihilism in a story like this, but to take a ‘fuck humanity, we’re gross’ approach would be a disservice to the people who had their lives taken from them or altered forever in the carnage. Instead, we see the mad contrast between human ugliness and the redemptive power of the spirit. As David shoots up the town, a woman risks her life to pull her pet goat into the house. Now that’s the fucking human condition there. One person shoots indiscriminately at unarmed civilians, one person goes out of her way to rescue a farm animal. We’re cut from the same cloth, but we’re by no means the same. Some of us might as well be a different species all together.

Meanwhile, elderly Helen, who recently had hip replacement surgery, proves herself to be a bigger badass than anyone could have imagined. And while I usually feel weirdly sorry for mentally ill murderers, David Gray was making me involuntarily yell at the screen “Kill him, kill him, kill him!” in futile exasperation. And the end? What he got was too good for him. The acting is suitably outstanding from all, even the nonprofessionals (are we sure this was Lois Lawn’s first and only film role?) Karl Urban talks with his eyes in what is probably one of the most heart-wrenching performances of recent years.

Among the bloodshed, we do get to see some beautiful footage of New Zealand and we are offered beautiful shots of the mundane serenity of daily life. The steady, unblinking look into everyday existence contrasted with unthinkable violence is kind of like Haneke, if Haneke didn’t hate the fuck out his characters. I did think the movie was a little too long and tended to meander a bit too much (with lots of unnecessary shots of Garry’s burning house) but that is pretty much the only complaint. The other is that as desensitized as I am, this movie made my stomach flutter with anxiety and my heart hurt.

People who constantly bitch about even the most reasonable gun control laws need to watch this movie. It could just as well be called “Why Crazy People Shouldn’t Have Guns.” Background checks? Unfathomable! Then this happens, and this country says it’s going to change, but it doesn’t. The problem is, people who push the right for every man to have a gun his his hand and his other hand down his pants to wank at his power trip probably don’t want to watch a movie about the actual consequences of violence.

“Out of the Blue” is super realistic, even agonizingly so. But it’s an important watch, and a achingly well-made movie on it’s own terms. The actors are portraying the victims stories like it’s their last role on earth, and breaking our hearts in the process. It takes it’s place for me as my second favorite New Zealand film (nothing beats “What We Do in the Shadows,” guys!) and one of the only films that truly disturbed and shocked me in recent times. But there is a meaning behind the violence, one that unfortunately will fail to reach those who need it most. I recommend this for everyone who likes movies as art as well as entertainment, and even more to those who like social commentary in their filmmaking. This s what Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” tried and failed to be, a truly profound statement on human nature and gun violence.

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Scarfies (AKA Crime 101) (1999)

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Take this film for what it is (an uneven and extremely low budget thriller and morality play) and you may find yourself enjoying the effective acting displayed within and bruising social commentary concerning the self-absorption and sometimes outright shittiness of humankind. It’s Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave” meets “Lord of the Flies” meets early Quentin Tarantino with a distinct lack of the technical verve Tarantino showed even early on into his career.

That said, this is one of the more psychologically harrowing and disturbing ‘black comedies’ of recent times. Dark humor, or just plain dark? When the douchebag college kids glue their weed-peddling captive’s lips and hands together and force him to squat with his pants pulled halfway down and shit into a bucket, I was struck by the indignity of it all. “Scarfies” remains relatively compelling despite the almost nil production values and contemptuous cast of characters because it starts out with a somewhat sympathizable ‘what would you do?’ scenario until it takes a sudden plunge into the darkest of places, where sadistic mind games and senseless violence overtake rationality and basic human decency.

The film follows a group of college students who squat in an abandoned house that incongruously has electricity. Initially they are relatively carefree, partying and drinking like there’s no tomorrow, bonding and making love and getting high. Impulsive frat boy-type Alex (Taika Waititi) uses a monumentally awful pick-up line on the object of his affections, straight-laced Nicola (Ashleigh Seagar) and coaxes her into his bed, while Scott (Neill Rea) and Emma (Willa O’Neill) make moon eyes at each other but don’t act on their mutual attraction. Graham (Charlie Bleakley) has a crush on Nicola, but waffles around it and acts generally irritating.

It’s all fun and games until the five students open and jammed-up door in the basement of the squalid building and find a collection of pot plants, all primed and ready to smoke. After a fierce debate, they sell the lot and blow the entirety of their drug money on various electronics and personal vanities. So when the dealer (Jon Brazier) shows up volatile and royally pissed at the loss of his crop, they lock him in the basement. And that’s when the real fun begins.

Movies and literature continually show that kids are scary as hell. So why shouldn’t a group of well-groomed, outwardly innocuous college youngsters be any different? It is Alex (Waititi,) however, who makes me suspect that his brain is made of bits and bobs and cogs that render him not quite a person, at least not in the spiritual sense. Despite being good-looking, calm, seemingly ordinary, and well-liked, Alex possesses the heart of killer, a sense of apathy and sadistic glee at his misdoings, and the self-confidence to coerce his frightened roommates into obedience and stunned silence.

Graham, however, while initially appearing to be a ineffectual innocuous type (pining pitifully for Nicola and crying at the slightest provocation,) proves to be the kind of guy who held your hands behind your back as you got punched in the gut in high school. He enjoys the high-stakes excitement of having a prisoner to heckle and hurt, so he follows the smugly cruel Alex’s lead in what is essentially torture, culminating in a electronic device to control the prisoner’s behavior through electric shocks.

“Scarfies” is not really a comedy, except in the sense of ironic human indecency. However, it is an interesting study of human behavior and the innate sense of self-interest exhibited by people everywhere. “Better him than me.” How many times have we innately said that to ourselves, believing that it would be ultimately preferable that someone else take the fall for us? The acting and the story are better than you might expect, and there are a few laughs to be had among the dark sense of foreboding and transgression.

If nothing else, you’ll watch to the end hoping the ‘protagonists’ get what they deserve. Taika Waititi definitely shows early promise in a precursor to his work as a director. His not only smug and self-satisfied, but (in this reviewer’s humble opinion) downright sociopathic character’s face needed punching. Make no mistake, this movie is no masterwork of cinema, but if you like cynical social commentaries that pull no punches in regards to how they view people (superior to apes? I think not!) you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Just don’t expect a laugh riot or a glossy Hollywood film.

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Boy (2010)

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“Boy” is an appealing film and an arresting look into another time and place, so it’s a shame it relies heavily on coming-of-age cliches to tell it’s story. Never fear, though- despite the feeling of been-there done-that that pervades this feature, “Boy” has charm and sweetness to spare, and is worth watching despite it’s rather standard execution.

At the center of this sentimental picture is an 11-year-old Maori lad (James Rolleston)  who calls himself ‘boy.’ Boy’s life is far from carefree- he lives in poverty, the responsibility of his younger brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone Whitu) and his cousins often fall into his hands, he is besieged by bullies at school, and the girl (Ricky-Lee Waipuka Russell) he likes doesn’t know he exists. But he approaches his challenges with a freshness and active fantasy life that belies the direness of his situation.

Boy is surrounded by quirky and hardscrabble characters, not least of which is his shy brother, who believes he has superpowers. While Boy’s grandmother is out at a funeral and entrusting his multitude of relatives to him for a couple of weeks, Boy’s biological father Alamein (actor/director Taika Waititi) comes crashing into his life. Boy is entranced by his charming dad, despite the man’s ne’er do well ways and gang affiliations.

Anyone but Boy can see that Alamein is a worthless chode, so it just becomes a waiting game until the big reveal where Boy realizes it too. Meanwhile, Alamein and his equally useless friends start digging for a stash of money they buried years ago. Alamein seems caring and paternal on the surface (at least to a naive kid in desperate need of a father figure like Boy,) but in reality he is concerned with people only to the point that they serve his best interests.

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The child actors perform admirably (you can keenly see the pain in Boy’s eyes when his dad hauls off and slaps him,) and the crayon ‘fantasy’ sequences add a little originality to a mostly tired plot. It actually works better in terms of story that Boy is not always a boy scout even before his father comes into the picture and changes his attitude for the worse- he torments his brother and hurls rocks at the village idiot (Waihori Shortland,) but for the most part his intentions seem to be good.

Taika Waititi does an effective job as Alamein, playing the somewhat tired character of the charming rogue with big plans and no backing-up of his multitude of promises. You kind of want to like him despite the obvious signs that he’s bad business, and you could see how an inexperienced child might be sucked into his high-wire act way of life. But it’s also bitterly clear that he’s bad business for Boy. As Boy spends more and more time with Alamein, feeding off his manic energy, Boy’s brother and cousins go without the much-needed care and concern of their young caregiver. It’s just a matter of time until something gives, and with Alamein’s unreliable ways that shift will be sooner rather than later.

There are multiple Michael Jackson fantasy dance scenes (the year is 1984, and Boy is a massive fan of the Jackster,) and they fit into the narrative more than they probably should- the movie is a surprisingly cohesive mix of laughter and sadness, fantasy and harsh reality. It’s frustratingly predictable, but also solidly sweet, charming, and well-acted, with a steady combination of nostalgia and hard times.

I can definitely see the kid actors going somewhere, and “Boy” has an abundance of warm feelings that help it through it’s more so-so parts. We know that Boy will reject his dad’s false promises and that he will give up pursuing his crush to be with the girl who’s loved him all along, triggering an inevitable coming-of-age, but it’s nice to take the journey nonetheless.

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A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

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“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” works so well because you know next to nothing about the characters for the first portion of the film, making it an altogether mysterious and intriguing experience indeed. Crisply photographed in black-and-white and imbued with a truly unique soundtrack compilation, this ‘Iranian Vampire Western’ is nothing if not unpredictable.

Arash (Arash Marandi,) the stressed-out protagonist, is a hard-working young man who’s dependent, drug-addled father Houssein (Marshall Manesh) proves to be continually burdensome and exasperating to him. Houssein is being frequently visited by local thug Saeed (Dominic Rains,) a ne’er-do-well, pimp, and drug dealer to whom Houssein owes thousands of dollars of the illegal substances that service his addiction.

Saeed is the exception to the rule. You know everything you need to know about him from the moment you meet him, from his truly epic tattoos (including the word ‘SEX’ inexpertly scrawled on his throat) to his cheap gangsta haircut, Saeed is only half as frightening and twice as ridiculous as he believes himself to be, but is still a volatile hood and no one to be trifled with.

With Houssain in debt, Saeed pilfers Arash’s prized car, driving Arash to steal a pair of earrings from his alluring employer (Rome Shadanloo.) But a mysterious vampire (Sheila Vand, who manages to be all at once creepy, quirky, sexy, and sympathetic) may render Arash’s drastic action obsolete.

“A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” combines wry humor and nail-biting tension in a film that might seem disappointedly low on violence for avid gorehounds but proves to be a technically- and stylistically- sound film. Alternately self-satirizing and even cheesy and artsy and daring, this movie never seems awkward or tone-deaf, but straddles all the elements of the film with pleasing self-awareness and (no pun intended) bite.

Packed into the film is a strong feminist message that proves to be just what Middle Eastern cinema needs. All over the world, women are choked with the what-ifs of simple daily activities such as seeking help carrying groceries from a stranger, walking home from work, and drinking in bars. What if I get robbed? What if I get raped? What if a guy who looks outwardly legit decides to overpower me?

Although men themselves are not incapable of being victims of sexual violence,  it’s a much bigger cause of concern for girls and women. The irony here is, with a vampiress on the loose, now it is the guys, particularly the predatory ones, who have to worry. No pimp, rapist, or woman-beater’s neck is safe. And the halfway decent citizens  of the as-advertised ‘bad city’ are not entirely off the hook either.

You may wonder how this film got away with blunt social commentary and nudity in Iran. Simply put… it didn’t. “A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night” was shot in California. But it is, for all intents and purposes, a Middle Eastern film. And a pretty good one at that. Although some people might be put off by the Black-and-White photography and the subtitles, this would be a good starter movie to others unfamiliar with Middle Eastern cinema, as it is entertaining and takes little to no political background to understand

Nor is it overly gory or violent (other than a gruesome- but amusing-  finger munching scene,) and even the relatively squeamish viewers can watch and enjoy it. International film enthusiasts, and vampire fans, should love it.

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Who Can Kill a Child? AKA Island of the Damned (1976)

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What can one say about “Who Can Kill a Child?” a cult 70’s shocker about a island of children who go insane and kill all the grown-ups, ruling with miniature iron fists ‘Lord of the Flies’ Style? It’s kinda funny (at least I laughed at the scene with the cornered hero (Lewis Fiander) with the Mario n’ Luigi moustache wielding a baseball bat and beating red paint out of feral tykes, although I’m not sure I was supposed to.)

Not very disturbing, besides the graphically exploitive war time footage at the beginning, which turned my stomach and seemed to go on forever. I think this film aimed to shock and disturb, but it just… fell short, to be honest. Ultimately, “How to Kill a Child?” proves to be tacky, silly, and downright pointless for the majority of it’s running time.

Is “How to Kill a Child?” influential? Maybe. Is it intriguing? Initially, yeah, sure. Is it good? Hhm… not really. The actors who play Tom (Fiander) and Evelyn (Prunella Ransome) do a decent job at conveying the couple that lands on the island’s confusion and fear, but their characters are afflicted with ‘What the Fuck Logic’ horror syndrome… in other words, nothing they do makes any freakin’ sense.

The main character, Tom, seems to be perpetually running off and abandoning his heavily pregnant wife Evelyn. In lieu of leaving your pregnant wife alone on an island inhabited solely by mad children every chance you get (“Wait right here,” he continues to say- I’d be like “Bitch, get back here… you got me into this situation, you can get me out of it!”,) there are myriad examples of bad decision-making on the part of all the characters in the movie, especially the male lead.

Also, dialogues like this-

Tom (after seeing a little girl beat an old man to death with a stick)- Why’d you do it? Why? Why?! WHY?!!

Little Girl- Mu-ha-ha-ha-ha! (laughs loudly and maniacally for a few minutes.)

Made me crack up, and not in a good way. Scenes involving young children getting their cute cherubic heads blown off and little boys stripping a corpse with erect nipples made me wonder if the child performers’ parents really couldn’t get a babysitter that day or if they just needed some quick dough.

So… I don’t like a horror classic. Boo on me. But if you want to watch an spectacularly unscary but highly regarded cult item with lots of unintentional humor, check this one out. Bring some friends. Get loaded. Count the instances of the male lead gawping in terror at small children wielding blunt objects. “Who Can Kill a Child?” is not particularly well-made or frightening, but it might be your new favorite comedy if you lower your expectations enough.

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