Saturday, 17 December 2016

That dogs movie!

Hungarian movie WHITE GOD (2014) is a contemporary drama that, with an almost painful slowness, becomes surrealist horror. Lili loves her mongrel named Hagen but house pets are unwanted by the little girl’s father. Tragedy is a likely consequence of parental neglect, and Lili gets in trouble here nearly as often as the lost or abandoned barking-mad hounds and rabid strays in kennels. From a shelter in Budapest, various dogs form packs in a suddenly violent revolt against human indifference and cruelty.

This European production sets a new world record for the most dogs appearing in a movie but the main action focuses on Hagen. The homeless man who finds the mutt and sells it into a dog-fighting ring appears wholly unsympathetic, although he’s actually just as forsaken by a callous society as Hagen is. This is not Lassie Come Home, it’s a man bites dog world that obviously looks inspired by Hitchcock’s The Birds. However, social-political commentary on urban deprivation and victims of economic programmes is the filmmaker’s aim.

Some quite stylish cinematography is evident - particularly in scenes of the dogs on the loose through city streets, and for the canine version of parkour that energises Hagen’s chase sequences with animal-control cops. As Lili plays a trumpet in an orchestra, there’s an off-beat but strong ‘Pied Piper’ aspect to this poetic dark fairytale about thoughtless oppression and fierce rebellion.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

The Voices

Iranian director Marjane Satrapi’s first English-language feature, surrealist black comedy, THE VOICES (2014), stars Ryan Reynolds (Green Lantern, Deadpool) as Jerry, an everyday lonely psycho, who just happens to work in a warehouse that packages bathroom fixtures. He’s off his meds and soon collecting severed heads for his fridge at home. 

Jerry’s schizoid conversations with his dog and cat (the angel/ devil on his mentality’s shoulders), are rendered with CGI as mockingly cute, sketching out his brittle sanity in fantasy terms of live-action Disney meets Tex Avery.

With Gemma Arterton and Anna Kendrick as prime victims, adding further influential voices to Jerry’s confusion, cartoonish domestic scenes of serial killer horror are contrasted with flashbacks to Jerry’s immigrant childhood and abusive parents. Despite the kidnapping finale; and tactical breach by cops at Jerry’s bowling-alley residence, this fable of tragicomic sociopathy finishes with a cheerful dreamscape sing-along playing through the movie credits.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Rigor Mortis

Asian movies like the fantastic Mr Vampire series, and Magic Cop (1990) - one of my favourites, in particular, provided fine examples of a Cantonese fun-fantasy style that helped create Hong Kong’s superhero-cinema brand as such a distinctive and fashionable model. RIGOR MORTIS (2013), the directorial debut of Juno Mak, is a superbly conceived tribute to that era of invention, with updated effects that make stunning use of CGI.

“So, you know that vampires are afraid of glutinous rice?”

Depressed actor Chin moves into a flat in a tower block of rundown housing, where he attempts to commit suicide. Although his hanged body invites evil spirits to possess him, resident spiritualist Lau ‘saves’ his life... 

Beginning with an exorcism fu action scene and eccentric performances of sympathetic characters, the setting of the cursed slum tenement becomes more than simply a backdrop for events. It’s both a symptomatic response to the general malaise of social deprivation and ultimately a vehicle for the negative energies otherworldly oppression. Another well-meaning sorcerer performs a ‘resurrection’ spell on the quasi-mummified husband of a grief-stricken widow. Non-hopping vampires stalk the corridors, acrobatic blood fiends jump from walls to ceiling, and spooky white-haired orphan boy Pak is the almost-mute witness to a crucible of encroaching apocalypse.

Although Rigor Mortis carries on basically light-hearted traditions of the memorable Mr Vampire cycle, domestic violence of the past has left its mark on a building where every day brings another trauma or tragedy and demonic forces (twin ghosts, unmasked zombie) muster madly against the luckless tenants, and so the movie’s plot also draws upon The Grudge and varied copycats. Furthermore, washed out colouring here adds a generally more sombre tone, and ensures the splashy use of vivid reds standout like punctuation and chaptering. This is an excellent blending of digital visuals, gloomy atmosphere, and marvellous horror stunts. It is astonishingly witty entertainment with the mesmerising power of dreams.