All posts by HermioneFlavia

A film critic and film maker, with some awards under my belt, I love talking movies!

Sci-Fi London Film Festival: Unspeakable Horrors – The Plan 9 Conspiracy – Review

One of my friends is an actor, and as someone who has to face rejection in auditions on a daily basis, he has moments when he has to deal with thoughts about not being good enough and what success really means, and self esteem crushing things of that nature. His big trick for getting through those dark feelings of not being good enough, he always says, is to watch Ed Wood.

Ed Wood was an American writer/director who was most active in the 50’s and 60’s, and his film Plan 9 from Outer Space, a film about aliens coming to Earth and reanimating the dead in order to take over the planet, is credited as being the worst film ever made. But his sheer enthusiasm for films and film making, his ability to keep on creating and motivating other people to pay for his films, or agree to star in them, when he really had absolutely no talent, is remarkable. Many of your will be familiar with him and his interesting life because of the Tim Burton film Ed Wood, in which the famous man was played by Johnny Depp.

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Because of this dubious worst film credit, there have been plenty of late night fan screenings over the years, and Plan 9 has taken on a bit of a cult status. And anything that has a cult status tends to bring out some weird ideas in people.

This short documentary, a little over an hour, is a humorous and loving look at the film, Plan 9, and pokes fun at the people who love it a little too much.

The great thing about this film is that it mixes real interviews with mock ones. It leaves you guessing who really believes what, and if it’s all for real. The creators of the documentary have taken themselves to Hollywood to interview various members of the film industry there who are fans, and talked to them about the impact of the film, and also about their theories on the meaning and symbolism in Plan 9 from Outer Space. Mixed into this are a few studio actors who also have strong scripted thoughts about the film and it’s meaning.

What comes out of this is some interesting people who theorise that Ed Wood was variously either contacted by actual aliens, was a feminist or anti-feminist, was privvy to government secrets, put his thoughts and feelings about his Inuit ancestors into his films, was a member of the illuminati and was killed by the government, and sometimes all of the above. These interviewees include such Hollywood alumis as the writers of the film Ed Wood, Joe Dante, Tom Holland and others. And I love that at times, you can tell if they’re teasing us just a bit or if they’re dead serious about Ed’s connections to aliens.

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On the whole, the film is hilariously funny, and captures some of the feels of Ed Woods own films, with it’s dodgy performances, over enthusiasm and hysterical, unrealistic and polarised female characters. At times, some of the jokes are a little laboured and overemphasised in their repetition, but I really liked the moments where the interviewees came out with some random and odd thoughts about Ed Wood and Plan 9. You can’t tell if it’s all real or if they’re playing along, but it’s often when they say the weirdest things that you think to yourself, hey, this guy really thinks that… As far as introductions to the late and great director go, it’s a bit silly and perhaps not broad enough, but for those of you who are Ed Wood and Plan 9 fans, or any of you who love a good conspiracy theory, or who love laughing at people who love a good conspiracy theory, then this is a great deal of fun.

Sci-Fi London Film Festival Screens is playing now. 
Find out more! 

Sci-Fi London Film Festival: Domain – Review

In a dystopian future, humanity is living underground in individual, one room bunkers, to outlive the disease that’s razing humanity on the surface. In small groups of seven, the survivors communicate through an interface where they can group chat and build relationships. But there are pressures living underground, and when one of their number becomes unbearable, they breach the system and exclude him from their group, which starts off a chain of events.

Isolated from all but each other, the tensions within the group are drawn to the fore, and we can only watch as they go through their routines which are all they have to keep them sane. And we can only watch when things start to go wrong and someone starts to kill members of the group one by one.

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What’s really going on? How can someone be entering their cells without catching the disease outside? Is it all some sick revenge for kicking out their group member? Have they been lied to? And who’s next?

Although each character is clear and distinct, a thing that you don’t often find in small, indie films of this nature, the main protagonist is Phoenix (Britt Lower), a young woman who carries a picture of her mother, who she misses terribly. She has a strong bond with Denver (Ryan Merriman), a warm and caring man, and who has slowly developed romantic feelings for her, over the course of time. The two plan to be together when the bunkers are safe to open. As you can probably tell, each character is named after the city they are from, though some members who are closer have, over the five years they’ve been there, developed enough of a bond to share their actual names with other.

The appointed leader of the group is Boston (William Gregory Lee), who tries to keep everyone democratic and calm, encouraging voting on any decisions that might need group approval. However, as chaos descends on the group, he loses his leadership role as Phoenix and Denver tend to make lone decisions and hack into systems to try to find out what’s happening elsewhere in the facility.

The other character of note is Atlanta, played by Sonja Sohn, who some of you will recognise from The Wire.

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On the whole, the film sets an interesting premise, and doesn’t suffer from the usual low budget film errors. The cast feels quite genuine and give fairly natural performances all round. It avoids any sci-fi or dystopian future cliches and the dialogue feels mostly very realistic. The set design is great, and the way that the exposition of how they lived down underground in these bunkers was fitted into the dialogue or visuals really well. The film is well thought through, so you’re not brought up short by any obvious mistakes or holes in the logic of the basic premise.

As the mystery deepens and the plot thickens, it’s evenly paced. For some reason this film felt to me more like a mystery than a thrill ride. I was expecting it to be more nerve-wracking, more of a haunted house style kill fest, but it’s more of an unravelling of the psyche and a mystery, a thriller not a horror story. And on the whole, it works quite well. You wonder what’s going on with different characters, who is telling the truth, and who knows something they’re not telling. Some of the characters are kind of menacing, others are more sympathetic, and often they turn out to be not at all what you’d expect in the end, which is great.

On the whole, it still has that slightly unpolished indie feel to it, and the actors, though not lacking talent, do not all exhibit their break through, career making performances. But as far as smaller films go, it’s a very decent entry to the sci-fi genre, and has some entertaining twists and turns along the way, and avoids the cliches I hate so much. Perhaps one for you sci-fi thriller lovers to look out for.

Sci-Fi London Film Festival Screens is playing now. 
Find out more! 

I Am Not Your Negro – Review

There are quite a few films coming out about race in America right now. Although quite a few of them are really good, and very moving, I think this is perhaps the most powerful, intense and confronting of them all. I walked out of the cinema feeling a bit emotional and shaken. And that’s exactly as it should be.

I Am Not Your Negro was one of the nominees this year for an Oscar in the Best Documentary Feature category. Narrated by the warm tones of Samuel L Jackson, it is based on an unpublished and unfinished book written by James Baldwin, about race in America, the civil rights movement, and most importantly his memories of three men who were leaders of the movement: Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers. Three men who were assassinated for their belief in rights for black citizens.

Stylistically, the film feels more like a visual poem than a usual documentary. The voice over narrates the pages that Baldwin wrote, and puncuates them with supporting visuals. These are broken up into loose chapters or sections with words played across the screen in black and white to delineate them. It makes for an interesting flow through the narrative, and also creates points of argument, as though making a case. Look at this here, and this, and this…

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The visuals themselves are an interesting mix. Baldwin died in 1987, so his words were written before that. We can literally see how much has changed, and tragically how much hasn’t. The film shows interviews, photographs and footage of the three men and the author, as well as events of the time, but it also shows us today. The beating of slaves and the beating of Rodney King are both here. Baldwin did not live to see a black president of America, but he thought about it, spoke about it.

It’s a film that puts it all together in ways that are not comfortable. There is a long history of violence, and this is the experience of the people who live under that history. While it might be easier to shake our heads and be saddened by the events in Ferguson, it’s not isolated, it’s part of a larger whole, a story that has been brushed under the rug and minimised for too long. Baldwin at one point speaks about the way that a white person cannot really know how it feels to be black, to live in Harlem, or to live in real fear. Although these stories are told more often today, this is still the case. This film is very eye opening in that sense.

And as a film reviewer, it made some interesting points about films, and the representation of black people in films. In the past, they were Uncle Tom or caricatures, people who were lazy, fearful, stupid or the enemy, the savage. What came later personified something else, the black person as friend, which neatly avoided any aggression towards the white population, and therefore also suggested that what had occurred had not been all that bad since it was forgiveable. The white characters are still not personified as the bad guys. The film makes the point that there is nothing more threatening to the American status quo than the idea of an empowered and enraged black person. Perhaps this is changing. Films like Get Out have a black protagonist and a sinister white regime as the bad guy, but this film feels quite rare in it’s set up, and has caused a lot of debate.

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Baldwin has a beautiful way with words, earnest, passionate and poetic, it’s a real shame that his book was never completed and published, though I think that he would have revelled in the power of this film, and it’s uncompromising challenge. The violence and aggression in this film is shocking and shameful. It’s a tragic film, you have to be prepared to see men cut down in their prime, sons and daughters weeping at the coffins of their parents, watching them be buried way before their time. Women spat on and beaten by men who call themselves gentlemen. And proud men posing with the dead like their corpses are trophies. But in all this ugliness, there is somehow still a lot of beauty, in the faces of survivors, in the words and acts of courage of the three men, and for me, most of all, in the indomitable spirit of a black girl who walked alone into a desegregated school to attend classes, even though she was spat on and jeered at.

Perhaps this is what makes the film so powerful, that it’s not just forcing the acknowledgement of history, but also the everyday heroism of the people who survived it. Who still survive it.

Director Raoul Peck is at The Ritzy Cinema this Thursday 
Book your tickets now! 

Man Down -Review

Have you heard that expression about the best way to approach life being this: take your work seriously, but never yourself? I think that sums up Shia Labeouf. He does weird things, says weird things, I’ve heard rumours that he’s a cannibal (ha ha). He’s a funny guy who seems to think the whole fame thing is a bit silly and should be poked fun at, and then he turns in a natural, confident and heart felt performance.

And that’s what’s really important in this film.

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He plays US Marine Drummer, a man who has grown up with his best friend Devin (Jai Courteney), who also followed him into the army. And who has a beloved wife (Kate Mara) and son. That core set of relationships is the beating, bleeding heart of this film.

The story is split into three strands, the past, where we learn how close his family is and how he’s a loving father and husband, the present, where we know that something terrible has happened and he talks to his counselor (Gary Oldman). And then there’s the bleak future, where he and Devin wander through the wreckage of the city to try to find his son, in a world where something has wiped out almost all humanity. Will he succeed? Or is is son lost forever?

This film has some pretty average dialogue, and some really obvious plot points. It could easily be a pretty terrible film. But it’s not. It’s actually rather beautiful, though you’ll probably guess the plot twist fairly early on. Drummer so obviously loves his wife, Natalie, and they have a really genuine, sweet chemistry. Some of the best that I’ve seen on film for a while. Devin comes across as warm, funny and tough, the kind of best friend you want by your side whether in war or everyday life. And Drummer is a good dad, he listens to his child, and their conversations feel very real.

Without giving away too much, there’s a message at the heart of this film, and one that I feel a bit strongly about. In some ways, the ending of this film kind of subverts its intention, by making something terrifying and dangerous that really deserves compassion. It has some real melodrama in the final scenes too. Really laying it all on thick. But, I’m actually going to let that pass, because I got something out of watching this film. Because it has suspense and it makes you care.

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The way it was shot is fantastic. The whole film has this hyper-real colour and filter to it, which looks a bit like a video game. As this is across all three story strands, it helps give the sense of something very bad coming, of looming darkness and heightened reality. Skies are dirty, even at Summer picnics. The end is nigh. It takes you out of the kinds of visuals you’d expect in the everyday, in a drama or family film, for example, and puts you in a darker reality that looks a lot like ours, but also isn’t. It’s a subtle thing but it works.

It’s not a game changing film, it’s not going to change your life either, but it has a lot of heart. It makes you care, and it draws you in with it’s twining narratives, delaying the gratification by piecing out the story. It’s functional as a thriller and as a war narrative, which are two genres that I particularly like, and though it has a message, it’s not preachy. ~

It feels low budget, it has it’s flaws, but on the whole, it’s a lot of fun.

Man Down is out in cinemas 31st March

Bleed For This – DVD & Blu-Ray Review

“…the biggest lie I was ever told: It is not that simple. And it is a lie they tell you over and over again…All of it. It is how they get you to give up, they say “It’s not that simple”.”

It’s a line that Miles Teller as Vinny Pazienza, says towards the end of this film. It’s a beautiful sentiment, and he should know. Pazienza is a real person, a man whose boxing career was ostensibly ended when his neck was broken during a car accident. Whilst he was told that he would never walk again, Vinny refused to admit this possibility, and not only walked but went on to become a World Champion Boxer.

Boxing movies seem to me to fall into two camps, either the lovable underdogs like Rocky, who have to prove themselves, or the cautionary biographic like Raging Bull, where the real man is shown to the world, in his often ugly glory. Someone who has admirable skill, but aspects of his personal life that we might not like to emulate. It’s an interesting dichotomy, perhaps. The boxer in the ring is much like David and Goliath, a tale that feels as old as time, but always relevant. There will always be boxing films.

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Bleed For This is the story of Vinny Pazienza, the young boxer who is the light in his fathers eye as he trains him for the sport, but who perhaps doesn’t appreciate how fragile life is until an accident almost ends his career. It’s not his family who urge him to keep going, but a trainer called Kevin Rooney, played by Aaron Eckhart in one of those career making physical transformations that render him almost unrecognisable. Rooney sees that Vinny is going to keep going, no matter what he’s told, and so he decides to help, but it’s not easy. They face the opposition of the concerned Pazienza family, and other boxers who are too wary to fight a man that they feel could be killed by a punch, and of course, there’s also the opposing force of reality, of fighting each day to walk, and move, to retrain.

Whilst I love the line at the end about ignoring people who tell you it’s not that easy, this film isn’t a Tony Robbins seminar, it’s a picture of the man. To use my own dichotomy above, it’s Rocky dressed as Raging Bull. At least kinda. Pazienza is at first quite arrogant, and sometimes not entirely likeble. His personal life is not overly romanticised for us, and though often quite funny, such as scenes where he’s trying to get laid while wearing a head brace, it paints what feels like an accurate portrait of a young boxer. But like Rocky, without the determination and the training montages, he’ll never make it back to the big leagues.

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Perhaps knowing that he will make it detracts a little from the suspense, but Miles Teller is an interesting performer in all his films, with his cocky, guy next door style, works well here. You believe that he’s the kind of guy who would be foolish enough to take his career a little bit for granted, drinking the night before bouts, for example, but also the kind of guy who is stubborn enough to not give up on the only thing he’s ever wanted to do with his life, and make that work for him.

So what’s the verdict? Is the film any good? Well, yeah. It’s glossy and raw, it has real emotion, and the performances are all really good. It has, at heart, an inspirational message, but it doesn’t descend into saccharine sweetness. But at the same time, it’s a genre movie, and it follows the rules of it’s genre. Therefore, if you like boxing movies, you’ll like this movie. If you don’t, you won’t. It’s not particularly innovative. But, that said… well, sometimes in life it’s nice to hear about a guy who did what couldn’t be done.

It’s that simple.

Bleed for This is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now. 

The Love Witch – Review

If you’ve ever wanted to get revenge on an ex, this is the film for you.

OK, so I say that with tongue in cheek, a little bit. This is the story of a woman who just wants to find love, but her magic spells all go awry. Sound a little bit like Bewitched or Bell, Book and Candle? Well, it’s kind of like those, but when Elaine (Robinson) casts a love spell, people tend to die.

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The best part about this film is that I can’t decide whether it’s incredible or awful, just that I really got a kick out of watching it. The attention to detail, the sets, costumes, the way it’s shot, this film could be from the 60’s or 70’s. It’s veins bleed retro. It often feels stylised, like the scenes in a women’s tea room, where everyone wears pink, or the opening sequences where Elaine tells us about her thoughts and feelings in voice over, her innocuous voice punctuating the images of her polished nails, driving her convertible along winding roads with her matching luggage in the back seat. And this stylising also extends to the performance style, which seems to be deliberately a bit over the top, much like 60’s B movies. So it’s a good bad film? Maybe.

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Elaine herself is really fascinating to watch. She has been described as some kind of evil Stepford Wife, and that’s partly true. She tells us that she’s had a destructive, abusive relationship in the past, and that she was mentally ill for a time, but she’s better now, and on her way to a new life and to find true love. But the body count starts to stack up, as her spells reveal unattractive weaknesses in her lovers, which turn her off, before it kills them. She’s not really a good person, but she has this 60’s, soft, trance like quality, a fragile desperation and she’s quite stunning (who knew blue eye shadow could look that good?), so you playfully want to see what she’ll get up to next. And what she’ll be wearing when she does.

Whether you love or hate the style of the film as a whole, it’s an incredible piece of work, and a real credit to Anna Biller, whose attention to detail, writing and directing style make for something incredibly unique, and often darkly humorous. It’s a beautiful homage to all those cute and fun old 60’s films about witches, but it takes them to a different conclusion. Rather than women giving up their power as they usually did in those old witchy romantic comedies, here it’s all about claiming it.

Unapologetically too.

The Love Witch is out 10th March