December 2008

Seasons Greetings and a look back at 2008

Another year draws to a close and, as ever, now seems a good time to look back at the year just passed before I head off for two weeks of overindulgence. So – in no particular order - here is a round-up of the best and most memorable independent films that Ive seen in 2008.

Red Princess Blues Animated: The Book of Violence
The animated short film prequel to Alex Ferrari’s upcoming feature film Red Princess Blues introduces us to the character of “Princess” and gives us an opportunity to see something of her world. This is a visually striking and exceptionally stylish film that harks back to the sort of anime that many of us grew up with and has left me very keen indeed on seeing the full feature when it is released.

Jesus Versus The Messiah
When Sally (Gemma Deerfield) has a run-in with a local pub bully she is helped out by Jay (Simon Phillips), a slightly wet character who means well. Then it becomes Sally’s turn to help Jay, whose full name turns out to be Jesus.

Jesus Versus the Messiah is a film in which the plot emerges from the interactions between the three main characters and one which remains consistent, believable and utterly enthralling. It also has a collection of great one-liners and a genuinely moving ending that is open to more than one interpretation.

This is a film that I had to watch twice before I could fully appreciate what was going on, but its also such a stylishly well-made film that watching it again – repeatedly – is far from being a chore. This is a remarkably surreal film that defies any attempt at genre classification and it also has probably the most idiosyncratic vision of an afterlife Ive seen. All in all, its a unique piece of cinema and one that is well worth seeing.

Waiting for Dawn
Waiting for Dawn is a rarity these days. It’s a science fiction film that deals with ideas rather than special effects and one that relies – successfully – on well realised and fully rounded characters rather than familiar stereotypes. The film draws you in with a genuinely unnerving atmosphere and keeps you hanging right up to the end. All in all, its a thoughtful, intelligent and downright engrossing film.

… Around
Set in New York and intended as a love-letter to the city, Around is a film about optimism and about making the best of whatever hand life deals you – or whatever hand you deal yourself. It’s about the people you meet and the effect they have on your life, as well as the effect you have on theirs. All of which makes for a powerfully moving and genuinely uplifting film.

For a Few Marbles More
For a Few Marbles More is a film about and for children. It’s a film about growing up and discovering that there are limits to what your parents can – or will – do and about learning to take control of your environment. It’s a very funny film and a must-see for any ten-year-old.

Not surprisingly, it is also more festival selections than any other Dutch film.

Flying Saucer Rock N Roll
Imagine, if you will, Plan 9 From Outer Space written and directed by someone who not only shared Ed Wood’s enthusiasm for his chosen genre, but by someone who not only knew what they were doing but also had a sense of humour. And if you can imagine that, you are pretty close to Flying Saucer Rock N Roll.

Flying Saucer Rock N Roll is an affectionate, and very funny, tribute to the dodgy science fiction films and monster movies of the 1950s. Writer/director team Joe Eric Callero clearly know and love these films and manage to pay tribute to them in a way that is a lot of fun without needing to descend into overt caricature.

The Eye of Menw
Far too often these days filmmakers can rely far too heavily on gore and special effects for their, so it’s nice to encounter someone with the confidence to depend instead on a strong script and a convincing lead performance. And when the result is as spine-tinglingly good as The Eye of Menw, I really can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Barstool Cowboy
Barstool Cowboy is a very straightforward story of loss, love and loss, but it’s also one that is very well told. The two lead characters are both well rounded and genuinely sympathetic and beautifully brought to life by a cast and crew with a very evident talent for visual storytelling. Your reaction to the film’s central message will probably depend largely on the extent to which you identify with the main character but, whatever your reaction, you cant help but be moved.

No Right Turn
At the end of the day, No Right Turn is a fairy tale masquerading as a crime thriller. The film incorporates familiar themes of innocence and corruption, and guilt and redemption but, by placing these themes into a gritty modern setting, manages to become something utterly unique.

Operation: Sunrise
Operation: Sunrise is not a zombie film and nor is it a vampire film. Instead, it is a film that pulls together tropes from both traditions to develop a mythology that is original, consistent and remarkably well defined. This is an intelligent and gripping entry to the horror genre and one that – being shot largely in and around a single location – manages to generate a real sense of claustrophobia. In short, Operation: Sunrise is a film that will appeal to anyone who likes their films to have some real bite.

And thats me done for the year. All that remains is to leave you all with a seasonal video and wish you all the best for the festive season.

See you in 2009.

The forgotten victims of the credit crunch

AHD168 is a computer generated robot who was written out of a TV advert due to credit crunched budgetary constraints. AHD168 now spends his days wandering the streets looking for a meaningful role in an animated TV project.

Via Downtime

The Producers speak out on piracy

A group of UK film and TV producers, directors and writers have written to the Times to demand that Something Must Be Done about online file sharing. Whats more, they want to ensure that internet service providers become part of their solution.

Inevitably enough, however, they are not talking about looking for a business model that reflects the fact that people will seek to share content, preferring instead to limit themselves to an assertion and a demand.

Internet service providers have the ability to change the behaviour of those customers who illegally distribute content online. They have the power to make significant change and to prevent their infrastructure from being used on a wholesale scale for illegal activity. If they are not prepared to act responsibly, they should be compelled to do so.

First the assertion: Internet service providers have the ability to change the behaviour of those customers who illegally distribute content online. Do they? How? To me, this sounds dangerously like the producers believe that it is both possible and desirable for your ISP to monitor and analyse every packet of data that flows through your internet connection. In truth, it is both unfeasable and undesirable.

But it gets worse: If they are not prepared to act responsibly, they should be compelled to do so. When railing against piracy, ISPs are an easy target to go for - they are visible and there is only a limited number of them - but this doesnt make them an appropriate target. And demanding that ISPs should somehow be obliged to become the unaccountable watchdogs of our online behaviour is both unreasonable and dangerous, as the Internet Watch Foundation has so recently demonstrated.

Tick Tick Boom

Sometimes, a title is all you need. And when that title is Paris by Night of the Living Dead you can be sure not only of exactly what youre going to get but also that youre going to have a damn good time in the process.

Check out the promo reel after the fold

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Farewell Bettie Page

Bettie Page, the 1950s pin-up model and pop-culture icon has died aged 85.

I’m not sure when I first heard I first heard of Bettie Page but I do remember the first photo I saw – one of the Jungle set taken by Bunny Yeager – and this photo led me, back in those pre-internet days, to discover a world of fanzines, photos and history much of which has stayed with me to this day.

Although - or possibly because - her modelling career only lasted seven years (from 1950 to 1957) her appeal has remained timeless. Much of this, I think, is down to the sheer exuberance she displayed in front of the camera – there is a real sense of fun on display in all of the photos that exist and this is what people have picked up on over the years.

At a time when some of the photos she posed for were so frightening to the authorities that they prompted a Senate investigation, Bettie brought with her a sense that the scenes being depicted were nothing more than a bit of dress up or role playing.

It’s a lesson that, even today, many seem unable to understand.

The Italian Job goes Bollywood

File this under Rumour for now. According to The Register, who found the story at The Sun, The Indian Film Company is planning to remake The Italian Job and will be spicing up the cinematic mix with “lots of singing and dancing”.

The company secured the remake rights last year and are planning to replace the Minis with Indian vehicles while taking elements from both the 1968 original and the dire 2003 version.

Does this mean that we will find out how the Tata Peoples Car compares to the Mini as a getaway vehicle?

Forrest J. Ackerman has died

Forrest J. Ackerman, one of the giants of genre fandom, has died away after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure and requesting no further treatment.

Ackerman - or Forry, as he was affectionately known, started out as a collector of science fiction books and film memorabilia but became an influential figure in the formation, organization, and spread of science fiction fandom. He was also a key figure in winning wider cultural acceptance of science fiction as a literary, art and film genre.

He his probably most famous for Famous Monsters of Filmland, the magazine he founded and edited. He will be missed.