February 2004

Bent: Volume Three

Bent: Volume Three is the third and final entry in Mindscape Pictures’ Bent series. As with Volumes One and Two, the compilation uses the idea that life, like the path of running water, can be suddenly and unpredictably bent.

Unlike the first two volumes, Bent: Volume 3 consists of four, rather than three short films.

Aftermath is Mindscape’s exploration of the way in which people deal with tragedy.

Following a Columbine style high-school shooting, the film follows the reactions of five of the survivors – George (Michael Stephens), full of anger and wanting to lash out, not really caring at whom or why; Britney (Niki Sella), the girlfriend of one of the victims, unable to accept that he was anything less than perfect; Penelope (Sarah Ashton), ostensibly the voice of reason, who says all the right things at all the right times whether she means them or not; Al (Zach Lawrence), who becomes offended at what he sees as the insincerity of the other mourners; and John (Justin Grace).

If this film has a central character, it is John – the average, ordinary student who goes through the all of the required motions, unsure of what he really thinks or why.

Aftermath is a deeply moving film that doesn’t really arrive at a conclusion – which, given the subject matter, is probably the best way it could end.

Again is a very Twilight Zone inspired take on déjà vu.

Jack (Frank Parker) and Lauren (Kathy Nestor) are visiting a couple of Lauren’s old school friends – Greg (Christian Cibotti) and Anetra (Amy Martin) – when Jack gets a strong feeling that he’s seen everything happen before.

Unfortunately for Jack, he’s a stand up comedian by trade and his increasing agitation is treated by the others as a very poor attempt at humour. Tensions mount as Jack’s déjà vu becomes more specific and Jack becomes convinced that something very bad is about to happen…

Again is both engrossing and open-ended, and well worth a watch.

Here Comes Your Man
Here Comes Your Man takes it’s inspiration from the waterfall – both beautiful and destructive – and draws a parallel between this and a type of person who is both charming and dangerous.

The film starts with a series of scenes of Michael (Gene Dante) with a variety of sexual partners intercut with scenes of him in the bathroom perforating condoms.

A series of flashbacks explain that, during a one-night stand, Michael contracted HIV. Bitter, resentful and bent on vengeance, he has taken it upon himself to spread the disease as far as he can.

As the disease takes hold and becomes more visible, Michael – consumed by malice – resorts to ever more desperate measures to meet women, eventually succumbing to both the illness and his own madness.

The subject matter makes this a very dark film, but Michael’s inability to accept any responsibility for his own actions and determination to blame everyone but himself for his condition is well portrayed and makes for a very engrossing narrative.

And the film manages to close with an impressively shocking ending.

More Than Money’s Worth
After the downbeat tone of the first three films, it would be nice to end on an uplifting note and More Than Money’s Worth – a romantic comedy set in the yuppiefied world of Ivy League education - delivers brilliantly.

Jeremy (Frank Parker) is the captain of the college golf team and – with a major tournament coming up – his girlfriend has left him.

Fearing the worst – a lost tournament – his three friends, convince the beautiful but cash-strapped Gretchen (Tina Krause) to chat him up.

The film is a romantic comedy and, as such, the plot is not difficult to predict. But it’s packed with great lines and plenty of laugh out loud moments.

I really enjoyed this film and would happily recommend it to anyone with a sense of humour. On the subject of which, having sat through the out-takes at the end of More Than Money’s Worth, I would like to take this opportunity to point out to Jason Santo that there is nothing wrong with sounding British.

Bent: Volume Three is undoubtedly the strongest entry in the Bent series and well worth getting hold of.

On a related note, I heard back in January that the Mindscape team are working on a feature length film which they are hoping to complete in November of this year. If the Bent series is anything to go by, I have high hopes for Black Angel.

Last Exit

Last ExitThings aren’t going too well for Nigel (Morten Vogelius). Down on his luck and deeply in debt, he and his junkie wife, Maria (Jette Philipsen) flee from England, ending up in a run-down apartment in Copenhagen and looking for some way to pay the bills.

Following a chance meeting with Tobias (Erling Eliasson), Nigel makes contact with a character known as “The President” (Peter Ottesen), an underworld figure dealing in porn and prostitution.

I have to admit that I found The President to be a great villain. Peter Ottesen manages to exude a level of casual menace that is both realistic and unnerving. In fact, I probably found him unnerving because I found his character so realistic.

Kudos should also go to Morten Vogelius who does a great job in portraying Nigel as a very weak-willed and self centred character. It’s very much the case that when things start to go wrong for Nigel, his problems are invariably caused by his being so wrapped up in himself that he is either unable or unwilling to extricate himself from a clearly dangerous situation and Vogelius does an excellent job of bringing this across.

We learn later on that, in leaving England, Nigel has also walked out on his wife and son and that he has married Maria more out of convenience than any real feelings for her, which, as much as anything, is a reflection of the entirely self-centred nature of his personality.

The President decides that he does have a job for Nigel – temporarily storing some boxes in his apartment. Nigel agrees, in spite of his initial desire to let Maria know what is going on and The President sends him off with Tanya (Gry Bay), one of his girls.

Unsurprisingly, Nigel ends up in bed with Tanya and is awoken the next morning with a phone call from Maria wanting to know why he didn’t come the previous night and why 50 boxes had been delivered to him.

From this point on, things go from bad to worse for Nigel…

With Last Exit, David Noel Bourke and André Moulin have crafted a darkly comic film – especially in the later scenes – that is well worth seeing. The soundtrack and cinematography combine to provide a suitably downbeat view of Copenhagen’s criminal underside.

Of course, a film such as this wouldn’t work without a solid cast. And again, all of the actors come through very solidly. I’ve already mentioned Morten Vogelius and Peter Ottesen, but none of performances were less than fully believable.

And now seems to be as good time as any to mention Jimmy (Nicholas Sherry), Nigel’s philosophising dope dealer who, in his roundabout way, tries to encourage Nigel to recognise the problems he is laying in store for himself. Jimmy’s philosophical monologues are very entertaining to listen to, to say the least. That said, a bit more explanation as to how Jimmy knows Nigel would have been nice.

Last Exit suffers from some cluttered plotting in places and at least one scene (another monologue, this time from an angry Irishman) that could have been cut. But, for its darkly humorous portrayal of the downfall of a weak willed and self centred man, it’s a film well worth tracking down.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

So I finally got around to seeing the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre this evening.

I have to admit that, going into the film, my expectations were very low. But evidently not low enough.

Once the faux documentary type footage is out of the way - and the less said about that appallingly unrealistic attempt to inject some veracity into the story, the better - we meet the characters. And about 30 seconds later, we all know who the final girl is going to be which diminishes the tension somewhat.

From here on in, the film is a by the numbers, bog standard slasher flick. A soulless parade of gore and guts strung together by an increasingly ludicrous plot and some ridiculous story motivation about Leatherface being bullied as a child.

There are not many films in which I am so bored that I start seriously considering walking out. This film was one of them.

Fighting Fish

Fighting FishSet in Rotterdam, Fighting Fish is the first Dutch martial arts film. And, as kung-fu movies go, it’s pretty good.

The Plot Centres on A-Ken (Kim Ho Kim) who travels to Rotterdam to find the killers of his brother, Chau and to take revenge.

Initially, everything looks straightforward enough – A-Ken was a member of an a gang and fellow gang member, Koh (Chung-Huen Lam) points A-Ken in the direction of a rival gang that he blames for Chau’s death and A-Ken’s fists and feet start to fly.

I was going to wait until I’d got to the end of the synopsis before talking about the martial arts in the film, but here seems to be a better point to start digressing. This is a martial arts film, after all.

First up, the fight scenes are impressive. Many of the cast members are professional martial artists and it shows – there is a level of realism that you simply don’t achieve if you have to switch between actors and stuntmen. The action flows well and you get the feeling that what you’re seeing on the screen is what was happening on the set – no dependence on camera trickery, wire-work or other special effects here.

On the other hand, I did get a strong sense that I was watching sportsmen as opposed to gangsters and this did tend to pull me out of the film occasionally.

And, dammit, I like wire-work. People flying improbably through the air may be unrealistic, but it’s certainly spectacular.

So, back to the plot where it becomes apparent that things are not quite as clear-cut as they first appeared and A-Ken finds himself of a journey through the Chinese gangland of Rotterdam as he seeks the truth about his brother’s death.

And to complicate matters further, A-Ken meets Jennifer (Chantal Janzen) with whom he quickly becomes romantically involved. Of course, not everyone is happy about this relationship – in fact no-one is happy about this relationship.

Jennifer’s older brother, Marc (Ron Smoorenburg) doesn’t think that A-Ken is good enough for his little sister, while the Chinese community objects to the fact that A-Ken is seeing a gweilo girl.

This is probably the strongest aspect of the film, dealing not only with the difficulties faced by an immigrant community, but also the self-inflicted nature of some, if not many, of these problems. The feeling expressed in the film is that western people see the Chinese community as Fighting Fish; strange and exotic, but without understanding the true nature of the fish. In the same way that fighting fish cannot be together without fighting to the death, the two cultures in the film will also destroy each other if forced to live together.

It’s a telling observation – especially given the current Dutch concern with integration – that Marc eventually accepts that A-Ken whereas neither Jennifer’s Chinese friends, nor the Chinese gang with which A-Ken has become involved are willing to accept that Jennifer may not conform to their prejudices.

Overall, Fighting Fish is a competent, if less than perfect, martial arts film that makes a pretty good attempt at investigating issues of immigration, integration and cultural differences.