Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Awakening (2011) + this and that

All this lying about waiting for my ankle to heel (another three weeks until the cast comes off) has left me strangely lethargic. I had planned to get back into my groove last week with my regular Wednesday posting, but you know what they say about good intentions. Had I written then it probably still would have been about the above movie, which was one of the few with any serious possibilities amongst the dross I've been watching. You can tell that I'm not up to scratch, as I've been averaging a mere two films a day, most of them making little impact.  Lackaday!

I had reasonably high hopes for this British flick starring Rebecca Hall, a fine actress but not one usually expected to carry a film. Set in 1921, she plays Florence Cathcart, a woman with a mission, out to debunk phony psychics and to expose so-called ghostly phenomena as the work of con men -- all the while nursing a broken heart for the sweetheart she lost in the War. She has published a popular book on the subject and has made quite a name for herself. When she is approached by Dominic West's schoolmaster to come to investigate a supposedly haunted boarding school in Cumbria, she pooh-poohs his concerns as probably the outcome of schoolboy pranks, despite the fact that a pupil has recently died, but off she goes with him anyhow. Just as well, or we wouldn't have the schizophrenic movie that we have.

What I mean by this is that this is definitely a film of two halves that really don't quite hang together. Initially she is welcomed at the school by its headmaster, matron (Imelda Staunton), and a gaggle of supposedly spooked young boys. But soon she is able to lay the blame for each bump in the night to one or other of the lads -- despite the brief frissons of fear that are meant to make us 'jump'. However, events take a somewhat different path during the half-term break when the only folk left at the school are Hall, West, Staunton, and young Tom (a very fine Isaac Hempstead-Wright) whose parents are in India. Suddenly there can be no logical or rational explanations for the noises and visions that Miss Cathcart begins to experience. Can Tom be the culprit? Not likely says West -- there are NO children at all at the school -- only the three of them!!!  This leads to the awakening of the title. It seems that she was lured there, not to explain any strange current hauntings, but to confront the repressed memories of her own past -- frankly a highly unlikely and somewhat contrived scenario. There follows a convoluted exploration of the previous relationships between her, Tom (who had died many years earlier), and the more-than-a-little involved Staunton, combined with a new sexual relationship with West and a would-be rape by a horny gamekeeper.

The film finishes with a big question mark as well and can be read in one of two ways -- a perfectly straightforward happy ending or yet another instance of ghostly spectres taking centre stage.. Take your pick.... The film is competently put together by director Nick Murphy with a high standard of acting and good production values, but in the end I did not find it a terribly satisfying viewing experience.

Mind you, it was a whole lot better than much of what I've seen this past month. For example I just finished watching a film called "Borderline" (1950) which was receiving its first television showing in 63 years. Starring Claire Trevor and Fred MacMurray, it was not the finest hour for either, since both could claim more prestigious productions in their respective filmographies. They play narcotic cops sent South of the Border to expose drug honchos; each is unaware that they are on the same side of the law and each suspects the worst of the other. She's gone to get the goods on literally 'heavy' Raymond Burr and thinking she is Burr's moll, Fred forces her to play his 'wife' as he pretends to take contraband back to the States. Trevor was a good 40 when the film was made and it is a little disconcerting for her to constantly be referred to as "the girl", to say nothing about her clunky chorus-girl dancing as one Gladys LaRue in the attempt to attract Burr's lecherous interest. Of course she and MacMurray fall in love despite thinking that each of them will end of shopping the other. Wow, what a yawn, but it goes to show that there are still plenty of films out there that I've neither seen nor heard of.  

Friday, 13 September 2013

FrightFest the Last Part 2

So much for my saying I would continue my review shortly -- we never know what the powers that be have in store for us! Since writing last I have been in hospital flat on my back with a badly fractured ankle. What fun! I'm home now and will work up some enthusiasm for continuing this entry within the next few days. Maybe... Believe me when I say, take care.

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Wednesday, 18 September: Pretty good going PPP - three weeks to the day since I started this summary and I now find myself without the necessary energy to persevere, but persevere I shall, however scantily. So back to FrightFest Sunday and it is telling indeed how little has stuck in my mind about some of the programme:

Missionary: First up was this US would-be shocker about one of those nice Mormon boys who occasionally turn up on one's doorstep who tips over the edge into obsession after being seduced by a sexy housewife. She soon regrets the lapse but he now covets his own all-American family with murderous results. Shades of the infamous case some years back of the young lady who waylaid another missionary to keep as her sex slave.

Hansel and Gretel Get Baked: Despite a terribly low rating on IMDb this sounded something of a hoot and probably preferable to another new British director outing which was the alternative. I probably made the wrong call since this was hardly memorable despite a turn from the now little-seen Lara Flynn Boyle in full hag make-up as the resident witch at the suburban Gingerbread House where Hansel (Cary Elwes) goes to score some drugs. Girlfriend Gretel to the rescue!

Dark Tourist aka Grief Tourist: Another American entry which has faded into the murky depths of memory. Michael Cudlitz plays the loner who chooses to vacation each year visiting places associated with a serial killer's crime spree -- an interesting concept, but one more than a little muddled in execution. Along the way he encounters Melanie Griffith's waitress and the tranny prostitute in the next door motel room. Pretty forgettable tosh devoid of much in the way of shocks.

The Desert: We chose this Argentinian movie over yet another found-footage outing and it was an acceptable, extremely low-budget fantasy. Three survivors -- a lass and two fellas -- of some unnamed holocaust have set up a household together in the barren landscape, only emerging occasionally to scavenge for supplies. Unfortunately one day the guys bring home a pet zombie as well... Things do not bode well for this fragile ménage a trois!

The Last Days: This Spanish entry from the directing Pastor brothers was, I thought, one of the best films of the fest. We're back in the realm of some inexplicable epidemic called 'The Panic', but rather than facing zombies, folk just keel over and die if they leave the safety of the indoors -- agoraphobia with a vengeance. Survivors are trapped in their homes or offices, and can only venture afield via underground sewers, subway lines, basements, and tunnels. Our hero must find a way to get to his heavily pregnant girlfriend half-way across Barcelona together with his hated ex-boss and a failing GPS device, avoiding feral gangs, falling mortar, and a ginormous bear in an abandoned church. Very exciting, well-paced and blessed with a brilliantly conceived denouement.

This brings us up to the final Monday and I will now whizz through the day, which is a little easier since we decided to have a lie-in and skip the first movie of the morning. We arrived in time for:

Banshee Chapter - 3D: We might as well not have bothered. For a start the overall concept of the film was one big yawn -- the CIA has been secretly testing strange drugs on a sampling of unsuspecting Americans. So what else is new???  Secret underground chambers hold all sorts of unspeakable horrors, that is, if any viewer could see much in the gloomy desert research centre. And don't movie directors/producers know by now that 3D filming is a complete waste of time and money in dark, dismal environments?

Odd Thomas: I confess I have read all four so-far published novels in this series from prolific writer Dean Koontz and I was curious whether I would enjoy the first film to emerge from the works. Frankly if I were not already familiar with the character of the strangely-named young man, here played by Anton Yelchin, I probably would not have gone on to read the books. He has certain clairvoyant gifts to predict looming disasters, a talent already utilised by his friend the local chief of police, but all his 'psychic magnetism' can't save his truly beloved from the dark forces he can see impending. No franchise here I suspect.

We Are What We Are: This is the American re-make of a Mexican movie that premiered at FrightFest in 2010. I was not taken with the original movie where a family of urban cannibals had to find a modus vivendi after the sudden death of their father and provider. The concept has been somewhat expanded here to provide historical grounds for the family's proclivities (and the death of a mother here), but despite the higher budget and polished production, I was no more involved in what would become of the dysfunctional family than I was of their Mexican forbears.

Big Bad Wolves: Whew! I'm finally down to the last review. This Israeli film from the directors of 2011's very watchable "Rabies" is something of a master-class on the incipient sadism that we all conceal. A grieving father kidnaps the schoolteacher-cum-paedophile that he suspects abducted his brutalised daughter. In a remote hideaway basement he tortures the man aiming to get at the truth regarding the latest missing child, aided and abetted at times by a rogue cop who also suspects the teacher and the man's own father who stumbles upon the trio. I wonder what the Israeli authorities would make of the father's statement that the army of his day trained its soldiers in ways to get their prey to reveal all. Nothing ends well and the final image reveals another totally unexpected horror. Pretty strong and good stuff.

So that's FrightFest in its current form for very probably the last time...but only real time will tell. Meanwhile my recovery period from my current ailment together my extremely limited mobility means that I will have to forgo the annual London Film Festival for the first time in many a year. Quel dommage! Never mind, I have been studying the programme and I know which films I will need to seek out over the months/years to come -- and I will do my damned best to see them all. That you can count on...