Sunday, 12 March 2023

Holy Spider (2022)

I don't see many films from Iran, but here's one from director Ali Abbasi which is really rather well done. Supposedly based on a true story from 2000 where, in the city of Mashhad, a serial killer is on the loose. I did watch and enjoy Ballad of a White Cow (2021) and the vampire film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014), so this'll be my third.

Dubbed 'the holy' city, it seems that everyone who lives there is very religious and lives by the rules laid out within that structure. One man decides that in order to further his cause and belief, ladies who are earning money in the city by prostitution need to be eradicated - and that it is the will of a higher power that he should do this. We start to follow this man, so it's clear from early-on in the film who it is and what he's doing. He's pretending to be a customer, gets them back to his place, strangles them with their own headscarf then dumps their bodies in an out-of-city location. All this, on his motorbike.

We also spend time with him as a family man, raising 3 kids and providing for his wife and family by means of a building job. So he's physically fairly fit in order to carry out his nocturnal activities on the nights that his wife and kids spend with relatives. He comes across mainly as a good family provider and shows dedication to the unit.

So, the bodies are piling up and the press have named the serial killer the Spider Killer. It all feels like a religion-driven version of Jack, or the Yorkshire Ripper. Our central character, Saeed, is clearly convinced that he is doing the right, moral thing and that his actions are justified. He also knows, however, that it needs to be kept under wraps as, justified as he thinks he is, those around him, including the press and law-makers of the land would see it differently and he'd face their justice.

Enter Rahimi, a journalist who has arrived in the city in order to report on the story and, as things unfold amongst a regime which doesn't seem that keen to stop what's going on, place herself upfront and central as bait in a risky virtual sole attempt to catch the killer. She's got unfairly-inflicted baggage from her past into the bargain and when people locally find out about that, they are less welcoming of her intervention, even as a reporter.

What eventually gets exposed here is not so much the killer and his deeds, but the regime, the system and the way in which 'in the name of religion' hideous deeds may be attempted to be swept under the carpet by the government, authorities and local press. The culture and climate are presented as all-powerful, injecting fear into the population - and only shifting from the path it's leaders want to follow where public outcry and international pressure through the press is brought to bear.

I don't know any of the actors, but they all seem to carry it well, are convincing in their roles and while they tell the story for us, the film offers us a broader picture about the situation people find themselves in when trying to fight the system that they think is wrong, creating unjustified outcomes. It's also quite graphic at times, with convincing close-up views of Saeed choking the life out of these defenceless women as he 'cleans up the streets'. I won't tell you the outcome, but there are some twists and turns along the way as we edge closer to finding out whether or not justice is done.

The production values are not the best and some of the handheld camerawork a little dodgy at times, but it's pulled together well and makes the points it sets out to do. I caught this on Mubi and, well, it seems to be the only way one can see it in the UK. Recommended.

Tuesday, 7 March 2023

Ikiru (1952) and Living (2022)

Living is a 2022 remake of Kurosawa 1952 film called Ikiru starring Bill Nighy playing the same white-collar worker for the local council, stuck in his patterns of behaviour as was Takashi Shimura in the original.

Both actors play the part perfectly, the difference being that the whole scenario is moved to 1950's London in the remake rather than Japan in the first. Our central character (Kanji Watanabe and Mr Williams) learns early on in the film that he has cancer and limited time. He decides to get up from his desk and disappear, looking for some meaning in his last days, seeking out the fun which he'd, for so long, denied himself - but also, eventually, something worthwhile to make a difference with his time left.

He buddies up with a drinking partner initially and lives a little of the high-life, but then bumps into a girl who works in his office. He confides in her. He becomes infatuated with her youth, fun, opportunity for living. Tongues wag, but there's nothing here for them to wag about.

We spend much time with the pair as they spend theirs together - having fun, but he, also taking stock of his life and the meaning of existence. Bill Nighy is such a good actor that he can turn even a slow drama into something gripping - and he shines here. As did Shimura.

Aimee Lou Wood is very good in support as the colleague as is Alex Sharp as the newbie employee lurking around the fringes of the story. There's much to enjoy about the 1950's sets and scene for those who can remember it, along with the same era's seaside resorts and tea rooms. The mono Ikiru presents a much darker, more bleak Tokyo of the 1950's, but then the film was made back at the time.

Both films are slow dramas, but compelling studies of a quiet man looking into himself and contemplating the meaning of life as his draws to a close. Moving at times, funny too, always engaging - highly recommended.

Living is just arriving on streaming services in the UK and Ikiru, I'm not sure! I watched it while back when someone posted the whole film to YouTube but I don't see it there now. BFI seem to have it.

The Wailing (Gokseong, 2016)

This Korean mystery horror film is also a bit of a ghost story, really. You'll need to keep on your toes whilst watching to pick up on the clues as to who is what and what's going on. Like all good mystery films! The outcome and journey are certainly worth the two and a half hour runtime!

In a rural village with continual rain it seems, our story starts with the main character who is a lazy, not very competent or committed police officer, more interested in his family than his job. Some grizzly happenings begin on his watch involving families being murdered by one of their own (who has become 'sick'), which he approaches as part of his job, until it involves his own folk. Slowly those in the know seem to suspect that all this is kind of otherworldly!

Meanwhile, out in the woods, there's a Japanese stranger living an apparently quiet existence with his rather aggressive dog. The trail leads to him, as he always seems to be lurking around the crime scenes, so it's not long before he's confronted by the team. Including a priest in training who, happens along as a friend of one of the policemen! By this stage they are suspecting even more that there's something sinister and superstitious. When our policeman's daughter becomes apparently 'possessed' with the same thing, he ramps it up and goes all-out to find out what's going on and looking for a solution.

There's a young girl hanging about too, who they think is a bit of a fruit-loop, getting in their way, throwing stones at them as they try to process some of the crime scenes. Anyway, they confront the Japanese man, things get out of hand, our policeman is getting more and more irate and aggressive, well outside the professional role expected of him in his job. In the end, the family decide to employ a Shaman to cast out the 'spirit' from the daughter, who goes about his ritualistic antics in the mix, making a shedload of cash out of them in the process.

I guess that probably gives enough of the back-end of what's going on without heading down the road with spoilers and more information. Rest assured that if you pay attention, there is a kind of logic to it all and in the end, though it does indeed remain a stretch in terms of reality, ghostliness and the supernatural. Be warned!

I shall focus instead on the excellent performance of the main leads. The little girl, played by Hwan-hee Kim, sometimes playing a near 'The Exorcist' role and does it staggeringly well. She's only young and yet she grasped this role and made it very convincing, being 'possessed' and acting that out. Our policeman is played by Kwak Do-won in a gripping portrayal of the man caught in the middle of all this chaos and the Japanese man is Jun Kunimura (of Kill Bill fame). The supporting cast do their bit very well and director Na Hong-jin holds it all together nicely.

It's a bit mad in places and can be a bit gory. Not a lot is left to the imagination and we meander sometimes into near-zombie territory, so you can imagine what to expect from that! It's an excellent thriller, laying aside the supernatural mumbo-jumbo and an enjoyable ride, shot beautifully with excellent cinematography throughout. The film is littered with mysterious characters and it's often hard to keep track of where the story is going - or even where it is! It's a long film, so factor in a break when watching - available now on various streaming services. Just pay attention!

Monday, 6 March 2023

Empire of Light (2022)

Here's another delightful and powerful performance from Olivia Colman in another cracking Sam Mendes creation. This one's a slow, observational drama set in a cinema in an English coastal town in the early 1980's.

Hilary is working as a Deputy Manager, of sorts, under the eye of the Manager played by Colin Firth. He's not in it much, but when he is, he plays reliably, as his character, Donald Ellis, takes advantage of Hilary and her position. She has recovered from some mental health problems in her past and is being supported in this job.

We join the story on the first day of a new employee's shift as Stephen, played by Micheal Ward, nervously tries to find his feet in amongst a handful of new colleagues. We spend time with the team in thier staff room, getting ready for the cinema-goers, cleaning up at the end of their shift, sorting out the popcorn and dealing with the box office leading to the performances.

The projectionist amongst them is played by Toby Jones and he's perfect for the role. Married to his craft, film, cinema - with a feel created by Mendes much like Cinema Paradiso. The love of film and cinema, which is reflected in one scene towards the end when Stephen is shown the projection room. But unlike Cinema Paradiso, the love letter to film is not the central story. We head off into that, following the unlikely blossoming relationship between Hilary and the significantly younger Stephen.

We spend time with them as they explore their pasts, their lives, their hopes and dreams. We travel with them on days out, wandering around the town, exploring the closed-down parts of the cinema they work in, significantly spending time caring for a pigeon with a broken wing between them as they close in towards more intimate activities. Hilary is a delicate soul though and when something goes not quite to plan for her, she sinks into despair and back towards mental health issues.

The resulting events I won't spoil for you, but things do go downhill rather with some behaviours on display which Hilary lives to regret. We get a look at how the police and social services of the time dealt with someone who was in need but not coping with life outside of services. An era when the emphasis in the UK was on community care, closing down psychiatric hospitals and other facilities and supporting people to live ordinary lives in ordinary settings. Often going wrong.

Simultaneously, we get a peek at the social disorder of the time surrounding the 'Mods' movement, resurging from the 1960's, focusing on seaside towns, and the difficult position the whole team at the cinema found themselves in when the mob broke into the cinema, racially targeting Stephen. So yes, there are lots of social issues weaved in and out of the film, racism of the day, mental health issues pertaining to the era, the abusive behaviour of those in power over others and more.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, felt it was amazingly well acted by the whole cast, the cinematography was beautifully executed with interesting visuals, the music supported the theme of the day and genre of film and I felt that Mendes pulled it all together very nicely. An excellent outing, thoroughly recommended which is now streaming on Disney+.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

PodHub UK Podcasts for the Month of February 2023

...a roundup of our month of podcasting. Links to the team, communities and podcast homes on the net at the foot, so scroll down!

Whatever Works
Episode 179 - Eye Dollar Tree!
Friday 3rd February
Aidan and I are back again to bring you an hour of natter about Whatever Works for us and you! Loads of stuff flyin' around including the grand fish finger fry-up, electricity through chocolate, white noise and much more - it's enough to give someone a migraine!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 4th February
Steve and I are here again with this weekend's Pod and this time we're joined by first-timer Simon Nicholls as he tells us about his path from iOS to Android and back again! Plus lots more as always including Steve trying to turn his phone into a dSLR and me with the Clash of the Ultras!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 5th February
Gareth and I bring you this weekend's tech twaddle as we chat about the new Samsung phone, more from Marshall, Magic from Honor, Oppo takes a close look with the Reno8, Sony, Chrome, Elgato, Microsoft - it's all here via the link and your podcatcher in spadefuls!

Projector Room
Episode 131 - Pale Blue Plane
Wednesday 8th February
Allan, Gareth and I are back again with our fortnightly roundup of all things film, cinema and TV - from us and you! We become the Watcher as we Let the Right One In, go Plane Deadstreaming, ask Sam to Play it Again while considering Love and Death!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 735 - Get Off My Wrist!
Saturday 11th February
Steve and I are here again with our weekly roundup of thoughts and experiences regarding all things phone! This time we're joined by James Pearce as we get a rundown of his mobile history and new life free of tech! Plus all the usual furniture, that little Neo gets more coverage and we sound-off about audio!

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 12th February
Gareth and I are back again with more wretched ramblings on all things tech! This week, we Flex with Sammy, Pad about with OnePlus and Honor, measure up with GSMArena, go GOGgle-eyed with games and enjoy some Jumbo japes!

Whatever Works
Episode 180 - Up to the Oche!
Friday 17th February
Aidan and I are here again with an Arra's flavoured show as we hit double top time and time again! All sorts of the usual tripe otherwise, to amuse and entertain, we hope, considering Whatever Works for us and you! So go to it and toe the oche for the first leg!

Phones Show Chat
Episode 736 - Fold as Farrari
Saturday 18th February
Steve and I are here again and this weekend as we welcome back Tim Evans for a natter. As always when Tim's on, we get a deeper-than-usual dive into what's-what behind the scenes in the industry, so expect some interesting teases and insights! All sorts included from Google, Samsung and Apple to e-Ink, MWC and Sailfish - so grab a coffee and join us for an hour!

Projector Room
Episode 132 - Viking Wolf Shooter
Wednesday 22nd February
Allan, Gareth and I are back once again with a roundup of all things film, cinema and TV. This time we hit the Mean Streets with that Bad Lieutenant Harvey Keitel, fall asleep in Plainville and visit The Witch in 1923! Loads more as always, so do join us!

Phones Show Chat
Saturday 25th February
Steve and I are here again this weekend and we welcome back Matt Miller to chat about all things phone and more. We find out what he's been up to, what stuff he's using now and what he looks forward to. Plus plenty of other stuff from us.

Tech Addicts Podcast
Sunday 26th February
Gareth, Ricky West and I chat about Xiaomi Walkie Talkie 2S, Oppo Find N2 Flip, Motorola Razr 2023, Honor Magic5 Lite, nubia Neovision AR smart glasses, nubia Pad 3D, AnkerWork M650, Realme GT3 and much more!

Sunday, 19 February 2023

Into the Forest (2015)

This is a film more about the strength, power and bonds within a family - as they face uninformed isolation - than the apocalyptic event taking place in the world around them. Around them, but far enough away for them not to be able to discover even what it is, or what's gone wrong.

The power goes off. The car won't start. They live a two-hour walk from even the nearest small town in the woodlands of Canada. They have a generator, but dwindling fuel supplies to keep it going. The internet and radio broadcasts bringing news of what's going on cease, early on in the film - and even then, they didn't seem to know much except for the collapse of society, services and facilities. The days turn into weeks - surely, any day now it will get sorted, they'll find out what it's all about and get back to normal. Weeks turn into months and on it goes.

Our family unit consists of three. Mum seems to have died prior to the film's timeline, so there's dad, Robert, played by Callum Keith Rennie (The Man in the High Castle, Memento), older daughter Eva by Evan Rachel Wood (Whatever Works) and the star of the show Nell, depicted by Elliot (then Ellen) Page (Juno, To Rome with Love). She (now he) really is a terrific actor, cute and pretty, here, and holds the film together beautifully...

...a film which was directed and written by Patricia Rozema (Mouthpiece, Mansfield Park) and based on the novel of the same name by Jean Hegland. A novel about this small family who start from a point of relative wealth and privilege, not wanting for much, lovely house in the woods - an idyllic life, towards something different. As resources start to run out (and quite early on there's a tragedy involving dad) the two girls are left alone to work out how to survive. Fortunately, there's plenty of water as it rains an awful lot in their neck of the woods! But they have to work out how to find food and ensure that they can eat, with some interesting creative solutions and self-reliance on display.

Unfortunately, there are visits from two young men during this timeline. One, and old flame of Nell's with (apparent) word from Boston, where things are allegedly 'back to normal'. It was enough of a temptation for Nell to think about trekking on foot for an estimated eight months, with Eli, played by Max Minghella (The Handmaid's Tale), to get there. The other, a much more sinister and tragic visit with outcomes which strive to keep the girls together and strengthen their bond.

The film is sometimes slow, but purposefully, to engage the audience within the experience - a taster of what it might be like for any of us and a reminder perhaps about looking at how resourceful we would all be, given this scenario (unlikely as we might think it could be). The actors bring out a fine depiction of the frustrations, concern, anxiety and hopelessness for us to admire as well as the hope which may, any minute, be around the corner.

There's some lovely cinematography going on in this wooden wonderland and the set lends itself very nicely to injecting a sense of isolation and eventually paranoia into the viewer. The film seems to have got more than it's fair share of bad press, but I really enjoyed it and would recommend it for a viewing as it's currently included in Amazon Prime Video for those who subscribe.

Sunday, 12 February 2023

The Roads Not Taken (2020)

This film is a portrait of a broken man. A broken man not especially because of the fact that he is, in present day, suffering from some kind of dementia (which was never really labelled throughout), but also because of tragic events in his life before present day. The film flashes back to fill these gaps, using his memory within the context of what is happening now.

Leo (Javier Bardem, No Country for Old Men) is living alone, with a carer coming in and out to help him, but also under the watchful eye of Molly (Elle Fanning, A Rainy Day in New York), his daughter from his previous marriage to Rita (Laura Linney, Ozark). This is all set in a flat in New York where Leo insists on living, nearly under a railway bridge, providing more context from his tragic 'first love' relationship with Dolores (Salma Hayek, Frida).

Leo was a writer and Molly is trying hard to follow in his footsteps, but the pressure of looking after Leo grows throughout the length of the film, which is a day-in-the-life style from British writer/director/composer Sally Potter. Not quite in real-time, but certainly depicting a day. A day when Molly has Leo booked in for a dental appointment followed by an optician's one - hoping to get all that done by lunchtime in order to meet a deadline for her work.

As the film progresses, we travel with Leo's mind to spend time understanding what the relationship with Dolores was about, the passion, emotion and conflict between them - as their tragedy unfolds. We travel with him also to a time when Molly was very young and he appeared to have abandoned Rita and her to head off to Greece for 'peace to write his book'. In amongst all this, we follow Molly and Leo as they go about the day in question, meandering between disasters in the programme and crisis of confidence.

As all of this unfolds, we do get a rounded picture of what's what, the pieces of the jigsaw are put together in the end, but the central portrait remains with Leo and Bardem's harrowing depiction of this broken man. Which he does excellently. He's more 'removed' from any kind of control in his life than, for example, Anthony Hopkins in The Father, remaining passive mostly and muttering words in his native Mexican tongue and English in rotation. Alongside Fanning, they pull together impactful and moving performances which I couldn't fault. Hayek had less to do, but she also executed her usual ability to demonstrate passion and emotion in a role, whilst Linney nailed the one scene she was in - but both certainly underused. This was all about the two main characters, family bonds, daughter/father, blood is thicker than water.

There was also a message going on here about the value of human beings, regardless of their intellectual capacity as Molly berates various members of staff from the hospital, optician and dentist for their 'inhumane' approach to her father. There's also a taxi driver in one scene who does the same to a colleague, who is treating Leo with less respect than a person should receive. Another central theme is about regret, visited a couple of times in the dialogue but also demonstrated by other visual means throughout.

Sally Potter (The Party, Orlando) pulls it all together really well with just the right amount of storyline exposure at the right times, emotional engagement with the audience and I think, hits the nail on the head. I was surprised to see that the film has received less than enthusiastic appraisal from various quarters as I have watched/read various reviews - often focusing on that very point - about emotional engagement. So yes, I would counter all that and suggest that the disjointed claims are not valid and I'd assert that it was put together very nicely to achieve what it set out to do.

It's well worth a look and is now available via the usual streaming services for viewing. It's a pretty short film at under 90 minutes, but there's an awful lot packed into them and for me, the time flew as the depiction of the events and performances got right under my skin! Recommended.

Holy Spider (2022)

I don't see many films from Iran, but here's one from director Ali Abbasi which is really rather well done. Supposedly based on a tr...