Night of the Living Dead (1968)


1968

Director: George A. Romero

Starring: Duane Jones, Judith O’Dea, Karl Hardman, Marilyn Eastman, Keith Wayne, Judith Ridley

Words – Oliver Innocent.

Night of the Living Dead (NOTLD) is a key piece of ‘60s American cinema that ushered in a new wave of horror. NOTLD and the films that appeared in its wake in the 1970s, differed from the old guard of horror in that they were hybrids.
They were at once unashamed B-exploitation-movies with lurid titles like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and studies of the socio-political climate of the time. Often independently made with no studio interference and frequently featuring an almost cinema verité style verisimilitude, this was a true cinematic revolution.

George A Romero’s NOTLD spearheaded this revolution in spectacular fashion. A kind of cinematic trojan horse, Romero’s film at first glance appeared nothing more than a standard drive-in horror picture. The film’s title screams exploitation movie as does its graveyard opening sequence, stock music score, and sub-plot about a downed space probe. It almost feels like a relic of the ‘50s creature feature trend.
However, as the film unfolds, it becomes apparent NOTLD has much more to offer than its B-movie exterior would suggest. The farmhouse where survivors are holed up during the beginning of a zombie apocalypse is a microcosm of ‘60s America, a particularly tumultuous time in American history.

Allusions to the war in Vietnam are evident in the imagery of burning bodies and piles of corpses. There is also the divide in the house between those who want to go out and fight, and those who want to stay inside and not participate. The constant television news coverage also recalls the way in which the war became a part of everyday life, beamed straight into family living rooms.

Race relations is another serious issue the story brings to the fore. Ostensibly written as a white male lead, the role of the film’s hero, ‘Ben’ went to African American actor Duane Jones. One of the first, if not the first, black male leads in horror cinema, it marked a revolutionary step forward. This is a smart, capable black character that doesn’t pander to stereotypes.
Keeping Ben grounded in reality rather than portraying him as a black caricature ensures the tension between him and stubborn middle-aged white man Harry feels more genuine and impactful. Never explicitly about race, their clashing and distrust of each other nevertheless feels like a comment on relations between black and white ‘60s America.
This is further solidified by the film’s shocking ending where, after surviving the night of terror, Ben’s fate does not lie with a horde of zombies, but with a white militia mob. Recalling the assassination of black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr (which took place in the same year, just months before the film’s release), the film ends on a sombre, disturbing note.

NOTLD is just as relevant now as it was in the ‘60s, especially amidst the Black Lives Matter protest movement. It also feels oddly prescient with the Coronavirus lockdown where people have been stuck indoors while a strange, hitherto unknown disease makes the outside world a frightening place.

Aside from its exploration of the socio-political state of America, NOTLD also modernised the horror genre with its unflinching, realistic, taboo-breaking depictions of violence. The zombies don’t just kill their victims, they devour them in gory detail. From here on in horror got more brutal, downbeat and serious.
It has also been influential in spawning a multitude of horror sub-genres. Of course, modern zombie films and series such as The Walking Dead wouldn’t exist if not for Romero’s film, but there’s also cabin in the woods horrors like The Evil Dead and Cabin Fever which expand on the horrors of the film’s rural farmhouse setting. Then there’s a slew of films that have adapted the siege element of the story like John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness where a group of students are trapped in an old church with possessed homeless people preventing their escape.

Holding a mirror up to a nation divided on issues of race and war, Romero’s small, low budget horror film has proved to be an enduring classic of American cinema, as well as the ultimate, apocalyptic exploration of the death of the American Dream. Trapped in the farmhouse with no escape, the characters lose their freedom, their hope, their civilised exteriors, and their lives.


See our retrospective feature on Dawn of the Dead (1978) >here<.

See our retrospective feature on Day of the Dead (1985) >here<.


TENET (spoiler-free review)


2020

Director: Christopher Nolan

Starring: John David Washington, Elizabeth Debicki, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Caine, Clémence Poésy, Fiona Dourif, Himesh Patel

Words – Daniel McMonagle

2020 has been one of the cruellest years for cinema on record. Unlike many films rescheduled, shelved and sold off to streaming services, the latest feature from Christopher Nolan is too big and expensive to go straight into the digital land of video on demand. With the ongoing pandemic, Tenet has been seen as the film to save the reopening of cinemas…

Fortunately, Tenet exceeds expectations and delivers everything audiences could want from a film of this magnitude. Returning collaborators such as cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and production designer Nathan Crowley have crafted what looks and sounds like the most “Nolan” film experience yet. With bombastic scenes running back and forth, we follow the unnamed protagonist played very charismatically by John David Washington, accompanied by Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki, as they try to prevent the start of World War 3 by a Russian Oligarch played with absolute venom by Kenneth Brannagh.

Time has always been one of the principle themes of Nolan’s films. With Tenet, he explores the concept of time running back and forth on itself as the protagonist is thrust into a world where the future can communicate with the past. Like a lot of key time travel plots, the characters get to explore past events they previously experienced. Reverse footage never looked so exciting than it does here as explosions invert and bullets fly back whilst character motivations and plot twists are unveiled in a non-linear fashion due to the nature of time travel.

Nolan’s films have often been criticised for their heavy reliance on exposition. However, Tenet is actually less exposition-heavy than its closest relative film Inception. We are thrust into events along with the characters and are forced to pick things up as the plot charges along. Razor sharp editing and a propulsive score by Ludwig Goransson ensure a relentlessly up-tempo pace.

Nolan has always expressed an interest in the Bond movies, and we have previously seen hints of this with Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy. Tenet is as close to a Nolan ‘Bond movie’ as we’re ever likely to get, he has taken everything that’s great about James Bond such as globetrotting exotic locations, high stakes plotting and action scenes and given them a science fiction twist. The film is set against the backdrop of some truly outstanding scenery that IMAX takes maximum advantage of. As far as the action scenes play out, this is Nolan’s best work yet. Tenet is full of shoot outs, chases and espionage, all helped by a complete reliance on practical effects.

On first viewing, the plot may seem convoluted and, at times, difficult to follow. However, Tenet is undoubtedly the best movie-going experience of the year that demands multiple viewings.

 

 

 


 

 

Sisters with Transistors

 

2020

Director: Lisa Rovner

Narrated By: Laurie Anderson

Words – Natalie Mills

 

“This is the story of women who hear music in their head. Of radical sounds where there was once silence.”

A full sensory experience, Sisters with Transistors tells the stories of ten women, and how each shaped the future of electronic music, fittingly narrated by Laurie Anderson – composer of the avant-garde classic O Superman.
Our eyes are treated to some incredible analogue technology; the knobs, tape reels and computer screens that make up these women’s worlds, while we’re also shown the workings of their instrumentation. We’re awarded a mind-blowing soundtrack; from Clara Rockmore playing a theremin as gracefully as a violin, to Delia Derbyshire’s creation of the Dr Who theme, and Suzanne Ciani unleashing her synths on The David Letterman Show.

As a woman working in tech, the daughter of a “lady pianist”, and a fan of Fever Ray, I was touched by the film’s subject, being drawn to how electronic music allows you to become faceless. There is much to sit back, listen to and enjoy in Sisters with Transistors, but you’re left with a sense of injustice.
Archive footage, including experimental music videos and old BBC broadcasts, is cut together with contemporary interviews with surviving musicians. It’s as though we’re being told a secret history, and you feel sad for not recognising some of these extraordinary women’s names. The film opens with the voiceover, “The history of women has been a story of silence” and by the end, you understand exactly how electronic music can be used as a tool for female empowerment.

Despite each of the ten composers’ stories being very different – from mathematicians and sound engineers, through to artists and classical musicians – they’re universally drawn to the DIY aspect of electronic music. Being the undeniable sole creator, they have total control over everything they produce.
“The machine doesn’t write the music. You tell the machine what to do and the machine is an extension of you”, explains Laurie Spiegel, creator of Music Mouse software for Mac. She recalls of how she was told she couldn’t become a composer – “Composers were old dead white men”. The pioneers in Sisters with Transistors share of how they were underestimated or ignored, with French composer Eliane Radigue even telling how someone said it was good to have her in the studio because “she smelt nice”. It’s disheartening, and seems a world away from a scene where artists of today like Grimes have space to thrive.

We’re shown of how historically, people were suspicious of electronic music, whatever your gender. It was considered “diabolical” in France, and music made using computers was snubbed by counterculture as belonging to the realm of banks and offices. Bebe Barron’s (together with husband Louis) unearthly score for 1956’s Forbidden Planet was credited as “Electronic Tonalities”, as it wasn’t considered music.

Some of the standout footage is the oldest; seeing equipment being used “creatively” for the first time. We witness Daphne Oram, a sound engineer during WW2 and one of the founders of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, drawing onto magnetic tape to create sound. We meet mathematician Delia Derbyshire, who arranged the Dr Who theme in 1963, educating BBC viewers on sound wave shapes. She was presented in the guise of a teacher, more than as a creative force. Her iconic sounds did a lot to dispel distaste for electronic music. Despite influencing artists such as Aphex Twin and the Chemical Brothers, she died “unsung” and burnt out.

Inspired by the eerie wails of air raid sirens (still holding a feeling of mystery on how they produce their sound), these British women were convinced that electronic music was the sound of the future. After all, many of the first computer coders were women, as it was considered barely a step above typing, but then as coding became more valued, it became seen more as a “male” role.

“Outspoken gay feminist” Pauline Olivernos felt wildly ahead of her time; we see her and her friends even create sounds using bathtubs and cardboard tubes. There’s a real sense that electronic music is for everyone. Her article “And Don’t Call Them “Lady” Composers” is still a fascinating, angry read.
Enigmatic sound artist Maryanne Amacher’s house is packed full of wires and technology – “it was in breathtakingly bad condition” someone comments. An absolute rejection of the homemaker stereotype, she seems focused on nothing but the overwhelming noises she’s creating in her space.
Fearless, charismatic Suzanne Ciani explains, “I play the synthesizer in the same way somebody else would play the cello”. Teaming up with the female writer of The Incredible Shrinking Woman, she created its entire soundtrack. Ciani reminded me a lot of my mother – beaming over a keyboard, charming everyone within a mile’s radius with sound.

Whether it was creating compositions for “helping people”, or making listeners experience an altered state through strange frequencies, Sisters with Transistors makes for some great playlist inspiration. Even if electronic music isn’t your cup of tea, the technology, equipment and processes used are amazing to behold. It’s impossible to cram in everything about these ten composers into one film, and it’s similarly difficult to fit everything into just one review.
Whether you’re interested in technology, feminism or electro (or even none of the above), Sisters with Transistors is a must-watch addition to music history. You’ll be desperate to stroke a synth afterwards.

★★★★★

https://sisterswithtransistors.com

 

clip from Forbidden Planet (1956)
– reveal of the monster from the Id.
Score composed by Bebe and Louis Barro 

The Go-Go’s

2020

Director: Alison Ellwood

Featuring: Charlotte Caffey, Belinda Carlisle, Gina Schock, Kathy Valentine, Jane Wiedlin

Words – Natalie Mills

People automatically assume that we were probably put together by some guy, but we did it all ourselves.”

The Go-Go’s made history as the first all-female group to write their own songs, play their own instruments, and release a No. 1 album.

This compelling documentary is a collage of archive footage, nostalgia-triggering 80s photos, and individual interviews with all involved. You see The Go-Go’s start as a bunch of misfits in the L.A. punk scene; now they laugh that it didn’t matter whether you could play your instruments – “if you were terrible you were cooler”.
They reminisce about playing at The Masque – a small punk rock club in Hollywood – and joke about their three-song set, “two of those were the same song”.

It’s the angry, punk rock Go-Go’s rather than the poppier, girlier incarnation most fans know and love that really excites here. The idea of starting an all-girl group in a male-dominated punk scene, rocking the no-shits-given attitude of The Eyes’ “Don’t Talk to Me” is thrilling. Go-Go’s the 80s pop group seemed a mile away from the punks “people used to cross the street” from, but their biggest crowd-pleaser at gigs “We Got The Beat” was undoubtedly a pop song, so change was on the cards.

After a tour with Madness and The Specials in London (and having boyfriends in both), and getting some serious hate from The National Front, they garnered a large volume of interest. Then with a change of bassist and the hit single “Our Lips Are Sealed”, they finally got signed.

All seems rosy for a while; you see how fun it was creating videos for MTV, and hear how Sting brought them champagne as they overtook The Police in the album charts. It was a hectic schedule of photoshoots, continual gigs and band practice; you start to see the cracks in their exhaustion from touring and the “difficult” second album. Add to this, Charlotte (the writer of their hits), started to isolate herself. We learn that she was fighting a heroin addiction.

Despite the water-skiing in tutus of the “Vacation” video, being a Go-Go gets progressively bleak, and by the third album, they’re falling out. Belinda and Gina feel unappreciated in that they don’t get paid as much as songwriters Charlotte and Jane, while Jane never forgets being told – “What makes you think you’re good enough to sing a song?”.
After a brief stint without Jane, Charlotte and Belinda break up the band, citing, “She’s the voice and I write the hits”. Some of the 5 band members don’t speak for years. It gets very toxic.

Members describe being in The Go-Go’s like being “each other’s best friends and also each other’s worst enemies”, and also “fucking sisters who stab each other in the back”. Ellwood’s interviews with the “classic” quintet show a complex, not entirely wholesome mix of personalities. There’s cruelty behind the 80s sweetness, intense friendships breaking under the pressure to make it big.
We also hear from original bassist Margot (dumped for hating the move from punk to pop) and their manager Ginger (dumped in favour of a corporate, mostly male agency), who comments “anyone with any integrity wouldn’t stick around”. The more they strayed from their roots, the further you stray from The Go-Go’s.

This is undeniably a captivating documentary, they’re having such a great time it’s impossible not to want to be in their gang.
Photos of them as “The Clown Family”, sniffing lines of cocaine (there are a LOT of drugs) and giving birth to Jane, all feel bittersweet. Stories about them unsuccessfully trying to get arrested in a water fountain for a video, and Charlotte being kicked out of Ozzy’s dressing room, would be hilarious if not for also feeling kind of sad.

The 80s nostalgia and girly, coke-fuelled sleepover vibe of The Go-Go’s may be particularly enjoyed by fans of the hit-series GLOW, but there’s more than that here – a genuine lesson in music history.
Director Alison Ellwood’s standout documentary lays bare the story of the pioneering New Wave band, from their origins in the 70s punk scene, to selling out arenas with their upbeat pop, to inevitable disintegration over drugs, artistic differences and clashing egos.

★★★★★

With its International Premiere at Sheffield Doc/Fest 2020, this documentary is due for release later this year.

 

 

 


 

 

Candyman (1992)

1992

Director: Bernard Rose

Starring: Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, Xander Berkeley, Kasi Lemmons, Vanessa Williams, DeJuan Guy, Marianna Elliott, Ted Raimi, Ria Pavia

Words – Oliver Innocent

Touted as the heir to the throne of Stephen King, Liverpool-born horror novelist Clive Barker came to prominence in the mid-1980s with his short story collections, Books of Blood. These stories were both lyrical and explicit, frequently blurring the lines between the erotic and the horrific.

This predilection for the merging of pleasure and pain would reach its apotheosis in Barker’s directorial debut, Hellraiser (1987), based on his own novella The Hellbound Heart. There had been film adaptations of Barker’s work before such as the B-monster-movie romp, Rawhead Rex (1986), however Hellraiser marked a turning point. Bloody, sexy and iconic, Hellraiser opened the floodgates.
While Hellraiser metamorphosed into a never-ending franchise juggernaut, Barker returned to directing duties with the misunderstood commercial and critical failure, Nightbreed (1990). Then came Candyman.

Adapted and directed by Bernard Rose, Candyman – based on Clive Barker’s The Forbidden from Books of Blood – retains that unmistakable Barker feel at the same time expanding into new territories.
The most notable change from the source material is the transposing of the setting from Liverpool to the Chicago housing project Cabrini-Green. Rather than a mere cosmetic change, this shifts the story’s focus entirely. Where The Forbidden looked at the British class system, Candyman examines the divide between black and white America.

The legend goes that in the late 19th century the titular ‘Candyman’, an artist and son of a slave, fell in love with a landowner’s daughter he was hired to paint, whereafter she became pregnant. The furious landowner instigated a lynch mob who ran him down, sawed off his arm and smeared him with honey so he would be swarmed by bees, before burning him on a pyre. His ashes were scattered over the site where the Chicago housing project would later be built.

Over the years an urban legend developed surrounding the hook-handed ghost of the Candyman; if you say his name five times in front of a mirror, he will appear behind you before splitting you from groin to gullet. The film follows Helen, a university student studying the legend, as she gets drawn deeper into the world of the Candyman more than she could have ever imagined.

Candyman captured the zeitgeist of the early 1990s with its examination of the dichotomy between black and white America.
This was a time when hip hop was rapidly gaining both popularity and credibility – artists like Public Enemy and Ice Cube rapped about ghetto life, racism, and the political and social issues affecting African Americans at the time. These same issues were portrayed in cinema in films such as 1989’s Do the Right Thing and 1991’s Boyz n the Hood. Horror often addresses the fears, anxieties and issues of the time so it’s no surprise a film like Candyman emerged a year after Boyz n the Hood, looking at race relations through the lens of horror. What is surprising (or unfortunately for many, not so), is how relevant Candyman still is.

With its depiction of a black man lynched by a white mob, housing projects and gang violence, Candyman feels more prescient than ever amidst the Black Lives Matter protest movement. It almost seems fitting (though for reasons which stem from tragic incidents) that Candyman is due to return in a “spiritual sequel” to the original film.
It’s even more pertinent that the upcoming sequel has been developed by a black female director, Nia DaCosta, and black filmmaker Jordan Peele whose previous horror thrillers, Get Out and Us, also comment on race, class and identity.
Along with this new blood, some of the original cast are due to return including the original Candyman himself, Tony Todd. Appearing in numerous genre films before and after, it’s Candyman that remains Todd’s defining role. He ensured the character would go on to become a horror icon with his commanding presence, eloquent speeches and deep baritone voice. The hook for a hand and chest full of bees didn’t hurt either.

The Candyman could have easily become a Blaxploitation monster single-mindedly haunting a white woman. Todd elevates the Candyman above this. He’s a tragic, romantic figure with a yearning for living on as a legend because his own life was forcibly taken from him. His desire to be with Helen because he believes she is the reincarnation of the love he lost his life for transcends the stereotype of the black monster’s lust for a white woman.

Virginia Madsen’s Helen similarly differs to the standard horror heroine. She’s a married graduate student focused on her studies, rather than the usual single naive ‘final girl’ or the party loving horny teen. This makes her descent even more tragic as the Candyman seeks to take everything from her so she can be with him forever. Madsen really shows her range with this performance, from the confident, hard-working Helen at the film’s outset to the driven to hysteria Helen of the final act.

Helen’s investigation into the legend highlights another important aspect of the film; it doesn’t forget to be scary. The examination of race relations adds to the horror rather than distracting from it, something that could have easily happened had the adaptation fell into less confident hands.
Writer-director Bernard Rose ensures there’s an uncomfortable tension as Helen explores the housing project and encounters a group who think she’s a cop – this culminates in a harrowing encounter in a toilet where she’s beaten up by a gang of men – it’s the flipside to Candyman’s encounter with the white lynch mob. Here it is Helen, a white middle-class woman, who is the outsider.
The supernatural element of the legend is also expertly handled. A riff on the Bloody Mary legend, the drawn out saying of Candyman into a mirror, punctuated by his sudden appearance is a truly terrifying image, amplified by Philip Glass’s iconic, haunting score.
Much like the legend of the Candyman himself, the story of the film has grown in the years that have followed, now feeling more relevant than ever before.

 


 

Cinema Paradiso


1988

Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

Starring: Salvatore Cascio, Marco Leonardi, Jacques Perrin, Antonella Attili, Pupella Maggio, Enzo Cannavale, Isa Danieli, Leo Gullotta, Agnese Nano, Leopoldo Trieste

Words – Christian Abbott

“The old movie business is just a memory”, a line which summates so much feeling through nostalgia, perfectly capturing the essence of this film. The old movie business may indeed just be a memory now, but it is here that its power lives on, and its legacy and impact will never be forgotten.

Released over three decades ago, cinema has changed profoundly since this time, but the power of the cinematic remains true.
A story following the life of a now renowned filmmaker, Toto, as a message to return to his hometown sparks the memories of his upbringing both in and around his beloved Cinema Paradiso. It’s a timeless tale of childish naivete and young love, between him and cinema. It’s a perfect foundation to explore cinema’s glittering lure.

There is something uniquely wonderful about films that capture this unique love of cinema. Perhaps, this is because it is a rare display of genuine appreciation for the art form of the cinema itself, or, more likely, it is because those that appreciate film with the same youthful infatuation that Toto has for the projection room, sometimes need nothing more than two hours of cinematic self-indulgence.

From writer and director Giuseppe Tornatore, it is clear this was crafted by a loving hand; there is scene after scene of people gathering, laughing, cheering, and celebrating the sheer potential of the big screen. People brought together into a dark room to share in its emotions, cinema is a truly unique experience and this champions it like no other.

There are consistent low-angle shots of Toto, as he is transfixed by the screen; the projectors beam of light above him, Tornatore creates a mythic feeling. In conjunction, Ennio Morricone provided an angelic score, a soundtrack to cinema itself, and one of his absolute finest pieces in a career of consistent greats.

There is a lesson Toto learns in his young life, that sometimes you need to step away from something to truly appreciate it, as hard as that may be. We may all take the cinema for granted, after all, it has always been there and through works like this, it always will be. But like Toto, when you take a step back things become clear, and through his eyes, through the lens of Tornatore, we see that cinema should never be taken for granted, because its effects both on the personal and on the public can never be fully understood, though Cinema Paradiso is the best understanding of why we will always go to the cinema.

★★★★★

See details of a forthcoming 4K restoration and cinema re-release here:

https://arrowfilms.com/news/cinema-paradiso-returns-to-uk-cinemas-this-month/


Our Little Sister

2015

Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda

Starring: Haruka Ayase, Masami Nagasawa, Kaho, Suzu Hirose

Words – Natalie Mills

Based on manga series Seaside Town Diary, Our Little Sister follows the lives of three twenty-something sisters. Abandoned by their separated parents, they live together in the beautiful, traditional old house that belonged to their grandmother. When their father (who they’ve not seen for 15 years) dies, they attend his funeral together, where they meet their half-sister, Suzu.

After realising Suzu has been caring for their father and not Suzu’s stepmother, the eldest sister Sachi invites Suzu to live with them. What follows is an uplifting story about family relationships, guilt and responsibility, and the power of eating delicious food to make everything OK again.

This is a warm bubble bath of a film. Despite deaths and family dramas, Our Little Sister maintains a feeling of hope and serenity. The family history is messy, the grief even more so, but there is a constant safety net of support and sisterly love.

The sisters themselves are well-defined, well-realised characters, beautifully acted. Sachi, the eldest and a nurse, is serious and old before her time, but she is hiding something that opposes her sensibility. Office worker Yoshino is funny and flirty, lounging around demanding, “Just give me a beer”. Chika is a chilled-out hippy oddball, whose ambiguous relationship with her colleague at the sports store keeps her two older sisters guessing.

As Suzu moves in, her three sisters fall in love with her. They admire her as she sleeps, marvel at her long eyelashes and whisper, “Her ears are like yours” as if she’s a baby. It’s hard not to – she’s just a good kid who deserves a break. You brace yourself for Our Little Sister to be about a wild teen that messes up everyone’s lives, but Suzu is a ray of sunshine to everyone she meets. She also has a cute coming-of-age romance with a boy in her football team, peaking with, “You look pretty good in that summer kimono” and a bike ride through cherry blossom.

Dysfunctional family relationships are at the heart of this film. It’s not that the parents in the film are bad, but there’s a lot of emotional baggage these four sisters could do without.
Their Great Aunt is a force to be reckoned with; she tries to discourage them from taking in Suzu, “The daughter of the woman who destroyed your family”, at all. Sachi and Yoshino try to hide their bickering in front of their new little sister – Yoshino mocks Sachi’s “old lady” clothes (despite borrowing her blouse), before screaming at her to save her from a huge cricket in the shower. The strained, fragile relationship between Sachi and their mother is tested to breaking point as she threatens to sell their home. “The girls will all get married”, their mother argues.

From their absent mother’s decade-spanning bitterness and victimhood about their father’s affair, to Suzu’s guilt that “Someone’s always hurting just because I exist”, it’s a film about adults stealing childhoods. It’s empowering to see the sisters thrive in spite of (or because of) their parents not having been around. You get to enjoy four more-or-less single young women, living their best lives in whatever way they choose.

The film ends on a message of forgiveness and moving forward. From Sachi and Suzu cathartically shouting “MUM IS AN IDIOT!” and “DAD IS AN IDIOT!” to the horizon, they accept the situation is nobody’s fault. One sister sacrifices her own happiness to avoid following her father’s example, having lived through its fallout. Or maybe she just knows she deserves better.

As well as being a beautifully shot and wholesome film, the food is another reason to watch Our Little Sister. Every meal is savoured and appreciated, and you see a lot of them.
A seaside cafe, also run by siblings, is the regular hangout for the girls. As Suzu tucks into their whitebait, she lies about having never tried it before, to avoid discussing a memory about their dad. The sisters are reminded of their mother as they eat the only meal she taught them how to cook. Yoshino observes that Sachi “bought lots of apples when she got dumped before”. The sisters giggle and imitate the “pss pss” noises of puncturing fruit with their initials as they make plum wine, and the “shhha shhha” sound of fishing for carp. Food is a big deal.

Our Little Sister isn’t action packed and there’s no big twist, it’s a sincere, chicken-soup-for-the-soul film, and a cosy escape from the world; just make sure you have plenty of comfort snacks ready.

 

 


 

 

Tekkonkinkreet

2006

Director: Michael Arias

Starring: Kazunari Ninomiya, Yû Aoi, Yûsuke Iseya, Kankurô Kudô, Min Tanaka, Rokurô Naya, Tomomichi Nishimura

Words – Joe H.

Tekkonkinkreet is based on the popular original Japanese manga series ‘Black & White‘, written by Taiyo Matsumoto. The title Tekkonkinkreet is a play on the Japanese words for ‘concrete’, ‘iron’ and ‘muscle’, referring here to the steel and concrete landscape in which this animated tale takes place.

The story follows two street orphans, ‘Black’ and ‘White’, who watch over Treasure Town – a decaying metropolis where life can be both gentle and brutal. The street-smart youngsters roam their territory like superpowered vigilante stray cats – the district is their playground – doing their best to defend it from different villains and factions vying for control to impose their own intentions on the district; from local gangs, to old-world Yakuza wanting to see a return to a time there once was, real-estate developers intent on raizing the district to the ground, and other-worldly assassins set loose to take the pair out of the equation, all threatening to destroy the very soul of the city.
As events unfold, we see an exploration of relationships with our two protagonists as well as in the opposing criminal mob, and how people can be inexplicably tied to a time and place. Stories intersect, as a metaphysical conclusion draws near in this tale of survival, deciding the fate of a city hanging on the brink of disaster.

At times this is a dark, bleak and brutally bloody tale, but delivers moments of tenderness as it explores the relationships between its characters and reveals something compelling. This is in no small part in turn to a key component of this film – its soundtrack.
Produced by British electronic music duo Plaid – who find their home on Warp Records among other long-standing artists such as Flying Lotus and Aphex Twin – the score serves the deeper themes of the film while driving the larger elements of the story. As the story begins, the music has an analogue, old-world feel, as we are introduced to Treasure Town and its inhabitants’ way of life in the opening scenes. As events develop, instrumentation gives way to a more modern sound of synths and breaks with futuristic electronica adding weight and momentum to action, while a more melancholy tone serves to carry the various internal and physical conflicts. As a metaphysical turn brings different elements of the story to a conclusion, a combining of the old and new forms take over, delivering a soothing and harmonious end.
The beauty of the visual landscape in this animation is only matched by its music – a soundtrack which elevates the events of the story, and exists with a life of its own beyond the confines of the film.

The debut directorial feature from Michael Arias – previously a co-producer of the Wachowskis’ animated anthology The Animatrix, along with previous credits including work as a visual effects artist on feature films such as The Abyss, and Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke – drawing on his background in animation and VFX to deliver a faultless blend of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation.
A standout tale of conflict, relationships and resolution – touching upon faults in present-day society – presenting engaging child characters and a multifaceted action plot in a poetic and evocative story.

★★★★★

 

 


 

 

Seven Samurai

1954

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Keiko Tsushima, Yukiko Shimazaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Daisuke Katô, Isao Kimura, Minoru Chiaki, Seiji Miyaguchi, Yoshio Kosugi, Bokuzen Hidari, Yoshio Inaba

Words – Christian Abbott

All great films can be traced back to other works of art from decades past. The cynical would say that nothing is original anymore, but what it truly shows is that art, and especially cinema, is a never ending cycle of inspiration and reinterpretation. Often, this comes at the detriment to the previous work, as it slowly becomes overshadowed by the piece that exists because of it.
Arguably, one of the most obvious examples of this is when it comes to The Magnificent Seven (1960). Almost everybody knows of this film and understands its cultural impact, but some may not realise what inspired it. To take nothing away from John Sturges’ classic re-imagining, one shouldn’t forget the original, as its impact reaches far beyond its Hollywood remake – it defined and helped create genre-fiction as we know it today.

Released in 1954 by legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, Seven Samurai was the result of years of research and heavyweight talent coming together. The result was one of cinema’s most impressive and enduring ensemble casts, and a cinematic eye that is still sharper than most.

An old samurai in need of work is hired by a town to protect them against a series of bandits. To do this, he enlists 6 more samurai’s to protect and supply the town with aid. The sequence of events is a familiar one to modern audiences, but it is told so expertly, with genuine ingenuity and cinematic innovation that it still can hold its own against any modern action blockbuster.
From the initial hire, through building a team, holding the bandits back piece by piece and ultimately leading to a massive battle still excites now. Sometimes you need nothing more than a classic tale of redemption and honour; and this is that film.

Kurosawa’s editing and Asakazu Nakai’s cinematography have been written about at length and their impact can be felt across cinema. But understanding it is one thing, to see it yourself is another. The sweeping shots, silhouetted framing and persistent, gilding changes from wide and close-up captivate in a way only cinema achieves.

Seven Samurai has good company in Kurosawa’s canon for reinterpretation. The Hidden Fortress (1958) and Yojimbo (1961) were both famously re-worked into Star Wars (1977) and A Fistful of Dollars (1964), respectively. Great work inspires future great artists, which in turn inspire more.
Today, the words remake and reboot feel tainted by consistent failure – the mere mention of a remake can turn audiences away and actively annoy others for perceived disrespect to the original work.
Yet, the legacy and history of Seven Samurai stands as a testament to its merits. Without it, so much of cinema we enjoy and define ourselves by wouldn’t exist. So many great filmmakers wouldn’t have seen 7 samurai warriors protect a small village, inspiring them to create stories that will inspire us.

This is truly a milestone in cinema and should never be side-lined or forgotten. Kurosawa’s filmography is a catalogue of greats, but Seven Samurai stands alone. For a reminder of why cinema is great – watch Seven Samurai.

 

 

 


 

 

The Whalebone Box

2020

Director: Andrew Kötting

Starring: Andrew Kötting, Iain Sinclair, Eden Kötting

Words – Natalie Mills

“I found this piece of film. It was in the belly of a whale.”

The Whalebone Box sits alongside The Lighthouse as one of the strangest sea-related films of the year. An enjoyable, although hard to put into words, piece of work that feels fresh out of an art gallery.

The film is a collage of dreamlike sequences and documentary footage centred on the titular box – a mysterious object belonging to writer Iain Sinclair, made and given to him by Yorkshire-born artist and sculptor Steve Dilworth. Sinclair describes the box as his “animal battery”; if he opens it, his words will stop.

Sinclair, alongside his long-term collaborator Andrew Kötting, wishes to return the box to its birthplace on the Scottish coast.

The result is a fantasy quest, a road trip movie, and an intimate home video of director Kötting and his daughter Eden. The 16mm film of Iain and Andrew’s 800-mile journey from London to the Hebrides is interspersed with Eden recounting her dreams, bizarre animation, archive maritime footage, and pinhole photography from cinematographer Anonymous Bosch.

If you came here expecting a conventional plot, you won’t find it. The Whalebone Box is an art house stream of dialogue and imagery relating to whales, mythology, journeys and boxes. From musician MacGillivray (captioned as “MERMAID”) singing a whale-like lament, to the ancient British sites they visit, to the cloudbusting-esque idea of charging the box with energy – it’s folk horror without the horror. There is something magical hiding just below the surface.

There is plenty of thought-provoking, mystical dialogue about the whalebone box itself – “Today it has the extreme weight and depth of the oceans,” someone remarks, casually implying that the box is getting heavier a la The One Ring.

Spoiler: we never see what’s inside the box; although someone mentions it is “filled with calm water”. The film never glosses over the box’s grisly origins – you see plenty of living and dead whales. Dilworth’s art studio, which they visit, is like a charnel house. They have to treat the box with reverence to avoid unsettling the oil inside. It is a living, ageless thing of whalebone, honey, beeswax and lead. It sits menacingly on the dashboard as they drive, like a curse. Inside, it contains a coffin-like box made from the melted lead of fishing net weights. One of the group wears a hat saying “ANCIENT MARINER”.

The film has a sense of humour – you need one to get through it. One minute you are in the middle of a deep conversation about quantum physics; Schrödinger’s Box (as well as Pandora’s) is discussed. The next they are merrily trespassing on ancient stone walls, stating, “Wherever it says forbidden that’s where we need to go.” It is a road trip you’re happy to be a part of.

The film builds an otherworldly atmosphere and features an equally alien soundtrack. Its use of vintage 16mm and Super 8 film, saturated colours and woodland scenes are reminiscent of recent indie folk horror film Antrum. There is talk of witchcraft in The New Forest, spiritualism, and “all those other weirdnesses”. The film casts a spell as much as the box does. Eden dreams of two dead or sleeping people on the floor, reasoning, “they must have touched the box”. It’s unapologetically experimental, using offbeat digital animation (notably the box pulsing and an eye in a tree) alongside film and Bosch’s lo-fi pinhole photography.

Holding the film together are the box pilgrims themselves – Andrew, Iain and Anonymous. Eden Kötting does not physically join them, but the father-daughter relationship is at the work’s heart. She feels like the anchor of the film, keeping it grounded and providing some of its most interesting quotes.

Born with Joubert Syndrome and an artist in her own right, Eden offers a unique perspective throughout. Whether she is musing, “The box is a ticking bomb, whatever that means,” whispering, “I love your bones and blood and organs,” in the film’s opening, or watching the waves saying, “I’m cold. Papa, the whale sings. Papa home”, you feel invested in her experience.

The surreal dream sequences, alongside footage of her in places as familiar as London’s Natural History Museum or a swimming pool, elevate the film from being just a road trip movie.

A memorable vision from artists you want to know more about.